“Nuclear Power Is Already a Climate Casualty” via Hot Globe by Steve Chapple

Dr. Paul Dorfman, Chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, former Secretary to the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Internal Radiation, and Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex“If something goes wrong, you can really start to write off a lot of people’s lives.”

Paul, thanks for joining us. Let’s talk about nuclear and climate change.
 Thanks, Steve. It’s important to understand that nuclear is very likely to be a significant climate casualty. For cooling purposes nuclear reactors need to be situated by large bodies of water, which means either by the coast or inland by rivers or large water courses. Sea levels are rising much quicker than we had thought and inland the rivers are heating up, potentially drying up, and also subject to significant flooding and flash-flooding and inundation. The key issue for coastal nuclear is storm surge, which is basically where atmospheric conditions meet high tide, which is essentially what happens in Fukushima.

Nuclear has been touted as a potential ameliorated solution to climate. The problem, of course, is that nuclear will be, and relatively soon, a climate casualty, so coastal nuclear, unfortunately, is likely to flood via storm surge and inland nuclear will struggle more and more to get reactor cooling water and be able to discharge super-heated water to the receiving river waters.

 DORFMAN: It’s not been simply I, but the former head of the US nuclear regulatory commission, the NRC, who coauthored a key study which says quite clearly that small modular reactors produce significantly more radioactive waste than conventional reactors. The waste issue is absolutely key, but there are other issues as well. I remember being invited to give a talk at the Royal United Services Institute in the UK, basically the governmental intellectual arm of the military. The compact design of small nuclear reactors is not suited to defense in depth of the nuclear island and the military guys really seemed to get and understand this, similar problem to conventional reactors in terms of safety and security as we’re finding out in Ukraine now.
The other issue is what’s known as the “economies of scale.” The bigger the nuclear plant the cheaper. It’s exactly the same with wind where the bigger the wind power the more the megawatts. Going small goes against this completely. The economics of small nuclear reactors are proving deeply problematic. The cost per MW hour is rising. Already conventional reactors are hugely, massively, 4 to 5 times more expensive than renewables-plus, and it’s looking more and more that small nuclear reactors will have similar economic and finance problems, and of course small nuclear reactors are still in development. There are no functioning small nuclear reactors in the world producing conventional power, and they are many years from deployment.
So given the fact that we now know we have an existential climate crisis, small nuclear reactors and of course certainly conventional nuclear look to be far too costly and far too late to help the climate crisis.”
HOT GLOBE: Tell us a little bit about the situation in Zaporizhia. It comes and goes in the American media, but it seems pretty freaking scary to us over here in California! How do you estimate the dangers in the last month or so?
DORFMAN: We’ve been lucky so far but luck isn’t a strategy. Zaporizhia –6 very large nuclear power plants, the largest station in Europe with a very significant radiological inventory and critically very significant spent fuel, spent high level radiological nuclear inventory–is in the middle of a shooting war. Now there’s no way that any nuclear power plant can survive a concerted military attack. No nuclear power plant in the world is designed to do this. The International Atomic Energy agency has been very quiet about this for the last few decades which is kind of worrying given the fact that it seems obvious. Basically, people like me and many others haven’t wanted to talk about this in the past for fear of putting ideas into people’s heads, but the cat is really out of the bag now, and in an increasingly unstable world, it seems absolutely clear that nuclear risk for conventional civil nuclear plants is ramping up  both in Zaporizhia and elsewhere whether in Israel, Iran, Pakistan, India or any other potential conflict zone. There’s a very real risk that existing and any new nuclear power plants will be in the firing line.
In Zaporizhia the key concern is cooling-–the cooling ponds are open but the reactors themselves are basically open in all these plants, too. They are in cold shutdown but they also need power to keep the internal sort of governance working, so both the reactors in cold shut down, not in active use and certainly the high level radioactive waste, need cooling. If something God forbid goes wrong you’ll see a worst case scenario. You’ll see what happened at Fukushima. Within eight hours you’ll see hydrogen buildup, hydrogen explosion. You’ll then see significant loss of cooling. If the backup diesel generators don’t run within a day or two, you could well see meltdown. The worst case prognosis is very grave.


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