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  1. “For some odd reason, possibly having to do with certain brands of political ideology, many nuclear professionals are reluctant to emphasize that last feature. They count themselves as climate change skeptics who occasionally indicate a belief that the whole topic is a plot designed to make their hobbies…more expensive by enriching liberal elite carbon market traders.”

    Global warming is now climate change. George Orwell strikes again. I don’t have expensive hobbies and I don’t believe in the religion of Anthropogenic Global Warming (or climate change or whatever Orwellian term you use for it). Rather, I pray for our country whose president is doing more moral damage to society than all the environmental damage done to the Earth by all the oil companies put together. No expensive hobbies.

    1. In the same way, most environmentalists that oppose carbon emitting activities also oppose nuclear. At UN meetings the debate is always framed to be about “renewable” energy, and nuclear ignored since it’s not part of the “renewable club”. The IPCC, which is supposed to be technology neutral, has released a report claiming 80% of the world’s energy can be supplied from renewable sources by 2050. Later it turned out this was taken from Greenpeace’s energy revolution blueprint.

      1. It’s not just “skeptics” who are upset with that.


        The IPCC has almost no credibility left. The statistically inclined might want to check out this analysis of some IPCC results. It has gone beyond just rubber-stamping flawed science from the literature (including the supposedly banned “grey” literature published by environmental activists). The IPCC has now been caught altering published results by recalculating the numbers using flawed assumptions to make the conclusions more alarmist.

        Greenpeace must be proud.

    2. @ Ioannes,

      Global warming and climate change are not necessarily interchangeable. Global warming is driving climate change sort of like the global bombardment by a comet 65 million years ago was a driver for climate change.

  2. … many nuclear professionals are reluctant to emphasize that last feature. They count themselves as climate change skeptics who occasionally indicate a belief that the whole topic is a plot designed to make their hobbies (for example: racing, RV’ing or boating) more expensive by enriching liberal elite carbon market traders.

    Quit picking on Patrick Moore. 😉

  3. Which is why we need arguments that attract a large number of people. The point is not if I disagree or agree with the AGW / Climate change perspective but if I see that nuclear energy answers their questions in a reasonable way, I am willing to posit that as a benefit and argue merits of AGW in a different location. So, when Marketing, we need segmented appeals that touch on the deeply held beliefs and desires of a large number of people. Nuclear power does that in a way that almost nothing else can.

    Most people have not run the numbers and believe that wind and solar can get us there. So, believing that the simpsons represent something close to reality they don’t even consider nuclear.

    Most do a double take when I name the number of people killed by Nuclear power production in the last 60 years in the west.

  4. I usually place the question in the conditional with an argument along the lines of, “If Climate Change/AGW/GHG are a concern to you, then you should consider nuclear…”. It gives you a peg to hang your pro-nuclear message on if your listeners are inclined to accept those arguments.

    If they aren’t so inclined, then I emphasize the point that I mainly use, and that is, I believe in the value of electricity, reliably available in abundant quantities at economical cost, to a modern society with an advanced standard of living. For that, it is tough to beat nuclear. Renewables just can’t compete when you use the triad of reliability, quantity, and economy.

    Once you’ve staked out either or both of these positions, you’re in a pretty good spot to counter almost every argument you might get.

  5. “I hope that someday soon, fission fans will stop engaging in fratricidal attacks on each other, but I guess I have always been a bit of a dreamer.”

    This is one of the stupidest things we are doing right now. More importantly supporters of Gen IV reactors are writing checks with their mouths that their technology can’t cash, and antinuclear forces are already stating to pick holes in some of the arguments about waste and proliferation that are being made about these new designs.

    On top of which they are creating a situation where those sitting on the fence are taking a wait and see position, in the belief that Gen IV is the answer and new builds should not begin until these are commercially available.

    With all the problems that we face, leveraging highly questionable promises to gain support for some project that could easily wait until nuclear energy gains the popularity that it needs to move forward simply counterproductive.

    1. And here is a big question:

      Can Gen-IV come to fruition with a skipping of widespread deployment of Gen-III?

      From the vantage point of the thorium advocates that I pay most attention to, an MSR is seen as really the only worthwhile movement towards using thorium as a fuel source (after an initial fissile loading, of course).

      There is no Gen-III MSR (at least not that I am aware of), therefore these advocates (probably rightfully) see nothing to gain from engaging in Gen-III activities, as that would simply distract from their Gen-IV efforts.

      If there was more of a singular nuclear industry in America, it would ABSOLUTELY make sense to traverse through Gen-III as a means to gain adequate R&D funding to then progress to the Gen-IV promised land that nuclear IS capable of achieving someday. Additionally, touting that final advantage in the list would be no problem for a singular, rather than disjointed, nuclear industry. As things stand, the path to Gen-IV may be a bit bumpy.

    2. Exactly. I remember some people telling me about 20 years ago that we all have to “wait for fusion” while rejecting the current technology. We’re waiting still, while the oil and gas industry has got us totally addicted to their product, and environmentalist are free to assign “guilt” for every amount of CO2 we emit, for every kWh we consume, for every mile we drive.
      Time and time again in history, such in-fighting has reduced one sector of the economy to nothing while the “elephant in the room” got away.

    3. I think there’s fratricidal activities going in the GenII, GenIII, and GenIV camps. It isn’t exclusively a “GenIV is attacking everyone” sort of deal by any means.

      We’ve had some people who are quite knowledgeable about GenII and GenIII plants vigorously attack LFTRs on the discussion boards I frequent, even to the point of stirring up the radiophobes.

  6. Tell me Rod, where would we be in the world of computers if Apple and IBM had just tried to “get along” back in the early 80s rather than engaging in “fraticidal attacks”?

    1. With the Navy background, Rod has a soft spot in his heart for PWRs. PWRs becoming obsolete because of the commercial development of a better nuclear option would be a somewhat sad day for Rod on a micro level, but if Rod is still around to see that day, I believe he’ll be glad to know that mankind on a macro level will be in better shape in terms of energy security.

      1. Joel – with my Navy background, I know that PWRs are far more capable than some detractors like to admit. It is hard to overcome personal experience.

        For example – most Navy guys simply cannot understand why MSR advocates make such a big deal about the physics induced stability and responsiveness of their system. Been there, done that for the past 60 years.

      2. I realize that PWRs (and even BWRs) are fantastic machines that have done and will continue to do the wonderful thing of providing people with a source of reliable energy.

        That said, if a future generation design (be it an MSR or HTGR or something else) can wipe the floor price-wise (in terms of initial capital cost per MW) with a Gen-III++ mPower, utilities will stop buying mPowers.

        Since those future designs are not-yet-proven, mPowers, AP1000’s, and maybe even some EPRs here and there can and will provide some significant value in the meantime.

      3. @Rod: That’s great. Can you convince the Military to declassify any of the Axx or Cxx, Dxx, or Sxx reactors for civilian use?

        I already know the answer: No. They use much higher enrichment fuel than civilians can be allowed to use, and part of their NCR is based on the tight core configuration this allows.

        The MSR is neat because it gets around this (yes, by making its own highly enriched U233 – but no agent need handle it), using the high FCS vs. thermal density gradient to get a strong NCR.

        1. @Bryan – No, I cannot convince my former employers to declassify military reactors. Fortunately, that is not necessary. The NS Savannah, using technology available in the late 1950s, was a PWR that used 5% enriched fuel. My friend, Stan Wheatley, was the Chief Engineer on that ship. He tells me it was just as responsive as a naval vessel.

    2. I would still be using Linux. That is a good analogy because where desktop applications are concerned the federal government went sole source with MS Windows (Office).

    3. Krik, the Apple and IBM analogy is unsuitable for the current case. During the 1980’s, both had products that they were bringing to market. By that time, the digital computer was a proven technology.

      The difference here is that the MSR is not yet a proven technology as evidenced by the lack of any MSR prototypes except for some promising but preliminary work at ORNL. Contrast this with the LWR, which has many centuries of practical operating experience. It will take at least a decade before there will be an MSR that we can honestly say we know how to profitably commercialize.

      Fact is, you guys will need a lot of the same expertise that the LWR folks have once the time comes. Not pushing for a new generation of LWRs, and people with transferrable skills to the MSR, is really shooting yourself in the foot.

  7. The IAEA has stopped updating the status at the Fukushima site since June 2.

    That organisation was a disappointment throughout the crisis. Letting families being evaluated by such poor decisions from the japanese authorities while these bureaurats did nothing.

  8. Rod,

    Thanks for this article. You hit on two issues that have concerned me for some time, which most nuclear communicators avoid regardless of their personal views; climate change and inter-industry conflict.

    In terms of outreach and public relations, we are effectively our own worst enemy at this point. We spend way too much time upset by the antics of anti’s, and fighting amongst ourselves, and not enough time refining our own approach to communications.

    If we are ever going to have a successful outreach campaign we will have to get on the same page and work together. It is divisive to keep toting CO2 stats, if the industry thinks climate change is BS. And if climate change is real we need to keep older plants plants safely running, and develop new technologies asap to replace fossils- all of them, SMRs, NGNP, IFRs and Thorium.

  9. Rod, I think the big deal about MSRs is making high temperatures at ambient pressures. Is that a trick we’re going to see a water-cooled reactor doing anytime soon? I don’t think so.

    1. Perhaps not. However, what is the maturity level of the heat engine that you propose to use? What pressure will it require? How do you intend to control the radiation levels from the fission products that will be pumped around your primary loop? What happens if there is an unplanned power failure to the cooling fan that keeps your freeze plug solid? Where is the supply chain for the Hasteloy-N parts?

      Pressure vessels are not as difficult or expensive as you imply. My employer has been producing large quantities of safe pressure vessels since the mid 1800s.

    2. Hey, Kirk. You probably already know this, but I want to say it anyway.

      You need to hire really good PR. The second you have a working prototype LFTR (i.e., not just the core MSR, but Thorium->Fission Product; full cycle), you need to have a hype machine primed and ready to counter the avalanche of fear mongering press you’re going to get. You’ll need to be able to answer every potential question on the spot – even the truly nonsensical ones.

  10. “As I often to tell my thorium enthused friends – you cannot build or operate a thorium reactor without uranium. I also tell both my buddies who are thorium advocates and my integral fast reactor (IFR) friends that any atomic fission power plants is better than any hydrocarbon based power plant. I hope that someday soon, fission fans will stop engaging in fratricidal attacks on each other, but I guess I have always been a bit of a dreamer.”

    As some of you know, I recently had a post over at Yes, Vermont Yankee, and picked up by The Energy Collective, where I was advocating for getting the wheels of progress turning with regards to nuclear power technology, as it seems to me the wheel has been almost still for 30 years.

    I’m enthused about the possibility of both the IFR and LFTR, but neither of those are near to being ready to deploy as commercial designs. I have come to the conclusion that LWRs, with some improvements, are a “good enough” technology for now, and that simply getting the industry active will be good for ALL nuclear power technologies.

    Why would investors be interested in backing dark horses like the IFR or LFTR when you can’t even get improvements on well known, currently deployed technology to market?

    The best thing for Gen IV fission technology, the way I see it it, is to see Gen III+ reactors getting built and reviving interest and a strong market for nuclear power plants. Once you have a viable market, investors will line up to provide funding for “the next big thing”.

  11. To echo Kirk’s point above, I think most neighborhoods will be much more comfortable with a LFTR in their backyard than any other nuclear plant. The removal of meltdown risks or the high-pressure explosions like those at Fukushima is the only way to overcome the public’s media-induced fear of nuclear power.

    1. That’s only because antinuclear forces haven’t made a target of it yet. What makes anyone think they can’t make up a bunch of lies about MSRs? They have done a good job already with LWR.

      1. I hate to say it (because any admission of risk is somehow an admission of guilt, or some other such nonsense), but the risk of meltdown for any given LWR is nonzero; the risk of containment breach is nonzero, and the risk of serious consequences as a result of release of solid radioactives is also nonzero. People don’t make up lies about LWRs; they exaggerate miniscule risks, and to powerful PR effect.

        An MSR can not melt down, by definition. There’s no persistent mechanical stress from pressure. There’s no risk of a loss of coolant accident resulting in anything but a shutdown. MSRs are simply better from a safety perspective. What’s more, their design is relatively easier to understand; if lies were to be made up about them, a simple infographic could set them straight with higher public understanding than with an LWR. MSRs have, in my opinion, potentially better PR.

        What an MSR can, potentially (in the designs I’ve seen), do is have a drainage failure. If something (like, say a graphite part) gets shocked loose and manages to clog the freeze plug, it’s possible – given a high enough fissile load – for the reactor to proceed on a power excursion past the boiling point of the FLiBe.

        The way to solve for that is to 1) have a freeze plane – a chilled colander for core drainage that can’t be clogged, 2) keep the fissile load low enough that any significant heating past the operating temperature results in a significant negative reactivity coefficient, and 3) have a separate freeze plug above the core to flush it with non-loaded carry salt – if the bottom plug goes out and the core doesn’t drain, the top plug melts and dilutes the core.

      2. Bryan,

        We can talk all day about the theoretical benefits of the MSR. Where I’m a skeptic is on the practical operations side. We have zero time of operating such a system that produces electrical power. What issues, drawbacks, and risks are we unaware of — the “unknown unknowns”? We won’t find out until we build and operate a few, just as we did with LWRs (e.g., CRUD was not a previously predicted corrosion product buildup phenomena that has impacts on operating reactors).

  12. Guys,

    You are still talking big toys!

    I think that we need to change the paradigm of nuclear plants. Whatever the future brings, I think small 70-100 MW reactors are the way.

    Russia is ahead of the pack with that technology.

    We have to get away from big.

    1. Large plants are only a problem from a financing standpoint. Economically, they’re great, largely due to the efficiency gains of scale.

      Still, you’re right – we do need smaller plants so that we can get away from government seed money for nuclear plants. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it introduces bureaucracy and image problems (i.e. the bloat that comes with any government thumbs in a pie, as well as the “Loan Guarantees Are Subsidies@#!#!@” derangement that you get despite the interest windfall the government pulls in from those high-interest loans and fees).

      But we need to start building plants now. We needed to /keep/ building them 27 years ago. And what we have right now is Gen III+ Advanced LWRs.

      If the energy companies were smart (and I suspect they are), they’d be quietly dumping money into Terrapower, FLiBe Energy, GE/Hitachi, Hyperion, NuScale, and all the other small reactor projects.

      And Rod: while you want uranium to start a LFTR, it’s only a seed; the design is meant to make its own U233 during operation, hopefully in slight excess. It shouldn’t require any U for continued operation. Additionally, in the absence of U, there’s the ThEA design that uses a particle accelerator to produce U233. I don’t know if that would be able to break even, but if it is, it’s only a matter of time before it can make its own seed U.

  13. Rod,

    PWRs are good but their advocates have been unable to persuade their detractors on a number of fronts (e.g. safety, cost, waste …). MSRs perform much better than PWRs on these metrics.

    I think you have a rather stubborn/foolish position. i.e. “If it (PWR) was/is good enough for the navy/military then by golly it’s good enough for civilian power production and everybody should just accept it’s weak points and stop complaining.” The military routinely uses technology that we would not allow to be used commercially. The military is good at this with a culture and organizational structure that works very well.

    If we nuclear advocates want to win over a sufficiently strong majority to really expand commercial nuclear we need to put our best foot/technology forward. Yes, PWR technology is good enough but we can do much better and we should.

    1. @CharlesH – nuclear advocates have not succeeded because they have been reluctant to emphasize and market their very real advantages over fossil fuel. That has been discussed here for years.

      1. Rod,

        Bottom line. LWR advocates have failed (for what ever reasons you imagine). [Note: PWR have advantages over FFs (coal/NG) but they have one huge disadvantage (which they share with solar/wind) COST. Cost is the Achilles-heel of PWRs.]

        Reminds me of the old Edison/DC vs Westinghouse/AC debate. Edison (PWR industry) was the justifiably revered founder of electricity but stubbornly refused to accept a better idea (MSR/LFTR) and push it. Edison eventually lost.

      2. MSR supporters are pushing an empty cart shouting that no one need buy LWR because the MSRs are going to be so superior. This is nothing more than trying to poison the market BECAUSE YO HAVE”T GOT A PRODUCT TO SELL.

        It is not helping the greater issue of getting the public to get on board with nuclear. In fact by making claims about how proliferation proof and how little waste these reactors make, you are validating the false attacks of our enemies.

        You time will come, but not yet, not when all you can bring to the table is a lot of breathless promises. Do your research by all means, but don’t piss on current technology in the belief that somehow taking it down will do you any good in the short term.

      3. @Charles
        The cost of PWRs ranges a bit, but depending on who’s buying, I’ve seen project prices from $2/W to $8/W. That is relatively close to coal’s prices, and a lot better than most renewables (which is one of several reasons that wind and solar can be buddies, but they refuse to ally with nuclear).

        But you’re right. LWR advocates have failed, and they’ve done so over the last 30 years. Nuclear has had, by far, the worst PR campaign of any power generation type. And their failure is costing us all.

  14. As far as MSR’s, they are great machines in theory. I remain unconvinced of their utility in practice, since we don’t have the same wealth of operating experience that only comes with bumping your head several times. Maybe they will be the godsend that enthusiasts claim, or possibly they will prove to be unreliable machines. We don’t know right now, and there really is no fast-track approach to getting prototypes built that I can see, at least not here in the US.

    LWRs have their flaws, as we are all aware, but they are a proven technology that can be taken to market. When I was a young engineering undergrad, I was a fusion enthusiast. I was told by another such enthusiast, who was finishing his PhD at the time some sound advice: “Keep your heart in fusion, but make sure your politics are in fission.” For this, replace “fusion” with MSR and “fission” with LWR. The former is not going to yield any market penetration in the near term future, whereas the other has real prospects. That said, keep pushing the MSR technology forward because in the long-term it may be just what we need.

  15. @Daniel – who says we are talking about big plants? In addition, why would you think that Russia has a lead in technology that we have been refining since 1953?

    1. Al Gore may have got to something we are all missing. Nuclear plants come in only one size ‘Extra Large’

      There is a market for small 70-100 MW commercial reactors but no supply.

      Imagine the economies of scale and costs benefits when most of the components will be factory built.

      We are talking about getting nuclear mainstream, I think this is a dimension worth discussing.

  16. @Rod

    Time to market for small commercial reactors is what will define the lead that Russia has. It looks like the military know how of Russia (SVBR-100) will be marketed for broad market use.

    They will ‘potentially’ cross the finish line in 2017, well before the rest of pack (USA, Japan, Europe).

    The IAEA is assessing a market of 600 billion dollars for small multi purpose reactors that can be used for electricity, desalination and petrochemistry.

    This is one market that the NRC’s slow pace will kill for US entrepreneurship.

  17. Rod, I think you meant “Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth”, not “100”. A 100 is pretty far in the future for most though 😉

  18. Rod brings up an important – and bizarre – note about the current human culture (for this ideological combination appears to be worldwide): At the 30,000 foot view, those most convinced by the science behind climate change are somehow the most likely to be irrationally afraid of nuclear power – while those most supportive of the very real benefits of nuclear power are also the most irrationally opposed to acceptance of the reality of climate change.

    What the hell is wrong with us?

    Left: If you’re concerned about climate change, you’re concerned about energy; if you’re concerned about energy, wouldn’t you want to learn everything about each type of generation? Leave no stone unturned?

    Right: We have been given mastery – and stewardship of the world in which we live; if there’s concern that we may be breaking the toys we’ve been given, don’t you think we should maybe look into that? At least pause long enough to read the research that makes these claims? (h/t Ioannes: climate science is not religion, and since when did the right wing consider “religion” an epithet?)

    1. @Bryan,

      This is why we need a new ‘pro nuclear’ face with instantaneous planetary credibility and notoriety to arbitrage all this nonsense.

      I am talking a BIG name and NOW. I gave a few names but to no avail.

    2. I suspect that one factor which fuels opposition to nuclear energy among rank-and-file leftists is a perversion of Leninism.

      Lenin said that “imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism”. That can easily be twisted into Third-Worldism (because First Worlders are vilified as beneficiaries of imperialism) and from there, into a championing of Third World (ie low energy) lifestyles.

      Ironic given that the original socialists were motivated by the belief that their system could provide material goods for the masses more effectively than capitalism could…

      1. I don’t think that’s right. I believe that the nuclear fear the left wing harbors, while unfounded, is genuine.

        There’s a lack of understanding of how nuclear energy works in the first place, which can be traced to a few things: (1) poor science education in the US and in the world; (2) the idea that nuclear physics is too complex, and that rudimentary nuclear physics isn’t enough to understand reactors; (3) a lack of clear material on the biological effects of radiation; (4) poor understanding of the scales involved.

        I’m particularly miffed about (2), because one, in any individual, that idea is dissolved, that individual starts geeking out about reactor designs (which solves the rest of the issues; if you can incite geekery, you can incite understanding).

        The fact is, a rudimentary understanding of nuclear physics and reactor design /is/ all that’s needed to remove the fear.

      2. Excellent post, Bryan. We need to incite more geekery.

        Heck, I am “just” a mechanical engineer, but the massive potential of nuclear energy is the main thing that incites my geekery toward reactor designs.

        I would add that along with the rudimentary nuclear physics, it would be good to pair a rudimentary overview of the not-yet-commercially-tapped possibilities of nuclear energy for a 1-2 punch to incite true geekery.

        That’s where I am. Many days, I have a much easier time getting excited about the possibilities of Gen IV designs than about a certain 1973-ish Westinghouse Ice Condenser containment PWR design.

  19. Rod – Thorium advocates are first Nuclear advocates. I regret that earnest nuclear advocates like yourself frequently have their teeth set on edge after repeatedly hearing about the advantages of Thorium implemented in Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors or LFTRs extolled in the public press. Thorium LFTR is a sidelined technology (sidelined without defensible technical justification for now four decades) that could be helping replace the energy currently produced from burning coal to produce electricity. How do you get a sidelined technology off of the sidelines and back into active consideration (the dilemma of Thorium Advocates) if not by active advocacy and “guerilla marketing”.
    I Would agree with your statement that “any atomic fission power plants is better than any hydrocarbon based power plant” but with reluctance I would have to also add that Thorium Fuel Cycle has undeniable advantages not possessed by the conventional Plutonium Fuel Cycle that are worth mentioning.
    Only Thorium can be completely consumed in a “thermal-spectrum” reactor. U-235/U-238 can’t be completely consumed in an environment of thermal neutrons – you have to go to fast neutrons to fully consume U-235/U-238. 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 cost with the minimum amount of fissile startup fuel. If you want to minimize nuclear waste you must be able to completely consume your nuclear fuel and Thorium is the only fuel that can do this in a safe and economical thermal reactor.
    More in Sorrow than in Anger – Thorium Fuel Cycle stirs up excitement because it is better for sustainable commercial power generation (and not just because of guerilla marketing).

    1. Thorium Fuel Cycle stirs up excitement because it’s all promises, any problems it might have just haven’t shown up yet.

      As development progresses we will see just how long you can get away with pretending that it solves all of nuclear’s outstanding problems without bring a few of its own to the table.

    2. Robert – I have enough nuclear physics understanding to realize that there is a very large spectrum between “fast” and “thermal” neutrons. Even in a water moderated reactor, it takes several energy reducing collisions with hydrogen before neutrons, all of which are “born fast” lose enough energy to be considered thermal. The cross-sections for absorption and fission vary.

      As you probably remember, I also know enough about thorium to know that it has proven that it can achieve a conversion ratio greater than 1 even in a water moderated reactor, which means that you can actually take some advantage of its properties in existing machines.

      The Indians have been planning to use thorium all along in their 3 step process, but they like the idea of using it in heavy water reactors that were initially run with natural uranium.

      The Germans once designed, built and operated (for about three years) a graphite moderated, 300 MWe Thorium High Temperature Reactor that could have achieved breeding in a solid fuel system where each particle of heavy metal was surrounded by three layers of material that would retain all fission products up to a temperature of 1600 C. The THTR was shut down in a misguided reaction to the fact that it was graphite moderated and had the bad luck to be ready for a permanent operating license within a year or so of the Chernobyl accident. The NGNP program is following that path of development.

      My point is that there are many ways to use fission. The “waste issue” and the “proliferation issue” have both been poorly handled by the industry for a variety of reasons, but neither one of them are real obstacles to success. The real issue that needs to be addressed is to improve the public recognition of all of the benefits of nuclear fission that they are forgoing as a result of the focused efforts to increase fear, uncertainty and doubt by people with economic motives for disliking nuclear energy’s competition.

      The public accepts risk all of the time – they just have to be convinced that the personal benefits are worth the risk. Just take a look at the lack of traction that the cell phone fear mongers get – do you know anyone who has stopped using a cell phone because someone told them there is a small risk of brain cancer associated with holding a transmitter next to your ear?

      Nuclear fission is cleaner and cheaper than burning gas or coal. The primary reason that light water reactors cost so much is the focused effort to increase their cost by adding as many barriers as possible. Even with tight quality control, I can easily see a 25% cost reduction almost immediately if regulations were a bit less time consuming and onerous. With manufacturing experience, I can see another 25-40% cost reduction.

      Sure, go for improvements. But first, we need to build nuclear plants, attract suppliers to the business, and attract good technicians and engineers by paying salaries starting NOW, not five to ten years from now.

      1. Rod – Don’t forget that the Ft St Vrain reactor, in Colorado, also used a thorium fuel cycle, the only commercial nuclear pant in the US to do so.

        Thorium fuel is not new.

      2. Just to round things off CANDU reactors can use thorium as well. Several tests have been done in the past. There is just no compelling reason for any current operator to use this fuel-cycle at this time.

      3. @Rod,

        This comment has plenty of potential to be expanded into a separate posting or 2 or 3.

  20. I hope that someday soon, fission fans will stop engaging in fratricidal attacks on each other, but I guess I have always been a bit of a dreamer.

    Rod – You’re dealing with a bunch of techno-nerd enthusiasts. Of course they’re going to promote their favorite technology! I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. (Although I could do without the attacks, many of which are unfair and, frankly, rather shallow and uninformed, in my opinion.)

    Do you have any friends who are car enthusiasts? Do you expect them to stop talking about their favorite model of car anytime soon?

    What I find bizarre about the Thorium MSR discussions across the Internet is that nobody ever mentions the assessments made by the Gen IV International Forum. About 10 years ago, this group compiled a panel of experts to evaluate and rank various Generation IV designs for meeting four or five objectives, and the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) did not score very highly in this evaluation. In terms of sustainability, it scored well below the liquid-metal-cooled fast reactors. In terms of safety and proliferation resistance, it scored below several other alternative designs. It did score higher than the advanced LWR’s, but that’s the low end of the spectrum.

    In fact, for the past six years, the Gen IV Forum has dropped the thermal-neutron-spectrum MSR concept altogether, preferring to focus its R&D efforts on fast neutron designs, with no graphite in the core.

    Anyone with any knowledge of what is being done in nuclear R&D today has to wonder whether the “guerilla marketing” campaign is simply a case of more hype than substance.

  21. @Brian Mays – thanks for the mention of the Fort St. Vrain power plant – I wasn’t aware of it before. It’s an interesting story and illustrates what’s being discussed here. It was a ‘proof of concept’ design and had the teething problems of early builds; technical details are in the Wikipedia article. The most interesting part:

    Unlike Peach Bottom, Dragon, AVR, HTTR, and HTR-10, all of which represent successful tests proving the principle of the HTGR technology, Fort St. Vrain was arguably doomed by the engineering mistake to use a first of a kind engineered, high-complexity steam turbine helium circulator with multiple fluid bearings instead of a simple, commercial off the shelf, KISS principle, low-complexity electric motor-based helium circulator, such as the electrical coolant circulators successfully used for decades in the UK’s AGCR, which have stood and do stand the test of time in a similar, yet far more chemically hostile environment than that of a helium-cooled reactor core.

    The operator shut down the nuclear plant in 1992 after 25 years of operation. The plant has been expanded to 1000 MWe and is now fueled by natural gas.

  22. Excellent article Rod (as usual). I especially like the comment,

    “It is a technology where much of the cost comes in the form of paying decent salaries to a large number of human beings”

    I don’t think that angle is mentioned enough and I’d extend that to the often maligned uranium mining industry as well.

    I’d like to add a few comments, one is that I don’t think the blanket comments of MSR supporters trashing LWRs or IFR are warranted. I suppose a vocal minority does but I assure you the vast majority with more than a passing interest favor going forward with several nuclear options (we just feel confident MSRs will win out in the long run).

    Another comment is while I agree that hype and oversimplification are necessary evils in trying to resurrect the very promising MSR technology, I’d add that the whole thorium versus uranium angle is mostly smoke and mirrors. It is the MSR concept itself which is the real story, not thorium. MSRs can run solely on uranium and have the same list of advantages (mainly cost, safety, long lived waste, sustainability and almost zero plutonium etc going to waste). Big deal if in a thermal spectrum it doesn’t burn up all the U238? U238 is harmless. Probably the best operational mode is a mixture of thorium and low enriched uranium (the thorium mainly just means we need even less uranium). A uranium only MSR probably will need less than 1/3 the uranium of an LWR whereas adding thorium drops this to as little as 1/10th (and I’m assuming no processing of the salt except in batches once a decade or so). Granted there is no true shortage of uranium for even LWR Once Through but nice to not require a huge increase in uranium mining and enrichment while expanding the world’s fleet. Anyhow, no space here to start a whole debate but please realize that the majority of those that know the technology know MSRs are not just about thorium (but I guess begrudgingly admit thorium “sells”).

    David LeBlanc

  23. Rod (and many esteemed friends) – David LeBlanc makes wonderful points that many (but not all) of the advantages of Thorium LFTR can be had in the Plutonium fuel cycle by just switching to Molten Salt Reactors (like the combined Uranium-235/Thorium Denatured Molten Salt Reactor pioneered by Dr. Dick Engel at ORNL)by adopting fluid fuel molten salt approaches. Thorium is, I would argue, the most long term sustainable fuel for commercial power generation.
    Most of the advantages of the Thorium fuel cycle implemented in Molten Salt Reactors comes from the fact that Thorium-232/Uranium-233 can be completely consumed and burned down to fission products (and tiny amounts of Minor Actinides) and turned into energy while operating in a safe and economical thermal neutron spectrum reactor.
    Similar things can be done with U-235/U-238 fuel cycle but you have to operate in a fast neutron spectrum to do it (and the history of failures or at least limited successes of Fast Reactors is daunting and the cost of these experiments were HIGH consuming decades of the heart of nuclear R&D budgets of the most powerful and wealthiest nations on the planet).
    In practical fact it is much easier to design stable, safe, and economical thermal reactors (and all operating commercial reactors are thermal reactors) that just work.
    Those who are regular readers of Atomic Insights Blog have often seen the details of the advantages of Thorium implemented in fluid fuel LFTRs as it has appeared in the popular press and I am not anxious to repeat that information here unless there is call for it. The following short Adobe pdf presentation (by Kirk Sorensen) does a good job summarizing the advantages of Thorium in efficient energy extraction. If you use your nuclear fuel more efficiently and consume it completely, you do not have to dig as much of it out of the ground (and at the backend of the fuel cycle, when it comes time to dispose of waste there will be less waste to dispose of).
    Thorium versus Uranium Energy Extraction Efficiency (Sorensen) – http://scr.bi/qpcSHG

    Note: the Denatured Molten Salt Reactor innovated at ORNL works very well and ultimately delivers performance comparable (but not quite as good) as a LFTR operating in pure Thorium Fuel Cycle.

    1. No one is suggesting that there are no advantages to thorium and molten salt reactors, quite the contrary the advantages are very clear. However there is an issue at this time of implementation and that cannot be ignored.

      The turbojet engine was developed during WWII and found limited application in that conflict, but civil aviation in the post war period was built on props. The turbojet was not ready for full commercial application for some years. Everyone in the industry knew that jets were the future, but no one believed that the right thing to do was wait until high-bypass turbojets were available to start airlines and start building an industry. In fact had there not been an established market for air travel, it is unlikely that there would have been available funds to buy the jet power equipment like the 707 and DC-8.

      The same applies here. Developing an industry comes first using available, already tested designs. Doubling the number of NPP will not even make a scratch in the potential market, and new designs will find buyers when the time comes. Pushing MSRs too soon is a recipe for disaster. Consider the de Havilland Comet which first flew in 1949, it was not a good airplane because it was a jet put into service too soon, and it was ten more years before reliable, save passenger jets went into service. We just can’t afford that sort of delay.

      1. Actually, the Comet 1 disasters happened because the Comet 1 was made of metal that was thinner than the normal specification, because it was the only way to get decent performance given the aircraft’s underpowered De Havilland Ghost engines.

        They should have waited until the Rolls-Royce Avon was ready.

  24. @George – There were several issues including the way the windows were designed and the way the cabin was pressurized that contributed to the failure of that design.

    The point I was making was that it was introduced too soon and unforeseen problems, that turned out to be major, led to disaster.

  25. Some great comments from some well informed folks. Special thanks to David LeBlanc for trying to put an end to the pointless bickering between the Uranium and Thorium buffs.

  26. Are there any LFTR prototypes currently operating? if no are any planned?
    It’s a lot easier to advocate for a design if there is a prototype in operation. You must also realise that the regulator(USNRC etc) would need to approve the design. My guess would be that right noe there is no one in the NRC with the background to review the design also it would probably take about 5 years to get design approval based on the time it has taken for approval of GenIII LWRs.

    1. @D E,

      Only 5 years would be seem as a major accomplishment. 10-20 years would seem more likely, unless some changes can be made to the NRC’s regulatory process for new designs.

      And no, no LFTR prototypes are currently operating that I am aware of. Some degree of planning is going on in multiple organizations towards the goal of commercializing LFTRs.

  27. I think many here are overlooking a major point in this debate over Thorium or gaeous-fuel or whatever advanced nuclear technology:

    The greater unwashed science-illiterate public DOESN’T CARE SQUAT!

    Thorium, gaseous-fuel or Fusion, it’s just a horse of a different color to them! It matters a whole lot to techies and engineers maybe, but those arguments of “this one’s better” isn’t going to sway a long nuclear-jaded public. Forget selling Thorium or whatever alternate nuke technologies apart on their virtues; the Big Job is educating and selling the _whole concept of nuclear energy_ to the public, period. The public just isn’t going to trust any reactor whether it’s labeled Uranium of Thorium or Fusion; it’s all the same deadly budging n’ all ready-to-blow nuclear-something to public and pols. The major task at hand is to sell to the public what you already have up and running and clear nuclear energy’s reputation so the public WILL be receptive to other reactor types and even Fusion. It shouldn’t be a hard task IF pro-nuclear pundits and the industry fall back and tap nuclear energy’s historical low-casuality tallies dispite massive failures and puncture truly off-the-wall myths of radiation as a creeping glowing agent of instant doom. It’s cold, but stress that had even five thousand workers in the nuclear field lost their lives since the first reactor was fired up that nuclear energy would STILL be a fire-sale safety record bargain compared to others — Whip up an industry scorecard! We have to counter EVERY media mention willfully slandering atomic power, local or national; burn their phones off the hook with corrective truth and challenges! We need HIGHLY regarded non-cutesy spokespeople to speak up for nuclear energy. Paul Newman, as liberal and green an actor as you could get, got his head turned around to favoring nuclear energy in his home state Conneticut but too late to make a PR difference. There are others out there — respectable and trusted who can be tapped if the general call is made! Also, so-called coyly anti-nuclear “Science” programs on TV need to be taken to task for their alarmist accuracy and off-the-wall Doomsday spectulations of ANY mishandling of ANY nuclear materials. Really, we have to can this insider rivalry for who’s best nuke is best and focus on the real enemy who is hell bent on canning us all!

    James Greenidge

    1. One thing that we need is a state that we could label relentlessly as the NUCLEAR STATE.

      Who can come with the US State that has the highest percentage of base load electricity generated by nuclear.

      Then I suggest we focus on telling that state that it is THE nuclear state in the US.

      1. The problem is that the state with the most honest claim to that title is working very hard to shift from being a state where 80% of the in state generated electricity is nuclear to being a state where 0% of the in state generated electricity is nuclear.

        Vermont will make that transition in a single day in the near future if Governor Schumlin succeeds in his effort to force Vermont Yankee to shut down.

        On the other hand, one of my former homes is in the running and is right proud of its nuclear infrastructure. South Carolina produces about 50% of its electricity in nuclear power plants, it is building two new plants, it is the home of the Savannah River Project, the Navy Nuclear Power School, and the Barnwell low level waste storage site. It also has some strongly pro nuclear political leaders.

      2. I do not know anyone that could have an impact in South Carolina.

        But I do know of a ‘Green’ free spirit in Vermont and I do not know what he is up to these days (or if he still lives there).

        His name is Bill Lee and he used to pitch in MLB. He was a very smart and outspoken ‘liberal’ guy.

        I wonder if he is pro nuclear but that guy could be converted. He is definitely green.

        I wonder how I could reach him.

      3. No one loved the Spaceman more than I did, pitching short relief with a beanie-prop on his baseball cap, he was an icon (along with the BUS squad) for the Expos the few years they were almost contenders. He is still a hero in Montréal, and is up here often for various functions, but as an ambassador for nuclear energy, I don’t think he would be my first choice.

        Yes he’s an iconoclast, but at the same time he never took anything seriously and I doubt that he would be the best face to put forward to promote nuclear.

      4. I am talking about a Vermont specific gig. He could have an influence and understand the basics very quickly.

        He is above all things a very smart man. There is no denying his intellectual abilities and convictions in doing the right things.

        We need someone that is willing to do the right thing.

      5. But Bill Lee acts and does not sit on his behind.

        He is active on numerous noble causes.

        I want action.

      6. Here is my one liner for Vermont is they kill nuclear:

        With nuclear gone, you just took the ‘green’ out of Vermont

      1. Sometimes I get so “fired up” I have to self-declare a moratorium on internet responses to antis, realizing I should not be talking to someone online in a manner that I would not be using to their face.

        Besides, if persuasion and enticement to consider a different point of view is truly the goal, getting overly fired-up is counter-productive no matter how tempting it is.

        I think DV8 has the chronology correct on reasonable and realistic advancement of atomic energy technologies, and the analogy to aviation is apt.

        And if South Carolina wants to become the nuclear energy mitochondrion of America, exporting reliable emission-free electricity to the renewables-infatuated Northeast, bless ‘em, for the South shall rise again.

  28. LWRs don’t have the kind of excitement that GenIV reactors have. We know they’re useful, we know they work, and work very well, we know that new designs promise a quantum leap in terms of safety and performance. These days, like it or not, the LWR is sort of…conventional…sort of “been there, done that”. No offense intended.

    Working on deploying the LWR is good work, and needed work too. We need “been there, done that.” We know “been there, done that” works, and it works pretty well. But, by itself, it isn’t inspiring.

    The LFTR inspires. It taps into the meta-narrative that we need to tap into, the narrative of science and technological progress, and how these forces can conquer all obstacles; it captures that “new frontier”, “winning the future”, “boldly going where no man has gone before” sort of essence that Americans like so much, being on the frontiers of something, being on the bleeding edge of history. Even if the LFTR is, at this stage, just a kernel of an idea expressed in PowerPoint presentations and talks by tremendously gifted and inspiring individuals, it’s potential at this point is in inspiration. It has the sort of inspiration that causes young professionals to change their career paths to work to try to bring it to fruition. It can bring about that kind of mass interest necessary to train a new generation of nuclear engineers and personnel. Never discount the power of ideas and dreams.

    To use an analogy, LFTRs are Google and SpaceX, LWRs are IBM and Lockheed Martin. LFTRs are cool, LWRs are conventional. If you’re a new college graduate with no kids who doesn’t particularly care about the pension plan and the dental benefits, which one do you want to work for?

    The LFTR and GenIV technologies, marketed correctly, can make nuclear cool again, and never discount the power of cool. By the way, what’s cool tends to get funded.

    1. Dave – You have made some excellent points. I guess I should point out at this point that I am a 51 year old grandfather who has already been working for 30 years. I remember what it is like to be excited by new things, but I also know how important it is to slog through some boring tasks now and then in order to provide a prosperous way of living for myself, my wife and my children. Taking care of the boring stuff that puts food on the table, provides a large and comfortable roof, and ensures that college tuition is not a burden has allowed me to become excited once again because I am confident that my now grown children can provide for their families because they have their educations and are not burdened with debt.

      My point is that there is room for inspiration and going where no man has gone before, but there is no reason to claw down against LWRs in order to try to raise up imaginary systems whose state of industrial development is farther behind than the state achieved by the LWR in 1953 as soon as the prototype for the Nautilus started operating.

    2. To use an analogy, LFTRs are Google and SpaceX, LWRs are IBM and Lockheed Martin.

      If you want to use a computer analogy, the software community has a term for products like the LFTR: Vaporware

      1. Everything, including the LWR, including the computer itself, was “vaporware” at one point. Just sayin’.

        1. Dave – though all current products were, at one time, only real in the imagination of the designer (or design team), the distinction of being “vaporware” comes when there is a strong sales campaign before there is a product. It is a technique often employed by companies that are trying to discourage others from innovating by claiming they are already there, and by companies with a cool idea that need far more capital to develop that idea.

          I am fairly certain that no one spent much time talking to Life magazine (an equivalent of Wired for the time and place) about light water reactors before they actually started operating.

  29. I think thorium reactors are worth pursuing, but I also think a great age of pebble bed reactors could be in the near future.

    Pebble beds have a few great things going for them:
    – They can be made “walk away” safe.
    – The fuel cycle is already established.
    – They can be gas cooled.
    – They can be used for process heat.
    – They could be made to be portable.
    – They could be made in a factory.
    – They may be able to retrofit old coal facilities.

    …to name a few

    If these could be made profitably at $100 million for a 200MW unit, then fission would be unstoppable in the energy market. Since these are much farther along in their design and understanding compared to LFTR’s, I think we ought to all root for its success. Any win in nuclear is a win for all things nuclear. We all have an oar in the water from the same boat.

    1. I agree Pebble Bed reactors are pretty impressive but they bring up a good point of comparison to molten salt reactors. Granted with MSRs we still need substantial R&D but with something like a Pebble Bed even your first reactor needs to co-develope very expensive companion technologies. The most glaring being an entire fuel fabrication facility and developing a gas turbine to match your PBR. Besides bad management the main thing that killed the South African PBR effort was these two enormously expensive needs. The turbine development alone was said to be costing as much as the nuclear technology (citation needed…).

      With an MSR we’d “like” to probably use Supercritical CO2 for maximum performance but we can happily use off the shelf steam Rankin (likely supercritical steam like new coal plants or just simple superheat). As well, fuel fabrication is a non issue.

      MSRs in general have a lot of work to get to our ideal system, just like any GEN IV design. The nice thing with MSRs is they really lend themselves to simplification and/or saving things for second generation designs. Like any idea person, I used to always be trying to add or change things to “maximize” performance. My work of late though has been a lot more of seeing how much we can remove and still have a great system. The more we can get by without, the less R&D and the sooner we can get up and running.

      David LeBlanc

  30. Rod (is right!)
    LFTR advocates should agree that we need to build current NRC certified nuclear plants NOW and attract suppliers to the business. We should attempt to attract good technicians and engineers by paying salaries starting NOW, not five to ten years from now when a Thorium LFTR certified design might be available.
    If there ever is a Thorium LFTR nuclear renaissance, it will be built on top of the nuclear industry we are building NOW.

    (Sorry Rod, I tried to tone it down because I know you are naturally skeptical of complements but
    . . . that is the way it came out)

  31. Trying not to be off-topic here, but I hope all members of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers are aptly prepared to field the surfing fanatic and fearful come this August 6 when anti-nukers sow more seeds to disaffect, punish and banish atomic energy in all its manifestations for the uniquely evil and hideous thing it did to Hiroshima.

    James Greenidge

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