Doubts raised on nuclear industry viability

Nov 19, 2009 by Lin Edwards weblog
nuclear power plant

(PhysOrg.com) -- The investment in nuclear power has been growing around the world over the last few years, being viewed as a means for countries to control their energy security, avoid the price fluctuations of other energy sources, and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, but concerns are now being raised.

A scientist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology predicts that supplies of are running out and countries relying on imports of uranium may face shortages by 2013, while a New York Times journalist suggests new nuclear power plants are an "abysmal" investment that will never pay for itself without government financial support.

Dr Michael Dittmar, a physicist with CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), said in the fourth and final part of an essay on the world's nuclear industry published this week that civilian stockpiles of uranium could be depleted by as early as 2013.

According to Dittmar civilian and military stockpiles and re-enriched or reprocessed uranium sources contribute 25,000 of the 65,000 tons of uranium used globally each year. The rest is mined directly, but Dittmar claims nobody knows where the mining industry can find enough uranium to make up the shortfall, and disputes the Nuclear Energy Agency's estimates of reserves of Uranium.

Dittmar is unconvinced that fission breeder reactors can provide a solution, saying that their inefficiency, high construction costs and poor safety mean they are unlikely to become commercially viable alternatives. He considers even less likely to provide the needed energy.

New York Times energy reporter Matthew Wald, writing in Technology Review, said new reactors would be unable to pay for themselves because of the massive cost of construction and competition from emerging alternatives that could affect the energy price. Wald compared the costs per kilowatt of capacity of nuclear ($4,000), coal ($3,000) and natural gas ($800), which makes the nuclear option a big financial gamble. The future cost of fossil fuels is unknown, and could also affect the nuclear industry's viability.

More information:

• Chapter I: Nuclear Fission Energy Today, arxiv.org/abs/0908.0627
• Chapter II: What is known about Secondary Uranium Resources? arxiv.org/abs/0908.3075
• Chapter III: How (un)reliable are the Red Book Uranium Resource Data? arxiv.org/abs/0909.1421
• Chapter IV: from Breeder Reactors and from Fusion? arxiv.org/abs/0911.2628

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

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User comments : 19

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3432682
3.6 / 5 (8) Nov 19, 2009
Lots of nonsense. The Earth has huge amounts of uranium and thorium, enough to last 30,000 years. Nuke costs are high because of absurd licensing hurdles and other dumb rules and laws. The French have proven it safe and efficient. The French also recycle nuke material, where the US has the boneheaded policy (instituted by Carter) to bury the waste and not recycle. Nuclear power problems are self-imposed, in order to kow-tow to hysterics. If we had not listened to the stupid ideas, we'd be using a lot less fossil fuel, and far more nuclear power. Nuclear plants would have been researched and developed into far better technology today, but 30 years of stupidity have crippled us.
david_42
4.6 / 5 (5) Nov 19, 2009
This evaluation is based on some very old technologies and ancient assumptions (less than 3% fuel burn and no re-processing). Japan just started operating its first pluthermal reactor, which burns a plutonium-uranium mix recycled from light-water reactors.
Mesafina
3 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
Lots of nonsense. The Earth has huge amounts of uranium and thorium, enough to last 30,000 years.


Really? I am not saying your wrong because I honestly don't know, but I would love to know where you got that information from. Link please?
Fabian
5 / 5 (4) Nov 19, 2009
I'm dissapointed such a shoddy article as this would be found here. As a previous poster said, there's plenty of uranium to be mined, if we cut the irrationality that stands in the way of getting it. And I'm quite suspicious when a NY Times reporter starts spouting about "costs" given that publications's political slant. Wind and solar are currently uneconomical as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find an article in the NY Times about that.
frajo
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
Wind and solar are currently uneconomical as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find an article in the NY Times about that.

There won't be a shortage of wind and solar in the next 30K years. Neither for fusion resources.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2009
Lots of nonsense. The Earth has huge amounts of uranium and thorium, enough to last 30,000 years.


Really? I am not saying your wrong because I honestly don't know, but I would love to know where you got that information from. Link please?


www DOT world-nuclear DOT org/info/inf75 DOT html
brianweymes
2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 19, 2009
If you actually read the article calmly, number, you would see they aren't disputing that there's a lot of uranium left in the Earth, but that there aren't enough mines open in all those potential places.
nextfuture
not rated yet Nov 19, 2009

nextbigfuture dot com /2009/11/uranium-to-2020-update dot html

I have taken a close analysis of the uranium countries and companies. UxC consulting is projecting Kazakhstan will increasing their uranium production to about 40,000 tons/year. Kazakhstan will continue its growth until 2015-2017. Kazakhstan is producing about 12,500-13,000 tons in 2009 (9525 tons in the first nine months, 61% more than first nine months of 2008). In 2008, Kazakhstan produced 8521 tons. The Malawi Kayelekera began exporting uranium on Sept, 2009 It will be producing 1269 tons per year.

2009 should have 48,000+ tons of production

2010 should have 54,000+ tons of production
The world is going to over 100,000 tons of uranium per year in a business as usual mode before 2020. More from Kazakhstan than the Redbook projection and less for Canada.
Dittmar offered a bet - 2009 not higher than 45,000 tons and 2010 not higher 47,000 tons for world prod. I accept the bet. It will be more
NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2009
That news made my day. Solar energy wont pollute the earth. Don't risk nuclearizing the world. Terrorists can dig up buried nuclear reactors deemed "foolproof" by greedy proponents who lie through their teeth.
WillB
not rated yet Nov 19, 2009
That news made my day. Solar energy wont pollute the earth. Don't risk nuclearizing the world. Terrorists can dig up buried nuclear reactors deemed "foolproof" by greedy proponents who lie through their teeth.


Remove government control from all energy industries and let the best energy win.
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2009
There is a lot more Thorium than Uranium and it is just as easy to build a reactor using it.
Ask the Indians.
ormondotvos
3 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
Fear, fear, fear. Woo-woo, cars burn, planes crash, obese people die of food. Nuke fearmongers are religious fundamentalists at heart.
highcountry
not rated yet Nov 20, 2009
The earth holds sufficient resources of uranium for hundreds of years. A large portion of these resources are contained in phosphate deposits and are recoverable as a by-product of fertilizer with current technologies. New technologies for lower-cost production are in R&D.

Huge quantities of uranium are recoverable from sea water. Extraction technologies for uranium from sea water are currently in the R&D mode.
Alexa
not rated yet Nov 20, 2009
..Nuke costs are high because of absurd licensing hurdles and other dumb rules and laws..
This silly claim could be refused easily by wildly undulating price curve of uranium ore. It's evident, uranium is following hard market price model, where offer is strictly limited by demand and vice-versa.

http://static.see...nch2.jpg
Husky
not rated yet Nov 20, 2009
When demand rises, the market will "find" the uranium, for instance, there is a mine in sasketchewan sitting idle, waiting for uranium prices to go up. In a stroke of luck French socialism/government policy turns out to work well for building series of the big reactors using the same specs. Then you have india and scandinavia looking at thorium and japan at advanced breeders and extraction techniques and China setting up mass assembly lines for AP1000's for substantal lower $ per BTU. I don't share the pessimism in this report at all, to me a nuclear renaissance seems more likely
pauldentler
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
Wind and solar are currently uneconomical as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find an article in the NY Times about that.

There won't be a shortage of wind and solar in the next 30K years. Neither for fusion resources.

Within 4 miles of where I live, five wind turbines have been installed during the past ten years, four of them are now just laying on the ground and the one that is still standing looks like it is about to fall, that is not the kind of dependability I would call "hi-tech".
AuldLochinvar
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
Has Dr. Dittmar ever heard of the highly successful Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) that was cancelled in 1994, in spite of having proved that it could, as designed, survive the deliberately imposed loss of coolant as caused Chernobyl? In the very same month?
cf. http://www.pbs.or...ill.html

It was designed at Argonne labs, and according to their calculations could in effect give renewable, sustainable energy for more than a hundred years at the USA's current rate, __from_surplus_uranium_and_plutonium already_above_ground_in barrels,_etc.
AuldLochinvar
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
As for wind turbines, this is a place for physicists, so it'll be almost obvious to you that the power the wind supplies is proportional to the cube of the wind speed. Which makes the power from a wind turbine even more fickle than the wind itself.

The things are big, puny, ugly, and they kill bats rather horribly and big seabirds especially, because big birds and sea birds didn't evolve to dodge about in the air.
yamahaeleven
not rated yet Nov 21, 2009
This Malthusian argument by Lin Edwards was lost the moment she wrote the first sentence. Not a single argument from scarcity has ever been won since the time of Malthus. Makes for scary headlines, but nothing else. Using Thorium reactors, along with breeder reactors will give any conceivable earth bound civilization ample power for billions of years, yes, billions, Carl Sagan Billions. Technology, know-how, and human ingenuity always win. Dr Michael Dittmar needs a new job and not as a physicist, or he should stick to physics, not economics! Burning stockpiles of Russian and US weapons uranium, a common current source, would keep reactors humming well beyond 2013.

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