Nuclear Energy is Bollocks Redux

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Here is a topic that might divide AO posters along unusual lines.



Some environmental lefties hate nuclear power because of the long-term radioactive waste, the potential for the fuel and waste to be used to make weapons, and the possibility for catastrophic failures at power plants. Other environmental lefties are more supportive, pointing out that nuclear has no fossil fuel emissions and that expanding nuclear energy is the only way we can realistically meet Kyoto targets.



Some conservatives think nuclear energy is a bad idea whose time has come and gone, arguing that is just not economical without huge government subsidies, which they oppose. (This includes, for example, the small ?c? conservatives who put out the Economist magazine). Other conservatives like nuclear energy because it is big, brutal and keeps the lights on (the current view at the White House).



And even the Euro/American divide is hard to predict. Some European countries have continued to go strongly nuclear over the past 20 years, even as North Americans utilities have stopped building new reactors. Other European countries seem set to abandon nuclear energy, even as the White House pushes for renewed nuclear energy in the U.S.



What are your views? My own view, to parody the title of another thread, is that nuclear energy is bollocks redux. I just cannot abide the idea of something that has such a dangerous waste product. Our descendants will not thank us for our little nuclear energy experiment in the late 20th and early 21st century. There are other, green, alternatives that, while not perfect, are far preferable and that will, with a bit more research and investment, be cheaper in the long run.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    thttht Posts: 3,212member
    Pebble Bed reactors good. Send nuclear waste into space. Yucca mountain bad. Also. Solar good. Wind good. Most of all, efficiency good.
  • Reply 2 of 35
    chinneychinney Posts: 1,019member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by THT

    ... Send nuclear waste into space. ....



    Abord Brazilian rockets...or even NASA rockets....!!!!????



    Let me find a hole to crawl into first.
  • Reply 3 of 35
    longhornlonghorn Posts: 147member
    Or just use laser beams.



    http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994056



    Granted it's not economical yet, but to think that we'll never come up with a way to reduce nuclear waste is ignorant. Nuclear is so much cleaner it's about the only legitimate solution until fusion comes along.
  • Reply 4 of 35
    chinneychinney Posts: 1,019member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Longhorn

    Or just use laser beams.





    My favorite part of the article you link us too is that part that says reducing the waste in this manner uses "vast amounts of energy". Perhaps we can use solar energy to provide this power. It says a lot of other negative things too about this potential (very limited potential - I would say) way of reducing waste.



    Oh well, maybe we can sell the waste to Iran or North Korea so that they can dispose of it safely. I hear that Al Qaeda has a nuclear waste management division as well.
  • Reply 5 of 35
    bungebunge Posts: 7,329member
    What the hell is the 'new' reactor technology that doesn't leave waste and can't overheat? Crap. I read about it in the mid 80's, but it was probably shelved so we could use more oil.
  • Reply 6 of 35
    thttht Posts: 3,212member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Chinney

    Abord Brazilian rockets...or even NASA rockets....!!!!????



    Let me find a hole to crawl into first.




    Consider the cost equation of spending 100+ billion USD on limited storage at Yucca mountain versus the unlimited storage of space. I believe transport safety issues can be solved.



    The essential question for nuclear energy is do you believe that technological advancement can solve the issues with nuclear energy. If you do, there should be no question that there should at minimum be a healthy R&D program for nuclear technology. Closed cycle fuel reactors in the future should get rid of the long half-life wastes while the short half-life wastes will be like regular ore after a millenia or so. So the technology is ever advancing. The big problem is the US will be behind.



    And I am all for solar, wind, tidal and agri-energy sources. I think that every new house and building should be as power efficient as possible. I think that every new house and building in hot climates should come with solar panels on their roofs. I think that every building in a cold climates should have microturbine gas generators. I think the coasts should be dotted with wave/tidal power plants. I think the power grid should be made more robust and distributable. I think that every car should be as power efficient as possible. (Thermoelectric materials, sort of a reverse Peltier effect, will be cool if they can be made to work because of the implications for hybrids.)



    The answer should be all-of-the-above for energy sources. There will always be some need for non-fluctuating continuous power sources. There will always be a need for non-linear power draw. So, coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants, or some energy source that can provide that sort of power has to coexist with the "green" sources.
  • Reply 7 of 35
    moogsmoogs Posts: 4,296member
    What he ^ said.



    Doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. Reduce the use of Nuclear and Fossil plants as much as [you can without making the grid too vulnerable], and then work hard on spreading new energy technologies where they are geographically practical.



    Once the rockets are more reliable, I don't give a crap about sending radioactive waste into deep space. Deep space is full of radioactivity by definition. My only qualm might be the expense of doing this in the near term (next 20 years).



    Sort of like web sites: design with pure XHTML and CSS wherever possible (content-driven sites) and use the old technology (HTML tables) where you must (commerce-driven sites, government sites).
  • Reply 8 of 35
    scottscott Posts: 7,431member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by bunge

    What the hell is the 'new' reactor technology that doesn't leave waste and can't overheat? Crap. I read about it in the mid 80's, but it was probably shelved so we could use more oil.





    There was an article in Scientific American several years ago that had all the new nuke tech in it. One idea I remember is that you put all the hot stuff in a giant "cup" with all the important cooling stuff in it. That way if anything leaks it fills up the cup and cools the whole thing down. They said it was safe enough that it could be left unmonitored and if all hell broke loose there would be no accident at all ... theoretically
  • Reply 9 of 35
    bungebunge Posts: 7,329member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Scott

    There was an article in Scientific American several years ago that had all the new nuke tech in it. One idea I remember is that you put all the hot stuff in a giant "cup" with all the important cooling stuff in it. That way if anything leaks it fills up the cup and cools the whole thing down. They said it was safe enough that it could be left unmonitored and if all hell broke loose there would be no accident at all ... theoretically



    There you go! This was it I believe, although my source was the Chicago Tribune from the mid to late 80's. Did this Scientific American article discuss the wasteless-ness of the project?
  • Reply 10 of 35
    powerdocpowerdoc Posts: 8,123member
    The worst energy for producing electricity is fossil energy. It produce CO2 something extremely bad for the environnement.



    Wind, solar are clean and do not produce many pollution, but they are very expansive and are not able to produce huge amounts of energy. Water dams are a clean source of energy, but change the environnement. It can be an advantage sometimes, like in the case of the Hoover dam, where the change was for the better. I think it's the only source of clean energy that produce a huge amount of it. But you can't multiply this type of constructions.



    My advice, more solar and wind energy, but nuclear energy is better than fossil ones who destroyed the athmosphere.
  • Reply 11 of 35
    agent302agent302 Posts: 974member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by bunge

    What the hell is the 'new' reactor technology that doesn't leave waste and can't overheat? Crap. I read about it in the mid 80's, but it was probably shelved so we could use more oil.



    I believe the technical terms is "Breeder Reactors". One of the potential fears, if I remember correctly, was that breeders could also be used to get potential high grade weapons material.
  • Reply 12 of 35
    agent302agent302 Posts: 974member
    Here's a link to a Japanese government site that has a brief explanation of Fast Breeder Reactors



    Edit: And here's a more technical description.
  • Reply 13 of 35
    kickahakickaha Posts: 8,760member
    Yeah, the DOD convinced the DOE to ban breeder reactors. Thanks, guys. :P



    The waste contains weapons-grade isotopes... but lasts 1/20th as long as current waste. Still a long time, but much easier to design long-term storage for.



    The thing that most folks tend to forget is that while solar, tidal, wind, etc, are all great additions to the energy budget, they *also* change the environment, sometimes quite drastically.



    Back in '93 I took a series of classes from Dr. Bodansky at the Univ of Washington, one of the authors of the Swedish Nuclear Health Risk guidelines, some of the tightest in the world. (At least at that time, I haven't kept up.) The third class in the series was on alternate energy sources, period. We looked at solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, tidal, coal, gas, fission... you name it. All were analyzed end-to-end. (Coal: Health and environmental risks from mining alone outweigh nuclear power in almost all cases... :/) Some surprising results...



    Solar: We assumed that 40% of the US energy needs of 1990 were to be met with solar. Just 40%. Given the theoretical efficiency of various materials (*theoretical*, not actual... we assumed technological advances to create a best-case scenario), it would require a vast area of the American SW to provide this. Looking at solar angles, days of sun, etc, avoiding populated and environmentally protected areas, etc, it turned out that it covered a *huge* area.



    Now... you're essentially blocking all that sunlight from reaching the ground. Which it heats. Which is released at night. Which drives weather patterns.



    Taking that data and feeding it back into the best meteorological models available at the time for mesocontinental decades-long prediction came to... massive long term droughts in the Midwest. You know, where our food comes from. Basically, the Wheat Belt would become the Dust Belt. :/



    *EVERY* method for extracting energy has a side-effect. Some are small, some are large, and some are really unexpected.



    Tidal? Well, it basically impacts out all life on the shore that requires that cycle to feed or breed...



    Geothermal? One of the best. Unfortunately really really rare to take advantage of.



    Etc, etc.



    Fossil is hands down the worst thing we have as an option though.
  • Reply 14 of 35
    chinneychinney Posts: 1,019member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Kickaha

    Yeah, the DOD convinced the DOE to ban breeder reactors. Thanks, guys. :P



    The waste contains weapons-grade isotopes... but lasts 1/20th as long as current waste. Still a long time, but much easier to design long-term storage for.




    I read something recently in the Economist about the dangers and inefficiencies of reprocessing for nuclear breeder reactors and about the terrible state of the Japanese nuclear industry.





    Quote:

    Back in '93 I took a series of classes from Dr. Bodansky at the Univ of Washington, one of the authors of the Swedish Nuclear Health Risk guidelines, some of the tightest in the world.



    [...]



    Solar: We assumed that 40% of the US energy needs of 1990 were to be met with solar. Just 40%. Given the theoretical efficiency of various materials (*theoretical*, not actual... we assumed technological advances to create a best-case scenario), it would require a vast area of the American SW to provide this. Looking at solar angles, days of sun, etc, avoiding populated and environmentally protected areas, etc, it turned out that it covered a *huge* area.



    Now... you're essentially blocking all that sunlight from reaching the ground. Which it heats. Which is released at night. Which drives weather patterns.



    Taking that data and feeding it back into the best meteorological models available at the time for mesocontinental decades-long prediction came to... massive long term droughts in the Midwest. You know, where our food comes from. Basically, the Wheat Belt would become the Dust Belt. :/





    Sounds like the instructor of this course might have been giving you typical anti-solar propaganda by the pro-nuclear group lobby. The same arguments could be made against building houses or any other sort of structure: we are stopping the light from hitting the ground. In response, I would point out that we would be putting the panels on existing or new houses that would be there anyway ? not on undeveloped land. And the panels would not just be in the Southwest ? solar power can work in the north too.

    Example I posted previously (Go to bottom of page after you click example).
  • Reply 15 of 35
    kickahakickaha Posts: 8,760member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Chinney

    I read something recently in the Economist about the dangers and inefficiencies of reprocessing for nuclear breeder reactors and about the terrible state of the Japanese nuclear industry.









    Sounds like the instructor of this course might have been giving you typical anti-solar propaganda by the pro-nuclear group lobby.




    *SNORT*



    Right. Sorry, this guy was tenatively pro-nuclear at *BEST*. He helped write some of the most stringent medical and environmental risk guidelines on the planet, at that time.



    He just happened to have both eyes open, and look at actual facts instead of pie-in-the-sky wishing.



    Figure it out for yourself... calculate the square meters it would take to produce 40% of the US energy needs, then look for places where it can be used *most* effectively (remember, northern latitudes require more m^2 of land and panels..., cloudy days decrease effectiveness, populated areas are problematic (although roofs are good - one of his suggestions)) The data is out there. Use it.



    All we did was run the numbers through a weather model and voila... unexpected, rather *large* climatalogical change from a supposedly 1--% benign energy source. *NO* energy source is 100% impact free, was the lesson. That's all.



    FYI, there were three classes in the series: 1) nuclear processes theory, 2) nuclear reactor designs, 3) nuclear environmental and health risk (and alternate sources). Or, as Bodansky put it, "What happens in one, how to build one, how you can die from one." The alternative sources portion was a look at sources alternative to *nuclear* as well as fossil.



    Sorry, but the rhetoric won't fly in this case.





    [quote][b]The same arguments could be made against building houses or any other sort of structure: we are stopping the light from hitting the ground. [\\b][\\quote]



    Yup, it could... except that in those cases the heat is being absorbed by the structure, then released just as in the case of the ground. In a panel it's being *removed* to make other energy forms. Sorry, non-argument.



    Quote:

    In response, I would point out that we would be putting the panels on existing or new houses that would be there anyway ? not on undeveloped land. And the panels would not just be in the Southwest ? solar power can work in the north too.

    Example I posted previously (Go to bottom of page after you click example).




    It can. Just not as well.



    Solar can be used to help boost individual dwelling's energy efficiencies, and reduce their reliance on the grid, absolutely.



    We were investigating using it for *large-scale* power production, to actually eliminate using fossil and other sources that are known to be destructive. In large-scale systems, you need efficiencies of scale, hence looking for the best places to locate these panels. The SW wins, hands down. Unfortunately, it screws the Midwest.



    Solar is good for small scale applications in most (not all) areas. It's a nice booster to other energy sources.
  • Reply 16 of 35
    thttht Posts: 3,212member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by bunge

    What the hell is the 'new' reactor technology that doesn't leave waste and can't overheat? Crap. I read about it in the mid 80's, but it was probably shelved so we could use more oil.



    There are different technologies, and they all need development. Just google up pebble bed reactors or next generation nuclear reactors or integral fast reactor/experimental breeder reactor (II). Not much real information, but there is enough.



    Pebble reactors use hundreds of thousands of tennis ball sized graphite balls filled with thousands of uranium fuel pellets. The reactor consists of a reactor vessel, graphite liner, a fuel "pebble" system the moves pebbles around, and the working fluid/coolant is radiologically inert helium. It is considered "inherently" safe from a core meltdown because the maximum heat generated will be less than the heat needed to destroy the pebbles. Ie, if the helium stops flowing, the reactor passively cools at a temperature below the destructive temperature of the pebbles. The biggest dangers indentified so far are if air somehow enters the reactor, the graphite could catch fire and since the system won't be encased in a concrete containment shell, terrorists can fly a jumbo jet into it. The attractive thing is that the fuel and graphite pebbles and graphite liner are all solid and nearly indestructable and therefore makes it easier to store the wastes. It's a 30 year design that has been slowly improved over the years.



    The uranium rod reactors can also be made safe from meltdown through proper design as seen in the Experimental Breeder Reactor II, and I presume through using a different coolent and working fluid than water, like sodium, lead, gas et al, that can keep it at safe temperatures using passive cooling. The "doesn't leave waste" part would be a complimentary process that is not part of the reactor but would be a part of the facility that uses a process called pyroprocessing or pyroprocess. It separates uranium and other actinides from the spent fuel (it's not a breeder reactor). They are then reprocessed into fuel rods and reused and reprocessed until all the actinides are used up.
  • Reply 17 of 35
    bungebunge Posts: 7,329member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Kickaha

    ... calculate the square meters it would take to produce 40% of the US energy needs....



    First, take cars out of the 'energy needs' equation. They need a whole argument by themselves. After that, let's see where we stand.



    I don't trust this generic argument because '40% of the US energy needs' is not specific enough. It's too easy to fudge.



    Then, once we have a rough estimate after the cars have been removed we can work on increasing efficiency in other areas so that total number is reduced.



    Thanks THT.
  • Reply 18 of 35
    wrong robotwrong robot Posts: 3,907member
    Liberals=lefties



    conservatives=conservatives







    why does everyone always feel the need to perpetuate this stupid side-war?
  • Reply 19 of 35
    bungebunge Posts: 7,329member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Wrong Robust

    why does everyone always feel the need to perpetuate this stupid side-war?



    Is there a side-war in this thread?
  • Reply 20 of 35
    wrong robotwrong robot Posts: 3,907member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by bunge

    Is there a side-war in this thread?



    not at all, and I hope it stays that way, my point being that subtle jabs at one side of the political spectrum is totally unnecessary, and pointless.
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