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A waste of waste - The Guardian


Why bury nuclear waste, when it could meet the world's energy needs?
[...]
As a result of shutting down its nuclear programme in response to green demands, Germany will produce an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020(1). That's almost as much as all the European savings resulting from the energy efficiency directive(2). Other countries are now heading the same way. These decisions are the result of an almost mediaevel misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.
[...]
In his book Prescription for the Planet, the environmentalist Tom Blees explains the remarkable potential of integral fast reactors (IFRs)(11). These are nuclear power stations which can run on what old nuclear plants have left behind. Conventional nuclear power uses just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels it. Integral fast reactors can use almost all the rest.
[...]
The material being reprocessed never leaves the site: it remains within a sealed and remotely-operated recycling plant. Anyone trying to remove it would quickly die. By ensuring the fissile products are unusable, the IFR process reduces the risk of weapons proliferation. The plant operates at scarcely more than atmospheric pressure, so it can't blow its top. Better still, it could melt down only by breaking the laws of physics. If the fuel pins begin to overheat, their expansion stops the fission reaction. If, like the Fukushima plant, an IFR loses its power supply, it simply shuts down, without human agency.

I don't want to end up quoting the entire article -and I am unable to pass a qualified judgment on the technology, but there are plenty of references in the article.
Is anyone familiar with it?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Tue Dec 6th, 2011 at 04:04:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Liquid metal fast breeder reactors will likely engender enough debate to warrant a diary for the purpose.

To me, the telling point is that so many advocates spend significant effort at proving why renewables can't do the job. which of course is false, and renders the debate moot, given the uncertainties.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Dec 6th, 2011 at 05:59:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there is not a single word in the article against renewables. The article is written by George Monbiot -hardly a renewables opponent.

That renewables would "of course" do the job is a rather extraordinary claim when "the job" in the article is mostly getting rid of nuclear waste, with the nice side effect that you'd get a lot of energy in the process.

Even if "the job" were purely producing electricity, to say that "of course" renewables can produce 100% of the needs 100% of the time has the quality of brevity, but need not be consired the best constructed argument.

Even if we accepted that as self-evident fact, would they be able to do so with no drawbacks whatsoever (I don't mind having lots of wind turbines around but not everyone agrees, for instance) within the next 5 years? If not, they wouldn't make the debate moot at all.

Is anyone able to elaborate on the subject rather than going for bait and switch?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 02:03:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ask who will pay to build it and accept liability and you'll get a good idea about how foolproof it is. From the outset nuclear has been sold as too cheap to meter, and it's always been a lie.
Nuclear proponents either ignore alternatives or revile them, and love to focus on how bad coal is. Well duh. Fission is good for two things: boiling water (with insidious pollution at enormous public expense) and blowing people up.
by Andhakari on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 03:26:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... a thorium fuel cycle looks like it could get insured, and would also be a consumer of nuclear waste ... while the big advantage of a fast breeder reactor seems to be that in case of disaster we get to skip the explosive release of radioactive material and the threat of meltdown stages and go straight to long term radioactive site sitting unusable for generations on the landscape.

Advanced to solve a shortfall that is a policy choice rather than a necessity.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 09:31:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Monbiot had a change of heart sometime in the last year and published an article saying that there was a moral case for nuclear power.

This largely centres around the idea that in transitioning to renewables, an apparent capacity gap occurs around 2030 which can either be filled with fossil fuels or nuclear. I suspect he's been nobbled by some more-subtle-than-usual lobbying as he talks about renewables in a way which I think shows a strange bias towards the way we do things now as opposed to the way things are developing.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 03:40:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Monbiot had a change of heart sometime in the last year "

A change of heart regarding nuclear yes, not regarding renewables, which he still promotes.

"I suspect he's been nobbled by some more-subtle-than-usual lobbying"

Do you ever stop to wonder whether anyone may think differently from you without necessarily being the puppet of propaganda? Do you ever wonder whether Monbiot might actually have spent longer than you checking evidence on one of his pet subject?

Someone looks at evidence and changes his mind, surely that is a rare positive thing these days, whether or not he was correct in doing so.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 10:05:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you ever stop to wonder whether anyone may think differently from you without necessarily being the puppet of propaganda?

Sure, sometimes I just write it off to their stupidity, sometimes I put it down to the arrogance of intellect. Whatever, mostly I gave up expecting people to agree or think like me sometime before my age reached double figures.

As you and I have been around here a while, why do my limitations grate all of a sudden ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 12:23:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear power as a transitional technology isn't an unpopular point of view with the technocratic faction around here.

However, since we've determined that it's not something that can be discussed fruitfully, it's not something that's discussed much.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 10:11:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, this is not bait and switch. I was not responding to monbiot, but to one of his main sources (yes, i began digging.)   HERE

Heavy emphasis upon why renewables can't carry the load. And yes, my argument has the benefit of brevity, and the current presence of reality undergirds how well it's constructed. Yes, 100%, 100% of the time, when renewables includes smart demand-side measures.

The drop in cost of PV is just one signal. No experts thought it would happen so quickly, though i was shown exactly how costs would come down while visiting a silicon cell factory in 1977. We wasted three decades.

And as far as transportation fuels? Ban the burning of fossils and see how fast the new technologies arrive.

But this is why i called for a diary. Fast breeders are promoted first as an energy source, with the side effect of eliminating waste, no matter what monbiot says.

PS. Who gives a shit that some people don't like to have windmills around. They are the ones who like to breath coal dust, or eat irradiated sushi. The facts are that most areas don't have enough wind, so wouldn't have windmills.

The real argument is simply, do you want a sustainable world or not. if yes, just get going to build out renewables, and the rest falls into place. prove me wrong?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 03:56:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Yes, 100%, 100% of the time, when renewables includes smart demand-side measures."

I'm still intrigued as to what happens at night during a prolonged still period over most of Europe. Not a common occurence maybe, but one I have known several times in my adult life.

"We wasted three decades."

I sure won't dispute that, and am sincerely thankful that you never lost heart during all that time.

"The real argument is simply, do you want a sustainable world or not. if yes, just get going to build out renewables"

Well, surely you know that we all support that. I still haven't seen a credible rampup plan that credibly replaces everything within a decade though.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 10:11:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To your first question, storage.

The problem with nuclear for the transition is that I'm not sure I've seen a credible plan for rolling out new nukes in the necessary time period either.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 10:12:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A look at batteries and pump up storage.
Seems non trivial even if we cut the requirement by an order of magnitude. Which we probably can do.

Von Řberall k÷nnte das Volk, Urbrut alles Undemokratischen, Zelle des Terrors, Řber die gewńhlten HŘter von Wachstum und Wohlstand« kommen. - flatter
by generic on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 11:57:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the nuclear idea is also built around nebulous technologies that are, at best, unproved.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 12:19:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Traditional pumped hydro and modular pumped hydro are storage at the margin, as, indeed, is consumption-shifting at the demand side.

The "zero order" is the portfolio effects allowed by a subcontinent wide loose grid of electricity superhighways ~ night falls at different times across the continent, the wind is often blowing one place when it is not blowing another, diurnal patterns of onshore and offshore wind are distinctive ~ even with just wind and solar, a European sub-continent-wide portfolio is far more stable than any individual national portfolio would be.

The first order storage is turning off conventional hydro when the volatile renewable power portfolio is producing to current consumption and ramping up conventional hydro when the volatile renewable power portfolio is producing below current consumption.

Another first order storage for scheduled load is biocoal, which can be stored in the form known as a "pile of the stuff" ... a renewable biomass feedstock for biocoal has a fixed annual budget, but the amount that can be deployed in a day is driven by generating capacity, with the annual budget determining how many generation days are available to supplement the volatile renewable portfolio. In a steady state, that is likely best converted to electricity with direct carbon fuel cells, but as a transition, existing coal thermal plants that are presently obsolete due to the need to refrain from CO2 emissions provide a massive per day back up capacity.

If the first order storage falls short, then the storage capacity of the dammed hydro can be stretched by conventional pumped hydro.

And then if that falls short, then the modular pumped hydro, or ammonia energy storage, or one of the other pure energy stores come into the frame. There is ample technical capacity in existing storage technologies to cope with any shortfall in the first order storage capacities, so which of those to use is an issue of which is the least cost per stored kW over the storage period typically required.

If all you need is sufficient storage capacity to cover the time required to bring biocoal thermal up from cold to generating (in this setting, you do not have thermal plants as "spinning reserve"), ammonia would seem appealing, since its main generation would be for petroleum-independent fertilizer feedstock with the stored power a diversion from output of a energy consumer that is in any event already one of your consumption-shifting electricity consumers ~ that's a big part of the promise of the newer solid-state ammonia production technologies, that in reducing the fixed cost of ammonia production, you reduce the requirement to run the production facilities 24/7 and you have an industry that is far better adapted to have excess capacity that is brought online and taken offline in reaction to smart-grid electricity pricing.

If you need longer term storage, modular pumped hydro is attractive ~ the limit of power stored per metric ton of water is determined by the rise, and while the rise is constrained with conventional pumped hydro to the original fall of the river that was dammed, the modular pumped hydro can take advantage of substantially higher rises, with the pipe and the upper reservoir entirely passive, and with all of the active equipment down by the lower reservoir down in the valley, where its easier to get to for maintenance.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 01:52:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well - the current problem is that power cuts are likely regardless, for economic reasons rather than practical ones.

So the 'still night' problem has to be seen in the context of non-sustainable technology that still can't guarantee reliable power to all of the population.

During the last freeze in the UK it literally became impossible to buy heating oil, and gas stocks were getting close to the bone.

So it's false to imply that only renewables suffer from practical supply issues.

Now, you can argue that Good Nukes™ might solve some supply problems. But the history of nukes has been one of heavy subsidy and practical underperformance.

So it's reasonable to ask if giving similar subsidies to sustainables might not improve supply reliability, rather than degrade it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 10:23:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Political reasons, surely?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 12:19:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Economics is politics by other means

- Migeru

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 07:52:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Well, surely you know that we all support that. I still haven't seen a credible rampup plan that credibly replaces everything within a decade though.

The credible plan is not a "credible plan," rather the evidence that the entire supply chain ramp up of wind and PV has already made. To do it ALL in a decade might take something in rather short supply around this globe, mainly visionary political willpower. China did it in 5 years (though it will take another 5 years to reach European quality standards.)

If you ask SKF (bearings) or Winergy (gearboxes) or The Switch (generators/full power controllers) if they could quadruple production in 6-8 years, they will tell you with the right political conditions, their answer would be yes. What they'v already accomplished gives the answer some weight.

(PS. Nuclear supply chain issues are much worse. Currently there are two forges worldwide capable of producing a modern single containment vessel, which would take some effort to expand to the necessary scale. Could they build 4-8 in China in the next six years? Probably. Probably not with uniform steel.)


I sure won't dispute that, and am sincerely thankful that you never lost heart during all that time.

Given the noticeably rising anger (sometimes unwarranted) of some of my comments in the past six months, i'm not certain i haven't already lost heart. I am aware of suffering huge depression for the past year.

Regarding Storage. If the idiocracies running the world spent half as much money on storage as they do chasing CCS, we wouldn't be having this debate. It's a whole lot simpler to compress air with nighttime wind and store it in empty gas wells or parliament buildings, for just one of the host of technologies ready at breakthrough stage.

Again, the energy solution is in the mix of so many technologies. And using the existence of already built conventional fuels as the transition period.

The decision for society is rather to face up to and admit the high costs of the externalities. Once that decision has been reached, game over, success. Until then, game on as we try to keep away from being trampled by dinosaur hooves, and crushed by dinosaur bodies falling over on us.

Society might also have to make some adjustments in lifestyle, but i'm not talking about wearing cardigans under our hoodies in the dark.

So yeah, my LP vinyl seems to be stuck on 100%, 100% of the time.

Ramp up plan? Bremerhaven.




"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 11:45:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 11:55:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gratuitous picture of the same turbines from below :)

Take heart, CH. Wind and offshore wind are mainstream now.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 12:02:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"China did it in 5 years (though it will take another 5 years to reach European quality standards.)"

What? Are you suggesting that all Chinese electricity production now comes from renewables? Or at least all baseload production?

I never heard any such claim and would be extremely surprised (thought thrilled, of course). If it's not the case, we're back to my question of how long to replace, at the very least, every single coal plant.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 03:48:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, wind production in China is only 1.5% of total, if you can rely on their stats. China is a long way from replacing coal, if they don't have to replace their population first.

I had meant that China built a huge renewable supply chain in 5 years. China went from 2.6 GW at the end of 2006 to over 52 GW middle of 2011. Which is really something.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 06:02:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cyrille:

I'm still intrigued as to what happens at night during a prolonged still period over most of Europe. Not a common occurence maybe, but one I have known several times in my adult life.

The same happens as when all the nuclear plants are shut down for safety reasons at the same time. (With half the Swedish reactors being off-line at the same time a couple of times, all does not look all the unprobable.)

Solar, wind, coal and nuclear are all base-load technologies - hydro, oil and gas are top-load technologies.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES!

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 02:39:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I understand it, this is the same idea that I came across for the first time some 20 years ago. The basic physics is sound, you put in neutrinos to change the isotope of the atoms, moving to a faster decaying path and collecting the energy instead of having it slowly decaying.

Though I must admit that I have not followed the topic closely, my impression is that the technical implementation has been harder then the physics, and that the bold ideas of using up waste has been replaced by newly mined isotopes. But I am open for correction here.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES!

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 08:43:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From here:

Thorium is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils; it is three times more abundant than tin in the Earth's crust and is about as common as lead.

[and later]

Present knowledge of the distribution of thorium resources is poor because of the relatively low-key exploration efforts arising out of insignificant demand.

Something may be "common" and still uneconomical to mine.  There's a whole bunch of gold in sea water and even at today's prices nobody has been foolish enough to try and extract it.

Further, I note the extensive use of the Future Tense in the Los Alamos Gee-Whiz page on Thorium Reactors as well as some out-right falsehoods [emphasis added:]

Because of no risk of proliferation or meltdown, thorium reactors can be made of almost any size.

NO risk?  

The thorium fuel cycle creates 233U, which, if separated from the reactor's fuel, can be used for making nuclear weapons.

[from the Wikipedia link]

And, once again, we see the nuke-power people are in half-truth/lying mode.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 01:06:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Found a bit on the status of development:

Generation IV reactor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Generation IV reactors (Gen IV) are a set of theoretical nuclear reactor designs currently being researched. Most of these designs are generally not expected to be available for commercial construction before 2030. Current reactors in operation around the world are generally considered second- or third-generation systems, with most of the first-generation systems having been retired some time ago. Research into these reactor types was officially started by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) based on eight technology goals, including to improve nuclear safety, improve proliferation resistance, minimize waste and natural resource utilization, and decrease the cost to build and run such plants.

So it is still 20 years off (cue xkcd reference).

While on this topic, I would like to point out something else that often crops up among those entusiastic for this technology (I was one once):
Generation IV reactor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

100-300 times more energy yield from the same amount of nuclear fuel [4]

While true it is also misleading if the reader thinks "Woo-hoo, lots and lots of energy!" as this is not related to EROI.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES!

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 02:59:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Methinks this discussion deserves a diary, as i said earlier. Though i wouldn't call wind and solar baseload, at least in the sense the industry understands it.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 03:22:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
M'kay.

European Tribune - The future promise of Energy amplifiers/ Thorium reactors/ 4th gen nuclear


Cyrille linked a Monbiot article in the Salon which caused some discussion, a lot on other things. In an attempt to refocus the discussion, here comes a diary.


A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES!
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 04:37:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Damn, i meant it deserved a diary, not that you should put one up. Now we'll have to actually work some more. ;-)

Danke.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Wed Dec 7th, 2011 at 06:23:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I knew I had written neutrinos somewhere. I meant neutrons. Brain disconnect.

Good thing I am writing under a pseudonyme or my physics courses might be retroactively failed.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES!

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Dec 8th, 2011 at 03:27:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From 30 Years that Shook Physics by George Gamow:
The point is that Pauli called his protegé neutron which was all right since the particle called "neutron" today (the chargeless proton) had not yet been discovered. However, that name was not "copyrighted" since it was only used in private conversations and correspondence and never in print.  When, in 1932, James Chadwick proved the existence of a chargeless particle with a mass closely equal to that of a proton, he called it neutron in his paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. When Fermi, still being a professor in Rome, reported Chadwick's discovery at the weekly physics seminar, somebody from the audience asked whether "Chadwick's neutron" was the same as "Pauli's neutron". "No" answered Fermi (naturally speaking in Italian), "i neutroni di Chadwick sono grandi e pesanti, I neutroni di Pauli sono piccoli e leggeri, essi debbono essere chiamati neutrino".
(Gawd, isn't Google Books wondrous)

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 8th, 2011 at 03:52:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A swedish kind of death isn't your real name?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Dec 8th, 2011 at 04:47:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On Internet, nobody knows you're not a horse.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 8th, 2011 at 05:23:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's how we crazy one-horn goats keep our cover.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Dec 8th, 2011 at 07:44:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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