1. Rod, given the potential advantages of Molten Salt Reactor technology, hooking the Chinese on Generation III+ nuclear technology might not be such bad trick. The Chinese appear committed to evolve the AP-600, AP-1000 design. Let them. Just make sure that The United States strikes out for the best Generation IV nuclear technology.

    1. @Charles Barton: That thought occured to me as well – still, it would have been good to not have the U.S. against even it’s own ‘old’ technology – that is, before a lot of Generation IV reactors are built, there’s probably going to be a period of Gen III and III+ being built in other countries, and the U.S. *could* have maybe made some good money off that buildout. Now, we are at risk of losing contracts on maybe 10 years of reactor buildouts to the Chinese.
      But, at least we do *currently* still have some control on Gen IV designs. I’m currently a fan of the IFR/PRISM reactor idea, because of the recycling/reprocessing and inherent anti-meltdown safety characteristics. I’m going to have to read up on the MSR, to see what features it has.
      One other thought, however, occured to me. If you think that carbon emissions are a bad thing, then the Chinese starting to build these CAP-1xxx series reactors may be the best possible thing wrt AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming). More nuclear means less carbon emissions from coal burning power plants. Cheap Chinese AP-1000 reactors means more countries can afford to build more nuclear power plants faster.
      This might be bad for the U.S. right now, but it might be good from the standpoint of reducing global warming faster, which ultimately will be good for the U.S. too.

    2. I’d like to ask one followup question about the Molten Salt Reactor – I was reading about it, and it appears to be a Thorium fuel design, but could the same basic idea be used for Uranium fuel mixes, to burn spent fuel and depleted Uranium? I know that Thorium Reactors have their fans, but I am very convinced that it’s ‘too soon’ for Thorium, because we need to start burning off the long-lived elements in spent nuclear fuel. I am of the opinion that we should plan to power the world for a couple centuries off of our current nuclear ‘waste’ – then as that starts to get exhausted, make a transition to Thorium.
      Still, it seems like instead of using a sodium-based design like IFR, a Molten Salt Reactor with a spent/depleted Uranium fuel mix, if such a thing is possible, might be a good idea?

    3. @Charles – that is very unselfish of you considering that both you and I are too old to ever see Molten Salt Reactor technology achieve commercial success.

      1. I would suggest that a man who takes a little time during his honeymoon to argue the case for (Thorium) Molten Salt Reactors is an exceptional advocate of the Technology.
        Charles, you are probably the best among us in both your zeal and knowledge on Gen-4 LFTR.

    4. Charles – the issue here is that the problems with LWR technology have already been worked out at the cost of probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of man-years and tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars. Assuming that the MSR and other GenIV designs have teething troubles (as almost all new technologies do) they will require shakedown periods and major costs perhaps not to the same magnitude that LWR teething troubles have required, but these costs and delays will still be present, to a large degree.
      In the mean time, while GenIV is being debugged, the Chinese can build pinnacle GenIII+ designs at a very low cost using Westinghouse’s trade secrets which will subvert the market’s demand for GenIV designs, though I remain confident that GenIV designs will eventually prevail.
      (At least the Chinese won’t be able to build pinnacle GenIII++ modular designs like the mPower, as they don’t have that set of trade secrets…)

    5. I would suggest that a man who takes time during his honeymoon to argue the case for (Thorium) Molten Salt Reactors is an exceptional advocate of the Technology.
      Charles, you truly are the best among us in both your zeal and knowledge on Gen-4 LFTR.

    6. I would suggest that a man who takes time during his honeymoon to argue the case for (Thorium) Molten Salt Reactors is an exceptional advocate of the Technology.
      Charles, you truly are the best among us in both your zeal and knowledge of Gen-4 LFTR.

  2. It happened with manufacturing before. When the free trade agreements were established, the plan was to do the “smart” things like engineering and design in the West and let the “stupid” Chinese do the manufacturing. Trouble is, the Chinese aren’t stupid and have amassed a trillion dollar surplus over the years since then. Only few years ago, Made In China cars were still considered inferior and uncompetitive. But times are changing and we can’t live off our legacy forever: This year, China will be for the first time, making more cars than the U.S.. Next year, China is expected to produce 17 million cars. GM and Ford are outsourcing their car production to there while they tell us there’s nothing to worry about. The Chevrolet Volt is among the cars GM plans to produce in China, after the first Volts are still being made here. Outsourcing our industry means we lose the jobs, the money, and eventually the technology aswell.

  3. Well, the issue is not the technology transfer to other countries, it is the lack of nuclear construction in the US. I think it is a good thing that Asia is expanding nuclear energy.

    1. R Margolis, that is exactly right. If Westinghouse had been busy building their AP1000 reactors in this country from the start, they would not have needed to sell the intellectual property rights to make a buck. As it was, at the time there seemed to be little demand on the horizon.
      On the other hand, Westinghouse got caught in its own trap. As Rod Adams wrote:
      Perhaps the most complex skill to master in building new nuclear power plants is following the labyrinth of rules and regulations that have been developed in the US under the influence of companies that profit by raising barriers to entry for new competitors and by people who are nervous about allowing nuclear energy to expand at all.
      By supporting (or at least going along) with this great complication of rules and regulations, Westinghouse (and others) have made it very difficult for themselves to sell nuclear plants to American power utilities. These complexities raise costs directly by requiring things that make marginal (if any) contribution to safety, and also delay and prolong construction projects, thus adding more cost and uncertainty.

  4. This has happened before. The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain, but only reached its pinnacle when technology transfer brought it to the New World. This is not to suggest that American innovators did not contribute, we all know they did, but the groundwork had been laid in England, and a good deal of the initial capital came from there as well.

  5. China is giving car makers who manufacture plug-in-hybrids the same ultimatum: turn over your technology or be banned from the Chinese market. But the Westinghouse news is old news which I believe has been discussed on this forum before.
    Trying to compete against a fascist state is very difficult especially since the international corporations would sell their own grandmother’s to China in order to make a profit. America has its hands full competing against China– especially since we’re still engaged in a paralyzing civil war between the right and the left in this country.

  6. If we exercised as much caution toward Chinese exploitation of foreign technowlogy as Russian ROSATOM does, China would be forced to develope their own technology. Russia may export technology to China but it is a no frills bare bones version of their technology.
    I would like to point out that 3,000 miles of water is no longer a barrier to the “Backfire of technology exchange”. We should have learned in 1941. Now we are beginning to see a more assertive China and should make moves to protect ourselves from the Backfire of exchanges with China.

  7. I don’t know…the idea that any technology is ‘owned’ by one ‘country’ is I’m afraid, silly. The fact is that if Westinghouse didn’t do it, the technology simply wouldn’t be developed. The Chinese are not afraid to apply technology. The US is (except for the DoD which isn’t afraid to spend money on *anything*).
    The other side of this is that it can be seen as an investment by the Japanese owners of the technology: the Shaw Group and Westinghouse get a HUGE off-loading of construction learning AND operating curves which will be wholly paid for by the coffers of the PRC. They will have to learn to make efficient the modular design technology, new ways of constructing large reactors and they will *refine* the process for everyone who uses the AP1000 (or later larger models).
    BTW…I think the French have NOT offloaded their EPR technology despite the fact that hte PRC is building a few. Same with the VVER technology of the Russians.
    I understand Rod’s frustration, however, more because I see it as *such a waste* of time and effort by engineers in the U.S. only to see ‘others’ develop it; to apply it; to prove it.

    1. “BTW…I think the French have NOT offloaded their EPR technology despite the fact that hte PRC is building a few.”
      As far as I know, this is true. This is why more AP-1000 units than EPR units are being built in China.
      “… the idea that any technology is ‘owned’ by one ‘country’ is I’m afraid, silly.”
      Silly as it is, many people take it seriously. For example, US export policy claims that any technology that is developed by Americans (say, an American citizen worked on the development) is subject to US export restrictions. This means that if a foreign company develops a product and an American company or even an American employee participated in the development, the US government believes that it can have a say in where that product is sold — i.e., to which countries the product can be exported.

    2. @David – My frustration in this area comes from a complex mix of thoughts. First of all, the “costs” that you describe as being off-loaded to the PRC are “revenues” to workers in the form of both wages and nearly impossible to replace experience. The people who participate in the actual learning curves of any technology development form the foundation for whole careers worth of employing those skills and teaching others. It really angers me that corporate “leaders” will skim off the cream of easy, short term, low hanging fruit profits from selling off knowledge based technology developed with a great deal of assistance from American taxpayers.
      I have often gotten involved in arguments about subsidies – there are no operating subsidies for nuclear power plants, but the DOE and the AEC before it have spent billions in research, development and testing that came from all Americans, not from Chinese taxpayers and not from Westinghouse shareholders. They (we) did this in an era where we “trusted” corporate leaders to build companies here in America that employed Americans at wages that enabled them to raise families and sustain the system for future generations.
      Far too many of our current corporate top dogs (I have to stop using the term “leader” for the targets of my ire) act like prodigal sons who think it is their birthright to squander the resources that they inherited though the accident of being born into the right families, being allowed to attend the “right” schools, and getting helping hands up the corporate ladder. Many of them never had a creative thought or invented a new, beneficial technology, or wrote coherent sentences that people read with joy or learning. (Many have produced a lot of words in the form of deadly PowerPoint, contracts, legislation, or legal briefs, but those are not terribly productive words.)
      Please do not misunderstand me. I am not an “America first” or “America only” person who dislikes people from other nations. I just happen to like my neighbors, believe whole heartedly in the ideals of our founding documents and believe that true competition is a really good thing. If Americans were also building AP1000s there might be even quicker improvements as we learned from each other’s successes.
      I am impressed by the Chinese progress over the past 30 years, cheer the uplifting of human beings who are moving out of poverty, and hope that they begin to experience the kind of freedom that we used to have in America. So far, that is obviously not the case. It is not a place where I have any desire to do business.

  8. Here are the choices under Obama: learn to speak Mandarin and be a communist or learn to speak Arabic and be a Muslim. Neither choice is very palatable. This is what you guys wanted. Fill up on the full measure of your vote.

    1. @Guest – I decided to approve one of your silly comments so I could respond. The deal that I am discussing in this post was signed in March of 2007. The technology transfer required as a part of that sale was agreed to then, under the leadership of your hero. The administration in power at the time of the deal hailed it as being terrific for US workers and even provided a $5 billion Ex-Im bank loan to support the sale. Dick Cheny and Spencer Abraham both made sales trips in 2005 to encourage the deal closure.
      The fact that the document turn over finally entered the attention of the advertiser supported media now makes me think that there is a move afoot to place the blame on the current administration – which had nothing to do with the sale. I suspect that your comment comes from stuff you are hearing from people who fail to study history or even do some basic research before they spew their dislike or even hatred.
      The Republican Administration talked a good game about nuclear energy and they even managed to find $5 billion for a loan to finance a sale to China, but did not issue a single loan guarantee for a US construction project in the three plus years that they had between August of 2005 (when the Energy Policy Act authorizing the program was signed into law) and January of 2009.
      Neither of the establishment parties like nuclear energy very much because it represents an exceedingly disruptive technology that will hurt a lot of their biggest donors. Tough beans – the creator is the one who stuffed 2-4 million times as much energy into atomic nuclei than into the electron cloud where combustion chemistry occurs. The natural strength of nuclear energy will win the market battle – eventually. I trust that the natural self interest of all of the people in the world who purchase rather than sell energy will also win out in the not too distant future. I am vain enough to want to be involved in that important campaign that will be full of many struggles and perhaps even a few defeats.

  9. I have to agree with Jeff Schmidt. If we aren’t going to use this technology, then I’m glad someone is. Our own problems with our domestic nuclear are hardly the fault of the Chinese and go back to the Carter administration at least and perhaps to the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.
    I frankly don’t think the Chinese will be a problem in international competition for building reactors for at least 10 years. Currently they are actually importing rather expensive coal to supply domestic electricity demand and I doubt they will be exporting reactors until they have caught up with their domestic demand. I’m curious if they will use pebble bed technology to convert coal plants to nuclear in the future. I don’t think converting coal to nuclear would be practical as a general thing, but it would be different if the coal plants are designed to be retrofitted.
    I noticed in NextBigFuture that Areva is worried about competition from Chinese nuclear plants also.

  10. The US has enjoyed a huge advantage over a century-plus, in that until the oil crises, it had no real need to import raw material, and it had a reasonably well educated population that was not afraid to innovate. It leveraged these two factors to become a great power, but lately seems to have lost its way.
    There is a belief that China is going to become the next great power, and that is so, but it need not be the only one, yet this is what many American commenters, here and elsewhere seem to be implying. America need not take a back seat to anyone. It still can out innovate anyone on the block, but it seems like this greatest of all national strengths is being hobbled at every turn.
    I thing that addressing that problem is paramount, because if it is corrected and American imagination is unfettered, issues like the one being discussed here would not come up. Or if it did, it would be everyone laughing up their sleeves at how Westinghouse dumped this old technology on the Chinese to make a profit.

  11. Given that CBS sold the Westinghouse Nuclear Business to British Nuclear Fuels Limited (a state owned company) in 1998, and that BNFL sold it to Toshiba in 2006, I think this story is about 12 years out of date. Perhaps MSNBC and Bloomberg should give up their subscriptions to “Yesterday’s News” and subscribe to “Behind the Times” instead. Once the US government approved, or failed to stop, CBS’ sale of the nuclear business to a foreign company, that was the end of the ball game. In any event, Westinghouse also transferred PWR technology to France in the 1970’s, which enabled them to develop their own nuclear power stations, and ultimately the EPR. There are usually royalty agreements that go with technology transfer, I guess Westinghouse figures if they can’t build reactors themselves, they might as well cash in when someone uses their design. After all, it may be well nigh impossible to sue either the French, the British or the Chinese government for violations of intellectual property rights in their own countries. Might as well give them permission to use it and collect the royalties.

  12. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since it was also American corporations that transferred space launch technology to the Chinese that enabled them to improve the reliability of their nuclear missiles so they would be able to put more warheads on target.
    Let’s face it, the US has become a retirement home and healthcare provider with a small Chinese financed military subsidiary. We help the Chinese develop nuclear technology and they buy our debt so we can continue to secure sources of oil in unstable parts of the world.

    1. @John – assuming you are right, what are you doing to change that course? Should we passively whine and complain or step up and do our best to make a difference so that we leave our country a little better off and on a better course and speed than when we arrived here.

      1. @Rod – I’m active duty AF, so my political activities are limited. Right now I’m education focused, working on a PhD in physics-more specifically technical nuclear forensics*. I want to make sure that if a terrorist group ever gets ahold of a weapon or SNM to make a weapon, that the US will be able to determine the return address. During my last assignment in DC I was involved a bit on the policy side helping bring about the Nuclear Materials Information Program. I’d like to think I’m making a difference there.
        * http://www.dtra.mil/missions/NuclearDetectionForensics/Forensics.aspx

  13. If you can get it check out this article in the Financial Times:
    China: A future on track
    By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing and Mure Dickie in Tokyo Published: September 23 2010 22:37 | Last updated: September 23 2010 22:37
    It is not about nuclear reactors but primarily about high-speed trains. The story is the same though. And the companies involved are from all over the developed world, not the US. I think you will find this interesting.

  14. Reading this post after reading William Tucker’s latest post (http://spectator.org/archives/2010/10/16/nuclear-renaissance-blossomswi/) makes for some depressing news about the plight of nuclear energy in America. If you’re rooting for China however, things look pretty rosy.
    In the big picture scheme of things I see this as evolutionary. Sure the Chinese got some sweet deals but they are also demonstrating to the world that nuclear can be built cost effectively – more so than ever thought. This should serve as a wakeup call to other companies like Areva that maybe their designs are too expensive. Who wants to pay for a “core catcher” when it isn’t needed?

  15. It amazes me sometimes how provincial you are. You’re talking as if maximizing money and jobs made by Americans were the only concern. Not the status of billions of impoverished people in the world. Amazing!
    You’re also talking as if intellectual property were a good thing, as if it weren’t PROVEN to be detrimental to industrial development. And you call yourself an industrialist? Amazing!
    Finally the ridiculous story you cited as “support” for your contention that Americans are going to lose jobs. No, it doesn’t support anything of the kind. What it supports is that industrial development is going to happen in South Africa that would never have happened otherwise.
    You sound exactly like a record producer claiming that everyone who downloads music off the net would have bought 20$ CDs from his record company if the evil evil music sharers were punished sufficiently. Something you really ought to know isn’t true.
    You claim to be an industrialist, someone who cares about industry, and you don’t yet realize that it isn’t a zero-sum game? That industrialization everywhere is good?! What the fuck, Rod?

    1. @Richard – guilty as charged. I am a competitive provincialist who believes that intellectual property is a good thing that encourages people to spend a great deal of time, energy and money developing something that has never before existed. I am not alone in my belief that this is a good thing. The framers of the Constitution thought that the topic was important enough to specify a task for Congress –
      “To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” (Article 1 section 8)
      I care about the status of billions of impoverished people in the world, including the 10% of the American population that is officially unemployed right now – with higher estimates if you include the people who have simply stopped looking for work because they cannot find a job. However, I also care about those people in countries like China who have never had access to some of the material wealth that the US has had and I think that trading with them is a good thing. My point is that it is silly and selfish for the leaders of companies that have obtained a great deal of assistance from American taxpayers and have accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience based on the hard work of thousands to liquidate that valuable property for quick cash, ignoring the long term consequences.
      While I think that record producers go overboard in their attempts to enforce copyrights, I also think that people who cheerfully bypass legal and simple means of purchasing music are thieves who do not understand how difficult it is to create and refine a blog post, a song, a story, a novel, a hand-held computer, or a nuclear reactor design.

      1. You know, literally half of Americans believe in a physical devil, a physical Satan, that acts in the world. If you said you believed in that, you wouldn’t be alone either, yet that wouldn’t prevent you from being any less of a psychotic numbnut as a matter of simple empirical fact, would it?
        You call yourself an engineer, right? Then I suggest it doesn’t matter what you *believe*, only what IS both factual and empirically verifiable. And in this case, the evidence against you is massive.
        You can start by reading Eric von Hippel’s books (the ultimate authority in the field) The Sources of Innovation and Democratizing Innovation. They’re online at http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/books.htm so you have no excuse. Either read them or take my word for it.
        You can then realize that the USA industrialized itself by radically violating both patents and copyright. This is just how things are fucking done. And there was a LOT more innovation in the USA than filthy England. The useless rag you call the US Constitution means nothing, and I don’t understand how an engineer fails to understand it’s just a mythologized Origin Story.
        And it certainly was the case in Germany, which became an industrial powerhouse, catching up to and then overshooting England, because it had no copyright laws http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,710976,00.html
        It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as what you believe is point blank stupid and blatantly contrary to fact.
        > I also think that people who cheerfully bypass legal and simple means of purchasing music are thieves who do not understand how difficult it is to create and refine a blog post
        How droll. I’ve got 100+ blog posts published on an infinitely wider variety of subjects than yours. I think I’m in an excellent position to tell you you’re talking out of your ass and don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.
        Do you even know the meaning of “non-excludability” in economics and how it applies to radio and television shows? I suggest you look it up. I also suggest you look up what England did to solve the problem because it WASN’T the pay-per-view that in your immense stupidity you are suggesting. I also suggest you compare the BBC to Fox News.
        You claim to be a left-winger yet at every turn you advocate fascistic anti-collective anti-social solutions. Anti-PROGRESS solutions.

        1. Richard, I don’t care what your point is but your inability to articulate yourself without profanity offends me. I think Rod let your previous remark slide but you’re going over the line for the sake of picking a fight.

        2. @Richard – seconding Jason’s comment, I would appreciate it if you refrained from using profanity here. As one of my early bosses told me – on a ship full of sailors – “profanity is the crutch of a crippled conversationalist”.
          For the record, I do not call myself an engineer. I try to be very clear – I served as an Engineer Officer (that is the official title of the position) on board a nuclear powered submarine. My undergraduate degree is a BS in English and my graduate degree is an MS in Systems Technology. I also have a diploma in national security and policy development from the Naval War College. I am a humanist who loves technology (as well as other arts) because it is the result of human creativity. I also enjoy studying laws and politics because they are also indicators of what humans can accomplish – or destroy.
          Finally, I do not appeal to any “ultimate authorities” on any topic who can actually write physical books. The only ultimate authority that I understand does not do any actual writing, but has inspired many others to do it over many thousands of years.

  16. Rod, You will probably live considerably longer than I will, but I still expect to see MSRs commercially available in my lifetime. Remember that the U-235 fueled MSR is mature technology, that is ready for commercial prototype development. That means that unlike the LFTR, no major research investment is required. How long will it take to bring a commercially viable MSR to market? With funding, probably no longer than 10 years. The hold up now is not immature technology, it is funding for product development.

    1. @Charles – I respect your opinion and appreciate the passion with which you and others approach the topic. However, I think that most of you are seriously underestimating the difficulty of finding sufficient funding and grossly overestimating the commercial maturity level of the MSR technology. There are still inventions and material advances required – those introduce a huge amount of uncertainty into any technical development.
      I also know a bit about the training and philosophies of the people who will have to license the technology. The hurdle of convincing them to approve a reactor where the fission products are not always fully contained inside solid cladding is going to be far higher than you imagine. If the MSR that you are talking about is the one that Per has published about with the fuel inside graphite pebbles like the ones used in HTGRs, then that hurdle is substantially lower.
      Just as a point of comparison, the reactor that I am working on was announced in 2009 and has the financial backing of two large and established companies with excellent reputations in the nuclear world. It uses light water reactor technology that is very familiar and well proven. We still do not expect to have our first plant operating commercially before 2020 – how do you expect that the MSR will be able to match that time line?

  17. I’m an engineer, so intellectual property rights are important to my livelihood. But if the rightful owners of a technology don’t want it (and America certainly behaves as though it doesn’t want any more nukes), I think it right to give it to someone who wants it. This may be the most important thing we’ve done in a long while to help provide clean energy to the developing world.
    Besides, the only way we can compete with the low off-shore labor cost is to employ better technology. It’s time for us to move to Gen IV.

  18. Given that a significant percentage of the mercury in the North American environment comes from Chinese coal plants, and given that China is the world’s largest CO2 emitter and growing fast, it seems to me that it’s in America’s interest for China to build as many nuclear plants as possible.

    1. @Guest – sure, but why should we help them to build nuclear plants as cheaply as possible and with as little imported material as possible? Those nuclear plants are going to be low cost power sources for decades. Combined with a large, technically trained labor force they will help China to increase its domination of the world’s manufacturing economy and leave the rest of us to service jobs.
      Not my vision of a prosperous future.

      1. Because if they can build them cheaply, they’ll build more.
        Maybe when American politicians see China doing it, they’ll clean up the licensing process in this country. Then we’ll have cheaper, non-polluting energy too. Economic growth is pretty closely tied to energy costs, and with a growing economy it’s not a zero-sum game.

        1. @Guest – the time lag in your proposal is too large for my tastes. By the time American politicians see China combining the benefits of low cost nuclear energy with relatively low labor costs, we will be another decade down the road of economic and manufacturing poverty.
          I am too old to wait that long. We have to find better ways to communicate the message.

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