Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nuclear option?

While I realize this maybe a sensitive topic to some, I was recently introduced to a new and inovative method using nuclear power on a small scale, like for a community or in our case, a university. The company is called Hyperion Power Generation.........

"Founded in 2007, Hyperion Power Generation Inc. is a privately held company that was formed to commercialize a small modular nuclear reactor designed by Los Alamos National Laboratory (“LANL”) scientists leveraging forty years of technological advancement. The reactor, known as the Hyperion Power Module (“HPM”), was designed to fill a previously unmet need for a transportable power source that is safe, clean, sustainable, and cost-efficient."

I believe we often tend to immediately dismiss nuclear power as too costly and unsafe but I would like you all to consider the idea, even if briefly. Check out their website I linked and particularly the tabs "Why Nuclear?" and "Quick Facts Sheet".

Just for some balence, I also suggest you visit Nature.com and read "Nuclear Energy: Assessing the Emissions" where Kurt Kleiner reports on whether nuclear power deserves its reputation as a low-carbon energy source.

This could be an alternative to our coal fired heating plant and would most likely, vastly reduce our UW-Eau Claire carbon footprint.

I am very interested in your thoughts.


  1. My personal opinion: given the enormity of the climate situation now, it seems to me that ALL energy options must be on the table. I think that it's great that these questions are finally being asked in the pending climate bills in Washington DC, yes including nuclear.

    The idea of replacing the entire coal plant with a hot-tub sized, underground nuclear generator is certainly a compelling one! However, later on in the document, it appears to me that the price tag is $50 Million per unit... yikes - can that be right?

    However, in terms of our carbon footprint, there would likely be a great excess of energy produced (70 MW thermal or 25 MW electrical energy produced), and so we could sell this power, along with the corresponding offsets, to the city. This might give us a substantially negative carbon footprint - for a mere $50 Million dollars!

  2. I have always been baffled why nuclear power gets such a bad name - certainly I agree that, as with all forms of power, there are potential downsides (cost, danger, efficiency, etc.) but all I can do is ditto Dr. B: at this point, everything must be considered.

    I also thought that those who did not get the chance to tour the coal plant last week might be interested in the fact that our tour guide repeatedly commented on the positive sides of nuclear power - and how, though he didn't think it could be done on a campus like UWEC (maybe this would change his mind?), nuclear power would be a "step in the right direction - at least for the time being."

    It is difficult for me to grasp at numbers alone - the cost of just about anything seems outrageous to me! I would be interested to calculate how long it would take for UWEC to regain the money lost if we decided to house a nuclear generator. Certainly we'd have the negative carbon footprint and be able to sell the excess power, but unless people (students, in particular) start deciding that they want cleaner power more than they want tuition to stay low, this it seems like an "if only" situation...

  3. An obvious major roadblock, as both Andi and Dr. Boulter stated, would be the cost and $50 million is substantial. However, I wouldn't be deterred by that alone since often there are ways to reduce the costs, for example, through government and industry incentives. Additionally, something like this could be a cooperatively "owned" venture possibly by UW-Eau Claire and Sacred Heart, CVTC, the City of Eau Claire or even Xcell energy.
    Also, consider that the cost to convert the UW-Madison Charter Street Coal Fired Plant to bio fuel or natural gas is expected to cost $250 million and converting our heating plant would be very expensive too; and we are still burning stuff. In that light, $50 million seems more reasonable.

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  5. I have thought for a long time that nuclear power was a good way to go. I understand the opposite view also though because it is expensive and it could be dangerous under some circumstances. I really think this small nuclear reactor is a good idea and it would be really cool if we could have it on our campus, though that is probably one of the last things that will happen. Honestly I would be willing to pay higher tuition to pay for it.

    I like Ms. Peterson's idea to split the cost and other things between the university, CVTC, Sacred Heart, the city, and/or Xcel Energy. It seems like it could potentially work, that is, if everyone was on board.

    I enjoyed reading in the Nature article the amounts of carbon released by different energy sources. I am surprised by how much carbon nuclear energy emits compared to solar and wind energy. I had never thought about it like that.

  6. I also agree that nuclear power should definately be considered as an option. Everyone seems to bring up the safety issue, and yes there is risk, but as I look back into history I find one major accident in the last 50 years. Chernobyl was a great disaster but I think of it like an airplane, accidents are very infrequent but get a massive amount of news coverage. So it seems as if these routes are more dangerous when in fact they can be much safer than there more common alternatives.

  7. I've just added "How Nuclear Power Works" in the "Links of Interest" section of our blog. It provides a good introduction to the subject that Lynn has raised.

    I'll post more on this another time....

  8. I thought this topic was extremely interesting! I admit I know very little about nuclear power and its potential, and I feel many others can say the same too. Like many have posted, what people do know is the negative aspects, and the incidents when nuclear power goes awry. I think this is an option that not only needs to be explored more, but definitely publicized more!

  9. Thank you so much for providing us with this article Lynn! Like Liv mentioned, I really know very little about this topic, and, frankly, have always been a little frightened by the idea. However, I was really interested in reading about the technology, and am beginning to see why this is particularly relevant. I think that we all must admit that this is the way of the future, and the more that we can educate ourselves about its risks and benefits, the better. On a side note, I liked the fact that they discussed that a carbon footprint is about more than just the production of energy; it is important to remember it also includes transportation, construction, etc.

  10. I am all for using nuclear power. We can first use it as a stepping stone into greener plants like wind and solar, and if the technology keeps advancing, maybe it could remain a large part.

    To those questioning the safety, I just wanted to bring up a few things that Professor Joe Hupy mentioned in my Conservation of the Environment class. First, a lot of people would state that they never want to live within 100 miles of a nuclear power plant, but Eau Claire is within 100 miles of one. Second, the major accident mentioned by Wally, Chernobyl, was the ONLY nuclear accident that's caused deaths ever. It caused only 50 direct deaths and an additional 4,000 do to exposure. Well, it's worth mentioning that an incident attributed to coal pollution known as the "Great Smog" killed 4,000 in less than a week and left more than 100,000 people ill. The smog is attributed to coal pollution and strange weather patterns. Including deaths related to air pollution, coal is far more dangerous than nuclear plants.

    I agree with everyone else above that if we can afford it, we should do it.

  11. I could figure out how to add links to words in my post so here's two Wikipedia pages:

    Chernobyl Disaster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster

    Great Smog: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Smog

  12. I was just reading through all of the posts and, while I don't feel very informed about nuclear energy, I think that we should be open to considering any option now. I think it's also important to consider that, while the Davies Center money was brought in with the sole intention of being used for a new Davies Center and, therefore, cannot be used for anything else, it's certainly worthwhile to note that the price tag on that project (last time I heard, anyways), is somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million. While it seems like an exorbitant amount, what I was wondering is if it's the sort of thing that pays for itself over time (such as solar energy, etc.)?


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