IFR FaD Nuclear

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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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

165 replies on “IFR FaD 4 – a lifetime of energy in the palm of your hand”

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.


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.


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)


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.


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.


So do I take it from the above post Barry that Australia would only need 32ish reactors? + electric cars making more energy demand, and some vast hydrogen / synfuel plants…. 35, 40 reactors?


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.


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.


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?


In my opinion the present generation will have done enough to secure high level waste for 100,000 years as in the Swedish system
If that’s inadequate that will be a problem for future humanoids to solve.

Incidentally I think something like the Forsmark facility would be better suited to the tech savvy Woomera area near Olympic Dam SA rather than say the NT.


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!


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.


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)


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?)


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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)


@Robert Smart:

(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.


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?


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).


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)


@ 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.


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.


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.


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


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.


@ 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?


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.


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?


@ 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.


Lawrence, on 23 April 2010 at 10.29 — A decent estimate for the cost of building an NPP is US$3.5–5 per Watt. If produced in quantity the price would come down somewhat.


@ 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?


Error in my calculation:
should be
so probably 200GW
or 1000GW (1TW) if you try to do it with renewables only.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



….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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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….


@ 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.


@ 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.


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.



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.


“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).


@ 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.


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).


@ 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.


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.


@ 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.


@ 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)


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! ;-)


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.


“….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.


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?



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.


@ 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. ;-)


@ 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.


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…


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.


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.


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!


“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.


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.


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”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


@ 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)


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.


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.


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