hippies: entirely useless, or cheap reactor shielding at least?

Our hippie friends across the river have a nuclear power plant in their state, Vermont Yankee.  It’s an older design, similar to the Japanese Fukushima I reactor.   Vermont Yankee generates 73% of the energy used in the state of Vermont.

Naturally, the hippies want it shut down, and the state senate has voted to not renew Vermont Yankee’s operating license past 2012.  Presumably, the magic unicorns roaming the Green Mountains will step up to the plate, touch their horns to the transformers, and feed five thousand gigawatt hours of magic energy into the grid annually to make up for Vermont Yankee’s capacity.  Or something.

Yes, Vermont Yankee is of the same design as the Fukushima I plant that had a radiation leak.  After a 9.0 quake nearby, and after being hammered by a tsunami and losing power for the cooling system as a result.  And that radiation leak has killed 0 (in words: zero) people due to radiation exposure so far.

Look, there is no technology that is absolutely 100% safe–but nuclear energy is the safest, cleanest, and most efficient form of energy generation we have yet invented.  There’s no such thing as a human birthright to be free from all conceivable dangers from cradle to grave.  To be human means to constantly juggle risks and benefits, because we have to constantly work for our survival on this little blue pebble.  Yes, a nuclear accident can cause thousands of deaths, but higher food and energy prices due to insufficient energy supply to keep billions of people warm and fed would kill many more than that. Nuclear energy is indispensable at this point…unless you want to see the Chinese and Indians build a few hundred coal plants in the next few decades, you don’t mind millions of brownish-hued people in Over Thereistan starving in the dark, you feel great about rolling blackouts and $500/month energy bills, and you like driving to work under a permanent dome of coal-burn haze.

Chernobyl resulted in fewer than a hundred deaths, and a few thousand people with radiation-related health problems, mostly from the area 20 miles around the plant.  That’s the worst nuclear accident in history, and that death toll is unacceptable, and proof that nukes aren’t safe, despite the fact that hundreds of reactors worldwide have been running for decades without any accidents. Automobile accidents kill 30,000 people in the U.S. every year…and that’s the price of freedom.  More miners die every year digging for the coal that runs coal-powered plants than people have died of nuclear accidents in the history of the technology.

Hippies: Sometimes, They Don’t Make Sense.  But then again, the nuclear debate has never really been about what’s safe for people.  It has also never been about what’s good for the planet–otherwise the anti-nuke crowd wouldn’t push to get rid of a technology whose only current viable large-scale alternative, coal power, requires the burning of 8,600 tons of CO2-generating coal per plant and day.

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70 thoughts on “hippies: entirely useless, or cheap reactor shielding at least?

  1. Tam says:

    …and that’s the price of freedom.

    Once they get the reactors shut down, they’re coming for your evil, polluting, unsafe, resource-hogging Grand Caravan next.

    • Al Terego says:

      No, once they get a taste of a Cryogenica January with no heat and no hot hippie chow, they’ll be coming for his pellet stove and his new generator.

      But I’m thinking the Wrangler and his Munchkins will be ready for ‘em. “Kids, don’t shoot ’til you see the arugula in their teeth…”

      But, what gun for emaciated hippie?

      AT

  2. The Old Man says:

    They won’t be happy until all of us are freezing in the dark.
    BUT
    Wait until the NIMBYs discover that a manufacturing base is needed to produce ZigZags and lighters…. Different tune then, you betcha.

  3. Chang says:

    “There’s no such thing as a human birthright to be free from all conceivable dangers from cradle to grave.”

    God, but that is pure poetry. As much as I have concerns about nuclear, pound for pound it really is safer. THink of how many oil spills there have been vs. reactor emergencies and the math doesn’t add up.

    Keep it green & nuclear, I say!

  4. alan says:

    Freeman Dyson said that you can’t eliminate risk. You can only move it from one place to another.

  5. j t bolt says:

    4000 deaths at Chernobyl? News to me. I was under the impression it was less than a 10th that. You listening to hippy-estimated numbers again?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Well, direct deaths were under a hundred.

      I’m being charitable in assuming that everyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer ten years later actually died, even though it has a 90% survivability rate with treatment. But I revised the post to be less misleading.

      • LittleRed1 says:

        At least among the children, the death rate from thyroid cancer has been less than ten percent. Why? Because the medical people knew roughly the incidence from exposure and monitored the children, catching most of the tumors before they reached more than stage one. A fair number of the other problems reported among children were/are due to industrial pollution (lead, cadmium, and other goodies) as much as to radioactive materials.

        A member of my family used to do (mostly pediatric) medical work in Belarus and the Ukraine until the Belarussian government chased out all outside aid groups.

  6. abnormalist says:

    Not bowing down to the Nuclear power is the only “Safe”* power option, but the big nagging issue with it is the long term waste, both low toxicity and high. What do you do with it? Spent fuel rods, reactor piping, and coolant are examples high radioactivity, high toxicity waste. Uniforms, and countless other bits and pieces are low.

    Where do we put these? What do we do with them? These are questions that there arent currently good answers to. The best one we have come up with is the “We’ll bury it and let it be a problem later”. I take issue with that one. I’d rather not have my kids dealing with New Ground Water, now enhanced with extra tasty Cesium!

    Now all of that said I dont have a great solution except for the classic reduce our consumption. Insulate the bejeepers out of our homes, drive more efficient vehicles, LED and CFL lighting where we can etc etc etc

    * for limited quantities of safe

    • Sigivald says:

      What do we do?

      Reprocess it and use it as more fuel.

      The only problems are pseudo-political or political, not mechanical, physical, or engineering.

      Everything you “know” about radioactive waste is most likely wrong – like cesium in the water? Even if you don’t just reprocess the fuel rather than burying it, it’s just not a real issue; see, cesium’s going to be in the fuel rods, and they don’t just powder those up and dump them in a lake…

      Yeah, it’s water soluble, but that’s why the “bury it” proposals all involve salt caves in the middle of nowhere away from aquifers.

      But we shouldn’t bury fuel rods – we should, again, reprocess and re-use. And the coolant and reactor parts that get neutron bombarded just aren’t that bad.
      (“Reduce” won’t suffice, by the way, as a “fix”. Because the problem is that energy needs are not primarily “waste”, but that energy is what makes wealth in the first place.)

    • John Hardin says:

      Vitrify them and dump them into a subduction trench. It’s not a problem if you dilute it enough.

  7. Fred2 says:

    “Where do we put these? What do we do with them? These are questions that there arent currently good answers to. ”

    Yes, there are, we had a mountain all carved out in a nice dry geologically stable part of the world that could have stored that crap until the end of time, or, more likely until we figured out something useful to do with it, but the usual suspects killed it.

    That being said all the other things you said made a lot of sense.

    I’m looking forward to all the sellers of Vermont Yankee power writing a letter to their customers saying, that’s to your legislators some of you will get no power at all. The balance of you turkeys will pay 10$ a kWh so we can import unreliable power from other places

    Welcome to middle ages, Vermont.

    • abnormalist says:

      Fred2, The problem with the Yucca Mountain repository was that it would still be permeable to ground water eventually. There is really no great solution that I’m aware of to these issues.

      You can re-purpose spent fuel rods to reuse some of the fuel, there are no facilities currently doing this work, and its expected to be expensive and potentially dangerous.

      Coolant is usually irradiated water, not really something you want to drop off anywhere in any sizable quantities.

      Back in the 80s the idea came around of “well then lets launch all this crap into space” which isnt a horrible idea, except for cost, and the inherit dangers of space launch. I’d hate to be near Cape Canaveral when a rocket full of spent fuel rods and reactor piping fell over and blew up on the pad.

      Not many good options of what to do with this stuff.

      Once again, not saying this should nix the idea entirely, but also nuclear power (until we get that whole controlled cold fusion problem licked) inst all happy roses and bunnies

      • perlhaqr says:

        You can re-purpose spent fuel rods to reuse some of the fuel, there are no facilities currently doing this work, and its expected to be expensive and potentially dangerous.

        Because Jimmy “Peanut Fucker” Carter signed a goddamn treaty that forbids us from doing so. We generate 50x as much waste as we need to because fuel rods are “spent” when they get to 98% capacity from 100%, and we’re not allowed to recycle them.

  8. PhillipC says:

    Honestly, it seems like the rejection of nuclear power in most people is less about reasoned weighing of facts and more of a religion. A very bad religion, one which is going to require a lot of sacrifices.

  9. My Big Idea for dealing with high-level radiological waste is thermionic electric power generation. Once the spent fuel rods are removed from the reactor, they are placed inside the thermionic module, next to the reactor containment vessel, where the heat of decay from fission fragments generates additional electricity via thermocouples.

    I like the idea of keeping the waste on-site with the reactor itself, so’s we can keeps an eye on both at the same time. Let’s keep them Department of Homeland Security folks, with their big, white SUVs, tinted windows, wrap-around shades and bulges under their jackets, busy securing the homeland’s electric power grid.

    ~Joe

  10. wrm says:

    Heh. A 9.0 quake hits Japan, buildings collapse, and nobody says “the safety systems on the buildings failed and killed these people”. A tsunami hits Japan, busses get swept away and the passengers drown, and nobody says “that bus was unsafe”.

    But let one person get even a mild sunburn from Fuku and “nuclear power is unsafe!”

    This morning talk radio was on about toy guns again. They just couldn’t stretch the lack of a story at Fuku any longer. Poor desperate souls, having to manufacture bad news all the time.

  11. Tam says:

    Let’s not forget that maybe close to 20,000 people just got snuffed by the risky, new, dangerous, unproven technology called “Living Near The Ocean”.

  12. perlhaqr says:

    I know they’re unlikely to do it because they want to keep the money flowing in as long as possible, but if I were those guys, I’d shut the plant off right now.

    “Fine, fuck you. *click!*”

    Let them immediately feel the pain of doing with 73% less electricity.

  13. Marja says:

    Hmm. If we can keep that portion of our citizens who get hives from the mere thought of ‘radiation’ down, Onkalo could perhaps become a new source of money for Finland – rent space from there and bring your nucular waste here, no tsunamis and the Baltic shield is about as stable an environment as you can find.

    Except of course for the occasional glaciations, although the facility should be deep enough to be safe for that. And after a 100 000 years or so when the ice again melts the radiation won’t be that much anymore, in case some curious uneducated descendants start digging (and if we don’t have a thriving and expanding civilization in space by then I damn well do hope that the souls of the hippies who did their best to prevent that future are doomed to reincarnate again and again as the primitives imprisoned by the planet – preferably while keeping the knowledge of what they have done from one incarnation to next. Right to the next time when an all natural disaster destroys most of the biosphere).

  14. George says:

    Don’t forget that we won’t even have coal plants constructed to take up the demand…the greenies are completely unwilling to let viable tech be built.

    Instead, they want to stick us with wind farms, solar panels and carbon credits. Less about actually protecting the environment and more about lining pockets and controlling our lives.

  15. Tony says:

    Marja – you do realize that our percentage of hysterical people is increasing all the time, not decreasing. People were hoarding iodine tablets because of Fukushima, a car backfires and people immediately call the police to report a mass murder taking place… Hell, people call the emergency number these days when their kids refuse to eat their carrots.

    Making money with nuclear waste storage sounds like a good and logical idea. I just very much doubt it the current population is capable of rational thought.

  16. Marja says:

    Tony, I’m afraid that you are right. One can hope, though. Last poll – before Fukushima – got well over half of the local population in favor of nuclear power, but it’s probable the percentage would be rather lower right now.

  17. Ancient Woodsman says:

    I’m willing to bet those same anti-nuke throwbacks from the Clamshell Alliance are also against the ‘green’ alternative of Quebec hydro coming through northern NH – the ‘northern pass’ project – and have crossed the river to protest same.

    The are not anti-nuke as much as anti-progress; they all want to live like Thoreau without having to do the work necessary to do so, at the same time forcing the rest of us to live likewise AND do their work for them.

  18. Dusty says:

    I’m pro-nuclear, but let’s get this straight. There was a drastic over-estimation of the deaths associated with Chernobyl, the lowest, most rational estimates are in the 4000 range.

    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index.html

    The number that anti-nuclear advocates use is anywhere between 50,000 and 1 million people. THAT is the number that people are saying is inaccurate. 4000 is the number that is generally accepted by professionals as correct.

    I don’t think they should shut down this plant, but I do believe that they should stop investing in uranium-based technology.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium

    And yes, I’m also pro-solar and pro-wind. And it’s true that I want to line people’s pockets… but these people are me and my neighbors. Renewable energy is huge here, and in as little as 5 years, any investment can start making people money.

    http://www.rnp.org/project_map

    Coal, Natural Gas, Oil and Nuclear require huge factories and corporations, along with a ton of government oversight. It requires big-government in order to be handled responsibly. Wind, Solar and Geothermal, on the other hand, can and is often done by individuals. Wave power sits somewhere in the middle, requiring some regulation to ensure that the ‘public’ environment isn’t destroyed/blocked, but this can be done by the County, not the Country.

    If you consider yourself a libertarian, or want small government, you should be supporting energy systems that can be implemented by individuals or small companies.

    • Tam says:

      Ever try running a steel mill on a wind turbine and a handful of solar cells?

      That always gets left out of distributed power utopias…

      • perlhaqr says:

        Why would you need a steel mill in your agrarian utopia? I mean, if you follow the Pol Pot School of Revolution, once you’re done you don’t even need to make glasses frames, let alone tractors.

    • perlhaqr says:

      Wind, Solar and Geothermal, on the other hand, can and is often done by individuals.

      Wow, I had no idea. You got a link to a home solar panel fab website?

    • Kristopher says:

      That 4000 number came from a WHO manager. His continued employment at the UN is based on fear-mongering for operating funds.

      Show us some real peer reviewed data please, if you want to claim numbers higher than the original 50 or so killed at Chernobyl.

  19. I’m amazed no one has seen the solution to this quandary….

    First, we find ourselves a community organizer, which shouldn’t be all that difficult. We get him/her/it to organize all the hippies who want Vermont Yankee shut down. For each hippie who signs up and takes a pledge to stop using electricity, we send some Nice Folks With Tools to their domicile. The electric meter is pulled and all items that use electricity are carted off. We’ll sell those in a yard sale to pay for the services of the Nice Folks With Tools.

    Once we have disconnected enough hippes to offset the loss in power generation, we shut down and decommission Vermont Yankee.

    I figure we’ll have enough hippies signed up by the second Tuesday of next week to make this a reality.

  20. Silverevilchao says:

    It would be absolutely hilarious if the higher-ups at Vermont Yankee said “Wanna know what? Fuck you guys, this is your lives without us!” and shut the power down till the idiots whine about getting frostbite.

  21. Gnarly Sheen says:

    “Let’s not forget that maybe close to 20,000 people just got snuffed by the risky, new, dangerous, unproven technology called “Living Near The Ocean”.”

    God I laughed til it hurt (at the comment, not at the deaths!).

  22. Dee says:

    Nothing new to see here; just the same armchair commentary experts forming more self-assured expertise. America has truly grown dumber and meaner. Youre a joke of a lot.

  23. Chip says:

    While I understand the sarcastic tone of the original post, I must just clarify a couple of points. VT Yankee provides about one third of Vermont’s electricity. Another third or so comes from hydro generated north of the border. My particular hippie utility gets most of its generation from methane capture in landfills.
    I also wanted to mention that there are a few of us on this side of the river that aren’t hippies, we’re just outnumbered in Montpelier.
    We will still be here after the big die-off.
    Tam is still the queen of snark.

    • VT’s energy situation is a little difficult to discuss because it sells some of the energy produced in the state and then purchases electricity from Hydro Quebec at lower rates. Thus, VT Yankee represents 70% of the state’s electricity production but only a bit over a third of its actual consumption. Which is fine from an economic perspective, but feels a bit shell-gamey to me when Vermonters start lecturing.

      http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/state/state_energy_profiles.cfm?sid=VT is a good overview of production for the curious.

  24. mcdonatl says:

    Okay Marko, do you and the 10,000 generations of Kloos’ after you want to keep the spent fuel rods under your beds? Can you actually get your mind around how long this stuff will exist and be harmful?

    • Tam says:

      Show me who has suggested storing it under a bed? From reprocessing to Yucca Mountain, there are lots of solutions that don’t involve making infants’ cuddle toys out of the stuff.

  25. michael says:

    “Chernobyl resulted in fewer than a hundred deaths”???!!!
    Hard to believe:
    “According to Vyacheslav Grishin of the Chernobyl Union, the main organization of liquidators, “25,000 of the Russian liquidators are dead and 70,000 disabled, about the same in Ukraine, and 10,000 dead in Belarus and 25,000 disabled”, which makes a total of 60,000 dead (10% of the 600 000, liquidators) and 165,000 disabled.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquidator_%28Chernobyl%29

    • Marko Kloos says:

      You mean to tell me that of a group of workers who were in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties back in 1985, many of them are dead or disabled in 2011? Shocking.

      I have no doubt that many of them had radiation-related health problems. No doubt a fair number of them died early. But the direct fatalities of Chernobyl–people dying of radiation exposure within days or weeks–were demonstrably fewer than a hundred.

  26. Vanessa Stine says:

    nuclear isn’t clean it produces a lot of nuclear waste that has to be specially stored until it cools down. you know how long it takes to cool down? longer then we have the capacity to store it. if it gets above 70 degrees it explodes. Japan and France pump water around their waste we try to bury ours but it leaks out anyway because it melts the containers.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Your knowledge of nuclear waste procedures is a bit lacking, to put it mildly. That just read like listening to my six-year-old when I ask him to explain a combustion engine’s inner workings.

    • Tam says:

      if it gets above 70 degrees it explodes.

      Hahahahahaha!

      Seriously, there are grownups talking here.

    • Geodkyt says:

      Vanessa Stine

      March 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      nuclear isn’t clean it produces a lot of nuclear waste that has to be specially stored until it cools down. you know how long it takes to cool down? longer then we have the capacity to store it. if it gets above 70 degrees it explodes. Japan and France pump water around their waste we try to bury ours but it leaks out anyway because it melts the containers.

      Oh…My…Bloody…God…

      Teh stupid, it burns.

      I’ll bet you never realized that uranium (just to pick one common nuke fuel) doesn’t even reach it’s MELTING point untl 2000 degrees F.

      Or that an alloy of mostly U238 (DU, for “Depleted Uranium” — what you have after you remove most, but not all, of the U235 goodness) is used as radiation shielding, becuase the decay rate is SO LOW that despite being an emitter (ZOMG! 4.5 billion year half-life!!!), it provides BETTER shielding than LEAD? That you’ll get less radiation sitting in a uranium cube than you would doing yoga in Boulder Colorado, or sitting on a granite boulder? (Yes, granite is radioactive — moreso than U238, because its chock full of emitters itself. . . )

      How about the fact that multiple 1.7 billion year old uranium deposits (which were at 3% U235 and undergoing steady, sustained fission for millions of years, naturally, until the U235 percentage dropped too low) have been discovered — yet the surrounding sediment and rock has successfully contained the “contamination” for those same 1.7 billion years?

      Sssshhhhh. Grownups talking.

  27. phillytyper says:

    Geez, I had no idea that radiation was so good for you.

    Now my dad used to walk around the house shutting off lights. He also took the trolley to work every day and said, anyone who drives downtown in the middle of a weekday is a meathead. He was a contract attorney for the US Army Engineers and was hardly a Green. But if he saw how power was wasted today, he’d probably loose it.

    When I flew across the US a while ago (because there’s no longer a single train that can do it, unlike in those leftie countries)… I was struck by the enormous glow of cities big and small, and the ribbons of illuminated, empty highways. Once I thought that sight was magnificent.

    Now every empty watt being wasted, on the backs of the 4,000 or the 30,000 killed by nuclear or coal seems like a frivolous waste worse than any nuke waste.

    Fire up more nukes? Scrape off more mountaintops? Frack more water tables? How about making hot tubs and LED billboards harder to get than bottled water–which should be harder to get than 50 caliber ammo.

    And maybe we could turn off a few more lights, because we waste enough to shut off a nuke plant every year.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      I shut off all the lights and turn off all devices that are not in use. You don’t know how frugal my wife is…and she’s the one who opens and pays the electric bill. ;)

      (Imagine that–we limit our energy consumption not because of regulations or laws, but because of economic incentives to keep it low…because we have to pay for excessive consumption. Odd, huh?)

      But you read past my point. I didn’t say that “radiation is good for you.” It’s bad for you, no doubt. But what’s worse for humans than a few thousand deaths every 30 years from a nuclear accident is freezing in the dark, or burning millions of tons of coal every year in lieu of nuclear energy, or starving because of high food prices due to high energy costs. And the history of nuclear energy use shows that it’s a safe technology when properly managed. It took a 9.0 quake and a tsunami to damage Fukushima I, and that radiation hasn’t killed anyone…much to the chagrin of the anti-nuke crowd and the news media.

    • Tam says:

      But if he saw how power was wasted today, he’d probably loose it.

      Upon whom would he loose this power?

    • George says:

      You can still go across the US in a train. It’s a bit pricey, and only Amtrak is in the passenger business because the railroads wised up and ditched pax trains ASAP when the airlines became viable. Rail is very good for moving bulk, heavy goods that aren’t on a critical timetable. It’s not so great for moving passengers that want to get somewhere ASAP.

      And you know what? Keep your damn hands off the consumer goods I want to by. If I wanted to buy a hot tub, so fucking what? If I want to buy bottle water, so what? If I want to cut every light in my house on at night? SO WHAT? None of your damn business what I spend my money on…I’m paying for it.

  28. Joe Brock says:

    can’t we just get on with killing ALL the whiners already? even this blog writer and commenters. the world will be better without us

  29. Al Terego says:

    “hippies: entirely useless, or cheap reactor shielding at least?”

    Neither, but as evidenced above, they are good for an occasional laugh…

    AT

  30. Eva says:

    Marko, I can recommend learning about radioactive decay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_decay

    One of the isotopes used in Fukushima has a half-life of 24 000 years. Even if only a relative small amount is released into the atmosphere, it’ll bug the environment for a long time. Combine that with future nuclear disasters. It’s going to build up and cause healt problems for all organisms.

    Let’s cut down before our suicide is complete.

    • Tony says:

      Mmkay. Which isotope, and in what quantities? How much higher levels of background radiation are we talking about here, exactly?

      …Or could it be that you need to learn about radioactive materials from non-politically biased sources, yourself?

      • Eva says:

        Hi Tony, you’re right that I need to learn more. My knowledge of chemistry is getting rusty and I’m not the best person to be going on about this. But, I was referring to plutonium-239, which apparently is being used in one of the Fukushima reactors. I doubt you’ll find a much different half-life number for it anywhere else.

        It would be interesting to know what a typical meltdown involving this isotope might constitute in terms of background radiation, and what consequences the extra radiation might have.

  31. Richard says:

    Er, Wikipedia says this:

    “On March 21, 2011 the NRC issued their renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee plant for an additional 20 years.[6]; the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.”

    Pointing to this:

    http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0921/ML092110054.pdf

    and this complaining:

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2011/03/27/nrc_needs_to_hear_message_that_vermont_yankees_time_is_up/

    suggests that nothing has changed (yet).

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