Nuclear Power Is Better

From WithinTwentyYears

What kind of nuclear?

China's nuclear technology is years behind anyone else, especially WRT power generation. (Coal - which is abundant in China - is still used for heating and cooking homes there; as a result, the air pollution in China is terrible.) If you want a model of good nuclear power, consider much of Western Europe; they have been actively pursuing it for a while now (much more so than the US) and have a very good safety record.

China's nuclear technology is ahead of Germany's which is ahead of South Africa's which is ahead of the USA's. Germany has caved to environmentalists and abandoned nuclear power entirely, preferring to buy their electricity from France which generates it all through ... nuclear power. The stupid hypocrites! Germany abandoned its advanced nuclear power program almost two decades ago. France uses nuclear power extensively, but has also abandoned its advanced nuclear power program. The only countries with advanced nuclear reactors are China and South Africa, because they're the only ones who have nothing to lose and [can?] afford to fuck anything up.

It really doesn't take much effort to be state of the art in nuclear technology since with very few exceptions, all reactors to date have been constructed according to grossly and fundamentally flawed designs. Probably so they could be used as sources for weapons-grade plutonium.

[I'd say the most advanced reactor in production use is BN600 in Russia, a fast breeder. Until 1994, when Clinton's cronies shut down the IFR project, the USA were leaders in breeder technology. Now Russia is. The next contender is South Africa, if their PBMR prject turns out as planned.]

I think the problem is that the risks of nuclear are generally unknown and happen suddenly. They are the derivatives of energy investments.

[The risks are generally known. That they "happen suddenly" is meaningless, unless you really think it is better to slowly kill 30.000 people every year than up to 50.000 once every three thousand years, because the latter makes for worse press. See http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter6.html]

Note that this argument -- almost completely without data to back up any claims -- is close to sufficient for putting this page into CategoryRant. Keep it up, kiddies, and you are all going to go to bed early.
Nuclear vs everything else

Solar power?? Did you mean "nuclear power"? Specifically '70's era plants, given the prognostication about how safe, clean and efficient they'll be in the future?

Mmmm, you're right, I meant photovoltaic cells specifically. Photovoltaics are an environmental horror story because You are quite wrong. See for example <http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=cache:www.nrel.gov/ncpv/thin_film/docs/final_lca_sgs_pv_plant_tucson.doc>:

The payback time for greenhouse gas emissions in rooftop installations is shorter than in this power plant case study.

The fact is that every single power source causes death and misery. IOW, nuclear causes death with no nasty side effects like environmental or economic degradation.

Tell that to the people affected by Chernobyl. So nuclear is by far the best option. And the extremely minor increase in deaths it causes is more than compensated by the lives it saves by sustaining an advanced technological civilization. It's just that for some weird fucked-up reason I don't understand, nuclear causes hysteria. -- RK

I don't think you mean extremely minor increase, since if you're comparing nuclear energy to the present system, there would be a decrease in mortality. Nuclear causes hysteria because people don't understand radiation. In contrast, everyone understands how chemicals work, so there's a vague sense that they could somehow be dealt with.

The "current system" is a mix of fossil fuels, hydroelectric power, and nuclear power. The "sustainable energy" fraction is miniscule. When you compute everything in terms of net thermodynamic output, the "sustainable energy" fraction is not just miniscule but entirely negligible.

Hydroelectric power has the side-effects of despoiling the environment. It kills the valleys that are turned into reservoirs, kills the rivers that are downstream, and even kills the supposed artificial "lakes" through poisoning. In highly populated places like China, it also destroys priceless cultural and archeological artifacts, displaces countless people, and eradicates precious fertile land. All of these things are Evil with a capital E.

Fossil fuels contribute to global warming. Global warming is set to cause massive (on a scale you are incapable of conceiving) environmental and economic dislocations which will indirectly but inevitably result in massive death by warfare, plague and famine. This is in addition to all the direct effects of death by acid rain and other airborne pollutants. This doesn't include the environmental despoliation caused by oil spills and warfare over precious and dwindling petrol. Nor does it include the acidification of the oceans due to excess CO2.

Nuclear power causes no environmental degradation. Within a mere 200 years, radiation levels of waste fuel fall below the radiation levels of uranium ore. Meaning, if you just safeguard the junk for 200 years, the radiation becomes no different than what it was to begin with. The amount of nuclear waste produced by a large 1 GW powerplant is measured in tons/year of easily contained and manipulated solid waste, instead of millions of tons/year CO2 and tens of thousands of tons/year of sulfur, NOX, mercury and other heavy metals directly into the atmosphere. More deaths result from the normal output of a coal-fired powerplant than have ever resulted from the anomalous one-time nuclear powerplant accidents.

If you somehow managed to shut down every "non-sustainable" source of power, civilization would instantly collapse amid incalculable loss of life. On the other hand, if you replaced every fossil fuel plant with a nuclear power plant, you would see the skies and oceans get cleaner, fewer forests dying, fewer ecosystems being destroyed, and a lot fewer people dying of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. On the third hand, if you switched all nuclear and gas fired plants to coal, you would see the skies blacken with a permanent haze and people dying like flies. And no matter how much you filtered and cleaned up , it would never, ever get anywhere as clean as nuclear power, just 100x as expensive.

I agree with that. The only thing I don't understand is how that translates into nuclear power causing a minor increase in deaths as opposed to, say, a major decrease.

I apologize for not making myself clearer. I meant that there's a minor increase in direct deaths and a major decrease in indirect deaths, as compared with all other presently viable power technologies. If you broaden the scope of comparison to include potential technologies, like photosynthetic nanomachines, then it's still a definite but minor increase in deaths. But in that latter case, you'd have to stick with the very best of nuclear technology available (PBMR) and so the increase in deaths might go from 'minor' to 'miniscule'.
The main problem with Nuclear Power is that it only provides electricity. This is not useful for powering vehicles in large numbers. -- DavidPlumpton

[And what are you comparing nuclear power with? Ever seen a coal powered car? Solar powered? Wind powered? Completely irrelevant argument, nuclear power is superior to all alternatives where applicable, but unsuitable to directly power vehicles, where nothing can compete with fuel oil. So what's your point? If nuclear power cannot solve all problems it shouldn't be allowed to solve any? Besides, nuclear generated heat is very suitable for synthesis of fuel oil or maybe other fuels (hydrogen, boron, zinc, whatever works).]

That's news to me. Maybe there are some arguments behind this spectacular assertion.

How is it a spectacular assertion? Electrical energy is awkward to store. That's why a Formula 1 racing car runs on fossil fuels and not a battery. Oil is fairly stable and energy dense. It's very difficult for any other power source to be as useful. -- DavidPlumpton

Mass transportation shouldn't be based around racing cars. Electric trains are a proven technology, and even if regular cars were still used in rural areas, that would already be an amazing improvement. How often is the extra performance of gas-powered vehicles actually important? -- Anon

It's the cost and difficulty of upgrading the infrastructure of transportation and food production that are the real problems here. The "extra" performance of the gas-powered vehicles is critical. It's going to be really hard to have nuclear power or wind/solar power keep those tractors and combine harvesters going. This is something they discovered in Russia and North Korea when their available fuel supplies contracted. -- DavidPlumpton

If anyone can find refs and links to thermodynamic lifecycle studies of fuel and food in our societies, I'd be grateful. I only ever stumbled across two of them and now I can't find them at all. -- RichardKulisz

Embrace Wimpy Cars

I think fossil-powered cars have spoiled us. You don't need powerful engines to commute to work unless everybody else also has powerful engines such that you have to compete with them to make the off-ramp in time. If the power-to-weight ratio was toned down for everybody, then "wimpy cars" would be satisfactory. If you needed a pick-up to haul trash out of your garage, then rent one. There would be more renting options if everybody had to do the same.

Actually, an electric motor has massive torque; you would beat the obsolete gas burners to the off-ramp. An electric car's real weakness is energy density, which translates to limited range. However, the argument still applies: most trips (shopping, commuting) are regular and short. And if you get stuck in traffic then an electric vehicle really shines: no emissions.

[But the power density of the motor is completely irrelevant unless backed by a battery with equally high power density. Batteries with high power density (lead-acid, NiMH) tend to have low energy density, both by weight and by volume. Those with high, no, make that acceptable energy density (zinc-air or fuel cells) have low power density. Combine both and you get power for short sprints and low sustained power. Good enough (though still expensive) for your daily commute, useless for a 500 mile road trip.]
{{This would seem to be a good time to bring Nuclear Fusion vs Nuclear Fission into the picture. See http://www.123helpme.com/assets/16355.html I knew someone that worked in a nuclear plant and died a horrible death. Let's not kid ourselves about Fission's safeness.}}

[What did that guy do? Drop a large wrench on his foot and bleed to death? Let's not kid ourselves about the safety of wrenches! Oh, I know a guy who fell from a wind turbine tower. What an ugly and horrible mess he made on the ground. Let's not kid ourselves about the safety of wind turbines! And so on... Also don't forget that fusion power is still 50 years in the future and has been so for 50 years, the so called "fusion constant".]

The article is misinformed: a moderator slows down neutrons, not the chain reaction. Without the moderator, no chain reaction is possible at all (unless you use highly enriched uranium or plutonium, but such a device is called a bomb, not a power plant), therefore loss of moderator does not lead to core meltdown, but to safe shutdown. In fact, this mechanism is what ensures the safety of a pressurized water reactor. Chernobyl did not lose the moderator when it blew up, it lost cooling and the moderator, being graphite, was still there.

That is almost entirely incorrect. The accident at Chernobyl was caused by insufficient moderation of neutrons, and a chain reaction is possible without the moderator. The cooling water did start to boil away, but only after the situation had already become uncontrollable due to excessive power generation.

[No, it wasn't. The moderator in an RBMK is graphite, and there was enough of that. The accident was caused by insufficient absorption in the emerging water vapor. Without moderation no chain reaction is possible unless the fuel is enriched to more than about 20% fissile. And no, that's not yet a bomb, it's a fast neutron reactor. A bomb needs enrichment to over 90%.]

pulled out. [...]

The article goes into much more detail about what went wrong as a result, but this was basically what led to the accident.

[EditHint: as an accident of which the immediate cause was a failure of technology and design, the Chernobyl incident is certainly OnTopic for this Wiki, but a detailed discussion about it probably doesn't belong on this page. It's important to comprehensively refute any incorrect statements about Chernobyl that are made here, though.]
Unfortunately, the essay at http://www.123helpme.com/assets/16355.html is just a worthless propaganda piece. The giveaway is when they whine about the paucity of directly usable uranium, without ever mentioning thorium (much more plentiful) or super-breeder reactors. And then there's the fact that fission was a reality 50 years ago, while fusion doesn't look like it will be a reality even 50 years from now, there being no viable economic case for them.

Now on to the supposed lack of safety of nuclear fission reactors. So your acquaintance died, boo hoo hoo. Have you ever thought to stop and consider for a single minute the lack of safety in every other energy source? Or that we absolutely must have quite substantial usable energy if hundreds of millions aren't going to die from the collapse of technological civilization on our planet? I thought so. So you'll forgive me here for thinking that your personal tragedy really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

Sorry, but I think you're wrong. Nuclear fusion has already been achieved in labs. It would provide SAFE energy which wouldn't accidentally devastate towns with a huge explosion or expose workers to radiation and give genetic defects to a few generations. Ahh... but, of course, you would consider that a small personal tragedy, right?

Fusion would be a great thing to have. The issue is what to do until it works.

[Fusion has been achieved. So far it provides neutrons, but no excess energy. Even ITER will not provide energy, despite being a large and expensive monstrosity. BTW, fission reactors cannot explode and "devastate a whole city". Workers are exposed to a radiation level 3%-8% above natural background. Forty years of that would increase their risk for cancer from about 20% to no more than 20.1%, ignoring the fact that there is no evidence for any cancer risk at all at these low doses. The risk for genetic defects is still lower.]
There is a problem with the title of this page. The title should be "The Idea of Nuclear Power is Better". To date, nuclear power is a complete failure, but the idea of "clean and safe" is nice, if it can ever be done for real outside of the comic books.
SolarPowerIsBetter?. Photovoltaic cells *do* last long enough to more than repay the cost of creating them, and the argument about needing more power for our civilization doesn't really hold up either: The sunlight striking Earth in *one* *day* is close to the amount of energy available from all existing fossil fuel sources. Just cover a desert or two with solar panels.

Okay, yes, NuclearPowerIsBetter than fossil fuels, because getting cancer from radiation isn't any worse than getting cancer from chemical pollution, but SolarPowerIsBetter? still.

[No, it isn't that easy. The simple part is that nuclear power is better than fossil fuels on any account. Far less pollution, far more fuel available, less disruption through mining, fewer deaths due to accidents. Solar power is still better on a few accounts: still more fuel available, even less accident potential. I'm not sure about pollution. Is is also worse on other accounts: less reliable, far lower power density, far higher capital costs. Whether SolarPowerIsBetter? than anything isn't as cut and dried.]
Solutions are sought. Man has been in the solution business for thousands of years, and will be in the solution business as long as he is to survive. Those who think survival is important do not sit there and do nothing but complain, they think, do, think, do, think, do.


"Sustainable green power would cause untold deaths from plague, war, and famine if we were ever stupid enough to limit our advanced technological civilization to it. Being insufficient for our needs, it would cause the immediate collapse of civilization."

The real cause of such untold deaths would be from human greed and a lack of adequate response in circumventing it, not from 'green power'. Low power alternatives are readily available, but switching over to them would cost a lot of money, which is why the world in large hasn't already done so. The same is true for alternative power sources. And as for the 'immediate collapse of civilization'? You're delusional. Solar, wind, and water power have already proven their feasibility and sustainability and there are more power sources out than which produce little environmental damage. Hell, I can rig a hampster wheel to supply power to a cell phone, why can't you? And haven't you noticed the new low-power PCs being used? The days of the CRT are drawing to a close as well. And I fail miserably at understanding how enforced public transportation could cause the collapse of civilization. We don't need so many damn vehicles at all - not even to suit 'western culture'.

Oh really? To pick on the easiest one, hydroelectric power is already maxed out, and its environmental costs have been deemed unacceptable to modern people.

Finally, I don't see anyone using Amulet despite the fact that its main selling point was low-power. You talk about "low-power" PCs but I doubt you know the meaning of the word.
With GlobalWarming becoming an increasingly real threat to world stability a Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention was held in Montreal in December 2005. Representatives from The International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA presented thermonuclear power generation as a viable solution to meet some of the future world power demands.

Also in December 2005, the IAEA and its current Director General, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei were jointly awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Award. See http://www.iaea.or.at/
The sunlight striking Earth in one day is close to the amount of energy available from all existing fossil fuel sources.

Sounds inflated. Source for this?

http://www.oilcrisis.com/debate/oilcalcs.htm. Nevertheless, I think it's a pretty useless statement, because what you really need to look at is the amount of that energy which can actually be harnessed.

Gah! Of course it is inflated! All available oil is not the same thing as all available fossil fuel! There is much more coal. So (again) someone felt a need to put up a completely useless and irrelevant figure, then even misrepresent that. I wonder how these "green" wackos can retain some residual amount of credibility. (But the numbers are closer than I expected.)
Variety

Nobody knows that the best solution is, and the best solution may change due to weather, politics, etc. In light of this, lets use a combination. Let's use solar, wind, nuclear, etc. We cannot rely so heavily on fossil fuels.
In the mid-eighties I worked on plant monitoring software for the nuclear industry. At that time, new construction was nearly at a stand-still because of popular resistance to nuclear plants. The plants had become very complex due in part to frequently-changing safety regulations. At the time, the idea started floating around that small, gas-cooled nuclear power plants could be much safer and simpler, and could rejuvenate the industry if they caught on. These plants would have smaller cores that wouldn't depend on a supply of cooled water to maintain reasonable temperatures. It looks like the idea is still being researched: [broken link removed]

In today's security-conscious times, a plethora of small plants would pose different problems, I suppose. Also, the problem of waste storage needs to be addressed for any fission-based approach.

-- DanMuller

Gas cooled reactors are an old idea, Britain has lots of them (Magnox and AGR), Germany operated two prototypes and so did the US, China is operating a prototype. Directly driving a gas turbine with the reactor's cooling gas seems to be a good idea. A gas cooled fast breeder is also under consideration, which would mean much less need for fresh uranium and less waste, which is also less dangerous, and all that without sodium coolant (somehow I'll never understand why sodium gives people the shivers while water at 300 bar doesn't). BTW, waste storage is not so big a problem as it is made out to be, only about 300 years of storage are needed before the stuff becomes as harmless as common rock.
2011

The new reality is increased public fear due to the catastrophe at Fukushima's power plants caused by Japan's 9.0 earthquake and record-breaking tsunamis. The direct result is Germany's decision to shut down all its nuclear power stations within the next 15 years. This will put a damper on any new nuclear plant construction elsewhere as well as research into Generation IV reactor designs. (The affected Fukushima plants were Generation II plants built in the 80's, which were due to be decommissioned in any case.)

On the other hand, there is a grassroots surge in awareness for a competing reactor technology, which lost out in the 60's to the water-cooled, enriched uranium designs which could produce plutonium for the arms race. This technology is called molten salt reactor (MSR). The most interesting of these designs is a breeder reactor which consumes thorium, breeding U-233 to replenish its fissile fuel. The technology is called the liquid flouride thorium reactor (LFTR). More information at http://energyfromthorium.com/
NP's risk profile goes against political "human behavior". It's easier to sell the idea of slow and incremental risk compared against "spiky" risk where total long-term risk is roughly the same (as measured in lives and health), but the risk "events" are spotty and highly visible. This is not saying NP is better or worse, only that it goes against political WetWare. The people who are scared of plane flights rarely show hesitation to crawl into an automobile even though the risk is higher per mile traveled. -t


Note: Many, many broken links were removed from this page [31 May 11]. Perhaps there is more recent scientific study that the discussion participants can quote?

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