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Where Is Nuclear Power Really Heading?

A Look at Obama's Call for New Nuclear and the Reactors that Might Be Built

By Dave Levitan

Feb 5, 2010

All it took was one sentence in President Obama’s last week, and an oft-maligned energy source was back on the map.

“To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives,” the president said. “And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”

A few days later, the White House budget was released and called for an increase in government loan guarantees for nuclear reactors from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion.

Opponents of nuclear energy say that the power source is far from clean, and that spending the billions of dollars on renewable sources like wind and solar power would make a much bigger dent in carbon emissions without problematic issues of waste disposal and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Nonetheless, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the president are making it clear that they intend to move forward. Thus, the question arises: After more than a decade without any new nuclear plants coming online in the U.S., what exactly would new nuclear power look like?

Slowed Momentum, Escalating Costs

The existing U.S. nuclear power industry provides about 20 percent of all electricity generated in the country. Nuclear has been largely quiet in recent years, though — the last nuclear reactor to come online was the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee, which began operation in 1996.

More recently, attempts to build new nuclear reactors have been stymied by skyrocketing cost estimates. In the most visible of those disputes, CPS Energy is suing NRG Energy and Toshiba for misleading officials on the cost of a reactor to be built near San Antonio, Texas. The by about $4 billion from an initial estimate of $5.4 billion.

Such issues certainly call into question whether or not the $54.5 billion in loan guarantees that the Obama budget requests could really support the construction of 7 to 10 new reactors, as Chu asserted in budget discussions this week.

“It’s really hard to tease out what these plants will actually cost from current information,” says , a senior scientist in the Global Security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In order to maintain the current share of electricity generation into the future, many more than just those 7 to 10 reactors would need to be built, he said.

Are New Plants Really That New?

Mixed in with all the recent discussion of “restarting” the U.S. nuclear program is the assumption — as stated directly in Obama’s speech — that all these new reactors will be a next-generation fleet.

According to Lyman, the reactors currently proposed and those with even mild potential to be built within a decade involve only a few designs that are “just evolutionary variants of the current generation.”

All of the reactor designs still involve pressurized water or boiling water cooling mechanisms, and there have been no major breakthroughs in methods to reduce waste or improve energy output, Lyman said. He said the one major difference from currently active plants is that the proposed reactors will likely be bigger, as the costs of reactors do not scale proportionally with the electricity output. The largest currently operating nuclear power plants peak at less than 1200 megawatts electric output, or enough to power about 750,000 households. Newer plants could exceed that significantly; one such example, the French company Areva’s EPR, could scale up to 1650 MWe.

Lyman says that the only major area for improvements in soon-to-be-built reactors is in their degree of safety. Problematically, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a policy that does not require newer designs to be substantially safer than old designs, Lyman says. This can put reactors that incorporate extra safety features at a competitive disadvantage: They just cost more.

New reactor designs have begun utilizing what is known as passive safety. In the past, if the coolant that protects the nuclear fuel was somehow lost or compromised, various electric pumps would have to kick on in order to provide a huge quantity of water that could prevent a meltdown. In other words, an active power supply was needed in order to stop an accident. With passive safety, all that is needed is gravity. With a total power loss, water will simply flow downwards and stave off the meltdown.

There are differing views, though, on whether or not this is a safety improvement. , a nuclear engineer at the University of Wisconsin and the Idaho National Laboratory, says the passive safety does create a safer plant than active safety designs. “If you eliminate valves, you eliminate cables, you eliminate pumps, that is less things that can break.”

Anti Nuclear Power Comedy Song on Youtube

Dear People:

Thought you might enjoy my recently posted music video featuring my song, "Million Years of Poison Plutonium Rag"

I wrote music and lyrics, also perform vocals and piano. Intent is to address a serious issue in a musical/comical setting.

Thank you so much for your commentary on this issue.


Mike Nobel, Gorham, Maine

Idaho National Laboratory on Facebook

Idaho National Laboratory now has a Facebook site that contains research videos, news, job postings and other events. The lab conducts a variety of energy, security and environmental research.

A lot of hatred in these

A lot of hatred in these comments. I've looked closely at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and their position is that they are not against nuclear power. They are, however, against unsafe nuclear power. That almost comes to the same thing, because nuclear power has been practiced unsafely in this country historically and is so complex that it is difficult to ensure its safety under any circumstances. I appreciate the writer's concern about global warming, but calling Dr. Lyman a planet killer is not the way to get anyone to listen to you. His statements are reasonable. We are in a bad position with climate change, but don't make it worse by encouraging an industry that pollutes in far worse ways. There are not only two choices: nuclear energy or climate disaster. We can put the same amount of money in solving the problems with solar, wind, geothermal, storage technologies and end up with less dire climate results and virtually no waste issues. I weary of always hearing choices being put as a decision between two, equally unhappy options. A creative mind is needed that doesn't straight-jacket itself.

You are also a planet killer

Physics says that you are wrong to think, “we can put the same amount of money in solving the problems with solar, wind, geothermal, storage technologies and end up with,” acceptable climate results. The only thing that will happen if we move in your direction is we spend a lot of money and we still reach climate tipping points like the over acidification of the oceans in 2050 where we will restrict all crustacean life in the ocean.

Germany actually pollutes more today because of their build up of wind power. Instead of investing in nuclear power Germany invested heavily in wind power now when the wind does not blow Germany most rely on old eastern power coal plants in order to prevent blackout.

I am sorry that I have to point out the truth to you since you equate the truth to hatred but your statements also make you a planet killer.

Viva the Nuclear Renaissance,


Lyman's and Cynthia's hypocrisy has real victims

Cynthia says "don't make it worse by encouraging an industry that pollutes in far worse ways", but avoids the lie direct by not saying what industry that might be.

Meanwhile, approximately 100 people were injured by a gas pipeline explosion at or near the Kleen Energy natgas-fired power plant in Middleton. Uranium costs $110,000 per tonne but natural gas costs roughly $5,000,000 per uranium-tonne-equivalent, a price that includes substantially more than $110,000 in government royalties.

This combination of huge public and private revenues has ensured that gas shills are loud, sleek, and happy everywhere on the political map. They are lobbying for lucrative deaths. Perhaps they are sufficiently unaware of this that some live near gas pipelines.

Thorium reactors

IFRs and thorium reactors are the way to go.... we should be most concerned with climate change and energy that produces no CO2 versus worrying about cost and nuclear waste that 4th generation reactors will actually be able to use up. In fact, the new nuclear reactors being planned can use all the already stockpiled nuclear waste too. If you take away the nuclear waste problem, and there is no proliferation problem with thorium, then there is no reason to oppose nuclear plants. There is no reason to worry about cost. If we can find a few trillion dollars for resource wars, we can spend that on nuclear power. We won't need the resource wars if we have lots of nuclear power producing electricity (and electric cars).

For more info. I recommend anything James Hansen has written on the subject lately and also a good book written by Tom Blees:

Dr. Edwin Lyman is a Planet Killer

Edwin Lyman is an anti nuclear planet killer. If it was not for the Union of Concerned Scientist giving this guy a job he would be unemployable. His misleading statements in this article reveal him as a scientific hack. He will go to any lengths to justify the Union of Concerned Scientist anti nuclear planet killing diatribe. This is shown throughout this article in his numerous misleading statements and outright lies.

For example his statement that..“the possibility of fast reactors being built is still decades away” is a out-and-out lie. EBR-II a fast reactor was successfully built and operated at Idaho National Laboratory. GE currently drawn up a design for an Integrated Fast Reactor called S-PRISM.

To sight another example of Lyman’s lies and misleading statements let’s look at the part of the article that states the following:

[The main problem,](with a Fast Reactor)[…is plutonium.
A fast breeder reactor can produce more plutonium than it consumes. Plutonium is weapons-usable nuclear material, while the traditionally used uranium-235 is not.
“If it were stolen by terrorists, it could be used in a crude nuclear bomb,” Lyman says.]

First EBR-II had a closed loop fuel cycle. Anywhere in the fuel cycle including the Pyroprocessing process (the recycling center) emits so much radiation you would be dead almost instantly if tried to take the fuel. Second even if you where able to get this well monitored fuel by a remote process you would still need to do an isotopic separation of the fuel to get enough plutonium to build “a crude nuclear bomb.” Why would a terrorist go to such dangerous extremes when they could get a spent fuel rod much easier without the threat of instant irradiation?

The fact is due to an Integrated Fast Reactors (IFRs) closed fuel cycle that is easily monitored the threat of proliferation decreases significantly. This is just one of the many advantages that IFRs offer. Did you know that since IFR’s can use all actinides including fertile and fissionable as a fuel source. We would not have to mine a single gram of Uranium for the next 500 years and still have enough fuel to power the entire planet.

I need to say a few more things about planet killer Edwin Lyman and the Union of Concerned Scientist. First let this article be lesson for Dave Levitan the author of this article and to all other journalist. When you use the Union of Concerned Scientist in particular planet killer Edwin Lyman as a source you get bamboozled into writing their version of the truth. You in fact become their mouth piece for their anti nuclear diatribe.

Since the Union of Concerned Scientist due not offer any viable solutions to the use of ‘king coal’ they are in fact supporting ‘king coals’ continued use. This is what makes them planet killers. How anyone who is associated with this organization can sleep at night is beyond me.

Let us save this planet by building 5,000 Integrated Fast Reactors,


I don't know about Lyman but ....

I don't know how anyone who opposes nuclear power can sleep at night. If climate change kills most people off because we didn't shut down the coal plants because we couldn't figure out how to power everything without them, then those opposing nuclear power will have blood on their hands.

The only other power source that comes close to the potential of nuclear power is solar power. But there are drawbacks to solar panels on rooftops -- today I was thinking how remove snow from them every day.

so, where are they?

Wow. With all the name calling in that comment, it's hard to tell fact from emotion.
So, where are all of these IFR reactors you're so excited about? Afterall, EBR-II was built in the 1960s. If they were economical, wouldn't the country have several operating now? Here's a less shrill discussion of the next generation nuclear reactors that scientists are working on developing around the world:

Read the Book

In Tom Blees book Prescription for the Planet you will learn how the Gore/Clinton administration closed EBR-II and forbid the scientist working on the project to publish their work. That is one of several reasons that Integrated Fast Reactors do not exist in this country. As I said read the book to find out more. In advance of reading the book let me say welcome to the revolution.

As for my emotions, it is the planets survival we are talking about. I thus stand by vigorous support of the continued existence of billions of human beings.

Viva the Nuclear Renaissance,


The last nuclear reactor to

The last nuclear reactor to come online in the US was Brown's Ferry unit 1 which was shut down in 1985 but underwent extensive upgrades and was restarted in 2007. It has been running very successfully with less than a 5 year payback time. Watts Bar 2 is presently being completed and will come online in 2013.

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