Why Jordan needs nuclear energy (part III)
Part I here.
Part II here.
Two major sets of objections are cited in the context of the proposal to use nuclear energy. The objections are related to waste and safety, and to political concerns. This stems from the current crisis involving Iran’s nuclear program.
All traditional forms of energy come at environmental costs. Fossil fuels are cited as a reason for the buildup on greenhouse gases, which have a profound effect on the climate of our planet. Solid fossil fuels (such as coal or oil shale) produce massive amounts of solid waste, some of it is radioactive. Building hydroelectric structures comes at an environmental cost. The Three Gorges dam in China will cause massive social dislocations and environmental stresses. The Aswan dam has had large impacts on the river system, and the entire structure of the Abu Simble temple had to be moved. Thus, it is clear that in our modern world, we will always require more energy, and obtaining this energy will come at social, cultural and environmental costs.
Thus, the environmental costs for nuclear energy must be viewed in comparison with other energy sources. The largest concern stems from the management and disposal of nuclear waste.
Nuclear waste is divided into low, intermediate and high level nuclear waste. Low level waste consists of medical and research waste produced at the plant, as well as protective gloves, shoes and other clothes. Disposal of this material is not considered to be a problem. Intermediate level waste is produced in the reactors, and typically is short lived. The greatest concern comes from high level nuclear waste, which comes from the spent fuel of the reactor. The volume of this material is small, but requires special handling and disposal procedures. In many instances, it is recycled to reclaim some of the unfissioned isotopes, which significantly reduces the volume.
The criteria for disposal of nuclear (or any other hazardous) waste are well defined. These include geological requirements related to low seismicity and significant distance and hydrogeological separation from the water table, as well as distance from population centers and natural resources. It is highly likely that one or more suitable locations are available in the country. Disposal of waste is not an insurmountable technical issue. Either that, or it may be shipped to other countries. The North Koreans want it (just kidding).
Despite the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the record of safety for nuclear energy is superior to all major energy sources currently used. This list gives an idea of the track record for the major energy sources. Modern standardized designs take into account the experience of many years of nuclear experience, and these designs have multiple fail-safes that make Homer Simpson type accidents impossible.
As for the political objections, these stem from assumptions about the attitude of the major powers towards the proposal. The non-proliferation treaty states in part that “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty”. This is quite clear, and as a signatory to the NPT, there are no legal reasons to object to Jordan developing a peaceful energy program. This is contrary to the situation of Israel, which has not signed the NPT.
It should be noted that the Iran nuclear crisis stems from their attempts to enrich uranium. Indeed, the offers to Iran have included supplying them with light water reactors and the fuel needed. Jordan’s nuclear program would be purely for peaceful purposes, and would be open to the inspection of monitoring of the IAEA.
The Canadians, French, Russians and Chinese are all looking for customers for their reactors. They have a vested interest in making things easy for us.