[FoRK] why the nuclear energy industry is dying

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Tue Jun 18 12:40:18 PDT 2013

On 6/18/13 11:34 AM, mdw at martinwills.com wrote:
>> On 6/18/13 8:34 AM, mdw at martinwills.com wrote:
>>> ...
>>> Personally I am ambivalent over nuclear power generation, all of the
>>> energy production methods suggested by the author contains cost
>>> statements
>>> that don't properly account for all of the costs of any of the power
>>> generation solutions cited.
>> Additionally, costs under the current regime are treated like facts of
>> nature when they are the result of lack of innovation and
>> over-striving for zero risk, far less risk in many aspects than
>> alternatives like oil, coal, and natural gas.  There's no reason
>> that decommissioning a nuclear plant has to cost billions of dollars.
> The primary reason for the enormous cost is because the primary reactor
> components are irradiated.  They will be irradiated for 10's of centuries.
>   The radiation is so dangerous it will kill animals (including humans) if
> exposed for a short period of time (talking minutes).  So disposing of
> these heavy metals require cutting, decontamination, transportation and
> disposal in geographically stable areas for several millenia.  The cutting
> of the materials creates particulates that are irradiated and can be
> carried away or washed away.  The concrete enclosures also contain steel
> reinforcements that are irradiated and need to be cut, transported and
> disposed of.  Your typical Light Water Reactor (LWR) covers acres of land
> and the containment buildings are the size of large office buildings.
> These structures cannot last a century without constant maintenance and
> therefore are cheaper to dismantle and dispose.

Yes, I vaguely know all of this.  The traditional designs and methods are annoyingly short-sighted.  But imagine that the plant 
components are more modular, are on sleds that can be picked up and transported.  Imagine a processing plant / factory that, within 
yet another containment mechanism, grinds up and reprocesses the steel, a radioactive foundry, etc.?  The fact that it's brittle 
makes it easier.  All difficult problems, but throw a few billion my way and I could make it happen.  And then you have a scalable 
solution that doesn't take a few billion every time.  But, no one seems to be thinking that far outside the box.

>> First, poor design.  Second, there are simple ways to
>> optimize that down to thousands, if that's the problem: Put the plant at
>> the bottom of a bedrock carve out with no water table
> All current US nuclear power plants are LWR and are ALWAYS placed near
> large bodies of water for steam turbines (water) and emergency cooling
> purposes (water). 90% of the worlds population lives near water sources
> and therefore the nuclear generated power is kept local to keep costs low.

As observed in Japan (and the Gulf for that matter), contamination of the ocean itself is less of an issue:  it is too big to stay 
concentrated for long.  Shores are another issue, but the ocean itself dissipates most things nicely apparently.

A power or processing plant in deep water is still dangerous, but less permanently.

>> interaction and seal the old plant off every 100 years, putting the new
>> plant 100 yards over.
> The current designs only last 30 to 60 years because the radiation causes
> the metals to become brittle and eventually fail (I've personally seen a
> metal plate 1 inch thick and 3' by 3' shatter when hit by a carpenters
> hammer).  There are no other building materials known to man that don't
> become brittle under radiation bombardment in LWR reactors. Also the LWR
> in all countries to date, cover 10's of acres and are generally prime real
> estate (simply ask the San Onofre residents what they think about that
> plant sitting on prime Ocean property!)
>> Or, perfect a plant-eating and
>> deradiation munching machine, reusing the metal and material for the next
>> plant perhaps.
> The metal is brittle and irradiated.  You would have to cut it, transport
> it, re-smelt it, all which gives off radiation particulates that can be
> blown or washed away.
>> This whole area is open for innovation
>> beyond the primitive and painstaking solutions we apparently have now.
> The nature of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and X-ray radiation as well as the
> byproducts of fission, cannot be solved using the current physics known to
> man. (Hence the great interest and research into fusion alternatives).
>> Additionally, arguing that nuclear is already a failure when it would cost
>> about what electricity costs now is a pretty lame
>> argument.  Oh no, things would continue like they are now?  Uh, ok.
>> There are plenty of problems with nuclear.  Running out of uranium and not
>> figuring out thorium would be a problem.  Safety is
>> always a concern to address.  Better designs, that include cheap
>> decommissioning, are needed.  But it doesn't seem hopeless.
> It isn't hopeless nor do I believe anyone who has researched it says it's
> hopeless.  It is a matter of economics.  What can a rate/tax paying group
> support in total costs?  As a utility/tax payer, what is your pain point
> for the availability of electricity?  Those are the discussions that are
> under way. Various groups are trying to assert their solutions as being
> more rate/tax payer friendly and/or greener while using voodoo economics
> to validate their positions.
>> What do you call a fetish for hopelessness?
>>> Regards,
>>> Martin
>> sdw
> Regards,
> Martin

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