Archived Jul 1 2009
Nuclear power: problem or solution? - July 1
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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
Nuclear power is well-disguised fossil fuel
Roger Diamond, thought leader, Mail and Guardian online
As global warming gets hotter on the international political agenda, and with recent oil price volatility, the nuclear power proponents have jumped on a bandwagon to promote “the peaceful atom” as a means to power our society. Although some of these proponents are reasonable and measured about the realities of nuclear power, others belt out a list of truly amazing nonsense about nuclear power, including it being carbon free, nearly infinite in supply, totally safe and cheap.
Let’s look at some of these claims in a little detail. Carbon free? When uranium, or any other fissionable material, reacts, indeed, it does not give off any carbon dioxide, or any other greenhouse gases. However, almost every other aspect of the production of nuclear power does.
...All of this mining, processing and transporting activity uses energy — fossil fuels to be precise. But that’s not even the big energy user in nuclear power. The biggest factor is probably the building of the power stations that have to be over-engineered for terrorist strikes, earthquakes, careless operators and Greenpeace, who have a tendency to jump the fence and dangle banners all over the big concrete containment structures! Seriously though, the energy consumed in earth moving, making thousands of tons of cement and building a nuclear power station, is very significant. Maintenance of the power station also consumes energy, as does the transport and disposal of the low and medium-level radioactive waste, but the big unknowns in nuclear power are decommissioning and disposal of high-level nuclear waste.
...Next is the claim that uranium is so abundant. The problem with uranium reserves is just like any other resource, in that the ores range in concentration from those that yield lots of uranium, to those with very low concentrations that will require greater energy to mine and process. Ultimately the activity reaches a point where the energy invested is greater than the energy returned — a negative EROEI (energy return on energy invested). Some estimates are that if all electricity globally had to come from nuclear power, we’d have only a few decades of such energy.
Thirdly is the claim that nuclear power can be made totally safe. Even if there was no radiation involved with nuclear power, it still involves mining, processing and heavy industrial activity that has safety hazards. It is likely though that the radiation hazards are the greatest concern, in the mining arena, at the power station and with waste disposal. The latter is an area that has not even been fully appreciated, as nowhere on earth has any high-level nuclear waste been finally and permanently disposed of — all are waiting in storage for a solution to this difficult problem.
Robin Grant comments on the site:
Your argument is straight out of a 1980’s text book.
Uranium is not the only nuclear option. Thorium is a much better nuclear option, and is abundant, and it burns down to virtually Zero waste. Plus with breeder reactors, Nuclear reactors can create their own fuel, which means that we have enough source fuel to power ourselves for thousands of years.
What we really need to do though, is to stop the building of Uranium based reactors and only build new generation reactors, Which is not on the agenda at the moment.
(28 June 2009)
Nuclear power must be part of energy solution
Rolf E. Westgard, Duluth News Tribune
For less than $500 billion, we could double the number of U.S. nuclear plants, providing 40 percent of demand with no carbon dioxide emissions. Along with increased use of cleaner natural gas plants, plus achieving 10-15 percent of demand from renewables, we could reduce coal to perhaps 10-15 percent of electric supply from the current projection of 52 percent for coal in 2020.
The recent climate change report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that many global-warming effects are already here.
Alaska’s average temperature is up 6.3 degrees since 1950. Winter temperatures in the Northeast are up 4 degrees since 1970. The report is the work of 30 government scientists and concludes, “Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced. Global temperatures and sea levels have increased over the past 50 years. This increase is due primarily to human emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide.”
Coal-burning power plants account for more than a third of the six billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted yearly from energy fuels in the U.S. Duluth-based Minnesota Power gets about 90 percent of its electric power from coal. “Not to worry,” say clean- coal advocates, “we can capture carbon dioxide at the power plant and sequester it in underground saline aquifers,” another name for waterlogged porous rock. Even if this was practical, which it isn’t, Duluth is several hundred miles from the nearest saline aquifer.
...Research engineer Xina Xie of the University of Wyoming and Mike Economides of the University of Houston studied the average injection characteristics of underground formations. They estimate that to achieve the Kyoto standard of 5 percent below 1990 carbon dioxide emission levels, the U.S. would need up to 300,000 new injection wells by 2030. With ancillary piping and other equipment, they would cost in the range of $3 trillion. The Department of Energy estimates a carbon dioxide separation cost of $150 per ton, plus other costs. All together Xie and Economides estimate the total annual cost of carbon sequestration for U.S. coal power plants at more than $1 trillion.
Many state legislatures are pinning hopes on wind power, but the Energy Information Administration forecasts erratic wind will provide just a little more than 2 percent of our electric demand in 2020. There is reliable nuclear power, which provides 20 percent of our electric demand, with just 10 percent of electric capacity. For less than $500 billion, we could double the number of U.S. nuclear plants, providing 40 percent of demand with no carbon dioxide emissions. Along with increased use of cleaner natural gas plants, plus achieving 10-15 percent of demand from renewables, we could reduce coal to perhaps 10-15 percent of electric supply from the current projection of 52 percent for coal in 2020.
Minnesota Power’s coal-burning facilities burn 10,000 tons of coal and emit more than 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide per day. Their output could be met by a 1200- megawatt nuclear plant, which would fission about 9 pounds of uranium-235 and plutonium in the same period, emitting only water vapor. And Yucca Mountain is a geologically stable, effective storage site for spent nuclear fuel.
ROLF WESTGARD of Deerwood is a professional member of the Geological Society of America.
(1 July 2009)
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I would like to see a longer and clearer explanation of how this would work: "For less than $500 billion, we could double the number of U.S. nuclear plants, providing 40 percent of demand with no carbon dioxide emissions." KS.
UK regulator raises French nuclear concerns
Robin Pagnamenta, Times Online
French plans to lead a nuclear power renaissance in Britain have been dealt a major blow after regulators warned of serious reservations about the safety of the reactor technology earmarked for use.
The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) has written to EDF and Areva, the French companies that want to build four reactors in the UK, to express their concerns about the technology. The letter sets out concerns about the control and instrumentation (C&I) of Areva’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR).
Described by one nuclear industry source as the “cerebral cortex” of a nuclear power station, C&I governs the computers and systems that monitor and control the station’s performance, including temperature, pressure and power output levels.
The NII, which is conducting a detailed review of two reactor designs for the UK, said the EPR technology was significantly compromised because of the interconnectivity of what were meant to be independent systems designed to operate the plant and ensure its safety.
...The letter also highlighted concerns about the absence of safety display systems or manual controls that would allow the reactor to be shut down, either in the station’s control room or at an emergency remote shutdown station.
The French-designed EPR is the world’s most powerful nuclear reactor. Each is capable of generating 1,600 megawatts of electricity — enough to supply a city of nearly 2 million people.
While two EPRs are being built in Finland and France, none is yet in service. The prototype EPR, at Olkiluoto in western Finland, is running three years late and billions of euros over budget.
The NII said that it would grant a licence for the EPR reactor only if it was satisfied that the reactor design could be built and operated safely and securely.
(1 July 2009)