Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Why Jordan needs nuclear energy (part III)

Part I here.
Part II here.

Two major sets of objections are cited in the context of the proposal to use nuclear energy. The objections are related to waste and safety, and to political concerns. This stems from the current crisis involving Iran’s nuclear program.

All traditional forms of energy come at environmental costs. Fossil fuels are cited as a reason for the buildup on greenhouse gases, which have a profound effect on the climate of our planet. Solid fossil fuels (such as coal or oil shale) produce massive amounts of solid waste, some of it is radioactive. Building hydroelectric structures comes at an environmental cost. The Three Gorges dam in China will cause massive social dislocations and environmental stresses. The Aswan dam has had large impacts on the river system, and the entire structure of the Abu Simble temple had to be moved. Thus, it is clear that in our modern world, we will always require more energy, and obtaining this energy will come at social, cultural and environmental costs.

Thus, the environmental costs for nuclear energy must be viewed in comparison with other energy sources. The largest concern stems from the management and disposal of nuclear waste.

Nuclear waste is divided into low, intermediate and high level nuclear waste. Low level waste consists of medical and research waste produced at the plant, as well as protective gloves, shoes and other clothes. Disposal of this material is not considered to be a problem. Intermediate level waste is produced in the reactors, and typically is short lived. The greatest concern comes from high level nuclear waste, which comes from the spent fuel of the reactor. The volume of this material is small, but requires special handling and disposal procedures. In many instances, it is recycled to reclaim some of the unfissioned isotopes, which significantly reduces the volume.

The criteria for disposal of nuclear (or any other hazardous) waste are well defined. These include geological requirements related to low seismicity and significant distance and hydrogeological separation from the water table, as well as distance from population centers and natural resources. It is highly likely that one or more suitable locations are available in the country. Disposal of waste is not an insurmountable technical issue. Either that, or it may be shipped to other countries. The North Koreans want it (just kidding).

Despite the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the record of safety for nuclear energy is superior to all major energy sources currently used. This list gives an idea of the track record for the major energy sources. Modern standardized designs take into account the experience of many years of nuclear experience, and these designs have multiple fail-safes that make Homer Simpson type accidents impossible.

As for the political objections, these stem from assumptions about the attitude of the major powers towards the proposal. The non-proliferation treaty states in part that “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty”. This is quite clear, and as a signatory to the NPT, there are no legal reasons to object to Jordan developing a peaceful energy program. This is contrary to the situation of Israel, which has not signed the NPT.

It should be noted that the Iran nuclear crisis stems from their attempts to enrich uranium. Indeed, the offers to Iran have included supplying them with light water reactors and the fuel needed. Jordan’s nuclear program would be purely for peaceful purposes, and would be open to the inspection of monitoring of the IAEA.

The Canadians, French, Russians and Chinese are all looking for customers for their reactors. They have a vested interest in making things easy for us.



At 5:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan is a stable country at peace with all or most of the world. I doubt anyone would worry about Jordan having nuclear power, I just think that we all have to try to think of some other power sources. Solar energy seems reasonable to me, but it does, of course, have limitations and difficulties, as you point out. Great blog, with some excellent ideas! Best regards from Lynne in Texas

At 1:15 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Very nice post.
by the way, what do you do in Jordan? are you with booz allen (management consulting)? or industrial consulting firm (e.g. Injaz)? or ministry of planning?

I like your posts. Very well researched.

Anyways, since many countries already have nuclear energy, it's interesting to ask why they are not expanding it. How come "nuclear eletrcitiy generators" are not the solution-of-choice for advanced countries in recent times?

You list 2 of these reasons. China, for example, does not have either of these two. What is the percentage of China's electricity that is produced in Nuclear Plants? why is it not 100%.

These objections may, or may not, be relevant to Jordan. But it's useful to review them and think about them.


A quick detour. Nanotechnology, the technology for building materials atom-by-atom, is advancing very quickly. It's expected that in 10 years, nano-tech would make it even to consumer products.

One of the promises of nano-tech is to increase the effeciency of solar-batteries by manifold.

Point is: while a Nuclear Plant might pay for its initial-cost in 10-years, other more effecient forms of energy-generation may appear in these 10 years. For completeness for this article, a review of potential energy sources would be great.

again, very nice article. keep up the good job.

At 1:59 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This graph shows that only 1.2% of China's energy comes from Nuclear power:

(great site - thanks for letting me know about it)

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: welcome to my blog.

Arrabi: Nope. I am an academic. The Chinese have massive amounts of coal. They also have a lot of hydroelectricity. I am sure that this is why they have less interest in nuclear energy than a country like France, which generates 77% of it's electricity using nuclear.

The nanotechnology point is intreaguing. Can you provide a link?

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

really, are you a university professor? or a think tank researcher? (I've heard there is one such institute in jordan. the name escpaes me now. I know nothing about them. if you work there, it'll be nice to shed some light)
what university do you work at? what do you teach?

Regarding nuclear power, an interesting development: US is allowing Egypt to build a nuclear plant:

this proves that Jordan can as well obtain the "world permission" for a Nuclear plant.

regarding the nano-tech, let me get back to you on that.

At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Jordan invest it's money in developing solar energy instead? It is free, Jordan has more sun that any other natural resource, and solar energy doesn't produce deadly waste that poisons the environment for millenia.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Arrabi: I would prefer not to tell about myself, if you don't mind.

I look forward to the nanotech info.


Anon: The reality is that solar is not free, nor is it near to being competitive economically. Moreover, batteries to store the energy will be made of nasty toxic heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead. It is not as environmentally friendly as its proponents claim.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Salam Khalaf,
About nano-tech, the information I got was mainly from books (this is a good intro http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0131927566/104-7939596-8105561?ie=UTF8).

On the internet, I found these references (and googling 'solar cells nano' gives a lot of hits):
- a detailed survey of "organic solar cells" http://scholar.google.com/url?sa=U&q=http://www.ipc.uni-linz.ac.at/publ/2004/2004-021.pdf

- this is more of an 'investment site',m and som elinks are cheesy, but since this is about the "future potential of a technology", you can find good group of links here:

- The US government has http://www.nano.gov, the website of the National Nano Initiative. Unfortunately, they only list "effecient solar cells" as a topic - not much explanation here.

if I find a good site in the future, I'll let you know.


At 1:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this news item:

Solar cell breakthrough claimed

Thomas Claburn
(12/06/2006 2:00 PM EST)

A breakthrough in solar cell technology promises to make solar power a cost-competitive energy option and to reduce U.S. dependence on oil.

With funding from the Department of Energy, Boeing-Spectrolab has managed to create a solar cell with 40.7% sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiency, said DoE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy Alexander Karsner on Tuesday.

The solar cell represents "the highest efficiency level any photovoltaic device has ever achieved," according to David Lillington, president of Spectrolab. That claim has been verified by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Most of today's solar cells are between 12% and 18% efficient. Some of the ones used to power satellites are around 28% efficient. In 1954, 4% efficiency was state of the art.

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

thought you might be interested in this piece of news, King Abdullah says Jordan might go nuclear!


At 8:11 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Coooool. Thanks a lot!

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