Are they making material from spent fuel?
They are using the U-235 to run medical isotope reactors. This irradiates targets, changing them into useful isotopes.
Still not understanding the relevance of your question.
I wonder if “waste” from reactors is usable.
Yes, some of it is.
Currently, reprocessing focuses almost entirely on removing the fissionable materials to be reused, and about 30% of it is. This is mostly done by France, as the US halted reprocessing in the 70’s for political reasons.
But, yes, all that good stuff is also in there.
Once of the benefits of liquid fueled reactors is that it is much easier to get at.
There are two additional inconvenient / uncertain questions with regard to nuclear that deserve consideration:
- “Well to Wheel” Equivalent Emissions : For fossil fuel powered cars, one due consideration is the CO2 emissions resulting from drilling, producing oil, transporting, refining, distribution etc etc.
When talking about nuclear power, environmental destruction and emissions resulting from Mining and ore processing is often omitted. Countries and companies are secretive about this information for understandable reasons. Some sources say that the “well to wheel” CO2 maybe as high as 1/3 of fossil fuels. (Accurate Quantification of Nuclear Power's Carbon Footprint)
So before I make up my mind, I’d like to see reliable numbers on “Well to Wheel Equivalent” CO2 emissions number for Electric Cars powered by nuclear power.
- Peak Uranium : Depending on who you believe, the earth has 12 years to 72 years of nuclear energy ore left at current nuclear power usage.
For example the European Commission in 2001 said that the nuclear ores on earth would last only about 41 years at the prevailing rate of consumption.
Again would like to see definite number of years before which we will exhaust nuclear fuels.
Once again, are we talking about continuing to use the reactor design that was created in the early 50’s to power submarines and has had no changes since, or newer designs that are far more efficient?
If we are using only enriched u-235 fuel in the current reactors that only use a fraction of a percent of it and consider what’s left to be “waste”, then it’s going to be more wasteful, and the fuel will not last as long as if we use more efficient reactors. If we actually go to a thorium fuel cycle, then we essentially never run out.
@k9bfriender - I am almost 50 now and since the first time I started learning physics, I’ve been told that Nuclear Fusion was just around the corner.
So I’d like to see conservative and optimistic numbers, both, on how long nuclear ores will last (peak Uranium numbers). Just not talking about them, is not an answer, I’m willing to accept.
So the fission plants should run out of fuel just as we’re switching on the fusion plants.
I’m not much younger and have heard much the same, but I didn’t say anything at all about fusion. I’m struggling to see why you would choose to bring it up.
Do incorrect predictions from the 60’s on where we would be in 50 years of space travel make you doubt that orbital mechanics work?
If you had asked for those numbers on oil 50 years ago, you’d have determined that we’d be out of oil a decade or so ago.
I’m not “just not talking about them”, I’m saying that the numbers that you have given are not relevant to new generations of reactors. There are not the same technical or engineering challenges of fusion. While some are still on paper, some of these designs exist and are generating electricity right now. We do reprocess fuel right now. It is entirely political challenges in building more and reprocessing more. Strangely, most of the reason for those political challenges in advancing nuclear technology is because people seem to insist that only 1950’s nuclear technology should be used in consideration for whether or not we should advance it.
So, to the question that you insist is the only one that matters: If we continue to use 1950’s technology, with no reprocessing, and we run all of the world’s energy needs that way, then we will run out of easily obtainable uranium within a few decades. It is only under those absurd circumstances that the only answer that you are willing to accept is relevant.
If you insist on refusing to accept that technology advances, then any discussion on this topic is pointless.
Peak Thorium, for instance, should come about somewhere between 10,000 (pessimistic), and 1,000,000,000 years (optimistic). But, since I’m not talking about uranium ore, those are not numbers that you are willing to accept, right?
We aren’t going to run out of uranium, because it’s everywhere and because its energy density is so high you don’t need much of it. We could process uranium from seawater if we had to - it would just be much more expensive. But since fuel costs are a small fraction of the cost of nuclear, even large increases in the price of uranium don’t affect output prices that much.
But the people who say we only have X years of uranium left make the same misrake ‘peak oil’ people made - they just look at current mines and extrapolate how long they’ll last, without considering the increases in exploration that occur if the demand goes up, or the mines that will open when prices go higher that are not economically justifiable at current prices.
And forget what you’ve heard about radiation being dangerous for tens of thousands of years. New generations of reactors produce waste that’s only really dangerous for 600-1000 years - much more manageable problem. And reactors like the CANDU can take the old long-lived waste from PWR reactors and burn it for fuel, producing shorter-lived waste in the process. It’s like these plants are actually cleaning up the waste problem by running, rather than making it worse.
Finally, the newest generation of Small Modular Reactors could solve most nuclear problems. SMRs are not built onsite, but in factories. They fit on a flatbed truck, and can be installed quickly and safely. They are sealed units that do not need to be refueled on site. They are much less susceptible to green lawfare tactics and site injunctions, since if one place refuses to allow a reactor, ot can just be sold to someone else and the capital investment is not lost.
Basically, you order your reactor, and prepare a hole in the ground for it. The reactor arrives and is installed, then you simply put a small building with a steam turbine on top of the reactor, and you are generating enough power for thousands of homes. In ten years or so, the reactor company arrives with a new reactor. The old one is removed, the new one emplaced, and the old one goes back to tge factorybto havevthe dpent fuel removed and the unit refurbished to be sent out again.
You can add clusters of these reactors tor large cities. They can be installed at large industrial sites for local power. The designs are self-regulating and can’t melt down since the reaction naturally shuts down if coolant is lost.
An SMR has a footprint the size of a big-box retail store or thereabouts, and can generate anywhere from 25MW to 180 MW at a 95% capacity factor. A 25MW solar plant just opened in Alberta, and it uses 69,000 solar panels. Solar in Alberta has a capacity factor of about 18%, So you’d need five of those to produce the same power as the smallest SMR.
What’s worse is that solar only has an energy payback of about 3:1, meaning it takes about a quarter of the energy to make a solar plant than you’ll get out of it over its lifetime. There’s a lot of steel in a solar plant, and steel requires ungodly amounts of energy to produce. And of course, solar doesn’t work in the dark, which is part of the reason why its capacity factor is so low.
Our failure to embrace nuclear is going to make climate change targets impossible to meet, and we will impoverish ourselves trying.
That’s why, in my answer to the question of “peak uranium”, I did qualify it as “easily obtainable.” Us running out of uranium in a few decades is only if we use it rather poorly, and then don’t go looking for any more.
Fission products are fairly short lived. It is some of the transuranic elements that are long lived, and those can be thrown back in as fuel.
Or, if you are a coastal area, you have the reactor offshore. I’ve seen proposals to start building reactors in drydocks. They already have all the necessary infrastructure to pump out dozens of these a year.
One of the possible reasons for resistance is that it is quite probable that if nuclear is rolled out in an efficient manner, then it will be far cheaper and safer than renewables, and then we don’t really need them at all anymore.
Thank you for the posts. I am used to seeing the promise of new technologies being overly inflated : like Fusion power, Hydrogen Economy, Fuel Cells, etc etc
I am not alleging that your claims on the new reactor technologies or fuels are inflated, but wanted to check if there was a peer reviewed or panel reviewed publication where the new technology was rated/compared with the traditional nuclear reactors. Factors I would look for are fuel flexibility, availability, safety, costs, …
Since this thread is about electric cars, would also like to see some CO2 emissions numbers on Mine to wheel (Well to Wheel equivalent) especially for new technologies or seawater extractions.
Cheap solar and wind power exists–as in you can just order them essentially off the shelf today. Cheap modular reactors do not. Most are still in the design stage. It will be decades, at minimum, before any of the designs can be just pumped out of a factory and plopped in a hole somewhere.
Since solar and wind work now, we should be building them at the highest rate possible. If it turns out in 20 years that small reactors are a better use of resources, we can just tear down the renewable plants and recycle the steel into reactors. It’s not like it’s radioactive or anything.
(Solar is dumb in Alberta and other frozen northern wastelands. Spend the steel on building out the grid instead.)
Conspiratorial nonsense. If anything, the opposite is true: the promise of cheap nuclear is used as an excuse to not build renewables. The cheap nuclear never arrives, so we end up stuck with fossil fuels. How convenient.
It’s ironic, but the promise from nuclear proponents that the power would be “too cheap to meter” only actually arrived with wind power. Wholesale power prices frequently go negative in areas with lots of wind power.
And for the record, I was reading about and optimistic for modular reactors something like 15+ years ago. In particular, I specifically recall reports about the Toshiba 4S and the B&W mPower designs. Both were of the basic “tube that you drop in a hole” form factor, and in the tens to low hundreds of megawatts. And now, both cancelled.
NuScale is still around and apparently plans to build a prototype in 2030. If they can keep that timescale and not run out of money or encounter any company-ending scandals, maybe by 2050 we can have a factory pumping these guys out like matchsticks.
In the meantime, let’s build more solar and wind.
Solar and wind are going to hit their limits at somewhere between 20% and 40% of grid power due to capacity factor in the populous northern countries, unless we can figure out a way to store daytime power at night (possible), and summer energy in winter (impossible with any tech we have now).
If you are happy only removing part of greenhouse gas emissions, then by all means go solar and wind. Butnyou might not save any CO2 emissions at all…
The only reason heavily solarized grids like in Germany and Ontario are not suffering brownouts and blackouts is because they are buying power from others who have not done the same when the sun isn’t shining. As other jurisdictions move to more wind and solar, there will be no one to buy from.
Biden (and Trudeau) have set goals for renewables that are flatly impossible and will be ruinous to try without rapid acceleration of nuclear power. And even then, 2030 is a ridiculous target for cutting CO2 emissions in half. A massive effort might cut 10%-20% by then if you’re lucky.
Germany has been trying to reduce CO2 emissions with wind and solar for more than two decades. Germany easily produces more than 100% of its power from renewables on a sunny summer day. So they must be reducing CO2 like crazy, right? Nope. In 2000, Germany produced 856MT of CO2. By 2016, the last numbers I have, their massive buildout of wind and solar had reduced CO2 output to 776 MT. Even worse, Germany’s CO2 output has been *increasing slightly since 2004. All their expenditure and making Germany the most expensive place in Europe for electricity has gained them almost nothing.
Furthermore, Germany currently gets 11% of their power from nuclear, which they are planning to end by 2022. That one move will erase all the CO2 gains Germany has made in 20 years. California is doing the same thing by shutting down Diablo Canyon in 2024. 9% of their clean, no-CO2 electricity gone, with no replacement. They’ll just be buying more fossil power from others.
The primary effect of Germany’s move to wind and solar has been the construction of a pipeline to Russia to get more natural gas. They could have saved more CO2 by skipping the whole wind and solar thing and just shifted coal production to natural gas. Tht’s what the U.S, essentially did, which is why it’s the only country to have actually met the original Paris Accord targets for CO2 production.
Canada, btw, despite killing our oil economy and building out renewables as fast as we can, saw our CO2 emissions go up last year - the only country in the G7 to do so.
Now, that’s some conspiratorial nonsense.
Tell me, is it technical difficulties, or regulatory difficulties that is slowing the development of nuclear technologies?
Funny, that’s exactly what’s happening with wind and solar. They can produce lots of power - just not reliably and not when you need it. As I said, after 20 years of Germany putting solar panels on everything that doesn’t move, the primary effect has been to drive up both the use of fossil fuels and the cost of electricity. After Germany shuts down its nuclear reactors in 2022 it will be emitting more CO2 than it did 20 years ago.
So what’s your plan for a solar buildout elsewhere that won’t result in the kind of results Germany has seen? What are we going to do differently to avoid their fate? As a reminder, Biden wants to eliminate 50% of CO2 emissions in 9 years. Germany managed less than 10% in 20 years, and their emissions are once again increasing each year, despite their claim that they get almost 50% of their power from renewables. If that’s true, it’s either mostly power they can’t use when it’s generated, or they need to run backup baseload and load-following power anyway, making the overall grid less efficient. Either way, their CO2 reduction numbers don’t even remotely track their claimed renewables share of power generation.
And Canada has had the same experience. We have been accelerating shutdowns of coal and rapidly bringing solar online, and last year we were the only country in the G7 to have our CO2 emissions increase. Ontario has been pushing a very expensive ‘green shift’ to wind and solar for a decade. We have almost nothing to show for it except higher energy prices. That hasn’t stopped Trudeau from committing us to a 40% decline in CO2 in 9 years. Madness.
The definition of insanity comes to mind - doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result each time.
It’s a broad spectrum of factors that contribute to high costs. It’s not like there’s been a complete lack of research on building better reactors. Nor has there been a lack of time–nuclear power has been around for 70 years.
IMO, the single biggest factor is that the technology is not well suited to rapid iteration. Looking at technologies that do iterate rapidly, they have a fast feedback path between improvements and economic gains, and no significant impediments to the research needed to make improvements. Solar can be researched in any lab, and there is an immediate incentive to rolling those improvements into shipping product. Same with manufacturability improvements; find some tweak to the process and your solar factory is suddenly more productive. The same principles apply to any rapidly-iterating technology, like semiconductors or batteries.
Nuclear reactors can’t be run by any old lab; they’re too dangerous. The iteration time is too low because you can’t just tear things down and try something else multiple times a year; it’s too expensive and again dangerous. If you’re more on the engineering side and trying to make improvements in manufacturability, the economic incentive is that maybe your new design will be licensed in 10 years and you’ll sell enough units to pay for the development in 20 years. That’s a really poor feedback mechanism.
The SMRs are an improvement in this regard, in principle. They’re smaller and simpler and so easier to develop. Instead of being largely bespoke, you can build thousands of identical units in a factory. But so far this has not come to pass and I see no reason to believe it will in the immediate future, especially given the number of cancelled projects.
Solar in Germany: dumb. Solar in Canada: pretty dumb. Solar in the US southwest: pretty smart. Solar in the African equatorial regions: really smart.
Solar doesn’t make sense at every location on the planet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t power a whole lot more things with it. It may be that Canada has to import a ton of power from US solar farms. So what? If it’s ok to ship oil south then it should be ok to ship electricity north.
It is incredibly dumb to shut down functional nuclear reactors. The costs have largely been paid for. But this is unrelated to whether new nuclear reactors make economic sense.
Going into pure speculation mode: I wonder if Canada’s significant hydroelectric resources can be repurposed as grid storage (pumped hydro). That could be Canada’s real energy export; storage. There’s no reason that solar produced in the day in the Mojave desert can’t be used at night in Alberta.
I know that insolation map very well. I use it all the time. Now overlay it with this map of where all the energy is consumed, and you’ll see the problem:
Most of our global energy consumption happens in the northern latitudes, which are also poor locations for solar power. This why many experts aay that renewables cannot supply more than maybe 25-30% of global energy requirements.
Even in the southern U.S., which is one of the best places around for solar power, you run into capacity limits.
First, if you are actually getting rid of fossil power, you need some way to provide energy at night. That may be possible with batteries, but it won’t be cheap.
Then you need emergency backup power for when those freak storms happen or it stays cloudy for weeks on end. Things like pumped hydro will help, but this is an extremely hard problem.
But the showstopper is winter vs summer. It’s not too bad in the southern U.S. - about a 20-30% difference between seasons. But the minute you go north, the problem becomes severe. Buffalo NY has a ratio of summer to winter power of over 4:1. Here in Canada, it’s more like 5:1. All through the midwest and up to the Canadian border the U.S. has ratios anywhere between 3:1 and 5:1. The coasts are also bad because of cloud cover. Solar power there is going to be very expensive, and it can’t hope to provide reasonable amounts of winter power. Also, northern states are starting with lower levels of insolation in the first place.
The other problem is that solar’s low ratio of generated power vs power needed to make solar plants means that once you get to these more extreme locations you may not even recoup the energy cost needed to build the plants.
Yeah, except for transmission line losses. The only way to ship power around a continent without huge losses is to build out an HVDC grid. That is phenomenally expensive. A 64 km, 2 GW link between Spain and France is expected to cost €700 million. Imagine building out thousands or tens of thousands of miles of grid with 10 times that capacity.
And if you want to lower CO2 by 50% in nine years, all these solar plants and HDVC grid components would have to already be well under construction, but I don’t think even Biden’s infrastructure bill has any funding for that. In any event, the U.S. isn’t going to be building solar farms in the south to provide Canada’s power. No one is even consideribg that.
Good speculation. Quebec is proposing exactly that - they have gobs of hydro, but they want to use it as an energy store to back up wind and solar in the East. They think they can build solar and wind with federal subsidies, then sell their hydro at a profit. It might even work, although I don’t know how much reserve power it would generate.
BC has hydro, but the biggest hydro project in the province is currently stalled. Maybe you can guess why? Green activists are fighting it in court because the area that will be flooded might be useful one day. And native bands have gotten in on the act as well and are demanding concessions. This is why we can’t count on much new hydro. These projects get almost as much lawfare thrown at them from green activists as do nuclear plants.
As for Alberta, we’re totally boned. We have a fossil resource-based economy, which will be killed off. The ‘good green jobs’ to replace it will be in Quebec and Ontario. We have no hydro to speak of, and only the very southern part of the province is remotely reasonable for solar and wind, and even that isn’t great.