The golden age of nuclear energy

During a recent discussion on a email list frequented by pro-nuclear activists, we were discussing possible advertising messages that we would like to see from nuclear companies or nuclear industry groups.

There is no way that any other fuel or power source can compete with uranium or thorium fission on anything close to a level playing field. The fuel is too darned compact, too darned cheap per unit of heat, and too darned clean (clean enough to power sealed submarines for goodness sake.)

A number of my friends and colleagues have tried to convince the communicators at companies who want to sell nuclear related products that they need to stop talking about how safe they are and start talking about all of the benefits that nuclear related technologies provide to human society. By our way of thinking, the fact of safety is pretty firmly established by any objective measure of the industry’s record. In addition, people have a right to assume that safety goes almost without saying – it is a fundamental starting point for any industrial endeavor.

Here are some of the truths that I think that the public should be hearing – repeatedly – about nuclear energy.

Can any other fuel drive a 9,000 ton submarine around the ocean for 14 years while using a fuel core that would fit under my office desk?

Can any other power source produce enough electricity for 24 x 7 living for more than a million people using about three truckloads of fuel delivered every 18-24 months?

Does any other power source have the potential for a 20 times improvement in fuel economy using already tested technology?

Is there any other reliable power source whose marginal cost of generation is significantly less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour?

Is there any other fuel source that can release 17 million BTUs of heat from a pellet that I can hold between my thumb and index finger?

Those messages may need some refinement, but they met with some approval among other pro-nuclear communicators. The challenge in getting them spread in venues that cost money to enter is that many “nuclear” companies are loathe to engage in comparative descriptions about energy source because they make as much (or more) money selling other products associated with natural gas, coal, oil, solar panels or wind turbines as they do selling nuclear related products and services.

On another topic, there is a new meme floating around based on a phrase used in a recent International Energy Agency report. That report includes a possible energy scenario called GAS, which is somehow shorthand for “Golden Age of Gas Scenario”. According to that scenario, natural gas continues to increase its share of the energy market from the current 21% to reach 25% in 2035. If you do a search for “golden age of natural gas” or “golden age of gas” you will see what I mean about it being a new energy industry meme.

One of the recent articles titled A golden age for natural gas?” appeared on the site of The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s premier news sources. Here is a sample quote:

However, according to the International Energy Agency, natural gas could play a much larger role in the world’s future energy mix as some countries veer away from the perceived dangers of nuclear energy after Japan’s crisis, and see it as a cheaper alternative to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The IEA has even come up with an acronym to describe the uptrend: GAS – as in, Golden Age of Gas Scenario (apparently, the G gets dropped).

“If the policy and market drivers of the GAS Scenario develop as projected, then gas would grow to more than a quarter of global energy demand by 2035,” Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of IEA, said in a release. “Surely that would qualify as a golden age.”

Y’all (I’m practicing the lingo in my new home state) would be disappointed in me if I let that kind of statement pass without a comment. I hate to disappoint people, so here is what I added to the growing and interesting thread.

It is no accident that ever malleable public opinion has turned against nuclear energy in the wake of an incredible natural disaster that wiped out a large swath of developed infrastructure along the northeast coast of Japan, killed more than 20,000 people and resulted in massive evacuations due to flooding and home destruction. As almost an aside, there were several nuclear power stations in the footprint of the earthquake and/or the path of the tsunami. One of those stations experienced enough trauma to its supporting power infrastructure that it was damaged after shutting down.

Of course, if you paid attention to the advertiser supported media, the events at the nuclear plant were far more scary and exciting than all of the other destruction and human tragedy unfolding. The Fukushima 50, who were exposed to low enough levels of radiation that they did not even experience any noticeable health effects more serious than a sunburn, were described as being on a suicide mission. These stories kept audiences glued to their hypnotic devices called televisions and kept those eyeballs available for sale to advertisers.

Surprise, surprise, but many of those advertisers were for competitive energy related products like NATURAL GAS, wind, solar and even coal. The purveyors of fuels or unreliable renewable alternatives to nuclear were chomping at the bit, hoping that something really bad would happen. Failing that, they figured they could blow the issues so out of proportion that the nuclear genie could be shoved back into its bottle for a few more years.

There is no way that any other fuel or power source can compete with uranium or thorium fission on anything close to a level playing field. The fuel is too darned compact, too darned cheap per unit of heat, and too darned clean (clean enough to power sealed submarines for goodness sake.) The only effective strategy for the established energy industry for maintaining and perhaps expanding their sales volume is the Tonya Harding strategy of using hired guns (in this case, the advertiser supported media) to kneecap their nuclear competitors.

Unfortunately, nuclear industry leaders are either as nice as Nancy Kerrigan or they are sleeper agents for the fossil fuel industry so they have not aggressively fought back against the focused attacks. I am not as nice and I certainly do not have any interest in expanding the use of dirty, explosive, flammable fossil fuels whose financial benefits end up in obscenely wealthy and powerful pockets.

This should be a golden age of nuclear energy. I will do everything I can to make it so.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

PS – If you happen to be in an airport or other place with a handy news stand, do me a favor and pick up a copy of the June 20, 2011 issue of National Review. Look for an article titled Nuclear Power After Fukushima. Let me know what you think.

About Rod Adams

69 Responses to “The golden age of nuclear energy”

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  1. ddpalmer says:

    “The IEA has even come up with an acronym to describe the uptrend: GAS – as in, Golden Age of Gas Scenario (apparently, the G gets dropped).”

    I think the G should be left in.

    GAGS sounds much more appropriate when comparing the pollution from burning natural gas to the pollution from nuclear fission.

    • Joffan says:

      Even better: take the acronym from “Golden Age of Natural Gas Scenario”, and you start to get worried about the fossil fuel GANGS.

  2. John Englert says:

    How about this for a message:

    Nuclear Energy: Someday (soon) the choice will be between no energy and nuclear energy…let’s not wait until we have to.

    ****************************************
    When it comes to nuclear safety, I’m not sure it’s necessarily about risk to health, but more so a risk to property values. If people were really that concerned with getting cancer, they would exercise more, eat healthier, stop smoking, etc. On the other hand, look at how much our national psyche has been impacted by the large drops in home values over the last couple of years. Tell someone that their lifetime cancer risk may have gone up slightly and they will probably shrug it off, but tell them that their property value just went to zero or they just lost their only means of making a living (farmers or fisherman) and just watch their spirits sink.

    • ddpalmer says:

      John I agree with you comments.

      But I think the problem is that people can control their own eating, exercise and smoking habits, even though many people don’t control themselves, but they don’t feel they have any control over a nearby nuclear plant.

      It is similar to someone who is afraid to fly in a plane but regularly drives long distances in their car. Statistically plane travel is much safer but in plane travel you give control to the pilot. While in driving your car you have the illusion of complete control.

      It is a perception issue and often times the perception, even when blatantly wrong, is more important to the public’s reaction than the actual reality is. So the nuclear industry has to deal with the perception to affect the public’s support for nuclear, while not losing sight of the reality.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        I think you’ve missed an important difference, there.

        The fuel charge of an LWR isn’t entirely fissile – in fact, it’s just 3% enriched. So, that means you’re a factor of 30 out.

        Working that back from your own numbers, that gives us something in the order of $80 million in a perhaps $3 billion dollar project – or about the 2% mark.

    • Andy Dawson says:

      And the cost of getting to the high enrichment levels required in the start-up charge for an MSBR would be considerably greater – even if we assume enrichment of the start up charge as low as 50%, in separative work terms, it’s about 16-fold the effort (and 30-fold for 90%).

      OK, in real terms, it’s likely to be delivered by a mix of reprocessed fuel (Pu), but any U235 content will have had to be enriched, so the economics are hardly likely to be especially favourable.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Andy,

        I was attempting to compare the fissile requirements of a fast breeder and a thermal breeder. I wasn’t talking about “conventional” once-through PWR’s.

        I was talking about the relative amount of fissile material needed, which is why I said “On top of that cost would be the conversion and enrichment costs to get the initial start charge into the desired state.”

        No final decisions have been made on what type of fissile start charge or the relative enrichment levels will be used in whichever breeder reactors will (hopefully) power our (that is, the world) medium-term future, as far as I know.

        The chemical composition and enrichment levels of the initial start charges will vary depending on the type of reactor and country, but some initial fissile start charge will be needed (excluding any accelerator-driven reactors) and that intial start charge will be higher for a fast spectrum reactor than for a thermal/epithermal spectrum reactor.

  3. Andy Dawson says:

    Hmmm….

    Let’s start with the message for the grown-ups.

    It’s no use pretending that Fukushima hasn’t hurt the nuclear industry, and hurt it very badly indeed.

    Japan was, in many ways, the exemplar that we’d have pointed to as “how to do it” – an excellent operational record, a track record of developing evolutionary designs each safer and better than the lst, and crucially, the ability to build plant on time and on budget.

    And now, for a good few years, they’ll not be building any more. If anything, they’ll be closing old stations.

    So, in terms of new build in the developed countries, we’ve lost our best reference case.

    Will that matter? Given that the parent firms of at least two of the strongest players in new build are at least partly dependent on the Japanese market, of course it will. Toshiba, and Hitachi are going to be preoccupied with local matters. Is Westinghouse strong enough to move forward with limited engagement from their corporate masters – I think so. Will GE-Hitachi be able to market the ESBWR, with it’s design heritage firmly based on the Fukushima plant – that’s a bigger question.

    Crudely, though, the nuclear renaissance in the developed world just slowed radically. Here in the UK, we’ll probably replace 8-10 GW of plant – but no more, simply because we can’t think what else to do. In the US, you’re back to the 1970s. Dithering regulators, pusilanimous politicians, legal delays…and don’t get me started on Germany and Italy. My only wish, at the moment, is that in twenty years a retired Angela Merkel is cursing the brownouts as the hypothermia induced by a Prussian winter closes in….

    However, we also need to face up to the fact that the world isn’t as it was – the developed economies don’t call all the shots any more. In the “BRIC” countries and the other rising stars, the picture is different. Many are authoritarian, with rulers less driven by public sentiment, and more by technocratic advice. Those that are democratic have a huge problem of reconciling massive growth in energy demand with limited resources, and greater buying power in the richer parts of the world.

    Which means, they’ll remain committed to nuclear. And committed on a scale which means that they’ll drive the economics of new construction.

    What will the costs of a “stretched” AP1400 look like with a “factory build” Chinese programme behind it look like? I’m hearing rumours of a 40% – yes, 40% – reduction in capital cost per MW compared to Areva or Westinghouse offers. We’ll see pre-assembled modules shipped worldwide – and construction times from first concrete to first power of 36 months. If you were an energy-hungry state like Chile, or South Africa, would you be tempted?

    Would a factory-build, modular BN600 fast reactor be much different? Rosenergoatom would love to be selling them, together with on-site fuel cycle facilities. How would that look to (say) India – especially adapted to breed on a thorium-U233 cycle?

    How attractive would a deal like the one KEPCO and Doosan put together for the UAE – finance, build, AND operate 5600MW for life – look to countries that have no local infrstructure? Don’t bet against the Saudis or Egypt going the same way.

    The chances are, with one or two honourable exceptions – the French won’t change course, and the Finns and Swedes seem to have “grown a pair” – other western countries will dither. We’ll take the soft option; make lots of noise about renewables, and build gas-fired plants aplenty.

    Then be amazed when there are spikes in the gas price, and all of sudden, we’re cold and broke.

    Because, the reality is, gas and nuclear aren’t in real competition. Oil production has plateau-ed, and will fall. Coal is dead, on CO2 grounds alone. Something will have to fill the gap, as oil output falls, and even in those countries that have a nuclear baseload, need variable capacity.

    Gas can do that. It can substitute for oil in transport, as a chemical feedstock, and in peaking plant.

    Think on this. The IAE recently argued that the unconventional gas technologies should give the world 250 years of reserves – at current rates of consumption.

    But, at the moment, gas provides about half the actual energy production that oil does. So, as oil falls off – gas substitutes. And as demand grows, gas will increasingly be called on to substitute. I spend several weeks per year in India, and there, it’s routine to see anything from auto-rickshaws to 30 tonne trucks running on tanked CNG. Thank God they do – the air quality’s bad enough as it is. With them running dodgy, low grade diesel, as they would were the CNG not available, it’d be intolerable.

    All of a sudden, those 250 years reserves don’t look really that comfortable. Even if we just substitute gas for oil, they fall to 80 years. And if overall demand grows, we’re not talking 80 years, but 40 or 50.

    Gas isn’t the enemy. Gas can do the things that nuclear can’t. But, in the medium term, it needs to be husbanded. And not p**sed away making baseload power.

    That’s what the developing economies are going to be doing. And that’s what’ll – in the medium term – become too powerful a message for even the most bull-headed Green to ignore.

    • Joel Riddle says:

      Andy,

      It sounds like you are in pretty strong agreement with Rod (and myself) on the overall energy picture. Rod has mentioned on numerous occasions that based on the latest Potential Gas Committee’s projections for feasibly extracted total U.S. natural gas reserves, that we (the U.S.) only have enough domestic reserves for fewer than 100 years at current consumption rates. Considering the almost certainly inevitable increase in demand, it seems like quite a folly to be planning to increase reliance on natural gas. If the rate of methane consumption in America increases at even just 2% per year, I will very likely see the depletion of all the economically recoverable domestic reserves prior to my death (assuming a reasonably long life yet to live, for my 26-year-old self).

      One thing to note that I am not 100% sure about, being a Mechanical Engineer rather than a Nuke, is that I don’t think the Thorium-U233 cycle is ideally suited to a fast spectrum reactor design.

      I may have simply read too much Energy from Thorium, but it sounds like an MSR would be a much better fit to get the best mix of providing walk-away safety, reducing the necessary waste disposal time-frame, and optimizing fuel efficiency. Increasing the fuel efficiency is not quite as necessary (at this point), considering just how cheap nuclear fuel is, as the reduced waste disposal requirements and enhanced safety that the MSR would provide.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        Thinking like an engineer is what matters, Joel, rather than the precise discipline….

        Indeed embedding over dependence on gas is a bad move – not least because, at the moment, it looks like our last option for a readily portable fuel for transport, and as such needs to be conserved pending developments in battery technologies for electrification of vehicles.

        I’m not sure, I admit, how we get to thorium from there – or why there’s an assumption that fast-spectrum machines are somehow undersirable (as seems to be implicit in your comment?)

        Of the 6 design concepts under development by the “Generation IV” initiative, three are definitely fast spectrum designs (sodium cooled fast reactor, lead cooled fast reactor, gas cooled fast reactor), one could operate using either a fast or thermal core (MSBF) – only two is avaowedly thermal (VHTR and supercritical water reactor).

        “Walk-away” safety isn’t that major an obstacle, if it’s a part of the design concept from day one – both AP1000 and ESBWR are self manging for extended periods in the event of a major failure, and all of the pool-type fast designs give that cpability too.

        Generally, I confess, I’m with Rod on the molten salt designs. Their promoters tend to oversell to the point of being on the edge of sharp practice. While things like drain down are valuable, there are lots of other impacts that are quietly ignored – the extensive chemical processing plant that’s needed for operation, the problems of handling the fission products removed (as opposed to letting them quietly decay in cooled spent fuel rods for a year or two), and so on. Certainly I think they’re disingenuous about the likely complexity and cost of such plant. And, in particular I take exception to the failure to compare “apples with apples” on the fuel cycle – the comparison of a “once through” LWR cycle with a recycling-based thorium cycle.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Andy,

        After getting some more clarification from more experienced people than myself, I think what I should have said is that the Thorium-U233 cycle is not ideally suited to a solid-fuel reactor design. A solid-fuel design would work, but probably wouldn’t be able to provide anything close to “optimized” fuel efficiency, with virtually all of the loaded thorium being eventually fissioned as U-233. This “optimized” fuel efficiency would thus minimize waste disposal requirements.

        A chloride salt reactor could work in the fast spectrum, but initial fissile loading and the greater difficulty of controlling fast reactors are the 2 reasons I always see cited for why a generally thermal spectrum (maybe a little epithermal) reactor is more preferred for the LFTR concept.

        Designing the reprocessing plant portion of a LFTR is certainly going to be a significant undertaking, and it will be far from a trivial aspect of the overall cost of such a plant. It will require plenty of shielding and I would guess will need to be accomplished completely remotely. Maintenance for the reprocessing plant will likely be extremely difficult.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        Re:

        “After getting some more clarification from more experienced people than myself, I think what I should have said is that the Thorium-U233 cycle is not ideally suited to a solid-fuel reactor design. A solid-fuel design would work, but probably wouldn’t be able to provide anything close to “optimized” fuel efficiency, with virtually all of the loaded thorium being eventually fissioned as U-233″

        Again, “it depends….” it certainly wouldn’t be ideal for “in core” breeding, where the presence of protactinium would severely depress reactivity (as well as the breeding ratio being depressed due to protactinium capturing neutrons before it could decay to U233). But, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t work well in a core-blanket configuration. That’s certainly how the Indians see it working, and to be honest, they’ve probably done more work on the thorium cycle than anyone:

        http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html#India

        And, at there seems to be no shortage of evidence that it can be made to work adequately in an “in core” config too – several high temperature designs have run with mixed thorium-uranium fuel.

        Incidentally, where does the assumption that fast reactors are harder to control come from?

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Andy,

        You asked “where does the assumption that fast reactors are harder to control come from?”

        Re-iterating that I am an ME and not a nuke, I have picked it up mostly from reading comments on the Energy from Thorium facebook page (and it is likely covered in more depth in the EfT discussion forums), but here is a quick copy/paste from wikipedia to answer your question:

        “Fast reactor control cannot depend on Doppler broadening or negative void coefficient from a moderator. However, thermal expansion of the fuel itself can provide quick negative feedback. Perennially expected to be the wave of the future, fast reactor development has been nearly dormant with only a handful of reactors built in the decades since the Chernobyl accident (and because of low prices in the uranium market)– although there is now a revival with several Asian countries planning to complete larger prototype fast reactors in the next few years.”

        So, in short, it sounds like thermal reactors have 3 “inherent” means of stabilizing the fission rate, moderator void coefficient; doppler broadening; and thermal expansion of the fuel itself, whereas fast reactors have to rely solely on thermal expansion of the fuel. If a fast reactor core were designed perfectly, this would seem to be a non-issue, but this 3-vs-1 fact may make the job of designing an adequately stable fast reactor core a much more difficult undertaking than designing an adequately stable thermal or epithermal reactor core.

        If that wikipedia entry is incorrect, it would be nice for someone well-qualified to edit it. I am far from well-qualified at this point.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        Joel, re

        “So, in short, it sounds like thermal reactors have 3 “inherent” means of stabilizing the fission rate, moderator void coefficient; doppler broadening; and thermal expansion of the fuel itself, whereas fast reactors have to rely solely on thermal expansion of the fuel”

        And, of course, the issue is the relative contribution of the differing effects in any given design. If any one is sufficient to give sufficient negative feedback to stabilise power output within an permissible temperature range, then that’s perfectly adequate.

        Note one key thing, though. One of those mechanisms most certainly doesn’t apply in an LFTR – a void coefficient in the moderator. The moderator in every LFTR is graphite – not knwon for forming voids as it heats up….Further, in a Th232-U233 cycle, the doppler broadening effect isn’t going to give much contribution, as it’s primarily an effect of the abosorbtion spectrum of U238 – largely absent in a Thorium cycle reactor!

        Which, tbh, leaves an LFTR in much the same place as a fast design – reliant on expansion effects…

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Likely good points, Andy. Perhaps the difference in ease of designing a stable thermal/epithermal core versus a predominantly fast core has been exaggerated.

        The initial fissile loading requirement is still a significant difference between thermal/epithermal and fast reactors.

        When breaking down cost estimates for advanced nuclear plants, it will be interesting to see if the initial fissile loading requirements get factored into the initial construction/start-up costs or into the fuel costs.

        I foresee some haggling over that bit of accounting in the future. (and now my train of thought is going down a completely different track)

      • Andy Dawson says:

        “I foresee some haggling over that bit of accounting in the future. (and now my train of thought is going down a completely different track)”

        Now, there’s a fun question….

        Thinking about it, there’s no shortage of plutonium out there to form the initial loads (is it really that different beween MSBR and fast – MSBRs need U235/Pu239 cores to get started almost as much as fast systems do!). In one sense, it’s almost a negative value attached to Pu loads – a credit seems to be given for burning them.

        Which is damned stupid from an energy perspective.

        Back in the days when I trained, we had an eminently sensible concept here in the UK – the “plutonium credit”. A value attached to spent fuel based on an assessment of the long term probable energy value fo the Pu/U235/U238 content of spent fuel. It was allowed as an offest against sorage/reprocessing/disposal charges. At sometime when I wasn’t looking, in the 1980s or 1990s, it was quietly scrapped. Spent fuel became a pure liability.

        And, guess what. All of a sudden, fuel started building up at stations, instead of being moved to reliable storage at our reprocessing facility. That means, in “on-site” ponds like those that had us all c***ing ourselves at Fukushima (apologies for language).

        That’s the funny thing. Spent fuel storage isn’t actually that expensive. Until that decision, it’d been a good hedging policy to build things like dry storage. Even only on a 10% chance the fuel would get reprocessed, it made money – as a guarantee against future price swings. After that decision, it had no value at all – and no firm would put up the money.

        I’d love to write a thesis on the economic idiocy of nuclear policy of the last 30 years.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        That isn’t quite the train of thought I was going down. That falls more into the whole resource versus waste issue that Rod has mentioned many times here.

        If you assume that only a few new plants are being built, saying that there is no shortage of fissile material to start up those few reactors might be true. If you assume a more substantial build-out, which the world WILL eventually need, the initial fissile loading difference between fast and thermal/epithermal reactors will be a big deal.

        Then there is the whole non-proliferation angle that will have to be dealt with. The 34 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium that is slated to be burned in U.S. reactors in the form of MOX fuel would likely be extremely useful for starting up some advanced reactors in the future, but instead are likely going to be inefficiently used as MOX fuel, due to meeting non-proliferation goals.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        Joel…

        An entertaining discussion, late on a Friday evening…..

        “That isn’t quite the train of thought I was going down. That falls more into the whole resource versus waste issue that Rod has mentioned many times here.”

        No bad argument….I was reading, recently, some papers on the “BREST 1200″ lead cooled fast reactor concept. On aspect of that design is the option to “cool” spent fuel within the pool for 12-24 moths. At the same time, there’s a requirement to maintain liquidity in the lead pool during plant shutdowns for the main reactor. I struck me that dumping the heat output of psent fuel, in that context is arguable either way – a net benefit of the reactor design to the fuel cycle, or vice versa. Genuinely a hard call!

        “If you assume that only a few new plants are being built, saying that there is no shortage of fissile material to start up those few reactors might be true. If you assume a more substantial build-out, which the world WILL eventually need, the initial fissile loading difference between fast and thermal/epithermal reactors will be a big deal.”

        And there’s a really good debate. We’ve a situation in the UK (no apologies at all for parochialism – the French have this problem/advantag five times over; and I even said “French” not “Frogs”) – where out extracted, nor potential plutonium resource is enough to fuel a modern reactor fleet for most of our power demand for many decades. Do we assume that has only local value, or assume trading? If so, is the impact really that different between an MSBR start up and a fast based rogramme? The numbers I’m seeing aren’t dissimilat – both needing c 10 tonnes/reactor, and “in core” breeding rations of about 1.03/yr.

        TBH, it comes down to a bet – which programme is more likely to overcome materials challenges. I may well be very wrong, but I’m more willing to bet on the feasibility of an approach that depends on overcoming the materials challenges of suspending removable components in a lead, or lead-bismuth pool, than a problem relying on cracking the economics of a real-time rcycling system for a molten-salt approach. It’s a genuine “pay your money and take your choice” bet!

        “Then there is the whole non-proliferation angle that will have to be dealt with. The 34 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium that is slated to be burned in U.S. reactors in the form of MOX fuel would likely be extremely useful for starting up some advanced reactors”

        TBH, I think that’s a complete red herring. Extracted plute is extracted plute. No NPT state is going to allow that to move outside it’s borders. It becomes an issue of how best to exploit what we have.

        And there the technology choices aren’t really that differentiated. On an “in-core” fast cycle, I never extract Pu from Pu239/U235/U238. In an MSBR programme I never extract U2333 from the similar general breeder/fuel matrix. Certainly, neither ever gets close to useable weapons grade stuff. In the future, neither are likely going to be inefficiently used as MOX fuel, due to meeting non-proliferation goals.

        And, in all honesty, even if there were differntials, is there really a difference? The history of states getting nuclear weapons capability is sriking:

        first nuclear explosion before first civil nuclear criticality:

        United States; USSR; UK; China; Israel; (arguably) North Korea

        First nculear explosion using u235 enrichment irrespective of civil status:

        France; (probably) Pakistan; (probably) South Africa

        Which, to be honest, leaves us arguing the toss over India, and the importance of civil capacity in India’s 1970′s test.

        Given the number of non-nuclear states with resoanbaly advanced civil programmes, that’s not reallly convincing:

        Japan; Germany; The Netherlands; Argentina; Brazil; South Korea; Taiwan; Romania; Czechoslovakia; Lithuania; Finland; Sweden; Belgium; Bulgaria; Canada; Mexico; Spain;

        and so on, and so on….it’s hard to avoid a conclusion that political goals are all, civil capacity counts for little.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Andy,

        The numbers that I keep seeing in online thorium presentations is something like 1 ton of fissile start-up material and then 1 ton/year of pure thorium needed to power a 1 GW LFTR (with the best-case reprocessing and breeding). The difference between 1 ton and 10 tons is a whole order of magnitude and would become significant for any significant build-out of breeder reactors.

        The train of thinking I was heading down was simply whether the initial fissile loading of a reactor might be included in the construction costs and what implications that might have on the financial analyses of whether to build specific instances of these future generation of plants.

        I think I have read that the best-case theoretical breeding ratios for LFTRs are something like 1.07, smaller than the maximum theoretical ratio for fast breeders. I think this difference was one of the primarily stated reasons that the U.S. abandoned MSR research in favor of the liquid metal fast breeder.

        I agree that the proliferation arguments used are often red herrings, but these issues will still need to be traversed carefully to be able to use these fissile materials for the peaceful civilian uses in which they will someday be sorely needed.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        OK, let’s take those numbers as read:

        It’s generally assumed that reprocessing breaks even at about $100/lb for natural uranium – life’s a bit more complex, allowing for reprocessing, etc. Let’s assume the cost of raw uranium is somewhere between 50% and 10% of the material ready for conversion into fuel cans. That gives us a price range of $200/lb to $1000/lb.

        At your 1 tonne, that’s a cost for the initial fissionable charge of $440,000 to $2,200,000 – frankly, lost in the noise in the context of other construction costs.

        Even at the other end of the scale – a 100 tonne LWR start-up charge, in the context of a multi-billion construction project it’s in the 1% range for the project overall.

        As to breeder ratios – 1.07 might be some form of theoretical maximum – allowing for parasitic losses (structural, etc., leakage and losses to residual absorbers in the fuel, since no chemical extraction process is perfect), I’d regard 3% as optimistic – in a “real world” plant, breakeven would be impressive.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Andy,

        You are skipping over some very important steps in the calculations. When I said 1 ton of fissile material, I meant 1 ton of U-235/Pu-239/U-233.

        To get 1 ton of U-235 requires about 143 tons of natural uranium (since 0.7% of Natural U is U-235, essentially the rest is U-238). That’s about 286,000 lbs of natural uranium. At $100/lb of Natural Uranium, that would be $28.6 million.

        If the difference between a slow and fast reactor’s required start charge is legitimately an order of magnitude difference (I have to rely on others to be sure of this), the cost for the natural uranium for a fast reactor’s start charge would be on the order of a non-trivial quarter of a billion dollars (roughly $286M) at a natural uranium price of $100/lb.

        On top of that cost would be the conversion and enrichment costs to get the initial start charge into the desired state.

      • ddpalmer says:

        And enrichment to 3% cost about as much in SWU as the original natural uranium cost. So, working back that gives about $160 million or about 4% of the plant cost.

        Not an enormous figure but enough to be a consideration.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        Well, taking the fast design I tend to favour – the lead-cooled BREST 1200 – the starting charge is 63 tonnes at 15-20% enrichment. It’s thereafter self sustaining on a natural uranium (or thorium) feedstock. So, a start-up inventory of about 11 tonnes of fissile material. One of the nice parts is, it really doesn’t care – the baseline fuel design is 9% of stuff like neptunium and amerecium from LWR waste (and there’s half your necessary enrichment straight away)!

        It’s designed around an on-site fuel cycle, using pyrolytic extraction of actinides for refabrication into fuel elements. That’s got the great advantage that there’s no need for separate streams for most of the other waste products – it’s just precipitated out of the pyrolysis substrate as a bit if a devil’s brew, to go straight for vitrification. Crucially, though, it’s not “real time” – the fuel gets to decay for 12 months, in a separate storage in the reactor pool, so the real horrors are gone.

        I tend to favour the lead-cooled approach, because I’ve a mild liquid sodium phobia – which stems from sharing a lab with several tonnes of the stuff for a couple of years, and extends at least in part to similarly highly reactive halide salts at high tempratures. At least in related lead-bismuth form, it’s got some operating experience – 80-odd reactor years in “Alfa” submarines.

        The really nice stuff about the lead-cooled designs is that they’re proper “pool” systems. All of the core structures and controls can be suspended from above, where they’re maintainable and replaceable.

        http://tinyurl.com/6edn4p9

        There’s some way to go on some corrosion issues – just as with MSBRs – but assuming they can be solved, there are some beautiful options. Until then temperatures stay restricted to about the 550C mark. If they can be eliminated, operation at 700C plus is an option, and then – how about doing away with circulation pumps and heat-exchangers? Sparge demineralied water into a riser column of hot lead. The steam bubbles loft the lead enough to get a significant head above the pool – enough to maintain coolant flow – and they exit above as superheated, dry steam ready for the turbine circuit.

        I did design work, what feels like a thousand years ago, on the thermal response of the intermediate heat exchangers of the UK’s sodium cooled Commercial Fast Reactor concept – get rid of stuff like that and you’ve a huge advantage.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Andy,

        I hope to get a chance soon to read the document you linked about the BREST-1200 reactor.

        I think we’re both guilty of some cultural and “hometown” bias in regards to our favored reactor types. As a native of East Tennessee, who has been inside the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) building at ORNL, I have a bit of a bias in favor of the LFTR concept.

        You on the other hand, are from Britain, where there is a surplus of plutonium. With Great Britain not being one of the 2 primary head-to-head Cold War countries, there seems to be a bit less concern with non-proliferation and less START obligations. My guess is that this helps shape more of a bias for you towards the use of plutonium and other transuranics as reactor fuel.

        I see LFTRs as having more potential to be “workhorse” reactors for a larger portion of the world (including India and China, perhaps the Middle East). That said, I think there will absolutely also be a need for some fast reactors both to burn waste and also to breed start-up fissile materials for starting up more of the “work-horse” reactors.

        I certainly don’t see a single reactor design being the be-all, end-all panacea that will take care of every need, but on a long enough time scale, I think the LFTR concept may end up having the potential to fill the most needs.

      • If my studies are good, Joel’s half-right about thorium.  The beauty of U-233 is that it releases enough neutrons in fission with thermal neutrons (2.54 vs. 2.43 for U-235) that it can sustain an over-unity breeding ratio.  It’s not so much that it wouldn’t work in a fast-spectrum reactor (though the delayed neutron fraction might be different—this is not my area of expertise), it’s that you don’t need one.

        The thermal-spectrum reactor has huge advantages.  The fission cross-section of uranium gets immensely larger at thermal vs. fast energies, and the critical mass falls similarly.  This means a lot less fissiles to start the reactor, and also a faster growth rate if over-unity is chosen.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Engineer-Poet – I agree with you. That is why I wrote about the light water breeder reactor that operated in the US from 1977-1982 and completed that five year run with more fissile material in the core at the end than it had at the beginning.

          Using thorium in already familiar power stations has a real advantage over starting from scratch with a completely different concept that is based on a couple of 30 year old demonstration reactors that shut down a long time ago and never produced any commercial quantities of power. There is no installed base of operators, there are still unsolved and unmitigated material challenges, and there is a lot of industrial inertia to overcome.

          I really like Kirk Sorensen and many of his acolytes, but their message is not terribly helpful in the all-important effort to reduce the dominance of the fossil fuel industry over our entire economy and political structure by easing our addiction to their dirty, dangerous, and polluting product.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Rod, your response brings up so many thoughts, but I will try to keep my response relatively short.

        Acolytes, hmmm? I am sniffing some more bias, which is completely understandable considering your Navy background and the level of comfort and familiarity you have with Gen. II PWR’s and the very enviable safety record that they have achieved.

        Aside:
        Recognizing your bias here is making it all the more easy for me to believe the narratives that have been relayed by Charles Barton on his blog regarding how the Oak Ridge MSR program was killed off and Alvin Weinberg was demoted as lab director at ORNL due to a combination of the LMFBR being favored over the MSBR and Weinberg expressing some concern over the safety of LWR. Of some note is the fact that Weinberg was a primary inventor of the PWR. I don’t want to see a semi-repeat of that rivalry and would personally like to see you and Kirk Sorensen more as allies, not adversaries.
        End Aside

        So yes, Thorium can feasibly enhance resource utilization within existing LWR designs.

        Deciding to do that on a large scale, however, would require some very non-trivial fuel fabrication and core design changes. There would be benefits, but would those benefits outweigh the costs required to acheive them? It is doubtful.

        With the strong possibility that another method of utilizing thorium as a reactor fuel (following starting up a reactor with some “seed” fissile fuel), could be much better suited to the purpose of utilizing thorium as a fuel (on a complete fuel cycle basis) than a LWR would be, investment dollars would be better utilized bringing a Gen. IV reactor design to commercialization than being used to make modifications to Gen. III or older plants to obtain a less substantial benefit from breeding thorium.

        Rod, you and Kirk seem to be focusing on slightly different timelines. Kirk’s goal is for the LFTR to be a reactor capable of providing a significant portion of the world with energy (and needed isotopes) for 1000′s of years. Your goal seems to be to keep nuclear power humming at a steady pace and not lose another whole generation of potential nuclear workers.

        You (rightfully) recognize that nuclear fuel supplies are currently pretty far from being constrained economically, thus a shift towards utilizing Thorium as fuel to save costs on Uranium is not at all a selling point, for now.

        I have a lot of respect for what both you and Kirk are doing, and have been strongly considering starting a nuclear blog of my own, but have not yet gone through with it. We’re on the same team here.

      • @Andy Dawson:

        As to breeder ratios – 1.07 might be some form of theoretical maximum – allowing for parasitic losses (structural, etc., leakage and losses to residual absorbers in the fuel, since no chemical extraction process is perfect), I’d regard 3% as optimistic – in a “real world” plant, breakeven would be impressive.

        The Shippingport reactor achieved above-breakeven (roughly 1.01) using a neutron-sucking light-water moderator and solid fuel.

        It’s obvious that getting rid of light water will improve the neutron economy, but the implication of liquid fuel needs explaining.  One of the fission products of uranium is iodine-135.  I-135 decays to Xe-135, which is a powerful neutron absorber (powerful enough to prevent reactors without substantial excess reactivity from restarting for a day or so after a shutdown).  Solid-fuel reactors “burn” it out (forming stable Xe-136), but it’s expensive in terms of neutrons.  A molten-salt reactor can bubble inert gas through the fuel salt, removing the Xe-135 from the core.  This eliminates most of the neutron cost and improves the breeding ratio further.  This is why I believe the advocates when they say that 1.07 is feasible.

        Fast-spectrum designs have their advantages (IIRC, S-PRISM is predicted to hit ~1.22 with axial blankets) but the very large fissile loads and the need to have ~3 core’s worth of fissiles in inventory due to cooling requirements before processing mean they don’t scale up fast enough to deal with the immediate issue.  LFTR, which may need as little as 0.5 ton per GWe and has no cooling delays for the fuel pulled from the blanket (which has almost no fission products in it anyway) scales far faster.

        By all means, let’s build some fast-spectrum machines to burn our actinide wastes.  Let’s keep running them on our inventory of DU, since we have no other use for it.  But we don’t have the 8000 tons of Pu, Np and Am we’d need to run the US grid on fast breeders in the next 20 years, and let’s not pretend we do.

    • About the CNG in India. As I understand it, the availability of CNG has made a huge difference. When my daughter first visited the people who would become her in-laws, she went to Ahmedabad sometime around ?2000?–she said she could hardly breathe in the city. Later, when I visited in around 2006, most of the cars and rickshas had “green” stickers that they used natural gas, and the air was much better. I thought it was still very polluted, but I was assured that things were far better with the period of a few years.

      We should be driving cars with natural gas, and making power with the power of the atom.

      I totally agree with Rod!

    • Richard says:

      Italy and Germany were never serious about nuclear power and I never took them seriously. Yes, it was fun to hope and to point at them, to stick it to naysayers, but be honest with yourself. Did you seriously believe Germany and Italy would commit to nuclear power within a 20 year timeframe? I didn’t.

      Nothing has been lost in Italy and what will be lost in Germany will merely be a great source of schadenfreude for sane, educated people. Germany is … annoying and irritating but you know what? Let them suffer from their stupidity and hubris. It will be very edifying to the rest of the world!

      Things in the USA only appear to have slowed because we’ve all been kidding ourselves. Just look at Constellation and how miserably that’s been going. Honestly, we were more hopeful than anything. Obama was always a milquetoast and useless. And Jackzo was always a nutball. They were ticking time bombs that have blown up now. I can’t say I’m sorry.

      I think you’re wrong about the UK. The UK is an incredibly authoritarian country that has been driven up against the wall. Hacks like George Monbiot have changed their tunes as per their marching orders. Fukushima will change nothing there.

      The only country that’s really affected is Japan itself. And my take on it is *we will see*. We will see whether they can afford the economic and financial knee to the groin that is an anti-nuclear policy in the face of already staggering financial debt and a trillion yen economic disaster. We will see whether they can afford to maintain that farce of an exclusion zone against the protests of the people who live there. We will see whether technical reality or political doomsaying will triumph. We. Will. See.

    • test says:

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    • Rod, I’m not sure what you think Sorenson is doing wrong.  If we’re going to use existing designs of power stations, there’s more than enough uranium to run them (though Shippingport and Lightbridge show that there are other options if we need them).  But current designs are slow and expensive to build, and require highly skilled operators to keep them running safely and efficiently.  Had we started in 1981 or even 1991, maybe we could have replaced coal by now and achieved a great measure of energy and environmental security.  But it’s 2011, and despite the great positive changes in licensing during the GWB administration, the USA hasn’t broken ground on any new reactors in decades.  Having the skilled people to run them is just as big an issue.

      Changing things as fast as they need to change takes disruptive technologies.  I don’t see anything patterned on the LWR which does that; Sorenson’s concept of LFTR is a contender.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Engineer-Poet – First of all, I disagree. We have proven that we can build reliable light water reactors quickly enough to matter – look at the US between 1963-1983 or France between 1973 – 1993. They are not all that difficult, especially if you can scrape off some of the opposition imposed layers of regulations that often conflict with each other.

        Secondly, my question for Kirk and his followers is why do they keep setting up a competition between light water reactors and LFTR? As near as I can tell, there are few resources in common between the two systems, so the choice is not an either-or decision.

        The real threat to human prosperity is the continuing concentration of wealth into the hands of the fossil fuel pushers. Any fission based machine is fundamentally better (safer, cleaner, more sustainable) than hydrocarbon burning machines that produce the same amount of output. I am going to commit heresy here, but I include the RBMK (Chernobyl style) reactor in my statement, especially those versions that were operated with well trained operators for the sole purpose of producing reliable electricity. I maintain that it was hydrocarbon hucksters that encouraged the EU to force Lithuania and other RBMK operators to shut down their modified plants – even though they had no other alternative other than burning more Russian supplied natural gas.

        I choose to promote LFTR, high temperature graphite moderated reactors (both pebble bed and prismatic), fast reactors, light water reactors, and heavy water reactors. They are all useful in the process of taking markets away from fossil fuel and reducing the damage that fossil fuel dependence has imposed on both the world economy (when our addiction caused consumption to frequently bump against production limits) and on the global environment.

        Sure, I fully recognize and accept that using coal, oil and gas has vastly improved the human condition compared to what it was before we learned to extract and use those fuels. Our cars have a much lower footprint than a much lower number of horses used to have on cities. Our remotely located central station coal burners are far cleaner than heating homes with firewood or even local coal fires. Natural gas is a pretty good fuel that burns very cleanly and safely – as long as it remains in its pipes and as long as a pipe exists all the way between the well and the consumer.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Rod,

        The audience Kirk seems to be targeting is people that have been less than excited about “conventional” nuclear energy a lot moreso than people who have already been sold on all the advantages of nuclear energy.

        I think the primary reasons Kirk compares LFTRs to LWRs is because of 4 primary advantages he sees in the potential of LFTRs versus the current generation of LWRs. Three of these would be seen by most as ENORMOUS present-day advantages in favor of the LFTR (assuming that it can be developed, actually licensed, and built) by the primary audience that I think Kirk is trying to target:

        1. Enhanced Safety (suggesting this played a role in getting Weinberg fired as ORNL Lab Director)

        2. Cheaper Up-Front Capital Costs (construction costs are the biggest reason for no new LWRs since Watts Bar Unit 1, although this is a highly regulatory-dependent factor)

        3. Significant reduction in Nuclear “waste” storage requirements (Yucca would be moot)

        The 4th primary advantage the LFTR (if optimally developed) may one day hold over conventional LWRs is that the fuel costs, other than initial fissile start-up loads, will be considerably lower than for Uranium-fueled LWRs. This advantage will likely be essentially irrelevant for the next 2-4 decades since the cost of uranium fuel is still such a small portion of the production cost of nuclear energy.

        Oh yeah, some 5th and 6th advantages that Kirk foresees are isotope production (should be easier to retrieve isotopes from a liquid-fueled reactor than a solid-fueled reactor) and being able to use the higher temperatures (700 deg C) produced in the LFTR for energy in forms other than simply electricity. A 7th advantage would be the higher thermal efficiency of the plant itself due to the higher operating temperatures.

        To be intellectually honest, Rod, you should be willing to admit that IF LFTRs are able to actually meet all of their promises AND actually get licensed AND get adequate operator training programs established, there will be essentially no new orders for LWRs.

        The time-frame for all of those things to be accomplished is not going to be a competitive threat to LWRs for quite some time, unless the development program China announced at the end of January accelerates that time-frame considerably.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        I agree with you that there is probably a bit too much hand-waving in stating that LFTRs will have lower capital costs than LWRs considering the unproven nature of all the online reprocessing that will be needed, the shielding requirements of that plant, the remote-handling equipment that will be needed in that plant, and the somewhat exotic materials that might be needed for some reactor components.

        Additionally, I have some fairly significant doubts that the LFTR advocacy as a whole (of which I must consider myself a part) has anywhere close to an adequate grasp for how difficult a task it will be to get all the operators trained that will be needed for a LFTR.

        In concert with claiming the lower upfront construction costs and lower fuel costs that a LFTR can theoretically acheive, the LFTR advocacy should be willing to mention the fact that O&M costs could possibly be higher per MW than for a LWR especially in the first several instances of implementation.

  4. gerry says:

    “financial benefits end up in obscenely wealthy and powerful pockets.”

    The financial benefits will ALWAYS end up in obscenely wealthy and powerful pockets regardless of the energy source.

    While I was never a march and protest anti-nuclear activist, I was solidly against any nuclear power for my whole life. I am a recent nuclear convert for two reasons:

    1. Fear of coal expansion

    2. The immorality of holding the developing world, the poorest of the poor) in place due to lack of energy alternatives. I don’t see how we can bring developing nations to anywhere an approximation of our living standards without either massive environmental damage or nuclear.

    I still hold a deep distrust of nuclear corporations, I still believe the financials of nuclear power are murky and rely on Neiman Marxism (public expenses and risk, private profit), and worry about waste.

    I’m not an engineer or scientist, can’t quote stats and base load calculations like the experts here and I expect to be trashed for my misgivings. I’ve done my research and reading and have reached my conclusions. I’ll never truly embrace nuclear power, but I’m holding my nose because the balance weighs in its favor.

    • SteveK9 says:

      ‘I’ve done my research and reading and have reached my conclusions. I’ll never truly embrace nuclear power…’

      That doesn’t encourage anyone to supply you with references for more reading, or was that the point?

  5. Mike Himes says:

    The Submarine sails in a SEA of FUEL. How else did Captain Nemo power the Nautalis? Now if one wants to control the price on fusion power one would have to do it by controlling the lease of the machines that converts water to fusion energy. Similar or better energy density to fissile fuel with no spent elements left but transmuted stable material.

    More problematic is the paradigm change from fission to fusion. With the stigma Fission Nuclear has garnered, and we all know it has little basis in fact, efforts in nuclear power should focus upon the STEAM GENERATION by a new and mysterious Chemical stimulated nuclear (LENR). If one shows how the rocks beneath our feet hide an ongoing process similar reaction all will be cool right?
    One must have a glassy eyed look and smirk and show how all the chemicals and water do something good?
    Hey, Exxon-Mobile thinks “Just The Idea” is next thing to one hundred years of corporate bliss. The public buys this because there is no ACCEPTABLE alternative. One needs show there is more wunderfull stuff down there that we can duplicate up here giving us a second alternative. Keep that flame throwing squirt gun in the holster partner!

  6. Ed F says:

    Rod,

    As an addendum to Andy’s observations:

    I’m guessing that you’re familiar with G. Allen Brooke’s “Musings from the Oil Patch”( energymusings.com). His 10 May newsletter had an interesting observation (and it wasn’t the first time he’s made it):

    “The PGC’s [referring to the Potential Gas Committee at the Colorado School of Mines] estimate of total natural gas potential resources compared quite favorably with the estimate made late last year by the EIA. Its estimate was that the United States in 2010 had a total of about 2,125 Tcf of reserves and resource potential. The EIA’s 2011 estimate has been increased significantly to 2,550 Tcf due to an increase in the amount of shale gas resource potential. Unfortunately, the EIA has adopted the myth that resource potential equates to proven reserves. That view was demonstrated when in 2010 the EIA determined that based on its forecast of domestic gas consumption for the year and the total estimated natural gas resource base, the U.S. could meet its demand for 110 years.”

    Mr. Allen also notes that “the PGC did not assume either a timetable or a specific gas price that would lead to the discovery and production of these potential resources” and “The claims about how large the gas resource potential is in the United States continue to mushroom, pushed by long-time supporters of using greater volumes of natural gas to reduce the country’s energy import needs and other promoters with vested interests in a growing role for natural gas.”

    This is all from an intellectually honest gentleman who advises an investment bank specializing in oilfield services firms.

  7. Duncan says:

    I love it, but truths are not questions.
    Questions are invitations for people to respond with unsupported assertions.

    No other fuel could drive a 9,000 ton submarine around the ocean for 14 years while using a fuel core that would fit under my office desk!

    If someone tells you some other power source can produce enough electricity for 24 x 7 living for more than a million people using about three truckloads of fuel delivered every 18-24 months – that person is getting paid to lie to you.

    No other green power source has the potential for a 20 times improvement in fuel economy using already tested technology.

    The only other reliable power source whose marginal cost of generation is significantly less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour is hydro, and that’s already tapped out. Even coal costs more.

    (the one about how many BTUs a finger-full of fuel holds does nothing for me, sry)

  8. Richard says:

    What some would say in mockery, I say in truth: we need to get back to “Our friend the Atom”.

    Talking about safety is a self-destructive move just as surely as saying “no of course JFK wasn’t a homosexual”.

    Was that really so hard to say? Did we really need a long multi-screen post just to say this?

  9. Richard says:

    “Green” is a propaganda word owned by the enemy. And what’s laughable about it is that green is really the colour of money. Of aristocracy.

    Calling nuclear energy green is as much a self-destructive move as calling it safe. As if its being pollution free were some kind of issue.

    I propose we call nuclear a BLUE power source. Mmmm blue. In fact, it’s a GLOWING BLUE power source. And since we all know from cartoons and anime that

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PowerGlows

    it behooves pro-nuclear advocates to use this obvious selling point.

    Take a glance at http://skullsinthestars.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/idahonatlabatr.jpg

    and tell me that doesn’t give you a warm glow inside.

    deleted expletive all that submarines and electricity deleted expletive. That’s all deleted expletive worthless. You want a message that will resonate with people? Keep it simple.

    Only nuclear energy glows with power. Because REAL power glows!

    Do you know why so-called “green” energy sources don’t glow? Because they are WEAK!

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Richard – first of all, please do not write like a sailor talks when commenting on Atomic Insights. As one of my mentors used to say, profanity is the crutch of a crippled conversationalist.

      With regard to associating nuclear with the beautiful blue glow of Cherenkov radiation – I like it and have been using it for years on Atomic Insights. For example – http://atomicinsights.com/2006/10/go-blue-go-atomic-insights.html

      • Richard says:

        Blue is the new green? Really, Rod? What the hell is that even supposed to mean? That it’s the new hysteria? The new fad? The new religious zealotry. Not only is that slogan absurd in the literal sense but it is hysterically insane in the figurative sense.

        If you don’t have the mental acuity to declare you hate green, which I suppose you don’t being a provincial American capitalist, why not just keep mentions of that other colour out entirely? Blue is the colour of the oceans! Of the air we breathe! The colour of the Earth itself! Why you feel any need to defend or justify it can only be explained as sheer stupidity.

        Furthermore, green is the colour of American financiers and fundamentalist druids who want all humanity to starve and die. Trying to justify blue by associating it with green is as blatantly suicidal as trying to redeem brown by associating it with dog shit.

        Green = bad. Blue = good.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Richard – there are a large number of people – probably a significant majority within the United States – who seen “green” as a fine word with good connotations. They are proud of doing their part to help make their communities better places to live; they have been carefully convinced over many years that recycling, reusable products, hybrid cars, abundant insulation, etc. are green steps that they can take to improve their environment.

          Who am I to try to fight all of that expensive marketing? I simply want to shift the direction a bit so that those sympathetic people will recognize that nuclear energy fits well into their overall goals. I have no desire to fight them head on, just to use their own momentum to get them to change their course into a more useful direction.

      • Richard says:

        Think carefully about this too. Blue isn’t the colour of life. It’s the colour of everything that makes life POSSIBLE and WORTH LIVING.

        Continuing the analogy, Greens obviously want to cover our cities in trees, moss and slime mould. And blues want … to make our life worth living.

        Don’t talk like you want our power generation infrastructure to be covered in slime mould. That just makes you sound incredibly dumb and dishonest.

        I’ve read your blog enough that I can guess you really appreciate how CLEAN a nuclear power plant is. And what are the colours of cleanness and purity? White and blue. For clouds and sky!

        Also, if I remember correctly, there’s an NPP that was painted blue in the UK. This was successful as a propaganda measure. And it is exactly what should be done to every NPP.

        So let’s recap, blue is associated with:
        - purity
        - cleanness
        - water
        - air
        - what makes life possible
        - beautiful skies
        - clean and pure skies
        - shallow desert (pure) waters around coastlines and corals

        and these associations are not only all TRUE, but they obviously WORK empirically.

        And as always: KISS. You don’t need the cognitive dissonance of throwing another colour into the mix. Nor do you need to raise the question of whether one colour is better than another. No, keep things simple: BLUE!

        No justification, no rationalization, no distancing, no qualifiers, no judgement. Just BLUE. Blue blue blue! Clean blue, pure blue, makes life possible blue!

        And you might want to read up on the ‘Overton window’ and ‘framing the debate’ as propaganda techniques. If you’re ever going to move people, you need to push in the direction you want harder than they’ll permit you to. But then again, psychology is beyond engineers.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Richard – “psychology is beyond engineers” – just remember, I am not an engineer. I served in the role of an operational engineer in the Navy, but my undergraduate training was in literature and creative writing. I also have a pretty decent background in operational planning and strategy.

          I have always found that you can get a lot more accomplished by applying subtle pressure to alter the course of a body that is already in motion with built up momentum than by trying to get in front of that body and apply enough force to stop the existing momentum.

      • Richard says:

        You know what? The fact you ever, for even a single moment, thought you could associate nuclear power with the colour green. Even using intermediaries. Even using logic. The fact you thought this was possible to do using ANY psychological or conversational mechanism. That fact proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that you can NEVER learn or use or manipulate human psychology. Psychology may be beyond engineers, but even the most rudimentary basic psychology that a marketer would have to know is beyond you, Rod. Which means of course that you must do what every good logical person does when confronted with their own limitations. Seek expert advice! I’ve given you my expert advice and you can take that to any marketer or psychologist to confirm it. And next time you seek to manipulate human beings using something other than empirical facts and pure logic (and probably even then), you’ll also need to consult an expert in the field. Psychology is a vast field and you’ve proven to my satisfaction that you have flunked the entrance exam.

      • Brian Mays says:

        On a completely off-topic note, green is also the color of Islam. ;-)

        Personally, I’ve thought that the cooling towers at nuclear plants should be painted sky-blue, ever since I read that suggestion on the Internet five years ago. All of the water towers where I live are painted sky-blue, and you almost never notice them. It really is a good way to have something tall blend in with the background.

  10. Jay says:

    Great Article! The Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) Project is pushing for Gen IV VHTR’s. We are on Twitter (@NGNPAlliance) and Facebook (NGNP Industry Limited). Feel free to follow us for more information. Thanks!

  11. gallopingcamel says:

    I don’t get too worked up when our loony leaders block drilling for oil “Off Shore” or in ANWAR. They may delay things but these resources will be eventually be exploited and when they are fossil fuels will likely cost much more than they do today even in constant dollars.

    Likewise with nuclear power. It is inevitable. The only issue is how long we will be able to delay the inevitable.

    If we are really creative we may be able to keep nuclear power on the sidelines for another two hundred years but the down side is that this will deplete our fossil fuel reserves which have better uses than burning them for their energy content.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @gallopingcamel – Your outlook is reasonable, conventional and incredibly selfish. Mine is unreasonable, but I think it can contribute to changing the path of history. I refuse to give up and allow others to set the agenda. Humans really did discover alchemy in the early 1940s. We really can produce clean, cheap, abundant and reliable power and distribute it more widely around the world.

      I want my great-great-great-great grandchildren and their descendants to inherit a planet that still has some accessible hydrocarbons for all of the valuable things that those materials can enable. I also want them to inherit a cleaner, more chemically balanced world with all of the power that they need to create whatever it is they can imagine creating.

  12. gallopingcamel says:

    Rod,
    Humankind would certainly have a better future if it were to adopt the “Build a Nuke a Day” objective immediately, rather than decades into the future when it becomes obvious to “Joe Six-pack” that the alternative will be to watch the lights going out around the world.

    Even if Neo-Luddites continue to prevail they will not be able to sideline nuclear power indefinitely.

  13. Richard says:

    > Who am I to try to fight all of that expensive marketing?

    Well, while you’re at it Rod, who are you to tell me what is and what isn’t psychologically possible?

    > I simply want to shift the direction a bit so that those sympathetic people will recognize that nuclear energy fits well into their overall goals.

    This isn’t possible. And do you know why? Because their goals and your goals are CONTRADICTORY. Put it to a tune and sing it if you have to but remember it.

    > I have no desire to fight them head on, just to use their own momentum to get them to change their course into a more useful direction.

    Oh really. From now on I assume you know what a meta-level is. If you don’t, you should drop this subject entirely.

    We are here engaged in discourse. And you are also engaged in discourse with other people, trying to change their minds and change their actions. Let us think about this.

    In its full generality, discourse and debate (henceforth “the game”) admit to a number of meta-levels. These are:

    The meta-game – proving a point so as to shape one’s reputation.

    The meta-meta-game – shaping one’s reputation in order to reshape discourse.

    The meta-meta-meta game – reshaping discourse in order to effect a quantitative change in society.

    The meta^4 game – effecting quantitative changes so as to reshape the permanent direction of society.

    Now, I know you have some delusions that your game level and meta-game level actions have some effect out in the real world, out at the level of the meta^3 game. Let me disabuse you of this false notion.

    FIRST, I have been in the business of seeking to permanently transform society for more than a decade and a half now.

    SECOND, I can tell you that I am far more (infinitely in fact) more creative than you are. You say you studied creative writing but this means nothing to me as from your blog posts it’s obvious you would fail a Torrence Creativity Test. And this I judge should be obvious to anyone possessed of creativity.

    Creative people are able to recognize their peers just like gay people are able to recognize their peers. By the fact that their fellows think in patterns that match their own patterns, enough so that they can predict each other’s actions, words, and even eye-gazes. This is all done subconsciously but it is still done. The human brain is excellent at pattern matching, and it knows its own patterns best.

    You Rod simply don’t pay attention to the kinds of things that creative people do, don’t speak like a creative person would, don’t write like a creative person would, nor do you think like a creative person. You are not my creative peer, even though you enjoy the delusion.

    Engineers often enjoy deluding themselves they are creative, no matter how fatuous the claim is. In fact, your pointing at external artifacts (taking creative writing classes at university) to try to prove that you are creative is a CLASSIC anti-creative engineer pattern.

    If you even KNEW what creativity was Rod, you would have pointed to your idea of a nuclear turbine. And then conceded that it was a lame example. At least it would have been an example. As is, your going through the motions of aping creativity (going to classes) proves only you don’t understand creativity.

    You *literally* don’t know the meaning of the word. And why should you? Describing creativity to the uncreative is like describing colour to the blind!

    THIRD, I can also tell you that I run up and down meta-levels far more proficiently, far more easily and far more intuitively than anyone else I’ve come across. It’s not that I’m out of your league, I’m playing an entirely different sport using entirely different sports equipment.

    Now consider this. We are both trying to transform society permanently. Except that I am far more ambitious than you can hope to be (you have a single meta^3 goal whereas I have at last count 28 meta^4 goals). I am also far more desperate than you could ever hope to be since the decrepitude of the world has left me clinically depressed for almost two decades.

    So we have similar goals, except I am far more competent, far more ambitious and far more motivated. So listen closely to what I say now: what you seek to do CANNOT BE DONE using tactics you are capable of comprehending. Period.

    I know how to permanently transform society. Engaging in discourse and debate *doesn’t work*. And will never, ever work. No game level or meta-game level action can have ANY effect on the meta^4-game. Zero. Zilch. NOTHING.

    You can’t transform society by talking to people. You can’t make significant quantitative changes (meta^3) by talking to people. You can’t even reshape discourse by talking to people or by reshaping your reputation. Because people are just far too stupid for any of those actions to be effective.

    It took me a good decade of my life to figure this out. And it took me another half decade to ARTICULATE why. I have done so here. I’m not sure you’re capable of comprehending. I am dead certain you don’t want to comprehend and will not comprehend.

    The reason why you delude yourself that you are making any quantitative changes is, put plainly, because compared to me you’re mentally handicapped. It took me a decade to give up on the project of “talking people around to be better than they are”. I think you’ll keep at it till your dying day and never figure out how stupid you’ve been all your life.

    The error in your reasoning process is the unspoken conviction that you’re irreplaceable and unique. Your belief that if you didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be anyone else who would step up to fill your role in the institutions whose momentum you claim to seek to change. Once you strip out your egocentric bias, it’s obvious that you don’t redirect institutions’ momentums because YOU ARE PART OF those institutions.

    Your unique contribution is very, very marginal. And MUCH smaller than you like to think it is. Because your net contribution is the delta between your gross contribution and the gross contribution of the next most effective guy that would have replaced you if you didn’t exist. And since there are tons of people just like you, because you really aren’t that unique, that delta is a lot smaller than you like to believe. But hey, at least you can comfort yourself that your net contribution is positive. The net contributions of way too many people are negative.

    (Incidentally, I possessed the exact opposite bias. I used to think that I was replaceable. That there were other people like me who could substitute for me if I faltered. An empirical analysis proved I was wrong.)

    So to recap, I know that effective permanent transformative changes to society (meta^4 effects) are actually possible. But I also know what’s required to achieve them: meta^4 level actions!

    Your design of the ADAMS nuclear turbine was a meta^2 level action. You put together two existing technologies (turbines + nuclear) to fill an existing need (cheaper electricity) better. What I do Rod is I create original concepts for new fields of technology to fill needs people refuse to acknowledge exist. It’s a couple steps higher up the meta hierarchy. And that’s why what I do is going to work.

    Talking isn’t going to cut it. Debate isn’t going to cut it. Talking and debate and argument and even blatant propaganda (targeted manipulation by experts with a surfeit of resources on their hands) isn’t going to cut it. I can see that so plainly because they’re so far beneath what actually WILL work.

    Why am I even engaging in a discussion you’ll dismiss without comprehending it? Because it sharpens my mental acuity and because I am a very, very moral person who consistently discharges their moral obligations.

    I have not only explained, I have proved, that I know (4 meta-levels of) far more effective ways to manipulate people than you’ve ever dreamed. And that the discourse which is the only tactic you’re comfortable with is entirely useless. Indeed, there exist entire levels of uselessness above the level (psychological propaganda) which you’ve only just taken the tiniest faltering baby steps on.

    So now I’ve fulfilled my obligations to truth. And I’m done.

    • Brian Mays says:

      Richard – Creative egotism is only one type of creativity, and it is not all that creative or original or interesting, for that matter.

      • Richard says:

        I’m not an artist Brian, I’m a designer. A systems designer to be exact.

        Egocentrism is the province of artists. Designers work from empathy *by definition*.

        By pure chance your rejoinder means something. Which happens to be the exact opposite of the truth. This doesn’t detract in any way from the fact that you’re an idiot who was stringing together disjointed words in an effort to look profound and insulting.

        Stop talking smack fool.

      • Brian Mays says:

        Richard – I suggest that you take some of the money you earn as a “systems designer” and buy a decent dictionary, or at the very least, you should make use of one of the free versions online.

        (It’s not “creative,” I know, to restrict words to their commonly accepted meanings, but at least it’s accurate.)

        Egotism (not “egocentrism”) describes your incoherent rant perfectly.

    • ddpalmer says:

      “Creative people are able to recognize their peers just like gay people are able to recognize their peers.”

      What a massively stupid statement. I believe it indicates a person who would be referred to as a Neanderthal. All gay people can instantly recognize all other gay people is a stupid stereotype that died in reality decades ago and only continues to exist on TV and in movies. It is a fantasy that only a delusional person would actually believe.

      “I have not only explained, I have proved, that I know (4 meta-levels of) far more effective ways to manipulate people than you’ve ever dreamed.”

      You have only proven you are delusional and need serious mental help. You probably shouldn’t even be allowed to walk around without a nanny.

  14. Richard says:

    The role of an engineer is to make a marginal contribution to the predefined direction of society.

    I’ve met lots of uppity engineers who refused to acknowledge that I operate on a higher level than they’re capable of. They usually ended up making the startlingly stupid claim that there WAS no higher level to operate from than theirs.

    For an uppity engineer, you aren’t nearly as offensive. Although you do take steps in that direction. But I found it annoying how in your breathtaking incompetence and ingenuity, you honestly thought you could do as good a job as I can.

    It’s that whole “too incompetent to recognize your own incompetence” catch-22 you’re trapped in. You’re at the first (unconscious incompetence) stage, while I’m at the fourth (unconscious competence) stage. And I had a hard road to hoe since there was nobody to teach me to do it consciously. So I do take pride in my mastery.

    I consistently operate at meta-level 4. You WANT to operate at meta-level 3 but you avoid (because of incompetence) meta-level 2. And rather than STFU and taking my expert advice on meta-level 2, you’re playing the blowhard who thinks he’s competent.

    The more I understand your problem, the less annoying you are, and the more you’re just sad.

    • DV82XL says:

      Someone is off his meds, I see

    • Joel Riddle says:

      Richard, out of my curiosity, in what primary areas of society are you focusing your 28 meta^4 goals?

      Also, how is society going to be better off following your successful achievement of these goals?

  15. che says:

    I would like to know how fast can nuclear power plant increase their electricity output(say this reactor run under capacity still) to cope with a sudden demand in electricity, for example unscheduled shut down on the other reactor due to some reason or perhaps those polluted coal power plant catch fire or something.

    Another one, how fast it take for the process of starting a reactor till it generated electricity?

    • DV82XL says:

      Some existing LWR type plants have limited ability to significantly vary their output to match changing demand (called load-following). Other PWRs, as well as CANDU, BWR have load-following capability, which will allow them to fill more than baseline generation needs.

      Some newer reactors also offer some form of enhanced load-following capability. For example, the Areva EPR can slew its electrical output power between 990 and 1,650 MW at 82.5 MW per minute.

      More here: Can Nuclear Power Be Flexible?

      • Joel Riddle says:

        DV8, thanks for point that out about the EPR. I was unaware that it had been designed to be capable of load-following to that extent.

        That feature will serve France VERY well in serving their electricity export markets (Italy, Switzerland, and Germany in particular).

      • che says:

        I see. Thanks for the information.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        The AP1000 similarly – the design scenario (as per the UK GDA) is (and I quote):

        ” a 24-hour load cycle with the following profile (subject to achieving full power fuel conditioning at the beginning of the fuel cycle):

        Starting at 100% power, power ramps down to 50% power in 2 hours,

        Power remains at 50% for 2 to 4 hours,

        Power ramps up to 100% in 2 hours,

        Power remains at 100% for the remainder of the 24 hour cycle.

        Also designed to respond to grid frequency changes.

        In terms of power output modulation, the AP1000 is capable of satisfying peak-to-peak power demand changes of 10% of the plant rating at 2% of the plant rating per minute.  This capability is provided within the power operating range of 15 to 100%.”

        TBH, all the generation III+ designs can deal with reasonably demanding load-following scenarios – certainly both EPR and AP1000 can easily accomodate the sort of swing we see in most developed economies;

        http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/Data/Realtime/Demand/demand24.htm

        Note, even assuming you operated all plant to follow that curve precisely, you’re dealing with at worst a doubling of output over three hours or so – or, a slew rate of about half what the EPR and AP1000 can deliver.

        The slightly surprising design is the ESBWR – that actually sacrifices some of the good BWR load following capacity, as part of moving to an all natural-circulation system. But even so, it should be able to do as well as it’s competitors.

    • Joel Riddle says:

      che,

      Your second question is highly dependent on many factors, particularly what country a plant is being built in.

      In America, if all the site permits were in place, the time from the beginning of construction to the start of commercial operation of a plant, would be roughly 5 years for a “conventional” Generation III gigawatt-scale Light Water Reactor.

      If a new, “greenfield” site were selected, the time period to obtain all the site licensing permits to be able to actually begin construction would be substantial. This hasn’t been done anytime in my lifetime, I don’t believe (born in 1984), but it would likely take a minimum of 4-5 years.

      Thus, from the time of initiation of a project at a new, greenfield site until the time of a plant feeding electricity into the power grid will be approximately 9-10 years or more with the current U.S. regulatory structure.

      For the initial implementation of a B&W mPower reactor (which is what Rod, the author of this blog is currently working on), this time frame has a chance to be shorter than a full 9-10 years from today due to the fact that site permitting work has been previously performed for the Clinch River site.

      The fact that an mPower Unit is roughly 1/8th-1/10th the size of a “conventional” reactor should also play a significant role in reducing the time from project initiation to commercial operation.

      http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?sectioncode=132&storyCode=2059894

      http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2011/06/16/tva-signs-letter-of-intent-for-6-babcock-_2600_-wilcox-mpower-small-modular-reactors-061603.aspx

      http://www.powergenworldwide.com/index/display/wire-news-display/1439231087.html

      http://www.marketwatch.com/story/generation-mpower-and-tva-sign-letter-of-intent-for-bw-mpowertm-reactor-project-2011-06-16?reflink=MW_news_stmp

  16. Joel Riddle says:

    che,

    Your second question is highly dependent on many factors, particularly what country a plant is being built in.

    In America, if all the site permits were in place, the time from the beginning of construction to the start of commercial operation of a plant, would be roughly 5 years for a “conventional” Generation III gigawatt-scale Light Water Reactor.

    If a new, “greenfield” site were selected, the time period to obtain all the site licensing permits to be able to actually begin construction would be substantial. This hasn’t been done anytime in my lifetime, I don’t believe (born in 1984), but it would likely take a minimum of 4-5 years.

    Thus, from the time of initiation of a project at a new, greenfield site until the time of a plant feeding electricity into the power grid will be approximately 9-10 years or more with the current U.S. regulatory structure.

    For the initial implementation of a B&W mPower reactor (which is what Rod, the author of this blog is currently working on), this time frame has a chance to be shorter than a full 9-10 years from today due to the fact that site permitting work has been previously performed for the Clinch River site.

    The fact that an mPower Unit is roughly 1/8th-1/10th the size of a “conventional” reactor should also play a significant role in reducing the time from project initiation to commercial operation.

    • Andy Dawson says:

      Leaving aside regulatory timings, GE-Hitachi are quoting 36-39 months from first concrete to first power for ABWR plant – and have done it in 6 out of 6 started up so far. ESBWR (after the first unit) should be similar.

      Toshiba-Westinghouse are quoting 42-45 months for an AP1000 – but are also saying that will come down by about 1 month per unit delivered until it hits about 36-39 months.

      Areva are more cautious – they’re still quoting on 48-60 months. They haven’t modularised delivery, and are probably a touch gun-shy after their Olilkuoto and Flammanville experiences.

      The first two, interestingly, are based on Japanese construction practice – a single day shift. I was chatting to a GE-Hitachi salesman at the WNA London conference last year, who suggested that on double shift model, 30 months wasn’t unachievable – at the moment, the turbine hall and systems were the critical path, but they’d done no work on reducing that yet.

      I admit slight cynicism – but, were that achievable, it’s only 6 months more than a CCGT plant of comparable output.