The Nuclear Renaissance, Laurel & Hardly, and the power of fruit juice: it’s the 32nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

December 18, 2010
By

This is the first time Canadian Energy Issues has hosted the Blog Carnival of Nuclear Energy, and looking at the lineup of submissions I wonder why I have not hosted the Carnival before.

If you’re not familiar with the Nuclear Blog Carnival, it is a weekly compilation of blog posts mostly from the North American nuclear world. And as you’ll see in this week’s line-up, the global nuclear renaissance is in full swing, though there are some rough spots in the road.

This week’s contributors are:

All are prolific bloggers, providing fearless and indefatigable coverage of global nuclear industry issues.

Brian this week offers two posts: one on activity in the world power reactor sector, and one on an amazing discovery that could revolutionize the uranium extraction industry.

His first offering is a snapshot of the global nuclear renaissance, which comes by way of two quick reference tables from the International Atomic Energy Agency. One table shows new construction and refurbishments around the world; the other shows availability factors—in 2007, 2008, and 2009—for the 433 reactors that are operating in the world today.

Dan’s offering is a drill-down analysis of, and commentary on, some of that activity as well as other goings-on outside the scope of the IAEA reports. Dan presents this in the context of his annual “Laurel and Hardly” awards (note the “L” in Hardly).

Meredith’s submission, “The debate goes on,” describes a television debate in which she participated, on the future of Vermont Yankee, Vermont’s only nuclear power reactor. Her post describes a Vermont state senator who is opposed to relicensing the plant. The senator said something during the debate that Meredith finds remarkable: he explained that Vermont really doesn’t really need the reliable power that Yankee produces. “This idea that everybody is entitled to all the electricity they want, whenever they want it, maybe is an outdated concept.” Maybe he should tell this—via a snail mail letter—to the billions of impoverished rural Chinese and Indians who would do anything for electric power.

Meredith includes a video link to the debate; you’ll find the senator’s humdinger after the 25 minute mark. Later on, the senator essentially tells Yankee’s 600 employees that when the plant closes… too bad. Get another job.

Jim Hopf attended the recent Nuclear Energy Summit in Washington DC, and reports that there might be a sea-change in the U.S. government’s view of what officially counts as clean energy. Currently the U.S., and many other governments around the world, view only renewables like wind and solar as clean. Jim reports that nuclear could be added. That would be hugely important. If that new classification came with the same support that wind and solar receive, governments would be supporting winners (nuclear) and not just losers (wind and solar).

Considering the lineup of government heavyweights who attended the Summit—the secretary of Energy, heads of the White House Office of Energy and Climate and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and several high-profile senators—it looks like Jim has good reason to feel sanguine about nuclear’s prospects for classification as clean energy. He is cautious though, saying that the “main risk now is that no standard will pass due to the influence of the Tea Party caucus and other conservatives who are strongly focused on reducing government spending and regulation.”

Dan Yurman’s Laurel awards are for genuinely noteworthy achievements in the nuclear industry. For example, Dan awards a Laurel to Areva for that company’s work in preparing its Eagle Rock uranium enrichment plant in Idaho, an enormously important project made possible when the U.S. government granted a $2 billion loan guarantee back in May.

Take Dan’s Laurel awards together with Brian’s IAEA snapshots and Jim’s encouraging signals from the nuclear summit, and you see that the nuclear renaissance is in full motion—even if local situations like Vermont, New York, and Ontario make it seem like time stands still.

And the “Hardly” awards? Dan hands these out to the true head-shakers, the utterances and goings-on that fall into the “you can’t make this stuff up” category.

Everybody who is familiar with the activities of anti-nuclear lobbyists knows about these. Dan awards seven Hardlys for 2010, and when you read them… well, you’ll either laugh or cry. Maybe both. A Hardly award goes to the governors of New York and the aforementioned Vermont for ideological opposition to nuclear.

Another Hardly goes to the White House Office of Management and Budget for botching the negotiations over loan guarantees for a 1,650 MW EPR in Maryland. Jim Hopf points out that the onerously huge credit subsidy fee is something the OMB applies only to nuclear projects and not to wind and solar ones. Brian Wang’s energy availability table shows the U.S. reactor fleet with an energy availability factor over 90 percent. That means most of America’s 100+ reactors generate power at or near capacity for hundreds of days at a time, something no wind or solar generator could ever do. Makes you wonder what problem the OMB has with that record.

Dan hands out another well-deserved Hardly to the anti-nuke activist who said a proposed Colorado uranium mine would produce “weapons grade plutonium.” I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry over that one. Some, actually most, anti-nukes will say pretty much anything. This is a shame, because uranium fission is mankind’s best—some would say only—hope for a truly zero-carbon energy future. And it’s a double shame when you consider that many anti-nukes like to tell the world that they are environmentalists who worry about carbon. Their anti-nuclear buffoonery, if successful, would guarantee the world uses more fossil fuel.

In their reports on the nuclear renaissance, Brian and Dan show that most of the world is immune to anti-nuclear nonsense. Most of the world understands the power of uranium and is prepared to act on that understanding. Brian’s second offering is about where we might get our uranium in the future. How about by mining it from seawater? Seawater contains trace amounts of dissolved uranium, and since our planet is mostly seawater, it is obvious that there is a lot of uranium out there. However, it costs around three times as much to extract uranium from seawater as it does to mine it on land.

Brian describes Next Big Future as “breaking news of disruptive technology and science that can majorly impact the future course of civilization.” In keeping with that, Brian reports on the discovery, by Japanese scientists, that persimmon juice has an unusually high affinity for uranium in seawater. Yes, you read that right—fruit juice can help us get uranium out of seawater.

(Persimmon is that beautiful orange fruit that looks kind of like a tomato and tastes kind of like a mango or apricot. According to one web source, it is full of vitamins A, B, C and all sorts of other good stuff. For extracting uranium, though, you’d want it when it’s unripe and contains higher levels of tannins, which are the active adsorbent of uranium.)

When you look at Brian’s tables for new reactor construction and refurbishment, you notice that China figures prominently. That country plans to build 80,000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity, making it worthy of one of Dan’s Laurels. Don’t believe those silly stories about China planning to get its power from wind and solar generation. China’s astonishing, historic, and unfolding industrial revolution will require unprecedented amounts of baseload electricity. I doubt many poor Chinese would agree with the Vermont senator that baseload electricity is an “outdated concept.” Wind and solar cannot provide baseload electricity. Whatever else you may think about China’s current rulers, and there is plenty to criticize, you cannot accuse them of failing to lay the groundwork for the greatest electrification drive in history. China’s zero-carbon electricity will come from nuclear fission.

As for the IAEA table summarizing world reactor availability factors, as a Canadian I was happy to see South Korea, Rumania, Argentina, China, and of course Canada in the world top 20—these countries all have CANDUs in operation.

(Yes I know India and Pakistan, which both have CANDUs and/or CANDU knock-offs, rank at or close to the bottom, but let’s remember that both these countries were for decades cold-shouldered by the international nuclear industry because of their weapons programs. For this reason, they did not have much access to the materials and/or expertise that could have made their fleets perform better.)

All in all, I think you’ll agree that this week’s Carnival contributors offer some very interesting and engaging reading. Once again, here are their offerings:

Happy reading!

4 Responses to The Nuclear Renaissance, Laurel & Hardly, and the power of fruit juice: it’s the 32nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

  1. willis
    December 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    “Meredith includes a video link to the debate; you’ll find the senator’s humdinger after the 25 minute mark. Later on, the senator essentially tells Yankee’s 600 employees that when the plant closes… too bad. Get another job.”

    I agree with the senator. The masochistic liberals of the northease insist on electing trash like this to office. Their elected officials correctly surmise that the electorate are fools begging for abuse and respond accordingly. If you don’t believe me, just wait until the next election.

  2. theBuckWheat
    December 19, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    China does deserve praise for its nuclear power program, especially for its research into new reactor designs. However, China is still owned by the Communist Party, and in the past that Party has not hesitated to kill tens of millions of people to remain in power. This means that at any instant, an issue could arise that sparks unrest and results in an attempt to suppress dissent. This has happened in the recent past. It will happen again. China could come unglued before our eyes and it is only prudent to make plans accordingly.

    see for example:
    Frank Dikötter on Mao’s Mass Murders
    http://volokh.com/2010/12/17/frank-dikotter-on-maos-mass-murders/

  3. ck
    December 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Tea Partiers will be the main regulatory obstacle for new nuclear power plants? You have to be kidding me. You still got a stash of the brown acid from Woodstock?

  4. December 20, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Be good little citizens and beg for a few crumbs from the table in the new Clean Energy Standard. That’s right, don’t ask for too much or you won’t get anything. Remember, the government owns you whole, and can do anything it wants with you. Don’t make waves.

    What’s that, this isn’t Communist China or the USSR? Well, it didn’t used to be, anyway.

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