Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Nuclear energy is not the answer

by myriad Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 09:49:53 PM EST

I am extremely disappointed by the tone of this debate, promulgated by those who are gung-ho for nuclear power. Branding those with serious concerns as `extremists' is 1) pathetic and 2) right up there with framing tricks used by the neoconservatives. Blegh. Oh yeah - and total bullshit.

No, I don't agree with Greenpeace's rather ridiculous criticism of the IAEA. I am not a fan of Greenpeace in general, and think they have rather lost their way - although I am not of a mind to throw out their many earlier achievements just because the organisation now raises serious concerns for many.

That notwithstanding, what a ridiculous straw man, to use the fact that Greenpeace is against nuclear power to dismiss all other concerns about a proliferation of nuclear power as a process; and worse, to dismiss serious questions about whether nuclear power can actually contribute significantly enough to reducing greenhouse emissions to be worth pursuing.

Let's go through some actual facts shall we?


Sources (in no particular order):

http://www.nirs.org
http://www.nea.fr/html/rp/chernobyl/c0e.html
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/earth/stories/s17221.htm
http://www.anawa.org.au/nt/jabiluka.html
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/natint/stories/s1345468.htm
http://www.acfonline.org.au/news.asp?news_id=489

I'll acknowledge right here and now that there are better sources in hardcopy articles and so on I've read, but I'm writing this in a hurry at lunchtime, at work, and make no apology for using the links I could find, most of which have at the very least credible citations.

I'll add further that the Australian Conservation Foundation is not 'extreme green' by any stretch of the imagination, being an organisation with many years of credible work, and is an NGO regularly given a seat at the table to provide a viewpoint for government decisions; - although I'm sure notwithstanding, some of you will be inclined to so stretch.

Onward.

Nuclear power is extremely expensive, and currently economically marginal at best
The process of extracting, processing, enriching and transporting ore, and building nuclear power plants is incredibly expensive - so much so that most nuclear power plants around the world operate currently only with government subsidies. It would cost several trillions of dollars to replace the majority of existing and potential coal powered stations with nuclear, and they would need subsidies. A fraction of that amount of money poured into renewable energy technology research and development is  a far sounder investment, especially given that renewable energy is already contributing more global power than nuclear is.

On top of that, the IAEA itself estimates that for 70% of power to come from nuclear, an average increase of 115  1000MW power stations per year would need to be built. The International Panel on Climate Change has suggested Europe alone would need to build six times more reactors than it currently has by 2100  yet the average plant takes 10 years to build; so factoring in the time delay, we are looking at a race against time where the odds are very significantly stacked against nuclear power being an affordable and viable option for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in time.

In fact, despite the growth of nuclear power in developing countries, the IAEA is predicting an overall decline in nuclear energy, and predicts it will contribute about 13% of global energy needs. No wonder then, faced with a declining, over-subsidised industry in Europe and the US, the nuclear business is seizing on climate change as it's saviour to revitalise a demonstrably unviable venture. Have you been sucked in the propaganda? But wait, there's more!

You need uranium rich deposits to get a net energy/greenhouse gas gain
Currently to be viable, existing nuclear power plants are taking advantage of the richer uranium ore deposits; but once the ore drops below 0.01% - which most known uranium ore deposits are - it takes more energy to extract the ore than it will produce. At 0.05%, you are putting in about half of the energy that you will eventually extract.

Greenhouse gas emissions from power generation are not our main challenge
When you then add into the above that power generation accounts for 20% of greenhouse gases, and over half, for example, comes from transport & machinery, the greenhouse gases produced by the process of extracting low-grade uranium ore will be much greater than the reduction achieved by going nuclear. It also paints a crystal-clear picture that the trillions we could spend on rapid nuclear power expansion could be much better spent on renewable energy development, and looking at our transport systems.

Uranium-rich ore, and uranium ore in general, is highly limited
Well, you're probably thinking, there's plenty of uranium-rich ore, right? Wrong. In fact, one paper recently calculated that if every coal-powered station in the world was converted to nuclear, we would run out of uranium ore in 9 years, and that includes all the known, speculative and weapons-grade uranium in the world - so clearly even if only 30-40% of coal power converted to nuclear, it would last at best for maybe 30 years, and on top of that, would pump out more greenhouse gases and use more energy that it would generate, because those plants would have to use low grade ore.

Fast breeder reactors are not an answer
 `Aha!' You'll say - "point 4 above is only valid when you consider conventional reactors. What about the new fast breeder reactors, which are far more efficient?" Well, yes they are, except there's that teeny-tiny problem that they use liquid sodium to cool them, which as every good chemistry student knows, explodes when it comes into contact with air. The fast breeder reactor technology has not been satisfactorily finalised and signed off as acceptable technology - so much so that even Japan has had major safety problems with it, and it significantly raises the risk of nuclear power, an already high-risk (see below) process.

Nuclear energy is not greenhouse gas neutral
One of the biggest furfies of the industry. In fact calculations show that it produces a similar amount of greenhouse gases as natural gas stations; add that to points  2-4, and why are we bothering again? Indeed, if nuclear energy is so `clean and green', one wonders why the global community denied the nuclear industry clean fuel credits, which are reserved for truly greenhouse neutral, renewable energy sources.

The safety of nuclear power generation is about more than rarity of incidents
Back to that question of risk. People love to cite how `safe' the industry has been. Yet as any risk analyst knows, risk assessment is not just about the likelihood of an incident, it's about the magnitude of the impact of that incident. One word:  Chernobyl. Rather than run down the long list of extensive environmental and health impacts, this is a link to a study carried out by the OECD's Nucelar Eneregy Agency.  

If you think making an area the size of Switzerland uninhabitable is an acceptable risk I question your mental faculties, and besides, please stop and multiply that incident by the heightened risk of about 1000 more nuclear power plants around the place, many in developing nations that hardly have a record of a) safety or b) tectonic stability - for example. Factor in the expected increase in natural disasters as the climate change we've already helped trigger kicks in, and the risk of nuclear power generation starts to rapidly climb. Nuclear power is now being aggressively pursued by both India and China, both of whom have appalling modern environmental and public safety records. Anyone notice the major earthquake on the highly active Indian subcontinental plate recently? No reason to mention it of course, just a red herring - not.

The point being that while yes, nuclear incidents are much rarer (at present), their impact is of such a potential magnitude, and the effects are so difficult to ameliorate, that the very low rate of incident is not sufficient enough of a justification for pursuing nuclear power.  Then there is the thorny issue of nuclear waste, and uranium mining (see below)

The impacts & risks of uranium mining
I can only give an Australian perspective here, which is nevertheless a critical one, given that Australia contains about 40% of the world's uranium deposits. The Uranium / nuclear industry loves to hold up Australian mines as models of minimal environmental and public health impact. And if you weren't aware of the long history of suppression of the reporting of incidents at Australia's biggest uranium mine, Ranger, and at Jabiluka, you would probably agree. Yet since operation began in the late 70s /early 80s there have been over 20 incidents of leaking radioactive mine process water, lack of control of uranium-rich dust, contamination of employees and the nearby environment, all at the Ranger mine alone.

Did I mention that both these mines sit in the middle of the Kakadu World Heritage Area, one of the largest wetlands in the world, and home to over 2 million migratory and endemic birds and is a global biodiversity treasure? Or that the objections of the indigenous Australians were over-ruled on their own native title to allow the mining to happen? And that they've never seen a dollar of the millions of royalties they were promised? Or that the presence of the mine has trashed their spiritual birthplace and caused massive social fragmentation and decay that is literally seeing an entire tribe of people driven to extinction?

But where was I? Oh yes, the impacts of uranium mining. Australia's other two uranium mines are located in South Australia. There, they were allowed to use a nifty process involving a leaching process using sulfuric acid, which is then dumped into the local groundwater aquifers, the by-product including the acid and numerous heavy metals, and the US mining companies are not required to rehabilitate this mess. It's a treat - and surprise! It's mainly happening on Indigenous land as well.

In short, a discussion about seriously turning to nuclear power to partially solve the coming climate change crisis must look at the entire life cycle of uranium extraction and use; and it must factor in that currently the sovereign control of nations in being the sole determiner of the safety, appropriateness and ethical extraction of uranium is demonstrably not satisfactory - putting what is a major abuse of human rights and breach of the World Heritage protocols politely.

Nuclear waste
Just to make sure the Indigenous people of Northern Australia don't survive more than a few more decades, our government is currently spruiking what a great place Northern Australia would be for a global nuclear waste dump. I hear the native owners of Yucca mountain are really thrilled by it's use as the USA's waste dump too. But heck, asking the highly marginalised and abused native peoples of the world to sacrifice what's left of their rightful land for global nuclear dreams is completely reasonable.

Yes, there have been significant and welcome strides made towards a method for the safe storage of nuclear waste, and yes, it has to go somewhere. Are you willing to have it? Who should? Do you trust individual governments to come up with the right solution to this? I sure as shit don't. Here is also where the nuclear industry has really shown it's true colours. It has repeatedly, for however many years, refused to confront the issue of nuclear waste.

Yet if we are to seriously consider building maybe up to a thousand more nuclear reactors, we are going to need  a new Yucca mountain -style facility every few years (that's being kind and ignoring the fact that nuclear waste stored at Yucca has every likelihood of leaching into the major groundwater aquifers that supply most of the freshwater to Southwestern USA). And we still lack a process for dealing with the waste we've got - such as the quarter of a million tonnes of high-level nuclear waste sitting around without a safe home right now.

A bunch of miscellany relating to all of the above
I'll leave off the actual emissions from plants for now, but will point out that the speed with which we would need to build nuclear reactors a) is prohibitive to new, cleaner, more efficient and safer nuclear plants being developed and sufficiently tested in time, b) is prohibitive to developing nations building nuclear power plants with sufficient safeguards, c) is similarly prohibitive to appropriate measures for dealing with nuclear waste to be satisfactorily developed and d) in the absence of a globally negotiated system to deal with entire nuclear cycle and look specifically at the highly contentious issues of native title, environmental and social impacts and who stores the waste - a process that takes years to hammer out - a proliferation of nuclear power will almost certainly result in more appallingly unjust and unsound decisions being taken by governments, that are simply unacceptable in terms of their human and environmental impacts, when measured against our current standards.

The risk of nuclear proliferation
 - is so bleeding obvious (and just go see what the IAEA has had to say about it) that it's not worth spending more time covering it.

So let's recap:

  1. we probably can't afford the number of nuclear reactors we need, nor can we build them in time, and the number of them we need means we'd soon be using low-grade uranium which takes more energy (and greenhouse gases) to extract than it delivers.

  2. We'd run out of all known and speculated uranium supplies within about 30 years.

  3. Even with high-grade uranium ore, it's not a greenhouse gas neutral process, being on par with natural gas power plants.

  4. While renewable energy sources such as solar and wind indisputably have environmental costs, they are a) genuinely renewable b) we'd get far more bang for our buck if we invested in renewable energy, which is already outstripping nuclear in terms of provision of global energy supply and c) they do not come with the additional rare but very high impact risk of another nuclear accident, nor do they generate lethal waste that we don't know how to dispose of.

  5. The risk of the whole nuclear cycle has been consistently downplayed and obfuscated by the nuclear industry and governments such as my own, which have very large vested interests in nuclear power continuing and expanding. Yet with a little research, there is ample evidence of unacceptable risk and impacts from current uranium mining, the power plants themselves, and nuclear waste.

Conclusion: significantly expanded nuclear power is at not a viable part of the `solution' to energy generation and reduced greenhouse gases, and one that comes with an extremely high price tag in terms of environmental and human impacts from it's entire life cycle.

Display:
I encourage you to look to more accurate sources than the ones you list.  The NEA web page is five years out of date, for example.

It's too late in the day for me to point out all the errors here and I hope that Jérôme and others will chime in.

I will just talk about Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in the world in the course of over 50 years of nuclear power and therefore billions of tons of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions avoided.

The reactor at Chernobyl was made of graphite, which,if overheated, catches fire.  Reactors in Europe and the US are not made of graphite.  Chernobyl had no containment dome.  Reactors in the rest of the world do.  The incident at Chernobyl was the result of poor design.  It occurred under the worst conditions.  Bad as it was, the contamination of the surrounding land is not as high in radioactivity as the natural background radiation in Finland.

As for the health report as of 2005, see the World Health Organization's conclusions:

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/

Currently nuclear energy saves the emission of 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2 relative to coal. For every 22 tonnes of uranium used, one million tonnes of CO2 emissions is averted. Energy inputs to nuclear power produce only a few (eg2-5) percent of the CO2 emissions saved.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/printable_information_papers/inf50print.htm

This webpage of the World Nuclear Association examines many of the usual arguments and replies with documented facts.

To provide around-the-clock electricity rain or shine, you need either hydroelectric dams, fossil fuel burning plants, or nuclear energy.  
--More direct deaths occur a result of dam failures than from any other energy resource.  
--Coal combustion causes many chronic illnesses and hundreds of thousands of premature deaths annually.
--Deaths attributable to nuclear power are extremely low in comparison to these other energy sources.

Shutting down nuclear plants will mean billions of tons more carbon added to the earth's burden.

Wind and solar power are great but they cannot by themselves run our civilization and they will always require a backup.

As for the actual facts about the nuclear fuel cycle and CO2 production:

Studies of the carbon dioxide emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle under the different circumstances prevailing in two different countries show that these emissions are in the region of 0.5% to 4% of the emissions from the equivalent coal- fired generating capacity. Assertions that nuclear power could indirectly produce significant quantities of CO2 depend on a highly improbable scenario.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/co2&nfc.htm

And you can see the range of sources of the information by looking at the footnotes:
http://www.world-nuclear.org/co2&nfcrefs.htm

Most emphatically any water that might pass through Yucca Mt. does not leave the geological basin in which it is located.  So contamination of many aquifers, as you claim, is physically impossible.  The probability of contaminated water escaping from the repository over a million years is extremely low.

by Plan9 on Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 11:43:51 PM EST
I never get your focus on the general level of background radiation. Isn't the problem with nuclear waste that small grains et. that may or may not get near you, but if they do they alone can give a high local dose?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 07:24:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Precisely: get a grain of plutonium in your lungs and you're FUBAR.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 07:38:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But groundwater does not spit up particles of plutonium.
Some people were exposed to plutonium particulates under old, lax standards (lack of standards?):
Twenty-six white male workers who did the original plutonium research and development work at Los Alamos have been examined periodically over the past 50 y to identify possible health effects from internal plutonium depositions. Their effective doses range from 0.1 to 7.2 Sv with a median value of 1.25 Sv. As of the end of 1994, 7 individuals have died compared with an expected 16 deaths based on mortality rates of U.S. white males in the general population. The standardized mortality ratio (SMR) is 0.43.
Fifty years of plutonium exposure to the Manhattan Project plutonium workers: an update.

Being based on small numbers, these statistics are weak. They do not establish that plutonium deposits in the body are actually good for you.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 06:07:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a lot of confusion about what radiation does or does not do.  

The body does not discriminate between radionuclides made by a reactor and radionuclides made naturally.  Plutonium once existed naturally on earth but because it decays rapidly, it no longer does.  However, early life evolved with plutonium in the picture.

We are exposed constantly to rays and particles from nature.  This chronic dose of radiation is higher in some parts of the world than others. Those places where it is higher, like Denver, or northeastern WA, do not show higher rates of cancer.

Because of fallout from atmospheric atomic bomb tests, everyone on earth probably has a very small amount of plutonium in their system.  

As for one speck of plutonium or any other radionuclide killing a person, this is bogus.  There are people walking around who, because of laboratory accidents with glove boxes, were exposed significantly to plutonium, which attaches to bone and is gradually excreted.  These accidents happened twenty to forty years ago, but the men are still alive and have successfully produced children and grandchildren.  No death in the US has ever been attributed to exposure to plutonium.

This does not mean plutonium is good for you.  It means it should be shielded and isolated, because it sheds alpha particles. Alphas can be stopped by a sheet of paper or by skin or by leaves or by grass.  They cannot travel very far. If they get into the lungs in large quantity they can be damaging.  Obviously,spent nuclear fuel is enclosed in thickly shielded containers when transported or put in long-term storage.  In spent fuel pools, where the fuel assemblies cool down, they are suspended in deep water that shields them.  All rays and particles from spent fuel can be stopped by concrete one foot thick, by dirt and rock.  In storing nuclear waste for the long term, the important thing is to immobilize it in ceramic and steel casks.  This is routinely done around the world.

However, radionuclides are heavy and do not migrate far even if they get into water.  Also, most of them tend to bind with clay in soil and that immobilizes them.

This is why the National Academy of Sciences recommends deep geological disposal.

Some of the antis have a very strange position.  They oppose Yucca Mountain and other repositories and they also oppose spent nuclear fuel being stored at nuclear plants.

Some perspective:
Burning organic matter releases radionuclides the vegetation has taken up from the soil.  So damage from radionuclides to the lungs can occur when someone smokes two packs a day of cigarettes year after year or when someone spends time next to a smoker or in a smoky pub. Two packs can expose a person to up to 8,000 millirem a year. This exceeds by far the permissible dose for a worker in the nuclear industry.
Average annual natural background:  300 millirem a year, mostly from radon.  
Average annual exposure from a nuclear power plant:  .083 to .009 millirem.  
Average annual exposure from a coal-fired plant:  1-4 millirem.  Waste from coal combustion contains U-235, radium, radon, toxic heavy metals like mercury, lead, and arsenic.  This waste is stored in the environment and in our bodies.  It is not controlled or shielded.  Fortunately the exposure is relatively low.
From natural gas in the home:  9 millirem.

It is very important to put degrees of exposure to radiation in context.  Alarmist websites take the position that all radiation is extremely dangerous and that a teaspoon of nuclear waste can kill hundreds of thousands of people.  This is simply untrue.  Fifty tons of nuclear waste were dispersed into the atmosphere as a result of the Chernobyl fire. Fifty people died.  The majority died from radiation poisoning as a result of fighting the fire in the reactor. They were heroes. They got a huge, direct dose.  Some people actually survived that dose, however.  The remaining deaths attributable to the accident were cases of thyroid cancer and were totally preventable deaths--but the USSR neglected to distribute potassium iodide to some of the exposed population.  It would have prevented the uptake of radioactive iodine from the reactor.

You can calculate how much exposure you are getting from natural and manmade sources by going to a university website (not an activist website or a uranium industry website):

http://www.oversight.state.id.us/radiation/radiation.htm

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:11:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fifty tons of nuclear waste were dispersed into the atmosphere as a result of the Chernobyl fire. Fifty people died.

a further approx. 4,000 people are still expected to die as a result of Chernobyl.

I agree with you entirely that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature, toxicity etc. of nuclear 'products' at all stages of the cycle, and the alarmist sites irritate the shit out of me.

OTOH, we have done very little research that looks at modelling the environmental impacts of a large nuclear waste spill, for eg, and of course a reason for this has been a lot of cheerful suppression & lobbying by the nuclear industry.

This is rather like the debate over GM foods etc.; it's very difficult to honestly examine the issues, because the corporate lobbyists have the upper hand with thanks to governments in their pockets, it's very hard to get independent science, and many of the potential impacts have never been examined.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 05:02:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A great deal of computer modeling has been done about the effects of nuclear waste on the environment.  This was required by the EPA in order to license the only working deep geological repository in the US.

We know a great deal about what can happen under a variety of circumstances.

Bottom line:  probability of a nuclear waste spill in the US is extremely small.  The waste would have to get out of multiple and very heavy and very thick containers that are sealed in a variety of ways.

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 05:12:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When insurance companies refuse to insure nuclear power plants, or laws are passed by Congress limiting their liability in case of an accident, you know you have a problem.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 05:12:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The 4000 deaths that are estimated to occur in the future are based on how many millirem the most exposed population got.  These additional millirem are about the equivalent of someone moving from New York (natural background about 300 millirem) to northeastern Washington State (natural background:  1,700 millirem).  The exclusion zone of Chernobyl, though contaminated enough by reactor products to be more radioactive than it used to be prior to the accident. was a swamp with little natural uranium present and has now become about as radioactive as Spain or France already are naturally.

These are estimated deaths from cancers induced by radiation.  But the exposed population may not live long enough for the cancers to manifest.  This, sadly, is due to widespread psychological trauma from the accident and from being uprooted. It hasn't helped to have a corrupt and untrustworthy government. Depression, alcoholism, increased smoking, spousal abuse, all of that kind of suffering.  I am concerned that a similar state of affairs will occur among Katrina survivors.

See WHO, Chernobyl Forum 2005

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:36:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll note that I said "die from Chernobyl", and didn't just cite cancer alone.

If you take a look at the report I linked to at the bottom of the thread, and the difficulties it describes in sorting out Chernobyl cancer deaths from background level cancer deaths, and the projections made using expsure / accumulation rates, you can see it says it could be as high as 24,000.

Of course, we are never really going to know, but as you point out, Chrenobyl's affects were much more widespread than just radiation poisoning etc.

Some 220,000 people had to be relocated, and huge areas still remain off-limits.

I see nuclear accidents as being rather similar to 1:100 or 1:1000 year floods - you have to build your risk analysis and mitigation strategies around them, and you have to assume that the 1 in 1000 or 100 year event could be next year.

Take a look also at the MIT research citing the rapidly escalating risk of a nuclear accident if the thousand or so more reactors are built, as has been suggested.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:56:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My problems with your post here are two-fold:

  1. you focus on the last worrying points of the ones I made.

  2. all your sources are from the nuclear industry, and I think frankly that you really need to read a much wider range of (credible) sources, especially when you repeat verbatim as fact highly contestable statements like

"Wind and solar power are great but they cannot by themselves run our civilization and they will always require a backup."

 - as first it deliberately limits the spectrum of renewable Co2 free energy sources and second you provide absolutely not verification for what is a mighty big statement.

  1. you display an ignorance with regard to the water-cycle and the movement of water with regard to one specific example, Yucca Mtn, that also suggests to me that you need to look around a bit more. I don't mean you have to go read the whole gamut of literature, but some basic research will soon inform you that there is literally no such thing as a water-tight aquifer.

  2. the quote you give about Cos2 production saved is firstly not within the context of rebutting whether  nuclear energy is greenhouse neutral, and secondly assumes we'll stick with coal, can't improve coal, etc.


"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow
by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:05:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]


"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow
by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:08:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yucca Mountain is located in what is known to hydrologists as a closed basin.

Yucca Mountain is in the Alkali Flat-Furnace Creek groundwater basin, within the larger Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System. This area has very dry climate, limited surface water, and deep aquifers.

The Death Valley basin is a closed hydrologic basin, which means its surface water and groundwater can leave only by evaporation  and transpiration .

Yucca Mountain and the Death Valley Basin, like other areas in the southern Great Basin, generally lack perennial streams and other surface-water bodies such as lakes. The Amargosa River system drains from Yucca Mountain and the surrounding areas. Although referred to as a river, the Amargosa and its tributaries  are dry most of the time.

Groundwater below Yucca Mountain and in the surrounding region flows generally south toward discharge areas in the Amargosa Desert and Death Valley.

On average, the water table is about 2000 feet below the surface of Yucca Mountain.

Further Information and Links
Project Literature: Environmental Baseline File: Soils, Rev. 00
Environmental Baseline File: Geology/Hydrology
Environmental Baseline File: Water Resources
Yucca Mountain Science and Engineering Report (Sections 4.2.1.2.2 - 4.2.1.2.12)
Related Links: Water Words Dictionary: Nevada Division of Water Resources  
USGS Ground-Water Discharge Report, Death Valley Regional Flow System

http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/ymp/science/hydrology.shtml

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:26:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From NIRS info sheet:

2. Yucca's unsuitable geology (earthquakes, volcanoes, water leakage):

Yucca is a major earthquake zone. Dozens of fault lines crisscross the area, with two directly intersecting the proposed dumpsite. Many hundreds of quakes have struck near Yucca in recent decades, damaging DOE facilities, derailing trains that could one day be used to haul nuclear waste, and threatening to collapse access and burial tunnels.

All that seismic activity has fractured and fissured Yucca's rock, creating fast flow pathways for water infiltration. Water will eventually corrode waste burial containers, releasing deadly radioactivity into the underground drinking water supply used by a thriving farming community downstream.

Volcanism threatens the flooding of the proposed waste dump with superheated water and even lava, which would release massive amounts of deadly radioactivity into the surrounding environment.

Yucca's geology is so bad that building a dump there would require complete abandonment of the original concept of deep geologic disposal. Engineered barriers would have to provide all the radiation containment, begging the question: why build the dump there at all?

3. Yucca's unsuitable geography:

Yucca is near Las Vegas and not far from Los Angeles. It's immediately next door to Nellis Air Force Base, the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, and mining operations, threatening accidental or intentional crashes or detonations involving DOE's proposed surface facilities for handling and storing wastes. Yucca is on Western Shoshone Indian land, raising environmental justice objections to waste dumping there.

4. Changing the rules in the middle of the game: weakening environmental protection standards when Yucca fails to meet the original ones:

When Yucca has been unable, due to its poor geology, to live up to previously established federal safety regulations, they have simply been re-written or done away with altogether. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for repositories limiting releases of radioactive gases that Yucca could not meet were simply done away with for Yucca; re-written, Yucca-specific regulations allow for 18 kilometers of radiation contamination of groundwater, an unprecedented undermining of the Safe Drinking Water Act that threatens the farming community downstream that depends on Yucca's aquifer. And less than a month before its official decision finding Yucca "suitable" for nuclear waste dumping, the Department of Energy simply eliminated a 17 year old site suitability regulation that stated if water could travel through a proposed repository and back out into the environment in less than a thousand years time, that site must be disqualified from any further consideration. DOE's own studies have shown that Yucca cannot live up to that regulation, and over 200 public interest organizations petitioned DOE in 1998 to enforce its own regulations and disqualify Yucca. But DOE simply erased the regulation in 2001.

5. Politics trump science: corruption of the decision-making process:

Despite major conflicts of interest at the Yucca Mountain, nearly 300 technical studies being incomplete, and DOE's "weak to moderate" scientific basis, the project won congressional and presidential approval despite Nevada's objection. The nuclear power industry spent many tens of millions of dollars in the form of direct Capitol Hill lobbying, nationwide ad campaigns, and campaign contributions to federal office seekers to influence the Yucca votes. More recently, revelations that whistleblowers at the Yucca Mountain Project and in the waste shipping cask manufacturing industry have suffered severe harassment increase concerns about short cuts on safety.

And from the NIRS petition for the disqualification of Yucca:

Guideline: 960.4-2-1 Post-Closure Disqualifying Condition for Hydrology:

A site shall be disqualified if the pre-waste-emplacement ground-water travel time from the disturbed zone to the accessible environment is expected to be less than 1000 years along any pathway of likely and significant radionuclide travel.

Recent analyses of samples collected at the underground Exploratory Studies Facility (ESF) at the Yucca Mountain site indicate that water infiltrating from the ground surface above the study facility has traveled rapidly downward in fractures in the Mountain to, and through, the proposed repository horizon, toward the water table. Samples collected from the fracture walls in the ESF contain elevated amounts of chlorine-36 that are sufficiently high to indicate that the source must have been atmospheric weapons testing in the Pacific. Chlorine-36 was produced by the activation of the salt in seawater. It was deposited in fall-out and rain across the Northern Hemisphere. Since chlorine-36 does not occur at such large ratios in nature, it provides a marker for the travel time of surface water.

Therefore, transport of this bomb-pulse isotope to its current depths by infiltrating precipitation must have taken place within the last 50 years. This significant discovery contradicts earlier conceptual models depicting unsaturated zone flow at Yucca Mountain as being dominated by very slow downward movement through pores in the rock.

DOE's recent unsaturated zone flow models, based on chlorine-36 and other data, indicate that within acknowledged bounds of uncertainty, water infiltrating through the waste emplacement horizon will quickly reach the water table. And according to saturated zone flow models, travel to a point at which it is accessible to humans through water wells is less than 1000 years. This meets the conditions of 960.4-2-1 for disqualification; therefore Yucca Mountain must be disqualified.

With Clorine-36 showing that radionuclide travel to be faster than anticipated, it is clear that the expected performance of the repository will result in significant radionuclide contamination of the groundwater and, ultimately, the surface waters down-gradient from the site.

If nothing else, this information we are exchanging highlights the literal gulf between what commercial nuclear interest & supporting governments claim, and what independent and anti-nuclear groups claim. It shows how difficult it is to get an honest debate.

As an environmental scientist by trade, the precautionary principle is my version of the hermetic oath, and the more I read, the more nuclear power as it stands is not worth risking that principle.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 12:17:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I meant hippocratic.\

lucky I'm not a doctor.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 12:18:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NIRS is an activist group and perpetuates hysteria. If you are a scientist you should have noted that their information does not come from peer-reviewed sources.

Their assumptions are not upheld by the data or by probablistic risk analysis.

Yucca Mountain happens to be in a remote area in the middle of a site where nearly 1,000 atomic tests took place--a sacrifice zone. The repository would be shielded by a thousand feet of rock above and below.  Rainfall is tiny in the area.  When rain does fall in this very arid desert, most of the water runs off the sides of the mountain, which is made of granite tuff.  The tiny amount of water that might get down in the cracks would have to make its way to the repository and get through multiple barriers of alloy, steel, and ceramic materials that will surround the spent fuel.  Then the water has to somehow make a hole through the bottom of that thick cask.  Then it has to get out of the repository and drain down through a thousand feet of rock and dirt.  Since radionuclides like to bind with soil, chances are they would be immobilized on the way down.  If they did at last reach the water table after many thousands of years, they would be in a very diluted form.

We are talking about an extremely small volume of waste. Seventy thousand tons sounds like a lot until you realize that two tons of uranium is about the size of a TV set.

What is your plan for dealing with nuclear waste?

by Plan9 on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:41:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...is the problem. Even if you believe no more nuclear power should be generated, you have to do something with the existing waste. I began to get disenchanted with environmentalists such as Greenpeace when I realized they have no proposals for how to do that.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:47:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Instead of wasting time attacking the group for having a position contrary to yours. Because if you had, you would have noticed that in NIRS' petition, their argument is based on studies done for the US Department of Energy:

DOE's recent unsaturated zone flow models, based on chlorine-36 and other data, indicate that within acknowledged bounds of uncertainty, water infiltrating through the waste emplacement horizon will quickly reach the water table. And according to saturated zone flow models, travel to a point at which it is accessible to humans through water wells is less than 1000 years. This meets the conditions of 960.4-2-1 for disqualification; therefore Yucca Mountain must be disqualified.

Frankly I find it hard to muster the effort to discuss this with you when you resort to pejorative and factually unproven characterisations of differing sources to "win" the argument.

Existing nuclear waste - is the ultimate NIMBY issue. Given the quantities of it now in temporary storage, and the failure of various nations to be adequately open about the nature of the issue and what to do about it - preferring instead to focus on dump sites where people are marginalised in some way and least able to fight back - I think there probably needs to be a global debate, and a geologically etc. suitable place found that as many people as possible can live with, via a transparent process. It would be no doubt a long-drawn out and very difficult debate; it may not even find a solution, and leave us with a series of compromises, I don't know. What I do know is that targeting questionable areas simply because they are easy prey for governments in terms of population and potential opposition is unacceptable, and does not lead to safe storage.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:23:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"DOE's recent unsaturated zone flow models, based on chlorine-36 and other data, indicate that within acknowledged bounds of uncertainty, water infiltrating through the waste emplacement horizon will quickly reach the water table."

The chlorine-36 (from atmospheric bomb tests in the Pacific) filtered through the strata.  The traces of water that carried it did not have to penetrate a corrosion-proof chromium alloy drip shield and the triple shielding of a cask, collect radionuclides, and then make a hole and drip out the bottom of the cask and thus out of the repository, which would occupy a small volume of space inside of the mountain.

The engineers at Yucca Mountain made very conservative estimates for their models.  This has resulted in huge uncertainties: scenarios that are at the extreme end of the probability curve.  These assumptions about worst worst-case scenarios have unfortunately fueled hysteria among people not versed in risk analysis.  This problem of public perception is to me the main reason that Yucca Mountain should not be used as a repository.  There are better places.

I happen to think that the geology of Yucca Mountain is far from the best location for a repository simply because it lends itself to this kind of confusion when the public tries to understand what is going on.  A much better medium is the granite pluton the Finns are using.  It is simple and stable.  But within that medium the waste will be in multi-shelled casks. Or the very stable and dry salt bed under the desert in SW NM.  There a repository for nuclear waste generated by the military has been successfully operating and met all EPA requirements.  Or we just do what Greenpeace wants and leave the spent nuclear fuel in sturdy concrete casks at the plants.  Then it will be available to be recycled.

In the 1980s there was an international effort run by the Nuclear Energy Agency of OECD to explore the disposition of nuclear waste in the deep clay sediments of vast, mid-tectonic plate, virtually lifeless deserts six miles under the ocean.  Many scientists consider this the optimum solution to waste that cannot be recycled in reactors.  But Greenpeace put a stop to that.

The philosophy of Greenpeace is to leave the waste where it was generated in order to punish the nuclear plants that made it.  So evidently those folks believe it is being safely stored there.  They are right.  Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, now refers to it and its fellow organizations as fearmongering, anti-scientific, and anti-technological.

As for indigenous peoples: They occupied the area now known as New York City.  I assume they occupied the area now known as Sydney.  It's unfortunate that genocide and diseases brought by Europeans in both Australia and in the Americas reduced a thriving population and its many civilizations to a marginalized state.

People get upset in the Southwest about uranium mining on Native American lands.  None occurs there now.  But those people in Santa Fe who feel so sensitive about the displacement of indigenous people do not think of turning their expensive homes and ranches over to nearby pueblos who used to own that land before Europeans arrived.  And I wonder if people in Sydney and Perth or on huge sheep ranches ever think that they should give up the land that their ancestors in the 19th century appropriated and return it to its rightful owners.  Or if anyone in the suburbs is proposing their return to the people who have lived on that land for a hundred thousand years or more.

The Nevada Test Site and the surrounding air bases, etc., along with a large wildlife preserve, has been the property of the federal govt. for a long time.

The real world is not always what we would like it to be.  Nobody's hands are clean.  There is no energy source without risk.  Some sources are far riskier than others.  

Fossil fuels put us at far more risk personally and globally than any other source of energy generation and their effects are going to be causing problems for centuries on a worldwide scale.

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 09:17:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm glad at least we've reached the point where we can agree that Yucca mountain is not a good choice. As for the conservatism of the models- as you would bloody hope so, and a precise example of the application of the precautionary principle.

As we both agree that Greenpeace are overall not helping anyone solve the conundrum, I won't make either of us waste any more space on them. I will say that in terms of finding the best possbible global solution to existing waste, what's been missing most of all is a transparent and accountable process for doing so. Governments and companies alike do not have a good track record of providing honest and complete information sets on a whole range of environmental issues; little wonder then that groups that tend towards paranoia, but have been proven right on sufficient enough occasions are able to dissuade the public of the goodness of government/corporation intentions.

Indigenous people - you're comments here actually made me feel rather ill. What you casually suggested was that as us white folk have displaced and massacred one way or another all the indigenous people from most of the places they used to inhabit, tough shit if we expand that. Yet the areas under threat in Australia at least are ones that we supposedly handed back and have extant, resident, supposedly respected and semi-autonomous groups living on them- so a comparison to what's happening for lands under major metropolitan cities is absolutely false and quite twistd ethically.

It also doesn't address at all the reality of the situation that is happening right now, which is the targeting of areas supposedly "handed back" as convenient sites for nuclear waste dumps - it's amazing, for example in Australia, now this debate is heating up, how every single place suggested is either directly adjacent to or in an indigenous land area, but miles away from any white population. What a coincidence!

I am not prepared to sacrifice a group of people in such an underhand and despicable manner. No, nobody's hands are clean, but your attitude here makes me want to take a shower.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 04:52:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll grant you that the source I used re: Chernobyl was older, but it is a highly credible source, and many of the points it makes have not receded, especially with regard to environmental impacts.

I am well aware that the projected death toll from Chernobyl is expected to be around 4,000; thankfully far less than previously feared.

I also take your point about Chrenobyl's design being signficantly improved upon, but I think you gloss over far too glibly the implications of developing nations in particular building nuclear power plants; and the safety implications there - that was precisely what Chernobyl illustrated.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:08:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, Chernobyl illustrated the disastrous design of graphite reactors.  The Soviets built these to produce bomb plutonium as well as electricity.  They have channels in the them which, if a fire starts, suck oxygen down inside the reactor to feed the fire.

No country today would dream of building a graphite reactor.  China and India, as they expand their nuclear power, are going to use state of the art designs that are safe and efficient.

Nuclear power supplies some or all of the electricity used by a billion people to light up their homes and hospitals and schools.  In parts of the world without electricity, the average lifespan is 43.

I do not feel that it is correct from my comfortable perch in an energy-rich society to be dictating to developing countries a limitation on their sources of electricity.  However, for their own good, I do feel that they need to be helped not to build more fossil fuel plants--because they will be screwed by the consequences along with the rest of us.

Obviously wind and solar technology would be a great boon to these countries.  Especially in areas off the grid.  But to develop, they require baseload energy, and there are only two main sources:  nuclear, which, relative to fossil fuels, is practically emissions-free, or fossil fuels, which are heating up the planet and creating conditions for mass extinction of species and destruction of a good portion of humanity.

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 09:25:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we'll just have to agree to disagree about what Chernobyl illustrates. I think you are very naive to assume that the countries currently considering going nuclear won't look at shall we say 'multiple applications' for those plants, and will adhere to safety standards that are going to make it - especially when you consider that nuclear plants in developed nations still have a range of significant safety concerns, especially the older ones.

"I do not feel that it is correct from my comfortable perch in an energy-rich society to be dictating to developing countries a limitation on their sources of electricity."

I just have to pull that out and ask that you contrast it with what you wrote about indigenous people and mining/waste disposal. Your perch seems to have a switch for altering the degree of comfort you feel on certain ethical questions.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 05:01:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for posting this topic for discussion.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:21:14 AM EST
I'm a nuclear sceptic too (and kept out of that debate for fear of it consuming too much of my time yet no opinions changed). However, this:

When you then add into the above that power generation accounts for 20% of greenhouse gases, and over half, for example, comes from transport & machinery, the greenhouse gases produced by the process of extracting low-grade uranium ore will be much greater than the reduction achieved by going nuclear.

Is illogical. The 20% share doesn't change anything, the transport & machinery part is included in lifecycle calculations.

On the other hand, there are too many factors to ignore in those calculations. As for the following:

but once the ore drops below 0.01% - which most known uranium ore deposits are - it takes more energy to extract the ore than it will produce. At 0.05%, you are putting in about half of the energy that you will eventually extract.

I read this with interest, could you give a source?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 07:19:09 AM EST
Here's an excellent article (2 page pdf) from Australasian Science, that encapsulates pretty much all my points above, and gives more detail on the Van Leeuwin & Smith article. I also sums up the problems with fast breeder reactors.

And here is Van Leeuwin & Smith's rebuttal of the criticisms offered by the WNA to their original article - it includes a link to the WNA response.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:14:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not a big fan of nuclear energy, but it does seem that the "too expensive" argument is a bit circular. There is a basic (and high) cost to build the plant, mine the fuel, and dispose of the waste. But on top of that is a HUGE legal cost, and a HUGE schedule cost, due to the environmental approval process.

If there were an agreement that nuclear power is desirable, then planning and construction might be done at significantly lower cost.

by asdf on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 08:32:37 AM EST
In Canada, a nuclear plant can be up and running in five years.  Canadian plants are safe and environmentally acceptable.

New reactor designs for the US will have fewer pipes, be standardized, as they are in France.  This saves time and gives the Nuclear Regulatory Commission less of a headache when it comes to monitoring individual plants.

Every nuclear plant has to prove that it is environmentally safe.  The rigorous demands pay off.  The three nuclear plants in the path of Katrina had no problems.  Neither did nuclear plants on the coast of India in the path of the tsunami.

You cannot say the same of oil refineries or chemical plants.

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:38:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reactors based upon U235 will run out of fuel in the next 30-50 years. If breeder reactors are used with U238 the fuel will probably last several hundred years.

Currently there is little interest in U238 reactors because of the ease of diversion of the Plutonium output to weaponry. This could be solved, as could the proper handling of the Plutonium itself, if society wants to badly enough.

I'm not a fan of nuclear power, but economic pressure will make expanded use unavoidable for the next several decades. Better to deal with the side effects now before the momentum for new reactors sweeps rationality aside.

My pet suggestion is to invest in fusion research. There have been recent discoveries with room temperature sonic compression of microbubbles in water producing high enough temperatures to support fusion. The international funding for fusion is about $3 billion per year and is all directed at magnetic confinement of plasmas. This has not proven a promising avenue after 30 years of effort. Parallel research projects should, therefore, be encouraged.

A Manhattan Project style effort of $20-30 billion per year should be undertaken immediately. The wealthy countries can easily afford it and the potential payback is unimaginable in its scope.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:03:44 AM EST
There have been recent discoveries with room temperature sonic compression of microbubbles in water producing high enough temperatures to support fusion.

Read about it here The evidence for MegaKelvin temperatures or neutron production is inconclusive.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:16:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Moreover, there are many ways of producing fusion reactions that are far too inefficient to produce net energy. Even if sonic compression were to work, it appears that it would be in this relatively uninteresting class.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 06:15:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uranium is among the most common elements on earth.

The reason the uranium industry is at a virtual standstill in the US is partly because the US bought 20,000 nuclear warheads from Russia.  Their highly enriched uranium (over 90%) is being blended down to make reactor fuel (4-6% enriched).  We in the US are getting some of our light and power now from weapons that were once supposed to kill us.  We have a large stockpile of enriched uranium--at least a decade's worth.

As for most uranium mines being on native American lands--this is untrue.

There are proven reserves or uranium and then there are regions where plenty of good quality uranium exists untapped in the American Southwest alone.  Furthermore, depleted uranium can be irradiated in a reactor and turned into nuclear fuel.  Thorium can be turned into nuclear fuel, and the earth has an abundance of it. India has big thorium deposits and is working on that project.

Fusion is a great idea.  But the saying is that it is always going to happen 50 years from now.

Because of the catastrophe of global climate change already underway, we can't wait for fusion or for any other invention that might come along one day.

Germany is the sixth largest contributor of CO2 in the world.  Are they going to stop burning brown coal?  No, they are going to shut down the only large-scale emissions-free source of baseload electricity they have:  nuclear.

I am an environmentalist and I am deeply worried about what is going to happen and what is already happening to the planet, to the oceans.  The Katrina disaster is just a foretaste.  It is expensive to build a new nuclear plant, but they earn out in a short time and in the US are now competitive per kilowatt hour with coal.  

Having looked at all the alternatives and weighed the risks and the benefits, I am convinced that stopping CO2 and other greenhouse emissions as soon as possible is the only way to protect future generations from even worse consequences of global warming than the ones we are already seeing.  If we don't stop burning coal now, by the next century our descendants will have to cope with the acidification of the ocean killing most of the marine life as well as the drowning of many coastal cities.

See http://www.ecolo.org/media/articles/articles.in.english/love-indep-24-05-04.htm

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:33:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.. I've reached the same conclusions ! :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:03:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany is the sixth largest contributor of CO2 in the world.  Are they going to stop burning brown coal?  No, they are going to shut down the only large-scale emissions-free source of baseload electricity they have:  nuclear.

we had a discussion about this some time back. It was started by the fact that more energy is now produced by renewables in Germany that by nuclear.

However, this means also that Germany produces about 80% of its power not renewable or nuclear.
Overall, the loss of its production capacity through its switching off of nuclear power is therefore marginal. The rise in renewable production all happened in the last ten to fifteen years.

As has been pointed out previously there is not enough capcity to build nucelar powerstations. there are only a handful companies that have the technical knowhow to build and they are stretched to the limit as is. Of course, with additional investments that could be achieved, but, but but, what to do with the rubbish? and what to do with a powerstationa as a potential target for terrorists?

I only brought the example of Germany as it had been previously discussed. The situation in other countries is bound to be completely different. France f.e produces much more power out of nuclear than Germany.

Also Germany only being the sixth largest polluter and on the other hand being the biggest exporter in the world and the fifth biggest economy overall, they must be doing something right? Of course, they could do much better...

by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:48:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love wind and solar.  But they are intermittent, diffuse resources.

When the wind does not blow in the North Sea because of changing weather patterns, the turbine blades don't move.  

Baseload electricity only comes from hydroelectric, fossil fuels, and nuclear.  Therefore, if Germany has a problem supplying energy from renewables, it must turn to one of these resources.  If they don't want to buy needed electricity from France, they have to get it from coal plants burning brown coal, which is environmentally really dirty.

Anti-nuclear power folks need to make up their mind about greenhouse gases.  If GHG are their chief concern, then elimination of fossil-fuel electricity plants should be first on the agenda.  To control carbon emissions, nuclear power is essential.

If you follow the logic of the argument that nuclear power will not significantly reduce carbon emissions, especially in the near term, then you have to conclude that carbon emissions from coal plants are insignificant and so are political attempts to reduce emissions, like the carbon tax and Kyoto.

The antis want to have it both ways:  they're saying we desperately need carbon-control programs but also saying that carbon-control is really not a big problem if it means we replace coal with nuclear.

The volume of nuclear waste is extremely small in comparison to the volume of waste in the air, on land, and in water from fossil fuel combustion.  It is possible to isolate and shield nuclear waste for very long periods until it decays to about the level of natural background radiation.

Finland and Sweden are both working on repositories deep in rock.  Spent fuel will be enclosed in casks inside chambers carved inside rock.  Safe storage is indeed possible.  In fact, it is going on every day around the world.

Safe storage of coal waste is possible but it is not being done.  This is causing severe problems for the entire planet.

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:59:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, but did you hear me say any of these things? I hate the coal and gas producer with a vengance, and they need to be replaced as quick as possible. I just don't think, that nuclear is the best solution for the afforementioned reasons.

Tidal power (ok. not that much in Germany, but it would be bigger in Britain (where I live) and France), geothermal, electro voltaic and all the other methods. the salvation is not in a single form of producing power, but in having many small producers adopted to the circumstances.

and the most important. Saving energy, producing and using eneryg locally. every household produces its own power and becomes self sufficient.

now we only have to talk about industry power production...

by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:09:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you.  We need many resources, starting with conservation.  Local emissions-free power generation is a beautiful thing. Tides, geothermal, solar, wind--yes!

But, as you say, industrial power is another matter.  As Jérôme, wind-powerologist extraordinaire, points out, wind turbines are heavy industry.  They are not carved out of wood by cheerful peasants.  To make their components requires factories and cement plants, the mining and smelting of ores, the forging of steel, the making of plastics from oil, etc., etc.  In other words, baseload energy is required.

So we have a choice.  The US gets 5% of its electricity from hydro.  That resource is dwindling as droughts reduce dam levels around the country--thanks to global warming.  So that leaves CO2 emitting fossil fuel plants (about 75%)or emissions-free nuclear plants (20%).  Wind and solar come to less than 1%

In fact the wind can stop blowing, just as rain can stop falling in one place and start falling elsewhere.  As ocean currents are affected by the huge influx of fresh water from melting ice caps and glaciers, and the Greenland ice sheet, winds may change and go blow elsewhere.

As for the economics of nuclear power, the OECD has made some findings:

The OECD does not expect investment costs in new nuclear generating plants to rise, as advanced reactor designs become standardised.

The future competitiveness of nuclear power will depend substantially on the additional costs which may accrue to coal generating plants. It is uncertain how the real costs of meeting targets for reducing sulphur dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions will be attributed to fossil fuel plants.

Overall, and under current regulatory measures, the OECD expects nuclear to remain economically competitive with fossil fuel generation, except in regions where there is direct access to low cost fossil fuels. In Australia, for example, coal-fired generating plants are close to both the mines supplying them and the main population centres, and large volumes of gas are available on low cost, long-term contracts.

A 1998 OECD comparative study showed that at a 5% discount rate, in 7 of 13 countries considering nuclear energy, it would be the preferred choice for new base-load capacity commissioned by 2010 (see Table below). At a 10% discount rate the advantage over coal would be maintained in only France, Russia and China.

This was updated in 2005 with a joint report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency showing that nuclear power had increased its competitiveness over the seven years. The principal changes since 1998 are increased nuclear plant capacity factors and rising gas prices. The study did not factor in any costs for carbon emissions from fossil fuel generators, and focused on over one hundred plants able to come on line 2010-15, including 13 nuclear plants. Nuclear overnight construction costs ranged from US$ 1000/kW in Czech Republic to $2500/kW in Japan, and averaged $1500/kW. Coal plants were costed at $1000-1500/kW, gas plants $500-1000/kW and wind capacity $1000-1500/kW.

[snip]

A detailed study of energy economics in Finland published in mid 2000 shows that nuclear energy would be the least-cost option for new generating capacity. The study compared nuclear, coal, gas turbine combined cycle and peat. Nuclear has very much higher capital costs than the others --EUR 1749/kW including initial fuel load, which is about three times the cost of the gas plant. But its fuel costs are much lower, and so at capacity factors above 64% it is the cheapest option.

[snip]
In 2003 the MITpublished the outcome of a 2-year study of nuclear energy prospects in the USA. Adjusting its assumptions to those more in line with industry expectations ($1500/kW & 4 year construction, 90% capacity factor, interest rate 12%, and adding fees & taxes) the generation cost comes out at 4.2 c/kWh, the same as coal without any carbon cost.

The French Energy Secretariat in 2003 published updated figures for new generating plant. The advanced European PWR (EPR) would cost EUR 1650-1700 per kilowatt to build, compared with EUR 500-550 for a gas combined cycle plant and 1200-1400 for a coal plant. The EPR would generate power at 2.74 cents/kWh, competitively with gas which would be very dependent on fuel price. Capital costs contributed 60% to nuclear's power price but only 20% to gas's. While the figures are based on 40-year plant life, the EPR is designed for 60 years.

A UK Royal Academy of Engineering report in 2004 looked at electricity generation costs from new plant in the UK on a more credible basis than hitherto. In particular it aimed to develop "a robust approach to compare directly the costs of intermittent generation with more dependable sources of generation". This meant adding the cost of standby capacity for wind, as well as carbon values up to £30 per tonne CO2 (£110/tC) for coal and gas. Wind power was shown to be more than twice as expensive as nuclear power.

Without the carbon increment, coal, nuclear and gas CCGT ranged 2.2-2.6 p/kWh and coal gasification IGCC was 3.2 p/kWh - all base-load plant. Adding the carbon value (up to 2.5 p) took coal close to onshore wind (with back-up) at 5.4 p/kWh - offshore wind is 7.2 p/kWh, while nuclear remained at 2.3 p/kWh. Nuclear figures were based on a conservative £1150/kW (US$ 2100/kW) plant cost (including decommissioning).

[snip]

FACTORS FAVOURING URANIUM

Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is easily and cheaply transportable. The quantities needed are very much less than for coal or oil. One kilogram of natural uranium will yield about 20,000 times as much energy as the same amount of coal. It is therefore intrinsically a very portable and tradeable commodity.

The fuel's contribution to the overall cost of the electricity produced is relatively small, so even a large fuel price escalation will have relatively little effect. For instance, a doubling of the 2002 U3O8 price would increase the fuel cost for a light water reactor by 30% and the electricity cost about 7% (whereas doubling the gas price would add 70% to the price of electricity).

REPROCCESSING & MOX

There are other possible savings. For example, if spent fuel is reprocessed and the recovered plutonium and uranium is used in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, more energy can be extracted. The costs of achieving this are large, but are offset by MOX fuel not needing enrichment and particularly by the smaller amount of high-level wastes produced at the end. Seven UO2 fuel assemblies give rise to one MOX assembly plus some vitrified high-level waste, resulting in only about 35% of the volume, mass and cost of disposal.

Sources for this information:

OECD/IEA, 1992, Electricity Supply in the OECD, (above Figure from Annex 9).
OECD/ IEA NEA 1998, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity
OECD/ IEA NEA 2005, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity- update
OECD, 1994, The Economics of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.
Nuclear Europe Worldscan 7-8/97
NEI: US generating cost data
Siemens Power Journal, Dec 1999.
Tarjanne & Rissanen, 2000, in Proceedings 25th International Symposium, Uranium Institute.
Percebois J. 2003, The peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Energy Policy 31, 101-08, Jan 2003
Gutierrez, J 2003, Nuclear Fuel - key for the competitiveness of nuclear energy in Spain, WNA Symp.
Nucleonics Week 20/2/03.
Royal Academy of Engineering 2004, The costs of generating electricity.
ExternE web site
Canadian Energy Research Institute, August 2004, Levelised Unit Electricity Cost Comparison Š Ontario.
University of Chicago, August 2004, The Economic Future of Nuclear Power.
Feretic D, & Tomsic Z, 2004, Probabilistic analysis of electrical energy costs, Energy Policy 33,1; Jan 2005

http://www.uic.com.au/nip08.htm

by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:36:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you know currently both to little and to much wind is not good for windturbines, but the engineers in the company my wifes works for are working on that problem. Soon it will not matter how little or how much wind blows. They will produce either way - and don't tell me, that wind one day will stop blowing... ( sorry, that was an unfair snark...)
by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love wind and solar.  But they are intermittent, diffuse resources.

I'm sorry, what exactly is intermittent and diffuse about the sun? I expect what you mean to say it that is has planetary variability, but to suggest the sun if 'diffuse' is rather odd. Ditto wind; again what I think you mean is that the technology to move turbines at very low speeds - large turbines at least- has yet to be nailed. You can however right now cover your roof with small modular turbines that will move in very low wind velocities and amply power your house. So scale is absolutely essential for understanding the many solutions we can look at.

Your quote above is a direct quote from the NWA site, and I wish you had acknowledged that, and/ or unpacked it a bit to make a point with some credence.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:49:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The website may be WNA but the references are from a variety of academically acceptable sources.

How do you plan to make steel using solar power?  How do you plan to make the concrete needed for the bases of wind turbines with solar power?  

France runs its trains on electricity made cleanly by nuclear power, a baseload source.  How do you plan to run trains on solar or wind power?

These renewables are great on a small scale and we need them.  We need every clean energy source possible.  But renewables cannot supply baseload.

by Plan9 on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:45:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How viable is it to have each renewable generator store up to 24h worth of its own power on site? Does that solve the baseload problem, and if not, why not?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:49:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You make steel in an electric furnace in Arizona, powered by photovoltaic solar panels in the day and a pumped storage supply for night. Perfectly practical. Expensive.
by asdf on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:19:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Basically, I think your vision is rather limited. There is no question that whatever fuel sources we find, we are going to have to rethink major aspects of our way of life, because this isn't just all about continuing the status quo, because it simply isn't sustainable.

Something to ponder - the USA currently has 5% of the world's population and uses 30% of the world's resources; Europe uses 20%. If China achieves a 1st-world lifestyle for it's 1 billion + inhabitants, it will require 90%. And India is a piddling couple of hundred million short of China's population, and has the same, perfectly reasonable aspirations. Get the picture?

We are going to have to rethink everything. And no, I'm not advocating a return to darkness and hovels, but pointing out an immutable fact. Working out appropriate energy sources, and what we do with that energy is about far more than just slotting 'energy source x' into the place of current fossil fuels.

On top of that, you don't seem to be aware of just how rapidly now advances in renewable energy and a whole suite of radical new technologies is happening. One example - as the article says, one hell of a  scientific breakthrough.

they've just made photvoltaic cells out of plastic. A 1km high solar tower is being built in Australia, along with solar thermal fields in Aus and the USA, all generating n x 1000 MW, a 30,000 MW wind farm has just been proposed for Canada. I could go on and on.

You say in a post further down that (paraphrasing) 'we've been waiting for the big breakthroughs in renewables for years'  - yes we have, and with peak oil  now a reality, there has been a huge interest and increase in research and development, and the results ar tumbling in.

You also obviously discount the possibilities of modular renewable energy, smart grids etc.

Take a tour 'round the site www.worldchanging.com   - as it's tag line aptly says "another world is here" - you've just got to know where to look.

What we have now in political terms is the final tussle
between those looking to milk the current fossil fuel reliance for every last penny, and global future be damned, those who understand we will need some sort of sensible transition but overall fail to realise just how big a shift we need to make globally, and those who are trying to broaden the horizon and showcase the myriad of possibilities.

Who will win? Who do we want to win? I know I want to see some pragmatic and necessary work done to deal with ameliorating the impacts of fossil fuels as much as possible while we transition, and I want to see efforts focused on the myriad of possibilities, not locked into a nuclear future when there are clearly many other possible answers, if we only have the courage.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:40:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Worldchanging discusses intelligently, and fairly objectively, the many options for dealing with a post-fossil fuel future all the time.

Try this article for an example.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:43:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes they can.

Wind is actually a part of the baseload production, in that it does not have the flexibility to provide peak power. However, up to at least 20% of power provided, the cost for the network to accomodate the intermittent nature of wind power is negligible, and easily absorbed by the network, as demonstrated in Denmark and Germany and by studies by network operators all around (I don't have handy links, but have repeatedly seen presentations on that topic)

20% of power (in kWh) is A LOT of wind. Let's get there before we complain about the intermittence of the source. Maybe by then we'll have managed to develop better (i.e. not too expensive) storage facilities that allow wind power plants to provide their power on a more regular basis, to take over a bigger chunk of production.

I hear your arguments about nuclear, especially in relation to coal, but you are, imo, too dismissive of windpower.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:18:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I appreciate the correction.

As you know, I am in favor of wind power--thanks in part to your persuasive diaries and sobriety.

If I sound dismissive it is because many people have an idea that you just simply eliminate fossil fuel and nuclear and run our civilization on wind and solar power.  I hope some day that will be the case.  But right now that's magical thinking.  And we need practical solutions that can be put in place now.

I am not advocating for nuclear power to replace renewables.  I am advocating for renewables and nuclear--a mature technology without a storage problem yet to be solved--to replace all fossil fuel generation in the long term.  It is unrealistic to assume that as a short-term goal.

The best we can hope for is improvement of coal technology and strict control of emissions.  

I have a feeling of urgency as I continue to hear daily about the destruction of the environment as we know it.  We are facing a terrible problem. We have workable solutions which need to be implemented as soon as possible, and we have solutions in progress which also need to be supported.

What do you think?  Aren't we on the same page here?

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 09:43:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We're mostly on the same page, in that I agree that nuclear is the less bad of the main available sources of power for baseload in the medium term. What I am critical of in your eloquent posts is that I think you are in general too dismissive of wind and other renewables, including as a baseload source.

  • A pretty big chunk of the baseload needs can be provided by wind today at little cost to the network, so we should focus on this first;

  • Focus R&D efforts to find some smart storage/battery technology cheap enough to associate with wind locally to eliminate the problem of intermittence;

  • in  the meantime, I agree that we should focus on the elimination of coal powered plants before nuclear powered plants.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 09:47:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As for most uranium mines being on native American lands--this is untrue.

that's not what I said. I said

1) Australian uranium mines are on indigenous people's land

and

2) the current USA nuclear waste dump, Yucca Mountain, is on native people's land.

Both of which are quite correct.

We agree on the magnitude and urgency of the approaching crisis; we fundamentally disagree with regard to one of thes solutions. As you can see from another post I made re: thorium salt-melt plants, I am not a "fundie" in any sense when it comes to this debate. But I do believe that the 10-year window that is the same for whether you build nuclear plants, or look into other resources, is much better spent on the latter, especially as large-scale renewable energy is just around the corner - there are nx1000MW solar thermal plants, wind farms, solar fields etc etc. all being built, right now. And I think you are fundamentally underestimating the possibilities of modular, community-owned and individual household level renewable energy projects.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:37:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... has been just around the corner for 30 years.  Thirty years ago renewables supplied 6% of US electricity, and almost all of that came from hydro.  Today after huge subsidies, both corporate and federal, renewables remain stagnant at 6%, with wind and solar supplying less than 1% to the grid.

I wish renewables were making more of a contribution, and I am all for their expansion.

But it is unrealistic to assume that they can replace coal or nuclear.

If you eliminate nuclear, you are stuck with fossil fuels, which cause tens of thousands of deaths annually and are destroying the planet as we know it by emitting heat-trapping gases.

by Plan9 on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:49:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a pretty questionable argument. Renewable technology got going in the 1970s as a result of the OPEC oil shortage. When the price of oil went down, progress stalled. That doesn't prove that renewables can or can't do anything.
by asdf on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:18:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a silly statement -

"Uranium is among the most common elements on earth."

Iron is one of the most abundant elements on earth, but it's got to occur in sufficient concentrations to be worth mining, and ditto uranium. And if we were really to take your statement here to the extreme, you would seem to be advocating digging up, crushing and sifting the entire earth's crust. I can live with mining as a necessary "evil" that can be extremely well rehabilitated if done right, but there is evidence to suggest that the concentrated deposits of uranium we know of are not sufficient; and as I'm sure you know, the refuelling process with regard to fast-breeder reactors has been extremely problematic, and that's being kind.

Please have a read of the links I put up above with regard to Van Leeuwin & Smith's original work, and their comprehensive rebuttal of the NWA.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:43:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am equally pragmatic, for example I think we have little choice but to look at 'stop-gap' energy sources for something like a decade before we can implement other renewable energy sources. That's going to mean looking hard at "clean" coal, nuclear fission, fusion etc.

My beef is that the nuclear argument is being utterly dominated by certainly in my country, the vested interests hand -in-hand with the neoconservatives, and it seems to be a global problem.

If we have to 'go nuclear', I am more of a fan myself of looking at molten-salt thorium reactors- they have extremely high stability, and the ability to completely consume the thorium utilised. It's a much safer bet all-round, and India was at one point looking into it seriously, as it has excellent thorium supplies; but it seems to as a result of lobbying pressure and other factors to have bought into western-style fast breeder reactors, which complete with being technical & economic failures have weak operational stability, require fuel re-processing, frequent de-cladding, and then there's that liquid sodium issue. They make me shudder, especially when I transpose them to places like India and Indonesia, that I know well.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:24:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll be awol with work for most of the day, will look forward to reading any further comments people have.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow
by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:52:19 PM EST
The numbers I have are quite different in some of the issues (I hope you will not know if I am for or against it, I just want to check the numbers).

Regarding CO2 production of a nuclear power station (from mining, installation and functioning) I have read a couple of analysis and the numbers range from 1 to 5 % typically (10% in the  worst-case scenario).

Regarding the reserves of high quality Uranium I understood 100 years at present consumption and with present resources. Doubling productions so that all the planet could have the same level of nuclear would reduce it to 50 years roughly.

The number of nuclear fuel with the left-over of Uranium (plutonium and other low-quality fuel) are too diverse and not too serious enough to be taken into account. Numbers range from 50 to 500 years so a proper analysis should be performed (any serious, no-doubt-about-it input here? it will be wellcomed).

Regarding the needs for primary energy, all analysis show that increasing the renewables and reducing consumption is far enough. Nuclear, coal and hydro kept at present levels, the gas  substituted by wind and sun (the increase of power output also coming from wind) and the consumption reduced by 10-20% would produce a world without any primary energy problems in a cnetury easily.

Another completely different issue is transport and private car. There is absolutely no way that wind and sun can produce the energy for a huge mass transport system (necessary if we forbid the car). This is, if we want to get rid of oil (well at least half so that we have foranother couple of centuries) we need electricity to  run trains or generate hydrogen or power the batteries. In this situation, the only sources we have are nuclear and coal. We would have to multiply the present primary energy output two-fold with mass public system (forbidding the car) and three-fold if we alow th presence of private cars (I take into account the development of China, India, South-America, east Europe and their new fleets of fairly efficient cars).
On the other hand coal and nuclear would be able to do it and for, at least, 50 years (three-fold) to 100 years (two-fold).

These are my numbers. Please if I am wrong in any of these numbers, someone please tell me. It is very important to have the basic numbers right.

I am not defending any option, just numbers.

A pleasure.

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:01:54 PM EST
It's important to keep straight the difference between "cannot ever supply X" and "cannot supply X at today's prices."

For example, solar photovoltaic electricity could easily provide base and demand load generation--IF you can afford the solar cells and are willing to use up big chunks of desert. So could wind, IF you don't restrict where the turbines are placed and have an adequate network.

The big problem with fossil fuel is the CO2. If a CO2 sequestration program was successful, it could eliminate this problem. So, a practical solution to the global energy crisis is to continue with a mix of fossil and renewable energy, and to develop a CO2 sequestration program to counteract the global climate change problem.

by asdf on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:32:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
.. even with high prices. The limits comes from a  question of scale. Doubling the total primary energy with wind means multiplying by factor 100 (or more) the present output of wind energy. This is impossible in the next 15 years. It is a question of building factories, mineral resources, input energy. Not space or price.

Sun is even more impossible since the factor is around 10000 and there is a huge initial investment in energy (you need the solar roof working for seven years to recover the enrgy invested).

So right now they are not possible alternatives for doubling primary energy.

Wind with very high prices and after 20 more years of research and capacity building, it would be possible. Not in the next fifteen years.

At least, this is the number I have. I would love to be wrong, believe me. With huge investment and all the resources available I just can see a 10-fold increase  for the next 15 years in the production of wind. This would be more than enough to cover for gas and oil in primary energy.

Please, any input that would show how to make the 100-fold increase with present technology, please give me a link. I really want to be wrong

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 12:33:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Me too.  This is bogus.  Japan did a study and found that carbon emissions from nuclear power there were even lower than those from wind power.

You can find an interesting analysis of the dubious claims Friends of the Earth are making at the following site:

http://www.world-nuclear.org/co2&nfc.htm

The paper gives a history of where this claim originated and its basis. Frankly I found the paper somewhat confusing. The argument seems to be this -- it takes energy to produce uranium fuel, primarily required for enrichment. If one assumes coal is used to produce the electricity powering the diffusion plant, a German analysis showed (Table 1) that 38,300 tons of carbon would be emitted annually for a 1300 MWe LWR.

Using 2000 data from DOE (available at their eia.doe.gov website), you can calculate that annual carbon emissions based on 1999 numbers for an equivalent sized coal plant would be 8.6 million metric tons per year. Thus a nuclear fuel cycle under these assumptions would produce .5% of the carbon emissions per year that would be produced from an equivalent coal plant.

For another well-reasoned refutation of that FOE claim from a UN organization, see this pdf:

http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/Pess/assets/03-01708_Rognerspeech.pdf

Now the fun stuff -- from the paper at the above site, the Friends of the Earth evidently argued that low grade uranium will required once we "run out of" high grade uranium ore meaning more energy to produce enriched uranium fuel, thus releasing even more carbon annually. The problem I have with this -- I can't find the FOE paper --  but I can't conceive of a situation where even low grade ores would change this ratio substantially. Even if the grade were 1% of the quality of high grade ore, the annual CO2 emissions would increase the contribution by mining by 100 fold -- from 9100 tons per year (in Table 1) to 910,000 per year -- raising the total from .5% to maybe 1-2%. I don't see how you get from here to there. Moreover, it doesn't make sense that you ever could -- if you did, it would mean you need more coal electricity to produce the uranium than you would get from the uranium itself -- just doesn't make any sense.

The other arguments the Uranium Institute makes in rebuttal are straight-forward -- the electricity to process uranium does not have to come from coal; there are ways to enrich uranium more efficiently, especially using centrifuges; and the requirement to enrich uranium is substantially mitigated if fuel is reprocessed. Moreover, as I argued elsewhere, the availability of high grade ore will expand with more exploration as nuclear power demands more fuel.

by Plan9 on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:04:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...multiplying .5% 100-fold give you 1-2%? It gives me 50%. (Actually, more like 33%, but that's another story)

the annual CO2 emissions would increase the contribution by mining by 100 fold -- from 9100 tons per year (in Table 1) to 910,000 per year -- raising the total from .5% to maybe 1-2%.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:17:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for calling this to my attention.  I shouldn't post when in a hurry.

I was referring to the impact it would have on the total contribution from the table. But I agree I got a decimal displaced. Here's the table:
www.world-nuclear.org/co2&nfctab1.htm

Mining and Milling -- 9100 tons
Conversion --           1400 tons
Enrichment --        27200 tons
Fabrication --            600 tons

Total  -- 38300 tons of CO3 per a 1300 Mwe nuclear plant. The comparable number from a 1300 Mwe coal plant is 8,600,000 tons. The ratio is .4%.

If the uranium is low grade -- reduced in grade by a factor of one hundred -- one assumes that means the contribution from mining and milling is increased to 910,000 tons. That makes the total 939,200 tons. The ratio is now 939200/8600000 or 11%. I missed a decimal someplace in my earlier communication, but the point is still valid. Even if you use low grade ore, and you further assume all the energy would come from coal- fired electic plants, these numbers still say the carbon emissions are only 11% of what they would have been had the electricty come from coal. The reason it does not go up in proportion to the grade of the uranium is the contribution from the other steps, especially enrichment, remain unchanged.

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 08:34:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but i have solar water and ev panels, so i know something!

the argument between coal and nuclear is a bit like choosing between matches and lighters for our fire needs, both of which reduce valuable resources.

we could get the same fire through lenses and candles, but it seems loopy, out there, (until you think about it!).

same with using renewables. we'd have to change and gear down, competing to cheat entropy as long as possible, instead of accelerating it.

my hope is we'll see the beauty of doing it this way, not act from fear.

my biggest concern about going nuclear is the civil liberties aspect.

it is a path begging for terrorism, orwellian levels of secrecy and security, and very possibly martial law.

it screams top down totalitarianism, (just as renewables whisper the opposite.)

all you need is one more big accident, and or cover-up, and the general public worldwide will break down in fear, by which time a terrible momentum will have built up, economic, logistical and political.

that risk is utmost recklessness, imo.

we should have followed through in the 70's, but the madmen stole the heys, and here we are, on the brink of extinction, with a terrifyingly tiny amount of time to come to our senses.

diaries like this affirm my hope we might survive.
thanks myriad, recommended.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 09:29:37 PM EST
I haven't had the time to read through this report in it's entirety, and acknowledge that clearly given the source (Friends of the Earth), there is an anti-nuclear bias. However I also note that they have provided citations for just about everything in there (bar the somewhat cringeworthy hyperbole at times), so I'll put it out there for consideration.

WARNING - it's a 132 page pdf, for those with download issues.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 10:22:15 PM EST
In the longer term (and we are talking last quarter of the century), the best  option would seem to be plasma fusion reactors. These have already experimentally produced more power than inputted, if only for a very very short period. INTER will provide the last ecperimental proving of the technology before the first prototype is started sometime around 2040.

Clearly then what we are looking for is a solution that balnces Co2 emission with continuing and increased demand in the interim. Fission nuclear will not provide the answer but it may form part of the answer and it is only right that it should be considered as such. Arguments about the long term storage of waste to a certain extent are moot. If we were starting down the track of using nuclear, these considerations would probably mitigate against our ever using it however we are not in that position. We have nuclear waste that requires safe storage. That could be by current methods or the more exotic solutions like glassification to fix the waste in a glass before it is put in long-term underground storage. Accepting this backlog, would an increase in power generation add to it significantly? Is it a risk worth taking if it means the long-term survival of the more robust eco-systems? Bear in mind the damage already set in train will take until at least the middle of this millenium to correct. We will lose many species as their ranges change too much for them to survive or move sufficiently quickly.

IF the planet is to get back to some form of balance we need to stop runaway warming before the middle of this century, if not one of the species to be lost or decimated is going to be homo sapiens.

Nuclear as I said should be considered in the light of this and as part of the solution. There are renewables that can provide a constant back-up. People have mentioned wind, wave and solar power in this context but there are also biofuels that are renewable. Some of these are novel like converting seed oils into petroleum or using green biomass in digesters. Others are among the oldest land management methods. Tree pollarding for example has been practiced for many hundreds of years. In this, trees are cropped and cut down to a base every three or four years. This results in a mass of small branches growing from a low thick trunk. Using this wood and that from fast growing young trees is highly CO2 efficient as more is absorbed in early year's growth. The wood can either be burnt directly or converted to paper and then burnt as part of general waste in local incenerators. Secondary recycling of paper is superficially attractive but can be highly CO2 inefficient if waste paper has to be transported long distances for recycling.

In principle, no solid farm animal waste should be left unused in generating heat by recyling in digesters. Burning the methane gas produced is not only a source of renewable energy, it is far better for the environment as methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas (by a factor of about 10) than CO2. Human waste should be put to the same use.

If those are large-scale solutions, we should also be using individual or generation like using photo-electric cells, geothermal heat equalisation (heating in winter, cooling in summer using the deep constant temperatures), high energy efficient buildings using such things as triple glazed windows, secondary insulation of walls and loft spaces etc.

In short, there is no one solution, what is needed is to consider the full spectrum of generation and conservation and utilising the least damaging in terms of the whole environment.

by Londonbear on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 09:59:49 PM EST
Great post. I've been meaning to get 'round to adding biofuels, especially methane in to the mix, but haven't had the time.

My only major quibble with your post is that I disagree with the prospect of burning animal waste. My disagreement fits here into a much broader, related issue of needing to totally re-think how we go about agriculture. We're still losing so many feet of topsoil a year, monocultures have sucked every last nutrient and mineral out of the soils to the point that the food produced has little other than caloric value, and after a couple of hundred years of this in some places, we are now facing massive productivity collapse (Australia, with its incredibly fragile soils is the canary in the mine here). Add to that the massive amounts of fossil fuels required for modern farming techniques and fertiliser, and how the energy we are extracting is an order of magnitude less than the energy we put in, and we have a very serious problem.

the solutions are going to vary from place to place, but the general principle of going to small, intensive mixed cropping and farming, massively reducing meat consumption (we really can't afford to feed the majority of cereal crops to cows in feedlots), and using organic matter - ie poop and bulk matter -  to start to rebuild soils.

So in short, I think we might need that animal waste for another essential transition if we are to survive on anything like the scale we currently operate at.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:35:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree burning the solid animal waste is a huge misuse of recourcs but I was suggesting that it be put into a digester to produce methane. The waste from the digester can be used to enhance soils. This technology s being used in villages where previously dried dung was used directly as a fuel and   very low tech collectors and burners use the gas that is piped round the village. Collective sanitation provides a source of human waste to add to the mix. Developing world countries are not the only ones that can benefit from the process as it can be scaled up given appropriate safety precautions (little known is that the large digester on the Windsor farm owned by the Queen blew up because of technical problems!)
by Londonbear on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 12:31:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not think that poor minorities or indigenous peoples anywhere in the world should be the recipients of toxic waste, whatever its source.  I find no justification for toxic waste dumps in the US that are routinely placed in such areas.  Many of these chemical and petrochemical waste sites flooded because of hurricane Katrina and it is going to take awhile to determine how severe the health effects of the residents are going to be.

I didn't know that lands had been returned to groups in Australia and then without their permission used to store mine refuse.  Is this only done with uranium waste or does it include waste from, say, lead mines and chemical plants?  

You are wrong if you think I approve of such behavior in any country at any time.

I was only pointing out that in the terrible story that is human history, people are repeatedly and tragically displaced.  If we refuse to consume products from nations that behave in that way, then we should be consistent and refuse not only Australian uranium but also any products from any country that does such things.  For starters, nothing from the human rights cesspool that is China.

You are generalizing from your experience in Australia about how things are done elsewhere.

In the US there are Native American tribes that have asked to store nuclear waste on their reservations and have gotten lucrative contracts to do so, under strictly supervised conditions.  The waste is placed in isolated areas that are not used for any other purpose.  This does not make it right to store any unwanted materials on any reservation.

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 11:02:37 PM EST


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries