Science Seminar Series 9 Barry Brook


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Professor Barry Brook explains 'Why old nuclear power is not new'. This seminar provides insight into the various forms of nuclear energy including fourth generation reactors. For more information about Barry’s ideas for our energy futures visit

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Science Seminar Series 9 Barry Brook

  1. 1. Environment Institute Science Seminar Series 2009 Next Week: Monday 1 June Why old nuclear power is not new Presented by: Professor Barry Brook
  2. 2. Energy Futures Why old nuclear power is not new Professor Barry W. Brook Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change Director of Climate Science, Environment Institute School of Earth and Environmental Sciences The University of Adelaide Email:
  3. 3. Disclaimer! • I am not a Nuclear Physicist, Reactor Engineer, etc.* • I have no vested interest in any form of commercial energy** • Everyone can (should) learn what I am about to tell you!*** *But then neither is 99% of other ‘expert commenters’ on nuclear power. For those who care, I’m an Earth systems scientist and modeller. I read widely though. **I do own a rooftop PV system and occasionally manage to sell back to the grid. Does that count? *** So you too, with some effort, can become a ‘nuclear expert’ – or at least much better informed.
  4. 4. Why nuclear power is bad* • It is a CO2-intensive activity (mining, enrichment, plants) • It leaves a 100,000 year legacy of radioactive waste • Uranium supplies will run out in 40 – 200 years • There is a dangerous risk of nuclear meltdown • It facilitates nuclear weapons proliferation • Others (necessity, cost, pace, insurance, water use) *This is all common wisdom. Of course, that doesn’t make it true.
  5. 5. Okay – time to get rational • The China (and India) syndrome • Dispelling the myths (a big topic…) • Generation III+ (the here and now) • Generation IV (the near future) • Limits of renewable energy & EE • Bottom Line: the basket of eggs
  6. 6. It’s a CO2-intensive energy source (mining, enrichment, plant operation, fuel storage, etc.)
  7. 7.
  8. 8. Weisser, D: A guide to life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric supply technologies (2007) Energy
  9. 9. • 2005 OD output = 4,600 tU3O8 = 22 GWe (LWR) – 192 Terawatt hours per year (SA total = 12 TWh/yr) • 2020 expanded OD output = 19,000 tU3O8 = 94 GWe – 794 TWh/yr (3 – 4 x Australia’s total 2020 electricity demand)
  10. 10. Electricity generation comparison: OD substitution 2005 Production Levels Brown coal (new subcritical): 226 Mt CO2-e Black coal (supercritical): 181 Mt CO2-e Natural gas (combined cycle): 111 Mt CO2-e Nuclear Power (full life cycle): 4 Mt CO2-e Expanded Mine: 2020 Production Levels Brown coal (new subcritical): 933 Mt CO2-e Black coal (supercritical): 747 Mt CO2-e Natural gas (combined cycle): 458 Mt CO2-e Nuclear Power (full life cycle): 16 Mt CO2-e
  11. 11. • In 2005, South Australia’s emissions were 28 Mt CO2-e – 2020 under BAU = 36 Mt CO2-e • If CPRS 5% target met, Oz in 2020 [all sources] = 530 Mt CO2-e • OD expansion will ‘save’ 915 Mt CO2-e vs coal • So almost twice offset Oz total, and for SA = 25 times
  12. 12. Uranium ores will be depleted in 40 to 200 years
  13. 13. URANIUM Low-enriched uranium for LWR fuel HAS TWO MAIN ISOTOPES 95 - 97% is U-238 Natural uranium 3 - 5% is U-235 99.3% is U-238 Highly enriched uranium for weapons 0.7% is U-235 90% is U-235 10% is U-238
  14. 14. THE FATE OF THE MINED URANIUM TODAY, LESS THAN 1% OF ITS ENERGY IS BEING USED As mined, uranium is 99.3% U-238, 0.7% U-235. For LWR fuel, the uranium first goes to an enrichment plant Mined uranium (after the enrichment process) DU : 99.75% U-238, 0.25% U-235 After enrichment, some 85% is left behind as depleted uranium About 15% becomes enriched uranium for LWR fuel EU: 95% U-238 In today’s LWR throwaway fuel cycle 5% U-235 about 5% of the EU gets used; the rest is considered “waste”
  15. 15. USED LWR FUEL All of it is now treated as waste, but it’s not The REAL waste With this portion consumed (in fast reactors), dangerous activity is gone in 300 years
  16. 16. LWR FUEL CYCLE TODAY Enriched Depleted Used fuel Isolation mandated for 10,000 years or more Reprocessing, as done in France, raises fuel utilization to 6%, vs 5% for the U.S. once-through cycle
  17. 17. FUEL CYCLE WITH FAST REACTORS simplified Used Processing Fuel for LWR fuel fast reactor Uranium for make-up Waste (fission products -- Fast-reactor power plant no plutonium) Reactor Refreshed fuel Steam Recycling; Fuel fabrication Spent fuel Permanent disposal With enough fast reactors, no more Isolation needed mining, milling, or enrichment of uranium for only 300 years will be needed for centuries – enough uranium is already on hand.
  18. 18. PROCESSING STREAMS with fast reactors deployed and before used thermal-reactor fuel has been exhausted ALL THE PLUTONIUM AND USED LWR FUEL OTHER TRANSURANICS, MIXED WITH SOME URANIUM Fast-reactor plant Fuel fabrication MOST OF THE Uranium as needed URANIUM for make-up fuel 0.8% U-235 FISSION Stored for PRODUCTS future use WASTE DISPOSITION
  19. 19. EVENTUAL FAST-REACTOR FUEL CYCLE Decades hence -- after the Pu and other transuranics from used thermal-reactor fuel have been exhausted Stored uranium left over Fast-reactor power plant from used thermal Reactor reactor fuel Uranium for make-up, from Refreshed Steam one source or the other. fuel One ton per year per 1 GWe power plant Stored DU left over from Recycling Spent fuel past enrichment activity Waste Disposal To fuel fast reactors, no more Fission products only – no plutonium mining, milling, or enrichment of One ton per year per 1 GWe power plant uranium will be needed for Isolation needed for only 300 centuries – a lot of uranium has years already been mined.
  20. 20. It leaves a 100,000 year legacy of radioactive waste
  21. 21. There is a dangerous risk of nuclear meltdown
  22. 22. It facilitates weapons proliferation
  23. 23. 800 600 GW(e) high 400 low history 200 0 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020 2030 Necessity, pace, cost, insurance
  24. 24. CEFR (China) 20 MWe (2009) PFBR (India) 500 MWe (2010)
  25. 25. More information, discussion, references for slides and presentation downloads:
  26. 26. Environment Institute Science Seminar Series 2009 Next Seminar: 15 June – 3pm How can we help biodiversity adapt to the ravages of climate change? Presented by: Professor Andrew Lowe