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45 Comments

  1. Rod, this is exactly the kind of discussion that needs to be brought to “their side”, out in public, on blogs frequented by those leaning strongly against nuclear. Well done.

  2. If the traditional environmental groups don’t feel tied to anti-nuclear positions, it’s pretty clear there should be some more enlightened alternatives. What pro-nuclear groups are being most effective?

  3. “Besides the natural, human nature, response of resistance to change, do you think there is any other reason why large budget environmental groups are resisting the idea of rethinking their long standing opposition to nuclear energy?”

    I dont think any other perspective can be completely independent of that.

    Rod I feel like you want a economic response here, and the fossil fuel industry has promoted it, but I dont think its really the source of it. I feel there is a reason here but its a philosophical one, a utopic fantasy even. I need to read up again on American Transcendentalism and German idealism ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_idealism ) much more, but in that like the sciences nothing really happens by chance in mass society I think the true roots of this go all the way back to that, if not further.

    On another related note. Today I went to the UCS site and it was the first time I felt I wasn’t being hit in the face by a vague anti nuclear fear based propaganda. I see they are starting to look seriously at land use and biofuels. Wait till scandal that hits, all their water use “studies” are going to look like the total propaganda pieces they were.

    1. jheez, now I remember why it took me a whole lifetime to finish college. What a mess, I had forgotten how excruciating this was. Here is a better overview of German Idealism ( http://www.iep.utm.edu/germidea/ ). Obviously academic movements dont necessarily hold sway over popular culture either. Not in a timely matter at least.

      Still how things turned out with respect to nuclear power. In France as opposed to Germany with respect to Haussmann popularized modernity is too much a coincidence for me to ignore.

      Is it too late for me to call everyone else a “bunch of stupids” and save face? It seems to work in many venues these days. I wish it was, but I think I need to figure this out.

  4. After a few weeks of reading and study, I have changed my mind on the nuclear power issue. I am now firmly in the anti-nuclear camp. But, let me clarify: it is the present nuclear power system I am against, the mega-project, mega-expensive, slow to build, huge and intimidating monsters that understandably cause discomfort and fear amongst the anti-nukes. The whole business is full of collusion and corruption amongst the Corporations, government officials, the Unions and their mafia connections, it is all, pardon the pun, rotten to the core.
    We need a new approach, New Nuclear, smaller, distributed, practically invisible (mostly underground), cheaper and much faster to bring on line, 3 years maximum. Enough of the edifices that serve only to stoke the egos and line the pockets of the already rich.

    1. Here here….let it be known that GaryN is not a communist…and actually has a pro-nuclear stance that makes sense.

      1. Ooh boy, starvinglion. Can I be certified as a non communist, too? Is it difficult?

        Maybe you can team up with McCarthys ghost to root out every Soviet and Red Chinese spy there is in DOE NE and dens of Socialism like the TVA and BPA, never mind hotbeds of Marxism-Leninism like SCANA, Southern Company, Westinghouse, and B&W.

        1. Can I be certified as a non communist, too? Is it difficult?

          That depends … do you drink only distilled water, or rain water, and only pure-grain alcohol?

  5. Bill Gates…now there is a laugh…the guy who built a mediocre BASIC interpreter and had family connections to IBM. He’s the nuclear “genius” who is going to save us? HAHA!

    1. Re: GaryN
      The whole business is full of collusion and corruption amongst the Corporations, government officials, the Unions and their mafia connections, it is all, pardon the pun, rotten to the core.

      You know, it’s alright to have an anti-corporate beef as long as it doesn’t get in the way of supplying power and clean water to someone. I don’t really give a hoot if someone gets rich supplying people with power, food or water or cars, as long it’s done with social and economic responsibly and legally. (I’m just not jealous of lawfully rich people.) Antis can rant about the “injustice” or corruption of nuclear plants (which they seldom prove in black and white) but they’ve zero responsibility or play in providing people what they need except in mouthing off — talk is cheap and doesn’t stroke the furnace. Only when Greens have skin in the game I’ll respect what they rant. I mean like it or not to antis. the reality fact is nuclear power has shown that it can do the job by far less harm to environment and life and property than most another source. This is incontestable. Now one can skew those facts with nightmare “what if’s” “maybe coulds” and “possibilities”, but for me reality and record is where it’s at, not Doomsday thought-games. The issue is how best to manage nuclear power to do what it does best.

      Re: starvinglion
      Bill Gates…now there is a laugh…the guy who built a mediocre BASIC interpreter and had family connections to IBM. He’s the nuclear “genius” who is going to save us? HAHA!

      I was an Amiga guy before I turned a Mac guy then Linux guy. I have no deep love for Billy or how he ripped the Lisa/Mac (yes, yes, I know about XPARC), but at least he’s on the page of wanting/trying to do SOMETHING which is a heck of a lot more than 95% of his contemporaries. To me, he could be a lot more feisty getting his endorsement about nukes in general instead of of his pet project — it’s kind of mutually beneficial. There’s no reason to hawk about “future” nuke types; the current crop have proven safe enough for that and should never be omitted so. Only when nukes have the same public mortality and environmental destruction scores that oil and gas and coal skate by with without much media squawk would it be just to do so.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

      1. “There’s no reason to hawk about “future” nuke types; the current crop have proven safe enough for that…”

        I don’t agree about that. I don’t think there can be much growth with LWR’s and it sure seems that a lot of nuke designers today fancy a complex chemical system with an incredibly naive attitude about the safety and economics of such devices. Get out the pencil and paper, there is a desperate need for new fission reactor designs.

      2. @James Greenidge

        I don’t really give a hoot if someone gets rich supplying people with power, food or water or cars, as long it’s done with social and economic responsibly and legally.

        My issue with the multinational petroleum industry is that it has a terrible record on “social and economic responsibility” and on accumulating its wealth and power in a legal manner — unless you count using political and economic power to change laws after the violation as being legal. The immorality of many of the main “heroes” of the business has been well documented dating back to Ida Tarbell’s exposes of Standard Oil.

        The domestic oil&gas industry is not much better. I just read Greg Zuckerman’s, The Frackers – even though he is generally positive about the impact of the industry and the technology, the picture that he paints of people like Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward and Harold Hamm is one of people who have no qualms about borrowing money they cannot repay, stiffing suppliers, drilling without environmental concerns, failing to implement basic safety programs and accumulating vast sums of personal wealth, even when their companies and shareholders are being slammed.

        The hero worship from organizations like the Wall Street Journal is mind boggling. They do not deserve it.

        1. @James Greenidge
          My issue with the multinational petroleum industry is that it has a terrible record o“social and economic responsibility” and on accumulating its wealth and power in a legal manner — unless you count using political and economic power to change laws after the violation as being legal.

          Granted, such is true and the sad way of the world like the law of the land, but you bring up something that should be far far more alarming to regular folks and antis than the worst fossil or nuclear industry corruption: A tainted press/media — one of the top three foundations of the country — supposedly the beacon of truth and justice — reluctant to expose what you cited about its own advertisers and thus is slanted on casting darkly on nuclear energy. Nuclear power has so much going for it over other forms it’s crazy it’s in the doghouse in the minds of too many people and much of that is malicious media perception. Expose the media / press’s hypocrisy and coy fossil preference to the media-coddled public and we have a clear shot at exposing the misdeeds of fossil fuel firms. How? That’s a toughie. Bill Gates has the resources to counter the media’s slur on nuclear reporting and facts, but he’s in the wrong church, narrow focused on his pet project. But even in the face of immense fossil bias in the media — to me, the nuclear “industry”/community has been its own worst PR enemy in not getting the truth out over the FUD mud and fossil ad glut. Tylenol and BP Gulf has shown ravaged reputations can be salvaged with a lot of ad elbow grease and SPINE. The nuclear community really hasn’t gone all out to save their own hides. This SO reminds me much about the Amiga; you had a superior computer way ahead of its time over anything IBM and Apple had and which could’ve cornered the market blindfolded, but Commodore just didn’t know how to market the thing. It was like giving pearls to monkeys and expecting them to appreciate them. The “inferiors” won by default of your not doing squat promoting your own cause and virtues or so badly that it just as well be. To me, nuclear power is the Amiga on steroids, and we have to pray that nuclear pro orgs and nuclear community wise up in this midnight hour to do something real about it.

          James Greenidge
          Queens NY

        2. Re. McClendon and Ward: they were some of the main financial backers of the Swift Boat liars against John Kerry. (Not that Kerry doesn’t have some serious problems.) They also lied and stole the Seattle Supersonics for OKC, albeit with much help from David Stern, and Howard Schultz.

  6. I think the best response to the nuclear is too expensive (and slow) argument is to simply say, “OK, why don’t we just tax or limit CO2 emissions (and air pollution) and let the market decide how to respond? In other words, let’s put it to an objective test. All of us here know what the utilities would (mostly) do.

    As a follow up, “why do groups like yours talk about how nuclear is uncompetitive, but then do everything in your power to prevent any such objective competition between non-emitting sources from ever occurring, and instead insisting on massive subsidies and outright mandates for renewables only?”

    Or, “why not include nuclear in all portfolio standard policies?” Surely they won’t mind, given their assertion that nuclear is more expensive and less effective than renewables or conservation. According to their logic, no new plants would be built anyway, even if nuclear were included in the portfolio standard, so why would they object? Sounds like the perfect way to test their assertions (wouldn’t they agree??).

    As for effiency, the best reposte is, “why don’t you guys ever use the ‘efficiency is more cost effective’ argument as a reason not to persue renewables?”

    The flaws in the logic are too obvious. It’s almost too easy…. They’re clearly saying one thing but doing another. Their positions are clearly hypocritical.

  7. I would guess it’s because their donors are antinuclear and they irrationally believe in the potential of solar and wind.

    Commenting on your debate with Cochran, I would generally agree with you but you have to admit sodium breeders have a bad track record from Monju to Superphenix to Fermi to EBR-1. Highly chemically reactive coolant was not the best idea that the national labs ever had. Also,, the potential for the hypothetical core disruptive accident is not to be laughed at which can turn a productive core into a mess of molten metal within milliseconds. Sure you can repair the reactor after a sodium water or sodium air interaction, meltdown, or HCDA, but these repairs cost lots of money and years of time.

    Rather than molten sodium, the VHTR, PBMR, and other GenIV reactor technologies seen to me to be better choices for risk adverse governments, corporations, NGOs, laboratories, and researchers. Compare AVR or HTR-10 to the track record of Fermi 1, for example.

    1. @Dave

      The reactors that you mentioned are all FOAK machines. EBR-II did not have similar issues because it included intelligent design choices that acknowledge the disadvantages of sodium while taking advantage of its benefits. It used a pool coolant system to eliminate the possibility of piping leaks, it used metal alloy fuel to improve the heat transfer out of the fuel and vastly reduce the potential for melting, and it used double tube sheets in the steam generator to minimize the possibility of sodium to water interaction. It ran without issues for 30 years, provided about 40-50% of the electricity used by the INL, and exposed workers to an extremely low level of after shutdown radiation, indicating a very low corrosion level in the primary coolant system.

      On the other hand, you know quite well that I am also a gas cooled reactor fan. I love what the AVR and the HTR-10 have shown about the possibility of passive safety in a high temperature capable gas cooled reactor. I’m still not a big helium fan for a variety of reasons.

      In answer to a number of challenges I have received about my N2 coolant fixation, I have recently become quite a student of nitrogen isotope separation methods.

      Here is an example of some of the reading I’ve been doing –

      http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/40745/InTech-Nitrogen_isotope_separation_by_ion_exchange_chromatography.pdf

      1. Never knew the story of EBR 2. Sounds like a much more mature design that served INL well and indicates future potential for advancement of the LMFBR technology if the IFR builds off that experience. Thanks for sharing.

        Interesting about the N2 isotopes. I do know N has a sizeable neutron cross section but it’s far more plentiful than He. I’ll take a look at that article of yours; it looks interesting. Unfortunately, where I am right now, I only have access to my smart phone and not my computer, so I can’t really read the PDF. (In addition, it takes a long time to type on this thing.)

    1. Sure, but they have other disadvantages when compared to sodium. Comparisons among heat transfer fluids require a multivariable decision matrix; there are no easy answers and no perfect fluids. It is quite possible for one fluid to be superior in certain applications and another one be superior in other applications.

      I do not claim that high temperature gas cooled reactors with closed cycle gas turbines are the be-all, end-all of nuclear energy system design. I just think they are pretty good options for a variety of applications. I recognize the value of sodium, lead, light water and heavy water as additional options. Heck, I am working on a post about a very interesting series of conversations that I had with Per Peterson about his molten salt cooled, high temperature pebble bed reactor concept that includes some gas firing for peak power production. (I’m not so sure about that last part, but I will provide a fair summary of Per’s discussion points once I get around to writing the post.)

      1. I personally like gas cooled fast reactor design concept. I do not think we should put all our eggs in one basket. Having some liquid metal fast reactors and some gas cooled fast reactors along with advanced PWRs and BWRs (ESBWR is a great design), and a DUPIC cycle for using light water spent fuel in a Candu heavy water reactor would all be ideal. Diversity is a good thing in this case.

        But I admit that I don’t know very much about your idea, Rod, of using nitrogen vice helium as a coolant in a gas cooled reactor. It would be interesting to see one built and operated.

        1. @Paul W Primavera

          The N2 coolant concept came as a result of recognizing that helium cannot be used in a Brayton cycle turbine that is designed to use air (or a mixture of air and combustion products with thermodynamic characteristics that are similar to air). I believe that the best way to evolve is to use already proven machines, just like the original nuclear plants used already proven steam turbines.

          https://atomicinsights.com/adams-engines/

          Natural N2 has a slight disadvantage in that it has a relatively large neutron absorption cross section. If N-14 absorbs a neutron, it nearly always undergoes an N-P reaction to become C-14. That is not really a huge problem because it is a low energy beta emitter that will remain inside the coolant system, but it is a long lived radioactive isotope.

          A reader here suggested that I consider using N2 that is enriched N-15. That is a naturally occurring isotope with a 0.35% abundance, essentially a zero absorption cross section, and known methods of separation.

          It’s an intriguing idea, but I do not know how much it would cost if produced in bulk quantities for something like a working fluid application in a closed cycle gas turbine.

          1. The mass difference of N-15 versus N-14 is huge in comparison to U235 and U238, so one might assume that enriching nitrogen should be fairly inexpensive?

            C-14 production inside a nitrogen cooled reactor would presumably give anti’s a substantial amount of ammo to become ‘concerned’ by things such fouling and clogging risks. I have thought that the preference for helium is largely because of these problems which – while probably manageable – are problems nonetheless?

          2. The mass difference of N-15 versus N-14 is huge in comparison to U235 and U238, so one might assume that enriching nitrogen should be fairly inexpensive?

            Not only is the mass difference a factor, but the techniques used for nitrogen isotope separation are substantially simpler to implement than the technology used to enrich uranium. The technology to enrich nitrogen is available now and has been extensively used (with the nitrogen acting as a tracer) to study nitrogen cycling in soil-plant relationships.

          3. Rod – The only suggestion that I can give right now is to start talking to the “farmers” — i.e., agricultural researchers — since their field has been the leading application for enriched nitrogen that I’m aware of. I’ve seen a couple of papers published in the scientific literature, which indicate that there is work going on to develop and improve methods, but I don’t have any feel for costs. Sorry.

            To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about this until recently, when one of my college mentioned some of the techniques used to enrich nitrogen, which struck me as something rather simple (and cheap) compared to the enrichment techniques that I was familiar with. I asked about the economical feasibility of large-scale production; unfortunately, he didn’t have an answer.

          4. What is it that makes using nitrogen worth the bother of considering isotopic separation? Isn’t the higher, potentially much higher, density of CO2 more advantageous?

            1. @Chris

              The thermodynamic characteristics of nitrogen are essentially identical to those of air. That’s not surprising; air is almost 80% N2 and 20% O2, which is also a diatomic gas with a similar mass number.

              That means that the compressor and turbine used for an Adams Engine can be taken “off-the-shelf” from the already existing air breathing turbo machinery industry. There is no need to go through the painful and expensive process of designing and building completely new turbo machines, which would be required for each size increment desired if you want to use CO2, especially supercritical CO2.

              The British have a great deal of experience in using CO2 as a heat transfer fluid in their MAGNOX and AGR power plants, but they recognized certain challenges associated with attempting to use that gas in the higher temperature regimes that would be required to use it in a Brayton cycle rather than in a Rankine cycle. That is why they did not pursue that path when they wanted something better than the AGR and instead progressed back to the light water reactor for Sizewell B.

  8. Interesting talk. I was surprised to see that there was a fellow Amiga user amongst y’all. That computer WAS an example of poor marketing.

    Nuclear power needs to be marketed to elementary school teachers. They, in turn, will give the knowledge gained, good and bad, to their students. Those kids will be the ones to build the next nukes after natural gas goes up in price. The environmentalists who are strongly opposed to nuclear power will be retired or dead in a few short years and the kids should know what to do.

    We’re at a crossroads. Imagine how those die hard anti nuke environmentalists must feel with all the facts now arrayed against them. Imagine how they must feel knowing that they are now the establishment opposing changes beneficial to the Earth. I’ve seen them squirming in the videos lately. Their technique of dominating the discussion is just not working any more.

    The country should be ready for those kids. Talk came up of first of a kind reactors. I took a partial hiatus from looking at nuke stuff for a few years. Cruising around the web, I came across all these links and discussions of the LFTR reactor. This thing seems too good to be true.

    * more efficient use of fuel
    * more plentiful fuel to use
    * inherently safe
    * more efficient thermodynamics
    * very hard to make bombs from its byproducts
    * less cost
    * low pressure
    * will help solve rare earth metals shortage
    * does not require as severe defense in depth requirements, i.e. HPCI, LPCI, Core Spray, etc.

    If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Are there significant metals problems with the high temperatures? Does any graphite moderated reactor have the graphite as an Achille’s heal? Are there pump problems?

    To be ready for those kids, the DOE ought to be building a small one of these LFTRs as a pilot plant. At least we’d find out if there were problems like Fort St. Vrain suffered. Then they could be fixed and move forward with a commercial version.

    I’m done.

    1. @Eino

      Nuclear power needs to be marketed to elementary school teachers. They, in turn, will give the knowledge gained, good and bad, to their students. Those kids will be the ones to build the next nukes after natural gas goes up in price.

      Elementary school kids will definitely be building nuclear plants, but I’m pretty sure that they will not be building “the next nukes”. Most of them will still be in elementary school when methane (aka natural gas) experiences its next in a long series of price spikes. It is already overdue; the methane marketers are working their butts off to make sure that demand exceeds supply in the very near future.

        1. GTL and other xTL technologies require a very capital intense plant to work. If they we’re cheap to deploy, we’d be burning natural gas and coal derived liquid fuels already because the Synthetic Fuel Corporation of the late 70s and early 80s would have succeeded commercially.

          1. Dave – I think it did.

            http://www.dakotagas.com/About_Us/

            It even has Carbon Dioxide capture which is normally a totally unrealistic requirement for fossil plants.

            Just a point – Carbon in coal + Oxygen in air gives you more mass than what you started with. All of those long trainloads of coal would mean even more mass going somewhere.

            Kirk Sorensen talks about using LFTR heat to make fuel, so maybe plants like the one in Beulah would be more commonplace with a cheap source of heat,…I don’t know.

            Has anybody ever built a nuke plant to do anything besides make electricity or ship propulsion? Midland was going to sell process heat to Dow Chemical but lousy foundation engineering and TMI killed that idea. It seems like a lot of heavy industries would welcome an inexpensive source of process heat. Mining uses a lot of heat and electricity. I’ll bet there are a lot of good ores in the barren lands to the North that could use a nuke for heat. Even the tar sands could be more productive with cheap heat.

            Sorry for the rambling!

    1. There is a contact link at the bottom of every page. That sends me an email.

      Do you have any idea of the actual distance from the plant this explosion occurred? It destroyed some houses; no one builds nuclear plants within the range of a “crude explosive” to houses.

  9. Over a kilometer away. Not a threat to the plant. We know they couldn’t do serious damage. What i thought would spark commentary was the militancy or Anti-Nukes.

  10. Excellent article. You made many great points but I have one bone of contention. Breeders do NOT presuppose a Plutonium Economy. LFTRs can breed while burning Pu but not making any beyond Pu238 (which NASA wants desperately).

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