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Nuclear power is dangerous May 3, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Nuclear Power, rant, Sustainable Living.

In March, the Oxford Research Group released a briefing paper entitled Secure Energy? Civil nuclear power, security and global warming, which summarises detailed evidence to show that a worldwide expansion of civil nuclear energy generation would significantly increase the risk of nuclear terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation.

For some reason, I never thought of this aspect of nuclear energy as a big problem, but reading this report changed my mind.

A greater role for atomic energy would result in many more nuclear research and production facilities as well as transit routes for radioactive materials, providing a growing number of hard-to-secure targets for direct terrorist attack and theft of nuclear weapons-usable materials.

There is not enough sufficiently high-grade uranium ore in the Earth’s crust to sustain the anticipated expansion of nuclear power for very long. The report claims that the “energy cliff” for nuclear power (i.e. the point in time when the system as a whole would consume as much energy as it can generate in usable electricity) based on uranium will be reached between about 2050 and 2075.

As a result, the nuclear industry will be forced to rely increasingly on reprocessing spent uranium fuel into Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) and reactor-grade plutonium. There are several reprocessing plants in operation, for example in the UK, Japan and France, at the moment, but more would have to be built in future to satisfy demand.

The problem is that even with the most sophisticated technical safeguards available today there is always a degree of uncertainty about exactly how much plutonium is produced by such reprocessing plants.

This is inherent to the system and is not a matter of efficiency or competence of operators and safety inspectors. Even based on the most optimistic estimates (more than 99% efficiency), the potential amount of plutonium that may go statistically unaccounted for in one reprocessing plant, and could be diverted by unscrupulous governments or employees without being detected, is enough to manufacture a nuclear weapon each month.

Some atomic energy enthusiasts suggest that so-called “Generation IV” or “breeder” reactors are the answer. These reactors use mostly plutonium and only little uranium, and in theory they produce more nuclear fuel than they use – they “breed” plutonium-239.

After 50 years of very expensive and intense research, no one has so far been able to demonstrate that this technology is actually technically feasible. Two of the current “breeders” have been out of operation for years and one has a long history of serious accidents. None of them have actually ever “bred” any plutonium-239.

If they ever should become viable, “Generation IV” reactors will only add to security worries because they produce super-weapons grade plutonium.

An increase in worldwide nuclear power generation will thus lead to a massive increase in radioactive material that can be used to manufacture atomic bombs.

To build such weapons is easier than most of us imagine. It has been estimated that 19 people with about US$10 million would be able to assemble a nuclear weapon in a year – not out of the question for a terrorist organisation or a rogue government.

If you live in Cape Town and are not yet sufficiently worried about the dangers of nuclear power plants, read this excellent report about Koeberg atomic energy station, written on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.


1. Hard Rain - May 3, 2007

Two words: Hydrogen Fusion.

2. Andreas - May 3, 2007

Six words, a comma and a (big) question mark: where, when and how much moolah?

3. Maktab - May 3, 2007

Certainly by 2060, when one considers that a fusion reaction has been sustained for a brief period of time already and that governments are optimistic enough to be building the multi-billion dollar ITER fusion research reactor. By the time decreasing levels of natural uranium become an issue, better solutions will be available.

The aspects of the report that deal with the security of radioactive material are more reasonable, but the conclusion should be that we need better and more effective anti-proliferation techniques and agreements and better security, not that we need to abandon nuclear power. After all, it’s not like there’s a choice here between nuclear power and solar/wind/wave power; since the latter options can’t deliver the base load power that’s required. Thus the choice is really between nuclear power and yet more coal and oil fired plants. With global warming being the issue that it is, do you really think we should be building more coal and oil plants?

4. Andreas - May 4, 2007

Sorry, 2006 is way too late and no, I don’t think we should build more coal and oil fired plants. Between renewables, energy efficiency and as far as I’m concerned a move away from the continuous growth and consumption path the world is on, we don’t need them or nuclear. See my previous post here:
The security aspect is just one of several very good reasons to reject nuclear energy.

5. Robert Palgrave - May 8, 2007

SOLAR not nuclear

There really is no need for nuclear power in South Africa since there is a simple mature technology that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

‘Concentrating solar power’ (CSP), employs the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and currently provides power for about 100,000 Californian homes. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient ‘HVDC’ transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in Namibia. A portion of the Namib desert would be sufficient to meet all of Namibia’s needs, and South Africa’s as well.

In the ‘TRANS-CSP’ report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at http://www.trecers.net and http://www.trec-uk.org.uk . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at http://www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .

6. Michael Stuart - May 9, 2007

CSP is no substitute for nuclear energy!

Concentrating Solar Power (or CSP) is inefficient, expensive, and has notable environmental impacts.

According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/gross_system_power.html ), all of the utility-generated solar power in the state amounts to two-tenths of one percent of the state’s electricity production. Because of the limited availability of sunlight, these systems have notoriously low capacity factors and therefore cannot be relied upon for baseload power.

According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/comparative_costs.html ), at 13 to 42 cents per kWhr, solar power is *the* most expensive way to generate electricity. In a time when energy prices are skyrocketing, few people can afford a large-scale conversion to solar power. What’s more, due to its low capacity factors, solar capacity must be backed up with additional stand-by power generation, which adds to the overall cost of solar.

Environmental impact
Solar collectors also require a huge area of land, which must be dedicated to solar generation. Even in the desert, this could disrupt the delicate ecology. Additionally, in order for the salts to remain molten at night, CSP requires fossil fuels to be burned for heat. According to a US Department of Energy study ( http://www.nrel.gov/docs/gen/fy98/24496.pdf ), these systems are “hybridized” with up to 25% natural gas. Ironically, this renewable technology is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions!

Nevertheless, concentrating solar technology, along with many other renewable power sources such as wind, tidal, and geothermal, should continue to be supported in hopes that a breakthrough will someday allow them to be a significant source of energy generation. Today however, CSP is no replacement for baseload energy generation sources. In the medium term, we cannot abandon the proven, effective, and efficient source of low-emission energy that nuclear power has to offer. To learn more about the benefits of nuclear energy, check out http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=1&catid=11 and http://www.casenergy.org/WhyNuclear/TheBasics/tabid/66/Default.aspx

Michael Stuart

7. isochroma - July 18, 2010

ITER is big alright. ITER is a big fatass theft of taxpayer dollars, just like every single other publicly-funded fusion ‘program’.

Each one is a huge fatass black hole sucking down taxpayer dollars that could have been spent on better things than giant corporate welfare programs. Like housing for the people, like guaranteed annual income, like population reduction, like environmental protection.

It is time to halt these boondoggles before they suck up more precious taxpayer dollars which are so desperately needed to help the ever-growing underclass of people living in poverty.

The taxpayer is being told to starve so these trojan programs can continue to leech away their livelihoods. Witness today’s ‘Austerity’ programs beginning to spread through Europe and soon everywhere… there will be no money for your children or retirement as the elites are spending every Country into bankrupcy with their Wars and so-called Defense Spending and spending on toxic Fission and blackhole Fusion ‘technologies’.

From its inception to today, fusion has been a gigantic blackhole welfare program for the rich corporations and their scientistic employees with the starving taxpayer footing the bill.

No more. Its time to end all public funding for these so-called ‘energy’ programs. If there’s money in it let the so-called ‘Free Market’ fund it. After all, those richie private investors already have trillions floating around that they don’t know what to do with, why don’t they risk their own assets and asses instead of making the taxpayer the victim? Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy.

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