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Nuclear science


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#1 Bill253

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 02:08 PM

OK, you knew this topic was coming, what with what is happening in Japan right now. I thought it better discussed here rather than General Chat - because of it's inherently controversial nature.

I was going to label the topic nuclear power, but didn't want to limit the discussion to electrical power generation.

A little of my background may help set the stage. Nuclear science has made a major impact on my life and the area in which I live (New Mexico, USA). Millions of years ago, uranium was deposited in substantial quantities in this part of the country. Some 60 years ago, the US military set up a lab in a remote place called Los Alamos to pursue the Manhattan Project. As a result of this project, the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945 at a place now known as the Trinity Site. This is about 100 miles from where I currently live. Some 30 years ago, I had a job as a geologist at a uranium mine. Since then I have worked primarily as an environmental scientist, trying to clean up after people and keep the world a somewhat decent place to live.

There are several things we all have in common here:
1) We all use electricity - to power our computers and the internet, at least
2) We all live in a world where nuclear science impacts our lives, through power generation, military weapons, and medicine to name a few ways
3) We all care to a greater or lesser extent, or we wouldn't be here reading this drivel <_<

So let the discussion begin. Is this a Pandora that should never have been let out of the box? Could it have ever been kept in the box? Is it worth the cost?

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Bill

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#2 JohnWho

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 07:45 AM

Do some research on Thorium reactors.

I'd say we should be moving forward as fast as possible in their development.

Plenty of links here:

Thorium energy Alliance website.


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#3 rigel

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 01:19 PM

Nice topic.

A Pandora? Maybe. I am all for nuclear use in our world. Medicine would have never become as advanced with out it. Could we have found an alternative, maybe. We do have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), but I am not sure we would have accidentally stumbled upon it as we have with other discoveries. I cannot imagine how many lives were saved by x-rays.

Look at your smoke detector. It has a trace amount of radioactive material tucked inside. I have 6 in my home and wouldn't feel comfortable without them.

The other side is nuclear power itself. I worked in a plant for several years. For the most part these plants are safe and have several redundant safety systems in place. The one I worked at had an ice condenser system that could drop large quantities of ice on the core for emergency cooling. They could also use the lake that sits beside the plant to cool the water systems.

The problem I have with nuclear power is => its waste. Fuel rods remain hot for 1000's of years. The spent fuel pool at the Japanese site will probably contain all spent fuel from the beginning of that plants start up. It sounds like they had a fuel pool with water cooling it and shielding it. When the earthquake hit, that seems to have leaked. Their problem is you cannot walk up to a spend fuel rod core and live. I have always believed that before you start up another reactor, you need to find something to do with the waste of that plant.

So, is using nuclear sources worth the risk? Yes, in places. But, I fear that the area affected by this nuclear disaster will never recover.

Edited by rigel, 22 March 2011 - 01:23 PM.
fragment

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#4 ryan_w_quick

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 09:33 PM

It seems at the rate that we are going, fossil fuel could run out at some point, at least from what I know. It seems like we need to find some other kind of energy, at some point. Once new energy discovery becomes necessity and/or very profitable, I think we will see some major innovations, maybe some inventions in the way of energy production/distribution. Who knows what this will be. Maybe there is some oil company that has discovered some excellent new way to make energy, and they are just waiting until oil becomes too expensive or rare to market to the world. Honestly, I am kind of scared because of US economics and social break downs, but I am very encouraged for the future because I think technological revolutions are coming in this world and there is nothing anyone or any nation can do to stop them. Go reason, go science.
"To do less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." Steve Prefontaine

"The things you own end up owning you." Tyler Durden

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." Galileo

#5 Bill253

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 12:08 AM

@JohnWho - the thorium link(s) you posted are quite interesting. I had never heard of thorium as a potential fuel for electricity generation before, though I'm far from an expert. Sounds promising. Maybe someday we can get the powers that be out of the uranium/hot steam generation mindset.

@rigel - you are absolutely right about the waste problem with nuclear energy production. With the Yucca Mountain repository plan being axed, we in the US are left with no real solution. So we hold it above ground (or slightly below) and wait... Here in New Mexico we have the Waste Isolation Power Plant (WIPP) where they are burying low level, and I believe now some medium level, nuclear waste in an underground salt dome. Much of this is gloves/gowns/equipment/etc. It's always amazing to pass the TRUPACT trucks on the highways. Makes you think about what's actually being transported on our highways.

@ryan - I think you're right about how we have to get there some day. While there are still a LOT of fossil fuels out there, we also need them to make things like plastics and other chemicals. Some day the economics just won't allow us to continue to burn them as standard fuels. We've not even really touched the issue of pollution, whether green house gasses like CO2 or other things like spills, mining, drilling, rock fracking.

The good news out of Japan is that, while still a very serious problem, things didn't get too far out of hand right away. Yes, some radiation has been released, I would be surprised if there isn't some more to come, but all in all it appears to be a relatively small amount. I really have to hand it to the workers who stayed at the plant and persevered. They truly are heroes.

#6 Layback Bear

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Posted 26 March 2011 - 01:31 PM

Thank you John Who for that website. Why would any country build a nuclear anything on a major earth quake fault line??

#7 locally pwned

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Posted 21 April 2011 - 01:21 PM

I agree with John. Thorium nuclear reactors have many advantages over those powered by uranium. Thorium is abundant, thus cheaper and more easily attainable than uranium; the plants are smaller and produce less waste. Here is another article on Thorium as a power source. I have done a bit of research on thorium nuclear power; as far as I can tell the only real reason we developed uranium-based technology in the "Manhattan Project" days is that it is far more difficult to weaponize thorium. In this day and age that fact seems to be another notch in the "pros" column!

Unfortunately in mean time there just aren't any viable alternatives in the near future to provide the amount of power we consume. Solar technology is moving much more slowly than we had hoped; it makes incremental gains but is just too inefficient at this point to produce the levels we need it to. I imagine one day when significant gains have been made solar may be the ticket, allowing us to decentralize power generation. For example, it makes sense that we'd use the surface area already taken up by roof tops to produce power (at least a good percentage of the power required) right where we need it. After all, transferring power hundreds of miles is extremely inefficient; the further you send power the more of it you lose.

And of course, using less power is an important goal. We should always work toward finding new ways to do more with less.
"The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking." - Albert Einstein

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands." - Douglas Adams

#8 JohnWho

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Posted 21 April 2011 - 04:58 PM

(quote 'Layback Bear')
Why would any country build a nuclear anything on a major earth quake fault line??
(endquote)

Yeah, or in an area that is subject to flooding, or tornado activity, or hurricanes, or, oh, wait, that may not leave any area safe.

Never mind.

:)


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but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!





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