| J.M.W. Turner's painting of
The_Fighting_Téméraire being tugged to her last Berth to be broken. Symbol of the replacement of wind power by coal-driven steam.
|Without Téméraire, the battle of Trafalgar might have been lost. When Nelson's flagship had French ships on either side of her, Téméraire came to his aid.|
A coal power station requires more than 2.5 million tonnes of coal each year for a capacity of 1000 MWe.
In contrast, a nuclear reactor needs only 7 tonnes of fuel to produce as much electricity.
After three years, the fission waste from these 7,000 kg is about 3/4 of its 3.6% of fissile uranium isotope so that's 7x27 kg, 189 kg, just about 416 lbs. There is still 189 kg of fissile isotopes in the rods, but in the USA it is called "spent fuel", although even the fissile part is only half used. Nevertheless, even following the Carter/Gore prohibition on reprocessing, the total so-called "nuclear waste" is seven tons per gigawatt_year.
Burning 12 million tons of carbon requires 32 million tons of oxygen, for a total carbon dioxide waste of over 3.6 tons per ton of fuel. So to the extent that the 2.5 million tons of coal isn't hydrocarbons, rock, sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, arsenic, or even thorium or uranium, it's producing
nearly nine million tons of greenhouse gas. per gigawatt_year.
It is also producing hundreds of tons of actual gaseous poisons like sulfur and nitrogen oxides, and mercury vapor. "Natural" gas naturally contains both sulphur compounds and the radioactive gas radon. The sulfur is removed at the wellhead, or at least before the gas is allowed into a major pipeline. The radon decays away to half as much as before, every 3.8 days. Gas turbines are cleaner than coal, per MWh of energy. But they still emit poisonous nitrogen oxides, and the more efficient the turbine, the higher is the nitrogen oxide output. Note that any methane, CH4, that leaks anywhere from the gas collection system, is a far more potent GHG than CO2.
It is clear from existing statistics that nuclear power is the only threat to the dominance of fossil carbon. One might suspect that the opposition to nuclear is funded by coal, oil, and gas companies.
Here is a typical specimen of the FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt-- fostered by opponents of nuclear power.
"Media knew 1.2×1012 Bq of plutonium was released in the first 100 hours." (at Fukushima-Daiichi)
That is nonsense. It's like saying ninety feet per second of automobiles crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge yesterday morning. Or rather, the same thing in thousands of millimetres per second.
A million million Bq, (becquerels) sounds frightening, but only if you do not know how tiny a becquerel is, and that being a rate, they do not accumulate. So "in the first 100 hours" means nothing.
Here's how I think we could solve the energy crisis, modestly called "My Solution"
Rod Adams, of the website Atomic Insights says:
There is no longer any doubt in my mind that much of the power and temporary success of the antinuclear industry has been enabled by injections of resources (both financial and political) from people with strong interest in keeping human society addicted to hydrocarbon heat.
and I am inclined to agree with him. Sierra Club has been exposed regarding its promotion of natural gas. Huge donations from the natural gas industry appear to concentrate the environmentalist mind wonderfully.
A study in 2004 by the California Energy Commission estimated that up to 4,720 birds from 40 different species are killed each year at the Altamont Pass wind farm, including as many as 1,300 protected raptors.
There is a known way to do this, politically unpopular because of its unnecessary association with the horrors of the Cold War, and the guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Part of the problem, of course, is the dismally low level of popular scientific understanding.
The key to the problem, and its solution, is the fact that compared with other technologies, per gigawatt-hour of energy produced, nuclear power plants use minuscule quantities of fuel, and create even smaller amounts of waste.
A gigawatt-hour is a million kilowatt-hours, which are the kwh on your electric bill.
A gigawatt-year is a gigawatt-hour multiplied by the number of hours in a whole year.
For example, when hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992, the eye and eyewall devastated a swath 20 miles wide. The heat energy released around the eye was 5,000 times the combined heat and electrical power generation of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant over which the eye passed. It should be noted that a hurricane is in fact a gigantic heat engine, at least as high as its highest cloud top, and with a base area as big as three medium sized eastern USA States. Its energy input comes from the warm water of the ocean. It converts that into the mechanical energy of unpredictable, ferociously damaging, winds, and electrical storms which at least provide the soil with fixed nitrogen.But of course the hurricane's energy was unpredictable, unusable, and would have destroyed any wind machine in its path.
Turkey Point's two reactors report a "net capacity" of just under 1,400 MW, and share a 3,300 acre site (about five square miles) with two fossil fuel electric plants.
Their combined "capacity factor" for 2008 was 94%, meaning that they supplied just over 1.3 gigawatt-years of electrical energy in that year.
Interestingly enough, the hurricane did do minor damage to a smokestack of one of the fossil fuel plants.
Note that hurricanes accumulate solar energy for days, over a sea area comparable with several states. Warm water provides water vapor, which contains far more energy than a comparable volume of dry air. We may therefore note that a vast amount of wind and solar power was present in the hurricane, totally unusable to human industry.
Any wind farm in the path of Andrew would have had to be rebuilt. This is where a great deal of the seemingly immense amount of solar power reaching the Earth is inaccessibly used up.
Enormous land masses are required to produce reasonable amounts of power from alternate energy sources. For a 1000 MW output, it will take 150 square miles for wind power, and 10 square miles for solar energy in the most favorable locations.
These figures are consistent with what I have gleaned from pro-solar websites.
They also say that
As for the biomass option, if all the trees in the United States were used for energy production on a renewable basis (i.e., trees would be growing at the same rate they were being harvested), their contribution could amount to only about 10% of our total energy needs.Energy and Power Units
In actual fact, there are few instances in history of forests even being harvested at a renewable rate.
Shutting down the IFR program may also have been due to the view, widespread in the USA, that the world tends to follow America's example. When we abandoned reprocessing and the deliberate manufacture of plutonium, the rest of the world did not. It was a naîve idea, and also stupid because
Here is a reference (Battling the Butterfly Effect) which lampoons fears of terrorism.
James Lovelock alludes to this kind of ignorance, in his book "The Vanishing Face of Gaia", when he contrasts nuclear power with the so-popular wind turbine fashion. Here is an excerpt from that book. Lovelock finds the popular "renewable technologies" hopelessly inadequate, as I do, and wind turbines particularly offensive.
The authors recommend that nuclear fuel be consumed and reprocessed in fast neutron reactors, using metallic rather than ceramic fuel rods, and liquid metal coolant rather than water. This facilitates the recycling of the neutron capture products by on-site processing which does not make bomb-grade fissile material available, and the waste is entirely fission products, which are a thousand times more short-lived than plutonium 239.
These figures for solar, wind, and biofuels can be checked, if you have sufficient determination, using the various estimates by their promoters.
It is necessary to ignore imprecise nonsense about the number of "homes" that can be supplied.
Look at the area of the project, compute the expected megawatt-hours per year, and then look at the ability of the project to match its output to an actual demand.
Wind, in particular, is totally unable to be summoned for the purpose of meeting a sharp increase in demand. When the windspeed drops by 5%, the power supplied by the wind drops more than 14%. And if it's blowing hard when there's no demand, unless you're pumping water out of a polder in the Netherlands, it's useless.
For biomass in particular, the energy available, no matter what clever organic technology you devise, cannot exceed the energy that the organic biomass would supply if it were directly oxidized. In actual fact, you cannot convert simple sugars to ethanol with better than 67% energy efficiency. Yeast fermentation consumes one in three carbon atoms in the conversion. That's why champagne is fizzy, and bread rises. The fizz is carbon dioxide.
If you are a conspiracy theorist, you might wonder if the left wing opposition to nuclear power is being funded clandestinely by the petroleum industry. It is my opinion, and theirs, that coal and oil will never be replaced by wind, solar, and biofuels. So the only threat to their profits comes from nuclear, and in my opinion it would need to be nationally owned, like the great hydro dams of the Columbia watershed.
The government of France, which has never had much coal or oil, committed France to nuclear power instead. Not only does Électricité de France supply 75% of France's electric consumption from nuclear, it can afford to export electricity to Britain and Germany. In Britain, a flourishing nationally owned electric generation system was "privatised" in the Thatcher regime, and what seem to have been perfectly adequate nuclear power plants when nationally owned, now seem to have become a liability to their private corporate owners. Perhaps they deteriorated under private maintenance, or perhaps the regulated profit allowance upon the capital, which is the biggest part of the plant investment, makes it unattractive. The company "British Energy" is now owned by and is part of Électricité de France. --Another sign that the Sun Has Set Upon the British Empire!
The thing is, solar power is so dilute that the best way to collect it is hydroelectricity, and it doesn't emit any carbon dioxide after you've built the dams and machinery.
But it's not entirely benign environmentally.
What on earth makes people think that wind turbines are environmentally harmless?
Email to the skeptic
Fast neutrons create 239U -> 239Np -> 239Pu from 238U, the common isotope of uranium.
The coolant is liquid metal, e.g. sodium which melts at the boiling point of water.
The prime example of this was the IFR program, which was canceled as "unnecessary" by the Clinton administration in 1994.
It had already proven itself effective, and proof against meltdown. The closed fuel cycle makes it resistant to anything less than terrorists who already have nuclear weapons.
In this case, the fuel itself is in solution, which has certain advantages.
It is claimed that even with thermal neutrons, it can consume ALL of its nuclear fuel, so the only wastes are the short-lived fission products.
See Kirk Sorenson on Thorium - pdf
The fissile material is expected to be 233U, but the two other fissile species can probably be used as starters.
The "fertile" material is 232Th, the common isotope of thorium. By neutron capture, it is turned into 233Pa which decays to 233U, a uranium isotope which like 235U and 239Pu is fissile.
The US government has neglected some otherwise promising examples of this option.
Any one of India, China, Russia, Japan, France, or the Czech republic may very well become the world leader in civilan nuclear energy. Let's hope it isn't Russia or China. Maybe Iran is truly only hoping to develop civilian nuclear. Civilian renewable nuclear energy could dominate the world the way oil does now, when the reserves are used up,