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U.S. needs 45 more nuclear reactors by 2030: study

Bernie Woodall, Reuters
In order to meet lofty climate goals, the U.S. power industry should by 2030 build 45 more nuclear power reactors, cleaner coal power plants, and cut electricity consumption 8 percent, a power industry study issued on Monday showed.

The report from the Electric Power Research Institute offers insight into how the power industry will have to respond to likely strict emissions-cutting requirements, such as included in the Waxman-Markey climate bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic leaders expect the bill to be voted on by the Senate in October.

The House version of the bill calls for an 83-percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, from 2005 levels. The EPRI study used guidance of 80-percent by 2050 reductions

…”The research shows that the (electricity) sector could potentially reduce annual CO2 emissions by 2030 by 41 percent relative to 2005 emissions,” but will require advances in and applications of technology, said the EPRI of its “Prism and Merge” study.

The study also assumes that by 2030, 100 million plug-in electric cars and trucks will be on U.S. roads.

It also calls for a four-fold increase in current solar and wind power generation in the next two decades.

This is the second such EPRI study. EPRI researchers made presentations of its 2007 data to the United Nations and a handful of nations, the EPRI says.

The price of electricity will increase, but the increases will be limited if a full range of power generation and efficiency options are used, the EPRI said.
(3 August 2009)

Sanctions Unlikely to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Quest

Tony Karon, Time online
Unless Iran responds positively to President Obama’s offer of talks on its nuclear program by next month, it could face what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “crippling sanctions.” That was the message from Administration officials touring the Middle East in recent weeks. And it’s backed by congressional moves to pass legislation aimed at choking off the gasoline imports on which Iran relies for almost a third of its consumption, by punishing third-country suppliers. It sounds impressive and, for an undiversified economy like Iran’s, potentially calamitous. But a number of Iran analysts are skeptical that new sanctions will break the stalemate.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government has promised to present a new package of proposals on the nuclear issue to Western negotiators in the coming weeks. But that package is unlikely to reflect any shift in Tehran’s rejection of the U.S. demand that it forgo the right to enrich uranium as part of its nuclear-energy program. “If the U.S. position remains unchanged,” says Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, “Iran may well come to the table, but only in order to demonstrate to its own people that its regime has been recognized, not to seriously engage with U.S. proposals or give ground.”

…In a TV interview two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Iran, “You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil nuclear power. You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control.” But both the Iranian government and its opposition believe that Iran is due the same rights as any other signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which includes the right to enrich uranium to the levels necessary for reactor fuel, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “There is no disagreement among political leaders in Iran on proclaiming Iran’s right to enrich uranium,” says Farhi. Iran’s previous government had shown flexibility on the pace of an enrichment program, but not on the principle. Explains Farhi: “It is simply not feasible for any political leader in Iran to accept an arrangement that denies Iran the rights enjoyed by others, that treats Iran as a special case.”

…Effective sanctions, say Administration officials, require participation by Iran’s key trading partners. That’s a problem, since neither Russia nor China is convinced that there’s an imminent danger of Iran producing nuclear weapons. Coalition of the willing–style sanctions of the sort envisaged by the congressional legislation may have limited impact because they’re unlikely to be implemented by neighbors such as Turkey and Iraq. And the use of naval power to enforce a blockade could easily provoke a war that the U.S. military is eager to avoid.

But even if “crippling sanctions” were somehow imposed, Tehran still might not back down. “If it were possible to choke off the gasoline supply into Iran, the likelihood is that Iran’s existing refinery capacity would be used first and foremost to ensure that the needs of the security forces and the regime are taken care of,” says Dr. Gary Sick, a Columbia University professor and former National Security Council Iran specialist. “Those who are going to suffer most will be the ordinary Iranians with whom we sympathize. You can argue that this might spur them to revolt, but more likely is that if their fuel rations are suddenly cut in half, ordinary Iranians will be very upset with the West.”
(10 August 2009)

Not Recycling, and Proud of It

Michael Scott Moore, Miller-McCune
Europe’s largest nuclear reprocessing plant, COGEMA La Hague, sits on a flat hill in the middle of a Normandy peninsula, surrounded by farms and a number of pretty beaches. Since 1966, the plant has done the dirty work of recycling spent fuel rods from French nuclear reactors. In the meantime it also takes contract work from other countries — Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands — to relieve them of the burden of running similar plants on their own soil.

Europe recycles nuclear fuel; America doesn’t. It would sound like a cliché about wasteful Americans if nuclear recycling weren’t such a nasty business.

Nasty but alluring: A typical fuel rod has only released about 10 percent of its energy by the time it’s considered “spent,” but it remains too hot to be stored in, say, an underground salt mine. Right now, American nuclear plants keep their spent rods on-site in concrete “dry storage” casks, where they radiate quietly until the U.S. government either a) figures out how to reprocess them safely, or b) thinks of a more permanent place to keep them — since the Obama administration recently nixed the Yucca Mountain plan.

…Reprocessing plants in the U.K. and Russia solve the plutonium problem by storing and guarding it — Scientific American estimates ever-growing Russian and British stockpiles large enough to make 15,000 nuclear bombs. The plant at La Hague has found a way to reuse some of its plutonium and bind the rest of it to highly radioactive waste from the reactor, making it, in effect, lethal to steal. Germany and other countries in Europe deal with their nuclear waste problem simply by sending it to France.

But Greene says his lab at Oak Ridge has had a breakthrough: They’ve figured out how to recycle used fuel without isolating plutonium-235. A recycled fuel pellet produced by his lab “contains uranium, neptunium and plutonium,” he told journalists at a recent press junket, “while never having created pure plutonium in the process.”

Reprocessing would still be hugely expensive, because it requires special reactors. And, of course, it pollutes: Greenpeace accuses COGEMA La Hague of releasing a million liters of radioactive water into the ocean every year, and some researchers have said the incidence of leukemia is higher among children whose mothers went to those Normandy beaches, or ate the local shellfish, than among children elsewhere in France.

The new process, if anything, would be dirtier, since it would leave behind highly radioactive nuclear waste; but the waste would also degrade faster than unprocessed fuel rods — in dozens of years, according to Greene, rather than tens of thousands….
(5 August 2009)