Nuclear Power and Coal (essay by Dr. Stanley Thompson, Eugene, OR, August, 2001)

Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2001 13:39:58 -0800 (PST)
From: Millie and Stan Thompson <>
To: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Nuclear Power and Coal

Dear Russell D. Hoffman:
   I am an admirer of what you are doing. I wish you success. I am now
closer to 88 than 87 years old, but I still can't let go of my sporadic
efforts to protect our grandchildren from my society's efforts to ruin
their world. I have a sneaking suspicion that we may have to have another
major nuclear accident to shut down nuclear power.
   Perhaps you might be interested that our local paper, "The
Register-Guard" published the following piece on their OP-ED page on
August 8, 2001.
   Please keep up the good work.
                                Stan Thompson

        Fossil Fuel, Nuclear Power Plants too Risky

President Bush's energy plan, apparently accepted and backed by the House
of Representatives, is an attack on all future generations: my
grandchildren and yours. They will never visit a pristine park, or live in
a clean environment.
     Southern California has experienced recent "rolling blackouts" of
power. To prevent this happening again, in California and elsewhere, our
President and his advisers propose to build many new fossil-fuel plants.
They, and the nuclear power industry, also want to build a new generation
of nuclear plants. Some of us are appalled at the prospect of their
entering either line of venture.
     Most of our electrical energy is still generated by the consumption
of fossil fuels. The burning of these fuels for space heating, generation
of electricity, and propulsion of vehicles generates massive amounts of
carbon dioxide, trapping heat from the sun in the earth's atmosphere,
leading to catastrophic global warming. Among other harmful effects, the
world's glaciers will melt, raising the level of the surface of the sea,
perhaps flooding Florida.
     The world's supply of fossil fuels, including coal and petroleum
products, was built up over millions of years of evolution. Energy curves
show our use of petroleum products continuing to rise steeply while the
rate of discovery appears to have passed its peak. The ready supply of
petroleum products will have been exhausted in the period of one lifetime,
depriving all future generations of its many benefits.
     The nuclear power business is an economic failure, dependent for its
continuance on subsidies from governments desiring plutonium and tritium
for nuclear bombs. All nuclear power plants ordered by US utilities since
1973 were subsequently canceled. There are in the United States a
collection of over 100 aging nuclear power plants, generating perhaps 20
percent of our electrical energy.
     Nuclear promoters claim falsely that the nuclear business does not
generate carbon dioxide.  Among other requirements, power reactors
generally demand "enriched" fuel, having a higher ratio of fissionable
uranium-235 to non-fissionable uranium-238 than the 140th fraction
provided in natural uranium. The enrichment is done in vast "diffusion
plants" which use great amounts of fossil energy, thereby generating
carbon dioxide.
     Nuclear reactors manufacture tons of plutonium and other lethal
radioactive materials. Earth is supposed to be 4.5 billion years old.
Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years, a short time compared with the
age of the earth but forever compared with a human lifetime. Naturally
occurring plutonium has now become almost non-existant. Because of the
virtual disappearance of many such radioactive perils, life forms on earth
had become marginally safe from radiative destruction.
     But now reactors have made over 1000 tons of plutonium, plus other
devastating radioactive materials, and are still producing. This
represents a reversal of part of the beneficial effects of evolution.
There is no method for eliminating or storing these dangerous residues of
reactor operation safe from future contact with living beings.
     All engineering creations are subject to failure. Nuclear power
plants are particularly vulnerable because they are too complicated for
complete analysis. Reactor failures are unacceptable, as demonstrated by
Chernobyl. Reindeer meat was discarded in Lapland and milk in Italy. Birds
died in a bird sanctuary in California and elsewhere where rain brought
down the radioactive cloud encircling the world. Ukrainian children
suffering leukemia and thyroid difficulties were given relief in camps in
New Zealand and elsewhere.
     But American reactor designers and builders believe they are smarter
than the Russians. In their arrogance they have now designed "inherently
safe" reactors with which to replace the present fallible versions. There
is no way to check the validity of their claims but to build thousands of
nuclear power plants. They really ask, "How can we be certain that fossil
and nuclear power ventures will ruin the earth's atmosphere for all future
generations unless we build them?"
     The public has in the past too readily accepted assurances concerning
"safe" reactors. I mention here only two, SL-1 and Ft. St. Vrain.
     SL-1 (Stationary Low-Power Reactor), a very small,
water-moderated-and-cooled reactor, was designed to be so simple and
"inherently safe" that it could operate unattended on the polar ice caps.
On January 3, 1961, at the Reactor Test Station in Idaho, its test version
was shut down for routine maintenance by a three-man night crew. A nuclear
explosion contaminated the reactor building, and killed the three men,
leaving one of them hanging from the ceiling, impaled on a control rod.
     More recently, a high temperature gas-cooled power reactor (HTGR)
built for the Colorado Public Service at Ft. St. Vrain, could not be
brought to power because of excessive power oscillations which worsened as
power was increased. This reactor, like some newly proposed versions of
the "inherently safe"  Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), was composed of
graphite spheres containing the reactor fuel. It appears that some members
of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fear that "inherent
safety"  of proposed PBMRs may be too quickly assumed.
     Must we allow our President and his "experts" to carry out their
ventures? I believe we should moderate our greed for energy while we
investigate the development of "softer" sources, including solar energy.

        Dr. A. Stanley Thompson of Eugene retired after a career in
   academia and industry, working on aviation projects, thermal power
   plants and nuclear reactors. In his last position, he was a professor
   of mechanical engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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First posted October 31st, 2001.

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