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The Nuclear Approach To Climate Change

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the solution-to-the-problem dept.

China 432

Harperdog writes "A new roundtable at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explores the question of whether nuclear energy is the answer to climate change, particularly in developing countries where energy needs are so great. This roundtable, like the ones before it, will be translated into Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish within a week of each article's publication. Here's a summary: From desertification in China to glacier melt in Nepal to water scarcity in South Africa, climate change is beginning to make itself felt in the developing world. As developing countries search for ways to contain carbon emissions while also maximizing economic potential, a natural focus of attention is nuclear power. But nuclear energy presents its own dangers."

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Honest question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773287)

With regard to climate change, does it really matter what power source we use? We are increasing the total amount of entropy (mostly heat) in the system regardless of the power source because the energy is being used somewhere. In the end, won't we have to somehow get the waste heat off the planet anyways?

Re:Honest question (5, Informative)

Jello B. (950817) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773291)

The problem with burning fossil fuels isn't the net increase in entropy. It's the gasses that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Re:Honest question (4, Informative)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773469)

And even nuclear power is a problem there - mining and enrichment are very expensive phases and they produce carbon dioxide.

It's a question of calculating the total emissions for each type of energy source, and it's not an easy process.

Add to that the environmental impact that each type of energy has, both under normal conditions and under extreme conditions. Just look at Chernobyl - that disaster made quite an impact over a large area for a long time. Fukushima wasn't as bad, and partially thanks to a large amount of the spill being diluted into the pacific.

Hydroelectric power isn't free from making an environmental impact, but it's also of a more local type and if a disaster strikes the area suffering will be usable relatively soon. Wind power has it's own problems, one is that it's not very efficient so it requires a lot of space, and the wind doesn't always blow.

Coal and oil - they are finite known resources. We better prepare ourselves for the day when they run out by looking for alternative energy solutions.

Geothermal energy is quite interesting. It's available in many locations, but requires some investment to be usable.

Re:Honest question (4, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773517)

And even nuclear power is a problem there - mining and enrichment are very expensive phases and they produce carbon dioxide.

It's a question of calculating the total emissions for each type of energy source, and it's not an easy process.

If you had practically unlimited and cheap electrical power available from nukes (an awfully big "if"), you could eliminate much of the carbon emissions while extracting nuclear fuel. If nothing else you could split hydrogen out of water and use hydrogen as a fuel for equipment and processing plants. There'd still be some carbon emissions from things like deforestation during mining, etc.

Re:Honest question (1, Informative)

polar red (215081) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773589)

cheap electrical power available from nukes

That's not really true.

Re:Honest question (5, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773769)

cheap electrical power available from nukes

That's not really true.

That's why I said it's a big "if", but in any case, the cost of nuclear power versus fossil fuels depends on how seriously you believe that there is a link between carbon emissions and global warming. Global warming could result in many trillions of dollars of damage as coastal areas are inundated by rising seas, droughts and other extreme weather, crop loss, etc.

If Nuclear power really does emit less carbon and carbon is causing global warming, then nuclear power could be far less costly even if the raw price per kwh is higher.

Re:Honest question (3, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773901)

If power, from whatever source, was free, what would the world look like?

Re:Honest question (4, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773913)

If power, from whatever source, was free, what would the world look like?

A whole lot brighter at night!

Re:Honest question (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773757)

With enough electrical energy we could convert to a hydrogen/oxygen economy, rather than a carbon-based one. There are some issues though, like the Hindenburg. It turns out that Hydrogen in a normal Earthlike atmosphere is explosive. Also, it wants to be a gas rather than a liquid, which limits its utility. And as a gas, it passes freely through any known material at room temperature because hydrogen2 molecules are as small as molecules get.

And then there's the whole "we get half of our electrical energy from coal" thing, and the conversion losses.

Unless we get some good watts from some other source, your electric hybrid is likely generating more CO2 than my Chevy truck.

Re:Honest question (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773823)

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c24/page_161.shtml
This is a short piece - if you want a more complete story
try
http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/
it is however very long and far from up to date / complete on nukes.

Re:Honest question (4, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773899)

With enough electrical energy we could convert to a hydrogen/oxygen economy, rather than a carbon-based one. There are some issues though, like the Hindenburg.

Then don't build your airship with a highly flamable skin - hydrogen was only part of the problem.

It turns out that Hydrogen in a normal Earthlike atmosphere is explosive.

So are many other common fuels like gasoline and natural gas, yet we've learned to harness them safely.

Also, it wants to be a gas rather than a liquid, which limits its utility.

As does natural gas, yet there's growing talk of using Natural Gas to fuel long haul trucks due to the dropping costs of natural gas.

 

And as a gas, it passes freely through any known material at room temperature because hydrogen2 molecules are as small as molecules get.

Generate it at the filling station so it doesn't have to be pumped for long distances, and dissolve it in some other substance [wikipedia.org] to ease storage.

And then there's the whole "we get half of our electrical energy from coal" thing, and the conversion losses.

But the whole premise of this article is that we need to move to "clean" nuclear power, not fossil fuels.

Unless we get some good watts from some other source, your electric hybrid is likely generating more CO2 than my Chevy truck.

Unless your Chevy truck gets better than 53/48 mpg, then my electric hybrid generates less CO2 than your truck since both of our vehicles are powered by the same fuel - gasoline. Even when electric cars are powered by coal plants, they than conventional cars. [mediamatters.org]

If I had an electric car, most of its power would come from hydroelectric power.

Re:Honest question (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774097)

If I had an electric car, most of its power would come from hydroelectric power.

Me too, but that hydro power would be taken then away from people who would make up the lack with coal power because that's what they have. Have I saved carbon atoms from being freed into the atmosphere they were captured from long ago? No.

Re:Honest question (4, Insightful)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773907)

In addition to the other commentor's point about using nuclear power to extract, transport, and enrich fuel would allow you to dramatically decrease the carbon footprint of nuclear, there's also the points that:

2) Newer enrichment technology like centrifuges and, soon, laser excitation enrichment, dramatically reduce the energy needed to enrich uranium (which is a proliferation concern of course, but us keeping ourselves from having centrifuges doesn't seem likely to stop Iran from building them). I mean, the energy requirements for a gas centrifuge is something like 1/50 the power needed for the old gas diffusion plants (which were just horribly inefficient). I don't know what laser enrichment will be, but I gather it will use something like 1/100th the the power of gas diffusion facility.

3) If you use Thorium in a molten salt reactor, you don't need any enrichment at all (well, ok, you need startup fissile and for the first few decades, that probably means some enriched uranium or U/Pu mix, but eventually you can start new plants from the U-233 which was bred in old Thorium plants which will be being decommissioned, so you wouldn't need much Uranium mining at all), and it is currently a waste product of mining other minerals, so there's essentially no additional mining footprint (as demand grows, this may eventually change).

Re:Honest question (1)

anethema (99553) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773949)

Coal is also mined and refined, and oil is used so seldom for power you can almost say it is not used.

Coal for power has the downside of being mined, then refined, then burnt.

At least uranium just has the first two. They use the heat it produces to generate power with only 1 intermediate step, so generally speaking, it is the best for climate change between the two.

Re:Honest question (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773961)

All good points, but there are still many unknowns around all those current/alternate energy sources. E.g.:

- what net affect does damning up rivers have on our ecosystems from hydro, not to mention the amount of concrete that goes into making the damns - that has a net environmental effect as well
- wind: "taking the wind out the sails" will have a flow-on affect on our forestry & erosion 'balance' - same with wave power. If you take those out of a system that's balanced itself out over millions of years, there has to be an adverse effect on any closed system, surely...?
- Geo: flow-on effects on tectonic continental plates & resultant increase in tectonic activity...? as well as, if we take heat out of the earth's sub-surface, do we really think that the net sum will be zero? Just sayin.

Fusion seems to be the only 'clean' & plentiful energy source on the horizon. Solar is 'free' as well, but again, we trap the heat from the sun so it doesn't hit the ground - if we over 1000s of sq kms with panels, there will be consequences.

Re:Honest question (1, Flamebait)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773977)

With hydroelectric, the ecological disaster begins as soon as you break first ground on the project. It's one of the most damaging ways to generate power possible.

Re:Honest question (1)

GNious (953874) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774087)

It's a question of calculating the total emissions for each type of energy source, and it's not an easy process.

While I support the merit of evaluating energy sources on metrics such as emission, it can lead to the flawed notion that we need to look for a single, perfect energy source.

Instead, we need to look for multiple energy sources, at least for the time being. Solar in some regions, wind in other. Wave-energy in Scotland, and BS-power in Washington and Pyongyang.

Re:Honest question (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40774063)

How come the atmosphere isn't getting hotter then?

Phil Smith (Head of CRU - East Anglia) " There has been no statistically significant warming for the past 15 years"

Re:Honest question (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773335)

I once increased the entropy of a deer when it collided with my vehicle.

Re:Honest question (2)

Namarrgon (105036) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773363)

Not in the case of solar, or solar-derived [britannica.com] , energy sources (wind, tidal etc). These convert solar energy to electricity, which would've been almost completely radiated as heat anyway (excepting chemical storage, such as photosynthesis).

Fission, fusion, geothermal etc add to our waste heat. Fossil is technically solar-derived, but is releasing millions of years of accumulated solar energy all at once.

Re:Honest question (4, Informative)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773369)

Short answer: it does matter.

Longer answer: The amount of energy that we use is a small fraction of the amount of energy that the earth receives from our nearest star (aka the sun). The heat we create from the energy that we use is also a small fraction of the heat the earth retains from the sun and the earth retains in its molten core. So if we are doing something to change the amount of heat we retain from the energy we receive from the sun** with different sources of power, it could certainly make a difference.

Of course the $64G question: does buring carbon based fuels significantly change the amount of heat we retain on earth? Probably (that is the whole AGW debate). Of course we don't know for sure, but there is some evidence that it is true, but the bigger picture may be that things totally out of our control (e.g., volcanos, meteors, solar variation, etc), may in the end drown out our effect, but that doesn't mean the effect isn't there.

**for completeness, we might also consider the distribution of the heat between the surface and the molten core, but to be fair, other than the trivial amount of geothermal energy we use, there's a negligible amount to think about here.

Re:Honest question (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773619)

but the bigger picture may be that things totally out of our control (e.g., volcanos, meteors, solar variation, etc), may in the end drown out our effect,

Total from conduction, vulcanism, and plate tectonics: 0.1 W/m^2
Total from solar variation since 1750: 0.12 W/m^2
Total from human activities so far: 1.6 W/m^2

Nothing is going to drown out our effect (Ref IPCC AR4).

For completeness, the worldwide electricity production is about 2 TW. The heat from combustible fuels not used for electricity is probably comparable. Compare this to the value for conduction, vulcanism, and plate tectonics which has a value of about 44 TW (~0.1 W/m^2).

Re:Honest question (4, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773633)

**for completeness, we might also consider the distribution of the heat between the surface and the molten core, but to be fair, other than the trivial amount of geothermal energy we use, there's a negligible amount to think about here.

Well thanks at least for including it for completeness, since that one source exceeds our current electrical energy needs for the next thousand years with current technology - by which time technology may have advanced a wee bit. The Yellowstone Caldera by itself throws off more thermal energy each minute than, converted to electrical energy, the world requires. And cooling that damned thing might be in our best interest since it's likely to bury 60% of the US in ash someday - again, as it has many times before.

Solar is great too, and can also be baseload power with a big enough heatsink - or balanced with geothermal plants that produce on demand solar and wind can use geothermal for a heatsink / corrector for low/no production. Geothermal plants can with slant drilling occupy a tiny surface space and tap a vast region, and can be baseload power as well as a peak power source.

There are a lot of other sources we aren't using right now. Petroleum refineries throw off a lot of waste heat, as do pulp mills, organic composting, server farms, volcanos, iron and aluminum and glass refineries. Any place there is a reliable significant thermal delta is an opportunity to reap electrical power, and the question is whether or not it can be done economically. As science progresses the delta and size of the installation becomes smaller. It's not as much "geothermal" as it is "thermal delta" electrical power.

There is no reason not to use both solar and geothermal to diminish our dependence on oil.

Nuclear works on thermal deltas too, but doesn't exploit them enough. Spent fuels, for example, heat their pools for a decade before they're considered "cool" enough to put into permanent storage (should any ever come available). That's a waste heat that's dissipated by evaporation (phase change) of water rather than claiming it as electrical power through modern energy capture technologies. Given modern technologies the spent fuel might give more electrical power than the reactor if it were exploited. I have issues with the whole "we don't have to take the trash out" mentality of nuclear proponents, but I have no problem with making the most of what they do.

We need to come to grips with the idea that "a big enough thermal delta is an electrical energy source." And then moderate the "Big enough" term with advances in technology. That's the ultimate recycling: finding utility for the thermal energy we are now throwing away.

Re:Honest question (4, Informative)

polar red (215081) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773649)

things totally out of our control (e.g., volcanos, meteors, solar variation, etc), may in the end drown out our effect

the earth had reached sort of an equilibrium - CO2 released by volcanoes etcetera was being cancelled out by plants taking it out of the atmosphere, but in the latest few centuries humans have changed the co2 concentration in the atmosphere from 200/250 to 400 ppm

Re:Honest question (4, Informative)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773475)

The amount of heat generated by power consumption is small compared to the energy received from the sun and emitted back into space. The earth receives around 175 PW of power from the sun, and the amount emitted back into space is around the same providing an equilibrium. The global power consumption by everyone on the planet is around 15 TW. So that's a ratio of 175 PW to .015 PW, which means we consume around .008% of the amount of power we receive from the sun / radiate into space.

A lot of our energy comes from fossil fuels, so basically that is releasing energy that was solar originally, so technically we aren't adding energy to the earth. Solar, geothermal and hydro is just converting / moving energy around from place to place within the existing system, so that doesn't add energy either. Nuclear would be the only way we'd be changing the amount of energy in the system, as we're directly converting it from mass. So it would matter what power source we use from that standpoint, and if your argument has merit, then nuclear would be the issue from an entropy standpoint.

Re:Honest question (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773915)

This is an interesting question which I once tried to answer with a very simple first order radiative heat transfer model of the Earth... I framed the question this way:

Assuming that Nuclear is emission free and replaces all greenhouse gas emitting energy sources and there is no warming due to residual GHGs in the atmosphere, what amount of heat introduced by Nuclear would there have to be for global temperatures to raise by 2C?

My calculation suggested that around 20,000 Terra-Watts of Nuclear (distributed homogeneously around the globe of course!!) would be required... to put that number in perspective, the World used 16 Terra-Watts of energy in 2006! In other words, we could all use around three orders of magnitude more energy than we do currently if it were emission free and resulted in a new injection of thermal energy (i.e Nuclear)... obviously there would be a limiting factor there somewhere..

Re:Honest question (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774189)

That sounds about right, seems like when I ran the numbers a while back the extra solar-energy retention due to anthropogenic CO2 dwarfed our energy production by 2-3 orders of magnitude.

Well, if it was fission-based then the limiting factor would be fuel - there's only enough easily accessible uranium to power the world's current energy consumption for a few decades, extendable to a few hundred to a thousand years if we work out an efficient method for extracting it from seawater. Thorium would easily get us a thousand years or so - but with 1000x energy consumption that would likewise be gone in a few years. Assuming we work out cheap, clean fusion though - well then I don't see any limiting factor other than the thermal pollution issue. Eventually we'll run out of boron and have to work out some other clean fuel, but perhaps by then we'll have figured out how to fuse pure hydrogen without generating hideous amounts of neutron radiation.

Re:Honest question (4, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773605)

1 tonne Oil = 42 GJ [wikipedia.org] - thus 1 kT oil=42 x 10^12 J

1. total world energy production - 2012 = 12 x 10^6 kT oil [goo.gl] - thus about 5 x 10^20 J.
averaging over 356 days => average power produced=1.6 x 10^13 W

2. Solar constant - 1361 W/sq m [wikipedia.org]
Surface of Earth intercepting Sun's energy = PI*(6384 km [wikipedia.org] ) ^ 2 = 1.28 10^14 sq m
Sun's radiation total power on Earth = 1.74 x 10^17 W

Average power produced by the world / Sun's radiation power = 0.01%. Yet, until recently, Earth (or Gaya - to encompass the ecosystem as well) managed to deal with the Sun's radiation without warming.
Conclusion: the major cause of the warming is very unlikely caused directly by the world's energy production (ultimately transformed in heat) - as it contributes with only 0.01%. Look elsewhere.

Migrate! (-1, Troll)

voodoo cheesecake (1071228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773327)

I moved to Alaska several years ago. After three winters, I am acclimatized. For instance, when it gets up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit I am strolling around in shorts and a t-shirt. Trying to survive shifting climate is something life has always done. Those who migrate and adapt survive. Those who nuke themselves deserve what they get - just leave the rest of us out of it.

Re:Migrate! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773405)

Thanks Ms Palin.

And whose jerbs will you take when you migrate outside your flooded city?

Re:Migrate! (1)

voodoo cheesecake (1071228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773459)

There's much more to Alaska than Palin. We rarely hear about her these days. Once you get out in the bush, nobody complains if you smoke a joint at the bar. It's funny that people in the Anchorage area pretend they are a part of civilization.

Re:Migrate! (3, Informative)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773771)

What did it cost you to move you and your family from the continental US to Alaska? How much energy was required? And what's different about the area around what's now your home since you took up residence there?

Now multiply that by 7 billion. Well... you did say *everyone* should migrate, right?

But they'll all get to smoke a joint without being hassled, so that makes it sensible. Yeah, right.

BTW, I live just as far north as you do. Also in a place where people don't pay much heed to the War On Some Drugs.

And yet... I'm pretty sure that you've managed to contribute little or nothing of use to the discussion here.

Re:Migrate! (2, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773489)

I moved to Alaska several years ago. After three winters, I am acclimatized. For instance, when it gets up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit I am strolling around in shorts and a t-shirt. Trying to survive shifting climate is something life has always done. Those who migrate and adapt survive. Those who nuke themselves deserve what they get - just leave the rest of us out of it.

It's much easier to adapt to a cooler climate than a warmer one. When you get cold you can put on another jacket. You can only remove so many clothes to remain comfortable when the temperature rises to 101 degrees with high humidity.

Re:Migrate! (1)

voodoo cheesecake (1071228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773503)

And the parking lots are bubbling like tar pits!

Re:Migrate! (1)

SwampJack (2690239) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773571)

Parking lots in Phoenix seem to do just fine.

Re:Migrate! (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773613)

Parking lots in Phoenix seem to do just fine.

Of course, Phoenix expects 110 degree temperatures so they plan for it when they build things. Unlike other areas [myfoxdc.com] that usually don't see those high temperatures.

Re:Migrate! (2)

sFurbo (1361249) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773669)

The parking lots that was built with Phoenix climate in mind is doing fine in Phoenix climate. The mix of asphalt is adjusted to the expected temperature range the finished structure will experience. A hotter climate will soften the asphalt, so a harder mix is chosen, and vice versa. If the climate changes faster than the lifetime of asphalt, there will be trouble, regardless of the direction of the local climate change.

Re:Migrate! (1)

SwampJack (2690239) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773591)

Its much easier to adapt to climate change than it is to control the global climate.

Re:Migrate! (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773783)

Its much easier to adapt to climate change than it is to control the global climate.

Depending on what results from the changes in the global climate.... If increasingly acidic oceans kills off ocean food sources and changing weather conditions turn formerly productive farming regions into drought stricken arid wastelands without also changing formerly unfarmable areas into productive farming regions, then the adaptation will mean dramatic reductions in the population the earth can support.

If Nuclear really is the answer, then vastly increasing our use of nuclear power over the coming decades is probably an easier adaption than watching 1/3 of the world's population die when we can't produce enough food.

I doubt the climate changes will be so dramatic, but no one really knows for sure - we may hit a tipping point that uncontrollably drives the climate to new extremes never seen before.

Re:Migrate! (5, Insightful)

SwampJack (2690239) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773939)

In the 1960's and 1970's, through the concerted efforts of well meaning organizations like Greenpeace, the nuclear power industry was destroyed. In their attempt to do good this organization indirectly caused the construction of untold numbers of carbon emitting power stations. In our current attempt to "do good" it is important not to let our hubris lead us to make mistakes that will cost future generations. No scientifically accepted model says the Earth with turn into a Venus-like desert. Average temperatures are expected to rise 2 - 12 degrees F by 2100 according to the EPA. Sea levels are expected to rise at most 2 meters by 2100 according to the IPCC. If it costs us a mere 1-2% of our GDP each year to prevent that change, over the course of 100 years that adds up: Current World GDP (About 64 Trillion USD) * 1.02 ^ 100 = $ 460 Trillion Dollars For $460 Trillion dollars we could move everyone within a mile of the ocean inland, build greenhouses to supply the entire world's food supply, and plant 100 billion trees with money left over.

I RTFS (1)

dell623 (2021586) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773343)

and it states the bleeding obvious... Is TFA more interesting?

Not THE answer, but (5, Interesting)

crioca (1394491) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773367)

While renewable energy technology is the answer, nuclear energy is an excellent interim solution.
Anyone whose concerned about safety, I want you to go and look up how many nuclear reactors are over 30, 40 years old. These antique behemoths are being run because there are many unnecessary obstacles to overcome if you want to build a new plant. Nuclear technology as well as construction and information systems have improved dramatically each decade, so how is it that people can react to modern reactors as if they have no safety advantages over their retro-ancestors?

Re:Not THE answer, but (4, Insightful)

dark12222000 (1076451) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773585)

My concerns are not the original designs, or the engineers. It's the cheap profit seeking idiots who attempt to cut corners while running them. Fundamentally, Nuclear is a great idea! Unfortunately, Nuclear Power in the hands of a capitalist society which values immediate profit over the chance of blowing themselves up is actually really freaking dangerous.

This is what we saw with Fukushima. That reactor was well designed - and the others in the region held up decently. If the plant had been kept up even close to spec - there wouldn't have been a disaster. Hell, even if after the initial issue, if they had just dumped the core, it would of been a passing mention in the newspaper. Instead, somebody who valued money over other peoples lives, decided to make a profitable decision instead of a safe one.

It only takes one stupid idiot to ruin a good thing.

Re:Not THE answer, but (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773743)

Feel free to tell me what you mean with dumping the core and the advantages vs disadvantages of it compared to what was/is done.

Re:Not THE answer, but (4, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773819)

This is what we saw with Fukushima. That reactor was well designed - and the others in the region held up decently. If the plant had been kept up even close to spec - there wouldn't have been a disaster. Hell, even if after the initial issue,

The reactor was well designed to faulty assumptions that in retrospect never should have been accepted.

if they had just dumped the core, it would of been a passing mention in the newspaper. Instead, somebody who valued money over other peoples lives, decided to make a profitable decision instead of a safe one.

It only takes one stupid idiot to ruin a good thing.

I'm not sure what you mean by "dump the core", but I believe the reactors all underwent a SCRAM to shut down after the quake. But even after shutdown, the reactor core continues to emit a significant amount of heat for quite some time, and when the cooling failed, there was no way to dissipate that heat.

40 years old! Oh No! (0)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773817)

My GOD we HAVE to shut down the Hoover Dam RIGHT NOW. That antique behemoth finished construction in 1936. That junker is over 70 years old and is going to cause a hydraulic catastrophe at any minute!!!!

Re:Not THE answer, but (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773849)

I will add, however, that I agree with most of your point - we need to start iterating new generations of nuclear plant designs - that's the only way they will ever improve. I do think that modern designs have some significant safety advantages. But, my Hoover Dam example, if it's not obvious, is meant to point out that just because something was designed and built before 1970 doesn't mean it's necessarily dangerous, even though it has the potential to be.

An old but well maintained structure or machine can be quite safe - and you don't hear anyone agitating to SHUT IT DOWN NOW when it comes to Hoover Dam - even though there have been several large Dam failures around the world in the last century.

Re:Not THE answer, but (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773941)

Except of course that it takes about a decade* to get a nuclear power station up and running, but you could power from one of these http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Tres_Power_Tower [wikipedia.org] inside of two years.

* Assuming you can get on the list to get a containment vessel - they can only make about 10 per year.

Re:Not THE answer, but (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773969)

Those types of problems can change pretty fast if need be. If we need more containment vessels per year, you build more foundries (that, itself, will take a few years, it's true, but the point is it *can* speed up over time).

The nuclear industry worldwide is trying to move to a relatively small number of standardized designs. If the demand to build them is there, while the first few of any given design will almost surely run into delays and budget overruns (such is the nature of building the first 2 or 3 units of anything remotely sophisticated), the nuclear construction industry will gain experience that will make the next few go faster and cheaper.

That is, there's a learning curve for anything, and we're at the very bottom of that curve right now.

Finally, factory-produced small modular reactors give the promise of having much higher construction throughput, with the tradeoff that the power plants may be a bit more expensive on a per-kW basis (but because of the economies of scale of factory production, the difference may not be much, and eventually, the smaller reactors might even end up cheaper on a per-unit-power basis).

Re:Not THE answer, but (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774001)

I agree with most of your points, and that for northern Europe, and much of USA nuclear might be a better answer than solar. However, for places like South Africa (the topic of the article) and Australia we should be able to get massive amounts of solar power up and running long before the first reactor even gets approval to look for a site.

SOS (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773379)

Same Old Sh*t

    the nuclear industry is enormously profitable (if you ignore waste disposal) and long-lived (if you ignore a thousand years of aftermath).. these f*** wait in the wings and try this again and again.. What about an accounting system that values the natural world and rewards efficiency ?!!? If we are to survive as a species, the question is not "where do we get more power" but rather what we do with the capacity we have.

Re:SOS (2, Funny)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773779)

Look, if you mean "shit", say "shit".

If you mean "fuck", then say "fuck".

It's not like you're going to get struck by lightning or the ground's going to open up and swallow you or some such nonsense.

See? I just did it and nothing bad hap*á%æ(*&*;u***$çç~``````__NO_CARRIER__

no (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773383)

Nuclear Energy is stupid. It's bad enough we have a bunch of cartels making massive profits of oil, nuclear power has an even higher barrier to entry than that.

Re:no (1)

repvik (96666) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773593)

Good plan. Let's not use a non-fossil power source because "someone might make money off it".

Re:no (2)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773629)

Nuclear Energy is stupid. It's bad enough we have a bunch of cartels making massive profits of oil, nuclear power has an even higher barrier to entry than that.

So what's your answer? Only generate power from generator-bicycles so there's a much lower barrier to entry?

Nuclear fusion may ultimately prove to be an even cleaner source of power -- with an even higher barrier to entry than fission. Should fusion be abandoned because it will have a high barrier to entry?

Re:no (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773967)

Well parhaps we could start mass-producing these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Tres_Power_Tower [wikipedia.org]

As a one off it is almost economical - if we make all that parts in China and set it up in outback Australia (where the land cost is minimal and there is a lot more sunshine than in Spain) we should be able to supply the entire worlds energy. (I know, transportation is an issue, but one problem at a time.)

Simple solution (5, Funny)

stox (131684) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773391)

A small scale nuclear war to produce a nuclear winter to offset global warming will do the trick, and possibly cut the population at the same time.

Re:Simple solution (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773547)

A small scale nuclear war to produce a nuclear winter to offset global warming will do the trick, and possibly cut the population at the same time.

I was going to suggest the same thing -- creating a nuclear winter is probably not any more risky that other ideas that have been floated around that have side effects that are just as poorly understood -- like large scale seeding of oceans with iron to encourage phytoplankton growth that will be a carbon sink.

Just stop and think about it. (3, Insightful)

zippo01 (688802) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773403)

If you took all the effort and energy spent, developing green energies, clean coal, fracking. Couple that with all the energy spent fighting each of them for what ever reason. Just think how safe and efficient 2020 nuclear power plants could be. A new nuclear plant hasn't been built in the US since what the 80's. Thats 30 YEARS. Just think of the improvements and innovations we could make or had made had we pursued it. If you really think that global warming is the end of days, then how can you not embrace nuclear? Its like vegetarians who believe in evolution. It just doesn't make since.

Re:Just stop and think about it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773451)

Except they'll try to cut costs and cut corners and you'll end up with all those 21st century safety features not being included in the final power plant.

Re:Just stop and think about it. (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773845)

As though the US is the only place in the world with reactors?

In fact it's a US company building the next generation of reactors for China (PRC). Lots of progress has been made, but if you want to cut government spending (which is a stupid plan right now, but that's the one we're going with) building nuclear reactors isn't going to fly because they do cost a lot of money.

Re:Just stop and think about it. (1)

Andtalath (1074376) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774053)

Evolution is description of how we came to be.
Not a way to describe how we should act.

Nuclear is the answer (Thorium) (4, Interesting)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773421)

Just not the king we use. Uranium and plutonium are terrible ways to achieve nuclear power. There is relatively little power output and a large amount of waste product, which we know will kill us if we even come close to it. The only benefit is being able to create nuclear weapons.
Thorium on the other hand produces much more power per gram and has very little waste. The waste it does produce is exceedingly less dangerous than the current 1950s style reactors.
Plus, there is craps loads of the stuff everywhere. Time to switch. I think we have more than enough Nukes to destroy the world population many times over, so there is no need to stick to a dangerous tech just so we can make more.

Re:Nuclear is the answer (Thorium) (4, Informative)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773499)

Thorium on the other hand produces much more power per gram and has very little waste. The waste it does produce is exceedingly less dangerous than the current 1950s style reactors.

You forgot most important part (assuming you are referring to the molten-salt thorium reactors), there is no boom. The reactor can never go out of control. Hence there is never a nuclear cloud or fall out. And also, the reactor can be designed to be started and stopped in minutes rather than hours or days or months.

Re:Nuclear is the answer (Thorium) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773637)

Yes yes a thousand times yes. Thorium. The DOE rejected thorium in favor of fissionable uranium in the 1950s and you can guess why... thorium doesn't produce fissionable weapons grade material by product and DOE wanted weapons grade material for MAD. In my experience about 0.0000001 percent of the population knows about thorium, and remains terrified of nuclear power. It's sad really. Maine has a specific prohibition on mining thorium.. and why thorium out of all the minerals to be mined? - The man, man, doing his thing, keeping the nuclear industrial complex going. What will happen when the world is supplied with thorium package plants that fail cold and produce no weapons grade materials?

Re:Nuclear is the answer (Thorium) (2)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773693)

Just not the king we use. Uranium and plutonium are terrible ways to achieve nuclear power. There is relatively little power output and a large amount of waste product, which we know will kill us if we even come close to it. The only benefit is being able to create nuclear weapons.

We could even get rid [wikipedia.org] of the "waste product"

Re:Nuclear is the answer (Thorium) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773705)

Thorium takes part in a nuclear chain reaction only after it is converted into uranium. As far as fission products go, the distribution is about the same for U233 as it is for U235. As far as power output, they should be similar. Also, the thorium fuel cycle does not prevent weapons.

As far as less waste, you must be referring to trans - uranium elements, but that does not seem to fit the less dangerous claim

My understanding of reserves points to about twice the abundance of thorium as uranium. But, still there is plenty of uranium, possibly about as common as lead.

While a thorium reactor is interesting, it is much more complex than current uranium designs. The main issue is with the thorium needing to be separated after it accepts a neutron until the decay to U233.

The reactor that most interests me is the one Bill Gates mentioned in his Ted talk. That is the reactor that burns uranium like a candle focusing mostly on depleted uranium and spent fuel. With the current stock pile in the United States, that would translate into about $100 Trillion in electricity. Or, enough power for the world for the rest of the century.

I think not (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773437)

Nuclear power will be a perfectly viable solution, except in all the cases it will not be. How many nuclear reactors will the western nuclear powers allow to be installed in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Zimbabwe? How about Venezuela or Cuba? What about failed states like Somalia, or non-states like Somaliland? Not many I venture. The problems are large, overwhelmingly political, and even less likely to engender consensus than 'no-brainers' like reducing emissions as a risk-mitigation strategy.

Re:I think not (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773609)

Solution: nuke "western nuclear powers" (after evacuating Iran that "western nuclear powers" will then nuke in response).

Let the fourth world burn oil and coal. (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773945)

Honestly, if all the sane nations get a majority of their energy from nuclear power, we can let those "fourth world" states burn all the fossil fuel they want - there will be a lot more supply available to sell to them at probably lower prices, and their consumption is not likely to be anywhere in the ballpark of what we are currently consuming.

In the meantime, we can build safer next-gen nuclear in many more stable third-world nations to help them develop. 5 or 10 small countries burning fossil fuels would be ok if everyone else dramatically cut their usage.

Re:I think not (1)

Andtalath (1074376) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774061)

Thorium doesn't produce plutonium or anything similar.

So, yeah, give the tech away to everyone.

In a sense... (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773443)

... if things get too hot (are going that way both in climate and in politics), a nuclear winter could balance a bit temperatures and amount of heat generators.

Cost of Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773465)

Have these people taken a look at COE numbers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source [wikipedia.org]

Nuclear is not the solution in developing nations (or anywhere for that matter).

Re:Cost of Energy (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773601)

"Cost" in money is irrelevant when you have a truly sovereign country (or at least one that doesn't have to buy everything from large American companies).
Cost in time, number of people, and depletion of natural resources, is far lower for nuclear energy than for anything else.

Re:Cost of Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773631)

Those numbers don't include external costs.

Great post (-1, Offtopic)

Grosir Aksesoris (2693313) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773509)

I found this is an informative and interesting post so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.

Waste problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773523)

Where to dump the radioactive waste so we can be *sure* it won't be able harm anyone anymore? Even if we figure a way to dig a deep enough hole that would be perfectly sealed for the next few thousand years and impervious to earth quakes or water leakage or whatever else, who is to guarantee some companies (especially in developing countries with little oversight) will not go the easy route and dump their waste some other place when nobody's looking, just to save some bucks?

Well, maybe with all these carcinogens and mutagens floating around we will actually see the dawn of the X-Men after all, but for ever "cool" mutation that gives super-powers there will be millions of mutations causing disabilities.

Re:Waste problem (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773737)

Where to dump the radioactive waste so we can be *sure* it won't be able harm anyone anymore?

In another type of reactor [wikipedia.org] ?

TWRs are also capable, in principle, of reusing their own fuel.

Re:Waste problem (3, Insightful)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774013)

Well, for one thing, our current approach to nuclear waste is completely moronic. Trying to bury it for 100k years is a bit of a fool's errand.

The only sane solution to the nuclear waste problem is to force the long-lived waste (mostly plutonium, but some other actinides as well) to fission, and the only way to do that is in a fast nuclear reactor.

In truth, we've painted ourselves into a bit of a corner. We NEED to do R&D on fast reactors (especially molten salt fast reactors, and the Integral Fast Reactor), and start to build whatever is going to be the safest, most effective nuclear reactor.

When you burn off the long-lived waste in a fast reactor, you do get more radioactive waste as output BUT that waste cools off "quickly" - it becomes basically non-radioactive after 300 years (I say "basically non-radioactive" because you do get extremely low levels of lingering radiation for a long time - that's how half-lives work, mathematically, but the radiation is lower than average earth crust after about 300 years).

I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a 300 year problem than a 100k year problem, wouldn't you?

Water power (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773539)

Almost all our power generation requires water.
If you don't have water security, you can't have power security.

Even in the USA, we're dealing with nuclear and coal plants on the brink of shutting down,
because the mild winter and extended drought is bringing rivers down near critical levels.

In Africa, you need to desalinate water before you can do anything.
And desalination creates its own set of problems (what do you do with the brine?).

Re:Water power (2)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773707)

Even in the USA, we're dealing with nuclear and coal plants on the brink of shutting down,
because the mild winter and extended drought is bringing rivers down near critical levels.

Fortunately, most of the population lives close to the coasts where there's lots of water available.

In Africa, you need to desalinate water before you can do anything.

Why not use the seawater to cool your cooling fluid instead of using saltwater directly? Pump the heated waste water far offshore.

And desalination creates its own set of problems (what do you do with the brine?).

Why not put it back where it came from -- the ocean? Let it seep out of miles of pipe to reduce local effects of high salinity.

Atmospheric cooling (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774075)

High Temp Gas Cooled Reactors do not need water cooling to attain reasonable efficiency. There are various designs approaches for this - in some, you use fuel "pebbles". There's also a concept called a molten salt reactor, which could be designed in a high-temp gas cooled configuration.

With such reactors, you just dump your heat into the air instead of the water. This would be a good idea for Africa, US West/SW, etc.

Please Journalists, get facts! (0)

Casandro (751346) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773579)

Something which is suspiciously missing from the whole discussion are facts. I mean if you claim that nuclear power emits less CO2 per kWh, it should be trivial to back that up with facts. You would simply add up all the CO2 emitted by the mining of the fuels to the CO2 emitted during the construction of the plant, and the CO2 emitted by the cars of the workers there up to the CO2 caused by the disposal of the waste, as well as all those little things I just missed.

If you add up all those points and also list them, only then you can make such an argument.

Re:Please Journalists, get facts! (1)

leehwtsohg (618675) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773863)

I'm always suspicious of such calculations. It seems you can get whatever answer you want.
But in mining coal, is there no CO2 emitted? No CO2 in the construction of the plants? All the workers get to the plant by bikes?
In theory you could construct and mine both of these with 0 CO2 emission: just use electricity from solar power, and electric vehicles.

Re:Please Journalists, get facts! (1)

Casandro (751346) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773873)

Well of course, but a transparent calculation can be checked and it adds at least a little bit more credibility than pure guessing. If you have one calculation supporting one opinion and one supporting the other you can compare both and look for the differences.

Re:Please Journalists, get facts! start here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773893)

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c24/page_161.shtml
for just the nuke part
but the more complete article is fair middlen' OK also, but long
http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair

live well and prosper

Re:Please Journalists, get facts! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40774035)

There are also workers in the coal plants, and in the coal mines. And it also takes energy to move the coal to the powerplant. You also need to build the coal plant.

Yeah, "dangers". (-1, Troll)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773581)

But nuclear energy presents its own dangers

Yeah, like being invaded by some American shitheads.

Re:Yeah, "dangers". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40774153)

Or being assassinated and cyberattacked by Israeli spies. I used italics just to decrease the global temperature by being cool.

Peak Oil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773703)

Well, given that the amount of oil in the fields we know about, and the oil we are extracting, it's a damn site more than just climate change.
http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/is-peak-oil-behind-us/

"According to a projection in the agency’s latest annual report, released last week, production of conventional crude oil — the black liquid stuff that rigs pump out of the ground — probably topped out for good in 2006, at about 70 million barrels a day."

IEA is hoping non conventional oil and new oil finds can keep it at some sort of plateau by 2020-2030, but even if all these news wells are found and developed, we're still looking at catastrophic oil production collapse in the short term!

It will take 10 years to ramp up Nuclear, and even if there are undiscovered fields out there, 10 years at least to develop those, if they're even found.

Seriously, unless you have a ready to go technology, that you can get working now, Nuclear will at least get you buy in 10 years time. It sucks but give me an alternative? An alternative better than the 'magic oil fairy is coming, you just have to believe'.

Fusion (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773723)

It should be mentioned, fusion power is easily within reach [slashdot.org] . Check out this graph [imgur.com] . Why not make a push for it?

That graph is telling you they fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773835)

Fun graph, but they don't know the problems they want to solve, or how they will eventually solve them, and drawing a few wavy lines saying "give us 100 billion" and will solve all the problems by date X, is just a random claim.

The only thing they DO know is their current approach and the current solutions.

The only thing you learn from that graph is that the fusion lobby knows it CANNOT deliver success, because they put the CURRENT funding line below the "Fusion Never" line. Meaning they know their current techniques are going nowhere.

See they are getting funding, ITER is costing billions, yet they still say "never", not in 100 years, NEVER.

Look fusion is treading water, they need a miracle fix for the various problems of containment and they don't have it. They know that, so they put the line below never. We build ITER, they claim they learned valuable lessons, want more budget and waste more time.

Pick One (3, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#40773739)

Global Warming, Nuclear Energy, Agrarian Society

This is news to few; heck the bumper sticker [zazzle.com] I made for myself with that saying has this in its footer metadata: "Made on 4/24/2007 1:19 PM".

I hear Richard Branson has repeatedly tried to get appointments with Obama to talk about IFR reactors (and been rebuffed), so I probably don't need to be prosthelitizing them any longer.

Not nuclear. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773797)

Cheap commodity (relatively - it's still millions/billions invested yearly) wind and solar generation plant is producing electricity at 2 - 10 c/kWh (yearly average, local currencies) around the world today. Nuclear is 4 c/kWh but the plants are expensive to build and slow to build compared to incremental solar and wind farm developments. Also, only dictatorships will be able to start up nuclear projects. Democracies will not. For voters, it is an emotional topic and not 1 to logically reason out. I make some big generalisations but I feel this is a good introduction into why wind and solar (and others) are going to replace nuclear.

End of debate. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40773909)

Zero point energy. John Hutchison. 2012. Nuff said.

Refining (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774039)

One of the issues that is often not mentioned by proponents of nuclear power is the need to refine the Uranium ore into fuel rods for the reactors and this can only be done in a very few places (at, I suspect, a significant cost). This is not an issue for USA or France or Russia, but for a country like Australia we would be putting our energy generation capability in the hands of overseas providers.

Re:Refining (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774103)

Why can't Australia just build their own fuel facilities? They have, I believe, the worlds largest Uranium mine, or second largest, something like that. I guess they can't currently enrich it and fabricate fuel, but that seems like a problem they can fix, if they wanted to.

Re:Refining (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774139)

I don't think you understand the politics behind the Uranium cycle.

A couple of very smart Australian scientists have developed a laser based process for refining Uranium that is far more effective and cheaper than the existing processes. It has been buried. The reason given was that it is too dangerous because it would allow Iran, N.Korea, and others to build weapons, but my suspicion is that it would obsolete too much existing investment by the current refiners.

Re:Refining (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40774163)

Were they working with GE? Because I've heard of Laser Excitation Enrichment (I had heard GE was working on it), and that yeah, it dramatically reduces the power needed to enrich U. I've also heard about the fears of weapons proliferation, but that seems kind of like BS to me - those countries already have weapons programs.

So, I'm not sure how depriving ourselves of useful technology stops other countries from getting weapons. . .

well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40774193)

Why is Slashdot still propagating the CO2 hoax?

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