Sunday, November 05, 2006

European Blackouts...Nuclear Power Needed

Yesterday there were blackouts rippling across Europe and the nation of Georgia was being blackmailed by their former masters Russia, who is threatening to raise their natural gas prices.

A good example why nuclear power is an inevitable winner in the future. When people's power goes out or they are freezing to death because their gas has been cut off...then suddenly, magically, they lose their objections to nuclear power.

Buy uranium futures!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why Can't We Buy 100% Nuclear Electricity?

About half the states in the US have programs that allow residents and businesses to purchase "green" electricity, that which is generated by wind, solar, and hydro. So, why can't people buy the "greenest" electricity -- from nuclear power plants?

Any of you nuclear fans who might read this blog, leave a comment!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Recent Advances Demonstrate Why Nuclear Will Win

In the past few months, engineers have announced some reletively simple changes that will increase the safety and efficiency of nuclear plants.

For example, a group at MIT have found that by making Uranium fuel pellets hollow, like tubes (Right now they are basically solid slugs) it's possible to increase the fuel efficiency by 50%.

Yes that's right folks. One minor change, and we get a 50% pop. That's an incredible increase. Compare that to oil or coal plants, or wind or solar systems, where it takes decades to squeeze out a 2 or 3 percent increase.

This is a perfect example of why nuclear power is the long-term winner of the energy race on this planet. It's already the safest, cleanest, and most efficient energy source on the planet...AND we've only barely begun to see the kind of improvements that will come over time.

In another 20 years or 50 years, nuclear plants will become so powerful and efficient, fossil fuels, and probably most renewables, will simply be unable to compete.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Go to this Site and Send a Letter...

I just ran into a site called "Kick the Oil Habit". They have a cool little form where you can send a letter to the fossil fuel industry. I suspect they want us to send a letter berating the fossil fuel industry for it's sins. Instead, I sent them a letter inviting them to INVEST IN NUCLEAR POWER.

Dear Energy Company Executives:

By far the fastest, easiest, and most proven solution to carbon dioxide reduction is to BUILD MORE NUCLEAR REACTORS!

Unlike wind, solar, and biofuels, all of which have had a difficult time delivering on the promises made by their advocates, nuclear power has a solid record of success.

For example, France converted 75% of their electrical grid to nuclear power, thus making their electicity completely carbon-free, in only 25 years. If the US, Canada, and the UK did the same (and if the French could do it, why couldn't we?) then that would cut worldwide carbon emissions by almost 30%. It's an awesome, but achievable, goal.

Nuclear reactors are also well-designed for producing vast amounts of hydrogen to power vehicles as well. Yes, nuclear waste is a mess to deal with, but it's a million times less trouble than the carbon dioxide waste that we are currently pumping into the air. Sequestering a few barrels of nuclear waste is much easier than sequestering mile-high clouds of carbon dioxide.

I urge your firm to begin investing in developing the nuclear industry. It's still early in the "nuclear renasissance" and a great time to make good returns for your investors, and position your firm to be part of the great energy shift of the next century.
Or better yet, be like General Electric and invest in BOTH nuclear power AND in wind energy. That's the kind of vigorous effort that will save the world from Global Warming.

Thank you.

Then I sent this letter to my friends:

We need to get the message out. It's time for us to start investing more agressively in nuclear power. Solar, wind, and biofuels are a nice dream, but have been painfully slow to grow. Nuclear power, on the other hand, has proven its ability to deliver enormous amounts of carbon-dioxide free electricity.

For example, France converted 75% of their electrical grid to nuclear power in only 25 years. If the entire world did the same, we would solve the Global Warming problem immediately.

We need to spread the word. Nuclear power is our best shot of handling global warming. Let's work on it!

Step 1 is to get the Environmental Movement to drop their wrongheaded objections to nuclear power. They just "don't get it" and the earth is suffering as a result.

Please go to and ask them to prove they are serious about Global supporting nuclear power as one good part of the solution.

Watch the video. Learn more. Take action. Join the campaign. If we work together, we can have a better energy future.


"Within 2 Generations, Nuclear Will Become Primary Source of Energy"

Here is a great summary of the energy market from the Emerging Trends Report (an Oakland-based thinktank), comparing nuclear power to "clean" coal.


Nuclear energy is perceived to be expensive, inefficient, hazardous and fraught with danger ... and within two generations will become America’s primary source of energy.

The next evolutionary step that will be taken in the decades ahead will be the development of dual-use nuclear power: base load electrical generation coupled with the electrolysis of water to produce either hydrogen, a carbon-neutral fuel posited as the clean replacement for fossil fuels, or potable water. There will be a dire need for both in the years ahead.

This leads the ETR to the conclusion the focus should not be on costs but on policy - we have to find a better energy policy, one we can live with for generations to come. And in this regard, nuclear energy holds far more promise than either coal or natural gas.

Monday, July 31, 2006

"Supergrid" Powerlines For a Nuclear-Based Economy

This months Scientific American publishes an article discussing a new concept in power grids, which transport both electrical power and liquid hydrogen. This is a key enabling technology for the next century because it will allow massive increases in power transport AND even more important, the liquid hydrogen in the network allows excess power to be "stored" or buffered.

This technology would be perfect for a Nuclear + Wind/Solar based economy. It would solve the problem of "intermittent power" that plagues the wind/solar folks. Of course, it would also enable the expansion of nuclear energy, because it would allow the nuclear industry to keep building more reactors on the same existing sites. It's politically much more difficult to build a new nuclear site, but reletively easy to add more units to existing sites.

Scientific American: A Power Grid for the Hydrogen Economy

Cryogenic, superconducting conduits could be connected into a "SuperGrid" that would simultaneously deliver electrical power and hydrogen fuel.

One interesting point the article made: existing power lines are not only overtaxed, but the system is pretty much at it's limit.

By the way, the co-author of this paper is Chauncy Starr, the former head of the Electric Power Research Institute and one of the great leaders the nuclear industry. If he says it will work, it will work!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thought-Provoking Article on GNEP

The Bush administration has been working on a program called GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) which would have the result of re-introducing nuclear fuel reprocessing in the United States, and would set up a program to distribute fuel and collect used fuel from other nations.

Jenny Wang was kind enough to forward this article in Technology Review, in which Matthew Wald questions the value of GNEP.

It's an excellent article. After reading it a few times, I can't say I agree with him completely, but at the same time his points are quite valid. It's well worth some debate. In fact I believe that the GNEP program is currently soliciting comments from nuclear energy experts on the first draft plan, and so nothing is finalized yet.

Here's my take:

1. Carbon Sequestration

Wald talks about the "horse race" between carbon-sequestered coal, nuclear, and wind. But carbon sequestration is still extremely speculative. People talk about the "problem" of nuclear waste, but disposal of nuclear waste is a snap compared to carbon sequestration on any scale. It's a simple matter of density: one small pellet of nuclear waste, which is a very dense solid easy to vitrify in a form which is chemically inert, is equivalent to a mile-wide cloud of carbon dioxide gas which must be pumped somewhere and sealed, and which will leak and corrode the local ground. The idea of carbon sequestration in the ocean is even more bizarre (except for Iron Fertilization, a technique which might really work, but which is unsuitable for power-plant carbon sequestration).

Really, carbon sequestration is a stunningly difficult and unlikely engineering problem, and any researcher who claims otherwise is blowing smoke. Here's a nice post on carbon sequestration by Rod Adams

2. Wind

Regarding wind, we already have discussed at length it's problems. It's completely random and intermittent and essentially usesless for baseload power. On the other hand, wind works very well if you can back it up with a solid baseload generator like nuclear power. So wind, solar, and nuclear are really not competitors at all. They are collaborators. This view will slowly gain traction in the general public and will eventually be conventional wisdom.

3. Proliferation

He also worries about proliferation. Well folks, Pakistan got a bomb, North Korea got a bomb, and Iran is getting one. Hate to say it, but it's already too late. The bigger proliferation problem is the enormous flow of oil money into the middle-east and african nations, and the western world's unhealthy dependance on these nations. Energy security trumps proliferation, in my view.

4. Build What You Have

Wald suggests that the GNEP vision (which is essentially based on fast reactors) might hamper the current new build of commercial nuclear plants. That's a valid concern. It's crucial that we build the plants we have now. That's how all industries grow and what you have, tinker and improve it later after you've got a healthy cashflow and vendor/engineer infrastructure in place. In fact, I've been interviewing a lot of retired nuclear industry leaders lately, and they all make that point. "Build what you have now! Resist chasing the new designs, because then you'll never build anything!"

5. But Vision Is Important. Perhaps Crucial.

But you also can't stop researching new designs. We will need the fast reactor option in place in 20 or 30 years. That is a clear vision for the future of the planet and a vision which could serve the human race, and provide a clean energy civilization for the next century at least. That's a hell of an important vision.

In fact you might find that this vision -- of a healthy clean future for all of human civilization -- might be crucial to the future of nuclear power. As you've probably seen me talking about (endlessly) on this blog, I think we are at an important turning point for the human race. China and India between them are attemping to raise their 2 billion citizens, 1/3rd of the human race from poverty to dignity in the next few decades. That is an awesome moral crusade for the human race. Nuclear power could be the keystone of that effort, just as the Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric project of the 1930's was the keystone of the Rural Electrification projects of that time in the US.

Nuclear power could be seen as a symbol of an amazing future for human civilization. Nuclear power and Wind and Solar, as partners, could be even better. The question, what leader will step up to deliver this vision to the waiting public?

6. Nuclear Engineers Might be Too Cynical and Dry. Time to Spice it Up?

Many nuclear engineers are uncomfortable with this kind of talk. I don't blame them. Let's face it, it sounds like hype, and the nuclear industry got severly burned by this kind of hype in the 60s. Nuclear industry people prefer to be quiet and behind-the-scenes. They just want to build some reactors, get them licensed, start generating, and turn their reactors into enormous cash cows. Not a bad plan at all.

But you still have to have vision, because the public needs it. Dry, purely functional engineering just isn't quite enough in today's world. You need some flair, and some vision, and some sex appeal. If for no other reason, you need a little sex appeal if you want to attract students into your nuclear engineering degree programs, and develop your nuclear workforce.

7. In Conclusion.

So just like anything in life, there is a balance that needs to be struck. In this case the balance will lie between "build what you have now" and "plan new visions for the future". Hopefully the Bush administration and whatever administration takes power in 2008 will be able to make this balance.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Another Reason Celluostic Ethanol is a False Hope

Part of being a nuclear advocate is debunking the endless stream of poorly-thought-out energy "solutions" that pop up. For example, the latest ethanol craze.

Here is a great article in the Washington Post debunking ethanol.

But celluostic ethanol has an even bigger problems that aren't mentioned:

Celluostic agricultural waste is ALREADY being used to generate electricity. It's being burned in waste-burning plants to generate electricity. Sawdust (which is often cited as a source) has been burned to power the sawmills and surrounding communities for decades.

If we converted existing sources of ag waste to ethanol production, we'd experience a decrease in energy efficiency. Burning this waste in a typical power plant is actually pretty efficient. Something on the order of 25% or 30% efficient. The creation of ethanol would be much less efficient -- there's no way that a giant ethanol "cooking" plant full of cellulose-consuming bacteria will be anything better than 10% efficient converting the calories to useful energy.

Even if we do grow millions of additional tons of switchgrass or other energy crops, they're unlikely to become ethanol. They'll simply get burned to generate electricity. This will happen because burning them is the cheapest, easiest, and most profitable way to use the resource. The american midwest is full of coal and waste-burning plants who are hungry for green energy sources. These plants already exist, they are already running, and they will quickly, cheaply, and efficiently use up all the available energy crops.

Think of it this're a switchgrass-growing farmer. You can sell your crop to the local coal burning plant (which pays a much higher price, and which generates carbon abatement and pollution abatement credits when it burns your crop in place of coal). Or you could sell your switchgrass crop to the ethanol factory and get paid 1/2 the price. Who do you think you'll sell to?

Burning switchgrass instead of coal -- easy, cheap, already happening.

What's the point? There is very little net energy to be had in current agricultural waste, and any future growth of ag waste or energy crops will be best used for electrical production, not ethanol. Yes there are waste streams that can't be burned (amimal waste, etc) but these are reletively small. Celluostic ethanol will require a lot of new research, new technolgy, investments in new plants, and a lot of other complexity. Will it be worth it? Probably not.

Why do I care? In this and other pro-nuclear blogs, we've observed for years that in western society, especially american society, we've seen a rash of "energy sources" which are hyped to the public, many of which are technically unsound, yet the general public grabs onto them. It's a major obstacle to the logical development of real "green" energy sources like nuclear power.