Archive for July 1st, 2008

nuclear future

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

I decided to post hereby my answer to a comment on the last nuclear energy post (please see below), because people usually do not read the comment section and because I think this small discussion with a reader called Ken gives a good overview about the current situation. I included Ken’s comments in blockquotes (letters in light grey):

Hi Ken thanks for the comment. Please let me comment on it:

Is the untested technology you speak of the use of the Thorium cycle instead of the Uranium cycle? It’s safer.

I spoke of both. In this elder randform post (which I linked above) I agreed with you that the Thorium cycle seems to be safer than the U-238 – that doesnt make it safe though.

With current methods of uranium mining it is expected to peak in 50 years. This does not mean it will run out. Uranium is freely soluble and the Japanese have developed a method of extracting it from sea water. It will cost a lot more than the current spot price but it will be inexhaustible.

My source about the limits of Uran was the website of the World Nuclear Association – a PRO nuclear organisation, which is fairly matter of fact. At the time when I wrote the post they listed 60 years, they currently have the opinion that it may be 80 years. I cite:

“Thus the world’s present measured resources of uranium (5.5 Mt) in the cost category somewhat below present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for over 80 years.”

On the seawater option they say:
“…seawater (up to 4000 Mt), which would be uneconomic to extract in the foreseeable future.”

So of course in principle it is possible to extract more Uranium. However given the current use and exploitation methods the ressources will be done in about 60-80 years. Given the current development of breeder technology and what is written on their webpages you can put it also like this: it seems to be cheaper to built breeders than to employ more costly exploitation methods. Please take also into account that nuclear energy is on the rise. So the ressources may be faster finished than assumed.

In addition, Thorium is the fuel cycle of the future and uranium will be used primarily to drive this, although plutonium is also a good source of neutrons from the reaction creating a market for reactor produced and weapons grade plutonium leading to its destruction.

You are right that breeders may create a new market for plutonium, something I actually mentioned in another post, where it seems that the US is going to built a reactor type, which can burn MOX fuel. Why do you think this is good?

Childhood cancer in France is lower than in the rest of Europe.

I may believe you, but that doesnt say much.
If childhood cancer in France is lower than in the rest of Europe, – and if nuclear power plants are a source for cancer- then this could mean that the density of nuclear power plants in France is still low enough for being recognizable as a risk factor on a national level.
As a matter of fact the reactors in France are probably also fairly well maintained.

*****comment added on Jul 9th

Your statistics do not link radiation from nuclear power plants to cancer.

Well yes, the childhood cancer study doesnt link radiation from plants to cancer. BUT – that was not the point of investigation of the study!
The study says that a child is clearly more likely to get Leukemia if it lives in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant. The study doesnt say anything on the cause for this higher likelyhood! In fact I could imagine that the cause may actually be more due to radioactive ground water or radioactive particles in the air than to radiation.

There are many cancer causing chemicals that have not been excluded which are likely to >co-exist with any isotopes which you have given no evidence for actual exposure to.

yes the non-radioactive chemicals used in a nuclear power plant can also be a cause for a higher cancer rate. I didnt exclude this. But that would be bad enough. Wouldnt it?

If these is a cause for any increased up tick in cancer rates (and not, for example increased life >span, which is also a risk factor), then by supporting the quasi-religious view that nuclear power is evil you could in fact be diverting attention from a true danger that could be removed or dealt with.

I said in that above mentioned elder randform post that I actually would support research in nuclear technology, so I definitively have no quasi-religious view on nuclear power. I am just very concerned about the future commercial use of nuclear energy -especially with regard to worldwide future energy consumption. Last but not least it is the scale which makes a real difference.
And i think especially the waste is a big, big problem.

The example of this that pops to mind is the much touted Navajo Neuropathy story from NM. This is caused by a point mutant originating in a single individual and is recessive. The anti-nuclear people claim that it was cased by uranium mining, which started in the 1950’s. No one explains how in 50 years time this amount of inbreeding could happen to account for scores of families being affected, but that didn’t stop the LA times from linking it to uranium. I think that the people in NM would be better served by access to genetic testing and consulting, but I’m an advocate for nuclear power, so I must just be nuts and not know what I’m talking about. There was mining for uranium and there are people in poor health and they both exist in the same place, ergo…

I dont know about this case.

The burning of coal is vastly more dangerous than the small amounts of radioactive waste produced at nuclear power plants. These include tens of thousands of tons of mercury, chromium, arsenic, lead, uranium, and thorium. This is spewed into the air along with carbon dioxide, nitric and sulfuric acid and silicate particulates. This is your true alternative that you are promoting to radioactive isotopes contained within zirconium ceramic fuel pellets in intact fuel assemblies in overly engineered fuel.

I am fully aware that burning carbon causes tremendous environmental problems.
However I think one can easier deal with them than with the ones from nuclear energy, like for example with filters etc. At the moment I think that it is easier to deal with a rapid global warming due to too slow development of renewable energies than with a rapid expansion of nuclear energy.
In particular I am not in favour for coal. I think the question is more how to deal with overpopulation and a rapid industrialization. As I wrote above -even breeders will provide energy for only a relatively short time period (looking at the time of existence of mankind). In short: if mankind is unable to deal with this rapid expansion it probably doesnt matter how we blow up our planet.

The ressources let it be energy, food or place are limited. period.
Enforcing nuclear power seems to me rather a way how to postpone and enlarge the real problems.

If one would get a hold of this rapid expansion then by employing measures like energy-saving architecture etc. renewable energies will be fully sufficient in my opinion.

In around 500 years, most of the biologically dangerous isotopes are decayed to natural levels.

No. As an example: Uran 233 (produced in the Thorium cycle) has a half-life of 160000 years.

They pulled intact wooden furniture from King Tut’s tomb, I think that we can safely sequester the small amount of waste produced from nuclear power plants until it poises no threat.

I dont understand this argument.

The Mercury from the coal plants that you are advocating will be circulating around the environment for eons.

There are already pretty good mercury filters, they are just not everywhere installed.

Sorry dude, the future is looking to be nuclear, not your precious coal.

As I already pointed out, I am not in favour for coal. Concerning the nuclear power: I fear you may be right.