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Nuclear power’s uncertain prospects

The New Nukes
The WALL STREET JOURNAL

SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
“…………..nuclear is far from a sure thing. Yes, the plants of tomorrow—some of which could enter construction as soon as 2012—go at least part way toward solving some of the problems of yesterday. But they are still more expensive than fossil-fuel plants, and they still generate waste that must be stored safely somewhere.

And while the industry is winning converts, plenty of powerful enemies remain. Many scientists and environmentalists still distrust nuclear power in any form, arguing that it can never escape its cost, safety and waste problems. What’s more, critics say, trying to solve the problems in one area, such as safety, inevitably lead to more problems in another area, such as costs……………….

Generation III reactors are incredibly complex systems, requiring the highest-quality materials, monitoring and training of personnel. Critics say it’s unrealistic to think they can operate flawlessly. Corrosion of vital equipment remains a potential problem, especially if it goes undetected deep within parts of the reactor that are difficult or impossible to directly inspect.

What’s more, none of the Generation III designs have been cleared for construction by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Some Generation IV concepts haven’t even been presented to the NRC for review, and they still are years away from crossing that threshold………………………

While safety may be nuclear power’s biggest PR problem, cost is what killed development a generation ago, ultimately determining that only half the plants licensed by the NRC got built. And nuclear plants generally face an unfortunate trade-off: making them more safe can make them more expensive……………….

critics say that the economics of small plants simply don’t work: The licensing costs are so great for nuclear plants, somewhere between $50 million and $100 million per site, and security and construction costs are so high that the economics work only for big plants,………………………….

Where do you put the spent fuel?

Tens of thousands of metric tons of nuclear waste—mainly spent fuel rods—are sitting at power-plant sites while the federal government struggles to come up with a site to store it all. No nation has yet built a permanent waste site, although the current situation can continue for some time: Even critics say storage methods in place now should allow fuel to be stored safety for 50 to 100 years, while permanent plans are worked out.

The big problem with controlling waste: Today’s reactors capture only about 5% of the useful energy contained in uranium—which means lots of radioactive leftovers once the fuel is used. Some Generation III reactors promise to address this problem by squeezing more electricity out of their fuel, reducing the total amount of waste produced, but it’s only by a relatively small amount. In short, it does nothing to solve the looming waste issue, though it does produce more megawatts of electricity in the short run.

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September 8, 2009 - Posted by | 1, 1 NUCLEAR ISSUES, 2 WORLD | , , , ,

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