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#1 Demosthenes

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 03:02 AM

By way of contrast to the daily horse race of electoral politics, I thought it might be a good idea to have an open, reasoned discussion about nuclear energy. I think the generally accepted narrative at this point is that there are safety concerns, highlighted by the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, and that the ensuing morass of regulations has left us largely unable to capitalize on atomic energy technology, in which the United States has historically been (and largely still is) the world leader.

To my way of thinking, this is a shame, for many reasons. But I will give three main ones:

1) As President George W. Bush noted in his State of the Union, "America is addicted to oil." Our continued dependence on foreign oil empowers regimes which are ideologically opposed to us. Worse, continued demand for petroleum by such a large consumer as the United States helps keep the global oil market, and by extension such unsavory petro-dictatorships as Iran and Venezuela, afloat. Nuclear energy is a practical way to reduce the amount of leverage that hostile foreign powers have over us.

2) Before the Tea Party began threatening him with a primary challenger, Lindsey Graham made a point of arguing that even if climate change isn't being driven by human activity, or happening at all, that there are still good reasons to monitor and regulate the types and totals of emissions that we put into the atmosphere. Reagan certainly believed in the importance of clean, healthy air to breathe.

What nuclear power plants release into the air is steam, not smoke. Moreover, while concerns about "nuclear waste" drove the nuclear energy industry out of the energy market, it should be noted that the term is not scientifically meaningful. That is to say, what we called "waste" in the past is actually usable as "fuel" in modern (3rd-4th generation) reactor designs. These reactors use Thorium, not Uranium, and produce no weapons-grade material. They are also capable of using weapons-grade material as "fuel." The longest-lived "waste" that they produce has a half-life of less than 30 years.

3) Fukushima Daiichi was a modified first-generation (CP-1) reactor design, using graphite to control the rate at which enriched Uranium absorbs neutrons. It is worth noting that IAEA reported no deaths from radiation poisoning; 17 workers were exposed, only one worker so seriously that he had to be taken to the hospital. The media likes to focus on the negative, and of course anti-nuclear protests always play well. But the fact is that from a reactor safety standpoint, Fukushima proved that modern safety procedures work. The only serious injuries, including two fatalities, at Fukushima were from the blast.

By contrast, eleven people died in the blast at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig. 62,000 barrels of oil a day gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, polluting on a scale that made Chernobyl look like tossing your Big Gulp out the roof of your car. We have a choice.

#2 BB2

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 09:06 AM

The two biggest problems with nuclear energy today are actually the same problem - NIMBYism.

Spent nuclear fuel is a highly-regulated waste that remains classified as hazardous for thousands of years. At present, nuclear energy providers can legally dispose of high-level radioactive waste... absolutely nowhere. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project (in which the government has already invested billions of dollars) has been canceled as of April 2011 - that facility was supposed to be America's answer to high-level radioactive waste disposal. The reason for the cancelation by the Obama administration were strictly political, and the reasoning is pretty clear - Nevada residents didn't want a nuclear disposal facility in their back yard.

Instead, nuclear facilities are forced to "temporarily" store their spent fuel rods on-site (temporary being a relative term - this temporary period will last anywhere from 10,000 to 1 million years, or until the US government thinks of, designs, and implements a completely new disposal strategy; whichever comes first). Which means that every nuclear power plant (new or old) across the country becomes not only a center for meltdown paranoia, but a nuclear waste storage facility as well. Which gives rise to a double-dose of NIMBYism from the local residents, if and when plans are ever floated for a new nuclear facility.

#3 Rabiner

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 11:17 AM

I'm a proponent of nuclear energy but I'm not going to say that since no one died in Japan from radiation poisoning that everything was fine. That area is probably going to be deserted for decades to come if not longer just like Chyrnobyl is still a ghost town. While coal and other forms of energy are definitely more poluting and contribute to more environmental damage on a consistent basis, no one oil spill is going to screw up an area so badly that it is inhabitable for decades or longer.

The United States however is unique to other countries using nuclear energy in that we can withstand a meltdown and not have a huge problem since we have large swaths of the country that are sparsely populated. Build the plants there so the risks are lower and improve the electrical grid to carry the power to the cities. Of course that would just lead to another dynamic of rural vs urban but its the most logical thing to do.
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#4 LFC

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 02:40 PM

This is resurrecting a very old topic but one that might be heating up once President Ding-Dong is out of the White House and we have somebody who is sane and interested in solving problems. Many people don't have an issue with nuclear power in the abstract but there are issues and they can be serious. The issue of what to do with the nuclear waste is a huge one. It turns out that the designs they had to encapsulate it for thousands of years may start failing in as little as 30 days.

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The materials in proposed high-level nuclear waste storage facilities will interact in ways that were not predicted, speeding up corrosion and raising the risk of radioactive release. The problems are probably solvable, but the cost of doing so is unknown.

Although the details vary, plans to store the most radioactive nuclear waste usually have some common features. Initially the waste is to be held at a temporary, above ground, facility until enough short-lived radioactive isotopes decay to make processing safer. Then the waste will be mixed with suitable materials to form borosilicate glass or ceramic, which will be placed inside metal containers and buried in deep, and preferably remote, facilities.

Metal containers will eventually be worn away by water, but it has been hoped sufficiently dry sites will hold the waste for the timescales required for radioactivity to die down. Dr Xiaolei Guo has called that into question, providing evidence everything could break down a lot faster than previously anticipated.

The problem Guo reports in Nature Materials lies where the metal meets the glass or ceramic. When water is present, stainless steel interacts with either proposed waste encapsulator to speed corrosion. In a trial, Guo found cracks appeared in the radioactive glass within just 30 days when steel containers were pressed against their contents, a problem when these are meant to last for thousands of years. Ceramics also corroded as well, and affected the steel into the bargain.

"This indicates that the current models may not be sufficient to keep this waste safely stored," Guo said in a statement. The claim might be dismissed if Guo was trenchantly opposed to nuclear power. Instead, he is based at Ohio State University's Center for Performance and Design of Nuclear Waste Forms and Containers.

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#5 pnwguy

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 08:32 PM

View PostLFC, on 27 January 2020 - 02:40 PM, said:

This is resurrecting a very old topic but one that might be heating up once President Ding-Dong is out of the White House and we have somebody who is sane and interested in solving problems. Many people don't have an issue with nuclear power in the abstract but there are issues and they can be serious. The issue of what to do with the nuclear waste is a huge one. It turns out that the designs they had to encapsulate it for thousands of years may start failing in as little as 30 days.
There was plenty of fictionalization in the HBO series Chernobyl, but they seem to hammer home the point that the Soviet nuclear engineers thought it was impossible for the design of that reactor to explode or melt down. That's why they weren't concerned about a containment vessel, which has been part of the design of all American, European, and Japanese reactors.

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#6 D. C. Sessions

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Posted 27 January 2020 - 08:47 PM

My problem with nuclear power is that it will require massive subsidies to avoid raising the price of power in the relatively rare occasions when other sources (wind, solar, hydro, tides, etc.) all come short together.

IOW, you can't light up a nuclear plant on short notice, but it's not competitive at any other times without subsidy.
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#7 LFC

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Posted 28 January 2020 - 11:03 AM

View PostD. C. Sessions, on 27 January 2020 - 08:47 PM, said:

IOW, you can't light up a nuclear plant on short notice, but it's not competitive at any other times without subsidy.

One article from way back I remember reading was about nuclear power in France. The government approved a design plan to be used for all nuclear reactors. If a problem arose in one it could be addressed ahead of time in the rest. Parts needed were the same across all of them. If you were trained on one you understood the rest. They put into place the centuries old concept of interchangeable parts. Meanwhile in the U.S. our "free market" made ever single nuclear power plant a one-off. Sure there were design similarities but every one was a first of its kind to some degree. I don't know how much the French model translated into operating efficiency but it certainly was smarter than how we approached it.
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#8 D. C. Sessions

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 11:14 AM

Agreed there. Same goes for cell phones (the European standard is driving out all of our supposed "creative competition") and portable device chargers (the chaos of incompatible bricks filling up trash dumps), which were standardized on USB by Chinese fiat -- lots of other examples.

However, even the lowest-cost Korean and French reactors, with lots of seawater for cooling, still lose out when the sun shines and the wind blows.

The nuclear (and fossil fuel) apologists insist that nobody will tolerate giving up the ability to run their hot tubs, clothes driers, air conditioning, car chargers, and refineries at all hours of the day and night, wind or slack. I observe that they are so confident in this belief that they block attempts to build out smart power grids that would enable electric pricing based on available sources. For some reason they claim that smart grids run counter to the sacred Free Market.
The way a lot of catastrophes happen is that X doesn't occur because there are safeguards in place, therefore people assume X isn't a worry and they remove the safeguards. Then X happens.
— Nate Silver
"Robots aren't the problem. Capitalism is." -- Last words of Stephen Hawking.
These days, "libertarian" is just a euphemism for a Nazi who's afraid to commit.
"If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." -- Heather Heyer
"I'd rather have my child, but by golly, if I gotta give her up, we're gonna make it count." -- Her mother
"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events." -- some RINO

#9 LFC

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 11:47 AM

View PostD. C. Sessions, on 29 January 2020 - 11:14 AM, said:

However, even the lowest-cost Korean and French reactors, with lots of seawater for cooling, still lose out when the sun shines and the wind blows.

View PostD. C. Sessions, on 27 January 2020 - 08:47 PM, said:

IOW, you can't light up a nuclear plant on short notice, but it's not competitive at any other times without subsidy.

These two things in conjunction with the waste issue makes a pretty damning case against nuclear. When I worked in the field I saw natural gas / oil combustion gas turbines that were used as peak load generators. A set of these could fit the power of a nuclear generator in a remarkably small footprint and it could spin up in 20-30 minutes and turn off in 15-20 minutes. IIRC those times are measured in days for a nuclear plant (and roughly a full day each for coal) so it must run continually to be prepared for a spike in power need. Since the generators are fairly small they can also be distributed rather than centralized so there's less power loss on the grid. It sure seems like solar, wind, battery storage, and natural gas peak load can probably handle one hell of a lot of the world's energy needs more efficiently and more cost effectively than what we have today.

As to a smart electrical grid well that's worth doing on its own if for no other reason than our entire nation is vulnerable to massive disruption today.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#10 golden_valley

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 11:48 AM

View PostD. C. Sessions, on 29 January 2020 - 11:14 AM, said:

Agreed there. Same goes for cell phones (the European standard is driving out all of our supposed "creative competition") and portable device chargers (the chaos of incompatible bricks filling up trash dumps), which were standardized on USB by Chinese fiat -- lots of other examples.

However, even the lowest-cost Korean and French reactors, with lots of seawater for cooling, still lose out when the sun shines and the wind blows.

The nuclear (and fossil fuel) apologists insist that nobody will tolerate giving up the ability to run their hot tubs, clothes driers, air conditioning, car chargers, and refineries at all hours of the day and night, wind or slack. I observe that they are so confident in this belief that they block attempts to build out smart power grids that would enable electric pricing based on available sources. For some reason they claim that smart grids run counter to the sacred Free Market.

The "free market" seems to seek dominance. Perhaps it's more "efficient" to be a monopoly; no need to innovate so all that R&D isn't necessary, nor marketing.

#11 AnBr

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 07:16 PM

What about looking more into developing MSR or LFTR? I suppose that a carbon neutral solution could also be an answer, thoughy I don't know how plausible the atmospheric carbon capture to fuel designs really are. Then there are the old mechanical methods for storing energy from off peak hours.
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#12 D. C. Sessions

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Posted 30 January 2020 - 07:34 AM

The mechanical ones are already in use on river systems, letting water down during peak and pumping back up during low-demand periods (Arizona's Salt River Project has been doing pumpback since the 60s or 70s, for instance.) It's good for short-term stabilization but can't support national load leveling for simple lack of enough high potential energy water storage. It would be possible to run rail up the mountains, but that's a huge project too.

Last I looked, thorium reactors are still better in theory than practice. That, and the more you know about fluorine the less you want to be around it.
The way a lot of catastrophes happen is that X doesn't occur because there are safeguards in place, therefore people assume X isn't a worry and they remove the safeguards. Then X happens.
— Nate Silver
"Robots aren't the problem. Capitalism is." -- Last words of Stephen Hawking.
These days, "libertarian" is just a euphemism for a Nazi who's afraid to commit.
"If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." -- Heather Heyer
"I'd rather have my child, but by golly, if I gotta give her up, we're gonna make it count." -- Her mother
"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events." -- some RINO





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