Energy and pollution…

I just realised it’s been at least a day since my last rant about energy/pollution and the environment, so here goes… : )

Another great article from Monbiot on the issue of pollution, from one of the most feared sources on Earth – Nuclear power!

‘Let’s begin with safety. The best evidence for the safety and resilience of nuclear power plants can be found at Fukushima. Not at Fukushima Daiichi, the power station where the meltdowns and explosions took place, but at Fukushima Daini, the plant next door. You’ve never heard of it? There’s a good reason for that. It was run by the same slovenly company. It was hit by the same earthquake and the same tsunami. But it survived. Like every other nuclear plant struck by the wave, it went into automatic cold shutdown. With the exception of a nuclear missile attack, it withstood the sternest of all possible tests.

What we see here is the difference between 1970s and 1980s safety features. The first Daiichi reactor was licensed in 1971. The first Daini reactor was licensed in 1982. Today’s technologies are safer still. The pebble bed reactors now being tested by China, for example, shut themselves down if they begin to overheat as an inherent property of the physics they exploit. Using a plant built 40 years ago to argue against 21st-century power stations is like using the Hindenburg disaster to contend that modern air travel is unsafe.

Compare it to the damage and death that climate change will cause, and you find that our response is so disproportionate as to constitute a form of madness. It’s a straightforward pay-off. Germany’s promise to ditch nuclear power will produce an extra 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. In June Angela Merkel announced a possible doubling of the capacity of the coal and gas plants Germany will build in the next 10 years. Already Germany has been burning brown coal, one of the most polluting fuels on earth, to make up the shortfall. The renewable technologies which should have replaced fossil fuels will instead replace nuclear power.’

In terms of pollution reduction, David JC MacKay (Professor of Natural Philosophy Department of Physics, Cambridge) has developed an amazing resource website which covers every topic within the field of sustainable energy.

Here are some extracts from the website.

Fast breeder reactors use nuclear fuel 60 times more efficiently than once-through reactors and use the waste produced by standard reactors.

– The nuclear energy available per atom is roughly 1 million times more than the chemical energy per atom of conventional energy, meaning the waste in theory is 1 million times less. As an illustration, the amount of natural uranium required to provide the same amount of energy as 16 kg of fossil fuels, in a standard fission reactor, is 2 grams – 8,000 times more power per weight. This isn’t a million times more because most reactors only use 1% of the total nuclear potential of the uranium used as fuel.

– The period of time nuclear waste is dangerous = 1000 years, not 100,000 as suggested by other sources. The 100,000 year figure is apparently the time the Uranium will take to decay to a safe radiation level, but as a raw material found within uranium mines, it is as radioactive as nuclear waste which has been stored for 1000 years.

If this technology can be refined and properly controlled (still a big question mark) then the cost and efficiency of this power source could easily decarbonise our whole existing economy, as well as provide the bridge to the longer-term solution which is renewable energy from solar, wind, tidal and thermal.

out

Advertisements

BBC Viewpoint radiation article…

A logical BBC article on nuclear radiation…

BBC radiation article

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12860842

I suppose it’s always useful to have a logical or reasoned viewpoint to try and balance out the understandably over-emotional reactions to what’s going on. If I had been commenting on the events at the Fukushima plant a year ago, I would have been very emotional and unbalanced about it.

It’s an amazing feeling being able to look at this issue in a new light and be a lot more rationale about it. This approach has allowed me to really look into these sorts of issues and not be swept away in negative (or positive) feelings. A very liberating experience!

Maybe James Lovelock was right!

out

Monbiot on nuclear…

I’ve just read 2 George Monbiot articles (1 from March last year, and the article linked), and I actually agree with both of them! Normally I hate his aggressive style but he seems to be turning that down a bit more recently.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima

A good article, which puts forward a lot of realistic points, such as many people and groups exaggerating the dangers of radiation, the batteries which are needed to store the electricity that the renewables produce are still far off where they need to be, base load still needs to be established and nuclear had less impact than fossil fuel sources.

The first fossil fuel which countries are already turning to (or sticking with in many cases) is coal. I’ve read some estimates that there are over 300 years of world coal reserves, based on present usage. It is the most abundant fossil fuel and produces are large energy output. The infrastructure and technologies are already in place to exploit coal. It is also fairly cheap to extract and to process (certainly more than nuclear). All this leads to it being the top choice for many countries.

I said in the previous post about the latest nuclear technologies potentially being a solution. I’m still not convinced but it’s far better than coal or oil. Gas is also a poor choice, given it’s relatively limited reserve and the fact that natural gas is made up mostly of methane, which as a green house gas is more than 20 times as damaging as CO2.

The solution is to develop a mix of sources, with a continued emphasis on developing the renewable technology. The combination of solar and improved battery technology can work, it will just needs more time and investment.

If nuclear is ACTUALLY less polluting than coal, oil or gas, it should be seriously considered, particularly as renewable technology is not at the stage where it can contribute to the majority of the country’s power needs – I wish it could and hope one day it will be different!

out

* since I posted this: not sure how I missed the reference but Monbiot’s article title… ‘Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power’, is a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’! A nod to humour there and I don’t believe he actually does ‘love’ nuclear.