Energy Production

Energy Production

Climate Change / Climate Science

Electrical Power: Fossil vs. Nuclear

  1. Chemical energy naturally works in the range of "1 to 2 electron volts"
    1. a C-cell (found in every almost every flash light) produces electricity at 1.5 volts
    2. a 12 volt car battery consists of six 2.1 volt cells connected in a series configuration (which means the voltages are added)
    3. burning fossil fuels to boil water, in order to turn an electrical generator, still only produces electrical energy in this range
  2. Nuclear energy naturally works in the range of "one million electron volts" which is 500,000 to a million times more energetic than chemical. However, a small human error, or design error, can translate what should have been a "stubbed toe" into "a major catastrophe". It is for this reason that nuclear operators and engineers need to be one million times more careful. (and CANUD designs are this safe)
  3. Watt-for-watt, nuclear power plants produce 1 gram of waste for every ton of chemical waste produced through burning fossil fuels. Since one ton is a million times greater than one gram (1 g x 1,000 = 1 Kg; 1 Kg x 1,000 = 1 Metric Ton) we can now see that chemical power production is not a benign as we once thought. In fact, the two technologies are now a little more similar.
    Basic Units:
    1. a Watt is a unit of electrical power and is calculated by multiplying volts times amps
    2. Since an amp is a measurement of charge over time (1 amp = 1 coulomb per second), then a Watt is also a time-based energy measurement
    3. one Watt is also equal to "one Joule per second"
  4. Although chemical waste from fossil fuel power generation is not radioactive, there is one million times more of it and it is harmful to the natural environment. It can shorten human life, depress human health, deposit mercury in ocean water (if coal is burned), and contributes to global warming through the release of green house gases like carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2)
  5. Canada's heavy-water CANDU reactors can be employed to burn nuclear waste from light water reactors using a technology known as DUPIC (Direct Use of spent Plutonium In CANDUs). Destroying nuclear waste is one good way to keep it out of the hands of terrorists, the misguided and the mentally ill.
  6. Modern nuclear power designs have allowed us to move beyond the Homer Simpson view of nuclear power

While I do prefer generating electricity from nuclear fuels rather than fossil fuels, both are equally harmful (fossil slightly more so). Here is a short comparison:

Fossil Fuel
Caveat: In 2013 there were approximately 435 nuclear reactors in the world employed for electrical power production. (the largest nuclear generator is the USA. France is number two)

These reactors account for only 1% of humanity's electricity so even if mankind built 10 times more, humanity would still be trouble. I have always been pro-nuke, and can see a base-load role for this technology provided reactors are only installed in modern secular societies. It for this reason that every society must also consider renewable energy.

CANDU Nuclear Reactors (the world needs more of these)

To solve humanity's energy and environmental problems, ALL energy production technologies must be on the table.

To me this means we need a greater emphasis on renewable energy technologies primarily from:

  1. falling water (a.k.a. hydroelectricity)
  2. blowing wind
  3. photo voltaic panels

... combined with CANDU nuclear reactors.


  1. CAUDU (CANadian Deuterium Uranium) reactors require a heavy water moderator.
    1. using heavy water means more water can be used in the reactor core thus keeping it cooler while making it much more safe
      • note: because light water captures neutrons so effectively (remember that the Hydrogen in H2O is almost the same mass as a neutron), fuel bundles in light-water reactors must be closer together in order to maintain the nuclear chain reaction. This makes light-water designs more likely to over-heat.
    2. CANDU reactors can be shut down many ways but here are three:
      1. displacing the heavy water with light water (just position a tank of light water above then allow it to drop during an emergency; the heavy-water is captured in an empty tank below)
      2. poisoning the heavy water with a contaminant (gadolinium nitrate)
      3. dropping control rods by gravity. Yep, they are held in place by electromagnets and will fall when released during an emergency.
      4. diagram:
    3. using heavy water means that this reactor can burn natural uranium (does not need to be refined to increase the amount of the U-235 isotope)
    4. using heavy water means that this reactor can burn waste material from light water reactors. This is already being done in Korean CANDUs using DUPIC technology.
    5. using heavy water means that this reactor can burn thorium (not a fissile or fertile fuel). This is currently being assessed in Chinese CANDUs.
  2. CANDU reactors are hot-fuelled while the reactor is running. Contrast this to light water reactors which must be shut down for 2-3 weeks every 20 months to be refueled. This also means that the fuel can be removed when the reactor is running.
  3. Modern  CANDU reactors (EC6 and ACR-1000) can load-follow by reducing their power to 50% of FP (full power). This means that gas-fired or coal-fired peaker plants are not required to take up the slack when renewable sources vary their output.
  4. Jobs: the nuclear industry employs 77,000 people in Ontario. This includes:
    1.  mining and processing uranium to be used in Ontario and throughout the world
    2.  supporting CANDU reactors in Ontario
        Location CANDU Reactors References
        Bruce Nuclear 8
        Pickering 6
        Darlington 4
      2. If the price of oil were to double due to any geopolitical conflict, Ontario would have the option of going 100% nuclear
        1. Niagara Falls aside, Ontario has only a small amount of hydro electrical generating capacity
        2. If Canadian actually got around to building an East-West grid, Ontario would be able to import power from hydro-rich Quebec and Manitoba.
    3. supporting CANDU reactors in CANADA
      2. Quebec: Gentilly Nuclear Generating Station
      3. New Brunswick: Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station
    4. supporting CANDU reactors throughout the rest of the world
      1. China
      2. Korea
      3. Argentina
      4. India
      5. Romania
      6. Pakistan
  5. Efficiency: pull out a 5-cent coin (colloquially known as a nickel) and realize that this weight in uranium when burned in a CANDU is the equivalent of three barrels of oil.
    1. That is three barrels of oil which can be diverted to other uses (plastic production, jet fuel, etc.)
    2. Since uranium is mined in Ontario, processed in Ontario, and used in Ontario reactors, then Ontario is the (technically) 100% self sufficient and is the region most uncoupled from the oil industry. This means that any geopolitical conflict in the Middle East would have the least amount of effect on the citizens of Ontario. If the world price of petroleum ever jumped, Ontarians could easily install a few more CANDUs then switch to electric trains and electric automobiles.
  6. Initial Cost: while nuclear energy is more expensive than many would admit, high historical costs in Ontario have always been due to political interference (mostly at the provincial level).
    1. For example, the original estimate to build Darlington was 2.5 billion which was later revised to 4. But political interference caused the final cost to be ~ 15 billion while requiring 12 years to build.
    2. Likewise, reactors at Pickerington and Bruce were offlined by the Harris Conservatives to save money which, in the end, cost much more to bring back online.
    3. If Canada had an official nuclear policy similar to the one found in France, then CANDU reactors in Canada would have cost Canadian consumers much less.
    4. Even though Canadian taxpayers invested a huge sum of Canadian tax dollars to create, then run, a federal crown corporation known as Atomic Energy Canada Limited, in 2011 the Harper Conservatives privatized AECL by selling it to SNC-Lavalin for the paltry sum of 15 million dollars (the office equipment, telephones and PCs must have been worth that much). Since Stephen Harper represents a Calgary constituency from oil-producing Alberta, this sale looks more like the effects of oil-industry lobbying. To make matters worse, there is no record that AECL was ever offered for sale to the province of Ontario, and I am certain Ontario could have come up with 15 million dollars considering the number of reactors already installed in Ontario.
    5. The Harper conservatives really wanted to divest themselves of AECL and so sweetened the deal by paying 75 million dollars to SNC-Lavalin to fund the completion the next-gen CANDU known as ACR-1000. This means that this taxpayer-funded technology was actually sold at a loss of 60 million.
  7. Running Cost:
    1. CANDUs require a heavy-water moderator (expensive) and natural uranium fuel (cheap)
    2. BWRs and LWRs require a light-water moderator (cheap) and enhanced refined uranium fuel (expensive)
    3. since these two factors more-or-less cancel out, I submit that safety concerns trump all else
  8. Official Links:
    2. - Atomic Energy Canada Limited (the Canadian Crown Corporation responsible for developing CANDU technology)
    4. - CANDU Energy Inc.
    5. EC6 - - a Generation III reactor
    6. ACR-1000 - - a Generation III+ reactor
  9. Unofficial CANDU Links: Canadian companies have always been terrible self-promoters which is why some frustrated citizens have decided to remedy this.
    1. - frequent updates
    2. - fewer updates
    3. (you want to read the article "Ontario’s CANDUs can be more flexible than natural gas and hydro")
  10. An introduction to light-water reactors (LWR, PWR, BWR, etc.) so you can compare to a heavy-water reactors like CANDU EC6

Renewable Energy

  1. Humanity continues to grow at a rate of one billion every ~ 12 years
    2. 1974: 4 billion
    3. 1987: 5 billion
    4. 1999: 6 billion
    5. 2011: 7 billion
    6. 2023: 8 billion ???
  2. Humanity's need for energy seems to be growing exponentially but Earth's resources are finite so humanity needs to reduce energy -OR- acquire energy from alternate sources
  3. Since humanity seems dependent upon plastics, and plastics are derived from fossil fuels, then it might be a good idea to not burn them for fuel
  4. We need to generate more electricity now in order to move passenger automobiles away from imported oil (which only funds rogue nations). Shai Agassi has some very interesting ideas.
  5. Nuclear energy is expensive and the dangers are externalized (just ask the people of Fukushima Japan).
    1. Each nuclear reactor generates, on average, 750 megawatts
    2. Since new wind units can generate 5 MW then 150 wind turbines are equivalent to one nuclear reactor.
    3. This many turbines can be installed at a small fraction of the cost of a new nuke and will be easier to maintain/replace/remove.
    4. On top of this, generating the power closer to where it will be consumed will reduce transmission losses by avoiding them.
    5. But if you want safe reliable base-load power then you must consider CANDU

Hydroelectricity (the gold standard in renewable energy)

Sir Adam Beck Power Stations at Niagara Falls
Sir Adam Beck Power Stations
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Kitchener, Ontario was previously known by the name Berlin, Ontario. Back between 1906 and 1910, this community of German-Canadian industrialists built long distance lines to Niagara Falls to facilitate industrialization. This venture was so successful that it lead to the creation of Ontario Hydro which would bring dependable electricity to the remainder of the province.


During a recent 100-year anniversary of electrical power the public was presented with quaint 100-year-old newspaper articles showing that some of the public were already concerned about how power lines would spoil the view of the country side. Although I do not find power lines either attractive or unattractive, I know that similar arguments were made during the creation of the Eiffel Tower in Paris France as well as today's wind generators. Could anyone today imagine a view of Paris without the Eiffel Tower? I doubt it.

The neat thing about hydroelectricity is that once the generation stations are built, they do not need to be refueled. Aside from the environmental damage done during construction and flooding of the dam, this technology is totally green and produces no pollution and no CO2 (carbon dioxide)

Wind Generation (cousin to hydro)

U.S. Wind Resources and Transmission Lines
Introduction: Many places exist on Earth where the wind never stops. A few examples include:
  1. The North Sea between Britain and Scandinavia
  2. Many mountains ranges in the American west
  3. The North-Eastern Seaboard of the United States
  4. The North-Western Seaboard of the United States.
  5. The Great Lakes of Ontario (wind picks up energy moving over water)

Wind Generation (anemospower/anemoselectricity) is the natural successor to hydroelectricity. Why you ask? Both are based upon extracting energy from moving fluids. The only thing non-technical people need to know is that liquids are one kind of fluid. Here are some common examples:

  1. liquid water
  2. moving air
  3. quicksand
  4. pyroclastic flow
The graphic to the right displays Ontario's current power from wind. Remember that 605 MW = one nuclear reactor 

View Larger Map
Erie Shores Wind Farm (5 of 66)
Country Road 42, North of
Port Burwell, Ontario, Canada.

Just for fun:
  1. Click RIGHT four times (see all turbines?)
  2. Click LEFT three times (now facing West)
  3. Travel along the road (click on it)

But Wind power is not a direct drop-in replacement for hydro power. For example, hydroelectricity is dependent upon falling water (which is dependent upon rainfall). Everyone knows you can't depend upon rain but but engineers can compensate for intermittent water shortages by building dams. In the case of wind power this is not possible but you could do one, or more, of the following:

  1. build a better power grid to bring power from where the wind is blowing to where it is not.
  2. grid operators in northeast US are [already] building "pumped-storage hydro" systems, which use excess wind power that's generally produced at night, to pump water uphill into a reservoir. Later, when there's less wind power, the water flows downhill and spins turbines to generate power again. This way, spikes in wind power that couldn't be absorbed by the grid because of the minimum power requirements at coal plants can still be used by spreading the power generated throughout the day
  3. convert the power to D.C. then store it in batteries (there are always conversion losses but you could get around this by installing a D.C. generator)
  4. use surplus unconsumed power to produce hydrogen by the electrolysis of water (inefficient but better than wasting the resource)

Canadian Links:

More Fun With Google Maps:

World Links:


The two main technologies here are Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal although other minor variations exist with my favorite being something called an OTEC (pronounced O-Tek)

Solar Photovoltaic converts sunlight into D.C. (Direct Current) electricity. You must use an invertor to convert D.C. into A.C. (Alternating Current) before sending it to the power grid or using it in your home. There will always be conversion losses.

question: So how do you get around solar interruptions from clouds, shorter days, and night?
answer: Collect more (double, triple, quadruple) energy than you need now while storing the excess in chemical batteries. A smaller fraction of this value will be run into invertors for A.C. transmission.

comment: I used to think that Canada was too far north for Solar Photovoltaic to be useful. It now turns out that air-conditioning demands place a larger load on the electrical grid during the summer months; the exact time when the days are longer and solar energy is more available 

Solar Thermal uses solar energy to heat liquid oil. Some of this energy is used to boil water which turns an electrical generator. Some of this energy is stored in underground tanks which can be used to boil water after the sun goes down (or if the sun ducks behind a cloud)

FIT / The Leap

The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy (2011/2012) Chris Turner

The revolutionary follow-up to Chris Turner's Governor General's Literary Award and National Business Book Award nominee, The Geography of Hope. The most vital project of the twenty-first century is a shift from our unsustainable way of life to a sustainable one--a great lateral leap from a track headed for economic and ecological disaster to one bound for renewed prosperity. In The Leap, Chris Turner presents a field guide to making that jump, drawing on recent breakthroughs in state-of-the-art renewable energy, cleantech and urban design. From the solar towers of sunny Spain to the bike paths and pedestrianized avenues of the world's most livable city--Copenhagen, Denmark--to the nascent "green-collar" economies rejuvenating the former East Germany and the American Rust Belt, he paints a vivid portrait of a new, sustainable world order already up and running. In his 2007 book, The Geography of Hope, Chris Turner wrote about an emerging world of cleantech possibility. This led to a two-year stint as sustainability columnist for the Globe and Mail, during which many of the fringe developments covered in his book became vital. By the time those two years were up his reporting tracks were being retraced by mainstream outlets like the New York Times. In The Leap, he once again charts the world's near-future course.

NSR Comments:

Almost every Ontario (Canada) resident agrees that the McGuinty Liberals did a poor job explaining how a version of Germany's FIT (Feed In Tariff) is intended to transform Ontario's economy via the Green Energy Act 2009. This book (especially chapter 3) does a much better job explaining why Germany's approach (which Ontario only partly implemented) might be the only rational approach to reducing energy costs while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions.

External Links

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Neil Rieck
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.