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View Diary: GETTING TO ZERO: Is renewable energy economically viable? (313 comments)

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  •  Waste really isn't a huge issue (8+ / 0-)

    When we say "ALL THAT WASTE" - it is in fact a trifling amount on the relative scales of things.  With current inefficient light-water reactor (LWR) technologies, less than 200 tons of mined uranium produces about 1GW-year of electricity.  That's a cube approx. 6ft. each side.  That small cube eliminates the need to mine, transport and burn 4 MILLION TONS of coal, a veritable mountain of the stuff.  

    So, really, the waste is more of a political concern rather than a physical one.  The cheapest thing to do is to waste the waste by tossing in a hole in the ground.  But, if we decide politically that is not what we want to do, then the best option is to recycle it as the spent nuclear fuel contains upward of 95% of the original potential energy.  But, that costs money - so, the default setting has been to just let it accumulate in dry-cask storage around the country.

    The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

    by mojo workin on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:44:19 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  That's one thing people often ignore (3+ / 0-)

      The total volume of "nuclear waste" (and I use quotation marks, because in an ideal world you could reprocess fuel used once and use it again, several times in different processes) in North America could be stored, other issues aside so we're only talking about volume, in a single large, but not ridiculously so, warehouse.

      All the nuclear fuel waste produced in nuclear power generation in North America, ever, is dwarfed by the amount of ash produced by a single modest-sized coal plant in a single year. And yet, among all the concerns of coal generation, getting buried by fly ash isn't one of the primary ones.

      •  We can't keep track of our wastes for 100 years (1+ / 0-)
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        deep info

        How are we going to do it for tens of thousands?

        •  They key really is to recycle it (1+ / 0-)
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          Nuclear power scaled up to power the world, reducing CO2 emissions globally by 80%, would mean many thousands of GW-scale reactors (about 10 - 20 times more reactors than currenty exist in the world).  The once-through fuel cycle, as is currently practiced, with that many reactors would be completely unsustainable.  So a serious decarbonization effort would have to parallel-track together with the deployment of current designs a planned roll-out of the Integral Fast Reactor or molten-salt reactors (and other possibilities) that can use all of the spent nuclear fuel.  

          Only about 1% of the potential energy in the originally mined uranium is currently used.  There is enough spent nuclear fuel and depleted uranium in existence right now to power the USA for hundreds of years if that energy is tapped by reactors such as the IFR.  So, such reactors would give us a x100 efficiency gain on current nuclear tech., which would make nuclear power sustainable for practically forever.  Oh, and yes, the true nuclear waste (the fission products), decay to natural background within a few hundred years so there is no tens-of-thousands-of-years problem if all of the fuel is "burned."

          I would say the most important development for the future of civilization is to commercialize the mass-production of reactors such as the IFR that can provide huge amounts of emissions-free energy on a sustainable basis.

          The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

          by mojo workin on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 06:48:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Idea that we will run world on new nuclear tech (2+ / 0-)
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            radical simplicity, raoul78

            ...that has never been built once on commercial scale is far more speculative than the idea that we will run it on renewables.  

            I am open to the idea of new nuclear fuel cycles and plant designs.  But given the capital costs and liability issues, we are as likely as not to be running the country on solar PV and wind before the first 500 MW of new technology nuclear is in service in a reasonably free country.

            •  This is why I point to France (1+ / 0-)
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              You are quite right - given the way the US has things set up  - the way things are funded, regulated, market-dynamic (short-term focus), politics, you could never get a huge, fast roll-out of new capacity.  The problem is system-imposed barriers.  The system is the problem.  

              France decarbonized its grid starting in the 70s and finished in the 90s using nuclear (I think it was a 58-plant construction binge).  But, they have a state-driven model.  They picked a standardized design and then mass produced it.  Regulatory process was integrated would the build-out for maximum efficiency.    

              So, it IS possible, but things have to change here - political things.  It is my opinion that too many people like nuclear to stay put - difficult to permit, difficult to build, expensive.  There are 60 reactors under construction around the world, China with around 30 on the go right now with plans for many, many more.  Plants there are coming in on budget and schedule.  Again, demonstrating that the problem is the US political scene, not the technology.

              One nuclear plant will cut demand for gas by about $1 million / day.  That ain't small change... and there is billions of profit motive to keep lobbying against against changes re factors I just mentioned that are currently working the in favor of Big Fossil Fuels.

              With regard to new nuclear tech... the IFR is NOT speculative.  The technology was evolved over years, including an actual complete loss-of-coolant "accident" (deliberately shutting down all coolant pumps) of a live reactor to prove the reactor was intrinsically safe.  GE-Hitachi has a commercial design ready to go based on the IFR (the S-PRISM).  If you read Plentiful Energy by Chuck Till (the guy who was in charge of the program), you would be amazed about how much they did specifically to make this thing practical while addressing sustainability, waste, proliferation, and safety concerns.

              GE-H has offered this up to the British government as a solution to their surplus plutonium problem on a pay-for-performance basis (i.e. $/ton disposed) rather than an open-ended R&D project.  They must be very confident to offer such a deal, so we might see this IFR-based design in action at lot sooner than you think.  To see progress on REAL decarbonization, to the tune of millions of tons of CO2 avoided per unit per year, watch what is going on outside the USA.

              The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

              by mojo workin on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 06:55:31 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  After Fukushima and othe incidents (0+ / 0-)

                ...current design nuclear plants have to be considered a failed technology.  

                Nobody is going to build one with their own money in a country where the legal system could force them to pay for damages.  There seem to be a few companies in the U.S. willing to run one built with someone else's money.  

                As for other nuclear technologies, I'm quite willing to see them tried.

                •  What do you mean "current design nucleare plants"? (0+ / 0-)

                  No one is building Fukushima style plants anymore. You guys have really got  to stay abreast of the technology. Read about the difference between Gen II (Fukushima) and Gen III (EPR, AP1000s etc etc etc). You are like a broken record stuck in 1980 or something. For that matter read about Gen IV nuclear (China is building a set of HTGRs right now).


                  Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

                  by davidwalters on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 07:36:02 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Going to take more than incremental improvement (0+ / 0-)

                    ...however well-designed, to deal with the fact that no private entity is going to build a nuclear power plant with the current technologies.  

                    Even if you assume they are much safer than currently running plants, they are too expensive, construction times are too long, there is no means of permanently managing spent fuel, and no private insurance company will insure them.  

                    For similar reasons, nobody puts a stainless steel roof on their house.  It would last a very long time, but it's just not economically sensible.

                    As for the federal government doing these things to build nuclear plants, they can't afford to keep the bridges standing on the interstates.

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