Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Lies Greenpeace Has Told Me

We take another break from worrying about finance markets and 4GW to review a recent "Top 10" issued by our friends over at Greenpeace. It is focused on Canada, but the press release is typical of the memes that Greenpeace tries to infect the mediastream with across the world.

This will run a bit long, but I just can't stand it when these jokers use half-truths to scare people into supporting the Greenpeace dogma.

"Top Ten" List Against Nuclear Power

1. Nuclear power produces radioactive waste

Canada's nuclear reactors have produced over 40,000 tonnes of highlyradioactive fuel waste, which must be isolated from humans and the environment for a million years. When reactors are dismantled, they become radioactive trash, which must be isolated from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. Mining and processing uranium for reactor fuel also produces waste known as tailings. There are currently over 200 million tonnes of uranium tailings in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This waste remains a hazard for thousands of years and contains carcinogens, such as radium, radon gas, and thorium among others.

Typical disinformation. Waste products are generated. Of course, waste products are generated when you build PV cells for solar power systems or make the specialty materials needecd for wind mills, too. Nuclear power at least gives you tremendous amounts of power in exchange for the wastes you create. Plus, the waste issue is very overstated.

Currently, when fuel rods are used in Canada, they are taken out and stored. They are not reprocessed, which would basically take about 85%-95% of the material and enable it to be reused in new fuel elements. The Brits, the French, the Japanese and the Russians all recycle fuel in this way, making the waste stream much smaller. The U.S. doesn't recycle either. By separating out the various portions of the used fuel rods, you can actually pull out the hot stuff and isolate it. By it's very nature of decaying so rapidly that it produces large doses of radiation, it will decay away much more rapidly. You can even destroy it in a "burner" reactor. But every time you mention reprocessing, Greenpeace gets hysterical as well. So they hate the waste, but hate ways to minimize it as well. I give them style points for holding the position, but the logic is lost on me.

The tailings material is stuff that was dug up from the ground. The radium, radon, etc. was going to be there anyway. Mining it didn't make it radioactive.

Reactor components do need to be isolated when a facility shuts down. Items such as the pressure vessel and associated piping very well might need a place to rest for a few thousand years - but hundreds of thousands of years? For what component? Until they give details, that looks like a blatant lie.

2. Nuclear power limits clean energy

A dollar can only be spent once and every dollar spent on nuclear is a dollar not available for green energy and conservation. Ontario's current commitment to nuclear mega-projects will lock Ontario into an inflexible, centralized electricity system for at least 50 years. Investment in renewable energy, conservation and local generation will be suppressed as capital will be tied up in nuclear projects and green energy entrepreneurs will invest elsewhere. Nuclear power is a Trojan Horse in the fight to stop climate change - a cynical deception to revive a dying industry.

Amazing. Nuclear power generation can give tremendous outputs of electricity for large numbers of citizens with practically zero emissions. But it is not clean and green?

And, actually, nuclear power plants could be critical components of a distributed grid power system. Not all plants are in the thousand megawatt range. Some, like the pebble-bed modular design being perfected in South Africa, could provide a network of stable electricity in the low hundreds of megawatts, providing reliable energy in an era of unreliable continent-wide grids.

Investors will put money where they can get results and a return on their money. If nuclear is so bad, why are big money players moving back into the industry? It is not dying, it is just getting started. As for cynical, I'd say many Greenpeace tactics could be termed that as well.

3. Nuclear power isn't safe

Safe nuclear power is a myth. Human error or technical failure could causea meltdown at any of Canada's nuclear reactors. Imagine the consequences of a Chernobyl scale accident here in Canada.After Chernobyl, over 350,000 people were forced to permanently relocate, destroying local economies and communities. The high price of resettlement, health care, environmental clean-up and lost agricultural capacity has costthe Ukraine and Belarus hundreds of billions of dollars, forcing them toestablish a 'Chernobyl tax' to pay nuclear power's high costs. The nuclear industry knows that the risk of major nuclear accident is realand requires a special law, the Nuclear Liability Act, to protect itfinancially from the liability of an accident.

Lie. Safe nuclear power is a reality. How many people have died in coal mining accidents over the last twenty years? From natural gas explosions? From exposure to toxic chemicals at the silicon plants that make photo-voltaic cells for solar systems?

How many have died in Canada or the U.S. in a commercial nuclear power plant due to an accident? Zero.

Chernobyl was a horrible design run by a country (the USSR) that valued politics over engineering safety. That type of accident could never happen in a Western reactor due to a wide variety of differences in design. Read more here. This lie has been debunked so many times, I won't waste my breath on it.

4. Nuclear power plants are a terrorist target

Nuclear power plants are attractive targets for terrorists because oftheir importance to the electricity supply system, the severe consequences of radioactive releases and because of their symbolic character. Canada's nuclear reactors were not designed to withstand a deliberate crash by a jumbo jet full of fuel, or many other types of attack. Such an attack would have widespread and catastrophic consequences for both theenvironment and public health.

Name me one nuclear power plant that has been a terrorist target. One. Just one. Oh, I'm sorry, you can't.

I won't relate the details of safety and security systems found in plants due to NRC regulations, but obviously Greenpeace needs to hire folks with an engineering background who can actually do a materials analysis on impact scenarios.

They are the best-protected infrastructure in most any country they are located in. Nice to see Green"peace" take a page from the fear and hate-mongering neo-cons with the whole terrorist distraction.

5. Nuclear power is unreliable and dependent on fossil fuel

Coal and nuclear stations work as a dirty tag team in Ontario's electricity system. When our nuclear reactors perform poorly, we crank up the coal plants for lack of alternatives - alternatives that we never built because system planners assumed, in spite of 30 years of evidence to the contrary, that nuclear performance was just about to get better. The root cause of our current smog crisis can be traced back to the early 1990's when declining nuclear performance eventually culminated in the 1997 shutdown of eight of the province's twenty reactors - the largest nuclear shutdown in world history. As a result, Ontario turned up its coal plants and emissions causing acid rain, smog and global warming to more than doubled. After undergoing $2 billion dollars in repairs, two reactors at the Pickering A nuclear station were shut down again this summer for repairs, boosting our reliance on coal yet again.

I can't speak to the Canadian experience there. I am skeptical because nuclear power plants in the U.S. have a 90% capacity factor (meaning, they operate 90% of the time - an astounding number in the industry - compare it to, at best, 30% for wind and ~12%-17% for solar). Nuclear is actually the most reliable form of power plant in the U.S.

The designs that AECL has proposed to build in Canada are in use around the world and have been built on-time and on-budget.

I'll have to let Greenpeace go with that one due to a lack of time for me to check the facts, but you might want to do some digging on your own on that factoid they threw out.

6. Nuclear power can make nuclear weapons

Every state that has nuclear power capability is only months away from having nuclear weapons capacity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Countries such as India and Pakistan used so called peaceful Canadian nuclear technology to develop the atomic bomb. North Korea developed nuclear weapons criteria even as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Existing international controls failed to stop the export of sensitive nuclear technology to Libya, North Korean and Iran.

Dear Lord, what a crock. Countries with nuclear power are not "only months away from having nuclear weapons." To build a bomb, the material you need is the metallic form or either U-235 (around 90% with the rest being mostly U-238) or Pu-239 which can be generated in the types of plants that Canada has. The problem is the fuel is in ceramic pellet form.

Reprocessing, which I pimped out above, can be mis-used to provide such material, but those facilities would be under IAEA seal. And, even once you do have the material, building a working bomb is very complex. The whole "easy to build an A-bomb" lie was exposed when their big bomb test turned out to be a fizzle.

Sigh. What a red herring. Yes we need international controls and inspections, but peaceful uses of nuclear power give countries a resource they can use to grow their economies and provide for their people and, hopefully, reduce the causes of war. Oh well, another point they've taken and blown out of proportion.

7. Nuclear plants emit radioactive emissions

Nuclear stations release radioactive pollutants into the air and thewater. Radioactivity can be absorbed by living things through air, water andfood. Exposure to radioactivity increases the risk of cancer and having birth defects. Canadian reactors release levels of radioactive tritium at levels that are considered hazardous by European radiation protection standards. Because there is no fail-proof way of isolating radioactive waste for a million years, Canada's stockpiles of radioactive waste will be future radioactive pollution.

True. Nuclear power plants do generate tiny amounts of radioactive gas and tritium. Tritium is radioactive, true, but at such an absurdly low level that no negative health effects have ever been proven. Tritium is regulated because of its radioactive nature, but guess what - a shipload of bananas contains more radioactive material than the levels produced by the tritium at plants. (Bananas contain potassium, which as a naturally radioactive isotope). Ugh. Get your risk levels figured out.

I really like the "exposure to radioactivity increases the risk of cancer and having birth defects" part. That is true - at high levels. At the levels we are talking about (tritium, the noble gases released, etc.) there is no proven link to health problems at all. As a matter of fact, there is much evidence that low-level radiation is actually beneficial to living systems. Again, the neo-con fear tactics. Did these guys work for Bush 43 before joining Greenpeace?

8. Nuclear power is expensive

Every nuclear plant in Canada has undergone massive cost over-runs and delays. The high cost of nuclear power effectively bankrupted Ontario Hydro and every month Ontarians pay down the nuclear industry's massive debt ontheir electricity bill. And there are still bills to be paid: the industry estimates that the long-term management of radioactive waste will cost $24billion. Worse, the costs of any serious nuclear accident or impacts of radioactive pollution from nuclear waste will be borne by society and not the nuclear industry.

Again, a topic that has been debunked so many times that I will just link to one of many studies here and go on with my life.

I don't have details on the Canadian situation, but if it is anything like the U.S. then the power producers are paying into a trust fund for waste treatment or disposal.

9. Nuclear power is unpopular

After decades of cost over-runs, poor performance and mounting stockpiles of radioactive wastes, Ontarians are rightly skeptical of nuclear. In pollafter poll, Ontarians rate the nuclear power just above coal-fired generation in their energy preferences. Polls also show that Ontarians believe that Ontario's electricity plans are being written at the behest of the nuclear lobby and do not fully develop Ontario's green energy potential.

I wonder why it is unpopular? Could it be from the many lawsuits, some of which had zero merit, used to hamstring and defame the industry, plus the many "press releases" used to spread half-truths by Greenpeace and others?

And, by the way, notice that they have to turn to a playground argument at this point. Not once have they talked about the capacity factor of nuclear versus wind or solar. They've not talked about Greenpeace opposing more hydro in some cases.

10. Nuclear power is slow to build

The expert consensus is that climate change must be stopped within thenext 10 years to avert the worst impacts. New nuclear reactors take 10 - 15years to build and cannot contribute to stopping dangerous climate change. Due to the long lead times involved to build new nuclear stations and the declining performance of Ontario's ageing reactors, recent energy modelling by the WWF and the Pembina Institute shows that Ontario's current nuclear mega-project energy strategy will keep Ontario dependent on coal until as lateas 2017. To phase out coal in the near term, Ontario must adopt a modern approach to energy planning and commit to a portfolio of energy options that are quick to deploy, such as conservation, renewables and local decentralized generation.

10-15 years to build? On what planet? If Greenpeace, et al, were not trying to tie up utilities in court at every step of the way, they could build plants as quickly as they do in China or Japan - roughly 4 to 5 years from first concrete to connecting to the grid.

The Canadian style reactors have been built on these time frames in China. Again, on-time and on-budget. But somehow Canadians can't do what Chinese can?

And, another question - what "experts" did they get their consensus from?

I know it won't make much difference, but such a blatant bunch of B.S. needed to be called on.


subadei said...

Excellent, as always. You should forward these pro-nuclear power posts to the Department of Energy.

As for Greenpeace they seem quite enamored with both solar and wind power, which is fine until one realizes that both together cannot even slightly produce any given states daily energy need.

An excellent example of idealism blinding the masses to realism. Greenpeace and it's members seem to be fueled much more by a selfish, cavalier sense of "moral" indignation than finding alternatives to hydrocarbon based energy. All show and no go.

David Bradish said...

Excellent rebuttals!