Nuclear Power, how it can save the world.
The below information was taken from the following website on Dec 16, 2008, it pertains to Swedish nuclear power:
inputs over 40 years are 1.35% of the output. If very low grade ore of 0.01% U is envisaged – as has been said to
make mining uneconomic – the input figure rises to 2.9% of output.”
If you go back and look at the Energy out over Energy In chart you will see that even for low grade uranium a 2.9 percent input to output ratio is by far the best ratio for all current energy sources. So I pose a hypothetical; what if we could develop far far better batteries for transportation and other uses? Lets asume we can, then lets assume we build about 15 new nuclear plants per state, a totally manageable proposition. That would cover our total yearly amount of energy attained from oil. Thus we wouldnt need oil as a fuel. We would only need it for making plastic, rubber etc.
If for some reason society realized that nuclear is relatively safe and electricity storage advanced, nuclear power really could save the world. Well at least I think it could.
The discussion is much larger than this. Not only are we facing Peak Oil, we are also facing peak just about everything else, so your proposal to "develop far better batteries" will be limited not only by technological impediments but also by the availability of raw materials to build enough batteries (and cars and so on) to replace traditional gas and diesel fueled vehicles, and then to ship them around the world.
Then there’s the sheer amount of fossil fuel required to construct all those power plants. 750 nuclear plants is a lot of raw material in the form of concrete and steel and copper in addition to site prep, trucking all that stuff in and then building. This is not insignificant.
But even if none of that were an issue, we are still facing a perfect storm of simultaeously occuring catastrophes that include (but are not limited to) Climate Change, Overpopulation, Habitat Degradation, Pollution (in all its forms), Species Loss, Soil Degradation, Overfishing, Fresh Water Availability, Looming Resource Wars and much else.
In my view it is naive to think that by solving the energy crisis everything can get back to the way it was. The way it was is over. The trick now is to try and develop, in the absence of any concrete information, a plan that will allow one to function effectively in the way it will be.
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
Beside the dangers of Nuclear Power, the deposit of waste, and dangers of dealing with plutonium, uranium is needed to "fuel" current or new reactors. It is a finite ressource, and might not be available anymore, for a reactors sceduled lifetime of about 40 years. I read on the internet about a new theoretical approach of smaller and saver reactors, that run on thorium, which is much more available. To check if thats an option, a lot of research has to be done, and will probably take many years.
Nuclear revival may be hindered by particular technological bottlenecks. But yes, if there is any hope, nuclear energy should be an important part of the picture. It wasn’t a coincidence that Hubbert’s original paper was entitled Nuclear Energy and The Fossil Fuels. It is a good read. Note the prediction in Figure 27 regarding the nuclear power installed capacity. Present data from theEnergy Information Administration indicates that Hubbert’s prediction overestimates present installed capacity by about a factor of 2.5. I guess you can take that as being behind schedule.
Methinks Peak Oil hasn’t worked out as the usual suspects expected. Oil peaked alright. But it wasn’t because the supply was running out. Oil ran out of demand. Oops.
"From the plains of North Dakota to the deep waters of Brazil, dozens of
major oil and gas projects have been suspended or canceled in recent
weeks as companies scramble to adjust to the collapse in energy markets." NY Times
Nuclear Power will have its day when the economics are there. That could be a long time in this environment.
Change You Won’t Believe
The peak oil story has not been nullified by the scramble to unload every
asset for cash — including whomping gobs of oil contracts — during this
desperate season of bank liquidation. The main implication of the peak oil story
is that we won’t be able to generate the kind of economic growth that defined
our way of life for decades because the primary energy resources needed for it
will be contracting.
Just as global oil production peaked, our economy evolved into a morbid
hypertrophy, and the chief manifestation of it was the suburban sprawl-building
fiesta that has now climaxed in the real estate bust. By the early 21st century,
when so much American manufacturing had been swapped out to Asia, there was no
business left except sprawl-building — a manifold tragedy which wrecked the
banks that financed it, and left the ordinary people mortgaged to it with
That economy is now in its death throes. The "normality" it represents to
so many Americans is gone and can’t be brought back, no matter how wistfully we
watch it recede. Even so, it was obviously not good for the country. The terrain
of North America has been left scarred by unlovable objects and baleful
futureless vistas that, from now on, will shed whatever pecuniary value they
once had. It represents the physical counterpart to the financial mess that has
been left to the young generations to clean up — and the job will take a very
We have to, so to speak, get to place mentally where we can face the kinds
of change that are now necessary and unavoidable. We’re not there yet. It’s not
clear whether the elected new national leadership knows just how severe the
required changes will really be. Surely the public would be shocked to grasp
what’s in store. Probably the worst thing we can do now would be to mount a
campaign to stay where we are, lost in raptures of happy motoring and
The economy we’re evolving into will be un-global, necessarily local and
regional, and austere. It won’t support even our current population. This being
the case, the political fallout is also liable to be severe. For one thing,
we’ll have to put aside our sentimental fantasies about immigration. This is
almost impossible to imagine, since that narrative is especially potent among
the Democratic Party members who are coming in to run things. A tough
immigration policy is exactly the kind of difficult change we have to face. This
is no longer the 19th century. The narrative has to change.
The new narrative has to be about a managed contraction — and by "managed"
I mean a way that does not produce civil violence, starvation, and public health
disasters. One of the telltale signs to look for will be whether the Obama
administration bandies around the word "growth." If you hear them use it, it
will indicate that they don’t understand the kind of change we face.
It is hugely ironic that the US automobile industry is collapsing at this
very moment, and the ongoing debate about whether to "rescue" it or not is an
obvious kabuki theater exercise because this industry is hopeless. It is headed
into bankruptcy with one hundred percent certainty. The only thing in question
is whether the news of its death will spoil the Christmas of those who draw a
paycheck from it, or those whose hopes for an easy retirement are vested in it.
But American political-economy being very Santa Claus oriented for recent
generations, the gesture will be made. A single leaky little lifeboat will be
lowered and the chiefs of the Big Three will be invited to go for a brief little
row, and then they will sink, glug, glug, glug, while the rusty old Titanic of
the car industry slides diagonally into the deep behind them, against a
sickening greenish-orange sunset backdrop of the morbid economy.
A key concept of the economy to come is that size matters — everything
organized at the giant scale will suffer dysfunction and failure. Giant
companies, giant governments, giant institutions will all get into trouble.
This, unfortunately, doesn’t bode so well for the Obama team and it is salient
reason why they must not mount a campaign to keep things the way they are and
support enterprises that have to be let go, including many of the government’s
own operations. The best thing Mr. Obama can do is act as a wise counselor
companion-in-chief to a people who now have to leave a lot behind in order to
move forward into a plausible future. He seems well-suited to this task in
sensibility and intelligence. The task will surely include a degree of pretense
that he is holding some familiar things together and propping up some
touchstones of the comfortable life. But the truth is we are all going to the
same unfamiliar new territory.
The economy we’re moving into will have to be one of real work, producing
real things of value, at a scale consistent with energy resource reality. I’m
convinced that farming will come much closer to the center of economic life, as
the death of petro-agribusiness makes food production a matter of life and death
in America — as opposed to the disaster of metabolic entertainment it is now.
Reorganizing the landscape itself for this finer-scaled new type of farming is a
task fraught with political peril (land ownership questions being historically
one of the main reasons that societies fall into revolution). The public is
completely unprepared for this kind of change. We still think that "the path to
success" is based on getting a college degree certifying people for a lifetime
of sitting in an office cubicle. This is so far from the approaching reality
that it will be eventually viewed as a sick joke — like those old 1912
lithographs of mega-cities with Zeppelins plying the air between Everest-size
The crucial element in the transformation underway will be emotion. The
American experience for a few generations has produced an adult population with
very childish instincts, increasingly worse each decade. For instance, the
desperate power fantasies among the younger tattooed lumpenproles — those with
next-to-zero real economic power — suggest a certain unappetizing playing-out
of resource competition when the supply of Cheez Doodles and Pepsi starts to
dwindle. But even the heretofore gainfully employed middle classes are pretty
lost in fantasies at least of comfort an convenience. For years now, I have
wondered how their sense of grievance and resentment will be expressed when the
supermarket shelves run bare and the cardboard signs get taped over the local
gas pump and the cable TV gets cut off for non-payment. You wonder, to put it
bluntly, how far gone we really are.
Here we go again.
Peak Oil is a geological constraint. It’s not a problem because there is no solution. It’s a constraint. Markets are not directly coupled to geological phenomina. They can be manipulated. Actors in a market are not always rational. Oil prices can drop for reasons unrelated to supply. In fact the current drop in oil prices from the recent historic high is consistent with the "bumpy plateau" concept where prices fluctuate wildly until the surplus production is finally wrung out of the system. Get your head around the concept that the real signal is the halfway point and that the data is precise only to a very limited extent. Be patient. In five years or less, we’ll be off the bumpy plateau and into what might be described as a monotonic decline. That means a decline with no respite.
And this nonsense about nuclear power as the energy messiah is just wishful thinking. Fissile ores are declining in quality just like other ores for copper, iron, gold, you name it. Then we’ll talk about the time lag between an order for a nuclear plant and its delivery, the available capital during an economic contraction, and the fact that nuclear power plants are not made with nuclear energy. This puts severe limits on the scaleability over time. Yes, we could order thousands of nuclear plants, but when would they come on line? Decades away from now? In the mean time, we’ll be off the bumpy plateau and down the backside of Hubbert’s Peak. With the resulting compounding of the economic contraction, who will be able to buy all this nuclear power? Don’t forget that the market for all this nuclear energy could evaporate long before a sizeable portion of these new plants come on line. This same scaling problem appllies to other "alternative" energies, too.
In December 1970 oil production peaked in the US. THAT was the signal to do something and do it now. But, nothing happened. The reality is that there is no profit to be made in solving the Peak Oil problem. No corporation stepped forward with the big plan to keep the lights on and the cars rolling. Don’t think for a moment that the peak in US production escaped notice. The underlying issue is that there is no way to profit from it.
Go ahead and dream your little dream of a nuclear powered future. If you’re putting your faith in nuclear, hydrocarbons, used french fry oil, you’ll starve to death long before any of it comes to fruition. It’s time to grow up and face the music. We’re facing a die-back of monstrous porportions. Major portions of the infrastructure are going to fail. Most UnitedStatesians are not prepared. The transition has started. The longer you cling to nuclear fantasies, the less likely you and yours will be in the gene pool.
Have a nice day.
Peak Oil is a geological constraint. It’s not a problem because there
is no solution. It’s a constraint. Markets are not directly coupled
to geological phenomina.
You can’t put a timeline on it. I heard this stuff as far back as the Arab Embargo. Fact is, the drop in oil has made alternatives less competitive or non-competitive. You’ll have to wait a couple more decades at least. This is real conservation forced by the market. Voluntary conservation counts for nothing.
Some important facts to keep in mind about the feasibility of nuclear power:
The mean age of the 439 nuclear reactors in the world is 23 years. The
"life expectancy" of these reactors is 40 years. That means we’d need
a large number of nuclear reactors built in the next 15 years just to maintain the same number we have now, not to mention adding capacity.
– According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (a pro-nuclear industry group) we can optimistically expect to have no more than four to eight new plants by 2016.
If those plants are working to schedule, within budget estimates,
without licensing difficulties, and with continued public policy
support (all of which is far from certain), only then would a new wave
of construction begin.
According to the Nuclear Power Joint Fact Finding Report issued in 2007
by the Keystone Center, we would need approximately 700 GWe of new net nuclear
capacity by the 2050s in order to offset the decline of fossil fuels.
This would require, on average,the construction of fourteen 1,000-megawatt-electric
(MWe) plants each year. However, before 2050 it would also be
necessary to replace the retiring nuclear capacity (approximately 370
GWe) which would require construction of an additional 7.4 1,000 MWe reactors each year. Thus we would need to build a total of 21 MWe new 1,000 MWe plants each year to successfully offset the decline of fossil fuels. This is not going to happen.
The best-case estimate of the NEI (previous bullet point) was adding
4-8 reactors in the next six years, for an average of approximately one
To meet the new demand for nuclear electricity we would also have to
substantially expand fuel-cycle facilities (uranium mines, mills,
enrichment plants, fuel fabrication plants and nuclear waste
repositories). Roughly that would include 11-22 new large enrichment plants (compared to 17 existing),18 fuel fabrication plants (compared to 24 existing), and 10 nuclear
waste repositories the size of the statutory capacity of Yucca
Mountain. (Statutory capacity is used because the Yucca Mountain
project has been stalled and no new alternatives have been proposed.)
could go on but I hope the point is clear. Transitioning to a new
source of energy isn’t a simple matter of waving a magic wand and
watching it happen. It requires trillions of dollars of
investments, decades of planning, preparation and construction, huge
amounts of fossil fuel and a tremendous level of political will.
And here’s what Chris M. had to say on the subject in a recent comment:
I am still patiently awaiting word on how those will actually be
deployed. And I don’t mean in a thought-piece in Scientific American.
I mean the real world where concerns over fissile material are real and
where lag times, resources, and capital concerns are factored into
To my knowledge there have been two actual breeder reactors built –
SuperPhoenix in France and a test plant in Japan. Both are now more or
less decommissioned due to numerous accidents and a failure to
demonstrate the sort of unlimited power that they were hoped to
My goal for this site is to have good, solid, fact-driven debates
that conform to reality and make liberal use of numbers and knowns.
So in the case of breeder reactors I think we’ve heard quite enough
about how great they are and are ready for the next level of that
Please take the time to add up a few numbers (like Switters has done for nuclear).
- How many will be needed?
- How much do they cost?
- How will the security issues be handled?
- Where will the fissile material come from? Who will control it?
- What’s the build-out schedule (how many need to be built per year)?
- Who will do the building? How many skilled workers do they have?
we are now moving to an electric society, what sorts of changes to our
transportation and electric infrastructure will be needed? How much
will this cost? How long will it take to get there?
In my case when I run these questions through my rough understanding of
how the world works I come up with answers like "$$$ trillions" and
Which means I see an energy dip in our future and then I wonder how
an economy based on perpetual growth gets through that period with
enough gas in the tank to build out all these super-duper, massively
capital intensive projects.