Advanced Reactor leaders: Will you put one in your backyard?
I returned from the Nuclear Energy Insider International Advanced Reactor and SMR Summit with revived energy, optimism and passion for participating in an expanding effort to smooth and straighten the tortuous path associated with producing increased quantities of clean energy from atomic fission.
The effort isn’t small, it isn’t narrowly focused, and it isn’t–by any means–limited to the United States. It is exciting, potentially paradigm busting, wide ranging and the right thing to do. I can’t think of a better investment of the time I cannot spend with my family, especially my ever-entertaining young grandchildren.
While at the event, I asked a few questions. (Some who attended might quibble with my use of the word “few.”)
One question apparently intrigued people enough that the speakers began answering it before I even had a chance to ask it. There were several versions of the question, but they all boiled down to the following, generally asked of company business and technical leaders.
Maybe this question and the answers can spread to become a meme with legs that helps the public gain a better appreciation of the nuclear energy’s proven benefits. It might help stimulate a curiosity about atomic energy’s potential to make their own lives more comfortable and prosperous while also helping human society achieve a more sustainable development path.
The idea came during a talk by Harlen Bowers, president of X-Energy, a company that Atomic Insights has covered in the past (X-Energy introduced its company and first product to Virginia chapter of ANS and Atomic Show #248 – Dr. Pete Pappano, VP Fuel Production X-Energy.
Bowers began by pointing to Elon Musk’s success in generating excitement for the Tesla 3, a car that will not even enter production for at least a year. Despite the fact that no one has seen an actual car or been able to test drive one, approximately 300,000 people have put down a $1,000 deposit to place an advanced order. Bowers stated that this show of interest provides evidence that there are people that care so much about climate change that they are willing to pay more for products that make a contribution.
Bowers talk included strong admonitions to advanced reactor companies about coming together as a community to communicate the value of their technology in terms of flexibility, siting options and as a vital contributor to the fight against climate change. He told the assembled audience that we need to be willing to take the “spears and arrows” that will be thrown our way if we put ourselves into the public spotlight to make the case of for the importance of building new nuclear power sources.
Then he said something that stimulated my question about building plants in our own backyards.
We also have actual test data that demonstrates the operational safety benefits of advanced reactor systems, but sometimes operational evidence isn’t good enough. Unfortunately, we still have people that take medical advice from Jenny McCarthy and won’t vaccinate their children. We can’t convince everyone, but the real life test data should convince the more objective stakeholders out there that it does prove our safety case.
Bowers concluded his talk as follows, “Reach out, communicate early and often and envision us as the Teslas of the nuclear industry.”
Here is the question as I first asked it. (Note: X-Energy was founded and is funded by Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, an entrepreneur whose financial resources came from prior successes in the aerospace and defense industry.)
Maybe one of the best ways to convince everybody, or almost everybody, is for Kam to buy himself a nice rural estate and put an X-Energy reactor in his backyard. Seriously, if he, or you or me or others in the industry say, “I’ll show you how confident I am. I’ll put it in my backyard. I’ll raise my children here, I’ll bring my grandchildren and show that it’s safe. We’ve seen the testing data, we understand it, but it’s hard to convince people using terms like “design basis accident” and “source term.”
What I did not say, but wish I had, is that Kam, or other industry leaders deciding to adopt this strategy should make a big splash with the announcement and sell the idea hard to neighbors by helping them understand the benefits that such a machine could provide to the whole community.
When I get more time, I will put together an audio file of some of the responses I received during the rest of day two of the summit as I asked several other company leaders, industry advocates or technical experts versions of the question.
I know it is easy to say and easy to attempt to dismiss it as the empty promise of an overly enthusiastic sales guy, but I really want to eventually power and heat my home and my community with a nearby nuclear power source. I would need a couple of cooperating neighbors as partners, but the field behind our houses might be big enough.
My ideal installation would be an Adams Engine, but the Xe-100 is reasonably close in concept and technology. There are other entries in the field of advanced small reactors that would also be acceptable as my next door neighbor.
I’ve a lot more content from the summit to share with you, but it’s getting too close to departure time for my next research trip. This one is back in my old stomping grounds in Annapolis, MD. It will be a little like deja vu all over again to sit in a Rickover Hall auditorium for the opening plenary of a Technical Meeting on Nuclear Energy and Cyber Security. This meeting is in recognition of the first Naval Academy graduating classes for the Nuclear Engineering and Cyber Security majors.
PS: After recent meetings in Washington, New York City, Atlanta and the coming meeting in Annapolis, the Atomic Insights travel account is shrinking. If you like having a vocal representative at these meetings who–eventually–provides you useful reports, please consider providing your financial support.
My answer to your question in the title is Yes.
I dislike cheap shots at Jenny McCarthy (from Bowers, at X-Energy). Or at anyone else with autistic children who dare to confront Big Pharma and its growing demands to make human infants pin cushions for whatever it deems mandatory. There may be more sociopaths, per capita, in the executive suites of pharmaceutical corporations than in those “pushers” of fossil fuel. This issue is more complex than a black/white morality play.
So……you don’t have a problem with a celebrity advocating taking absolute bunk science and convincing people to take the risker road of not vaccinating their children?
This has nothing to do with the executives of pharmaceutical companies. This has to do with inappropriate risk assessment which is based on research conducted by an individual who lied about the results and was thrown out of the medical community. Vaccinations DO NOT cause Autism…..proven by legit science.
Do you also get mad when people take cheap shots at Hermann Muller because how dare people confront the Big LNT model?
Me, me, me! Pick me! I would love to have one in my backyard (but my homeowners association may have a different opinion). Living next to a properly licensed SMR would be as safe as living next to a wind turbine but a lot quieter.
I understand what is being said here, but wouldn’t building even the smallest SMR be like building a million dollar heating plant to heat my house? It could be denounced as some kind of conspicuous consumption.
Given the option, I would vote in favor of having an SMR located in the county to compensate for the dam and power generating station recently removed from a nearby river. I’d probably be outvoted. There is a well organized local group agitating to quit adding fluoride to our drinking water.
Here’s a more practical and effective suggestion: Place a prototype or even a scaled down model of one of the SMRs in the Idaho Test Site. Conduct all the the testing needed to confirm the design envelope. Then cut off cooling water and external electrical power for 72 hours. Have the surrounding region heavily instrumented with dosimetry.
Report the results.
I don’t know about a reactor in my back yard, but I am seriously considering a solar array on my roof….
Date:April 5, 2016
Source:DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Summary:Analysts have used detailed light detection and ranging data for 128 cities nationwide, along with improved data analysis methods and simulation tools, to update its estimate of total US technical potential for rooftop photovoltaic systems. The analysis reveals a technical potential of 1,118 gigawatts of capacity and 1,432 terawatt-hours of annual energy generation, equivalent to 39 percent of the nation’s electricity sales.
I’m not faulting your consideration of solar. I’d consider it myself. But we also need keep in mind our goal is to reduce ghg emissions to the point we’re ghg emission-neutral or better. The US is currently generating about 4100 TWh/yr. 1430 / 4100 = 35%.
Which is quite a bit more than solar’s capacity factor, which ranges from about 23% in the desert southwest, down to maybe 10% in the northeast. Your Science Daily link goes on to say
“This current estimate is significantly greater than that of a previous NREL analysis, which estimated 664 GW of installed capacity and 800 TWh of annual energy generation.”
No kidding. By no mere coincidence 800/4100 = 19.5%. I’d suggest Science Direct has infered more than NREL actually claims. If we were to double annual electricity generation to 8200 TWh/yr — a likelihood not everywhere warmly embraced — then we’d have some use for those 1430 TWh/yr rooftop solar.
Some place to put it, anyway. To use that much today would require massively more energy storage than you or I are likely to see in our lifetimes. But we might live to see how California’s energy storage requirement works out. Should be interesting.
I would not put a solar array on my roof. The time when I most need power for heat and lights is the middle of winter, when there is scarcely any light for a solar array.
And you can’t get more light from a solar panel on the roof than you can by removing the roof (or having a glass roof) and letting the light in directly. Why go through all the complication of converting the light into electricity and then back into light again ?
If you can’t get enough (or any) light from your solar panel, how can you possibly get heat too ?
“I would not put a solar array on my roof. The time when I most need power for heat and lights is the middle of winter, when there is scarcely any light for a solar array.”
Precisely why I celebrate the moment of clarity I experienced when I asked myself what the hell I was doing living in North Idaho. After that refreshing moment of returning sanity, it didn’t take me long to pack my underwear and shag my frozen fanny back to good ‘ol sunny California. Where solar works, and you can’t see your breath.
In my warm and wet area of the country, many homes do better in overall energy use when they can take advantage of natural assistance from deciduous tree cover. Shady yards and even shaded roofs need less A/C when it is hot, both from the effect of blocking the sun and from the air cooling effects of respirating trees. When it gets a little cooler, the leaves fall and our yards and homes soak up the sun’s energy when available.
Of course, not all homes have leafy yards, but the ones that do shouldn’t waste money – theirs and the taxpayers who provide the subsidies – on solar panels, especially if the installer recommends a large tree trimming or removal campaign.
A someone who lives where I can ski, I feel the same way about using solar power. However, if I lived where air conditioning is a bigger energy use than space heating, solar power would be most available when energy demand is greatest & solar would be a good complement to a steady power source like nuclear.
It gives me no pleasure to write this –
but there are some nuclear reactors I would be comfortable living right next to or even on top of and there are some advanced nuclear reactors I would not feel safe living anywhere near without careful investigation and proof of their safety.
***Not all advanced nuclear reactors are equivalently safe (some reactor designs are intrinsically safer and require fewer engineered safety systems to be adequately safe)***
Do Thorium LFTRs and Plutonium fueled Sodium Cooled Fast Reactors have equivalent intrinsic safety?
The fissile and radiological fission product inventory of a sodium cooled fast reactor is much larger than a LFTR or LWR of the same size. When you combine a very large radiological inventory, from a pool style fast reactor derived from the EBR-2 design scaled for 1 GWe level it results in a reactor with very large fire/explosive potential (5.8 x 10^13 joules of energy) from the 5500 metric tons of sodium coolant
When you compare the explosive potential and potential for fire of a Molten Salt Reactor and a sodium cooled fast reactor, the facts are that a sodium cooled fast reactor could in an extreme accident be subject to hydrogen explosions and sodium metal fire that could not happen to a Molten Salt Reactor.
5500 metric tons of sodium coolant if exposed to air or water is capable of producing large amounts of potentially explosive hydrogen (2.678 x 10^9 liter of H2 gas) that would be produced from reaction of sodium coolant in pool style reactors like the GE PRISM or the Terrapower TWR with the cement floor or walls of the reactor containment building (or water from a flood or tsunami), you have a potential safety problem that dwarfs any conceivable accident scenario with a similar sized LFTR.
Sodium Safety Concerns –
A sodium cooled fast reactor typically operates at a temperature around 550 degrees C.
A fine spray of sodium droplets released into the air can spontaneously ignite at a temperature of 120 °C 
A sodium leak that forms a pool can ignite and burn at temperatures far below the 550 degree C operating temperature of an SFR reactor.
A stagnant pool of sodium has experimentally been demonstrated to spontaneously ignite in the presence of air at 320 °C, while an agitated pool, with broken surface layer, ignited at about 150 °C 
Hydrogen tends to accumulate in the roof area of a reactor containment building and if the conditions are right, hydrogen air mixtures can detonate. The range over which hydrogen air mixtures can detonate is from 18.3 to 59 percent mixture of hydrogen to air. This is a very wide range of hydrogen-air mixtures and this means that in real world accident settings, there is a real chance that explosive hydrogen-air detonations can occur. This should not just be casually disregarded and discounted.
Modern pool style passively safe SFR designs employ about 5000 tons of hot reactive sodium coolant per Gigawatt of reactor size. This represents a lot of stored chemical energy that is capable of being released explosively in a sodium fire-hydrogen explosion under emergency conditions resulting from an earthquake, flood, or tsunami.
In hopes of choosing the best and safest nuclear future, meaningful discussion should take place regarding reactor safety with the intension of establishing clearly the safety differences resulting from reactor design choices including the choice of reactor coolant.
I would personally not be happy living within 50 miles of a Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor but would be comfortable locating my Senior assisted living facility immediately next to or on top of a Molten Salt Reactor mounted 10 or more meters underground.
 – Reference – G. Manzini and F. Parozzi “Sodium Safety”
Note: The published size for GE PRISM is closer to 300 MWe rather than the 1GWe I used in the above. I used 1GWe to better allow comparisons with LFTR and other reactor technologies.
I wouldn’t accept a 1 GWe power plant in my backyard (in my town would be fine). Way too large.
My challenge is aimed at those business and technical leaders who want the public to accept complex test documentation. If those leaders want others to believe, a first step is demonstrating their own belief in test results and design efforts.
I was dubious about using sodium as the coolant, but when I saw mention in _Plentiful Energy_ of filling the containment building with argon, I realized that would eliminate the flammability problem of sodium. So if sodium is better in other ways than less flammable coolants we might as well use it.
I’ve been pondering the issue of energy storage with nuclear power plants. LWRs run at temperatures too low for most thermal-battery schemes, but LMFBRs run at just about the perfect temperature for use with “solar salt”. I think you’d need a very short intermediate loop of something like lead-bismuth between metallic sodium and nitrates, though; the excess oxygen in alkali nitrate looks like a bad combination with sodium metal.
MSRs run too hot for nitrate salt storage unless you drop the temperature (and lose efficiency). Maybe they could use rock, though I can’t think of what would make a good heat-transfer fluid.
Advantage of a nuclear power plant with two independent (base-load and peaking) generation systems: one can trip off or be taken off-line for maintenance, and the plant continues to run on the other.
The current problem with fast-spectrum reactors of any kind is the high fissile inventory per unit power. We just don’t have enough to make a huge difference right away.
You’re channeling Cal Abel’s Energy Storage: Improving Fast Reactor Economics 😎
Heh, the guy is good. Or he just sees the obvious a little sooner because he’s been looking at it harder.
When someone mentioned his steam compression scheme for storing heat from LWRs at solar-salt temperatures I hauled out the steam tables and crunched some numbers myself. I’m not sure what to make of what looks like a pinch point on the steam side but everything else looked not just good, but damn good.
Cal IS damned good, smart, experienced and visionary.
If we need more fissile inventory, we could easily expand uranium mining for a few decades to get more U235. It would only be a temporary thing. The amount of fissile nuclear fuel stock would grow exponentially through breeding. Soon enough, there would be enough fissile to shut down the uranium mining industry for a few centuries.
Jim – Argon is typically used as a cover gas over the main sodium reactor pool sized at about 5000 tons of sodium per GWe. Argon is inert and prevents the immediate spontaneous ignition of the molten sodium with air. If Argon cover gas is ever lost – for any reason and at any time, the thousands of tons of hot reactive sodium immediately ignite into a serious sodium fire. It is not really practical to fill the entire reactor containment with Argon as Argon is heavier than air and would make it impossible for operators to service and maintain the reactor.
Thousands of tons of Stable Sodium coolant in SFRs when exposed to neutrons becomes neutron activated Na-24. The Na-24 is highly radioactive with a half-life of only 15 hours. In the event of a sodium fire – hydrogen explosion, the hydrogen explosion has the explosive capacity to break the reactor containment structure. The SFR main reactor sodium pool contains thousands of tons of Na-24 having very high activity, and a sodium fire can transport this highly radioactive sodium isotope thousands of miles and contaminate an entire region or continent.
Intrinsically safer nuclear technology exists that is just not capable of producing as large a nuclear accident as a Sodium Cooled SFR.
THE ULTIMATE SAFE (U.S.) REACTOR
By Uri Gat and Sylvia R. Daugherty
The Ultimate Safe (U.S.) Molten Salt Reactor is a reactor that eliminates the traditional safety concerns of nuclear fission reactors. The U.S. MSR reactor has an insignificant source term and no reasonable criticality accident.
Furthermore, the negligible residual after-heat in the reactor
renders its shutdown capability comparable or superior to conventional power sources in that no actions or precautions are required following a shutdown of power.
Molten salt reactors – safety options galore
by Dr. Uri Gat and H.L. Dodds
MSR reactors can be designed optimized for safety – making them simple and safe designs with low excess reactivity, low fission product inventory, and small source term. These, in turn, make a criticality accident unlikely and reduce the severity of a loss of coolant to where they are no longer severe accidents. A melt down is not an accident for a reactor that uses molten salt coolant-fuel. The molten salts are stable, non-reactive and efficient heat transfer media that operate at high temperatures and at low pressures and are highly compatible with selected structural materials. All these features reduce the chance of serious nuclear accidents.
“If Argon cover gas is ever lost – for any reason and at any time, the thousands of tons of hot reactive sodium immediately ignite into a serious sodium fire.”
Really? Thousands of tons of it, immediately?
The Russians have had countless sodium fires in their BNxxx program. No trouble at all.
Joris – You said “If Argon cover gas is ever lost – for any reason and at any time, the thousands of tons of hot reactive sodium immediately ignite into a serious sodium fire.”
Really? Thousands of tons of it, immediately?
If hot sodium at SFR operating temperature (550 degrees C) comes in contact with air, there is an immediate spontaneous fire . Most sodium fires that have historically occurred with SFRs like EBR-2 have been tiny spray fires or very small leaks that produce little more than wisps of smoke near the reactor. If inert Argon cover gas is lost for any reason however due to an operator mistake (perhaps a young operator turning the wrong valve) and air replaces Argon over the reactor sodium pool, even for seconds the air – sodium interface at the top of the pool will immediately and spontaneously ignite – sodium at reactor operating temperature and air is sufficient to produce a serious fire with no other required triggers.
Molten salt will not produce a fire or an explosion if the salt at reactor operating temperature is exposed to air.
Sodium Fast Reactor designers deliberately withhold safety related information from the public – perhaps hoping not to have to defend the safety liabilities present in their reactor designs.
Charles Till and Yoon Chang, authors of Plentiful Energy deliberately omit and stonewall the public and decision makers regarding several essential pieces of information key to understanding the safety of the IFR Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor design. You can read Plentiful Energy from cover to cover and glean many technical facts, but you will not find a figure for the amount of sodium coolant used in the reactor or anything like full details on the engineered safety systems that are supposed to protect the IFR from catching fire.
There is no discussion by Till and Chang in Plentiful Energy on the amount of stored chemical energy present in ~5000 tons of hot sodium used in their reactor as coolant or the magnitude of the sodium fire – hydrogen detonation that could occur if a significant amount of the reactor sodium coolant was spilled as the result of a earthquake, flood, or tsunami..
There is no discussion by Till and Chang in Plentiful Energy regarding the equilibrium isotope inventory of neutron activated Sodium-24 isotope in the IFR reactor sodium coolant that could be explosively released from an IFR reactor in a major accident involving a hydrogen explosion that breeches reactor containment following a sodium coolant spill onto cement floors and walls and a sodium fire.
It is not possible for any member of the public to obtain information on the amount of sodium incorporated in any of the current mature SFR designs including –
Gen-4 Energy SMR
Bottom Line: When you combine a large radiological inventory, including thousands of tons of neutron activated Na-24 isotope sodium coolant together with Plutonium fuel and highly radioactive fission products in the SFR core; the fire/explosive potential of an accident involving 5500 metric tons of sodium coolant in an SFR sodium pool dwarfs any conceivable accident scenario with a similar sized Molten Salt Reactor.
Earthquakes, Floods, and Tsunami can occur.
While SFRs like the EBR-2 have produced mostly good safety records over a 30 year span of operation, the potential exists for sodium cooled reactors to produce large accidents under specific emergency conditions.
Similar emergency conditions involving a Molten Salt Reactor would not produce a similar size large accident as Molten Salts do not react chemically with water or cement and would not produce a fire or a hydrogen detonation under any circumstances at all.
 – Reference – G. Manzini and F. Parozzi “Sodium Safety”
The reaction will only occur at the interface where sodium and air potentially meet. The thousands of tons of sodium in a deep pool will not react until there is oxygen in contact with the sodium. It’s been nearly 4 decades since my high school days, but I still recall the sodium and water experiments that we did where larger chunks reacted more slowly and less spectacularly because they had a smaller surface to volume ratio.
Your statement is a bit like asserting that a thick log will explosively burn just because it is added to a bonfire burning at a temperature above the combustion temperature.
@ Joris – You said
“The Russians have had countless sodium fires in their BNxxx program. No trouble at all.”
The Russian BN-350 produced a raging sodium fire.
STEAM GENERATOR LEAKAGE AT THE BN-350
© M. Raghcb
“After 7 days of operation, one of the evaporators in the recently re-tubed loop number 5 failed leading to a significant leak. In that event 120 tubes failed with 800 kg of water leaking, possibly interacting with the sodium causing a fire.”
OK. Robert has officially entered crackpot territory. It’s time either for him to reel it in or for sensible people to hit the “Ignore” button.
At typical primary-loop temperatures, sodium has a density of about 0.85; 5000 metric tons of it would occupy close to 6000 m³, which is probably bigger than the entire containment.
There’s also the little detail of air. If you have 5000 cubic meters of containment, it would only have about 1250 kg of oxygen in it at STP. Any reaction with sodium would deplete the oxygen. If the containment was initially filled with argon or nitrogen, there wouldn’t even be that.
15-hour half-life, it’s gone in a week. Further, there just isn’t that much of it; between the small neutron-capture cross-section and the rapid decay, you just can’t get much of an inventory.
Crackpot territory, indeed. The PhD programs in psychoceramics must be working overtime.
@ Robert Steinhaus
This is factually incorrect, and quite easily demonstrated. Apart from that, how could one possibly make such a statement in the first place? Which of your remaining assertions are equally baseless?
Enthusiasm for a technology is one thing, it’s what drives progress. But whatever your cause, this sort of misrepresentation goes no distance to further it. Please try to get your facts straight. Should you desire assistance, you are welcome to ask.
@ Robert Steinhaus
A pool-type reactor vessel is not something open to the sky with a springboard at the end like we frequented as kids. Even if air could get to it, an air-sodium fire is not catastrophic, and water is no where near the primary loop. In actual construction and practice, a water leak in the secondary loop is not catastrophic either Plentiful Energy: the story of the integral fast reactor is written by the men who designed it. I’ve linked Barry Brooks’ Cliffs’ Notes, and strongly recommend the complete edition. Highly informative, explaining the major design considerations. Reading such might improve one’s position as a critic.
Different reactor types may serve different purposes. Molten Salt does have its attractions and Atomic Insights has featured many insightful articles.
(More->Archives, search MSR.)
I live in the North of England. Our nearest nuclear power station is a couple of miles outside town.
I have never heard anyone around here express any anxiety about it.
Hartlepool by any chance? I live about ten miles from it myself!
I would absolutely accept a nuclear power plant in my back yard. NPD, Nuclear Power Demonstration, was, and still is, in my backyard.. It’s now shut down and entering final decommissioning stages. The first Nuclear Power Plant to go on line in CANADA, NPD was a Prototype CANDU station. It operated from 1962 – 1987. Its output was 22 MWe. It’s located on the Ottawa River about six or eight km upstream from where I live. I boat, swim, waterski, fish, camp, all these activities sometimes within sight of NPD as do many hundreds if not thousands of local people and visitors. I’ve been doing this with my kids and now with my grandkids; they understand and appreciate the many benefits of nuclear energy.
Nuclear Power in the backyard is not as crazy as it sounds. It may be more economical than traditional large central stations.
In the course of preparing a presentation on the benefits of SMR, I calculated the the power density per m² of an existing large central station (a 6GW nuclear base in Canada) and the power density of an Adams Engine type device. My results were:
Large central station: 680 W/m² site area.
Adams Engine: 12800 W/m² site area.
That difference surprised me, and increased (further) my suspicion that (very) small, inherently safe nuclear reactors could have a true economic advantage over large central stations. The advantage is not just the higher power density, but also the ability to supply (waste) heat for residential space heating, (and even residential space cooling, by using absorption cooling technology) something which (remote) central station nuclear is far from ideal for.
I assume you saw the New York Times carefully edited article this past Sunday on the renewed nuke arms race we’ve likely triggered in the name of safety. FYI, the same Air Force pilot/fisherman I tweeted about was tapped to be part of a study-group for the Pentagon at MIT to determine, when we had the Bomb and the USSR didn’t, how many nukes the military needed to win a war with nuclear weapons. The determined number was 25. Actually only five were needed. The study concluded that if five major cities were bombed, the resulting social chaos would make it impossible to mount an effective counter offensive. Missiles were only 20% accurate at that time, so therefore five were needed for each city.
Since we ended (perhaps that phase of) the Cold War with ~40,000 nukes, the weapon system had become a jobs program for the military industrial complex…which the new round in this inane arms race would suggest it still is. It also underscores our failure to learn from history and/or think different.
Which, depending on how one thinks about such things, is an opening for following up on that twitter thread here. Assuming you are not employed by the industry to expand its market, this repeating, by the military and nuclear industry, of past poorly thought through decisions, relative to strategic planning, makes your efforts harder. Things that are done under in the name of safety may actual lay end up being anything but safe. The blind pursuit of profit and motivated reasoning seem to pretty much assure this happens…and is repeated.
The marketing of a ‘solution’ to a yet-to-be-[safely]-resolved waste issue, which is inherent with the technology, means that there is a need to be particularly vigilant regarding what feels like a “safe” solution. The proflagated/proflagating waste problem of fission technology, in conjunction with the issue of peak uranium, suggests we need to learn from our fossil carbon story and ‘keep-it-in-the-ground’.
What we now call ‘civilization’ is, functionally, a heat engine. In terms of the physics of abrupt climate change the waste and wastefulness of that heat engine is the systemic problem that frames how we rationally could think and feel about all the ‘solutions’. Motivated reasoning makes this kind of thinking all but impossible, particularly socially. CapitalismFail, with its greed-is-good theology, is a blind and blinding faith.
You realize that the people writing these “studies” are the same “whiz-kids” who determined that the US would win the Vietnam War, don’t you?
The study was the fall and winter of 1954-55. The particular ‘whiz-kid’ was in his mid-30s, and part of a pool of excess officers left over from WW II. And for context, the referenced Twitter thread with Rod ends .
Regardless I’m reading the comment as agreement: that job descriptions can have smart people doing, in this case, the oxymoronic military intelligence thing. Again, in this case, the threat of nuclear winter would made weapon–rationally–unusable. So, as a lazy newbie, and my assumption that its love inspiring this blog, withstanding, its time to ask…Rod are you doing the considerable work this blog represents for love or money? Is there a business plan to become employed/compensated for the time, expertise, and skills involved? Or is such already the situation?
Where Rod left our Twitter thread is, I think, a critical issue regarding a ‘safe’ nuke low-carbon future. The oil era has gifted those in privileged nations of CapitalismFail with energy slaves. When I was in high school in the ’60s this added up to 99 slaves/capita. During my adult life time, apparently that has increased by about 50%. The credit these justify is not going to be replaced by capital intensive ‘solutions’ such as next-generation nukes. Peak credit, to the degree it is defined by peak conventional oil, is a threat I hear virtually no discussion on. As this relate to this post, and effective marketing strategies for ‘safe’ nukes, redressing the peak credit issue is more germane than safety. I see this next-generation nukes ‘solution’ not only faced with the challenges of overcoming deep-seated fear issues in the public’s mind, but demanding an abundance new credit at a time of declining creditworthiness. The unfolding climate chaos of abrupt climate change will be taking an increasing share of this declining reservoir. The affected flash-freezing of the collapse of CapitalismFail that is being spun by “wiz-kids” as a recovery, is systemically unstable.
And abrupt climate change means there is not the time needed to scale a next-generation of nukes solution to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.
And next-generation nukes are, at best, only an ‘easy’ part of a ‘solution’ to the mess our ‘ingeniously’ hubristically created waste has wrought. It needs to be integral to a suit of changes including drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, cooling the Poles, especially the Arctic, and de-acidifying the oceans. BECCS, also theoretically, does the carbon dioxide removal more efficiently, and therefore this suggests it should have priority over next-generation nukes for electricity generation and access to a limited resource: credit. Of course it shares the same time constraint issues and, for its biomass, needs the arable land area of about 1.5 Indian subcontinents. This point to a need to choose between food to eat and electricity to power our heat engine-like ‘civilization’ is in the offing…if, with abrupt climate change, there was time to bring either technology online at a significant scale relative to a problem being purportedly solved.
To me this kind of muddled thinking is what motivated reasoning tends to effect when it fools us, individually, and socially, into thinking we are being rational.
The fatal flaw in your argument is your assumption that next generation nuclear power is more “capital intensive” than existing fossil fuel power.
It’s not. It unlocks a vast, accessible store of almost inexhaustible energy that doesn’t produce CO2 and that has the power to perform some of the carbon dioxide removal tasks you envision if necessary.
1st, thanks for the “about” info. I’m starting to digest it. And congratulations on more than a generation of focused passion. It represent an honorable use of ones retirement. It is an expression of the compassion for humanity you have (& regarding the latter and the Twitter thread, it isn’t, at least consciously, a difference between us). It also looks like I need education on the use of the “a href” tag. Does it also need to include a “/a” to not end up doing what my comment did?
Anyway, I was not intending to communicate the as challenge being that of intensity of capital, so much as the peak credit issue. The proponderance of today’s credit is predicated on the existence of oil-equilivant energy slaves. With peak conventional oil, those are systemically going away. For the current flash-frozen collapse of CapitalismFail not to thaw, replacement energy systems, nuclear and renewable, need to strategically understand the peak credit issue…and address it directly. Wall Street sure isn’t going to. Their “whiz kids” have more than quardrupled the amount of derivatives that blew up in 2007-8…and they are spinning this as a ‘recovery’.
Is this clearer, and, if so, does this expansion on my point allow a revisiting of the “fatal flaw” judgement? Reading that you’ve been at this for more than a generation suggests you’ve well considered pat answers for all arguments. In terms of when and were we tend to be victims of our own motivated reasoning, such makes for fertile ground.
Inferred in the critique, however, is the point that there is a huge amount of credit based on fossil carbon technologies that will need to be written off. As you note, all energy sources are now capital intensive. This condition adds to the credit crunch CapitalismFail is mired in. ‘Managed’ write-offs of systemically bad credit based on an expanding number of oil-equilivant energy slaves seems to be part of the Whitehouse’s COP15-21 game theory strategy. These ‘managed’ write offs also competes with next-generation-nukes for now limited and declining oil-era credit.
The last I knew, central banks had a bunch of over-valued ‘assets’ on their off-balance sheets that need to be written off or eventually placed back into the economy should this ‘recovery’ not be smoke and mirrors. Next generation nukes, as a solution to residential electricity (and, in winter, a heat source for residences), is in a long queue for a declining commodity. Abrupt climate change, like a driver wasted on their addiction, is jumping the curb. And those in the queue are, thanks to motivated reasoning, looking the other way.
So, as a lazy newbie, and my assumption that its love inspiring this blog, withstanding, its time to ask…Rod are you doing the considerable work this blog represents for love or money? Is there a business plan to become employed/compensated for the time, expertise, and skills involved? Or is such already the situation?
That’s a fair question. As anyone might be able to discern, this blog isn’t a casual effort.
Here is a link to my most recent attempt to explain my motives and the “business model” that sustains the effort required.
Oh, please. Nobody believes in “nuclear winter” anymore. That was a particularly bad piece of junk science that got as far as it went because … well … nobody wanted to be in the position of arguing for nuclear weapons at the time. So even respectable scientists let it slide.
By the early nineties (about 25 years ago), even the proponents of the “theory” had softened their name “nuclear winter” to “nuclear autumn.” Today, nobody with any sense takes that stuff seriously. It was based on absurdly extreme assumptions that just didn’t stand the test of time or common sense.
Is your entire time here going to consist of dredging up old reports from the mid-fifties and discredited “theories” from the early-eighties.
Brian, that’s a helpful and important correction/clarification. Thx. I was sloppy in my use of terms. I did feed into the less-than-factual fears the general public feels about nuclear warfare. I probably should have said global dimming and widespread fallout issues. Either way of describing the threat still leaves the obfuscated point of the New York Times article intact. Under the propaganda of these smaller nukes being safer nukes, the US has triggered a new iteration of the Cold War…that is trying to be pinned on Putin and scapegoated on China. The small-as-safe framing is the same as Rod argues. In the public’s mind, a conflation is likely and Rod will be starting all over again.
Our journey into the Anthropocene’s abrupt climate change will require unprecedented global cooperation for such to be characterized as a non-violent transition into this sixth planetary extinction event of our making. With this “safe nuke” approach to military intimidation as a solution, a freezing of the trust the Paris Agreement supposedly represents is effected before it is officially signed. This adds to the data that feeds into my contention that the Paris Agreement amounts to little more than greenwashed ~BAU; that fossil carbon companies and Wall Street got everything they could hope for from this President at this stage of climate change.
Greg, you claim that ” ‘civilization’ is a heat engine “. As any proponent of solar power will tell you, the sun provides the earth with as much energy in one hour as humanity uses in a year. In other words, the heat produced by us busy little fellows is immaterial. It’s the CO2 put out by nearly 90% of our energy sources that changes the balance slightly, between the far larger flow of ‘ energy in ‘ – sunlight – and ‘ energy out ‘ – infrared lost to space from the upper atmosphere. Coal used for electricity generation is the largest single source of CO2, the power plants are mostly large units with ~ forty-fifty year life expectancies, so replacing them all with nuclear would at least be a good start.
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage has never actually been done, probably because it combines one of the most land intensive and expensive ways of making power with the most expensive way of getting rid of CO2.
‘ It is widely supposed that one has to capture the CO2 from the flue gases of coal-fired
power plants, cement factories or oil refineries. This is misconception. All molecules of
CO2 are identical, so one should aim for the most economical way to capture as much
CO2 as possible anywhere in the world, independent of location or origin. The
atmosphere is a well mixed reservoir, so capture of CO2 around a dunite mine in a
tropical country reduces the CO2 level of the entire atmosphere of Earth just as much as
capturing the same amount of CO2 from the flue gases of a power plant in Western
Europe. ‘ That way you can keep the lights on and still feed people – in fact, a side benefit of using accelerated weathering would be more fertile land and oceans.
Great name, John, a best friend from high school is also John ONeill.
Regarding what’s “immaterial”, isn’t it true that, but for human enterprise, we would be headed into the next ice age? Hasn’t an additional ~.012% of the atmosphere being carbon dioxide, as a consequence of anthropogenic actions, triggered abrupt climate change? In spite of our getting booted from the garden before we ate of the tree of life, we have made poor use of our knowledge of good and evil consciousness grants us from the apple we stole. We tend to repeat practices; do the same thing over and over again and expect the results to be different. In doing so, likely thanks to mirror neurons and social stories, we have become as gods anyway. The planet is now a world of our creation.
Human civilization is a functional heat engine. This assertion is based on a study that concluded this (http://www.earth-syst-dynam.net/3/1/2012/esd-3-1-2012.pdf). But for motivated reasoning, this is hardly immaterial. What you say about the power of the sun is true, if immaterial to this point. The fact that with CapitalismFail we’ve affected the Anthropocene and the planet’s sixth great extinction event says, that as existentially insignificant as we may feel about ourselves, in terms of the balance of the systems we are part of, and dependent on, we are scientifically significant. Satiating CapitalismFail’s appetite for energy doesn’t, but for motivated reasoning, solve the threat our species is, and has become to the natural system it is integral to. Greed-as-god is a that metaphorical fallen angel-of-light: Lucifer.
The comment about BECCS is partially correct (though I think there are several plants now). BECCS is one of those irresponsibly half thought through ‘solutions’ to the wrong problem. Existing technology can extract CO2 from flue gases. Therefore it must follow that it must be THE solution. Sure, 9 billion people can be fed and an Indian subcontinent and a half of arable land can also be given over to biomass growth, within a changing climate, and with dyeing and dead oceans. There also is a tooth fairy and an Easter bunny and Santa Claus.
Anthropogenically enhanced weathering, like next-gen nukes, given where we are in abrupt climate change, are immaterial to the heat-engine aspect of human society. Metanoia is coming. The social stories of “Chicken Little” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” have been powerfully used to run out the clock on any window we had for the savior of sapient behavior. Freedom, as the right to be irresponsible, like the concept of limited liability law enabled markets creating ‘wealth’, are practiced beliefs that are not without consequences. The arch of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice. We, in conjunction with trusted motivated reasoning, choose the wrong side.
There were no missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons until the late 1950s. Bombers were the delivery vehicles until the Sputnik era.
And by the late ’50s what was their accuracy? Probably better than 20%. If so, you are stating what the public knew and when, not what the strategic planning guys were working with; planning for and around.
But thanks for the research and info. Interesting. A part of the story I wasn’t told. And I wasn’t told what I was told until long after it was impertinent.
And while I’m commenting, the energy necessary to extract CO2 directly from the air is significant. The recyclable wate required to do this at scale with next-gen nukes is way too little for all the energy that is needed within the timeframe physics delimits and the technology, within CapitalismFail, can deliver.
Also, the suggestion that nuclear fission is in its infancy at 70 years is interesting. I’ve pondered this. By that metric oil is about twice as old, and in its adolescent phase. Whale oil must have died as an infant. But fat, like phat, is in its old age and still going strong! 😉
Hope springs eternal in the human breast, but how often is it rational? Commenting while drinking my evening beer is …
Humans have been drilling for petroleum since 1849, but they have been burning hydrocarbons for thousands of years. They have understood the value and application of fire even longer.
Fission, on the other hand, is a completely new phenomenon that was not discovered until 1939. Even atomic radiation itself was unknown until 1895. Before that, the atom was thought to be the smallest unit of matter and also thought to be unchangeable.
You appear to have an almost religious acceptance of your theory that capitalism is doomed to fail. I’m not sure where you live or work or how you access the internet, but please take the time to observe your surroundings and recognize the contributions and abilities of the humans around you.
With regard to your theory that peak oil means that we are inevitably going to have fewer “energy slaves” in the future, I suggest you learn more about the enormous stores of energy available to us in the form of thorium, uranium, and plutonium. Fission fuel is inexhaustible. https://issuu.com/johna.shanahan/docs/060912_lmmp_stanford_nuclear_fissio
Thanks for the thoughtful reply and the time it represents. FYI, I discipline myself to use the term CapitslismFail for our economic meme to try to break through the motivated reasoning of the devotees of it as a functional religion. With motivated reasoning we cannot not be ‘religious’, only conscious of what we are religious/irrational about. My use of the term is not intended to communicate a theory, rather bring attention to, in the case of CapitalismFail, the irrationality of the limited liability laws that enable it. Nature doesn’t work by such laws. Everything is interconnected in ways we often just don’t think or feel about. As we are learning the hard way, with CapitalismFail’s Anthropocene and abrupt climate change, this has consequences. Depending on the timeline one uses to make their judgement, it isn’t doomed to fail, it has already done so.
As conscious creatures, don’t we have to constantly work to mitigate the fact that we can make choices that we socially agree feel good, but which are not really thought through? Systemically, isn’t freedom the right to be responsible? Haven’t we sort of agreed to forget these things?
The internal combustion engine functioned like the nuclear reactor to begin the oil age and its energy slaves. Kerosene, which did get produced earlier, as you note, was a needed replacement for whale oil. Demand for whale oil was outstripping supply, and the supply was being driven to extinction.
I’m beginning to get that you aren’t going to give an inch in your devotion to compassion for humanity and the promoting next-gen nukes to keep CapitalismFail powered. Energy is critical to it, carbon free energy is even more critical to it. Getting all the formally fossil/sequestered carbon back in the ground and out of the ocean–like yesterday–is turning out to be super critical to it. Scaled next-gen nukes are a pretty good fit for an energy source for this work. But CapitalismFail is primarily fueled by credit. That credit is a bubble that oil blew. There is more to the problem of keeping CapitalismFail alive than clean energy. To the degree that you haven’t seemed to get, or at least value, this point is likely an example of how motivated reasoning works.
And we do need each other to really look around us and see what is RedPill real. Motivated reasoning is the Blue Pill…and, socially, from what I see and experience, it’s fed intravenously.
BTW, have you been following the reported tabling of Anthropogenic carbon dioxide? This is happening concurrently with atmospheric levels rising at accelerating rates. What is your take on this decoupling? Mine: https://paulbeckwith.net/the-miracle-of-the-momentthe-terror-of-the-now/
You misunderstand me, my motivations, and my prescriptions for the future. The dominance of hydrocarbons in our economy should have ended decades ago, but the people that controlled or represented the concentrated pools of wealth associated with the trade engaged in an effective campaign that included efforts to scare people away from a formidable competitor.
Greed is not good, but free thinking people who creatively solve problems and engage in productive trade with each other is good for society and good for the environment. Using energy slaves like petroleum, coal, methane, thorium or uranium is far better than the alternative and opens the probability of prosperity to a far larger segment of the population.
The idea of using credit is fine as long as there is a future income or value stream that can pay off the loan. I’m not a fan of efforts aimed at forcing companies to “keep oil in the ground” but I am fine with displacing enough demand for the product that the market discourages aggressive investments aimed at getting oil out of the ground. That is one of the inevitable consequences of enabling nuclear technologies to compete in a market based on reality rather than based on fears stoked by exaggerated predictions of dire health risks.
Yes, please I want a reactor in my back yard!
I also need 2 bundles of slightly used LWR fuel to heat my swimming pool. Will pay for shipping.
Be careful about volunteering to pay shipping costs for reusable nuclear fuel.
Relevant to this discussion is the section in Atomic Energy by Diamant on the application of nuclear-district-heating schemes. This is one of those books which contains a wealth of information, but isn’t well-written (in fact I bought it on the strength of a bad review) ; it turns out that district heating, & the use of atomic energy therein, is the author’s speciality.
I would have a small modular reactor installed in my backyard if I had sufficient property to do so. While some may say that is just an excuse and that I really wouldn’t do it if I did have such property, the fact of the matter is that I really would do it. Having worked at nuclear power plants, I am not concerned about their safety and I am not afraid of low level radiation.
Abandoning both fossil fuels and nuclear power in favor of wind and solar for generating electricity will ultimately result in sky-rocketing energy costs. If I could get free electricity from living on a property that is licensed for an operating SMR, I would sell my home and move to such property in a heartbeat.
I would love to get all of my electricity and heating from nuclear energy. I am down for living with a small reactor in my backyard. If any one of the SMR companies create an initiative similar to Rod’s suggestion then let me know.
My environs are too sparsely populated for district heating, but I’d sure love my electricity to be fossil-free.
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