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Electricity production costs drop to the lowest point in the industry's history.

You won't hear this on CNN, but the U.S. nuclear power industry set a record last year.  Despite rising costs of fuel and regulation, the average production cost of electricity dropped to an astounding 1.66 cents per kilowatt-hour.  This is a figure well below the cost of coal-generated electricity, and a tiny fraction of the cost of solar or wind power.  Furthermore,  nuclear plants generated 36% more electricty than they did 15 years ago, without a single new plant being built.  The industry just keeps getting better and better.

Nuclear power is a true clean, green energy source, with zero CO2 emissions, and less environmental impact than solar or wind.  Those sources of energy are extremely diffuse--which means they must be collected and concentrated.  A 1,000 MW solar plant requires 2 million tons of concrete, 600,000 tons of steel, 75,000 tons of glass, 35,000 tons of aluminum, and a whole host of rare and exotic elements.   This is several hundred times the materials needed by a nuclear plant the same size.  And the nuclear plant will have much higher availability and require much less maintenance.  Most telling of all is the costs which, for solar power, currently average a painful 28.6 cents per kW-hour.

Other nations are wiser here than the US.  France  generates 76% of its power from nuclear, South Korea has several new plants on order, and Finland is building a new one, specifically to meet its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.

Expanding the US nuclear power industry would allow the US to dramatically reduce carbon emissions ... and to save money while doing so.  And it's a solution available today, without the need for years of additional research and development.  Its high time we pulled our heads out of the sand, and started using it to its full potential.

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heavy water reactors
By kattanna on 2/28/2007 1:25:03 PM , Rating: 2
any reason why america continues to only use light water reactors which require expensive refinement of uranium, when we could be using heavy water reactors that dont?

now i know that extracting the very very very tiny bit of heavy water that resides normally within water can be costly, but isnt it cheaper, and more enviromentally friendly, then enriching uranium to work in light water reactors? I also wonder which method requires less energy to work, anyone have some numbers on that?

RE: heavy water reactors
By masher2 (blog) on 2/28/2007 1:40:28 PM , Rating: 4
We continue to do so for the simple reason that no new nuclear plants have been ordered since the late 1970s. Heavy water also allow a nation to generate plutonium. President Carter kicked the legs out of the US breeder and CANDU-style reactor programs when he banned reprocessing and related technologies. Reagan reversed the ban five years later, but by then the US had lost interest in building new nuclear plants.

RE: heavy water reactors
By Ringold on 2/28/2007 3:38:05 PM , Rating: 1
That's a good point, the plutonium one. Relevant because of discussions in recent years about our aging nuclear weapon stockpile and less than 100% assurance all these half-century old warheads would actually work as expected if used. Plus, I don't know what is constraining supply, but we've launched at least one or two space probes with less plutonium fuel than we'd of liked due to an inability for some reason to get it supplied. That could be regulatory, though, I don't know.

Anyway, that's good to know and keep in mind if were hear Congress come up with some grand scheme to replace heavy water plants with light ones, or ban the construction of new ones. Unfortunately, this isn't shaping up to be the century to let nuclear deterence dwindle.

RE: heavy water reactors
By Grast on 2/28/2007 4:09:57 PM , Rating: 3

As an ex-nuclear submariner missle technician, please do not have any concern that aging nuclear weapons would not work exactly as designed. The average warhead takes a large amount of maintenance to keep operational. The most difficult portion of maintaining the warhead is the decay of the explosive trigger and natural tritium decay and loss. However, all warheads are under constant maintenance.

Please believe me after 12 years in the U.S. Navy, I have received enough ABOVE background radiation (2.3 Rem and yes not milliREM but REM, I spent a lot of time in the missle compartment very close to the warheads - Trident submerine) to know exactly how much maintenance is required.

The U.S. nuclear weapons program is still very well funded and working properly.

On to the topic quickly though, the construction of breeder reactors could use Uranium 235 with Plutonium to create large amounts of Uranium 238 which is used in reactors. That would solve disponsal of unneeded warheads.

As to the comment about needing to remove depleted uranium every two months or so, please extend that to every decade or so. The only time main reactor compartment work is performed is during critical maintenance or reactor refueling measures. Otherwise the spent material is kept in the reactor and used for sympothetic reactive material to be used for reactor start-up sources.


RE: heavy water reactors
By Grast on 2/28/2007 4:13:01 PM , Rating: 1
In case anyone was wondering, 3 REM is the life time limit for any nuclear working personel in the U.S. Navy. I almost made it. hehehe

Supposedly the body can take up to 5 REM with out any adverse or raized risk of issues.

RE: heavy water reactors
By Ringold on 2/28/2007 6:43:58 PM , Rating: 1
I don't think I said every two months, dont think I mentioned a time frame at all, but I figured every decade or so.

On the weapons, though, it was something of a hot topic last year regarding some concern over.. well. I don't understand it all, so a C&P from the National Nuclear Security Administration:

Plutonium, which is used in pits for all U.S. nuclear weapons, is highly radioactive and degrades over time. The material was first produced in significant quantities in the 1940s, and the effects of plutonium aging on nuclear weapon reliability is a question relevant for a stockpile with warheads reaching ages beyond historical experience.

NNSA’s weapons laboratories have been assessing whether the degradation of plutonium will affect the ability of the weapon to perform as designed. NNSA Administrator Linton F. Brooks said the recent aging studies showed that there appear to be no serious or sudden changes occurring, or expected to occur, in plutonium that would affect performance of pits beyond the well-understood, gradual degradation of plutonium materials.

“These studies show that the degradation of plutonium in our nuclear weapons will not affect warhead reliability for decades,” Brooks said. “It is now clear that although plutonium aging contributes, other factors control the overall life expectancy of nuclear weapons systems.”

The classified studies looked at pits in each nuclear weapon type and gave specific information on plutonium properties, aging and other information. Overall, the weapons laboratories studies assessed that the majority of plutonium pits for most nuclear weapons have minimum lifetimes of at least 85 years.

Today’s nuclear weapons have highly-sophisticated designs and rely on thousands of parts and components that act within microseconds to perform complicated and precise functions. Plutonium aging is but one variable that can affect overall system reliability. Other factors include aging of high explosives and other organic components in the design, corrosion of uranium or plutonium components, or discovery of defects uncovered in surveillance programs. Warhead refurbishments, known as life extension programs, are key to replacing aging or otherwise faulty components.

No, I've known many Navy men, I don't doubt anything you guys do is anything but top-notch. The concern wasn't if you did it's job or not, but rather if the material as decaying as they expected or not. Or something like that..

RE: heavy water reactors
By JonB on 2/28/2007 5:50:21 PM , Rating: 4
Grast, you've gotten your U235 and U238 backwards. Breeder reactors use the neutrons from the thermal fission of U235 to slowly change U238 into Plutonium239. P239 could then be extracted and put into new reactor fuel assemblies along with enriched U235 and be a very useful fuel, but the US currently prohibits it for commercial plants.

Another slight editorial comment to an earlier post. Depleted Uranium doesn't come from spent fuel (it isn't worth the radiation exposure that people would get processing it), it comes from the enrichment process of naturally occurring ores. For every kilogram of enriched Uranium ready to use in fuel, there is a byproduct of many kilograms of almost pure Uranium238. Because the depleted Uranium comes from ore that has never been in a reactor, Depleted Uranium is barely radioactive. U238 is not usable as bomb material, but it is very, very, very hard and has a high melting point. Since it is also heavy, it actually makes a good armor piercing slug. Not much will stop it, and if it does hit something very hard, its kinetic energy becomes heat, turning it into a plasma that just melts through whatever WAS in its way.

RE: heavy water reactors
By CascadingDarkness on 3/2/2007 5:33:37 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly they I bet people who handle the shells only need to wear gloves and resist licking their hands. Same thing could be said if they were lead.

Only people that really need to worry are the ones at the receiving end of the 120mm Sabots, or one of the 30mm, 3,600 rounds per second shells from an A-10.

Dang them's smarts

RE: heavy water reactors
By Ringold on 3/3/2007 12:52:33 AM , Rating: 2
Only people that really need to worry are the ones at the receiving end of the 120mm Sabots, or one of the 30mm, 3,600 rounds per second shells from an A-10.

Forgive me if I dont worry about those individuals? :)

RE: heavy water reactors
By number999 on 2/28/2007 4:19:37 PM , Rating: 3
The reactor technology in the US is derived from technology stemming from developments from Naval reactor developement. Shippingport, the first non-military reactor, was developed under Adm Rickover, who was in charge of Naval reactor developement. The technology in use there - pressurized light water. To leverage the knowledge base, he just used the expertise already in place.

Enrichment allows the fuel rods to be changed less often than natural uranium and you generate more MW/Kg of fuel. With the Candu design of pressurized tubes instead of the pressurized vessel of other water reactor types, rods of fuel can be changed without a general shutdown. Candu reactors are capable of taking slightly enriched fuel, with the added benefits.

Plutonium is a by-product of all nuclear reactors. There has never been a case where the Candu was used to generate weapons grade plutonium. In the case of India, a specially made reactor was used to generate the weapons grade plutonium used in their bomb and not the Candu built there. In fact, most weapons grade plutonium was made in specialty reactors designed to produce plutonium. The infamous Chernobyl reactor design was derived from such a design as well as the British CO2 gas cooled reactors which were recently decommissioned.

The Candu was designed from the ground up for commercial electricity generation only. Although highly neutron efficient, it is not capable as a breeder. The only breeders designed so far and even built, all use liquid metal and maybe a couple of the high temperature gas ones.

Considering the lower amount of Plutonium produced by weight in a Candu reactor, it would be a poor choice if the aim was the production of weapons grade fissionables.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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