Sunday, January 25, 2015

The electrification of Earth and Thorium

I have been looking at the ThorCon business plan. It is hugely ambitious. Their goalo appears to be nothing less than the electrification of the planet with molten salt technology by 2050 or so. This hugely ambitious goal would not be possible to reach without building thorium cycle breeders or one to one converters. The benefits would be enormous, but as this discussion has identified, there are risks. There are perhaps worse risks if we don't stop global warming, and deal with the massive scale of human poverty that exists today.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

ThorCon moving forward?

"The American ‘skunkworks’ start-up ThorCon, established by shipping pioneer Jack Devanney, announced that Martingale, Inc has completed the pre-conceptual design of itsThorCon Molten Salt Reactor and that further design work is underway at a rapid pace. ThorCon’s MSR is a completely modernised version of Oak Ridge’s successful Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, part-fuelled by thorium and designed, from the ground up, for mass production in shipyards."

If this is true, we have in ThorCon a serious MSR backed by deep pockets.  If their design has already moved past the precopnceptual stage, and they are examining the whers and hows of manufacture, they are very serious.  The word "skunkworks " is important.  So far we have an internet presence, to which is attached the names of several credible people, nut nothing we can look at or touch.  I awate further evidence of a tangible reality with anticipation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

NNadir offers brilliant BraveNewClimate post on Climate change, energy poverty and ethics

NNadir is thew best of the pro-nuclear blogger. He and I have some areas of disagreement, but there are far more things we agree on. I would like some day to hear him read this essay, and interrupt him topfrom time to time to comment on I tcoment on things I disagree with, and praise the many passages I agree with and find admirable.

Guest Post by NNadir (who blogs occassionally at Daily Kos, profile here). This is a long but really interesting post. If you'd rather a PDF version, click here. The...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Nuclear Power, Where is China going with it?

According to Brian Wang, China has published its energy plans to 2020, while offering further energy projections to 2100.  The Chinese are estimating 58 GWe of nuclear power complete by 2020 with conventional nuclear output peaking at 200 GWe.

Despite a huge investment in wind and solar, China's recent investment in green electricity will pay off with more energy:
Wind 200 GW (290 TWh)
Solar 100 GW (60-70 TWh)
Nuclear 58 GW (410 TWh)

Among renewables, only nuclear and hydro are dispatchable, and nuclear has a much higher capacity factor.  Of course, of course, unlike nuclear, solar and wind require duplication and backup or energy storage, to make up for thdeir low capacity factor.  

According to Wang, Chinese plans to Top out to 200 GWe of LWR by the Middle of this Century and then start adding Fast Breeder Reactors:

Under previously announced plans, deployment of PWRs is expected to level off at 200 GWe by around 2040, with the use of fast reactors progressively increasing from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050 and 1400 GWe by 2100.  

The fast reactor plan requires 85 years to implament.  This is largely due to the start charge bottleneck.  As I have pointed out it takes a fissionable fuel charge that is at least 10 times larger than the start charge of a thermal breeder, to go critical with a fast breeder.  Thus 10 LFTRs can go into operation for every fast Breeder that starts up.  This is why the Chinese are making a major investment in LFTR R&D.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Paths to disaster

bility and innovation.  Thus chineses scholars are very good at following standard models, but not at developing their own.  Chinese military aircraft design,  relies heavily on Russian aircraft, which the Chinese buy and then copy.  The Chinese LFTR development program, already appears to fallen behind its projected staff level, and the Chinese LFTR project date, is highly dependent on having a large and well qualified staff working on the project.  

Fortunately major progress in the development of efficient, safe, low cost, and highly scalable nuclear technology is possible without fully developing the LFTR.  There are molten salt nuclear technologies, that have been tested at ORNL that are in no need of further development.  Thus the Chinese will probably make rapid progress as long as they work off ORNL technologies, and tested technology.  But even putting solid fuel, molten salt cooled reactors into production will mark a major breakthrough in the development of nuclear technology.  On the basis of a sucessful test of Advanced High Temperature Reactor (AHTR), the Chinese can begin to replace coal fired power plants with small, low cost, very efficient and safe nuclear power plants.

The Chinese may not however, be able to push that revolution all the way to the extermination of coal, an eextermination that would be highly desirable.  That is because the AHTR like it its cousin the uranium fueled MST Converter, a reactor that will not produce enough fissionable actinides to keep a reactor critical without the donation of outside fuel.   Without a MSR Breeder the MDR eill not reach its full potential in China.  So China desp[erately needs the art of Innovation, or at least have the innovation supplied by outsiders.

In North America we were once capable of innovation, but no more.  While MSRs may be promising, no one is willing to take a risk, even though the odds are in the gamblers favor, and the consequences of not taking the risk could mount up to huge losses.  People likr Kitk Sorensen, David LeBlanc, Robert Hargraves, and yes even Charles J. Barton, Jr. among others. have been telling the Molten Salt Reactor, thorium, LFTR story for nearly a decade.  We have found an increasing number of listners, but not among people with power.  Maintaining the status quo may be viewed by those in power as being in their interest, but doing nothing in the face of inpending disaster is the surrest route to ruin I know.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Terrestrial Energy, Correcting a mistake.

Given my limitations, it is inevitable that I will commit mistakes.  At any rate, I made a mistake in my account of terrestial energy.  The mistake arrose from Hugh MacDiarmid's discussion of the prospects of Terrestrial Energy,  a Canadian company that proposes to build a commercial Molten Salt Reactor. MacDiarmid claimed that the new MSR would be 6 times more fuel efficient as a conventional reactor.  There are two ways to accomplish this using Molten Salt Reactor Technology.  One is by Adopting Denatured Molten Salt Reactor Technology.  In DMSRs both liquid Uranium salt and Liquid Thorium salt are mixed with other molten  salts, in a graphite moderated pot. This makes for a relatively simple reactor.  David LeBlanc has in the past openly talked about his interest in DMSRs  The DMSR has the sort of fuel efficiency Hugh MacDiarmid has talked about, but it requires a much larger start charge to start a cjain reactikon, and begin the conversion of U-238 to Reactor Grade Plutonium.  The neutron efficiency of  of the the IMSR will be high enough that it will be a high ratio converter, much higher than LWTs, but still not in breeding range.  At the same time, the IMSR will not burn more few per Kwt of output.  Since over time a higher percentage of IMSR fuel will be Plutonium rather than U-235 the IMSR will begin a process of Stater U-235 payback if the start charge uses LEU

The fast UMSR is very simple, throwing out both graphite and thorium, and running the reactor at high neutron speed with uranium fuel, or mixed Uranium and plutonium.  The reactor would then make and burn a lot of plutonium, a lot more than conventional reactors, hense, the fuel use efficiency.

Now if this gues is wrong, I am sure someone will tell me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Molten Salts and the question of costs.

I have been accused of advocating Molten Salt Reactors, because of my father's 20 year career as a MSR chemistry researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  In fact, in my first debate, with David Roberts on Grist, I argued in support of Pressurized Water Reactors.  Roberts offered several weak arguments against nuclear power.  Roberts argued that nuclear power was unsafe.  This was a weak argument, because Roberts was extremely ill informed of nuclear safety concepts, advances in nuclear safety technology, and possible future technological advances, Roberts was also unaware that accidents in American nuc power generation reactors have never produced a dingle casualty, while both wind and solar have produced multiple casulties.  Unfortunately Roberts has never recognized the power of experience, in determining the weakness of his nuclear safety argument.  

The second argument which Roberts used was a complaint about "nuclear waste."  The term, "nuclear waste," refers to the remaining fule, at the end of the fuel cycle in a water cooled reactor, togeather with other actinides, and fission products.  the big problem in Nuclear waste, is plutonium, produced primarily by U-238 and fission neutrons.  Much of the Plutonium burns in light water reactors, but a significant amounts does not burn.  Thus plutonium remaining in Nuclear waste becomes a big problem, and remains so for a long time.  
There are a number of well researched solutions to the nuclear waste problem, what is lacking is the political will to solve it.  The best solution is to fuse spent light water and heavy water fuel, in breeder reactors.  Plutonium, which is the biggest problem in nuclear waste, can be extracted from the used fuel mik, and used to power either breeder reactors, or as all or part of the start charge in LFTRs and other MSRs.  Plutonium can be burned in both thermal and fast Molten Salt Breeders.  Once plutonium and minor actinides are removed from the spent nuclear fuel, Uranium, which makes up most of the spent fuel can be recycled to fast reactors, and burned until it is transformed into fission products, which become harmless in 300 years.  Needless to say, after 7 years  of debating nuclear advocates, David Roberts does not know any of this.

David Roberts' third point was nuclear proliferation.  Roberts, has little understanding what the words proliferation risk means. If he knew something about nuclear fuel, hhe wqould be aware how expensive and difficult it would be to extract Plutonium from "Nuclear waste, and how the military qualities of that plutonium would be far inferior to the almost pure Pu-239 used in conventional nuclear weapons.  In addition light water reactor fuel is packaged in a ceramic.  It is difficult and expensive to extract the plutonium from LWR.  Finally if a would be nuclear proliferator, were to build a weapon from Reactor Grade Plutonium (RGP), he or shewould find that Pu-240, a major component of RGP, spontaniously fissions at a rapid pace, releasing a steady stream of neutrons and heat.  If the would be proliferator tested a RGP device, he would likely be disappointed by its relatively weak explosive power.  David Roberts was and appearantly still is blissfully unaware of these facts, which seem to point to water cooled reactors that use ceramic nuclear fuels, as exceedingly poor proliferation tools.  

Finally,  Roberts argued that new power reactors were exceptionally expensive, so that we never could afford nuclear power.  Contrasry arguments suggested partial factory construction, fewer parts, less material and well organized construction plans, as well as lower material input, fewer parts, all made for lower manufacturing costs.  Reactors like the Westinghouse AP-1000 featured all these.  The weakness of both Roberts argument and mine, was that both were speculative.  The truth was that future nuclear costs could only be guessed, and that the guesses were speculative.  Thus while Roberts argument was weak, my argument, although perhaps a little stronger, was by no wise strong enough to be incontrovertible.

However, while it was impossible to prove that reactors were going to be cheap enough to be affordable, what could be established was that it was possible to significantly lower nuclear costs.  I began to look for ways of lowering reactor costs, and quickly came accross Per Peterson's work on the Advanced High Temperature Reactor.  The AHTR was a molten salt cooled reactor what used solid rather than liquid fuel.  The fuel was encased in graphite slabs, or in peggles, similar to those used in gas cooled, Pebble Bed Reactors.  The switch fron Gas to salt cooling ment that the core could be many times smaller, and thus cost could be drastically lowered compared to either gas cooled or water cooled reactors.  Rhe reactor design would be much simpler than gas or water cooled reactors.  Thus small, but very useful reactors could be entirely be built in factories, while larger reactors could be transported in larger units on trucks, or by rail cars.  

Small examples of Petersons, AHTR cores would be easily transportable via truck, or railroad, thus the core would be easily manufacturable in a factory, and then shipped to its housing site.  I first found the idea for factory production of reactors in a page created by Robert Harsraves.  In 2007 Robert had yet to be informed about LFTRs, and was a supporter of Pebble Bed Gas Cooled Reactors.  Later Robert was to become a major figure in the LFTR movement.    

Robert advocated factory manufacture of Pebble Bed Reactors, However a Per Peterson study showed that a AHTR core would be less than 10% of the size of a Gas Cooled Pebble Bed Reactor core.  The bulkier size of Gas Cooled PBR cores created transportation problems for factory produced GCPBRs, while factory produced PB-AHTRs.  Factory production would lower manufacturing costs.  Housing costs,  could be lowered by the potential for transporting whole cores to its housing sites, via trucks, barges or rail cars.  As it turned out, the use of small reactors, offered several advantages including providing electricity for powering off the grid communities, providing electricity from a multi unit facility, when one ore more units are down for for maintenance, the rest can produce electricity.  Also the electrical output of the facility can be closely matched to consumer demands.  

The AHTR is closely related to Molten Salt Reactor, with A solid nuclear fuel being inbedded in graphite pebbles, or other graphite structures in the AHTR, rather than chemically linked to Fluorine, and desolved in a Floride salt mixture.  The mixture is heated several hundred degrees and then serves both as a fuel carrier and primary reactor coolant.  

I was familiar With the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR), but not the AHTR.  My father Had spent much of the first 19 years of his ORNL career doing MSR related research.  Years later I learned the full extent of my fathers contribution to MSR research.  This was part of a process, which was to make me one of the few nuclear laymen in the world who was familiar with MSRs.  Since I was less familiar with the AHTR, In was inclined to go with the one who brung me.  THe MSR was closely similar to the MSR.  Parts werew similar but rearranged.  Size and costs, were thus likely to be similar.  Thus it could be inferred from Per Peterson's reports that the cost of MSRs were likely to be significantly cheaper than the cost of LWRs.  Later I was able to point out several more cost lowering paths.  Then David LeBlanc found several more.  In fact LeBlanc believes that he can build MSR cores so cheaply that users could afford to replace them every seven years.

In short, there are many potential paths to making Molten salt reactor power cheaper.  Many of these paths can be followed at the same time.   Some of these paths can be followed by other nuclear technologies.  So far, crits of Nuclear power have not found any flaws in argument that MSRs offer a significant cost lowering potential to the future of nuclear power.  


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