Spent nuclear fuel can be canned, sealed, and stored for very little money. All it takes is political will. If, on the other hand, you let the politicians turn it into a scare-fest, you'll pay tons for oversight, administration, regulation, committees, etc. Any enterprise can be turned into a too-costly enterprise by being stupid; that's what happened to nuclear power the first time around. That's why it's expensive to store byproducts now. That's why you can't get a license to build a reactor now, and why its so expensive to build one - study this, study that, envionmental impact (absolutely ludicrous, that... there are very few industries that are less polluting than a nuclear plant!)
Let me tell you the difference between spent nuclear fuel and the nuclear materials we mine. We know where the spent nuclear fuel is. Raw nuclear ores, on the other hand, are in the ground, slowly poisoning things wherever they are. We are able to prevent spent fuel from getting at the world's water tables. We can't do that with the not-yet-mined materials. And of course, the unmined materials have more energy - they've not been cooked at high rates of speed to give up the energy we use for the generation cycle, so in fact, ores in the ground are more dangerous not only because they're uncontrolled and in the ground, but because they're more potent overall, and more spread out and so much harder to control and monitor.
Now. How hard is it - really - to store a fuel container. How expensive is it - really - to create such a container. I mean, as compared to say a years worth of generating huge amounts of power. Maybe even design it to be re-cannable. Of course, not expensive. Not at all. Not rocket science. Just mechanical engineering, and engineering only done once, if quite carefully. After that, it's just manufacturing. Next, how do you compare the costs - because this is a comparison - between cleaning up all the materials dumped from coal plants - and yes, there sure are enormous amounts of isotopes and other nasties amongst the chemical poisons a coal plant dumps - How exactly are you going to clean up all that coal exhaust? Not the stuff that's already been released, but the new stuff? Catch it in filters and... store it? It's quite poisonous, you know. You might want to rethink that one. You're going to need leakless canisters that are good for many, many years, and can be re-packaged, and... say, does this sound familiar? You can't filter it all, of course (and we don't) but you can get some. Turns out those plugged-up filters are nasty as heck. Turns out, that pollution/cleanup costs for nuclear plants are higher only because you can clean them up completely, meaning no environmental release, unlike coal pollution. But that doesn't mean it has to be expensive. It's only expensive if we let the idiots in Washington make it that way (do $500 hammers ring a bell?) How about million dollar licenses for a radio or TV station?
The problem with nuclear power in the USA isn't actually nuclear power. It never was. It is people, more specifically, half-educated, so-called environmentalists who can't add two and two (or haven't bothered to look up what the value of two even is), not to mention (he mentioned) half-educated legislators who can't be bothered to even give a half a darn about anything at all other than the next election and how best to rattle the people's cage so they can keep their perks. The "Drug War." Janet Jackson's nipple. Bill Clinton's sex life. "In God We Trust" on our money. Gay governors. Prayer in school, prayer in congress, monuments in courtyards. Huge chunks of the population don't have medical care, but they reward welfare mothers to have more children. Oh, they're just a bunch of smart old boys out in Washington, they make me so proud with their deep understanding of the things that are critical to our country.
But there is a factor that will cut through all this if it comes to pass. And we've been talking about it here. That is dire need. If we really, actually, need fresh water, it is there for the taking. Nuclear power is (right now) the most powerful tool we can use to get it. I suspect it will continue to be so.
Nuclear power can be quite profitable. The power companies at least are sure of it; lots of studies detail this. But of course, the storm of idiocy from Washington has made it impossible. Look up how hard it is to get clearance to build. Plenty of grass roots resistance too. And you know the average guy is just so up on the safety records of reactors, etc.
Facts: Pop a nuke into a submarine and the thing can dissapear until it runs out of food, if it has to. Pop a nuke into a satellite (either a thermal generator or a live fission generator) and it'll go for years and years too. Why do we do this? Because it's ultra-ultra-ultra reliable, super efficient, and provides an astonishing energy yield.
Bottom line: If society decides, or acts, to make something artificially expensive - like street drugs, nuclear power, radio broadcasting - then it is, but that does not mean it will stay that way. Society can change, and we've seen it do so more than once. Why does society change? Dire need is one of the forces that can stimulate and/or outright force change. Dire need is what we're talking about here.
So there you have it. Cleanup is not only not required to be expensive, complete control of it is actually possible, unlike coal. Nuclear power generation is potentially inexpensive. Build the plant, automate the controls, monitor them with a few good people. Design the plant itself so that it can be picked up and carted away when it becomes too old to function. Use small, relatively portable modules. Generate power (and water, and many useful industrial byproducts.) Store the waste byproduct materials safely, and inexpensively. They're just barrels of crud that need to not leak, or if they start to, to be caught and repackaged. It's not even "much" crud, and no doubt there are and will be ways to dispose of this stuff more permanenently. Like dropping them in a lava flow, to be entombed for a few eons between layers of hardened lava. That'd knock a few half-lives off the stuff. Any small, uninhabited active volcanic island would be a good choice for that. They're pretty common, too. Or maybe we should just evacuate Hawaii... now there is a nice reliable source of constantly layering lava flows! :) Fusion sources might burn the materials for us. Who knows? Doesn't matter anyway. Get the clowns in Washington out of the way, and the costs will drop to realistic levels. For assembly, for generation, for storage.
Or, if water is needed, and you can't make it, perhaps the population will prefer to keep its precious illusions about the so-called threats of nuclear power and die of thirst. Whatever works for them. No problem for me - I'm old, and I'll be gone long before any of this matter hits the fan. :)
[ Parent ]