Monday, June 30, 2008

The Wall Street Journal Energy Report

Wall Street JournalIn the unlikely event you've missed it today, The Wall Street Journal has published a special package on Energy and nuclear is the cover girl/boy. WSJ editor Michael Totty has written the lead article, The Case For and Against Nuclear Power. (Janus-like, Totty sees, and provides, both arguments.)

Sidebar materials include a podcast interview with Eileen Claussen, president of the nonpartisan Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Interesting exchange at the 8:44 mark,

Totty: What's your assessment? Will the [nuclear] industry succeed? Or will nuclear power, at least in the U.S., slip in importance over time as other energy sources come up?

Claussen: Well, if you look at the mix of sources that we now have—I think coal is about 50% of electricity generation, nuclear is about 20%—renewables, for all the growth we've seen, particularly in wind, is still in the single digits. So even if we worked really hard to increase the share of renewables, we're still going to need baseload power. And the demand for that power is growing in the United States, not shrinking or staying stable. To meet that, you're going to have to go to either nuclear, coal, with carbon capture and sequestration, or natural gas. And I think, with a carbon price, nuclear will do very well in that. This is going to last for a long time, so I think it [nuclear power] will do well over time. In fact, probably better and better.

9 comments:

Kirk Sorensen said...

This is a very exciting time to be involved in the nuclear energy field. Policymakers around the world are coming to the same conclusion--nuclear energy is the way to go for the future.

The real question now is: what form of nuclear energy will become dominant? Will it be the once-through, solid-core, uranium-oxide light-water reactors of the last fifty years, or will it be a form of nuclear energy that addresses many of the concerns about waste, economy, security, efficiency, and safety that we have faced--a reactor like the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor?

Brian Mays said...

Frankly, I don't care what gets built, as long as something gets built. Advanced designs for light-water reactors are ready to go today and have benefited from 50 years of experience running them all over the world.

Surely, Kirk, you're not suggesting that we postpone the nuclear "renaissance" another twenty years, while we take your favorite design from concept to realizable, full-scale commercial product, are you?

For the next generation of nuclear plants (i.e., the plants that will be built over the next 20 years), this question was answered a couple of decades ago.

Kirk Sorensen said...

No, I'm not suggesting postponing anything, but there are issues with nuclear energy that will have to be addressed for it to truly become a dominant planetary energy source.

The analogy to me is like computers. LWRs are the mainframes, big and clunky and a handful are sold each year. LFTRs are like the PC, and eventually they'll dominate the market. Mainframes didn't stop selling when the PC came along, but eventually they went out of business.

The wasteful fuel use of the LWRs can't be tolerated for generations.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Brian on this one. Too much has been invested in LWR technology to see a rapid movement away from it in the near term. Long term, we're going to have to go with some kind of breeder system. If we can squeeze a little more out of those by operating at higher primary temperatures (i.e., liquid metal), so much the better. We're going to have to green-light reprocessing and actinide recycle to manage the back end of the fuel cycle more efficiently.

I'm also with Brian on the need to get some dirt flying and concrete poured. For all the talk about a nuclear revival, we need someone to step up to the plate and build a plant. Like Elvis used to say, "A little less conversation, a little more action please. All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me. A little more bite and a little less bark." The train needs to commence leaving the station if we're ever going to get anywhere.

Kirk Sorensen said...

LFTR is a breeder--it runs on thorium. It doesn't produce the transuranics that require recycling. The reprocessing is simple and built into the reactor. It produces primary heat at higher temperatures than a liquid-metal cooled reactor would, enabling ~50% thermal conversion efficiency.

The nuclear industry would probably be supremely happy with 50 LWRs built over the next 40 years, but if we're really going to get this planet off fossil fuels we will need thousands of gigawatt-class reactors. And the LWR isn't the machine to do that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both Kirk and Brian. We need to roll up our sleeves and start getting off coal now with LWR, but we can't expect to go the distance with the wasteful once-through fuel cycle.

bw said...

China and India may be able to have enough orders for an "all of the above" type situation.

China has about 100+ nuclear plants in the pipeline from now to 2030.

They are working in high temperature reactors which they will mass produce initially as supplement to the big LWR/PWR. Used in smaller cities and for industrial heat until they are proven out. Also they are building a few fast breeders. The High temperature reactors can use thorium.

India seems like the best bet for the thorium path.

The Japanese just need to find some partners (or free up the money themselves)to put up the billion or so dollars to develop the Fuji-MSR reactor design.

btw: mainframes still exist as a multi-billion dollar industry today but are not the dominant computer.

It looks like new reactor designs will get built and proven overseas before the US adopts them. US companies will still be involved in most cases.

The USA will be a late adopter. If the 30 reactors get built (or if McCain gets in 45+) then the US may start getting into a better position. Any climate change bill that hits carbon with charges will defacto help nuclear.

Ray Lightning said...

Once-through cycle LWRS are like dinosaurs which should have long died their graceful death. They are not the answer to our needs, neither in sustainable energy, nor in significant coal reduction.

Indeed, coal can provide more energy than Uranium if once through reactors is all we construct.

Further, LWRs are very difficult to decomission with an enormous cost. Building more of them will surely delay the true breeder reactors which make efficient use of nuclear fuel.

What we need is rapid prototyping of breeder reactors, both flouride reactors and fast reactors.. We need the construction of reprocessing plants to address the nuclear waste that is already piled up by the current LWRs.

The nuclear establishment neither has the money nor the interest in investing in these new technologies. Building more LWRs and calling this a nuclear renaissance is stupid.

Who is fooling whom ?

Rod Adams said...

Ray Lighting:

I disagree. Just because we build LWRs does not mean that we are locked into a once through cycle. After all, we have carefully stored and inventoried the left overs from the first time through and cooled them to the point where they are going to be relatively easy to recycle.

I think we have plenty of life left in LWRs just as we have plenty of still operating machinery running on old operating systems and we still have 1970s vintage V8s on the road.

There are better designs that need some seasoning including Kirk's LFTR and my favorite pebble beds high temperature reactors. However, I am quite excited about a new generation of Light Water Reactors that have improved fuel economy, better passive safety, and perhaps even some that take more lessons from more recent smaller reactors like those that last for 33 years in modern submarines.

There is no reason for us nukes to try to compare our favorite designs against other nuclear plants - we need to keep contrasting them with the fossil fuel alternatives. No need for infighting - let's fight the real enemy!