5 Questions Iowans Should Answer Before Accepting Nuclear Power

5 Questions Iowans Should Answer Before Accepting Nuclear Power

by Paul Deaton

1. Are there enough uranium reserves to make nuclear power a long term solution?

One estimate put world uranium reserves at 3.5 million tons. Without adding any new nuclear reactors, current consumption of uranium is estimated at 67,000 tons per year. Do the math and we have fuel for 52.2 years. If the world doubles the number of reactors, as some propose, we are down to 26.1 years.

2.    Do you accept the socialization of nuclear power?

In a recent study in Idaho, Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy found that there is no financial return on investment in nuclear power without substantial government subsidies. Our open market system of capitalism won’t support nuclear power without government subsidies.

3.    If you think nuclear power has no CO2 emissions, did you consider emissions from uranium mining and milling?

Unlike oil, coal, natural gas and other hydrocarbon fuels that were deposited underground in large, concentrated deposits, uranium is a metal. To extract uranium from the ore requires energy. The amount of energy required to extract uranium varies depending on the concentration of the metal in the ore and the technique used to extract it. Some estimate that the energy requirements of mining and
milling lean ores may surpass the energy produced in a nuclear reactor.
In addition to the energy for the milling process, the mill tailings must be remediated. This means neutralizing mill tailings with limestone, mixing them with bentonite to immobilize them and isolate them from groundwater, transporting them back to the mine and covering them and replanting natural vegetation. All of this takes energy, which means CO2 emissions.

4.    If you still think nuclear power has no CO2 emissions, have you read “Nuclear Power – The Energy Balance” by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith?

Van Leeuwen and Smith found that “Nuclear power is not just an energy technology. Nuclear power is a unique complex of technical, economical, political and military interests.” They also found that “discussions on nuclear power often are troubled by implicit but persistent misconceptions: 1).Ultimately every uranium atom in the ground or sea could be recovered, with no or a negligible energy input. 2). Almost every uranium atom extracted from the ground or sea could be fissioned. These assumptions are false and easy to refute by applying basic physical laws, as is shown in (their) study. A third, also implicit, misconception seems the view of many people talking about electricity generation thinking they’re talking about the whole energy supply.” To read why these misconceptions are significant and should be understood, click on this link to access the study.

5.    Do we have a right to commit following generations to the 100 year life-cycle of a nuclear power plant?

When we consider the entire lifecycle of a nuclear power plant, from construction to decommissioning, combined with sourcing uranium and disposal of the radioactive wastes, the current generation would be making decisions that impact people far into the future. In a letter to James Madison on September 6, 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote about what we now call trans-generational justice, “The question whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government.” If Jefferson believed that trans-generational commitments beyond 19 years are “an act of force and not of right,” so should we. We should consider carefully the decisions we make now regarding nuclear power as they will bind our heirs.

To learn more about why nuclear power is not the answer to our energy challenges, click on the links in this article.

~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in
rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. He is also a
member of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility and Veterans for
Peace. E-mail Paul Deaton

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4 Responses to 5 Questions Iowans Should Answer Before Accepting Nuclear Power

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your sources are biased and wrong and your facts and conclusions are wrong
    the energy calculation for uranium mining for Storm van Leeuwen & Smith was applied to real uranium mines and the over estimation was 7 to 60 times too high.
    Information from this source shows that using data from Storm van Leeuwen & Smith one gets annual energy costs for three major uranium mines of 5 PJ for Ranger, 60 PJ for Olympic Dam (both in Australia) and 69 PJ for Rossing in Namibia. These mines report their energy use as 0.8 PJ, 5 PJ and 1 PJ respectively, with that at Olympic Dam including copper production (only about 20% of value of output is uranium). Rossing mines very low-grade ores, but its energy cost is overestimated sixty-fold or more by Storm van Leeuwen & Smith and the figure they predict is more than that for the whole country (c 50 PJ).
    Van Leeuwen and Smith's Egregious Mathematical Errors and other errors
    energy Life cycle calculations for nuclear and other energy sources
    If not nuclear power then which other power source – what is the duration of the air pollution and toxins from coal power or oil ? Mercury has no halflife.
    how old are some the current us coal plants. Many were built 1938-1949.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Clearly a post where someone has not done the research.
    The storm/smith report was done as a push policy agenda hit piece with selective data over 30 years old. It confuses economic reserves with resources, and vastly overestimates uranium mining costs. It assumes gaseous diffusion as opposed to centrifuge enrichment, a 50 fold energy increase for the purpose of policy pushing.
    If you actually measure the inputs of real operating mines, you come to a far different conclusion. The Rossing mine in Namibia produces 500 times the energy in uranium than is consumed by the mine, far more than all of Namibia itself consumes.
    “The Rossing mine produced 3037 tonnes of Uranium in 2004, which is sufficient for 15 GigaWatt-years of electricity with current reactors. The energy used to mine and mill this Uranium was about 3% of a GigaWatt-year. Thus the energy produced is about 500 times more than the energy required to operate the mine. ”
    The rest of the policy decisions aside, questioning the fuel utilization of nuclear power is simply factually ignorant. Its a log normal distributed mineral nearly as common as lead. The IAEA red book estimates are reserves from operating mines at a set price that happens to often trade below actual market contracts.
    We aren't going to run out of Uranium in 50 years or 5000. If we burnt it as fast as possible without exceeding the total solar insolation of the sun of 10^17 watts(Over 100,000 1 GW reactors) it would still take hundreds of years to deplete, and over a million in any breeding regime.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for reading Blog for Iowa. I sincerely appreciate your feedback and will take it into consideration when I write my next post on this topic. I hope you will be watching for it.
    Regards, Paul Deaton


  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for reading Blog for Iowa. I sincerely appreciate your feedback and will take it into consideration when I write my next post on this topic. I hope you will be watching for it.
    Regards, Paul Deaton


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