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.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Terrestial Energy's new toy.

Among the dreamers who created the Molten Salt Reactor Movement is David LeBlanc, a Canadian physicist, has been quite conspicous.  David has never been wed to the thorium model, although he is willing to use thorium both in breeders and converters.    Since I was aware of the potential flexability of MSRs, I was interested in the evolution of David's reactor ideas.  In addition to being creative, he was a good communicator, who focused on making his ideas practical, as the first step for making them a reality.  The second step was to create Terrestial Energy, Inc.  Next he identified some customers, namely the Alberta Sand Tar Industry.  With a customer in mind, he could conceptualize a reactor that would service the customer at low cost.  While he was doing this, he could begin to rase money, and come up with a management team, because the goal of Terrestial Energy, in not just designing reactors, but mass producing them them, and selling them at an astonishingly low cost.  David's first reactor, The Integral Molten Salt Reactor could be built and soldby the thousands every year.  Although the IMSR is intended to be a converter rather than a breeder, it would appear that it is designed to take advantage of the superior breeding properties of thorium in the thermal spectrum.   The IMSR is a Denatured Molten Salt Reactor, so David is with his first Reactor. just as wedded to the use of thorium as is Kirk Sorensen.  But Terrestial Energy just does not mention thorium in its advertisement.  That is because avid uses U-238 as an anti-proliferation tool.      

I have previously offered accounts of Dr LeBlanc's thinking about DMSRs here, and here.  Of course, Dr. LeBlanc has spoken for himself on numerous occasions
http://youtu.be/370srr67Bnk

David's IMSR is initially Fueled by a U-235, U-238, Pu, Th-232, U-233 mix, that is not processed during the life of the core, and possibly during the life of the reactor.  Most core actinides are thorium, with u-238, being the second most common.  The core is designed to be replaced every 7 years.  The 7 year life span is determined by the core life of graphite under neutron bombardment.  

The initial IMSR is Prototype size, but at 64 MWth, and 25e MW output, The little IMSR can find a number of uses, including industrial heat, Electrical output for isolated communities, and motive power for ships.  Even 10% of the potential market would be a very hansom market.  Commercial shipping by shipping barges and ships is a huge and growing market.  Replacing fossil fuels in ship and tugboat propultion with low cost nuclear power would be very attractive to everyone but the oil industry.

The tiny IMSR can potentially find a home in towns and cities all over the globe, provided that its safety is understood, and the unlikelihood  that it can be used as a tool to create nuclear weapons is accepted.  The IMSR, is potentially highly safe, and Terrestial Energy intends to build and sell them at a very low cost.  Thus, the IMSR is potentially a game changer for providing electricityto poor and isolated communities all over the world.  

The IMSR can be started with Low Enriched Uranium, and indeed 
that was the original formula, but Plutonium from weapons, or from "Nuclear waste" can be used in the IMSR start charge.  That means that far from being a nuclear proliferation tool, the IMSR could serve the purpose of nuclear disarmiment, or to solve the so called "Nuclear waste problem."

The Tiny 25 MWe IMSR, is probably just the first phase of the Terrestal Energy development program.  Once the market for small IMSRs would be poor and more isolated communitie all over the earth, that are not connected to a grid.  Power for these communities is often provided by Diesal generators, or even worse by renewables.  The Diesals are expensive, and the renewables are unreliable.  

The potentially large market for 25 MWe reactors, would still not be the sort of game changer we need to fight Increasing CO2 emissions, and as the German experience demonstrates, Renewables in the absence of nuclear power are not the path to lower GHG emissions.  Thus unless the DMSR is built in a size that is large enough, and in numbers that are large enough, it cannot serve as a useful CO2 abatement tool.  Fortunately the IMSR formula still holds.  A 225 MWth, 100  MWe IMSR could be easily manufactured in a factory, at a very low cost.  We could either replace the core every 3 years or so, if the airm is to generate base load electricith at a very low cost, or replace core carbon, while leaving core metalic structures in tact.  Output efficiency could be enhanced, and using the sort of co-generation systems used by some natural gas fired power plants, IMSR generation efficiency can approach 70%or at least 150 MWe given highly heat tolerant materials.   

If the resulting product is truck or at least train transportable, the consequences could be huge.  Low cost 100MW to 150 MW power units that posses all the safety, efficiency and reliability advantages of MSRs are going to be the game changer, the black swan, the thorium bullet. 



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Encounters with Jerry Olsen

This is a reposting of a 2010 post.  I kinw Jerry Olsen during my involvement withn the ORNL-NSF Environmental Studies Program in 1970-71.  My most important memory of Jerry from that time, was of his briefing to Environmental Study researchers on CO2 and the prospects for Anthropogenic Global Warming.  Jerry had made numerous predictions that during the next 35 years had come to pass, so when Al Gore's movie appeared in 2006, it fell on very well prepared soil.  Not only had I learned of the AGW problem 35 years before Al Gore's movie, I also knew about ORNL's solution to the problem posed by energy demand.

In October, 2010, Becky, her mother and I went to see the movie Ghost Bird. Before the movie started a gentleman introduced himself to us. It was Jerry Olsen., who I had mentioned in Nuclear Green posts I told Jerry that he was mentioned in Nuclear Green. I believe that Jerry had played a role in 1971 by alerting Alvin Weinberg and the rest of the ORNL staff, which included me at the time, about the relationship of CO2 emissions to a potential global climate change. Jerry acknowledged that Alvin Weinberg had credited him with alerting Weinberg to the CO2 AGW issue, but he stopped short of claiming credit for it. My recollection is that Jerry was the first person to alert me to the problem of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). I told Jerry on Thursday, that he was a celebrity because of his pioneering communications on the issue.

Jerry was a credible scientist. No one in 1971 thought that Jerry was bullshitting about CO2 and global climate change, and scientists who viewed science as the judicious determination of facts, scientists like my father, George Parker, and Alvin Weinberg were quickly convinced that CO2 emissions from energy related sources were a major hazard to the future well being of people on the earth.

This was back before global warming became political. Almost everything that is written on Global Warming denial now focuses on Republican denial. In fact there is a second school of global warming denial, that is even more irrational. This school does not deny the CO2/Anthropogenic Global Warming link, but denies that we have to stop using fossil fuels in order to prevent AGW. This school denies the danger of AGW, arguing that the most effective tool to prevent global warming is too dangerous to use. This school, warns of the dangers of burning fossil fuels, yet at the same time conspires with coal, oil and natural gas companies to support continued fossil fuels use through back door arguments, such as the notion that burning fossil fuels won't hurt if we burn them efficiently, or burning fossil fuels won't cause climate harm if they are used to back up renewables.

In reality supposedly pro-environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club, the Friends of the Earth, The Natural Resources Defense Council, and numerous other groups, supported energy policies which in practice were highly favorable to the continued use of coal, oil and natural gas as energy sources. Anti-nuclear spokes persons such as Amory Lovins, and Ralph Nader, greatly exaggerated the risks of nuclear power, while ignoring the disastrous consequences of backing fossil fuels instead of nuclear power.

In 1976 Amory Lovins foresaw that a soft path to post carbon energy. Lovins believed that in the short run coal use would expand as if filled roles which also could be performed by nuclear power, but in the course of a generation soft path energy sources would replace more and more fossil fuels, and by 2010 over half of all energy used to power the United States would come from soft path sources. In fact in 2010 over 90% of American energy still comes from hard path sources.

in a December 1976 Energy Policy review of Amory Lovins book, "NON-NUCLEAR FUTURES: The case for an ethical energy strategy," Alvin Weinberg pointed out the greatest single environmental flaw of Lovins' argument, his failure to identify CO2 emissions from energy as a major environmental issue, and his willingness to accept carbon emitting coal as a substitute for nuclear energy. Weinberg wrote,
the authors regard net energy analysis as a convenient device for casting nuclear power in an unfavorable light, a feat they attempt to accomplish by ignoring significant comparisons, - nuclear and non-nuclear of the same doubling time and relative effects of heat release and CO2 release.
In response to Lovins recommendation of a coal burning bridge between the period when nuclear power was considered acceptable and the time when all energy would come from renewable resources, Weinberg asked,
Can we really ignore CO2 during the coal burning fission free bridge?
Lovins countered that he
worried about the climate effect of the release of CO2
but that nuclear power would not prevent CO2 emissions from high coal use. Clearly then Lovins offered a Faustian bargain with his anti-nuclear energy scheme. In 2010, long after a process which Lovins forecasted would have begun to shift human society from fossil fuels to soft path energy sources such as renewables, coal use for energy continues to rise. If Lovins worried in 1976 about the climate effects of CO2 emissions, he did not worry enough. In 2010 American coal use continued to rise rather than fall as Lovins had forecasted. In addition, Chinese coal used, much of it burned to produce energy for the production of goods destined for the United States, increased dramatically during the last decade. Lovins has never acknowledged that his 1976 soft path forecast proved in 2010 to be utterly wrong, and that his recommendation of a coal burning fission free bridge, has set the world firmly on the road to environmental disaster.

Neither Lovins nor Ralph Nader ever considered the possibility that the consequences of burning fossil fuels might be worse than the consequences of nuclear production of electricity. They are. The casualty rate fro the entire nuclear fuel power cycle is far lower than the casualty rate for fossil fuels. Even in terms of radiation exposure, the public is exposed to far more radiation from fossil fuel related sources, than from Nuclear Power Plants. And of course NPPs emit no more CO2 than wind generators do. In fact, high CO2 emissions from the Solar PV production process make Solar PVs a worse source of CO2 than nuclear plants are. Thus NPPs can play an important role in CO2 mittigation.

Renewables are expensive, it costs more by the kWh to produce electricity from solar or wind than it costs to produce electricity from new nuclear plants. Renewable based future energy acknowledge that there will be a very large gap between expected future energy production from renewable resources and the current level of consumer energy demand. How will that gap be filled, if not by nuclear energy? Not to worry, the renewable energy planners tell us, the gap will be filled by increased energy efficiency which will greatly diminish consumer energy needs. in May of 2009, the Economist noted:
Almost all blueprints for tackling global warming assume that energy efficiency will have a huge role to play. Nicholas Stern devoted a whole chapter to it in the report he wrote on climate change for the British government. In the greenest of futures mapped out by the International Energy Agency, a think-tank financed by rich countries, greater efficiency accounts for two-thirds of emissions averted. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the research arm of the consultancy, thinks that energy efficiency could get the world halfway towards the goal, espoused by many scientists, of keeping the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below 550 parts per million.
The Economist also notes that America has become more energy efficient since 1973 a year in which we spent 12% of our gross domestic product on energy. Recently that figure has fallen to 7%. Of course some of that decline in energy use was due to the transfer of energy intensive industries (and jobs) to other countries. Green experts like Amory Lovins insists that an enormous amount of energy use savings that could be accomplished through greater energy efficiency.
Because so much can be done with just technical efficiency, there's a great deal of flexibility -- in how and where people live, what houses look like, how we get around, what our settlement patterns are. For example, it's very straightforward to have uncompromised, normal-sized family cars achieving upwards of 100 miles a gallon, with improved safety and excellent economics. We know how to triple the efficiency of trucks, and we can probably do even better on planes, I think by a factor of six or so better than now.
According to Lovins incredible energy savings that practically pay for themselves as soon as they are installed are available for the American home.
My own house uses 1 percent the normal amount of space- and water-heating energy, and 10 percent the normal amount of electricity. The efficiency upgrades took ten months to pay for themselves in 1983. But if we were building the house now, we'd be able to save another two-thirds of the remaining electricity, and it would probably cost even less to build.
Quite obviously Lovins does not spend much time watching plasma TV's. Lovins doesn't have time to watch TV because it takes all of his time to dream up such bullshit. As a householder I did my own home energy efficiency program in the 1980's and 90's. And while my wife and I were able to effect substantial energy savings we never came close to the energy reduction Lovins claims to have realized. Nor did the energy efficiencies pay for themselves in anything like 10 months.

If my readers are wondering about energy savings investments, solar water heaters would be high on my list for many localities. But there are areas of the country where a cloudy climate makes solar hot water heaters a bad investment, even with tax and power company subsidies. Solar hot water heaters would be a good investment in Snowmass, Colorado, but 10 months is not to believed. Lovins heated the water with the assistance of a second system, one while relied on a lot of bullshit to supplement heat from the sun. A payback period of 10 years would not be unusual for a solar hot water heater. But in some cloudy localities it might take 30 years. The solar heating project in a cloudy community might never pay for itself. Thus when the eco-cheerleaders at Treehugger want to put solar hot water heaters on every roof, they reveal themselves to be exceedingly ill informed. Local climate factors play a far bigger role that Amory Lovins allows in determining the payback time for energy saving technology.

There are other factors that may differ within localities that can effect the value of efficiency. For example, in hot climates shade trees have a cooling effect on buildings, but if you have shade trees, the shade effects the efficiency of solar hot water heaters. While ground source heat pumps are more efficient than air source heat pumps, they are far more expensive to install, and far more expensive to repair.

In addition, unanticipated factors may negatively impact on energy efficiency. For example, the clay soil of North Texas expands during rainy periods and contracts in dry weather. The soil movement can damage home foundations, and this in turn can damaged the effectiveness of home insulation. Thus investments in home energy efficiency might in Dallas include foundation repairs. Doubling home insulation might not pay for itself if the shifting foundation has unseated double pane windows, allowing drafts to enter the home at numerous points. Even repairing the windows might not help, since the next time the foundation shifts, the windows would become unseated again. Repaired foundations can and do shift with new soil movement.

The fact that anyone gives the slightest amount of credence to Lovins energy efficiency argument, represents the triumph of hope over fact and logic. People believe Lovins because it is comforting to do so. As long as they do, politicians do not have to confront the public with unpopular energy choices. Thus Amory Lovins is a hero to every politician who wants to avoid uncomfortable energy related issues. Lovins is not a hero to people who are deeply concerned about the energy future, and for people who have high regard for rigorous standards for truth.

But if Amory Lovins is wrong that efficiency will fill the energy supply gap, then renewable based solutions that rely on energy efficiency to fill the gap between energy demand, and a renewables based energy supply, are likely to fail badly, and to leave society in deep trouble.

The entire renewables, energy efficiency paradigm is built on an intellectual foundation laid by Amory Lovins. Given the importance of Amory Lovins energy theories, relatively little scholarly analysis has been directed toward assessing it. Alvin Weinberg offers deep and telling criticisms of Lovins, often without direct references to Lovins texts. There was a considerable dialogue between Weinberg and Lovins and the mention of Weinberg's name in "The Road not Taken" does not fully indicate the true extent of Weinberg's influence on Lovins. It is Lovins latgely unacknowledged dependency on Weinberg, that makes Weinbery's criticism so telling.

Vaclav Smil should be mentioned among the other scholars who have paid attention to Lovins. Smil's comments on Lovins contain no small expression of accademic sarcasm:
Amory has become a celebrity after wholesaling his fairy-tale of “soft” decentralized small-scale energies as THE solution (with its deep countercultural, Berkeleyish appeal), and it is the first law of celebrity-hood that, right or wrong, coherent or not, you retain the status. Combine that with the just-noted mass scientific ignorance of the population and with Amory’s sleek offerings of no-pain solutions (nothing will cost anything, or as he famously put it, “abating climate change for fun and profit”) and you have new believers signing up every time he speaks. By the way, by this time we all should have been driving nothing but Lovinsian hypercars (something like 200 mpg, made like new Boeing 787s solely from carbon composites) whose conceptual design he launched more than a decade ago; have you seen any?
Smil attributes to Lovins numerous failed predictions including:
1. Renewables will take huge swaths of the overall energy market. (1976)
2. Electricity consumption will fall. (1984)
3. Cellulosic ethanol will solve our oil import needs. (repeatedly)
4. Efficiency will lower consumption. (repeatedly)
Smil, of course, knows all about Jevons and his famous energy efficiency paradox, the paradox which Lovins ignored in "The Road Not Taken."

Thus we have a second type of denial that impacts our ability to deal effectively with climate change. The first type of denial, the denial of the threat that climate change due to CO2 emissions, by the political right. The second type of denial, practiced by some self styled members of the political left, denies the unique potential of nuclear power to mitigate climate change and claims that we can continue to use fossil fuels, while at the same time preventing Anthropogenic Global Warming. The intellectually dubious claims about energy made by Amory Lovins, including his attack on nuclear power, have become major obstacles to mitigation of AGW.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Two paths to Copenhagen: Weinberg and Lovins Repost

Rod Adamsw debated Amory Lovins, and writes about it on his blog.  Eod is not the first nuclear advocate to debate Lovins, Alvin Weinberg was.  Some 5 years ago, I pointed out how Weinberg's argument demonstrated the flaws in Lovins ethical argument, and that Weinberg had pointed out how Lovins argument supported the interest of coal aginst nuclear power.  Thus nearly 40 years ago, Lovins was aware of how coal would contribute to global warming, but chose to ignore the problem.  Thus Lovins' ethical pose was nothing short of hypicritical.

In 1975 Alvin Weinberg left his final post as an energy administer, that of energy programs research director for the Federal Governments, a post he only held for a year. Weinberg was not yet ready to retire, and founded his own think tank, the Institute for Energy Analysis, where he conducted long-range analytic studies of energy issues, until his retirement in 1984. During his year in Washington, Weinberg had attempted to alert Congress to the long range danger of Anthropogenic Global Warming caused by CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. Much of his subsequent research at the Institute for Energy Analysis was focused on the consequences of choosing alternative energy paths. Shortly after his return to Oak Ridge,

Weinberg meet the youthful Amory Lovins, whom he invited to Oak Ridge to present his views.
Alvin Weinberg does not like what he hears
By the mid 1970's Lovins had emerged as a major force in shaping public discussion of energy issues. Lovins continued to exert great influence for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond. But in the mid-1970's he had just been released from exile in England. The termination of the of American involvement in the Vietnamese War meant that young Amory Lovins no longer needed to pose as an Oxford student in order to evade the American draft.

Early in the 1970's Lovins had been recruited by environmental firebrand, David Browers, to represent Browers' group, "Friends of the Earth, in the UK. Brower had by that time joined the anti-nuclear camp, and Lovins proved an extremely gifted anti-nuclear propagandist. Lovins had studied enough physics, to talk a good game with none scientist. In 1975 along with fellow environmentalist John Price Lovins published "Non Nuclear Future The case for an ethical energy strategy".

In December 1976 Alvin Weinberg published a searching review of the Lovins-Price book in the journal Energy Policy. Weinberg's critique of "Non-Nuclear Future" is telling. His language is precise and descriptive. No punches are pulled. Weinberg speaks of Lovins "Savage attack on nuclear energy, which is "more unrelenting for being couched in Lovins impeccable prose.Weinberg observes,
Despite its title, the book is not concerned with a non-nuclear future.
Then Weinberg quotes Lovins and Price, who justified the absence of an account of the non-nuclear future by claiming,
'To show that a policy is mistaken does not oblige the analyst to have an alternative policy.
Weinberg observed,
But this is inadequate. They are not dealing with a hypothetical issue but with a real one. It is not enough to point out the deficiencies of nuclear energy; one must deal with the situation that would arise if Lovins and Price were successful in their onslaught: should the society indeed turn away from nuclear energy, what then?
Weinberg waste no more ink in getting to the crux of the issue. Have Lovins and Price, or has anyone, presented a tenable non-nuclear future? And indeed this central question, which Alvin Weinberg asked 33 years ago, remains the central question for the Green paradigm.

Weinberg pointed three central issues for Lovins and Price, three foci - energy, centralization, and electricity - that curiously go much beyond nuclear fission. Weinberg quotes Lovins and Price:'
Low-energy futures can (but need not) be normative and pluralistic, whereas high-energy futures are bound to be coercive and to offer less scope for social diversity and individual freedom.'
And an
'energy-intensive society' leads to a highly centralized, highly bureaucratized high technology society very vulnerable to internal and external disruption.
Weinberg observed:
For them, energy itself is a villain: less energy is better than more energy, not merely because the environment can absorb only a limited energy load, But because society cannot handle it!
But why energy, Weinberg asks, and pointed to Hitler's use of the radio for political propaganda. The technology of mass communications was, Weinberg maintained a far greater threat to freedom than centralized poeert generation.

Weinberg pointed to another paradox. People who have access to high energy societies, have greater freedom in their control of their time. Lovins appeared to be disturbed by thermal generation systems, which are relatively inefficient. Lovins appeared to believe that waste heat from energy systems placed a heat burden on the atmosphere.

Weinberg pointed out that that CO2 from burning fossil fuels in generating plants would contribute 30 times as much heat to the atmosphere as the heat produced by thermal generation processes. Weinberg noted that there were trade offs between convince and efficiency in energy use, and that more efficient energy uses might require incontinent levels of capital investment. Weinberg acknowledged the importance of protecting the environment against disruption, but suggested that this was not an absolute value, and that there might well be situations where other values intruded. These might include human health, human life, and time.

Time was a repeated mantra in Weinberg's thinking about energy. For Weinberg, efficient time use requires energy. And the effectiveness of Weinberg's appeal to time efficiency must be judged by the answer to the question, how frequently did Amory Lovins travel by auto or by aircraft, when he had other less environmentally intrusive but slower methods of transportation available? Weinberg was not so impolite as to raise the issue, but Lovins had visited Weinberg in Oak Ridge in October 1976, and it is doubtful that he had made the journey by bicycle. Indeed I suspect that Lovins probably made the trip from Knoxville's McGee-Tyson Airport to Oak Ridge and back in Weinberg's car. Nor does Lovins bicycle from Colorado to Washington, when he testifies before Congress. Weinberg did not regard Lovins as a hypocrite because he chooses time efficiency over environmental protection. Rather Weinberg is making the point that in practice Weinberg and Lovins agree that time efficiency justifies intrusion into the environment.

In his response to Weinberg, Lovins claimed,
My social philosophy and values bear little resemblance to the ones Dr Weinberg describes.
In fact Weinberg's description was largely made up of quotes, words that that Lovins had written. Lovins attempted to argue that his book was not about the future but about ethics.
The bulk of the book is indeed best described by its subtitle, ethical energy strategy, but I am sorry that Dr Weinberg did not mention its long thematic Introduction, .Non- Nuclear Futures', perhaps the most important part of the book. Both there and (at far greater length) in ,Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?, (Foreign Affairs, October t976)
In fact much of Weinberg's review was directed to ethical issues that Lovins had raised. Did Lovins not notice this? Of course one of the rewards for being ethically obtuse, is that one does not have to argue questions about ones own ethical inconsistencies, in the course of debate on ethical Weinberg pointed out,
"time is precious, a limited resource,"
and added that
'one should be willing to exchange some environmental insult for the freedom to use time as one chooses. . . . such a choice is a free one freedom ought not to be sacrificed with the easy assertion that the heating of the atmosphere by waste heat is an imminent danger.
Weinberg repeatedly notes that Lovins neglect a significant ethical issue posed by the generation of CO2 by burning coal.
The Authors should compare the amount of heating from CO2, as well as the heat effluent from fossil fuel plants, with the heat from nuclear plants I must conclude that the authors regard net energy analyses a convenient device for casting nuclear in an unfavorable light. A feat they accomplished by attempt to accomplish by ignoring the really significant comparisons between nuclear and non-nuclear, of the same doubling time and relative effects of heat release and co2 release.
Finally Weinberg asked,
Can we really ignore CO2 during the coal burning, fission free bridge?
Lovins responded that he was worried about CO2, and professed to believe that so much coal was going to be burned anyway that CO2 emission reductions from nuclear power would not matter. Lovins offered no other remedy for mitigation of CO2 releases, perhaps relying on his famous foreign policy paper, which argued that burring coal in large power plants would gradually be replaced by more efficient micro power generators, something that still has not happened over a generation later.

We must also ask, "did Lovins really not notice that the questions about time and choice were directed against his ethical argument?"

Lovins claimed of Weinberg, "His values and mine are undeniably different." Yet was this the case? Not in the questions of efficient use of time, for Lovins had chosen in October 1976 to intrude on the environment by flying to Oak Ridge, the very choice Weinberg acknowledged he would make.

The real ethical issue then was not about such choices, it was about integrity. I must her intrude with the observation that Alvin Weinberg was a man of great integrity. Weinberg was fired as Director of ORNL in 1972 by the political and administrative establishment of the AEC, because Weinberg had refused to back down over nuclear safety. During the 23 years I spent in Oak Ridge as a boy and man, I never once heard Weinberg's integrity questioned. In the course of reviewing Lovins' book, Weinberg had not accused Lovins of bad faith but had pointed to questions, which if considered, brought Lovins' integrity into question. Weinberg had in fact paid attention to the subtitle of Lovins' book. What Alvin Weinberg pointed too in his December 1976 review of Lovins book was to point to its a deep inconsistency, its deep confusion. Lovins had built his entire “ethical” case for his opposition to nuclear power on special pleadings. Weinberg in effect challenged Lovins to demonstrate that his views were derived from a coherent ethical theory, whose tenants Lovins was willing to apply to himself.

Lovins chose to not respond to Alvin Weinberg in 1976, just as he later chose to not respond to Robert Bryce and David Bradish, Debate is not Lovins forte, sales is. Now there is nothing wrong with being a salesman, His sales pitch succeeded beyond all measure.

During the upward glide that took Amory Lovins to his 1977 meeting with Jimmy Carter, Alvin Weinberg invited to Amory Lovins to his think tank in Oak Ridge. There Lovins presented an early version of The Path Not Taken, and as Weinberg had done on many occasions, he began to question the young man. Weinberg found Lovins articulate, but "so wrong headed". Weinberg thought Lovins "longed for a simpler world". In his own way, Weinberg who regarded himself as a friend of Lovins, was far kinder to Lovins, than Vaclav Smil has been.

Weinberg's forte was to get the best out of scientists and thinkers. In doing so, he would first ask to hear what the scientist had to say, and then offer a response. At ORNL it was well know that if Weinberg offered you the criticism that you were wrong headed, you best ought to listen to avoid humiliation later own. Not that Weinberg would do the humiliation. Rather that the mistakes which Weinberg had caught would cause a scientist's career to suffer. But when your mistakes come from telling people what they want to hear, your career may flourish rather suffer.

It was Alvin Weinberg, a trained biologist as well as physicist, who understood ecology in a way Lovins never did. Weinberg understood the danger of CO2 emissions and had warned congress about global warming. During his brief stay in Washington, Weinberg pushed for CO2 research. When Jimmy Carter chose coal over nuclear power, Lovins did not utter a word of protest, but Weinberg wrote of the choice:
The difficulties and risks of the nuclear path we have been delineated often and in detail. Of these, proliferation of nuclear weapons probably poses the greatest risk, though-one must always remember that power reactors and chemical plants provide a sufficient, a not necessary, technical basis for proliferation. The major risk in the coal path is the possible CO catastrophic. In a way this is the coal analogue of nuclear proliferation: it is global, uncertain, possibly catastrophic. Thus we see the dimensions of the dilemma: the two energy systems upon which we are expecting to depend, at least over the medium term, are flawed to a degree that is at present essentially impossible to fully estimate, and that indeed may never be fully possible to estimate. To those who embrace coal as a fission-free bridge to a solar future, the CO question should inject a note of prudent concern: we can turn the phrase around and ask whether fission based on reactors of current design perhaps will have to serve as a coal-free bridge to a fusion, breeder, or solar future. We must also consider the possibility that both nuclear energy and coal will be judged by future generations to be fatally flawed and the question, "Can we make it on solar energy alone?" will have to be rephrased: "How can we make it on solar energy alone?"
There were consequences for using the cover Lovins provided as Weinberg understood. Although energy efficiency did improve over the next generation, so did CO2 emissions from electrical generation. Lovins, of course, never fought against coal the way he fought against nuclear. During the next generation Lovins triumphed, and Alvin Weinberg's concerns were largely forgotten. Yet if society seemed to follow Lovins lead, rather than Weinberg's, it was because society wanted to follow that path, not because of Lovins leadership or his prescience. Lovuns, unlike Weinberg was not gifted with foresight.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Coal2nuclear revisited

This document and its accompyning comments, remain a valid proposal for the reuse of old coal fired power plant sites as housing sites for new Nuclwar power generation facilities. The idea is not original, as I note, and received previous attention on Nuclear Green.
Jim Holm has made an important contribution to the discussion of the future of nuclear power in the United States. I believe that Jim was the first person to publicly advocate the recycling of coal fired power plant sites, as nuclear sites. Holm correctly noted advantages for doing so. Practically everyone who is interested in building small reactors, likes Jim's idea, but there is less than total agreement on how best to implement it. First let me note what some of the advantages recycling coal fired power plants sites would give the nuclear power plant constructor. These sites are accessible by railroad. Almost all American coal fired power plants have their coal transported to them by rail. This means that large manufactured parts for a reactor can be transported to the reactor set up site by an existing rail line.

Every one who has looked at the small modular reactor idea has noted that one of their advantage would be the ability to transport major components, for example the reactor core, from the manufacturing factory to the set up site, by truck, rail or barge. The existing rail lines to coal fired steam plants, thus would provide an ideal transportation route, that would require no construction, hence no added expense.

A second advantage would be access to coolant water. Existing coal fired power plants already require access to large amounts of coolant water. Reactors could be simply plugged in to the old plant's existing water coolant system, including the already existing cooling towers. if the new facility is rated at or above the generating capacity of the old plant, more water coolant capacity might have to be argued, but the plant would not start from scratch. In addition it might be possible to simply transfer the water use permit from the old facility to the new facility, eliminating one paper work obstacle to plant construction.

One of the major cost considerations for nuclear plant construction is the overall cost of site development. A coal powered site will already have developed features that can be reused during a conversion to a nuclear power plant in addition to its rail access, and coolant water system One example is its grid access system, which includes a transformer farm, and high tension power lines that connect the plant to the grid. The existing plant grid hookup could cost as much as $100 million to to duplicate.

Other facilities of the old power pant could also be reusable. These would include some of the existing buildings, parking lots, access roads and so on.

Jim Holm has also suggested the reuse of the coal power steam plant's turbines. At one point I floated Jim's turbine reuse suggestion on Nuclear Green and Energy from Thorium. There was a considerable discussion of this idea in the EfT discussion forum. There were a number of critiques. These included questions about cost savings, and the cost of adaptive technologies. Steam turbines have limited lifetimes, and periodically have to be replaced. The operational life of a steam turbine may exceed 50 years, but many coal powered steam plants are over 50 years old. The cost of steam turbine installations can be expected to run from between $400 to $1,500 per MW of generating capacity. Which represents a levelized cost from 2.50 to 6.50 per kWh if operated in a base load (8000 hours per year) plant, or from 4.00 to 12.00 per kWh if operated to meet daytime demand (4000 hours per year). daytime support. To give some idea of the relative cost of the installed steam turbine system, the Energy Information afency estimates that in 2016 the levelized cost of a nuclear power plant will be 119.1. Since all conventional nuclear plants can be expected to operate as base load electrical producers the cost of the installed steam generator would run from 2% to 5% of conventional nuclear plant costs.

Thus even before we examine cost related to the adaption of old steam turbines to new nuclear heat sources, questions about the economic benefits of pairing a new reactor with an old steam turbine should be reviewed.

First if a turbine is near the end of its useful life, it may at the very least need to be refurbished. If the turbine is refurbished, it would also be wise to refurbish the entire system including steam lines and generators as well. But before we do that we would also need to compare the cost of an entirely new turbine system with the cost of the old system.

There might well be other costs of the adaption of old coal pant steam turbines to new small reactors. There are two coal plants located near me in East Tennessee. They are the Kingston Steam plant, and the Bull Run Steam plant. There are considerable differences between the two facilities. The Bull Run plant, completed in 1967 uses a single boiler to heat super critical steam that drives a set of compound turbines that produce a rated 950 MWe. The Kingston plant has 9 separate generation units that use less hot sub critical steam, four unites produce 175 MWe each, while the other five produce 200 MWe each, for a total of 1700 MWe generating capacity. Lets consider using Jim Halm's coal 2 nuclear scheme on the Bull Run plant. Jim at present touts two sodium cooled Generation IV reactors, the Russian B-800 and the GE-Hitatchi S PRISM. The B-800 would be a little small to power the Bull Run turbines to 100% of their rated output. But 3 S PEISMs would do the trick nicely. Furthermore they would be reasonably well matched to the supercritical steam temperature requirements of the Bull Run power plant. But neither the the B-800 nor the S PRISM would be at all well matched to the Kingston steam plant.

Let us now consider the use of the LFTR. The reference concept factory manufactured LFTR is a 100 MWe unit, although unites as large as 400 MWs could probably be factory produced, with cores and other major components being rail transportable. But we would run into major problems matching the LFTRs heating capacity with either the Bull Run or the Kingsport Steam plants. First the heat output from the LFTR would be around 600 C, or perhaps a little less. But we do not need super critical steam heated to 600 C at the Bull Run plant, so some of the potential energy efficiency of the LFTR would be lost. If the LFTRs were run with a Brayton cycle gas turbine they would produce electricity more efficiently using heat from the LFTR to produce super critical steam for a super critical steam turbine would. In time the added value of the extra electricity produced by a Brayton cycle gas turbine system would more than make up for the added cost of replacing the Bull Run supercritical steam turbines, even if those turbines were brand new.

And of course it would be extremely inefficient to use heat from LFTRs to produce steam for the Kingston Power plants, although it would be easily possible to match each steam unit's output to a LFTR's output. Thus for the Kingston Steam plant the LFTR replacement would clearly offer significant efficiency advantages if Brayton cycle gas turbines were included with the replacement units. The Bull Run plant could be powered by sodium cooled reactors, but it has not been established that three S Prism reactors producing super critical steam for the existing turbines would offer levelized cost advantages offer over four 250 MW LFTRs powering Brayton turbines.

Jim has argued that the existing turbine systems of coal fired steam plants, would offer the greatest value for the coal to nuclear conversion. I disagree. Far from rejecting Jim's suggestion, LFTR advocates have elaborated on it, while offering substantial efficiency improvements by the suggested replacement of old and worn out steam units, with advanced Brayton cycle gas turbine technology.
Afterward: The idea of using the same GE turbines used by natural gas fired cogeneration plants in molten salt cooled nuclear plants, has recently received considerable attention.  Such a facility would be cheap, at least on the power generation side, and highly efficient.   In addition waste hear can be used for desalinization.   The open cycle power units can be ordered from a catalogue. - Charles Barton 8/2/14. 

7 comments:

Anonymous said...
Charles, thanks for addressing this topic. Refitting coal plants will have to come.

I am not knowledgeable about the state of readiness of the Brayton gas cycle turbine. I seem to recall that the South Africans were developing a helium gas turbine, but have given up on the concept. Is there a working prototype of a Brayton gas cycle suitable for operation with high temperature nuclear power anywhere in the world? What gas is likely to be used? It seems to me that developing the gas turbine might be the most expensive part of bringing LFTR technology to implementation status. The airline industry certainly has the experience base to start from, but certainly changing the application must involve significant design modification. John Tjostem
Charles Barton said...
John, The South Africans simply bit off more than they could chew. There are as of yet no developmental programs for Brayton cycle helium turbines, that still has to come, but clearly the added efficiency would more than justify the developmental costs.
Anonymous said...
Hmmm... That's interesting. Where did you first hear about this? Do you have other blog posts I can take a look at?

Justin Davis
MK Partners
Workplace Efficiency Experts
DV8 2XL said...
One of the reasons I am not big on trying to salvage the turbine side of coal plant conversions, is that it would become a nightmare from a regulatory stand-point, as well as added complexity to the engineering. Retrofitting is a drag from design to application, with all sorts of 'Oh God, no' moments when you open something up and things aren't what you were expecting.

Most everyone that has done similar in industry hates retrofits, and everyone that has also knows that most if not all of the projected savings will most likely be sucked up by delay, and necessary changes. These things only look good in the boardroom and in the imagination of the designers.

Brownfielding the old coal plant and starting from there, is the only wise path to take.
DW said...
His site is an 'idea' site. To poise the problems and possible solutions. He even used my "build'em in shipyards' proposal as a way transporting large and small nukes to coal plants.

Yes, turbines on nukes are built to different specs than turbines on gas or coal. There are a variety of there issues as well, most notably steam flow specs and reheat temp and flow. All these would have to be engineered correctly but the *idea* is excellent because it addresses the MW-per-MW superstition issue that solar and wind would just get car sick trying to implement and the large space most coal plants take up with regard to their coal yard, human resources such as trained operators and maintenance; existing grid access; existing transportation access and cooling water and hazardous waste licensing.

John's site presents a whole order of magnitude making the case for coal2nucelar that needs to be pursued from the principal of replacing coal with nuclear.

A "plan" given to, say, the state of Wisconsin, with 6000MWs of coal power, and calls for the replacement of their 13 or so coal plants with, say, 4 to 6 nuclear plants. The idea here is a "si se puede" moment for those that want to phase out coal altogether and THIS is the point.
Anonymous said...
I don't see the importance of reusing the steam turbine. Even NPP's replace their steam turbines periodically. You can still use the existing synchronous generator, the control system, the fire suppression system, the protective relaying & switchgear and power distribution system. You can still use the existing foundation and base. That is a huge savings in time of construction and expense. Replacing the steam turbine is a minor issue.

The biggest issue is likely all the flak you would get from regulatory authorities for placing a NPP at the site, which may be close to a populated area. OK to dump all that Coal Waste on the ground, in the water and into the atmosphere. But, God forbid a NPP that terrorists will be lining up in droves for an opportunity to Chernobyl it. Probably you would need a buried NPP to appease the paranoid & delusional.

I agree with DV8 that retrofits are usually more trouble than they're worth, but if you are talking about a well planned, nationally or internationally mobilized effort to rapidly replace CO2 belching Coal Power plants, I would say it could be done very efficiently and cost effectively.
Friakel Wippans said...
I mostly agree with the general sentiment. The value of a former coal plant to site a nuclear plant is mostly in its "external" infrastructure : physical access by rail and road, grid connection and switchyard, existing water rights and access for cooling, etc.

But the plant itself ? No. It's pretty much worthless. The characteristics of a coal-fired plant are just too different from a nuclear plant, whether a LWR, LMFR or a MSR. Different steam conditions, different controls, different utilities and balance of plant and so on and so forth.

Also, the maintenance in coal-fired plants is generally not that great. Burning coal is a bottom feeder business. Not the highly-stable, long-term thinking, squeaky clean world of NPPs. God knows in which shape the equipments will be when the operator tries to retrofit them for a nuclear conversion...

Just level down the coal-fed dinosaur and build a clean nuclea power plant in its place.

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