By Clinton E. Crackel, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition
Clinton E. Crackel
June 7, 2022 - Across the nation, especially in the west, many electric utilities are forecasting a dismal summer in terms of the lack of continuous supplies of electricity on the nation’s grids. There are expectations for numerous blackouts for unspecified durations due to the increasing temperatures supposedly brought on by global warming. The west is experiencing severe drought, and the lack of water to satisfy hydroelectric (hydropower) generation demands is being blamed.
The real problem is due to drastically reducing our use of dependable fossil fuels by increasing the use of unreliable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Granted, hydropower is a renewable energy source, but if there is no water behind the dam, there won’t be any electricity. Further, unbeknownst or disavowed by many in the renewable energy sector, hydroelectric power operations do release CO2 to the atmosphere. According to the International Hydropower Association, the median value for CO2 emissions by hydropower is 23 gCO2-eq/kWh.
Nuclear and wind power have lower average emission intensities than hydropower, with both at about 12 gCO2-eq/kWh. For solar energy, the value is 48 gCO2-eq/kWh. For natural gas and coal, the values are 490 and 820 gCO2-eq/kWh respectively.
The major problem facing the electric utility industry was its eagerness to dramatically reduce its reliance on nuclear, natural gas and coal in favor of the more politically driven renewable energy options. I suspect a lot of money was made by both greedy politicians and electric utility executives in the pursuit of furthering the cause of renewables as an environmentally desirable solution to the global warming debacle.
Granted, compared to most renewable energy sources, nuclear and coal-fired plants are much more labor intensive, especially during plant outages. However, both nuclear and coal-fired plants are the most dependable in terms of steady state operations 24/7 (excluding outages or unexpected shutdowns). Besides, publicly owned utilities are keen to minimizing operating and maintenance costs to maximize the bottom line.
Natural gas should be a stable source, but there are too many variables in the natural gas supply situation currently to contend with, especially in terms of added prohibitions on fracking. Further, I’m not even going to discuss fuel oil because only about 1% of our electricity is generated by oil-fired power plants, let alone the high cost for such fuel.
The environmental leftists dislike coal because of the greenhouse emissions associated with its use. Nuclear is viewed as a hazard because of the perception by many of the public as being like a nuclear bomb. Also, many fear the dangers associated with uncontrolled releases of radiation to the environment and the storage and disposal of nuclear waste.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, was supposed to resolve the issue of commercial spent nuclear fuel storage and greater than Class C low-level radioactive waste, but it never came to fruition thanks to the ineptness of the U.S. Department of Energy’s defunct Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.
I suspect the real reason to dislike nuclear and coal is because the left wants to destabilize our economy as a key component of the American Marxist movement. By implementing a nation-wide energy program utilizing only renewable energy sources, the left knows renewable energy alone can’t support our ever-increasing demand for electricity, especially with ongoing increases in the use of Electric Vehicles (EVs).
Regarding wind generators, a minimum wind speed of about 7 mph is needed for the generator to begin to generate electricity. As a rule, for most wind generators, a wind speed of 26 mph to 30 mph is required to generate the nominal, or rated, power as specified on the data plate. Wind speeds of more than 55 mph will cause the turbine generator to shut off. I suspect this is necessary because the output of the wind generator would exceed its ability to sync to the grid in terms of meeting the required voltage and cycles, especially cycles (Hz). We use 60 Hz ac electricity, which requires a three-phase output generator to rotate at a steady speed of 3,600 rpm.
Solar is the other principal means for generating electricity. However, solar power only works during hours of sunlight. If relying on solar power during hours of darkness, then extensive battery storage is needed, or a heat storage medium such as liquid sodium to convert water to steam to turn a turbine, will be required.
Another renewable energy source is geothermal. Geothermal plants are typically located in areas with seismic activity associated with underground volcanic action because of the availability of hot underground water and/or steam. The carbon dioxide emission rating is about 122 gCO2-eq/kWh on average. They emit small amounts of other greenhouse gases such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and benzene. Water that flows through their underground reservoirs can pick up trace amounts of toxic elements such as arsenic, mercury, and selenium. These plants can also release trace amounts of naturally occurring radionuclides such as Radium-226 and uranium.
Other problems associated with geothermal plants is that they generate waste, reservoirs require proper management, it's location-specific, has high initial cost, and, just like fracking, can cause earthquakes in extreme cases. Surface and ground waters contaminated by discharges of spent geothermal fluids constitute a health hazard. Also, just as with fracking, be careful where you get your drinking water from.
Despite these drawbacks, geothermal could become a major global energy source but is held back by its high upfront costs. Yet, it’s predicted that by 2050, geothermal can meet 3% to 5% of the global demand for electricity.
Regarding the availability of nuclear fuel for our nuclear power plants, uranium mining has been dramatically reduced in the United States. As of 2019, American uranium production only produced enough uranium to meet 0.3% of the total national demand for nuclear fuel. Luckily for us, although President Biden has banned the importation of Russian oil, he hasn’t banned the importation of uranium from Russia. For that matter, maybe we’re buying back the same uranium Hillary Clinton influenced the sale of to Russia while she was Secretary of State. It’s also been rumored she diverted some of those funds to the Clinton Foundation.
Communist China has also discovered an underground treasure trove of uranium several thousand feet under the surface. It could be a great source for uranium. After all, as far as I know, China already manufactures most, if not all, of our EV batteries, solar panels, storage batteries for solar farms, wind generator turbines and blades, and the bulk of rare earth elements needed in the manufacturing of electronics, so it could also become a great source of uranium.
Now President Biden wants to lift the tariffs on Chinese renewable energy products to expedite the expansion of green energy in this country. It would be cheaper than hiring Americans to build such products, especially since the Chinese use forced labor.
It has recently been brought to my attention that sites are being selected for the disposal of EV batteries and other waste generated by renewable energy. Solar panels are considered hazardous waste and wind generator blades require special storage in lieu of standard waste disposal. This is compounded by the fact that renewable energy unit installers for solar and wind won’t remove the unusual units as a rule. That responsibility rests with the owner.
North Korea and Iran want to join the Nuclear Club by building nuclear weapons of their own. They both have the capability to deploy tactical nuclear weapons at least on a regional basis, if not globally. As a recognized state sponsor of terrorism, Iran could do significant damage to us, even with a small arsenal. Now, even Russia is threatening the use of nuclear weapons.
A rogue nuclear state wouldn’t even have to attack a land target with a nuclear weapon. It could detonate the device in a high altitude burst that would emit a prompt, massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could annihilate the instrumentation and control circuits of our electric grids, emergency radio communications, television and radio stations, household appliances, personal computers and virtually anything else that relies on microprocessors and solid-state circuits. A massive solar flare could cause nearly the same amount of damage.
At the present time, the only way to protect our vital electronic resources against EMP is to use faraday cages with adequate grounding. In lieu of the use of faraday cages, I propose using micro vacuum tube technology to protect electronics from the effects of EMP. In the past, vacuum tube circuits were proven to be very robust against the effects of EMP according to tests conducted a decades ago. I believe vacuum tubes can still prove their worth in an EMP environment today.
Although American coal has more than doubled in price per ton, it is still one of the most valuable resources we have available for producing a multitude of industrial, agricultural, and household products. As a rule, it is not used for that purpose. The emphasis has traditionally been on using thermal coal for power plants and as coking coal for the manufacture of steel.
For use as a fuel for the manufacture of numerous products, including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and synthetic gas, we would have to resort to a coal liquefaction process. Advanced technology is available that could make the liquefaction process more environmentally compatible than some renewables.
If China and India are increasing their use of coal, why aren’t we doing something to increase the use of American coal for the benefit of several segments of our society?