Dear Editor:

I’m one of those slide rule-era engineers who studied chemistry and nuclear physics as a lad. The lethal legacy of nuclear waste will survive for at least 10,000 years and more. According to my slide rule, the life cycle energy balance to create a fuel rod requires more energy to produce than is gained by raising low-pressure steam in a nuclear reactor over the one- or two-year life span of the core. Once the core is removed, it must be stored on site to cool down, and if/when cooling water system fails, we get another Fukushima disaster. All nuclear power plants require an external source of power if they “go off line” or the power grid fails and they face a “forced shutdown.” Nobody knows what to do with nuclear waste. The Navy dumps their cores in the ocean. On land, we put them in a pool of water, and sometimes on the roof of the reactor building. How smart is this? Depends on who you ask. Nuclear energy is perfectly safe 93 million miles away and delivered free to your door every morning.

James Bruvold

This story was posted on July 11, 2013.

One Response to Legacy

  1. Roger Blomquist

    July 17, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I was a nuclear-trained and experienced nuclear submariner. The Navy has not and will not dump any of its used reactor cores in the ocean.

    The life cycle energy balance is hugely in favor of nuclear energy. The energy density of uranium is roughly a million times greater than that of gas, oil, and coal. This means the amount of fuel required for electricity is so small that all of the used nuclear fuel generated to date in the US would fit in one layer on a standard football field. Currently, that is stored at reactor sites, where it has never caused any sort of problem. While some of the storage pools are above ground, “on the roof” is not an accurate characterization. (These pools survived the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Japan in 2011). The vast majority of it does not need any water cooling at all because it no longer generates much heat.

    Yes, the sun delivers energy to us every morning, but never at night, and around Pagosa Springs, frequently not in the afternoon. This is why every solar and wind power facility must include a gas- or coal-powered generator somewhere to convert stored energy to electricity, Those fossil generators will necessarily produce roughly four times the power that the intermittent wind or solar plants do. I do not oppose wind and solar — we merely need to be realistic about their capacities and costs.