In June of 2001, the Gazprom Executive and close friend of Vladmir Putin who happened to be, um, running Germany, engineered a "deal" to destroy Germany's largest, by far, source of climate change gas free energy infrastructure.
As is typical of most dangerous fossil fuel company engineered deals, this one consisted of a classic bit of bait and switch consisting of a dubious claim that this was NOT a deal to make Germany more dependent on dangerous fossil fuels.
I knew that claim was fraudulent on inspection.
After 8 years, the infrastructure that is still scheduled to be destroyed is still the largest, by far, source of climate change gas free energy in Germany and the fuels that will, apparently, replace this destroyed infrastructure are, unsurprisingly, dangerous fossil fuels. (More below.)
One institution from which the paper from the primary scientific literature that I will discuss in this diary is in Karlsruhe, Germany. That institution is the European Union's...
...Joint Research Centre, Institute for Transuranium Elements and the paper is entitled "Neutron and Gamma Ray Source Evaluation of LWR High Burn-up UO2 and MOX Spent Fuels." The reference is Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology, Vol. 41, No. 4, p. 448–456 (April 2004) The authors institutions are in Japan, Greece, and um, well, Germany, although two out of three of the authors, as you can see by clicking on the abstract, have Greek names.
I intend for this diary to be relatively brief, and I will dispose of the point of the paper and its environmental and sociological implications relatively briefly as I discuss the concept of the "plutonium vector," and what it means. Then I will return to the question of why Germany appears to be ready to appeal to the European Commission to allow Germany to dump more dangerous fossil fuel waste into earth's atmosphere than current "targets" allow, not that the "targets" were ever serious.
Humanity now has available to it in macroscopic quantities (quantities of 10s of kilograms to hundreds of metric tons) five isotopes of the element plutonium, Pu-238, Pu-239, Pu-240, Pu-241, and Pu-242. A sixth isomer, Pu-244, is stable enough that it appears to have survived long enough to have been present on the protoearth that formed from supernova ejecta billions of years ago - all but a few atoms of it decayed into thorium-232 or lead-208 by about two billion years into the planet's life. For technical reasons though, it is not particularly easy to accumulate this isotope in used nuclear fuels from nuclear reactors. (The half-life of Pu-244 is roughly 80 million years.)
It is possible to make some plutonium isotopes in relatively pure form, uncontaminated by other isotopes but rarely inexpensive to do so. Pu-238, for instance, is widely used in interplanetary space missions (and was used on the Apollo Moon missions) a subject that has been covered ably by the Kossack (and space enthusiast) Vladislaw elsewhere. Relatively pure (better than 95% isotopic purity) Pu-239 has been - although the process is very expensive in financial, environmental, risk and moral terms - accumulated in several hundreds of metric ton quantities. This plutonium, Pu-239, is, of course, for use in nuclear weapons which are widely opposed by sane people everywhere, myself included. Interestingly this plutonium can easily be burned in reactors in such a way that any plutonium that is not consumed would be rendered almost useless for weapons purposes.
More commonly however, in commercial nuclear power stations that are designed to save humanity from its own stupidity, plutonium is present as a mixture of isotopes, those that I have mentioned above.
In mathematics, a vector is an ordered collection of numbers. The dimension of a vector is the number of items in this collection. Commonly a two dimensional vector is written as (x,y) where x and y refer to two real (or even complex) numbers and a four dimensional vector might by (x,y,z,t). Also commonly two dimensional and three dimensional vectors are represented geometrically in a plane (in the two dimensional case) or in space (in the three dimensional case). A four dimensional case is often visualized in discussions of spacetime known in general relativity. Vectors need not specify spacetime, space or planes however - or any geometrical structure - they can represent anything. One can speak of a two dimensional vector's coordinates as representing non-spacial features like temperature, density, color (as a wave length) and - relevant here - composition.
It follows that a plutonium vector can be constructed that represents the concentration (in percentage or other units) of various isotopes found in a sample of plutonium. For example, directly out of the paper under discussion we have the following statement:
The plutonium vector in the MOX fuel used in the fabrication was 238Pu/239Pu/240Pu/241Pu/242Pu/241Am = 1.40/59.05/24.38/6.08/4.86/4.23.
What this means is that the plutonium in the sample under discussion was 1.40% Pu-238, 59.05% Pu-239, 24.38% Pu-240 and so on...
My interest in this paper had very little to do with the plutonium in this system - which I understand very well - but was motivated by a certain interest I have in the fission product cesium and its properties. That's my private matter and it's none of your business.
Still in a time of vast ignorance of the type that is destroying what is still the largest, by far, form of climate change gas free energy infrastructure in Germany for no intellectually or morally valid reason, I thought it my ethical duty to discuss the issues associated with this plutonium vector and a few other points connected with it. Thus I will cite the sentence from the paper that preceded the sentence that I have just quoted about the plutonium vector. That sentence is:
The high burn-up UO2 and MOX spent fuels used in this study were irradiated in commercial PWR and BWR: a high burn-up PWR-UO2 fuel pin (3.8% 235U, 60.2MWd/kgHM declared average burn-up); a high burn-up BWR-UO2 fuel pin (3.5% 235U, 56MWd/kgHM declared average burn-up): and two segments (MOX1 and MOX2) from two PWR MOX fuel pins (5.07% Pu, 44.5MWd/kgHM and 45.7MWd/kgHM declared burn-up).
If you are not familiar with what this sentence means, I will explain. "MOX" stands for "Mixed OXide fuel" which is a mixture of reactor grade plutonium recovered from used nuclear fuel (or even better, from nuclear weapons that are being destroyed) mixed with depleted uranium from uranium enrichment plants. The uranium and plutonium are not in metallic form, but rather are present as oxides. A burn-up is a measure of how much energy, measured as a "MWd" - "megawatt-day" - has been obtained per unit (usually a ton, but here a kilogram, kg) of used fuel, which is called "HM" for "heavy metal" (referring to uranium and/or plutonium). The megawatt-day is the amount of energy obtained by producing 1 megawatt of power for one day.
A high burn-up is generally desirable since it is similar to the concept of gas mileage in the car CULTure; it means greater fuel efficiency, lower fuel costs, and less "waste," - although it is, in my view, stupid to view anything that comes out of a nuclear reactor as "waste" - and of course, less mining. (The world already has so much uranium and thorium above ground right now that arguably, we could shut all of the world's uranium and thorium mines for a century or more, but that's unlikely while stupidity reigns.)
In the distant past, it was not uncommon for fuels to have lower burnups than is common today, something on the order of 25 MWd/kg, as opposed to the values given here. Higher burn-ups are typical today, because of the quiet experience of fine nuclear engineering professionals who have operated existing nuclear plants to higher and higher standards, to obtain burn-ups in the 40 MWd/kg range, and as we have seen here, even in the 60 MWd/kg range. Note that this achievement has been accomplished with reactors of existing types of reactors, essentially light water reactors. The improved operating procedures made the nuclear energy industry the fastest growing form of climate change free energy over the last two decades, even though few new reactors have been built.
The increased burnups are, of course, a good thing.
(I have pointed out in a series of diaries on the Indian nuclear power program that India now has a type of reactor under construction that will achieve burn-ups much greater than 100 MWd/kg - which is almost certainly beyond the capability of a light water reactor.)
Since a Watt is a joule per second, and a day has 86,400 seconds in it, a megawatt-day is 864 billion joules. For comparison purposes, the average American household uses about 936 kwh per month of electrical energy. This amounts to about 40 billion joules per year. It follows that a single kg of fuel at 60 MWd/kg is enough to power about 130 American homes for a year. Since a typical fuel loading might be 100 MT representing 100,000 kg, it would appear - were all the rods equivalent, and they're not - that a reactor with an incomplete burn up could power millions of homes for a year, while retaining all of its by-products on site. It is also important to note that even at 60 MWd/kg, most of the energy available in the fuel is still not recovered. The theoretical burn-up for plutonium-239 is on the order of 900 MWd/kg.
But this is just part of the story about plutonium fuels.
One of the interesting things discussed in the paper is the measurement of neutron fluxes from spontaneous fission - present after the fuel is removed from the reactor - much higher values are always present when the fuel is in the reactor due to induced fission. One thing always glossed over by dumb anti-nukes when they are doing a "Cheney" - here a "Cheney" involves hyping and vastly exaggerating the risk of nuclear war to obtain ends unrelated to real nuclear issues - is to claim that nuclear power increases the risks of nuclear war. This claim is insufferably stupid. The use of MOX fuel, besides recovering even more of the energy in used nuclear fuel - recall that plutonium is only available after the fuel has been used for one time and is, in fact, recovered from so called "nuclear waste" - increases the neutron flux coming from the used fuel.
This has two effects, and two sources.
The first effect is to make the fuel more difficult to approach without very specialized equipment. The second is to make the use of any plutonium recovered from the fuel effectively impossible - though not technically impossible - to use in effective nuclear weapons.
The more important source of these for non-proliferation purposes is the flux arising from the plutonium vector, specifically the co-ordinate associated with Pu-240, since plutonium-240 has a high spontaneous fission rate. It is even better, and often discussed, to enlarge the first co-ordinate in the plutonium vector - that associated with Pu-238 - which releases both neutrons and heat, making any chemical nuclear weapons triggers unusable. From a technical standpoint however - as the paper points out - the largest source of neutrons in used MOX fuel is associated with curium-244 - which is formed in significant amounts only when plutonium is used in the fuel.
This too, is another advantage to using plutonium in the existing fleet of nuclear reactors.
The point here is that nuclear power is a way of reducing the risk of nuclear war, although said risk has been impossible to completely eliminate since 1945, particularly so long as natural uranium exists, as it always has and always will. We can place limits, however, on the weapons use of isolated uranium however, by constructing a "uranium vector" with U-232, U-233, (from thorium), U-234 (enhanced over naturally occurring U-234), U-235, U-236, and U-238.
U-236, which does not occur naturally on earth and larger amounts of U-234 than are naturally found from equilibrium in the U-238 decay series, would make traditional enrichment programs more or less useless for use with nuclear weapons. (U-234 is a fertile nuclei and U-236 is a neutron sink.)
Of course, despite much hysterical hype about it, the risk of nuclear war is trivial - since it is merely theoretical - when compared with the observed damage currently being experienced as a result of dangerous fossil fuel waste dumping, climate change. Nuclear wars have not occurred since 1945 whereas climate change is a fact of life and a real risk to most or even all of humanity. Climate change is Russian Roulette - with apologies to "Gazprom Gerhard" - with six bullets in six chambers.
I went on more about the vector than I intended to do.
Now let's turn to the German dangerous fossil fuel scam, now under way, and German plans to destroy climate change gas free infrastructure to use more and more dangerous fossil fuels.
Again, the classic "bait and switch" nuclear phase out policy was finalized in Europe in 2001, while "Gazprom Gerhard" was still considered to be the Chancellor of Germany. Like most European anti-nuke ignorance mongering, the plans called for dumping responsibility into a future in which none of the designers would need to have any responsibility for their actions and responsibility for enactment would be dumped on future leaders who would face the consequences for the actions. Predictably this is exactly what happened. "Gazprom Gerhard" is now collecting a 300,000 Euro salary from Gazprom - hawking dangerous fossil fuels - and couldn't care less about the subject of climate change which was, actually, never of any interest to him. Nevertheless, the time for closure of 7 of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors is due between 2010 and 2012.
Who wins by this?
Gazprom, of course.
The following excerpts are from a discussion from the website of Power Engineering. (This is obviously not a Greenpeace publication but is, on the contrary, a publication for engineers, engineers being people who in contrast to Greenpeace, actually understand the subject of energy.)
The bold in the excerpts is mine:
When the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder finalized a political deal in June 2000 to phase out nuclear power in Germany the actual closure of most of the country’s nuclear capacity was still a long way off. The deal was the result of an election pledge by Schroeder’s Social Democrats and their coalition partners, the Green Party. When the law was passed, it was hoped that by the time the closures became necessary there would be sufficient renewable capacity available to make the loss of the nuclear capacity appear insignificant.
Hoped? With the world's climate spinning out of control, "Gazprom Gerhard" was full of "hopes?" This begs the question of whether all the assholes who continuously talk year after year after year after year after year, decade after decade after decade about how solar and energy and wind energy will "save" us have ever paused to consider - especially after year after year after year, decade after decade after decade of failing to deliver on their promises - the question of what it might mean to the planet if they're, um, wrong.
They were wrong.
The dilemma for the German government is that even though the country now has a significant renewable capacity, this capacity provides nowhere near the same amount of electricity as existing nuclear plants. Neither is there any realistic hope that it can do so in the near future.
We don't need no stinking reality, not when a happy face fantasy sounds better to anti-science naked poseurs driving their lazy asses around Europe to display their "concern."
If, therefore, nuclear power is abandoned and the existing plants are closed, then Germany would have no alternative but to turn to fossil fuel, probably lignite, to fill the gap. Burning fossil fuels will inevitably mean, at least in the short-term, that the country will start emitting more greenhouse gases.
Natural gas would provide a less polluting alternative than either hard coal or lignite. However the annual confrontation between Ukraine and Russia over natural gas prices, played out again over this winter with devastating effect in some European countries, means that no European nation can afford to rely too heavily on natural gas for power generation if it is to maintain energy security. This is especially significant for Germany, which imports 40 per cent of its gas from Russia. In consequence, coal remains the most secure option, but also the most contentious from a global warming perspective.
Note that one of the "some European countries" suffering a "devastating effect" was Bulgaria, which was pressured to close the Koloduy nuclear units 3 and 4 by, um, Germany under, um, "Gazprom Gerhard" after its original application to the EU in 1995. (Bulgaria was finally admitted to the EU in 2007. Before admission, Bulgaria's major export was electricity, specifically nuclear electricity. All of Bulgaria's destroyed nuclear capacity was replaced by - you guessed it - dangerous natural gas.) This winter millions of Bulgarians were freezing when Russian imperialists shut of the gas supply, and there was a panic in Bulgaria during which many suggested the restart of Koluduy unit 3. Regrettably, this didn't happen.
But I have jumped ahead in the article, and missed the important point about the damage and destruction that has already taken place because of the morally irresponsible actions of "Gazprom Gerhard" in 2001.
What are the largest sources of electrical energy in Germany 8 years after "Gazprom Gerhard" dumped responsibility for his actions on people who are living right now all over the planet.
The total nuclear output in Germany in 2007 was 141 TWh. This compares to gross generation of 639 GWh in Germany that year. The largest source of power was lignite fired power plants, which generated 23.5 per cent of the total. Nuclear was the second largest with 23.3 per cent.
Lignite, of course, is a polite word for "the dirtiest form of coal."
Germany has no permanent disposal facilities for its dangerous fossil fuel waste releases, has none planned and does not even capture a significant fraction of its dangerous fossil fuel waste. In fact, this waste shows up everywhere on the planet, in Botswana, in Australia, in Antarctica, in the United States. Germany, no more than anyone else, has no idea how to capture and control this waste, but doesn't give a fuck in any case, just so long as Russia keeps the dangerous natural gas flowing.
So what is the scale of Germany's so called "renewable" energy?
It's about 51 billion kwh (2006), some of which is available when no one actually needs it and unavailable when people do need it, as in the Bulgarian winter. This represents an increase over the last 8 years of the "renewables will save us" German energy policy of just 29 terawatt-hours (billion kilowatt-hours) over a 5 year period, or just 5 terawatt-hours per year.
Before discussing how this compares with the soon to be destroyed nuclear capacity, let's consider the damage that has already been done to the atmosphere by the German nuclear policy.
From yet other portions of the Power Engineering link:
The two least economical plants were shut in 2003 and 2005. That left the 17 plants, and these all remain operational in 2009. However the four plants mentioned previously will all have exceeded this age by the end of the year.
If you look at the output from these plants they suggest that the utilities have been delaying the closure of the units by either not operating them (Biblis A) or by reducing output. Since the agreement signed in 2001 related to the amount of power the plants produced, it can be argued, by cutting output the plant can continue to operate for longer. The thinking behind this strategy appears to be the hope that there will be a change of government and a change of heart over the closures before any need actually be shut down. Such a position cannot be maintained for much longer.
In 2001, Germany produced 161 TWh from nuclear, and the decline of this climate change gas source is thus (from the Power Engineering data) about 20 MWh. Thus marginally it would appear that Germany is "replacing" its nuclear capacity with renewables, although conceivably the capacity to be destroyed in the next 3 years will amount to something like 60 terawatt-hours, more than the entire output of the German renewable electricity industry, wind, solar, blah, blah, blah combined as of 2006.
The "phase out" is coming home to roost.
It's even more alarming when one realizes that even back in 2001, the ExternE reports were showing that the infrastructure to be destroyed was the cleanest, by far, source of continuous power supply in Germany, cleaner, in fact, than the rather dirty solar industry - which is in any case to unreliable to compete with nuclear - way cleaner than gas, vastly cleaner than coal.
Moreover, German dangerous natural gas consumption, sold by "Gazprom Gerhard" is actually half an exajoule higher than it was in 2001. That of course, is about to get worse, far worse.
Why does no one talk about phasing out dangerous fossil fuels in Germany? Because the fucking Green Party there, the SDP, and the airheads at Greenpeace couldn't care less about them. Their beef - bourgeois anti-science dogma entirely - is with the cleanest source of energy in Germany or anywhere else on the planet, nuclear energy.
Even though dangerous fossil fuel waste kills millions of people per year, even though there are even more killings from dangerous fossil fuel war and dangerous fossil fuel terrorism and dangerous fossil fuel accidents, even though millions of hectares of land have been permanently destroyed by dangerous fossil fuel mining, accidents and waste dumping, there is NOT ONE dangerous fossil fuel phase out plan being pushed in any country on the face of this planet by Greenpeace.
NOT ANYWHERE ON EARTH. If those naked assholes from Greenpeace on the glacier are so concerned - and let's be clear that most of them most likely drove to their "for-show" show - how come there were no calls for phasing out dangerous fossil fuels in Switzerland, Germany or anywhere else?
Let's be clear on something too. Since neither Germany nor any other country buying into Greenpeace dogmatic ignorance have any plans to phase out dangerous fossil fuels, since they have no realistic plan to contain its dangerous fossil fuel waste for eternity, because all dumped dangerous fossil fuel waste is impossible to stop at international borders, the German indifference effects every man, woman, child and hermaphrodite on the planet, indeed every living thing on the planet.
Have a nice day.