Friday, November 20, 2009

Some Cogent Nuclear Criticism

Michael Dittmar has an extremely detailed, four-part piece of criticism on the future of nuclear energy. He argues, in a nutshell:
  • The rate of new construction for the next 5-10 can't keep pace with the rate of decommissioning, so nuclear's overall contribution to the energy budget will fall, at least in the short term.
  • Primary U-235 production (mining and enrichment) currently only provides 66% of the fuel needed for the current reactor fleet, with the other 33% coming from secondary sources (reprocessing, enhanced extraction from tailings, and weapons conversion).
  • Secondary production is likely to fall off a cliff as the weapons conversion programs wind down over the next few years.
  • The IAEA "Red Book" numbers on available U-235 are unreliable, so the often-claimed statement that we have enough fuel for more than 100 years is questionable.
  • Fast U-238-to-Pu-239 breeders are still toys and have unproven economics.
  • Th-232-to-U-233 breeders are somewhat promising but are completely unproven technologically.
  • Fusion will never work.
These four articles are very dense with facts and figures, and I can't vouch for their reliability. Still, this is a fairly persuasive indictment of the ability for nuclear power to be a major contributor in the transition away from fossil fuels.

UPDATE 11/21/09: There's a thread with more discussion on this here. Also, I fixed the link to part 4.

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