Been busy doing outdoor things as we finally had some nice weather. But even clear blue skies is not enough to make solar power solve our problems!
So solar doesn’t cut it when its clear and blue out. Wind doesn’t cut it as we’ve had little wind. So a ‘democratised grid’ as spouted by the new semi-leader of the green party will without doubt leave us in serious energy trouble. Lots of hot air about the Tesla powerwall but very little else about storage. And a few 7kWh battery packs isn’t going to make a huge dent. People still want their feed in payments for their rooftop solar so until all subsidies are cut (again, an idea detested by the greens), storage is just not worth it. People really believe that they can over-generate during the day and get paid for it then get the same energy back from the grid when its dark. It doesn’t work that way!
I’ve had a number of small power cuts on some of the very sunny days in July. I know there is a lot of solar around where I live but I’ve still not made my voltage monitor. I would love to see if they were related to over-generation from solar.
Anyway, we need ways to make electricity 24/7 all year round and burning coal, oil or gas is not the best idea. Even more stupid is to cut down trees, ship them 3000 miles and burn them instead. Did anyone truly think that using 12,000 sqkm of forest to fire a power station was smart? That is the same area Lincolnshire and Devon combined! Just shy of the area of Yorkshire. Are these people mental?
So… nuclear? I personally like it. So long as you shut down your aged 1960’s era reactors that have very well known and documented design flaws and suffered a similar accident 32 years before. And even then they’ve decided they can’t be bothered to follow their own recommendations. It seems you have to suffer the same accident twice before common sense kicks in.
We’ve always had a different approach in the UK. Historically our nuclear reactors have been gas cooled. This does have drawbacks as the cores are physically larger but the safety record of the Magnox and AGR reactors is very good. I freely admit that we have a nasty nuclear legacy over here and I’m not too happy about it. It is partly due to our desire to join the atomic bomb club and later simply keeping the lights on while the coal miners held the country to ransom. As ever a series of political ideals have left us with a nasty mess….
So, does building 2 new EPR reactors in the UK make sense? Heck no! Why? How about the EPR started in 2005 which now 7 years late and billions over budget? Wait up, they’ve not made a single working EPR in 11 years of trying. So why are we paying money for something that has not successfully been run? Almost as crazy as deforesting large areas of the USA to generate ‘green’ power.
Personally the EPR is the last reactor design we should be looking at. Unproven, known issues, known cost and time overruns on multiple projects… None of these are good signs.
There are many other GEN III+ reactor designs out there. The Toshiba ABWR, Westinghouse AP1000 or even the Canadian Advanced CANDU reactor. I’d trust the Canadians to do a better job than the French, even if half of them speak French!
But GEN III+ designs are still old school. Nothing really different from the very first reactors in terms of operation, just a lot of computers and a lot more thought about safety. They still need uranium fuel and produce spent fuel rods that are ~80% ‘unburnt’ and without reprocessing we will keep growing our pile of radioactive old fuel. What we need is a way to use up all the many tonnes of spent fuel or weapons grade plutonium we have stored in places like Sellafield. And there is a way!
The term ‘breeder reactor’ seems to give people a bad case of the heeby jeebies. They seem to associate it with nuclear bombs, which is odd as normal thermal nuclear reactors can produce bomb fuel. Calder Hall was built for this very reason. But if you leave the fuel in a breeder reactor it can use the plutonium as fuel and turn it into short lived isotopes which are much easier to deal with.
Most of the proposed GEN IV reactors are based on molten salts. These reactors use a continuous cycle for the fuel and only the waste products are removed. There is no dissolving of spent fuel in nitric acid to split out the crap from the still usable parts. And the upside is we could run these reactors on the spent fuel that is sat rotting in Sellafield. But for some reason we still want to make giant nuclear powered kettles and add to our piles of waste.
The UK govt should take the £18 billion and build a GEN IV reactor next to Sellafield. There have been a number of test reactors built over the decades so it is not new. And instead of trying to dig holes in the ground to hide the mess left for us by past idiotic decisions, we should turn it into lots of clean electricity. Because at the end of the day sorting out one problem by solving another is a lot more sensible than ships full of wood pellets or making us susceptible to dull or windless days.
And on a slightly political note, everyone is busy bashing the Conservatives for this decision but this actually dates back to 2008 when Labour was in power. Oops!