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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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  • by simetra (155655) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:05PM (#6061525) Homepage Journal
    You could read the article.
  • by BWJones (18351) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:08PM (#6061565) Homepage Journal
    It should be noted that many of these technologies are theoretical and are the result of basic research combined with applied research. While I am not a fan of the current administration, I do tend to agree with their view of nuclear power as long as newer safe designs are implemented. To those who are critical of this, it should be noted that we have a large coal burning electricity plant in central Utah that produces as much radioactivity and throws it into the atmosphere as Three Mile Island did. This is because of the high uranium content of the coal. At any rate, the basic research is important here and should be funded along with the applied research into such things as computational modeling of high temperature physics.

  • Coal powered car? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by adoll (184191) * <alex DOT doll AT agdconsulting DOT ca> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:13PM (#6061613) Homepage Journal
    Coal makes up most of the USA's electric generating capacity. If you want a hydrogen powered car that uses "electricity cracked water", then what you have is (largely) a coal powered car.

    However, if you use hydrogen from "steam cracking" of natural gas (CH3), then you have a natural gas powered car.

    Nobody said the hydrogen was free!

    -AD
  • Sounds good to me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:18PM (#6061660)
    The amount of anti-nuclear sentiment in the U.S. today is just silly. If you think nuclear power is unsafe or damaging to the environment, well, it's possible to make that case, but it's a battle that from both the public safety and environmentalism standpoints is FAR, FAR less important than a bajillion other battles that are just being neglected because they don't have a dramatic scare word like "NUCLEAR!" attatched to them. Moreover, the end result of anti-nuclear protest is NOT going to be in any way to encourage inefficient "alternative energy sources"; the only result will be that corporate interests will stay with "safe" (becuase it doesn't cause protestors) fossil fuel based energy sources, thus increasing our nation's depednence on oil just that little bit further, spewing god knows what horrible things into the air day and night, and harming the environment more than nuclear power ever could. Way to go.

    If nuclear power can have the added side effect of producing Hydrogen to use in hydrogen power, then great, that's just one more advantage. Now if only we could convince the U.S. to use breeder reactors so that there wouldn't be quite so much of that pesky nuclear waste that the protestors keep going so much on about.

    Note to the anti-nuclear protesters and PETA: You are not doing anything productive, you are reflecting badly on "the left", and you are pre-empting actual important work being done by others because when faced with a PETA or anti-nuclear story the news will run it, because those are issues that catch the public's eye, but when faced with a story in which people are protesting real, harmful corporate abuses they don't run it, because hey, they did the "protester" thing with the PETA story yesterday. Please go away.

    (Although i will recognize the people complaining about the nuclear waste dump site near Las Vegas have a point-- building a nuclear waste containment policy in a *mountain* on a *fault line*, even a small fault line, is just a fucking dumb idea.)
  • Re:FINALLY! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Y Taylor (455585) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:19PM (#6061669) Homepage
    Amen to that.

    I would prefer fusion, but that hasn't been done yet. Next on my list would be space based solar power, but sadly that might take longer to be ready than fusion. The only answer that is right-here-right-now is nuclear fission. Done properly it will not only reduce carbon emissions it will even reduce the amount of radiation released into the environment (it seems counterintuitive, but a typical coal power plant will release more radioisotopes into the environment than a typical nuke plant on a per Megawatt of power produced basis).

    People just have to get over their knee-jerk prejudices. Unfortunately it may be easier to solve the engineering & infrastructure problems with fusion or space solar power than it would be to get the newsmedia to engage in a sane discussion about the risks and benefits of nuclear fission. Too many of them got everything they know about nuclear power from watching China Syndrome.
  • Natural gas will always be available.

    You herd of Cows?

    -AD
  • by 73939133 (676561) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:27PM (#6061756)
    Renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, are emissions-free. But the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow

    One of the main benefits of a hydrogen economy is that you can generate hydrogen cleanly and efficiently in places where there is a lot of sunshine (and access to water) and ship the hydrogen safely to places that need it. Just like oil, only safer, more environmentally friendly, and renewable. And the US has lots of regions that are good for that kind of solar generation of 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),

    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 get the feeling that Bush administration policies can largely explained as using popular issues ("the environment", "national security", etc.) as an excuse to transfer large amounts of government subsidies to big donors.
  • Re:Nuclear waste (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bagels (676159) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:28PM (#6061759)
    A lot of the waste could actually be recycled into usable fuel, but in the US it can't be because of legal restrictions. *sighs*
  • Re:FINALLY! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:31PM (#6061790)
    One thing about Nuclear Fission is that they should increase fuel recycling. If we actually used fuel recycling instead of dumping perfectly fine fuel there would not be as much radioactive waste and the uranium we have would last longer.

    I know there are issues with proliferation and so on. But for nuclear weapon owning states that is not an issue.

  • by turbod (114654) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:32PM (#6061795)
    This article is pure unadulterated fear mongering, and is an insult too be posted as news. Each man can form his own opinion, thank you.

    TurboD
  • I'm jazzed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sielwolf (246764) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:36PM (#6061832) Homepage Journal
    As the article says, the US always gets shoe-horned into a "well if we want clean solutions, lets go wind/solar!" agenda... but since either solution is a pipe-dream, we continue living the same coal and oil lifestyle. Countries like Germany, that didn't have the benefit of West Virginia coal, went nuclear a while ago (and haven't been Chernobyl-ing left and right as some anti-nuke FUD would tell us).

    Heck, maybe the US can finally sneak into Kyoto if this goes through! Could it be possible that *gasp* GWB might make the US a cleaner place while anti-nuke environmental nut Al Gore screwed the pooch on this one? What is the world coming to?
  • by greg_barton (5551) * <[moc.oohay] [ta] [notrab_gerg]> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:42PM (#6061869) Homepage Journal
    This is really a revival of a program that Clinton zeroed out the funding for in 1992

    Wow! That must have been a neat trick, considering he became president in 1993. :)
  • no it doesn't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrSkwid (118965) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:43PM (#6061881) Homepage Journal
    begging the question doesn't mean what you think it means

    you mean "raises the question"
  • Re:FINALLY! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:52PM (#6061946)
    > The assertion from nuclear industry insiders in the article seems to indicate that all the rad waste generated by all the worlds power plants could fit in a basketball court sized, 2 story building. If so, then why did us taxpayers get stuck with a $58 billion basketball court called Yucca Mountain? I know government can be innefficient, but...

    ...government also has to be re-elected.

    And when the sheeple are ingorant enough about the physics involved that they can be swayed by "Not In My Back Yard" types and hysterical appeals to "oh no, it's nyuookyular, we're all gonna die!", politicians that want to get re-elected have to put up with it.

    For the record, I support Yucca Mountain. If they'd let me, I'd be happy to buy land right on top of the damn thing.

    So "Yes. In my back yard."

    With Yucca, it's not gonna be in anybody's back yard; for obvious security reasons, the nearest home is gonna be miles away. Of course, to the "we're all gonna die!" crowd, 10 miles, 20 miles, 100 miles, 500 miles, is still "their back yard".

    There's no negotiation with the more radical end of the environmental spectrum, because their real goal is the curtailment of human activity in general - stopping nuclear power is merely a means to that end. If oil's banned for greenhouse gases (that haven't been conclusively shown to increase global temperatures), and nuclear power is banned for radioactivity (that hasn't been shown to leak from sites like Yucca), it'll be solar (dangerous chemicals used in the manufacture of solar cells) and wind (slaughter of migratory birds) next.

    I'll stop there before I go into full-bore rant mode and conclude by saying that if Yucca does go through, I'll bet there'll be an initial hysteria about it that'll cause property values near the site will drop. At that time I'll be giving serious thought to putting my money where my mouth is. A geek could do worse than to end up owning a ranch in Nevada with acres of land, beautiful mountain and desert scenery, no state taxes, and only a couple hours' drive to the wackiness that is Vegas.

  • Re:Nuclear waste (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @05:56PM (#6061965)
    MOST of the waste is not spent fuel but radioactive parts that were used in decomissioned plants, fuel containters, reachtion vessles etc. These cannot be recycled in any way. Huge tonnage or radioactive steel, cement and ceramic parts must be disposed of. The actuall spent fuel itself is of virtually no concern compared to the non-fuel "ratioactive waste".
  • by Greg@RageNet (39860) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:02PM (#6062010) Homepage
    Perhaps we can harness the potential kinetic energy of people hugging trees.

    Lets face up to the fact that no energy source is 'suitable' for the environmental movement.

    Solar panels create toxic waste as a byproduct of their manufacture; endangered birds fly into the blades of wind turbines (yes, this has been raised as an issue!).

    Blah.

    -- Greg

  • by Artifex (18308) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:06PM (#6062044) Journal
    Not quite the whole story. Anyone looked at the industrial waste that making solar panels creates? IIRC, it's nontrivial.


    We're talking about emissions during generation of electricity, not during creation of the device used to generate it.

    If you want to talk about waste during production, don't forget that gas and coal generators have nontrivial waste as side products of their creation, as well. Compare a couple of buckets of nice sand, maybe some heavy metals, wire, and some plastic for solar cell production, to lots of steel and other metals that get strip-mined, not to mention oil, a lot more wire, etc., for gas/coal-burning generation.

    If that doesn't convince you, take a look at all the oil and stuff needed to keep generators going, versus maybe spraying the surface of the solar cells with water every now and again to get the grit off...

  • by Art Tatum (6890) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:13PM (#6062132)
    I get the feeling that Bush administration policies can largely explained as using popular issues ("the environment", "national security", etc.) as an excuse to transfer large amounts of government subsidies to big donors.

    Of course you do. You made up your mind at the beginning and interpret everything relative to your presuppositions.

  • by RandyF (588707) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:21PM (#6062225) Journal
    Done some study...

    Photovoltaics can easily produce plenty of power. The electricity can be used to split H2O dwn to (H2)x2 and O2 for portable fuel cell storage. The drawback of cloudy days and nighttime are mitigated by large scale power storage (battery, fuel cell, etc...)

    The only remaining drawback is the ratio of dollars per killoWatt hour production. A good PV gets around 8% to 15% in effective solar to electric production, depending on location, condition, age, materials, etc... Also, material costs are still too high. Pump a few hundred million into solid, steady research and we can get efficiency up and cost down.

    It's a matter of priorities. The politicians support what they think the people will go for. The old saying goes like this: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." We "have" nukes now. In reality, the development costs for taking PV to the level that will trounce NUCUL... (whatever) and fossil fuels is within reach. It will probably cost less (wild, but semi-educated guess) to bring PVs to the more cost effective level than the HTNGs.

    Think about it...

  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:24PM (#6062269) Homepage
    One of the main benefits of a hydrogen economy is that you can generate hydrogen cleanly and efficiently in places where there is a lot of sunshine (and access to water) and ship the hydrogen safely to places that need it.

    No. For a few reasons:

    a) making hydrogen from water is really inefficient (commercial production is done from methane, because it's wayyyy easier/cheaper/less energy)

    b) shipping hydrogen around is at best a total nuisance. Hydrogen is incredibly voluminous, even in liquid form [14x less dense than water, 10x less dense than kerosene], (incidentally hydrogen takes a lot of energy to liquify), and difficult/dangerous. (Hydrogen embrittles most metals, escapes incredibly easily, is explosive, and diffuses incredibly quickly; liquid hydrogen has an annoying habit of condensing oxygen from the air- liquid oxygen forms dangerous explosives with quite a few common materials- such as tarmac- it's a contact explosive; you walk on it- well, you wouldn't want to).

    Lots of people talk about hydrogen powered vehicles. With current technology (and nobody has done better in about 30 years of research), your fuel tank would have to be 10x bigger than it is now.

  • by shadowbearer (554144) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:27PM (#6062304) Homepage Journal
    This is so damned true.

    Back in the 80s when I was in college, this was a point I argued over and over at enviro meetings. I was usually shouted down.

    The media did a wonderful job of "educating" (read spreading FUD) about the real dangers of nuclear plants as compared to the dangers of coal and oil fired plants. All the crap (and Jane Fonda and that *bleep bleep* movie) produced a totally misinformed public. Chernobyl didn't help any either, despite the fact that is was very badly designed and run.

    As a couple other posters have noted, the French produce a majority of their electricity with NP, and have NEVER had a serious accident (mostly because they use advanced designs and they vet their employees very, very carefully)...

    One of the things I remember about being in S. Utah in '91 was the amount of smog in the deserts produced by those coal plants. But hey, they provided jobs....

    Make no mistake, people - the main reason that nuclear power is so expensive in the US is because of media and political FUD.

    SB
  • Isolated reactor? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:44PM (#6062460) Homepage
    Couldn't we simply put the nuclear plant in the middle of nowhere for those people who feel they are dangerous. Why not put it in the middle of the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. Tankers could then be used to transport the hydrogen to the mainland.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:48PM (#6062500)
    (1) Fort St. Vrain, Colorado: This plant never operated at its design capacity (and often didn't run at all). The Public Utilities Commission removed its cost from Public Service of Colorado's rate base, considering it a failed experiment instead of a working plant. PSC then decommisioned the reactor, and converted the plant to natural gas.

    (2) Chernobyl: Needs no explanation! At least they tried a containment building, though it didn't hold up to the hydrogen gas explosion that destroyed the plant.

    So, now they want to build a reactor without containment? If they want a way to permanently deep-six nuclear power, I do believe that's it!

  • by hacksoncode (239847) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @06:51PM (#6062536)
    Still, even in this modern day and age, PV cells are little better than batteries. Their net energy production over their useful lifetime is pathetic.

    It takes a ton of energy to make the things.

  • by craenor (623901) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:17PM (#6062766) Homepage
    But I think the Federal Government needs to completely take over the power generation industry. Electricity is, in every sense of the word, a basic need for us now. Without electricity for extended periods of time, people die in this country.

    You can disagree and call me a socialist bastard, but I just don't think something so basic as power generation should be in the hands of people who are trying to make a profit out of it. I'm sure that those of you in California who suffer through summer brown outs might agree with me if you think about it.

    Furthermore, the Federal Government has a huge advantage going for it. They don't have to turn a profit. The military sure never came close to it, and we love spending money on them (with good reason). But imagine the safety regulations and procedures and the environmental guidelines that could be implemented with government control of power plants.

    The U.S. Navy has never had a nuclear incident or accident, despite running a significant portion of the worlds nuclear plants with guys under 30 that don't have college educations. Why? Because no one asks the Navy to make a profit. They can afford to spend the extra money on safety measures, education for those operators and strict guidelines.
  • by dbrutus (71639) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @07:25PM (#6062827) Homepage
    Unfortunately, the problem of nuclear power in the US is largely based on fears of litigation, being sued to death. Nobody wants to plow money into a field with well organized opponents who will drag you into court every other week until you run out of money.

    The real solution, of course, is tort reform, to go to a loser pays system where foolish, ill-conceived lawsuits result in significant financial cost to those who insist on bringing them. But the trial lawyers would be starving in the streets and since trial lawyers are more influential than unions, minorities, or the poor in today's Democrat party we're not going to see loser pays until there's a Republican President with a 60 vote Republican majority in the Senate and a comfortably Republican House. That'll be 2004 if Al Sharpton gets the nomination but probably not otherwise.

    Since we're running against the clock, the Republicans, led by GW Bush are pushing incremental tort reform in doses that they think will pass while working around the areas that won't pass with corporate welfare.

    As a libertarian, I think it sucks. It's less efficient, distortive in its own right, and its only real advantage is that it's better than the other alternative on the table, doing nothing until we have massive energy spikes as 3rd and 2nd world countries start having significant portions of their huge populations convert to 1st world style energy consumption levels.

  • by mrmeval (662166) <`mrmeval' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @08:14PM (#6063200) Journal
    "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."

    I'd like to see them print up the amount of waste and the life expectancy of each. How much nuclear waste will there be? How much will there be if recycling of this waste is allowed? Yes, even nuclear waste can be recycled.

    Compare this to coal and oil, how much waste is generated by these. How long does it remain? Since it's dumping is not as strictly controlled how long will it's effects last in the environment? Even if it's dumping is as strictly controlled how long can this waste have the potential to effect the environment?

    This looks to be a good site for information on HTGR technology.
    http://www.iaea.or.at/inis/aws/htgr/

    If you go to google and search for "coal waste" you won't find any numbers, but you will find page after page of information, most of it high signal to noise.

    This is not a simple subject, to allow many countries to enjoy the lifestyle of 1st worlders a
    reasonably clean, reasonably non-polluting ENERGY SOURCE is needed. Hydrogen is not an energy source but a storage method that has some appeal. Current nuclear politics are geared to keeping the third world, third and subservient.

    A form of nuclear power that is easy to control, cannot easily be converted for weapons use and is within the capabilities of third world countries to install and maintain (and eventually manufacture) would be one method of improving their relative wealth and all that comes with this.
  • Re:Nucular? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arker (91948) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @09:23PM (#6063760) Homepage

    In fact, I favor nuclear rocketry and other related applications.

    Wait a sec, let me get this straight. You favour nuclear rocketry, but you're afraid of power plants? Do you realise how utterly insane that sounds?

  • by The Master Control P (655590) <ejkeever@@@nerdshack...com> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @09:38PM (#6063950)
    As nu-ku-ler waste decays, it generates a lot of heat. Why not tap that heat, using it to power a small generator and extract hydrogen through electrolosis at a reasonable rate for, oh, the next 25,000 years? It's better than letting it sit there and simmer. We can't get rid of it (without taking the risk of sticking it on top of a directed explosion with the output of a small nuclear weapon), so we might as well do something with it.
  • by b1t r0t (216468) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @09:42PM (#6063986)
    Must be the same trick Bush used to kill the economy back in 2000. :)
  • by smithmc (451373) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:01PM (#6064193) Journal

    Caffeine has an LD50 of 57-260 mg/kg, while plutonium has an LD50 similar to that of pantothenic acid which is up to 10 g/kg (if taken orally) or 820 mg/kg (if injected). Caffeine is clearly more toxic than plutonium according to this! I still don't quite believe this, so can someone come up with better numbers or a good reason why this isn't the case?

    As you stated, this LD50 figure is ties to the likelihood of death within 30 days. If even a little of that Pu239 gets stuck in the body, it can cause cancer years after initial exposure.

    That said, I'm still in favor of "nucular" plant development, whether as part of a "hydrogen economy" or simply for straight power generation for delivery to the grid. Either way would both reduce greenhouse emissions and reduce our entanglement with the Middle East.

  • Re:Nucular? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Necron69 (35644) <{jscott.farrow} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:03PM (#6064210)
    Personally, I'm astonished that anyone who calls themself an 'environmentalist' could possibly think that pouring millions of tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere each year could be better than radioactive waste, buried deep underground.

    Bring on the nuclear power and dump the fossil fuels! Thank God someone in government has some sense.

    - Necron69
  • by f97tosc (578893) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:04PM (#6064217)
    This is actually a key point. A key failure of the current nuclear industry is that the plants are not standardized - they follow a large number of different designs.

    Standardized modules will cut costs and also make them safer; discovered bugs can be fixed in all installations.

    Tor
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:12PM (#6064276)
    ...At least, not in the United States. There hasn't been a now nuclear (or "nucular") power plant ordered in the US since the 70s. I believe the last one was in 1973, though I could be slightly off there.

    I work at a nuke plant. This is my third summer as an intern in their IT department. My dad has worked in various nuke plants all of my life and then some. I don't understand why people are so damned afraid of these things. I know how safe they are, and I'm not the slightest bit afraid of anything happening. And don't tell me we have to worry about terrorists doing any damage to them. They're built extremely well.
  • by Brown Line (542536) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @10:55PM (#6064634)
    As a number of people on this thread have pointed out, hydrogen is not a way to energy: it's a to store and distribute energy. The energy being stored could be generated by fission, or by wind or solar, geothermal, or any combination of the above.

    The administration's point is that the sooner we stop burning fossil carbon as our principal power source, the better off we'll be. Setting aside the environmental concerns, which are not slight, there are serious geopolitical reasons for getting away from fossil carbon: such as the fact that the economy of the United States - and indeed of the world - is enthralled to the increasingly corrupt, increasingly fragile monarchy of Saudi Arabia. A political collapse of that government could deprive the world of a significant source of energy for an extended period of time, with catastrophic results.

    While hydrogen is by no means ideal, it's the best alternative that we have now to the fossil-carbon economy, and it does allow us to develop cleaner, more efficient means of manufacturing energy over time. I hope the Left will not let its detestation of Bush blind itself to the fact that this proposal is interesting and creative, and holds promise to lead the world economy out of the energy dilemma that it now is in.

  • by UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) on Wednesday May 28, 2003 @11:05PM (#6064691)
    "I thought Bush was supposed to be in bed with the oil companies. That's what everyone kept crying about. But now liberals are bitching about hydrogen."

    Where do you think most all the H2 we use today comes from? it's split from natural gas. Most of that gas is from drilling oil wells, it's on top of the oil and until not to long ago was burned off.

    In the future it will be split from water, but this needs power, hense the nuclear. H2 is for portable use, it's not for powerplants and such. In the future they will all be nuclear, wind, geothermal and other non coal, gas, oil methods.

    Oil companies are energy companies. They will adjust to what ever comes.

    I don't really get what you were getting at with the liberal thing. Maybe it's because people like myself hate how Bush went from bashing and making fun of hybrid cars and things like fuel cells, to acting like he is their champion. Also he touts a hyrdrogen economy, this simple isn't the future, there isn't an oil economy ether, it's a product of republicans minds to try and get insane oil policys.
  • by BerntB (584621) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @12:04AM (#6065064)
    the real question is, when will mark baard stop posting his own stories to slashdot?
    Well, that don't really disturb me. I just wish Baard didn't write simple propaganda, though.

    E.g., he makes a snide insinuation that energy producing companies don't do research on new ways of producing energy.

    Basic research (that won't pay off in decades, if ever) tend to be financed by governments. Fusion is an example. (And companies researching new kinds of power plants tend to be the companies that build energy plants (ABB, etc) -- not the companies running power plants!)

    For another point, Baard wrote: Scientists have not yet designed a nuclear facility whose safety and efficiency trumps that of gas or coal.

    Well, the fallout of coal based power plants kill people. Quite a few people. If you compare the number of people killed by coal in USA/KWh and the number killed by nuclear power/KWh, I am quite certain that nuclear power has been safer than coal for the last decades.

    I don't really have an opinion on the subject of the article. I need to get facts from more dependable sources -- that don't have so many axes to grind that it could arm a viking army... (My basic position on long-term energy is that funding for fusion research should probably be larger.)

  • by LordMyren (15499) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @03:08AM (#6065780) Homepage
    Wow, moderation shows its true colors. I've seen about thirty comments saying "its safe, its more environmentally friendly," and generally everything but the one thing that matters.

    Yes, this is a perfect solution. Except it creates the perfect enemy. Nuclear waste. US has spent iirc $6 billion looking for a place to stash waste. Waste that it knows will last another couple tens of thousands of years, many lifetimes that of man. Waste that will require extra-ordinary amounts of work to contain, to isolate, to cut off from our reality. We're talking Final Fantasy seal in crystals work here ladies and gentlemen.

    Nuclear power is a great ally, but it creates an enemy which will outlive us, our children, our childrens children, and a hundred children thereafter.

    In the end, it is not a real solution, but an interem solution. The world can only deal with so much nuclear waste.

    Unless we get that stupid space elevator running AND are stupid enough to trust it running barrels of nuclear fuel to the sun. I dont see why NASA wants to build another shuttle when a space elevator would cost less and work so much better. And once we get it running, its not but another fourty to fifty years till we start trusting it well enough to run nuclear waste -> space -> sun. Then i start having less problems with this plan.

    Now all we need is superconducting carbon nanotubes as conductors. Just run the nuclear power stations in space, and pipe the power back down to earth. Anything nasty happens up there and you just cut the teather earthside and the power station goes hurtling off into space, no cleanup necessary! Course, getting that power a couple thousand miles down to earth surface wouldnt make much sense unless they get that magic juju superconducting carbon nanotubes thing working, good luck on that one boys! somehow the thought of meltdown'ing power stations being let go to fly off tangentially into space just make it all worth it though.

    Either way, I'm still a reknewable man myself. It'd only be like five or ten times the cost (guess came from out of mi arse again). And I'm a big fan of the distributed system. Just put solar on everyone's house. Couple huge honkin wind farms. Less of these gargantuan power lines everywhere.

    Myren
  • by fluffy666 (582573) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @05:35AM (#6066154)

    Yes, this is a perfect solution. Except it creates the perfect enemy. Nuclear waste. US has spent iirc $6 billion looking for a place to stash waste. Waste that it knows will last another couple tens of thousands of years, many lifetimes that of man. Waste that will require extra-ordinary amounts of work to contain, to isolate, to cut off from our reality. We're talking Final Fantasy seal in crystals work here ladies and gentlemen.

    That's not strictly true. The long half-life Actinides (Plutonium etc.) can (ahs should) be recycled into more fuel. The fission products have half lives of around 30 years or so. [washington.edu] Quite simply, this stuff only has to be kept safe for perhaps 300 or so years before it becomes as radioactive as granite, for instance. Only if you ban reprocessing (for political reasons) do you get a severe problem.

    A cynic would point out that Green opposition to nuclear power has effectively contributed more to global warming, by keeping coal as a power source instead, than all the SUVs in America.

    Either way, I'm still a reknewable man myself. It'd only be like five or ten times the cost (guess came from out of mi arse again). And I'm a big fan of the distributed system. Just put solar on everyone's house. Couple huge honkin wind farms. Less of these gargantuan power lines everywhere.

    I would certainly agree to mandating solar panels for all new roof construction and replacement. And as a condition for anyone installing air conditioning in their home. Wind farms are best suited for things like generating hydrogen (or other alternate transport fuels), since this removed the problem of episodic supply.

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @06:58AM (#6066397)
    "If you can't do that cleanly & safely (something the nuclear industry's record suggests they can't do),"

    Yeah, look at all the radioactive carbon-14 those plants are dumping into the atmosphere! No, wait, those are fossil fuel plants...

    At any rate, countries like France and Belgium seem to be doing alright with nuclear power. Why do you think the US can't?
  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @07:22AM (#6066500) Homepage
    The age of the nucleus is yet to come - perhaps not in our lifetime either.

    Seriously, think about how people get all irrational over ANYTHING with 'nuke' in it, they're in complete denial, so badly you can't even hold a conversation - it's really like the superstitious, demon haunted people of the middle ages church persecuting Galileo for building a telescope, a 'diabolical instrument' for peering into the heavens. Don't think a vast majority of people today are modern thinkers just because they yak on a cell phone. They still want to blame the ruling authorities for bad weather, that's how much superstition and irrational fears still haunt the masses.

  • Re:Nucular? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phurley (65499) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @09:48AM (#6067565) Homepage
    All isotopes that are produced when uranium splits are relatively short lived; however, some of the uranium atoms do not fission with the first neutron impact. Rather, they absorb the neutron and become a more massive isotope, this process will continue these atoms eventually split forming trasuranics or actinides. Some of these (e.g. plutonium-239) , have long half lives.

    Transuranics can be recycled into new reactor fuels rather easily. But it has been (misguided) US policy to restrict this process for fear of making "bomb" materials. There are new reactor designs that do the "recycle" internal which may be more palatable.

    End of the day if you are being honest, you have two choices accept the risks associated high energy production (nuclear being one of the cleanest, safest, least understood choices) and industry or advocate that we reduce the size and impact of humanity through massive controls on human breeding. Other solutions available do not scale.
  • Re:Nucular? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grab (126025) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @10:32AM (#6067944) Homepage
    On the "contaminating" side, check out the vitrification process. Turn the waste to glass (highly radioactive glass, obviously, but still solid). No leaks then.

    It's easy to predict how much radiation will penetrate how much ground, so bury it deep and job done. If you're worried about it, don't live near there (hell, the US is big enough you hardly need to worry about that - plenty of places with big areas of sod all!).

    Re the birth defects, there's no proven correlation between nuclear storage sites and any birth defects. Also compare and contrast to coal-fired power station emissions which have been shown decades ago to cause birth defects, illness, acid rain, deforestation, death of wildlife in area, etc. Air-scrubbers exist to prevent this, but few power stations use them bcos they cost money to set up and use, and most governments won't mandate them.

    And just bcos ppl are fighting it, it doesn't mean it's not a good idea. For a US example, 150 years ago half a nation fought to keep slavery in place! Most ppl don't understand nuclear, or have been given misinformation by anti-nuclear protestors - either way, ppl get frightened and don't react logically. And with the gov involved too, you get all the anti-gov conspiracies in there too. Logic tends to have a poor survival rate in this situation.

    Grab.
  • by sjames (1099) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @10:36AM (#6067969) Homepage

    Well, the fallout of coal based power plants kill people. Quite a few people. If you compare the number of people killed by coal in USA/KWh and the number killed by nuclear power/KWh, I am quite certain that nuclear power has been safer than coal for the last decades.

    Safety has to take a number of things into account, including liklihood of harm, reperability of the harm, and degree of harm.

    Clearly, Coal and to a lesser extent, natural gas fired plants do cause harm in the form of pollution and industrial accidents. Some of those harms are 100% certainty (release of toxins to the environment), that is, they are operational conditions rather than exceptions (such as a release from a nuclear reactor would be).

    However, those harms are quite small, slow, and managable when compared to a large release from a nuclear reactor which can affect much larger areas, and leave an area uninhabitable for a good many years.

    That doesn't necessarily mean coal good, nuclear bad. The measure of safety will be in the statistical liklihood of a nuclear accident. Equal safety would be a condition where over a statistically significant time period and with a significant number of power plants, the nuclear would harm/kill less people and harm less area. Some of that is more like a value judgement. For example, is it better to fence off several uninhabitable square miles for decades, or to have an unescapable low level toxic environmental damage everywhere?

    Personally, I have been against nuclear development for some time based on the safety problems of the current (in the U.S.) technology. The problem is that that technology depends on active safety systems and a lack of human error (yeah, right). It is only by the shear number of different active safety measures (at great expense) that we haven't had a disaster (though there have been scares). In the U.S.S.R, where less active safety systems were used and there were fewer safeguards against human error (or stupidity), we have seen the result.

    HTGRs change that consideration. The primary safety is passive (that is by design), such that the worst case scenerio for older tech (total loss of coolant or coolant flow) does not cause a problem. Further, because of the way the fuel is packaged, it is intrinsically safer (at any point in it's lifecycle) than the older fuel rods at an equivilant point.

    HTGRs also have an advantage for mitigating the consequences. As I said above, they present no danger in a loss of coolant accident. Meltdown doesn't happen. Unlike older nuclear designs where even decades later we haven't developed technology to adequatly deal with the consequences of an accident, our current tech is adequate to deal with a HTGR accident resulting in dispersion of the fuel. It's much easier to pick up ceramic spheres or prisms (using remotely operated vehicles) than molten fuel embedded into soil, water, and rock.

    The net result of all of that is that I (personally) believe that it is now time to reconsider the nuclear power option. The open questions on safety have shifted considerably. Now it's mor a question of controlling fuel reprocessing adequatly to avoid uncontrolled materials useful for bombs while not vastly increasing the disposal problem and waste by simply not reprocessing at all. In the U.S. I would argue that we already have a great deal of weapons grade material in actual weapons (some of which are not really in good enough condition to actually use). Processing that material into fuel for an HTGR would actually have an anti-proliferation effect.

  • Re:Nucular? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by svirre (39068) on Thursday May 29, 2003 @12:11PM (#6068695)
    If we had some way of safely launching the waste into the sun

    Now, the point was to generate usful energy, not to spend it all. Launching radioactives into the sun in itself uses a lot of energy as well as wasting the energy still present in the radioactives.

    Remember that as long as it is radioactive it's energetic. Today's radioactive waste is tomorrows fuel.
  • by rtechie (244489) on Friday May 30, 2003 @02:25AM (#6074512)
    I've seen ... reports on the California situation which claim that wind is one of the most expensive ways to generate power.

    First off, the statement above is simply wrong. 10-15 years ago it was true, but it is not true now. Wind is *NOT* one of the most expensive ways to generate power. Solar beats it by a mile.

    However, I seriously question the $0.03 claim. Based on what I've been able to find out this only applies to the most efficient turbines, none of which are presently in service in the USA (possibly in Denmark, I'm not sure). And even that is a SUBSISIZED price, so the real cost is closer to 0.05-0.06.

    CURRENT generation costs are closer to 0.07-0.09, adjusting for the subsidies. About 2 to 3 times the cost of natural gas.

    Unfortuantely virtually all the cites I found were from such "unbiased" sources as the National Wind Technology Center, and the American Wind Energy Association. Virtually all of them cited the $0.03 number, which originated entirely from an AWEA study.

    I did manage to find one study, by the Cato institute:
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa422.pdf

    One thing that irritates be is the greatly exaggerated costs of generating nuclear power I've seen in these reports. Nuclear power costs about $0.03 per kWh, about the same as natural gas (slightly more expensive), and a lot of that is due to onerous safety regulations (vastly more of this is required over the less-safe coal and natural gas industries). If we moved to a system similar to that of the Japanese or French (fuel recycling), we might be able to cut that in half. If we moved to breeder reactors we might be able to cut it down to $0.01 or so. However, recator development has been stalled since the 1970's.

    Most of the cites I found were from such "unbiased" sources as the Nuclear Energy Institute. It took me a while to dig this up:

    http://www.seabrookstation.com/sbs%5CSeabrookSta ti on.nsf/TopicDetails/IndustryNuclear+PowerA+Low-Cos t+Leader

    It claims that nuclear power is cheaper than any other source, even under the flawed US system.

    You also haven't adaquately addressed the reliablity problems of wind, nor have you mentioned that many hundreds of facilites would have to be built to replace existing power plants. Wheras 10 (possibly fewer) nuclear power plants could produce all of the electricity for California. And since we've already got 2, we'd only need another 8. You'd have a tough time convincing me that building hundreds of windmill fields is cheaper than 10 nuclear power plants.

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares"

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