Do We Have Enough Uranium To “Go Nuclear”?

Guest post by Roger Andrews:

Lulled by the power of e=mc2 I had always assumed that the world had enough uranium to support almost any level of nuclear power expansion. I mean, when one miserly kilogram of U generates 37 MWh of electricity, resources must be effectively inexhaustible, right?

Recently it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to confirm that this is in fact the case, so I ran some numbers – and found to my surprise that in fact it may not be the case. Sure, we have enough uranium to last for many decades at modest rates of growth and every prospect of finding more. But what if the world suddenly decided to decarbonize global electricity generation by expanding nuclear, which may indeed be the only way of doing it within the time-frames specified by the present generation of emissions reduction plans? Do we have enough uranium to support the massive increase in demand this would entail?

To answer this question I needed a nuclear decarbonization scenario, and here’s what I concocted:

  • Replace all the world’s coal-fired plants with nuclear plants by 2050. Assuming no change in the relative contributions of other generation sources this gives a 2050 generation mix of ~55% nuclear, ~25% gas and ~20% hydro and other.
  • Allow for global electricity demand growth of 1.5%/year through 2050.
  • Assume that the amount of uranium consumed per unit of electricity generated remains the same as it is now.

This scenario decarbonizes global electricity generation by 75% by 2050 and cuts global carbon emissions by about 30% below what they otherwise would have been. (100% decarbonization would require the conversion of gas as well as coal to nuclear, but this removes a lot of useful load-following capacity, gives less bang-for-the-buck – gas emits only about half as much carbon as coal – and puts too many electric eggs in the nuclear basket. It’s impossible to meet 80% emissions-reduction targets by decarbonizing electricity generation anyway because it contributes only about 40% of total global carbon emissions, a fact that seems to have escaped the attention of the emissions-cutters, but I digress.)

The scenario calls for installed global nuclear capacity to increase from 364GW at present to 2,820GW by 2050, which should be achievable. Assuming a six-year lead time – the average in France – the first nuclear plants come on line in 2020 and in each of the following 30 years another 79.2GW of nuclear capacity is added, which is not out of reach (75GW of wind and solar alone was added globally in 2013). Costs also shouldn’t be prohibitive. At an assumed average installed cost of $5,000/KW they total $US400 billion/year, about equal to worldwide investment in power generation facilities in 2013.

It also calls for a corresponding increase in uranium production from 68,000 tons/year to 527,000 tons/year, representing an annual increase of 15,300 tons/year in each of the 30 years between 2020 and 2050 (again assuming a six-year discovery and development lead time). Is this achievable? For the purposes of analysis I have assumed it is, but it may not be. The largest annual production increase so far registered is ~10,000 tons (in 1958) and even the $20 billion planned expansion at the supergiant Olympic Dam deposit, which hosts maybe a third of the world’s presently-known uranium resources, would add only about 20,000 tons/year if and when it goes ahead. If the 15,000 tons/year expansion rate isn’t achieved resource life will be lengthened but the decarbonization target won’t be met.

Anayway, having thus established what uranium demand is going to be, the question becomes, is there enough uranium to fill it? Let’s see what we can rustle up in the way of resources:

Known Resources:

According to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, arguably the most authoritative source, the world has 5,327,000 tons of uranium resources in the reasonably assured and inferred categories at prices up to $US50/lb U and 7,096,600 tons in these categories at prices up to $100/lb. I use the higher number, rounded off to 7.1 million tons, because increased demand would almost certainly drive uranium prices to $100/lb. (Higher prices would liberate yet more resources, but offsetting this is the fact that the OECD estimates include inferred resources, at least some of which will not be there. I’ve treated this as a “wash”.)

To this we can add the ~600,000 tons of uranium in civil and military uranium/plutonium stockpiles and in nuclear weapons scheduled for decommissioning, plus 300,000 tons (a guesstimate) extractable from the 1.5 million tons of depleted uranium contained in low-grade tailings (more details on stockpiles here). This increases known resources from 7.1 to 8.0 million tons.

We can also add phosphate rock uranium. At higher prices uranium can be profitably extracted as a byproduct of phosphoric acid production. Production is, however, limited by the rate at which phosphate rock is mined and by its low average uranium concentration (~100 ppm). I’ve assumed an average annual production of 200 million tons of phosphate rock and recovery of half of the total contained uranium. This yields 10,000 tons of uranium per year, adds another ~0.9 million tons of uranium between now and the end of the 21st century and increases known resources from 8.0 to 8.9 million tons.

Then I’ve added 200,000 tons from recycling of spent uranium and plutonium, which presently supplements global uranium supply by 2-3%. This increases known resources to 9.1 million tons.

Finally I add a nominal 100,000 tons from sea water uranium, which despite the ~4 billion tons of uranium the oceans reportedly contain is unlikely ever to contribute much because of the enormous volumes of sea water that must be processed to extract it. (Over 20 trillion tons would have to be processed to produce the 68,000 tons of uranium consumed worldwide in 2013.)

Known uranium resources therefore top out at 9.2 million tons. How long do they last under the nuclear decarbonization scenario?

Until 2048. They will in fact be exhausted before the decarbonization target is met.

Undiscovered Resources:

Higher uranium prices will of course stimulate exploration and lead to the discovery of more uranium. As to how much more, OECD/NEA estimates that there are 10,400,500 tons of undiscovered uranium resources in the world, calculated as the sum of “prognosticated” resources in uranium-producing areas and “speculative” resources in non-producing areas potentially prospective for uranium, and I have accepted this as the best available estimate and assumed that all of it will be discovered and produced. Adding it to the 9.2 million tons of known resources yields 19,600,500 tons of uranium, which I’ve rounded up to 20 million tons for convenience.

And how long does this last-squeal-out-of-the-pig resource last? Until 2069. The 2050 decarbonization target is met, but 19 years later the world runs out of uranium.

Resource changes with time are summarized graphically below. I’ve assumed that the 10.8 million tons of undiscovered resources is added to inventory at the rate of 200,000 tons/year beginning in 2015 and ending in 2068:

The spreadsheet calculations used to generate the data used in the graphic are here.

The above estimates are of course subject to large uncertainties, but the implications are clear. There’s a very real possibility that the world does not have enough uranium to “go nuclear”, or at least not on a scale large enough to have a significant and lasting impact on global carbon emissions.

So long as it continues to build conventional pressurised water and boiling water reactors, that is.

Breeder reactors, anyone?

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115 Responses to Do We Have Enough Uranium To “Go Nuclear”?

  1. apparently we do have more than enough
    as per http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c24/page_164.shtml

    Fast breeder reactors, using uranium from the oceans
    If fast reactors are 60 times more efficient, the same extraction of ocean uranium could deliver 420 kWh per day per person. At last, a sustainable figure that beats current consumption! – but only with the joint help of two technologies that are respectively scarcely-developed and unfashionable: ocean extraction of uranium, and fast breeder reactors.

    What about costs?
    As usual in this book, my main calculations have paid little attention to economics. However, since the potential contribution of ocean-uranium-based power is one of the biggest in our “sustainable” production list, it seems appropriate to discuss whether this uranium-power figure is at all economically plausible.
    Japanese researchers have found a technique for extracting uranium from seawater at a cost of $100–300 per kilogram of uranium, in comparison with a current cost of about $20/kg for uranium from ore. Because uranium contains so much more energy per ton than traditional fuels, this 5-fold or 15-fold increase in the cost of uranium would have little effect on the cost of nuclear power: nuclear power’s price is dominated by the cost of power-station construction and decommissioning, not by the cost of the fuel. Even a price of $300/kg would increase the cost of nuclear energy by only about 0.3 p per kWh. The expense of uranium extraction could be reduced by combining it with another use of seawater – for example, power-station cooling.
    We’re not home yet: does the Japanese technique scale up? What is the energy cost of processing all the seawater? In the Japanese experiment, three cages full of adsorbent uranium-attracting material weighing 350 kg collected “more than 1 kg of yellow cake in 240 days;” this figure corresponds to about 1.6 kg per year. The cages had a cross-sectional areaof 48 m2. To power a once-through 1 GW nuclear power station, we need160 000 kg per year, which is a production rate 100 000 times greater than the Japanese experiment’s. If we simply scaled up the Japanese technique,which accumulated uranium passively from the sea, a power of 1 GW would thus need cages having a collecting area of 4.8 km2 and containinga weight of 350 000 tons of adsorbent material – more than the weight of the steel in the reactor itself. To put these large numbers in human terms, if uranium were delivering, say, 22 kWh per day per person, each 1 GWreactor would be shared between 1 million people, each of whom needs 0.16 kg of uranium per year. So each person would require one tenth of theJapanese experimental facility, with a weight of 35 kg per person, and an area of 5 m2 per person. The proposal that such uranium-extraction facilities should be created is thus similar in scale to proposals such as “every person should have 10 m2 of solar panels” and “every person should have a one-ton car and a dedicated parking place for it.” A large investment, yes, but not absurdly off scale. And that was the calculation for once-throughreactors. For fast breeder reactors, 60 times less uranium is required, so the mass per person of the uranium collector would be 0.5

    • Roger Andrews says:

      “A large investment, yes, but not absurdly off scale.” To produce the ~500,000 tpy of uranium required to power the global nuclear fleet after 2050 the Japanese cages would somehow have to access and extract 100% of the uranium from over 200,000 cubic kilometers – repeat cubic kilometers – of sea water. Even in the unlikely event they could access this much sea water we would still need over 300 million of them to produce 500,000 tpy at a rate of 1.6kg per cage per year.

    • BeRiteB says:

      ‘Without Hot Air’ is a nuke propaganda pamphlet written by someone with no relevant expertise.

      > “For fast breeder reactors, 60 times less uranium is required”

      And Super Fast Breeders™ use 600 times less. Problem is that neither technology exists and no one knows how to build them. Fantasies are fun but produce no electricity.

      Nukes have been in decline globally for over a decade. As clean energy costs continue to fall and nukes continue to get more expensive, it is obvious what this means for the flailing nuke industry – extinction. It can’t happen soon enough and then we will be able to put total focus on clean, safe, energy systems that cannot make vast areas if land uninhabitable for decades or centuries, and do not produce deadly waste that no one knows what to do with.

      • Kit P says:

        “‘Without Hot Air’ is a nuke propaganda pamphlet”
        Actually it is a free book about use and production of energy. One chapter is about nuclear power. I recommend it to people who want to know more about the subject.
        “Nukes have been in decline globally for over a decade.”
        China, USA, India, Brazil, Russia, France, and Finland are among the counties with new very large nukes under construction. Clearly the nuke industry is not failing.
        “deadly waste that no one knows what to do with.”
        Of course we know what to do with it and it is not deadly.
        “put total focus on clean, safe, energy systems”
        I have read the environmental impact statements and hazard analysis for both nukes and renewable energy projects. Nuke win every time when comes to clean and safe.

      • you should read a little bit more…. “Beloyarsk-3 commercial Russian breeder 560MWe reactor, 30 years of operating life with a capacity factor of 74%
        http://www.world-nuclear.org/nucleardatabase/reactordetails.aspx?id=27570&rid=7229488C-85E2-47B9-8581-8A2448C87EC6&country=Russian+Federation

      • The very first reactor that generated power was a breeder — EBR1. It’s also the type that was shown in Pandora’s Promise when the operators turned off all cooling pumps and the visitors in the control room went a bit limp, until they grasped what thermal expansion does to fuel assemblies.
        ;]
        It’s a wonderment what some folks will write in public blogs!

  2. A C Osborn says:

    Wiki seems to think that “An additional 4.6 billion tonnes of uranium are estimated to be in sea water”.

    Plus “In 2012, ORNL researchers announced the successful development of a new absorbent material dubbed HiCap which performs surface retention of solid or gas molecules, atoms or ions and also effectively removes toxic metals from water, according to results verified by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.[64][65]”

  3. This is a well trodden field. See http://www.energywatchgroup.org/Uran.60+M5d637b1e38d.0.html
    Its also worse than that: nuclear plants have quite low EROEIs, in part since energy is needed to extract and process the uranium fuel. EROEI for current PWRs are around 16;1. And this will fall as and when lower grade ores have to be used. Harvey ( Carbon Free Energy Supply, Earthscan,2010) quotes 16-18 for plants using the current world average uranium ore grade of 0.2 – 0.3%, but sees this as falling, for an ore grade of 0.01%, to 5.6 for underground mining and to 3.2% for open pit mining, and to as low as 2 for in situ leaching techniques. So long before uranium reserves are scarce, the emissions form the nuclear fuel cycle will be similar to those form fossil plants used directly, so there is no point in using fossil energy to make ( and then use) uranium fuel . You could use renewable or of course nuclear electricity, but you get diminishing returns as grade of the uranium reserves decline.

    Fora good overview see Abbott , D (2012) ‘Limits to growth: Can nuclear power supply the world’s needs?’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 68(5) 23–32, http://www.eleceng.adelaide.edu.au/personal/dabbott/publications/BAS_abbott2012.pdf

    • Euan Mearns says:

      The energy cost of mining U and processing to yellow cake is minuscule compared to the energy contained in the yellow cake. So I think the U ore grade argument is bogus. The energy cost of nuclear lies in fuel enrichment, reactor construction, operation, decommissioning and waste storage.

      • Tech Guy says:

        Euan Mearns Wrote:
        “The energy cost of mining U and processing to yellow cake is minuscule compared to the energy contained in the yellow cake.”

        Only 0.7% of yellow cake is fissile U235, the rest is U238 which needs a breeder. The best Ore contain about 2% Uranium, so a lot of rock has to be mined and processed to get a kilo of yellowcake, I believe Dave Elliot’s estimate isn’t that far off.

        At this point its silly to discuss nuclear. Its a dead horse since its incredible expensive. We tried it and it unfortunately its not an economical solution. Breeder are even more expensive. I recall reading a DOE report from the 1990s that states that for breeders to be economically competitive with PWRs that the cost of Uranium would need to soar to about $3750 per kg. Today Uranium is about $60 per kg.

        Today in the US we have over 100 reactors that need to be replaced because they have reached the end of life or have serious design flaws. We have no long term solution for the Spent Fuel storage and we have no money to even decommission existing plants. For the Time being the NRC has chosen the easy way out: Extend operating licenses and pray that we don’t have a disaster. In the US, the NRC is playing Russian roulette.

        Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed
        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/us/ex-regulator-says-nuclear-reactors-in-united-states-are-flawed.html?_r=0

        “WASHINGTON — All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.”

        [We don’t have any money to do this and some how you, we are suppose to expand Nuclear power 10 fold?]

        Euan Mearns Wrote:
        ” The energy cost of nuclear lies in fuel enrichment, reactor construction, operation, decommissioning and waste storage.”

        We use Coal, Oil and NatGas to mine, smelt, enrich and cool the spent fuel. That should alone tell you something.

        FWIW: You can continue to discuss nuclear power all you want but its not coming back. No one is going to back a new nuclear power renaissance. There is no money as just about all of the industrial powers are dead broke and are printing money to keep the lights on. In my opinion the only near time effort for nuclear power is to address the long term storage of spent fuel. We have about 75,000 tons of Spent fuel in the US that needs to be moved into dry caskets and shipped to a location for long term storage. Solve that problem first!

        • It’s amazing and more than a little dispiriting that whenever nuclear is discussed, no matter how many of the commenters have sound points to make there are always those, like Tech Guy (really? Hardly!) who have their fingers in their ears and continue to spew ignorant and uninformed BS. Quoting that jackass Jaczko is only one obvious inanity. Claiming that breeder reactors are outrageously expensive is another flat-out lie, albeit a widely-believed one with no basis. On the contrary, GE-Hitachi has testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee about the cost of nth-of-a-kind PRISM power plants, and the price (complete with full on-site fuel recycling) comes to about $2,000/kW (that’s adjusted to 2014 dollars). Just to demonstrate that point, if you built a plant as described in their testimony of September 14, 2006 and sold the electricity at the lowest tier retail rate in California (a little over 13¢/kWh), a 1.52 GW power plant (the full plant, all in) would pay for itself in about 2 years. So your peremptory dismissal of breeders and nuclear in general on economic grounds is flatly bogus.

          Lest one would assume that GE was simply lying outrageously to the Senate Appropriations Committee (and why would they lowball since they would be expected to sell them later at the price they quoted?), it’s easy for anyone familiar with IFR technology to understand how such a price could be entirely realistic. If anyone reading this would like to get the straight scoop on it, you can download a book that describes this technology at length. The download is free at this URL: tinyurl.com/9992kma . It also solves “the waste problem”, which really isn’t a problem at all. It’s just politics and ignorance that is keeping this technology from being deployed. Uranium supply wouldn’t ever be an issue, since it burns not only spent fuel and old weapons material but depleted uranium, of which the USA alone has about 3/4 of a million tons. And IFRs are more than 60 times more efficient at extracting energy from uranium than light-water reactors, by the way. LWRs extract about 0.6%, while with MOX recycling you get about 0.8% (whoopee?). With IFRs you’d get all of it. They’re over 100X as efficient. And no more enrichment or mining would be needed for nearly a millennium, even if we supplied all our energy (not just all our electricity) with IFRs.

          So going beyond Tech Guy’s dubious (at best) observations and commentary, the entire question of uranium supply will be a non-issue if we just build the breeder reactors that we already have ready to build. Hence the author’s final sentence: Breeder reactors, anyone?

        • Kit P says:

          “Today in the US we have over 100 reactors that need to be replaced because they have reached the end of life or have serious design flaws.” None need to be replaced because most will operate for 60 years. We are working on what it will take to make them last 80 years. None have serious design flaws or the NRC would not let them operate. Just so you know I am an expert, Jaczko is not. Jaczko is a political appointee.
          “We have no long term solution for the Spent Fuel storage and we have no money to even decommission existing plants.”
          Of course we do. The geologic repository at Yucca Mountain license at Yucca Mountain (more like a ridge line than a mountain) is actively being reviewed by the NRC. The same politicians that put Jaczko in place until he was fired tried to stop Yucca Mountain but the courts basically that the law has to be followed. All US nuke plants have a fully funded decommission fund.
          Tech Guy seems to think there is some point to be made in repeating flat out lies.
          “a new nuclear power renaissance”
          Having worked in clear power I can say the industry has always been healthy. First some claim nuclear is dead, then talk about a renaissance when they are surprised that it is not dead. Five 1000+ MWe reactors will come on line by 2020 in the US. The reason is simple. Projected demand in the Southeast US indicates more power is needed.

    • Roger Andrews says:

      David: I get a “not found” message when I click on your first link. The Abbott article really doesn’t discuss the availability of uranium resources.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          Thanks for the Energy Watch article. It’s dated 2006, but things haven’t changed much since then.

          The authors reach pretty much the same conclusions as I do:

          “The analysis of data on uranium resources leads to the assessment that discovered reserves are not sufficient to guarantee the uranium supply for more than thirty years.”

          “Only if estimates of undiscovered resources from the Nuclear Energy Agency are included, the possible reserves would double or at best quadruple. However, the probability to turn these figures into producible quantities is smaller than the probability that these quantities will never be produced.”

          “This assessment leads to the conclusion that in the short term, until about 2015, the long lead times of new and the decommissioning of aging reactors will hinder rapid extension, and after about 2020 severe uranium supply shortages will become likely which, again, will limit the extension of nuclear energy.”

          They’re not hopeful about breeder reactors or thorium either:

          “…. within (the next 25 years) neither nuclear breeding reactors nor thorium reactors will play a significant role because of the long lead times for their development and market penetration.”

  4. sadbutmadlad says:

    Couple of assumptions which affect your results. You assume that global energy demand keeps increasing. Its actually going down in developed countries as they get more efficient (eg. switch from CRT to LCD displays). Global population will also level out as developing countries become developed, and then drop. You also assume that the only nuclear is U, what about Thorium?

    • Roger Andrews says:

      I assume that electricity demand increases at 1.5%/year until 2050 and then flattens out. This is broadly in line with your scenario.

      Yes, what about thorium? 🙂

  5. Syndroma says:

    Building thousands of PWRs without closing the nuclear fuel cycle doesn’t make sense. Not only you have to fuel all of them, but also manage the waste. Any sensible plan of nuclear expansion should include sufficient number of FBRs to produce fuel and burn the waste.

    Once again I want to share my joy over the first criticality of brand new breeder BN-800. It reached 0.1% nominal power at June 27, 23:59
    http://atominfo.ru/newsi/p0432_1.jpg

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Sydroma, do you happen to work at this facility?

      Building thousands of PWRs without closing the nuclear fuel cycle doesn’t make sense.

      Yes, I can see that. But the abandonment of nuclear over the last 30 years has left a fairly large technology and products gap. I’m guessing it’s going to be 10 to 20 years before any new commercial technology is rolled out in the OECD.

      • Syndroma says:

        Sydroma, do you happen to work at this facility?

        No, but I live nearby and closely follow the project since 2006.

        I think it’s a damn shame that OECD countries halted the development of their FBR technology. Especially the French, since they’ve advanced the most in this field. And I’m really convinced that FBRs are essential for our future. When the nuclear fuel cycle is closed, there’ll be no need for mining anymore – depleted uranium in tailings will last us for centuries. But you can’t close the cycle in a year or two, or even a decade. Nobody has the commercial technology to do that. Even BN-800 doesn’t aim to achieve it, the breeding ratio of it is slightly above 1. Its main purpose is to burn the excess of weapon-grade plutonium. But the real significance of this reactor is to prove that Rosatom retains the brainpower necessary to build a fast breeder. And more importantly, that there’s a political will to pursuit the FBR program. It gives hope that soon we will see the BN-1200 reactor with breeding ratio up to 1.4 There’re plans to build eight BN-1200s to 2030. Even if half of them are built, they’ll allow all the supporting technologies like reprocessing and waste management to mature. And when someone has a working closed fuel cycle, the technology can be bought, stolen or copied by other countries. Either way it’ll benefit the humanity. The trick is to get it working in the first place. And you can’t do that without a long-term program, long-term commitment.

    • Sam Taylor says:

      I believe that the BN-800 is presently being operated with a breeder coefficient of <1, so at the moment it's just a fast reactor, not a fast breeder reactor. I don't know if there are plans to change this.

    • BeRiteB says:

      > “the first criticality of brand new breeder BN-800.”

      It’s not a breeder – which you admit in a later comment. No one knows how to build a breeder reactor so your further claims about the non-existent BN-1200 coming online in less than 6 years are simply hot air and day dreaming.

      Breeder reactors have been researched since the first nuclear reactors were built and all efforts have failed. But the nuke lobby still pushes the dream as a tactic to distract from the fact that there isn’t enough uranium for the world to “go nuclear”, and to distract from the fact that nuke waste is piling up all over the planet with no solution for it.

      The reality is that nukes are in long term global decline due to failed economics – too expensive, too slow and unreliable to build, and they can destroy the economy of a country when they go catastrophically wrong. We don’t need nukes when we can have never-ending energy from renewables – and that is what will happen.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Well I’ve been told by engineers who worked at Dounreay in Scotland that it operated safely for several years, producing about 250 MWe fed into the UK grid. So your information seems to be inaccurate. Burnsider?

        ‘Without Hot Air’ is a nuke propaganda pamphlet written by someone with no relevant expertise.

        If you are referring to David MacKays book, he is a professor of physics at the Cavendish labs at Cambridge University (England) and is the scientific advisor to HM government on Energy.

        • Ben Elsworth says:

          The 250 MW was the PFR (Prototype Fast Reactor), there was also the DFR which was much smaller and relatively more successful (14MWe I believe).

          The PFR ran for almost 20 years (far too short for an economic nuke) and it’s load factor was only 27% in that time so a complete failure as an operating plant.

          It’s also the site of an appalling radiation leak, with 10s of thousands of particles containing caesium-137 and even plutonium-239 being released to the sea, many of which wash up on the beach which is permanently closed.

          The budget for decommissioning the site is currently £2.9 bn (although no one believes that) which takes us out to 2036, and the site is estimated to be “brownfield” quality 300 years after that.

          I’m not saying that FBRs can never be successful just because this one was such a failure, but Dounreay was no one’s finest hour.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Ben, what I’ve been told by engineers who worked there was that Green lobby groups (Greenpeace?) forced the government’s hand to close Dounreay to the shock of all who worked there. It is consequently in my opinion pretty perverse for you to then claim the plant was useless because it only ran for 20 years. As for your claimed load factor I think the secret lies in the word “prototype”. I think the same type of argumentation applies to waste storage. Green lobby groups get in the way of a solution and then claim we cannot proceed with nuclear until the storage issue is resolved. Same applies to breeders that may actually consume waste. Can’t have that either since it may solve a problem that Greens do not want solved.

            If you post another comment I’d like you to post a link to the company you work for / direct? I think its quite important for my readers to understand the possible commercial motivation of commenters.

          • Sam Taylor says:

            Euan,

            Surely finding an acceptable political solution to the waste issue is just as important as finding a technical one (which I agree is probably presently within our reach). The green groups may indeed be being unreasonable, but one has to respect the fact that their voice carries significant weight these days. If we can’t find a solution to the waste issue that people find acceptable, then that could paint us into a serious corner if we do go down the route of more nuclear in the future. If people would ultimately rather accept the consequences of no new nuclear than living near a nuclear waste dump, what can we do?

            The general public are almost certainly making decisions about these things without a full appreciation of the facts of the energy predicament that we as a society are facing, and this urgently needs changing if we’re going to start making rational policy. But unfortunately playing politics has never been the strong suit of the science and engineering community and I don’t really see that changing any time soon, despite the urgent need for this to change.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Good and fair comment Sam. Understanding the risks of not having reliable, secure and affordable supplies of energy should be at the beginning of any energy debate. I’ve been meaning to write a post on Energy and Society for some time. Perhaps its time to elevate that to the top of my list.

          • Ben Elsworth says:

            I’m a power station developer, and I currently run a biomass CHP development company, but I have worked in coal, gas and electricity markets in the past and I expect I will again in the future. I have a degree in physics, and a masters in Renewable EnergyTechnology. I don’t have an anti-nuclear bias – I worked for EDF for several years – and you should not ignore my comment that just because Dounreay was a horrible mess, other FBRs couldn’t be successful.

            Greenpeace types argue for the closure of pretty much every nuclear and fossil plant in the country (world), going as far as climbing chimneys and committing all sorts of dangerous criminal acts. There’s a reason why they were successful in this single case – which is simply that the plant had to close anyway. It was costing a fortune, it was dangerous, and all we learnt from it was that we were not ready to build another FBR any time soon. Tax payers are still paying an astonishing price.

            These views are my own and are not attributable to the company I work for, and I think I’m a damn site more objective than a former employee at the site.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Thanks for that Ben. For the record I will not try to excuse “the mess” at Dounreay, the famous shaft etc. but do not have a good appreciation of how bad it really is. As Kit keeps pointing out, no one has been killed. In general I think our understanding and appreciation of radiation hazards is extremely poor.

            You say Dounreay was dangerous. I’ve been told that many times before. You mention this to engineers who worked there and they will say that is nonsense. Who to believe?

            The costs you quote would carry more weight with links to “official” estimates. You say Dounreay was closed because of cost. The workers do not know why it was closed.

            I am pretty much against biomass as any form of solution to future energy needs. In the 19th century we began burning coal when we ran out of trees to burn. I’m pretty appalled by the clearing of hardwood forests in the USA to burn in Drax. This is true environmental destruction done in the name of protection and ticking boxes.

            There may of course be a place for small local biomass schemes that make good environmental and commercial sense. And I am enthusiastic about CHP! A pity we can’t have much CHP in the UK since our gas plants will only run inefficiently for part of the time.

          • Ben Elsworth says:

            It would be great if there were any official estimates, only the decommissioning costs have any degree of transparency and even those are impossible to drill into in any meaningful way.

            “I’m pretty appalled by the clearing of hardwood forests in the USA to burn in Drax.”

            I appreciate this is the narrative that has been sold (cynically) to the general public by the likes of FoE and Greenpeace, but it bears no resemblance to reality. If you’re interested in learning about it I would be happy to share materials but I would suggest you start by getting to grips with the sustainability criteria that will shortly become mandatory in order to qualify for renewable energy incentives. This is maybe a place to start https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-biomass-sustainability-criteria-to-provide-certainty-for-investors-to-2027 and from there, if you want, you can get into the details by reading the Timber Procurement Standards, the DECC consultations on sustainability and the Ofgem guidance. Then we can talk meaningfully about US South-East forestry if you want.

      • roberto says:

        “and they can destroy the economy of a country when they go catastrophically wrong.”

        Any data to support this statement?

        Thanks.

      • Another commenter talking out of his hat. To say that no one knows how to build a breeder reactor is patent nonsense. The French Phenix reactor bred plutonium and burned it, and every reactor breeds plutonium, even LWRs. Talk about “hot air and day dreaming”!

        Here’s the most dangerous belief of all, though: “We don’t need nukes when we can have never-ending energy from renewables – and that is what will happen.” That is utter fantasy, yet millions of people have been taken in by it (including a couple countries’ policymakers), and if you believe it then of course it’s easy to dismiss nuclear. But a dispassionate look at the data from a couple decades of hyper-expensive commitment to that fantasy in Germany and Denmark reveals the sad truth: Both those countries have some of the highest carbon footprints per capita of any developed country, and getting worse instead of better.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          A bunch of good instructive comments here.

          But a dispassionate look at the data from a couple decades of hyper-expensive commitment to that fantasy in Germany and Denmark reveals the sad truth: Both those countries have some of the highest carbon footprints per capita of any developed country, and getting worse instead of better.

          Maybe true for Germany but certainly not true for Denmark that benefits from being a small country running electricity supply parasitically off Scandinavian hydro.

          In Germany, about 50% of the expansion of new renewables has gone to compensate for lost nuclear capacity and that trend looks set to get worse in future.

          http://euanmearns.com/germany-energiewende-kaput/
          http://www.euanmearns.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/germany_lowC_con.png

        • Kit P says:

          “Here’s the most dangerous belief of all,”
          @Jack
          Stay in your box Jack. This belief is not dangerous because we that make your power do not listen to them. When and where we need a nuke plant, we build it. When we need more uranium we find it. Sure some useless wind and solar gets installed but it just a poor allocation of resources but if it makes rich self-indulgent folks feel better about themselves that certainly is not dangerous.

  6. Please let’s not forget thorium, which is 3X more plentiful than uranium. We can burn nearly 100% of thorium, compared to 0.7% of uranium in today’s LWRs. And yes, sodium-cooled fast breeder reactors such as the BN-800 can burn nearly all the uranium. A hybrid denatured molten salt reactor burns a mix of thorium and enriched uranium. The book THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal describes why this technology can undersell coal, using economic self-interest to replace coal plants. http://thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com. There are more presentations and articles at https://sites.google.com/site/roberthargraves/

    • Roger Andrews says:

      “We can burn nearly 100% of thorium, compared to 0.7% of uranium in today’s LWRs.” I didn’t look at thorium, but the fact that LWRs extract less than 1% of the energy in uranium is in important consideration. If we could extract, say 50% of it then the supply problem goes away. Viewed from this perspective the question of uranium supply becomes a technological, not a resource-oriented issue.

  7. Euan Mearns says:

    Roger lives on the W coast of Mexico and I’m sure he will call by to answer questions once he has had a couple of tequilas for breakfast.

    The point of the post was to look specifically at U being burned in today’s reactor designs. There is a huge amount of talk about new reactor technologies on the way – molten salts and Th et al. Personally I find these new technologies very difficult to evaluate until working prototypes demonstrate potential and we move to commercial exploitation. Fact is that new reactors being built today are simply technical evolutions of old designs. Breeders of course are a different story, but face huge opposition from environmental groups who seem to be against the human race exploiting any form of energy for survival and comfort.

    As for seawater, I’d never say never, but the challenge is immense. I’d imagine that if we embark upon a high nuclear path and the price of U goes up, that large low grade deposits will be found and exploited before ocean water. The Japanese, trying to exploit methane hydrates and ocean U are simply desperate to try and bolster their energy security by finding home-grown supplies, not the U will do them much good these days in their new-post nuclear era.

    • Glen Mcmillian says:

      My money says that barring another Fukushima the Japanese and the Germans will be entertaining a lively debate about building new nukes in a decade.

      Nothing changes minds as fast as deprivation.

      Coal prices may not go up very fast so long as the world remains more or less peaceful.But oil is peaking now and the worlds appetite for energy is growing like a weed.

      Importing countries are going to build out as much renewable infrastructure as they possibly can in order to preserve their limited foreign exchange funds. Trucks are going to be running on natural gas probably only compressed but maybe liquified if gas remains relatively cheap compared to diesel fuel.This is going to put substantial upward pressure on gas prices of course but nevertheless gas is the only practical choice for now and probably for a good while to come for use as the load balancing fuel.I expect gas prices to go up substantially within the next few years even as renewable electricity becomes more plentiful.Paradoxically renewables may actually increase gas usage in many countries -while in the meantime the renewables are cutting into the coal consumption in the same countries.

      But coal or gas, either has to be paid for by importers.Times are going to get hard as fossil fuels get more costly. In historical terms the human race has a very short memory.Nukes are going to come back big time if we are so lucky as not to have another disastrous nuclear accident in the next decade.

      And a new generation of nukes will be substantially safer than the ones that have run safely in nearly every case for the last fifty years- if they are built and run by western countries.The thought of nukes built and run by third world countries with unstable governments scares me silly but there is very little doubt in my mind that barring the collapse of industrial civilization tin pot hat governments are going to have nukes.

      This likelihood is one reason I believe we need to stay pedal to the metal on renewables. They are intermittent but they go up faster and cheaper in small increments and will take a lot of the pressure off for building nukes.

      The other reason is that speaking as a long term observer of people and politics it is not at all safe to assume that the permits and financing will be forthcoming for a new generation of nukes in time to prevent a catastrophic crisis in terms of fossil fuel availability.The gas may not be there and war could stop the coal being mined and delivered. Wind and solar power can at least extend fossil fuel supplies to a substantial extent.

      Of course as Euan has frequently pointed out renewables are useless unless they are properly sited.

      • Glen, I agree with you that economics is the important driver of behavior.

        ‘Nothing changes minds as fast as deprivation.

        Coal prices may not go up very fast so long as the world remains more or less peaceful.But oil is peaking now and the worlds appetite for energy is growing like a weed.”

        The thorium molten salt reactor has the potential to deliver energy cheaper than coal, inducing nations to abandon coal for nuclear. Although a thorium breeder reactor is a laudable goal, the intermediate denatured molten salt reactor, fueled by U-235, U-238, and Th-232 [a “converter” reactor since the breeding ration is < 1] may be closer than most observers think. I'm working with a designer/developer now.

  8. FBRs still need an input from conventional uranium to plutonium reactors. So do thorium reactors, unless you use accelerators to generate neutrons to convert Th into a fissile form. Also see: Ashley, S., Parks, G., Nuttall, W., Boxall, C., and Grimes, R (2012) ‘Nuclear energy: Thorium fuel has risks’, Nature 492, pp31–33 Dec. 6th
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v492/n7427/full/492031a.html

    • clivebest says:

      You can also use fusion reactors as a source of neutrons. Even ITER under construction now in France would scale up to 2GW output with a thorium blanket. Pure fusion reactors should also become available by 2050 solving long term fuel resources for ever.

      • Sam Taylor says:

        I think your optimism about fusion is rather misplaced. There hasn’t been anywhere near enough research into materials which could stand up to the levels of neutron flux that you’d get in a commercial fusion reactor. Most of the stuff we’ve got available to us at the moment woudl start crumbling to bits inside 5 years. Not to mention that our stocks of Deuterium are going to start disappearing when Canada starts decomissioning all their CANDU reators over the next decade or two.

  9. So you still think it would still be worthwhile to stick with nuclear when, with very low or grade ( and thus a need to mine and process vastly more ore) when the EROIE gets down to 2:1 or less?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      No I don’t think it would be worthwhile pursuing nuclear with ERoEI at 2:1. But since the energy cost of mining is minimal to the whole process – reflected in the fact that yellow cake represents about 2% of the cost of nuclear power and hence it accrues as indigenous primary energy, at least by BP (MacKay has a strange view on this), I am not accepting your argument that low ore grades are going to have such a dramatic impact on the ERoEI of the whole.

      I am also listening to others here who are pointing out that substantially greater efficiency of new reactor technologies will press ERoEI in the direction opposite to that which you describe.

      • Glen Mcmillian says:

        I agree. Given the low cost of yellow cake in relation to the total cost of nuclear power it hardly matters if the price of it goes up several times in terms of the big picture.Energy returned on energy invested is not necessarily a good metric in the case of nuclear power if the power needed to get the uranium to the power plant can be obtained from the power plant itself since nukes produce such awesome amounts of electricity for such long periods of time with very little pollution- barring accidents of course.

        And all the initial energy investment needed to actually build a nuclear plant need not be lost. As Alan from Big Easy used to point out at The Oil Drum railroad tunnels are just as useful a hundred years later as they are the day they are finished.Incidentally those who are opposed to renewable such as wind farms generally fail to recognize this fact. The only part of a wind farm that is going to actually wear out is the part on the top of the towers. At thirty or forty years of age a tower may be suffering from metal fatigue or corrosion but it would most likely still safely support a somewhat smaller turbine and generator assembly.

        And if only cows are allowed under or near the towers an occasional catastrophic failure would not be a big deal.

        I personally cannot see any reason why a nuclear plant cannot be rebuilt – overhauled in hands on mechanics language. At fifty years the old reactor and piping and steam generators could just be ripped out and replaced with new. The turbines and generators can be refurbished or replaced as needed with newer more efficient ones if the cost is justified. Most of the infrastructure ranging from the power lines leaving the plant to the cooling water lake or towers to the perimeter fences could be kept in use with no need to locate a new site and start construction from scratch. This would cut many years and a substantial amount of money out of the cost of a new plant.

        The spent fuel is the big danger.

        The reactor and associated machinery could be piled up and covered with dirt and grass on a concrete pad onsite and would not be a problem at all in a few decades even if sold for scrap metal.

  10. burnsider says:

    I worked at the UK’s main FBR development site at Dounreay for 33 years and saw the project go from a major leap forward towards a fleet of commercial fast reactors to a depressing decommissioning/”last one out switch off the lights” scenario. Now it is beginning to look as if it could all go full circle. The modern world needs electric power and like most correspondents here, I doubt that wind waves and biomass will cut it somehow.

    As several commentators correctly point out, FBR’s use essentially all of the uranium to generate energy and the figure that used to be bandied around when I started at Dounreay was that the stocks of depleted uranium already in storage at the Capenhurst enrichment site in Cheshire would be sufficient to supply all of Britain’s electricity needs, using FBR’s, for 1000 years. That was likely ”at current (1970’s) rates of consumption”, but current (2014) rates of consumption probably do not change the argument very significantly (ie the U would last a very long time).

    I have not seen an EROI value for FBR’s, but I found a significantly higher calculated figure for PWR’s than David Elliott quoted above, namely 74:1 (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Energy-and-Environment/Energy-Analysis-of-Power-Systems/). My one and only posting on The Oil Drum, which I now can’t seem to find, concerned the EROI for the production of uranium from the Rossing Mine in Namibia. Because the mine is so remote, all supplies entering the facility are quantifiable and the EROI for the production of U was about 500:1 (http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/WebHomeEnergyLifecycleOfNuclear_Power).

    Figures like these give me confidence that nuclear has a good future if (and it is a very big if indeed) the political hurdles can be overcome. As noted above by Glen Macmillian, ”Nothing changes minds as fast as deprivation.”, so watch this space when wind etc fail to deliver and fossil fuel prices really take off

  11. Euan Mearns says:

    My one and only posting on The Oil Drum, which I now can’t seem to find, concerned the EROI for the production of uranium from the Rossing Mine in Namibia.

    Burnsider, I too posted on this on TOD in reply to one of the anti-nuclear posts by Michael Dietmar. I’ve been looking for my comment too, to write a post on this. Rio Tinto published the full energy budget for the mine for a year together with the production stats. I seem to recall the ERoEI for yellow cake production was many thousands to 1.

    Fortunately, I can call on resources to help me find this comment thread;-)

    The one major thing I have earned from this thread is that a nuclear future is only viable whilst embracing “new” nuclear technologies.

  12. Kit P says:

    ‘And a new generation of nukes will be substantially safer than’
    Not possible. Commercial LWRs and US navy nuke ships have a perfect safety record. I am 65 and have been doing nuclear for more than 40 years and no one has even been hurt by radiation. China in recent years has reduced coal mining deaths by an order of magnitude. That works out to be thousands of saved lives every year. If China reduces the fatality rate to that of the US, hundreds of saved lives every year. That is ‘substantially safer’. Reducing core damage frequency by two orders of magnitude, would not be substantial in the absolute.
    Unlike wind and solar, no nukes will be built to reduce ghg. The people who produce power hate building power plants. When the resource management plant projects a new plant will be needed in 10 years, power producers decide what the best choice will be for the mix with existing plants. Since steam plants last 60 years, the cost of the fuel has to be estimated. After the choice is made, the choice must be sold to all the arm chair quarterbacks. Often, the cost of the new reactor includes 10 or 20 years of fuel.

    • Tech Guy says:

      Kit P Wrote:
      “Commercial LWRs and US navy nuke ships have a perfect safety record.’

      US Commercial reactors are far from a perfect safety record. TMI for example and the dozen of other major safety problems that barely avoided meltdowns in the US. We’ve just been luckier than then the other nations so far.

      Two examples of the Perfect Safety record:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis–Besse_Nuclear_Power_Station#2002_reactor_head_hole

      “In March 2002, plant staff discovered that the borated water that serves as the reactor coolant had leaked from cracked control rod drive mechanisms directly above the reactor and eaten through more than six inches[13] (150 mm) of the carbon steel reactor pressure vessel head over an area roughly the size of a football”
      “Two former employees and one former contractor were indicted for statements made in multiple documents and one videotape, over several years, for hiding evidence that the reactor pressure vessel was being corroded by boric acid.”
      [Less than 3/8 of inch of steel remained. Had the corrosion breached when the reactor was operating it would have melted down]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browns_Ferry_Nuclear_Power_Plant#Unit_One_fire
      “Site personnel were resealing the penetration after cable installation and were checking the airflow through a temporary seal with a candle flame prior to installing the permanent sealing material. The temporary sealing material was highly combustible, and caught fire. Efforts were made by the workers to extinguish the fire at its origin, but they apparently did not recognize that the fire, under the influence of the draft through the penetration, was spreading on the reactor building side of the wall. The extent of the fire in the cable spreading room was limited to a few feet from the penetration; however, the presence of the fire on the other side of the wall from the point of ignition was not recognized until significant damage to cables related to the control of Units 1 and 2 had occurred”

      [I am sure using a candle for heat shrink tubing on an operating plant is Standard Operating procedure!]

      • Kit P says:

        Tech Guy is confusing property damage with safety when he writes “US Commercial reactors are far from a perfect safety record.” Safety is about not hurting people even when things go wrong. The US nuclear industry uses a defense in depth approach. Core damage does not mean people will be hurt, it just means that one of the barriers failed.
        “Had the corrosion breached when the reactor was operating it would have melted down” Of course that is not true. Emergency core cooing systems would reflood the core and maintain it cool. Another reason for the prefect safety record is that we learn from the challenges to safety. One the problems with folks like Tech Guy is they do not present a better alternative. Producing energy is inherently dangerous but the alternative is worse. Without large amounts of power, we can not treat sewage and cholera epidemics fill hospitals without lights or ventilations systems. Oh yes the good old days when we only had renewable energy.

  13. Sam Taylor says:

    Roger, in your numbers did you happen to calculate how many new plants this transition would entail? I imagine quite a lot. While U supply is a pressing issue, finding enough potential sites would perhaps be an issue? As would be achieving the required build rate, I guess.

    Plus, the waste issue. It really would be nice if in the UK we could get our heads screwed on and decide what to do with all the fuel rods we presently have sat in ponds at Sellafield. The lack of progress with long term waste storage is troubling to me.

    • Assuming 1,000MW average capacity we would have 2,820 nuclear plants in 2050, but in the process of building them we would have decommissioned a lot of coal plants, so finding sites shouldn’t be a problem. Uranium mining would also use a lot less space than coal mining, particularly if the U is extracted with in-situ leaching,

      • Sam Taylor says:

        That’s only, what, 6 times more than we have now, so not ludicrously more. Do you have much of an opinion on reprocessing? That would seem an important stepping stone technology to potentially extending resource life.

        • You’d better ask an expert about that, but I’ve assumed (maybe incorrectly) that it won’t be significant. Right now only 1,500-2,000 tpy U, or 2-3% of world demand, comes from reprocessing.

  14. Kit P says:

    LWR already prodcue power cheaper than coal. It has been that way for 20 years in the US. My real reactor trups your paper reactor. There are other econmic considerations. We have lots of coal in the US and the money does not leave the country. When you import fossil fuel lots of money leaves the country. Nuke plants are an investment in local infrastructure and jobs.

  15. roberto says:

    @roger andrews

    Sorry, but the two sentences…

    “This scenario decarbonizes global electricity generation by 75% by 2050 and cuts global carbon emissions by about 30% below what they otherwise would have been.”

    … and…

    “The scenario calls for installed global nuclear capacity to increase from 364GW at present to 2,820GW by 2050, which should be achievable. ”

    … are mutually exclusive.

    No technology whatsoever can install the equivalent of 2820 GWe nuclear (would be nice to know what average capacity factor you’ve assumed for nuclear)… assuming the average CF to be 0.85 then this would mean 12,000 GWp PV (@ 0.20 CF) or 6850 GW wind (@ 0.35 CF).
    You could modify your Excel table to add a couple of columns, like the yearly used energy and emitted CO2 (and other pollutants, of course) necessary to reach that level of capacity.

    For wind energy, assuming 6 months of energy payback time, if the energy mix where the turbines are made is, say, 500 gCO2/kWhe then the needed 6850/37 GWe/year will need 2.84E+11 kWh/y of energy to be built, and will emit in the atmosphere 0.5×2.84E+8 tons of CO2/y…i.e. additional 142 million tons/y… if one adds all of the GHG and pollution generated by the necessary balancing power stations it is evident that there is no way to decarbonize sufficiently… people should simply understand that at this point in time it is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to reach the goal of replacing 75% of the fossil fuels generation by using any other technology… it is simply too late.

    Nuclear would be the easiest way to come close to the goal, intermittent renewables are hopeless, no way to do it.

    Coming to the subject of the discussion, yes, today’s nuclear technology could use the already available uranium and thorium and go on for centuries… it is simply a matter of political will, nothing else.

    • Roberto:

      “No technology whatsoever (other than nuclear) can install the equivalent of 2820 GWe nuclear.” Correct. I mentioned this early in the text. (Incidentally, I estimated uranium requirements simply by scaling them up in relation to present-day capacity and consumption, so the capacity factor will be the same as it is now.)

      The purpose of the post, however, wasn’t to evaluate what nuclear can or can’t do or how large an impact it might have on CO2 emissions, but to see whether we have enough uranium to support a “nuclear future” in the unlikely event that the world decided this is the way it wants to go. The consensus seems to be that we do, but only if we commercialize FBRs on a large scale.

      Assuming, that is, that we really are as short of uranium as the numbers indicate, a subject on which there have been few comments. Is there a geologist in the house (apart from me)? Euan?

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Roger, I have a few take aways. My “pro-nuclear” stance for the UK is unshaken since, as you point out, the whole world is not going to follow this route, nor should it. Amongst other things its wholly impractical, but for technologically advanced, energy strapped nations, nuclear can make a lot of sense this century.

        The current technology is grotesquely inefficient at converting U to energy, large amounts of waste are a consequence of this.

        New nuclear technologies – breeders and Th reactors – seem to be the way to go. Russia seems to have a lead in the former. Who has the lead in the latter? Robert H? I know India is building a Th reactor, who else?

        And so I don’t think we ever reach the point where U scarcity matters IF new technologies are developed and proven.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          “The current technology is grotesquely inefficient at converting U to energy.” That’s the problem. Global oil, gas and coal reserves certainly wouldn’t last very long if we could extract only 1% of the contained energy.

          • Kit P says:

            @Roger
            “Global oil, gas and coal reserves certainly wouldn’t last very long if we could extract only 1% of the contained energy.”
            I think I understand the mindset that generates such confusion. Let me explain in practical terms. Fossil fuels convert by a chemical process called oxidation a small amount of mass to energy. A rough estimate for the equitant US nuke generation is 10,000 rail cars of coal per day. A 10% improvement would be 1,000 rail cars of coal per day. Thermal efficiency is very important when you are burning something.
            For fission, E=mc2, so a small mass is converted a large amount of energy. All the fuel assembles to fuel all the US nuke plants for one year would not fill one rail car of coal.
            One of my diverse assignments was a fuel fabrication facility. Uranium hexafluoride comes in the door. Fuel assemblies, industrial grade hydrofluoric acid, and fertilizer leave the plant. No emissions or waste. During my 30 years in nuclear power, fuel assemble performance has doubled. LWR get about 35% of the thermal energy from plutonium fission. This means that twice as much electricity is produced for the same number of ‘spent’ fuel assemblies put in the spent fuel pool to remove decay heat. Only 5% of the uranium is used. The French reprocess the spent fuel to remove the fission products and turn it into glass.
            Our current design under construction has several features to get still more power from uranium. A larger neutron reflector better uses neutrons. Thermal efficacies are improved 5%, and CF 5%. The plant is also designed to last at least 60 years.

  16. Ted says:

    Leads straight back to the thorium cycle needs, doesn’t it!

  17. roberto says:

    How about ADSs?

    The technology to build them is already available, but the money put into it is not sufficient to develop them fast enough to validate the concept… many countries are working on them but too slowly, IMO.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerator-driven_sub-critical_reactor

  18. Kit P says:

    “No technology whatsoever can install the equivalent of 2820 GWe nuclear (would be nice to know what average capacity factor you’ve assumed for nuclear)… assuming the average CF to be 0.85 …”

    The US produces about 20% of its power with nukes with an average capacity factor of 90%. These plants were built in about 20 years with a bunch not finished because they were not needed at the time. France uses the same LWRs and gets 75% of demand. So yes we can build and make nukes last a long time, so we can install what society needs.

    “The current technology is grotesquely inefficient at converting U to energy, large amounts of waste are a consequence of this.”

    Really! How so? What criteria did you come up with for your definition of efficient? Currently there is a huge over capacity in every segment of the chain to deliver fuel assemblies to reactors. Nuclear power produces very little waste. Just because something is not being used does not mean it is a waste. The relatively small amount of material being stored can be used later when economics change. France and some other countries already reprocess spent fuel.

    “The consensus seems…”

    Of whom? Bloggers trying to solve imaginary problems. Not having enough electricity is a real problem. The criterion for the nuke industry is that we safely contribute to the solution. Currently 100% of commercial reactors construction started in the last 10 years have been LWR.

    • Roger Andrews says:

      “What criteria did you come up with for your definition of efficient?”

      Will the World Nuclear Association do?

      “From the outset, nuclear scientists understood that today’s reactors fuelled essentially with U-235 exploited less than one percent of the energy potentially available from uranium.”

      http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Fast-Neutron-Reactors/

      That’s grossly inefficient by any standards.

      “Bloggers trying to solve imaginary problems.”

      If the prospect of running out of uranium in ~30 years’ time is imaginary then you must know of a source of uranium supply that no one else is aware of.

      • Kit P says:

        Andrew says, “If the prospect of running out of uranium in ~30 years’ time is imaginary”

        Andrew WNA link says “Thus the world’s present measured resources of uranium (5.3 Mt) in the cost category around present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for about 80 years.”

        If Andrew wants to have a hisse fit because he does not understand the difference between chemistry and nuclear physics that is fine. Reprocessing LWR is proven technology. So. one source of uranium is sitting in spent fuel pools. That works out to be about 2000 years of fuel (assuming you understand nuclear physics). So running out of fissionable material is not one thing I worry about. I may be an old guy but there are lots of smart hard working engineers and geologist in the nuclear field. How much power do you want no problem.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          Could you please tell me how much recoverable U is sitting in spent fuel pools? This is the kind of information I am looking for. Thank you.

  19. Dave Elliott says:

    I have been reading all these increasingly surreal nuclear fantasies with a growing sense of disbelief. The current
    reality is that nuclear supplies around 11% of global electricity and is pretty static if not actually declining (as in the USA), whereas renewables supply around 22%of global electricity and are accelerating fast, with costs falling. IRENA is looking to 30% or more by 2030 and that seems very likely, with some countries aiming for much more, on the way to 80% (Germany) and 100% (Denmark) by 2050. So where is all this new nuclear going to go? China? There wind output has already overtaken that from nuclear and renewables overall supply over 17% of its electricity compared with under 2% from nuclear. The plan is to expand nuclear to just 4% by 2020, but renewables are accelerating much more land look like they will continue to dwarf that. France plans to cut back on nuclear. Denmark, Austria Ireland, Portugal, Norway, and now Italy are non nuclear. Despite having a huge almost totally untapped renewable resource, Russia seems to be the only country looking at nuclear as the major contributor (over 50%) in the future, along possibly with Korea. Is the UK going to join them? While most others head in the opposite direction?

    • “Renewables supply around 22% of global electricity”

      Right: In 2013 renewables supplied 21.7% of global electricity generation (5,016 TWh of 23,127 Twh, according to BP).

      “and are accelerating fast”

      Wrong. Renewables supplied 20.4% of global generation in 1985, only slightly less than they did in 2013. A trend line drawn through the data in fact shows a slight decreasing trend in renewables’ share of total global generation over the last 29 years.The reason for this is that renewable generation is dominated by hydropower, arguably the most ancient of all energy sources. Hydro generation has declined overall since 1985 but still supplied 16.4% of the 21.7% contributed by renewables in 2013. Wind and solar combined contributed only 3.3% (and only 1.3% of total global energy consumption).

      Take out hydro and renewables are still little more than a pimple on the backside of the global energy elephant, despite the billions (trillions?) of dollars that have been spent on them and despite the efforts of renewable energy cheerleaders to convince people that they amount to something.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Roger, here is a good example of the renewable share accelerating fast. I think you have forgotten that we live in the Orwellian world of Double Thinking and Newspeak. What renewables advocates say is often the exact opposite of the truth.

        • Willem Post says:

          Euan,

          “Orwellian world of Double Thinking and Newspeak”?

          It is much worse.

          It really is a form of insanity, i.e., RE aficionados repeating statements with no connection to reality, as if in a trance. Their distortions of truth are a menace to more sane society, and to economic well-being.

          At every opportunity, we need render them harmless, as society does with other nut cases.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      renewables supply around 22% of global electricity and are accelerating fast, with costs falling

      In the context of this discussion its pretty disingenuous to quote figures dominated by hydro when the debate tends to be focussed on wind and solar. Can you tell us what the global figures for wind and solar combined are as % of total electricity and % of total primary energy.

      Denmark, Austria Ireland, Portugal, Norway, and now Italy are non nuclear.

      4 tiny countries, three of them with extensive access to hydro (Austria, Portugal and Norway) and a fourth with access to neighbours hydro (Denmark) and Italy somewhat hypocritically simply imports French nuclear.

      And I thought Norway was one of the countries building a prototype Th reactor.

      While most others head in the opposite direction?

      Germany and Japan I know are heading in the opposite direction – you have a curious understanding of the meaning of most.

      • We can swop statistics endlessly! Yes hydro is the largest renewable so far ( around 1TW installed globally) but wind is coming up fast behind at 318GW(e) while PV is at around 139GW (pk) globally. Admittedly the load factors for these renewables are lower that that for nuclear, but as I’ve already noted, the total electricity output achieved (~22% globally) is still double than from nuclear (~11%) And on the heat side, solar thermal is now at 326GW(th) much of it in China.

        You say the expansion of renewables is falling. Well that’s not the case in China and many other places for wind or PV. Globally, the recession hit all investment, and total global investment in ‘clean energy’ of all sorts fell 9% in 2013 to $254bn, following a 9% drop in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. But within that renewables have held up quite well. REN21 says 2013 marked the sixth consecutive year in which renewables had the majority share of new electricity generating capacity, with a 72% share in 2013. REN21 may be seen as partisan but the IEA is surely not. Its 2013 Medium Term Renewable Energy Market report says that wind, solar, bio-energy and geothermal use may grow 40% by 2018, twice the 20% rate in 2011, supplying 25% of global electricity by 2018 . Longer term, Its new Energy Technology Perpectives report notes that global nuclear capacity ‘is stagnating at this time’ , while in its High Renewables Scenario, solar PV becomes the dominant electricity source by 2040, providing 26% of global generation by 2050’. .www.iea.org/etp/

        The similarly non partisan World Energy Council, has a 2050 global energy market-led ‘Jazz’ scenario, in which the share of renewables in electricity generation is 31% and in a more policy-led ‘Symphony’ scenario, 48%. In terms of the role that nuclear power may play, WEC said that while ‘the share of renewable energy sources will increase from around 15% in 2010 [of primary energy] to almost 20% in Jazz in 2050 and almost 30% in Symphony in 2050,…nuclear energy will contribute approximately 4% of total primary energy supply in Jazz in 2050 and 11% in Symphony globally – compared to 6% in 2010’ http://www.worldenergy.org/publications/2013/world-energy-scenarios-composing-energy-futures-to-205

        Clearly, if they are right, some countries will still be using nuclear, but they will remain a minority . At present 30 or so countries, out of the 196 countries in the world, use nuclear at some level, whereas around 50 countries get most (over 50%) of their electricity from renewables (mainly hydro so far) some much more and for around a dozen of them near 100%. You challenged my view that, apart notably from Russia and Korea , ‘most others ‘ were heading away from nuclear as the major option and to renewables. India is maybe another partial exception. But, as indicated above, around the world renewables are the big growth area, whereas nuclear seems to be stalled with closures mostly wiping out new starts. I mentioned a sample of 6 non-nuclear EU countries and clearly there have been some more recent defectors- not just Germany but also Belgium and Switzerland , and , beyond Europe, possibly Taiwan, joining the Philippines, and maybe Japan. True there are some projects envisaged in the Middle East, South America and even maybe in Africa, but there are parallel projects in renewables. Given the huge solar resource in many of these regions I would be surprised if nuclear wins out in this contest.

        Looking to the future, at at some some optimistic projections, there have been a series of 100% renewables by 2050 scenarios published for the EU:
        The European Climate Foundation http://www.roadmap2050.eu.
        European Renewable Energy Council http://www.rethinking2050.eu
        PriceWaterhouseCoopers http://www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/ 100_percent_renewable_electricity.html
        And also for the world:
        Stanford University- Prof. Mark Jacobson http://www.stanford.edu/group/ efmh/jacobson/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf WWFwww.wwf.org.uk/research_centre/research_centre_results.cfm?uNewsID=4565
        Ive got on my desk piles more- covering Korea, Japan, China. looking in detail at grid balancing issues. I helped on one for Pugwash for the UK: getting to 80% of all energy by 2050 was relatively straight forward and we also had an extension to 100% using (excess) wind to gas play supergrid links for balancing .

        In all there are 60 more studies/papers saying roughly the same thing: up to 100% (of power and maybe all energy) is possible with balanced systems: http://www.mng.org.uk/gh/scenarios.htm

        They may all be overstated.- not all countries would want to or be able to accelerate to 100%. But the quite cautious Global Energy Assessment (GEA), produced by an international team led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, noted that ‘The share of renewable energy in global primary energy could increase from the current 17% to between 30% to 75%, and in some regions exceed 90%, by 2050’

        There is perhaps some room in there for nuclear, but GEA saw ‘nuclear energy as a choice, not a requirement’ .
        http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/Energy/Home-GEA.en.html

        Personally, I once worked in the nuclear sector (UKAEA, CEGB in the 1970s) but left since I didn’t think it had much of a future. Someone may well eventually come up with a technically and economically viable new thorium breeder or the like, or even fusion, but I’m not confident about that on any sensible timescale. By contrast the renewables offer so much more and are much further advanced.

  20. Leo Smith says:

    The current contribution in terms of raw* uranium cost to a unit of generated electricity is trivial. Around one percent.

    So a ten times increase in the cost of extracting uranium adds perhaps 10% to electricity costs.

    At a ten times increase, extracting from seawater is viable and there are several billion tonnes of uranium in the sea …

    ..current reactors use once through discard-and-store uranium because uranium is dirt cheap. Most of the U-235 remains in the fuel rods and could be recycled. The U238 can be bred to plutonium and used as well. Thorium is also a suitably fertile breeder material.

    Yes, breeder reactors are not as economic as once through bog standard fission reactors. But they are not that much more expensive either.

    At today’s energy burn levels there is at economic levels several thousand years of fertile and fissile material. Possibly even long enough to get a fusion reactor to work….

    The Universe runs on nuclear energy. All ‘renewable’ energy is recycled nuclear energy. Of one sort or another. Why not recycle it locally?

    *refining and fuel rod manufacture brings this up to ~16%.

  21. Kit P says:

    “I’m a power station developer, and I currently run a biomass CHP development company”
    Good luck with that! For a few years I did biomass R&D as a solutions to some local environmental issues. What I learned is that like nuclear, there are always ignorant against it.
    For example, “I’m pretty appalled by the clearing of hardwood forests in the USA …” Euan you have to agree that you are ignorant of forest in the US. The US has too much biomass.
    “As Kit keeps pointing out, no one has been killed.” What I keep pointing is that no one has been hurt. Think paper cut as the magnitude of being hurt. I do not know the particulars of Dounreay but the USSR did demonstrate exposing people to fission products can kill you. Safety is very important.

    • Ben Elsworth says:

      Hi Kit P, thanks for your kind words.

      I don’t know of anyone being hurt at Dounreay, so you’re right it’s all relative I guess. Nevertheless, my understanding of the particles that were released to the environment is that they contain significant doses of Caesium 137, which is very dangerous if ingested, although thankfully it has quite a short half-life (a few decades as opposed to centuries or millennia) and there are no reports of anyone actually being harmed – and contrary to my earlier statement I have now been told that the beach was not closed but there are scary warning signs which tend to keep a lot of people away.

      • Kit P says:

        “Caesium 137, which is very dangerous if ingested”
        Ben please explain how you endanger someone or more importantly how you keep from hurting people? Since you are developing biomass plants you are obligated to show how you will not hurt people. The process is called source, pathway, receptors. Every power plant has a source of hazards. What is the pathways to hurt someone. Finally where are the people to be hurt. So yes Ben warning signs are designed to be scary. Kit could make a sign that says ‘danger keep out, we just want avoid a lawsuit’. I have canoed the Handford Reach and at least three of us had responsibilities for radiation safety. The warning signs on one side of the river let us know not to trespass on a government weapons nuclear weapons facility. Of course we would just drive when going to work.

        • Ben Elsworth says:

          I think I take your underlying point, and in general I agree with you. As I said before, I’m not anti-nuclear and I completely accept that the industry as a whole is at least an order of magnitude safer than coal – even accounting for Chernobyl and Fukashima and every other incident, although that is not to excuse the release of those particles at Dounreay.

          On reflection, it was an exaggeration to say that Dounreay was dangerous, “not able to operate economically within acceptable industry safety margins” would probably have covered it better.

  22. We can swop statistics endlessly! Yes hydro is the largest renewable so far ( around 1TW installed globally) but wind is coming up fast behind at 318GW(e) while PV is at around 139GW (pk) globally. Admittedly the load factors for these renewables are lower that that for nuclear, but as I’ve already noted, the total electricity output achieved (~22% globally) is still double than from nuclear (~11%) And on the heat side, solar thermal is now at 326GW(th) much of it in China.

    You say the expansion of renewables is falling. Well that’s not the case in China and many other places for wind or PV. Globally, the recession hit all investment, and total global investment in ‘clean energy’ of all sorts fell 9% in 2013 to $254bn, following a 9% drop in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. But within that renewables have held up quite well. REN21 says 2013 marked the sixth consecutive year in which renewables had the majority share of new electricity generating capacity, with a 72% share in 2013. REN21 may be seen as partisan but the IEA is surely not. Its 2013 Medium Term Renewable Energy Market report says that wind, solar, bio-energy and geothermal use may grow 40% by 2018, twice the 20% rate in 2011, supplying 25% of global electricity by 2018 . Longer term, Its new Energy Technology Perpectives report notes that global nuclear capacity ‘is stagnating at this time’ , while in its High Renewables Scenario, solar PV becomes the dominant electricity source by 2040, providing 26% of global generation by 2050’. .www.iea.org/etp/

    The similarly non partisan World Energy Council, has a 2050 global energy market-led ‘Jazz’ scenario, in which the share of renewables in electricity generation is 31% and in a more policy-led ‘Symphony’ scenario, 48%. In terms of the role that nuclear power may play, WEC said that while ‘the share of renewable energy sources will increase from around 15% in 2010 [of primary energy] to almost 20% in Jazz in 2050 and almost 30% in Symphony in 2050,…nuclear energy will contribute approximately 4% of total primary energy supply in Jazz in 2050 and 11% in Symphony globally – compared to 6% in 2010’ http://www.worldenergy.org/publications/2013/world-energy-scenarios-composing-energy-futures-to-205

    Clearly, if they are right, some countries will still be using nuclear, but they will remain a minority . At present 30 or so countries, out of the 196 countries in the world, use nuclear at some level, whereas around 50 countries get most (over 50%) of their electricity from renewables (mainly hydro so far) some much more and for around a dozen of them near 100%. And many more are joining them.

  23. You challenged my view that, apart notably from Russia and Korea , ‘most others ‘ were heading away from nuclear as the major option and to renewables. India is maybe another partial exception. But, as indicated in my post above, around the world renewables are the big growth area, whereas nuclear seems to be stalled with closures mostly wiping out new starts. I mentioned a sample of 6 non-nuclear EU countries and clearly there have been some more recent defectors- not just Germany but also Belgium and Switzerland , and , beyond Europe, possibly Taiwan, joining the Philippines, and maybe Japan. True there are some projects envisaged in the Middle East, South America and even maybe in Africa, but there are parallel projects in renewables. Given the huge solar resource in many of these regions I would be surprised if nuclear wins out in this contest.

    Looking to the future, at at some some optimistic projections, there have been a series of 100% renewables by 2050 scenarios published for the EU:
    The European Climate Foundation http://www.roadmap2050.eu.

    European Renewable Energy Council http://www.rethinking2050.eu

    PriceWaterhouseCoopers
    http://www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/
    100_percent_renewable_electricity.html

    And also for the world:
    Stanford University- Prof. Mark Jacobson
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/
    efmh/jacobson/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf
    WWFwww.wwf.org.uk/research_centre/research_centre_results.cfm?uNewsID=4565
    Ive got on my desk piles more- covering Korea, Japan, China. looking in detail at grid balancing issues. I helped on one for Pugwash for the UK: getting to 80% of all energy by 2050 was relatively straight forward and we also had an extension to 100% using (excess) wind to gas play supergrid links for balancing .

    In all there are 60 more studies/papers saying roughly the same thing: up to 100% (of power and maybe all energy) is possible with balanced systems: http://www.mng.org.uk/gh/scenarios.htm

    They may all be overstated.- not all countries would want to or be able to accelerate to 100%. But the quite cautious Global Energy Assessment (GEA), produced by an international team led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, noted that ‘The share of renewable energy in global primary energy could increase from the current 17% to between 30% to 75%, and in some regions exceed 90%, by 2050’

    There is perhaps some room in there for nuclear, but GEA saw ‘nuclear energy as a choice, not a requirement’ .
    http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/Energy/Home-GEA.en.html

    Personally, I once worked in the nuclear sector (UKAEA, CEGB in the 1970s) but left since I didn’t think it had much of a future. Someone may well eventually come up with a technically and economically viable new thorium breeder or the like, or even fusion, but I’m not confident about that on any sensible timescale. By contrast the renewables offer so much more and are much further advanced.

  24. Woops, apologies for the repeat. I broke my reply in two since I thought my first attempt at posting the full thing had failed since it was too long. Evidently not.
    BTW Ive now dug out figures for winds contribution to global electricity. It was 2.9% in 2012 according to REN21, but more like 3.5% now.

  25. Pots and kettles come to mind

  26. Kit P says:

    “We can swop statistics endlessly!”
    Statics are only useful when properly applied. Our job in the power industry is to provide electricity when and where people need it. I do not care about Germany because the people my unities serve are not in Germany. In others words you have to play the hand you are dealt. To use the poker analogy, wind and solar is a bluff. Wind and solar is like holding a pair of threes. You can only win by bluffing the government out of money. Having a nuke is like holding a straight flush.

  27. jrwakefield says:

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. There’s thousands of years of the stuff, and it can consume waste fission material. Plus they can meet demand load.

    • Roger Andrews says:

      “One metric ton of thorium fuel would deliver the same amount of energy as 250 metric tons of uranium in a pressurized water reactor, according to a briefing paper published by the United Kingdom All Party Parliamentary Group on Thorium, a group of UK lawmakers who advocate adoption of the alternative fuel.”

      I can’t find the briefing paper, but if this is true thorium resources probably would last for thousands of years.

      • Blair Bromley says:

        A tonne of uranium in the form of U-238, will deliver approximately the same amount of energy as a tonne of thorium in the form of Th-232. Both U-238 (which is 99.3 wt% of the uranium found in nature) and Th-232 (which is 100 wt% of the thorium found in nature) are non-fissile isotopes. However, they are both fissionable, meaning that it is possible to fission them directly with fast neutrons (above 2 MeV), and they are both fertile, meaning that they can be turned into fissile isotopes through the multi-stage process of neutron absorption and beta decay.

        In the case of U-238, it absorbs a neutron, becoming U-239, decays to Np-239, which then decays to Pu-239. Pu-239 is a fissile isotope of plutonium, and will undergo fission easily with thermal neutrons, similar to U-235 (the fissile isotope of uranium found in nature).

        In the case of Th-232, it absorbs a neutron, becoming Th-233, decays to Pa-233, which then decays (after 27 days) to U-233. U-233 is a another fissile isotope of uranium, but it is not found in nature. Like U-235, and Pu-239, U-233 is fissile and will undergo fission easily with thermal neutrons.

        To create a self-sustaining chain reaction, where the number of neutrons produced from fission equals those lost by absorption and leaking, one must use a sufficient mass and concentration of fissile isotopes, either in pure form, or diluted by other isotopes. One can use U-235, Pu-239, or U-233 to create a critical mass of a self-sustaining nuclear reactor (ie. a nuclear reactor).

        In conventional nuclear reactors, the fissile U-235 is diluted by U-238, and ranges in concentration between 0.7 wt% (natural uranium) to 4 or 5 wt% U-235/U (which is typically used in modern light water reactors…which are thermal spectrum reactors). Reactors with very high neutron economy, such as heavy water reactors, are able to operate using natural uranium.

        In fast reactors, the neutrons are not being slowed down by a moderator, and therefore the probability of causing fission in fissile isotopes such as U-235 goes down. Therefore, in fast reactors, the fissile concentration must be made higher (eg. 15 to 20 wt% U-235/U).

        For reactors that operate on thorium, the truth is the fission is occurring mainly due to some fissile isotope that has been mixed with thorium, such as U-235, Pu-239, or perhaps U-233 that has been bred previously in another reactor.

        The problem I see is that a lot of these comparisons being made between uranium and thorium are either inconsistent or lacking context.

        We should consider both U-238 (which is also found in the depleted uranium byproduct from uranium enrichment plants) and Th-232 in the same light – both are valuable long-term energy resources, which we can exploit when the economics are attractive enough to implement other technologies … such as fast breeder reactors, molten salt reactors (which can be fast or thermal spectrum), sub-critical driven systems, hybrid fusion fission reactors, etc.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          “A tonne of uranium in the form of U-238, will deliver approximately the same amount of energy as a tonne of thorium in the form of Th-232.”

          Thanks for the clarification. What it means is that we don’t gain any longevity by going to thorium because known thorium resources are even smaller than known uranium resources, although that could of course change with more exploration.

          “We should consider both U-238 … and Th-232 in the same light – both are valuable long-term energy resources, which we can exploit when the economics are attractive enough to implement other technologies … such as fast breeder reactors …”

          I think we can make a good case for holding off on any major expansion of nuclear until these technologies become available.

          • “I think we can make a good case for holding off on any major expansion of nuclear until these technologies become available.”

            Fast breeder reactors ARE available. GE-Hitachi has offered to build a pair of them for the UK. Granted, the offer was made as a solution to the UK’s perceived “plutonium problem” and thus GE isn’t promoting them to be used as breeders, but they can be used as breeders when the UK policymakers wake up to the fact that the UK has enough fuel already out of the ground to be completely energy independent for at least 500 years with breeders.

          • Roger Andrews says:

            “Fast breeder reactors ARE available.”

            But are they ready for large-scale commercialization?

          • No, we gain via Th because it’s 4x as abundant as U.

  28. Well stated in total and specifically!

  29. I love absolute statements like “no one is building a fast breeder”.
    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/186023-russia-bets-its-energy-future-on-waste-free-fast-breeder-nuclear-reactors

    Well, except the Russians, the Indians, the Brits/French, the Canadians of Terrestrial energy, and anyone else who wants to consume the tens of thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel plus the far greater stores of depleted
    Uranium lying around in UF6 canisters in KY, OH, etc. We can run the US on just what we have for hundreds of years.

    Then there’s Thorium, which is 4x as abundant as U.

    Remember 1962? http://tinyurl.com/6xgpkfa

    The U worry has been long gone. http://tinyurl.com/7o6cm3u

    But advanced nuclear is niow absolutely essential. http://tinyurl.com/n2qnos6
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtQxF_3BSxQ

    Dr. A. Cannara
    650 400 3071

  30. Malcolm Rawlingson says:

    Some people don’t appear to know that there are more new reactors under construction than at any time since the 1970’s. Far from being in decline,nuclear power is undergoing a rapid resurgence. Currently there are around 70 new reactors under construction including 27 in China. Hundreds more are in the advanced planning stages. While it may be a touch of wishful thinking on the part of the anti nuclear fraternity that nuclear power is being phased out the reverse is actually the case.

    The decline in electricity consumption amongst OECD countries is largely due to the relocation of heavy industry to China and India and other Asian economies such as steel and cement manufacture. There is some impact from personal reductions in consumption but these pale in comparison to large industries.

    In the oil rich United Arab ERmirates there are two reactors under construction now and at the same site a further two will be starting construction soon. UAR also has plans for an additional four units to provide desalination of water and electricity.

    Saudia Arabia intends to build 16 new plants in the coming years and is investing 80 billion to develop a nuclear power industry from scratch.

    The “we are running out of Uranium” scenario is reminiscent of the dire predictions of the Club of Rome in the 1970’s. According to them all raw materials should have been exhausted by now. They are not.

    Remember the “peak oil” theory of Hubbert. Apparently the USA is now sitting on trillions of barrels of oil from shale formations. Mr. Hubbert was correct using the technology of the day. But the technology of the day changed and debunked the whole concept. The problem with predicting resource availability based on CURRENT technology is just that. It is based on current technology. New extraction techniques, better utilisation, fast breeder reactors, thorium reactors, high temperature reactors, used fuel recycling and many many other technologies will change the landscape of uranium. The other problem is that before we know how long a resource will last we must know how much is actually there. That is the bit we don’t know

    And then of course there is the one reactor everyone forgot to mention – Fusion. By 2050 we will be building the first commercial fusion reactors which do not use any uranium. Problem solved.

    Malcolm

    • Good comments, Malcolm, but fusion is always in the future, having 2 degrees in plasma physics myself. The reason is simple — stars have something we don’t : a unidirectional force independent of electromagnetism — gravity.

      Fission energy is actually stored fusion energy. Splitting heavy atoms simply releases the fusion energy that created them in the extreme shocks around exploding stars or very massive young ones.

      Fission, via Thorium, Uranium… is fine for thousands of years, when fusion might indeed be available.
      ;]

  31. Kit P says:

    Good morning from China.
    “By 2050 we will be building the first commercial fusion reactors which do not use any uranium.”
    No we will not. A few things have to happen first. First someone needs to make controlled fusion work. Then they need to design and build a prototype and get 10-20 years’ experience. Then we need a FOAK commercial fusion reactor. Then the commercial fusion reactor has to be more economical than LWRs being built now that will last 100s if years. With anything, first you have to make it work, and then you have to make work better than what you are replacing.
    “more new reactors under construction than at any time since the 1970′s”
    And most of these new reactors are very similar to those built in the 1970′s. There are good reasons too. After working the kinks out, LWR are the most reliable source of power with typical capacity factors greater than 90% and summer winter availability when demand is high of 99%. It is the lowest cost of power too.
    There is room for unreliable sources of power too like wind and solar to supply non-essential demand. Hospitals and waste water treatment plants are essential loads. Flat screen TV are not. I have yet to find an anti-nuke that will settle for only having electricity part of the time.

  32. Kit P says:

    “Fission energy is actually stored fusion energy.”
    Wow, actually learned something from someone with 2 degrees in plasma physics. Since U235 and U238 decay at different rates there was a time when the natural enrichment ratio allowed for natural reactors in geological formations.
    “The current contribution in terms of raw* uranium cost to a unit of generated electricity is trivial. Around one percent.”
    LCA can be used reduce both cost and environmental impact. Using old enrichment technology, France enriched uranium using the power from three reactors. New technology, centrifuges, now uses one reactor freeing up two nukes to sell power to the grid. A new enrichment is operating in New Mexico providing many great jobs. This just another example improvements in the nuclear fuel cycle that are rarely credited. New Mexico was not the original location. Anti-nukes attacked the first location as environmental racism. My company is also planning a new enrichment facility in the US. The preferred location was at the same location as the fuel fabrication facility in one of the most nuclear friendly cities in the US. Unfortunately, it is in a nuclear unfriendly state. Next state over is nuclear friendly state and city. Yes, some politicians understand that a $4 billion investment with a thousand high paying permanent jobs with a 66% energy improvement is a good thing all around.

    • Yes, Kit, the Oklo reactors ran ~2B years ago, when U235 was 8x abundant. Also, the cost of fuel for an LWR is about $14M, lasting ~5 years, and generating ~5GW-years of juice worth lots more!

      And always remind the fusion nuts that fission is just discharging ancient fusion ‘batteries’.
      ;]

  33. Kit P says:

    “A few links to verify this would be appreciated.”
    It is common knowledge in the US and easy to check facts. http://www.nei.org/Master-Document-Folder/Backgrounders/Fact-Sheets/The-Facts-About-Nuclear-Decommissioning-Trust-Fund
    “Every nuclear power plant in the United States is required, by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to set aside sufficient funds to decommission the plant when it reaches the end of its useful life.”
    Euan feel free to look around NEI. The tactic of anti-nukes is if you tell a lie often enough many will believe it.

  34. And, the decommissioning fund is usually based on KW of installed generation.

    • Kit P says:

      The cost of decommission a nuke plant is specific to the plant. A 1000 MWe BWR does not cost twice a much to decommission as a 500 MWe nuke but would build the decommission fund twice as fast because it is based on kwh generated. The NRC requires utilities to show they have the financial assets to pay for decommission even if the plant only runs a short time.
      Now that most plants have built up a large fund, the IRS wants to tax the interest. This is nuclear power subsidizing the government instead of vice versa.

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