Charlie Stross on the future of nuclear power

Tom James @ 19-08-2009

power_plantCharles Stross has made an interesting point on the view that there is only a very short supply of useable nuclear fuel:

firstly, the supply of known uranium deposits will only last 80-100 years if we don’t recycle it and start burning MOX. I’d like to note that today’s light water reactors are horribly inefficient — they only extract 3% of the available energy from their fuel before it is considered “spent” and reclassified as waste. If we use high burn-up reactors such as the EPR, we can get a whole load more energy out of the same amount of fuel. And if we use fast breeders and run a plutonium cycle we can convert U238 into Pu239 and burn that instead of U235: there’s 500 times as much U238 lying around.

Secondly, we haven’t even tried to build a thorium reactor yet, although we’ve got good reason to believe it would work — and thorium is considerably more abundant than uranium.

As I have mentioned before, nuclear really should be part of the future energy mix of any industrialised country. Renewables can provide a large chunk (depending on local availability) of our energy needs but that still leaves a gap that needs to be plugged with something reliable and non-carbon-dioxide emitting.

David JC MacKay has more on nuclear power in his excellent free online textbook Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.

[image from christian.senger on flickr]


Matter is actually just fluctuations in the quantum vacuum

Paul Raven @ 21-11-2008

Another classic case of the headline saying it all: physicists have confirmed that matter is no more than fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. Everything is arguably illusory, including ourselves. All of a sudden I have a vision of Terence McKenna muttering Beatles lyrics to the hyperspace elves in between fits of gently manic laughter…

And while we’re in brain-bending existential scientific headf*ck territory, why don’t we all get behind conceptual artist Jonathon Keats and his plan to turn the contents of a nuclear waste dump into a massive machine for generating new universes?