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Nuclear power

Nuclear power - FISSION POWER The A threefold e xpansion o...

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FISSION POWER The OVERV I EW *, Global electricity consumption IS projected to Increa$e l60 percent by 20 50 ~l, Buliciingh~ndreds of nucle<l[ power plants will help meet that need without large new emiSSions of carbon dioxide. ,i) Th l sscena!lo re9uires economical new plants. a plan for waste storage and prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation A threefold expansion of nuclear power could contribute significantl~ to staving off climate change b~ avoiding one billion to two billion tons of carbon emissions annuall~ BY JOHN M. DEUTCH AND ERNEST J. MONIZ Nuclear power supplies a six th of the world's elec- tricit y. Along wi th hydropower (which su pp li es slightly m ore than a six th), it IS th e major so urce of "c arb on- free" energy today. Th e techn o logy suffered growing pains, seared into th e public'S mind by the Ch ern ob yl and Three Mil e Is land acci dent s, but p lant s have demo nst ra ted re- markable re liability and efficiency recently. Th e wo rld's am ple supply of uranium could fuel a much larger fle et of rea cto rs th an ex ists toda y throughout their 40 - to 50 - year life spa n. With g ro w in g worri es about global warming and the associated likelihood that green hou se gas emissions will be regulated in some fa shi on , it is no t su rp rising that gov- ern ment s a nd powe r providers in the U.S. and elsewhere are in creasingly considering building a sub stan tial number of additional nuclea r powe r plants. The fossil-fuel alterna- ti ves ha ve their dr a wba cks. Natural gas is att ractive in a ca rb on -con strai ned wo rld because it has lo wer car bon ~ Governments and utilitie s are considering a new wave of nuclear power plant construction to help meet rising electricit~ de mand. 76 SCI E N T I Fie AM E RIC A N
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content relative to other fossil fuels and because advanced pow- er plants have low capital costs. But the cost of the electricity produced is very sensitive to natural gas prices, which have become much higher and more volatile in recent years. In con- trast, coal prices are relatively low and stable, but coal is the mo st carbon-intensive source of electricity. The capture and sequ C's tration of carbon dioxide, which will add significantly to the cost, must be demonstrated and introduced on a large scale if coal-powered electricity is to expand significantly with- out emitting unacceptable quantities of carbon into the atmo- sphere. These concerns raise doubts about new investm en ts in gas- or coal -powered plants. All of which points to a possible nuclear revival. And in- deed, more than 20,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity have come online globally since 2000, mostly in the Far East. Yet George S. Stanford; SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, December 2005]. Some countries, most notably France, currently use a closed fuel cycle in which plutonium is separated from the spe nt fuel and a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides is subsequently burned again. A longer-term option could in- volve recycling all the transuranics (plutonium is one example of a transuranic element), perhaps in a so-called fast reactor.
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