I thought we had a panacea now all I have is second thoughts!
I know it has been a while since I wrote anything in my blog, reasons and excuses, yeah I don't need to explain!!
Anyway, some thoughts as I start to write here. A friends of mine (probably yours too!) blogged, Facebook-ed, buzzed and tweeted (yeah, some company pays him to do all that ;)) about nuclear energy amidst the after-quakes of Japan's tsunami earth quake and seemingly never ending nuclear power plant problems.
In a comment that I thought was well-thought (like always, overly confident !!! ) I stated - " clearly its A (meaning "Nuclear energy for power is dangerous but required because nothing else can match huge release of energy after coal/oil" ). Engineering is all about tradeoffs and business is all about risks. I read an article which says Japan was "worse than worst case" accident. The plant did what it was designed to do - automatic full shutdown. It is the residual <5.% heat that is causing so much problem. We cannot make technical/policy decisions based on a unlikely event that may happen once every ~1000 years!"
I do stand by my comment, about Japan, the plant did what it was supposed to do, the nature however out-smarted us. The predictions went wrong, the risk models failed us and "contingency plans" were inadequate if not ineffective. As everybody in the circle says "mistakes were made but we will get to them later". But however Nikhil's question remained unanswered, "Is nuclear energy the way to future".
But, as I was reading and listening to the Japan story one word kept popping up often, "TMI" a word that I could not relate to anything (as if i were an expert on nuclear science and engineering!). Any way, Google and YouTube had answers (they always do).
see:. University Wisconsin Madison Discussion (http://goo.gl/ywZz4)
. MIT NSE discussion (http://goo.gl/MqZ8S) and daily blog (http://goo.gl/PhMzU)
For those of us who don't wanna spend their time watching hours of recorded webinars and documentaries, TMI stands for Three Mile Iceland, a 800MW nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania about 10 miles from the state capital Harrisburg. It was on the verge of being a big catastrophe after a small glitch (a faulty valve ) confounded by human-errors (yeah, some of them in super hi-tech industry are not so smart as you might expect them to be!) escalated to a general emergency and evacuation. This was sometime in 1979. The operators cut-off emergency cooling water and everything went crazy. The disaster was avoided not before there was a 50% core meltdown and a dead reactor core. Wiki says that there were no-reactors commissioned in the whole of "US of A" after TMI (I dont know that for a fact, not interested in investigating it either).
Any way, apparently at the time, 200million people had second thoughts about nuclear energy and its usage for commercial and civilian purposes (nobody cares about military uses in a submarine or ships!). The concerns were clear, what if TMI went for a 100% melt down, what if any nuclear plant has a meltdown, what if! Then came along some folks who said, we can use coal, gas and other fossil fuels till nuclear technology matures ( "and I have made my millions", oh sorry, b comes first, "billions"!)
That was then, now we are playing a different ball game, of environmental lobbyists. Everybody is talking green (who is a fundamentalist now!), everybody from NYC restaurant to CA Governor.
. NYC Habana Outpost (http://goo.gl/HAnbq)
. Schwarzenegger Talks about Hydrogen Vehicles and Stations (http://goo.gl/DamUQ)
The energy equation has always had many vested interests. It may not be wrong to say that the country which has the energy independence will have better control (influence if you wanna call it that) over world market and politics than others can possibly think of. There were wars (being) fought and lives lost over the supremacy of energy equation; we all know everything there is to know about that.
So, what is it that happened in the nuclear energy industry and market that everybody (including myself) claims that it is the panacea of all energy crisis. Is it really the solution, some say that electric cars being the next reality of transportation, nuclear energy might finally give the energy independence that USA and other so called developed countries so badly want. And what does that mean to developing countries, really do they get to take advantage of the mature technologies, be a part of development of next generation power plants (what is the next-gen anyway?). And what does it mean for the environment? Really is it the green technology everybody wants it to be? Or is it that we are being fooled?
. Nuclear Energy - Future Directions(http://goo.gl/mNlhq)
So, essentially I decided that I should do some reading, some research for myself before forming any opinion on the matter. I saw that I have large bias in favor of nuclear energy without knowing enough about the process, the technology or the market. What I do know about this is what I learned in my pre-university days and what I know about power systems in general. All I know is that nuclear energy accounts for 20% of the total electric power "base-load" and at a capacity factor close to 90%, in other words most of nuclear power plants in US (and around the world) work continuously at around 90% of their rated power output. FYI, coal based thermal power plants produce around 45% and natural gas based thermal power plants produce another 20% or so. (these are ball-park figures from my power system analysis class, and I have no reliable references for these numbers, except perhaps wiki!). The total generation of USA was 4,120,028GWhr (WOW!!) in calendar year 2010.
I want to further explore this topic, in fact I am doing that as I am writing this blog. But before I write about what I have been able to gather, I wanted to put some thoughts on record, so that I myself can come back and see how I have been able to change my own impressions, opinions and knowledge about all these. Anyway, I have written too much for the day and you are probably already bored. You are welcome to comment, question (about what I have written and what you would expect me to write) and we might have a discussion on it.