Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Reaction (Har!) to the Nuclear Debate

I crack myself up. Seriously, though. it has been observed that there is not one major global problem that could not be significantly diminished, if not altogether eliminated, by only one minor change that is entirely within every individual's reach.  Just one simple choice could solve the problems of Global Warming, peak oil, disease, poverty, war, urban overcrowding, crime, environmental degradation, extinction of species, water shortages, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, traffic congestion, overflowing landfills, and American Idol.

That powerful but simple solution is this one easy-to-understand idea:  fewer humans on the planet.  That isn't likely to happen any time soon, since making more humans is just so gosh darned fun.

(Keeping one's pants fully in the "on" position is coincidentally also the solution to a surprising number of non-global, personal, legal, financial and medical problems, but that's another post.)

There is no question that we are going to run out of cheap energy relatively soon.  Yet everyone I've talked to recently still seems fully committed to reproducing themselves as many times as possible.  An alternative source of energy is needed if only to provide the illusion that everything is going to be OK while we continue to breed like teenage rabbits in a carrot silo.

This is the point at which some shill from the energy company pipes up and says, "Did you know that just one tiny kilogram of environmentally-friendly non-CO2-emitting Uranium replaces about two thousand TONS of horrible, disgusting coal?  With nuclear power, you humans could continue having sex for thousands of years to come!"

This raises two vitally important questions.  1) What happens after that?  2) Are you a robot, or an alien, or an alien robot?

His answer is, "Mumble mumble mumble mumble mumble."


"I said you're right back where you started, plus you have a bunch of, um, radioactive waste to deal with.  Hey, but at least it was cheaper than solar power!"

Is it really?  Not when you include ALL the costs.  Storage of the waste in particular is a blank-check expense.  Nuclear waste  is composed of an unmanageable jumble of highly hazardous substances all mixed together.  It really isn't worth mucking around with, because it's a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.  Just when you figure out how to neutralize one radioactive isotope, it decays into several new ones.  No, with this sort of muck, there's no point mucking about.  Best just put it someplace, and then never ever go there again.

That's why the Australian Goobermint has recently taken steps towards the establishment of a permanent nuclear waste storage facility (a shed, actually).  They considered the question of where to keep all this muck, and came up with the answer:  out in the middle of nowhere at a place called (and I am NOT making this up) -  Muckaty Station.

But how much is this going to cost?  Including a couple of rent-a-cops who will stand guard and prevent terrorists from stealing the glowing deadly muck, I optimistically estimate that it will cost 5 cents per day.  I'd make it 1 cent per day to be even more optimistic, but 5 cents is the lowest you can go in Australia, they having wisely done away with all the one-cent coins years ago. (Are you reading this, America? It works, it saves lots of time and tons of federal money.)

So, how many days will the radioactive waste need to be stored?  And keep in mind that we're going to be making more of it as time goes by.  It works out to be . . . infinity days.   Now, what is our very optimistic 5 cents per day times our frankly realistic infinity days?  Whoops - this calculator doesn't go that high.

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Until someone figures out an affordable and politically acceptable means of dealing with nuclear waste, I say that it is NOT CHEAPER than solar power or any other form of energy.  Until that problem is solved, I maintain that the actual cost of nuclear power is infinity.

Plus thorium.  I meant to work that into this post somehow.  We should be looking at thorium fuel cycles, not uranium, because you can't make weapons out of it, it's inherently stable and stops reacting when you get hit by tsunamis, and the waste is slightly less nasty.  So, there it is.  The answer to all our problems is to stop having sex, and use more thorium.


  1. I always enjoy your take on things, especially since I can count on them to be apolitical. Meaning your opinions are entirely your own and not parroted from one parties platform or another.

    This will need to be anonymous, because I need to ask, what is thorium?

    1. Ah! An excellent question, compared to most others. Which are usually along the lines of, "Are you insane?" and "Why don't you get bent?"

      Thorium is the 90th Element on your Periodic Table, which I assume, if it's anything like mine, will be hanging on your office or kitchen wall somewhere. That means it has exactly 90 protons in the nucleus and 90 electrons in its electron cloud. Its only naturally-occurring form also has 142 neutrons in the nucleus, hence the name Thorium 232 (get it? 90 + 142 = 232). Th232, when bombarded with neutrons of a certain speed, captures one and becomes Th233 (232 + 1 = 233), which with a half-life of some 22 minutes, decays in stages into Uranium 233, a non-naturally-occurring form of Uranium.

      U233 is not a rock group, but a readily fissile material producing abundant heat energy when encouraged by further neutron bombardment into splitting up (not unlike many rock groups, come to think of it). BUT, it is not possible to turn U233 into plutonium, the nuclide of choice for weapons and other mischief.

      Thanks for reading!