The Fearless Green Deal
By Robert Hargraves
Democratic president Franklin D Roosevelt proclaimed at his 1933 inauguration, “…the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
In years past Republican presidents were conservative stewards of the environment. Theodore Roosevelt started National Parks. Nixon created the EPA. George H.W. Bush moved to stem acid rain.
Who now dares to conserve our planet, while advancing all its people’s prosperity, with ample new nuclear power?
During the CNN climate town hall the leading Democratic presidential candidates opposed nuclear energy. The two fearless supporters trail in polled public support.
The candidates’ Green New Deal illustrates the political maxim “never let a crisis go to waste”. Reducing CO2 emissions is buried under trillion dollar promises to guarantee jobs, health care, housing, healthy food, improved infrastructure, and reduced industrial pollution.
Our climate-energy crisis is not national; it’s global, so the Green New Deal can’t solve it. Even the UN IPCC Paris agreement can’t reduce emissions enough; it falls short by a factor of ten.
Rich nations won’t stop their emissions while letting developing countries advance by burning ever more coal. Coal burning is the most rapidly expanding power source on the planet, because it’s reliable and cheap. But fearless developing nations would use nuclear energy sources if we make them cheap enough and accessible enough.
Greens had hoped to power us with wind and solar, but these intermittent energy sources require supplemental power. That assistance normally comes from burning natural gas that emits about half the CO2 of coal. Batteries that might store intermittent electricity are too expensive by a factor of ten, particularly for week-long energy supplies.
The Fearless Green Deal relies on cheap new nuclear power. The million-to-one energy density advantage of fissioning uranium makes it intrinsically cheaper than burning coal.
New North American ventures are now combining proven technologies like liquid fuels, metal alloy fuels or coated particle fuels to allow higher temperatures and passive safety. They’re taking advantage of advanced manufacturing technology to drive nuclear energy costs below those of fossil fuels.
Technology developers can build cost effective, full-time power plants emitting no CO2. If permitted to, they could export them to developing nations, improving their energy-hungry economies. As the newly energized, fearless countries prosper and compete internationally, all nations will seek the economics of new nuclear power.
Clean, cheap, reliable power will encourage electrification of transportation, industry, and commerce. Fuel burning, CO2 emissions, and global warming will be checked. Why not?
Many citizens have been taught to fear nuclear power, though it’s proven safer than all other energy sources. The UN reported no one was harmed by it at Fukushima. Cancer rates did not rise in the years after Chernobyl. No one has been harmed by used fuel.
Yucca Mountain, Holtec cask storage, and Deep Isolation boreholes are all adequate nuclear waste solutions. Why is radiation so feared and nuclear power so expensive?
The media headlines trivial radiation releases. Greenpeace, NRDC, and other environmental organizations publish scare stories to attract donations from fearful people. These nonprofits also accept money from the oil and gas industry, a competitor to future nuclear. There are plenty of monetary motives for spreading fear.
Regulatory bodies such as EPA and NRC have accepted public fears and seek to prove their merit by continually lowering limits. They claim they are protecting the public, but decades worth of studies have shown that modest radiation exposures are not harmful.
Requirements designed to reduce already safe exposures raise costs for nuclear power.
Modest radiation is not to be feared. We live in a background of natural radiation from cosmic rays, granite, radon, and even potassium in our bodies. Life evolved at much higher radiation levels. Moderate radiation has the same ionizing effect within our cells as breathing oxygen. Biology evolved all creatures to adapt to such insults. Radiation exposures forty times background reveal no harmful health effects.
Medical practitioners have known for centuries that it’s the dose that makes the poison, yet EPA policy is that radiation is proportionately harmful, no matter how low the dose. The policy conflicts with science; over a thousand published papers document the safety of low dose radiation and explain biology’s adaptive response.
By policy, not science, EPA and NRC require all radiation exposures to be ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable), well below low, mandated limits. Regulations have doubled and redoubled the cost of nuclear power. ALARA philosophy cements fear of all radiation in the minds of the public.
The EPA is taking an important step to counter global warming, reviewing “the dose response data and models” of radiation effects in its Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science effort.
EPA recently appointed Dr. Brant Ulsh to chair its radiation advisory committee. Ulsh is an experienced health physicist whose careful studies led him to question EPA’s radiation policy and no-safe-threshold model of harm. Other scientists have petitioned NRC to replace all regulations dependent on the disproven EPA policy.
The Fearless Green Deal is a cost effective strategy for reducing emissions and promoting widely distributed prosperity.
- EPA completes review of existing science of health effects of radiation and then sets safe radiation limits based on science and observation. These replace the uninformed, elementary assumption that all radiation permanently harms people.
- NRC complies with EPA limits, ends ALARA, and revises all regulations accordingly.
- Energy subsidies and preferences are phased out.
A globally competitive new nuclear industry will then rapidly emerge to compete with coal and other fossil fuel energy.
The Fearless Green Deal harnesses economic self-interest to check CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, reduce energy costs, increase US exports, and help developing nations prosper.
The Fearless Green Deal uses private capital to greatly amplify public investments in fundamental technology. Half the public already supports nuclear. Who would dare to oppose the Fearless Green Deal?
Who are the two fearless supporters?
I’m guessing they’d be Yang and Buttigieg.
Yang and Booker
Cory Booker is of course pro-nuclear, but I wasn’t thinking of him because I thought he was too much of a long shot for the Democratic nomination…
Robert Hargraves mentioned that fact “The two fearless supporters trail in polled public support.”
But Booker has enough support right now to qualify for the next debate. His message, especially his message about importance of nuclear, is strong and should be heard, even if he doesn’t win.
I do not agree with the premise of this opinion piece. Neither EPA nor the NRC have tightened dose limits for decades. The NRC has been more and more accepting of risk-informed regulation and cost-benefit assessments. If you look at data in the trade press, average nuclear power plant Operations and Maintenance costs have declined substantially over the past few years. That is not the problem. Go to the ISO-New England web site this very minute: https://www.iso-ne.com/ The wholesale price of electricity is 1.5 cents per kwh and decreasing as the morning progresses. How can any nuclear generator be profitable under those circumstances? No, the problem is that the environmental and health consequences of electrical generation from fossil fuels are not internalized. The cost to the generators of emitting CO2 is zero. That is the fundamental issue, not overregulation of the nuclear industry.
“Neither EPA nor the NRC have tightened dose limits for decades. The NRC has been more and more accepting of risk-informed regulation and cost-benefit assessments.”
1. look into what ALARA actually costs the nuclear industry. When the NRC finds that a plant is in the bottom half of the industry in limiting radiation exposure – they get a bad rating. Problem is that half of the operating NPPs are in the bottom half of the industry.
2. Look at the cost of the changes NPPs had to make to meet the new NRC requirements resulting from the Fukushima event. This was a double event, Earthquake and Flood and the probability is far below the threshold of occurrence of previous NRC regulations. The plant I retired from shutdown just after a license extension approval and a very expensive steam generator upgrade and power upgrade because the costs to meet Fukushima regs were just to high.
3. Why is Milk sold for $1.50 in the grocery store> It is a loos leader. they are not making any money on it, they are losing money.
Why is electricity sold for $0.015 per kWh? Because they are not losing as much money!!! [And many of the LOW prices you see for Wind/Solar Power are for the same reason.] Electrical company workers are getting paid weather they make electricity or sell electricity. NPPs schedule outages years in advance. They perform a refueling outage by a schedule and not when they run out of fuel. Thuss if they do not make electricity, they do not use up as much fuel and throw away good fuel. So, again they save more money for the rate payer by at least gettin 1/2 price for their electricity.
Rather than tightening dose limits even further, both NRC and EPA require ALARA, requiring doses be reduced substantially below the overly protective limits. ALARA rules can create unquantifiable costs, making investors hesitant. The attention to trivial radiation doses that should be below regulatory concern helps create public fear.
O&M costs are high because personnel costs are so high; Vermont Yankee had over 600 employees, generating 600 MW of power.
You are right that new nuclear plants can not compete with electricity sold at 1.5 cents/kWh, but that’s the marginal price for additional natural gas generation on a beautiful warm day. There’s a market design problem with electricity being sold at hourly auctions. Wind and solar (subsidized by production tax credits) can operate at even zero cost in suitable weather, but then we depend on natural gas for most of the power. I doubt we’ll ever implement effective carbon taxes. New nukes could compete in a subsidy-free, preference-free market on the basis of LCOSE (levelized cost of shaped energy demand) if given the opportunity.
Robert the only subsidies the nuclear industry gets is for research and development, and oversight. Just think of the uproar you would have if government said we are eliminating the NRC and we will let the nuclear industry over see them selves.
I don’t read that anyone is advocating for the disappearance of the NRC, just that they put in place reasonable limits based on epidemiological and radiobiological science. Furthermore I’l suggest that any such limits be placed on any power generation technology.
The low cost of electricity “on the grid” is not just about low natural gas prices. It is also the way the auctions are structured in RTO areas. In those areas, load following and peaker natural gas plants get much of their revenue from capacity payments, so they don’t actually need to make much money by selling kWh. Renewable plants sell RECs (renewable certificates) and get PTC (production tax credits), and therefore they can bid into the kWh auction at zero. They also don’t have to make much money selling kWh.
Both groups have outside-of-the-kWh-auction funding that is hidden to most people. Gas and renewables can bid low into the kWh auctions and drive down the clearing prices for kWh, and therefore drive down the price other plants get paid.
In my upcoming book about the RTO areas, I have a chapter titled “Selling kWh is a losing game.” It’s a bad strategy for a power plant!
A major problem is that when selling kWh is a losing game, the customers are the ultimate losers.
I think you hit one of many nails on the head, yet I think excess $ are laced throughout the nuclear energy and it’s associated functions in medicine, research, – for example – all things that involve LLW management is just one example based on over control……
Bob thanks for your observations about the “politics of nuclear power” in the US.
Outside the Sanders’ and Warren’s camps, there are emerging “pro-nuclear” political types—Republican and Democrat—who appear to back “slow paced” development of “expensive” nuclear power. I suspect this is because, in their view, if it’s slowly developed and expensive, it must be “prudent and safe” – meaning no radiation risks and no proliferation risks. I have heard of no one championing that nuclear power can provide low-cost energy or that we should try to deploy nuclear at scale within a decade or two.
If “nuclear” is really expensive and really far in the future, both fossil fuel Republicans and “renewables only” Democrats are enabled, not threatened by nuclear. Fossil fuel folks (largely red state Republicans needing to hold red state electoral votes with the support of O&G voters/donors) think that they will still get to develop/burn lots of oil and gas for a long time even with escalating carbon taxes. Renewables folks (largely blue state Democrats needing to hold blue state electoral votes with the support domestic steel/construction donors)/voters) think they will get a jobs program installing lots of high-cost wind, solar and associated transmission.
No political party—at least in the US— appears to want (or can even imagine) a world where low-cost, high-deployment rate nuclear can or even should be our goal…..
I believe you have been misreading much of the political intent. My own perception is there are a great many Republicans who very much recognize the climate crises, but are not foolish enough to admit so to their base.
Likewise, there are a great many Democrats who have listened at the relevant hearings and are skeptical 100% renewables alone can decarbonize the U.S. electric grid, let alone the Rest of World, but are not foolish enough to admit so to their base.
Cost-wise, in the copious spare time of which I have none whatsoever, I’ve been collecting various academic and industry studies that suggest — rather strongly — that even at EPR rates, a zero-carbon nuclear grid would be considerably less costly than wind+sun, with the added benefit of strong empirical evidence suggesting the job can actually be done at all.
If I recall correctly, if one assumes levelized nuclear cost at Barakah APR1400 rates, the cost advantage is about a factor of two at 80% – 90% decarbonization, and only gets worse when one contemplates going the required distance.
Large-scale conventional nuclear is a relative bargain IF one can afford it. SMRs aim to chip away at the initial capex. LIght-water designs such as NuScale and GEH BWRX-300 hope for 60% cost reduction on a MW capacity basis. The Moltex and Thorcons of the world will likely do better, if they can do at all.
I’ve been saying this for a while already. Even at the FOAK EPR cost figures, Germany could have its grid fully decarbonized for what the Energiewende is projected to cost by 2025.
The funny part is that we’re seeing e.g. California pay Arizona to take its excess PV power generation (which Arizona handles by curtailing its own PV) rather than using it to directly offset carbon emissions. Maybe my Aspergers brain sees things that Greens are blind to, but I have real trouble believing that in the whole state of California there is NOBODY who has spotted what I’ve seen. Maybe that will continue until I’ve had a chance to patent it.
FWIW, total US primary energy consumption is about 3300 GW(th). If this was produced with NuScale reactors at 200 MW(th) each, that’s 16,500 units with a nameplate rating of 990 GW(e). If built over 20 years this would be just a fraction of the size (in tonnage delivered) of the auto industry. Sure we could do it; it’s not even difficult… except for finding the fissiles.
We will probably have to make the fissiles, meaning breeder reactors. I recently came across a claim that Fermi 1 was actually rated at over 400 MW(t) but was limited to 200 MW(t) by its metallic fuel, which was never replaced with oxide as originally planned. The Fermi 1 core was about the size of a NuScale core, and I would bet that a sodium-cooled reactor could be air-cooled in shutdown while a water-cooled reactor like NuScale requires a wet heat sink for a month. I’m imagining a retrofit program for NuScale plants which may or may not dry out the wells but replaces each reactor/containment unit with a LMFBR generating more than 2x the thermal output at much higher temperature, for well more than double the electric generation.
The problem with full decarbonization of the USA comes down to the ~700 GW of industrial process energy. This is spread over almost 2000 different categories, each with its own specific needs. It ALL has to be dealt with, the issue is HOW.
I hope you are right….. but to compete with US nat gas prices and likely caron prices in mandated US renewables + CCGT grids, I think that nuclear’s costs need to be much better than they were for KEPCO in the UAE,,,, so less than $3.5/w…
The only ticket that makes any sense for saving face losing to Trump in 2020 is Biden + Booker. The race is so telegraphed I can’t believe others can’t see it.
I don’t know why you’re wasting your time giving additional exposure to this very, very bad idea — unless you’re a communist, that is.
This is very much OT, but I need to pick the brains of the group mind.
I read that the Fermi 1 plant was actually rated at well over 400 MW(t), but was operating at just 200 MW(t) due to limitations of its initial load of metallic fuel. (Of course, it never did get a second load of fuel.)
1. Is this true?
2. Given the far higher thermal conductivity of metal vs. oxide, this is counterintuitive. Was there something lacking, like the sodium thermal bond used in EBR 2 fuel?
Can’t help you on Fermi-1. But it’s worth noting the Russia – China FBR consortium thus far relies upon MOX fuel.
It’s also worth noting they aren’t completely satisfied with it, and plan to use metallic fuel in commercial production.
IIRC fuel issues are behind the BNR-1200 delays; those apparently will now not be built until TVEL metallic fuel becomes a thing. WRT your earlier comment, China expects LWR deployment to wind down by mid-century, after which new builds are expected to be sodium FBR — with the usual caveat r.e. making predictions about the future.
Speaking of which and since our guest author is nominally within the business, have you been keeping up with Moltex? They are a UK-based MSR with a twist — while molten-salt fueled & cooled, the molten-salt fuel is kept isolated within cylindrical pins much like an LWR, except at ambient pressure. Heat transfer is good, and Moltex claim to be able to burn used LWR fuel with enough confidence to propose such a waste-burner as an early (initial?) prototype:
Moltex has attracted modest interest at US DOE:
Lightbridge-Framatom-Enfission’s metallic LWR fuel is proceeding apace:
Again, the idea is high heat conductivity and lower operating temperature. Sorry not to have specifics on Fermi-1, but metallic fuel is far far far from dead.
Perhaps Prof Hargraves can summarize current prospects at Thorcon?
Lightbridge is not poised to penetrate the market IMO.
Page 32 of this publication: https://ltbridge.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lightbridge-Rev-16.1.pdf shows that the fuel alloy, being 50% Zr by mass, and volumetrically diluted further still by a central displacer, will require 13% enrichment to load the same fissile content found in a 5% enriched UO2 assembly. Assuming $26/lb-U3O8, $9/lb_conversion, $80/SWU and 0.25% tails assay, the material cost of the uranium in the LB fuel is $156k more than the cost of the equivalent UO2 assembly. Note that the spot price for enrichment services is not indicative of contract pricing.
With regards to using oxide fuel in the Na-cooled fast breeder types. I conjecture that this is done so the fuel may be stored under water following discharge. Metallic uranium fuel (such as EBR2, or the TerraPower concept) would require processing to render into a more stable state (i.e. oxide) prior to long term storage. With this, I am implying that “closing the fuel cycle” is not the immediate objective of these FBR.
No, I have not been trying to follow Moltex; I’m currently working on a sketch of a fossil-free energy economy for the USA based on FBRs and I’m way behind on all kinds of things. I have been looking at Fermi 1 and PRISM because they seem to be the medium-temperature prospects which are either established technology or pretty far along. Both Moltex and Thorcon would likely work as a drop-in replacements if you could get or breed sufficient fissiles, though I’m skeptical you could do that for even 3.3 TW(th) using burners. This is why I’m thinking FBRs, as the USA has depleted uranium coming out of its figurative ears.
FBRs have their own issues, but fuel supply isn’t one of them. I calculated that starting an EPR-worth of Fermi-class units on enriched uranium would require only about 3 years worth of uranium for the EPR, and only about 8 EPR-years worth of enrichment work. After that you’re home free. That doesn’t include all the “free” fissiles you can recover from used LWR fuel, either; that’s good for some tens of GW(e) without any new uranium at all. If you’re going to embark on a 20-year build out, trading 3 years of materials and 8 years of effort against 20 years of both is a no-brainer.
Um, why? It can tolerate temperatures in the hundreds of C without trouble so long as it’s away from oxygen. Keep it in air-cooled sodium-filled stainless tubes until it’s cool enough to ship for reprocessing; load and seal under argon. Existing shipping casks should be up to the job of protecting both the irradiated fuel going to the reprocessor, and the hot-but-regenerated fuel coming back from it.
Wikipedia (hardly reputable, but mostly good enough for casual work) declares afterheat after a full-power SCRAM is 1.5% of full power at 1 hour, 0.4% after a day and 0.2% after a week. For a Fermi 1 at full power of ~430 MW(t) and 1891 kg core fuel, that’s 227.4 MW/t and 0.4% of full power is 906 kW/t.
Fermi 1 had 105 core fuel assemblies. That’s 18 kg apiece. 906 kW/t is 16.3 kW per assembly; you can handle this after a day, no problem. Even double that doesn’t look like a problem. In a pool-type reactor you could probably place new fuel in the pool before shutdown, start shuffling fuel elements immediately after shutdown and start pulling spent fuel out in long, narrow buckets after the shuffle operation is complete. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the shuffle can be done in a day. If you can transfer fuel in and out of the pool while in operation, you can easily leave it for a week, or a month.
I just don’t see the need for storage under water. A few kW (and rapidly declining) from an assembly well over 1.5 m long in a bucket probably 30 cm in diameter just isn’t difficult to handle. My mother’s IronRite mangle generated that much per unit area.
All else is never equal. In addition to better thermal conductivity and lower temperature, Lightbridge fuel assemblies are designed for enhanced coolant flow, which wouldn’t be required if power uprate was not enfissioned. Greater enrichment cost may be more than offset by increased power — steam generators, turbines, and NRC permitting.
I now have a source for the 430 MW(t) claim for Fermi 1:
Not too shabby for a core just over 6 feet across, including the radial blanket.
U.S. DU stockpile is the principle and overriding reason why the Integral Fast Reactor (now S-PRISM) had to die. I once did a back-of-envelope estimate that if used in FBRs, we’ve enough DU on hand — purified and mostly converted although there are plans to deconvert — to supply the entirety of our electricity (at current rates) for about 900 years. Without additional mining beyond the initial seed fuel loads, plus very modest investment in concrete and steel. I trust you found something similar.
Greens like to term wind & solar “disruptive technologies,” and as currently subsidized they are certainly that. But I’m ‘minded of a famous line from The Princess Bride…
I digress. Have you seen Cal Abel’s 2013 ANS Annual Meeting presented paper? It outlines how solar-salt thermal storage may be integrated with S-PRISM to tack into the prevailing wind at over 90% Cf: Energy Storage: Improving Fast Reactor Economics.
S-PRISM was considered because at the time it was the best understood medium-temperature reactor. Moltex has picked up the theme under their GridReserve trademark: An Introduction to the Moltex Energy Technology Portfolio claims (caution: forward-looking statement!) “… capital cost is actually lower than a comparable Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant operating at the same, quite typical, capacity factor. MIT and the University of Berkeley carried out a study and the increased value of electricity produced when it is flexible in this manner is 42% in Texas and 67% in California (1).” (page 8, also see page 23.)
We look forward to your sketch — please keep us posted!!!
Are you taking those words from my blog post of 2010?
I came up with 590 years at 2.5 TW(th). If you multiply 590 years by (2.5/3.3) to encompass total US primary energy consumption, you get 446 years and change; the recovered uranium from used LWR fuel would push that over 500.
I have not only read it, I cite it regularly and it’s currently open in one of my Adobe tabs. Molten salt storage is my solution for short-term load following; long-term energy storage would be done with a completely out-of-the-box idea that nonetheless needs nothing more than 19th-century industrial chemistry. I am getting numbers around 20 quads/year of long-term storable liquid fuels without having to go to hydrogen or ammonia, and probably much cheaper too.
Unfortunately I just lost a blog post on this due to Windows black-screening on me and forcing a reboot, but have you seen this piece on ultra-low energy electric CO2 capture? (Link to paper.) Their numbers are as low as 40 kJ/mol, less than 1 GJ a ton. If we can grab CO2 out of the atmosphere for 1 GJ/ton, 1 TW(e) would capture 31.6 gigatons/year; at 90 kJ/mol that would be about 2 GJ/ton and you’d get almost 16 GT/yr. The world only emits about 35 GT/yr.
1 TW(e) is a lot, but since the atmosphere is global you can do CO2 capture anywhere, any time; you can e.g. overbuild nuclear and use surplus generation to scour CO2, or put floating wind farms in the wind belts like the “roaring forties” and have them grab CO2 and put it on the sea floor in bags. Excess atmospheric CO2 is rapidly becoming a problem with a real engineering solution.
Most likely. My recollection is I got it from a post on Barry Brook’s Brave New Climate blog, or perhaps TOD. But as that title is not showing up in Brook’s search engine, you likely linked it one of those places in one of your comments.
I hadn’t actually read your Ergosphere post until today — if I had I would have referenced it; apologies for the oversight. You mention “590 years at 1 TWe generation”, and 450 GW as US current average, and 0.8 tons metal / GW-y. I assumed current consumption and likely 1 tonne / GW-y, and current generation, after which our estimates are in close agreement.
He says, with an audible sigh of relief 🙂
And thanks for the low-energy electric carbon-capture Verdox links, I hadn’t seen them yet. As an initial observation, it suffers one major caveat common to all CCS — the sequestration part. It’s one thing to DAC (direct-air capture) CO2 and use it to synthesize fuel. It’s another to think — not that you would, but others seem sorely tempted — that we can continue to frack gas at one end, inject captured CO2 at the other, and come out ahead. Sure, with enough pressure we can inject CO2 into old wells, at the usual cost of pumps and pipes. But there’s a lot of CO2.
20 GT emitted CO2 corresponds to about 1ppm. We’re currently a bit less than 410 ppm, and want to reach 300 – 350 ppm. At the warm end that’s
60ppm * 20 GT/ppm = 1.2 TT CO2 to sequester… somewhere. And that’s without burning any more fossils.
Ed Leaver — Form supercritical carbon dioxide adding just a little water. Inject into basalt formations. In two years almost all has chemically reacted with the basalt.
There is lots of basalt. All this takes is inexpensive energy. Got some?
That’s doing things the hard way; converting a ton of CO2 to methanol would take at least 33 GJ, assuming no losses. Compared to that, 1 GJ/ton to capture is a rounding error.
I was thinking Allam cycle plants as an interim measure. Put the CO2 down old oil and gas wells while we are building out the nuclear fleet. Kill oil demand by mandating that all new LDVs be PHEVs and switch that vehicular energy supply over to the new Allam plants. That would start decarbonizing transportation along with electricity even before the new nukes started going on-line.
Like I said, this is rapidly becoming a problem with a real engineering solution. The stars are lining up.
The sea floor is made of basalt, and as DBB notes, there’s an awful lot of that too. I don’t know how much excess pressure you’d need for injection, but even 100 MPa is only around 100 MJ/ton. That’s another rounding error.
At even 16 GT/yr we’d be done in only 75 years; at 31.5 GT we’d be done in 40. BECCS could add another few billion tons a year but… rounding error.
@E-P & DBB
Thanks. I agree CO2 may be injected into depleted oil&gas wells. Where fluid came from, fluid can (frequently) go back. But hydrocarbon-bearing sandstones and shales are not igneous basalt. Sure, supercritical CO2 can be made to react with basalt, but subsurface where’s the surface area, the porosity?
Not saying it absolutely can’t be done, only that “Inject into basalt formations” comes across a bit hand-wavy without additional support.
Ed Leaver, PNNL conducted a successful field trial. The references are at the end of
I live on the
and I assume you that there is more than enough basalt, just here, to react with all the excess carbon dioxide.
Already been done. Mineralized in 400 days in a test in Iceland (link to paper). That’s with the assistance of huge amounts of water, but the oceans have plenty; we’d probably want to optimize for pumping work and let it take 10 or even 50 years rather than 1. Our hurry is getting it out of the atmosphere, not getting it fixed.
They’ll do if they’ll hold while we finish weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, especially gas. They are an interim measure, not a permanent fix. It would give us the luxury of time to test options, still running on FF without dumping into the atmosphere.
Thanks for the links E-P, they look encouraging.
Got more (via BNC forum, I think):
Thanks E-P, I had found Xiong, Wells et al. ACS letter yesterday from your initial links. 40+ kg/m3 is indeed encouraging — if it can be readily achieved at large scale.
You might be right and it might in fact be a mere “engineering problem.” Hydrofracking now appears to have been reduced to practice, and that certainly didn’t happen in a day. So we’ll see.
Vaclav Smill has noted that even should a carbon capture system become feasible, placing it all back in the ground again requires the same scale of the existing global fossil extraction industry – all of it – coal, oil, and gas, which required a century to build.
A lot of our oil and gas wells are played-out, producing marginally if at all. If they can be repurposed for CO2 storage (temporary or permanent) we can get by without having to build everything anew.
Going nuclear means not having any CO2 to worry about, and dealing with the problem at the source is always going to be preferable to making a mess and having to clean it up.
@ Ed Leaver
The LB fuel material is significantly more expensive for the *same* energy content – I repeated the calculation with more favorable assumptions and the materials in the 13% LB assembly cost at least $81k more than the 5% UO2 assembly. Let’s assume that the 5% enrichment limitation of Standard Technical Specifications (see Fig. 3.7.17-1 https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1210/ML12100A222.pdf) will be easily translated to the basis of fissile spatial density – making the 13% LB legal. Since the energy content is the same, LB WILL NOT reduce reload batch size for a given cycle plan. The reduced fuel temperature will make the fuel more reactive for a constant metal/water, but will not give the fuel more mileage because the fissile content is the same, and the fertile content is reduced. LB will require a higher integral poison loading to keep peak Hot Full Power Equilibrium (HFP) soluble boron concentration less than a somewhat hard limit of ~1350 ppm where the MTC becomes positive at low power (see Fig. 3.1.3-1). Long story short, we can’t really use [much] more reactive fuel – it may be accomodated to some extent. If a 4-loop plant loads 80 fuel assmblies at 5% average enrichment for 18-months (typical), it would have to load 80 LB assemblies at 13% which will cost at least $6.5M more (80*$81k) just in feed/conversion/SWU. Approximately 15-25% of the cost of a fuel assembly is associated with manufacture; it is safe to assume the LB fuel will be comparable to the costs associated with pelleting, tubing, QA, etc.. Already uprated plants tend to be limited by discharge water temperature or a maxed-out cooling tower – they don’t necessarily have the ability to increase their thermal power significantly to take advantage of the increased thermal margin of LB with higher surface area. A plant that I know is not fully uprated and has significant room to increase TAVG and thus thermal power and thus steam flow, but is limited by permitted thermal discharge to the river. I’ve thought much about it, and I believe LB (enfission) will wither on the vine. This fuel product is not really new; there is experience with it in Russia. It doesn’t improve the economic case for LWRs, many of which are at full EPU already. Part of the economic case of LWR is that they don’t need to load premium fuel.
Your analysis from afar is interesting and valuable, but some of your assumptions may be different from those made by people who are closely involved in the project and have more accurate information. For example: “Approximately 15-25% of the cost of a fuel assembly is associated with manufacture; it is safe to assume the LB fuel will be comparable to the costs associated with pelleting, tubing, QA, etc.” Perhaps it isn’t as safe to make that assumption as you might imagine, considering the completely different manufacturing process envisioned by Enfission. Extrusion can become a continuous process that creates output meeting high quality standards with close tolerance without the need for the kind of post manufacturing grinding and polishing used in pellet production.
I have no access to the details, but it is possible for the fabrication cost reduction to make up for the increases in enrichment costs. I’d also be curious to learn more about the details of the plant limited by thermal discharge to the river. From what I know about some of the license limits associated with impacts on cooling water sources, they are only approached during limited portions of the year. Most of the time, there are wide margins, but those margins can disappear at times of drought or high ambient temperatures. If thermal limits are only a seasonal issue, LB fuel might contribute improved value during enough of the year to make an economic argument.
Finally, I wonder about the firmness of the cost estimates that you have for SWU and materials costs. Both SWU and uranium feed material are commodities whose prices vary with changes in market demand and available supply. As they vary, the balances and decision processes shift, even within the current LWR fuel supply chain. At times, SWU has been so cheap that tails left over from times when SWU was expensive have become sources for feeding enrichment plants. SWU providers have machines that are cheap to run and must continue to run, even when demand is low. That pushes them to lower processing prices to keep demand up.
IOW, choices are complex and best made with all necessary information.
I provide a realistic counter balance to the optimism that is so typical among fans of futuristic (sic) nuclear technologies, all of which have been on the shelf for decades (e.g. Zr/U metallic fuel, or MSR).
Besides the increased surface area of the LB rod, I argue it is rather equivalent to loading 50Zr50U slugs in modern Zr cladding, although slugs in tubes, lacking the displacer, would load more mass and be more economical. Note that slugs in tubes would also drop fuel temperatures greatly, thereby reducing stored energy, which would lower LOCA PCT while yielding a more reactive fuel product – as LB is advertised.
Aside: please argue how co-extruded nuclear fuel would be cheaper to manufacture than slugs in tubes.
Taking advantage of +surface area of LB to increase output sounds reasonable if realized without $1E8 upgrades to capital equipment – and yet, while it may provide DNB margin allowing TAVG increase, the hot channels are now limited by hot spot steaming (+boron deposits, +corrosion). WRT capital equipment upgrades, the pair of sites I am most familiar with have cooling towers; they are de-rated on a daily basis from late June through late September, especially in the second summer when the condenser is fouled. Both sites are limited by their heat sink in the summer; one is limited by the rating of the generator in the winter. These plants cannot take another uprate. The non EPU plants could uprate to a cooling-tower/generator-limited state with UO2.
It doesn’t really pass muster to rebut a practitioner’s simple math with: “choices are complex and best made with all necessary information”. LB could be forthcoming and publish basic multicycle analyses, but instead they publish PowerPoints with stats that infer the product is more expensive with potential benefits that may only be realized after significant capital investment to the station. SWU may have been cheap during Megawatts to Megatons, and the spot price may be $50 today, but the spot price would not be what it is the moment a reload quantity of SWU were purchased on the spot market.
Additionally: When I offer Engineer-Poet one explanation regarding why oxide fuel pellets are preferred to high alloy uranium (i.e. oxide isn’t pyrophoric), the response:
“Um, why? …so long as it’s away from oxygen… keep it in sodium filled tubes…”,
illustrates my point while attempting to trivialize it.
But please keep in mind that nuclear fuel supply is a competitive business where a lot of detailed information might represent bid input that have substantial economic value. I do not begrudge companies the need to keep some information close hold and releasable to those with a real need to know.
One advantage of LB fuel that you have not mentioned is the twisted configuration that the company believes eliminates the need for spacer grids. They have convinced me that those components are not required to keep fuel properly aligned and secure. Knowing a bit about the manufacturing requirements for those grids and the flow disruption that they impose, I can see some potential for LB fuels to have superior performance.
I may be off base, but aren’t some of the boron deposits and corrosion concerns you mentioned related to the spacer grids?
Your comments have ignored this aspect of the fuel design. It appears to be an innovative improvement.
Care to comment?
Since you specifically referred to me, let me remind you exactly what you said:
You didn’t refer to fire hazard per se, you referred to incompatibility of sodium-bonded metallic fuel with water. If the fuel is only intended to remain on-site for a short cooling period before being shipped out for reprocessing, a large fuel cooling pool just isn’t in the cards. Further, if fuel can be air-cooled due to its stainless vs. zirconium cladding, there’s no reason not to.
Using Fermi 2 as the example, 430 MW at full power translates to 0.2% of that, or 86 kW decay heat, after a week. Dividing by 105 fuel assemblies comes to less than 900 W apiece. It takes something OTOO 1 kW over a linear space of well under 30 cm to toast bread; 900 W over a 1.5 m fuel assembly of much greater diameter and heat dissipation capacity will stay quite a bit cooler even in air. If your normal reactor atmosphere is argon anyway, you don’t have to worry about things catching fire. After 90 days things will be much cooler yet.
The whole point of safe reactor design is to deal with problems at the level of physics. That’s a pretty good example thereof; get the water a couple steps away from the fuel and you can just stop worrying about it. Putting fuel IN water, when you have no need to? Why?
On Rabbet Run a commenter states that the NRC requires that the diesel generators be run 24 hours per month. Is this correct or is he just Making Stuff Up?
is the correct spelling of Eli’s blog.
The 24 hour run is an 18 month surveillance.
I thought I provided some explanation for why I thought co-extrusion might turn out to be a cheaper manufacturing process than putting pellets into tubes, but let me try again.
Extruders can be designed as continuous process machines that directly produce an output meeting high quality standards.
Forming pellets is a batch process with several steps. Those often result in slower production rates and higher manufacturing costs.
This quote is from WNA page titled Nuclear Fuel and Its Fabrication
It may not have been clear that I changed the argument in my question aside to discuss the $ differences between [cast] metallic slugs in traditional clad vs. co-extruded cladding/fuel, based on the assertion that [metallic] slugs in tubes would yield all benefits attributed to LB except the increased surface area. Note that the helical fuel rod might not work in a BWR, where it would fling coolant away from the rods, which are supposed to be wet in slug flow. In BWR application, LB would likely adopt the standard cylindrical geometry shared with my slugs in tubes model, and use grids. Additionally, I would like to circle back and state that the displacer could be included in metallic slugs, if this were necessary for fuel centerline melt considerations… Shoot. Let’s be really hip and use 3D printing (sintering) for extra buzz. Wait: Why doesn’t Westinghouse make this fuel? Why doesn’t GM sell an electric car for $40k?
I cannot offer a guess at how complex or simple the LB extrusion is. LB just last month reported making a 6′ length of “surrogate” materials. Sounds like lab-scale to me; I guess the frozen conflict in the Ukraine means that LB is cut-off from its Fatherland, where it had been made and used before.
The costs of pelleting and tubing are a black box to me; I am aware of the approximate per-assembly fabrication costs. Obviously pellets are ground and held to high standards, because chipping or diametrical nonconformance could lead to rod failure. Note that fuel does not fail due to manufacturing defects in this age. Neither of us can accurately estimate the costs of proprietary manufacturing processes; it is sufficient to affirm a LB cost penalty based on feed/conversion/SWU. Note also that we are throwing away depleted uranium at 27:1 for this 13% enriched fuel.
If this fuel offered a clear financial benefit to the operators, it would have been adopted. Many people have lost $ on LB stock, which was $127/share 5 years ago and is $6/share today. In the absence of any substantive communications from Enfission, my observations are defensible as generally correct. I would sign, date and stamp these comments – offer expert testimony in court. Of course we would all welcome substantive input from LB on the matter. Thank you for posting the comments. Perhaps someday a LB employee will set the record straight.
Your commentary is interesting, valuable and well argued. Since LTBR is a public company, unlike many in the advanced reactor development space, it has legal obligations to address some of the questions that you raise. It also has plenty of curious investors who would like to find out more about developments that might affect the value of their stock holdings.
The next quarterly call with analysts and investors happens this afternoon – Nov 7. Here is the press release.
For those who cannot listen live, there will be an archived version available. I’m planning to listen live.
Thanks for that link to the financial report.
There are three items under “RECENT RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ADVANCEMENTS” that are particularly interesting.
1) Defined lead test rod (LTR) high-level design requirements. This is key input for the technical scope of an LTR contract with a host utility.
2) Completed critical heat flux (CHF) performance evaluation of the LTR. CHF is a critical element of thermal-hydraulic design and safety evaluations.
3) Completed neutronics analysis of baseline fuel assembly behavior. This is a necessary step before a neutronics analysis of the entire core can be performed.
For item 1, it is very clear to me that LTR should be cylindrical and no more than 5% enriched; it should be interchangeable with fuel rod in Framatome’s basic product so that utility can accept it under 10CFR50.59 as equivalent. At 5% enriched, the pin would be “legal”, not requiring interpretations of T/S, while also not “leading” assembly in power (a T/S requirement for LTR), since it would have an effective enrichment of 5*5/13 = 1.9. A cylindrical rod would also make item 2 irrelevant as LTR would be geometrically identical to the fuel rod in Framatome’s basic product, and existing CHF correlation used to license core would apply (50.59). Obviously item 2 is of great interest, and not premature, but it doesn’t help get a LTR into an actual core. A mixed-lattice fuel assembly with a helical LTR is simply not going to fly – I could elaborate. Item 3 is literally SHOCKING to me considering that this stock was traded in 2005 and that scoping this would be a rather simple endeavor with prime assumption being dimensional stability (assuming it doesn’t swell). The transport codes that feed core simulators used to load and monitor the core at every site can model steel pins, oxide pins, carbide, alumina, basically any substance may be specified. I guarantee that this work had been done since 2005, and that perhaps item 3 refers to Framatome’s first look at it. This is Masters Degree Thesis level work.
I know my brethren fuels engineers can be less than well-rounded, and perhaps stuck in a silo, but we know fuel and its licensing basis. I’m glad that LB has partnered with Framatome, because the project would have gone nowhere without them. If LB will ever load a LTR in a US reactor, bank on it looking exactly how I describe above.
‘…prime assumption being dimensional stability (assuming it doesn’t swell).’
Your metal pellets will swell, and more than Lightbridge fuel would have at the same burnup, because heat has to flow across the helium gap to the cladding, instead of direct metal to metal contact. Sodium bonding would fix that, but it would cool oxide fuel down too, and is not used, so I guess it’s out of consideration.
More importantly, Lightbridge has a concave outer surface, so it can accommodate swelling without stressing the clad. Your proposal is round, so as well as having lower surface area to volume, it can’t swell without impingeing on the fuel tube.
Still, as you say Rosatom use similar fuel in their icebreakers, if it was that good they’d put it in the VVRs too.
A check that there is ample basalt to sequester all the excess carbon dioxide is found in
where others might care to check my work.
Your envelope backside looks okay; that wasn’t my reservation. We’re talking a basalt block 220 km on a side and 1 km deep. And in the overall scheme of things, that admittedly is not much. The Snake River plain should suffice.
But geology is never as easy as it looks.
And large blocks of basalt porous enough to hold 45 kg CO2/m3 and connected enough to disperse 2 TT CO2 via a countable number of 1 km boreholes strikes me as… optimistic.
Now, exploration geologists tend to be an optimistic bunch, so there’s a good match there. But sooner or later reservoir geologists must also be involved, and they tend to be more the green-eyeshades type.
It’s a new field, in it’s infancy. Thus far we have an encouraging pair of small-scale pilots. We’ll see how it grows.
I think the more significant question is, how suitable are sea-floor basalts, especially the ones near the mid-ocean spreading ridges? There’s a whole lot more of that than anything else.
In the near term, maybe we should be looking at old oil and gas fields like the East Texas field. Lots of human activity nearby so not very far to pump CO2.
The alternative to forcing concentrated CO2 deep into rock to react with basalt is to grind up ultramafic rock – olivine or dunite – and let it react with CO2 from the air or ocean. This is pretty much nature’s way of doing slow negative feedbacks on temperature – warmer temperatures mean faster erosion.
Actually just one pilot, with lots of backup in the lab.
I was including Iceland.
It’s been talked about for a few years now. Is anyone actually building a molten salt reactor? Anywhere? The Fearless Green Deal may be easier to sell if there is some actual non paper examples to point at. I used to track this stuff, but other interests prevail.
The Chinese have been investing large amounts of money and talent on developing a thorium based molten salt reactor and hope to have one operational by next year.
With all the differing designs this isn’t a question of if we could implement nuclear power on the scale to totally replace all fossil fuels use in the necessary timescale, this is whether there is the will to do so.
Prof Hargraves’ Fearless New Deal article does not advocate a particular technology. He does mention “New North American ventures are now combining proven technologies like liquid fuels, metal alloy fuels or coated particle fuels to allow higher temperatures and passive safety.”
Passive safety is featured in all present Gen III light-water reactors — AP1000, EPR, APR1400, VVER-TOI, and I believe Hualong One — as well as future light-water SMRs. And presumably Russia’s BN-800 sodium-cooled fast reactor.
Molten salt reactors are still in the design and marketing stage. While I am confident they will eventually be built, I do not share your particular optimism that Fearless Green Deal — or any broad-ranging nuclear deal “may be easier to sell” if only there were working examples of [insert favorite Fearless New Tech here].
Because whatever your personal FNT may be — liquid metal, molten salt, high-temperature pebbles, Subcritical-ADR, spherical tokamak — whatever tech and of whatever size, it will make no difference. It will make no difference because the nuclear fear problem is not a technical problem, and will not be solved by technical solutions.
I don’t know what will solve it. Education, certainly. But as a word “education” is too easy. Merely speaking truth, by reasoned explanation, and spreading the word, are not themselves sufficient. Likewise beating folks over the head with “facts” only brings out their donkey blood.
A political philosopher once opined “He who would deceive, will find those who wish to be deceived.” Something similar might be said about fear.
There is no easy solution.
There is no question that fear is the central issue of why nuclear power has not been adopted on the level necessary to replace fossil fuels. Unfortunately in the 1950s the fear of ionizing radiation was connected closely to the threat of nuclear weapons annihilation. This is the origin of the LNT model of health risk from ionizing radiation which clearly makes no sense when we look at the evidence.
Current research doesn’t confirm the LNT model, it indicates that we probably can’t live without some dose rate of ionizing radiation for normal cellular function.
Which would follow if the biological response to ionizing radiation is non-linear and actually can stimulate those structures that repair DNA strands breaks from all sources.
Would most people be opposed to nuclear power if they saw ionizing radiation as necessary to life as the air they breath, the water they drink and the food they eat.
Which all contain radioactive isotopes.
“Current research doesn’t confirm the LNT model, it indicates that we probably can’t live without some dose rate of ionizing radiation for normal cellular function.”
makes an indefensible claim that subjectively detectable “stress response” in pond scum, observed upon 99.75% reduction in background dose field, supports the conclusion that higher lifeforms need ionizing radiation. It’s quite a stretch; you’ve just donned a foil hat. If negative biological responses cannot be quantified in this range, then certainly hermetic responses cannot be proven either.
If your pet cause is to revise the administrative dose limits associated with nuclear facilities, you set it back when you infer hormesis is a thing. If you have any expectation that the most favorable outcome for revising the working dose limits would be to close the gap between the 2R/yr administrative and 5R/yr TEDE per 10CFR20.1201 in this lifetime, then your goals are unrealistic and you should probably stick to technologies that support ALARA (i.e. NOT MSRs).
The bacterial cobwebs found in a spent fuel pool at Savannah River Site are interesting, no doubt. Thriving in spite of a strong source of IR does not in any way imply thriving because of it. Cancer treatments rely on the fact that high energy photons are more lethal to malignant or senescent cells than normal tissue. The concept doesn’t reasonably extend to say we’d all be better off with a bit of radiotherapy to shake out the senescent cells.
Michael Scarangella — Please study the famous Neumaier et al. 2012 PNAS paper also referenced above by Doug Coombes. That work was done on human cells.
But there is lots more. See towards the end of
@ michael scarangella
I don’t have a pet cause, I’m looking at the physical characteristics surrounding this subject.
To start with the fact that all life is constantly bathed in ionizing radiation and has been from the start of life almost 4 billion years ago on an Earth with far higher levels of background radiation than we have today.
And it is you making an inference here not me, that ionizing radiation is not an integral part of every organism operating on the cellular level which is what the research on cells in extremely low background radiation regimes is showing. And is also what the research into factors like Radiation Induced Foci at the sub cellular level also indicate. Please read the peer-reviewed studies before dismissing what I’m presenting.
To start with we must understand that DNA is not a static target vulnerable to all damage that leads inevitably to cancer. Ionizing radiation is just one source of the DNA double stand breaks that when improperly rejoined can lead to cancer. Ionizing radiation is actually a poor initiator of cancer, oxidation, chemical exposure and mechanical damage to tissue is a far greater cause. Which means that anything that stimulates cellular repair – such as Radiation Induced Foci – do offer a credible source of mitigating the negative effects of far more common DNA double strands breaks that can be a cause of cancer in humans.
We need to consider all these factors when assessing nuclear power instead of the fear based, “ionizing radiation kills” reaction that has become far too commonplace in this discussion at all levels.
“Who now dares…..”
Oh come on. Seriously?
Anyone who’s sane and knows anything about energy would and does oppose this utter garbage—this pile of lies. Almost everything Hargraves wrote is the exact opposite of the truth. A lot of it’s projection. His or her program is based on fear, delusion, greed, addiction to domination of people and the rest of nature. And the arguments are logical fallacies, rhetorical deceptions, and outright lies.
There are far too many to reply to every one but here are a few examples:
“Our climate-energy crisis is not national; it’s global, so the Green New Deal can’t solve it.”
Non-sequitur nonsense used to distract.
Does Hargraves really think anyone is stupid enough to fall for that, or think that anyone believes Hargraves is so stupid s/he couldn’t figure this out? The global crisis requires a global Green New Deal. The greenhouse gas crisis requires a solution of efficiency, wiser lives, clean safe renewable energy; small-scale low-meat organic permaculture; reforestation; benign closed-loop biomimicing industry. The inextricably intertwined inequality/f@scism crisis requires the social programs the right loves to hate, but that our democracy depends on. And many of those are necessary to reduce emissions as well, since the rich cause the vast majority of emissions (and all other ecological problems) and the more autocratic the government the less likely it is to act on climate.
Cherry picking, outright lie.
80% of the US public wants more wind power and more public money spent on it; 90% wants more solar and support for it. A majority supports the real Green New Deal. 45% (not half, as Hargraves claims) want more nukes, and that number plummets when it’s anywhere near them. Or upstream. Or upwind.
But in any case, market forces have already decreed that efficiency, wiser lives, wind and solar, are the cheapest energy sources of all. Gas is more; coal is more than gas, old nukes are more than that, and new nukes are so expensive it’s absurd to think they could be anything but slow, dangerous impediments to replacing fossil fuels. Hargraves cites some irrelevant nonsense and spreads more lies about nukes but reality dictates that nukes are more expensive.
Nuke proponents, overwhelmingly conservative, have to choose between their market religion and their bigmanlymachine bias. But funding of denial has made so many hate the idea of clean safe renewable, democratic, largely public energy the bias wins out. Except in the real world. There, clean safe renewable energy has won. It’s most of the new energy built every year now, in the US and the world. Nuke programs, beset by bankruptcies, cost overruns, loooong delays, ethical scandals and an inability to compete, are failing everywhere except a few places where tyranny or greed or both are the overriding factors. There, nukes are barely hanging on for now or are failing slower.
Environmental advances have overwhelmingly been driven by progressive governments convinced by activists who were informed by science and were/are often called radical leftists by corporate interests and the far right. Relatively liberal Republicans were occasional stewards— but in general conservatives have only gone along when forced, bleeding as much out of the proposals as they could and calling it “compromise”. The current rollbacks and ignoring of laws by the US administration during the coronavirus crisis are examples. The vast majority of conservatives have been rapists of nature. In any case, relatively liberal Republicans been driven from the party or silenced by the vast amounts of money spent by the ultra-conservative Koch, Exxon and other fossil fuel corporations, ALEC, Mercers, Donors Trust, and others.
Using scientists as Merchants of Doubt
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