DailyDirt: Nuclear Power Won't Go Away

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Someday, the world will run out of fossil fuels to burn. But maybe we can avoid running out of fossil fuels by figuring out another energy source, so we won't need to burn hydrocarbons to produce electricity. Nuclear fission is just one possible energy source that could potentially replace coal, oil and natural gas entirely -- but there are some obvious drawbacks such as long-term radioactivity from its waste and the possibility of creating more nuclear weapons. Nuclear technology keeps moving forward (whether or not we've figured out how to deal with WMDs), and here are just a few examples. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 6:51pm

    The "long lived radioactive waste" is much more a problem of perception and politics than reality. For one thing, there really isn't that much of it. (I once read that all the nuclear waste created so far by UK reactors would fit in the foundation hole for a single 50 MW wind turbine - kind of puts things in perspective). For another, the long lived wastes would actually be reasonable fuels, if we developed the reprocessing and reactors to handle them.

    Incidentally, it's not uncommon to hear talk of "long life, highly radioactive nuclear waste", but such a thing is impossible. Yes, current nuclear waste is both highly radioactive and has a very long life, but that's because it contains highly radioactive but short lifespan fission byproducts and very long lifespan components that are not that radioactive.

    Finally, the proliferation problem could be considerably eased by moving to Thorium breader reactors, thorium being pretty much as energetic as uranium, and significantly more common to boot. A thorium breader reactor converts the Thorium to U233, which is fissile. However, unlike U234 and U235 and the Plutonium isotopes created in fussion reactors, U233 naturally decays with the emission of gamma radiation, which is very difficult to hide, making the theft and smuggling of useful quantities a lot more difficult.

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 8:46pm

    Nuclear Power ≠ Uranium & Plutonium

    It was a mistake for the nuclear industry to hitch its star so early on to nuclear fuels that were of particular interest to bomb-makers.

    Now, finally, we are seeing exploration of alternatives, like thorium, that are of no use for weaponry, and furthermore lend themselves to fail-safe designs that freeze down, rather than melt down, in the event of a catastrophic failure.

     

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    Pixelation, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 9:42pm

    Pernicious nonsense

    "Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense! Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year!"

     

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    Alan, Jul 12th, 2012 @ 10:21pm

    5 years til the first fusion reactor is supposed to go online, in 10 years fission is probably going to be in the process of being phased out.

     

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  5.  
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    Jessica Lohse, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 3:11am

    Thorium Energy Is The Answer

    The world is pushing forward with Thorium Energy. http://energyfromthorium.com/ It's already implemented in some countries and is planned to be implemented in others. You can always use the reactor to dispose of waste as well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium

    This was brought to my attention by a bright young lad fresh out of university at the last place I worked at. I ended up spending an afternoon in research and disbelief that I just hadn't been following energy trends, only media reports. It's worth looking at what the U.S. Energy Dept. are actually involved in before assuming the media has kept us all well informed. The person who developed Flibe Energy, Kirk Sorenson, is a long-time advocate of Thorium Energy.

    China will launch it's first thorium reactor in 20 years.
    Japan, the USA and Russia have a consortium for the Fuji MSR, which will take 20 years. It is stated to lack funding, with citation on Wikipedia. Perhaps raising awareness and funds for this would be a worthy focus for the public.

    The Weinberg Foundation specializes in debating the case for thorium energy, check them out.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jul 13th, 2012 @ 3:19am

    Re:

    5 years til the first fusion reactor is supposed to go online, in 10 years fission is probably going to be in the process of being phased out.

    And that has been the story for the last 40 years!

     

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    A Guy (profile), Jul 13th, 2012 @ 4:28am

    Re:

    I'm torn over fusion. When burning oil, at least the rest of the life on the earth that we depend on to survive wasn't using it. Is it really a good idea to start turning our water into heavier elements?

    It doesn't really matter in the end. If we figure it out, I'm sure we'll do it anyway.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 4:38am

    Re:

    FYI... A 50MW wind turbine does not currently exist.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 4:51am

    Thorium

    I was going to mention Thorium but since others already have done I'll just +Insightful them and make a side mention of the fact you can even produce synthetic fuels that could (given a reasonable timespan for production once enough reactors are online) replace our current dependencies on foreign oil as a neat byproduct of the thorium method.

    There's also the fact that you get around 13 TIMES more energy from coal when using this process as compared to merely burning it. Burning coal really is money up in smoke when there's a much better alternative available.

     

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  10.  
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    TDR, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 7:44am

    I doubt Big Oil will allow any other energy source to break their stranglehold on society, though, which is partly why alternative energy development has been so slow for so long. Companies like BP aren't going to give up their cash cow willingly.

    And we might not want to completely forget how to use nuclear fission, either, since we might need to recrystallize a dilithium matrix someday. ^_~

     

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    TDR, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 7:47am

    Oh, almost forgot. Where can I find the nuclear wessels?

    (Sorry for the double post, couldn't resist.)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 8:28am

    While we're on the subject of radiation...

    Radiation is often used to treat cancer. Um...doesn't radiation CAUSE cancer?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 8:48am

    Re: Re:

    Your concern is a triffle overrated. For one thing, the Earth loses a significant quantity of hydrogen every year and has done for some 4-5 billion years also helium - which makes helium scarce) as light elements "cook off" the top of the atmosphere. It also gains a significant amount of hydrogen every year, as meteorites collide with the Earth/atmosphere. Calculate how much hydrogen would be required each year to provide ALL power used by humanity Today. Multiply by 100, to allow for lots of growth. Then compare with the total in oceans Today. I suspect that if we started using enough to justify worry, the waste heat would kill us long before the lack of water could.

    But yes, it is so unfortunate that if we started using hydrogen as a nuclear fuel that we couldn't find any more anywhere like, say, oh I don't know, ... JUPITER. Less sarcastically, if we had real fusion technology we could almost certainly build space craft that would allow us to mine hydrogen-rich asteroids, planetoids and planets in our solar system.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 8:55am

    Re:

    So long as big oil can harvest a sufficient share of the profits, I seriously doubt that they care where the energy comes from. Indeed, they have made some significant investments in "alternatives".

    What a lot of people don't seem to realixe is that the world ran on wind power, water power and biofuels BEFORE oil replaced them. What we proclaim as "alternative" energy sources were once the conventional ones. They were replaced by fossil fuels because fossil fuels were cheaper, more efficient and more concentrated. Alternatives can't compete on a level playing field not because "big oil" suppresses them, but because they just aren't competitive (with some exceptions, like solar cells in territories that don't yet have an electricity grid, where they are cost competitive with "conventional" electricity).

     

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    A Guy (profile), Jul 13th, 2012 @ 10:25am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well, if I were going to look for hydrogen, I'd probably go to Saturn's rings. Jupiter's gravity well may make extracting hydrogen extremely difficult.

    LOL at multiply by 100 for lots of growth. People really don't understand the exponential function.

     

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    Oblate (profile), Jul 13th, 2012 @ 11:09am

    Re: Re:

    Haven't you heard of the problem of rising ocean levels? As soon as we have fusion plants that burn seawater, everyone will be urged to leave their lights and appliances on.

     

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    Lozine, Jul 13th, 2012 @ 2:50pm

    50MW wind turbines are only a dream at this point.

     

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    JJJoseph (profile), Jul 13th, 2012 @ 3:54pm

    What radioactive waste?

    This entire issue is really a non-problem since there are heavy-water reactors run nicely on NON-enriched uranium, and can also recycle nuclear waste easily. One such design is the CANDU reactor from Candu Energy in Canada. There's 29 CANDUs running peacefully around the world.

     

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    JoeCool (profile), Jul 13th, 2012 @ 6:04pm

    Re: While we're on the subject of radiation...

    You gotta fight cancer WITH cancer! Err... something like that. ;)

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 14th, 2012 @ 7:38am

    Re:

    Yeah, I did rather blow that one. I definitely read something along that line, but I obviously can't remember the correct details. Nuclear does produce a lot less waste than most assume, though, and releases less radiation per KWh into the environment than coal, to boot. That last fact really blew my mind when I first heard it, but it's because coal mining and burning release radium particles (in ash and smoke) and radon gas into the atmosphere, so if you're genuinely worried about environmental radiation, coal should be your first target, not nuclear power.

     

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  21.  
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    A Guy (profile), Jul 15th, 2012 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re:

    The real problem is people who are evaluating the options are committing the cardinal economic sin of using sunk costs to justify their policies.

    Their logic is "It would cost too much to replace the infrastructure, so let's just use less and less efficient sources of the same fuel instead of making the necessary infrastructure improvements to make other options profitable."

    It's not that shale oil is better than the renewable options, it's that we don't have an infrastructure to recharge our transportation system with renewable sources.

    This, and lots of lobbying money, will contribute to a deflationary cycle in the energy markets until their is political will to fix the actual problem.

     

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    JJJoseph (profile), Jul 15th, 2012 @ 1:01pm

    rising ocean levels

    @Oblate:"Haven't you heard of the problem of rising ocean levels?"

    There is no problem of "rising ocean levels". It's only a postulate from the eco-boffins. It's being pushed by The Maldives as a scheme to get free money from the UN.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Jul 16th, 2012 @ 6:29am

    Re:

    Well written. There are other types of fuel that can be used that will leave little radiation in the long term. If any. Except that they can't usually be used in weapons and were thus left on the sidelines.

    Once ppl stop being emotional and start looking at the facts I'm pretty sure we will embrace the nuclear power as a mid term solution till we can properly use fusion, solar, tidal and other sources.

    It's like global warming, too much hysteria and too little facts.

     

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  24.  
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    Des Kelleher, May 7th, 2013 @ 7:25am

    Thorium Documentary

    Hi Michael,

    We are film-makers who have almost finished a documentary on the potential of Thorium MSRs to replace the current generation of nuclear reactors. It's called "The Good Reactor" and, like your post, starts with the coming energy crisis as motivation.

    We are about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for completion funding. Would you be interested in doing a follow-up to this article that covers the recent surge of interest in Thorium power and potentially mentions our campaign? Please feel free to email me to discuss further.

    Thanks,

    Des Kelleher
    Executive Producer
    The Good Reactor

     

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    JJJoseph (profile), May 7th, 2013 @ 8:37am

    Reactor hysteria

    I never quite understand the volume of American hysteria over nuclear power. The problem of nuclear waste & weapons arises from the sale & use of cheap reactors. The Canadian CANDU reactors solve all the above problems, but they cost a little more. If a country is too cheap to include a percentage of CANDU reactors in their inventory, they'll have a nuclear waste disposal problem. Most of the noise is coming from marketing hysteria. It's a non-problem.

     

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