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. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Reserves for a thousand years? Is that U-235, or is that what could potentially be achieved with breeder reactors?

    One of the other downsides to the fast-breeder reactor is the need for a core of weapons-grade uranium to actually initiate the process. So that means having to enrich enough U-235 to start the cycle, which could get difficult as supplies of the rare isotope become depleted. Thorium does look more promising, although we should try to invest in a variety of sources.

    The only thing which is for sure is that conventional LWR will quickly kill nuclear power unless a more sustainable source of fuel can be procured. Until that happens, I reluctantly have to side with economics over environmental concerns. LWR actually produce very little waste in the grand scheme of things. The annual byproducts from a single 1 GW coal plant represents more than 60 years' worth of spent fuel rods from a hundred reactors. In other words, 59,000 tons of spent fuel rods actually is quite small for the electricity they generated. And although we really should secure them in repository facilities like Yucca Mountain(assuming it'll ever be completed), they'll just be kept on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

  2. Neo-Paladin Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2004
    star 4
    The 1000 year figure is purely LWR's with reprocessing, no breeder reactors. Using breeder/burner reactors it goes up to something on the order of 10,000 years (with modest growth of energy production that for the whole world that entire time). Accessing the ocean salts uranium supply extends it much much farther still.

    A nifty hypothetical demonstration on the scale of nuclear waste:
    If every bit of external energy you use, from birth to average life span, including transportation, electricity use, heating, and sundries was provided by fission power on a once-through fuel cycle the waste you would generate would fit in a standard soda can. With reprocessing you can crush the can, and fit your waste in it.

    Even the once-through cycle is orders of magnitude better than any fossil fuel power source, and by some accounting most renewable sources too. However, the waste is very toxic, and remains an anchor around the neck of the industry. This is why many folks in industry want reprocessing. Nuclear waste is sequestered and toxic, and someone has to be responsible for it. The way we handle it now it must be accounted for a period of time longer than homo sapien species has existed. While it's technically the Federal govn't responsibility, the economics aren't hard to figure, and they aren't particularly good. By far, in industry, the focus is on the back end of the fuel cycle much more than the front end.
  3. Espaldapalabras Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5
    Part of me likes nuclear power, but the other part of me that actually lives in Utah doesn't want my state to become the world's dumping ground for all the waste. And since our people are more worried about Obama taking away their guns, they are free to go watch the Jazz at Energy Solutions arena and go home and vote for the candidates of both parties that get massive donations from the nuclear waste industry.
  4. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    You've already brought up this petty complaint in the Yucca Mountain thread. If you don't like it, no one's forcing you to stay there. But that doesn't change the fact that Nevada is the most suitable location for a repository. Get over it, or you can move out. That way, everyone's happy.
  5. Neo-Paladin Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2004
    star 4
    Amazingly, that actually worked well when the DoD sited the WIPP facility in New Mexico, pretty much by fiat. It took the poorest county in NM, and made it the 3rd most prosperous (or so I was told by a guy who works at WIPP).

    However, the civilian side of things doesn't have that authority, and telling people to get over it or leave is really a non-starter. As I recall there is a tribal reservation that has a viable site, and they would like to get such a repository, however many state laws are written such that it would be impossible to transport the waste to the reservation. I wish there was an effort to get things to a half way point where waste can be transported to a site, then find the suitable site that would love some economic stimulus and influx of educated people, etc.

    Of course so much is invested in YM, and if Reid somehow stops being a senator it may actually go though, but that's still more a maybe than a definitely. I'm not sure when we decide YM is sunk costs, and we need to table it indefinitely to pursue more fruitful avenues.
  6. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    The site for the Yucca Mountain repository is a hundred miles from any major source of civilization. It's when people make a big hype about it being in their back yards that really makes me want to rape Bambi. If people consider a desert their back yard, and their backyard to stretch at least a hundred miles... they're just whining about something which doesn't affect them. If they're not happy to live within 150 miles of a nuclear waste repository, then they can move.

    And what of the people who live near nuclear power plants? They're not happy about all that waste which is stored on sight, nor that it's dangerously exposed. Why should they have to live with that risk? The whole purpose of moving it into a desert is to place that crap where it will affect the fewest people. Those few who protested Yucca's construction should not have been allowed to undermine such a project, as it jeopardizes the safety of millions who are forced to live with that waste (dangerously exposed and genuinely in their back yards).

    The US really is screwed up. We proclaim to protect individual rights, yet it is almost always the individual who deliberately go out of their way to make a mess of things for personal gain, often at the expense of a society.

    'We don't use nuclear, so why do you dump it in our back yards?' So then millions of taxpayer dollars have to be spent to buy worthless desert that is of no value, other than that someone else wants it. And then there are all these state borders which have to be crossed, laws that have to be adopted, and everything that has to go right for the entire project to work. The worst part is that any one state or region can keep the whole thing from happening, so they make unreasonable demands that involve paying through the nose. The US government needs to exert some level of regional control to prevent such states or cities from undermining national projects like Yucca Mountain.
  7. Neo-Paladin Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2004
    star 4
    Well, that's a visual I didn't need.

    Also, arguing people should get over it isn't a particularly fruitful avenue here. Nuclear power itself has slowly gained popularity in the US since the lows of TMI by calmly making the case to anyone who will listen that nuclear power is the best of all available options and those who live near nuclear power plants are the most pro-nuclear group in America., While opposition still exists, it is no longer the largest obstacle to expansion of the nuclear fleet.

    In the US the opposition is the biggest obstacle to a viable waste repository. Our only option here is to make the case that it can be transported safely, and that it poses no conceivable danger to the water table for a period longer than all of human history, from the moment we stop monitoring all together, and we'll probably have pulled it out and utilized it long before that.

    For all of that, we may be glad we didn't put the waste in Yucca; if reprocessing makes the actinides a useful (and potentially highly valuable) resource we'll be just as glad we wouldn't have to chip through a geological seal.
  8. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    Why? Now that Yucca is closed, the nuclear waste products are still oppressively piled around in places they were never meant to be. So now instead of risk to no one in the middle of a desert, they now threaten millions of lives and the natural resources that surround them.

    So how long will it be before all of that material has been reprocessed and dealt with? I don't seem to remember a program having been established for such a facility in the US... or even the transportation for that matter. When did this get started?
  9. Neo-Paladin Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2004
    star 4
    Well, there was (emphasis on was) the GNEP program, but it was underfunded, and didn't survive the white house administration change. None the less, the prospects for US reprocessing is much better than it was even five years ago. For awhile the NRC wouldn't even have the conversation, as they didn't want that can of worms opened until Yucca Mt. was accepting waste. Now, they're having the conversation.

    In the mean time, dry cask storage on site seems to be doing the job, till we decide what to do with waste for real.

    Also, as I pointed out earlier, India can reprocess US waste, as can France and Japan from earlier agreements. It's not happening, but the community seems to be pushing in that direction, as best I can tell.
  10. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Why is Energy Independence almost completely absent from the midterm elections?

    You would think, after the Oil Spill, that Republicans and Democrats would have made it a priority in their campaigns. Instead... silence.

    If we just doubled nuclear power's share of the pie, from 25% to 50%, and increased clean and renewables from 10% to 25%, we would be a lot better off... and a lot closer to Energy Independence.

    Why is no one talking about this anymore? This (which ties in directly with infrastructure, manufacturing, exports, Budget Revenue, and JOBS) is the central problem facing the United Sates. I do not understand the silence.
  11. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    People have adjusted to $80 oil even though given the state of the economy, the fact that oil prices are now more expensive than at any time other time outside the price peak is startling. Until gas goes back to $4 gallon Americans won't recognize energy as a crisis issue. Getting people to see investment in our energy infrastructure as a key to long term economic recovery is more work than any politician in the middle of a campaign is willing to undertake.
  12. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    So what is the most likely scenario for nuclear energy in the near future? Green energy has been a major political point in the last decade or so, but what is the likelihood that we'll see practical results before 2025 rolls around the corner?

    What do I mean by practical results? Say for instance that peak oil becomes reality before that point and everyone accepts how critical the situation with energy has become, can we really expect the US economy to get some hard-pressed goals in order to ensure alternate sources will be in place to meet demand as oil supplies dwindle?

    I know I presented more questions than answers, but I've been lead to accept that the future of energy is going to be grim. We've all heard the solutions to nuclear and renewable energies, but I can't see any real future where these alternate energy sources will be in place before we have another crisis like that of the 1970's. Are there any rays of hope that I'm overlooking?
  13. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    The problem with everyone rushing to build out nuclear power is that it positions us for a terrible global struggle over access to fissionable uranium. How many nuclear power plants can be built worldwide before fuel rod supply constraints become critical?

    That's why coal is the easy way out. Ignore the threat of climate change or create a successful politics of climate change denial the way Republicans have, and just build out coal energy until those supply constraints become critical too. Conventional wisdom insists that those supply constraints will come in the far distant future, and conventional wisdom is never wrong...right?

    Also, the Fischer-Tropsch process offers a viable solution to portable liquid fuel for transportation in the event that the global oil export market collapses (it will) and biofuels don't work out (they won't).

    Given the twin demands on coal to expand our electricity grid and provide us with transportation fuel when all other fossil fuels have failed us, the coming coal stampede will exhaust our available supplies far more quickly than most people imagine is possible.

    China's strength is its indifference to power sources. To meet its relentlessly growing energy needs, it is throwing EVERYTHING at the problem. Building coal plants, nuclear plants, implementing a five-fold increase in wind energy over the next decade, building solar and pumped hydro storage capacity, throwing money into ocean energy R&D.

    While we whine about the need to become the global alternative energy technology leaders, China is quickly becoming the global alternative technology leader.

  14. saturn5 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 28, 2009
    star 4
    How times change? It used to be that nuclear power was the big bad that was going to destroy the world, now it looks like it's going to save it. Greenpeace must be having a dreadful dilemma!
  15. Neo-Paladin Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2004
    star 4
    Don't fret over the cost of Uranium, there's a ceiling on how expensive it can get. If the price goes up it won't go up past the threshold where it's economically viable to extract Uranium from seawater. The technology is robust and developed, and the resources there are vast. It's just cheaper to mine it, that's all.
  16. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    I think the reason there is no talk of energy independence in the mid terms is because:

    1. The table is full. Things like church and state and jobs and fraud weigh enough that energy sits on the bakcburner.

    2. The President used "clean coal" as part of his campaign which tells me he knows nothing or is on the same page as the GOP.

    3. Energy independence is loooooooong term change. I don't think it has to be. If money that was given in bailouts was given to an energy change over....solar plus sugar cane ethanol for example...I think it would be well on its way.

    4. LOBBYING. The oil companies spend a **** load of money on lobbying to squash change. Politicians listen. In fact I think lobbying and politicians these days runs just shy of open bribery.

    EDIT:

    and then i find this

    Off the cuff math: Total cost to get solar power to every home = roughly 133 billion.
  17. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    That's honestly pretty cheap, USG-wise. Although I'm assuming that's just an installation cost-any figures on maintaining them? That's where the real drain on anything comes from.
  18. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    Solar Power is not very efficient though, how much of a home could be run with solar power?
    It would cost more to have storage batteries and moving panels that followed the Sun all day.
  19. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    And how much more is it to fuel coal-fired power plants continuously so that you can generate enough electrical power for all US residents? Compare that to the upkeep cost of solar panels and you'd see it's actually quite significant compared to the free energy of the sun. Subtract the upkeep costs of the panels, the cost of the storage devices, and the reduction in output from cloudy days... it still would have been significantly less to install panels on all residential roofs than the $800 billion bail out for major US companies.

    If we're serious about not letting energy be our downfall, we have to do whatever is required to prepare for peak oil and even peak coal. Wind and solar energy likely won't be the magic bullets some make them out to be, but they certainly can alleviate much of the growing demand which otherwise would have to be satisfied with expensive coal and diminishing petroleum production.
  20. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    Hawaii has achieved solar power grid parity with conventional energy production.
  21. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

    Chapter Rep
    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 8
    I've heard the Royal Family have been buying windfarms for UK waters. We seem to be big on wind power here despite the unreliability of it.

    We really should be looking towards tidal and wave power which is far more efficient than solar or wind.
  22. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
  23. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Does anyone believe President Obama's goal in the SOTU address (fossil fuels to supply only 20% of our energy, 80% from other "clean sources, by 2035) is realistic?
  24. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    It's realistic if you slap the word "clean" in front of coal and include that in your estimate. Obviously running an ad campaign for "clean coal" doesn't make it so. Carbon sequestration and storage remains a pipe dream at this point - unproven technology.

    Obama's commitment to biofuels remains problematic. Wheat prices essentially doubled in 2010, and food price inflation contributed heavily to political unrest in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt (the world's largest wheat importer), Yemen, Sudan, etc.

    Last year it was drought in Russia, flooding in Australia and Pakistan. This year, it's drought in Northern China.

    Grain supplies are so tight that any drought anywhere in the world can cause a global price crisis. Algeria and Saudi Arabia started stockpiling wheat in January to shield their populations from further price increases. And of course hoarding behavior in places like Saudi Arabia can transmit food price shocks to poorer countries.

    Given all that, a U.S. commitment to corn-based ethanol seems very dangerous to me. The U.S. was essentially the last wheat exporter standing at the end of 2010. The prices of various grains are fellow travelers. Things that drive up the price of corn will tend to spill over into the price of wheat and rice as buyers make substitutions.

    So to sum up what was primarily wrong with Obama's speech: coal is not clean, and a heavy biofuel commitment in the U.S. will spark additional political unrest in the developing nations of the world.
  25. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    I have not heard Obama mention clean coal since the election. He is either misinformed or just another politician bowing to lobbyists in his own home state which would just happen to benefit greatly from clean coal, as I seem to recall.

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