Re: [asa] Nuclear energy

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Thu Aug 27 2009 - 21:09:36 EDT

Dear Randy and Friends,

Iain has got it basically right. Dividing the established uranium ore resources extractable at less than $130/lb by the current world consumption rate gives a timescale of about 60 years. This is the number most often mentioned by those who oppose nuclear. Actually though, it mostly shows that there's no current major economic need for more exploration or fuel resource efficiency improvement. Present thermal reactors use only about 1-2% of the available energy in the uranium ore. Fast reactors can in the longer term use much of that energy, and hence last perhaps 50 times longer. That's already 3000 years. But conservative estimates indicate that at least 10 times more terrestrial uranium (not yet established) is available at a somewhat increased cost (but still a practically negligible fraction of the total energy cost), and maybe as much as 100 times more: conservatively 30000 years sustainable.

So suppose we ramp up nuclear energy to 10 times the current world usage, there's conservatively 3000 years. Then if the needs justify it there is uranium in sea water that is probably extractable at an acceptable cost for the long term. Remember we are then talking 1000s years in the future when presumably technology will have developed even more.

I work on fusion whose resources are probably Lithium (for breeding Tritium) and are practically inexaustible.

Fusion's not available now, fast reactors are, but are not economically competitive with LWRs because the costs of uranium are currently a negligible fraction of the total. Both of these technologies are likely to be available for the long term.

Roughly speaking these are the thoughts that lead to the conclusion that nuclear energy is sustainable for thousands of years.

Mind you, I don't think the earth will stand the population we currently have, at US levels of consumption, for that sort of duration. Not because of energy, but because of other environmental impacts. So don't be misled by exponential growth scenarios that overwhelm the energy supply. Energy is very important but there are many other challenges.

Then again, will the Lord tarry for thousands of years?

Ian Hutchinson

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Iain Strachan
  To: Randy Isaac
  Sent: Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:47 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Nuclear energy


  I'm definitely pro-nuclear and spent over 20 years working for the UK nuclear industry.

  Yet I'm puzzled by Ian's claim below that nuclear energy is sustainable for thousands of years. As I understand it this is not the case with conventional thermal reactors - world supplies of U235 are not sufficient, as I understand it, to last more than 50 years or so.

  A greater degree of sustainability would be via fast reactor technology which breeds an alternative fissile material Pu239 from the U238 which comprises 99.3% of natural Uranium ore.

  Long term, nuclear fusion is probably sustainable for millions of years.

  However, neither fast reactors nor fusion have been sufficiently developed to be available in large amounts in the near future. Virtually all nuclear power currently is from thermal PWR reactors, using U235 as the energy source.

  I don't know how long the timescale would be to develop large numbers of Fast reactors, though it wouldn't be anything like as long as for fusion. (Current estimates indicate a date of around 2050? for the first commercial fusion reactor).

  I would be interested to know if Ian has some more optimistic projections for the future of the nuclear industry.


  On Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 1:32 PM, Randy Isaac <> wrote:

      Ian, if you could wave a magic wand, what policies, regulations, or legislation would you change in order to maximize nuclear energy in the U.S.?

      In short, give nuclear energy the same tax credits and other incentives that are given to other carbon-free energy. Nuclear does not need big federal subsidies to compete economically. In fact the federal aid to nuclear over the past 25 years has been less even than that to fossil energy, in the form of various tax credits etc. Actually the 2005 Energy Policy Act does most of what is needed for nuclear, but so far the provisions have not been fully funded by congress and DOE has been very slow to put the regulations in place to implement them.
    An example of what is being done wrong, is that the carbon trading scheme that Congress has been discussing (although has not passed I think) is being combined with a "renewable energy" mandate that requires a certain fraction of electricity generation to be by "renewable" sources. That sounds good until you find out that nuclear is specifically excluded from that mandate. It does not count as "renewable". That's crazy. What ought to count is not some nominal "renewable" rating but __sustainability__. Nuclear is sustainable for thousands of years. Much "renewable" energy is not in fact sustainable. For example much biomass energy is not sustainable; specifically bio-ethanol is definitely not sustainable, and probably uses more energy than it generates, yet it would be included. Trouble is that quite a number of now powerful politicians have made it their mission to stop nuclear energy or nuclear waste disposal for so long that they can't bring themselves to reevaluate whether the new situation ought to dictate a different view.


    Ian Hutchinson

  Non timeo sed caveo
  (")_(") This is a bunny copy him into your signature so he can gain world domination

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Received on Thu Aug 27 21:10:44 2009

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