Home » Posts tagged 'nuclear power'

Tag Archives: nuclear power

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

America’s Energy Strategy is Bonkers

America’s Energy Strategy is Bonkers

Higher gasoline costs, if left unchecked, risk harming the ongoing global recovery. The price of crude oil has been higher than it was at the end of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic. While OPEC+ recently agreed to production increases, these increases will not fully offset previous production cuts that OPEC+ imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022. At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough. President Biden has made clear that he wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump.” – Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor (emphasis added)

Almost a decade ago, the official mascots of the London 2012 Summer Olympics were revealed. It didn’t go very well. Meet Wenlock and Mandeville:

At the time, I was perusing a magazine article collecting various reactions to the mascots – I think it was in Time but I can’t be sure – and one commentator delivered a line that will stick with me forever.

This can only be the work of a committee. It has cc written all over it.

I am reminded of Wenlock and Mandeville as I observe America’s rambling approach to energy policy over the past several years. When you ponder the logical consequences of where we are headed, it is hard not to conclude that this too must be the work of a committee, and a disjointed one at that. More on the members of that committee a little later.

Let’s start with the opening quote for this piece, which I took from an official White House statement, because it is quite the stunner. The President and his allies are limiting domestically produced oil and gas at every opportunity, which should come as no surprise – they ran for office on exactly this policy, after all…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Germany Schnitzels Itself After Ditching Nuclear, Coal Power For Green Pipe Dreams

Germany Schnitzels Itself After Ditching Nuclear, Coal Power For Green Pipe Dreams

As Germans continue to ‘enjoy’ the highest power bills in Europe, critics are warning that green energy solutions aren’t being deployed quickly enough amid the closure of its last nuclear reactor, and a sharp (and possibly early) reduction in coal electricity generation – putting the country’s ability to meet peak demand over the next two years in jeopardy.

This, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party slumping to an all-time low in popularity.

“There is no doubt that security of supply must be high on the priority list of the next government and political action is urgent,” said RWE energy’s chief economist, Alexander Nolden. “The new climate law is a real game changer for Germany. It means a much higher ambition and will demand much higher speed for the changes needed.”

Merkel admits her government got it wrong. Power demand will probably increase more than official forecasts by the end of the decade, she said in June. A month earlier she recognized that increasing local opposition and too much bureaucracy have curbed investments in green power.

For a long time, Germany showed the world how renewable energy could be added to make up a substantial share of the power mix. Now, the Norwegian utility Statkraft SF says it takes twice as long to build a wind park in Germany compared with the U.S. Complaints from locals, a lack of space, stricter environmental standards and a longer permitting process are just some of the reasons growth is slowing. -Bloomberg

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Whatever happened to China’s revolutionary molten salt nuclear reactor program?

Whatever happened to China’s revolutionary molten salt nuclear reactor program?

Several years ago during a radio interview, the host told me that the Chinese were planning on deploying a commercial modular molten salt reactor (MSR) by 2020. For context, these nuclear reactors are based on existing technology demonstrated by previous operating prototypes, can use fuel that is hundreds of times more abundant than the only naturally occurring fissile isotope (uranium-235), are resistant to making bomb-grade material, and cannot suffer meltdowns. Modular design could allow them to be built in factories and shipped ready to install to any suitable location.

The host was confident about his prediction because it had come from one of the many books circulating at the time telling us how great the human future would be and that new technology would solve all the world’s major problems including hunger, climate change, environmental pollution and resource scarcity. This would happen in part due to abundant energy produced by MSRs even as human populations continued to grow.

Sticking to the narrow question of MSRs, I opined that development of complex technologies takes far longer than anticipated and that there are unique challenges in the utility industry. I guessed it would be 20 years before a viable commercial Chinese MSR would appear.

While the Chinese did recently begin construction of a demonstration modular nuclear reactor, this reactor is of the light-water variety—the kind that is already widely in use, that is subject to the catastrophic meltdowns that haunt the nuclear industry, that uses uranium as its fuel, and that can foster proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The pressurized water reactor mentioned in the news release linked above is a type of light-water reactor (LWR). The design is undoubtedly safer than previous LWRs. But it still suffers from the many drawbacks of LWRs and seems unlikely to be widely adopted.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When climate breakdown goes nuclear

Barakah
Wikipedia
Nuclear is on the front-line of climate change – and not in a good way.

Climate models have run hot in the last year. 

As knowledge of climate sensitivity and polar ice melt-rate evolves, it’s become clear that sea-level rise is significantly faster than previously thought – which means more frequent and destructive storm, storm surge, severe precipitation, and flooding.

With extreme events that are rare today becoming the norm in the future, existing risk mitigation measures become increasingly obsoleteThe corollary to this analysis is that present and planned coastal and inland nuclear installations will be at significant risk.

Coastal

In other words, nuclear’s sustainable electricity claim sits in the context of a much larger picture – that coastal and inland nuclear will be one of the first, and most significant, casualties to ramping climate impact.

As the world heats, ice stored at the poles and in glaciers melt and sea levels rise.

With a recent NASA study based on 25 years of satellite data finding that global sealevel rise has been accelerating rather than increasing steadily, the Arctic is melting so rapidly that its now 20 percent thinner than a decade ago, weakening a major source of the planet’s cooling. [1]

Meanwhile, satellite data shows the Greenland Ice Sheet has lost a record amount of ice in 2019  – equivalent to a million tons per minute.

With the climate crisis heating the Arctic at double the rate in lower latitudes, the ice cap is currently the biggest single contributor to sea-level rise, and already imperils coasts and coastal populations. [2]

Model

This is all the more concerning since very recent research reports new early-warning signals indicating that the central-western part of the Greenland Ice Sheet is undergoing a critical transition.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nuclear Reactions At Chernobyl “Cause for Concern”

Nuclear Reactions At Chernobyl “Cause for Concern”

Sensors have detected increased levels of neutrons in an inaccessible chamber at the Chernobyl site, signaling that nuclear fission reactions are taking place in the entombed reactor hall, Science reports.

The signs that fission reactions are occurring come 35 years nearly to the date when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what is now Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986. It was the worst-ever nuclear disaster in the world to date.

The nuclear fission reactions are taking place in a room that is sealed with concrete and contains a large part of the uranium fuel of the former reactor.

Ukrainian scientists are now trying to assess whether the detected nuclear fission reactions will die out or create a larger problem that will require some type of extraordinary intervention.

“It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit,” Neil Hyatt, a nuclear materials chemist at the University of Sheffield, told Science.

Maxim Saveliev of the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, says that the scientists cannot rule out the possibility of an accident.

“We’re talking about very low rates of fission, so it’s not like a fizzing nuclear reactor,” Hyatt told New Scientist.

“And our estimation of fissile material in that room means that we can be fairly confident that you’re not going to get such rapid release of nuclear energy that you have an explosion. But we don’t know for sure,” the nuclear materials chemist noted.

According to Hyatt, the higher level of neutrons is a “cause for concern but not alarm.”

However, if sensors continue to detect rising production of neutrons, the site may need an extraordinary intervention, Hyatt said. One approach could be to drill into the entombed chamber and spray it with a substance such as gadolinium nitrate, which would stop the fission reactions.

 

Nuclear Fuel Buried 108 Feet From the Sea

Nuclear Fuel Buried 108 Feet From the Sea

Photograph Source: D Ramey Logan – CC BY-SA4.0

“The most toxic substance on Earth is separated from exposure to society by ½” of steel encased in a canister.” (Blanch)

That eye-opener comes from renowned nuclear expert Paul Blanch in reference to spent fuel rods removed from San Onofre Nuclear Generation Plant buried near the sea on California’s southern coastline 50 miles north of San Diego.

Seventy-three 20-foot tall canisters of highly toxic nuclear spent fuel rods are nestled underground within 108 feet of the Pacific Ocean and not far from Interstate 5 from which passersby catch a glimpse of 73 large rectangular lids poking above ground, thus sealing the most toxic substances on Earth ensconced in ½” dry casks. (Footnote: In contrast, German CASTOR V/19 ductile cast iron casks, with permanent integrated monitoring, are nearly two-feet thick)

What could possibly go wrong on the seashore?

At the outset of San Onofre’s plans for its 73 buried canisters, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission itself admitted: (1) the thin ½” stainless steel canisters could crack within 30 years (2) there’s no current technology to inspect, repair or replace cracked canisters (3) limited monitoring means leaks may not be detected soon enough. (Source: Sanonofresafety.org) It is not believed the foregoing has changed one iota.

Unfortunately, when it comes to nuclear risks, what can go wrong isn’t known until it actually goes wrong. Then, it’s too late. Which explains the contention of a professional group associated with publicwatchdogs.org that discussed issues of credibility and truthfulness of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public hearing on March 9th, 2021. More on that follows later.

The 73 San Onofre rectangular lids symbolize the final act of decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, remnants of 50 years of nuclear power…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Inviting Nuclear Disaster

Inviting Nuclear Disaster

Photograph Source: Brad.K – CC BY 2.0

Nuclear power plants when they began being constructed were not seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. But in recent decades, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the operating licenses of nuclear power plants from 40 years to 60 years and then 80 years, and is now considering 100 years.

“It is crazy,” declares Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and a U.S. Senate senior investigator and now senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and is an author of the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation.

“No reactor in history has lasted that long,” commented Alvarez. The oldest nuclear power plant in the U.S. was Oyster Creek, five miles south of Toms River, New Jersey, which opened in 1969 and was shut down 49 years later in 2018.

The move is “an act of desperation in response to the collapse of the nuclear program in this country and the rest of the world,” he declares.

The nuclear industry and nuclear power advocates in government are “desperately trying to hold on,” says Alvarez. With hardly any new nuclear power plants being constructed in the U.S. and the total number down to 94, they seek to have the operating licenses of existing nuclear power plants extended, he says, to keep the nuclear industry alive.

It’s a sign of “the end of the messy romance with nuclear power.”

The NRC will be holding a webinar on January 21 to consider the extending of nuclear plant operating licenses to 100 years. As its announcement is headed: “PUBLIC MEETING ON DEVELOPMENT OF GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS TO SUPPORT LICENSE RENEWAL FOR 100 YEARS OF PLANT OPERATION.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

US Nuclear Site Cleanup Underfunded By Up To $70 Billion

US Nuclear Site Cleanup Underfunded By Up To $70 Billion


Headlines out of the UK are pointing out the horrible state of affairs for nuclear generation decommissioning after a committee of Members of Parliament that the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority really doesn’t have a handle on the 17 sites, their costs, or the vendors they selected for cleanup. They are currently projecting $177 billion and 120 years for the full decommissioning, over $1 billion per site. Some of this is due to botched procurement, with two different cleanup vendors stripped of their contracts.

Hinkley Site C

Hinkley Site C Nuclear Generation Facility, image courtesy Government of the UK

Certainly the UK cleanup is a fustercluck of epic proportions, equivalent in fiscal sense to building Hinkley. That new reactor, billions and years over budget and schedule, required a commitment for 35 years to pay $150/MWh for every MWh they generated, at a time when onshore wind and solar in the UK are at or under $50/MWh and offshore wind is under $100/MWh.

Some US commenters were feeling chuffed, although that’s not a term they would use, that the US was handling things so much better. But the USA isn’t far behind the UK in problems, it just isn’t as public.

Per the World Nuclear Association:

In the USA, utilities are collecting 0.1 to 0.2 cents/kWh to fund decommissioning. They must then report regularly to the NRC on the status of their decommissioning funds. About two-thirds of the total estimated cost of decommissioning all US nuclear power reactors has already been collected, leaving a liability of about $9 billion to be covered over the remaining operating lives of about 100 reactors (on the basis of an average of $320 million per unit). NRC data for the end of 2018 indicated that there was a combined total of $64.7 billion held in the decommissioning trust funds covering the 119 operational and retired US nuclear power reactors.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

High-level nuclear waste storage degrades faster than thought

High-level nuclear waste storage degrades faster than thought

Preface. Burying nuclear waste ought to be a top priority, now that it appears peak oil may have happened in November of 2018 (Patterson 2019) and perhaps even sooner if covid-19 crashes the world economy (Tverberg 2020). It won’t happen after oil production peaks, when it is rationed to agriculture and other essential services. Our descendants shouldn’t have to cope with nuclear waste on top of all the other destruction we’re causing in the world.

***

OSU. 2020. High-level nuclear waste storage materials will likely degrade faster than previously thought. Ohio State University.

Study finds the materials — glass, ceramics and stainless steel — interact to accelerate corrosion.

The materials the United States and other countries plan to use to store high-level nuclear waste will likely degrade faster than anyone previously knew because of the way those materials interact, new research shows.

The findings, published today in the journal Nature Materials, show that corrosion of nuclear waste storage materials accelerates because of changes in the chemistry of the nuclear waste solution, and because of the way the materials interact with one another.

“This indicates that the current models may not be sufficient to keep this waste safely stored,” said Xiaolei Guo, lead author of the study and deputy director of Ohio State’s Center for Performance and Design of Nuclear Waste Forms and Containers, part of the university’s College of Engineering. “And it shows that we need to develop a new model for storing nuclear waste.”

The team’s research focused on storage materials for high-level nuclear waste — primarily defense waste, the legacy of past nuclear arms production. The waste is highly radioactive. While some types of the waste have half-lives of about 30 years, others — for example, plutonium — have a half-life that can be tens of thousands of years. The half-life of a radioactive element is the time needed for half of the material to decay.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nuclear waste will last a lot longer than climate change

Nuclear waste will last a lot longer than climate change

Preface.   One of the most tragic aspects of peak oil is that it is very unlikely once energy descent begins that oil will be expended to clean up our nuclear mess.  Or before descent either.  Anyone who survives peak fossil fuels and after that, rising sea levels and extreme weather from climate change, will still be faced with nuclear waste as a deadly pollutant and potential weapon. 

According to Archer (2008): “… there are components of nuclear material that have a long lifetime, such as the isotopes plutonium 239 (24,000 year half-life), thorium 230 (80,000 years), and iodine 129 (15.7 million years). Ideally, these substances must be stored and isolated from reaching ground water until they decay, but the lifetimes are so immense that it is hard to believe or to prove that this can be done”.

Below are summaries of two articles on nuclear waste.

***

Ro, C. 2019. The Staggering Timescales Of Nuclear Waste Disposal. Forbes.

This most potent form of nuclear waste needs to be safely stored for up to a million years. Yet existing and planned nuclear waste sites operate on much shorter timeframes: often 10,000 or 100,000 years. These are still such unimaginably vast lengths of time that regulatory authorities decide on them, in part, based on how long ice ages are expected to last.

Strategies remain worryingly short-term, on a nuclear timescale. Chernobyl’s destroyed reactor no. 4, for instance, was encased in July 2019 in a massive steel “sarcophagus” that will only last 100 years. Not only will containers like this one fall short of the timescales needed for sufficient storage, but no country has allotted enough funds to cover nuclear waste disposal. In France and the US, according to the recently published World Nuclear Waste Report, the funding allocation only covers a third of the estimated costs. And the cost estimates that do exist rarely extend beyond several decades.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nuclear reactor issues

Nuclear reactor issues

Preface.  There are half a dozen articles below. Although safety and disposal of nuclear waste ought to be the main reasons why no more plants should be built, what will really stop them isbecause it takes years to get permits and $8.5–$20 billion in capital must be raised for a new 3400 MW nuclear power plant (O’Grady 2008). This is almost impossible when a much cheaper and much safer 3400 MW natural gas plant can be built for $2.5 billion in half the time or less.

U.S. nuclear power plants are old and in decline. By 2030, U.S. nuclear power generation might be the source of just 10% of electricity, half of their 20% production of electricity now, because 38 reactors producing a third of nuclear power are past their 40-year life span, and another 33 reactors producing a third of nuclear power are over 30 years old. Although some will have their licenses extended, 37 reactors that produce half of nuclear power are at risk of closing because of economics, breakdowns, unreliability, long outages, safety, and expensive post-Fukushima retrofits (Cooper 2013).

If you’ve read the nuclear reactor hazards paper or my summary of it, then you understand why there will continually be accidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl.  That makes investors and governments fearful of spending billions of dollars to build nuclear plants.

Nor will people be willing to use precious oil as it declines to build a nuclear power plant that could take up to 10 years to build, when that oil will be more needed for tractors to plant and harvest food and trucks to deliver the food to cities (electric power can’t do that, tractors and trucks have to run on oil).

And if we are dumb enough to try, we’ll smack into the brick wall of Peak Uranium.

Nuclear Safety in the news

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Germany Aims To Close All Nuclear Plants By 2022

Germany Aims To Close All Nuclear Plants By 2022

Nuclear plant

Germany is going forward with its plan to phase out nuclear reactors by 2022 as another nuclear power plant is going offline on December 31.

Power company EnBW has said that it would take the Philippsburg 2 reactor off the grid at 7 p.m. local time on New Year’s Eve.

This leaves Germany with six nuclear power plants that will have to close by 2022.

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, Germany ordered the immediate shutdown of eight of its 17 reactors, and plans to phase out nuclear power plants entirely by 2022.

The Philippsburg 2 reactor near the city of Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany has provided energy for 35 years. The Philippsburg 1 reactor—opened in 1979—was taken offline in 2011.

Over the past few years, nuclear power generation in Germany has been declining with the shutdown of its nuclear plants, while electricity production from renewable sources has been rising.

In January this year, Germany became the latest large European economy to lay out a plan to phase out coal-fired power generation, aimed at cutting carbon emissions—a metric in which Berlin has been lagging in recent years.

A government-appointed special commission at Europe’s largest economy announced the conclusions of its months-long review and proposed that Germany shut all its 84 coal-fired power plants by 2038

Germany, where coal, hard coal, and lignite combined currently provide around 35 percent of power generation, has a longer timetable for phasing out coal than the UK and Italy, for example—who plan their coal exit by 2025—not only because of its vast coal industry, but also because Germany will shut down all its nuclear power plants within the next three years.

The closure of all nuclear reactors in Germany by 2022 means that Germany might need to retain half of its coal-fired power generation until 2030 to offset the nuclear phase-out, German Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier said earlier this year.

Boston Globe: the false promise of nuclear power

Boston Globe: the false promise of nuclear power

Preface. This article raises many objections to nuclear power. Theoretically it could be cheaper, but the exact opposite has happened, it keeps getting more expensive. For example the only new reactors being built in the U.S. now are at Georgia Power’s Vogtle plant. Costs were initially estimated at $14 billion; the latest estimate is $21 billion. The first reactors at the plant, built in the 1970s, took a decade longer to build than planned, and cost 10 times more than expected. The two under construction now were expected to be running 2016, but it’s now unlikely that they’ll be ready in 2022. 

The authors also point out that reactors are vulnerable to catastrophes from extreme weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis; from technical failure; and unavoidable human error. Climate change has led to severe droughts that shut down reactors as the surrounding waters become too warm to provide the vital cooling function. 

And much more.

***

Jay Lifton, Naomi Oreskes. 2019. The false promise of nuclear power. Boston Globe.

Commentators from Greenpeace to the World Bank agree that climate change is an emergency, threatening civilization and life on our planet. Any solution must involve the control of greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil fuels and switching to alternative technologies that do not impair the human habitat while providing the energy we require to function as a species.

This sobering reality has led some prominent observers to re-embrace nuclear energy. Advocates declare it clean, efficient, economical, and safe. In actuality it is none of these. It is expensive and poses grave dangers to our physical and psychological well-being. According to the US Energy Information Agency,the average nuclear power generating cost is about $100 per megawatt-hour. Compare this with $50 per megawatt-hour for solar and $30 to $40 per megawatt-hour for onshore wind. The financial group Lazard recently said that renewable energy costs are now “at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation” — that is, fossil fuels — and much lower than nuclear.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nuclear waste disposal drilled deep into earth’s crust

Nuclear waste disposal drilled deep into earth’s crust

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is frack-hole-drilling.jpg

Preface. I suspect one the greatest tragedies of the decline of oil will be all the nuclear waste left for thousands of low-tech generations in the future. We owe it to them to clean up our mess while we still have excess oil energy to do it.  But far more likely nuclear wastewill sit at nuclear reactors, military sites, and wherever nuclear warheads are kept, shortening the lives of anyone who lives near them.

There are two articles below about possible ways to dispose of nuclear waste into deep holes that sound good to me.

Related: Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste by William M. Alley & Rosemarie Alley. 2013. Cambridge University Press to understand how serious the problem is.

***

Vidal, J. 2019. What should we do with nuclear waste? Ensia.

Richard Muller, professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley and his daughter, co-founder of company  Deep Isolation gave a demonstration in January 2019 of how nuclear waste could be buried permanently using oil-fracking technology. A 140 pound steel canister (with no radioactive waste) was placed in a previously drilled borehole deep into the ground.

With this technique, there’s no need to excavate expensive tunnels. The Mullers think with larger canisters pushed through 300 boreholes up to two miles deep under a billion tons of rock where radiation can’t possibly leak out.  This method could store most of the US’s highest level nuclear waste permanently  for a third of what storage methods cost now.

Many ideas have been investigated, but most have been rejected as impractical, too expensive or ecologically unacceptable. They include shooting it into spaceisolating it in synthetic rockburying it in ice sheetsdumping it on the world’s most isolated islands; and dropping it to the bottom of the world’s deepest oceanic trenches.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Getting Real About Green Energy: An honest analysis of what it CAN’T promise

Getting Real About Green Energy: An honest analysis of what it CAN’T promise

I want to be optimistic about the future. I really do.

But there’s virtually no chance of the world transitioning gently to an alternative energy-powered future.

These Are The ‘Good Old Days’

I’m often asked where I stand on wind, solar and other alternative energy sources.

My answer is: I love them. But they’re incapable of enabling our society to smoothly slip over to powering itself by other means.

They’re not going to “save us”.

Some people are convinced otherwise. If we can just fight off the evil oil companies, get our act together, and install a national alternative energy system infrastructure, we’ll be just fine.  Meaning that we”ll be able to continue to live as we do today, but powered fully by clean renewable energy.

That’s just not going to happen. At least, not without a lot of painful disruption and sacrifice.

The top three reasons why are:

  1. Math
  2. Human behavior
  3. Time, scale, & cost

I walk through the detail below. I’m doing so to debunk the magical thinking behind the current “Green Revolution” because I fear it offers a false promise.

Look, I’m a huge fan of renewable energy. And I’m 1,000% in favor of weaning the world off of its toxic addiction to fossil fuels.

But we have to be eyes wide open about our future prospects. Deluding ourselves with “feel good” but unrealistic expectations about green energy will result in the same sort of poor decisions, malinvestment, and crushed dreams as fossil-based system has.

As we constantly repeat here at Peak Prosperity: Energy is everything.  

Without as much available, the future is going to be exceptionally difficult compared to the present. Which is why I call the time we’re living in now The Good Old Days.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase