Monday, April 17, 2006

Patrick Moore Live Online at 11 a.m. U.S. EDT

He'll be part of an online chat at washingtonpost.com at the top of the hour to talk about yesterday's opinion piece on nuclear energy. Click here to join the conversation.

Nuclear power is dependent upon uranium, which is an element that must be mined. I am left wondering: How is this any more practical than coal mining? Where is uranium found -- and which particular countries are rich in the resource? And, as with coal or oil, won't there eventually be a uranium scarcity problem?
Once again, I'll refer back to a June 2005 post by my NEI colleague, Dr. Clifton W. Farrell:
Forecasts of new nuclear generation expect approximately 40-60 new reactors worldwide by 2020. This will increase uranium demand to approximately 195 million pounds in 2010 and 240 million pounds by 2020. For an assumed price of $30/lb U3O8, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimated world uranium resources in 2003 to be 3,537,000 metric tons, an amount adequate to fuel conventional reactors for approximately 50 years. The IAEA further estimated all conventional uranium resources to be 14.4 million metric tons, an amount which would cover over 200 years' supply at current rates of consumption.

Importantly, these forecasts do not include non-conventional sources of uranium, such as those contained in phosphates or in seawater, which are currently not economic to extract but represent a near limitless supply of uranium to meet increased demand. Clearly, there are very adequate uranium (and thorium) resources to fuel the world's expanding nuclear fleet. And that doesn't even begin to address the issue of reprocessing of used nuclear fuel -- something that's already done overseas, but that the U.S. has eschewed so far for economic reasons.
That's it for now. I'll have more later.

UPDATE: Moore's piece is kicking up some serious dust today, as Technorati has it ranked as the 2nd most discussed news story on blogs today. But what some might find surprising is the pockets of support we're finding from liberal bloggers. Here's Mark Kleiman:
Thanks in no small part to Ralph Nader, opposition to nuclear power has been a shibboleth of the environmental movement. I learned about the mendacity and the Inquisitorial fanaticism of the Nader-led anti-nuke forces thirty years ago, when I worked for a leading anti-nuclear Congressman, Les Aspin. First, I noticed the prevalence of unfacts in Critical Mass propaganda, even on the breeder reactor issue where the anti-nuke forces clearly had the better end of the policy argument. Then I discovered that the confident Naderite prediction of one meltdown per 1000 reactor-years was entirely made up out of whole cloth, and started to think through the nuclear/coal comparison. Then, when I persuaded my boss to switch sides on the question of a moratorium on light-water-reactor construction (he'd authored the first bill on the topic, but declined to re-introduce it in 1995) I learned how nasty and unforgiving the Naderites were in the face of heresy.
Here's Matt Yglesias at TPM Cafe:
I have a kind of fondness for the environmentalist case for nuclear power, but I don't know that much about it. But Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, is on the nuclear bandwagon. Mark Kleiman, too. And see Michael Crowley's two posts on the subject. Basically, nuclear power seems to be the only realistic way to both combat global warming and keep generating lots of electricity.
Later, when some of his readers took him to task, Matt backed off a bit, but I give him credit for at least considering the argument.

Over at Daily Kos, where one diarist is taking Moore to task for his industry connections (something which he's disclosed on more than one occasion), we're seeing pro-nuclear energy sympathies in the comments:
Nuclear power can be as safe as any power if used responsibly. How do you think we are going to maintain civilization in the 21th century?

(snip)

Nuclear power is a smart investment because, right now, it's the only viable long term investment. Nothing else we know of has a chance at meeting our considerable energy needs in the future.

(snip)

I support nuclear power but it's probably because I'm pretty comfortable working with radiation and don't have the irrational fear of it that some future saboteurs seem to be proud of. I use it for molecular biology (although usually just a wimpy isotope of phosphate) and in my physics days studied more nasty things like cesium sources and worked at a particle accelerator. I'm far more concerned about global climate change than about the very, very tiny possibility of an American nuclear reactor wreaking havoc or increasing the risk of cancer.

(snip)

Unlike fossil fuel waste...

...which is stored in the environment and in our tissues, nuclear materials at every stage of the fuel cycle are isolated and shielded. Only one percent of all nuclear fuel is long-lasting in terms of radioactive decay.

It is curious that people worry more about what might happen to a hypothetical race 10,000 years from now who decide to tunnel deep into a geologic nuclear waste repository and risk exposure than they do about what is happening to our own health and that of our children because of fossil fuel combustion.

Some are predicting that by the time today's children reach middle age, the ocean may be several feet higher.
Mind you, Daily Kos is a massive online diary for progressive/liberal/Democratic party activists. And while the approval is by no means universal, there is a strong reservoir of folks who are tired of hysterics and are willing to hear more about sound science. We've said for a while now that support for nuclear energy is bipartisan, and looking around today, there seems to be ample anecdotal evidence that's the case.

More later. And trust me, there's a lot more.

UPDATE: It is going to literally take me days to review everything that's been written on this piece over the last 24 hours. It just keeps coming.

Here's another convert, Michelle Cottle, who is filling in for Time's Andrew Sullivan:
My father has spent his entire career in the nuclear field—first in the Navy, then in nuclear power. He has long insisted that, despite what my lefty media colleagues might think, when environmental activists got serious about global warming they would concede that nuclear energy ain't all bad. I always thought he was nuts—not so much on the merits of his point as regarding his belief that any self-respecting green would embrace anything nuclear. Then comes today’s Washington Post opinion piece from Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. Apparently, Moore has been moving in this direction for quite some time. Looks like I owe Dad an apology.
I'm sure Dad will be forgiving. As always, more later...

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: I got my terms mixed up on the thermal efficiency question from yesterday. Here's reader Michael Murdock with a clarification:
The participant was referring to thermal efficiency, and although I think he/she is a bit high at 45% (my recollection is something on the order of 30-35% thermal efficiency – Catawba, for example has a core rating of about 3,400 MWt and a net generation of around 1,130 MWe, roughly 33% thermal efficiency), he/she is absolutely right in saying that over half of the heat produced is rejected to the environment. Equating that to adding to “global warming,” however, is just nonsense.

Your statement that, “The measure the industry uses for nuclear power plant efficiency is called capacity factor,” is not technically correct. Capacity factor is a measure of how long we run our plants at maximum dependable capacity (MDC). That’s not the same as efficiency, but it is an indicator that we are running the plants longer at higher outputs, which is definitely a good thing.
My mistake. I stand corrected.

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3 comments:

Stewart Peterson said...

1. They were talking about thermal efficiency (they're right). The correct answer is that that's not enough heat to do anything; global warming is a chemical change to the atmosphere that results in more heat being trapped. Capacity factor is totally different.
2. Uranium: not the only fuel; sea mining; 10 million times more energy dense than coal and 2 million times more than oil; found in Australia and Canada (and the sea).

Sum it up, guys. Lay out the evidence; don't reassure people. People don't want to be reassured.

David Bradish said...

Thermal efficiency doesn't just apply to nuclear plants. It applies to all steam cycle plants: coal, natural gas and oil. All steam cycle plants (aka Rankine cycle) have about a 32%-34% efficiency rate.

Combined cycle plants (aka Brayton cycles) have efficiencies as high as almost 50%.

Stewart Peterson said...

You know and I know but they don't.

Please speak their language.