Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How is Nuclear Power like Alcohol and Cigarettes?

Because of the idea that recreational drugs are 'bad', we've had almost no advancement in the 'science' of recreational drugs.  A few new substances have slipped through the cracks.  Much of the interesting work has been done by a lone chemist, Alexander Shulgin.  But every new drug, if at all effective in being 'recreational', is made illegal.  The result?  Rather than banning all recreational drugs, we insist that people stick to the two well-known drugs that cause by far the most damage to society: alcohol and tobacco.

The same thing has happened with nuclear power.  Since Three Mile Island, no new reactors have come online in the United States.  Opponents of nuclear power have succeeded in stopping all improvements in safety, cost, and efficiency.  The result?  40+ year old plants are continually relicensed even though there are much safer designs available.  Fears of proliferation have stopped fuel reprocessing, creating the problem of where to store spent fuel.  NIMBY activism has stopped the use of the Yucca Mountain storage facility, forcing on-site storage of spent fuel.

We should be building modern, passive-safe plants.  We should be investigating inherently-safe alternatives like thorium-fueled molten salt reactors.  The best way to get rid of these old power stations is to make them obsolete.

Of course the anti-nuclear activists don't want the old plants to continue to run.  They want them shut down, forcing society to retreat to even older and more toxic drugs: coal and oil.


  1. Correction: No new nuclear plants have been LICENSED in the United States since the accident at Three Mile Island. Half of the nation's 104 nuclear reactors are under 30 years old. These were under construction at the time of the Three Mile Island accident.

    Yucca Mountain is less of a NIMBY issue and more of a political one. There are not as many opponents to Yucca Mountain in Nevada as you may think. The storage facility was turned into a political issue, mainly to Senator Harry Reid's benefit. A recent poll in Clark County, NV (largest city: Las Vegas) showed a majority in favor of completing the storage facility, especially in light of the downturn of the economy and lack of jobs other than casino and construction.

    Fact is, nuclear waste cannot be safely stored onsite at each individual reactor for an indefinite length of time. The country needs a nuclear waste storage plan, and soon.

  2. I admit, I finessed the point about some of them being built after TMI, but if I understand correctly, their designs still predate TMI.

    Wikipedia claims that 2/3 of Nevadans are opposed to it, and I can *somewhat* understand the point since there are no nukes in nevada, and they've been abused enough already. However, the danger from on-site storage seems to me to outweigh those concerns, and probably the concerns about transport as well.