Out With Windmills – In With Nuclear

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Britain buckles
down to real energy. The UK will change out an established wind
farm for a new
nuclear power plant
. This rational move will boost an anemic
average of 1.3 MW of zero emissions wind generated power to a robust
average of 1300 GW of zero emissions nuclear power. The manufacturer
of wind turbines will be cutting jobs, blaming
the government for failing to support the sector
.

Britain has
learned the hard way that their headlong green rush into medieval
technology has been wasteful and foolish. They spent time and money
trying to force a technology to do what it simply can't do. Despite
what Boone Pickens says, wind's optimum use is only as backup and
it can't supply more than twenty percent of required loads. Pickens
is a subsidy hunter, promising a 25% return on a 4,000 MW windmill
farm in Texas, based entirely on federal tax credits. Have you ever
seen how much land wind power requires? Pickens' project will need
1,200 square miles. But, none in his backyard, please. He thinks
the wind towers are too ugly to be on his large ranch.

Real, productive
people need real, industrial-sized power. And, don't even mention
conservation. Conservation is no energy policy. Conservation is
no more an energy plan than fasting is a food supply. Sure, greater
efficiencies save energy, but we immediately have more uses for
it. Only when the economy tanks do we use less energy. Nonetheless,
I don't consider that to be our current depression's silver lining.

So, lead us
Britannia. Let us, too, seize the day, the sense, and the cents.
Let us, too, use peaceful-atom energy technology, which can do all
that we need it to do. Why aren't we doing just that? Why do we
fear the best, most natural power provided on earth by earth?

Is nuclear
really saddled in the U.S.A. with insurmountable risks?

I grant that
things didn't get off to a smooth start with nuclear power. Think
about it. Would there be any electricity today at all if the first
electrical product had been an electric chair? Electricity would
have been dead on arrival after such a market launch. So, what can
you do when your initial product is an atomic bomb? That pretty
much set the stage for nuclear energy's dismal reception.

The curtain
fell on that stage before stardom was attained. At the Three Mile
Island Nuclear Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the spring
of 1979, a hanging tag obscured a warning light. This human error
consequently led to the damage of 70 percent of the core and 100
percent of the forward momentum of the nuclear power industry. There
was, after close inspection during nine years, no unusual incidence
of ill health in the public found, but the utilities experienced
cardiac arrest. Public abuse, skyrocketing financial risks, draconian
commission demands and required government-led evacuation plans
sounded the death knell for the truly grand promises of nuclear
energy. The response was a rational and complete upgrade to nuclear
training, led by the Institute for Nuclear Power Operation and inspired
by Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy.

Still, nuclear's
potential went unrealized. By 1998 a company called Entergy stepped
up and began buying unpopular nuclear reactors and began making
immense improvements. All 104 nuclear reactors in the country were
upgraded and beginning to perform to potential by the millennium.
Since 1990, nearly one-third of our country's electrical growth
has been met by this upgraded performance. Nuclear now is the source
for 19.8 percent of total electricity provided, while it makes up
only 9 percent of our generating capacity. Our nuclear reactors
achieve an all-time low in production cost of 1.68 cents per kWh.
The reactors operate 24/7 for close to two years without interruption.
The new fuel rods that are required about every eighteen months
can be handled with gloves. The U-235 content of reactor-grade fuel
is only 3 percent and cannot explode under any circumstances. Have
these sound safety facts reassured our unscientific culture? Not
much.

Public fears
about radiation have persisted while there have been few fears about
that other transmission of energy — electricity. Like I said, expect
marketing challenges when your introductory product is a bomb.

But how well
founded is hysteria over radioactivity? Did we really not notice
that our blue home planet is a natural atomic energy reactor itself?
We might not know that every second of our lives we are struck by
15,000 particles of radiation. We even might not be aware that own
bodies are naturally radioactive. But, did we really not notice
that the sun's radiation is the source of our life? Have we really
not noticed that it is always the dose that makes the poison,
rather than the mere presence of a single photon or atom? We certainly
are arbitrary about what we choose to be frightened of.

I was representing
the American Nuclear Society in Manchester, England, in 1991 when
I first realized that the very rules written to regulate against
risks were, themselves, creating much of the hysteria over radiation
with which the general public was infected. The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission was saddled with a supposition that said that if a large
amount of something could cause you harm, then a single molecule
of it could and would cause harm. That concept is called LNT — the
linear no-threshold hypothesis. LNT disregards thresholds and proclaims
that there is no safe dose. It is not scientific. It is false.
But this false LNT is the reason workers around nuclear materials
are suited up in spacesuits. That's much more than a waste of money;
it's a truly scary signal. And, it's unwarranted.

Low
doses of radiation have exhibited positively beneficial effects
upon health. That foreign concept is called hormesis. Another
foreign concept could go a long way to putting the energy back into
the nuclear energy industry. It is "use 95 percent of the fuel
rod rather than just 5 percent." The French do it, along with
Canadians, Russians, English, Japanese and others. We even did it
until 1970.

Let's do it
again. Let's use 95 percent of the fuel rods by reprocessing and
use the remaining 5 percent in radioactive isotope applications
for health medicine and industrial applications. Let's have excess
energy to sell, as the French do. Let's gear up for nuclear plants
so we, too, can have them produce 80 percent of our electricity,
as the French do.

What do
we do? We Americans use only 5 percent of our fuel rods,
then fight like crazy to prevent the 95 percent "wasted"
rod from being buried in Yucca Mountain.

Nuclear energy
power isn't just tilting at windmills. There are good reasons for
it to be replacing them.

May
2, 2009

Floy
Lilley [send her mail]
is an adjunct faculty member at the Mises Institute. She was formerly
with the University of Texas at Austin’s Chair of Free Enterprise,
and an attorney-at-law in Texas and Florida.

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