Tag Archives: renewable energy

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There’s Uranium in Seawater. And it’s Renewable.

According to Natural Resources Canada, “renewable energy is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan.” This typically includes sunlight, wind and rain. Uranium has never made this list, as it is generally believed that uranium resources are finite. However this is not the case.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3D x-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

While terrestrial uranium (the uranium we currently mine) is indeed limited in quantity, with known resources that will last another 100 years or so, there is uranium in seawater that naturally replenishes itself.

The uranium in seawater is controlled by steady-state chemical reactions between the water and rocks that contain uranium, such that whenever uranium is extracted from seawater, the same amount is leached from the rocks to replace it.

In fact, according to a Forbes Magazine article by James Conca, a scientist in the field of earth and environmental sciences, “it is impossible for humans to extract enough uranium to lower the overall seawater concentrations faster than it is replenished.”

Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of U-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.
Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of uranium-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.

Though the uranium concentration in seawater is only about 3 milligrams per cubic meter, the total volume of the ocean is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, which means there are about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater at any given time.

There is currently a considerable amount of research being done on extracting uranium from seawater, most notably in Japan, China, and the United States. The latest technologies, which have emerged from Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL), use polyethylene fibers coated with amidoxime to attract and bind uranium dioxide from seawater. These fiber braids are about 15 centimeters in diameter and can be several meters in length depending on where they are installed.

After a month or so, the fibers are brought to the surface, where they undergo an acid treatment that recovers the uranium and regenerates the fibers so that they can be reused.

“Finding alternatives to uranium ore mining is a necessary step in planning for the future of nuclear energy,” explained Stephen Kung at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to Forbes Magazine. But making the process economical is equally important.

The advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost of extraction by a factor of four in just 5 years, but the cost is still about $200/lb compared to traditional uranium mining which ranges between $10 and $120/lb.

Fortunately, the cost of uranium is a very small percentage of the cost of nuclear power. Therefore even at $200/lb, the cost of nuclear power would not increase dramatically.

Researchers continue to seek more efficient and economic ways to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium is truly unlimited. It is renewable energy in every sense of the word, and should be considered alongside solar, wind and hydro.

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The Future: No Doomsday Cult Required

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

DoomsdayMy adult son, who is a wise, reflective, intelligent and well-read man, recently shared with me his view of the world in a few decades. It was apocalyptic: dead oceans, cities run by criminal gangs… you get the idea. (He was trying to persuade me to retire early and enjoy life while I can).

Admittedly, there is reasonable evidence for his forecast. I happen to take a less pessimistic view. He and I don’t disagree much on facts, but rather on how we project them into the future.

I’m also more historically conscious: I’m more aware that it is not, and has never been, unusual to forecast that we are all doomed.

Doomsday predictions have been with us since ancient times. They are doubly useful. They employ fear to recruit believers into whatever religion we’re evangelizing. And they provide the satisfying glow of knowing what a terrible end awaits those who won’t join us and how they’ll realize, when that end comes, that we were right and they were wrong.

There is always evidence that can be pressed readily into service. Religious cultists generally point to society’s (always apparent) corruption and moral decline. Thomas Malthus noted the unrestrained fertility of the poor. Marx and the communist ideologues saw the clear drawbacks of industrial society, and predicted that capitalism would inevitably falter and collapse. 1960’s environmentalists overextended Rachel Carson’s solid, ground-breaking work on the effects of pesticides. The 1970’s resource-exhaustion panickers distorted the Limits to Growth report; they took commodity price spikes as proof that the world was running out of natural resources.

There’s a bit of moral superiority at work. Those who see the light, who invest in the new religion, are the wise and good. Those who don’t agree wholeheartedly with them are mentally and morally deficient. If they can’t be beaten in argument, at least they’ll see the error of their ways on judgment day.

These features have carried through from the ancient religious doomsday cults, to socialist ideologies, to present visions of Our Renewable Energy Future. The old system is doomed. The crash will come in our lifetimes (otherwise, why convert?). To save yourself and prosper in these dark times, you must commit to the new religion.

Belief in society’s moral decay gradually fused with belief in capitalism’s self-destruction, which apparently now has become belief in our biosphere’s demise. Indeed, the three have gotten quite muddled: consumerism is portrayed as a kind of moral and spiritual decay, which has been foisted on humanity by corporations. The system we’ve built is now destroying not just our souls, but itself and Mother Nature too. EarthTimeBomb

I realized this when listening to my son talk about the future: Our Renewable Energy Future is somehow mixed up with Original Sin, the population bomb, and the inevitable crash of the capitalist system. It’s repeatedly characterized as “inevitable,” the speed of its arrival is overestimated, and of course we can’t rely on failing corporate structures (or cities) to implement it. Somehow we’re all going to achieve it in small cooperative teams in the countryside.

There’s a lot of baggage here. But my son and I acknowledged it and got beyond it. And we continue to have the reasonable discussion we both want. It can be done.

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Nuclear: Better GHG Performance than Wind for Power Generation

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Is renewable energy necessarily green? Only if it can generate electricity without adding more carbon to the atmosphere.

Power utilities across Canada and around the world are ramping up their renewable energy sources, and adding wind to their supply mixes because it seems so clean, so green.

But a recent independent study of life-cycle carbon emissions questions whether wind power really reduces greenhouse gases in real-world uses.

Hatch report coverThe study, by the Toronto-based engineering firm Hatch Ltd., compared greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from nuclear power plants and from wind farms backed by natural gas plants.

It’s an apples-to-apples comparison: Nuclear plants generate around the clock, but wind plants operate only when the wind blows. To match a nuclear plant’s output, a wind farm needs backup.

The replacement power usually comes from hydro dams, which can open additional gates to raise electrical output, or from natural gas plants that fire up additional burners. Gas plants are faster and easier to build than hydro dams, so they often supplement wind farms.

Looking at actual generation data, the Hatch team estimated that wind farms produce only 20 percent of their potential, and assumed that natural gas plants would make up the difference.

The analysis estimated nuclear power emitted 18.5 grams of greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour (kWh) through the entire life cycle, compared to 385 grams per kWh for wind backed by natural gas. In other words, a decision to invest in wind plants is actually a decision to produce climate-changing greenhouse gases.

“When considering wind backed by natural gas power (20%/80%) to compensate for intermittency, emissions from the modified grid mix closely resemble that of natural gas production, diluted by a low-emissions power source,” the study noted.

To the average person, the term “renewable energy” suggests an energy source that does not contribute to climate change. But “renewable” doesn’t always mean “low-carbon.” A closer examination, such as the Hatch study, shows that nuclear energy is the better choice for the climate.