Tuesday, March 27, 2007
On energy density and nuclear power
Two words: Energy density. Nuclear power is currently the only technology which has the energy density to replace oil, gas, coal and so forth. We could put solar panels on every patch of barren ground, windmills in every windy pass in America, biofuel rapeseed on every piece of marginal ground not needed to raise timber or food, and still fall woefully short even of the energy requirements of modern agriculture, which is a very energy-intensive process that requires hauling enormous amounts of food long distances over a transportation infrastructure that requires enormous sums of energy to operate even if we transition it all to electrical or hydrogen operation. And without modern agriculture, we have a great die-off, because we now have far more people on this planet than can be supported by primitive agriculture.
Frankly, I prefer being alive to being dead. I've looked at some of the modern nuclear reactor designs, and they're far safer than Three Mile Island (which itself was far safer than Chernobyl, a weapons reactor converted to civilian use which would have never been permitted to operate in the United States). Note that the so-called "hydrogen economy" is basically a mechanism for storing nuclear power in an energy-dense manner for individual transportation, rather than a method of generating energy... the only method for generating energy is nuclear power, whether it is the nuclear power of the sun (which also powers the wind as well as solar cells and plants), or nuclear power from man-made reactors. Even oil, gas, or coal is just nuclear power in the end, since it is just stored nuclear energy from the sun, energy stored in hydrocarbon bonds rather than in batteries...
- Badtux the Energy Penguin
Labels: economy, energy, peak oil, technology
Posted by: BadTux / 3/27/2007 08:18:00 PM
I'm afraid that I'm forced to agree. Not a big fan of nuclear power, but if it's a choice between that and freezing in the dark on top of a pile of shotgun shells as hordes of heavily armed, hungry marauders claw at the doors and windows...yeah, I vote nuclear.
We need to fix two problems, though:
1) The radioactive waste. We still have no way of effectively storing it for the thousands of years it will be poisonous.
2) Nuclear, like oil, is also finite. From everything I've read, it appears we only have about 100 years of the fuel available.
Someone had best get to solving that cold fusion problem, and fast.
# posted by Gerald Fnord : 28/3/07 8:07 AM
Fnord -- if it's radioactive, it's fuel. These "radioactive wastes" can fuel a different category of reactor, if the radioactive portions are seperated out from the non-radioactive portions. However, since some of those radioactive portions can be used to make nuclear bombs (eep!), the "politically correct" politicians decreed that instead it should be disposed of in a secure manner. But if it's a choice of freezing in the dark or having electricity with a slight risk of vaporization, I'll choose having electricity every day.
Current U235-based fission reactors are not the only possible nuclear reactor. There are other radioactive substances that could be used for fuel too, we use uranium-based reactors for historical reasons, because the Manhattan Project used graphite-moderated fission reactors in order to create Pu-239 for early fission bombs. Even if we stick with uranium and plutonium cycles, with breeder reactors to extend the life of the available fuel supply we have enough fissionables for several thousand years. Hopefully we will get that cold fusion problem figured out by then!
- Badtux the Nuclear Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 28/3/07 10:07 AM
Other than the waste products I really don't have much of a problem with it.
I don't think the Navy has ever had a problem with any of their nuclear powered ships that I have heard of.
Besides, someday something better will come along, science is like that.
# posted by BBC : 28/3/07 6:44 PM
Couple of links to give you food for thought. I posted a link on shortage of nuclear fuels around the 25th.
After the first years of making reactors, mines fell into disuse and radiation complicated life in surrounding communities. I rather think there is a problem or two with making vast quantities of fuel available just like snapping one's fingers.
# posted by opit : 28/3/07 8:16 PM
Regarding "On energy density and nuclear power" (2007-03-27), there is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US (and many other parts of the world) because there is a simple mature technology that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.
I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.
CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US and Canada too. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or ***about seven times the current total US electric capacity***" (emphasis added).
In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.
Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trecers.net . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .
# posted by GerryWolff : 29/3/07 6:42 AM
Sorry, Gerry. Nice-sounding pseudo-scientific babble, but I already covered that one under "solar power". The scheme you mention is about as efficient as photoelectric cells (i.e., roughly 15% efficient at converting solar insolation into electricity), but has some dire issues reducing its utility, the most dire being that whole *WATER* issue (hey, dude, where are you gonna find water in a freakin *DESERT*?!). Furthermore the transport issue is *not* as clear-cut as you put it. We can basically only transport electricity for about 2,000 miles before it just ain't worth it even more, and electrical high tension lines won't cross over deep oceans (like, say, the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and Europe, DOH!). So, like, what do we do for electricity during the night if we can't import it from the day side of the world? Duh?
In short: Photovoltaic cells placed upon rooftops and outside other point-source users may provide a valuable service in the future especially in hot climates where peak usage coincides with peak solar insolation, but the science says that there just isn't enough usable energy this way to maintain the modern communications, transportation, and agricultural infrastructures that we require for life itself in this way-too-interconnected world. The collapse of such infrastructures generally results in disaster. When the infrastructure supporting the city of Rome went to the crapper thanks to bad politicians and barbarian hoardes, Rome went from a city of a million people to maybe 20,000 heavily armed people huddling in the ruins in less than 100 years. But in our case, it would be a world-wide collapse.
# posted by BadTux : 29/3/07 8:25 AM
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