by Marcel F. WilliamsDuring the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration decided to create jobs in the US by expanding electric power into some of the rural areas of America by federally financing the construction of dams for hydroelectric power production through federal agencies and public power corporations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Huge hydroelectric power producing dams such as the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee are still part of the lasting legacy of federal public power investment during the Great Depression. Today there are 9 Federally owned utilities in America and there are over 2000 public power (municipal, state, and intrastate) utilities in the US.
In a previous post, Public Power & the Future of Nuclear Energy, I argued that the fact that nuclear facilities in the US rely too much on private capital is one of the biggest obstacles to nuclear power expansion in America. If the new Obama administration along with the new US legislature are serious about stopping global warming while also achieving energy independence without collapsing the economy, then the federal government needs to seriously consider the federal funding of nuclear power in this country by creating a Federal Nuplex Corporation (FNC).
I envision the FNC as a public power corporation somewhat similar to the TVA Federal public power corporation which funds and operates hydroelectric, coal, and nuclear power facilities.
As I envision it, the FNC will:
1. Provide minority capital investment (up to 45%) for the construction of new nuclear power plants for states and regional utilities, preferably on existing nuclear sites. There is enough room on existing nuclear sites to at least triple our current nuclear capacity.
2. Fund, construct and secure radioactive waste repositories within every state that already produces radioactive waste materials from nuclear, medical, and other radioactive waste producing facilities.
3. Solely fund, construct, and secure federal nuplexes (nuclear energy parks) designed to generate electricity, synfuels, and industrial chemicals while also serving as central repositories for radioactive waste material within states that produce radioactive waste material.
I'd also like the FNC to fund R&D programs for:
1. Uranium from seawater extraction technologies with the goal of full scale demonstration projects by the year 2020 and full scale commercialization by the year 2030. This will ensure that current light water reactors (LWRs) will have an ample supply of uranium fuel for at least the next few thousand years.
2. Generation IV nuclear breeding technologies (uranium and thorium fast reactors and ADS accelerator reactors) with the goal of full scale demonstration projects by the year 2020 and full scale commercialization by the year 2030. Such breeding technologies would allow the US to power itself and the rest of the world essentially forever with fertile uranium 238 and thorium 232.
Federal Nuplexes would consist of 10 to 40 reactors (1GWe to 1.5 GWe each) in addition to on site uranium enrichment facilities, fuel processing facilities, spent fuel reprocessing facilities, and radioactive waste repositories.
Federal Nuplexes would sell baseload electricity to local utilities. Nuplexes will also produce methanol and oxygen which will be used to fuel off-site methanol power plants which will be located up to 80 kilometers way from the nuplex facility. Such high efficiency methanol-oxygen power plants will be able to produce peak-load and back-up load energy. The carbon dioxide produced at the facility could be captured and recycled, piped back to the nupex in order to make more methanol.
Federal Nuplexes would be utilized to produce and sell carbon neutral transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, dimethyl ether and industrial chemicals such as methanol, hydrogen, and ammonia. While it may be 5 to 10 years before carbon dioxide from air extraction technologies would be commercially available for hydrocarbon fuel production, waste carbon dioxide from urban and rural biowaste power plants could serve as an alternative source of CO2. This symbiotic relationship between nuclear power and biowaste power could provide up to 30% of the current transportation fuel needs in the US.
The Federal government should at least initially provide the FNC with 10 to 15 billion dollars annually for seed money (about what the US spends in about a month in Iraq). Additional FNC funding should eventually come from revenues generated from FNC minority capital investments in nuclear power facilities from non-federally owned utilities and from the sale of electricity and synfuels from Federal nuplexes. This would mean that even if tax payer funds were eventually cut off to the FNC, new reactors construction would continue to be funded by revenues coming in to the FNC.
I should note that I am also in favor of a similar Federal investiment in a Renewable Energy Corporation that would invest 10 to 15 billion dollars of Federal funds annually in small hydroelectric, biowaste energy, wind, and solar projects which I shall discuss in more detail in a future post. 30 billion in annual nuclear and renewable investment over the next 20 or 30 years is really not to much to ask if we're really serious about energy independence and solving the problem of global warming. And that's less than ten percent of the annual US military budget and almost twice as much as we annually spend on NASA. The primary goal of the Federal Nuplex Corporation and an American Renewable Energy Corporation would be to continuously build more and more nuclear reactors and renewable energy facilites until the US is completely free of carbon dioxide pollutiong technologies within the next 25 to 30 years.
The famous Chicago born nuclear physicist, Alvin Weinberg, was an early proponent of nuclear parks and an existing site policy and pointed out the remarkable fact that if current commercial in the US nuclear reactors receive normal maintenance, they will never wear out. The 50th nuclear reactor (the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant in Kansas) has recently received a license renewal for an additional 20 years with the remaining 54 active nuclear reactors expected to do the same in the near future. That would mean that future generations in the US could inherit hundreds or even thousands of still active nuclear reactors, with each individual reactor pulling in millions of dollars of revenue on a daily basis for at least a human lifetime-- if not longer-- along with energy independence and an energy economy that no threatens the global environment.
If the Federal government is going to spend big money in the near future on massive infrastructure projects, I can't think of one that would be more economically and environmentally beneficial for both in the short run and in the long run than investing in a technology that the US Federal government first invented towards the end of the Great Depression that could power our planet with clean energy-- forever!
Links and References
1. A Siting Policy for an Acceptable Nuclear Future (1979)
Burwell, Ohanian, and Weinberg
Science, 204: 1043-1051
2. New Life for Nuclear Power-ALVIN M. WEINBERG
3. Gasoline from Air & Water
4. History of Hydroelectric Power in America
5. 50th U.S. Nuclear Plant License Renewed!
6. Short & Long Term Solutions for Nuclear Waste
7. Fueling our Nuclear Future
9. The Changing Structure of the Electric Power Industry 2000: An Update
10. How to build 6000 Nuclear Reactors by 2050
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