Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Political reverberations if switched to nuclear energy...

or any other alternative energy source that would replace the dependence of oil. Just think how important politically oil has been. Middle Eastern economies would drop like a bucket since their other industries are too weak to support their populations. Especially in Saudi Arabia for instance would it weaken the monarchy as the saudis have been spoiled, literally, by the money the saudi royals have thrown at them to make life easier so that the people would not revolt against the monarchy and demand democracy.
As a potential major unrest it can cause in the Middle East by their safety net falling by the way side in terms of public funding for health care, infrastructure, having foreign labour do their work on the cheap.. it could perhaps also force those nations to 'grow up' economically and work ethics wise. Now I am not calling all saudis and others as lazy, but from experience ( and other expats would concur), the majority does not know 'how' to work or how to be ethical and work hard. A lot of the work is considered beneath them (as in, work to be done by some poor Asian male), but think.. If those countries had to resort to boosting the diversity of their economy, do you not think that that would be the impetus for change towards democracy? I even daresay that Islamic fundamentalism would take a backseat because when it all comes down to, economics trumps fundamentalism. People need to be provided for and the conservatism in Islam that is counter to economic growth as it seeks to control ideas, science and female work participation, that will be thrown out out of sheer pragmatism.
So that's one angle I have been mulling over. Also, consider the big money from Western oil companies. Public relations and campaign contributions are common in this country (US) so I have been wondering how they would try to undermine a possible cut to their profits and business. Hill and Knowlton anyone??
Just brainstorming here.
Anyway, as I was doing my daily walk this morning with my friend, we discussed the safety issue of a potential nuclear energy switch. Not the waste aspect, but the fact that government would need to be left out of it. I figured we would need a non partisan watch dog with some actual power, not some FDA version where they know things and keep quiet anyway. One aspect that would need to alleviate concern if the majority of people were to support nuclear energy is the fact that it would be used for peaceful, energy purposes only.
Perhaps this supposed recent development in Japan could help where a new technology that has the plutonium NOT being seperated from the uranium, could also be used to control weapons of mass destruction by selling that to Iran , North Korea etc. I know it must sound like a version of legalizing marijuana; you actually take part in the production/sales aspect, you control all the deaths and abuse associated with it..
alright. Enough brainstorming.. thank you Randy Leavitt, dv8 2xl and karen street for your reading recommendations. I'll try to locate them this week.


DV8 2XL said...

Those Powers that posses nuclear weapons do not get their weapons grade plutonium from reprocessed commercial reactor fuel. Dedicated reactors are built for this purpose. Power reactor grade plutonium is of the wrong isotopic mix, and while some calculations show that it might be technically possible to use this material in a bomb, the fact remains that it would be a non-trivial engineering problem to do so.

Ingrid said...

I am learning from all the comments. Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

There's excellent evidence that the fossil fuel industries use paid political influence to reduce regulation of hazardous fossil fuel waste, which note, kills thousands each year and is released directly into human biomes. Also, it appears to me that much of the energy policy lobbying is funded by fossil-fuel interests. Also, many prominent antinuclear groups receive a great deal of their funding from fossil-fuel companies. Often indirectly, via foundations. I think this is how we get such absurdities as "clean coal", which releases less toxic smoke, but nonetheless creates whole landfills of sulphates and heavy metal wastes: the scrubbers have to dump somewhere.

Nuclear is a gem by comparison.

DV8 2XL said...

Reactor Safety Position Statement 51 of the The American Nuclear Society
June 2000

The American Nuclear Society believes that power reactors have been and can be built and operated safely, with no undue risk to public health and safety, provided the essential attributes of power reactor safety are honored.
After more than fifty years and several thousand reactor-years of operating experience, the international community of nuclear reactor experts has reached a consensus that the essential attributes of Power reactor safety are:

• A solid foundation of scientific and technological knowledge,

• A robust design that uses established codes and standards and embodies margins, qualified materials, and redundant and diverse safety systems,

• Construction and testing in accordance with the applicable design specifications and safety analyses,

• A comprehensive organizational safety culture,

• Qualified operational and maintenance personnel, that have a profound respect for the reactor core and radioactive materials,

• Technical specifications that define and control the safety operating envelope,

• A strong engineering function provides support to operations and maintenance,

• Adherence to a defense-in-depth safety philosophy to maintain multiple barriers, both physical and procedural, to protect people,

• Risk insights derived from analysis and experience,

• Effective Quality Assurance, Self-Assessment and Corrective Action programs,

• Emergency plans protecting both on-site workers and off-site populations,

• Access to a continuing program of nuclear safety research,

• A strong management and fiscal organization, and

• A safety regulatory authority that is responsible for independently assuring operational safety

Brad F said...


I don't think the oil companies, or the Saudi monarchy, should care if the use of nuclear power is expanded. Very little oil is used for electric power generation in North America, or in most of the rest of the world. There are exceptions of course. But coal has been the economic choice for baseload electrical generation for a while, in places where cheap natural gas does not exist (and natural gas isn't cheap ANYWHERE anymore). Oil interests will not suffer much until the transportation sector evolves as a result of climate change initiatives. Whether it is biofuels (not necessarily a great idea) or plug in hybrids (in the short term, my money is going there) or something else, transportation changes will be what affects oil consumption in NA.

Nuclear generation would (hopefully) displace coal-fired generation. So the political impact would be internal in the US, not international. With a large nuclear expansion demand for coal would begin dropping, and so would prices and profits. High production cost coal mines (if there is such a thing) would be shut, putting some out of work. Coal producing states may work actively against pro-nuclear policies.

China would probably like to have more nuclear generation to improve the air quality, but they only have about 1% of the world's recoverable uranium. Depending on a foreign fuel source for a large part of their generation fleet seems to be a problem for them when they have abundant coal available.

These are just some thoughts that crossed my mind regarding the economic and political possibilities of more nukes.

Randal Leavitt said...

dv8 2xl is correct above. Spent fuel from commercial reactors (ie the fuel spends a long time in the reactor) cannot be used to make weapons. The isotopic mix of the plutonium in the spent fuel is too complicated, and the isotopes cannot be separated. Any attempts to make bombs with this stuff have a high probability of making bombs that go off too soon, or don't go off at all. The military does not like the second outcome, and the bomb makers don't like the first. To get weapons grade plutonium you have to cook the uranium fuel for a short time (measured in hours), take the fuel out and separate the putonium, and repeat this process until enough plutonium is extracted. If the reactor is open to inspection this kind of in and out process is easy to spot. Also, no electrical power can be produced while this cooking is happening. Again, something easy to spot in an inspection.

Ingrid said...

Live and learn.. you are all right. Of course, when it comes to the nuclear 'details' mentioned above..I am in way over my head, so thank you for the correction. Brad..after I posted it, I thought..what? YOU ARE RIGHT TOO! ding dong.. consider that a mother's brain glitch (lack of sleep this week, austin is bad with allergies, well that's my excuse ha!) I guess serves me right to brainstorm instead of writing and then editing..tsk tsk..
thanks for stopping by and contributing!

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to add one point with respect to the issue of separating weapons-usable plutonium from spent fuel. The pertinent point is not whether it's technically possible for such nations to separate out weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel. It's whether that is easier (for them) than simply digging up uranium ore and enriching the uranium to weapons grade. It is pretty clear that the latter approach is the easier option. And indeed, that is what you see nations like Iran doing.

My position on this issue is, spent fuel is no more weapons usable than raw uranium ore in the ground. Given that almost all nations have at least some uranium ore deposits, this basically means that spent fuel is not a proliferation risk, period. The world nuclear community seems to understand this as well. They've figured out that what needs to be controlled is fuel cycle technology, both front end and back end (specifically, uranium enrichment plants and spent fuel reprocessing plants). That is why there is talk of not spreading these types of facilities, and instead having a few multi-national, UN-controlled centers.

Concerning Brad F's comment, it's important to note that oil and natural gas are interchangeable commodoties to a large extent, so increasing the demand/price of one will act to increase the demand/price for the other. Opposing nuclear causes a lot more gas to be used for power generation. This, in turn, drives up the world price for both oil and gas. Finally, nuclear will be able to reduce demand for oil in the transport sector in the future, through hydrogen production and the use of plug-in hybrid or electric cars.

Jim Hopf

Anonymous said...

Oops, and I forgot to mention that the same companies that supply oil also supply most of our natural gas. Thus, even if gas and oil were not interchangeable, the oil/gas companies would still have an incentive to promote the use of gas for power generation (by hampering nuclear, or any other means).

Jim Hopf

Brad F said...

Of course you are correct, Jim. I have trouble conceiving of gas as baseload generation. It is only used for peaking where I live. However, in Texas, the stuation is quite a bit different and gas is probably some of the baseload. TXU's proposed new nuclear plants are going to be built instead of coal plants. But either way (nuke or coal), at least some of the new capacity is going to offset gas-fired generation.

Rod Adams said...


You might be surprised if you checked out the statistics about the use of oil in electrical power generation world wide. It is not as small as you imply.

Additionally, it is also interesting to take a look at the almost complete replacement of oil in electrical power generation during the 1970-1990 period and figure out just what energy source did the replacing.

You have also overlooked the large, but almost invisible market for oil consumption on board long range commercial ships. As the Navy experience shows, it is certainly possible to replace oil on ships with nuclear power.

Coal and oil are also potentially interchangeable as demonstrated by Sasol in South Africa.

All in all, there is PLENTY of room for competition between fossil fuels, including oil and uranium/thorium. There is plenty of motivation on the part of fossil fuel interests (including transportation, drilling, pipeline construction, and finance companies) to hamstring their atomic competition.

Progressive Traditionalist said...

Hello, Ingrid.

I believe that the first thing that you would see in a global shift away from oil would be the sharp devaluation of the dollar. Oil is traded in dollars worldwide, and the dollar is used as a reserve currency worldwide because of this (the Bretton Woods accord).
So, almost every country in the world has an interest in avoiding a sharp notch in the devaluation of the dollar. A gradual reduction as they diversify their reserve holdings is an entirely different matter.

The greatest majority of radioactive waste is water, not nuclear fuel. And what to do with that water has been a sore spot for a long time. The guys with the white coats think they've got it figured out, and the Columbia River project (and others like it) ought to take care of the stuff. The reason it's so behind is a matter of cost-plus bidding. (I believe Bechtel is the contractor on that job.)

Kyoto had to do with more than greenhouse gases, notably ozone depletion.

Various combinations of nitrrogen with oxygen are more harmful than CO2. The focus has been on CO2 because of the mass of emissions.

The Xonon process has significantly reduced NOx emissions in gas-fired power plants.

Similarly, new technologies have gretly reduced the emissions from coal-fired plants. Not all coal-fired plants have scrubbers in the stack, because they employ more efficient technologies.

Sulfur and nitrogen emissions are largely responsible for acid rain. A movement occured in the late 70's to address this problem.

At any rate, the newer coal plants pollute roughly 18-22% of what the old ones do. Here's where the great evil of emissions trading comes in. With one new coal plant, a power company can keep 2 old ones online and still reduce emissions by around 30%.

Coal will be our primary energy source for the first part of the 21st century, and nuclear for the second half.

Wind power is not a stable energy source. When wind generates greater than 40% of a power supply, the power becomes unstable.

Solar is more useful at the point of consumption.

I know of a major hydro project around Memphis that began some 6 yrs ago, and one around Farmington, NM, a bit earlier than that. Not much interest in hydro in this country, but I think that it's the best alternative.

For further research, look at TSILs (target-specific ionic liquids), and the work of Vaclav Smil.

&btw, in many cases, the same hole in the ground will produce either gas or oil, depending on how it's set up.

I like what you're doing here.