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29 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link, Rod, and thanks for calling me a gentlewoman!
    It has always struck me as odd that Vermont has these types of legislators, considering that so many people are farmers. But of course, the majority of the people are NOT farmers, though there are many farms.
    At least where I live, so many people work for not-for-profits or the government. Working for-profit is definitely the exception. Of course, Dartmouth College and the hospitals are the BIG not-for-profits, but there are tons of others. Health round-tables, family service providers, etc etc. They provide good things for society, but the people in who work there can easily be completely disconnected from the world of pipes and so forth.
    Thanks again, Rod!

  2. Maybe it is time to stop trying to save Vermonters from themselves. At least we can stop hearing these hysterical claims. I live in NH. The politics of nuclear are more mixed here. Of course the delays etc. at Seabrook are famous, although now at least some people realize that that one small building generates half of the states electricity. I hope someday we can build Unit 2. We can sell the electricity to MA and make some money.

    1. Steve. I live in Vermont and would love to stop hearing these hysterical claims!
      Most of the time, I don’t try to save Vermonters from themselves. I try to give a voice to the Vermonters who are pro-nuclear. My analysis is that 1/3 of Vermonters are pro-nuclear, and it was closer to 50% before tritium. In my more cheerful dreams, I maybe/perhaps influence some “undecideds”

  3. Shumlin & Co. are the kind of Democrats who give other Democrats a bad name. The problem in Vermont is not so much the presence of fruits and nuts but the concentration of them. E.g. it seems a good portion of the anti-nuclear activists still breathing coal-polluted air live in Brattleboro.
    I think that having Vernon secede to New Hampshire would be a great idea. If Vermont Yankee is too “dangerous” for Vermonters, then perhaps it shouldn’t belong to them. Apparently, Vernon once belonged to Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Returning to the historical situation would improve the finances of New Hampshire – and preserve the fruitiness and nuttiness of Vermont in aboriginal conditions.

    1. After all, if one looks at a town map of Vermont, Vernon sticks out a bit at the bottom of the map. Best to correct this “rightward-leaning” anomaly so that it’s no longer in Vermont’s backyard, and the state can return to the good old days of cows, cows, and more cows.

  4. It’s the nature of politicians to acquire power. They do it by appealing to people’s beliefs and feelings. On any issue, the shortest and most impassioned idea that the public will swallow will win. The system will quickly find politicians who either believe it themselves, or are willing to deliberately peddle it for gain. So the system produces sensible outcomes only if the public is capable of rejecting nonsense. Here we’re seeing a failure of the public to think clearly and/or a failure of the education system to provide basic training in quantitative reasoning.
    Thanks Rod, for your excellent posts on VY. Atomic Insights is the only place I found a discussion of the potential doses from the leaked tritium.

  5. I understand the view of higher-ups needing to work in the trenches a little to be enlightened to the challenges and intricacies of the operation. But that opinion is born of misdirected, albeit understandable, frustration.
    I’m a complete outsider – industry and profession – and I have enough critical thinking ability and common sense to look at a gallon of water with what is less than a grain of salt-sized amount of tritium and deduce that it doesn’t resemble or compare in any way to the more than 20 million gallons (and rising) of oil spewed from an ill-fated well a mile under the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve got soft hands, I admit it. Keyboards, spreadsheets, and a chair I complain about is all the requisite knowledge of the piping diagrams and valve schematics needed to make that determination.
    I guess what I am poorly trying to say is that I don’t think putting these politicians in the shoes of an engineer or operator for a day is going to change the fact that they are not making their decisions or basing their rhetoric on anything rational. I don’t know their motivations, but if they don’t have ulterior motives and there isn’t some sort of money trail… well then I’m more terrified because the people of Vermont elected officials without basic cognitive abilities.

  6. @Rod – A bit off topic, but am struggling with a dilemma and would appreciate your input. As you know, I am involved with solar and battery back-up (UPS) systems. My partner has a lead on a potential project in a large north African country with a sparse but significant rural population. It would take years to either build central power stations or run transmission lines to reach those remote locations, and at significant cost.
    We are proposing delivering power “nodes” with wind-solar-battery technology to serve these diffuse populations as an interim solution until central power stations can be built. I recognize the cost per kWh of our “node” is high, but what is the alternative? Either no power and wait until SMRs are available (5-15 years?) or swallow the intermittency and cost of our “node”? We propose not just electricity but also fresh water condensation or pumped wells, too. Power could be had in a matter of weeks from signing of a contract.
    What would be in the best interest of these rural populations? Thanks for your insights. (No pun intended.)

    1. @DocForesight – I hate to say it, but have you done an economic comparison to diesel generators? Even in the wealthy US, those are often lower cost and more reliable than a combination of wind, solar and battery unless there are substantial government subsidies.
      Are there international aid agencies that are willing to kick in part of the cost of the non-fossil systems? That might help swing the decision in your favor.
      Of course, fuel transportation challenges can also make a decision in favor of non-fossil alternatives, but if you have trouble moving diesel fuel, how will you move the components of a wind, solar, battery system?

    2. It’s a balancing act. I made a quick list of some of the pluses and minuses as I see
      them of the different options, along with a third option you may not have considered, as it incorporates some of the “grid” but a much simpler version.
      Renewables
      Positives:
      *No fuel necessary
      *Feasible for very small, isolated applications with battery storage.
      Negatives:
      *Rare earths in wind turbines fetch good prices. I presume batteries do as well.
      *Though fuel is unnecessary, batteries and wind turbines require maintenance and spare parts. Solar requires regular washing.
      Diesels
      Positives
      *Lots of energy, small package, reasonable efficiency. Some diesel engines – e.g. Indian clones of “obsolete” Lister-Petter diesels from the 1920s and 1930s are built so substantially that they’ll run forever given fuel and maintenance. (These clones are known as “Listeroids”, are reasonably inexpensive for the reliability of the finished product, and have a substantial following in the US.)
      *Reasonably reliable energy.
      *Reasonably resilient.
      Negatives
      *Oil necessary.
      *Spares necessary.
      *Reasonably skilled mechanics necessary.
      *Substantial resale value of engine-generator. Engine-generator is in a transportable package.
      Single-wire earth return rural electrification
      Positives
      *More reliable than renewables. More reliable than poorly maintained diesels. One could base a small local grid on, for instance, a relatively small hydroelectric dam.
      *Little concentrated, rapidly moveable capital investment. You’ve got poles, and you’ve got steel wire, and perhaps 1 or 2 transformers a village. Poles can be placed at the rate of 2.5 poles per km according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWER . Good for lighting and applications with resistive loads, I would guess. Powering the village pump is feasible too and a refrigerator for the local doctor, but probably not for real industry, as only one phase is available.
      *Economies of scale achievable with central nodes.
      *Inexpensive to roll out using local labor.
      Negatives
      *Vulnerable to intentional disruption by human forces. Resilient to other phenomena due to high cable strength and small number of poles.
      *There is a central node that can be knocked out.
      I wish you success in your project!

      1. Dave – excellent answer. There is one other negative to be concerned about with the kind of grid power that you suggest, though it might not be a huge problem if the villagers trust each other and cooperate. Places like remote areas of India have a significant problem with line “leakage”, caused by unauthorized connections to the local wires and customers who fail to pay for the power that they are taking.

      2. @(Dave) – You may be pleased to note that the Lister-Petter diesel motor is used by this UK-based simple drilling rig company: http://www.consallen.com — with their “Forager” model rig. Check out their short video and description.

  7. Doc,
    Very good question. I have friends involved in building infrastructure in Africa, and their experience has changed my perspectives quite a bit.
    We in America have grown accustomed to very reliable power, thus Rod’s response regarding diesel generators. It is a 24 x 7 x 52 view of providing power to consumers (and I *strongly* support that perspective, notwithstanding living in the land of fruits and nuts). However, I have come to appreciate that half a loaf for many people makes a big difference. As we know, there is not enough money for the 100% solution….
    Rod asks some good questions that need to be considered, and I wish you well in your endeavor to uplift fellow humans.

  8. Gentlemen, thank you for your responses. My thinking and outlook on this has swung like a pendulum, the result of which is along the lines of Arcs_n_Sparks — having access to something, even intermittent, now vs waiting years more for 24×7 power brings clarity to my thinking. The financing won’t be an issue – the country is awash in petro dollars. GE recently finished a large (53 million gallons per day!) desalination and power plant there.
    Hydro isn’t an option (we’re talking the Sahara here). With the country 3.4 x larger than Texas (!) and poor road infrastructure, transporting fuel consistently might pose a problem. By contrast, once our “nodes” are set up, they operate on their own, albeit intermittently. We’ll have the capability to remotely monitor them for maintenance issues – something more difficult to do with an inexpensive diesel generator.
    Is it a perfect solution? No, but considering the terrain, lack of infrastructure and, heretofore, lack of access, it may be the best we can do to move them forward. Let me know if you have other thoughts. Thanks.

    1. @DocForesight – how large are the areas that you are thinking about serving? If “awash in petro dollars” means that there is a reasonably substantial market, perhaps it would be worth talking to Grizz Deal at Hyperion. Your intermittent solution might be able to be deployed and installed more quickly, but I am guessing that Hyperion is going to be in production for areas outside the US within the next 5 years. The barriers to entry that have been erected in the US to slow the development of innovative nuclear energy systems to something before a crawl do not exist everywhere.
      Of course, even Grizz’s vision of a “hot tub” size nuclear plant is going to be capable of producing as much as 75 MW of thermal energy, which would be sufficient to operate a 25 MWe heat engine (steam plant or perhaps even a closed cycle gas turbine).
      That might be more power than the distributed loads that you are describing can effectively handle, but there is a caveat here – the very same reactor that can produce 75 MW of thermal energy for 6-8 years can produce 25 MW of thermal energy for three times as long. Hook up a smaller, less expensive heat engine and that remote area might be able to supply reliable power that can actually operate deep fresh water wells, sewage treatment plants, reliable refrigeration, and reliable fresh water.
      There are really good reasons to aim for reliable power, even if you are not talking about a place full of consumers – one of the reasons that Americans have always been counseled “don’t drink the water” when they travel is that potable water is something that generally requires steady power – if the power shuts off every day and the water has to be stored in local cisterns, bacteria happens.
      Refrigeration of both food and medicine is also a load that needs power whether or not the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Batteries might work, but it is tough when the renewable sources are unavailable when the batteries need charging.
      Good luck with your project. Your concept of bringing power to the powerless is admirable, but I am still not a big fan of saddling remote, undeveloped areas with power supplies that cannot really cut it in places where people have a lot more resources.
      As you well know, there are plenty of well-heeled people in the US who would really like to be able to operate “off the grid” with the kind of wind and solar systems that you are describing, but most of them give up and install generators or power lines when they find out how many sacrifices their visionary systems demand. I am afraid that the people in the villages where “Westerners” install wind and solar systems with batteries will initially be grateful, but within a few years, they will recognize the substantial limitations of the systems and begin to tire of the maintenance and component replacement burdens. I expect that the alternative system salesmen would not be welcome visitors in 5 or 10 years.

      1. @Rod — I have spoken with a Hyperion staffer a few times over the past year and track any new developments or announcements. Overseas fabrication (the UK?) may help bring them to market the soonest. We need your AAE units!
        I haven’t done a full assessment of population distribution but I know they’ve got 35 million occupying an area roughly 31% of our lower 48 (which is home to 280 million). According to Wiki, 90% of those live along the northern coastal areas with the rest spread out among oases, so about 3 million people are very dispersed. Believe me, I struggle with this, as I don’t want to be party to an “over-promise — under-deliver” scenario. I consider lighting and refrigeration as two essentials for stepping out of energy poverty. The need to keep in mind that they have nothing now and it could be several years before any relief comes forward is part of the wrestling match between “adequate – better – best”.

        1. What about the Indian 200MW Candus? I believe they can build them for about $1/W.

    2. This really does seem to be a situation where wind and solar might be appropriate, solar especially. The Sahara is constantly sunny and having something is better than having nothing.
      I would suggest that you make the panels as rugged as possible and easy to clean with a minimum of water. If you use wind, I would suggest laying in a stock of spares at every node, along with extensive picture-based instructions as to how to change out spares. I would suggest that your inverters be very rugged and field-maintainable.
      As for storage of energy, the lead acid battery chemistry is susceptible to heat, which I believe the Sahara has plenty of. Thus, I would suggest that you use nickel-iron batteries. Though other types of batteries will store more energy, more efficiently, the nickel-iron battery chemistry (“Edison cells”) is incredibly durable, and will last for many, many years. There are Edison cells perhaps 100 years old that still work very well. Of course the electrolyte – an alkali of some sort, I think, sodium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide, needs to be changed every decade or so, and the batteries need occasional watering, but aside from that, they’re maintenance free, can be overcharged, can be frozen, can be heated up, can be beat up, there is no cycle life issue (cycle them as much as you want, and do so deeply) etc.

      1. @(Dave) — Excellent suggestions, particularly the picture-based instructions and spares. We are currently working with Apollo Solar and Outback Power Systems as potential vendors for inverters, switchgear and monitors. Batteries will be an issue, so your “Edison cells” are worthy of consideration. We have access to lithium-iron-phosphate batteries which are very rugged, durable, don’t suffer catastrophic destruction like some others do, they are about 1/2 the size and 1/2 the weight of standard lead-acid.
        Do you know where I could source the nickel-iron batteries? Thanks.
        A little quick math indicates: 3.5 million / 4 (family size) = 875,000 “households” / 20 (# of households served by a 5 kW “node”) = 43,750 “nodes” potentially needed. Even if only 10% of that is approved, that is a substantial number of units.

        1. If you’re looking for a US manufacturer, Eagle-Picher was – once upon a time – developing modern nickel-iron chemistry batteries for use in cars. There’s a PDF located at this site: http://www.evdl.org/docs/ep_nife.pdf that is an ad of Eagle-Picher’s for their batteries. I don’t believe that they manufacture any NiFe batteries any more, though.
          The Chinese do manufacture some NiFe batteries, and they have a US importer, “http://BeUtilityFree.com” . They imported their manufacturing line from Germany, I believe. Zhuhai Sanchuan Electronic Technology Co., Ltd is the manufacturer, but they don’t list their nickel iron batteries on their website. The Chinese are good at copying. http://www.seidenbattery.com
          I believe some of the Eastern European nations do as well. You can find former Warsaw Pact nickel iron batteries for radios online. According to http://www.microsec.net/battery-hist.html the Romanians currently manufacture nickel-iron batteries, though I can’t exactly figure out who is the Romanian manufacturer.
          I did find one Russian manufacturer, Kursk Accumulators, http://www.accumkursk.ru/shel_prod.htm . You’ll have to use Googlebar to translate. The good thing about the Russians is that though their stuff might be a bit more expensive than the Chinese, Russian commercial grade products are stereotypically overengineered, very heavy duty, and maintainable. I’d start with the Russians if Eagle-Picher couldn’t help you.

          1. @(Dave) – Thanks for those links. I did find the BeUtilityFree site and note they import them from their manufacturer in China. If you feel so inclined, look at the Li-Fe-Phosphate technology at http://www.peakbattery.com. They are located in Henderson, NV with additional manufacturing capacity in China.

  9. “It’s the economy, stupid” is about the most sensible thing a politician ever said, and about sums up the limits of their long term thinking. Continual hits to a politicians economic credibility will bring them from rooster to feather duster status in about the same time it takes a state to drop a couple of grading points from a ratings agency. Calling names is a little bit dodgy, northern Californians should suffice.

  10. If your main aim for reliability is to power a refrigerator try this. About 50 years ago I worked summers on the railroad, back when they had real cabooses. The refrigerator in the caboose was a slightly modified “gas” refrigerator. Instead of a gas flame they used an oil “smudge pot” (A 5 in diameter sphere, self uprighting oil lamp, predecessor to the blinking hazard/warning lights you see in construction zones) to heat the area that was heated by the gas flame. This little oil lamp would keep the refrigerator cold enough to keep food cool enough to prevent spoilage for about 8-ten hours. Should be able to modify the typical (dueal fuel) camper refrigerator to work on a 12 volt wind generator and a backup oil lamp or propane tank. The fence chargers we had used a car battery charged by an old model “T” generator that was on the top of a pole. Rarely had problems with them – but no big load either.

    1. @Rich — Thanks for the idea on camper refrigerators. I have found a couple of other options while snooping around the net. Read an article from the Council on Foreign Relations that led me to http://www.SELF.org where they have some excellent videos on their projects. We lose sight of the fact that they have nothing in the modern conveniences that we take for granted – and won’t soon have them. It could easily take 10 years or more before they see the first power pole.
      Our idea is not to replace (or pretend to replace) robust, 24 x 7, on-demand power, but merely to fill the need until the rest of the grid or country has a chance to catch up. The “nodes” will be stout enough to withstand the typical rigors of their placement. AK-47s? Not so much.

      1. @ DocForesight
        I am so glad to hear you involved in this project. I have lived near and visited often places that have little power, though not totally without. I note that many people are willing in those areas to work with a 12 vote lighting system, sometimes very simple. One time during a brown out a skilled technician hooked up a transformer to a battery and got us a 220 light for about 1 hour. We then spent the next few hours in the dark. The next night as I looked at his system I asked if he had a 12 volt lamp. He found one and we had light for about 3 hours from a 40 watt 12 volt. LED lighting is very very energy efficient and very rugged. My point is that I would keep lighting systems on a low voltage and reserve the high voltage for motors. (water pumps) Also, the RV camping type refs can be solar as well and can use a minimal heat source to keep them cold. That is – reserve or stored heat from the day can still keep the unit cold at night, especially if they are well insulated. Absorption refrigeration is a good in between technology. http://crosleyautoclub.com/IcyBall/crosley_icyball.html / Which is the basis for the camp / RV freezers and refrigerators. One of the advantages of the ammonium absorption cycle is that it can be trained with clear pictures and a demonstration. Most people with good mechanical ability will be able to troubleshoot and even manufacture the system when they grasp the way it actually works.
        I agree with you about needing the Adams Atomic Engines – yesterday. I wish the fuel development was quicker. That kind of simple system is exactly what is needed in most of the low tech areas I have lived in and visited. In fact though I am a Huge fan of LFTR, the AAE are much more practical for most of the remote areas I have been in due to their basic simplicity. Hyperion is similar in simplicity – wish they were here.

        1. @david — Thanks for your input and ideas on refrigeration and lighting. LEDs are the way to go if we can source them for a good price and performance. After watching some of the projects under the “Project” tab on http://www.self.org, it is more clear than ever that isolated, remote areas will only get access to electricity with intermittent sources.
          I read in one article that the cost to run transmission lines ranges from $3,000 to $10,000 per kilometer, based on terrain, country, technicians, etc. Plus, the reality is that these villagers may only consume 50-100 watts per day, enough for a couple lights, maybe a fan or radio. Maybe a refrigerator for the clinic and some shared between villagers rather than one per home.
          Realizing that this is, first and foremost, a nuclear blog, I would encourage you all to view some of the videos or read the brief description of projects. I think it will give you a renewed perspective of what rural and remote areas of 3rd world countries are facing.

  11. @ Docforsight,
    Cell phones are the game changer. Before lights, or water, cell phones help to kick start an economy. They lead directly to increase learning and to an understanding of the need for power and the way that market economies actually operate. Papua New Guinea, Micronesian Islands, Philippines, and other countries throughout Asia have experienced this. It is amazing to see a person walking out of the jungle in a loin cloth talking on a cell phone!! (Or texting which is often cheaper).
    The reason that Cell phones work so well is that they don’t need the long lines strung. This is why a distributed electric system is superior. If you can produce the power a short distance from the use of that power it can be distributed much more easily. Rod’s suggestion about diesels is worth looking into. You can get a small diesel engine for about $1,500 dollars that will supply the needs of a village of that kind (5 to 10kw). The fuel supply / delivery infrastructure is the challenge then.

    1. @david — Interesting comment on the priorities. I would think clean water would trump anything else, then lights, then communication. One of our potential affiliates is very big in wireless communication antennae and repeaters/amplifiers.
      I encourage you all to check out the “Projects” tab at http://www.SELF.org just to get an appreciation for how diffuse the consumers / villagers can be. It makes having a central power source challenging in many cases. This does not diminish my enthusiasm for micro-nukes, SMRs or El Gordo NPPs; it just emphasizes the need to be flexible and willing to adjust the system to best meet the need.

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