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36 Comments

  1. Glad to see you’re still alive and kicking. Like many, was shocked by the boot from DKos, but hope to see you posting here (and elsewhere) in the future.

    1. He was booted from DKos?  Wow, I bet they’d toss me in a microsecond if I showed my face again.

    2. Well, Keith, it was a long time coming.

      Daily Kos always was, is, and always will be an anti-nuke website. Kos is an anti-nuke as is evinced that all of the front pagers he has promoted are anti-nukes. (My personal favorite among the front pagers has to have been that woman – she no longer writes there apparently – who liked to represent the fact that her summer internship job at Hanford made her qualified to rule on the value of Glenn Seaborg’s work.)

      As a Democrat, and as an environmentalist, I am both embarrassed and appalled by the anti-nuke wing of my political party, and although I always knew that the majority of Kossacks (as opposed to the general class of Democrats) were anti-nukes. To Kos’s credit, as an anti-nuke, he gave me a wide berth to express my opinions, even though I was always deliberately skating at the edge. As a result I had the pleasure of receiving occasional notes and comments from people who wrote me to tell me I had helped them change their minds about nuclear energy. But frankly, we were at the point of diminishing returns.

      I stopped writing diaries at Daily Kos – for the second time – in December of last year. The destruction I observed in my home state, New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy, as well as the extreme temperatures and droughts that have struck here and elsewhere in recent years, the deaths of ancient trees, and above all the continuous monitoring of the data from the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide observatory, particularly the effects of the irrational post-Fukushima panic that can be discerned from that data, have all conspired to raise my disgust with anti-nukism to levels that were very difficult to contain. Thus whatever comments I made (outside of my jokes on SensibleShoes wonderful Write On! Series of diaries) were seething with a sense of horror at what anti-nukism has wrought. I was especially angered by the disingenuous and frankly fraudulent remarks made by that old tiresome anti-nuke fool Tim Lange (Meteor Blades) which was of the “I’m not an anti-nuke” anti-nukism whereupon he listed all of the insipid anti-nuke arguments one after another, although not one of them despite their fifty year age would stand a fifty second scrutiny in comparison to all other forms of energy.

      I take great pleasure in the fact that the thing I was banned for was for telling what I regard as the absolute truth. It actually happened in your diary. It happened in your diary where I pointed to Hansen’s recent – and increasingly famous – paper in Environmental Science and Technology wherein he quantified degree to which nuclear energy saves lives. Pointing to it, I said that it followed from the paper that anti-nukes were guilty of murder and that the murder weapon was fear and ignorance. I used that word, murder. Maybe I should have used a wimpy word like, say, um, “manslaughter” but that’s not my style and I was – and am – in fact fed up. (I hate being accused of ambiguity.)

      Kos’s rule is that people should treat his website – his personal profit making website – as if it were someone’s home. Think about it. Kos is an anti-nuke. All of his prominent guests in his “house” are anti-nukes. Someone walks into your “house” and announces that all of the guests are in a class that can only be described as “murderers.” What would you do? We cannot fault Kos if his reaction is to shoot the messenger, can we?
      Of course, if someone believes that the members a group he hangs out with are, in fact, murderers, then it would be a pointed and difficult question to ask what, exactly, one is doing hanging out with said group.

      As Hansen has pointed out, “Nuclear energy saves lives, not every life – and sometimes, albeit rarely it costs particular lives – but on balance it saves lives.

      Now.

      Let’s erase nuclear energy from this equation and talk about heart surgery, which overall, saves lives. Suppose we meet a child who has “blue baby” syndrome, an often fatal condition that can only be treated surgically. Suppose also that the baby has totally naïve parents who knows little or nothing of the world. Next we have a group of people who point out all of the people who have died during heart surgery, ignoring all of the people who were saved by heart surgery. They announce, based on this selective listing, that heart surgery is dangerous, and that everyone who has heart surgery will eventually die (ignoring the fact that people who don’t have heart surgery will all die) as well. If a parent is convinced by these absurd arguments not to have the baby operated on, and the baby dies from the lack of treatment, might we not argue that the people who convinced the parents to do the wrong thing have responsibility for causing the death of the baby. What is the word for causing the death of another person?

      My political views are informed by an Eleanor Rooseveltian philosophy which mixes in things like concern for the poor, the hope to provide all humans a chance to lead decent and productive lives, the creation of opportunity, a demand for justice, a desire to work forcefully for peace. Many of the great pioneers of nuclear energy were Democrats, liberal thinkers, and the greatest as far as the construction of the American nuclear infrastructure (now under assault) Glenn Seaborg. Seaborg saw the problems rising in our party – his remarks on Michael Dukakis in his book A Chemist in the Whitehouse speaks volumes. The point of electing Democrats should not be to defeat Republicans – which seems to be Kos’s ideas – but to provide a basis for good government.

      Is the restriction of nuclear energy because it does not meet arbitrary criteria that no other form of energy can meet as well good government?
      Kos and his front pagers and I have fundamental differences that cannot be bridged. I assure you that it is no loss to him, and at this point, it’s no loss to me either. I did what I could, but it could never be enough. I wish I could tell you that nuclear energy will triumph, but that’s not what I really believe. What I believe is that – as was often the case at so many other points in history – fear and ignorance will triumph.
      Unfortunately one must choose from one of two parties and have few tools to address this crisis politically. I have always chosen to vote Democratic, and I can’t imagine that I could ever vote Republican, but my experience at Kos has caused me to reflect that there should be some times where one supports neither party. I voted for Dukakis, holding my nose. But I can tell you that I was very happy to not live in Massachusetts, because rather than vote for Markey, quintessential anti-nuke, I would have stayed home, because nuclear energy saves lives and it follows therefore that if one opposes nuclear energy then, well, I’ll say it, one is guilty of murder.
      On a personal level, thank you for your kind words.
      The conclusion of my Kos tenure is no great loss for me personally. In the end it only made me apoplectic.

      Many months back, as I contemplated my inevitable banning from Kos, my friend Brian Mays, a fine nuclear engineer and scholar, did me a huge favor and downloaded all of my Kos diaries and emailed them to me, so whatever personal value they have for me and my sons when I am gone will not be lost.

      Rod is also a friend, and a tireless worker for nuclear energy, and perhaps he will indulge me to write here again when the mood suits either or both of us. I do kick around on the internet here and there and please be assured that I continue my reading and my thinking about nuclear energy. You may contact me about any questions you may have with which I may be able to help at my email account NNadir.fp@gmail.com.

      All this said, I am profoundly disturbed by the contempt for science – genetic as well as nuclear science – on the left and think it to be equally as odious as the contempt for science on the left. These things threaten not only our country, the futures of our children and grandchildren but also our species, our entire planet, as well. As I contemplate what’s going on in the country of Seaborg, of Gibbs, the country where so many of the great nuclear pioneers came to work freely, I am increasingly filled with a sense of hopelessness.

      1. Re: “…Pointing to it, I said that it followed from the paper that anti-nukes were guilty of murder and that the murder weapon was fear and ignorance. I used that word, murder. Maybe I should have used a wimpy word like, say, um, “manslaughter” but that’s not my style and I was – and am – in fact fed up. (I hate being accused of ambiguity.)”

        No, it’s not hyperbole stating that! They’re mass murderers by the consequence of their anti-nuclear deeds. We should never pussyfooting PC around when comes to many millions of lives lost daily to bad water and no energy denied because of the off-the-wall nightmares and philosophical anti-nuke hangups of a couple of groups who want to save the world like green crusaders for Gaea-approved wind and sun power. I have relatives and friends in Africa who tell how early on Greens flew in from outside to persuade all the ignorant susceptible natives not to spoil their paradise home of humankind by stroking the evil god nuclear — Oh yes, also don’t mow savannahs and jungles over with windmills and solar farms because mankind’s homeland must be kept pristine to visit! — before flying off like they did another grand deed for mankind, but nary a wilt of these “earth do-gooders” — who hawk that best way to cure malaria in Africa is for citizens is to sleep under free nets — never stop by the back country to see all the wasting and thirst and starvation and withered crops that could’ve been avoided by clean low-footprint nuclear power and generated water. Freaking hypocrites and a half! Damn them all to a one! If only these anti-nuke con artists’ legions of clueless fretful fans could see a Nat Geo on how many real life — not speculated stats and figures of fanciful nuke perils, but REAL lives that their anti-nuke heroes are killing off every week by frustrating and denying others the use of proven clean safe power and water! Thank god some of these governments have members not so gullible and are obliging Russian offers to build reactors by. So yes NNadir, call the beasts and bastards by what they ARE by their their selfish egotistical irresponsible actions. Murders of millions every year! I’m only sorry Pandora didn’t go the route of showing the brutal real life and death en masse consequences of FUD and ignorance.

        James Greenidge
        Queens NY

      2. I like your comments and articles. Concerning creeping hopelessness, I believe that we should do what we do because we have determined that it is right, but we should suppress our attachment to the fruits of what we do. In other words, we should not be overly happy when the fruits are sweet, and we should not be overly dismayed when the fruits are bitter. Because that’s just life. Nevertheless, I fully understand the feeling of hopelessness that you describe. For what it’s worth, I’m now just contributing something that I learned from a brief contact that I had years ago with the ancient Hindu scriptures, which contain a lot of guidance on how important it is for one’s happiness to simply do one’s duty with dedication, but without attachment to the results.

        Best regards, and I hope to read more of you. I aim to read your existing articles as well.

        Joris

      3. Re: “…Pointing to it, I said that it followed from the paper that anti-nukes were guilty of murder and that the murder weapon was fear and ignorance. I used that word, murder. Maybe I should have used a wimpy word like, say, um, “manslaughter” but that’s not my style and I was – and am – in fact fed up. (I hate being accused of ambiguity.)”

        No, it’s not hyperbole stating that! Anti-nukers ARE mass murderers by the horrific consequence of their anti-nuclear actions. We should never PC pussyfooti around when comes to many millions of lives lost yearly to bad water and no energy being denied them because of the nuclear plant-blocking off-the-wall nightmares and philosophical anti-nuke hangups of a couple of groups who want to save the world like green crusaders for Gaea-approved wind and sun power. I have relatives and friends in Africa who tell how early on Greens flew in from outside to persuade “all the ignorant susceptible natives not to spoil their paradise home of humankind by stroking the evil god nuclear –” (my non-PC “sic” as a black American laying on that infamous African missionary tome!) “– Oh yes, also don’t mow savannahs and jungles over with windmills and solar farms because mankind’s homeland must be kept pristine to visit!” — before smugly flying off like they did another grand deed for mankind, but nary a wilt of these “earth do-gooders” — who hawk that the best way to cure malaria in Africa is for citizens is to sleep under free nets(!) — never stop by the back country to see all the wasting and thirst and starvation and withered crops that could’ve been avoided by clean low-footprint nuclear power and generated water. Humane hypocrites and a half and damn them all to a one, excuse my French! If only the clueless fretful fans of these anti-nuke con artists could see a Nat Geo on how many real life — not speculated stats and figures of fanciful nuke perils, but REAL lives that their anti-nuke heroes are killing off every week by frustrating and denying others the use of proven clean safe power and water! Thank god some of these governments have members not so gullible and are obliging Russian offers to build reactors by.

        So yes NNadir, call the beasts and bastards by what they ARE by their selfish egotistical irresponsible actions. Defacto murderers of millions every year who go unrecorded in the media! I’m only sorry Pandora didn’t go the route of showing the brutal real life and death en masse consequences of FUD and ignorance.

        James Greenidge
        Queens NY

      4. NNadir – It was a pleasure, and it was not much trouble at all. In a former life, I was a computer geek, who was involved in the Free Software movement (which is something I still support, by the way … and yes … I’m still a computer geek).

        More importantly, however, it should be clear to anyone who has read your writings that you have put great care into your work. (Even those who disagree with your position have acknowledged that.) It would have been a crime if you had not had your own personal copy of these essays.

    3. I enjoy your posts NNadir. However, on the subject of “murderers”, I suspect that stepping back from stridency can often be more effective. In regard to the liberal, faux green anti-nuclear zealots, I prefer to think of them, and refer to them, as “useful idiots” of the fossil fuel lobby. Pathetic, minor accomplices to the horrible death toll of the coal industry might actually be more accurate. Also, on the subject of pessimism, I would think that a chemist such as yourself would be familiar with F. Engels “Dialectics of Nature” where he demonstrates that all motion involves the transformation of small, quantitative changes into large, abrupt qualitative changes, and vice versa. This is easily demonstrated in chemistry. Colloquially, “tipping points” also exist in historical motion, and are usually, very surprising and unexpected. We should not project some of today’s distressing trends in re. to nuclear energy, too far into the future, in my opinion.

      1. “We should not project some of today’s distressing trends in re. to nuclear energy, too far into the future, in my opinion.”

        I agree, but I guess pro-nuke advocate’s have been telling themselves that for 30 years? Still this time it may be different. I do see things are changing. 30 years too late, but they are changing.

        The anti-nuke argument that goes “it is too late for nuclear to play a role in mitigate global warming” is the one that makes my blood boil. After all, who but the anti-nukes are responsible for nuclear being ‘too late’ to begin with? These people seem to have no shame….

        BTW, I like the term “useful idiots”. I had a correspondence with a dutch group that presents itself as an authority on green building in order to move them to support SMR’s as a legitimate way to decarbonise the built environment. When that group finally decided to dismiss my motion even while admitting they had no arguments against it other than a ‘feeling’ that nuclear was not sustainable, I accused them of ‘undermining society’.

  2. Rod – thanks, as always, for this post. I’ve read all of nNadir’s posts at DailyKos and they’ve been important to my nuclear education.

    nNadir – thank you for this informative post. I remember enough of my first year university chemistry to be able to follow it in general. I had been wondering if there might be ways to do something with CO2 if we were to start removing it from the air and oceans. Ideally we’d turn it into something useful, rather than just stabilizing and burying it; I’d like to see some of it turned into graphite, preferably pure enough to be nuclear grade. (Dr. Bruce Hoglund has interesting things to say about graphite in molten salt reactors in his presentation Bon-Bon Road to Core Wall Neutron Flux Suppression @ TEAC5. The conference videos are being posted gradually; I recommend watching them all.)

    It’s also interesting that Helen Caldicott and other antis have missed yet another nuclear catastrophe:

    … the uranium was just left in the phosphates, where, in many cases it ended up being distributed on agricultural fields. The issue of uranium accumulations in agricultural fields from phosphate fertilizers is now recognized as a worldwide health issue.

    What’s ironic is that they’re chasing the will-‘o-the-wisp of radiation from nuclear reactors and ignoring a real source of exposure. A quick Google search on ‘uranium in fertilizer’ turned up over a million links, and a quick skim of some of them shows the major concern is radiological. I’d have thought someone would have included heavy metal toxicity in the mix.

    1. I have a long piece written on the subject of carbon dioxide capture from the air (and its relationship to nuclear energy). If Rod agrees, I may publish it here.

      It’s a very challenging topic.

      1. There appear to be a number of very simple and cheap methods, such as the potassium carbonate absorber system.  All that one requires is heat to regenerate the absorbent, at 125°C or thereabouts.  Steam tapped off from the low-pressure turbines of nuclear plants would be perfect for this; it could be used to modulate power production during off-peak hours.

        The real problem is finding the energy to do something with the CO2.

        1. @Engineer-Poet

          I think you vastly overestimate the efficiency of absorber systems and underestimate the quantity of heat required. My experience is that even the best of absorbers begin to have difficulty bringing CO2 concentration much below 0.5% – 1%. (Please remember, 1% is 10,000 ppm.)

          1. A better way seems to be to remove the carbon from sea-water, like that recent research by the US Navy appears to have confirmed. As I recall, that research was performed to investigate the feasibility of making synthetic jet fuel on board nuclear navy ships. I also recall that the energy/economic cost of obtaining the needed carbon from the seawater was a relatively minor part of the total cost of producing the synfuel. That seems to indicate that removing carbon from seawater could be an efficient way way to remove carbon from the carbon cycle. Conversely, getting carbon directly from the smokestacks of fossil power plants is even easier, but I recall that you can only reasonably get about 90% of the carbon removed in that way. That’s a lot of carbon, but not quite enough to obtain the much-hyped ‘clean coal’ situation. The carbon intensity of elektricity generation should be less than 50 grams/kWh if global warming is actually to be stopped. Current proposals for carbon capture and storage for coal don’t achieve that level of co2 emissions reduction, AFAIK.

            In any case, AFAIK carbon capture and storage may be technically feasible and economically bearable, it will never be applied on a large enough scale without a significant carbon tax in place globally, which would seem unlikely to happen any time soon.

          2. Rod wrote:

            I think you vastly overestimate the efficiency of absorber systems and underestimate the quantity of heat required. My experience is that even the best of absorbers begin to have difficulty bringing CO2 concentration much below 0.5% – 1%.

            They’d need to be a lot better than that to be usable for spacecraft life-support, wouldn’t they?  IIUC people don’t tolerate 1% CO2 for very long.

            K2CO3 was proposed as the absorbent in the “Green Freedom” scheme, grabbing CO2 from the stream of air passing through the system’s cooling towers.  I’m not a chemist, so if they got it wrong, I cheerfully plead lack of responsibility for their numbers.  If anyone has firm info, I’d love to have it (for bookmarking and inclusion in the References section on The Ergosphere, if I ever get back to it).

          3. Joris wrote:

            I also recall that the energy/economic cost of obtaining the needed carbon from the seawater was a relatively minor part of the total cost of producing the synfuel.

            I checked out the numbers from the lab test, and the ELECTRICAL input came to about 1 MJ per mol of CO2 produced.  That’s roughly equal to the energy of the required hydrogen to produce longer-chain alkanes.  I wouldn’t call that a “minor part”, especially given the 2/3 losses in conversion from heat.

          4. I am not a fan of biofuels nor CO2 sequestration, but there one use for both together — biofuel electric generating plants with CO2 sequestration for the purpose of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

          5. We should not be using biofuels for electric generation (except perhaps peaking).  If we are going to use biofuels, we should reserve them for high-value purposes like liquid fuels and chemical feedstocks.  If we make them with nuclear process heat and capture any byproduct CO2, then the system as a whole can easily be carbon-negative.

      2. NNadir – I also would like to read your piece on carbon dioxide capture from the air. There’s a company here in Calgary, Carbon Engineering, who are attempting to commercialize a hydroxide to carbonate to regenerated hydroxide cycle for removing CO2 from air. Their January 7, 2013 post Outdoor Contactor Data Analysis shows charts and discusses the results of their summer/fall 2012 contactor run.

        Jim Holm at his continuously changing Coal2Nuclear or Skyscrubber site, is trumpeting CO2 capture as complementary to replacing coal fired boilers with high temperature nuclear reactors. He visualizes uses the reactor’s heat at night to regenerate the hydroxide and turn the CO2 into hydrocarbon fuels, and during the day to generate electricity. I’m a little skeptical of this – it seems to me that industrial scale chemical processes don’t like being ramped up and down too often. But I admire Jim’s vision, and replacing coal boilers with reactors would certainly conserve assets.

        On the ‘murder’ topic – a couple of years back I wondered how much of a murderer I was by using coal-fired electricity (a good bit of our power here in Alberta comes from coal). Depending on the numbers you use for annual coal related deaths, I figured that over my lifetime I am/will be responsible for about 0.2 of a death. It’s not as bad as I feared but is still a lot higher than it should be. (I posted this idea in a comment on NNadir’s blog some time back.)

        Do not despair – Ben Heard at DecarboniseSA is showing us that progress is possible. His latest post is Strong signs of progress in opening Australia’s nuclear conversation. It can be done.

  3. It was a long time coming.

    Daily Kos was, is and always will be an anti-nuclear website, it represents that unfortunate and embarrassing wing of my party, the Democratic party represented by its anti-nuke wing, the Dukkassites, if you will. (Glenn Seaborg, like me a lifelong Democrat, wrote a wonderfully subtle putdown of Dukkasis in his fabulous “Chemist in the Whitehouse” book.) I had many run-ins with the anti-nuke front pagers there; my favorite among them was that wonderful woman who liked to represent that she was qualified to rule on the value of Glenn Seaborg’s work at building our nuclear infrastructure because she once had a summer internship at Hanford.

    You can’t make that stuff up.

    I’m sure that the way I feel about Democrats who are anti-nukes approaches the way that some of the more rational Republicans feel about their creationist wing. There’s simply nothing that can be done with these people, they’re essentially robots who can’t be trained to think independently.

    On both sides of the aisle, the contempt for science is a bane to our country and to the planet at large.

    On a bright note, I am happy to report that my banning came as a result of telling the truth. Referring to Hansen’s wonderful paper that quantified in a clear and unambiguous way that nuclear energy saves lives, I stated that opposition to nuclear energy is nothing other than murder; I paraphrase but use the exact word that I used: Murder. It happened in your diary.

    To his credit, Kos let me write there for many years despite my overt contempt for his, and his front pagers, anti-nuke energy views, contempt about which I made little secret. He is to be applauded for that. But I stopped writing there as I monitored the post-Fukushima increases in carbon dioxide additions and became disgusted and bitter about what anti-nukism has wrought for future generations. I was just too disgusted. Tim’s (Meteor Blades) remarks to me after I experienced Hurricane Sandy played a role in leaving me disgusted with Daily Kos as a whole. Tim’s really an insufferable fool. I really couldn’t write there any more, at least any more than snide comments and jokes on SensibleShoes wonderful Write On! diaries.

    But to return to that “murder” word: Kos is an anti-nuke. He has always been an anti-nuke and always will be one. I have characterized that unenlightened class of people with a very strong word, an appropriate word I think, but a strong word that is bound to – and is designed to – offend that class. He owns the website. Whatever his intellectual and moral limits he is perfectly free to ban anyone who offends him and surely I do just that.

    My friend Brian Mays, a fine nuclear engineer and scholar, did me a big favor months ago, and downloaded all of my diaries so that their content is saved for what they are worth to me and my family – the personal records and tales I told as asides may be valuable to my sons when I am gone.

    So it’s no loss to me personally. I did what I could there, and people sometimes wrote me to tell me that I helped to change their minds – as brusque as I was – and that was gratifying. But mutually, between the Kos staff and myself, we had reached a point of diminishing returns.

    I kick around the internet. I also regard Rod as a friend and maybe he’ll let me write here from time to time as he has done here.

    Best regards,
    NNadir

    P.S. You may reach me personally at NNadir.fp@gmail.com

  4. NNadir,

    Good to see you posting; I have missed your interesting and fascinating tidbits.

  5. NNadir,

    Thanks for the post. A lot of good stuff to think about as usual. Haven’t had to think about orbitals for awhile so good reminder of that subject.

    Regards,

  6. That was a refreshing break from the politics and public policy. A very nice read and much food for thought.

  7. nnadir was/is not the only pro-nuke on the DK. I’m one. And there is actually a growing list of them, including Keith Pickering who wrote a wonderful diary on the costs of renewables vs nuclear recently. Only…nnadir is the most…well know both for his science grounded arguments and his take-no-prisoners-war-on-ignorance.

    The many strong pro-nuclear community on the DK want’s nnadir to come back!

  8. Rod,
    Thanks! Quite interesting. It upgraded my understanding of the periodic table and the differences between lanthanide’s and actinides.
    Never knew the potential to use as a catalyst.

    Now I also understand why scientists check the level of U in agricultural fields that use phosphate fertilizer.
    This even may become quite important due to the Codex Alimentarius Commission new recommended food safety standards (all foods together must deliver <1mSv/year), that Japan already adopted.

  9. Regarding “Carbon Dioxide Capture, Storage and Utilization.”, specifically, the implication that we might continue to burn fossil fuels to make electricity, but capture the carbon, combine it with hydrogen (made with nuclear power), and synthesize transportation fuel:

    It is hard for me to see how the economics of this would work, compared to using the nuclear power to make electricity, and the fossil fuel to make transportation fuel, which seems to have much better efficiency. Consider that converting natural gas to methanol has 67% efficiency (according to ANL-339), but conversion to electricity has only 60% efficiency (delivering natural gas as cng has 97% efficiency). Nuclear power to electricity is about 30% efficient, and using electrolyzers results in heat-to-H2 of 21%.

    So to me, fuel synthesis only makes sense if the goal is to stop using fossil fuel. That leaves carbon capture from biomass, the air, or water, all of which add cost.

    Aviation and small motors such as lawn mowers and chain saws can justify a premium carbon-containing fuel, but driving around town just needs a fuel that’s cheap. Ammonia (NH3) is the cheapest fuel that can be made from nuclear power (or sun, wind, or OTEC). Ammonia is a liquid at under 200 psi, and has an energy density 2x as good as 10,000 psi hydrogen and slightly better than cng, so it doesn’t need an expensive fuel cell to deliver adequate driving range (it works fine in a modified ICE, and delivers higher efficiency than gasoline). Using reverse fuel cells for ammonia synthesis (which take only steam, nitrogen, and electricity as inputs) ammonia could be as cheap as H2 at the plant, and of course much cheaper once it’s delivered to the end user. The reversible ammonia fuel cell has been demonstrated at lab scale using proton conducting ceramics, but requires more development.

    The usual complaint about ammonia fuel is the safety issue (ammonia stinks and is toxic when inhaled for prolonged periods). But this is just an engineering issue to be solved. Studies have shown that its transportation by truck and retail storage risks are no worse than gasoline. All that remains is to develop a consumer-friendly fuel dispenser (spill-proof dispensers have been developed for methanol and a fully automated H2 refueling system has been developed, so we can surely make ammonia work). And of course there will be no evaporative emissions, since ammonia is stored under pressure (like cng, but at 20x lower pressure).

    Here’s a good intro to ammonia fuel: NH3 – The Other Hydrogen

    Here is a presentation on ammonia safety.

    1. The proponents of ammonia fuel do have a point, but it has the same fly in the ointment as hydrogen:  it requires a substantial new infrastructure before it can be truly useful, and it’s incompatible with everything we have now.  In an era of austerity, large infrastructure projects with long payoffs are not good bets for success.

      Our existing “renewable” fuels all start with biomass.  Fermentation releases CO2, which is in a fairly pure form and is easily captured and stored.  There is work on thermochemical processing of biomass, to convert lignocellulose to sugars and oligomers using little more than hot water at less than 300°C.  If we are looking for a relatively small source of liquid fuels with the prospect of carbon capture, biomass can fill the bill.  All we need is nuclear heat to drive the process.

      1. @Engineer-Poet

        If we replace most coal and natural gas in electricity and industrial heat (plus ship propulsion) we should have plenty of accessible hydrocarbons to last for a very long time in the remaining markets. We should also be pretty close to the point at which natural CO2 sinks can keep the atmosphere in balance. We might need to give nature a little help by planting extra trees, but that’s not such a burden. Most people LIKE trees.

        1. If you look at USA patterns of energy consumption, a lot of gaseous fuels go into residential and commercial buildings.  Those have to be replaced too.  Just how hard they are to replace I don’t know yet, I have the data but I’ve not had time to crunch it.

          There’s an awful lot of biomass produced in the course of human activity, everything from excess cornstalks to rice straw (currently burned to eliminate pests) to municipal tree trimmings, grass clippings and organic garbage.  We need better ways of dealing with it.  Turning it into fuels and stuffing the related CO2 into e.g. spent oil and gas wells kills multiple birds with one stone.

      2. “If we are looking for a relatively small source of liquid fuels…biomass can fill the bill”
        Sure, we in the developed world can probably uses efficiency improvements and battery electric vehicles to cut our liquid fuel use by a factor of two or three. In the mean time, what about the other 6 billion people? Are they to remain in energy poverty, or can they have cars too?

        Dave MacKay reports that in Europe, energy crops yield 0.5W/sq.m=0.5MW/sq.km = 2000 sq.km per GWatt. As I recall, when supplemental H2 and heat are added to the biomass, the fuel output per unit area triples, so 670 sq.km per GWatt of fuel. It still sounds like a lot of land to cultivate and cost to avoid the inconvenience of new fuel infrastructure.

        Aviation is about 8% of our liquid fuels usage. That seems like a good goal for biofuels to work towards. Must we really clear and farm every square inch of the planet?

        1. In the mean time, what about the other 6 billion people? Are they to remain in energy poverty, or can they have cars too?

          It depends if they are smart enough to escape the Malthusian trap.  If their response to e.g. the availability of piped-in water is to use the saved time and effort to have more children that they cannot support, they are going to remain in poverty regardless of the resources that Western technology makes available to them.  It may be that the sum total of human misery is reduced if such people do not get those technologies.

          Of those who stay out of the Malthusian trap (and prevent immigration of people who can’t avoid it themselves), the amount of renewable liquid fuel they can afford depends on the amount of excess biomass they can devote to producing it.  The amount they can devote to (non-electric) cars is the excess after essentials are taken care of, such as food and its preparation.  Singapore isn’t going to be able to have many cars if it has to depend on its own resources.  Fortunately, Singapore can trade goods and services for raw materials, or just rely on subways.

          Aviation is about 8% of our liquid fuels usage.

          There are more ways to run aircraft than by burning liquids in gas-turbine engines.  Beamed power is an under-appreciated technological possibility.

          Must we really clear and farm every square inch of the planet?

          One of the reasons I appreciate nuclear energy is that it displaces both fossil fuels and “biofuels”, removing an argument to convert natural areas to cultivation.

  10. Another interesting application of uranium chemistry is in thermo-chemical hydrogen production. As reported here: ORNL work

    “Uranium is used at temperatures well below 700ºC to decompose water (H2O) to produce hydrogen (H2). To accomplish this, steam and other gases are passed through a mixture of uranium oxides and other chemicals at temperatures of 625ºC and above. With these noncorrosive reagents and relatively mild temperatures and pressures, the processing equipment and the construction materials for the required unit operations are commercially available off the shelf. This thermochemical cycle has several advantages over competing processes because the chemical mechanisms proposed require no inventory of volatile hazardous chemicals and have operating temperatures that are compatible with common materials of construction.”

    The significance of the 700C temperature is that it is easily produced with any TRISO fueled nuclear reactor: the pebble bed reactor, GT-MHR, and the NGNP HTGR, as well the very promising FHR which combines robust TRISO fuel with molten salt coolant (which improves cost effectiveness by allowing much greater power density), DMSR, and LFTR.

    This family of H2 production cycles was passed over in the early nuclear H2 work, since they involve solid intermediate products, which were deemed inconvenient. The formerly preferred cycle, sulfur-iodine (which involves only fluids), requires handling high-pressure sulfuric acid at 900C, which is also quite inconvenient.

      1. @Nathan

        I’m not sure how you are attempting to insert the link, but it is leaving off the http: part of the URL. I deleted the duplicates and fixed one of your comments.

    1. You know Nathan, I’m familiar with a lot of hydrogen cycles, but this one is new to me.

      You don’t know me, and I’m not bragging but let me tell you that turning me on to a hydrogen cycle I don’t know about is a neat trick at this point in my life.

      Thanks much! I’ll check that one out!

  11. Hi NNadir,

    Great article, congratulations!

    I have posted a summary for it (in Portuguese) on my own pro-nuclear blog. Hope it gets some more people to read it.

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