Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Nuclear Energy In Increments and In Taiwan

Taiwanplant Duncan Currie takes a look at various energy sources and the history of their use – using the books Energy Myths and Realities by Vaclav Smil and Power Hungry by Robert Bryce as a basis – and comes to some conclusions that, at the very least, are true:

Compared with solar and wind, nuclear and natural-gas energy boast much higher power density and can deliver far greater capacity. Bryce argues that they are the true "fuels of the future," though he concedes that nuclear plants are extremely costly to build and take a long time to become operational. Therefore, he urges a short-term expansion of natural-gas production and a long-term transition to nuclear.

Earlier in the piece, Currie’s survey leads him to conclude that large shifts in energy policy are incremental and thus the run up to a nuclear future need not be immediate to be effective.

He exaggerates a bit. Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle reactors are scheduled to go online in 2016 and 2017, which isn’t all that far off, and, as David Bradish demonstrates in the post below, even the cost issue can be problematic – but it’s a fair point.

I’m also a little skeptical about the use of natural gas as a stop gap – it produces half the carbon dioxide of coal but that’s still rather a lot – and more than a little skeptical at Currie’s breezy dismissal of renewable energy sources:

Solar and wind energy both suffer from major structural deficiencies. As Bryce observes, they are "incurably intermittent" and very difficult to store, and have low power density. Because of their low density, solar and wind "require huge swaths of land — which often becomes unusable for other purposes."

“Incurably intermittent” is too definitive for my taste – technology, notably battery technology, marches onward – and wind farms frequently cohabit with farm farms – that is, the kind with crops and animals. That mitigates its need of “huge swaths of land” devoted to its use alone.

But it’s an interesting article and not overwhelmed with ideology, which can be a problem at political web sites. Well worth a read.

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Taiwan is feeling pretty good about a clean bill of health from the IAEA:

Taiwan has for the fourth consecutive year been placed on an international list of countries whose nuclear materials are all used for peaceful purposes, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) reported Tuesday.

Taiwan has three nuclear energy plants housing six reactors. It gets about a fifth of its electricity from nuclear energy and about 40 percent (the most) from coal. But a couple of new reactors are under construction, so those percentages will likely tilt in nuclear energy’s (and a clean air) direction. So good for Taiwan.

But this aroused curiosity:

The IAEA's announcement put paid to media speculation about the purpose of Taiwan's nuclear development and confirmed the government's consistent policy of "not developing, producing, acquiring, storing, nor applying" nuclear weapons, the AEC said.

Because, after all, if nobody suspected Taiwan of harboring an interest in weaponry, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Global Security has a concise rundown on where the suspicion lies:

Speculation over a covert Taiwanese nuclear program intensified on 13 October 2004, after the Associated Press reported that International Atomic Energy Agency officials disclosed they had evidence that Taiwan experimented with plutonium during the early 1980s (AP). Taiwanese experts voiced strong opposition to the idea of a nuclear program, saying it would bring direct conflict with China and isolate Taiwan from the United States (Taipei Times, ETtoday).

And a little more:

Taiwan does not have its own natural reserves of nuclear raw materials and actively cooperates with other countries in searching for and exploring uranium deposits. A five-year agreement between a Taiwanese and an American firm on joint development of uranium ore in the United States was signed in 1985.

One doesn’t have to be too naive to think Taiwan’s opportunities for mischief are not very good and its consistent support for non-proliferation (it’s signed the NPT treaty) and a tight control of nuclear materials only add to that. At most, it appears to have been “weapons-curious” and not even that for many years.

But Taiwan does appear to have to beat back speculation and one would be naive not to weigh China’s interest in uncovering provocative activity in Taiwan when considering such stories. So the IAEA’s seal of approval in this area has a notably tactical value for Taiwan that it might not have for other countries on its list. So be it.

Taiwan Power Company's No 3 Nuclear Power Plant in Hengchun.

6 comments:

seth said...

You seem to have a lot of trouble with the concept of NG distribution leakage.

When this is added in NG actually produces more GHG's than coal.

http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/44113

In the mountains, large areas of forest need to be clearcut for wind farms.

Anonymous said...

NG is primarily methane and is a terrible GHG. There is a processing step following NG extraction and you have leakage and losses to deal with, as well as transport losses. It is best matched to end use as a domestic fuel for heating and other applications in the home. I'd rather use nuclear for large-scale electricity production in place of NG, and save the gas for heating and other home use.

Joffan said...

Just a note to appreciate the "weapons-curious" coinage :-)

Bill Rodgers said...

Wind and solar will always be incurably intermittent as Mr. Bryce states. We humans currently do not have methods to alter the global weather patterns for our personal benefit and personally I hope we never do.

Batteries, CAES, or any other storage mechanisms are methods to mitigate the intermittency issues not eliminate or even reduce them.

However even those storage mechanisms won't help mitigate the intermittency issues if, over a 5 day period for example, wind generation is a faction of the demand as routinely happens. Or if a long winter storm reduces the solar output to zero for 3-4 days while heating loads dramatically increase.

Demand in those situations will outstrip the ability of the storage device to provide power to the grid since it is not being recharged sufficiently by the wind or solar generation source.

In other words, incurably intermittent.

Anonymous said...

The intermittent availability of wind and solar generation makes it inevitable that more natural gas will be burned for baseload generation, assuming you abstain from nuclear and coal use. That is the elephant in the living room that the windys and sunnys always fail to acknowledge. Large-scale dependence on the intermittent sources builds in a structural requirement to burn more fossil fuels, which offsets any gains of GHG reduction from the use of the "renewable" sources.

Energy Audit said...

This nuclear energy is in higher increments. Hence Taiwan is great for doing this thing.