Hidden Truths About Nuclear Power

Michael Collins

A poster at The Agonist, Joaquin, published an elegant and important analysis this weekend. His tightly packed, brief post made three key points. We're headed for an ugly future with nuclear power based on shortages and future fuel cycles more volatile than those imploding and exploding in Japan. Governments, the nuclear industry, and the media are avoiding this issue entirely. As a result, the rulers and technocrats who got us to the latest meltdown cannot be trusted to make any more decisions about energy needs. (Image)

"The truth is, there is a big fat lie that the nuclear power industry and the media are foisting on the public and that has not changed." Joaquin

"What is it", the big fat lie, Joaquin asks.

"This lie has to do with the nature of nuclear power in the future. Everyone is asking, can we make nuclear technology, the current, nuclear technology safe? In truth, the current risks with the nuclear fuel cycle i.e., the risks of contaminating the environment, are not the risks of the future because the current nuclear fuel cycle is not the fuel cycle that will be used in the future. There's just not that much uranium left to fuel an extensive expansion of nuclear power generation." Joaquin (See Note 1)

By 2015, the supplies of uranium will be in sufficient decline to limit nuclear energy. Or will they?

"This assessment results in the conclusion that in the short term, until about 2015, the long lead times of new and the decommissioning of aging reactors perform the barrier for fast extension, and after about 2020 severe uranium supply shortages become likely which, again will limit the extension of nuclear energy." Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy, 2006

The United States and France, heavy nuclear users, will be out of domestic supply and world supply is questionable. It takes semantic tricks by industry representatives to claim otherwise. (See Note 2)

Joaquin offers up the future of nuclear power, the future carefully avoided by governments, the nuclear industry, and the media. Instead of the current generation of plants, the nuclear industry will give us "improved reactors" and fuel cycles that require less uranium. Supplementing that will be imports from the same type of unreliable suppliers that we have for petroleum (e.g., Kazakhstan, the Soviet Union).

"So, where's all the nuclear fuel going to come from? The answer has to be that the nuclear industry and U.S. government intend to use more exotic fuel cycles in the future power plants including, MOX (currently leaking our of Fukushima1, unit 3), reprocessed Uranium, Thorium, and breeder reactors of various types (See Note)

"The industry and their government and media proxies don't want to talk about this fact too much because the waste from these future fuel cycles is far more dangerous than most of the stuff slowly making a large part of Japan uninhabitable for the next few dozen millennium. In other words, the discussion in the media about future nuclear safety is completely dishonest." Joaquin

The "See Note" link provides more details on the dangers and questionable availability of these future nuclear fuel cycles. We're witnessing a preview of the future with the MOX cycle. Fukushima I, unit 3, began using MOX in September 2010. Here's a nuclear engineer formerly with Tokyo Power on unit 3:

"Goto said that the MOX also has a lower melting point than the other reactor fuels. The Fukushima facility began using MOX fuel in September 2010, becoming the third plant in Japan to do so, according to MOX supplier AREVA." D.C. Bureau March 15

Joaquin's point on the dangers of new fuel cycles is well taken. One of the fuels of the future, MOX, has a low melting point than the other reactors at Fukushima. Maybe that's why it had an, as of yet, unexplained hydrogen explosion in MOX fueled reactor 3. The others outlined in the note are no more assuring as a future source. Nevertheless, the nuclear industry persists in acting like it has a viable supply to meet it's demands and promises.

"We are supposed to believe that this hydrogen explosion (first image above) at unit 3, March 14, is no biggie; of course it isn't; it's just a direct hit. WTF, there is a huge amount of concrete flying hundreds of meters in the air not a tin roof; the nature of the damage done by this explosion has proven to be the subject of one lie after another." Joaquin

The dangers of unit 3 are clear:

"The No. 3 reactor is a particular concern because it is the only one of six at the plant to use a potentially volatile mix of uranium and plutonium." ABC News, March 26

Joaquin examined a perfect example of media denial in reporting toxic dangers from the disaster.

"The media is confusing everyone about radiation because they refuse or are unable to discern the difference between contamination and direct radiation. That's because the media are run by people who are either trying to obfuscate what is going on or are just plain idiots; your choice. Look at this picture: compiled from Sources: Tepco (Tokyo Power); International Atomic Energy Agency; Federal Aviation Administration; Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"Never-mind that most of the data is missing in the above picture, which seems to say the plant is safe to walk around in anytime as long as you don't mind the possibility of a CT-SCAN now and then. Today, several plant employees found out the hard way what a dangerous lie this is." Joaquin

The picture and timeline from the New York Times, March 25 referenced by Joaquin shows how little the media demands from officials sources. The top official in the Japanese cabinet, Yukio Adono, flat out admitted that there was no monitoring for toxic particles, the real danger for contamination. From the video: "Unfortunately we are not able to measure the radioactive materials [in the atmosphere]…That is something we're trying to work out."

"When it comes to radioactive materials in general in the atmosphere, we are now trying to measure it and then we will see how much of the ratio active materials are actually emitted from the nuclear power plant. We are trying to come up with an estimate for that." Yukio Adono, CNN Video, March 23, Starts at 1:06

Where is the coverage? Where are the questions? Measuring "radioactive materials" in the atmosphere is precisely the type of measurement that goes to health and safety concerns.

The inevitable conclusion about the current stewards of energy policy and information is clear:

"Clearly, given the lies coming out of Japan and the media's willing participation in them, nuclear energy is too dangerous for the truth and that these institutions are too corrupt to act as responsible stewards of such a dangerous existing technology." Joaquin

If you think Fukushima is bad, just wait for the bright and shining future offered by those who control the levers of power. They're just warming up.

Extended quotations provided with the permission of the author. Original article first published in The Agonist.


Also see: Joaquin's original post Is Nuclear Power too Dangerous toTell the Truth About? and
New Scientist - Fukushima radioactive fallout nears Chernobyl levels by Michael Collins

You may reproduce this article entirely or in part with attribution of authorship to Joaquin and a link to the article.



corruption and lobbyists

Who else is beyond frustrated that we cannot get some simple, objective, based on facts, statistics, possibilities, policies in the national interest?

Case in point is energy. Green jobs were front loaded with special interests, faux paus agendas and ended up being offshore outsourced to China to boot.

The real research money never gets to the real engineers who can solve, invent these problems (U.S. citizen engineers) it's going to the coffers of corporations and going lord knows where (try China and India again).

They we have paradigms that people are plain stuck in. They get on their favorite technology or soapbox, say fast speed rail or bikes or solar panels or whatever...

instead of looking or even having the ability to think about, the entire system.

In other words, we have energy all around us, from flushing your toilet to walking across the room to those waves nearby to methane gas to even small voltage differences in marshes and chemical reactions....

But of course, there are no lobbyists representing a system of heterogenous elements....

So, we go nowhere, like almost every policy.

Which is harder to dispose of?

Lobbyists or fissionable material?

I'd say it's a close call. Incredible reserves of talent in this country and squandered on useless projects or benched to save a few bucks on salaries. We can't afford this any longer from the people who brought us Fukushima, Ira1, Afghanistan, 9/11, and ten years of no net new jobs.

Hidden Truths about Nuclear

Point of fact: all light water reactors contain plutonium. It is converted from the U238 which makes up about 95% of the initial uranium fuel load. Roughly 40% of the power actually comes from fissioning Plutonium at about half the way into a two or three year run.

At the risk of really spinning up Michael Collins, there is another developing nuclear option: the hybrid-nuclear power plant. This technology marries a small helium reactor with a large combustion turbine, with a nuclear turbine driving the combustion turbine’s air compressor. The plant is fueled by nuclear energy and natural gas or gasified coal. The reactor is ideally suited to use thorium in addition to uranium and plutonium.

The net result of the hybrid approach is large amounts of reasonably priced energy from a physically small power plant, with all emissions cut in half. Nuclear wastes are reduced by about 80% because the plant is exceptionally efficient and half the energy comes from coal or natural gas. Is also a real nice fit with renewable energy.

Unlike conventional nuclear plants, virtually no operator action is required to keep the public safe; the reactor’s fuel can not melt, with reactor decay heat passively removed.

Spinning requires energy;)

I'm all for that. The hybrid approach is very interesting. As described, it may be necessary to employ that just to get rid of the Fusion is particularly appealing. They're varying degrees of down the road. We need viable solutions underway 10 years ago. Solar and wind have been around. Make them work wit major projects like the Germans are moving toward.

There is little likelihood of solar and wind or the hybrid wile the incumbents in the ticking time bomb nuclear business are allowed to build and serve plants and build the substrate of that with suitcases full of cash for our (s)elected officials.

We have the means and talent but the system is so toxic it vaccinates against creativity and progress.

"helium reactor"?

Are we talking about fusion here?

Large co's can't justify "padding the expense"

of building small.

For example, read somewhere that a plant in TN went from $1.4 M to 3/or 4M$ cost - rapid rise, no end in sight. Cash cow for investors, at the expense of humanity. Short term profits win... longer term - humans lose.

Similar to WHY we have no alternative energy solutions - because the big co's can't collect their "monthly rent" when people go off grid and do for themselves?

Just as R's want to ban energy saving bulbs - because they work! They work so well, they decrease the money the energy co's get monthly... So, we MUST go backwards to keep the money flowing to the top.

SICK. Time for change - Nuclear is INSANE.

•"brutes have risen to power, but they lie!" Charlie Chaplin


Jack the prices up to the maximum and get the monopoly service revenues in line for future price increases.

reactor #3 explosion

looked to me to be an explosion confined to a tubular space with a breakout headed WNW along the ground. Photos of buildings in that direction seem to show that they were impacted from that vector. The plume was straight and columnar and rose to a huge height. It was like a mortar shot. I suspect the top blew off the reactor and took the contents of the cooling pool with it. Fuel rods are brittle and easily pulverised. I would not be the least bit surprised if substantial amounts of MOX dust are now wafting on the breeze at various altitudes. Iodine 131 is one thing, but vaporized Plutonium is quite another altogether. TEPCO has destroyed the future of Japan and perhaps many others as well. If there is any sense of honor remaining in it's management, then the seppuku will be starting soon.

Chilling ... That's what a reporter seemed to say

There was a shot of the reactor and you could see scaffolding etc. But that report disappeared. How can that explosion happen without major structural damage? I'll say this for the nuclear power industry. They may not be able to build a plant in the USA but they can certainly lock down the news.

Fuel Cycles

The "nuclear waste" in spent fuel rods retains 99% of its energy content, it is really potent, unburned fuel. Why not burn it up first in Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors that utilize a single fuel cycle and extract the remaining energy before disposal? This would reduce the volume of waste needing to be disposed of by 99% while extracting 200% more usable energy from the same material while at the same time reducing the toxicity of the reduced waste by orders of magnitude.

Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors (MSR/LFTR) technology has been sitting on the shelf for 55 years and could be commercialized relatively quickly. While it will not be 100% safe these reactors are inherently safer because they cannot melt down (the fuel is already in a molten state) and are self regulating, (if the overheat the overheating itself shuts the reactor down, the fuel drains and is passively cooled. They can burn away 99% of existing waste from spent fuel rods without reprocessing. They require a fraction of the fuel and produce a fraction of the waste.

The nuclear industry's business model is dependent on fuel sales and reprocessing spent fuel. Profits are earned when the same product is sold then reprocessed and resold again and again. Each time through the loop the material becomes more toxic. Reactor technology that requires multiple fuel cycles no matter how inefficient and dangerous increases industry profits. They will sell reactors at a loss just to get the fuel contract.

Single fuel cycle reactors are rightly seen as disruptive to their business model which is founded on inefficient multiple fuel cycle reactors that only extract 1% of the energy content in each fuel cycle. Reprocessing isn't some magical process that adds energy to the spent fuel. It is a process that allows the spent fuel to be prepared for another cycle through the reactor where another 1% of its energy content can be extracted. Each time the fuel is cycled through a reactor profits are earn by transporting, selling, reprocessing and reselling the same fuel product, again and again. The inefficiency of this system is staggering and so are the profits.

How long?

Paul, can you give some links for the lead time for Thorium reactors? I've come across different estimates, some way out there.

The idea of leaving a time bomb 10,000 years out that nobody will know about probably is simply offensive. There's no way to assure it.

Where's Einstein when we need him?;)