Van Snyder's Web about Nuclear Power

Why Nuclear Power?

Nuclear waste

Nuclear "waste" is actually valuable 95%-unused fuel. The unused fuel part needs custody for 300,000 years, but a better idea is to turn it into energy and fission products. Fission products are produced at the rate of one tonne per gigawatt-electric year (8,766,000,000 kWh). Significant radiotoxicity is produced by only four isotopes, summarized in the following table and figure.

Contributions of Fission Products to Radiotoxicity after ten years
RadiotoxicityElementkg/GWe-yrIsotopeHalf lifekg/GWe-yrCustody
55.95% strontium 21.75 90Sr 28.79 y 11.79 300 y
43.44% caesium 70.52 137Cs 30.04 y 27.52 300 y
0.401% europium 4.473 154Eu 8.593 y 0.56 100 y
0.033% cadmium 3.795 113mCd 14.10 y 0.00529 30 y
0.076% other radioactive 428.2 10 y
0.0% not radioactive470.8 none

See the links to detailed reports of used LWR fuel contents below.

Detailed radiotoxicity curves were computed from radioactivity of fission products having half lives longer than five years.

For a completely closed system that produces no long-lived transuranics, a fast-neutron reactor with fuel reprocessing, such as described by Till and Chang, is necessary.

Spent fuel has a value of $2,385,309.88 per tonne (52.185 MWe-yr). Fuel processing ought to be a profit center, not a cost center.

My papers

We will need liquid hydrocarbon fuels indefinitely

We will need liquid hydrocarbon fuels indefinitely for airplanes, probably for ships, heavy construction equipment, farm equipment, and heavy freight too large for trains, and maybe for long-distance auto travel.

Fortunately, liquid hydrocarbon fuels can be made from CO2 plus hydrogen using the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Hydrogen can be extracted from seawater using the copper-chlorine thermochemical process at an energy cost of 532 kJ/mol (about 0.079 MWh/T). One step of the process needs heat at about 1000o Fahrenheit (530o Celsius), almost exactly the core temperature of a nuclear power reactor.

The concentration of CO2 in seawater is 140 times greater than in the atmosphere. Removing CO2 from seawater exploits the oceans' enormous surface area to remove it indirectly from the atmosphere.

In CO2 extraction from seawater using bipolar membrane electrodialysis (Energy & Environmental Science 2012, 5 7346 DOI:10.1039/c2ee03393c), Eisamen et al described the PARC BPMED process to extract 52% of dissolved CO2 from seawater at an energy cost of 242 kJ/mol (about 1.5 MWh/T). There's an abstract here and my copy here.

PARC estimates that liquid hydrocarbon fuels can be made from seawater plus energy using the BPMED, copper-chlorine, and Fischer-Tropsch processes, for $3.00/gallon. The energy density of automotive gasoline is about 12.5 MWh/T.

The US Navy is developing a method using these processes to make jet fuel aboard nuclear aircraft carriers.

Burning hydrocarbon fuels made from seawater would be a net negative CO2 transfer to the atmosphere and oceans. CO2 that results from burning the fuels would go into the atmosphere, and eventually back into the oceans, but surely some would be trapped in plants and soils. CO2 extracted from seawater could also be sequestered in geologic storage.

My idea for a combined energy center

The United States has 90,000 tonnes of spent fuel and 900,000 tonnes of depleted uranium. This is enough to fuel an all-nuclear all-electric 1,700 GWe American energy economy for 575 years -- longer than that to the extent solar and wind contribute. The long term attraction is that it is essentially limitless. Uranium salts are water soluble, and are continuously entering the oceans from the bottom and in rivers. The concentration of uranium in seawater and ocean-bottom rocks is in equilibrium. As uranium is taken from seawater, more enters from rocks. There is enough uranium already in the oceans to provide all the energy humanity currently uses for a million years. Uranium can be extracted from seawater, but this will not be necessary for a very long time.

External links

Nuclear power


Why Renewable Sources Aren't Enough

  • In Deep Decarbonization of the Electric Power Sector: Insights from Recent Literature (March 2017), Jesse D. Jenkins and Samuel Thernstrom concluded that deep decarbonization without nuclear power will be extremely expensive (and Heard et al say it's impossible).

  • Shutting down reactors is stupid

    Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) vulnerability

    In 1969, the Sun belched out several trillion cubic miles of extremely hot plasma, at very high speed. When it reached the Earth, it caused an enormous electromagnetic pulse. Aurora were seen as far south as Cuba. Power distribution systems experienced significant damage. The American energy economy was smaller, and had essentially no solar panels or windmills. Damage was significant, but not catastrophic.

    There was a much more severe event, called the Carrington Event, in 1859.

    The Sun does this every eleven years or so, and it hits the Earth every sixty years or so.

    Solar panels are inherently vulnerable to EMP, either caused by a solar eruption or nefarious actors. Windmills are too, but would not be nearly as devastated. The millions of miles of additional wiring necessary to a nationwide "all renewable" distribution system would be a giant EMP antenna. It would be severely damaged, and would transmit the damage into every level of the system. It would take decades to rebuild and recover, at enormous expense.

    Nuclear power plants, inside four-foot-thick concrete domes, laced with steel, or in underground "silos" as NuScale envisions, are inherently invulnerable to EMP. Small (50-350 MWe) modular nuclear power plants would each have enough capacity and reliability to power their communities independently from myriads of other small sources. They would be distributed throughout the country, and would require a very much smaller interconnect, which would be a very much smaller EMP antenna.

    Watch these videos


    Comments? Questions? Spot any mistakes?
    van dot snyder at sbcglobal dot net.