A fresh look at nuclear energy

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Science  11 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 105
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw5304

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  • RE: A fresh look at nuclear energy
    • François Diaz-Maurin, MacArthur Foundation Nuclear Security Visiting Scholar and European Commission’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

    “A fresh look at nuclear energy” (Science 363, 105–105; 2019) rightly emphasizes the risks of the escalating evidence of climate change. But the editorial goes too fast in framing nuclear energy as the “least costly approach” to decarbonize the power sector. This proposal is based on extending the life of the existing fleet of nuclear reactors worldwide. However, reactors are only one of the many processes the nuclear fuel cycle needs to operate (Energy 49, 162–177; 2013). Relying on the economics and efficiency of current operation of nuclear reactors would be a far stretch to frame nuclear energy as a solution to a global problem.

    Importantly, the editorial neglects to address nuclear power’s waste problem. In their 248-page report entitled “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World” (http://energy.mit.edu/research/future-nuclear-energy-carbon-constrained-...), the authors dedicate only one paragraph of the executive summary to the problem of the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. While the authors rightly acknowledge that the absence of waste disposal solutions prevents the expansion of nuclear energy, they wrongly attribute this problem to the political dimensions associated with siting a geologic repository which “far outweigh the technical challenges.” The history of the stalled U.S. disposal program is more nuanced. Scientists and experts have te...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: A fresh look at nuclear energy
    • Jan Kunnas, Environmental and Economic Historian, Independent researcher, Jyväskylä, Finland

    John Parsons et al. demands in their editorial a fresh look at the role that nuclear energy can play in decarbonizing the world's energy system, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last October that we are running out of time. Urgency might justify extending the life of the existing fleet of nuclear reactors as long as safety is not undermined, which is not necessarily always the case. The building of new reactors is, however, to slow considering the urgency of decarbonization.

    Let us consider, for example, the situation in my home country Finland. The nuclear power plant currently under construction at Olkiluoto received its building permission from the Parliament in 2002, and the plant was originally scheduled to be completed before summer 2009. However, in October 2009, the developer TVO announced that the completion may be delayed from June 2012, which was the current schedule confirmed by the plant supplier Areva. This timetable did not hold, and at the time of writing, the most recent estimate for the start of regular electricity production is in January 2020, almost eleven years behind schedule. Similarly, Fennovoima´s power plant under construction by Rosatom in Pyhäjoki is expected to be completed in 2028, ie at least a decade behind its original schedule.

    This would not be a problem if renewable and nuclear energies were complementary, as the authors argue. Unfortunately this is not the case, as they are competing fo...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Illogical actions against global warming using nuclear energy

    John Parsons et al. wrote an article entitled “A fresh look at nuclear energy” (1). Serious nuclear accidents including Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, Chernobyl in 1986, Three Mile Island in 1978 and others have been summarized (2). Fuel in three of the reactor cores melted, and radiation releases from the damaged reactors contaminated a wide area surrounding the plant and forced the evacuation of nearly half a million residents in Fukushima, Japan (2). We must learn from the past lessons. The accidents caused by the same reason lie in that risk assumptions were too optimistic. For example, the assumed height of Tsunami waves against Fukushima nuclear power plant #1 was 10 meters while over 14 meters Tsunami waves hit the power plant on March 11, 2011. About nuclear energy, we still have two unsolved problems from the technology and engineering viewpoint: nuclear decommissioning and how to manage nuclear wastes.
    As long as two unsolved problems were solved, I will be a strong supporter of nuclear energy. The best energy sources which we should utilize for taming the global warming are solar radiation energy from outside the earth and magma energy from the interior of the earth (3).

    1. John Parsons et al., A fresh look at nuclear energy, Science 11 Jan 2019: Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 105
    2. https://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclea...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: A Fresh Look at Nuclear Energy

    You must be kidding! Twentieth century thinking will not save us in the twenty-first century. Just how much nuclear waste constitutes an acceptably sized toxic dump? We still have no idea where to put the poison piles we've got. How about we gear down our addiction to endless consumption, to planned obsolescence, to 'free' energy? More nukes? Who paid for this editorial?

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: A fresh look at nuclear energy.
    • Alex Pirie, Coordinator, Immigrant Service Providers Group/Health

    An entire article without a single mention of spent fuel disposal? With the current problems at Hanford and with Fukushima waste washing up on the West Coast and lapping up against a proposed beach front spent fuel storage concrete monolith uncomfortably close to a major fault at San Onofre - how could this be ignored when calculating the costs? An increased reliance on nuclear energy, given our inability to safely and cost effectively manage waste at the current scale, is just kicking the environmental disaster can down to generations that are already at risk due to the mistakes, and let's be honest, greed of their predecessors, as Pogo had it, us.

    Competing Interests: DNA in the game - children and grandchildren.

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