James Hansen said:
"Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy."
Instead of being some necessary evil, I see GenIV nukes as the SABRE that will kill coal. They are Safe, Affordable, Burn Bombs and Waste, are Reliable 24 hours a day, and offer an Enormous hit of power to an energy-hungry world.
New reactor cores are self-cooling. If Homer Simpson falls asleep and doesn't see a Tsunami approaching to wipe out the exterior backup cooling systems, don't panic! Gen4 reactors don't *need* exterior backup cooling systems. While they use better mechanical cooling systems than those at Fukishima, the real genius is that modern reactor cores themselves are the final safety feature. If a Gen4 Integral Fast Reactor core starts to overheat — and all the other powerful cooling systems fail for some horrible set of unfortunate events — something new will happen. The fuel rods will start to expand. As they swell, they start to leak neutrons. This "Neutron Leak" shuts down the nuclear reaction. In Gen4 reactors, the reactor core itself is the final safety switch. We've had this technology since 1986, so the real scandal is that Japan's nukes were not retrofitted with this or other passive safety features.
Banning nuclear power because of Fukishima is like banning aviation because of the Hindenberg. Fukishima's nukes were 40-year-old Gen2 reactors. We are now up to Gen3.5 and will soon have Gen4 reactors.
Not only this, but nuclear power has the *best* safety record of *any* major power provider. Hydro dams have burst and wiped out villages, coal kills thousands of people a year through lung and throat cancers and disorders (let alone all the mining accidents around the world — especially in China!) and service men can even fall off the top of wind turbines. People can even die falling off the roof when installing Solar PV. The take home message is *all* power sources contain risks, and yet nuclear power simply has the *best* safety record on a death per terrawatt basis. They can also be built underground for additional safety.
No one knows exactly what Integral Fast Reactors will finally cost, but here's a few thoughts. Older reactors tend to be one-off projects with all those individual project costs. Think of the difference between a hand-crafted Rolls Royce and a production-line Hyundai. Gen IV Nukes are going modular. They're going up on the production-line, which will crash the costs. Even today's Gen3.5 AP1000 can be put on the assembly line to bring down the costs exponentially. Some estimate tomorrow's Gen4 nukes might just be competitive with coal. And that's today's coal, not tomorrow's post-peak coal economy.
3. BURNS BOMBS AND WASTE
Integral Fast Reactors burn nuclear waste and warheads. Today's nukes only burn 0.06% of the energy available in uranium. Tomorrow's Gen4 reactors will burn the rest.
Nuclear waste is no longer the problem but the SOLUTION to climate change and peak oil. We could run the world for 500 years on the nuclear waste we have today. Indeed, there is so much uranium and thorium on land and especially in our oceans that we could — hypothetically — power the world until the sun expands and wipes out life on earth!
Now let's think about bombs.
* IFR’s don’t produce the right material for bombs. The plutonium bred from IFR’s is mixed in with too much other junk, and requires a lot of processing. Basically, there are easier more direct routes to make a bomb if you really wanted to!
* The countries that produce the most Co2 and therefore most urgently need clean nuclear power are also the countries that *already* have nuclear bombs! 93% of the world’s Co2 could be prevented if we limited nuclear power to those countries that already have the bomb.
* The nuclear-bomb genie is already out of the bottle. There is no use protesting against nuclear power because of nuclear bombs. All you would be doing is protesting against the intensity of nuclear power spreading in those countries that *already* have bombs, and are already the biggest Co2 polluters. So by all means campaign against nuclear bombs, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
* If a country gets significantly advanced in their nuclear processing they could divert some material into making bombs, but that kind of reprocessing is so particular it stands out to the authorities.
* Bombs have to be dealt with politically, whereas IFR's can technically prevent uranium ending up as the right 'flavour' of plutonium for bombs. IFR's create an economic incentive to BURN bombs as fuel!
* Banning nuclear power could INCREASE the risk of nuclear war as climate change and peak oil shake our energy starved world order. We *need* clean nuclear power to prevent some of the risks ahead.
* 10% of American electricity currently comes from old Soviet bombs!
Nukes provide baseload power that is reliable 24/7. Wind and solar cannot do this at anywhere near the same price, because of their intermittent and unreliable power supply. Everything wind and solar can do, nukes can do cheaper, quicker, and more reliably. Nukes will be *vastly* cheaper than the *real* engineering costs of trying to build a renewable grid.
* Renewables are NOT baseload, but require expensive storage systems like pumped hydro-power dams. Why do this when nukes can provide 24 hour power? Reliable power both day and night is going to become far more important in the future as peak oil hits and the world moves to electric cars that charge overnight. We are close to peak oil, and yet playing games with intermittent power sources? I don't think that's a wise move at all.
* wind and solar are not really abundant where most of our consumers are. They require huge super-grids to move the power to the consumers, which adds billions to any large scaled renewables project. Why do it when nukes can pretty-much be plugged in to replace today's coal plants in today's grid?
* Why risk going down this route when Denmark cannot demonstrate baseload wind power? After decades of building wind power they only get 20% of their energy from wind, but *still* mainly rely on coal. They emit 650g of Co2 per kWh. Their wind power also relies on other countries having stable baseload coal and nuclear power. They buy in extra when their wind dies off — which is a regular event. In comparison, France went down the nuclear pathway. After 22 years of building nukes, France is down to 90g Co2 per kWh! They have a reliable electricity supply that they sell to other wind-dependent countries when their wind stops.
For more facts and figures on the sad reality of renewables, please read the following links at the blog of Professor Barry Brook. Barry is the head of the climate change department at Adelaide university.
5. ENORMOUS volumes of reliable power.
One of the key issues that convinced me that RELIABLE baseload power was a key issue is the way pro-renewable, anti-nuclear advocates like Dr Mark Diesendorf tend to underplay peak oil. One of Mark's key assumptions is that we don't really *need* reliable night time power! He thinks that with some efficiency programs it won't be that big a deal if the juice stops flowing at night. To which I cough, "Erhem, peak oil?" What's going to power all our electric cars at night? For while I'm a fan of cities planned around moving people, not cars, and walking distance New Urbanism and Ecocities especially, we need time. It's going to take a few generations to rezone today's car-dependent suburban sprawl into tomorrow's Ecocities and Village-Towns. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiS7nJ7hS00 for 5 minutes on Village Towns).
As oil declines we are going to need vastly more electricity to produce hydrogen and synthetic fuels and power all those electric cars and trains, trams, and trolley buses. Peak oil is the Achilles heel of renewable advocates. We are simply facing too many risks at once to gamble our energy security on unreliable and weak renewables. We need a quick hit of clean RELIABLE and enormous volumes of CLEAN power. Renewables simply fail to meet these requirements.
Lastly, my plea. In the wake of Fukishima and the anti-nuke backlash I *wish* renewables could do the job. They can't. Not yet, not at any price we're willing to pay. It's time to face facts. Aren't we gambling with our energy and climate future, banking on some kid inventing the super-cheap super-battery that will finally make renewables work, when we already have the tools to do the job?
“Brave New Climate + Q&A integral fast reactors”