Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/12/03/andrews_nuclear_mailbag/

The Reg is not just untrustworthy, but mainstream! Ouch

Think of the kids I hope you have none of

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Science, 3rd December 2010 15:20 GMT

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


Nuclear is best, but it gives me the creeps

Prior to university (in the 70s) I was generally in favour of nuclear power because I thought it was clean, efficient and relatively safe. A school visit to the experimental reactor at Winfrith, and a sight of Cherencov radiation did nothing to change my mind. However, working with radio isotopes at UMIST made me see things from a different perspective. I saw the precautions that were taken in handling and transporting even the smallest quantities or lowest level radiation sources. I became opposed to nuclear power stations mainly because I really found it hard to be believe that we were capable of maintaining that level of vigilance over the lifetime of both the power station and the storage of its waste.

About 20 years ago I changed my mind. I'd been wondering about our post oil future, and where the energy we were going to need to maintain an ever growing world population was going to come from. I came to the reluctant conclusion that nuclear was the only option. It may not be clean or safe, but I still don't see any alternative.

In 50 years time we may have fusion, we may also have PVAs with efficiencies that mean we won't have to carpet half the earth with them, and there will also be batteries to store what they generate. Who knows, perhaps it'll be possible to incorporate them into every roof, road and pavement at low cost. But here, now, I just don't see we have any alternative to nuclear.

But I still don't like it. It's an accident waiting to happen, and when it does, the consequences will be dire and long-lasting.

Some years ago I worked on a system used for searching air accident reports. I happened to read about one incident in which a plane had suffered a fuel leak/engine failure. There were no fatalities, and the plane made a safe landing on its remaining engine. It turned out that a part with a non-return valve had been fitted the wrong way round. The engine manufacturers were aware of the potential for this, and had deliberately made the part in such a way that it could only be fitted one way. The person who fitted the replacement had put it in a vice and bent it out of shape so that it could be fitted incorrectly...

Steve Crook


Is there any particular reason that comments aren't allowed on this article? Perhaps your title is disingenuous? Maybe someone would bring up the ever increasing piles of nuclear waste with nowhere to go? Unless, of course, you count the depleted uranium munitions being used against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to bombing ranges in your and my country. Why would you put out such a one-sided article? You obviously knew the reaction was not going to be positive from tree-huggers or the comment section would be enabled.

Thanks for making me aware, the Reg is as untrustworthy a news source as any other mainstream news outlet. I look forward to your next biased article. I hope you don't have children, what a world you are preparing for them.

PCMcGee

So if our views don't align with yours, we're untrustworthy.

I can see the logic. ®