The Tale of Two Power Plants

There are two power plants in Nebraska that vividly illustrate the difference between coal and nuclear power, as explained on pages 38 and 39 of Terrestrial Energy.

Terrestial Energy“Let us look at how this works in real life. The North Omaha Power Plant in Omaha,Nebraska, produces 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity, about one-fifth of the power needed to run the city. Every three days, a 110-car unit train arrives, each car is loaded with 125 tons of coal. One car produces twenty minutes of electricity. The plant occupies more than two square miles—much of it needed to store the mountains of coal.

Each day’s consumption of 4,500 tons of coal at North Omaha will combine with atmospheric oxygen to form 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide…Across the country, America has 600 similar coal plants that provide half our electricity and put 3 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year—10 percent of the world’s total. This is the greatest single source of global greenhouse gases on the planet.

About thirty miles south of Omaha lies the Cooper Nuclear Station on the banks of the Missouri River. The plant occupies two square miles, slightly less than the coal station. Every eighteen months, a single tractor-trailer arrives carrying several dozen bundles of 18-foot nuclear fuel rods. These rods are only mildly radioactive and can be handled safely with gloves. They are loaded into the reactor core, where they will undergo nuclear fission for three years. After the fuel rods are spent, they will be removed from the reactor core looking exactly as they did when they went in, except they will be highly radioactive. They can be stored in a 40-foot-deep, on-site “swimming pool,” where their radioactivity dissipates in six feet of water. There, they can remain for decades. After three years, when the radioactivity has dropped by half, they may be moved to nearby outdoor dry casks. There they may remain for almost a century. The Cooper Station produces no sulfur emissions, no mercury, no soot, no particulate matter, no ash, no slag, and no greenhouse gases. And it does produce more electricity than North Omaha—750 MW.

Terrestrial [(nuclear)] energy is something completely new in human history, qualitatively different from anything we get from the sun. That is why there has been such a lag in public understanding. Solar energy, in its many forms, has accustomed us to the idea that using energy must create huge environmental impacts, either by polluting or by occupying vast tracts of land. Terrestrial energy is so highly concentrated that it can provide us with enormous amounts of energy while barely leaving a trace. Combined with the contributions of solar power, terrestrial energy offers us the opportunity to power the world while eliminating all manners of environmental degradation.”

So there are the advantages of nuclear; no ash, no soot, no mercury, no exhaust!


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