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Age of Electricity

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MS, I gather that natural gas overtaking coal in so many states is mainly due to the greater amount of natural gas that became available with advances in fracking and horizontal drilling, making the price of natural gas more competitive for power plants. We have sulfur-dioxide emission limits, especially, also resulting in less generation by coal-fired plants. Fall in SO2 Emissions 2006-2015. (SO2 in the air is harmful to breathing and reduces visibility.) The States in which wind overtook coal for electrical generation may have been due to increase in number of wind-power generators. The cases in which hydro or nuclear overtook coal may have been possible due to buying power from others, including Canada.

A nuclear fuel pellet the size of a thimble can produce as much steam as 100 box cars of coal. Four boxcars will have been consumed in producing that pellet. However, the procedures and dollars required to ensure the lack of nuclear-power accidents that the US has enjoyed since TMI is enormous, and therefore nuclear cannot make the other types of fuel uncompetitive. It is a good point, of course, to not put all our eggs in one basket, and I'd say good also to not be drastically dependent on importation of fuels for power generation or on importation of electricity.


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France produces 70% of its electricity from nuclear, and it exports electricity to other countries. It can help other parts of Europe fulfill energy needs acutely in short supply for this winter, due to cutback of natural gas from Russia. At present 26 of France’s 56 nuclear reactors are off-line for maintenance and repairs. A huge scramble is underway to get that work buttoned up and get back on-line. President Macron’s administration has submitted a plan to Parliament to build six new enormous reactors in France starting in 2028.

—from NYT 11/15/22

Edited by Boydstun
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California foolishly shuttered its San Onofre nuclear power plant after the Fukushima wreck. Although San Onofre was the same sort of reactor as Fukushima, the design basis for the San Onofre plant had been such that it would not have been breached by a tidal wave the size of the one that hit Fukushima. And the emergency diesel generators were elevated at the CA plant and would not have become inoperable, unlike at the Japanese facility.

Recently, the anti-nuclear movement in CA to close also Diablo Canyon, the state' last nuke, was blocked, with the governor's decision to keep it running and putting megawatts on the grid.

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On 4/17/2023 at 7:06 AM, Jim Henderson said:

Have there been advancements in our knowledge of the physics and engineering of nuclear fission that could be employed to defend the continued use of nuclear power?

Nuclear Power in Germany

No advances in types of reactors will dissuade the anti-nuclear political faction from the complete elimination of nuclear generation of electricity. And no advances in design can ensure there are no human-operator errors. The safety of nuclear operations in West Germany and then in Reunited Germany has been superb; no major accidents.* The reactors in East Germany had to be closed immediately, upon reunification, because they were unsafe. There are safe means also for storage of spent fuel and other radioactive waste. The anti-nuclear faction in Germany has along the way gotten the government to halt research on new sorts of reactors in Germany. They have fought the continued operation of existing reactors as well as all plans for dealing with spent fuel. They are just against nuclear power, and there is no level-headed basis for it.*

Fortunately, in the US, after the accident in Japan, President Obama reaffirmed that we are keeping open the nuclear sector of electrical generation.

When we were children in mid-century USA, our dreams of the technological future assumed a lot of work getting done by nuclear means. More than was feasible, given the danger from exposure to radioactive materials. We also dreamed there would be breakthroughs in physics such that means for powering every electrical machine from within the machine itself would be developed. Then central production of electricity would be no longer required, and all of these debated issues today on central generation would be irrelevant. Unfortunately, such a discovery in physics has not occurred, and that of course could be simply because there is no such energy source, waiting to be discovered. Still, for all we know, such a decentralizing breakthrough in the future cannot be ruled out.

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