Monthly Archives: January 2013

Nuclear reactor for efficient conversion of Tar Sands

I have said for years that Canada would eventually use nuclear energy to process the tar sands. It looks like Toshiba is going to make it happen. Converting tar sand to useful oil takes a lot of energy. Since there’s lots of tar on site, that’s the source of energy. A significant fraction of the energy in the tar goes into processing instead of into the consumer’s gas tank. Putting a nuclear reactor on site means that the processing energy comes from uranium instead. In some sense, it’s a conversion of uranium energy into hydrocarbon energy.

Of course, from a climate standpoint, it could be better. We could convert uranium energy (or solar energy!) into converting carbon dioxide into fuel instead of converting tar sand into fuel. But tar sand is a much more concentrated carbon source than the atmosphere.

What I think it really interesting is the funding model. Buy a nuclear reactor and plug it into your plant. That saves energy so you don’t have to burn your fuel on site. That frees up fuel for sale which pays for the reactor. How long before countries without tar sands figure it’s worth their money to convert other resources (e.g. biomass, municipal waste, natural gas) to fuel?