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Earth Power Hardware

The Rise of Small Nuclear Plants 490

Posted by kdawson
from the small-neutrons-a-specialty dept.
ColdWetDog writes "The Oil Drum (one of the best sites to discuss the technical details of the Macondo Blowout) is typically focused on ramifications of petroleum use, and in particular the Peak Oil theory. They run short guest articles from time to time on various aspects of energy use and policies. Today they have an interesting article on small nuclear reactors with a refreshing amount of technical detail concerning their construction, use, and fueling. The author's major thesis: 'Pick up almost any book about nuclear energy and you will find that the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive. This assumption is widely accepted, but, if its roots are understood, it can be effectively challenged. Recently, however, a growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies, and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units, and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing. The resulting systems are a welcome addition to the nuclear power plant menu, which has previously been limited to one size — extra large.'"
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The Rise of Small Nuclear Plants

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  • Small nukes (Score:2, Insightful)

    Great for pumping stations and desalination plants... probably the cheapest way.

  • This is good. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by elucido (870205) * on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:10PM (#32971440)

    Nuclear energy is probably the best chance we have are breaking our addiction to oil. Nuclear energy is also relatively clean. I don't know why the government doesn't just fund the development of a bunch of nuclear power plants and put them on the coast or on the ocean somewhere. We could generate enough power to power the entire country, not to mention we could probably put hundreds of thousands of nuclear power plants in the desert.

    • put them all over as the power grid is not setup for having a lot of power in one place.

      • by spazdor (902907) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:40PM (#32971804)

        I can't imagine investing in a national nuclear infrastructure without also overhauling the distribution grid.

        • by toastar (573882) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:24PM (#32972292)

          I can't imagine investing in a national nuclear infrastructure without also overhauling the distribution grid.

          did no one RTFA?
          Oh yeah this is slashdot.

          The idea is as Coal Plants get decommissioned you can use most of the same equipment, Which I assume means the same generators. Which make the nuke plants cheaper then overhauling the coal plant.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Nadaka (224565)

            You can reuse the steam turbines and electric generators with solar thermal power plants as well.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by toastar (573882)

              You can reuse the steam turbines and electric generators with solar thermal power plants as well.

              Haven't you ever played sim city? You can't replace a Coal Plant with Just one solar plant.

              A solar plant with the same foot print as the coal plant might get 50 Mwatts, Where the coal plant it's replacing is usually around 500 Mwatts.

              Whereas most nuke plants are like 1000-2500 Mwatts.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ickleberry (864871)
      There is no one fix to this problem. For the past 100 years or so oil was an all you can drink buffet but now the end is in sight. There is talk of a Peak Uranium which may already have passed. Nuclear has its uses as a reliable base load but its not the one great solution that will solve all our energy problems.

      Solar, wind, geothermal, pumped storage all have their place but really the national grid should be designed to better accomodate micro-generation and 'unreliable' generators like wind turbines -
      • Re:This is good. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:29PM (#32971648)

        Peak Uranium? So then we move to thorium, or get uranium out of the sea, or burn our spent fuel. This is a solvable issue.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Animaether (411575)

          Although I agree in general that nuclear is the way to go for the short and mid-term (and switched electricity providers to one that offers 'red' electricity (as opposed to 'green'), your statement..

          Peak Uranium? So then we move to thorium, or get uranium out of the sea, or burn our spent fuel. This is a solvable issue.

          ..could be applied to people's stance on oil as well:
          "Peak Oil? So then we move to natural gas, or get the oil out of shale, or recover oil from plastics. This is a solvable issue."

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by GooberToo (74388)

            Except, given the *current stock* of nuclear fuels, we have enough to power the world for at least the next couple thousand years. That's not to say we currently have the reactors to burn that fuel; nonetheless the fuel supply is plentiful.

            Its one thing to say "peak uranium", its quite another thing to say, "peak nuclear fuel". The first may or may not be true. Many suspect its not. The later is most definitely is not true.

      • Re:This is good. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JackCroww (733340) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:40PM (#32971812)
        I recently was part of a discussion about energy here in the US and this was my brother's contribution:

        It's quite simple, actually. The United States has not built a nuclear power plant since the seventies. Almost all of the plants we built then, and all of the plants that are still online, are pressurized light water (PLW) designs. This means that that coolant in the reactor, which also moderates the nuclear reaction, is ordinary water under great pressure (typically at least twice the industrial norm of 600 lb/in^2 steam). A PLW reactor produces as much plutonium 239 as it consumes uranium 235. We erroneously call Pu-239 nuclear waste, and the governments since the Clinton Administration have been looking to find a place to bury it for a quarter of a million years.

        However, until the Clinton administration, your government was busy designing a better reactor. The program was called integral fast reactor, or IFR. IFR was a metal-moderated reactor. The coolant was liquid metal, sodium or lead. These elements don't moderate the neutrons, they fly unhindered through the pile. That means they can fission Pu-239. In fact, they can fission anything higher than uranium on the periodic table. That's not all a fast reactor can do, though. It can also turn anything on the other (left) half of the bottom row of the periodic table into fissionable material. That's what "fast" means in the name. The reactor produces its own fuel from thorium or uranium in its natural state! Just the uranium that has been mined to date, which we use for cannon shells once we've taken the U-235 out of it, is sufficient for 300-400 years of the US energy needs. The known reserves are good for 50,000 years or so. Uranium is more plentiful in the earth's crust than gold or tin, and there is three times as much thorium as uranium. Energy forever.

        What does "integral" mean? It means that the fuel is recycled on-site. The fuel in the IFR is in metallic, rather than ceramic form. It is simply re-smelted periodically (not the whole load, just a few rods' worth), and the slag is the only waste. The balance of the fuel plus a tiny bit of uranium or thorium in its natural state, is recast into pellets and returned to the reactor. The volume of the nuclear waste is reduced by several orders of magnitude. The nature of the waste is only the light elements that are the products of the fission reaction. They have either extremely short half lives, measured in seconds to months, or such long half lives that they are essentially stable. They are also mainly low-energy beta emitters, instead of neutron and gamma emitters. While this waste is hellishly radioactive at first, it will be less radioactive than uranium ore in less than 300 years, and reactors might produce a couple hundredweight in a fifty year lifespan, instead of thousands of tons of spent fuel rods as a PLW reactor would.

        Additional benefits of the IFR design? The fuel is in metallic form, suspended in liquid metal. It gets no hotter than the coolant, and thus cannot have a catastrophic loss of coolant, or "blow down", which is what happens if there is a leak in the primary circuit of a LWR. The fuel in a LWR is in ceramic form, and gets much hotter than the coolant (which is in turn much hotter than liquid sodium). If it were not continuously cooled, it would destroy its container and melt, hence the term "melt down." If that happens to enough fuel elements in a reactor, the fuel gathers at the bottom of the vessel and continues to react, until it melts through the bottom of vessel, or the "china syndrome." None of these is possible with the IFR design. As it gets warmer, the fuel assemblies expand and move away from each other, slowing or stopping the reaction. The IFR, in fact, was tested for this. They turned off the control system. The reactor heated slightly, and stopped working. The cut off the heat exchanger (simulating what happens if the heat exchanger or a turbine goes bad at a LWR plant)--same thing. The reactor heated slightly and shut itself down,

        • We erroneously call Pu-239 nuclear waste

          It is correctly called nuclear waste because the potential benefit of having it is a lot less than all the work required to separating it out. Machining very strong, hard, highly radioactive materials is incredibly expensive as the French have shown despite about thirty years of trying to make their reprocessing methods viable.

        • by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @08:26PM (#32973270)
          I suggest watching the current Russian efforts at getting a large liquid sodium reactor going before putting all your faith in such a thing. There are major problems to solve that the French and the US were unable to sort out in the 1990s that made such a technology unworkable at a large scale, that's the real story behind the cancelled program. If the Russians can get it to work or some local R&D can solve the problems you'll have something to talk about, but for now what you are selling as a done deal is nothing but hopeful dreaming.
          • by Hartree (191324) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @09:55PM (#32973754)

            You mean like the liquid sodium Russian BN600 (600 MW electric fast breeder power plant) that's been running since 1980?

            It's had some problems, but nothing that couldn't be repaired and put back online.

            Or maybe like the Japanese Monju plant? It had a sodium fire, but that was due to a bad design on a temperature sensor rather than anything to do with sodium itself as a coolant. It's back online now. Much of the reason it took so long was due to a scandal with the management covering up and the resulting court cases. It wasn't the technical problems that stopped it for all that time but the legal/political ones.

            Sodium reactors have been around since the 50s at least. Yes, there are problems with embrittlement and the reactivity of the coolant, but it's hardly a show stopper. They're known and manageable problems.

            What led to the shutdown of the program was the opposition of John Kerry and others, not technical problems with the sodium coolant.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by dbIII (701233)

              You mean like the liquid sodium Russian BN600

              There's plans for a larger one but I'm not sure what stage they are up to.

              It's had some problems, but nothing that couldn't be repaired and put back online.

              Very frequent repairs and replacements, which is my entire point about problems that need to be solved with large liquid metal reactors.

              It had a sodium fire, but that was due to a bad design on a temperature sensor

              Did the temperature sensor actually weaken the structure and cause the leak? Obviously not. It

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          "The coolant was liquid metal, sodium or lead. These elements don't moderate the neutrons, they fly unhindered through the pile."

          It's not all roses. For one thing these metallic coolants will all become highly radioactive themselves due to neutron activation, sodium is extremely chemically reactive (spontaneous ignition in air or H2 generation in water that then burns -- choosing non-reactive materials to go in the reactor primary coolant loop is a challenge too), and starting up/shutting down these things

          • by Hartree (191324) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @10:09PM (#32973822)

            Yes, sodium gets activated by the neutrons. Yes, it's highly radioactive then. But, it's quite short lived (15 hours for Na-24, 2.6 years for Na-22) so it's not as big a problem as you imply. Na-22 is a beta decay, so that's not problematic. Na-24 is the one that has dangerous radiation as it emits gammas. But with a 15 hour half life, it decays very quickly.

            The daughter products aren't a problem either (Ne-22 and Mg-24), they're both stable.

        • IFR cancelation: (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Hartree (191324) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @08:44PM (#32973388)

          I thought it was interesting the reason given when the cancellation of the IFR was mentioned in Clinton's first state of the union speech. It was that we would never need it, and thus it was a waste of money.

          To say the least, I disagreed.

        • by Thing 1 (178996)
          Okay, so the post ends with "go to bed hungry every night." The period is there. Then there's the "Read the rest of this comment" link, and guess what more there is to the post? FUCKING NOTHING! Just the signature. Yay, Slashdot; this isn't the first time the ridiculous "rest of this comment" algorithm has been mentioned, and I'll even give the solution: "if (size > limit && limit > size * 1.1) { chop the damned thing } else { show the whole fucking thing }" There should be no instance w
      • Re:This is good. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Urza9814 (883915) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:26PM (#32972326)

        Saying nuclear won't fulfill our needs because of "peak Uranium" is at best stupid, at worst a lie to try to stop development of nuclear power. We likely have enough fuel (Uranium, Thorium, Plutonium, etc) for _thousands of years_ at our current energy consumption. That's the electrical grid, cars, everything. If we can just make everything run on electricity and build the best reactors our scientists can design, we would be fine for hundreds of years at a _minimum_. And I think it's safe to assume we'd be switched over to fusion by then :)

        The problem is not the technology, it's not the resources, it's the regulations and the industry. We aren't building new plants because power companies aren't willing to invest large sums of money. Because regulations make it hard for them to _acquire_ large amounts of money (limits on how much profit utilities can take in.) We can't build breeder reactors because, for an extremely short period of time, they produce enriched uranium. Without breeder reactors, we can't take care of the waste problem because it lasts freakin' forever (without breeder reactors) and nobody wants it stored or transported anywhere within a thousand miles of them.

        If you got a bunch of engineers and said "figure out how to solve our energy problem", they could throw together a nuclear power system that could power the world into the next millennium - and it would be cheap, it would be clean, and it would be safe. It's only restrictions like "you can't create highly radioactive products, even for a few seconds, you can't build anything big, you can't build anywhere near populated areas, and you can't use the word 'radioactive' or 'nuclear'" that causes problems.

        • Re:This is good. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @07:23PM (#32972838) Homepage

          If you got a bunch of engineers and said "figure out how to solve our energy problem", they could throw together a nuclear power system that could power the world into the next millennium - and it would be cheap, it would be clean, and it would be safe.

          ADM Rickover thinks differently [wikiquote.org]:

          • An academic reactor or reactor plant almost always has the following basic characteristics: (1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap. (4) It is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose. (7) Very little development will be required. It will use off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now.
             
          • On the other hand a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following characteristics: (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It requires an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems. (6) It is large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated.
             
      • Re:This is good. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hackus (159037) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @07:20PM (#32972812) Homepage

        Part of this energy problem is socieconomic. Virtually no one is discussing the obvious problem of cenralizing power.

        It is not going to work.

        What should be happening is every home should have its own power system, and should be self sufficient, connected to a grid which can resell excess energy per household back to the grid for use.

        The idea of central authorities controlling all the power of whole regions is economically as well as politically dangerous.

        For example, lets talk about Obama's terrorist boogieman. What is easier to pick off, central power plants owned by a wealthy few? Or everyone's home self sufficient which provides its own energy with no one point to attack?

        Our own socieconomic models are designed for the military industrial complex to provide a reason for its existence.

        Technology could be developed to provide homes that generate all the energy they require, but it is being denied due to these and other facts which would destroy the wealthy's power structure so it cannot be permitted.

        Combinations of natural gas turbines, solar power, gas, oil, solar and wind and geothermal, nuclear and space could easily be distributed by regions household based on what energy sources are cheapest or practical.

        Change isn't hard. It is hard though when 14 families control all of the worlds energy supplies and do not look kindly upon ideas that threaten the status quo.

        -Hack

    • by Daryen (1138567)
      Well, I'm not sure how many plants we could put in the desert, as nuclear energy usually requires a large amount of water.
  • The Navy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:12PM (#32971456)
    I would assume the nuclear plants found on submarines and large warships both provide a lot of energy and are not in the category of 'extra large.'
    • Re:The Navy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:18PM (#32971526) Homepage

      I would assume the nuclear plants found on submarines and large warships both provide a lot of energy and are not in the category of 'extra large.'

      Nor are they in the category of "economical", which is what was meant by "the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive." Economically competitive, you see. Something the Navy cares about far less than, well, basically every other factor that goes into the design of a naval nuclear power plant.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The Navy's plants are "not economical" for a pretty big reason. They have to be able to withstand a shock loads (aka bombs exploding) and resulting impact of the water hammer that hits it, and not fail. Of the US Naval vessels that have sunk, I don't believe any of them have leaked contamination into the seas. They also now make plants that last for 30 years with out being refueled. Oh yea, they're also freakin WARSHIPS, maybe that contributes to the cost as well.

      • Re:The Navy? (Score:5, Informative)

        by RicktheBrick (588466) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:44PM (#32972500)
        In 1974, I was a member of the commissioning crew of the USS Virgina (CGN-38). It was nuclear powered. They made several more of that class. When they needed to be refueled they were all decommissioned. So why did the Navy want to pay for the fuel for a conventional powered ship rather than paying the expense of refueling a nuclear powered ship? It is strange since when I retired from the Navy, every ship that I had been a member had already been mothballed even those ships that were built after I had first joined. The only nuclear powered ships today are aircraft carriers and submarines. Submarines are nuclear powered since they do not need oxygen to run. Conventional powered submarines need to surface to run their diesels to recharge their batteries and thus were exposed during that time. Aircraft carriers are large enough to save money over conventional power so unless the Navy goes back to nuclear powered ships, they belief in only big nuclear reactors. It would be nice if the Navy could build a ship with nothing but laser weapons powered by a nuclear reactor.
    • I've always wondered, I mean I have a vague idea of how nuclear plants work - do subs and warships use the ocean as their water source for the reactor? Is that why it's essentially so small? Does this mean a nuclear sub dumps heavy water into the ocean? (even though its only a drop in the bathtub, so to speak)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Buelldozer (713671)

        Naval reactors are completely contained, they don't dump anything.

        • If anything they dump hotter sea water. They may take in sea water to act as cooling and dump that out. That is about it. The Navy does not want any radioactive material leaking.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I've always wondered, I mean I have a vague idea of how nuclear plants work - do subs and warships use the ocean as their water source for the reactor? Is that why it's essentially so small?

        No, the primary loop on a Naval reactor does not use seawater.

        Naval reactors are so small because the uranium they use is more highly enriched than the uranium in civilian plants.

  • Brilliant. Instead of needing to get one "back yard", you now need half a dozen.

    Actually, this could work out... smaller plant means smaller yard, right? We could put them in rougher terrain away from people.

  • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:16PM (#32971506)
    as a small nuclear plant still needs almost as much safety, inspection infrastructure not forgetting the larger number of armed guards (the nuke police had guns way before they where that common in the rest of the uk) as a big one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Amouth (879122)

      it all depends on the fuel and the process.

    • by ATestR (1060586) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:45PM (#32972516) Homepage

      Not so much. Depending on the design, a nuclear reactor can be self regulating.

      As far as producing small nuclear power plant, check out the ones soon to be marketed by Hyperion [hyperionpo...ration.com]

      .

  • The NIMBY effect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:19PM (#32971536)
    The amount of objections that citizens raise doesn't appear to be related to the size of a nuclear plant. They just seem to object to its very existence. Therefore it makes sense, that once you've got through the planning process, reviews, delays, hostility and protests you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and make the plant as large as practically possible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      You can buy heavy water, unlike that story claims. United Nuclear sells it.

  • Macondo blowout? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:23PM (#32971586) Journal

    Let's call it what it is. The BP disaster.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Macondo blowout is more specific. If you just say the BP Disaster, people aren't sure whether you're talking about the Alaskan Pipeline Incident, the explosion at the Texas City refinery, or the Macondo Blowout.

    • by chebucto (992517) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @08:21PM (#32973236) Homepage

      Why not call it the Deepwater Horizon blowout? That's the phrase everyone else seems to be using.

      It's more specific than 'BP Blowout' (for obvious reasons)

      It's also more specific than 'Macondo Blowout' (The Macondo Prospect, as wikipedia tells me, is the name of the field, which presumably might still have another blowout at some point in the future. Deepwater Horizon, having sunk to the bottom of the ocean, is unlikely to have any future blowouts.)

  • Waste of Uranium (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thms (1339227) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @05:25PM (#32971612)

    As much as nuclear energy would help reduce CO2 emissons, the the anti-nuclear crowd has to be seen as a "force of nature" making new power plants less likely. The idealist would fight against irrationality, but as a realist I would redirect that energy elsewhere, e.g. against the NIMBYs who think wind turbines ruin the coastlines and kill birds or bats.

    Also, if oil is non-renewable because it takes millions of years to re-form, then nuclear fuels are the ultimate non-renewable with a "when is the next supernova due?" regeneration period. And the energy density and relative ease of use is just too good to waste it powering our washing machines and slashdot browsing. Maybe in a few hundred years outer solar system exploration will be in a serious crunch because the lack of a good power source after all the uranium, thorium, plutonium etc. has been used up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lazn (202878)

      the anti-nuclear crowd should be renamed the anti-braincell crowd

      • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @06:24PM (#32972308) Journal

        the anti-nuclear crowd should be renamed the anti-braincell crowd

        I get frustrated by statements like this.

        I'm pro-nuclear: I took classes to become a nuclear power plant operator, once long ago, and if someone were willing to let me put a TRIGA-sized power-producing reactor in my back yard I'd jump at the chance if I got free power out of it.

        With that said: most of the people who oppose nuclear power aren't stupid. They just have a faulty set of data from which they're making judgments.

        If you believe that the potential failure mode of a process is completely unacceptable, then it's perfectly logical to be dead set against that process. Think of a Hindu trying to convince an atheist to jump off a cliff, because, the Hindu says, if it doesn't work you'll just come back as something else, so what's the risk? The atheist, however, considers the failure mode completely unacceptable, and will, rightly, refuse the gamble.

        Same thing with many opponents of nuclear power. They're not dumb, they just think a nuclear accident is an epic catastrophe. Under those circumstances, flat-out opposition is a reasonable position.

        As we've recently read on slashdot, trying to use facts to change their minds *probably* won't work.

        But calling them anti-braincell *certainly* won't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      Also, if oil is non-renewable because it takes millions of years to re-form, then nuclear fuels are the ultimate non-renewable with a "when is the next supernova due?" regeneration period. And the energy density and relative ease of use is just too good to waste it powering our washing machines and slashdot browsing. Maybe in a few hundred years outer solar system exploration will be in a serious crunch because the lack of a good power source after all the uranium, thorium, plutonium etc. has been used up.

      That's kind of a silly argument, no one is in favor of renewables -just- for the renewable aspect. It's the fact that the widely used non-renewables are mostly dirty.

      You have a point about using up the nuclear power sources, seems we always consume resources faster than we expect and only think about what's next until it's crunch time. I'd say though that we have to get through the current transition we need to do first. I'm no expert, but it seems that the experts are convinced that nuclear is one of th

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @08:10PM (#32973168) Journal
    Seriously, the majority of America's power does not come from large plants, but from small plants (50-200 mgwatt) that were built about 70-40 years ago. Many of the coal plants are Ancient and either need to be shut down or re-built. Interestingly, many of these are on a lot of land. Where life gets better is that the water required to run a coal plant is more than many nuke plants. Also, all the power lines have come into these areas. It is possible to put in nuke plants that are 50% or even 100% bigger in the same space, using either the same, or slightly more water, and be a plug-in.

    Of course, nimby will still be an issue, but most ppl will prefer a nuke over a coal.
  • Geothermal Power (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @09:13PM (#32973528) Homepage Journal

    Geothermal power plants [wikipedia.org] are the best substitute for nuke plants. They're highly efficient, create practically no emissions (especially once they're built), are fast to build and put online, present practically no security or pollution risks, and generate continuous baseloads. They don't depend on finite supplies of dirty fuel mostly produced in dirty ways mostly in foreign countries. All at scales only nuke plants have delivered. With a smart electric grid routing power around the country, even the few places where they can't be built at all (because of faultlines) can still get their power.

    • Doc, you are way off-line here. The reason why America is in trouble is because it became dependent on Fossil Fuel, mostly imported. Now, I am a HUGE fan of geo-thermal, BUT, the last thing that I want is to be fully dependent on it, or any singular form of energy. Instead, we need a matrix of energy. Ideally, each energy stream will provide no more than 1/3 of our total energy.

      Right now, Nukes provide about 18% of our electricity. As such, it provides less than 10% of total energy. Ideally, we would bri
  • Unit size (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @09:38PM (#32973664) Homepage

    There are a few useful sizes at which to build such things as nuclear reactors. One useful size is what can be transported on a railroad car or a heavy-equipment transporter truck. That's as big as you can get and still build the thing in a factory, which has substantial cost advantages over on-site construction. The upper limit for this seems to be around 135 MWe.

    Wind turbines have a size problem, too. Somewhere around 3MW, they become too big to transport assembled by road or rail, even with the blades shipped separately. Better generator design seems to help with this. Enercon has been able to get up to 10MW or so with a no-gearbox generator design and still ship the parts by road. The very large machines require more on-site assembly.

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @09:52PM (#32973728)

    First: if you're not reading The Oil Drum, you should be.

    But on to my point. The controlling factor for building nuclear power plants is not money or power, but fear. Fear of contamination controls the decade-long permitting process. Fear of terrorist attack or accident controls the number of guards, monitoring personnel, and operators who work at the plant on a daily basis. The majority of the expense of actually building the plant goes into safety and security systems.

    Now, some of these fears are reasonable. But that's not the point: the point is that a small power plant is just as scary as a large one.

    The best power plant is not the most energy efficient one, or even the one that's strictly speaking the safest. It's the one that produces the least amount of fear per gigawatt. And that means building gigantic plants.

  • Thorium Power (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hydromike2 (1457879) on Tuesday July 20, 2010 @10:13PM (#32973834)

    The future of energy is in thorium. It a) cant be weaponized, b) is cleaner, c) does not need to be throttled up like uranium. They are developing these plants in other parts of the world such as india.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iammani (1392285)
      Not to mention, it is abundant!

We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem -- how to run a sunbeam through a meter.

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