The Nuclear Security Summit 2014 is at an end. The circus of 53 delegation members, the security forces and other parties are leaving or have left the Netherlands. This summit needs to exist; there is no doubt about it. As long as the powers that be discuss and negotiate on these matters, the better the chance that the chance of escalations and extreme consequences remain at an all-time low. This is a basic pragmatic truth.
I do however worry about one aspect. An aspect I do not completely agree with, but an aspect that has long reaching consequences and as such the next generation will get additional responsibilities in regards to cleaning, aside from the economic mess that most leaders are leaving the next generation.
The issue I have is one that will have a long term impact, much longer than the three generations who are about to inherit the current economic debt, especially in Japan, America, France, Italy, Spain and Greece.
What is the issue? The issue us that there is a strong voice and movement to steer away from highly enriched Uranium (20%-85%) and use low enriched Uranium (less than 20%). The logic given is to make sure that the chance of extreme elements getting their hands on weapons grade Uranium becomes even lower. That part makes perfect sense, yet the danger that was, is now getting a lot larger on two fronts, it is simple and basic logic.
1. To get the same amount of energy, a nuclear reactor will have to use between 150% and 325% nuclear fuel to get the same amount of energy. You can find some basic knowledge at http://world-nuclear.org/Nuclear-Basics/How-does-a-nuclear-reactor-make-electricity-/. If for example one rod of highly enriched Uranium gives us one week of power, then we need a lot more rods of low enriched Uranium, but we still will not get the same amount of energy over that time, so the rods would need replacement sooner. No matter how the reactor is replaced or upgraded, the reactor ends up with less steam for electricity.
This part can be shown using a simple electric stove. Have two identical pots of water, set one stove to high and one to medium. You will see that it simply takes longer to get the medium plate with water boiling. Now that part is not the issue, waiting a little longer is not the big thing, when the water starts to boil, switch both off and now see how quickly the water of the medium plate goes off the boil and the water will soon thereafter no longer boils, which means no more steam for electricity.
The test is simple and basic and several factors are cast aside, but the foundation should come across, reactors will need more rods, which mean that the stockpiles of depleted Uranium would grow in excess of 250%, which is part of the first big issue, because as we can read at http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/uranium-and-depleted-uranium/ that the half-life of Depleted Uranium (DU) goes into the centuries, which gives us the nasty side effect that we are growing the stockpile faster and faster and the required space will increase, using spaces that allows for nothing near it for hundreds of generations.
2. The extreme element. Yes, we all agree that the idea of any extremist getting its hands on highly enriched Uranium is truly the stuff of nightmares. Yet, this is not the biggest danger. By many parties in several fields (law enforcement and intelligence) there is a clear and present fear that extremists will get their hands on depleted Uranium and as such will create a dirty bomb with conventional means and mix in depleted Uranium for good measure. That scary effect will not just strike fear in the people. It creates a simple way to make people vacate complete zip codes in the blink of an eye. Now consider that the changes will create up to three times as much DU. This gives us more need of storage, and like with every shipping, the more you ship, the larger the danger becomes that one package ‘falls’ of a truck and into the wrong hands.
So these are the two issues I have. I am not against the banning of Highly Enriched Uranium, but do the people outside the NSS circle realise the consequences of such a decision? Of course all this will come with a massive amount of additional costs, which will again drive power prices up as it is a related cost.
The big danger related to all this is that there is no real solution. Those naive enough to state ban all nuclear power should realise that the pollution and the price of creating energy will spike on both counts. I am not against those big propellers in the sea or on land, because it is clean energy and anyone complaining about the view better take a nice look at the alternative. Those people will not volunteer to live next to a nuclear plant either. The propeller might not offer the greatest view, but in many area’s it does work getting them clean energy. However, I am digressing from the topic.
The change does introduce another danger. The short term security we might get through this is replaced with the long term dangers that we and several next generations will deal with. the danger is that too many people will ignore the issues, just like the national debts many faced and now all are complaining about the cut backs we are all dealing with, the Nuclear stockpile will grow slowly and we will not see or worry about the space needed, but when space is gone, it will be gone forever for many generations.
Nuclear power places us between a rock and an irradiated hard place. We are still no closer to truly have an alternative that really works at present and most nations no longer have the budgets to make any solid change in this regard for the near future. I like the wind alternative, yet I have never been against Nuclear power. Living in Sweden, seeing the benefit of the Swedish power supplier Vattenfal (in my wallet) is reason for this. The quote “Sweden’s primary energy mix is now 65 percent zero-carbon and composed of a blend of hydropower, nuclear power, and biomass, with almost no coal” found at ‘the breakthrough’, shows that nuclear power is an essential part for many nations if they want to decrease their carbon footprint. Sweden might have had the benefit of biomass and hydropower, but many nations do not, which makes them stronger dependent on other solutions. Wind and solar offer a little relief, but without nuclear power they will not get there, that is the part many activists forget about.
So the NSS had made a call, it is a hard one, but is it the right one? There are a few unknown elements, so I cannot tell. Yet, I do believe that short term solution is too dangerous against long term grief, but there I must also caution myself, how much long term grief will we face?
Consider that the US alone has stored 700,000 metric tons of DU (at http://web.ead.anl.gov/uranium/faq/storage/faq16.cfm), in addition (at http://web.ead.anl.gov/uranium/faq/mgmt/faq27.cfm) we see what is required and some insight of the costs involved, when some nations switch (some had already switched) and the amount triples, how will the costs add up then, more important, where will we find the space?
So here we see the danger of the NSS decision, but is it really a dangerous one?