Life is often about tradeoffs. Nuclear power can provide far more benefits in terms of greenhouse free energy than the harm from greenhouse gases generated by current power plants. However this must also be evaluated as to the risk of nuclear accidents and the transportation and storage of radioactive fuel and waste. Other alternative sources will take decades to develop as a viable replacement for current and future power plant needs. So we must consider all viable alternatives to carbon based fuels for the production of energy.
There is a nuclear power technology that hasn’t seen much developed yet because it costs about 25% more than conventional nuclear power and there is still an abundant supply of uranium 235 fuel that keeps conventional nuclear power plants more cost effective. These are Breeder Reactors. They can take some of the waste products from conventional reactors or use raw uranium 238 which is the most abundant and least radioactive isotope of uranium and turn it into plutonium and other enriched fuels which are a more efficient nuclear fuel. I know many don’t like plutonium because it is used in nuclear weapons but it is more fissionable that uranium thus making better weapons grade material but this also makes it a more efficient nuclear fuel for power generation. The nice thing about breeder reactors is that they produce far less nuclear waste and because of the way plutonium decays it produces far fewer lethal radioactive byproducts. The same can be said for weapons. Uranium bombs are much dirtier than plutonium bombs though plutonium bombs are more powerful. India, Russia, Japan and China amount other countries are exploring the development of Breeder Reactors, some probably because of their plutonium production capability, but the US which currently has the most knowledge about Breeder Reactor technology has no plans for further development.
There are many different design approaches for Breeder Reactors and they are very energy efficient and as stated are much cleaner than conventional reactors used today. But they are more expensive to operate because the reactor fuel must be recycled (chemically processed) in the nuclear plant itself. They require a lot less fuel because they produces or breed their own fuel by maximizing neutron flux to produce this higher grade material such as plutonium then constantly recycling it. Thus far less fuel needs to be transported to the reactor and this fuel is of a much lower grade materiel making it far less dangerous to transport and handle and very cheaper to produce. It only needs a very small amount of highly fissionable material to start the reaction like a match. Since far less waste is generated with fewer radioactive byproducts the transport and storage of waste becomes far less of an issue. There is also more than 10,000 years of uranium 238 available to supply Breeder Reactors.
This technology has been known for more than 60 years but limited development has been done. It has great potential to reduce the transportation and wast storage problems. But the technology needs far more development. If other countries develop this technology they will use it for whatever purposes they want placing the US technologically behind. I feel the US should explorer Breeder Reactor technology for the peaceful generation of electrical energy before other countries own the technology and we are forced to purchase it from them. Theoretically it is possible to design a clean Breeder Reactor that only needs to be fueled once with uranium 238 and will run on its own by recycling its own fuel without producing much waste but that requires far more development. As for safety we don’t know because there has been so little work done to develop this technology but it has much potential promise to generate large amounts of carbon free energy.
We may not have that much time to find viable alternative to greenhouse producing energy. We must consider all alternatives. If congress treats Global Warming as it did Gun Control then we might run out of time much earlier.
Also see: Nuclear Power, one Solution to Global Warming and a Change of Heart
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