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Andrew's mailbag A mostly positive reaction to our recent round-up of prospects for the nuclear industry - particularly our what's next in energy science? feature.

And that was before the recent cold snap.

Here in Australia we have plenty of uranium but no nuclear power.

I was a bit puzzled by the unchallenged remark made by your subject on wind power.

I agree with him that it's hardly suitable for base load. Compared to an equivalent nuclear plant, a wind farm requires more resources and more land and has to be repaired and refurbished more frequently.

Moreover, as I understand it, nations that have considerable experience with wind power have found themselves with too much power when they don't need it and too little when they do.

In short, I'd have liked your subject to clarify in what sense and to what extent he foresees Britain benefiting from a mix of wind and nuclear. How much wind power, where, why – and why not nuclear alone?

For limited installations, a nuclear battery approach like Toshiba's 4S would seem by contrast to be better. This is an enclosed module that can be used to reliably produce electricity for light usage (10 to 50MW) for several decades.

Questions of proliferation when expanding the role of nuclear power deserve greater scrutiny as well.

There are many more nations with purely civil nuclear programmes than there are with nuclear weapons. It seems to me that this is a hopeful sign that can and should be encouraged, not least by better public understanding.

Using power plants to make bomb material is costly, slow and silly when a smaller research reactor would be easier to hide and produce a quicker ROI.

Besides, even when you have it, it's hard to make a nuclear bomb. India's failed first test is well known. James Bond plots aside, non-state organisations would be very hard pressed to build a nuclear weapon.

It's far easier to steal one. Yet even here, we happily have no indication that this has yet come to pass either. That's why they've turned their murderous hands to easier means.

Yet if proliferation was such a concern, we could simply swap out the fossil fuel plants with nuclear ones in those nations who have nuclear weapons and by so doing eliminate the vast majority of global CO2 emissions.

Long-lived waste from nuclear plants can indeed be dramatically reduced by taking it out of storage and weaponry and making much needed clean electricity with it instead.

Yet the worry in the interview about 300 year waste management is unjustified. This is a solved problem but stubbornly ignored by the media and irrational or ignorant people.

There was no mention either of the vastly reduced total volume of waste a modern reactor would leave, by burning its fuel (whether recycled waste or not) so much more efficiently. Such facts are pertinent.

Besides, there are other forms of hazardous material not produced in nuclear power that don't have a half-life and we manage to cope with their existence pretty well.

Does the professor worry about the potency of various non-radioactive material like the cyanides or alkaloids or organochlorides or elements like thallium, for instance? If so, he shouldn't.

As to reactor designs, I was rather surprised to see no mention of the S-PRISM project. Based on the very promising IFR that was shut down by a Clinton-era budget cuts and gag order, it offers unique benefits.

Tom Blees writes comprehensively on this and related technologies in his recent book Prescription For The Planet. The book's site has a chapter for free and the blog Brave New Climate has more and greater details.

By contrast, the pebble bed idea seems to me to be cute but wasteful – potentially only of value as a bridging technology to IFRs, yet even there recycling the fuel is hard to do and thus less attractive than other easier designs.

However, I think the new third generation models and breeder reactors are quite sufficiently well-understood for our needs until the IFRs come online and will save us having to lose time we don't have before rolling them out.

Regarding fuel reserves, the unused depleted uranium in the world today would be sufficient to produce electricity for the entire world via IFRs for centuries, but with uranium from known deposits, up to 50,000 years.

You or Professor Grimes should have mentioned that, too! :-)

If James Hansen is correct in what the science is telling us about the state of the planet's climate, we must replace our use of fossil fuel in two decades and get cracking on reforesting the last two centuries' worth of lost trees.

Given that, surely it is more reasonable to expect nuclear power will have to be how we achieve this? Certainly, Hansen and many others from a wide variety of disciplines think so.

I hope to see more on this topic at The Register!

Paul McDermott


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