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RE: Just barely off topic: Can Nuclear Energy ever be "sustainable?"



Title: Just barely off topic: Can Nuclear Energy ever be "sustainable?"
Scott
Nuclear can't ever be sustainable because uranium and plutonium aren't renewable resources, any more than coal or oil are. 
 
However, that said, if the supply of nuclear fuel was so abundant that there was no risk of ever running out and we addressed the extraction issues so the mining impacts were minimal, accident risks were small, and the nuclear waste disposal issues were addressed so their impacts were minimal, then nuclear energy could, in my judgment be considered essentially sustainable.
 
I'd first focus on assurance of a long term supply - breeder reactors might be a factor in extending supply.
Assuring its mining and extraction do not ravage the earth would be your second challenge.  Not familiar enough with its consequences to be helpful here.
Risk from a meltdown could also impact this but biofuel refineries can burn down too so I'm not sure here.  However changing the design to systems which naturally shut down when they malfunction rather than heat up (sodium based systems?)
Finally its disposal would have to be a lot more certain than a  shaft in Yucca mountain in Nevada.  Encapsulation in vitrified material might be a better option.
 
These are the idle musings of a scruffy, distractible, overweight nerd.
 
Anyway that's how I would structure a study to assess how sustainable nuclear energy could be made.
 
 


From: owner-p2tech@great-lakes.net [mailto:owner-p2tech@great-lakes.net] On Behalf Of Butner, R Scott
Sent: Thursday, September 06, 2007 4:50 PM
To: P2 Tech list serve
Subject: Just barely off topic: Can Nuclear Energy ever be "sustainable?"

Fellow P2TECH-ies  --

Well, can it?

And if the answer is "yes" -- what would it take to make it so?

These are not idle musings on the part of a scruffy, distractable, overweight nerd, either.

Nope.  Not idle in the least. 

(The rest is pretty much spot on, of course.)

I ask these questions because I've been approached about making a presentation on this topic at a conference which is coming up later this fall, and wish to gather some informed perspectives on the subject.  As I often do when faced with a question that's over my head, technically, I've come to P2TECH in hopes of finding some bits of wisdom.  And maybe some viewpoints that challenge my own.

I recognize this is an open-ended question -- I think by now we all have a grasp of what the notion of sustainability means, but am not sure I've seen anything really robust in terms of quantifiable definitions. 

Yes, I'm aware of any number of sustainability metrics and indicators that have been used (and in fact plan to use them prominently in my talk).

But most of these metrics allow for more wiggle room than my most comfy blue jeans, now that I've lost 22 lbs.

(had to sneak that in there, somewhere!)

So consider it an invitation to open-ended answers, as well. 

If you have an opinion regarding either question:  whether nuclear power CAN be sustainable, or what it would take to MAKE it sustainable -- I'm eager to hear it.  If I end up using your ideas in my talk, I'll be sure to provide appropriate attribution. 

The conference is in mid-November, but I'd be especially interested in comments I receive early enough to incorporate into a broader framework -- say, Oct 1. 

I'll be sure to share the presentation with any who wish to see it, once it's been prepared.

Thanks in advance,
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Scott Butner
Senior Research Scientist, Knowledge Transformation & Integration Group
Pacific NW National Laboratory
PO Box 999
Richland, WA  99352
Voice: (509)-372-4946/Fax: (509) 375-2443
E-mail: scott.butner@pnl.gov
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