Is Waste the Main Issue?
Here’s a question I have often wondered, as I’ve tried to understand the point of view of those who oppose nuclear power–how much of their opposition is driven by the longevity of nuclear waste?
If long-lived nuclear wastes are the main issue they have against nuclear power, then thorium could go a long way towards alleviating their concerns.
If on the other hand, waste is only the issue du jour, and a solution to the waste issue would simply cause them to harp on other aspects of nuclear energy, such as proliferation, potential terrorism, CO2 release from mining, and my favorite stupid one–thermal pollution.
I really wonder because I know there are people that are simply categorically opposed to nuclear power because it represents some other evil to them–whether it’s democracy, capitalism, globalization, industrialization–whatever evil they feel like they want to attach to nuclear industry. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to change the mind of someone like that.
On the other hand, I often encounter colleagues who are well-educated, span the range of political inclinations, and yet are opposed to nuclear energy. These are the people who I really want to understand “why” because I think they might be reasoned with. And an issue I often seem to hear is the longevity of wastes.
For instance, last night I was listening to a podcast from Rod Adams’ “Atomic Show”. The guest was a mining and nuclear engineer from the University of Michigan. Well-educated, well-versed–no nuclear opponent by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly not as enthusiastic about the prospects of future nuclear energy as Rod was. He challenged Rod on several points, and one of his primary concerns about the expansion of nuclear energy was “what do we do with all the long-lived waste?”
Now this fellow knew what thorium was, and he spoke on several occasions about its merits. He knew the difference between a transuranic isotope and a fission product, and he had studied the geology of Yucca Mountain extensively. Perhaps he did not think that thorium fuel cycles were a realistic near-term possibility. But nevertheless, I perceived that this fellow was hesitant to endorse nuclear energy as a primary, dominant energy source for the world. To be quite honest, if it meant an enormous expansion of conventional uranium-fueled, once-through light-water reactors, I would be hesitant too.
So I will wonder, and perhaps some of you could offer your thoughts–do you think that the longevity of nuclear waste (meaning today’s form of nuclear waste) is the primary issue that concerns most people about nuclear energy?