Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nukelar Fools

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.

Uranium supply

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.

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,

and fascism.

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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you were going to talk about the other Nuclear fools, North Korea and Iran etc.

10:38 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

In fact I did.

The primary protection between the peaceful use of nuclear technology and its weaponization is trust.

When trust is at issue, then there is no division between the two, as is the case in Iran.

12:03 PM  
Blogger polit thoughts said...

The real evil of the nuclear seduction - the notion of limitless CO2-free energy - lies in the issue of opportunity costs. Energy is not procured as food from a Chinese menu. Rather, each decision is "at the margin," and comes with an opportunity cost. Choose nuclear, and you forego the next unit of something else.

At 7 to 10 times the cost of efficiency, each unit of new nuclear-fired electricity displaces 6 to 9 less expensive units of non-polluting energy efficiency that the same money could have procured.

That is why only 2 things are necessary in order to build more nuclear plants - coercion and corruption.

Someone once said it quite cleverly, and accurately - "Building more nuclear plants to solve the global warming problem is like taking up crack cocaine in an effort to beat a nicotine habit."

Peaceful atoms!

1:42 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

Nice to hear from you PT.

Hope all is well.

I made a few small changes in the afternoon for sake of clarity.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So true Senior Oz. I believe the Powers That Be, from both parties, choose not to recognize the economic, environmental and strategic downsides of nuclear for the same reason they continue to care and feed the Industrial Military Complex - there's short term money, power and influence to be had.


2:14 PM  
Blogger Apartmento said...

With an increased price of uranium more supplies become viable. If the price went up tenfold we'd have 300 times as much uranium. (300*50=15000 years).

Uranium is not abundant on earth but it's as common in the earth as tin or tungsten.

Uranium for weapons needs to be highly enriched. Plutonium needs to be put into a special reactor so uranium-238 can be turned into plutonium-239. Plutonium from reactors isn't pure enough.

Waste is the major problem.There's isn't an uncontrolably large amount of waste. We're going to have to look after it for at least 300 years even if we reprocess it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power#Solid_waste

You could also say that using all renewables for energy is like replacing your good pipes with dozens of faulty one that you can't control and only work some of the time. Storing energy is expensive.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Apartmento said...

Hey, isn't 50 years just the known and quantified amount?http://www.uic.com.au/faq.htm

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fifty years is just a drop in the bucket.

Thanks for clarifying the science and as usual your right on editorial. We are such idgits.

6:48 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

According to the Energy Information Agency, US operators of nuclear plants purchased about 66 million pounds of uranium last year at 15 $ a pound, 17 % of that was domestic.

At the high prices of 50 dollars a pound, EIA says total domestic reserves are 890 million pounds.

At the lower price, reserves are 265 million pounds

That would be a 4 to 15 years domestic supply.

That is without growth.

World reserves are clearly more difficult to estimate, but it should be obvious that they are finite, they are not domestic, and they become dangerous when processed.

Thanks for the comments Apartmento.
Thinking about nuclear reserves at your young age is worth commending.

7:34 AM  

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