Van Snyder's Web about Nuclear Power

Why Nuclear Power?

My papers

My idea for a combined energy center

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. In CO2 extraction from seawater using bipolar membrane electrodialysis (Energy & Environmental Science 2012, 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). Hydrocarbon fuels can be made using CO2, hydrogen extracted from seawater using the copper-chlorine thermochemical process at an energy cost of 532 kJ/mol (about 0.079 MWh/T), and the Fischer-Tropsch process to combine them. PARC estimates this can be done for $3.00/gallon. The energy density of automotive gasoline is about 12.5 MWh/T. 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 will go into the atmosphere, and eventually back into the oceans, but surely some will be trapped in plants and soils.

Uranium can be extracted from seawater, but this will not be necessary for a very long time. The United States has 80,000 tonnes of spent fuel and 900,000 tonnes of depleted uranium. This is enough to fuel an all-nuclear all-electric 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.


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Nuclear power

Safety

Why Renewable Sources Aren't Enough

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. The Sun does this 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 wiring necessary to a nationwide distribution system envisioned by advocates of 100% wind, water and solar, 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 rebar, 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.

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van dot snyder at sbcglobal dot net.