[Marxism] Re Peak Oil

Rod Holt rholt at planeteria.net
Sun Oct 16 00:02:00 MDT 2005

Les questioned my numbers.

Number number 1: Enough highly enriched uranium and enough plutonium 
already exist to support 100,000 reactor-years @ 2GW each (365 day 
This requires some arithmetic.
    Russia has 150 tons of plutonium. It also has about 10 times that in 
highly enriched and weapons grade uranium. (It's for sale. Iran is 
buying quite a bit.) Although the US won't say, it is suspected on 
reasonable grounds that the uranium and plutonium held by the US is an 
order of magnitude greater.
    I didn't count weapons grade fissile materials held by England, 
France, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China.
    Altogether, I used the following numbers: 1500 tons of plutonium and 
15,000 tons of highly enriched uranium are available without anyone 
going into the mines. My info on the thorium cycle is from a 2003 report 
by the World Nuclear Association, which is a trade group whose opinions 
and general line agrees with the AIEA. The latter's expert committees 
are composed of the same people representing the WNA. More numbers are 
from their March 2004 report "The Economics of Nuclear Power." A quick 
check of the WNA report on thorium and that of the IAEA showed me no 
serious differences.

I also use a 1994 report from the Nuclear Energy Agency (part of the 
OECD) entitled "The Economics of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle." This report 
contains data not only on fuel costs but also plant costs, 
de-commissioning costs, so-called up-stream and down-stream costs. All 
is adjusted for the cost of capital (assumed for their examples to be 
5%). They use an ordinary French reactor producing 4.25 GW-days/tonne of 
uranium as their standard. This plant has a thermal-to-electrical 
conversion efficiency of 35%. Pretty far below the expected 50% 
conversion hoped for today.

The German pebble-bed reactor running between 1967 and 1988 produced a 
"burn" of 150GW-days/tonne thorium. Even if this is the limit, it means 
2.4 tonnes of thorium per GW-year. And to burn 1 tonne of thorium, 0.01 
tonne of plutonium is needed along with 0.1 tonne of highly enriched 
uranium. 1500 tonnes of plutonium therefore will burn 150,000 tonnes of 
thorium, producing 61,600 GW-years (all at 1995 average efficiencies). 
Up to this point, no recycling of fuel is necessary but all the 
plutonium is gone.

Even so, without going further into the fuel cycle, we have generated 
5,761quads from the thorium alone --enough to supply 100% of US energy 
needs for 57 years if you allow 32% of the energy to be thrown away. 
Using a 50% thermal-electric efficiency and 50% of the "waste" heat to 
be used in other applications, the 57 years becomes 134 years. Hence, 
61,600 GW-years can, with these nominal improvements in efficiency, be 
the equal of 144,000 GW-years, or 77,000 reactor-years of my ideal 
"reactor complexes." That's not 100,000. Sorry, but I don't know how to 
include the uranium in the fuel mix. If it contributes 10% to the 
output, then we can operate 86,000 nuclear-complex-years with existing 
amounts of Plutonium and uranium. Still, not a 100,000. Still sorry.

To keep the system going, some high-grade uranium will need to be 
extracted from the burned thorium/uranium concoction. I have no data 
here. All reports describe the extraction of 235U from the 
thorium-uranium fuel mix as very nasty because of the short half-life of 
the by-products. At any rate, 100% of the naturally occurring thorium 
can be burnt, whereas only 0.7% of natural uranium is fissile.

Number number 2: A 2GW(e) nuclear reactor can supply 16 billion gallons 
per day of de-salinated water using reverse osmosis. I have no reason to 
re-compute these numbers. The reference I supplied on October 2 seems 

Number number 3: I said 500 reactors (2GW(e) each) will produce ALL the 
power the US is using. Then I made an error. The US is using only 100 
quads/year—not 500 as I mistakenly stated.

Nevertheless, each nuclear power complex supplies 0.187 quads (using the 
conversion factor adopted by the US Economics and Statistics 
Administration of 10.676 BTU/watt-hour. The 100% number is 3410 
BTU/kW-hr. The 10.676 number includes thermal-to-electric losses.) 500 
such reactors produce only 93.5 quads and not 100. So I was low by 7%. 
I'm sorry. 27 quads are used for transportation, by the way.

There may be more numbers challenged, but lacking specifics, I'll stop 
here. There are many sources other than the IAEA, the World Nuclear 
Agency, the Nuclear Energy Agency/OECD, the US Energy Information 
Agency, The Statistical Abstract, the World Almanac, and so forth.

I don't remember saying anything about what Bush was going to do on this 
subject. I would not suggest he be given a choice.

I'm very concerned about the plight of the rest of the world. That is 
why I propose building 2000 reactors, not just 500. As an aside, this 
use of thorium burns up the plutonium and 235U from atom bombs. I 
thought that was a benefit. At least I thought so.


Les Schaffer wrote:

> Rod Holt wrote:
>> Dear comrades:
>> Thorium is cheap, abundant, and it has a million advantages. 
>> and where are you getting your numbers from, you make it sound like 
> you are just making them up.
> les schaffer
> ________________________________________________
> YOU MUST clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.
> Send list submissions to: Marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu
> Set your options at: http://lists.econ.utah.edu/mailman/listinfo/marxism

More information about the Marxism mailing list