Even in Gas-Rich USA, Nuclear Energy is the Future

Nuclear demand is high where air pollution is at its worst and where economic activity is fast and furious — in Asia generally, and in China and India in particular… China and India are building half of the 60 new reactors under construction worldwide, according to Andrew Paterson of Verdigris Capital Group, which studies nuclear. __ Inside Sources

Populous Asian nations China and India are currently leading in the global race to install new nuclear power plants. Japan is in the middle of restarting its nuclear plants after a temporary post-Fukushima shutdown for maintenance and upgrades. US nuclear construction is currently stalled while its abundant deposits of cheap natural gas are being utilised for electric power generation. And most of Europe is fearfully retreating from nuclear power, even while it eagerly welcomes a much greater threat in the form of human time bombs from the third world.

Despite the temporary slowdown of new US nuclear power plant construction, in the long run there is no substitute for nuclear energy in a modern and prosperous society. In a free society, technology development never stops.

The United States is on the frontier, pioneering a generation of wholly new reactor concepts, mostly for small modular reactors and even big new reactors.

Source

We know that big wind and big solar are unreliable and intermittent. Now we should also understand that there is no such thing as affordable big wind and solar. And there never will be, no matter how good batteries eventually become.

Eventually the supplies of oil, gas, coal, and other hydrocarbons will become too expensive to burn. Whether that deadline occurs in ten years or two hundred years, improvements in nuclear reactor design will continue to be made. Newer reactors are becoming safer, cleaner, more efficient, more affordable, more reliable, better at “load following,” more versatile for CHP (combined heat and power), and more scalable. Within the next few decades — even if hydrocarbon fuels remain abundant — advancing nuclear technologies will gradually crowd older technologies out of most power applications.

Nuclear Energy is Already Reliable, High Quality, Safe, and Clean

The average wind turbine you see along the highway turns out 2 megawatts of electricity when there is wind, a trifling amount compared to the 1,600 megawatts a new nuclear plant produces continuously — and probably will produce for 100 years before it is retired.

Asia, choking on air pollution and with huge growth, needs nuclear. America is not gasping for new generation: demand is static and there is a natural gas glut… But U.S. nuclear creativity, even genius, will not rest. The United States is on the frontier, pioneering a generation of wholly new reactor concepts, mostly for small modular reactors and even big new reactors, which may first be built in China and India but, like so much else, will be “thought up in America.” __ http://www.insidesources.com/nuclear-booms-asia-new-reactor-ideas-flourish-u-s/

Image Source

Energy Densities: Orders of Magnitude

The following table from Wikipedia (Specific Energy) reveals why nuclear fission and fusion will power advanced human societies on Earth and beyond, for tens and hundreds of thousands of years:

105 2.16 NiMH rechargeable batteries
6.12 Lead acid car batteries
6.3 Li-ion watch batteries
106
107 1.6 Wood fuel
1.7 Protein (about 4 nutritional calories per gram)[1]
Carbohydrates (about 4 nutritional calories per gram)[2]
2.5 Ethanol
2.9 Alcohol (about 7 nutritional calories per gram)
3.8 Fat (about 9 nutritional calories per gram)[3]
4.4 Petrol (gasoline)[4]
6.249 Specific kinetic energy required to escape the Earth’s gravity from its surface.
108 1.2 Hydrogen
109
1010
1011
1012
1013 8.6 Nuclear fission: natural uranium in fast breeder reactor
1014 5.76 Nuclear fusion: deuterium-tritium
1015
1016 ~8.9876 Matter-antimatter annihilation: indeterminate matter and antimatter

Nuclear fission and fusion have the capacity to cleanly power advanced human societies into the indefinite future — on planet and off.

New nuclear plants are likely to produce high levels of clean, reliable, affordable power for over 100 years. The components in the best wind and solar plants, for example, lose efficiency and begin to break down in less than ten years. The most modern electric storage batteries begin to lose efficiency within a few years.

When contrasted with intermittent and unreliable forms of energy such as wind and solar, nuclear comes out far and away the winner on all counts. By abandoning newer, safer, more efficient nuclear reactors, most of Europe — and California — are walking down a road leading to energy and economic suicide.

The $2.5 trillion scandal you will never read about or hear about in the mainstream skankstream

Gen IV reactors are being designed for higher efficiency, less waste, greater safety, etc.

Generation IV reactor designs under development by GIF

neutron spectrum
(fast/ thermal)
coolant temperature
(°C)
pressure* fuel fuel cycle size(s)
(MWe)
uses
Gas-cooled fast reactors
fast
helium
850
high
U-238 +
closed, on site
1200
electricity
& hydrogen
Lead-cooled fast reactors
fast
lead or Pb-Bi
480-570
low
U-238 +
closed, regional
20-180**
300-1200
600-1000
electricity
& hydrogen
Molten salt fast reactors
fast
fluoride salts
700-800
low
UF in salt
closed
1000
electricity
& hydrogen
Molten salt reactor – Advanced High-temperature reactors thermal fluoride salts 750-1000 UO2 particles in prism open 1000-1500 hydrogen
Sodium-cooled fast reactors
fast
sodium
500-550
low
U-238 & MOX
closed
50-150
600-1500
electricity
Supercritical water-cooled reactors
thermal or fast
water
510-625
very high
UO2
open (thermal)
closed (fast)
300-700
1000-1500
electricity
Very high temperature gas reactors
thermal
helium
900-1000
high
UO2
prism or pebbles
open
250-300
hydrogen
& electricity

* high = 7-15 MPa
+ = with some U-235 or Pu-239
** ‘battery’ model with long cassette core life (15-20 yr) or replaceable reactor module.

Paradoxically, new nuclear technologies may help bring about a new age of hydrocarbons. But rather than burning most of them in combustion engines, most will likely be used for other purposes such as plastics, fertilisers, lubricants, and similar higher value commodities requiring organic feedstocks.

More

New Reactors:


More —

Light water uranium reactor vs. Molten Salt Thorium Reactor

Comparisons of efficiency and nuclear waste remaining:

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10 Responses to Even in Gas-Rich USA, Nuclear Energy is the Future

  1. Cecil Henry says:

    But, there is one problem with nuclear that can’t be denied. You have a deadly waste product not easily stored that lasts for 100,000 years plus.

    This is a crippling handicap: its far longer than human civilization by a factor of 50 minimum. How can such waste REALLY be safely stored this long?

    Unless they can solve this problem, nuclear is not a wise choice long term. Solve this, and its the ideal energy developed by far.

    • alfin2101 says:

      This is a very important question, requiring a very good reply — not in words, but in effective technologies. The most effective way of dealing with nuclear waste is to burn it up or transmute it into safer materials — and several reactor and waste treatment technologies are being devised to do just that.

      It is my opinion that nuclear waste is far too valuable to bury away in a billion-year time vault. As we get away from anti-nuclear hysteria and learn how to rationally design and build high efficiency reactors that burn 95% of fuel (as opposed to the current 5% or so) the problem will be scaled down somewhat. Fast neutron reactors, thorium fueled reactors, molten salt reactors, etc. are among the reactor designs which are meant to burn far more of the fuel than is currently done — leaving far less waste to be disposed of.

      Transmutation of the remaining small amounts of waste with neutrons should remove most of the rest. Of that which remains, several good methods have been devised for long term storage — although as you may know if you are acquainted with any die-hard anti nuke activists, for some people nothing can remove their fears.

      But let’s assume that we never learn anything and continue to produce increasing amounts of nuclear waste. Let’s do something unusual and look at nuclear waste from a logical perspective.

      Here are some common waste products in nuclear fuel and their half life:
      Isotope Half-life
      Strontium-90 28 years
      Caesium-137 30 years
      Plutonium-239 24,000 years
      Caesium-135 2.3 million years
      Iodine-129 15.7 million years

      It may not be obvious that the more radioactive the material, the shorter the half life. Some of the shorter half life materials require cooling for 40 years or so, which explains the 30 or 40 years in which sealed radioactive waste is stored in supervised pools of water. After that time period the radioactivity and heat are significantly reduced, and the waste can be more safely handled and disposed of.

      Geologic disposal is the method most likely to be used, since it is possible to store materials geologically so that they are highly unlikely to be disturbed over a billion year time scale.

      Currently, no country has a complete system for storing high level waste permanently but many have plans to do so in the next 10 years. There are a number of well-developed proposals from the USA, Sweden, Finland and France for the disposal of long-lived radio-active waste.

      All the proposed disposal techniques employ multiple barriers, as discussed above, to isolate the waste from the biosphere for at least 100,000 years. Nevertheless every one of the proposed disposal methods faces strong opposition from environmental groups and it is true that humans have never attempted to do anything on this sort of timescale. However nature has plenty of examples of systems that are stable for much longer periods. The most spectacular being the trans-uranic products of the Oklo natural nuclear reactors, which are discussed below, which have not appreciably moved in over 1.7 billion years.

      The World Nuclear Industry appears to have reached a consensus to pursue Geologic disposal as final phase of Nuclear waste management. The US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine also conclude that deep Geologic Disposal can provide a safe means of disposing high level waste. __ http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/WebHomeWasteFromNuclearPower

      As I said at the beginning of my reply, there are no words which can answer your question. Only the proper suite of technologies can do the job.

      For the time being, “Oklo-style storage” on the billion year time scale seems satisfactory to me — although I hate to see perfectly good waste being thrown away which could be used to produce reliable, affordable, and safe power and heat.

      Nuclear scientists and engineers are making excellent progress on all of these problems. There is no need to select a technology and risk it all on one throw of the dice. We have plenty of time, despite what the doomer apocalyptics have been saying for the past 50 some years.

      It will be another 50 to 100 years before the issue becomes more critical. It is important to fund the nuclear reactor research and the waste treatment, storage, and transmutation research that will be needed when nuclear energy is scaled up radically.

      We cannot count on nuclear fusion being available then. And it should be clear to anyone who has paid attention that wind, solar, and other unreliable intermittent energy sources can not affordably match output with demand — not with any type or amount of storage whatsoever

      • aWanderer says:

        I agree we cannot count on fusion particularly the ITER variant but some of the smaller players seem promising. If we can get the P-B11 reaction going we can take all those bloody wind turbines down as they’ll be utterly pointless.

  2. Dan_Kurt says:

    Hey Al,

    Where is THORIUM in this picture?

    Dan Kurt

    • alfin2101 says:

      Thorium is a fertile fuel (as opposed to fissile fuel) which offers a lot of promise for various advanced nuclear reactor designs.

      One possible use of thorium is in the enhanced CANDU reactor:

      Versatility of fuel is a claimed feature of the EC6 and its derivatives. As well as natural uranium, it can use direct recovered/ reprocessed uranium (RU) from used PWR fuel, natural uranium equivalent (NUE – DU + RU), MOX (DU + Pu), fertile fuels such as LEU + thorium and Th with Pu, and closed cycle fuels (Th + U-233 + Pu). The NUE fuel cycle with fill-core NUE is being demonstrated at Qinshan in China in CANDU-6 units*. There is also a program for the Advanced Fuel Candu Reactor (AFCR) – an adaptation of EC6 – on direct use of RU- and also LEU + thorium-based CANDU fuel. Finally a CANMOX fuel is proposed with EC6 for disposal of the UK’s plutonium stock. __ http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/advanced-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

      New reactor development to optimise efficiency, reduce waste, increase safety, lower costs, and maximise reliability and utility has just gotten started.

      While most advocates of thorium energy push for a molten salt reactor design, it is not clear where thorium will find its first wide scale usage.

  3. info says:

    You know its also good to have low-energy alternatives in place in case what the doomers predict of a slow and step by step decline is true:
    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/search?q=stages+of+collapse

    Which may occur over decades or centuries. Just like the fall of Rome.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Local communities, neighborhoods, and households should certainly have backup energy contingency plans (off-grid and micro-grids etc.) in case the main grid collapses.

      Government entities do not typically plan at the stages you describe, being unable to see beyond the next election cycle.

      We must make a clear distinction between “low-energy” sources of backup energy and “low-reliability” sources of backup energy. Intermittent energy sources — particularly unpredictably intermittent sources — can often be worse than useless in matching chaotic loads, which often defy averages calculated on seasonal, monthly and daily bases.

      Civilised power systems match supply to load, rather than the economically disastrous converse — which purveyors of unreliable intermittents assert must be done. (Trying to match a chaotic source with a chaotic load may make sense to a casual reader. Most consumers of mainstream media lack the background to see the danger.)

      Wind and solar installations do not last for many decades, and certainly not for centuries. For most power grids they are a waste of resources and potentially worse than throwing a live grenade into the control room of a modern grid control station, in terms of disrupting the safe supply of high quality energy to a general use power grid.

      It is impossible for a herald of hard times — a useful occupation if indulged in sufficient detail with documentation — to be expert or even conversant on many of the fine points of critical infrastructure. A wordsmith is often limited to an understanding on the level of words, but that level of understanding is insufficient in the real world.

      • info says:

        Agreed. Although everything you talked about is due to the existence of complex supply chains(extraction, transportation, manufacture) and technologies that are currently high-energy in nature to even be brought into existence in the 1st place.

        Can offgrid and micro-grids be handbuilt by craftsman with locally sourced materials carried by pack animals for example?

        Which is why solar and wind installations will not be able to be maintained past the threshold of EROEI when there is net energy loss overall. Because they require the existence of a suite of precision instruments that are only in existence because of concentrated energies of fossil fuels. Even the ugly concrete that wind installations requires a lot of energy.

        I think that if we fail in the nuclear endeavor. All the previous rungs of the ladder would have been gone(Fossil fuels uneconomical) and we will never recover.

        Unless all nuclear technology and infrastructure can be hand-built by craftsmen and being able to handle hazardous material safely.

        It seems our current era is our one and only chance to advance to the stars unless other sources of energy can be accessed with the technological equivalent of pre-industrial society.

        • alfin2101 says:

          Yes, it is best if we take advantage of our current levels of science and technology innovation. Climbing back up would be difficult, with no guarantee of success.

          Can offgrid and micro-grids be handbuilt by craftsman with locally sourced materials carried by pack animals for example?”

          Yes, for small wind and micro-hydro turbines, electric motors and generators. Yes for small steam boilers, primitive steam engines, and somewhat sophisticated Stirling engines. Yes for refurbishing and maintaining small diesel, gasoline, and propane electric generators from abandoned and partially broken machinery. Consider that in Cuba, US automobiles built over 60 years ago are kept running using little more than smugglers and Latin ingenuity.

          The open source ecology approach to jump-starting a civilisation is just one fascinating and creative concept which has gained adherents and admirers. Supply chains will grow up to meet the needs as they arise. The discarded junk of fallen societies will be scavenged and put to surprising use.

          New tools of additive and subtractive manufacturing are giving clever tinkers greater powers than once believed possible. Power supplies and supply chains are critical for such tools, but wise tinkers keep supplies close at hand and always in mind. This is true for material and mechanical tinkers as for electrical and electronic tinkers.

          It is understandable why doomers can often see only the collapse of things, but are blind to the elements of resurgence that exist under their noses. Some specialise in imagining how things can break down, others focus on how to maintain things, yet others concentrate on developing alternate approaches to infrastructure and basic needs, while still others conceive of ways to “black start” entire societies and civilisations.

          One of the most damning things about wind and solar, by the way, is that they are altogether incapable of black starting a power grid — but are instead far better suited for destabilising and collapsing power grids if depended upon too far. That is why they are far better suited for off grid purposes on a small scale.

          Here is a book that should be seen as a springboard for ideas: http://the-knowledge.org/en-gb/lewis-dartnell/ , just as the open source ecology group should be seen as an idea generator and focus of experimentation. If the global economy should grind to a halt along with the advanced economies of Europe, Asia, and the Anglosphere, several dozen — or several hundred experiments along such lines would spontaneously emerge.

          Most would be snuffed out or co-opted by warlords, dictators, and violent acts of all kinds. But if networked groups of energised and dangerous communities of vision could form cooperative alliances of trade and information exchange, the escalator of technology acquisition and development would provide them with powerful tools of survival and future development.

          The time to consider needs of infrastructure and supply is well in advance of any breakdown.

          Advanced nuclear technology such as “small modular reactors” may well be able to supply 50 years of high quality, load-following, easy stop and start power before the need to refuel. It is best to invest the “sunk costs” so that your legacy technology can provide a bridge to whatever comes next.

          Yes, local craftsmen (technologists) will have to do work that most people would never imagine they could, in the case of such an exigency. Best that we pursue developments that will give them as much leeway and capability as possible.

          • info says:

            Well that doomer(who has now deleted his blog and put all his posts in a book for sale) seems to base his observations on how histories actually turn out. More plausible that decline occurs step by step if it happens but due to human ingenuity all the energy guzzling technology will replaced by superior alternatives.

            Unlike the apocalypse ”the sky is falling mentality” he predicts instead a more steampunk like future rather than cyberpunk due to the latter’s energy intensive nature.

            And he actually talks about salvage economies as well quite similar to yours.

            While current industrialization is good in many ways. Its unfortunate that it is aesthetically hideous and (with the exception of more modern tech) polluting.

            Hopefully there is more and better craftsmanship so that it not only works but matches or even exceeds the aesthetic excellencies of pre-industrial works of buildings and objects.

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