Nuclear Power

Most likely, America collapses into a Third World style failed state as it has no energy, and suffers from general famines and economic collapse. We NEED that energy to keep going; if we don’t have it, we won’t keep going. Indulging the idiots will destroy us.

As a part of my extended research I am reading the book Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy - which is available for free:

I recommend you guys take a look at it.

Well, just looking at Contents section it looks like magic pony wishful thinking to me. Granted I haven’t had the time to slog through the whole thing but I seriously doubt anyone is going to come up with arguments to get rid of both CO2 AND nuclear energy in any think like a realistic time frame to save the planet from GW…not to mention from a cost or realistic engineer perspective (or even from an impact to local environments perspective).

Feel free to cut and paste what you think are the most relevant elements of your cite…unless someone else has the time to slog through the whole thing and pick out the serious arguments.


Just saw this:

There does seem to be something more to say about dangerous energy production than “you just don’t understand it - we’ve gotten it perfect now.”

I have not yet come to a conclusion of course - but I haven’t done any serious research yet. I got side tracked by fusion power.

late in jumping in on this discussion, but at quick glance of the free book, i scrolled directly to the timeline and caught the gist of it being using clean energy as the activation energy for hydrogen production and then using that hydrogen as fuel in reactors, which… is a far stretch, but not exactly the fantasy xt sees. The 2040 date is really unrealistic though… more to come…

Coming at this from a slightly different tack, just how scalable is the size / output of a nuclear reactor? If an aircraft carrier is powered by one then couldn’t there be a reactor for every town of a few 10s of thousands of people? Wouldn’t this then have a really significant impact on transmission losses? (thus reducing production needs greatly)

Also how variable is the output of a nuclear reactor to variations in demand? Or more to the point, is the “consumption” (if that is the right word) of nuclear fuel constant with the variable being how many turbines we have running at any one time, or can we speed up / slow down the reactions in time of less / more demand?

Transmission losses are not that large overall. See this Sankey diagram:

Just to be clear here, what I see as a fantasy is that the alternatives to nuclear can be ready in a reasonable time frame for deployment. If we are talking about allowing the technology to mature another 20 years and THEN looking to deploy it over the next 20 or so years after that…yeah, I can see that this is a possibility then. Problem being do we HAVE 40 years to wait for a replacement technology to coal or FF? If we do then all well and good. If we don’t…well then, we best start being serious about nuclear. It’s the ONLY technology available today that can scale up to replace coal (if we were willing to spend the big dollars necessary of course…as well as the political capital to get the anti-nuclear crowd out of the way).

I’m sure someone will be along shortly to give you a complete answer on this, but the short answer is that nuclear scales to demand much like coal fired plants do…the only acception I can think of is if they run short of water (not nuclear fuel), as has happened in a few of our (US) southern nuclear plants in heavy drought areas.

And yes, you can control the reaction (that’s what the control rods are for) in the old style reactors…and in the new style pebble bed reactors you don’t really need too.

You can make a few really big reactors (that’s what we do in the US) using the old style reactor design, or you could make a lot of smaller reactors (using the newer designs) and spread them out. There are advantages to either one…and disadvantages too of course. What I’d like to see is a lot of smaller new style reactors instead of a few really big plants. I think you could build the new style reactors a lot cheaper, and get them on-stream a lot faster than if you build a few of the really big plants. I also think the new style reactors aren’t as dependent on a large water source, but I may be wrong there…I’m going from memory, and my memory is notoriously faulty.

The point though is if we are really serious about cutting CO2 emissions in the next decade or so the only real option we have right now is nuclear. The other alternatives are feasible on small scales to augment our power grid…but they can’t replace coal, not today, not with our current technology. They simply can’t scale up to meet our current (let alone future) energy needs…and they won’t be able to do so for some time to come.


Except that you really don’t understand. What happened at Chernobyl is pretty much the worst case scenario as far as nuclear power plants are concerned, as a result of poor/nonexistent oversight, bad/inneffective/unenforced/nonexistent regulations, ill/unqualified personnel working out of their depth, unsafe/dangerous reactor design, misunderstood/blatantly ignored operating procedures…

Anyone who’s been involved in nuclear power in the US understands that something equivalent to Chernobyl is almost completely impossible here, and yet its still trotted out as a reason not to use nuclear power, and it drives us(or at least me) a bit batty.

So to me, saying “You just don’t understand - we’ve gotten it perfect now” is perfectly fine, since you really don’t understand and, well, I certainly wouldn’t say perfect, but good enough that I would raise my kids in a house literally next to any commercial reactor in the US and not worry a bit. Except perhaps about the view.

Transmission losses aren’t all that high, tbh, but manpower concerns would be staggering with your proposal.

Consider… The USS enterprise has 8 125mw reactors. Each reactor has 1 operator. The USS Nimitz has 2 500ish mw reactors. Each reactor has 1 operator. And then of course all the supporting positions. All the repetitive maintenance, reduced efficiency of the plants overall(a system that gains 2% power at great cost may be feasible in a 500mw plant, but not even close to cost effective in a 1mw plant).

Trust me, from experience, the Enterprise reactor department has a lot more people and a lot more maintenance costs than the Nimitz class ships, to do a comparable job, mostly because of the larger number of reactors(and a bit because its a really old tub. :slight_smile: )

Its simply a lot more cost effective to have large centralized facilities, especially due to the ease of transmitting power, as economies of scale reduce the effective cost of operations. If it weren’t, you would have seen lots of small town coal power plants going up instead of larger central facilities.
And yes, reactors are perfectly capable of operating at reduced loads, and will consume less fuel. Fuel lifetimes are calculated into EFPH(Effective full power hours) so you might see a plant that can go 20,000 hours at 100% before refueling. However, if they ran at 50%, they could operate for roughly 40,000 hours.

Commercial plants don’t like this though, as plants are designed to be most efficient at or near 100% power, and operating outside of peak efficiency is lost money.

Agreed. Nuclear is the only safe alternative to coal that will sufficiently replace coal and thus cut CO2 emissions. Granted that nuclear has its share of shortcomings that include radioactive waste, high startup costs, and the possibility of highjacked waste…

but each of those fears can be refuted reasonably:

1 - radioactive waste: besides the fact that the waste is gathered unlike spewing greenhouse gasses out into the atmosphere, it is easily controlled and stowed away in a monitored location. Those not in favor of yucca mountain, please tell me how letting a hole grow in the ozone is preferred to the yucca site. More realistically yet: tell me how you can capture the expulsions of a coal plan better than it being concentrated in spent rods, which can be used in breeders if not for short sighted governmental regulations

2 - startup cost: the cost of permits and licensing for nuclear plants that form the high cost of capital cost for power plants are either attributed to unnecessarily high governmental fees or the dragged out process of over-security demanded by the federal government. This unnecessary level of governmental security is mandated by archaic laws of safety passed after 3 mile island, but the stigma of nuclear energy still resides.
there are no other present forms of energy that can duplicate the power generated by nuclear power. pound for pound, you cannot duplicate the energy found in uranium compared to coal, oil, gas, sunlight, or any other form of stored energy

3 - highjacked waste: if the last bastion of stopping waste comes from the buffering of tactical nuclear weapons, then you are reaching for excuses. nobody in the history of terrorism has ever stolen nuclear waste to form a dirty bomb. It has never happened. Between the hundreds of reactors in the world, and the high levels of weapons grade waste generated world-wide… it has never happened… what does that tell you of the likelihood of the hijacking taking place? IT WILL NOT HAPPEN!

a good mantra for living life means keeping the middle road. nuclear has positives and negatives… the fact that the two exist for nuclear dictates the two sides re moderate and in the spirit of give and take… the solution is righteous…

Refuted, possibly, but I don’t think you’ve done so reasonably.

How does listing certain disadvantages of coal affect the concern over radioactive waste? Similarly, no one has to tell you why ozone depletion (which is not really a GHG or energy-related issue) is preferred to Yucca mountain in order to bolster their criticisms of YM. That’s pretty much like shouting “but Clinton got a blowjob!” when someone criticizes Bush. Sure, Clinton was a sleaze and did some awful things while in office. But that doesn’t justify any of Bush’s actions, only deflects criticism with irrelevancy.

Yes, radioactive waste is captureable in ways that GHGs aren’t, but you still have a highly toxic product on your hands, one that will be so for hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of years. An inability to address such concerns with nothing more than irrelevant critiques of other issues suggests you have no direct answer other than handwaving.

Cite for “short sighted governmental regulations,” “unnecessarily high governmental fees,” “dragged out process,” “over-security,” “unnecessary level of governmental security,” “archaic laws,” and other unsubstantiated claims you’re making? Why is the government’s prohibition on the commercial production of plutonium short sighted? What is the proper level of security? I know there are lots of inefficiencies inherent in the system, but just like McCain’s promise to erase all pork wouldn’t really ease the economic crisis, tightening up processes won’t be a panacea.

Yes, there are tremendous advantages to nuclear power, ones that may be viably tapped if the economic, security, and waste issues can be adequately addressed on a global scale. However, just spouting the advantages doesn’t do anything to address these concerns. That “smoking makes me look cool and get chicks” may be a great advantage to picking up the Marlboroughs again, but saying that does nothing to allay fears of cancer, emphysema, etc.

Um, you do realize there’s a first time for everything, no? That something hasn’t happened in the past (that we know of) doesn’t really mean that IT WILL NOT HAPPEN. This is especially specious given that there is a clamoring for a significant expansion of nuclear capacity, not just in America but around the world.

Since you seem to be fond of comparisons of harms as justification, consider that it would take just one successful operation to devastate several cities. What would happen to the economy (nationally or globally) if in one day we lost access to wide swathes of New York, Chicago, and Dallas?

Sounds very Nichomachean :slight_smile:
But with present technology, there are harms that vastly overshadow the benefits — it’s not a balanced equation. I agree and share your frustration with the absurdity of much of the anti-nuclear crowd. I actually spent several years shepherding Yucca, Y-12, and other projects through the environmental review process and can (or could, if it weren’t for clearance issues) share stories both horrible and humorous of the inane things that get brought up. But these frustrations shouldn’t cloud the notion that there are legitimate concerns that need to be assuaged before nuclear power can become a viable alternative.

It is not true that solar power does not function at all on cloudy days, it does, but at a reduced energy output. This may make it non cost effective in certain areas.

I have read a number of papers about IR solar cells that are design specifically to work at nightexample here. Admittedly it’a not workig efficiently and there are a number of technical hurdles, but it is possible.

Just a point about nuclear power, it does not have an inexhaustible fuel supply, accoridng to some sources there is about 50 years worth of useable urnaium left, although let’s face it they’ve been saying that about coal and oil too.

Not true, really. An important aspect of nuclear power is that the cost of the fuel (uranium) is only a tiny part of the overall cost of power. So even if the price of the fuel skyrockets, it doesn’t affect the cost of delivering power all that much. And at certain higher prices, uranium can be extracted from seawater if need be. And there’s enough uranium in seawater to provide fuel for thousands of years.

Also, that 50 year figure is just known reserves, and no one believe that that’s all we’d have if demand soared and we started exploring in earnest.

Finally, if we start reprocessing the fuel, as France already does, that 50 year number jumps to hundreds of years.

Point taken.

A lot of the problems we currently have with nuclear power are political/bureaucratic. It basically requires the creation of large low enrichment reactors with very short fuel cycles. All that spent fuel isn’t very valuable due to the low enrichment, but it’s still just as radioactive. Result: high level waste no one is willing to process.

And lets not even get into low-level waste. Low level waste is usually “potentially radioactive” in my experience… meaning it’s more time/cost effective to just throw it away than to go through the trouble of clearing it for free release. So you’re handling a lot of things that aren’t radioactive as radioactive waste because nobody can be bothered to prove it’s not contaminated.

And there’s all the technology that’s been shelved due to regulatory concerns. You have cores that burn their own fission products, cores that have no moving parts, cores that require no operators. But they have to be small. The designs don’t scale. You could supply one neighborhood, maybe two. The red tape, approval process, and NIMBY attitude make it difficult to make a small reactor profitable and impossible to build it at all in some cases.

Try this: Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes. I think this is the Holy Grail of nuclear power. Maintenance-free, self-regulating, inexpensive power plants on a small scale. Just the thing for every small community, island, and third-to-second world nation.

Hyperion’s hydride moderated design has a 5 year fuel cycle.
It should be relatively easy to reprocess, though.

I was reading about the Hyperion cells a while ago. They seem like a very good idea.

These are small nuclear heat sources. You bury them in the ground, then build a power station on top that circulates liquid through them and uses the steam to power turbines (or you use the heat directly to heat fluid to pump into radiant heating systems, or for use in steam reformation of oil sands, or whatever).

There is no real proliferation risk with them - the fuel they use and the waste they generate cannot be enriched into fissile material any easier than can uranium yellowcake. Any state with the ability to do that can that kind of enrichment already has all the yellowcake they need. It’s not that useful for making dirty bombs, either.

The nuclear cells emit no waste locally (they are a sealed unit), cannot melt down, and do not have to be maintained. They are more like a nuclear RTG such that might be sent on a space mission than they are like a traditional nuclear power plant. In fact, these things are already all over the place, and no one notices. Our university ran a reactor similar to this for decades. They are used to make medical isotopes and for training and research.

So, you buy one, stick it in the ground, put a steam-powered turbine in a building on top of it, and you’ve got 5-7 years of power for 20,000 homes. When the thing is used up, the company drives a big truck out with another one on the back, digs up the first one, plants the second one back in the hole, and you’re good for another 5-7 years.

They already have more than 100 orders for these things, mostly from countries that do not currently have good electrical grids. They are bypassing the whole electrical grid infrastructure in favor of distributed power just like they bypassed the landline telephone network in favor of cell phones. When comparing the cost of power to the alternatives where the alternatives would require the construction of a whole new electrical grid from scratch, these make a lot of sense. We always assume they will be well run and well guarded. Why? Where in the history has a construction company not cut corners. The airlines were in charge of screening for years. There were a lot of news stories about underpaid,under trained screeners and faulty and obsolete equipment. Yet after 911 ,they walk away clean. But they knew the potential risks. They were saving money.
We all know the stories of Karen Silkwood and hiding of construction flaws to increase profits. We know how far they will go . So excuse me while I worry about Halliburton and like companies constructing them. The fiascoes in Iraq have just proven that they have not learned .
Then asking solar to replace the coal plants is a high bar. Solar ,wind and any other clean technology can diminish our use of coal plants. That would be a good thing. Cleaning up the ones we have now would be a great idea. They fight it as hard as possible.

What does your link have to do with anything you said…or anything in this thread? Or really anything at all? How does it prove your point about supposed corruption in construction or how the nuclear power industry is dangerous…or something? How does it make your case for ‘Solar ,wind and any other clean technology’ replacing coal?

As a bonus, how exactly does Halliburton or Iraq factor into this discussion…or did you just throw those in gratuitously for the hell of it? Not that your post was in any way coherent (or even vaguely understandable)…just curious about the Halliburton/Iraq connection.