Saturday, September 27, 2008

Is opposition to nuclear power progressive?

I cross posted my discussion of Federal subsidies to the nuclear industry on Daily Kos . One of the first responces I received was from "shann" who argued
Facts aside, Nuclear Power generation is not a Progressive cause, it is political poison on this forum. End of story, lets get back to windmills and solar power, they are substantially more popular here.

Note that "shann" tells us that facts do not counts for progressives. What progressive want, shann claims, is windmills and solar power. Progressives, according to shann are identical to Daily Kos readers, who believe such energy forms to be progressive.

There is no substantial case against nuclear power on the political left. The so called liberal or left wing opponents of nuclear power back up their opposition with bumper sticker slogans, misinformation, and out right ignorance.

As a liberal I value truth and reject misinformation and lies. A major purpose of my blogging is to develop fact based and tightly reasoned analyses of issues relating to nuclear power. My review of the charges brought against the use of nuclear reactors has led me to demonstrate that the opposition to nuclear power is largely myth based.

Nuclear opponents charge that nuclear generation of electricity in inherently unsafe. The facts are these, nuclear power in facts represents the safest form of electrical generation. This is true whether safety is measured by the human toll, that is by loss of life and human injury, or by property damage. A new generation of reactors slated to be built during the next decade are far safer than the the currently operating nuclear plants. These reactors rely on the automatic functioning of the laws of nature, rather than the judgement of human operators for safety. Finally Generation IV reactors, currently being researched, represent an even higher level of nuclear safety. The charge that reactors are inherently unsafe is a myth.

Nuclear opponents charge that the problem of nuclear waste cannot be solved. In fact, the same opponents block any attempt to solve the nuclear waste problem. There are several approaches to resolving the issues involved with used reactor fuel. In terms of energy reactor fuel is not spent. Indeed current reactor technology uses less than 1% of energy potential of nuclear fuel. This failure to efficiently use nuclear fuel is the true source of the Nuclear waste problem. Tested technologies exist that will enable a new generation of reactors to extract 100% of the energy from nuclear fuel. These technologies, coupled with efficient recycling of reactor fission products into many existing, industrial, agricultural, medical and sanitary uses, would not only end the problem of nuclear waste, but turn what has previously regarded as "nuclear waste", into a major economic resource.

The energy of so called "spent fuel" can be extracted by processing that fuel in Generation IV reactors. The end of that process would be the production of valuable resources. The progressive attitude thus should be not to reject nuclear power, but to implement it in a form that would produce the maximum social benefit. Thus the Idea that there is any real waste in the nuclear process, and that this waste creates a problem which cannot be solved is thus a myth.

A third myth created by nuclear opponents is that nuclear power is more expensive that renewable sources of energy, and that renewable sources of energy will bring society greater benefits. I have tried to demonstrate this is a myth by identifying the cost of generating facilities, and the relative amount of time they can be expected to produce electricity. From published reports, the cost of new solar electrical generating facilities, are comparable to the cost of nuclear reactors. Further more, the expectation is the cost of both solar and nuclear generating facilities is expected to rise dramatically during the next few years, with the cost of solar facilities rising, if anything, faster than the cost of nuclear. The solar facilities typically produce power 30 to 33% of the time, while nuclear produces power over 90% of the time. Thus a new nuclear plant will produce from three to four and a half times as much electricity during a 24 hour day, as a solar facility for a similar investment.

Windmills currently cost about 1/2 as much per rated unit of output as nuclear plants. However, windmills typically produce between 20% to 40% of their rated output. Thus wind and nuclear facilities that can produce an equivalent amount of electricity over time will carry similar costs. However, windmills requires fossil fuel plant backup, while nuclear plants do not. The fossil fuel backups emit CO2. CO2 emissions can be eliminated by massive energy storage, but any energy storage system would increase the cost of renewables relative to nuclear power. Thus the myth that nuclear is more expensive than renewable energy generating facilities is demonstrably false.

Finally while many of the factors that create cost problems for the renewable energy business are out of its control, significant cost savings would be available to the Civilian nuclear power industry through the adoption of such Generation IV technologies as the Pebble Bed Reactor, and the Liquid Fluiride Thorium Reactor. The LFTR would particularly be able to combine inherent reactor safety, with a high level of fuel efficiency that eliminates the problem of nuclear waste.

A further myth of nuclear opponents is that the civilian nuclear power industry receives heavy government subsidies. In fact it is not as I demonstrated in posts earlier this week. Indeed while the nuclear industry pays 100% of its taxes, the renewable power industry receives massive tax breaks from Federal and state governments.

Nuclear opponents argue incorrectly that we are running out of nuclear fuel. In fact enough nuclear fuel lies in the ground at Lemhi Pass in Idaho, to provide the United States with all of its energy needs for 400 years. A further probable reserve at the same location would provide the country with well over 1000 year more energy. World fuel resources, if well managed, far exceed foreseeable energy uses of nuclear power.

Once the myths of the anti-nuclear movement is exposed, its illiberality is obvious. Far from embracing progress, many anti-nuclear advocates are neo-luddlites. Some actually advocate an abandonment of cities and a return to a pre-industrial way of life. Such an approach is far from being progressive. It is in fact reactionary. Other nuclear critics. while offering less radical schemes still advocate measures that will drastically reduce the energy demands of society. This can be describes as the method of sacrifice, and it does not bring with it the increase in individual and collective human power that progressives seek. Since the end of the middle ages progress in society has been closely linked to an energy based increase in human wealth. That increase has improved the material lot of an increasing number of human beings, and ought to be brought as an opportunity to the all peoples. Benefits have included improvements in the material standards of life, improvements in human health and the human life span, increasing educational levels, increasing human comfort.

The promise of science, envisioned by Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes is increasingly being realized by human society. The single most important key to that promise has been the control of ever more efficient and powerful energy sources by the application of science to energy production. The continued control of such powerful energy sources Nuclear energy offers great power coupled with control is critical to the realization of the goals of progressives.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Energy Subsidies Again

In 1999 the Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) undertook a comprehensive study of Federal energy interventions during that year. EIA undertook a second study in 2007. Remarkably the EIA study foind that no growth in energy consumption had occurred during the previous 8 years.

The 1999 and 2007 EIA studies actually compliment and amend the 2008 MISI study I discussed in my last post. The MISI study did contain a summery of estimated subsidies from all sources for various segments of the Energy Industry from 1950 to 2006, there is no break down by year, except for R&D expenditures. There are discrepancies between the two reports. Thus The EIA found that nuclear R&D expenditures for 1999 to be $740 million, while the MISI estimated the 1999 nuclear R&D subsidy to be only $125 million. The EIA qualifies its R&D budgeting by describing the 1999 funding as being for "applied" R%D. Thus the entire $740 Million is the DOE budget for applied research, and not every research project is directed toward research that would qualify as a subsidy for the "civilian nuclear power industry".

A further breakout of the 1999 DOE expenditures demonstrates some of the issues.
New Nuclear Plants (Nuclear Energy Research Initiative) 36
Waste/Fuel/Safety (Environmental Management) 530
Other Allocated (Termination Costs and Program Direction) 173

Is any of this a real subsidy for the Civilian nuclear industry? The first line would be, but it would it really be a subsidy unless energy utilities got some benefit from it. Thus if the New Energy Research Initiative produces something that actually benefits the nuclear power industry, it is a subsidy. If not it might be considered a dead end science project. The first line looks like a subsidy, however.

The second line, I have argued, cannot be considered a subsidy, In the DOE Budget the term Environmental Management, refers to the cleanup of old Cold War and WWII AEC sites, that were either being shut down, or in the process of being shut down. The cleanup problems were predominately a legacy of military uses of nuclear power. Most of the civilian research programs that were involved in the subsequent cleanup were not involved with LWR research, and hence the cleanup is not a LWR subsidy,

Finally the third line refers to the shut down of a Cold War Era production plant. The facility in question was involved in weapons related work and its clean up thus was not a subsidy for the civilian power industry.

There are a few items mentioned for the year 1999 in the MISI study of nuclear subsides, that do not seem to be subsidies for the nuclear power industry. Other items might be seen as not real subsidies at the present, but possibly they might have a future subsidizing effect. Thus for example, DOe' grants for University Reactor Infrastructure and Education Assistance, benefit the civilian power industry? The answer is probably yes, and in several ways, But it could also benefit research programs that are unrelated to the nuclear power industry. It could also benefit the United States Navy, since the Navy might recruit naval reactor operators from such programs. The program might also be a source of earmark funds, that were far more about local politics, thn serving th interest of the nuclear power industry. Although the issue demonstrates how problematic determining a subsidy is, I would be inclined to think that the $10 million is a subsidy for the civilian power industry, even if it were not intended to be so.

In order to resolve some issues raised by the Energy Information Administration 2007 study of Nuclear Federal energy interventions, I reviewed the 2009 Federal Budget request for nuclear power, in order to identify 2008 appropriations.

In 2008 Congress appropriated for the Nuclear Power 2010 program, $133,771,000
For the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative $114,917.000
The Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative received a 179,353,000

These programs at present cannot be described as nuclear power subsidies, unless or until research leads to a product or concept that benefits the nuclear industry.

In addition to research appropriations, other facilities which might been seen as a subsidy for civilian nuclear power would be the $278,789,000 appropriation for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facilities. However, the MOX Program is part of an ongoing nuclear disarmament/anti-proliferation effort. The long term goal of the MOX program is the lowering of stocks of Plutonium by using it as reactor fuel. The MOX facility is designed to manufacture reactor fuel containing plutonium and uranium. I believe that it would be extremely cynical for supporters of nuclear disarmament to describe a disarmament program as a subsidy to the civilian power industry.

Thus the current Federal budget contains few if any real subsides for the nuclear power Industry. Critics of nuclear power charge that the nuclear industry cannot live without subsidies, My review of the current Federal support roe nuclear power related research suggests that far from being subsidized by the government of the United States, the nuclear power industry is paying money to the Government but not receiving promised services. Relatively small long range DOE funded nuclear research programs have yet to produce any positive benefits for the civilian nuclear power industry, and may not produce any benefits for some time, if ever, Thus it is very inaccurate to speak of the current nuclear industry as being dependent on subsidies.

A note on the meaning of the word "subsidy":
The EIA defines subsidy as"the transfer of wealth from the federal government to the beneficiaries [of the subsidies]". Thus for there to be a subsidy, wealth must leave the government's hands, go directly into the hands of the subsidized. Many functions of government may enhance the wealth of some citizens but not others, and still be a subsidy. Thus a reliable, rational and trustworthy system of civil law may enhance the wealth of the American business community, without its cost constituting a government subsidy of business interests. Government financed collection of information and the creation of knowledge may be financially useful to some businesses, but still is not be seen as a subsidy. What then is a subsidy?

If the government asks a aircraft manufacturer to design and construct an aircraft for military purposes, and the manufacturer subsequently adapts the air craft for civilian purposes, did the government subsidize the manufacturer of the civilian aircraft? Now let us consider a variant of this case. After completing the design of the military aircraft, and its civilian variant, the design team is hired to design another aircraft by another aircraft company. The air craft turns out to be almost an exact copy of the first company's civilian aircraft. Is this a case of government subsidy? Now the design team produces almost exact duplicates of the aircraft design for every aircraft manufacturer that wants one. Is this a gonernment subsidy of the aircraft industry?

It is not always clear that a process in which money leaves government hands and as a consequence money enters the hands of a business is a subsidy. The definition speaks of a transfer, but does not address qualifiers. We can have direct transfers, and indirect transfers. But determining what an indirect transfer is is a real humdinger.

We do have some help from the definition. If the government does not transfer money, it would not seem to be a subsidy. Thus a promise to transfer money under certain circumstances is not a subsidy. If the alleged beneficiary does not receive money as a consequence of the government program, it is not a subsidy.

Energy Subsidies

A new study. titled Analysis of Federal Expenditures for Energy Development challenges the assertion that nuclear power receives large subsidies from the Federal Government. The study, by About Management Information Services, Inc. ( MISI), demonstrates that much of that the Federal investment in nuclear research included a broad spectrum of projects, and was not simply confined to civilian reactor research. MISI has a long history of research of energy and economics issues for the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Energy and others.

MISI looked at Federal energy related expenditures between 1950 and 2006. It demonstrates that Federal spending on Nuclear power research peaked during the 1950's and dropped significantly after. The study finds that among energy sources oil, natural gas, coal, and Hydro-electric generation have received larger federal subsidies than nuclear during the time frame.

A review of MISI data, however, reveals that much of the "Federal research and development subsidy" did not in fact benefit the civilian power industry.  The study also reveals that most of the so called research subsidy to the "nuclear industry", was not focused on conventional power reactor technologies. Only $5.8 billion, was spent on Light Water Reactors, the only civilian nuclear technology used to generate power in the United States. In contrast various research projects related to the breeder reactor received $23.78 Billion and more that $38 Billion dollars were spent on other reactor research projects that were unrelated to the light water reactor. Only Light Water Reactor research benefited the civilian nuclear power Industry, and thus could be considered a subsidy.

Most Federal spending on reactor research occurred before 1975. Between 1998 and 2003 Federal spending on all reactor research was only about 10% of federal Reactor research levels in the 1970's and 1970's research levels were far lower than during the 1950's. Since 1976 over 50% ($14.5 billion) of Federal reactor research expenditures have been devoted to the LMFRB. In contrast, only 6% ($1.68 Billion) of Federal nuclear research dollars since 1976 have been spent on Light Water Reactor research, despite the fact thatr Light Water Reactors provide 20% of power in the United States. Another $3 Billion was spent on reactor waste management research, but most of that money cannot be considered as a subsidy for the Civilian nuclear industry, because that industry continues to manage and store its own waste in temporary local storage facilities at its own own facilities.

Unlike all other energy sources there has never been a tax based subsidy for the nuclear industry. In contrast, renewables as well as oil, gas, and other energy forms receive heavy tax subsidies. Most of the cost of hydro construction is paid for by the Federal government with no return to the tax payers. Most energy forms have received more money from the Federal Government than they have paid to it. The one exception is the civilian nuclear industry, which has paid $14 billion more to the Government that it has received. The imbalance came about because the Federal Government has failed to provide waste management services to the nuclear industry, which nuclear plants owners are paying for. Thus fat from receiving subsidy from the Federal Government, the civilian nuclear industry has in fact subsidized the Federal Government, and the net value of that subsidy is far greater than the value of all of the benefits that the civilian power industry has received through the Federal Government. If we subtract the $5.8 of R & D expenditures on Light Water Reactors paid by the Federal Government, we find that the Civilian Power Reactor Industry has given the government a net subsidy of $8.2 Billion. In addition unlike other energy technologies including renewables, the civilian nuclear power industry pays 100% of its tax obligations.

Payments into the the nuclear waste fund, have not had their value adjusted for inflation, nor is interest paid on the fund's balance. The inflation adjusted value of the of the fund, the value of the
interest on the fund the fund and the value of future contributions on the fund, makes the nuclear electrical industries contribution much bigger than is stated by nuclear critics. Add to this the fact that the Federal government is obliged to pay for the one third of the storage at Yucca Mountain that is used for nuclear waste from government facilities, and the supposed government subsidy disappears.
A note on Price-Anderson: Critics of nuclear power consider the Price-Anderson Act to be subsidy. This is a conceptual error. In fact the primary function of the Price-Anderson Act is to create a form of self-insurance for the civilian nuclear power Industry. Under Price-Anderson, the primary insurance obligation falls on the reactor owner. Reactor owners must obtain the largest accident insurance protection available on the insurance market. Beyond that all reactor owners have a joint obligation to pay at least $9.5 Billion into a compensation pool, in the event of a large accident. It is possible that the Federal government could impose an even larger obligation on reactor owners. Only in the event of a larger payout would the Federal Government be under any obligation. Since Government has never paid a cent in accident compensation, and and given the safety features of Light Water Reactors, it is virtually impossible that the Government every will pay out a cent under the Price-Anderson Act, and pays no insurance premium, the Price Anderson Act ought to be considered a potential subsidy, rather than an actual subsidy. The value of Price-Anderson cannot be determined, since it is very unlikely that any compensation will every be paid out by the government under Price-Anderson. In the absence of a Government payout, the Price-Anderson acts that the primary obligation for all claims payments up to $10 Billion rests with the Nuclear Industry.

We ought to compare the Nuclear Industry's obligation under the Price Anderson Act with the insurance of the hydro electric industry. Serious accidents involving large scale damage to property and loss of human life are far more likely with hydro electric dams than a catastrophic failure of a a nuclear plant. Typically nuclear plants have highly redundant safety systems, and place at least 5 levels of protection between radioisotopes trapped in nuclear fuel, and the civilian population. In contrast, dames typically have only one layer of defense between impounded waters and down stream populations and property. The failure of a dangerous dam like the Cedar Creek Dam on the Cumberland could kills thousands of people, and cause billions of dollars in damage. There is no Price-Anderson Act for the hydro-electric industry, perhaps because the Federal Government owns most of the dams.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Ultimate Distributive Generator

Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins has long advocated distributive electrical generation. There is an extensive discussion of the distributive generation concept in the book "Small is Profitable" parts of which are available in electronic form at the web site. Among the materials found on the "" is a list of 207 Benefits of Distributed Resources. One could go down the list of benefits, and with the exception of benefits that name or apply to renewable generating sources, much of the list would apply to small factory manufactured Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors.

The first ten items on the list will be sufficient to demonstrate how well the benefits of LFTR tracks with the benefits of distributive generation:
1 Distributed resources' generally shorter construction period leaves less time for reality to diverge from expectations, thus reducing the probability and hence the financial risk of under- or overbuilding.

2 Distributed resources' smaller unit size also reduces the consequences of such divergence and hence reduces its financial risk.

3 The frequent correlation between distributed resources' shorter lead time and smaller unit size can create a multiplicative, not merely an additive, risk reduction.

4 Shorter lead time further reduces forecasting errors and associated financial risks by reducing errors' amplification with the passage of time.

5 Even if short-lead-time units have lower thermal efficiency, their lower capital and interest costs can often offset the excess carrying charges on idle centralized capacity whose better thermal efficiency is more than offset by high capital cost.

6 Smaller, faster modules can be built on a "pay-as-you-go" basis with less financial strain, reducing the builder's financial risk and hence cost of capital.

7 Centralized capacity additions overshoot demand (absent gross underforecasting or exactly predictable step-function increments of demand) because their inherent "lumpiness" leaves substantial increments of capacity idle until demand can "grow into it." In contrast, smaller units can more exactly match gradual changes in demand without building unnecessary slack capacity ("build-as-you-need"), so their capacity additions are employed incrementally and immediately.

8 Smaller, more modular capacity not only ties up less idle capital (#7), but also does so for a shorter time (because the demand can "grow into" the added capacity sooner), thus reducing the cost of capital per unit of revenue.

9 If distributed resources are becoming cheaper with time, as most are, their small units and short lead times permit those cost reductions to be almost fully captured. This is the inverse of #8: revenue increases there, and cost reductions here, are captured incrementally and immediately by following the demand or cost curves nearly exactly.

10 Using short-lead-time plants reduces the risk of a "death spiral" of rising tariffs and stagnating demand.
Every item on this shortened list would apply to small factory manufactured LFTRs. Thus such LFTR would seem to fit welll into a broad definition of distributive generation. Indeed a strong case can be made, that the small LFTR is an ideal candidate for distributive generator, and that candidates propsed by the RMI carry significant liabilities and limitations. This view directly contradicts the view of the RMI which holds. The RMI favors "Micropower", that is the use of very small decentralized units, but David Bradish has pointed out several problems with this construct in RMI literature. Bradish found that "the largest non-nuclear source of electricity . . . is decentralized generation . . ." Which RMI literature describes as “Non-Biomass Decentralized Co-Generation.” Here my focus diverges from Bradish, who argued that for diverging and conflicting RMI definitions of "Micropower".

My purpose is served by noting that the RMI institute appears by referring to Non-Biomass Co-Generation to be endorsing fossil fuel energy generation, how-be-it in more efficient, decentralized forms. Elsewhere the RMI refers to "Micropower" co-generation as including "turbines and generators in factories or buildings (usually cogenerating useful heat)". As the RMI admits, "Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and building-scale cogeneration typically burn natural gas, which does emit carbon (though half as much as coal). so they displace somewhat less net carbon than nuclear power could: around 0.7 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.(7)"

This is a truly astonishing claim and we ought to expect hard data to back it up. Instead we read in footnote 7 the following words: "7. Since its recovered heat displaces boiler fuel, cogeneration displaces more carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour than a large gas-ï¬ï¿½ red power plant does". That is it, no data at all for what must be seen as an astonishing and highly questionable assertion. But RMI does offer a further argument,
Even though cogeneration displaces less carbon than nuclear does per kilowatt-hour, it displaces more carbon than nuclear does per dollar spent on delivered electricity, because it costs far less. With a net delivered cost per kilowatthour approximately half of nuclear’s, cogeneration delivers twice as many kilowatt-hours per dollar, and therefore displaces around 1.4 kilograms of CO2 for the same cost as displacing 0.9 kilograms of CO2 with nuclear power.

This analysis would and should not go unchallenged, but I will leave the question for others to address. It is clear that the RMI analysis ignores the role that lower cost, factory built small nuclear generating plants can play in distributive generation.

The RMI wavers between viewing renewable micro-generators as supplements to fossil fuel powered central grid generating stations, or as replacements for them. Thus:
68 Distributed resources such as photovoltaics that are well matched to substation peak load can precool the transfomer—even if peak load lasts longer than peak PV output—thus boosting substation capacity, reducing losses, and extending equipment life.

69 In general, interruptions of renewable energy flows due to weather can be predicted earlier and with higher confidence than interruptions of fossil-fueled or nuclear energy flows due to malfunction or other mishap.
Would tend to suggest that some local electricity would be supplied from the grid. Given the RMI's often stated to nuclear power, that electricity could well come from fossil fuel powered generating facilities. The RMI leaves this ambiguous.

It is not without significance that on the "" site we find these words, "Grants from the Shell Foundation, The Energy Foundation, and The Pew Charitable Trusts partially supported the research, editing, production, and marketing of this publication, and are gratefully acknowledged". Shell Oil which is the source of funding for for the Shell foundation, andShell is very much involved in the natural gas business. Shell, while decrying dirty coal is very much involved in coal gasification technology as an adjunct to power production.

If we accept the RMI's view we are forced to acknowledge that electrical generation will continue to produce CO2 for a long time to come, because the RMI does not have a practical plan to rid the Grid of CO2 emitters, and would only somewhat cut back CO2 emissions. Not only does the RMI fall short of demanding the total replacement of CO2 emitting generation facilities, they actually advocate the continued building of new micro-power, natural gas burning co-generation facilities. This would be a problem to those who think that to the extent possible electricity should be generated with no CO2 emissions.

I have a few other observations about the RMI concept of distributive generation. The RMI counts all renewables as distributive generators, but conditions are emerging in Texas and other states in which most of the features of distributive generation appear to be lacking in renewables projects. For example, a recent report from the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas, looked at new grid requirement imposed by the growing West Texas wind industry. The grid expansion turns out to be quite expensive. The report stated:
The estimated costs, excluding collection costs, of the transmission proposal that best meets the criteria for each are:
Scenario 1, Plan A, 12,053 MW, $2.95 billion
Scenario 1, Plan B, 12,053 MW, $3.78 billion
Scenario 2, 18,456 MW, $4.93 billion
Scenario 3, 24,859 MW, $6.38 billion
Scenario 4, 24,419 MW, $5.75 billion.

ERCOT adds:
The cost of transmission is “uplifted to load;” it is rolled into costs that all ratepayers pay (also known as a “postage-stamp” transmission rate because – like stamps – it’s the same access fee no matter where the location is).

The RMI states:
82 Distributed resources have an exceptionally high grid reliability value if they can be sited at or near the customer's premises, thus risking less "electron haul length" where supply could be interrupted.

83 Distributed resources tend to avoid the high voltages and currents and the complex delivery systems that are conducive to grid failures.

101 Distributed resources (always on the demand side and often on the supply side) can largely or wholly avoid every category of grid costs on the margin by being already at or near the customer and hence requiring no further delivery.
Perhaps you have noticed a contradiction between the attributes of distributive generation as suggested by the RMI and the RMI claim that all renewables belong in the category of distributive generation.  I would argue that large renewable projects, located for maximim access to renewable energy rather than proximity to customers, costing billions of dollars to construct, requiring large scale fossil fuel burning backup, and requiring billions of dollars in grid expansion are not distributive generating facilities.  

I will now turn to the question of how the LFTR can be the Ultimate distributive generator.  First, unlike gas co-generators, LFTRs do not burn fossil fuels.  They can be located close to customers.  LFTRs can perform as co-generators.  They can produce both electricity and heat.  There are distinct environmental advantages to nuclear co-generation.   Air pollution becomes a significant issue when fossil fuels or biomass are burned in co-generation facilities.. In addition to CO2. cogeneration produces NOx.    Diesel powered co-generators may also produce SO2.

In contrast, the LFTR produces no air pollutants and no CO2. Heat from the LFTR can be used both for topping and bottoming cycles. Given the use of exotic materials, LFTT could produce heats of 1000 C, and possibly higher. LFTR technology probably should never be pressed beyond 1200 C but PBR technology might provide higher heat, perhaps up to 1600 C. Waste heat from industrial processes, could be run through boilers, for steam generated electrical production.

Topping cycles could use "waste" heat for water or space heating, for lower temperature industrial processes, or for desalinization. The desalinization option would be especially attractive for aired
areas adjacent to sea coasts.

Canadian Reactor Scientist David LeBlanc has proposed a novel LFTR design using an elongated cylinder core. This design would allow a single reactor design to be built with various heat outputs. The only only change would be to the length of the reactor core. Thus factor assembled trasctors can be built to customer output requirements.

Because their higher operating temperature small LFTRs produce electricity with greater thermal efficiency than LWRs. Their high level of inherent safety, and smaller size open unusual siting options, and their high operating temperature will allow them to produce[ost carbon process heat for many heavy industrial processes. Thus small LFTRs posses considerable promise as co-generators. Single LFTR units can be used to produce power for isolated communities, or be placed in compact urban centers to provide space heat and/or hot water for commercial and residential customers. In addition, small LFTRs in the 100 MWe to 300 MWe range, can be clustered into larger power producing units that can generate the equivalent amount of electricity to a very large nuclear plant. Such a facility would have many of the advantages of distributive generation. Units can be built one at a time, lessening the financial risk imposed by the single huge investment approach imposed by the choice of a single huge reactor. The choice several small reactors decreases the effect of reactor down time on grid operations. The choice of LFTRs would of course eliminate down times for reactor refueling. LFTRs could be sited at the location of old coal and natural gas powered generating plants. The LFTR power output cab be matched to the old plant's, thus allowing for simple reuse of the old plants grid hookuo, without modification.

Thus the RMI should recognize that the LFTR fulfills all distributive generation criteria. They don't because it is a nuclear reactor. Not only does the LFTR fulfill the criteria, but it fulfills them better than any of the generating systems proposed by the RMI. It does not burn fossil fuels or require fossil fuel fired backup. It can produce electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without shutdown for refueling, the onset of night, or changes in the weather. it will be easy to site, will not require dozen of square miles of land to produce electricity, can be cooled with air rather than water. if sea water is chosen for cooling, it can in turn be desalinated. No convention or renewable electrical source can fulfill the distributive generation role better than the LFTR can. The LFTR is thus the ultimate distributive generator.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The LFTR Emulates Natural Systems

The Rocky Mountain Institute advocates using the closed loop sort of materials and energy handling system found in nature:
Using nature as mentor, model, and measure often yields superior design solutions that profitably eliminate waste, loss, and harm.

Natural systems operate in closed loops. There's no waste—every output is either returned harmlessly to the ecosystem as a nutrient, like compost, or becomes an input for another process. In contrast, the standard industrial model of our age is a linear sequence of "take, make, and waste" — extract resources, use them, and throw them away — a process that erodes our stock of natural capital by depleting resources and replacing them with wastes.

Reducing the wasteful throughput of materials — indeed, eliminating the very idea of waste — can be accomplished by redesigning industrial systems on biological lines that change the nature of industrial processes and materials, enabling the constant reuse of materials in continuous closed cycles, and often the elimination of toxicity.

The LFTR had its origin in the desires of the great scientists, Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg to eliminate the wastefulness of early reactors. They saw that in order to eliminate waste from nuclear systems, materials had to flow from one process to another. Most reactors use a structured core with solid fuel that is moved mechanically in and out of the reactor. Nuclear fuel is desiogned only to serve as fuel in a nuclear reactor. It is difficult to repricess. Eugene Wigner was trained as a chemical engineer, and thought in terms of efficient use of materials. And of the efficient transport of chemicals dissolved in, suspended in or bonded to liquids that flowed from process to process, within a chemical plant. Alvin Weinberg was trained in biology as well as in physics. He understood the role of fluid flow in live systems, and how fluids carried materials form one biological process to another. Weinberg also understood the transport of materials between organisms in environmental systems.

Wigner and Weinberg believed that reactors could, in effect, be turned int o closed loop systems in which little would really go to waste. It is impossible, according to the second law of thermodynamics, to design a system in which nothing hoes to waste. But it my be possible to design more efficient systems. Wigner and Weinberg determined that Thorium was a more efficient basis for nuclear fuel than uranium. The efficiency of the thorium fuel cycle rests on something called "neutron economy", that is the efficient use of neutrons produced in a nuclear process.

Neutron are the keys to both chain reactions, and the creation of nuclear fuel inside reactors. The nuclear fuel for thorium cycle reactors is Uranium-233, and U-233 has the best neuton efficiency of any fissionable material. The efficiency of the LFTR rests on its emulation of living organisms. Like living organisms it has a system to produce and distribute energy, a system to rid itself to of unwanted heat and materials, and systems to recapture energy, and the eliminated materials. Recapture of energy can be used for heat in industrial processes including hydrogen production, also for water desalinization, or for space heating, and of course to produce electricity, Recaptured materials can be used in industry, medicine, in food preservation, and in sanitation. Nothing need go to waste.

The LFTR also operates with thermal efficiency. It is capable of operating at a much higher heat than conventional reactors. High temperatures create potential for greater thermal efficiency. In addition, the use of closed cycle gas turbines create the potential for greater generating efficiency. The use of bottom cycle heat for space heating or desalinization, holds promise to further increase thermal efficiency,

The LFTR is efficient in terms of materials use. Some of the essential material used in the LFRT including Thorium are essentially wasted now in existing industrial processes. Other materials like graphite, can be manufactured, and thus are virtually renewable resources. Resources like nickel are rarer than craphite, but their use is LFTR is fully justified because no other energy use for Nickel would bring as high a rate of energy return.

A further efficiency of the LFTR is its capacity efficiency . The LFTR is capable of producing electricity 24 hours a day for extended periods of time. Unlike Light Water Reactors which must be shut down periodically for refueling, new fuel can be added to the LFTR while the reactor is operating. Thus the LFTR can operate continuously at 100% of capacity but need not do so.

The LFTR is demand efficient. Renewable energy systems, like Solar and wind generation produce electricity without any relationship to demand. Windmills generate electricity when moderate winds are blowing, but not in high winds, or on calm days. PV solar output varies with light conditions, while the electrical out put of Concentrated Solar generators is effected by clouds and dust storms. All Solar generation systems produce more electricity over a longer periods of time during the summer than during the winter. Generated output from renewables like solar and wind, cannot be regulated by consumer demand. When renewables produce more electricity than the market demands, excess electricity has to be dumped. This is a significant inefficiency. On other occasions renewable generated electricity is sold on the spot market for at loss. Owner of renewables demand financial subsidies to cover costs during the frequent periods when the selling price of renewable generated electricity is sold at a loss.

In contrast the LFTR can always generate the amount of electricity consumers demand. The temperature of reactor salts rises as load drops, and as salt temperature rises, reactor salt expands, and thus is expelled from the reactor core. The loss of salt and fuel from the core slows and eventually stops the fission process, but the reactor salts continue to draw heat from the radioactive decay of fission products. Thus the salt will remain hot until consumer demnd leads to electrical generation, and the electrical generation process, draws heat from reactor salts, lowering salt temperature, shrinking salt volume, drawing nuclear fuel back into the core, and starting the chain reaction again. This system allows for power to be immediately available from stopped reactors without neutron or fuel loss. Demand efficiency is the ability to respond quickly and automatically to ups and downs in grid electrical demand. Renewables just can't do that, and convintional reactors cost to much to operate at any rate other than 100% of capacity.

Finally the LFTR is time efficient. Unlike renewables the LFTR can produce power at any time. Unlike conventional Light Water Reactors the LFTR does not need to stop producing power during refueling. Because of then LFTRs high level of inherent and passive safety, it is far less likely to experience emergency shutdown than LWRs. This means that 100% of the LFTR capacity will be online virtually 100% of the time. Renewables and conventional nuclear do not match this temporal efficiency.

The LFTR Answers RMI's Objections to Nuclear Power

The Rocky Mountain Institute has identified a number of problems with the system of providing nuclear power through the use of Light Water Reactors. I agree in whole or in part with their assessment of LWRs. However, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor brilliantly all of the problems that the RMI points to. The RMI states:
It's too expensive. Nuclear power has proved much more costly than projected — and more to the point, more costly than most other ways of generating or saving electricity. If utilities and governments are serious about markets, rather than propping up pet technologies at the expense of ratepayers, they should pursue the best buys first.
Not only are LWRs but also renewable generating facilities are extremely expensive. The LFTR creates multiple potentials for cost breakthroughs:

1. Factory construction of small reactors, rather than onsite construction of large reactors.

2. Innovative approaches to reactor siting including reuse of old power plant sites, underground reactor placement, and underwater reactor placement.

3. Labor savings in reactor manufacture and operation.

4. Decreased interest carrying cost by greatly shortening manufacturing time.

5. Decreased facility building requirements.

6. An innovative approach to nuclear fuel that eliminates fuel enrichment and fabrication costs.

7. Eliminating the need for 95% of nuclear waste storage facilities.

8. Low cost inherent and passive reactor safety features, that rely on the laws of nature prevent
safety problems, rather than expensive engineered safety work around for safety issues.  

The RMI states:
Nuclear power plants are not only expensive, they're also financially extremely risky because of their long lead times, cost overruns, and open-ended liabilities.
By building reactors in factories, and taking advantage of the many cost lowering features of the LFTR, the financial risks associated with the construction of nuclear power plants can be avoided.  Factory built LFTR can be delivered, set up and be running within a few months of the initial order. Factory production methods assure price. The order price is the price electrical utilities will pay. Because of the inherent and passive safety features LFTR, the threat of nuclear accidents will no longer have the potential to create large open-ended liabilities.

The RMI states:
Contrary to an argument nuclear apologists have recently taken to making, nuclear power isn't a good way to curb climate change. True, nukes don't produce carbon dioxide — but the power they produce is so expensive that the same money invested in efficiency or even natural-gas-fired power plants would offset much more climate change.
The LFTR will dramatically lower not only nuclear construction costs, but cost less to build than renewable electrical generating facilities with similar 24 hour a day electrical generating capacities. Thus the LFTR will be the lowest cost path to reduction of CO2 emissions, and and thus to fighting climate change.

The RMI states:
And of course nuclear power poses significant problems of radioactive waste disposal and the proliferation of potential nuclear weapons material. (However, RMI tends to stress the economic arguments foremost because they carry more weight with decision-makers.)
By its efficient use of thorium based nuclear fuel, the LFTR will greatly reduce the volume of reactor product. The problem of long lived, radioactive transuranium elements in spent fuels is eliminated. The small amount of transuranium elements produced by LFTRs can be extracted from fuel and reused as nuclear fuel in special reactors. The IAEA has designated the LFTR as a proliferation resistant technology. Unlike traditional reactors, the LFTR does not produce "nuclear waste" or "spent fuel". All of the fission products from LFTRs are usable in a a variety of settings, and some materials are extremely valuable. The liquid nature of LFTR fuel makes the recovery of fission products possible. Many fission products from the thorium fuel cycle lose their radioactivity quickly, and become stable. They can be used almost immediately, while other fission products may remain radioactive longer, and may be stored until they are safe to use. Finally long term radiation emitters can be use in medicine, industry, food preservation, sanitation, and for other purposes. Thus reactor fission products are a resource to be used, and by efficiently using them the so called problem of "nuclear waste" will be eliminated.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Ultimately Efficient Reactor

I have been challenged to apply Rocky Mountain Institute principles to Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor technology. I am happy to do so, because the LFTR is the not only the Ultimately Efficient Reactor, but I believe that it may well be the ultimately efficient human system for providing energy to society. This might be seen as an astonishing claim, but consider these facts. The average wind Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) from 114 studies is 25.2, and this is considered a very good EROEI. Photo voltaic EROEI runs from 10 to 30. According to Chris Vernon of the Oil Drum, the EROEI of concentrated solar power runs from 27 with energy storage, to 44 without storage. An accurate account of nuclear EROEI is difficult to obtain because of dramatically different technologies. For example the EROEI of CANDU reactors using natural or slightly enriched Uranium is dramatically higher than Light Water Reactors, using more enriched Uranium. Gaseous diffusion enrichment takes 50 times as much energy as centrifuges. Extracting reactor fuel from mine tailings takes less energy than direct mining.

Finally thorium does not need energy sapping enrichment, and fuel fabrication. Thorium reprocessing inside the LFTR relies on internal reactor heat, and reactor derived energy. The once through LWR has been estimated to have an EROEI of from 5 to 10. The LFTR uses nuclear fuel about 160 times more efficiently. Using that efficiency alone, we would have an EROEI of between 800 and 1600 all other things being equal between the LFTR and the LWR. All other things are not equal, however. LWR fuel receives energy sapping enrichment and fabrication, while LFTR fuel does not. LWR "spent fuel" requires considerable energy to keep cool. But even our rough underestimate, it is clear that LFTR EROEI will run at least 20 times greater than the most efficient renewable and perhaps much more.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute:
At the heart of all our work is a simple but powerful notion: using natural resources much more productively — efficiently — is both profitable and better for the environment. Indeed, integrative design often makes large resource savings work better and cost less than small ones.

Let's see how LFTR efficiency works in RMI terms.  The LFTR will derive its fuel from a previously unwanted heavy metal, that has until now gone to waste. The fuel source is thorium, a heavy metal that is found in abundance in uranium mine tailings, phosphate mining tailings, and coal fly ash from power power plants. Currently thorium leaches into the environment from these sources, creating a pollution problem. In addition thorium is found in a rare earth's deposit at Lemhi Pass in Idaho. When that deposit is mined, hundreds of thousands of tons of up ill now useless thorium will be made available for human use. The United States produces 3000 tons of coal thorium in ash from coal-fired power plants every year, enough to provide all of the energy the United States will consume during the year. This is a resource that is not only going to waste at present, but by wasting it we are actually creating an environmental pollution problem.

Thus at the heart of the LFTR is the idea that thorium, a largely wasted resource can and should be used in the most productive fashion possible.

In addition to containing thorium, the 50 million tons of phosphate mining tailing produced by the United States contains significant amounts of fluoride. Fluorides leaching from mining tailings pose a significant environmental pollution problem. Even in low concentrations, fluorides are toxic to many organisms. Thus recovery of wasted fluorides from phosphate mining tailings, would not only be useful, but would decrease fluoride related environmental pollution.

Thus both fluoride and thorium, which are abundantly available in nature, are mined in large amounts, but are almost entirely wasted, By utalizing fluoride and thorium, the LFTR would be using these natural resources much more efficiently, in fact enormously more efficiently than current usage.

The LFTR makes modest demands on all resources, but none of the resources used in LFTRs would find a higher use in terms of energy productivity.

Not only does the LFTR make use of thorium, a now largely wasted heavy metal found in mining tailings and coal fly-ash, but it uses the thorium with incredible efficiency. Typically less 0.6% of mined uranium is used in light water reactors. In contrast, 98% of thorium used in LFTRs will be used in the nuclear process, the other 2% is transformed into isotopes that can be used as fuel in modified liquid salt reactors. Thus potentially every gram of thorium that is now the waisted byproduct of mining can be used to provide society with energy. Because the LFTR" can extract energy from thorium so efficiently, that the human use of the thorium fuel cycle will be sustainable for millions of years.

Other materials used in the construction of LFTRs would find no higher use in terms of energy output.

Not only does the LFTR make efficient use of natural resources, but it has great potential to make efficient use of human resources as well.  First,  LFTRs can and should be used in factories.  Factories almost always make more efficient use of labor, than on site construction processes.  The efficient use of labor in factory production of LFTRs would be a significant way to lower production costs.  

The operations of LFTRs also make efficient use of labor as well.  Because many control functions are performed automatically by the LFTR, the need for operator active control is largely eliminated.  The passive safety features of the LFTR mean that operator action is not required if a problem is encountered.  Safety features are passive, and shutdown and emergency cooling can be initiated automatically.  Operator error has almost always been the cause of major reactor problems.   By removing decisions from operators' hands and turning them over to the laws of nature,  reactor safety will actually be enhanced.  

Given the use of computers and sophisticated monitoring, a single operation room, can serve dozens of LFTRs.  Manpower will largely be devoted to security and maintenance.   Reactors will be maintained remotely, with specially designed machines, that maintenance workers will monitor and control.   Maintenance workers will rotate between reactors as the preform scheduled maintenance tasks.  Refueling can be accomplished continuously and automatically without operator intervention, and without reactor shut down. Because LFTRs have reduced staffing requirements, finding well qualified staff should not be a problem.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

T. Boone Pickens Wind Zombies on Daily Kos

At the suggestion of David Walters, I posted my report of British criticism of the wind industry on Daily Kos yesterday. Opposition to wind is not an ideological issue, at least not unless your are a certifiably insane Green.  Greens have shown their willingness to embrace, the right wing wind wind opportunist, T. Boone Pickens, in his quest for wind subsidies, and excuses to burn fossil fuels.   There is nothing about being either liberal or conservative that would predispose one to either support or oppose wind in the absence of facts. 

Supporters of nuclear energy have long known that the Renewables Lobby makes common cause with the anti-nuclear Greens, yet on the whole the Nuclear Industry has been reluctant to challenge renewables claims.  The Renewables Lobby is anything but left wing. The most conspicuous spokesman for the wind lobby is the old swiftboater, T. Boone Pickens. Daily Kos bloggers Plutonium Page, and Devilstower describe how the ideological green crowd loves Pickens. When he isn't hanging out with his right-wing, global warming skeptic friend like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Pickens is garnering endorsements from green sell outs like John Podesta the President and Chief Executive Officer of American Progress, and Sierra Club president Carl Pope.

Pickens is not interested in global warming although he pretends to be. Money is the only thing that really counts to Pickens. When an interviewer asked Pickens:
"What happens if Congress doesn't extend the $20-per-megawatt-hour Production Tax Credit for wind -- set to expire December 31? On a project this size, that's an $80,000 deduction every hour at full capacity."
Pickens responded
"Then you've got a dead duck. It would be hard to go without a subsidy."
Pickens and his sell out green buddies are not opposed to burning fossil fuels. When asked
"What about when the wind doesn't blow?"
Pickens responded
"That's the problem with wind generation. You've got to supplement it with a gas-fired or coal-fired source so whoever buys it gets continuous 24-7 generation."
The renewables lobby is the coal and gas lobby. In case you wonder, according to Semi-Politico
T. Boone Pickens owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp, which is the sole sponsor behind Proposition 10 in California, a bill that would add state funding for a number of "clean energy" initiatives. Clean Energy Fuels Corp runs natural gas fueling stations, and the natural gas industry would be one of the main benefactors of this energy bill.
So when I posted about wind subsidies on Daily Kos yesterday, I got the T. Boone Pickens wind Zombie response.

Wind Zombie SteamPunkX, told me that he was a wind expert and how wrong I was, but did not tell me why. I suppose being a wind expert means you know how to blow a lot of hot air.

Wind Zombie kalmothannounced, "This is an Astroturf diary, boys and girl. Kalmoth excused his inability to respond rationally to my post by claiming, "It would take me half a day to describe all the ways in which you are wrong". Response would take much longer for a brain dead wind Zombies. kalmoth in true zombie fashion described me as "a double troll".

Wind Zonbie Mia Dolan, responded to my post with the words, "What a bunch of shit". She added, "since this is about Britain, what a bunch of shite".

This is about as articulate as Mia got, but what do you expect from a Zombie.

In another comment, Dolin was able to articulate, "You are in deed an assclown".

kalmoth responded in the best Zombie like fashion, "with this comparison, you will definitely offend some assclowns".

Wind Zonbie DocGonzo ranted, "Simpleminded Reactionary".

Thus despite the fact that the wind Zombies are serving the purpose of the right wind lobby, they categorized me a Republican, a simpleton and a reactionary.

Wind Zombie Eternal Hope described me as a "loser". Like all true Zombies, Hope thinks that every problem can be solved by a "winning attitude." Winning attitudes will not make the wind blow hard on hot summer nights.

There you have it, brain dead Daily Kos wind Zombies struggling to bite.  T. Boone Pickens must be smiling.  In 2004 Pickens had his swiftboaters, in 2008 it is the Daily Kos wind Zombies who do his work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dr. Robert Hargraves is a very bright fellow. He thought of some of my best ideas before I did. I did not steal Dr. Hargraves ideas, but I may have borrowed a few. I think that I actually developed my ideas for a factory build, small LFTR before I read Dr. Hargraves Blog. There are actually a few variations between Dr. Hargraves visions and mine, but that is beside the point. Both of us think along similar lines about the advantages of small reactors and how to build them quickly, in expensively and in large numbers. Our thinking is directed to slightly different technologies. Dr. Harvraves offers us some interesting insights into technological advances since the 1970's that can contribute of PBR and for that matter LFTR technology. Anyone who is interested in Reactor safety, ought to read Dr. Hargraves discussion of PBR passive safety.

Of course not all of the ideas Dr. Hargraves presents are original with him. Some of them come from a little school called MIT. The MIT Pebble Bed Reactor web site is well worth the time the nuclear curious might spend poking around it. Clearly the MIT work on industrial production of PBRs is a starting point for anyone who wants to design a system of large scale LFTR production.

Looking at the MIT site raised some issues. For example, MIT cost studies based on 1992 data found that a 1100 MWs modular PBR generating facility would cost $2296 1992 dollars over night costs. This was not the sort of savings I would hope for. However, MIT did not engage in the sort of full court press model of reactor cost savings I advocate. Jim Holm proposed reusing old coal fired stem plants as sites for new nuclear facilities. MIT did not consider the economic advantages of Holm plan. Old power plant sites would be well suited to a modular approach, and would enable power production to closely approximate local grid capacity.. One way LFTRs would lower nuclear costs would be the very reduced need for nuclear waste handling and storage facilities. The 100 fold reduction of the nuclear waste problem with LFTR in one of the most significant advantages of that technology over the PBR approach, PBR waste would not only be far more expensive to store, but also far more expensive to reprocess, than LFTR waste would. But then one of the reasons why ORNL chose to examine the liquid fuel approach was the lower cost of fuel reprocessing that a liquid fuel would facilitate.

MIT researchers acknowledged the capital cost advantages of adding more reactors to a modular facility as demand increases, rather than building over capacity, in order to achieve economies of scale in a reactor. Hence an owner might buy 5 100 MWe PRR or LFTR units, thus lowering initial costs. Each unit can be in place ands producing electricity far sooner than a large reactor would be. Thus interest carrying costs would be substantially reduced.

Lowering the cost of electrical generating technology is going to be a major future concern. Research should be directed to lowering nuclear cost. Unfortunately the conventional method for lowering reactor costs is the economies of scale approach. This approach makes far less efficient use of labor that the factory production or factory produced modules approach. Even with reactors like the AP-1000, a conventional reactor designed to be built using factory produced modules, the rate of module production would be far lower, thus the savings entailed by serial production of modules will be far from fully realized. Clearly much more research on lowering nuclear cost should be conducted. Research needs to be directed to developing cost lowering stratigies, and to the potential for cost saving with Generation 4 technology.


If there is to be a major LFTR effort, where should it take place? I would argue that ORNL would be the ideal place, because of its tradition of Liquid core reactors, even though ORNL stopped MSR research over a generation ago. Were INL to take responsibility for LFTR research, it would require new facilities and a new staff. INL has entirely devoted itself to solid core reactors, thus would have no advantage over ORNL as far as institutional memory is concerned. In fact INL long term commitment to solid core reactors would serve as a disadvantage as Lab staff struggled to understand the challenges of liquid core reactors.

The old K-25 site outside Oak Ridge could serve as the location of a LFTR factory. Ready access to Milton Hill Lake would allow whole reactor assemblies to be moved to destinations by barge.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Three Technologies That Can Save Civilization

I am setting aside, for the moment, my history of the Molten Salt Reactor to focus on a question raised by Robert Hargraves on "Energy From Thorium". Dr. Hargraves asked:

If we were to try to convince the US to pursue MSR technology, what would we propose? to whom? Who would carry out the work? How much would it cost? How long would it take? Can we argue for long-term funding, by treaty, as supplied to the CERN supercollider? What university professors and research laboratory scientists would support such a proposal and also have credibility and influence?

I've met with my congressman and senator on the subject of energy in the past, but I don't know what I would ask for on the subject of the thorium MSR.

This question poses a dilemma for the sort of innovative project that can reasonably expected to contribute to our post carbon energy future. If no funding is available, and past attempts to secure funding have been discouraged, then there is no incentive to to continue to develop projects, even on a conceptual level. Thus we get caught in a vicious circle, that no funding leads to a lack of interest, and the lack of interest then becomes the excuse for no funding.

Dr. Hargraves has been a brilliant advocate for Pebble Bed Reactor technology, and the dilemma effects PBR development in the United States no less than it does MSR/LFTR technology.

I would contend that PBR technology, MSR/LFTR technology can play critical roles in future resolutions of our energy crisis. Both reactor types are very safe and highly efficient, and can be manufactured at much lower costs than traditional reactor designs, they have great potential for reducing the cost of nuclear generated electricity. Because of their low cost, both LFTRs and PBRs can serve as peak electrical generators as well as well as base load generators. In addition MSRs have excellent load following characteristics. Indeed load following can extend the core life of graphite cored LFTRs, by lessening the intensity of neutron radiation the core is exposed too. The load following ability of LFTRs also makes them candidates to support wind electrical generating systems, since the ability of LFTRs to quickly respond to rapidly changing electrical currents from wind generators.

Renewables advocates often suggest the use of fossil fuel plants for load following and generation back up, but this option is not sustainable, is expensive, generates CO2, and outs European nations at risk for energy blackmail by natural gas suppliers. Therefore the flexibility of the LFTR makes it an ideal candidate to be paired with wind generation systems, and thus a prime candidate to replace coal and gas burning electrical plants. The rub is that a system of LFTRs would be a low cost alternative to a system of unreliable windmills with LFRT backup. This no doubt rests at the heart of the opposition to nuclear power, by renewables advocates.

At any rate either with or without renewables, the

There are several advantages of LFTRs over PBRs. However PBR's may have some advantageous in the area of proliferation resistance. Thus it is possible to sell PBR's to countries that are a considered a proliferation risk with MSRs. PBRs can be produced cheaply, do not require containment structures, do not require elaborate and expensive containment structures, can replace coal, natural gas, and oil fired generators, are extremely safe, can be operated by simple low cost computers, can provide industrial process heat, heat for space heating, and heat for desalinization in addition to electricity. There low cost makes them attractive options for peak load generators. There are several disadvantages of PBRs vis-à-vis LFTRs. PBRs don't breed or convert their own nuclear fuel. While LFTRs can burn up to 98% of the thorium in their system, PBRs can only burn a tiny fraction of their potential nuclear fuel. As a consequence PBRs produce several orders of magnitude more nuclear waste than LFRTs. The difficulty and expense of reprocessing PBR fuel is a key to their proliferation resistance.

A second disadvantage of PBRM's is that they are not good load followers. In order to follow loads, PBR operators would have to be dumped heat rather than running it through the generating system. This is not efficient use of nuclear power.

Despite these disadvantageous PBR's are destined to play a significant role in the replacement of fossil fuel power plants with nuclear reactors. Like LFTRs, PBRs can be quickly and inexpensively built in very large numbers in factories. Thus, for example, the Chinese, who are developing their own PBR technology, could build thousands of PBRs between 2020 and 2050. Reportedly the Chinese have already offered Canada PBRs to be used in processing Alberta tar sands into crude oil. The rub would be that the oil would then go to China.

South Africa is developing its own PBR which is a little more technologically advanced than the Chinese concept. The South Africans probably can project a very large market for the sale of these reactors. Both the under developed countries of Africa, and Latin America, as well as the more advanced nations of Europe, North America and Asia, would be included in the South African target markets. Thus it can be foreseen that PBRs will play a major role in the replacement of carbon based electrical and energy sources between 2020 and 2050.

LFTRs, because of their superior fuel efficiency, the major reduction of the problem of nuclear wast that LFTR technology brings, their safety, their ability to serve as base load generators, peak load generators, and effect load followers, and there low manufacturing cost, would be the preferred power generation technology for nuclear capable nations. A nuclear capable country is a nation which posses the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, without new technological transfers from external sources. An illustration of nuclear capacity would be South Africa, which developed its own centrifuge Uranium enrichment technology in the 1970's and 80's and managed to produce 6 nuclear weapons. Other nations which are nuclear capable include Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Ukraine, Japan, Taiwan, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and other European nations. All of these countries could produce nuclear weapons if they chose too.

The low cost of LFRT factory manufacture, plus their many attractive features, and the abundance of recoverable thorium, will mean that in many situations LFTRs will be preferred to PBRs for both power and heat, in many situations. Like PBRs, relatively small (100 MWe to 300 MWe) LFTRs can be built in factories and transported to their long term sites. While LFTR technology is not being developed at the same pace as as PBR technology is proceeding, a large knowledge base was developed in Oak Ridge between 1960 and 1976. In addition other recent technological breakthroughs, for example the development of high temperature gas turbine technology, have technological problems that were unresolved when ORNL stopped working on MSR development in 1976.

Given the current state of LFTR development, a Manhattan Project style development program commenced by 2012, could have LFTRs moving out factory doors by 2020. There are no insurmountable barriers to large scale production.

With their potential for easy, quick and low cost manufacture, PBRs and LFTRs will play a major role in the future of energy, and will be by 2050 the predominant source of electricity world wide.

If reactors are to be the major form by which future energy is produced, more attention needs to be paid to how energy gets stored for transportation. At present Lithium-ion batteries represent the preferred technology for the electrification of transportation in the near future, however, lithium Ion technology brings with it a number of draw backs. First is safety related issues, that are caused by battery heating due to rapid discharge. The second serious problem is Lithium-ion batteries costs which are anticipate to run in the neighborhood of $30,000 for the first Lithium-ion powered EVs. For that price Lithium Ion Batteries offer uninspiring performance. The trip range of the GM Volt is expected to be about 30 miles with our backup from internal combustion engine. That is good for drives to work, and errands, but not for trips out of town.

It is highly desirable then, if carbon based technology is to be replaced in transportation that better electrical storage technology must emerge. Lithium-Sulfur batteries appear to have potential as one such technology. According to a recent Insyncworld report,
in theory, Lithium-Sulfur potentially offers over 50% more Watt-hours/liter than Lithium-Ion batteries, and over four times the Watt-hours/Kg. That allows for smaller, lighter, or longer lasting (pick two) portable devices. Those are theoretical maximums that have not yet been reached, but current Li_S batteries already have a better power/weight ratio than conventional Lithium Ion.
The potential of Li_S technology is illustrared by this recent BBC story.

Li_S technology is newly emerging, but appears to hold great potential including greatly extended battery powered driving ranges, and lower costs. Although personal transportation would seem to be a lower priority on the energy problems list, in fact it is very important, because the physical structure of civilization in countries like the United States is highly dependent on personal mobility. Without personal transportation, the ability of workers to travel from home to work would be significantly compromised in spread out cities. Were workers to be foprced to move closer to their jobs, enormous values would be lost in home, infrastructure and commercial suburban investments. The loss of value in these investments would produce significant investment losses, that could not be easily recovered from.

Thus two reactor technologies, the LFTR and the PBR hold enormous promise as sources of low cost electrical energy and industrial heat. In addition a recently emerging battery technology, the Lithium-Sulfur battery, holds promise to improve the post-carbon transportation picture.

The development of these technologies must be given the highest priorities by our society, during the next few years, if your civilization is not to be seriously wounded. We must not allow Dr. Hargraves dilemma to inhibit that development.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The British Wind Scam

Richard North of EU Referendum, and Patrick Sawyer and Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph have this weekend been taking 2 by 4s after British windmills over the issue of subsidies. This amounted to piling on after the BBC's Simon Cox socked it to the Windmills earlier this month.

Together they supply a devistating critique of the wind industry, and the corrupt motives that lie behind T. Boone Pickens' energy plan.

Simon Cox reported on the BBC about the problems of the Danish wind model:

Denmark is the poster boy for wind power - 20% of the electricity it generates comes from wind, it claims. Horns Rev can provide enough power for 150,000 homes. On the day I visited it would be lucky to power a village,

Cox interviewed energy expert Hugh Sharman, who described Denmark's export of wind generated electricity:
"Every time the wind is high, the exports are high. Every time the wind is low, of course there are few exports".
Sherman stated that Denmark only uses 9% of the the electricity it generates. Cox demonstrates that the only way the Danish system works is the ability of Denmark to export electricity to Scandinavia and Germany, and import it back. cox observed that the UK does not have the import-export option. Of course UK "environmentalists", like Nick Rowe of the Friends of the Earth, support the use of fossil fuels as wind back up. But Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, thinks this is
"about the worst possible thing that one could conceive of given what's going on in Russia and given our dependence on Russian gas supplies".
Cox notes that the wind plus natural gas back up scheme
could also prove costly. The energy company, E.On recently estimated back-up power could cost up to £10bn per year across all the energy suppliers. That would add £400 to the average annual household energy bill.

Patrick Sawyer's Telegraph article is dependent on information from the Renewable Energy Foundation , a UK energy think tank, that is not afraid the lay out the facts about renewable energy. Sawyer notea:
Critics insist that wind energy is too inefficient to replace the creaking network of fossil fuel power stations. Even with modern turbines, wind farms are unable to operate at full capacity because of the unreliable nature of Britain's wind.
The industry admits that for up to 30 per cent of the time, turbines are idle because wind speeds are either too low to turn the blades, or too high, risking damage to the machines.
Sawyer extensively relies on a REF report by John Constable and Robert Barfoot, which bitterly criticized wind subsidies in the UK. Sawyer observes
In 2006-07 more than £217 million was paid to energy firms under the subsidy scheme, known as the Renewables Obligation. Under the scheme, energy companies must obtain a proportion of their power from renewable sources, 6.7 per cent at present rising to 15 per cent by 2015. Those that fail to meet these targets pay a fine that is then shared between all the companies that have obtained energy from "green" sources. For every megawatt of green energy they sell, a company receives about £50 at present.

The Renewable Energy Foundation says that consumers ultimately end up funding the subsidies because energy firms that pay fines pass the costs on to customers.
Sawyer further states:
Critics have estimated that by 2020 the cost of the Renewables Obligation could rise to more than £3 billion.
Booker is on the warpath against wind. Like me, Booker was not always a wind opponent. "Six years ago", Booker stated,
when I first seriously looked at what they actually contribute to our energy needs and our environment, I had a profound shock. It was clear that the craze for wind energy had become one of the greatest self-deceptions of our time.

Far from being “free”, wind is one of the most expensive ways of generating electricity yet devised. Without an almost 100 per cent subsidy, unwittingly paid by all of us through our electricity bills, no one would dream of building giant wind turbines in Britain, because their cost is not remotely competitive.

Turbines are hopelessly ineffectual. The amount of electricity they deliver is derisory. The total power generated by all the 2,300 turbines so far built in Britain — covering hundreds of square miles of countryside and sea — averages just over 600 megawatts in a year, less than that contributed by a single medium-size conventional power station.

Most serious of all, however, is the fact that wind energy is hopelessly unreliable, for the simple reason that wind speeds are not only constantly changing but wholly unpredictable. One minute a turbine may be whizzing round, generating at full capacity; the next the wind drops and the turbine is contributing only a fraction of its capacity or nothing at all.

Booker's findings track closely with my own. Thus while I disagree with many of Booker's views including his skepticism about climate change, I think he is correct about wind.

Booker scores against the fundamental dishonesty of the wind Lobby:
The best-kept secret of the wind industry, however, which continues to fool both politicians and the media, is its trick of referring only to the contribution of windmills in terms of their “installed capacity”, as if that is what they will actually deliver. They talk about a “16 megawatt” wind farm “powering x thousand homes” as if that is the contribution it will make to our electricity needs. Yet in reality, thanks to the intermittency of the wind, a turbine will on average produce through the year only a quarter of its capacity.

The success of this deception means that politicians almost invariably exaggerate the potential benefits of wind power by a factor of four. And of course the other great trick is to conceal the fact that all this must be paid for by that huge hidden subsidy.

The real danger of the “great wind scam” is that it takes the eyes of politicians off the real energy crisis fast approaching us, so that we are not building the proper power stations we need to keep our lights on. That is why it will one day be looked back on as having been one of the most incomprehensible blunders of our age.
Richard North comments:
The main problem is that the generosity of the subsidy scheme is diverting cash from investment in longer-term schemes such as nuclear, and also driving generators to invest in increasingly expensive gas, this being the most suitable back-up for wind.
North quotes Constable and Barfoot:
"The market for renewable energy is an artificial one created and maintained by government legislation. The question is whether this consumer-derived money is well spent. It is worth noting that the excessive subsidy offered to onshore wind development has drawn developers even to sites where the wind resource is very weak and the environmental impact severe."
North describes how British wind is a tremendous scam on the pun;ic:
As an example of the way the rip-off works, pictured above left is one of the existing subsidy wind farms – 23 x 400 KW turbines at Ovenden Moor, on the bleak flanks of the Pennines just outside Halifax. Built in 1993 at the cost of £10 million with the aid of an EU grant of £1.3 million (approx), last year the installation earned for its owners, E.on, a cool £1,004,850 in Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) subsidy, recovered by a surcharge on electricity bills.

This is an installation rated at 9.2 MW, theoretically capable of producing 80,592 MWh but, with a load factor of only 27.71 percent, it actually produced 22,330 MWh. At today's inflated wholesale price of £85.58 MWh for electricity, that output would earn £1.9 million in sales, potentially earning the installation just short of £3 million a year when the ROC subsidy is added. For an investment of less than £9 million, this is an extremely attractive rate of return and it is thus easy to see why generators are piling into wind.
And you wonder why T. Boone Pickens loves wind so much.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Brief History of the Fluid Fuel Reactor: Bettis and Weinberg

It is now clear that the MSR began with conceptual studies of a fluid salt fueled reactor conducted by a group of Oak Ridge scientists, in the late 1940’s. It is not clear what the original goal of this project, or even that there was a formal project, but in 1950 that original seed was to suddenly take root. ORNL had received a research project from the Air Force to participate in crazy project, called Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP). The Air Force had decided that it wanted a reactor powered aircraft. The whole business was insane, because reactor shielding is very heavy. Thus a reactor powered aircraft will either kill its crew with radiation, or be too heavy from radiation shielding to get off the ground.

Alvin Weinberg attributes the idea of a reactor powered aircraft to Gordon Simmons, a K-25 engineer. Weinberg described Simmons as an aggressive, fast talking optimist, who viewed difficulties of reactor powered flight as technical problems that could be overcome by research. Simmons convinced Fairchild Aircraft of the correctness of his views, and through Fairchild the Air Force and Congress. ANP was originally a K-25 project, and Gordon was its first head. Ed Bettis and his associates were part of the ANP project.

Eventually ANP research was transferred to ORNL, but it carried a K-25 legacy. A K-25 physicist Cecil Ellis was in charge of the project. Ellis favored a Liquid Metal cooled reactor. Weinberg was not satisfied with Ellis’s performance, and replaced him with the brilliant industrial chemist, Raymon C. Briant .

Briant was to smart to believe in nuclear powered flight, but he saw the project as an opportunity to do research high temperature reactors. But he was dissatisfied with the liquid metal reactor concept, that had emerged from the project under Cecil Ellis’s leadership.

The problems of the Liquid Metal cooled reactor were explained by Ed Bettis some time later, “a group of engineers and physicists at ORNL started design work
on a solid-fuel-pin sodium-cooled reactor, with the fuel consisting of 235U (as UO2) canned in stainless steel. It was decided to make this a thermal reactor and to use BeO blocks as the moderator. The circulating sodium was to extract heat from the fuel pins and at the same time to
remove heat from the moderator blocks. The design of this solid-fuel-pin, BeO-moderated, sodium-cooled reactor proceeded to the point of purchase of the BeO moderator blocks. . . .”

“The solid-fuel-pin thermal reactor design was found to possess a serious difficulty when the design concept was projected to cover a relatively high-power reactor. The problem was the positive temperature coefficient of reactivity associated with the cross section of xenon at
elevated temperatures. This xenon instability was considered to be serious enough to warrant abandoning the solid-fuel design concept, because of the exacting requirement placed on any automatic control system by this instability”.

Bettis’s explanation requires a translation for the 99% of people who know nothing about reactor physics. The positive temperature coefficient of reactivity means as the reactor gets hotter processes inside the reactor’s power level goes up as it gets hotter. As reactor power goes up, more heat is produced, which further increases the reactor’s power. Thus a reactor with a positive temperature coefficient of reactivity is difficult to control and potentially dangerous. In addition, if you are flying an atomic airplane and you want to increase your speed, you withdraw heat from the reactor. With a positive temperature coefficient of reactivity that decreases reactor power and heat production which makes the engine loose power, and the aircraft slow down.

The Xenon problem also needs to be explained. When U-235 encounters a neutron inside a reactor, most of the time it splits into two large atomic fragments and some left over bits including two or three neutrons. Xenon-135 is frequently one of those fragments. Xenon-135 is the Chuck Norris of neutron absorbers. Xenon atoms might also be described as the NFL linemen of reactors. Think of U-235 atoms as the quarterbacks of the reactor, and neutrons as pass rushers. Xenon-135 atoms are very big for rushing neutrons. When neutrons hit Xenon 135 atoms, they are blocked from hitting U-235 atoms. When neutrons hit U-235 atoms inside a reactor, more blockers, that is more xenon atoms enter the game. Xenon builds up as more and more fissionable atoms are split, and thus more and more neutrons are blocked by Xenon. The Xenon blocking, tends to slow down chain reactors, thus Xenon poisoning makes reactors more difficult to control.

It is highly likely that in 1950 Ed Bettis explained these problem and how the liquid salt reactor concept would solve them to Ray Briant and later to Alvin Weinberg. Although the MSR posed significant technological difficulties, they were not as difficult as making a reactor powered airplane fly.

Hot liquid salts expand as they heat. Suppose you have a one gallon pot on the stove and you fill it up with hot liquid salt. Now you turn up the heat under the salt pot. What will happen? As the heat goes up the liquid salt expands and starts running over the top of the pan. Now imagine that the hot salt includes a uranium salt that is enriched with U-235. You don’t need to heat the salt pot, a chain reaction of U-235 will do that for you. As the chain reaction heats the pot will do that for you. And as the salt gets hoter, it starts to run over the top of the pot, taking with it, some U-235. Removing U-235 from the pot decreases the chain reaction and thus the heat.

How about Xenon? Well Xenon is an a noble gas. That means it will not form chemical bonds and thus is free to bubble out if the hot salt liquid. Of course it is not quite simple as that, because Xenon is highly radioactive, stuff you would not want floating around your lab. But there are safe ways to get Xenon out of a hot salt fluid. And at any rate the first experimental reactor would not have to solve all of the problems. It could be operated without actually solving the Xenon problem, as long as ORNL reactor designers knew how to solve the problems.

There was an unfolding beauty to the reactor concept Bettis outlined. Consider its negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. The MSR would automatically supply more power to aircraft jet engines when power was needed. As heat was transferred from the reactor to the jet engines, the heat in the reactor dropped. As the heat dropped, more Liquid salts and more U-235 would be drawn into the reactor core, increasing reactor power output. This of course increased the heat available for the engines. As engine power requirements dropped, the engines used less reactor heat. The reactor then heated up and as U-235 was forced out of the core the chain reaction dropped. Thus reactor went to maximum heat while burning very little U-235. But the heat was instantly on tap once power was demanded from the engine.

The negative temperature coefficient of reactivity was a beautiful quality of the MSR, but it was never to be used in flight. Yet it does have potentially valuable uses in electrical generation. First the MSR alone among reactors is a load follower. The MSR is capable of automatically adjusting its power output to follow load demands on electrical systems. This would make the MSR particularly valuable in balancing the ever fluxuating electrical output of windmill generators, and photovoltaic electrical systems. Secondly the MSR would be well suited for a backup generating role. As generating sources suddenly go off line, reserve MSRs, with their hot salt at peak tempreture, can come online at full power as fast as as their generating turbines can be spun up to full power. MSRs would be equally useful as peak power sources, which can be brought online almost instantaneously as electrical demand warrants. These are qualities that would be very useful in a post-fossil fuel age, and qualities that would cannot be obtained from renewable technologies, or from conventional nuclear power plants.

Weinberg agreed that Bettis’s radical reactor design had great promise, and became an enthusiastic backer of the MSR project. In the late spring of 1950 the Y-12 chemistry group headed by Warren Grimes was administratively transferred to ORNL effective on July 1, to begin work on Molten Salt reactor chemistry. They were assigned the task of investigating various Fluoride salt mineral and metal combinations. Thus my father went to work for ORNL on that day. He remained an ORNL employee for the next 27 years.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Brief History of the Fluid Fuel Reactor: The Molten Salt Reactor Adventure Begins

Eugene Wigner spent a brief period as Research Director of what was then called the Clinton Laboratories. Oak Ride was in 1943 a town that did not exist, so the Laboratory could not be named for it. Instead the assigned name that of Clinton, the old East Tennessee town that was the county seat of Anderson County, where most of the Oak Ridge complex was located. Wigner's stay was not a happy one for him, but is was exceedingly fruitful for the Laboratory. Wigner brought with him a team of brilliant scientists, and attracted more first rate researchers to Oak Ridge. Frederick Seitz, Erich Vogt, and Alvin Weinberg left a brief account of Wigner's stay in Oak Ridge:
"Wigner planned a two-pronged approach. First, he would establish a training program in which some thirty-five young scientists and engineers could learn the principles involved in nuclear reactors. These individuals would become future leaders in reactor development. Second, he would assemble an expert team to design nuclear reactors that could produce useful power efficiently and as safely as possible, placing much emphasis on the so-called "breeder" reactor. A substantial part of his research team in Chicago, including Weinberg and Young, agreed to join him there and spend the next phase of their professional careers promoting the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes".
Wigner quickly saw the hand writing on the wall:
"In the meantime, there was a great deal of legislative activity in Washington about the way the national nuclear energy program should be managed in peacetime. The debate was intense and protracted. The final result was the creation of a new civilian agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, which was put in charge of the operation on January 1, 1947. As the year progressed, Wigner eventually decided he was not really suited to serve as manager of a laboratory in such a complex, politicized environment. Many of the most important technical decisions would be made in Washington rather than in the laboratory".
Wigner and Weinberg remained personal friends, and wigner continued to visit the Laboratory on a regular basis. Hence in the Summer of 1971, I was offeed a chance to meet Wigner, along with other ORNL supernumeraries.

Alvin Weinbery was officially the Director oif the Laboratory's Physics Division from 1945 to 1948, when he assumed Eugene Wigner's former position. Weinberg was to become, among other things a custodian of Wigner's legacy, and much of ORNL's work on reactor development overthe next 25 years was to be guided by Weinberg's fidelity to the Wigner vision.

H. G. MacPherson's account of the history of the Molten Salt Reactor states,
"Molten salt reactors were first proposed by Ed Bettis and Ray Briant of ORNL during the post-World War II attempt to design a nuclear-powered aircraft".
Alvin Weinberg stated in 1957,"
At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory we have been investigating another class of fluids which satisfies all three of the requirements for a desirable fluid fuel: large range of uranium and thorium solubility, low pressure, and no radiolytic gas production. These fluids, first suggested by R. C. Briant, are molten mixtures of UF4 and ThF4 with fluorides of the alkali metals, beryllium, or zirconium".
Other sources tell a slightly different story. By M.W. Rosenthal, P.R. Kastin, and R.B. Briggs state "experiments to establish the feasibility of molten- salt fuels were begun in 1947 on
“the initiative of V.P. Calkins, Kermit Anderson, and E.S. Bettis.".
Ray Briant did not come to Clinton Labs until 1948, so it would appear that preliminary MSR research began before his arrival in Oak Ridge.

Rosenthall Kastin, and Briggs add, "At the enthusiastic urging of Bettis and on the recommendation of W.R. Grimes, R.C. Briant adopted molten fluoride salts in 1950 as the main line effort of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion1 program.”

Here we see a divergence between the collegiate nature of science and the conduits of information. Calkins, Anderson and Bettis appear to have decided on their own to investigate the possibility of a Molten Salt Fuel in 1947, but only Bettis gets credit for their joint invention. Bettis gets credit more for his advocacy than for the uniqueness of his role. Finally Warren Grimes got consulted on the chemistry, because his group was was to be assigned the task of researching MSR chemistry. Now the interesting thing was that in 1950 my father, C.J. Barton, Sr was the expert in Grimes' group on Fluoride Salt Chemistry. That is because my father probably participated in Grimes fluoride salt chemistry literature review that lay behind Grimes recommendation. How much of Grimes' recommendation rested on my father's judgment is probably beyond knowing.

Eugene Wigner was not a politician, not at least a politician in the way that Weinberg was. The giving and taking of credit was an important part of the management system of ORNL in the Weinberg era, and upper level managers were to use the giving and taking of credit to aggrandize themselves, and to reward and punish their subordinates, and not always for the best of reasons.

Bettis, Calkins, and Anderson could not have initiated research without an idea about what they were doing, thus they must jointly be credited with the MSR idea. It would appear that Briant later made the suggestion that thorium could be added to the MSR fuel mix. But note, the idea of converting thorium to U-233 in a fluid fuel reactor goes back to Wigner.

In 1947 a small group of K-25 engineers in Oak Ridge engineers, V.P. Calkins, Kermit Anderson, and Ed Bettis were assigned the task of developing a reactor for the Air Force that could power a bomber. During World War II the Hungarian genius, Eugene Wigner had invented a sodium cooled reactor, an invention which Wigner himself did not like, but in 1947 sodium cooled reactors were all the rage among people who were thinking about advanced nuclear technology. Calkins, Anderson, and Bettis were not working for Eugene Wigner at the X-10 laboratory. Instead they worked for K-25 and someone high up in the management of K-25 had decided that the Air Force needed a sodium cooled reactor to power their bombers. The more the young Oak Ridge engineers looked at the sodium cooled reactor, the less they liked it. It would be, they determined dangerously unstable. The hotter it got, the more power and hence more heat it produced. It could run away in a way similar to the way the Chernobyl reactor did some 39 years later. The young engineers decided that they needed to find a reactor concept that would tend to shut down as soon as it started to over heat. Liquids expand as the become hotter, and the young engineers thought that if the fuel was dissolved in a liquid, the liquid would expand out of the reactor's core as it heated, carrying U-235 out of theu core with it as it expanded, slowing the ongoing nuclear reaction in the core. Wigner was at that time interested in fluid core reactors that used heavy water as a core fluid, but heavy water was not a good candidate for what the K=25 engineers had in mind. K-25 was the world's leading center for fluoride salt chemistry in 1947, and the enginerrs thought that if fluoride salts were heated past their melting point would make an ideal carrier fluid for their reactor. It was a daring and even outrageous concept. In 1950 the project to build a reactor to power the atomic power bomber was turned over to Eugene Wigner's brilliant protoge, Alvin Weinberg, wh had remained in Oak Ridge after Wigner returned to Prinston. Ed Bettis approached scientist who had started thinking about the aircraft reactor project. He quickly convinced a small group of scientists including Ray Briant, Warren Grimes and my father C,J. Barton, Sr., about the liquid salt reactor idea. For the next 25 years, the idea of building a fluid aalt core reactor mesmerized Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


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