Nuclear Power

We’ll have one operational in 2013. Construction starts 2010 (It was held up in environmental impact appeal)

And yes, there was one built inGermany. Also in China.

As per the Wikipedia article, one seems to be in development in South Africa and there is one prototype currently in operation in China, with plans to expand another plant to use the technology to produce electricity commercially. Also, there seems to be a decommisioned prototype in Germany.

Wind turbines have a life of 20 years. The solar panels I was looking for my house had a lifetime of 30 years, all though their efficiency tapers off well before that.

A local nuclear plant was built in 1971, and just had it’s operational licensed extended to 2030 ( 60 years lifetime)

This has been discussed before and I did a long breakdown on some of the issues, but I don’t have time or access to my notes right now, so I will just say a few things:
[li]Three mile island was disaster only to the bank account of its insurance. There was very little to none environmental damage and no one was hurt. Chernobyl was a huge disaster, but it was an inherently unsafe design that maximized power production and continuity over safety and could never have been legally built in the U.S.[/li][li]The biggest issue nuclear power is the concentrated nature of the waste and the fact that we store all of it instead of recycling due to fears of terrorists getting ahold of it.[/li][li]Current powre sources, especially coal, produce more radioactive waste and kill many more people per megawatt of power than nuclear, even with the older plants.[/li][li]The economic and political issues with nuclear power are self-fulfilling. Anti-nuclear groups sue and lobby to make it more expensive and time consuming to build, and then use the cost and time required to argue they are not practical.[/li][/ol]


No. The argument is that solar, wind, tidal, geothermal etc, don’t scale up to meet our current energy needs as a replacement technology for coal. Only nuclear does, today. So…we either continue to use coal while supplementing our energy with those niche technologies (while we continue to develop them and hope for breakthroughs that will make them more scalable), or we switch from coal to nuclear…while using those same niche technologies to supplement our energy needs. If you think that CO2 emissions are a bad thing and that we need to act soon…well, then really you have only one option, and that’s to build as many nuclear power plants as you can to replace as many coal fired plants as possible.

Or, you can wish and hope that somehow these other niche technologies will magically be able to scale up to meet our needs.

They can’t scale up to meet our needs. Solar requires too large a foot print to extract the levels of energy we need today. Wind is a niche technology, since it requires being sited where the winds are steady enough to justify the costs involved in putting up those big turbines (and maintaining them…which is pretty costly). Tidal has promise, but you can’t use it everywhere…and again, it can’t scale up to meet our national energy needs. Coal of course already does…but it has the CO2 emissions downside.

Well, there are tons of problems with your concept. First off would be the cost. Imagine what it would cost to put solar panels on the roof of every building. Lets say that it cost $10,000 to put solar panels on every roof (it’s more today…the system I was looking at new was something like $35k and the USED system I actually have cost more than $10k to install). There are literally hundreds of millions of buildings in the US (probably more like billions)…where would the money come from to do this? Also, you don’t just put solar up and then forget about it. I have to clean and maintain my solar system constantly or it loses efficiency (or stops working)…and even with my system (and I have batteries) in sunny New Mexico I’m getting only enough energy to supplement what I use…I’m not energy free.

There are similar issues with the rest of your proposals. Sure, we COULD put massive solar plants out in the desert (at a pretty steep environmental cost)…but how do we get the power out of the desert and into the main national power grid? Unless you are talking about strictly using it for local use you are going to have quite a bit of power loss trying to push power out of central New Mexico or the deep desert in Arizona. Same goes for wind power…even leaving aside the problems (such as initial cost and maintenance…not to mention the gods awful numbers of them you’d need to build to make a difference. Literally millions would be required), a lot of the places where it would work well are out in the middle of no where…how do you get the power from there to the grid?


So replacing all of the coal with nuclear would have a huge cost up front - and would definitely take some time. I guess we now have to look at the actual numbers using nuclear vs so-called “clean” alternatives: dollar to kilowatt/hour ratio @ x years. Figures would then have to show how much nuclear would have to supplement due to the initial costs and deployment time of these other energy sources.

Is anyone arguing that nuclear is the ultimate source of power? So instead of using it as a initial stepping stone to saturate our needs - we use it as a goal for centralized power?

Yep, run them an extra 20 years past their date and present it as if that is a positive. it would be more dangerous.
What happened to the fast breeders of the past? They were supposed to create their future fuel.

On what do you base that assertion? If you properly maintain a plant, there is no reason why it could not run indefinitely. And as I stated upthread, you can replace plants/units on the same site.

Yes–unfortunately the fuel created by breeder reactors is plutonium, which can be used for reactor fuel, as well as nuclear weapons. The U.S. made a policy decision to stop building breeder reactors back in the 1970s, IIRC. I think that this decision was short-sighted, because once supplies of uranium run out (I’ve heard rough estimates of a few hundred years’ supply of uranium reserves), you can no longer run a breeder reactor, either. Breeder reactor could extend our supply of nuclear fuel out to the thousands of years.

Everything has downsides. The problem is, the downside of solar, wind, and tidal is that they don’t do the job, not on their own.

It’s likely to be our best source of power for a long time, and can last for millennia. More importantly, it’s what we have that will do the job of producing the energy we need without massive pollution; not some theoretical solution that’s decades off, if ever.

Well, the French grid uses something like 70% nuclear. I don’t think anyone is saying we could or should go 100% nuclear. But realistically I doubt you’ll ever get more than 10% of your total energy needs from wind…and I’m skeptical you will ever get more than 30-40% from ALL of the ‘clean’ niche oriented power sources. At least not in my lifetime.

As robby said they were legislated out of existence (at least in the US) because their byproducts are weapons grade plutonium. If you don’t know this then, seriously, you shouldn’t be wading in on this subject.

Here is an article on breeder reactors. Here is one on FBRs. Enjoy.


Nuclear power is expensive. However a lot of the cost is high wages/profits for construction operation and financing. But all of the money spent stays within the national economy.

Eventually, given the increasing costs of fossil fuels, much of which is purchased from foreign sources and the eventual depletion and the concern for AGW, the US will eventually be forced to restart nuclear plant construction.

Better now than when oil hit $500.00 a barrel. The high cost of construction will require fossil fuels.

Which makes me wonder. If nuclear power was an attractive proposition when oil was $30 a barrel, the US built hundreds of plants in the past, how can it not be an extremely viable alternative economically today?

It’s not so much that it is (or isn’t) economically viable (IMHO), but that it’s been POLITICALLY non-viable due to decades of anti-nuclear propaganda. Costs are somewhat of a chicken and egg problem as well…anti-nukes love to talk about how expensive the costs are for nuclear plants (while not mentioning the costs that would be associated with attempting to scale up either wind or solar to meet the needs of our current coal fired power production), while not mentioning (again) that a lot of those costs are due to excessive regulation and active blocking by anti-nuke groups causing nearly endless stumbling blocks (lawsuits, stays of construction, modification and re-modification of plans, etc etc)…which of course lead to huge cost overruns (and even worse ties up billions in capital for years before there is anything like a return on investment).


You’ve asked variations on this question several times. Nuclear does have several advantages over solar, wind and thermal, and several disadvantages to each as well. Because of this, none of these options deseves to be dismissed out of hand, but rather applied across a highly variable terrain where they will do the most good on a local level. There are numerous places solar, tidal and wind won’t be useful - actually, places where they are useful, in the sense that some combination of just these three could entirely meet local demand, are pretty rare.

Personally, I’d like to see a mass transition to controlled fusion in my lifetime.

I agree with nuclear being too potentially useful to be dismissed, but I figure wind and solar are only going to be really useful on a large scale. It’ll bring down productions costs (and production & maintenance are about the only costs for solar and wind) and hopefully kick innovation up a couple of notches (see, for example, Germany). AFAIK, theoretically, it could become cheaper than nuclear.

Also see this thread I started a couple of days ago (hint: nuclear is more expensive than coal, but a lot cheaper than wind/solar, in the US)

Does anyone here know more about Breeder Reactors? Like cold fusion it sounds too good to be true. And I forget now, but what is the process by which they make uranium still useful fuel for a peaceful reactor but much harder to purify for weapon grade material? Why isn’t that being done already?

This was discussed earlier in the thread. In short, yes they’re real, yes they work, but there are concerns about the new fuel being used for weapons.

Just to ask the obvious question - isn’t the fuel already radioactive when we procure it? Where does it come from, and why can’t we just put the spent fuel back where we found it?

The fuel actually isn’t all that radioactive, and the more radioactive portion of the fuel has to be artificially concentrated to be used in a reactor. Most nuclear reactors use uranium for the fuel. Natural uranium is mostly U-238, which is not all that radioactive (half-life of 4.5 billion years–it’s practically stable). The part that actually fissions is U-235, which itself has a half-life of 700 million years. Reactor fuel has to be enriched, that is, the concentration of U-235 is increased from that which occurs naturally.

In any event, the fission products that result are generally much more radioactive than the fuel.

You also have the issue of creating radioactive materials from the stable materials used in the construction of the plant. For example, stable cobalt-59 (which is used in pump bearings and to harden the seats of valves) is converted to highly radioactive cobalt-60 when exposed to a neutron flux in a reactor.

Yet the test one in Germany had its safety mechanism fail, and the pebbles couldn’t fall out of the bin. 10 years ago I investigated pebble bed reactors because they were touted as solving all the problems and I was hopeful. But the test one jammed up.

Waste. To many of us, it’s all about waste. Yucca Mountain is close, but far from a viable solution. I worked for the DOE trying to get its EIS approved back in the 90s, so I know a lot of its good points. But it isn’t a panacea, and the question of what to do with not insignificant amounts of extraordinarily toxic, extraordinarily persistent waste products has yet to be answered. Until such a time as it is, expect strong, possibly crippling opposition to utilizing nuclear power as a major addition to the energy grid.

(Note that this post doesn’t mean to suggest that concerns over safety have been completely addressed.)