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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bob Brinker and Bill Wattenburg: We Need Nuclear Energy Before it's Too Late

Last Saturday, Bob Brinker's guest-speaker was Dr. Bill Wattenburg. Dr. Bill has his own program on KGO810 radio --check the website for broadcast times. Dr. Wattenburg is a brilliant scientist, author and a fascinating personality with a unique voice.

Here is David Korn's summary of Brinker and Dr. Wattenburg's conversation. This is from David Korn's weekly newsletter (link) and posted with his permission. (This entire summary was written by David Korn, including the ECs.)

Dr. Bill: Bob started the interview by noting that Dr. Bill had sponsored a prominent advertisement in the Washington Post in the form of a message to President Obama with reference to energy priorities. Dr. Bill said he focused on the fact that the only real alternative fuel we have to combat OPEC is natural gas, and he suggested that the President order that all new government cars run on natural gas. That would give Detroit the demand to build these types of cars. Bob said by converting to natural gas it would also help reducing emissions. Dr. Bill said it is also cheaper because we know gasoline is going up. Bob was very enthusiastic about using our own natural gas so that we don¹t need to send money overseas and rely on dictators like Hugh Chavez.

EC: The ad Dr. Bill placed was in the Washington Post on February 25, 2009 and paid for by Dr. Bill. It appears on page A2 at the bottom left hand corner. Dr. Bill actually mentions Bob Brinker in the ad. Using unpatented and highly non-proprietary DavidK search technology, I found the ad. Check it out at this url:

Caller: If you run a car on natural gas, how far can it go on a tank? Dr. Bill said you have about 60% of the range as a gasoline car but that is sufficient for most people. Moreover, it is easy to pump in natural gas. Most homes have pipes that carry natural gas so you could get a little compressor that could fuel your gas car at night and never even need to go to the filling station.

Dr. Bill: Pacific Gas & Electric Company located in California is a big public utility and they have plenty of vehicles running on natural gas and the drivers can¹t tell the difference. Federal employees usually aren¹t driving long distance so it¹s a natural fit.

EC: Pacific Gas & Electric Company isn¹t only trying to expand natural gas, apparently solar energy is high on their agenda as well. Just this week, they announced plans to spend $1.5 billion of ratepayers¹ money too add 500 megawatts of photovoltaic power in California. Seems like solar energy is very ³in² right now doesn¹t it? Read more about it at this url:

Dr. Bill: Bob said he was disappointed to hear so much of the White House administration putting emphasis on wind and solar energy. Bob referenced Charlie Maxwell¹s interview last week who said those sources of energy were very small pieces of the pie, just about 1% Bob said he heard Obama say this week that we could double our output in solar and wind energy which Bob said would only amount to 2% which Bob felt was tantamount to playing games with the American people. Dr. Bill went a step further and said Obama was simply pandering to all the idealists who believe there are green-free solutions to our problems in solar and wind energy. Dr. Bill pointed out that at the Department of Energy, the top priorities are wind, solar with no mention of nuclear energy. Dr. Bill noted that as soon as we have an economic recovery, OPEC is going to start sucking our oil money away again.

EC: Read the top priorities from the Department of Energy at this url:

Dr. Bill: Bob asked why Obama is essentially misleading people about ³clean² technology being readily available to satisfy our needs. Bob referenced Charlie Maxwell¹s opinion that clean coal technology is ten years away. Dr. Bill said he does not know of a credible scientist who says they know of a way to push back 20 billion tons of CO2 into the earth and keep it there. Dr. Bill says ³clean coal² is the ³immaculate deception.²

EC: Bob sort of backpedaled on the clean coal issue when he heard Dr. Bill take a different view than Charlie Maxwell. I was looking at the interview from Charlie last week, and Charlie said that he thought clean coal technology was something we can look forward to with relative confidence to using in the future.

Dr. Bill: Dr. Bill said when he talks about energy with competent scientists, the general consensus is that we can ³hope² to get maybe 15% of our energy from wind and other renewable sources. That would be a dream come true. But that is way far away, if ever. We may get to 10% at best in the coming years. But there is no clean coal. What has happened is that the coal producing companies were told to clean up the sulfur coming out of their smokestacks and once they did that they called it ³clean coal.² Dr. Bill says this is a total misnomer because the coal plants are still releasing billions of tons of C02 into the atmosphere causing global warming.

EC: Academy Award winners Joel and Ethan Coen have directed a TV spot for an environmental coalition poking fun at the notion of ³clean coal.² This link brings you to an article discussing the video as well as a link to the actual TV spot so you can watch it. As you might expect, the ad has that sardonic sense of humor about it that the Coen brothers are famous for:

Dr. Bill: Bob discussed how safe nuclear power is and asked rhetorically why the White House seems to be afraid to mention the term. Dr. Bill said not only is nuclear power safe, but we could create a tremendous amount of jobs by building nuclear power plants. France and Russia are getting significant investments in their economy as China, India and other countries pay them to build new nuclear reactors.

EC: Italy is now getting in on the action. After a 20-year ban of new nuclear plants, Italy has signed a deal with France for the construction of four power plants in Italy. Here is a link to the article:

Caller: As we try to cut down on coal emissions in our country, China is opening a new coal fired plant every week it seems. What difference will that make? Dr. Bill said China has such a demand for energy that they are building a new 1,000 megawatt coal burning plant. They know the pollution they are causing. However, to their credit, the Chinese government has ordered 6 new nuclear plants. The Russians are going to make tons of money from building them at China¹s behest.

Caller: This caller said people in in Nevada are very reluctant to have the Yucca Mountain (about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas) turn into the nation's first high-level nuclear waste repository. Charlie said he can understand their reluctance since they don¹t have a nuclear power plant, so why should they have to house the waste? That said, Charlie thinks the fears of Nevada residents is not reasonable.

Caller: What will it take for people to get over their fear of nuclear energy? Dr. Bill said once people start realizing how much worse coal is then nuclear energy, they might get on board If you took the amount of nuclear energy that a family of four uses over a 20-year period, the equivalent amount of nuclear waste that it would produce would fit in a shoebox. Now, contrast that to what the same family of four produces in terms of waste using coal over a 20 year period, and the results are astounding. (Coal is the energy resource for 50% of the world's population). The amount of waste produced would be the equivalent of a freight train -- about 5000 tons of ash and pollution in the atmosphere which contains hundreds of pounds of nuclear uranium and thorium which is being released in the air -- 10,000 times more radioactivity than whatever would come from a nuclear plant. The sum total of all spent fuel roads created by the last 50 years of nuclear power can be put in one high school gymnasium.

EC: There is a report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the danger of coal-fired power plants that produce more radioactive contamination than nuclear power plants which you can find on Dr. Bill's web site at this url:

Dr. Bill: Bob said California has had a very positive experience with nuclear energy, so how is it that there is still such widespread opposition to nuclear power in that state? Dr. Bill said the Sierra club and other environmentalist organizations have been very effective in intimidating politicians to believing that nuclear power is dangerous, despite the evidence. We have about 100 nuclear plants in the United States that have been running for more than 45 years. Without those, we would have blackouts every week. Those sites were originally designed for more reactors. You could immediately build more nuclear plants in our country on sites that have already been pre-approved.

Caller: What about hydrogen as a source of energy? Dr. Bill said there are a lot of problems with it. First, you could only make it if you had massive numbers of nuclear power plants since you need massive amounts of electricity. The amount of electrical power to put into water to get a gallon of hydrogen is far greater than you get back in terms of energy from hydrogen. There have been all sorts of myths about it which is one of the reasons the hydrogen advocates have faded from the limelight.

Caller: This caller lives in Boston about 50 miles from a nuclear power plant and he is worried that if there was an earthquake, a whole city could be wiped out. Dr. Bill disagreed and said that nuclear plant had spent a lot of money on infrastructure to ensure its safety. The reactor is encased in a material 10 times thicker than the strongest bank vault.

EC: I think the caller was referring to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant located a few miles from the Plymouth Rock. It was built in 1972 by Boston Edison. I grew up in Wellesley Massachusetts so I know about the Plant. Coincidentally, it was recently sold to Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation which is my electric company in the greater New Orleans area. And for what its worth, my son likes to say, ³I¹m going nuclear!²

Dr. Bill: Dr. Bill noted that the biggest new nuclear power plant in India suffered a magnitude 8.0 earthquake and the plant shut down as it was supposed to and then 3 days later started operating. Nuclear plants are made to withstand earthquakes.

EC: Here is an article discussing how nuclear plants worldwide have faired during earthquakes:

Dr. Bill: Bob said he was just 90 miles downwind from Three Mile Island when the accident took place. The containment building did the job it was supposed to do, but it has turned into a rallying cry against nuclear power. Dr. Bill said the problems at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were both the result of stupid operators. It was the equivalent of airline pilots deliberately flying planes into a mountainside. If a pilot did that, we wouldn't stop everyone from flying planes. The new nuclear plant designs used around the world do not allow the operators to override the safety features. As far as Chernobyl is concerned, Dr. Bill said that was a badly designed nuclear plant to begin with and we shut down our reactors of that design right after World War II. Dr. Bill pointed out that the amount of radiation exposure to the people around Three Mile Island was no greater than the amounts people are exposed to in Denver simply by virtue of living at a higher altitude.

EC: The Three Mile Island accident did not result in any deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community. But it had profound repercussions in society¹s view of nuclear power including increased regulatory oversight. Read the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission¹s Fact Sheet on the Three Mile Accident at this url:

Caller: Why don¹t we retool our industry to make 80-200 megawatt module units along the lines of what we put in our nuclear submarines? Dr. Bill said our submarines have the tremendous safety advantage of being surrounded by sea water. For commercial reactors in urban areas you have to build large containment facilities and spend billions on safety issues. So to justify that you have to build much bigger units. The only place that small module units are even being considered is in remote areas such as in the northern part of Alaska. If something happens on board a submarine, you can simply flood it with sea water.

Dr. Bill: Bob said he isn¹t seeing anything coming out of the Obama administration that suggests there may be developments on the nuclear front. Dr. Bill agreed and said he thinks it will take an energy emergency for the American public to demand nuclear power plants, but by then it will be too late. Dr. Bill said suppose the country were infected with a curable disease and you had a surplus of doctors and nurses ready to treat people, but you listened to the ³faith² people who told you to eat organic foods and you would be ok. Dr. Bill said this is analogous to what is happening on the energy front with regard to wind/solar and other renewable energies. We need to act now on building more nuclear power plants for our electrical needs and spend more emphasis on natural gas for transportation fuel.

EC: Very interesting and entertaining discussion don't you think? Learn more about on KGO's web site which has further links to Dr. Bill's major projects and scientific contributions:

[Honeybee here: The Dr. Bill Moneytalk interview is downloadable from KGO Archives (Saturday at 3pm) until next Saturday. KGO Archives (link)

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