The Future of Nuclear Power

The United Kingdom gets about a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power; until the Fukushima incident, Japan got about a third of its electricity from nuclear power. Today, since Fukushima, Japan has no nuclear power plant in operation. Continue reading

Investigating Energy prices

Regulators are supposed to regulate. In the case if energy companies the regulator is OFGEM and it has power to investigate so that regulation may be effective. In the past few months the energy companies in theUnited Kingdom, being in effect six retail suppliers of gas and electricity, have announced very large price increases, approaching twenty percent. Continue reading

Nuclear West Cumbria

At some stage the land underneath West Cumbria will be used as a dump for spent nuclear material produced as a by product of nuclear electricity generating power stations.

West Cumbria, the geologists believe, was formed by rocks laid down at various times between 500 million years ago and 200 million years ago. Since then the landscape has been formed by great climatic changes in the last two million years which have meant the land has been covered by sea, desert and ice at various times. In the past decade Cumbria has suffered from unprecedented levels of flooding, which was both unusual and unexpected. Its geology apparently leads it to be a favourable site to store nuclear waste.

Now to store nuclear waste safely is rather difficult. We simply do not know enough about the future to be able to predict accurately what will happen in hundreds of years to uranium stored today.

The cunning plan that humanity has devised is to find a piece of land where either none of the inhabitants object to uranium being stored or a piece of land when the inhabitants can be rewarded for agreeing to have uranium stored. Having got the land the humans plan to dig a very deep hole (the precise depth and dimensions are not yet known, and then dump the waste uranium suitably stored in containers then encased with cement and concrete. Having done this the hole will be covered and no doubt some kind of guard placed over the hole to prevent others from digging it up.

The geology of the land is very important. You cannot dump uranium in places where there are fault lines, known earthquakes, volcanic activity and geological stress. The uranium may be thrown up to the surface at some time in the future or the containers may be cracked causing uranium to leach into the deep water table. Stability is important and most of West Cumbria has this stability.

I expect in ten or twelve thousand years the inhabitants of the land where the hole was dug will have probably forgotten that a uranium dump was ever below the land. This, you might think, is no matter because ten thousand years is longer than recorded history on this planet. However uranium has been around much longer than humanity and spent uranium takes quite a long time until it has decayed and no longer presents a threat to life. The two key types of uranium produced as a by product of nuclear energy are uranium 235 and uranium 238. Both types are used in nuclear power stations but only uranium 235 can sustain a chain reaction and usually the uranium is enriched so that there is more uranium 235 compared with uranium 238 in the reactor so longer chain reactions can be sustained.

Uranium 238 takes 4,500 million years to decay to half its potency. That is rather a long time by you may be relieved to know that uranium 235 takes rather less time; only 713 million years, which is more time than it took to lay down the rocks of West Cumbria. Uranium is radioactive and as it decays it emits alpha and beta particles. I do not suggest that the uranium buried will remain dangerous for millions of years; it certainly will remain very dangerous for ten thousand years to eighty thousand years.

The geology might be right for storage of radioactive material but what about flooding?

Perhaps in future the poets of the Lake District will sigh:-

I wandered in a radioactive cloud
With isotopes dancing in hills
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of alpha particles

Rising energy bills and the scramble for energy

When I first started to write about the forthcoming energy crisis, many years ago, it was because it was something that I had studied and analysed; it was my reason for founding Genersys, a renewable energy company; in this case the analysis created the decision, rather than the decision to found Genersys creating my views about energy. For many years my views were ignored. People were just too complacent and comfortable with the existing arrangements and politicians and decision makers either lacked the imagination to understand what would come or were too busy starting wars, running the economy and doing all the other myriad things they do in office while also spending a great deal of time ensuring that they would stay in their jobs.

I have promoted renewables on the basis that the future cost of energy is significant and a very important factor in decision making about renewables. This has caused some disbelief, but now perhaps as respected bodies like Ofgem have now made their studies public, there will be an increased take up of renewables, particularly micro generation like solar heat.

The figures suggested now by Ofgem’s study “Project Discovery”, are these. On a worse case, domestic energy bills could rise (yes even after the existing rises) by 60% in the next seven years, with that figure being above inflation. The best scenarios suggest a rise of 14% above inflation in the next eleven years. These figures have to be considered in the light of the United Kingdom’s domestic energy bills having already risen by 120% in the past ten years.

Of course fortune telling is an occupation with low probabilities of success. My own view is that Ofgem have underestimated the rise, significantly.  Other nations have already identified the energy squeeze that will happen. China is buying oil fields and oil exploration companies. South Korea is investing heavily in renewable energy, so is Chile and I expect Japan to do likewise. The United States is developing a renewable policy which will lead to very significant take up throughout the country. Other smaller less industrialised countries are also spending on renewables.

The reason is this: energy prices are bound to rise significantly. An energy squeeze will be even more damaging than the credit squeeze has been. Every aspect of industrialised life depends on energy – we truly live in the Energy Age. The only way that you can guarantees supplies of a resource like energy, which we have traditionally sourced from finite resources, is through genuine renewables like solar heat, photovoltaics and wind energy. We will still need to have plenty of fossil fuel, but renewables will have to be a key part of every nation’s energy future, not an afterthought as a sop to environmentalists or as a way of reducing the impact of climate change.

Recent reports claim that oil has peaked; natural gas is controlled more and more by a handful of states that will wish to build their wealth upon it, rather as some states have done with oil. Coal is also probably close to its peak and Uranium is also finite. It is clear that the scramble for energy has already begun, and the United Kingdom has not even entered the race.

How much uranium is there and where is it?

I have recently been trying to assess how many years of fossil fuel the planet has left. There is more fuel than coal, natural gas and oil. The other large resource based fuel is that which drives the nuclear power industry – uranium.

According to a report in the New Scientist, looking at matters simply, there is only 59 years supply of uranium left, if it is consumed at the current rate. Continue reading

Where should we put the new nuclear power station?

The Government has announced eleven places in England and Wales which will be the locations for new nuclear power stations. There will be a short public consultation period – only a month – after which they will no doubt move at full steam ahead to get the nuclear power stations up and running and producing electricity which can all consume on our necessities and pleasures, no doubt virtually as wastefully as we consume the power now.

I listened to David Bonsor on the Today Programme make a reasoned case for nuclear power, although I cannot say I agree with my old school chess opponent. Continue reading

Fighting nature- what will happen when the fossil fuel and uranium runs out?

What will we do when the fossil fuel runs out? We seem to have no strategy for this. Obviously energy is the essential enabler for the way we now live. It provides heat and power for ourselves and our work, our homes our industries. Can anyone working in an office today imagine doing so without the electricity to power their computer or without what we have become used to as sufficient heating. Who now washes in cold water? Continue reading