TMC is an independent, primarily volunteer organization that relies on ad revenue to cover its operating costs. Please consider whitelisting TMC on your ad blocker or making a Paypal contribution here: paypal.me/SupportTMC

Nuclear power

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by eledille, Apr 2, 2012.

  1. eledille

    eledille TMS 85 owner :)

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2010
    Messages:
    535
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    #1 eledille, Apr 2, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
    My parents were very sceptical of nuclear power. I vividly remember watching the burning Chernobyl reactor on TV thinking that tens of thousands of people would die. I saw a firefighter running past a broken graphite block with a large hole drilled through it and realized with horror that a fuel assembly used to be inside that hole.

    I studied various natural sciences, and discovered that radiation is less dangerous than most people think. I also realized that nuclear plants, even though many of them are very old and unsafe by modern standards, only extremely rarely blow up, and that the Chernobyl reactor was a very peculiar and dangerous design that no one but the Russians would dream of building.

    In 2005 I learned that very few people actually died from the Chernobyl disaster even though the whole reactor core had blown apart and done a very good job of distributing itself across the landscape and into the air. Only thyroid cancer has had a detectable increase, and that could have been avoided by distributing iodine tablets immediately. This study was conducted by the IAEA, the UN and WHO. You can't find much more respectable institutions than those.

    I discovered to what extent the negative aspects of nuclear power are exaggerated when I read The nuclear energy option by Bernard L. Cohen.

    At the same time, global warming has become steadily worse, and renewables, despite intense effort, has not really helped much at all so far. The only zero emission energy that can even be seen on a pie chart is nuclear and hydro. Look at the charts in this article. We just don't have any more time to waste. A steady stream of previously anti-nuclear environmentalists are coming to the same conclusion.

    The last couple of weeks I have been reading up on fast reactors and the IFR, which seem to have a realistic chance of providing us with safe, inexpensive energy that will never run out.

    Nuclear energy at least deserves its own thread at TMC :)
     
  2. ElSupreme

    ElSupreme Model S 03182

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2012
    Messages:
    4,279
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    I too am a big supporter of nuclear energy. I have always found it odd that the environmental people rally against it. It is probably the LEAST damaging to the environment of all power schemes.
     
  3. Zythryn

    Zythryn MS 70D, MX 90D

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,629
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Mighty broad brush you are using there;-)
    Waste product from coal plants can be more radioactive than nuclear plant waste. I really wish the media would pay more attention to those hazards and the damage they do. This is a start at least: A power plant, cancer and a small town's fears - CNN.com
     
  4. eledille

    eledille TMS 85 owner :)

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2010
    Messages:
    535
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    #4 eledille, Apr 2, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
    And nobody wants to start talking about all those chemicals that go up through the chimney. According to B. L. Cohen the number of premature deaths due to air pollution from coal is around 50 000 per year for the US alone. Another example is that Norwegian freshwater fish contains so much mercury primarily from UK coal emissions that we can scarcely eat it anymore.

    It now turns out that Japanese radiation hysteria has killed 573 people so far due to the much larger than needed evacuation. A suggestion to how this could have been handled more rationally can be found here.
     
  5. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2012
    Messages:
    12,452
    Location:
    Texas
    +2 So am I. There are some thoughtful articles at brave new climate.
     
  6. Arnold Panz

    Arnold Panz Model Sig 304, VIN 542

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2009
    Messages:
    1,341
    Location:
    Miami, Florida
    I think it's partially a generational thing -- people in the US who fought the "no nukes" fight in the 60s/70s and remember Three Mile Island (or saw Silkwood), are instinctively opposed to nuclear energy. Many environmental groups and environmentalists come out of these battles from years ago, and therefore seem unusually hostile to nuclear energy relative to its environmental damage as compared to burning fossil fuels.

    I think they're also somewhat rightly concerned that nuclear shouldn't be a substitute for seeking sustainable energy from wind/solar/hydro. Nuclear can be an excellent bridge source of energy until we can harness those others, but given how long it might take before we're using solar and wind for our energy needs, nuclear would be a far better option in the near and medium term than continued burning of fossil fuels.

    I'd also point out that no nuclear plant has been built in the US in decades, and yet they would be much safer now than during their heyday in the 70s when they were being built. A real shame that we can't get this one right.
     
  7. ggr

    ggr Roadster 537, Sig P85

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2011
    Messages:
    2,180
    I think the most realistic worry around nuclear power is disposal of radioactive waste, but with cheap power and reusable rockets (SpaceX) we could dispose of radioactive waste by shooting it into the sun...
     
  8. ElSupreme

    ElSupreme Model S 03182

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2012
    Messages:
    4,279
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Well I am paying for these on my power bill. Hoping these catch on ... or something similar.
    Vogtle Electric Generating Plant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I am all for rooftop PV solar, I honestly don't know why there are not HUGE incentives for every new roof to be solar. This is truly free energy, it lowers cooling loads and produces electricity at the same time. I am supportive of Hydro and wind but I believe done responsibly nuclear would have similar impact. And not to mention the added waste heat that nuclear provides could be used for desalination or municipality heating purposes in norther climates.
     
  9. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2011
    Messages:
    7,842
    Location:
    Portland, Maine, USA
    The biggest barrier to building new nukes is the uncertainty about regulation -- what standards will be applied for design and construction? where can the waste go? how many times will my application be held up and reevaluated? DOE tried valiantly to streamline the regulations, but it's not clear that you can pin down something that opponents want to make a constantly moving target.

    (This is from my perspective as someone whose team is working/has worked on regulatory approvals for Vogtle, Indian Point, Calvert Cliffs, and South Texas.)
     
  10. SByer

    SByer '08 #383

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Messages:
    1,068
    Location:
    Cupertino, CA
    I don't think it's just about that. I think that there are also subtleties in the various forms of nuclear power that are important but also very hard to teach the roving public about. A lot of this goes back to the lack of basic science education in enough of America - thus, a country which has enough brilliant people to make nuclear work safely also has a whole segment of the population that thinks vaccines cause autism and thinks teaching creationism in schools as science is acceptable (!?!) can't make progress towards having a viable source of baseline power.

    Even worse, if it weren't for the continuous and valiant effort of a few people, the long-term arc towards viable fission power would already have died - but it's still very much at risk because the public simply can't think through the risk/reward of a 30 year bet.


    I've said it before, humans have broken probability mechanisms.
     
  11. Doug_G

    Doug_G Lead Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2010
    Messages:
    15,662
    Location:
    Ottawa, Canada
    Uh, no. That would use orders of magnitude more energy than could ever be extracted from the fuel. Never mind that it would be unsafe.

    I'm all for solar power, but it's not clear that it can ever amount to a sizable fraction of generating capacity. Certainly without grid storage it cannot.
     
  12. eledille

    eledille TMS 85 owner :)

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2010
    Messages:
    535
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    #12 eledille, Apr 2, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2012
    I thought so too until not that long ago, but it turns out that it's a solved problem.

    First, burying it in a geologically stable area is a technically perfectly acceptable solution. Only water soluble byproducts get transported out with the groundwater, and only at the rate at which the glass the waste is turned into can dissolve. So how quickly does glass dissolve? The short answer is "rather slowly". The long-lived byproducts travel much more slowly through the ground because they bind to the rock, then get dissolved again all the time. The scientists know how quickly each substance will travel away from e.g. Yucca Mountain, and they have all decayed before getting into the closest river. This solution is scientifically acceptable, but politically unacceptable simply because nobody wants to have the waste close to them even if it can't get out. See chapter 11 of "The nuclear energy option" for calculations.

    Second, this is one of the reasons for building fast reactors like the GE Hitachi S-PRISM ASAP. Fast reactors can burn stockpiled weapons material, normal fuel, natural uranium, depleted uranium and even spent fuel, and they can burn it until there is nothing left but short-lived byproducts, extracting very close to 100% of the fission energy. For comparison, LWRs can only extract less than one percent of the energy content of the mined uranium. The high efficiency reduces the waste volume by a factor of at least 20 (more than 100 if you consider depleted uranium a waste), and the waste will have decayed to radiation levels below that of the uranium ore in just three hundred years. Safe geological storage of something that goes away by itself in just 300 years is trivial.

    For comparison, mercury from coal plants does not decay. It lasts forever, and we can only hope that it will in time form a chemically stable compound that will stay buried.

    Fast reactors will need a lot of time to burn all the spent fuel we have already produced. On the other hand, each new fast reactor can take a full load of spent fuel as its initial core, so building them can remove a portion of the spent fuel that is currently being stored. But I think the psychological aspect of it might be as important - what used to be problematic nuclear waste has suddenly become energy for future generations. Also, there is no need to store spent fuel for millions of years anymore, we can turn all of it into energy in a few hundred years.
     
  13. dpeilow

    dpeilow Moderator

    Joined:
    May 23, 2008
    Messages:
    8,416
    Location:
    Winchester, UK
    Re the generational thing: I think CND has a lot to answer for. I'm 100% with them on their work to rid us of nuclear weapons, but they have it wrong on nuclear power. The clue is in the name guys...
     
  14. ElSupreme

    ElSupreme Model S 03182

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2012
    Messages:
    4,279
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    I completely agree with this. I personally think the only power source with less ecological footprint than nuclear is rooftop solar.
     
  15. VolkerP

    VolkerP EU Model S P-37

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2011
    Messages:
    2,450
    Location:
    Germany
    Stated my opinion on Nuclear a few times already. Here is a new view point.

    Translation from Atomstrom viel zu teuer | Telepolis (German article)

     
  16. eledille

    eledille TMS 85 owner :)

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2010
    Messages:
    535
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    Quote from The Telegraph.

    But I partly agree with you, it is too expensive. The same can be said about wind or solar with storage and no subsidies.

    Up until now, most nuclear power plants have been custom built. Pre-fabrication and standardization has the potential to bring costs down by a large amount. This is starting to happen, but the first iterations will likely be expensive.

    The new reactors being built in Finland and France are the first implementations of that design, so overruns are perhaps not that surprising, but the cost must come down for the next few installations.
     
  17. ElSupreme

    ElSupreme Model S 03182

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2012
    Messages:
    4,279
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Except Nuclear power is 'higher quality' in that it can be produced on demand and at all times. Wind energy is a great supplement but it can not provide baseline power.
     
  18. dpeilow

    dpeilow Moderator

    Joined:
    May 23, 2008
    Messages:
    8,416
    Location:
    Winchester, UK

    I'm wondering how much of this is posturing. They know that 1) the UK is up the creek without a paddle due to two decades of dithering and the decimation of our own domestic capability and 2) it leaves us in the hands of the French suppliers who have not exactly had a stellar track record on those two new projects.

    I don't think that the Flamanville 3 and Okiluoto EPRs are representative of current nuclear prices generally, but likewise we can't afford to bet a sizeable chunk of UK energy policy on a design that is running late and is totally unproven (and potentially be held to ransom by a single supplier). As an excercise I priced up the equivalent output of Enercon e126 turbines and A123 storage batteries - even allowing for wind's load factors it is slightly cheaper than the current running total for Flamanville.
     
  19. eledille

    eledille TMS 85 owner :)

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2010
    Messages:
    535
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    #19 eledille, Apr 4, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2012
    VolkerP: There is a long and scary tale behind the current high cost of nuclear. B. L. Cohen's version can be found here. In short, the public has been frightened out of their minds by constant media hype about the dangers of nuclear power. Therefore they demand that nuclear plants must be able to withstand anything without releasing a single ionizing particle, or they will fetch their pitchforks and torches. The authorities respond to this pressure instead of listening to engineers and scientists and require more and more redundancy and safety features - often without causing any increased security at all, or even the opposite because of added complexity and more points of failure. This also increases build time - all the welds in all the quadruple-redundant systems must be x-rayed, for example, any defect must be fixed, and the new weld must be x-rayed again.

    At a certain point both GE Hitachi and Westinghouse basically started over to make simplified designs based on the earlier ones, because all the complexity and the required quality control had driven the cost far too high. This resulted in the Westinghouse AP1000 and the GE Hitachi ESBWR.

    The EPR is a huge and complex design. I think Westinghouse and GE Hitachi have done the right thing by simplifying as much as possible, those reactors should be quicker and less costly to build. Long build times are bad because you spend a lot of money initially that you have to pay interest on for years before the investment yields any return.

    dpeilow: You need weeks of battery capacity to make wind suitable for base load. The Chinese EPRs are on schedule, while both the European projects are slipping. I don't know the reason for this. I agree with your other arguments.
     
  20. eledille

    eledille TMS 85 owner :)

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2010
    Messages:
    535
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    On the other hand, grid storage NaS batteries appear to cost about USD 365 per kWh (2009) and A123 appears to be at least three times as expensive, so you might actually get quite a bit of capacity for that price... That Finnish project really is getting expensive :eek:
     

Share This Page