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Drilling has begun on a massive $84M USD U.S. Department of Energy carbon sequestration project. The project and other sequestration efforts have many critics, including the IPCC and utilities, two rivals which typically disagree on climate issues but in this case are in agreement.  (Source: Wired)

The DoE project drills deeper than past U.S. sequestration projects, into sandstone of Mt. Simon, shown here. The reservoir along with similar ones in other parts of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois could store up to 100 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.  (Source: Wired)
Why worry about your problems, when you can bury them away?

As the U.S. Department of Energy's first-of-its-scale project in carbon burial launches, interest in carbon burial and sequestration is at an all time high.  Many nations wish that there was an alternative to traditional emissions cuts, which can hinder growth, and could reduce their net contribution to atmospheric carbon.

Carbon sequestration could provide just such a solution.  By burying the substance in underground cavities or in carbon rich soils in swamps or other sites, the net contribution of a country to emissions can be reduced.  And while many in the environmental community no longer like the idea, pointing out that such deposits could be easily released and don't solve the overall problem, the movement to adopt carbon sequestration still has powerful supporters.

Drilling began this week in Illinois on the DoE project, which will bury one million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the ground by 2012.  The project is the first of its scale in the U.S., and while still small compared to total U.S. emissions has the potential to grow much bigger.  Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky have enough underground space to store approximately 100 billion tons of CO2, enough to completely negate 25 years of emissions at the current rate, if fully filled.

Robert Finley, the manager of the current project states, "This is going to be a large-scale injection of 1 million metric tons, one of the largest injections to date in the U.S."

While Mr. Finley is enthusiastic about the project, others aren't.  The Bush administration last year canceled funding for an even bigger carbon sequestration project, FutureGen, citing concerns about the practice.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, typically a strong voice in support of emissions control, has sided with the utilities for once in vocally opposing carbon burial.  It has released studies indicating 30 percent of the energy from a coal burning plant would be wasted trying to capture the carbon dioxide from the flue gas.

One thing that could give supporters of burial a boost though is new carbon-specific filtering materials produced in labs like Omar Yaghi's at UCLA and at Georgia Tech under Chris Jones.  These materials may potentially make capture much cheaper and more efficient, making storage the only remaining challenge.

John Litynski, who works in the fossil-fuel-centered National Energy Technology Laboratory's Sequestration Division, believes storage should be easy as pie for the U.S.  He states, "What we found in the U.S. with the research that we've done over the last 10 years is that there is a significant potential to store CO2 ... in these very large reservoirs that are underground."

However, many of these reservoirs are deeper underground that existing sequestration projects have reached.  That's why the deep reaching Illinois project, which drills into the Mt. Simon sandstone, is such a critical test bed.  Scientists will, for the first time, be able to observe what happens when they pump compressed carbon dioxide 6,500 feet below the surface.  Describes Mr. Litynski, "We have numbers for what we think the capacity is in the U.S., but the only way to prove that is to actually drill a well."

The Illinois project will pump carbon dioxide produced by ethanol fermentation underground.  Archer Daniels Midland provided land for the site.  Even with these concessions, the project will cost over $84M USD, thanks to the high cost of drilling.

At a recent speech Mr. Litynski was challenged by an audience member who pointed out that 10,000 projects of the scale of the Illinois one would be needed to offset current emissions.  Mr. Litynski refused to back down from his support of the concept, though, dodging the question and stating, "From my point of view as someone working in this field ... the political rhetoric gets to the point where it's all supposed to be solar or wind or coal or natural gas (versus sequestration).  The reality for the situation is that we need all of these technologies."



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RE: Disagree
By randomly on 2/17/2009 4:33:31 PM , Rating: 1
Unfortunately nuclear power with it's very high capital costs is only economically competitive as base load power. You need to run it 24/7 to pay off the cost of the plant, fuel costs are minimal so you don't save much by not running full blast. If you can drop the costs it might also be used as a load following energy source but you will still need peak load sources as you nuclear plants can change power output only slowly and usually over a limited range. Current nuclear technology also needs very large water sources for cooling, so it's not suitable for just any location.
A mix of technologies will probably be the solution. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

As to the following comment on the limited amount of nuclear fuel, there are hundreds of years worth of readily accessible U235 available if you are using a once through fuel cycle. If you reprocess your fuel then you expand your fuel supply enormously as all fertile materials become available as fuel including the U238 and Thorium, putting your nuclear fuel supply capacity into the millions of years.


RE: Disagree
By A Stoner on 2/17/2009 4:54:25 PM , Rating: 5
The reason the capital cost is so high is because almost every single reactor we have built is unique. We were in the learning process, so each reactor learned from the previous one, we never got a muture position to allow economy of scale to kick in. Once the US government starts to stop allowing green libtard zealots to sue companies into bankruptcy for the gall to attempt to build a nuclear power plant, then companies can start to use new updated versions that are more economical to build and run. There are many designs around the world, and some companies are starting to actually build modular nuclear reactors that fit on an oversized tractor trailor and are portable, cost effective, and safe. It is a matter of making the choice, do we starve our nation of power, continue financing dictatorships that happen to sit on oil reserves, or do we make the choice to live free, prosper and use the power we have available today instead of some pipe dream of solar/wind that is unsustainable.
As for water, Nuclear power plants on the ocean use ocean water, it is not like it is contaminated in the process, it goes through a thermal pipe, not nuclear waste material. many new designs use no water at all, and are immune to meltdown due to having low concentrations of nuclear materials.


RE: Disagree
By masher2 (blog) on 2/17/2009 5:28:11 PM , Rating: 5
Did I have a son I didn't know about?


RE: Disagree
By randomly on 2/17/2009 10:23:38 PM , Rating: 4
It's a bit of an exaggeration to claim all the US reactors were unique. You bring up a good point though and the large variety of designs, and different builders certainly contributed to the high capital costs in the USA. The French did better with their cookie cutter approach and limited number of designs.

Reducing capital cost of construction becomes a very important goal for nuclear reactors. Sticking to only one or two designs and using the same contractors over and over would certainly help. Reducing construction time is also important since cost of financing during a 6 year build can increase total costs by 30%.
You cannot place all the blame for the high cost at the door of going down the learning curve over and over. The facilities are large, complicated, demand a great deal of care and oversight to build correctly, and require building large technically demanding equipment and safety systems. They are not like coal fired plants.
If you took advantage of economies of scale and knowledge retention by continually building new reactors with the same workforce you might reduce cost by 40%.

However currently production capacity is very limited since there is little in the way of knowledgeable trained construction workforce since no new reactors have been built in the US in at least 20 years. There are also other restrictions such as the heavy equipment needed to forge the single piece reactor vessel. Currently there is only one foundry in Japan that is capable of forging those, and they can only make 4 per year. There are other companies around the world that are adding such large forging capability but it will take time.
Currently demand for reactors outstrips the limited supply, and the price is not going to come down till that changes regardless of other factors. Such is the nature of free markets.

Lawsuits have also had an impact, mostly through costs of capital tied up during stalled construction. Even if you eliminate all those costs however it's not going to magically make them cheap to build. Like wind and solar they have high capital costs and cheap to free fuel costs, which means you need to run them at maximum capacity as much time as you can to pay down the infrastructure costs. That implies utilization as base load power.

The small nuclear reactors you refer to are commonly referred to as nuclear 'batteries'. Using fuel elements made of an alloy of uranium, plutonium and zirconium they are a fast breeder reactor design. With appropriately chosen alloy ratios the large amount of U238 in the fuel elements is bred into Pu239 at about the same rate the Pu239 is burned up. This greatly extends the fuel life over a standard enriched uranium fuel.
However these are tiny reactors in the 25 Megawatt class, not the 1000+ Megawatt reactors used for commercial power generation. They are good for remote locations, but they are not designed to be refueled and are not economically competitive with large reactors. You also have a problem of security and nuclear proliferation since the bomb grade Pu239 is easily extracted via chemical means. No difficult isotope separation is needed.

My comment on water needs was just to point out that they can not be placed just anywhere. Certainly if you are next to the ocean, large lake, or river you can probably get sufficient water supply. Location restrictions also apply to coal and gas fired plants stemming from fuel availability, transport, and land requirements. My point being there is no one technology that covers all applications.
None of the non-water cooled GEN IV reactors like Molten Salt reactors, Liquid metal cooled reactors, High temperature gas cooled reactors, and Pebble bed reactors will be commercially deployable for another 20 years. Even most of these require water for evaporative cooling towers or pumped reservoir cooling as the cold reservoir for the thermodynamic cycle even though they do not use water in the primary or secondary cooling loops.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a strong proponent of nuclear power and reduction of our dependence on foreign oil. Nuclear has the potential to supply a great deal of our future energy needs, but it is not a panacea single solution and can still benefit a great deal from further development of GEN IV reactors designs, fuel reprocessing technologies, anti-proliferation technologies, and waste handling and storage advances.

Solar and wind power can probably be developed to the point where they are reasonably competitive on a cost per Kwh basis. However the sticking point that proponents always seem to gloss over is the intermittent nature of the supply and the lack of any cost effective and efficient energy storage mechanism. With no good energy storage solution wind and solar can only be used to provide the small fraction of our total energy needs that our other energy sources can make up for when it's not available. The cost and efficiency losses of an energy storage system to address the intermittent supply problem of wind and solar make it extremely difficult for wind/solar to ever be economically competitive.

They may reach positive energy output with the ITER tokamak but it seems at this point that tokamak fusion is too complex and expensive to ever be economical. Unless the Polywell fusion wildcard pans out, we're going to see mostly hydroelectric, geothermal, and a lot more nuclear reactors in our future.


RE: Disagree
By masher2 (blog) on 2/17/2009 11:37:34 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The small nuclear reactors you refer to are commonly referred to as nuclear 'batteries'...
However these are tiny reactors in the 25 Megawatt class, not the 1000+ Megawatt reactors used for commercial power generation. They are good for remote locations, but they are not designed to be refueled...You also have a problem of security and nuclear proliferation since the bomb grade Pu239 is easily extracted via chemical means. No difficult isotope separation is needed
A few corrections here. A "nuclear battery" is an RTG, not a reactor. A few different companies (Toshiba, Hyperion,etc) are commercializing small nuclear reactors, some of which are indeed designed to be refueled.

Furthermore, it's rather trivial to design a reactor that generates very high levels of 240Pu, which quite effectively poisons the 239Pu, preventing it from use in a nuclear weapon without purification through isotopic separation.


RE: Disagree
By randomly on 2/18/2009 5:44:34 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
A few corrections here. A "nuclear battery" is an RTG, not a reactor. A few different companies (Toshiba, Hyperion,etc) are commercializing small nuclear reactors, some of which are indeed designed to be refueled.
The term 'nuclear battery' is also used for reactors with very long fuel cycles (15-20 years) and is not exclusive to RTGs.
quote:
Furthermore, it's rather trivial to design a reactor that generates very high levels of 240Pu, which quite effectively poisons the 239Pu, preventing it from use in a nuclear weapon without purification through isotopic separation.

Yes eventually you will build up enough Pu240 to 'poison' the Pu239. However the fuel cycles are so long that this happens slowly. The initial fuel charge will take years to build up to the 7% Pu240 that would preclude it's use for building a weapon without isotopic separation. It's that large window of vulnerability that is a concern.


RE: Disagree
By masher2 (blog) on 2/18/2009 8:36:07 AM , Rating: 2
> "The term 'nuclear battery' is also used for reactors with very long fuel cycles "

This must be some new use of the term. A nuclear battery is used to refer to generation by spontaneous decay, rather than forced fission.

> "The initial fuel charge will take years to build up to the 7% Pu240 "

No. It depends on the neutron flux within the reactor. Even in a normal LWR, you'll break 20% within a fuel rod's normal lifetime, and with some designs, you can achieve substantial 240Pu poisoning within weeks, long before significant quantities of 239Pu have been generated.


RE: Disagree
By randomly on 2/18/2009 12:14:16 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
This must be some new use of the term. A nuclear battery is used to refer to generation by spontaneous decay, rather than forced fission.
No, it's not a new use of the term. It's been used for reactor designs that have essentially a single fuel load that runs for a long time. A single use 'Battery' if you will.

Both the Hyperion 25 Mw and the Toshiba 10 Mw with it's 30 year fuel cycle are essentially single use systems and are not designed to be refueled. They are designed for remote power supply and don't seem to be economically competitive with large reactors. The 4S is projected to have operating costs of 10 cents a Kwh, that does not even include the capital costs of the plant and installation.
They are also paper designs and I'm not aware that even prototypes of these designs have actually been built.

quote:
No. It depends on the neutron flux within the reactor. Even in a normal LWR, you'll break 20% within a fuel rod's normal lifetime, and with some designs, you can achieve substantial 240Pu poisoning within weeks, long before significant quantities of 239Pu have been generated.

Yes it does depend on the neutron flux. However you are making several mistakes. One is comparing the 30 year fuel cycle of a 4S to the 18 month fuel cycle of a LWR. Clearly the 4S experiences a much lower neutron flux and therefore takes much longer to build up Pu240 levels. The second mistake is comparing the LWR which is a thermal reactor to the 4S which is a fast reactor. The fast neutrons spectrum in the 4S greatly increases the neutron capture cross section of Pu240 which slows down the buildup of Pu240.

All that aside you can still make a bomb even with reactor grade plutonium (20% Pu240), although it's a bit more difficult, the physical size needs to be larger, and handling problems increase. The US has successfully tested a bomb made from reactor grade plutonium.


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