Udall, McCain Love Them Some Nuclear Power

As the Denver Post reports:

While McCain long has supported nuclear power as part of a strategy to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions, [Sen. Mark] Udall previously had hesitated.

“I agree with Sen. McCain that nuclear power has to be part of the mix,” Udall, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on National Parks, said Monday in the meadow. “It is clear that if we want to respond to climate change, nuclear power has to be part of the solution.”

Later in an interview, Udall said his support includes emphasis on safety by improving the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and issuance of mining permits. Udall also noted that a project to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada appears to be “a dead project.”

At some point, he said, “you have to have a geologic depository that is safe.”

To which the Colorado Independent adds:

Udall is a strong proponent of the state’s New Energy sector and is seen as a friend to the green movement in the state. His advancement of nuclear power, however, has alarmed environmentalists, who see the risks posed by uranium mining and nuclear power plant construction as far outweighing any benefits to be derived from expanding the contemporary nuclear industry.

Keith Hay, energy advocate for Denver-based Environment Colorado, has argued against the inclusion of nuclear power as a part of any clean-energy discussion. Hay told the Colorado Independent in May that there was “a strong push by southern Democrats to include nuclear and clean coal in the renewable energy standard” but that environmentalists thought any such tack was misguided at best.

“Anyone who has seen the front end of uranium mining for nuclear knows that it is in no way clean.”

It’s an interesting question–Colorado hasn’t had a nuclear power plant since the experimental Fort St. Vrain facility shut down a number of years ago, but the state is historically a leading producer of uranium. And that, of course, has its own locally sensitive environmental consequences.

But nuclear doesn’t emit greenhouse gases making electricity, and properly isolated waste doesn’t pose a threat to the surrounding community. Furthermore, nobody will ever build a nuclear power plant as badly designed as Chernobyl again. You do want to cut greenhouse gas emissions without reverting to the pre-industrial age, don’t you?

In terms of the politics, none of this is really a problem for Mark Udall–there is an arguable shift of opinion going on about nuclear power, or at least increased debate within the legitimate environmental community. And as we’ve said before, Udall isn’t up for election again for over five years: he can afford to be first when he wants to be.

A poll follows.

A nuke plant in Colorado, anyone?

View Results

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46 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. G Pulviczek says:

    Unless we can solve three (related) things:

    1. The huge impact of uranium mining

    2. The huge cost of waste disposal

    3. The limited availability of usable uranium

    Breeder reactors would help, some.  But, ultimately, nuclear fission is also a “fossil fuel” (uranium is the fossil of billions-of-years-old supernovae).

    Now, nuke plants using local resources on the moon, asteroids, or Mars, on the other hand…

    • G Pulviczek says:

      Coal has all of those problems and then some.  I believe that coal ash is more radioactive than many kinds of uranium ore.

      However, it does not make sense to switch to something just because it is a little “less bad.”

      Renewables – solar, wind, tide, etc. – are the way to go for new energy on this planet.  Well, and geothermal (which is “fossil” but unlikely to be used up in millions of years).

      • ajb says:

        The pollution from uranium mining, the disruption from a nuclear accident, the risk we’re willing to take with long-term storage of nuclear waste, all need to be compared to the potential disruption of global warming.

        Sure, solar and wind may eventually be able to provide 90+% of our energy needs, but when will that be? I honestly don’t know and doubt that anyone does. But we can build nukes now. They’re a proven technology, albeit with a lot of baggage.

        Personally, I’d rather see a large nuke built than a coal plant.  

        • Gilpin Guy says:

          How many terrorists would drool at the thought of blowing up a American nuclear plant?

          The site would have to be locked down and guarded like a military installation.  Blowing up a solar panel doesn’t have the same consequences as blowing up a nuclear plant.

          • ajb says:

            not blowing up the reactor. Reactors have containment domes built with concrete several feet thick. I recall reading that they’re designed to withstand a jet crashing into them.

            And as for proliferation, well, North Korea and Iran appear to be close to developing homegrown nukes. They didn’t have to steal fissionable material from anywhere, just pay AQ Khan and his cronies for the knowledge. If those countries can get the wherewithal to build nukes, anybody can.

        • Emma Anne says:

          It takes years to build a nuclear power plant and get it up and running.  Wind and solar are much faster.

          Not against nuclear in all circs, but speed is not one of its advantages.

          • ajb says:

            But I’ll borrow a canard from our conservative friends and say that a great deal of that time is spent getting the permit. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that a nuke could be built in about the same time as it takes to build a coal plant. So there probably is some slop in the system that could be tightened up to speed up the process.

            And like I said below, nukes can provide reliable base load power that wind and solar can’t. I recall hearing that balancing loads across the grid with significant wind and solar inputs is quite difficult even their contribution is <20%. I can only imagine what it is when they provide the majority of our power.

          • Danny the Red (hair) says:

            was that so many of these facilities were one offs.

            For cost, speed and safety standardizing the design is critical.

            • ajb says:

              Did somebody ever do it? Folks at Los Alamos, perhaps? Or maybe the French?

              • Danny the Red (hair) says:


                Ironically, the French nuclear program is based on American technology. After experimenting with their own gas-cooled reactors in the 1960s, the French gave up and purchased American Pressurized Water Reactors designed by Westinghouse. Sticking to just one design meant the 56 plants were much cheaper to build than in the US. Moreover, management of safety issues was much easier: the lessons from any incident at one plant could be quickly learned by managers of the other 55 plants. The “return of experience” says Mandil is much greater in a standardized system than in a free for all, with many different designs managed by many different utilities as we have in America.

                They are now working on a new Euro-standard design 1600MWe.

        • OneEyedOwl says:

          before I’ll warm to generating nuke waste that just stacks up in a depository somewhere. Anyone want to live next to a nuke dump?  

  2. Gilpin Guy says:

    going on about nuclear

    And Udall is obviously one who carefully studies which way the winds are blowing.  I guess that makes him an expert on wind generated power.

    • ajb says:

      All you have to ask people is where in their district they want to see the nuke built. But if you’re going to do more about global warming than buy a Prius and switch to compact flourescents, you need to start asking a lot of hard questions. The answers won’t always be easy.

      I’d rather see rolling hills of solar panels than another nuke, but I don’t think the grid is able to function yet without some sort of stable base-load generating capability.

      So Udall is open to discussing nuclear power. Good for him. It shows he’s thinking globally about this slow motion train wreck we call global warming. I wish more people did.

      • G Pulviczek says:

        Is stable base-load generating.

        You do have to be very careful about groundwater contamination (hot geothermal water contains many dissolved minerals that you do not want to drink).

        But we have hundreds of gigawatts of untapped, sustainable (over the lifetime of a civilization) power beneath our feet.

        • Danny the Red (hair) says:

          GT is not “clean”, but rather “cleaner” when it comes to greenhouse gases (I’m still a fan however)

          In addition, I thought GT was limited to only certain locations (tectonic or volcanic activity in general), but that makes a good choice for California (unlike IMAO Nukes in CA)

        • ajb says:

          There are only a handful of geothermal power plants in this country that I’m aware of and none of them are terribly large.

          If the potential exists to exploit that much power economically, we definitely should. I wasn’t aware that the potential exists. Do you have a source with some numbers?

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      being an expert in wind generated power.

      He stays in power by always going in the direction generated by the winds of public opinion.

      It would be impressive if he would actually produce some rational legislation to our sustainable needs.  That would be a welcome change.

    • Barron X says:


      In fact, 100 25 MWe pebble-bed reactors, each the size of a hot tub, could power this city adequately.  

      Safe.  Reliable,  Cheap.  

      You know all that talk about “peak oil” and “Huppert’s curve” and price being a function of supply and demand ?  

      I’d recommend moving away from any town that opposes nuke power.  You won’t be able to eat there in 20 years.


  3. ohwilleke says:

    than coal, which is the main fossil fuel that nuclear power substitutes for in the power grid.  (The other other peacetime use of nuclear power is to generate electricity to power military submarines, aircraft carriers, and perhaps a few Russian icebreaker ships).

    When a nuclear power plant is running it is essentially emission free.  The amount of fuel transportation and mining involve is much smaller (and hence safer per unit of energy created) because nuclear fuel is far more energy dense than coal (it takes about one pickup truck load of uranium a year to fuel a nuclear power plant and many long trainloads of coal to fuel a comparable coal fired plant).

    The volume of waste is much less, low level nuclear waste (which is the bulk of nuclear waste by volume) isn’t that different in environmental threat than coal ash which can be toxic itself, and the high level nuclear waste problem is as much political as it is practical.

    Nuclear isn’t the only part of the solution.  We need to develop renewables like wind.  We need to improve conservation and vehicle fuel efficiency.  But, it is a sensible part of the total solution.

    • DavidThi808 says:

      How many lives have been lost in the US due to nuclear? Zero – and that includes using it on warships.

      How many people die from coal every year? I think the respitory deaths due to the emmissions are estimated to be 50 – 100K/year.

      In that trade-off I think nuclear wind hands down.

  4. dem girl says:

    If carbon could be captured and sequestered permanently (and geologists will tell you that is possible) wouldn’t cleaning up coal be better than the Pandora’s box of a massive nuclear power construction campaign?  

    • ajb says:

      A lot of money has been poured into clean coal, with not a lot to show for it. Nothing beyond pilot projects.

      So perhaps the question is, can coal be clean and economical?  

    • Ralphie says:

      Then all you’d have to deal with is ash, sulfuric acid (acid rain from the sulfur in coal), mercury, arsenic, and a lot of other bad stuff.  Carbon sequestration helps with the global warming aspects, not with the poisons.

      Also–no matter what “geologists will tell you” (and I are one), nothing is permanent.  I can’t even imagine a responsible geologist saying that.

    • ohwilleke says:

      like synthetic natural gas, but the waste you make in producing it has to end up somewhere.  You shift pollution from point of use to point of fuel production, where you might be better able to control it.

      Still, simply mining coal kills far more peopple than nuclear power has in all respects combined, per power generated.

      The main edge nuclear power has over coal is energy density (much more energy per volume of fuel) and that edge is fundamental.

  5. Sir Robin says:


    Written by physicists at the UNiversity of Melbourne, unaffiliated with the nuclear industry, under the rigours of peer review.

    No time to summarize this, but it makes for a great resouce.

    • G Pulviczek says:

      It has no discussion that I’ve been able to find on the impact of uranium mining.  Which is of particular interest to northern Colorado voters…. http://www.nunnglow.com/  

      • Danny the Red (hair) says:

        All costs (environmental & money) must be addressed from all sources (mining, building, generation, disposal) to adequately internalize the externalities.

        The extractive industries do not have a great track record of being environmentally friendly on their own so tough enforcement and strong regulations are critical if we are to analyze true costs and make real choices on our energy future.

        For as much as I like technologies such as wind, solar and GT, our energy future, and even more importantly the climates future, depend on bringing down CO2 emmissions faster than those technologies alone can do.

  6. Canines says:

    to a nuclear information center, an industry-run shack, in the state where I lived. They talked about what a great source of power nuclear energy is. This was before Three Mile Island or Chernobyl (or Jackson Browne/Bruce Springsteen singing No Nukes or whatever), and I was a pre-teen, but I could still tell I was being bullshitted, propagandized to.

    I’m a little more circumspect now; I mean, I saw the 60 Minutes segment about France’s nuclear power plants, and I went, “Hmmm…”

    Yet I can’t escape the sensation that I’m still being bullshitted, in the long run.  

    I recall what Robert Anton Wilson once said: the closest naturally-occurring nuclear power plant (the sun) to Earth is 149.6 million kilometers away: which is maybe how far nuclear power ought to be from our planet.  

    • ajb says:

      Then we went through the nukes-are-bad indoctrination. And quite honestly, I still think that nukes are bad. But I think that global warming is worse. Can you imagine the disaster a place like Bangladesh will be?

      Ultimately, we’ll figure this out and draw our power from a series of renewable sources (we’ll have to), but in the meanwhile I don’t think we should absolutely reject nukes.

      What bothers me most is that utilities are these centralized entities. If we can decentralize our power generation, then we actually become more secure and less beholden to some corporation located 5 states away.  

      • DavidThi808 says:

        First building large plants is a lot more efficient. Second, you can load balance because when needs go up in one part of the country, they tend to go down in others.

        • ajb says:

          Transmission loss, for one. That’s bad enough for conventional power plants (including nukes), but is likely worse for alternative energy because you can’t control where the sun shines or the wind blows or the ground is hot enough.

          Also, decentralized power is much less likely to suffer from regional black-outs or brownouts.

          This isn’t to say I disagree with you, but rather that the efficiencies of centralized utilities are offset, at least in part, by their disadvantages.

  7. DavidThi808 says:

    You have two choices for most of our electrical generation – coal or nuclear. Wind and solar can’t generate the totals we need (yet). Add to that the fact that they’re not on 100% of the time which increases the number of generators needed.

    And for those against nuclear – is it due to a logical weighing out of the laternatives, or because nuclear sounds scary?

    • RedGreen says:

      You’re forgetting natural gas.

    • redstateblues says:

      Since you’re such a big proponent, are you going to give Udall props for being a leader on this issue? Or do you just criticize him constantly for his mistakes, while not giving him credit when it’s due?

        • RedGreen says:

          1:00 p.m. Thursday – Town Hall on Building a Clean Energy Economy in Southwestern Colorado

          What:  Senator Udall will discuss how the use of clean energy can create jobs and boost the economy in Southwestern Colorado.

          Where:  La Plata County Courthouse, Anasazi Room, 1060 E. 2nd Ave., Durango

          • DavidThi808 says:

            Big question – is this a speech or did his announcement say he will be answering questions? (Do you have a link?)

            And where did he publisize this?

            • RedGreen says:

              He “publisized” this with multiple releases sent to media statewide. The Durango Herald has a story on it today here http://durangoherald.com/secti… :

              Udall spokeswoman Tara Trujillo on Wednesday said it was inaccurate to say the town hall was about health care, but predicted it would come up.

              People will be able to ask questions, and we expect questions about health care,” she said, adding that reservations are not required to attend.

              Organizing for America also e-mail blasted an invitation to the town hall and urged supporters to show up.

              An Organizing for America Web page that allows supporters to RSVP for the event showed nearly 300 people signed up to attend the meeting. The posted occupancy capacity of the courthouse’s meeting room is 131.

              Udall’s office said comment cards will be available for attendees who are not able to speak at the meeting.

              There have been stories about the planned town hall dating back to Aug. 7 in the Denver Post, on 9News, and in lots of southwestern Colorado newspapers.

              Udall also held a telephone town hall on health care and — gasp! — took questions from callers, much like the rest of the delegation. You can listen here: http://markudall.senate.gov/?p

    • ajb says:

      We can put up a gazillion wind turbines easily enough. But we need a way to store that energy when the sun doesn’t blow.

      Similar situation for solar for nighttime. I know that some of the thermal-solar plans address this. Not sure if anyone has doen anything with wind – maybe a paired wind/hydro project where you pump water uphill on windy days?

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