Archive for May, 2010

The nuclear power industry in decline

May 31, 2010

Nuclear energy: a panacea for climate change?. ABC Radio National, Ockham’s Razor, Dr Adam Lucas – 30 May 2010 “……What is the status of nuclear energy in the world at the moment? And do the arguments of its proponents stand up to scrutiny?Nuclear energy is currently responsible for generating around 14% of the world’s electricity. And although nuclear contributes anything from 2% to 6% of the world’s total energy needs, it has been steadily losing out to renewables over the last decade or so, which now contribute between 7% and 20% of total global energy.

Just under 70% of the world’s nuclear energy comes from five countries: the US, France, Japan, Russia and Germany. Almost half of the world’s nuclear energy is generated by just two countries, the US and France.

In December, 2009, there were 436 nuclear power plants operating around the world in 31 different countries: eight less than in 2002. And the world’s reactor fleet is getting old: more than three-quarters of these plants have been operating for more than 20 years, and a quarter of them for more than 30.

Because the operating life of a nuclear power plant is at best 40 years, three-quarters of all the plants running now will need to be replaced by 2030 just to maintain their current generating capacity. That means 200 new plants within 20 years. And although there is talk of extending reactor lifetimes to 60 years, there are a host of technical problems that would have to be overcome to make that a reality.

But the fact is that nowhere near that a number of reactors are actually being built, and it’s very unlikely that they ever will be.

In December 2009, there were only 56 nuclear power plants being built around the world, and one quarter of them have been under construction for more than 20 years. Forty of these plants are in China, Russia, India and South Korea, and none of those countries are transparent about construction costs or schedules.

In the US, the American Nuclear Energy Institute has plans to expand the capacity of existing power plants by 10,000 megawatts, and to build 50,000 megawatts of new generating capacity by 2020. That means 40 to 50 new reactors across the US. But the industry also admits it would have to construct 35 new plants by 2030, just to maintain nuclear’s current share of around 20% of total US electricity production.

As of March 2010, there were 18 applications for new nuclear power plants in the U S, eight less than a year ago. In February, President Obama announced $US8.3 billion in federal funds to underwrite the cost of building two new megawatts reactors in Georgia, out of a total projected cost of around $14 billion. But regulatory issues, community opposition and a lack of private sector financing, means that it’s not at all clear that any of the plants will actually be built. It’s therefore not only unlikely that the industry’s plans of expanded nuclear capacity in the US will be realised, it’s not likely to even maintain its current share of total generating capacity over the next two decades.

Ockham’s Razor – 30 May 2010 – Nuclear energy: a panacea for climate change?

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Nuclear energy: a panacea for climate change?

May 31, 2010

ABC Radio National, Ockham’s Razor, Dr Adam Lucas – 30 May 2010 “……let’s assume for a moment that the industry’s optimistic forecasts are achievable. How much of a reduction in carbon emissions would result, and how would it impact on the world’s high-grade uranium reserves?Doubling the current nuclear capacity across the world by 2035 would mean building more than 600 new plants, but would only result in a 6.5% reduction in CO2 emissions on 1990 rates by that date.

Tripling the current worldwide capacity by 2050 means building more than a thousand new plants, and would only reduce atmospheric CO2 loads by 12% to 20% on 1990 levels.Current estimates are that there is only 40 to 70 years of high-grade uranium left to be mined at current consumption rates.

If consumption was tripled, the high-grade uranium would run out within 13 to 23 years. If all of the world’s electricity demand were converted to nuclear, almost 3,000 new plants would have to be built worldwide by 2030, just to maintain today’s electricity generating capacity. That means the high-grade uranium would run out in anything from three to twelve years.

Ockham’s Razor – 30 May 2010 – Nuclear energy: a panacea for climate change?

Nuclear power will fail because of water problems

May 31, 2010

ABC Radio National, Ockham’s Razor, Dr Adam Lucas – 30 May 2010 “…..France is often held up as a model for nuclear energy development, as almost 80% of its electricity is generated from 59 nuclear power plants. But the reliability of its large-scale nuclear program has come under pressure from climate change.

In the summer of 2003, French nuclear plants were unable to operate at design capacity due to a lack of cooling water, which contributed to major blackouts in continental Europe.To provide some idea of the water requirements of a nuclear reactor, the US Department of Energy recently published estimates of between 780 and 1,340 gigalitres of water per annum for a 1,000 megawatt plant.

To put that in some perspective, the Greater Sydney region uses about 650 gigalitres of water per annum.Furthermore, siting nuclear plants near water sources makes them vulnerable to flooding and storm surges due to climate change, as well as water scarcity due to drought. When the world’s water resources are under threat from population growth and climate change, the wisdom of retaining any energy source that relies heavily on water for production has got to be seriously questioned.

Ockham’s Razor – 30 May 2010 – Nuclear energy: a panacea for climate change?

Exploding the myth that nuclear energy is cheap

May 31, 2010

ABC Radio National, Ockham’s Razor, Dr Adam Lucas – 30 May 2010 “………..Let’s now examine the claim that nuclear energy is relatively cheap. Despite having benefited from hundreds of billions of dollars in investment and R&D over the last 50 years, nuclear energy has never lived up to the optimistic forecasts of profitability touted by the industry, and almost invariably experiences construction over-runs and cost blow-outs for both construction and operation.The Shoreham nuclear power plant in the US is emblematic of the kinds of problems that can occur.

The plant was estimated in 1966 to cost $US65 million to $US75 million, but ended up costing $US 5.8 billion by 1987, more than an 8,000% cost blow-out. It was closed by protests in 1989 without generating any commercial electricity.Even with improved technology and economies of scale with multiple plants being constructed in the one country, a new 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant can cost anything from $US6 billion to $US10 billion, and has a six to twelve year lead time before it can start producing power.

Current low estimates of the kilowatt hour costs of nuclear, currently circulating in the US and UK, are based on the heroic assumption that the costs of construction and of uranium ore will remain stable over the six to 12 years it takes to build them, as well as the 30 to 40 year operating life of the plant. And as I’ve already noted limited supplies of uranium and construction over-runs almost guarantee much higher costs than the industry is prepared to admit. A massive new reactor currently under construction in Finland is now almost 60% over budget and three years behind schedule for completion, after only 3 1/2 years of construction. The same new reactor design currently under construction in France is also behind schedule and over budget.

Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel was also supposed to be a big money earner for the industry, but the collapse of demand for plutonium in nuclear weapons and the failure of fast-breeder reactor technology have all but sunk the market for reprocessing.

The THORP reprocessing plant in the UK went into operation in August 1997, and was touted to make profits for British Nuclear Fuels Limited, of 500 million pounds. But a huge leak from the plant of 22 tons of uranium and 200 kilograms of plutonium forced its closure in 2005, leading to company losses of 1 billion pounds. A recent leak detected in May 2009 may lead to permanent closure of the plant.

Decommissioning nuclear power plants and remediating the sites on which they’re located, has also proven to be extremely expensive. In the UK, decommissioning of the Sellafield power plant is expected to cost the UK taxpayer 1.5 billion pounds per annum for at least another ten years. The UK government has committed 73 billion pounds to cleaning up its nuclear legacy, a figure which has risen steadily in recent years.

The much-touted Yucca Mountain facility in the US has been effectively cancelled after serious questions were raised about the site’s long-term geological stability and huge cost over-runs. Although the Obama Administration has ruled that the site can no longer serve as a nuclear waste repository and substantially cut its funding, lawyers for the US Department of Energy are still attempting to win a licence application to continue construction.

While industry proponents continue to attempt to persuade the public that a ‘nuclear renaissance’ is underway, the fact remains that it’s taxpayers who provide the capital for any cost over-runs, accidents or problems, rather than the companies building and operating nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities. It continues to require billions of dollars in government subsidies and unlimited levels of indemnity to attract private sector investment. By any rational assessment, nuclear is a poor investment. And even nuclear power plant constructors like Sandia in the US, are putting their own money into concentrated solar thermal with salt storage: baseload renewable energy, not into nuclear.

Ockham’s Razor – 30 May 2010 – Nuclear energy: a panacea for climate change?

History of studies of uranium and health

May 21, 2010

Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium, URANIO: cronaca e documenti, giovedì 20 maggio 2010 Medical,Journal v.40, n.1, Mar99, by Asaf Durakoviæ, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington D.C., USA “……….The turning point, which brought uranium studies to the high level of scientific attention, was the advent of World War II. It resulted in the most comprehensive experimental investigation of any poison conducted in a relatively short time (72). This was carried out as part of the Manhattan Project. The Research Center at the University of Rochester was predominantly concerned with inhalational studies of uranium dust, whereas research projects at the University of Chicago studied uranium pathways and toxicology after ingestion or parenteral administration in various animal models and on human volunteers (73). Animal studies were conducted after oral, intravenous, or intraperitoneal administration, application to the eye and the skin, and after inhalational exposure. There are three major routes of internal contamination with uranium: 1) gastrointestinal system; 2) skin and wounds; and 3) inhalation and transalveolar transfer to the blood stream.

URANIO: cronaca e documenti: Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium

Summary: medical effects of uranium

May 21, 2010

Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium, URANIO: cronaca e documenti, giovedì 20 maggio 2010 Medical,Journal v.40, n.1, Mar99, by Asaf Durakoviæ, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington D.C., USA “……..Summary The medical and environmental consequences of contamination with uranium compounds present both a moral and legal requirement to control uranium exposure to levels below those causing pathological alterations or death, either by its immediate or long-term action. The increased use of uranium compounds in industry, and more recently in warfare in the form of depleted uranium, necessitates a further look into the complex biomedical aspects of internal contamination with uranium and its toxicological consequences both as a heavy metal and radiological hazard. Whereas it is theoretically possible to reduce uranium contamination to an as low as reasonably achievable level, the emerging evidence of increasing industrial and military access of uranium to the biosphere requires a sound understanding of physical, chemical, and toxicological properties of uranium. In the current times of its higher levels and anticipated risks such understanding is necessary to provide protection against somatic and genetic injury.The aim of this review was to provide an outline of uranium physical, chemical, radiological, and toxicological properties as an actual contaminant of the environment and the human organism. The possible role of the medical profession in this interdisciplinary field requires an understanding of the current concerns of the medical and environmental consequences of uranium poisoning, which are currently far beyond the mere theoretical interests of conventional toxicology.

URANIO: cronaca e documenti: Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium

Radiation hazard of depleted uranium

May 21, 2010

Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium, URANIO: cronaca e documenti, giovedì 20 maggio 2010 Medical,Journal v.40, n.1, Mar99, by Asaf Durakoviæ, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington D.C., USA “…. The association of depleted uranium with human mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, and diseases of the immune system has been postulated in the environmental measurements of radioactivity at the DU testing ranges in the United States. Whereas the surface contamination levels are strictly regulated for the decommissing of the facilities for unrestricted use, with a maximum permissible level of 35 pCi/g, the surface contamination levels found after the testing of DU penetrators routinely exceeded the maximum permissible dose of soil contamination……Radioactivity as a result of the decay progeny of 238U poses a radiation hazard of inhalation. One milligram of DU generates over a billion alpha and beta particles per year, which, together with gamma emitted radionuclides of 238U progeny (234Th, 234Pa), causes internal radiation hazards. The reality of the legacy of DU waste and its use in the recent tactical warfare warrants detailed studies regarding its effect on the biosphere and the human population.

URANIO: cronaca e documenti: Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium

Depleted uranium and radiation toxicity

May 21, 2010

Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium, URANIO: cronaca e documenti, giovedì 20 maggio 2010 Medical,Journal v.40, n.1, Mar99, by Asaf Durakoviæ, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington D.C., USA,”… Radiation Toxicity of Uranium Natural uranium contains 99.28% of 238U, 0.72% of 235U and 0.006% of 234U. Uranium-238 decays into thorium (234Th), which further decays to protactinium (234Pa), followed by uranium-234. Physical half-lives of 238U is 4.5×109, 235U=7.1×108 and 234U=2.5×105 years. Uranium isotopes and their decay products are alpha, beta, and gamma emitters, with spontaneous fission below the level of criticality. Alpha emitting radon (222Rn), a decay product of 238U, presents a considerable inhalation hazard in uranium mines. Uranium ore (U3O8) is obtained from the mines, concentrated, and processed to americium diuranate, which is fluorinated and, when enriched, may be used for fuel in power reactors and nuclear weapons. The by-product of the enrichment process is depleted uranium. All steps in the mining and processing of uranium isotopes may be associated with radiation hazards and internal contamination.
In the decay process of 238U, its daughter products 234Th and 234Pa reach secular equilibrium with their parent isotope in approximately 6 months, decaying at the same rate as 238U. They emit alpha and beta particles and gamma rays. Gamma radiation interacts with the internal environment of the organism by Compton and photoelectric reactions, which may pass through layers of several hundred cells, producing radiation-induced tissue alterations. The beta particles of protactinium-234 (E=2.29 MeV) have potent ionizing radiation. They can pass through several hundred cells. Alpha particles, although of a short range, present high radiation risk because of their mass, positive charge, and powerful ionization capacity. The alpha particles may present a considerable genetic or carcinogenic risk when incorporated in the vicinity of non-differentiated, highly radiosensitive cells, such as the pluripotent stem cell. All three modes of decay present a biological risk in internal contamination, mainly when inhaled or entering the body through damaged skin or missile fragment wounds….
Radiation interactions of uranium decay products interact with the internal environment of the organism by direct ionization as charged particles and by indirect interaction as electromagnetic radiation, with a transfer of energy in the tissue by both ionization and excitation, as well as the formation of free radicals……….Whereas a single radiation exposure may result in a repair mechanism in 97% of DNA, the constant exposure by the internally deposited alpha emitters may result in chromosome aberrations, resulting in mutations or malignant alterations.
Radiation-induced alterations by uranium compounds are well documented. Lung cancer in uranium miners has been linked with internal contamination with uranium decay products (120). Animal data on the radiotoxicology of uranium compounds has been used to simulate environmental exposure of the general human population. Beagle dog was used as an appropriate model from which extrapolation with reference to uranium in the internal organs of humans can be studied (121). Synergistic effects of inhaled uranium and cigarette smoking has been reported (122)…….
Cancer susceptibility of uranium-exposed human population, assessed by genetic polymorphism and host-reactivation assays in a mutator phenotype, indicates that uranium may be one of the mutagens causing abnormal DNA repair (127). These studies emphasize the need for further epidemiological studies to better understand the radiation risks of cancer incidence in the nuclear industry, specifically in uranium mining (128)…….

uranium is still an inadequately understood chemical and radiological hazard to the biosphere and human organism, with increasing relevance to the human population in its less strictly controlled use in modern industry and, recently, in modern warfare.

URANIO: cronaca e documenti: Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium

Toxic chemistry of uranium

May 21, 2010

Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium, URANIO: cronaca e documenti, giovedì 20 maggio 2010 Medical,Journal v.40, n.1, Mar99, by Asaf Durakoviæ, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington D.C., USA “…..Chemical Toxicity of uranium, Eleven uranium compounds studied in elaborate experimental designs, from the Manhattan project to recent reports, suggest that soluble uranium compounds are definitely toxic with frequent fatal (0.2 m/m3) outcomes, mainly because of the lung and renal damage.

URANIO: cronaca e documenti: Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium

History of effects of uranium exposure

May 21, 2010

Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium, URANIO: cronaca e documenti, giovedì 20 maggio 2010 Medical,Journal v.40, n.1, Mar99, by Asaf Durakoviæ, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington D.C., USA “…..Medical concerns regarding exposure to uranium can be traced to European silver mines, mainly those in the Erz Mountains, Schneeburg and Joachimstall (Jachmov, now in Germany). Long before the discovery of radioactivity in 1896, it was observed for over five centuries that mine workers were dying of “black lung disease”. Medical studies of this century reported a 50% incidence of lung cancer in these areas (113). The current radiation hazards on those sites is estimated at about 2.9×10-9 Ci. The earlier estimated hazard was higher, in the range of 1.5×10-8 Ci. Canadian data on uranium miners in Newfoundland reported that 51 out of 142 cancer deaths were due to lung cancer in workers who spent 2,000 hours in the underground mines. Uranium was the only oncological hazard identified in that study (114). The United States studies on biological effects of uranium exposure in Colorado mines reported that of 4,146 miners 509 died during the eighteen year observation period, with an expected 386 deaths in that population (115). The deaths were caused predominantly by lung cancer and renal disease. Similar findings have been reported from different parts of the world, such as the recent studies of reproductive toxicity in Chinese uranium workers (62), silicosis and lung cancer incidence in New Mexico (116), recent German studies on uranium miners describing changes of immune system (88), and alterations of chromosomal and endocrine alterations in Namibian miners (117). All studies are in general agreement regarding the toxic properties of uranium compounds for the human population.

URANIO: cronaca e documenti: Medical Effects of Internal Contamination with Uranium