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By Hal Fox

From: NEN, Vol. 5, No. 11, Mar. 1998, pp. 5-7.
New Energy News (NEN) copyright 1998 by Fusion Information Center, Inc.
COPYING NOT ALLOWED without written permission.

By Hal Fox

As shown in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, the U.S. has three major sources of energy in the form of crude oil (half of it imported from abroad), Natural Gas (some of it from Canada), and coal. These three energy products account for 88 percent of the energy used in the U.S. Twelve percent of U.S. energy comes from hydro power (usually as hydro-electric power), Nuclear power plants (none built in the last ten years), and a variety of alternative energy sources including wind and solar energy.

The distribution of the use of crude oil is shown in Fig. 2. As we would expect, as viewed from the freeways to work, the personal vehicles (mainly autos) consume 33.9 percent of the energy from crude oil. Trucking, some railroad engines, and some farm tractors consume 20 percent of the crude oil. The petrochemical industry uses 11.5 percent of the crude oil and that percentage goes up every year. Soon it should be illegal to burn oil so that we can save it for a future petrochemical industry. Over eight percent of the oil is burned for industrial fuel. The highly refined jet fuel for air transport consumes 7.6 of the oil. Heat and power generation uses another 7.3 percent. To meet increasing severe enviornmental regulations, more and more oil-burning (and coal burning) power plants are being changed to natural gas. Water transport (mainly for shipping on the Great Lakes and coastal water ways) consumes 2.7 percent of the oil.

It is interesting to note that there has been a nuclear power subsidy equivalent to about $5 per barrel on imported oil that has been used to help support the nuclear power industry. No nuclear power plant in the U.S. has lasted as long as its design goal. Plants designed for 40 years of operation have been closed down from 11 to 35 years after startup. If we assume that the cost of building the plants is paid for during the life time of electrical power production, the cleanup costs of a decommissioned nuclear power plant is using two to three times the cost of its construction. The costs of packaging, transporting, and storing the high-level nuclear wastes (the spent fuel pellets of contaminated uranium) is estimated at $30 to $60 billion. The amount of spent fuel pellets is estimated to be from 30,000 to 40,000 metric tons. These spent fuel pellets are stored at 107 reactor sites in the U.S. According to one estimate made by a DOE contracting agency, it would cost $2500 per kg per year to handle and store these wastes. Using the figure of 30,000 metric ton or 30,000,000 kg of wastes would equate to an annual cost of $75 billion per year.

At the rate of $75 billion per year, that amount of funds would purchase (at a high 10 cents per kWhr) 750 billion kWhrs of electrical power. In 1994 the U.S. produced 3,326,250,000,000 or 3,326 billion kWhrs of electrical power. This cleanup cost for useless decommissioned power plants is equivalent to about 23 percent of the total cost of electrical power. (If we used a more conservative 5 cents per kilowatt hour then the spent-fuel-pellet storage costs would equal almost half of the amount of electrical power produced in the U.S. in 1994.) That figure does not include the cleanup costs for the highly contaminated nuclear plant structure itself. The conclusion is that the nuclear power industry has been a monetary and environmental tragedy.

However, now comes new technology to the rescue. The several ways that have been discovered to create low-energy nuclear reactions (especially with plasma-injected transmutation) appear to have great promise. It is expected that with modest funding (say $10 million) that one or more of these technologies can be commercialized for on-site stabiliation of high-level radioactive wastes. The problem is to convince the advisors to the Department of Energy of the viability of such technologies. That is not a scientific problem.

An essay could be written about how to marshall the political clout to get a few dollars of DOE funds allocated to this important contribution to a cleaner, better world.

Figure 1, Bar Charts: Sources of US Energy

Crude Oil:       40%

Nat. Gas:        25%

Coal:            23%

Renewable:       12%

Figure 2, Bar Charts: Oil Consumption by Use

Personal Vehicles:       33.0%

Trucking:                20.0%

Petrochemicals:          11.5%

Industrial Heat:          8.3%

Air Transportation:       7.6%

Heat and Power:           7.3%

Water Transport:          2.7

Other:                    8.1%

Courtesy of John Pardau

Carrie Peyton (staff writer), "Energy Ideas Debated at Hearing on U.S. Plan," The Sacrametno Bee, Feb 14, 1998,


"Affordable and abundant energy" is crucial for the economy, the environment and national security, said Ernest Moniz, Under Secretary for the Department of Energy. Moniz met with the public to obtain comments on a draft of a national energy strategy. A retired executive from General Electric assured everyone that "...the only practical, available means to meet the coming world energy needs is nuclear energy," said Betram Wolfe, a Bay Area nuclear consultant. "Neither fission nor fusion are clean, and they are not inexpensive," countered Winifred Detwiler, present of the Sacramento Peace Action group. Backers of nuclear power do not want money spent on fuel cells. Coal interests think the emphasis on oil is wrong. Paul Craig of the Sierra Club's national energy committee pleaded for national energy leadership by DOE. The sad part of the story is that the DOE appears incapable of recognizing new energy technologies when presented to them.

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Apr. 7, 1998.