Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nuclear Power's Hour is Now

I have always believed this was coming in regards to U.S. energy policy, and now somebody else is finally tooting the nuclear power horn as well:
Commercial reactors currently provide 20 percent of the nation's power—but accounts for 70 percent of the country's emission-free energy. "We cannot get to the reduction of CO2 in a big way without relying on nuclear energy even more than we do today," says Mujid Kazimi, the director of MIT's Center for Advanced Nuclear Systems.[1]
The Newsweek article goes on to note a couple of other interesting facts:
Most Americans probably have no idea that there are 104 commercial nuclear-power plants currently operating in the United States today. None has suffered a malfunction that led to a major leak of radioactive material. Nuclear-power proponents often point to France, which depends on nukes for 80 percent of its power.[1]
I certainly didn't know there were so many active plants in the U.S. already. But this clickable map from the International Nuclear Safety Center pretty much confirms the many U.S. nuclear sites and their operational capacity. [2] The big problem, of course, is where to store the depleted fuel rods. "About one-fourth to one-third of the total fuel load from the pools is spent and removed from the reactor every 12 to 18 months and replaced with fresh fuel."[3] These fuel load rods are either stored in underground pools, which limit the radiation coming out of them, or (more interestingly) in specially designed concrete casks which are kept on site.

Most of the on-site storage is filling up, which is not a scientific problem but a political one. The U.S. has a well-researched, safe site to place its expended nuclear fuel rods:
After over 20 years of research and billions of dollars of carefully planned and reviewed scientific field work, the Department of Energy has found that a repository at Yucca Mountain brings together the location, natural barriers, and design elements most likely to protect the health and safety of the public, including those Americans living in the immediate vicinity, now and long into the future.[4]
Unfortunately, the citizens of Nevada are no more educated in basic science than is the rest of the nation; so, their state representatives have been able to successfully red-tape (if not outright stop) the construction at this most reasonable place to safely store nuclear waste. This is not the first (or the last) time that a collection of dumb people have worked together to pull down the quality and safety of the rest of the nation. Science literacy has greatly suffered in recent years under a conservative administration, but my feeling is it still won't get much better.


[image] Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant at Shippingport PA from "Kyoto -- A Perspective" PA Pundits - International (Accessed 11/28/2008)

[1] Daren Briscoe "Obama’s Nuclear Reservations" Newsweek Online November 22, 2008 (Accessed 11/28/2008)

[2] "Maps" International Nuclear Safety Center (Accessed 11/28/2008)

[3] "Spent Fuel Pools" United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Accessed 11/28/2008)

[4] "Yucca Mountain Repository" U.S. Department of Energy (Accessed 11/28/2008)


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At 12:37 AM, Blogger woofmutt said...

So typical of you Easterners: The West is just a big garbage dump to you. "Waaaah!!! We need more electricity to power the flashing lights and spin the rotating signs on our go-go bars! Let's build nuclear power plants and dump the radioactive waste out West...That place is HUGE!" Look, the desert around Las Vegas already has plenty of light pollution from God's Own City. I don't need a glowing Yucca mountain to also intrude on my next late night UV light scorpion hunt.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Grue Hair Man said...

I agree with the need of nuclear power, one of the major issues I had with Obama was that he didn't even mention the possibility of nuclear power to address the energy needs of the US until very late in the campaign.

There are some very interesting issues here. The concrete casks you mention cost about 1 million per year per cask to maintain. This comes straight from tax payer dollars.

The Yucca mountain repository has been stalled by politics, yes, but there are issues with transportation of waste to the site as well. It is very expensive and very dangerous to ship thousands of tons of nuclear waste across the country.

Many people mention repossessing waste as a possibility. There was an article in either wired or scientific american (I can't remember which) a few months ago about this. The main disadvantage of reprocessing is that it turns something very radioactive (and therefore dangerous to even get close to) into plutonium that is much less radioactive (such that someone can walk into the holding area, put a handful in their pocket, walk out and make a dirty bomb). Granted they might die later but not before the bomb goes off.


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