Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reeves wants to do WHAT!?, or, nuclear power for Ester

Oh good god.

Found this first on Fairbanks Open Radio, and now in an article by Dermot Cole in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: John Reeves has applied for a permit to install a portable nuclear power plant on a 4-acre lot near Ester. He makes the following nonsensical claims: that nuclear energy is the "cleanest, safest, cheapest form of energy available" (um, yeah, when it's 93 million miles away).

Before I get into the details of this, here's the date for the public hearing on the permitting:
Tuesday, May 19, 7 pm, FNSB Planning Commission. You can e-mail the entire commission at
Hyperion Power Generation, the company Reeves would like to work with, is creating small, self-contained modular power plants, rather like the Toshiba company's proposed modular power plant for Galena. (As of last year, this power plant was still scheduled for permitting approval with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)

Hyperion's modules are smaller than Toshiba's by quite a bit (only about two meters cubed) and use no weapons-grade material. Here's how the Guardian describes them:
The reactors, only a few metres in diameter, will be delivered on the back of a lorry to be buried underground. They must be refuelled every 7 to 10 years. Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory.
Let's see: "clean".

The biggest problem with nuclear power is the waste, both mining waste and power industry waste. The Star (Toronto) describes the problem succinctly:
The fact is the units would still produce nuclear-fuel waste – a football-sized amount for each reactor – and while it would be collected by Hyperion and managed at a central location, a large part of the population believes it immoral to create and leave behind highly toxic waste for future generations.

Can a company like Hyperion be trusted to transport, collect and manage this waste from potentially thousands of sites?
And will Hyperion be around for thousands of years to look after its mess? Will the governments of the countries in which these potential sites are to be located be stable enough to properly regulate the nuclear industry and plants within their borders, again, for thousands of years?

To claim that they are "greenhouse gas-emission free" is nonsensical, just as it is for anything these days. Transporting the module back and forth every 7 to 10 years is going to require something in the way of fuel, and there is no industrial equipment manufactured today that doesn't rely on fossil fuels somewhere in its creation. Mining uranium, of course, has its own set of problems above and beyond greenhouse gas emissions (the uranium mining industry has a lousy health and safety record).

Side note to Alaska's political bloggers: any of you recall the Elim student protest and Palin's mining plans for the Seward Peninsula? The student blog doesn't appear to have been updated since September 2007, but there's some more news items that showed up in 2008. Northwest Alaska isn't he only place that needs to be thinking about this question, though: Bokan Mountain near Ketchikan is described as Ucore Uranium's "flagship property".

[I really don't get why Palin is so pro-mining and so unfriendly toward renewable industries like fishing (which bring in more money than mining!).]


I'm not sure what these companies think they are doing, trying to sell nuclear power plants to people in a state riddled with fault lines and volcanoes and flooding rivers. I read a ludicrous claim somewhere (can't find it now...) that because an item is buried, it would be safe from earthquake. Um, what? the earth moves, and not just on the surface—down for miles! And radioactive material, if it gets loose, is decidedly unsafe. In any quanitity.

There are a couple of big advantages that these small modular-type power generators have over the traditional sort of nuclear power plant. One of them is no mechanical systems: no moving parts, nothing to break down and cause havoc thereby. The other is that the expense in building and maintaining them is considerably less than with a big plant. The uranium hydride used as fuel is far less nasty than the fuel typically used in nuclear power plants. And it's not going to be useful for people intending to make their own nuclear weapons.

Now let's address "cheapest."

Typical large-scale nuclear power has been heavily subsidized. There's no way it could compete with oil, coal, wind. solar, geothermal--any other method. It's the most expensive form of power generation out there, excepting maybe using a gadzillion mice on excercise wheels...and most estimates of cost never even touch the expense of guarding the waste properly from 260,000 years...mostly because the plan is to bury it in the ground and forget about it. The mini-nuke option is cheaper, by a lot, but it still doesn't address this long-term problem and expense.

I'm wondering. The borough didn't have any zoning plans for wireless phone transmitter towers, so they popped up all over and caused a fuss. I'm betting they don't have any zoning in place regarding nuclear power plants, either.

1 comment:

CabinDweller said...

Hmmm. I seem to recall hearing somewhere (can't remember with my pushing 40 brain) that exploration or pursuit of that activity near Elim had halted.