- Canadian Scientist and environmentalist Dr. Patrick Moore explains why the world should go nuclear. (10.03.2008) Video courtesy CorpCinema, Edited by: Darlene Creamer (3.49 MB)
South Africa’s pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) has been hailed as revolutionary by Canadian scientist and environmentalist Dr Patrick Moore. “The PBMR is one of the most exciting developments in technology today, not just in energy, but in the history of technology,” asserts Moore, who, for nine years, was president of Greenpeace Canada and, for seven, was a director of Greenpeace International.
“[This is] because the high-temperature helium cycle that it is proposing will change the face of energy on earth. This reactor is going to be able to do things that conventional reactors and conventional energy supplies have not been able to do.”
The PBMR will be able to be used to produce electricity, steam (for process heat), hydrogen, and to desalinate water. Basically, the same PBMR can be used for any of these applications. “It’s a fantastic piece of equipment that will probably revolutionise much of our society in terms of the efficiency with which we can do things we can’t do now, with the existing machinery that we have,” he enthuses.
“All the people in the nuclear world are watching this with great anticipation, because it is extremely exciting,” reports Moore. “It is going to be a very important pro-duct for South Africa when it comes to fruition, which it almost certainly will.”
Moore supports nuclear power precisely because he is an environmentalist. “The world should go nuclear because there aren’t really a lot of alternatives if we want to reduce [the use of] fossil fuels for the production of our energy in the form of electricity,” he points out.
“The other alternative is hydroelectric power and some countries do have further reserves of hydro-electric: China, Canada, Brazil. But most countries either don’t have a lot of hydroelectric potential or have already tapped out and developed all the existing potential that’s avail-able to them.”
As a result, to generate baseload electricity, most countries have the choice of either fossil fuels or nuclear power. “As an environmentalist, and someone concerned about both climate change and human health, I think nuclear is superior, because it doesn’t produce greenhouse gases and it doesn’t produce air pollution in the same way that fossil fuel combustion does,” he argues.
“So, from purely environmental grounds, it is clear to me that nuclear is the correct choice in terms of the technology that we should be using to produce our energy.” Moore’s position is that the issue is not that humanity is consuming too much electricity, but that the electricity is being produced with the wrong technology, requiring fossil fuels.
As for the issue of nuclear waste, that is much misunderstood. “First, nuclear waste is not all waste,” he explains. “It’s called spent nuclear fuel or used nuclear fuel by the indus- try for a reason – because, actually, most of it is reusable energy in the form of uranium and plutonium and, if we recycle our used nuclear fuel, we expand the amount of fuel the world has by up to ten times.”
In recycling, the uranium and plutonium are separated out from the spent nuclear fuel, leaving behind the real nuclear waste, known as fission products. The uranium and plutonium can then be reused as fuel in nuclear reactors. Recycling nuclear fuel has been done by both Britain and France for many years now.
“France has pioneered the way in which to dispose of the true waste, the fission products,” cites Moore. This is done by inserting the fission products in glass. The glass is melted and the fission products are mixed in; the mixture is then cooled down, embedding the fission pro-ducts.
The resolidified glass is then encased in steel and concrete and put down into an underground silo, to be kept in a controlled and monitored situation for 300 years. “At the end of this time, all the radiation has decayed,” he elucidates. “That’s why we don’t want to bury all of the used nuclear fuel because the plutonium in it has a half life of 24 000 years, which means it is nearly a quarter of a million years before it has com-pletely decayed.”
Using plutonium as a nuclear fuel generates energy and converts the plutonium into fission products which, again, will decay completely into nonradioactive isotopes in about 300 years. “France has been doing this for over 30 years,” he highlights. “This type of technology, recycling, will become the norm in the nuclear industry around the world in the future.”