Monday, March 31, 2008

Long half life fission products

I have been reading through a discussion of "nuclear waste" in "Energy from Thorium." I look at what is called nuclear waste as the back side of the uranium fuel cycle in Light Water Reactors. The LWR is very inefficient, and burns only a small percentage of its potential fuel. This problem is compounded by the inefficiency of the uranium fuel cycle, that is compounded by the use of enriched uranium in LWR. The problem is simple. The uranium fuel cycle does not efficiently use its nuclear fuel. The fuel cycle produces Pu239, which in a LWR fissions only 2/3 of the time after encountering a neutron, The other 1/3 of the time it becomes Pu240, another problematic isotope. Plutonium is a LWR reactor is a little like the broom in the story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Instead of getting rid of plutonium in the LWR, we just keep making more and more, with more and more radiation being the outcome. There are, however Sorcerer reactors, that is reactors that get rid of most and even all of the transuranium isotopes produced by the uranium fuel cycle.

The CANDU reactor would be fairly good at that. Within a CANDU reactor, so called "Spent reactor fuel" acts like enriched reactor fuel in a normal reactor. A CANDU reactor will burn what is mistakenly called "High Level Reactor Waste, practically to a cinder. The outcome is mainly fission products and depleted uranium. But this is not good enough. We are still left with undesirable long lived radio active substances in post-CANDU reactor fuel. There is still plutonium. although a whole lot less. Finally, most of the originial energy trapped in U238 is still trapped there in fuel that comes out of the CANDU. Furthermore when the radioactive fission products still trapped in the fuel pellets, eventually became stable and valuable minerals, it will be very expensive to extract them from the ceramic like fuel pellets.

Running supposably spent reactor fuel through a CANDU reactor is an improvement over the one pass approach, but it is far from a solution to the reactor waste issue. Indeed we should not be satisfied with partial solutions.

This table shows that almost all fission products have shore half lives. What it does not show is that most long lived fission products are weak radiation emitters, and several are chemically inactive.

(Click twice to enlarge)

The best "nuclear waste solution would not produce any plutonium, or would channel the plutonium production into uses where it would be valuable. For example, the thorium fuel cycle produces a small amount of Neptunium 237. If Np237 is left in a reactor, it will be tranasformed by a neutron into Pu238, and then Pu239, etc. Pu238 is very valuable because NASA has devised technology to produce electric power from Pu238. The transformation of Np237 into Pu238 is fairly easy in a thorium fuel cycle reactor that uses liquid fuel. The NP237 can be chemically extracted from the fluid coolant/fuel stream, and removed from the reactor, and then bombarded neutrons under controlled conditions.

Thus the production of transuranium nuclear waste can be completely prevented in a liquid thorium fuel cycle reactor, provided that a Np237 is regularly extracted from the reactor. Long lived radioactive fission byproducts include Technetium99, which has a half life of 200,000 years and is a weak beta emitter. Tc99 is chemically active, and it constitutes about 6% of fission byproducts.

Tin126 which has a half life of 230,000 years, and produces a weak beta ray, but then decays into Antimony126 a strong gamma-ray emitter. However Tin126 is a small time player. Very little is produced in the fission process in thermal reactors, and it is chemically inactive.

Selenium-79. present in small amounts as a fission byproduct. Half life reported to be between 65,000 years and 1.13 million years. Se79 is a weak beta emitter.

Zarconium93, which has a half life of one and a half million years, and which produces weak beta emitter, and then decays into Nobium93, a weak gamma emitter.

Caesium 135, yet another low energy beta emitter.

Palladium107, which emits a weak beta emitter, has a half life of 6.5 million years. Palladium is a nobel metal, that does not interact with other chemicals.

Finally we have Iodine-129 which is a weak beta emitter with a reported half life of 15.7 million years. Iodine 129 is chemically active and iodine is concentrated by organisms.

Solutions: The thorium fuel cycle, if well managed does not produce long lived transuranium isotopes. Long lived fission product radio isotopes are not a threat to the survival of the human species, but the risk involved is their disposal should be taken seriously. Some long lived radio isotopes can be altered into non-radioactive isotopes by neutron bombardment. Other long lived radio-isotopes can be disposed of by glassification and deep burial.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Thorium Fuel Cycle, Its Neutron Economy

WASH-1097 remains a good source of information on the thorium fuel cycle. In fact, some major recent studies of the thorium fuel cycle rely heavily on WASH-1097.

Sometimes, however, sources on thorium may draw indirectly on WASH-1097, without mentioning it in their bibliography. Although a recent IAEA report on Thorium appears to have been prepared without overt reliance on WASH-1097.

Because it is widely referenced and continues to be an important source of information, I will rely on Wash 1097 for most of the information found is this account.

One of the first things physicists discovered about chain reactions was that slowing the neutrons involved in the process down, promoted the chain reaction. Kirk Sorensen discusses slow or thermal neutrons in one of his early posts.

Under low energy neutron conditions, Th232 can be efficiently converted to U233. The conversion process works like this. Th232 absorbs a neutron and emits a beta ray. A neutron switches to being a protron and the atom is transformed into Protactinium 233. After a period average a little less than a month, Pa 233 emits a second beta ray and is transformed into U233. U233 is fissionable, and is a very good reactor fuel. When a U233 atom encounters a low energy neutron, chances are 9 out of 10 that it will fission.

Since U233 produces an average of 2.4 neutrons every time it fissions, this means that. Each neutron that strikes U233 produces a average of 2.16 new neutrons. If you carefully control those neutrons, one neutron will continue the chain reaction. That leaves an average of 1.16 neutrons to generate new fuel.

Unfortunately the fuel generation process cannot work with 100% efficiency. The left over U234 that was produced when U233 absorbed a neutron and did not fission will sometimes absorb another neutron and become U235. Xenon 135, an isotope that that is often produced when a U233 splits, is more likely to capture neutrons than U233 or Th232. This makes Xenon 135 a fission poison. Because Xenon in a reactor builds up during a chain reaction, it tends to slow a reactor down as the chain reaction continues. The presence of Xenon creates a control problem inside a reactor. Xenon also steals neutrons needed for the generation of new fuel.

In conventional reactors that use solid fuel, Xenon is trapped inside the fuel, but in a fluid fuel Xenon is easy to remove, because it is what is called a noble gas. A noble gas does not bond chemically with other substances, and can be bubbled out of fluids where it has been trapped. Getting Xenon 135 out of a reactor core, makes generating new U233 from Th232 a whole lot easier.

It is possible to bring about 1.08 neutrons into the thorium change process for every U233 atom that splits. This means that reactors that use a thorium fuel cycle, are not going to produce a large excess of U233, but if carefully designed, they can produce enough U233 that burnt U233 can be easily replaced. Thus a well designed thorium cycle reactor will generate its own fuel indefinitely.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thorium Fuel Cycle Advantages

Introduction: This Russian paper, translated by the IAEA nicely lays out some of the advantages of the thorium fuel cycle.

by B.D. Kuz’minov, and V.N. Manokhin Russian Federation State Science Centre, Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, Obninsk

Adoption of the thorium fuel cycle would offer the following advantages:
- Increased nuclear fuel resources thanks to the production of 233U from 232Th;
- Significant reduction in demand for the enriched isotope 235U;
- Very low (compared with the uranium-plutonium fuel cycle) production of long-lived radiotoxic wastes, including transuraniums, plutonium and transplutoniums;
- Possibility of accelerating the burnup of plutonium without the need for recycling, i.e. rapid reduction of existing plutonium stocks;
- Higher fuel burnup than in the uranium-plutonium cycle;
- Low excess reactivity of the core with thorium-based fuel, and more favourable temperature and void reactivity coefficients;
- High radiation and corrosion resistance of thorium-based fuel;
- Considerably higher melting point and the better thermal conductivity of thorium-based fuel;
- Good conditions for ensuring the non-proliferation of nuclear materials.

The Uranium Fuel Cycle

WASH-1097 remains an invaluable source of information on the thorium fuel cycle. It explains why the thorium fuel cycle creates such a small problem with transuranium isotope. First, however, it is important to understand why there is a problem in the uranium fuel cycle.

When U238 absorbs a neutron a transformation process is triggered. After a couple of sub-nuclear events (beta radiation), the two neutrons in the atom become protons. This process turns the uranium-239 atom into plutonium-239. Pu239 is fissile. But Pu239 has some characteristics that make it something less than a desirable fuel, in ordinary moderated thermal neutron reactors. Fission is most likely to occur with low energy neutrons. Yet, Pu239 has a healthy appetite for these low energy neutrons, while only fissions about 2 times out of 3 when it absorbs low energy neutrons. The net effect is that Pu239 doesn't "pull its weight" in the reactor when it is fissioned by low-energy neutrons. It doesn't produce enough neutrons per absorption to make up for the neutrons lost in absorption.

In the ideal uranium fuel cycle, a Pu239 nucleus absorbs a neutron, splits and emits three neutrons. One of them is absorbed by another fissile atom (U235 or Pu239) atom which splits. The other is absorbed by a U238 atom which is transformed into U239. As you get more and more of the absorption products of Pu239 building up in the nuclear fuel (Pu240, Pu241, etc), the neutronics become more and more unfavorable.

The heart of the problem is the fact that low energy neutrons split Pu239 atoms only about 2/3rds of the time. This is all laid out very nicely in WASH-1097. In the other 1/3rd of the time, Pu239 becomes Pu240. If Pu240 absorbs a neutron it becomes Pu241 and if Pu241 absorbs a neutron, 75% of the time it fissions. Thus by the WASH-1097 account, 25% of the time when Pu 241 absorbs a neutron it becomes Pu242. Thus after absorbing 4 neutrons, nearly 9% the atoms that started out as U238 are still plutonium. This is what is called a poor neutron economy. The neutron economy of fast breeders is better, because a neutron absorption in Pu239 is more likely to cause a fission with more energetic neutrons. Hence the desirability of fast breeder reactors in a transuranium reactor economy.

As we have seen conventional fast breeders use sodium as a coolant, and sodium is really nasty, dangerous stuff. In addition, as Kirk Sorensen points out, using liquid sodium as a coolant, limits the thermal efficiency of a reactor. Thus not only are LMFB reactors inherently dangerous, they
are also not as efficient as power producers as liquid fluoride reactors.

But here we must ask, why are we producing plutonium in breeder reactors? If we are producing it to go into conventional reactors, we are not producing very good nuclear fuel.

- Charles Barton

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sodium cooled reactor

Once when I was in junior school the school I attended offered a science demonstration in assembly. The whole idea was absurd, because many of our parents were scientists, and the demonstrator was a science teacher, who was far less versed in real science than my father. The demonstrator showed us a few tricks with chemistry, but the highlight of the show came when he chucked a small piece of carefully stored sodium metal into a container filled with water. The sodium bounced on the surface of the water as it burned strongly, illustrating that water - or for that matter air - does not mix well with sodium. Had the demonstrator chucked a larger piece of sodium into the water a violent explosion would have occurred.

The demonstration left a vivid impression on my mind, and similar demonstrations probably effected the views of early reactor scientists like Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg. In 1966 Alvin Weinberg gave a lecture on nuclear technology to the Autumn meeting of the National Academy of Science.

Weinbert noted, "in spite of the great emphasis on fast breeders that the world now displays,
there are some difficulties that must be overcome before fast breeders become commercially successful."

Weinberg did not comment on the safety of sodium cooled reactors on that occasion, but in a lecture delivered at Aragonne National Laboratory ten years later, Wienberg observed:
"We have no real estimates of accident probabilities for liquid metal fast breeder reactors (LMFBR’s). The Rasmussen estimate (one in 20,000 per reactor year with an uncertainty of five either way) would lead to a meltdown every 3 years. This is probably an unacceptable rate; an accident rate at least ten times lower, and possibly 100 times lower may be needed if the system is to be acceptable."

Later in the same lecture Weinberg added, "the acceptable accident rate will probably have to be much lower than the Rasmussen report suggests. If one uncontained core meltdown per 100 years is acceptable (and we have no way of knowing what an acceptable rate really is), then the probability of such an accident will have to be reduced to about one in 1 million per reactor per year."

The basic problem with sodium cooled reactors like the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor is the safety problem inherent in the use of sodium as a coolant. Sodium reacts chemically with both air and water, and will burn strongly with either. Hence sodium leaks become a significant issue with sodium cooled reactors. The history of sodium cooled reactors give scant comfort to those who argue that they are safe.

Perhaps the best known Internet video related to reactor safety is the video of Japanese reactor workers responding to a sodium leak at the Monju Sodium cooled breeder reactor. The Monju reactor has been shutdown since the 1995 accident although reportedly the Japanese plan to reopen it this year. The Japanese were fortunate that the leak occurred in a secondary sodium coolant system, and that no radiation was leaked, however the danger of working with sodium are best illustrated by a 1996 attempt by Japanese researchers to recreate the conditions that lead to the Monju accident. Researchers concluded that the liquid sodium released during the accident, could have melted steel doors, and come into contact with a cement floor. A reaction between the liquid soduim and water in the cement would have caused a violent explosion. What would have happen next os not reported but the leaked sodium was not the only sodium that could have potentially been involved in the accident. Not only does primary coolant sodium burn easily in contact with air, it is also highly radioactive.

Weinberg, who had common sense, and who worried about nuclear safety, thought that the safety risk from using sodium as a reactor coolant was too great.

Like all reactors with solid fuels, sodium cooled reactors requite extensive piping in order to move the molten sodium fluid from the reactor to the heat exchange and back. Secondary sodium systems carry the heat to a steam generating systems, or to a gas turbine generating system. The movement of sodium through a system of pipes, coupled with the existence of two heat exchange systems, create an inherent safety danger for sodium cooled reactors.

The amount of sodium involved, and its radioactivity, potentially makes for a catastrophic accident.
In addition other fluid coolants, for example fluoride salts are superior to liquid sodium in many ways:

* Fluoride salts do not burn in contact with water or air.
* Fluoride salts boil at a much higher temperature than sodium, thus a fluoride salts cooled reactor can operate at a much higher temperature, hence with greater thermal efficiency.
* Nuclear fuel can be dissolved in Fluoride salts eliminating the need to fabricate nuclear fuel.
* Chemical operations involving fluoride compounds are well known in the nuclear industry and are relatively simple.
* Some fluoride salts have lower neutron cross sections than sodium, thus facilitating the transformation of fertile isotopes like Th232 into fissionable U233.
* Fluoride salts reactors have many features that make them inherently safe.

A partial post on The Oil Drum?

It looks like I am going to get a partial post on The Oil Drum. They wanted a thousand words or less in support of nuclear energy. I submitted 950 words on the American thorium reserve. The reason I chose that topic, is that the Oil Drum crowd would immediately respond to support for nuclear power by announcing that we are running out of reactor fuel. This announcement would be followed by a loud cheer, from the return to the soil people who haunt The Oil Drum. That crowd desperately hopes we are running out of energy, and to avoid starvation we must return to the soil and grow our own food. The only energy that really matters in that view, is the energy that comes from the human body.

The fact that such an eventuality would probably mean the death of hundreds of millions of people, does not seem to bother the return to the soil crowd. I anticipate disappointing them with my announcement that we are not running out of energy. The first step is to demonstrate that the energy pessimists are wrong.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A history of the "Nuclear Waste" Issue

I take the view that very little of the stuff that comes out of a reactor is really waste, in the conventional way waste is understood. Waste However with thew current generation of Light Water Reactor technology, that stuff is classified as waste and misused. This discussion by Professor M. Joshua Silverman discusses some of the histry of the Nuclear Waste Issue.

Radioactive Waste Management:
An Environmental History Lesson for Engineers (and Others)

By M. Joshua Silverman, Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University

I. Framing the Problem

The United States is at a "gridlock" position regarding nuclear waste management. Existing nuclear power plants, left to manage wastes in the absence of a coherent national policy, have become de facto long-term storage sites, using facilities designed only to temporarily house such materials. Radioactive waste has emerged as one of the issues inhibiting further development of the nuclear power industry, and the safety implications of forcing every power plant to handle wastes on a longer-term basis are severe.

Former nuclear weapons production sites face even more significant problems with radioactive waste management. The scale and scope of the cleanup at these sites is enormous; officials estimate that seventy-five years and $300 billion will be required to remediate these facilities. The Department of Energy (DOE), which is responsible for these sites, faces both an environmental and an administrative quagmire as it attempts to clean up after fifty years of nuclear weapons production.

The lesson that follows is an introduction to these issues, focusing on an understanding of how, over time, the problems associated with radioactive waste have developed. This lesson is predicated on the assumption that radioactive waste management is not a single task to be accomplished but is rather a multidimensional issue that needs to be understood and addressed physically, socially, and historically.

The multiple aspects of radioactive waste management this lesson examines include physical and value-oriented issues. What radioactive waste is, where it is, how it has been generated and handled, what some of the difficulties are in handling, treating, and disposing of the stuff--these are central issues in radioactive waste managment. Values are also critical in understanding radioactive waste, and must be understood in their social and historical contexts--how radioactive waste has been understood (or misunderstood, as the case may be), how it has meant different things to different people, and how these meanings have changed over time. An understanding of these value-oriented issues will enable a discussion of the political problem of radioactive waste, how it has developed into a metaphorical "hot potato" that nobody is willing to hold. Understand both values and the physical aspects of radioactive waste will help foster an understanding of the bureaucratic problems involved in managing this material --resolving the radioactive waste problem will involve administrative and managerial feats that the DOE has not yet shown itself capable of handling.

II. The Pre-History of the Problem: Radiation and Health in the early Twentieth Century

The radioactive waste "problem" is not a new one; health and safety concerns have been associated with radioactive materials throughout the twentieth century. Indeed, such concerns have existed almost from the discovery of radioactivity in 1895, when a German physicist, Willem Roentgen, identified what he called "x-rays," and developed a technique for producing them. The medical community quickly adopted x-rays as a useful diagnostic tool; within a year, x-ray machines could be found in every major city in the U.S. In 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie announced that they had identified a new element, radium, that had radioactive properties. Radium, like x-rays, was adopted for several industrial uses; for example, workers in the 1910s and 1920s painted watch dials with radium so that they would glow in the dark.

Observers soon noted that these radioactive materials were associated with harmful side effects. Medical x-ray workers and many scientists were suffering from skin burns, blood disorders, and a variety of otherwise rare cancers; indeed, Marie Curie suffered terribly from bone diseases stemming from her prolonged exposure to radium and other radioactive materials. The women who worked as watch-dial painters began to develop horrible forms of jaw and throat problems. Health workers learned that these women would use their mouths to "point" their brushes, thereby ingesting what often amounted to lethal quantities of radioactive compounds.

Several interested organizations and individuals moved, in response to the recognition of the health effects of radioactive materials, to form independent bodies to study the issues and set voluntary standards for exposure. In the 1920s their efforts resulted in the formation of the International Committee on Radiation Protection; in the United States, the National Committee on Radiation Protection was also established as an affiliated organization. These organizations provided provided self-governance for radiation-related industrial hygiene for several decades.

III. The Manhattan Project: Large-Scale Work with Radioactive Materials

Industrial work with radioactive materials was relatively small in scale through the 1930s, but events during and after World War II changed matters dramatically. Indeed, the work done to construct atomic weapons, begun as war raged across Europe and the Pacific, continues to have profound environmental and political effects in the contemporary world.

A. The Decision(s) to Build the Bomb

Efforts to construct an atomic bomb in the United States began in the late 1930s, under the assumption that the Allies were in a race with Germany. In 1938, two German physicists announced that they had demonstrated fission--the splitting of the atom. Scientists in Europe and the U.S. recognized that a controlled fission reaction could be made into a new, incredibly destructive weapon. Many of the most eminent physicists in the U.S. were emigres from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Italy; having experienced fascism, they were alarmed by the prospect of an atomic weapon in the hands of Hitler's regime. The efforts of these emigre scientists were crucial in prompting the American government to undertake what became known as the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project refers to the efforts of the Manhattan Engineering District (MED), the organization created by the U.S. Army to carry out the atomic bomb development program. This was truly an enormous industrial and scientific undertaking, and was the largest construction project ever undertaken at the time. The MED spent over $5 billion during the war, of which nearly half went for constructing production facilities and towns at Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos during the years 1943-45.

B. Health and Safety in the Manhattan Engineering District

Radiation safety was a priority in the MED. Personnel protection was strongly emphasized, even more than in other types of production work, and the NCRP safety guidelines proved quite effective in this regard. Scientists were in short supply and even enlisted men (who died by the thousands overseas) were well protected. The unique nature of the research and production work made trained personnel even more valuable than normal; there simply were no replacements available. Management thus emphasized health and safety precautions, as the project could not afford to lose trained personnel to radiation exposure.

Site selection reflected safety concerns of a different sort. For example, the MED chose to locate its primary plutonium production facility (Hanford) in eastern Washington, rather than nearer to the laboratories in Chicago or Oak Ridge, because of fears of the possible consequences of a major accident. The Hanford facility utilized new and untested production techniques with extremely dangerous substances. Managers did not know exactly what the risks of operating such a plant were, but they assumed that they were significant. Thus, they chose to place the facility in a remote location so that if a catastrophic accident did occur it would affect relatively few people.

Waste management was not a high priority during the war; this is not a surprise given the pressures of defeating Germany and Japan. Although managers clearly understood that production processes would generate vast quantities of highly toxic materials, especially from the separations processes at Hanford, they did not give much thought to the development of a long-term waste disposal plan. The MED sought to minimize the immediate risks associated with these wastes, but deliberately deferred developing disposal solutions for the various waste management problems until after the war. Even though waste management and health concerns were re-evaluated after the war ended, the MED never made the solution of waste problems a priority. As it turned out, neither did its successor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

C. The Legacy of the MED and the rise of the Cold War

The MED was ultimately successful in developing atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on Japan in August, 1945. Atomic weapons became a central element of American diplomacy from the moment of their first use, and "the bomb" played a critical role in the emerging Cold War between the US and the USSR. The tensions between East and West emerged even before the war ended and escalated throughout the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, with the exception of a brief post-war lull, the American nuclear weapons production effort begun during the war continued at a high level well into the 1960s.

The rapid transition from WWII to the Cold War helps to explain the lack of attention paid by the Manhattan Engineering District and the Atomic Energy Commission to waste managment issues. As atomic weapons became a defining symbolic and literal expression of American power, the need to continue production at all costs continued. There was no extended post-war shut-down of the wartime production network, no time to develop new approaches to waste production and management. The pressure of the Cold War made for a very uneasy peace indeed.

IV. The Atomic Energy Commission, 1947-1974

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 officially created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as a civilian agency with exclusive control over "fissionable" materials. The AEC inherited the facilities and personnel of the Manhattan Engineering District on January 1, 1947.

A. The AEC and Nuclear Weapons Production

The AEC's first mission was to expand the capacity of the nuclear weapons production complex, both by adding onto existing facilities and by constructing numerous additional plants. These plants were scattered across the country, and were run by a variety of corporate and university contractors.

AEC Nuclear Weapons Production System:

Partial List of Facilities and Contractors as of 1955

AEC Facility - State - Primary Contractor

Hanford, WA (General Electric)

Savannah River, SC (DuPont)

Fernald, OH (National Lead)

Oak Ridge, TN (Union Carbide)

Los Alamos Laboratory, NM (University of California)

Sandia Laboratory, NM (Western Electric)

Portsmouth, OH (Goodyear)

Mound, OH (Monsanto)

Rocky Flats, CO (Dow Chemical)

Nevada Test Site, NV (REECO) (Reynolds Electrical Engineering Co.)

The unique nature of the industrial production occurring at the AEC's facilities meant that there were few industrial precedents for dealing with radioactive waste. Even within the production network, tasks and techniques varied widely. As a result, contractors tended to follow practices that they had learned through their prior industrial experience. This led to widely divergent waste management practices throughout the production system.

Given the wide diversity of production practices, range of contractor backgrounds, and autonomous bureaucratic networks within the AEC during this period, it is not suprising to learn that the production system did not operate with a centralized waste management plan. However, some researchers paid significant attention to radioactive waste during the 1950s. By the end of the decade the consensus of expert opinion favored certain types of geologic disposal as the best strategy for the long-term managment of highly radioactive waste, and each site was responsible for the handling of the wastes produced there.

Although more attention was paid to the issue than during World War II, it is clear that waste management was not a central concern during the first two decades of the Cold War. Instead, the increased tensions between the U.S. and the USSR led to continually expanding production levels which in turn fed an ever-spiraling arms race. Waste management concerns were still not given high priority when the production system faced continuously increasing demands. The result of these demands? The U.S., which had one atomic bomb remaining at the end of WWII, had several dozen nuclear weapons by the end of the 1940s, and several thousand by the end of the 1950s; in the late 1980s, the US had over 80,000 nuclear warheads, many of which carried a destructive capacity literally hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

B. Nuclear Power: a brief history

In addition to producing nuclear weapons, the Atomic Energy Commission also had the responsibility for developing peaceful uses of atomic power. This effort became more pronounced after amendments to Atomic Energy Act in 1954 made commercial nuclear power possible; prior to that time private control of nuclear fuel was illegal. Commercial nuclear power has its roots in the "peaceful atom" of the Cold War period. In December, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower committed the United States to the development of applications for atomic science to benefit all of humanity. The program he initiated, known as "Atoms for Peace, included a sizable research and development effort and was accompanied by an even more effective public relations campaign.

Administrative and economic difficulties proved to be as formidable as technological ones in nuclear power development. No insurance company was willing to cover the possible costs arising from a large-scale nuclear accident; even one such incident would bankrupt the industry. Congress responded, in 1957, with the Price-Anderson Act, which limited the maximum liability of a firm operating a nuclear power plant to $560 million--a fraction of the estimated costs of a major accident.

The first facility devoted specifically to the production of nuclear power for non-military use opened at Shippingsport, PA (just west of Pittsburgh) in 1957. This was not truly a commercial venture; although nominally controlled by Duquesne Light Company, the costs were primarily borne by the AEC as a pilot project. Electric utilities began to invest in nuclear plants in the in mid-1960s, and the industry boomed as the cost of fossil fuels skyrocketed in response to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. The industry suffered a major setback in 1979, however, when a malfunction at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant (TMI) caused a partial core meltdown. The combination of cost escalation, waste management and plant decommissioning concerns, and the TMI accident effectively crippled the industry. While over one hundred nuclear power plants continue to operate in the United States, no new plants have been authorized since 1979, and many plants already under construction at the time of the TMI accident were never completed.

U.S. firms embarked on a nuclear power strategy under the assumption that the radioactive waste management problem was not especially difficult and would be solved relatively quickly. Subsequent events would prove otherwise.

C. AEC efforts in radioactive waste management: "Closing Ranks"

Initial radioactive waste management efforts were analogous in intent to traditional industrial and municipal waste management practice. The AEC sought a "sink" in which it could dump, flush, or vent radioactive waste products. Sometimes the sink was the ocean; in the latter 1950s, the AEC licensed commercial boats to haul 55-gallon drums filled with radioactive wastes out to sea, to be dumped overboard into deep water. Managers reasoned that the barrels would sink deeply enough that, even if they corroded or ruptured, the wastes would be sufficiently diluted in the ocean to pose no danger. Numerous facilities flushed wastes into cooling ponds, which often seeped into nearby streams or rivers. Air was another sink; at Hanford, the greatest amount of radioactivity released off-site came through the stacks or from venting and evaporation of contaminated gases. Various on-site dumps or landfills were utilized, and often wastes were pumped into large holding tanks pending final disposal. Many of these initial efforts would prove inadequate on environmental grounds or unsustainable in the face of public opposition.

Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel was another important waste management strategy. This activity recovered plutonium and other fission products from spent uranium fuel rods, which could then be used for weapons or nuclear fuel. Waste material was thus transformed into a valuable resource, although the act of reprocessing still generated volatile waste products. Ironically, reprocessing had the effect of exacerbating the waste management problem in the U.S. even as it reduced the overall volume of radioactive waste material. The ability to reprocess some material led managers to ignore the radioactive waste problem by making the need for a long-term disposal option appear less significant.

Reprocessing may yet play a significant role in a long-term waste management strategy, but the U.S. stopped reprocessing nuclear fuel during the late 1970s by order of President Jimmy Carter, who wanted to curtail the availability of the weapons-grade material produced by the process. This decision turned what had been a resource back into a waste product, and made the lack of a viable long-term disposal strategy for radioactive waste even more apparent.

The AEC considered high-level wastes created by commercial nuclear power reactors to be a separate problem from the wastes produced at its weapons production facilities. Its plans to deal with commercial-side wastes received more public attention than any activities occurring inside the production facilities.

By the late 1950s, experts involved with the commercial waste problem had recommended a strategy of geologic storage of high-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants as the preferred long-term disposal option. By isolating wastes deep in underground caverns, these materials could be safety removed from contact with the biosphere. By the early 1960s, geologic storage was the accepted waste management strategy within the AEC.

In 1970, having settled on geologic storage as the best permanent disposal solution, the AEC announced plans to construct a repository for high-level radioactive waste from commercial power plants in an abandoned salt mine near Lyons, Kansas. The agency faced unexpected external opposition to its plan, and after strong challenges from regional representatives, the AEC withdrew its proposal.

The Lyons episode is important for a number of reasons. First, it meant that the planned national storage facility would not be built as the agency had expected. The AEC's experts had "closed ranks" around the geologic disposal option; working in a secretive, classified environment, they had long since squelched any internal dissent and thus were unprepared when they encountered opposition from external organizations and the public. Lyons also revealed that the AEC's expertise was limited--the agency could be successfully challenged by external organizations and agencies concerned about environmental damage or local health and safety, and also by opponents of nuclear power.

The AEC's experience at Lyons signalled a significant change, as the agency had until then enjoyed near-complete control over the operational aspects of the nation's nuclear program. The AEC typically operated outside the realm of public accountability; much of its business was conducted in secret to protect national security, and it reported to only one Congressional body, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, with whom it had a generally favorable relationship. As the primary supporter of scientific and technological work relating to all things nuclear, the agency had most of the nation's experts on its payroll and access to the latest results and findings. But in the 1970s, the AEC--and the nation's nuclear industries--were entering into a new and uncertain period.

V. The beginnings of controversy: the 1970s

The AEC was split into two agencies in 1974. Regulation of the commercial nuclear power industry was shifted into the newly formed Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), while production and research activities went to the Energy Research and Development Authority; two years later ERDA became the Department of Energy (DOE). The creation of the NRC as an independent agency meant that the commercial nuclear power industry was no longer regulated by the same organization that also provided it with technical support, a conflict of interest that had long irked critics of the nation's nuclear program.

The administrative split did not create an equivalent external regulator for weapons production facilities, however. Despite the recent passage of federal environmental legislation--most notably, the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976)--and despite growing public concerns about pollution and environmental damage, the DOE claimed immunity from external oversight on the grounds of national security. Thus, outside agencies and the general public were privy to only limited information regarding environmental activities at nuclear weapons production facilities.

Yet the DOE's operating environment was beginning to change. The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy suspended operations shortly after the AEC was split up, which meant that the newly-formed Energy Department found itself subject to oversight from numerous Congressional committees that previously lacked the authority to examine the agency's activities. Multiple Congressional investigations and reports in the latter 1970s and early 1980s helped to reveal the extent of environmental problems at several major sites, although they rarely led to substantive changes by the DOE.

During the 1970s and well into the 1980s, the DOE not only fell out of step with public sentiments about environmental protection but also lagged behind the efforts of private industry to more effectively control pollution. While public concerns focused on the relatively well-controlled wastes produced by commercial nuclear power plants, the numerous facilities involved in nuclear weapons production were shielded by a wall of secrecy. As this wall was breached in the 1980s, concerns about the public health consequences of nuclear weapons production increased dramatically.

VI. Paralysis: 1980s-present

The AEC's failure at Lyons left a void in planning for the long-term disposal of commercial radioactive wastes. The agency's experts had "closed ranks" around the Lyons facility and had difficulties developing alternative strategies for dealing with radioactive waste. Congress ultimately imposed a legislative solution with the Nuclear Waste Repository Act of 1982 (NWPA).

The events that followed the passage of the NWPA reveal the difficulties of imposing a legislative fix on a problem that has not been clearly defined or even fully understood. The NWPA mandated a timeline for the creation of a storage facility; this timeline has been repeatedly violated, and at this point the DOE is at least a decade behind schedule. The NWPA established a process for selecting a permanent storage facility in which numerous locations around the country were to be assessed as possible sites. The selection process ultimately fell apart, and a 1987 Congressional amendedment to the NWPA mandated consideration of only one location, Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Since the act required that DOE establish a permanent repository, the elimination of all other sites from review meant that Yucca Mountain was named as the location before the feasibility studies and environmental assessments had been completed. As might be expected, this situation has bred major litigation as well as significant opposition from forces in the state of Nevada.

There is another important political dimension to the repository siting issue. Some opponents of nuclear power oppose a "solution" to the radioactive waste problem because the lack of a solution prevents the industry from further growth. Nuclear power cannot expand in the United States until the problem of where to dispose of radioactive waste is solved. Thus, opposition to Yucca Mountain (or any other proposal) is to a significant extent grounded in factors apart from the environmental impacts or technical considerations of the facility, which further inhibits resolution of the issue.

The AEC's troubles with the Lyons facility also foreshadowed the increasingly powerful local role in radioactive waste management, a role that has been termed NIMBY-ism. NIMBY stands for "Not In My Back Yard," and the NIMBY mentality has made siting all manner of potentially hazardous facilities exceptionally difficult; these concerns affect practically every new siting decision for industrial, technological, or waste management facilities. The state of Nevada is fighting a classic NIMBY battle against the Yucca Mountain facility, and low-level waste disposal facilities (also required by NWPA) are also difficult to site. Property owners and regional residents simply do not want facilities that might pose health risks and devalue property in their proverbial back-yards.

The growth of the NIMBY-ism reflects dramatically eroded confidence in government authority and scientific expertise, and has become a major factor not only in radioactive waste management but in a variety of environmentally sensitive facility-siting issues. The NIMBY mind-set has been fueled in no small part by revelations of environmental and public health damage done by nuclear weapons production and testing, as well as other incidents of corporate or bureaucratic disregard for public health and safety.

The bulk of the information regarding nuclear weapons production has become available only in the last few years, a result of the changing institutional context of the Department of Energy. DOE had claimed immunity from external environmental oversight until 1986, when a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that the agency was subject to federal environmental legislation. This case, LEAF v. Hodel, ended the Department's self-policing of its environmental affairs, and a host of waste management problems at DOE production sites were subsequently revealed.

The LEAF v. Hodel decision took place during a time of great change on the international scene. The Cold War was clearly thawing; in 1989, the Communist Bloc collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, and the Cold War was over. By the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the DOE had acknowledged that its nuclear weapons production mission had ended and that its primary task was to clean up its facilities. This shift has enabled more openness from DOE, a significant change of policy for the agency. Increased public access to information, ironically, increased general mis-trust of the agency, as evidence mounted that the DOE had been hiding problems for decades.


Radioative waste is not a single "thing" that can be isolated and dealt with with a magic bullet. Rather, radioactive waste management involves numerous physical, political, and cultural factors in a dynamic, ongoing process. Perhaps the most important player in the radioactive waste process is the Department of Energy. The DOE is in the midst of a transition from an agency concerned with the production of nuclear weapons to one whose goal is to clean up after five decades of production. The bureaucratic and technological problems involved in this transition are each severe, and will have major impacts on radioactive waste management in the United States.

Readings for this lesson:

Susan Fallows Tierney, "The Nuclear Waste Disposal Controversy," in Dorothy Nelkin, ed., Controversy (Second Edition). Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1984: 91-110.

Andrew C. Kadak, "An Intergenerational Approach to High-Level Waste Disposal." Nuclear News (July, 1997): 49-51.

Adri de la Bruheze, "Closing Ranks: Definition and Stabilization of Radioactive Wastes in the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1945-1960," in Weibe Bijker and John Law, eds., Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992: 140-174.

Matthew Wald, "Caught Between the Risks of Haste and Hesitation." The New York Times, September 29, 1997.

Matthew Wald, "Admitting Error at a Weapons Plant." The New York Times, March 23, 1998.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The latest oil drum nuclear debate

The greens are getting trounced in the latest Oil Drum debate about nuclear power.

The Darmstadt Manifesto

Darmstadt Manifesto on the Exploitation of Wind Energy in Germany


With great anxiety many citizens in our country are observing the progressive destruction of the countryside and the cultural-historically grown phenotype in the environs of towns and villages through the constantly increasing number of wind turbines. In addition, there are unacceptable worries for human beings as well as a heavy depreciation of immovables and a danger to the animal world.

With the exploitation of the wind energy a technology is being promoted which is completely insignificant for the power supply, the preservation of natural resources, and the protection of the climate. The public promotion funds could be far better spent on the increase in efficiency of the power stations, on the economical consumption of power, and on the scientific basic research in the field of energy.

We demand that all direct and indirect subsidies should be withdrawn from the wind energy technology. As we may not any longer pass this disastrous development over in silence, we wish to make a public appearance with the Darmstadt Manifesto on the Exploitation of Wind Energy in Germany and are first of all addressing politicians, upholders of civilization, conservationists’ organizations, and media. The steadily growing list of the signers already includes over a hundred professors and authors. This manifesto was presented at a press conference at the Bonn press club on September 1st, 1998. We should appreciate your understanding and your support.

Sincerely yours,
Prof. Dr. Lothar Hoischen

Darmstadt Manifesto on the Exploitation of Wind Energy in Germany

Our country is on the point of losing a precious asset. The expansion of the industrial exploitation of wind energy has developed such a driving force in just a few years that there is now great cause for concern. A type of technology is being promoted before its effectiveness and its consequences have been properly assessed. The industrial transformation of cultural landscapes which have evolved over centuries and even of whole regions is being allowed. Ecologically and economically useless wind generators, some of which are as high as 120 metres and can be seen from many kilometres away, are not only destroying the characteristic landscape of our most valuable countryside and holiday areas, but are also having an equally radical alienating effect on the historical appearance of our towns and villages which until recently had churches, palaces and castles as their outstanding features to give them character in a densely populated landscape. More and more people are subjected to living unbearably close to machines of oppressive dimensions. Young people are growing up into a world in which natural landscapes are breaking up into tragic remnants.

The oil crisis in the 1970s made everyone very aware of the extent to which industrial societies are dependent on a guaranteed supply of energy. For the first time the general public became aware of the fact that the earth's fossil fuel resources are limited and could be exhausted in the not too distant future if they continue to be consumed without restraint. In addition arose the recognition of the damage which was caused to the environment by the production and consumption of energy. The loss of trees due to pollution, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, the legacy of constantly accumulating pile of nuclear waste, the risks of a climatic catastrophe as a consequence of carbon dioxide emissions have all established themselves in the public consciousness as examples of the growing potential threat.

The real problem of population growth and above all the resultant phenomenon of escalating land use and consumption of drinking water supplies is however being pushed aside and being considered instead as a marginal phenomenon. With few exceptions it is not subject of any political action. On the contrary, the public interest is becoming even more limited, focusing less on energy consumption as a whole and concentrating its fears and criticisms predominantly on the generation of electricity.

Admittedly, nuclear risks do doubtless exist here. However, electrical energy plays more of a minor role in the balance sheet of energy sources. In Germany three quarters of the energy consumed consist of oil and gas. But it is precisely these energy sources whose resources will be exhausted the soonest. If it were really a matter of concern with regard to future generations, immediate, decisive action to protect supplies of oil and natural gas would be imperative. Instead petrol consumption continues unchanged, and the idea that we are living nothing for our great-grandchildren is dispelled with the vague presumption that there will one day be substitutes for fossil fuels. On the other hand, hard coal and brown coal, which are the main primary sources of electrical energy, are available in such abundance world-wide, and in many cases in deposits which are as yet unexploited, that electricity production is guaranteed, even with growing consumption, for centuries, possibly even for a period of over a thousands years. With regard to the exhaustion of energy sources of fossil fuels the development of electricity production using wind bypasses the problem.

Although Germany has taken the lead in the expansion of wind energy use, it has not been possible to date to replace one single nuclear or coal-fired power station. Even if Germany continues to push ahead with the expansion, it will still not be possible in the future. The electricity produced by wind power is not constant because it is dependent on meteorological conditions, but electricity supplies need to be in line with consumption at all times. For this reason wind energy cannot be used to any significant degree as a substitute for conventional power station capacities.

Insufficient attention is also being paid to pollutant levels. Whereas until a few years ago it was chiefly the coal-fired power stations' sulphur dioxide emissions due to poor filtering which caused problems, it is now mainly road traffic which is polluting the forests' ecosystems with nitrogen oxides and nitrous oxide. Added to which, the effectiveness of power stations is improving with technological progress and as a result the level of pollutants given off per unit of energy is decreasing. The latter is also true of carbon dioxide emissions, with the result that electricity production in Germany is today responsible for only a fifth of the greenhouse gases emitted.

The energy capacity of wind is comparatively low. Modern wind turbines with rotor surface areas the size of a football field make only tiny fractions of the energy that is produced by conventional power stations. So with more than five thousand wind turbines in Germany less than one per cent of the electricity needed is produced, or only slightly more than one thousandth of the total energy produced. The pollutant figures are similar for the same reason. The contribution made (by the use of) wind energy to avoid greenhouse gases is somewhere between one and two thousandths. Wind energy is therefore of no significance whatever both in the statistics for energy and in those for pollutants and greenhouse gases.

At the same time we must take into account the fact that economic growth always involves, to a greater or lesser extent, an increasing energy requirement - despite all the efforts made by technology towards greater efficiency in the transformation and consumption of energy. This means that because it makes such a small contribution to the statistics, wind energy is running a race which is already lost in an economic order orientated towards growth: At present total energy consumption in Germany is growing about seventy times (!) faster than the production potential of wind energy.

The negative effects of wind energy use are as much underestimated as its contribution to the statistics is overestimated. Falling property values reflect the perceived deterioration in quality of life - not just in areas close to the turbines, but even all over Schleswig-Holstein. More and more people describe their lives as unbearable when they are directly exposed to the acoustic and optical effects of wind farms. There are reports of people being signed off sick and unfit for work, there is a growing number of complaints about symptoms such as pulse irregularities and states of anxiety, which are known from the effects of infrasound (sound of frequencies below the normal audible limit). The animal world is also suffering at the hands of this technology. On the North Sea and Baltic coasts birds are being driven away from their breeding, roosting and feeding grounds. These displacement effects are being increasingly observed inland, too.

From the point of view of the national economy the development of wind energy is far from being the "success story" it is often claimed to be. On the contrary, it puts a strain on the economy as it is still unprofitable with a low energy yield on the one hand and high investment costs on the other. And yet, as a result of the legal framework conditions which have been set, private and public capital is being invested on a large scale - capital which is at least unavailable for important environmental protection measures, but also ties up purchasing power. This in turn leads to job losses in other areas. The only way in which the investors can realise their exceptionally high returns is by means of the level of payment for electricity produced by wind which has been determined by law, and which is several times its actual market value, and by taxation depreciation.

For more than twenty years now German politicians have been under pressure to react to urgent problems concerning the environment and preventative measures, and have been promoting a seriously erroneous evaluation of wind energy. This has allowed the use of wind energy to become established in the view of public opinion as some sort of total solution which supposedly makes a decisive contribution towards a clean environment and a guaranteed supply of energy for the future, and also towards the aversion of a climatic catastrophe and the avoidance of nuclear dangers. This false picture raises hopes and results in a general acceptance of the use of wind energy which is strengthened further by the fact that people are not expected to make any savings.

The negative effects of the wind energy industry in our densely populated country are suppressed, scientific knowledge is ignored and there is a taboo on criticism. Only a few people are willing to break away from these political and social trends. After fighting for decades with great commitment for the preservation of our countryside the majority of the large organisations for the protection of nature now stand idly by watching its destruction.

Together with groups of thoughtless operators, a policy orientated towards short term success was able to clear the way in the following manner: as a result of amendments to planning law and the law on nature conservation, our countryside is almost unprotected against the exploitation of wind energy and is therefore left at the mercy of material exploitation by capital investment. At the same time the people who are directly exposed to this technology which is hostile to man have to a large extent been deprived of their constitutionally guaranteed right to a say in the matter of the shaping of the environment in which they live.

As all efforts to influence those with political responsibilities have been without success, the signatories of this manifesto see no other solution but to make their concerns public. In view of the serious harm threatening our countryside, which has evolved through history and which is the foundation of our cultural identity, we appeal for an end to the expansion of wind power technology which is pointless from both an ecological and an economical point of view.

In particular we are demanding the withdrawal of all direct and indirect subsidies to this technology. Instead public funds should be made available on a larger scale for the development of more efficient technology and for the kind of research into basic principles which is likely to provide real solutions to the problems of producing energy in a way which is environmentally friendly and lasting.

We issue an urgent warning against the uncritical promotion of technology which can in the long term have far-reaching adverse effects on the relationship between man and nature. We are particularly concerned about a change of attitude, which is more difficult to perceive as it is evolving slowly and which gives us less and less ability to recognise how important it is for man to live in an environment which is predominantly characterised by nature.

List of Signatories:

Prof. Udo ACKERMANN (Design)
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Karl ALEWELL (Economics)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Rudolf ALLMANN (Mineralogy)
Prof. Wilhelm ANSER (Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. Clemens ARKENSTETTE (Biology, Agricultural Science, Physiology)
Dr. aed. Joachim ARLT (Science of Art, Landscape Aesthetics)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Benno ARTMANN (Mathematics)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Eckhard BARTSCH (Geodesy, Landmanagement)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Bruno BENTHIEN (Geography)
Dr. jur. Manfred BERNHARDT (District President)
Prof. Dr. jur. h.c. Karl August BETTERMANN (Jurisprudence)
Prof. Dr. agr. Dr. agr. h.c. mult. Eduard von BOGUSLAWSKI (Agronomy)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Reinhard BRANDT (Physical Chemistry)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Günter BRAUNSS (Mathematics)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan BRITZ (Mechanical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. Dr. phil. Harald BROST (Institute of Colour, Light and Space)
Prof. Dr. med. Joachim BRUCH (Industrial Medicine)
Günter de BRUYN (Writer)
Prof. Dr. phil. Dr. h.c. Hans-Günter BUCHHOLZ (Archeology)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Karl Heinz CLEMENS (Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. phil. Dietrich DENECKE (Geoscience)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Dietrich von DENFFER (Botany)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Frank DÖRRSCHEIDT (Automatic Control, Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang DONSBACH (Science of Communication)
Prof. Thomas DUTTENHOEFER (Design)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rudolf ENGELHORN (Energy and Thermodynamic Science)
Dr. techn. Hans ERNST (Electrical Engineering, National Economy)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Horst ETTL (Mechanical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. Hermann FINK (English Philology, American Philology)
Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim FITTING (Physics)
Prof. Dr. med. Marianne FRITSCH (Internal Medicine, Rehabilitation)
Dr. Gertrud FUSSENEGGER (Writer)
Prof. Hans Jürgen GERHARDT (Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Gerhard GERLICH (Physics)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernhard von GERSDORFF (Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Ph.D. H. S. Robert GLASER (Biology)
Prof. Dr. Gerhard GÖHLER (Political Science)
Dietmar GRIESER (Writer)
Prof. Dr. theol. Hubertus HALBFAS (Religion)
Prof. Christa-Maria HARTMANN (Academy of Music and Theatre)
Prof. Dr. Erwin HARTMANN (Physics, Medical Optics)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Jürgen HASSE (Geography)
Dr. rer.nat. Günter HAUNGS (Technique of Precision Measurement)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Horst HENNERICI (Mechanical Engineering)
Prof. Ulrich HIRT (Mechatronics)
Prof. Wolfgang HOFFMANN (Economical Information)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Lothar HOISCHEN (Mathematics)
Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer.nat. Hans HOMPESCH (Hygiene, Micro-Biology, Pathology)
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Rudolf HOPPE (Inorganic Chemistry)
Prof. Dr. Peter KÄFERSTEIN (Thermodynamic Science, Energy Economics)
Prof. Dr. Dipl. Phys. Günther KÄMPF (Physics)
Prof. Dr. phil. Thomas KÖVES-ZULAUF (Archeology)
Dr. Christoph KONRAD (MdEP - Member of European Parliament)
Prof. Erhard Ernst KORKISCH (Area Planning, Landscape Architecture)
Prof. Dr. Dietrich KÜHLKE (Physics)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bert KÜPPERS (Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Josef LEITENBAUER (Mining Academy)
Prof. Dr. phil. Otto LENDLE (Archeology)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Wilfried LEX (Information Science, Logic)
Prof. Dr. Horst LINDE (Architecture)
Prof. Dr. techn. Wladimir LINZER (Thermodynamic Science)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Jörg LORBERTH (Chemistry)
Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Horst LOTTERMOSER (Mechanical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Manfred LÖWISCH (Industrial Law)
Prof. Uwe MACHENS (Electrical Engineering)
Dr. Heike MARCHAND (Physics)
Prof. Dr. sc.phys. Dr.-Ing. Herbert F. MATARÉ (Physics, Electronics)
Prof. Dr. Krista MERTENS (Science of Rehabilitation)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. MOLLENKAMP (Mechanics of Fluids)
Dr. Dieter MOLZAHN (Physical Chemistry)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Hans MÜLLER von der HAGEN (Chemical Technology)
Prof. Dr. jur. Reinhard MUßGNUG (Jurisprudence)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Kurt NIXDORFF (Mathematics)
Prof. Werner A. NÖFER (Design)
Prof. Dr.rer.nat. Wolfgang NOLTE (Mathematics)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Paul PATZELT (Chemistry)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Siegfried PETER (Technical Chemistry)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Nicolaus PETERS (Zoology)
Prof. Dr. Dr. Hans PFLUG (Applied Geosciences)
Prof. Dr. Thomas RAMI (Physics)
Prof. Dr. med. Ludwig RAUSCH (Human Medicine, Radio Biology, Radiation Protection)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Michael von RENTELN (Mathematics)
Dr. phil. Karl Heinrich REXROTH (History)
Prof. Dr. Hans Erich RIEDEL (Physics)
Prof. Wilhelm RUCKDESCHEL (Mechanical Engineering)
Dr. med. Rolf SAMMECK (NeuroAnatomy)
Dr. phil. Monika SAMMECK (Psychology)
Prof. Dr. Hans SCHNEIDER (Jurisprudence)
Prof. Dr. Helmut SCHRÖCKE (Geosciences)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Herbert SCHULZ (Electrical Engineering)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Kurt STAGUHN (Art Paedagogy)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus STEINBRÜCK (Mechanical Engineering)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rudolf STEINER (Technical Chemistry)
Dr. h.c. Horst STERN (Television Journalist, Ecologist)
Botho STRAUß (Writer)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Günter STRÜBEL (Geosciences)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred THESENVITZ (Mechanical Engineering)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Josef WEIGL (Botany)
Prof. Dr. med. Hans-Jobst WELLENSIEK (Medicine, Micro-Biology)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Herbert WILHELMI (Thermodynamic Science)
Prof. Dr. phil. Walter WIMMEL (Archeology)
Gabriele WOHMANN (Writer)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Jürgen WOLFRUM (Physics)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Otfried WOLFRUM (Geodesy)
Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Peter ZAHN (Mathematics)

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Molten Salt Reactor Building


Storm van Leeuwen

Comment: anonymous said...
Aside from your usual dose of ad-hominem fallacies, do you have specific information about van Leeuwen's alleged errors?

My Response: I would not classify my argument as ad-hominem. I did not argue that Storm van Leeuwen was wrong because of the facts I laud out, rather I argued that his background did not qualify him to be an authority on nuclear power. The fallacy is the assumption that Storm van Leeuwen is an authority without carefully examining criticisms of SvL's work.

If you are interested in Storm van Leeuwen's errors I can provide you with some discussions. David Bradish discusses some "Storm-Smith" math errors here.

Roberto Dones compared "Storm-Smith" findings on CO2 emissions associated with nuclear power to several studies published in peer reviewed journals. Dones notes, "SvLS guesstimate relatively high to very high energy requirements and hence corresponding CO2 emissions for the electricity of nuclear origin, the highest to be found in the literature circulating in Internet,2 especially when low grade uranium ores are considered. The main explanation for SvLS’ high figures lies in their extreme assumptions (often rough guesses, as the authors admit themselves) and partially flawed methodology."

Dones, whose paper is published under the letterhead of the Paul Scherrer Institute, like other critics argues that "Storm-Smith" cherry pick data: "the authors do not critically address their own evaluation in view of findings from those studies. Instead, they extract worst data from just one presentation (Orita 1995: Preliminary Assessment on Nuclear Fuel cycle and Energy Consumption), which is a highly incomplete survey, was never reviewed, nor it reports the used sources. ISA (2006, #35) discard figures reported in Orita (1995) on mining as “outliers”. . . SvLS qualify the data presented at that meeting as oversimplified and incomplete as if this were representing the whole of studies on the nuclear chain. Incidentally, several studies whose intermediate results were presented at the IAEA had and have been published in reports and journal papers and are acknowledged as reference LCA studies."

Dones points to methodological errors:
"SvLS (2005) often convert costs into energetic terms using generic factors, not reported in the text, lacking critical consideration of cost components, and lacking use of technical match to compare with real energy expenditures."

"SvLS (2005) add thermal to electric energy directly to give “total energy”, which is certainly not recommended practice."

"SvLS do not provide explicitly conversion factor(s) PJe or PJth to CO2 mass."

Dones also notes, "SvLS (2005) comparison of CO2 emission from nuclear with natural gas is not consistent.." and "SvLS (2005) use references that are likely to be outdated."

Dones also states, "SvLS (2005) is not accounting for mine industry practices." Dones, as well as other critics reports, SvLS (2005) pay no consideration of co-production of minerals as common practice for economically viable mining and milling (processing) of the ore especially in case of low grades. If co-production or by-production occurs, the energy expenditures shall be allocated to the different products according to the specific needs, accurately analyzing (to the extent possible) the complete process flow."

Dones then points to "Storm-Smith's" notorious Olympic Dam mine error:

"[A]s reported in (ISA 2006), in the Olympic Dam mine, where uranium is extracted as
a byproduct of copper, “most energy requirements would have been attributable to the recovered copper” under consideration of energy allocation to different products by process flow analysis.  ISA (2006) reports the results of Olympic Dam’s own calculations based on such energy allocation, obtaining 0.012 GJ of energy to uranium “for every tonne of ore that we process in its entirety (from mining through to final product)”. This would correspond to 0.012/0.7/0.85/0.82 = 0.024 GJ/kgU for U-grade of 0.07% (proved ore reserves), or 0.041 GJ/kgU for 0.04% U-grade (total resources).9 Application of the formula in (SvLS 2005, Chapter 2, #5) would give for 0.07%  grade the energy intensity of 4.4 GJ/kgU and 10.6 GJ/kgU, respectively for soft and hard ores, while with 0.04% the energy intensity would be 8.2 GJ/kgU and 19.5 GJ/kgU, respectively for soft and hard ores: i.e., SvLS formula would calculate two to three orders of magnitude higher values than this specific case

Dones argues, "SvLS (2005) systematically overestimates energy expenditures, thus the associated GHG."

Rather than continue a summation of Dones devastating critique of "Storm-Smith", I suggest that you read the whole thing.

Martin Sevior's well known critique of Storm-Smith together with the debated between Sevior and "Storm-Smith" are to be found here with links. Savior's arguments are presented along with an extensive discussion, are presented on The Oil Drum here, and here.

Critics of nuclear power continuously miss represent "Storm-Smith's" authority. For example, David Thorpe, in the Guardian's "Comments are Free" blog, claimed "extensively peer-reviewed empirical analysis of the energy intensity and carbon emissions at each stage of the nuclear cycle has produced much higher figures. In fact, nuclear power produces roughly one quarter to one third as much carbon dioxide as the delivery of the same quantity of electricity from natural gas, ie 88-134g CO2/kWh." In fact Thorpe did not supply a link to any peer reviewed study. Indeed Thorpe provided a link to the Storm-Smith web page. None of the "Storm-Smith" studies were ever published in reputable, peer reviewed journals, so Thore is clearly either ignorant or dishonest.

Other common misrepresentations of Storm van Leeuwen's authority are the titles Professor and Doctor which are used with his name. To point out that SvL does not qualify for either title is surely not an ad-hominem fallacies.  It is simply a counter to common misrepresentation of SvL's credentials.   The fallacy then is the overblowing and misrepresentation of SvL authority, by people who for ideological purposes, use SvL's alleged authority to hid the flawed nature of his work.  

Sunday, March 23, 2008

David Fleming and Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen

David Fleming argues in his booklet, "The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy: A Life-Cycle in Trouble," that the era of nuclear energy is over.

Fleming argues that "The world’s endowment of uranium ore is now so depleted that the
nuclear industry will never, from its own resources, be able to generate the energy it needs to clear up its own backlog of waste." I have previously demonstrated in Nuclear Green that it is not the case that we have exhausted the world's uranium resources, and indeed given current technology, it is possible to extract abundant amounts of uranium for a period of time that would extend many tens of thousands of years into the future. Thorium is three to four times abundant as uranium, and through nuclear alchemy, thorium can be converted into U233. I have discussed David Fleming's numerous errors in his discussion of thorium. Fleming, however, committed numerous other errors in his pamphlet.

A review of Fleming's booklet reveals that he relies on one source for his information, that is the work of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and the late Dr. Philip Smith. Fleming acknowledges that before he wrote his booklet, he had a consultation with Storm van Leeuwen that lasted many months, and he mentions Storm van Leeuwen 86 times in his 50 page booklet.

Fleming argues that: “Back-end” energy – the energy needed to clear up all the wastes produced at each stage of the front-end processes, including the disposal of old reactors – is of two kinds: (1) the energy needed to dispose of the new waste – that is, the waste produced in the future, and (2) the energy needed to dispose of the whole backlog which has accumulated since the nuclear industry started-up in the 1950s. Back-end energy is the combined total of both of these.

Thus according to Fleming if the industry really had 60 years’ supply of uranium left for its use, it would only have some fifteen years left before the decisive moment; from that turning-point, its entire net output of energy would have to be used for the essential task of getting rid of its
stockpile of wastes, plus the wastes produced in the future.

How does he know this is true? Fleming gives us a footnote:
"Oxford Research Group (2006a); and Storm van Leeuwen (2006B), and (2006E).
SVL, Parts C2, C4. " In case you are wondering Storm van Leeuwen is listed as the source of the Oxford Research Group's findings by Fleming himself.  The title "the Oxford Research Group," itself is something of a misnomer, since none of the listed authors appears to have any connection with Oxford.     

Thus Fleming placed a great deal of reliance on Storm van Leeuwen authority. It is clearly questionable if Storm van Leeuwen, can be uncritically relied on in matters involving such broad judgements. He is not a nuclear scientist or a resource economist, indeed it is not clear if Storm Van Leeuwen has ever published a paper in a peer reviewed journal. He is listed as a Senior Scientist, Ceedata Consultancy, Chaam, Netherlands. A search for Storm Van Leeuwen uncovered the following information:

"Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, M.Sc., was born in Indonesia in 1941. He attended gymnasium (high school) in Utrecht. After graduation he served in the armed forces for two years. He then studied chemistry and physics at the University of Utrecht, B.S. He took his degree of M.Sc. at the Technical University Eindhoven in chemical technology (catalysis) in 1971. During the US exhibition 'Atoms at Work' in Utrecht in 1966, he was reactor assistant, with great interest in nuclear sciences."

"After completing his study, he chose a mixed occupation as a part-time teacher of chemistry and physics at a high school (A-level) and as a free-lance investigator. He has more than 30 years of experience in technology assessment. The main fields of his expertise are chemistry and energy systems (solar, fossil and nuclear), with related ecological aspects. The profile of his consulting work is making complex systems transparent and to make relevant data accessible to policy makers. During the years 1981-1982 he was a senior consultant of the Centre for Energy Conservation (CE), Delft, as member of a team working on the development of an innovative social-economic scenario and to assess all aspects of large-scale implementation of nuclear power. His technology-assessment studies of nuclear power started at the CE in 1978 and continued until 1987. During the last few years, these studies have become topical again, since the nuclear industry began claiming a practically zero emission of CO2. "

Another biography adds:

"Storm prepared, in collaboration with other experts, two reports on nuclear energy on in-vitation of the Dutch government, published in 1982 and 1987 respectively. During that pe-riod Storm was a senior consultant at the Centre for Energy Conservation and Sustainable Technology (CE) at Delft, and member of a team working on the development of an innovative social-economic scenario. In collaboration with Prof. Philip Smith he assessed all aspects of large scale implementation of nuclear power, including the forgotten ones. The CE scenario had a significant effect on the Dutch energy policy during the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1990s the discussion on nuclear power faded into the background. In 2000 the Greens of the European Parliament asked Storm, then independent consultant, to update his report from 1987, and to prepare a background document for the UN Climate Conference COP6 (The Hague, 13-24 November 2000).From 2000 on, again with Philip Smith, Storm van Leeuwen continued the broad and in-depth reassessment of nuclear power. The results were published on the web, to facilitate interaction with the target group: scientists, policy makers and interested individuals. From then on the authors keep in close contact with many scientists all over the world.Storm van Leeuwen is one of the international group of expert reviewers of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC."

Storm van Leeuwen is the secretary of the Dutch Association of the Club of Rome.

Storm Van Leeuwen does appear to come from a distinguished Dutch family. His biography suggests that most of the first four years of his life were probably spent in a Japanese internment camp in Indonesia.  Such early experiences can have a negative impact on the life of a very young child from whom much is expected.  Storm Van Leeuwen's was educated as a chemical engineer who does not appear to have worked as a chemical engineer, and who appears to have struggled to find his place in society. His place appears to be associated with the the Malthusian wing of the European Green movement. The "Storm-Smith" study appears to have been paid for by the anti-nuclear, European Green Lobby.

Thus Fleming rests his argument that back end energy requirements of nuclear power represent such a singular energy demand, that it would consume all of the output of reactors, on the rather slender authority of "Storm-Smith" and in particular on the even more slender authority of Storm Van Leeuwen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Breeding or Conversion?

"the Sure Way, (though most about,) to make Gold, is to know the Causes of the Severall Natures before rehearsed, and the Axiomes concerning the same. For if a man can make a Metall, that hath all these Properties, Let men dispute, whether it be Gold, or no?" - Frances Bacon

I recently stumbled across an internet discussion of the idea of transforming thorium 232 into uranium 233 in a reactor.   The term breeding was used, and this lead to confusion.  Someone mentioned plutonium.  There is a natural linguistic association between the term "breeder reactor" and the word "plutonium".   

The word "breeder" is "breeder reactor" is used metaphorically.  What happens inside reactors is arguably nothing at all like the biological process of reproducing.  Nothing new is produced in the nuclear transformation process, but something is changed.  So not only are the words  "breeding" and "breeder" problematic from the standpoint of associations, they represent a weak metaphor.

A breeder is someone who selects animals for desirable characteristics to reproduce in offspring, and who controls the reproductive process.   But what happens inside reactors is that certain physical processes occur, that lead to the transformation of isotopes of one element into isotopes of another element.   Is there an appropriate name for the transformation process?  The word alchemy comes to mind.  The goal of alchemy was the transformation of elements as understood by the alchemist.  Such a transformation takes place inside a reactor. Thus the term nuclear alchemy would seem appropriate for the nuclear processes that transforms one element into another.  In fact it is quite possible to turn lead to gold inside a reactor.  

Thus the word "alchemy" captures something about the nuclear process that the term breeding misses, but the word is awkward to use in some expressions.  Nuclear alchemy takes place in all reactors.  Describing a reactor designed to produce more new fuel than it burns as an alchemy reactor thus is to say the least confusing.  

Since we are talking about a process that transforms one element into another we could I suppose call the reactor a transformer.  But everyone knows that transformers are toys that change from one thing into another.  How about a changer?   I don't think so.  That leaves with converter.

Former Presidential science advisor, John (Jack) H. Gibbons uses the term converter to describe a reactor that produces hydrogen, but the term converter could also be used for a reactor that transforms thorium 232 into uranium 233.   Although the term converter is not without problems, it seems to work better than anything else I have considered.   Of course conversion suggests something religious happens, but we should not speak of conversion, rather we should speak of something magical that happens inside a reactor.  I would say magical in the way the greatest of all alchemists, Francis Bacon used the term, as in "practical magic," that is science.  

The reactor enables us to achieve the goal of the ancient science of alchemy, that is the conversion of atoms of an otherwise useless material, into atoms of a material that is of value.

Thus the term converter reactor would seem the best to use for a reactor which transforms Thorium into nuclear fuel. Nuclear alchemy is the name of the process, and is the name of any process by which elements are transformed as a consequence of controlled nuclear fission.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nuclear Green Current Priorities and Projects Report

I have set the current priority of Nuclear Green is the relaunching of the development of the LFTR/MSR as a high priority United States energy project. This is an ambitious project. I also intend to continue my documentation of my father's career as a scientist, using documents he has given me.  

I am working on a number of projects at the moment, but nothing has reached the point where I am ready for a post. I wrote an email to Jack Gibbons, requesting a virtual interview. Jack was one of my bosses, during my year at ORNL. He went on to become the Science Advisor to Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998. Jack is always very diplomatic, but I would like to tease some candid observations out of him on a number of topics. If I can get Jack to open up, he would undoubtedly have some interesting things to say.

My second project is to compile a list of scientists, living and dead, who have supported or support the LFTR/MSR concept.

My third project will be a comparison of the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor and the LFTR/MSR concepts.

A fourth project will be a further investigation of the current status of research on the potential use of carbon-carbon composites in LFTRs.  This might require another virtual interview.

I intend to continue cross posting on Energy from Thorium since Kirk Sorensen and I have common goals.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview with Ralph Moir: Part I

Introduction: I wrote Dr, Ralph Moir last week, seeking an email interview. Dr. Moit was an extremely distinguished scientist at Lawerence-Livermore Laboratory, and a personal associate of Dr. Edward Teller. Dr. Moir was extremely gracious in answering all of my questions. I jave split the three pasts of the interview into three separate posts. The first questions address Dr. Moir's work with fission/fusion hybred reactors.

On Mar 13, 2008, at 9:49 AM, Charles Barton wrote:

Dear Dr. Moir, There are numerous questions I would like to ask you. This would be of course contingent on your willingness to spend the time required to respond to my questions. I take the view that scientist are people who work on important questions, and their views should be known to a broader public. I have posted a number of my father's public papers along with an account of his career at ORNL on my blog, Nuclear Green. I have also given a considerable focus to the writings and career of Alvin Weinberg. Since you are a senior scientist, your knowledge and experience should be of considerable public interest. If you so choose, I would very much appreciate if you answer some or all of these questions.

During much of your own working career, you worked on the fusion/fission hybrid concept. I have a number of questions in connection with that:

1. Do you still think that concept is viable?

2. What would see as its strengths and weaknesses?
Fusion holds the promise yet to be full filled of providing a supply of neutrons that can be used to produce fissile fuel for fission reactors. Even if fusion cost twice that of fission per unit of thermal power produced, its fuel would be competitive with mined uranium at $200/kg. Fusion will be even more competitive as its cost come down. This produced fuel can be used in fission reactors to completely burn up the fertile fuel supply, that is depleted uranium or thorium. Its weakness is fusion is not here and past slow progress suggests future progress might be slow. Furthermore, we are not assured that fusion's costs will be less than twice that of fission.

That fusion can produce or breed fissile fuel is an advantage and simultaneously any facilities must be guarded against their misuse towards making fissile material for unauthorized explosives.

3. What technical advantages, if any would you see for a fusion/fission hybrid over a conventional molten salt reactor?

A conventional molten salt reactor can produce almost all of its own fuel but needs initial fuel for start up and needs some make up fuel and also some fuel to be used to burnout certain wastes. So the fusion/fission hybrid can be this fuel supplier. In this way the combination of a hybrid fuel supplier and molten salt burners can supply the planets power for many hundreds or even thousands of years at an increased nuclear power level enough to make a big impact in decreasing carbon usage. Such a combination might have one hybrid fusion fission reactor for every fifteen fission reactors.

If a hybrid reactor produces both fuel and power by fissioning this fuel insitu, I am afraid the system will be uneconomical relative to the combination of a fuel producer and separate burner fission reactors and relative to other fission reactors.

4. In what timeframe might we expect to see an technically and economically viable product?

So far fusion concepts that are approaching the feasibility stage suffer from being very expensive. Tokamak magnetic fusion and laser fusion facilities are very expensive making "productizing" uneconomical based on our present state of the art. The next tokamak called ITER might be built and tested in 15 years and with advances the projected costs in a follow-on might be low enough that a product or viable product can come out after another 15 years or 30 years from now.

The laser fusion facilities are also too expensive but with advances in the next five years a follow on set of facilities might be an economical product in another 15 years or 20 years from now. A key to progress in fusion is getting better performance in smaller lower cost facilities.

Ralph Moir Interview: Part II

Ralph Moir's Post-retirement Interest in the Molten Salt Reactor

After your retirement you seem to have shifted your focus from fusion/fission hybrids toward more conventional molten salt reactors. In addition to the paper you wrote with Edward Teller, you appear to have some involvement with the Fuji Molten Salt Reactor Project.
1. Can you tell us why you shifted your interest from fission/fusion hybrids to more conventional Molten Salt Reactors?

My job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory involved studying and designing fusion/fission hybrid reactors. I lead the effort of many terrific researchers including those at other labs: ORNL, ANL, INL, PPPL and industries: Westinghouse, GE, GA, Bectel. During this time I became increasingly more familiar with all the fission reactor concepts. My favorite technology for fuel production was the use of molten salt pumped through the blanket surrounding the fusion reactor.

My favorite fission reactor was the molten salt reactor whose program was terminated in the 1970s. While others were forgetting about the molten salt reactor I became more interested but this was not a part of my job. After retiring from full time work in 2000 I increased my effort on the molten salt reactor.

2. Why do you think that the Molten Salt Reactor is important?

It holds the promise of being more economical than our present reactors while using less fuel. I published a paper on this topical that the ORNL people did not feel they could publish. It can come in small sizes without as much of a penalty as is usually the case and can be in large sizes. It can burn thorium thereby getting away from so much buildup of plutonium and higher actinides.

3. What is your relationship to the Fuji Molten Salt Reactor project?

I became familiar with this effort and its leader Professor Furukawa in about 1980 and appreciate his carrying on the ORNL work after they stopped. He has been a friend and colleague ever since.

4. What project is that project making?

The next step in molten salt reactor development should be the construction and operation of a small <10 MWe reactor based largely on the MSRE that operated at ORNL at about & MWth but without electricity production. The FUJI project has not gotten funding and is making no progress other than a paper here and there on some particular aspect.

5. Do you believe that a crash development of the Molten Salt Reactor concept is warranted?

Yes, that is in fact the conclusion of the paper Teller and I wrote. Surprisingly the cost of a crash program is not so great, less than $1B but its progress could be rapid owing to the feasibility proven by the work at ORNL so long ago on MSRE.

6. What is your opinion of the use of carbon-carbon composites in Molten Salt Reactors?

I am impressed by the ideas for use of carbon-carbon composites for high temperature heat exchangers and maybe piping and vessels. If metals are not used in the primary system then the temperature could jump from the 700°C of MSRE to 1000 °C by use of carbon-carbon composites. This development could be rapid by building on the work taking place in industry today.

7. What is any techniques would you suggest to counteract the effects of neutron radiation of graphite and carbon-carbon composites?

I am not very knowledgeable on graphite technology and can only assume small incremental improvements in its radiation damage abilities can be expected. However, I am intrigued by the dedicated effort of a number of individuals who are studying ways of eliminating the use of graphite as a moderator in the molten salt reactor. Perhaps carbon-carbon composites might be used as replaceable shields to protect walls from the direct neutron damage or be used to separate two fluids, an old concept at ORNL that was dropped over three decades ago but composites might resurrect it.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet
Get Your Free Web Ring
Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High