The Future of Nuclear Energy

If Global Carbon Emissions Were Cut by 15% by 2050 by the Increased Use of Nuclear Power, 1,070 Plants Would Need to Be Built at a Cost of $5 Trillion.

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Decommissioning takes a lot of time and money. For example the Trojan plant in Rainier, Ore., was built in 1972 and was shut down in 1993, yet it took until 2006 to complete its decommissioning, and the radioactive wastes it has generated while in operation are still stored at the site.

As of 2000, the total investment to build the over 500 nuclear power plants was about $2.5 trillion ($0.65 trillion in the United States). As to the positive impact of nuclear plants on carbon emission, a study by Princeton scientists determined that if the global carbon emission was to be cut by only 15% by 2050 through the increased use of nuclear power, 1,070 plants would need to be built, and this would cost $5 trillion. (To appreciate the size of this cost: The global GWP is around $45 trillion; the American GDP is about $15 trillion; the U.S. debt is around $35 trillion; total federal debt about $12 trillion; the foreign holdings of treasury securities is about $4 trillion; and the present federal budget is about $3 trillion.)

The Safety of the Processing Steps

The processes used in the nuclear power industry start with mining. The safety record of mining, enrichment and fuel fabrication is fairly good.


Automation Pyramid
Automation Pyramid

While nuclear fuel preparation is relatively safe, it is not accident-free. For example, in May 2008, the world’s largest uranium producer’s (Cameco) Port Hope plant in Ottawa was shut down because of concerns about radioactive leakage into Lake Ontario.

Most nuclear accidents (over 100) occurred in the nuclear reactors themselves. The majority of these accidents were caused by design or operator errors involving either the fuel rod or the coolant controls. Radiation leaks can also occur because of earthquakes, ageing, poor waste storage practices or terrorist attacks. The most important safety goal is to maintain the proper operation of the reactor cooling systems. Therefore, redundancy and backup of controls and equipment is more important than in other industrial operations, because here the run-away conditions evolve quickly, while plant shutdown is slow and complicated. (An example of such events occurred in August 2007, when the cooling tower of the Vermont Yankee plant collapsed).

Another potential cause of accidents is ageing and the trend to replace or duplicate the hardwired analog controls with digital systems. Safety can also be reduced when data highways are installed on top of or in parallel with the original analog controls. The evolution of these ”hybrid” control systems in many plants resulted in several layers of poorly documented and poorly understood controls.

Despite a thriving global computer security industry, the Internet remains insecure. Because even the most heavily garrisoned military networks have proved vulnerably, permitting ANY form of Internet-based communication between the Operations and Enterprise levels of a nuclear power plant is an unacceptable risk.   

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