Nuclear Power to lead the U.S. to Clean Energy Independence?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Ghost, Jun 25, 2010.

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  1. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    After the oil rig explosion on 4/20 leading to the BP Oil Spill off the Gulf Coast, causing the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, energy issues and proposed legislation to address U.S. energy independence have returned to the center of national attention. Energy is an economic issue, a national security issue.

    I've come to the conclusion that Nuclear Power is the way to go. We cannot afford to wait any longer for some technological breakthrough, or for renewable energy to catch up to fossil fuels. Clean, renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal) should still grow and be encouraged, but we cannot depend on them to deliver us yet.

    For some perspective, nuclear power provides 78% of France's electricity, and France has 59 nuclear power plants. French nuclear power plants don't always run to full capacity, and also export electricity outside of France).

    Right now we have 104 nuclear power plants in the US, providing 19% of our electricity. By contrast, fossil fuels provide the U.S. with about 70% of our electricity.

    Doing some quick calculations, we should have 525 nuclear power plants to achieve Clean Energy Independence. (I calculated it to 100% because we need to take into account future growth, there would still be a place for alternatives). Meaning, it seems we need to build 421 new nuclear power plants.







    So my questions are...

    1. Are these figures accurate? Do they take into account the different type of nuclear power plants? Does 421 seem to be the magic number?

    2. How much would it cost to build 421 nuclear power plants, and how long would it take?

    3. How much would it cost, after they become operable, to maintain these 421 new nuclear power plants?

    4. How much uranium would 525 nuclear power plants need to continue operation? How many years would that last, based on current estimate of uranium reserves possessed by the United States?

    5. Are there any other limited resources that would be needed to operate all these nuclear power plants? Are these resources available for this plan?

    6. Besides safety and waste, are there any other possible concerns?

  2. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 25, 2004
    star 5
    Yeah, it's also occurred to me recently that we simply aren't going to give up electricity. Renewable sources won't do the trick anytime soon, not in the amount that we currently use, so we're going to turn to nuclear power even if it's something we don't like thinking about.

    I once heard somewhere that centralizing your power supply (as you would with nuclear power plants) will result in greater dependency on the ones generating the electricity, which could translate into some cities or municipalities gaining greater leverage or power over others. Centralization also means you make a nice easy target for terrorists or foreign military forces during wartime, which if taken out will affect many more people than you would with a more distributed power grid (not to mention the possible leak of radioactive materials from a damaged reactor).
  3. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    I'd have to check numbers as well, but what matters is the size of the power plants, not necessarily the number. So it may well take less than that, particularly if the older plants in usage are smaller or less efficient than new ones would be.


    Alpha-Red, how is the current system not centralised already?
  4. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    There's also the matter of replacing those 104 reactors which are all reaching the end of their expected life span. Some are going so far as to extend their original projected decommissioning of 50 years to 60 or more, as they don't have the budget or the plans of replacing those reactors anytime soon. The longer that a reactor is in operation, the greater the likelihood of a major disaster. Already there are some plants which are coming dangerously close to contaminating water supplies and soil with tritium and other byproducts.

    As much as I support nuclear energy, there are simply some major hurdles which have to be addressed before this power can be viable for the US's future. Mainly is the need for a waste repository. Without a sight to store the waste, no one will be willing to take on the liability of having to deal with that waste for the next 10,000 or more years.
  5. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Alpha-Red, as Lowie said, isn't it already centralized? You're right that nuclear power plants would need to be more secure than your average fossil fuel or renewable power plant, but that's to be expected, and I would just count that as part of the cost of maintenance.

    Lowie, yeah that's what I meant by accounting for the different types. I hope the number might end up being less, since I would guess new-generation nuclear power plants are cheaper, safer, more efficient, and generate more energy than our older reactors from the 60's and 70's. But I'm not sure how to get that information.

    Yuthura, yeah I thought about including replacing the older reactors too, for good measure. We just need to come up with that magic number of how many new nuclear power plants we would need to build, based on modern technology. Hopefully it would be closer to 300. I know you're an environmental expert, do you know the figures and any sources, so we could do the math to calculate that magic number? But yeah, once we can come up with a number, then it would be easier to look up how much it would cost to build and maintain, and how much uranium would be needed, etc. My overall goal for this thread is to answer all those questions I asked, so we can come up with a real plan and realpath to Clean Energy Independence. So we can write to our Congressmen and say "You know if we built ___ new nuclear power plants, which would only cost _____ the amount of the stimulus, and be completed in only __ years, we would be both energy-independent and free from fossil fuels? Why don't you propose some legislation for this? ;) " And then if we kept mention the figures again and again, on the Internet and elsewhere, it would finally be a quantifiable number, able to catch on and spread... maybe even get some traction to actually getting it implemented.
    ---As for waste, don't they now just store it in radioactive-proof barrels, secure in their basements? That's good enough until we think of something better. Do you see any other hurdles?
  6. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    Cars. We would need to get rid of gas cars and go all electric and set up the infrastructure or we will still be using oil and still sit with the risk of well problems.
  7. Vaderize03 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 1999
    star 5
    Good thoughts, especially the terrorist one. It would make a giant tempting target.

    However, one could also decentralize a nuclear grid, although the plants do make easier targets.

    Biggest issue would still be environmental ones: what to do with the waste?

    Peace,

    V-03
  8. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 25, 2004
    star 5
    Alpha-Red, how is the current system not centralised already?

    Oh, I was under the impression that a nuclear plant would be even more centralized. But if that's not the case then nevermind.
  9. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    Also, Nuclear energy is not really "clean energy". Clean energy should produce no waste products, nuclear fission does.

    That being said, it doesn't contribute to Global Warming as fossil fuel use does, so it is a good starting point until better energy can be found.

    I think the main problem with building a large amount of nuclear reactors is increase leftover radioactive materials that need storing somewhere. Is there space to build enough power stations in places where the waste can be safely stored away?

  10. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Before we increase the number of nuclear power plants four or five fold worldwide or more, we should have a reasonable idea about whether the uranium supplies are going to be there. The U.S. would put an incredible strain on those supplies if it tried to duplicate France's energy model. This is why the backbone of China's energy expansion is coal. Yes they're building nuclear power plants and alternative energy sources, but they're leaning most heavily on coal as a matter of practicality.

    There's no real reason to suppose the U.S. would do otherwise if pressed to become energy independent. Yes, it would be an environmental disaster, but people will forget their concerns about climate quickly if the choice is between hot showers and 24 hours a day of reliable energy to run the HDTVs and recharge their plug in hybrid electric cars on the one hand, and global warming on the other.
  11. DarthIktomi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2009
    star 4
    1. Are these figures accurate? Do they take into account the different type of nuclear power plants? Does 421 seem to be the magic number?

    Probably not accurate. It's a lobbyist statistic.

    6. Besides safety and waste, are there any other possible concerns?

    Well, they dedicated four times the water table of South Dakota to mining for uranium on Pine Ridge in the 70s, so I'd say water is an issue. Especially since the standard practice is to put the tailings back in the mine, where they eventually seep into the water.
  12. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Probably the average reactor is in the range of 1 GW. Power plants either support one or two such vessels, depending on demand.

    This is certainly not a fixed number.

    This is the same for any kind of mining operation. Coal mining. Oil drilling. Ethanol production will have an impact. There is no such thing as a clean energy, so the best solution is to find which causes the least environmental impact.
  13. DarthIktomi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2009
    star 4
    You apparently didn't understand the idiocy: Four times the water table. Meaning you would need four South Dakotas to mine a small section of South Dakota.

    Of course, in all of this, they didn't ask the locals. They even denied it until Lorelei Means came forward.
  14. Lord Vivec Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 17, 2006
    star 7
    Sorry Richie, you've got this wrong. And it's not your fault, clean energy is really kind of a misnomer.

    Clean energy really means sustainable energy, and as such, nuclear has the potential to be sustainable energy if done right.
  15. Wylding Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 13, 2000
    star 5
    Where do you get the power to power your electric car? The electricity you plug into comes from Coal and Oil.

    Electric cars aren't the answer.
  16. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    You can have solar power 24/7, heat storage during night time hours is the key of course. You do not need coal and oil like some end all be all.
  17. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Well let's not be so quick to dismiss electric cars. Yes, the majority of electricity is from coal sources; but it's not so terrible from an economic standpoint. The US has among the abundant coal deposits in the world, so it would make sense to convert from oil back to coal. It would at least be a good short-term goal, as it represents a substantial domestic energy source. Coal prices have become increasingly volatile over the last decade or so, but it's still going to be a reliable source for decades to come in the US.

    And even then, I believe that coal energy in the form of electricity for transportation is an improvement over the internal combustion engine. The larger the power plant, the more efficient it will be. So by economies of scale, coal-fired electricity in automobiles may actually be a better environmental solution than millions of small gasoline engines.

    Another alternative to coal power is to increase our nuclear sources, which actually make for a better solution economically than almost every other energy. Only issue is that a nuclear infrastructure requires certain overhead facilities and policies that can allow it to work. Without a Yucca Mountain repository and god knows how many legal obstacles that get in the way, our present system can't even satisfy what we already have in operation. So forget new reactors; we need to deal with the waste products that aren't going to Yucca Mountain.
  18. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Can, but we don't. To my knowledge, we don't have any viable technology for storing energy like that yet. Not that we can't at any point, but we're not there.

    That said, I read it as more an issue in that people act like simply going to an electric car now is improving anything, skipping over that the electricity it uses still isn't clean, it just becomes something they don't have to think about. Getting the grid off fossil fuels removes a big chunk of fossil fuel usage and would, ideally, mean that we're already ramping up the grid's energy production to start adding cars into the mix.
    Though the big question with electric cars really will be if we can come up with a good charging method.
  19. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    Speaking of solar power- the US's largest urban solar panel grid opened up today on Chicago's South side. It uses 32,000 rotating photovoltaic panels contained in a 40 acre "field." At peak times the field can generate 10 megawatts of electritcity, which is enough to power 1400-1500 homes. As Lowie pointed out in an above post, there's no storage capability connected to the field. Instead, it's used for "net metering," which means it's used to export excess electricity into the grid.

    It's green power all right, but the only issue I'd raise is that the solar field itself is U-G-L-Y. It's not "green" in the sense that there are trees and flowers, but rather a massive 40 acre field of glass panels.
  20. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Why do so many complain over the least significant issues? Wind turbines are unsightly and people don't want them nearby. Solar panels take up a lot of land area and they are UGLY. It's like people want these renewable energy sources, but they want them in someone else's back yard. There's just no way to satisfy such people, aside from building a coal plant a distance away.
  21. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    40 acres to cover 1500 homes, so how much space is needed to power a city like New York or London?

    This is the big problem with Solar Energy, so much space is needed to place enough panels to be significantly useful. As the population grows, large areas are more likely to be used for housing rather than massive fields of Solar Panels.

    It's a similar problem with Wind Turbine Farms. So many large wind turbines which don't really produce enough energy for significant energy impact and are very expensive to produce.

    Combining various types of renewable energy together can increase the output percentage for a nation though, so that may be an answer.
  22. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    Why do so many complain over the least significant issues?

    Least significant? Think about what 40 acres represents. Com Ed was smart and reclaimed this field out of basically what was a junk yard anyway, but nothing can grow in this field.

    SLR just made a size related observation. Imagine if 40,000 acres were simply turned into metal and glass? Of course, this is never going to happen, it simply represents the challenges in switching over to green alternatives. With solar, smaller and concentrated is definately better.
  23. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I'll tell you that 40 acres represents absolutely nothing from an American perspective. Considering how most urban centers are so poorly laid out, it's very hypocritical to suddenly start complaining about issues of land area when it comes to yielding solar energy. If space were an issue, then I'm sure such people would actually have been complaining as to how much of a city is paved for roads and cars. If you don't believe me, then take a look on Google maps and you'd notice how much land is squandered for highways in the major US cities. Compared to London or Paris, Chicago and LA are clearly in need of removing roads and reclaiming all that wasted land. The solution would be to concentrate the population into a smaller space.

    Or a better solution would be to make use of solar panels on roof tops. Additional energy with virtually no loss of land. And wind turbines occupy very little land, so they are ideal for rural and suburban locations.

    If you're going to build that large, you would instead go with solar thermal power. Solar voltaic panels are idea for small scale output, but are grossly inefficient for such a massive project. And the best place for solar thermal is in desert locations. Arid land is almost worthless and the conditions are ideal for solar output. That would be the best place to start transitioning to a renewable energy source.
  24. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Well, lets crunch some numbers. 40 acres is currently generating 10 megawatts of energy. That's .25 megawatts per acre. We can also think of this, based off the statistics given, as 35 homes powered per acre.

    Now, you need land you can do this on, although it doesn't need to be at ground level. So, for example, my school has started putting solar paneling over some of the parking lots, as parking lots are large flat areas of land we already have all over the place, so how much could we generate that way?

    Well, we already have a lot of parking lots. We have so much parking in the U.S. that it's equivalent to the area of Belgium. Belgium is 30,528 square kilometers in area, or 7.5 million acres. If we were to put solar panels over all that, without doing anything else, we would have access to 1.8 terawatts (1.8 million megawatts), or what would be enough to power 262 million homes. There are around 115 million households in the U.S. (and energy consumption would be reduced per household for living situations like apartment buildings).

    So really, we COULD utilise half the parking lots in the nation, and fully power every home in America without cutting into areas that could be used for plant or wildlife.


    EDIT: Just realised that this may not account for parking structures as what matters is the footprint of the parking, which I presumed was what the link I gave was referring to, but that might scale it down a bit.
  25. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    [image=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/db/Solar_land_area.png]

    The black dots represent the amount of area needed to be covered to power the world via solar power.

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