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View Diary: Big oil getting desperate: Making oil with nuclear energy (163 comments)

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  •  We have enough uranium and thorium (4.00)
    to power reactors around the world for hundreds of years.  Known reserves and uranium from dismantled atomic bombs (already being used for fuel) will last for over 50 years.  Of course if the US resumes reprocessing fuel, that uranium can make many trips through the reactor.

    As for uranium mines and tailings--they are no worse a hazard to the environment than coal mines and tailings.  And in fact less of one, since uranium tailings are in the process of being capped and stabilized, whereas coal tailings are being washed into your local watershed or blown into your lungs.  Those who want to stop uranium mining should also stop iron mining and forget about that steel needed to make wind turbines.

    In actuality, uranium mining in the US has barely been in the picture for over a decade.  Some uranium is extracted by filtering it out of old mines filled with water that have otherwise been sealed.  The fact is, uranium has been so cheap thanks to the dismantling of nuclear weapons that the mining industry has languished.  If it resumes, the mineshafts will by law be hugely ventilated, as they were after radon was discovered to cause cancer in miners who were smokers.

    The only clean, large-scale way to make hydrogen is with nuclear power plants.

    •  disagree (none)
      Uranium mines and tailings may not be a highly radioactive hazard, but they are destructive to the ecological system.
    •  Nuclear is far from clean (4.00)
      See post elsewhere on this thread from Helen Caldecott.  The ore processing plants use coal and release worse greenhouse gases than oil.  Nuclear ends up being 1/3 the CARBON pollution of oil when you add in mining, transportation, storage, processing and construction fossil fuel needs for nuclear.  It would take 20,000 nukes to start to make a dent in global warming, but you get the 1/3 equivalent of carbon emissions fpr each plant don't forget.

      The kicker is with 20,000 plants, the high-grade uranium ore only lasts several years!!

      Then only the low-grade uranium ore is left and guess what? Low-grade ore requires far more mining fossil fuel use and much much more coal for processing the ore!  You end up with 20,000 plants running on low grade, and because coal releases far more potent greenhouse gases than just carbon dioxide, the net effect is that a plant on low-grade ore is just as polluting for global warming as an oil plant.

      When you think for more than 30 seconds about 20,000 nuclear plants, you suddenly realize we are GREATLY increasing the chance of a ruinous and lethal nuclear meltdown or Pebble Reactor accident.  

      The whole nuclear option then becomes radioactive--pun intended.  Nuclear is thus a non-starter once you do the science.

      •  nukes and wind (none)
        When you add in all the ancillary costs for wind, what do you get?   Since the energy density is so much lower you have many many more towers which must be installed and maintained with people on trucks driving long distances.

        People have a tendency to add in every possible indirect cost for nuclear, and not for others.

        And how many wind plants are needed to make a dent
        in global warming?   Already the entire stock of wind plants is like just a couple of nukes.

        Almost no oil is now used for stationary power generation: it is too expensive, already.

        Oil is useful for transportation---but there won't be enough for that.

        Both wind and nuclear will be necessary as grid substitutes for plug-in hybrids.

        Nuclear sucks but massive poverty and climate change sucks much much more.

        Wind is great, but not enough.   There just aren't enough places to put good wind towers, and especially with global climate change, the weather patterns are very variable.

        For instance, take the very subject concerning the diary.  Why isn't Total petroleum considering powering its oil sands project with wind plants?

        Surely it is because there isn't any remotely feasible way to get 500 megawatts of constant power.

        Wind and nukes need to replace coal (climate change) and natural gas (because we will be powering our cars with it as oil runs dry).

        It should never be wind versus nukes: we need both  massively   Solar doesn't have enough energy density and is made in toxic semiconductor plants and can't be scaled up enough, though it has the nice advantage of being safe enough for consumers to have themselves.

      •  ancillary petroleum consumption (none)

        With nuclear and even more for alternative fuels, opponents tend to cite the petroleum consumption from other parts of the process. While it is correct to factor those into the equation, it isn't correct to assume that fossil fuels will be the source of the energy required. The needed energy can come from alternative sources. So it isn't that you use one barrel of oil to produce 4-6 equivalent "barrels" of alternative energy, its that your yield is lower at 3-5 equivalent "barrels". In some cases, it make sense to use a different alternative energy source since it is often easier to provide alternative energy for fixed consumption than portable energy. If a lot of biodiesel is currently produced using crops produced using petroleum, for example, that is just because that has been the way the crops have been traditionally (recent history) produced due to the artificially low cost of petroleum. Biodiesel producers were busy proving biodiesel processing was viable and just bought grains/seeds/beans on the open market. Mines used petroleum derived energy because it was artifically cheap.

        Electric and hybrid vehicles are already used in the coal and uranium mining industries, and have been for a long time. Vehicles are battery powered, diesel hybrids, gasoline hybrids, and electric trolley powered. Straight internal combustion systems have poor starting torque and explosion hazards (though hybrids and trolleys have explosion issues, too, so battery powered electric is used in explosion prone areas).

        Passenger cars and light trucks ( 63% ) , airplanes (8%), and small boats (<<5%) are the problems for petroleum consumption. Railroad locomotives are already electric or hybrid-electric; hybrid-electric locomotives on high traffic routes can be converted to electric by adding catenary (overhead) wires, transformers, and rectifiers. Less used routes could use biodiesel. Large trucks and buses (18% combined) tend to use diesel (not-hybrid) which can easily convert to biodiesel. </P>

        Ignoring the problems of nuclear waste and global warming, using a nuclear plant to extract hard to extract petroleum reserves makes some sense in terms of peak oil because the crunch is going to be liquid fuels for consumer vehicles. Look at it this way, industrial scale vehicles tend not to sit idle much. Say they run 8-16 hours per day. Say passenger vehicles run around 1 hour per day (excluding rush hour traffic; for currrent calculation, we can just count how long it would take without congestion since congestion reduces miles traveled). So, the cost of upgrading to a new more environmental vehicle is amortized much more quickly for industrial vehicles. Conversion can be more efficient too, since the cost of engineering and labor is lower compared to the cost of the vehicle. Cost of converting passenger vehicles will come down when there is sufficient demand to allow conversion kits for each model car.

        We are going to need to spend a huge percentage of GDP on converting vehicles and other equipment to alternative energy sources. Recycling can help reduce the mining costs for vehicle conversion/replacement. I am envisioning gasoline engines and whole cars being melted down to make electric motors and smaller engines for hybrid conversions and new hybrid vehicles. As gas prices skyrocket, urban/suburban commuters may finally start to convert to public transportation faster than public trans can keep up.

    •  Touche, Plan9 ... (4.00)
      No need to continue our debate in this forum, but I will direct any curious about the true impacts of nukes to a good primer on the subject.

      That said, I take serious exception to the notion that "The only clean, large-scale way to make hydrogen is with nuclear power plants."

      This is absolutely false on its face. In fact, the REAL "only" clean, large-scale way to produce hydrogen is by using it as a way to store renewable energy.

      There is enough wind, sun, geothermal and wave energy in the U.S. to power the entire country 1000 times over; the problem is in delivery and the fact that you can't store that energy - unless, that is, you store it in hydrogen gas.

      I appreciate your dedication to your nuclear cause, but let's keep the debate honest. Nukes are not "clean," and no amount of twisting the data change that.

      I am the federal government.

      by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:52:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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