Yes We Can! We Just Beat Coal. Time to Go Nuclear?


Congratulations are in order for all of us who took on the myth of Clean Coal and who warned that it wasn’t real and would not make coal an acceptable fuel to generate electricity from.  We won!  


They said we couldn’t do it, that coal had too much money, too much power too much influence.  But you can stick a fork in coal now when it comes to generating future energy in America.  Coal just got its ass kicked.  Just like I said it would.


Last Wednesday the plug got pulled on clean coal by its biggest financial backer and chief cheerleaders, the Bush administration and the Department of Energy  in “a major policy reversal.”  


The $1.8 billion dollar per plant cost was already double the original budget of $950 million and cost overruns were expected to bump the price up to $2 bill per plant.  That’s a ton of money for technology that is just vaporware and not proven.  Way too much money for the industry itself to pay.  Their costs were going to be capped at just $400 billion with our tax dollars picking up the rest of their tab.  Not any more.  


Even worse news for coal was in yesterday’s morning’s headlines where I read in the Wall Street Journal that three of Wall Street’s biggest investment banks are set to announce today that they are imposing new environmental standards that will make it harder for companies to get financing to build coal-fired power plants in the U.S.


This devastating news for the people who make their money as the biggest contributers to global warming is great news for the rest of us.  Because it means the clean coal scam didn’t work and those 151 new coal fired electric plants on the books probably won’t get built.  Which is just fine, since we don’t really need them.  Americans can conserve the same amount of energy they were going to produce and we must.



We can only use our Creative Greenius on the Chinese and their coal fired electric plants if we first do the right thing here in the USA.  Now that we’ve stopped the Clean Coal Carnival here we can start making the serious move to renewables and sell that same technology to the Chinese.  


I believe our green movement will transcend governments and entrenched interests and connect at a people to people level.  I’m talking about people both here and in China who won’t stand for being victims of global warming and who are willing to work together to change the world for our own self interest and survival.  That change starts with us on an individual basis, then extends to our own countries and then to other countries. 



But before we get to the solar, wind and other renewables we’re waiting for you’ll need to get ready for the marketing campaign and media blitz to position nuclear energy as our savior from global warming.  


Nuclear generates no greenhouse gasses, they’ll tell us.  You’ll hear how no one has ever died from any nuclear power plant accident.  They’ll say that today’s nuclear plants are much safer and far more advanced than the old Three Mile Island that scared us all or Chernobyl – which wasn’t really as bad as we remember.  And they’ll say that those of us who oppose them are a bunch of aging hippies who have all been brainwashed by Al Gore.  



But what they WON’T say is that they’ve solved the nuclear waste problem.  Unless you talk to my friend, Dr. Robert Schenter, PhD.


Dr. Bob, as he is endearingly called by his many friends around the world, is a brilliant nuclear scientist who has used his time and talents working with radioactive isotopes for medical purposes, primarily in the cancer field.  He is the inventor of Smart Bullets that target cancer cells far more precisely than traditional radiation or chemo.  


Dr. Bob is active with several Cancer Foundations, is an American Nuclear Society Fellow, a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Advisory Committee on the medical uses of Isotopes, and has testified before Congress on Medical Isotope Supply and Applications.



But when I spoke with him last month, he was testifying to me about Nuclear Waste Transmutation.  Dr. Bob believes that transmutation using Fast Flux nuclear reactors can render nuclear waste into safe, valuable commodities, eliminating the need for places like the Yucca Mountain waste depository.  Dr. Bob raises the question – if I can solve nuclear energy’s waste problems for you, why wouldn’t you support nuclear as the green, zero-carbon producing source of electricity that is the holy grail of the environmental movement?


Dr. Bob reminded me that one of Greenpeace’s founders, Patrick Moore is now a supporter of nuclear power and I know from my own research that Whole Earth founder Stewart Brand is on board for nukes.


So what exactly are we talking about with Transmutation?  In a nutshell we’re talking about using a fast flux nuclear reactor to burn up the most dangerous long-lived fission products, the ones with half lives of thousands of years and in so doing transmute them into either stable or short-lived isotopes not requiring very long term “storage.”



According to Wikipedia, “Transmutation of transuranium elements (actinides) such as the isotopes of plutonium, neptunium, americium, and curium has the potential to help solve the problems posed by the management of radioactive waste, by reducing the proportion of long-lived isotopes it contains. When irradiated with fast neutrons in a nuclear reactor, these isotopes can be made to undergo nuclear fission, destroying the original actinide isotope and producing a spectrum of radioactive and nonradioactive fission products.  Isotopes of plutonium and other actinides tend to be long-lived with half-lives of many thousands of years, whereas radioactive fission products tend to be shorter-lived (most with half-lives of 30 years or less). From a waste management viewpoint, transmutation of actinides eliminates a very long-term radioactive hazard and replaces it with a much shorter-term one.”



It’s not often that I get to talk to a nuclear scientist about the technical side of their work and employ my own microscopically small expertise in the field.  But as the former co-chair of the Coalition for a Nuclear Free Harbor in Long Beach, California, I am familiar with the substandard quality of the nuclear workforce and  those who handle nuclear materials in general. 


For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the US Navy, who operates a wide range of nuclear warships and submarines, reported that they had recorded over 375 nuclear incidents and accidents.  They’ve dumped radioactive waste in the waters all around the planet.  Not surprisingly they don’t like to talk about their record and you have to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out the truth. 


And you don’t have to look far doing a news search today for information on current screw ups at nuclear plants.  Just read my last post.  This is an industry and technology that has not earned our trust.  I trust Dr. Bob, but the rest of the nuclear industry doesn’t operate at his high standards.


So even if the US could build a new nuclear power plant every one-to-two weeks for the next 50 years as the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said we need to in their 2006 study it would be an awful use of our money and it would be the wrong direction for us to turn. 


We already waste way too much of our taxpayer money on nuclear industry subsidies which in 2006 brought them $9 billion and which brought you and me a big fat nothing.  If we were spending anywhere near that same amount of money developing wind, solar and other renewables we’d already be plugging into a greener grid today.


So even though I don’t have a PhD, I’m going to tell you that Dr. Bob’s well meaning transmutation solution is not the answer.  I wish it was and I wish I agreed with him, but I don’t.  We just don’t need a world filled with nuclear reactors in every country big and small even if we could all use a time machine to have them built in enough time to make a big difference in climate change.


The right answer is a mix of energy conservation, a Manhattan Project-sized national commitment to developing and expanding renewable energy and just as importantly, a decentralization of power generating. 


We need to change the whole concept of the grid as it exists today.  We need to see power generated at the local level by big commercial buildings, schools, shopping centers, hotels, office buildings and neighborhoods.  Power that’s far cheaper and safer in the long run than nuclear could ever be.


We’ve made the first big, smart move already by busting the clean coal scam.  Now it’s time to keep moving in the right direction and not fall for greenwashing by the nuclear industry who see coal’s demise as their opening.


Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and I were right when we talking about No Nukes in 1979 and we are still right today.  Can we stop them?  YES. WE. CAN.


Check out their most recent video as we continue the Creative Greenius approach to turning energy green.  They’re talking about last year’s energy bill but the same nuclear bailout money is in the President’s brand new budget:

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