The world of energy, which is to say the course of the world economy, has been turned upside-down with the fracking revolution. Less glamorous than information technology, perhaps, but the extraction of the formerly inaccessible reserves embedded in shale is having a profound effect on the world’s political economy, and in particular on the United States’ pre-eminence, strategically and economically.
Nothing could better symbolize the change than the revelation that the United States is now calculated to have more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. Ronald Bailey of Reason caught the news:
The Rystad Energy consultancy has just released its new calculations of global oil reserves and estimates that the U.S. may harbor as much 264 billion barrels of oil compared to Saudi Arabia's 212 billion barrels. Overall, world oil reserves exceed 2 trillion barrels. At current production rates, this is enough oil to supply the world for 70 years.
The Rystad analysts compare their estimates with those of the closely watched annual BP Statistical Review that conservatively calculates that the U.S. has 55 billion barrels of proved reserves and that world reserves stand at just under 1.7 trillion barrels.
It is not just the U.S. benefiting, of course:
ExxonMobil's 2016 annual Outlook for Energy report observes:
Technology is not just expanding our daily oil production; it also continues to increase the amount of oil and liquid fuels we can count on for the future.
In 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that remaining global recoverable crude and condensate resources were 1 trillion barrels; today, the IEA estimates that it is 4.5 trillion barrels – enough to meet global oil demand beyond the 21st century. By 2040, the amount of resources yet to be produced will still be far higher than total production prior to 2040, even with a 20 percent rise in global oil demand.
America, Japan and China are racing to be the first nation to make nuclear energy completely renewable. The hurdle is making it economic to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium in seawater is truly inexhaustible.
And it seems America is in the lead. New technological breakthroughs from DOE’s Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge (ORNL) national laboratories have made removing uranium from seawater within economic reach and the only question is – when will the source of uranium for our nuclear power plants change from mined ore to seawater extraction?
Nuclear fuel made with uranium extracted from seawater makes nuclear power completely renewable. It’s not just that the 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater now would fuel a thousand 1,000-MW nuclear power plants for a 100,000 years. It’s that uranium extracted from seawater is replenished continuously, so nuclear becomes as endless as solar, hydro and wind.
Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) is to export its first enriched uranium under a contract signed with Argentine state company Combustibles Nuclear Argentinos SA (Conuar). The agreement will see the export of four tonnes of uranium dioxide powder for use in the first fuel load for the Carem modular reactor.
The contract was announced on 20 June by INB president João Carlos Tupinambá at the opening of the Latin American section of the of the American Nuclear Society's annual symposium in Rio de Janeiro.
The uranium will be shipped in three batches with enrichment levels of 1.9%, 2.6% and 3.1% uranium-235. Authorization from Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be required before the shipments can take place.
Tupinambá said that the agreement was a milestone in Brazil-Argentina relations and consolidated INB's - and Brazil's - presence in the international enrichment sector. The uranium dioxide powder was also manufactured at Resende, he said.
The export contract would not affect the supply of fuel from INB for Brazil's two operating nuclear reactors at Angra dos Reis, Tupinambá said. INB said that the six centrifuge cascades currently in operation at Resende provide about 40% of the enriched uranium needs of Angra 1. When the first phase of the plant is completed, with three further cascades in operation, it will be able to supply 100% of Angra 1's and 20% of Angra 2's enriched uranium.
INB uses centrifuge technology developed by the Brazilian navy's technological centre (Centro Tecnológico da Marinha em São Paulo, CTMSP) in partnership with the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission's institute for energy and nuclear research (Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares, IPEN). The Resende site is also home to INB's nuclear fuel fabrication plant.
Argentina's National Atomic Energy Commission (Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica, CNEA) began construction of the Carem-25 prototype reactor at the Atucha site in 2014. Conuar is a CNEA subsidiary.
The first major limitation of silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells is that they are made from a material that is rarely found in nature in the pure, elemental form needed. While there is no shortage of silicon in the form of silicon dioxide (beach sand), it takes tremendous amounts of energy to get rid of the oxygen attached to it. Typically, manufacturers melt silicon dioxide at 1,500 to 2,000 degrees Celsius in an electrode arc furnace. This sets a fundamental lower limit on the production cost of silicon PV cells and also adds to the emissions of greenhouse gases from their manufacture.
Perovskites—a wide-ranging class of materials in which organic molecules made mostly of carbon and hydrogen bind with a metal such as lead and a halogen such as chlorine in a three-dimensional crystal lattice—can be made much more cheaply and with fewer emissions. Manufacturers can mix up batches of liquid solutions and then deposit the perovskites as thin films on surfaces of virtually any shape, no furnace needed. The film itself weighs very little.
Those features thus eliminate the second big limitation of silicon solar cells, which is their rigidity and weight. Silicon PV cells work best when they are flat and housed in large, heavy panels. But those panels make large-scale installations very expensive, which is in part why you typically see them on rooftops and big solar “farms.”
The third major limitation of conventional solar cells is their power conversion efficiency, which has been stuck at 25 percent for 15 years. When they were first described, perovskites offered much lower efficiency. In 2009, perovskite cells made of lead, iodide and methylammonium converted less than 4 percent of the sunlight that hit them into electricity. But the pace of improvement in perovskites has been phenomenal, thanks in part to the fact that thousands of different chemical compositions are possible within this class of material. By 2016, perovskite solar-cell efficiencies were above 20 percent
Some of the advanced designs such as the breeder reactor or the travelling wave reactor consume far greater proportions of the fuel and generate less spent fuel.
If we ever get a mixed oxide processing facility built, all the spent fuel being stored on site at nuclear plants could be reprocessed and fuel our future energy needs.
I was surprised that USEC has a Wikipedia page!
The Energy Policy Act of 1992, a U.S. federal law, created USEC to privatize uranium enrichment for civilian use, and in July 1993 USEC took over the facilities. The sale of USEC was completed on July 28, 1998 through an initial public offering of USEC stock. The U.S. government received about three billion dollars for USEC.
USEC had gaseous diffusion plants at Piketon, Ohio near Portsmouth. In May 2001, USEC ceased uranium enrichment operations in Piketon and consolidated operations in Paducah, Kentucky. The following year, transfer and shipping operations were also consolidated at Paducah.
A demonstration gas centrifuge plant was being built at Piketon for initial commercial operation in 2009, with a full-size plant is planned there for operation in 2012. However, in July 2009 the DOE did not grant a $2 billion loan guarantee for a planned uranium-enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio, "causing the initiative to go into financial meltdown," the company USEC spokesperson Elizabeth Stuckle said, adding "we are now forced to initiate steps to demobilize the project."
On July 28, 2009 the company said that it was suspending work on the project because of the Department of Energy's decision not to provide loan guarantees. The Energy Department said that the proposed plant was not ready for commercial production and therefore ineligible for the loan guarantees. The department said that if USEC withdraws its application, it will receive $45 million over the next 18 months to conduct further research.
Before its downsizing and final cessation of uranium enrichment on May 31, 2013, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant consumed about 3,000 megawatts of electricity at peak operation. Power for the Paducah gaseous diffusion plant came from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In 2012 the majority of the TVA grid was generated by coal fired plants, with three nuclear power plants coun
A major threat to Centrus' new ACP is abating.
GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy is pulling out of Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a company that in 2012 got the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) unprecedented approval to build and operate a full-scale laser uranium enrichment facility. The move was precipitated by a change in business priorities, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the GLE’s proprietary SILEX technology is dead.
GLE was born under GE’s banner in early 2006 as it won exclusive rights to commercially develop the SILEX laser isotope separation process technology under an agreement reached with Australia’s Silex Systems Ltd. The technology’s most hailed advantage was efficiency. All enrichment around the world is performed by gas centrifuge technology that was originally developed in the 1940s, and enrichment happens to be the most difficult and costly step in making nuclear fuel for power reactors, because about 35% to 40% of total fuel costs are based on current market prices, Silex explained. SILEX is the “most cost-efficient method,” the company said, noting that it is anticipated to have the lowest capital costs of all enrichment technologies.
Several entities have taken note of these benefits. In October 2006, GE got the U.S. government’s backing to proceed with the technology exchange, prompting Hitachi and Canada’s Cameco to join the venture between 2007 and 2008. GE currently has a 51% share in the venture, Hitachi, 25%, and Cameco, 24%.
The company’s SILEX technology got another boost in September 2012, when the NRC granted GLE a construction and operation license—the first of its kind—for a proposed facility that could be sited on a 1,600-acre tract of land at the company’s global headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., where GLE operated a fuel fabrication plant. The company then embarked on a three-phase program to commercialize the technology, completing the first phase (a test-loop demonstration) in 2013, and beginning the second phase (economic
A joint statement issued by the White House and India associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Washington, said that preliminary work on a six-reactor deal involving Westinghouse AP1000 technology in India would commence forthwith.
“The steps that the two Governments have taken in the last two years through the U.S.-India Contact Group, including addressing the nuclear liability issue ... through India's ratification of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, have laid a strong foundation for a long-term partnership between U.S. and Indian companies for building nuclear plants in India,” the joint statement said.
I found this piece on Bikini Atoll:
When the United States government persuaded residents of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to leave their homes, they were told they’d be able to return as soon as the nuclear tests were over.
Seventy years have passed since those promises, and the chain of islands remain deserted. Although residents are desperate to return, it appears the time has not yet come for the long-anticipated homecoming.
A study published this week said the remote atoll may still be too radioactive for inhabitation. Researchers who traveled to Bikini last year discovered radiation levels higher than those allowed by minimum safety standards. However, neighboring atolls were significantly less nuclear — a positive sign after decades of upheaval for the region’s former residents.
In 1946, the U.S., who’d taken control of the Marshall Islands from the Japanese after World War II, urged the inhabitants of Bikini Atoll — who had sustainably lived off the land and fished and sailed in the surrounding waters — to evacuate before atomic testing could commence. The residents were told that testing the bombs was for “the good of mankind and to end all world wars.”
“We had to move so they could test their weapon. It was a hard question, but we felt we had no choice,” Jackson Laiso, who was a boy during the evacuation, told Outside magazine in 2012.
On March 1, 1954, the U.S. detonated the 15-megaton hydrogen bomb known as Castle Bravo on Bikini Atoll. Equivalent to more than 1,000 Hiroshima-type bombs, it was the most powerful explosion ever detonated by the U.S.
An April 27, 1956 map shows the impacts of H-bomb tests on Bikini Atoll.
As part of the Cold War nuclear arms race, the U.S. would end up dropping a total of 23 nuclear weapons on Bikini between 1946 and 1958. These tests, and many
From the Powerline Blog:
Hugh McNeal, chief executive of the British wind industry’s trade body, has acknowledged that with subsidies at an end, there won’t be any more wind turbine projects in England. Why? The wind doesn’t blow hard enough:
We are almost certainly not talking about the possibility of new plants in England. The project economics wouldn’t work; the wind speeds don’t allow for it.
Then, of course, there is “the cost of operating a conventional fleet of almost unchanged size to guarantee security of supply.” In other words, you can’t count on the wind blowing (just as you can’t count on the Sun shining), so no matter how many turbines you build, you still have to have enough coal, gas or nuclear plants to meet peak demand.
Too often left unsaid is that in addition to being uneconomic, wind power is bad for the environment. Not only do wind turbines kill vast numbers of birds and bats, they are noisy–here in Minnesota, lawsuits have been filed by people who live near wind farms and claim to have experienced adverse health effects on account of noise–take up lots of land that could be put to more productive uses, and are unsightly.
Hopefully, America will soon admit what England has discovered and we will have politicians with the guts to pull the plug.
Good post. I notice that none of them are talking about a nuclear renaissance. Somebody should point out to Trump that building nuclear plants provides shovel- ready jobs for labor unions and reduces CO2 to make the Climate Nazis happy.
These are the radiation limits.Sickness is more typically caused by radioactive contamination, rather than low-level radiation exposure. For instance, the treatment for exposure to plutonium contamination at one time was immediate limb amputation. Alpha radiation is potentially harmful if an alpha emitter is inhaled or swallowed, but a sheet of paper is typically enough shielding to protect you from the effect.
The use of inappropriate radiation standards is not an abstract issue. People around Fukushima are being told they cannot return home for an indeterminate period – perhaps years. And efforts to decontaminate their home sites to these standards may include stripping off all the rich top-soil and calling it RadWaste. People who were evacuated have been reduced to economic poverty, clinical depression, and even suicide.
There is good scientific evidence that, except for some hot spots, the radiation levels at these home-sites are not life-threatening. The current restrictions are based on a misguided desire to be “prudent.” No matter how well intended, this “prudence” is cruelly destructive. Many radiation protectionists, such as Myron Pollycove, MD, former special assistant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Jerry Cuttler, formerly of the Canadian Nuclear Society, and Abel Gonzales of Argentina, vice-chair of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, are beginning to feel unhappy about the harm their rules have caused and are joining in the cry for quick action as the Japanese head into winter.
In 2002, U.S. Regulatory Report NCRP-136 examined the question of establishing permissible radiation limits. After looking at the data, it concluded that most people who get a small dose of nuclear radiation are not harmed by it, and in fact are benefited. That’s what the science said: Most people would benefit by receiving more radiation, within the hormetic range . “Benefit” means the incidence of cancer and genetic damage would be less.
Standing conventional wisdom on its head, federal officials are seeking comment on suggested rules that would allow more exposure to low-level radiation among people living near nuclear power plants.
The suggested rules are based on a scientific theory, known as radiation hormesis, which holds that low-level radiation is not harmful to human health and may in fact be beneficial. Hormesis is the term for the circumstance where a small amount of an otherwise harmful substance is good for you in small doses. Think of a square of dark chocolate after dinner versus a pound of it, or a glass of red wine at one sitting versus a case.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been soliciting public comment on the idea since June, and has extended the period for comments through Thursday. Through Monday, about 380 comments had been submitted.
Most of us are familiar with the premise of current NRC regulations — that any exposure to ionizing radiation, the kind that can damage or alter human cells, is potentially unsafe. The gospel: Thou shalt fear all radiation.
With that in mind, current NRC regulations limit public exposure to radiation from power plants to 100 millirem a year. (Another measure of ionizing radiation dosage is millisieverts, or mSv. One mSv is the same as 100 millirem.) The idea is to limit radiation releases from nuclear plants to zero, of course, but very small amounts of radiation sometimes escape into the air or groundwater.
The average American is exposed to about 600 millirem a year from other sources such as radon and other naturally occurring materials, medical procedures and cosmic particles and rays.
The legal limit for nuclear power plant workers is 5,000 millirem a year, though higher doses are allowed in some circumstances.
There do seem to be a lot of barriers to traditional new nuclear plants, but this action removes a big barrier to small reactor construction. The government appears to be clearing the decks for SMRs.
Bill Gates has close ties to the Obama Administration, and Obama will do things for his cronies that he wouldn't do just because it is good energy policy.
Throw in the fact that the massive Ivanpah Solar Plant appears to be another green fiscal disaster and maybe Obama is finally losing faith in solar and wind power. SMR's may offer him a way to salvage a portion of his climate change agenda. Too bad our President is such a slow learner!
I remember reading up on the Westinghouse SNUPPS plant (Standardized Nuclear Unit Power Plant System) many, many years ago. This has been updated to form the basis of the AP-1000 design.
Ivanpah, the world's largest solar power plant located in California's Mojave Desert, caught fire last Thursday, causing damage to one of the plant's three towers. This latest engineering setback is the least of the plant's woes. Prohibitive economic realities are the true problem.
Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decided to postpone its continued support of the struggling facility, which was touted as the future of solar power when it opened in 2014. But after receiving $1.6 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy (DOE) and $535 million from the U.S. Treasury Department, the facility's promising future is turning out to be a multi-billion-dollar waste of money.
Ivanpah is unable to meet its intended electricity generation of 940,000 megawatt-hours per year, despite its designation as the largest concentrated solar plant in the world. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) received only 45 percent of the electricity it expected from Ivanpah in 2014 and 68 percent in 2015.
Output is so low, in fact, that it fails to meet Ivanpah's power purchase agreement, which requires a set amount of electricity production for a certain price.
Ivanpah's managers found that the facility needs to produce much more steam than initially thought to run efficiently, which requires substantially more natural gas than originally planned to supplement the concentrated solar each morning. Weather predictions underestimated the amount of cloud cover the area receives, which prevents the facility from consistently producing high levels of electricity.
Compounding this reality, the price of solar photovoltaic panels has dropped precipitously, making concentrated solar more costly and less efficient in comparison to new solar technologies. Ivanpah is a concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, using mirrors to concentrate sunlight and power a steam turbine to create electricity.
NRC To Amend Light-Water SMR Fee Structure
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday that it would go ahead with amending its regulations to establish separate regulatory fees for light-water small modular reactors. The agency said it was establishing a separate fee structure because it anticipated it will soon receive SMR license applications. The Tennessee Valley Authority recently submitted to the agency the first early site application for SMR development.
The regulator simply said that “without this separate fee structure, a SMR would have been required to pay the same annual fee a large operating light-water reactor.” Under the new fee structure, NRC fees will be assessed "based on how much power it is licensed to generate."
1) With today’s competitive electricity markets, generators must compete to provide power exactly where and when it is needed at the lowest price. This fact makes it harder to predict what price a nuclear power plant will be paid for its electricity, and thereby makes it more difficult to justify a long-term investment in nuclear versus something like natural gas or renewable energy. It’s not a coincidence that the only new nuclear generating units under construction in the United States are owned by Southern Company, a regulated utility.
The investment outlook for nuclear is made worse by the fact that conventional nuclear power plants must be built at a huge scale to justify their upfront cost. This means than any new conventional nuclear plant will bring a lot of new electricity to the power market, shifting the supply curve and depressing the market electricity price. It’s simple economics: if there’s too much supply in the market versus demand, the price goes down. Similar forces have depressed global oil prices as Saudi Arabia holds production steady to compete with U.S. oil producers.
SMRs don’t have the same scale issue that conventional nuclear plants do. Because they are smaller, they require less upfront investment (even if the cost per unit of energy produced is higher). Furthermore, they are less likely to produce a supply glut in the marketplace. These features combine to make SMRs a lot more appealing than conventional nuclear from a finance perspective.
Good article in Der Spiegal, a leading German magazine:
The official message remains unyielding: The iron-clad rule is that radioactivity can be dangerous, even in small doses. There is no threshold for harmlessness. Even a single damaged cell could eventually become a tumor.
That standard measure of risk largely comes from a study launched in 1950, after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That year, a study of 86,000 survivors began, and is ongoing today. It demonstrated that the risk of cancer rises along with the radiation dosage.
Statistically, though, the effect of radiation only becomes apparent at a relatively high dosage -- at about 100 millisieverts, as the unit biologists use to measure the effects of radiation on the body is called. That is 50 times as much as a person receives each year in Germany from natural background radiation.
Starting from 100 millisievert, the danger becomes fairly easy to predict: If 100 people are irradiated with that dosage, a heightened risk of cancer or leukemia is to be expected. But below that things get tricky. "We simply don't know how the body responds to weaker radiation," says Werner Rühm, director of the Institute of Radiation Protection near Munich.
The Limits of Statistics
It's possible that as little as 10 millisieverts lead to increased rates of cancer. But that wouldn't show up in the statistics. "Cancer from other causes is simply too common," says Rühm. "Over 40 percent of people get it at some point." And the risk varies dramatically, depending on lifestyle: Among smokers, for example, it is especially high. It is hard to know if, among 1,000 cancer cases, there is one hidden case that can be traced to cell mutation caused by radiation.
"But society, of course, demands conclusions from us," says Rühm. "So to be safe, we pretend to be able to calculate the danger down to the smallest dosage."
Exelon said Friday that it would move forward with early retirements of its Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power facilities if there were no policy actions in the state of Illinois that would give the company reason to reconsider.
Market considerations could also affect, the decision, Exelon said, noting that the retirements would proceed “if adequate legislation is not passed during the spring Illinois legislative session scheduled to end on May 31 and if, for Quad Cities, adequate legislation is not passed and the plant does not clear the upcoming PJM capacity auction later this month.”
A nuclear waste leak at the Hanford Site in Washington state that rapidly intensified last month has left 33 workers ill from possible exposure to chemical vapors, while others scramble to pump the remaining waste out of the storage facility.
Back in 2011, a leak was found on the inner hull of one of the site's 28 double-wall storage tanks. The previous leak posed an insignificant threat, but workers came across an even larger leak in recent weeks while attempting to clear the inner hull of its remaining waste.
The number of those who have been reported ill as a result of the leak climbed into the 30s after six workers sought medical evaluation Monday, suspecting exposure to radioactive fumes left them unwell, according to the Tri-City Herald. A majority of the affected have been cleared to return to work, but voice a fear of suffering from long-term or neurological sickness.
Crews at the United States Department of Energy’s storage site in Hanford were alerted by leak detection alarms the morning of April 17, and after lowering a camera into the affected area, the staff found 8.4 inches of radioactive and chemically toxic waste had poured between the inner and outer walls of the tank, KING 5 reported.
“This is catastrophic,” former site employee Mike Geffre said soon after the leak was found. “This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double-shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors.”
However, a State Representative in Seattle argued that the of the 56 million gallons of radioactive chemicals stored at the Hanford site, two-thirds of the total substance is radioactive waste being held in unfit tanks made sometime between 1940 and 1970.