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the new nuclear power - clean?  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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MJ Solaro
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It's pretty complicated, and not being a physicist, difficult to address with any level of accuracy.

I will say that nuclear fusion has been 20 years away for about 50 years now. Some people believe that its time is actually here. Two decades ago, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates shrugged off fusion investments because the governmental regulations of such an enterprise were too prohibitive. But the tide has shifted, and several VCs and start-ups have emerged that are focusing on fusion-related power sources.

In the industry, there's a great deal of controversy over whether the science in the late Dr. Brussard's project was accurate or not. Several prominent scientists have written papers debunking his work, but others have stood behind it. Suffice it to say that with the reinvigoration of fusion as a power source, that his work will get sufficient peer review and if viable, will likely be integrated into someone else's project as IP.

As for fusion itself as a "clean" power source, the environmentalist in me can get behind it pretty convincingly. It's not perfect. To trigger the fusion reaction, you need high temperatures, which requires energy from an alternative source (pulling it from the grid wouldn't be great). The fuel that it requires, hydrogen, is theoretically in abundance, but we've all seen the problems with generating it en masse when discussing the hydrogen-powered car. Right now, it takes a lot of oil to make pure hydrogen.

But let's assume both of those problems can be solved with a renewable energy source like solar or wind. What about the output of nuclear fusion? There are still a few undesirable byproducts. Enormous quantities of x-rays are emitted, but a thick layer of stainless steel can take care of that. Tritium, a radioactive element is produced in small quantities from the reaction, but tritium has a half life of 12 years, as opposed to the eras of geological time we must wait for fission byproducts to decay. Helium is generated in huge quantities, which could have atmospheric impact, but being an inert gas, may just find humanity talking in high, squeaky voices.

So probably the biggest question is can fusion be made to be commercially viable. Can it be profitable? If so, it may be fusion's time...
 
Susan Monroe
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What do they plan to do with the waste?

First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant, merely changing from one form to another.

If people do want to use it, there should be one cardinal rule: If it's used in your neighborhood, dispose of the waste in your neighborhood.  Let's not ship it to another state or country because you like the benefits but not the drawbacks.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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don't they bury that stuff in the rockies right now?
 
paul wheaton
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It seems that all forms of energy creation have their drawbacks. 

Where I live, hydro is the primary source.  And although I use it here, I don't have the silt or salmon problems here.  Those problems are at the dams.  So, I think it is wise to consider what is best to do with the waste, and to not push your problems off on others.  At the same time, I think it is wise to think things through and try to find a path that has the least impact. 

It gets soooo complicated.

It sounds like nuclear stuff has come a long ways.  If all of this stuff is true, it could be much wiser than solar or wind or hydro.  But is it true? 
 
Susan Monroe
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How could it be true?

solar power requires the manufacture of solar cells and various parts, including batteries, which are probably the biggest problem, and replacement about every 30 years. The lead in batteries is usually recycled in Third World countries, with cheap labor and poor environmental regulation. (Just in case you were planning on buying a hybrid car, be aware that a HumVee has a smaller ecological footprint that a Prius, mainly due to the battery problem).

I'm not very knowledgeable about wind power, but I suspect it has the same problems, the storage.

Of course, battery recycling isn't an issue with American consumers -- nearly every piece of electronic equipment we use is battery-operated.  They're discarded like drinking water. No one gets excited about it until it affects them personally.

But you can at least test for lead poisoning.

How many years and how many billions of dollars did our government spend on propaganda touting how safe nuclear power is?  And then when people started showing up with cancers in the vicinity, they protested that it couldn't be from the bomb testing, nuclear reactors, etc. Our government officials lie like they breathe, with no conscious thought.

Google things like 'Chernobyl accident', 'Three Mile Island accident', 'Fermi I reactor accident', ' NRX reactor accident Chalk River', 'Windscale accident', 'SL-1 reactor accident Idaho Falls'.

Nuclear power gives France the cleanest air of any industrialized nation, and the cheapest electricity in Europe.

From Jon Palfrema. "Why the French like nuclear energy". PBS Frontline:

"France reprocesses its nuclear waste to reduce its mass and make more energy... Today we stock containers of waste because currently scientists don't know how to reduce or eliminate the toxicity, but maybe in 100 years perhaps scientists will ...  Nuclear waste is an enormously difficult political problem which to date no country has solved. It is, in a sense, the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry ... If France is unable to solve this issue, says Mandil, then 'I do not see how we can continue our nuclear program.' "

American companies CAN deal with lead recycling and waste, they just don't like the cost.  It cuts into profits, so they send it outside, like so many other things.

I am reminded of a cartoon that someone pinned on the wall where I used to work in the 80s.  It went something like this:  We make defective cars, defective toys, defective airplane parts, defective helicopters, defective machinery, defective food, defective medications, defective medical equipment and defective buildings, but we make perfectly safe nuclear reactors.

Sure.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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I'm happy to confess that there is a great deal here that I do not fully understand.

My interest is piqued by some very eco-activist folks suggesting it!  And as I look into it, I see more and more support from eco folks, including those that were so adamantly against it 30 years ago.  So that leads me to thinking that it may be wise to consider it again.

And, yes, there are lots of issues with lots of the energy avenues that need addressing. 

 
Leah Sattler
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some of the eco freindly approval that the nuclear power idea gets is simply because the stigma is being left with older generations and the passage of time has quelled the fears. I'm sure some of it is technological development but I think alot is good old fashioned "learning the same lessons that history has already taught".
 
paul wheaton
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It sounds like these new techniques might have something like 1000 times less waste?  10,000 times less waste?  And that waste has each bit of radioactive goo encased in a big ball of glass. 

Don't get me wrong,  the stuff still gives me the heebie jeebies.  I just think it is good to understand this stuff. 



 
                                      
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We need new sources of energy, and few if any are without faults, but this I can say, three mile island was no picnic here in Pennsylvania, and after seeing the devastation from chernobyl through a website I found many moons ago, I too have great reservations about nuclear power.
 
Susan Monroe
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The big stumbling block for power (and right now I'm thinking solar or wind types) is the storage of it.  There must be some better way than batteries, or better than the batteries we use/need now.

To me, THAT'S where the big breakthrough needs to be.

Everyone put on your tinfoil hat and THINK!

Sue
 
R Scott
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The "hot" waste is not the problem. That is a few barrels worth for the life of the reactor. It is all the disposables--gloves, suits, etc--that take all the waste space. And that is not near as much as the light radioactive waste from the medical industry.

 
Logan Simmering
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Molten salt Thorium reactors would be great, no waste, can't meltdown, compact, if only somebody could come up with a reliable, economical source for the stuff.
 
Marianne Cicala
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I recently read that some guys at MIT are working on H20 storage alternative to batteries and some guys in AL are currently using hydrogen. I understand that the bulk of the nuke waste is made up of every piece of clothing, every tool (screw driver, wrench etc) virtually anything that enters the building is nuclear waste as it cannot be repurposed, reused etc.
 
John Elliott
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Marianne Cooper wrote:I recently read that some guys at MIT are working on H20 storage alternative to batteries and some guys in AL are currently using hydrogen. I understand that the bulk of the nuke waste is made up of every piece of clothing, every tool (screw driver, wrench etc) virtually anything that enters the building is nuclear waste as it cannot be repurposed, reused etc.


Not anything and everything. There are three "bins" that nuclear waste gets put into: low-level, high-level (spent fuel rods, mostly), and transuranic. You can bet if it doesn't meet the minimum criteria for those categories, it's sent to a regular trash heap. But waste that does belong in those categories has a way of growing. Some low-level contamination on the sleeve of those coveralls? Can't cut the sleeve off and sew on a new one, the whole thing goes in the low-level bin. The cask of high-level waste sprung a leak? Better overpack it, and take everything you use to clean up with and put it in a low-level container. And don't even think of trying to put anything that's been in a transuranic glovebox through some sort of cleaning process; the whole glovebox is TRU waste.

That's why I keep harping (to anyone who will listen) that 'abandon in place' is the only way to think about any operation that involves nuclear isotopes. Containments don't contain. Shielding doesn't shield. The only way to operate is find someplace where nothing lives (outer space or 1000' feet down) and then go ahead, set up your nuclear powered facility.
 
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