Welcome to the Energy Blog

  • The Energy Blog is where all topics relating to The Energy Revolution are presented. Increasingly, expensive oil, coal and global warming are causing an energy revolution by requiring fossil fuels to be supplemented by alternative energy sources and by requiring changes in lifestyle. Please contact me with your comments and questions. Further Information about me can be found HERE.



After Gutenberg

Clean Break

The Oil Drum


Blog powered by Typepad

« Sodium Sulfur Batteries to be Used for Energy Storage at MN Windfarm | Main | Chilled Ammonia Carbon Capture Process to be Demonstrated »

March 04, 2008


Al Fin

Nuclear energy is indispensable for a balanced and reliable electricity supply. Enhanced geothermal and better storage for large-scale renewables will help immensely.

We will need diesel and gasoline for longer than the next decade also. If we can get those liquid fuels from biomass, all the better.

Humans will need vastly greater amounts of energy (thinking otherwise is delusional), and most people are convinced of the need for clean energy, rather than dirty.

For those who want to "return to the simple days gone by" and forget about a high energy future, good luck. For those who want 90% of humans to just go away, my suggestion is "you first."


Nuclear Power may well prove an essential component of future energy growth, but the claim that it comes with none of the Co2 emissions of standard plants is false - Co2 is released in the mining and refinement of its standard fuel.


Nuclear energy is light on carbon emissions only at the moment of producing electricity; all other phases of the life cycle are not good. The impacts of mining uranium as well as guarding it from terrorists needs to be considered, and carbon output of refining uranium and making concrete for the plants are both startling, no bargain at all! The weight of the nuclear waste being trucked out to Nevada's Yucca Mountain ups the carbon output, and the residents who live near that repository will need to be compensated for the risk of being near that nuclear traffic, and the need to guard all repositories of nuclear waste is a long range expense.
And worst of all, Yucca Mountain may not be that secure. Who are we to overshadow future generations for 150,000 years with nuclear waste?
Nuclear energy is estimated up to $4000 per kW installed and its need of water for cooling is a real limit to its applicability.
That's a lot of hurdles. Ipso.


Currently no energy source is totally CO2 free. Making solar cells is a highly energy intensive process and ive heard its takes 4 years to produce the energy needed to create the cell. Solar thermal uses tons of steel which require heat to forge and make, though ive heard the payback there is closer to 1 year. Mining of course can have all sorts of problems outside of CO2 productions. And of course there are always transportation costs in any power plant. The important number is years of energy production needed to offset production of the plant (more necessary for solar and wind) and sustained mining.


IpsoFacto, cooling is necessary for just about any heat related energy production, but it does not have to be wet cooling. Are there good reasons apart from efficiency that nuclear plants cant use dry cooling? i know many solar thermal plants have to rely on dry cooling as water in the desert is not always available. Ive also read that 45% of our fresh water is used for electricity production... which i found a bit alarming... not sure i trust that number.


People, the claim "mining uranium leads to CO2 emissions" is silly. By that CO2-counting method, mining COAL leads to CO2 emissions too. The rub is that getting energy from uranium is CO2-free, unlike energy from coal. Stop being childish.

The claim that we're screwing over future generations with nuclear waste is also incredibly narrow-minded. I wonder how those future generations feel about the greenhouse gases we're saddling them with? All currently-feasible large-scale energy production means cause pollution ... it's a question of having the pollution in a solid compact store-able form (nuclear), or having it floating around into peoples' lungs. Note that coal releases not just CO2, but also heavy (i.e. always toxic and sometimes radioactive) metals into the air.

Mike Keller

Dry cooling towers could be used with conventional nuclear plants. Basically, the low pressure (vacuum actually) steam discharged from the steam turbine can be turned back into liquid water in an air cooled condenser. This is done on some combined-cycle power plants. However, for a nuclear unit, the size of the air condenser would be stupefying huge – and expensive. A nuclear plant produces about 4000 megawatts of heat, most of which goes into the environment – the plants are about 33% efficient. Mechanical draft cooling towers or hyperbolic towers are normally used and these units use something like 30 million gallons a day – evaporated water into the air.


With reference the loss of water during cooling or of any other use. Water never disappears it moves along. We as human beings pass water through our bodies where does that go to? What happens to the CO2 we produce? Can anyone isolate that CO2 from that produced by other methods when analysing the the CO2 content of air? What about all the water going down to the sea to be turned into salt water. I thought thought that all the water we use is recycled by rain.

david foster

"45% of our fresh water is used for electricity production"...not sure what "used" would mean in this context. Cooling water from a river or a lake circulates in the condenser, thereby condensing the steam: after looping through the condenser coils, the cooling water is then discharged back into the body of water from whence it came. It's still the same water, not used up or polluted, but a bit warmer.


The impacts of mining uranium as well as guarding it from terrorists needs to be considered, and carbon output of refining uranium and making concrete for the plants are both startling, no bargain at all!
You realize nuclear power consumes less than 1/10th the steel and concrete of similar capacities of wind before introducing dispatchable power to make up for the intermittency.


From Per F. Peterson, Department of Nuclear Engineering. The Future of Nuclear Energy Policy: A California Perspective 2005:

Nuclear power plants built in the 1970’s used 40 metric tons of steel, and 190 cubic meters of concrete, for each megawatt of average capacity.

Modern wind energy systems, with good wind conditions, take 460 metric tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete per megawatt.

So 60,000 tons per year of waste from 443 reactors worldwide generating 372 gigawatts. Multiply the 60,000 tons by the 60 years of avg life for a nuclear plant for 3.6 million tons of waste stored.

Wind would need 468 million tons more steel (460-40 tons) * 3 times more operating efficiency from nuclear* 372000 power generated and 759 million tons more concrete to manufacture the equivalent wind capacity. Concrete and steel production have industrial deaths and carbon emissions from their mining and manufacture.


amazing how green house gasses are automatically labeled "harmful" - even while astonishing number of people and animals are suffering and being killed by cold.


Fine Ok. back to nuclear. Back to technology which has not really changed since WW2. The concept is unfocused and the trade-off unbalanced. Nuclear = less CO2 = more nuclear waste to dump in third world countries. I suppose Greenpeace approves even that!


Is it surprising Jeb doesn't mention nuclear fuel-to-waste cycle? Fision Production is the small step of the cycle compared to mining, refining, and decommissioning. You know you are hard spent for creditable support of subsidized dangerous tech when jeb is your notable spokesperson

Carl Hage

From above: While energy conservation should remain our priority ...

The key word is should. In my opinion, we (our society) greatly undervalues conservation. It seems that as a nation, conservation is the lowest priority. If we put as much effort into thinking of ways to improve energy efficiency as we do arguing about Nuke vs Solar vs Coal, we might not need a new nuke or coal plant, and it would be cost less, taste better, less filling, more jobs, etc.

Look at the per capita electric consumption by state and the huge disparity across the country seems like a big opportunity. Could we find ways to eliminate waste and install that faster than we can build new power plants?

I think the word conservation brings up images of an ascetic lifestyle-- we should live like the Amish but in clustered little huts, etc. I like the words efficiency and productivity better as this is associated with improved lifestyle and wealth.

I suppose from a business point of view, it's easier to plan and install a 1000MW nuclear plant than get 10M people to cut 100W of wasted electricity.

It doesn't take any more steel to make an electronic device that really turns itself off when not in use-- it just takes awareness.

Personally, I'm tired of the pro-nuke vs anti-nuke debate-- we should be arguing about the units to show on yellow energy-guide stickers (for anything that uses energy), how much insulation and thermal mass should be on a building, putting in solar tubes instead of fluorescent lights, etc.


So many issues, so little time. first water use -- check out USGS website which finds that 39% of our nation's withdrawals of fresh water goes to thermo electric cooling, which is different from consumption, which is much less and differs by regions and by types of cooling. Both figures cause real trouble to any region (like GA and SC) suffering severe drought. In the arid west, new nukes are greatly hindered by the amount of water they need, as are coal plants. second, is the question really nuclear waste vs co2, or are there other schemes? What waste-free renewable mode of generation could present base load dispatchable power? Concentrating solar with storage in the SW, and geothermal, and down the road, wave and tidal energy. Third: let's talk rising cost of uranium. see http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/fuel-supply.html for a pretty strong discussion of uphill pricing for this fuel. All of these considerations need to go into the pot. my money is on waste-free, low water use, renewable energy for the whole economy, eventually. The question is how much $$$ and time will we waste of modes that take as much as they give? Ipso.


Ipso Facto,
Do you realise how small a percentage of total cost of nuclear energy is represented by the fuel?
Cost increases for the vast amounts of material used for wind power are far more significant.
Well before we have a problem with fuel costs, we can get uranium from seawater -uranium has been too cheap to bother before.
The actual waste from a nuclear reactor is around 20 tonnes a year - and we are developing nuclear reactors which will be able to burn it.


$$$ is not wasted. We have gotten the electricity needed to run society (like the computer you used to enter your messages) from nuclear and other power sources. PV Solar is 1/20th of 1% and concentrated solar is a smaller fraction of that.

You list issues but do not put the actual scale of almost any of the issues. Water is used for cooling all the big power plants fossil fuel and nuclear, and is not for solar or wind. And yet nuclear power still has 90% operating efficiency while solar is down around 20% and wind at 30%. Solar has the issue of night time and less than high noon and clouds. Wind has calm summers and other intermittency.

Uranium prices rose and yet nuclear electric power prices barely budged. Because fuel costs are only a tiny fraction of the cost of a nuclear power plant. Plus the raw uranium cost is an even smaller portion. Most of the fuel costs are for enrichment. This is because uranium has 20,000 times the energy density of coal so very little is needed to run a nuclear power plant.

The key thing that is forgotten is scale. Scale of the energy problems and what are solutions that are able to scale and make a difference.

David B. Benson

Meanwhile, some of our energy needs can be met, with ever increasing efficiency, via bioenergy:



I see that the anti-nuke people here have resorted to non-sequiturs and ad hominems ... guess they're out of reasonable points to argue. Keep making fun of how old nuclear power is and how unpopular the Bush family is, though, you're doing great!


Careful! you are very near to convincing us that nuclear energy is a renewable energy source ! But because none has touched upon the issue directly, could you inform us please as to what exactly happens to nuclear waste ?
I think nobody disputes the fact that nuclear will carry the weight of near future "human evolution" even Mr, Jed Bush who possibly sees this outlook as an excellent business venture, given near future oil shortages. @bob: ....sic transit gloria mundi !

Paul F. Dietz

But because none has touched upon the issue directly, could you inform us please as to what exactly happens to nuclear waste?

It cools for a few years, then gets sealed in armored 'dry casks', filled with inert gas, for several centuries, or until someone wants to do something useful with it. The volume is so small that this strategy is quite affordable, even if you have to guard the casks for that time.


Well speaking of Nuclear water use.

Nuclear evaporates (or "consumes") as much as 900 gallons of water per MWh.

Nuclear consumes/withdraws more water than Coal, and much more than Natural Gas.


SolarThermal/GeoThermal of course rank similar to Nuclear.

However, given their lower capital cost, they have an option Nuclear doesn't
(Given it's already obscenely high capital cost with open loop cooling).

More expensive near-zero water consumption cooling.


Nuclear Power may well prove an essential component of future energy growth, but the claim that it comes with none of the Co2 emissions of standard plants is false - Co2 is released in the mining and refinement of its standard fuel.

Nonsense - this is miniscule. Perfection is the enemy of good. I guess the nuke plant operators also exhale CO2. So lets shut the plant down.

Numbers please.

And what is the CO2 emission ratio to Coal?

Numbers talk, selective rationalizations walk.


Numbers, numbers... we went through this just 3 weeks ago in

Life cycle CO2 emissions from
815-980 g/KWH Coal
362-472 g/KWH Gas combined cycle
50 - 95 g/KWH Solar photovoltaic
5.5 -37 g/KWH Wind
6 - 26 g/KWH Nuclear
3 - 18 g/KWH hydro

So ratio? Coal puts out at least 30x more CO2/KWH than nuclear.


Grey yes a nuke uses lots of water but so does most any type of steam plant. The only reason why a combined cycle gas plant uses less is because much of the energy produced is from a gas turbine that does not require as much cooling. Remember the cooling water does not have to be fresh water either. I do question why a solar thermal plant would use so much more water than a coal plant. A solar thermal power block is very similar to any other steam plant and their cooling systems are basically the same. It uses a little bit of water for mirror wash but only around 2% of the total.

Grey I loved the second link about dry cooling and solar thermal plants. I consider it one of the biggest obstacles that need to be overcome for solar thermal to take off. I have been doing quite a lot of research on dry systems. I had a long talk with a cooling tower expert they other day and said that a dry cooling system in the desert can de-rate a plant 20% in the desert. That is a 300 MW plant would only be rated at 240 MW’s because of the loss of efficiency. Your link claim only a 5% increase in total costs, which I doubt in California, would definitely be something you could overcome. A 20% increase in costs would be hard to make up at the present time. Actually many new gas and steam plants use dry cooling, even when they are in areas that seemingly have lots of water. They also have hybrid cooling systems that use less water but might be able to deal with some of the seasonal high temps in the desert.

David B. Benson

I'm no particular fan of nuke power, but it certainly is better than fossil coal power by all important measures.

Not the least is the arrival of Peak Coal is a quarter-century or so...

Kit P

“A 20% increase in costs would be hard to make up at the present time.”

Water is just anther tactic of the anti's. There have been many cases where anti's have fought efficiency improvements at coal, nuke, and natural gas plants based on water issues. The same amount of cooling water (or less) with more electricity. An environmental no brainer.

The goal is to make electricity they do not like more expensive.


re: Steve

Well as mentioned.

Nuclear ain't looking too good in terms of capital costs.

A huge advantage with solar/geothermal is that they are by nature incremental/modular.

This makes for a much stronger iterative design process. Which makes them far more apt to quickly adopt new technology methods, such as advanced cooling.

Nuclear on the other hand, can't even innovate Light Water Reactors without demanding it be bankrolled at first 80% by federal funding.

Ontop of an already ridiculously bloated R&D budget.

Besides which, as things stand now, both Nuclear and Coal can't get a dime of capital financing from Wall Street. (Especially in California where building either of them is currently banned)

So they aren't even in the running to begin with.


Kit when I was talking about a 20% increase in cost being hard to overcome I was talking about solar thermal. I agree that comparing nukes water use to coal or gas plants is stretching it a little bit. Water is however a huge issue for new plants especially in the South West. In some rural areas, even that seem to have plenty of water, still have an issue because of local agriculture resistance.

Grey the truth is if you search the internet you can pretty much find information to support any belief. I work in the power industry and can tell you one of the major things holding back nukes now is the amount of risk many of the companies are going to have to take on. You don’t want to put your shareholders at risk for billions of dollars without some major protections from the government. You also want the public to be behind your decision. It is a business and I think sometimes people forget that.

Ok now I work in the solar thermal industry and I believe it holds some real promise, especially in the South West. With the new limited thermal storage it should be very good at following the local daytime load. I also believe that there is much more that can be done to increase efficiency and lower costs. The simple truth is it is no where near being able to run the country on renewables and we don’t really have a lot of time to figure it out. Now I live in California and the fact that we can not build either nukes or coal plants pretty much shows how the politicians don’t have a clue. You have to have workable plan and they just seem to be putting their heads in the sand. Pretty much the only thing they have left us to build are gas plants. Now I love natural gas but we simply don’t have enough of it and it competes with residential users. I also don’t like the fact we are relying on something that can have large price fluctuations


Thanks Clee. Very useful.

So life cycle emissions by nuclear is 56 times more than coal!!!

Did you hear that Will and other Cultural Studies graduates who never took math, science and economics?

Fact-based analysis shames Value-based rage.


Oooops - make that - Nuclear emission is 56 times LESS than coal!

Go nuclear go. Except that I am in the renewable business and can't compete! :-(

Kit P

“Go nuclear go. Except that I am in the renewable business and can't compete!”

JDT, so do not compete with nukes. Compete with natural gas or fuel oil. The problem with the renewable energy industry is that too often they are selling a technology and not solving customers needs. Find a demand and fit the correct technology. This week a project started putting methane from dairy farm lagoons into a PG&E pipeline. When my company was working on that we used $1/MMBTU in our business plans. With LNG going for $14-18/MMBTU on the spot market, there is opportunity out there, you just have to find it.


The average American lifestyle uses 1,550 watts, 37.2 kWh / day / per person.
If all that power came from nuclear with an average consumption of 0.5 gal / kWh it would evaporate 18.6 gallons per day, 6,790 gal / year.

In year 2000 the U.S. used 408 billion gallons of water per day.


Assuming a population of 295 million that is an average of 1,380 gal / day / person, of which the electrical share would be about 1.3% if it all came from nuclear.

Contrast that with corn ethanol which needs 10,000 gallons of water to produce the energy equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline, page 54 of Gray’s excellent reference.


Filling a 20 gallon tank with E-85 one time consumes enough water to make all of your electricity for two years with nuclear power.

But, many nuclear plants are located on coastlines and use the ocean as a heat sink which is effectively unlimited and consumes no fresh water. Plants located near the discharge of rivers don’t count since the water discharges into the ocean before it has time to evaporate. So the average evaporation rate for our nuclear plants is significantly less than calculated above.

If we mass produce floating nuclear plants they will use sea water for cooling and they can desalinate sea water. Also note on the chart, page 38 of the pdf, that dry nuclear is an option.

So why the big fuss about water consumption by nuclear plants?

How many people want to see their electric bill double to save ½ % on their water consumption?


It warms my heart to see that the anti nuclear crowd has to pick on tiny issues like this to support their position.


I am sure a cost effective heat pump can be devised to put the low-quality waste heat from nukes to good use. And hence evaporates the silly "water consumption" strawman of the anti-progressive greenies and enviros.

To echo Hannahan, the anti-progressive crowds are clutching to straws.


Well that last post pretty much proves you have no clue about the industry. On the flip side I now have to apologize to Kit because I thought you were the same person. Kit may be a little obnoxious but seems to have a clue. Oh well I can at least admit I can admit when I am wrong.


Steve: Well that last post pretty much proves you have no clue about the industry.

Argumentum ad Hominem.

Kindly provide reasoning why a heat pump cannot be used to capture low-quality thermal energy, or uh, STFU.

BTW, what is your education - just curious.


Well since you have called me out how about you state you education first. I work in the industry and it is pretty obvious you do not. You say you work in alternative energy but I really doubt that.. As for me I now work in solar thermal but have worked in conventional power too. If you want to see who has the big brain on the production of electricity I welcome that but remember checking on the net is cheating.


Steve, I did not say "alternative energy". I work in renewables, in a sector that is more mainstream than solar thermal (which BTW I have more respect for than PVs). Lets put it this way, I am in charge of a $260 million, 70 MW, 285 GWh project.

You still did not answer what is wrong with capturing low-level thermal heat. It may not be cost effective today, but all I said is that it may become economic at some point and the lousy anti-progress greenies may stop raging about water consumption (actually simply heating water and returning most of that back to the flow which they rhetorically call consumption).

My state of education: one degree in mathematics and 3 degrees in electrical engineering, and a minor in economics. And yours?


Well with all that education I would expect you would have a little more to offer. I would be interested why you have more respect for PV than solar thermal but then again on the net you can be anything you want to be.

My degree, a very long time ago, is economics but if you want to discuss power plants I would be happy to do it. There are a lot of educated idiots in the world and would be happy to discuss where you fit in the picture. By the way just what do you in the industry? Not quite sure what a 70 MW, 285 GWH project means. Quite honestly by your posts I doubt you have a clue about anything but please enlighten us.


Steve, you need to read posts a bit more carefully. I said that I find thermal solar more effective than PV.

Since your degree is in economics (and not in Science or Engineering), I will not press you any further on the question of recovery of low-level thermal energy from nukes.

I produce green and renewable energy - and its not wind or solar.

285 GWh = 285,000,000 KWh = powering 28,000 homes.

Kit P

JDT, many nuke plants use man made cooling lakes and some of those have become popular lake front communities. This lake water could be used in conjunction with a heat pump to improve performance of the heat pump. However, bio fouling could be a drawback that could make it impractical.

Rod Adams


Interesting project description - $260 million, 70 MW, 285 GWh - $3,700 per kilowatt capacity. That is in the realm of nuclear plant capital costs. Of course, if it is truly "green and renewable" it might be worth the investment.

My guess is that your plant burns wood or wood products - the DOE classifies those as renewable and they produce about 2% of the nation's electricity supply, far more than wind and solar combined.

Of course, they also release a fair amount of air pollution and require a solid waste disposal system for the ashes. If associated with lumber or paper products, you might count the fuel as "free" waste products, but the same technology is not necessarily scalable to other locations that do not have access to that fuel source.

How close am I?

BTW - I have to agree with Steve; there are several ways - including heat pumps - to use the waste heat produced by all kinds of steam plants including nuclear. Of course, it is more challenging to put waste heat to good use for very large plants of any kind since heat is more difficult to move than electricity. The answer to that is smaller plants in more locations closer to the heat customers.

Cyril R.

Looking at the capacity factor, JDT is definately not talking about a nuke.

It's probably biogas, wood, or waste/sewage/manure/landfill gas.


Also. I didn't read all of the comments on here, but we won't have to use a lot of Uranium. There Thorium, which I've read a little about and in all the test reactors it's been in it's done really well.


what is the carbon output of thorium in its refinement process prior to generation electricity? Does anyone know?

Cyril R.

Thermal powerplants could lessen water shortages. Thermal desalination is well established technology. So is piping water over great distances.

Dry cooling is not a big deal though, Heller dry cooling systems already come in large sizes, and cost about the same as a decent wet cooling tower.

Using sea/ocean water as a heat sink is still cheaper though, and most efficient. Most people live near seas/oceans. Lots of electric demand, lots of water demand, nice heatsink. Good place for a nuke with thermal desalination. Pipe the fresh water to areas further off the coast. Or use solar thermal with thermal desalination if the solar direct beam resource is good. If you have plenty of electricity but no water, consider reverse osmosis.

Cyril R.

Thorium fuel cycles have only recently gained traction so not much scientific work has been done in this area.

Refining thorium only involves reducing it from thorium oxide/nitrate to elemental thorium. It is also possible to use the thorium oxide itself, in a solid fuel reactor. I think Thorium Power does this. No enrichment is required because the isotope that is required, th232, is the only one that has a very long half life - it's pretty much the only one left. All the others have degraded since the beginning of the universe, and the half life of th232 is so long that only insignificant amounts of the other isotopes have since been created. Enrichment is the largest lifecycle energy requirement for fission so eliminating this has big impact on lifecycle emissions (one of the many reasons I'm a big fan of CANDUs). Combine that with very high burnup rates in particular MFR but even in the once through modes (Thorium Fuels LWR modification) and I believe that Thorium fuel cycles have the lowest carbon output of any electricity generating technology. My guess is much less than 1 gram per kWh even when the refining etc is powered by with coal.

Thorium is rather a non-starter though, because there is too much uranium for it to be justified on economic grounds. Thorium reactors just have to be substantially cheaper and easier to build than uranium reactors, then things will get interesting.

The comments to this entry are closed.

. .

Batteries/Hybrid Vehicles