2006-04-23

The secret of Korea's success, nuclear energy?

Of course, there are many secrets for Korea's economic miracle, a few where they did a lot better than Taiwan.

Lee Yuan-tseh, nobel prize winner, cannot compromise ideology and pseudoscience to what he knows, so he finally spoke out in favour of Nuclear Plant #4, albeit a few years late he was.

What are the issues about nuclear energy?
  • It is cleaner, emits less CO2 than fossil fuel
  • It can last millions of years for human being, fossil fuel last for a thousand at most, some said a couple hundred or less
  • It is safe, given proper management practice
  • We still have the opportunity to replace nuclear power with more natural energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal, vegetable oil, ethanol, etc. Though the only candidate that can generate enough energy to replace fossil fuel cleanly are probably solar, and nuclear fusion.
  • For more see here
What has Korea done that is different, see charts below.
Total Fuel Percentage by Nuclear Power

Percentage Electricity Generated by Nuclear Power

Now see where China is at the chart, think about the soaring demand and price recently. China should have built a lot more nuclear power plants in the 1980s and 1990s. I have no idea why such a crucial and strategic issue has been overlooked all these years. Someone need to be held responsible. Perhaps that person is Li Peng, who let his educational background (hydroelectric power) biased a more rational debate and decision making process.

Related: An excellent account of Chernobyl aftermath by Elena Filatova. Equipped with a Geiger counter, she travelled through the ghost towns near Chernobyl, in Ukraine and Bylorussia, giving you lessons on alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Meanwhile, tons of pitctures on the area today, and the 'frozen' pictures inside the Soviet era apartments of 1986. Some said it is an exxaggerated (or frauded) account, but the phtotos are still amazing and I found her narrative (whether she travelled there in tour group or motorbike does not really matter) credible.
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13 comments:

Siegfried said...

the major concerns of using nuclear energy are still:
1. how to handle the nuclear waste safely
2. how to ensure the management is reliable enough
3. safety measures in case of an accident

i guess only when the price of fossil fuels is high enough, people will reluctantly consider nuclear energy as a major power source.

Sun Bin said...

thanks for stopping by.

well, proper management should mean that the chance of accident will be very minimum. e.g. so far, out of so many plants operated through the years, all we have heard of is Three Miles Is and Chenobyl. but i agree with you that management and strict safety standard is important. transparent information release will also help the management to become more disciplined. that is why mega-disaster such as chenobyl only occurred in 'non-democratic' countries.

as for waste management, so far there has not been major problem. a few remote areas in russia (or sahara desert) should be designated for waster disposal.

but for the problem in taiwan (and mainland china as well), management could indeed be an issue, though not insurmountable.

Anonymous said...

American and European nuclear power has a PERFECT safety record insofar as loss of human life.
More people die from coal, gas, & oil every year than die from nuclear power reactors here in the US & Europe. Additional improvements in computer control systems of nuclear power have not only made them safe enough for reactor operators to "fall asleep" or "be like Homer Simpson", but have made electricity generated from nuclear power as cheap as coal.
Next generation nuclear power plants may be like integrated coal gasification power plants that produce not only electricity, but also natural gas.
Some may remember the "hydrogen bubble" generated in TMI's reactor 2.

Next gen nuclear power plants will be designed to produce "hydrogen" safely and cheaply. Far safer and far cheaper than IGC power plants. After all, the nuclear radiation will efficiently break the hydogen oxygen bond in a very cheap raw material - water.

Based on the unreasonable actions of Congress though, I suspect these nextgen nuclear power plants may well be built in India or China first.

Siegfried said...

to anon: the actions of Congress are very reasonable! they dun wanna upset their major sponsors!

to sun bin: i trust the plants which are run by europeans and japanese, but sadly not those run by chinese.

88 said...

The main problem with nuclear power is that when something goes wrong, you have a major disaster on your hands. Nuclear power is like flying in a plane: statistically it is very safe (number of accidents is low), but when an accident does happen, you're dead. Anyway, there are pros and cons. Check out some of the cons here: http://www.pixelpress.org/chernobyl/index.html Warning: very disturbing.

Sun Bin said...

siefreid: well, things changes and people progress and learn. what is true 20 years ago may not be true today, or in future.

88: agree. but even on chernobyl, there is controversy on the real damage

Sun Bin said...

88: here is the dark side of Chernobyl, photo taken by a Ukranian girl.

Anonymous said...

Wow, these web sites are truly disturbing. Eveyone really needs to see these. They have changed my mind about nuclear energy, and reminded me the importance of getting rid of nuclear weapons world wide.

88 said...

SB, thanks for the link. Slate has another photo/audio essay up about Chernobyl -- very disturbing again... http://www.slate.com/ I think most people aren't aware of the incredible damage that was done there.. I wasn't.

Sun Bin said...

Well, I tend to look at Chernobyl as an isolated incidence. Many things have gone wrong on Chernobyl.

However, We should not change our view on nuclear energy because of Chernobyl. Instead, we should learn the lesson and avoid the mistakes the Russian made. Future nuclear power plant should probably be located far from population centres, because now it is much cheaper to distribute electric via grids.

Even for Chernobyl, you can see the cup as half empty or half full. The optimistic side is that the area around it appears to be quite normal these days, wildlives thrive. I like Elena Filatova's site because it gives you the real picture of what it looks like today. I wish she also does it in the spring and summer, when there are leaves on the trees.

Sun Bin said...

Annette Lu is making more sense these days. She is standing by Lee YT.

I didn't know that DPP has made anti-nuclear power plant into its party articles. How ignorant they are, sigh.

Michael Turton said...

the major concerns of using nuclear energy are still:
1. how to handle the nuclear waste safely
2. how to ensure the management is reliable enough
3. safety measures in case of an accident

i guess only when the price of fossil fuels is high enough, people will reluctantly consider nuclear energy as a major power source.


You left out (4) -- the incredibly high cost of nukes. That is why construction ceased in the US, because the banks gave up on it in the early 1970s, long before the public did, due to its invariably negative return on investment. It is viable in the US only because of massive government subsidies, and for no other reason. We should instead be implementing wind, solar, and conservation on a massive scale -- what blows across North Dakota every year could supply 40% of US power needs.

American and European nuclear power has a PERFECT safety record insofar as loss of human life.

Clearly an absurd claim, as the nuclear power industry has been responsible for the deaths of 00s over the years. The whole process of mining, refining, transporting, and burning uranium fuel is murderous. The fact that the deaths are not easily identifiable does not mean that they are non-existent.

As for the DPP platform, the thought of the locals operating nuke plants gives me the willies. You only have to recall the covered-up radioactive rebar affair from the early 1990s to imagine how the local AEC would react to a problem. I look forward to the day when the thermal and nuke plants shut down, and everything in Taiwan is run on wind and solar and other renewables.

Michael

Sun Bin said...

yes, you are right in 'cost comparison'.
but investors do not always see far ahead.
cost of nuclear power plant is higher than those use oil in 1980s and 1990s.
with the oil price today, it is no longer true.

OTOH, the reason for low oil price in the 1980s was because of alternative energy (i.e. nuclear) in france, korea, japan, US, etc.

finally, a lot of the cost is in R&D. therefore, with more plants built, cost per plant (or per MW) will decrease sharply. (think DVD player)

---
re- other natural energy (wind, tide, HEP, etc): true, we should use them as much as possible. but so far only nuclear energy could provide the volume significant to reduce our demand for oil.
Not quite sure how your ND figure comes from? any source? i am not questioning the estimate, i just want to know how they define it. the question is: do we have the technology to convert such wind energy efficiently enough?

---
casualty in mining uranium: anon exaggerated. :) you have a point.
but this can be managed. think about the number of people dies in oil mining. (let alone the people died in coal mining in china -- and WV)
we need to compare relative 'cost'.

---
discipline/management in taiwan. i still believe people will learn. taiwan today is much less corrupted and more efficiently run than taiwan 10 years ago.
the other reason: the pressure from anti-nuclear pressure groups
(incl DPP). i think they are essential to monitor the quality/discipline of the power plants. i disagree with what they want, but i would donate for their activities.