Environmental Engineering Reference
In-Depth Information
electrolysis of water with electricity from a nuclear power plant is not
economical, the waste heat from these plants may be high enough to
generate hydrogen by the thermochemical decomposition of water into
hydrogen and oxygen. Thermochemical water splitting at temperatures
above 750°C could provide a 40 to 50% efficiency in hydrogen produc-
tion and the cogeneration of electricity might raise the overall efficiency
to 60%. The DOE has been investigating thermochemical hydrogen pro-
duction with nuclear power. Their goal is a demonstration of commer-
cial production by 2015. Nuclear generated hydrogen could be a prac-
tical solution, with about 100 nuclear water splitting plants supplying
hydrogen for fuel cell generators.
Nuclear power is now cheaper than fossil fuels, but there are con-
cerns about safety, environmental health and terrorism. The problems in
the long-term of radioactive wastes can be resolved and nuclear power
shown as a safe and economical source of hydrogen to attract the invest-
ment capital to build 100 new plants. Modular plants similar to those
used in France would greatly improve safety and licensing issues. Hy-
drogen would probably be generated from nuclear power plants away
from urban areas so there would be infrastructure costs for delivering
the hydrogen.
Nuclear fission power plants were at one time thought to be the an-
swer to diminishing fossil fuels. Although the enriched uranium fuel was
also limited, an advanced nuclear reactor called breeders would be able to
produce more radioactive fuel, in the form of plutonium, than consumed.
This would make plutonium fuel renewable. Although plutonium has
been called one of the most toxic elements known, it is similar to other
radioactive materials and requires careful handling since it can remain ra-
dioactive for thousands of years.
Conventional nuclear reactors and advanced breeder reactors were
America's primary energy strategy since the 1950s to resolve the fossil
fuel problem but when a reactor accident occurred in 1979 at Three Mile
Island in Pennsylvania, public and investor confidence in nuclear fission
dropped. The accident was triggered by the failure of a feedwater pump
that supplied water to the steam generators. The backup feedwater pumps
were not connected to the system as required, which caused the reactor to
heat up. The safety valve then failed to act which allowed a radioactive
water and gas leak. This was the worst nuclear power accident in the U.S.,
but in this accident no one was killed and no one was directly injured. At
Three Mile Island faulty instrumentation gave incorrect readings for the
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