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Nuclear power insights

J.W.Storm van Leeuwen

Independent consultant

Ceedata Consultancy

storm@ceedata.nl

 

Nuclear power is an emotionally charged issue. Heated discussions indicate widely different viewpoints and widely different levels of knowledge. Due to the exceedingly complexity of the issues related to nuclear power, misunderstandings and fallacies may easily trouble the discussion.

This website aims at supplying insights in a number of issues from a scientific point of view. A number of opinions and claims on the matter of nuclear power are tested against common scientific wisdom and basic physical laws. Financial and economic issues are not or indirectly addressed.

 

Insight items

The insight items are presented as separate brief self-supporting texts, intended to keep the content accessible to policy makers and a broad public not well introduced into nuclear matters. Each text can be read independently of the other and in arbitrary order. In a number cases this set-up may result in some overlap of different texts. Many of the insight texts have diagrams with captions added from the original publications, giving more detailed information. This additional information can be read independently from the main text of an insight item. To keep the items short and easily readable, jargon is avoided as much as possible and references to original sources are omitted. These references can be found in the original reports the brief texts are based on:

Nuclear power, the energy balance, February 2008

Health risks of nuclear power, November 2010

Nuclear power, energy security and CO2 emission, May 2012

All three full reports are available as pdf files on this website, see page reports. These reports are the results of a comprehensive study and intensive correspondence with numerous experts all over the world during the past years (see about study). Comments are welcome. The author encourages a discussion on scientific arguments.

The complete series of Insight items can be downloaded as one pdf document.

Communication

How is the communication between the nuclear industry at one hand and the politicians and public at the other hand? How open, how sincere and how comprehensive is the information flow from the nuclear industry to policymakers and the public? To which degree is this a two-way communication?

i01 Communication nuclear industry - public

Complexity and opacity

One-sided information and conflict of interests

Uncertainties and unknowns

Downplaying the hazards

Fostering the myths

One-way communication

i02 Economic vs physical perspective

Time horizon

Global issues

Physical energy analysis

System boundaries

i03 How controllable is nuclear power?

Why nuclear?

Which are the arguments of the nuclear industry backing the assertion that nuclear power is safe and indispensable for climate control and energy security? How valid are these arguments?

i04 Why nuclear power?

Claims of the nuclear industry

Clean

Cheap

Safe

Secure

Indispensable

Sustainable

Bright outlook

i05 Climate change

Nuclear share

Present nuclear CO2 emission

CO2 trap of nuclear power

Greenhouse gases other than CO2

Coal equivalence

i06 Energy security

What means 'energy security'?

Fallacies

Après nous le dŽéluge

i07 How clean is nuclear power?

Greenhouse gases

Chemicals

Radioactive discharges

Ecosystem disturbances

Depletion of valuable materials

Nuclear facts and features

What are the unambiguous facts and unique features, any discussion on the adoption of nuclear power should be based on?

i08 Unique features of nuclear power

Man-made radioactivity

Mobilisation of radioactivity

Metal as energy source

Time frame

Complexity

Irreversible consequences

i09 Radioactivity

Isotopes

Radioactive decay

Ionizing radiation

Half-life

Nuclear bomb equivalents

i10 Radioactive materials

Spent nuclear fuel

Fission products

Actinides and minor actinides

Activation products

i11 Radioactive waste streams

Mining waste

Operational waste

Routine releases

Spent nuclear fuel

Decommissioning and dismantling waste

Isolation from the human environment

Geologic repository

Mine rehabilitation

Technical analysis

Which industrial processes and activities are required to make nuclear energy available to the consumer? How does the nuclear energy system technically work, in broad outlines? How much materials and energy are consumed per unit useful energy delivered by nuclear power?

i12 Life cycle analysis of the nuclear energy system

Nuclear process chain

Cradle to grave

Energy balance of the nuclear system

Full-load years and energy payback time

Energy return of energy investment EROEI

Methodology of energy analysis

i13 Materials and nuclear power from cradle to grave

Comparison

Specifications of the reference nuclear power system

Materials bal;ance of nuclear power from cradle to grave

Specifications of the reference wind power system

Safety

What does the nuclear industry mean with safe nuclear power? In what respects is nuclear power a safe way of energy generation? On what empirical and scientific evidence bases the nuclear industry its opinion?

i14 Nuclear safety

Military and civil nuclear technology are inseparable

Proliferation

Nuclear terrorism and MOX fuel

Reactor safety studies

Spent nuclear fuel pools

Nuclear safety is not set by safety studies, but by practice

Main safety concern: dispersion of radioactivity

i15 Engineered safety

Quality requirements

Bathtub hazard function

Bathtub curve and nuclear technology

Preventable accidents

i16 Energy debt

Energy on credit

Paradigm barrier

Economic challenge

A dangerous misconception

Energy is the limiting factor

Health risks

What are the specific health risks of nuclear power? Are nuclear health effects curable or are they a passing thing? Are nuclear health risks avoidable? Which role are economic appraisals playing in relation with nuclear health risks?

i17 Pathways of radioactivity dispersion

Routine releases

Unauthorized releases

Uranium mining

Depleted uranium

Illegal trade and criminality

Transport

Cleanup, decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear plants

Terrorism

Armed conflicts

Severe accidents

i18 Uranium mining

Radioactive decay products

Mill tailings

Mine reclamation

i19 Routine releases of radioactivity

Significance

Discharges from reactors

Interim storage of spent fuel

Reprocessing plants

i20 Cleanup, decommissioning and dismantling

Radioactive structures after closedown

Nuclear power plants

Reprocessing plants

Health risks

Radioactive debris and scrap

Regulations and economics

i21 Severe accidents

Meltdown

Spent fuel pools

Consequences

Contamination

i22 Health effects of radioactivity in the human body

Stochastic and non-stochastic effects

Targeted, non-targeted and delayed effects

Biomedical aspects of radioactivity

Radiation-induced diseases

i23 Downplaying the hazards

Long time lag

Downplay

Evidence

Health risks resulting from downplaying

i24 Limited knowledge on radioactivity

Not all radioactivity is measured

Troublesome detection of radioactivity

Biomedical unknowns

i25 Health risks of nuclear power

Reliance on models

Pathways of radioactive discharges

Risk enhancing factors

Long time lag

Cumulation effects

Health risks of nuclear power and economics

i26 Economics and nuclear safety

Economic vs physical perspective

Liability policy

Responsibilities

De-regulation

Relaxation of activity standards

Relaxation of exposure standards

Relaxation of safety standards

Quality control and dependency of inspections

i27 Nuclear waste diluting

Fallacy

Increasing health risks

Low-level waste

Military practice

Civil practice

Decommissioning and dismantling waste

Outlook

What does the nuclear industry mean with Ônuclear renaissanceÔ? Which are the advanced technical concepts the expectations of a nuclear renaissance based on? Is the materialization of the nuclear renaissance a matter of politics and communication with the general public, a matter of economics, or are technical issues at stake? Which technical developments might be pivotal? i28 Nuclear renaissance World nuclear capacity Adoption curve How likely?

i28 Nuclear renaissance

World nuclear capacity

Adoption curve

How likely is a nuclear renaissance?

i29 Adoption of innovative technology

History of nuclear power

Maturity and obselescence of nuclear power

i30 Advanced nuclear concepts

Advanced reactors and concepts of waste reduction

Aerospace Plane

Advanced uranium recovery

i31 Reprocessing

Outline

Discharges into the environment

Practice

Costs

Historic purpose

i32 Recycling of plutonium and uranium (MOX) in LWRs

Plutonium energy balance

Terrorism threat

Uranium

View of the nuclear industry

i33 Breeder reactors

Once-through mode

Uranium-plutonium breeder concept

Breeder cycle

New names, no new concepts

i34 Partitioning and transmutation

Radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel

Concept

Transmutation

Minor actinides

Partitioning

Outline

Feasibility

i35 Thorium as nuclear fuel

Thorium cycle

Uranium-233

Time frame

Hybrid reactor

Feasibility

i36 Nuclear waste reduction by reprocessing

Nuclear waste per kilowatt-hour

Volume reduction concept

Misconception

Flaws

Fallacy

Least hazardous treatment

Summary

Historic motive for reprocessing

i37 Nuclear fusion

Hydrogen isotopes

Fusion principle

Moving target

Challenges

Tritium supply

Materials

Radioactive waste

Energy balance

Uranium

Do the uranium resources set a limit to the expansion of nuclear power?

i38 Uranium supply

Uranium occurrences

Industrial view on resources

Thermodynamic quality of uranium resources

Depletion of uranium resources

Energy cliff

Energy cliff over time

New discoveries of uranium resources

Unconventional uranium resources

Mineralogical barrier

Uranium from seawater

Fundamentals

Which fundamental phenomena and scientific laws are important to know with respect to the deployment of nuclear power? Which consequences has one of the most fundamental laws of nature, the Second Law of thermodynamics, for the sustainability of nuclear power?

i39 Energy and thermodynamics

Thermodynamics

Energy

First Law

Spontaneous changes

Entropy

Second Law

Potential energy

Useful energy

i40 Entropy

System and system boundaries

Definition of entropy

Entropy changes

Observable anthropogenic entropy effects in the biosphere

Ordered materials, functionality and entropy

Fallacy of economic growth

i41 Consequencess of the Second Law

Validity of the Second Law

Visibility of the consequences on global scale

Principle of the Second Law

Probability and the Second Law

Heat engines

Separation processes

Coupled systems

Ordered materials: reliability and energy investments

Mineral energy sources are not sustainable

Declining thermodynamic quality of mineral resources

Photosynthesis in the biosphere, spontaneous order from chaos?

i42 Limitations of separation processes

Separation processes

Purification

Extraction of uranium

Enrichment of uranium

Reprocessing

i43 Nuclear power and the Second Law

Chemical pollution

Radioactive pollution

Thermodynamic quality of uranium ores

Separation processes

Inherently safe nuclear power is inherently impossible

Latent entropy

Materials soecifications

Advanced nuclear concepts

Nuclear power cannot be not sustainable

i44 Zero-entropy energy, ZEE

Physical sustainability criteria

Constant flow and constant quality

No contribution to the entropy of the biosphere

Potential capacity

i45 Reliance on models

Uncertainties in dose estimates

Uncertainties in risk estimates

Troublesome detection of radionuclides

Inherently limited significance of models

Why not start from empirical evidence?

Concluding remarks and questions

i46 How indispensable is nuclear power?

Promoted image

Cheap

Climate change

Clean and safe

Energy security

Zero-entropy energy, ZEE

Nuclear power is a dead-end road

i47 Is nuclear power obsolete?

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