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Recycling the past
(Reprocessing nuclear fuel - laying the idea to rest)
The reprocessing of nuclear fuel is an idea that should be laid to rest.
...President George Bush is said to be contemplating a step that will revive public concern about the link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons - and could ultimately set back any prospect of reviving the former.
When it is released next week, Bush's 2007 budget proposal is expected to include a provision that would start to revive nuclear-fuel reprocessing. That would end a three-decade-old strategy in the United States that has sought to sever the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Nuclear-fuel reprocessing aims to reduce the volume of spent nuclear fuel that has to be disposed of safely by recycling it for use in new types of nuclear reactor. But the recycling involves separating components that can readily be used to build nuclear weapons.
...It may be that the Bush proposal reflects the administration's frustration over continued opposition to the Yucca Mountain repository. But, in the end, the only environmentally or financially viable path to nuclear power generation involves wrestling with the murky details of long-term waste disposal. Fuel recycling may look exciting on paper; in practice, it is part of the problem, not the solution.
(2 February 2006)
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Nuclear power costs underestimated and renewables’ potential overlooked
Press Release, New Economics Foundation
The cost of new nuclear power has been underestimated by almost a factor of three and the potential of small scale renewables critically overlooked according to a report from nef (the new economics foundation), Mirage and Oasis, released to coincide with the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, on 29 June 2005.
Nuclear power has been promoted in the UK and globally as the answer to climate change and energy insecurity. But, as Mirage and Oasis reveals, as a response to global warming, nuclear power is too slow, too expensive and too limited. And, in an age of terrorist threats, it is more of a security risk than a solution. Instead, renewable energy offers as safe, secure and climate-friendly energy supply system. It leaves no toxic legacy and is abundant and cheap to harvest both in the UK and globally. ... The UK nuclear industry have systematically underestimated the cost of new nuclear power, the report says by almost a factor of three - without even taking into account the wider risks associated with nuclear such as proliferation, insurance, pollution and terrorist threats. More realistic estimates for construction, delays and overruns, the cost of early reactors and actual performance - all push the likely costs of new nuclear power up.
(31 Jan 2006)
Some of the seemingly overly-optimistic claims made about renewables might make some readers sceptical. Greenpeace have recently produced a shocking video in Britain as part of their campaign against a new series of nuclear power plants. -AF
Kiriyenko Says Russia Needs Another 40 Nuclear Reactors
Vladimir Isachenkov, The Moscow Times
Russia's atomic energy chief said Wednesday that the nation needs to build dozens of nuclear reactors in a massive effort that would require restoring production links with related facilities in other ex-Soviet nations.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, said Russia needed to build about 40 new nuclear reactors in order to bring the share of nuclear energy in the nation's energy balance to 25 percent, news agencies reported.
(2 Feb 2006)
Brazil fills up on ethanol, weans off energy imports
David Luhnow and Geraldo Samor, The Wall Street Journal via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- After nearly three decades of work, Brazil has succeeded where much of the industrialized world has failed: It has developed a cost-effective alternative to gasoline. Along with new offshore oil discoveries, that's a big reason Brazil expects to become energy independent this year.
...Yet countries wanting to follow Brazil's example may be leery about following its methods. Military and civilian leaders laid the groundwork by mandating ethanol use and dictating production levels. They bankrolled technology projects costing billions of dollars, despite criticism they were wasting money. Brazil ended most government support for its sugar industry in the late 1990s, forcing sugar producers to become more efficient and helping lower the cost of ethanol's raw material. That's something Western countries are loath to do, preferring to support domestic farmers.
With government support, sugar companies and auto makers' local units delivered cost-saving breakthroughs. "Flexible fuel" cars running ethanol, gasoline or a mixture of both, have become a hit. Car buyers no longer have to worry about fluctuating prices for either fuel because flex-fuel cars allow them to hedge their bets at the pump. Seven out of every 10 new cars sold in Brazil are flex-fuel.
Brazil is also fortunate that sugar is the cheapest way to make ethanol and Brazil has the right conditions for growing the crop -- plenty of land, rain and cheap labor.
Despite these unique circumstances, Brazil's efforts are being closely followed by countries with big fuel bills. India and China have sent a parade of top officials to see Brazil's program.
(12 January 2006)
Also posted at YaleGlobal and MarxMail.
Biomass as feedstock for a bioenergy and bioproducts industry
The technical feasibility of a billion-ton annual supply (PDF)
US Dept of Energy, USDA
...The purpose of this report is to determine whether the land resources of the United States are capable of producing a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30 percent or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption - the goal set by the Advisory Committee in their vision for biomass technologies. Accomplishing this goal would require approximately 1 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock per year.
The short answer to the question of whether that much biomass feedstock can be produced is yes.
A large report from the government earlier last year. A section at the end describes a few caveats, but in general the report is gung-ho. One would hope for more critical thinking for a decision this big. -BA