Taking Nuclear Seriously as a Carbon Fix

Argonne has a short paper out outlining a “green” energy solution that looks more plausible than any I’ve seen for a while. If you take “carbon” seriously (I don’t but I’m in something of a minority on that) you should read this. If you don’t, however, and do take peak oil or oil independence seriously then you should still read it.

For Green Freedom the basic idea is that you take a nuclear power plant for its supply of electricity and steam. With that you use a potassium/carbon compound CO2 + water + hydrogen via electrolysis to combine in a process that produces methanol which is then in turn further processed to a synthetic gasoline. Basically the nuclear reaction/energy drives a reaction reclaiming carbon and O2 from the air to form that gas, which is then burned in cars re-releasing that carbon back to the atmosphere in a completely carbon neutral process. It is not of course energy/lite, but that isn’t the point here.

The paper suggests some economics, but basically a price point for gasoline right about where it is now, makes installation of new plants feasible.

Of course the anti-nuclear stance of the left is a religious position, data on Gen III and Gen IV nuclear power generation will be of no interest or use in discussions.

60 Responses to Taking Nuclear Seriously as a Carbon Fix

  1. It also occurred to me that you are unwilling to take “expert” opinion on the risk of nuclear disaster.

    on the contrary, I’m perfectly willing to accept expert opinion. You just have to be very careful to listen to exactly what experts are saying. Discussing the risk of a 3-mile island, for example, is not the entire risk profile of a nuclear plant. It’s the risk of a single particular type of accident happening.

    That’s why I don’t push either subsidies or punishments for nuclear, I’d rather get the price correct then let the experts decide. The best expert in the world is one who is putting his actual money or pay at stake.

    As for what a disgruntled employee could do. We get explosives into the building is one danger (security? yea prisons have security too I guess that means drugs and weapons don’t come in). Other possibilities that run off the top of my head include smuggling waste or material out or using inside information to facilitate an attack (say learning the timing and route of a waste shipment out)…

  2. Boonton,

    on the contrary, I’m perfectly willing to accept expert opinion. You just have to be very careful to listen to exactly what experts are saying. Discussing the risk of a 3-mile island, for example, is not the entire risk profile of a nuclear plant. It’s the risk of a single particular type of accident happening.

    Yes, and that’s not the “entire” risk discussed in the pdf’s I read.

    the timing and route of a waste shipment out

    Interestingly one of the recommendations of the paper is that they think storage of waste in deep crystalline geological formations (solid granite down very deep) is an attractive solution because it is common enough that the drill locations are coterminous with the facility, i.e., on site. No waste transport at all. It is also why they, for now, propose a once-through fuel cycle is best, with no fuel reprocessing there is no smuggling of nuclear material out.

  3. Right now I think nuclear’s main problem is not so much public angst or leftist opposition but economics. Big capital has big risks. Your original post concerned a plan I think is unrealistic because it doubles down on a con that nuclear already has, big capital investment. The ‘nuke to gas’ program forces the investor to make a huge bet on both the plant and the gas production facility.

    I think the more intelligent approach would be the smaller reactor ideas. If they could get by with a smaller capital investment funding would be easier. A simplier design might also have a lower risk profile.

    As for waste, one interesting idea I’ve heard is to put less effort into figuring out where to stash it for 100,000 years and worry more about storing it for 100 years. In 100 years a portionof it will ‘burn off’ and we’d have that much longer to learn about long term storage (or simply dumping it in the sun if space travel becomes viable). I’m wondering if it would be viable to build a few ultra secure facilities that could capture the radiation and convert it to electric power. From what I read this stuff puts out a good amount of heat, enough so that if it was packed together in Yucca Mountain it could boil off incoming water….

  4. Boonton,
    OK OK, I’ll get to down to the work of summarizing the summary in that paper.

    And I think the leftist eco-fringe still has a deathgrip on the Democratic party. Look, at the polls. Nobody connects carbon reduction with nuclear power and its the only real option. You can’t get gigawatts of reliable electric power any other way, nobody (or very few) are making that connection. Why? Questions, which for the most part have actual answers mostly regarding safety.

    Heck I can’t tell if you have actually understood what “intrinsically safe” means and you’re by no means a religiously fanatical anti-nuke guy … and there are lots of those (more I’d wager than “white nationalists”).

  5. Ohhh I understand what you mean by intrinsicically safe. You mean that the reactor can’t melt. As I said that lowers the risk profile of the reactor. Other risks remain and that makes me an agnostic on nuclear power. I’m more concerned on getting the price right and letting the market figure out how much to apply nuclear.

    The left has softened on nuclear quite a bit. Many in the environmental community have come out for nuclear as the least bad and most practical way to address a lot of carbon quickly. As for a deathgrip, I’ll point out again we have over 100 reactors generating 20% of our power today. If they have a deathgrip it doesn’t seem very deadly.

  6. Hmmm interesting idea however:

    1. What are the odds of geological formations lining up perfectly with ideal reactor locations?

    2. Deep drilling seems to be an uncertain science. I’ve been reading articles about experiments with geothermal energy where they drill a hole several miles deep and run a pipe down there to extract heat. There seems to be some unclear danger that such activity causes at least minor earthquakes. Do we have a good enough handle on the science to really count on the waste being locked deep underground and not being brought up? Remember right now we have like 100 reactors so that’s 100 drilling holes…

  7. Boonton,
    If by “melt” you mean “no internal damage or release of radiation” that’s right.

    Yes, we have 100 reactors. But no new ones built for what, 30 years? And why? Because the environmental groups blocked construction and that in turn scared off future investors. Why do you think the environmental groups have backed off? Do you have links or evidence?

  8. Boonton,
    The odds are very good. The sort of geological formation is they look for is common and reactors are not built in geologically less stable areas for that reason … which is the reverse of geothermal sites, which seek places where interior heat is accessible.

  9. Boonton,
    The reason for the nuclear -> oil technique is twofold.

    1. We have a lot of capital investment in gas burning transportation now. That is the counter to the notion that this is a bigger investment than switching to electric cars (which will require a far bigger grid and more power generation (nuclear likely) as well anyhow.
    2. It doesn’t just use the electric production but also the heat directly for conversion.

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