Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nuclear energy versus flood control - choose one

I spent most of this last week on my second trip to Washington DC on behalf of our local water district, trying to see if we can funding for flood control projects primarily, and secondarily for environmental restoration and dam safety.  I'm getting to the point now where I'm starting to understand what it is that I don't know, so maybe that's progress.

Comments I wrote about the previous trip still stand, especially regarding budgets.  Here's something new to me:  the implication of the fact that the Corps of Engineers flood control budget competes with the Department of Energy's nuclear power development program budget in a budgetary appropriations subcommittee.  DOE also supports nuclear weapons programs, but I'm not clear as to exactly where that money comes from.  As political actors starting from Obama and moving to his right support subsidies for nuclear power, that limits the amount of money we can get to support our flood control projects (which incidentally have a lot of good environmental aspects to them).  So far, it's not looking good for flood control.

In a rational world it's not clear why these two budget items would face off any more than any other two federal budget items, but that's not the hand we've been dealt.  More question in my mind then whether nuclear power deserves the vast level of subsidy it's been given.

In other news, more speculation about Santorum 2016, this time from an apparent Santorum skeptic who sez "I wouldn't put him among the top three contenders".  I suggested in the comments that we make it interesting with a nominal $50 bet over whether he fails to place third.  The apparent skeptic questioned whether he had made a prediction, so I guess I stand corrected.


Hank Roberts said...

> nuclear subsidy

Earlier, the subsidy was for climbing up on the tiger's back and getting the ride started.

Nowadays, the subsidy is for staying up on the tiger ...

Aaron said...

In the old days, it was hydro-electric v. nuclear for non-carbon energy generation. Agencies that have won a line in the budget, do not give them up.

It is a game, like football. Why should the Stanford - Berkeley game be such a big deal?


Why choose one when we can assert our God-given dominion over the landscape by judiciously dimpling it with underground nuclear test craters and blast caverns that provide improvidential floodwaters a harmless place to go?

Write Senator Inhofe today to demand the re-opening of Project Gasbuggy !

David B. Benson said...

Too bad you can't help eliminate the nuclear warhead maintenance program.

That is a lotta wasted monies.

Anonymous said...

Even if we dismantle the nuclear warheads, it'll cost $$ to safeguard the material for 25,000 years.
Maintaining them as warheads costs more.

It would be a pretty dumb idea to go out of business and sell them at garage sales!

Seriously, do you think the nuclear genie can be put back in the bottle? I don't.

Anonymous said...


It would probably be more aptly termed "a nuclear scientist maintenance program" because it keeps the weapons scientists on the payroll -- some (not Horatio mind you) would say "on the dole".

But it is nonetheless better (and probably significantly cheaper) than the alternative*, which is to start the tests back up.

*unfortunately, total elimination of the stockpile is not a politically viable option and at least "maintenance" keeps the DR. Strangelove types bent on developing mini black holes generated by nuclear implosions and the like in check a bit.

If they can't test their new (and ever wackier) ideas, they can't be confident that they will work.


Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

Circa 1980, I had lunch with a friend then searching for sites to dispose of nuclear waste. She was looking at 3 potential sites: only the Yucca Mountain, Nevada seemed to me to be safe enough geologically for waste containment for the 10,000 years needed for radiation to diminish enough. Yucca was eventually selected. Nevada, where there's even fewer blades of grass than people, became the site of a NIMBY ruckus. A couple of billion were spent constructing the site. Obama campaigned on the promise to shut it down. He did. Of course Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, is sent by Nevada.

My friend agreed with my skepticism about the energy returned vs. the enormous amount of energy needed to produce radioactive uranium, saying specifically "not if nuclear waste disposal is considered."

The government should not at this point in time subsidize either the oil or the nuclear industries. They are mature and should stand on their own. Nor in 10 or 20 years, should it subsidize solar energy, but for the present it provides a springboard to develop a useful source of power generation that is becoming cost competitive even now.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous (9:30)

If we dismantle warheads, we can burn the plutonium in reactors as MOX fuel.

See: "Megatons to Megawatts" [which uses Russian uranium, but MOX (plutonium) fuel blends are an established technology].

You still have to secure the spent fuel, but it's not as risky (from a proliferation standpoint) as leaving warhead material lying around.

Humanity cannot "unlearn" to make nuclear weapons, so I think even if we have universal disarmament, the knowledge that nukes are possible will leave us forever vulnerable. As you say, there's no going back.


Anonymous said...

@ Snow Bunny

Of course, right now that very same waste is sitting above ground all over the place. The stringency of the long term storage requirements are keeping the waste from being moved to secure storage. Joseph Heller would be proud.

Regarding subsidies, a potential argument for continuing to support nuclear is that it lacks some of the damaging externalities of oil and coal. If we had a carbon price, I'd be satisfied to just let 'em all duke it out in the free market.

In reply to Brian's post, the fact that nuclear energy and flood control must compete with each other for $ puzzles me.


David B. Benson said...

Excess bomb plutonium (mostly Pu-240) is going to be converted into MUX to be used in civilian nuclear power plants. The rest of the warheads could go the same route.

The once-through MUX, no longer useful in a LWR, could then be converted into metal for total consumption by a fast reactor, extracting the remaining approximately 99% of the available energy. The resulting low volume waste contains cesium-137. Separate that and secure from the environment for about 250 years. Being a very low volume and a fairly short time this is not difficult.

David B. Benson said...

Oops! Mox, not MUX; short for metal oxide mixture of uranium and plutonium.