Nuclear - Greener Than Wind/Solar? - Part I

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Anyone reading my humble blog knows I am a proponent of nuclear power, probably one of the 'greenest' forms of generating electrical power when all factors are taken into account. Even one of the founders of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore, sees nuclear power as leading the way to a greener energy. So why aren't those in Congress pushing for reductions CO2 emissions by promoting more nuclear power?

Could it be it's an emotional issue, one that too many on the Left see as the so-called 'third rail' of environmentalism? It would appear (to me) that that's the case.

Three Mile Island and Chenobyl have been used for decades as an argument against nuclear power. While Three Mile Island was the worst accident at a commercial nuclear power station in the West, no one died, no one was injured, and the safety systems did what they were supposed to do even though the humans running the plant screwed up.

Chernobyl was a different matter...and a different reactor design. Between a very poor design (a graphite moderated reactor), lack of a containment vessel, and a major screw-up by both the plant engineers and the overseeing Soviet government, it's no wonder the reactor destroyed itself, killing hundreds (if not more) and making the surrounding area not habitable. One thing constantly overlooked by people against nuclear power: none of the RBMK type reactors like that at Chernobyl exist here in the US. But that doesn't stop people from being against nuclear power.

US designs have a great safety record, Three Mile Island notwithstanding. There's only one thing I can say I don't like about the nuclear power industry in the US and that's the lack of standardization. There are over 100 nuclear plants operating in the US (not counting those on US Navy ships and submarines), and every one of them is custom built. No two are alike, even those built side-by-side at the same time. If we ever get around to building the next generation of nuclear reactors for power production, we should go to a standardized design.

Standardization makes for less costly plants, the ability to use modular construction, and greater safety because all plants will be identical. The learning curve for workers moving from one plant to another becomes very shallow and very short because all the valves, switches, access panels, electrical components, and critical subsystems will be in the same place in every plant.

The newer designs have taken the lessons learned from the older plants to heart, making them simpler, more reliable and efficient, and easier and less expensive.

The next generation of reactors so-called Generation III units is intended to take everything that's been learned about safe operations and do it even better. Generation III units are the reactors of choice for most of the 34 nations that already have nuclear plants in operation.

The current generation of nuclear plants requires a complex maze of redundant motors, pumps, valves and control systems to deal with emergency conditions. Generation III plants cut down on some of that infrastructure and rely more heavily on passive systems that don't need human intervention to keep the reactor in a safe condition reducing the chance of an accident caused by operator error or equipment failure.

Nuclear plants also have an envious record in regards to the amount of 'up-time', meaning how long the plant is online generating power before it's shut down for routine maintenance or refueling. Fossil fuel plants require intense and frequent maintenance of their boiler systems, meaning they must be shut down far more often compared to nuclear plants. It is not uncommon for nuclear plants to run continuously for two years without a shut down. Fossil fuel plants (particularly coal plants) may have been shut down three or four times in that same period. And because nuclear plants run for much longer periods than conventional fossil fueled plants, both their operating costs and cost per kilowatt-hour are lower. They aren't affected by the fluctuations in fuel prices.

Continued in Part II - Why nuclear waste isn't an issue.

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One thing we hear again and again is how alternative energy sources will somehow "save" us and that all other forms of energy are bad/dangerous/icky and aren't green. But that view is shortsighted, ignoring far too many other factors... Read More

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