Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Controling Nuclear Costs: Part I Pebble Bed Reactors.

There is no reason why nuclear costs need be nearly as high as the currently quoted for new reactor builds in the United States. India's new generation IV Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor cost $700 million for 500 MWe generating capacity. The problem of nuclear costs lies in no small measure with the choice of light water reactors as the design of choice for the nuclear power industry, and in its labor costs in advanced societies. The choice of the Light Water Reactors in turn leads to a series of design decisions that cause an excessively priced finished product. The LWR emerges from the design process, as a relatively large machine requiring even larger housing. By the time the cost of building a LWR is added up, you might as well buy the giant economy size as so that is the way most reactors are built.

The Indian LMFWR is cheaper primarily because the cost of labor in India is lower than in the United States, and because the reactor itself is somewhat simpler to build. The LWR is both very complex, and its construction is very labor intensive. Thus two potential ways to lower nuclear cost would be to adopt simpler reactor designs and to improve the efficiency of labor in reactor manufacture.

There are several Generation IV reactor designs that are relatively simple machines. The Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor, and both the Indians, the Russians and Argonne Lab have gotten LMFBRs to work reliably. Yet I suspect there would always be strong opposition to LMFBRs because of the coolant safety issue. LMFBRs are cooled by sodium and it will burn on contact with air. Furthermore the sodium coolant of LMFBR/s is radioactive, so a coolant fire involves safety issues.

However, there are other Generation IV reactor options. No one who knows anything at all about nuclear safety would accuse the Pebble Bed Reactor of being unsafe. You can shut the whole thing off, leave it set with no coolant at all and the thing won't melt down. In fact the PBR is so safe, that you don't really need a safety containment dome. PBRs are not regarded as extreme technological challenges. They are currently under development for commercial applications in South Africa and China. Both PBR projects envision PBR manufacture involving factory construction. However, it is unlikely that either project will seethe whole reactor emerge from complete from a factory. Rather it would appear that the goal would be to manufacture rapidly assembled kits in factories and do final assembly on site. Both projects involve the manufacture of small reactors. The Chinese plan to produce a 100 MWe while the South Africans plan manufacture 165 MWe units. Both plan to cluster multiple units, in order to match the power outputs of middle size or even large reactors. The Chinese, for example plan to link heat output of 2 PBRs to one steam turbine. The South Africans plan to cluster as many as 8 small gas turbine PBMRs to match the power output of large reactors. Both the Chinese and the South Africans are confident that they can at least match large reactors on manufacturing costs.

There are some downsides to thePBR project. The Chinese appear to plan to manufacture construction kits for large reactors in factories as well. It is not clear that Chinese PBRs will
PBRs ether cost less per kW or requires less on site labor than Chinese kit built LWRs. One of the major problems with PBR manufacture is the size of its pressure vessel. Although not manufactured from a single huge ingot, as LWR pressure vessels are, the PBR pressure vessel, meant to contain pressurized helium, is twice as large as the pressure vessel of a large LWR. Thus transportation other PBR pressure vessel will be something of a problem.

The advantage of PBRs then may not be lower costs as much as their rapid manufacturing/set up times, and the fact that PBR units can be built sequentially and thus each can come online within a few months of its construction start. Rapid manufacture from the point of first investment to the point of first power delivery will lead to a considerable cost savings, an the ability to tailors project power output to existing demand means that surplus production capacity will not be paid out of a partial capacity retinue stream.

Although the PBR offers a solution to one of the traditional objections against the LWR, that of safety, its TRISO fuel poses a significant reprocessing challenge. Although the use of TRISO fuel technology makes the PBR virtually proliferation proof, it also potentially creates a significant nuclear waste issue. Indeed the volume of nuclear waste from PBRs would be much larger for unit of power output, than the nuclear waste from current LWRs, with significantly greater recycling difficulties.

Thus it would appear that PBR man nor present such decreased complexity and labor savings to offer a significant cost advantage over the LWR.

More information:

Wikepedia PBR page

Nucleaer China

South African Pebble Bed Modular Reactor home page

Robert Hargraves PBR page

The learning curve for serial reactor production

Brian Wang on Chinese PBRs

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nuclear Power: An Indispensable Climate Change Solution

I asked Edward Geist of Blogging About the Unthinkable for permission to cross post this post from his excellent blog. Geist is a graduate student who has limited time to blog, but when he does find time, his blogging is of very high quality. My interest is obvious, I have targeted Romm's grandiose renewable ideas on a number of occasions, as well as his misinformation on both renewables and his disinformation on nuclear energy. This post does an excellent job of pointing out flaws in Romm's thinking.

Nuclear Power: An Indispensable Climate Change Solution
By Edward Geist

Joe Romm clarifies his position on nuclear power:
Why not more than 1 total wedge of nuclear? Based on a post last year on the Keystone report, to do this by 2050 would require adding globally, an average of 17 plants each year, while building an average of 9 plants a year to replace those that will be retired, for a total of one nuclear plant every two weeks for four decades — plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste. I also doubt it will be among the cheaper options. And the uranium supply and non-proliferation issues for even that scale of deployment are quite serious. See “An introduction to nuclear power.”

Note to all: Do I want to build all those nuclear plants. No. Do I think we could do it without all those nuclear plants. Definitely. Therefore, should I be quoted as saying we “must” build all those nuclear plants, as the Drudge Report has, or even that I propose building all those plants? No. Do I think we will have to swallow a bunch of nuclear plants as part of the grand bargain to make this all possible and that other countries will build most of these? I have no doubt. So it stays in “the solution” for now.
Romm's take on nuclear power is not particularlywell-informed, as I've discussed in the past. But examining its limited role in his proposed solution reveals that Romm has not seriously considered the physical limitations associated with his preferred energy options. For political, geographical, and practical reasons, nuclear power must ultimately play a vastly larger role in our energy future than predicted by Romm.

Romm describes his preferred future energy mix as follows:
1 of wind for power — one million large (2 MW peak) wind turbines
1 of wind for vehicles –another 2000 GW wind. Most cars must be plug-in hybrids or pure electric vehicles.
3 of concentrated solar thermal (aka solar baseload)– ~5000 GW peak.
3 of efficiency — one each for buildings, industry, and cogeneration/heat-recovery for a total of 15 to 20 million GW-hrs. A key strategy for reducing direct fossil fuel use for heating buildings (while also reducing air conditioning energy) is geothermal heat pumps.
1 of solar photovoltaics — 2000 GW peak
1/2 wedge of nuclear power– 350 GW
What's wrong with this picture?

4000 GW wind, 5000 GW solar thermal, 2000 GW solar photovoltaic. This is an increase of two orders of magnitude for wind and three for both types of solar. I notice that the capacity factor assumptions implied by Romm are quite high. Wind turbines are now a fairly mature technology, so its economics are increasingly apparent, but the costs solar thermal and solar photovoltaic are still unclear. But for the sake of argument I'm willing to grant Romm that maybe in 2050 these technologies will be cost-competitive. The important thing is that the qualitative limitations of these sources of energy go far beyond cost. With the possible exception of a handful of exceptionally well-endowed nations, investment in solar and wind can NEVER assure energy security.

Solar and wind generators depends on the ambient energy resources available in the locations where they are installed. There is, of course, no place on earth where the sun shines all the time, and not many where the wind always blows. So these are intermittent resources by nature. But some countries are better-endowed than others. Imagine, if you will, a future world of 2050 with the energy supply specified by Romm. Some nations, such as Russia, would be unable to meet their own generation needs through wind and solar power. They could import electricity from abroad, but they would have to compete with other markets such as India and China for it. Not only would this make energy expensive, but it would also place Russia at the mercy of its energy suppliers. Hostile states could cripple Russia's economy by interrupting its energy supplies. States exporting renewable energy would also have substantial incentive to underproduce to both encourage uncertainty and raise energy prices. There would be little incentive to produce enough energy for the have-nots, especially since electricity transmission would make them largely captive markets, unlike present-day oil importers. Countries without abundant renewable energy resources would therefore have a desperate need for more secure energy supplies.

Hence the reason why nuclear energy is likely to dominate our energy future. Because relatively few nations have the renewable resources needed to support their economies themselves (just how many depends on how these technologies develop), the most logical step for them to take to secure their post-carbon energy security is to invest in nuclear energy infrastructure. They would have every reason to doubt that other countries would build the infrastructure needed to provide them with affordable and reliable energy, as it would be in those states' interest to underfulfill their needs. Even in a world where renewable energy technology could fulfill all of the world's energy needs affordably, geographic realities would make nuclear power more attractive.

I do not actually believe that wind and solar power are cheaper than nuclear, but my point is that the barriers to a world powered by solar and wind are not merely technological, but geographical, political and economic. I do not expect that solar thermal electricity will cost less than nuclear electricity in 2050, but even if it did this would not translate into energy security for most of the world. Only the provision of non-intermittent energy sources with the ability to store months' or years' worth of energy will secure the interests of these nations. And nuclear power fits these requirements.

In 2050, I expect there to be far more than 350-700 GW of new nuclear plants in operation. In fact, I would not be surprised by 5000-6000 GW of new nuclear by this point. Most of this will probably consist of mass-produced Generation IV reactors, including ALMRs, PBMRs, and various kinds of MSRs. Not only can these technologies replace fossil-fuel electrical generation anywhere on earth at reasonable cost, but they also allow nations to stockpile decades or even centuries worth of fuel--meaning that even a war or natural catastrophe could potentially have minimal effect on energy production.

The real-world alternative to this is NOT an idealistic future of cooperation, windmills, and solar panels. It is a dystopian nightmare where most of the world continues to burn coal because they lack the ability to domestically produce or import environmentally benign energy. It is a world wracked by war, catastrophe, and want. Even if the myriad technological problems of renewable energy were solved, the simple geographic fact remains that some nations lack sufficient energy resources, be they oil, gas, sunshine, or wind. For this reason, nuclear power is indispensable for averting climate catastrophe. Those who pretend otherwise, such as Romm, are fooling themselves.

Note: I commented on Edwatd's original post:
What is most amazing about Joe Romm's plan is his utter disregard for cost. Reported costs for wind installations last year ran from $2200 to $2800 per kW, with 2009 estimates running as high as $3000 per kW. Four million MWs of wind generating capacity would run to $12 trillion. That is without storage.

The current cost of ST facilities without storage runs to $4000 per kW. 5000 GWs of St power would cost $20 trillion, again without storage.

Geothermal heat pumps are too expensive for more householders to afford, but probably would work for industrial and commercial buildings. Air Source heat pumps work better for residences.

God only knows how much the PVs will cost. So we get a price tag on Joe's energy plan of $40 trillion or so dollars, without assured 24 hour a day electrical reliability. Is that crazy or what?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Battlestar Galactica ends as series script crashes to Earth

After seasons of incredible travail and suffering, with Laura Roslin and our patience approaching death, William Adama following a final heroic battle with the toasters and skin jobs leads the his broken and dying Battlestar to the planet earth of 150,000 years ago. For five seasons, a mini series, a movie, and countless webisodes, Roslin, Adama, Starbuck, Lee Adama, Doctor Cottle, Gaius Baltar, and the 39,000 or so other major human characters, not to mention the innumerable Cylons some of whom are also humans, endure more misadventures than Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones did in Lonesome Dove. The have known almost unrelenting desperation. Both human and Cylon societies are wrent with conflict. There is mutiny on the Battlestar, and a Civil War among the Cylons. Humans shoot other humans Cyons shoot other Cylons. Character turn from good to evil faster than professional wrestlers. People get dumped into space. Cylons get dumped into space. cylons have sex with other cylons. Humans have sex with other humans. Humans have more sex with Cylon more often than porn stars have with each other in porn movies. We are confronted with the question, "how kinky do you have to be before you have sex with a toaster? All this sex has consequences. Cylons get knocked up. Humans get knocked up. In fact there is so much sex, that I started wondering how humans and Cylons found time for wars in between all those trists.

After William Adama leads the fleet to earth they find a lush eden inhabited by primitive people and peaceful grazing animals. Despite the lush environments on earth, it never seems to rain. There are no predators. The young child Here is allowed to freely skip through the savanah with out fear of Lions, Leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, jackals, Wild Cats, Genets, Civets, Aardvarks, pythons, crocodile. cobras, and alligators. You would think that Mom Athena would be a little worried, about the child who is destined to donate her mitochondria DNA top every inhabitant of the planet 150,000 years later. Not to worry, even if Here turned into a meal for a predator, she could always be revived as we discovered that Starbuck was at the beginning of the last season. Rather that setting up a new civilization, the 12 Colony survivors and their Cylon friends decide to return to nature, and live without technology. They crash the fleet into the sun, and head out to face their low tech fate. Adama and the dying Roslin head out to find their new home. Roslin dies and Adama builds a cabin and lives like a hermit.

The whole earth business hangs on the need to have the child Hera to contribute her mitochondria DNA to the human gene pool, in order to give us the ability to talk. Of course, if former genetics student Felix Gaeta had not been killed off after an attempt to restore sanity to the series story line, he could have informed the shows writers that the genetic codes connected to the human ability to talk is not found in mitochondria DNA.

Needless to say William Adama is viewed as the hero of our story, but that is only the case if you accept the anti-technology, anti-human perspective of the narrator. The narrative views technology as the source of a problem that has destroyed humanity not once, but many times. We are told, all of this has happened before, and will happen again. It is nothing less than technology that threatens our survival as a species. The Colonists have quite literally manufactured their own worst enemies. The colonists technology attacks their worlds, destroys them and even attempts to exterminate their survivors. The survivors, under Adama's leadership, ultimately conclude that they are better off without technology, and join the native primitive humans, no doubt clubbing animals to death and ripping them limb from limb with their teeth. All of that, of course, tastefully happens off camera.

What then are we to think of this narrative? First, it can be argued that the narrators have lost control of their story. Even is we ignore the supernatural elements, the deus ex machina episodes of the later parts of the story. We might take it as a sign that the threads of the narrative did not make for a coherent whole, that the leadership team of William Adama ands Laura Roslin seem to stumble toward the conclusion more than they exercise good leadership. The Cylon alliance is one example of their leadership failure. The alliance involves them in the Cylon civil war, and leads to the a mutiny and coup d’√Čtat. The Cylons give the Galactica with a repair that does not really fix her. The attempt to impose Cylon technology on the fleet, leads to open rebellion by officers and passengers of many ships. We must ask if there is any evidence in the subsequent narrative that the Cylon technology afforded the Colonial fleet an advantage or even played a role in subsequent episodes.

Adama's Judgement is following the abducted child Hera into the Cylon fortress was clearly questionable. The Galactica is in such poor shape she is unlikely to survive. The fleet is under maned, sacrificing ships and people to recover a single child strikes me as verging on insanity. And nothing convinces us that Hera is really that important. From a cost benefits perspective, Hera's recovery is not worth the likely cost. Thus Adama's judgement is clearly a problem, and his subsequent judgements are not better. There are three further examples of Adama's poor judgement. The first is the decision to reject technology and civilization. In a real world, this would subject a mixed group of people to conditions of extreme privation. East Africa 150,000 years ago was no eden, and life would have been extremely hard. The Colonial survivors were unprepared, physically, mentally and in turms of their skill set for survival without civilization and technology. In a real world most would not have adapted, and would have died quite quickly, and for many death would have come in happy circumstances. The decision would have given the people Adama lead a life that was nasty, brutish and short.

Adama's second error in Judgement was to destroy the fleet. Although the survivors were not going anywhere, their lives could have been vastly better if they had access to the Fleets material resources. Even if the survivors agreed with Adama about the return to nature, they would probably quickly changed their minds when confronting the primitive life Adama's leadership was directing them too.

Adams's third error was to abandon his people after launching them unprepared into the wilderness. Not only does Adama turn his backon his former leadership role at a time when leadership was clearly needed, but he withdraws from human contact, revealing a deep ambivalence about his own kind.

Perhaps, no single single decision weighs more heavily heavily of Adama's judgement than his decision to send Kara Thrace off on a mission to look for earth. Thrace (Starbuck) is a major league nut job, who flies her Viper after an enemy space ship that do not show up on her gun camera, holds conversations with avatars while flying patrols. Starbuck disappears while flying a viper, returns months later saying that sahwe has only been gone for 6 hours and that she has been to earth, Then she has big fights with Adama and Roslin, generally acts crazy and gets tossed into the brig. Clearly Starbuck needs to take a long vacation on the funny farm, but instead Adama sends her in command of a mission to look for earth. While in command of the mission, she acts crazy and freaks out her crew. They encounter a damaged Cylon ship, and who should be on board but her Cylon lover, Leoben Conoy. Starbuck is also married to a Cylon, by the way, so we know the she prefers sex with toasters. Rather than clapping her Cylon lover into Irons, she takes him into her cabin, and has a party. Clearly Adama has shown exceedingly bad judgement by placing Trace in charge of the earth hunting mission. Later when Starbuck finally leads the fleet ot earth, it turns into a disaster. Earth has already been desolated by a nuclear war.

No one suffers from the misconduct of the Cylons and Cylon lovers who form William Adama's inner circle more than Felix Gaeta, who is extremely high minded, and if anything way over trusting. Caeta was an extremely able Junior officer who is extremely well educated, and who wishes to be a scientist. Gaeta's love of science leads him to admire the unworthy Gaius Baltar, a brilliant scientist, but also a cowardly schemer. When Balter becomes colonial president during the disasterous attempt to reestablish colonial society on New Caprica, Baltar names Gaeta his Chief of Staff. During the subsequent Cylon occupation Baltar collaborates, but Gaeta, while pretending to collaborate, aids the colonial resistance.

Later with Gaeta's assistance, Gallactica rescues the New Caprica captives, but Gaeta gets no recognition for his services to the resistance and is seen as a collaborator and traitor by The Circle , a group of hidden Cylons and Cylon lovers that is close to Adama. The Circle decides to murder Gaeta, but before he can be killed, the truth about his assistance to the resistance comes out.

Gaeta returns to duty with the fleet, and is assigned to Starbuck's mission to search for earth. During the mission Starbuck's Cylon lover convinces her to visit a Cylon baseship. Most of the rest of the crew object to this crazy plan, and prevent Starbuck from jumping the ship to the baseship. When Gaeta attempts to jump the ship back to the fleet, Stabuck's Cylon Husband shoots him in the leg, and retakes control of the ship for Starbuck. As a result of the wound, Gaeta looses his leg.

Gaeta is concerned about Bill Adama's Cylon inner circle and and the effect it is having on Adama's judgement. Having survived the Cylon occupation of New Caprica and being aware of the deceptions that the Toasters are capable of, Gaeta becomes increasingly concerned as Adama allows the Cylon more and more influence in the fleet. Eventually seeing exactly how poor Adama;s judgement is, Gaeta organizes a Mutiny, but the mutiny fail, and Gaeta is executed.

It is clear that Gaeta represents the only voice of reason in the otherwise dismal last seasons of Battlestar Galactica. The writers of Battlestar Galactica were posed with a challenge if they were to offer an account of the Colonial survivors visiting and settling on earth. In the first Battlstar Galactica 1980 the colonial survivors eventually travel to earth in the present, but the first Battlestar Galactica suffered from poor script writing and the story line of the on earth episodes was less than memorable. The writers of the current series decided to avoid script problems of the firsat series by setting the earth episode in the past. But this required an explanation if why the Colonialists did not bring their civilization to earth. We have an explanation, but as I have shown the depiction of earth 150,000 years ago is no more satisfactory that the earth episodes of the first Battlestar Galactica series.

Intentionally or unintentionally, the conclusion of BSG comes across as confirming an anti-technology viewpoint, and offering a back to nature solution to humanities problems. As I have argued this solution is arrived at by depicting the hero of the story. William Adama, as committing numerous errors of judgement, and leading the Colonists into a wholly unrealistic landscape. Given the story trajectory, ironically the mutiny of Felix Gaeta makes a great deal more since than the continued leadership of William Adama does.

We are thus left then with a romantic back to nature myth, that says in effect that human problems are all due to civilization (that is living in cities) and technology. Technology is in the story always suppose to lead to a conflict between the interest of technology and the survival of the human species. Tho only solution to the conflict is to reject technology and learn to live in peace and harmony with nature. I am not sure to what if any extent romantic "green" anti-technology thinking influenced the story resolution, but if to any extent it did, the story was the worse because of the influence.

UPdate: I am not the only one who views the resolition of BSG this way. After I finished this review, I came across a comment by Vincent L. Diaz
I have been reading, hopefully, good quality written Science Fiction for years. The gap between the great SF writers of the past and the present and the usual junk that passes for TV scripts, is well known.

I did find BG interesting and entertaining. The series ending, however, was disappointing to the say the least. To coin a phrase it was “not logical”. The fate for the main characters and the survivors of the colonies was clearly naive and had more to do with the Producers ideological and philosophical leaning against technology and science than a realistic rendering of could have happened had the situation been real.

I found it ridiculous that the script had Adama deciding to deliberately scatter his remaining population all over their new virgin world like so many petri dishes, cut off from help and support, to supposedly better their chances of survival.

When a character suggested an ideal site, next to a flowing river, for their new city, it was “decided” that they would not simply repeat their past. Really? And do what? As it turned out they began to fragment.

The new President of the Colonies leading a line of people clearing carrying only what they could carry; Gaius Baltar, despite his many flaws, an irreplaceable source of science and technology, wonders toward the horizon with his #6 girl friend, literally crying that he’s a Physicist , not a farmer. They’re not equipped for a camping trip, let alone surviving. It might have been poetic to imagine them all scattering across their new Eden, but it was childish for the scripts writers to even consider how their beloved characters could possibly survive.

Although it was lovely to see the child Herra frolicking in the grass. It was later revealed that our present world discovered that she was a key genetic source for humanity. Did they also find teeth marks where the nearest hungry predator bit into her neck? After all the script mentioned they discovered her remains in Tanzania.

These increasing scattering bands were in the middle of a Savanna, for Chirst’s sake. Were they armed? Assuming they survived their descendants would have no knowledge of modern weapons or how to build them; no history to guide them in farming and animal husbandry; many would perish due to their ignorance of the simplest elements of medical science.

No, common sense dictates that such a group would stay together, build their city, build schools for their children and industries for their sheer survival, and more importantly, remember their history so they would not make the same mistakes.

Instead the script had the “Angels of a Higher Power” lamenting our modern society looking painfully familiar, finally hoping that the “chaos of modern complex systems” might somehow prevent everything from happening again.

The script, no matter how artfully done only showed that the writers had no feel for real people who only wanted to live, to love, and to survive and prosper.

Permits for Bellefonte Unites 1 and 2 to be reinstated

In February the NRC authorized its staff to consider reinstating permits on the unfinished Bellefonte reactors Units 1 and 2. Unit 1 was 88 percent complete when TVA stopped construction on it 21 years ago. However, much completed equipment for the Bellefonte reactor has been stripped for use in other reactors and would have to be remanufactured if the reactor is to be complete. Unit 2 was about 58% complete when its construction stopped. TVA must provide the NRC with proof the Bellefonte units can be returned to a "deferred" status. Deferred status means that the reactors are in a condition that would allow them to be completed if and when TVA chose to complete them.

Earlier this month the NRC decided to return the two reactors to a deferred construction status. The NRC stated in a press release earlier this month,
after considering the technical, regulatory, and legal aspects of TVA’s request, concluded that there is sufficient reason to allow reinstatement of the construction permits, using a conservative sequential approach to ensure the safety of doing so.”
The NRC expects to hold public hearings on the reinstatement request. There is the to be expected opposition from pseudo-environmentalist groups to the reinstatement. Dramatic increases in the fuel cost for coal fired steam plants lead TVA to reconsider the completion of the long delayed reactors. In addition, TVA has applied for an NRC license to build two new reactors at Bellefonte.

TVA has not yet decided to complete the two units but it has billions of dollars invested in the partially completed reactors, The two reactors could be completed for far less than two new reactors would cost, and they would have similar power output to new reactors. TVA originally waved its construction permits for the two reactors in 2006.

The current Nuclear Regulatory Commission action reinstates TVA’s construction permit for the original reactors only as a “terminated” plant. The NRC has given the public 60 days to object to the permit. Further NRC action would be required before TVA would be permitted to resume construction of the reactors.

In addition to the two older reactors TVA has applied for a license to construct two new reactors at the Bellefonte location. It is not clear if TVA plans to build and operate all 4 reactors. At present TVA is working to complete the long deferred Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor. TVA recently reported that during the first year its newly reconstructed Browns Ferry Unit 1 reactor saved TVA $800 million in operating costs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Al Gore's poorly informed account of nuclear proliferation

Axil wrote:
You say we need to challenge the argument that current technology would lead to nuclear proliferation.

Al Gore has recently said “Whatever countries such as the US and the UK do, it will have a demonstration effect for the rest of the world. As the world comes to grips with how to solve the climate crisis, we in the US and the UK have a leadership role. If we told the rest of the world that nuclear is the answer [they would follow]. For the eight years that I spent in the White House every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a reactor programme. People have said for years that there are now completely different [nuclear] technologies. OK, but if you have a team of scientists that can build a reactor, and you're a dictator, you can make them work at night to build a nuclear weapon. That's what's happened in North Korea and Iran. And in Libya before they gave it up. So the idea of, say, Chad, Burma, and Sudan having lots of nuclear reactors is insane and it's not going to happen.”

This guy has won a Noble prize. His opinion was officially ratified and affirmed by the world. He told Obama to hire Chu. Chu is loath to offend his good friend: Gore. . How do you fight this? I am groping here.

The only thing that might do the trick is a full proof device. It may well be vaporware now, but the argument may need to be made.

Al Gore's argument that "every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with (during the Clinton administration) was connected to a reactor programme" is absurd. Iran's nuclear technology did not originate from an Iranian reactor. Nor was Pakistan's or South Africa's weapons programs linked in any way to reactor programs. Libya bought an enrichment facility from an international criminal gang. Local scientists and reactor technology had nothing to do with it. Al Gore has fallen for Amory Lovins's argument without giving it the slightest amount of thought.

The argument that building reactors in the United States will in any way contribute to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by dictators is not backed by evidence. In none of the cases which Gore mentioned did American nuclear technology contribute to the proliferation. UK technology did contribute to the North Korean nuclear program, but only because the British Government shortsightedly put the plans for a plutonium production plant into the public domain.

My view is that LFTR research needs to have a proliferation component. The proliferation component needs to answer central questions.
1. Is it plausible that producing LFTRs in the United States for internal use lead to nuclear proliferation in other countries?
2. Is it plausible that producing LFTRs in the United States for internal use lead to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists?
3. Is it plausible that selling LFTRs to nuclear armed nations would lead to nuclear proliferation or the increase the likelihood that terrorists would acquire nuclear weapons?
4. Should Pakistan be considered a special case in this group?
5. Would the sale of LFTR technology to countries deemed to be politically unstable lead to an unacceptable political risk?
6. What policies would best contain LFTR related proliferation risks?

EfT, Nuclear Green Included in Top Energy Blogs List

Constructionmanagementdegree.org a web site that focuses on education and information for construction managers as listed Energy from Thorium and Nuclear Green among the 50 top energy related blogs. Two other nuclear blogs, NEI Nuclear Notes and Rod Adams' Atomic Insights Blog were also included in the list along with Robert Hargraves' Pebble Bed Reactor page. Most observers of the nuclear blogging community would probably include Dan Yurman's Idaho Samidazt among the top nuclear blogs. Other nuclear bloggers also produce excellent blogs, and are worth adding to any list of top nuclear blogs. There are no bad nuclear blogs, and all are worth reading.

The CMD list describes Energy From Thorium
This blog is devoted to the discussion of thorium as a future energy resource, and the machine to extract that energy: the liquid-fluoride nuclear reactor. Kirk Sorenson, an expert on thorium fuel, thinks this ore could help the globe with its energy needs. Visitors can learn about the basic principles of thorium, as well as its history and future.
Nuclear Green is described:
This blog holds the belief that nuclear energy is green energy. Post include entries on Greenpeace, energy tariffs, and the truth about wind energy.
The CMD Energy blog list is somewhat uneven. A number of the listed blogs are infrequently posted. For example the Coal Association of Canada's blog has not posted on since July, In contrast a number of regularly posting nuclear bloggers are not mentioned. Similar weaknesses exist in other parts of the list. For Example Ed Ring's EcoWorld is not included in the list.

However, despite the somewhat uneven quality of the CMD Energy Blog list, it does link to a significant number of quality blogs that provide accurate information. Other blogs included on the list, while not entirely trustworthy as accurate sources of information, do provide insight into current thinking about energy issues.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nuclear Green and the Big Lots Reactor

I created Nuclear Green to voice things that need to be said. I had come to Nuclear Blogging through a long and unusual route that went back into my childhood. The route was part of the story. But there was more than that. I had concluded that we, as a civilization, faced a serious crisis involving future sources of energy. The term energy crisis is not new, and there would be no resolution of the energy issue until the human community could settle on a long term energy source that would not threaten life on this planet. I already knew the answer a long time before I started thinking about the problem in 2007. It was simply a matter of applying what I knew. The primary candidates for to replace fossil fuels were wind, solar and conventional nuclear. I asked the most simple and obvious question first. Where do you get electricity once the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. Well after dark, electricity is suppose to come from wind, and the wind is only going to stop blowing only in the day time, renewables advocates like David Roberts and Joe Romm told me in 2007. Other renewables advocates told me that all of the problems would be solved with extra large rechargeable batteries, pumped storage and compressed air. When I read about those and other energy storage solutions I quickly concluded that they were not ready for prime time. That meant that renewables, always at the beck and call of mother nature, were not ready for prime time either.

The big complaint about conventional nuclear is that Light Water Reactors are very complex. It takes a lot of work to build them. Millions of hours of work. Millions of hours of work translates into building projects that stretch out for several years. Henry Ford has the solution to building reactors more quickly and with fewer hours of work a century ago. Reactors had to be built on the assembly line and made simpler. It was absurd to think you could transport a 1 GW light water reactor from a factory to its building site, but the Molten Salt Reactor was much smaller and lighter than a LWR. I knew about the MSR because my father had worked on it over a nearly 20 year period at ORNL. MSRs were also more efficient than LWRs. It was my idea then to build relatively small - small for the sake of easy transportation - Molten Salt Reactor (LFTRs) in factories. I do not claim originality for the factory manufactured small reactor idea. Later I was to add other unoriginal components to the mix, underground housing, and recycling coal fired steam plant sites, for LFTR localities. All in the name of cost lowering.

I also focused on cost lowering with the Big Lots Reactor. I do claim the Big Lots Reactor idea was original. The most important concept in the Big Lots idea is the notion that the LFTR is good business. A manufacturer can build thousands of them and make money on every one. Utilities that buy them will make money too, and the public will get low cost reliable electricity. No one loses. The best thing that could happen to the Big Lots idea is that someone will see it as an opportunity to get rich and take advantage of it. Not the government, but someone who wants to get rich can make the Big Lots Reactor happen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Probabilistic Proliferation Risk Assessment and the LFTR

At times I find myself out in front of my contemporaries. I learned about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) while I had what amounted to an internship at ORNL in 1971. ORNL had not taken AGW seriously before 1971, and for a number of years after, it was the only place on the earth were AGW was taken seriously. After I left ORNL I never doubted that AGW was in the offing even if the scientific evidence was not in. I am amazed that 38 years later there are still intelligent educated people, who doubt what seemed obvious to me in 1971. Although I am not a scientist, I was able to spot an important development in science sometime before it became a matter of general concern in the scientific community.

I believe that my adoption of the probabilistic risk assessment approach to nuclear proliferation is another case where I adopted an advanced mode of thinking. About two years ago I began to review concerns about nuclear proliferation. Now let me first state that I am very concerned about nuclear proliferation. I regard it as a very bad thing that the government of an unstable country like Pakistan has control of nuclear weapons. I regard it as a very bad thing that the government of Iran, a nation whose political leadership is exercised by a group of theocratic religious fanatics, whose morality and understanding of their world is stuck somewhere in the middle ages, is working to develop nuclear weapons. I find it reprehensible that a Pakistani scientist, A.Q. Kahn, was able to steal the design to advanced Uranium Enrichment technology, and to pass that technology on to unstable and rogue states including Pakistan, Iran, Libya, and North Korea. I find it shocking that the design of a reactor intended to produce plutonium for military purposes was placed into the public domain during the 1960's and that any rogue state which wishes to obtain that technology can do so, provided enough cash finds its way to certain North Korean leaders.

It is quite obvious to me that proliferation control is no longer about controlling technology. Proliferation is a political issue. Proliferation must be controlled through diplomacy and international pressure on would be proliferating states. The technology to create bomb grade fissionable material is available to virtually any rogue state that wants to build nuclear weapons. Only a concerted international political effort can stop the spread of nuclear weapons in the present environment.

Shortly after I started debating anti-nuclear types a couple of years ago, I noted an absurdity in their argument, and a contradiction between two other arguments. The absurdity was the notion that building reactors in the United States would cause rogue states to acquire nuclear weapons. The absurd argument when like this: Reactors produce plutonium, plutonium is used nuclear weapons. If we build plutonium producing reactors in the United States, it is inevitable that they will spread to other countries, and equally inevitable that plutonium will fall into the hands of rogue states and terrorists. Inevitably then bad people will acquire nuclear weapons. Conclusion, the way to prevent nuclear proliferation is to not build reactors in the United States.

Faulty premises, faulty conclusions. A de facto moratorium on reactor construction in the United States did not in fact stop the manufacture in other countries. France decided to produce most of its electricity with reactors. This is now a fact. Japan and South Korea built lots of reactors and much of their electrical production is via reactors. India continued on a long term plan to develop local nuclear technology, that would eventually place India in the forefront of nuclear power production. Thus even without the construction of new nuclear reactors in the United States, Nuclear power technology continued to develop and spread to other countries.

There was another flaw in the premise of this argument. There are several different isotopes of Plutonium. In terms of bomb making, not all of the isotopes of plutonium are made equal. Pu-239 is the stuff you build bombs from. Pu-241 also works well. But Pu-238, Pu-240 and Pu-242 are worse than useless to bomb makers. In particular Pu-240 is very bad news for bomb makers, and it is considered very desirable to keep the Pu-240 content of plutonium used in nuclear weapons below 7% of the plutonium content. While Pu-240 is not itself explosive, it can cause the explosive forms of plutonium, Pu-239 and Pu-241 to explode prematurely. Such premature explosions will have an explosive force similar to that of conventional chemical explosives. At least 25% of the plutonium in spent reactor fuel is Pu-240. Now here is the paradox. It is a well know fact that ammonia fertilizer can be turned into a low cost but effective high explosive. The biggest explosion would be proliferators are going to get from the spent reactor fuel plutonium would be the equivalent of the explosion that could be produced by $150,000 worth of fertilizer.

It would take millions of dollars to recover the plutonium that went into the weapon from reactor fuel. Lets play a you are a terrorist game. You are a terrorist. You are considering setting off a very large explosion in a famous western city. You have two options. The first option is to obtain a large amount of spent nuclear fuel, handle the spent fuel without exposing your people to a lethal amount of radiation. Spend hundreds of millions of dollars extracting the plutonium from the spent fuel, engage your scientists and engineers in the technologically challenging task of building a weapon from the recovered plutonium (hint: having the weapons building resources of Los Alamos would help). Secretly transport the resultant device to the Western city and set it off.

The second option is to secretly assemble $150,000 worth of ammonia fertilizer in a Western city. Rig it to explode. Set it off.

The two plans will produce explosions equal to the effect of 400 tons of TNT. Which plan would you chose? Would you be more likely to set off the explosion because you could chose to use the plutonium device? A rational actor would notice that the second plan was far simpler, and far less expensive, and despite risks, far more likely to succeed. Thus a rational terrorist would choose plan B. If we were to asses the risk of terrorists setting off a large explosion in a western city, given the existence of the two options, we would have to say that the existence of the nuclear option does not increase the likelihood of a large terrorist explosion, even if the terrorist chose to build the nuclear weapon, for had the terrorist not chosen to do so, the terrorist would have likely chosen the conventional explosives route. In fact the terrorist choice of the nuclear route would have decreased the likelihood of the explosion taking place, given the expense and difficulty of developing a nuclear device. Thus the supposed nuclear choice was very unlikely to effect the terrorists behavior, and to the extent it did, it would have somewhat decreased the likelihood that a major terrorist act would take place. The explosive effects of the conventional explosive and the nuclear device would have been the same.

Now let us consider the contradiction. Critics of nuclear power often argue that extraction of Plutonium from spent nuclear fuel is so technologically challenging and expensive as to be a wholly impractical option. At the same time the extraction of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for the purposes of weapons manufacture is depicted, often in the same essay as trivially easy. Now both cannot be true at the same time. As we have seen whether or not the extraction of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel is a practical option, the building of nuclear weapons from that plutonium is not a practical option.

We must now consider a Statement by Clinton Era Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director John Holum explained the situation clearly in a memorandum to former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary:

"U.S. decisions on plutonium disposition are inextricably linked with U.S. efforts to reduce stockpiles as well as limit the use of plutonium worldwide. The multi-decade institutionalization of plutonium use in US commercial reactors would set a very damaging precedent for US non-proliferation policy."

The above statement suggests that Clinton era United States Non-proliferation policy was wrong-headed. The use of plutonium in United States Reactors does not promote nuclear proliferation.

I would now like to turn to the alleged proliferation potential of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. In particular I would like to direct these remarks to commenters on the Energy from Thorium Form (EfT) who do not take into account the probabilistic method of assessing proliferation risks. I have argued that from a rational perspective the LFTR is unlikely to pose a proliferation risk. In contrast a number of EfT commenters continue to express concerns about the proliferation dangers posed by allegedly risky LFTR technology. While these commenters are individuals whose views I generally regard with a great deal of respect, I have noted that their views seem to ignore the argument that LFTR technology is very unlikely to play a role in future nuclear proliferation, and that well known paths to the development of nuclear weapons will continue to be followed by future would be nuclear proliferators. Thus adding supposed anti-proliferation features to the LFTR would not decrease the extremely small risk that LFTRs would be used as a means to develop nuclear weapons. Further, it is a matter of legitimate concern that such features are not only pointless but could increase LFTR expenses, and potentially cripple the LFTR.

No anti-proliferation concern is served by adding proliferation features to LFTRs sold in the United States. The U-233 produced by American LFTRs would be very unlikely to cause rogue states or terrorists to build nuclear weapons. Protection of LFTR produced U-233 from diversion is primarily a security rather than a technical issue. It is my viewpoint that public debate regarding security measures used to protect nuclear material and technology is likely to help terrorists who might wish to seek to defeat nuclear security, by offering them tips about what to expect. Thus I am going to specify that it is an obligation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to see to it that high levels of security are provided for U-233 and other potential bomb construction materials, and leave the how to others.

Secondly most potential LFTR customers outside the United States either possess nuclear weapons, or the capacity to build nuclear weapons if they so chose. Possession of the LFTR is not likely to increase the weapons stocks of existing nuclear powers. Nor would possession of the LFTR increase the likelihood that nations that already possess the capacity to develop nuclear weapons would choose to do so.

This would leave a group of states that are less technologically advanced, but might now in the future seek to posses nuclear weapons. The danger of proliferation via LFTR technology might be a legitimate concern with these states even if a probabilistic risk assessment might reveal that the danger was unlikely. In such cases, there could be an option to sell the at risk state other low risk nuclear technology.

It would appear then that efforts to make the LFTR more proliferation resistant are not needed. The existence of real LFTR technology is unlikely to to lead non-nuclear weapons states to acquire nuclear weapons, and measures required to make the LFTR more proliferation are unlikely to greatly diminish the probability of nuclear proliferation while increasing LFTR cost and having other adverse consequences. I urge my peers to adopt a probabilistic approach to the assessment of LFTR proliferation risks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Big Lots Reactor Discussions

There has been some discussion of my Big Lots Reactor concept in the Energy from Thorium discussion pages. It would appear from comments that I needed to make things clearer. I offered some clarifications of my Big Lots reactor concept.

There are a number of significant issues in LFTR Design. The two most important issues are the graphite moderator issue, and the one or two fluids issue. The graphite moderator issue has to do with neutron energy in the reactor core. There are two major moderators that are commonly used in reactors, heavy water and graphite. Although there have been proposals to use heavy water as a moderator in LFTRs, to do so would introduce a complication in core design that would lead inevitably to higher R&D expenses. My view is that early LFTR design should go with options that require less research when ever possible. That would suggest then that graphite would be the moderator of choice, even though graphite carries some liabilities.

There is a school of thought that holds that the best solution to the moderator problem is to have none. I might find this approach valid if were were going to be dealing with a limited number of reactors. We are not. I calculated the number of 100 MW "Big Lots" Reactors that would be needed to replace fossil fuel powered electrical generators in the United States. My estimate would be in the neighborhood of 10,000. Using a graphite moderated core design means that only about a fifth as much fissionable materials will be needed to start a moderated LFTR as are needed to start an unmoderated LFTR. The problem is one of scalability. We can start 5 times as many graphite moderated LFTRs with a given amount of fissionable material as we can start if the LFTRs are unmoderated.

Thus a graphite moderated LFTR makes large scale LFTR deployment more easy to manage. This decision is not a difficult one to make.

The second major design decision is between two and one fluid core designs. In a two fluid core design the thorium carrying is segregated from the uranium carrying salt. As thorium-232 absorbs neutrons, it almost always goes through a 2 stage transformational process that produces fissionable U-233. On the first stage Th-233 emits an electron and becomes protactinium-233. Pa-233 then emits an electron and becomes U-233. In a one fluid Th-232, Pa-233 and U-233 would all be in a single fluid. There is a problem with this because Pa-233 is a neutron eater, and that does two bad things. First every Pa-233 atom that absorbs a core neutron is one less U-233 atom that will be produced by the LFTR breeding process. Secondly every neutron that is absorbed by Pa-233, is one less neutron that is available to breed Th-232 into U-233. So every time Pa-233 absorbs a neutron, two U-233 atoms are lost to the breeding process.

The obvious solution to this little problem is to process Pa-233 out of the core salts as quickly as possible. But as my father discovered in the 1960's when he tried to find how to do this, processing Pa-233 out of the core salts of a single fluid MSR is quite a challenge. The added chemical processing equipment required by a single fluid design would add to reactor cost.

In contrast, Pa-232 poses less of a problem in a two fluid core and blanket design. In a core and blanket design the core is surrounded by an outer donut that contains thorium salts, and other carrier salts. The blanket serves a double purpose. Thorium in the blanket captures the neutrons that leak from the core. Thus the blanket is a radiation shield. Because blanket thorium is not mixed with with the core salts, it can be present in the blanket at a much higher concentration that would be the case in a single fluid design. The higher concentration of Th-232 would prevent the Pa-233 neutron absorption problem from becoming significant in the blanket, because there would be many more Th-232 than Pa-233 atoms in the blanket.

Solving the Pa-233 problem is likely to involve more R&D and increase the cost of the "Big Lots" reactor.

We are of course left with problems with our design choices. The primary problem is that when energetic neutrons encounter carbon atoms in graphite they tend to knock those atoms around. This process causes graphite to swell, and makes it a poor material for core structures. It has been suggested, for example that core graphite could be present in the form of balls that float in the core salt. Periodically the graphite balls would be floated out of the core to be replaced by fresh undamaged balls. A more likely solution would be to shut a graphite cored LFTR down every few years, remove the damaged core, and replace it with a fresh core. The damaged core would be, of course, highly radioactive, and it most likely would have to go into long term storage. Graphite does not pose much of a long term storage problem, but used LFTR cores would be classified as nuclear waste. It would be highly desirable to have a low cost long term core graphite disposal plan before the "Big Lots" reactor went into production.

The "Big Lots" concept was born because I saw that the requirements of load following/peak load power generation would lead to longer graphite core life, as well as permit the use of lower cost materials like stainless steel in reactor manufacture. The use of stainless steel would require a lower reactor temperature, and the decrease in neutron exposure that a reactor that might be operated on a part time, part power basis would increase the life span of graphite and metal structural components.

It is clear that I have shamelessly advocated what might be called marketing based design process over a purely technological. Under ordinary circumstances I would not dream of second guessing the scientists and engineers, but my interest is not in building the best possible reactor but in building a reactor that is good enough and highly scalable.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Scaling the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor: The Big Lots Reactor and the Aim High Reactor

I believe that we have reached the point in our understanding of the potential thorium/Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor future, where we can talk about our grand plan. I believe that we can show that the use of thorium fuel cycle LFTRs represents, if not the silver bullet, then at least the thorium bullet of future energy. The most important questions which we need to answer about thorium cycle/LFTR technology are:
1. Can it be built at a reasonable cost?
2. Is is scalable enough to meet our energy needs?
3. Can we complete world wide deployment of carbon technology replacing LFTR by what is often seen as the cut off date of 2050?
The answers to these three questions are related. Indeed, LFTR costs are a part of the scalability question.

Perhaps my only original idea about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) design was more a marketing suggestion, which combined David LeBlanc's suggestion that capital costs for LFTRs could be lowered by using lower cost materials that would tolerate somewhat lower reactor performance. David LeBlanc's suggestions indicated that low cost LFTRs could be built from commonly available low cost materials. I saw that this would solve a major problem in all current plans to produce post carbon electricity, that is the absence of a low cost load following and peak reserve electrical production technology to replace natural gas. Indeed the Greenpeace "energy [r]evolution" plan is not a true post carbon energy plan because it calls for an increase in the capacity of natural gas powered generating facilities over the next 20 years in order to supply load following and peak energy capacity to the grid as a compensation for the increased penetration by wind powered generators.

I named the lower cost LFTR, the Big Lots Reactor after the store chain from which surprising bargains sometimes emerge. Unlike Big Lots which finds bargains among over stocked and close out items, our reactor bargain will come from intelligent approaches to reactor manufacture and site construction, more efficient use of labor and careful attention to containing financing costs.

When I read David LeBlanc's observations, I was aware that operating LFTR on a partial power or a part time basis decreases neutron damage to core material. At the same time load following power and peak load power is purchased by utilities at a premium price. It appeared to me that there was a potential for synergy here.

The LFTR has significant potential as both a load follower and a peak reserve power source. The trick would be to lower its price enough for LFTR load following/peak reserve to be economically viable. That is where David LeBlanc's suggestions come in. By lowering capital costs the cost of the reactor manufacture can be recovered while running it with a less than base load capacity factor.

Thus the Big Lots reactor can be run on a 16/7 or 16/5 schedule. It can be run on less full power for most of the day. A Big Lots Reactor can rapidly increase power if a major online generating unit suddenly goes down, or if the electrical utilities experience a surge in consumer electrical demand. It could even cope with the fluctuating electrical output of windmills.

The original Aim High plan calls for LFTR production from high performance and expensive materials. The Aim High Reactor would be designed to operate at maximum temperature compatible with current materials technology. The Aim High Reactor would be designed for base load power and/or the production of process heat. As a base load reactor the AIM High Reactor would be expected to produce maximum power on a 24/7 basis. It is very conceivable that a Generation II Aim High Reactors might be built. The first generation Aim High Reactor, to go into production about 2020, would be built using expensive Hastelloy-N in the core structure and Molten Salt piping. The Aim High I could operate at a temperature of up to 700 degrees C. A further Aim High Reactor, the Aim High II, might then be developed to provide Industrial process heat up to 1000 degrees C. The Aim High II would be built of more exotic materials like carbon-carbon composites, and would be able to produce power with a high level of thermal efficiency.

The Big Lot Reactor can be built in the same factory as the Aim High Reactor, and the two reactors might share many of the same parts. Parts like pumps, heat exchanges turbines, fuel processing units, helium handling equipment, and core graphite can be used in common. Core structural matter for the Big Lots Reactor would be stainless steel as would be the reactors external pipes. The Big Lots core design should use a moderated two fluid approach, and might use NaF-ZrF4-UF4 salt rather than LiF-BeF2-UF.

The Big Lots would be expected to operate no more than 2/3rds of the time and to operate at capacity factor of .60 or less. Since the lower capacity factor means less exposure to radiation over a given period of time, the stainless steel parts can be expected to be reasonably robust in the face of anticipated radiation levels. The Big Lots Reactor could be deliberately oversized in order to promote reserve peak capacity. Thus the Big Lots might be expected to operate at 25% of full capacity for part of the day, while more capacity could be brought on line quickly in the face of rising demand. Unlike the Light Water Reactor adding substantial increasing design capacity would not add proportionately to overall reactor costs.

Production of the Big Lots Reactor would be highly scalable because it is factory built. The production process can use labor savings machines at every stage of the production process. Given a large enough production volume, parts manufacture can be partially or even completely automated. Robots can replace workers in some assembly operation. It is anticipated that the factory produced Big Lots will be shipped to the reactor site for final setup in modular units. Labor savings equipment can be used in site preparation, component assembly and in finishing off the site.

The Big Lots factory would be large, but not larger than a modern aircraft assembly factory. Component modules need not be produced in the same factory. The modules would be major reactor components. The assembly of the modular components should be relatively simple and quick, with most of the assembly being performed in factory settings.

The goal of the Big Lot/Aim High Program should be the production and distribution of enough LFTRs that by 2050 to assure that world wide carbon production could be lowered by 80% from 2009 levels by 2050. This will be made possible by massive production and deployment of Big Lot Reactors after 2020.

The role of the Big Lots reactor would be to assure that material shortages would not prevent the the construction of the required number of reactors. By using a common material like stainless steel, sufficient building materials should be available to insure the required number of reactors can be built. Production facilities can be designed with the capacity to handle a large number of reactors. In the United States, Europe, Japan and South Korea, highly mechanized and automated assembly/construction methods would be used to limit labor input. However in India and China less mechanized site preparation and final assembly approaches might be used.

Site design should be standardized to the extent possible. To the extent possible old power plant sites should be recycled as Big Lots sites, with structures and equipment reused to the extent possible.

The Big Lots Reactor should be designed with cooling options. It could be air cooled or water cooled depending on the availability of water.

Start up options for all LFTRs would include recycling plutonium from nuclear waste or nuclear weapons, using U-235 from nuclear weapons, or by breeding U-233 from Th-232 in LFTRs and other Molten Salt Reactors. Indian technology would also create the potential to breed U-233 from Th-232 in LMFBRs. U-235 can be enriched to HEU levels using laser technology and then used for LFTR start up.

LFTR Costs
I have recently pointed out reports that Indian LMFBRs costs will run at an estimated $1.4 billion per GW, while Chinese LWR costs run between $1.6 and $1.75 billion per GW. In neither case does the cost of reactor R&D play a major role in reactor costs. In both cases it would appear that financing costs are a lower percentage of total reactor costs than they would be in the United States or Europe. The rest of the cost savings would appear to come from the cost of labor. In the case of the Chinese reactor we know that the total hours of labor are similar to those required to build reactors in Europe and North America. We can suspect that the Indian LMFBR requires significantly fewer hours of labor than Chinese LWRs require.

The cost of electricity is a fundamental measure of the competitiveness of a society. The low labor and financing costs of Asian reactors would seem to give China and India significant competitive advantages during the second half of the 21st century unless energy related financial and labor costs can be better controlled. By shifting reactor manufacturing methods and settings, and by taking innovative approaches to reactor siting and facilities construction labor costs can be lowered. Controlling labor costs, the time required to build reactors will make significant contribution to closing the the gap in the cost of financing rectors. Thus it seems possible that LFTRs can be be built at a cost that would be comparable to the Asian cost range of $1.4 to $1.75 billion per GW. More research is needed, and beyond research a nearly fanatic commitment to keep LFTR manufacturing costs under control. Nothing less than the fate of a civilization rests on this.

Is There Enough Thorium?
Thorium is estimated to be three times as abundant as uranium in the the Earths crust. Millions of tons of thorium are present in mine tailings scattered around the world. The LFTR is several hundred times more efficient at extracting energy from thorium as the current generation of Light Water Reactors are in extracting energy from uranium. If we extracted no thorium from the earth and only recovered the thorium found in mine tailings and other surface sources enough thorium could be recovered to provide energy to all human societies at a level that is equivalent to those enjoyed in Western Europe for thousands of years. Recoverable thorium resources are large enough to sustain human society for millions of years.

Can we start all of the LFTR?
This brief study is based on the assumption that the major obstacle to replacing carbon based energy technology with post carbon based energy technology would be factors like materials availability, and labor and financing related costs. I have argued that by focusing on LFTR technology and what might be described as a full court press approach to LFTR cost savings, that it would be possible to manufacture and deploy world wide, enough power generating reactors to replace current carbon based energy sources with low CO2 emitting energy sources. I have elsewhere argued that it would be possible to start these reactors with plutonium from spent reactor fuel, plutonium-239 and uranium-235 form nuclear weapons, U-235 produced by laser enrichment, and by U-233 bred in Molten Salt Reactors including LFTRs. It would also be possible to breed U-233 in Indian LMFBRs.

Is thorium/LFTR technology scalable enough to reach our 2050 energy goals?
The Aim High plan, the plan to substitute thorium/LFTR energy sources for carbon based energy sources by 2050 is feasible. Thorium/LFTR technology is scalable. Indeed, the Aim High Plan is the only feasible option that would allow Europe, North America, Japan, South Korea China and India to adopt their energy requirements to the necessity of finding post carbon energy sources. Plans to use renewable energy and conventional nuclear power simply will inevitably fall short.

What are the obstructs to the realization of the Aim High Plan?
The answer is simple, knowledge of the potential of thorium/LFTR technology, and commitment to its development and use. The road is open, we have only to see it, and chose to follow it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Now the government is buying its own debt

Are we out of the woods yet? I don't think so.

“In these circumstances, the Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability. The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period. To provide greater support to mortgage lending and housing markets, the Committee decided today to increase the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet further by purchasing up to an additional $750 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities, bringing its total purchases of these securities to up to $1.25 trillion this year, and to increase its purchases of agency debt this year by up to $100 billion to a total of up to $200 billion. Moreover, to help improve conditions in private credit markets, the Committee decided to purchase up to $300 billion of longer-term Treasury securities over the next six months. The Federal Reserve has launched the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to facilitate the extension of credit to households and small businesses and anticipates that the range of eligible collateral for this facility is likely to be expanded to include other financial assets.”

- Statement from the Federal Reserve board

Monday, March 16, 2009

More from Tyler Hamilton

From the March 12 Toronto Star:
Developers of multi-megawatt solar projects, meanwhile, said a tariff of 44.3 cents for power from large solar farms still wouldn't make such initiatives economical enough to proceed. One solar-industry executive, who didn't want to be named, cited a tight capital market and poor exchange rate for the concern. "The math still does not work," he said.

"We are angry because the various government agencies kept telling us not to make waves, that the new numbers would play into the developers' favour. All are feeling shafted."

Obviously 35 cents per kWh is not going to be enough to make solar work. Those Canadians just hate the environment.

Greenpeace's [r]evolutionary energy Failure: Part II, Clean and Dirty Energy

Much of the confusion of the [r]evolution energy plan comes from the concept of clean energy. Both coal and nuclear power are described as dirty by [r]evolutionary energy, but it is not clear what they have in common that makes them so. Burning coal produces noxious smoke and soot, which dirties clothes. During my childhood in East Tennessee, at a time when coal was still burned for heating, coal smoke was the housewife's bane. Soot produced by burning coal in furnaces and fireplaces would dirty clothes hanging on a clothes line on winter days. I still can recall the smell of sulfur dioxide that was inevitably associated with burning coal. Coal was not only physically dirty, when you burn it, it smells bad. And then there is the issue of having to take care to not get dirty due to contact with coal. If you touched raw coal black dust from the coal lumps would adhere to the skin. If clothing came into contact with coal it would get dirty. Burned coal was also a source of dirt. Coal ashes had to be shoveled into buckets from furnaces and fireplaces. The first step in building a coal fire was always the removal of ashes from the furnace or fire place.

In contrast uranium either in its natural form or as nuclear fuel is not conspicuously dirty. You would of course not wish to come into contact with uranium while it burns in a reactor, or after, but this has nothing to do with physical dirt or getting physically dirty. In anti-nuclear literature the dirt is associated with radioactive waste:
Manufacturing fuel for nuclear power stations produces radioactive waste at every step of the process, but the largest volume of waste consists of mine and mill tailings (i.e. material that’s left behind after uranium ore has been mined and processed),
But Uranium tailings are hardly the only mine tailings which contain radioactive materials. Phosphate mining tailings contain high levels of uranium and are notorious for their radioactivity, yet Greenpeace and other organizations that profess to be concerned about the "dirtiness" of uranium mine tailings, are not similarly concerned about the naturally radioactive tailings of phosphate mines. Natural gas carries with it radioactive gases like radon. Thus if it is the presence of radioactive isotopes that are responsible for the "dirtiness" of uranium, natural gas ought also to be be considered a "dirty energy source". It would not be credible to believe that such an august and learned body as the German Space Agency was unaware of the presence of radioisotopes in natural gas. Surely the German Space Agency would not be so inconsistent as to classify natural gas as not dirty if it was the presence of naturally occurring radiation sources that lead to the dirty classification. Thus surely the dirtiness of nuclear power cannot be due to the presence of natural radioisotopes in uranium mine tailings.

Nuclear power is also said to be dirty because "nuclear waste" is said to be toxic and radioactive. Toxicity itself does not itself appear to to be such a great problem that Greenpeace would favor shutting down all industries that generate toxic waste. The people who know about these things tell us that there are significant environmental problems associated with the following materials in industrial waste:
Mercury, Metallic
Vinyl Chloride
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
DDT, P'P'-
Aroclor 1260
Aroclor 1254
Chromium (+6)
DDD, P'P'-
The Union of Concerned Scientists tell us:
Materials used in some solar systems can create health and safety hazards for workers and anyone else coming into contact with them. In particular, the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells often requires hazardous materials such as arsenic and cadmium. Even relatively inert silicon, a major material used in solar cells, can be hazardous to workers if it is breathed in as dust. Workers involved in manufacturing photovoltaic modules and components must consequently be protected from exposure to these materials.

Nor is the the production of PV cells the only renewable related industry that has a problem with toxic pollutants. The Union of Concerned Scientists tell us:
Open-loop systems, on the other hand, can generate large amounts of solid wastes as well as noxious fumes. Metals, minerals, and gases leach out into the geothermal steam or hot water as it passes through the rocks. The large amounts of chemicals released when geothermal fields are tapped for commercial production can be hazardous or objectionable to people living and working nearby.

At The Geysers, the largest geothermal development, steam vented at the surface contains hydrogen sulfide (H2S)-accounting for the area's "rotten egg" smell-as well as ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide. At hydrothermal plants carbon dioxide is expected to make up about 10 percent of the gases trapped in geopressured brines. For each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated, however, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted is still only about 5 percent of the amount emitted by a coal- or oil-fired power plant.

Scrubbers reduce air emissions but produce a watery sludge high in sulfur and vanadium, a heavy metal that can be toxic in high concentrations. Additional sludge is generated when hydrothermal steam is condensed, causing the dissolved solids to precipitate out. This sludge is generally high in silica compounds, chlorides, arsenic, mercury, nickel, and other toxic heavy metals. One costly method of waste disposal involves drying it as thoroughly as possible and shipping it to licensed hazardous waste sites.
We might also add to the inventory of waste materials from geothermal generation listed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, radon and other radioisotopes. Thus if the presence of radioactive materials in the waste stream is a sign of dirty energy production, geothermal power is certainly another dirty form of energy. Yet the German Space Agency, which must be aware of this troubling fact, chooses to classify geothermal power as a clean energy source.

It might be considered then that the presence of long lived highly radioactive isotopes leads to nuclear power being dirty, except that long lived and highly radioactive are mutually exclusive. The more radioactive an isotope is the shorter its half life. Of course some long lived isotopes produce energetic radiation, and some long lived isotopes have short lived daughter isotopes. But this would suggest that the problem which makes nuclear power dirty is not simply the fact that nuclear fuel after it leaves the reactor is radioactive and is perceived as waste, but the fact that there are problems associated with certain isotopes contained in the unsorted post reactor fuel.

Perhaps it is these isotopes as a by-product of the production of nuclear power that is responsible for the designation of nuclear power as dirty and not any dirtiness of the nuclear power generating process.

The dirtiness of nuclear power thus would not appear to be due to literal dirt or even toxicity, but entirely due to the presence of risky radiation sources in the reactor fuel after it is removed from the reactor. Thus the word dirty when applied to nuclear power is more about a perceived risk that is not different in kind although perhaps in degree to risks associated with "clean energy sources".

Other facts ought to be pointed out. It is appropriate to speak of risks associated with different materials found in nuclear fuel after it leaves a reactor, rather than risks associated with nuclear waste. This would be the case if nuclear fuel were disaggregated after it left the reactor. Certain disaggregation processes have been suggested for post reactor nuclear fuel, but organizations like Greenpeace have strenuously objected to them on the grounds that the will lead to awful consequences. Greenpeace tells us, without falling down with laughter, that if post reactor nuclear fuel is disaggregated in the United States, then it is likely that Israel and Syria will drop nuclear weapons on each other. There also appears to be a danger that terrorists will attack soft targets like desert solar thermal generating facilities with nuclear devices. We are also warned that if a project to build facilities to disaggregate nuclear fuel by-products moves forward there is a real danger that terrorists will attack American cities with dirty radiation weapons. This risk is so great, Greenpeace warns us, that the only way to protect ourselves from it is to just not build disaggregating facilities.

The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the association of toxic waste materials with renewables ought not bee considered a fatal flaw, the question should be why does this observation not also apply to nuclear power?
None of these potential hazards is much different in quality or magnitude from the innumerable hazards people face routinely in an industrial society. Through effective regulation, the dangers can very likely be kept at a very low level.
We must thus conclude that the dirtiness which [r]evolution holds that lies at the heart of the objectionable nature of both coal and nuclear is not literal physical dirtiness, but rather has to be understood as a metaphoric use of the concept of dirt. It is not physical dirt or even waste that coal and nuclear power have in common, but a risk. In the case of coal it is a risk which it shares with natural gas, of long term damage to human civilization through climate feedback. In the case of nuclear the risk appears in the discourse of groups like Greenpeace. But while the risk with coal is real in terms of probability, physicist Alexander De Volpi, argues the probability of the risk from radiation associated with nuclear power is of a much different order.

The risks which nuclear critics including Greenpeace associate with nuclear power are not based on statistical probability. They are understood to be absolute and unconditional terms. Let me explain the implications of this. Nuclear safety researchers have long modeled the dynamics of potentially dangerous nuclear accidents on the probability that certain unlikely events will occur. Risk happens because the unlikely is not impossible. Thus even before Three Mile Island nuclear safety researchers were concerned, because they understood that there were risks. But they also understood that while the possibilities of a major nuclear accident occurring were real, that did not mean that there would be casualties because of that accident, because the risk of there being casualties was much lower than the risk of there being an accident. This was because the Three Mile Island reactor was designed with multiple physical barriers that prevented a large radiation exposure to the civil population in the event of a major nuclear accident. In fact the system of barriers worked and there were no civilian casualties. Greenpeace and other nuclear opponents do not accept that reality. Instead Greenpeace tells us,
The nuclear industry is therefore responsible for increasing the risk of damage to our health and, because of the long-lived nature of many nuclear materials as well as the genetic impact of radiation exposure, the health of future generations is at risk too.
This statement speaks with far greater certainty than evidence from data would really allow us to. Are we being exposed to health damage and premature death from radiation because of the existence of the nuclear industry? Health physicist Bernard Cohen studied evidence of radiation related sickness in Three Mile Island survivors, and concluded that there was none. Cohen compared the theoretical health risk created by a national system of nuclear power to other health risks and observed:
having a full nuclear power program in this country would present the same added health risk (Union of Concerned Scientists estimates in brackets) as a regular smoker indulging in one extra cigarette every 15 years [every 3 months], or as an overweight person increasing her weight by 0.012 [0.8] ounces, or as in raising the U.S. highway speed limit from 55 miles per hour to 55.006 [55.4] miles per hour, and it is 2,000 [30] times less of a danger than switching from midsize to small cars. Note that these figures are not controversial, because I have given not only the estimates of Establishment scientists but also those of the leading nuclear power opposition group in this country, UCS.
Thus it would appear that the [r]evolutionary dirty nuclear is about risk, or more accurately perceived risk, and that the perceived risks of the nuclear opponents is not much more serious than the perceived risks of the nuclear supporter. The perceived risk of the nuclear opponent is at best trivial. Should we take a risk that is 30 times less than the risk of switching from a mid-size to a small car, all that seriously?

Calling nuclear power dirty is not accurate, but is dramatic, and theatrical. The use of the term dirty with respect to nuclear is not about science, it is about removing questions concerning nuclear risk from the realm of rational discourse, and attempting to resolve questions about nuclear safety on an emotional rather than a rational level. But should important issues involving the well-being of the human inhabitants of Earth be resolved through the use of confusing, emotional language?

Telling the truth about wind

I have recently been criticized because I allegedly have been unfair to the windmills. This was despite the fact that that I did not count the injuries suffered by Don Quixote as a result of his joust with Spanish windmills as liabilities for wind generation. My critics have managed to misunderstand what my purpose is. My purpose is not to assess the advantages and limitations of wind as a supplemental power source for the current grid, rather it is to assess the suitability and cost of relying on wind resources for large scale electrical generation for a post-carbon grid. I look at issues such as wind intermittency as being problems that must be overcome if wind is to replace coal and other fossil fuels.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ontario's proposed feed in tariffs for renewables

Ontario's proposed feed in tariffs for renewables. (Hat tip to Tyler Hamilton)

80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for rooftop solar.
19 cents for offshore wind of any size (first jurisdiction in N.A. to set price)
13.5 cents for onshore wind of any size
14.7 for biogas under 5 MW.
44.3 cents for 10-MW-plus solar, sliding to 71.3 cents as projects scale down to 10 kilowatts.

Hamilton has more details here.
We can begin counting the cost of [r]evolution.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Greenpeace's [r]evolutionary energy failure: Part I

We live in an era of confusion. We know that our energy future will be different, but we are like people who are somewhere between dreaming and being fully awake. Our dreams intrude into our thoughts, confusing us. In order to wake up we must stop confusing dreams with reality.

Greenpeace in partnership with The European Renewable Energy Council has offered its vision of the energy future in a Greenpeace report titled, Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable U.S.A. Energy Outlook. The European involvement in commissioning and preparing the report is worthy of note. The report was actually written by staff members of the German Aerospace Center. There are both advantages and disadvantages of the European sourcing of the report. Most European intellectuals do not have a deep understanding of American conditions, attitudes, beliefs and institutions. Thus European generated plans for the United States may strike Americans as having been prepared without due attention to American realities. On the other hand, the distance the Atlantic affords may help European planners avoid some deeply embedded American prejudices. The distance of the Atlantic cannot prevent Europeans from lapsing into their own set of prejudices, however. And prejudices we are likely to find in abundance when a report is commissioned by two ideologically driven organizations.

The cutesy feature of the report title, the rather uncreative play on the words revolution and evolution suggests the report's fundamental dilemma: the difficulty of charting a path to a renewables energy future given the serious limitations of renewable energy sources. In order to overcome the limitations of renewables the report suggests a path to the future that is not a straight path forward from carbon to post carbon sources. Their [r]evolution plan involves two stages of development, with continued developments in the use of fossil fuels continuing to play a major role in the energy mix for the next 20 years. Only after 2030 does the report envision moving away from a deep dependency on fossil fuels. The course which the report recommends for the post 2030 development is unexpected, and involves a very significant venture into the unknown. The [r]evolutionary approach is fraught with unacknowledged risk, and the upshot of the [r]evolutionary scheme could be a society that is not post carbon, but which suffers from a double energy poverty. I wish to first lay out the [r]evolutionary plan, while offering some speculations about what was in planners' minds as they laid out the plan's course.

Greenpeace states that the plan was written with several goals in mind. We ought to ask however how well the plan's authors conformed to its stated goals. Those goals are:

* Achieve science-based emissions reductions to minimize climate risk
* Ensure equity and fairness
* Implement clean, renewable solutions and energy systems
* Decouple economic growth from fossil fuel use
* Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy

We ought to note at this point that the plan goals include matters of fact, policy, political philosophy, and a culture based system of values that is suggested by the use of the words "dirty", and "unsustainable".

The report makes clear that it clearly separates the words "clean" and "dirty" from "emissions reduction," and "renewable", and "unsustainable" from "fossil fuel use," One of the energy systems the report would seek to phase out actually is a low emissions technology that seemingly can provide large amounts of energy for thousands and quite possibly millions of years. I will presently explore these puzzling separations.

Since the [r]evolutionary plan is divided into first separate phases, I wish to first explore those phases, and then point to some problems and paradoxes.

First, the [r]evolution plan envisions no significant drop in American fossil fuel use between 2005 and 2030. Instead the plan calls for a shift from coal, lignite, and oil products to natural gas during the next decade with gas-fired electrical generation capacity increasing from 340 GWs in 2005 to 505 installed GWs in 2020 while the number of coal and lignite burning facilities are expected to drop. The amount of electricity generated by nuclear plants is expected to decline by half by 2020, and by 2030 nuclear power virtually disappears from the plan. The plan calls for the eliminations of 18% of coal fired power plants by 2020 and 52% of all American Nuclear plants. Since the nuclear plants represent a low carbon emission technology, why shut down nuclear plants while expanding high carbon emissions natural gas fired plants?

We have to recognize that the [r]evolution report was written in Germany where is is a matter of national policy that many nuclear facilities are to be shut down by 2020. This is most assuredly not the case in the United States, with both the Bush and the Obama administration committed to extension of current nuclear plant life to 60 and perhaps 80 years. We would have to ask about the wisdom of any energy plan which assumes that shutting down nuclear plants is more important than the stated objective to "achieve science-based emissions reductions to minimize climate risk."

Clean thus appears to be disassociated from "science based emissions reductions", because the shutdown of nuclear is viewed as being in the interest of being "clean." Furthermore, the notion that over 50% of American nuclear plants would be shut down for the sake of "the clean", in the face of an emissions based climate crisis is highly unrealistic. We must ask then if the [r]evolution plan is a realistic route to a low climate risk future, or a green fantasy wish list for the United States?

And what are we to think of the short term commitment to natural gas? Our plan states:
The Energy [R]evolution Scenario is based on a new political framework in favor of renewable energy and cogeneration combined with energy efficiency.
Cogeneration is to be achieved in the short run through natural gas systems. In the long run The Energy [R]evolution Scenario anticipates the use of geothermal energy and biomass burning. But while geothermal offers attractive features, its use at present is limited to areas where volcanic activity, brings super-heated water close to the surface. In order to expand geothermal beyond its present limitations, new geothermal technology must be investigated and commercial applications shown to be both safe and effective. This makes the use of geothermal energy a risk in terms of future viability in areas where there is no near surface volcanic activity. A further problem relates to the standard of sustainability. That would appear that with time energy out put from natural geothermal resources decreases. It would appear that heat withdrawn from the deep earth environment in the form of super-heated steam, is not completely replaced by heat from volcanic sources. This problem is also anticipated with geothermal heat from dry rock deep wells. Thus geothermal heat resembles a mineable resource rather more than a sustainable energy source.

The two problems described in the last paragraph do not reveal geothermal power to be fatally flawed but they do suggest that long term reliance on geothermal energy cannot be assumed without answers to questions that may not be answered for along time. Thus the [r]evolution report is premature in suggesting that geothermal power will emerge as a major energy/electrical source by 2050.

Until a good deal more is known about so called dry rock geothermal power, it would be impossible to say whether or not such power can be produced at a reasonable and competitive cost. By 2050 [r]evolution turns a significant role over to geothermal power. It is to be noted that among renewables only geothermal and burning biomass can produce base load electricity without the added expense of electrical/energy storage. By 2050 it is assumed that more geothermal capacity would exist than exist in nuclear plants today. The uncertainties attached to geothermal leave a potential big hole in the [r]evolution plan that would not easily be filled. Considering the risk it would be unacceptable for a good plan to go without an alternative. Not only does no alternative seem to be in the offing, but as we shall see biomass forms a second large risk to the [r]evolution plan.

There are in fact considerable divergences between the views of the Sierra Club and [r]evolution concerning biomass as an energy source. The Sierra Club, like Nuclear Green, holds the view that soil is not a renewable resource, and minerals, and energy withdrawn from the soil by biological harvesting, must be returned if soil is to sustain life. Withdrawing energy in the form of living organisms mines the capacity of the soil to sustain living organisms. Agriculture can only be sustained by providing soil sufficient energy to replace the energy lost when the last crop was harvested. In addition living organisms need minerals deposited in the soil. Minerals are either returned to the soil when an organism dies, or are not replaced. The harvesting of biomass to be burned as energy mines the soil of its ability to sustain life. This is understood by the principles of soil conservation. In so far as [r]evolution encourages the burning of biomass to provide energy it violates the principles of soil conservation, and supports anti-environmental practices.

Finally we ought to consider the use of natural gas in the [r]evolution energy system. [R]evolution supports the use of combined heat and power cogeneration systems. I personally think that natural gas combined cycle generators represent a far more efficient use of natural gas. Combined cycle generators uses the heat of gases exiting the turbine's exhaust to heat a boiler. Steam from the boiler powers a steam turbine which is connected to a generator. The combined cycle systems have impressive efficiency. We hear claims about how efficient Combined Heat and Power systems are, but I live in Texas where it would be nice if someone could build a similar system for air conditioning. Combined heat and power systems only are efficient if you need heating, and you certainly don't need heating year round. When you don't need heating you simply get your gas turbine generator efficiency from your CHiPs plant.

The whole problem with natural gas can be summed up with two words: carbon dioxide. Even though we might use natural gas more efficiently, it is still a carbon based fossil fuel, and when we burn it, we increase the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. There are other issues. Natural gas is becoming more expensive to extract. Thus even when used efficiently, natural gas is regarded as a high cost fuel, and natural gas generators are usually treated as peak reserve power sources because utilities can charge more for peak power. Natural gas generating systems have low capital cost, but high fuel costs. Natural gas generators are also useful as load followers. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with why [r]evolution sees as many natural gas generators producing electricity in 2040 as were producing electricity. Grid instability caused by the intermittency of solar and wind generating sources has to be controlled, in order to keep the grid from constantly crashing. Gas turbines have enough flexibility to handle the load stabilizing task on a renewables dominated grid. Unfortunately we cannot speak of such a grid as a post carbon grid, since the [r]evolution grid will be still dependent on the burning of carbon based fuel in 2040. presumably after 2040 electricity from non-intermittent renewable sources - hydro, biomass, and geothermal - will replace replace natural gas, but this assumes that biomass and geothermal will be ready provide large amounts of reliable electricity in a generation. This is a risk of the [r]evolution plan, and quite frankly the odds at present run heavily against biomass, and geothermal, while hydro is not envisioned to expand enough to pick up the slack if biomass and geothermal fail to live up to the expectations which the [r]evolution plan places upon them.

Given the likely failure of biomass and geothermal technologies, carbon emitting natural gas will be required to maintain grid stability after 2040. What happens when natural gas begins to run out? The answer is simple, the [r]evolution grid would revert to coal fired generating facilities to provide the grid with the stability! That is right folks, the [r]evolution plan might not get rid of coal long term.

(This is quite enough material for one post. However, I intend to continue my analysis of the [r]evolution plan, because it reflects many of the flaws of current thinking by renewables advocates. It is my intent to show that the renewables path will not protect us from anthropogenic climate change, and that it will lead to both energy poverty and to a loss of personal choice in energy use. I will also argue that none of these problems are inevitable, and that we have choices that will lead to better outcomes. Finally I will discuss the social and cognitive pathologies that are responsible for the errors and confusion of the [R]evolution plan. )


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