Cattle industry poised to lead the way to a cooler Earth

April 16, 2024, 3:04PMNuclear NewsJames Conca
Methane emissions from cows are surprisingly important as a greenhouse gas. (Photo: Martin Abegglen)

In discussing how to counter global warming, it’s pretty easy to argue that nuclear should be the major electricity source and heat producer to replace fossil fuels. At 6 grams per kilowatt-hour, it has the lowest carbon emissions of any energy source, according to the United Nations, and is objectively the safest form of energy for humans and the environment alike, again from a recent UN report.

Can uranium extraction from seawater make nuclear power completely renewable?

February 20, 2024, 11:52AMNuclear NewsJames Conca
Researchers have been working frantically to develop an array of materials and fibers to economically extract uranium from seawater—and they have succeeded. PNNL scientists exposed this special uranium-sorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. (Image: PNNL)

America, Japan, and China are racing to be the first nation to make nuclear energy completely renewable. The hurdle is making it economical to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium in seawater is truly inexhaustible.

While America had been in the lead with technological breakthroughs from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, researchers at Northeast Normal University in China have sprung ahead. But these breakthroughs from both countries have brought the removal of uranium from seawater within economic reach. The only question is when will the source of uranium for our nuclear power plants change from mined ore to sea­water extraction?

The 2024 Nuclear News Energy Quiz

January 19, 2024, 7:02AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Are you an energy genius? It’s hard to tell whether or not Americans are really aware of the energy that controls our lives, so the following quiz should be revealing. Click through the multiple-choice options below to reveal the answers. Most answers can be found in the pages of the 2023 issues of Nuclear News—if you’ve been a diligent NN reader you should do fine!

Scoring: Zero to five correct answers out of the 20 questions means you may need to read up on energy in order not to be at the mercy of others. Six to 10 correct answers is a good passing grade. Eleven to 15 right answers means you’re really energy literate. Sixteen to 19 correct answers means you should be advising Congress. Twenty right answers suggests you’re Mr. Spock reincarnated.

Atoms for Africa

December 18, 2023, 10:56AMNuclear NewsJames Conca
Africa is home to 1.5 billion people in 54 countries living on 12 million square miles. The economies of many of these countries are hobbled by a general dearth of energy that nuclear could solve without adding to the harm of global warming.

The World Nuclear Association and the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) last year signed a memorandum of understanding to encourage the use of nuclear energy in support of economic growth and sustainable energy development in Africa.

If we don’t decarbonize in time, do we have a Plan B?

November 22, 2023, 10:31AMNuclear NewsJames Conca
Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, as it began its cataclysmic eruption in 1991. Millions of tons of particulates were blown into the stratosphere, causing global cooling, similar to what solar geoengineering would do in a controlled way. (Photo: U.S. Geological Survey)

We’re failing.

We’re failing to decarbonize the world in any significant way. Global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and appear on track to continue rising until at least 2040—the result of energizing the developing world.

Washington state’s new nuclear energy caucus starts with a breath of fresh air

October 16, 2023, 9:15AMNuclear NewsJames Conca


It’s late March 2023, and freshman state Rep. Stephanie Barnard (R., 8th Dist.) moves quickly through the halls of the capitol building in Olympia, Wash. She enters a room packed with state legislators—both Democrats and Republicans—who are waiting for a meeting to begin.

The event is part of the recently formed Nuclear Energy Caucus, and the featured speaker is Carol Browner, director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under President Obama and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration. The meeting is a success, with animated discussion following Browner’s address.

50 minerals critical to our society

September 28, 2023, 7:15AMNuclear NewsJames Conca
Three of the USGS's critical minerals: (Left to right) A piece of native copper recovered by dissolution of the host rock (Photo: Jonathan Zander); A sample of praseodymium in a vial of argon (Photo: Jurii/Wikimedia Commons); A billet of high-enriched uranium that was recovered from scrap processed at the DOE’s Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn (Photo: DOE).

Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released its 2022 list of 50 minerals that are essential to the function of our society, especially the economy and national security. Whether it’s indium for LCD screens and aircraft wind shielding, cobalt for iPhones, uranium for nuclear reactors and munitions, rare earth elements for wind turbine magnets, lithium for rechargeable batteries, or tantalum for electronic components, if we do not have an ample supply, bad things will happen.

A conversation with Grace Stanke, Miss America 2023

August 24, 2023, 12:06PMNuclear NewsJames Conca

“I see nuclear energy as the obvious path forward, and it confuses me as to why everybody else doesn’t. That’s the primary goal with my Miss America policy platform of ‘clean energy, cleaner future.’”

Recently I sat down with Grace Stanke, the current Miss America and a student at the University of Wisconsin in nuclear engineering exploring subjects like nuclear fuel enrichment and reactor performance (as well as being a virtuoso violinist, for good measure).

This year she’s touring the country advocating for clean energy in a cleaner future and for America to reach net zero with the help of nuclear power, while correcting misconceptions and improving communication about nuclear science and encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers.

We talked just after she had finished visiting the Hanford Site while she was on her way to appear at Town Hall Seattle at the request of grassroots pronuclear group Friends of Fission Northwest. I was impressed with the depth of her knowledge and her ability to communicate difficult issues in a concise manner that didn’t require any deep background to understand. I mean, who knows the intricacies of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant? I was tempted to ask her to run for president.

When wind doesn’t hold water: The Pacific Northwest’s unusual grid

May 12, 2023, 7:08AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Washington state has trouble on the horizon—trouble with its electrical grid. Trouble as in not being reliable. Trouble as in big risks of rolling blackouts.

The trouble stems from attempts to decarbonize our society. Getting rid of coal, oil, and gas in generating electricity is the low-hanging fruit, but just getting rid of them without a realistic plan to replace them will do more harm than good.

The 2023 Nuclear News energy quiz

January 11, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Are you an energy genius? It’s hard to tell whether or not Americans are really aware of the energy that controls our lives, so the following quiz should be revealing. Click through the multiple-choice options below to reveal the answers.

Scoring: Zero to five correct answers out of the 23 questions means you may need to read up on energy so you’re not at the mercy of others. A score of 6 to 10 correct answers is a good passing grade. Answer 11 to 15 correctly, and you’re really energy literate. Getting 16 to 19 correct means you should be advising Congress. Twenty or more right answers suggests you’re Spock reincarnated.

Nuclear waste disposal—What choice do we really have?

November 22, 2022, 6:50AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Taking waste into outer space would require quite large vehicles, like the Saturn 5 rocket shown here carrying the Apollo 14 crew to the moon. A huge fireball forms underneath the rocket . . . hmm, would that be wise? (Source: NASA)

Nuclear waste disposal presents a frustrating problem far beyond its actual danger. No one has ever been harmed by commercial nuclear waste, and no one is likely to ever be harmed.

But we do have to find a final resting place for nuclear waste as it decays away back to the levels of the ore from which it came.

There are several types of nuclear waste: low-­level waste (LLW), intermediate-­level waste (ILW), transuranic waste (TRU; referring only to bomb waste without a lot of ­cesium-­137 or strontium-­90), high-­level waste (HLW; also only bomb waste), and spent nuclear fuel (SNF; from commercial power plants only). In the United States, TRU waste, HLW, and SNF require deep geologic disposal by law.

Vit Plant delayed: Another defeat for cleaning up nuclear waste at Hanford

September 19, 2022, 12:37PMNuclear NewsJames Conca

The Hanford tanks, on which building began in 1943, were never supposed to hold waste for many decades. If grouting and disposal had occurred according to plans from the 1980s, this waste would already be in the ground and we would have saved almost $100 billion. (Photo: DOE)

At the end of June, a federal judge approved, with the agreement of the Washington State Department of Ecology, a request to push back the deadline 20 months for beginning nuclear waste treatment at the $17 billion Waste Treatment and Immobilization (Vit) Plant at the Hanford Site because of pandemic-related delays. The Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste program is the Department of Energy’s plan to start treating low-level radioactive waste first at the Vit Plant and then start treating high-level radioactive waste sometime in the 2030s.

This is the fifth delay granted by the court for the project, which should have begun operations in 2007. In one sense, this delay is good, since turning LLW into glass through vitrification is about as smart as singing into the wind. The chemistry of this waste makes it much better suited to grouting, a treatment used by everyone else in the United States and the world.

The United States Navy: The unsung heroes of nuclear power

August 2, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear NewsJames Conca
America’s nuclear navy presently has 86 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. All of them, and their predecessors over the last 60 years, have performed flawlessly, protecting America as well as their crews. Here, the nuclear submarine USS Seawolf leads the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the conventionally powered Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Oonami DD 111 during exercises in 2009. (Photo: United States Navy)

Just this last April, President Biden officially commissioned the USS Delaware, a new Virginia-­class nuclear attack submarine, the 18th built in that class and the eighth and final Block III Virginia-­class submarine. (The Delaware was administratively commissioned in April 2020, but the COVID-­19 pandemic caused delay of the ceremony for two years.)