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Former Anti-Nuclear Activist Does A 180 912

Posted by Zonk
from the need-just-a-bit-of-radiation dept.
palegray.net writes "Wired is running a story on how Gwyneth Cravens, a former nuclear power protester has changed her views on nuclear power as a viable solution to the world's energy needs. Said Cravens: 'I used to think we surely could do better. We could have more wind farms and solar. But I then learned about base-load energy, and that there are three forms of it: fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear. In the United States, we're maxed out on hydro. That leaves fossil fuels and nuclear power, and most of the fossil fuel burned is coal.'"
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Former Anti-Nuclear Activist Does A 180

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  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rakishi (759894) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:36PM (#21637215)
    1. World production at current prices has peaked I'm assuming you meant to say, there is plenty of it around but just not at current costs of extraction. The cost of the uranium is a small part of the total cost of nuclear power plants so even a substantial raise in the costs of extraction can be dealt with.
    2. Uranium 235 is not the only fuel that can be used in nuclear power plants.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by kelv (305876) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:39PM (#21637247)
    Try looking up the Olympic Dam mine in Australia owned by BHP Billiton. Every few years they send the geologists out a few more hundred meters and add another 50 years to the life of the mine when they need to boost reserve numbers for financial reasons. No one knowns how big the deposit is but it is HUGE - I've heard figures sugesting it might supply 30% of world uranium demand for the next century or more.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cygfrydd (957180) <cygfrydd@llewellyn.gmail@com> on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:40PM (#21637253)
    It's not nearly as dire as that, unless we keep using light-water reactors... take a look at a brief summary [stanford.edu] of the situation that jibes with what I've heard from various sources. Can't seem to find anything peer-reviewed at the moment, but I'm sure it's out there.

    Cyg
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:41PM (#21637261)
    People change their minds. So what?

    I used to be pro-nuke, worked for a nuclear company etc, but am no longer so. For me, the biggest issues with nuke are handling long-term bulk waste and the costs: nuke is far more expensive than anything else even though the promises of the 50s and 60s were energy that would be so cheap that it was not worth metering.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:42PM (#21637275)
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf75.html [world-nuclear.org]

    "From time to time concerns are raised that the known resources might be insufficient when judged as a multiple of present rate of use. But this is the Limits to Growth fallacy, a major intellectual blunder recycled from the 1970s, which takes no account of the very limited nature of the knowledge we have at any time of what is actually in the Earth's crust. Our knowledge of geology is such that we can be confident that identified resources of metal minerals are a small fraction of what is there. Factors affecting the supply of resources are discussed further and illustrated in the Appendix."

    good reading for anyone interested. Of course, verify the info for yourself, no one source should be trusted stand alone.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot&castlesteelstone,us> on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:46PM (#21637305) Homepage Journal

    World supply of Uranium 235 has about peaked as well. It's not exactly a long-term solution.
    1: Doesn't matter. U-235 can be found on other planets

    2: No, it hasn't.

    3: Doesn't matter. There are other radioactive materials that can be used for fission.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:48PM (#21637333)
    The stuff is safe, as long as its contained there's no reason why anybody needs to gain access to it. There's only one reason to guard the waste, and that's to ensure that it doesn't end up in the hands of terrorists.

    From the point of view of disposal, the main thing is keeping it out of the water supply and away from people. Not really that hard, until you start getting alarmists crying about the problems. The reality is that the harm done by fossil fuels on a daily basis to people and wildlife is far greater than what nuclear is going to do.

    Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, probably the worst esposures ever to radioactive waste, the number of radiation related deaths was only a small fraction of the number that were killed as a direct result of the blasts.

    The main issue I have with the way its handled here, is that we in WA get all of the waste from, I think, 11 states, and we have the feds refusing to give us any assistance to clean up the mess we have. That being said the treat is more of a long term thyroid cancer risk than anything else, and potassium iodide does a pretty good job of keeping that at manageable levels.

    In the US, any reactor that loses power to the control rods will also cut power to the fuel rods, resulting in the control rods falling into the core, and the fuel rods falling out of the core into a huge slab, stopping the reaction. I wish TFA had properly indicated that as the reason why we won't ever have a chernobyl, along with our compliance with basic safety regulations.
  • by rubycodez (864176) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:49PM (#21637343)
    U-235 can be created, even from just natural uranium in a heavy water reactor. And thorium can be bred into U-233, and the planet has thorium for thousands of years even at present growth rates.
  • by Brietech (668850) on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:54PM (#21637389)
    I would wager not that many. It's more expensive than coal and gas, certainly, but the reason for using nuclear now would be so that we DON'T have to use coal and gas. Nuclear power is certainly cheaper (and more reliable!) than wind and solar, both of which are not suitable for providing base-load power either (as the summary mentions). That, and genuine high-level radioactive waste output is only 12,000 tons/year for the entire planet right now. THE ENTIRE PLANET. If we realistically just picked a geologically-stable area, away from most ground-water sources, and built a huge hole, it would likely take care of storage problems in the US for the forseeable future. The way I see it, people like you that say "nah, engineering problems with nuclear power are a hassle," are really just saying "I would prefer everyone live in caves, but instead I'm going to do nothing and we're going to keep using coal for power." Few people have realistic ideas of the scale of power generation methods, nor how demand in the US typically works. Without some deus-ex-machina type power storage/generation, coal and gas are the only realistic alternatives to nuclear.
  • What's a prote? (Score:4, Informative)

    by palegray.net (1195047) <philip.paradis@pa l e gray.net> on Sunday December 09, 2007 @11:59PM (#21637441) Homepage Journal
    Noticed the question in the tagging section... apparently, "prote" is short for "protester"... news to me :).

  • by Brietech (668850) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:03AM (#21637489)
    First of all, this is about replacing coal/gas power plants, not oil wells, so your argument is silly. Almost no one burns oil for electricity, and the nuclear plant near where I live would need 3,666 wind turbines running full-tilt 24/7 to replace it. But to address your argument:

    What do you do when the wind stops blowing?

    1. Wind actually STOPS, as in the turbine ceases to spin and generates 0 watts of power.

    2. Demand does NOT stop. It is in fact extremely predictable throughout the year and throughout a given day.

    3. Consequently, for every kw of generating capacity provided by wind, it is necessary to have a reliable (read: fossil fuel) power plant that can kick on nearly instantly. This is usually provided by gas-fired "peakers," and is what we're trying to avoid using in the future.

    4. Additionally, wind power DOES get a huge amount of subsidies at the moment, is not really economical without them, and is only suitable in certain parts of the country (think of it as unreliable hydro-electric).

    Wind has its places, but it is not as the backbone of our power-generating infrastructure.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Synonymous Bosch (957964) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:04AM (#21637503)
    The CSIRO (google them) will be able to tell you that Australia has the bulk of the worlds known Uranium deposits, however Canada is the worlds largest producer.

    This is because the vast majority of Australia's Uranium is, as yet, untapped. This limit is not due to technology or environmental concerns preventing the rights holders from extracting the material from the ground. It's because they are waiting on the market prices to rise.

    There is no shortage of Uranium, it's just that the raw materials are, mostly, in the hands of a very small number of companies who are colluding to exploit high demand while controlling supply.

    You know, just like the Oil companies have done for decades, with great success.

    At this point in time, Uranium demand hasn't even BEGUN to peak. Once everyone starts rushing towards nuclear power and away from fossil fuels, expect to see production ramp up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:07AM (#21637523)
    The only reasons nukes turned out to be so expensive is that the enviro-wackos sued them every time a worker took a piss.

    Lawyers and enviro-wackos, a sure recipe for stagnation and lack of progress.
  • Re:Renewable (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomcircuit (938963) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:09AM (#21637553) Homepage

    Oh, for fuck's sake. Everything will eventually run out. At some point, the sun will go dark, and even your "renewable" sources like wind and solar will be useless. Hell, hydroelectric power isn't renewable either - it's slowly sapping energy from the moon.
    Hydroelectric is essentially concentrated solar power already converted to physical energy for us.

    1. Sun heats ocean
    2. Water evaporates
    3. Water condenses forming clouds
    4. Rain falls producing rivers
    5. Dam stops river
    6. Water is forced through turbines
    7. Turbines power generators which produce electricity

    The moon has nothing to do with hydroelectric, maybe you meant tidal energy? :P

  • by Brietech (668850) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:26AM (#21637707)
    Sorry, didn't have much luck with non-IEEE sources, but I'm sure you can find something if you look.

    Power demand in a given day follows a sort of double-peaked curve. It peaks during daytime hours when businesses are running, and then again in the evening when people turn on their lights, tv's, etc. (and tapers off as people go to bed). If you draw a line underneath the minimums of the curves, however, you'll notice that demand never drops BELOW a certain point. This is the amount of "base load" power that must be constantly generated, 24/7. Think of it as "inflexible demand."

    Now, as I've mentioned elsewhere in this thread, wind power is intermittent. Wind can and does just *stop* blowing. Obviously you choose sights where the average wind is highest (which are somewhat limited). If your generating source stops, you need a replacement that can kick on extremely quickly (I believe natural gas-fired generators are typically used for this, as I think they have start-up times of somewhere ~ 10 minutes) so that you're not providing less than current demand (and stressing out other generators).

    Solar power actually provides the most power when demand is highest, but it can only work during daytime hours (hence, it can't cover the minimum load at night), and is still susceptible to clouds and things.
  • Re:What's a prote? (Score:5, Informative)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher&gmail,com> on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:29AM (#21637733) Homepage Journal
    It's a case of someone using bad Latin to sound smart, and failing. Prote is the middle Latin conjugation of Proteo, meaning "first among". They're trying to say she was one of the earliest of the decriers. Unfortunately, given the woman's demonstrated propensity to speak about things she does not understand, they're also probably correct.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:33AM (#21637759)
    There ARE ways to deal with the used nuclear fuels and reprocess it into depleted uranium and plutonium. The french have used these processes to reprocess the used fuels for their reactors for years. The main drawback is that the used fuels from most modern reactors reprocess partially into weapons grade plutonium, which could be a problem if it got into the wrong hands.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:56AM (#21637981) Homepage Journal
    The naturally-occurring world supply of Uranium was pretty much fixed billions of years ago. But so what, the same is true for almost every other element that doesn't get resupplied by meteors or other cosmic resupply events.

    The world's supply of oil was for practical purposes fixed long before man came on the scene. Sure, there's probably a small amount added every year but that's negligible.

    The interesting question is will the recoverable supply outlive the fuel's necessity? If we have a 100,000-year recoverable supply of oil or coal or uranium or whatever then it might as well be unlimited. If it's only a 100-year-supply then we better increase the recoverable supply or find alternatives or both. With fossil fuels we are doing both.

    By the way there are other alternatives for the base-load problem. Developments in capacitors and batteries can shift loads across time. Transcontinental transmission lines and power-transmitting satellites allow solar power to feed areas where it is currently early evening, late morning, or with satellites even nighttime. In certain areas wind can handle base loads, as can ocean-wave-harnessing-generators. None of these technologies are ready for prime time but I think they will be within the lifetime of most /. readers.

    Another time-shifting technique is to use solar power to create fuel for fuel cells then use it on demand. A simplistic version is to use solar energy to split water during the day then use the hydrogen at night to create electricity. Sure it's inefficient but it shows solar-based electricity doesn't have to be used when the sun is shining. Using solar energy to charge a capacitor or battery may be more practical.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jerry Coffin (824726) on Monday December 10, 2007 @01:08AM (#21638099)
    All I can say though is I hope we can easily convert fission nuke plants to fusion when we perfect it cuz fission isn't going to last much longer.


    As several posts (including one of mine) have pointed out, fission can be used for quite a while (even if you don't take breeder reactors into account). Converting a fission plant to a fusion plant would be interesting. Basically, the reactor itself would almost certainly be scrapped entirely. The turbines and generators, OTOH, wouldn't generally care whether the steam was produced by fusion or fission, so they could probably remain more or less intact.

    Interestingly, when/if you actually look carefully at the history of accidents (and near-accidents) in nuclear power plants, most of the problems are surprisingly mundane. In fact, it looks like a lot of the problems are basically mechanical -- things like building a steam valve that simply opens and closes dependably for years at a time, even though the steam involved is at high pressure and temperature (e.g. ~300 degrees C and 2000+ PSI). Quite a bit of research has been done into temperatures and pressures of primary coolants [uic.com.au] (near the bottom of the page).

    Even if a repair is strictly in the steam part of the plant (where nuclear radiation isn't a problem) it can take months to cool hundreds of tons of steel, concrete, etc., down from its normal operating temperature to the point that a person can enter and work on something. This makes the cost of repairs so high that the system must be engineered to run for years (preferably decades) at a time without them.
  • Re:Renewable (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hi_2k (567317) on Monday December 10, 2007 @01:14AM (#21638145) Journal
    What he's referring to are Tidal generators. Rarer, but still in use. You're generally right, though.
  • by Kris_J (10111) * on Monday December 10, 2007 @01:37AM (#21638315) Journal

    you'll notice that demand never drops BELOW a certain point. This is the amount of "base load" power that must be constantly generated, 24/7. Think of it as "inflexible demand."
    This is why there's stuff like the "One Watt initiative [wikipedia.org]", Fujitsu's monitor that draws zero power in standby [slashdot.org] or LED traffic lights [engadget.com]. It's not as inflexible a people might think.

    And batteries aren't the beginning and end of power storage. Try Flywheels [wikipedia.org], or other "grid energy storage [wikipedia.org]" options.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Monday December 10, 2007 @01:56AM (#21638453)
    It's been clear from the 1980s that breeders and reprocessing are not a simple solution (France tried this and shut the plant down, that's why it's clear the post above is 20 years out of date). Thorium is very promising but there is no prototype yet of any size. The problem of high quality ore is real and is why there was a great deal of excitment this year about a new ore body in Australia that almost doubled the known reserves. It isn't easy to make the fuel as news reports from Iran should make clear.
  • by djradon (105400) on Monday December 10, 2007 @02:21AM (#21638631) Homepage Journal
    There's a great article about New York's Indian Point nuclear plant in today's NYTimes:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/nyregion/09towns.html?_r=1&oref=slogin [nytimes.com]

    Essentially, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo want to shut IP down because of the ecological and social consequences of, say, crashing a jet plane into the reactor. Even if we develop fast-breeder technology and start recycling our radioactive waste, we still have all this ecologically dangerous material deposited around the biosphere.

    This is not a black and white issue. You and your PhD family might think you see the issues clearly, as scientists in a given field often imagine they do. With only intelligent engineering and management, we can solve the world's energy crisis using nuclear fusion! But who's to say the US won't be the next USSR, and the bumpkins in the republic of New Texicada won't be able to afford to run/manage/secure their fleet of power plants.

    IMO, our energy solution should decay gracefully just in case civilization collapses. I consider myself semi-intelligent and semi-informed, but don't begrudge the misguided hippies who "feel" there's something inherently wrong with fusion.

  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:2, Informative)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday December 10, 2007 @02:33AM (#21638705) Journal
    "How much environmental damage are we willing to do in the name of wind power providing base load?"

    Wind power is the least environmentally damaging of all and takes up the least amount of space, but depending on your idea of beauty they could fuck up your view somewhat.

    "Wait, aren't the waves and tides always moving somewhere? What about geothermal?"

    AFAIK wave, tidal and geothermal are nowhere near as efficient as wind but I could be wrong. And if I am wrong then there is even more reason to belive the "only FF, Hydro, or nuclear can provide base load" meme is a red herring.

    "How many [extra] turbines would we have to construct to take advantage of all the 'somewheres' around?"

    IIRC about 10% more than what is used to generate the required amount of power, since the complete absence of wind across even half a continent is an extremely rare occurance (ie: has never been recorded) there is no need to transport it that far.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Wavicle (181176) on Monday December 10, 2007 @03:39AM (#21639043)
    Wind power is the least environmentally damaging of all and takes up the least amount of space, but depending on your idea of beauty they could fuck up your view somewhat.

    I'm not so sure about least environmentally damaging, but let's address the space issue: Gigawatt reactors are fairly typical and take up about 100 acres. You would need 17,000 acres of windfarm to match that, and it would only match it when the wind is blowing. So if we assume we need 3 locations to get 1GW of base load, suddenly we need 51,000 acres of wind farm to produce the base load of a 100 acre reactor.

    Again I say WTF.

    IIRC about 10% more than what is used to generate the required amount of power, since the complete absence of wind across even half a continent is an extremely rare occurance (ie: has never been recorded) there is no need to transport it that far.

    "complete absence" is a red herring. Just because there is wind blowing doesn't mean its enough to make use of it.

    Here's a wind atlas of the US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:US_wind_power_map.png [wikipedia.org]

    The white and light cyan areas do not have enough wind for economical wind generation. The next bluer area is unlikely to have enough wind. Certainly not enough for companies to risk investment.

    Going to the 3rd blue area, can you see any areas of more than half the continent where wind energy would have to be transported? I know I do.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Boronx (228853) <evonreis@mohr-enginee r i ng.com> on Monday December 10, 2007 @03:52AM (#21639109) Homepage Journal
    Turning a heavy metal into a gas requires quite a lot of energy so not just any lump of rock with uranium in it is worth turning into fuel.

    Except for the deposits in natural reactors, natural uranium all has the same ratio of isotopes. The process of enrichment is separate from the extraction of uranium from ore.

    Also, you can build a reactor with naural uranium.

  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:3, Informative)

    by arminw (717974) on Monday December 10, 2007 @03:54AM (#21639123)
    .... that argument truly respects the difficulties in transporting "base loads"..........

    Transporting large amounts of electricity long distances is lossy and therefore expensive. It is also difficult to build huge power lines because of NIMBY from a large number of property owners. There are places where it is cheaper to build certain kinds of power plants, but getting that power to the population centers where it it most needed is expensive to construct. Nuclear power stations can be built much closer to the places where the power is needed.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by cheater512 (783349) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:03AM (#21639185) Homepage
    Building them everywhere is a incredibly expensive and stupid idea.
    In most places the wind doesnt blow nearly enough to justify them.

    You'll only find wind farms in consistently windy places which is sensible.
    There are a number of places where it rarely stops.
  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Squalish (542159) < S q u a l i s h AT hotmail DOT co m> on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:15AM (#21639243) Journal
    I've been told that in real world usage conditions, 200 tonnes a year of natural uranium is used in a 1 gigawatt plant. At modern capacity factors, that's around 40000 kilowatt hours per kilogram. At a 2% low concentration ore, mine just a ton of the stuff and you have the equivalent of (at 20% load factor) a 1MW wind turbine running for 5.5 months. I assure you that the steel and carbon fiber used to produce one of those isn't free, either.

    So yes, huge amounts of energy are input in order to run things. But absolutely absurd amounts of energy are taken out, as well. The observed phenomena with uranium reserves is that when you decrease the concentration you consider practical to 1/10 of your current metric, you increase the observed reserves by a factor of 300. Any concentrations above 20 ppm for solid deposits are considered viable from an energy return on invested energy standpoint, and the highest deposits available hit around 20% concentration. Liquid refining uranium from seawater traces is considered practically undepletable as well (millions of years).
  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Monday December 10, 2007 @06:52AM (#21639915)

    The above would be a little more credible if there was actually a breeder reactor that worked as well as expected


    Partial list:
    EBR-II - USA - Operated flawlessly between 1964 and 1994 , Project canceled over proliferation concerns
    FBTR- India - Reached Criticality in 1985 and has operated flawlessly since
    Rapsodie - France - Research reactor without electricity generation operated from 1967 to 1983
    Phénix - France - Grid connected since 1973 and still operating , used for nuclear waste transmutation
    DFR - UK - Research reactor, operated from 1959 , project canceled by the government in 1994
    PFR - UK - Prototype reactor built in the 70ies, canceled as above
    KNK-II - Germany - Built 1977 canceled due to government policy change in 1991
    BN-350 - Kasakstan - 1973, shut down in 1999
    BN-600 - Russia , Comissioned 1980 still in operation

    Long story short, fast breeders are a proven technology, and while not every project has been successful many operated flawlessly. You can't just quote one project in Europe which had problems and extrapolate those problems to every other reactor that has been built. Furthermore, while Superphenix had problems it was an experimental reactor built with the intention to research a promising technology. Its entire purpose was to develop the technology so that problems could be avoided with future plants. Shutting it down with the argument that old-tech pressurized water reactors were cheaper [ and consume 60 times as much uranium, and produce waste with 1000 times longer half-life] was nothing but an excuse to push through a senseless policy promoted by the "greens".

  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate@@@gmail...com> on Monday December 10, 2007 @07:02AM (#21639955)
    Even if a repair is strictly in the steam part of the plant (where nuclear radiation isn't a problem) it can take months to cool hundreds of tons of steel, concrete, etc., down from its normal operating temperature to the point that a person can enter and work on something. This makes the cost of repairs so high that the system must be engineered to run for years (preferably decades) at a time without them.

    It takes Days- as in two or three- to cool down a steam plant, even one attached to a nuclear power plant.

    We do mine every 18 months, and in the 30 or so day's it's offline, we can take apart EVERYTHING, work it, and put it back together again. Our minimum refueling outage time is perhaps a couple weeks.

    Most nuke plans run on an 18-24 month fuel cycle- 18 months is fairly typical and balances out the required maintanence vs cost of being offline. We do buy and use things meant to run for years at a time, because we want to cut costs.

    It costs us well over a million dollars a day (maybe two) in lost revenue and additional staffing costs during a planned refueling outage.

    Aside from that timeline problem your post is pretty accurate.
  • Re:In other words... (Score:4, Informative)

    by theglassishalf (216497) on Monday December 10, 2007 @08:00AM (#21640183) Homepage
    Sigh. Ok, I'll bite once more.

    That still have people living around it.

    Yes, but it's still a dead city [wikipedia.org]. 2,800 Sq Km that is too dangerous to live in for any length of time. Why do you insist on minimizing this?

    That would have happened even without the accident. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death today, Chernobyl or no Chernobyl. Cancer rates have been worse for several neighboring areas with not particularly clean chemical production facilities.

    Forgive me, I assumed that you would understand that I meant "cancers that otherwise would not have happened." Obviously you can't tell the exact cause for most cancers, but, depending on which study you look at, a whole lot more than 60 people [bbc.co.uk] have died from that accident. (That study, from the WHO, has a lot more credibility for me than a study that comes from what is in effect a nuclear power lobby group)

    She lacks credibility because she ignores, as you also choose to ignore, evidence (and, in the case of the dead zone, blindingly obvious facts) that contradict the point she tries to make.

    To answer your question about green baseload replacements, try googling "pumped storage." Proven, simple and efficient. After that, think about (and google) tidal power and hydrogen generation/burning. There are others as well. The world is not as hopeless as the nuclear power industry wants you to believe.

    And the cost of nuclear power is FAR more than what you claim. First, did you notice that your link points to a paper from an Australian uranium mining lobby group? Second, that study vastly underestimated the cost of commissioning new plants, which the study pegs at close to $1000/KW, is in reality always at least double that. A decent wikipedia discussion of this exists [wikipedia.org]. See also the MIT study [mit.edu]. (which, by the ways, puts the current lifecycle cost of nuke at 6.7 cents/KWh, which is far more then any mainstream power source)

    I used to be very much for nuclear power, until I did research with an open mind. The truth is that it's very expensive, has a poor safety track record (and, in case you need something to keep you up at night, think about the dangers and potential for sabotage when we move all this radioactive material around), and is unnecessary. You can talk as much as you want about safeguards to the nuke process, but in the end either government (corrupt) or private industry (more corrupt) has to build and run these things. If we spent the money and energy that is currently going to nuke on developing and building truly green power, we'd all be much better off.

    -Daniel

  • by mattr (78516) <mattr.telebody@com> on Monday December 10, 2007 @08:07AM (#21640211) Homepage Journal
    I am not an expert on nuclear power, and though I am quite worried about environmental contamination by radioactive material I will just add some real data points to the discussion.

    1. Having read many nuclear power plant operations inspection documents, I believe I can say that human error is quite common although if run by sane management who don't hire illiterate part-timers, then most such error is not very dangerous. But if you think all safety procedure is perfectly followed always, or that the physical parts (pipes, etc.) in a power plant don't end up mislabeled, confusing and sometimes rusted or leaking, well you're wrong. And sometimes there are total idiots allowed to handle this stuff because work is outsourced to other companies run by utter criminals, as demonstrated by actual recent accidents.

    2. NIMBY is not "idiots who won't forget past mistakes" or even "idiots with boats". It is mostly people who are well aware that there will be contamination and maybe utter disaster. At least in Japan, where you have not only the above management and engineering problems, but also earthquakes and potential missile attack from China or North Korea to worry about.

    3. I was at a talk recently and heard the president of TEPCO (a major Japanese electric power operator with nuclear reactors). He was seriously complaining about the press and how they never listen to facts. That seems correct. However even without worrying about #2 above #1 above provides plenty of incidents, both minor and major, to keep the home fire burning among those vociferous against nuclear power.

    4. The president as mentioned above was talking at the 150th anniversary of Keio University. They are opening a new school for systems design, digital media, and hopefully as this guy was saying it can train new talented people who can understand human factors in engineering - they must have such people in the future for nuclear power plant design and there is not a single person like that who is really competent and working in his company... who would want to work there, he said in fact.

    5. As a combination of my own reading of what it really is like to be observing worker teams in nuclear power plants, and also heavily based on this recent talk, I must conclude that nuclear power plants of the current design generation are far too complex, and also are made of materials that are far too weak, and the designs are prone to accidents. And sometimes work is done without a real safety framework solidly in place. It also seems that these plants are built on such a large scale, with so much tension, such difficulties in teaching new procedure, and generally such complex psychological issues that they really cannot be run perfectly safely.
      That is, they are fine, if you are willing to accept little mishaps now and then, but they aren't 100% safe and can't be. Reading about it (sorry I know it is not 1st hand experience so perhaps this is hyperbole but..) it feels like the movie Brazil, a bureaucratic maze on a huge scale. Or paralleling the movie 2001 with people dwarfed by this huge machine they live in. I read about bead reactors once some years ago, and they sounded great. But whether they stand up or not there is a real problem, evidenced by human factors analysis I've seen and the talk of the top person in charge of managing this stuff in Japan as a business, and the whole system is full of pressures from the bottom up, including requiring absolute perfection from people over long term and from the top down, by economies that badly need nuclear power.

    It would be nice if we had ultra resistant materials, perfect workers, and so on like in science fiction, and maybe nuclear power will be operated really safely by robots one day, but at the moment it seems to be a tough business and the tension about managing things that are radioactive gives every single aspect of the business a whole other axis of danger to be controlled. We may be up to it but I am not convinced that the capitalist system is the way to manage nuclear power. It looks like a bad idea.

  • by AWeishaupt (917501) on Monday December 10, 2007 @08:19AM (#21640275)
    The radioactive products from the 16 nuclear reactors at Oklo have successfully been contained in the geology there, ever since it was created and put there two billion years ago. This time scale is far more than enough for even the very longest lived radioactive products to decay completely. This is direct, simple empirical proof that geological disposal of radioactive waste is practical.
  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Monday December 10, 2007 @10:49AM (#21641677) Homepage Journal
    Stuart Brand and Dr. Patrick Moore, both long-time anti-nuclear environmental activists, have, in recent years, declared for nuclear power:

    Stuart Brand:

    "There were legitimate reasons to worry about nuclear power, but now that we know about the threat of climate change, we have to put the risks in perspective. Sure, nuclear waste is a problem, but the great thing about it is you know where it is and you can guard it. The bad thing about coal waste is that you don't know where it is and you don't know what it's doing. The carbon dioxide is in everybody's atmosphere."
    Link [nytimes.com]

    Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of GreenPeace:

    "We'd like to see 50 percent by the end of the century, maybe even more. But for now, the objective should be doubling the number of nuclear plants in operation."
    Link [wired.com]

    -kgj
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2007 @12:08PM (#21642799)
    That map looks like it charts wind power at ground level -- which is not where you would put the actual wind turbine.
    Here's a map that charts wind power at 80m. It looks a lot more promising; note how many windy spots are in coastal areas that also happen to be heavily populated.
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/global_winds.html [stanford.edu]
  • by Deadplant (212273) on Monday December 10, 2007 @01:31PM (#21644259)
    quicky estimates based on info from slashdot posts:

    2% of US acreage = about 200,000 square meters
    solar panels = about $500/square meter for 16% efficiency panels means $100M I have no idea what the construction and transmission infrastructure would cost. This does not include any kind of motorization of the panels to track the sun.
    power output = about 150W/meter2 (in the field, not in the lab, no gaps between panels) means 300 megawatts total
    http://global.kyocera.com/ [kyocera.com]

    US power demand in 2006 = 760 GigaWatts
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat3p2.html [doe.gov]

    I call shenanigans on the %2 acreage will meet our power needs claim.

    Even with vapourware 40% efficient panels there is just no freakin' way that'll work.
    If you were to build the suggested 'pump water uphill' battery mega-construction project you would need much more than double your peak load so that you can meet demand while 'charging' for overnight demand.
    So just pave over %80 of the USA and you'll be able to power everything with solar! fantastic!

    Not the mention that a pumped-water battery large enough to power the USA overnight would be by far the biggest construction project in history and would have massive environmental consequences.

  • Re:Please explain (Score:3, Informative)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Monday December 10, 2007 @05:37PM (#21647905) Homepage

    - How are we 'maxxed out' on hydro?? I guess I'm thinking in terms of Canada too.


    Hydro's nowhere nearly as easy as it sounds. For starters, you need a river with sufficient flow to make the project worthwhile, and you then need a location to put the dam so that it forms a reservoir in an area that you don't mind flooding.

    Dams can have massive (and devastating) environmental impacts. Take a look at the three gorges dam. Although I commend China for building a power plant that doesn't run off of coal, it's going to displace 1.4 million people who currently live in the 600km (375mi) long reservoir, not to mention destroying *anything* of significance in that 600km area. Wildlife, agriculture, sites of historical significance, you name it..... Fish living in the river are also adversely affected.

    Downstream, the dam will stop the seasonal flooding of the Yangtze river, which has traditionally kept the farmland downstream from the river fertile, in what is otherwise a very poor climate for growing crops. On the other hand, it does keep flooding under control in urban areas, which is no doubt a very good thing.

    So, yes. I wouldn't doubt that most of our feasable hydro options have been used up...

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