Liveblogging Germany’s Nuclear Ninnies

As I write this, Der Spiegel is liveblogging the progress of spent nuclear fuel containers from the French reprocessing plant at La Hague to the German waste storage facility at Gorleben.  Germany’s nuclear ninnies have turned the event into low farce.  Activists have planned events all along the way to satisfy the need of even the most narcissistic of the country’s environmental saviors to strike heroic and pious poses, and ostentatious public piety is what Germany’s “environmental” movement is all about.  No matter that the only things these zealots will really accomplish if they succeed is to keep dirty coal plants on line to take the place of the reactors they shut down.  Other than pumping millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, the particulates and radioactive ash from those coal plants will certainly result in the needless deaths of hundreds of their countrymen.  That will be the reality of ending nuclear power in Germany, but reality means nothing to these people.  They are not in the street to save the environment.  They are in the street to pose as saviors of the environment.  It’s so, so satisfying to ride heroically forth against evil environmental dragons, taking care, of course, to make sure that as many of your fellow citizens as possible can see you in your shining armor, and nuclear energy makes such a perfect evil dragon.  No matter that the evil is imaginary.  They just can’t do without such a wonderful evil dragon.  To take it away would be like taking drugs away from an addict.  So the fake evil dragon must live on, even if it means feeding the real one.  Some examples from Spiegel’s blog of how Germany’s “saviors” are getting their rocks off:

9:15 The 1000 to 1500 activists from Camp Metzingen are attempting to reach the rail line. It’s unclear at the moment whether they’ve reached the lines. The first wave of demonstrators is lying on the ground with streaming eyes. Apparently the police used tear gas to keep them from the rails. Photographers were rudely turned away. (How noble! How heroic!)

9:35 Water cannons have been brought up along the rail line and are being used against those who are trying to damage the rail bed.

10:45 (Peaceful) Demonstrators have doused an armored police vehicle with tar and set it on fire.

1:02 PM “We don’t want violence (!!) but rather a debate (yeah, right) about ending nuclear power, and appeal to the police to renounce the use of force,” said Wolfgang Emke, a spokesman for a citizen’s group from Luchow-Dannenberg.

…and so the sorry charade goes on.  People like this will never listen to reason, because it would require them to give up the illusion that they are noble saviors of mankind.  Outside of that illusion, many of them have no life.  The evil dragon must remain evil, or the whole, rotten facade that supports their sense of self-worth will collapse.  That’s the reality of the “environmental” movement, not just in Germany, but in any other country one could name.  They’re just one more manifestation of what H. L. Mencken used to call the “Uplift.”   Those who are being asked to make real sacrifices to humor these people are getting increasingly tired of playing along.  They are starting to strike back with an ideological narrative of their own, and don’t mind being called names by their enemies.  They have heard the zealots on the other side yell “wolf” too many times.  The problem is that, with six billion plus of us on the planet already, as our population relentlessly increases, the real wolf (or more likely, wolves) will surely come.  When they do, all the heroic posing in the world won’t stop them.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

5 thoughts on “Liveblogging Germany’s Nuclear Ninnies”

  1. Hi Helian, on a related note, the last couple months I have seen a few articles in the newspaper and TV complaining about the rising price of electricity, and blaming it on the large subventions of solar and wind power. Here in Germany there are fairly high guaranteed feed-in tarifs that the utilities must pay for certain alternative energy sources.

  2. I think that a lot of people are concerned about waste disposal. For some reason no permanent solution has been found yet (at least here in Germany AFAIK), only temporary ones (Zwischenlager). And to be honest I can understand if people are concerned about 1,000,000 years of half-life (if that is true). As long as this issue exists the protestors have a point. I think you are more referring to the vocal representatives of the demonstrators, with their grand speeches and perfect morals…

  3. @Christian

    The problem with waste disposal is caused by the same irrational fear, whipped up by the same poseurs, as in the US. The 1,000,000 year half life thing is a red herring. Here are the facts: In around 500 years, the radioactivity produced by operating a nuclear plant for 30 years drops below the level of the radioactivity released by operating a coal plant of similar size for a similar period of time (because coal typically contains 2 to 3 parts per million of radioactive thorium and uranium, both highly carcinogenic if breathed into the lungs in the form of ash.) The main difference, then, is that effective measures can be taken to prevent nuclear plant waste from getting into the environment, but the radioactive waste from burning coal is either simply blown out into the atmosphere in the form of particulates, or accumulates in the form of ash. The fact is that there are no perfectly environmentally friendly ways of producing energy. If you want energy, you have to make a choice. Objectively, the German demonstrators are choosing coal. It’s a fool’s choice. It seems better to me to learn the facts and think rationally about these issues.

  4. I have found an interesting article regarding the efficiency of many of todays nuclear power plants and an outlook regarding the availability of Uran.
    I would be interested to hear your opinion about this (it’s in German):

    Regarding environmentally friendly ways of producing energy: What about solar enegry? The production of the components will presumably not be environmentally friendly, but does the process of creating (or converting) the energy itself produce “unfriendly” byproducts like coal?

  5. Christian,

    Thanks for the link to the interesting article. What the author says about the supply of uranium is accurate. In the first place, the term “proven reserves” means very little. Based on the “proven reserves” of petroleum in the 1920’s, the continued existence of automobiles into the 21st century should have been impossible. However, it is important to understand what he means when he speaks of efficient reactors operating with “fast neutrons.” The fission process is a chain reaction in which neutrons produced in each fission fly out and cause more fissions, producing even more neutrons, etc. When they are first produced, the fission neutrons have a relatively high energy. We say they are “fast.” It happens that fast neutrons are less likely to cause another fission in passing through a given thickness of uranium fuel material than slow neutrons. Therefore, in current reactor designs, the neutrons are artificially slowed down or “thermalized” by introducing material consisting of light atoms into the reactor, such as water or graphite. Think of billiard balls. When one hits another, it can slow down or come to a complete stop. The same thing happens to neutrons when they bounce off light atoms. These slow neutrons are much more likely to cause fission, but, unfortunately, only in uranium 235. They don’t have enough energy to cause fission in the much more plentiful uranium 238, which makes up 99.3% of natural uranium. Another drawback is that the number of neutrons released in fissions caused by slow neutrons is less than that in fast neutron fission.

    Not all fission neutrons cause other fissions. Of course, some of them escape, and others are absorbed, primarily in uranium 238 in conventional reactors. When this happens, a new isotope, uranium 239 is formed, which then decays to neptunium 239 and, finally, plutonium 239. Plutonium 239, like uranium 235, is “fissile,” meaning it can undergo fission even with slow, or thermal neutrons, and is therefore an ideal reactor fuel. Unfortunately, in conventional reactors operating with slow neutrons, the number of neutrons produced per fission is not enough to produce more new fuel in the form of Pu239 than is consumed in the process. Fast neutrons, on the other hand, do produce enough extra neutrons to “breed,” or produce more new fuel than the operation of the reactor consumes. What actually happens is that the U238, instead of being wasted, is converted to fuel material and burned along with the U235 which makes up only 0.7% of natural uranium. Hence, the much greater efficiency of these “fast breeder” reactors.

    There are drawbacks. Fast reactors are more difficult to control than thermal reactors. The plutonium they produce is also an ideal material for producing nuclear weapons. A way around these problems would be to go to thorium breeder reactors. Instead of converting uranium 238 to plutonium 239, these would convert thorium 232 to uranium 233, another ideal reactor fuel. Because thorium can “breed” fuel at much lower neutron “temperatures,” the control problem would be alleviated. Furthermore, the U233 could be mixed with U238, making it impossible to convert it into bomb material using simple chemical processing, which would work with plutonium. In addition, U232, a highly dangerous radioactive isotope with a short half life is produced in the process. It, too, would be impossible to separate from the other uranium isotopes chemically, making the lives of potential terrorists or other diverters of nuclear material a great deal more difficult.

    It happens that thorium is considerably more plentiful than uranium so, if we decide to pursue breeding technology (and in my opinion we should), it may well be the better way to go.

    As for solar, some of the drawbacks are that toxic heavy metals, which must somehow eventually be safely disposed of, are used to produce them, some of the best places to locate them are fragile desert ecosystems, and massive amounts of construction material would be needed to mount enough of them to make a difference. The production of those materials would itself have a severe environmental impact. Perhaps most importantly, the sun does not shine all the time, and, in particular, it does not shine at night when some of the most heavy demand for electric power occurs. It would, therefore, be necessary to either have some alternative backup system, or a way to store the energy produced during sunlight hours very efficiently, as in complicated molten salt systems. I point this out, not because I think solar is “bad,” but merely to show that there is no ideal way of producing energy that is perfectly “friendly” to the environment. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses.

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