Let's Talk About Energy Production

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TheStranger
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby TheStranger » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:51 pm UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:Why couldn't you just wire them up in a sequence? Like you can with batteries?


For a cluster of them in the same geographical location yes... but you cannot wire up every wind farm in sequence then feed it into the grid. Besides you cannot just wire a wind tower directly into the grid, you need transformers and load balancing equipment at each location where the towers meet the grid. Plus you need management hardware on the grid to properly distribute the fluctuating power from the wind mills, and the roads to service all the windmills spread out, and the supply buildings to house spare parts, plus the maintenance crews to drive around and keep everything running.

My point is that managing numerous small power stations spread across a wide geographical area is probably more expensive the one single larger power plant that supplies the same amount of energy.

Also, what about the future of cars? Fossil fuels obviously won't be around forever, biofuels tend to be at least as bad for the environment in the long run, and electrical cars tend to be rather short-range and low-power. Hydrogen fuel cells, maybe? Are we any closer to having a car battery that will enable electric cars to be competitive with internal cumbustion anytime soon? My attempts at research into the last question either yeilded no reliable answers, or tended to be negative.


electric cars are coming along quite nicely... the only problem is that you have to charge them from the power grid, and if the power plants on the grid are not 'clean' then having an electric car really isn't all that clean.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby GoC » Tue Feb 03, 2009 9:31 pm UTC

For clean energy production a fusion reactor sounds very dreamy. Should we start saving up to build them?

Care to elaborate?

-Az


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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BlackSails » Tue Feb 03, 2009 10:56 pm UTC

GoC wrote:For clean energy production a fusion reactor sounds very dreamy. Should we start saving up to build them?

[/color]


Fusion reactors have the unfortunate side effect of eventually becoming radioactive.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby TheStranger » Wed Feb 04, 2009 12:05 am UTC

BlackSails wrote:Fusion reactors have the unfortunate side effect of eventually becoming radioactive.


They also have the unfortunate side effect of not producing any net gain in energy... [citation needed] Though Fusion power would be great it's not working yet, and until it does I wouldn't bet on it as a viable power source.

Though using nuclear fusion to process nuclear waste seems like an interesting idea.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Mabus_Zero » Wed Feb 04, 2009 1:01 am UTC

Azrael wrote:
Iv wrote:3. What you are proposing is to heat anything with a fusion bomb and use the heat. We can run numbers on this one if you wish, but I doubt that this is a very efficient use of nuclear material.


Plus, if we developed the technology allowing geothermal retrieval mechanisms, the ability to start/fuel/control nuclear reactions and have assured protection from any side-effects all at that significant of a depth, then we could also more easily dispose of the waste from traditional (and likely more efficient) nuclear power plants via very similar injection methods.

And save a lot of effort.


Ooh, I have a question. What about replacing older reactors by building new ones next to them, and take them apart by then moving the 'spent' materials to the new one, which can further utilize the material? Seems to me that'd be the least labor intensive method for accomplishing the use and disposal of atomicly sensitive materials...

Constraints?

And on the question of fusion reactors, are there currently many trains of thought on using a fission reactor to achieve and greatly exceed break-even, in a way eerily similar to the original use of a fission bomb to spark a run away thermonuke reaction?
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby GoC » Wed Feb 04, 2009 1:12 am UTC

Mabus_Zero wrote:And on the question of fusion reactors, are there currently many trains of thought on using a fission reactor to achieve and greatly exceed break-even, in a way eerily similar to the original use of a fission bomb to spark a run away thermonuke reaction?

No. The problem is containment, not starting up the reaction in the first place (which is what fission is needed for in a bomb).
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Mabus_Zero » Wed Feb 04, 2009 1:33 am UTC

GoC wrote:
Mabus_Zero wrote:And on the question of fusion reactors, are there currently many trains of thought on using a fission reactor to achieve and greatly exceed break-even, in a way eerily similar to the original use of a fission bomb to spark a run away thermonuke reaction?

No. The problem is containment, not starting up the reaction in the first place (which is what fission is needed for in a bomb).


I realize that, but what about using the immense energy output of the fission reactor to maintain the energy necessary to stoke and contain the fusion reactor plasma? Or will it simply be another repetition of the 'bigger, better machine' and 'we just need more power!' tropes that seem to litter the history of fusion energy, at this point?
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby GoC » Wed Feb 04, 2009 1:59 am UTC

Mabus_Zero wrote:I realize that, but what about using the immense energy output of the fission reactor to maintain the energy necessary to stoke and contain the fusion reactor plasma? Or will it simply be another repetition of the 'bigger, better machine' and 'we just need more power!' tropes that seem to litter the history of fusion energy, at this point?

Surely the fusion reactor can produce enough energy to maintain itself? Otherwise what's the point?
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Mabus_Zero » Wed Feb 04, 2009 2:07 am UTC

GoC wrote:
Mabus_Zero wrote:I realize that, but what about using the immense energy output of the fission reactor to maintain the energy necessary to stoke and contain the fusion reactor plasma? Or will it simply be another repetition of the 'bigger, better machine' and 'we just need more power!' tropes that seem to litter the history of fusion energy, at this point?

Surely the fusion reactor can produce enough energy to maintain itself? Otherwise what's the point?


The point is to explore methods by which we may be able to make it work, while simultaneously giving ourselves room to fall back on other methods, so that we don't cripple ourselves. What's the point in limiting the scope of our visions of the future?
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby SummerGlauFan » Wed Feb 04, 2009 4:49 am UTC

Mabus_Zero wrote:
Ooh, I have a question. What about replacing older reactors by building new ones next to them, and take them apart by then moving the 'spent' materials to the new one, which can further utilize the material? Seems to me that'd be the least labor intensive method for accomplishing the use and disposal of atomicly sensitive materials...

Constraints?


Actually, fuel recycling can still reclaim fuel and use it in existing reactors. All "spent" fuel is is a fuel rod whose outer part is spent; 95% of it is still pure. Just remove that 5% impurity and your are in business. I stated this earlier. The U.S. does not do this, but France does, to great effect.

Also, fusion reactors do not produce lasting radiation. Once you stop the reaction, the radiation is gone. However, as pointed out, actually getting out more energy than you put in is the problem currently.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby wisnij » Wed Feb 04, 2009 10:13 am UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:Also, fusion reactors do not produce lasting radiation. Once you stop the reaction, the radiation is gone. However, as pointed out, actually getting out more energy than you put in is the problem currently.

That's not entirely true. Even "clean" fuel mixes like p-11B will have a few neutron-producing side reactions with one of the intermediate alpha particles. But it's certainly much less than the amount you would get from fission or even D-T fusion.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby crisp » Wed Feb 04, 2009 5:22 pm UTC

This is my first post and will be a long one. I'm an electrical engineer and I work in the power delivery part of the field so that's where I get my information from.

First, as of 2003 the United States fuels for electricity generation were divided up as follows:

51% coal
20% nuclear
16.5% gas
7.2% hydro
3.1% oil
2.2% renewable
(source is NEI)

Now the changes that have occured since 2003 are primarily an increase in the portion of electricity that is coming from renewables. This is primarily in the form of wind generation.

It can be seen that in this coal is the backbone of our generation. Coal and nuclear units make up the base units for most of the country (as nuclear units are only run at one level of generation due to the generating method itself - they're just not very flexible). Most of the fossil fuel units that provide generation are only operated as peaking units (these generators are only brought on during points in the day when the load demand is going to it's highest point (generally as people get ready to go to work in the mornings and for the first few hours after they get home in the evenings) and remain off at other times. The renewables in this case are used as supplements to the base units.

The primary benefit in shifting away from using fuel sources like nuclear and coal is that generally renewable generation does not produce waste. However, there are currently two forms of solar generation technology out in the field. The first is the type that uses mirrors to focus sunlight on pipes that contain usually either molten salt or oil to absorb heat that is used to boil water which drives a turbine to produce electricity. This is the form of solar technology that does produce waste. The other form uses photovoltaic cells (PV cells) to produce energy and this is a waste free form of energy generation.

As a large portion of this thread has been dedicated to discussing solar technology I just want to go through the current specifics of the installations. Large scale solar generation plants are generally located out in the American southwest as this is the portion of America that gets the highest and most consistent amounts of sunlight. The main limitation with solar technology (despite it being a relatively new technology and therefore more expensive than alternatives) is the amount of land needed for an installation. These two reasons are why solar generation is not used on a larger scale, but there are many companies working on placing solar generation plants out in this area.

The other benefit of a solar plant is that it does not require anyone to be present to operate it. In general coal plants have a staff of at least 50 individuals and will have some portion of the staff at the plant 24 hours a day. This adds to the total cost of the plant. It is a given that solar plants are more expensive to install, but that is by and large a one time cost. The only additional cost is maintenance. With a coal powered plant the costs outside of installation are the cost for fuel, the cost for maintenance, and the cost for labor. This is a benefit that solar has over traditional coal and nuclear units. While on the topic of jobs it should also be mentioned that much of the coal mining jobs in the northeast have been vacated as governmental regulations on emissions have increased. This is because of the high sulfur content found in the coal in this area. Now coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana Wyoming has become the primary source for coal in the US due to the extremely low sulfur content of the coal found here. It should also be mentioned that while many renewable generation projects are being pursued there are no coal generation stations that are being built in the country due to government regulations. The government has also issued a mandate saying that 10% of the generation portfolio of a utility must consist of renewable resources by the year 2025. I believe this is a source for this statement, but I just glanced through it: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/ ... ement.html.

On a final note, in regards to the recylcing of fuel rods, it is possible, but the cost is preventative. I think that some sort of either requirement or incentive would be needed to force nuclear plants to refine their fuel rods.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Minerva » Fri Feb 06, 2009 8:27 am UTC

crisp wrote:Now the changes that have occured since 2003 are primarily an increase in the portion of electricity that is coming from renewables. This is primarily in the form of wind generation.


You know, the increase in nuclear generation between 2003 and 2007 is about 1.6 times the increase in total renewable generation.

It can be seen that in this coal is the backbone of our generation. Coal and nuclear units make up the base units for most of the country (as nuclear units are only run at one level of generation due to the generating method itself - they're just not very flexible). Most of the fossil fuel units that provide generation are only operated as peaking units (these generators are only brought on during points in the day when the load demand is going to it's highest point (generally as people get ready to go to work in the mornings and for the first few hours after they get home in the evenings) and remain off at other times. The renewables in this case are used as supplements to the base units.


Nuclear power is certainly flexible - look at a nuclear submarine for example. It can ramp power output up and down very quickly with no hassles. Nuclear generators are run all the time as baseload generators because their fuel costs are tiny compared to the costs of millions of tonnes of fuel to meet the huge requirements of fossil fuel combustion plants.

One reason why natural gas is only used for peak load is that it's such an enormously expensive fuel to generate energy from these days.

On a final note, in regards to the recylcing of fuel rods, it is possible, but the cost is preventative. I think that some sort of either requirement or incentive would be needed to force nuclear plants to refine their fuel rods.


Anti-nuclear-power fanatics and nuclear power pessimists (and everyone in between) often say that reprocessing is no good because it's not economically competitive with newly mined uranium, and then in the next breath talk about how uranium is a finite resource, and inexpensive terrestrial resources will ostensibly run out.

Whilst the mining of uranium has a far smaller environmental impact than the mining of coal and fossil fuels, it clearly does have some small environmental impact, and in this regard, using reprocessed nuclear fuel to offset the need for uranium mining is environmentally beneficial, and in this regard, perhaps deserves a subsidy?

If reprocessing is freely allowed to happen, eventually the industry will do it in the future, in any case, as it becomes economically acceptable.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Iv » Fri Feb 06, 2009 9:10 am UTC

Whilst the mining of uranium has a far smaller environmental impact than the mining of coal and fossil fuels, it clearly does have some small environmental impact, and in this regard, using reprocessed nuclear fuel to offset the need for uranium mining is environmentally beneficial, and in this regard, perhaps deserves a subsidy?

Or, alternatively for the same result you could tax heavily the storing of nuclear waste. It would make sense : a tax on future generations troubles.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby SummerGlauFan » Fri Feb 06, 2009 5:32 pm UTC

Iv wrote:
Whilst the mining of uranium has a far smaller environmental impact than the mining of coal and fossil fuels, it clearly does have some small environmental impact, and in this regard, using reprocessed nuclear fuel to offset the need for uranium mining is environmentally beneficial, and in this regard, perhaps deserves a subsidy?

Or, alternatively for the same result you could tax heavily the storing of nuclear waste. It would make sense : a tax on future generations troubles.


Or both. A double-wammy. Really, it is seeming more and more likely that nuclear power is going to have to be our primary source of grid power, backed up by renewables such as wind and solar. At least until we work out those annoying bugs in cold fusion technology, which will take decades at least.

I'm intersted in hearing what people have to say about the possibility of an industry of small scale wind turbines and solar cells. Even a buidling as large and power-consuming as Jay Leno's garage can have all it's power requirements met with a couple of small wind turbines and some solar cells.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Telchar » Fri Feb 06, 2009 7:01 pm UTC

Except the plan is to store nuclear waste at a government facility...unless you mean charge the companies operating the plant a fee for storage, I guess I'm confused as to what you mean.

Right now, however, the key to getting any sort of nuclear infrastructure going is deciding how to transport waste and where to put it. Yucca Mountain is already built, but Nevada has been blocking attempts to open it.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby space_raptor » Fri Feb 06, 2009 10:30 pm UTC

Minerva wrote:Whilst the mining of uranium has a far smaller environmental impact than the mining of coal and fossil fuels, it clearly does have some small environmental impact, and in this regard, using reprocessed nuclear fuel to offset the need for uranium mining is environmentally beneficial, and in this regard, perhaps deserves a subsidy?


It's not just an environmental impact, it's a health impact as well. Coal power plants produce tonnes upon tonnes of CO2 along with all kinds of other harmful air pollution. They are responsible for contributing to illnesses and deaths in the local population. If it's not worth a subsidy for environmental reasons, perhaps people could be convinced that if every large sized coal plant was replaced by an equivalent nuclear plant, it would improve the health of the people in the surrounding area. That might be worth a subsidy as well.

It's true that if wind or solar power replaced it there would be health benefits as well, but one would need orders of magnitude more land area, and there's no reason to assume that that would be readily available. One thing that I think is often overlooked is that wind and solar power can't be located just anywhere, as they depend on local climate factors. Nuclear plants suffer from a different constraint, that of NIMBYism, but I would hope that with some PR and education that could be overcome. Wind conditions and daylight availability, not so much.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Fri Feb 06, 2009 11:56 pm UTC

I hope you guys don't take this post the wrong way. I love discussions of alternative energy sources. However, I think in general there is a real lack of knowledge about how power is USED. People are very interested in the various technologies, their pros and cons, and their environmental impact but very few are interested in how useful they are to supply power to customers. I'll try to explain how USE is a bigger determiner to what is a reasonable alternative than production characteristics.

As a whole, electricity use is fairly predictable but far from constant. Load (power being delivered) can vary greatly over the course of a day, week, and year. Temperature in particular has a very large impact on electricity use. The coldest and hottest days of the year will see huge demand. Even over the course of just a few hours, the load in an area can have drastic swings. It's not uncommon for many areas to see peaks of more than double the valleys over a single day!

This means that you need electricity sources which can respond to demand. Too much generation is not only wasteful, it will raise voltage and frequency which can lead to damaged infrastructure and blackouts. Too little generation can lower voltage and frequency which can also lead to damaged infrastructure and blackouts. It's simply not enough to show that power can be economically and environmentally generated from some safer source like wind or solar. You must also consider that it must interact in "the real world" where how much power is needed changes minute per minute.

There is no massive battery that can store power for you when you don't need it and supply it when you do. The amount of power we use is an utterly staggeringly large figure. Our large power lines are handling quantities that make lightning bolts look tiny by comparison. The eastern interconnection of the united states (which doesn't even cover all of the US) peaked at over 680,000,000,000 watts in 2007. That's 680,000 MW. It's important to grasp the scale we're talking about here. You can't store that kind of power and you can't just supply enough for an average day. You must be able to support huge peaks and valleys which means generation which is flexible. Flexible generation can be operated at varying levels and can quickly change. Many alternative sources are not flexible and can therefor never realistically make up the main share of power generating capability.

To skip all the analysis and just get right to it, the real answer is nuclear. It is flexible, utterly cheap, and can be built on a massive scale. Rather than solar and wind, we should be looking to have something more resembling France's generation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sourc ... n_2006.PNG

Solar and wind will have their part and generation options like solar thermal are really exciting but if you seriously want to reduce the amount of coal and gas we burn for power, there are no other options besides nuclear. Nothing even comes close.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Sharlos » Sat Feb 07, 2009 12:44 am UTC

One question I have about nuclear power is that it is not a renewable source of energy. What happens once we run out of uranium?

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby qbg » Sat Feb 07, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Sharlos wrote:One question I have about nuclear power is that it is not a renewable source of energy. What happens once we run out of uranium?

Wikipedia on peak uranium
First, if optimistic side were to play out, the peek would occur somewhere between a few centuries, several thousand years, or if you are really optimistic, billions of years.

Obviously even if we have enough for thousands of years, that doesn't really answer the question about what happens when our supplies sufficiently dwindle. If there was sufficient time between now and then, one possibility would be that continued technological development would make renewable sources be better suited to supplying base load power than they are now. Alternatively, there is the possibility that by then we develop fusion power, and thus transition to that.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Sat Feb 07, 2009 6:23 am UTC

I think humanity can handle fusion power in 5,000 years. They already have a reactor in France. Besides. What else are we going to do with Uranium, blow ourselves up? The lifespan of a Nuclear plant is on the order of 50-100 years anyway. These things are inherently temporary. At least on the timescale you're talking about. There is no fuel problem with them, there is no emissions problem with them, there is no cost problem with them, and there is no usability problem with them. The only real problem with the technology is people have an irrational fear of it. Even Chernobyl killed fewer people than coal has. You understand coal comes from mines right? They're not the safest places nor the healthiest for their workers. Nobody even got radiation poisoning from TMI. It's safer than windmills FFS. You know how many people die fixing those things? Or idiots falling off roofs putting up solar panels? Nope. How 'bout some sources? ~CM
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby TheStranger » Sat Feb 07, 2009 3:40 pm UTC

qbg wrote:Obviously even if we have enough for thousands of years, that doesn't really answer the question about what happens when our supplies sufficiently dwindle. If there was sufficient time between now and then, one possibility would be that continued technological development would make renewable sources be better suited to supplying base load power than they are now. Alternatively, there is the possibility that by then we develop fusion power, and thus transition to that.


As has been pointed out, no source is truly unlimited... and thousands of years is more then enough time to develop other power sources like fusion or even space based solar power.

Plus uranium is not the only possible fuel for nuclear reactors, thorium is another fuel that is rather abundant (we just need to figure out how to effectively gather it.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Minerva » Sun Feb 08, 2009 2:34 pm UTC

TheStranger wrote:Plus uranium is not the only possible fuel for nuclear reactors, thorium is another fuel that is rather abundant (we just need to figure out how to effectively gather it.


There's heaps of thorium around, it's three times more abundant in the crust than uranium.

Actually, the US government has a stockpile of at least 3200 tonnes of thorium. They purchased it, back in the days when the government actually supported useful, sensible innovation with nuclear energy.
Thorium-burning reactors in the past, such as the Shippingport reactor using thorium fuel, the Fort St. Vrain HTGR, and the Oak Ridge Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment, have all performed very well.

So, they've got this 3200 tonnes of pure thorium nitrate, nicely packed up in drums. And so they decided, well, it's surplus to what we want, we don't want it, it's waste. Oh me yarm, it's radioactive waste, scary radioactive waste, what are we going to do with it?

That refined thorium stockpile is enough to supply the entire electricity needs of the United States for about 10 years, with no need for coal, or natural gas, or even uranium mining.
They called it "waste" and they buried it in a giant hole in Nevada.

http://www.ornl.gov/~webworks/cppr/y200 ... 125373.pdf

mosc wrote:I think humanity can handle fusion power in 5,000 years. They already have a reactor in France. Besides. What else are we going to do with Uranium, blow ourselves up? The lifespan of a Nuclear plant is on the order of 50-100 years anyway. These things are inherently temporary. At least on the timescale you're talking about. There is no fuel problem with them, there is no emissions problem with them, there is no cost problem with them, and there is no usability problem with them. The only real problem with the technology is people have an irrational fear of it. Even Chernobyl killed fewer people than coal has. You understand coal comes from mines right? They're not the safest places nor the healthiest for their workers. Nobody even got radiation poisoning from TMI. It's safer than windmills FFS. You know how many people die fixing those things? Or idiots falling off roofs putting up solar panels? Nope. How 'bout some sources? ~CM


Here's a pro-wind-energy site that says "that the wind industry will have to do a better job at improving safety if it wants to live up to its promise of being clean, green, and benign.

http://www.wind-works.org/articles/BreathLife.html

They say wind turbines cause about 0.15 deaths per TWh.

Consider, for example, a typical conventional nuclear power plant with two 1000 MWe LWRs operating with a 90% capacity factor.
That plant will generate 15.78 TWh per year, and if nuclear power was equally as dangerous as wind turbines, you would expect to see 2.4 deaths per plant per year.

With the exception of Chernobyl, I can't think of any deaths, ever, anywhere in the world that are related to commercial nuclear power generation*. How many can you think of?

Opposing nuclear power, fiddling while coal burns, leads us towards the same situation we had in the USA after the September 11 attacks, where something like close to 2000 people died in vehicle accidents above and beyond the average level, because they avoided planes which are supposedly very dangerous but actually aren't, and went and drove cars which really do kill people all the time.

* The Tokaimura criticality accident, involving the processing of quite highly enriched uranium for a prototype research reactor, doesn't count, nor do criticality accidents involving nuclear weapons materials.

Iv wrote:
Whilst the mining of uranium has a far smaller environmental impact than the mining of coal and fossil fuels, it clearly does have some small environmental impact, and in this regard, using reprocessed nuclear fuel to offset the need for uranium mining is environmentally beneficial, and in this regard, perhaps deserves a subsidy?

Or, alternatively for the same result you could tax heavily the storing of nuclear waste. It would make sense : a tax on future generations troubles.


Really, I prefer to stop and say, OK, What materials do we have, what nuclides, in what amounts, and what are their properties? Who decided that it must be declared to be so-called "waste", irrespective of what is in the material?

If nuclear "waste" is such a big deal... then don't waste it.

Sharlos wrote:One question I have about nuclear power is that it is not a renewable source of energy. What happens once we run out of uranium?


Energy isn't "renewable". That's the second law of thermodynamics.

There are fundamentally four types of energy which we have access to on the Earth to power our civilisation.

i) Solar energy, including wind, biofuels and hydropower, which are indirectly solar power.
ii) Fossil fuels, which are fossilised, indirect solar power.
iii) Tidal energy
iv) Nuclear energy, including fission, fusion and geothermal heat.

There is a certain finite amount of uranium inside the Earth, just as there is a certain finite amount of thorium, lithium and deuterium. There is a certain finite amount of radiothermal heat. Of course, fossil fuels are also finite resources. There is a finite amount of tidal potential energy, and there is a finite amount of hydrogen inside the sun.

Within about a billion years, all life on Earth will start to be extinguished, just because of the life-cycle of the sun.

"Renewable" doesn't mean anything, and it doesn't matter. There is amply sufficient nuclear fuel, assuming it is used sensibly and not wasted, for it to be a completely sustainable, useful energy resource across the whole world for many, many thousands, even millions of years.



I tried editing that article once to inject some sensibility into it once. That was the time I learned that there are a lot of stupid people out there with Wikipedia accounts.

How sustainable are supplies of indium and tellurium for second-generation III-V photovoltaic semiconductors?

To build just one megawatt worth of nameplate wind turbine capacity requires about a tonne of neodymium for its permanent magnets. So, to build the wind farm equivalent of one single nuclear power plant, you'll need about 6000 tonnes of neodymium. That gets extremely impractical extremely quickly, over meaningful time scales.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Mon Feb 09, 2009 5:39 am UTC

In talking to my friends and family lately, I think there is some misunderstanding in the United States that nuclear power is widespread already. They view it as some older technology that we stopped using a while ago for the most part. When you tell them that 20% of the power the country uses comes from nuclear already, they seem to be in denial. You're talking about over a hundred large scale commercial plants operating 24/7 365 for decades.

Using Minerva's statistics of 2.4 deaths per 15.78 TWh of wind power, we'd be talking about 6720 deaths related to nuclear power over the past 20 years to be equivalent to wind. Of course, there's been none.

It's not just the technology people seem to be afraid of, it's also some complete misunderstanding that they live nuclear free at the moment. This is far from untested technology. If you permanently turned off ever nuclear power plant in the country at midnight, a large percentage of the country would be dark for years. I don't understand why people don't get that!
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zalzidrax » Mon Feb 09, 2009 7:03 am UTC

mosc wrote:Using Minerva's statistics of 2.4 deaths per 15.78 TWh of wind power, we'd be talking about 6720 deaths related to nuclear power over the past 20 years to be equivalent to wind. Of course, there's been none.


While I agree that nuclear power is far less understood and viewed far more suspiciously than it should be by the general populace, accidents do happen at nuclear reactors. For example one nuclear technician was killed when the housing for a control rod failed, launching a rod at high speeds into the control room.

Also I imagine since wind power is still somewhat experimental, there is less efficient mass production of it, that results in a smaller power generation/worker in a slightly dangerous situation ratio.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon Feb 09, 2009 4:43 pm UTC

Zalzidrax wrote:
mosc wrote:Using Minerva's statistics of 2.4 deaths per 15.78 TWh of wind power, we'd be talking about 6720 deaths related to nuclear power over the past 20 years to be equivalent to wind. Of course, there's been none.


While I agree that nuclear power is far less understood and viewed far more suspiciously than it should be by the general populace, accidents do happen at nuclear reactors. For example one nuclear technician was killed when the housing for a control rod failed, launching a rod at high speeds into the control room.

Also I imagine since wind power is still somewhat experimental, there is less efficient mass production of it, that results in a smaller power generation/worker in a slightly dangerous situation ratio.

Ok, first: [CITATION NEEDED]. Second, even if that's true, it still puts nuclear power as the least accident-prone power generation system within our current capabilities, as was stated just a few posts above yours.

Not only do we have more than enough fuel for reactors, fuel recycling can stretch even that considerably, while also vastly decreasing the amount of waste we have to dispose of. Win-win situation, if you ask me.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Wed Feb 11, 2009 12:43 am UTC

So, assuming that nuclear power is something that the United States in particular would like to pursue (unless somebody has any more objections), why this? Over the past 20 years, nuclear power plant construction and energy production has been flat, and according to the Wiki page (can't find original source) there hasn't been a single new nuclear plant that has avoided cancellation in over 20 years in the United States.

Things like this may help (see nuclear power provisions).

So what's the deal? Is it that France is subsidizing and the U.S. is not, or that France is allowing it and the U.S. is not? We're still the biggest producer worldwide (in Megawatts), but why haven't we gone higher?

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Wed Feb 11, 2009 1:01 am UTC

MoghLiechty2 wrote:So what's the deal? Is it that France is subsidizing and the U.S. is not, or that France is allowing it and the U.S. is not? We're still the biggest producer worldwide (in Megawatts), but why haven't we gone higher?

You really don't need to subsidize nuclear power. It's the single most cost effective way to make power we have. It's the cheapest as well as the cleanest and the safest. What you do need to do is loan the companies the construction costs since the rate of cancellation is so friggin high none of them can get private loans. The cancellation rate is a direct result of the public opinion of nuclear power though, not the technology. The answer is just that the France is allowing it and the US is not. Our percentage of nuclear has actually decreased since we haven't built plants in 20 years and demand constantly rises.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Caaw » Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:14 am UTC

Regarding the observations made about the overall energy grid, and distribution of generated power to the end-user: These facts should be included in any discussion regarding energy production, and definitely help frame the discussion.

According to Wiki, there is a 7.2% loss in power transmission across the grid due to Joule Heating.

Is this loss factored into the various equations being tossed back and forth?

Furthermore: Nuclear power is certainly the most efficient means of energy production, if only strictly by cents per kWh. However, I am still left with the notion that energy production by home owners remains a viable approach to some, if not many, of the issues facing the national grid. No amount of wind, geothermal, solar will replace the efficiency of nuclear power, but could an intelligent application of those technologies lessen the burden on our principal energy sources and create a more efficient national grid?

One poster quite passionately made the point that there are seasonal, daily, hourly variations in power use. Would not a more flexible grid, one that incorporates home energy production, alleviate some of the dangers of grid overload and consequently lower the overall amount of energy output required by the principal energy sources? That is to say, if grid overload was not an issue, less surplus energy would have to be produced, correct?

By approaching the problem strictly from an efficiency standpoint (where can we increase the efficiency of the entire grid), maybe some of the other concerns become less weighty.

Nuclear power remains the principal solution to our energy needs, but you also allow for the creation of a 'cellular' energy production network fueled by individuals, cottage industries, and even large corporations (I read today that a brewery is converting it's waste yeast into 1.3 million gallons of ethanol per year, and I've also heard that wal-mart has saved roughly 10 million barrels of oil as a result of minor changes in company policy.)

I suppose the question I am asking is:

Would reducing the impact of grid overload allow power plants to supply us with a more efficient power supply? Is there redundancy in the production of power, because we have to account for grid overload?

[EDIT] I'm not sure if I can post links yet, but there was some mention about the lack of accidents and/or deaths associated with Nuclear power in the United States. Last year I was hired by then State Senator Sheila Kuehl to cover several press conferences she was holding. The topic of these events was the Santa Susana Field Lab Nuclear Meltdown of 1959. There is plenty of information about this on the internet although it is uncommon for people to know about it. Some say it was far worse than the Three-Mile Isle incident. There is a picture on the Wiki page which I will always remember, having seen it first at the event I covered: A engineer wearing a hat that says 'Your safety is our business, Atomics International.", peering into the core of the test reactor that was malfunctioning. This man most certainly died of a brain tumor, according to the expert testimony being given at the conference. There were dozens of witness' with stories of employees dying of cancer, of children being born with rare cancers. The Wiki page would be a good place to start learning about this, and I apologize if I'm not providing the sources myself.)

(first post! awesome forum -- been looking for something like this for weeks!)

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Azrael » Wed Feb 11, 2009 1:23 pm UTC

Caaw wrote: Would not a more flexible grid, one that incorporates home energy production, alleviate some of the dangers of grid overload and consequently lower the overall amount of energy output required by the principal energy sources?
In order for that to work, a home generation plant would have to be, at the least 92.8% as efficient as large scale plants. Considering the transport cost of coal/oil/natural gas for traditional generation, I doubt it. And nuclear generation at home is right out. So, the issue would be small scale installations of wind or solar.

I think there would be issues considering the equipment necessary to load-balance at local points -- every house with wind or solar power generation would have to also have the electronics to balance their draw off the grid (or the re-sale of excess power) in a distributed control network. That's a *lot* of failure points. And a lot more points that would have to be centrally monitored as well, so that the bulk generation capabilities could adapt actively, which has already been pointed out it something they don't do very well.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Wed Feb 11, 2009 4:31 pm UTC

Caaw, you hit on some key things but there's some misunderstandings. Let me help.

Losses: Power losses occur when you try to send huge amounts of power across large distances. This is a natural thing and caused because the aluminum and copper used, although very close to lossless, is not completely lossless. Losses can not be completely eliminated. It should be noted that the larger the power line, the more efficient it is. Most of the losses you see in that 7.2% number are at the local level (I'm sorry, I cannot cite that. You'll have to treat me as a primary source as a professional engineer. My sources are not public domain). This is especially true in rural areas. Power companies are required by law to supply power to anyone in the United States. The "grid" has to go everywhere. This means it winds it's way into places that are far from efficient to get to sometimes.

Also, you hinted at efficient grid operation. This is what I do for a living. You're right it plays a large role in this which is why I was so loudly pointing out that load changes constantly. Using these incredibly inflexible green technologies (wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, landfills) is challenging and inherently limited. However, this is not just a green problem, it's a fundamental problem. The grid is a big machine and parts of it are constantly breaking and needing repairs which it's designed to work around. The infrastructure is also slow to change while populations boom in certain areas while remaining flat in others for decades. There are plenty of situations every day where you can't use the generation you'd like for the load you'd like due to grid limitations.

The solution is power lines of course. Big ones. Not only has there been very little interest in nuclear over the past 20 years, there's been very little interest in new large-scale power lines. The "not in my backyard" philosophy in America was/is so strong that simply zoning a new large scale power line from state to state (they can be quite long) is very difficult. You're right Caaw that we have losses and challenges in utilizing less flexible generation options and without new power lines, we are also doomed.

EDIT: Home generation, like you said, is an efficiency nightmare. My father likes to joke that some day they'll invent extremely efficient little fuel cells that can be cheaply deployed as massive batteries to every house. This is pure fantasy to me but I guess the potential exists. Right now none of this stuff is in the right order of magnitude let alone close. What I DO wish more people would talk about is real-time pricing. Right now most people pay a negotiated electric rate for the whole year or even multi-year. I think wholesale price fluxuations should be passed onto and displayed for individual customers. You should know that your power costs 10x as much in the heat of a summer day. Maybe you decide to wash your dishes and do the laundry after the sun goes down instead if you see that it'd save you a buck. That could make a huge difference. Since electricity always costs the same thing to many people, they have no concept of how costs vary (and they vary A LOT and no I can't cite wholesale electricity prices. Again, not public domain). Maybe if they did, we could "shave the peak" of the load which would make it easier to use inflexible power sources and save everyone money.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:57 am UTC

Saw this in Nature today.
NATURE|Vol 457|12 February 2009

Sweden backs construction of new nuclear plants

The Swedish government has overturned its almost 30-year-old ban on the construction
of nuclear power plants. The moratorium, which dates back to 1980, committed the government to shutting existing plants and banned the building of new ones. Ten reactors still supply the country with nearly half of its electricity. The new policy, announced by the coalition government on 5 February, annuls the phase-out and allows for the construction of replacements for the ten existing reactors. The government thinks that nuclear power stations will be needed to meet the nation’s goal of no net greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Sweden is the second European nation to reverse its nuclear policy in the past year. In May 2008, Italy announced it planned to resume building new nuclear power plants.


I guess governments are finally begining to realise that nuclear power is just about the only solution that meet present energy demands, cost effectively without CO2 emissions. Following Frances lead. If these changes were made 10 or 20 years ago, we could have been in a very different scenario regarding climate change. :/

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Crius » Thu Feb 12, 2009 7:55 pm UTC

mosc wrote:In talking to my friends and family lately, I think there is some misunderstanding in the United States that nuclear power is widespread already. They view it as some older technology that we stopped using a while ago for the most part. When you tell them that 20% of the power the country uses comes from nuclear already, they seem to be in denial. You're talking about over a hundred large scale commercial plants operating 24/7 365 for decades.

Using Minerva's statistics of 2.4 deaths per 15.78 TWh of wind power, we'd be talking about 6720 deaths related to nuclear power over the past 20 years to be equivalent to wind. Of course, there's been none.


Well, the Chernobyl disaster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster) killed 56 people, and is estimated to cause up 4,000 cancer deaths, though I don't know of any deaths in the US related to nuclear power.

I think it's really the "what's the worst that could happen" mentality that affects nuclear power. What's the worst that could happen with a wind turbine? It falls down? It's probably a similar ideology that causes people to be afraid of flying ("the safest form of travel"), and not driving, even though the chances of death are much lower.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:19 pm UTC

That's a good analogy. It's like banning air travel even though it's much much much safer than any other alternative because the worst case accident is 9/11.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby SummerGlauFan » Thu Feb 12, 2009 9:47 pm UTC

Not to mention that modern pebble bed reactors cannot melt down. It's not just that it's hard to melt down; they physically can't. So when you think about that, a little voice should tell you "hey, nuclear power is kinda safe now."

When you couple that with fuel recycling, which saves fuel AND storage space AND radiation, it's even better.

Couple all that again with individual small-scale wind turbines and solar cells for use in homes/businesses in suburban sprawl, and you have yourself set for power for an extrememyl long time.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zalzidrax » Wed Feb 18, 2009 2:10 am UTC

There are still issues with how to economically and safely process nuclear waste--especially when we know people can and will screw up.

However, nuclear power is still probably less dangerous than coal power, especially with the threat of global warming. According to this article by the American Cancer Society, there were an estimated 50-100 thousand deaths caused by fine particle air pollution in the US in 1994, something which coal-fired power plants are a major contributor to. It is entirely possible that the average coal power plant causes more cancer deaths over its lifetime by regular operation than Chernobyl ever did.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Fallible » Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:48 am UTC

Hi all,

Something that hasn't come up yet is plastic solar cells. For those that don't know, there are types of plastics that behave like semiconductors (Chemistry Nobel Prize 2000) They're still very much an experimental technology, but when they get scaled up, they'll be cheap. Dirt cheap. Cheap as plastic (special plastics, but still plastics).

Of course there are problems, otherwise they wouldn't still be in research. The plastics used typically degrade on exposure to UV-light, water and Oxygen. Sounds promising for a solar panel doesn't it? There are work arounds, which are being worked on :)

Silicon solar is currently the most expansive way to make energy, and its not likely to get that much cheaper with scale up as the process it uses is high heat, high vacuum, high cleanliness , high energy. In short , expensive.

mosc wrote:It should be noted that the larger the power line, the more efficient it is.


Mosc, I have an uncle who I believe does a very similar job to you. He's told me that a High voltage DC network would transmit power more efficiently, and require much less regulation, as there would be no need to match phases and regulate frequency. What are your thoughts on that?

My understanding was that we only went with AC in the begining because of the ease of transforming it. However at that time, they didn't have semiconductors, whereas now we can build inverters. However, I don't have a feeling for the cost of the large scale inverters needed to step down HVDC to regular AC compared to the cost savings in transmission efficiency and regulation.

If you'd like to use examples of power demand, daily price and demand are available publicly from the Australian market regulator. www.nemmco.com.au . Just by eyeballing the last days data, peak demand during the day was about 50% greater than overnight demand. I would think as a rule of thumb that would mean that about 30% of solar could be incorporated into the system, and it would actually reduce the amount of flexibility required of the rest of the system.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:19 pm UTC

Fallible wrote:Mosc, I have an uncle who I believe does a very similar job to you. He's told me that a High voltage DC network would transmit power more efficiently, and require much less regulation, as there would be no need to match phases and regulate frequency. What are your thoughts on that?

Whew. I could talk a lot about this but I don't want to get into a tangential essay. In summary I would say that HVDC is an underused technology but that it would never be able to completely replace AC and running DC to individual houses doesn't make much sense. It should be noted that HVDC lines already exist in the US and abroad. It's not like they're never used.

I'd also really downplay the perceived "inefficiencies" in our power transmission system. Truth is it's really efficient. The places it needs improvement are not with power losses but with capacity. Limited capacity (for a plethora of reasons) prevents the ideal* units from serving the current load.

*this is usually defined as cheapest cost but in the future will hopefully take into account emissions as well.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Azrael » Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:52 pm UTC

mosc wrote:I'd also really downplay the perceived "inefficiencies" in our power transmission system. Truth is it's really efficient. The places it needs improvement are not with power losses but with capacity. Limited capacity (for a plethora of reasons) prevents the ideal* units from serving the current load.

This is an incredibly important point. 93% efficient transmission? That is *astoundingly* efficient. And well above the threshold where the return on investment is going to be significantly diminished.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zamfir » Thu Feb 19, 2009 8:47 am UTC

Here in Europe, HVDC is built more and more, but mainly (only?) for very long distance transport, so presumably the cost of still high. It is used more to build lines that were infeasible in the past because of losses, not to replace existing lines.

A good example is the new cable between the Netherlands and Norway, 600 km under water. It is not an enormous amount of power that can be transferred, 700 MW, but it means that we can export electricity to Norway when we produce too much, so the Norwegians can stop their hydropower plants, and import it back when we need more. This is basically the only way to store large amounts of energy.


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