Climate Change / Climate Science
- this material has been moved here
Electrical Power: Fossil vs. Nuclear
- Chemical energy naturally works in the range of
"1 to 2 electron volts"
- a C-cell (found
in every almost every flash light) produces electricity at 1.5 volts
- a 12 volt car
battery consists of six 2.1 volt cells connected in a series configuration (which means the voltages
- burning fossil fuels to boil water, in order to turn an electrical
generator, still only produces electrical energy in this range
- 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)
- 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.
- a Watt is a unit of
electrical power and is calculated by multiplying
- 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
- one Watt is also equal to "one Joule per second"
- 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)
- Canada's heavy-water
CANDU reactors can be employed to burn nuclear waste from light water
reactors using a technology known as
Use of spent
nuclear waste is one good way to keep it out of the hands of terrorists, the
misguided and the mentally ill.
- 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:
- a typical Gigawatt plant will require 130 rail cars of coal
every three months. This amount is huge.
- plants are inexpensive to build (relative to nuclear)
- waste cannot be used to build terrorist weapons
- waste is dumped into the atmosphere (it goes up the smoke stack)
- burning CO2 does contribute to global warming
- a typical 750 Megawatt plant will require a desk-sized block of
uranium fuel rods every 36-48 months
- waste can be recycled (to make new fuel -AND- thwart the plans of terrorists
as well as the criminals who support them)
- most waste in Europe is recycled
- most waste in North America is NOT recycled
- some systems (like CANDU) can burn fuel wastes from other
- burning nuclear fuel does not produce any CO2
so does not contribute to climate change
- waste can be used to build terrorist weapons
- plants are expensive to build (relative to fossil)
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:
- falling water (a.k.a. hydroelectricity)
- blowing wind
- photo voltaic panels
... combined with CANDU nuclear reactors.
- CAUDU (CANadian Deuterium
Uranium) reactors require a heavy water moderator.
- 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
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.
- CANDU reactors can be shut down many ways but here are three:
- 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)
- poisoning the heavy water with a contaminant (gadolinium
- dropping control rods by gravity. Yep, they are held in place
by electromagnets and will fall when released during an emergency.
- 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
- 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.
- using heavy water means that this reactor can burn thorium
(not a fissile or fertile fuel). This is currently
being assessed in Chinese CANDUs.
- 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.
- Modern CANDU reactors (EC6
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.
- Jobs: the nuclear industry employs 77,000 people in Ontario. This
- mining and processing uranium to be used in Ontario and
throughout the world
- supporting CANDU reactors in Ontario
- If the price of oil were to double due to any geopolitical conflict,
Ontario would have the option of going 100% nuclear
- Niagara Falls aside, Ontario has only a small amount of
hydro electrical generating capacity
- If Canadian actually got around to building an East-West
grid, Ontario would be able to import power from hydro-rich
Quebec and Manitoba.
- supporting CANDU reactors in CANADA
Gentilly Nuclear Generating Station
Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station
- supporting CANDU reactors throughout the rest of the world
- 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.
- That is three barrels of oil which can be diverted to other
uses (plastic production, jet fuel, etc.)
- 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
- 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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- Running Cost:
- CANDUs require a heavy-water moderator (expensive) and natural
uranium fuel (cheap)
- BWRs and LWRs require a light-water moderator
(cheap) and enhanced refined uranium fuel (expensive)
- since these two
factors more-or-less cancel out, I submit that safety
concerns trump all else
- Official Links:
- www.aecl.ca -
Atomic Energy Canada Limited (the Canadian Crown
Corporation responsible for developing CANDU technology)
- www.candu.com -
a Generation III reactor
- ACR-1000 -
a Generation III+ reactor
- Unofficial CANDU Links: Canadian companies have
always been terrible self-promoters which is why some frustrated
citizens have decided to remedy
- frequent updates
- fewer updates
(you want to read the article "Ontario’s CANDUs can be more
flexible than natural gas and hydro")
- An introduction to light-water reactors (LWR, PWR, BWR, etc.) so you can compare to a heavy-water
reactors like CANDU
- Humanity continues to grow at a rate of one billion every ~ 12 years
- 1974: 4 billion
- 1987: 5 billion
- 1999: 6 billion
- 2011: 7 billion
- 2023: 8 billion ???
- 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
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
- 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.
- Nuclear energy is expensive and the dangers are externalized (just ask
the people of
- Each nuclear reactor generates, on average, 750 megawatts
- Since new wind units can generate 5 MW then 150 wind turbines are
equivalent to one nuclear reactor.
- 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.
- On top of this, generating the power closer to where it will be
consumed will reduce transmission losses by avoiding them.
- But if you want safe reliable base-load power then you must consider
Hydroelectricity (the gold standard in
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.
Sir Adam Beck Power Stations
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
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)
Introduction: Many places
exist on Earth
where the wind never stops. A few examples include:
- The North Sea
between Britain and Scandinavia
- Many mountains ranges in the American west
- The North-Eastern Seaboard of the United States
North-Western Seaboard of the United States.
- 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
non-technical people need to know is that liquids are one
kind of fluid. Here are some common examples:
The graphic to the right displays Ontario's current power from wind.
Remember that 605 MW = one nuclear reactor
- liquid water
- moving air
- pyroclastic flow
Erie Shores Wind Farm (5 of 66)
Country Road 42, North of
Port Burwell, Ontario, Canada.
Just for fun:
- Click RIGHT four times (see all turbines?)
- Click LEFT three times (now facing West)
- 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:
- build a better power grid to bring power from where the wind is blowing to where
it is not.
- 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
- 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)
- You could transfer this to a D.C. network for consumption by
- Later you could convert stored battery power back to A.C. for long
- use surplus unconsumed power to produce hydrogen by the electrolysis of
water (inefficient but better than wasting the resource)
More Fun With Google Maps:
- Melancthon Phase II - 88 Turbines - Just North of Shelburne, Ontario,
- Erie Shores Wind Farm (five of sixty-six)
Country Road 42, North of Port Burwell, Ontario, Canada.
Just For Fun: From this view travel West or East
- Wind Generators (both sides of the road)
Bruce County Road 20 and Highway 21 near Tiverton, Ontario, Canada.
Just For Fun: From this view, travel North-West all the way to Highway 21
- Small "Ferndale Wind Farm" - 3 Turbines -
Ferndale, Ontario, Canada.
One 1.8 MW turbine and two 1.65 MW turbine = 5.1 MW Total
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
There will always be conversion losses.
question: So how do you get around solar interruptions from clouds, shorter days, and
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
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
Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy (2011/2012)
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
Almost every Ontario (Canada) resident agrees that the McGuinty Liberals did a poor job explaining how a version of Germany's
In Tariff) is intended to transform Ontario's economy via the
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.
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.