Yet more from MacKay (p.161):
The mass of the fossil fuels consumed by “the average British person” is about 16 kg per day (4 kg of coal, 4 kg of oil, and 8 kg of gas). That means that every single day, an amount of fossil fuels with the same weight as 28 pints of milk is extracted from a hole in the ground, transported, processed, and burned somewhere on your behalf. The average Brit’s fossil fuel habit creates 11 tons per year of waste carbon dioxide; that’s 30 kg per day. In the previous chapter we raised the idea of capturing waste carbon dioxide, compressing it into solid or liquid form, and transporting it somewhere for disposal. Imagine that one person was responsible for capturing and dealing with all their own carbon dioxide waste. 30 kg per day of carbon dioxide is a substantial rucksack-full every day – the same weight as 53 pints of milk!
In contrast, the amount of natural uranium required to provide the same amount of energy as 16 kg of fossil fuels, in a standard fission reactor,
is 2 grams; and the resulting waste weighs one quarter of a gram. (This 2g of uranium is not as small as one millionth of 16 kg per day, by the way, because today’s reactors burn up less than 1% of the uranium.) To deliver 2 grams of uranium per day, the miners at the uranium mine would have to deal with perhaps 200 g of ore per day.
So the material streams flowing into and out of nuclear reactors are small, relative to fossil-fuel streams. “Small is beautiful,” but the fact that
the nuclear waste stream is small doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem; it’s just a “beautifully small” problem.
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