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York University
Natural Science
NATS 1760
Darrin Durant

NATS 1760 DARRIN DURANT/JAMES ELWICK Monday, February 4, 2013 IS NUCLEAR ENERGY THE ANSWER? (pg. 227-240) Allison Macfarlane  16% of the world’s electricity is supplied by nuclear power  As of March 2003, there were 437 commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries, with a total of about 360 gigawatts capacity, enough to power 400 million California  In comparison, fossil fuel plants had a worldwide capacity of about 2,400 gigawatts enough for almost 3 billion California homes o As of 2003, the United states gets 19% electricity from nuclear power= 103 licensed operating reactors in 31 states  33 new nuclear plants are being constructed in eleven countries, predominantly India, China, Ukraine, Russia, and Japan  little expansion is occurring in Europe, and NONE in the United States or Canada  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) began granting 20 year license extensions for power plants ( to the United States and some European countries such as France which had power uprates and allowed the plants to increase their electricity-generating capacity; to produce electricity more competitively)  Germany, Sweden, & Belgium voted to phase out nuclear power before all plants have completed their licensed lifetimes o Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Norway prohibited the use of nuclear power  Reconstructing of nuclear utilities allowed larger companies to take advantage of economies of scale in maintaining and operating their plants  Short-term future of nuclear power in countries likes the U.S.; regulatory climate is more favorable, existing plants more economical and therefore more competitive with fossil fuels( capital costs of building have been paid for & costs shifted to ratepayers)  New reactor designs in progress o BUT nuclear power is shrinking, and it is still the only large-scale, geographically unlimited source of greenhouse-gas- free electricity  Nuclear power will not be the only answer to our energy needs in the future: 1) Nuclear power can only reduce greenhouse gas emission from electricity production 2) The claim that nuclear power produces no greenhouse gas emissions is not actually correct  greenhouse gases are emitted during the extraction of uranium for fuel, during construction of materials (i.e. concrete and steel)  Light water reactors require uranium to be enriched in one its naturally occurring isotopes, uranium-235 for use in fuel  Most energy-intensive enrichment process is gaseous diffusion, where uranium hexafluoride gas is passed through the membranes that retard the movement of the heavier uranium-238 isotope o The Paducah, Kentucky gaseous diffusion plant gets most of its energy from coal-burning power plants  What is a reasonable expectation for greenhouse-gas-emission reductions from nuclear power?  must reduce emissions by at least a third; a ten-fold increase in nuclear power generation translate into building 3,200 new midsized nuclear plants worldwide, 900 of them in the United States alone o But this is a long-term scenario; it is not possible to increase capacity over the short term let alone build all the nuclear plants and supply all the equipment and personnel  In doing such an expansion, a number of significant issues would require resolution before the world turned to nuclear power as a (partial) solution to greenhouse gas emissions  the cost of building new power plants, safety issues, huge volumes of nuclear wastes, nuclear weapons proliferation, potential for terrorist strikes, public acceptance, low-level doses of radiation, infrastructure issues  In all countries, nuclear power in characterized by high initial capital investments in comparison to coal and gas-fired power plants (between $1.5 billion and $3 billion US)  But has low production costs; fuel, operations and maintenance  constructions time; unknown could take as little as 5 years or longer than 10 years thus difficult for an investor to commit to such uncertainty on the return on investment  External costs; managing and disposing of nuclear waste, decommissioning and those to cover insurance funds in case of catastrophic accident o High external costs from aging plants; equipment may need to be replaced even though plant owner may see no need for replacement, the regulators may require it  i.e. David-Besse plant in U.S. Holes developed in the reactor head and if not replaced would have resulted in a large accident. The reactor owner has been trying to fix the problem but the NRC has yet to allow it to resume operations  A reactor requires two processes 1) Moderation of the energy of neutrons that split the atoms to the energy needed to maximize fission 2) Cooling of the reactor components- to safely run the
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