Nuclear Energy for Liberals

Perhaps I should start with a Brookings essay reference to the USA's loss of nuclear energy leadership especially to China.

In 1881, Sir William Thomson, born in Belfast, and not yet elevated to the peerage as Lord Kelvin (named for that river in Scotland), enumerated the "Sources of Energy in Nature Available to Man for the Production of Mechanical Effect" as "we may summarise the natural sources of energy as Tides, Food, Fuel, Wind, and Rain." He had left out, but elsewhere had defined as the most important problem for any physicist to solve, the energy source of the Sun itself. He had also underestimated the age of the Earth at 40 million years, whereas we now know it to be more like 4,500 million years. In both cases, the unknown source of the energy is nuclear. That which keeps the Earth's mantle molten comes from the chaotic energies of the last few years (or possibly minutes) of stars so gigantic that their own gravity causes them to collapse as supernovae. Thorium and uranium are NOT fossil fuels.

One kilogram of the isotope plutonium 239, (239Pu) synthesized in today's reactors (actually a design from the 1950's) produces about 10 million kWh. Electric power in the USA is about $0.10/kWh, so 2.2 lbs of that isotope, or indeed of 233U or 235U, is worth a million dollars. That is a lot more valuable, and indeed useful, than gold.

The whole point of the existence of Oceanic Global Warming is that the burning of fossil carbon of any kind, anywhere in the world, must cease>. Even if the currently observed increase in oceanic heat were chiefly caused by increased solar activity (which I do not believe), it makes no difference except to make more urgent the palliative course of emitting NO MORE CO2.
The more heat we receive from the sun, the more important it is not to retain it!

Note that whereas global warming of the atmosphere may be hard to document, the seas are the primary absorber of solar heat energy. The Atlantic converts a lot of it into hurricanes.
It is high time to adopt a policy of replacing carbon burning with the only reliable low GHG technology, Nuclear!
Nuclear is newer than both coal and petro-hydrocarbons, and millennia newer than the intermittent solar-derived "alternatives".
It is the true alternative to fossil carbon, and the wild exaggerations of its dangers from ignorance and superstition about it, are, I am sure, being encouraged by those whose fortunes and income depend upon burning coal and fossil hydrocarbons.
Wikipedia has rather a good debunking of the mythical China Syndrome which, at TMI, did not penetrate its containment at all
At Chernobyl, a monstrously out-of-date and dangerous reactor based upon bomb-manufacture designs, there was a risk, detected before it happened, that the melted core would reach an emergency pool of water and cause a massive steam explosion. Three men heroically volunteered to drain that pool by manually operating the valves for which electrical control had been lost. It cost them their lives, but the explosion they prevented might have taken them anyway, and many other people. If you think about it, wind turbines are not more effective than sail or kite-sails for extracting energy from the wind, and photovoltaic panels may be more efficient than green leaves at extracting energy from sunlight, but they do not consume carbon dioxide.
Sad to say, coal burning steamships wiped out the tea-clipper trade.

I am deeply concerned about the utter folly of the German 'green' advocates who imagine that solar and wind can supply a large proportion of their energy, and worse yet, that nuclear should be the first kind to shut down.
I believe that Électricité de France was created to save France from buying Ruhr coal. It is now a corporation only part owned by France. But it also owns the company that used to be "British Energy" ! The new company, EDF, seems to have lost its best brains. I suspect that Germany's coal industry has gull'd, cullied, and diddled (cf. "1776") the EU in this matter. The USA and Britain are making the same mistake.

Wind Power

Wind power for ocean transportation was ousted by coal and later oil. The world's major navies now run their capital ships on highly enriched uranium. It is a delusion to suppose that wind turbines can oust coal. They actually encourage gas turbines.
Who can build a wind-driven warship to compete with the Nimitz class aircraft carriers? Or even just a non-sail improvement upon the America's Cup competitors, wind or solar powered?
Sail was and is a highly developed and versatile technology. The original yacht "America" became a warship, fighting the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Doomsayers

There are a few very well qualified doomsayers who reckon that civilization has only a few decades left -- the problems being overpopulation and energy shortage.
Stephen Hawking is one of them, but I'm arrogant enough to think that he's wrong about that! At least, I hope he is. It will depend upon whether sanity returns to democratic liberals in time.
More than that, Hawking is reported as believing that emigration to other planets, and terraforming them, might be the best hope for humanity.
I hold, as a matter on conscience, that if we can't fix our own mess, it's a good thing that such emigration is out of the question.

A Solution

A solution exists to the energy problem at least.
It is nuclear energy, implemented by either of the two breeder reactor technologies pioneered by the USA. The research for one of them was very far advanced in 1994, when Clinton canceled its funding.
I strongly suspect that one of the penalties the USA pays for its stupidity in supporting the corrupt government of South Vietnam, and the delusion of the "Communist domino effect", is the fact that good liberals decided that the government, on nuclear anything, is just as evil as the damned reactionaries. One of these good liberals, John Kerry, mistakenly led the Senate into endorsing the shutdown of the IFR reactor project.

Some of the nuclear physicists and engineers from that project work in Reston, Virginia, at Advanced Reactor Concepts
Their reactor design is "small modular", designed to be 100 MW, factory built - more easily than jumbojets, and far easier to transport and install than wind turbines with 200 ft blades that deliver a miserable 2.3 MW only in quite a strong wind, and consume energy, if they can get it, in half a hurricane.

Whether you examine the longevity of the supply, or the toxicity released, or the greenhouse gases released, nuclear is hundreds, thousands, or millions of times better than coal and petro-hydrocarbons (i.e. including "natural" gas).
NASA has done a scientific analysis which compares current nuclear technology, including the three accidents so popular with its opponents, with fossil carbon energy.

If you are served, as am I, by the company Dominion Power, which in 2012 was the tenth largest supplier of electrical energy in the USA, according to NRDC's compilation of emissions data from EIA, you are receiving cleaner energy than California now does.

Dominion is also the eleventh of the USA's fifty-two largest suppliers of energy, on a list ranked by lowest CO2 emissions.
48% of Dominion's energy production already is from nuclear, which is more than twice the national average of 20%. They plan to add about half as much again.
Dominion's rate of carbon dioxide emission is 777 lbs per MWh (megawatt.hour).
Coal by itself produces from 2000 to 2500 lbs per MWh, not counting the fuel burned by the locomotives delivering the coal.
If the object of the 30% reduction of CO2 that the EPA requires of our electric generating capacity were a nation-wide target for our entire electric generating emissions, Dominion has already accomplished more than its share of the reduction. So has Entergy, which has been ordered to close down its Vermont Yankees reactor, probably the cleanest and safest energy producer, per useful MWh, in Vermont.
Wind turbines need constant backup from idling or under-capacity gas turbines burning methane gas and air, necessarily emitting not just carbon dioxide, but poisonously oxidised nitrogen as well.
It is a lie to say that nuclear power is not low carbon.
The only carbon needed to fuel a nuclear reactor is that which is used to process the uranium oxide fuel, of which the USA inefficently uses a mere 25,000 tons a year.
I call it inefficient, because the USA is ready to throw away fuel that is only half-used, and wildly inefficient as long as we fail to make better use of the energy in the 99% of the original uranium that requires fast neutrons to release it.
The energy required for the difficult physical ( as opposed to chemical refining) process that concentrates the fissile isotope into the fuel portion (less than 2600 tons) of the uranium, is not necessarily from carbon burning, and should instead be deducted from the energy production of the reactors. That would be from 1% to 4%, depending on whether centrifuge or gaseous diffusion is used.
It is mere superstition to fear plutonium as much as the majority of the anti-nukers do.
It is also false to class nuclear power as non-renewable; we might as well say that iron and silicon are non-renewable.
Neither one is fossilised solar energy, which Carbonaceous deposits, and the oxygen to burn them, truly are.
As a matter of fact, the iron and cement needed to build wind turbines both require the emission of far more carbon dioxide per alleged unit of capacity than a nuclear plant.

It is true that the EIA electric power emission statistics give zero carbon impact for nuclear, by not counting the refining and enriching of the fuel. But they also do not count the gas that is burned in the turbine-compressors that transport "natural" gas from the wells to the gas burning electrical power generators.
Nor do they count the diesel fuel burned by the locomotives hauling coal trucks to coal burners.
In short, while I agree that carbon dioxide emissions should be taxed, mercury emissions should be utterly forbidden, and a proper scientific team would evaluate the carbon dioxide cost of nuclear fuel as that which is necessary for its processing, but the energy for the enrichment process cannot be assumed to be from coal or gas burning.
It would be fair to charge for it as a deduction from the reactor's own output. It's about 4%, for the gas diffusion method, and 1% by the centrifuge method.

Dominion plans to build a new nuclear power plant.
That will do more to supply us reliably with toxin free, GWG-free electric power than all the damned wind turbines spoiling the views in my native Scotland are doing there, or even California's improved Altamont Pass turbines, which are perhaps now killing half as many rare birds as before (when it was 1000 a year) and it will surely do more to meet the EPA's timid 30% reduction in Dominion's carbon dioxide emissions than any amount of improved coal burning efficiency ever could.

Alas, the proposal is only for one of the non-breeder designs, and no doubt it will be adding tens of tons of wasted nuclear fuel every year to the already "prodigious problem" we already have. But it will kill neither birds nor bats nor fish, and its dependable capacity will exceed the sum total of what all California's wind farms can do. There is no such thing as dependable wind, not even when it's blowing a gale. It's gusty.

Nuclear power is the ONLY technology that is required to rehabilitate the place from which it is to be "decommissioned". That is because no such thing can be done with other energy technologies. You cannot unfrack a shale bed.
Such a requirement would put all Appalachian coal mines out of business, and I'm quite sure that restoring the moorland that has been dug up to make the concrete footings for enough wind turbines to supply 1000 MW-years of electrical energy in a year, would vastly exceed the cost of decommissioning 1100 MW of nuclear.
Restoring all the displaced wildlife is probably impossible.

The production factor for nuclear is slightly better than 90% capacity.
For wind, it's between 18% and 35%.
One megawatt year is a thousand kilowatts for 8760 hours.
A thousand of GE's 2.3 MW windmills, which are taller than the Statue of Liberty, might produce 2/3 of that in a year. Each one needs a huge reinforced concrete base.

No study of decommissioning wind farms has ever been done, although the claimed life expectancy of a wind turbine is only about 20 years. They do break.
They also kill and injure people constructing and maintaining them. On 11 December 2011 the Daily Telegraph reported that RenewableUK confirmed there had been 1500 wind turbine accidents and incidents in the UK alone in the previous 5 years, some of them fatal.

If your wind farm capacity is really large, quite a lot of the wind energy comes when you have no use for it, not even counting the hurricanes that you daren't use, and will need auxiliary power to keep the feathered blades pointing into the veering winds.
The birds that are most at risk from them are big, fast, level-flying ones:- raptors, and at sea no doubt the albatross, gannets, and pelicans.

Ignorance, Superstition, and Radioactive Water.

It is no better than superstition to imagine that "nuclear" means "infinitely dangerous", but that is the logic of the following:

Radioactivity was detected in the secondary circuit of one of the two San Onofre NGS reactors.
It was from one very slight water leak. Less than a pint of water per minute was escaping only from the reactor circuit into the energy transfer circuit.
Senator Barbara Boxer was one of those in the lead for shutting down the reactor, on account of the "terrible danger" of the radioactivity.
Water coolant began leaking from the primary reactor circuit into the secondary circuit at a rate of about 150 gallons per day, which is about one tenth of a gallon, less than a pint, per minute.

There was no leak between the fuel and the coolant circuit, and if there had been, nothing could have got into the coolant, because it is at high pressure whereas the fuel rods are not. But neutrons can pass between the atoms in steel. The hardness of steel is atomic electron shell repulsion, and neutrons are electrically neutral. (Duh!) Some people who knew enough to name the dangerous fission products evidently did not know this, and speculated that the radioactivity might be from radioactive iodine or caesium, which is quite impossible. As the water in the primary moderator/coolant circuit passes through the reactor core, a tiny proportion of the neutrons convert oxygen in the water to a nitrogen isotope and a proton

816O + 01n -> 716N + 11H)
(the n is a neutron, the preceding subscript is the charge,
the superscript is the number of hadrons, roughly the atomic mass)
16N is very short-lived, half life less than 8 seconds, (actually 7.13) and therefore highly radioactive at the leak point.
That means that in 8 seconds half the remaining nuclei at any instant will decay, emit a beta particle and become oxygen again.
Obviously the concentration in the reactor builds up only to the point where the rate of creation of 16N equals the rate of reversion.
It's also why a nanogram, which is a billionth of a gram, or even a femtogram, a millionth of a nanogram, of the isotope is detectable. That's still billions of nuclei decaying in 8 seconds.
The reactor probably wasn't leaking as much as that, per second, of 16N.
But it was easily detected at the leak; AND just 4 minutes later that quantity, less than a billionth of what it was, is undetectable.
The most exposed person from the radioactive material that leaked out of the single tube that was leaking could have received a dose of just 0.00000052 mSv, which is a billion times lower than the annual occupational limit for a radiation worker.
But on toxins alone, the level of apparent health risk that San Onofre's "radioactive water" leak implied, is infinitesimal compared with the gases and particulates, not counting carbon dioxide, that a coal-burning plant of comparable capacity routinely emits.
California's air quality since January 2012 has deteriorated, not from radioactivity, but from poisonous oxides emitted by coal and gas burning.

It is estimated that TVA's 1,150 MW reactor, Watts Bar Unit 2 will help TVA avoid emissions of 6 to 8 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
We can therefore conclude that the closing of 2,200 MW of nuclear power at San Onofre will help California produce from 12 to 15 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

On health risk alone, if the EPA, FERC or somebody should impose upon coal or even "clean, natural" gas the standard that Senator Barbara Boxer insisted the NRC should demand, then suddenly coal would utterly cease to be an inexpensive fuel.
Likewise, if the dangers of releasing radon from fractured shale received as much publicity as the San Onofre leak, ALL this fracking nonsense about "clean", "natural" gas would be, umm, reconsidered.

Oceanic Global Warming means that the burning of fossil carbon of any kind, any where in the world, must STOP.
Therefore the future of coal, "natural" gas, and petroleum industries is inimical to the future of the civilised and environmentally conscious world of humanity.
Liberals, socialists, and environmentalists need to figure out how the decent folk working in these industries are going to make a living.

NEI is Nuclear Energy Institute.
According to the Congressional Research Service (using NEI data), there were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.
The total increases by 2,000 to 2,400 tons annually. NEI puts the volume at 69,720 metric tons as of the end of 2013.

According to my analysis of the need for breeder reactors, "spent" nuclear fuel is a valuable future energy resource.
It is high time to abandon the prohibition on reprocessing it, and to revive the policy of migrating from thermal neutron reactors to the much lower "waste" producing breeders.

That's in addition to avoiding the air pollution from sulfur and nitrogen oxides.

Costs:

The refurbishing of TVA's 1,150 MW reactor Watts Bar 2, is expected to cost 4 to 5 billion dollars.
The usual news reports tell us how shockingly this is higher than the original estimate.
But if the reactor lasts 20 years, it delivers about 160 million MWh for that $5,000,000,000. Which is 160 MWh for $5000, or 160 kWh for 500 cents, less than 3.2 cents/kWh for construction
Employing 1600 people at $50,000 a year would be $80,000,000 a year, total $1,600,000,000; that's another cent, and probably less than that for fuel.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional