IFR FaD 4 – a lifetime of energy in the palm of your hand

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.

Australia’s total energy consumption is about 5,500 petajoules per year (1 PJ = 278 GWh). This includes electricity, non-electrical residential and commercial energy, transport fuels, mining, manufacturing and construction. What if this entire energy consumption had to be met by electricity? It would require the production of 1,530,000 GWh per year, or 6 times Australia’s current electricity generation. Referring back to the figure above, this would require 9 g of uranium per person per year, or ~0.8 kg of uranium for an 85 to 90 year lifespan.

The figure of 0.8 kg of uranium is a little less than the 1 kg figure I cited in the quote at the top of this post, but given the margins of uncertainty we’re dealing with here, it’s close enough. Without getting into complications, and despite being fully cognizant of the first law of thermodynamics, not all energy is ‘created’ equal. Electricity is a particularly convenient and flexible way to package energy, and could, in the future, more efficiently substitute for less efficient energy uses (including electric vehicles displacing oil combustion, electrically driven heat pumps replacing gas, etc.). In short, it’s not that difficult to justify a more conservative figure of 1 kg rather than the 20% smaller value calculated above, especially if population growth, the need to adapt to climate change (e.g. desalination), etc., is also considered. But really, whether it’s 500g, 1 kg or even 2 kg of uranium (or thorium) consumed over a lifetime, it’s still a tiny amount of fuel (and waste).



Out of interest, I’d also like to share some discussions I had last year on this topic, with George Stanford, Tom Blees, Steve Kirsch and Yoon Chang (all members of SCGI — bios here). The figures/units may differ a little from the above, but the bottom line remains the same.


The ping-pong ball (or half-ball) is the volume of uranium that was fissioned to release the lifetime’s worth of energy. It weighs a kilogram or less. The resulting fission products necessarily weigh the same (minus the 0.09% of the original mass that was converted to energy in accordance with E=mc^2). The fission-product elements all have a density much less than that of uranium, so their volume (if frozen into a solid ball and not radioactive) would necessarily be bigger than a ping-pong ball, before any vitrification. But that knowledge really has no practical utility. In an underground repository (e.g. Yucca Mtn), the distance between the tunnels (called “drifts”) and between the waste canisters (whether spent fuel or fission products) has to be such that the temperature in the soil between the drifts does not get too high over the years.

The activity of the fission products is dominated for the first few hundred years by just two isotopes — Cs-137 and Sr-90 (each with a half life of about 30 years). Just how the fission products will be disposed of is to be determined. But their heat will have to be managed somehow, which could mean storage for a while in surface facilities with forced-air cooling (although the sensible thing to do with them is to vitrify them and drop them into the silt at the bottom of the ocean). That’s why a calculation of the fission products’ “volume” has no useful meaning, and reveals nothing about the ease or difficulty of disposal.


What’s the volume of the waste without the glass? Shouldn’t it be smaller than a ping pong ball?


Yoon and I ran some figures one time for total energy consumed per person, for everything: heating and cooling, electricity, transport, etc. After I crunched the numbers I came to the conclusion that an entire person’s energy needs could be met by a chunk of depleted uranium the size of half a ping-pong ball. The waste product would be larger because you embed a little bit of it in a lot of glass, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it might take up half a liter, of which most would be glass.

If I remember correctly, the amount of fission products slightly exceeds the size of the DU, because the smaller atoms into which the DU/Pu has split will be greater in number, albeit smaller, and require more space because as we all know, most of the volume of an atom is space. So you can’t pack twice as many light atoms into the same space as a given number of heavy atoms. As George said, it’s heat, not space, that’s the issue. So you have to have enough glass to keep the heat below the level that will melt glass, I would think, requiring a substantial amount of glass.


The density of metallic uranium is 19 g/cc. Thus the volume of 1 kg is 52.6 cc. That’s a sphere with a diameter of 4.6 cm (1.8 inches) — slightly bigger than a ping-pong ball (4.0 cm). The volume is proportional to what you use for the per-person average energy consumption. The “waste volume” will be larger — maybe about the size of a soda can. But remember, the waste volume calculated that way is irrelevant — for disposal on land, it’s the heat generation that has to be managed, so the volume of the disposal facility is orders of magnitude larger than a soda can.

In the U.S., the energy per person per year is given as 8.25 TOE (tonnes of oil equivalent). If a lifetime is 85 years, that’s 700 TOE. One TOE = 11,630 kilowatt hours, for a lifetime total of 8 million kW-hr. As a rule of thumb, fissioning one gram of heavy metal (uranium) releases 1 MWth-day, or roughly 8 MWe-h = 8,000 kWe-h. So 8M/8k = 1,000 grams — one kg of fissions — which, of course, means one kilogram of fission products. If the average density of the waste form were 2 g/cc, then the volume would be 0.5 liter. Ball-park calculation only, assuming all energy comes from nuclear-generated electricity.

Note that that’s total US energy consumption divided by the number of people (not counting calories derived from food). That’ makes it 850 grams per 85-year lifetime instead of 1 kg. Still in the soda-can range for the fission products (a very crude approximation at best, since the waste form is not defined). Note that burning 700 tonnes of oil produces about 2,000 tonnes of CO2, for a waste-weight ratio >2 million to one (for whatever that’s worth).


When Yoon and I did this, we also used figures for total national energy consumption divided by the number of people in the country, so the energy that goes into food and items imported minus the energy that goes into exports gives you a little shortfall (balance of trade and all that). But I think I’ve allowed enough of a cushion in these old calculation I did back then:

A cube of DU sufficient for an American lifetime would be about 0.92 on a side. Figuring a little extra, at .95 on a side, give a volume of .9 cu. in. If in the form of a sphere, the diameter of the sphere would be about 1.2 in, or 30.5 mm, considerably smaller than a ping pong ball. (A ping pong ball is 40 mm, or 1.57″ in diameter.) The volume of a ping pong ball, then, is 2 cu in, more than enough for the lifetime of two people (it would weigh a little over a pound).

Here are Yoon’s numbers that he wrote me about on July 31, ’07, upon which I based the above:

Yoon: Regarding your question, this is my rough estimate. EIA reports that the energy consumption in 2006 was about 100 guads (1quad=10 to 15th power Btu). This divided by 300 million population and multiplied by 70 years of lifetime gives 23 trillion Btu. One gram of uranium fission (direct or after converted into fissionable isotopes) yields one MW-day energy, or 86.4 million Btu. Therefore about 260 gram (9 ounces) of uranium required per person’s lifetime. The uranium density is 19 g/cc, so 260 gram is about 14 cc in volume or somewhat less than one cubic inch. The above calculation assumes all thermal energy equivalent. All electric energy society will require more energy to account for the efficiency loss in converting the electric energy back to thermal energy needs.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Yoon isn’t planning to live as long as George. Then you see that I failed to account for the electric to thermal conversion he mentioned in the last paragraph for space heating. Nevertheless, I should think it’ll still be way less than a ping-pong ball per person, even assuming we all live as long as George plans to, and then some.


If I take your 260 grams, multiply it by 85/70 for lifetime estimate, and by a factor of 3 to account for efficiency of conversion to electricity, I get 947 grams — just shy of the1 kg I came up with. Our calculations therefore agree very well, when using the same assumptions. By the way, I said “not counting calories derived from food.” Energy required to make the food is of course an important part of the picture. I do hope to make it to 85 — that’s only 4 years — but the envelope is indeed closing in.

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  1. In the spirit of this post let me add another factoid befor the antis bring it up:

    It takes 9 kWh/kg U to get 1 kilogram of Uranium. At 45 Gigawatt days per ton of Uranium the amount of power from one kilogram of uranium is 360,000 kWh. This is with the current generations of reactor.


  2. Also I believe it should be pointed out that nuclear waste is solid, robust, self-contained, relatively small in volume and gets less toxic with time. Compared with other widely dispersed toxic materials like mercury, lead and PCBs, which have been responsible for large scale health problems, nuclear waste is pretty good, as waste goes.

    Claims that geological sequestration is a technically challenging problem is just untrue. More than 1.5 billion years ago a nuclear fission reaction took place off and on – for hundreds of thousands of years in an underground uranium deposit in Oklo, Gabon, Africa. These natural reactors generated fission products very similar to those produced by modern nuclear power plants that have lying in Mother Nature’s repository for about a billion years. This provides remarkable evidence of the effectiveness of this method for the disposition of radioactive waste.

    It is also arrogance of the worst sort to claim that we must design these vaults to last 10,000 years given that long before that our decedents will likely consider our best efforts the equivalent to the burial mounds of painted savages.


  3. There’s some talk of “solar farms” here in Ontario. We’re stuck with a lot of government money we have to get rid of somehow, and if it turns out that more natural gas gets burned after these farms go into “service”, and government ends up with additional natural gas income that exceeds what it spends on the farms … well, who ever said getting rid of money was easy?

    But aren’t all farms solar farms? They are, of course. We’re all solar-powered. The world has a ~600-gigawatt solar power sector. Maybe a terawatt; I know people are supposed to dissipate about 100 W, but if I try it, all I can think about is how I can eat another 4 MJ per day.

    So we don’t have to wonder how relatively safe or unsafe a terawatt of solar power would be: we just look at the environmental and human impact of the existing terawatt-or-a-little-less industry.

    I’m not sure that’s on topic. What I meant to figure was this: in a terrain of typical density, 2500 kg/m^3, and typical uranium content, 2.5 mass parts per million, the 6.25 grams uranium per cubic metre, used in Gen II reactors, gives 3.75 GJ. If the terrain is hard rock, pulverizing the cubic metre takes ~0.7 GJ, reasonably in line with the fraction of fossil fuels’ energy that must be spent on their extraction, and 3.75 GJ times carbon’s per-gigajoule oxygen requirement, 81.13 kg, is 304 kg, the amount in 45400 moles of air, and at sea level and 25°C that much air is 1110 cubic metres.

    So in round figures, the uranium in one volume of ground can save 1000 volumes of air from having its O2 converted to CO2. If the ground is a 20-percent uranium ore, the volume ratio increases to eight million.

    (How fire can be domesticated)


  4. It all seems factual and sensible stuff in my inexpert opinion but just try telling it to the anti nuke crowd.

    Emotion beats rationality any day and and we haven’t even started on the greed and self interest of the coal industry.


  5. Hi, as this post is more about the fuel cycle maybe my last question would be more appropriate here?

    I’m busy telling a greenie mate why I think IFR’s are an option and I find this on the wiki… is this true?

    “”Others counter that actinide removal would offer few if any significant advantages for disposal in a geologic repository because some of the fission product nuclides of greatest concern in scenarios such as groundwater leaching actually have longer half-lives than the radioactive actinides. The concern about a waste cannot end after hundreds of years even if all the actinides are removed when the remaining waste contains radioactive fission products such as technetium-99, iodine-129, and cesium-135 with the halflives between 213,000 and 15.7 million years” [6]”

    The quote seems to come from Page 30 on this Google books record.


  6. Well the easiest answer is to point out there is an inverse relationship between half-life and radiative flux. Thus the longer it takes a specific mass to decay, the less radiation it actually emits as a function of time, and the less danger it is to living things, This is because it would take an exceptionally long exposure for the body to get near the ~0.7 mSv/a that we get from background from an isotope with a half-life of +15 million years.


  7. OK, so in other words there *are* super-long lived wastes that have to be buried forever?

    What % are these of the ‘tithe’ of the reprocessed today’s waste? If I’m speaking to greenies, it would be useful if I could have a ratio. EG: “There are hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive waste that we’ve either got to waste billions storing, or we can start seeing as fuel for the next half a millennium, until something better comes along. IFR’s burn the waste down to a tenth the mass, and most of the waste will only remain dangerous for 300 years. **However, “1%” of this will remain radioactive for a long time, but is only at low levels of radiation you’d have to sleep next to at night for decades to be affected by.**”

    (After actual medical info and the actual % of waste that remains dangerous.)

    Does anyone have further info on these?


  8. Yes, but I’m trying to estimate the quantities of these longer lived nasties. If it’s only say a fraction of the 10% of the waste that I thought would be pretty much safe within 300 years, then it’s not really that big a concern.

    But if it is most of the 10% of the waste that is left over, I have to change my nuclear summary page because I am currently presenting IFR’s as mainly SOLVING the nuclear waste issue within 300 years of reprocessing. If this is not the complete story, then many IFR pages I’ve read are dishonest and need rewriting, including my own!


  9. I’ve been studying that very topic. The differences between a typical reactor-produced actinide such as uranium-236 and a typical fission fragment of similar lifetime such as iodine-129 — respectively 22.65 million and 33.79 million years, says my paper Chart of the Nuclides — are, I think, twofold.

    One, actinide species tend to be produced in greater numbers per fission. So when six 235-U nuclei capture six thermal neutrons, approximately five of them fission and one fails to do so, and the effective yield per fission is 20 percent. For 235-U yielding 129-I the chart says 0.75 percent. (The difference might be less in an IFR, since 235-U nuclei are less likely to be duds when the neutrons they capture are fast.)

    Two, when iodine-129 atoms disintegrate, they emit electrons whose energy averages 40.9 on the scale where the alpha particles from 236-U average 4494. Neither can get through any kind of shielding, but if one becquerel of each takes up residence inside you, 99 percent of the damage will be done by the actinide.

    A becquerel being enough atoms that one of them disintegrates in an average second, for lifetimes of tens of megayears, hundreds of teraseconds, that’s a lot of atoms. If you were critically deficient in iodine and the only iodine you could get was iodine-129, I’m guessing you would be wise to take it; my guess would be that doctors without equipment to detect weak beta-rays from throats would not be able to distinguish people who had living on such iodine for a lifetime from people who had been able to get the stable, natural 127 version.

    So your informants are making much of the fact that taking actinides out of spent fuel and putting them back to become fission fragment pairs is not a total solution to the very long-lived radioactive byproduct problem, just, in this instance, a 99-plus-percent one.

    For any very long-lived byproduct, it is helpful that just as they take long to fade away, so also they take long to build up. If a fission power establishment is making one atom per second of strontium-90, within a century you’ll have close to one strontium-90 decay per second in their waste caches … looks like 0.92 per second. If they are making one atom per second of 129-I, the same 0.92-Bq activity will take 54 million years to build up.

    (How fire can be domesticated)


  10. So do I take it from the above post Barry that Australia would only need 32ish reactors?

    From above, if 1 GW reactor services 657,000 people, then for 21,000,000 people you would need 32 reactors, yes. This is average load over a year – more would be needed, or other forms of peaking power, to account for demand that exceeds the average. This is for current electricity use only. If you were to use nuclear electricity to replace all energy use, you’d need (conservatively – see above) 6 times this number, or 180 x 1 GW reactors. I suspect the reality is closer to 100 to 150 reactors for a zero-carbon Australia, depending on ultimate energy efficiency, degree of electricity substitution, etc.


  11. Yes, but I’m trying to estimate the quantities of these longer lived nasties. If it’s only say a fraction of the 10% of the waste that I thought would be pretty much safe within 300 years, then it’s not really that big a concern.

    The 7 significant long-lived fission products, and their % contribution to the total fission product yield, are described here. In total, they constitute 20% of the 10% of left over waste after the actinides are removed, or about 2% of LWR spent fuel. As other note, because of their long half-lives, they are not ‘hot’ and so easy to manage.

    With the removal of the actinides, the spent fuel, after 300 years, is less radioactive then the rocks around a place like Roxby Downs, and within 500 years it is less radioactive than ordinary granite rock that is used to make public buildings — this is incorporating the fact that trace amounts of these isotopes still exist within this material. So there is no valid concern over these, although there may be some desire to remove or deactivate the Tc-99 via neutron bombardment to transmute it to a stable isotope, due to its potential mobility in some anionic forms. Note that Tc-99 undergoes beta decay, so there are no hard gammas to be concerned about.


  12. Thanks for all your answers, but if anyone finds a more than back-of-the-envelope figure for the amount of long-lived waste, then I’d be more than happy to add it to my blog.
    @ Cowan
    just, in this instance, a 99-plus-percent one. Are you saying that we’d reduce today’s long-lived waste to just 1% of the mass?

    @ Barry
    6 times the energy to replace transport fuels and gas cooking and heating? Say it isn’t so!

    SCIAM had an article about converting the world to renewables and a key argument was efficient electric transport. Page 3 explains that by 2030 we’ll need 17TW energy. Click on the green electricity spark graphic, and a dialogue box comes up that says with energy efficient electric transport that would be cut back to 11.5 TW — less than today.

    So surely with peak oil looming and Better Place electric cars (with battery swap) being promoted by Ben Keneally, (Yes, the NSW Premier’s wife), surely the world will just have to move to more fast rail and electric cars… and save a bunch of energy.

    (I understand we can manufacture synfuels, but at what energy cost? Isn’t manufacturing fuels from nuclear energy amazingly inefficient with a really poor ERoEI, much worse than an electric battery? Surely that would only be for some air travel and maybe agriculture?)



  13. 6 times the energy to replace transport fuels and gas cooking and heating? Say it isn’t so!

    Well, that’s to replace all energy use – that is, all of the components shown in the chart I’ve included with my post. And that’s 6 times the electricity, not energy.

    I hope it is less than that, due to enhanced efficiencies, in which case my estimate of 100 x 1 GW reactors required for Australia would be about right — that would be a 3.5 times increase, rather than 6. Take your pick.

    If we did get it down to only 3.5 times current electricity usage, you’d only require less than 500 g (1/2 a kilogram) of uranium in your lifetime — or a golf-ball cut in two.


  14. All rocks contain traces of uranium. Radiation from the granite used in Grand Central Station in Manhattan exceeds the American regulators limits for nuclear-plant operation. Grand Central Station couldn’t get a license as a nuclear plant.

    Typically a coal-fired power plant emits about 3.3 times the amount of radioactive material into the environment that a nuclear plant does per MWh. This is due to the fact that coal contains radioactive material, mostly uranium and thorium, at about 4 parts per million. Now this does not seem like a lot until the quantity of coal a 1000 megawatt plant will burn in a day, around 11,000 tons, is considered. This works out to be roughly 40 kilos of radioactive material (88 pounds) each day. About 10% of this will be released to the atmosphere and the rest will end up in the ash pile and subject to weathering. If proper scrubbers are in place as little as 1% could reach the atmosphere, but this is still rather significant given the tonnage of coal burned for electric generation. Additionally there is the radon present in coal that is directly vented to the atmosphere by mining operations and the smaller amounts of more dangerous radioactive elements like radioactive potassium or phosphorous.

    In 2000, according to a study, radioactive discharges from the non-nuclear industries were estimated to contribute more than 90% of the European population’s total exposure from discharges into the marine region covered by the Ospar (Oslo &Paris) Convention. Oil and gas operations contributed 35.3% and phosphates, 55.4%.

    This compared with the contribution to the collective dose rate from discharges of 3.8% from British Nuclear Fuels plc’s (BNFL) Sellafield reprocessing complex, 1.7% from Cogema’s La Hague facilities, 3.3% from weapons fallout, 0.2% from Chernobyl fallout, and 0.1% from nuclear power stations.

    With numbers like this it is preposterous to talk about nuclear waste remaining toxic for tens of thousands of years.


  15. Douglas Wise, on 22 April 2010 at 16.14 Said:

    Anyone been researching the health benefits to coal miners and coal plant operators of radiation hormesis!?

    To start off with coal gets a free pass just about everywhere on the issue of radiation and radioisotopes throughout the industry. Thus these are not monitored in situ.

    Also employees working directly with coal at any level costs the worker about 1500 days of life expectancy lost when taken as a world average. These sorts of numbers would swamp any positive effect from radiation that might be there, making it impossible to observe.


  16. There are many innovations “beyond the IFR” that have the potential to offer safer and cheaper nuclear power without high pressure steam or liquid sodium coolant.

    Imagine LFTRs (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) that are small enough to be mass produced in factories and then delivered to site on a single truck. As such reactors could be located much nearer the consumers, transmission losses would be reduced. Unsightly high voltage lines would no longer be needed.

    For the higher Actinides that IFRs and LFTRs cannot consume there is still the possibility of sub-critical nuclear reactors as proposed by Rubbia. Some interesting work on “GEM*STAR is under way (Virginia Tech and the ADNA Corporation):

    Click to access 091007_chang_virginia_tech.pdf

    The SNR (Spallation Neutron Source) at ORNL has already demonstrated that neutrons can be produced at a cost that makes sub-critical reactors viable for re-processing applications.


  17. Heat engines need high-pressure, hot something; not necessarily steam, but the high energy content will make whatever it is as dangerous as steam. Analogously, it is silly to want a fast riding horse that can’t kick.

    … smaller amounts of more dangerous radioactive elements like … phosphorous

    I don’t know what significant radioisotopes of “phosphorous” exist in coal, but of phosphorus there are none.

    Are you saying that we’d reduce today’s long-lived waste to just 1% of the mass?

    No, to significantly less than 1 percent of the radioactivity. If mass were what counted, one would fear a tonne of potassium more than a gram of cobalt-60.

    Or, as above said, iodine-dependent lifeforms such as us would erroneously be more afraid of having a full thyroid-load of pure iodine-129 than of having that organ’s iodine inventory be 99.999999 percent stable 127-I, 0.000001 percent 131-I. Maybe someone who knows could comment: wouldn’t iodine-129 be a perfectly good substitute for iodine-127, for what we need it for?

    Note that Tc-99 undergoes beta decay, so there are no hard gammas to be concerned about.

    That’s a non-sequitur. Cobalt-60 is beta-active. Absence of gamma emissions is, however, more likely when the beta-decay energy is small.

    (How fire can be domesticated)


  18. @Robert Smart: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/04/22/ifr-fad-4/#comment-57977

    (all comments below sourced to minutes 60-75 of the 75 min. video)

    Given Mackay’s reputation on BNC I was surprised that he failed to comment on the fraudulence of carbon capture and storage; came down neither for nor against abduction of thorium by “terrorists” as a likely real threat; did not address the implication of coronal ejections as in 1921 or 1859 (Carrington Event) for induction in high-voltage solar power transport lines from the Sahara to the EU in the Desertec scenario. It was however interesting that he rejects interconnectors as the solution for the problem of averaging out wind production over large geographical regions.


  19. You have all rightly pointed out that coal releases far more radiatioactive particles than nuclear power, and that nuclear power might be down at 3%. However, if these are long lived wastes that last millions of years, that point is moot for 3 reasons.
    1. Coal and phosphorus mining will eventually stop, when legislation or the resources run out. There won’t be anything to try and compare the nuclear industry to. It will be the main nuclear particle emitter.
    2. You’re proposing a massive increase in power generation from nuclear… 10 or 20 fold worldwide. That 3% (or whatever) starts to look larger.
    3. You’re proposing that nuclear power run the world for millions of years. Multiply these 2 together, and because the wastes are so long lived, you could have a real problem… unless GallopingCamel is onto a viable new method of burning even these (admittedly much smaller) quantities of longer-lived wastes?


  20. eclipsenow – First the type of rad waste produced by these two modes of generation are vastly different: coal aerosols material into the air and also creates a fine ash that is stored in the open; nuclear power plants produce solid waste that can be easily handled and controlled.

    Nuclear wastes are long lived it is true, but they do decay, the same cannot be said of pollutants like mercury and cadmium and other toxic metals that are released by burning coal – they last forever.

    “Nuclear waste” is a misnomer for an extremely valuable material made up of three components: a) partially used fuel that will be recycled in breeder reactors to generate more fuel in the very process of generating electricity; b) fission products worth billions of dollars, that will be recovered; and c) a small amount of material that has no further use. That material (about 2 pounds, produced from each persons’s lifetime’s worth of electricity), is in the form of a refractory ceramic, clad is stainless zirconium alloy, or other material that is fused into a hard glass. We know from tests with millennia-old glass objects, that even primative glasses are impervious to efforts to leach anything out of them. It is hard to see how this material could ever cause any harm to people or the environment. So, in real world terms, just what is this “nuclear waste problem” that we keep hearing needs to be solved?

    It’s hard to see why anyone was ever convinced that this was a problem, requiring a multi-billion dollar solution (except that one person’s wasted money is another’s bread and butter).


  21. You’re proposing that nuclear power run the world for millions of years. Multiply these 2 together, and because the wastes are so long lived, you could have a real problem…

    Not exactly. The “real problem” you have with something like iodine-129, if you have been running nuclear power for many millions of years, is that it has built up to its full potential equilibrium radioactivity, where nuclei are decaying as fast as they are produced. (Can greater buildup than that occur?)

    But this problem is, so to speak, significantly less real than the similar equilibrium buildup of much faster-decaying isotopes, e.g. iodine-131 or cesium-134, because they build up to their equilibrium activities in only weeks or years, and when they have done that, they produce more heat and radiation, and especially more gamma rays as above discussed, than iodine-129 will ever do.

    Also, I said nothing about coal. Nuclear energy and coal both deprive governments of revenue on much more expensive fuels, so although they are poles apart pollution-wise, that revenue buys them the same enemies.

    (How fire can be domesticated)


  22. @ DV8
    Nice reply… if it’s only 2 pounds per person per lifetime (when are American’s going metric? ;-) then that’s not so bad.

    Times billions of people over millions of years…. well, that’s getting a bit silly. Remember I’m the one into “Black Swans”… I’m not even sure if we’ll NEED fission in 50 years, let alone a million years. But until my “Black Swan” arrives, I’m not against nuclear power that burns the world’s old-generation depleted uranium waste down to manageable levels… not at all.


  23. Assuming a 100TW civilisation powered by breeders, and supposing all fission products to be stored for 10 million years, and guestimating a density for the FPs of 10 tonnes/m^3, 100 billion cubic meters, or 100 km^3 would suffice. This is the equivalent of an artificial canyon 1km wide and deep, and 100km long. Quite a hole in the ground, but we’d have 10 million years to dig it. I make that to be less than 30m^3 per day.

    Of course, we’ll no doubt sore the long term FPs far more compactly than that.


  24. eclipsenow – 2lbs – 5kg even times billions of people over millions of years is nothing compared to the mass of the other waste streams these people will produce. It is certainty less than any other usable forms of power.

    But what kill me is the pure hubris of those that use these long baseline arguments. To any culture that succeeds ours in even two thousand years, will look at us same way we look at the later Bronze Age. If they are impressed at all with our science and technology it will be to wonder how we managed to do it with such a primitive set of tools. They need protecting from us like we need protecting from the technology of the Romans.


  25. eclipsenow, on 23 April 2010 at 9.59 Said:

    “Oh, and we do need protecting from the technology of the Romans. Didn’t the Roman Empire emit something like 30 or 40% of the lead poisoning in Europe today?”

    That will need a reference


  26. To any culture that succeeds ours in even two thousand years, will look at us same way we look at the later Bronze Age. If they are impressed at all with our science and technology it will be to wonder how we managed to do it with such a primitive set of tools. They need protecting from us like we need protecting from the technology of the Romans.

    The assumption of reversion to pre-industrial barbarism seems to be inherent in many discussions concerning nuclear waste.


  27. @ Finrod
    We don’t know the future Finrod… we don’t know that we’re going to make it through “these troubled times” (as the politicians like to say). I was surprised that the Olduvai theory came up on this blog. Have you checked out that theory? Used to keep me awake at night, back when I thought it was pretty much ‘inevitable’. I’ve met up with a dad whose son committed suicide over peak oil etc, because this vulnerable 19 year old boy was exposed to too much Doomerism on some of the peaknik email lists. He was so sure it was inevitable he didn’t want to hang around and watch everyone he loved starve to death in the post-oil collapse, so he cycled up to the Blue Mountains, found his favourite tree in his favourite valley, and hung himself.

    There’s more on his story here.

    I can’t help but wonder if he’d had access to this blog, whether you guys would have helped him see that there might be hope, or whether your confrontation style would have put him off the data and confirmed you all as part of the ‘establishment’ in his cover-up conspiracy thinking?


  28. We don’t know the future Finrod… we don’t know that we’re going to make it through “these troubled times” (as the politicians like to say).

    I’m not saying that a collapse can’t happen. I can easily see scenarios developing where it is a distinct possiblity. I am saying that it’s not inevitable, and there are excellent reasons to believe that we have the resources and instruments to esteblish ourselves with style into the indefinate future. As to whether we have the will to avail ourselves of those instruments, that is an issue which is unfortunately still open.


  29. I didn’t see you do the calculation I think in terms of – how many 1GW reactors would it take to provide Australia’s energy needs.
    But from this:
    “Australia’s total energy consumption is about 5,500 petajoules per year (1 PJ = 278 GWh). This includes electricity, ”
    it’s 157GW installed capacity.
    To my mind that’s the number that needs to be addressed – to eliminate fossil fuels you need to install that much capacity at a minimum (a multiple, probably 5 times as much, if you use renewables only).
    How much does it cost to install that much? How long will it take?


  30. @ DV8
    I can’t find the original source, I think it was Geoffry Blainey’s “Short History of the World”.

    “Analysis of the Greenland ice core covering the period from 3000 to 500 years ago—the Greek, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance times—shows that lead is present at concentrations four times as great as natural values from about 2500 to 1700 years ago (500 B.C. to 300 A.D.). These results show that Greek and Roman lead and silver mining and smelting activities polluted the middle troposphere of the Northern Hemisphere on a hemispheric scale two millennia ago, long before the Industrial Revolution. Cumulative lead fallout to the Greenland Ice Sheet during these eight centuries was as high as 15 percent of that caused by the massive use of lead alkyl additives in gasoline since the 1930s. Pronounced lead pollution is also observed during Medieval and Renaissance times.”

    “Lead, a plentiful by-product of the ancient silver smelting process, was produced in the Roman Empire with an estimated peak production of 80,000 metric tons per year – a truly industrial scale.[1] The metal, along with other materials such as wood, clay, natural stone and Roman concrete, was used in the vast water supply network of the Romans for the manufacture of water pipes, particularly for urban plumbing.[2]”

    This link explains that while today we mine 3 million tons a year of lead, the Romans mined lead at 80 thousand tons a year… for the height of the whole Roman republic… what, nearly 500 years?

    I make that 40 million tons of mined lead, or roughly 12 years output at today’s level of lead use… 40 years of the lead mining just 60 years ago… and unlike them, we know lead has negative health consequences.

    Anyway, just making a quick point that Roman pollution was not insignificant, even if today we’re paving over, ploughing up, and polluting this planet in vastly greater quantities than even the Romans could have imagined.


  31. @ Finrod
    I’m not saying that a collapse can’t happen. I can easily see scenarios developing where it is a distinct possibility. I am saying that it’s not inevitable, and there are excellent reasons to believe that we have the resources and instruments to establish ourselves with style into the indefinite future. As to whether we have the will to avail ourselves of those instruments, that is an issue which is unfortunately still open.
    In this we are in complete agreement, and I have practically written this paragraph almost word for word in various doomer forums. The risks have to be taken seriously, but taking these risks as overwhelming proclamations of inevitable collapse turns the science of environmentalism and sustainability into a cult of doom.

    Lastly, and *completely* off topic but something I’ve been fascinated by ever since reading the Olduvai theory (and various Science Fiction works like “The Mote in God’s Eye” series), if we did nuke ourselves back to the Stone Age and there was a complete collapse, nuclear winter that reduced our grandchildren to scavengers hunting each other for food, etc…. and all very nasty indeed….

    ….do you agree with the Olduvai theory… that basically says without fossil fuels and concentrated ore bodies, that we would *never* be able to climb back up the industrial scale?


  32. eclipsenow, on 23 April 2010 at 10.33 Said:

    “Anyway, just making a quick point that Roman pollution was not insignificant, even if today we’re paving over, ploughing up, and polluting this planet in vastly greater quantities than even the Romans could have imagined.”

    That’s not the issue, the question is does the Roman contribution impact us now, and the answer is no.

    I’m not suggesting that this gives us licence to pollute, only that taking extraordinary and expensive measures is unnecessary


  33. eclipsenow, on 23 April 2010 at 10.39 — Over 50 years ago Harrison Brown wrote The Challenge of Man’s Future (1954), The Next Hundred Years (1957; with James Bonner and John Weir) which seemed to suggest your c onclusion.


  34. Lawrence, on 23 April 2010 at 11.23 — Here in the Pacific Northwest we have lots of hydro, a good backup for wind. The most current estimate for the cost of electrical power is
    (1) CCGTs including some carbon offset
    (2) Wind
    (3) NPP
    (4) Coal including some carbon offset
    from lowest to highest per kWh. Hydro can back up to 20% of the total peak load, but not more. After that, I suppose CCGTs can do the backup, but as soon as the wind turbines on order are installed, being just a few % of the total supply, that will be the end of it until the price of natgas goes up high enough to once again make wind the less expensive option, up to the 20% limit. T%his analysis of course has the regional speciality of lots of hydro.

    Yes, 200 GW is quantity. If big AP-1000s, that ‘s 200 of them. If little 45 MWe mini-reactors, that’s about 4445 of them; that’s quantity for sure.


  35. David, I like things simple. What would it cost to power the world with renewables or sustainables. That rules out fossil fuels.
    I don’t care about what the cost of things are now containing fossil fuels. For the reason that we can’t rely on fossil fuels, I want to know the costs of nuclear vs renewables alone.


  36. Yes, yes, I listen to my Rod Adams, I know about nuscale and all the rest of that stuff. I don’t much like it, other than it is better than renewables, in the short term. George Stanford has said we should not be relying on reactors that only work on U235, because it is running out, even at a half life of 700 million years.


  37. Lawrence, on 23 April 2010 at 11.48 — Its not that simple. For example, it might prove cost-effective to grow algae and convert to biogas to replace natgas for a CCGT. That’s renewable. But at the current and projected price for natgas in the USA that is currently not cost effective.

    In order to transition to an economy without fossil fuels, for some time to come all of use probably need to rely on natgas. Hopefuly some carbon offset scheme will be required.

    Renewables such as wind and to a lesser extent solar require some form of backup. The backup might be provided by some form of nuclear reactor which is designed to cycle instead of just baseload. I am under the impression that the Swedes and the French will sell you some, but I don’t know the price. In anycase, I think that Peter Lang has done rather convincingly that both wind and solar can be only bit players in Australia.

    I haven’t kept up with wave and tide generators, but I suspect that at least the latter requires no backup. So a certain amount of ocean power might be useful for those with the proper seacoasts.

    The answer is going to be a mixture; the mixture used varies regionally. Not simple minded (such as all nuclear) will prove the most cost effective (baring some breakthough, which is unlikely).


  38. In this post I raised the issue of whether the information on this forum would have given young Tas any hope, or whether the behaviour here would have just confirmed his preconceptions and not prevented his suicide. I think Lawrence’s behaviour above confirms the answer.


  39. David, you put no price on the renewables. I know why – it’s too expensive.
    Why talk about “it’s going to be a mix” if what you really mean is we can spend a lot of money to no effect?
    I’m tired of this.


  40. Lawrence, I guess the renewables fans point to articles like this one.
    (I’m agnostic until I see some more peer-reviewed energy organisations discussing all the issues, such as true ERoEI’s, life cycle analysis, discussions about vulnerabilities to rare-earths and other depleting ingredients, and all the usual ‘doomer’ questions that need addressing).



    Economics of Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas “Load Following” Plants. The relatively low annual use of a “Load Following” plant has traditionally favored power plants with low initial construction costs. Low construction costs are important when you don’t use it very much.

    A Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power plant today costs roughly $1,100/kW – $1,500/kW to build, one of the cheapest power plant options. However, unlike sunshine, natural gas isn’t free, so total generation costs (at $7/MMBtu gas) are likely to be around 11 cents/kWh for a new natural gas “Load Following” plant in the first year of operation. (WIth no specific “carbon penalty” for fossil fuel.)

    Costs for Solar Thermal plants are becoming known as several have already been completed. The Nevada One plant completed in 2007 was built for roughly $3,600/kW of capacity, using older trough technology with curved glass mirrors. With technology advancements, new proposals are now being estimated at lower costs. For instance, planned 20 MW plants in Algeria and Morrocco were recently estimated as costing only $2,500/kW to build.

    Since a Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas plant will not cost as much to build as two separate plants, these cost ranges imply total generation costs of a Hybrid Solar Thermal/Natural Gas “Load Following” plant may run approximately 13 cents/kWh (after today’s 30% Federal Tax Credit for solar, and assuming $7/MMBtu natural gas), in the first year of operation. Since roughly 2/3 of the Hybrid “Load Following” plant’s “fuel” is sunshine, the Solar Hybrid plant has a powerful hedge against future increases in fuel costs, including increases driven by “carbon penalties” on CO2 emissions.

    What happens when the 30% Solar Tax Credit expires in 2017? Solar Thermal companies argue that during this time mass production of the mirrors and other components of CSP plants will bring down costs. At the same time, fossil fuel prices and carbon penalties may increase.

    Possible Costs for Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas “Baseload” Plants. Operating the same plant as a “Baseload” plant can lower overall generation costs/kWh because the same capital cost is spread over more kWh output per year.

    A new natural gas power plant operated as a “Baseload” plant, for instance, may cost roughly 9 cents/kWh total generation costs, lower than when the same power plant is used only about half as much in “Load Following” mode.

    Operating a Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas plant as a “Baseload” plant will spread its total capital costs over more kWh’s per year, however the extra generation would come entirely from burning more natural gas. WIth the same assumptions as above but with more usage, a Hybrid Solar/Natural Gas might have total generation costs/kWh of roughly 10 cents/kWh (with no specific Carbon Penalty).

    Note the two choices (each seen as One Power Plant) are near parity in total generation costs, but the Solar Hybrid plant would have less exposure to long-term increases in fossil fuel prices and carbon penalties.


  41. Eclipsenow,

    ….do you agree with the Olduvai theory… that basically says without fossil fuels and concentrated ore bodies, that we would *never* be able to climb back up the industrial scale?

    Where do you think the concentrated ore bodies are going to go?


  42. Hi Peter,
    it sounds nuts but at just 2% growth pa, most of the concentrated ‘conventional’ mining sites for ALL metals will be exhausted within the lifetime of babies born today. See the links I quote at:

    I understand that resource extraction can grow with the mega-mining machines of today, but we are talking about enormous industrial mining equipment to access stuff at tiny parts-per-million… not what I’d call ‘concentrated ore bodies’. I can’t imagine how this kind of mining would occur in a post-industrial collapse society.

    Would they ‘mine’ with tweezers to get at the scattered iron particles? All the good steels and iron in today’s cities would presumably have been atomised in the holocaust that caused the collapse. Anyway, an interesting hypothesis to explore… but hopefully it won’t come to that.


  43. Perhaps Peter means that all that stuff which has been previously dug up is still around above ground, or just below it in the form of metal oxides of it rusts or corrodes away.


  44. Quite true Finrod, the metals don’t ever get ‘used up’, just chemically (not atomically) altered. The whole notion of peak metals is a really silly one though, as it totally ignores the role of price in determining when a reserve becomes a resource, and when a speculative resource becomes a proven resource etc. It can work for energy sources like oil because, as an energy generation source, it’s net value declines as the EROEI declines — to an eventual point where it’s cheaper to use some other substitute. This is, in reality, the most likely motivation for fast reactors — the point at which its recognised that its cheaper to pyroprocess than to mine.


  45. The Olduvai theory seems to completely disregard the existence of nuclear power. Duncan believes that our civilisation is inevitably doomed to decline back to preindustrial levels in a Malthusian catastrophe on the sole strength of a shortage of energy from fossil fuels. With nuclear power technology there is no lack of energy.


  46. All the good steels and iron in today’s cities would presumably have been atomised in the holocaust that caused the collapse.

    I didn’t take that bit into account. I still don’t buy it. If most of the cities are destroyed, most of the people will die pretty quickly. That will leave a greatly reduced population and most of the rural infrastruture, such as railways, power lines, farming equipment, mining equipment, highways, bridges and everything else.


  47. Lawrence:

    Why is anyone paying attention to eclipsenow? I’d really like to know.

    Because he comes up with humorous gems like this:

    SCIAM have a post that says global warming could increase volcanoes and earthquakes….


  48. @ Gordon,
    did you read the article?

    I scoffed at first, but then I read the rationale and it seems internally logical.

    Are you an expert in how plate tectonics might be affected by sea-levels rising?

    What about measuring the decreasing ice pressures on compressed magma chambers, which without the extra pressure of a km or so of ice might expand and blow?

    I just ran it by you guys to see if anyone more technical here had mates in geology… who might be able to comment on the peer-review status of these papers.


  49. @ Barry & Finrod
    Of course the metals don’t get ‘used up’. The Olduvai theory emerged from the question of whether or not society would ever be able to have a ‘2nd Industrial Revolution’ if we *did* push the button.

    There would be no concentrated ore bodies or fossil fuels to lift mankind up past the Middle Ages. You can’t build nuclear reactors from bush saws, kangaroo hides and a bit of twine.

    Because the theory had come up before on this blog I just asked to see if anyone had considered a post-collapse scenario where industrial civilisation manages to climb up out of the ashes… and how long such a journey might take. We might be able to dig up a library or 2 and have the knowledge, but not the raw materials.


  50. We should not get hung up on post nuclear holocaust depictions from fiction to make long-term predictions. The truth is that there will be a great deal left intact, even if most cities are hit. Recovery would be faster than you might imagine.

    In depth studies of this have been done for decades, by almost all governments and it turns out that with cities taken out of the picture, recovery of a country after a nuclear attack can be quite rapid.

    Many have wondered why there was not as much in the way of bomb-shelter building in the West during the Cold War, as there was in the other bloc. The grim facts are instructive.

    Any country can be divided into two parts. The first is the big cities, the industrial and population centres and the resource concentration they represent. Big cities got to be that way because they are in desirable locations, near good ports, river crossings or mountain passes. When the city goes, so does the locations.

    And then there is everywhere else. In effect the cities represent a big vulnerable collection of assets gathered into single spots. The other zones represent dispersed ranges of resources spread over large areas. This is a very important distinction. The relative value of the urban areas and the rest of the country depends on the nation and society involved. However one thing is constant, the support and supplies that the cities need to survive comes from the outside. Given time, the non-urban zones will rebuild the cities. Their survival is, therefore, critical while the survival of the cities are not.

    As cold-blooded as it sounds, not producing a lot of hungry refuges from broken, radioactive cities, by building shelters for them to survive the attacks, will increase the chances that the zones outside these devastated charnel houses, can recover in a reasonable time, and keep the country as a viable state in the immediate aftermath.

    Western strategists did this sort of cold calculus early on, and civil defence preparations were made accordingly. These did not include a program of bomb-shelters in big cities.


  51. Eclipsenow

    Scientific America sourced the article from The Royal Society. This is the same Royal Society that in February agreed to provide advice to the University of East Anglia in identifying assessors to conduct an independent external reappraisal of the Climatic Research Unit’s key publications. I would put the report in the Booga Booga category.


  52. “6 times the energy to replace transport fuels and gas cooking and heating? Say it isn’t so!”

    Well that’s just the extremely conservative estimate that replaces primary energy in chemical form with electrical energy on a 1 to 1 basis.

    If you burn coal for electricity, you get 40% as much electricity as there is chemical energy in the coal. Here it is obvious that you only need 40% as much electricity from nuclear power plants as there is chemical energy in coal, but in other places it might not be.

    In vehicles for instace, you might decide that the most practical alternative is to use hydrogen, which is only about 25% efficient electric-outlet-to-wheel. If you do this you need as much electricity as you need chemical energy in the form of gasoline or diesel. If instead you manage on batteries alone you will need ~3 times less nuclear electricity as you use chemical energy from gasoline or diesel now.

    If you use resistive electrical heaters instead of a natural gas or heating oil for water and space heating you need as much electricity as there is chemical energy in the natural gas or oil you displac in order to replace. If instead you use a heat pump working against an appropriate reservoir(e.g. boreholes into soil or rock, the bottom of a nearby lake, outside air if you accept a little lower efficiency), you can get a factor 3-5 improvement in efficiency.

    There are also some sizable efficiency gains to be had that have nothing to do with electrification, many of which are lifestyle type changes that are only moderately annoying. Adding another passenger to the car, telecommuting, 4×10 hour work-weeks(it will be a bit annoying to work a 10 hour shift, but you more than make up for it by having 3-day week-ends in my opinion. I haven’t been able to convince anyone else that this is a good idea, but you never know), robotic cars that can link up and drive unreasonably close(for a human) in order to draft, living closer to where you work, having groceries delivered to you(the last 10 miles can be almost as energy consuming as the first 10 000 miles).


  53. @ DV8,
    thanks for the time invested in writing that reply. It was fascinating, morbid, and yet quite comforting in the face of the even deeper despair many have felt in the face of the Olduvai defeatism.

    If you had any links to studies backing your convincing arguments above, I’d be grateful. I might even compile some of your posts here and put them up on my blog.

    I know our previous exchanges over nuclear warfare degenerated somewhat, but even though our positions on nukes are poles apart, I respect that you appear to have read broadly in coming to your position.

    So I’m wondering if you ever came across a particular study — not sure what the name of the study was so can’t google it — that concluded nuking just 9 of the most important strategic transport and infrastructure cities in the USA would pretty much crash the USA? As you said, hungry hoards fleeing into the country side would not result from an all out nuking, but might result if the most strategic city transport routes were hit and interrupted food supplies to now isolated cities. I don’t have a clue who conducted this study and ran the scenario, or how old it is sorry. (Heard about it through one of many podcasts). Sorry to be so vague about it.. but it seems like if there was ever a chance of tracking this down, you’re it.


  54. Hi Soylent,
    yes, I love all that efficiency stuff you presented! But instead of 10 hour days to save time, what about this? Have you seen the “Built to last” New Urbanism video I’ve referred to before?

    (Sorry to post it again if you already have. I just thought you might be interested).


  55. @ Gordon… oh, I see… am I correct to guess you’re not just scoffing at the idea of global warming causing ice sheet melts which in turn could mess with precarious magma chamber pressure balances… but you’re scoffing at the whole concept of global warming in the first place? If that’s the case, the egg’s on your face mate. The Royal Society is one of the oldest and most prestigious scientific bodies on the planet. So laugh it up all you want. Be my guest.


  56. eclipsenow – We should not hijack this thread with another discussion on nuclear war, so I il keep my remarks on this matter short.

    As you assumed, I have studied these matters for some time, and what I wrote above is more of a synthesis from several sources that cover the aftermath of a nuclear exchange and the planning that was done both in the Eastern blocs and the Western blocs during the Cold War.

    However in general the strategy of countervalue strikes – attacks directly on the enemy population leading to a collapse of the enemy’s will to fight – came and went in nuclear doctrines in the early stages of the Cold War. The emphasis then shifted to counter-force strikes: ones that directly attacked the enemy’s means of waging war. This was the predominant doctrine from the late 1960s onwards.

    Since then, population centers have become secondary targets, and it would probably be the case that after the first exchange, with their military assets damaged or in disarray, one or both parties would sue for peace, no longer being able to ether defend themselves, or mount a credible threat.


  57. @ eclipsenow

    Climate Change is happening sure – I just don’t buy the theory of MMGW. If you think that by putting a price on Carbon will allow the Financial Sector to “Save the World” then the egg’s on your face mate.


  58. @ Eclipsenow

    Prof Richard Lindzen has shown from satellite data that the longwave radiation (heat) exiting the earth is directly proportional to the sunlight (short wave radiation) hitting the earth. Therefore the Greenhouse effect is not increasing as CO2 levels rise. (otherwise the Longwave radiation would be decreasing over time)


  59. Try again mate. You didn’t account for the candle.

    I’m not interested in listening to your Denialist guru’s conspiracy theories or misuse of the satellite data. I know these guys can make any data say anything they want… I’ve seen them do it, despite being repeatedly spanked by the peer review process. They have no shame.

    Of course, you’ll claim that the only reason your guru’s can’t publish in the peer review process is because of “The Conspiracy”. According to Lord Monckton us greenies are out to create a Communist World Government! Oh the humanity! ;-)


  60. G’Day everyone, I’ve been in the Flinders Ranges for the past 10 days. Nice long-overdue rains up there too. Gee it was good to actually see, at last , some facts from DV82XL about nuclear waste and the handling of same. I used some of his post seven years ago when I debated Professor John Veevers on Phillip Adams Late Night Live. Nuclear waste is and has been handled safely and securely ever since nuclear power has been generated. It has never killed anyone nor will it Eclipsenow. When the stuff is transported across the oceans as it has been since the early 60’s, in addition to being a solid ceramic encased in stainless steel containers, these are placed in transport casks with 30cm thick cast iron walls- [casks weigh about 100 tonnes and usually contain between 5 and 15 tonnes of the waste]. The waste is transported in purpose built vessels which are double-hulled, have twin motors, twin navigation systems, special hold flooding capabilities etc. So far since the early 60’s they have made about 180 journeys,covering about 6million Km with never an accident in which nuclear materials leaked into the environment. They are the safest vessels on the planet. If, by some miracle, and it would take a miracle, we could breach the double-hulled vessel and sink it, break open the transport cask, then rupture the stainless steel containers, we would finally expose the sold ceramic radwaste to the sea water, where it is so insoluble that it would take decades to dissolve, if at all. It would gradually release 5-15 tonnes of Uranium which would dissipate through tides and currents and add just those few extra tonnes of uranium to the 4.5billion tonnes of Uranium which are already found in the world’s oceans. It would have a negligible effect on the marine life there. Incidentally, The Japanese have learnt how to extract U from sea water. They may use that to power their reactors in coming decades. I made these points when I was putting the case for SA taking responsibility for some/all of the world’s waste which I contended then, and still do, should be buried in the Officer Basin in South Australia. Technological problems with waste were solved decades ago. Delays through the irresponsible actions of the anti-nukes with their frivolous law suits etc have stalled the likes of Yucca Mountain and other sites for waste. The problems with waste are political. Next time you hear someone say there is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, tell them that’s just plain b—–t. And as for high level waste being dangerous for thousands/millions of years, that’s b——t also, as DV82XL has indicated. Eclipsenow, please obtain a copy of “Power to save the World-The truth about nuclear energy” by Gwyneth Cravens published by Alfred Knopf and sons, New York 2007. If you open your mind, you WILL be pro-nuclear by the time you have finished it.


  61. “….these guys can make any data say anything they want…” like Mann’s Hockey Stick?

    More work is showing that the MWP & LIA were global events with the MWP being 0.4C warmer than now. Given this truth we do not really have to worry about the scary climate change senarios we are being fed. Sure, work on reducing CO2 and Nuclear is the clear choice to achieving that but do it at a sensible pace.


  62. Standard ping-pong ball is has a volume of 33.510 cubic centimeters. Volume of Thorium is 11.7g*cm−3. If we need 1000 grams for a lifetimes worth of energy, shouldn’t it be 1000/11.7 = 85cm^3. 85 / 33.5 = 2.5 ping-pong balls?

    Or is my math screwed up?


  63. Scott,

    Well, at least you are crunching numbers, and doing sanity checks on what you are being told.

    That is good.

    What a pity everyone in the country doesn’t do the same. We’d have been replacing coal with nuclear with coal for the past 40 years if people were doing what you are doing.


  64. @ Terry Kreig,
    good point about all the uranium already present in sea-water. However, isn’t the waste we’re talking about vastly different to naturally occurring uranium? I don’t think DV8 mentioned mere uranium in his list of the longer lasting stuff.

    @ Gordon, go ahead and mindlessly parrot every single one of the top 28 Denialist myths addressed and soundly spanked here.
    But whatever you do, don’t try and explain the physics behind that candle! If you just try and ignore the candle a little longer and keep posting your Denialist crap, I might get convinced. No really. ;-)


  65. @ Eclipsenow

    Candle experiment – CO2 absorbs longwave energy – Wow!

    As to what Le Page writes on the MWP:

    “The Medieval Warm Period “may” have been mostly a regional phenomenon.” Unfortunately for this sacred cow the evidence is pointing towards a global event.


  66. Candle experiment – CO2 absorbs longwave energy – Wow!

    Yeah, it’s amazing that physicists can actually test this stuff in a lab, in white lab coats and all that sciency stuff. Now here’s the really tricky bit. They measured the Co2 from before the Industrial Revolution (ice cores and other methods), then they measure the Co2 in the atmosphere now, and then they run it through the Radiative Forcing Equation which basically measures the increased longwave energy trapped and come up with an extra 3 watts / m2 of energy trapped in our atmosphere.


    From the wiki:


    “Radiative forcing is a measure of the influence a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and is an index of the importance of the factor as a potential climate change mechanism. In this report radiative forcing values are for changes relative to preindustrial conditions defined at 1750 and are expressed in watts per square metre (W/m2).”

    In simple terms, radiative forcing is “…the rate of energy change per unit area of the globe as measured at the top of the atmosphere.”[1] In the context of climate change, the term “forcing” is restricted to changes in the radiation balance of the surface-troposphere system imposed by external factors, with no changes in stratospheric dynamics, no surface and tropospheric feedbacks in operation (i.e., no secondary effects induced because of changes in tropospheric motions or its thermodynamic state), and no dynamically-induced changes in the amount and distribution of atmospheric water (vapour, liquid, and solid forms).

    Radiative forcing can be used to estimate a subsequent change in equilibrium surface temperature (ΔTs) arising from that radiative forcing via the equation:

    \Delta T_s =~ \lambda~\Delta F

    where λ is the climate sensitivity, usually with units in K/(W/m2), and ΔF is the radiative forcing [4]. A typical value of λ is 0.8 K/(W/m2), which gives a warming of 3K for doubling of CO2.


    Oh, and Gordon, you can stop ranting on about the WMP because I just don’t care what sources you quote. (Oh that’s right, you didn’t bother quoting any sources and just asserted whatever you wanted to.)

    You’re just another Denialist internet troll looking for an audience, and I’m not it. Go back and try and come up with a realistic debunking of the Radiative Forcing Equation that counts how much energy the measurable physics of Co2 interactions with longwave energy is actually, measurably, trapping in the atmosphere.

    Go back to the Candle and try again. 90 seconds in…


  67. Sure, work on reducing CO2 and Nuclear is the clear choice to achieving that but do it at a sensible pace.

    For purely economic and security reasons, a sensible pace is close to flat out.


  68. I know, it’s shocking isn’t it? And the wiki only quotes from the following sources…


    1. ^ Rockstrom, Johan; Steffen, Will; Noone, Kevin; Persson, Asa; Chapin, F. Stuart; Lambin, Eric F.; et al. (2009). “A safe operating space for humanity”. Nature 461: 472–475.
    2. ^ Myhre et al., New estimates of radiative forcing due to well mixed greenhouse gases, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol 25, No. 14, pp 2715–2718, 1998
    3. ^ Shine et al., An alternative to radiative forcing for estimating the relative importance of climate change mechanisms, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol 30, No. 20, 2047, doi:10.1029/2003GL018141, 2003

    * Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007), Chapter 2, “Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and Radiative Forcing,” pp. 133-134 (PDF, 8.6 MB, 106 pp.).
    * NOAA/ESRL Global Monitoring Division (no date), The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index. Calculations of the radiative forcing of greenhouse gases.
    * U.S. EPA (2009), Climate Change – Science. Explanation of climate change topics including radiative forcing.
    * United States National Research Council (2005), Radiative Forcing of Climate Change: Expanding the Concept and Addressing Uncertainties, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
    * A layman’s guide to radiative forcing, CO2e, global warming potential etc

    Whereas you’ve quoted from the academically dazzling heights and scrupulously honest sources of …. Denialistas who can’t get peer reviewed. Wow, won me over.


  69. Go forth, and follow new gurus…

    You’ll feel at home in the UFO conventions, Big Foot crowd, and Nessie followers. You’ll be great friends with these folk. Just like your Denialista’s, they also assert that the reason they can’t get their ‘truth’ peer-reviewed is because of the worldwide conspiracy, maaaaaan. Like, they all know it’s true maaaan but they just won’t publish my photo’s of the UFO maaaaan!


  70. “But if it is most of the 10% of the waste that is left over, I have to change my nuclear summary page because I am currently presenting IFR’s as mainly SOLVING the nuclear waste issue within 300 years of reprocessing. If this is not the complete story, then many IFR pages I’ve read are dishonest and need rewriting, including my own!” – eclipsenow

    The words “nuclear waste” reflects a conceptual error, rather than a problem. Well one thing that is wrong about this statement of “nuclear waste disposal” claims, is the failure to note that the LFTR can also take care of the so called nuclear waste problem. But the whole “nuclear waste” construct is a conceptual mistake, once you shift away from the once through nuclear fuel cycle. The 300 year figure refers to the safety of the mass of post reactor fission products, that would be no more radioactive than uranium would be after 300 years. But who says that the 10% of not very dangerous long half life fission products should be treated as waste? The actinides are the biggest problem with once though nuclear fuel. But actinides are an asset for breeder reactors like the LFTR or the IFR. Fission products are a secondary problem because they radiation is largely self limiting. After 300 years most FPs are no longer radioactive, and can be treated as raw materials for industries. Some long lived fission products, for example Technetium-99, already have uses, while there are potentially other uses for long lived fission products.

    What is dishonest then is continued reference to the problem of nuclear waste.

    This does not mean that IFR advocates have some truth claim problems. For example some IFR advocates have claimed that the IFR should be given R&D priority because the IFR is ready for commercial production while the LFTR is not. Yet the IFR is no more ready for commercial production now than the LFTR is, and claims that the IFR could be brought to commercial production for a smaller R&D investment than would be required for the LFTR are problematic.

    IFR advocates have also claim that the IFR would be less expensive to construct than Generation III reactors. We need to see these claims better explained. For example while IFR literature from the 1990’s mentions factory produced of small IFRs, and this is one of the favorite routes to cost savings of LFTR advocates. Currently documented IFR plans are of small reactors. Yet recently Y.I. Chang has criticized the small reactor rational, and has stated a preference for very large IFR as offering “economies of scale.” These arguments suggest that the future course of IFR development is far from firm.

    Research reports from the IFR program of the 1980’s and 90’s make plain that IFR R&D was never complete. It is clear that the Argonne IFR team was continuing to research IFR safety issues until the IFR was cancelled. DoE documents from other National Laboratories suggest, that legitimate safety questions about the IFR continues to exist, and that more research is needed, yet some IFR backers, assure us that all of the IFR safety problems have been solved, and deride questions about IFR safety.

    I don’t think that the IFR is a bad reactor. But I do think that real questions exist about it, and that on certain issues, IFR backers could be better advocates for their favored technology, by adopting greater candor. At the very least we need to know a whole lot more before IFR backers can establish a case for the IFR vis-à-vis the LFTR.

    That being said, I don’t think that the IFR poses a nuclear waste problem, any more than the LFTR does.


  71. Unfortunately Charles, we are going to see more of that across the board as we move forward. The IFR supporters are doing what has been done in industrial development for a very long time, by pushing their technology forward by accentuating the positive, and downplaying the negatives.

    We’ve all be fighting on the same side, for a common cause for decades now, and it’s going to be sad as we break ranks, and move into separate camps, but it is also a sign of how far we have gone.

    Personally, I think there is room for all sorts of design types, at least at the beginning, and winners and losers will emerge, not necessarily the best, because as always, secondary considerations and forces will come into play, but in the end something we can go forward with will be established.


  72. Personally, I think there is room for all sorts of design types, at least at the beginning, and winners and losers will emerge, not necessarily the best, because as always, secondary considerations and forces will come into play, but in the end something we can go forward with will be established.

    Amen to that. To quote François-Marie Arouet: “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”


  73. A small point about electricity consumption in the UK compared with Australia. UK annual consumption is 350 TWh, so 16 kWh per day for each of our 60 million, not even half Australian per capita use.


  74. DV82XL,,The best word to describe the relationship between IFR and LFTR advocates is as “frenemy.” We basically disagree about things that are at present unknown. But my reading of statements from the IFR camp suggests that some high status IFR backers, are probably at the very least threatened by the potential of LFTR technology.

    The cards that the IFR backers are not showing eventually will see the light of day, and it is probably better that they be shown first to “frenemy,” than be uncovered by enemies. LFTR backers have been open about problems that they see, and have already publicly worked through many of the problems, enemies are likely to challenge us with. Our response to the exposure of some potential iFR problems might well be “no big deal.” Of course, our response to other IFR revelations might be to run around like chickens with their heads cut off, because we no longer have minds or the capacity to speak.


  75. Don’t get me wrong Charles, I see MSR as the way to go for a number of reasons. However I do see people beginning to take sides, and as money and careers are invested, the rules change. If the LFTR crowd thinks they can take the high road, and expects others to do the same, it is headed for Betamax.

    The contest is not played fair, and the IFR camp knows this and have moved their game up to the next level. They will play their cards close to their chest, and they won’t participate in public self-criticism – we are playing for real money now.

    History is full of great technology that never made it out of the gate, because of poor business acumen, and that was overtaken by something inferior, backed by those that were out to succeed first, and produce a good product later.


  76. Barry Brook, on 24 April 2010 at 23.14 Said:

    “Amen to that. To quote François-Marie Arouet: “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”

    While I defer to Voltaire’s views in most things, it has been my experience that in reality it’s more like: Good enough is the enemy of better


  77. Charles, there’s a small difference between us. You’re a “fremeny” of the IFR. I’m not a “fremeny” of LFTR, I’m a “friend” (unless you consider me to be a part-enemy because I don’t espouse LFTR as the only sensible Gen IV design). Even with regards to Gen III, I’d be much more of a “friend” than a “fremeny”, as I consider this technology to be far superior to any other existing method of industrial-scale power generation that is currently commercially available, and should be pursued with great vigor over the next few decades.


  78. Barry, I can point to a number of things from the IFR camp that suggest that some IFR advocates are less than LFTR friends. There were the emails sent to me by two retired Argonne scientist who you frequently mention, which suggested that the LFTR could not breed. Mind you this was an attempted argument from authority, no published research was referenced, it was simply stated as fact. There was the letter from John Shanahan to John Holdren, that I was approached to sign. The letter contained a long statement supporting IFR development, but no mention of the LFTR. I responded that I would sign the letter if a couple of words were changed, and a couple of sentences about the potential of the LFTR were added. Similar requests were made by other LFTR advocates, but our requests were rejected. I would not see this deliberate exclusion of mention of the LFTR as a friendly act.

    LFTR advocates were not consulted about the creation of the Science Council for Global Initiatives, despite the fact that we are in complete agreement with your mission statement and your statement of goals. It is only the exclusion of the LFTR from the list of “technologies that can lead us to a post-scarcity era” that we would disagree with. if LFTR backers were asked about their Plan B if the LFTR did not turn out to work, we would respond that the IFR is an acceptable option. I suspect that IFR backers would acknowledge the LFTR as the second best option, although some might prefer a liquid chlorine fast breeder. At any rate, the SCGI appears to be a IFR club from which LFTR advocates are in effect excluded. i would not count that seeming exclusion as a friendly act.

    There is no reason to doubt that the IFR community sometimes threats LFTR advocates as competitors and rivals. The IFR community does at times seem uninterested in working with us to accomplish common goals, even though except for our technological preferences, we appear to not have any conflicts over goals. This would suggest that at times the IFR advocacy community is not our friends. But you are not our enemies either. You are somewhere in between.


  79. @ Terry Kreig,
    good point about all the uranium already present in sea-water. However, isn’t the waste we’re talking about vastly different to naturally occurring uranium?

    Meaningless comparisons such as that are common in these discussions because figuring out the significant thing, the radioactivity of retired nuclear fuel a given number of years post-retirement, is hard. ORIGEN does it, but — I hear — it is hard to use, and it costs US$791.

    Uranium is actually the number two radioisotope in seawater. Number one is radiopotassium. In the whole ocean, it makes 1.8 GW. Natural uranium, and the radioisotopes that it decays into on the way to becoming lead, make 0.095 watts per tonne, and that is 400 MW per world ocean.

    Figure 2-1 here, by someone who has looked ORIGEN in the eye until it looked away whimpering and rolled on its back, allows a valid comparison to be done.

    Beware of the logarithmic scale. Figure 2-1 says uranium that was burned at 37500000 W/t is, 100 years later, making 300 W/t, and that means one tonne of it can correctly be equated to 3200 tonnes of marine uranium.

    Or to 0.00000014 of the summed K and U radioactivity in the ocean. Seven million tonnes of century-old nuclear fuel would double the ocean’s radioactivity.

    But there’s good news: the marine K and U are all through the water, but nuclear fuel, UO2, has a known propensity, as the mineral uraninite, for not dissolving, so if it did slip off a barge, it would lie on the bottom. Google (uraninite placer). (A “placer” is a bit of mineral that is carried along a stream bottom.)

    (How fire can be domesticated)


  80. Thanks GRL Cowan for clarifying the uranium waste in sea water. On the question of lowering the pressure by removing some ice on the surface above a magma chamber[I am on the right thread aren’t I?], there would be a little isostatic adjustment causing the surface to rise [not sure by how much but I suggest it would be minimal -sorry all of you people who like actual measurements] and probably have no effect on whether or not the magma would actually erupt onto the surface as a lava flow. Bear in mind that the magma chamber is probably several Km below the surface, overlain and surrounded by rock equating to a pressure of several hundred atmospheres. But, I guess even a Km of ice removed could encourage some sort of eruption. I’m only surmising having taught similar stuff to 17-18 year olds while teaching geology 20 years ago. Suggest you ask Ian Plimer – he probably could answer it better. And he might actually be correct in what he says. He’s not wrong on everything.


  81. By the way GRL Cowan, I spent 1981 on teacher exchange in Ontario and it was there that I converted from an anti to a pro nuclear power position. Have you visited Chalk River? I have and strolled across the top of a working reactor. I went down a couple of U mines as well where I was given a sample bag of yellowcake at one of them. It’s still cooking away, often in my trouser pocket from which I retrieve it for those to whom I’m speaking about things nuclear. It hasn’t done me any harm and more than likely, the little extra radiation I’ve received from it has probably stimulated my immune system. That’s what low level chronic radiation has done to thousands of workers in the nuclear industry especially shown in studies done in the US, UK, Canada, Taiwan.


  82. Brought over from Open Thread 3:

    Kaj Luukko, on 25 April 2010 at 9.30 Said:

    I been told that IFR eliminate the risk of proliferation. But:

    “If, instead of processing spent fuel, the ALMR system were used to reprocess irradiated fertile (breeding) material in the electrorefiner, the resulting plutonium would be a superior material, with a nearly ideal isotope composition for nuclear weapons manufacture”

    From here:


    Could someone explain? I think I know the answer, but I’m not sure.

    First there is no reactor design that will eliminate the risk of proliferation. Every type of nuclear reactor design can be operated as a breeder and make more Pu than it burns, while arguably it would be somewhat easer, and faster to use an IFR, it is not a reason to reject this technology.

    Second. Proliferation isn’t an accident waiting to happen, rather it is a very seriously considered decision made by a nation that feels that they have no other choice but to deploy a nuclear arsenal, or risk being destroyed themselves.


  83. Regarding Kaj’s question, to add to DV82XL’s more fundamental point.

    Third, it would only be ideal isotopic Pu if the ALMR was run on a short cycle. Fourth, you would need to attach a PUREX-type reprocessing plant to the ALMR in order to extract this Pu. So this is not a question about the IFR, it’s about a some generic reactor + aqueous reprocessing facility.


  84. Thank you, Charles Barton, for your excellent posts today. And thank you DV82XL and Barry Brook for your replies. I have learnt a lot out of this exchange.

    I put this discussion together with Ziggy Switkowski’s view that we are unlikely to see Gen IV being rolled out on a commercial scale until 2030 at the earliest and perhaps later. And that is in the countries that develop it; it will probably be much later until it is a realistic option for Australia.

    Putting these thoughts together with various comments in these above posts (quoted below) and my thought bubbles stemming from these, I come to the conclusion that Gen IV is a long way off and Gen III may or may not be the best way to get started in Australia. If Gen II is cheaper for Australia, then why not get started with Gen II? We know that Gen II is 10 to 100 times safer than the coal. So, if Gen II would produce electricity more cheaply over its life than Gen III (all the costs properly included in all options), then I am for Gen II. I realise going with Gen II may incur a higher cost for FOAK for Gen III when we transition from Gen II to Gen III, and this cost should be considered in the analysis as to whether we should start with gen II or Gen III. There are many factors to be considered, including fitting 1000MW Gen III power plants into the Australian grid (Gen II’s are smaller and ideally sized for the Australian grid as it is now).

    We need to focus on what is the least cost option. In my opinion safety is not an issue because all nuclear is far safer than anything we have now and far safer than most industry. Likewise, ‘nuclear waste’ is a trivial issue. The cost of electricity from nuclear power plants already includes the cost of managing ‘nuclear waste’ or ‘once used nuclear fuel’.

    Some quotes that caught my eye and my thought bubbles:

    Charles Barton

    IFR backers could be better advocates for their favored technology, by adopting greater candor.

    Wow. Wouldn’t it be great if the wind and solar advocates would heed some of that statement.

    Charles Barton

    But my reading of statements from the IFR camp suggests that some high status IFR backers, are probably at the very least threatened by the potential of LFTR technology.

    Well, I hope we don make as big a mistake as we have by putting all our eggs in the renewables basket, as we have been doing for the past 20+ years. Remember Bob Hawke’s “Ecologically Sustainable Development” completely engulfed the Australian government bureaucracy and then the state bureaucracies and led to our various mandatory renewable energy schemes and massive subsidy schemes. Meanwhile, nuclear was not to be mentioned and not to be considered options analyses. I hope we don’t do that again, but suspect we will continue to do so.


    History is full of great technology that never made it out of the gate, because of poor business acumen, and that was overtaken by something inferior, backed by those that were out to succeed first, and produce a good product later.

    Is this what happened to cause nuclear to fail in the west between about 1970 and 2010, and renewables to succeed so well during this time despite being a hopeless product?

    Barry Brook

    Even with regards to Gen III, I’d be much more of a “friend” than a “fremeny”, as I consider this technology to be far superior to any other existing method of industrial-scale power generation that is currently commercially available, and should be pursued with great vigor over the next few decades.

    Why do you mention only Gen III and exclude Gen II as an option?

    Charles Barton

    There was the letter from John Shanahan to John Holdren, that I was approached to sign. The letter contained a long statement supporting IFR development, but no mention of the LFTR. I responded that I would sign the letter if a couple of words were changed, and a couple of sentences about the potential of the LFTR were added. Similar requests were made by other LFTR advocates, but our requests were rejected. I would not see this deliberate exclusion of mention of the LFTR as a friendly act.

    Thank you for pointing that out. I did not realise that had occurred. That is quite unfortunate and disappointing.

    At any rate, the SCGI appears to be a IFR club from which LFTR advocates are in effect excluded.

    That does seem like a mistake. What is the reason behind this? Is it being reconsidered? Can it be corrected?


  85. Nuclear energy went into hiatus in some countries for a number of reasons, mostly in my opinion due to the lobbying activities of Big Carbon. But the industry did not help itself with its defensive posture after Three-Mile Island, and its failure to spin the event in its favour.


  86. I have found the above comments, initiated by Charles Barton to be very interesting. Barry has been promising an IFR and LFTR comparison for some time and I have been looking forward to it. Pending its arrival, I have been scratching around in various sources and trying, as a layman, to differentiate between the two technologies with respect to their pros and cons. My conclusions are summarised below and I would welcome any corrections that would further my education:

    IFR pros:
    1) 4th generation technolgy receiving most worldwide research effort involves molten metal cooling. IFRs thus may get to finish line first.
    2) Better breeders (cf LFTRs)
    3) Commercial pyroprocessing shouldn’t run into any serious technical difficulties.
    4) Inherently safe, low pressure and metal fuels all suggest the possibility of plant construction costs lower than for Gen 3s.

    IFR cons:
    1) Higher start charges required (cf LFTRs)
    2) Can’t exploit thorium and rely on U/P cycle (proliferation concerns?)
    3) Don’t operate at very high temps – less eficient electricity, less hydrogen potential. (cf LFTRs)
    4) Will cost savings noted above be outweighed by need for extra heat exchange loops and other avoidance measures to prevent sodium fires?)

    LFTR pros:
    1) Exploits Th/U cycle
    2) Low start charge (can be U or P)
    3) Lends itself to small module, factory build and, given inherent safety etc, has potential to be much cheaper than Gen 3
    4) Can operate at high temperature, producing electricity more efficiently with potential to produce hydrogen.
    5) Has load following potential.

    LFTR cons
    1) Not a lot of active research going on. Why? Do the experts know of more problems than proponents admit to or are aware of? Even if not, will the technology lag behind IFR?
    2) Reprocessing technology may be less well developed.
    3) Poorer breeding potential than IFR
    4) Potential corrosion problems may not have been properly solved.

    Problems for both clearly relate to low cost of uranium which make once through systems attractive and more certain for purchasers. I also understand that nuclear plant designers are heavily reliant for continuing income streams on the manufacture of fuel rods needed for refuelling. They have negative incentives to move towards Gen 4 while the nuclear industry is privatised.

    If I were to believe all Charles Barton says (and I would like to and have no reason not to), I see more advantage to LFTRs than IFRs with the sole exception of breeding potential which doesn’t matter in the short term. For me, the ideal would be to go for both, flat out in the R&D and development stages. If both then looked good, I’d accelerate LFTR rollout faster than IFR but would still want IFR to produce more start charges for continued rollout and sustainability.

    My conclusions are, I think, based on logic but the logic is unguided by any technical expertise and may thus be profoundly flawed.


  87. Douglas Wise, I am attempting to work out truth standards for claims about future nuclear technologies. Standards include:
    1. “Beyond a reasonable doubt,” which would imply that doubts have been tested, but not found credible. Many statements about generation IV technology cannot be made with such truth claims.
    2. “Probable cause to believe,” there are strong and reasonable arguments that the statement is sufficiently plausible to warrant further investigation.
    3. “A preponderance of evidence suggests,”The statement has received some tests, although not enough to conclusively exclude doubts. However, no test provided strong evidence that the statement was false. Further investigation is warranted.

    Discussions about the potential of Generation IV technology for the most part fall into the 2nd or 3rd category. There has as of yet been insufficient tests to exclude reasonable doubts, but we lack evidence that tends to reinforce the doubts. Further investigation is not only warranted but desirable because of the potentials of IFR and LFTR technologies.

    We do know that molten fluoride salt reactors have been operated at temperatures of up to 700 C, for example, and can be operated at that temperature for periods of up to 3 years. If the argument is about a longer time, the truth standard will probably have to be lower. It is possible to heat liquid salt to 1200 degrees C without boiling. There are materials that might withstand the 1200 degree heat, but how long they would last in a reactor core has not been tested. Again a lower truth standard would have to be applied to the discussion.

    What we know right now would not rule out the usefulness of either the LFTR or the IFR. it is conceivable that they could play complimentary roles in a post carbon energy order. My thinking now is that advocates of Generation IV nuclear technology have more to gain than loose by joining forces, and further that the interest of society would best be served by doing so. This does not preclude healthy competition between us, and playing the devils advocates.


  88. Barry:

    Third, it would only be ideal isotopic Pu if the ALMR was run on a short cycle. Fourth, you would need to attach a PUREX-type reprocessing plant to the ALMR in order to extract this Pu. So this is not a question about the IFR, it’s about a some generic reactor + aqueous reprocessing facility.

    Actually this was the point I was looking for. Did I now understand correct: You can breed weapon-grade plutonium in the IFR but after PYROPROCESSING it still remains as a mixture of uranium, plutonium and zirkonium? This mixture is of course not suitable for weapons, so you can still say, that IFR as it self is not capable of pure weapon grade plutonium production?

    The source I was referrerig was a bit confusing in this case, I think. It is also in wikipedia.


  89. Kaj, thats the way I understand it. You could potentially produce a mixture of elements in which the plutonium is a good isotopic mix, but without a means of chemical separation, the other elements present will confound the weaponization. You could produce weaponizable plutonium from an IFR, but you would need to short cycle it, and you would need a PUREX type facility.

    This is not quite the scenario you quote describes. They speculate about the production of chemically and isotopically pure (enough) plutonium just within the IFR by short cycling, and then separating the plutonium from the hot actinides within the pyroprocessing module.

    This seems unlikely to me. The advantage of using electrolysis for reprocessing is that it is not a very good separation process. It has enough resolution to remove the neutron poisons from the fuel, but not enough to produce chemically pure plutonium.

    In order to separate elements by electrolysis, you need them to have different reduction potentials – the voltage at which they change from salt to metal. The reduction potentials for some actinides are roughly:

    U -0.1 V, Np -0.3V, Am -0.9V, Cm -1.2V, Pu -1.2V.

    So the uranium is easily separated from the plutonium, but the plutonium is not easily separated from the americium, and can’t be separated from the curium.

    The first step of the process is to dissolve the metal fuel in the salt bath, under an applied voltage. Then the uranium is plated out on an iron electrode at low voltage. Then the plutonium is captured in a second liquid cadmium electrode at a higher voltage. Because of the large reduction potential of plutonium, it will also capture the Cm, the Am, and anything else left in the salt bath with a reduction potential under -1.2V. This would include small amounts of quite a lot of isotopes, including some residual uranium since the first step will not be a perfect separation.

    Your citation suggests three ways to produce weapons material from an IFR:

    1) Use it to breed plutonium conventionally. But this requires PUREX refining to separate the plutonium.

    2) Process multiple fuel batches just taking out the uranium in the first step of the separation, allowing the plutonium to accumulate in the salt bath. This will concentrate the plutonium in the bath. But it will also allow the other fission products to accumulate as well. I don’t see how this helps – you would still need further chemical refining of the recovered plutonium – PUREX again.

    3) Take the recovered plutonium mixture, and run it through the process again and again to clean it up. But even this can’t separate contaminants that have reduction potentials close to plutonium. It would never clean the plutonium of curium, for instance, and I doubt it would be very effective for, say, the americium. You still need further chemical refining.

    So I think the basic idea of the IFR as being unable to produce weapons material without an additional PUREX capability still stands. I don’t think this study claims otherwise, either, if you read carefully. I would also expect the additional intensive operations in the hot cell and deviation from standard operation would be easily detectable, and any attempts along these lines would not get very far.


  90. Dougla Wise

    I also understand that nuclear plant designers are heavily reliant for continuing income streams on the manufacture of fuel rods needed for refuelling. They have negative incentives to move towards Gen 4 while the nuclear industry is privatised.

    I don’t believe this is a valid statement. I believe the nuclear industry, like all businesses is do everything it can to get the cost of nuclear power down so it can compete with coal, and so it can offer a viable option in as many markets as possible. What is stopping them from being more competitive are the constraints society has imposed on the nuclear industry. These constraints are what is preventing a faster adoption of nuclear energy world wide.

    Society, especially in the west, has required these constraints be imposed on the nuclear industry. The western governments have effectively forced similar constraints to be imposed on nuclear in the developing countries. This has been achieved by making the IAEA implement ever more stringent standards – dictated by the west. That is us!! Our commons!!


  91. Charles Barton:

    Thank you for your reply. I totally endorse the statements in your last paragraph.

    Peter Lang:

    You doubt the validity of a statement I made. You may be right to do so. I was only quoting something I’d gleaned in Wikipedia and it may well be that you are more of an authority on the mores of nuclear plant designers. I just hope you weren’t knee jerk-reacting to a perceived anti-capitalist statement.


  92. Douglas Wise – Wikipedia’s nuclear articles are routinely filled with FUD from the antis. I have just finished a long e-mail exchange with one person who wished to use the US courts to force the removal of some entries on depleted uranium, who noted that I had been in a protracted battle over that subject on the Wiki six years ago.

    For the record, the fuel cost is the least expensive concern in running a nuclear power station, and the particularities of the nuclear fuel market would make it difficult for any reactor designer to leverage the fuel for future profit.

    In short reactor operators buy uranium at all stages in the refining process, and contract for SWUs and fabrication services separately in a very complicated set of transactions that will get the uranium from yellowcake to fuel rods as cheaply as possible.

    If down-blended HEU or MOX is involved the process becomes positively bizarre, with imaginary quantities of uranium technically changing hands and SWUs that have already been used traded as if they were a commodity.


  93. Douglas,

    “You doubt the validity of a statement I made. You may be right to do so. I was only quoting something I’d gleaned in Wikipedia and it may well be that you are more of an authority on the mores of nuclear plant designers. I just hope you weren’t knee jerk-reacting to a perceived anti-capitalist statement.”

    Is this a bit of sarcasm? No, I wasn’t knee-jerk reacting (I don’t think). It seems obvious to me that the nuclear industry wants to grow its business and expand its markets. It wants to be able to provide nuclear power at the cheapest possible cost. So, if it can find a cheaper way it will. Arguing that it would try to inflate the price of nuclear electricity, in the way you suggest, would be self defeating – at least while the industry is in the market growth stage.


  94. Yes,Peter, I have to admit to the vice of sarcasm.

    I would agree with you if you were discussing typical industries. Even then, though, the virtues of planned obsolescence are alluring.

    In the case of nuclear plant designers working in the private sector, things may be much less typical. I think I read, for example, that GE had made no money at all (and lost a great deal) in that part of its business that focused on nuclear power. GE has a current Gen 3 design that it hopes to sell into a difficult market (from a regulatory and financial perspectives) and is in competition with Westinghouse and Areva and, soon, many others. It knows that sales of its Gen 3 units will be backed by continuing income from fuel rod manufacture. It needs to recoup its expenditure. However, its research scientist employees also have a paper design for a Gen 4 reactor (Prism) which needs a lot more money spent on it before it can be validated and made ready to go. What would you be concentrating on as a priority if you were GE’s CEO?

    I think that it is very unlikely that we will see a rapid and large deployment of Gen 4 plants if matters are left to private NPP designers for very good and sensible economic reasons. If we want Gen 4, we need national governments, preferably acting collectively, to push the technology forward. This is not to imply that private companies should be sidelined as I suspect that a lot of the necessary expertise, certainly in the case of Western nations, resides therein.

    As you know, Peter, I’m a total layman so all the above may be absolute rubbish. Continue to feel free to point out the errors in my thinking and i promise not to take offence.


  95. Charles, I’m not talking about “IFR advocates” in the “IFR camp”. They, whoever they are, can speak for themselves if they choose. I’m talking about me. Don’t try too hard to generalise. – Barry

    Barry, I have pointed out some problems with initiatives that you have been or are associated with, but I don’t hold you responsible for the problems. it would be better for use to work together. Indian research has pointed to a good case for the inclusion of thorium in the IFR core. and in fact i understand that GE-Hitatchi is considering it. Since, U-233 is not a preferred fuel for the IFR, It would be desirable to use it in thermal reactors, since U-233 is an excellent nuclear fuel in thermal neutron energy ranges. Does that mean that IFR backers, belong in the Thorium Energy Alliance? Quite possibly so.

    Most LFTR backers would agree with the mission statement and goals of The Science Council for Global Initiatives. We could bring quite a lot to the table including the beginning at least the beginnings of a comprehensive carbon emission mitigation plan, as well as solutions to problems that the IFR could not handle. We have the potential to provide industrial process heat of somewhere close to 1200 C. We have potentials to offer standby, peak and load following generation capacity, Even if you argue with us bout which technology would be ready sooner, which technology offers the most rapid scalability, or which technology could produce electricity at a lower cost, you will probably admit that the LFTR can produce some tasks that the IFR probably can’t. What the iFR can do, is breed more rapidly than the LFTR can. The neutron economy of the IFR would make better use of actinides in spent nuclear fuel, but adding thorium to the IFR core might increase that efficiency. If you add thorium to the IFR core, you would breed U-233. What would you do with it?.


  96. One of the peculiarities of the nuclear fuel cycle is the way in which utilities with nuclear power plants buy their fuel. Instead of buying fuel bundles from the fabricator, the usual approach is to purchase uranium in all of these intermediate forms. Typically, a fuel buyer from power utilities will contract separately with suppliers at each step of the process. Sometimes, the fuel buyer may purchase enriched uranium product, the end product of the first three stages, and contract separately for fabrication, the fourth step to eventually obtain the fuel in a form that can be loaded into the reactor. The utilities believe – rightly or wrongly – that these options offers them the best price and service. They will typically retain two or three suppliers for each stage of the fuel cycle, who compete for their business by tender.

    Because this is the nature of the market, any attempt to corner fuel rod manufacturing by designing such that there would be a single source would have more of a damaging effect on reactor sales than would be recovered from fuel assembly sales.


  97. Peter Lang, on 25 April 2010 at 13.14 Said:

    “Why do you mention only Gen III and exclude Gen II as an option?”

    Why should we build more Gen II when Gen III/III+ does essentially the same thing, but with better design features? They’re ready to go.

    I think pushing for older generation plants is a dead-end approach. Regardless of how cheaply they could provide electricity, and regardless of how good their safety record has truly been – there’s simply far too much stigma attached. The majority of the public don’t like it and the government won’t touch it. It’s the advanced nuclear power plans that are getting more and more people excited.

    If you want to convince more of the public that fission is the only true option for replacing combustion, you’ve gotta convince them that “it’s different now” – which it is, really.


  98. TeeKay,

    I hear you. I understand what you are advocating. Several regular BNC contributors have made similar arguments, many times. You are seeing it from the political point of view and of trying to convert the public. We could call it the evolutionary approach to convert the public perception. This is what we’ve been trying to do for 40+ years, and continually failing.

    Another approach is the revolutionary approach. That is the approach I am advocating. I believe, if we want clean electricity fast, we need to unwind as fast as possible all the regulations and beliefs that are causing nuclear to be much more costly than it should be. We won’t do this with the evolutionary approach.

    The evolutionary approach is to leave most of the cost imposts in place, hide the real problem by covering it over by raising the cost of electricity through a carbon price, and hope we can slowly bring in clean electricity.

    The revolutionary approach recognises that in the end the decision will depend on the cost. “It is the economics stupid!” If I am correct that we need a revolutionary approach, we need to bring the cost of nuclear down to compete with coal. We need to remove the cost imposts. We need low cost nuclear. We do not need nuclear to be 10 to 100 times safer than coal, if by maintaining this requirement it means we must stick with coal because coal is cheaper.

    So to pursue this, I am following the approach so often used by the Greens to highlight a problem, stretch the envelope, and thereby expand knowledge which then leads to some gains, but not the full amount advocated.

    Given the above, if it would be cheaper for Australia to implement Gen II than Gen III, all factors considered, then I am advocating that Gen II should be an option on the table. Gen II greatly exceeds our safety requirements (for industries generally), is the right size for the Australian electricity grid, is well proven, there is a large knowledge base, and has been implemented in many nations with small economies like Australia. Gen II should be given serious consideration to get us started fast.

    If we allow, and encourage consideration of Gen II as an option, it puts more competitive pressure on Gen III to find a way to reduce their costs and to provide Australia an option that fits our needs rather than just offering us a “take it or leave it” option.

    “It is the economics stupid”. If we don’t get nuclear at a cost competitive with coal, we are going to stick with coal, CCS, natural gas, renewables and ‘anything but nuclear’.


  99. TeeKay,
    Perhaps it won’t matter by the time everyone decides to do anything, but right now, as I understand it, CANDUs are the only proven design that does not need the large pressure vessel that all other proven designs do require, and which right now can only be made by Japan Steel Works, so there is even now, with few new reactors being built, a long time in the queue (many years) before you can get a pressure vessel for your Gen III plant.
    Someone correct me if I’m wrong.
    Also, CANDUs can run on unenriched uranium.
    They’re cheap and you can get them from several suppliers (I’d recommend Canada).
    They have as good a record as any kind of reactor. You could start building them right now.


  100. Peter Lang, on 27 April 2010 at 10.20 Said:


    Isn’t the enhanced CANDU 6 a highly expensive concotion that hasn’t been built anywhere yet?

    No, that’s the ACR 1000, the EC6 has been built and run very successfully, the last two in China were EC6s.


  101. DV*2XL,

    Woops! Thank you for that correection.

    Just remind me please, the costs per kW you provided a while ago for CANDU, were they for the CANDU 6 or for the Enhanced CANDU 6?

    Would any new CANDU’s to be contracted from now on be the Enhanced CANDU 6?

    What were the NPP’s that were proposed for Alberta for in situ oil extraction from the tar sands?

    Is it a stretch to call the Enhanced CANDU 6 a Gen III? Is it widely accepted in the industry that the EC6 is Gen III?


  102. Peter Lang

    – The numbers I was working with were based on the Enhanced CANDU 6

    – The current new builds on the books are for EC6’s

    – I am not sure they got that far in planning in the Tar Sands project, but I believe the figures they were batting around were for the CANDU 9

    -By the current standard industry definition, a generation III reactor is a development of any of the generation II nuclear reactor designs incorporating evolutionary improvements which have been developed during the lifetime of the generation II type progenitors. The Enhanced CANDU 6 is an evolutionary step up from the standard CANDU 6, so I would say it meets all the requirements for Gen III design.


  103. Peter Lang,

    I hear what you are saying, and agree with most of the points you make. Particularly about the importance of lowering costs so nuclear can compete fairly with big coal/oil/gas.

    I believe DV82XL’s comment is of some relevance to this,

    “The Enhanced CANDU 6 is an evolutionary step up from the standard CANDU 6, so I would say it meets all the requirements for Gen III design”

    Does this not suggest that this particular Gen III design has both the evolutionary design features – improving safety and public perception of nuclear power – and can also be built at a reasonable cost?

    I agree that over-regulation should not be allowed to continue to impede lower cost nuclear facilities, but can Gen III passive safety features make it both “safe enough” while avoiding a blow-out in price? I think cost and public concern are of equal consideration in this.

    As for consideration of Gen II as an option to put more competitive pressure on Gen III to reduce their costs, aren’t fossil fuels doing this already?


  104. TeeKay,

    Yes, to all your points. I concede on all of them.

    Thank you DV82XL for clearing up my confusion on the EC6 – i.e., it is recognised as a Gen III.

    I’ll stop advocating Gen II.

    I’ll continue advocating for low cost nuclear.

    I’ll continue arguing that we need to focus our efforts in determining what needs to be done to allow nuclear to be competitive with coal in Australia. I’d like to focus on finding and removing the imposts that increase the cost of nuclear, rather than focus our efforts on raising the cost of electricity (and by so doing, burrying the problem of the cost imposts on nuclear).


  105. I’ll stop advocating Gen II

    I wouldn’t give up on it completely. The most commonly built reactor in the world right now, the Chinese CPR-1000, is considered a Gen II+ (based on pre-EPR French designs).

    China Guangdong Nuclear Power’s (CGNPC’s) indigenous focus has been on the French-derived three-loop units such as at Lingao, without major modification, now called CPR-1000, or ‘improved Chinese PWR’, and designated Generation II+, with digital instrumentation and control, and 60-year design life. It has 157 fuel assemblies. However, Areva retains intellectual property rights for this, which constrains overseas sales since the Chinese would need agreement from Areva on a case by case basis, and this would be unlikely in competition with the Atmea 1 design. The CPR-1000 is being widely and quickly deployed for domestic use under CGNPC leadership. Standard construction time is 52 weeks and the unit cost is under CNY 10,000 (US$ 1500) per kilowatt. In June 2009, the first Chinese-made reactor pressure vessel for a 1000 MWe reactor was delivered for Ling Ao Phase II, from Dongfang (Guangzhou) Heavy Machinery Co.


  106. I’ve just done quick calculation (using figures off the top of my head) to see what cost we could envisage for nuclear in Australia. Here goes (in 2010 A$):

    1. New black coal, super critical, air cooled
    $2,291 /kW (Capital cost)
    $53 /MWh (electricity cost)

    2. Nuclear (ACIL Tasman, AEMO projections)
    $5,207 (Capital cost)
    $101 (electricity cost)

    3. APR-1400 contracted cost for UAE
    $4,100 /kW (Capital cost)
    $79.53 /MWh (electricity cost)

    4. CPR-1000, China
    $1,650 /kW (Capital cost)
    $32.00 /MWh (electricity cost)

    5. Enhanced CANDU 6
    $2,200 /kW (Capital cost)
    $42.67 /MWh (electricity cost)

    4a. APR-1400 contracted cost for UAE
    $2,419.00 /kW (Capital cost)
    $46.92 /MWh (electricity cost)

    The last option is for the APR-1400 after removing 15% for First of a Kind (FOAK) costs, and 26% for investor risk premium.

    The last three options indicate an electricity cost for nuclear that is less than for new coal. We can argue all day about the assumptions. This quick and dirty calculation suggests it is not impracticable to implement nuclear in Australia at less than the cost of coal.

    We need to focus our efforts on how we could remove the investor’s risk premium and also carry the FOAK costs.

    I believe it is perfectly justifiable for the community to carry the FAOK costs for several reasons:

    1. We caused them by continually postponing the implementation of nuclear over the past 35 years.
    2. We are demanding that nuclear must be some 10 to 100 times safer than coal
    3. we want the benefit of clean electricity
    4. we have continually subsidised renewables for the same reason
    5. we threaten to change our mind about what we want and we would try to renege on the deals made (as we did with the Sydney city tunnel)


  107. Hi all,

    Just to inform you of the counter-activism going on.

    Just as “Countdown to zero” is coming out later this year on how close we came to pushing the button, this documentary is coming out soon seems to be all about how impossible it is to store long-lived nuclear waste responsibly.

    Check out the podcast…

    “But in Finland, construction of a similar site is underway. In this segment, Ira talks with Michael Madsen, director of the film “Into Eternity.” His film looks at ‘Onkalo,’ a Finnish nuclear waste repository now under development, and the attempts to design methods to warn future generations away from the site. Since no person involved with the Onkalo site today will be alive when it is completed, what’s the best way to warn future civilizations that the buried remains of our nuclear era must never, ever be unearthed?”


    The preview is here.


    However, being into progress and a bit of sci-fi as I am, and having read some of the singularity projections for the future, I kind of agree with DV8 when he compared future generations sneering at our primitive technologies today and having as little concern for our waste as modern armies might be worried about a Roman legion.

    Who knows if we’ll need nuclear power in 500 years, when today’s waste will hopefully mainly be burnt up? Who knows what particle smashing, radioactive waste destroying fun they might be having in 100 years time, let alone 500? I guess this movie must be assuming that we’ll nuke ourselves back to the stone age to pose the questions it does.


  108. eclipsenow – I’m glad you too can see that this, ‘Après moi, le déluge’ type of thinking is a bit arrogant at best. It takes, (in my opinion) a rather infated ego to think that you are a member of the most advanced civilization that Man can achieve, and that the only way forward is down.

    But again, this belief that spent fuel and other nuclear waste will be a hazard for the time-frames that are being stated here, simply does not reflect the physics of radioactive decay. Thus this sort of hand-wringing over communicating danger over millennium can only be seen as the result of obstreperous ignorance, or a calculated effort to exaggerate the dangers of this material to some current political ends.


  109. Stanford University has an interesting podcast I’ll be listening to today on “Nuclear power without nuclear proliferation”. I think it’s an interview with the experts who wrote these PDF’s.


    To subscribe to their podcast, go into iTunes store and in the search bar type “Stanford + International Security” and you should find the audio version ready to subscribe to for free. Very interesting talks, with this one dated 16/1/08 and more recent talks on nuclear power, climate issues, energy from a security perspective, and other issues of international conflict, tension, and accord.


  110. Peter Lang,

    Looks like your pushing for lower cost electricity production is more practical than ever now. The Rudd government’s just pushed back any talk of carbon pricing until 2013. While I know you are against a carbon price, while others disagree (I’m undecided), it means that what you have been strongly advocating over the past few months seems the only way forward at the moment.


  111. eclipsenow,

    Thank you for the link to that podcast. I also like your admission to being into a bit of a sci-fi, in a “futurist” sense. I think the makers of that movie are right into a bit fantasy, in a “fantasy story” sense.

    Ah, I really love it…

    “We can’t ever safely dispose of nuclear waste!”

    “Don’t worry, we can get rid of it in IFRs.”



  112. TeeKay,

    The government has made the right decision to drop the CPRS (or ‘postpone’ it as the spin goes), both politically, technically and economically.

    I see this change of direction by the Australian Government as an opportunity. I think the Australian population is starting to engage in the debate on nuclear, and I think people are listening. There are frequent discussion on TV and in the media. The amount of discussion is growing exponentially. I contrast this with the situation on the early 1990’s when Bob Hawke’s “Ecologically Sustainable Development” was the main game. At that time, the word ‘nuclear’ was not to be uttered by Australian Government public servants, and consultants who mentioned it would be cut off.

    I expect we will see increasing debate, and more rational debate, about our options for clean energy and energy security. It may not be mentioned much in this year’s election campaign – neither side is prepared to open the discussion – but I expect it is likely to be considered seriously by Treasury and other government departments during the next term of government.

    In my opinion we should focus our efforts on what we need to do to allow nuclear to be introduced at a cost competitive with coal. It can be done. It is just a matter, in my opinion, of letting the media and the public know about all the imposts on nuclear and how much they are raising the cost of this option.

    By the way, I saw in today’s paper that the already approved electricity price rises for NSW would be less than approved; e.g. only 20% instead of 46% for one utility and 36% instead of 60% for another. That is a major saving. If we could remove the Renewable Energy Targets, the feed in tariffs, direct grants and other subsidies for renewable energy and the uncertainty causing us to invest in gas generators, the price rises could get back to being less than inflation, as they should be.


  113. Pingback: New look at nuclear power - Page 4 - Science Forums

  114. I finally caught DV8’s first post…

    It takes 9 kWh/kg U to get 1 kilogram of Uranium. At 45 Gigawatt days per ton of Uranium the amount of power from one kilogram of uranium is 360,000 kWh. This is with the current generations of reactor.

    Where do you get the 9 kWh /Kg U, and what concentration of ore is that? Wow! ERoEI studies have often been quite depressing for various renewables… especially my earlier readings of biomass. The more I read about ERoEI’s of traditional renewables the more depressed I got. Wind seemed to have a good ERoEI but this goes down a bit once accounting for various storage mechanisms. (But I wasn’t as aware of the Better Place V2G scheme coming online soon.)

    Dv8 or anyone, any ideas on the kWh needed to extract uranium from seawater, or the less dense reserves? Or maybe I shouldn’t bother asking… as we’ve got 500 years of ‘waste’ to turn into fuel before we have to worry about opening any new mines in the normal conventional uranium ore grades, so maybe I’m asking a bit prematurely. ;-)


  115. OK thanks Barry… on my reading list.

    I finally listened to the Ariel Levite Standford University podcast.

    The Ariel Levite podcast is available here. He mentioned reprocessing, but did not seem to be as overwhelmingly convincing on the economics of nuclear power and waffled a bit about the lengthy legal processes of applying for permits in the USA, legal battles driving up costs a few billion at times (or even leading to abandonment) and then of course custom building each individual plant.


    Standardisation and smaller plants were mentioned, but he sounded quite horrified by the idea of Hyperion reactors, and wondered whether they would have guards?

    He also did not sound convinced there were real answers for waste. It might be worth pulling a few strings in your network to have someone address this same crowd, as it went out over the iTunes Stanford University podcast. I hope to give another short review of another Stanford iTunes uni podcast soon… got some driving errands to run tomorrow.

    PS: I listened to this while cleaning out junk in the shed. I really hate the way rat pooh builds up in layers of impenetrable muck that when you try and scrape it, can flick back in your face!


  116. Pingback: Santos chief’s gassy vision Part 2 – is gas almost as good as nuclear? « BraveNewClimate

  117. Peter Lang, back upthread you made the remark:

    There are many factors to be considered, including fitting 1000MW Gen III power plants into the Australian grid (Gen II’s are smaller and ideally sized for the Australian grid as it is now).

    You’ve mentioned this a couple of times. I don’t understand what the considerations are regarding the sizing of a power plant for our grid. Perhaps its to do with the ability of the grid to manage outages of this size.

    Could you elaborate on the considerations involved? What do you think is a ‘right sized’ power plant?


  118. John,

    I don’t know a lot about this and am just repeating what I hear from others who do know what they are talking about.

    I expect Martin Nicholson may know more about this as may others here.

    The NSW black coal units are mostly 500 and 660MW. Queensland units are mostly 280 to 450MW. Victoria’s units range up to 500MW.

    Transmissions systems are sized to handle these size plants. If we had a 1000MW or larger plant it would have a greater effect on the whole system when it goes down. The AP1000 and other light water reactors have to be shut down for a few weeks for refueling every couple of years, and unscheduled outages also occur from time to time. I understand there would be considerable extra cost throughout much of the transmission and control system if we wanted to add 100MW plants instead of smaller plants. The Advanced CANDU 6 looks like a good fit to me.

    One other thing that is biasing my discussions here, is I think the bureaucratic nightmare of dealing with a regulatory regime would be less with Canada than with USA.


  119. That sentence was supposed to read:

    I understand there would be considerable extra cost throughout much of the transmission and control system if we wanted to add 1000MW plants instead of smaller plants. The Advanced CANDU 6, at 650MW, looks like a good fit to me.


  120. Hey, Finrod, I just quoted your piece on Slashdot. They had a thing about off-shore wind turbines and, as usual, there was a pro-nuke commenter that I decided to back up. Your blogpost about having 200 million years of uranium & thorium in the earth’s crust really got me thinking…


  121. Basic questions for you.

    Barry Brooks mentioned that between 100-150 reactors would be needed to supply the total electricity requirements of Australia.

    Would it be possible to scale these reactors down so that a council could run one for the local area. I am thinking of the reductions in electricity losses via the grid and taking the large electricity suppliers out of the picture.

    My ideal solution would be to purchase a reactor that could be built with a house and replaced or removed every 80 years ? Not in my lifetime unfortunately.


  122. John Morgan:

    In order to separate elements by electrolysis, you need them to have different reduction potentials – the voltage at which they change from salt to metal. The reduction potentials for some actinides are roughly:
    U -0.1 V, Np -0.3V, Am -0.9V, Cm -1.2V, Pu -1.2V.
    So the uranium is easily separated from the plutonium, but the plutonium is not easily separated from the americium, and can’t be separated from the curium.

    Thank you John. Is there always enough curium present to make the plutonium unsuitable for bombs?


  123. Kaj, I don’t know enough about either the spent fuel composition or the requirements for bomb making to be able to say definitively.

    GRL Cowan gave some data on spent fuel composition here, but I don’t know if the conditions are representative of high burnup in an IFR, and his reference is now 404’d.

    Also, don’t take my list of elements as being all those present in the spent fuel. They’re just some actinides whose redox potentials I could quickly find.

    The point I’d like to make is that pyroprocessing is a poor separation process, which is its virtue here. You can separate the fuel into broad fractions – all the elements present with redox potentials above or below a certain value. If you were to work through GRLC’s list, you would find a number of those elements would have a redox potential close to plutonium. The plutonium fraction coming out of the IFR will have these materials. I assume the chemical and isotopic composition makes this plutonium too dirty and too hot for bomb making without further refinement.


  124. Ardy,

    The number of reactors we would need depends on the size of them (as you understand).

    We’d need about 30 medium sized reactors (1000MW) to provide the average power demand in 2007; say 60 by 2050; these figures include the reserve capacity needed. (These could be located in as few as two to four power stations in each mainland state). The difference between average and peak power could be provided by pumped-hydro energy storage. That combination would provide Australia with near zero emissions electricity (emissions about 2% of what they are now).

    We could move to smaller nuclear power plants. But they are more expensive, and the grid would be much more expensive, not less expensive. Here is some information on small reactors http://www.eoearth.org/article/Small_nuclear_power_reactors#Liquid_Metal_cooled_Fast_Reactors

    Electricity losses around 10% in the Australian grid – say 3% in transmission and 7% in distribution (local). So, having nuclear power plants in towns would not save on the 7% lost in distribution.

    Importantly, though, the transmission grid would be many time more expensive. If you have a local system, it has to be sized to meet the peak demand at every location. The transmission system allows the peak demand to be averaged. You can see the most extreme example by the transmissions system that would be needed to link all the wind farms all over the country so that anyone can supply all power when that is the only one that is generating power. That is extreme, but you can follow through the logic to see why the cost of transmissions for central generation is cheaper than for distributed generation.

    This might be of interest: http://www.aer.gov.au/content/item.phtml?itemId=732297&nodeId=797fa2c37535f919f67fa34dc4970e13&fn=Chapter%201%20%20Electricity%20generation.pdf


  125. So assuming 30 reactors * $4 billion each = $120 billion, which is only about 3 or 4 years without state governments. According to Dr Mark Drummond’s Phd, Australia could save $50 billion a year if we dumped the State Parliaments and had a unified National and Local 2 tiered government system.


    And just a few weeks ago both Bob Hawke and John Howard both agreed that Australia should abolish the States and run a National / Local government system.

    Once we’d funded the total elimination of all coal from our energy budget, what’s next? Fast rail between all capital cities to prepare for peak oil and the airline crisis? Fixing the Murray Darling? Fixing our education system? Showing the world how to get off oil in a hurry?

    $50 billion here, $50 billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. Californian’s have 36 million and only one State… do Australians really need 14 times the government?


  126. eclipsenow,

    You are not following again, or you have forgotten what’s been covered in the previous discussions.

    Instead of continually throwing darts, why don’t you suggest a cheaper alternative for getting to low emissions?

    You don’t seem to understand that if the investment climate is set properly, investors will pay for what we want. In this case, it is not funded out of tax revenue. What is needed is to remove all the regulatory distortion that society has unwittingly imposed, and that prevents us having cheap, clean, safe electricity.

    You also need to recognise that we are spending about $2 billion per year in routine replacements.

    Have a go, eclipse now. Suggest a cheaper way to provide near emissions free electricity. I challenge you. Chart 12 here https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/09/emission-cuts-realities/ shows that even on the high cost assumptions for nuclear power used in this analysis, the nuclear option is by far the least cost way to reduce emissions from electricity.


  127. Eclipsenow,

    I think I misunderstood the point you are making. Perhaps you are saying that if we reduce the duplication of federal and state responsibilities, the saving would amount to large amounts of dollars which could then be put to better uses. If that is your argument, then I strongly agree.


  128. Hi Peter,
    absolutely! We pay apparently something like $30 billion for the duplication in paper-work at the State government level parliaments, and adjusting to all the various kinds of legislation across this nation it costs businesses another $20 billion in training, lost manhours adjusting to the whims of the various arbitrary state boundaries.

    We are a nation of only 21 million, and at the ratio of States and Territories we have that works out about 14 times more government than Californian’s have with their 36 million people in one State.

    For those arguing that at least we get more representation, I’d ask if we really get 14 times more representation and ‘bang for our tax buck’?

    I’d rather Australia have ONE Parliament for all.

    This is my favourite Alternative Constitution (for now):-


    The Draft Specifications for a Citizens Constitution presented here are intended to provide a basis for the reform of our dysfunctional federal system of government. The aim is effective and efficient governance, and increased opportunity for local and regional communities to participate in their own government. In addition, adoption of these proposals would obviate some of the disabilities of our political system, such as the disruptive electoral cycle, simplistic policy auctions, counter-productive adversarial politics and extravagant election campaigns that offer openings for corruption.

    The most obvious element is the reduction of the number of levels of elected government from three to two. Power would be divided between a reformed national parliament, attending to issues of national significance, and enhanced local governments, acting collaboratively to attend to all others. Decision-making and implementation would be shifted to the lowest operational level that is feasible by introducing the principle of subsidiarity, which would allow opportunities for increased efficiency and responsiveness.

    With considerable advantage but no significant disruption, the regionalized functions of the states and territories would become the responsibility of boards of management nominated by the local governments in the regions appropriate for each function. Local government would, of course, be immeasurably enhanced by the wealth of talent released by the abolition of state parliaments.

    The national parliament would consist of 400 members, elected for single terms of five years from 40 electorates. Elections, in which each voter may select one man and one women, would be held successively by a postal ballot, one electorate at a time, every six or seven weeks. The electoral cycle would become an historical item.

    An executive council of ten would be elected from the national parliament to run the country, together with four executive committees with specific duties. One committee would appoint and manage the staff of all government services, another would set and enforce standards of financial management for governments, a third would investigate and disclose improprieties in government and its agencies, while a fourth would provide an interface with local government. Elections to these five bodies would be by a proportional method and members would hold office for not more than eight years after election.

    The 1901 Constitution is an agreement between the politicians of the former colonies to allocate certain functions of government to the Commonwealth. The civic rights and responsibilities of citizens (who are referred to as subjects), being derived from the long and valuable tradition inherited by the colonies from the United Kingdom, are not spelled out, as they are in the constitutions of many other countries. The trend to increasing secrecy in government, both state and federal, and the development of a secret police force, represent a regressive trend, which significantly reduces the status of our democracy. Therefore, these specifications include citizens’ rights and free access to public information, as well as the separation of church from state.

    In brief, if a system of government based on these specifications were to be developed, then:

    . Our country would have one parliament instead of nine,

    . Local government would have an expanded role in delivering government services,

    . Responsibilities would be allocated to the most appropriate level of government,

    . The national parliament would consist of two hundred men and two hundred women representing forty electorates,

    . Elections for parliament would be held progressively instead of periodically, avoiding the disruptive and extravagant contests of political bravado that we have now,

    . The national parliament would elect an executive government that would be representative of the whole parliament, instead of the dominant factions of the majority party,

    . The parliament would elect four executive committees to undertake specific long-term functions that are better kept separate from executive government.

    . The Governor-general, six state Governors and two Administrators would be replaced with a part-time head-of-state.

    While the proposals above may appear radical, some could be realized under the 1901 constitution, for instance, the conduct of elections and the selection of a representative executive government. Moreover, these two reforms could be seen as a prerequisite to the restructure of federal-state government relations, because without a proper balance in the national government, people would be unlikely to accept a reduction in the powers of the states.


  129. Peter Lang thank you very much. Not that interested in emissions reductions but cleanliness is close to godliness. They sound far more sensible and efficient than burning coal.

    As we spent 200 billion on the GFC how much better would it have been to spent half of it on these reactors? Not as much money quickly into the system but the end result would have been many times better.

    Eclipsenow-I agree that the state govt’s need to be demolished. Another fact for you in the ‘what the hell are we doing’ area. We have the largest single education administration dept. in the world in NSW, try to understand what savings there are in there, not quite a reactor but could be useful?


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