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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Nuclear Enhanced Renewable Grid (NERG)

Photo by Worklife Siemens

Replace the letter D with the letter G in the word NERD.

Following on the heels of this report in the New York Times:

California Licenses World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Plant

...was this interesting article by an honest solar power enthusiast saying that solar thermal power plants in sunny places need a lot of water. His solution? Get innovative. What those innovations might be, he couldn't say.

For example, a typical parabolic trough plant with wet cooling uses approximately 800 gallons/MWh, comprised of 780 gallons for evaporation and water make-up and 20 gallons for mirror washing. Change to dry cooling – at the expense of increased capital costs and decreased efficiency – and a facility still requires approximately 80 gallons/MWh for make-up and mirror washing. For a 100 MW facility operating 14 hours per day (i.e. producing 1,400 MWh per day), that’s over one million gallons of water per day; change to dry cooling and that 100 MW facility still consumes more than 100,000 gallons of water per day.

How about a small variable output distributed energy nuclear power plant that provides desalinated water for the solar power plant while it is sunny and sends power to the grid in place of the solar arrays when it isn't sunny?

From an article in the Washington Post about mini reactors:

When nuclear scientists talk about the size of a reactor, they're talking about maximum electrical output, not square footage. The world's largest reactors generate 1,455 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 1.5 million households. A program being run by the Department of Energy is focusing on models that would produce about 300 megawatts, enough for Knoxville, Tenn., according to Dan Ingersoll of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They may go even smaller, producing 50-megawatt reactors that could power small towns or even individual work sites, such as mines, that may be located far from the main energy grid.

Think locally

There are virtues to local reactors. If a reactor powers only one community, it can be built close to the end users. Between 4 and 10 percent of the electricity produced by U.S. power plants vanishes as it travels through power lines on its way to users. Building smaller plants and putting them closer to population centers could cut that figure significantly.

And doing so can save on construction costs as well. "It's getting very difficult and very expensive to lay new transmission lines," says Ingersoll. "This offers the possibility of providing isolated communities with power."

Survey results that followed the above article.

When you think about it, a small, local, low carbon source of energy would meet three out of the four requirements demanded of many environmentally minded individuals and groups. The only one missing is renewable.

Ironically, corn ethanol is listed as a renewable source of energy by our government when two-thirds of the energy in a gallon of it is derived from fossil fuels. In a sense, nuclear is almost as renewable as corn ethanol.

According to a recent report from MIT:
The estimate of enough uranium to run 10 times as many reactors for 100 years was given by Charles W. Forsberg, the executive director of the study. While the price of uranium might be driven up by 50 percent, uranium represents only 2 to 4 percent of the price of electricity from a reactor, he said, so a 50 percent increase would mean only another 1 or 2 percent increase in the price of electricity.


The old arguments against nuclear are rapidly unraveling.

1) The fuel issue is a non-issue, at least for the foreseeable future.

2) The proliferation issue has nothing to do with nuclear power in countries that already have nuclear weapons. If Iran refuses to let nuclear powers process their fuel for them for free, then those nuclear powers are going to have to make a decision. That decision has nothing to do with the fact that there are nuclear power plants in our country.

3) The waste issue is not nearly as large as we have been led to believe. Putting it into perspective, nuclear power plants are still storing right in their own parking lots every ounce of nuclear waste they have ever generated, awaiting the arrival of a federal repository of some kind. How much waste could there possibly be?

Other nations, like France, recycle their waste, reducing the volume ten fold and mix what remains in with molten glass (vitrifying it) to create cylinders of glass than are much easier and safer to move and store.

4) Chernobyl, the poster child for everything that could go wrong continued to produce electricity for 14 years after the incident. Dozens of people died in the immediate aftermath but other than thyroid cancers (with a 90 plus cure rate) in children in the path of the fallout, higher rates of cancer have never been detected. The dead zone quickly reverted to one of Europe's largest wildlife preserves and there were no deformed babies as a result of that disaster.

Modern nuclear power plants do not cause cancer.

5) Nuclear is more expensive than coal and natural gas. Well guess what? So is solar and wind. The whole may be cheaper than the sum of its parts.

6) We have been building bomb proof bunkers since WWI. Building a bomb proof nuclear facility is a piece of cake.

7) Ditto for earthquake proof structures.

Time to open our minds?

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