Poisoned rats aren’t ham: a new look at anti-nuclear propaganda

Normally I’m in favour of nuclear recycling. When it means re-using the material in used nuclear fuel, I’m all for it. After all, I support the Three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. But when it means recycling tired propaganda, my favour declines. For example, anti-nuclear activists try to fool others into believing it’s not possible to recycle nuclear fuel. They call all used fuel “waste,” hoping to perpetuate the false notion that nuclear “waste” is a huge, unsolvable problem. It is not huge, and it was solved before the first reactor ever started.

As I pointed out last post, nuclear reactors produce only minuscule amounts of waste. Even with the once-through fuel cycle, nuclear reactors can run almost continuously for decades and store all their used fuel on site. I gave Douglas Point as an excellent example: this reactor ran for 17 years, and all of its used fuel is stored on a small patch of ground right outside the containment building.

Fossil-fired generators, on the other hand, store none of their byproducts on site. Natural gas-fired generators, which anti-nuclear activists support, dump all of their exhaust into the air.

 Most of this exhaust is carbon dioxide, a highly stable compound that will remain on earth, either in the atmosphere or in a “sink” like the ocean or weathering rock, for hundreds of thousands of years (see article).

And this CO2 would not fit into the used-fuel storage bays that you would find at a nuclear site. This is because gas-fired generators belch it out in gargantuan amounts. A single 500 megawatt gas-fired generator running at 80 percent capacity factor would dump over 1.9 million tons of CO2 into the air in a single year. You couldn’t store even a tiny fraction of that on site.

Funny, then, that anti-nuclear lobbyists who call for gas never mention this. Instead, they gamble that the average citizen who is unfamiliar with the numbers will believe their spin that nuclear waste is a huge problem. Sadly, because most people are trusting and non-cynical, many people believe them.

People should not be fooled. The anti-nuclear crowd’s attempt to pass natural gas off as clean is like the canning industry’s attempts in the early 20th Century to pass off “poisoned rats, rope ends, splinters, and other debris … as potted ham.” When the public learned about this, initially by reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, they were disgusted and outraged.

How will the public react when they catch on to the propaganda of the anti-nuclear lobby?

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13 years ago

Nuclear proponents should be careful not to play the anti’s game, too. The correct amount to compare to the 19 million tons of CO2 is HALF OF the 25 tons (or so) that one reactor produces in one year – overa million times less. Not the total spent fuel produced since nuclear power started.

13 years ago

Joffan, good to hear from you — it’s been a while. First off, I should do my own arithmetic properly. The 500 MW gas-fired generator running at 80% CF would produce 1.9 million metric tons, not 19 million. I have corrected that in the post.

I thought that comparing the single year CO2 output of the gas-fired generator with the lifetime used fuel output of a nuclear generator would better illustrate my point. But I also like the way you put it—the nuke unit produces thousands of times less “byproduct” over an equivalent period.

And when we remember that the nuclear “byproduct” can be further recycled while the natgas byproduct cannot (because it is swirling around in the atmosphere and non-retrievable), we get a fuller picture of how off-base the anti-nukes are on the issue of used fuel.

13 years ago

Hi All:

I am constantly amazed by the [intentional] ignorance of the anti-nuke crowd.

As it applies to the nuclear industry, “waste fuel” is the mother of all oxymorons!

The “waste” fuel from a single-pass, neutron moderated reactor still contains 98.5%
of its original energy. There is absolutely nothing spent about a “spent” nuclear
fuel bundle. It isn’t waste, its’ fuel!

I am even more dismayed by the fact that humanities only future energy answer which is currently scientifically well developed and understood is being completely ignored for no reason other then political expediency.

The informed among you will no doubt recognize this technology in the form of

Not only can these consume our current stockpiles of nuclear waste and
decommissioned weapons cores as fuel and leave no nuclear waste legacy of any kind. They can also provide all the pollution free energy for all of humanity for all of eternity, easily supplanting all other forms of energy COMBINED!

And our governments are foolishly ga-ga on wind turbines and solar panels why

Oh, I almost forgot: Nuclear proliferation!

In order for one to make this asinine argument, three pure fantasies must all become fact:

1)Humanity is ready, willing and able to put the nuclear genie back in it’s bottle.

2)A civilian nuclear energy program and/or a nuclear reactor is the only way to produce fissile material.

3)Humanity can keep current stockpiles of nuclear waste and decommissioned weapons cores out of the hands of some future psychopathic, world domineering dictator for the next 50 thousand or more years.


Lets keep it real.

Sean Holt.

13 years ago

It is about time that we, as a society, give the anti-nuclear hysterics a cup of warm cocoa and send them for counselling. Then we need to deal with the agents provocateurs who are being paid to alarm and spread disinformation, as well as the people who are seeking to profit from manipulating public policy for their own selfish motives.

13 years ago

Sean: good points about proliferation, especially point #3. Few of the anti-proliferation people seem to want to acknowledge it, but reactors are the only peaceful way to destroy the bomb material that already exists. Turn it into fuel for a power reactor, generate electricity, and the stuff is gone.

Lyne: cocoa would probably do the trick for most of the anti-nukes, but as you said some of them are professionals. Some of the pros are seeing a dwindling of funds from people who used to send money to fight the nuclear arms buildup then stopped when the Cold War ended. A good example of this is the Union of Concerned Scientists. Back in the day the UCS was relevant—it opposed the nuclear arms buildup. Then the Cold War ended, and today they are reduced to just opposing anything with the word nuclear in front of it.

So onlookers are today treated to the spectacle of the UCS opposing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s use of mixed-oxide fuel in its power reactors, even though the plutonium in the MOX will have come from the U.S. weapons stockpile. This is no bigger example of Swords to Ploughshares in history, and the UCS opposes it.

The UCS should give itself and everyone else a break, and find a new raison d’etre.