back to article Academics kick off nuclear power war of words

The anti-nuclear movement has fired an opening shot in the UK energy-policy debate, ahead of expected Parliamentary announcements from the Brown government this week. The Nuclear Consultation Working Group, a small gathering of academics and activists, last week issued a report arguing that Britain should not build any nuclear …

COMMENTS

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Joke

Wow...

They played the terrorism card...

Well I'm going to do it too... Nuclear power stations and fuel are ?heavily? guarded and secure environments.

If we use renewable energy sources, this would lead to them being abundant, leading to them being difficult to defend, leading to vulnerability to attack, hence the terrorists will blow up all our power generating turbines. oh noes!

I think the Royal society for the *prevention* of birds might have something to say about the meat mincers too.

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Black Helicopters

Fast Breeder Reactor

What's the big issue with fast breeder reactors and WMDs.

You can make one in your backyard with smoker detectors, gas lanterns, lithium batteries, old clocks and pitchblende

http://www.dangerouslaboratories.org/radscout.html

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Anonymous Coward

405TWh UK consumption

According to the DTI we consumed 405 tera watt hours of electricity last year.

http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/statistics/source/electricity/page18527.html

According to this report, the best European renewables is Germany

"Germany as of October 2003 had 13,512 MW of wind power installed (40% of the global total). It also had approximately 350MW of photovoltaics installed (second only to Japan)."

About 14GW, assuming it's 50% availability (night time no solar, still winds no wind power), thats 61 tera watt hours per year. So we'll be pushed to even meet the 15% and 20% renewables targets even if we can match Germany and there's no growth in demand.

I don't see it, as the oil runs out we'll need to make hydrogen, so I'd expect a big jump in demand pretty soon (like 2020). So I don't see how we could achieve what they are suggesting.

Nuclear sucks, but not as much as being cold and hungry sitting in the dark does.

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wind turbines

Before we go nuts building these monstrosities all over the place, how about we get some mileage out of the ones we have? There are two sites in my area, and there are never more than a third of the turbines working when I drive past.

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Flame

Base load

I'll take some of what these guys are smoking.

What do we do for power on still, freezing, winters' nights? Rely on the 10% of power generation that can come from tidal barrages? Or burn the world's food stocks?

Of course we've become used to the idea of needing base load backup; it's an inescapable fact.

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Todal Barrages = Ecological devastation

Can these guys really be serious?

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Unhappy

Motley crew

"Other members of the Group include a former head of Greenpeace International, the former environment correspondent of the Guardian and academics from a variety of backgrounds: two geographers, a zoologist, a chemist, an archaeologist, a biologist, a mathematician and several social and political scientists."

Well that says it all really... a Gurniad journo and a bunch of wonks doesn't bode well for impartiality and clear thinking. Perhaps they should concentrate on Nintendo bashing or other such things that aren't going to affect my chances of being warm on a winter's night.

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@Base load

"still, freezing, winters' nights" - you're forgetting "and between tides". That equates to absolutely *zero* natural energy sources at certain times!

Natural sources are only suitable if we can build enough pumped hydro-storage stations like Dinorwig to cover base load and take the energy when it's available. But Dinorwig is 1,320MW (just read the web page :-) so we'd need a heck of a lot of them.

On the other hand note that there's only been 2 nuclear accidents *ever* so nuclear is pretty safe. Also, create a UK export industry in power-plant grade Uranium so them-thar bad guys don't need to build their own fast-breeders.

Wins all round...

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Hmm, incompatible?

"Elliott goes further, saying that significant amounts of renewables and nuclear cannot coexist on the same power grid, owing to "operational conflicts"."

So electricity from nuclear sources is incompatible with electricity from renewable sources... Strange that, I thought there was only one kind of electron.

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Silver badge
Thumb Down

FX: grinding of axes

Even the most fervent supporters of renewable energy recognise that it requires a base generating capacity sufficient to power the country on days when the wind doesn't blow. If you've bought into the anthropogenic global warming pseudo-religion, then this base load must be generated by non-CO2 emitting means and with current technology that means nuclear.

The notion that terrorists could somehow break into a nuclear power plant, walk off with some fuel rods and build a "crude" nuclear weapon is a fantasy tale to frighten children. If terrorists want a nuke, it would be far easier and cheaper to get their hands on a real weapon (say from the former SU or Pakistan).

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Anonymous Coward

Germany

Also we have to note that Germany has slightly more land to build "renewable" energy sources. I think they should be called renewable cash sources for the guys getting the maintenance contracts on these things.

The only solution to cut carbon is to kill say... 75% of the Global population. It'll save all the shortage problems we have, reduce the need for energy and leave us clear for the future.

The other solution is to keep on going as we are and reach a point where we have new clean sources of power.

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Boffin

Engineers

A wonderful group of academics. Where are the electrical engineers in that group? Surely they have some that agree with them. No disrespect to the zoologist but are they really qualified to discuss power generation and requirements for the UK?

To be perfectly honest the use of renewable energy sources isn't a mature enough solution for large scale, reliable, power generation in the scale required to supply the UK. Yes there are examples around the world of large scale hydro-electric plants that would be ideal, if only we had the space and appropriate sites for them.

I'd love to see the end of nuclear reactors in the UK, however, until we have built, tested and verified the supply of renewable sources in sufficient scale then we need nuclear to meet our energy needs without burning all the coal and gas we can find.

As a short term solution we more or less need to build more nuclear reactors. Long term, perhaps we will mange with renewables.

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Linux

As read in a science magasine

While waiting for the missus to try clothes at a store, I found myself reading Quebec Science. Now this is a rather respectable (if small scale) scientific mag. In it, they made a wonderfull suggestion. Innertia wheels. Basicaly, use wind turbines to make electricity, use the surplus to make a few hundred innertia wheels (siting in vacuum chambers on magnetic berrings) turn. No wind, but need power? Generate it from those wheels.

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Can we stop with the Hydrogen fantasy please?

Fine, nuclear may be a solution for electricity, but anyone that thinks we'll have a functional hydrogen-based economy in time for the run out of oil is living in fantasy land. Be ready for pain people, and a lot of it.

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Alert

New Nuclear Reactors For The UK: Is This Really A Good Idea?

The Oil Drum ran an article last week asking this question. The author concluded no but there followed a lengthy and detailed debate:

http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3450

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Gold badge

Re: 405TWh UK consumption

"According to the DTI we consumed 405 tera watt hours of electricity last year."

And electricity accounts for just a quarter of the nation's energy consumption.

The true demand for carbon-neutral energy is about 4 times what these guys are talking about. Their report suggests that we could replace about half of our current electricity generating capacity with renewables. That's great guys! Just the remaining 85% to go then.

Fortunately, a hundred-fold increase in nuclear capacity accompanied by a ten-fold increase in electricity distribution capacity is probably just about achievable by 2050 if we start now. Unlike (say) solar, we don't have to wait for a technological breakthrough to make it possible.

Alternatively, we could just fuck the planet. I wonder which the politicians will jump for.

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Sam

And sixthly

They haven't even mentioned pebble reactors.

Mmm, shiny thing..

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Stop

@Ian Rogers

"there's only been 2 nuclear accidents *ever*"

I think not:

Windscale,UK,1957 (pile fire, radiation released in the form of uranium particles)

Three Mile Island,USA, 1979 (design flaws caused reactor to fail catastrophically, no significant release)

Chernobyl, USSR, 1986 (many reasons for this one... lots, and lots of radiation released in the form of isotope particles)

Idaho Falls (SL-1), USA, 1961 (maintenance fault, a truly gruesome event where one operator was left pinned by a moderator rod through his chest to the ceiling of the containment vessel)

Tokaimura, Japan, 1999 (operator error in fuel plant, several hundred people affected by strong neutron and gamma release from accidental criticality)

Goiânia, Brazil, 1987 (abandoned medical radiation source stolen and handled in unsafe manner, several killed, maimed or injured)

That's just a small number of the most obvious ones, several which are quite fascinating in a macabre sort of way especially if you're interested in human error.

Graeme

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Stop

405TWh UK consumption response

You are saying that if the UK can match a 2003 Germany we can generate 15%? Wow! That would be amazing. We have a far better wind resource so anything Germany can do the UK can beat significantly.

However your numbers are well off - the activity factor for wind is more like 25% and solar at this latitude more like 15% (3.5 peak sun hours per day).

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Nuclear power without breeders: impossible

Its been estimated that there's only about 40 years supply of high quality uranium ore at present comsumption. So, if the UK and other countries commit to nuclear as a replacement for coal base load the available uranium won't even last out the lives of those new reactors.

Low grade ore isn't the answer: the energy that goes into extracting and refining it exceeds the energy it contains.

So, a nuclear future will be a fast breeder reactor powered future regardless whether you like that idea or not. Welcome to the real world

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Go

slack tide conditions

Slack tide conditions occur four times a day for about 8 hours total at any particular place. But not at the same time for all places, is the point. There's about a 5 hour difference between the Thames and the Wash, for example; a relatively tiny distance around this island.

Careful placement of tidal power systems could provide continuous coverage easily.

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@Greem

Nice try, but only two of those on your list resulted in radioactive material being released to the environment as a result of power generation - and nobody's proposing building Soviet-style or 50s technology nuclear plants. What's beyond doubt is that orders of magnitude more radioactive material has been released from coal-fired plants than from nuclear, as a result of trace amounts of radioisotopes that are contained in coal.

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fast breeders - slow breeders

Just to add to the debate.

There is a demonstrated technology called a Molten Salt Reactor that can safely produce the high temperatures needed to make hydrogen and can breed its own fuel from abundant Thorium. It produces far less long term radioactive waste and can actually "burn" much of the actinide waste it produces. Fuel can be reprocessed on site using a proven, non-solvent based technology called pyroprocessing.

A small scale version, complete with prototype pyroprocessing technology, was built and operated for years in the US in the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, the technology lost out to the better politically positioned Fast Breeder Reactor. One reason might have been that the Fast Breeder produces Plutonium that could be used to make bombs, which still looked like a good idea to the military at that time. The MSR breeds U233, an excellent "fuel" that emits hard gamma radiation. It's very difficult to hide and tends to kill anyone not using good safety practices. The U233 would never need to leave the reactor site, since it is consumed as the fissile "fuel" that powers the reactor.

Search on MSR and thorium for more info.

Craig

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Fallacies & fantacies dressed for the ball.

PV Solar power is a fantacy. Nuclear power is a dangerous fallacy.

Sea or land located, Equator based, solar kettles for steam raising and H2 generation for carbon fuel displacement could be viable in the near term with a bit of R and D investment by governments and incentivised industry.

Wave and tidal power can readily solve base load electricity generation needs if sufficient investment is made both in them and in storage of excess energy in rotating inertia, compressed gas and H2 storage. I'd rather the birds and fishes get used to a change in the tidal patterns round our coast than grow 2 heads from nuclear contamination.

If we need pollution free energy then there is a big hot orb up there that served the planet very well before humanity came along. If it doesn't put enough energy into the planet for us to survive then we are not going to do so cheaply and easily with carbon or nuclear in the long run.

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Anonymous Coward

France generates 430 TWh by nukes

"Sea or land located, Equator based, solar kettles for steam raising and H2 generation for carbon fuel displacement could be viable in the near term with a bit of R and D investment by governments and incentivised industry."

Again I have my doubts, 1kw/m2 for solar max, so 46 GW is 46 million square meters of solar capture no? Thats 100% efficiency, at the equator, just for the UK with full sunlight 24 hours. It sounds a bit much, 46 million 1x1m mirrors just for the UK alone?

I don't know what the European numbers are, but lets say 500 million 1x1m sized mirrors for Europe doesn't sound feasible to me. Even if we could make and install 1000 mirrors a day is still 1300 years to build it.

On the other hand France generates 430 terra watt hours of electricity NOW by nuclear power, more than we consume in total, and if they can do it, I don't see the problem with us doing it.

I think the alternate energy people are really not facing reality here.

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Anonymous Coward

More on thorium

The other thing about thorium reactors is you can shut them down before Xmas, and take them to bits in the New Year. And if you're scared of "tourists" you can build them entirely in a hole in a ground - try doing that to a windmill.

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Um, geothermal folks?

Hydro power -- both conventional river dams and tidal based -- have dramatic ecological impacts that render them unacceptable.

Coal, Oil, and other fossil fuels have the current screamers over global warming, and even if that's nowhere near as siginificant as portrayed they still have serious pollution issues with much more specific science behind them like acid rain and mercury emmissions. More over they can represent a tremendous balance of trade issue -- some 20% of the U.S. trade deficit currently goes to energy imports from outside of North America. I'd assume Britain, like the U.S., would benefit from keeping a like sum of money ashore with local investments and good paying jobs instead of building a palace for a middle eastern sheik.

Wind will not be tolerated at the scale that would be necessary. To completely displace other forms of electric generation for my state (Connecticut -- pop. 3 Million in 5,000 sq. miles), displace fossil fuels for heating, and displace fossil fuels for trips under 40 miles / day would take something like 10 to 20 thousand 100 Meter high turbines. In a state that has caniptions over cell phone towers, and is paying hundreds of millions of dollars extra to install a new 40 mile long electric transmission line underground because the people near it didn't want the visual pollution of it on the skyline. Plus the ecological impacts of all those spinning blades, and if you put them out to see of burying electric transmission cables on the sea floor.

Solar thermal for electric generation is not practical in northern climes. Solar photovoltaic has grave concerns about it's abiltity to scale up to truly revolutionary size -- even if they can get the costs low enough to compete with wind, they probably can't physically make enough PV cells to make it practical.

Nuclear is the proven technology with the smallest environmental footprint. It should be pursued immediately -- for environmental, economic, and geo-political reasons.

However, deep-well Geothermal probably offers the best long term solution. We currently drill average oil wells 10-15,000 feet and go up to 20,000'. 20,000 feet will start to produce, in average places, superheated steam which can be used in a closed-loop system to drive electric turbines 24x7x365 without regard to weather. Hmmm, can you say synergies between oil well drilers and geothermal? It has a fairly small foot print as many wells can be drilled from one site (going laterally as well as down), and will be more tolerable then nuclear in urban areas -- providing electricity and steam for heating in immediate vicinity of the concentrated loads of urban cores.

In my own nation, I'd like to see Nuclear with an eventual transition to Geothermal as the main source of energy. Transportation for freight shifted to an electrified, high-speed rail network. And cars that are battery hybrids, charging off the grid for 40 miles / day of range, and as the batteries get low kicking in a compressed natural gas powered generator (no need to mess around with that hydrogen stuff if you don't want to). Which also means after the big ice storm knocks out the electric grid, you plug your car into the house to keep running the electric heat :)

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accidents argument is sad

There are more industrial accidents than that in a year in all the coal plants, which spew enormous amounts of radiation into the air.

How about thorium reactors. I hear we have a few thousand years worth of supply for those.

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Pirate

Population is the main problem.

AC -> "The only solution to cut carbon is to kill say... 75% of the Global population. It'll save all the shortage problems we have, reduce the need for energy and leave us clear for the future."

Well that's what H2H bird flu is supposed to do, ain't it? Nature may save our undeserving collective necks yet!

It isn't like we need a 6-billion-plus gene pool other than for local religious+political leaders to shout "I control more people than you" at eachother. And their weak-minded-inability to come up with any plans for non-population-growth-driven economics.

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Anonymous Coward

Window turbines sound more plausible but still unrealistic

Doing the calculation for wind power,

The small 1MW ones, forget it, we'd need hundreds of thousands of them, but I've read about much bigger ones (230m, about 1 and half blackpool towers) , that can generate 5Mw, and one of those near Hamburg that's generated 17GWhs a year, so we'd need 24000 of those.

That sounds much more plausible, but again can you imagine 24000 blackpool tower sized windmills? I guess the best place for them would be the sea, but I don't know how we'd make the 24000 concrete platforms needed to support them, or find that much copper to transmit the power.

Lets check the concrete, "In 2002, Britain exported almost 260,000 tonnes of ready mixed concrete"

http://www.concretecentre.com/main.asp?page=653

2300kg/m3 density.

So a cubic meter of concrete is 2.3 tonnes, so say 100,000m3 annual production is available to make these (all UK exports of concrete are diverted to it). A tower 3mx3mx 150m = 1530 m3 of concrete. So 24000 wind turbines would need 369 years worth of concrete. Ignoring the foundations of course, and any sea platform if there was one.

I don't see how tidal could substitute for base load, surely it is on a lunar cycle not continuous. Wave power is just wind power in a different form, so I don't see how that can work any better than the turbines.

All of these numbers seem like insane mega construction projects to me. I just don't see how any of this is realistic.

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Silver badge

We're already relying on nuclear power

Except it's the nuclear power we import from France.

The DC link to the French has been running close to - if not at - capacity throughout the winter this year, and it's only going to get worse.

Without more generating capacity quickly, we really are going to have problems maintaining supplies in the UK without brownouts and rolling blackouts.

As to Dinorwig - that is a pumped-storage power station, not a generating plant.

It doesn't actually generate much (if any) electrical power itself - instead it buys in electricity during periods of low demand, and uses it to pump water up to the top of the mountain.

When the load required by the National Grid suddenly peaks, Dinorwig can spin up to max capacity in mere seconds. giving the coal-fired and nuclear baseload plants time to pick up speed, as they cannot respond quickly to changes in load.

Possible hydroelectric capacity in the UK is not great - there will be a new plant in Scotland quite soon, but it will be the only new *large* hydro plant that is possible in the UK.

The UK desperately needs more generating capacity - and the only ways we can do it are to build more coal-fired stations, or more nuclear stations.

Take your pick.

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Solar, Hydro and Chemical

I have no idea where some of the commentators have gotten their numbers from; they don't seem to tally up to the journals or reports I've read.

A mix of solar, wind, tidal, geothermal with either/and chemical pump or inertia based over flow storage is the only real way for the long term. Nuclear is a stop gap and a very expensive one, the cost of building the plants is quite high and the release of CO2 is high enough to warrant rethinking.

It would be better if this government had any real sense of working with people and public works, or in fact coming up with any sort of workable polices that make long term sense instead of railroading the opposition with what ever they think is best.

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Anonymous Coward

Nuclear makes sense.

Nuclear makes more sense than any other technology for the long term -- all of the other renewable sources are simply not efficient enough for generating the amount of power that society demands. And with a combination of Thorium & Fast Breeder reactors, we shouldn't have to worry about running out for hundreds (if not thousands) of years -- which should give us time to come up with something better (i.e. fusion).

Additionally, if managed properly, the danger from nuclear is miniscule. And as far as that goes, even nuclear waste is not THAT dangerous -- radiation is a fact of life and we are all exposed to it ALL the time from the sun, radon gas, etc. The amount of uranium dumped into the environment annually by one single coal fired plant due to trace materials exceeds that released by any any nuclear plant over it's entire life cycle!

As far as disposing of nuclear waste goes, it's just not that difficult. Pick one spot and put it there -- yes, that ONE spot will be dangerously contaminated and uninhabitable, but the rest of the world will not be. Our current fossil fuel consumption effectively contaminates the ENTIRE world rather than just one spot!

If Russia would think about it, they are sitting on a gold mine -- they just need to volunteer Chernobyl as the nuclear waste dump for the entire world. It's already effectively screwed over for the next 10,000 years -- so basically nothing we can do to it can really make it any worse!

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Black Helicopters

Viable plant design

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_4S

As a former Nuclear Technician in the US Submarine force, I have some keen interest in this area. Although breeder reactors would be a given for any large scale/long time line nuclear power system, it can be technically and scientifically viable.

My only concern about commercial, or even government controlled nuclear power is the "bean counters", not the terrorists.

Bean Counter #1--Do we really need to spend that money this year testing the safety of that device since it is "brand new" ?

Bean Counter #2--Probably not, we can get another year out of it since it is of good design

three years later

Bean Counter #1--"We didn't have the money to do the testing as directed by manufacturer and Bean Counter #2 made the final decision anyway, sorry I forgot to tell anyone that we missed the safety tests now that the plant is dead and poisonous!"

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Boffin

Security of Supply

The BBC Panorama programme did a very interesting programme about our reliance on the gas pipeline from the FSU, details at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/6113218.stm

This programme if I remember rightly set a scenario where we get a dark, cold and still winter and the gas supply is cut, we would be in dire straits, because of the shortage of gas the gas powered power stations would be turned off resulting in even less electricity. The conclusion? We need a diversity of supply in order to ensure a security of supply so that means we need a mix of hydro, wind turbine, wave power, EON's low CO2 emitting coal fired and nuclear!

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Jim
Pirate

@Chris Miller

"there's only been 2 nuclear accidents *ever*"

"Nice try, but only two of those on your list resulted in radioactive material being released to the environment as a result of power generation"

Nice try but your rebuttal is based in a much tighter set of constraints than the original post. Don't know about you but to me a nuclear accident is a nuclear accident whether directly as the result of power generation or not.

Irrespective of that I would contend that there have been at least 4 major reactor accidents - Windscale, TMI, Chernobyl & Monju.

With regard to the list of accidents, the THREE MILE ISLAND was caused by a lot of things being flawed, eg instrument design, operator training, owner ethics. www.tmia.com has a load of interesting info regarding this accident (even when you ignore the obvious bias). The following contests the official line that there was negligible release of radiation during the incident.

"In August 1996, a study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, authored by Dr. Steven Wing, reviewed the Susser-Hatch study (Columbia University; 1991). Dr. Wing reported that "...there were reports of erythema, hair loss, vomiting, and pet death near TMI at the time of the accident... Accident doses were positively associated with cancer incidence. Associations were largest for leukemia, intermediate for lung cancer, and smallest for all cancers combined... Inhaled radionuclide contamination could differentially impact lung cancers, which show a clear dose-related increase."

Findings from the re-analysis of cancer incidence around Three Mile Island is consistent with the theory that radiation from the accident increased cancer in areas that were in the path of radioactive plumes. "This cancer increase would not be expected to occur over a short time in the general population unless doses were far higher than estimated by industry and government authorities," Wing said. "Rather, our findings support the allegation that the people who reported rashes, hair loss, vomiting and pet deaths after the accident were exposed to high level radiation and not only suffering from emotional stress.” "

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Boffin

Re: Nuclear power without breeders: impossible

Actually not true. Fusion power looks like it might be FINALLY not too far away having been 40 years away for the past 50 years or so. The ITER project in France may well become the first serious power producing fusion reactor. If we can get fusion working then fuel for power generation becomes effectively limitless (100,000 years of deuterium in the oceans at current power useage levels IIRC). Its also safe in that no long lived isotopes are created (decades rather than millenia) and any containment failure immediately cools the plasma and stops the reaction. It will also, interestingly, be the only form of energy not ultimately from a star as all fossil, renewable and nuclear fission plants are.

Of course we haven't actually built a working one yet...but it might actually be less than 40 years away now!

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Anonymous Coward

@Solar, Hydro and Chemical

"I have no idea where some of the commentators have gotten their numbers from; they don't seem to tally up to the journals or reports I've read."

Martin, look, I read this report, I wanted numbers to check, but it only had percentages and goes straight into scare mongering and politics. So I go see the numbers myself.

The 405 TerraWatt Hours comes from the DTI link quoted.

405TWh/365 days/24 hours = 46 GWatts average load.

Solar, radiation is approx 1Kw per m2 normal to the sun. (a little higher perhaps 1.3 according to Wikipedia, but then I ignored NIGHTIME I skewed the numbers to strongly favour solar)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variation

i.e. 46 million 1m2 mirrors minimum to make 46 GW.

Turbine size I got from a search, this page is typical of the results (they plan to install 5):

http://www.reuk.co.uk/Worlds-Largest-Wind-Turbine-Generator.htm

The concrete export figure I got from concretecentre the site I quoted.

The density of concrete I got from a search [density concrete kgs]

I can't even crunch the numbers for geothermal, we pump water into deep wells, and pump out oil now, it does not spurt out as energy rich steam, or hot oil, it takes a load of energy to pump it out! So I can only imagine that geothermal works where the crust is thin? Iceland perhaps?

Hydroelectric, maybe, we have lots of rain, so lets take a quick look.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Gorges_Dam

Chinese mega dam project generates 22.5GW, impressive that would be half our current electricity demand. Catchment area is 1,000,000 km2. Damn, the whole of great Britain only covers 1/5th that area

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_British_Isles_by_area

There seems to be a huge gap between what the renewables can deliver and what we need. We should do the renewables, every one of them, but I'm pushed to see how we can even deliver 20% of current demand that way.

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Silver badge

@Jim

"a nuclear accident is a nuclear accident whether directly as the result of power generation or not."

I was responding to the 'scary' list posted by Greem, who seems to think the number of nuclear accidents was very large. I suppose it could be argued that a dropped spanner hitting someone on the head at a nuclear plant is a 'nuclear accident', but that isn't what the general public understands by it - their view is much closer to the Chernobyl model!

So we're down to four nuclear accidents where there was (at least) the possibiliity of significant environmental contamination. Of these:

Windscale was a first-generation experimental reactor, comparing it with modern generating plant (as installed, for example, in France) is like comparing the safety features of a Model-T with a Mondeo.

TMI arguably demonstrated that the containment design features intended to handle a 'worst conceivable accident' actually worked as advertised. If any ill effects were caused, they were sufficiently slight to make them difficult to distinguish from emotional stress.

Chernobyl was the combination of a flawed design (no longer built) and (drastically) flawed operating procedures.

Monju was an experimental (sodium-cooled) Japanese design and again the accident had minimal external environmental impact.

Sounds to me like a pretty good safety record Against the possibility of a nuclear accident must be balanced the global warming impact (if you buy into the full 'litany' this is many millions of deaths) of continuing to burn fossil fuels or the impact of our power network going dark (if we try to rely solely on renewables). I know which looks to me like the smaller risk.

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Flame

Fusion

I think I read that Fusion reactors have a negligible (but significant in risk terms) chance of bringing about the end of the universe, due to the extreme conditions created.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

John

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Go

Windscale

Windscale 1957 was not a power generation accident. That was just a reactor, making fuel for bombs, no power generation at all. I dunno whether this means it should or shouldn't be included in this count, but IMHO it's not relevant to discussion of nuclear electricity generation, since that was not the goal of that project. And it was early and experimental - should we count the death of Mme Curie as a nuclear accident too?

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Happy

Nuclear is just so old hat

I think the key thing you all seem to be forgetting here is that Nuclear is just not cool. It's too 1950's B-movie, too much men in white coats staring at vast panels of dials in big white rooms.

Renewable are much more fun - more gadgetty. I can't buy a nuclear reactor for my house, but I can buy a wind turbine, or some solar panels, or a micro heat-and-power plant, or a bio-fuel heating system, or a ground source heat pump system, or anything - it's much better. Now if I could just figure out how to get a tidal system going I'll be set. Big water butt maybe?

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Paris Hilton

Interestingly Flawed

Interesting one this, so rather than rant lets ask ourselves a few sensible questions. For the sake of argument I'm going to be deliberately UK centric as that's what I know most about. Here goes:

1/ Will we be happy with power limits / brown outs? NO!

2/ Is it consistently sunny here? NO

3/ Is it consistently windy ? NO

4/ Always lots of waves? NO

5/ Never a slack tide? NO

Hmm, that kind of sidelides the conventional wisdom of renewables as the entire power source and doing nothing isn't an option. OK lets press on:

6/ Do we have unlimited (100+yrs) Oil / Gas / Coal for our own use? NO, NO, Coal Maybe Yes

7/ OK then, are we happy with the pollution from Coal? NO

8/ Can we mine our own Uranium? NO

9/ Can we fast breed our own fuel with what we already have or can buy in the next few years? YES

10/ Can we produce our own Thorium for that type of reactor? Probably YES

Hmm, that kind of narrows it down to breeder reactors or Thorium for now.

OK more questions, lets be more imaginative now:

11/ Molten Salt Reactors, workable? certainly looks like a YES (thanks Craig etc)

12/ Fusion, via Tokomac style devices? Maybe in 10-40 years!

13/ Fusion, alternatives? Maybe, this one IEC, appears worthy of pursuing:

http://www.emc2fusion.org/RsltsNFnlConclFmIEFPolyPgm120602.pdf

14/ Geothermal? Maybe it looks promising, (needs trial plants - maybe in economically non viable deep wells.)

So to conclude in the next 5 years we'll have to start building breeder reactors or else accept that the lights can start to go out soon.

However, people don't "like" this technology so we should simultaneously invest far more heaviliy in Thorium reactors, MSR's, IEC fusion & Geothermal (we already spend loads on Tokomac). Conventional "renewable" stuff is just posturing and window dressing if you live in the UK

Just my 2c, or 3 or 4.... now flame me, or vote for me :-) !

PH icon as she knows all about everything!

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Build them Nukes High!

North Sea Oil will not economically viable within the next 30 years, we've virtually no gas left and will have to rely on Russian imports in the near future, they have already cut off supplies before now to their neighbours, do we really want to be totaly reliant on the ruskies for energy!?

If we opt for the 'environmentalists' solution (a solution that doesnt really exist) we won't see a skyline but for windmills! We have no viable solution other than nuclear, so building a many as we can is ok by me!

Get on with it!

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Geothermal / Base Load

People talk about the environmental effects of Wind/Water etc, and then state how great geothermal is, without thinking about the implications of mass use of geothermal. The earth's core currently is insulated fairly well. As you start punching holes down towards the core and harnessing this heat, you remove the insulation and cool the core. While in small scale this may not have an effect for millions of years, on large scale it could be much faster. Every action has a consequence, unfortunatetly most people tend to be biased towards what they think is the best idea, without weighing all the possible effects (be it nuclear, fossil fuels, or natural).

"We have become used to the idea that we need 'base load' supply ... However, as more and more renewables like wind, wave and tidal come on the grid system ... complimentary plants can be run up and down to compensate for the variable availability of energy from these sources."

In theory scaling up/down plants is a great idea. If you don't need the power just scale back or shut down the plant until you do need it. In practice you have a staff of people that you have to either pay to do nothing while the plant is down for a month where renewables are working great (upping the basic cost of energy), or you have to lay off that staff and hope they're still around when you need to scale the plant back up (potentially causing blackouts or saftey hazards with understaffed plants).

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Cooling the core?

Jason sed:

"... As you start punching holes down towards the core and harnessing this heat, you remove the insulation and cool the core. While in small scale this may not have an effect for millions of years, on large scale it could be much faster"

Not really no. Using geothermal will have a cooling effect upon the earth's core of course (the laws of thermodynamics being what they are), but the quantities of energy represented by the core are so vast in relation to what we'd be taking that we *really* don't have to worry about it.

Locally cooling the 'hot rock' fields we drill into might be a obstacle to making geothermal a truly sustainable solution in the mid to long term. I'm by no means an expert on this sort of thing so, other than noting it's existance I can't give you chapter and verse on this as a potential drawback.

Britain isn't well endowed with low hanging geothermal fruit however, so we'd probably be better off buying geothermal energy from Iceland or something. We *do* have lots of wind resource (plus a fair amount of tidal potential) - so our failure to build turbines on the scale of, say, Germany or Spain is mystifying to me (or it would be, if I weren't deeply cynical about the capabilities and priorities of our governing classes).

Having said that I'm extremely doubtful that wind et al would be enough so, as an 'anything-but-coal' kinda guy, I'm for building wind turbines *and* tidal barrages *and* nukes *and*... well, you get the picture.

Regards

Luke

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