May 04, 2007

2008 Presidential Candidates and nuclear power

Pretty much all of the 2008 candidates for president are favorable to nuclear power

Each of the top contenders for the Republican nomination and all but one of the major Democratic hopefuls support nuclear power to some extent. Most cite the prospect that atomic energy could help reduce climate change by supplanting power produced by fossil fuel sources such as coal and natural gas.

The two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Clinton and Obama, have joined one of the top Republicans in the race, Senator McCain of Arizona, to sponsor the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007. The measure includes more than $3.6 billion in funding and loan guarantees for the planning and construction of nuclear plants using new reactor designs.

The only major candidate opposed to increased reliance on nuclear power is a former senator from North Carolina, John Edwards.

Mrs. Clinton's has an open embrace of nuclear power in the current campaign.

"I think nuclear power has to be a part of our energy solution," the New York senator said during a town hall meeting in Aiken, S.C., in February. "We've got to be very careful about the waste and about how we run our nuclear plants, but I don't have any preconceived opposition. I just want to be sure that we do it right, as carefully as we can because obviously it's a tremendous source of energy. We get about 20% of our energy from nuclear power in our country. … Other countries like France get, you know, much, much more. So, we do have to look at it because it doesn't put greenhouse gas emissions into the air."

Mr. Obama's camp gave a somewhat more reserved answer when asked about the Illinois senator's views on atomic energy. " Barack Obama feels we must address three key issues before ramping up nuclear power, including the public's right to know, security, and waste storage," a campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, said. "Nuclear power represents the majority of non-carbon generated electricity therefore making it unlikely that it will be taken off the table."

One critical part of the nuclear calculus for Democrats these days is the negative sentiment of Nevada residents to the federal government's plan to store high-level nuclear waste at a site there known as Yucca Mountain. The clout of Nevada voters is magnified in this cycle by plans to stage the state's Democratic presidential caucuses on January 19, 2008, prior to New Hampshire's primary.

The four senators in the Democratic race also have another good reason not to get crosswise with Nevadans: the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, hails from that state.

Rudy Giuliani supports the building of new nuclear energy and energy independence

John McCains energy platform is pro-nuclear

McCain said U.S. should build more nuclear plants, which emit no greenhouse gases, after a 25-year building hiatus. "The barriers to nuclear energy are political, not technological," and political squabbles over where to store spent radioactive fuel has "made it virtually impossible to build a single new plant," he said.


dan colvin said...

Brian, I really enjoy your blog.

I agree that nuclear power has a future in our energy policies but there are some issues that continue to bother me.

First of all we need to really lock down the waste processing problem before making a big commitment to this technology.

Given humanities collective inabiilty to plan even 50 years ahead, its hard to imagine us making smart decisions for legacies commensorate with toxic wastes that have half lifes of up to 50,000 years (plutonium). this is a length of time equivelant 7 times the length of recorded history, a sobering thought indeed.

It seems that a prerequesite for a commitment to nuclear power would be a waste processing plan that is fully self sustaining and un-dependent on any human support. This would guard against any retractions in technology or civilization over the period of toxicity for the waste

Perhaps you have a post or an opinion about the use of nanotechnology to solve the waste problem. I can imagine senarios where the half life the of the waste can be greatly reduced.

In our rush to solve the global warming/petrochemical addiction problem, We have to be careful not to exchange one demon for another.

I also am leary of switching to another resource restrained energy solution.

One advantage to solar and wind power solutions is that they are distributed and truely reneweable, since the amounts of wind and sun are predictable within reason and not likely to go away ( of if they did then we have much larger probelms to deal with)

I envision a multi soureced energy policy for our planet that includes use of many solutions, avoiding the 'unilateral' energy solution of petrochemicals that currently makes us so vulnerable to supply instability issues.

bw said...

Hi Dan

Thanks for your compliment on my blog.

Nanotechnology is not needed to handle nuclear waste. Most nuclear waste is incompletely burned nuclear fuel.

I have written about the status of nuclear material reprocessing.

Reprocessing lets you send the 99-98% of unburned fuel back.

Also, not all nuclear fission reactors are equal. There were liquid flouride reactors built in the 60s that can burn all of the fuel instead of our currrent 1-2%.

All the really long half-life material is usable as fuel.

that leaves stuff with 30 year half lives or less that is less than 5% by weight. Each of those elements can also be used for other purposes.

The current commitment is already pretty big to nuclear. 19% of current US electricity.
The current 443 reactors burn about 66,000 tons of uranium at 1% effiency. We can go to 100% efficiency with reprocessing or high burn reactors. There is 3 billion tons of Uranium in the oceans which the Japanese have already shown can be extracted for about $120 per pound. Plus thorium can also be used.
So over 5 million years X the current reactor level. So if we use 10 times as much the Uranium/thorium and still not run out for 500,000 years. There is also Uranium and thorium in the moon.

I have posts about this if you look at the nuclear category of posts down the left.

However, I am confident that we will get various forms of very good nuclear fusion working as well as super-efficient and cheap solar with nanotechnology. See some of my articles about large space structures (space bubbles and magnetically inflated structures). With nanotech enhanced versions of those we can rapidly develop massive space solar energy. Under a pessimistic scenario these things might not happen until 2040. In the meantime, millions will continue to die every year by not cleaning up air pollution from coal and fossil fuels, plus the $70+ billion lost in the US alone from using 40% of the rail for moving coal and not getting more of the truck moved freight onto rail and the $20 billion per year in health costs.