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Nucular Hydrogen Economy 668

Posted by michael
from the don't-email-about-misspelling dept.
Mark Baard writes "The hydrogen economy will at least in part be based on nukes. The DOE will build a pilot high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor (HTGR), which theoretically can co-generate electricity and hydrogen, side by side, inside a cheap modular unit."
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Nucular Hydrogen Economy

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  • Just because idiot politicians pronounce the word "nuclear" as "nucular" does not mean that "nucular" is an accepted spelling of the term. Two wrongs don't make a right, and two abuses of the English language don't make for proper grammar -- just proper dummies :)
  • by greendoggg (667256) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:07PM (#6061545)
    Here is the text of the article...

    On a sunny Saturday morning 30 years from now, you may decide to take your family for a ride to the country. You'll still be driving a car, and you may still get stuck in traffic. But that's OK, because the only thing you'll be breathing in is water vapor from the car in front of you.

    Welcome to the seemingly benign "hydrogen economy" President Bush has touted over the past year. Pollution-free cars. Abundant fuel. A cleaner environment.

    But there's one factor the president isn't talking much about: the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new nuclear power plants his administration imagines making all of that hydrogen.

    The Bush administration and Senate Republicans want to give billions of taxpayer dollars to the nuclear industry to make high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs), which--theoretically--can co-generate electricity and hydrogen, side by side, inside cheap modular reactors. Advocates of the plants say they wouldn't need the expensive protections required for traditional models.

    This summer, the Senate is expected to vote on the Energy Policy Act of 2003, which includes funding for new HTGR plants and the construction of a pilot co-generation facility to be run by the U.S. Department of Energy in Idaho. The bill was sent to the full chamber by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month.

    Spokespeople for the committee and the DOE say the aim is to cut greenhouse emissions, since energy companies continue to use coal and natural gas in making hydrogen. But small, modular HTGR plants may do it more efficiently and cleanly, they said.

    That all depends, of course, on how you define "cleanly." To extract hydrogen from water--to get the H out of the H2O--you first have to make steam. The modular nuclear plants would do that without polluting the air, but would also leave behind radioactive waste.

    Scientists have not yet designed a nuclear facility whose safety and efficiency trumps that of gas or coal. One proposal, from MIT, has a nuclear reactor sitting under the same roof as a chemical plant bubbling with sulfuric acid and hydrogen iodide.

    Each modular plant would produce as little as one-tenth of the energy of a single light-water reactor. And since by some estimates the United States would need the equivalent of 500 light-water reactors to produce enough hydrogen, it may take thousands of modular plants to get the same job done.

    The nuke industry, not surprisingly, says it's interested in joining the hydrogen economy. Entergy, the second-largest nuclear energy producer in the U.S., hopes to break ground on its co-generation Freedom Reactor within five years.

    But only the feds seem willing to pay for the research and development that would make the futuristic plants a reality. "We generate electricity," said a spokesperson for Exelon, the country's largest producer. "We're not heavily involved in funding research and development."

    Taxpayers may soon be. The Senate's energy bill affords the DOE $1.1 billion to build an HTGR co-generation nuclear plant at its Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory within 10 years.

    The bill also proposes to kick-start a nuke renaissance by subsidizing half the cost of six to 10 new HTGR power plants in the United States.

    "We need to move toward clean-air energy sources that are more reliable than wind and solar," said Marnie Funk, a spokesperson for New Mexico Republican senator Pete Domenici, chair of the energy and resources committee.

    Renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, are emissions-free. But the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. Many people also see wind turbines as an eyesore: Cape Codders are fighting plans for an offshore wind farm that would obstruct their views. "And then you've got the bird issue," said Funk. Wind turbines earned some notoriety by killing as many as 50 golden eagles along California's Altamont Pass during the 1990s.

    Today, w
  • by jmv (93421) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:20PM (#6061683) Homepage
    Wouldn't want to contradict you but methane is CH4 and the reaction is:
    CH4 + H2O => CO + 3H2
    H2O + CO => CO2 + H2
    which means at the end:
    CH4 + 2H2O => CO2 + 4H2
    see: http://www.howstuffworks.com/fuel-processor2.htm
  • by gnuadam (612852) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:22PM (#6061709) Journal
    CH3 is methane? Count your bonds on carbon and try again. And a quick googling gives nothing on your cracking method. What I think you've done is to confuse cracking with combustion.

    As far as I'm aware, heating methane to 1600K produces acetylene and hydrogen.

  • Just in case... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:31PM (#6061789)
    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT NUCLEAR ENERGY

    by John McCarthy

    This page discusses nuclear energy as a part of a more general discussion of why human material progress is sustainable and should be sustained. Energy is just one of the questions considered.
    Up to: Main page on why progress is sustainable

    Incidentally, I'm Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, emeritus as of 2001 January 1. Here's my main page. I write about sustainability as a volunteer public service. I am not professionally involved with nuclear energy.

    Here's a new page on Nuclear Energy Now. It is motivated by the Bush Administration in the U.S. having tentatively re-opened the question of building new nuclear plants in the U.S. I hope they persist and are successful.
    One of the major requirements for sustaining human progress is an adequate source of energy. The current largest sources of energy are the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. These are discussed in the main page on energy. They will last quite a while but will probably run out or become harmful in tens to hundreds of years. Solar energy will also work but is not much developed yet except for special applications because of its high cost. This high cost as a main source, e.g. for central station electricity, is likely to continue, and nuclear energy is likely to remain cheaper.

    Q. What are the details on nuclear energy?

    A. It is somewhat complicated and depends on facts about nuclear physics and nuclear engineering.

    Nuclear power can come from the fission of uranium, plutonium or thorium or the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Today it is almost all uranium. The basic energy fact is that the fission of an atom of uranium produces 10 million times the energy produced by the combustion of an atom of carbon from coal.

    Natural uranium is almost entirely a mixture of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. U-235 can fission in a reactor, and U-238 can't to a significant extent. Natural uranium is 99.3 percent U-238 and 0.7 percent U-235.
    Most nuclear power plants today use enriched uranium in which the concentration of U-235 is increased from 0.7 percent U-235 to (nowadays) about 4 to 5 percent U-235. This is done in an expensive separation plant of which there are several kinds. The U-238 "tails" are left over for eventual use in "breeder reactors". The Canadian CANDU reactors don't require enriched fuel, but since they use expensive heavy water instead of ordinary water, their energy cost is about the same.
    In 1993 there were 109 licensed power reactors in the U.S. and about 400 in the world. They generate about 20 percent of the U.S. electricity. (There are also a large number of naval power reactors.) The expansion of nuclear power depends substantially on politics, and this politics has come out differently in different countries. Very likely, after some time, the countries whose policies turn out badly will copy the countries whose policies turn out well.

    For how long will nuclear power be available? Present reactors that use only the U-235 in natural uranium are very likely good for some hundreds of years. Bernard Cohen has shown that with breeder reactors, we can have plenty of energy for some billions of year.

    Cohen's argument is based on using uranium from sea water. Other people have pointed out that there is more energy in the uranium impurity in coal than in could come from burning the coal. There is also plenty of uranium in granite. None of these sources is likely to be used in the next thousand years, because there is plenty of much more cheaply extracted uranium in conventional uranium ores.
    A power reactor contains a core with a large number of fuel rods. Each rod is full of pellets of uranium oxide. An atom of U-235 fissions when it absorbs a neutron. The fission produces two fission fragments and other particles that fly off at high velocity. When they stop the kinetic energy is converted to heat - 10 million times as much heat as is produced by burning an atom of coal
  • Re:Temporary ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by KDan (90353) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:32PM (#6061796) Homepage
    At the moment, hydrogen is very hard to extract from sea water. Basically you need to put in all the energy (more in fact) that you want to get out. The problem is that hydrogen is a great storage form for energy (like oil, batteries, gas, nuclear materials, flywheels) but not a source of energy (like sunshine, wind, waves...). We can use nuclear materials and oil as if they were a source of energy because we have access to vast amounts of them, but they are not really sources, and will run out.

    Until we get either some revolutionary new method of extracting the hydrogen (wasn't there a story here about some method involving a laser heating up a large tank of water on an artificial island and breaking up the water molecules?), or we get access to the atmospheres of planets like Jupiter which have many earth masses' worth of hydrogen, hydrogen remains a storage form, unusable as a source.

    Daniel
  • Re:FINALLY! (Score:3, Informative)

    by The Briguy (612887) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:33PM (#6061808) Journal
    Octane, the most common component of gasoline is C8H18 (ASCI drawing:)

    H H H H H H H H
    | | | | | | | |
    H-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H
    | | | | | | | |
    H H H H H H H H
  • by The Briguy (612887) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:35PM (#6061826) Journal
    Last I checked, Methane still has 4 hydrogens.
  • by The Briguy (612887) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:37PM (#6061842) Journal
    Heh, kinda funny, since the French are the world leaders in nuclear power. Seems like we are trying to emulate them...
  • by billstewart (78916) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:39PM (#6061851) Journal
    Wired's April edition had an article about "How Hydrogen Can Save America" [wired.com] by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall of GBN. It did briefly mention nuclear power, but glossed over the fact that that was the real core of their proposal. Sure, hydrogen can store energy in ways that may be more or less useful compared to batteries, and that may let you move decentralize pollution or centralize it outside of core city areas, but that's not a fundamental change in energy sources. The article says "3. Convert the nation's fueling infrastructure to hydrogen." and "5. Mount a public campaign to sell the hydrogen economy."

    The article's relentless insistence on how THE GOVERNMENT MUST MUST MUST IMMEDIATELY LAUNCH A Manhattan-project-like effort to develop a hydrogen economy and SAVE AMERICA reminded me of those Anime Otakudom [jhu.edu] lines about "The World Will Be Saved By Steam!", or like various other rants that people go on, usually political or anti-drug. Sure, there's good technical discussion in there about fuel cells and storage issues, but that's not really what it's about.

    So Remember, Kids, Hydrogen isn't the answer! Professor Steamhead [ev1.net] says ""Steam. Water plus heat equals steam. Always remember this. The world can be saved by steam." and he's got a giant steam-powered mecha robot to do the job with!

  • Why do people... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Einer2 (665985) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:42PM (#6061870)
    ...always get their panties in a twist over anything prefixed with "Nuclear"? It's not like any other major source of energy is particularly healthy.

    If anyone can find a copy of it online, there's an excellent article from the Dec 8, 1978 issue of Science that provides some perspective. Someone cranked the numbers for the concentration of uranium in coal and America's yearly consumption, and (if I remember it correctly) they found that the trace levels of uranium were actually high enough that we'd have gotten more energy from using it in a fission reactor than from burning the coal. That means that it'd be far more than the amount of uranium consumed in reactors each year, and it's all just going straight into the atmosphere.

    We keep the article posted in our undergraduate physics lab, just in case people start complaining about the weak little sources we use for radioactivity-based experiments.

  • by selan (234261) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:45PM (#6061890) Journal
    Before you complain about the spelling, note that the original article is headlined "It's Nucular" and the /. headline is echoing that on purpose.

    Okay, now you can post :).
  • by punkrider (176796) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:45PM (#6061892) Homepage
    Why do I feel that more and more cash is being poured into special interests in Washington? Oh yeah, that's because they are. The current regime needs to wake up and smell the algae. Research into 100% green renewable fuel sources should rule this next century. Terrorist want to crash an airplane into the fields of H2 producing algae? I didn't think so.

    One front runner in the field is the use of green-algae based H2 production by exploiting a metabolic switch by reducing the amount of sulfur available to the organisms.

    A couple of links:
    http://www.melisenergy.com/SF_Chronicle.ht m
    http://www.h2net.org.uk/PDFs/Prod2001/H2NetFRH. pdf
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,5445 6, 00.html

    Interesting article:
    http://www.hfcletter.com/letter/march00/ feature.ht ml

    DoE News: Berkeley/NREL Team Develops Green-Algae-Based Renewable H2 Production Technique

    BERKELEY, CA/GOLDEN, CO - It sounds a little wild, but a lowly micro-organism, a green alga, may come one of the milk cows of the hydrogen age. Better make that "fuel" cows.

    Voila, the hydrogen herd:

    Cultures of tiny algae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, can be conditioned via a simple microbial switch to forego what they normally do best: produce plant matter via photosynthesis and give off oxygen in the process. Instead, switched-on algae would produce hydrogen renewably, essentially from sunlight and water, stored in its cells as carbohydrates and other biochemical materials.

    Nor is this process, discovered by a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO, a one-shot proposition that would kill the "cows:" After generating hydrogen for several days, the gas can be drawn off and the molecular switch can be reversed again, permitting the algae to recover to their normal state and produce more plant matter, including carbohydrate fuel.

    That process can be repeated "many times," says Prof. Tasios Melis, a specialist in plant and microbial biology at Berkeley who heads the team. How many times isn't clear so far.

    At present, the overall energy conversion efficiency of the process - photons absorbed and converted into hydrogen product - is only about 10%. But, says Melis, with optimization, it could come close to or be about the same as photosynthesis itself: With the right amount of light - not too much because otherwise photons would be wasted - it could be anywhere between 85 and 90%, possibly as high as 95%. "Photosynthesis is nearly perfect machinery," Melis says.

    The work has already attracted wide public attention. A press briefing in late February in Washington, DC, arranged by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and scheduled for one hour, lasted a lot longer because the 45-odd reporters kept asking questions past the cut-off time. Stories by the Associated Press, Reuters and BBC generated later phone calls from as far away as Portugal and Greece, Melis said.

    Two-Year Investigation

    Melis, together with postdoctoral associate Liping Zhang and with NREL's Michael Seibert, Maria Ghirardi and postdoctoral associate Marc Forestier, described the outcome of their two-year investigation, the result of a suggestion made at an April 1998 hydrogen workshop sponsored by the Energy Department and the National Science Foundation, in a paper in the January 2000 issue of the journal "Plant Physiology." Both institutions have taken out a joint patent for the process.

    "I guess it's the equivalent of striking oil," a university press release quoted Melis as saying. "It's enormously exciting."

    The fact that green algae can produce hydrogen has been known for more than half a century, the team reported, but only in very small amounts.

    The production rates of the new Berkeley/NREL process are very small so far as well, but Melis thinks this novel p
  • Re:Coal powered car? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Medevo (526922) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:46PM (#6061896) Homepage
    I hope you aren't using ch3, as that is a unbalanced methyl group that would not be stable.

    CH4 - Methane
    C2H6 - Ethane
    C3H8 - Propane
    C4H10 - Butane

    Are the most simple Alkane Hydrocarbons that we use fuel, and because of there saturation they are relatively stable, just flammable.

    Medevo
  • Re:Nucular? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ErikBaard (452757) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:48PM (#6061916)
    Defending my brother and the good folks at the Voice: the spelling was a joke, a reference to the fact that this potential nuclear revival would result from a Bush administration initiative. I'm astonished so many smart people in this group didn't get an obvious joke, mocking the administration.

    Erik Baard
  • Re:Up and Atom ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jafac (1449) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:10PM (#6062103) Homepage
    actually, you DON'T want all that waste too close together in one place.

    http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/7018-8.cfm
    ht tp://www.logtv.com/chelya/kyshtym.html

    Too many fast neutrons + too much unstable material = Criticality
  • Re:Up and Atom ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jafac (1449) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:18PM (#6062193) Homepage
    The Most Contaminated
    Spot on the Planet

    Chelyabinsk Nuclear Disasters

    Plutonium and Tritium for Soviet nuclear weapons is produced at three closely guarded locations, each of which includes a "closed" city of workers. These cities do not appear on maps, and until recently, travel to and from them was all but prohibited. Even now, foreign visitors have been allowed to see only two of the sites. Each of the sites has an official name, often including a number that indicates a post office address, but each was known by another name or names abroad as well as in the Soviet Union.
    The complex officially known as Chelyabinsk-40 is located in Chelyabinsk province, about 15 kilometers east of the city of Kyshtym on the east side of the southern Urals. It is situated in the area around Lake Kyzyltash, in the upper Techa River drainage basin among numerous other interconnected lakes. Between Lake Kyzyltash and Lake Irtyash is Chelyabinsk-65, the military-industrial city once called Beria, but today inhabitants call it Sorokovka("forties town").

    Another Mayak laboratory, the All-Union Institute of Technical Physics, is located just east of the Urals, 20 kilometers north of Kasli. It is better known by its post office box, Chelyabinsk-70. It was opened in 1955, shortly after the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory opened in the United States.

    Chelyabinsk-65, was reported to have 83,000 inhabitants and "almost 100,000 people." Chelyabinsk-40, the reactor complex, covers some 90 square kilometers, according to a recent ministry report, and is run by the production association Mayak("beacon" or "lighthouse"). All the reactors are located near the southeast shore of Lake Kyzyltash and relied on open-cycle cooling: water from the lake was pumped directly through the core.

    Probably fashioned after the U.S. Hanford Reservation in the state of Washington, Chelyabinsk-40 was the first Soviet plutonium production complex. Construction was started on the first buildings of the new city in November 1945. Some 70,000 inmates from 12 labor camps were reportedly used to build the complex. It is here that the physicist Igor Kurchatov, working under Stalin's deputy Lavrenti Beria, built the first plutonium production reactor, called "Anotchka" or A Reactor, in just 18 months.

    The people of the Chelyabinsk Region have suffered no less than three nuclear disasters:
    For over six years, the Mayak complex systematically dumped radioactive waste into the Techa River, the only source of water for the 24 villages which lined its banks. The four largest of those villages were never evacuated, and only recently have the authorities revealed to the population why they strung barbed wire along the banks of the river some 35 years ago. Today, as a result of Kyshtym-57's (a local environmental group lead by Louisa Korzhova) fight for radiation victims, a new law was introduced which allows residents of Muslyumovo to resettle themselves elsewhere. Unfortunately, the new law is limited only to one village.

    In 1957, the area suffered its next calamity when the cooling system of a radioactive waste containment unit malfunctioned and exploded. About two million curies spread throughout the region, exposing to radiation over a quarter million people. Less than half of one percent of these people were evacuated, and some of those only after years had passed.

    The third disaster came ten years later. The Mayak complex had been using Lake Karachay as a dumping basin for its radioactive waste since 1951. In 1967, a drought reduced the water level of the lake, and gale-force winds spread the radioactive dust throughout twenty-five thousand square kilometers, further irradiating half a million people with five million curies.

    Chelyabinsk-40, or the Kyshtym complex is best known to the outside world as the site of a disastrous explosion in 1957, only recently acknowledged by Soviet officialdom. The tanks were entirely immersed in, and cooled by, water. But the monitoring system was defective.
  • by Jordy (440) <jordan&snocap,com> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:41PM (#6062429) Homepage
    Uh. A 3,000 megawatt hour nuclear power plant uses a whole lot less raw materials to build than the 100 to 200 square feet per *kilowatt hour* equivalent photovoltaic system.

    There are some really nasty things that go into manufacturing some PV cells. Copper Indium Diselenide (copper, indium and selnium) requires hydrogen selenide which is a really really nasty gas. All that plastic, glass, arsenic, silicon, gallium, etc.
  • by multiplexo (27356) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:48PM (#6062507) Journal
    Plutonium emits nice high energy particles that will kill you. Caffeine don't.Poison is not the question here.


    No, actually it doesn't. Plutonium is an alpha emitter. Before the core was placed in the Fat Man bomb tested at Alamogordo people were passing the plutonium core around. It was about the size of a grapefruit and warm to the touch. Plutonium-239 doesn't emit a lot of radioactivity, that's why it has a 250,000 year half life. Now, if you want something that emits high energy particles that will kill you grab a hold of a chunk of cobalt-60 or strontium-90. Plenty of nice high energy gamma there for you, which is why these isotopes have relatively short half lives. The longer the half life, the less dangerous the isotope.


    The danger of plutonium lies in the fact that it is a chemically toxic heavy metal that, when absorbed into the human body, ends up in your skeleton or your liver. This is very bad because even though alpha particles won't penetrate your skin they will fuck up your bone marrow and destroy your liver, so you can end up with a variety of unpleasant cancers. And since your entire blood supply is filtered through your liver those cancers will metastasize.


    But as far as the "one pound of plutonium would kill everyone on Earth" myth goes it's bullshit. We've already dumped hundreds of pounds of plutonium into the atmosphere through nuclear testing, and last time I checked we weren't all dead. Unless of course this is heaven, in which case I am pissed because I can't get decent bandwidth in my neighborhood and you would think that God would take care of that.

  • by TheClam (209230) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:00PM (#6062629)
    Why does everybody on /. think that methane is CH3?

    Remember your high-school chemistry, folks, methane is CH4.
  • by heli0 (659560) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:17PM (#6062761)
    Here is the slashdot discussion of that article: http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/03/12/172924 8 [slashdot.org]

  • by damien_kane (519267) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:18PM (#6062774)
    Water is infinitely cheaper, and more abundant, than natural gas.

    Water may be cheaper, but it is in shoter supply. To make H2 from water, you need fresh water, not only that but it has to be distilled.
    Cracking ocean water will leave you with some nasty sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric steam, a buch of other messy chemicals, and a bit of hydrogen.
  • Re:Why do people... (Score:4, Informative)

    by shadowbearer (554144) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:20PM (#6062788) Homepage Journal
    Pasted the wrong link. Here's the correct one:



    Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger [ornl.gov]

    Sorry guys....too busy today :)

    SB

  • by js7a (579872) * <james@@@bovik...org> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:21PM (#6062794) Homepage Journal
    Cost of the land isn't factored into your equation.

    On the contrary, the 3 cents/kwh figure for wind includes real estate costs. The 12 cents/kwh for nuclear does not include the external waste disposal costs.

    The 14,000 acre area is enough wind power for the enitre United States of America using today's most modern 2.5 megawatt turbines with syncronized directionality. The land below can usually be used for farming or grazing.

    The surplus and battery banks necessary are insignificant. Although the wind stops and starts, it is usually blowing somewhere on the grid. Existing grid generators will probably be phased out over time as they are replaced with surplus turbines and PEM-electrolysis fuel cell hydrogen storage tanks.

  • by praksys (246544) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:23PM (#6062813) Homepage
    Maybe you should reconsider your loony conspiracy theory. This policy change originated with the Bush administration [whitehouse.gov].
  • by heli0 (659560) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:31PM (#6062887)
    Here is a good summary [uic.com.au] of France's nuclear program written by the Uranium Information Centre

    France derives 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy. This is due to a long-standing policy based on energy security.

    France is the world's largest net exporter of electricity, and gains some EUR 2.6 billion per year from this.

    Wastes: The national policy is to reprocess spent fuel so as to recover uranium and plutonium for re-use and to reduce the volume of high-level wastes for disposal. Waste disposal is being pursued under France's 1991 Waste Management Act which sets the direction of research which is mainly undertaken at the Bure underground rock laboratory in eastern France, situated in clays. Another laboratory is researching granites.

  • by gregt (103090) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:32PM (#6062894)
    The world consumes about a quadrillion gallons of petroleum a year (1,000,000,000,000,000 gallons) of which roughly 70% goes into motor vehicles (700 trillion gallons)

    Liquid hydrogen contains approx 30,000 BTUs of energy per gallon while liquid petroleum contains 130,000. Now assuming a fuel cell vehicle is roughly three times as efficient (90%) at converting liquid-hydrogen to horsepower as is an internal combusion engine (30%) then we will need to produce:

    130,000 / 30,000 * 700 trillion / 3 = 1 quadrillion gallons of liquid hydrogen a year. Of course my estimate is conservative as we will need to use energy to compress and liquify the hydrogen as well as to keep it cold and to transport it in a distribution system.

    According to British Petroleum (or Beyond Petroleum, depending on who you talk to), it takes 55kWh to produce a gallon of liquid hydrogen from electrolysis of water. Thus to produce enough liquid hydrogen from nuclear energy through electrolysis would require:

    1 quadrillion * 55kWh = 55 trillion megawatt hours.

    (by the way, here in Indiana electricity is roughly $0.04 a kWh so a gallon of liquid hydrogen would cost 55 * $0.04 = $2.20 to PRODUCE. Current liquid petroleum PRODUCTION costs are roughly $4 a barrel (42 gallons) = $0.10 per gallon to produce -- can liquid hydrogen compete economically with petroleum if production costs are 20x higher (not to mention distribution costs)?)

    Current world production of nuclear energy is less than 3 trillion megawatt hour. Total world production of electricity is roughly 12 trillion megawatt hours. Thus to both replace petroleum as a transportation fuel the world would need to increase electricity production from 12 trillion to 55+12 = 67 trillion megawatt hours.

    Assuming in the future that none of that electricity will be able to come from petroleum sources and that coal burning will not increase means that we need to build enough nuclear plants to satisfy about 60 trillion megawatt hours.

    That's roughly twenty times the number of plants, worldwide, that we have now. Even more if it comes from smaller boutique plants.

    Do check my math.
  • by maudite (264348) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:35PM (#6062918)
    Hydrogen is not hard to make. The hard part would be setting up hydrogen stations to refuel the cars. The "evil" and "wealthy" oil companies are not going to invest in H stations. They sure as hell would be out to squash anybody they could that tried. The only way a hydrogen car and a hydrogen fuel station is going to survive is with the automakers themselves. Let's take for example, Honda. Honda has the money and the technology to make a pure H car. They fit every dealer who sells the H cars with a H station. People who live decently close to the dealer could buy a H car and actually use the thing. As more and more of the cars are sold, new stations could be added by demographics. The oil companies could gripe all they want and it would be illegal for them to turn-away gasoline burning Hondas at their gas stations. Hydrogen will have to be a new industry totally separate from the oil industry. It is just going to have to take a company with some insight, duty to the enviroment, and money.
  • by Zirnike (640152) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @08:07PM (#6063133) Journal
    "after a few THOUSAND YEARS the mess is cleaned up"

    Assuming the plant detonates. This kind of reactor doesn't. Although a water cooled one of this type would be better (shutting off the cooling shuts off the reactor in this type).

    "Just like I can tolerate only a certain amount of stupidity."

    I wouldn't make comments like that if I were you.

    "Plutonium, did you know that Marie Curie died in agony of multiple debilitating cancers"

    Try reading sometime. [216.239.51.100]

    "How are you even able to post on Slashdot?"

    Sure, he was wrong, but that question applies even more to you. You accused him of inaccuracy and didn't even fact-check... Are you implying that Nagasaki wasn't bombed by plutonium [ccnr.org] or that the thousands of deaths from a power plant melting down [nci.org]is more than the amount of deaths caused by a nuke? [nukefix.org]

    "You can't "shut down" the process of radioactive decay"

    No, but you can shut down what powers a nuclear plant, the chain reaction.

    "It's all the peacenik's fault that we have nuclear waste"

    Your reading comprehension sucks. Try reading what he says. Let me rephrase to make it easier on you. "If we recycle the waste, less of it will be in dumps, and the anti-nuke people make this impossible, even though it can be safe." And before you get stupid on me again, note that not all of it would be safe, etc. But some, if not most, of that can be recycled, but that option is blocked by paranoia.

    "What does this have to do with a lot of outrageous misinformation regarding radioactivity and nuclear waste?"

    He was explaining and giving examples of why he would be considered 'green'. This is called an informal version of 'establishing credentials". He has. You haven't. I have... at the least, I've shown I know how to use google, which you have failed to do.

    "You've got a long way to go yourself, pal"

    Pot, stop talking to the kettle, you're giving me a headache.

    "What the hell does this have to do with nuclear waste?"

    I don't know, sewage vs. nuke waste, seems a fairly decent analogy to me. Maybe I'm just smarter than you.

  • by dbrutus (71639) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @09:35PM (#6063901) Homepage
    I seem to recall a coal plant near Chicago had a very impressive series of explosions (coal dust apparently can explode under certain conditions). That plant is very close to I80/I94 as it rounds the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Fortunately, casualties did not extend to the highway zone. They could have. This was 2000, if I remember right.

    The daily death toll of coal is well known.
  • by apsmith (17989) * on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @09:45PM (#6064019) Homepage
    The Space Studies Institute [ssi.org] has plenty of studies [ssi.org] and reports on the benefits we could receive from power from space - solar satellites, Lunar Solar Power [worldenergy.org], etc.. There is no basic technology mystery there (unlike, say, fusion), the hardest pieces are some development bits relating to large-scale construction in space and use of resources on the Moon. But there's no public political interest in this for some reason, and the NASA budget category for this has been basically zeroed out for years (I believe the total spent has been about $50 million, with only $2 million spent looking at lunar options).

    Why aren't we at least spending more money on research in this area? So many billions are spent on nuclear power, but space-based solar power is the ONLY way we'll ever move beyond Kardashev leve 0.7 [angelfire.com]!
  • by dbrutus (71639) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:17PM (#6064313) Homepage
    The pebble bed reactor designs are already being constructed (there's a S. African plant going up now). The R&D that's left to do is shrinking the whole thing down and making it modular so if you want more juice for your town, you just add a box or two.
  • by candiman (629910) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:50PM (#6064590)
    Actually, microwave transmission is not the way to go if you want a nice, compact system. Whilst the tranmitter gear is easier with microwaves, the receiver must be huge for any realistic system.

    A better bet is lasers with tuned photovoltaic cells at the receiver. You can get upwards of 80% efficiency and the spot beam diameter at 36000km (geostationary orbit - sunlight about 99.5% of the time) is only about 140m.

    The best bit about doing it in space is actually the fact that you can use low efficiency cells (which are cheap to manufacture). Because you have no real space restrictions you can make your array as large as you want. It turns out it is cheaper to make a large array of low efficiency cells than a small array of high efficiency cells.

    As for why NASA hasn't done it yet - you'd have to ask them and your politicians. I am an Australian - so NASA isn't responsible to me. One would guess that it is because of the original studies combined with a need to complete the ISS before moving onto anything else. The other reason is because there isd no reason for NASA to do it. Something like this should be built by private industry - not the government.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @12:02AM (#6065051) Homepage Journal
    Eating and injection actually avoid some of the most dangerous effects.

    Plutonium is primarily(*) an alpha emitter, which means the radiation gets absorbed in a really short distance.

    The worst thing you can do to yourself with a small amount of plutonium is to inhale it in finely divided form. Then zillions of particles can lodge in your lungs and each one will zap the neighboring millimeter of tissue until it finally goes cancerous.

    In case you're wondering, last time I looked at a toxicology reference, plutonium likes to settle out of the bloodstream in bone.

    So the answer to your question is basically that swallowing X amount of an organic toxin that targest your metabolism can be worse, *in the short term*, than swallowing the same amount of a heavy radioactive metal.

    (*) There's also interesting things like neutrons from spontaneous fission in some isotopes, etc.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @12:20AM (#6065171) Homepage Journal
    >nuclear energy companies and HTGR proponents are seeking free insurance from U.S. taxpayers. The Senate energy bill also calls for the extension of the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, a U.S.-funded disaster insurance policy, to cover HTGR reactors.

    Truth of the matter is, first the reactor operators pay premiums to the American Nuclear Insurers for private insurance. That covers the first $200 million of liability protection. After that, every reactor operator is on the hook for an assessment of up to $83.9 million to contribute to covering the costs of an accident at any covered reactor. Assess the maximum for each of 103 operating power reactors, and you can cover about $9 billion.

    Above that the Price-Anderson Act calls for Congress to spend federal money on disaster relief. If you're feeling charitable toward the Village Voice author, you might assume that's what he means by "free" "U.S. funded" insurance.

    For an unfriendly but factual look at Price-Anderson insurance, see http://www.safeenergy.org/PriceAndersonFactSheet.p df
  • by dbrutus (71639) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @12:21AM (#6065180) Homepage
    google up 'pebble bed reactor' and you will find that current cutting edge designs take small uranium 235 balls and coat them in a rugged heat resistant cladding that has a higher melting temperature than the heat produced when the coolant all goes away and they're just sitting in air.

    Bottom line, a catastrophic coolant failure results in zero meltdown.
  • by candiman (629910) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @01:20AM (#6065432)
    Actually no. Whilst the power density of the beam would be higher, the actual power transmitted would be quite low.

    We actually did some modelling of beaming power from Earth to geostationary orbit. Without looking at any of the numbers (ie, what I remember) - to get an equivalent power level to the Sun (1300W/m^2) we only needed 470-odd W/m^2 at a particular wavelength (it was a matter of tuning the laser to the existing solar cells) with a spot diameter of 140m. This meant that we needed something like a 1-2MW laser on the ground (36000km is a long way for) with a 1m beam diameter. So, whilst the power density at the transmitter end is high, by the time it gets anywhere useful, the power density is very low. Of course, if you wanted to transmit more power then all the numbers go up.
  • by twadzilla (586599) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @01:53AM (#6065535) Homepage
    I'd prefer greenhouse gases to nuclear waste. Greenhouse gases may end up causing lots of devastation, but they probably go away within a matter of centuries. Nuclear waste poses a lethal risk for tens of thousands of years and can be used for creating dirty bombs and other mischief.

    I was recently involved in a class debate [umich.edu] on whether it is necessary to increase nuclear power production threefold to meet a carbon free economy by 2100. It seems many of the topics raised in this thread deal with points we covered in our project, e.g. safety and efficiency concerns, hydrogen production, economic feasibility, etc.

    As my portion of the project dealt with safety and proliferation, I can say that at least from safety standpoint, building newer nuclear plants is a better solution to accomplish these goals than sticking with fossil fuels. For example, existing coal plants cause 15,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S. alone. Now, given the probability of 400 deaths in the event of a nuclear meltdown, this would require over 25 meltdowns per year for nuclear power to be as dangerous as the coal industry. Currently the probability of a meltdown is 1 in 20,000 reactor years, or once every 30 years.

    But even if you doubt these conclusions [umich.edu], you can rest assured that the effects of greenhouse gases would be far more severe than an incident involving localized exposure of nuclear waste (however unlikely that may be). Keep in mind the last ice age occured when the average global temperature was as little as five degrees (C) less. And currently the global temperature is rising at a rate that tops all previous historical trends.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2003 @03:32AM (#6065857)
    (or, how DO we get from here to there?)

    The short answer is, fixing our wrongheaded economic framework. Please allow me to explain.

    Reforming hydrocarbons into hydrogen used by fuel cells both produces more useable energy per unit of fuel, and less pollution per unit of energy produced, than combustion does. That alone makes it worthwile to use hydrogen as an intermediary energy storage medium. Conveniently, hydrogen can also be produced from any other source of energy: solar, nuclear, wind, hydro, whatever.

    But you just knew that when George devoted several minutes in his big speech to the hydrogen economy, it wouldn't turn into wise policy.

    The Government does not need to favor any particular method of producing hydrogen. The Government just needs to start recognizing that There's Value In Non-Pollution.

    That's right, by perpetuating an economic framework in which an energy converter (for example, a natural gas fired electric plant owner) may pollute (to the degree that they do) with no impact on it's balance sheet, while someone wanting to produce electricity by reforming the same fuel, converting to electricity without combustion, polluting much less in the process (or nearly not at all) per unit of electricity produced, gets no offset against their higher equipment costs for doing so. In other words, pollute a lot more than you need to save $$, we don't care. You can't expect a business to care more about not polluting than it does about its own bottom line.

    So The Government is shirking the one responsibility it unquestionably has: To protect the common resources we all depend on, like clean air and water. Aggregate combustion exhaust has undeniably negative effects including increased rates of diseases such as asthma. These costs are both financial and in quality of life.

    By letting producers convert energy into usable form in a dirty way just because it's cheaper, they are saying that avoiding pollution is a worthless endeaver.

    I would beg to differ.

    People and companies act in their own econonic self-interest. They do not see the forest (overall environment) for the trees (they're little part of the pollution problem). If we encourage people to pollute less by factoring in a true, market determined value for pollution (or lack thereof), the free market can work out which technologies to use to do it.

    Even more confusing to most people is that only after you level the economic playing field to not favor cheap but dirty methods can someone choosing a technology to convert energy make a rational, economically sound choice to use equipment that produces more useful energy per unit of fuel. When you manage pollution per useful energy produced, deciding whether to use a more expensive but more efficient device is straightforward to any rational person (so long as fuel prices are somewhat predictable). But today, nobody can decide just to buy a more efficient car (one that does more useful work per unit of fuel) because the technologies that acvieve it are also cleaner and more expensive, confounding the rational calculation, making one choose to pay out of ones one pocket for the privelege of polluting less. This is Bass Ackwards. It should be those who chose the dirtier methods that incur greater expense.

    This all seems so obvious to me now but most people jst don't get it, and George is obviously on of them.

    Slashdotters, please don't overlook my ideas because I'm anonymous. In both science and economics, ideas stand on their own merit, not on the reputation of the speaker.
  • by stonewolf (234392) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @11:30AM (#6068375) Homepage
    I once had a summer job where I had to transcribe data collected on a paper strip from a chart recorder. The data that was collected include wind direction and the radiation level in events/second.

    Normally the ratiation level showed a random fluctuation around the average background level. Ho hum. But when ever the wind was blowing from a certain direction the radiation level spiked up and stayed at a new level that was 10 to 100 times the normal background level. It would stay that way until the wind shifted.

    I processed tapes like that from a number of those recorders. They were on ration monitors set up all over the place. They all showed the same kind of behavior, but with different directions.

    We had a map that showed the location of each monitor, so it was easy to draw a line from the monitor in the direction the wind was blowing from. Do that for a couple or five monitors and you find that the lines cross at spedific locations.

    Each place the lines crossed was the location of a big coal burning power plant. Coal contains radioactive elements. Burning coal puts those elements in the air where you and I can breath it. IIRC coal plants put out more radioactive pollution than all the nuclear plants combined. And they do it every day, year in and year out.

    Stonewolf

It's a naive, domestic operating system without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption.

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