Monday, August 25, 2008

Joe Biden on Nuclear Energy

_44945397_biden_getty_226b The nice thing about Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate is that the latter ran for president himself this cycle and thus piled up a stack of interviews in which he gave his views on - well, everything. If Obama had anything to worry about with Biden on nuclear energy, he may rest easy:

What role do you see for nuclear power?

I see a role for nuclear, but first you've got to deal with the security as well as the safety concerns. I'd be spending a whole hell of a lot of money trying to figure out how to reconfigure the spent fuel into reusable fuel. I would not invest in [growing our nuclear power capacity in its current form], but I would invest in sorting out the storage and waste problems.

Sounds a lot like - Obama.

On other issues, the Indian media seems pleased because Biden has been a major supporter of the agreement allowing nuclear technologies and materials to flow between India and the United States. This is mildly controversial because India has not signed any non-proliferation pacts, mildly so because there is no evidence that India has engaged in any proliferation. Biden is on fairly solid ground here.

Check out this story from the Times of India - there's a lot of Biden love from the subcontinent.

Less love is flowing from the Israelis. This bit from Haaretz explains the uneasiness:

Biden has said more than once that he does not think that isolating Iran is the most efficient way to combat the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions, and he has even urged sensitivity to Iran's needs. He met with a senior Iranian official in Davos, which led his detractors to say that he was willing to negotiate with an extremist regime that supports terrorism. On the other hand, Biden has proclaimed that a nuclear Iran was "unacceptable."

Well, "an extremist regime that supports terrorism" certainly puts the cork on that bottle. We looked at a few Iranian news sites to see how Biden worked for them, but so far, silence (at least in English).

Well, it's not a nuclear energy love feast on the Democratic side of the fence - it's more than a little frustrating, since more Democratic legislators support nuclear energy these days than hitherto. Part of the reason is no doubt political practicality, but the larger part is simply that time has removed it as a reliable way to get environmentalists under the Democratic tent. Nuclear energy and its "green" benefits make arguments against it sound a little tinny.

We've got a convention in Denver this week, so let's see what comes out of that. And of course, John McCain might well throw a wrench in the Democratic love feast with a VP choice of his own.

Biden himself. "Listen, you, any Republican that thinks they can outpoint me has another think coming." Politicians must really practice their pointing skills in the mirror. You wouldn't want one around a flock of quails or the pointing would get out of control.

9 comments:

THaskin said...

That's kind of what I thought his stance would be. and it is certainly better than Hilary's enraging, short-thinking stance on the issue. But I do hope when he's quoted as not wanting to "invest in [growing our nuclear power capacity in its current form]," he's referring to Gen. III+ or a Fast Spectrum Fleet and not "Renewables and Conservation Can Solve ALL of Our Problems."

Kirk Sorensen said...

I'd be spending a whole hell of a lot of money trying to figure out how to reconfigure the spent fuel into reusable fuel.

Hmmm, I agree. The first thing I'd do with spent fuel is fluorinate it, turning uranium oxide into uranium tetrafluoride, zirconium metal into zirconium tetrafluoride, and the TRUs and fission products into fluorides. Add some sodium fluoride and you've got NaF-ZrF4-UF4, the same salt mixture that was used in the first fluoride reactor, the Aircraft Reactor Experiment, back in the 1950s. A salt we understand very well and have proven in nuclear operation.

Bill said...

"... I would invest in sorting out the storage and waste problems."

Of course, one big part of the waste problem is Sen. Harry Reid. How's he going to solve that?

Matthew66 said...

I interpret Biden's comments as meaning he's pro-nuclear but doesn't want to scare off the powerful anti-nuclear factions within the Decmocratic Party during the election.

Solving siting issues doesn't have to be as hard as we've made Yucca Mountain. I favor doing what the South Koreans have done - outline the risks and benefits, offer a bunch of cash and ask communities to volunteer. I expect that there are a lot of communities around the USA that would happily take lots of federal dollars and high paying jobs to host a nuclear fuel recycling factility.

Rod Adams said...

Matthew:

I like the way that you think. I know of a number of communities in the US that are open to new industrial employers, especially those that will become solid members of the community.

Nuclear facilities generally improve educational systems, allow long term employment and pay reasonable salaries.

Sure beats fighting over the next private prison construction project.

Pete said...

If elected, Obama's choice for Secretary of Energy will have more of an impact than whomever the Vice President is. Obama will need to nominate someone to DOE who is going to fight global warming. Even though nuclear would do a good job of that (if warming is occurring due to CO2), most dedicated environmentalists are still against nuclear energy.

Anonymous said...

Biden voted against selecting Yucca Mountain in 2002. The big concern is that Obama/Biden may politically short-circuit the independent NRC review of the Yucca Mountain license application.

Hopefully Congress will not allow this to happen, because the U.S. needs a repository for high level waste. Instead hope that a major effort occurs to change our policy for how to use Yucca Mountain, and let the independent technical review process by the NRC proceed without interference.

Jim Muckerheide said...

Bill,

See Kirk Sorensen's quote and response, and Matthew and Rod - and Reid is no problem.

The nuclear industry and DOE are the problem in their misbegotten, self-serving, effort to try to throw away used fuel assemblies (under terms compounded by several untenable conditions). We've known this since the '80s.

Just get YM designated to (eventually) take HLW. There is no schedule urgency. And there's enough time to show that disposing of vitrified HLW canisters is without risk (maybe even to our "industry leaders")!

Reid will be long dead before a YM schedule to take HLW is needed - and eliminating the possibility that we can be held hostage to any critical path. (Closing essentially all Nevada work in the meantime will get their attention.)

The Feds pay for on-site storage, the ratepayers pay the Waste Fund, so industry needs to just sit down and shut up about YM, while getting on with important nuclear power issues that are not being addressed!

Kirk Sorensen said...

Thanks Jim!

The next step after making NaF-ZrF4-UF4 is to remove the uranium. This is really easy to do--by fluorination to UF6. Then you can send the UF6 back to the enrichment plant (it has nearly the same enrichment as natural uranium) or convert it to oxide and bury it in some vented cave. It's as harmless as it was when it was dug up.

Next take your NaF-ZrF4-FP(F)-TRU(F) and remove the transuranics by metallic reduction with aluminum. Aluminum becomes a fluoride and the TRUs become metal.

Now you can finish the job by reacting the metallic TRUs with chlorine-37 to form TRU-chlorides which will serve as the feed fuel for a liquid-chloride fast spectrum reactor. In the chloride reactor you'll destroy the TRUs (through fission) and capture the excess neutrons in a thorium blanket, forming the U-233 needed to start fluoride reactors, which will thereafter run only on thorium.

Hence you get rid of the waste while started the new reactors (LFTRs) that don't form TRU-waste in the first place or require any fuel beyond natural, abundant thorium.