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Fourth generation nuclear plants

Like I mentioned in a previous post, nuclear energy research is still improving at a faster pace than the development in alternative energy. I totally agree with the statement from Ina in her previous post:” don’t eliminate but optimize”. Thorium is a new fuel source and possible replacement for uranium with a good set of benefits, but the fact is that the nuclear energy possibilities of thorium weren’t first discoverd. Also there will be invested more likely in optimizing the current nuclear plants than investing in research for another fuel cycle ( thorium ), It will take a while before the thorium fuel cycle will be commercialized. But this doesn’t mean it won’t be the future, it’s important that this cycle improves that it can replace the uranium cycle with the same efficiency if uranium is getting scarce on his resources.

But for now we have the intellect to equalize the benefits of Thorium:”Fourth generation nuclear plants”. These reactors are still at the concept stage but are planned to be operational between 2020 and 2030.
Main goals and achievement for the IV generation of nuclear plants:
• Produce 10% of the waste of the nuclear plants we use today (more storage room left for a longer time?)
• Increasing the efficiency to 99.8 % (uranium cycle)
• More cost-effective
• Super-safe
• Proliferation and secure from terrorist attacks and weapons

GIF, Generation IV international forum, was founded in 2000 to become a joint venture led by USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, and the UK. They have selected 6 concepts to develop till 2020 -2030 and Near-term advanced reactors for 2015.
You see Nuclear energy will not be wiped out of the list of alternative energy but will be more present in our society. Hopefully in a safe way!

You can find more information on the following site that is updated frequently about every aspect of nuclear energy!

http://www.world-nuclear.org/

NB: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/us/23poll.html

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green , an endangered colour?

Rare earth elements (REE) are chemical elements which can be found in the lanthanoids Group ( 6) in the periodic table ( inclusive scandium en yttrium). These elements occur in the earth’s crust ( as do urnanium and thorium) and can be reclaimed. This reclamation isn’t easy because thes elements are dispersed in the crust which is why they are called “rare” earth elements.

Recently a list of endangered elements was published. This list included some of the REE’s such as neodymium(Nd) and dysprosium(Dy). These elements are used to make wind-turbines work. Nd is used to produce permanent magnets. These are the strongest permanent magnets known to man.

They are used in hard disks for computers , cell phones, hybrid cars…  Around one tone of REE based permanent magnets is needed to provide each MW of wind turbine power.
Other REE’s like Dy are described as miracle ingredients for green energy , small quantities are needed to produce magnets . Magnets made of Dy are about 1/10 of the weight of a Nd magnet. However dysprosium is harder to extract from the ground which makes it less desirable.

So how serious is the fact that these elements are endangered? Theoretically we could go a long time with the amount that’s left. But! China is at the moment dominator of the REE production(97% of the produced REE) , it’s also the publisher of the list of endangered elements. So China’s hegemony for its own future energy projects, will lead to a shortage these elements for the rest of the world. At the end of 2010 China announced that the first round of export quota’s will be around 14500 tonne, which is 35% less than last year.

Recent demand for REE’s has grown , in a couple of years the demand for REE is expected to exceed 40000 tonnes annually . Apparently  the production of REE should increase to 5 times the amount to meet with the demand for wind-turbine production. With China sabotaging the export it is very unlikely that the quota’s will be satisfied. Unless! New sources are developed. The tricky part here is that the production of REE’s has to be closely supervised because of damage it can cost to the environment. A lot of production houses are being shut down because of the high pollution they produce.

An oil peak may already be with us, a coal peak is expected in 10 to 15 years, what happens if the source of green energy is finite as well? A lot of bloggers are pleading for a circular economy. Recycling must be key in these times. But will this be enough ?

The main step that has to be taken now is the exploitation of REE sources. Only 37% of the existing sources are in Chinese hands so before certain parties are demanding for more green energy, they should think about the key elements needed for the maintenance of this green energy.

Source: scitizen.com

The economist

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Uranium is so last century, enter the mighty thorium!

Europe has advised Belgium to keep his nuclear plants open and even invest in building a new one. With my previous post in mind, where I pleaded for safer plants instead of a total shut down, I found an interesting site that suggests  thorium as a safer alternative for uranium.

Thorium plants hold several advantages over uranium plants:

  • Thorium powered nuclear reactors are more efficient and produce less than 1% of the waste of today’s uranium nuclear reactors.
  • Thorium reactors are safer, less expensive, smaller and can be configured to eliminate the possibility of melt downs or accidents.
  • Thorium does not produce plutonium and thus, could effectively eliminate further weapons production in volatile regions and reduce proliferation on a global scale, thus ending stalemate arguments over dubious nuclear programs such as exist in Iran and North Korea.
  • Proprietary thorium technology, capable of safely and efficiently dismantling nuclear stockpiles and eliminating spent uranium, now exists.

Thorium (called the green nuke)plants are cooled with molten fluoride  salt and don’t come with that big side order of carbon.Thorium(232) itself is not fissile but with the absorption op neutrons it is converted in uranium (233). Using this cycle to produce nuclear raw material is preferred because there of the smaller chance that plutonium is produced.

Thorium is considered as a nuclear fuel because it is more abundant than uranium. Theoretically 40% more energy can be produced out of thorium .

So why is almost no one using this source? It’s basically humans lack of interest and initiative that caused this. In the day they chose to optimize uranium plants instead of investing the use of thorium. There is enough uranium to provide energy for several years so why research another source that will basically give the same result and forces the industries to rebuild their reactors.

But with the Fukushima disaster in mind the use of thorium plants should be taken in consideration.

More technical information about the thorium fuel cycle can be found on the sites below:

http://scitizen.com/future-energies/is-thorium-an-energy-alchemist-s-dream-_a-14-2601.html

http://scitizen.com/future-energies/

http://energyfromthorium.com/essay3rs/

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_new_nukes/

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/science/stories/2010/03/07/thorium-art-gc67nvgb-1.html

http://www.thoriumenergy.com/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

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Belgium without nuclear energy? not for our generation..

Belgium is not Japan but a nuclear disaster is never to be excluded. the question whether we should close our plants soon is hovering around once again like nuclear particles in the air.[Nieuwsblad]

The debate between several parties about nuclear energy has reared his ugly head once again . however neither of the two sides can really give hard prove their wright, that is because the future cannot be predicted. It’s a good thing that the disaster in Fukushima leads to a reopening of the debate of future energy but Belgium cannot be compared to Japan. As I said in my previous post, the Japanese engineers have made some mistakes with horrible consequences due to misplaced confidence. So these shouldn’t be generalized .Better yet,it should be taken into account. Supporters of nuclear energy said that the industry safety has changed since Chernobyl. Instead of taking drastic measures like closing down old plants we should invest in optimizing the safety of these plants.

1 in 10 nuclear plants are situated in Japan , by far the most earthquake prone nation in the world. A more urgent question here is ; was this smart FOR JAPAN.

As Ben has said, this disaster has lead to the closure of 7 power plants in Germany. If every country panics and closes down his plants a huge energy shortage will not only occur for Belgium ( who is very depended on imported nuclear energy) but for whole Europe.

So what will be the alternative for the loss of our nuclear plants? Some people are asking for more green energy like windenergy or solarenergy but all the energy produced by these sources can’t even replace the energy of one small reactor, so what is left? If we stay on the track that the small plants have to shut down in 3 years we have to fill this gap with gas. That is the only viable solution proposed at the moment for a quick replacement of nuclear plants. But wouldn’t this be taking a step back? The replacement of one source with a flaw by another source with another flaw that will conduct to the greenhouse effect.

Say we do chose for the latter, once again we’ll be dependant on other countries. Russia and the Middle East. Russia has already proven that it isn’t afraid to cut off the supply ( see Ukraine). The Middle east is very unstable right now with a war threatening.

So with what options are we left? I say we start looking for safer plants, don’t eliminate but optimize.

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The everlasting debate

Another debate about the future of nuclear energy, but now based on the tragedy in Japan and the reactions of different countries on this issue like Ben mentioned in his post. William Tucker, advocate of nuclear energy, and Damon Moglan, friend of the earth, play the two sides in this debate.

William Tucker defends the use of nuclear energy and tries to appease the people, the community. I think this man knows very well it’s difficult to succeed. His main argument is that the nuclear reactors in Japan withstood a major disaster very well, especially with its old design. Of course this is something where people can ask the question:” why wasn’t it replaced or why no better design?”

After that this discussion gets a bit out of hand. I think that mister Damon Moglan like other environment organizations again exploit the situation in Japan or Chernobyl to support their arguments.

Alternative energy like solar and wind are safe, but when is it able to compete against nuclear energy technology to provide the necessary energy? ( a question which we asked ourselves alot in this blog) I think nuclear energy is improving faster than the alternative energy and you know it will provide for your electricity every day. The other countries don’t have the choice for closing their plants.

We see that nature can surprise us and it has caused a disaster for nuclear energy and Japan. But think about this; imagine there will be large wind parks and solar sites, don’t you think they can also suffer the wrath and change of nature?

I think the discussion will last forever. There will always be a large group against nuclear energy, even when they are currently getting their electricity  from nuclear plants, and we have those who feel safe about the future of this technology.

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What to do if nuclear power plants close NOW?

The nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, has led to a series of reactions. As I said in a reaction to the previous post: Germany closes 7 of their oldest nuclear plants for at least 3 months. In Belgium the debate whether the nuclear plants should close in Doel and Tihange in 2015 or 2025 is back. Everywhere in the world the nuclear debate is hot again.

Should we close some of our oldest power plants, because of an incident caused by a nature disaster? Do we have enough alternatives for the loss of energy these closings will entail? And how will energy prices rise in Belgium if we close our nuclear plant right now?

These are some questions that are very current today.

Nuclear energy provides 15 to 20 % of the global energy demand. What happens if we close these plants, there will be a huge energy shortage. Especially in countries which are very depending on this type of energy. For example: France produces 75% and Belgium produces 60% of his energy out of nuclear power. If we even just close the oldest plants (let’s say 50% of all the nuclear power plants), this will give rise to a huge decrease in energy supply.

So, in my opinion, it is impossible to close these plants right now. Unless we have a good alternative.

One such an alternative is the import of energy from our neighbor countries. Belgium does this already, which causes a very high energy bill in comparison with our neighbors. I don’t think importing more energy is a good thing.

The other alternative is to create more green energy. It is a sky high cliché, but it is the only alternative we have right now. But we have a problem here. There is not enough alternative energy to compensate the loss of nuclear energy if we close the plants right now. E.g. the wind energy in Belgium has only a share of 2.5% in all the energy production. (source: http://www.hln.be/hln/nl/2764/milieu/article/detail/1236345/2011/03/15/Windenergie-genoeg-voor-627-000-gezinnen.dhtml)

So unless we have good and sufficient alternatives, I suggest we don’t close the nuclear power plants immediately, but keep them open.

I think this disaster in Japan has opened the eyes of the people, so they have to search for new, more efficient and a safer energy source.

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