NUCLEAR POWER: OUR FUTURE?

One sixth of the world’s population (1.27 trillion people) lives in developed countries. These developed countries are typically run on baseload electricity or 24/7 electricity. The three major sources of baseload electricity are: Fossil Fuels (coal and gas): United States 71.4% World 66.1%, Hydro: United States 6.5% World 16.1%, Nuclear: US 19.3% World 15.7%. Wind, Solar and the other renewable energies are not able to be considered baseline yet due to the inconsistency of the sources. To compare, nuclear waste for 1 gigawatt (a years worth of energy) = 20 tons which goes into two casks stored on sight, while coal waste from 1 gigawatt puts 8,000,000 tons of CO2, into the atmosphere.

Wind, like solar, is a relatively sparse source of energy and requires a lot of land and materials. In terms of materials, 5 to 10 times what is used for nuclear. To get 1 GW of electricity would require 250 square miles of wind farm. Also with solar farms 1 GW would require 50 square miles of land.

The new generation of nuclear reactors includes small safe and sustainable reactors referred to as nuclear batteries. These reactors can produce 10-125 MW of electricity. Typically these nuclear batteries are put in the ground, where they are weapons proliferation-proof. The nuclear batteries would utilize their nuclear waste for fuel. Bellow I have attached a few designs for nuclear batteries. 1) The Gen4 Module (G4M) 25MW 2) NuScale 45MW  3) Russian barge-mounted reactor, 35MW 4) SSTAR 10-100MW

 

 

Nuclear power puts out slightly more CO2 emissions in comparison for wind and concentrated solar, when taking into consideration the total construction time of each. From planning to operation it takes 9-19 years to put up a nuclear power plant. This includes about 3 to 6 years for a site permit, 2 to 4 for a construction permit, and then 4 to 9 for actual construction. While waiting for the completion of these we have to run the regular power grid, which in the United States and around the world is mostly coal. For wind and solar the total construction time can be 2- 5 years. With this difference in opportunity cost, nuclear is putting more C02 emissions. Nuclear reactors do run the risk of nuclear energy proliferation, which would cause the equivalent damage of nuclear bomb. While the spacing required for wind farms is large the actual footprint would be just where the pole touched the ground. To put this in perspective, the entire US vehicle fleet could be powered with 73,000 to 140,000 5-MW wind turbines. This would take from one to three square kilometers of footprint on the ground. There is also the possibility of putting wind turbines off the coast to reduce this footprint. With advance wind mapping, turbines can be more consistent and possibly become a source baseload electricity in the future.

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Nuclear power allows for low carbon emissions, consistent and efficient energy production, but faces long delays associated with building new plants and some serious risk factors. Where does nuclear power fit in the future? Is it worth the risk? Should we focus on renewable energy only or do we need both?

 

Sources:

https://www.reuters.com/article/europe-power-supply/germany-powers-france-in-cold-despite-nuclear-u-turn-idUSL5E8DD87020120214

 

https://www.electric.com/the-wire/renewable-energy-guide/

 

http://www.gen4energy.com/

 

http://www.nuscalepower.com/smr-benefits/simple

 

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2017/03/16/mpower-consortium-halts-project/#sthash.Lxy4fsuM.dpbs

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10 thoughts on “NUCLEAR POWER: OUR FUTURE?

  1. Great article, Meredith! I believe that Nuclear energy can be a viable energy source in the right conditions. The world’s dependence on fossil fuels has to decrease in order for civilization to make advancements in the energy sector. I understand the dangers that are associated with Nuclear energy, but we are at the point that options are becoming limited. Renewable energy has a limit yield based on the available land and areas that are suitable for solar harvesting. In comparison to Nuclear energy on the other hand which has nearly unlimited potential.

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  2. I think that the subject of Nuclear power is a bit tricky. It seems like a great alternative now, and it is, but because Uranium and other elements needed for the processes are limited, it will eventually run out. Disposal of waste is also an issue. It is possible that in the future, technology may make it a more viable long term option than it is currently. I think that it is a good alternative to fossil fuels, but a lot of research needs to be done to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in the same place that we are today years down the line. Waste disposal is the biggest hurdle in my opinion.

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  3. I feel like this would be a great way to have an “interim” energy source until we find a reliable way to get renewables energy integrated into our infrastructure. Since nuclear is a low carbon emitting source, it would help combat global warming by decreasing our total CO2 emissions. A lot of people’s concern with nuclear is understandably safety, and it seems like the new technology has taken that into consideration, and that coupled with education of those concerned about the power source would probably resolve a lot of that issue.

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  4. Thanks for posting this! I have heard in the past that many of the safety hazards associated with nuclear power are primarily due to misconceptions and outdated information. I’m not sure how true that is, but that being said I’m sure that more education regarding nuclear power would be really great for alleviating some of the public concern surrounding it. For many people, all they know about nuclear power is the stories of Chernobyl and Fukushima, not the positive environmental benefits and new technologies designed to increase safety.

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  5. Yeah, Meredith I agree with Solomon. This was a great article and a really interesting topic! I particularly appreciated the bit outlining a brief timeline of the construction of a nuclear power plant. I think nuclear has a bright future in the world, and a proper place at the energy table. It provides an incredible foundation for the development of the energy sector, and research in the topic will help us address significant issues. For example, there is a buzz in the nuclear air about pursuits of nuclear fusion, a no-hazardous waste nuclear reaction.
    As for the supply of uranium in the world, there are currently 5.7 million tons of known recoverable uranium in the world, roughly 53% of it being in Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada. Its recoverability will only increase with mineral exploration and techniques to increase the range of types of orebodies.
    I will say though, that the damage associated with a meltdown in a facility is far from that of a nuclear warhead. The former typically has pretty low levels of U-235 (~5-20%), whereas a nuclear warhead would typically required enrichment up to almost 90% U-235. That difference creates a big divide between the rate of energy release from the reaction, but the amount of overall radiation would be similar, most likely.

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  6. I believe that nuclear energy will be a good backup plan for energy generation in the US, however solar and wind will take center stage. I think technology for solar is becoming cheaper and more viable and has been over the past decade, in terms of cost and efficiency. I believe that products such as Tesla’s Powerwall paired with their solar roof tiles will be more common and more desirable. Other “home batteries” like the Powerwall have been coming out from manufacturers such as Mercedes and Nissan. I see these eventually becoming standard on all houses built and sold. For areas that don’t have much sunlight, there is wind power. I read an article just yesterday saying that a group did a study and found an area off the coast of the US in the North Atlantic that in theory has enough wind power to meet the global energy demand. Obviously, something on that scale is a bit unrealistic to build, however it is proof that the potential is there.

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  7. Hi Meredith – so I didn’t follow – are you saying that if we depend on nuclear to solve the climate change issue that it is not enough because in the 9-15 year process of waiting to build the plants, we will be emitting to many CO2 emissions? (assuming we continue as business as usual until the plants are built)

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  8. I found this article very interesting because I had previously heard about these “batteries” as a new form or nuclear power plant. I find many positive aspects to these need batteries as well as some negative ones. My only worry is the regulatory standards that would need to be upheld when one of these batteries are in use. The united States has some of the highest regulations so we are relatively safe when it comes to nuclear. If these were put in third world countries, what would stop another disaster like Chernobyl? Also, I worry about nuclear power being in the wrong hands. On the other hand, these small reactors would be great because they wouldn’t require nearly as much time and money to create. This would lessen the effect of government changes and policy changes affecting the construction of larger projects within the United States.

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  9. I agree with others here that solar and wind are very limited by where than can be placed in order to be viable. Nuclear is great in that it can be placed nearly anywhere. While the risks are large, I believe that it is a huge step in the right direction as far as energy production is concerned. It will be very interesting to see where this movement goes. Thanks for the read.

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  10. Great post! I personally am a fan of nuclear energy and wind energy. However, compared to wind power they can be placed anywhere and not reliant on location and generation does not vary. Nuclear can definitely be the future of the our energy problems, the risk is just something people are scared about and used as a political tactic to discourage the advancement of it.

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