Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yet Another Reason Why Nuclear Power is Good

Medical Isotope Shortage

Joan Stephenson, PhD
JAMA. 2009;302(7):732.

A worldwide "critical shortage" of medical isotopes is expected due to the shutdown until late 2009 of a nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada, according to Canadian authorities. The reactor, which stopped operations because of a heavy water leak, produces as much as 40% of the global supply of molybdenum 99 (99Mo), which decays to form technetium 99m (99mTc). 99mTc is currently used in approximately 80% of nuclear medicine scans.

According to Natural Resources Canada, the world's current supply of 99Mo is produced by 5 aging reactors in Belgium, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and South Africa. The shortage was expected to be exacerbated by the temporary closing of the Netherlands reactor for a month-long maintenance inspection from July 18 to August 18. Because the isotopes have a relatively short half life, they cannot be stockpiled.

Canadian authorities said they were working with medical isotope distributors and others to maximize the use of existing isotope supplies and with other international producers to increase isotope production and to coordinate shutdowns and other operations.


That's right, we use nuclear power to make medically-important isotopes. Well, not "we," as in local US plants but we rely on foreign plants to irradiate our 'topes for us. I'm not sure why we don't have our own plants churning out isotopes ourselves, but that could be related to the fact that we haven't built a new nuclear plant in America in 30+ years. There's a brain drain of nuclear expertise from this country and we'd probably have to import some European-made design if we ever started being smart with nuclear and joined the proper energy source of the 21st century.

That's right, I think nuclear power is great. Think about it: nuclear power produces virtually no greenhouse gases and can make us virtually energy independent. Two big birds down with one stone. Oh, and if you want to create jobs - how about building new plants and building a smart nuclear engineer workforce in America? Nuclear energy has a proven safety record in America - and this is with using clunking designs from 50 years ago. How much better would we be with if we built new, more efficient and safer designs that we find in places like France? This is one area where France got it right: most of the electrical energy of France is supplied by French nuclear power plants.

Worried about nuclear waste? Read up about Yucca Mountain - a location long-studied in geology as an ideal place to store radioactive waste and practically ready for operation if the politicians would only let it. Worried about transportation of radioactive waste? The US has a track record of shipping waste thousands of times and there has never been an incident or accidental release of waste. Worried about terrorists? Seriously? You can't hold back our nation's progress based on the fear of a might-happen. All nuclear facilities in America are very well guarded.

That all said, I don't think nuclear fission will be the only power source of the future. I think solar energy is an excellent source as well. Solar energy bathes America with tons of free energy on a daily basis and if we could harness even a bit of that (particularly from our little populated, but very illuminated Southwest deserts) the Sun could easily supply more energy for us than this country uses many times over. Hydroelectric power has its niche uses but it's poor for general energy supply. Wind energy seems like a goofy idea to me and likely to always be marginal since it's such an eyesore. Other ideas like geothermal are unlikely to become much since their technical maturity would come at around the same time as nuclear fusion power and fusion could be the real powerhouse for the end of the 21st century.

Nuclear power is power of the future - whether it's made right here on Earth or has to travel 93 million miles from Sol.

16 comments:

zdub said...

Nuclear power is power of the future - whether it's made right here on Earth or has to travel 93 million miles from Sol.

Fission <> fusion.

Plus the latter is the source of our solar energy. It has nothing to do with the nuclear argument.

The US has a track record of shipping waste thousands of times and there has never been an incident or accidental release of waste.

1) Tell that to the residents of all the states through which the waste will travel. 2) I was held up for an hour on the Pennsylvania turnpike because of a detergent spill. Imagine what ONE nuclear waste spill would do.

A couple of other things you neglected to mention:

1) The track record of safety is excellent, so why doesn't the nuclear industry agree to abolish The Price-Anderson Act?

2) EVEN WITHOUT including the above in the calculations, the cost of building nuclear is incredibly expensive.

I'm not saying that nuclear doesn't have a place, only that there is much more to the equation than you are presenting.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually there was an episode of Star Trek TNG where the Love Boa... I mean the Enterprise D encounters a space barge full of nuclear waste that was threatning a planet. Why don't we just shoot it all into space?

Orthoprax said...

Zdub,

"Fission <> fusion.
Plus the latter is the source of our solar energy. It has nothing to do with the nuclear argument."

Really? You don't say!

"1) Tell that to the residents of all the states through which the waste will travel."

I'd be ok with it. They're being irrational to fear it.

"2) I was held up for an hour on the Pennsylvania turnpike because of a detergent spill. Imagine what ONE nuclear waste spill would do."

Except that nuclear waste is transported in containers that you could light a bomb next to and they wouldn't spill. Ever see this video?:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7OQ5gteq-Y


"1) The track record of safety is excellent, so why doesn't the nuclear industry agree to abolish The Price-Anderson Act?"

I didn't neglect it, I simply hadn't heard of this act before. And the answer is simple. We can presume that no industry would willingly take on liability, no matter how remote, if the federal government is willing to back them for it.

"2) EVEN WITHOUT including the above in the calculations, the cost of building nuclear is incredibly expensive."

Sure, high upfront capital but cheaper in the long run. And besides, building expensive stuff on US property would be great for the economy.

Baal Devarim said...

Make your own medical isotopes. Here's something to get you started (great customer reviews!):

http://www.amazon.com/Uranium-Ore/dp/B000796XXM

M. Simon said...

Polywell Fusion.

Look it up. A small version that was barely net power running D-D could be a local source for isotopes.

Orthoprax said...

M. Simon,

Wow, that's huge! I had no idea practical fusion power could be on the cusp. If this turns out to be the real deal then all my fission talk is wholly unnecessary.

badrabbi said...

To make nuclear power attractive, we need to answer the following questions:

Let's say that 20% of electrical energy for the US will be generated by nuclear power:

1. How much nuclear waste per year will be generated, in terms of tonnage?

2. Where will it be stored?

3. For how long will this waste remain toxic?

4. What happens when a nuclear power plant blows up?

The answers to the above questions are murky to me and I suspect to the average American. Once they are clearly answered, then one would be in a better position to support nuclear power.

Orthoprax said...

BR,

"Let's say that 20% of electrical energy for the US will be generated by nuclear power:"

Will be? That's how much is produced today.

"1. How much nuclear waste per year will be generated, in terms of tonnage?
2. Where will it be stored?
3. For how long will this waste remain toxic?"

I don't know how much is made, but that's probably easy to look up and not particularly relevant. Storage will either be on site for the short term but long term plans have the Yucca Mountain site as ideal, as I mentioned in the original post, where waste will be kept safely for as long as they need to be.

"4. What happens when a nuclear power plant blows up?"

They won't. We've operated hundreds of reactors in this country for decades with none ever blowing up, or even unintentionally releasing any dangerous material.

Geonite said...

You have got to be kidding me! Do you have any idea how destructive uranium mining is to the workers, local inhabitants and environment? Are you really willing to say that they people that are helped through these isotopes are worth those that die from exposure through mining practices? Not to mention the water that's destroyed. And that water is incredibly precious. We are in the midst of horrible water wars and shortages. Water is the most fundamental thing to life there is.

Orthoprax said...

Geonite,

Sure, uranium mining has it's dangers, but they are controllable. What would be your alternative anyway? Coal mining with its proven safety record?

Do you prefer to waste water at far less energy efficient rates by encouraging the coal mining status quo?

It takes something like nine coal mines to get the same energy production as one uranium mine.

Geonite said...

No, the dangers of mining are NOT in the least bit controllable. I'd like to invite you to New Mexico to talk to miners whose health has been destroyed because of uranium mining. And ISL is not much better. We need to get onto solar energy.

Orthoprax said...

Geonite,

Please show me some data about health problems for modern uranium miners. Seems to me that with modern safety methods the risk to miners can be completely reduced.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf24.html

"The safety record of the uranium mining industry is good. Radiation dose records compiled by mining companies under the scrutiny of regulatory authorities have shown consistently that mining company employees are not exposed to radiation doses in excess of the limits. The maximum dose received is about half of the 20 mSv/yr limit and the average is about one tenth of it.

...

"The small, unventilated uranium "gouging" operations in the USA which led to the greatest health risk are a thing of the past. In the last 50 years, individual mining operations have been larger, and efficient ventilation and other precautions now protect underground miners from these hazards. Open cut mining of uranium virtually eliminates the danger. There has been no known case of illness caused by radiation among uranium miners in Australia or Canada. [The largest producers of uranium worldwide.]"


"We need to get onto solar energy."

Sure - make it efficient and cost effective [and work on the battery problem so we can have power at night!] and I have no problem with it! Personally I'm pretty psyched by the potential of polywell fusion.

Geonite said...

You're going to believe what the world nuclear organization says about nuclear energy? I see these people coming in almost daily, but no one will tell you about it. I've also researched ISL and it's impossible to restore an aquifer to safe levels after ISL mining. Are you aware of the water shortages the world is facing?

Here's a few sources from an initial Google search.

http://www.sric.org/uranium/

http://www.wise-uranium.org/uhr.html

http://www.ccnr.org/bcma.html

Just do a Google search. I can tell you that the federal government is paying a lot of money to former miners. It helps alleviate their suffering but it doesn't give them back their health. I don't have the numbers but I'm an environmental scientist for the Sstate of New Mexico and uranium mining severely affects people who mine, their families, and the people living in the surrounding areas.

Orthoprax said...

Geonite,

"You're going to believe what the world nuclear organization says about nuclear energy?"

Um, yes? They're just quoting facts and figures - if you have facts and figures which dispute them then please so present.

"I've also researched ISL and it's impossible to restore an aquifer to safe levels after ISL mining."

I'm not aware that's actually been demonstrated true. I suspect that over long enough time periods, even the dirtiest aquifer will be clean. And again, I point to the much more dirty option of coal mining which little doubt is more toxic to the environment many times over.

"Are you aware of the water shortages the world is facing?"

Is anyone using the water from these aquifers before mining takes place? Does coal mining ruin less water?

"ust do a Google search. I can tell you that the federal government is paying a lot of money to former miners."

Sure, because the mining done 50 years ago was not done safely. We have learned a bit since then.

Geonite said...

No one has managed to return an aquifer to it's original state yet. They all get special permits after trying and spending billions trying to do it. And I'm talking about mines that are in production now not 50 years ago. Do some research. You're obviously an intelligent person, but, for some reason you've decided that nuclear energy is a good thing and have closed your mind to any other possibility.

There was a vet in my environmental and occupational health class last year. She felt the same way you do about nuclear energy when we started the class. She kept defending it. Her view point changed radically by the end of the class when she understood some of the implications of uranium mining.

Stop believing what a subjective association tells you and start researching it for yourself.

Uranium is a huge hazard and should be left where it is. There's a reason God put it underground.

Orthoprax said...

Geonite,

I have to be frank - I'm simply not that concerned about a bunch of aquifers having increased toxic levels, especially if the sites are well selected - which they tend to be. New sites being chosen in Australia, for example, are well away from habitated areas and the groundwater start out being not clean enough for human use.

In addition to this, although repurification of the waters used in ISL have not yet been 100% effective, they have been pretty successful and there is active reasearch in this field.

So comparing this to coal mining which has obvious and direct ruination of surface and groundwaters, plus decimation of surface land - and regular headlines like this:
"123 trapped in China coal mine"

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/03/28/152-trapped-in-china-coal-mine/?hpt=T2

I fail to see why nuclear power should not be sought for the near to intermediate future towards cleaner power and to wean us away from the obvious harm of coal.