Energy independence for the US (or any other country)

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  • #101
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Russ - I favor solar power on precept and principle. The precept is to "Love God and love your neighbor in the land." And "beat your swords into plowshares."

Through the mercy of our God,
The Daystar of heaven shines upons us,
Enlightening those who dwell in darkness,
And in the shadow of death,
Guiding our feet along the path of peace.

(Adapted from one of the Gospels)

God (Nature) put the harmful nuclear energy in the Sun where it belongs. We were given an ozone layer and magnetosphere to protect from radiation harms. The politicos who said we were not depleting the ozone layer, or polluting Earth with leaded gasoline, were eventually proven wrong. So will many others who seek to protect profits while generating waste and pollution be proven wrong by the passage of sufficient time. The profit motive distorts one's reasoning about reality, which is why the message of the Prophets endures in scripture. I am not advocating religion, simply stating my interpretation of society/scripture parallels in the past and present social conditions.

Nature runs the biosphere on "hot" photons converted to high energy electrons via photosynthesis:

http://www.digital-recordings.com/publ/publife.html

Solar buildings are already contributing to industry/households becoming net energy positive:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/31_Tannery_Project

The radioactive waste hazard and risk of proliferation is something I would rather not tolerate, although it is hard to run nuclear warships on solar/renewable power, it is going to be possible to run industry and a domestic economy on a fuel portfolio including significant renewables in the not-so-distant future. I can envision a 100% solar economy not far down the road with only an improvement in conversion efficiency, electron storage, and a smart grid.

Once a technology takes root it enjoys two advantages, which could be called social subsidies (1) economies of scale; and (2) sunken investment costs. We are living on the sunken investment costs of Tesla's old "smart grid" and a fuel mix based on refining petroleum (do a study on the history of refining and note gasoline was once a waste product, hence the push to develop the internal combustion engine and lower the fuel costs of refining). We use all the by-products of refining oil the way Lakota used every part of the Buffalo, therefore it is hard to change the fuel mix without disrupting our way of life.

Society must undergo disruption to get from where we are to where we hope to be in terms of the energy fuel mix, and personally I prefer the so-called "soft path" as the best long term solution. I don't want a commitment to the "hard path" to preclude that by gaining its foothold via economies of scale and sunk investment costs.
 
  • #102
mheslep
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System Theory - what you call the soft path looks hard to me and vice versa.

What do we want: Nuclear!
When do we want it: Now!
What do we want: Nuclear!
When do we want it: Now!
What do we want: Nuclear!
When do we want it: Now!
 
  • #103
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mshelp - I assume you are joking? Yes, the "soft path" is harder than the "hard path".

Jefferson (Declairation of Independence) - All history hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

As I said in another thread, printing money and burning oil are prevailing social customs in our Daddy Warbucks Economy. I used to think this was "evil," now I just think it is an old custom that will die peacefully or fitfully, one way or the other ...

I agree with what is written here:

http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-09-do-we-need-nuclear-and-clean-coal-plants-for-baseload-power/

Also, the CERTS-microgrid will be an enabling technology:

http://certs.lbl.gov/certs-der-micro.html [Broken]

If I recall correctly, Tecogen is licensing at least one related CERTS patent in its cogen technologies (in one of these pdfs):

http://www.tecogen.com/press.htm [Broken]

American Distributed Generation is a sales and installation affiliate of Techogen:

http://www.americandg.com/sol-equipment.htm [Broken]
 
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  • #104
mheslep
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mshelp - I assume you are joking?
I engaged in a little hyperbole, but no I'm not joking. I favor some nuclear based on what I know now.
 
  • #105
mheslep
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  • #106
russ_watters
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Just an outsider here with a question:
Do these laws really work?
Resonably well, as far as I know.
I guess two questions:
In the future will these laws continue to be as effective??
The problem is that technology turns what is exotic today into the mundane tomorrow. Just a few years ago, the US government was worried about commercial GPS units being used to guide missiles. Now any engineering undergrad worth his salt can build a cruise missile guidance system - or even a cruise missile itself (one senior design project team in my class 10 years ago built a fully autonomous RC plane).

So no, it just plain isn't possible to keep technology under wraps forever. Fortunately, the technology isn't the critical aspect here. The critical aspect is the fundamental physics behind making and processing the fuel. Aside from stealing it, there are no shortcuts there.
 
  • #107
russ_watters
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I am not saying that. I think the US should build some new nuclear plants, maybe another ~20-50GW(e) to start, on top of the existing US 200GW(e) in the next decade or two. I come to that position after weighing proliferation risks, such as I little know them, and the alternatives.
Ok....
I assert the proliferation risk due to the existing US nuclear power program right now is non-zero.
That's fine, but you haven't asserted what the risk is, much less tried to evaluate that risk. Could you please be specific about what you think the risk is? Let me help you out by giving some more sample possibilities:

1. American companies could sell products that can be used for nuclear weapons (I already listed this one).
2. American scientists could gain knowledge working for the US power industry and apply that knowledge to weapons production for hire overseas.
3. Someone could steal fuel from a nuclear plant.
4. An evil American corporation could secretly make nuclear weapons fuel in a reactor and sell it overseas.

Could you please tell me, specifically, which of the above are the proliferation risks you see or tell me what I have missed and what you actually see?

Next, could you explain how limiting our nuclear power usage can mitigate those risks?
Well that was in part the point of my earlier question. What technology? I want to know more about what technology is usable for weapons and to what extent, not only for what might be exported, but also because if the US pursues any particular new nuclear power technology, the rest of the world is likely to attempt to follow that lead on their own.
Well that implies to me you really don't know anything about any risks and just have a vague/unformed idea in your head that there are risks. I think is a mistake to base policy on idle fears.
But visibly other types of US nuclear technology have been widely distributed. Gokul referenced the example of India's heavy water coming from the US that helped enable the Indian bomb. A Westinghouse AP1000 is going up in China. What are the proliferation issues of that design? How easy is it redirect that reactor design to produce plutonium versus another design?
As I asked earlier, how does *us* using such technology have any impact on whether they are allowed to send such things to China? Heck, if it would make you happy, I think it would be worth freezing our technology and building all new reactors with 1980s technology so we don't risk developing a new technology that eventually falls into enemy hands. Would that be acceptable?
There's much discussion of implementing a waste reprocessing scheme in the US to reduce waste and extend the fuel supply, but I read reprocessing increases Pu stockpiles. As an example of the foreign consequences: if the US goes all over to reprocessing, the chances are that so will China (next door to Korea), as will Russia (next door to all kinds of bad actors).
What do you mean? We already reprocess to make weapons, we can just change our reprocessing to make new power plant fuel. Why would that have any impact on what China does? (and since China already has nuclear weapons, how is China even relevant to a discussion about proliferation?)
 
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  • #108
mheslep
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Ok.... That's fine, but you haven't asserted what the risk is, much less tried to evaluate that risk. ...
Right, because I don't know. I only have a vague idea. But the consequences of someone building a bomb and smuggling it into the US are obvious and horrific. I don't understand all the possible pathways that could make that happen. My gripe with the nuclear debate is that there's not enough work/detail done to try and quantify the risk.

You've put some work into making this a useful discussion - don't have time at the moment to provide the response it deserves, I'll follow up later.
 
  • #109
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3
There seem to be two favorites nuclear and solar/wind. I would ask which should California/Arizona/Nevada invest in and which should New York/Vermont/New Hampshire/Maine invest in?
 
  • #110
Argentum Vulpes
Russ - I favor solar power on precept and principle. The precept is to "Love God and love your neighbor in the land." And "beat your swords into plowshares."

Through the mercy of our God,
The Daystar of heaven shines upons us,
Enlightening those who dwell in darkness,
And in the shadow of death,
Guiding our feet along the path of peace.

(Adapted from one of the Gospels)

God (Nature) put the harmful nuclear energy in the Sun where it belongs. We were given an ozone layer and magnetosphere to protect from radiation harms. The politicos who said we were not depleting the ozone layer, or polluting Earth with leaded gasoline, were eventually proven wrong. So will many others who seek to protect profits while generating waste and pollution be proven wrong by the passage of sufficient time. The profit motive distorts one's reasoning about reality, which is why the message of the Prophets endures in scripture. I am not advocating religion, simply stating my interpretation of society/scripture parallels in the past and present social conditions.

Nature already put a nuclear reactor on planet earth. It happened when the earth was covered with simple celled organisms. The Oklo nuclear reactor is proof that nuclear power is natural it just took humans 1.7 billion years to get it. Yes we have an ozone layer protecting us from cosmic radiation, however we are still getting about .3 mrem at sea level.

The radioactive waste hazard and risk of proliferation is something I would rather not tolerate, although it is hard to run nuclear warships on solar/renewable power, it is going to be possible to run industry and a domestic economy on a fuel portfolio including significant renewables in the not-so-distant future. I can envision a 100% solar economy not far down the road with only an improvement in conversion efficiency, electron storage, and a smart grid....

Just out of curiosity are you aware of the cost and technological steps that one must under go to create atomic weapons from virgin uranium sources? The Calutrons that gave the US weapons grade uranium for the first atomic bomb set the government back 500 million dollars. Gaseous diffusion and centrifugal extraction requires some extremely specialized and very tight tolerances equipment. Getting it from used fuel is much harder, especially when plutonium is the desired material. Finally to make a plutonium based atomic bomb the simple gun type bomb is impossible to build. A implosion bomb is needed and that adds a huge scale of complexity.

As a last point I'd like to make is what is it about nuclear fuel that makes it break every law of nature? The fuel is either mixed with a ceramic, encased in a zirconium alloy, or both. The stuff is practically indestructible. If a ceramic mug is put outside is it gone in a year, five, 100, 1000?

Proliferation, used nuclear fuel, I'm not worried.
 
  • #111
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Sure there are natural sources of radiation on Earth, most of which were buried by Nature in the past. I was not aware of the natural reactor so thanks for the information, here's a link:

http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/factsheets/doeymp0010.shtml [Broken]

Digging up natural sources of radiation entails hazards which are not included in the cost of electricity at the meter (we pay with Superfund cleanups, health care costs, etc):

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/mill-tailings.html

This fact sheet on Uranium appears to be well researched (caveat emptor) and says radium is the worst health hazard from digging up radiation. The tailings are said here to have caused death due to lung cancer among Native Americans near the mine sites:

http://www.ieer.org/fctsheet/uranium.html

I used to like to watch Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. One night a Republican Strategist lady was advocating nuclear power, saying, "Radiation is everywhere. Sunlight is radiation." I thought, "Energy is everywhere, a punch in the nose is just energy, how would you like a punch in the nose?" Today it is more common to hear libertarians or conservatives speak of regulating CO2 as "a tax on breathing." Since we exhale CO2 it cannot be pollution, right?

OK I'm going to start a business dumping human excrement where these people and their children eat, because, hey, its natural dude! Not only that, when I make them pay to clean it up, it will increase GDP, so we're all better off to boot! Aren't I a clever capitalist?
 
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  • #112
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Areva (nuclear giant) buys Ausra (solar thermal technology) in this news clip:

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6173TF20100208

Apparently solar thermal is considered similar to nuclear in a carbon reduction portfolio. From comments above, I wonder if solar thermal is more carbon neutral over the whole construction and fuel cycle? The main issue with solar thermal in the past was expense of high quality mirrors if I recall correctly, and this should be a challenge where production costs can be driven down by R&D + manufacturing experience.
 
  • #113
mheslep
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Areva (nuclear giant) buys Ausra (solar thermal technology) in this news clip:

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6173TF20100208

Apparently solar thermal is considered similar to nuclear in a carbon reduction portfolio. From comments above, I wonder if solar thermal is more carbon neutral over the whole construction and fuel cycle? ...
Yes, but not by that much. Solar thermal is a small, small drop in the energy bucket compared to nuclear.
 
  • #114
Ygggdrasil
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Although the discussion here has focused on electricity generation, a big issue in achieving energy independence is finding alternatives to petroleum. Luckily, it seems like biofuel technology, specifically the production of ethanol from cellulose, is making considerable strides toward being competitive with petroleum:
Novozymes, the world's largest industrial enzyme producer, today launched a new line it says will yield ethanol from plant wastes at an enzyme price of about 50 cents a gallon. The latest product of a decade of research, this marks an 80 percent price drop from two years ago, according to Global Marketing Director Poul Ruben Andersen.

The advances, Andersen said, will help bring cellulosic ethanol production prices to under $2 a gallon by 2011, a cost on par with both corn-based ethanol and gasoline at current U.S. market prices.
source: http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2010/02/16/16climatewire-economics-improve-for-first-commercial-cellu-93478.htm [Broken]

Although the technology won't get us to energy independence (I've seen estimates that agricultural and municipal waste could provide enough cellulosic ethanol for 20-30% of our transportation needs), it would certainly be a big help.
 
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  • #115
mheslep
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Although the discussion here has focused on electricity generation, a big issue in achieving energy independence is finding alternatives to petroleum. Luckily, it seems like biofuel technology, specifically the production of ethanol from cellulose, is making considerable strides toward being competitive with petroleum:

source: http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2010/02/16/16climatewire-economics-improve-for-first-commercial-cellu-93478.htm [Broken]

Although the technology won't get us to energy independence (I've seen estimates that agricultural and municipal waste could provide enough cellulosic ethanol for 20-30% of our transportation needs), it would certainly be a big help.

The US uses 19.5 million barrels (787 million gallons )of petroleum per day, so I'm sceptical about cellulosic ethanol doing the job. Corn Ethanol produces about 500 gal/acre-year, and cellulosic maybe double that with switch grass, requiring 287 million acres of land.

Better to burn the biomass in electric plants, easing distribution, and go with electric transportation, which requires fewer primary joules per mile travelled, and thus fewer acres.

BTW Novozymes is an enzymes producer, not a fuel producer. I've yet to see a single gallon of Ethanol made by anybody anywhere in the US at price cheaper than gasoline before the Ethanol subsidy.
 
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  • #116
Astronuc
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Interesting project and interesting array of guest speakers.

FYI - http://energyontrial.org/ [Broken]

http://energyontrial.org/Speakers [Broken]

Ultimately, finite sources will deplete, so I expect that one day, solar and wind, and maybe hydro, will dominate the energy portfolio, and perhaps geothermal will provide some small fraction.
 
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  • #117
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Interesting project and interesting array of guest speakers.

FYI - http://energyontrial.org/ [Broken]

http://energyontrial.org/Speakers [Broken]

Ultimately, finite sources will deplete, so I expect that one day, solar and wind, and maybe hydro, will dominate the energy portfolio, and perhaps geothermal will provide some small fraction.

Really, we'll run out of uranium to use for nuclear energy? That's weird, I thought there was so much uranium around to use (especially from the oceans) that it would provide us with enough power for an EXTREMELY long time.
 
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  • #118
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Why isn't energy use reduction ever a part of this?
 
  • #119
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Why isn't energy use reduction ever a part of this?

Well firstly, this isn't a discussion about global warming or any of that jazz. This is a discussion about renewable energy or energy indepence for a nation. Even if a country reduced it's energy (by a SUBSTANTIAL amount) they would still a)run out of fuel and b)in the process they wouldn't even be independent. (It would be the same as it is today)

Secondly, I think getting clean and renewable energy is much more important than reducing the amount of energy we use. The impact even on the enviroment will be dramaticly more significant.
 
  • #120
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What if clean and renewable energy doesn't exist?
 
  • #121
mheslep
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Really, we'll run out of uranium to use for nuclear energy? That's weird, I thought there was so much uranium around to use (especially from the oceans) that it would provide us with enough power for an EXTREMELY long time.
In combination with Thorium, yes there is enough for centuries.
 
  • #122
mheslep
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Interesting project and interesting array of guest speakers.

FYI - http://energyontrial.org/ [Broken]

http://energyontrial.org/Speakers [Broken]

Ultimately, finite sources will deplete, so I expect that one day, solar and wind, and maybe hydro, will dominate the energy portfolio, and perhaps geothermal will provide some small fraction.
Just tidbits there. Is there a forthcoming study or longer video from these folks, or perhaps I missed it.
 
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  • #123
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In combination with Thorium, yes there is enough for centuries.

Weird, I remember seeing numbers somewheres which suggested that it would be more along the lines of millenia if we increase our power consumption by a large factor, or at the current rate for just over 1 million years. That's just from the uranium that's in the oceans.
 
  • #124
Astronuc
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Just tidbits there. Is there a forthcoming study or longer video from these folks, or perhaps I missed it.
I found the link to energyontrial from an INL source. There is apparently a documentary in the works.

While there is substantial amounts of uranium and thorium, it is nevertheless finite. Certainly, it will last for centuries, but then what after that. What will be the energy source future generations?

The other side of the coin is demand, which can be reduced through greater efficiency and/or reduced consumption.
 
  • #125
mheslep
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Weird, I remember seeing numbers somewheres which suggested that it would be more along the lines of millenia if we increase our power consumption by a large factor, or at the current rate for just over 1 million years. That's just from the uranium that's in the oceans.
Well who knows what the demand of 9 billion people will be that far out. Generally though, the estimate rests on fuel type assumptions and goes very roughly as follows:

o If the assumption is nuclear power continues as currently and is based only on fissionable U235 enriched fuel ( ie a small fraction of all Uranium) from only land based ores then the answer is a century or so, maybe even just decades.
o Add a few more decades with reprocessing of waste.
o Use the U235 in _all_ the oceans (a big if), then there is enough for multiple centuries.
o Use the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertile_material" [Broken] fuels including Th and U238, then multiply the above by 50-100X.
 
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