Rod Adams is Managing Partner of Nucleation Capital, a venture fund that invests in advanced nuclear, which provides affordable access to this clean energy sector to pronuclear and impact investors. Rod, a former submarine Engineer Officer and founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., which was one of the earliest advanced nuclear ventures, is an atomic energy expert with small nuclear plant operating and design experience. He has engaged in technical, strategic, political, historic and financial analysis of the nuclear industry, its technology, regulation, and policies for several decades through Atomic Insights, both as its primary blogger and as host of The Atomic Show Podcast. Please click here to subscribe to the Atomic Show RSS feed. To join Rod's pronuclear network and receive his occasional newsletter, click here.
I won’t get a chance to watch this until later this evening, but I have seen many earlier iterations of Gordon McDowell’s collaborations with Kirk Sorensen so I know this is going to be a quality watch.
Rod, I am very glad to see you post this without pointing out the long road ahead for the development of thorium-fueled (after initial startup) reactors. Thorium advocates have a tough line to toe, balancing touting the future safety and simplicity advantages that their Gen IV reactors will have against not giving the impression that existing Gen II and upcoming Gen III reactors are unsafe (since based on history, even Gen II reactors are far safer than fossil fuels).
Despite that tough line that thorium advocates have to toe, knowledge of the potential advantages presented by a large fleet of thorium-fueled reactors is enough to convert previously anti-nuclear people to “the light”, so the advantages of Gen IV reactors should be trumpeted even by Gen II Reactor advocates.
Advanced nuclear power production technology must be allowed and encouraged to be developed. The regulatory structures in place should not be stifle or sniff out advancement.
Following Steve Jobs death last week, the following quote of Steve stuck out to me: “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.”
I thought of this quote in relation to energy production systems and the oft-trumpeted theory here on Atomic Insights regarding fossil fuel interests being behind so many anti-nuclear activities, in other words, those interests being fearful of the death of their industry’s profitability (rather than the death of their whole industry). The following blog posting does a great job of discussing how energy production systems have advanced. http://bit.ly/eACz7i Ironically enough, the writer of this blog has a new posting relating the invention of the iPhone to the invention of James Watt’s steam engine. I would almost guarantee prior to reading it that that posting will be well worth the read.
Part of the way through, I was quite right about enjoying the blog posting: http://colinmcinnes.blogspot.com/2011/09/was-steve-jobs-iphone-more-important.html
Professor Colin McInnes is among the most penetrating analysts of the world of energy and engineering. I think there is a broad overlap between the views of Professor McInnes and the respect for evidence and views of our Blog host, Rod Adams.
No doubt, Robert. I don’t think you can see my first comment yet in response to this post since I put 2 URL’s in it (and it is thus awaiting moderation), but I’m sure you’ll agree with it.
One of the comments Kirk makes in that 5 minute montage, is that we can make liquid fuels using a nuclear reactor, plus atmospheric carbon dioxide and water. This is something I’ve heard about before.
Does anyone actually have any notion on what the financials of such an endeavor would be? Something might be theoretically possible, but if the resulting fuel costs are equivalent to $5/gallon gas, then it might not actually do us any good. I’m not saying it *would* be that expensive, but one thing I fear is that if we over-sell the merits of nuclear power, then people will respond rather negatively in the future when those perceived “promises” don’t happen.
I have looked at it a little. Kirk and other have more. It would likely be a second generation liquid fuel reactor because the temps involved are on the higher end of the scale (900 C).
Also the math is not very favorable price, assuming that one can make methane for the same cost as electricity say 7c / kwh equivalent that is approx. $17 /GJ compared to about $6 /GJ for methane today. So we are talking more like $10/ gallon gas. Also the land use might become an issue is C02 is only 1/2500 of the atmosphere and the last process I looked at only took .5-1% of the CO2 out of the air it took in so one would have to take in say 500,000 times the volume of air compared to the methane it produced. I suspect such a plant to be loud.
All in all. Can we do it? yes Is it economically feasible? maybe. Are there better solutions? probably.
This might be my bias here but I think we are better of electrifying our land transport system before we start messing with fuel fabrication.
@Chris, thanks for the reply. I’ve wondered before if there might be other ways to apply nuclear energy to the liquid fuels problem. What if, instead of trying to create gas from air and water, what if we do something like taking biomass of some sort (switchgrass, hemp, bamboo, something), and use the nuclear power to process the biomass?
I bet that would give a lot more bang for the buck? After all, seems to me the best way to extract CO2 from the air is to use plants to do it?
Sure biomass does look good/ok for liquid fuels. But when you do the math on estimated production of energy per area, most crops start to look bad and have high energy inputs. Algae has been the only crop that I have found looks good/ok on that metric. But I doubt we could produce much =more than we currently consume gobally in diesel/gas/jet fuel, given that we should also be planing to feed 9 billion people too. Hence my thoughts that an electrification of the land based transport is a good idea.
Also the research on algae has take a wrong turn in the last few years from removal of atmospheric CO2 to CO2 sequestration, which only leads to a 50% CO2 reduction (at most). A 50% reduction in CO2 is of course, nowhere if you believe in Anthroprogenic climate change, since energy demand will increase by more than that by 2050.
Is anyone able to speak of the potential for extracting CO2 from seawater as feedstock for a synfuel process? CO2 is apparently present at about 90ppm in surface seawater, about 1/4 the current concentration of atmospheric CO2. Seeing as seawater is ~1000 times as dense as air,this appears to my mind to merit investigation.
I am baffled by the attraction for extracting CO2 from any source where it is measured in parts per million (air, sea water) as a source of fuel feedstock.
The earth is well endowed with carbon and carbonaceous material at far higher concentrations that are much easier to access in massive quantities. (Biomass and coal deposits are two of the sources I think have far greater potential for economic extraction.)
If the goal is to reduce CO2 concentration in places where it is a contaminant at present concentrations (atmosphere, sea water) the best solution would be to plant a lot of trees, plants and grasses and let nature do its job to scrub out what we put in. It will be a slow process, but it was a slow process to put it all there in the first place. While the process is going on, we will all enjoy a greener, more life-filled planet that requires some serious, but rewarding effort – which means gainful employment for millions.
Rod, the point is to produce synthetic fuels which are ‘carbon-neutral’, as it is called. You are certainly correct that processing coal is much more convenient, but people who want to address the CO2 emmission issue will rightly point out that such an approach does not accomplish such emission reduction. So… does anyone know anything about using the much higher amounts of CO2 available in surface seawater as synfuel feedstock rather than atmospheric CO2, and how do the relative costs stack up? I’m kinda hoping it’ll work out cheaper.
@Craig – my point is that plants are a much more efficient way to scrub carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. I care little about using the term “carbon neutral” in marketing efforts. If someone is concerned about CO2, I will talk to them about zero carbon fission with carbon reductions enabled by all of the plants and trees we can save or create by not carpeting vast swaths of land with solar panels, windmills or “biomass farms”.
@Craig What woud you say to using the current concept of carbon sequestration from existing fossil plants as a source to provide the carbon for the synfuels? Especially when power companies are seeing a chance for a carbon tax in the future, this seems to me to be a more economic proposal. Huge underground storage costs would be a lot less if there were a plan for removing the CO2 (or better yet, selling it) for synfuel use.
Rod, I get that you’re not into the idea. That’s fine. I might not be either if it turns out to be utterly unfeasible. I’m actually asking if anyone has the knowledge to provide a few solid figures about this. The Green Freedom people made some interesting claims about their proposal which used atmospheric CO2 feedstock, so I’m wondering if that can be improved on by using CO2 from seawater instead. I’m not expecting people who reject the idea out of hand to respond.
@ TJ Corder:
I’d say that it sounds like a particularly dopey way of undermining the whole idea of what I’m getting at, which is to prevent the continued injection of CO2 into the atmosphere through the operation of our energy infrastructure. I regard plans for CO2 capture and sequestration as arrant nonsense, but at least the backers of those plans are claiming they’ll put the CO2 somewhere else apart from in the atmosphere, rather than turning it into liquid hydrocarbon fuel and burning it a second time in vehicles to be injected into the atmosphere after all. You’d be better off just doing as Rod suggests and converting the coal to liquid fuel, and replacing the coal plant with a nuclear plant.
I’ve just started watching this and I’m hooked. It’s IMO a brilliant piece of documentary moviemaking and editing (my own background includes professional film and video) and I can see it going theatrical. I was at the Protospace meeting and met Kirk. He has the passion necessary to overcome irrational objections to some types of energy and irrational support of other types.
The storytelling is also exactly right – I’m at the 20 minute mark and Kirk is still telling the story of how he discovered liquid fueled nuclear reactors and thorium. Rod – you’d need something like this to show how you discovered nuclear and the fossil fuel industry “conspiracy” that’s keeping the nuclear Gulliver staked down by the Lilliputians. (I put “conspiracy” in quotes because IMO what’s going on doesn’t quite meet the legal definition off a conspiracy, even though the result is the same, or worse.) The two of you could play “good cop – bad cop” – Kirk for the vision, you for the anger. 😉 Thanks for posting!
Thorium is just good fuel,
but the same regulatory obstructions in the United States that currently keep LWRs from being built would also keep Thorium LFTRs from being built in any numbers that would be significant to the nation’s energy future. The problem at the NRC is not lazy or lousy employees (on the contrary, me personal experience with NRC staffers is that they are intelligent, diligent, and hard working) but rather that NRC is badly and radically structured. By separating the technology advocacy and restrictive regulatory safety functions that once existed as a combined function under one agency roof at the AEC, the forces that brought into being the NRC (antinuclear organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass, early environmental lobby and fossil fuel companies) intensionally built in a structural liability that results from the unbalanced single point focus goal pursued at NRC to seek only the public SAFETY ABOVE ALL other considerations and regardless of any other consideration or price. Regulation at NRC ratchets over time to higher and higher levels of obstruction (industry killing levels). NRC must be restructured and reformed to allow any new Thorium or non-Thorium nuclear technology to play a significant role in future US power generation.
As a Thorium advocate, I am pleased with the content of the Thorium Remix Video but not with the editing style. I prefer to consider information in its original context, and heavy (but skillful) editing to squeeze out pauses and “dead air” disturbs the natural delivery of the speaker. I want to be able to critically evaluate the material as I receive it, and when you compress edit to the point of this video, you raise in me a natural resistance to your message (a kind of response to force feeding). I much prefer Kirk’s natural delivery (which is graceful and effective) over the compressed delivery offered in Thorium Remix.
Your points about the editing are valid, Robert, but I think the target market for this video is people who may not naturally take the time to watch a more lengthy presentation. I believe Kirk was very much involved with Gordon in putting this together.
If you remember, the first company to ‘bite’ on the bait of federal help for the new build was Dominion and they were going to go with the ACR1000 which is an updated CANDU with modifications to permit licensing in the US.
The NRC response was that, yes we can do it but it will take longer because we are not up to speed on PHWR technology. The NRC did not say no, just that it would take longer.
A LFTR is a much more dramatic technology change than going to heavy water but if someone fronts the money, I should think the NRC will be quite willing to start working on the issues. (Subject to Dale Klein’s NO BOZO rule).
I would think if the NRC was not a bureaucracy, that they could rapidly approve the LFTR. Probably because of post 9/11 regulations, you would still need to use the 3 foot thick containment. Since the LFTR is a compact reactor and operates at one atmosphere this containment could be 1/3 the size of the standard reactors. This would make the containment 1/3 of the cost.
All the piping needs special alloys like Hastelloy Nickel combined with 2 percent Titanium and 2 percent Niobium, while the alloy will be more expensive than alloys in current plants, the pipes do not as thick as in a PWR. There also do not need to backup cooling systems. All these factors save considerable money.
While the reactor can use either a Rankin or Brayton Cycle turbine, if we use the Brayton Cycle no cooling towers are needed saving hundreds of millions in cost at cooling end and not requiring water be pulled from the aquifers (river water is not pure enough for turbine operation).
The fact is we can burn one ton of transuranic waste per year as Dr. Sorenson pointed out. The NRC should be happy to have a way to dispose of waste without arguing about where to bury it.
We definitely should move forward with developing LFTR technology.
Don’t assume that an LFTR is going to be more compact than a traditional light-water reactor (LWR).
Both are thermal reactors and, thus, require a moderator to operate. Water is a much more efficient moderator than graphite (which is used by the LFTR). Thus, in terms of physical size, an LWR core is going to be smaller than an LFTR core that generates the same amount of power.
It’s true that the LFTR will not require the huge pressure vessel that the LWR’s need. The requirements for containment will be something that will probably have to be negotiated with the NRC if you want to build one in the US. I don’t think that it is wise to make any assumptions at this point on what the requirements would be.
Don’t assume that the Brayton cycle is magic. All thermal cycles need some form of ultimate heat sink. The only advantage that a Brayton cycle buys you is that it is usually more efficient than a Rankine cycle if you can achieve the high temperatures to reach these levels of efficiency.
Natural gas plants get a pass on the Brayton cycle because they use an open system and dump their waste (both thermal and chemical) directly to the atmosphere. A nuclear plant is going to use a closed cycle (and the LFTR will need to incorporate a heat exchanger) and so will need to dump its thermal waste somewhere, just like any other nuclear plant.
Brian, A couple of questions.
While it is true the LFTR has a larger reactor, most models call for using four 225 MWe reactors each of which would be about 16 ‘ in diameter both vertically and horizontally at the tallest and widest part.
Even using one 1100 MWe reactor which is about 32 feet in diameter with pumps, a heat exchanger, piping to the drain tank and an internal chemical plant to remove the waste, by using different levels within the containment for different components, you still have a containment that is 40 feet tall, extends 40 feet underground and has about a 40 to 50 feet diameter.
You do not need space in the containment to absorb steam flashing from 1000 PSI water. If I remember most PWR’s or at least the one I toured during construction, have containments that are 120 feet in diameter, extend 90 feet under ground and are 120 feet high with most of the area above ground level being empty air space.
Why is it not possible to make a containment that is one-third the size of a PWR’s.
On the condensors for the Brayton cycle, if you are using the blueprint most experts seem to suggest in their comments and use four 225 MWe turbines, the condemsors can be gas to air just like in a heat pump. Water is a better coolant than air; however,the increased cost of the slightly larger condensors using air as a coolant would be more than offset considering the greatly added cost of cooling towers to lower the heat before placing the water back into a river, lake or ocean.
Wouldn’t this still be cost effective?
Bruce – I’m worried that you’re now wandering off into the area of comparing apples to oranges.
For example, it would require seven of your example 225 MWe reactors to equal the output of just one modern LWR reactor currently being built in Europe and Asia, the EPR. Now take the size of what you are talking about and multiply it by seven. Include all of the redundant systems that you are going to have to repeat seven times, instead of once for one plant. It all begins to add up.
The biggest problem, however, is that you are making comparisons between something that has already been built to something that doesn’t even exist as a genuine conceptual design. It’s easy to make claims about a system that hasn’t been fully designed, hasn’t passed regulatory muster (something incredibly important when you’re talking about nuclear plants), and hasn’t ever been built.
As for the space in containment, PWR’s are built with large containments because they can be built that way. It is possible to use a containment structure that is much smaller than that used by a typical PWR — just look at the containment used by GE for its early BWR’s. Even GE, however, switched to a larger containment with more space inside in latter generations of their plants.
No, you’re not avoiding cooling towers with this route.
Even assuming a rather high thermal efficiency, you’re still going to have to deal with almost 300 MW of waste heat (per turbine) that must be taken away. Sorry, but “slightly larger condensers” just isn’t going to cut it.
Your 225 MWe reference plant is very similar in size to the GT-MHR — another small, graphite-moderated plant running on a Brayton cycle, which I am more familiar with. General Atomics, who developed the design, never claimed that they do not need cooling towers. Instead they published papers on how the GT-MHR could run without needing access to large quantities of water because it would use dry cooling towers.
Because of their lower efficiency when it comes to transferring heat to the environment, dry cooling towers are larger and more expensive than wet cooling towers.
The design that Rod works on, the mPower, an advanced LWR design, also has the ability to avoid needing large amounts of water as a heat sink. It too uses dry cooling towers to accomplish this.
The natural posture of Science is skepticism. If the underlying intension of Thorium Remix editing is to overcome public uncertainty and natural skepticism by a barrage of the senses overwhelming the listener with large amounts of information in a very short amount of time, then I think the video fails to support the disciplined orderly pursuit of truth (the intention of Science) and verges off into marketing and coercive selling (of ideas).
(*Those who have had their critical faculties honed by reading Atomic Insights Blog for many years are immune to Jedi mind tricks and tactics of coercion that work on weaker minds*).
The message is good, but the editing should go.
I’ve watched almost the first 40 minutes now, and I agree that the 5 minute intro with all the editing is extremely rushed and having the audio vary so much is a bit annoying. The full-length (hour and 54-ish minute) production is much better though and I would recommend what I’ve watched so far.
As the nerd that I am, the discussion about Seaborg’s grad student discovering that thorium could be converted to U-233, that U-233 was fissionable, and that U-233’s fission produces > 2 neutrons gave me legitimate chill bumps.
I think I may have to try to get the rest of this video watched tonight after some exercise and dinner.
Robert – nukes have been practicing sound science and lousy marketing for 40 years. What it got us was a doubling in the amount of coal burned and nearly 20 years where the only new power plants burned “clean natural gas.”
I say it is time to shift the balance a little to a combo of sound science and excellent marketing.
It is hard to go on record as opposing the combination of sound science and excellent marketing (and I wont).
It is possible that the brains of Rod Adams and Kirk Sorensen just work faster than the brains of certain over the hill AEC era Thorium advocate Seniors.
I will offer as a parting suggestion that the audience we address has been barraged for decades by fast talking (Sham-Wow!) commercial sales tactics, and to a generation that grew up on audio compressed television commercials, the compressed audio editing could backfire.
Kirk sounds more convincing to me in natural audio cadence.
Robert – the Sham-Wow guy might turn you off, but apparently the approach succeeds with some people. Otherwise, the companies would not still invest their money in using it.
Nuclear energy sells itself to most rational, thoughtful people. It has enough going for it to make it attractive for everyone else as well, but we have to compress the attractive message into something punchy enough to sell those people who have other things on their minds.
The antinuclear opposition has done a great job of using very punchy, easy to remember phrasing – even if much of it is a bunch of lies. We should win if we can find our own punchy phrasing based on true statements.
I still like “clean enough to run inside a submarine”
“This tiny pellet contains as much energy as a ton of coal.”
I can’t wait until I can truthfully say
“This tiny pellet can release as much energy as 20 tons of coal in that LFTR over there.”
This is what the general public needs to know. All I can comment……WOW! What a fantastic production this was. More SMART people can make better Energy Policy. But today Congress, the executive branch and even corporate America have not been exposed to such a fine overview of energy from fission nuclear.
My only issue is in regards to hormesis vs. LNT. Kirk should really stick with BEIR VII on this.
He seemed hypocritical to talk about hormesis and then criticize fossil fuel plants for producing more radioactivity than nuclear plants.
Sounds like we should have more fossil fuels! (Joking)
Well…I advocate seed & blanket breeders Thorium LFTR is great but I’d like to see more stats on spent fuel processing and some costing analysis more up-to-date material.(russia-USA-india-japan-IAEA)
So Lightbridge is suppose to offer re-core services for LWR NPPs I wonder how they’re going with that?
Anyone know of links to some studies?
We need more people like the LFTR advocates and now budding thorium companies. They are the type that say ‘yes, we can’ when everyone else says they can’t. I like that spirit and I wish them all the success in the world.
I agree. I hope that Kirk is more successful at attracting the necessary capital to Flibe than I was with AAE Inc. Not jealous or anything, but it was really hard to be a lonely atomic entrepreneur throughout the 1990s.
I don’t believe radiolytic decomposition of water was the primary source of hydrogen in the Fukushima accident, nor do I believe it is a normal operation concern for light water reactors. (~50 min mark) This seems like a pretty glaring error in what otherwise seems like a very technically competent production.
The source of the hydrogen was most likely due to the corrosion of the zircalloy fuel clad,I don’t remember the exact reaction. PWRs add hydrogen to tne reactor coolant system for oxygen scavenging, I don’t this is done in BWRs.
From what I have understood David is correct. The hydrogen production was likely caused by the oxidation of Zirconium.
Also, another minor error in this part was that Unit 2 actually did not experience a hydrogen explosion like Units 1 and 3. I believe that a hole was created in the containment building of Unit to to prevent a hydrogen explosion.
Thorium LFTR research and funding petition!
While I am very aware of the technical advantages of thorium-fueled LFTRs, the bald fact is that they are a decade away from commercial deployment even if fast-tracked, and more probably twenty to twenty-five years taking everything into account. Frankly I don’t believe we have this long to wait. New nuclear builds must start now, and only existing, proven designs will draw the interest and the finances to make this happen. As such I see LFTRs as a diversion, like fusion that will be used to delay rather than encourage growth in the nuclear power sector.
The pronuclear side has too many geeks that are attracted to shiny things like this and other marginal or yet-to-be-developed reactor technologies and are losing focus on what needs to be the main thrust of our efforts which is to push for new builds.
The ORNL Molten Salt Reactor Experiment was successfully completed in five years (1960-1965) and then operated for 4 years (2 of those 4 years as a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor or LFTR). The estimate provided of a twenty-five year development time only reflects the impacts historically low fission reactor R&D budgets and of the impacts of NRC regulatory obstruction for new commercial nuclear reactors.
Prototyping a LFTR in five years could take place bypassing NRC through either a military or a National Lab regulatory path. The National Labs have traditionally held the right to self regulate research reactors built on their sites. A Modern LFTR could be prototyped on the grounds of a National Lab while design certification was pushed through NRC in a parallel process within 5 years for under $9 billion dollars.
ORNL built thriteen research reactors on their Lab site – none of them required NRC licensing or certification (AEC and DOE self licensed).
If,if,if…If my aunt had a beard she’d be my uncle.
The US could probably get to Mars in five years if they put their minds to it, but that America went to sleep awhile ago I don’t see many signs it is waking up any time soon.
Nevertheless there are firms invested in LWR designs that will put up a lot of resistance before they will see the R&D they invested in in the hope that new builds will be started to any upstart technology, and it’s unlikely investors will rush into something that is nothing but promises right now when safer option are available.
If I didn’t know most of the crowd that is pushing Th, I might think that its another attempt by fossil-fuels to stave off the inevitable by promising something better, but not just yet. Ether way its going to have the same effect.
Your time scale argument is nonsense. It disappoints me to find someone as well informed as you rolling it out as if it had relevance to the LFTR or any other design of nuclear reactor.
We stopped building nuclear reactors in the USA almost 30 years ago. In that context it does not matter a great deal whether it takes 5, 10 or 15 years to build a new design from scratch. The important thing is to restart NPP construction as soon as possible. Let the market decide what mix of reactors to build!
Remember that the Messmer plan was issued in 1974 and 25 years later almost 80% of France’s electric power was from NPPs. Today we know much more than we did in 1974 and we have the French example to guide us.
You are right the french did the right thing in moving forward with nuclear power. Of course, the US is a society with a free enterprise system. The government cannot order the utilities to build this or that.
I think that the LFTR will compete economically with any type power plant, even natural gas. An 1100 MWe LFTR using Brayton Cycle Turbines and having no cooling towers should cost about $2.431 billion including filling the reactor at start-up with a 60 year fuel supply(note it could probably last 100 years).
Again, your arguments pass the commonsense test. It is good to have a timeline with goals; however, as you say the marketplace must dictate if the new technology is cost effective and can be deployed.
I usually agree with you, but in this case, I think I’ll differ. Or at least add a caveat to your line of argument.
*WE* (as in we, the US) may not make a LFTR in the next 10 years. *WE* may not get to benefit from the technology that we first invented.
But if we don’t, the chinese most likely will. They have a pretty high profile LFTR program that they initiated over the last year or so, and more importantly have the incentive to build them. About 5% of their GDP alone was lost due to health costs, and that isn’t even touching the external costs of peak coal, miner deaths, erosion due to pollution, acid rain, etc. etc. etc.
It’s really ironic. China is basically doing to the western world what the western world did to China 500 years ago – this time around it isn’t the western world exploiting the innovations of the chinese (compass or gunpowder), but china exploiting the innovations of the west (nuclear power, robotics, and modular construction techniques.) I’m exceedingly curious to see what will happen when the superior tech of the chinese hits the vested fossil interests in the west – if history is anything to go by, there are going to be fireworks.
@gallopingcamel Your point about “let the market decide what mix of reactors to build” juxtaposed prior to mentioning the Messmer plan in France as an example to guide us seems to be at odds with itself.
The market doesn’t decide anything, people decide. Putting aside semantics, I can’t think of any example where the market has made a plan on its own that would compare to the buildout in France. A government plan to build reactors would be described as socialism by some. Yet, our government builds roads and bridges and no one points at that as socialism. Personally, I’m all for the government building reactors, all we need to do is expand the TVA.
We do need a plan. Without a plan, failure is guaranteed. Capitalism is a good system but it is not so good at nationwide infrastructure planning and engineering.
As you point out, governments can be expected to control any massive new roll out of NPPs but that does not stop the market place operating.
For example, if the USA decided to create a Messmer style plan today it would not be based solely on BWR technology. Vendors such as GE will offer their PRISM, Westinghouse will push their products and hopefully someone will champion LTFRs. Let the chips fall where they may.
That was an “experiment,” not a commercial product, and all of this occurred well before the regulatory changes following the TMI accident. Sorry, but 1970 was a long time ago. Those days, like 8-track tapes and $0.30 per gallon gas, are never coming back.
Well, that’s not going away anytime soon. It’s a political impossibility from both ends. The Left these days don’t want to fund anything practical if it is associated with the word “nuclear.” They only want to fund “basic science,” which won’t get anything new built anytime soon. The Right just wants to cut budgets.
Well, this is a chicken and egg problem. You can’t get the NRC to work on new technology unless you have a very willing, very credible customer, and you can’t get a real customer unless you can assure them that you can get past the regulatory roadblock.
If you want the DOE to build yet another experimental reactor, then good luck. I’m not sure that it will do much. History has shown that experimental reactors don’t necessarily lead to commercial designs.
The NGNP project was supposed to build a full-scale prototype of a new reactor design (very similar to a commercial version, but with extra equipment to gather valuable engineering data) in Idaho, and the ups and downs of budget decisions by Congress has run the project into the ground. You can’t depend on the National Labs.
The National Labs are still jewels of the technology world and can deliver (no brag). To have success I suggest studying what has already succeeded (not so very many long decades ago).
Find a National Lab willing to dedicate a significant portion of the Lab’s resources and creative talent to the effort (there are plenty of fine choices out there with ORNL the sentimental favorite – but shop around and get the best deal overall).
Provide clear leadership and direction from the TOP and fund the project to complete within a Presidential cycle (current DOE seems to have a bad rep because each new administration seems to bring in its own research agenda and most nuclear development projects (LMFBR, IFR, NGNP,PB-AHTR) has been structured to complete over the course of significantly more than a decade – so the projects started by previous administrations are scrapped leaving taxpayers and the nuclear industry with nearly nothing to show for the last 30 years of DOE fission development effort.
Find a great lead scientist and a great project engineer that believe in the technology and have the capacity to elicit the best from the other team members.
Avoid an overly complex design with too much untried technology – build from success to success and use proven balance of plant technology instead of trying to hit a home run with improved supercritical CO2 or other new tech.
Keep the work focused at one Lab (but invite participation by multiple Labs in the National Laboratory System).
Don’t accept frequent predictions from every side that the current generation of American nuclear designers and nuclear workers are not up to the challenge – don’t stop to argue, just do it.
@DV8: There is value in selling a positive vision, to inspire people to work toward a future worth having: energy abundance, and resource abundance that it can enable, that is sustainable and can meet the needs of ALL humankind indefinitely. Many political problems stem from the “what do we do about the waste”, “current technology is not sustainable”, etc. Having revolutionary developments in the works can trump that political card and sell reasonable people on nuclear who would otherwise remain steadfastly against if it can’t be made a sustainable technology.
What is wrong with pursuing more than one option? Deploy what we have on the shelf now, while also working on future upgrades to follow? This should not be an either / or proposition. I believe in pushing LWR nuclear power now, and funding R & D and commercial demonstration projects for new approaches (LFTR / MSR, IFR, HTGR, travelling wave, nuclear process heat, etc.) as well as other reforms to lower cost and increase the speed of roll-out.
None of this is going to happen, however, without a shift in the political landscape. That is a multi-faceted, long-term war for public opinion. We have to sell the sizzle, the vision of a sustainable nuclear future of energy abundance, as part of that IMHO. We need to point to where the future lies beyond LWR reactors of Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and waste debate stalemates exemplified by the Yucca Mountain debacle, etc.
Steve – I have never said that MSRs shouldn’t be researched. What I am against is the push to make them the design of choice now before they are ready.
Yes PR and politics are the stumbling block, but as I have discussed elsewhere on many occasions, MSRs are not going to be immune to antinuclear hyperbole and they will not have the track record that LWR have to answer it. As well, despite the assurances of the LFTR supporters, there are several major issues that have yet to have fixed solutions, and that too will bring criticism that will be hard to deflect.
I don’t want research to stop, I just don’t want to see people writing checks with their mouths that they can’t cash because that will make matters worse for these designs, not better.
DV82XL, solar suffers all of the problems that you describe and regularly writes checks it can not cash.
The push for solar is still strong, and it still gets billions of dollars per year in government(s) funding.
If any of the MSR designs were on the path of any of these solar designs, then it would be a different story.
Sure nuclear has a track record of building a couple reactors that never ran. Solar also has sites that either never ran or ran for very short time and sit abandon now.
Sounds to me like your afraid that a single failed project would bring about the final end to nuclear power. Your promoting the industry to keep designing the problems away. This of course is practically not possible.
No, that is not my position. To restate: Existing, licensed designs are available now that can be built in a reasonable amount of time and within predicable budgets. These designs are proven performers with known track records.
Assuming that the thrust to convert to nuclear energy for power generation is to reduce GHGs as quickly as possible to avoid further climate change, these, rather than a novel untested, and frankly, incomplete design, should be used in the next stage of power plant construction.
Fact: We have already proven that it is possible to develop a LFTR prototype in five years.
Fact: The MSRE Molten Salt Reactor was successfully designed and constructed at a National Laboratory (ORNL).
I can not easily accept that that which has already been achieved in LFTR Molten Salt development cannot be achieved (we have already demonstrated that we could build LFTR within five years in a National Laboratory setting).
We can develop LFTR and make it a commercial choice that utilities could adopt within five years (a time frame that would be significant to the energy future of the nation).
What is needed to have success is to fund the development effort at a level that the work can be accomplished within one Presidential cycle of 8 years and nuclear regulatory obstructions are sidestepped for the prototype (use the National Labs or a Military project).
That which has been done at a place it has already been accomplished is possible.
Note: I also favor building plenty of current technology LWRs – not just wait for Thorium LFTRs to become design certified.
Fact: Building a fleet of LFTR power reactors is going to need interested customers, and interested investors.
Fact: Utilities and those that invest in them are some of the most conservative financial entities on the planet.
Fact: Good enough is the enemy of better; in the short and medium term MSRs don’t have a large enough of a competitive advantage to displace LWRs in the minds of the above.
I’m sorry to be the Casandra here, but the only group that’s getting excited about this are existing nuclear geeks, and unfortunately too much hype about these reactors will play into the hands of those that want to delay a major nuclear roll-out.
Utility companies are disinterested customers of solar power. Government mandates are required to force these companies to build the plants or take a loss when they buy energy back from homes.
Utilities are very conservative, see previous paragraph.
What solar plant out there is as good as coal? Which one is as good as natural gas? By your logic the solar industry can’t be getting any funding. But it is.
Yup, Solyndra will just add ammunition to the enemy and stall solar funding. Yeah, it sure delayed the 4.5B more funding that went out 1 month later to other companies.
DV82XL, while everything you say could happen to MSR, when applied to solar, the opposite is happening.
Frankly I don’t see the parallels. Solar and wind are mature technologies that have been over hyped and boosted by tax breaks, it also has the tacit approval of the fossil-fuel sector BECAUSE they don’t produce the power they promise. To the best of my understanding utilities have had wind and solar shoved down their throats and would never invest in these without the market distortions that are now in place.
Those of us that support nuclear energy of any sort would be delirious if nuclear got the same breaks as wind and solar.
Fact – we have also proven that it is possible to produce a commercial light water reactor in only 4 years from the time that funds were made available and ground was broken until the reactor was on the grid – and that was at a time when we had not yet broken the code on how to produce corrosion resistant cladding out of zirconium.
We have also proven that you can build a power producing, light water reactor in just 19 months from the time that funds are made available until the reactor is operating under the ice in Greenland.
Now that is an impressive story worth telling impressionable young engineers who want to really make a difference in the world’s insatiable appetite for coal, oil and natural gas.
Fact: I find it is always hard to take a dose of your my medicine.
“Enthusiam in the pursuit of better nuclear power is no vice” – Make mine a LFTR.
(That came out badly)
Fact: I find it is always hard to take a dose of my own medicine.
“Enthusiasm in the pursuit of better nuclear power is no vice”
– Make mine a LFTR.
Robert, while the time scale that the MSRE in Oak Ridge was very impressive, I think you may have left out the even more impressive part of that story – the extremely low level of funding that was used to accomplish that. I recall a graph at some point (surely its available on the EfT website somewhere) that showed the relative funding levels for the MSR, the LMFBR, and several other experimental reactors and the discrepancy is striking.
That everything in the MSR/LFTR space was accomplished with budgets more than an order of magnitude lower than those for the LMFBR is maybe reason enough to take DV8’s pessimism with a grain of salt.
Look a working reactor could probably be built inside a year, however that is not going to be a commercial design that could be launched the next day.
Please keep in mind there is a vast difference between achieving fission in a molten salt reactor, and a device that can produce electric power at an economically viable scale. It is the latter that I am saying is going to take time.
You are correct there.
In the real-world case which I am more than slightly familiar with, it is proving far less than simplistic to complete a reactor design that has an allegedly near-exact counterpart right next door (and 2 other same model reactors 50-60 miles downriver).
Based on my experience so far, I think the advantages of building smaller scale, modularized, standard designs (whether mPowers, NuScales, or LFTRs) might actually be understated by SMR proponents.
For a graph of the scale of funding for the MSBR and LMFBR, see the next to last slide of this presentation: http://www.flibe-energy.com/ppt/FlibeEnergy_20111010_ThEC2011.ppt
Rod, thanks for supporting the “embargo” until the video was completed. This is a pretty interesting conversation going on here… unfortunately thoughtful posts are kinda rare on YouTube, so I wasn’t sure if there was deep discussion going on anywhere.
Interesting to hear most people think carbon neutral liquid fuels can’t compete on price, and the process would be noisy.
I’ve been working on remixes since the release, and I’d like to draw you and your readers attention to…
…and scroll down to see the remixes. (Yeah I need to make them more obvious.)
I think this approach could be applied to broader nuclear marketing. I mean I’m no marketing expert, and certainly the remixes have not seen a lot of eyeballs yet. But the idea is, the 120 minute edit can NOT satisfy all of LFTR’s marketing needs. No one edit can.
If anyone’s ever checked out FIGHT CLUB supplemental material, there’s a commercial that makes it look like a romantic comedy which aired on some woman’s cable channel.
I don’t intend the remixes to be misleading, but to speak to any audience I think they need to hear a little bit of what they already believe first. Then slowly introduce more challenging concepts.
Sorry to hear not everyone on this board appreciates the crazy-fast 5 minute intro. I sort of assumed people keen on science and technology would appreciate the rapid delivery. But it must appeal to some chunk of people, because it appeals to me. I edited it for myself.
So, in a sense, the full length feature is targeting technologists.
Other remixes hopefully set up other types of folk to watch the main doc. So by the time they’re watching the 5 minute intro, the word “nuclear” isn’t going to immediately scare them off. (If they were already predisposed to fear nuclear.)
I get the feeling there’s no professional push back against anti-nuclear forces. So maybe there’s stuff we need to figure out ourselves, in terms of what are effective messages, and how they can be delivered on the internet.
And here’s another edit specifically addressing Global Warming / Climate Change…
The fact that the LFTR’s potential has so many different angles of appeal may be the thing that ultimately allows its development succeed.
A remix extolling the LFTRs non-proliferation benefits will certainly be one angle that will be pursued. Hopefully it won’t paint other atomic energy options in too bad of a light.
Joel, the most foolish thing that thorium proponents could do is try and sell LFTRs as a proliferation resistant technology. The same stands for trying to sell it a solution to the ‘waste problem.’ The antinuclear side isn’t stupid. They have a demonstrated talent of creating problems out of thin air without the help of facts and they will do the same with LFTRs in an instant.
The fact is that current reactors do not have ether a proliferation or waste problem, so why should we run around selling a solution?
I would still guess that there are some people in the world who could be swayed from their anti-nuclear ways based on the LFTR’s non-proliferation “advantages”, which almost certainly played a role in thorium breeders not being fully developed in the initial nuclear era which, unfortunately for all of humanity as of right now, coincided directly with the Cold War era.
Perhaps, but I still think the risks of opining up that line of reasoning is not worth the risks.
For example: one of the stated non-proliferation advantages LFTRs is the discharged fuel is too hot to handle making it self-secure from diversion. How fast do you think the antinuclear propagandists will take to claim that the ‘waste’ from these reactor is even more dangerous than current used fuel, which they have already established is very high risk?
That is a very good point.
I’ve been thinking that maintenance issues are going to need to be HEAVILY considered in the design of a LFTR and the associated reprocessing plant needed to achieve the entire promise of using thorium as a fuel. I am somewhat doubtful that the design far enough along to consider all the different maintenance features that will need to be designed in from the start. There could very well be a rather significant need for robotics for remote maintenance.
“Joel, the most foolish thing that thorium proponents could do is try and sell LFTRs as a proliferation resistant technology”
Preach it brother. The overselling of LFTR technology is really unfortunate. The mantra that LFTRs are proliferation-resistant is flat out wrong. Many of these folks would be best served to look at the figure of merit study done by LLNL.
I am a big advocate for MSR technology but the overselling of the maturity of the design and trashing of LWRs is really sad. A COMMERCIALLY viable LFTR will require a hell of a lot more work to reduce investment risk and will face many of the same hurdles LWRs are currently trying to negotiate.
You said “The overselling of LFTR technology is really unfortunate.”
By what measure do you conclude that LFTR is oversold? Maybe to engineering types to cruise sites about nuclear technology, but I’d bet you some cash that I could walk down the street and ask 20 people if they’ve heard of thorium or LFTR and I’m sure 19 of them wouldn’t have a clue.
Perhaps this is why nuclear marketing has suffered so badly over the last 50 years. Do engineering types have a fundamental disrespect for marketing?
Another point, during those two hours of the remix, not once did I see Kirk talk about proliferation.
As far as I’m concerned, the people who are trying to sell LWR’s could learn a thing or two from the thorium community – about marketing. They put their passion to work and dug money out of their pockets to try to get their message out.
Regarding the proliferation-resistance, I was responding to the comments above. I believe DV82XL was trying to convey the importance of explaining the dual use of the atom does not imply that the growth of commercial nuclear energy directly leads states to proliferate (and history has shown us that with few exceptions). I was referring more to the argument I have heard from many LFTR supporters that U-233 is not good for making weapons and that simply is not true.
As for overselling, I direct you to the public hearings following the BRC meeting in DC where some ~80% of the public comments came from LFTR supporters who, in my opinion, heavily oversold the commercial readiness of the technology as well as the history. I really do admire the passion LFTR supporters have but we need to be honest about the technical, licensing, and investment risks associated with commercial development.
Ed, in my view, the proper way to tout the proliferation-resistance of LFTRs would be to state something to the effect of “as has historically been shown to be the case for existing commercial reactors, LFTRs would not present anything close to the most advantageous path to proliferation”.
On the overselling and 80% of the BRC speakers being LFTR/Thorium advocates, my question would be whether those enthusiastic people crowded out any other pro-nuclear people and took away their chance to speak. My guess would be that no one was crowded out by the Thorium folks.
Joel … Not much I disagree with. I admire the energy, passion, and support LFTR advocates have. I think the grass roots effort is pretty extraordinary. However, I cringe when the commercialization potential of the technology is oversold.
Like it or not, there is a significant population of folks in the LWR community who cannot fathom a non-LWR commercialized nuclear technology (I am not one of them). Most of these folks have worked directly with LWRs and understand the challenges associated with producing reliable baseload power and have been humbled with all of ‘unknown unknowns’ along the way.
Joel – I measure it by the number of silly statements made on blogs and in the comments of blogs by LFTR enthusiasts.
It is definitely being overhyped.
I don’t think so, but the smart ones recognize the very real pitfalls of over-marketing vaporware.
That’s confusing. I had to read it twice before I understood what you said. A simpler message is “LFTRs are no more of a proliferation risk than current LWRs,” but that message would not let the advocates tout non-proliferation as one of the supposed advantages of their technology.
The liquid fuel enthusiasts will just have to accept that the idea of having a chemical separation plant combined in the same facility as the nuclear reactor is going to worry the hell out of a lot of non-proliferation folks. These are the people who worry when you take solid fuel to a special (safeguarded) facility to do the separation. Now you want them to get on board with a program where similar processes are continuously going on while the reactor remains online?
That’s going to be a very hard sell.
Brian, that first question was posed by Jason C. rather than me. From your wording, I am going to go on a limb and assume you are including me in the “silly statements on blogs” group. I would consider that a mischaracterization. I myself cringe at times when I see silly statements about the potential of thorium that some people make (usually non-technical people) that might be close to being true statements but are just a bit off. I recall a particular op-ed written by a lawyer from Nashville that was published in the Tennessean that had several not-quite-right statements that made me cringe a bit, so I agree with you that some of that exists.
While commercial LFTRs are presently not quite even paper reactors, I don’t think vaporware is an appropriate term. I think trying to gain an understanding for why the development of LFTRs was cancelled back in the 1970’s is an extremely beneficial exercise for anyone trying to make an assessment of the technology’s potential.
For full disclosure, I will admit that a part of my affinity for the LFTR concept (yes, it is still only a concept, although I have actually been inside the MSRE building) is the fact that I am a native of East Tennessee, so to an extent I am rooting for my home team. Beyond that, though, the potential of the LFTR concept (if adequately funded) and of other Gen IV designs is enormous. If Gen IV nuclear wasn’t a possibility, nuclear power would be no more sustainable than fossil fuels, and I would NOT feel any pull toward being a nuclear power advocate.
If it isn’t developed here in America, the Chinese will be happy to sell them to us in about 15-20 years once they get it developed on their own.
I’m following this discussion with extreme interest, and have posted about it over on Brave New Climate Open Thread 18. I’m agreeing with DV82XL on some points – I think it’s important to emphasize that nuclear is the way to go, specifically reactors that make use of all the energy in the fuel and burn all the leftovers from the current reactors. There’s a big audience that doesn’t need a tech discussion of reactor types, but does need good, solid grounding on energy, risk, and radiation.
Gordon – I want your thoriumremix to morph into a “nuclear remix headquarters”. I’m intending to start work on some background pieces, along the lines of Tom Murphy’s work at Do The Math, which is itself like David MacKay’s approach at Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. How about a working title for another remix: “What Part of a Million Times Better Don’t You Understand?”
Andrew – Of the two natural fuels for nuclear power (uranium and thorium) only thorium can be completely consumed in a “thermal-spectrum” reactor. Uranium can only be completely consumed in a fast neutron reactor. All of our commercial reactors today are “thermal-spectrum” reactors, and they’re that way because they can be built in their most stable configuration and with the minimum amount of fuel.
Note: I would prefer to not create hard feelings by listing the number of reactor failures and core meltdowns of fast neutron spectrum and sodium cooled reactors (and so I omit that presentation.
I suggest that it is easier. safer, and less costly to design thermal neutron spectrum reactors. If you want to minimize nuclear waste – even to the point of nearly eliminating it – you must be able to completely consume your nuclear fuel and thorium is the fuel that can do this in a thermal reactor.
Off topic – the BBC web site has put up a short article relating radiation dosage to bananas. Good for publicity.
Brian – It is possible to design LFTRs and Molten Salt Reactors that do not have recycling plants (but almost all LFTRs include an offgas facility for collection of volatile fission products). Dr. Dick Engle of ORNL deeply investigated one variation of the LFTR caleed a DMSR (still a Thorium fluid fueled reactor – but includes U-238 denaturant). The DMSR is thought be many to be the most proliferation resistant of the fluid fueled concepts.
ORNL-TM-7207: 1980-07 – Conceptual Design Characteristics of a Denatured Molten-Salt Reactor with Once-Through Fueling
As a supporter of nuclear energy and thorium fuel, I have some reservations with graphite moderated, FLibe carried fuel LFTR.
1, Graphite waste reduces the benefit of lower quantity of waste.
2. Cost and availability of 99.995% Li for FLiBe.
3. Uncertainty of a thermal breeder.
The solution has been mentioned by Kirk Sorenson himself at two places:-
a. Molten Chloride in his grand plan for introduction of thorium fuel in his own blog.
b. As simple waste digester in his Forbes blogs on future of nuclear power.
Fast Spectrum Molten salt reactor is much more useful for the US, UK, and France.
Jagdish – I share some of your concerns.
It is important, I feel, for technology like LFTR that has sat on the technical sidelines for now four decades, to have a technical success on its first modern outing (stated otherwise – the Country will not tolerate failure in the first Thorium LFTR prototype. For this reason I think every effort should be made to choose a LFTR design that has few significant technical risks to allow LFTR development to go from success to success. A nice mild thermal spectrum LFTR with an effective neutron moderator (like graphite) provides the highest chance for a first success. After we get a dozen nice thermal LFTRs built then we may be ready to tackle a Liquid Chloride Molten Salt Reactor – which has less existing engineering and material science effort in to it.
The first LFTR should use graphite and FLiBe fluoride salt because that has the most careful engineering verification behind it (nothing else is close) and such a LFTR has the best chance for an initial success for a LFTR prototype.
Rod, thanks for posting this. I am pleased to see such a wealth of information in many presentations put into one video. I have to admit I started watching when I had 5 minutes and ended up watching all 2 hours.
I believe in both the advancement of our current LWR technology and the development of LFTR and other thorium-fueled reactors as part of the world’s development of nuclear energy for our future. No one can argue that coal and gas and oil are good for us long-term, while the argument for the use of nuclear energy (in one form or another) for the coming centuries can be easily made. Simply put, that’s why we need to pursue it.
I was one of the attendees at TEAC3, where many of the presentations in the video were taped, in May of this year and I came away with a good understanding of the positives of a thorium-breeder fuel cycle. What I did not come away with is a balanced perspective of thorium energy use.
I think the most effective advertisement for thorium (and for nuclear energy in general) has to present both the pluses and the minuses. Otherwise, you’re delivering an incomplete picture. Any discerning person knows the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” And with such a presentation as the above, I find myself asking, “What’s the catch?”
I have a nuclear background, so I paused this video on many second-long clips of slides to take in the wealth of material shown in the background of many clips that wasn’t audibly presented. After 2 hours of attentive study, I still haven’t been presented the big picture. I got excited 59 minutes in when Kirk said there were minor design issues… but then those weren’t discussed. They weren’t even shown as background text for me to pause and read for myself. This is, I think, is part of the discussion point above about Thorium’s advocates “overselling” or hyping up the technology too much. You want proponents, not zealots.
One of the major advantages of the extensive publication of the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is that the average Joe learned about nuclear power (and I don’t mean from the media). It sparked significant public interest in what was going on and how nuclear energy currently works. People went looking for their own answers online. What the average person needs is not 2 hours of pro-thorium presentation, but 10 minutes of pros and cons so that they can make their own decision.
As Kurt says at 80 min., “Our media is not built around effectively and accurately disseminating information to the public.” They aren’t (and lamentably probably never will be), but we could make effective and accurate dissemination of information our overarching goal. If we can do that, then people won’t walk away thinking, “What’s the catch?”
Present it honestly and in a balanced way, because when it comes to baseload energy for the next decades, nothing can beat nuclear.
I fully agree with this comment.
TJ – There has been a significant amount of discussion of Thorium LFTR pluses (and minuses) on the energy from Thorium Forum.
If Thorium one day begins to achieve some traction with the public and with national decision makers then we are likely to see a more strenuous effort against Thorium LFTRs by anti-nuclear forces who are mostly just intent on shutting down everything nuclear (it doesn’t matter if it is better or safer – just shut it all down). Most of the anti-nuclear organizations have some difficulty discovery problems with Thorium and molten salt reactors on their own (they do not have the technical skill or training) but they are happy to pick up anything that the more technically sophisticated offer them if it is within the scope of a search engine.
As Thorium advocates we advocate for better and more sustainable nuclear. We do not put lots of time feeding everyone’s FEAR and DOUBT free floating doubt space and for the most part we do not go out of our way to shout from the rooftops LFTR technical vulnerabilities.
If you are an engineer that losses sleep unless he has a thorough understanding of all technology risks, the best place to go for that information is the registered area of the Energy from Thorium Forum (outside the scope of search engines) and just put up a post with your request. That way you can get “a balanced perspective of thorium energy use” and it will still make it just a little more difficult for the anti-nukes to find.
The presentation was excellent. It is very hard maintaining technical integrity while simplifying the message enough to make it easy to digest.
@ TJ you called it. There really is nothing that can beat nuclear at baseload for reliability and cost. Oddly, I think that is why fossil fuels feel so threatened by nuclear energy. Coal loses its niche, no coal, lost jobs, bankrupt railroads, and the list goes on.
The issue then becomes how to advance nuclear technology so that it can promote the use of coal. Why pick a fight that we don’t have to and instead gain support.
The nation/world needs energy solutions that are scalable and can be implemented ASAP. I think scalability will be what will limit the “renaissance” the most. Light water reactors are constrained by access to sufficient fissile material and heavy large scale forging. mPower overcomes the forging/manufacture issue nicely, but still has the problem of fissile material. The next technology on the horizon is GE’s S-PRISM which addresses both issues. Existing reactor designs, AP-1000, ESBWR, EBWR do neither.
For a rapid nuclear implementation, the IFR bypasses the fuel and manufacturing constraints the best, at least for now. It is also hot enough, remember the difference between an engineer and a scientist. Amplify the process temperature (600-700 C) and an IFR can liquify coal, creating a need and economic demand for coal.
Back to Thorium, molten Thorium/Uranium reactors are neat, but mainly suffer from limitations of materials and regulatory conceptualization of the ins and outs of the plants. Even with a concerted research effort, I seriously doubt their commercialization within any reasonable time frame 2-3 decades (look at the 16+ year trek of the evolutionary AP1000).
Technologically, we could probably build one (again) in the next decade perhaps even today. However, the limitation of ANY nuclear technology is policy and the policy hurdles that have rightfully, wrongfully been implemented.
Most high temperature reactor work in the US is being done with prismatic fuels (carbide-TRISO), which is an effort that would have to be shifted. The group I am a part of at GA Tech is doing a slew of work on Thorium and other integrated fuel cycles, so there is change going on in academia and industry.
With that said, Thorium is very attractive as a fuel. I hope that we shift to a mixed fuel cycle Th-U-Pu as that will give us the access to the most amount of energy possible. However it will take building an entire infrastructure to support chiefly due to the aqueous separations technologies. India has already committed to this regiem. Thus to be competitive Th must overcome market inertia or provide a scaled implementation (e.g. Integral Fast Reactor).
@Cal – The fissile material limits to which you refer will not be limits for as long as the mPower is a viable commercial product. By they time they are limits, we will probably be many generations down the technical development path.
One of the more vocal and persuasive LFTR advocates has apparently either forgotten or ignores the implication of his first introduction to the use of thorium. I know from inside information that the introduction occurred when he read my Atomic Insights article about light water breed reactors and found out that thorium had been used in a demonstration core during the last cycle of the Shippingport reactor.
It operated for five years at a capacity factor of about 65% (there were a lot of experiments to conduct, which limited the ability to operate at full power all the time). After that period, the project conducted destructive analysis of the fuel and determined that there was more fissile material in the core at the end of the operating period than there was at the beginning.
The experiment could have gone on for many years because reactivity was not decreasing. However, time on the project was running out because it was a Rickover / Alvin Radkowsky led project. Rickover was being pushed out of DOE and NR. The funding for the project was disappearing so the decision was made to stop the irradiation, extract the fuel and fund the analysis effort so that the information would not be lost. In 1984, the analysis was completed, but not widely announced. It was not a “secret”, but it certainly did not get any publicity. I have suspicions about why – surprised?
Here is a pretty good history treatment of the development of nuclear energy in PA that discusses the contributions of the Shippingport reactor, including the light water breeder reactor demonstration.
Q – What would it take to make Thorium LFTR a demonstrated reality in five years.
A – It would take obtaining the resources of a National Laboratory that can self regulate research reactors built on their site and funding the project at a level of around ~$1.8 – $2.0 billion dollars a year to enable success.
Forty years of material science research since the ORNL MSRE permit safe construction of LFTRs that will operate at ~704 degrees C as planed by ORNL .
A relatively complete detailed IFR core design may infact be one of the easier parts of the reactor to complete. Only modest work on IFR pyroprocessing (and only on a small non-industrial lab scale) was completed on the IFR by Argonne and INL before funding on the IFR was cancelled.
LFTR recycling plants (desirable but not required to make a LFTR operate) are at a more complete state of development than the pyroprocessing and elctrorefining chemistry associated with the IFR .
LFTRs operate in a comfortable thermal neutron spectrum – I hear little discussion of the fact that materials for a fast neutron spectrum reactor like the IFR do not exist and are a much more difficult problem than materials used in thermal neutron spectrum reactors (for which we now have many decades of experience).
 = http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1943693438479&l=7987d84842
STATUS OF MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT FOR MOLTEN SALT REACTORS
H. E. McCoy, Jr.
ORNL/TM-6415 (1979): Development Status and Potential Program for Development of Proliferation-Resistant Molten-Salt Reactors
 = ORNL-TM-3579 – http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/ORNL-TM-3579.pdf
” I hear little discussion of the fact that materials for a fast neutron spectrum reactor like the IFR do not exist and are a much more difficult problem than materials used in thermal neutron spectrum reactors (for which we now have many decades of experience).”
For the record, I routinely bring that fact up when the IFR is being promoted.
@ Robert Steinhaus and DV82XL
EBR-II ran for 30 years. The materials science is well understood and the moderate temperatures allow more conventional materials to be used. There is a temperature penalty due to creep mitigation. Again you only have to get hot enough on the nuclear side so 450-550 C is good enough.
My question to you is, what are the specific materials constraints that are not adequately addressed for implementation of IFR that failed to prevent the operation of EBR-II for 30 years? Fast spectrum negates resonance problems which plague thermal reactors, high temperatures introduce creep, and coolant selection introduces corrosion concerns. Nobody ever said designing a reactor was easy.
I think our general goal in the research community is to get to process temperatures. Any excess temperature can be added through a number of means (e.g. heat pump, electrical, chemical, etc). There is a thermodynamic penalty that can be successfully mitigated based off of configuration with each of these designs. Why fight the material restrictions on the reactor side? Find a non-nuclear solution, just do a patent search and you will see the sate of the art.
Even with salt reactors, getting above 650C is going to be a challenge from a materials selection and reactor design stand point. By the way 650C is still not hot enough for what we need for process heat. I’m not sure where you are getting 704C from. I sat in a project proposal meeting with a slew of really smart people from around the country talking about a MSR design. Those really smart people saying even 650C would be a challenge. We need about 800 C for process heat.
We will probably see thorium commercially used in light water reactors before seeing MSR’s. Think Shippingport redux. The cost of the plant for a LWR is a fraction of that of a higher temperature reactor, especially LWR SMR’s. Unless you come up with a way to break the process heat temperature barrier, the infrastructure investment that we have in LWR technology will be difficult to displace. LWR are technically, regulatory, and commercially well understood. Not to mention our nation posses little to no lithium reserves and there is a complete lack of industrial lithium enrichment facilities. FLiBe is a nifty coolant with amazing properties, but not without its problems (extreme costs, supply chain vulnerabilities, and consumption requirements).
As for IFR, the electrorefiner development continued after the termination of EBR-II in the mid 1990’s. A google search of “engineering scale electrorefiner” will be fruitful. The scale up from engineering to commercial scale is small and throughput can be achieved through replication. It doesn’t take much to reprocess the fuel of a few reactors. BTW, thorium is not without reprocessing technical difficulty either. Thorium is not an easy substance to work with chemically.
I am an “energy yes” kind of dude. I am not poo-pooing thorium. It is a great fuel source and it does have its role, especially in thermal spectra reactors. Uranium fast reactors also have their place too. The point I am trying to get through to you is, unless we can get nuclear heat to 800C in the next 15 years, you might as well plan on 30-40 before seeing commercial applications. That is true for IFR, MSR, NGNP, LFTR.
Once you start trying to crack the process heat role, it gets more difficult, and the regulatory philosophy on any system that can affect reactivity or come in contact with fission products significantly complicates implementation. Exxon is not going to invest $10 billion in a liquid fuels plant that they could build for $5 billion and not have to deal with the NRC.
We need every scrap of energy that we can get our hands on. This is not a thorium uranium, LFTR-IFR fight. We need all of those technologies. Try and see how they integrate into the entire picture, not just electricity generation, but also the material supply, regulatory, and process heat as well.
Thorium is incredible. The path from U-233 to any significant MA concentration is long and tortuous. From that fact alone Th fuel cycles have 1/1000th the MA concentration of Uranium cycles. Thus their radiotoxicity is on par with IFR. It is from that standpoint alone that we will see Th commercially implemented.
Cal – I understand that you are very interested in process heat but I am not certain what application you envision (tar sand processing, hydrogen production, synfuel from coal, ?) and all of these applications do not have the same requirements.
LFTR advocates are frequently (painfully) confronted with materials related questions (But what about the corrosion??) that have crept into the nuclear folk culture. ORNL MSRE experiment did encounter some tellurium (fission product) related corrosion along the granular boundaries of Hastelloy-N (high nickel content super alloy for nuclear application). I am happy to report that significant progress on Hastelloy-N, silicon carbide, and cladded combinations of Hastelloy-N with other high temperature ASME type III metals (Alloy 617) make possible safe operation of a LFTR prototype at ORNL’s 704 degrees C design temperature (this was the outlet fuel salt temperature for the commercial power producing reactor ORNL MSBR  that ORNL labored on mightily for a decade 1965 – 1975). ORNL chose a max operating temperature 704 degrees C in part because at temperatures at or above about 750 degrees C Hastelloy-N starts to have problems with the Chromium ions in Hastelloy-N metal migrating out into the salt (corrosion) but a 704 degrees C and below things were stable, and if the Redox potential of the salt was adjusted to a reducing environment with periodic small additions of Beryllium metal, very very low rates of corrosion were observed [2}. In addition to corrosion issues (for which good solutions for LFTRs designed for 704 degree C and below now exist) there are issues regarding neutron damage. Fast neutrons tend to produce greater neutron damage (weakening and embrittlement) than thermal neutrons – so choice of materials for commercial reactors with lifetimes exceeding 30 years are somewhat hard to find. A research reactor which has a availability of less than 30% while it constantly is cycled up and down between experiments can make one selection of materials – a different standard may be required for a commercial power reactor designed to produce power day in and day out with an expected operational availability over 90%. The first LFTRs built will probably not operate at 800 degrees (so there may be some process heat applications that the earliest LFTRs cannot handle). To get above about 750 degrees C will require additional work on the materials to ensure long term safety.
In a perfect world, the United States would develop both IFR and LFTR reactors in parallel. IFRs would complement LFTRs and could potentially be valuable for reducing some spent nuclear fuel issues (Minor Actinides) that LFTRs operating in a thermal neutron spectrum can only resolve rather slowly over the span of decades. Unfortunately, the history is that Sodium Cooled Reactors has been the design that (without good technical justification) pushed fluid fluel reactors like LFTR onto the technical sidelines (and Thorium Fuel Cycle into the forgotten fuel cycle category). LFTR is the reactor that can safely and economically produce enormous amounts of clean nuclear power needed within the next ten years by America to preserve its quality of life and to retain US industry that provides good jobs.
 – ORNL-3996 Molten Salt Breeder Reactor – http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/ORNL-3996.pdf
 – ORNL/TM-5920 “STATUS OF MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT FOR MOLTEN SALT REACTORS”
H. E. McCoy, Jr. – http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/ORNL-TM-5920.pdf
All good information except that last part about the competition between LFTR, IFR (and presumably other fission systems). The problem with your view is in a misunderstanding of history and economics. There is PLENTY of money to go around for good energy solutions and technologies. The key to unlocking those funds is for all fission advocates to explain why they are so darned excited about the million times energy density advantage that they cannot even agree on the BEST way to exploit it. They should be telling potential investors (and the public) – repeatedly – why everyone who invests in the million times prompt jump from combustion to fission has the chance for enormous, sustained commercial success.
Quit looking back at the constrained history of people like Rickover and Shaw who were so narrow-minded that they could not believe that others might have a good idea. Quit thinking about how to position your system against other fission systems and instead position it against the natural gas and coal where tens of billions are spent every year just to extract the fuel and tens of billions more are spent to build the infrastructure to deliver it.
There was a recent announcement demonstrating the scale of the natural gas enterprise – Kinder Morgan has made an offer to buy El Paso, another pipeline operator. The size of the offer – for a company that is not even all that well known – is in excess of $22 Billion.
Aside – I wonder how the former stockholders at Enron feel about the way that Richard Kinder has prospered after his stint as the President of that company?
I saw a link on the sidebar that said, “Smoking Gun: LNG Shipbuilders and Their Financial Backers Stoke Nuclear Fears.” It is strange that the LNG industry would critize the nuclear industry, when the death tolls from TMI was zero, Chernoybl was about 30 -35 and Fukushima was zero (2 people on the plant drowned when they failed to reach shelter before the tsunumi hit).
Those low number of deaths are 25% of the death in the LNG explosions and fires in Cleveland, OH in 1944. While LNG has had a good safety record since in the unlikely event of a leak or terorist act the possibility of an explosion the size of small nuclear device exists. I do not say LNG should not be used, I just nuclear is safer and should also be used.
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