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Thursday, January 17, 2013

THE STATE OF NUCLEAR FISSION TODAY

I covered nuclear fission in Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.  To quote:

There should be no racial connotations to black versus white energy. Coal and oil are black-colored and sunlight is white light. Remember, though, that our Sun is nuclear powered, fusing hydrogen to produce heat.  Black nuclear energy is fission, from the breakdown of large atoms, like uranium and plutonium, while white nuclear energy is fusion, which has yet to be developed.

Let me today focus on where nuclear power is today:  the fission or splitting of those large molecules.  These nuclear power plants provide nearly 6% of energy used and 13% of all electricity.  There are 390 power reactors in 31 countries (the power produced averages around 846 MW), plus approximately 200 ships.  I might mention that all marine reactors use uranium, ranging from  48 MW to 165 MW:

  • At the end of the Cold War in 1989 there were over 400 nuclear powered submarines, now down to 160, about half or so operated by the U.S.  Interesting that a Russian Rubis-class submarine (right) is refueled every 30 years.
  • The U.S. has ten nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, Russia has none and China just refurbished a Russian craft.

Civilian nuclear facilities have been operated since the mid-1950's, but 2008 was the first year since then that zero new ones were commissioned.  Further, there has been negative growth since 2007.    However there are 60 reactors under construction today in 13 countries.  China has 10 working, 5 under construction and an additional 25 planned or proposed.  India has 16 reactors operating, 8 building and planning an additional 24.  Even after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the World Nuclear Association still projects the current capacity of around 400 GW (400,000 MW) to increase to 630 GW by 2035.  The American Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the license of nearly half the operating nuke facilities to 60 years and last year approved the first new one in 30 years, to be built in Georgia.

The USA produces the most nuclear electricity, providing 19% of  our electricity, while France's nukes supply 80% of their power.  HERE IS THE SCARY PART ABOUT NUCLEAR POWER.  ALL THE NUCLEAR FACILITIES--65 power plants--IN THE U.S. ARE ONLY WORTH $18 BILLION. (Surely, sounds low to me.)  THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR DISASTER ALONE COULD COST $257 BILLION!  Yet, to quote the New York Times:

TOKYO — The newly elected prime minister of JapanShinzo Abe, said Sunday that he would seek to build nuclear reactors, reversing within a week in office a campaign pledge to move Japan away from nuclear power.

He also is promoting nationalism in his fight against China for the Senkaku Islands, and today announced that Japan will increase their military budget.  I wonder what is Japan's record for shortest stay as prime minister?

But most of Europe is seeking a phase out of nuclear.  Germany has already permanently shut down eight reactors, and will terminate this option in 2022.  The Italian people voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear (yes, they have none), while Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of any new facilities.  Austria started with phase-down in 1978, and were followed  by Sweden and Belgium.  In addition, Australia, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand and Norway are opposed to nuclear power.

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