Friday, February 12, 2010

Why don't we go nuclear?

I read an article titled There is No Perfect Fuel published on Acton blog.  However, while the article itself is good, it was a comment that I found that really impressed me with how powerful it was. Now, I haven't double checked all his numbers, but I do know from my own reading that the concepts he's talking about are accurate. This really makes one wonder why we aren't really pushing nuclear more beyond just promises and rhetoric.

Yes, there is a perfect fuel: uranium and thorium. I have worked in nuclear energy for more than 30 years. I have been on a submarine that could traverse the ocean depths, surfacing only for food and toilet paper, all thanks to a 158 MWth nuclear reactor. I have worked in 1000 MWe nuclear power plants that emit zero CO2 and zero particulates, and whose spent fuel of some 30 years of operation fits inside five or six dry storage casks, completely sequestered from the environment and ready for reprocessing to be used in the next generation fast neutron burner.
With nuclear energy we can make our own liquid fuels or produce hydrogen to replace imported oil. With nuclear energy we can obviate the need for coal fired power plants whose emissions kill 30000 annually from lung disease in the US alone. With fast neutron burners we can consume all the long lived actinides in spent nuclear fuel, making Yucca Mountain or any other long term geologic repository a moot point. By using fast breeder reactors, we have enough uranium and thorium in Earth's crust to fuel nine billion people with a level of energy consumption equal to that of the average American for one million years.
Consider this: The energy in one uranium fuel pellet—the size of the tip of your little finger—is the equivalent of 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil. If you used only uranium or thorium for energy and added up all the energy you use in a lifetime, it would be the size of a 12 ounce can of soda. But if you did the same with coal or oil or gas, it would hundreds of tons of refuse dumped willy-nilly into the air and water and ground.
BTW, did you know that coal fired power plants that supply 50% of US electricity emit more radioactivity in the form of uranium, thorium and radium occurring naturally in coal than any nuke plant releases? Indeed, Con Ed in the 1960s wanted to build a coal fired power plant next to its Indian Point nuclear facility but couldn't because the radioactive emissions of the coal plant would swamp the radiation detectors in the nuke plant. I know - I worked at Indian Point for 18 years and I was the radiation monitoring system engineer for unit 3, and the two 1000 MW pressurized water reactors (units 2 and 3, 1 is decommissioned) produce almost as much electricity as the US portion of Niagara Falls!
Take a look at emission numbers below:
Coal Plant Emmissions: Pounds of Refuse per 1 MWe of Generation
 Carbon Dioxide 2249
 Sulfur Dioxide 13
 Nitrogen Oxides 6
Oil Plant Emmissions: Pounds of Refuse per 1 MWe of Generation
 Carbon Dioxide 1672
 Sulfur Dioxide 12
 Nitrogen Oxides 4
Natural Gas Plant Emmissions: Pounds of Refuse per 1 MWe of Generation
 Carbon Dioxide 1135
 Sulfur Dioxide 0.1
 Nitrogen Oxides 1.7
Nuclear Plant Emmissions: Pounds of Refuse per 1 MWe of Generation
 Carbon Dioxide 0
 Sulfur Dioxide 0
 Nitrogen Oxides 0
So what's safer for the lungs?
BTW, solar and wind are a joke: no wind - no electricity. No sunlight - no electricity. If wind were so darn great, then why are not commercial ships still propelled by sails? Capacity factor of wind and solar never exceeds 30%, but the current capacity factor for an American nuke is more than 92% and its environmental footprint is miniscule compared to the dozens of square miles of landscape that have to be torn up for wind or solar.
Yes, there is the perfect fuel - two of them in fact: Thorium from which we can breed U-233, and uranium from which we get get U-235 or with which we can breed Pu-239.
I have worked 30+ years in the nuclear industry. It's the safest and best industry in the world, and that is exactly why it is opposed by all the right (er, I mean left) thinking people.
More nukes, less kooks is what I say. I shall have more to say about safety, Chernobyl, TMI, etc., in later posts. Suffice it to point out that not ONE member of the public has been injured or killed as the result of the operation of ANY Western light water reactor. A Chernobyl event cannot happen at a US plant because Chernobyl was an RBMK - a plutonium weapons breeder. It was graphite moderated and light water cooled. It had a positive tmeperature and void co-efficient of reactivity. No US reactor is like that. The laws of physics prevent a Chernobyl event at any light water cooled, light water moderated reactor. As for TMI - when the worst happens to a US reactor, the radioactivity is contained in containment and the public unaffected. Just look at the gas fired power plant explosion in Conneticut earlier this week. Can't happen at a nuke. Not possible.
By the way, I want to make something perfectly clear here. Obamolech is NOT pro-nuke. Yes, he proposed 57 billion in loan promises to the US nuke industry, but he appointed anti-nuke Jackzo as head of the US NRC.
Remember back in Bush's days John Roberts was selected for SCOTUS? Harry Reid had a fit about that and said no. But Harry Reid (who opposes the Yucca Mtn repository and is anti-nuke) had as his science advisor Gregory Jackzo. he proposed to Bush that he'd let John Roberts go to SCOTUS is Jackzo became a commissioner in the NRC. Bush agreed, but NEI (Nuclear Energy Institute) wanted balance in the NRC, so they contacted Pete Domenici (a pro-nuke senator) whose science advisor was Peter Lyons, a pro-nuke himself. Domenici offered Lyons as the balance to Jackzo. Then the Obamination of Desolation got elected. The terms of Jackzo and Lyons both ended early in Obamolech's presidency. Obamolech renewed Jackzo's term but dismissed Lyons, leaving an open vacancy. Additionally, Obamolech demoted pro-nuke Dale Klien as NRC Chairman and appointed anti-nuke Jackzo.
Guys, this ain't rocket science. The Obamination of Desolation opposes nuke power no matter what he says. Why? I can only assume that coal and oil suppliers have him in their back pocket. What's the biggest threat to coal and oil and gas suppliers? Nukes!
Oh, here's a bit of trivia: pick up an ordinary piece of bitumous coal. There's more energy in the uranium and thorium of the piece of coal then there is in burning the coal. Think about that. Think about how we could cut down on our consumption of coal if we used that as a resource for uranium and thorium instead of burning it by the megaton. And did you know that a nuke operates for 2 years before refueling, and only 1/3 of the core gets refueled at any time? Coal and oil and gas suppliers hate nukes.

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