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Monbiot: A kneejerk rejection of nuclear power is not an option
George Monbiot, The Guardian
Support of nuclear power will no doubt provoke hostile responses, but we have a duty to be as realistic as possible about how we might best prevent runaway climate change
(20 February 2009)
Review: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World
Greg Aitkenhead, High Country News
Writer Tom Zoellner has a great sense of timing. His latest work, Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World, hits the shelves as media attention zeros in on Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, the explosion of uranium development near the Grand Canyon, and President Obama's pledge to "look at every possible option," including nuclear power, to satisfy our growing energy needs.
In Uranium, Zoellner mixes a joyful zeal for his subject matter reminiscent of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything with tenacious investigative journalism comparable to Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Uranium occasionally loses momentum, taking a few obligatory slogs through well-known events like America's atomic development during World War II, but solid storytelling prevails.
The book presents disturbing firsthand accounts of places like the Shikolobwe Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, despite four decades of official closure, local men still work barehanded to feed a thriving black market. He visits Russia to uncover smuggling rings dealing weapons-grade uranium and observes the effects of industrial mining on Aborigines in Australia's Northern Territory. In London, he drops by the World Nuclear Association, a private-sector group promoting safe nuclear power, whose lobby sports a bust of Homer Simpson.
(2 February 2009)
Recommended by EB contributor Jim Barton.
Does America Still Have a Nuclear Industry?
William Tucker, The Infrastructurist
The nuclear industry was born in America. But today while it’s booming in the rest of world, it seems to be dying here.
In the halcyon days of the ’60s and ’70s, the three largest builders of reactors were all U.S. companies. Today, there is only GE and it is starting to lag far behind foreign rivals. Since last November, Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear fleet owner, and Dominion, one of the most ambitious utilities in applying for new reactors, both announced they will drop plans to build GE reactors. Around the same time, Entergy, the nation’s second largest fleet owner, said it will “explore alternatives” to building with GE.
This means that GE, which was already running in third place behind Westinghouse, now a Japanese company, and Areva, the French giant, is down to one planned reactor.
How did we fall so far so fast? It’s actually been decades in the making.
(17 February 2009)
How Long Before Uranium Shortages?
Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
There is a great deal of controversy about how much uranium will be available for future use. I decided to check to see for myself, and came to the conclusion that we are likely headed for problems within the next ten years. Below the fold are a few things I discovered, in looking through reports available on the Internet.
How much uranium is "out there"? One gets a very different answer if one looks at (1) known concentrations that are suitable for ore, versus (2) the amount that is theoretically available, if one considers all of the dilute amounts available in rocks almost everywhere, and in seawater.
... How Do We Mine the Uranium?
The amount of uranium available depends upon what mining techniques are available and how pollution is handled.
When countries first started producing fuel in the 1950 -1980 period, there was little concern about pollution. Open pit and underground mines were used to produce huge volumes of uranium. Without adequate pollution control, there were often serious pollution problems. Eventually, in the United States, Superfund was called upon to try to clean up many of these sites, and people became disenchanted with this approach to mining. The cost of the Superfund clean-up was never charged back to the uranium industry, so analysts looking at statistics such as EROEI got a more favorable view of the industry than would otherwise be the case.
... It is likely that reserve estimates for the United States are still using the 1980 DOE assessment, even though it is significantly out of date, and not up to date with mining techniques currently in use.
Clearly, if we were to develop better mining techniques that have acceptable pollution levels and can be used in a wider range of sites, then our ability to extract uranium resources would be improved. As far as I can see, development of additional techniques has not yet happened. Recycled bomb material has been flooding the market for almost twenty years now, keeping uranium prices low. This has deterred investment in better techniques for extracting uranium, both by companies and governments.
The shortfall in supply that seems to be headed our way will be coming very soon--as soon as we become unable to find sufficient recycled bomb material to fill the gap between nuclear reactor needs and current year production, which could be as soon as 2013 (or sooner, if world financial difficulties interfere with imported Russian bomb material before then).
If we need new mines, we should have started years ago, since there is a lag of up to 10 years before a new mine begins operation. If we need new mining techniques, research on these should have started even longer ago. While there may be a whole lot of low level uranium resources "out there", if we don't have techniques to economically extract them and also keep pollution in bounds, the resources are not very useful to us. We may someday develop new techniques, but in the meantime, we are likely to have a large supply gap.
(19 February 2009)