This Week’s New Statesman

This week, both Brian and I have articles about nuclear power in the ‘New Statesman‘. Brian’s is about the immorality of energy conservation and mine is about the PR issues the nuclear industry needs to deal with.

You can download the PDF from the New Statesman’s site.

Comments
5 Responses to “This Week’s New Statesman”
  1. Hugh says:

    I just pointed my housemate, who works for Friends of the Earth, at these articles….

    He had a couple of interesting points…

    In Brian’s article, he talks about how FoE says that “everyone is entitled to a good life”. This, I’m told, is more to do with how our energy needs in this country shouldn’t adversely affect people in other countries. We should be aware of the affects of our energy consumption on people in third world countries….

    His other point was on your article, Gia. You mentioned how a lot of people connect nuclear power with nuclear bombs, and how the anti-nuclear lobby uses this to build anti-nuclear power semtiment. He pointed out that the government has been intrumental in building this belief, specifically with their attitude to Iran, saying that Iran shouldn’t have nuclear power stations, as this will be congruent with them having nuclear weapons…

    Very interesting articles from both of you…!

  2. giagia says:

    Ah, but the Iran issue is slightly more complicated than that. Basically the ‘stuff left over’ *can* be used to make nuclear weapons. Russia said, ‘Hey, we’re happy to let Iran have nuclear power, as long as they let us deal with the waste.’ Iran didn’t want anyone else to deal with the waste. And as Iran’s leader has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the planet, it *is* worrying… that isn’t to say that I believe Iran’s aim *is* to make nuclear weapons, but if they genuinely care about having clean energy then what’s the big problem with letting Russia deal with their ‘waste’?

    So it’s not really the government scaremongering without reason. Claiming that Iran is completely harmless is like claiming Israel is completely harmless… they’re leaders have both behaved appallingly over the years and neither side can claim to be victims.

  3. Penny says:

    Interesting articles!

    I agree that we must find alternate methods of energy generation that do not emit large amount of CO2. However, greenhouse gas emission is not the only environmental issue that should be addressed, IMHO.

    I’d be interested to hear what either or both of you think about the prospective impact of worldwide heavy reliance on nuclear energy on water resources.

    Nuclear power generation uses a LOT of water–more so than generation of energy from fossil fuel (http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/RN/2006-07/07rn12.pdf). I read an interesting article about the effects of drought on generative capacity at nuclear power plants (http://makower.typepad.com/joel_makower/2006/08/our_nuclear_sum.html), where water shortage had a dramatic impact on the facility’s ability to operate efficiently or at all.

    Given that global warming is anticipated to cause drinking water shortages worldwide and increased frequency of drought in certain areas of the world, should humanity completely rely on a method of energy generation that is so water-intensive?

    Granted, other methods of energy generation also require water, such as solar energy (during manufacture of the photovoltaic cells used in solar panels (http://engphys.mcmaster.ca/undergraduate/outlines/4e03/environmentally benign silicon solar cell.pdf). However, other methods of electricity generation (wind power, wave power) do not consume any water.

    I would also like to hear your thoughts on the future role of ‘closed-cycle’ nuclear power plants, which are far more resource-efficient and generate less waste than conventional ‘open-cycle’ plants, in energy generation. Are you both envisioning future construction and operation of open- AND closed-cycle plants, or were you envisioning a future where energy generation from fusion reactors would replace generation from nuclear fission?

  4. giagia says:

    Penny, I’m not an expert on all the different types of reactor designs out there, but from what I learned when I was doing the Potential Energy Project for the Institute of Physics was that a) yes, most nuclear reactors use a LOT of water* b) pebble bed reactors don’t. c) breeder reactors use everything up, and the waste it produces has a half-life of only about 50 years c) closed-cycle reactors are cheaper as they need almost 30% less ore.

    Personally, I’d say a combination of these. Some places – central Africa, for example, would probably work best with pebble beds. Fast breeders can be in countries authorised to deal with the Plutonium-239 mixtures produced elsewhere… etc

    Though I think everyone hopes that fusion will eventually take over.

    * There are issues with this that I’ve not even touched on – if reactors needs to be near coastlines, what happens if the ocean levels rise and coastlines are eroded quickly? This, I hope, is something people are considering…

  5. jasmine says:

    Actually, nuclear power stations don’t inherently need any water at all. Water is used in most stations as a coolant and can be easily recycled. The river water used by a (properly functioning) nuclear plant is not contaminated in any way and is quite safe to drink.

    As for breeder reactors- they have a few problems. One is that reprocessing spent fuel is illegal in the USA. Another is that because they require a high fraction of neutrons to be available to breed new fuel, they need very compact cores, which have an inherently very high power density. For example, a conventional reactor comprises about a thousand tonnes of fuel and several times that much moderator, which means the power density is about the same as you might find in a conventional station, and the engineering difficulties are not much more difficult to overcome. A fast breeder reactor might have a core massing only sixty tonnes, with the power generation occurring in only a few tonnes of that, which means you need to use exotic coolants like liquid metal. This means that the reactor cannot be allowed to cool down, the coolant is opaque, and so on. Most liquid metal cooled reactors use sodium or a eutectic potassium-sodium alloy, because of their low melting point and handy neutron absorption characteristics. Unfortunately, sodium is very reactive and explodes into flame in contact with air or water. Yet another is that the fuel for these reactors tends to need to be quite highly enriched- often 20% or more- which means it is much more attractive as a target for diversion.

    That’s not to say that these problems can’t be overcome, or that these designs don’t have other great characteristics- for example, liquid metal coolant does not need to be pressurised in order to carry useful heat away, and much higher temperatures can be safely reached, improving efficiency.

    Britain has somewhat of a lead in fast breeder reactors, having moderately successfully operated two power generation FBRs for some years. Britain also has a lead in nuclear fuel reprocessing, since for all Sellafield’s many faults it does actually work pretty well.