Derek Abbott (Australian) wrote “Is nuclear power globally scalable?” to be published in a Future Proceedings of the IEEE. He claims that nuclear power is not scalable globally.
Abbot Claim Land and location: One nuclear reactor plant requires about 20.5 km^2 (7.9 mi2) of land to accommodate the nuclear power station itself, its exclusion zone, its enrichment plant, ore processing, and supporting infrastructure.
Why this is wrong – Many nuclear reactors can be situated on the same piece of land. Most of the land can be used for other purposes. There is no reason it cannot be used for many other purposes other than housing people. If nuclear power replaced coal then the large land areas of coal plants can be re-purposed for nuclear power.
Abbot claims – nuclear reactors need to be located near a massive body of coolant water, but away from dense population zones and natural disaster zones. Simply finding 15,000 locations on Earth that fulfill these requirements is extremely challenging.
The cooling towers at the Kendal power plant in South Africa are examples of the type that might be considered.Hybrid dry/wet systems need to be considered for effective cooling under hot ambient conditions. At present there is one nuclear power plant in Russia that is dry-cooled, but questions have to be answered before these systems will become a reality in the United States.
Replacing thousands of coal plants and having ten reactors per site would solve the issue of where to put 15,000 nuclear reactors.
New modular reactors (Hyperion Power Generation) that are buried underground or are submerged underwater would need far smaller exclusion zones and would have simpler siting issues. However, I would initially choose to roll them out buried at existing facilities.
Abbot claim Lifetime: Every nuclear power station needs to be decommissioned after 40-60 years of operation due to neutron embrittlement – cracks that develop on the metal surfaces due to radiation. If nuclear stations need to be replaced every 50 years on average, then with 15,000 nuclear power stations, one station would need to be built and another decommissioned somewhere in the world every day. Currently, it takes 6-12 years to build a nuclear station, and up to 20 years to decommission one, making this rate of replacement unrealistic.
Why this is not a problem – Multiple coal plants which are of similar size are built every day. It is not one company, it is many companies and countries. Building and decommissioning dozens or hundreds of plants per day need not be a problem. The world has tens of thousands of wide body airplanes. They can roll off the assembly lines at dozens per day. China and South Korea complete nuclear reactors in 4-5 years. China is targeting factory mass produced reactors that are completed in 1-2 years. This goes to trying to extrapolate the idiocy of the Nuclear Regulatory commission bureaucracy into some kind of physical law.
Abbott Nuclear waste: Although nuclear technology has been around for 60 years, there is still no universally agreed mode of disposal.
Why this is wrong – China has a plan for using deeper burning (use more uranium on a once through basis) fast reactors and off site reprocessing to close the fuel cycle China will start rolling this out in a big way starting in the 2020’s and scaling up through the 2030’s.
Most nuclear waste is unburned fuel.
Uranium supply –
Conventional uranium supplies can be scaled up to 200,000 tons per year and uranium that is at lower concentrations with phosphate deposits can increase the uranium available to about 30 million tons.
I do not see an issue accessing the uranium in seawater on a large scale. This will not be tapped in a large way until a closed fuel cycle has been established. Even with a faster construction that I envisage, the fuel cycle will get closed. It is inconsistent for Abbott to claim that we will run out of uranium on a once through fuel basis with existing reactors and claim a long construction time and claim that we will use up the 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater.
Abbot claims issues with rare earth supplies. However, even the scarcest rare earths, lutetium and thulium, are 200 times more abundant than gold in the earth’s crust. China has about 57 per cent of the world’s known reserves, according to the USGS.
There are 17 rare earth elements (REEs), 15 within the chemical group called lanthanides, plus yttrium and scandium. The lanthanides consist of the following: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium. Rare earths are moderately abundant in the earth’s crust, some even more abundant than copper, lead, gold, and platinum.
Most rare earth elements throughout the world are located in deposits of the minerals bastnaesite and monazite. Bastnaesite deposits in the United States and China account for the largest concentrations of REEs, while monazite deposits in Australia, South Africa, China, Brazil, Malaysia, and India account for the second largest concentrations of REEs. Bastnaesite occurs as a primary mineral, while monazite is found in primary deposits of other ores and typically recovered as a byproduct. Over 90% of the world’s economically recoverable rare earth elements are found in primary mineral deposits (i.e., in bastnaesite ores).
Concerns over radioactive hazards associated with monazites (because it contains thorium) has nearly eliminated it as a REE source in the United States. [But it is available if we wanted it at a slightly higher cost, especially if we were using thorium in a major way] Bastnaesite, a low-thorium mineral (dominated by lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium) is shipped from stocks in Mountain Pass, CA. The more desirable heavy rare earth elements account for only 0.4% of the total stock.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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