Monday, November 14, 2011

Nuclear New York City

Rod Adams, who runs a website called, wrote in the other day in response to a post of mine about Entergy’s vision of providing electricity to New York City by building small nuclear power plants throughout the five boroughs.

He pointed out that small nuclear reactors are fairly common, on submarines and ships, for example. He added, “I really like the idea of building and operating networks of small nuclear reactors to power our modern society.”

So I responded:

I'd be interested in hearing more about nuclear-powered cities, with the understanding that in New York City they can't even put bicycle lanes on the roads without causing civic unrest. Nuke plants are unthinkable for reasons of public acceptance alone.

Among the questions I have are: Where would they be located? A quick look at the maps that were produced as part of the Hurricane Irene evacuation plan shows that a good part of the city is already threatened by sea level rise. Where would spent fuel be kept? And if a permanent spent fuel repository was ever built, how would you get it safely out of the city? How big of a security area around each would there have to be?

He wrote back and said that while he hasn’t spent much time in New York, what he saw when he was there leads him to believe it’s an idea worth pursuing:

I saw a lot of industrial facilities and power plants whose sites would be substantially improved if they were converted into being the home of small nuclear power plants that are similar in size to the ones that power aircraft carriers or submarines. Interestingly enough, NYC residents have already demonstrated on numerous occasions that they accept small reactors in their city when they are moored in the harbor.

Servicing either a floating nuclear plant or one that is built with ready access to the water would be relatively straightforward. Handling waste material would be easier - due to far lower volumes - than handling the industrial waste that is already being generated to produce electricity.

Our current perception of public acceptance is no reason to take viable options off of the table. People in NYC need reliable electrical power in order to survive. If you took a poll, some (perhaps most) might indicate a preference for anything other than nuclear, but that is a matter of not understanding the physical limitations and impacts of the alternatives. I can just imagine what the city would be like if it tried to obtain a significant fraction of its power needs from the wind or the sun - especially on a day like the one that we experienced during the OpSail parade.

If people worried about nuclear energy are reminded of events like the power plant explosion in Middletown, CT in January 2010 or the San Bruno pipeline explosion in September 2010, they will understand that natural gas may be relatively clean compared to other fossil fuels, but using it is certainly not without risk.

Since you mention the sea level rise that might come as a result of continuing to pump about 20 billion tons per year of CO2 into the atmosphere, don't you think that it is time to take more advantage of a power source that is clean enough to run inside a submarine - and safe enough to power floating cities carrying thousands of patriotic young Americans?



Blogger Schenck said...

This guy is definitely far too enamored of the analogy with nuke powered submarines and ships.

In fact I bet if a few people made enough noise about the ships during Fleet Week being nuke reactors, people might start rejecting them.

So a network of nukes spread out around the city, based on one visit?
Lets not let tourists influence nuclear-power policy eh?

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Gwyneth Cravens said...

I had a lot of wrong ideas about nuclear power. When I actually learned the facts, and learned about the terrible health impacts from continuing to burn fossil fuels, and the climate impacts as well, I changed my mind.

Last year 14 people in the US were killed and others injured or their homes destroyed by explosions at a natural gas power plant in CT and a pipeline explosion in CA. Because the fossil fuel industry spends hundreds of millions of $$ on PR, few people know the consequences of continuing to rely on a risky and dirty source of electricity.

Wind and solar have their niche but can't replace baseload power--that has to come either from fossil fuel combustion or nuclear. Nuclear plants do not burn anything so do not emit greenhouse gases or fine particulates while generating clean energy.

Indian Point provides dedicated electricity that moves millions of people around the greater NY area daily without producing pollution: the subways and some trains. Without Indian Point the environment would have a far great burden of pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Nuclear plants can't explode atomically. Gas plants can explode due to chemical properties.

I have lived in NYC and LI most of my life. I think that small nuclear plants in underground bunkers could work. Or Indian Point could add more reactors and replace the one that is now shut down. Mayor Bloomberg understands the importance of Indian Point to the city, the state, and the region.

10:51 AM  

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