Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Its a Question of Power.

"The discovery of the controlled fission of atomic nuclei and controlled release of atomic energy is the greatest discovery that has been made since the controlled use of fire was made by primitive man." -- Linus Pauling.

This it absolutely is, I hold - as far as technical/scientific discoveries are concerned.

In 2002 alone, 16,132,166,000,000 Kilowatt hours of electricity were generated, and used on this tiny little planet. Thats 16 trillion Kilowatt hours. This number increases, by orders of magnitude, every year.

This is why i hold it of such great concern, and suspicion, that so many so called "Green" groups are fundamentally opposed to it, and so many so called "conservative" groups show so little interest in it. While i can see some apprehension, as a part time student of Nuclear Radiation and Health Physics, i have to say that many fears cited by opposition are primarily unfounded and based historically on a continuation of the Atom Panic and Hysteria that confronted the country when a new and powerful concept appeared nearly out of nowhere and was introduced to the uneducated masses.

I think the major components of class division and control in the modern technological era is the control of four things. Force (ie military and police) Money (a subverted control of the means of production) Food, and Energy (a true component of the same).

Because of this last one, while i would gladly state that i am anti-nuke, i can only mean that i am opposed to a nuclear arsenal possessed by any state, as it can have no tactical use other than MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) or Scorched Earth style genocide, neither of which appeal to my romanticism.

The degree of economic control that is exerted to retard the freedoms that would be granted by expanding technology is enormous, and i for one am in strong support of reducing the crippling economic effects of energy control. Nuclear Energy, while carrying its own inherent risks, is both manageably safe and very "green" compared to the alternative systems of affordable energy production. While i agree tidal plants or other natural force generators could be ideal in their low impact non consumption generation, the technology, and the output will not, without extreme advances, allow the production of cheaper than current power generation. We do not want more expensive power, without extreme advantages, and the development of a world economy that can support it, which ours cant. Nuclear power plants are closing down at an alarming rate, and the majority of the power demand is supplemented with new coal and gas powered plants instead, far from a "green" solution, though "green" advocacy is the driving force campaigning against the opening of new nuclear plants. These traditional forms of power production, besides relying on mining operations and producing an extra-ordinarily large amount of pollution (including airborn radiation in the case of coal) are also much less efficient.

Coal fired power plants provide more than 50% of consumed electricity in the United States.

Linus Pauling wrote in 1954, in the lines immediately preceding the abovequoted

"The foregoing calculation illustrates the great significance of the fissionable elements as a source of radioactive material. Their significance as a source of energy has also been pointed out, by the statement that 1 pound of uranium or thorium is equivalent to 2.5 million pounds of coal. When we remember that uranium and thorium are not rare elements, but are among the more common elements - the amount of uranium and thorium in the earth's crust being about the same as that of the common element lead - we begin to understand the promise of nuclear energy for the world of the future, and the possibilities of its contribution to human welfare."

It's the enormous amounts of energy which you get from only small quantities of matter with this technology, the enormous energy density in it, that makes nuclear energy - already at that stage of it which has been developed today (in fact, already since over 50 years ago), of nuclear fission (not yet nuclear fusion, for energy production, whose potential is even much more enormous again) - so superior to all other known energy sources.

How much of the raw materials for it (nuclear fission) are there, and how easy or difficult are they to extract? These materials are in fact rather common elements on earth, as for instance Pauling also writes:

There are some 4 grams of uranium (U) and 12 grams of thorium (Th) in each ton
of (solid) material in the earth's crust - that thin skin of this planet which isn't yet "ours" that stretches between 15 and 50 km down, or corresponding to some 0.1 mm down from the surface of a sizable orange. And there are also some 3.3 milligrams of uranium in each ton of sea water. The ores of uranium being mined today are either "low-grade" with a content of 100 to 2500 grams uranium (oxide) per ton, or in a few cases, such as a 1940s small one in the Congo or some present-day large ones in the Athabasca Basin in Canada, "high-grade", with up to 700,000 grams per ton (70% of the "dirt" found being uranium oxide).

Nuclear fuel already today is very cheap, and it will last practically forever.

The price of raw uranium in April 2007 was $117/lb, or $251/kg. And from 1 kg of (natural, un-enriched) uranium you get, in those conventional or thermic nuclear power reactors which are in rather common use (most of which, in the world today, are using uranium enriched in the fissile isotope of it, 235U, from 0.7% to some 4%, and using as moderator, and also as heat
transmission fluid or cooling fluid, ordinary or "light" water), some 60,000 kWh of electricity.

That can be compared to what you get from 1 kg of oil, the second-most energy-dense substance in use today, and perhaps the most common, which is some 12 kWh of heat, or 4 kWh of electricity in an oil-fired power plant.

The uranium cost per kWh produced, in such reactors, thus is some $0.0024. Thus already with today's technology, the cost of nuclear fuel is no more than some 0.3 US cents per kWh. With the nuclear technology, the installation costs, for reactors, buildings, enrichment plants etc, are relatively large of course, but not all that much larger that those for oil-fired or natural-gas or coal-fired power plants, so that already today it's the nuclear power plants that produce electricity in the cheapest way, compared to everything else.

The authorities in certain countries, in the USA and the EU not least, have gradually set up a maze of regulations seeming to having no other real purpose than to make electricity artificially expensive, quite in particular such that comes from nuclear power plants, in an attempt to even the market, a regulatary tarif. But even so, the power industry also knows quite well that it's from such power plants that they're getting clearly the cheapest-produced electricity, still.

The cost of nuclear fuel already today is quite low, and will get even lower tomorrow.

Now that nuclear fuel price, of some 0.3 US cents per kWh, is also much higher than that which you'd get with so-called breeder reactors, a importantly more advanced type of reactors whose development was well under way in some of the relatively more highly-industrialized countries, above all in France and also in (West) Germany, already back in the 1970s, but which has also been particularly fanatically opposed by the USA and the EU, so that today, breeder development is almost entirely banned in every developed country in the world. Only continuing, now 30 years later, at a very slow pace, in some very few countries (India, Russia, Japan), and still with considerable presure to cease. But even according to some now rather old calculations made in France, from the year 1978, such reactors could produce some 2.2 million kWh per kg of natural uranium. That calculation was on the basis of some 20% of all the uranium nuclei undergoing fission - thus rather many of the 238U ones too, which make up some 99.3% of all the uranium - in their case, this occurs by means of their first being transformed, "bred", into fissile plutonium nuclei of the isotope 239Pu. No doubt it's possible today, with not too much difficulty, to make some 60% of all the uranium nuclei in one kg of the stuff, say, undergo fission, directly or indirectly, in a breeder, so that from that 1 kg you'd get, not 60,000 kWh, but some 6 Million kWh of electricity. And the nuclear fuel cost then would be of the order of some 0.003 cents per kWh.

This is practically nothing. In 1957, Enrico Fermi, then director of the US Nuclear Commission, famously declared that Nuclear power will result in electricity being too cheap to warrant metering, also predicting in the same statement that there would be over 1000 nuclear power plants in the US by the year 2000. Today, there are less than 100 in operation, with several slated to close in the next few years.

There still are those installation costs, for the reactors buildings etc, and for reprocessing plants, necessary for breeders -which are being called "breeders" because they, after each time they've been "loaded up" with nuclear fuel, as a result produce more such fuel, mainly in
the form of 239Pu, than was put into them.

Also of some concern to many is the generation of so called Greenhouse Gases, the majority of all of which (after those expelled by earth itself) is electrical generation. Nuclear generation does not directly produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or other pollutants associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, and is again, the far superior choice. Those who argue that Wind and Solar are much cleaner, forget the cost of mining the materials needed, and the amount of energy (and petrolium) it takes to produce a turbine or solar panel.

There still of course are two additional concerns that have been raised about the use of nuclear energy, even if it is by far the most superior form of power production, today, is it sustainable for the future? Thanks go to Brad for asking me exactly how long nuclear fuel from the earth would last, and indirectly prompting this whole affair. I do believe that while it does use a finite resource, it is no less sustainable than wind or solar generation, and most likely more so, as there is such a much greater amount of material used for both turbine windings and solar panels, per kWH.

Just take a look at the above numbers about the amounts of fuel material required to sustain a reaction, include the information about the now outlawed breeder reactor systems, and you should begin to see that it would be quite difficult to "run out" of fuel for nuclear power, not like Oil or Coal.

And when calculating with breeder use, even mining common granite for its 4 grams of uranium and 12 grams of thorium per ton, would make for electricity production costs, with the use of such material, that would remain, more or less, in the "dirt cheap" region - though this will never become necessary. Much cheaper uranium and thorium production than this you can get, for
instance, by using the small amounts of them (3.3 mg of uranium) per ton of sea water, vast volumes of which can easily made to circulate through a production plant so as to compensate for those very small concentrations, a method which is as effective as today's mining, and with an even smaller impact.

John McCarthy, at http://www.formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/ - says:

"With the development of nuclear energy, it became possible to show that there are no apparent obstacles even to billion year sustainability."

The second, mostly environmental, concern, is with Nuclear Waste, its management, and its disposal. Al Gore once so famously phrased the problem as "Mobile Chernobyls" leaving every plant, and i think, once more showed his far reaching ignorance on the subject. Nice sound bite, not much else.

The substances in question - today called "wastes", among which some, those which have been in an operating nuclear power reactor itself or very close to one during a longer time, really are so intensively radioactive as to be dangerous to approach by humans without there being an effective shielding around them - are being produced in only *very small amounts* per kWh of
electricity produce by the reactor in question. To store them underground, quite safely, and for a very long time too if needed, is no big technical problem at all, and costs very little.

The Swedish solution for it, for instance, said by some to be a "Rolls-Royce solution", can be viewed in detail at the website of the company SKB at http://www.skb.se/ and the electricity consumers already today are paying some $0.0016, or 0.16 US cents, per kWh, for that complete storage program. This is, true enough, a certain addition to that part of the electricity price that covers the nuclear fuel cost, some 0.3 US cents per kWh

Nuclear Containment is a very simple science, and can easily manage the waste coming out of a plant, in a small amount of space, without any risk of exposure to the environment, and breeder reactors would recycle most of what is now called "waste" bringing the outflow of material to almost Nil.

But, if comparing the level of technology 200 years ago, in 1808, to the one today, don't you find it pretty unlikely, that, within the next 200 years from now, the nuclear fission "wastes" of today will not have been turned into useful energy sources? Or, by the way, that the - true enough, quite considerable - technical problems with the utilization of nuclear fusion for energy production, whose potential even dwarfs that of nuclear fission, will not then have been solved? Mono-poles aside, this new supercollider shows great promise for unlocking quite a few of the subatomic mysteries.

For instance, at the discussion website "The Oil Drum: Europe", at http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3795, one writer, Bill Hannahan, recently
pointed out:

"Mandating the widespread use of expensive energy systems has resulted in the highest electricity prices in the world, Denmark, 41 cents per kWh, Germany, 30 cents per kWh."

What that writer rightly called "expensive" energy systems, whose use is indeed mandated by the reactionary governments in the countries mentioned, both of them heavily influenced by that of the USA, is not least *"wind power"*, which cannot be anything than extremely expensive because the kinetic energy in moving air is so extremely small per cubic unit of it, so that those many windmills which today are being built in many countries, heavily subsidized by the state, at the expense of the working masses of people, for instance need for their construction no less than five times the amount of steel and ten times the amount of concrete, per produced kWh, which is needed for nuclear power reactors. Those windmills are nothing else than propaganda propellers, whose real aim is to try to convince people that "there are no efficient" energy sources, and that should simply sign onto very expensive and oppressive systems to meet our growing energy needs. That also goes for so so-called "bio energy", likewise extremely impractical and expensive, not to mention at a huge cost to land formerly used for food production, our new big, and most likely manufactured cause for worry.

Oil is a bio energy, albiet with a much longer production time, do we really think that somehow we can produce the same amount of energy stored, from vegetable matter in a growing season, as the earth took millions of years to do? It pretty much doesnt make sense.

There is a growing school of thought that states that "Green Warfare" the concept of corporate originated public advocacy against such things as CFC's, (inexpensive unpatented refrigerants) and Nuclear Power is being pushed on humanity to limit the integration of the third world and the division of classes. For example, many nations are not allowed nuclear power under any circumstance, many more can not afford to comply with over the top (and expensive) controls, and nations that can afford to seem reluctant to engage in large scale production. In the case of CFC's, as a seperate example, many african nations are unable to purchase patented and expensive non-CFC refrigerants from US companies, and as such have to go without any large scale refrigeration, either for food production, transport, or personal air conditioning. The economic effects of these sanctions are drastic, possibly setting their respective economies back a decade or more, not to mention the untold deaths in the summer months.

Think of the degree our lives, so called necessities, the cost of goods, the accessibility of manufacture and technological innovation are imposed upon by the increasingly large cost of energy, from regular electricity, to manufactured goods, to transportation of goods, and it becomes apparent that peoples and entire economies are being greatly retarded in their development and economic integration. Thousands of (or more) people have died in the last few years as a direct result of energy shortages, that i would say are almost entirely manufactured. That doesnt take into account the economic deaths as a result of starvation and poverty. The means to readily available efficient and relitively inexpensive energy production is available, its about time we utilized those means.

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