In a newspaper Op Ed last year, I wrote the following:
Imagine someone handed you a lump of silvery metal the size of a golf ball. They said you might wish to put on some plastic gloves to hold it, although that would not be necessary if you washed your hands afterwards. You look down at the metal resting on your palm. It feels heavy, because it’s very dense. You are then told that this metal golf ball can provide all the energy you will ever use in your life. That includes running your lights, computer, air conditioner, TV, electric car, synthetic jet fuel. Everything. Using 1 kilogram of uranium (or thorium, take your pick). That is what modern nuclear power offers. An incredibly concentrated source of energy, producing a tiny amount of waste.
I’d like to explain this statement here in a little more detail.
In earlier IFR Fad posts, I’ve explained that 1 tonne of depleted uranium (or you can also use mined uranium or used nuclear fuel) has sufficient energy to run a 1,000 megawatt electrical power station for 1 year — if run through a fast spectrum reactor. (I’ve also explained, in more detail, some key differences between the fast reactor and light water reactor fuel cycles). What does this mean in personal terms? Time to crunch some numbers…
The Australian population of 21 million currently consumes about 250,000 GWh of electricity per year. That works out to be 12 MWh per person, or 33 kWh per day. (This is similar to the figure David Mackay worked out for the British). A 1 GWe IFR (integral fast reactor nuclear power plant), running at 90% capacity factor, would produce 7,884 GWh of electricity per year. This would, therefore, be enough to satisfy the current electricity needs of 657,000 Australians. Or, to put it another way, one Aussie would require 1.5 grams of uranium per year. If they lived to be 85 years old and consumed electricity at that rate throughout their life, they’d require 130 g of uranium.