Sunday, July 26, 2009

Confessions of a Nuclear Blogger: Part II

The genesis of Nuclear Green lay in my attempt to determine if a global post carbon energy solution was possible. I concluded that not only was it possible, but that the LFTR solution was necessary because renewable energy approaches would almost certainly fail. The problem of indeterminacy plagued both wind and solar electrical generation systems, and the reliability problem seemingly bonded renewable generation systems to fossil fuel burning, CO2 emitting technology. For those who doubt my assessment I will call attention to the Greenpeace energy plan, Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable U.S.A. Energy Outlook.

The [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 Greenpeace 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.

Renewables energy Guru Joe Romm has become a virtual shill for the Natural Gas Industry, (also see here , here, and here. I am )

My original conclusions were that solar and/or wind based energy systems would either require an expensive system of energy storage, or an ongoing, long term dependency on fossil fuels. Since the establishment of Nuclear Green I have repeatedly attempted to test that conclusion, and have been unable to find strong evidence contradicting it. Thus the renewables paradigm has been shown to to be based on false assumptions.

I would argue that conventional nuclear power advocates appear to have not developed a post carbon energy paradigm, and are content with statements such as nuclear power belongs in the post-carbon energy mix. This statement creates a huge black box marked "post-carbon energy mix." Nothing inside the box is explained, so we have no detailed account of how various post carbon energy needs are to be meet using nuclear sourced solutions. In addition, conventional nuclear technology is expensive, and has proven unpopular with the public, despite very significant improvements in areas like nuclear safety. The problem of nuclear waste, which is closely tied to the inefficient use of fuel in the conventional nuclear uranium fuel cycle, remains a problem for the conventional nuclear industry.

One of the functions of Nuclear Green has been an ongoing analysis of the role of LFTR technology in the post carbon society. Even before the creation of Nuclear Green, I had concluded that the LFTR had the potential for supplying all the electrical energy required by our society. I also concluded that the LFTR would serve as the source of land based transportation energy, through the electrification of land based transportation.

I eventually understood the LFTR concept to represent a new energy paradigm. On December 30, 2008 I wrote:
Probably no more than a thousand people in the entire world fully understands the paradigm, although thousands more understand bits and pieces of it. Much of the paradigm was shaped by Eugene Wigner, a authentic genius and a man of singular vision. Wigner foresaw the need for extracting the enormous energy potential from thorium and using it to sustain human civilization. Wigner's vision included a heavy-water fluid-core reactor as the instrument through which thorium was to be transformed into nuclear fuel. Alvin Weinberg, Wigner's former student and another genius, later realized that the Molten Salt Reactor was a far superior tool for realizing the full energy potential of the thorium fuel cycle, and the potential to increase energy efficiency to increase its energy potential even further by coupling it with massive desalinization projects in desert countries.
I explained that my role was to explore the LFTR paradigm on a conceptual level. I must add that I am far from alone in understanding the LFTR paradigm. Certainly Kirk Sorensen and David Walters do, as well as many of the contributers to the EfT Discussion Forum. As I noted
The LFTR paradigm then suggests that the technology for a low cost transformation of American electrical generation already exists, and is capable of rapid development and deployment in little more than a decade provided Manhattan project type resource commitments are made to realizing the paradigm. Like all new paradigms, the LFTR paradigm is poorly understood, and its potential is only seen by a limited number of people. However the LFTR paradigm is being discussed on the Internet, and knowledge of the paradigm could spread rapidly. Skeptics might argue that there is no such thing as a silver bullet to solve the energy problem, yet the paradigm suggests that there is a liquid thorium bullet.
My view is that the LFTR paradigm represents nothing less than the future energy course for world society, an inevitable course. The importance of the LFTR paradigm is obscure to most people who think about energy. As i explained:
Early phases of paradigm shifts are often periods of confusion. There is now a great deal of confusion about the LFTR. People, who fail to understand how radically different the LFTR is from better understood Light Water Reactors still wonder how the LFTR could not have all of the flaws of LWRs. In fact the LFTR paradigm offers solutions to all of the major problems of LWRs without difficult and expensive fixes and workarounds. Until people adjust their thinking to include the new paradigm, the confusion will continue to be common
Confused, irrational thinking about the cost of renewables can also be attributed to disorganized discourse about renewable energy options. Discussions of renewable energy options often replace facts with wishful thinking. Thus future energy production tends to be over estimated while capital costs associated with future renewable energy tends to be underestimated. This problem is often notable when the projected cost of renewables is compared with the projected cost of conventional nuclear power.

I have explored the LFTR paradigm on Energy from Thorium, Nuclear Green, the Oil Drum and elsewhere. The LFTR paradigm can be expressed:
There is a vary large amount recoverable energy in the form of thorium found in the crust of the earth. The amount of recoverable thorium in the earths crust would exceed even the most optimistic estimate of human energy consumption by a factor of at least 10.

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor capable of burning thorium at 98% efficiency. The LFTR can be manufactured in factories and installed almost anywhere at a low cost.

The LFTR is extremely scalable and has the potential for rapid large scale deployment.

The LFTR is extremely safe.

The LFTR eliminates from 99% to 99.9% of nuclear waste produced by conventional reactors.

The LFTR does not produce weapons useful nuclear materials, and the LFTR would would not be a practical tool for nuclear proliferation.

Fission byproducts from the nuclear process in LFTRs would be very valuable, and would provide a second source of income for reactor owners.

LFTRs can be deployed to control CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning within 40 years.

LFTRs can provide heat for industrial processes.

LFTRs can provide electricity for surface transportation systems.

LFTRs can be used to produce liquid and gaseous fuels from air and water.

Waste heat from LFTRs can be used to desalinate sea water.

The savings on the cost of fossil fuels burned in fossil fuel electrical plants will pay the cost of replacing fossil fuel plants with LFTRs.

The LFTR can be built from common, low cost materials.


donb said...

The Greenpeace plan states:
The [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.

I have learned a few things during my 58+ years of existance. One thing is that projects that are 1 year out probably will happen. Those that are 2 to 4 years out may happen. And those 5+ years out probably won't happen.

I have also learned that economics is a strong motivator for getting things to happen.

I believe that we will be forced to decarbonize our energy sources at some point because of increasing costs due to scarcity. But until cost of fossil fuels becomes economically unsustainable, I expect the fossil fuel providers to fight tooth and nail to hang on. When we have proven solutions making nuclear energy clearly cheaper than fossil energy, then a massive switch to nuclear will begin because the path forward is clear.

Even then, this massive switch will take some time, probably on the order of 20 years.

Right now the path forward is NOT clear. The path proposed by Greenpeace offers only higher costs and decreased reliability. The nuclear path is not clear either right now due to the high costs of conventional nuclear.

High costs for nuclear energy are being driven by a lot of non-value-added requirements (especially "safety") - encouraged by fear, ignorance, and vested interests such as fossil fuel providers and (unfortunately short sighted) equipment providers.

When will things change? Only when the cost of fossil fuels becomes too painful. Such economic pain has the effect of clearing the mind of wishful thinking and causing it to focus on reality. I hope we have several LTFRs in operation at that point. These LTRFs will need to be built in spite of government, as we largely get the government we deserve.

Charles Barton said...

Domb, If the LFTR prices can be kept as low as I have argued, and LFTRs can be deployed as rapidly as I suspect they can be, then the conversion from fossil fuels to LFTRs will be relatively painless. Fuel savingswould fairly quickly pay for the conversion.

Anonymous said...


It has been fascinating to watch your vision come into sharp focus over the last few years. I think you have got it right, excellent job.

To be conservative my recommendation is still to level the playing field and build demonstration plants of every technology and let the marketplace pick the best technology.

Baring an unforeseeable breakthrough I am confident that your vision would come to dominate a level playing field.

The huge amount of money being spent to mass produce impractical expensive intermittent energy systems is a total waste. Even if the U.S. could somehow reduce its CO2 emissions to zero with wind and solar, the developing world would soon eat up those savings. Developing countries cannot afford to build those systems and the backup plants they require. The money wasted on these impractical systems could pay for the R&D program.

U.S. energy policy should be focused on a single goal.

Develop alternative energy systems that can be mass produced to provide unlimited supplies of clean safe reliable energy at a cost less than the cost of fossil fuel.

Once that happens nations around the world will scramble to acquire that technology as fast as possible, no stick required. It could become a great export industry providing thousands of high paying jobs and leveling our trade imbalance.

Bill Hannahan


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

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