Matt Groening, The Simpsons
It's a remarkable testament to our cultural lack of ingenuity that anyone, and I mean anyone in the electric generation business, in business in general, or anyone who might consider themselves an expert in energy, would even remotely consider nuclear technology as a reasonable solution to either climate change or resource depletion.
As I have often stated, nuclear fuel is not only finite and therefore depletable, it is also not carbon emission free, primarily because of the amount of fossil fuel that is used to mine the fuel, transport the fuel, process the fuel, build the plant, decommission the plant, and transport the waste.
Here , thanks to the Energy Bulletin is a good article on the subject by Jason Jodesky where the issue of uranium supply is discussed.
As promising as recycling spent fuel in safer nuclear power plants may be, there are even deeper problems with nuclear power than the relatively simple question of finding something to do with "spent fuel." Nuclear power is incredibly efficient, requiring only ounces of uranium to produce the energy output of tons of coal. This, too, is fortunate, given that uranium is a generally rare element in the universe, and not particularly abundant on earth.
A summary of uranium resources published jointly by the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that at current price levels, there is only a 50 year supply of uranium on the planet.
Nuclear power currently provides 20% of the human population's electricity demand,18 and this level of use can be sustained for 50 more years. Basic arithmetic tells us that if we were to increase nuclear power to 100% of our current electricity usage, our uranium supply would be sufficient for only 10 years.
Of course, one may object that nuclear cannot—and should not—be expected to provide all of our electricity, but if we expect it to replace fossil fuels, we will need it to account for nearly that much, so that our other energy sources can provide for the continuing growth our current civilization is predicated on: we will need more electricity next year than we do this year, after all (electricity usage is predicted to double between 2002 and 203019)
More importantly, oil is not the only fuel that peaks.20 What the Hubbert curve essentially describes is a problem of diminishing returns. Uranium mining, too, is subject to the same trend.
And as for those who think the new generation of nuclear plants will be cheaper than the old, there is the issue of the hidden costs.
Mining ore is not the only element of nuclear power that requires fossil fuels. We typically consider only the fuel input, in the case of nuclear power, uranium. But for nuclear power, there are significant startup and decomissioning costs that must be examined.
From the outset the basic attraction of nuclear energy has been its low fuel costs compared with coal, oil and gas fired plants. Uranium, however, has to be processed, enriched and fabricated into fuel elements, and about two thirds of the cost is due to enrichment and fabrication.
Allowances must also be made for the management of radioactive spent fuel and the ultimate disposal of this spent fuel or the wastes separated from it.
So, the low cost of nuclear power we see today is largely a result of the freeze on construction that followed the Three Mile Island incident, allowing the greater initial investment of nuclear power plants compared to other plants to be paid off. To begin constructing new plants would cause the price of nuclear power to rise significantly.
Because of such overlooked costs, some have estimated that the cost of a new nuclear plant may be underestimated by as much as a factor of three.24"
Why our engineers and policy makers can't see that nuclear is the technical equivalent of moving from a horse powered by hay to a horse powered with grain sorghum I don't know.
I do know that it will continue to be an environmental and financial joke.
And we hardly need more calamity on our rather full plate.
Besides, which of our heirs will actually have to pay?
Would it be the ones that must pay for the decommissioning?
Or would it be the ones that must pay for the fuels' final resting place?
But perhaps just as importantly,
Building gigantic poisonous fires that infect everything they touch,
that need to be guarded and protected,
that use a fuel that can be enriched and weaponized,
is a recipe for a larger police and military force, and more hidden costs,
Nuclear technology on earth is inherently non democratic.
An energy system that runs on the nuclear reactor at
the heart of our solar system is not.
We need to focus and fund our efforts on running everything..everything,
on the energy that bathes our days,
not the energy that can end them.
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