Nuclear Power (II)

This is my second and last post about the book. Some more links and quotes below.

“Many of the currently operating reactors were built in the late 1960s and 1970s. With a global hiatus on nuclear reactor construction following the Three Mile Island incident and the Chernobyl disaster, there is a dearth of nuclear power replacement capacity as the present fleet faces decommissioning. Nuclear power stations, like coal-, gas-, and oil-fired stations, produce heat to generate electricity and all require water for cooling. The US Geological Survey estimates that this use of water for cooling power stations accounts for over 3% of all water consumption. Most nuclear power plants are built close to the sea so that the ocean can be used as a heat dump. […] The need for such large quantities of water inhibits the use of nuclear power in arid regions of the world. […] The higher the operating temperature, the greater the water usage. […] [L]arge coal, gas and nuclear plants […] can consume millions of litres per hour”.

“A nuclear reactor is utilizing the strength of the force between nucleons while hydrocarbon burning is relying on the chemical bonding between molecules. Since the nuclear bonding is of the order of a million times stronger than the chemical bonding, the mass of hydrocarbon fuel necessary to produce a given amount of energy is about a million times greater than the equivalent mass of nuclear fuel. Thus, while a coal station might burn millions of tonnes of coal per year, a nuclear station with the same power output might consume a few tonnes.”

“There are a number of reasons why one might wish to reprocess the spent nuclear fuel. These include: to produce plutonium either for nuclear weapons or, increasingly, as a fuel-component for fast reactors; the recycling of all actinides for fast-breeder reactors, closing the nuclear fuel cycle, greatly increasing the energy extracted from natural uranium; the recycling of plutonium in order to produce mixed oxide fuels for thermal reactors; recovering enriched uranium from spent fuel to be recycled through thermal reactors; to extract expensive isotopes which are of value to medicine, agriculture, and industry. An integral part of this process is the management of the radioactive waste. Currently 40% of all nuclear fuel is obtained by reprocessing. […] The La Hague site is the largest reprocessing site in the world, with over half the global capacity at 1,700 tonnes of spent fuel per year. […] The world’s largest user of nuclear power, the USA, currently does not reprocess its fuel and hence produces [large] quantities of radioactive waste. […] The principal reprocessors of radioactive waste are France and the UK. Both countries receive material from other countries and after reprocessing return the raffinate to the country of origin for final disposition.”

“Nearly 45,000 tonnes of uranium are mined annually. More than half comes from the three largest producers, Canada, Kazakhstan, and Australia.”

“The designs of nuclear installations are required to be passed by national nuclear licensing agencies. These include strict safety and security features. The international standard for the integrity of a nuclear power plant is that it would withstand the crash of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet without the release of hazardous radiation beyond the site boundary. […] At Fukushima, the design was to current safety standards, taking into account the possibility of a severe earthquake; what had not been allowed for was the simultaneous tsunami strike.”

“The costing of nuclear power is notoriously controversial. Opponents point to the past large investments made in nuclear research and would like to factor this into the cost. There are always arguments about whether or not decommissioning costs and waste-management costs have been properly accounted for. […] which electricity source is most economical will vary from country to country […]. As with all industrial processes, there can be economies of scale. In the USA, and particularly in the UK, these economies of scale were never fully realized. In the UK, while several Magnox and AGR reactors were built, no two were of exactly the same design, resulting in no economies in construction costs, component manufacture, or staff training programmes. The issue is compounded by the high cost of licensing new designs. […] in France, the Regulatory Commission agreed a standard design for all plants and used a safety engineering process similar to that used for licensing aircraft. Public debate was thereafter restricted to local site issues. Economies of scale were achieved.”

“[C]onstruction costs […] are the largest single factor in the cost of nuclear electricity generation. […] Because the raw fuel is such a small fraction of the cost of nuclear power generation, the cost of electricity is not very sensitive to the cost of uranium, unlike the fossil fuels, for which fuel can represent up to 70% of the cost. Operating costs for nuclear plants have fallen dramatically as the French practice of standardization of design has spread. […] Generation III+ reactors are claimed to be half the size and capable of being built in much shorter times than the traditional PWRs. The 2008 contracted capital cost of building new plants containing two AP1000 reactors in the USA is around $10–$14billion, […] There is considerable experience of decommissioning of nuclear plants. In the USA, the cost of decommissioning a power plant is approximately $350 million. […] In France and Sweden, decommissioning costs are estimated to be 10–15% of construction costs and are included in the price charged for electricity. […] The UK has by far the highest estimates for decommissioning which are set at £1 billion per reactor. This exceptionally high figure is in part due to the much larger reactor core associated with graphite moderated piles. […] It is clear that in many countries nuclear-generated electricity is commercially competitive with fossil fuels despite the need to include the cost of capital and all waste disposal and decommissioning (factors that are not normally included for other fuels). […] At the present time, without the market of taxes and grants, electricity generated from renewable sources is generally more expensive than that from nuclear power or fossil fuels. This leaves the question: if nuclear power is so competitive, why is there not a global rush to build new nuclear power stations? The answer lies in the time taken to recoup investments. Investors in a new gas-fired power station can expect to recover their investment within 15 years. Because of the high capital start-up costs, nuclear power stations yield a slower rate of return, even though over the lifetime of the plant the return may be greater.”

“Throughout the 20th century, the population and GDP growth combined to drive the [global] demand for energy to increase at a rate of 4% per annum […]. The most conservative estimate is that the demand for energy will see global energy requirements double between 2000 and 2050. […] The demand for electricity is growing at twice the rate of the demand for energy. […] More than two-thirds of all electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. […] The most rapidly growing renewable source of electricity generation is wind power […] wind is an intermittent source of electricity. […] The intermittency of wind power leads to [a] problem. The grid management has to supply a steady flow of electricity. Intermittency requires a heavy overhead on grid management, and there are serious concerns about the ability of national grids to cope with more than a 20% contribution from wind power. […] As for the other renewables, solar and geothermal power, significant electricity generation will be restricted to latitudes 40°S to 40°N and regions of suitable geological structures, respectively. Solar power and geothermal power are expected to increase but will remain a small fraction of the total electricity supply. […] In most industrialized nations, the current electricity supply is via a regional, national, or international grid. The electricity is generated in large (~1GW) power stations. This is a highly efficient means of electricity generation and distribution. If the renewable sources of electricity generation are to become significant, then a major restructuring of the distribution infrastructure will be necessary. While local ‘microgeneration’ can have significant benefits for small communities, it is not practical for the large-scale needs of big industrial cities in which most of the world’s population live.”

“Electricity cannot be stored in large quantities. If the installed generating capacity is designed to meet peak demand, there will be periods when the full capacity is not required. In most industrial countries, the average demand is only about one-third of peak consumption.”


Nuclear reprocessing. La Hague site. Radioactive waste. Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
Bismuth phosphate process.
Nuclear decommissioning.
Uranium mining. Open-pit mining.
Wigner effect (Wigner heating). Windscale fire. Three Mile Island accident. Chernobyl disaster. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Fail-safe (engineering).
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Economics of nuclear power plants.
Fusion power. Tokamak. ITER. High Power laser Energy Research facility (HiPER).
Properties of plasma.
World energy consumption by fuel source. Renewable energy.


December 16, 2017 - Posted by | Books, Chemistry, Economics, Engineering, Physics

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