MOX Fuel in Fukshima Daiichi Adds Little Risk to Public

There is a good deal of misinformation being circulated about the potential harm to people in Japan from plutonium present in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in the unit 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi.  The real story comes from an independent group of scientists who make up the American Nuclear Society Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation .  Their conclusion? Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel has been used safely in nuclear power reactors for decades.  The presence of a limited number of MOX fuel assemblies at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 has not had a significant impact on the ability to cool the reactor or on any radioactive releases from the site due to damage from the earthquake and tsunami. Here’s a link to their full report.  It’s a short read and provides an excellent explanation of the current situation and risks associated with MOX fuel. Back in TWiN Episode #77 I covered the topic of MOX fuel, where it comes from, and where it is used.  Here are some important facts about MOX nuclear fuel: MOX present in nuclear plant fuel changes some aspects of the fuel’s performance in accident conditions, but these changes are relatively minor (see the ANS letter for details on this). MOX fuel comes from two main sources; recycling former weapons material into nuclear fuel, and recycling used nuclear power plant fuel for reuse. Creating MOX for power reactors is a safe way to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. MOX fuel can not be used to make nuclear weapons.  The NRC states “Using the plutonium in the reactor as MOX fuel makes using it for any other purposes difficult.” Plutonium in nuclear fuel is not unique to MOX fueled reactors.  All nuclear reactors contain plutonium after the reactor has been in operation for any period of time.  In fact, at the end of life of a typical low enriched uranium core up to about 20% of the heat being generated is from the fission of plutonium atoms. Plutonium in MOX fueled reactors can not cause the reactor to explode.   John Wheeler This Week in...

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New US Backed Wind Energy Project Costs Twice as Much As the Same Amount of Nuclear Energy

The US Department of Energy issued a press release today announcing a new $102 Million loan guarantee for a 50.6 MW wind farm near Roxbury, Maine and an 8 mile transmission line to connect it to the grid.  Before we join hands in carbon-free jubilation let’s do the math: $102 Million for 50.6 MW that will operate (best case) at 30% capacity = $6.72 million per megawatt (MW) of delivered electricity Well now, that’s an interesting number, but what does it mean in the real world?  Let’s see how it compares to building other forms of large scale carbon-free energy like a nuclear power plant. A Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor produces 1,154 MW at about a 90% capacity factor, thus delivering  a virtually consistant 1,040 MW.  The reported “all in” cost for two such rectors like the ones currently under construction at the Vogtle station in Georgia is about $8 Billion (or $4 Billion for 1040 MW). How much would it cost to build the same energy delivery capacity with wind power (as shown above)?  Let’s find out: Wind costs $6.72 million per MW * 1040 MW = $7.75 Billion So this simple example of two current real world projects demonstrates wind generated electricity costs twice as much to build as the same quantity of nuclear generated electricity.  By the way, I’ve been very kind to wind in my analysis because the worldwide average capacity factor is more like 19.6%, not the 30% I’ve used in my comparison.  That difference would increase the cost of wind by another 50% to more than $10 Billion (2.5 times the cost of nuclear). So would someone please tell me why the United States is squandering precious limited financial resources on intermittent wind energy projects that cost twice as much as an equivalent amount of reliable nuclear energy? Dr. Chu, you should be ashamed! Edit on March 8, 2011: I failed to consider generous state and federal subsidies that typically cover 30% to 50% of the cost of new wind energy installations, and the accelerated depreciation that assures investors get a rapid return on their investment even if the project produces little electricity.  These add further to the true cost of wind...

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Boycotting Anti-Nuclear Activist Companies & Celebrities

Podcast – download the MP3 File Here During a recent conversation over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a friend asked if anyone in the group was boycotting BP.  This led to a lively discussion about the effectiveness of boycotts and the inevitable question, “Who do you boycott?” Before I answer that question, I want to make it clear that I don’t want to get overly negative.  I am sometimes critical of so called “environmental” groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace who seem to be against everything yet provide no realistic alternatives.  In my view, to boycott one person, place or thing means I will support an alternative. You don’t have to look very hard to find celebrities or companies who are actively working against the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  There was a time in my life that going to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop was a ritual.  The company opened one of their first retail stores in a renovated gas station about a block from my apartment in Saratoga Springs, NY where I lived when I worked at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.   As the company grew and the profits rolled in their founders began to become politically active in Vermont.  Unfortunately they jumped on the anti-nuclear bandwagon and began to support groups like Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility who advocate shutting down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.  I made the decision not to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because every scoop I ate was helping to fund activist efforts to shut down Vermont’s only nuclear plant.  It’s too bad Ben & Jerry’s fails to understand that without Vermont Yankee the electricity used to manufacture their ice cream would necessarily come from fossil fuels, and would contribute to air pollution and climate change.  They are probably unaware that Vermont is one of the only states to continue burning oil to generate electricity.  Their anti-nuclear campaign is in effect supporting the continued use of oil and other fossil fuels.  Fortunately for me there are plenty of ice cream alternatives! I’m a big fan of Tom Clancy novels, and one of my favorites is “Hunt for Red October.”  I’ve read the book and enjoyed the movie when it premiered, but unfortunately I’ll never watch it again.  That’s because one of the stars of that movie is Alec Baldwin, an actor who has personally contributed millions of dollars to efforts to shut down the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York and the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey. Baldwin and his actress wife Kim Basinger support the anti-nuclear Radiation and Public Health Project, and have lobbied the...

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Putting Picos In Perspective
Feb12

Putting Picos In Perspective

Fast Fission Podcast #23 – Download mp3 Here Ever thought about how many zeros there are there in a “pico” something? Remember back in grade school when we learned the metric system of measures?  We started out with units that are easy to visualize: meters get 1000 times bigger and become kilometers; meters get 1000 times smaller and become millimeters.  We understand these intuitively because we have a frame of reference and can visualize each of those unites of length and distance.  Units of mass are the same way; we know a gram is a small unit of mass – we can hold a gram of almost any material in the palm of our hand.  For example, a penny weighs 2.5 grams. Stack up 400 pennies and you have a kilogram, or 1000 grams.  Cut a thin copper shaving off a penny and you have a milligram, or one 1,000th of a gram.  Again, these are things we can see, and that makes it easier to understand. As our schooling progressed we learned about very large and very small numbers, exponents, and scientific notation.  We put these principles to use in science and learned there are other units of measure larger than a “kilo” and smaller than a “milli”.  These are harder to visualize because we have to think in terms we can’t see.  For example, the mass of Mount Everest,  is 3E18 grams, or 3 “exa-grams” and the mass of the planet earth is 6×10^24 kg, or 6E27 grams (6,000 “yotta-grams”) (see note below). On the opposite end of the scale is the prefix “nano” or 1E-9 of a unit. A nanometer is 1E-9 meters, and a nanosecond is 0.000000001 seconds.  I had a hard time visualizing a nano second of time until I learned that it takes about 1 nanosecond for a beam of light to travel one foot.  That kind of puts a nano into perspective, doesn’t it?  The newest computer chips, for example have transistors with a thickness of 45 nanometers!  We can only see things that small with powerful electron microscopes. A “pico” is even smaller than a “nano” , 1000 times smaller!  “Pico” means there are 12 places behind the decimal point.  Even for a person like me who deals with engineering and science all the time, it can be difficult to visualize a “pico” of something.  A pico is so small that even a million picos is still very small amount. It takes a million, million pico grams to make one gram.  If you have a million pico-curies in a liter of water, it would take one million liters to provide a...

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Clean, Green Energy Jobs

  Fast Fission Podcast # 18 – mp3 file Duke Energy is one of the largest power producers in the Western Hemisphere.  They produce 35,000 MW of electricity in the USA, plus 4,000 in Latin America.  They have virtually every type of power plant: nuclear, coal, gas, hydro, wind, and solar. They also run natural gas distribution systems in two states. Duke knows energy, and Jim Rogers, their CEO, knows Duke.  When Jim Rogers speaks about energy people listen.  Last week Mr. Rogers was talking energy and jobs.   Jim says Duke’s experience has shown that nuclear energy provides more jobs and higher paying jobs than wind or solar power plants. “In an operation of a nuclear plant, there [are] .64 jobs per megawatt. The wind business–and we have a very large wind business – is .3 jobs per megawatt. In the solar business – and we’re installing solar panels – it’s about .1. But the difference in the jobs is quite different, because if you’re wiping off a solar panel, it’s sort of a minimum wage type of job, [with] much higher compensation for nuclear engineers and nuclear operators.  If our goal is to rebuild the middle class, nuclear plays a key role there, particularly if coal is out of the equation.” Mr. Roger’s comments made me wonder how many jobs might be created if we were to build new power plants of each type to meet our energy demands.  I started with the most recent Energy Outlook provided by the US Government at the Energy Information Administration web site.  This report states that 259 GW of new plants will be needed by 2030.  The number includes 30 GW to replace aging plants and the rest is for modest energy demand growth. Multiplying that 259,000 MW times the Duke estimates for the number of people per MW, we get the result (rounded to the nearest 1000): New Nuclear: 166,000 jobs New Wind: 78,000 jobs New Solar: 26,000 jobs                                 These numbers ignore the 2,000 to 3,000 jobs created building each new nuclear plant during the four year construction process.  Building wind and soar would also provide temporary construction jobs.  I also did not adjust for the lower capacity factors associated with wind and solar generation. We’ll assume smart grid technologies will enable improvements in wind and solar energy capacity and existing reserve capacity will back up wind and solar.  After all, these are the kinds of assumptions that wind and solar proponents make all the time. In Episode 60 of “This Week in Nuclear” I discussed...

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Wind Tax Windfalls, Nuclear Tax Burdens

This Week in Nuclear Episode #78 – MP3 File In this episode of This Week in Nuclear I interview Joseph Somsel, the author of “How Taxes Pervert Our Energy Choices”.  Our discussion covered a wide range of topics including: How favorably short depreciation schedules for wind have created a “gold mine” for investors, virtually independent of how much electricity the wind turbines produce. How nuclear investors would benefit if new nuclear plants received the same treatment as new wind turbines. How tax law have created hidden massive subsidies for wind energy, but added tax burdens for nuclear. A creative option for funding the industrial infrastructure needed for nuclear fuel cycling. Comparisons of the lifetime energy provided by similar investments in wind and nuclear. Who pays for new transmission lines to support new wind turbines and new nuclear plants. What do nuclear loan guarantees actually guarantee? Be sure to read some of Mr. Somsel’s other works.  Here are a couple of places to start: The American Thinker Energy Pulse John...

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