Nuclear Energy and the Climate
Living in Houston, where the oil and gas industry is fearfully large and in the nearest events of the modern day when the electric grid nearly collapsed for months, has made me contemplate the extreme challenges that we will face in the coming years. Oil and gas may have done well in years past, but the supply is extremely limited especially given how fast we are burning what we currently have. Oil is estimated to last for only the next 50 years. This is not only unsustainable but disappointing for those who are raising children in upcoming generations, who will have to carry the burden of the past in their own hands.
There obviously have been solutions proposed such as nuclear fission energy, but even this is a patch to overwhelmingly complex issues. The not so great thing about fission is that there’s only a supply of Uranium left on Earth in natural form that will last us 230 years, and much of that supply is undiscovered and underground within the sea, meaning we have to locate it and extract it first. Plutonium is rarer than Uranium and will run out by 2030 ish. Most of the supply we have in the US is being stored for nuclear weapons, and the rest is stored as waste and scrap material in the mountains of Colorado. Thankfully, Thorium is abundant in nature in the same quantities as something like lead and 3 times as abundant as Uranium. It isn’t fissile, but it is fertile, which means after shooting a neutron through a Thorium molecule you can produce the fissile material of Uranium-233 to be able to use it in Nuclear Fission in breeder reactors. This would effectively increase the supply of Uranium to power hundreds of thousands of years if not more. The Office of Nuclear Energy claims that fission alone can power us for much longer.
Although there may be enough materials to use for upcoming years while we battle the climate crisis, the economization of these resources will place the responsibility of owning these materials in the hands of people that have more intentions to make money off the resources than use them correctly, which is disastrous in foresight and hindsight.
The next solution that we would have is nuclear fusion. Even though 1 in 6400 Hydrogen atoms of water on Earth are Deuterium, the isotope of Hydrogen with 1 neutron, the mass of water on Earth is 1.35 times 10^18 tons, 11.11% of mass in water chemically goes to Hydrogen, and if you multiply that by the percentage of Deuterium in water times let’s say 2.5% of water on earth you get 5.9 * 10^11 tons of Deuterium gas, which means that the supply of Deuterium is effectively infinite. In fact, to obtain Deuterium from water you must separate the heavy water from the normal water, where the heavy water contains Deuterium Hydrogen. The normal water is stripped away from the heavy water and while the normal nutrients found in water that replenish us such as Calcium and Nitrogen are missing, the normal water without H-2 is healthier for you if you are able to replace these nutrient deficiencies elsewhere. Deuterium depleted water is proven to boost metabolism and have anti-cancerous effects.
A fusion reaction between Tritium and Deuterium releases 17.6 mega electron volts of energy. In short, 1g of Hydrogen fuel can produce 1000 MW of energy. The problem is that Tritium is even scarcer than most fissile material, where the total mass of it within naturally occurring water is 829 kg on Earth. D-D nuclear fusion exists too, where two Deuterium molecules fuse into an isotope of Helium, but this has the same problems that D-T fusion does, where the thermal energy required for the reaction is lower or similar to the thermal gain that can be converted to electricity. The temperature needed to break the Coulomb Barrier so that protons can collide in a D-T reaction is 45 Million Degrees K and almost 500 million degrees K in a D-D reaction. This is why D-T reactions are the preferred methods for fusion.
There is a way to use isotopes of Lithium to produce Tritium, but the period of time that we can make of use of these methods is still temporary. Basically in conclusion, if we would like to use the methods of the Sun to produce energy, there are steep hills to climb and deadlines that we have to satisfy, and I just pray to God we have enough time left.
As a Security Researcher, one fundamental component of Nuclear Energy that serves my interest is the protection of Nuclear facilities. When we perform the migrations to Nuclear energy, society must aim to protect itself from the harmful effects of radiation and from intruders that aim to break into facilities and be harmful.
Nuclear Security aims to prevent, detect and respond to acts that are intended to bring the harmful effects of radiation to the environment, property, and society as a whole as well as protect facilities and other materials involved in fission and fusion. This involves work that provide outlines to deal with the risks of radiation from typical usage and prevent incidents where the radiation could be exposed to the rest of the world as well as design systems that provide countermeasures against attacks.
Situations where the radiation is in the vicinity of human activity are when the Nuclear waste is transported from one facility to a site where they are stored underground. Nuclear facilities themselves must be secured and locked down so that malicious entities may not enter the facility and do dangerous things that would threaten the normal lives of people. Cyber threats and new technologies could be used in attacks, and thus broadens the subject of Nuclear Security to something I’m personally well acquainted with.
Here is a short description of the different topics of Nuclear Security from the energy.gov website.
“Protective forces are measures taken within facilities to make sure that intruders and other dangerous entities are not successful in penetrating the bounds of the facilities so that they can do dangerous things that would cause harm to society.
Physical Security Systems include intrusion detection and assessment systems, access control mechanisms, barrier and delay mechanisms, tactical systems, etc
Information Security includes classification guidance, technical surveillance, operations security and classified matter and control
Personal Security involves access authorization, badging programs, Human Reliability Programs, and control of classified matter protection
Materials Control and Accountability involves special and alternate Nuclear materials through measurements, QA, accounting containment, surveillance and physical inventory”
Physical protection of facilities and/or nuclear material at fixed sites and during transportation as well as material control and accounting becomes a high priority if we would like to make the move to Nuclear successful.
Sensitive and classified information such as the transportation and storage of safeguarded materials such as Nuclear Waste is crucial to preventing others from knowing the locations of safeguarded materials as well as schedules of them being transported across the country.
Transportation of radioactive byproduct material occurs because these byproducts are used by the medical industries to treat patients in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. In addition the materials are used by the oil, electrical and construction industries for technology research and development.
As the world becomes more dependent on computers and technology, we must be aware that the impacts of cybersecurity in various ways make it crucial for the country to be equipped in defense and security so that we can be accountable in operating nuclear facilities and transporting materials without risk or with assured confidence that we can continously carry out these processes and detect intruders and malicious entities attempting attacks.
Also, in the near future, the Car Recycling business is highly likely to take off, because with the millions upon millions of cars that are currently on the road, as gasoline and diesel become obsolete, we are going to need to do something with these now inefficient and useless cars that we need to get rid of.
Car Recycling businesses do exist, but the facilities are way too small to meet the demands of what we’ll experience in the future and many times the material from the cars just sits right inside the facility to be stacked up on top of previous material and never gets used. If it is possible to make the facilities much bigger and in addition, unify the process of manufacturing new cars from previously existing ones, this would be a win for everyone.
The only extra material that you’d need to build a new electric car from a recycled gasoline and diesel car is the Lithium Ion or Lithium Polymer for the battery and Silicon for the semiconductors that power the computers within the vehicles. From the recycled materials you already have the body and the base, and even the materials from the engine can be used for the body and base since they are likely to be made of Aluminum. You might ask, why rush to make electric cars? Because for every gallon of gasoline burned, the thermal efficiency is 15-20%, which means that the amount of energy that is used to drive the car in the reaction of Hydrocarbons and Oxygen is 15-20%, which is horrible. The reason why we have used gasoline and diesel cars for so long because the byproducts of them aren’t as bad as other chemical compounds and resources.
The thermal efficiency of a coal powered electric car is 55%, which is already 4 times as efficient as a car powered on gasoline. 1 gallon of gas equates to 33.7 kWh of energy, and usually on 1 gallon of gas you can go about 25-30 miles, when in an electric car that can be as high as 135 MPGe. That’s why it is 4x as efficient.
Nuclear requires high temperatures to yield the energy output that it’s supposed to have, so the thermal efficiency is low in the 40% area, but the energy yield is always higher due to the nature of the reactions and less resources in quantity are needed to run the reactions. In addition, the capacity factor of Nuclear plants is 92%, which means that the Nuclear power plants can be running at full capacity 92% of the time and supply energy to the population. Natural gas and coal power have a capacity factor of about 50% but also a low thermal efficiency, so the small proportion of energy that is produced also gets lost as heat in a high amount as well as the actual output of energy being half of the time in the a yearly period. Solar and Wind energy have varying efficiencies and capacity factors, but the energy output is renewable and everlasting as long as we’re here on Earth so it’s effectively free energy. It’s obvious what direction we need to go now.