Tag Archives: Nuclear

Germany squabbles with Poland over new nuclear sites

In the BNC Comments, John Bennetts links a short article emphasizing one of the many ridiculous consequences of the German Greens nuclear energy policy. Now they are in a fight with Poland over siting of Poland’s new nuclear plants.

Over the past couple of weeks I pointed to a couple of articles from Germany and the Czech Republic about the former’s problems with decreasing power generation due to legislated vandalism of functioning power plant and the latter’s willingness to help make up the shortfall, if the price is right.

Now it seems that Poland is getting in on the act with several proposals to construct new nuclear power plant close to the German border.

Most comments appear to be pro-nuclear, eg:

” I would suggest that Germany take electrical power from its mythical magical pocket (that comes after it’s closed all of its nuke plants), and give freely to the poor Poles. And when the Dutch threaten to build a nuke plant near the border….give from the mythical magic pocket again. And the same for the French, the Swiss and the Danish. Surely some brilliant German minds considered this when they were busy planning the dismantling of the German nuke plants.”

Unintended consequences indeed!

Exelon views of electricity generation economics

John W. Rowe, Chairman and CEO Exelon recently gave “My Last Nuclear Speech” to the American Nuclear Society Utility Working Conference. John’s speech offers a view into the current reality of US utility decision-making. Exelon’a latest planning for 2020 looks very different from the 2008 version of their plans.

This is 2010, our most recent curve. (See Slide 3 below.) The change from our 2008 curve to this one is dramatic.

Retiring inefficient coal plants (purple) has become the cheapest option.

Most energy efficiency and nuclear uprates remain attractive. But other options begin to get very pricey.

• Wind (orange) requires a carbon price between $80-$120 per tonne.

• New nuclear – $100 per tonne to break even.

• Solar cost is down, but is still $450 per tonne and still off the chart.

• A proposed clean coal project without carbon capture and sequestration in Illinois requires $500/tonne to be economic.

• Federal subsidies and other mandates shift a portion of the costs from electric ratepayers to taxpayers or shareholders, but do not change the overall economics.

Read the whole thing »

Princeton PAW: Nuclear power’s safety

While researching the anti-nuclear history of Frank von Hippel I noted a brief interview on Fukushima April 27, 2011 with the Princeton Alumni Weekly. His comments irritated another Princeton alumnus — US Navy nuclear expert Ted Rockwell. Ted’s response to von Hippel is here:

Published on June 1, 2011

Knowing Princeton’s historic contributions to early nuclear-energy technology, I’m sad that nuclear commentary from Princeton is now generally from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Frank von Hippel’s response to the question of safety at Fukushima (A Moment With, April 27) is typical:

“These reactors were not designed for inherent safety. These are the descendants of submarine propulsion reactors, where safety has been an add-on … I think this technology could be safe. But I don’t think that the people running these plants, and the people regulating them, are producing that result.”

Over a period of two human generations (50-plus years), our nuclear navy has driven 526 nuclear-reactor cores 150 million miles without a single ­radiological incident. The commercial nuclear-power program based on that technology has safely and reliably ­generated 20 percent of America’s electricity. Half of that electricity is fueled by uranium taken from converted Russian missile warheads. No one has been killed by radiation from either our naval or our commercial nuclear programs. I believe the same is true of the Japanese program, including Fukushima. How would von Hippel improve on that record?

He mentions the Soviet Chernobyl reactor, “the one big accident we’ve had so far.” That’s irrelevant. No one is planning to build more Chernobyls. But von Hippel’s statement that this reactor meltdown “shortened the lives of about 10,000 people by cancer” is false — a shuffling of A-bomb data improperly applied to Chernobyl. As the U.N. ­Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, WHO, and Red Cross reports have been demonstrating for 25 years, the actual number of ­cancer cases was not increased by the accident.

Theodore Rockwell ’43 *45 p’70

Chevy Chase, Md.

Editor’s note: Rockwell’s six decades of involvement in nuclear power include work as technical director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. The U.S. Department of Energy recently made his 1956 Reactor Shielding Design Manual available free to the public on its website.

Ted’s letter elicited three comments from other Princeton alums — all favorable. The last posted September 1st is by Rick Mott, who proposes that Princeton install a SMR:

Rick Mott ’73 Says: 2011-09-01 11:27:31

I’ve been traveling all summer, or I’d have responded sooner. We’ve heard from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s — I guess it’s time for the ’70s to chime in. I gave a talk at my kids’ school for Earth Day, six weeks after Fukushima, entitled “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”. A greatly expanded version of that talk is available here: I’m throwing down a challenge. If Princeton truly believes carbon emissions are a problem, it should install a small modular reactor to power the existing cogeneration plant, and reduce its emissions from electricity consumption not to 1990 levels, but to near zero. The detailed case is made here: http://www.nucleartigers.org The problems with this are not technical, but political, legal and regulatory. It will take a decade for the discussion to play out, but Princeton is uniquely qualified to educate the public on this issue. The best way to do that is in the context of a concrete proposal which is the opposite of NIMBY. Do we fear students would refuse to attend a nuclear-powered Princeton? Then we should tell them it’s already 50% nuclear. Half of New Jersey’s electricity comes from Oyster Creek. Any responses from the four decades after us old-timers?

Rick knows radiation (he is PulseTor’s Chief Technical Officer). I recommend Rick’s Earth Day slideshow at SCRIBD  “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”. It is scientifically correct and an effective presentation. E.g., after presenting the facts about life cycle risks for each energy source, including a detailed review of Chernobyl, Rick asks:

201109301013.jpg

In the radiation section of Rick’s tutorial he explains why LNT is wrong. One of his quips was perfect

80 aspirin at once will kill half the people “exposed” ́ to them. LNT would therefore predict 2 aspirin would kill 1.25% of users. So don’t take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Another excellent piece by Rick is published by PubMed Central reviewing the paper “Can Psychiatric Approaches Help to Address Global Warming?”

Richard B. Mott, Ringoes, New Jersey ; Email: rickmott@pulsetor.com

To the Editor:

As it turns out, I am an engineer involved in radiation detection systems. This past Earth Day, I gave a talk at my kids’ school advocating the greatly increased use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuels for electricity generation. New Jersey derives about 50% of its power from nuclear energy. If the entire country did the same, we would stop the emission of perhaps 400 million tons of CO2 per year. The entire country of France gets about 75% of its electricity from nuclear power.

Many people who think of themselves as environmentalists oppose nuclear power out of what can only be called a phobia, a wild overestimation of both the risk of accident and the actual level of risk even in the event of an accident. Chernobyl was horrible, yet 20 years later the excess cancers can only be statistically detected in 2 groups. First, there were about 4000 excess childhood thyroid cancers over 10 years, which is particularly shameful because most could have been prevented with potassium iodide prophylaxis had the population been notified promptly. Second, a physician in Scotland has found a statistically detectable increase in cancers among the children of mothers at an early stage of pregnancy, when the developing fetus is known to be highly sensitive to radiation. Spread over the entire population of Europe and 20 years, this is regrettable but hardly the Black Death all over again. The scary numbers you see bandied about are statistical projections over the entire population for its entire lifetime, and undetectable against background cancer rates.

And that was a worst-case accident. New technology makes the loss-of-coolant accident typified by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island impossible, and also makes it much harder to divert the fuel for nuclear weapons. See the article “Heavy Metal Nuclear Power” by Eric Loewen. The technology is also briefly described at http://www.ne.anl.gov/research/ardt/hlmr/, which discusses small reactors for third-world application that don’t need refueling for 15–20 years.

No less an environmental icon than Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog, has turned in favor of nuclear power. See http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/14406/. Nuclear power is the only technology that has a chance of substituting for a significant fraction of fossil-fuel consumption over the coming decades. China is building one new coal-fired power plant every week. So if you really want psychiatry to help stop global warming, cure our national phobia of nuclear energy![1]

Laser enrichment — cost breakthrough?

GE seems to have made serious progress toward commercial deployment of laser uranium enrichment. This should be cause for celebration – especially amongst the green community concerned about GHG emissions and climate change. Instead we get the usual “proliferation concerns” from the NY Times et al. See Steve Packard for science-based analysis.

It seems every time there is any development in nuclear technology, the media immediately starts equating it with weapons and assumes that it will be used for such. Not only that, but it also seems that the prevailing belief is that the only way to keep the world safe is to assure the United States does not engage in the new technology, because, if we don’t, well then obviously nobody else will, right?

{read Steve for the analysis}

And I was pleased to see the first comment on Steve’s piece from the knowledgeable DV82XL:

It’s becoming clear that when the phrase “proliferation concerns” is used the it is the proliferation of new power reactors that is the real concern, not proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is crystal-clear that nuclear energy is seen as a market threat to coal and gas interests and they engaged in an all out campaign to convince the public that any new development in nuclear technology must be seen as an existential threat of some kind by leveraging “proliferation concerns” or the specter of radiation induced cancer. The scope of these attacks and the thoroughness in which they are prosecuted speaks to focused intent and deep organization.

Always ask yourself “who benefits?” when you read anti-nuclear FUD like the NYT piece. My guess is that GE will choose to implement their technology outside the US where the regulatory/political framework is more sensible. E.g., China, India, South Korea, or Russia. That is also how I expect Bill Gates’ Terrapower to launch their innovative Gen IV Terrapower reactor.

Czech nuclear utility CEZ may rescue Germany?

Concorde said CEZ, second only to Électricité de France SA in terms of export volume, is going to benefit from the German shutdown via increased production and last week upped its recommendation on the utility to “overweight” from neutral and maintains a target price of 1,002 koruna.

To make up for the loss of 20% of their electricity, Germany is already planning to construct twenty new dirty coal-fired plants. Plus, of course, to waste vast sums on “renewables”. This makes Germany an outcast in the community of nations who are striving to decarbonize their economies – e.g., the UK who is doing hard lifting, not just feel-good gestures.

To avoid becoming the black sheep of the EU, it seems to me that Germany and Switzerland have two options:

  1. reverse their policies to fast-build nuclear (instead of killing off their biggest zero carbon base load energy)
  2. or, buy green nuclear electricity from their more intelligent neighbors

France is already supplying nuclear electricity to Germany. Ditto Sweden. But what about CEZ, the Czech power company? Their shares have been hammered by the anti-nuclear hysteria. Could CEZ be a sound and green investment? Here’s a bit of background on CEZ at WSJ:

Panicky investors, worried about euro-zone debt, global economic gloominess and plunging stock markets, may have let recent antinuclear sentiment and the hunt for havens get the best of them.

Analysts say shares in Czech-based power company CEZ AS, central Europe’s biggest producer of nuclear power, have fallen too much amid the recent German-led backlash against atomic energy. They predict the stock price will recover later this year as the furor over nuclear energy dies down and the Europe Union discusses exemptions to regulations covering carbon-dioxide emissions.

Antinuclear sentiment following the tsunami-related shutdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor in March led Germany to shut down eight of its own nuclear reactors and phase out the remaining plants by 2022. The Swiss and the Italians also froze plans for nuclear-reactor construction.

The German action initially led to a spike in electricity prices and allowed CEZ to boost electricity exports. Yet some investors feared the company could succumb to the pressure to abandon nuclear generation, meaning the end of a $25 billion plan to build up to five new reactors.

The Czech government, which holds 70% of CEZ shares, said it was committed to nuclear power, and CEZ said plans to build more reactors are on track.

Another dent is a European Commission inquiry into the Czech utility for possible anticompetitive behavior, a charge CEZ denies. Such a finding could result in a forced asset sale or fines.

Between May 13 and July 18, CEZ shares fell 13%, sharply underperforming the 6.3% fall posted by the Prague Stock Exchange’s PX index in the same period. It has since recovered somewhat.

“Some international investors may not pay attention to [the] Czechs still supporting nuclear power. These investors might think Germans are against nuclear, so Europe will be against it, too,” said Teresa Schinwald, an analyst at Raiffeisen in Vienna who has a “buy” recommendation and target price of 1,050 Czech Koruna ($60.93) on CEZ. “It seems like a perception problem rather than a practical one.”

The CEZ listing page on Prague exchange.

George Monbiot: The Moral Case for Nuclear Power

Another excellent essay from George Monbiot, with Chris Goodall. Here’s the first paragraphs for motivation to read the full essay:

(…) Before taking this discussion any further, we should ask ourselves what our aim is. Is it to stop climate breakdown, or is it to engineer the maximum roll-out of renewable power? Sometimes it seems to me that greens are putting renewables first, climate change second. We have no obligation to support the renewables industry – or any other industry – against its competitors. Our obligation is to persuade policy makers to bring down emissions and reduce other environmental impacts as quickly and effectively as possible. The moment we start saying we won’t accept one technology under any circumstances, or we must use another technology whether it’s appropriate or not is the moment at which we make that aim harder to achieve.

Jonathon is right to say that we could meet all our electricity needs through renewables. But it would take longer and cost more. He acknowledges this by setting his date for decarbonising the electricity supply through renewables and efficiency alone at 2050, while the Committee on Climate Change is seeking to do so, through nuclear, renewables, efficiency and some carbon capture and storage, by 2030. When the government’s statutory advisors propose a shorter timescale for cutting emissions than one of Britain’s leading greens, we should ask ourselves some hard questions about our priorities. The longer it takes, the less likely we are to prevent runaway climate change.

If we shut the door on nuclear power, we create a generation gap. As the committee points out, the maximum likely contribution to our electricity supply from renewables by 2030 is 45%, and the maximum likely contribution from carbon capture and storage is 15%. Where will the balance come from?

To my utter amazement, Jonathon’s answer appears to be unabated fossil fuel.

I say “appears”, because something odd happens in the paragraph in which he discusses it. He first proposes that the generation gap should be filled by more gas plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS), but then acknowledges that CCS is “hugely expensive … and still unproven at scale.” He then points out that “gas is relatively cheap, relatively easily available, and relatively easy to build.” This, as he has just acknowledged, applies only to gas without CCS. So what exactly is he calling for as his “generating bridge”? Gas with or without CCS? It looks as if a fudge has taken place here, and Jonathon urgently needs to clear it up.

If so, it’s similar to the fudge proposed by the British government in its electricity market reform white paper. Not only is the government prepared to build a new generation of unabated gas plants, it is also exempting the supposedly-abated plants from restrictions on their CO2 emissions. While other power plants can produce up to 450 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, CCS demonstration plants are exempted even from this very generous limit. This looks like an expectation that the demonstration programme will fail – and we’ll be stuck with a new generation of unabated coal and gas plants.

He talks of “frittering away at least another decade in pursuit of some unattainable nuclear dream”. But nuclear power is eminently attainable. Unlike CCS, it has already been proven at scale and will produce low-carbon electricity from the outset. The likely outcome of Jonathon’s contradictory bridge proposal is that we fritter away another 40 years, in which CO2 emissions rise because we shut down and failed to replace our nuclear power plants.

In one respect we in the UK are fortunate: someone else is making these mistakes, and we have an opportunity to learn from them. The someone else is Germany.

(…)

Read the whole thing »

Time to stop arguing and start decarbonising

An essay by UK environmentalist Mark Lynas on the UK CCC renewables report. I don’t agree with the “major upscaling and support for renewables too” point but otherwise Mark hits all the important aspects of the new report. After reading this you will no doubt wish to also read Mark’s new book The God Species (it is wonderful – we are both reading the Kindle edition).

It is difficult to draw any other conclusion from the new Climate Change Committee renewables report than that headlined by the BBC and the Telegraph – namely that nuclear power is highly cost-effective and essential to scale-up if the UK is to achieve its carbon-reduction targets. But before the antis reach for their green ink, let it also be said loud and clear: decarbonisation cannot be realistically envisaged without major upscaling and support for renewables too.

In essence, the report provides strong evidence for something which can never easily be conveyed in a headline: that a portfolio approach on energy technologies, employing the best and cheapest of everything, is the best way forwards. Many green groups are now beginning to converge around this idea, which was ably demonstrated in DECC’s recent ‘2050 pathways‘ modelling exercise. Even Friends of the Earth – despite the occasional relapse into traditional anti-nuclear posturing – seems to have got the message that realism in energy is the best approach to climate campaigning. There can be no ‘either-or’ thinking if we are to successfully get to grips with decarbonising our economies.

The headline on nuclear economics is actually quite an important issue, however. Look at the table below:

What is most striking is that not only is nuclear cheaper than all competing renewables, but that it is also potentially cheaper even than unabated gas (although this assumes a carbon price of course) out to 2030 with a 7.5% discount rate. This suggests that economics is not much of an issue as regards to the energy technology mix we eventually end up with – what is far more important is public acceptability. Both nuclear and onshore wind suffer a hardcore of determined opposition. This has locked wind up in planning battles for years, and could stymie nuclear completely. Although broadly public opinion favours nuclear and renewables, it is the hardcore – whose views are not amenable to change – who will most likely determine policy simply because they shout the loudest.

The report also helpfully scotches both some anti-nuclear and some anti-renewables myths. To start with the latter first, it is clear that the issue of intermittency (wind not generating on still days, solar cutting out at night etc) is not a deal-breaker. That is not to say that intermittency itself is a myth, for as the graph below shows, it is a very real issue indeed; merely that it is technically and economically manageable. (I’ve put this graph in larger to aid reading of the small print; you can find it on page 55 of the PDF report.)

Look at the red dashed line, bringing together all prospective 2030 renewables outputs, including wind, tidal, wave and solar. In an illustrative 2-day scenario, renewables generation dips to near-zero on two occasions, meaning no electricity is being generated at all. Does this mean the lights go out? No – if planned properly, demand mangement, interconnections with Europe and backup generation can deal with this question in a cost-effective way. According to the Committee, the financial penalty for dealing with intermittency is only something like 1p/kWh for additional renewable generation even up to 80% penetration in a 2050 scenario. So don’t believe the anti-windies who tell you that the turbines on hills and out at sea are useless because sometimes the wind stops blowing.

Don’t believe either the anti-nuclear types who tell you that nuclear power stations simply can’t be built fast enough to deal with climate change. This is a favourite of the Green Party – Caroline Lucas trots out the myth every time she discusses the issue. But myth it is, as a glance across the Channel indicates: France managed to open 48 GW of nuclear generating capacity over one 10-year period back in the 1980s, far more than anyone is suggesting for the UK at present. Indeed, the build-rate issue is more of an argument against new technologies like marine renewables, which are still in the R&D stage and are unlikely to make a significant contribution to UK energy until the 2nd half of the 2020s at the very earliest.

It is important to bear in mind when discussing the future that costs change, and that estimates of costs two to three decades from now will be necessarily imprecise. If the peak-oil doomsayers are right, then the economics of energy are about to change radically. Even if they are not (and I don’t think they are) then the changing cost of renewables technologies – and the possibile deployment of fourth-generation nuclear – will put us in a very different position in as little as a decade from where we are today. Currently, for example, solar PV is wildly expensive in a UK context, costing 31-46p/kWh, as compared to 8-9.5p/kWh for onshore wind and 6-10p/kWh for nuclear. But falling costs could, in an optimistic reading of the technology cost curve, bring solar PV on a level with wind, gas and nuclear as early as 2030.

So what does all this add up to? It is simple: nuclear and renewables need each other, and all need to compete on a level playing field which sees the climate cost of fossil fuels brought in via a moderate carbon price (around £70 per tonne), whilst emerging technologies like marine renewables are properly supported until they are ready to compete. As the Committee emphasises, we need to totally decarbonise the UK’s electricity sector by 2030, which is completely unfeasible economically without both additional nuclear build and large-scale deployment of offshore wind. Indeed, the Committee’s “illustrative scenario” includes an identical deployment of 40% for both nuclear and renewables by 2030 (with CCS at 15% and unabated gas at 10%).

The UK is in an unusual position internationally, in that it has highly ambitious climate mitigation targets, and a strong cross-party consensus domestically on the need to achieve them. There are also moves afoot – with a planned Green Investment Bank, and the sensible announcement of a £30 carbon price floor in the last budget – to structure the market in such a way as to deliver the needed investments. What we need to do now is to get on with building, and to stop the infighting between proponents of renewables and nuclear in particular. In many ways, both face the same constraints, in the form of a planning bureaucracy and public resistance to change which makes it difficult to do anything at all.

So let’s stop arguing and start getting on with transforming the country towards becoming the world-leader on climate change that it so clearly has the potential to be.

[From Time to stop arguing and start decarbonising]

James Hansen on Kool-Aid, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy

Don’t miss the latest dispatch from James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. You will learn that Jim has no patience with the Easter Bunny fable whereby carbon emissions can be eliminated entirely by “renewable” energy sources. Here are a few excerpts (emphasis mine):

(…) people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work. This is important, because as Mother Nature makes climate change more obvious, we need to be moving in directions within a framework that will minimize the impacts and provide young people a fighting chance of stabilizing the situation.

The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy

The insightful cynic will note: “Now I understand all the fossil fuel ads with windmills and solar panels – fossil fuel moguls know that renewables are no threat to the fossil fuel business.” The tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.

Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. – maybe even a tar sands pipeline. Why the inconsistency?

Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.

(…) Amory Lovins is the most popular person that I know and has received uncountable awards. He deserves them. But I believe his popularity is in part because he says everything people want to hear. He even says there is no need to have a tax on carbon. Thus even fossil fuel companies love him. Fossil fuel companies are happy to support energy efficiency, which places the onus on the public and guarantees fossil fuel dominance far into the future.

(…) Recently I received a mailing on the climate crisis from a large environmental organization. Their request, letters and e-mails to Congress and the President, mentioned only renewable energies (specifically wind and solar power). Such a request offends nobody, and it is worthless.

Jim included comments on nuclear energy in five footnotes – where he concisely dispatches the common anti-nuclear activist talking points. Note that Jim is quite up to speed on the 4th generation IFR (Integral Fast Reactor), including the 1994 cancellation:

Pushker Kharecha and I will write a paper with an objective post-Fukushima assessment of the role of nuclear power, but first we must complete papers 2 and 3 (Energy Imbalance and Case for Young People). However, a few comments on safety5, technology status6, nuclear waste7, fuel supply8,and cost9 are warranted to balance the opportunistic barrage of misinformation from dedicated ‘anti-nukes’ and an undiscerning sensation-minded media.

5 Safety: The lobbying organization Union of Concerned Scientists on 25 July broadcast a request to all citizens to write their governors and congress-people to demand improved nuclear power safety. Huh? The number of people who have died from nuclear power in the U.S. is zero. How to improve on that? The safety record of the nuclear industry is the best of all major industries in the U.S.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the Pennsylvania population exposed to radiation by the Three Mile Island accident may experience one or two resulting cancer deaths; that population will experience about 40,000 cancer deaths due to other causes. However, the estimate of 1-2 deaths is from the “linear no threshold” (LNT) approximation, i.e., an assumption that known radiation effects for large doses continue proportionally for small doses. That assumption is uncertain – there is at least as much anecdotal evidence suggesting that small radiation doses are beneficial to health (some mentioned here: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=42347) as the contrary. However, no adequate scientific study with proper controls has been made.

Curiously, people seem to ignore the far greater dangers of fossil fuels. Mountain-top removal for coal alone has been linked to 60,000 cancer cases. The United Nations has estimated global deaths due to fossil fuel air and water pollution to be of the order of one million annually.

6 Technology: Fukushima nuclear power plants are a 50-year-old technology. They withstood a powerful earthquake, but were washed over by a 10-meter tsunami that wiped out the power sources used to cool the reactors. Modern 3rd generation light-water reactors can use passive cooling systems that require no power source.

No people died at Fukushima because of the nuclear technology. Four people died from other causes (one fell from a crane, one died of a heart attack, and two were drowned by the tsunami). When a plane crashes and kills 100 people do we choose to terminate the airline industry? No, we take steps to make planes safer. Already nuclear power has the best safety record of any energy technology, and the newest nuclear plants have great improvements.

7 Nuclear “waste”: it is not waste, it is fuel for 4th generation reactors! Current (‘slow’) nuclear reactors are light- water reactors that ‘burn’ less than 1% of the energy in the original uranium ore, leaving a waste pile that is radioactive for more than 10,000 years. The 4th generation reactors can ‘burn’ this waste, as well as excess nuclear weapons material, leaving a much smaller waste pile with radioactive half-life measured in decades rather than millennia, thus minimizing the nuclear waste problem. The economic value of current nuclear waste, if used as a fuel for 4th generation reactors, is trillions of dollars.

Nuclear reactors deployed in the next 1-2 decades would be primarily improved light-water reactors, with passive cooling capability and other safety improvements, because these are ready for commercial use. However, it is important to also deploy the first 4th generation reactors to demonstrate that the nuclear waste problem can be solved and to optimize the 4th generation technology.

8 Fuel supply: anti-nuke environmentalists argue that it takes energy to mine and process uranium, and that the uranium supply is limited. In fact, 4th generation nuclear technology, by using more than 99% of the energy in the fuel, expands the fuel supply by a factor of the order of 100.

China has just announced its first 4th generation nuclear reactor, thus increasing the expected lifespan of their proven uranium reserves from 50 years to more than 3000 years.

The United States was the first country to develop 4th generation nuclear technology. But, when General Electric and Argonne National Laboratory disclosed that they were ready to build a commercial scale reactor in 1994, anti- nuke people persuaded the Clinton administration to terminate the program. The U.S. still has top brainpower in this technology, but, unless there is a change of policy, China will soon leave the United States behind.

9 Cost: the ‘real solution’ to the climate/energy problem allows the market to determine winning technologies. Westinghouse AP-1000 advanced 3rd-generation nuclear power plants are being built in China Although anti-nukes may do everything they can to make nuclear power as expensive as possible in the United States, they are not likely to affect nuclear power development in China.

I was also pleased that Jim referenced Bill Gates’ recent interview with Chris Anderson.

Bill Gates is so distressed by the irrational pusillanimous U.S. energy policy that he is investing a piece of his personal fortune to help develop a specific 4th generation nuclear technology.

Read the whole thing »

Good reasons not to waste nuclear ‘waste’

British environmentalist Mark Lynas has a tightly written article up explaining why so-called ‘waste’ is actually a resource treasure, and why we need to focus on building fast neutron reactors such as the ‘Integral Fast Reactor’ (IFR).

For decades we have all been told that nuclear waste is an unsolved ‘problem’ which makes future nuclear power development unethical because it will add to a toxic legacy left to poison our descendants thousands of generations into the future. The Yucca mountain controversy in the US and other debates about geological disposal seemingly illustrate the technical impossibility of guaranteeing to isolate a radioactive waste stockpile from the biosphere up to a million years into the future. But there is an easy way to solve this problem, and it doesn’t involve digging deeper holes – politically or physically. It involves remembering the principal ‘R’ word of the environmental movement: recycling.

In actual fact, the worst thing possible we could do with nuclear waste would be to throw it away. Worldwide stockpiles of ‘waste’ from thermal light-water reactors (which comprise the vast majority of civil nuclear reactors) already include enough fissile (or fertile) elements – plutonium, other actinides like americium and neptunium, and uranium (both U-235 and U-238) – to run the world on clean energy for centuries without having to go out and mine another gram of uranium ore anywhere. That so few people appreciate this fact suggests that igorance about all things nuclear is more profound than many of us would like to think, and especially so within the environmental movement.

(…)Waste-wise, IFRs or other fast reactors can generate prodigious amounts of clean energy by vastly reducing the current waste stockpile, but they cannot eliminate it altogether. Some fission products remain at the end of the process, and will need to be disposed of in a geological repository – probably after having been stabilised by vitrification (turned into glass). However, it is a misnomer to assume that these need to be isolated from the biosphere for thousands or even millions of years – in fact, after only a few hundred years, the radioactivity levels in the leftover waste will have declined back to those of the original naturally-occurring uranium ore, and they will become functionally safe much sooner. This is not a significant environmental problem, and indeed is much less of a challenge than the waste produced by other industries like electronics or metal smelting, which has no half-life and therefore remains toxic forever.

(…)So why, if they are so great, are we not using fast reactors already? Partly this is for political reasons, because it has long been thought that ‘breeding’ plutonium adds to proliferation concerns. Actually this is largely a misunderstanding, for all reactors produce plutonium – the issue is the need to design the fuel cycle so that bomb-grade materials are never separated, but fed back into fast reactors whilst still highly radioactive and unusable to terrorists or militaries alike. Fast reactors allow us to destroy plutonium stockpiles, and thereby reduce the dangers of proliferation. The big reason why fast reactors have stayed at the experimental stage (although 500 reactor-years of experience have now been clocked up in different prototypes around the world) is that uranium fuel is simply too cheap to be worth the additional cost of using efficiently or recyling. Only governments can solve this problem, by insisting that recycling be made an integral part of new fourth-generation reactor designs (like the IFR) in order to avoid the need for environmentally-damaging and carbon-intensive uranium mining and processing.

(…)As Tom Blees puts it in his book:

Thus we have a prodigious supply of free fuel that is actually even better than free, for it is material that we are quite desperate to get rid of. Uranium, plutonium, and other actinides, both weapons-grade and otherwise, will go into the IFR plants. Only non-actinides with short half-lives will ever come out. We will eliminate the problems of both radioactive longevity and the potential for nuclear proliferation.

I cannot imagine a more environmentally responsible proposal for tackling both climate change and nuclear waste/proliferation at the same time. Can you?

[From Good reasons not to waste nuclear ‘waste’]

Gates: ‘Cute’ Tech Won’t Solve Planet’s Energy Woes

Chris Anderson interviewed Bill Gates at the 2011 Wired Business Conference: Disruptive By Design. Excellent interview and a relaxed Bill Gates, who delivered some quips with sharper edges that his typical soft shoe. We appreciated his characterization of home solar projects as “cute”, where I would have said perhaps “feel good” stuff.

Bill Gates has a simple plan for the future of energy: Don’t rely on the cute stuff.

‘If we don’t have innovation in energy, we don’t have much at all.’

Sure, attaching solar panels to roofs, building windmills in backyards or deploying other small-scale energy technologies is a fine idea, Microsoft’s co-founder told a packed auditorium at the Wired Business Conference: Disruptive by Design.

Trouble is, they can’t significantly aide developing nations thirsty for cheap energy, he said.

“The solutions that work in the rich world don’t even come close to solving the [energy] problem,” said Gates, interviewed by Wired Magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. “If you’re interested in cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. If you’re interested in solving the world’s energy problems, it’s things like big [solar projects] in the desert.”

Read the whole thing » The full transcript of the interview is here. The video is at Fora.tv.