Atomic Awesome

User Input: Polarizing Energy

(Image source:

(Image source:

In the United States this week, the Smithsonian Institute is sponsoring Nuclear Science Week, a program to educate students — and the general public at large — about the whole picture surrounding nuclear energy. It’s an admirable program, because it’s not shying away from discussing the negatives, while taking a realistic approach. Let’s face it, nuclear power is still a crucial part of our power generation mosaic. We still need it, because renewable energy is quite a few years from being able to take over as a mainstream source of power. Hydroelectric generation (which sits somewhere between “clean” and “conventional” energy) still has a significant impact on the environment — albeit not through greenhouse gases — and is heavily geographically restricted. And burning fossil fuels to generate electricity is simply not a viable long-term solution.

Thanks to Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island, there is a massive stigma surrounding nuclear power. Nuclear Science Week aims to explore both the positives and negatives of nuclear power, and help students and the public to determine for themselves which aspects of this stigma are deserved, and which are not.

So where do you stand on the matter? Is nuclear energy too scary for you to tolerate? Or do the benefits outweigh the risks? Or, like so many things, is it simply NIMBY syndrome? And if nuclear energy still scares you, what do you plan to do with your Atomic Toaster?

  • cruisintime


  • CruisinTime

    Fukushima is still leaking contaminated water,and Chernobyl is having a sliding roof built to cover that mess.And that is the problem with nuclear power.When something goes to hell it stays there for a long time.

    • Dearthair

      Very true. On the other hand, there are hundreds of other reactors around the world that totally HAVEN’T blown up or melted down at all. Yet. And this is where I have a problem with that whole line of thought. It’s a bit like those people who say, “I won’t fly in planes because if it crashes, you have almost no chance of surviving.”

      Right… okay… but they almost never crash. And both Fukushima and Chernobyl can be boiled down to administrations getting lax about safety and engineering protocols. Basically, nuclear energy, particularly in later-generation reactors (basically anything following the CANDU series of reactors), by itself is safe. People are the big issue there.

      So i suppose the bigger question becomes something like, “Given that nuclear energy can be totally safe and reliable if administered correctly, and given that human beings are a bunch of morons, is it possible for nuclear energy to ever be totally safe and reliable?” And THAT one, I don’t have an answer to.

      • CruisinTime

        We need to work harder for solar and wind and depend less on unstable elements and non renewable resources.

      • Monkey10is

        Reactors can be run safely, but each one produces a lifetime and end-of-life legacy of contaminated waste. In the UK we still have not found a viable long-term storage plan for this (“export to Japan” was our most convincing idea so far); even so, we are now placing contracts for the next generation of nuclear plants.
        How has the US solved the waste storage problem? (And please don’t tell me it is all exported to Japan…)

        • Dearthair

          Last I heard — and keep in mind, it’s been a LONG time since I did all my research on this — the US and Canada were relying on the same technique. There are particular mines, way the hell down below the water table, where they’re storing the waste, carved into particular kinds of rock that absorb the radiation best. Again, this is all off memory, if someone can correct me, I have no problem being wrong on this. But basically, the US and Canada have the advantage of huge amounts of land to make things like that possible. Places where the radiation is far enough from civilization that the risks are incredibly low. In Canada, it’s the northern part of the Canadian Shield; in the US, it’s Atlanta. 😉

          The UK has Croydon, though…

          • Monkey10is

            That does explain the strange glow though…


          • As far as deep geologic storage goes, WIPP is currently taking ERP-generated waste from various decommissioned cleanup sites (something I thought would never happen when I was involved in DOE ERP in the early ’90s). On the spent fuel side, I am guessing that Yucca Mountain site will remain permanently locked into phase-two gridlock. As far as Canada goes, I have no idea what the future political viability is for the DGR.

          • Vairship

            I believe that in the US, the planned-for facility for long-term storage is Yucca Mountain. Has been for almost 40 years. I’m sure it’ll open any day now…
            So for now, waste is stored at the nuclear facilities that created it, in concrete-lined steel barrels and the likes, which are known not to last long enough for long-term storage.
            There are also dreams of storing it in salt domes, but doing that will likely lead to the same type of opposition as storing it at Yucca Mountain: the basic problem is that no-one wants waste that’ll remain hazardous for 10,000 years or more ( ) near their house.
            And we really don’t know of any technology that’s guaranteed to keep anything closed off to evil-doers or stupid people for that kind of time span. Just think of how unsuccessful the pyramids were…

    • Good thing those greenhouse gasses degrade so quickly…

      • CruisinTime

        Is Global warming a hoax? The great Lakes were carved by receding glaciers.

        • Pish! Revisionist natural history. That’s a big PC whitewash. They were actually carved by rampaging glaciers.

          • CruisinTime

            Earth has been evolving since the “Big Bang”. So far it has been a nice ride.

          • The ice age Trashed. The. Place.
            It was one big drunken frat party, and don’t let anybody tell you different.

          • CruisinTime

            We have trashed the place,creating plastic garbage patches in our oceans,to replace the plentiful aquatic life.

  • Monkey10is

    Newsflash: Dearthair released by Mooses! Hooray. And just in time for ‘nucular week’.

    • 0A5599

      The article mentioned unviable fossils. I wonder what The Professor is doing these days?

  • Will next week be toaster week?

  • I think nuclear is the one-word solution to a huge number of problems. However, I think fusion will be viable by the time we get around to doing it properly with the aforementioned CANDU reactors and other non-obsolete technology. But hey, Atomic Toasters is all about obsolete technology. Welcome back to the future.

  • jeepjeff

    The other problem with Hydro electric is that in many places, it’s mostly tapped out. At least along the West Coast of the US, there are dams pretty much everywhere and there are all sorts of fights over water rights and fish populations that go along with them. (I largely support the use of hydro, but yeah, it’s got its own problems. Definitely better than coal.)

    Also. I really want a desk lamp that uses Cherenkov Radiation for illumination. It’s so pretty.

  • Dearthair

    So I had to upgrade us away from IntenseDebate today, because when I came back in, switched on the lights and blew the dust off the old control room here at AtomicToasters Galactic Central Command, well, there’s no other way of looking at it. IntenseDebate was plain old broken. Not too surprising, it wasn’t looking the best in here.

    Disqus is currently chewing on all our back catalog of comments, but it does appear to be having increasing amounts of trouble as we keep moving forwards We’ll let it keep working, but it’s entirely possible I may need everyone to just go ahead and re-post every missing comment they’ve posted in the last five years.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

    • As long as you’re in the control room fiddling with the settings, may I suggest switching the default order for comments from “Sort by Best” to “Sort by Oldest” as used by that Hooni-something car site?

      • Dearthair

        Really? People like that better? The internet default nowadays is Sort by Best, so those worthless troll comments go all the way down to the bottom where they bel–

        OHHH, you just want to move your comments to the top, don’t you? I’m on to your tricks.

        • nanoop

          27 people found this comment helpful.

        • Nice to have you back. Um, where’s Pete?

        • First! I prefer sort by oldest, but I am professionally contrary.

          • Monkey10is

            But how is Dearthair meant to know which of us is the oldest?

          • I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed “Sort by Oldest” meant “Have The Professor do it.”

          • The professor followed by everyone else a dozen scrolls later.

    • 0A5599

      you write an article about wood, one of my favorite things in the world since i am a woodcraft collector and carpenter, and use a photo of fornicating trees as the photo?!


      • Monkey10is

        you write an article about fornication, one of my favourite things in the world since I am a …oh, never mind.

      • Dearthair

        You don’t have to put them all HERE.

        Actually… no, go ahead and do that, completely out of context, that would be fantastic.

  • nanoop

    Radiation per se is my friend, but the perspective that companies, especially those traded at stock markets (high frequency trading and stock holder value for a decades lasting responsibility?) are running nuclear power plants makes me shudder. Not that a state would be any better at it – politicians are “traded” in a market of ~5 years periodicity, but still have to watch their market value closely, too.

    Example of cutting corners the wrong way:
    Every industry has shitty jobs, but the people cleaning inner parts take a serious health risk while doing a physically tough job. Exemplified on France by a documentation some 15 years ago, the hiring company (which is certainly in no way connected to the power plant owners) was closed and replaced by a new one every few years, in order to circumvent any claims for long-term health damages. The ratio of symptoms that could be ascribed to radiation injury among those people in comparison to some average value was frightening. I get that downtime is burning money, but I also have no idea whether that kind of job is actually possible in a safe way.