Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Neurovore's Nuclear News Network

Hello, this is my first post on my newly created blog. I have long been interested in the future and development of nuclear power, and I think that it has been greatly mismanaged in the US where I live. There is a lot of unwarranted opposition to nuclear energy, even though it seems to be the only feasible option for baseload power generation. The other alternative is coal, which is a very dirty energy source and it is both directly and indirectly responsible for many deaths worldwide. Renewables cannot be relied on for large scale electricity generation because of their intermittent nature. When the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing, there has to be a backup source of energy; and in the US this usually means oil, natural gas, and usually coal.

Coal is nasty stuff. It comes in three grades. Anthracite is considered the "cleanest" type of coal (Har, har). It is a hard, black, lusterous material that has a carbon content in the low to upper ninetieth percentile. Although it lacks the amount of volatile matter that bituminous and lignite coal have, it still produces many byproducts along with copious amounts of ash like all coal grades. Currently, most of the mining for anthracite coal takes place in Eastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite coal deposits also exist in Southern Canada along the Rocky Mountains, as well as in the Peruvian Andes.

Bituminous coal is the most commonly used grade of coal because of its availability and the fact that it is cheaper than anthracite coal. It is softer and often either black or brownish black in appearance. Bituminous coal also contains a higher percentage of volatiles as well as a substance called "bitumen", hence its name. Bitumen is a sticky, viscous substance that is directly responsible for much of the sludgy build-up that you find on many components at a coal power plant. It also contains many heavy metals; such as lead, mercury, chromium, nickel, and often arsenic. The sulfur in bituminous coal also directly contributes to the phenomenon of acid rain. Bituminous coal is mined in many locations in the world. Because of its frequency, there would be too many to list here.

By far, the worst pollution offender of the three grades listed here is lignite coal. Lignite is a soft, brownish coal that is composed up to 50% volatile matter. This crude form of coal is often rejected in favor of the other two grades because of its lower energy density and higher amount of pollution, but then I suppose if groups like Greenpeace were really worried about pollution they would be rallying for replacing coal with nuclear power. Lignite is also quite plentiful, particularly in Germany and Australia. Since Germany instituted a nuclear phase-out program it has been building coal power plants non-stop after finding that the empty promises of "renewables" are unable to keep up with the demand for energy that is growing each year within its borders. To make matters worse, lignite seems to be Germany's fuel of choice as it has so much of it.

Finally, Germany's nuclear phase-out seems to be little more than a political stunt to please the "greens" in its coalitionary government since the Social Democrats formed an alliance with the Green party during a national election. Germany is piggybacking on French nuclear infrastructure as it buys energy from France which has built more nuclear power plants to keep its neighbors happy causing France to laugh all the way to the bank. Apparently, it is perfectly okay to buy electricity produced by nuclear power plants while decrying nuclear technology as being the "work of the devil".

The US is not in much of a position to gloat, as it has not issued any new operating licenses for nuclear power plants for decades because of the bureaucratic mess that is the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Comission) and the fact that misguided local opposition from various activist groups tie up the construction of new reactors in court for several years pushing up the cost because of budget overruns caused by delays. The reactor licensing system needs to be streamlined, and stick to a standard reactor design, rather than having a piecemeal construction system based on making each power plant a custom affair.

To make a long story short, nuclear power is truly the best and most viable option for the world's future electricity needs. It is long past due to get over our fears about the hysteria perpetuated by movies such as The China Syndrome and the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Not only is nuclear power better for the environment than any other form of energy that we currently have, it is also one of the most efficient forms of energy ever developed.


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