Nuclear will survive, because it has to: ANU professor

Mar 29, 2011
Nuclear will survive, because it has to

Japan relies on nuclear power for about 30% of its electricity. It has few natural resources and imports large quantities of coal, gas and oil at an ever increasing cost. Some Japanese people are not in favor of nuclear power, but when the dust settles the nation might not have any real choice, writes Professor George Dracoulis.

Losing four old reactors at that were due for replacement is not the end of the world, and certainly not when you consider the huge loss of life and enormous damage wreaked by this month’s earthquake and tsunami.

Japan’s reactors

Japan built its 55 nuclear reactors over a period of decades (the damaged reactors in Fukushima are some of the world’s oldest still in regular operation, based on early commercial designs).

Nineteen began operation in the 1970s (Fukushima-Daichi-1 dates from 1971); fifteen began life in the 1980s; thirteen in the 1990s; and five in the “noughties”.

Of course, one might question the logic of building reactors in earthquake zones, but in the end the primary structures in Fukushima were not directly damaged; nor have they been damaged in previous quakes.

One could also ask what would have happened to other sorts of power stations (particularly dispersed ones such as wind farms or solar cell arrays) in such an event. My guess is that they all would have been swept away.

Some context

All thermal power stations are based on similar principles: they produce heat by burning something (coal or gas for example) and convert the generated heat to electricity.

The big advantage of using nuclear reactions such as fission is that one fission produces about 100 million times more energy that you get from burning a single carbon atom.

Coal-fired power stations have to burn a lot of material (about three million tonnes a year) to generate electricity for a city of a million people, and about 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are released to the atmosphere in the process.

Nuclear reactors, by comparison, consume only one tonne of the fissile uranium isotope, U-235, to deliver the same.

Some numbers

There are currently 441 large reactors in 35 countries, 120 of which date from the 1970s and early 1980s.

Collectively the 400-odd reactors supply about 15% of the world’s electricity (the average in OECD countries being more than 22%). So far they have racked up more than 14,000 reactor-years of operation.

The United States has the greatest number operating, with 103 units providing 20% of its supply; this is followed by France with 57 (producing nearly 80% of its supply) and , with 54 (providing about 30%).

With a lifespan of approximately 35 to 40 years, some have pointed to the fact a nuclear station decommissioning “peak” will occur from 2020 to 2030, and that this will present technological and environmental challenges. In my opinion these challenges will be met.

Explore further: Ambitious EU targets for renewable energies make economic sense

Provided by Australian National University

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Bob_Wallace
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2011
Japan has (had) 47.3 gigawatts of generating power from nuclear reactors.

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, consists of six boiling water reactors and contributed 5.0 gigawatts of Japan's nuclear capacity. At least four of the six seem to be toast.

Japan has an estimated 23.5 gigawatts in geothermal potential. That's known 'wet' geothermal. It does not count geothermal yet to be discovered or enhanced/hot rock geothermal potential.

Nuclear levelized cost $113.9 - almost certainly to rise with new safety regulations added. (And add in the cost of cleaning up the current mess.)

Geothermal levelized cost $101.7 - possibly cheaper with economies of scale

IER 2009 numbers - http://www.instit...ologies/

Nuclear takes roughly 10 years to construct and bring on line

Geothermal takes under two years.

Danger - geothermal has the onsite danger of any pressurized steam operation. Nuclear, 'nuff said...

Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2011
A world of 15 billion people consuming power at U.S. rates of waste and powered strictly by nuclear, will require the construction of approximately 200,000 new nuclear reactors.

Given the track record, that would mean 1 core melt every week.

Good luck with that.
Pkunk_
5 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2011
A world of 15 billion people consuming power at U.S. rates of waste and powered strictly by nuclear, will require the construction of approximately 200,000 new nuclear reactors.

Given the track record, that would mean 1 core melt every week.


At present popoulation of 300mln , USA uses 103 units for 20% of electricity. So abt 500 units for 100% coverage for 300mln Americans.

For your imaginary population of 15bln , multiply by 50 and you get 25000 reactors. Thats WAY OFF the figure of 200,000 you pulled out of thin air. Also the world population will at most reach 10bn in 50 years and start falling from then on.

The world has FAR MORE risk from an war over Oil which will soon go nuclear weapons free. Instead of that I would rather live under minute nuclear reactor meltdown risk but free of war.

A combination of Space solar and nuclear can make us Carbon and oil free in a matter of 2 decades.
Sanescience
not rated yet Mar 30, 2011
What is Space solar?

Regardless. People are silly.

Coal has been killing people and the environment at a considerable pace, yet people get upset about nuclear energy because nobody cares to do the research and look at the numbers.

The numbers say that before Chernobyl we had working fast neutron reactor prototypes and a closed loop fuel cycle that solved nearly every complaint brought against the reactor designs of the 1950's.

So what did we do? Shut down that program and hold up construction of new more modern reactors so that we couldn't decommission the ones we had that are most like Chernobyl.

The coal burning industry must be laughing it's ass off right now.
LuckyExplorer
3 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2011
!...the nation might not have any real choice" - The first wrong statement - There is always a choice!
Waist of energy is the main problem all over the world.
The second problem is the greediness of people. Hence costs are hindering alternatives. - Costs that are calculated wrong, taking not into account future problems of some solutions like nuclear power: What about the unsolved problem of storage of the nuclear fuel rods, etc.
baudrunner
not rated yet Mar 30, 2011
The future lies in mining Helium-3 on the moon. It is actually a very cost-effective process, and can be largely automated. Heat the surface moon dust to 650 degrees Farenheit, releasing HE3. Helium-3 reactors are absolutely safe, and two space shuttle load equivalents could provide the entire U.S.'s energy requirements for a year.
Sanescience
5 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2011
"Costs that are calculated wrong, taking not into account future problems of some solutions like nuclear power: What about the unsolved problem of storage of the nuclear fuel rods"

Come on, LuckyExplorer, stop being lazy and so some homework, it's not like there are that many issues of this importance. I'll help, read this:

http://www.pbs.or...ill.html

Important point: No storage of "spent" fuel rods. Rather, they are recycled until the remaining 99% of energy is extracted.

As for Helium-3, FAIL, do some research, crunch some numbers, let go the magical thinking. Not only is the neutron free fusion an unattainable ideal reaction, the temperatures involved are much higher than what we need for "regular" fusion that we haven't been able to achieve. The easy part would be sending a space shuttle to the moon, which isn't going to happen either.
Sepp
not rated yet Mar 31, 2011
Watch the Japanese figure out how to do without nuclear reactors. The Germans are doing it ...

Japan, between solar and geothermal, throw in some wave and wind power, could replace nuclear in a short time. It's the political will that's needed, and some flexibility of thought, something which the good professor seems to sorely lack.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2011
Watch the Japanese figure out how to do without nuclear reactors. The Germans are doing it ...

Japan, between solar and geothermal, throw in some wave and wind power, could replace nuclear in a short time. It's the political will that's needed, and some flexibility of thought, something which the good professor seems to sorely lack.


And what happens when you run out of places to drill for geothermal, run out of coastline for wave, and run out of practical room/places for wind as civilization advances and our power needs continue to rise as we become a more and more technically capable civilization? Strap mini-generators to the abdomens of flies and chase them around?
PaulieMac
not rated yet Apr 01, 2011
Strap mini-generators to the abdomens of flies and chase them around?


Only if you expend less energy in chasing them than you gain...
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
And what happens when you run out of places to drill for geothermal, run out of coastline for wave, and run out of practical room/places for wind as civilization advances and our power needs continue to rise as we become a more and more technically capable civilization?


Moron, you obviously know nothing about technology. Dont discuss on topics you dont know anything about.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2011
Moron, you obviously know nothing about technology. Dont discuss on topics you dont know anything about.


And you know nothing about debate. Don't try to pass off logical fallacy and ad-hom as an argument.

Come back when you actually have something to contribute...
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2011
Strap mini-generators to the abdomens of flies and chase them around?


Only if you expend less energy in chasing them than you gain...


Unlike ethanol then...
Javinator
5 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
Watch the Japanese figure out how to do without nuclear reactors. The Germans are doing it ...


They'll be buying power from other countries or using polluting alternatives. You can't just remove a huge amount of base load power and replace it with nothing. Current renewable technologies couldn't fulfill this role in Germany.

Given the proximity to France I'll say much of the purchased power will be generated by nuclear anyways.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
Come back when you actually have something to contribute...


What did you contribute? Strawman nonsense.

Garbage in, garbage out.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2011
Come back when you actually have something to contribute...


What did you contribute? Strawman nonsense.

Garbage in, garbage out.


No I pointed out the limits of every technology listed that's supposed to "save" us from using an ACTUALLY practical source that won't run out as civilization continues to advance.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2011
For goodness sake, parabolic trough mirror solar power plants. 174 petawatts are available for harvesting at roughly 60% efficiency.

If we did floating arrays of parabolic trough mirror power plants in the ocean over a large enough area, we can even have a net global cooling effect and a reduction in oceanic heat content, which would reduce hurricanes and other severe weather.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 03, 2011
They'll be buying power from other countries or using polluting alternatives.

Nah. Even with most reactors shut down we are still exporting energy. And at the rate alternative energy production is increasing we can get rid of the others within 6 years (or 10 - which was the original plan of the previous socialist-green government until Merkel upped that to 27)

Japan is ideally placed to use wave, wind (on or off shore) and geothermal. They could probably go all green without even bothering to add solar to the mix.

If we did floating arrays of parabolic trough mirror power plants in the ocean over a large enough area, we can even have a net global cooling effect

No, because the energy you grab will be converted (upon being used) into heat. Basic physics. You'd just have transferred the heat conversion from point A to point B (though that in itself might be useful to keep ocean circulatory systems going). Only reduction would be through reflection into space.
Javinator
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2011
Nah. Even with most reactors shut down we are still exporting energy.


With power in such surplus that you're exporting power even with most of your reactors shut down then energy exports must be a large source of income for your country. Would your country not be losing serious amounts of income from the sale of the power as well as being hit economically by the losses of the workers at these large industrial facilities?

Regardless of what direction the country decides to take with respect to power generation, the knee-jerk reaction from the Japan earthquake should raise concerns about the willingness of your leaders to make major decisions based on limited information.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
The power stations still require nearly the full crew - even while shut down. The surplus is a safety feature so that we don't get the brown-outs/black-outs common to the US. Last summer the same amount of reactors were shut down because the water in the rivers was above the temperature level allowed for cooling purposes.

Replacing the reactors with other types of power plants would create jobs there. (seriously: doing stupid stuff just to keep jobs alive is a very bad rationale for anything)

And the income is only for the power companies (who pay next to no taxes like all large copanies everywhere). So no real loss for the country there.
baudrunner
not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
sanescience: how much sane science do you actually know? The prospect of power generation using H-3 is entirely doable and wil be the trend in the future. Do your research.

As for sending space shuttles to the moon, obviously your reading comprehension skills are sorely lacking, because I wrote, 'two space shuttle load equivalents', to give a picture of how little would be required to provide all the U.S. energy needs for a year. There was no suggestion that I was promoting the idea of sending space shuttles to the moon. I am well aware of the limitations of shuttle technology.
baudrunner
not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
Actually, now that I think of it.. modifying the shuttle to fit a tank with fuel distribution lines in a part of the cargo bay actually would allow that craft to make a moon mission to pick up H-3 cargo and return it back to earth. And it would save a lot of money in developing new tools to do that job. Not a bad idea, actually.
Javinator
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
The power stations still require nearly the full crew - even while shut down.


Not really. Maybe for the first little while, but once the reactors are permanently defueled and in a shut down state then primary cooling is no longer required which means a lot of systems will be powered down and in a state to begin decommissioning.

Replacing the reactors with other types of power plants would create jobs there. (seriously: doing stupid stuff just to keep jobs alive is a very bad rationale for anything)


I'd be concerned about the transition period. Until the new power plants/windmills/solar panels/etc. are built and commissioned, the current power plants shouldn't be shut down. My point mainly has to do with the alarmist reaction of the government to shut everything down, not the decision of the government to change from nuclear to something else. I'm a nuclear supporter, but if you can supply your base load then by all means change.

antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 13, 2011
and in a state to begin decommissioning.
Which can start 30 years after shutdown (at the earliest). Plenty of jobs still there for all that time (and for no benefit to anyone). Just check how many people are still employed at Chernobyl. There's 8000 people working in the exclusion zone 25 years after the desaster.

but if you can supply your base load then by all means change.

Which is the point. The original plan by the previous govrenment (before Merkel and her puppeteers got their dirty hands on it) was to shut down the last reactor and switch over to alternative energy sources by 2021. This plan was realistic. With moderate added investment we could do it 2 years earlier. Seems reasonable to me.