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19 Comments

  1. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that this was the nation that dug the Panama Canal, successfully fought a war on two fronts and sent men to the Moon. A generation ago, had this problem come up, there would have been rooms full of tobacco smoke and fury, and in less than a year reactors would have been coming of half a dozen production lines faster than they could be shipped.
    Time for you all to remember just who you are.

  2. Not only remember but act like you were, break the self-imposed shackles. For a beginning, change the regulation regime. The cost of regulation must be borne by the government and there should be a time limit after which the developer should be entitled to proceed at own cost and risk. Second, for exports accept it as sellers market and cut down the hindrances. After the NSG clearance, the Russia, France and other countries have started supplies of nuclear materials to India but the US is held up in self imposed shackles.
    On the technical end, the best idea I have seen is Th-19.75%LEU MOX suggested for yet to be constructed AHWR. It is time to standardize to 19.75% LEU and fabricate long life fuel by adjusting the proportions. The fuel should be put in in just 3 cartridges and changed in not less than a decade.

  3. The US was isolationist until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Then it “successfully fought a war on two fronts”.
    Chu’s motivation is to do something about climate change. Americans, so far, are not that interested. The people in Washington most interested in doing something about climate change are Democratic Party types, and these types are still split on whether they think nuclear is evil never mind if they want rapid deployment of next generation designs. Republicans favor nukes, but pretend climate change is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. Chu isn’t going to be able to do that much until this changes. When Chu says 10 years, its his assessment of what can be done in this political climate.
    Get the public to understand that the rapid deployment of zero carbon energy sources is a matter of survival and Chu would be happy to direct the effort. This is why he got out of the lab and into politics in the first place.
    Regarding encouraging the development of smaller reactors; What about the sentence after the one where Chu wrote about the Obama budget request for $39 million for 2011 for small nukes? “Right now we are exploring a partnership with industry to obtain design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for one or two designs”. Isn’t this the problem NRC commissioner Klein talked about in podcast 151, i.e. how does the NRC certify a small reactor if there is no customer even though industry says there will be no customer until the NRC certifies something?

  4. The Fast Company published an article “Bill Gates Goes Nuclear” today which is really old news concerning traveling wave reactors with Toshiba with a time line of ten years. 10 – 40 year time lines that get extended forever is not a solution to our current needs unless you own oil company stock. That is the issue. No demand for clean as long as you and I can go down the road with Status Quo engines. No portable generation or distributed generation but spend billions on the “Smart Grid”.
    This is government by edict and industry monopoly of energy regulation. Sample, Secretary Chu’s Houston speech to natural gas use in this country. Dr. Chu has repeatedly refused to consider alternative energy development over existing sources. Chemical Assisted Nuclear Reaction engines don’t even get to his desk as staffers routinely file any submissions for alternative energy applications.
    Frankly I suggest buying a horse and buggy and leave the rat race until such time as sanity again prevails. On the other hand, one could do something crazy like moving to Canada or Australia where demand will be met with a better mix of solutions.

  5. I dunno about Australia. Helen Caldicott will be visiting here from Australia next week. She loves Vermont just now.
    On the topic of small reactors. DOE set up Energy Frontier Research Centers about a year ago. Here’s a link to their award list from last year.
    http://www.er.doe.gov/bes/EFRC_Award_List.pdf
    Of 46 awards, four were related to nuclear: one at Oak Ridge, one at INEL, one at U of Notre Dame (dark horse!) and one at Los Alamos.
    Sounds like the DOE priorities are about the same this year. Different program, same priorities.

  6. Hopefully Al Gore reads The WSJ. I’m tired of hearing him say that “these things only come in one size:extra large” every time somebody asks him about nuclear.

  7. Rod,
    I don’t know about Nuscale, but I am pretty sure that Mpower is not going to do a prototype. B&W is planning to build a (non nuclear) test unit to prove out the flow characteristics-depending on natural circulation in a scram situation is pretty innovative.
    I can’t believe that the Mpower or Nuscale designs would be any easier to review at the NRC than the other PWRs they are currently reviewing. The NRC is not going to be able to pull its experienced people off those designs to work on the smaller units. Mpower and Nuscale will have to join the queue.
    Bill

    1. @Bill – natural circulation was an innovative concept in the 1970s. In other words – been there done that, some systems do it every day.

  8. Dr. Chu is an academic, a talented and gifted one, but I don’t see any evidence of practical, fingernail-get-dirty experience in the energy industry. Am I wrong here? I had professors who taught well but had no practical clinical experience, never developed a marketing campaign nor dealt with inventory or staff hiring/firing. Those things change your perspective, quickly. The resources are not infinite.
    Considering the continued fall-out (sorry, poor choice of words) of the serial errors with the UN IPCC AR4 and other admissions of errors from NASA GISS, do those of you who express concern about climate change or CO2 emissions acknowledge there is some further evidence about climate that bears investigation before we go all-in on cause-effect of CO2?
    Back to the SMR topic, we have become a risk-averse nation in many respects. Out of fear of offending some one or some group, we avoid telling the truth. In this case, our politicians (many of whom have no science or engineering background, but plenty of lawyers) avoid the physical truth about nuclear energy density compared to everything else. That would risk offending the coal or oil or nat gas industry — or wind and solar and geothermal. They don’t think outside the box nor long-term — no grand interstate highway system ideas (like Rod correctly stated recently). Instead they play tiddly-winks.

    1. “do those of you who express concern about climate change or CO2 emissions acknowledge there is some further evidence about climate that bears investigation before we go all-in on cause-effect of CO2?”:
      @Doc…I understand your perspective. I admit the CRU research has been based on…shall we say…less than satisfactory data, of less than satisfactory quality. I don’t see bad faith, but there are major data quality issues with the CRU research. This, I
      But the hypothesis of AGW hasn’t been falsified. To me, I think the hypothesis of AGW has strong foundations, based on the correlations that have been observed in geological time scales between global temperature and carbon dioxide concentration. I think that the mechanism of global warming proposed by the hypothesis is a highly credible mechanism. In short, the hypothesis appears to me to be very credible.
      I am not being alarmist, but I hope that you agree that there is something at least a little bit unsettling about the concentration of a major gas constituent of the Earth’s atmosphere increasing in concentration by 33% over the past 250 years. This major gas constituent is responsible for induction and suppression of many biological processes. Increases in CO2 concentration can either be viewed as a highly correlated with certain phenomena or the actual cause of certain phenomena. I do not see any agency other than man that could be responsible for the increase in CO2 concentration.
      To falsify (or to confirm) the theory of carbon-induced AGW requires an incredible amount of signal/noise differentiation to the point that modern science may not be capable of isolating the signal amid the noise (at this point in time). It appears that carbon-induced AGW will only be confirmed when it becomes self-evident that it’s happening… There also may be something of a lag time between the conditions being appropriate for radiative forcing and radiative forcing occurring.
      I do not support the “Precautionary Principle” for most things, except for medications, pesticides, and transgenics. All of these involve high-level interventions into highly complex, insufficiently documented, insufficiently understood, dynamical systems, via privileged channels. What I am saying is that AGW might be considered a very high level intervention into the Earth’s biogeological total system on an effective level that might cause cascading consequences. Further, we do not have our handy copy of the “Earth Technical Manual, Revision 3.1, Volume 857: Carbon Dioxide Interactions With Climate and Biosphere” written by the Planetary Engineering Department, so we do not know what our actions are doing and require science to figure them out.
      I have faith, of course, that the planet can handle it – it has – and it can – I have no doubt that humanity, writ large, can handle it – we can – but, if it occurs, we risk crapping things up very well and could get ourselves into a lot of trouble prior to being able to master the situation.
      AGW is just a very convincing and very disturbing hypothesis, in my humble opinion, that has some reasonably strong evidence behind it (the NASA/Hansen research), and I prefer not to play the odds when too much is at stake to bet in a conscionable fashion.
      If I was in charge of everything…I would recognize that what is needed to solve the climate problem is:
      1. Nuclear power – a massive mobilization both broad – in that it embraces all credible reactor concepts – and deep – in that it attempts to research, engineer, demonstrate and deploy prototypes, followed by full-scale demonstration plants, with enough quantity of plants – large and small – to power the entire planet and lift it up while allowing us to set down fossil fuels.
      2. Research into packages of deployable, limited-impact geoengineering technologies, kind of like building up a “hand” of options that can be played if necessary when the evidence shows that it is necessary.
      3. Research (primarily to appease the deep greens) in the areas of biofuels, solar thermal – for heat generation only – not power purposes, and very deep geothermal. All are somewhat useful and can help out with things.
      4. A special priority should be placed on the development of easily deployable near term advanced reactors (e.g. high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, and lead-bismuth fast reactors) to reduce carbon use within the petrochemical, chemical, sea transport, rail transport, and heavy industrial sectors, which should occur now, rather than later. This is some very low hanging fruit in the grand scheme of things, and should be pursued now.

      1. katana(0182)Dave – As always, I appreciate your observations and tone in response. You and David Walters are among a few who write so well about the benefits of, and need for, nuclear power as an electricity source with the economic and environmental advantages accompanying it. I wish I were smart enough to learn nuclear engineering because of what I’ve learned here and on other blogs this past year.
        My contention remains very basic: Global climate is an impossibly complex and dynamic system with influences we can’t yet measure nor fully understand in their interactions. CO2 is an essential trace gas for life on earth whose concentrations are, apparently, low by historical records. Greenhouses commonly increase their CO2 to 1000 ppmv to enhance plant growth; the Cambrian Explosion (I think that is the time period) has been ‘accused’ of having a 3000 ppmv CO2 concentration.
        The human desire to be in control is as old as time. The human attitude of grandiosity is as old as man. To the extent that we can limit real pollution, we should strive to achieve that; utilize and manage our natural resources for best long-term advantage; preserve our parks and places of beauty (yes, that’s in the eye of the beholder, I know) for future generations. Being distracted by alarmist catastrophes limits our time and resources from these goals.
        Nuclear power satisfies so many of these goals that it frustrates me when people in positions of power don’t take the time to learn the facts or thwart, by passive indifference or active antagonism, the advancement of this technology. Billions of people are held hostage as a result, either way.

  9. Every surfer knows there is a point on any wave where, if you are not paddling fast enough already, you will miss the wave. We currently live in a very competitive global economy and our industrial competition is consistently demonstrating that they have the vision and wisdom to invest for the long term and forgo large short term profits to invest in advanced technology and build up both customer base and market share.
    Unless the US paddles faster it will miss the wave of economic opportunities available in dominating the technical field of innovation relating to small modular nuclear reactors.

  10. Ten years to license a variation on a conventional PWR? That seems a bit optimistic to me, considering we’re dealing with the NRC. I mean, the AP-1000 was only given preliminary approval in 2006, and this is considering it’s really nearly identical to the AP600, just scalled up and that they had been at it since the mid 1990’s. The AP600 itself was a saga that took over ten years to get final approval on. Even now, four years after the initial certification of the AP-1000, the NRC is once again mulling the whole thing (now they’re on Rev. 15 of the amended review)
    The AP-600 is, of course not even a completely new system. It inherited much of the design from the System 80+ and basically added more passive safety and simplification.
    I really doubt that the NRC would ever license a PWR reactor if it were new. The agency is basically forced to admit that it’s a safe design because it got grandfathered to them from the AEC.
    I can’t think of a single instance where the NRC has done anything meaningful in less than 15 years. After all, the agency has had a lot of success in standing in the way of progress by just dragging its feet long enough to bleed out the investors or the sponsoring company to call uncle. You could look at some of the designs that are less conventional and you’ll find that the NRC has managed to keep them from going anywhere since the 1970’s. It’s really disgusting what that agency gets away with.
    I honestly don’t believe that we’ll see more than maybe three or four reactors built from the ground up in the United States in any of our lifetimes unless that agency is completely disbanded. Not overhauled or changed, but disbanded. It’s rotten to the core so there’s nothing to salvage.
    If the NRC is not going anywhere, we need to start to consider whether private investment can bring nuclear energy to the US by other means. We could potentially power much of the Southwest from reactors in Mexico and the South East and Gulf coast has potential if reactors could be built in the Bahamas or the Dominican republic and submarine cables run in. Alaska is a no-brainier, build the reactors in Russia and bring the power across the bearing straight.
    Of course, this would require a lot of private investment, but it’s the only way I could see mass deployment of nuclear energy becoming a reality. The NRC has gotten the act of making life hell for nuclear energy promoters down to an art.

  11. I had a different reaction to this article than most of you. I was thrilled. It was the first statement by a high government official in the last 30 years, that endorsed nuclear power without a “yes, but”. I thought it was a real step forward at a time when most steps are backwards.

    1. @Walter Sobchak
      Unfortunately, the endorsement of the Secretary of Energy means little in terms of approval. When the NRC was created, it was recognized that there could be pro-nuclear sentiment in the DOE or with other government officials. The NRC is established independent of the DOE and has complete authority over nuclear regulations (except for the military). In effect, this assures that as long as the NRC exists, no amount of pro-nuclear policy by the DOE can overcome any roadblocks the NRC puts in its path.
      Secretary Chu’s hands are tied. The NRC basically answers to noone and no matter how hard he tries, they can stop anything at any time with almost no recourse. They basically have immunity and because they’re charter is to reduce risks of nuclear energy, but not to reduce risks of lack of nuclear energy, they are a de facto roadblock to any nuclear energy by definition.
      The argument in favor of this was that there was a conflict if the department that promotes and researches nuclear energy also regulated it. Apparently it was lost on everyone that the FAA regulates aviation and also provides aviation services and promotion, the USDA regulates, researches and promotes farming etc etc etc. Nearly every government agency works this way.
      That’s the trump card of how the current system is set up. The NRC can and will quash any progress in nuclear energy, and Dr. Chu is powerless to stop them. That is their entire reason for being. It is why they were created. It is why they must be eliminated.

  12. Small centrally massed produced nuclear reactors are going to cause the capital cost of nuclear power plants to fall dramatically. And this could eventually make the synthetic production of carbon neutral fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel cheaper than those derived from fossil fuels. Once nuclear power is used to make gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel then we won’t be able to build these small nuclear power plants fast enough because they will make practically every community in America with nuclear power facilities a carbon neutral oil producer!
    The first industrialized nations to become completely free of fossil fuels will become the richest nations on Earth!

  13. I’d like to see the US develop this technology, be a leader in it, and use it to reduce or eliminate the trade deficit. Right now, the only reason the US has negative net import/exports is because of imported Oil. We would basically be right at zero (imports = exports) if you were to take out the effects of oil imports. That’s an automatic bump to the economy.

  14. In the latest visit between Bulgarian and China’s PMs the Chinese site has emphasized their strong willingness to export nuclear technology several times… The Chinese are providing expertise, technology AND finance. I would rather see my country using 200 small nuclear stations from several providers compared to 3-5 big units from China or Russia.
    Energy and politics are tight closely. Bulgaria is a Nato member and has established itself in the last 20 years as the stabilization factor on the Balkans. The Bulgarian economy has started already the escape from the crisis and was one of the rare countries to not raze taxes for both business and persons. The country does not have and does not need any more any financial aid from IMF and fiscally is in much better shape than its neighbor Greece. Bulgaria has the strongest energy market in the Balkans and does want to become a regional energy player …
    For all the Hyperions and alike small nuclear manufactures out there … I have to say. You guys ought to send those sells-men and start building contacts and start promoting your technology, since when the time is right Chinese and Indian WILL be there … There are several groups of young and aggressive players on the energy markets there, which do have the needed financial strength to undertake a small nuclear project.

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