The Asian nuclear Revolution, energy “plans,” and questionable media reporting: it’s the 38th Carnival of Nuclear Energy

Welcome to the 38th Carnival of Nuclear Energy. For those not familiar, the Carnival is a weekly compilation of blog coverage of the world’s most powerful and important energy source. I’m pleased to host this week’s offerings, which are from

Dan Yurman’s article this week is “Talking about a Sputnik Moment is a Mistake.” Dan refers to president Obama’s call, in his most recent State of the Union speech, for massive funding for research into, among other things, “clean energy technology.” By invoking Sputnik, the first man-made satellite which was launched by the USSR and not the USA, the president intended to spur Americans to new breakthroughs that would make the US once again a world leader in the field. Dan thinks the analogy is off-base. The original Sputnik shocked America into focused and well-funded action, which put Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969.

Contrast that with today: what response was the invocation of Sputnik intended to produce? Nobody really knows. Meanwhile, China is forging ahead with aggressive development of a Generation IV molten salt reactor fueled with liquid thorium. Such development is stalled in the US (along with the renaissance in large water-cooled power reactors; more below).

Charles Barton, in “Why the Chinese Commitment to the LFTR Matters,” picks up on that theme (LFTR stands for liquid fluoride thorium reactor). He believes the LFTR is superior to conventional uranium fueled water-cooled reactors. Thorium is abundant and cheap, and the LFTR has the potential to greatly improve both economics and safety. China’s interest in it is telling: that country’s economy is exploding, as is its need for huge amounts of concentrated energy. It is critical for that energy to remain cheap.

Meredith Angwin’s offering this week, “Some Notes on IBM and Yankee. How I Found Vermont’s Energy Plan,” describes a situation that appears just the opposite. Vermont, where Meredith lives, is in the middle of a crucial debate over the future of the state’s only nuclear plant, Vermont Yankee. Though the plant produces massive amounts of high quality, low-priced electricity, anti-nuclear forces in the state want it shut down. Their answer to the question of where power will come from once Yankee is gone is disconcerting enough that one major power user, none other than IBM (which operates a wafer fabrication plant), says it will relocate out of state if Yankee closes.

And what is their answer to that question? Read Meredith’s post—you’ll be amazed by what elected officials are capable of saying.

One of them actually says that Vermonters have gotten a bit too used to having abundant electricity. That official needs to do two things. First, live without power for a week in the middle of winter. Hew his own wood, draw his own water (after chopping a hole in the ice). When he has recovered from that experience, he should read “Nuclear energy is a disruptively cheap and simple way to boil water” by Rod Adams. Published at the ANS Nuclear Café, this piece describes the incredible engineering that goes into the thermal power plants that enable us to stay warm and well-hydrated in winter. Of thermal power plants, nuclear ones are the easiest and cheapest to run. I would add that nuclear plants are, by far, the most environmentally innocuous way to generated enormous amounts of power. You could fit all three Ontario nuclear plants into the patch of land occupied by the Wolfe Island wind farm. The nuclear plants have 55 times the generating capacity of Wolfe Island.

Brian Wang offers three posts for this carnival. Two, “Kazatomprom will boost uranium production to 19600 tons in 2011 and Areva delays Namibian mine Trekkopje” and “Kazakhstan doubles 2008 uranium production and Namibia Uranium expansion in progress,” deal with uranium production. Anybody who doubts a global nuclear renaissance is taking place should read these posts. Kazakhstan recently overtook Canada as the largest uranium producing country, and Namibia’s output has more than doubled since 2003.

The nuclear renaissance is hugely feared by the competition. This is why opponents of nuclear power are so quick to point to any lulls in the renaissance as proof that it’s not happening at all. Is that accurate? Gail Marcus, in “The Nuclear Lull: What Does it Mean?,” critically examines that claim. Gail formerly held a senior position at the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, and knows what she’s talking about. As you’ll see, the current lull only looks like a lull if you believe that some of the much-publicized plans for nuclear construction were ever firm in the first place. Not all were.

Speaking of long term, Brian Wang’s third offering, a summary of nuclear propulsion for space by a NASA presenter, gives a credible look at how space travel might happen.

And when you consider what is being held up as a better way than nuclear to make zero-carbon electricity—wind and solar—you realize that these alleged solutions are proceeding even more slowly. But you often won’t get that impression from the mainstream media. Rod Adams’s other offering “Gullible Reporting by UPI—Did not Get the Memo From the NY Times About The Faulty Solar vs Nuclear Cost Paper,” describes how an anti-nuclear group fooled the New York Times into publishing an editorial claiming that solar energy was competitive with nuclear. It was based on bogus numbers; when this was pointed out to the Times, the newspaper had to publish an embarrassing correction.

The only way solar can ever survive in any electricity system is for governments to force rate payers to pay extremely high rates for it. In Ontario, where I live, solar installations producing less than 10 kilowatts are guaranteed a price of 80 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s more than 12 times the going rate for electricity. Who would voluntarily pay that kind of money? Nobody. That’s why the government forces Ontario rate payers to pay it.

This makes my blood boil. Anybody who says solar is anywhere close to competitive with nuclear is obviously wrong. So much so that it beggars belief that such an assertion would get printed in a vehicle like the New York Times, which considers itself the mightiest of the mighty.

As you’ll see when you read Rod’s article, the Times was not the only major vehicle that decided to print this nonsense. It was the only one that was shamed into correcting itself.

So—this week’s Carnival offerings are excellent, as they always are. Once again, here they are:

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