Tuesday, July 10, 2007

E Magazine and Nuclear Energy

Everyday, we see more indications that the global environmental movement is ready to give a hearing to nuclear energy and the role that it can play in helping to constrain greenhouse gas emissions while supplying reliable and affordable electricity.

I just found another good sign this morning, as E/The Environmental Magazine, is featuring a number of articles on nuclear energy in their current issue.

While I think the editors at E should be applauded for tackling the issue, and I believe that in many ways they've clearly worked to be even-handed, there are a number of areas where they fall short. I'll detail some of those areas now, as well as point to some additional resources of information on NEI's Web site:

A Nuclear Phoenix?

The uranium supply is also an issue. On the spot market, uranium prices have soared as existing reactors have worked through supplies from mothballed plants. Demand is projected to exceed supply and push prices higher. The shortfall in uranium mining can be at least partly made up in uranium enrichment (an outgrowth of atomic bomb development), but capacity is limited there, too.
We've tackled the issue of uranium supply many times, most recently this past March. Essentially, our position remains that short-term strains on the system shouldn't be misinterpreted as a long-term trend. For more, click here and here.
Uranium enrichment also aggravates both global warming and ozone depletion. The single remaining uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., Paducah Gaseous Diffusion in Kentucky, emits highly destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used to dissipate heat generated by the compressors. And the plant is fired by two large, extremely dirty coal power plants.
This is an old Helen Caldicott talking point that we've debunked before, first here and then here. And finally, here's a detailed response from USEC that we last quoted back in December 2005:
Caldicott Assertion A: Uranium enrichment uses 93 percent of the CFC gas released annually in the United States.

USEC Response A

That calculation is based on 2001 data, when USEC was operating two enrichment facilities. That year, USEC consolidated production at its Paducah plant.

The shutdown of the Portsmouth, OH plant and improvements made in control of CFCs at Paducah have enabled USEC to reduce CFC emissions by about two-thirds.

The Paducah gaseous diffusion plant was built in the 1950s. USEC plans to replace it with highly efficient gas centrifuge technology, which will use no CFCs. The American Centrifuge Plant is expected to begin operations later this decade.

Caldicott Assertion B: Uranium enrichment uses electricity generated by coal-fired plants.

USEC Response B

USEC purchases the majority of its electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which produces electricity using a supply mix of 61% coal, 29% nuclear and 9% hydropower.

The remainder of USEC's purchased power comes primarily from natural gas and nuclear plants.
Living With Radiation
Despite industry campaigns, it’s unlikely most people will ever be totally comfortable with nuclear plants as neighbors.
Really? I suggest you take a look at the public opinion data the industry has been collecting since November 1998 that seems to refute that position.

Nuclear Hydrogen: The Clean Byproduct

For more on nuclear energy and hydrogen, click here.

Nuking Food

Some typical scare tactics from the usual suspects who can't offer any evidence to back up their claims. For more on food irradiation, click here.

No Nukes, Go Nukes: Two Views

From an interview with Aiden Meyer of UCS:
Is it feasible, given the lack of immediately affordable alternatives, for European countries like Germany to announce nuclear power phaseouts?

This question inaccurately assumes that there is a “lack of immediately affordable alternatives.” Germany and other European countries are aggressively expanding power generation from wind and other renewable resources, even as they pursue a wide range of energy-efficiency improvements in every sector of their economies.
But of course, Meyer ignores more recent news that Germany won't be able to meet its aggressive emission reduction targets without nuclear energy, and the changing political situation on the ground.

10 comments:

Alex Brown said...

Also important to note that the USEC plant is completely obsolete at this point and will be replaced by gas cetnerfuge technoloy which uses only 10% of the electricicty of the gaseous diffusion plant (not sure on CFC emmisions, but i'm sure every effort would be made in teh design of the new plant to avoid them since they are currently very frowned upon wheras when the current plant was built they were nto seen as a problem). As for uranium supply, the current high prices are due to a "perfect storm" type scenarion in which many things have come together to drive up prices. These include the flooding on one of the biggest uranium mines, the lack of new mines construction due to the draw down of uranium from nuclear weapons, and the addition of uranium on the futures market meaning even banks can such can bid it up. Add to that the fect that uranium has a very inelastic demand curve (the VAST majority is used as nuclear reactor fuel and the the consumption from these plants is pretty much cosntant, nto to mention that a lack of uranium for a plant would cost 2 million dollars a day to a utility so prices would have to increase 20 fold to impact demand meaningfully).

Alessandro said...

" Caldicott Assertion B: Uranium enrichment uses electricity generated by coal-fired plants.

USEC Response B

USEC purchases the majority of its electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which produces electricity using a supply mix of 61% coal, 29% nuclear and 9% hydropower.

The remainder of USEC's purchased power comes primarily from natural gas and nuclear plants "

Even if all electricity consumed in uranium enrichment plants comes
from coal plants, the total GHG emissions in the nuclear fuel cycle would be very scarse.
Infact, it takes only 50/70 kWh per SWU (separative work unit, 2500 kWh/SWU in diffusion plants) in centrifuge plants and about 150 thousand SWU to produce a GWyear of nuclear electricity. So, at last, it's anyway a very small fraction of the total energy needs of the nuclear fuel chain

Rod Adams said...

This is as good a place as any to bring up an old question of mine to a group of people who just might be able to provide me with a satisfactory answer.

Though I have heard a lot about how CFC's destroy the ozone layer, I have never been able to figure out how they get there.

The molecular weight of freon is 171, which is considerably heavier than air which is about 29. The material safety data sheets for the product warn people that it accumulates particularly at or below ground level.

I have personally experienced how it sinks - when we had a freon leak from our AC unit on my submarine, we could only detect the gas in the bilge. Rest assured, there is a lot of moving air in the engine room of an operating submarine, so that effect holds even in a well mixed environment.

Can anyone tell me how the freon is supposed to rise up to the ozone layer? How did we find it up there? Was it actually measured or was there some kind of other indicator that it was there?

Enquiring minds (at least one of them) wants to know.

KenG said...

Here's an answer on CFC migration from Argonne National Lab:
http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/wea00/wea00199.htm

Michael Stuart said...

CFCs are lighter than frogs.

OK, it might be a little off topic, but Rod did ask.

Anonymous said...

I think the way it works, if you pour out a jug of a dense vapour such as a CFC, is that first the system's free energy is reduced by the vapour's fall. Then it is reduced further by the vapour's dispersion throughout the available volume, including the high-up regions; the centre of mass of the dense vapour rises, and this is paid for by a reduction in the temperature of the mixed gases.

That dispersal is irreversible; if the dense gas is CO2 that you are exhaling in a confined space, you cannot hope to avoid suffocation by the CO2's settling out around your feet, even though that settling, by lowering the centre of mass of the CO2 distribution, would release energy and heat the confined gases.

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former H2 fan
O2 expands around B fire, car goes

Rod Adams said...

Once again, I am left dissatisfied with the answers.

The molecular weight of R-114 (Dichlorotetrafluoroethane) is 170.9 while air is about 31. Air is a mixture of N2 and O2 with molecular weights of 28 and 32 respectively.

In other words R-114 is more than 5 times as dense as air. The mixing that people mentioned for something like CO2 is not really relevant - CO2 has a molecular weight of 44, which is still reasonably close to that of air.

I am pretty certain that if you put R-114 into a tall column with other gases, there might be some very minimal measurable amount at the top of the column, but the vast majority would be found at the very bottom of the column.

That is the behavior that we saw on the boat - the R-114 preferentially sank to the bilges and could not be measured even at deck level, much less in the elevated portions of the ship.

You would have to heat the gas by a factor of 5 on an absolute scale to reduce its density to the same as air - that means about 1500 degrees K. I think that temperature would be high enough to break down the molecules into something else.

No - I still believe that there is something scientifically or commercially fishy about the whole CFC scare.

Rod Adams said...

Mike:

Your point about frogs illustrates mine - sure, the high winds lifted the little amphibians up, but as soon as the wind slowed, they fell (rained) back to the ground.

They did not continue moving up into the stratosphere! For CFC's to be responsible for destroying the ozone layer, they have to reach atmospheric heights of about 30 miles or more!

Rod Adams said...

One more thing about the CFC known as R-114 - it has a boiling point of 3.7 C (38 F). At a temperature below that point, it will condense and turn to a liquid.

It is not likely to be able to get up very high in the atmosphere without reaching that temperature!

KenG said...

Don't get tunnel vision Rod. The R-114 boiling point is 3.7 C at atmospheric pressure. When it's released, the partial pressure boiling point is the key parameter, not the atmospheric pressure boiling point.