Nuclear Power (merged threads)

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby thoughtfully » Fri Jun 13, 2008 8:01 pm UTC

bigglesworth wrote:My opinion is that geothermal will become more viable than solar.

Also, temperature gardients are everywhere, if you just go down far enough. There are plans to exploit (but no plans to implement them, that I'm aware of) the gradients in the oceans, for example, which can be 30+ degrees C at the surface down to nearly zero at the bottom. I'm not saying it's pratical, but neither is geothermal (unless you are just lucky, like Iceland) currently. I agree that it seems more likely that these will become practical in huge scales before PV/thermal solar or wind are practical at similar scales.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Fri Jun 13, 2008 8:29 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:"every hour of the day and year


"Continuously". :)

bigglesworth wrote:My opinion is that geothermal will become more viable than solar.


Is geothermal really renewable though? I know some locations "dry up" after they've been used for a while. I imagine this as the crust acting like a resistance to the flow of heat energy from the mantle into space, and by tapping into this, we're accelerating the rate at which heat is dissipated. If we draw energy faster than the underlying rock is capable of transmitting, it cools down too much to use?

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby bigglesworth » Fri Jun 13, 2008 8:44 pm UTC

Well the geothermal plant near where I live in Southampton uses hot salty water in an underground lake under the city, which is running out. It's mostly used for heating anyway.

I haven't heard of other types of geothermal plant running out.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Mettra » Fri Jun 13, 2008 11:56 pm UTC

Delmieth wrote:Where to start...

I am not asking for highly specific facts, but rather facts that are straightforeward and clear. [1]

I did not mean to attack your opinion or experience however if you look at it from my point of view, one person saying they have experienced the safety of nuclear technology first hand should not be taken as absolute truth. [2]

Thirdly, you state that I can make little difference just having my opinion. I make no pretence that I am an expert in this field of debate, but this seems a preconcieved conclusion at best. If everyone had this dysmally apathetic idea, then nothing would be changed for the better. [3]

Also, I do not live in the US- I was under the impression this was a global debate- but the 'People in Charge of Everything" have not made up their mind at all, it is still very much open for debate. You can give an example of France utilising nuclear power, and I can bring up Iceland who have used renewables to supply something like 70% of their energy requirements for a long time now. [4]

And finally, mine are not generic fears at all, and I believe I have made that clear. My concerns only extend to mining, and waste disposal, as well as the availability of alternatives. [5]


[1] I didn't make this point very clear, but it's difficult to quantify the relief or sense of safety that I feel with current best practices in place. It's a little bit like seeing the Great Wall. You can't really imagine in your head just how big it is, but when you're actually there it kind of hits you in a way that escapes words and phrases. That is what I was trying to get across. It's just difficult convey why current practices are so good.

[2] I don't think you attacked my opinion at all, and I agree with your point completely.

[3] I can see that was poorly worded. What I was trying to convey was the realistic point of view of the matter in general. From my perspective, I have seen the ins and outs, the beginnings and endings and middles of the process of 2 different plants located in different countries - and what I saw in both cases was that sort of 'whoa-Great-Wall' kind of thing that I mentioned earlier. The men (and women) working in these plants have complete confidence in their practices from beginning to end. The trouble with nuclear is that it has a lot of bad press that just doesn't apply anymore. Bad press is easier to disseminate than years of study and practice. Any major concerns that anyone can dream up will already have been thought of and addressed by thousands of others - that is the state of the field today.

It is important for people to have concerns and to voice them, but unfortunately in a highly specialized technical field like this, one can only look to the experts.

[4] I don't live in the US either. I'd argue this is a Western debate - most everyone else seems like they'd like very much to have nuclear power.

Most of the nuclear programs in the world are not independent. That is to say, they are derived with help, information, expertise, and so on from others. What happens here is that the practices and methods get passed from one place to the other. More often than not, when a country is putting together a nuclear program, they will look towards the NRC.

The 'people in charge of everything' I was referring to are those who run and manage the plants. There is really no debate in their circles, all of it is political.

On the subject of individual states, I can hope they will all choose to become part of the international nuclear 'group' and collaborate with each other on new ideas and so on, but sovereign states will do what they will. Just to head this subject off, the issue of what SOME states might do with nuclear is not really in question. The issue at hand is, 'using modern practices, is nuclear safe/worth it?'

I certainly have no desire to get in a point-counterpoint type of argument as that won't add anything to this discussion. If we all lived Iceland, we wouldn't have to have this discussion in the first place ;).

[5] In that case, I'm sorry I didn't catch that. I can't say anything about mining, but I can about the other two.

Waste disposal is the biggest political issue right now in the debate. Putting some of our waste in a mountain range somewhere is a reasonable solution, but I don't think it's a necessary one. I (and others) think it'd make more sense to set up ways to use the 'waste' as fuel until it's REALLY gone. I think the thread merged into this one had a man that actually worked at a plant explain the waste management processes. I would recommend scouting the earlier bits of this thread.

I don't think there's any realistic alternative to nuclear power, globally speaking (curse those Icelanders ;)). Our power demands (globally) are just going to skyrocket as the seconds count forward. Mathematically, there is nothing even close to the power output of a nuclear plant. Because of this enormous mathematical presence, nuclear is also much safer per Watt than other sources. It's just a matter of raw numbers.

I think solar on houses and other buildings in places like California is a fantastic idea - electric cars too. Similarly, if there's a place where we can extract enormous wind power, do it. But the only fuels that work everywhere are nuclear and fossil fuels, and they also have a bigger output for the effort. Where efficient alternatives are available, there's little reason not to use them. But if we want to avoid fossil fuels, nuclear is simply inevitable in the long run.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Minerva » Sat Jun 14, 2008 10:53 am UTC

Mettra wrote:Waste disposal is the biggest political issue right now in the debate. Putting some of our waste in a mountain range somewhere is a reasonable solution, but I don't think it's a necessary one. I (and others) think it'd make more sense to set up ways to use the 'waste' as fuel until it's REALLY gone. I think the thread merged into this one had a man that actually worked at a plant explain the waste management processes. I would recommend scouting the earlier bits of this thread.


Recycling the used fuel is certainly valuable. Absolutely without a doubt.

Putting used fuel - which is 96% unchanged uranium - along with just over 1% of plutonium and other actinides which can be fissioned in a fast reactor into Yucca Mountain and wasting it all is a terrible idea.

But then you're left with about 3% of fission products - and fission products just can't be fissioned. The FP's include a whole cocktail of stable and unstable nuclides, some stable, many with short half-lives, some with longer half-lives. Some nuclides, like 131I, are quite radiotoxic if released into the environment, but the 8 day half-life of 131I is so short that by the time the fuel is removed from the reactor's fuel pool, it's all gone - in fact, that's true of perhaps as much as 60-70%, I'm not too sure now, of the original radioactivity of the fuel.

You've got longer lived fission products to contend with - like, say, 137Cs and 90Sr, two of the most widely known fission product nuclides, with 30 year and 29 year half lives respectively.
These make up the majority of all the radioactivity of the fission products in used nuclear fuel over the moderately short to very long term.

Almost all of the radioactive contamination in the environment around Chernobyl today, for example, is 137Cs.

Lots of these radionuclides have important technical, scientific, medical and industrial applications - but I seriously doubt that they can use all the material produced in nuclear fuel from commercial power plants.

So, it seems like, ultimately, deep geological disposal is still needed for such material. Of course, ten half lives for something like 137Cs is only three hundred years - not 10,000 years, or 250,000 years or whatever other exaggerated numbers the greenpeace crowd likes. That's how long such material has to be isolated from the environment for, roughly.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Delmieth » Sat Jun 14, 2008 12:53 pm UTC

mettra wrote: I think solar on houses and other buildings in places like California is a fantastic idea - electric cars too. Similarly, if there's a place where we can extract enormous wind power, do it. But the only fuels that work everywhere are nuclear and fossil fuels, and they also have a bigger output for the effort. Where efficient alternatives are available, there's little reason not to use them. But if we want to avoid fossil fuels, nuclear is simply inevitable in the long run.


I am glad you brough this up. Whilst I would probably count myself as one of those "Greenpeace Types" that Minerva talked about ( :wink: ) I am not simply scared about the concept of nuclear power. I fully agree with the asessment that in many cases, nuclear is the best option, however as you say, there are other instances where it might not be.

One of the benefits that many alternative energy types have over nuclear is their ability to be de-centralised. Utilising natural advantages, such as Iceland's volcanic springs and wind power opportunities should be done where possible. Likewise, a university near me is currently developing solar cells built into house tiles, which I think is a very valuable inovation, if they can be produced in a cost efficient manner.

Do not rush into nuclear where it is not needed, I guess is all I am saying.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby zealo » Sat Jun 14, 2008 4:53 pm UTC

Delmieth wrote:Do not rush into nuclear where it is not needed, I guess is all I am saying.


would it not be better to have a nuclear plant that is not needed just sitting there or huge power restrictions because those damn scientists haven't quite worked out cost effective solar yet?
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Yakk » Sat Jun 14, 2008 5:09 pm UTC

I have a minor goal. To lift the entire population of the Earth to first-world standards of living and beyond. To reach this goal, we need nuclear power to be common, ideally 30 years ago.

If and when Solar/Wind/Tidal/Geothermal/Hydro can produce lots of cheap power that is economical to use, then we should use it. Hell -- if they can produce a reasonable proposal or belief that they are close to being able to produce that, then pour research money at it.

But industrial scale building of Solar/Wind is, at this point, pork barrel spending. Hydro is already widely used. Geothermal is used in many areas. Research into Tidal is ongoing. But we need more power now, not on a 30+ future research horizon.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Vaniver » Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:46 pm UTC

Delmieth wrote:Do not rush into nuclear where it is not needed, I guess is all I am saying.
You, sir, are knowingly contributing to the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of people.

We need nuclear for cleaner skies. I'm not talking carbon dioxide- I'm talking soot. The number of air pollution deaths caused by non-nuclear power plants is staggering.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby bigglesworth » Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:57 pm UTC

Hmmm, how do I find out if chinese coal plants use static electricity soot cleaners on their chimneys? Because they're incredibly useful.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Sat Jun 14, 2008 8:22 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:We need nuclear for cleaner skies. I'm not talking carbon dioxide- I'm talking soot. The number of air pollution deaths caused by non-nuclear power plants is staggering.


I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. I don't understand the obsession with carbon dioxide, global warming, and potential far-future problems that will result from it, when we still haven't solved soot, acid rain, and smog that are causing real problems right now.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby TheStranger » Sat Jun 14, 2008 11:53 pm UTC

endolith wrote:I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. I don't understand the obsession with carbon dioxide, global warming, and potential far-future problems that will result from it, when we still haven't solved soot, acid rain, and smog that are causing real problems right now.


There is also the radioactivity produced by coal fired plants... which is far more then is released by a nuclear plant.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Sun Jun 15, 2008 12:49 am UTC

TheStranger wrote:There is also the radioactivity produced by coal fired plants... which is far more then is released by a nuclear plant.


Yes, as mentioned earlier in the thread.

"It is estimated that during 1982, US coal burning released 155 times as much radioactivity into the atmosphere as the Three Mile Island incident."

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Delmieth » Sun Jun 15, 2008 2:22 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Delmieth wrote:Do not rush into nuclear where it is not needed, I guess is all I am saying.
You, sir, are knowingly contributing to the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of people.

We need nuclear for cleaner skies. I'm not talking carbon dioxide- I'm talking soot. The number of air pollution deaths caused by non-nuclear power plants is staggering.


What? Did you even bother to read my previous post?

I was talking about the use of nuclear as a magic bullet to solve our energy problems, in cases where other forms of clean energy are more suitable.
Does hydro create huge amounts of soot? No. Solar? No. Geothermal or tidal? No.

Please read my posts before accusing me of something totally ridiculous like supporting fossil fuels.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Sun Jun 15, 2008 3:32 am UTC

Delmieth wrote:Does hydro create huge amounts of soot?


The reservoirs generate large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide from vegetation rotting underwater.

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7046

Also, they collapse.

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

Please read my posts before accusing me of something totally ridiculous like supporting fossil fuels.


Of course you don't "support" them, but if you refuse to support things that will actually reduce use of fossil fuels, you might as well.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Yakk » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:09 am UTC

Delmieth wrote:I was talking about the use of nuclear as a magic bullet to solve our energy problems, in cases where other forms of clean energy are more suitable.


Pixies pushing electrons for free is also more suitable. Except, of course, convincing pixies to do the job isn't a solved problem.

Does hydro create huge amounts of soot? No. Solar? No. Geothermal or tidal? No.


Hydro is seriously geographically limited. It also causes massive environmental damage (flooding). But it is pretty good -- where and when it can be used. It cannot be scaled up without limit, however.

Solar? Massive environmental damage and amazingly bad safety record in terms of human deaths per unit energy produced. Which, if we are talking about replacing coal burning, means lots of energy produced. Also highly unreliable, forcing you to also build alternative power sources to take up the slack when they don't produce -- such as massive coal or natural gas plants.

Tidal generates power when the tides say so, and not when people want it. So, once again, you need massive separate generating capacity to deal with power when people want it, and not when the tides feel like giving it. Tidal power is also geographically limited, and like the pixie problem ... we don't know how to do it efficiently yet! And, like hydropower, it causes significant environmental damage at the location of the dam.

Geothermal is, yet again, limited by geography. It works reasonably well in certain areas, and rather poorly elsewhere. Some plants run out of steam by cooling off where they dig. And finally, it makes the capital cost of building a nuclear plant look cheap, in general, meaning that the energy produced tends to be more expensive than other alternatives.

(Remember: shipping power around long distances is expensive, both in terms of raw materials, wasted energy, and maintenance).

Using current technology, Geothermal could produce on the order of 100 GW of power.

The most power intensive society (which includes resource extraction) industrialized country is Canada, at about 14 kW per capita. At 7 billion souls, that's 100 TW of power needed to bring everyone up to modern western energy abundance levels.

So... Geothermal using current technology could solve 0.1% of the problem of "getting rid of energy poverty".

You can do better with experimental and uneconomic dry-rock deep geothermal. But that is years away and billions of dollars in research away, and it might not work as well as we think it should...

Please read my posts before accusing me of something totally ridiculous like supporting fossil fuels.


None of the renewable answers produce cheap power on scales required to enrich the entire world to modern western standards of living. So either you are pro-poverty, pro-fossil, pro-nuclear, or you know something I don't.

Nuclear is proven, better than what we have, and quite capable of lifting the entire planet up to modern western energy wealth levels.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Exotria » Sun Jun 15, 2008 5:54 am UTC

I'm not sure if I understand the situation entirely, but it seems to me that putting nuclear power plants in third world countries would be a generally bad idea. Suicide bombing of a solar power station probably wouldn't quite have the same level of disaster. I don't think I trust most African governments with nuclear power plants either...

Not saying it's not the best available source of energy, just that it can be rather dangerous in the wrong, poorly regulated hands.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Sun Jun 15, 2008 2:17 pm UTC

Exotria wrote:I'm not sure if I understand the situation entirely, but it seems to me that putting nuclear power plants in third world countries would be a generally bad idea. Suicide bombing of a solar power station probably wouldn't quite have the same level of disaster. I don't think I trust most African governments with nuclear power plants either...

Not saying it's not the best available source of energy, just that it can be rather dangerous in the wrong, poorly regulated hands.


I agree with that. Nuclear has a very good safety record in places like France and the US, but other countries would be having meltdowns and Chernobyls all the time, spreading radioactive clouds over their neighbors. Renewables might actually help in these cases, too, since these countries currently don't use very much energy, and renewables can't produce very much.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby thoughtfully » Sun Jun 15, 2008 3:01 pm UTC

TheStranger wrote:There is also the radioactivity produced by coal fired plants... which is far more then is released by a nuclear plant.


If we're trying to persuade reasonable people who disagree with us, this fails. The radiation released by coal plants is neglible with respect to the normal background. It only makes the presenter look like an uninformed extremist.

endolith wrote:I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. I don't understand the obsession with carbon dioxide, global warming, and potential far-future problems that will result from it, when we still haven't solved soot, acid rain, and smog that are causing real problems right now.


Global warming is now. Futhermore, the longer we wait before mitigation, the more difficult a given level of mitigation is going to be, and the peak effects of global warming will be more severe.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby e946 » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:40 pm UTC

But there are so few places in the world where it's useful.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:49 pm UTC

thoughtfully wrote:If we're trying to persuade reasonable people who disagree with us, this fails. The radiation released by coal plants is neglible with respect to the normal background. It only makes the presenter look like an uninformed extremist.


"The systematic measurement of the gamma absorbed dose in air carried out using TLDs clearly established the existence of elevated natural background radiation area near to coal-fired power plants." http://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/conte ... /112/3/439

"The absorbed gamma doses in air due to naturally occurring radionuclides in the ash from the power plants varied from 123 to 150 nGy h–1, which are higher than three times the world average of about 43 nGy h–1." http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/nov252006/1387.pdf

"The radiation hazard from airborne emissions of coal-fired power plants was evaluated in a series of studies conducted from 1975–1985. These studies concluded that the maximum radiation dose to an individual living within 1 km of a modern power plant is equivalent to a minor, perhaps 1 to 5 percent, increase above the radiation from the natural environment." http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1997/fs163-97/FS-163-97.html

"Radionuclide releases together with escaping fly ashes (from 45 x 106 kg in previous decades to 8 x 106 kg annually in 1996) from the main local and several small coal-fired power plants resulted in a relatively small increase in natural radioactivity levels in the Lodz region." http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=13627186

Not a significant problem, but it is certainly not "neglible" with respect to the normal background, as you claim. The fact that they are greater than the levels found near nuclear plants is relevant to comparisons of nuclear with coal, or people wouldn't keep bringing it up.

thoughtfully wrote:Global warming is now. Futhermore, the longer we wait before mitigation, the more difficult a given level of mitigation is going to be, and the peak effects of global warming will be more severe.


The Earth's global average temperature has increased less than 1 degree over the last 100 years. You may not have noticed, but there's a huge debate about whether this change is significant and whether the net effect a hundred years from now will be harmful or beneficial. Every danger you read about is a prediction about something that "could happen" in 100 years if conditions continue in the same direction at the same rate.

Meanwhile, health problems from coal power plant particulate pollution prematurely kill 20,000 to 30,000 Americans every year. Coal power-related accidents in China directly kill thousands of people every year, and pollution kills hundreds of thousands.

http://www.sierraclub.org/cleanair/factsheets/power.asp
http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jun2004 ... -10-10.asp
http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/cleanair.htm
http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update42.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_power ... na#By_year
http://www.cleanairsys.com/airzone-blog ... ution.html

Let's focus on real, proven problems instead of politics. If we choose the right solutions, the greenhouse effect will be reduced in the process anyway.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 15, 2008 5:19 pm UTC

Yeah, there are other global warming threads to discuss global warming. However, it's worth noting that there is *not* a huge debate among scientists as to whether this is a real phenomenon. Saying there is is a political move in itself.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Vaniver » Sun Jun 15, 2008 5:31 pm UTC

Delmieth wrote:What? Did you even bother to read my previous post?

I was talking about the use of nuclear as a magic bullet to solve our energy problems, in cases where other forms of clean energy are more suitable.
Does hydro create huge amounts of soot? No. Solar? No. Geothermal or tidal? No.

Please read my posts before accusing me of something totally ridiculous like supporting fossil fuels.
I live in the real world, where not switching to nuclear means using fossil fuels, which have real and significant costs. This is a debate with human consequences, and I intend to treat it as such.

gmalivuk wrote:Yeah, there are other global warming threads to discuss global warming. However, it's worth noting that there is *not* a huge debate among scientists as to whether this is a real phenomenon. Saying there is is a political move in itself.
He's not discussing occurrence, he's discussing significance. There is a giant debate over how much impact global warming will have, which is a debate over its significance.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Fuzz18500 » Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:08 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:Solar? Massive environmental damage and amazingly bad safety record in terms of human deaths per unit energy produced. Which, if we are talking about replacing coal burning, means lots of energy produced. Also highly unreliable, forcing you to also build alternative power sources to take up the slack when they don't produce -- such as massive coal or natural gas plants.

I'm incredibly pro-nuclear and quite skeptical of solar, so don't think I'm just nitpicking points in your argument to be disruptive, but I had never heard the claim that solar power had an "amazingly bad safety record." I was wondering if you could explain that a little more.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby thoughtfully » Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:31 pm UTC

Accidents per unit of energy produced are quite a bit higher with solar and wind, because you need many many more person-hours per unit of energy, and this increases the opportunities for accidents to happen. It really depends on how you define accident rates.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Yakk » Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:47 pm UTC

I get numbers from 0.4 to 0.15 deaths per TWh from construction and operation of wind turbines.

And 0.01 to 0.1 deaths per TWh from existing LWR nuclear plants (full cycle), with a trivial number of people who don't work in Nuclear being killed (per TWh -- remember, lots and lots of TWh).

Coal/Oil/Gas has "worker" deaths that are 1 to 5 times the nuclear deaths, non-worker deaths that are 50% to 500% worker deaths.

That places wind turbines at 1.5 to 40.0 times the death rates of Nuclear, on a per-TWh basis, depending on which numbers you use.

I had based my comments on slightly different numbers -- but the basic idea is that Wind power costs more, kills more people, and requires far more raw materials to be mined to deploy due to it's extremely low density of power generation. And it cannot be used for "baseline" load generation, due to it's unreliability, without a massively impressive grid (I've seen superconducting DC grids being proposed as a way to create a continent-wide energy network, which would probably be enough to make Wind Power reliable enough with relatively small backup power generators...)
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby skeptical scientist » Thu Aug 14, 2008 12:30 am UTC

Yakk wrote:I get numbers from 0.4 to 0.15 deaths per TWh from construction and operation of wind turbines.

And 0.01 to 0.1 deaths per TWh from existing LWR nuclear plants (full cycle), with a trivial number of people who don't work in Nuclear being killed (per TWh -- remember, lots and lots of TWh).

Coal/Oil/Gas has "worker" deaths that are 1 to 5 times the nuclear deaths, non-worker deaths that are 50% to 500% worker deaths.

That places wind turbines at 1.5 to 40.0 times the death rates of Nuclear, on a per-TWh basis, depending on which numbers you use.

I had based my comments on slightly different numbers -- but the basic idea is that Wind power costs more, kills more people, and requires far more raw materials to be mined to deploy due to it's extremely low density of power generation. And it cannot be used for "baseline" load generation, due to it's unreliability, without a massively impressive grid (I've seen superconducting DC grids being proposed as a way to create a continent-wide energy network, which would probably be enough to make Wind Power reliable enough with relatively small backup power generators...)

One massive problem I see with these statistics is that they only count past deaths, not deaths which different power systems are likely to cause in the future, but haven't caused yet. This is, IMO, a huge flaw in the argument, since one of the main reasons why wind power is being advocated is that other sources of power may/are likely to/will cause large problems in the future. Depending on what you estimate the effect of atmospheric carbon on the environment to be, this can massively slant the statistics away from coal/oil/gas towards wind. Similarly, depending on what you estimate the risks of nuclear power to be, this can slant the statistics away from nuclear and towards wind.

However, I think that a careful and honest assessment of the safety record of nuclear power and of the engineering principles behind modern nuclear plants and proposals for nuclear plants, nuclear power remains well in the lead. We may have to wait for everyone alive at the time of Chernobyl and the Cold War to be dead before it becomes politically viable in the US, however.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Thu Aug 14, 2008 12:39 am UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:One massive problem I see with these statistics is that they only count past deaths, not deaths which different power systems are likely to cause in the future, but haven't caused yet. This is, IMO, a huge flaw in the argument, since one of the main reasons why wind power is being advocated is that other sources of power may/are likely to/will cause large problems in the future.


So instead of using past performance to predict future performance, you'd rather.... what?

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby skeptical scientist » Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:22 am UTC

endolith wrote:So instead of using past performance to predict future performance, you'd rather.... what?

Use past performance, taken together with our best theories of how the world works which are based on empirical measurements, in order to predict future performance. Just because things have been one way for a while doesn't mean they aren't going to change, and it would be foolish to disregard evidence, if it exists, that things are likely to change.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:43 am UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:
endolith wrote:So instead of using past performance to predict future performance, you'd rather.... what?

Use past performance, taken together with our best theories of how the world works which are based on empirical measurements, in order to predict future performance. Just because things have been one way for a while doesn't mean they aren't going to change, and it would be foolish to disregard evidence, if it exists, that things are likely to change.


Agreed. Do you have evidence that things are likely to change?

Seems to me the safety of nuclear is only going to improve over time. There's only been one major incident, and I don't need to reiterate how many shortcuts had to come together for it to happen. Wind will probably become safer over time, too, but it already has a lot of safety precautions in place, and it's still killing people. Expanding production enough to replace other power sources would put the wind farms closer to populated areas, which would increase risks from failing turbines.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby skeptical scientist » Thu Aug 14, 2008 2:43 am UTC

endolith wrote:
skeptical scientist wrote:
endolith wrote:So instead of using past performance to predict future performance, you'd rather.... what?

Use past performance, taken together with our best theories of how the world works which are based on empirical measurements, in order to predict future performance. Just because things have been one way for a while doesn't mean they aren't going to change, and it would be foolish to disregard evidence, if it exists, that things are likely to change.


Agreed. Do you have evidence that things are likely to change?

Seems to me the safety of nuclear is only going to improve over time. There's only been one major incident, and I don't need to reiterate how many shortcuts had to come together for it to happen. Wind will probably become safer over time, too, but it already has a lot of safety precautions in place, and it's still killing people. Expanding production enough to replace other power sources would put the wind farms closer to populated areas, which would increase risks from failing turbines.

I agree. I'm just pointing out that people who oppose nuclear power are likely to estimate the risks of nuclear plants and nuclear wastes much differently than you do. Also, with regards to wind vs. coal/oil/gas, I'm pointing out that there is a large and growing concern about the future effects of atmospheric carbon, and that pointing out that so far (depending on what statistics you believe) wind has caused more deaths per TWh is unlikely to alleviate those concerns.

Personally I support nuclear power, and I think hydroelectric, wind, and solar provide good alternatives in that they are better than coal, oil, and gas, and more politically viable than nuclear given the current prevalence of NIMBY politics.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Thu Aug 14, 2008 3:05 am UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:I agree.


Rather agreeable forum here... Is this some kind of trick?

and more politically viable than nuclear given the current prevalence of NIMBY politics.


I wouldn't want a turbine in my backyard. :)

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Fuzz18500 » Thu Aug 14, 2008 4:58 pm UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:We may have to wait for everyone alive at the time of Chernobyl and the Cold War to be dead before it becomes politically viable in the US, however.

Maybe not that long. According to the NRC's website, http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-licensing/col.html, there are 15 reactors at 9 sites going through the licensing process, and there are more on the way (e.g., Turkey Point and Levy County in Florida http://www.970wfla.com/cc-common/news/sections/newsarticle.html?feed=124415&article=3961414. If the NRC approves them, there's little the resisters can do to stop their being built.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby bigglesworth » Thu Aug 14, 2008 7:55 pm UTC

It's almost too late though. Like in the UK, this should have been done during cheap oil, so that they'd be ready now.

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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Yakk » Thu Aug 14, 2008 8:13 pm UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:One massive problem I see with these statistics is that they only count past deaths, not deaths which different power systems are likely to cause in the future, but haven't caused yet. This is, IMO, a huge flaw in the argument, since one of the main reasons why wind power is being advocated is that other sources of power may/are likely to/will cause large problems in the future. Depending on what you estimate the effect of atmospheric carbon on the environment to be, this can massively slant the statistics away from coal/oil/gas towards wind. Similarly, depending on what you estimate the risks of nuclear power to be, this can slant the statistics away from nuclear and towards wind.

The deaths from environmental impact from Coal/Gas/Oil where factored in to the numbers I was quoting. They ended up being higher than Wind power.

For Coal, you don't have to wait for global warming to kill people: coal itself is releasing enough toxic shit that it is killing plenty of people already.

Of course, you might want to calculate person-years, rather than deaths: something that causes people who are dieing of cancer to die 1 day earlier is not as bad as something that kills the same number of otherwise healthy 20 year olds. But both are a "caused death".

However, I think that a careful and honest assessment of the safety record of nuclear power and of the engineering principles behind modern nuclear plants and proposals for nuclear plants, nuclear power remains well in the lead. We may have to wait for everyone alive at the time of Chernobyl and the Cold War to be dead before it becomes politically viable in the US, however.

So the US ends up in a massive economic depression, as it's crippling expensive energy costs compared to the rest of the world catch up with it?

With enough economic pain, people respond. It takes a LOT of such pain, however -- as an example, it takes a wealth gradient on the order of 6 times to generate a migration spike between relatively easy to cross borders (Inside EU, US/Mexico, etc). To defeat irrational fear over nuclear power, how great of a poverty gap would be required?
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Willis888 » Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:54 am UTC

As far as I can tell, the main problem with nuclear power plants is keeping them cool. There are 2 on the lake I live near, and the heat they produce is responsible for evaporating more than 10 million gallons of water from the lake each day. The local home owners don't take kindly to transforming their back yards from lakeside property into a field of brown muck.

Superconductive power lines might let you put a nuclear plant farther away from population centers, but people tend to cluster near large bodies of fresh water, so we'll see how that plays out.



Minerva wrote:Recycling the used fuel is certainly valuable. Absolutely without a doubt.

Putting used fuel - which is 96% unchanged uranium - along with just over 1% of plutonium and other actinides which can be fissioned in a fast reactor into Yucca Mountain and wasting it all is a terrible idea.


I want to agree with you, but a little voice in my head is whispering that it might be a good idea to have a system in place that will mine as much uranium as possible while the oil is flowing. When it dries up, we'll have a large store of fuel sitting under Yucca.

Does enriched uranium lose its potency over time? It seems like only U232 would decay anytime soon, and the rest would be usable by future generations.



Minerva wrote:You've got longer lived fission products to contend with . . . I seriously doubt that they can use all the material produced in nuclear fuel from commercial power plants.



I'd rather say "we can't use it yet" and stick it under Yucca until we find uses for it.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Charlie! » Tue Aug 19, 2008 3:53 am UTC

Willis888 wrote:
Minerva wrote:You've got longer lived fission products to contend with . . . I seriously doubt that they can use all the material produced in nuclear fuel from commercial power plants.



I'd rather say "we can't use it yet" and stick it under Yucca until we find uses for it.

But... we DO have uses for it. So I guess you're saying we should use it now? Looks like you agree with Minerva, since there are currently uses for unreclaimed fuel :)
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Minerva » Tue Aug 19, 2008 6:26 am UTC

Willis888 wrote:As far as I can tell, the main problem with nuclear power plants is keeping them cool. There are 2 on the lake I live near, and the heat they produce is responsible for evaporating more than 10 million gallons of water from the lake each day. The local home owners don't take kindly to transforming their back yards from lakeside property into a field of brown muck.


Just out of curiosity, specifically which lake is that?

Anyway - yes, large heat engines dissipate lots of waste heat - this is nothing specifically to do with nuclear power plants, and everything to do with the fact that, well, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics.

Does enriched uranium lose its potency over time?


No, not unless you're talking about billion-year time scales (cf. the Oklo nuclear reactors).

I'd rather say "we can't use it yet" and stick it under Yucca until we find uses for it.


Recycling the nuclear fuel efficiently uses technologies that are effectively mature, existing technologies right now, although there are certainly things that are a lot better still that are more immature technology. But we certainly have the technology right now to justify not taking fuel that is 97% uranium, plutonium and other actinides and calling it "waste".
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby Tenth Speed Writer » Tue Aug 19, 2008 10:45 pm UTC

Someone would need to somehow tie nuclear power into the "green" scheme of things.

It would mean a complete image change. New plants would need a better image, something along the lines of what car manufacturers are doing, and the trademark cooling towers would need a new outer appearance. It would also take a major promotion of nuclear waste recycling (and someone with enough pull to make it a viable option in the 'States) to put it in the right light. ("They're recycling things. Recycling things is 'green', isn't it?")


I agree that Nuclear power is going to be our next major power source, but it'll take a massive swing in public opinion before that happens.
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Re: Nuclear Power (merged threads)

Postby endolith » Tue Aug 19, 2008 11:48 pm UTC

Tenth Speed Writer wrote:Someone would need to somehow tie nuclear power into the "green" scheme of things.


They already have anti-memes for that.

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


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