Saturday, December 8, 2012

Yucca Mountain Post-Mortem

It is clear to me that the US needs more domestic sources of energy. Fracking to get more natural gas, perhaps at the price of ruining underground aquifers and with the obvious consequence of increased carbon emissions, looks like a bad choice. More coal and more drilling for domestic oil isn't a big win either. Energy without increased carbon emissions means nuclear, but Obama seems to have kept his 2008 promise to oppose that. (Obama and obstruction have a nice alliterative compatibility). I haven't seen any serious growth in research of alternatives to nuclear fission (nuclear fusion is at least a hope, but it seems to not be on an urgent-need fast-track). Here's an article that got me pissed off at both major political parties, but mostly at the Democrats. The Republicans angered me by not speaking plainly with a counter-proposal even though the alternative will draw clear opposition. They campaigned on more domestic hydrocarbons as the solution for the next 100 years. Humbug!

Not clear to me what was so wrong with Yucca Mountain, Hanover Reservation, and middle-of-nowhere Texas. But, if there's not going to be a domestic solution to the problem, how about negotiating internationally? A highway to far northern Canada, perhaps? Maybe even build some large nuclear power stations up there and powerlines to ship the power back to the US? Arguably, power lines are less environmentally risky than really long oil pipelines. Are the deserts of Mexico geologically stable enough to be worth considering for nuclear waste disposal? Are we sure we've completely evaluated the recycling possibilities of the "spent" fuel? If it's going to be dangerous for 10,000 years, doesn't that imply there's additional energy that could somehow be extracted from the spent fuel? Sounds like a topic that could put some scientists and engineers to work towards creating a solution where so far the money has just been going to lawyers and politicians to oppose progress.

May 10, 2016 Update

3+ years later and I don't think I've really found the right places to publicize this particular blog article of mine. Google's stats for the page say it has only had 28 page views so far. Seems that fracking may be contributing to a surprising increase in the number of earthquakes in the US midwest. I've seen nothing to make me think I should embrace fracking as a good idea. If anything, fracking now is looking to be an even worse idea than I'd thought it was. I hope you smirk as much as I did at this official US gov denial of there being any connection between fracking and earthquakes. Myths and Misconceptions. They explain that it isn't fracking that is causing the earthquakes, it is waste water disposal that is causing the earthquakes, and unless you read the piece carefully, you might not even notice where all that wastewater is coming from. It comes from the oil wells that the fracking made profitable, and for whatever reason, Uncle Sam let's them pump the hazardous waste water into deep wells where they promise it won't bother anybody (unless you are the namby pamby sort of person who gets upset by, say, earthquakes or the prospect of that hazardous waste water mixing in with your drinking water well-water some day). How about requiring the hazardous water be processed to make pure water and some reduced quantity of hazardous waste that then has to be disposed of in some safe (though perhaps expensive) manner. Given ten thousand years, nuclear waste at least decays, eventually leaving just "rocks". How long does fracking waste need to be safely contained and monitored before it loses its toxicity and other dangerous properties? You say my proposal for handling the fracking waste seriously reduces the profitability of fracking? Aww... Break my heart. It's nature's way of telling you something's wrong... <- a song from 1970. Everything old is new again? <- a song from 1978

I did recently come across a related article from Boston and am encouraged to learn there are people in the nuclear power business who are seriously pursuing the notion that there is much more energy available to extract from today's nuclear waste. A New Way to Get Nuclear Power, Reducing Waste in the Process. A pleasant surprise is that the proposed reactor not only can be fueled with "spent" fuel, from today's reactors, but that in the process of extracting more energy from that spent fuel, although it still eventually results in its own "spent fuel" nuclear waste to dispose of, but the half-life of the twice-spent waste is merely hundreds of years, not ten thousand years. Sounds like their molten salt reactor (a revival of a 1960's design idea?) is many years away from becoming a real part of our energy supply, but it at least let's me feel like less of a crack-pot. (In case it wasn't already obvious to you, I am not a nuclear engineer at all. I have an engineering education, but went into the business of software development, which I might term "software engineering", but there are "real" engineers out there who would regard that as a controversial claim. An essay topic for another day...).

So, please, publically speak up in opposition to fracking, and in favor of non-carbon energy sources. If you can help bring this little essay to the attention of some more people so more people would actually read this, that would make me feel like I at least did my part.