[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

Re: E-M:/ RE: / Michigan's Nuclear Question

Yeah, eh, I'm going to commit an act of heresy...

Here are some energy numbers.  Michigan gets 60 percent of its electricity from coal, another 24 percent from nuclear power, and about 13 percent from natural gas (have I gone over 100 percent yet ... I'm horrible with numbers).  A very small fraction comes from renewables.  And, we all know that our energy needs are expected to go up, and that our existing nuclear power plants will eventually become too old to be serviceable.

Now, I think we all agree that eventually, it would be preferable if we got all of our power from renewables, and maybe I missed this somewhere (always possible), but I have yet to see a plan by which we can ramp up our use of renewables to cover everything we now get from fossil fuels and nuclear, and also to cover future need.

Given a choice, I would much rather deal with spent nuclear reactor fuel rods than I would with the potential for crop failures, catastrophic heat waves, and swamped coastal cities, which is what I interpret to be the eventual outcome of our continued reliance on fossil fuels (natural gas is likely to become one of those things -- like oil -- that competition will drive up the prices for).  I'm aware of clean coal, but sequestering emissions underground seems less like "clean" coal to me and more "sweeping emissions under the carpet" coal (and, especially in Michigan, where so much of our underground area is filled with, you know, water; or where we store spare natural gas to prevent winter shortages).  Besides, production of coal inevitably means digging into the earth to get it, which is either dangerous to people or involves sawing off the top of a mountain and depositing it into a valley somewhere.

That leads me, I'm sorry to report, to increased reliance on nuclear power.  What would we do with the waste, you ask?  Good question (on the other hand, I think a strong case could be made that the Texas panhandle is deserving of punishment lasting a few centuries for what they foisted off on us six years ago*).  Someone, somewhere, is going to get stuck with some very low property values (as long as the geology isn't bolloxed up this time)**.

I also remember reading a few years ago that the Chinese were going to go in heavily for nuclear power, based on the new pebble reactors.  Yes, I know, pebble reactors and their assorted problems (most of them are basically the same as traditional nuclear power -- waste and safety).  On the other hand, the thinking is that you can fairly safely ratchet up the heat in a pebble reactor and, through various processes that I can't describe at the moment, come up with hydrogen, which you can then use to power cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells.  Plus, it's said these kinds of reactors are neither as capital intensive or as labor intensive as building them used to be.

How pie-in-the-sky is all of this?  I have no real idea, mostly because in this country the conversation about nuclear power is either about how wonderful it is, or about how evil it is.  Ideally, however, I don't see it as an either/or proposition.  I also see no reason why development of nuclear power not be tied to the development of renewable resources ... that is, if someone wants to build a nuclear power plant, they also put money to developing something that could take up the slack when the reactor has reached the end of its useful life.

I'm all for energy efficiency.  Heck, when it gets cold outside, I block off part of my apartment and stay close to the registers to conserve energy.  But, again, I just don't see the numbers realistically lining up so that you can bridge the gap between supply and demand purely by conservation and renewables.

*--tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

**--No, if my backyard were chosen, and I felt the choice and planning were both thorough and deliberate, I would not have a problem with the storage of the nation's spent nuclear fuel in my background.

On 3/1/07, Anne Woiwode <Anne.Woiwode@sierraclub.org > wrote:

Dave et al:


I appreciate you posting this because the concept of DTE wanting to build a new nuclear facility in Michigan is so ludicrous that I think a lot of folks have had a hard time reacting to it at all. Jack Lessenberry's piece hits a lot of the extraordinary problems with this source of electricity, particularly for a place like Michigan, in the heart of the Great Lakes.


Yet it is clear that the company is floating this balloon and trying hard to sell the idea, particularly to environmentalists, as if it is somehow a "solution" to the problem of global warming.  Golly gee -- nukes don't produce carbon dioxide or mercury pollution like coal plants!  True -- they also don't give you acne or bad breath, but that sort of misses the point!


Unfortunately, the point has been missed in a lot of ways in the debate about electric energy capacity in the state of Michigan.  The environmental community keeps pointing out that the BEST way, CHEAPEST way, most SUSTAINABLE way to get the electricity we need for investing in the 21st Century is to STOP WASTING IT and create real renewable sources.  That is the ONLY sensible thing to do, it is clearly the FIRST thing that must be done if we are to be smart about the future of Michigan, but we instead have the effort by the industry to run the propaganda machine and pretend this is a question of whether we want a nuke or a coal plant.


Let's just talk about one obvious area where a large amount of electricity is routinely used without so much as a blink of an eye: lighting of parking lots.  Everyone has probably seen the "Earth at night" photos (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap001127.html ) which shows how much light we are creating, particularly in North America.  Among the most obvious sources of light pollution are parking lots where gobs of electricity are eaten up in response to the concern that there might be a safety issue associated with darkness.  But instead of asking the question of how do we assure that parking lots are safe, we seem to have culturally bought the line that keeping them lit up as much as daylight is the only way to make them safe.  The folks who generate the electricity are often the ones making this argument, yet we are not challenging those assumptions.  Police officers support this, and so others do as well -- but instead of ever going back and asking if the Wal-Mart ¼ mile from my house needs to have its extraordinarily bright parking lot lights all left on full power all night so that they shine in the windows of all the neighbors even though the store is only open until 10 or 11 at night, we as a society have simply accepted as a given that our only choice is to rob our future generations of a viable planet in order to possibly deter some potential criminal someday. 


Energy efficiency is not about doing without -- it is about "investing" our brainpower in the future of Michigan and making sure the 21st Century is in fact one where we are competitive by being a heck of a lot smarter, using our resources more intelligently, and not allowing companies like DTE to convince us that we get to choose only from column A or B.  It is hard to think anyone would take more nukes in Michigan seriously -- but apparently DTE and others are banking on not overestimating the willingness and ability of Michiganders to actually engage creatively in trying to solve our energy problems. 


Anne Woiwode, State Director

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter

(517) 484-2372


From: owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net [mailto:owner-enviro-mich@great-lakes.net] On Behalf Of David Holtz
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 5:38 PM
To: enviro Mich
Subject: E-M:/ Michigan's Nuclear Question


DTE energy wants to build a new nuclear plant in Michigan, a really dumb idea that is not getting the attention it deserves in the environmental community.  Columnist Jack Lessenberry writes about it in the Metro Times.


What do we do — what do all the nation's nuclear plants do — with the spent nuclear fuel? This is especially a problem for DTE Energy. The stuff remains radioactive and highly dangerous for thousands of years.

Within three years, they will run out of room to store the rods in the huge fuel storage pool they now maintain on the site. Then, they will have no alternative but to store it in heavy steel containers known as "dry casks."

Then the casks will pile up. And up and up and up. Something similar is happening at nuclear power plants across the country. Michigan's first nuclear plant, Big Rock, near Charlevoix, was torn down years ago. Not a brick remains.

Except, that is, for a building holding the spent fuel rods. There are pools and piles of these things all over the nation. The most logical thing — especially in the age of terror — would be to have one central site where all this stuff is to be safely stored and guarded.

And there is supposed to be one — the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada. The federal government agreed on this as the place years ago. After numerous delays, it is now on course to start accepting nuclear waste ... 10 years from now, on March 31, 2017, Al Gore's 69th birthday. Except that ... it probably won't happen. Why? For one thing, the new Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is from Nevada, and doesn't want his peeps irradiated.

"Yucca Mountain is dead. It will never happen," he says.