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31 Comments

  1. “…they expect that they will be able to extract 60 times as much energy out of every kilogram of uranium as they do today.” What? Where is this number coming from? What reprocessing cycle yields this sort of net gain? Not PUREX. or one of its modifications.

    1. “What reprocessing cycle yields this sort of net gain? Not PUREX. or one of its modifications.”
      Well, they’re obviously talking about breeding from the U-238.

    2. (short answer) If they are reprocessing, they don’t have to manage fuel for higher burn-ups; reducing the need for burnable neutron poisons in the fresh fuel. More neutrons will now be available to go and breed additional fuel.

      1. How can reprocessing get 60 times the energy?
        What I can see you have to burn almost every thing for that number.
        I will son know, this kind of news will likely come out soon.

        1. Not just reprocessing by itself. Recycling from LWRs and operation of fast spectrum reactors. It is a multi-stage technology effort.

          1. They are also using the DUPIC cycle where by LWR spent fuel is reburned in their CANDUs without reprocessing.

      2. Burnable neutron poisons are necessary regardless in most LWR cores, and reprocessing is not a substitute for proper in-core fuel management.

        1. Seems like low burn-up fuel would reduce the shielding requirement (and cost) for reprocessing of the fuel. Of course that might make diversion easier though.

          1. Burnup is one of the key factors determining the isotopic composition of spent nuclear fuel, the others being its initial composition and the neutron spectrum of the reactor. Low fuel burnup is essential for the production of weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons, in order to produce plutonium that is predominantly 239Pu with the smallest possible proportion of 240Pu and 242Pu. That is not consistent with higher utilization, or lower reactivity (reducing the shielding requirement.) IMHO this is a case of typically poor reportage, rather than anything revolutionary.

        2. <blockquote>Burnable neutron poisons are necessary regardless in most LWR cores, and reprocessing is not a substitute for proper in-core fuel management.</blockquote>
          Use thorium instead of poisons. There’s no reason to throw neutrons away when you can make fuel with them; Shippingport showed that.

    3. There are reports of a deal with Russia by China for two BN800 reactors. Russia has 30 years of experience with the BN 600. There are claims that it proved to be the most reliable in their fleet. The BN 800 is reported to be rated at between 800 and 900 mWh. The first BN 800 is expected to become operational this year. Too bad that olur government got cold feet on the IFR. The real shame is that oor DOE has such a small R&D budget. We appear to be doomed to be bested by several other nations when it comes to energy innovation. We unfortlunately have been sidetracked subsidizing expensive, diffuse and intemittent wind energy.

      1. The DOE can always use more money, after all, energy security in domestic sources of supply is real “homeland security”.

  2. China was using Russian expertise to launch a small research reactor in summer 2010, the course is on a closed fuel cycle (I think). Russian research reactors, rather, indicates 70 times the energy output. Most exciting, I think it is the Indian three-stage nuclear power program. Already this year we will see if they succeed in a large reactor with what they managed to do since April 2008 in research reactors. This makes nuclear power as almost free in countries like the U.S. and Sweden with large funds for final disposal, the fuel will have a high negative price. Gas power can not compete with ‘free’ ..
    Sweden can convert their waste to the country’s entire need for electrical and chemical energy in nearly 500 years, start paying with waste funds.
    I am sure that today’s waste is tomorrow’s resources.
    Yours sincerely Gunnar Littmarck

    1. *** I am sure that today’s waste is tomorrow’s resources
      You and several thousands smart people from the nuclear industry around the world… The trouble is that countries like France and Russia which are willing to be paid to “take care of the waste” are not willing to manifest the real value of this resource …

  3. Making electricity is a team sport and Rod is not a team player. Rod likes to get upset by things so he go looking for things to get upset about. Here is the question from the National Journal.

  4. It’s probably worth pointing out that the uranium reserves in question (by themselves) wouldn’t really represent a 3000 – 4000 year supply. It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s likely that if nuclear breeder reactor technology really takes off in a big way, we’ll start using more and more nuclear power (doing things like synthesizing fuels, desalinating water on large scales, new industrial processes that use more electrical power in lieu of coal or gas, powering networks of electric rail through more of the world than we currently do, charging electric vehicles, etc), so, because of increased consumption, that 3000-4000 might conceivably drop down to as “little” as 1000 years supply.
    However, of course, as most of you know, there are other sources of Uranium (phosphates, seawater extraction) as well as the Thorium that Rod mentions, so even at very high levels of consumption, if they’re breeding the fuel, they will definitely be able to power their country for many thousands of years – just *maybe* not on the ‘current’ supplies.

      1. @Guest: Yes that’s true. But this article is, I believe, referring to a fixed/static amount of fuel, and saying the “current” supply of 50-70 years *worth of energy* can be extended to produce 60 times as much energy. The problem with the “years worth of energy” as a unit of comparison or estimation is that the number of years of energy you get is determined by how rapidly you use that energy up.
        Perhaps the range of 50-70 years already includes within that range the necessary room for possible future growth in energy consumption – I’m not sure how that range was come upon.
        It just appears to me that the ‘range’ of years is so ‘tight’ that the estimates must be based upon current consumption levels, *and* current reserves. You’re correct that as price rises, more reserves will likely be discovered, and yes, we can *probably* harvest uranium from the oceans pretty much forever.
        Of course, as long as we make our current reserves last long *enough* it might be that down the road, terrestrial fusion power will become a reality, then we have an even *more* inexhaustible energy supply than even uranium + thorium can provide. That’s why, I’m personally not worried whether or not we have 5 Billion years’ supply of uranium and thorium – just using fission for a century or two until we bring fusion online seems like it would be sufficient, *probably*. Even if you’re really pessimistic and don’t think we’ll have fusion power within the next hundred years, it seems like it will happen *eventually*, as long as we have enough power for our civilization to last until then, and nuclear can *easily* provide that power for thousands of years with known reserves.
        In truth, we probably shouldn’t mine any more uranium (we probably will, just because it’s cheaper). We already have enough fuel supplies with breeding to last thousands of years, as this article discusses, so personally, I think it’s time to shut down the Uranium mines (or at least, begin to plan to shut them down within a few decades’ time). That’s not going to happen right away, but that’s my opinion on what would be best.

  5. The answer is right under our feet. It is the hydrogen fusion that produces heavy helium in volcanic vents. This “Contolled Fusion” is discrete and spread over the entire earth mantile in cavitation inplosions involving Borax and water. Sound like a Chinese plot or Russian for that matter? Well, if imitation of natural processes is a plot then Rod should jump on this and get to the source of the matter. It is application of this process to produce direct conversion of fusion energy to electricity or even using it’s thermal qualities to drive a Carnot Rankine axial flow conbined cycle green steam machine to produce electricity in a more conventional manner. Hey, it is down there and Congress is certain it will take more time to develope the resource….like when Hell freezes over!

  6. Judging from the article, the natural gas people have certainly gotten their ducks in a row, though the controversy over fracking may throw a kink into their plans.
    Unfortunately, the casualties of a switch to gas for power generation will likely be US heavy industry, as gas is an essential feedstock for the chemical industry, at the least, and as prices go up, jobs will be lost. So much for full employment.

  7. Natural gas does look like its going to be the fuel of the decade. But in the long run nothing can overcome nuclear’s inherent advantages.

  8. OT, Rod, but necessary:
    I wish you’d get rid of js-kit comments. They have no preview, no list of allowed HTML, no comment perma-links, and no back-link to the originating blog post. The one level of threading you get isn’t worth the gross deficiencies; Blogger comments are arguably better on the merits.

    1. Engineer-Poet – good points for consideration. I am not terribly satisfied with the current choices either.

  9. On the main Atomic Insights page there are various articles (about Yucca Mountain and about LMFBRs, for instance) that have the tagline “Right Answer, Wrong Question”.
    The same is true of natural gas — it IS the answer, to the question “How do I get sufficient campaign contributions to be re-elected?”

  10. Mr. Adams is correct in pointing out that there are many variables — from new regulations to increased consumption — that will influence our decisions on energy production and could make the United States’ large reserves of natural gas look less large years from now. That is precisely why CEA believes that the United States must tap a broad range of energy sources in order to achieve a more secure energy future. In the face of rapidly growing demand, we will have to produce both traditional and alternative sources of energy: oil and wind, solar and nuclear, and natural gas. Of course, we don’t believe that natural gas is the sole answer to our energy future. We understand that the U.S. energy market is massive and complex and constantly changing. But natural gas must be an important part of the mix going forward. No matter how you measure it, 3.22 quadrillion cubic feet is nothing to sneeze at. As we see it, a national energy strategy based on a broad range of resouces makes a lot more sense than Mr. Adams’ assertion that “uranium and thorium” are, as he says, the answer to all of our future energy challenges.

    1. Strangely enough I don’t see any nuclear power companies in your list of affiliates Mindy-Lee, but many from the fossil fuel sector.

    2. I have nothing against using moderate amounts of coal, oil or gas. I just do not believe that our consumption rate of any of those limited resources should increase. We need to leave as much as possible of those valuable and difficult to replace fossil fuels for the use of many future generations.

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