Atomic Show #294 – Mikal Boe, Core Power Founder and CEO
Mikal Boe has spent 30 years in and around the commercial shipping industry. Several years ago, he began wondering how his industry was going to meet the increasingly stringent rules for air pollution and CO2 production that were being implemented by governing regulators, especially the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
His extensive technical research led him to recognize that nuclear energy was the only available technology that could supply the power and energy requirements for competitive ships and also meet ever tightening regulations on their emissions.
But he also recognized that moving from the established technology of efficient, rugged, well-proven diesel engines was going to take time and would only happen if founded on solid groundwork. Included in that evaluation was an understanding of the need for open, honest, and inclusive conversations with a wide range of stakeholders.
Founded in 2018, Core Power is focused on commercializing nuclear energy products that customers want to buy because they are the best available solution to their needs. Cost plays a role, but so does capability, acceptability, environmental footprint, and longevity. Core Power’s leaders have determined that the technology that is best positioned to meet the needs of their target market is the molten chloride fast reactor.
In partnership with TerraPower as the technical lead and Southern Company as an experienced owner/operator, Core Power is participating in the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor project.
Under a Risk Reduction grant in the US DOE’s Advanced Demonstration Reactor Program (ADRP), the team will be developing and constructing a Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE) a zero or low power reactor using the materials and salt mixtures that will be used in full scale products.
On this episode, Mikal Boe explains how he and his team made their choices and how they plan to take a step by step approach to achieving their goal of giving the commercial shipping industry a viable, competitive nuclear propulsion option.
When you listen, you will hear Mikal describing what might initially appear to be a counterintuitive initial step in the process of demonstrating and refining ships using nuclear propulsion to its full advantage.
One aspect of their plan must be emphasized – it involves a dramatic change in the current model of crewing, building, and maintaining ocean going vessels. Even though their overall costs will win many competitive battles, the accounts that make up those costs will be substantially shifted and prioritized.
Comments are always appreciated.
Disclosure: Nucleation Capital –where I am a managing partner – is so enthused about Core Power’s prospects for success that we joined their recent fundraising round as the only participating venture capital fund. (There were several larger investors that are not venture capital funds.)
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I am a bit skeptical for one aspect of the idea. I remember Senior Reactor Operators (SROs) spent about half their time in training. Would this be required for the crew of the postulated nuke ships?
People who live on the coasts of the United States almost always ignore the rest of us. My thoughts turned to ore boats and grain carriers on the great lakes. Could the existing fleet that now plies these waters be retrofitted to nuclear power propulsion? The distances are not as great as the ships that sail the seven seas. Any assistance needed for the potentially retrofitted ships should be more readily available. I would also think the nuclear parameters of the boats could be remotely monitored by those who have had the extensive training that regulations may demand. These people could monitor multiple vessels remotely and issue any necessary instructions to the crews if unusual operating events are seen on any of the vessels.
I would be inclined to think that a treaty could be negotiated with the Canadians to allow such vessels as they have grain shipments to make and may wish to have their own nuclear vessels. They have the same interests in protecting the Great Lake environment as the Americans.
The ammonia idea sounds like a lost cause unless dictated by international regulations. However, green shipping could be marketed and perhaps it would sell. Good salesmen can sell refrigerators to those who dwell in the Arctic.
Guys with British accents always sound like they know what they are talking about. It added credibility to all of your guests statements.
Thanks for the Episode!
Happy New Year!
I like the idea of using nuclear powered ships in the Great Lakes and perhaps on some large rivers and inland waterways.
Short-range transports like Great Lakes boats can get by with methanol, ammonia or LNG. Probably not worth a nuclear reactor just to decarbonize them.
Nuclear powered ships aren’t JUST low CO2 and CO2 emissions are not the ONLY measure of effectiveness.
Nuclear energy eliminates all air pollution, uses a fuel that is very low cost on a per unit energy basis, and also frees up space and weight for more useful transport capability. (Also eliminates ballast water issues, which should be a big deal in a large freshwater lake system.)
nuclear energy eliminates all air pollution?
“Not All pollution”, but it does cut the burning of hydrocarbons by millions of tons! Does anyone know if there has been studies done for the mining and processes ect? I am pro nuclear but I’m also all of the above energy. I’d like to see nuclear plants going up across the country again as they did in the past. I’d rather save the hydrocarbons (oil) used for the production of things we utilize on a daily basis.
There is a resistance now to nuclear power plants which are operated by experts from separate locations . I have doubts about civilians accepting nuclear plants onboard.
We may better look at wind to run the ships with newer technology than sail, the operators continuing to be called sailors. We could have vertical axis wind turbines powering air compressors and carrying compressed air on board. vAWTs produce power irrespective of wind direction.
We could supplement it by photo electric panels with best available battery storage on board.
I am a great nuclear enthusiast but will prefer it for regular nuclear plants and direct use of nuclear heat for various uses.
I was not thinking that the offshore people would do the actual operation of the ship. I would want someone right there on the boat. My thoughts were more that the offshore person(s) would function as a technical advisor. They would receive ongoing telemetry of all ship’s status, but the persons onboard the ship would have actual control.
I think there would be time for verbal and written instructions from the highly trained advisor if they received adverse alarms beyond what the crew could handle.
Too many smart hackers out there that could find a back door to controls.
The control system would be local.
I like the idea of nuclear powered ships but the main focus IMO is getting the electrical grid nuclear powered first. The degrowth marxist movement won’t allow nuclear. Their fixation is wind and solar made in China who bought off the politicians and fear monger media propagandist whom destroyed nuclear using chernobyl WW II and Japan accident to put the fear into the populace. There is really nothing wrong with hydrocarbons and the energy density they bring as compared to wind/solar..In America we have a much cleaner way to utilize coal oil and natural gas. When one uses false claims IE CO 2 as a pollutant I knew we we’re in trouble. Now it seems the nuclear crowd joined the scam against hydrocarbon energy. I’m pro nuke, but the focus should be of the power grid first. We just need the right energy leaders to educate people on how great nuclear power is compared to hydrocarbons via density. People are not buying the CO 2 scare other than the ill educated. When nuclear proponents use it for advance of nuclear it serves no good purpose other than to destroy our hydrocarbon economy.
I’m educated in physics and optics. I know what the temperature lapse rate means for the planet as CO2 increases. I knew it more than 40 years ago. What is happening today appals and disgusts me, but it is no surprise. No surprise whatsoever. We should have averted it.
Our hydrocarbons are drawn from half a billion years of detritus. It is not and cannot be renewed at our rate of consumption; it is inherently unsustainable. World human energy consumption could be maintained on 1/3 of the 32,000 tons of uranium fed to the oceans by the world’s rivers every year.
Get a fscking clue.
Nice language Napoleon.
Ice core data from Antarctica provide a record of temperatures going back 800,000 years. The ratio of two types of oxygen is used as a guide to the temperature of the air at the time it was entrapped within the accumulating ice and snow.
The 100,000-year cycle of long ice ages punctuated by the much shorter and blessedly warm interglacials show up clearly here. These huge temperature swings of more than 12°C (21°F) were not driven by CO₂ changes, but by the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit (how much the elliptical orbit differs from a perfect circle). This natural temperature driver is active yet today and will take us unwillingly into the next ice age at some point whether we like it or not.
Wrong. The Milankovitch forcings amount to 0.45 W/m², far too small to account for the glacial cycle. The Milankovitch forcings are amplified by GHG feedbacks, primarily CO2.
Were the Milankovitch cycle in control, we would already be headed for renewed icing. Instead, the arctic and antarctic are thawing at a frightening pace. This is because the Milankovitch forcings are far smaller than the ~2 W/m² anthropogenic forcing added since the dawn of the Industrial revolution.
Lol, so we’ve only been engaged in the use of hydrocarbons for just over 200 years and only really heavy in the last 50.
The one thing constant about temperature is that it is never constant. We find it rising and falling no matter what time scale we observe, be it hundreds of years or tens of millions of years. This chart, showing the 10,000 years of temperature changes since the end of the last ice age confirms this truism.
Here we see quite large temperature swings much greater than what has been observed in the last 150 or so years. Each one of those moves up or down were caused entirely by natural forces.
Those promoting the notion that man’s actions are the primary driver of recent temperature changes require that you believe that these natural forces suddenly and inexplicably ceased functioning at the beginning of the 20th century and that human emissions are now responsible.
The highest CO2 concentration on record in the Vostok ice core is 298.7 ppm at 3123.51 m depth (325400 years ago, 323485 years mean air age). Today’s CO2 concentration is 416.96 ppm. It is unprecedented in the available historical record, and is probably only equalled in recent geologic history by the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
You grossly underestimate the power of exponential trends. The current trend has been given the name “carbon pulse”, and it IS a pulse which is in the process of coming to an end. Petroleum consumption has outpaced discoveries for quite a few years already, so our net consumption will shortly be on the slowing side of the logistic curve. Coal and natural gas are the wildcards. Leakage of methane has an immediate climate impact of roughly 120x as much as the CO2 it eventually oxidizes into, and that should worry you too.
Wrong again. Anthropogenic forces work through the same mechanisms as the natural ones, particularly GHGs. The problem is that we have introduced so much GHG effect so quickly. If we’d slowly released 0.45 W/m² of GHGs to offset the Milankovitch drivers, we could have kept Earth in an interglacial state while the carbon supplies held out. Instead, we dumped 2 W/m² worth into the atmosphere and the pace of addition is still accelerating.
We could have done something about this over the last 60 years had we gone nuclear. Instead, the fossil interests like the Rockefellers demonized nuclear energy to profit off their sales of detritus. Now the bill for that foolishness is coming due; torrential rains washed out the Trans-Canada highway in both Labrador and Newfoundland and British Columbia. Only 21 years into this century, we’re seeing “500-year” events with frightening frequency. The entire “extreme event” design basis for all our infrastructure is being invalidated before our eyes.
I am fortunate enough to live where the ground drains well, the local water level is about ten feet below my house and it is controlled by a dam rather than being at the mercy of natural ebbs and flows. Others are not. I hope that you are foolish enough to live someplace like next to the Houston ship channel and refuse to evacuate when the inevitable hurricane gives you a 25-foot storm surge and drowns you. You deserve no better.
Please refrain from making statements that can be interpreted as wishing death upon another commenter. I realize it can br frustrating to engage with someone with a diametrically opposed position who does not budge.
(I have made it abundantly clear here and other places on this site that I strongly disagree with the position that James is advocating.)
I hope that you are foolish enough to live someplace like next to the Houston ship channel and refuse to evacuate when the inevitable hurricane gives you a 25-foot storm surge and drowns you. You deserve no better.
Nice, you know what they say about when one loses the argument like you. They generally go intoPersonal attack mode. First with vulgar language then wishing death upon a human classy I tell you. Maybe you should move to China and tell them to stop building a dirty coal plant every week if you really want to stop the scam of making CO2 the end of the world.
For more than 6,100 years (or 60%) of the current interglacial warm period, the temperature was warmer than it is today.
Are today’s temperatures unusual and unprecedented? No and no.
Promoters of man-made climate catastrophe state categorically that our current temperature is “unusual and unprecedented.” This chart of the last 10,000 years of temperature data may be the most substantial piece of evidence that the modern warming is neither unusual nor unprecedented. Rather, it is very similar to nine other warming trends of the last 10,000 years.
For more than 6,100 years (or 60%) of the current interglacial warm period, the temperature was warmer than it is today.Of the nine earlier significant periods of warming since the end of the last ice age, five had higher rates of temperature increase and seven had larger total increases in temperature. Moreover, each of the previous warming cycles experienced significantly higher temperatures than today.
It should be clear, based on this chart, that our current warming trend is a natural and predictable result of our fortunate exit out of the Little Ice Age.
1. There is no reason why we can’t address the electrical power grid AND global shipping in parallel. There are synergies. In addition, there will be plenty of resources available for the companies and business consortia that prove they can produce nuclear energy products on a predictable schedule for a competitive cost. In shipping, it’s somewhat easier to achieve a competitive cost because there isn’t any “cheap natural gas” or coal to compete against.
2. You and I have a strong disagreement about the importance of addressing excessive CO2 emissions and the resulting climate change. CO2 is a natural compound and it plays an important role in biology – but feces is also natural and helps plants grow. Both can be pollutants with uncontrolled dumping.
The idea that the Rockefeller Foundation torpedoed nuclear power
at the behest of Big Oil is simply unhistoric. The RF went after nuclear
weapons testing and nuclear power was collateral damage. Big Oil
made a big bet on nuclear power in the 1960’s and took a big
hit when nuclear power lost control of its costs in the 1970’s.
ALARA-based regulation ensured that that condition was permanent.
ALARA comes directly from the “no safe dose” (aka no threshold) radiation protection model.
Here is a link to the history of creating and marketing that model.
With regard to the “big” bet majors put on nuclear, my research indicates it was in the single digit percent of annual CAPEX. IOW “big” is a relative term.
And as you have well documented ALARA. Was a significant factor in loss of cost control.
One more thing – Engineer-Poet wrote “fossil fuel interests LIKE the Rockefellers.” That was an example. I presume it was NOT intended to imply that there was one – admittedly influential – group of fossil fuel interests that benefitted greatly from antinuclear opposition.
Under the mystery solving principle of “Cui bono” (Who benefits?) it is impossible to assert that fossil fuels over the past 52 years (dating back to 1970s when nuclear energy production was high enough to show up on world energy share graphs) have NOT made TRILLIONs of dollars more than they would have if nuclear had grown in proportion to its natural superior characteristics.
That doesn’t mean that I believe nuclear is superior in ALL of the characteristics by which energy consumers choose their preferred sources.
Fossil fuel interests include such organizations as the Soviet Union pre 1991 and Russia now, Saudi Arabia, major oil and gas, independent oil and gas, coal companies, major multinational banks like Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan (now merged), freight rail roads, freight ocean shipping, pipeline operators…
I’ve documented a few instances of direct opposition from fossil fuel interests – https://atomicinsights.com/smoking-gun/
Here are two articles that document quite recent activity by the API and shale gas interests in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Nit from a one-time student of Latin: it’s “cui bono”.
Given their long knowledge of global warming and follow up actions. I would find it very difficult that the oil and gas industry would do otherwise than to hamper the progress of the nuclear industry. Who needs competition and loss of market share?
Here’s a link on the global warming thing:
Let’s also not forget that the oil folks have people like the Koch brothers. They have worked very hard for a long time to mold legislation and public opinion to their liking. I’m pretty sure the results have been most gratifying to them. They have some of the brightest people in the country working for them.
The fact that Big Oil turned anti-nuclear in the late 1990’s after
it’s big and ill timed investment in gas says nothing about
the Rockefeller Foundation’s motivation in the 1950’s.
The history is laid out in the piece Nuclear Power and Fossil Fuel
at the gordianknotbook.com web site.
Which essay covers this story. I don’t have time to read a whole book to find a single topic.
Just curious – have you ever read Daniel Yergin”s “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power” or “The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World?”
Those massive works aren’t light reading, but my copies are seriously dogeared, highlighted and underlined. They are only a couple of the half dozen or more tombs about the energy industry that I use as the basis for understanding that there is serious competition, there are characters who recognize that profits increase when supplies are constrained and others who work diligently to constrain supplies provided by their competitors.
How about “The Rockefeller Century?”
Are you aware how deeply involved David Rockefeller, as the CEO of Chase Manhattan, was in the global oil business or how involved Laurence Rockefeller was in funding “environmental” aka antinuclear organizations?
Have you looked at the financial statements for the Rockefeller Foundation at the time when they were funding to effort to shift the official radiation protection model from a threshold “tolerance dose” to the no threshold (no safe dose) model. Fully 70% of its portfolio was in stocks and bonds traceable to Standard Oil. About 70% or more of its annual income was produced from interests and dividends on those stocks.
You have very clearly documented the almost unlimited cost increases that As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) imposes on the industry. You also recognize how the Rockefeller Foundation helped create the Linear NO THRESHOLD radiation protection model. I’m not sure why you can’t see that ALARA follows directly from the belief that there is NO THRESHOLD (no safe dose). If there is no safe dose, regulators are justified in making doses as low as reasonably achievable.
The quote you use in telling why the RF invested in no threshold is interesting reading.
Fosdick wondered “whether the new energies can be controlled” and hoped that the RF could contribute to that control. I’s possible that he was only talking about controlling the bomb; but he clearly referred to “the energies”, which would include the commercial use of atomic power.
I have never implied that the RF or the petroleum industry were trying to completely HALT nuclear energy. They wanted to CONTROL its growth and expansion. They wanted to tamper enthusiasm and increase caution – which they knew would increase costs.
In December of 1953, the President of the United States gave a seminal speech to the United Nations promising to share technical knowledge about peaceful atomic energy uses and stated that controllable power from the atom had already been achieved. (In the summer of 1953, the Submarine Thermal Reactor (STR-1) began operating in Idaho and immediately conducted a full power run equivalent to a simulated journey across the Atlantic Ocean. EBR-1 had powered its building.)
Immediately after Eisenhower’s speech his administration began working with congressional leaders to amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which had effectively bottled up nuclear energy development by making it a government monopoly and then putting power reactor development on a starvation diet while the “civilian” Atomic Energy Commission focused on bomb making and building out a massive manufacturing complex.
Ater the act was amended enough to rename it as the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, there was strong interest in commercial development. The US government funded a demonstration project, but GE began a project with PG&E and Bechtel to build their own reactor almost immediately. Construction on that plant began in 1955, so surely its planning was know among people at the top echelon’s of the energy business.
The New York Times published several articles in 1954 about the coming of commercial nuclear power. The RF’s decision to ask the NAS to produce the BEAR report came at the end of 1954.
Your brief document gives Big Oil a pass on being opposed to nuclear because they made a few minor – relative to their size – investments. Several of those investments became serious impediments to nuclear energy growth.
You say that electricity generation wasn’t an important part of their business, but from the earliest days of the petroleum business it has been interested in selling every part of the barrel – including the bottom part. Power plants might have been a “dumping ground” for the bottom of the barrel, but oil companies liked having a market where that material could be sold for useful revenue.
Oil is a multinational business. The UK, France, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan were all places with a high portion of their power being generated by burning oil. Other than the UK, they weren’t yet building nuclear plants in the 1950s, but they had certainly made their interest known at international conferences. Leaders in the hydrocarbon industry don’t just focus on the next quarter or even the next year. They think in terms of decades because their investments take so long to develop and last so long after they begin producing revenues.
Anyway, you are free to interpret history your way. But I’d appreciate it if you did not call me a “fossil fuel conspiracist.”
I did not call you anything. But if I believed that there was a
conspiracy on the part of Big Oil that derailed nuclear in
the early days,I would be proud to be called a fossil fuel
conspiracist. The Big Oil bet on nuclear was not minor.
It was so big, that when it went sour it took out Gulf Oil.
Anyway anybody can read the piece and decide where
they come down.
Yes, I have read The Prize. No, I have not read The Quest.
Nuclear Power and Fossil Fuel.
You have to scroll down on the home page to get to it.
It’s separate from the Flop book.
Jagdish says (Jan 8 at 0132): “There is a resistance now to nuclear power plants which are operated by experts from separate locations.” True, remote backup advice would be needed by a commercially-trained reactor technician on a commercial ship, as he would lack the expensive expertise of a Navy-trained reactor operator. However that will also be true for most of tomorrow’s reactors, on land as well as at sea.
Serious global replacement of fossil fuels by 2050 will require an exponentially increasing number of nuclear installations. As a rough ballpark, ~3 kW times ten billion people would require ~30,000 GW of power stations. A correspondingly large number of nuclear technicians must be trained before the power stations begin generating. However training cannot be accelerated as fast as mass production, so the most common reactors would have to be both predictable and autonomous, almost unmanned. The (relatively) few technicians would have to act in teams remote from their installations, having to handle puzzling or threatening behaviour remotely.
Remote monitoring is a read-only exercise, with limited vulnerability to hacking, so the technicians can remotely monitor in security. Some more vulnerable actions, such as restart, would require savvy actions from the man-on-site, in dialogue with the relevant experts far away. Even at the smallest installations there is always such a person, just as a diesel powered generator requires an attendant with minimal training. If that minimal training includes following instructions from the remote technician over secure communications, then all the know-how of the industry can be delivered to the most remote power plants.
Forgive the ignorance, but what happens if a nuclear powered ship sinks ? Is it the fact that the reactor uses chloride salts peculiar about that ?
Alex – There are already nine nuclear reactors in sunken submarines on the deep seabed. As far as I know, all their fission products are safely locked up in the now-cold ceramic, uranium dioxide. Any trace leakage would be dispersed, or trapped in the still clays on the sea floor. With you, I suspect that the maritime industry would not be seriously considering powering their ships with the more fragile liquid-chloride reactors.
However the maritime industry probably would be interested in plate-steel reactors that they could construct routinely in shipyards, then barge to a convenient destination dedicated to the production of synthetic fuels for marine diesels, such as methanol. At the end of their lives, the maritime industry, already skilled at deconstructing plate-steel structures, might adapt to the radiological hazards of deconstructing the irradiated and contaminated steel. Although radioactive steel can be buried somewhere at great cost, it might also conceivably be recycled as scrap steel into massive steel structures, such as ships’ keels.
Can you explain me what is the benefit of ammonia over other clean C-based bio-fuels like methanol, for example ? In particular, is an ammonia fuel cell easier/more practical than a MeOH one ?
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