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To say that there are concerns about nuclear power in the Middle East is an understatement. Iraq's plans to build a nuclear power station came to an abrupt halt in 1981 after a pre-emptive bombing strike. There are concerns that Iran's plans to build a nuclear power station could lead to another pre-emptive bombing strike. Despite grave concerns about nuclear power in the region, the growing populations in the Middle East will have greater need for additional electric power in the future.
Saudi Arabia was recently offered assistance to build nuclear power stations by Russian leader Vladimir Putin during his recent state visit. A nuclear power station that uses French technology is planned for Algeria while both Turkey and Egypt have each indicated interest in building nuclear power stations to meet their growing need for electric power. Several other Middle-Eastern nations that are without oil reserves will need to seek alternative means by which to generate electric power for their growing populations. New developments in power generation and power transmission could make additional electric power available to Middle Eastern countries.
A group of German researchers recently proposed that the European Economic Union invest in installing solar photovoltaic arrays across the desert of North Africa and import up to 50-gigawatts of solar-electricity by 2050. Breakthroughs in the world of solar-electricity offer the prospect of greatly reducing the future cost of solar-electric power conversion. The German proposal calls for undersea cables to be laid under shallow and narrow channels of the Mediterranean Sea that can be found near the Strait of Gibraltar and at the Sicilian Channel between Cape Bon and Marsala. Ultra-high voltage power lines that are presently being developed could carry electric power overland across North Africa as well as across Western and Eastern Europe.
Such a power line could carry solar-electric power from the Saudi Arabian desert and across Jordan and Syria into Turkey. The same transmission system could also carry nuclear-electric power south into storage in North Africa and the Middle East during the overnight off-peak periods. Hydraulic storage using ocean water is possible in the land depressions at the Dead Sea and at the Qattara Depression where the nominal usable water surface would be at 328-feet and 164-feet respectively. A change in the water level of 3-feet could store as much as 3200-Gigawatt-hours of power in the Qattara Depression and up to 2000-Gigawatt-hours of power at the Dead Sea depression.
There are plans across Western Europe, Russia, China and India to build new nuclear power stations. Engineers in India and China are undertaking pioneering and breakthrough research in ultra-high voltage transmission lines that can transmit power over extensive distances with minimal loss. That feature offers an option to Middle-Eastern power markets where the AM peak usage period would coincide with the off-peak period for power stations across Southwestern Europe. Their PM peak usage period would coincide with the off-peak period for power stations across parts of Asia.
Off-peak power from Central Europe could be sent into storage in the Middle East while off-peak power from other more distant locations could be used directly during Middle-Eastern peak periods. Off-peak electric power from across Asia, Russia and Europe may also be imported and stored hydraulically. There may be sufficient storage capacity in the land depressions to serve local Middle-Eastern markets as well as markets outside the region. That possibility could help secure foreign funding needed to help develope that immense storage capacity for off-peak nuclear electricity, solar-electricity and wind electricity.
Efficient and cost-competitive access to foreign electricity could postpone the need to build new nuclear power stations in the Middle East by a few decades. During that time breakthroughs would be likely in fusion power conversion and in radiation-free nuclear power generation that is being researched in the United States. There are other unconventional power generation technologies that are currently being researched and tested around the world.
Some of the newer generation technologies that are currently being developed may be suitable in the Middle East where a neighbouring nation may sometimes feel threatened by another nation's power generation technology. The longterm cost incurred by armed conflict may exceed the cost of building hydraulic storage facilities and long-distance transmission lines that carry power at ultra-high voltage. The may be greater benefit for the Middle East if productive power peacefully crossed international borders instead of armies and weapons of war.
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The problem here is that the television audience does not understand the significance of nuclear war. Once it is explained to them that nuclear war is genocide on stilts, they should get the message.
Many many years ago I had the dubious privilege of participating in the most important military exercise held in western Europe during the Cold War. About midnight one night a very high ranking officer came into the brigade 'operations van' and informed me that (according to the exercise's 'referees') the 'Red Team' had broken through the Fulda Gap and had reached Nuremburg. I was therefore to make the necessary calculations for the firing of a 'tactical' nuclear shell by one of the battalions in the brigade. This I did and presumably he gave the order to fire. According to another 'back of the envelope' calculation I made a few years later in the Chicago Public Library, that shell would have blown the eastern part of Nuremburg off the face of the earth.
Shortly before that exercise I read a book called 'Wir Werden Viedermal Marschierin' (= We Shall March Again) that apparently was very popular in West Germany. After the German generals found out about what could happen to their country in case of a shoot-out in central Europe, they didn't want any part of marching anywhere.
And note, that was a "tactical" nuclear shell. Think of what could have been the damage caused by present nuclear devices! No, ladies and gentlemen, the way to handle these matters is to make sure that everybody everywhere understands and understands perfectly what happens if they are on the receiving end of a rocket with a nuclear warhead.
Jim Beyer 10.17.07
A lot of pro-nuclear people on this site pooh-pooh this issue of nuclear power-nuclear weapon linkage, but it is not practical to avoid the issue. People around the world should have access to nuclear power if they want it. Many fewer people should have access to nuclear weapons.
I don't know why there isn't some international agency that processes ore to produce nuclear fuel for countries, so they needn't bother developing refinement technology. The same agency could even take the waste back after the fuel is spent. Countries could buy a 10-20 year stockpile if they wanted. Maybe such an agency already exists.
Todd McKissick 10.17.07
It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that people will go to, to justify nuclear power. This is the most laughable proposal I've ever heard of. Making electricity and sending it both directions each day and also requiring storage to make it viable is the answer? C'mon, can't we do better?
If the author would have done his homework (or read the emails I've sent him in the past) he'd be aware that prior to this African PV megaproject (which I can't find any info on), there were two seperate CSP projects being considered. Both of these projects expected to provide thermal storage based generation in quantities large enough to cover 65% (as memory serves) of all of Europe via HVDC lines after supplying local North African needs. This was projected to cost 6 cents per kwh DELIVERED with all expenses included. This is possible because CSP is at least 1/4th the cost of PV and lends itself to dirt cheap storage with short on-call ramp-up times.
The system mentioned in the article is nothing short of pandering renewables in support of the nuclear lobby. I see no reason to quadruple the cost just so we can add expensive nuclear which also adds the requirement of expensive massive scale storage as well.
Kenneth Kok 10.17.07
A nuclear fuel bank has been proposed. It would be operated through the IAEA. The closing of the nuclear fuel cycle that is being persued under the GNEP banner at DOE is aimed at the same thing. Fuel would be guarenteed through international treaties and the supplier would take the used fuel back for reprocessing and fuel fabrication for burner reactors in the supplier nation. This leads to an overall reduction in the volume of long lived high level waste and a much higher utilization of the energy available in uranium. It will also lead to an an increase in safe guarding nuclear material since the real bad actors such as plutonium would be kept in the active fuel cycle.
Len Gould 10.17.07
Why are the dead people caused by "Civilized western" nuclear weapons so much less dead than those cause by "Terrorist States"? Or any other weapon for that matter.
Don Kopecky 10.23.07
Now I'm going to say something incredibly politically incorrect which will cause much hate and discontent. Let the middle east have nuclear power and nuclear weapons, then they will be compelled to learn to be responsible for their behaviour. There is not a single western country that would EVER use nuclear weapons against a country that does not have nuclear weapons, despite the tactical statements to the contrary. We will simply not fight "unfairly", it would be akin to shooting an unarmed man. On the other hand, if a country like Iran were to have nuclear weapons and if they were actually stupid enough to use them against, for example, Israel their country would be a glass parking lot in five minutes. So now it becomes a matter of life and death for the ruling cadre that they behave responsibly. No longer can they surreptitiously support terrorism, or through their negligence or apathy allow it to fester in their countries. With nuclear weapons comes nuclear responsibility and it's high time they learned it. It is not the responsibility of the United Stated to prevent "rogue nations" from behaving roguishly, and the United Nations clearly is inept. So I vote we let the Russians sell them whatever they want, not that we can really stop them anyway. Then they have the choice between being responsible or being dead.
Graham Cowan 10.23.07
There is not a single western country that would EVER use nuclear weapons against a country that does not have nuclear weapons,
There is one that did.
Iraq's plans to build a nuclear power station
are unknown to history. What was bombed was a research reactor the French were building. It would have produced no electricity. This made it more of a threat, proliferation-wise, for no proliferator has ever used a power reactor.
Iran's Bushehr power reactor isn't worrying anyone, it's their enrichment plant. Nuclear power does not imply enrichment, and those kinds of reactors that do require it exist in many countries that don't mind having it enriched abroad. Also in Brazil, which enriches its own uranium but has no difficulty giving inspectors all necessary access to the enrichment plant.
A distinction must be made between introducing new nuclear programs to developing countries and simply building additional plants in developed countries or countries that already have nuclear power. The latter is simply not a proliferation risk at all. The reason spent fuel has not been a source of proliferation is not lack of quantity, but instead the fact that stealing spent fuel and reprocessing it is the most difficult means of obtaining fissile material that anyone has ever thought of. One thing that nuclear advocates do object to is the (deliberate?) blurring of the two concepts. The logic, essentially, is that because introducing nuclear power to Chad is a proliferation risk, nuclear power inherently carries a proliferation risk; therefore building a another reactor in my (US) home town is a bad idea because of the proliferation problem. This is intellectually dishonest; a red herring.
As far as spreading nuclear to every developing country, we don’t need to do that. The great majority of pollution and CO2 emissions come from developed countries or countries that already have nuclear. Increasing the use of nuclear in those countries is sufficient. Some try to argue that using more nuclear in the developed world will result in more developing countries seeking nuclear programs, due to a bandwagon effect. The reverse is true. The more nuclear is used in the developed world, the less strain there is on the world’s oil and gas supplies, which will lower the world price and delay the depletion of these resources. This will remove most of the need to go nuclear in the developing world. Conversely, if we don’t use nuclear, you can bet that nuclear will spread through the developing world as the price of gas and oil escalates.
Even if developing countries do build reactors, these plants are not the problem. Fuel cycle (enrichment or reprocessing) facilities are. As Iran shows, you don’t need a reactor to make weapons-grade uranium. A world fuel bank is the answer for countries that only want power and are not pursuing weapons. If they are pursuing weapons, however, the only answer is to try and control the export of fuel cycle facilities and nuclear technology and know-how in general. Nuclear power has little to do with it. The problem is that countries like Russia and China have chosen to export this technology. As for education/know-how, what are we to do, not allow anyone from developing countries study nuclear engineering or physics in our schools? To be honest, I don’t know how to answer or respond to these questions. I don’t think we can control other countries like China and Russia. I don’t think we can stop the spread of general knowledge. Frankly, a better approach to reducing proliferation is to adopt a less confrontational foreign policy (regime change) so nations don’t feel the need for nuclear weapons to prevent a US invasion!
One thing I do know. If we turn away from nuclear power in the developed world over a supposed “proliferation problem”, we will achieve absolutely no benefit in terms of reduced proliferation (or even reduced nuclear power use in the developing world) but we will give up the considerable benefits of increased worldwide nuclear generation, including reduce air pollution, reduced CO2 emissions, longer-lived world oil & gas supply, and greater worldwide energy security.
James Hopf 10.23.07
The proposal discussed by the author is about going to great lengths to AVOID using nuclear power in the Middle East ("delay it by several decades", to use his own words). It involves using a huge storage and transmission infrastructure so that they can use off-peak nuclear power generated elsewhere and send (peak) solar power out.
It may work, but would it be competitive and would anyone go for it? What is the great need to avoid nuclear, especially given that they have the right (under Article IV of the NPT) to use it? This would probably not play well politically in the region, certainly not if it involved any significant extra cost. As I said in the above post, if we do not want them to use nuclear, than we should not provide them with the technology (although Russia, China, or the French almost certainly will - what's one to do?). Note that situation right now (that the article is responding to) is that several Middle Eastern nations have stated that they are interested in pursuing nuclear. We are not "going to great lengths" to make them use nuclear. They are deciding to do so by themselves, and we have to decide if we are going to take steps to stop them.
The cost estimates I've seen for solar thermal plants are all over the map, from your 6 cent value to amounts up to 20 cents. Recent articles like this one:
refer to a new solar plant that will cost almost $4000/kW and will have a capacity factor of ~25%. This would equate to something closer to 15-20 cents than 6 cents.
Personally, I don't know what to think. Who am I to judge? My common sense tells me that if solar thermal power could be had at a cost equal to or lower than nuclear (and oil and gas for that matter), they'd be building them; actively pursuing it. If solar thermal suceeds anywhere, it would be in the Sahara desert. Why put up with the hassles of a nuclear program if you don't need to? So why do I not hear of any solar proposals? Why are they interested in nuclear? One may argue that they are all only interested in weapons technology, but I personally doubt it, especially given that most of these countries (other than Iran) have pledged to not develop weapons and have agreed to full safeguards/inspections.
Len Gould 10.24.07
Jim and James have it correct: "I don't know why there isn't some international agency that processes ore to produce nuclear fuel for countries, so they needn't bother developing refinement technology. The same agency could even take the waste back after the fuel is spent." The only problem with that obviously correct solution is that the greens go nuts (at least in Canada, likely in Australia also) when anyone proposes that the country where the uranium originates should take it back for re-procesing or permanent disposal after fuel is used.
A lot of things would work a lot better if religious environmentalists stayed out of them, at least until they educated themselves in the issues. Witness Patrick what's-his-name, once a co-founder of Greenpeace, now a supporter of nuclear power. My position is that nuclear may not be the perfect baseload solution, but it's a lot better than coal, and is required at least as an interim solution until things like solar-thermal gets a lot more momentum going. Though I would refer James atc. to DOE / NREL websites which state that the only reason solar thermal with thermal storage is not presently competitive with nuclear right now is that not enough of it is being built. They believe that economies of scale + minor technical improvements normal for volume production would put solar-thermal into the $0.06/kwh price range very shortly. Given that being an accepted fact, then definitely Todd's solution is the better one.
Len Gould 10.24.07
Here's just one example, from a study done by a German and a Spanish researcher presented at ISES Solar World Congress 2003 · Göteborg, Sweden, 14-19 June 2003.
Len, I definitely support the uranium fuel bank. My support for GNEP is more qualified (the reprocessing technology must be at least as good as UREX, PUREX is not worth persuing). I do not support the notion of sending spent fuel back to the fuel supplier nation or anywhere else, as it is a political non-starter, and it is not necessary, since spent fuel is not a proliferation risk. As for solar thermal, I may be inclined to believe the claims of your second link, but this is a 10 cent/kW-hr price, for daytime (peak) operation, in the Sahara desert, and it is 10 years away. Trying to store power for off-peak (night) periods will increase the per kW-hr cost, as will building plants in less favorable regions than the Sahara. The claim about higher volume lowering costs has been made by many, for a very long time, including wind and solar PV, as well as the nuclear industry. Yes, solar's cost would come down, but if we committed to building one nuke a week (worldwide) and set up the assembly lines to do so, nuclear's costs would come way down as well. At 10 cents, solar's cost would be at least a few cents over nuclear's, and given that nuclear's external costs are only a fraction of a cent (www.externe.info/) it's not clear that it's worth it. If you're talking about the Middle East, specifically, solar may be more worth it, as the proliferation-related nuclear external cost would be somewhat higher. As I've often stated, what I really support is simply taxing or limiting air pollution, CO2 emissions, and foriegn energy imports (esp. gas & oil). This policy would be best for any country. Then the market should decide the best aproach, including choosing between nuclear and solar thermal. Finally, I do not view nuclear and solar thermal as competing technologies, but as complimentary technologies, where solar shaves the daily peak load and nuclear provides 24-hour baseload. Solar does not compete with nuclear, it competes with gas (the peak power fuel). Given the gas supply situation, this is fortunate, and we should seek to build as many solar thermal plants as is practical and economic. A tax on imported natural gas (reflecting that external cost) would help solar thermal compete. Many people (including Todd) often talk about adding energy storage systems to allow solar thermal plants to provide power during off peak/night periods. I'm sure this is technically possible, but I can't fathom why anyone would be interested in pursuing it for the forseeable future. It decreases efficiency and increases cost (due to the efficiency loss and the cost of added equipment). Why take a system that inherently generates the kW-hrs during the day, when they are most valuable, and try to spread those kW-hrs (at a loss) to night-time where they are less valuable? It will be a very long time, if ever, before we build so much solar thermal capacity that the peak load nitche is built out and additional solar capacity starts eating into baseload (i.e., cuts into the off-peak minimum load). For now, people should forget about storage and just build a bunch of solar thermal plants to shave the peak load and demonstrate the technology and it s econ omics. I view progress on solar (be it PV or thermal) as good news, since a combination of nuclear and solar (which can replace both gas and coal) is a very good portfolio; one which matches the load curve and actually has little in the way of an intermittentcy problem. I like it better than the primary competing low-carbon option, i.e., using a combination of wind and natural gas for most power.
Len Gould 10.25.07
Jim: I would just point out one error in your assumptions: "Trying to store power for off-peak (night) periods will increase the per kW-hr cost," Actually implementing thermal storage REDUCES the cost per kwh of a solar thermal installation, because most of the cost per kw of those units is in the turbine-generator, which, for just the cost of some additional mirrors and a storage tank, can suddenly triple it's kwh output. In almost no case is the "peak load niche", well-known for Photovoltaic, existent for solar thermal.
I believe it is these sorts of "preconcieved errors" which are mainly standing in the way of solar-thermal development. I know its not entirely that simple, but getting close. And you are definitely wrong to "pooh-pooh" solar thermal. The scalability IS there, the general technology is known (e.g. no new discoveries in physics required) IF it could get access to anywhere near the sort of "to market" development assistance which was initially given to nuclear, .......
Len Gould 10.25.07
(or the sort of "to market" development assistance which has to now been spent on "clean coal")
James Hopf 10.25.07
First of all, thanks for you patience slogging through my no-paragraph post (paragraph breaks get left out somehow when copying text from another file).
I didn't say that I don't take solar thermal seriously. In fact, I hope that it develops significantly, since I view it as a source that works well in combination w/ nuclear, and competes with gas (for daily peak load). All I said was that I've seen cost estimates that vary widely, and that the best approach (therefore) is to let the market decide. I would fully support R&D, and seed money for solar thermal projects. I do not support any policy that would in any way hold back solar thermal development.
I did not mean to say that I thought it was impossible for solar thermal to ever be as cheap (or cheaper) than nuclear. My mind is open on that subject. I did say, however, that given nuclear's low external costs, I would not support a policy that mandated a choice of solar thermal over nuclear, even if it was significantly more expensive.
I'm not sure I understand your statement about there being no peak load nitche for solar thermal. We use gas plants as peakers all the time, even though the same low turbine utilization issue exists for them as well. The fact that you have a heat source that tends to increase during peak hours can only make solar more attractive relative to gas, if you have to build a peaker.
states that the new Nevada Solar One plant will indeed be used as a peaker plant. They talk about how a positive aspect of the plant is that it will generate power during the day, when demand is highest and the power price is highest. They specifically mentioned the high cost of natural gas, and how this plant will compete with (and reduce the use of) gas. The numbers show that this plant's annual capacity factor is under 25%, so it's clearly not being used in a baseload mode.
Concerning energy storage actually reducing the overall average power price, I remain to be convinced. You would probably have to give me referenced analyses that show this, because it doesn't make any sense to me. My logic is as follows:
A solar thermal plant is like an old steam boiler gas plant, except that the gas combustion chamber is replaced by the pipes and mirrors. We know that the capital/equipment costs are a very small fraction of the power cost for a combined-cycle (CCGT) plant. For simpler gas plants (a simple turbine or an old steam boiler) the overall capital costs are even lower (but this is more than made up for by a higher fuel cost due to lower efficiency). Subtract the cost of the gas combustion chamber/equipment, and the capital cost is very low, on the order of 0.5 cents/kW-hr. The rest of the cost is all fuel.
A solar thermal plant has the same (~0.5 cent?) balance of plant cost, and has a zero fuel cost. The rest of the cost is in the mirrors and associated equipment. And yet, we know that solar thermal plants are only marginally competative with gas plants. Even if the 6 cent figure can be achieved, it seems clear that over 5 of those cents will be in the mirrors, since we know that the costs associated with the balance of plant equipment for an equivalent gas plant is under one cent.
It's clear that the solar heat energy delivered to the plant system is not coming cheap. Therefore, reducing the efficiency of conversion of that energy to electricity (which would occur with thermal storage), will result in a measurable increase in cost. On top of this is the cost of the thermal storage equipment, and the fact that the price of power is higher during the day (i.e., peak hours). To me it seems that the cost of a larger generator system is well worth it. The folks at Nevada Solar One seem to agree.
Len Gould 10.25.07
Jim: I disagree with your analogy of the solar thermal plant to a gas turbine plant. It is much more like a coal combustion boiler plant with the boiler replaced by the collector field. Figuring e.g. in a good sun area 6 kwh / sq meter of collector, that makes 1.5 kw baseload (24 hr)/ sq meter. Say 25% effic. to electricity, that means 1 kw baseload generation needs 6 sq meters collector. 1 MW 6,000 sq m.
There are a few easily available studies and publications, mostly from NREL whose programs were gutted by Bushco.
According to this NREL published study, The Potential for Low-Cost Concentrating Solar Power Systems, table on page 7 right column, by 2009 the cost of 903 additional sq m of aolar collector and attendant storage would add $700 / kw to the capital plant, and extend the plant production time an additional 10 hrs. In their example, the levelized cost of electricity is slightly increased by this, from $0.060 / kwh to $0.061 / kwh but I personally think that well done it should reduce the cost. I do think that the few projects actually being done now of this type are not representative cost-wise of the potential of this technology, being such low volume production, poorly supported development etc.
Still, that's the most competitive renewable source of electricity I know of, and appears quite competitive, though the study may have made some faulty assumptions I'm not aware of. It does match up with others I've seen and what I've done myself. So how about improving that with some significant development support and volume installation? Given the levels of support it's competitors are getting and have gotten in the past (power turbines, clean coal, nuclear, photovoltaic) and the sort of negative PR its being given by its well-funded competitors including I suspect, the fossil fuel lobbies, it's a wonder to me that the system still survives at all.
You close: "To me it seems that the cost of a larger generator system is well worth it" I would counter that I agree with installing the largest generating equipment. BUT once you've dealt with the peak market, then add more collectors and storage and do the baseload market. That's also worth it.
James Hopf 10.26.07
After thinking about it some more, I think I overstated my case concerning the cost of the balance of plant (BOP). The cost I quoted (~0.5-1.0 cent/kW-hr) is based on full-time (baseload) operation. If a solar plant were operated in non-storage mode, the capacity factor would (apparently) be around 25%. Thus, for this plant, the amortization cost of the BOP would be ~2-4 cents, which is significant. For a fixed solar array size, adding storage would allow reduction in BOP, and reduce that 2-4 cent cost (although the storage system cost would offset some of the savings). Based on all this, the conclusions of your last link (i.e., that the levelized cost of power comes out about the same) seems reasonable. Given that the market price of peak-period power is so much higher, this may be why solar thermal plants are opting for a peak power role, at least for now.
One interesting question would be that if we started building solar plants in the Southwest, and their capacity got to the point where the local region's daily peak load was completely shaved, would they decide to build the next plants with storage (making them baseload plants) our would they invest in power lines so that they can provide peak load to other regions. It will all boil down to economics.
My personal opinion is that the peak load nitche is a very large one to fill (equal to ~10-15% of total production) and it will be quite awhile before solar thermal (or any other new source) completely fills it. Nationwide, it would take ~300 GW of solar thermal (nameplate rated) capacity before this nithce is completely filled. This won't happen any time soon. Thus, my view is that we shouldn't really worry to much about it for now. For now we should focus on getting a bunch of solar thermal plants built, and worry about storage later (though we should definitely research it and build a few prototypes).
I'm not familiar with all the ways that govt. can help in bringing a new technology to market. I support solar thermal getting a production tax credits and full loan guarantees, as well as increased R&D funding. Is there anything else you know of that the govt. should be doing?
Len Gould 10.27.07
James: I agree with you entirely.
re: "I support solar thermal getting a production tax credits and full loan guarantees, as well as increased R&D funding. Is there anything else you know of that the govt. should be doing?" I'm thinking that the federal govt's efforts to date have always tended to stifle the industry rather than help.
1) NREL, as useful as it has been as a disseminator of information, has simply become an exotic ivory tower of expertise with no incentive or means to actually do anything useful with its knowledge. Perhaps it should be divided into 5 parts, one which retains a mandate as a central repository and technical resource website for all publicly available information on the subject matter, and four others which are equal divisions of the research staff which are simply auctioned off to 4 different private enterprises.
2) a DOE project similar to what they're doing with the SOFC, which accepts tenders from private enterprise for development and demonstration of goal-oriented R&D. Things like "show us a parabolic trough collector which is at least 95% as efficient as existing heavy glass reflector trough collectors but costs only 1/4 the price". (do-able with new silvered polymer films, somehow, I'm sure) or "show us a thermal transfer fluid which can operate economically at 150 degC higher than present fluids and which won't freeze up on cold nights." or "prove to us that solar thermal can be operated economically and profitable in areas of less-than-perfect-arizona-dessert-conditions such as Buffalo NY". or "demonstrate for us a reliable stirling engine-generator which can operate from solar collector temperatures at 40% net electrical efficiency" or "bring us a collector-tube coating which can economically improve collection efficiency by 10% while reducing tube coating costs by 50%" or "develop a thermal collector tube material which has the same co-efficient of thermal expansion as borosilicate glass (or vice versa) so we can simplify the vacuum seals and reduce costs and extend lifetimes" Many others.
3) Starting with selected states, the federal government should a) mandate near-term solar thermal production goals, and b) provide the financial means to ensure their achievement. The near-term cost of the program should be entirely offset by a temporary increase of fossil energy tax, with clearly legislated market rules which reduce the subsidy to the solar facilities incrementally as the generation becomes more economically competitive and eliminate the subsidy completely within 10 years regardless of economics.
That's all just very quickly done, not terribly thoroughly analysed, and no doubt in need of some adjustments / corrections.
Martin Tampier 10.29.07
What I never understood is why they don't suggest using CANDU reactors in Iran. CANDU technology uses heavy water and non-enriched uranium. That would give the Iranians their reactor, but no enrichment facilities.
An excellent overview of present state of nuclear power technology, including costs per kw and per kwh.
Martin: Agreed CANDU can avoid the weapons-potential of uranium enrichment, but it replaces that with an enhanced production of plutonium in the spent fuel, which is equally reiky, see history of India's weapons program. Basically no free lunch I guess. I personally would tend toward the view that the fact that Iran is going with a light-water + enriched-uranium program almost guarantees that the project is not promarily a weapons program, as the plutonium path with a dedicated "reasarch" reastor would be much more effective for that, I think. I probably stand to be corrected on that though.
Graham Cowan 10.29.07
No-one thinks Iran's power reactor is going to make weapons-grade plutonium. What some may think is that their enrichment plant is going to make Hiroshima-grade 235-U. Maybe they're allowing enough inspections that no-one really thinks this either; I haven't been following that closely.
There is "no free lunch" in the same way that there is no way to prevent sufficiently determined weaponizers of Otto-cycle and diesel car engines from turning them into multibarrel cannons. There is no way to break the internal-combustion thermodynamic link. Maybe no-one is that determined, since they could just get actual guns, but if they were, they could not be stopped ... car nuts will tell you gun barrels have to be rifled, quite unlike cylinders, but that's just internal combustion apologetics.
Recall that India's weapons-grade plutonium came from a CIRUS reactor; -US because the US supplied the heavy water. Is it really true that CANDUs make more plutonium? Net of what they destroy? Certainly it's extremely heavy-isotope rich.
"Unlike most designs, the CANDU does not require enriched fuel, and in theory is therefore much less likely to lead to the development of weaponized fissile fuel. However, like all power reactor designs, CANDU reactors produce and use plutonium in their fuel rods during normal operation (roughly 50% of the energy generated in a CANDU reactor comes from the in situ fission of plutonium created in the uranium fuel), and this plutonium could be used in a nuclear explosive if separated and converted to metallic form (albeit only as reactor-grade plutonium, and therefore of limited military usefulness). Accordingly, CANDU reactors, like most power reactors in the world, are subject to safeguards under the United Nations which prevent possible diversion of plutonium. CANDU reactors are designed to be refuelled while running, which makes the details of such safeguards significantly different from other reactor designs. The end result, however, is a consistent and internationally accepted level of proliferation risk.
A common accusation is that India used Canadian reactors to produce plutonium for weapons. India owns two licensed CANDU reactors and began nuclear weapons tests shortly after they became operational in 1972. However, international observers have concluded that no plutonium was diverted from the safeguarded CANDU reactors (see ). The plutonium for the initial bombs came from the older CIRUS reactor built by Canada (see Nuclear Weapons above), but the material for India's most recent nuclear test, Operation Shakti, is thought to come from the locally-designed Dhruva reactor."
Apparently CANDU is no more likely to produce plutonium than any other power reactor, which is a surprise to me, i've no doubt been brainwashed in the past by some religious anti.
It's also worth noting that "reactor grade plutonium", e.g. what can be easily separated chemically from spent reactor fuel, is not "weapons grade plutonium", still needing to be enriched from 20% of the pu240 isotope to 90%, at task not much less difficult than producing weapons-grade enriched uranium from standard uranium. There are apparently a few tricks making it easier to work with plutonium, not worth detailing here.
Kenneth Kok 10.30.07
The question of weapons grade plutonium versus reactor grade plutonium is answed nicely in an American Nuclear Society position statement on Disposition of Surplus Weapons Pluronium Using Mixed Oxide Fuel (November 2002). Weapons grade plutonium contains 93.5% Pu239 and 6.5% Pu240. Reactor grade plutonium contains 51% Pu239, 29% Pu240, 16% Pu241 and 4% Pu242. You can formulate a weapon from reactor grade plutonium but it will be very inefficient relative to one made with weapons grade material.
JIM HARDING 10.31.07
Some of you might want to visit the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center website (www.npec.org) to fill in a few details. You will find an excellent paper by former NRC Commissioner Victor Gilinsky and others on the weapons usability of different grades of plutonium, including reactor plutonium. In poor designs, it is "less efficient," but entirely usable. In more sophisticated designs, the gap narrows considerably.
Henry Sokolski (who runs NPEC and is a Hoover Institution and first Bush Administration alum, so hardly a raving greenie) has also written on the nuclear fuel bank, inadequacy of IAEA safeguards, and GNEP - the latter proposal correctly smashed last week by a National Academy of Sciences report. Most nations hoping to acquire nuclear power for whatever reasons see an international fuel bank as a discriminatory monopoly, much as we see OPEC. They might assent to its conditions, but will privately develop alternative means for fuel enrichment, as Iran is doing with its centrifuge program. Moreover, the nations with enrichment and reactor export capacity aren't all that keen on cooperating with each other; they see themselves as competitors for export, more than allies in reducing global proliferation risks. Finally, IAEA safeguards, as Henry describes in detail, are essentially window dressing. If we were serious about a global safeguards regime, we'd fund the IAEA with a 1 mill/kWh or so charge - much like the waste fund - to get cameras, inspection teams, and physical security measures in place (esp on separated civil plutonium stocks and bulk fuel handling facilities like reprocessing, MOX fuel fabrication).
Len Gould 11.2.07
Here's the UN IAEA's annula assesment of nuclear energy worldwide, 2007.
This page by "John McCarthy's main page concerns computer science, especially artificial intelligence. I am a professor of computer science (now emeritus) at Stanford University and this web site is a spare time activity that I hope will do some good." references largely data from Professor Bernard Cohen ("Bernard Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Physics at Pittsburgh University. He is former president of the Health Physics Society, the main scientific society concerned with radiation safety. He has written several books on nuclear energy.")
Particularly useful are his calculations of future availability of reactor fuel. Basically he allows that is uranium is extracted from seawater at $400 / lb (adds approx. $0.005 / kwh to cost of electricity), then "He argues that given the geological cycles of erosion, subduction and uplift, the supply would last for 5 billion years with a withdrawal rate of 6,500 tonne per year. The crust contains 6.5x10^13 tonne of uranium. He comments that lasting 5 billion years, i.e. longer than the sun will support life on earth, should cause uranium to be considered a renewable resource. " I note a followup comment by Professor Cohen along the lines that a) Cohen forgets the half-life of uranium will mean that the actual figure for uranium from seawater should only be 2.5 billion years, but b) that the widely available thorium not included in the calculation will return more than that again.
"The main point to be derived from Cohen's article is that energy is not a problem even in the very long run. In particular, energy intensive solutions to other human problems are entirely acceptable."
Len Gould 11.2.07
I forgot to mention that a 6,500 tpy uranium supply can, with present technology, provide about 80% of all the present world use of energy in all forms.
"In terms of fuel cost per million BTU, he gives (uranium at $400 per pound 1.1 cents , coal $1.25, OPEC oil $5.70, natural gas $3-4.)"