Nuclear Power

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ToDo: In the middle of:

Sustainable solutions for radioactive waste, Why the UK nuclear renaissance plan is doomed to failure, Nuclear Power : Strategic Asset, Liability or Increasingly Irrelevant ? (Download link), Nuclear's carbon footprint, w-search, Nuclear Liabilities Fund

Why is the govt so desperate for nuclear power? Because the British nuclear submarine industry depends on continuation of UK civil nuclear power. Consumers are going to fund nuclear weapons by paying the exorbitant costs of nuclear power stations like Hinkley Point C. Researchers at the Science Policy Research Unit found evidence of desperation to keep expertise for submarine reactors alive. ref, ref

ToDo: compare this report with the IAEA's: The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017, https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2017-.html "this 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status Report is perhaps the most decisive document in the history of nuclear power. The report makes clear, in telling detail, that the debate is over. Nuclear power has been eclipsed by the sun and the wind. These renewable, free-fuel sources are no longer a dream or a projection-they are a reality that are replacing nuclear as the preferred choice for new power plants worldwide. Nuclear power is far from dead but it is in decline and renewable energy is growing by leaps and bounds. Most revealing is the fact that nowhere in the world, where there is a competitive market for electricity, has even one single nuclear power plant been initiated. Only where the govt or the consumer takes the risks of cost overruns and delays is nuclear power even being considered.[1] Since 1997, worldwide, renewable energy has produced 4 times as many new kilowatt-hours of electricity than nuclear power."

Globally, there were 448 nuclear power reactors in operation at the end of 2017. Construction started on 4, with a total of 59 under construction; 5 were permanently shut down. Around 60% of the reactors had been in operation for 30+ years. Global generating capacity was 392 gigawatts. (2017 report, p.31)
Compared with 2016 levels, the IAEA's 2017 projections for installed nuclear power capacity showed increases of 42% by 2030, 83% by 2040, and 123% by 2050 in the high case scenario. The low case scenario projected a 12% dip by 2030 and a 15% dip by 2040, before a return to current levels by 2050.[2]

The Nuclear Lobby

PR Spin

  • Jun.30.2011: Revealed: British government's plan to play down Fukushima. Govt officials from BEIS approached nuclear companies EDF Energy, Areva SA and Westinghouse and their trade body Nuclear Industry Association to draw up a co-ordinated Public Relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and before the extent of the radiation leak was known. "We need to occupy the territory and hold it." A former regulator said the degree of collusion was "truly shocking". The govt recently confirmed plans for 8 new nuclear stations in England and Wales. The Guardian, Rob Edwards.

Issues

Nuclear power has 3 major issues, the most serious of which is that all known methods of waste disposal require some kind of burial and permanent monitoring for ~240,000 years. We have little experience in building facilities to last for 100 years, let alone millenia; and how to warn people so far into the future?[3] The costs of monitoring and maintenance over such a timescale are unimaginable, and generations for hundreds of thousands of years to come will have to pay the cost for a few decades of electricity for our generation.[4] [5] After 50+ years of research, there are no satisfactory answers.[6]

I. Fuel Supply

There's not very much of it. Current estimates put the potentially available global resources at sufficient for the next 85-90 years; but these are based on 2008 levels of consumption.[7][8] Should the current trend towards nuclear power continue, this timeframe could easily be halved to 40 years, ie. 2060. And then?
Advocates assert that advanced nuclear systems will enable mankind to use nuclear power for hundreds to thousands of years. However, after 60+ years of research worldwide, and €100bn in research, not one operating closed-cycle reactor exists. Extraction of uranium ore must require less energy than can be generated from the recovered uranium - the "energy cliff". Analysis of uranium recovery processes shows that the amount of energy consumed per kg of recovered natural uranium rises exponentially with declining ore grades.

II. Accidents

An accident is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance. In other words, plan all you like, but accidents can and will happen. New reactors, like old ones, are the most vulnerable;[9] scientists term this the "bathtub" curve.[10] After the Fukshima disaster, questions have been raised about the wisdom of operating old reactors.

An average reactor will have about 16bn curies in its core, which is the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. A reactor's fuel rods, pipes, tanks and valves can leak: reactors have an extensive network of buried piping systems and tanks which transport liquids that contain radioactive isotopes including tritium and strontium-90. These piping systems are not adequately inspected or maintained due to their inaccessibility; instead, statistical probability models are used.[11]
Climate Change is exacerbating the problem; the hot summers in France in 2003 and 2018 meant the safety of the country's 58 nuclear plants was a serious concern.[12] Several plants had to be shut down, due to river and sea water temperatures being far higher than normal.[13]
The risk of human error is growing because privatisation and liberalisation have forced operators to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Nuclear energy has high fixed costs: building costs are ~75%; all savings must therefore come from the 25% variable costs of price, notably from efficiency increases and personnel reductions.[12] See also this very long list: Nuclear power plant accidentsWikipedia's W.svg.

III. Waste

Sites producing Radioactive Waste[14]

The entire nuclear fuel chain, from mining to milling, processing, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and fuel irradiation in reactors, generates radioactive waste.[15] Production of 1,000 tons of uranium fuel generates ~100,000 tons of tailings and 3.5 million litres of liquid waste(Note 1). Before the UN Treaty in 1993, govts merrily dumped it all in the sea.[16][17] Current waste management takes 3 forms: dilute and disperse, delay and decay, and concentrate and contain.[18]

Mining. Uranium is extracted from crushed ore by dissolving it out using chemicals.[19] The "sludge" left behind - called tailings - contains 85% of the initial radioactivity of the ore (but now concentrated), and is either dumped in piles, or kept in uncovered ponds.[20] The sludge contains long-lived decay products such as thorium-230Wikipedia's W.svg as well as heavy metals and other contaminants, eg. arsenic, plus the chemical reagents used during the extraction process.[12] As the tailings sit there, they are continually generating radon gas, which is ~8 times heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. Radon is a long-term hazard, as it is continually produced from thorium-230 (half-life 80,000 yrs) → radium-226 (half-life 1,600 yrs) → radon gas (half-life 3.8 days). Radon can travel 1,000 miles in just a few days, depositing radon daughters, which are taken up by the food chain (unlike the gaseous radon itself, radon daughters are solids and stick to surfaces). Uranium mining is a very efficient mechanism for pumping radioactivity into the environment for millennia to come.[21]

Clearance for "negligible hazard" waste. Every nuclear power reactor dumps radioactive water, scatters radioactive particles, and disperses radioactive gases as part of its routine, everyday operation. Regulations allow water containing "permissible" levels of radioactive isotopes to be released to the environment, unfiltered. A typical 1000-megawatt pressurized water reactor (with a cooling tower) takes in about 90,922 litres of river, lake or sea water per minute for cooling; circulates it through a 80-km maze of pipes; returns about 22,730 litres per minute to the same body of water; and releases the remainder to the atmosphere as vapor. A similar reactor without a cooling tower can take in 2.3 million litres per minute.

Authorised Release to the Environment. Some radioactive gases, stripped from the reactor cooling water, are retained in decay tanks for days before being released into the atmosphere through filtered roof top vents. Some gases leak into the buildings’ interiors and are released during periodic "ventings". These airborne gases contaminate not only the air, but also fall onto soil and water. Economically feasible filtering technologies do not exist for some major byproducts, such as radioactive hydrogen (tritium) and noble gases such as krypton (→ rubidium → strontium) and xenon (→ cesium). Some liquids and gases are retained temporarily in tanks so that shorter-lived radioactive materials can break down before being released to the environment.[22]

Regulated Disposal refers to the solid, liquid or gaseous waste not covered by the previous two routes. This route breaks down into the following 3 categories:
1. Low Level Waste consists mostly of rubbish such as lightly contaminated clothing, paper towels and laboratory glassware. Any site used will need to be subject to land use restrictions for around 300 years after it is closed, and there is always the risk of environmental problems if water leaching through the waste site finds its way into surface and ground waters.[23] The problems of coastal erosion and flooding have come home to roost; the UK's LLW Repository in Cumbria, operating since 1959, will be completely eroded.[24]
BBC Guide to UK Nuclear Power
2. Intermediate Level Waste consists of heavily contaminated materials such as used fuel rod casings, used ion exchange resins and parts of decommissioned reactors. This waste can be extremely radioactive, but doesn't require that the heat generated by radioactive decay is taken into account as this is relatively small compared to High Level Waste.[25] ILW requires heavy shielding, as the radioactive contaminants have very long half-lives and require isolation for many thousands of years. The waste is first encased in resin or concrete and sealed in steel drums. The drums are then packed into concrete casks and placed in concrete trenches up to 18 metres deep. When completely filled, the trenches are covered with a concrete slab, a layer of compacted clay and a reinforced concrete intrusion shield and a final layer of clay. Deep disposal takes place, storing the waste in a suitable geological formation at a depth of at least 100 metres[26].
3. High Level Waste: The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has oversight of the process in the UK. Spent fuel is broken down, and the most potent parts are extracted and concentrated. The most troublesome elements are plutonium-239 (half-life 24,000 years) and neptunium-237 (half-life 2m years). Advocates say the volume is small compared with other pollutants, which is true - but completely irrelevant, given its extreme toxicity. When nuclear waste is released into the environment, it is impossible to control the extent of its impact.
Safe and stable storage of this waste is of great concern. Modern storage methods use concepts based on the naturally-occurring Oklo nuclear reactor.[27] In theory, highly radioactive waste can be stored indefinitely in deep stable formations such as caves and caverns.[26] But there are two fundamental prerequisites: (1) stable geological formations, and (2) stable human institutions over hundreds of thousands of years. No known human civilization has ever lasted for so long, and no geologic formation of adequate size for a permanent radioactive waste repository has yet been discovered that has been stable for so long a period (see Prerequisites for radioactive waste managementWikipedia's W.svg. Nevertheless, countries have adopted this model, for lack of an alternative.
The spent fuel is vitrified, which involves combining the radioactive liquid waste with glass to form a solid compound, which is less likely than a liquid to contaminate the surrounding area if its container becomes faulty. The waste is then sealed in stainless steel canisters. Because the waste generates such intense levels of both radioactivity and heat, heavy shielding and cooling is required; the wastes are therefore stored in specially engineered cooling pools for 50+ years (a hazardous non-solution, as Fukshima demonstrated), to allow both the temperature and radioactivity to gradually decrease, simplifying handling and disposal.[28] The canisters are then placed into deep geologic disposal.[29] So far, only a few countries are actively pursuing this,[30] with Finland leading the way.[31] The USA, the world's largest nuclear power generator, is a classic lesson on how not to do it; it has 90,000+ metric tons sitting around waiting for a solution to turn up. After spending decades and $billions to research permanent disposal sites, the future prospects "remain unclear".[32] In the UK, just as in the US, it's all just sitting there - and it's costing a fortune while it's doing so.[33]


Associated Organisations

  • GDFWatch is nuclear-neutral - except in the matter of waste disposal. How to permanently dispose of our most radioactive waste is a complex issue, and highly emotive. It is vital that we have an informed public discussion before each decision is made, and that Community Consent is correctly and honestly informed.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is the global central intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the nuclear field. It works for the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology.
  • The OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency is an inter-governmental agency that facilitates co-operation among countries with advanced nuclear technology infrastructures to seek excellence in nuclear safety, technology, science, environment and law. The NEA's mission is to "assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for the safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes".
  • The International Panel on Fissile Materials is a group of independent nuclear experts from 17 countries: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the UK, and the USA (the Netherlands was a member, but recently dropped out). It aims to provide the technical basis for policy initiatives to reduce global stocks of military and civilian fissile materials.[34] The Panel produces an annual Global Fissile Material Report which summarizes new information on fissile material stocks and production worldwide, as well as periodic research reports.
  • The Office for Nuclear Regulation is the safety regulator for the civil nuclear industry in the UK. The ONR also has responsibility for assessing safety and accident response systems at Ministry of Defence sites.[35]
  • The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has a strategic role: it establishes the overall approach, allocates budgets, sets targets and monitors progress. The actual cleaning up is done via contracts with Site Licence Companies. There are currently 17 historic (1940s-1970s) nuclear sites being decommissioned.
  • The World Nuclear Association is an international trade organisation that promotes nuclear power and supports the companies that comprise the global nuclear industry.
  • WISE is an information and networking center for citizens and organizations concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues. The organization advocates the implementation of safe, sustainable solutions such as energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • The Nuclear Industry Association is is the trade association for the civil nuclear industry in the UK, and represents 250+ companies across the supply chain.

Footnotes

  • Note 1: Enough to power the world's 448 reactors for approximately 2 years, assuming that an average reactor uses 1,005 kg per year.[36]
  • Note 2: How long does nuclear waste stay dangerous for? Seven isotopes have been identified which will still be active after millions of years: Technetium 99, Tin 126, Selenium 79, Zirconium 93, Caesium 135, Palladium 107, and Iodine 129. For example, Caesium 135 has a half life of 2.3m years, and the most dangerous parts will have decayed to only a small proportion of their original activity after a few thousand years. See The 7 long-lived fission productsWikipedia's W.svg. Note that the standard used by nuclear scientists in Europe is that waste may be considered safe when it has decayed to the point that it is no more radioactive than naturally-occurring uranium ore. According to this criterion, spent fuel is safe in about 6,000,000 years.
  • Note 3: What harm does nuclear waste do to you? There are two main hazards. Some wastes are chemically poisonous, just like eg. mercury or arsenic. Other wastes give off radiation; very low level radiation is only dangerous if ingested into the body, whereas hard (ionizing) radiation can change cells' DNA, cause cancer, or induce organ failure.[37]

References

  1. ^ Toshiba's failure shows business can't deliver a nuclear future. As Cumbria reactor plan stalls, it is clear that huge resources are needed for such projects. The French govt owns EDF, but Toshiba is a private company struggling on its own. The Guardian, Phillip Inman. Nov.09.2018
  2. ^ iAEA Annual Report 2017. IAEA. Accessed Oct.04.2018.
  3. ^ Nuclear waste: Keep out – for 100,000 years. Few architects have to design anything to last more than 100 years, so how do you build a nuclear waste facility to last for millennia? And what sign do you put on the door? The Guardian, Steve Rose. Apr.24.2011
  4. ^ Toxic Time Capsule: Why nuclear energy is an intergenerational issue. This paper argues that cancelling Hinkley Point C, dubbed “the most expensive building on Earth”, could save Britain at least £30-£40bn. It compares the cost of nuclear to alternative energy supplies, and questions whether current policy-makers have the right to pass such an unknown and escalating additional burden – and risk – on to future generations. Intergenerational Foundation, Andrew Sims. Apr.2016
  5. ^ Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste. The "best" option will require something akin to a “nuclear priesthood” to pass along their skills at monitoring these wastes for thousands of generations. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, James C.Warf, Sheldon C. Plotkin. Sept.12.1996
  6. ^ 7 Other problems associated with nuclear power. WISE, Nuclear Monitor, Issue #621-622. Feb.01.2005
  7. ^ Global Uranium Resources to Meet Projected Demand. International Atomic Energy Agency. Jun.02.2006
  8. ^ Supply of Uranium. World Nuclear Assocation. 2016
  9. ^ Plant Life Extensions. No2NuclearPower. Dec.04.2012
  10. ^ US Nuclear Plants in the 21st Century: The Risk of a Lifetime. The Union of Concerned Scientists, D. Lochbaum. Mar.2005
  11. ^ Leak First, Fix Later. Beyond Nuclear. May.2015
  12. ^ a b c 7 Other problems associated with nuclear power. World Information Service on Energy, Nuclear Monitor, Issue: #621-622. Feb.2005
  13. ^ Ringhals nuclear plant shuts amid danger of overheating. Nuclear energy plants in parts of Europe are being powered down because the hot weather has increased the risk of reactors getting dangerously hot or harming wildlife. Reactors are kept cool using water from rivers or the sea but water temperatures are far higher than normal. The Times, Emily Gosden. Aug.03.2018
  14. ^ Radioactive Wastes in the UK: A Summary of the 2016 Inventory. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Accessed Oct.03.2018.
  15. ^ II. What are the types of radioactive waste? The Nuclear Energy Agency. Accessed Oct.03.2018.
  16. ^ History of nuclear waste disposal proposals in Britain. Prior to 1976, very little thought had been given to the question of how we were going to deal with the nuclear waste produced by military and nuclear electricity programmes. Some lower level waste was disposed of at sea, but most waste was simply accumulating at various nuclear sites around the country. Then a report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (the "Flowers Report") raised the alarm. No2NuclearPower. Feb.12.2016
  17. ^ Russia’s sunken subs to lie where they are for another three years. Russian officials have again raised the possibility of retrieving tons of nuclear trash from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean – only to confess just as quickly that they don’t have the money to do it. Bellona, Charles Digges, Anna Kireeva. Oct.24.2017
  18. ^ Selection of Technical Solutions for the Management of Radioactive Waste. International Atomic Energy Agency, page 5. Jul.2017
  19. ^ Uranium Mines and Mills. US Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed Oct.03.2018.
  20. ^ Conventional Mining and Milling of Uranium ore. Uranium Producers of America. Accessed Oct.05.2018.
  21. ^ Uranium: Known Facts and Hidden Dangers. Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Invited address by Dr. Gordon Edwards at the World Uranium Hearings. Sept.14.1992
  22. ^ Routine Radioactive Releases from US Nuclear Power Plants. Beyond Nuclear. Dec.2012
  23. ^ NRC Maps of Radioactive Waste Sites US Regulatory Commission. Aug.17.2018
  24. ^ Review of LLW Repository Ltd's 2011 environmental safety case: Non-technical summary. Gov.uk, Environment Agency. May.2015
  25. ^ Where to Dispose of Britain's Nuclear Waste. By 2030 Britain will have generated approximately 1.4 million cubic metres of LLW, 260 thousand cubic metres of ILW and 3 thousand cubic metres of HLW. In terms of the total amount of radioactivity, however, HLW is the largest category, followed by ILW and then LLW. All of this waste must ultimately be disposed of somewhere, or stored in perpetuity. Ignoring the problem is not an option; the waste now exists and needs proactive management. It will not go away on its own. University of Leeds, Centre for Computational Geography. Accessed Oct.01.2018.
  26. ^ a b The Storage / Disposal of Radiactive Waste Produced by Nuclear Power Stations. Technology Student. 2009
  27. ^ Nature's Nuclear Reactors: The 2-Billion-Year-Old Natural Fission Reactors in Gabon, Western Africa. Scientific American, Evelyn Mervine. Jul.13.2011
  28. ^ The disposal of high-level radioactive waste. Nuclear Energy Agency. Jan.1989
  29. ^ How nations are tackling nuclear waste storage. Tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel stored at nuclear power plants will remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years- a vexing problem that nuclear-powered nations around the world face. Health24. Jul.15.2014
  30. ^ Radioactive waste and spent fuel. So far Finland, France and Sweden have selected sites for the deep geological disposal of intermediate and high level waste. It is likely that they will open the first repositories for these kinds of waste between 2022 and 2030. European Commission. Accessed Oct.04.2018.
  31. ^ On Nuclear Waste, Finland Shows U.S. How It Can Be Done. New York Times, Henry Fountain. Jun.09.2017
  32. ^ Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste. The nation's decades of commercial nuclear power production and nuclear weapons production have resulted in over 90,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level nuclear waste. This highly radioactive waste is currently stored at sites in 35 states because no repository has been developed for the permanent disposal of this waste. US Government Accountability Office. Accessed Oct.01.2018.
  33. ^ Hardest sell: Nuclear waste needs good home. BBC News, Greig Watson. Jan.8.2016
  34. ^ About IPFM. International Panel on Fissile Materials. Accessed Oct.03.2018.
  35. ^ Sites that we regulate. Office for Nuclear Regulation. Accessed Oct.03.2018.
  36. ^ Fuel Consumption of Conventional Reactor. Uranium 235 consumption in a nuclear reactor. Nuclear Power. Accessed Oct.02.2018.
  37. ^ Radiation Effects on Humans. Atomic Archive. Accessed Oct.03.2018.