Nuclear power is like the unloved child ofsustainable energy. It’s got so much potential, but it only gets noticed when it does somethingwrong. If only people could just see how cool it is. Ahoyhoy fallout boys and girls, Julian herefor DNews and today we’re going to talk about nuclear power. Now I know this is anelement that splits the internet and leads to an explosive chain reaction (see what Idid there?) but we are going to gingerly handle this sensitive material like the sciencelovingadults that we are. The most popular green energies people liketo discuss are solar and wind power, and I
agree, the idea of harnessing the phenomenalcosmic power of the sun and.snazzy earthy blowingness of wind is pretty cool. But we’regoing to have to upscale our production in a big way if we are going to meet demands.Last year in the US, wind provided 4.13% of our power, and solar? A microscopic .23%.So we’d need almost 25 times as much of each just to meet demands, not to mentionwe’d have to overproduce and store energy for when it’s dark and not windy. And we’llhave to build the storage facilities. Meanwhile nuclear provides 19% of our energyin this country, but we’re using an idea we haven’t updated since the 50’s; theLight Water Reactor.
Light Water Reactors split uranium 235 toheat water. In the US this water is kept at extremely high pressures to keep it in liquidform. This superheated superpressurized water then heats a second loop of water, turningit to steam and driving a turbine. Reactors like this became widespread because of theirsimplicity, but they only use about 5% of their fuel and the waste is radioactive for10,000 years. The fuel can be recycled though. France has been relying on nuclear power sincethe 70s and by recycling, the total amount of highlevel waste that could give a familyof 4 power from when the kids are born until they’re in college is about the volume ofa cigarette lighter. You still have to put
that somewhere, and waste storage is one ofthe major dividing issues. Don’t kid yourself though, in California alone the productionof solar panels makes over 13 million tons of toxic waste annually, and that’s juststored somewhere too. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Molten Salt Reactors were a competing ideathat were shelved in the 60’s, despite the fact that engineers built reactors that provedthey could work. Lately interest in them is growing because of their potential benefits.The concept is liquid salt is the reactor’s coolant, meaning it doesn’t need to be pressurizedlike it’s light water counterparts. This
means there’s no complications from lossof pressure like the rapid expansion of radioactive gas or loss of coolant to the reactor. Infact it’s possible to design molten salt reactors in such a way that they are selfregulatingand meltdown proof. Pretty neat, huh? And it gets better, Molten Salt Reactors thatwould use Thorium as their fuel source would use almost 100% of their fuel. And they wouldbreed more of their own. When thorium 232 is hit with a neutron, it absorbs it and eventuallydecays into uranium 233. U233 is fissile, and shoots out 2 or 3 more neutrons. Thesecan keep the chain reaction going and also bombard more thorium to generate more uranium.Thorium has the benefit of being 3 to 4 times
more abundant than uranium, and right nowis just a hazardous waste byproduct of rareearth mining. So we’re already digging the stuffup, and have nothing to use it for. Thorium 232 has a halflife of over 14 billionyears, but once it’s been used in a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, 80% of the wastedecays to safe levels in 10 years. A small amount would need up to 300 years before itwas safe, but that beats 10,000 years by a long shot. And the products of a LFTR reactorare harder to use for nuclear weapons, so there’s less of a worry about nuclear proliferation.Not that we don’t have enough weapons to murderize everyone already.
Which Power Source Is Most Efficient
This episode of Dnews is brought to you byDomain . Fossil fuel energy is the most common typeof power plant in the United States, but solar just hit a HUGE milestone that might makethem finally shine past the competition. For all the talk about solar panels beingbetter for the environment, they are still notoriously inefficientâ€¦ or were, untilnow. Australian researchers from University of New South Wales created the most efficientsolar panels ever; these new panels convert 46percent of their sunlight energy into electricity.Typical rooftop panels hover around 15 percent at best. This new technology works by distributingthe solar collection into three cells picking
sunlight up in multiple wavelengths, and thenreflecting the excess light at a fourth panel! Genius! So 46. Percentâ€¦ Yepâ€¦ Ahemâ€¦ pause 46% doesn’t SOUND like much, does it? Right?It’s less than half! Traditionally, power plants usually use heat to create steam andmove turbines. Those turbines generate the electric current. I bet you’re as curiousas I was about which plants are the most efficient, but they’re doing better than a LOT of them. To calculate efficiency of a power plant,you take the output power and heat, add that
together, and divide by the total amount ofpower produced. Essentially, you’re accounting for the fact that burning fuels is HOT, andyou lose a lot of heat in the power transfer. Let me give you an example, in the U.S., thereare over 1400 coal power plants burning this fossil fuel at an efficiency of about 33%.Meaning twothirds of ALL ENERGY from coal in a plant designed to use coal to createelectricity is lost. Even the most efficient plants are only 45 percent. Nuclear energy, also measured by the previousequation, ranges from the low 30s to the high 40sâ€¦ With the best, most heat efficientplants topping out around 48percent. As technology
improves, and the population has become moreinterested in environmental protection, both coal and nuclear have become more efficient.But if we’re all honest with each other, making the plant perform better isn’t easy. Instead,a quick solution is to take the heat exhaust and loop it back into the plant. This conservesthose extra BTU’s of heat, rather than letting them float away into the atmosphere. Someplants do this to conserve as much heat as they can. They can also help burn the fuelmore efficiently, or fine tune the plant to keep it tip top. Unfortunately, wind power is the big loseroutside of commercial solar, but even with
that, they’re running anywhere from 25 to50 percent efficiency. It varies depending on the design, and the location. Offshorewind farms run more often than onshore ones, but the efficiency depends on how hard thewind is blowing and how much of that wind power the turbine can harvest. Lots of scientists are working on making superefficient wind power. Biomimicry is a big part of their recent advances, with some scientistsdiscovering that mimicking sharks, whales or birds will help make the installationscapture more energy. This also informs the winner and champion of ALL these power generationsolutions hydroelectric.
The biggest hydroelectric installations canget a 95percent efficiency, and even the smaller ones can still hit 85. 85 is a LOTmore than the next closest. It’s pretty incredible. But when you take into account the simplicity,the eye is drawn right back to solar. Sure, coal and nuclear have a lot of bang for theirbuck, solar needs a lot of space, and sunâ€¦ but while 46percent didn’t sound like a lotbeforeâ€¦ an infinitely renewable, nonpolluting energy solution that is essentially equalin efficiency to other major generation techniques sounds pretty darn good. No? And by the way, if you’re looking for anefficient way to buy a domain name, look no