Friday, August 27, 2010

Responding to Nuclear Myths:

John Ritch Takes on the "Red Herrings"

Nuclear Energy Insider recently published an excellent synopsis of a speech given by John Ritch that I thought merited mention here. John, the Director General of the World Nuclear Association, spoke at the graduation ceremony of the Sixth Annual Summer Institute of the World Nuclear University on August 14 in Oxford, England.

John, who has had a distinguished career in Washington, DC and as the US ambassador to the United Nations organizations in Vienna, Austria--among them, the International Atomic Energy Agency--is an outstanding speaker, so it is no surprise that the excerpts of his speech published in the Nuclear Energy Insider hit the key issues head-on.

John terms the issues "red herrings." For readers who may not be familiar with idiomatic American speech, a red herring is a diversionary issue. John comments that "it sometimes seems that nuclear professionals are condemned to swim in a sea of these fish."

In his speech, John identifies 6 such issues:

1. Proliferation: He makes several points about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the role he sees that it has had in maintaining a generally stable nuclear weapons situation. He acknowledges the remaining issues, but the key point he makes, in my opinion, is that "these issues would exist with or without the global renaissance in peaceful nuclear power."

2. Operational Safety: Here, John cites the statistics, highlighting the 14,100+ years of reactor operating experience in the world today.

3. Affordability: John takes on the claim the claims that nuclear power is heavily subsidized by the government, noting that research support is not an operational subsidy, and pointing out that the fee required from operators for the loan guarantees actually bring revenues into the government. He acknowledges, however, that industry faces a challenge to reduce the capital costs of new nuclear power.

4. Waste: After noting the small volume of nuclear waste, he points out that this is a government problem, and that several governments--he mentions Finland, Sweden and Russia, among others--have made strides in addressing the issue.

5. Terrorism: He feels concerns have been exaggerated, and that any radiological device is likely to come from a source such as a hospital rather than from a nuclear power facility.

6. New Red Herrings: He cites 3--shortages of fuel, people, and key equipment. (In my view, this really makes 8 red herrings--and I could probably add a few more that I know of--but this is a very slight quibble.) John asserts that all 3 are not intractable problems--a combination of new ore discoveries and mining techniques, reprocessing, breeders reactors and the thorium fuel cycle will assure ample and affordable fuel supplies for a long time; and supply and demand will assure that the people and the manufacturing facilities will grow to meet the emerging needs.

The above provides only excerpts of the excerpts from the Nuclear Energy Insider, so John undoubtedly fleshed out some of these areas more than I am able to do here. I myself would have liked to see what else he had to say in several of these areas, particularly on terrorism. However, even in abbreviated form, his speech provides a number of points that are useful to keep in mind when you find yourself swimming in a sea of red herrings.


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