Tuesday, October 20, 2009

LNG and Gas Pipeline Requirements:

Nuclear is Not Alone

Sometimes, to hear the stark projections, you might think that nuclear power plants are the only energy systems that will require large amounts of construction materials, or that have limited numbers of suppliers. Since most of us focus more on one technology than on another, we may not be aware that other technologies have real needs, too.

I attended a very interesting presentation at the Canadian Embassy recently by Jason Tolland, Counsellor for Environment and Energy at the Embassy. The audience was a group of MIT alumna/ae and the topic was the Canadian-US energy relationship. Naturally, there was considerable discussion of Canada as a significant source of uranium, particularly for the US. But the majority of the discussion covered Canada’s role as a source of oil and gas. Since this was an area that was less familiar to me, I learned a number of interesting facts from his talk. The facts emphasized to me that the supply issues associated with nuclear power also exist for other technologies.

Perhaps the two most important takeaway points were the following:

• Liquified natural gas (LNG), considered an attractive source of energy for some applications, requires storage in large tanks. To my surprise, I learned that there are only two companies in the world that can supply the tanks. That sounds an awful lot like the case for large reactor pressure vessels, doesn’t it?

• Even more surprisingly, to me, is what he told us about the planned 1220 kilometer MacKenzie natural gas pipeline from the Northwest Territories. He noted that the total steel requirement for that pipeline would exceed the annual world production of steel. Of course, it wouldn't be built in one year, but that's still a staggering amount of steel, and is bound to have an impact on availability and prices of steel for other purposes.

Although natural gas is a fossil fuel, its greenhouse gas emissions are considerably less than those of coal or oil, so natural gas and LNG can be expected to be used in the future at least as much as they are at present, and most likely, more, as we transition to lower-emitting fuels. Therefore, the demands of these options should be of interest to all of us. Of course, as I expect to be the case for reactor pressure vessels, one would hope that rising demand would spur an increase in supply. Nevertheless, there is certainly a potential, both for the growth of these energy sources to be slowed, and, more importantly, for them to have impacts on other energy supply technologies—and indeed, on any large construction needs.

One further comment from Jason Tolland is of interest, particularly for the nuclear community. When he showed graphs of the energy sources for electricity supply, he noted that Canada considered that most of its electricity was produced using renewable resources. He commented that, unlike the United States, when Canada uses the term renewables, they include nuclear power and hydroelectricity.

Now, there's an interesting idea!

1 comment:

  1. Dr Marcus,

    I certainly wasn't in the room to hear Jason Tolland, but I can assure you there aren't very many people in Canada that think nuclear energy is renewable. The Canadian government has made a committment to have 90 percent of Canada's electricity generated by non-emitting sources by 2020. Naturally, nuclear falls under the non-emitting category. But they haven't called it renewable.

    Interestingly, things like trash burning usually fall under the renewable category. I suppose if the DUPIC fuel cycle were to be commercialized, Canada could run its CANDUs for a long time on LWR waste from the US, reducing the need for a permanent repository in the US in the near term (Canada couldn't burn it all), and earning Canada's reactors the distinction of being the first renewable nuclear program in the world.
    I doubt if it would be economic though, unless uranium prices rose substantially.