Nuclear Power

Way back in August 1988 on Usenet I wrote:

Waste heat does not contribute significantly to global warming. It is all
(if it’s really happening – we probably won’t be sure until its too late)
caused by the greenhouse effect. I agree with Brad – burning fossil fuels
could well be more harmful to the environment than nuclear power.

The evidence I’ve seen since then has convinced me that it is almost certain that greenhouse gases are causing warming and that burning fossil fuels is more harmful than nuclear power.

Fran Barlow kicked off a discussion on nuclear power in the open thread with this comment, concluding:

Frankly, I believe we do have to factor in very substantial amounts of nuclear energy if we are to have any realistic hope of avoiding a human catastrophe. This course is not without its risks, but then, this is true of any system configuration we can adopt. What seems inevitbale though is that if we become stuck in old arguments about what is natural and what is not, about big centralised technological fixes and small local ones, we may authort a future in which no substantial part of our vision is capable of realisation, and that, I take it, would be self-evidently paradoxical. If we leftists continue to block with the enemies of nuclear power, then the big winners will not be wind and solar thermal, but dirty coal and dirty liquid fuels and the losers will be all of working humanity.


We ought, I believe to propose an immediate plan of replacing the 1000 worst coal fired power stations with the best equivalent nuclear replacements. This one line item could cut the output of CO2 from coal fired electricity by about 72% and likewise cut emission of toxic particulate by whatever the antecedents were producing in the fuel cycle. A whole brace of coal miners would lose their jobs, but their lives and health and those even of their children would be extended. That latter is surely something over which every leftist could feel a warm inner glow, particularly since the bulk of these deaths would be avoided in places where the said miners are poorest.

Barry Brook argues that fourth generation reactors will eliminate most of the drawbacks of current nuclear technology:

This is the technology of the future. And it solves a lot of other problems that are currently associated with nuclear power. One of the biggest is, we’ve generated all of this nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel that we have to manage for 100,000 years. Well the rather neat thing about the new technology, which is called generation four nuclear power is that it takes that waste and uses that as fuel.

Here at Scienceblogs we have Matt Springer and Ethan Siegel in favour and Benjamin Cohen against.

Comments

  1. #1 DavidCOG
    September 8, 2009

    > …it is almost certain that greenhouse gases are causing warming…

    Sorry to nitpick, Tim, but that seems a little wishy washy at this stage in the game – there is no reasonable doubt that GHGs are dangerously warming the planet. The IPCC FAR gives 90%+ certainty – and that was determined on 5+ year-old science. The evidence accumulated in the interim moves certainty as close to 100% that it makes no difference – ACC is fact.

    As for nuclear, I’m ideologically opposed but have recently accepted that we do need to start building reactors – anything is preferable to coal, [the following video is good demonstration of why](http://fora.tv/2009/08/18/A_REALLY_Inconvenient_Truth_Dan_Miller)

  2. #2 TerjeP
    September 8, 2009

    I’ll repeat what I said the other day on John Quiggins blog:-

    We can’t continue to ignore nuclear energy. It is the elephant in the room for these sorts of discussions (carbon emissions). Consider this:-

    1. An Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) produces about 100 times more energy compared to a conventional Light Water Reactor. The fuel to power the energy needs of your entire life would be about the size of a golf ball.

    2. If fueled using nuclear waste an IFR reduces the worlds stockpile of nuclear waste. Both quantitatively and qualitatively.

    3. Using IFRs the worlds current stock pile of nuclear waste could provide all our current energy needs for a period of 700 years with no requirment to mine additional uranium or fossil fuels.

    4. Processing the worlds nuclear waste via an IFR is cheaper than the current and proposed storage options.

    5. In nuclear accident terms IFR reactors are fail safe. If control is lost they shut down rather than melt down. Not through applied controls but throught natural physices. You could fly a plane into an IFR reactor or cut off the cooling system and it will not go into melt down. It can’t.

    6. We have over 300 operating years of experience with large scale IFR equivalent reactors. They are proven technology.

    7. Nuclear power can easily be cost competitive with fossil fuels. In fact it is generally cheaper.

    8. If built in tandem with desalination plants the heat generating capacity of an IFR can be switched to creating cheap fresh water production whenever there is any slack in electricity demand. In fact this has been done in a large scale nuclear plant in the past.

    9. An IFR is quick to build.

    10. All that stands in the way of scaling up such a solution is politics. Otherwise there are no technical or commercial barriers.

    11. Even if we only removed (or reformed) the red tape in nations that currently have some form of nuclear power anyway, this would still allow us to elliminate most of the worlds energy related CO2 emissions via this single technology.

  3. #3 Mark
    September 8, 2009

    And because of the hawk’s hawking (pun unintended) of the terrist threat, your solution is no solution to world power needs.

    The red tape is to stop someone legging it with 50lbs of reactor-grade Uranium and making dust of it to spew in a busy national rail terminal.

  4. #4 TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 8, 2009

    Actually the red tape in Australia goes beyond that and makes it illegal to produce electricity using a nuclear reactor. And I don’t think this is a case of accidental regulatory overshoot.

    The world already has a huge stockpile of nuclear waste. IFRs are a good way to use up that waste and get electricity as part of the deal. The alternative is ongoing storage of this waste for 100,000 years which entails worse security problems.

  5. #5 Joe
    September 8, 2009

    It doesn’t seem as though we can rely on Light Water Reactors. From The Future of Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fiction Part III: How (un)reliable are the Red Book Uranium Resource Data?
    “The following … studies are from groups that favor nuclear energy. They find that even a small 1% annual nuclear power growth scenario will be faced with serious and unsolved uranium supply problems during the first half of the 21st century.

    * A report published in 2002 entitled: A Technological Roadmap for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems points out that the known conventional uranium resources will only last between 30-50 years. Thus, a new conventional nuclear power plant, which might be operational in 2020, may only obtain uranium fuel until sometime between 2040 and 2050.

    * A 2007 M.I.T. study group concluded that “lack of fuel may limit U.S. nuclear power expansion” .”

  6. #6 GRLCowan
    September 8, 2009

    I see the Yamal is again moving arctic ice researchers around the arctic.

    Gruntled neighbours, including voluntary neighbours such as these, are a good advertisement for nuclear power.

    Dividing cumulative uranium consumption for land-based nuclear electricity production by the world’s present population yields an amount on the order of 200 grams per person, mined at a cost ~$25. Government and industry are sad that they didn’t get, instead, several hundred dollars per person in fossil fuel money. Sad, and also angry, and willing to say, or pay to have said, anything to prevent much greater future losses.

    If you get a government cheque, and oppose nuclear energy, you may think you do so on principle, but in fact, with you, it is not the principle, it is the money.

    — G.R.L. Cowan (‘How fire can be domesticated’)
    http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/

  7. #7 Jeremy C
    September 8, 2009

    I have reluctantly come to agree with Fran et al that nuclear is a way out wrt to emissions and because of lots of factors such as mindsets we are going to have to go for it.

    WRT to operating IFRs I’m still wondering whether recycling spent fuel rods is gonna have to be done in central facilities or whether it is possible and economic to carry this out where an IFR is sited. It seems to me that as an engineer getting this part right is one of the key things to making IFR successful.

    However, in my view IFR is just a technical fix. One reason I am reluctant about technical fixes as an engineer is they rarely address the underlying problems. E.g. we need IFR to replace coal to stop emissions which are basicaly due to the belief that growth, in all its forms, is the only way forward for our society. Lets hope we can get things like IFR to replace energy supply and reduce emissions drastically but I don’t think thats gonna ‘fix’ everything as we will still have the paradigms that have caused too many emissions in the first place.

  8. #8 TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 8, 2009

    A report published in 2002 entitled: A Technological Roadmap for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems points out that the known conventional uranium resources will only last between 30-50 years.

    Existing stockpiles of nuclear waste could power the world for hundreds of years using Integral Fast Reactors. Mining of uranium could start again around the year 2700.

  9. #9 Alex Besogonov
    September 8, 2009

    “The red tape is to stop someone legging it with 50lbs of reactor-grade Uranium and making dust of it to spew in a busy national rail terminal.”

    And it won’t be much worse than spewing powdered lead or mercury.

  10. #10 Crust
    September 8, 2009

    Waste heat does not contribute significantly to global warming.

    It depends how you look at it. Tom Casten makes the argument that we could do a lot more with waste heat from electricity and other industrial processes, notably for space heating. So while the direct contribution may be tiny, the indirect contribution from wasted heat — that we need to consume more fossil fuels than we would if we’d used those “negawatts” from heat — increases greenhouse gases and hence global warming.

  11. #11 Crust
    September 8, 2009

    PS but I agree with your main point, that we need to use more nuclear. (In fairness though, waste disposal is not the only issue. Perhaps the biggest issue is nuclear arms proliferation as many countries use nuclear energy programs as a basis to develop nuclear weapons as e.g. Iran and North Korea currently.)

  12. #12 Mark
    September 8, 2009

    > And it won’t be much worse than spewing powdered lead or mercury.

    > Posted by: Alex Besogonov

    1) So? Let’s say it’s the same size problem.

    So having banned 50lbs of Uranium being used as a dirty bomb, the risk has now been halved.

    2) This is the Big Scare that the right put us under to keep us afraid. If they remove the red tape they lose their opportunity to scare us.

    Point 1 means that such a bomb is not wanted, so let’s take care of it, hmm? (my POV). And point 2 is why the red tape won’t be removed anyway.

    PS we don’t need to use more nuclear.

    Use less power will create more opportunity for a safe power future than ANY possible build-out. And nearly instantaneous in effect too, unlike ANY of the build options.

  13. #13 Aaron Boyden
    September 8, 2009

    The nuclear proliferation issue does complicate things greatly. Because of concerns over proliferation, anything nuclear tends to be surrounded by heavy layers of security and secrecy. As usual, secrecy breeds corruption and inefficiency; existing nuclear reactors have generally been vastly more expensive and almost certainly considerably less safe than should have been possible with the technology available. Unfortunately, we should probably expect the same to be true of future nuclear reactors, and so we need to take that into account in evaluating optimistic predictions about future reactor technologies.

  14. #14 ScaredAmoeba
    September 8, 2009

    Re Crust @ #11

    Perhaps the biggest issue is nuclear arms proliferation as many countries use nuclear energy programs as a basis to develop nuclear weapons

    As I understand it, IFRs are much more flexible than thermal reactors regarding fuels and therefore require a much lower level of fuel reprocessing [normally on-site], making diversion to weapons difficult and the additional processing facilities required could only have military use.

  15. #15 GRLCowan
    September 8, 2009

    Perhaps the biggest issue is nuclear arms proliferation as many countries use nuclear energy programs as a basis to develop nuclear weapons

    Fortunately no country has ever actually done that. The use of the word “many” shows intent to deceive. It might refer to one or two countries that have used nuclear research programs thus; for instance, India’s use of the CIRUS reactor to produce weapon-grade plutonium. The fact that its CANDU power reactors were not so used is somewhat inconvenient to linkers of nuclear power and bombs, but only somewhat, because they have not found it difficult to just lie and say they were.

  16. #16 Crust
    September 8, 2009

    GRLCowan, I’m impressed at your mind-reading powers that you can divine my “intent to deceive”.

    As you may have noticed, the examples I raised didn’t involve India or CANDU reactors. I’ve got nothing against CANDU reactors. Indeed, because they are heavy-water reactors that run with natural (as opposed to enriched) uranium they are better from a proliferation point of view. They’re also better from a safety point of view because if the coolant boils off, the reaction stops. Or at least that’s my understanding. I’m not an expert. If that’s incorrect or misleading, it’s because I’m just wrong, not because I’m lying to you.

    The examples I did raise were Iran and North Korea. As I understand it, officially their nuclear programs are for peaceful power generation. Not that many people really believe that a major oil producer like Iran would really be that anxious for a new source of power; it’s just a pretext. The concern is validating this pretext may ultimately lead to more nuclear armed countries.

    Again, maybe I’m wrong. FWIW, it is an argument I’ve heard both Al Gore and Jim Hansen raise. And I explicitly said I think this is a factor to consider, but I don’t think it carries the day. I think we should be expanding nuclear power because of the urgency around global warming.

  17. #17 Chris O'Neill
    September 8, 2009

    Processing the worlds nuclear waste via an IFR is cheaper than the current and proposed storage options.

    I always though only using 0.7% of the energy in natural Uranium was crazy: 140 times as much mining required; something like 140 times as much waste produced.

    As far as (irreducible) waste goes, I’ve wondered whether Australia could give up one of its salt pans for this purpose. There are a fair number of these in Western Australia.

  18. #18 GRLCowan
    September 8, 2009

    I always though only using 0.7% of the energy in natural Uranium was crazy: 140 times as much mining required; something like 140 times as much waste produced.

    It can actually be up to about 1 percent in one pass because some 238-U gets converted to plutonium and then fissioned.

    Crazy is a relative term. Burning a little less than 1 percent of mined uranium has not caused the other 99 percent to transport itself to M31; it’s all sitting in pools or dry casks, waiting for us to get around to it.

    Also, burning a little less than 1 percent has been the means by which a mining industry that has a few billion a year in worldwide revenue has deprived oil and gas interests — including government — of more than $100 billion annually. How crazy must mining those things be.

    Burning 100 percent would get you 100-to-140 times more residual radioactivity in the ashes in early decades.

    So a CANDU fuel bundle that, ten years after retirement, can give you a lethal dose of radiation from 1 metre’s distance in 12 hours, and has produced enough heat for your lifetime electricity requirement, would give you the same dose in five to seven minutes if it had somehow attained 100 percent burnup, and produced 100 people’s lifetime thermal electricity requirement.

    In general, waste production, in terms of radiation wattage, is proportional to energy extracted. Mass and volume may vary, but are not what’s important.

    ‘Crust’: sorry, I was out of line. Also, shutdown upon loss of water is not unique to heavy water reactors, light water reactors also have it.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  19. #19 Crust
    September 8, 2009

    GRLCowan, no worries, thanks.

  20. #20 Alex Besogonov
    September 8, 2009

    Mark @12:

    “1) So? Let’s say it’s the same size problem.
    So having banned 50lbs of Uranium being used as a dirty bomb, the risk has now been halved.”

    You CAN’T do a dirty bomb with Uranium. It’s barely radioactive, you can literally sit on it without negative effects.

    In fact, the prime mechanism for toxicity in your case will be heavy metal poisoning.

  21. #21 WotWot
    September 8, 2009

    Count me as another reluctant and qualified conversion to some nuclear for base load. The critical issue for me was always safety, particularly regarding weapons proliferation. But 4th generation reactors seem to solve that problem. I certainly prefer newer design nuclear reactors to the completely unproven ‘clean coal’ technology that so many seem to be betting their houses on. Long, long, long term storage of vast amounts of CO2 is not a good safety bet in my books.

    There is a potential problem of people starting to think that if we get a bunch of reactors that the energy problem is solved, and so they do not have be so concerned with the equally important waste & efficiency issues. But that can be dealt with by a combination of education, regulation (high efficiency buildings, machines, etc), and pricing (make it expensive to waste the stuff).

    We should still get as much of our energy from ‘renewable’ sources as practically and economically possible. There is a lot of good basic research being done on a range of such technologies, and a handful of critical technical (and related economic) breakthroughs in this area could make a huge difference to the bigger picture, though we cannot assume it will happen.

  22. #22 GRLCowan
    September 8, 2009

    … Long, long, long term storage of vast amounts of CO2 is not a good safety bet in my books …

    Your books should acknowledge that accelerated weathering, enhanced weathering I think they call it, will store vast amounts of CO2 in a completely stable form, not a “safety bet” at all: alkaline earth carbonate, solid, or bicarbonate, dissolved in the sea.

    It is the only proposed CCS method, AFAIK, that has spontaneously demonstrated itself.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  23. #23 Donald Oats
    September 8, 2009

    While I personally don’t like it, I think nuclear is coming to Australia. I can accept nuclear power in Australia if it has the condition that nuclear reactors can only replace existing coal fired power stations, and that no more coal fired power stations are to be built in Australia.

    Without a condition like the above, we will just end up with a bunch of nuclear reactors along side the original coal fired stations, in which case Greenhouse Gas emissions won’t have been reduced by one jot.

  24. #24 Fran Barlow
    September 8, 2009

    One may add as well that even putting entirely to one side the serious climate change and human health impacts of resort to coal combustion, as Professor David Mackay points out, at projected rates of consumption growth, coal reserves may last as little as 60 years.

    Following the method of Jevons, who correctly predicted ‘peak coal’ in the UK by 1910, Mackay claims:

    Let’s repeat his calculation for the world as a whole. In 2006, the coal consumption rate was 6.3 Gt per year. Comparing this with reserves of 1600 Gt of coal, people often say “there’s 250 years of coal left.” But if
    we assume “business as usual” implies a growing consumption, we get a different answer. If the growth rate of coal consumption were to continue at 2% per year (which gives a reasonable fit to the data from 1930 to 2000),
    then all the coal would be gone in 2096. If the growth rate is 3.4% per year (the growth rate over the last decade), the end of business-as-usual is coming before 2072. Not 250 years, but 60!

    This model does not assume the far more coal-use intensive ‘clean’ coal proposals.

    If Mackay is close to being correct, then sooner or later, the world will be obliged to resort to nuclear power. The only question being whether the world that resorts to it would be better off with for the environmental legacy of the coal combustion fuel cycle and depletion.

    The conclusion is urged that we must abandon resort to coal for power generation as soon as we possibly can if humanity is to preserve something like the standard of living it has now. That the potential to use uranium and thorium ought, with good management, to take humanity eons into the future while clearing the atmosphere of excess CO2 and other hazardous material offers a complelling case for such resort.

  25. #25 Fran Barlow
    September 8, 2009

    Donald O@23

    I can accept nuclear power in Australia if it has the condition that nuclear reactors can only replace existing coal fired power stations, and that no more coal fired power stations are to be built in Australia.

    There’s only so much demand for power in Australia. In practice, if nuclear power does come to Australia it will only be viable at the expense of coal and will have to be phased in. Other measures here aimed at efficiency should put a cap on longterm growth in future demand because the lead time to full replacement is unlikely to be short.

  26. #26 miggs
    September 8, 2009

    On this business of how important waste heat is…

    First off, I’m not an unbiased observer. I’m associated with Recycled Energy Development, which Tom Casten runs. But the reason I’m associated is the massive waste in our system and the massive potential to do more with less. Consider these two facts: about 67% of our nation’s greenhouse greenhouse gas emissions come from the generation of electricity and heat. Meanwhile, the typical power plant is about 33% efficient, with almost two-thirds of the fuel it burns getting vented into the atmosphere as waste heat. That means inefficiency in how we use fossil fuels is playing a HUGE role in global warming. Your two statements (waste heat isn’t a big deal, but fossil fuels are bad) don’t make sense together. It’s precisely because fossil fuels are so bad that we have to deal with waste heat.

  27. #27 Doug Clover
    September 8, 2009

    Everyone is talking as if IFR is a done deal. They are only hypothetical at this stage.

    History so far shows that all Fast reactors are not without their difficulties. As far as I know no prototype fast reactor has operated anywhere near expectations.

    So I would argue until there is a working IFR operating to design spec, which allows for full life cycle costings, lets focus on application of existing technologies that we know work.

  28. #28 Dave Andrews
    September 8, 2009

    IFRs have considerable problems associated with their liquid sodium metal cooling,see for example the Japanese Monju reactor which had a leak within 4 months of commencing operation in 1995 and is still shut today.

    IFRs can also be used to ‘breed’ plutonium so their widespread would use would pose major nuclear proliferation threats.

  29. #29 Paul UK
    September 8, 2009

    Re: miggs 26

    CHP and other schemes to use waste heat/energy are more efficient, and although efficiency helps to reduce the carbon footprint, but there is still the problem of GHGs staying in the atmosphere for a long time.

    Also if you use say coal in a CHP system, you don’t actually reduce emissions a great deal, or rather it depends on what the waste heat is displacing.

    eg. in the UK the most popular form of domestic heating is gas central heating.
    The carbon footprint of coal is roughly 900g/kwh.
    I’m not sure of the footprint of current gas central heating systems, but assuming it is around 300g (a gas turbine generator system has a rough footprint of 500g/kwh, but half the energy is wasted by the compressor) then at best coal CHP would give a carbon footprint of about 600g/kwh.

    Compared to renewables or nuclear, improving the efficiency of fossil fuel use is not comparable.

  30. #30 miggs
    September 8, 2009

    “Compared to renewables or nuclear, improving the efficiency of fossil fuel use is not comparable.”

    That’s a common misconception. In the U.S., EPA and DOE estimates suggest there’s now enough RECOVERABLE waste energy (mostly heat) to slash our greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. That’s as much as if we took every passenger vehicle off the road entirely. Recovering this energy would be done mostly through CHP, and also through waste heat recovery — which is essentially the same thing, but recycles the heat that manufacturers are already emitting rather than building a new power plant on site.

    Meanwhile, costs would be actually lower than they are now — certainly FAR lower than nuclear, and significantly lower than traditional coal plants as well.

    Denmark is the poster child for this work. They emit less than half the GHG that the US does (relative to GDP). And it’s because over half the country’s power comes from CHP.

  31. #31 TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 8, 2009

    Everyone is talking as if IFR is a done deal. They are only hypothetical at this stage.

    Fast Breeders are old hat. The BN-600 in Russia is still in operation after nearly 30 years. Also an IFR prototype of significant scale was operated in the USA for decades.

    See the following comment by Tom Blees on this notion that this is novel new technology:-

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/12/integral-fast-reactors-for-the-masses/#comment-6619

    30.Tom Blees said
    16 February 2009 at 7.32
    Chris writes: Therefore any enthusiasm I may have for Gen IV nuclear technology remains tempered until it gets through the evangelical stage of inquiry.

    It’s already well past that stage. There are over 300 reactor-years of experience with fast reactors, and the EBR-II (of which the PRISM is the commercial incarnation) ran for 30 years. The Phenix in France, 2/3 the size of a PRISM and thus a fairly decent argument that scale is hardly an issue, has run for 36 years and is still running. (There are some differences, all of which are better in the PRISM, especially its metal fuel). Your implied analogy with fuel cells and geothermal doesn’t work. Fuel cells work just fine, by the way, but they cost about 100X more than would make them competitive with today’s IC engines, and of course there’s still the huge cost, safety, and energy problems associated with hydrogen. Geothermal has never been able to surmount the many problems with channeling and other difficulties, though I won’t presume they never will. My position is that we should use technologies that we know from experience work, while continuing to hope for new ones that might work even better without hanging our hats on them. We can’t afford to gamble our future on pie in the sky.

  32. #32 Pete Bondurant
    September 8, 2009

    Interesting article on 4th Generation plant on the ABC Science Show
    http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2009/07/ssw_20090718_1205.mp3

  33. #33 BMS
    September 8, 2009

    > Denmark is the poster child for this work. They emit less than half
    > the GHG that the US does (relative to GDP). And it’s because over
    > half the country’s power comes from CHP.

    Bzzt … wrong. Sorry, miggs, but Denmark does _not_ “emit less than
    half the GHG that the US does … relative to GDP”; however, France
    can make this claim.

    CO2/GDP (kg CO2/2000 US$ PPP):
    US 0.51
    Denmark 0.32
    France 0.22

    In fact, France emits a little over half of the CO2 _per
    capita_ than Denmark does. This is in spite of the fact that France
    is a much larger country and one that is the leader in Europe (outside
    of Russia) when it comes to agriculture, a sector that is still rather
    heavily dependant on fossil fuels, because most farm equipment still
    runs on oil.

    When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the comparison
    between nuclear power and CHP is almost ridiculous: nuclear power wins
    hands down, as the statistics show.

    CHP, as pitched by miggs, is simply an excuse to burn _even more_
    natural gas, of which Denmark has had ample supplies in recent
    decades, thanks to [abundant resources in the North Sea][nso].

    [nso]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_oil

  34. #34 el gordo
    September 8, 2009

    Does anyone have a time line on how long it will take to build the infrastructure to replace the coal fired power stations?

  35. #35 Doug Clover
    September 8, 2009

    Dear TerpjeP

    Your reference gives the impression that a PRISM reactor is up and running. All I can find in the literature is conceptual designs.

    I do not deny that Fast reactors have been operational since the sixties but these have experimental/demonstration units with that purpose. None of them have achieved the breeding ratios desired which is critical to their sucess.

    I would also point out that gen IV reactors, are not expected to come on line until 2030 at the earliest, which implies there are still issues to resolve.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GenIVRoadmap.jpg

  36. #36 James Haughton
    September 8, 2009

    I’d like to second Aaron @ 13.

    The problem with nuclear power now is not so much its technical possibility of being relatively clean and efficient (as Barry Brooks has said, Gen IVs overcome most if not all of these problems) as the culture of security and secrecy, which has degenerated into a culture of coverups, featherbedding and denial which surrounds the industry. For example, IIRC the French didn’t warn their population to avoid fallout-affected foodstuffs after Chernobyl until far too late, because they didn’t want to stir up anti-nuclear sentiment (The same mechanism on a different issue happened with the british government coverup of the mad cow disease/CJD link).

    The nuclear industry (including relevant bits of government) have acquired themselves an appalling reputation as past coverups have gradually been revealed, for which they have no-one to blame but themselves. The public now has a legitimate opinion that any new nuclear proposal is an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes, which no amount of spruiking of the technical benefits of a particular kind of reactor will overcome, because it misses the point of lack of trust.

    I’m not sure what can be done to overcome this. In other areas where corruption and coverups are persistent problems (e.g. police) the solution is often to appoint statutory independent auditors who report to parliament (and hence the public) rather than the government, and staff them with people with technical expertise but who aren’t necessarily connected with the industry. Historically, I think something like this is what Oppenheimer had in mind when he insisted that the US’s nuclear energy authority (I forget the name, was it part of the DOE?) had to be civilian rather than military. But they seem to have been captured by the industry anyway.

  37. #37 Stephen Gloor
    September 8, 2009

    Terje – “An Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) produces about 100 times more energy compared to a conventional Light Water Reactor. The fuel to power the energy needs of your entire life would be about the size of a golf ball.”

    However as yet there are no IFRs currently operating. Only a conceptual design exists. Further to this as I have pointed out a extensive length on Barry’s blog the actual fuel reprocessing plant (the I in IFR) has never been demonstrated on the required industrial scale. Nobody really has any idea if the electro metallurgical process will work on the required scale.

    IFRs at this point are imaginary technology.

    Australia is the one country in the world that should never need nuclear power. We have abundant renewable resources and abundant land to situate them and a small population to supply. We should be the leaders in renewables and a renewable showcase for the rest of the world.

    We should not as Barry seems to think, be importing all our nuclear energy technology from China, at Chinese prices with all our fuel also coming from China. This is not a safe way to power Australia.

  38. #38 BMS
    September 8, 2009

    > In other areas where corruption and coverups are persistent problems
    > (e.g. police) the solution is often to appoint statutory independent
    > auditors who report to parliament (and hence the public) rather than
    > the government, and staff them with people with technical expertise
    > but who aren’t necessarily connected with the
    > industry. Historically, I think something like this is what
    > Oppenheimer had in mind when he insisted that the US’s nuclear
    > energy authority (I forget the name, was it part of the DOE?) had to
    > be civilian rather than military. But they seem to have been
    > captured by the industry anyway.

    Huh? The DOE (Department of Energy) was created by the Carter
    administration in the late seventies. Oppenheimer had been dead for a
    decade by that time. “Historically,” you have no idea what you’re
    talking about.

    Furthermore, Your rambling about “corruption and coverups” is
    bordering on psychopathic paranoia.

    I’m sorry that this is news for you, but the “statutory independent
    auditors” already exist. They’re called the IAEA, and they were the
    winner (along with their director) of the [Nobel Peace Prize in
    2005][1]. Although this organization is not officially part of the
    United Nations system, it works closely with the UN and reports
    regularly to the UN General Assembly and Security Council.

    I guess that the IAEA is the Rodney Dangerfield of the international
    community. It wins a Peace Prize for its nonproliferation efforts and
    still gets no respect. What a damn shame!

    [1]: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2005/

  39. #39 D. C. Sessions
    September 8, 2009

    Australia is the one country in the world that should never need nuclear power. We have abundant renewable resources and abundant land to situate them and a small population to supply. We should be the leaders in renewables and a renewable showcase for the rest of the world.

    You forgot to mention the energy storage. Presumably you could build energy-storage hydroelectric reservoirs in the Snowys but much of the country would be on a “when the sun shines and the wind blows” economy.

  40. #40 MarkusR
    September 8, 2009

    Gen4 is 20 years away. Not saying that we shouldn’t continue the research because we always want to have options, but that is 20 years of other forms of energy generation and conservation that we can implement.

  41. #41 Marion Delgado
    September 8, 2009

    The Heinlein crowd who up till recently were big deniers of global warming have always hated environmentalists and always worshipped nuclear power. Most of this is about feeding the various military-industrial complexes, and not ceding anything to environmentalists, etc.

    That plants are being built in China and will be built other places is very likely. That nuclear technology will be improved is also likely.

    But to say that promoting research on renewable energy preferentially to nuclear power – which has about a 50-year head start on worldwide taxpayer funding and which still insists on being a welfare project for R&D and insurance purposes – to say that that is promoting coal plants is a total lie, and one I’m very tired of.

    Again, I have seen the most UNSCIENTIFIC discussions about this. And it’s all tied into the world free market religion, I might add – the big energy companies simply MUST be right and we have to cast around for ways to demonize our environmentalist enemies and damn well MAKE the energy corporations right.

    Plus, of course, the topic discussed is always a slippery one. If you don’t agree that nuclear power is not “the” solution to the AGW problem, you’re not only “not serious,” you’re some sort of nature-worshipper who’s superstitious and so on and so on and you must want the existing plants shut down, mustn’t you?

    And conjectured plants are just as useful as those already built, I might add. It’s the biggest double standard going. Those of us involved with solar and wind know the limitations and downsides very well and are very honest about them. The nuke boosters, on the other hand, close their eyes to any bad news and cherrypick their way to victory in their own echo-chambers. They’ve done that for at least a generation, too. It’s not a level playing field. The nuke boosters have the military on their side and the multinational corporations on their side. When the economic establishment is backing you, it’s pretty easy to bully people raising legitimate objections. And yet, despite efforts to kill it off from the nuclear lobby and its acolytes, somehow renewable energy has struggled on.

    When was the last time one of the nuclear power boosters dealt with, for instance, European programs where the cost of a nuclear power plant was broken down into credits to build as many solar plants as that money would build, the plants were built instead, and more power was generated for the money?

    Indeed, no matter WHAT you bring up, the same kneejerk reaction is the response: “We’re working on … ” “Shut up. Nuclear power is the answer. Admittedly we were wrong about global warming, but the point stands, if you don’t agree nuclear power is the only solution to all human problems, we can discard you safely.” And back to the mindless boosterism.

    Different places have different needs. Australia has uranium, it’s losing, as far as I can determine, some of its other energy potential (I’ve been told most hydro is exploited already there and that some of it is declining). And it’s better to build nuclear plants than coal plants, if that’s what was going to be done.

    By the way, to acknowledge that a nuclear plant is better for the climate than a coal plant is not the same thing as, or even close to, saying that massive ramping up of nuclear power is the answer.

    Indeed, the science blogger who characterized THAT plan as the last attempt to keep business-as-usual without any work, thought, or sacrifice was precisely right.

    Those of us being dismissed as having some sort of nature fetish are actually the ones wanting us to keep all our options open, not just trash and dismiss efficiency and conservation and sequestration and renewable energy and so on.

    I see no signs that the nuclear industry or its boosters have cleaned up their dishonest and environmentally ignorant act, either, and the more they tout big businessmen and engineers as the saviors of humanity and trash ecologists, the more justifiably people are going to be skeptical of them.

  42. #42 Marion Delgado
    September 8, 2009

    Gen4 is 20 years away. Not saying that we shouldn’t continue the research because we always want to have options, but that is 20 years of other forms of energy generation and conservation that we can implement.

    This is very well put. And we will have to build something along the lines of a waste-burning fission plant to clean up the mess left by current plants. No argument there.

    We have three timelines: one is curtailing emissions as much as possible, as soon as possible scaling back production and economic growth and population and eating less meat and conserving and scrubbing and sequestering. Another is the timeline for improving our renewable energy, and that takes time, know-how, money and manpower. It’s a continuous process. The third is the timeline for improving nukes. That’s a little more in discrete jumps since plants should be physically big (hence costly initially) and run a long time to make them at all efficient. For waste-disposal purposes, it’s not that pressing since so much of it has a long half-life.

    All three overlap – we’ll be doing all of them. But if we neglected solar and wind and other alternate energies completely, put all our eggs in the nuclear basket, and that let us start burning waste 25 years earlier, we wouldn’t be that much better off. If we went the other way, radically improved renewable energy, neglected nukes, and we couldn’t burn nuclear waste for 45 years instead of for 20 years, we would not as a planet be much worse off. The main reason we can’t neglect nuclear R&D is that if we’re going to build the things, we want safer designs, especially if we’re extending the operating life from around 35 years to around 60 on average.

    I don’t believe fission plants are the terminal solution to humanity’s energy problems. Renewables are at least closer to it, and things like fission plants should be no more than bridge technologies. As my physical science teacher in high school and people like Amory Lovins told me many years ago.

  43. #43 Fran Barlow
    September 9, 2009

    I’m going to focus on the one testable claim in Marion Delgado’s stream of consciousness @40 above

    And it’s better to build nuclear plants than coal plants, if that’s what was going to be done.

    That is indeed what will be done, not just here in Australia, eventually, but everywhere. (In Australia, one of the world’s worst polluting plants — the 1960s Hazlewood plant in Victoria — has just been extended until 2031. This single plant is responsible for 9% of Australia’s electricity-related CO2 emissions and 5% overall.)

    On a world scale, eventually, sometime after it is clear that the coal will not suffice to the end of the century and the planet’s biosphere is heading inexorably down the crapper and people start looking at how to hoard the dwindling resources for themselves, nuclear will suddenly become the most urgent thing governments can do to maintain the privileges of the elites and everyone else can please themselves about how they survive amidst the ruins.

    By the way, to acknowledge that a nuclear plant is better for the climate than a coal plant is not the same thing as, or even close to, saying that massive ramping up of nuclear power is the answer.

    Of course it is not the answer but it is an answer along with quite a few other things. Yes we of the first world must pick the low hanging fruit in energy efficiency and avoidance of wasteful energy consumption. We should cut down very seriously on our consumption of animals, and especially commercially raised ruminants, switch to public transport, live closer together in more thermally efficient dwellings, cut down the unnecessary travel, have no more than two children, restore our wilderness areas as far as we can, stop logging of all but plantation forest, shut down marginal agricultural enterprises, stop subsidising corn, discourage low nutrient convenience food, transfer long haul goods to rail etc … (Interestingly, something like 40% of US bulk rail goods traffic is coal!)

    And we have to support the developing world too in lifting their standards of living in ways that don’t repeat our errors, not simply because this is a starting point for anyone who sets store by human wellbeing, but because healthier happier more empowered people are more likely to live in ways that are consonant with sustainability. But to do this latter task we will need to pour very considerable resources into those 3-4 billion who are living in much worse circumstances than we first worlders would regard as minimally acceptable, and if what we have done is waste squillions making ourselves feel righteous by spending 8-10 times what we should have powering our cities with renewables and plan to do likewise in the developing world, it’s a fair bet that this later part of the plan will fall over even if the first hasn’t become reduced to tokenism and coal will triumph in the end, at least until it has done its worst.

    There’s no reason why if the components of nuclear plants were made in modular format, tested and assembled off-site that nuclear plants could not be built for a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time with perfect safety. The Chinese are currently bringing, on average, about 1GW of coal-fired capacity every 10 days. It would be far better if this schedule was nuclear power instead. Would it not be a good thing if this capacity was in the form of thorium-232 with the fissile material drawn from MOX or other high level reactor waste?

    Of course it would.

  44. #44 el gordo
    September 9, 2009

    Fran…I just heard a rumor that GE has so many forward orders from China and India that even if we wanted to go nuclear we wouldn’t get a ‘look in’ before 2020.

  45. #45 Fran Barlow
    September 9, 2009

    El Gordo spoke

    Fran…I just heard a rumor that GE has so many forward orders from China and India that even if we wanted to go nuclear we wouldn’t get a ‘look in’ before 2020.

    If that rumour is well founded, then it is very good news indeed, because they need them more urgently than do we and these will foreclose more growth in emissions than would be the case in Australia or the US. Given that Australia is most unlikely to contract any nuclear capacity for at least ten years and possibly 15, if that is indeed the case then the builds should be demonstrably proven by the time we can have a serious decision taken on this and the installed cost and delay should be much smaller. While I’d prefer an earlier start, given that that is improbable, this is the next best thing.

    We here in Australia can develop our renewables and possibly gas and then get the very best expertise to develop nuclear later on just as the question of what to do with our ageing coal plant comes up.

    An interesting point on renewables which will be amusing to those who know of Jevons’ Paradox. The country in the world that makes greatest proportional use of renewables today, AFAIK the only one whose stationary energy is near 100% renewable is Iceland. It also uses more energy per capita than any other country — about 400KwH/per day per person. This makes the US look like total slackers at just 250KwH/per day per person and your average European at 125KwH/per day per person.

    Amusing …

  46. #46 Hal9000
    September 9, 2009

    Iceland consumes so much electricity per capita largely on account of its aluminium smelting plants. Which is also largely responsible (16%) for Australia’s profligacy. The difference being, we burn brown coal to make aluminium, while they tap into abundant geothermal. The aluminium industry, including bauxite mining and alumina refining (neither particularly emissions intensive) employs a total of 6,000 people in Australia. One of the four Australian smelters is in Tasmania and gets its electricity from hydro. So three smelters, employing in total less than 1500 people, are responsible for about the same amount of emissions as the whole private car and truck fleet. Of course 1500 people aren’t expendable, but then again as a nation we’re apparently happy for over 100,000 clothing, textiles and footwear jobs to be sacrificed on the altar of the Global Free Market. Are manly aluminium jobs more valuable than girly TCF jobs? Why shouldn’t aluminium smelting and its ilk not all be done where the electricity is emissions-free, while Australia concentrates on what we are good at in the carbon-constrained future? Indeed, this is inevitable, absent public subsidies for smelters to burn coal to electrolyse their ingots.

    Jevons’ paradox is a poor fit for Iceland and is irrelevant to Australia, where a rising carbon price will keep incentives on increasing efficiency.

    On the general nuke issue – I’m happy for it to compete against renewables in the context of a rising carbon price, but not for it to receive the generous public subsidies that have propped up the industry everywhere it has flourished. The most important role nukes have played in the debate thus far has been as a distraction deliberately introduced by the terminally ill Howard regime to forestall genuine action on climate change mitigation. The nuclear industry, as Marion says, has a lifelong history of technological breakthroughs just over the horizon that will solve all the messy problems and bad publicity – remember Synrock? Forgive me if I choke on my weeties at this latest radioactive geewhizzery that is so damn good no-one appears to be signing up for it.

  47. #47 Fran Barlow
    September 9, 2009

    I quite take your point Hal9000@45. It would be far better if energy intensive industries were conducted where CO2-emissions were smallest, all else being roughly equal. It would make more sense to send the portion of the workforce producing aluminium above the emissions of Iceland on paid holiday on full pay than to run the business here. I read somewhere the per worker subsidies in Victoria worked out at about 250K each. That’s a pretty nice lifestyle if it’s even close.

    Still, it makes Jevon’s point too, since in a world with a carbon price aluminium will be cheaper to make in Iceland than almost anywhere, and so it doesn’t encourage us to think about the wise use of the aluminimum nearly as much.

    On the general nuke issue – I’m happy for it to compete against renewables in the context of a rising carbon price, but not for it to receive the generous public subsidies that have propped up the industry everywhere it has flourished.

    Here we can agree. As soon as there is a suitable carbon price on all net CO2e then let the subsidy and protection regime for each industry vanish (though I’d reserve the right to protect/deal differentially in cases where basic labour standards were being infringed, but that’s a whole separate issue from energy policy). I should say that I don’t agree, if this is where you are heading, that Price-Anderson and similar amount to a subsidy, and my problem with abolishing it is that this would entail a fall in protection for the public. I do think that costs of storage of nuclear hazmat should be based on the degree of hazard the waste poses, treating more radioactive isotopes more harshly than less radioactive ones. That might spur more interest in the development of thorium plants that can play a role in degrading the worst of the isotopes.

    I have no doubt that in a market where net CO2e was about $AUS100 per tonne — the widely touted price for ‘clean coal’ feasibility — nuclear would be more than competitive. Can I add that if someone could contrive to have wind or wave power or tidal or any of the others do the same job as nuclear or coal at comparable cost with ubiquity nobody posting here would be more chuffed than me.

  48. #48 Marion Delgado
    September 9, 2009

    To provide comparative data:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_per_ton_of_carbon

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_by_country

    Denmark’s advantage over the US is better than 2 to 1 in GDP/C02, exactly as miggs said, so BMS gets the buzzer here, I’m afraid. Also note that while having a large percentage of nukes helps vs. having coal plants, it’s not mandatory.

    But that’s what we were saying, isn’t it?

  49. #49 Fran Barlow
    September 9, 2009

    Marion@47

    Firstly, I am thrilled that Denmark uses as much windpower as it does and is in a position to make good use of the hydro capacity of its neighbour, Norway, so as to get maximum value from the wind resource. This is a very sensible thing to do.

    However, the picture is a little more complex than you make out.

    Nuclear power provides an essential part of Denmark’s electricity. Its high usage of wind in fact depends primarily on imported Scandinavian hydro power especially to West Denmark, and secondly on both East and West Denmark each being part of a major grid system incorporating a large proportion of nuclear power.

    Using 2005 data, with production of 36.3 TWh, consumption of 34 TWh, exports of 12.9 and imports of 10.4 from Germany and 0.7 from Sweden, it would seem that 3 TWh used is nuclear, about 9% of total.
    Nuclear power in Denmark

  50. #50 Stephen Gloor
    September 9, 2009

    Fran Barlow – “Firstly, I am thrilled that Denmark uses as much windpower as it does and is in a position to make good use of the hydro capacity of its neighbour, Norway, so as to get maximum value from the wind resource. This is a very sensible thing to do.”

    However France with it’s high proportion of nuclear power makes just as much use of hydro as Denmark as most of it’s nuclear is baseload and depends on a connected grid for peaking.

    All power systems from wind to nuclear depend on each other at different times. The baseload could just as easily come from solar thermal with storage or geothermal.

  51. #51 Paul UK
    September 9, 2009

    >That’s a common misconception. In the U.S., EPA and DOE estimates suggest there’s now enough RECOVERABLE waste energy (mostly heat) to slash our greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.

    20% is roughly what I suggested, the problem is it isn’t anywhere near enough.
    That 20% to 30% or so is the limit of what is achievable and if that is done throughout the system worldwide, then fossil fuels will be providing the energy requirements and no more cuts would be achievable.

    Renewables and nuclear will cut emissions by 3 or 4 times as much.

  52. #52 Paul UK
    September 9, 2009

    Re miggs…

    BTW i think CHP using biomass and other renewable fuels is OK.
    Really with a lot of power plant systems that burn stuff, the issue is what fuels are used and how it is managed.

    Even a Anaerobic Digestion system can be mis-used and end up creating un-intended problems (eg. actually create a market for waste which may reduce the incentive to reduce waste).

  53. #53 Fran Barlow
    September 9, 2009

    Paul UK@52

    I’ve no problem at all with creating an incentive to reduce waste. If people waste less stuff, that is a very good thing. Even if the recovered waste heat comes from fossil fuels, then ceteris paribus that is a_good_thing.

    Mackay suggests though that ground source heat pumps are probably a_better_thing than CHP as their coefficient of performance can be as high as 4.0 (ibid p147).

  54. #54 Paul UK
    September 9, 2009

    Stephen Gloor:
    >However France with it’s high proportion of nuclear power makes just as much use of hydro as Denmark as most of it’s nuclear is baseload and depends on a connected grid for peaking. All power systems from wind to nuclear depend on each other at different times.

    Yeah, recently France had to temporarily shut down a large number of nuclear power stations that were using river water for cooling because the river water was to hot.

    There is a temperature limit on the river water downstream of the power station, to protect wildlife.

  55. #55 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    BMS: “In fact, France emits a little over half of the CO2 per capita than Denmark does. ”

    Now have a look at the result for NON-NUCLEAR Sweden.

    > You CAN’T do a dirty bomb with Uranium. It’s barely radioactive, you can literally sit on it without negative effects.

    > Posted by: Alex Besogonov

    The “dirty bomb” isn’t a real bomb: it’s a scare bomb. It never would have worked. Like liquid explosives and planes. Won’t work IRL, but plumped up to scare. By either the hawks or the terrists.

  56. #56 BMS
    September 9, 2009

    I’m sorry, Marion, but you’re going to have to
    do better than citing a Wikipedia page that even
    itself claims that it might be out of date.

    My numbers (which I included above) come
    straight from the [International Energy
    Agency](http://www.iea.org), and I have far more
    confidence in them than some out-of-date numbers
    from a random Wikipedia page. The IEA numbers
    also indicate that Denmark has almost twice the
    CO2 emissions per capita that France
    does.

    Mark, I hope that you were trying to be funny,
    because if you were serious, I’m afraid that you
    are sadly mistaken. “Non-nuclear” Sweden gets
    almost half (about 47%) of the electricity that it
    generates from its fleet of 10 nuclear reactors.
    It gets about a third (34%) of its total primary
    energy (which includes everything, even oil for
    transportation) from nuclear.

    Less than 3% of Sweden’s electricity production
    comes from fossil fuels. When it comes to
    CO2 emissions, Sweden is probably
    the cleanest country in Europe, thanks to its
    heavy reliance on a combination of nuclear and
    hydroelectric power.

    Oh … and Sweden’s CO2 per GDP (at
    0.17 kg CO2/2000 US$ PPP) is slightly
    more than half of Denmark’s.

  57. #57 Stephen Gloor
    September 9, 2009

    Fran Barlow – “I’ve no problem at all with creating an incentive to reduce waste. If people waste less stuff, that is a very good thing. Even if the recovered waste heat comes from fossil fuels, then ceteris paribus that is agoodthing.”

    But the whole nuclear thing is in my opinion an attempt to perpetuate business as usual. Proponents of nuclear see nuke plants as a direct replacement for coal plants with no real need to reduce waste as there is in their view plenty of energy available. As far as I can tell from reading Blee’s book the road to world peace and prosperity is simply supplying energy in unlimited quantities so that we can continue on the unsustainable party.

    Embracing renewables as the primary solution also usually means energy efficiency and conservation are the number one priority BEFORE attempting to supply demand. Nuclear being primarily baseload encourages high demand so that the nuke plants can be run in the most economical mode ie: flat out 24X7.

    We have major problems with our society that cannot be fixed with more energy supply. We must reduce demand and demand growth to give our society any chance of avoiding collapse and/or dangerous climate change.

  58. #58 Alex
    September 9, 2009

    Mark:

    Reasoning behind the idea that liquid explosives on planes “never would have worked”?

  59. #59 Fran Barlow
    September 9, 2009

    BMS@56

    Marion quoted dollar value per ton of CO2 and you are quoting per capita CO2 so the two references don’t match.

    Stephen Gloor@57

    Unlimited energy for its own sake may well be on some people’s agenda, but not on mine. I’d be for just enough nuclear to replace the coal-fired capacity while doing all the other stuff to dampen demand — as I think I’ve made clear here.

  60. #60 John Morgan
    September 9, 2009

    Stephen Gloor, regarding the pyroprocessing module of the Integral Fast Reactor:

    >Nobody really has any idea if the electro metallurgical process will work on the required scale.

    We have a very good idea that it will work because its been done before. This is a very conventional technology that is deployed at all scales. Its pretty much the same process of electrowinning from a high temperature molten salt bath that is used to produce the sodium metal for the reactor core, for instance, or the aluminium in your window frames.

    Doug Clover:

    >Your reference gives the impression that a PRISM reactor is up and running. All I can find in the literature is conceptual designs.

    Indeed. Though the design exists, and the principles were proven through the EBR-II pilot plant, scale up and certification is not a trivial process. However, the engineering appears to be in the category of development, not discovery or research.

    > I would also point out that gen IV reactors, are not expected to come on line until 2030 at the earliest, which implies there are still issues to resolve.

    I think the 2030 timeline assumes business as usual, and, as with renewables, we’d hope there is a sense of urgency. I don’t think it is because there are unknown technology development issues, and it should be possible to advance it, if the will exists.

    In any case, Gen III designs are in production now, so its not as if we have to wait for Gen IV to be available. And it probably requires the ‘waste’ from a fleet of Gen III reactors as the startup charge for a Gen IV rollout. So there’s no lost time through the Gen IV development phase.

  61. #61 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    “Reasoning behind the idea that liquid explosives on planes “never would have worked”?

    Posted by: Alex”

    They can’t be brought on board unmixed and liquid explosives are too volatile and need either a lot of cooling (you gonna bring a stack of liquid nitrogen cannisters on the plane too? And bring them to the small portaloo too?) or very steady and VERY SLOW mixing.

    El Reg did a good section on the idiocies of the liquid bomb. Go search their site for it.

  62. #62 John Morgan
    September 9, 2009

    Stephen Gloor:

    > But the whole nuclear thing is in my opinion an attempt to perpetuate business as usual.

    Not really.

    The “whole nuclear thing”, as you put it, is about passing on a habitable planet to my kids, complete with the natural endowments, beauty and meaning that make it a worthwhile place to live. For me anyway.

  63. #63 BMS
    September 9, 2009

    Fran – Huh?

    What part of “CO2 per GDP” do you not understand? (Hint: GDP is the abbreviation of “Gross Domestic Product.”) Every figure that I have included in the comments here has been the amount of CO2 emitted divided by the total market value (adjusted for purchasing power) of all goods and services produced by the country. I added a per capita comparison of France and Denmark, but I didn’t actually quote any numbers for these statistics.

    Nobody, not even Marion, is quoting the “dollar value per ton of CO2.” You’re obviously confused.

  64. #64 Jeremy C
    September 9, 2009

    The recovery of waste heat to improve the efficiency of coal fired power stations is a good idea. The problem in Australia is that most coal fired power stations are a long way from where the heat could be used. However, community based CHP e.g. servicing business parks etc would perhaps be more practicable but then thats getting away from centralised power which is another part of the whole argument about replacing coal fired stations.

  65. #65 Stephen Gloor
    September 9, 2009

    John – “We have a very good idea that it will work because its been done before.”

    So where have extremely radioactive metals been seperated electrically in a remotely operated factory environment?

    Anyway this is not really the point as imaginary technology cannot be counted on to solve the world’s problems.

    Fran Barlow – “Unlimited energy for its own sake may well be on some people’s agenda, but not on mine. I’d be for just enough nuclear to replace the coal-fired capacity while doing all the other stuff to dampen demand — as I think I’ve made clear here.”

    So why then is nuclear necessary at all? With EE@C reducing demand and demand growth, renewables in a smart network can replace coal in most cases. There will be a few countries that will not have access to enough renewables however nuclear should be the last choice rather than the first. Renewables can be deployed without fear of proliferation and you do not have to clean up their waste.

    For instance most solar thermal can burn gas to provide despatchable power. The gas can be natural gas at first however renewable syngas and hydrogen can fill this need in the future. When nuclear needs peaking then gas is burnt so how is this different from solar thermal?

    Additionally the solar thermal storage can be used in novel ways to store energy. Consider when there is a surplus of wind, the wind operators can pay the solar thermal storage plants not to produce electricity. The solar plants can then devote their entire solar input to heating up the hot tank to full capacity in effect banking heat for the future. When the wind companies need electricity to fulfil contracts then they can then get the stored energy out of storage for free as they have paid for it before. In the winter when solar output is low the solar plants can buy electricity from the wind and other renewables to electrically heat the cold salts thereby storing energy to fulfill their own contracts.

    As I said in a blog far far away the possibilities of a networked smart renewable grid will be far beyond what we can think of today if we remain wedded to the Victorian era power stations and grids that we have now. Nuclear is replacement for heating water in the same way as coal heats water now and offers comfort to people that dislike change. You perhaps can embrace EE&C however the vast majority of nuclear people see nuclear as a insurance for no change in the future. To these people EE&C and renewables is equal to the hair shirt and back to the caves.

  66. #66 D. C. Sessions
    September 9, 2009

    So why then is nuclear necessary at all?

    Because the wind doesn’t always blow at night.

    I’m all for research into the storage problem, but until the “100% renewable” partisans solve it, we need base-load power. Which means either nuclear or fossil fuels [1].

    Ignoring that problem is making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    [1] In some cases hydroelectric or geothermal, but both are geographically limited.

  67. #67 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > Because the wind doesn’t always blow at night.

    It doesn’t always blow in the day either.

    But that’s a solvable problem. And not only by hyrdroelectric or geothermal.

    Remember: the tides run twice a day, even at night. And all those waves? they don’t take the night shift off.

  68. #68 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > Nobody, not even Marion, is quoting the “dollar value per ton of CO2.” You’re obviously confused.

    > Posted by: BMS

    You don’t remember a thread on just that subject, do you.

    Noob.

    PS adding in per capita makes no sense unless you’re going to put forward the idea that CO2 production is a measure of economic growth.

    Which, oddly enough, was the same idea that the troll you missed and I’ve alluded to above had.

    Anyone checked whether BMS is a doppel?

  69. #69 Alex
    September 9, 2009

    Mark, are you referring to this article:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/

    What about this more recent article:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/10/liquid_bomb_verdicts/

    which seems to debunk the first one?

  70. #70 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    The second doesn’t debunk the first.

    It does say the first one was probably a bit too certain. TATP is still out, but other binary liquids may have some use.

  71. #71 Paul UK
    September 9, 2009

    Mark:
    >Remember: the tides run twice a day, even at night. And all those waves? they don’t take the night shift off.

    A few UK/Irish companies developing tidal and wave energy:

    http://www.marineturbines.com/
    http://www.openhydro.com/
    http://www.lunarenergy.co.uk/
    http://www.swanturbines.co.uk/
    http://www.tidalenergyltd.com/
    http://www.pulsegeneration.co.uk/
    http://www.wavegen.co.uk/

  72. #72 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    PS DC Sessions, nuclear power stations are geographically limited. This doesn’t stop them supplying power to people…

  73. #73 Nomen Nescio
    September 9, 2009

    nuclear power stations are geographically limited. This doesn’t stop them supplying power to people

    i don’t think you use “geographically limited” in the same way as the rest of us. nuclear power plants can be built wherever the people who need their power are, or within reasonable distances of them. geothermal, tidal, and wave power plants — like hydroelectric — can only be built where their power sources happen to be, and if the people who want power aren’t conveniently nearby, then you must build power transport networks (and take the transport losses) or move the people. that’s what “geographically limited” means.

  74. #74 BMS
    September 9, 2009

    Mark – Well, if you want to resort to childish name calling, that is your right, but it doesn’t do much to help your argument. However, I am totally baffled by the following:

    PS adding in per capita makes no sense unless you’re going to put forward the idea that CO2 production is a measure of economic growth.

    That sentence makes no sense whatsoever.

    There are two common measures that are used to compare the CO2 emissions of different countries: CO2 per capita, which attempts to adjust for size by considering the population; and CO2 per GDP, which attempts to adjust for size by considering economic output. For example, these two measures are used by the Energy Information Administration in its International Energy Outlook report (see the section entitled “Carbon Dioxide Intensity Measures”).

    The phrase “dollar value per ton of CO2,” on the other hand, is nebulous to the point of being meaningless. The most obvious interpretation is the cost of CO2 emissions in the form of a carbon tax or credit. I suppose that this could refer to GDP per ton of CO2, but that is not clear from the wording nor is it a commonly encountered figure.

  75. #75 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > i don’t think you use “geographically limited” in the same way as the rest of us. nuclear power plants can be built wherever the people who need their power are,

    I don’t think you read the post.

    They CAN be, but they AREN’T. The power they supply goes a long way to get to where it’s used.

    The same mechanism can get the coastal tidal power to distant towns.

    It’s called “a national grid system”.

    Many developed countries have one.

  76. #76 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > Mark – Well, if you want to resort to childish name calling, that is your right, but it doesn’t do much to help your argument.

    But if you’re going to take “childish name calling” into effect, you’re not actually listening to the arguments, are you. You’re making an unsupported emotional response rather than reasoning.

    PS if you call “noob” name calling, you need to get out a LOT more…

    > There are two common measures that are used to compare the CO2 emissions of different countries: CO2 per capita, which attempts to adjust for size by considering the population; and CO2 per GDP

    And where in that is the “CO2 per tonne”?

    > Marion quoted dollar value per ton of CO2 and you are quoting per capita CO2 so the two references don’t match.

    And you replied with

    > Fran, huh?

    So that whole pile of nonsense had nothing to do with the argument being promoted.

  77. #77 Alex
    September 9, 2009

    The second doesn’t debunk the first.

    It does say the first one was probably a bit too certain. TATP is still out, but other binary liquids may have some use.

    Yes, but that wasn’t what you said before. You said:

    The “dirty bomb” isn’t a real bomb: it’s a scare bomb. It never would have worked. Like liquid explosives and planes. Won’t work IRL, but plumped up to scare. By either the hawks or the terrists.

    You stated there that liquid explosives wouldn’t work in planes. You didn’t say TATP, you said liquid explosives.

    PS if you call “noob” name calling, you need to get out a LOT more…

    In BMS’s defence, “noob” can be a type of name calling. From my experience, it can be used in a non-derogatory sense, usually between mates, or it can be used in a (sometimes deserving) harsh sense to disparage someone. Since this is the internet, no-one other than you can know what sense you were using it in.

  78. #78 Dave
    September 9, 2009

    Yep, I’m as green as they come but we need nuclear, and we need it now. Its safe, non polluting and provides good baseload power. And we’ve got tons of the stuff. We need nuclear, I just wish my fellow greens would stop their hysteria about it and listen.

  79. #79 Nomen Nescio
    September 9, 2009

    They CAN be, but they AREN’T.

    and this is the nuke plants’ fault how? “geocraphically limited”, if you want the term to have any meaning reasonably distinct from “politically limited”, is best applied to technologies that simply CAN’T be built just anywhere, whether we build them there or not.

    and yes, we do need a distribution grid. it will incur resistive losses on the power generated, though; no, these losses are not automatically negligible. and FWIW, building a modern, reliable distribution grid in the USA — a worthy project in itself — won’t be cheap no matter what we use to feed it.

  80. #80 D. C. Sessions
    September 9, 2009

    Remember: the tides run twice a day, even at night.

    And they take the week off twice a month.

    And all those waves? they don’t take the night shift off.

    They’re just wind power. The Environmental Impact Statement for harvesting nontrivial amounts of power from the California coast (and the delays from the NIMBY lawsuits) will be fascinating.

    However, once again you need storage or a base-load power source. Still not in evidence.

    Mind, it might yet be developed — I hope so. However, telling the world to put all its hopes on that particular breakthrough happening on schedule seems just a bit unwise. Politically, it’s a death sentence. Massey will beat you to death with it and the end result will be more coal plants.

  81. #81 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > And they take the week off twice a month.

    So?

    It’s not like you can’t store energy (else laptops don’t work).

    Or that you need it dependable, since your quandary was “what happens when the wind stops at night???”.

    > They’re just wind power.

    No, they are wave power. They gain their energy from wind, but check up on the meaning of the word “fetch”:

    http://en.mimi.hu/meteorology/fetch.html

    So the wind would have to be quiet over thousands of miles to stop the waves.

    Please try again.

  82. #82 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > and this is the nuke plants’ fault how?

    It’s not a case of “fault”.

    It’s a case of “we currently have nuke power that is geographically limited and that still doesn;t cause nuke power to fail to work, so why should geographic elements cause wind or tide or whatever to fail”.

    Try “comprehension”.

  83. #83 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > You stated there that liquid explosives wouldn’t work in planes. You didn’t say TATP, you said liquid explosives.

    Yup, liquid explosives as a bomb wouldn’t work. As something making a big bank and hurting some people, it would.

    But blowing aircraft out of the sky with massive casualties?

    No.

  84. #84 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    FTFA:

    > Sure, some of the accused were planning to cause explosions – they have admitted as much, saying they intended to let off a small bomb inside a Heathrow terminal as a political statement.

  85. #85 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    And:

    > A sensible bombmaker would always handle a small HMTD det using tongs or something (just as a sensible man doesn’t let his fingers touch a normal det any more than he has to, and absolutely never encloses one in his hand). He would always avert his gaze, or wear industrial safety goggles.

    So “safe” is a very relative term. Premature explosion would not be devastating.

    So you need a few litres dragged off to the john, a pair of tongs and a pack of batteries…

    Not at all odd.

    Therefore the risk of someone getting away with this (and note: that article does say there are plenty of other ways of doing this from ages ago, yet not one attempt: maybe there’s a reason) is pretty damn low.

    And it’s not as if you can claim “I didn’t know that!”, is it. Unlike “accidental” running-someone-over.

  86. #86 BMS
    September 9, 2009

    Mark – As I stated above, I really don’t give a damn what you call me. My point is that you just don’t seem to have a freak’n clue. For example:

    And where in that is the “CO2 per tonne”?

    Per tonne of what?

    FYI, CO2 is measured in tonnes, kilograms, or whatever. The mass goes in the numerator; there is no “per tonne.” Asking for a country’s carbon emissions in “CO2 per tonne” is like asking for a vehicle’s fuel efficiency in “distance per mile.” It doesn’t make any sense.

    Do yourself a favor: take a science class, for goodness sake, and stop shooting off your mouth about stuff that you don’t understand. While your lack of comprehension of even basic concepts is rather amusing in a pathetic sort of way, it is also annoying, and you’re only embarrassing yourself.

  87. #87 Nomen Nescio
    September 9, 2009

    It’s not like you can’t store energy (else laptops don’t work)

    are you seriously proposing we run entire cities on lithium-ion batteries for up to 50% of the time? have you no faintest clue about energy storage technologies and their current limitations?

    never mind; reading your “response” to me it appears there are quite a few things you lack clues about. here, i’ll give you a few whacks with the clue-by-four and see if any of them take.

    a bit down the Lake Michigan coastline from me, a local power company presently runs a power storage operation — evening out production and usage peaks, precisely the sort of thing we’re talking about here.

    when they have excess power, they pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of lakewater up a three hundred foot incline to a holding pond. then when they need power, they run it down through a turbine again. this is vastly more efficient (for the quantities of power stored) than any battery technology now known or speculated could be. you cannot duplicate that sort of storage capacity with electrical batteries or capacitors; trust me, or prove me wrong.

    and it is geographically limited, because you can only build such things where you have (1) enough land to (2) build an artificial lake (3) a good distance above a permanent body of water. that only happens in certain geographical locations, which is why we call that limitation a geographical one.

    nuclear power plants are not limited by geography, because you can plunk one down wherever. geothermal (for instance) is, because there are only so many places in the world where the ground is hot enough at a shallow enough depth to run them — volcanic hot spots. develop all those spots into power plants, and your geothermal capacity is used up. but you can build nuke plants wherever…

    if your power is being generated at point A, and the people who want to use it are all at point B, you must build a distribution line to connect them. this is routine and usually unavoidable. but it incurs losses, always and necessarily, and the longer the line the greater the losses. nuke plants can be sited to at least try to minimize such losses, as long as politics oblige. power sources that are geographically limited CANNOT be so sited, no matter what politicians might like; they have to go where they have to go.

    did you ever wonder why the Grand Coulee dam is not in lower New York state, or perhaps eastern Pennsylvania? it’s not because the politicians of those areas were all, “great bloody big dam? NIMBY! put it in the backwoods of WA state!” no. it’d do much more good in the east; more people, more industry. that was so especially when the dam was built. but it was and is geographically limited. if the eastern seaboard of the USA lacks for nuke plants, it is not because there aren’t any convenient uranium rivers there to power them.

  88. #88 Chris S.
    September 9, 2009

    “Do yourself a favor: take a science class, for goodness sake, and stop shooting off your mouth about stuff that you don’t understand.”

    Red rag, meet bull.

    /thread

  89. #89 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > are you seriously proposing we run entire cities on lithium-ion batteries for up to 50% of the time?

    > Posted by: Nomen Nescio

    I’ve read the post you were responding to and could not find one instance of lithium-ion being mentioned.

    Do you often hallucinate?

  90. #90 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    Oh clueless one:

    > My point is that you just don’t seem to have a freak’n clue. For example:

    > > And where in that is the “CO2 per tonne”?

    I point you back to post #63 where you said “huh?”. Obviously not enough of a clue for you. Then go back to the post that you were responding to:

    > BMS@56

    > Marion quoted dollar value per ton of CO2 and you are quoting per capita CO2 so the two references don’t match.

    Which is post #59.

    That is where value per ton comes from.

    It seems you don’t remember posts you make yourself or read and responded to at all.

    Your momma met with a goldfish a few years ago? Or is this just the MTV generation at work?

  91. #91 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    PS if you really want to get all righteous, you DO get “CO2 per tonne” since CO2 is not continuous and therefore has a discrete number of CO2 molecules per tonne.

    Maybe you should find an education system that will work for your kind…

  92. #92 Nomen Nescio
    September 9, 2009

    I’ve read the post you were responding to and could not find one instance of lithium-ion being mentioned.

    oh, i’m sorry; i tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. hence when you mentioned laptop computers, i assumed you meant the most efficient, power-dense battery technology commonly used in such.

    i see now you are neither that smart nor that honest; that, when you bring up laptop computers in the context of power storage, you really mean Volta stacks. or maybe potatoes with bimetallic prongs stuck into them.

    unfortunately, that means you’re operating on a level i simply cannot think down to — either morally or IQ-wise; much less then both. hence, *plonk*.

  93. #93 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    > oh, i’m sorry; i tried to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Yes, laptops need batteries.

    No, they aren’t the only batteries.

    You weren’t giving me the benefit of the doubt, you were busily making hay to create a strawman.

  94. #94 Mark
    September 9, 2009

    PS, it’s “plonker”, you plonker.

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=plonker

  95. #95 Alex
    September 9, 2009

    Wow, intellectually dishonest or what, Mark?

    You quote this paragraph from the second Register article:

    Sure, some of the accused were planning to cause explosions – they have admitted as much, saying they intended to let off a small bomb inside a Heathrow terminal as a political statement.

    in order to back up this statement:

    Yup, liquid explosives as a bomb wouldn’t work. As something making a big bank and hurting some people, it would.

    But blowing aircraft out of the sky with massive casualties?

    No.

    But you don’t seem to notice the sentences surrounding the paragraph you quote:

    A lot of people will see these verdicts as proof that the “liquid bomb” airliner plot was never feasible. Sure, some of the accused were planning to cause explosions – they have admitted as much, saying they intended to let off a small bomb inside a Heathrow terminal as a political statement. But they say they never wanted to wreck planes in flight, killing innocents by the hundred. As they hadn’t booked any tickets when they were arrested, a sufficiency of jury members believed they deserved the benefit of the doubt. The prosecution failed to show that their bombs were definitely intended for use aboard airliners.

    Could the bombs have done that job, in fact?

    The answer, unusually, is yes. The three convicted bombmakers – unlike other UK-based terrorists seen recently – had everything ready to assemble devices which would have had a good chance of getting through airport security as it then was. These devices would then have had enough power to at the very least severely damage a big jet.

    How can you tell whether others are constructing giant strawmen, when you’re too busy digging yourself to China?

  96. #96 Alex
    September 9, 2009

    Yes, laptops need batteries.

    No, they aren’t the only batteries.

    So Mark cites laptop batteries, but doesn’t like the best laptop batteries.

    What batteries do you want to use instead?

    Are you going to hook New York up to a Morris Minor?

    It would help if you would tell us what batteries you intended.

  97. #97 GRLCowan
    September 9, 2009

    My idea of how a big storage battery could smooth out renewable power production between winter and summer is partial thermal deoxygenation of magnetite.

    It’s not an electrical storage battery, nor strictly a thermal one, but it should do the job. As I say elsewhere,

    … a solar power station that focussed a large image of the sun down onto a high-altitude outdoor stream of magnetite …

    By summer’s end, 7.7 billion kg of ferrous oxide, a gigawatt-season’s worth, could accumulate, perhaps as an outdoor conical heap 300 m across the base. If a steady year-round ferrous oxide gigawatt were taken, the iron by winter’s end would be in a slightly larger magnetite pile. Other kinds of gigawatt-season energy reservoir – two billion lead-acid car batteries, a cubic km of water raised 800 m – are larger or more costly or both.

    Interesting that the fossil fuel interests, eager to be thought of as dirty countercultural hippies who know nothing about the big money that somehow benefits from their activities, should unforthrightly try to label themselves thus by putting the assertion in opponents’ mouths and pretending it is an insult. They’re certainly dirty, but they ain’t hippies.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  98. #98 D. C. Sessions
    September 9, 2009

    PS, it’s “plonker”, you plonker.

    What’s next, spelling lames? Hint.

  99. #99 trrll
    September 9, 2009

    The “dirty bomb” isn’t a real bomb: it’s a scare bomb. It never would have worked.

    Depends upon your definition of “work.” After all, the object of terrorism is to create terror. Killing people is just a means to that end. And while any plausible dirty bomb would probably kill hardly anybody, it would produce a huge degree of fear and economic disruption. Radioactive materials are detectable at very low levels, and the degree of public fear is such that it would have to be cleaned up completely. Official reassurances that levels are too low to be harmful would not be believed. So you would have people fleeing from potentially a large area, followed by a hugely expensive clean-up operation, with many of the people who fled still being too fearful to return home. This would be followed by years of lawsuits by people who believe that they have been harmed due to inadequate cleanup. I suspect that in comparison, hurricane Alicia would seem cheap.

  100. #100 GRLCowan
    September 9, 2009

    the degree of public fear is such that it would have to be cleaned up completely. Official reassurances that levels are too low to be harmful would not be believed.

    Just as X-rays are a thing of the past, and thousands of lawsuits are in progress from people who believe Colorado should be evacuated. The public is not as stupid as public fossil fuel money recipients would have it believe.