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12 Comments

  1. Boy, ah sure do wish that ah knew about the whole energy predicament thingy back in `94 when ah cancelled the IFR. Sure makes meh look pretty foolish after watching stuff like this:
    http://www.researchchannel.org/asx/ric_prof_energy_250k.asx
    Here tell the congress is still increasing those corn ethanol mandates to 50% of the corn crop by 2015, and we’ll be buying E15 gasoline out west soon. Maybe this whole newfangled ‘civilization’ stuff is just too complicated for us `mericans, and like in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” it is time to pass on the torch…

  2. China has been so economically successful, they have 1-2 trillion dollars in the bank and can spend them on infrastructure projects they think will provide the best improvement. They picked nuclear energy, and are building plants faster and cheaper than has been done in any other country before.
    Meanwhile, all European countries are deeply in debt after decades of anti-industry policies, with some of them near bankruptcy and having to be bailed out. They plan a new solar project called Desertec, costing $500 billion, and have yet to come up with the money.
    Which of the two regions do we believe is making the right decisions?

    1. Who would bet on a diffuse and intermittent source of energy, when there exists that is on a volume basis uranium/throrium fuel which is 50 million times more energy dense than coal. It defies common sense to count on solar to be an economically viable replacement for fossil fuel. On the other hand given the great energy density superiority of fuel for nukes, one can anticipate future reactors capable of producing energy cheaper than coal. The best hope for avoiding the down side of coal in the future is replacement of coal power plants with Generation VI nuclear energy production.
      Russia recently sold two BN 800 Breeder reactors to China. The BN 800 is an updataded BN 600. Russia reports that the BN 600 has produced electricity reliably for 30 years. Russia will soon modified it to use plutonium from the former USSR weapons. Climate change and swords into plow shares issues are addressed by China, while Europe continue to suffer from radio-phobia.

  3. It is difficult in any country to compete with Chinese business people. They raise their children to think like business people and save to start their children in their first business. The children are expected to succeed and start more businesses. They are incredibly thrifty and save like no body’s business. They are applying those same characteristics to their national economy. Katy bar the door!
    Energy is the base of an economy. It should not be the place where large profits are made, but the place that encourages large profits in other areas by it’s availability.

  4. Glad to see you devote a little time to China. You’re correct that if both China and the US stay on their current paths, China will be the nuclear technology leader in a decade or two.
    I do think it is great that ‘breeder’ technologies are coming back to the fore and development sooner is better than later. However, I think talk of ‘high-price’ uranium is much too early. If you search on a nuclear engineer named James Hopf I think you will find some interesting well-though-out articles on uranium reserves. Think about the history of any other mineral resource (including coal and oil) and you will see that reserves kept expanding for a very long time. Think about how much oil we have used and it seems that only now are we probably approaching the end of that ride. Reserves aren’t reserves until you find them, but there is no reason to think uranium will be different from copper, etc. — there will be a LOT to find.

  5. Higher uranium prices, of course, make the extraction of uranium from seawater more economically viable.
    China is also pursuing the idea of using plutonium from spent fuel in heavy water thorium reactors which could dramatically reduce the consumption of uranium resources.
    And, of course, the commercial introduction of mass produced small reactors could dramatically decrease the capital cost of nuclear power plants, probably mitigating any increase in the cost of using higher priced uranium resources.

  6. In March 2010 one of the Chinese nuclear fuel companies delivered the qualification fuel bundles for the DUPIC process for use with the Chinese CANDU reactors.
    They chose to dilute the used LWR fuel with depleted uranium to get a natural uranium equivalence. Once they qualify their process I believe they plan to reduce the dilution and run with a low enriched equivalent. This will get them get them a higher burn up than a natural uranium equivalent and ultimately less used fuel to deal with.
    This is something else the Chinese are doing right.
    Bill

    1. I like the DUPIC concept, cutting up and recapping old fuel rods and using them as CANDU fuel. It has the potential to be a useful “topping cycle” on used fuel as a preliminary to reprocessing, and perhaps a way to make a self-liquidating interim spent-fuel storage facility for LWRs until reprocessing is ready to go.
      (E.g. the LWR ships the spent fuel to the storage facility, the storage facility uses their CANDU and sends the spent fuel through a DUPIC cycle, and uses the money generated to pay their investors and pay for for interim storage.) How does the used fuel’s performance compare with stock natural uranium?

  7. It can take time to increase uranium producion capacity. New mines are hard to site and get going. Thus, if uranium demand grows rapidly, one could indeed see a large increase in the price of uranium, due to having to turn to (existing) low-grade mines, or possibly a literal supply shortage. The fact that the Megatons to Megawatts program is ending on 2013 will further exacerbate the situation. Perhaps that was Mr. Kidd’s point, when he refers to “really expensive uranium”. It was about demand RATE exceeding production RATE, over some period of time.
    However, if he meant that there is a small, finite supply of high-grade ore in existence, that we will go through in a short period of time if there is a lot of nuclear growth, then he is just plain wrong. Since we’ve just started looking for uranium, the known reserves of uranium are a tiny fraction of what’s out there. We will discover high-grade deposits, equal to 100 times known reserves, or more. Nobody in the industry (utilities, etc..) is remotely worried about long-term uranium supply. Although there will be fluctuations, based on supply/demand balance, prices are not excpected to increase, over the long term. Even with substantial growth in nuclear, we have (will find) enough high-grade uranium ore deposits to supply us for centuries, even with the once-through cycle.
    Based on the above, my opinion is that the price of uranium ore will – never – be high enough for closed cycles to create fuel that is as cheap as mined uranium. I’ve heard that the breakeven price is ~$1000/kg U3O8 (~450 $/lb – 10 times today’s price). We ain’t ever getting there. Not for centuries, anyway.
    That does not mean we should not persue closed cycles, however. It’s just that the main benefits of closed cycles will not be a cheaper source of fuel. The benefits are in the areas of waste management and the environmental (and political) costs of uranium mining. With an advanced closed cycle, a repository will still be needed, but we will be able to get away with one repository. Given the political problems with siting repositories, this is a huge plus. It is also true that uranium mining is probably the one real, tangible environmental cost of nuclear. Increasing the number of mines will be difficult, and will be a source of general opposition to nuclear. If we close the fuel cycle, we would need no more new mines, and could even close a lot of the less environmentally sound (or less popular) ones. The political advantages of having less mines and repositories will be significant.
    That said, there is no reason to hurry into reprocessing. We should spent the next couple decades researching better, advanced fuel cycle technologies, and reactors. We should rush forward with less desirable technologies like PUREX. We don’t need to start the closed fuel cycle for decades, perhaps after 2040. Research and demonstration projects, however, should of course go forward.

    1. Thanks. Always better to hear it from the horse’s mouth. It was very refreshing when I happened on one of your articles a couple of years ago. It’s nice to find people that know what they are talking about.

  8. I meant to say we “shouldn’t” rush forward with technologies like PUREX.

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