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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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So really what he is saying is:
By Sea Shadow on 3/5/2008 3:16:13 PM , Rating: 2
So let me get this straight, if I understand this correctly (and correct me if I am wrong):

Basically what he is saying is that we SHOULD use nuclear power, but that currently we are physically unable to transition any significant amount of power production to nuclear. Mostly in part to the lack of infrastructure and research.

We just don't have the infrastructure in place right now to deal with a major transition to nuclear power. Given the current methods used for producing and refining ore, it would take the construction of several new "fossil fuel" power plants just to supply enough power for the processes needed to bring a new fission reactor online. But if we were to work on using more efficient processes for mining and refining ore we could at least transition some of our grid over to nuclear.

Makes sense to me, basically we shot ourselves in the foot with past choices and now we are in a position where we are faced by a lose-lose situation. I am a strong supporter of nuclear power, but given his argument it really does make sense. Though what really ticks me off is how our gov't has been dragging its feet about helping fund the research and development of new energy sources or improving the efficiency of known renewable sources.

Now I can't remember where I heard this,(might just be a rumor) but I heard that it was like pulling teeth to get the US to contribute a paltry $200 million to the ITER project. Now I realize that $200 million is most definitely not anything to sneeze at, but given how much money we spend on other pursuits (see below) you would think that the US would easily contribute at least that much and should be contributing much much more to the ITER project.

($100 billion for a new tanker fleet for the Air Force?)
http://www.dailytech.com/Northrop+Grumman+EADS+Win...




RE: So really what he is saying is:
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 3/5/2008 3:46:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
($100 billion for a new tanker fleet for the Air Force?)

It's actually around 35 billion, but point well taken.


By Janooo on 3/5/2008 4:25:02 PM , Rating: 3
$35 billion is part one of three stages. It's $100 billion in total.


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