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Friday, October 16, 2009

Nuclear utopy: a dirty hell in fact

The latest news in Europe are largely about how dirty the nuclear energy business is resulting to be. The big problem is, of course, residues.

In Italy the Mafia has been sinking ships full of nuclear residues in the sea for may years now, meanwhile France and Germany have been exporting their own to Russia, where they are awfully stored, abandoned, in open air spaces without any sort of pollution control at a Soviet era base near Tomsk (we can imagine the Russians do themselves the same with their own residues more or less).

If all that would not be dirty and scary enough, the closure of a French reactor has revealed that some weapon grade plutonium was stored with no registry in that very plant. Where they expected just a few kilos of the dangerous nuclear byproduct, they found 22, three times the registered amount. This same reactor was ordered closure in July after leaking uranium to the local water supply.

The image of European nuclear industry is right now that of a total chaos and inability to manage their own production safely or in any controlled way. The "nuclear utopy" that some wanted to recycle for the Global Warming era is falling apart into pieces. And this is only what trascends to the media: the situation in Spain, famous for its lack of transparency and some very old nuclear reactors, for example, could be also awful.

Anyhow, there is not enough uranium on Earth to generate enough power for nuclear energy to be a viable substitute of anything.
Once oil production peaks (and either has already done by now or is extremely close in the very near future), the only alternatives are dirty coal or more or less clean "alternative" energy sources like wind and solar power. We want it or not, we are bound to go ecological or kill ourselves.

Unless nuclear fussion happens to make a huge leap forward, something that doesn't seem likely in the next many many decades.



Anonymous said...

"Where they expected just a few kilos of the dangerous nuclear byproduct, they found 22"

If I remember rightly too much plutonium stored too close together can theoretically achieve a nuclear chain reaction and make a very big bang. They are truly idiots.
Sounds a bit like the nuclear dustbin at Dounreay
"One estimate suggests that around 2.2kg of plutonium and 81kg of uranium-235 ended up there. But the auditing was patchy".
They only stopped when a (chemical) explosion blasted the 12 ton lid off in 1977. The costs of cleaning these things up are astronomical.

Can solar wind and wave deliver enough secure energy? Cars and trucks will be electric soon, are European countries going to rent a chunk of the the Sahara for solar generation. No, they'll want their supply in their own hands and only nuclear can provide that security of supply.

Maju said...

If you followed the link, the plutonium was stored in several different rooms, so "there was no risk" (or so they claim).

Can solar wind and wave deliver enough secure energy?-

In my opinion it is largely a matter of political will. So far no energy source seems as brutally productive as petroleum but that doesn't really matter as this source is doomed anyhow. There are many lines of research in all these alternative sources that could produce high amounts of energy and really replace oil and coal for electricity production.

The main problem so far, apart of the political will, that is clearly failing almost everywhere, is the issue of portable combustibles. One of the best alternatives is hydrogene (which could be produced by electrolisis and is extremely clean), however it has storage and security risk issues that gasoline doesn't have.

... are European countries going to rent a chunk of the the Sahara for solar generation. No, they'll want their supply in their own hands...

That is quite logical, though in a sense they are now renting a chunk of Arabia for oil production so the difference is not that big. But I strongly favor local power generation as much as possible.

African countries have even less political will in this direction and less resources to invest too. However, Iceland, which produces all its electricity from the vast geothermal resources of the island is already tapping onto that to offer cheap power to important growing business like data storage.

Sunny countries like Spain or Turkey or Algeria or whichever... should also tap their immense potential for producing cheap solar electricity. However there is where the political will fails and, sadly enough, today Germany produces much more solar energy than Spain for example, which could easily be leader in Europe in this aspect.

Solar technology is improving very much (browse for solar energy in this blog and you'll see some of these advances) and is set to be the cheapest soon, and that also seems the case of wind generation to large extent. I have watched cheap experimental generators built in unexpensive ways and without danger for birds, as they are essentially zeppelins with almost no hard parts.

But almost no authorities seem to be putting any real interest in them. Inertia and corporative interests in energy oligopoly are dragging the feet, delaying a much needed change.

IMO it's time not only for experimentation but also for active implementation of these energies with some nice tax exemptions (well justified because of their low ecological impact) and even direct public investment.