Nuclear Medicine Waste Power Energy


America has two new states. The first is the great state of Fear and the second is the great state of Denial. These two states represent the utter distortion of nuclear power and its associated issues. There is another truth: Nuclear medicine has saved many hundreds of thousands of lives and continues to do so daily. That’s more than all the lives that nuclear bombs have ever taken. Do Americans really want to deny nuclear benefits because they’re afraid of transporting spent nuclear fuel on trains? What about nuclear medical waste? Are we also willing to stop nuclear medicine because its waste has to be transported via rail too?

In the first state, Fear, some people spend their entire lives wringing their hands in ignorance over nuclear power issues and accomplish nothing and ignore the medical benefits. The whole anti-nuclear argument exists because it’s haunted by ghosts of the atomic bomb. But these same anti-nuclear adherents aggressively ignore the incredibly beneficial side of nuclear medicine and carbon dioxide reducing power production.

Enormous advances are rendering moot the argument that transport is a threat. Opponents have simply failed to keep up technologically. Even Barack Obama understands the necessity of expanding nuclear power. His Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a pro-nuclear advocate, bluntly said: “Nuclear is going to be part of our energy future. It has to be.”

Unfortunately, deep-seated nuclear fears in the American psyche will be hard to correct unless the emotional irrationality is overcome by hard facts. So let’s start with some facts:

1. Five hundred persons per year die of carbon monoxide poisoning related to natural gas and some other miscellaneous sources. That’s about twelve thousand dead in the last thirty years.

2. In three thousand four hundred man-years of operation, not one person in the U.S. has died as a result of radiation from U.S. nuclear energy and yet, some have a deathly fear of nuclear power, NOT natural gas.

3. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said that even the country’s worst nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island resulted in no identifiable health impacts.”

4. Those racked with fear seem fixated on the transport of spent fuel FROM nuclear power plants fearing accidental derailment. Nuclear fuel also has to be transported TO nuclear power plants although fuel rods are not toxic in the pre-active stage. In fifty years, not one death has occurred during the transport of nuclear fuel whether it’s spent or not. It is an amazing dissociation to fear only one half of the shipping equation.

5. Those who scream the loudest about what they perceive as the negative side of nuclear power have a second irrational dichotomy. A person who travels to Europe (particularly France) eats irradiated food and uses nuclear power which generates the very waste so railed and ranted against. Ironically, it appears American nuclear technology is bad and Europe’s irradiated food is OK. Anti-nuclear power protesters ignore European nuclear use, but some Americans who go to Europe get apoplectic about irradiating food here to eradicate salmonella. Why is that?

Britain and France, meanwhile, have just announced four new nuclear plants in England where the government is committed to re-launching focus on nuclear power as a mainstay of its power grid and apparently to help meet Kyoto carbon dioxide reduction requirements.

Two major events are happening at the writing of this article (May 2009) in America regarding nuclear power. A reactor system called Integral Fast Reactors (IFR), designed by scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago from 1984 through 1994, is being re-evaluated because it uses spent nuclear fuel as its energy source. Tom Blees’ in his book, Prescription for the Planet, pointed out that unfortunately, full-scale IFR testing was ended when President Bill Clinton unceremoniously stopped construction of the IFR a full-scale test model during his 1994 State of the Union Address and scientists who designed it were ordered to keep quiet.

Interestingly, in May 2009, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, began investing in IFRs through Intellectual Ventures, a venture capital firm, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. NASA Climatologist James Hansen, too, has suggested IRFs be re-evaluated because of their capacity to use spent nuclear fuel. The Argonne IFR test reactor functioned near flawlessly. The upside benefit for full-scale testing for an IFR is very compelling.

While Obama recognizes that nuclear power has to be part of our energy mix, his public pronouncements constantly lambast carbon fuels and seemingly, by innuendo, nuclear power. His supporters only seem to hear his proposed reliance on extremely tenuous wind and solar power. His chief science advisor, John P. Holdren, has directly said that attention must be paid to conventional energy sources such as safer, next-generation nuclear energy and specifically suggested a second look at IFRs.

In a twist of fate, Obama’s plan to de-fund the Yucca Mountain’s storage facility may wind up advancing nuclear power generation? His announcement pushes the direction of today’s nuclear spent fuel management toward a closed-cycle system or possibly IFRs, giving us cost effective sustainable, realistic energy supplies for years to come with lower CO2 emissions and a potential resolution to spent fuel management.

In light of today’s nuclear advancements, the fear some Americans have of transporting nuclear waste is illogical. Nuclear containers on train have been tested by running them into concrete walls at more than 100 mph and they have not broken or even cracked and there was no leakage. Past U.S. shipments of spent fuel have covered 1.7 million miles, with no resulting injuries, fatalities or environmental damage.

Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore wrote in 2006 (Washington Post) that Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these [carbon dioxide] emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely.

Secondly, to promote the old, over-hyped fears of nuclear waste, when our competitors are moving headlong toward new nuclear systems, will exacerbate America’s energy problems for decades to come. You may not know that ninety-five per cent of nuclear fuel in energy rods remains unused and available as fuel for closed-cycle systems and IFRs. Closed-cycle fuel systems reintroduces nuclear fuel back into the cycle rather than the “in one end and out the other” reactors we’ve had in the past. They could have been available years ago, vastly reducing today’s nuclear spent fuel management problems

Ironically, the culprit in eliminating closed-cycle systems was former President Jimmy Carter. He feared terrorists would steal plutonium, so he scuttled the idea and helped perpetuate today’s spent fuel issues. He essentially and perhaps inadvertently, exacerbated the fear of nuclear power and precipitated the shift to coal-fired power plants creating an increase in CO2 emissions.

About forty per cent of American nuclear plants today have been converted to closed-cycle systems and more could provide low cost nuclear power with a significant reduction in spent fuel management problems for the next 50 years without mining another ounce of uranium and help relieve our dependence on foreign oil.

Gas prices are back to $2.75 per gallon as of this writing. Are Americans ready to pay for $6 to $8 per gallon for gas and $500 per month to heat their homes? I really don’t think so. But that’s where we’re headed if we eliminate carbon energy and ignore the nuclear potential.

Nuclear medicine also creates waste. That waste, which is similar to low level power generated waste, must be moved to repositories. Why is there no outcry over the transportation of medical nuclear low-level waste? Hundreds of thousands if not millions are saved annually by the use of nuclear medical elements. Medical benefits for both cancer and heart treatments are available now because of nuclear medicine.

In the British newspaper, The Independent, reporter Frances Lee, on October 4, 1995 wrote: “Imagine an advance in medical technology that could determine exactly how healthy a human heart was, that could show in detail how it worked and diagnose any form of heart disease – just from looking at a picture.” He went on to say that the technology is available now and it uses nuclear components.

To suggest the elimination of nuclear benefits, including power and medical, just because there are solvable transportation hurdles is an extremely myopic point of view. Many want lowered CO2 emissions. Many want cures for cancer and heart disease. As with everything, there are benefits and risks. In the case of nuclear issues, the benefits are obvious.

Bombs can kill but so can baseball bats and cars. It’s a question of how they’re used. We’ve done amazing things improving vehicle safety. Our responsibility is to use the astounding benefits of nuclear power and medicine with the wisdom of Solomon and the confidence it can help today’s problems.