Debate Rounds (4)
Voting is only open to members with at least 2500 Elo.
Well that sure sounds just awful. It sounds like a terrible spot for pro nuclear power to work his way out from - especially when I, pro, don't disagree with one bit of the quote!
That's my task, and there is no reason to start off telling anyone fairytales. As a CEO I worked for told his people as many times as anyone could listen "under promise - over deliver". From the days of claims like "energy too cheap to meter's, nuclear power proponents have dug their holes with OVER promise and UNDER deliver. If we could wash our brains of yesterday's misconceptions, undelivered promises, dramatic accidents and every Godzilla move it sure would make my job easier, however, an easy job I don't have.
I will order my argument in a way I hope will satisfy the reader, make NO effort to hide the concerns over Godzilla, and show a world where nuclear makes sense.
I. Brief intro introduction to Nuclear EnergyJust what are we talking about? Nuclear is very vague, everything about atoms is nuclear. Well, generally when we talk nuclear energy we are speaking of fission (splitting the atom) fusion (fusion of two nuclei) and decay (energy ionizing radiation). Each of these has reasonable visuals to differentiate in our minds.
Weather fission, fusion, or decay, what we are looking at is energy released from the nucleus of an atom. Thanks in large part to a kindly man with shocking white hair we have been able to realize the awesome power that sits all around us, and he expressed it with only a hand full of characters - E=mc^2.
Reasonably speaking, our entire universe is running on nuclear energy. Solar, wind, coal, these and every other imaginable power source is in effect drafting on nuclear energy. If you believe that (and you should, because it's true) how do we make power like the cool kids do?
Electricity through nuclear energy is produced in the same way as it we do it by burning coal, oil or natural gas. When burnt, the heat formed produces steam. The steam then turns turbines. The turbines turns generators which produce electricity. The difference between the plants that use coal and the plants that use uranium as fuel is that nuclear plants don't burn anything, and don't produce CO2 - the major cause of global warming, and with a energy densities 3 million times that of coal!(MJ/kg Uranium - 80,620,000 coal - 24)![1.1]
* Image created by TBR from original work licensed under Public Domain;
II. The energy situation as it is now, and where it's goingThe story of energy consumption is a story of good news mixed with bad news. Our human endears are producing marvels of technical glory, the bad news is, this comes at a cost - the enviroment. We need to address the bad news in order to continue to enjoy the good news.
The typical American household is consuming ~11,700 kWh/year[2.1]. That is a dramatic number when compared with some other first world countries like China who typically use ~1,350 kWh/year[2.1]. The good news is, even with more electricity consuming devices being added to the typical household, generally speaking use is going DOWN in the first world due in large part to more efficient and smarter technologies. The bad news is the US household (population) has never gone down. We are adding households[2.2] that each use ~11,500 kWh/year! We can't efficiency our way out of this problem.
The first world is not alone in its lust for electricity. When we look at this list of countries, and the percentage of the population with access to electricity, we get an average of 75% of the population with access to electric[2.3]. These percentages have been going UP for some time. That is, more and more people are getting access to the electricity they need and want. However, that still leaves, according to world energy outlook[2.4], about 1.317 billion people on the planet without electricity, and virtually every sign points to the fact that they want and need electricity! We are not the only ones that need electricity.
In the US, and throughout the world, electric vehicles are becoming more mainstream. Displacing the fossil fuel directly consumed is a great start. Unfortunately, we need to generate the power to fuel the electric cars we have now, and the ones that will eventually replace almost, if not all, autos on the road today. A guesstimate of the electricity needed to replace fossil fuel for the cars on the road today is 1,111 TWh! The total electric consumption for the US in 2011 was 3,882 TWh, making for an approximate 29% increase necessary to power all cars by electricity[2.5]. Moving the problem around does not solve the problem.
The US and the world is using a whole lot of electricity, and is on track to need much-much more.
Image created by TBR from original work created by;
III. Where does Nuclear fit inThe goals are simple enough. Provide ample electricity to cover the current needs, our growing needs, and the needs of those without access to reliable electricity now, and do it all without digging our pollution hole even deeper. Simple enough, that's only ~143,851 TWh per year now, with a 10% increase of use per person worldwide, and population growth 27%[3.1]. Wait, what did I just say?
With the current distribution of technologies looking a little like this[3.2]
Is it feasible to hope to eliminate even just coal any time soon, let alone expect renewables to cover the bulk of the current load, forgetting the understood growth? If we could, is it the smartest approach? May answer to each of these questions is, no.
When you look at the incredible growth rates in solar and wind over the last five to ten years, it might give you hope that these industries could do the incredible. Replace coal, nuclear, maybe even natural gas. The problem with growth rates is the next year that triple growth you had last year is the new base for this year! An attempt to maintain even a modest growth rate year-over-year is incredibly difficult regardless of desire and acceptance. Another simple problem is, like any industry, the wind and solar utilities have targeted the best locations first - leaving the more difficult for tomorrow. Locations with little to no infrastructure, access to the grid, less desirable for technical reasons like less wind, or less sun. The necessary growth needed is simply too tall a request for wind and solar to accomplish alone, and certainly unnecessary handcuffing efforts whan another mature technology with lower CO2 emission is right at hand. What, what? Thats not a typo[3.3], for total life-cycle, nuclear beats both wind and solar for CO2 emission.
Nuclear is the only feasible baseload alternative to coal. Solar and wind can be layered along with other technologies to accomplish reliable baseload for some areas, but this compounds problems for even sophisticated countries let alone the developing world where the choice is more likely either or. In countries where a good deal of growth of power plants will be, the choice of complex layering over the relatively simple and cost effective nuclear plant will be more attractive, and much better than coal.
Image created by TBR from original work created by;
Thanks for starting the debate off, TBR. I agree that we face some difficult energy challenges, especially given the problem of climate change and looming carbon constraints. So this is definitely an important topic and I'm excited to finally debate it. With that said, I'll jump right in to my arguments.
There are insolvable infrastructural, economic, social, and environmental problems with nuclear power. These insolvable problems include enormous complexity and immense capital costs (nuclear isn't "relatively simple and cost effective" as TBR claims), as well as problems with reactor safety, waste storage, vulnerability to the effects of climate change, weaponization of uranium, and vulnerability to terrorist attack. Renewables do better on every front. They're more efficient, safer, they provide significant environmental benefits, they don't depend on foreign sources of uranium (so they're more reliable), and they're also not as vulnerable to terrorism or to the effects of climate change.
(1) Nuclear power is prohibitively expensive.
Renewables are cheaper than nuclear. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says the average cost of electricity produced by a next-generation nuclear plant (which is cheaper than current plants) is $0.1084 per kilowatt-hour ("kWh"), and the soonest we can get these advanced plants running is 2018. The EIA also says the average cost of solar is $0.1443/kWh, and the average cost of wind is $0.0866/kWh. 
But the EIA has historically overestimated the cost of renewables, and underestimated the cost of conventional sources.  The new 50-MW Macho Springs solar plant in New Mexico will deliver power for $0.0508/kWh.  Other US solar projects come in the range of $0.07 to $0.09/kWhh.  According to these recent numbers, the cost of solar is already half that of advanced nuclear power in 2018. And the cost of solar is still falling, while the cost of nuclear continues to rise. 
Moreover, the EIA's analysis didn't take into account construction costs, insurance costs, decommissioning costs, and waste management costs. A recent study by MIT shows that including plant construction costs in the equation increases the cost to $0.7 or $0.8 per kWh.  Decommission easily costs $3 billion per plant.  And the costs of waste management -- which were estimated at $96 billion in 2008 -- are ongoing and rising, because nuclear waste keeps building up, and it lasts thousands of years.  There's also the costs of cleanup after a meltdown; for example, the costs of Fukushima, the most recent catastrophe, is estimated at $100 billion.  Also consider the costs of uranium mining, which is already expensive because it creates serious health problems, and which will only continue to increase as uranium becomes a scarce resource.
These costs are borne by taxpayers, and without taxpayer investments, nuclear plants wouldn't ever be built. Even after a trillion-dollar taxpayer investment, nuclear power has only grown 1% per year.  One commentator notes that "even while the nuclear industry is able to externalize its costs for insurance (which are federally limited), loan guarantees (which are federally backstopped), decommissioning (which is pushed onto ratepayers) and waste handling (which is pushed onto taxpayers), it still lost. If it had to stand on its own and pay its full insurance costs like every other energy source, we could never build another nuclear plant in America, because no private investors would be willing to take that kind of risk." 
(2) Nuclear power isn't a solution to climate change.
TBR's right that nuclear power emits almost no carbon dioxide ("C02"). Renewables also emit almost no C02. But here's what TBR doesn't tell you: nuclear power has higher costs than renewables per unit of net C02 displaced.  That means that every dollar we invest in nuclear power buys less C02 reduction than if the dollar were spent on renewables. The importance of investing our dollars wisely in the fight against climate change suggests that renewables are a better option than nuclear, as renewable sources are a cheaper (and faster) way to reduce C02.
TBR also doesn't mention that vast amounts of fossil fuels must be burned to mill, mine, leech, transport, and enrich uranium, and to build and decommission nuclear plants.  For example, "in 2002, the Paducah [uranium] enrichment plant [in Kentucky] released over 197.3 metric tons of Freon, [a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide]."  Moreover, the Oxford Research Group projects nuclear power will generate as much carbon dioxide per kWh as comparable gas-fired power stations by 2050, because of uranium depletion.  This bears repeating: at current levels of nuclear power generation, by 2050 nuclear plants will be producing as much GHG as some fossil fuel plants.
Finally, note that renewable energy is faster and cheaper to roll out than nuclear, which is a critical factor given the tightness of the timeframe vis-à-vis climate change. It takes 10 to 19 years to build a new nuclear plant. The latest research on renewable energy, most notably by Mark Jacobson’s team at Stanford, shows that a global transition to 100 percent renewable energy -- “wind, water and solar” -- is both technically and economically feasible by 2030.  That means lowering GHG emissions in line with science-based targets doesn't require building a global network of new nuclear plants. Mark Jacobson notes that “if we invest in nuclear versus true renewables, you can bet that the glaciers and polar ice caps will keep melting while we wait, and wait, for the nuclear age to arrive. We will also guarantee a riskier future for us all.” 
(3) Nuclear power is vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Because of the potential mass destruction, nuclear plants are a major target for terrorists. 9/11 would be tiny by comparison. If a plane were flown into a nuclear plant, the disaster would be immeasurably worse than Chernobyl. For instance, "John Large, an international independent expert on nuclear power, has said that if a plane was flown into the nuclear waste storage tanks at Sellafield, the whole of the English Midlands could be catastrophically contaminated."  Terrorists could also target waste sites, for a similar effect.
Terrorists could also steal nuclear materials by attacking storage facilities, processing facilities, uranium mines, or by intercepting nuclear materials in transit. The more nuclear power expands, the more opportunities that become available for using (or diverting) nuclear material for non-peaceful uses. These risks, including the potential fatalities, must be taken into account.
(4) Nuclear power is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Over the last decade, extreme weather, flooding, and storm surge have increasingly made nuclear plants unsafe to operate, requiring temporary shutdowns. For example, three plants were shut down in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, leaving many people without power for extended periods of time in cold weather.  Anticipated effects from climate change are going to interfere with nuclear plants. So the idea that nuclear power provides reliable baseload power isn't going to hold up.
Plants along low-lying coastal areas will be particularly vulnerable to storm surge and hurricanes, and might even become permanently unusable due to sea level rise. And note that rising seas and flooding don't just create a risk of shutdown, but also a risk of releasing hazardous materials, like what happened at Fukushima. These potential safety issues are going to require more and more administrative oversight over time. Moreover, climate change could increase security threats from terrorists, complicating efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on nuclear plants and waste disposal sites.
Climate change increases the risk and uncertainty associated with nuclear power. Given the high upfront costs of building new nuclear plants, and the difficulty of adapting them to climate change (because they're large and centralized), renewables are a better option going forward. Renewables are decentralized and small, which makes them easier to move, and it also makes them more reliable in the case of extreme weather. Renewables are spread out so that when one wind farm goes out, you still have electricity. Nuclear doesn't work that way, so it's actually less reliable than renewables (also, another reliability point is the dependence on foreign uranium, which renewables don't need).
(5) Nuclear power is prohibitively dangerous.
Should failure occur, the consequences are probably the worst of any high risk activity that humans engage in. There have already been four nuclear accidents: Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Each accident was unique, and each was supposed to have been impossible. Yet each happened.
985,000 people died from Chernobyl between 1986 and 2004.  We don't know the figure for deaths from Fukushima yet, but note that it's the worst industrial disaster in history. It led to three simultaneous, complete meltdowns which proved impossible to stop or contain for years, and these meltdowns are still pouring radiation pollution across the Japanese landscape.
Failures like these can and will continue to happen. The risks and costs are too high.
Well, there we have it. In about 50 years since the first nuclear plants were constructed, nuclear accidents have been the direct caused of roughly 4,000 and 200,000 deaths. There is no reason to not disclose this number, and while outrageous, I am more inclined to take something closer to the Greenpeace number than the low estimate. It may seem comical, but before even talking about the staggering death tolls of coal and other fossil fuels, I think it's fair to see what the impact from the daddy of nuclear reactors is. Annually around 1.5 million DALYs (Disability-adjusted life years) are lost through excessive UV exposure[4.2][4.3]. In the UK alone, more than 2,000 die annually from the effects of the sun.
My comparison seems unfair, and it is a little. We can't shut off the sun, and we sure don't want to. What I am illustrating, however, is that there is risk that we understand and accept. We work to mitigate the risk. We no longer go out sunbathing covered in baby oil hoping to look like Zonker Harris's idol - George Hamilton. We use skin protection, wear sun glasses " as we understand the risk better, we work to mitigate the risk more. This is the overriding message for nuclear. Assess what went wrong, and work to make sure it doesn't happen again.
The story is not only about direct deaths per year at the hands of various power generation physicality, right? If that was the only metric, I could just point to the staggering direct death toll of coal, and be done with this. No, assessing the year-over-year death rate is intellectual dishonesty within this debate. It"s dishonest because it doesn"t address Godzilla in any real way, and I promised that I would not skirt that issue. Nope, we are going to have to talk about...
Blinky! (don"t get worked up, I am getting to Godzilla! Right, and those fossil fuel death tolls.)
Blinky is a three-eyed irradiated fish who, do to vagary of "place" of the writers of The Simpsons, could be living in a lake nearby you right now. However, I have looked and looked, and I can"t find blinky. What I can find is the Pacific Bluefin tuna.
The Bluefin have made the news as a deadly dangerous "fallout" from the Fukushima disaster. In fact, I have seen Blinky morphed into a pacific Bluefin tuna in political cartoons. No one is doubting that the Bluefin population has been effected, but we need to look at the effect in our real world. For example, when
a person eats an average 200g serving of Bluefin tuna, they may ingest about 7.7 nanosievert of radiation. That sounds... not so good. However, when a person ingests a typical uncontaminated banana, they are getting 20 times the radiation. I don"t like fish much, so I don"t have much to worry about. My 4 year-old son eats bananas like a monkey, and I don"t freak-out when he is going on his third on a Sunday morning - my son only glows in my eyes.
A common notion is that we have about the Godzilla effect (he is coming) is that we are irradiating our land. Our worst nuclear power disaster in total land wasted is by far Chernobyl. Over 63,000 square miles of land have been affected by this disaster[4.6]. It"s always helpful to put numbers like that in some frame. Florida is about 59,000 square miles. That is a good chunk of land effected for a lifetime" Wait one. Who"s lifetime?
Some smart folk are working on growing biofuels on the affected land of Chernobyl. The plan is to use the crops to suck up the radioactive strontium and caesium and make the soil fit to grow food again within decades rather than hundreds of years[4.5]. It"s a good chance that I will have
been alive to see the disaster happen, and to see the disaster cleaned-up. And while I really want to get to Godzilla, he isn"t in Japan, and he is not in Russa.
Let"s take a look at where we (the US) are stuffing all our waste. According to the Congressional Research Service (using NEI data), there were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009. Most of that waste, about 78% is actually stored in pools, 22% is stored in dry casks and we are adding 2,400 tons per year[4.7].
Doing a little math, going for some outside numbers, and average lifespans, what percentage of this junk is mine? Roughly 2 pounds. Two pounds of some really nasty stuff, but still just 2 pounds. Later in the cool new technology section, we get to see fun stuff we can do with my 2 pounds of nasty stuff, but for now let"s deal with it how I would deal with it NOW!
Well, I don't really want the stuff. I could bury it in the back yard, truth is, it could be made safeish. I wife wouldn't like it, but none the less, I wouldn't panic for one second, dry casks are incredibly safe[4.7]. I don't panic easy, so I may not be a great example. My wife, well, she would tell me to take that crap as far away as possible!
Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Located about 80 miles outside Las Vegas - right next to the Nevada Test Site we had been irradiated for years with nuclear bombs " is our latest scheme for what is called "deep geological
repository storage facility" for spent nuclear fuel and other high level radioactive waste. That sounds positively sinister, at least it does to a good number of people who have wife's like mine who want the stuff as far away from them and their families as possible. Sometimes there is no arguing with people, and if the good folk of Nevada (about 78%) don't want me tossing my 2 pounds worth of radioactive waste material in their barren wasteland, who am I to complain.
What then. I have this 2 pound container of crazy waste to deal with, my wife won't let me keep it in the back yard until its worth something, and Nevada is behaving like it's a dam democracy or something. Breathe everyone. Should the voters of Nevada get their way (and I hope they do) we will do the really logical thing. Keep the stuff right where it was made. Not forever, not even for generations. Just till the future, and to understand that future you will have to read the next round.
So where is our Godzilla? Godzilla is fiction. Godzilla looks to us like the first picture below. Look just a little closer, and Godzilla is not as frightening as we though when watching the movie. Finally, what we should be looking at is what Godzilla will look like in the near future, like the last photo in the scare chain.
Hold one! I didn't get to the deaths from coal! How carless of me. I can tell you about the total weight of CO2, or the mercury, or the direct deaths mining, or that fly ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste (that's right, MORE radioactive), but it's all insignificant. The truth is, coal for power production is killing everyone and everything. The death toll from coal could be EVERYONE!
I would love to have the space to address the other concerns in this round, but felt it critical to give proper respect to this concern.
(1) Pro says Chernobyl led to 200,000 deaths. According to recent studies, the actual number is much higher: 985,000 people died.   Even if the number is 200,000, that's still a massive impact. The consequence of a nuclear meltdown is an unacceptable risk.
(2) Pro says the "overriding message for nuclear" is to "assess what went wrong, and work to make sure it doesn't happen again." The problem is that there's no guarantees it won't happen again. The reality is that nuclear power is extremely dangerous and there's nothing we can do to mitigate that risk entirely.
(3) Pro offers evidence of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna as an example of a "deadly dangerous 'fallout' from the Fukushima disaster." The impact of that evidence seems to weigh in my favor, so I'm not gonna spend more time there.
(4) Pro suggests that radiation isn't bad for us, because his son eats tons of bananas, but that's simply not what's at stake here. The radiation that comes from nuclear power, from nuclear waste or from a nuclear meltdown, causes death. The radiation used on bananas is calculated to ripen bananas quickly, but it's also calculated to remain at a safe level for consumption.
(5) Pro makes an argument about the land affected by a disaster. For example, Pro notes that a bigger chunk of land than Florida was affected by Chernobyl. That's a chunk of land bigger than Florida that can't grow food or can't be used to sustain life. Pro says one day we might -- the key word there is "might" -- have technology to clean up disasters. However, these technologies are untested, and some might -- yes, "might" -- carry even greater risks. There's no way to know.
The onus is on Pro, not the rest of us, to demonstrate the safety of these technologies, as well as their effectiveness. Furthermore, note that the technology doesn't exist today, so it's ultimately speculation. Technology that doesn't exist today isn't justification for investing in nuclear today. Finally, clean-up technologies that technology won't guarantee that disasters don't happen -- it just means we can use the land sooner than we otherwise could AFTER the disaster has already happened.
(6) Pro makes an argument about the waste from nuclear power. I'm not sure what the argument is. He seems to be suggesting that we store nuclear waste in our backyards, specifically 2 pounds each. Except that number's gonna keep growing as nuclear waste increases. That argument is simply insane and unsustainable.
Pro says the casks are safe, but anyone who says nuclear waste is entirely safe simply misunderstands the nature of nuclear waste. Contingencies can't be predicted ahead-of-time, which is why storage is such a big problem. The waste from nuclear power lasts thousands of years. And note: storing that waste effectively not only costs money, but it also poses a serious environmental problem.
The Yucca Mountain plan isn't ever going to happen. Pro frames the issue as solely political, but it's more than that; it's the fact that it's so expensive and time-consuming. Waste storage isn't just political (i.e. we don't want waste in our backyards); it's also about the economics.
== My Advocacy ==
Pro seems to have dropped my main arguments. Specifically, Pro drops my argument about the economic costs of nuclear. The costs include building the plants, storing waste, decommissioning plants, securing plants from terrorism, insurance, mining uranium, and then running the plants. Most of these costs must be passed onto taxpayers, because they're too high for private investors to choose nuclear power. I want to emphasize this point: The market prefers other options. That is one of the most important reasons to prefer renewables; they're not only cleaner and safer but also cheaper.
Pro also drops my argument about nuclear power's vulnerability to terrorism, the risk of weaponized uranium, and the vulnerability to climate change. Finally, Pro ignores climate change almost entirely, including my argument that renewables are a better solution. Extend all these arguments. There's simply no reason to prefer nuclear over renewables, since renewables are proven clean, safer, and cheaper. They're available and they carry none of the risks associated with nuclear.
== Sources ==
TBR forfeited this round.
Unfortunately, my opponent accidentally forfeited his final round. Yes, there's still Round 4, but TBR and I agreed before the debate that he'd pass in Round 4, since he started the debate off in Round 1. TBR cannot make new arguments in Round 4 because I'd have no way to rebut them, which would make the debate unfair. Still, out of respect for my opponent, voters should read what TBR did write and consider that when weighing the debate.
That said, I'm briefly summarize my arguments and explain why I think I win the debate. I made five key arguments: (1) nuclear power isn't economically sound, (2) nuclear power isn't a solution to climate change, (3) nuclear power is vulnerable to terrorism, (4) nuclear power is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and (5) nuclear power is insanely dangerous. TBR did not address most of these arguments (I'm sure he intended to in Round 4, but he accidentally forfeited, so there's nothing that can be done about that).
I think I win the debate on the economics issue. TBR did not address that issue, and it's the main reason renewables should be preferred to nuclear. The economics for nuclear simply don't work, because the costs of building plants, mining uranium, storing waste, and then decomissioning plants, on top of the costs of running the plants and producing the electricity, are simply so astronomical that no private investor would ever invest in nuclear. There's also the insurance problem (governments have to insure nuclear since no one else will). The result is that taxpayers end up paying the cost of nuclear, instead of private investors. Renewables are much cheaper, both in the short-term and long-term, which makes them a better solution to our looming energy crisis. Renewables are also better for the environment, they're not vulnerable to the effects of terrorism, and they're safer than nuclear.
For all these reasons, and all the reasons discussed throughout the debate, Vote Con. Thank you.
TBR forfeited this round.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Skepsikyma 1 year ago
|Who won the debate:||-|
Reasons for voting decision: On of pro's best arguments went uncontested (that nuclear is able to fill the shoes, so to speak, of coal better than renewables due to limited growth rates.) However, Pro also failed to address the risk of terrorist attacks, the indirect contributions to greenhouse gasses, the disposal of waste, and the cost-driven arguments of Con. I feel that Pro could have won this debate, had he not forfeited and managed to engage his opponent on these uncontested points which, taken together, outweigh his safety rebuttal and growth rate arguments. Sources contained no great disparities. S & G were equivalent.
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