What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

There has to be an invisible sun.

Nuclear is one of the most expensive generation technologies out there. Don't believe me? Well, I don't blame you. Most of the arguments center around the cost if you don't include the development price. And then, sure, it's one of the cheapest. However, the cost of developing the plant is astronomical compared to other forms of generation. Again, don't believe me?

Okay, Perry Nuclear Power Plant was constructed by the company that became First Energy here in NE Ohio nearly 33 years ago. And they're still arguing with our PUCO (our state regulator) on increasing rates and fees to help pay off the initial costs of building the plant. Operating costs are wrapped into your generation costs on your bill. This is still paying off actually building the place. And while they don't have to replace the fuel often, when they do it is very expensive.

And did I forget to mention the numerous safety violations. Although Perry is First Energy's safest plant, they've still had their issues of being shut down for months to correct safety issues. Davis-Bessy is worse. You may remember they were shut down for nearly a year to fix a problem were acid had eaten a significant hole in the reactor lid. You know, that six inch thick lead dome that holds the radioactive emissions within the reactor chamber that is supposed to be visually inspected every month.

And then there's the waste. Forget the spent fuel (although there's been problems with that), I'm mostly thinking about the deuterium tritium and waste heat water. The waste hot water can be mitigated (although it does cause local environmental damage), the deuterium tritium, however, is a long term concern. It's low-level radioactivity, but there's a lot of it. Most people don't know it's held in large (hopefully) lined ponds and tanks. This is what most of Yucca Mountain will store. The actual fuel is only a small part. edits Dr. Phil reminds/schools me that it's actually tritium that's the radioactive byproduct of fission.

Oh, and Yucca Mountain still isn't online. Once it is, it'll take fifteen years to ship and prepare the waste we already have (that's not counting the extra waste we produce in those years).

Is nuclear power better for the environment? Yes and no. It's a trade off. Right now we're mostly concerned with decreasing our green house gas emissions and nuclear power (in it's generation) produces very little. However, producing the fuel rods, construction of the plants, and operations off the plant site do produce those gases. Not as much as a coal fired plant. And the waste nuclear produces, volumetrically wise, is much reduced. that waste, however, is a centuries long issue.

So, why do the French have so many of them? Because they don't have much local coal or natural gas and their African colonies holdings are rich in uranium. Germany has a larger installed base of solar power (yes, Germany, more northernly and more cloudy than most of the US). China is becoming the world leader in wind technology. Iceland gets all of it's power from geothermal. But you don't hear about emulating them, do you? (Again, my approach is 1) location specific, and 2) has a larger component of point source generation)


David Klecha said...

I'm a little perplexed why we aren't trying to diversify and distribute more, at least in official circles. But I have been seeing a bump in people taking it into their own hands, and some states and power companies seeing the writing on the wall and getting progressive about things. When we drove through Indiana last year on the way to a unit reunion, we passed scores of wind turbines set out in the middle of farm fields. And I know many folks in Michigan are pushing for wind and solar manufacturing, since it can put our engineers and autoworkers back to work.

But yeah, I've long been of the opinion that we need to maximize distributed generation. I'm usually disappointed by the folks who scoff at being able to totally power your home with solar panels, even in the northern US. I want to say "So the fuck what? If everyone did it, how much centralized power generation would we need?"

My very sneaky hope, right now, is that by the time this new plant is ready to go online in Georgia, it won't be nearly as necessary as it seems today.

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

Radioactive deuterium? Deuterium (hydrogen-2) has a nucleus of one proton and one neutron and is considered stable. I suppose that one could end up with a metastable excited state in the nucleus, resulting in an eventual release of a gamma ray, but a quick search didn't show up any. Tritium (hydrogen-3) is radioactive, but its half-life isn't all that long -- 12.33 years.

Just wondering.

Dr. Phil

Steve Buchheit said...

Dave, I think it's the "offering the olive branch" first before pushing the diversity. Because we haven't made the argument stick yet that the other side has no interest in bipartisanship except as a delaying tactic (note the Republican Senators who co-sponsored the bill on forming an economic task force, who voted against their own legislation). The Republicans have already held their news conference on "that was a great start, now lets talk about clean coal (like it exists and isn't a ball and cup game of hiding the carbon emissions) and off shore drilling (which has little chance of changing anything).

And I agree, distributed generation is the future. If I had the money I would be putting in projects to "go off grid."

Dr. Phil, thanks. I updated the post. When I did the environmental impact statements for Fernald, the storage of the liquid byproducts of both fuel production and the limited reaction chambers they had are what took up most of the land use (and while it wasn't the most radiation leaked, it was the most continuous and had the most harmful impact). My memory said it was deuterium, but that must have been wrong. However, as I remember, they've had ponds which are now over thirty years old and they've been trying to mitigate the degradation of their liners. So it must have been something else.