The single source of emission-free, renewable energy is a nuclear reactor. Canada has an enviable history of designing, building and operating safe nuclear reactors for several decades. The CANDU reactor design is a proven, safe and affordable method of electricity generation. Nuclear disasters in other countries are few but receive relentless media attention. The lessons learned from reactor failures have been incorporated into new and better designs and operating procedures. The Ontario reactors now operated by Bruce power are examples of excellence in design, operating procedures and emergency preparations.
Ontario, Candu Reactors
"During our first 11 years of operation, Bruce Power has revitalized the Bruce site and transformed it into the largest operating nuclear facility in the world. With eight operating units, the site will produce up to 6,300 megawatts, well over a quarter of Ontario’s electricity. Through $7 billion of private investment, Bruce Power will have doubled the number of operational units on the Bruce Power site; transformed the workforce through new hiring and training; extended the life of operating units through innovation and positioned the site for long-term stability. Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan has earmarked the Bruce Power site to generate 6,300 MW in the coming decades as the province relies on our site to power one out of four homes, schools, businesses, farms, and hospitals with low-cost, highly reliable, clean electricity."
MIT meteorologist Kerry Emanuel explained why he and other prominent American climate scientists have been outspoken about their support for ramping up nuclear power as a solution to climate change. He discusses issues of safety, cost, waste, and proliferation. Emanuel emphasizes that all energy technologies have dangers, and that the dangers of nuclear power must be weighed against those of other technologies. He suggests that a society powered entirely by renewable energy, even if that were to be technically achievable, might not be the best possible solution from an economic or environmental standpoint. He explains why he views the climate problem as not just a risk but also an opportunity to transform the electrical power system and improve the economic well-being of the developing world.
Reactor Catastrophes Are Preventable
Two reactor events have received the most sustained publicity and both were preventable: Chernobyl in the Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan.
On 26 April 1986, Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The cause was human error, allegedly a result of a autocratic supervisor’s instance on running a dangerous emergency drill, a power-failure stress test. Safety systems were deliberately turned off. The operators failed to adjust the core according to a checklist for the stress test. This omission led to a reactor rupture with a destructive steam explosion followed by fire that caused the release of radioactive materials high into the atmosphere. The radioactive plumes drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe.
The Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster was triggered by an deep ocean earthquake that created a giant tsunami on March 11, 2011. The 9.1 magnitude earthquake’s epicenter was 70 kilometers (43 mi) east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku and the hypocenter at an underwater depth of approximately 29 km. The loss of life and damage done by the earthquake and tsunamis was horrendous, despite unusual preparations to protect people. The tsunami caused nuclear accidents, primarily the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. Japan is a risky environment for any and all human activities. They are always at risk of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. The Fukushima reactor was old and built at a high risk location with inadequate emergency backups.
The nuclear plant was damaged by the earthquake and then flooded by large tsunami waves. Three reactors overheated with explosions because the diesel backup needed to provide reactor cooling was underwater and failed. Three variables were crucial during early stages of the disaster: plant elevation, sea wall elevation, and location and status of backup generators. Higher elevations for any of these three variables, or watertight protection of backup emergency diesel generators (EDGs) and electrical circuits, would have likely prevented the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi NPP.
Two books review the anti-nuclear movements and conclude that our only hope of replacing fossil fuels is to build more and better nuclear reactors. Beckers argues that rapid expansion of nuclear power can come close to filling our needs and avoiding the environmental disaster that will result if we continue to deceive ourselves into thinking that renewables can do it all.
Parteenen and Korhonen make a strong case that preventing dangerous climate change requires world energy production to be almost completely free from fossil fuels by 2050. With almost 87 percent of our energy produced by fossil fuels, the challenge is unprecedented in both its scale and urgency. At the same time, the global environment and energy discussion is largely dominated by a vocal opinion that climate challenge and global poverty should be conquered with nothing else than renewables, energy conservation and energy efficiency. Environmentalists, preach valid information and act contrary to their own goal to correct global climate change by opposing nuclear energy production.
With once rich countries such as the USA with enormous debt, facing the extensive repairs of already aging, derelict infrastructures, adding new, unprecedented development costs seems unlikely. Unless, of course, the priorities in many countries shift dramatically. The US, for example, could adopt a sane, smart strategy, reduce its military budget by >50% and invest the money and skills in rebuilding the country's energy infrastructure with new sustainable energy sources.
World Association of Nuclear Operators
The mission of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to “Maximize the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants worldwide has been consistent throughout the organization’s history. However, in 2015 it became clear that how WANO conducted that mission needed to evolve and grow based upon changes in the worldwide nuclear industry, marking 2015 as a year of transition. Since the Post-Fukushima Commission (PFC) report was published in 2011, the focus of WANO has been on implementing initiatives necessary to respond to the findings. Study and planning became implementation in 2014 and carried through into 2015. This progress culminated in a report to the WANO membership at the 2015 Biennial General Meeting (BGM) held in Toronto, that 10 of the 12 PFC projects were transitioning from project status to the core work of WANO."
"The growing nuclear industry in Asia and the reduction in other parts of the world signaled a shift in the center of gravity of the nuclear industry. WANO needed to adjust to recognize and engage this shift. Traditional members were shutting plants down and new members – with new designs, operating organizations, and operators – were starting up plants at a pace not seen since the early days of the nuclear industry."
New Reactor Designs Solve Old Problems.
Many innovative reactor designs promise safe, clean energy for the future of civilization. Bill Gates’ has invested in TerraPower which is developing a traveling wave reactor (TWR), which utilizes nuclear waste.. Stafford reported: ”The TWR is a uniquely designed nuclear reactor. It is able to operate for an extended period of time, using only depleted uranium (U-238) as fuel. This material is produced during the enrichment process, when enriched uranium (U-235) separates from natural uranium. U-235 is the main fuel for today’s light water reactors, while U-238 is a by-product of the enrichment process and is currently set aside as waste. Nuclear power plants produce electricity by splitting large atoms, such as U-235, into smaller atoms. Each time an atom splits it releases neutrons and heat. In turn, released neutrons cause other fissions, creating a sustained chain reaction. For conventional nuclear energy plants, U-235 is used because U-238 cannot sustain a chain reaction in today’s light water reactors. TerraPower’s engineers discovered a method to extract energy from U-238, making it a perfect source of energy for the TWR. Another design, by two MIT researchers, again uses U238 waste, mixed into molten salt. In short, the nuclear reactors of the future will utilize not just regular uranium but will take care of the waste as well – the same waste that raises so much concern among environmentalists and the general public. Gates wrote: When you have fission, you have a million times more energy than when you burn hydrocarbons. That's a nice advantage to have.”
A liquid metal cooled nuclear reactor, liquid metal fast reactor or LMFR is an advanced type of nuclear reactor where the primary coolant is a liquid metal. Liquid metal cooled reactors were first adapted for nuclear submarine use but have also been extensively studied for power generation applications. The most advanced of the six is the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), developed by France, Russia and China from a concept pioneered in the United States in the 1950s. The SFR's main advantage is that it can burn spent uranium and plutonium. These unwanted byproducts from water-cooled reactors have been piling up for years and the World Nuclear Association estimates stocks at about 1.5 million tonnes. "We could produce power for several thousands of years with that without getting new natural uranium," said Christophe Behar the head of research at French nuclear agency CEA, points out that SFRs can also burn up uranium's most long-lived radioactive waste products, reducing the need for deep storage.
"Today, it’s getting increasingly clear that it’s more than nice. Nuclear power is unique among zero-carbon energy sources: its production is consistent as it doesn’t depend on sunlight or wind. This, coupled with affordability and safety – whatever environmental extremists say – makes nuclear energy an indispensable element of the global renewable energy mix for the future. It also suggests uranium is more than likely to take the center stage it deserves as fossil fuels relinquish the spotlight."