Industry Market Trends

Going Nuclear, Part II

October 24, 2005

A bit more generalization and reality. (OK. Maybe this really should have been Part I, a la Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill I and II…)

One of my favorite games used to be SimCity. You know the Sims. You essentially play god and decide the elements surrounding these imaginary, digitized people: their finances, relationships, living conditions, schedules, work time, and play time. In SimCity, you control a geographical area of a digitized population. You decide the infrastructure, industrial areas, police and fire departments, libraries, recreational and preserved areas, tax structures — and even how to meet energy requirements for various, interconnected cities and towns. That's where my scenarios all fell apart — the power grid. My imaginary citizenry was generally happy, did well financially, had good places to work and play, etc. Problem: power plants and wind farms in my simulations had the odd habit of exploding and, well, generally wreaking havoc. Not good. Thankfully, reality is considerably different. Even more thankfully, I just use power, not determine what, when, and how much.

Recent items here on The Blog have touched upon, for example…

Katrina and Rita Revitalize the Quest for Alternative Energy

Is There Hope Beyond Fossil Fuels?

Will Katrina, Rita, and Shell Oil Revive Oil Shale Possibilities?

Also, of course, we've had a multiple-article series — with heated debate — over global warming, starting with…

No More Denying It: The Planet IS Getting Hotter

Global Warming I: Journalism Breakdown

While debate over global warming continues to rage, I think we can at least attempt to agree on a few points, namely…

• Coal-based energy brings a lot of bang for the buck, but doesn't help CO2 emissions. The U.S. is filthy rich in coal resources, so the development of 'clean' ways to generate power from coal is at least a short-term imperative.

• Oil shale? Really cool stuff, but we're not there yet.

• 'Alternative' energy sources such as solar and wind just can't (yet?) compete with traditional means such as coal-fired power plants. At best, wind, for example, can be used only to supplement traditional methods and, usually just in outlying geographical areas.

• You just can't keep the 'Greens' happy, and I say that not only from various content encountered in research for the articles above and others, but also from some of your comments to those articles. (Yes, for the record, I admit to being 'liberal leaning,' as recently accused. Tree hugging, however, is not my thing. I'm a greedy bastard. Keep your Prius and solar panels, thank you. I want power—a lot of it. I want gobs of power for a boatload of lights, heating, cooling, motors, fans, phones, computers, power tools, and anything else I can plug in or gas up. If we can do so cleanly, all the better. If we can do so independently of the Middle East, can't get much better than that. Tree hugging? Gimme an 8,000-lb, 1,000 hp Hummer that's pollution-free and needs no fuel except from its tiny, self-contained reactor and I'll be one happy S.O.B.)

That takes us, seemingly naturally, back to nuclear (as recently touched upon here in The Blog.).

While nuclear discussion will often trigger horrible images of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the reality is that nuclear has proven to be remarkably safe. Take a look at this map from the International Nuclear Safety Center, for example, for a glimpse of just how prolific nuclear already is. Especially on the eastern seaboard and in the Midwest, we're quite happily and safely surrounded by nuclear power plants. Granted, some of the stations within those plants have already been decommissioned—thankfully—for safety reasons. Plants are being decommissioned simply because they're getting old.

(An excellent resource about nuclear power exists here on Wikipedia, and covers everything from the history of nuclear power to understandably descriptions of various type of reactors and, of course, safety.)

How old? 'Even before the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, new orders for nuclear plants in the U.S. had ceased for economic reasons primarily related to greatly extended construction times. As of 2004, no new nuclear plants have been ordered in the USA since 1978, although that may change by 2010.'

Populations are growing at a staggering rate worldwide. Energy consumption is expected to grow to insane levels—globally—within just a few decades. Alternative energy sources, as they currently exist, simply will not meet this demand. Coal would work, which leads us back to the pollution problem and that little matter of global warming. Nuclear seems our only way out with current technologies: enormous power generation potential, competitive plant costs, cheaper energy for the masses, and great profit levels for the 'big, bad, corporations.' Hey, everyone wins.

(Within hours of this writing, an interesting article appeared on the Guardian Unlimited UK site. It discusses Prime Minister Blair's Chief Scientist's position calling for a new generation of reactors, and that relying on renewable energy is a 'tough challenge.')

Continued in Going Nuclear, Part III...