Best arguments for nuclear power?

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Best arguments for nuclear power?

Postby Nocmis » 18 May 2011, 22:08

What three or four arguments for nuclear power do you consider to be the most powerful and useful? Reason for asking is the need to produce an advanced argumentative speech arguing for nuclear power, and therefore would prefer to get input on what people consider to be powerful arguments. Other than that, I need to bring up one or two counter argument, so it would be great if you'd like to write about that as well.

I'm thinking about arguments for continuing using nuclear power, and also building new power plants. Or should I approach it in another fashion?
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Re: Best arguments for nuclear power?

Postby Dag Lindgren » 20 May 2011, 09:28

Nuclear Energy has a huge developmental potential. One of the most important paradigm shifts of the advancing Science frontier of the previous century was that Mankind understood and was able to manage the nuclear structures. Often we call this new Era “the Atomic Age”. Nuclear techniques carry the potential to solve most energy related problems forever.

Nuclear power has not fulfilled the high expectations half a century ago. It is not used in many countries, in particular not the poor. The global percentage of power production is low. The reliability is far from perfect. Serious accidents have happened. Investment costs are high. Nuclear energy has been wastefully used, only one third is used as electricity. Projects have often been abandoned. Its technical development the past 30 years does not look impressive. Nuclear is seldom seen as politically correct and is often met with suspicion. Still it has worked for half a century and delivered heaps of electricity.

Nuclear energy is still a recent technology, which ought to be able to develop radical new concepts, solutions and niches. To prosper and even survive Mankind must develop different options on a broad front. The nuclear is still the (probably) most promising option in a long term perspective with a huge potential to adapt to Man´s different needs. To improve the nuclear option, it is needed to continuously construct new reactors. It is too early to jump off from the Atomic Age. National political decisions to declare the nuclear pattern a dead end have a very negative impact on development, and shoot at a target which is not fixed.
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Re: Best arguments for nuclear power?

Postby zl2wrw » 20 May 2011, 12:57

Hi Nocmis,

Nuclear power is not perfectly safe, but then no energy source is - even exposure to the Sun's UV rays is said to cause cancer! and falling off of a roof whilst installing or cleaning solar panels is definitely bad for one's health...

However, when you look at the statistics, eg http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/03/deaths ... urces.html it becomes apparent that nuclear power is one of the safest forms of energy in terms of deaths per tera-Watt hour (1,000,000 MW hr).


Why then the public misconception of nuclear power as more dangerous than it really is? I belive that this is because of several factors including;
1) most people have little to no idea about how nuclear energy is used to do useful work, but almost all people seem to know that radiation is bad. People are afraid of that which they do not understand (neophobia), where as controled combustion of chemical fuel is a process that most people have first hand experience of and they have got used to the risks posed by it.

2) nuclear power doesn't go wrong very often, but when it does, it can do so in a big way, affecting many people all at once (Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc). Thus the public perception of the risks of nuclear energy vs combustion energy is much like the situation regarding commercial air travel vs road accidents. Arguably, people are more affraid (higher percieved risk) of being hurt or killed in an airliner crash which can kill hundereds of people in one event, than they are of being in a car crash which is unlikely to kill more than a handful of people but is unfortunately a very regular occurance on our roads. The facts are that commercial air travel is much safer than road travel in terms of deaths per passenger km - see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_safety#Statistics
The rail industry is also affected by this fear: http://www.railwatch.org.uk/backtrack/rw94/rw094p06.pdf

So, for example, driving across country rather than flying because you are affraid of being hurt in an air crash is irrational, because you are far more likely to be killed making that journey in your car rather than on the airliner. Similarily, a nation building coal fired electricity generating plant because collectively they are affraid of the risk of a nuclear accident is also irrational.

Remember that you can't see, hear, taste, smell or hear ionising radiation - so thinking about a possible nuclear accident, people with no radiation measuring instruments realise that they would have no idea of how much danger they might be in, so they tend to assume that the worst will happen and act accordingly - "nuclear power, no thanks".


Most of the cost of nuclear power is in the upfront construction of costs of the power station - most of these costs are for safety equipment like the containment structure and multiple redundant cooling systems. Fuel and waste management comprises a small fraction of the cost of nuclear energy. Developments in technology (eg molten salt reactors) might reduce the costs of building nuclear power stations, as they have reduced the real-dollar costs of other high tech products (the airline industry is a good example - international air travel used to be horrendously expensive, only the rich could afford to fly, but today, in spite of much higher jet fuel prices, flying long distance is very affordable and is practically within reach of almost everyone in the developed world)

I understand that nuclear waste is a political problem, not a technical problem.
Very basically, when you expose Uranium to nuetrons in a nuclear reactor, some of it releases energy by fissioning into "fission products" which have relatively short half-lives and lose most of their radioactivity within a few hundred years (becoming no more radioactive than the uranium ore that was mined in the first place), and some of the uranium captures neutrons and "transmutes" into other elements like Plutonium, which have long half-lives and remain "danergous" for a very long time. The fission products "poison" the reactor by slowing down the rate of reaction as they accumulate - eventually you have to replace the "poisoned" fuel with fresh fuel.
Spent fuel reprocessing is where you take the spent fuel from a reactor, separate out the highly radioactive fission products which can be vitrified, stored for a few hundered years and then burried, whilst pretty much everything else (unfissioned uranium and radioactive transmuted elements) can be sent back to a reactor to be used again.
The poltical problem is that some reprocessing processes are capable of separating relatively pure plutonium from the spent fuel, and the problem with that is that Plutonium239 is basically the best stuff for fueling nuclear weapons. Though as countries make peace with each other, prolifferation of nuclear weapons will become less of an issue? (for example, in the history of Europe, England and France used to be "at each other's throats", regularly making war, however, since then both countries have had nuclear weapons for half a century or so, are trading partners as part of the EU, and have been considering sharing naval aircraft carriers for economic reasons - enemies indeed.)

Breeder reactors which can help use up our vast stockpiles of depleted uranium and spent light water reactor fuel (eg the successful Soviet BN350 and BN600 breeder reactors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BN350 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BN-600_reactor) can be built with current technology, but they are not yet ecconomic, though this will likely change in the future as technology develops.

If we are prepared to develop futher the technology (breeder reactors and extraction of uranium from sea water) we won't be running out of reactor fuel any time soon:
http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/with ... _164.shtml
Is 1000 years enough time to either develop fusion power or for the world's population and thus energy demand to stablise and slowly decline (falling birth rate with increasing affluence, eventualy people simply not having enough children to keep up with natural attrition)?

quoting:
http://www.ecolo.org/documents/document ... erland.htm
"The world combined spent fuel and DU total to about 2002 (about 240,000 tonnes of spent fuel, and about 1.45E6 T of DU respectively) most of which is sitting at the surface, is highly refined and contains enough potential energy (about 6E15 kWh of electrical energy equivalent) to make the entire known oil reserves (excluding the very significant tar sands and oil shales) of the whole world look very limited."

"Ah well! So much for environmentalist cant about recycling everything, and being concerned about resources, sustainability, waste, pollution, energy conservation, Global Climate Change, and the environment."


Cheers
Ross Whenmouth
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Re: Best arguments for nuclear power?

Postby morikawak » 07 Dec 2011, 18:46

One of the main reasons raised against nuclear power is that it's unsafe and that it can lead to accidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima.

However.
These can be prevented easily by development of technology. Taking Fukushima as an example, out of the 13 reactors exposed to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, only the 4 oldest reactors suffered damage [http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110315/full/471273a.html]. Also, the reason that it was damaged was not because of the earthquake but because of the tsunami. Nuclear plants in Japan are designed so that it can withstand earthquakes like the one in March because Japan is an earthquake prone zone. In reality, the plant HAD survived the earthquake intact as the plant shutdown system had worked like it should've. However the tsunami, which reached up to areas of 40m above sea level, had damaged the backup generator of the plant despite the protective wall surrounding it. This tsunami was one of the largest ever recorded in history. New structures and designs can be developed learning from this disaster, as the aforementioned statistic also shows that the newer plants withstood both the earthquake and tsunami.
The United States had also reviewed their nuclear energy policies after the Three Mile Island, and since then have had no major nuclear accidents.
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Re: Best arguments for nuclear power?

Postby NuclearSpeak » 13 Dec 2011, 14:00

Nuclear power from 20 reactors accounts for less than 3% of the electricity that India generates: Of the installed capacity of 1.8 lakh MW, just 4,780 MW is nuclear energy, even though facilities to generate 6,700 MW more are under construction. Thermal power dominates India's energy production, but environmental concerns and a rapid depletion of coal have forced power developers to look for cleaner alternatives, such as gas, hydro-electricity, solar and wind power and nuclear energy, even though they cost more than thermal power.
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