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  1. I was very glad to hear you talk about Dr. Herndon’s work on the georeactor theory. I think there are other ways to verify his theory as well as the ones you spoke of on the show. I first read about this several years ago in either _Scientific_American_ or _Discover_ Magazine. I haven’t read the paper or seen his website yet, so maybe he’s already considered this, but Helium-3 and other fission products in volcanic eruptions should be a clue. The current model holds that some of the core heat is caused by natural radioactive decay, but for some reason people balked at the idea of active fission reactions going on. If I recall correctly, there are more likely to be certain isotopes and elements present after isolated radiactive decay vs. a live fission reaction. This stuff would eventually bubble up through the crust, and one of these is famously present now (no not Helium, but that too)–Radon. These products would also be present in volcanic ash, gas and magma in trace quantities. If there is simple decay, the percentage should be very low, but it should be a little higher if there is fission. Also, at what rate is the Earth radiating energy that can’t be accounted for by the sun, and given the insulative properties of the crust, how much radioactive material would have to be simply decaying vs. a fission reaction to have that kind of heat on an ongoing basis to keep the Earth’s core from freezing into solid iron/nickel?

    The bottom line is that there are powerful convective forces inside the Earth, radioactive material is certainly present in the crust, so it must also be present in the magma and core, and in higher quantities because it would have a greater tendency to sink due to higher densities. Does anyone really doubt that this stuff could come into significant enough contact to make critical mass as this stuff is swirling around in there? Even the biggest critics of this theory know there is radioactive decay going on in there, so how much radioactive material, such as Thorium or Uranium would it take to produce that much heat? However much that is, I guarantee it’s enough that some of it could achieve critical mass from time to time, if not continually at some level.

    Another smoking gun would be if someone could prove that the Earth has lost mass over time as fission transformed matter into energy. Depending on how fast the reaction is proceding, this could be over a very long period of time because the mass lost during fission is very tiny for a great deal of energy production. It would also be tough project because meteorite/comet impacts, atmospheric gains and losses to interstellar space and such would keep tipping the scales.

    Also, I listened to JK Wheeler’s _This_Week_In_Nuclear_ (episode 15, 5 Apr 06) and he made a comment about the Russians beating us to the punch on the world nuclear market if they can deliver an acceptable product on time (or quicker) and dominating the industry worldwide. I was just curious if you had heard that and if you had any comments.

  2. I just caught the end of this episode and had another question, perfect for you. You were talking about the Savannah, and about nuclear ships. Do you have any insights (as a former Navy nuclear guy yourself) or hints about the state Navy’s nuclear program? More and more of the newer ships built by the US Navy have been gas turbine powered, versus nuclear powered (except of course, submarines, and carriers). Most destroyers and cruisers now are gas turbine powered, whereas the last generation of cruisers (Virginia?) were nuclear powered. This is sad and ironic, given that many people, including whoever wrote the Wikipedia article on nuclear reactors, perceive the US Navy to be the most successful reactor operators anywhere.

    I was also very glad to hear you talking about nuclear space propulsion! I know this doesn’t necessarily the primary focus of your show, but I am keenly interested in this, and am very interested in news or updates with the NASA/JPL Promethius project. If people want to see the potential of nuclear power vs. the limitations of other forms of power, space propulsion is a great graphic illustration. Solar power is all but useless once you get about as far as Jupiter. Chemical rockets struggle to get payloads out of Earth’s gravity well. If we had nuclear powered rockets, like Promethius, it would open the solar system up to us, and I think it’s the only feasible way to do a manned mission to Mars.

    Again, great show! I really enjoy listening to you guys talk about this stuff.

  3. PowerPointSamurai:

    In my humble opinion, The Navy moved away from nuclear power for a number of reasons that turned out to be deal killers for the decision makers. Those reasons were not permanent and the situation today is much different. However, it takes the Navy a long time to change course.

    1. Admiral Rickover insisted on more control over ship operation than the surface warfare officers were willing to give. Ship, squadron and fleet commanders are pretty independently minded people that generally did not like the idea of their power plant supplier telling them how to run the ship.

    2. When the Spruance class ships were being designed, fossil fuel was very cheap, running less than $3 per BARREL. (1960’s). The gas turbine engines provide some terrific capabilities with regard to flexibility, ease of repair, automation, and space and weight, so the fact that their fuel consumption was pretty high was able to be ignored by the budgeters. Of course, by the time that they entered service in the 1970s the situation was different.

    3. Like the commercial nuclear plants in the US, the nuclear powered ships that the Navy built included numerous changes from ship to ship. That is understandable – the technology was quite young at the time. However, it gave each ship a unique set of supply and training issues which added to their operations and maintenance costs.

    4. Though nuclear fuel is very inexpensive, the act of replacing that fuel can be made to be pretty difficult if that process is not a key design parameter. Also, since the process takes several months, the Navy generally planned a lot of other repairs and equipment overhauls during the planned refueling period. Therefore, refueling overhauls became large budget items that forced hard decisions in times of tight money. It happened that our nuclear cruisers needed to be refueled during the Clinton Administration which also happened to correspond with the post Cold War drawdown and a short term dip in oil prices. In other words, timing was not optimal to make the case for retention. 🙂

    The good news is that there are a few people in DC including some on Capitol Hill that are asking the Navy to revisit the idea of using uranium to power its ships.

  4. PowerPointSamurai:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to thank you for staying subscribed to the show and for providing some very useful and interesting feedback. Look forward to continue talking with you. Invite some of your friends and colleagues!

  5. On the nuclear Navy becoming more fossil fueled: I think there is more at stake than the cost of fuel or operation of the ship (although, as you mentioned, nuclear is cheaper now that oil isn’t $3 a barrel anymore). The USS Cole tragedy occured because they stopped to refuel at a somewhat hostile port of call. To be fair, I don’t think the Navy ever had nuclear powered frigates (I think the smallest nuclear powered surface ship was a cruiser), but being able to pick and chose where and when you will make a port of call, and not because you have to would be a powerful tool for a commander (aka ship’s Captain in this case). Fuel is probably also the bulkiest commodity a ship needs replenished, so moving surface combatants back to nuclear would open up a vast amount of freedom of manuever because food, mail, rearmament packages and such could be economically and feasibly done by routine at sea replenishment. I’m sure chasing a whole fleet of ships around the globe to refuel them requires a lot of tankers. I can see why the Navy wants these ships to refuel at a port somewhere rather than have to haul fuel BACK to the Middle East. Nuclear would obviate that and allow them to worry about fighting the ship, not figuring out how and where they were going to refuel and how to secure themselves while doing it.

    I also read somewhere that gas turbines allowed more flexibility with the power production (i.e. produce a spike of power quickly). This will be important as the new rail guns and electromagnetic catapults (replacing steam catapults on carriers) start appearing. I’m not a reactor expert, but I can’t imagine why a turbine could spool up to produce a lot of power in a short time, and a reactor couldn’t with some kind of buffer, like super-capacitors or batteries.

  6. PowerPointSamurai:

    I completely agree with your analysis with regard to the advantages that nuclear power provides to Naval vessels. Since we have a 400 ton submarine with a nuclear power plant (the NR-1) there is also room to discuss powering even small ships with nuclear reactors.

    Nuclear power plants can change power just as fast as gas turbines. Because of the nature of steam plants, they take a bit longer to start up from cold iron, but once they are operating, they can respond very rapidly to changes in power demand. There is no need to complicate the plant design with capacitors or batteries.