Every time there is a discussion about wind and solar as a renewable energy for the future there is this misunderstanding about what is the capacity of the individual turbine or panel and what electricity production can actually come from it (capacity factor). There is no energy source that has a capacity factor of 100%, except theoretically nuclear, which could run for years without any interruption for maintenance. There are a variety of reasons for the production interruptions such as; no sun, no wind, too much wind, drought, water needed for other proposes, polar vortex freeze, fuel interruptions and scheduled maintenance.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that utility-scale solar photovoltaic installations in America had an average capacity factor of 27% in 2016, with utility-scale wind farms at 35%, hydroelectric at 38%, coal plants at 55%, combined-cycle natural gas plants at 56% and nuclear plants at 92%. However, Germany has developed one clean coal plant at 91% efficiency. It can be technically done.
The capacity factor is where nuclear power excels. And it’s why seven of the top ten power plants in America are nuclear. Grand Coulee, the largest dam is in 5th place. The top natural gas plant is the West County Energy Center in Florida (ranked 7th) and the top coal plant is the Scherer Coal-fired Power Plant in Georgia (ranked 10th). It will be a long time, if ever, to see wind and solar in the top ten based on capacity factor.
Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona is the largest energy source in the US and 9th overall in the world. In 2014, Palo Verde produced 60% more kWhs of electricity than Grand Coulee, and more than any other power plant in America, all because Palo Verde had a capacity factor of 98% reliable energy without interruptions that year. This one nuclear power plant with 3 reactors sells electricity throughout Southwest US and shares ownership with California (21.7%), Texas (15.8%), New Mexico (10.2%) and of course Arizona (46.6 %).
I have always been an advocate of nuclear power because of its efficiency and fuel density. Recently, I added climate change to my rational for nuclear power. If the world is serious about doing anything significant to effect climate change, nuclear power is a must have in the energy mix. Are we investing in the better energy resource?
To be continued…
Now that I have done my best to help the residents of Southeast New Mexico better understand the misconceptions of nuclear fear and how radiation is an intimate part of our existence in low-level doses for medical usage and high-level radiation being instrumental in generating electricity and heat for domestic and industrial energy usage, let’s continue.
It is so unfortunate how this fear of all things nuclear has stagnated an entire industry in the United States for 30 years to the point that it will be extremely difficult to continue the existing technology with a sufficient supply chain of parts and fuel, and the trained personnel to operate and maintain the nuclear power plants. In the last two years, five (5) nuclear reactors have been shuttered for financial reasons (low NG pricing) with 40 to 60 years of usage left in them. More shutters and decommissions are planned over the next 10 years.
The proposed Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) and the existing Waste Control Specialist (WCS) will play an important role in the storage, of all the low-level and high-level radioactive material, that will be needed when these nuclear power plants are decommissioned. Most of the material will actually be unused uranium fuel referred to as spent nuclear fuel (SNF). This fuel needs to be saved and stored until the commercialization of next generation of small modular reactors, built in factories the way Henry Ford would be proud of – cost efficiency with standardization.
The existing third generation of mega-nuclear plants have served us well and will continue to do so for another 60 years, but competition from cheaper energy sources like current NG pricing won’t allow them to continue generating electricity with a profit or even a break-even point. Nuclear reactor technology must adapt or become extinct.
Nuclear fission has an extremely high energy density, millions of times more than any other energy source and it is always on. That is what makes storage of the SNF so important and ELEA or WCS will safely store that fuel in Holtec canisters as an Interim Consolidated Storage Facilities. Eventually, providing that fuel for the next generation of safe efficient small modular molten salt (liquid) nuclear reactors. Every town or island could have one of these local power sources without dependency on a national grid.
To be continued…
My wife and I recently binge watched ‘The Vietnam War’ that we recorded on the DVR. With our kettle popcorn and icy cold drinks we settled in to watch one of the most informative documentaries of the Viet Nam war. Hindsight is always 20/20 but often times we just don’t seem to learn from our past. The Viet Nam war was a cascade of misunderstandings and mistakes compounded by the fear of Communism.
The Viet Nam war cost the US 58,000 military deaths and billions before we could admit we made a mistake and had to correct it by eventually leaving Southeast Asia. Today, the reunified Vietnam is a prosperous nation and an upstanding participant in the world community. While nuclear weapons were never seriously considered in the Korean or Viet Nam wars, both wars had a direct impact on the Cold War against Communism and the direction the commercial nuclear energy industry took during those two decades.
The fear of communism justified the development of nuclear reactors that would produce an artificial (not found in nature) isotope called plutonium used to make thermonuclear hydrogen bombs. These bombs were a deterrent against the Soviet Union who also had thermonuclear bombs. During the 1980’s the US had stockpiled 35,000 warheads in an arms race where the USSR eventual surpassed us with a stockpile 40,000 warheads by the 1990’s. Every war or race has a winner or loser. The USSR was the loser of this arms race because the cost to participate collapsed their economy and their Union.
The United States was also a loser of the arms race because we ended up taking the wrong technological path with the future of commercial nuclear power to generate electricity as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Dr. Alvin Weinberg developed the first molten salt thorium fueled nuclear reactor that didn’t create any military grade plutonium or radioactive waste, would never meltdown (already liquid) and had an energy density a million times more than uranium (and plutonium), which already had an energy density a million times more than fossil fuels, which also has an energy density a million time more than wind and solar. This technology was defunded and put on the shelf in favor of the military war machines need for plutonium.
Thorium232 has a half-life of 14 billion years, which means ‘harmless radiation’.
To be continued…
This letter may sound like a promo for Holtec International, but we have to trust the company behind the storage cask when we are dealing with nuclear waste. Holtec has been selected by Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance to help manage the development of an Interim Consolidated Storage Facility (ICSF) here in Southeast New Mexico, 30 miles east of WIPP. Holtec has over 30 years’ experience providing complete turnkey solutions for safe spent nuclear fuel (SNF) storage in the US and several international countries including Chernobyl in the Ukraine.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved the Holtec Dry Storage System. Holtec has designed, engineered, licensed, and fabricated the wet and dry storage and transport systems providing confinement, radiation shielding, structural integrity, criticality control, and heat removal for used nuclear fuel. There it is, described all in one long sentence.
Since 1992, Holtec has provided the nuclear industry’s first high-capacity, multi-purpose canister (MPC) technology-based system which is equally proficient at storing the spent nuclear fuel on a specially design concrete pad, or at transporting its highly radioactive payload over land by truck or rail. Once the canister is filled at a nuclear power plant with SNF, it will never be opened again until the fuel is ready to use in new advanced nuclear reactors design to consume the fuel. Based on all projections, the fuel will be used up within 300 years.
How safe are these canisters? Well, how about a direct hit by an F-15 or even one of those missiles from Rocket Man without damage and most important, no leak of its contents. Would you feel safe if these canisters were stored at the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance site located 30 miles east of WIPP along the Eddy and Lea county line? Well, that is what ELEA would like to do and is seeking the approval of the local community.
H.R.474 amends the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to authorize the DOE to enter into new contracts with the licensee of an ICSF in order to take title to and store in it either high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel of domestic origin. Once this 2017 amendment or the 2018 version is passed, Holtec and ELEA will be able to move ahead with license and development of their ICSF.
To be continued…
For the last weeks and months I have been writing about the changing definition of nuclear radiation standards. It has been determined that the LNT/ALARA standards of the 1950’s were set primarily for political reasons and not based on existing science at that time. Now 60 years later and three nuclear power plant accidents, observation data proves those 1950’s standards were set unreasonably low costing billions in unnecessary safety regulations that were not needed. WIPP and the unfinished Yucca Mountain are two examples of excess construction because of those unscientific regulations.
There are more modern ways to store materials exposed to high levels of radiation then in multi-billion dollar underground repositories built to store radioactive waste safely for one million years. Yes, one million years, the most outrageous requirement for the WIPP project to proceed back in the 1980’s. At that time science already proved that was not necessary yet the federal government promised the public to get buy in from New Mexico. WIPP is a very safe environment to store low-level transuranic waste, but looking back on it now, a few of us would considered it an unnecessary financial pork project.
The US Congress has failed to resolve what to do with unused nuclear fuel from all the commercial nuclear power plants around the country. France and Russia solved the problem in Europe by chemically down blending and reusing the uranium as additional fuel. It was not 100% recycled, but it greatly reduce the amount of storage management they needed. The US, on the other hand, decided to just bury all the unused uranium fuel as waste.
Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) should never be buried in a repository like WIPP or Yucca Mountain. There is only a 300 year concern about the radiation level of SNF and modern canister technology has already been developed to store the fuel for that length of time. These safe and secure canisters have been in use around the world for several decades at most of the nuclear power plants. It is a two-step process where the reactor fuel rods are cooled in water for 3 years and then transferred to dry storage in these specially designed cask for safe and secure storage for another 300 years.
Spent nuclear fuel is not nuclear waste.
To be continued…
With WIPP assuming delivery of low-level transuranic waste again after their 2014 radioactive leak, DOE will be able to complete their mission of cleaning up all the facilities used during the Cold War era for making plutonium thermonuclear weapons. Rocky Flats in CO was one the first facilities completely disassembled and is now a thriving nature preserve of rolling hills with prairie grasses and wild animals at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. WIPP was very instrumental in this accomplishment, but at a very high cost.
During the 1950’s and 60’s it had always been assumed that nuclear waste of any kind had to be buried in deep repositories based on a non-scientific standard that exposure to radiation had to be as low as reasonable possible. In the last 60 years, low-dose to medium-does radiation has been determine to be safer than originally thought with observable data coming out of TMI. Chernobyl and Fukushima power plant accidents. It is very important to note that nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons are not the same thing.
During this same 60 year period nuclear power plants around the US (and world) have been storing unused nuclear fuel at the plant sites in above ground concrete canisters. The federal government by law is required to manage all the spent nuclear fuel and has already spent billions on Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But that facility site has never been licensed to open for deliveries. In the meantime Congress created another law requiring the spent nuclear fuel to be stored at community friendly interim consolidated storage facilities (ICSF) until they decides what to do with the future of Yucca Mountain.
Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) is one of those ICSF located half way between Carlsbad and Hobbs New Mexico. ELEA has applied for a license to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel and a queuing facility until the fuel is either used in next generation nuclear reactors or actually stored in a licensed Yucca Mountain. The real question here is; why store SNF in underground repositories that are not easily accessible? The latest canister technology has been designed to last at least 100 years and possible up to 300 years.
There is no such thing as a radiation free environment, therefore, nuclear is for life and should be stored where life exist.
To be continue…
The total overall cost of WIPP is estimate to be about $19 billion through its current license to 2035. That estimate was prepared before the 2014 incident which shuttered the facility for 2 ½ years while $500 million in safety upgrades could be implemented. WIPP resumed operation in 2016, by first taking all the radioactive waste that was temporarily stored at Waste Control Specialist in Andrews, TX in above ground safe storage canisters hidden out of public site within a standard medal building with off the shelf air conditioning. We are talking about a few million dollars for this safe DOE/NRC approved above ground storage.
I copied the following from the WIPP web site. It appears that WIPP is planning to expand and decided to completely rebuild/replace their entire ventilation and filtering system above ground.
“A proposed new underground ventilation system (NUVS) for WIPP would be constructed above-ground and would include a new filter building (52,677 ft2) and a building containing a salt reduction system (23,914 ft2). Building construction would consist of precast panels and cast-in-place concrete. The facility would include six 1,000 hp (nominal) exhaust fans, 22 nuclear air filtration HEPA units and two diesel generators, which would be provided as government-furnished property.”
The first thing I read into that paragraph was the billions of dollars not accounted for in the original overall estimate of WIPP cost stated above. However, that money will be spent in New Mexico. The second question that came to mind was how safe is safe and at what cost for a necessary underground ventilation system? And third thought is with Russia quitting the MOX recycling program with the US (sanctions have consequences) and is that allocated money being transferred with the plutonium to WIPP?
The radioactive material that should never be stored permanently in WIPP is the unused uranium fuel rods from commercial nuclear power plants, known as spent nuclear fuel. That radioactive material can be temporarily stored in concrete canister above ground so that the fuel will be accessible to use in the next generation nuclear reactor designs.
Waste Control Specialist in Andrews TX and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance in Hobbs-Carlsbad NM have both applied to license above ground and partially below ground interim consolidated storage facility. This is guaranteed to bring some large sums of stable revenue to New Mexico.
To be continued…