Friday, April 25, 2008

Nation opposes star formation

The leading progressive newspaper has a problem with nuclear energy colliding galaxies

The Nation, an international journal of progressive thought, has published a major attack on the nuclear renaissance. In an essay published April 24 Christian Parenti, a noted author of several books on political science and sociology, writes a hostile review about the turn around of the nuclear industry.

There is one part of the article I liked, and that is Parenti's poetic remark, "where industry and science seek to reproduce the process that occurs inside the sun." That's the whole point of harnessing the atom. Why would any environmental group want more coal plants? That's the de facto choice once you take nuclear energy off the table.

It seems absurd as though the Nation would seek to stop the collision of galaxies in outer space. Not going to happen. The point of posting the picture of colliding galaxies is to emphasize that nuclear chain reactions are basic to the physical underpinnings of the universe and are are not inherently evil even if Mr. Parenti would have us think so.

The only line of criticism Mr. Parenti didn't take, despite a crack about HEU and plutonium which was incorrect, is that he didn't lump commercial nuclear power in with an assortment of nonproliferation issues. The editors get a nod for not including in a picture of an atomic bomb blast with the article.

There are several places where his essay hits a few potholes in the road to a predictable conclusion we're better off turning out the lights than using nuclear reactors to address the problem of global warming.

Perhaps one of the most significant things Parenti fails to get right is his characterization of federal loan guarantees as "subsidies." In fact, the legislation that set up the program, and the Department of Energy, which runs its, are clear that any nuclear operator that gets a loan guarantee is simply buying insurance for 80% of the cost of the plant. That's not a subsidy. A subsidy is when the government buys down the cost of ethanol from corn to be used in a blend with gasoline, which is a failed energy promise if ever there was one. it is also worth noting that even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has observed that the loan guarantees fall short of their intended objectives.

Parenti works hard to get mileage out of the cancellation of MidAmerican's proposed plant for Payette, ID. Having covered that proposal in depth on this blog, it is worth pointing out that a bad business decision by one firm isn't a justification for tarring an entire industry with a broad brush. The MidAmerican project had a number of problems from the start including a decision to choose a greenfield site with no infrastructure, a reactor design not yet certified by the NRC, and unrealistic expectations about the costs of large forgings for a first-of-a-kind plant.

The other plant Parenti says is a failure isn't one. The Summer Nuclear Station filed its application with the NRC earlier this month. After hesitating last January the project came back just 90-days later to finish the job. Even more to the point, the Southern Company has signed an Engineering & Procurement Contract (EPC) for two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors that will supply 2,200 MW of electricity.

The NRG twin reactors planned for the South Texas Project are moving ahead although Parenti would like his readers to believe they will not. In fact, NRG asked the NRC for more time to complete price negotiations with suppliers before proceeding with review of its license application. When you are buying components priced in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars, these things take time. These items aren't impulse purchases. Better to get it right. Also, it shows NRG is realistic about the challenges it faces in the current era as compared to the first generation of nuclear plants.

The relicensing of Vermont Yankee and similar opposition to the Indian Point plant in New York are becoming rallying cries for the anti-nuclear movement. Turning to Vermont Yankee, what we are dealing with is a fanatical anti-nuclear movement which this week went over the top when a leader in the State Senate lost it on the steps of the state capitol and called an executive from one of the largest employers in the state a "liar" to his face. When you have cheap electricity from nuclear energy which keeps thousands of people on the job, and your alternative is $100 plus-per-barrel oil, why would you make waves by throwing rhetorical rocks in that political pond?

There are serious questions that are being ignored by the Nation and its readers. If you agree that energy is wealth, and that wealth from energy leaders to a better quality of life, why do you oppose nuclear energy? The alternative isn't solar or wind, which cannot keep the lights on in our cities by themselves. There is only one other choice to fossil fuels, and the greenhouse gases that come from coal, oil, and gas. The Nation's essayist doesn't get it.

Update 04/26/08

After posting this article yesterday, I was pleased to see, independently, two fellow bloggers weigh in on the Nation article as well. Click on the links below to read there responses to the Nation article.

Anti-nuclear rubbish article of the week

Divergent views about nuclear power economics

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Note on the graphic

NGC 6050/IC 1179 (Arp 272) is a remarkable collision between two spiral galaxies, NGC 6050 and IC 1179, and is part of the Hercules Galaxy Cluster, located in the constellation of Hercules. The galaxy cluster is part of the Great Wall of clusters and superclusters, the largest known structure in the Universe. The two spiral galaxies are linked by their swirling arms. Arp 272 is located some 450 million light-years away from Earth and is number 272 in Arp's Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. This image is part of a large collection of 59 images of merging galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released on the occasion of its 18th anniversary on April 24, 2008. (NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team - STScI/AURA-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and K. Noll - STScI/Handout/Reuters)


Joffan said...

Thanks for the review on this. I saw the article by Parenti earlier today and was dismayed at the level of vitriolic antipathy on display, based on repeated misrepresentation and cultivated ignorance.

Pete (Sch 80) said...

You say the author didn't bring in proliferation issues, but in fact he did. He says that spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants provided the weapons-grade plutonium for the cold war. I don't know what they were doing in the old Soviet Union, but that sort of thing certainly never happened in the US. In fact, it would have been a stupid thing to do because reactor grade plutonium makes very poor bomb fuel.

There are so many things wrong with the Nation article, it is difficult to remember them all.