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New research into nuclear's feasibility shows that it simply does not make for a sole fossil fuel replacement.

The death knells of the Earth's dwindling fossil fuel supply have helped to prompt a growing push for alternative fuels.  Whether it be cellulosic ethanol powering the next generation of hybrid vehicles or microbial hydrogen driving advanced fuel cells, America's top technology corporations are making massive investments in alternative energy.  Basically, alternative energy advocates remain split about what is the best solution -- solar power, wind power, biofuels, hydrogen, and nuclear power are seen as the best bets.

Not holding out much hope for an exotic solution, many have turned in the last few years to seriously considering nuclear as a potential replacement to fossil fuel demand.  The result has been resurgence in nuclear efforts.  In the U.S. an application has been filed by NRG Energy for the first new nuclear plant in 30 years.  In Canada, a nuclear research reactor taken temporarily offline was quickly brought online after swift legislative action.

However, despite the growing enthusiasm there has already been one major hiccup.  The record drought that has been plaguing the U.S. Southeast is threatening to cripple the nuclear industry in this region, as many of the plants require large amounts of water.

Now, a new research study, conducted by Physicist Joshua Pearce of Clarion University of Pennsylvania puts another dent in nuclear efforts.  Professor Pearce's research, published in Inderscience's International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, indicates that while nuclear research and small-scale growth remain promising, large scale growth remains non-viable.

Professor Pearce is actually an advocate for nuclear power.  He warns that his research should not be misinterpreted.  Professor Pearce suggests that the nuclear power industry focuses its efforts on improving efficiency.  He gives two easy ways to accomplish this.  The first is to utilize only the highest grade ores, saving on refining energy costs.  Secondly, he suggests the industry adopt gas centrifuge technology for ore enrichment, which is considerably more efficient than the currently used gaseous diffusion methods.

Professor Pearce feels that plants must also adopt technology for capturing and distributing their waste heat.  He points out that nuclear plants dump large amounts of heat into their surroundings, a practice which both wastes energy and can cause significant harm to the environment.  Professor Pearce believes that current nuclear weapon stockpiles worldwide should be dismantled and their nuclear fuel "down-blended".  He points out that this could produce a bounty of nuclear fuel.

The not-so-good news which Professor Pearce points out is that nuclear is simply not a viable candidate for large-scale growth.  In order for nuclear power to maintain growing future power demands and the shrinking fossil fuel power supplies, between 2010 and 2050 a growth rate of over 10 percent a year would be necessary according to Professor Pearce.  This, he says, is simply not possible.

Professor Pearce points out that such a growth program would simply cannibalize older plant's power output to provide the power needed to maintain the processes involved with building the new plants and refining ore for them, leaving no power for human needs.  Large-scale growth would require massive power investment in terms of plant construction, plant operation, mining infrastructure expansion, and energy investments to refine ore.  Professor Pearce says the books simply don't balance -- these power needs could not be met by the energy produced from the refined ore.

He points to a significant problem with large scale growth.  Large-scale growth, barring the discovery of new reserves would necessitate the use of lower grade uranium.  This sets an additional limit on growth.  As Professor Pearce points out, "The limit of uranium ore grade to offset greenhouse gas emissions is significantly higher than the purely thermodynamic limit set by the energy payback time."

Professor Pearce also points out to environmentalists and global warming skeptics alike that nuclear power is hardly an "emission-free panacea", as he puts it.  All aspects of plant operation, including plant construction, mining/milling of uranium ores, fuel conversion, enrichment, fabrication, operation, decommissioning, and long-term and short-term waste disposal, require massive amounts of energy provided by fossil fuels.  The burning of these fossil fuels will create large amounts of greenhouse emissions, a criticism oft-leveled against the solar and wind power industries by nuclear advocates.

While emissions are certainly troublesome, the simple energy requirements infeasibility, if accurate, would almost certainly nix the large scale expansion of nuclear power in its current form.  If Professor Pearce's research withstands the test of review then it offers little choice but to pursue his suggested strategies -- develop more advanced nuclear power on a smaller scale and pursue other alternative energy solutions as a major source of capacity.



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How about fusion?
By SlyNine on 3/5/2008 2:21:16 PM , Rating: 3
From the International Academy of Science:
The fusion process recommended by Dr. Bussard takes boron-11 and fuses a proton to it, producing, in its excited state, a carbon-12 atom. This excited carbon-12 atom decays to beryllium-8 and helium-4. Beryllium-8 very quickly (in 10-13 s) decays into two more helium-4 atoms. This is the only nuclear-energy releasing process in the whole world that releases fusion energy and three helium atoms -- and no neutrons. This reaction is completely radiation free.

I know efficiency is a problem with fusion, but this actually produced more energy then it used. It wasn't using Boron 11 though as his funds were running out and he needed something to show his designs quickly. Unfortunately his research isn't being funded anymore and he's reaching old age.




RE: How about fusion?
By Entropy42 on 3/5/2008 3:02:33 PM , Rating: 2
The wiki on this is well cited and pretty informative:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aneutronic_fusion

This type of fusion is not really "radiation free" as there are significant energetic x-rays released. It's also currently a very large net loss reaction; much more so than standard D-T fusion.


RE: How about fusion?
By SlyNine on 3/5/2008 3:31:12 PM , Rating: 3
The last test was a short test , however the reaction rate was around 100X higher then before. They said scaled up though it would produce a net gain in energy. Just no one wanted to fund his research.


RE: How about fusion?
By Chernobyl68 on 3/6/2008 11:46:47 AM , Rating: 2
Neutron radiation is pretty easy to block - all you need is a tank of water. of more concern would be embrittlement of the structure, over the long term.


RE: How about fusion?
By geddarkstorm on 3/5/2008 3:11:31 PM , Rating: 2
Then what sort of energy does it release if it's radiation free? Gotta have some sort of energy release if you are harvesting energy from it, unless it's all just heat? Wouldn't there be some form of high energy particle or photon evolved, especially when the beryllium-8 splits? I'd like to learn more about this process.

Apparently Dr. Bussard died in October of 2007 :(


RE: How about fusion?
By SlyNine on 3/5/2008 3:21:04 PM , Rating: 2
That is really to bad, I did all my research online awhile back. But most of it is over my head. Even the original team that worked on his reactor said their was only about 5 people in the USA that really understood the research.

Now we will probably never know.


RE: How about fusion?
By geddarkstorm on 3/5/2008 3:58:22 PM , Rating: 2
It is really too bad. His method of fusion has such great potential, especially since you can convert the reaction directly into electricity via induction, instead of having to be a glorified steam kettle like with a D-T reactor. The design also seems to be the current best. I guess we'll see if it gets picked up or not. Maybe there are even better stuff in the pipe we don't know about, which would be a reason to why this isn't being paid much attention to.


RE: How about fusion?
By TheDoc9 on 3/6/2008 10:48:10 AM , Rating: 2
something doesn't add up here guys, if this is so good there would be funding for it esp. now. I think we don't know the whole story of this. And that only 5 people understand it? It's possible, but seems more like a script from a movie.


RE: How about fusion?
By johnsonx on 3/5/2008 4:19:03 PM , Rating: 2
Something doesn't add up there. I'll need to read the stuff on it of course, but at first glance it just doesn't add up. Fusing a proton to Boron-11 should release energy, but fisioning Carbon-12 and then Beryllium-8 should actually consume energy, so at a glance the net energy output should be negative.


RE: How about fusion?
By geddarkstorm on 3/5/2008 4:44:47 PM , Rating: 2
Apparently the process does produce energy. Here's an interesting string of letters from Science back in 1997. If you read carefully, they talk about p-11B verses D-T reactions. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/278/534...


RE: How about fusion?
By johnsonx on 3/5/2008 5:26:18 PM , Rating: 1
Yes, p+11B fusion does produce energy, just precious little. Without understanding the physics behind it, one wonders why the 12C nucleus has to fision immediately. Under normal conditions, 12C is perfectly stable. I guess all the energy that results from the initial p+11B fusion forces the resulting 12C nucleus to fision immediately. If only there were a way to get the energy out before the fision occurs... then you'd have lots of energy, and plenty of carbon for pencils!


RE: How about fusion?
By Comdrpopnfresh on 3/5/2008 6:01:22 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe neutron-release free, but if you're getting energy out of that sort of reaction, typically something more than thermal release is occurring.
Helium atoms are alpha-radiation- the meekest of the bunch
no neutron release is good...
what about Beta-radiation? high-speed electrons..
Or Gamma-ray release? Pure energy that makes x-rays look like a pinto scooting along on the highway....

neutron release is chemical in basis. Neutrons alone to not fall into any such category of "radiation"


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