4 Questions Iowans Should Answer About Nuclear Power

4 Questions Iowans Should Answer About Nuclear Power


by Paul Deaton

This raises a fundamental question
about studies of politically charged topics; how do we obtain peer-reviewed research when the funding support for such research is from
biased sources? I’m saying the biased sources may be pro or con on the
idea of new nuclear power. Iowans deserve the best answer possible
before investing further in nuclear power.”


In a speech in Cedar Rapids last week, Governor Chet Culver said he sought to increase the percentage of electricity generated in Iowa from renewable sources from the current 20% to 30% in his next term. A renewable energy advocate I know applauded this notion and who wouldn’t? The state must do something to reduce the emissions from burning coal, such as CO2, mercury, NOX, SOX and volatile organic compounds, all of which have negative consequences on human health.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there is a financial reason for development of renewable sources of energy. Iowans send $496 million outside the state to purchase coal. Keeping more of those dollars within the state is what the Iowa Power Fund and Office of Energy Independence are about. The governor’s initiative is also about the creation of jobs in Iowa. Governor Culver is right to focus some of his efforts on renewable energy.

In a post last Sunday, I asserted that there are five questions Iowans should answer before accepting nuclear power. Through some reader comments, my research was challenged, thus creating a dialogue on this topic, which is what blogs are about. Based on reader feedback, I think there are really four questions instead of five. They are:

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

2. What is the balance of CO2 emissions between coal and natural gas electrical power plants and the nuclear power plants that would presumably replace them when we consider the lifecycle of producing power with each process?

3. Do you accept the requirement for substantial government subsidies and the resulting socialization of nuclear power operations?

4. Do we have the right to commit following generations to the 100-year lifecycle of a nuclear power plant?

In evaluating the reader comments, these questions remain unanswered and Iowans should expect answers before going down the path of new nuclear reactors in the state. No readers commented on questions 3 and 4, so I will address 1 and 2.

With regard to uranium reserves, this should be a matter of facts, not opinion. Can all of the uranium that exists on the earth be collected economically? No. One reader stated “It’s a log normal distributed mineral nearly as common as lead… we aren't going to run out of Uranium in 50 years or 5000.” My reaction to the reader is that we need to get beyond hyperbole to facts, and that is what my first question suggests.

Regarding the second question, in making my case last week, I quoted from the research of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, which the readers suggested was biased, wrong and created to push a particular policy. In reading the reference material provided by the readers, I see their point. I also see that the sources they cited are designed to push a certain policy. This raises a fundamental question about studies of politically charged topics; how do we obtain peer-reviewed research when the funding support for such research is from biased sources? I’m saying the biased sources may be pro or con on the idea of new nuclear power. Iowans deserve the best answers possible before investing further in nuclear power.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the amount of CO2 emissions reduction to be achieved by replacing electricity generated with coal and natural gas with electricity generated from enriched uranium has not been adequately studied. If readers are aware that it has, please comment on this post and provide sources as this dialogue is vital to Iowans and to our readers.

It is not true that nuclear power has zero CO2 emissions as has been asserted in the news media and in gatherings of Iowans where the topic is discussed. For readers who have been following my posts on energy over the last year, it should be clear that I believe that nuclear power is no panacea for solving the problem of emissions from burning coal, even if it can function as an on-demand energy source that fits our current electricity generation process.

What Iowa needs is a willingness to think outside conventional solutions in designing our energy future. While the governor may be on the right track, the quality of public discussion of nuclear power for Iowa has been rich in hyperbole when what we need is answers to some basic questions. Let's hope we can get them.

~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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2 Responses to 4 Questions Iowans Should Answer About Nuclear Power

  1. Anonymous says:

    Are there enough uranium reserves to make nuclear power a long term solution?
    The answer to this is a clear yes. If you have any issues with nuclear power, trying to argue against the sustainability of uranium production merely makes you look foolish. When the lowest ore grade mine in the world produces 500 times the energy (Rossing from actual measured energy inputs) that it consumes in existing light water reactors, and when uranium is log normal distributed it should be fairly obvious that uranium supply will never be an issue.
    Why? Log normal distribution of uranium means if you drop the ore grade by 2 there are ten times the resources, as evidenced by K.S. Deffeys and I.D. MacGregor , World uranium resources. We could easily afford to pay ten times what we currently pay for uranium in nuclear power plants today, as it comprises less than 1% the total operation cost of nuclear power, and we'd have access to 1000 of times the resources, from phosphate reserves to coal ash.
    “What is the balance of CO2 emissions between coal and natural gas electrical power plants and the nuclear power plants that would presumably replace them when we consider the lifecycle of producing power with each process?”
    Again… these are measured processes from operating nuclear power plants. CO2 footprint of nuclear power is lower than wind, let alone natural gas and coal because it consumes 1/10th the concrete and steel as wind power per MW. Full accounting of the analysis can be had from the Vattenfall Environmental Product Declaration for its 3090 MW Forsmark power plant.
    Your other two questions aren't answerable except in terms of political opinion. While some might find the public policy involvement of nuclear power to be unsupportable, others look at France and its low electricity rates and low emissions per capita as a model.
    “It is becoming increasingly clear that the amount of CO2 emissions reduction to be achieved by replacing electricity generated with coal and natural gas with electricity generated from enriched uranium has not been adequately studied.”
    It has, extensively. By far the biggest obvious source of emissions of using enriched uranium historically have been the enrichment process of gaseous diffusion powered by coal plants in the US. Given newer enrichment plants are centrifuge based and use 1/50th the energy per SWU, and you can run these plants on nuclear powered electricity, the largest emissions for nuclear power moves from enrichment to cement and steel production for nuclear power plants. And because wind and hydro both use more cement and steel (some tenfold per MW) they both have higher CO2 emissions per MW.
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/education/comparativeco2.html
    Its worth doing a comparison of a country that has done a full abandonment of its nuclear infrastructure, and one that has fully embraced it. France is markedly more secure and has lower per capita CO2 emissions compared to Italy, in spite of having a higher standard of living.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks you for reading Blog for Iowa. I will take your additional information under consideration as I further develop this topic.
    Regards, Paul Deaton

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