outmoded plant; its design has been continually updated, and it has flexibility for accommodating a variety of nuclear fuel and core designs.
(Harvey Brooks: I subscribe to the views expressed in the first two paragraphs of the above statement.)
(Henry I.Kohn: I agree with the general approach of the above statement.)
This is not a very likely example, since nuclear power is only useful as base load. It would be plausible only if the load curve were considerably leveled, e.g., due to the widespread use of electric cars with batteries charged on off-peak power, or the production of hydrogen by off-peak power, or by an inexpensive energy storage system. Some progress, however, is being made in the development of fuel that is more resistant to thermal cycling and hence suitable for use in reactors operating in a load-following mode.
Tailings piles, under present practices, are the largest source of ultimate human radiation exposure from the routine operation of nuclear power. If the linear hypothesis about radiation damage is correct, the million-year burden of extra cancer deaths produced by these tailings, although undetectable against the background of cancers from other causes, could amount to a total that almost certainly would be deemed unacceptable if it had to be borne by the present-generation users of the electricity. This situation poses an ethical dilemma that is not made less troublesome by the possibility that other energy sources also produce health costs that are spread over millennia (e.g., toxic effects of trace metals mobilized by burning coal) but that cannot yet be estimated quantitatively. In these circumstances, I am unconvinced that one should “solve” the problem of alpha-emitting wastes from elsewhere in the fuel cycle by making the tailings problem worse by even an iota. If the tailings problem itself were actually solved today, in the form of the existence of a scheme that manifestly would reduce the ultimate human exposure from this source by, say, a factor of 1000, I would feel differently about putting other alpha wastes in the same basket
This statement, made as a catalog of fears popular among nuclear opponents, is correct. Nevertheless, the fears themselves are neither