Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nuclear Power Highly Impractical for Future

Subtitle: Nuclear Is Simply Not Possible - Long Term

An interesting article from 2011 gives several points why it is highly impractical to use nuclear power for future energy needs ("Is Nuclear Power Globally Scalable?" Abbot, D., Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 99, No. 10, pp. 1611–1617, 2011,  see link).

Professor Abbot concludes that there simply are not enough resources (rare metals for alloys, uranium for fuel, etc) to supply [what he stated is ]  the 15,000 GW of electricity the world uses.  [ Note: checking the 15,000 GW electric installed capacity shows Abbot is off by a factor of approximately 3, as EIA statistics (see link) show the world had 5,085 GW installed in 2010, the same year Abbot used. ]   However, it would only require 55 years at an annual growth rate of 2 percent per year to reach the 15,000 GW as Abbot states in his article.   As this article is about the very long-term future, we can accept the 15,000 GW number. 

Furthermore, replacing the plants as they reach the end of their life creates huge problems.  Using 15,000 nuclear plants online at one time (at 1 GW each), and my number of 40 years life (maximum), this requires 375 plants to be under construction every single day.  Stated another way, the world must start up a bit more than one new reactor every day, forever.   This is probably a low number, as it is likely that world energy consumption will increase beyond present-day 5,000 GW.   If, in perhaps 100 years, the world requires 35,000 GW, then there must be almost 4 plants started up every day.  (A growth rate of 2 percent per year over 100 years gives 35,000-plus GW).

More problematically, the world would retire and decommission an equal number of reactors, one per day for the 15,000 demand.  Given that many years are required to decommission, there would be thousands upon thousands of decommissioning projects, in perpetuity.   Finding appropriate disposal sites for the radioactive remains of all those deactivated nuclear power plants will present quite a problem. 

Abbot's article addresses 15 issues, which are good reading but I am not sure how accurate the numbers are.  Given the discrepancy in Abbot's claiming 15,000 GW and the EIA stating 5,000 GW installed capacity as of 2010, the article bears close checking.   In any event, here are the 15 issues Abbot addresses:

1.  Not enough plant sites (away from population, near cooling water, etc)
2.  Land area required per plant
3.  Embrittlement problem
4.  Entropy problem
5.  Nuclear waste disposal
6.  Nuclear accident rate problem 
7.  Proliferation
8.  Energy of extraction (mining dilute ores for uranium)
9.  Uranium resource limits
10. Seawater extraction for uranium
11. Fast Breeder Reactors
12. Fusion Reactors
13. Materials Resources (materials of construction, rare alloy metals)
14. Elemental diversity
15. Nuclear power and Climate Change

It is notable that Abbot did not discuss the economics of an all-nuclear grid, the load-following problems, and that these issues are greatly increased as wind and solar power are added to the grid.  My article Two in Truth About Nuclear Power address this see link

This article by Abbot serves as a useful starting point for more arguments against nuclear power.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California



M. Simon said...

The 15,000 GW vs 5,000 GW issue looks suspiciously like the difference between thermal and electrical output.

It is usually made explicit by GWth vs GWe.

BTW I was a Naval nuke back in '66. Near half a century ago. How time flies.

M. Simon said...

Neutron Embrittlement. Much less of a problem for the Polywell Fusion Reactor - which is currently under development. Its rate of neutron production is 1000X less that all other fusion methods and fission reactors for a given energy level. It does not change the shielding rqmts much. But it drastically reduces embrittlement.

Intermittent sources will not become viable until we get very low cost electrical storage. And much lower costs of collection.

M. Simon said...

Waste - well everyone against nukes (I'm not a real big fan) talks about the 1,000 year storage problem. But it is really only a 100 year problem.

The very short lived isotopes decay in 10 days. The very long lived isotopes don't emit much radiation. It is the intermediate lived isotopes that are the problem. And after 100 years they are not much of a problem. And neither is the volume of such waste.

Focus on the real problems. they are daunting enough.

M. Simon said...

A salient reminder is that
as of 2010, the world installed generation capacity of solar plus wind exceeds that of nuclear power

There is a fallacy here. And that is capacity factor. For well sited wind it is .3 and for a good solar site it is .25. But that does not factor in the 90% hot back up requirement due to temporary fluctuations in solar and wind. Or the fact that solar is only good for about 4 to 6 hours a day. Or that wind installations can go windless for days. Without very low cost storage intermittent sources are near useless.

I really wish that people commenting on these things were more sceptical.

There is no utopia.

BTW do a survey of wind sites similar to what was done for nuke sites. The short answer - there are not enough.

Roger Sowell said...

To M. Simon, fusion is a non-starter, for several reasons. Even if we accept your figure of 100 years for spent fuel storage (which I don't - the long-lived transuranics are a serious problem and cannot be dumped in a landfill), managing waste for 100 years each and almost 500 new sites each year creates an unimaginable problem. Finally, there are more than enough sites with good wind to power the planet. The USA has the entire Great Plains plus the offshore sites. Other countries have offshore sites. The intermittency problem has been solved with underwater storage as described recently by MIT. The future energy problems are solved, and they will not involve nuclear.