Press-Republican

Columns

March 20, 2011

The problem with nuclear

Let me begin by stating that I will not make a categorical statement about the dangers of nuclear power.

Obviously, nuclear accidents anywhere should concern us. Our thoughts and prayers rest with the Japanese people as they face problems stemming from recent earthquakes and a tsunami.

Given the potential tragedies, I understand the urge to shy away from nuclear power. People believe it is the right thing to do for the right reasons. In reality, quite the opposite may be true.

If houses were catching fire spontaneously, we would figure out how to make them safe. If cars spontaneously fell apart at high speed, we would make them safe. What do we do when our fear, unfamiliarity and bafflement with nuclear power prevents us from creating much better nuclear power plant designs? We get Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, now, the plight facing Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan.

You see, these problem plants were, or are, based on designs from half a century ago. By the time these plants were built, they were already obsolete. Since then, few of the new designs have been built in Russia or Japan. And none of the new and much more intrinsically safe designs have gone into production in the United States.

The old designs are inherently inefficient and unstable. Their method of fission creates heat that causes even more fission. Hence, they are prone to runaway and potential meltdown, unless constantly cooled. Of course, when everything is running correctly, heat production creates steam by design to run the turbines that power 20 percent of our domestic energy needs.

If cooling pumps fail on these older designs, though, the process accelerates and meltdown can occur. In anticipation of failures, the United States mandates containment to a greater degree than was mandated in Russia or Japan in the 1970s.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Columns
  • ouellette.jpg Web doctor always gets it right

    I have access to the collected medical knowledge of all recorded history at my fingertips, columnist Steve Ouellette writes.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Airport projects can benefit local economy

    Using a local workforce keeps wages and spending in the community if it can be done in a cost-effective manner, according to columnist Colin Read.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gast_Richard.jpg Producers can recycle tubing

    Project allows maple-syrup makers to conveniently dispose of their used tubing in an environmentally friendly way, according to columnist Richard Gast.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Easter with doubters and the 'nones'

    Should more pastors ask this blunt question: "Do you really believe Jesus was raised from the dead?" wonders religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadiens are Canada's team

    The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and for Canadiens fans, many of whom likely reside in the Montreal "suburb" of Plattsburgh, it is a time of hope and joy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • little_mug.jpg There's no saw like an old saw Kaye and I laughed ourselves silly the other day as we tried to top each other with our own sayings from childhood, columnist Gordie Little writes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Denenberg_Stu1.jpg Privacy concerns make a comeback

    There's a growing concern amongst the millennials, columnist Stu Denenberg writes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • paul_grasso.jpg Several options exist for downtown

    Pedestrian mall just one idea that could be good for city's economic future, according to columnist Paul Grasso.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Government can't create success on its own

    It takes a grass-roots community effort of people working together to assure future accomplishment, according to columnist Colin Read.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hagar_mug1.jpg Farmers strive for sustainability

    Conserving the land and assuring long-term profitability are two of the key goals for farmers these days, according to columnist Peter Hagar.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

Peter Black: Canadian Dispatch

Lois Clermont, Editor

Cornell Cooperative Extension
Richard Gast: Cornell Ag Extension

Bob Grady

Guest Columns
Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

Health Advice

Ray Johnson: Climate Science
Gordie Little: Small Talk

Terry Mattingly: On Religion

Steve Ouellette: You Had To Ask

Colin Read: Everybody's Business

Pinch of Time