First, burying it in a geologically stable area is a technically perfectly acceptable solution. Only water soluble byproducts get transported out with the groundwater, and only at the rate at which the glass the waste is turned into can dissolve. So how quickly does glass dissolve? The short answer is "rather slowly". The long-lived byproducts travel much more slowly through the ground because they bind to the rock, then get dissolved again all the time. The scientists know how quickly each substance will travel away from e.g. Yucca Mountain, and they have all decayed before getting into the closest river. This solution is scientifically acceptable, but politically unacceptable simply because nobody wants to have the waste close to them even if it can't get out. See chapter 11 of "The nuclear energy option" for calculations.
Second, this is one of the reasons for building fast reactors like the GE Hitachi S-PRISM ASAP. Fast reactors can burn stockpiled weapons material, normal fuel, natural uranium, depleted uranium and even spent fuel, and they can burn it until there is nothing left but short-lived byproducts, extracting very close to 100% of the fission energy. For comparison, LWRs can only extract less than one percent of the energy content of the mined uranium. The high efficiency reduces the waste volume by a factor of at least 20 (more than 100 if you consider depleted uranium a waste), and the waste will have decayed to radiation levels below that of the uranium ore in just three hundred years. Safe geological storage of something that goes away by itself in just 300 years is trivial.
For comparison, mercury from coal plants does not decay. It lasts forever, and we can only hope that it will in time form a chemically stable compound that will stay buried.
Fast reactors will need a lot of time to burn all the spent fuel we have already produced. On the other hand, each new fast reactor can take a full load of spent fuel as its initial core, so building them can remove a portion of the spent fuel that is currently being stored. But I think the psychological aspect of it might be as important - what used to be problematic nuclear waste has suddenly become energy for future generations. Also, there is no need to store spent fuel for millions of years anymore, we can turn all of it into energy in a few hundred years.
Last edited by eledille; 2012-04-03 at 01:49 AM.
Re the generational thing: I think CND has a lot to answer for. I'm 100% with them on their work to rid us of nuclear weapons, but they have it wrong on nuclear power. The clue is in the name guys...
Stated my opinion on Nuclear a few times already. Here is a new view point.
Translation from Atomstrom viel zu teuer | Telepolis (German article)
As reported last friday, German electricity providers Eon and RWE draw back from nuclear business in Great Britain. Building new nuclear plants is no longer a profitable option. Event the announcement of the UK government to ice the cake with guaranteed feed in tariffs didn't change their mind.
The statements by designated CEO of RWE, Peter Terium, as cited by news agency Reuters, are especially interesting: Building new nuclear power plants is attractive only if wholesale electricity costs rise significantly. "That ought to be north of 100 Euros." This means 100 Euros per MWh, equaling 10 Euro-cent per kWh. In contrast to that, erecting a wind turbine in Germany turns in about 8 cent per kWh as a guaranteed feed-in-tariff. Terium asks for nothing less than paying more for nuclear power than for wind energy.
Quote from The Telegraph.
But I partly agree with you, it is too expensive. The same can be said about wind or solar with storage and no subsidies.Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, also admitted the "withdrawal is clearly very disappointing",
"But the partners have clearly explained that this decision was based on pressures elsewhere in their businesses and not any doubts about the role of nuclear in UK's energy future.
"The UK's new nuclear programme is far more than one consortia and there remains considerable interest.
"Plans from EDF/Centrica and Nugen are on track and Horizon's sites offer new players an excellent ready-made opportunity to enter the market."
Up until now, most nuclear power plants have been custom built. Pre-fabrication and standardization has the potential to bring costs down by a large amount. This is starting to happen, but the first iterations will likely be expensive.
The new reactors being built in Finland and France are the first implementations of that design, so overruns are perhaps not that surprising, but the cost must come down for the next few installations.
I'm wondering how much of this is posturing. They know that 1) the UK is up the creek without a paddle due to two decades of dithering and the decimation of our own domestic capability and 2) it leaves us in the hands of the French suppliers who have not exactly had a stellar track record on those two new projects.
I don't think that the Flamanville 3 and Okiluoto EPRs are representative of current nuclear prices generally, but likewise we can't afford to bet a sizeable chunk of UK energy policy on a design that is running late and is totally unproven (and potentially be held to ransom by a single supplier). As an excercise I priced up the equivalent output of Enercon e126 turbines and A123 storage batteries - even allowing for wind's load factors it is slightly cheaper than the current running total for Flamanville.
VolkerP: There is a long and scary tale behind the current high cost of nuclear. B. L. Cohen's version can be found here. In short, the public has been frightened out of their minds by constant media hype about the dangers of nuclear power. Therefore they demand that nuclear plants must be able to withstand anything without releasing a single ionizing particle, or they will fetch their pitchforks and torches. The authorities respond to this pressure instead of listening to engineers and scientists and require more and more redundancy and safety features - often without causing any increased security at all, or even the opposite because of added complexity and more points of failure. This also increases build time - all the welds in all the quadruple-redundant systems must be x-rayed, for example, any defect must be fixed, and the new weld must be x-rayed again.
At a certain point both GE Hitachi and Westinghouse basically started over to make simplified designs based on the earlier ones, because all the complexity and the required quality control had driven the cost far too high. This resulted in the Westinghouse AP1000 and the GE Hitachi ESBWR.
The EPR is a huge and complex design. I think Westinghouse and GE Hitachi have done the right thing by simplifying as much as possible, those reactors should be quicker and less costly to build. Long build times are bad because you spend a lot of money initially that you have to pay interest on for years before the investment yields any return.
dpeilow: You need weeks of battery capacity to make wind suitable for base load. The Chinese EPRs are on schedule, while both the European projects are slipping. I don't know the reason for this. I agree with your other arguments.
Last edited by eledille; 2012-04-04 at 06:08 AM.
grid storage NaS batteries appear to cost about USD 365 per kWh (2009) and A123 appears to be at least three times as expensive, so you might actually get quite a bit of capacity for that price... That Finnish project really is getting expensive
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