clear nuclear

Nuclear power is the most efficient, safest and most environment friendly source of energy.


This blog compiles facts that make nuclear energy the clear choice for powering our future.

I have NO connection with the nuclear power industry and I have never had any connection with the nuclear power industry.

I have created this blog because I believe we are in dire need of drastically reducing our carbon emissions. Coal fired power plants are the single largest producer of CO2. Nuclear power is the most efficient, safest and most environmentally friendly source of energy available.

Coal Is Bad

Alex Gabbard makes it clear in this ORNL article. Coal fired power plants are a bigger danger to your health and the future of our planet than nuclear power plants. Coal fired power plants release more radiation and more CO2 into the atmosphere than a nuclear power plant. Yet 52% of our energy comes form coal fired power plants, while only 15% is created by nuclear energy.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the Department of Energy’s largest science and energy laboratory.


  • "Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy" by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power. This book is very easy to read and understand.
  • ENVIRONMENTALISTS FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY book: Fossil fuels such as coal oil, and gas, massively pollute the Earth's atmosphere (CO, CO2, SOX, NOX...), provoking acid rains and changeing the global climate by increasing the greenhouse effect, while nuclear energy does not participate in these pollutions and presents well-founded environmental benefits. Renewable energies (solar, wind) not being able to deliver the amount of energy required by populations in developing and developed countries, nuclear energy is in fact the only clean and safe energy available to protect the planet during the XXI st century. This book answers essential questions about nuclear safety, the Chernobyl accident, the public health problems our society has to face, viable solutions for nuclear waste, the benefits of clean nuclear energy for the environment, and important information about the future of our planet. Back cover - Table of contents - Introduction by James Lovelock - Review of this book by the American Health Physics Society   Book Review   Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, by B. Comby English edition, 2001, 345 pp. (soft cover), 38 Euros TNR Editions, 266 avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, France; ISBN 2-914190-02-6
  • "The Long Summer" by Brian Fagan
  • "Collapse" by Jared Diamond

Mass Extinction

The largest mass extinction of life occurred 251 million years ago when the atmospheric carbon levels rose to near 1000 parts per million, the ocean became anoxic (lacking oxygen). This allowed hydrogen sulfide gas to bubbled up from the bottom of the ocean and 95% of all life on earth died.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011




by Alex Gabbard

Metals and Ceramics Division

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge, TN


Well-established trends in world energy consumption indicate long-term commitments to combustion of fossil fuel1. Industrialized nations are currently the major users of coal, but early in the 21st century a shift in usage is predicted such that today's developing countries will be the primary users. For example, China has large reserves of coal and currently accounts for about 24% of world combustion with plans to increase its consumption to eight times more than 1990 combustion by the year 20202. Global coal resources are projected to provide about 1500 years supply at the current use rate3. Current US energy policy favors fossil fuel for large base-load electric power production, and almost 90% of the coal consumed in the US today is burned at electric power utilities4. Global coal production will continue to exceed the US rate by more than a factor of five5.

While effects of fossil fuel combustion continue to be studied and debated, US environmental protection and reclamation law, resource conservation and recovery law, along with energy conservation law, pose conflicts in policy direction that selectively ignore various consequences. Although chemical effects of compounds of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur released during coal combustion dominate environmental studies and debates, releases of other constituents such as arsenic, mercury, lead and similar toxins, along with radioactive materials and nuclear fuels, constitute additional topics of interest. Many indicators; suggest that trends in fossil fuel consumption are at odds with the purpose of these laws and their philosophies of supporting ecologically sustainable technologies for the future.


Elemental analysis of coal from around the world reveals that it can be composed of as many as 73 elements6. When coal is mined and burned, these long buried elements are released directly into the biosphere. As combustion increases, the quantities of these elements increase in direct proportion. While concerns about fossil fuel combustion has centered primarily on carbon, sulfur and nitrogen compounds, the quantities of radiological and toxicological components are not trivial and are among topics discussed herein.

For example, 1991 global coal production was 5,100 million tons, up 50% from 1973, and continues to rise. US production that year was 996 million tons7. Analysis of coal reveals significant quantities of radioactive species, including uranium and thorium, that are long-lived parents in natural radioactive decay chains. Coal also contains potassium-40, and each radionuclide in coal accumulates in the atmosphere as a result of combustion. According to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) data8, coal contains an average of about 2.08 parts per million (ppm) of uranium, 4.58 ppm thorium and 0.054 ppm potassium-40. Although small concentrations, these components are significant when the vast quantity of coal mined and burned is considered, and more so when collected over a long period of time9.

Radioactive material flowing from a coal fired utility is a function of the quantity of material originally in the coal. Analysis of US coal samples shows that many deposits contain far higher concentrations than IAEA average values. For example, J. F. Facer showed in a 1979 US Dept. of Energy (DOE) report that some US coal contains in excess of 103 parts per million of uranium10. Consequently, deposits of coal with this concentration release more than 200 tons of uranium per 1000 N We/year compared to approximately 8 tons/year using IAEA average value data. However, the USEPA concluded in its 1984 report, "Background Information Document (Integrated Risk Assessment); Final Rule for Radionuclides", that coal wastes constitute no significant integrated riskl1. Extensive studies, such as the report by Beck et al12 in 1980, "Perturbations on the Natural Radiation Environment Due to the Utilization of Coal as an Energy Source," provided analytical data supporting the EPA position.

In addition to radiological material, elemental analysis of coal for other constituents illustrates that it is a rich source of valuable metals. Table 1 is a summary of 40 elements giving estimated values for annual US utility combustion. While the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) addresses issues of conserving natural resources, the vast quantities of mineral wealth in coal are rarely addressed. Coal "wastes" are not considered "resources".


The influence of current environmental, energy and resource conservation laws have little effect on preventing the accumulation of the vast array of coal-borne material in the biosphere. Quantities of by-products released from coal combustion are sufficient to present environmental, resource, energy and economic issues. For example, using 1991 production figures cited above and assuming that all the coal mined that year was burned somewhere, IAEA average concentration data indicates that at least 10,600 tons of uranium, 23,400 tons of thorium, and 275 tons of K-40 were released into the global biosphere that year alone. Summing over a century spanning 1937 to 2037, a length of time that places us currently at more than 60% through, indicates that in the US, as much as 232,400 tons of uranium, 572,000 tons of thorium and 6,030 tons of K-40 will be introduced into the biosphere during that time, mostly during the latter half. Global accumulation of these long-lived radioactive species is predicted to exceed 1 million tons of uranium, 2.8 million tons of thorium and more than 30,000 tons of K-40 by the year 2037.

Natural uranium contains fissionable isotope U-235 at about 0.7%. U-235 is the nuclear fuel in commercial reactors. Release of U-235 into the biosphere over the specified century totals more than 9,400 tons of this single isotope. As 2% enriched commercial reactor fuel, this quantity of U-235 equals more than 471,000 tons of nuclear fuel, the equivalent of 15,700 reactor loads of 30 tons each. Consequently, the fissile component of the uranium in coal constitutes an enormous quantity of resource energy that is never recognized as a hazard nor utilized as a fuel. Comparing energy values, this amount of U-235 when fissioned equals more than 4.6 billion tons of coal, worth about $78 billion. This wasted energy is the result of selectively ignoring the potential resources of coal. Further, this quantity of fissile material poses nuclear proliferation issues because the material is within the boundaries of any country with coal sources and combustion facilities.

Like the more common isotope U-238, thorium-232 is non-fissile but is breedable to produce fissionable nuclear fuel as isotope U-233. This process can occur in nuclear reactors and involves addition of a neutron to the nucleus of a non-fissile isotope that then becomes fissile. Because the ratio of combustion-to-fissile energy is approximately 1:5million per unit of matter, the fission energy contained in the quantities of these isotopes of uranium and thorium exceed the energy value of the coal itself and indicate that vast quantities of energy are routinely wasted with coal combustion.

The radioisotopes in coal constitute a continuing source of radioactive released into the biosphere. Estimates of average contributions total about 4.3 micro-Curies per ton13. Thus, combustion of 5,100 million tons of coal in 1991 released about 22,000 Curies of radioactivity that year alone. Since one Curie equals 3.7 x 1010 nuclear disintegrations each second, this quantity of radioactivity is quite large. Integrated over the century in question, coal combustion is predicted to release at least 480,000 Ci of radioactivity in the US and more than 2.7 million Curies world-wide by the year 2037.

Table 2 summaries a US Dept.. of Commerce study conducted in 1975 that compared stack emissions from three types of coal fired utilities14. Exhausted fly ash ranged from 2.9 million lbs/year from the electrostatic precipitator station studied to 97 million lbs/year from a cyclone type plant burning lignite coal. Most US power plants are modern with facilities to minimize release of fly ash However, over time, increasing quantities of lignite are predicted to be burned due to reduction in reserves of higher grade coal. Lignite is a high moisture soft coal with constituent concentrations far exceeding higher grades at less than half the energy content.

Modern electrostatic precipitator plants are capable of operating at greater than 99.5% collection efficiency but can still release 35 lb/year of uranium as just one component in almost 3 million tons of ash vented through stacks. In addition to this radiological species, all the radon in coal is released during combustion. An estimate for average Rn-222 release is about 2 Curies/year for each 1000 MWe coal fired facility15. Though much larger in total quantity, Radon-220 from the Thorium chain has a half-life of 55 seconds and may not make it out of the stack. Materials of all types not exhausted up the stack are collected in ash ponds and waste areas at the facility.

Coal fired electric power utilities are generally in close proximity to large population centers. Thus, exposures to the surrounding populace can be far higher than from equivalent nuclear power plants, by a factor of 100 as shown in one study16. The quantity of coal required to produce 1000 MWe, about 4 million tons each year, contains about 0.22 tons of the radioisotope K-40. Integrating over the century between 1937 and 2037 indicates that millions of Curies of long-lived radioactive isotopes in the uranium and thorium series, along with potassium-40, will be added to the biosphere by the later date. Quantities of radiological species released beyond the year 2037 are bounded only by the quantity of coal burned.

Most of the exposure to human beings from natural radioactivity is caused by the mobility of radon. Radon found in the atmosphere is produced largely from the uranium-238 series (Fig. 3) as radioisotope Rn-222. The effects of radon are said to range from insignificant (Beck, et al. Ref. 12) to significant. Bernard Cohen at the University of Pittsburgh compares coal power with nuclear power saying, "If one considers the very long-term effects of radiotoxicity, coal burning is a major killer and nuclear power is a major lifesaver."16

Because radon isotopes result from radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, the quantity of radon in the atmosphere increases with increased combustion. One consequence of radon in the biosphere is the increase of radioactive daughters such as those detected in consumer products. For example, radon decay radioisotopes of bismuth, lead and polonium have been detected in tobacco smoke. The dose rate to smokers produced by this radioactivity has been estimated for 1 .5 pack/day cigarette smokers to range from 1,300 milli-rem/year to 16,000 milli-rem/year17. The first figure is almost 4 times greater than the total whole body dose rate from natural background radiation. The latter figure is over 44 times greater.

For comparison, the maximum exposure from ionizing radiation for nuclear industry workers permitted by DOE guidelines is 5000 mill-rem/year. Current nuclear industry guidelines using the philosophy of "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" (ALARA) have targeted no more than 500 milli-rem/year dose rate per worker. Thus, the 1.5 pack/day smokers among the approximately 50 million smokers in the US willingly expose sensitive portions of their bodies to at least 2.6 times ALARA goals and perhaps 32 times the exposure permitted nuclear industry workers.

Table 3 illustrates the naturally occurring radioactive decay chains of uranium and thorium. The quantities of each isotope at any time are functions of original quantities and time since release. Note that radiotoxicity is, generally, associated with half-life. The shorter the half-life, the higher the radiotoxicity. For example, radium-224 originating in the thorium chain is more radiotoxic than radium-226 originating in the thorium-238 chain, and both isotopes are more radiotoxic than plutonium-239. Even though more radiotoxic than plutonium, note that EPA's assessments of the radiological aspects of coal combustion have concluded that health risks are minimal.

More Considerations

Not only does coal contain vast quantities of untapped energy, It also contains similarly vast quantities of useful metals. IAEA data lists aluminum concentration in coal at 26,400 ppm. Thus, worldwide flow of aluminum with the coal produced in 1991 was more than 136.6 million tons that year alone. Magnesium? At 3,419 ppm, in excess of 17.4 million tons of this metal were also in the coal flow streams that year, along with 6.3 million tons of titanium (1,242 ppm), 232,000 tons of vanadium (45.5 ppm) and other useful elements that were simply exhausted as coal waste, whether useful or harmful.

The latter group includes arsenic, cadmium, mercury, selenium, zinc and other elements in a variety of molecular forms. Based on lAEA data, global additions of these elements via coal combustion during 1991 were 25,500 tons of arsenic, 2,040 tons of cadmium, more than 5,000 tons of mercury, 23,200 tons of selenium, 34,700 tons of zinc and so on for each element in coal.

Adding release quantities for 100 years of steadily increasing coal combustion indicates that a broad range of exhaust constituents go well beyond atmospheric warming, acid rain and ozone depletion, such as the addition of 3.2 million tons of arsenic predicted to be added to the biosphere during that time.

Conflicting Policy

Application of RCRA law to conserve resources also reduces environmental impact by recovering the mineral wealth in coal. In doing so, nuclear issues become a major concern. However, our current policy of selective ignorance allows diffusion of millions of tons of radiological and toxicological material into the biosphere and places application of RCRA,, environmental and energy conservation laws at odds with public interests.

Since global population growth and energy use trends are easily predictable, the trends outlined herein illustrate expectations for our nuclear future. Modern civilization is powering itself with increasing quantities of coal. By removing coal from the earth's shielding overburden followed by combustion, all constituents are released in a vast range of forms. Biospheric effects increase in proportion to quantities of coal mined and burned.

This analysis indicates that the current regulatory framework does not apply to coal as it does to many industries, including nuclear power. Policy conflicts allow coal fired utilities to freely exhaust radiological material that nuclear utilities are closely regulated to prevent. Radiological material released from coal and nuclear utilities of comparable electrical output are such that public outcry against any nuclear utility releasing 27 tons of nuclear material each year would be enormous, yet coal borne releases of this material continue unabated. Even though extensive scientific evidence indicates that coal contains significant quantities of material with a broad range of consequences, little interest or concern is expressed by the public, most likely because coal is so familiar and so easily accessible.


The first conclusion to be drawn is that coal combustion wastes more energy than it produces. Another conclusion is that exposure from coal-borne nuclear material in the biosphere may exceed equivalent nuclear power facilities by a factor of 100. A third is that radioactivity in the biosphere is increasing proportionate to the quantity of coal burned, but may be insignificant in terms of integrated risk. A fourth is that coal combustion releases massive quantities of toxic substances. A fifth is that coal combustion can contribute to nuclear proliferation. The latter conclusion is more pronounced when the range of concentration is recognized. Coal that is significantly richer in uranium and thorium than global average figures poses greater proliferation concerns.

A sixth conclusion drawn from the untapped mineral wealth in coal further illustrates the effects of selective ignorance. RCRA law was enacted to conserve and recover useful minerals, yet the vast quantities of resources available in coal ash go unutilized. However, if RCRA law is applied to coal combustion, new technologies are required for mineral recovery that will lead to successively higher concentrations of residual nuclear material, thus producing nuclear proliferation concerns. A paradox is revealed, current law selectively ignores major issues of public concern while concentrating on others in the quest for zero environmental impact, yet application of the laws for mineral reclamation from coal results in collection of large quantities of radiological and nuclear material.

Consequently, addressing issues of coal and it's wastes requires addressing nuclear issues as well. However, selective ignorance may, in fact, be conscious avoidance of nuclear issues associated with coal by maintaining a policy of "dilution is the solution to pollution". This policy is clearly evident in utility exhaust stacks that have been increased in height to distribute exhausts over broader expanses of the earth's surface. Thus diluted, effects of the exhausts are diminished while all resources in the exhausts are thereafter lost to recovery.

In economic terms, studies of metal oxide recovery from fly ash indicate that current technology is sufficiently developed to give a return on investment capital in excess of 25%18, yet no such initiative has been forthcoming. While it may be useful to implement strategies to recover metals from coal, and to isolate greenhouse gases and toxic materials, these same strategies must also address the accumulation of substantial quantities of nuclear material. Bounded only by dispersion in the dilution case and accumulation in the reduction case, recoverable quantities of nuclear material in coal force a serious rethinking of coal-based economies.

Toward a Desirable Future

In terms of securing a desirable future free of continual releases of elements contained in coal, while still providing the energy needs of expanding industrialization, new technologies are needed to trap coal combustion by-products. These new technologies maintain the current pro-fossil fuel policy by focusing utilization strategies on all constituents in coal, not simply its heat content alone. These new technologies can secure an economic and environmental advantage by fully utilizing coal through application of scientific methods to extract elemental forms at some point during the pre-combustion, combustion or post-combustion phases, thus preventing their release to the biosphere. further, utilization of the nuclear energy in coal extends earth's energy supply from coal by at least a factor of two.

The need for application of basic scientific research to develop new technologies to meet national priorities set in RCRA, environmental and energy conservation law has been illustrated. However, in doing so a range of nuclear issues become a consequence. To enact and utilize all of the mineral and energy wealth in coal reduces many environmental and ecological concerns and opens vast opportunities while embracing nuclear power and its wastes as the terminus. By collecting nuclear fuels from coal, vast quantities of energy are accumulated. Since current policy is based on low integrated risk of coal-borne effluents, diffusion of coal's components into the biosphere continues unabated. As nuclear power plants age, replacing many of them with fossil fuel plants is expected, and additions of new base load power world NWe are predicted to continue to be fossil fuel for the foreseeable future with the purpose of environmental sustainability in mind, application of science to improved utilization of the total resource value of coal establishes a range of missions for the world's scientific community.

Future Vision

This evaluation indicates that coal is an extremely valuable resource with vast untapped potential. After assessing its composition and the broad range of effects resulting from combustion, the rationale of current energy policy comes into question when long range effects and loss of resources is considered. Far-reaching strategies to maximize the great resource potential of coal offers many favorable options for a desirable future.


1. "Senior Expert Symposium on Electricity and the Environment", Key Issues Papers, Helsinki, Finland, May 1991

2. Sun, Yuliang; "Gas-cooled Reactor Program in China", Presented at ORNL, Mar. 3, 1995 (unpublished).

3. Judkins, R. R., and Fulkerson, W.; "The Dilemma of Fossil Fuel Use and Global Climate Change," Energy & Fuels, 7, pgs 14-22,1993.

4. "Coal Data: A Reference," USDOE/Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0064(93), Feb. 1995.

5. Livingston, R. S., et al; "A Desirable Energy Future, A National Perspective," pgs 37-41, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and The Franklin Institute Press, 1982.

6. Valkovic, V., "Trace Elements in Coal," Vol. 1, CRC, 1983.

7. Geotimes, pg 20, Feb. 1994.

8. Lyon, W. S., et al; "Nuclear Activation Techniques in the Life Sciences," IAEA, 1978.

9. Gabbard, W. A., "Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger?", ORNL Review, Vol. 26, Nos. 3 & 4, pgs 24­33, 1993.

10. Facer, J. F., "Uranium in Coal," Rep. GJBX-56(79), USDOE, Grand Junction Office, Colorado, May, 1979.

11. "Background Information Document (Integrated Risk Assessment); Final Ruling for Radionuclides," USEPA Report EPA 520/1-84-002-2 Vol 11, 1984.

12. Beck, H. L., et al, "Perturbations on the Natural Radiation Environment Due to the Utilization of Coal as an Energy Source," Natural Radiation Environment 111., Vol. 2, Proceedings, USDOE, pgs 1521-1558, 1980.

13. Corbett, J. O., "The Radiation Dose From Coal Burning: A Review of Pathways and Data," Radiation Protection Dosimetry, Vol. 4, No. 1, 5-19, 1983.

14. Coal Fired Power Plant Trace Element Study, Vol. 1, A Three Station Comparison, US Dept. of Commerce, PB-257293, Sept, 1975.

15. McBride, J. P., et al, "Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants," Science, Dec. 1978.

16. Cohen, B. L., "Letters," Physics Today, pg 97-98, Oct. 1995.

17. "Radiation Exposure of the U.S. Population from Consumer Products and Miscellaneous Sources," National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement," Report No. 95, Dec. 1987.

18. Wilder, R. F. et al, "Recovery of Metal Oxides from Fly Ash Including Ash Beneficiation Products," Electric Power Research Institute, CS-4384, Vols. 1-3, 1986.

Source of the above paper:

The 19th Annual Conference

of the


was developed in cooperation with


Lebanon, Tennessee and


Bethesda, Maryland

The 1997 Annual Conference of the Southern Future Society is scheduled for April 3, 4, and 5, 1997 in Nashville, Tennessee. A Call for Papers and Announcement of the Conference will be issued in early fall 1996. For information, contact Jack D. Arters, 807 Bradford Place, Murfreesboro, TN 37130.

All interested persons are invited to attend the conferences of the Southern Future Society and the World Future Society. For information about the World Future Society and their activities and conferences, they may be contacted at:

The World Future Society

7910 Woodmont Ave. Suite 450

Bethesda, MD 20814

Ph: 301.656.8274, or 1.800.989.8274

Creating a Preferable Future:

For Whom?

Selections from the 19th Annual Conference


March 14,15,16, 1996

Nashville, Tennessee

Published by the



Edited by Jack D. Arters, Ed.D.

Conference Director

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why a Nuclear Powerplant CAN NOT Explode like a Nuclear Bomb:

Bombs are completely different from reactors. There is nothing similar about them except that they both need fissile materials. But they need DIFFERENT fissile materials and they use them very differently.

A nuclear bomb "compresses" pure or nearly pure fissile material into a small space. The fissile material is either the uranium isotope 235 or plutonium. They are the reduced bright shiny metals, not metal oxide. If it is uranium, it is at least 90% uranium 235 and 10% or less uranium 238. These fissile materials are metals and very difficult to compress. Because they are difficult to compress, a high explosive [high speed explosive] is required to compress them. Pieces of the fissile material have to slam into each other hard for the nuclear reactions to take place.

A nuclear reactor, such as the ones used for power generation, does not have any pure fissile material. The fuel may be 0.7% to 8% uranium oxide 235 mixed with uranium 238 oxide [uranium rust]. A mixture of 0.7% to 8% uranium 235 rust mixed with uranium 238 rust cannot be made to explode no matter how hard you try. A small amount of plutonium oxide mixed in with the uranium oxide can not change this. Reactor fuel still cannot be made to explode like a nuclear bomb no matter how hard you try. There has never been a nuclear explosion in a reactor and there never will be. [Pure reduced metallic uranium and plutonium are flammable, but a fire isn't an explosion.] The fuel is further diluted by being divided and sealed into many small steel capsules. The capsules are usually contained in steel tubes. The fuel is further diluted by the need for coolant to flow around the capsules and through the core so that heat can be transported to a place where heat energy can be converted to electrical energy. A reactor does not contain any high speed [or any other speed] chemical explosive as a bomb must have. A reactor does not have any explosive materials at all.

As is obvious from the above descriptions, there is no possible way that a reactor could ever explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactors and bombs are very different. Reactors and bombs are really not even related to each other.

Reccomendation: Nuclear power is the safest kind and it just got safer. Convert all coal-fired power plants to nuclear ASAP. See the December 2005 issue of Scientific American article on a new type of nuclear reactor that consumes the nuclear "waste" as fuel.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Recycling nuclear fuel

Everything, including yourself, is made of atoms. All atoms have nuclei. You have many atomic nuclei inside yourself since you are made of atoms. The simplest nucleus is one proton. That would be a hydrogen atom. An oxygen atom has 8 protons and either 8, 9 or 10 neutrons in its nucleus. All other nuclei also have neutrons. Uranium has 92 protons and either 143 or 146 neutrons. If it has 143 neutrons it is U235. If it has 146 neutrons, it is U238. Nuclear fuel is only 2% to 8% U235, the kind that fissions/divides, providing energy. The rest is U238 that doesn't fission. A nuclear reaction happens when a neutron is captured by a nucleus. If a U235 nucleus captures a neutron, the nucleus and the atom split

approximately in half and 3 more neutrons are released because the 2 smaller nuclei don't need so many neutrons. If a U238 nucleus captures a neutron, it ejects an electron and the neutron becomes a proton. The U238 thus becomes Plutonium 239. [In a power plant, Plutonium 239 [Pu239] quickly captures another neutron and becomes Pu240. Pu239 makes good bombs but Pu240 bombs fizzle and are militarily useless.] Plutonium is fissionable, which means that plutonium is a good fuel. If you add Thorium to the fuel, you can make more fissionable uranium. If a Thorium atom nucleus captures a neutron, it ejects an electron and the neutron becomes a proton. The Thorium atom thus becomes U233. U233 is fissionable.

Depending on the design of the reactor and the mix of the fuel, the fuel % in the reactor can either grow or shrink. It is kind of like the fuel gauge can go either up or down, but it is more like the reactor can run hotter or cooler over time. The temperature is kept constant by adjusting the control rods. A breeder reactor is a reactor designed to make the fissionable part of the fuel load grow rapidly. Normally, fuel is left in the reactor for about some number of years, or some percentage of the fuel is replaced each year. The reprocessing step sorts out the fuel and puts the percentage of fissionable fuel back to the starting percentage. In the process, plutonium may be removed and either wasted or used as fuel. If we add thorium to the fuel, we can make more uranium than we put in. Since the earth contains more than twice as much thorium as uranium, it would be wise to make thorium into uranium. By reprocessing nuclear fuel, we get an enormous, many centuries long fuel supply without doing much mining. Only minute amounts of un-enriched uranium or thorium need to be added to lower the percentage of fissionable fuel. The products of fission are also removed when fuel is reprocessed. These are just other atoms that are no longer useful as fuel. The quantity is very small. We should reprocess fuel to keep the fuel load at the correct percentage of fissionable fuel for the particular reactor design. Instead, we go through the expensive process of making more "virgin" fuel for each new fuel load. This greatly increases the price you pay for electricity. We are not reprocessing nuclear fuel for political reasons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010



If you live in Chernobyl the total radiation dose you get each year is 390 millirem. That's natural plus residual from the accident and fire. In Denver, Colorado, the natural dose is over 1000 millirem/year. Denver gets more than 2.56 times as much radiation as Chernobyl! But Denver has a low cancer rate.

Calculate your annual radiation dose:

Average American gets 361 millirems/year. Smokers add 280 millirems/year from lead210. Radon accounts for 200 mrem/year.

Although radiation may cause cancers at high doses and high dose rates, currently there are no data to unequivocally establish the occurrence of cancer following exposure to low doses and dose rates -- below about 10,000 mrem (100 mSv). Those people living in areas having high levels of background radiation -- above 1,000 mrem (10 mSv) per year-- such as Denver, Colorado have shown no adverse biological effects.

Calculations based on data from NCRP reports show that the average level of natural background radiation (NBR) in Rocky Mountain states is 3.2 times that in Gulf Coast states. However, data from the American Cancer Society show that age-adjusted overall cancer death in Gulf Coast states is actually 1.26 times higher than in Rocky Mountain states. The difference from proportionality is a factor of 4.0. This is a clear negative correlation of NBR with overall cancer death. It is also shown that, comparing 3 Rocky Mountain states and 3 Gulf Coast states, there is a strong negative correlation of estimated lung cancer mortality with natural radon levels (factors of 5.7 to 7.5).

Global warming is already 1.4 degrees since 1750. Global warming WILL make us humans EXTINCT if we don't stop burning coal. Snow in Florida and rain on Olympic snow are both caused by Global Warming [GW]. GW causes the wind to shift, causing droughts and floods. The #1 kill mechanism is famine. See "The Long Summer" by Brian Fagan and "Collapse" by Jared Diamond.

7 degrees C is one more than the for-sure extinction point for Homo Sapiens as reported in a bunch of reports and books.

The book "Six Degrees" by Mark Lynas says: "If the global warming is 6 degrees centigrade, we humans go extinct." See:

Lynas lists several kill mechanisms, the most important being famine and methane fuel-air explosions. Other mechanisms include fire storms.

The following sources say H2S bubbling out of hot oceans is the final blow at 6 degrees C warming:

"Under a Green Sky" by Peter D. Ward, Ph.D., 2007. is a NASA web zine. See:

"Climate Code Red" by David Spratt and Philip Sutton says the following:

Long term warming, counting feedbacks, is a least twice the short term warming. 560 ppm CO2 gets us 6 degrees C or 10.8 degrees F. We will hit 560 ppm before mid century.

Per "Climate Code Red", we need ZERO "Kyoto gas" emissions RIGHT NOW and we also need geo-engineering because we have already gone way beyond the safe CO2 level of 300 to 325 ppm. We are already at 455 ppm equivalent and we have tripped some very big tipping points. We aren't dead yet, but the planet needs critical intensive care if we humans are to have a chance of survival.

"The Vanishing Face of Gaia" by James Lovelock has identified a 9 degree lurch in the temperature that happens at 450 ppm equivalent.

Looks like we are not going to make it. We HUMANS could be EXTINCT by 2050 because politicians are not considering sufficiently strong action.

The ONLY economical competition for coal is nuclear.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Coal contains: URANIUM, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine, Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium, Thorium, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc. There is so much of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually valuable ores. We should be able to get all the uranium and thorium we need to fuel nuclear power plants for centuries by using cinders and smoke as ore. Remember that, to get a given amount of energy, you need on the order of 100 MILLION TIMES as much coal as uranium. That means the coal mine has to be 100 million times larger than the uranium mine, not counting the recycling of nuclear fuel. Unburned Coal also contains BENZENE, THE CANCER CAUSER. We can keep our mountains and forests and our health by switching from coal to nuclear power. We could get all of our uranium and thorium from coal ashes and cinders. The carbon content of coal ranges from 96% down to 25%, the remainder being rock of various kinds.

Chinese industrial grade coal is sometimes stolen by peasants for cooking. The result is that the whole family dies of arsenic poisoning in days, not years because Chinese industrial grade coal contains large amounts of arsenic.

I have zero financial interest in nuclear power, and I never have had a financial interest in nuclear power. My sole motivation in writing this is to avoid extinction due to global warming.
Yes, that ARSENIC is getting into the air you breathe, the water you drink and the soil your food grows in. So are all of those other heavy metal poisons. Kris, your health would be a lot better without coal. Benzene is also found in petroleum. If you have cancer, check for benzene in your past.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Meet the Man Who Could End Global Warming

John H. Richardson has a good article about clean and safe nuclear power in the current (December 2009) issue of Esquire.

"Nuclear power — dangerous, right? And there's nowhere to put the nuclear waste, right? Eric Loewen is the evangelist of the sodium fast reactor, which burns nuclear waste, emits no CO2, and might just save the world."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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Over the past few decades, the American public has become increasingly wary of nuclear power because of concern about radiation releases from normal plant operations, plant accidents, and nuclear waste. Except for Chernobyl and other nuclear accidents, releases have been found to be almost undetectable in comparison with natural background radiation. Another concern has been the cost of producing electricity at nuclear plants. It has increased largely for two reasons: compliance with stringent government regulations that restrict releases of radioactive substances from nuclear facilities into the environment and construction delays as a result of public opposition.

Partly because of these concerns about radioactivity and the cost of containing it, the American public and electric utilities have preferred coal combustion as a power source. Today 52% of the capacity for generating electricity in the United States is fueled by coal, compared with 14.8% for nuclear energy. Although there are economic justifications for this preference, it is surprising for two reasons. First, coal combustion produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are suspected to cause climatic warming, and it is a source of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, which are harmful to human health and may be largely responsible for acid rain. Second, although not as well known, releases from coal combustion contain naturally occurring radioactive materials--mainly, uranium and thorium.

Former ORNL researchers J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco made this point in their article "Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants" in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine. They concluded that Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. This ironic situation remains true today and is addressed in this article.

The fact that coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment has several implications. It suggests that coal combustion is more hazardous to health than nuclear power and that it adds to the background radiation burden even more than does nuclear power. It also suggests that if radiation emissions from coal plants were regulated, their capital and operating costs would increase, making coal-fired power less economically competitive.

Finally, radioactive elements released in coal ash and exhaust produced by coal combustion contain fissionable fuels and much larger quantities of fertile materials that can be bred into fuels by absorption of neutrons, including those generated in the air by bombardment of oxygen, nitrogen, and other nuclei with cosmic rays; such fissionable and fertile materials can be recovered from coal ash using known technologies. These nuclear materials have growing value to private concerns and governments that may want to market them for fueling nuclear power plants. However, they are also available to those interested in accumulating material for nuclear weapons. A solution to this potential problem may be to encourage electric utilities to process coal ash and use new trapping technologies on coal combustion exhaust to isolate and collect valuable metals, such as iron and aluminum, and available nuclear fuels.

Makeup of Coal and Ash

Coal is one of the most impure of fuels. Its impurities range from trace quantities of many metals, including uranium and thorium, to much larger quantities of aluminum and iron to still larger quantities of impurities such as sulfur. Products of coal combustion include the oxides of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur; carcinogenic and mutagenic substances; and recoverable minerals of commercial value, including nuclear fuels naturally occurring in coal.

Coal ash is composed primarily of oxides of silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, titanium, sodium, potassium, arsenic, mercury, and sulfur plus small quantities of uranium and thorium. Fly ash is primarily composed of non-combustible silicon compounds (glass) melted during combustion. Tiny glass spheres form the bulk of the fly ash.

Since the 1960s particulate precipitators have been used by U.S. coal-fired power plants to retain significant amounts of fly ash rather than letting it escape to the atmosphere. When functioning properly, these precipitators are approximately 99.5% efficient. Utilities also collect furnace ash, cinders, and slag, which are kept in cinder piles or deposited in ash ponds on coal-plant sites along with the captured fly ash.

Trace quantities of uranium in coal range from less than 1 part per million (ppm) in some samples to around 10 ppm in others. Generally, the amount of thorium contained in coal is about 2.5 times greater than the amount of uranium. For a large number of coal samples, according to Environmental Protection Agency figures released in 1984, average values of uranium and thorium content have been determined to be 1.3 ppm and 3.2 ppm, respectively. Using these values along with reported consumption and projected consumption of coal by utilities provides a means of calculating the amounts of potentially recoverable breedable and fissionable elements (see sidebar). The concentration of fissionable uranium-235 (the current fuel for nuclear power plants) has been established to be 0.71% of uranium content.

Uranium and Thorium in Coal and Coal Ash

As population increases worldwide, coal combustion continues to be the dominant fuel source for electricity. Fossil fuels' share has decreased from 76.5% in 1970 to 66.3% in 1990, while nuclear energy's share in the worldwide electricity pie has climbed from 1.6% in 1970 to 17.4% in 1990. Although U.S. population growth is slower than worldwide growth, per capita consumption of energy in this country is among the world's highest. To meet the growing demand for electricity, the U.S. utility industry has continually expanded generating capacity. Thirty years ago, nuclear power appeared to be a viable replacement for fossil power, but today it represents less than 15% of U.S. generating capacity. However, as a result of low public support during recent decades and a reduction in the rate of expected power demand, no increase in nuclear power generation is expected in the foreseeable future. As current nuclear power plants age, many plants may be retired during the first quarter of the 21st century, although some may have their operation extended through license renewal. As a result, many nuclear plants are likely to be replaced with coal-fired plants unless it is considered feasible to replace them with fuel sources such as natural gas and solar energy.

As the world's population increases, the demands for all resources, particularly fuel for electricity, is expected to increase. To meet the demand for electric power, the world population is expected to rely increasingly on combustion of fossil fuels, primarily coal. The world has about 1500 years of known coal resources at the current use rate. The graph above shows the growth in U.S. and world coal combustion for the 50 years preceding 1988, along with projections beyond the year 2040. Using the concentration of uranium and thorium indicated above, the graph below illustrates the historical release quantities of these elements and the releases that can be expected during the first half of the next century, given the predicted growth trends. Using these data, both U.S. and worldwide fissionable uranium-235 and fertile nuclear material releases from coal combustion can be calculated.

Because existing coal-fired power plants vary in size and electrical output, to calculate the annual coal consumption of these facilities, assume that the typical plant has an electrical output of 1000 megawatts. Existing coal-fired plants of this capacity annually burn about 4 million tons of coal each year. Further, considering that in 1982 about 616 million short tons (2000 pounds per ton) of coal was burned in the United States (from 833 million short tons mined, or 74%), the number of typical coal-fired plants necessary to consume this quantity of coal is 154.

Using these data, the releases of radioactive materials per typical plant can be calculated for any year. For the year 1982, assuming coal contains uranium and thorium concentrations of 1.3 ppm and 3.2 ppm, respectively, each typical plant released 5.2 tons of uranium (containing 74 pounds of uranium-235) and 12.8 tons of thorium that year. Total U.S. releases in 1982 (from 154 typical plants) amounted to 801 tons of uranium (containing 11,371 pounds of uranium-235) and 1971 tons of thorium. These figures account for only 74% of releases from combustion of coal from all sources. Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium.

Based on the predicted combustion of 2516 million tons of coal in the United States and 12,580 million tons worldwide during the year 2040, cumulative releases for the 100 years of coal combustion following 1937 are predicted to be:

    U.S. release (from combustion of 111,716 million tons):

    Uranium: 145,230 tons (containing 1031 tons of uranium-235)

    Thorium: 357,491 tons

    Worldwide release (from combustion of 637,409 million tons):

    Uranium: 828,632 tons (containing 5883 tons of uranium-235)

    Thorium: 2,039,709 tons

Radioactivity from Coal Combustion

The main sources of radiation released from coal combustion include not only uranium and thorium but also daughter products produced by the decay of these isotopes, such as radium, radon, polonium, bismuth, and lead. Although not a decay product, naturally occurring radioactive potassium-40 is also a significant contributor.

According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), the average radioactivity per short ton of coal is 17,100 millicuries/4,000,000 tons, or 0.00427 millicuries/ton. This figure can be used to calculate the average expected radioactivity release from coal combustion. For 1982 the total release of radioactivity from 154 typical coal plants in the United States was, therefore, 2,630,230 millicuries.

Thus, by combining U.S. coal combustion from 1937 (440 million tons) through 1987 (661 million tons) with an estimated total in the year 2040 (2516 million tons), the total expected U.S. radioactivity release to the environment by 2040 can be determined. That total comes from the expected combustion of 111,716 million tons of coal with the release of 477,027,320 millicuries in the United States. Global releases of radioactivity from the predicted combustion of 637,409 million tons of coal would be 2,721,736,430 millicuries.

For comparison, according to NCRP Reports No. 92 and No. 95, population exposure from operation of 1000-MWe nuclear and coal-fired power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal plants and 4.8 person-rem/year for nuclear plants. Thus, the population effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants. For the complete nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to reactor operation to waste disposal, the radiation dose is cited as 136 person-rem/year; the equivalent dose for coal use, from mining to power plant operation to waste disposal, is not listed in this report and is probably unknown.

During combustion, the volume of coal is reduced by over 85%, which increases the concentration of the metals originally in the coal. Although significant quantities of ash are retained by precipitators, heavy metals such as uranium tend to concentrate on the tiny glass spheres that make up the bulk of fly ash. This uranium is released to the atmosphere with the escaping fly ash, at about 1.0% of the original amount, according to NCRP data. The retained ash is enriched in uranium several times over the original uranium concentration in the coal because the uranium, and thorium, content is not decreased as the volume of coal is reduced.

All studies of potential health hazards associated with the release of radioactive elements from coal combustion conclude that the perturbation of natural background dose levels is almost negligible. However, because the half-lives of radioactive potassium-40, uranium, and thorium are practically infinite in terms of human lifetimes, the accumulation of these species in the biosphere is directly proportional to the length of time that a quantity of coal is burned.

Although trace quantities of radioactive heavy metals are not nearly as likely to produce adverse health effects as the vast array of chemical by-products from coal combustion, the accumulated quantities of these isotopes over 150 or 250 years could pose a significant future ecological burden and potentially produce adverse health effects, especially if they are locally accumulated. Because coal is predicted to be the primary energy source for electric power production in the foreseeable future, the potential impact of long-term accumulation of by-products in the biosphere should be considered.

Energy Content: Coal vs Nuclear

An average value for the thermal energy of coal is approximately 6150 kilowatt-hours(kWh)/ton. Thus, the expected cumulative thermal energy release from U.S. coal combustion over this period totals about 6.87 x 10E14 kilowatt-hours. The thermal energy released in nuclear fission produces about 2 x 10E9 kWh/ton. Consequently, the thermal energy from fission of uranium-235 released in coal combustion amounts to 2.1 x 10E12 kWh. If uranium-238 is bred to plutonium-239, using these data and assuming a "use factor" of 10%, the thermal energy from fission of this isotope alone constitutes about 2.9 x 10E14 kWh, or about half the anticipated energy of all the utility coal burned in this country through the year 2040. If the thorium-232 is bred to uranium-233 and fissioned with a similar "use factor", the thermal energy capacity of this isotope is approximately 7.2 x 10E14 kWh, or 105% of the thermal energy released from U.S. coal combustion for a century. Assuming 10% usage, the total of the thermal energy capacities from each of these three fissionable isotopes is about 10.1 x 10E14 kWh, 1.5 times more than the total from coal. World combustion of coal has the same ratio, similarly indicating that coal combustion wastes more energy than it produces.

Consequently, the energy content of nuclear fuel released in coal combustion is more than that of the coal consumed! Clearly, coal-fired power plants are not only generating electricity but are also releasing nuclear fuels whose commercial value for electricity production by nuclear power plants is over $7 trillion, more than the U.S. national debt. This figure is based on current nuclear utility fuel costs of 7 mils per kWh, which is about half the cost for coal. Consequently, significant quantities of nuclear materials are being treated as coal waste, which might become the cleanup nightmare of the future, and their value is hardly recognized at all.

How does the amount of nuclear material released by coal combustion compare to the amount consumed as fuel by the U.S. nuclear power industry? According to 1982 figures, 111 American nuclear plants consumed about 540 tons of nuclear fuel, generating almost 1.1 x 10E12 kWh of electricity. During the same year, about 801 tons of uranium alone were released from American coal-fired plants. Add 1971 tons of thorium, and the release of nuclear components from coal combustion far exceeds the entire U.S. consumption of nuclear fuels. The same conclusion applies for worldwide nuclear fuel and coal combustion.

Another unrecognized problem is the gradual production of plutonium-239 through the exposure of uranium-238 in coal waste to neutrons from the air. These neutrons are produced primarily by bombardment of oxygen and nitrogen nuclei in the atmosphere by cosmic rays and from spontaneous fission of natural isotopes in soil. Because plutonium-239 is reportedly toxic in minute quantities, this process, however slow, is potentially worrisome. The radiotoxicity of plutonium-239 is 3.4 x 10E11 times that of uranium-238. Consequently, for 801 tons of uranium released in 1982, only 2.2 milligrams of plutonium-239 bred by natural processes, if those processes exist, is necessary to double the radiotoxicity estimated to be released into the biosphere that year. Only 0.075 times that amount in plutonium-240 doubles the radiotoxicity. Natural processes to produce both plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 appear to exist.


For the 100 years following 1937, U.S. and world use of coal as a heat source for electric power generation will result in the distribution of a variety of radioactive elements into the environment. This prospect raises several questions about the risks and benefits of coal combustion, the leading source of electricity production.

First, the potential health effects of released naturally occurring radioactive elements are a long-term issue that has not been fully addressed. Even with improved efficiency in retaining stack emissions, the removal of coal from its shielding overburden in the earth and subsequent combustion releases large quantities of radioactive materials to the surface of the earth. The emissions by coal-fired power plants of greenhouse gases, a vast array of chemical by-products, and naturally occurring radioactive elements make coal much less desirable as an energy source than is generally accepted.

Second, coal ash is rich in minerals, including large quantities of aluminum and iron. These and other products of commercial value have not been exploited.

Third, large quantities of uranium and thorium and other radioactive species in coal ash are not being treated as radioactive waste. These products emit low-level radiation, but because of regulatory differences, coal-fired power plants are allowed to release quantities of radioactive material that would provoke enormous public outcry if such amounts were released from nuclear facilities. Nuclear waste products from coal combustion are allowed to be dispersed throughout the biosphere in an unregulated manner. Collected nuclear wastes that accumulate on electric utility sites are not protected from weathering, thus exposing people to increasing quantities of radioactive isotopes through air and water movement and the food chain.

Fourth, by collecting the uranium residue from coal combustion, significant quantities of fissionable material can be accumulated. In a few year's time, the recovery of the uranium-235 released by coal combustion from a typical utility anywhere in the world could provide the equivalent of several World War II-type uranium-fueled weapons. Consequently, fissionable nuclear fuel is available to any country that either buys coal from outside sources or has its own reserves. The material is potentially employable as weapon fuel by any organization so inclined. Although technically complex, purification and enrichment technologies can provide high-purity, weapons-grade uranium-235. Fortunately, even though the technology is well known, the enrichment of uranium is an expensive and time-consuming process.

Because electric utilities are not high-profile facilities, collection and processing of coal ash for recovery of minerals, including uranium for weapons or reactor fuel, can proceed without attracting outside attention, concern, or intervention. Any country with coal-fired plants could collect combustion by-products and amass sufficient nuclear weapons material to build up a very powerful arsenal, if it has or develops the technology to do so. Of far greater potential are the much larger quantities of thorium-232 and uranium-238 from coal combustion that can be used to breed fissionable isotopes. Chemical separation and purification of uranium-233 from thorium and plutonium-239 from uranium require far less effort than enrichment of isotopes. Only small fractions of these fertile elements in coal combustion residue are needed for clandestine breeding of fissionable fuels and weapons material by those nations that have nuclear reactor technology and the inclination to carry out this difficult task.

Fifth, the fact that large quantities of uranium and thorium are released from coal-fired plants without restriction raises a paradoxical question. Considering that the U.S. nuclear power industry has been required to invest in expensive measures to greatly reduce releases of radioactivity from nuclear fuel and fission products to the environment, should coal-fired power plants be allowed to do so without constraints?

This question has significant economic repercussions. Today nuclear power plants are not as economical to construct as coal-fired plants, largely because of the high cost of complying with regulations to restrict emissions of radioactivity. If coal-fired power plants were regulated in a similar manner, the added cost of handling nuclear waste from coal combustion would be significant and would, perhaps, make it difficult for coal-burning plants to compete economically with nuclear power.

Because of increasing public concern about nuclear power and radioactivity in the environment, reduction of releases of nuclear materials from all sources has become a national priority known as "as low as reasonably achievable" (ALARA). If increased regulation of nuclear power plants is demanded, can we expect a significant redirection of national policy so that radioactive emissions from coal combustion are also regulated?

Although adverse health effects from increased natural background radioactivity may seem unlikely for the near term, long-term accumulation of radioactive materials from continued worldwide combustion of coal could pose serious health hazards. Because coal combustion is projected to increase throughout the world during the next century, the increasing accumulation of coal combustion by-products, including radioactive components, should be discussed in the formulation of energy policy and plans for future energy use.

One potential solution is improved technology for trapping the exhaust (gaseous emissions up the stack) from coal combustion. If and when such technology is developed, electric utilities may then be able both to recover useful elements, such as nuclear fuels, iron, and aluminum, and to trap greenhouse gas emissions. Encouraging utilities to enter mineral markets that have been previously unavailable may or may not be desirable, but doing so appears to have the potential of expanding their economic base, thus offsetting some portion of their operating costs, which ultimately could reduce consumer costs for electricity.

Both the benefits and hazards of coal combustion are more far-reaching than are generally recognized. Technologies exist to remove, store, and generate energy from the radioactive isotopes released to the environment by coal combustion. When considering the nuclear consequences of coal combustion, policymakers should look at the data and recognize that the amount of uranium-235 alone dispersed by coal combustion is the equivalent of dozens of nuclear reactor fuel loadings. They should also recognize that the nuclear fuel potential of the fertile isotopes of thorium-232 and uranium-238, which can be converted in reactors to fissionable elements by breeding, yields a virtually unlimited source of nuclear energy that is frequently overlooked as a natural resource.

In short, naturally occurring radioactive species released by coal combustion are accumulating in the environment along with minerals such as mercury, arsenic, silicon, calcium, chlorine, and lead, sodium, as well as metals such as aluminum, iron, lead, magnesium, titanium, boron, chromium, and others that are continually dispersed in millions of tons of coal combustion by-products. The potential benefits and threats of these released materials will someday be of such significance that they should not now be ignored.--Alex Gabbard of the Metals and Ceramics Division

References and Suggested Reading

J. F. Ahearne, "The Future of Nuclear Power," American Scientist, Jan.-Feb 1993: 24-35.

E. Brown and R. B. Firestone, Table of Radioactive Isotopes, Wiley Interscience, 1986.

J. O. Corbett, "The Radiation Dose From Coal Burning: A Review of Pathways and Data,"Radiation Protection Dosimetry, 4 (1): 5-19.

R. R. Judkins and W. Fulkerson, "The Dilemma of Fossil Fuel Use and Global Climate Change," Energy & Fuels, 7 (1993) 14-22.

National Council on Radiation Protection, Public Radiation Exposure From Nuclear Power Generation in the U.S., Report No. 92, 1987, 72-112.

National Council on Radiation Protection, Exposure of the Population in the United States and Canada from Natural Background Radiation, Report No. 94, 1987, 90-128.

National Council on Radiation Protection, Radiation Exposure of the U.S. Population from Consumer Products and Miscellaneous Sources, Report No. 95, 1987, 32-36 and 62-64.

Serge A. Korff, "Fast Cosmic Ray Neutrons in the Atmosphere," Proceedings of International Conference on Cosmic Rays, Volume 5: High Energy Interactions, Jaipur, December 1963.

C. B. A. McCusker, "Extensive Air Shower Studies in Australia," Proceedings of International Conference on Cosmic Rays, Volume 4: Extensive Air Showers, Jaipur, December 1963.

T. L. Thoem, et al., Coal Fired Power Plant Trace Element Study, Volume 1: A Three Station Comparison, Radian Corp. for USEPA, Sept. 1975.

W. Torrey, "Coal Ash Utilization: Fly Ash, Bottom Ash and Slag," Pollution Technology Review, 48 (1978) 136.

Last Revised: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 2:42 PM

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill and your Electric Bill

The Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill alias H.R. 2454 alias ACES alias the American Clean Energy and Security Act is now 1400 pages long. The cap-and-trade provision will not raise your electric bill because the money collected from coal fired power plants is given back to retail customers. The provision requiring 14% "renewable" energy will raise the electric company's cost by maybe 5%, not the 20% that the coal industry claims. "Renewable" sources of electricity (wind, solar and geothermal) are the most expensive. Most of our electricity is from coal. Nuclear power is the cheapest, safest and makes less CO2 than solar or wind or geothermal per kilowatt hour. Spent nuclear fuel is recyclable. In operation, only fossil fuels, coal and petroleum, make CO2. Read: "Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy" by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007. This is a truthful book about nuclear power. Other books may be coal company propaganda.

There are other provisions of H.R.2454 that would waste your money, requiring $40 light bulbs and appliances that save energy by not getting the job done. Saving energy is irrelevant to fighting global warming because waste heat is a microscopic fraction of the Earth's heat budget. The only action that counts is reducing greenhouse gasses. Venus's 800 degree temperature is caused by CO2. Without greenhouse gasses, heat dissipates into space. Greenhouse gasses control heat accumulation on Earth.

I favor a 1 page bill scheduling the conversion from coal to nuclear electricity.

This post is a letter I wrote to the editor of the Quad City Times.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cost of Electricity

The MIT Center For Advanced Nuclear Study released a report on The cost of electricity in May (2009).

The three cost elements used in the study are capital, operation and management, and fuel.

Incorporating all cost elements, the study found that the levelized cost of electricity, denominated in 2007 dollars, are as follows:

nuclear power is 8.4¢/kWh [includes the risk premium (safety tax) which makes capital costs much higher than coal or gas]

coal is 8.3¢/kWh [includes a $25/tCO2 charge (carbon tax)]

Gas-Fired Power 7.4¢/kWh [includes a $25/tCO2 charge (carbon tax)]

There are two very important factors to consider here. The first is that safety regulations are much more severe and costly for nuclear power plants than they are for either coal or gas-fired power plants. This CANES study takes this into account and concludes that if you equalize the safety restrictions, the levelized cost of electricity, denominated in 2007 dollars, from nuclear power is 6.6¢/kWh.

Many people who oppose nuclear power plants consider them more hazardous than coal or gas-fired power plants. Please see my post which clearly explains how safe pebble bed reactors are and see my posts about background radiation and how dangerous coal clearly is.

The full text of the MIT CANES report can be found here.

Nuclear Energy Is More Green Than Green

Jesse Ausubel, of The Rockefeller University, makes it clear in an article titled Renewable And Nuclear Heresies that the vast amount of land needed to make wind and solar power actually viable would undermine its value. This land is best left to nature and food production with small footprint nuclear power plants fulfilling our energy requirements.

You can read a balanced and critical review of Ausubel's article from New Scientist and you can read the original article in International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology.

Survey Says....

A February 2007 survey by the MIT Center for Advanced Nuclear Study on The Future of Nuclear Power found that 35% of the US population wants to increase nuclear power use. The figure has risen from 28% in 2002.

Public Attitudes Toward America's Energy Options: Insights For Nuclear Energy

Pebble Bed Reactors Explained

The pebble bed reactor (PBR) is a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled,nuclear reactor. It is a type of Very high temperature reactor (VHTR), that uses TRISO fuel particles, which allows for high outlet temperatures and passive safety.

The PBR's unique design is based on tennis ball-sized, spherical fuel elements called "pebbles" that are made of pyrolytic graphite. Each pebble contains thousands of micro fuel particles called TRISO particles. The 360,000 pebbles in the PBR core are cooled by an inert or semi-inert gas such as helium, nitrogen or carbon dioxide. This gas circulates through the spaces between the fuel pebbles to carry heat away from the reactor. Ideally, the heated gas is run directly through a turbine. However, it may be brought instead to a heat exchanger where it heats another gas or produces steam. The exhaust of the turbine is quite warm and may be used to warm buildings or chemical plants, or even run another heat engine.

The coolant is fireproof (it cannot have a steam explosion as a light-water reactor can) and it has no phase transitions—it starts as a gas and remains a gas. Similarly, the moderator is solid carbon, it does not move or have phase transitions (i.e. between liquid and gas) as the light water in conventional reactors does.

A pebble-bed reactor thus can have all of its supporting machinery fail, and the reactor will not crack, melt, explode or spew hazardous wastes. It simply goes up to a designed "idle" temperature, and stays there. In that state, the reactor vessel radiates heat, but the vessel and fuel spheres remain intact and undamaged. The machinery can be repaired or the fuel can be removed. These safety features were tested (and filmed) with the German AVR reactor. All the control rods were removed, and the coolant flow was halted. Afterward, the fuel balls were sampled and examined for damage and there was none.

The passive safety design eliminates many of the postulated accident scenarios associated with traditional nuclear power plants, which are cooled with active safety systems. In these scenarios, which may raise the temperature of a pebble bed reactor to 1600°C, the reactor is designed to remain intact and passively cool by natural circulation. The design for high temperatures also allows a turbine to extract more mechanical energy from the same amount of thermal energy. Therefore a PBR uses less fuel per kilowatt-hour than a traditional nuclear power plant.

Pebble-bed reactors have numerous, reinforcing levels of containment to prevent contact between the radioactive materials and the biosphere. The fission fuel, in the form of metal oxides or carbides, is sealed inside pyrolytic graphite pebbles/balls. Pyrolytic graphite will not change state until it reaches 4000 °C, more than double the design temperature of most reactors. It slows neutrons very effectively, is strong, inexpensive, and has a long history of use in reactors. Each pebble is coated with a fireproof silicon carbide. The pebbles are contained in a sealed bin which is inside a room with two-meter-thick walls and doors that can be sealed. This room can be filled with water to cool the reactor vessel. Finally, the reactor system is enclosed in a containment building designed to resist aircraft crashes and earthquakes.

The simplicity of the passive safety system makes pebble bed reactors more safe, much less expensive to build and more efficient to operate than traditional, water cooled nuclear reactors.