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Earth Power Hardware

CERN Physicist Warns About Uranium Shortage 581

eldavojohn writes "Uranium mines provide us with 40,000 tons of uranium each year. Sounds like that ought to be enough for anyone, but it comes up about 25,000 tons short of what we consume yearly in our nuclear power plants. The difference is made up by stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium — which should be completely used up by 2013. And the problem with just opening more uranium mines is that nobody really knows where to go for the next big uranium lode. Dr. Michael Dittmar has been warning us for some time about the coming shortage (PDF) and has recently uploaded a four-part comprehensive report on the future of nuclear energy and how socioeconomic change is exacerbating the effect this coming shortage will have on our power consumption. Although not quite on par with zombie apocalypse, Dr. Dittmar's final conclusions paint a dire picture, stating that options like large-scale commercial fission breeder reactors are not an option by 2013 and 'no matter how far into the future we may look, nuclear fusion as an energy source is even less probable than large-scale breeder reactors, for the accumulated knowledge on this subject is already sufficient to say that commercial fusion power will never become a reality.'"
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CERN Physicist Warns About Uranium Shortage

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  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:27AM (#30129240)
    What about plutonium and other radioactive materials? (first post? hehehe)
    • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:32AM (#30129336) Journal

      You'd have to re-enrich, which is the whole problem. We're not geared to do that on a large scale right now, and we won't be for a while.

      Hopefully this will kick some asses into actually looking into re-enrichment. Most of the waste problems we have are due to our refusal to use the existing methods.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )

        You'd have to re-enrich, which is the whole problem.

        He talks about that. According to TFA, no one has come up with a practical, economic (at current price levels) re enrichment (breeder reactor) system. So, it's theoretically possible (along with a host of other things), but technically very difficult and likely not a good strategy to pin one's hopes on.

        • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:53AM (#30129660) Journal

          No, I know it's do-able, and I've actually been agitating in that direction for a long time. Re-enriching nuclear waste makes more sense (to me) than dumping tons of usable, highly radioactive, quarter-spent fuel in landfills that no one wants within a million miles of their house.

          But the problem is mainly that re-enrichment is frowned upon because it creates tons of weapons-grade plutonium, so the only plants we have are clunky, inefficient, research plants. We'd have to redesign them for commercial use.

          • by Kartoffel ( 30238 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:14AM (#30129970)

            We're not running out of uranium. We are running out of *enriched* uranium. Fast breeder reactors (FBRs) solve the problem because they (a) run on plutonium and (b) transmute depleted uranium and other "waste" products from legacy reactors into useful fuel.

            FBRs can can reprocess or dispose of weapons material and spent fuel from legacy nuke plants. Once bootstrapped with plutonium, they'll happily run on crap that your typical nuke plant considers useless waste. They're also more efficient. Would you rather have 100 tons of waste annually from a thermal reactor plant, or 2 tons from a breeder reactor? It's radiocative either way.

            Expecting anyone to bring a commercial FBR online before 2013 is ludicrous. You'd be hard pressed to complete even a boring coal fired plant in that short of a timeframe. FBRs are also "scary" and utterly taboo for anyone besides trusted friends to own or operate, because the fuel that they produce happens to be plutonium that's great for making bombs. So, ummm, as with any nuke plant, you maintain a certain level of security. It ought to be common sense.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_breeder_reactor [wikipedia.org]
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor#Fast_reactors [wikipedia.org]

            • by mrdoogee ( 1179081 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:29AM (#30130192)

              Without good security you'll get Libyans stealing your plutonium, and then some crazy scientist gets a hold of it and puts it in a DeLorean....

            • by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:33AM (#30130242)

              The problem, as I understand it from TFA, is that the existing designs for FBRs are enormously expensive and dangerous --- not just because of the plutonium stockpile, but because they're cooled with liquid sodium. Most of the safety advances in modern reactors haven't been replicated to the FBR technology yet. We're not even sure how to do it.

              As for the "securing plutonium is easy" argument, well --- geez, any engineer will tell you that making things work is the easy part. Making them work in the face of malicious actors, now, that's the hard problem.

              Effectively securing that plutonium may be possible in the more developed nations (though there are risks). However, any solution that significantly reduces CO2 emissions is going to require global deployment. That means not just first-world countries, but "second" and third-world ones. Countries with political instability, criminal gangs, and in some cases nasty dictators. TFA is pointing out that every FBR will have enough plutonium lying around to build at least one fission device, possibly more. As the number of reactors hits the thousands, the probability that some will be stolen/misappropriated rapidly approaches one. This means wide-scale nuclear proliferation, the very real threat of cities being nuked, etc. And it's a problem that can't be put back in the bag even if we do eventually develop a safer technology. That will make civilization enormously more painful and expensive as we go forward.

              The author appears to be advocating Thorium reactors as a solution. No idea if this is the right idea, but he seems to know more than myself or the parent poster, so I won't dismiss him with a handwave.

              • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @12:06PM (#30130670)

                From a quick reading he does hand wave quite a bit.
                Anything that's not a full scale commercial enterprise doesn't exist and never will.... research is pointless.
                For the uranium from seawater thing he talks about the cost of the experiment rather than any kind of estimated costs of large scale extraction.

                It seems to boil down to "we're not getting much uranium out of the ground right now while prices are low and we have massive stockpiles keeping prices low.... hence somehow people won't start mining more as the price of uranium goes up again....."

            • by __aamnbm3774 ( 989827 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:34AM (#30130260)
              I am supporting your evidence, but found this more concise

              Here [wikipedia.org]:

              Current economic uranium resources will last for over 100 years at 2006 consumption rates, while it is expected there is twice that amount awaiting discovery. With reprocessing and recycling, the reserves are good for thousands of years.[42]

            • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:59AM (#30130578) Homepage Journal

              ``Would you rather have 100 tons of waste annually from a thermal reactor plant, or 2 tons from a breeder reactor? It's radiocative either way.''

              Well, there's radioactive, radioactive, and radioactive, so saying "it's radioactive either way" is not very informative. How dangerous is it and how long will it stay that way?

              I am sure that virtually everything I will come into contact with during my entire live will be radioactive, but it will probably emit so little radiation that I don't bother even thinking about it. Similarly, a small amount of highly radioactive matter doesn't bother me a lot, either; it will decay in a flash and then life will be back to normal.

              What I am bothered by, though, is the idea of creating large amounts of material that will be dangerous long after we are gone. Past generations haven't made my life miserable by making my world a nuclear/toxic/what-have-you waste dump, and I'd like to not do so to the generations that come after me, either.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                Reactors produce radioactive waste which would be a significant hazard leaked into the environment. Neither product is inherently safer, and has to be handled and stored with utmost care.
                The advantage of fast-breeders is that they produce only a tiny fraction of waste that other designs do. In other words, we could switch to breeder reactors and produce significantly less waste than we do today. In fact, by reprocessing fuel we could completely alleviate expansion of future waste, and we would still only ha

            • by init100 ( 915886 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @01:19PM (#30131790)

              Fast breeder reactors (FBRs) solve the problem because they ... (b) transmute depleted uranium and other "waste" products from legacy reactors into useful fuel.

              FBRs can can reprocess or dispose of weapons material and spent fuel from legacy nuke plants. Once bootstrapped with plutonium, they'll happily run on crap that your typical nuke plant considers useless waste.

              Um, no. Breeder reactors can produce fuel for other reactors by irradiating natural uranium with neutrons, which produces primarily plutonium-239 with several other minor byproducts. They cannot by themselves reprocess spent fuel ("waste") into usable fuel, although they can play a (minor) part of this process.

              There are several steps that spent fuel must pass before it can be used as fresh fuel in a common LWR again. To begin with, the spent fuel contains a lot of nuclear poisons that prevent the reactor from retaining the nuclear chain reaction, so these must first be removed from the spent fuel. This is not done in a breeder reactor, but rather using centrifuges similar to the ordinary enrichment process. This produces two products: Real waste, and a precursor to fresh fuel. The waste can be transmuted into less dangerous waste in a breeder reactor or an accelerator-driven reactor. The fuel precursor then needs to have elements such as plutonium removed (unless it is meant to be part of Mox fuel) before it can be recast into its ceramic form and used again in an ordinary LWR.

              As noted above, a breeder can be used to transmute the real waste into less dangerous waste, but its primary function is to transmute natural and depleted uranium into usable isotopes through neutron capture in that uranium. Breeders are not reprocessing facilities.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )
            If you haven't yet, I'd read TFA (and the others in the set). I don't pretend to be an expert in this - the author does - and he points out several very serious caveats to a useful breeder cycle. Of course, it's not impossible but it's also not necessarily economically or technically feasible.
    • by Useful Wheat ( 1488675 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:35AM (#30129380)

      The problem is that plutonium is a man-made material. We make it from uranium by bombarding it with high energy particles. So if you run out of uranium, you also run out of plutonium. This is of course dependant on us not discovering alchemy in the next 10 years. To be honest, that would be pretty awesome, if watching TV has taught me anything.

      • by David Jao ( 2759 ) <djao@dominia.org> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:55AM (#30130520) Homepage

        The problem is that plutonium is a man-made material. We make it from uranium by bombarding it with high energy particles. So if you run out of uranium, you also run out of plutonium. This is of course dependant on us not discovering alchemy in the next 10 years. To be honest, that would be pretty awesome, if watching TV has taught me anything.

        You're right, but also wrong. Plutonium is made from U238 (emphasis on 238). The nuclear fuel that we're using right now is U235. There is one hundred and fifty times more U238 in the ground than U235. So, by switching to plutonium, we expand the available supply of uranium by a factor of 150.

        The whole debate about uranium fuel reserves is totally ludicrous. An utterly simple back of the envelope calculation demonstrates that the Earth contains sufficient uranium to supply fission power for billions of years [stanford.edu]. Uranium fuel will last literally longer than solar power (since the sun's remaining lifetime is only 5 billion years). Yet periodically we see attention whores showing up in Slashdot articles and crying that we will run out of uranium, a statement which is so obviously wrong that it is hard to explain by incompetence and bordering on the realm of malice.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by epee1221 ( 873140 )
          From the summary, it looks like Dittmar isn't saying the world will run out of uranium, just that we can't mine it as fast as we use it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Plutonium is man-made. It's more of a method for energy storage than an energy source.

      Which is what makes Uranium nice since we can just dig it out of the ground. And I think that the claim that we don't know where to dig next is a little overblown. Uranium decays naturally into Radon gas which seeps up from the ground. That is, you can detect a Uranium deposit by gas chromatography and without digging.

  • I mention this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:28AM (#30129254) Homepage Journal

    Everytime nuclear fission comes up as a possible viable alternative. Peak Uranium is as real as peak oil, and it's here now.

    • Re:I mention this (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:29AM (#30129280) Homepage Journal

      And oh yea, we should be investigating Thorium reactors. Thorium is plentiful in the Earth's crust. That's a better way to go than uranium.

    • by omeomi ( 675045 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:34AM (#30129362) Homepage
      Am I the only one who's starting to think that as soon as we put all of our eggs in the solar energy basket, somebody will come along and say that we're almost out of sun?
      • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:37AM (#30129438) Journal

        Solar power IS nuclear power, we've just offshored the actual reactor. Some loss of energy occurs during transport, though.

        If we run out of Sun, running my hairdryer is going to get really low on my list of priorities, really fast.

        • by melikamp ( 631205 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:07AM (#30129896) Homepage Journal
          This [youtube.com] hairdryer?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Again ( 1351325 )

          Solar power IS nuclear power, we've just offshored the actual reactor. Some loss of energy occurs during transport, though.

          If we run out of Sun, running my hairdryer is going to get really low on my list of priorities, really fast.

          Wait... I thought Oracle was fixing that.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by prefec2 ( 875483 )

          You want to go out with wet hair in winter?

    • Re:I mention this (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LSD-OBS ( 183415 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:35AM (#30129378)


      Fund. Fucking. Thorium. Fuel. Cycle. Research.


      • Blah blah U233, blah blah, weapons grade, blah blah blah.

        In terms of pure science, all this stuff is common sense, but you have to overcome the political angle as well.

        Fund. Fucking. Thorium. Fuel. Cycle. Research.

        They've already done the first two items on your list. Thorium should be next.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      1 Where have not been any new Uranium mines opened in many years because of the low demand and price. In fact a lot of uranium mines have closed for that very reason.
      2. We have not used much of the stockpiled Plutonium of which there is a a good amount.
      3. We have a lot of un reprocessed nuclear fuel which contains a lot of usable fuel.
      4. We are not using breeder reactors on a large scale which will greatly increase the supply of nuclear fuel.
      Peak Uranium will happen but we also can use Thorium as a fuel and

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dan Ost ( 415913 )

        Does research continue on OTEC? It seems like it's been years since I read about any active OTEC projects.

        In regards to your concern about wind power, a mindbogglingly large amount of energy passes through the atmosphere daily (absorbed and released). I can't imagine that wind farms could possibly have a significant impact. Whether or not it amounts to anything, it is good to think about such things.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zippthorne ( 748122 )

        The last time I did back-of-the-envelope math on it, uranium looks like 50 years worth of proven reserves, 500 or so with reprocessing, and close to 50,000 years if you use thorium, assuming you use it for *all* the energy needs, the use per-person will resemble the first world energy needs, and the global population continues to follow the logistic curve with an asymptote between 9 and 12 billion people.

        Which, IMO, gives us plenty of time to get the next energy generating technology going, probably solar-t

    • Re:I mention this (Score:4, Insightful)

      by confused one ( 671304 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:00AM (#30129786)
      There's no uranium shortage. There's a U235 shortage. Sure, our infrastructure, such that it is, is based for the most part on U235 cores. It's not terribly difficult to use mixed oxide as a supplement in an existing reactor, once you have the Pu239 or U233; so, the existing reactors are not left out in the cold (I meant that as a pun). But considering the U.S. infrastructure is 30-40 years old, and we need to start building new(-er) reactors to supplement and replace those, it would be a good idea to design some of those to use the alternatives: U238 is available in fairly large quantities (Hell, we have it in south central Virginia) and Thorium 232 is available in larger quantities. Both yield fissionable fuels in "breeder" reactors.
  • we're well and truly out of uranium when our harvesters are going all over the damned map looking for it and we have to start sending engineers to uranium spikes right?
  • ... is that as soon as it becomes a reality, it becomes a commodity. More energy out than in? No business model there, it's all free!

    Nobody wants to invest in a commodity. It's a cash sink. No profit in selling "free."
    • Too bad we're talking about FISSION.

      Anyway, it's never FREE. Even if the process is better than break even, that doesn't mean FREE. Oil wells are better than break even, and you don't hear anyone talking about "free oil". The best you're ever going to get with energy is cheap, not free.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by agentgonzo ( 1026204 )
        When the first started building nuclear reactors in the 60s (is that correct? I wasn't around then) they imagined that they'd be able to produce so much electricity so cheaply that they wouldn't need to charge for it and electricity would be free.

        Look how that panned out.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Exactly. I'd like to think we weren't so naive anymore. There is a cost to everything, and a downside to every type of energy generation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ... is that as soon as it becomes a reality, it becomes a commodity. More energy out than in? No business model there, it's all free!

      Nobody wants to invest in a commodity. It's a cash sink. No profit in selling "free."

      Actually, most of the things you buy on a routine basis are commodities, so obviously a lot of people believe in investing in them.

      Also, I hate to burst your bubble, but fusion won't be "free".

      Even after we learn how to build one that works, we'll still have the moderately colossal expense

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 )

      Doc Smith thought of this in the Skylark Series. The hero discovers total liberation of mass-energy from matter, and assumes the rational thing is to sell the energy at prices so low it's practically free -- he'll still get filthy rich. The bad guys realize that if they get a *monopoly* on the process, they can sell the energy at just enough below current market prices to drive competition out of business.

      If ultra-cheap fusion becomes technically feasible, the race will be to get working plants on line so

  • arent the Indians using that now and its more plentiful

  • You can extract dramatically more energy from a supply of uranium by using them and the by-products have a shorter half-life. I'm sure that by now safe, redundant control system can be built to keep them safe. Just NIMBY (not in my backyard).
  • by Dark Fire ( 14267 ) <clasmc@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:36AM (#30129412)

    Why not build Thorium-based reactors instead? The material is 100x more abundant. The USA has an ample natural supply. You get 10 times the energy because you don't have the 238 problem. There is almost no waste and the byproducts decay within a human lifetime. And you can't use them to make nuclear weapons.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mellon ( 7048 )

      That last part is why. :'|

      • And you can't use them to make nuclear weapons.

        That last part is why. :'|

        And also ridiculously misinformed. From wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

        The thorium fuel cycle creates mainly Uranium-233 which can be used for making nuclear weapons, and since there are no neutrons from spontaneous fission of U-233, U-233 can be used easily in a gun-type nuclear bomb. Thorium can and has been used to power nuclear energy plants using both the modified traditional Generation III reactor design and prototype Generation IV reactor designs.

        Citation here [harvard.edu].

        • by kc8tbe ( 772879 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @12:43PM (#30131132)

          If you read the *entire* Wikipedia article on the Thorium fuel cycle, you would understand why Thorium is proliferation resistant instead of calling the parent "ridiculously misinformed".

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle [wikipedia.org]

          "Because the 233U produced in thorium fuels is inevitably contaminated with 232U, thorium-based used nuclear fuel possesses inherent proliferation resistance. Uranium-232 can not be chemically separated from 233U and has several decay products which emit high energy gamma radiation. These high energy photons are a radiological hazard that necessitate the use of remote handling of separated uranium and aid in the passive detection of such materials."

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor [wikipedia.org]

          "It is verifiable because the epithermal thorium breeder produces only at most 9% more fuel than it burns in each year. Building bombs quickly will take power plants out of operation."

          Basically, because almost all naturally occurring Thorium is 232Th, it's possible to isolate Thorium fuel chemically -- without centrifugation. In other words, a country that uses Thorium exclusively for fuel has no reason to develop centrifugation technology. On the other hand, separating 233U from 232U requires centrifugation. Thus, aforementioned countries would be unable to access the 233U they produce for bomb-building purposes.

          Also, the poor breeder coefficient of 233U Thorium reactors means that most of the 233U produced by the reactor is required to produce the neutrons that convert fertile Thorium into more 233U. If you were to remove the 233U from the reactor for use in a bomb, you would halt additional production of 233U by the reactor. Either you would have to harvest very little 233U over a long period of time, or you would have to supplement the Thorium fuel with some other fissile material such as bomb-grade plutonium (and if you already had access to that, you wouldn't be trying to produce bomb-grade material in the first place).

          While it's possible to produce a bomb using a the thorium fuel cycle, it is inefficient and requires advanced centrifugation technology to mitigate the 232U. It would be easier to just start with uranium ore.

    • Just to silence the "citation please" trolls who can't use google:

      Energy from Thorium [blogspot.com]
      Nuclear Green [blogspot.com]

      Disclaimer: the second link goes to my uncle's blog. My grandfather worked on the original liquid fluoride thorium reactor at ORNL, and my uncle has advocated the technology for quite some time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rising Ape ( 1620461 )

      Pretty much none of that is correct, unfortunately. Thorium is more abundant than uranium, but not by such a massive factor. There's no fissile isotope of thorium, so we'd have to start them on uranium. Current reactors will not breed in the thorium cycle, and it's questionable to what extend this is practical. The waste lasts for hundreds of years, reprocessing and fabrication for thorium fuel is not developed and U-233 (which the fissile isotope in the thorium cycle) certainly could be used to make a nucl

      • by VShael ( 62735 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @11:42AM (#30130366) Journal

        "The people working on ITER clearly don't agree."

        Er, no.

        There are plenty of people working on ITER who do agree. But they figure that it's a worthy endeavor without necessarily being a commercially viable final product. (ie They think we'll learn a lot from doing it.)

        Plus, it's funded by the EU and they're just throwing money it at with very little expectation of anything in return.

  • Uranium mines provide us with 40,000 tons of uranium each year. Sounds like that ought to be enough for anyone,

    Yeah, yeah, I know what that was building up to:

    "40k ought to be enough for anyone", &c.

  • Iranium? (Score:5, Funny)

    by vvaduva ( 859950 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:41AM (#30129488)

    Uranium is for infidels and suckers. Iranium is the future of nuclear development!

  • And this is why we need to diversify our energy production. There are other radioactive sources we can use as fuel. Thorium, plutonium, and other nuclear 'waste' can still be used as long as we build reactors for them. (Once the public gets its head out of its ass and stops this ZOMG nucular waste dirty bombs terrists nonsense. But what are the odds of that?)

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:43AM (#30129524)
    Helium-3 is used for absolute-zero experiments and nuclear material detectors, both which have been increasing rapidly. Its is mainly produced as a byproduct of nuclear weapons product, which has been on the downswing. The net result are shortages and massive price increases.
  • Non-issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:44AM (#30129536)

    Areva quotes their fuel costs as roughly 17% of total cost of nuclear power with half of that being the cost of the uranium ( rest being enrichment and fuel-rod fabrication )

    This means that even if uranium costs were to double the cost of nuclear power would increase by less than 9%.

    Conversely for the price of nuclear power do double from uranium costs alone the cost of uranium would have to increase 10 times. Long before that happens it would become economical to build fast breeder reactors and they only need a fraction of the fuel other reactors do.

    Also at such high uranium prices it would start being economical to extract uranium from sea-water, effectively making uranium availability a non-issue for thousands of years.

  • 1. This is a real issue. We are running out of Uraniumn (and yes, the price is going up and quite a few people have made a killing buying Uraninum mine stocks).

    2. But no, we are not running out. There is plenty of Uraninum, we just need to mine it. We stopped mining it when the Russians began dissasembling their nukes. It was a lot cheaper to buy it from them (not to mention safer, as we ended up with the uranium instead of less reputable people).

    3. All we have to do is start enriching, prospectin

  • Maybe this is what the Mayan calendar was really predicting, the shortage of all natural resources, oil, food, uranium, coal, gold, natural gas, water (aliens stealing it) etc.

    Just sayin what everyone else is thinkin.

  • > the accumulated knowledge on this subject is already sufficient
    > to say that commercial fusion power will never become a reality.

    In the veriest fraction of a second that this idea becomes
    Conventional Wisdom, the first commercially-viable fusion
    reactor will start up without a hitch.

  • Research (Score:5, Informative)

    by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:50AM (#30129622)

    For those who didn't read (the rather dense) TFA, a big part of his objection is that we don't have a good, safe technology for breeder reactors, and that our existing reactor designs require Uranium which is something of a limited resource. I've seen estimates that we have maybe 70 years of the stuff around if we went totally nuclear, but those could be high or low -- who knows (and the cost will be astronomical when we start to run short of it). Breeder reactors can extend the fuel lifetime for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the existing breeder reactors that we do have tend to be very unsafe and expensive, using things like liquid sodium (catches fire when it contacts air) for coolant.

    This brings me to my main point: the current state of nuclear reactor technology is not sustainable. Most Slashdot nuclear advocacy goes like this: (a) start building reactors now, (b) don't worry about fuel supplies, we'll just build breeder reactors. The problem is that the reactors we build in step (a) may be entirely incompatible with the breeder reactors, and we may not be able to build enough of the breeders in (b) safely to move to this technology in the near term.

    Both of these problems can probably be solved with technological developments, which means spending a lot of money on nuclear research. It does not necessarily mean "go out and build reactors", "give subsidies to the nuclear industry", which seems to be the preferred policy action of many nuclear advocates. I think this needs to be understood.

  • Well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @10:54AM (#30129690)

    Nuclear's a dying industry, and not for the reason commonly cited.

    Fact is, it is ALREADY much more expensive to build new nuclear reactor capacity than it is to put up new windmills (which are in turn much more expensive than natural gas or coal)

    I suspect that even when you factor in the cost of storage, as long as you use something like a compressed air cavern for storage, then wind is still cheaper.

    I predict that less than 10 new nuclear fission plants for commercial power generation will ever be built in the United States over the rest of human history.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I have no idea where you get your facts, but I look at tables that compare various energy sources and the cost of electricity associated with them. If you build plants of all available types nuclear is the cheapest, by a large margin. The most expensive being solar. Solar was something around 3x the price as nuclear.

      There are may reasons why studies show skewed results when comparing numbers. Alot of nuclear power plants were built and then never produced a single kWh of electricity. Those costs are in

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sunspot42 ( 455706 )

        You aren't factoring in the cost of liability insurance for nuclear power plants and nuclear waste dumps.

        Oh, that's right - nuclear power plants don't really pay all that much for liability insurance. Why is that? Oh yeah, because the government doesn't require them to - I think the pool they do pay into is currently sitting on a pitiful $10 billion in cash, which could easily be wiped out by a single nuclear accident. So, why aren't they forced to carry at least a few billion in coverage per-plant, the

  • by dentin ( 2175 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @01:16PM (#30131742) Homepage

    I first read through this article when it was first posted on the oil drum weeks ago, and at the time it just seemed ... wrong, somehow. I've since spent a lot of time doing my own research and reading on the topics, and I feel Dr. Dittmar has been intellectually dishonest in at least a few areas. Further, the organization of the article is terrible, mixing sections and topics in a confusing fashion. I suspect this is intentional.

    Prime examples of issues in the article:

      - He uses nonstandard terminology with respect to breeding gain, and in several places uses phrases such as 'has only a maximum theoretical breeding gain of 0.7' in a context that implies that anything below 1.0 is not self-sustaining. Once armed with a better understanding of the terminology I was able to put his comments into proper context, but this just made the negative spin obvious instead of allowing it to slip under the radar.

      - He makes the claim that no thorium breeder has ever reached breakeven, when in fact the very first one assembled had a net gain after operation.

      - He makes the claim that no currently online breeder reactors are at breakeven, combined with claims that breeder reactors are a huge proliferation concern, neglecting the fact that most currently operational breeders were designed explicitly to have slightly less than breakeven gain precisely to address proliferation concerns.

    In short, while he may be competent and he may be very experienced, there is a clear agenda behind this. The paper contains a substantial amount of spin and FUD, and further is organized in such a fashion as to make it difficult to analyze. I would firmly lump it into the 'armchair FUD' category instead of 'unbiased scientific position paper'. YMMV.

  • by anorlunda ( 311253 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @01:33PM (#30132072) Homepage

    In Sweden, there is said to be a whole mountain of uranium; enough to supply all the world's reactors for 100 years. World wide there are numerous other low-grade sources.

    The trouble is, that these are low grade ores and it costs more to extract the uranium.

    The point is there is a continuous curve (sorry I don't have that curve to show you)of the size of uranium supply versus the cost of extracting it. Therefore, it is not a matter of uranium shortage it is a question of energy costs.

    Since nuclear power is so saddled with the sky high cost of meeting safety and environmental requirements, I'm not sure how much uranium contributes to the total cost. If uranium is only 10% of the cost of a Mwh, then doubling the cost of uranium adds only 10% to the cost. Perhaps another slashdotter can post the actual cost breakdowns for today's nukes.

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