Friday, May 23, 2008

Nuclear Power, Return Of

Just a quick commentary on something I said previously several time, e.g. in this post on Global Warming. If extracting energy from natural gas and oil resources becomes increasing difficult, countries will look for alternative solutions. The most convenient thing is to fall back to already existing technologies. Power from nuclear fission stands on top of the list. It is except for a little waste problem environmentally fairly clean, and has a reasonable energy-return-on-investment (EROI), somewhere around 10:1 - at least considerably better than biofuel. Though people disagree on the details. This site (which is a quite good resource) offers a plot of the EROI estimates for Nuclear Power plants vs. year of analysis. (The estimates are not all for the same technologies, which explains part of the deviations. Either way, one would wish for some clarification on the issue.)

It's not that I am advocating nuclear power, I just want to mention this is likely where things are going. There hasn't been a major accident for a while and those who've demonstrated against nuclear power plants some decades ago are now worrying about hemorrhoids and their children's tuition fees. What I am waiting for is some 'educational' advertising campaign for how great nuclear power is to overcome the NIMBY problem, or possibly BANANAs. Nuclear power plants are cost intensive, so to get things started governmental backup is helpful. Here as in many other areas however, the question is eventually not whether it is cost intensive, but how much more cost-intensive other alternatives would be.

Over the last years you could collect more evidence for this trend. Since 2002 the Department of Energy is running a program called Nuclear Power 2010:

"New baseload nuclear generating capacity is required to enhance U.S. energy supply diversity and energy security, a key National Energy Policy (NEP) objective. The Nuclear Power 2010 program, unveiled by the Secretary on February 14, 2002, is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant technologies, evaluate the business case for building new nuclear power plants, and demonstrate untested regulatory processes[...]

The NP-2010 program is focused on reducing the technical, regulatory and institutional barriers to deployment of new nuclear power plants based on expert recommendations [...]"

And President Bush can be heard saying (Washington Post, May 22nd 2008):
"Our problem in America gets solved if we expand our refining capacity, promote nuclear energy and continue our strategy for the advancement of alternative energies, as well as conservation."

Every once in a while there appears some article like e.g. this one in Scientific American from September 2007
Nuclear Power Reborn
New Jersey-based NRG Energy applies to build the first new nuclear power plant in the U.S. in more than 30 years


"It is a new day for energy in America," David Crane, NRG president and chief executive officer, said after making the application. "Advanced nuclear technology is the only currently viable large-scale alternative to traditional coal-fueled generation to produce none of the traditional air emissions," including the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.

Armed with the backing of the White House and congressional leaders—and subsidies, such as $500 million in risk insurance from the U.S. Department of Energy— the nuclear industry is experiencing a revival in the U.S. As many as 29 new reactors may be added to the current U.S. fleet of 104, according to Bill Borchardt, director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) office of new reactors. "It is going to be significantly different than it was in the 1970s," he says.

This is not an US-only trend. In Physics Today, February 2006 it is summarized

Stronger Future for Nuclear Power
Nuclear reactor builders are jostling for business as energy utilities take another look at nuclear power.

Some two dozen power plants are scheduled to be built or refurbished during the next five years in Canada, China, several European Union countries, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and South Africa. In the US and the UK, governmental preparations are under way that may lead to 15 new reactor orders by 2007.

CBS reports (April 2007)
"France: Vive Les Nukes

With power demands rising and concerns over global warming increasing, what the world needs now is an efficient means of producing large amounts of carbon free energy. One of the few available options is nuclear, a technology whose time seemed to come and go and may now be coming again.

For the first time in decades, new nuclear plants are being built, and not just in Iran and North Korea. With zero green house gas emissions, the U.S. government, public utilities and even some environmental groups are taking a second look at nuclear power."

Reuters discusses the waste problem (Jan 2008). USA today comments on the "nuclear rebirth" 131 days ago (can somebody find a date on this site?):
With nuclear rebirth come new worries
Global warming and rocketing oil prices are making nuclear power fashionable, drawing a once demonized industry out of the shadows of the Chernobyl disaster as a potential shining knight of clean energy. [...]

Of the more than 100 nuclear reactors now being built, planned or on order, about half are in China, India and other developing nations. Argentina, Brazil and South Africa plan to expand existing programs; and Vietnam, Thailand, Egypt and Turkey are among the countries considering building their first reactors.
And today the New York Times reports that Italy Plans to Resume Building Atomic Plants.

The only thing that surprises me is that there hasn't yet been a more furious outcry.

Finally, here is a special bonus for the Germans from today's Spiegel Online

With the new Italian government saying it wants to pave the way to construct new nuclear power plants, Germany's chancellor says its time for Berlin to rethink its energy policies. It "doesn't make sense," Merkel argues, to take Germany's nuclear plants offline.

27 comments:

Uncle Al said...

Nuclear power is free. Sell its carbon credits, at gunpoint, to anybody who owns a fossil fuel car or truck, plus consumption fees. "Decomissioning cost" and "public services" fees added to electric bills. Motivate the productive by compassionately confiscating what they earn.

If you think energy is expensive now, imagine what it will cost when it is free.

Andrew Thomas said...

When I see how NASA is rewriting history so that "How will we know whether the earth is warming or cooling? Today, it all depends on the data source." it just really does make you think again about the whole global warming thing. "NASA has been reworking recent temperatures upwards and older temperatures downwards - which creates a greater slope and the appearance of warming." I know Bee doesn't agree, but I want to see more convincing data. I don't give a toss what Al Gore or Madonna tells me, I just want to see a trustworthy graph.

Frankly, I feel the destruction of the rainforest to create biofuel is a far worse threat to the planet. That's a real tragedy. And it's the global warming evangelists that are causing this rush to biofuel.

Certainly in Britain (where I live) and in Europe there is a certain anti-Americanism behind the whole anti-global warming thing: we've found a rod to beat the Americans, and the left wing have jumped on the bandwagon for all its worth. Plus they can have a go at the rich (in their 4x4s) as well. It's manna from heaven for them. So the whole thing has become politicised. So the poor orangutans losing their habitat are just the losers in a political game.

Nuclear's OK, but cars can't run on nuclear, so how can that really be a solution?

Bee said...

Andrew, before you guess what I agree or disagree on, please read my post I referred to above on Global Warming, at least the summary.

I agree with you that the biofuel issue is a tragedy, and an interesting one. I was collecting some sources the last day on it, maybe I will have a post about the topic at some point.

Best,

B.

Andrew Thomas said...

Hi Bee, sorry to go off-topic in my last post. I hadn't read your previous global warming post but I have now.

Firstly, I want to stress that I definitely care about the environment (as you say), but I think many serious environmental issues have just been completely wiped off the table by this whole global warming thing. I mean, what so awful is actually happenning or is going to happen? Apparently the sea level is going to rise by half a metre over the next hundred years. Some pacific atolls will become uninhabitable - people will have to move to the mainland. And polar bears will suffer. I mean, is that it?? Is that what all this blinking fuss is about?? What about the tragedy of the loss of the rainforest? That seems far more crucial (clearly, if you really are a "tree hugger" then it concerns you). But, of course, of you complain about that then you're depriving the third world economies from growing, and the left wing won't like that. Like you, I hate waste, and all this plastic being dropped into the sea in vast amounts and killing millions of birds is a terrible tragedy. But it doesn't make the headlines. Because no one cares about the birds and it's not a political issue. Global warming just wipes all other environmental concerns away.

The thing is, if you criticise the global warming consensus at all then you are instantly labelled a "climate change denier" and treated as the spawn of the devil. I mean, in your earlier post you said: "Don't deny. Climate changes are a fact and have consequences." I mean, why don't you just say "I'm right. You're wrong. Don't argue with me". It really doesn't seem very open-minded. And then that becomes dangerous. Any threat to free-thinking is a danger and we must be careful. I like to think I have a scientific approach to things, and alternative viewpoints and discussions are always welcome, but not in this subject, apparently. In this subject you shall conform. I mean, I personally don't believe multiverses exist (and there is no evidence for multiverses like there is for global warming) but even though there is no evidence for them I still would never dream of saying "Don't deny. Multiverses are a fact and have consequences." I would just not consider that to be a scientific approach.

JJD said...

I wonder if Bee or Stefan would kindly comment on the status of fusion power, what kinds of special waste disposal or maintenance problems it would have, and the prospects for large-scale fusion power generation within, say, the next 20 years.

Bee said...

Andrew,

First, I have expressed repeatedly that I too don't like how the debate about climate change is being lead in the media. I share your concern that therefore other important issues are not getting the attention they need.

Apparently the sea level is going to rise by half a metre over the next hundred years. Some pacific atolls will become uninhabitable - people will have to move to the mainland. And polar bears will suffer. I mean, is that it?? Is that what all this blinking fuss is about??

You can't possibly be that naive, can you? Change in climate conditions affects which areas on this planet are comfortably habitable. Those of us who can will move to more pleasant areas, or use advanced technologies to grow plants or assure water supply. The biggest part of the world population doesn't have the resources to do that. All these people will have to suffer, and they will use whatever means to assure the survival of their families with the result of potentially political instabilities. Face it, the most pleasant places on Earth to live in are Europe and North America, who will attract a lot of jealosy and anger.

Further, please consider the following: even if you think a meter rise in sea level or dimishing harvests doesn't concern you all that much, it takes human and time resources to deal with it. These resources can not be used for what they where previously used. This will put additional stress on our economy and the political system. The less we are prepared the worse it will be. Consider you have to re-settle millions of people, have to upgrade millions of houses, have to reorganize infrastructure and so on and so forth. That doesn't come for free.

why don't you just say "I'm right. You're wrong. Don't argue with me".

Because that wasn't what I meant to say. You can't possibly completely ignore every evidence there is for a change in the world climate, so I guess that's not what you are aiming at. One can argue about what there is to do and how. Not that I have a good answer to this. One can also argue about what the cause is, and I can't say very much about this either.

In this subject you shall conform.

This problem comes with the first you mention. The topic has been strongly politicised in the media and it is hard to trust now anything that is reported. I would be grateful if you could direct your anger about this elsewhere.

Best,

B.

nige said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Thomas said...

Oh, I certainly wasn't directing my anger at you, Bee. In fact, I'm not angry at all.

I just think there has to be space for rational, reasonable people to question the data without being labelled as a right-wing zealot in the same category as, say, Lubos Motl. It's so important to retain that. It's good if you have said how you don't like how the debate is being lead.

I stand by what I say, though. "Don't deny. Climate changes are a fact and have consequences" is counterproductive to the discussion. (I'm not remotely angry about it, though!)

Back on topic, I wasn't aware a nuclear fusion reactor was being built.

nige said...

"Nuclear's OK, but cars can't run on nuclear, so how can that really be a solution?" - Andrew

Nuclear power doesn't burn fossil fuels, which leaves more of those fuels for powering the internal combustion engine rather than generating electricity.

Cars can eventually (when fossil fuel costs make the price of gasoline too much for most people to afford) be fitted with electric motors run on electricity using efficient, low-weight rechargable lithium-ion batteries, and these can be recharged from mains supplied by nuclear reactors.

Obviously, electric trains can run on nuclear generated electricity without any interim battery storage.

The thing about nuclear power is that it is excessively expensive due to excessive safety precautions, and it is also a victim of lying propaganda from the environmental lobby which doesn't understand nuclear power in the proper context of natural radiation background levels and natural radon gas hazards, or even the naturally proved storage of intense radioactive waste for billions of years!

Fission products have been proved to be safely confined with only a few feet migration over a time span of 1.7 billion years, as a result of the intense natural nuclear reactors in concentrated uranium ore seams at Oklo, in Gabon:

"Once the natural reactors burned themselves out, the highly radioactive waste they generated was held in place deep under Oklo by the granite, sandstone, and clays surrounding the reactors’ areas. Plutonium has moved less than 10 feet from where it was formed almost two billion years ago."

- http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/factsheets/doeymp0010.shtml

Data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki is strongest (most evidence) for low doses, where it shows a suppression and a threshold for such low-LET (linear energy transfer) radiation like gamma rays. See my post here for a discussion of the extensive evidence.

High-LET radiation like alpha particles deposits a lot of energy per unit length of path of the radiation through tissue, and this can overcome the natural protein P53 repair mechanism which sticks broken DNA fragments back together. In fact, the main cancer risk occurs in multiple DNA strand breaks, where bits of DNA end up being stuck back together in the wrong sequence, either killing the cell when it later tries to divide, or more seriously causing cancer when the cell divides in a damaged form which is out of control and causes a tumour.

But such high-LET radiation like alpha particles are only a hazard internally, such as when radioactive material is inhaled or ingested. The alpha particle emitter plutonium in a nuclear reactor is inside sealed aluminium fuel pellets and at no time is such waste a serious inhalation or ingestion hazard.

Gamma radiation, from evidence at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Taiwan incident where 180 buildings lived in by 10,000 people for 20 years were constructed of steel which accidentally included intensely radioactive cobalt-60 from discarded radiotherapy sources, is low-LET radiation which does exhibit a threshold before any excess cancer risk (predominantly leukemia) shows up. There is evidence that the exact threshold dose effect for low-LET radiations such as gamma radiation depends on the dose rate at which the radiation is received, and not merely on the total dose. If the dose rate is producing DNA damage at a rate which is lower than the maximum rate at which P53 can repair DNA strand breaks, no excess cancer (above the natural cancer rate) occurs. The cancer risk depends on the proportion of the radiation dose which is above this threshold, and is proportional to that dose received at a rate exceeding the repairable DNA damage rate.

W.L. Chen,Y.C. Luan, M.C. Shieh, S.T. Chen, H.T. , Kung, K.L. Soong, Y.C.Yeh, T.S. Chou, S.H. Mong, J.T.Wu, C.P. Sun,W.P. Deng, M.F.Wu, and M.L. Shen, Is Chronic Radiation an Effective Prophylaxis Against Cancer?, published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 2004, page 6, available in PDF format here:

'An extraordinary incident occurred 20 years ago in Taiwan. Recycled steel, accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 ([low dose rate, low-LET gamma radiation emitter] half-life: 5.3 y), was formed into construction steel for more than 180 buildings, which 10,000 persons occupied for 9 to 20 years. They unknowingly received radiation doses that averaged 0.4 Sv, a collective dose of 4,000 person-Sv. Based on the observed seven cancer deaths, the cancer mortality rate for this population was assessed to be 3.5 per 100,000 person-years. Three children were born with congenital heart malformations, indicating a prevalence rate of 1.5 cases per 1,000 children under age 19.

'The average spontaneous cancer death rate in the general population of Taiwan over these 20 years is 116 persons per 100,000 person-years. Based upon partial official statistics and hospital experience, the prevalence rate of congenital malformation is 23 cases per 1,000 children. Assuming the age and income distributions of these persons are the same as for the general population, it appears that significant beneficial health effects may be associated with this chronic radiation exposure. ...

'The data on reduced cancer mortality and congenital malformations are compatible with the phenomenon of radiation hormesis, an adaptive response of biological organisms to low levels of radiation stress or damage; a modest overcompensation to a disruption, resulting in improved fitness. Recent assessments of more than a century of data have led to the formulation of a well founded scientific model of this phenomenon.

'The experience of these 10,000 persons suggests that long term exposure to [gamma]radiation, at a dose rate of the order of 50 mSv (5 rem) per year, greatly reduces cancer mortality, which is a major cause of death in North America.'

The fact that leukemia risk is sensitive function of dose rate and not just dose means that most of the radiation monitors for workers in the nuclear industry (which merely record total dose, i.e. integrated dose rate, and don't show the mean rate at which the dose was received at) is almost useless for assessing risks.

This has been known and published widely since 1962:

"... Mole [R. H. Mole, Brit. J. Radiol., v32, p497, 1959] gave different groups of mice an integrated total of 1,000 r of X-rays over a period of 4 weeks. But the dose-rate - and therefore the radiation-free time between fractions - was varied from 81 r/hour intermittently to 1.3 r/hour continuously. The incidence of leukemia varied from 40 per cent (within 15 months of the start of irradiation) in the first group to 5 per cent in the last compared with 2 per cent incidence in irradiated controls."

All of this evidence is ignored or censored out of mainstream discussions by bigoted politicians, journalists, editors and environmental quangos. So "Health Physics" (which radiation safety is currently known as) isn't really healthy physics anymore, it's instead becoming more of a pseudoscientific exercise in political expediency and ignoring evidence.

Fusion power doesn't look very realistic or safe either, because of the high energy neutrons given off in tritium-deuterium fusion which will turn the structural materials of the entire fusion reactor radioactive quite quickly, since they have a much greater range than the moderated (thermalized) neutrons in a nuclear fission reactor. So neutron-induced activity is a problem with fusion reactors. You have also to compress plasma to enormous pressures to achieve fusion using electrically controlled magnetic fields, which in a commercial fusion reactor producing gigawatts of power, would not exactly have the "fail-safe" safety features of a fission reactor. Any slight upset to the carefully aligned and balanced magnetic fields which are compressing the fusion plasma would potentially turn the fusion reactor into the scene of a H-bomb exposion, complete with radioactive fallout from the neutron-induced activity in the structural materials. This aspect of fusion power isn't hyped very much in the popular media, either. Could it be that the people working on such areas simply don't want their funding to dry up?

Bee said...

Andrew, one should not deny any kind of facts, whether they support your view or not. I completely agree with you that it is of utmost importance to keep the discussion reasonable and on a scientific level or we'll drown in rhetoric.

Andrew Thomas said...

Hi Bee, "One should not deny any kind of facts, whether they support your view or not." You're absolutely right. Those Holocaust deniers, for example, that's dreadful. However, the case for man-made global warming - while it is backed by a majority scientific consensus - is still not in the "undeniable fact" category (as that link I posted showing that NASA have been doctoring the graphs shows). I mean, I've seen the graphs showing temperature really taking off at the end of the 20th century, and I've trusted them. But it appears we should have been less trusting. Surely we have to at least question the data rather than instantly accepting it as fact? This is such a big and important issue with the potential to change all our lifestyles and it's vital to get it right. To try to suppress opposing opinions is definitely not the right way forward. Every voice must be heard.

I'm actually not a "denier" of man-made global warming. I don't see how you can put 6 billion people on a planet engaging in economic and industrial activity and not expect the planet to get warmer. I mean, surely it's bound to! The recent rapid increase in apparent temperature at the end of the 20th century is surely inevitable. We have "megacities" (Tokyo is 5000 square miles) being heated through the winter. I mean, surely that's bound to make the planet hotter? Even if we switch to nuclear, Tokyo is still going to be heated through the winter. Unless we are going to stop human activity and cull the population of China, it seems inevitable that things are going to heat up from the previous steady state.

But is it all due to greenhouse gases? Or what proportion is due to greenhouse gases, and how much is due to unavoidable human economic activity?

Bee said...

a) I deliberately didn't talk about global warming, but about climate change. You can mess up the climate in more ways than affecting a temperature curve. That includes a lot of local changes like desertification, changes in average rainfall, animal population (land and see) and so on and so forth.

b) So the NASA has been doctoring graphs, not nice. Look at the IPCC reports and see how you can talk away every single evidence.

c) As I said previously, the question of whether there is climate change or not is different from the question of what causes it.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

thanks for the update, and the news from Italy and its reverberation on the debate in Germany! Yes, that's what you have been telling all the time...

BTW, a link I came across these days, the LHC runs on electricity supplied by the French EDF, which generates 86.6 percent of its output by nuclear power.


Hi JJD,

I didn't follow the ITER project or any other fusion projects, so I cannot say much about fusion. I do not even know if 20 years to go to reach fusion power on a practical level is realistic. As far as I know, there is not so much a problem with used fuel to dispose of, but instead, the whole apparatus gets quite activated. And Helium-3 from the Moon doesn't solve the problem ;-).

Best, Stefan

Eric Gisse said...

"Nuclear's OK, but cars can't run on nuclear"

The question is not whether cars can run on nuclear - http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=656 - but whether it is a good idea or not.

Count Iblis said...

Bee, just invent a viable way of making small black holes. We can then feed it with waste and we'll use the Hawking radiation to power the World :)

ZoloftNotWorking said...

How about the MIT Levitated Dipole Experiment? It offers high beta (density) and D2-D2 reactions? (If it works.)
Also I have some comments on the anthrpomorphic origin of what is apparently an episode of global warming but I'll send these later after I digest some of the former writings and sober up!
Ahhhhhh. In addition, I distinctly recall an old Scientific American article on sequestering of waste for nuclear fission reactors. The article was published in the mid to late 70s (alas, all of my SA magazines prior to 2000 are in storage) and focused on the exemplary suitability of salt domes for extended geologic sequestration, as opposed to the highly questionable proposal by US lawmakers to use the proposed Yucca Flats site for container sequestration. I'll try to discuss these things later!

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“If extracting energy from natural gas and oil resources becomes increasing difficult, countries will look for alternative solutions. The most convenient thing is to fall back to already existing technologies.”

You certainly don’t shy away fro the controversial. It’s somewhat unfortunate that climate change has dominated the reaction so far to your post and yet of course this is the main catalyst for action. One of the most confusing things in terms of the issue is the percentage of contribution of CO2 loading in terms of fuel source. My perception of it until a few years back was it was predominately oil, then I saw a public lecture out at PI by Prof. David Archer that described it as mostly coal with I think the number he sited was 90% coal 10% oil. When I reviewed the lecture online the section where he stated this and the slide had been edited out, (musical interlude) although you will see his concern in the rest of the lecture resides mainly with coal.

Then with curiosity heightened I tried to come up with a clear statement of this online in the form of a graph or definitive authoritative statement and found it difficult to come up with anything clear cut as Archer had provided or stated. As you know I don’t have any mind set for conspiracy theories, yet I do think politics and vested interest can muddy the waters to make thing unclear. For instance, in all the talks that Al Gore has given, I never have seen presented such a statistic, as it is always all lumped in as being simply fossil fuels. I think as first step, the world bodies that are responsible for such reporting and the bodies like the EPA should make a clear cut (well publicized) statement in this regard, so that at least in terms of fuel sources in relation to both the short and long term can be weighed in respect to their relative impacts. I would think this is of primary concern and importance in terms of the discussion, policy making and thereby action taken.

Oh yes, as far as fission power, I have always found this issue also to be muddied by special interest and politics and view it all to be no more then a tempest in a tea pot. I would live in Pickering or Darlington anytime without a single concern in this regard.

Best,

Phil

Neil' said...

I think we should keep using nuclear to reduce oil dependence and carbon output, but we have to do it carefully. Having studied both anthropology and radiological control (for US Naval vessels), and looked at the problem of long-term nuclear waste storage, I conclude that the problem is: whether we will have enough cultural continuity centuries into the future. IOW, we trust the current relevant leaders (?) to take care of buried nuclear waste presuming it is already physically inert by itself (such as vitrified.) But 1,000 years from now, much of that waste will still be dangerously radioactive. Will the people in America, Europe, etc., still care or understand the issues well enough to keep up the proper containment procedures? I saw some interesting articles about using symbolic communication to make sure that language changes, at least, don't keep our distant descendants from understanding the risks and how to (basically) deal with them.

BTW the USN program is very safe, and we haven't had troubles AFAIK at our local Surry plant either, so it's ultimately a matter of storing the waste. I wonder: if shipyards can build cost-effective nuclear vessels, than why can't the same mfrs. make cost-effective land plants with even fewer engineering constraints imposed?

(PS: When I wrote that last sentence, I couldn't help remembering the character Chekov, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Trying to find a nuclear-powered naval ship while stuck in the 20th century, he asked where to find "nuclear wessels." We were still (are?) in the Cold War then.)

"tyrannogenius"

Andrew Thomas said...

Can I just say I feel really guilty for going off on a right old rant about global warming when it wasn't even the topic of the original post. Apologies, Bee. You were very good to humour me.

I thought there was an interesting quote about nuclear fusion here: Some green groups criticised Tuesday's announcement as a waste of money. They are doubtful whether Iter will ever deliver practical technologies.

"With 10 billion [euros], we could build 10,000MW offshore windfarms, delivering electricity for 7.5 million European households," said Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace International.

"Governments should not waste our money on a dangerous toy which will never deliver any useful energy. Instead, they should invest in renewable energy which is abundantly available, not in 2080 but today."


Now, to me, that just sounds like green groups don't want nuclear full-stop, even if it's clean. I know I'm being controversial again (sorry!), but doesn't that just sound like they have a hidden anti-science agenda? The real motive is to change our lifestyles back to a bicycle-riding pre-technology era? Surely they should be encouraging nuclear fusion research, even if it is not immediately successful?

Ed said...

Has anyone investigated thorium based nuclear? It supposedly is much safer (no china syndrome) less waste (100's 1/2 life instead of thousands) and no weapons grade production (as a matter of fact a thorium233-u233 reactor can break up pl239 in small amounts at a time. I get my info from an Idaho company (Thorium Energy Inc.) and thoriumpower.com. If I have been mislead, please do not hesitate to let me know

Andrew Thomas said...

Looking at their website, it seems the main attraction of thorium plants is they will stop the terrorists getting the material for a bomb, basically.

It's a bit scary that the text of the "Thorium Power" website appears to have copied some (but not all) of the Wikipedia article:

Thorium Power
Wikipedia article

I hope they're not getting their technical expertise from Wikipedia!!

Referring back to my previous point on nuclear fusion, it seems even people on the Greenpeac forum are against Greenpeace's stance on this issue:

http://forum.greenpeace.org/int/showthread.php?t=237&page=2

Andrew Thomas said...

I found some interesting info about this ITER fusion project in Cosmos magazine - see here (I'm surprised the project gets so little publicity). Here's some selected quotes:

-- ITER - The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor - is based in Provence, France. It is considered to be "one of the world's most important scientific projects".

-- A 300-strong team has taken up residence at the 70-hectare site. These scientists and engineers have been recruited from the project's backers: the EU, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the USA. Construction begins early 2008.

-- The existing JET fusion reactor soaks up 25 MW of power to generate 16 MW of fusion power. ITER will have an output of 500 MW for an input of only 50 MW.

-- Importantly, of the 17.6 million electronvolts of energy created with each reaction, most of it – about 14 million electronvolts – is transferred to the neutron. It has no charge and cannot be contained by the tokamak’s magnetic field. So it whizzes out of the reactor and smashes into the atoms of the reactor wall, transferring its considerable kinetic energy to them. The end product is heat, which can then be used to drive turbines.

-- "We simply don’t know how plasma will behave in these conditions. It could become unstable and the magnetic fields will not be able to contain it. Plasma could leak out and melt bits of the reactor", he admits.

Like I say, it's a real shame Greenpeace don't support fusion research. It's like they're not interested in technological solutions to climate change - only lifestyle change interests them.

Bee said...

Hi Count:

Bee, just invent a viable way of making small black holes. We can then feed it with waste and we'll use the Hawking radiation to power the World :)

That's already been suggested... No, really...

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

You certainly don’t shy away fro the controversial.

I don't even know the word ;-) But more seriously, I don't quite know what's controversial about what I said, I was merely collecting evidence for what I've said previously (this post is a good example for environmental scanning).

When I reviewed the lecture online the section where he stated this and the slide had been edited out, (musical interlude)

*lol* No, really? Well, that raises the question of how does one do a proper erratum to a recorded lecture?

I don't know exactly the ratio of global oil/coal use either, but I came across a number at some point for China where indeed the coal use was much higher than I'd expected. I will see if I can find some useful reference at some point.

Regarding the nuclear energy, what concerns me about it is that falling back to this solution will likely go on the expenses of investing in developing alternative options.

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“*lol* No, really? Well, that raises the question of how does one do a proper erratum to a recorded lecture?”

Yeah no kidding, they did edit the lecture from how it was originally presented. Now I’m not certain why this is, perhaps the number was just wrong or the context made it appear so, yet whatever the reason it’s gone. By the way if you view the lecture you will find two musical interludes as I call them. The first is near the beginning of the lecture and the second is where it switches over to Howard Burton asking Prof. Archer some questions and moving into general audience questions. It is in that space represented by the first musical interlude where the statement and slide is omitted.

“I don't know exactly the ratio of global oil/coal use either, but I came across a number at some point for China where indeed the coal use was much higher than I'd expected. I will see if I can find some useful reference at some point.”

I did some checking and as far as globally represented I still find nothing straight forward. However, I was able to come up with something from the Energy Information Administration
that does give one some information for the U.S. only in this regard. They state the total CO2 released in 2007 by source (in million metric tons) as 2583 (43.2%) for oil, 2154 (36%) coal and 1234 (20.6%) for natural gas. I actually did the percentages for they also don’t state it so directly, although they have a graph. Now as this is U.S. only I don’t know how this works out globally. However with China becoming the number one C02 emitter as of 2006 with the U.S. now second I tend to think that this coal to petro spread while perhaps not quite the same as Archer’s would still reveal coal burning as the predominate source. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t be developing replacements for the petro product and getting used to squeezing into our Smart cars and such. However, if we don’t have the correct focus on the problem in the overall much of this will be for nothing as it doesn’t address the core of the problem or the source of it.

“Regarding the nuclear energy, what concerns me about it is that falling back to this solution will likely go on the expenses of investing in developing alternative options.”

I understand and share your concern, yet I’m also firmly convinced it would be both unwise and impractical if we are to achieve our ultimate goal if we attempt to exclude fission power from being, if nothing else, a temporary stop gap solution along the way.

Best,

Phil

Kaleberg said...

Personally, I don't have a strong opinion one way or another about global warming, but the things that its opponents are suggesting are generally things we should be doing anyway. There was a time in the early 20th century when they predicted that every woman in the U.S. of A would be a telephone operator. It's sort of like Hooke's law, displacement is proportional to force, except when it's not.

I'd love to see nuclear power make a come back. The waste issue is a serious one, and breeder reactors seem to be beyond our current engineering abilities. Still, we have to look to the future, and hydrocarbons have their limits.

The U.S. approach in the 1970s was amazingly ad hoc and amateurish, what with no two reactors alike. Can you imagine aviation where every airplane had its own wing design? How could we learn and improve. I'd like to believe we, and others, can do better.

Riemannzeta said...

Anybody interested in promoting nuclear energy should also at least be aware of what Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling had to say in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/2005/schelling-lecture.html