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So what do you think of nuclear energy???

Post in 'The Green Room' started by Swedishchef, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    The one thing (one of the things) I don't like about nuclear power is it's centrally controlled. You build a 10 GW station and you own a lot of lives. That's it, no reason to build another station and lower your own prices. Fusion looks to be a huge boom that can solve a huge problem but requires a huge infrastructure to do it. Traditional Uranium reactors benefited from a fuel cycle developed by the military, and had amazingly generous funding. Still, I think if you count the benefits of clean power rain or shine they are a vital part of the solution to rapid climate change.

    Small 1-5 MW reactors that could power a few thousand homes would be my choice. I know the economy of scale may not be there for such things but I would put down 25k if I could get $.03/KWh juice for 30 years. 125 million dollars might buy a reactor for our town if you can build them small enough to be delivered by truck.

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  2. Ehouse

    Ehouse Minister of Fire

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    +1, same goes for wind, solar and hydro. Mid sized and local use of produced energy. Never happen; nobody makes any money.

    Ehouse
    ScotO likes this.
  3. raybonz

    raybonz Minister of Fire

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    Obviously I am way in over my head in subject so I will bow out. I will say I am quite surprised that physicists would be wood burners lol.. I expected they would have some state of the art highly automated heating system but instead they burn ordinary wood stoves. I guess this says something about simplicity and reliability. Wood burning brings everyone together from all walks of life and creates a common bond. Keep up the great posts guys!

    Ray
  4. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    Problem is Spain is only a partial solution. The sheer scale of the problem is such that we would need to plate over the WHOLE of Spain to get even close. Since most of the fresh vegetables in northern Europe are grown in southern Spain, that's a non-starter. The main attraction of North Africa is that the unused desert areas are so enormous compared to anything else available.

    I can see that happening in summer. The problem is seasonal rather than diurnal variation - the UK gets about 10 times as much solar energy in summer as it does in winter. Spain is better, but even so the summer production is double the winter production. The most promising large scale storage techiques (liquid/compressed air) are fine for day to day variations, peaking, etc. but the sheer amount of energy needed for seasonal use is likely to make that impractical. 10 tonnes of liquid air can provide 1 MWH at costs of around $1/W. UK electricity consumption is around 350,000,000 MWH/year. Assuming that over the winter a third of the total consumption is needed from storage (totally reliant on PV that produces twice as much in summer as winter, hence neglecting the fact that electricity is used for a lot of heating) you're looking at a requirement to store 500,000,000 tonnes of liquid air. That's a tank 30ft high and with sides 5 miles long. Not impossible, but extremely difficult and expensive.

    What seems to be happening so far is that the government are trying to develop it and the public are demanding that it isn't developed.

    [​IMG]
    What seems to be going on in the US is a combination of lack of export capability and supply getting close to or potentially exceeding demand. That isn't going to happen in Europe (the US gets 90% of it's natural gas domestically and gets the rest from Canada and Mexico - the EU gets 40% of it's production domestically and buys the rest on the world market - either from Russia by pipeline or from North Africa/the Gulf as LNG). We need to increase production or decrease consumption by perhaps 300 trillion m3/year to get into that position. That's double the current US shale gas production, in a region with less shale available, much denser population and stricter environmental restrictions. I can certainly see a lot more shale gas being produced, but until we get to the point where we're relatively isolated from the world markets in the stuff I don't see the price coming down much.
  5. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    This is one of my favorite types of power generation......I'm just a good ol' redneck engineer, so I can't put any real science towards the nuclear talk. I will say, however, that I think it is both dated and dangerous, with lots of waste in the end that is very very bad for the environment. There seems to be little to no impact of geothermal generation....

    raybonz likes this.
  6. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    This pragmatic treehugger will support further use of nuclear power only when we find a way to deal with the waste that doesn't require sequestering it somewhere in our biosphere, and only then as a transition supply until better energy sources are tapped.
    In the end nuclear is not sustainable as there is:
    - only so much fissile potential (materials); though like coal there's a lot, and
    - a limited capacity for disposal of the waste heat produced. Thermal pollution of waterways and the atmosphere is already an issue.

    Tapping the power of the sun is really our best shot at sustainability.
  7. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    Unlikely to happen with fusion for the foreseeable future - we're stuck using Tritium fuel which needs to be bred within the reactor for the fuel cycle to work. This then produces a lot of very hot, very short-lived waste which you really, really don't want to take off site. That then forces you to build a Tritium plant to handle it, and those things cost much the same no matter what the size due to regulatory and manning requirements. Upshot is you will pay something like 10 times as much for the electricity from a 10MW plant as from a 1GW plant.

    There's another more insidious problem as well - plasma cooling. To get a decent amount of energy out you need a relatively well insulated plasma. As you guys will be well aware, a big tank will cool down slower than a small one for the same level of insulation. Given the plasma temperatures (~100,000,000 deg C) the cooling is all from radiation anyway so there's little you can do to insulate it - meaning that it is much easier to get a big Tokamak to give you net power than it is to get a small one to do so. We're getting better at plasma confinement and compact Tokamaks, but even so I think it'll be maybe 40 years after we first produce grid power from Tokamaks before we see small ones of that size capable of being grid-connected to produce power.
  8. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Don't disagree with anything you said....but the size of the renewable resource being adequate depends on the details and projected growth, efficiency, Jevon's, etc. I think David McKay at Cambridge has done an excellent job characterizing the 'problem' re the UK. The US has both 2X higher per capita usage and a much larger per capita solar resource. The higher usage is prob an 'opportunity' as it indicates more low hanging fruit eff-wise.

    Seasonal storage IS much harder than diurnal storage, but that doesn't constitute an argument against the feasibility of diurnal storage. For seasonal we might just overbuild the PV supply (it would prob be cheaper to overbuild than store, if the resource was big enough). Or rely on UK offshore wind. Or rely on gas in the winter until fusion comes along.

    I think your comparison of the US/UK energy differences on nat gas alone is 'selective'. Natural gas is largely a captive market with big cost penalties for LNG. The other side of the coin is petroleum....the US has been importing a huge fraction since the 70s, a huge drain on its economy and balance of trade, whereas the UK has been awash in oil (and exporting) since the North Sea came on stream. Your expensive gas (and depleted coal) limit your heavy industry options, while the oil revenue gives the entire economy a boost. Until recently NA gas was expensive enough to also hurt heavy industry, and supplying petroleum (including yes those air carrier groups) has been much more expensive than 100 fusion programs.

    Re fracking here: The current US gas price hit a floor when it got cheaper than thermal coal...and utilities started running their idle gas plants and idling or shutting down their coal plants. In the last year, for the first time ever, the US made more kWh from gas than coal. Whether the price stays that low going forward remains to be seen.

    Re fracking in the east: Its clear that the Russians have no need...they have plenty of conventional gas and they like the current price (and have been hilariously naysaying fracking tech in recent months). But I still think that if the US and China make a go of fracking, decreasing their carbon intensity and supplying cheap kWh, without 'destroying' their environments, the people of the UK and Europe will see the light (as their leaders already have started to). And the transition will likely take more like the 5 yrs it took in the US, rather than 30.
  9. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    Yeah, I figure as much. It would be tough, and there's a limit to how low/cheap power can get before you're giving it away at a loss.

    I heard that. The surface area-to-volume is better in a larger reactor, giving much better returns.

    Fracking has the potential to supplement our energy supply, but we need to seriously think about a new leap forward, not just replacing our dwindling supplies. People will continue to fight over resources. We need REALLY cheap, plentiful energy
  10. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Why not distribute the (relatively small amount) of tritium from a central plant? Years ago I was on an experiment on the muon machine at Los Alamos. The expt next door was working on muonic fusion, and their target was something like 10 Megacuries of tritium as cryogenic liquid T_2! :eek: For the rest of you, think a Chernobyl worth of radioactive stuff in a thermos.

    Nice guys over there, I asked them what their 'accident plan' was...and they showed me an explosion-proof blower, a vent stack through the roof and a big red button. They said the T_2 would go straight up, and if any of it went to TOH and rained out, it would be plenty diluted in the genl water supply over Texas and the SE US. Unlike iodine or small particles, radioactive H20 has no target organs.
  11. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    Fine for experiments, on a power plant scale it won't work. Tritium has to be bred in a fusion reactor to generate any decent quantities, making use of the 14MeV neutrons. Unfortunately every Tritium nucleus used emits 1 neutron, and 1 neutron is required to breed each Tritium nucleus from Lithium. Break even is possible with neutron multipliers, but it's going to be difficult to exceed break even by very much. That means the overwhelming majority of Tritium will be bred and used on site - only a very small fraction of the total Tritium bred can be exported to keep the system working.

    Tritium is apparently 10 kilocuries/gram, so that's about 1kg in that flask. Our site inventory was 20g back in about 1995 or so, so down to a bit under 10g now.
    To be fair, I don't really find it easy to take the threat from Tritium seriously - it's a git to work with because it gets everywhere, but the biological half life is only about a week and the damage is minimal. The recommended treatment is a large quantity of beer (diuretic + additional liquid), which always leaves people a bit less scared of it when they hear that.
  12. Ehouse

    Ehouse Minister of Fire

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    And was this, in your opinion, an adequate "accident plan"?

    Ehouse
  13. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    He's quite good when it comes to generation options. What isn't as good is when he starts measuring consumption - his heat pump estimates are somewhat optimistic for instance. The net result is fairly grim for the UK though - we've got to trash lifestyles, import massively or go for wholesale nuclear.

    I think it'll be as much offshore wind as they can build (they're installing it as fast as they can right now, and there's no sign of that slowing down for some years to come), some storage as and when the technology is mature enough, and the rest topped up with gas. A European-scale supergrid is a long way in the future, unfortunately. We're having enough trouble linking Scotland to the rest of the UK, let alone the UK to Europe.

    It was deliberately selective on Natural Gas alone - that's the only fossil fuel that is politically feasible to generate electricity with for new plant in western Europe right now.

    Problem remains that every unit of natural gas on the market will be sold at the same price, and that price will be set by the most expensive source. Given how much Europe needs to get close to not importing (3-4 times the level of US fracking production) I think we're stuck with high gas prices even if (as I also expect) we do start producing a lot of fracked gas.
  14. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I don't think any one technology is going to dominate. The best plan appears to be to take advantage of regional resources. In addition to wind or solar, geothermal and tidal energy are worth considering. As fusion becomes cost-effective it will definitely help. In the meantime, in spite of a desire to clean up emissions, the UK is back to using coal at 1961 levels. It's good to hear that folks like pdf27 are working to make working fusion power generation a reality. This can't happen too soon. I sure hope they succeed.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/29/coal-threatens-climate-change-targets
  15. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    A lot of beer sounds like a pretty decent place to start. Sign me up for hazardous duty.
  16. WhitePine

    WhitePine Feeling the Heat

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    The problem with nuclear power is the inevitability of human error or gross incompetence with catastrophic consequences for us all. Here's a perfect example with nowhere near the destruction that could result from a nuclear disaster.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Details at the following link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill

    The very same group of idiots organization that visited that particular disaster on us, the Tennessee Valley Authority, also operates several nuclear power plants. But not to worry, Tom Kilgore, the TVA's President who is retiring at the end of this year, took only a token, temporary pay hit for overseeing the disaster. His total annual compensation has since been boosted to $3.95 million. In the meantime, TVA ratepayers are seeing increases in their electric bills.

    We can hardly wait to see how high our bills will go once a TVA nuke plant heads for China. On second thought, we probably won't have to worry about those bills at all, since our land will probably no longer be habitable.
  17. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    They got the safety folks to sign off....they're the experts!
  18. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    So what? Fiberglass can be buried with no ill effects.

    What do lead/acid batteries have to do with solar power? Here, I'll answer for you; NOTHING.

    Let us known when it becomes viable. By the way, I am not opposed to nuclear power, just inaccuracy.

    ANdrew[/quote]
  19. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    I actually thought McKay's (air-source) heat pump estimates matched the current state of the art (East Asian mini-split manufacturers with variable speed compressors, etc) and he (rightfully IMO) trashed 'geothermal' heatpumps as having sustainability problems in the UK at any reasonable population density due to thermal depletion.

    I guess I took away a different message....if the UK dropped their primary consumption by >50% (not necessarily a lifestyle hit if done properly over the next 20 years), shipped most of their heavy industry and manufacturing overseas (to places with perhaps more renewable energy resources), electrified most of their ground transport and did a massive (maximal) renewable energy rollout (affordable?) they could get close to net zero carbon at their present lifestyle.

    I thought the UK and Europe were still using plenty of coal, and germany was increasing its coal use post-Fukushima. The US hasn't built a lot of new coal plants in last decade, but that is beside the point if we are still burning the stuff hand over fist.

    For fracking in the US, they kept drilling not until they ran out of places to drill, but rather until the price collapsed. If there had been more demand...they would have kept going. But I can see your point that Europe is in a deeper hole in terms of gas supply than the US (was), so it'll take a lot of new supply to get it out.
  20. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    Dune: relax my friend. I thought that micro solar outfits ( IE house) normally (to my knowledge) have some sort of an electrical storage unit. However, I have not looked into these in a long time perhaps they no longer do. Obviously industrial size windmill farms don't: and that is their big disadvantage.

    And if you think fiberglass can be simply buried without any negative effect you must be super pro "throw everything in the garbage and don't recycle, it has no ill effect". The fact is, where I live we have a windmill blade plant for LM Windpower. When they scrap a blade they must dispose of it. Not every dump allows them to dispose of the blades. Therefore, they were hauled 800 miles away to be disposed of at an industrial dump. Unless I am mistaken, windmill blades are not biodegradable.

    It is already viable. Several countries are already building thorium reactors.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/science/thorium.html
    http://www.mining.com/why-not-thorium/
    "Thorium nuclear waste only stays radioactive for 500 years" "
    That means thorium could be used to fuel nuclear reactors, just like uranium. And as proponents of the underdog fuel will happily tell you, thorium is more abundant in nature than uranium, is not fissile on its own (which means reactions can be stopped when necessary), produces waste products that are less radioactive, and generates more energy per ton.
    So why on earth are we using uranium? As you may recall, research into the mechanization of nuclear reactions was initially driven not by the desire to make energy, but by the desire to make bombs. The $2-billion Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb sparked a worldwide surge in nuclear research, most of it funded by governments embroiled in the Cold War. And here we come to it: Thorium reactors do not produce plutonium, which is what you need to make a nuke.
    How ironic. The fact that thorium reactors could not produce fuel for nuclear weapons meant the better reactor fuel got short shrift, yet today we would love to be able to clearly differentiate a country's nuclear reactors from its weapons program."
  21. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    Same reason we are not using electric cars. Too much profit in burning fossils.
  22. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    By the way, Fiberglass reinforced plastic can be burned as fuel, leaving the glass fibers unscathed and recyclable.
    My point about burying was in comparison to nuclear by-products. I am very much into recycling.
    For what it is worth, FRP has a usable lifespan of up to 50 years, so I am just not seeing the disposal issues you are worried about.
  23. pdf27

    pdf27 Member

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    They do in a reasonably dry climate. The UK is very wet in winter, so air source heat pumps are in practice getting substantially lower COPs than nominal due to the need to defrost the heat exchanger rather more frequently than expected. No argument on ground source - perhaps 10% of the population could make good use of them.

    Agreed it **could** be done, I just don't think it will be - there is no sign of anything like the rate of insulation/rebuild of houses needed (current replacement rate gives houses an average life of 1000 years), manufacturing is if anything coming back to the UK, it's anybody's guess how fast electric cars will be taken up and subsidies for renewable energy are being cut.

    Short term, not long term. Half (7 out of 17) of the coal power stations in the UK are closing over the next couple of years due to the EU Large Combustion Plant directive (SOx/NOx/particulate) - they're getting close. Didcot is closing in IIRC March of next year.
  24. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    I would say this is a very good argument in favor of nuclear energy.

    A LFTR reactor (as well as the fusion reactors currently in development) have to be prodded to maintain critical. A LWR does not, and needs constant cooling (for decades, if you want to count the waste products) to avoid a meltdown. Sure, they're not off the shelf yet but other than a stable fuel cycle there's nothing insurmountable about the technology, and it's here now just like wind and solar. A molten salt reactor can't melt down, and can't reach a "dangerous" temperature. It can't happen.
    [​IMG]
    The engineers who worked on this reactor routinely drained the core on the weekends, then re-heated and pumped the fuel back into the reactor on Monday. If they hadn't shown up on Monday nothing would have happened. If they had left early on Friday and there was a catastrophic failure of every safety system in the entire plant, nothing different would have happened. Fly a plane into the core and you might spill the fuel, but it's not going anywhere. It's will simply freeze and most likely plug the hole in the reactor vessel. Can stuff happen? Sure, we've all got wood stoves. How scared of a wood stove should I be?

    A problem with wind is the cost, which right now is subsidized not only by federal subsidies, but also cheap fossil fuels. Yes, that's right, wind project construction is subsidized by the cheap cost of steel and concrete.

    1 nuke plant = 2000 wind turbines
    A wind farm will take 250 times more land, and must be located where there is wind vs where there are people
    The same size wind farm will take 8x the concrete and much as 30x the steel as the same capacity nuke plant.

    I know there are many advantages to wind, most notably fuel and what to do with radioactive left overs. But it needs a side kick till we figure out what to do about storage. More people have died falling off of roofs and windmills than in all the nuclear accidents we've ever had in this country.
    Currently, the capital cost of wind farms and nuclear plants are competitive, at around $8/watt. If we could inject a little sanity into the nuclear debate the cost of building a modular-based plant could be dropped by 1/2 or more.
  25. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Not to get too OT.... Agreed that COP losses due to bad defrost control are rampant in older tech, but getting better all the time. In the mild climate in the UK, (lots of load hours above 0°C), I personally think those mini-splits will work great. I thought the UK was doing relatively well with retrofitting home insulation, hindered somewhat by brick construction?? As for coal, great news about the future plans. Don't tell anyone, but Obama's EPA is in the process of killing new coal, and gearing up to effectively ban old coal. After next tuesday we should have a better idea how that will pan out.

    OT, is the UK going to build new fission plants to replace the fleet that is slated for shutdown in the next few years??

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