next energy source…small scale nuclear?
Don’t think I’ve seen this on the threads, and I know I’m going to push a lot of buttons with this given this site’s dominant support for peak oil and its consequences. I tend to side with economic thinkers who understand that if peak oil is physically true, microeconomic forces will find a new source (however this doesn’t mean I don’t see the problems with exponential growth or that I’m any less committed to a sustainable living future! I just see the monetary system as the problem…the cause of exponential growth…whether we had peak oil or not, we would still have the problem). Anyway, curious for your thoughts on this if anybody has looked into the technology:
Prechter just noted an old article from the Guardian that talks about the next evolution of energy: "Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos…Hyperion has more than 100 firm orders…plans to produce 4000 plants between 2013 and 2023…Toshiba has been testing 200KW reactors…"
Actually this was local news here in Alaska a few years ago…
Alaskan Town OKs Mini Nuke
As far as I know Toshiba is still finishing the design and it hasn’t been installed in Galena yet. But on the surface at least it sounds like a good idea for some if not all communities. I think isolated communities like this that already pay very high prices for power are the most suited for this technology. I’m not familiar with how efficient these small-scale reactors are compared to their larger brethren, though, and if I was forced to guess I’d say the mini-reactors would be a more costly alternative (in terms of price paid per kW) making it not as ideal for large metro areas. Though considering how old most existing US reactors are, I could be wrong.
Regardless though, whether big or small these reactors require fissionable material, and to the best of my knowledge uranium deposits are not nearly as rich or plentiful as they used to be (I believe the Crash Course mentioned this as well). And it’s not so much that there isn’t plenty of oil, uranium, etc. left on the world, it’s how hard it is to get to in terms of energy cost. Nuclear fission reactors can definitely be a part of our future energy plan and these mini-reactors could fill an important niche, but I don’t see how it could be THE energy of the future unless a massive new source of easily obtainable uranium is found.
in terms of efficiency, the article said 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
This references an MIT paper that gives its most recent estimate of the cost of new nuclear power at $0.084 per kWh:
So assuming that figure is accurate and Hyperion reaches their target goal, any new large-scale plants would have an edge in efficiency. This same link quotes another source giving a figure of $0.25-30 per kWh based on historical data, and if that’s true then perhaps the old existing plants (and to a lesser extent maybe even new plants) are horribly cost inefficient compared to the mini-reactors. I don’t know how any of these sources calculate their costs though, so comparing these figures may be meaningless if differences exist. And who knows if they include such things as estimated costs for the numerous civic and legal hurdles that pop up whenever the word ‘nuclear’ is mentioned…. from what I understand those things are part of the reason no new nuclear plants have been built in the US in the last couple decades. NIMBY strikes again
Here’s one thing I’d like to know regarding nuclear: Isn’t there a legitimate problem with disposing of the waste? It’s my understanding that there is no good solution with disposing of the by-products of fission, save for burying it deep underground. I know there’s a disposal plant located in Carlsbad, NM. They dig enormous caverns underground out of the salt formations, fill the caverns up with waste, and then the salt formations slowly erode and seal in the waste products for all time. The NIMBY people in (Nevada?) who don’t want the waste buried in their mountian have a legitmate point that needs to be heard, in my opinion.
Forgive me for being a naysayer, but when we include the "human error" component to this, it just doesn’t seem like the "ultimate" best solution. With all the brain power we have in the US, it would seem like there’s a better solution with what to do with this stuff. It’s highly radioactive for millenia, right?
Does anyone have any thoughts to this portion of the issue?
In my opinion, the nuclear waste issue is horribly overblown. The amount of waste produced is tiny. The cave they equipped to store it is typical government overkill. I guess this is one issue where overkill is OK. Seriously though, the pictures I saw of the depository make it very difficult to imagine how the waste could possibly leak, corrode, or be tampered with in any way.
It seems many people just go nuts when they hear the word, "nuclear". Yes, it’s dangerous, but if handled correctly, it is not anymore dangerous than handling rat poison. I can’t think of a safer place to put it than caves in the middle of the desert.
I also agree with Patrick that the storage issues are blown way out of proportion. Also, the Carlsbad WIPP (NM) site is only low level radiation (contaminated items, radioactive medical waste, etc). The Yucca Mountain (Nevada) site it supposed to be for high level waste. I would much rather have waste stuffed into either of these sites than sitting around in above ground storage areas, which is where it currently is.
On that note, there are other potential nuclear fusion options that have been in the news lately:
The NIF: lasers.llnl.gov/
which is a massive spending effort, there is also a group in Europe trying to get fusion to work. An interesting out of the box method that was in Popular Science a few months ago are trying to use mechanical compression to achieve fusion: http://www.generalfusion.com/
So who knows, maybe someone will get something to work, I still doubt it will happen before we have an Economic collapse, then the question will be do we have enough resources (capital) to continue to push these efforts. Also, I suspect if we can actually build some of these things, we will have massive pain before they can be completed since it will take many years to roll out any new technology.
Of course there is a possible big problem with this…
Uranium is pretty rare, and how long will it be before we’ve tapped out that source? Plus extraction and refinement are also pretty expensive (and leveraging nuclear weapon stockpiles, might not be an option, or feasible depending on the reactor). I wonder what the ERoEI is on these things, since if it’s negative (and I suspect that it will be) then in fact we’re wasting energy making these rather than gaining energy. Which of course is not in our best interests.
But it is a cool idea, although I remember reading about these quite some time ago, wonder how the current economy is affecting their orders.
And FWIW, I reckon new nuke stations will founder on the shoals of NIMBY — unless there’s a yuge energy shock sometime soon…in which case it might be too late (the necessary investment money might not be there any longer if enough wealth/credit/money is destroyed [and nobody’s buying US bonds…])…
Viva — Sager
Google: Pebble Bed Moderate Reactors
I think theoildrum.com has covered as well. Problem is the change over to electricity of course: conversion (from Oil) is going to take a huge amount of resources, energy, dosh, . . . ., not a good time to be spending billions on futile wars IMO. HTH