Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nuclear Nuttiness

Though I'm not sure he's fully learned the lesson yet, my 9 year old son Henry is certainly in the process of learning one of life's most important lessons:  Don't make a mess if you don't want to clean it up.

Unfortunately for all of us, a number of engineers and physicists over the last several decades never learned that lesson, and the mess they've created may well prove to be worst mess anyone will have to deal with.

Since its inception, nuclear power plants worldwide have operated on a "we'll figure it out later" principle when it comes to the nightmarish mess they've created with regards to waste disposal.  It should be quite clear to anyone who dares to look at the issue, that later is really never.  Aside from a new underground storage facility being constructed in Finland, I don't believe any country has successfully dealt with their waste problem.  This stuff remains dangerous for longer than human civilization has existed.

Post Fukushima, Germans decided once and for all to stop making the mess worse, and will have their plants shut down within the decade.  That's smart -- or perhaps just a sign of a functional democracy of the type that no longer exists in this country.

Being ahead of the curve as they are, the Germans are discovering that this is no small task. The costs are in the upper stratosphere, tens of billions of euros at the very least.  They do not plan to have their plants fully decommissioned until 2080, likely in an effort to stem the economic bleeding it will cause.

Incidentally, the IEA (optimistic as they've proven themselves to be) claims we have 50 years of recoverable global oil reserves. Apparently Germany plans to run the heavy equipment required for this decommissioning on fairy dust, at a time when their fuel starved industrial economy will (at the very best) be making its last whimpers.

The worst part of it is that Germany is still leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world, whose 400+ reactors will most likely become Fukushima re-enactors as the world's industrial economies slowly blink out and take the electrical grid (which the reactors need for cooling) with them.

We've already proven to the world that we cannot handle nuclear power when things go badly, even when we're at the height of our industrial capability.   How will we fare as our economic and physical capabilities are now waning?

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