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Power Science

The Nuclear Power Renaissance 927

Posted by samzenpus
from the fire-breathing-lizards-soon-to-follow dept.
Actual Reality writes "It is ironic to me that much of the same sentiment that thwarted the nuclear power industry back in the 80's is partially responsible for reviving it. Nuclear power is very clean compared to any power source that burns fuel. The US has missed several advancements in nuclear technology. We can only hope that environmental concerns will not again stifle our progress."
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The Nuclear Power Renaissance

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  • Ban on re-processing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheMeuge (645043) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:05PM (#21357523)
    Another concern is the current ban on re-processing in the U.S.

    This leads to an increased amount of medium-half-life waste (not to mention waste of energy), which would be converted to much more radioactive short half-life waste by the re-processing. Such waste is more hazardous, but its disposal is less challenging because the necessary term of safe storage is greatly reduced.

    I really don't see the big deal. We're ALREADY a nuclear power, and I sincerely doubt that our energy companies are going to be selling plutonium to the highest bidder.
  • by usul294 (1163169) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:06PM (#21357527)
    Fusion seems like it will always be the energy of the future. In the meantime, fission seems like a reasonable solution. There's been many of saftey advances in the past 30 years, and American saftey standards are high enough to prevent something like Chernobyl from happening in this country. (Overheating a 35-year old reactor without saftey features on) A former nuclear engineer who is now my supervisor once told me: "More people have died in of Ted Kennedy's car than have died from American nuclear reactors. The main problem is, many environmental activists oppose fission power, but also want to clean up greenhouse gases. My position is go with nuclear power, use it to generate electricity, then make electric cars, or cars that run off of hydrogen produced from nuclear reactors. We can then all say goodbye to at least 90% of American CO2 emissions.
  • Nuclear in Australia (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Blackheim (661904) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:08PM (#21357551)
    I cannot understand why people are so against Nuclear. In Australia we are still burning coal / natural gas for our power. Yes there are a few hydro / tidal plants (but what they do to the enviroment is not much better). We need a transition power source.. "Clean Coal" et al are a short stop gap solution. What am I missing here but, why not get a few Nuclear Power stations, as a longer transitional power source until we can find a better power source, Perhaps cover the desert with solar?
  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:09PM (#21357565)
    I'm one of the people who thinks we urgently need a gigantic program to build nuclear powerplants, and we need it yesterday - but neither I or anyone else I know thinks we should get rid of the other promising technologies. There are responsible ways to use hydro and wind power. Geothermal power is also worth exploring. But none of those can provide the power that we need.

    And here's where I fit your caraciture: I do oppose raising energy rates and reducing consuption because it's anti-progressive, or as I prefer to say, regressive. Any extra burdens imposed on the cost of energy are going to disproportionately hurt the poor, and they've had it bad enough. Besides, it's totally unrealistic. Of course we should be doing more to insulate houses, and I strongly support government subsidies for doing that. But in a choice between reducing energy use and not reducing it while taking the risk of global climate catastrophe, Americans (maybe people in general) will choose the latter ten out of ten times. We can get mad about it or we can get realistic about it and provide them with the one clean source of power that we know how to develop on a large scale. Sucks that we'll probably have to bring in French engineers to do it right; we've really lost our technological lead in this industry!

    Regarding the spent fuel, there is an obvious answer: Reprocessing. The most radioactive stuff that we bury now are the heavy metals which are actually fissile and could be used to produce more energy. The rest of the waste, if processed correctly, would be less radioactive in 30 years than the ore that was originally mined. So in the long run we'd be reducing the amount of radioactive stuff in the ground.

  • TANSTAAFL (Score:2, Interesting)

    by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:13PM (#21357615) Homepage Journal
    Most large-scale power plants have some bad impact on the environment.

    Burning carbon - air pollution
    Wind farms - dead birds
    Hydroelectric - dams and all that this implies
    Nuclear - nuclear waste disposal

    Solar and other relatively-little-used technologies may have a better footprint but they are still too expensive to be cost-effective in a large scale.

    Until we get something cheap with a light footprint, it's a game of "pick your poison."
  • by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:16PM (#21357645)

    Nuclear power is very clean compared to any power source that burns fuel.
    If you are going to toss around inexact language like "is very clean" I don't think you can afford to be picky about what it means to "burn fuel".

    As Nikky Telsa said in 1915, "No matter what we attempt to do, no matter to what fields we turn our efforts, we are dependent on power. We have to evolve means of obtaining energy from stores which are forever inexhaustible, to perfect methods which do not imply consumption and waste of any material whatever. If we use fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly. This method is barbarous and wantonly wasteful and will have to be stopped in the interest of coming generations."

    If it uses up a limited resource, it's "burning fuel", at least metaphorically, and therefore lame. Screw that. Let's figure out how to tap into the vast power represented by the titanic spinning mass we live on, or the even more titanic mass that shines in our skies, instead of perpetuating the cycle of digging stuff up stuff until it we use it all up. Those experiments [nasa.gov] with dangling wires from the shuttle are a step in the right direction.
  • Re:The thing is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:25PM (#21357765) Journal
    You stated we are not capable of mega engineering. This is false. We are capable of scaling our energy collection out as far as we need with technology that is over 30 years old, and with that capacity, we can pursue whatever mega engineering projects we want.

    Our biggest threats are population control and wasteful use of our non-renewable resources. There's lots of work to do and the means are right there waiting to be applied if we don't use everything up making rubber dog shit in the meantime.
  • Re:The thing is (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jemenake (595948) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:25PM (#21357773)

    We KNOW that converting to nuclear energy would largely solve the global warming problem. Have a nice gander people, the solution to this seemingly intractible problem is staring us in the face.
    I thought this too. However, in "Crude Awakening", there's a CalTech prof who asserts that, in order to provide all of the world's energy through nuclear, we'd have to build *TEN THOUSAND* of today's highest-capacity operating nuclear plant. Oh.. but that's not the real punchline. The great bit is that, if we actually did that, we'd run out of nuclear fuel in a couple of decades.

    Now, I'll grant that I haven't actually checked those numbers... but hearing a CalTech physics prof say them certainly gets me to go so far as to stop asserting that nuclear is the perfect answer to these problems.
  • by Dasher42 (514179) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:28PM (#21357801)
    ...And all that process of uranium mining and refinement runs on sweet dreams and sunshine?
  • by Glasswire (302197) <glasswire AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:35PM (#21357905) Homepage
    Back in the early 80s, I thought I had the ideal solution to plutonium waste. There was only a few tons of it on earth - let's pack it up, put it in a booster stage which would be launched from the space shuttle in near earth orbit and, after a few months of slow travel would fall into the Sun where it would totally negligible. Do it every ten years or so - no waste problem. Space shuttles at that point, seemed like a damned reliable method.

    Then the Challenger disaster happened. My first thought, after the lives of the crew, was to thank god nobody implemented the solar waste proposal. I'm not sure if a few tons of plutonium distributed into a cloud by the explosion at that altitude would have wiped out life on earth as we know it, but I'm sure the consequences would not have been good.

    Glad to be wrong.
  • by maillemaker (924053) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:38PM (#21357931)
    How plentiful is Uranium for nuclear power? Will we find ourselves in the same dire straits tomorrow seeking vanishing uranium deposits? What is the situation?
  • Re:Troll news? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:46PM (#21357993) Homepage Journal
    "the latter of which (Global Warming) was not known of or understood back when the Nuclear Power protests were going on. "

    IN unrelated news, they didn't seem to understand how nuclear power works either.

    "The
    reason that environmental concerns occasionally "stifle our progress" is because it would be foolish for anyone NOT to think of environmental concerns."

    Anti-Nuclear Environmentalists stifled our progress' because they kept fighting to shut down any nuclear plant. Even nuclear plants that use nuclear waste for power.

    Environmental concerns have ALWAYS been a addressed. Environmentalist just made it so it was more expensive.

    I will say the the government and the public need to have access to all documents and designs used in building and maintaining Nuclear plants.

    Personally, I'd like to see the IFR be used more.
  • Molten Salt Reactors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:47PM (#21358003)
    Reprocessing is expensive mainly due to the labor involved in reprocessing it. Spent fuel must be cut apart and chemically treated in a clean room environment. Removing the tans-uranic elements from spent fuel is not complicated from a chemistry standpoint, but handling spent nuclear fuel is always expensive.

    One potential solution is molten salt reactors, which do not use fuel elements but rather use molten uranium salts. Since there are no fuel elements, fuel from the reactor can be chemically treated without a lot of handling. It may even be possible to continuously process the fuel while it's still in the reactor (though this has never been done). Doing this could completely solve the problem of long-term nuclear waste. The only waste produced by such a reactor would be depleted uranium and fission products. Of course, the fission products would need to be safely stored for 300 years before they were safe, but that's a lot better than the trans-uranics that we have to deal with now.

    Molten salt reactors also have advantages when it comes to fail safe design. Since they don't have fuel elements or control rods, there is nothing in the reactor core which can break or wear out and cause a melt down to occur. In the case of emergencies, the reactor can be drained into sub-critical containment vessels.
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:48PM (#21358007)
    About buildinng them as far from population as possible...

    You no doubt know that the fallout from Chernobyl circled the globe? That it contaminated neighboring countries fairly heavily?

    The problem with nuclear power plants is that they are very radioactive in their cores. There are elements with a wide range of half-lives and if anything happens to disperse them, you get high radiation for a short time, medium radiation for longer, and low radiation for eons.

    If anything, I would say put them near centers of population That way, they are guaranteed the kind of scrutiny they deserve - lots of it. A population center with a lot to lose and no way to evacuate in short order in the event of an accident will work very hard to make the plants as safe as they can be.

    Putting them away from population centers wastes a lot of energy in the transmission lines and also gives people a false sense of security where they won't press for answers or safety. The Enrico Fermi reactor that melted would have contaminated the whole northeast corridor. Too many don't realize that and think setting them 50 or 100 miles away makes them safe. It doesn't.
  • Re:Disposal? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ttfkam (37064) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:56PM (#21358093) Homepage Journal
    Option 1: Vitrify (mix with glass to prevent chemical interaction with the environment) and drop to the bottom of the ocean at a subduction zone.

    Over a short time the material will be covered in silt and mud. Over a long time it will be drawn into the Earth's crust and mantle. I'd call that a fairly permanent solution.

    Option 2: Repeal the law banning enrichment for domestic power purposes.

    Currently only about 2% of the fuel potential is actually used in today's power plant. If you can reprocess the spent fuel, separating out the junk from the readily fisible material, you can substantially reduce both the volume of waste and the amount of time the waste is dangerous.

    Option 3: Move to thorium-based reactors.

    For Thorium reactors, the fuel cycle is far more efficient and leaves far less waste and waste that is dangerous for a far shorter amount of time.

    Option 4: Move to fast neutron reactors.

    The fuel cycle is, again, far more efficient and leaves shorter-lived waste as well as far less waste.

    -----

    Those are four "good answers." No large-scale energy generation is going to be warm and fuzzy. Sorry, but that's the brutal truth. When you're talking about trillions of kilowatt-hours per year, it is absolutely the search for the lesser of many evils.

    Think solar will solve our issues? We're having supply problems with silicon as it is. No, we're not running out of sand. Photovoltaics require clean rooms and much of the same infrastructure as computer chips. Lately, the price of computer chip materials have been increasing because of increasing solar panel production. What? Beam it down from space? Show me a prototype and I'll consider it. Until we see a proof of concept, it would be ridiculously stupid to base a nation's energy policy on it.

    What? The solar panels that can be "painted?" Where was the prototype for that again? Exactly. Prototype comes before small-scale production. Small-scale production precedes large-scale production. If there's no prototype, you can't even begin to seriously consider policy based upon large-scale production.

    That said, I think we should spend time with wind power, just not the windmill variety. Those suck.

    Minimum 10MPH wind + Maximum 40MPH = Not Good Enough For a Nation.

    Read about kite versions instead and why windmills just don't cut it. [pbs.org] But once again I would want to see a proof of concept before committing.
  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @10:09PM (#21358239) Homepage

    What reprocessing? If reprocessing was so effective (references please) then why is the US's current nuclear waste disposal in such a disastrous mess?
    Because that fuckwit Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the reprocessing of fuel because of "proliferation concerns" in a purely symbolic gesture, as the plutonium produced by a fuel reprocessing breeder reactor is a mix of isotopes that can't be used in a nuclear warhead.
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @10:31PM (#21358491)
    Good points. This summer, a number of reactors in various countries had to be throttled back or shut down because of the heat load they were imposing on the rivers they were using to dump their waste heat into.

    Use the heat for other things and the amount you have to dump goes down.
  • by shplorb (24647) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @10:47PM (#21358675) Homepage Journal
    But bear in mind that less than 10% of the fuel that goes into a reactor is used up. Reprocessing enables us to separate out the "poisons" and recycle the remaining fuel. This is practiced in France and enables a tenfold reduction in the amount of waste for final disposal. The separated waste is highly radioactive and so has a much shorter half-life than if you were to just dispose of the spent fuel from the reactor - it is safe to handle with your own hands after a few hundred years.

    The problem with reprocessing now is that it extracts Plutonium from the spent fuel. That's why the USA banned reprocessing, because they were concerned about weapons proliferation - not that it stopped them from building thousands of HEU warheads. Right now in France, Japan and the USA the stockpiles of Plutonium are being used in "MOX" fuel for reactors. The problem with this fuel is that you have to leave it in cooling ponds after it comes out of the reactor for a hell of a lot longer than normal fuel.

    The ideal solution for disposing of Plutonium is to burn it with depleted uranium left over from enrichment in breeder reactors and then reprocessing the fuel to burn in normal reactors. France has come the closest to getting a full-size breeder reactor running, but greenies had the government pull the pin on it. (Plus they'd spent billions getting to the point they had.)

    By using reprocessing and breeder reactors we have an essentially unlimited fuel source. There is also currently a massive investment in Uranium exploration, after about 30 years of minimal activity, which has been brought about because the cheap supply of Uranium from decommissioned Russian and US weapons that accounted for 50% of world demand is drying up. Add onto that the resurgence of interest in nuclear power - new reactors in Finland and France, China and Russia are to build dozens, and the UK and USA are considering replacing their aging fleets and Germany is looking at reversing their decision to phase out nuclear energy in the wake of Russia's resurgence and concerns about their dependence on Russian gas.

    The largest Uranium deposit in the world, Olympic Dam in Australia, was recently announced to be twice the size as initially thought - it now accounts for over 40% of known reserves, and the mine's owner BHP Billiton is set to double production to create the world's largest mine: http://odx.bhpbilliton.com [bhpbilliton.com]
  • Balance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gone.fishing (213219) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:04PM (#21358835) Journal
    Way back when, in the '70's and into the early '80's, I was fairly active in the anti-nuke community. In a way, my feelings have mellowed since then although I still have serious reservations about disposing of things that will still be dangerous ten thousand years from now. I never intended to become involved, but then some fedral officials decided that my backyard may just possibly make a good site to dispose of this waste. The area that they were looking at was about 90% swamp. It was a stupid idea and everyone knew it. Looking back, I think it was in the list only because it was so stupid that the place they really wanted (Yucca Mountain) would appear to be the only reasonable place that could be found. The whole siting process was far more political than any sort of science.

    At the time, I took the time to educate myself on a wide variety of things, everything from the way that granite fractures to the way that radioactive waste affects various metals and minerals. Pretty wild stuff. There is no such thing as perfectly safe, perfectly secure long term high level radioactive waste storage. Dormant volcanos occasionally come back to life. Granite (even without stressors) cracks. Concrete exposed to the heat from radioactive decay disintigrates. Stainless steel stresses from expansion and contraction and slowly weakens. It also is subject to (very slow) corosion.

    The only practical method of disposal is passive storage where the waste is protected by layer upon later of different kinds of shielding. In practicality, the waste is placed in casks designed to hold in most of the radiation, these casks are then placed in a sort of glass-lined tomb which is burried deeply inside a granite cave inside of a mountain. When the tomb reaches capacity it is outfitted with monitoring gear and is filled with concrete and sealed. It is then "monitored" from outside the repository, if any problems are detected they will then take corrective action. Only problem is how do you do that? What happens if the detection equipment breaks down, how do you fix it?

    I still have all these questions and I still wrestle with why would we make something that makes waste that is so dangerous? This is a real question that deserves a real answer and nobody seems to have a real answer.

    Still, millions of tons of coal ash isn't harmless and there isn't enough oil to go around forever. The wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. We can't dam enough rivers and every year we get hungrier and hungrier for energy.

    There are hundreds of ways to generate electricty (or more simply perhaps, to make energy). Every method has advantages and disadvantages. Most are hard to scale up to provide meaningful meagawatts.

    Nuclear power is one of those things that scales up. It is in a sense "clean" -- simply because its waste per KWH is so damned low. We have learned how to reprocess, reduce, and recycle radioactive waste but we have not made it safe. The waste that remains is still very dangerous.

    The Pebble Bed reactor seems to answer for the short-term at least for many of the safety issues inside of the nuclear power plant. It also reduces the waste generated (not in weight, but in reactivity). In some ways it is even easier to dispose of. Spent pebbles can be used to generate moderate heat allowing them to be used commercially in other applications long after they have been retired from generating electricty.

    I said earlier that my views have mellowed a bit. Today I think that nuclear power probably has a place. I think that I would much rather see new plants with new, safer, and more efficient technologies be built than see forty year old plants with stresses components be recertified to operate many years beyond their original designers intention. If this is allowed to continue to happen the infrastructure will fail, people will die. We can not afford this. It is better to replace than patch and fix.

    We still need to solve the disposal problem. Perhaps we can make the waste into radioactive micro capsules and imbed them in our highways as autonomyous vehicle guides? Maybe we could use the coal ash to vitrify the capsules?
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:22PM (#21358963)
    The only people that died soon after the accident were in the immediate vicinity. People will die over longer time periods farther away. Fact. Distance does decrease the risk, but it does not eliminate it.

    You miss the whole point I was making - by locating it closer, you would force the scrutiny. When plants are located far away, few people really care.

    In the US, the average loss in power transmission is estimated to be 7.2%. (Wikipedia) I don't consider that a "small amount". And except for a couple of demonstration projects, high-temperature superconductors are not in use and are not practical. They are definitely not practical for long-haul transmission and that is where the greatest losses are.

    It's a false sense of security. If a nuclear plant goes up and contaminates to even very small levels, the cleanup costs will be massive and many people will simply not live there. Have you seen the people born near Chernobyl with their birth defects? People here won't risk that. While I admit that there would be fewer immediate fatalities, again, you miss my point.

    In the case of the Enrico Fermi meldown, contaminated would have equalled many fatalities. The studies of how many might die in the case of an accident at that power plant are why every insurance policy in this contry excludes liabilities in case of nuclear accident. The studies were also "sanitized" to minimize how bad it really might be.

    100 miles away, if weather carried the fallout over a city, and obviously depending on the level and nature of the fallout, could still result in heavy contamination. Again, yes, farther away means less concetrated. But you still miss the point.
  • Re:I disagree. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Moridin42 (219670) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:44PM (#21359127)
    In the current legal climate, thats true. But then I'm of the opinion that the current legal climate is a mess.

    Corporations should be proxies for the owners. But only when the transaction being undertaken would be unfeasible if every individual owner had to personally sign off on the decision. The corporation purchases, sells, negotiates contracts, and whatnot on behalf of the owners. Thats fine. But because we, in the US, treat corporations as fictitious entities, that means they are also permitted to do things as make contributions to political campaigns and lobbies. Something I don't believe they should be permitted to do. At all. If the owners of said corporations want to make such contributions, let them. With their dividends. Would that increase the administrative cost of lobbies? Probably, a little. But those costs would be born by only the individuals who believe in the objectives of the lobby or politician.

    As far as externalities goes, stockholders cede most of their decision making rights to the executives of the corporation. If and when those executives make decisions that are illegal or negligent the executives responsible should bear the costs of their decisions. Not the corporation, who will pass the losses on to their end consumers, employees, or stockholders (or some combination of the three). So if some energy exec okays a shoddy nuclear plant design, he should be held responsible. Will his net assets be great enough to cover the damages? Probably not. But you tell me, if you were in such a position and you knew if a failure occured you'd be flat broke and probably pretty unemployable, would you go ahead with shoddy decisions?

    Again it isn't the way things are, but I'm of the opinion that the way things are is all sorts of idiotic.
  • by JWW (79176) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:44PM (#21359129)
    The reason Nuclear is the answer is that it works.....now. Wind is the only thing you mention that really works reasonably well, but still has the problem of not being constantly available to generate power. We don't have enough land for all the solar arrays that would be needed, plus the sun doesn't always shine.

    Nuclear is a good option, the technology has gotten much much better over the past 30 years.
  • Re:Cost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MtViewGuy (197597) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:53PM (#21359187)
    France did something that the rest of the world should have done with nuclear power: standardize on a single complete powerplant design. By standardizing on a single complete powerplant design, they were able to train their operators and service engineers on how to safely operate the reactor at any plant in the country, and it also meant lower plant construction costs, too. Because it has so much cheap electric generation, that's why SNCF (the French National Railways) was able to build ultra-fast TGV trains all over the country without worries about getting electric power generation for these trains.

    In fact, why the EU didn't just adopt the French nuclear powerplant design and built nuclear powerplants all over Europe based on this design is beyond me (aside from NIMBY environmentalist complaints).
  • by sonofabeach (1168325) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:10AM (#21359305)
    "...So, the UK is importing nuclear power from France. I think that's a pretty clear indicator that nuclear power is currently fairly competitively priced."

    Not necessarily. People say, "let the market determine whether nuclear is cost-effective." The market in the U.S. already did decide, and it said it was not cost-effective. That's why no new plants have been built since 1974. The only reason we're building them now is because the government is heavily subsidizing it. (And, need I add, this says nothing of the cost of waste disposal which is another problem altogether...)

    The biggest cost of nuclear is the up-front capital cost of construction and working with government regulation and oversight. Therefore once you have the plants built, it is in the owner's best interest to utilize them to their maximum potential. This doesn't mean that new nuclear power is competitively priced, however.

    You will hear the nuclear industry (as well as the U.S. government) touting a 1.8/kWh figure as the cost of nuclear energy, but this figure only refers to the operating costs of nuclear and DOESN'T include the capital cost of building a nuclear reactor itself (which is the biggest part), nor does it include the cost of decommissioning a reactor when it is finally retired. This also says nothing of the fact that uranium prices have more than tripled in the last few years. If we're not going to include capital construction costs when describing the cost of nuclear energy, then why should we use a different standard for measuring energy costs for other technology such as windmills? Wind suddenly become extremely cheap (less than 1/kWh to maintain) if you exclude the capital construction cost.

    What killed nuclear in the U.S. was regulatory cost. That changed with President Bush's 2005 Energy Policy Act included several billion dollars of incentives to the nuclear industry, for instance guaranteeing that for the first six new nuclear plants constructed, the U.S. government will pay for any cost overruns (up to $2 billion). This means it's a no-brainer for the nuclear industry - they get paid even if the same kinds of regulatory delays that killed previous plants creep up for these new plants. In addition there are huge tax credits for the first eight years of operation.

    IMHO, we don't have to worry about nuclear reactor safety at all. Operationally they are very safe (even Three Mile Island basically operated as it was supposed to during a meltdown). What is less clear is whether nuclear is economically feasible, and whether we have a viable solution for storing waste. Currently the solution is to store them on-site at the reactors themselves.
  • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:27AM (#21359429) Homepage

    IMHO, If we need to, as a civilization, we can survive on solar power using existing technologies if we reduce our consumption to more modest levels.

    I have a pottery studio/kiln out in the county a little ways. When I first built it, I had no power of any kind, so I took to charging up a deep-cycle 12v marine battery at home and then carting it out there. With an inverter and a CFL, I'd get 12 hours of power or so. The battery weighs a ton (subjectively) and it was a pain, but also nice to be able to work in the evening. I would also run some other things off it on occasion. Anyway, I realized that even small amounts of electricity represent HUGE amounts of work -- and carrying that battery back and forth was actually the least of the "work" it took to get that bit of light.

    We had a big windstorm a few days ago and power was out at the studio (I know have juice there) for the last day and a half. I used to love it when the power went out -- the world became quiet and I was forced to do quiet things I don't do enough of -- read, think, sleep. Now all I hear is the distant sound of generators running (note me -- others).

    As a society, we have become so affluent (or debt ridden) that we are unwilling to give up electricity even for a few hours. We can't do without even for a few moments but it comes at a very high price which will be paid eventually. Anyway, back to your point, I suspect most people wouldn't be willing to reduce their energy usage enough. Even if you got 2kw per day out of the sun, that's only 20 hours for one 100 watt bulb. If you have a computer, fridge, 6 lights, and TV on, you could be hitting near 1000 watts per hour (depending on efficiency of course).

    Even me -- I realize how work intensive electricity is, and I try to make sure to make efficient use of it by minimizing my use -- still, it would be very hard to limit myself to 2kw per day, which is what I'd get with 10 hours of sun (good luck in Dec) and $1350 [altersystems.com]. Maybe there are better deals out there. I know for sure all those people firing up their generators sure won't survive on 2kw.
  • Re:The thing is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dbIII (701233) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:50AM (#21359603)

    We'd run out of nuclear fuel in decades

    That is true because of diminishing returns - there is a lot of Uranium but at some point the ore takes more energy to dig up, turn into fuel and transport than it can produce. That is what is behind the promising efforts to use Thorium as a fuel. The fanatical nuclear advocates that insist that nothing should be done about fuel or waste problems are counterproductive - so progress with things like accelerated thorium reactors and synrock waste management has been slow and has been carried out in India and Australia respectively. The USA hadn't really bothered to do any research into nuclear power for a decade before Carter was elected and shut down the excess weapon material scam. Being twenty years in nuclear technology behind South Africa is not something to be proud of.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:10AM (#21359757)
    Even with these sources of oil, demand from china and india is going to push oil past $150/barrel.

    Disclaimer: I am not an economist, I've just dumped about 500 hours in the past 6 months into academic research regarding energy markets, renewable energy planning, etc.

  • by k8to (9046) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @02:52AM (#21360525) Homepage
    We have already peaked in our oil discovery.

    The extraction peak is essentially now, plus or minus a bit of time. Check it out, oil is now above 90 a barrel.

    The uranium forecasts are not by doom-and-gloom fear mongers but by internal forecasts by analysists (geophysicsts, statisticians etc) within the energy companies. They could well be wrong, but their guess is better than yours. Keep in mind that uranium extraction will of course accelerate as energy demands increase and oil supply does not.
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday November 15, 2007 @03:29AM (#21360735)
    Molten salt reactors have only ever been used experimentally. Between the aircraft reactor experiment (ARE) and the molten salt reactor experiment (MSRE), they have been shown to be feasible power source for electric generation, though none has ever been used to generate electricity. Since those experiments, a lot of work has been done on molten salts, so there is a bit if an industrial knowledge base. After the initial experiments were carried out, the DOE lost interest in the technology, investing instead in breeder technology. Before a commercial molten salt reactor can be built, a pilot scale reactor must be built and extensively tested, that would take 10 to 20 years, if it were fully funded. Then if it looked like it really was safe and inexpensive, it would take another 5 to 10 years to actually build a commercial power plant based on the technology. This would take an act of god (or congress), and I personally doubt it will happen. The public would never accept a new, experimental reactor to be built. Even if they did, it's funding would not be secure over the span of the project because congress is very fickle. But it is fun to speculate.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2007 @05:07AM (#21361217)

    "Clean" only in the sense that —with the proper and rather expensive care— it doesn't cause trouble right away. It does leave us with waste products that are difficult to deal with and require safely storing it for the next, oh, five millennia or so. Do you think our grandchildren's grandchildren will thank us for leaving that as a legacy?

    Never forget that the total cost of the endeavour includes wasteproducts. Glossing over that is misleading at best, but I'd call it criminally irresponsible. The fact that for most of the lifetime of the problem we'll all be long dead doesn't mean we can disregard it.

    And that is disregarding all the operational problems of a design that requires positive action to stop it in case of trouble (runaway processes, meltdown, etc.). Go read the RISKS list digest for plenty of insight in what such designs can do.

  • Re:The thing is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @08:02AM (#21362127) Journal

    alternative nuclear technologies (ie, pebble-bed reactors)
    No, not really PBMR's just introduce a new can of worms. We are talking about a graphite moderated reactor here, like Chernobyl! But because we are talking about lower core sizes and lower temperature the theory is the traditional solid American concrete and steel containment building, which makes up a large proportion of the capital and energetic costs are eliminated. In reality a PBMR introduces the same structural design flaws that Chernobyl had. Even the NRC calls this a "Major Safety Tradeoff".

    Logistical concerns include;

    In a production facility how do you make the millions to billions of fuel kernels without imperfections.

    When the reactor is ageing, how do you prevent air entering the system and igniting the kernels?

    How do you prevent radioactive helium leaking from the system?

    PBMR produce deadlier wastes than PWR's.

    I think your statement about decentralised sources makes much more sense, especially since micro-solar and management doesn't have the systemic in-efficiencies that large scale production does and although we will be dependant on centralised sources for some time HDR seems to have the capability to address base load issues typically used to tout coal and nuclear.

  • by walt-sjc (145127) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @08:32AM (#21362273)
    There is NIMBYism with solar too. Someone nearby put up some panels in his yard and the neighbors sued claiming it destroyed their views. Now they may not WIN, but it will be expensive to defend against.

    The problem is exactly what the first-post person was modded down for saying. Nobody wants ANY power generation of any type near them, yet they all want cheap power. You can't have both. All the alternative energy plans have environmentalists fighting them for various reasons - so we still burn coal, and lots of it. Give me nuke plants (modern breeder types), wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal. I want cheap power so we can do desalination and run electric cars. Kill the CO2 emissions so my great-grandchildren have a nice planet to live on...
  • Lets talk PUCHA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @10:59AM (#21363999) Journal

    It is ironic to me that much of the same sentiment that thwarted the nuclear power industry back in the 80's is partially responsible for reviving it.
    But only very very partially, the reality is far from that.

    The Public Utilities Holding Company Act (PUHCA) was, somewhat covertly, repealed in the 2005 Energy Bill and passed by the senate in July 2005. PUCHA was put into law in 1935 to stop a re-occurance of the 1929 stock market crash, because during the '20's utility companies became cash cows for energy tycoons who set up complex holding companies to milk income from ratepayers (like ma and pa Tilley) to fuel speculative investment. The stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the holding companies, devastated ratepayers and investors alike. PUCHA was designed to outlaw these structures and protect the American economy from a repeat of the circumstances that led to the events of 1929.

    With limited oversight under the new laws the scene is set for consortium's to form those structures again, and how can any regulatory body, with limited staff have the capability to understand - much less control - the books of a huge conglomerate? Of course, it's the oil companies that are best positioned to benefit from the change in these laws. Anyone care to imagine what the future of renewable energy will be like if the Oil companies have a monopoly on energy utilities as well. It would make MicroSoft's monopoly look innocuous by comparison as the NRC will not allow challenges based on the need for the electricity or disposal of the waste.

    Public participation or intevention is excluded because the reactor design is "approved", the procuring company get's half a billion dollars worth of subsidies even if they do nothing and a 1.8 cent per kilowatt hour tax credit if they do, truly a lose lose situation for all American taxpayers. The reality is if the Nuclear power industry was forced to cover it's own liability it would cease to exist and the hope of it operating without subsidies is totally unrealistic.

    So who are you subsidising?

    One is the Nustart Consortium [nustartenergy.com] consists of Excelon, Etergy, Constellation Energy Group, Duke Energy Group, EDF International, Electricite de France (as Florida Power and Light) Progress Energy, Southern, Tenessee Valley Authority, GE and Westinghouse.

    For a country built upon the principles of economic pragmatism and unadulterated capitalism, how have such dubious investment's been forced upon it with barely a whisper of debate? It's clearly contrary to the interests of both sides of the political spectrum, so how can America, of all countries, continue to justify this form of corporate welfare?

    For more information, have a look at this article [truthout.org]. ~

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2007 @11:20AM (#21364315)
    I'm anonymous for a reason.

    Did you know that the radiation detectors for airborn release at Three Mile Island were miles away and mostly upwind of the reactor? There is substantial evidence gathered from the underside lf leaves downwind (the wind was blowiing in the prevailing direction at the time of the incident) gathered months later by a "bunch of college professors" doing biological field work that suggests huge amounts of radioactive iodine and other radionucleides was released at Three Mile Island. You won't find any mention of this in the cover your ass government report (I knew one of the people who prepared the report who was shocked to learn of this later.) By the time it was discovered, there was no way to accurately determine the true release at Three Mile Island - but can you imagine the level of incompetence that doesn't check downwind of a radioactive release: it had to be a deliberate omission, to cook the data for the subsequent report. It is virtually certain we dodged the big one because nearly all of the radiation went a short ways down a sparsely populated river valley and out to sea, undetected until months later.

    Then there is the reactor built in Sourthern California that they designed to be earthquake proof and then flipped the plans over before they built it (since it made site access easier for the work, I think).

    Then you have the French, with their much vaunted nuclear program, oops, dribbling radioactives down the highway in their super secure high tech waste transfer vehicles.

    I am a professional scientist, and I recall the outright lies of the AEC from the 1950's up until they were terminated and most of their function passed into the NRC. Between outright lies and bureaucratic cover your ass, I have no expectation of any sort of intellectual honesty from the fission power industry and its government regulator counterparts. The standard design of American reactors is criminally stupid, and there are much better and infinitely safer designs, but every time they have built one they went back to the same design firm who rolled out their old design for a new site. Everybody in the industry knows this. Safety has never been a particular design criteria in the US, although the Europeans have largely been blessed by starting at a later stage of reactor development and their initial designs were safer - which they keep copying since they worked and the designers got the job done, so why change.... Most of the French designs, for instance, have the reputation of being pretty well idiot proofed and for having robust safety systems from the get go, not added on back-up systems like in the US. The public understands this in an intuitive way, and there is no way they can participate in highly technical design issues discussions, but most of the public is wise in rejecting more of the same old reactor designs, which is all they have ever been presented in this country (except, perhaps for the gas moderated reactor in Colorado which was such a total flop and which leaked vast quantities of radioactives that nobody every paid much attention to since it might damage the image of the nuclear power industry, and besides they were over open country the first couple hundred miles except when the wind blew them towards Denver - fortunately, this reactor never stayed on-line for very long.)

    My personal opinion of the nuclear power advocates is that they are a pie in the sky bunch who are overly preoccupied with engineering numbers (which are admittedly favorable in most regards), but are blithely ignorant of human systems and bureaucratic factors in the equation and have never looked closely at the safety issues, especially the number of times we have come close to a China Syndrome situation, which you will never find properly reported in any publicly available forum, not ever!
  • by grep_rocks (1182831) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:08PM (#21365127)
    There is another type of nuclear reactor that can burn unprocessed unranium - specifically the CANDU reactor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CANDU [wikipedia.org] - several have been built around the world. They are more expensive to construct because they are larger and requre heavy water but they can "burn" a variety of nuclear fuels - Plutonium and depleted uranium from light water reactors. The US pushed light water reactors because they are smaller and can be used on submarines and other ships and (cynically) makes other contries dependent on (US)uranium enrichment facilities...

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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