Nuclear power – a solution for a sustainable future?

I want to write about this subject because of a talk by a science professor that I heard a few weeks ago. He was talking about his vision for the future and how that future would look like concerning the CO2-problem and sustainability. According to him nuclear power should be used in order to be able to produce the electricity that will be demanded for in the future. Solar and wind options will not be able to succeed in producing enough energy for the future.

Solar based power and wind based power could never become a viable option to fulfill the world’s demand for energy. Their efficiency is limited, based on physical laws. I can partly agree with that. At the moment, the efficiency of commercial PV-panels is about 15%. At the other hand, the efficiency of PV-panels is increasing and a lot of research is done to improve the technology (see fig. 1).

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Fig. 1: Efficiency of PV-panels

The results of these tests have to be proven outside the laboratory, but the developments go fast. Another solar based option is to build large fields of PV-panels on empty fields, on empty land in industrial areas, on contaminated soil (examples of PV-fields in former coal-mining areas), floating on lakes or water reservoirs (e.g. at horticulture sites: http://www.valksolarsystems.nl/projecten). In this way, a sustainable option for electricity production is combined with other functions, a multi-functional approach; or contaminated areas can be of some use. We have to look for much more of those options to reach a sustainable future.

The efficiency of wind turbines nowadays is much higher than those 15-20 years ago. More is known also about the problems concerning turbines and possible methods to tackle many of those problems (noise pollution is almost decreased to zero). Next to the turbines on land, the option for turbines at sea came into the picture. That seems a good development.

A sustainable energy system has to be based on multiple technologies: wind and solar power, biomass, hydropower, etc. We all know that the wind and sun cannot produce energy constantly. Therefore, there is need for back-up power or storage capacity. A viable option seems the combination with hydrogen production. A gas that can be stored and used in a later phase to produce electricity. Another option: a large lake in two levels, so water can be pumped up when there is excess of electricity. In moments that wind or sun cannot produce electricity, the water can run down via a turbine and produce electricity via that technology.

Going back to the nuclear power option. I tried to indicate that I believe the efficiency of wind and sun can be improved further. One thing I know about nuclear power is that there is a huge problem with nuclear waste after electricity production. If it is stated that, according to physics, PV-panels can never reach high efficiencies, for sure the physical laws have also to be taken into account when proposing a nuclear solution. We have to keep in mind the physical aspect of ‘half-life’ (fig. 2). The use of nuclear power produces nuclear waste that has a considerable half-life and we do not have a proper way to deal with that waste. The best option we came up with, at the moment, is underground storage. Thereby, hoping that the caverns can store the waste without leakages or other disasters. But, we do not know what will happen in so many years: does the underground storage last forever, do people in centuries or millennia from now recognize  the symbols we have used, can they tackle leakage or misuse?

Isotope Percent in natural uranium Half-Life (in years)
Uranium-238 99.284 4.46 billion
Uranium-235 0.711 704 million
Uranium-234 0.0055 245,000
Plutonium-239 24,110
Plutonium-240 6560

Source: Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, ‘Uranium, its uses and hazards’; Factsheets, posted on December, 2011; Last modified May, 2012 (http://ieer.org/resource/factsheets/uranium-its-uses-and-hazards/) + Wikipedia, ‘Radioactive waste’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste#Physics)

Fig. 2: Half-life of some uranium and plutonium isotopes

I would opt for a sustainable future in which I do not see a role for nuclear power. We have to focus on other sources and invest and research more in solar, wind, hydro, etc. I think our future will be a combination of centralized, sustainable solutions (wind turbine parks, hydro power plants, CSP/PV-fields, etc.) and decentralized sustainable solutions (local production with sun, wind, hydro, etc.). Sustainability deals with the here and now, but also with there and later. We have to keep in mind the generations that come after us.

The Oil Traders’ Word(S): Oil Trading Jargon

Stuck for words?

A book review by Nicholas Newman of Stefan van Woenzel new book ‘The Oil Traders’ Word(S): Oil Trading Jargon’.

Sometimes, you can be at a meeting and you have no idea what they are talking about. This is especially the case with the specialised technical business dialect used by oil traders. For instance, do you know what ‘AAA’, ‘going long’ or even ‘lay days’ means?


You will need to know at least some of these terms when you are involved in sending crude oil from Brazil to Germany via a large oil tanker across the Atlantic to Rotterdam, where it is refined and the resultant products are barged up the Rhine to a terminal in Frankfurt.

Well, AAA in this case does not stand for the American Automobile Association but Stefan van Woenzel defines ‘AAA’ as the American Arbitration Association, which provides recognised independent arbitration services between clients.

As for ‘going long’ it’s not some cricket term, but the purchase of a commodity like crude for storage, supplies or speculation.

However, ‘lay days’ means the period of time described in the charter party during which time the owner must tender his ship for loading.

I will leave you to read the book to find out what ‘charter parties’ mean.

This book includes various oil terms and definitions derived from day to day experience for general trading, paper trading, risk, logistics, refinery, oil documentation, HSE, oil traders words of wisdom and conversion formulas. Well, this book provides you with a good clearly written definition of what  are these terms and many others mean.

This new book “The Oil Traders’ Word(s): Oil Trading Jargon” by Stefan van Woenzel, Lead Negotiator Crude at Statoil ASA, provides you with more than 2000 most commonly used oil trading related definitions.

As for his‘old traders words of wisdom’, I especially liked ‘sell in May and stay away’. Since most traders decide to go away on holiday in May, leaving fewer trading opportunities to participate in. Whilst, ‘I am a student of the market and my job is to learn’ means that since the market is always evolving, you need to be constantly learning to keep ahead of the game.

Stefan van Woenzel, book is designed as a communication aid to allow people involved in the global oil trading world including oil traders, operators, contract personnel, claims departments, controllers, storage people, shipping agents, oil brokers, energy journalist’s, regulators and policy makers, et cetera to communicate clearly, effectively, efficiently and precisely.

Hopefully, this book should help avoid some of the recent notorious trading losses that some traders have experienced in the past few years.

In addition, I especially appreciated the practical career advice; Stefan provides in his foreword to the book, he advises traders who are seeking to be successful, to get out of the office. They need to promote themselves by networking, not only at stuffy business meetings, dinners and conferences, but by also getting out in the real world and participating in a sport like golf or sailing with colleagues, customers and rivals. As an energy journalist and consultant of some years’ experience, I have gained many opportunities from playing golf or sailing with industry clients.

This book is available in both hardback, paperback  and  e-book format. The author warns that this book is not meant to be used as legal documentation related to commercial or operational decisions.

Overall, I found this a very useful book, which I will recommend to my colleagues in the energy game, whether they are traders, academics or fellow energy journalists.

Price £24-95

  • · Paperback: 560 pages
  • · Publisher: AuthorHouseUK (29 Jun 2012)
  • · Language: English
  • · ISBN-10: 1468586041
  • · ISBN-13: 978-1468586046
  • · Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.1 x 22.9 cm
  • · http://www.oiljargon.com/index.html