Saturday, February 14, 2009

Advocating the Aim High Project as Policy

My advocacy for the Aim High concept is fundamentally political. Robert Hargraves named the Aim High energy concept and has explained it. The goal of the Aim High project is the rapid development and deployment of a very large number of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors not only in the United States, but in most of the world, between 2020 and 2050. I view the LFTR as a lowest cost potential energy source, that is safe, pollution free, and sustainable. This Aim High goal cannot be reached unless it becomes a matter of United States government and International policy. Thus my goal on Nuclear Green, and in my other postings is the adoption and implementation of the Aim High Project as National and International policy.

It would not be rational to promote the Aim High Project as good policy, without explaining why other competing policy options are less desirable than the Aim High Project option. The two options I have reviewed are the renewables option and the conventional nuclear option. My goal in these studies has been to demonstrate that both the renewables option and the Light Water Reactor option policy is unlikely to produce a post carbon energy system. I have argued for the desirability of this goal both because the use fossil fuels have undesirable consequences even if the Anthropogenic Global Warming issue is excluded. In addition a plausible case has been made that global oil production will soon begin to decline world wide. This concern leads to a policy consideration that electrical technology be substituted for Fossil Fuel technology in transportation. This possibility has not been well thought through by either renewables advocates or the conventional nuclear industry, but it could lead to a significant increase in electrical demand.

Renewables advocates appear to believe that a large power production gap will exist in a renewables generating system and that the gap will be filled through greater efficiency. This would appear unlikely if transportation is electrified to any considerable extent. Thus the renewables option would appear to open an energy gap, especially if transportation is electrified.

The French model demonstrates that conventional nuclear power can takeover providing electricity on a national scale. The French nuclear model also provides for some use of electrification in transportation. However, American nuclear advocates have not advanced the claim that the American electrical system can or should be entirely converted to conventional nuclear technology.

Both the renewables model and the conventional nuclear model leave significant questions to be answered, before they can be considered good policy options. Among the most serious questions is that of cost. I have tried to show that making renewable generated electricity reliable raises its costs. Indeed the cost of reliable renewable generated electricity appears higher than nuclear units with comparable electrical output.

Even the highest estimated cost of nuclear generated electricity appear to be lower than the likely costs of reliable renewables. Thus there ought to be a considerable policy preference for conventional nuclear generation of 24/7 base electricity. There are never-the-less problems with a nuclear base. First, the economies of nuclear power are such that running LWR's at full power on a 24/7 basis yields the best return. While conventional reactors can produce power on a 16/7 or 16/5 basis, this would increase the cost of power from high priced nuclear facilities to customers. On exception would be the use of older reactors for 16/7 0r 16/5 electrical generation, since older reactors are already paid for. Conventional reactors do not make a good fit to peak reserve requirements. Peak reserve capacity is usually characterized by low capital cost and high fuel costs. In addition older and inefficient coal powered generation facilities are also assigned peak reserve roles.

Wind powered generation facilities without storage are inappropriate for any generation role requiring reliability. In most localities peak wind capacity of ten occurs during the night when electrical demand has ebbed. During day time however wind speed often slackens in many localities, while electrical demand increases. Finally over much of North America, wind produces almost no electricity during the hottest days of summer. Only with electrical storage does wind emerge as an important post carbon power source. But while storage adds to the reliability of wind it also increase wind's capital costs. With power on demand 16 hours a day reliability wind does not have a cost advantage over nuclear, and with 24 hour a day reliability, wind is at a decided cost disadvantage compared to conventional nuclear.

Solar generated electricity has many liabilities even where compared to wind even in most favorable localities solar facilities only produce about 20% of their rated power a day and then only under very favorable climatic conditions. Both clouds and winter adversely effect solar output. It is sometimes suggested that wind and solar compliment each other; solar having its peak output during days while wind at night, and so on. The disadvantages of such a hybrid system become apparent when the cost of redundant capacities are calculated and the number of hours during a year during with neither wind nor sun alone or in combination will generate enough electricity to satisfy consumer demand. Thus without storage renewables are not reliable. With storage, renewables are are more expensive than nuclear. Renewable advocates sometimes attempt to solve the problems of renewable limitations by pointing to the grid as a adjunct to renewable power. But this would assume that carbon based power would continue to be available in a post carbon energy era, and actually quite a lot of carbon based power. This leads us to the paradox that renewables in a post carbon energy scheme would continue to require the presence of carbon based generating capacity in order that the grid be reliable.

My conclusion then is that neither the mostly renewables grid nor the mostly conventional nuclear grid work well and would not provide low cost electricity. In contrast the LFTR grid would work well and at a far more modest cost. Thus advocating a Aim High oriented energy policy can and should include a discussion of the cost, reliability and other advantages of the Aim High option compares to the conventional nuclear or renewables options.

I have been criticized for discussing the disadvantages of both renewables and conventional nuclear power especially in comparison to Aim High LFTR technology. But it is difficult to portray the advantages of the Aim High project without pointing to the cost other advantages over the conventional nuclear and the renewables options. What sort of advocacy would refrain from pointing to the advantages of the preferred course?

Part of the Aim High project is the development of cost savings that are not possible with other energy approaches.

We should not plan the energy future without acknowledging economic fact.


Jason Ribeiro said...

Charles, Hargraves presentation is great:

Though I agree that the LFTR approach would be vastly superior to the strict renewables path, I still think conventional nuclear is by some orders of magnitude better than what we have now. Am I advocating settling for second best? No. But what I am advocating is at least a significant build-out of the latest generation of LWR's to the point that it replaces 50% or greater of the coal burning plants. Knocking out a significant percent of coal anytime soon, can only be done with nuclear.

According to my calculations, to knock coal down by at least 50% say by 2015 would require about 125-150 new LWR's. This would give the US nuclear fleet a roughly 60-40 mix of new and older generation reactors, while at the same time, leaving plenty of room for newer better solutions to fill in for the future. The reason why I advocate this approach is because the designs are available today and given enough of a push, something like this could be realistically accomplished by 2020. Secondly, if indeed the pollution for coal is as bad as environmentalists claim, then the urgency to act should have been more than 15 years ago, so we are already working behind schedule. Thirdly, pushing for the build-out of around 150 LWR's would indeed provide many jobs especially if they are placed in communities that are starving for a base of jobs and the supporting economic cloud which follows a new nuclear plant.

As an additional thought, reaching sideways might not be such a bad idea either. As pointed out in William Tucker's book, Terrestrial Energy, the nuclear industry ought to think about "[adopting some energy friends]", namely solar. The oil, gas, and coal industries certainly have adopted wind and solar as their good deeds pawn, but in a manner of speaking - they don't deserve it. And why should they get all this great PR when it really is their Machiavellian power play against the nuclear industry?

The fossil industry is wearing the "I'm with Stupid->" t-shirt that points to wind and solar. Mind you, I don't like wind power but there are some at NREL who do like nuclear - a lot, that's a start. Now if we can only get that on a public statement. The problem is not with renewable energy sources themselves per se, but with the unrealistic expectations of those who advocate their mandates and massive scaling while ignoring their limitations at the cost of a lot of money and common sense. Granted being that many of those same people are anti-nuclear, it would be a stretch to think any type of nuclear-solar partnership is going to happen. I could see some good PR coming out of such an effort for both sides, however solar needs to accept that nuclear is the "meat and potatoes" and solar is the dessert after. Somehow the fossil industry has managed to do this without informing "stupid" that this is the arrangement between them. Again, this isn't an economic energy strategy as much as it would be PR. At this point I think there is quite a great number of people who see nuclear advocates as arrogant and unwilling to accept the potential contributions of other energy sources. It sometimes pays to make some concessions to get most of what you want instead of losing all of it at the insistence of wanting it all. At the rate things are going though, it might take 10 years for the renewables crowd to figure out they've been the good little buddy to fossil fuels all along.

Alex De Maida said...

Aim High presentation claims a cost of 2000 $ per kW of LFTR, maybe I'm missing something but where does this estimate come from?

John Tjostem said...

A new paradigm for our transportation system is a must. Electric power is the best option. While better batteries are coming which are adequate for local driving we should also consider electrifying our highways. An efficient induction coupling is now available. Our computer technology is extremely powerful and reliable. Computer guided vehicles have the potential to be much safer than human drivers. The computer can choose a route to immunize traffic congestion saving billions of dollars in wasted time and fuel. The vehicle batteries will recharge while on the highway. While electric propulsion is much more efficient than internal combustion, the computer can add to efficiency by grouping vehicles into pods so that only the first vehicle in the pod meets the wind resistance. I always get the “you dreamer look” when I bring this topic up. I don’t see any new technology needed to make this a reality. It is not like hydrogen or fusion that needs more breakthrough technology to move ahead. My farmer friends have multiple units on their farms to guide their tractors and combines from satellites. Our auto industry could again lead the world with a full scale retooling to electric vehicles. They made a rapid change to war machines in the 1940s. With LFTRs and electric transportation technology to export we will have employment for former coal workers and a new economic base for our economy. If LFTRs produce electricity cheaper than dirty Chinese coal power plants coal will stay in the ground and there is a chance that global warming will abate. I avidly support your efforts.

Charles Barton said...

Alex De Maida i will respond to your question about LFTR costs in a post.

Alex De Maida said...

Thanks very much, Charles, I' ll read it

Besides electric transportation (both with plug-in hybryds or electrified trains), don' t forget the possibiliy of using waste heat of high efficient LFTR to feed district heating networks inside the cities or to use electricity to power electric heat pumps, air sourced ones for hot climates and ground sourced for colder places
In particular it could be very interesting to study the possibility of a district heating/LFTR waste heat link

Charles Barton said...

I don't know what the thermal efficiency of a LWR at part load is. I am sure the navy reactor people know. Th problem with using reactors for direct heating is simple. People prefer that reactors be built away from population centers. The anti-nuclear crowd portray images of the evacuation of huge cities as a downtown reactors blow up with mushroom shaped clouds. Up until now this has been hard to fight, and reactors have been located out of heating distances.

Alex De Maida said...

Not everywhere people are scared about nuclear plants, or at least you can put them enough near the cities in order that district heating has still economic sense
I don' t know if you just know Swiss refuna nuclear district heating, 140,000 MWh of heat per year


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