Existing Nuclear Power (Fission)
A Forgotten Solution
- It’s safe
- It’s clean
- It’s cheap
- We know how to build it now.
Too often existing nuclear power plants, which split uranium for fission power, are neglected as an immediate solution to world dependence on fossil fuels. They are unfairly vilified because of false concerns:
- About safety, due to a very few high-profile accidents
- Knowing how to deal with radioactive nuclear waste
Safety: But those concerns are exaggerated and over estimated. Compared to all sources of power generation, the nuclear accident record is low. Experience has made safety a high priority. Designers are now more than capable of building reliable plants with redundancies and fail-safe’s, and protection against human error. Similarly, dealing with nuclear waste is less expensive and more reliable than dealing with other forms of toxic industrial waste.
Cost considerations do exist for creating new nuclear power plants. These can be addressed by making nuclear plants smaller and more reproduceable, or cookie-cutter-like. By manufacturing smaller, identical, nuclear plants in volume (as is done for automobiles or modular buildings), the average cost of new nuclear power can be dramatically improved. There just needs to be a will to invest in this technology.
EXPERTS AGREE – NUCLEAR IS NECESSARY
WSJ: Only Nuclear Energy Can Save the Planet. Do the math on replacing fossil fuels: To move fast enough, the world needs to build lots of reactors. By Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist, Jan. 11, 2019
Republicans and Democrats Unite to Save the Planet, and No One Notices, Mar 31, 2019 From the JJ Article: On Thursday, Bill Gates tweeted: “Yesterday, a bipartisan group of leaders in the U.S. Senate introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which establishes an ambitious plan to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. I can’t overstate how important this is.”
Some original sources of information on the subject are:
A – Climate Change and the Nuclear Option – Download PDF.
author, Matt Lundy, 2018. Quotes from the article by Lundy:
- “Even though nuclear energy may very well be the golden ticket out of climate change, many countries are hesitant to adopt it.”
- “The threat of disaster, biased media portrayal, and an overall lack of understanding when it comes to nuclear, has scared the public and policymakers away from a potentially planet-saving energy source.”
The title links to the summary by World-Nuclear.org, outlining great progress on managing nuclear waste, achieved over decades. The state-of-the-art is described. Quotes from the page:
- “Nuclear waste is neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial waste.”
- “Safe methods for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste are technically proven; the international consensus is that geological disposal is the best option.”
Nuclear vs Renewables in Reduction of CO2 Emissions
data from wikipedia
Germany has shifted electricity generation to renewables; close to 30% of all electric power today is from wind, solar, biomass and hydro. Germany is actively phasing out nuclear. Conversely, France has largely retained nuclear to date, with close to 70% of all electricity generated still coming from nuclear power.
France has performed better in CO2 reductions over the last two decades, with a higher percentage reduction in emissions than Germany. This partly due to Germany’s need to add natural gas power plants, while battery storage for renewables remains too expensive.
Thorium Reactors of the Future.
There is an alternative to atomic power from splitting Uranium. Another, more plentiful element, Thorium, can be used to generate Nuclear power. Best of all:
Thorium reactors use a molten salt process, not high pressure water to control heat. Instead of melting down from loss of cooling, a Thorium reactor will simply stop all by itself. It has passive shut-down, making it totally safe
Thorium nuclear reactor process
from the wikipedia article on molten salt reactors.
Other positive attributes of a Thorium reactor are:
- The reaction does NOT generate weapons grade Plutonium
- Waste products have a short half-life, unlike Uranium
- First developed and demonstrated in 1965 in the US
- Current proof-of-concept facility in the Netherlands
Challenges of commercial Thorium reactor design are: (a) to produce cost effective fuel and (b) to prevent corrosion of the reactor vessel (modern materials assist the latter goal).
So, why don’t we have these safe Thorium reactors in operation today? Well, in the cold war of the 1960s, nations wanted massive amounts of Plutonium for massive nuclear weapons arsenals. Thorium nuclear power plants did not produce Plutonium, so they were abandoned.
The decision to develop Uranium nuclear power technology exclusively (rather than develop safer Thorium as well) was the height of US, Russian and Chinese (& other nuclear nation) political stupidity. It was close to the stupidity and negligence now being applied to Climate Change by the majority of nations of the earth.
Fortunately, several nations are designing 4th generation molten salt / Thorium reactors today, including China, the Netherlands, India and others. The USA has some initiatives by they are mired in regulations and lack of funding and lack of vision for this obvious solution to Climate Change. Horrific extreme weather will eventually cause both politicians and environmentalists to turn to nuclear power.
Wikipedia articles on Thorium Reactors: