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RE: Just barely off topic: Can Nuclear Energy ever be "sustainable?"

Title: Just barely off topic: Can Nuclear Energy ever be "sustainable?"
It depends on your definition of sustainability.  Sustainability from a 'triple bottom line' perspective?  Well, not sure how it socially measures up, can poverty stricken (developing) places throughout the world afford nuclear energy, and if so, would they be allowed to have it?  If they are allowed to have, will the construction of those plants be safe?  I'll let others speak of the environmental issues, but non-renewability and supply chain issues really come into play here.
It terms of sustainability from an inter-generational (preserving our future generations) perspective, it is too difficult to tell.  We may be leaving them with a legacy that cannot be managed.  We are talking about possible brownfield sites that may be horrendous (but I'm not sure what the damage will be there).  You have low level and high level wastes. I worked at one place in New York (West Valley) that was going through some rough times trying to figure out what to do with water/liquid  wastes that had been contaminated and whole buildings that were blocked off.  Something had to be done with all that material.  I'm not sure what Yucca mountain or other repositories hold, but once they hold these wastes, they will be held for future generations to deal with.  We are also assuming from a security perspective (a different sustainability measure) that someone will be around to protect those sites in the future from either nefarious or negligent parties.  This is an assumption we can or cannot make since we don't know what it will be like in 50 years, much less 1,000 or 10,000 years.
So, is nuclear energy the best sustainable alternative? Good question, ask again in 10,000 years.

From: owner-p2tech@great-lakes.net on behalf of Butner, R Scott
Sent: Thu 9/6/2007 4:49 PM
To: P2 Tech list serve
Subject: Just barely off topic: Can Nuclear Energy ever be "sustainable?"

Fellow P2TECH-ies  --

Well, can it?

And if the answer is "yes" -- what would it take to make it so?

These are not idle musings on the part of a scruffy, distractable, overweight nerd, either.

Nope.  Not idle in the least. 

(The rest is pretty much spot on, of course.)

I ask these questions because I've been approached about making a presentation on this topic at a conference which is coming up later this fall, and wish to gather some informed perspectives on the subject.  As I often do when faced with a question that's over my head, technically, I've come to P2TECH in hopes of finding some bits of wisdom.  And maybe some viewpoints that challenge my own.

I recognize this is an open-ended question -- I think by now we all have a grasp of what the notion of sustainability means, but am not sure I've seen anything really robust in terms of quantifiable definitions. 

Yes, I'm aware of any number of sustainability metrics and indicators that have been used (and in fact plan to use them prominently in my talk).

But most of these metrics allow for more wiggle room than my most comfy blue jeans, now that I've lost 22 lbs.

(had to sneak that in there, somewhere!)

So consider it an invitation to open-ended answers, as well. 

If you have an opinion regarding either question:  whether nuclear power CAN be sustainable, or what it would take to MAKE it sustainable -- I'm eager to hear it.  If I end up using your ideas in my talk, I'll be sure to provide appropriate attribution. 

The conference is in mid-November, but I'd be especially interested in comments I receive early enough to incorporate into a broader framework -- say, Oct 1. 

I'll be sure to share the presentation with any who wish to see it, once it's been prepared.

Thanks in advance,
Scott Butner
Senior Research Scientist, Knowledge Transformation & Integration Group
Pacific NW National Laboratory
PO Box 999
Richland, WA  99352
Voice: (509)-372-4946/Fax: (509) 375-2443
E-mail: scott.butner@pnl.gov