Friday, July 30, 2010

The Big Lots Reactor Revisited

I first discussed the Big Lots reactor concept over a year ago. Lowering energy and nuclear costs is a persistent focus of Nuclear Green, and the Big Lots concept grew out of that focus. In March of 2009, I suggested:
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?
I responded to my own 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.
So the basic Big Lots idea was to build reactors with low cost materials, that will not compromise safety provided a somewhat lower level of performance. It first should be noted that lowering performance does not mean poor efficiency. In the Big Lots performance is lowered is several ways. First the operating temperature is lowered to a lower temperature that can be tolerated by steel. Secondly, the reactor would not be expected to operate on a full time basis. This would extend core component life, since the core components would not be subject to neutron radiation much of the time. Thirdly the reactor would be expected to operate at less than full power during much of the time it is actually producing power.

Performance compromises are relative. Even a lower performance LFTR will still operate at a higher temperature that an Integral Fast Reactor, thus the overall efficiency of the Big Lots reactor would not be compromised. Conventional reactors are designed to operate at peak power and efficiency almost all of the time, but the demand for electricity from the grid constantly varies, with electrical demands typically peaking during the daytime, and dropping back at night. Rather than build a lot of high cost nuclear and coal fired power plants to produce peak demand electricity, the electrical utilities have during the last generation to natural gas powered turbines. In addition, natural gas turbines can be ramped up quickly. This makes them excellent rake up and reserve electrical generating capacity. Natural gas turbines are also easy to throttle. Thus they are useful for following load demand on the grid, or in balancing the variable electrical output of renewables. Natural gas is an expensive fuel, but concepts such as combined cycle generations have made natural gas powered plants more efficient. Utilities are willing to pay more for peak electrical generation capacity, and natural gas fired electrical generation turbines and combined cycles generation plants have lower capital costs than coal or nuclear generation facilities. The cost of natural gas fluctuates over time, and typically electricity produced with natural gas is more expensive. Of course the use of natural gas also increases global CO2 emissions, although not as much as coal. The Big Lots idea is to come up with a low cost carbon free substitute for natural gas peak demand, load following, backup and reserve electricity generation.

The Big Lots reactor could do everything a natural gas powered generation unit can do, without CO2 emissions. If the price of the Big Lots reactor can be kept low enough, it can be economically quite competitive with natural gas, even if its overall capital costs are higher, because fuel costs would be lower than that of a natural gas powered unit. Even if the Big Lots were not designed to be a breeder, this could still be the case. In addition to lower fuel costs, the cost of the Big Lots would be less, as I note,
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.
And the operations of the Big Lots creacto can potentially be profitable because,
load following power and peak load power is purchased by utilities at a premium price.
Big Lots Reactor price can be lowered by factory manufacture,
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.
My original Big Lots post triggered a discussion on Energy from Thorium discussion in March 2009. That discussion is still echoed in more recent EfT discussions. Skinny Dog wrote a couple of weeks ago,
his low-temperature / common materials approach reminds me of what Charles Barton calls "Big Lots" reactors. You should hook up with him on the idea. I think it's a good 'un.
Good or no, the Big Lots approach is not the only way the peak load, reserve power problem can be solved, using molten salt technology. A Molten Salt Reactor is a big salt heating device, and with Solar thermal power, once liquid salt is heated, it can be stored, and then produced when energy is demanded. Thus if surplus heat produced by a LFTR or other MSR - surplus heat being heat not required by current energy demand, - then the excess energy can be stored as hot salt. When energy demand increases beyond immediate reactor generation capacity, hot salt can be withdrawn and its energy turned into electricity by a closed cycle gas turbine or Sterling engine.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The coal problem and global warming

Quite apart of the question of global warming, the electrical generation industry has a significant coal problem that has to be addressed even by Anthropogenic Global Warming skeptics. First, coal powered electrical generation plants are aging,. Most coal powered generation plants were built before 1970, and as thy age they ware out. Although maintenance can keep an old plant going, they will not last forever. In addition old power plants require expensive retrofits mandated by environmental concerns. that exist quite apart from Anthropogenic Global Warming, Old coal fired power plants have been dumping garbage on the communities which the allegedly serve for 60 or even 80 years. Fly ash, acid forming gasses, and other environmental pollutants coming from power plans for generations have real human and environmental costs. Coal fired pollutants dirty laundry hanging on the line, damage children's health, as well as the health of adults, damage vegetation down wind, thus impacting farmers livelihood, and damage and even destroy valuable forests.

Even from a libertarian perspective, the creation of environmental damage by an economic activity cannot be justified if it damages the health, well being and safety of others. In addition environmental intrusions that damage the value or usefulness of property, can be viewed as a violation of property rights from a Libertarian perspective. Libertarian Mary J. Ruwart argues,
if your neighbors dumped garbage on your lawn, you would expect them to clean it up. If they didn't do so when asked, you'd call the local law enforcement. When your neighbor finally did restore your lawn, you'd expect them to compensate you for whatever additional costs were incurred in the enforcement of your claim. Obviously, the expense and hassle of cleaning up your lawn far outweighs the benefits that your neighbors might get from dumping garbage on your lawn in the first place. Thus, if they knew that you were likely to seek restitution, your neighbors would not pollute your property.
Environmental restoration is costly and difficult. Restitution therefore becomes an incredibly onerous punishment and the most effective deterrent known. . . .

In Britain, individuals have property rights in the rivers that run through their land. If someone upstream pollutes the water and harms the fish, the downstream owners don't have to wait for a bureaucratic commission to study the issue. Instead, they immediately sue the polluters to protect their valuable property and claim restitution for damages. As a result, would-be polluters are effectively deterred from damaging the environment.

Waterways that don't have a private protector fare much worse. A citizen's action group recently contacted me because they were concerned about businesses dumping toxic chemicals into the neighboring Ohio River. Because the government claims stewardship of this waterway, individuals have no ownership rights on which to base a suit. They must wait until bureaucrats decide to take action. If the businesses contribute to the campaign chests of powerful politicians, nothing may ever happen, even if local authorities are truly protective of the environment.

I am laying out this case not because I advocate the libertarian point of view, but to suggest that even though many libertarians deny the existence or importance of Anthropogenic Global Warming, does not mean that they would oppose court actions designed to seek restitution for lost property rights as well as class action law suites designed to seek restitution for victims whose health has bee adversely impacted by coal related environmental pollution.

In addition to the environmental problems caused by air born pollution created by coal fired electrical generation, coal fired power plants create a huge toxic waste problem. Ash from coal fired power plants contains many toxic materials including, Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Mercury, Nickel, Vanadium, Thorium and Uranium. The ash spill from one ash holding pond at TVA's Kingsport Steam Plant, contained 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash, a far larger amount of potentially toxic material than has been accumulated in all of the reactors waste in the United States during their entire history of operation. Yet this huge amount of material is only a fraction of the ash waste from the Kingston Steam Plant, one of many waste producing coal fired power plants in the United States. The existence of this enormous toxic waste problems is largely ignored by environmentalists, who appear to be much more concerned about the far smaller, and far more easily solved, nuclear waste problem.

The coal ash problem is an actual nuisance, but potentially it is a much bigger problem as the 2008 ash spill at Kingsport demonstrated. Thus the coal waste problem represents an enormous and growing liability to the electrical generation industry. Coal ash piles represent both air and water pollution problems. As I have pointed out, coal ash contains many toxic substances. If the coal ash is kept in wet storage, as it was in Kingsport, there is always a danger of spills, as well as the leaching of toxic chemicals into the soil and into local surface and ground water. An accumulation of toxic materials in ground water is a problem which can develop over thousands of years. Toxic materials in rivers and lakes, can prevent water use for human consumption, or for agricultural purposes. Thus from a Libertarian perspective, coal ash represents a dangerous intrusion into property and human rights, that might be effected by environmental spread of pollutants over time. What makes the Libertarian solution problematic is the potential for a time spread between the creation of the problem, and the noting of its effects. If it takes several hundred years before the pollution of ground water by pollutants from a coal ash pile to be noted. Suing the owning and offending utility probably will not be the effective deterrent if the effect will not create a problem in the short run.

Furthermore, it ought not be the case that law suites based on adverse health impact should be the only deterrent to air pollution by coal plant owners. If a polluter causes physical harm to other people, this should be considered a criminal matter, and at least potentially treated as such. Yet the history of the coal industry itself provides many examples in which owners behaved an far more overtly injurious and criminal fashions and were allowed to get away with it by corrupt local authorities. A brief account of the West Virginia Coal Mine Wares recounts
The miner had free speech, but what happened after he spoke could give him serious trouble. Many companies employed the firm Baldwin and Felts to provide mine guards. These guards dispensed retribution against “rabblerousers” and “outside agitators” who came in talking about unions. One town even featured a Gatling gun mounted upon the front porch of a company official’s home. Companies figured that they could increase their control by importing miners from a variety of areas such as Russia, southern Italy, and Austria-Hungary. They came from countries with oppressive systems; also living in a strange country with different customs and languages increased their isolation. In fairness, company towns ran the spectrum from benevolently paternalistic societies to absolutely dictatorial rule. Increasingly the system turned its aims towards preventing unions from organizing the region.

The United Mine Workers of America felt compelled to unionize Appalachia after the turn of the century. The Central Competitive Field companies agreed to unionize if the unions could force Appalachian mines to pay their employees the same wages as those in the CCF. The union would lose its credibility if it failed to compel the organization of the Appalachian fields. Before World War I, the northern and central part of the state succumbed to the tide of unionization. These areas lay relatively close to population centers such as Charleston and Morgantown which also contained press outlets and the state government. Also, the B&O railroad in the north and the Kanawha River flowing through the coalfield east of the state capital rendered arguments about transportation and access meaningless. Severe violence occurred at Paint Creek, twenty miles east of Charleston, in 1913 as companies tried to force the union out of an area. They failed and the union remained in place. This left a rump of non union counties in the southwestern coalfields: the most isolated part of the state, known for sporadic violence and lawlessness ever since the Civil War. . . .

Coal companies called upon powerful allies to help maintain control. In addition to the Baldwin-Felts agents, coal companies also enjoyed the benevolent cooperation of county sheriffs and their departments. Logan County Sheriff Don Chaffin could call upon a force of nearly 500, mostly paid for from coal company treasuries. Vigilantes from the middle classes took up arms and joined small detachments of state police and National Guardsmen.
Such situations are often tolerated or ignored by libertarians who seemingly have very little sympathy for the problems of the working person, and great tolerance for deviant behavior by property owners.

At any rate, there is a route that would indirectly bring Libertarians on board to AGW mitigation efforts, provided they were called something else. If an effective coal replacement strategy that would lead to the elimination of carbon emissions in energy generation could be developed, this would represent substantial progress toward carbon reduction goals.

Mitigation success, not names and ideologically based slogans should be the the goal of climate control efforts. Legislative efforts to craft mitigation policy that is not acceptable to political conservatives have failed dismally. Legislation that is acceptable to conservatives need not be ineffective in meeting mitigation goals. In addition a partisan bill is subject to repeal with election swings, while bipartisan legislation is more likely to survive.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moving Toward Marketable Generation IV Reactors

It is practical to design and build, practical Generation IV reactors today, but ones without all of the bells and whistles. It is becoming increasingly likely that a small Generation IV nuclear plant will find its way onto the grounds of a coal fired power plant near you soon.

There are two potential approaches to the development of commercially viable Generation IV type reactors. The first is to design and build commercially viable reactors that are viable using existing technology. This is a practical approach, because it would limit the Research & Development investment required to bring a product to market. On the other hand, by limiting product design to existing and tested technology, you are reasonably assured of bring a product to market within a reasonable period of time, with a reasonable budget, and at a somewhat predictable cost. In the case of Generation IV reactors, this would mean basing products initially on products that would be based on existing, tested technology. That is technology that had gone into prototypes. Generation IV reactor advocates point to two successful Generation IV prototypes, the ORNL MSRE, and the Argonne/Idaho National Laboratories EBR-II. Both prototypes were stable, highly safe reactors that pointed toward potentially successful future designs. Both were highly safe, and offered pathways to sustainable and safe nuclear energy.

The first objective of any commercial nuclear project is to make enough money from the sale of products. Money cannot be made before products are brought to market. Thus bring viable products to market at a price that will motivate buyers and will allow the business to make a profit, should be the highest priority of any new commercial reactor project. The fewer uncertainties, the fewer risks, the more likely a product can be brought to market within a reasonable period of time and at a competitive cost.

The Babcock & Wilcox mPower Reactor actually sets a benchmark for Generation IV reactors. Generation IV reactors will need to compete with the mPower and similar reactors both in capital costs and in operational and maintenance costs.

The ARC-100 reactor project in the main conforms to the to the practical approach. Its design tracks closely with the design of the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II as it evolved into an Integral Fast Reactor prototype. The ARC-100 will be a more powerful reactor than the EBR-11, but not by an problematic extent. Current thinking suggests that reactors capable of generating 100 MWe represent a convergence point between the maximum financial benefit of factory reactor production, and grid usefulness. Smaller reactors because they produce less electricity, may represent less attractive investments for utilities seeking to replace fossil fuel generation sources, while larger reactors may demand far more expensive field construction. Thus the ARC-100 with an electrical output of 100 MW, is size competitive with the 125 MW mPower Reactor. The challenge then would be to motivate they buyer with an attractive costs.

The flaw in the ARC-100 project at the moment is the announced intention to use a supercritical carbon dioxide closed Brayton cycle gas turbine in the electrical generation system. Thus we are confronted with a plan to use a technology that does not exist. The motive for this is the added efficiency and safety of the Brayton Cycle approach. The downside is that it makes the future of the project dependent on the successful of supercritical CO2 turbine development. A plan B should exist if the manufacture of the turbine is delayed. Plan B would rely on steam turbines for electrical output.

Many of the technical features of the ARC-100 are still unknown. However reportedly will enjoy a 20 span before refueling, thus in house fuel reprocessing, a major feature of the IFR approach is not on the table. This is just as well. There is no discussion of conversion rates, but the 20 refueling year figure suggests that they would probably be about 1 to 1.

The ARC-100 is likely to be a very simple reactor, which aside from its sodium cooling system would give its owners few reasons to worry. ARC-100 design features include underground an silo placement.
Adv Reactor Design conceptual drawing
The potential rub for such a design would be decay heat dissipation in the event of an emergency shutdown. It would be possible to design a passive air cooling system for an underground reactor with natural air flow facilitated by a chimney effect. Yet concerns about a sodium fire might preclude that.

The underground setting will, however, probably answers the fears of the chicken littles who worry about terrorists attacks on reactors using Airbus-380 size aircraft.

Management and direction of the ARC-100 project leans heavily on National Laboratory management veterans, although investors are fairly well represented on the ARC Board of Directors. Manufacturing and construction engineering, conspicuous assets to the mPower project, are complete unknowns for the ARC-100 project. Perhaps an even more troubling sign is the broken links to any internal documentation on the ARC web page. A June 14 press release, no longer accessible on the ARC web site, states:
The ARC-100 reactor initiates a new model of nuclear power, based on factory fabrication of shippable modules for rapid site assembly that enables the prompt start of a revenue stream.
What ever doubts might be raised about the ARC-100 project, their heads are in the right place. Rapid assembly and a prompt start of a revenue stream would certainly please customers, if those features are combined with a competitive price. Realization of these three goals will not be easy.

I discussed the Fuji reactor project a couple of days ago. Fuji project press releases focuses less on customers' expectations and more on market size. The Fuji plan does not focus on manufacture, but it does discuss projected costs. Those projected costs are, if anything high, and suggest a lack of exploration of cost saving approaches. The reactor housing is above ground, an indication that the designer may not be aware of recent reactor housing discussions. The Fuji has had a 40 year long gestation period, as a reactor design, and draws heavily on the ORNL MSR heritage. The weakness of the Fuji design is that it does not take into account Kirk Seoensen's innovative use of the Open Science model on his blog Energy from Thorium which facilitated the ongoing discussion on LFTR and other MSR designs on Energy from Thorium, David Le Blance's brilliant innovation in Molten Salt Reactor core design, Edward Teller and Ralph Moir's advocacy of underground housing for Molten Salt Reactors, the emergence of the factory manufactured small reactor model, Jim Holm's coal2nuclear concept, as well as my own ongoing exploration of cost lowering approaches that could be applied to LFTR manufacture and deployment on Nuclear Green and Energy from Thorium. Taken all together, between 2006 and 2009 the old nuclear energy paradigm began to die, and a new thorium-LFTR paradigm began to take its place. That paradigm is a modified version of an earlier thorium paradigm which was developed in Oak Ridge during the 1960's and 70's. The Fuji project is rooted in the old rather than the new Thorium paradigm.

While the Fuji project as currently constituted is rooted in the old paradigm, its developers have come into contact with advocates of the new thorium paradigm. In addition at least two leaders of the thorium movement, Kirk Sorensen and David Le Blanc have made moves toward developing molten slat reactors. Significantly both have expressed interests in moving away from the thorium model in the short run, in order to facilitate practical designs that will can move from conception to production fairly quickly. Both appear to be thinking in terms of uranium rather than thorium fuel cycle Molten Salt Reactors. With such realism a rapid transition to commercial prototype and serial produced model becomes a possibility.

The emergence of even a single commercial MSR model on the market, provided it meets practical expectations, would be a great step forward for Molten Salt Nuclear Technology, no matter what fuel cycle is used. As with the ARC-100 the most important step is not to produced the most advanced reactor conceivable, but to produce on at a reasonable price, and with sufficient attractive features that it will interest customers. Product evolution will carry the design forward once a successful model is launched.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Solving Post-Carbon Energy Problems with Nuclear Power | The Energy Collective

Solving Post-Carbon Energy Problems with Nuclear Power | The Energy Collective

Much of the future of energy lies with nuclear power. How much is yet to be determined yet, but quite possibly most of the energy input used by global society by the middle of this century will come from nuclear sources. This seems certain because the other potential energy sources, solar and wind, suffer from multiple limitations, and are far to expensive. (continued)

The link does not work so the post is below, so forget about trying the link.

Solving Future Energy Problems with Nuclear Power

Much of the future of energy lies with nuclear power. How much is yet to be determined yet, but quite possibly most of the energy input used by global society by the middle of this century will come from nuclear sources. This seems certain because the other potential energy sources, solar and wind, suffer from multiple limitations, and are far to expensive. Anthropogenic Global Warming is probably going to quickly end societies love affair with fossil fuels - I say this even though some of the good folks over at, and some of my readers still have their doubts. The real issue is the sort of social engineering advocated by the David Roberts, Joe Romm, Amory Lovins crowd as a remedy for AGW.

Because of their limitations, a shift from fossil fuels to renewables will require the powering down of society. Amory Lovins argues that this can be accomplished without nuclear power through efficiency. But critics of Amory Lovins; efficiency argument have pointed to he the work of the 19th century economists, William Stanley Jevons, who argued that energy efficiency increased the demand for energy. There is considerable evidence in support of Jevons' hypothesis, and thus Lovins efficiency solution is open to doubt. Amory Lovins has been challenged on Jevons Paradox by a number of critics, most significantly Robert Bryce and David Bradish. Although Lovins promised a response to Bryce and Bradish a couple of years ago, that response has not been forthcoming. Thus the notion efficiency can substitute for the nuclear post-carbon energy solution would appear discredited.

Critics of nuclear power have offered several arguments. They argue that nuclear power is not safe, yet nuclear power, if not perfectly safe, is at the very least far safer than the current fossil fuel based energy system. Nuclear power is arguable safer than renewable energy systems as well. In addition reactor design continues to grow safer, and still further improvements in nuclear safety are possible. Critics of nuclear safety seldom acknowledge the safety improvements over the last generation, and have failed to explain why radiation exposure levels that are considered safe in medical settings, are considered as dangerous when associated with nuclear power plants.

A second objection to the nuclear option has to do with the management of nuclear waste. Yet, nuclear waste would appear to be a misnomer. Most of the energy potential present in nuclear fuel, is not captured by current nuclear power technology. Yet nuclear research over the last two generations has shown that it is possible to build reactors that will capture almost all of the energy left in nuclear fuel. At the end of the complete fuel process, what will remain are fission products, that rapidly become safe, and do not pose unacceptable levels of risk to society. Far larger amounts of far more dangerous waste is produced by the chemical industry, and society views the operations of the chemical industry as an acceptable risk. In addition, the so called waste of the nuclear process in fact contains many valuable metals and minerals. Some of the very same radioactive isotopes which nuclear critics find so dangerous, are frequently injected into the human body as part of routine medical tests.

A third argument against nuclear power focuses on the so called nuclear proliferation risk. It is argued that plutonium contained in used nuclear fuel could be used to build nuclear weapons. In reality reacot grade plutonium, although potentially explosive, has qualities such as heat and radiation, that make it useless for building nuclear weapons. The heat from radioactive breakdown will cause the high explosives used in nuclear triggers, to breakdown. The high level of radiation from reactor grade plutonium, will damage a bombs electric componants. Thus both heat and radiation conspite to prevent the explosion of atomic bombs made from reactor grade plutonium.

A final objection to nuclear power is based on the agument that reactors are too expensive. Yet while reacots are more expensive as a source of electricity that traditional fossil fuel fired power plants, their costs per kilowatt hour of electricity is actually less expensive than that solar and wind generation sources,. At the same time, nuclear power plants offer far more reliability and flexibility than renewables. The sun and the wind can not be turned off and on in order to accomodate consumer demnd, and energy storage is expensive. A nuclear power plant can be counted on to run all night and on windless days. Thus not only is the cost of nuclear power less than the cost of renewable generated electricity, it is also more useful than renewable generated electricity.

Thus the objections to nuclear power appear to be weak. Nuclear critics attempt to disguise the weakness of their anti-nuclear case by the use of emotion laden language, and other irrational arguments.

Nuclear power offers solutions to a number of significant post-carbon energy problems for which renewables seemingly offer what are at best poor solutions, or no solutions at all.

First, there is the question of how to power water born shipping. Presently ships are powered by diesel engines, or steam turbines. Both propulsion systems used fuel derived from crude oil. Powering merchant ship with solar power would seem impractical because the required collection area for solar cells would exceed the size of the ship to a considerable extent. While reverting to sailing would be extremely romantic, it would also be equally impractical. The uncertainty of wind would play havoc with shipping schedules, and the requirement of wind power would pose a limitation on ship size.

Nuclear reactors are already used to power military ships, but the current light water reactors naval reactor would be extremely expensive for a civilian ship power source. An ideal ship propulsion reactor would be compact, built with inexpensive materials at a cost that would rival the cost of present commercial shipping propulsion systems, and would be safe and simple to operate. Although Pebble Bed Reactors have been proposed for shipboard transportation systems, most notably by Rod Adams, other Generation IV Reactors would seem to offer advantage of more compact designs. In particular sodium cooled reactors and Molten Salt Reactors would probably be considered. Molten Salt Reactors would appear to offer advantages over sodium cooled reactors, which have complex coolant and fuel fuel handling requirements, and have some safety related issues. In addition, the cost of sodium cooled reactors is quite likely to be higher than the the cost of Molten Salt Reactors. In addition, of the two reactor classes, MSR technology would appear more likely to have lower cost to build and operate, although how low is yet far from clear. It might also be possible to lower reactor costs, by tying the ship reactor to a combined Brayton and Ranken cycle system power system. Heat efficiencies of perhaps more than 60% would seem possible, with the resulting efficiency being translated into a smaller and more efficient reactor and reactor manufacturing and instalation savings.

A second area which Generation IV reactors would appear to offer a significant advantage over renewables is industrial process heat generation. For industrial heat applications, Pebble Bed and other gas cooled reactors would appear to give good heat output, and thus should be considered. Sodium cooled reactors would be at a significant disadvantage in heat output, but would provide useful heat for some industrial applications. Finally Molten Salt Reactors are capable of producing heat at temperatures up to 1200 C, although with ORNL developed technology they would be limited to 700 C. In addition to providing industrial heat, high temperature reactors are capable of supporting co generation systems. Thus high temperature coolant gasses could be first used to provide heat for an industrial process, and then cycled at a lower temperature through a Ranken cycle boiler to hear water for a steam turbine. Another system would be to use the hot coolant gases to power a closed cycle Brayton cycle turbine and then use the turbine exhaust heat as industrial process heat for industrial processes that require lower temperature. Either system would offer significant efficiencies. It is of course always possible to couple Brayton and Ranken cycle systems in a combined cycle nuclear power plant. Such an combined cycle approach would offer excellent efficiencies.

A third area in which nuclear technology would be useful would be in the area of peak electrical generation. Lettle attention has been paid at present to the problems associated with peak electrical generation. Although solar PV and thermal generating systems are often viewed as functioning as peak generation systems, a system that would reliably generate peak electricity at a competative price would be quite desirable.

Molten Salt Reactors particularly offer significant potential to produce heat that would be useful for peak electrical deman. Normally, the heat produced by a MSR would be carried by a hot salt fluid to a heat exchange where a second salt fluid would be heated, then that heat would be darried to yet another heat exchange in which gas or water would be heated for the power production system. But if full power from the MSR is not required on a 24 hour a day basis, some or all of the heat produced by the reactor could be transfered to a molten salt which would then be placed into storage, and then could later be used used to produce electricity during periods of peak demand.

Molten Salt reactors used to produce industrial heat would be useful for producing stored heat, as would reactors designed to produce intermediat load electricity (that is operate on a 16/7 or 16/5 basis).

In addition, if the cost of MSRs can be lowered by trading off the use of low cost materials for a decrease in efficiency. This is behind the idea of the "Big Lots" reactor, a sort of bargan basement approach for loweering reactor cost for reactors that would not be expected peak power most of the time, or even operate 24 hours a day.

Finally, we have the potential for the use of rejected heat from nuclear heat and power systems to produce desalinated water. Even with combined cycle nuclear generation systems, rejected hear from the Ranken cycle turbine could be used to operate a desalinization system. Heat efficiency would potentially rise above 70%. This tripple threat nuclear generation system would offer fominable savings from its various efficiencies.

Nuclear critics often complain that reactors face or creat problems with water supplies, but the use of waste nuclear heat to desalinate brakish or seawater would seeminly offer a solution to the problem. First the "coolant water" used would not disrupt urban or agricultural water supplies. But beyond that the desalinated water produced in the coolong process, would actually add to the existing water sypply. The sale of desalinated water in water short areas like Southern California would add to the reactor's revinue stream. Finally the recovery of minerals from the brine prodeced at the end of the desalination process could be processed to recover disolved minerals, and their sale would add a further source of revinue to the reactor.

Thus not only are Generation IV nuclear power plants capable of providing industrial heat, they are capable of doing so with great efficiency, that will significantly lower the cost of that heat.

Significant potential efficiencies as quite possible with Generation IV nuclear reactors. Quite appaer from the potential cost lowering effects of factory manufacture, inovative reactor siting and housing, it is to be concluded that efficiencies derived from cogenration, combined cyckes generation and the use of "waste" nuclear heat in desalinization. The full potential for lowering nuclear costs with Generation IV nuclear technology is not yet known, but it is significant. In addition Generation IV nuclear technology appears to be adaptable to many energy uses for which renewable technology is far less suited.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fuji Project Seeks $300 Million in Funding for Thorium Molten Salt Reactor Development

The International Thorium & Molten-Salt Technology Inc. (IThEMS),, is incorporated in Japan to advance LFTR development. Its principals include, Dr. Kazuo Furukawa long time Japanese Molten Salt Reactor Researcher whose name is closely connected to the Fuji Reactor concept. Former Japanese Senator, Keishiro Fukushima is the founder and CEO of IThEMS has just announced that it is seeking $300 Million to finance the development of Dr. Furukawa's Fuji reactor. With regard to large amount of plutonium stockpile as resultant product from long period nuclear reactor's operation, with high-level nuclear waste as byproduct, this problem has been surely significant burden to be resolved to every country concerned. In its recent press release IThEMS states:
On July 7, 2010 Professor Kazuo Furukawa, the head of the NPO "International Thorium and Molten-Salt Forum" has announced that a new company which aims to produce a commercially viable thorium nuclear power generation was established. The goal is to make a thorium nuclear power generator capable of producing 10,000 kilowatts and 20,000 kilowatts of electricity for the next five to ten years, respectively.

The company which was established in June is called, "International Thorium Energy & Molten-Salt Technology Inc. (IThEMS)." Its office is in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (tel. no. +81-3-3239-2595) with a capitalization of 2 million Japanese yen*. Its president is Mr. Keishiro Fukushima. A total of 300 million US dollars of capital coming from domestic and international companies and investors will be procured in order to produce a small-scale electric generator producing 10,000 kilowatts of electricity within five years.

This generation technology utilizes and involves fluoridized molten-salt to dissolve fluoridized thorium and other materials as liquid fuel. Uranium is not used, thus it is regarded as a safer alternative. Professor Furukawa serves as Chairman and Director of Laboratory of the new company.
IThEMS tells us,
Particular attention to Th-MSR is getting increased due to the fact that Th-MSR has no plutonium production, much less high-level nuclear waste and function of burning plutonium for its elimination.

Such idealistic new power generation system of Th-MSR begins to draw attention from various countries in the world, in view of the nuclear proliferation and terrorism resistance, and safe and stable supply of low cost clean energy which the world significantly demands.
Professor Furukawa believes that the Fuji Reactor can produced electricity at the price of 10 yen/kWh. Dr. Fukushima's cost estimate would make the cost of the Fuji competitive with conventional reactors. But the Fuji is a thorium breeder, and breeder technology is usually considered more expensive than conventional nuclear power plants. There is little doubt that the Fuji can be built. It takes advantage of of ORNL's work on the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, as well as ORNL's Molten Salt Breeder Reactor R&D work. If there is a flaw in the Fuji concept, it is that the Fuji reactor adheres too closely to ideas ORNL developed 40 years ago, and does not pay sufficient condition to the demands of a potential global market.

What the world wants is a quickly built, low cost reactor. Quick construction requires the use of extensive factory as opposed to field labor. Low cost also points to a factory manufacturing setting. Factory construction would mean transportation to the customer. There are three transportation options for factory produced reactors: By truck, by rail and by barge. International and costal water shipping can also be accomplished by commercial cargo ships. Land transportation points to relatively small reactor size. The overland transportation of large reactor components such as steam generares can be monumental engineering chores.

Rapid field construction is also facilitated by reducing the number of parts required to be assembled. All of these factors tend to push designers of factory produced reactors toward a relatively small. light weight reactors. Fuji designs appear to call for a fairly large and complex plants for its electrical output, suggesting that it has not fully evolved toward the factory produced reactor model yet.

The Fuji design could certainly be factory produced. But many aspects of the Fuji design could be reconceptualized to lower costs. For example, the reactor and its attached processing units could be moved under ground. The rest of the facility can be based on a recycled fossil fuel powered generation facility. Other aspects of the design could be simplified and streamlined into a small number of factory producible units. In addition IThEMS has a 8.6 MWe mini or nuclear battery design.

IThEMS has a long term plan that involves a three step approach to development. In the first step, a small MSR prototype will be developed.

The prototype embodies Furukawa's life time of research on MSR design. The Fuji concept calls for what could be described as a single fluid design but with added complexity. It has a long history of gentation, and will probably be the first of several attempts to translate the Molten Salt Reactor into a viable post carbon energy option. Professor Furukawa ambitions are nothing if not grandios. He envisions the Thorium breeding Molten Salt Reactor (the LFTR) to grow into
an industry as large as 10 trillion US Dollars (1,000 trillion Japanese yen) [by] 2060.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A hat tip to Joe Romm, Words of warning from Barry Brook

Joe Romm is a confusing figure. He usually is spot on about climate change data, while his pronouncements on energy frequently veer into the total idiocy range. Here we have some data from Joe Romm the smart. Is the sun responsible for climate change? Joe provides us with evidence that it is not.


Now look at the temperature trend:


June was, by the way, the hottest June on record. Heat wave records are getting smashed:
“Total number of daily high and low temperature records set in the U.S., data from NOAA National Climatic Data Center, background image © Kevin Ambrose. Includes historical daily observations archived in NCDC’s Cooperative Summary of the Day data set and preliminary reports from Cooperative Observers and First Order National Weather Service stations. All stations have a Period of Record of at least 30 years.”

Barry Brook offers a new view of climate science and its predictions. Barry is a very sober and rational person, and thus it is wise to listen when he writes ,
Under a business-as-usual scenario, which assume a continued reliance on fossil fuels as our primary energy source, these models predict 1.8°C to 6.4°C of further global warming during the 21st century. There is also a real danger that we have reached or will soon reach tipping points that will cascade uncontrollably and take the future out of our hands. But much of the uncertainty represented in this wide range of possibilities relates to our inability to forecast the probable economic and technological development pathway global societies will take over the next few decades.

South Asia as had the hottest heatwave ever this year,

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pro-Nuclear Bloggers Stands for Open Science

The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review July 2010 is one of the growing library of reports on the so-called Climate gate scandal. Like every other report on climate gate it exonerates the climate scientists involved from the charge of fraudulently manipulating data. The scientists were however advised of a need to change their information handling practices toward greater openness and transparency. Muir Russell the report's lead author included among the reports important findings:
First, how is science to be conducted in a new world of openness, accountability and indeed what I might term citizen involvement in public interest science? There need to be new ways of making results and data available, and we mention some aspects of current thought. There need to be ways of handling criticism and challenge, of responding to a range of different sorts of criticism and getting into a more productive relationship with critics than we have sometimes seen in this case.
The science community – and I include university managers in this – need to have in the forefront of their minds the importance of the credibility of the knowledge base they are generating and of not losing public trust in it. Their risk management in the widest sense needs to recognize this.
At the same time, science needs to find ways of expressing the uncertainties that inevitably attend its findings, and mean that so much of what it does is in a sense “work in progress”. More needs to be done to allow policy makers and the public to understand and work within this uncertainty.
We identify the need for some sort of “public space” where these issues can be aired, in an atmosphere that is at the same time unthreatening and properly challenging. If the Review has contributed to advancing discussion of these issues it will be a useful contribution in addition to addressing the questions in our remit.
I endorse these findings, especially as they apply to energy issues. Pro-nuclear bloggers are in the forefront of the movement towards openness and transparency in science. Two blogs, Kirk Sorensen's Energy from Thorium, and Barry Brook's Brave New Climate provide outstanding examples of the new culture of scientific openness and transparency.

Kirk blog is divided into three parts:
* A document archive in which documents which contain research "data" are collected via links.

* A traditional blog with posts, many of which offer histories of, reviews of, and interpretations of the background and contents of the documents.

* A discussion section, that is in large measure depended on the documents.
The Energy from Thorium discussion covers hundreds of topics, and includes nearly 30,000 comments.

In Brave New Climate, Barry Brook, and other participants, post professional quality papers on energy and climate related issues. The papers are then open for discussion by anyone. In some cases discussions on Brave New Climate have extended to 700 comments. Some times papers are rewritten in response to criticisms offered during the discussion.

I view my works on Nuclear Green as being closely aligned to both material and discussions found on Brave New Climate and Energy from Thorium. I have posted numerous comments on both blogs, and in the past Nuclear Green posts were cross posted to Energy From Thorium.

Both EfT, and BNC view Generation IV nuclear technology as an important component of post-carbon energy. BNC has also offered frequent critiques of renewable energy schemes. Because nuclear power is subject to repeated and vociferous criticisms, the open and transparent approach is highly appropriate in obtaining public trust for new nuclear technology. Indeed, EfT

In addition Barry Brook is associated with a second open science site, focuses on an attempt to model a wind energy scheme for Southeaster Australia. It is roughly based on Kirk Sorensen's Energy from Thorium design, The data, analyzed is posted and both analysis and interpretive narratives are open for discussion.

The "Independent Review" states:
Handling the blogosphere and non traditional scientific dialogue. One of the most obvious features of the climate change debate is the influence of the blogosphere. This provides an opportunity for unmoderated comment to stand alongside peer reviewed publications; for presentations or lectures at learned conferences to be challenged without inhibition; and for highly personalized critiques of individuals and their work to be promulgated without hindrance. This is a fact of life, and it would be foolish to challenge its existence. The Review team would simply urge all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand. That said, a key issue is how scientists should be supported to explain their position, and how a public space can be created where these debates can be conducted on appropriate terms, where what is and is not uncertain can be recognised.
The models provided by Energy from Thoirium, and Brave New Climate fully meet these requirements. Numerous other energy related Internet sites fail to do so, however. Indeed, There appear to be numerous openness gaps in the renewable energy research standards offered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and in various plans and reports offered by supporters of Renewable Energy. Nuclear Green has to a limited extent attempted to address some of these renewable energy openness gaps, and Brave New Climate, and have attempted to do so in a far more detailed and professional fashion.

If there is a lesson from the so called Climate Gate scandal, it is that 21st science needs to be open and to the extent humanly possible transparent. Scientific communications, discussions and debate should be viewed as public, rather than private. People who are involved in knowledge production and assessment need to be fully aware of the implication of the new world of knowledge we live in and not transgress its structures.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The July 4th Letter to President Obama Falls Short

Mercy Hospital, Knoxville Tennessee. July 10, 2010

I happen to believe that the future of human society is closely tied to the future of nuclear power. That future in turn is closely related to the vision that the early nuclear pioneers created. They fully foresaw public mistrust of the ability of nuclear technologists to resolve problems which people believe are associated with nuclear power. Those problems were all anticipated by the band of brilliant Manhattan Project scientists, who undertook to understand the full social implications of what they had accomplished. With prophet clarity they foresaw public mistrust of nuclear power, but they also foresaw that with public acceptance a new route to virtually unlimited energy for a long period of time was available.

65 years later human society faces an energy crisis, and those long ago foreseen fears still haunts the public. Solutions to the problems are available, but the public will not accept them unless it can trust the community of scientists, engineers and other nuclear advocates who offer them.

Public trust cannot be earned, unless that community is open and honest with the public, lays its cards on the table, adopts an inclusive standard for dialogue with its serious critics, and makes its its internal discussions and debates open to the public.

Early this week, Rod Adams posted a July 4th open letter from selected members of the pro-nuclear community to President Obama. The overt purpose of the letter was to encourage the support of the Obama administration to support nuclear power. But the Obama Administration already supports nuclear power. The real purpose of the letter does not emerge until the the letter's third paragraph.
At the same time, we should reinstate our program to develop and demonstrate the technology conceived by Enrico Fermi and his colleagues. It was their intent to extract virtually all of the energy contained in uranium by using fast-spectrum reactors operating on recycled fuel. It was never intended that we would limit our nuclear power capability indefinitely to the approximately 1% recovery that we achieve now. And as a bonus, this technology transforms nuclear waste from the perceived 10,000-year problem to a 500-year solution.
If 0ne speaks of Enrico Fermi and and his colleagues in the contest of Breeder Reactors, one ought to add other illustrious names, Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg, who were Fermi's colleagues on the famous New Piles Committee, where the breeder reactor was first discussed. Does Fermi desirve more credit for the breeder than Eugene Wigner who invented the sodium cooled reactor, the reactor that is at the heart of the sodium fast breeder?

Thus the letter to President Obama features a slight of notable nuclear pioneers who made significant contributions to the breeder concept. The omission was deliberate and it waspolit9cally motivated. The reason why the names of illustrious breeder reactor pioneers were excluded from the letter is simple, both Wigner and Weinberg were excluded from the letter is simple, both were critical of sodium cooled fast breeders, and both believed that fluid core/fluid fuel thermal thorium breeder reactors, offered a better opportunity for a sustainable nuclear future. Alvin Weinberg, in particular, went on, with Eugene Wigner's encouragement, went on to participate and lead in the development of of a superior breeding technology, a technology which the July 4th letter to the President attempts to hide.

The writers of July 4th wish to hide from the President knowledge of Wigner and Weinberg's criticisms of fast rectors and of the development by Oak Ridge National Laboratory of a safe, plutonium free alternative to the fast breeder, TheMoltvery significant questions about the motives of en Salt Breeder Reactor, or as it is currently known, the LFTR . THE PRESIDENT SHOULD BE INFORMED ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF AN ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE FAST BREEDER. The failure of the July 4th letter to inform the President about the LFTR does the president, the United States of America and the human population of the Earth a disservice. Why people who portray themselves as representatives of the nuclear community to so misrepresent the history of breeder technology, and to slight a potentially vitally important energy option in an era of an increasingly desperate energy situation raises

The letter to the President was conceived of in secret, and its actual content was controlled by a small group of people who wished to control the letter's agenda. That agenda emerges as much ffrom what the letter does not say, as from what it does say, Not only does the July 4 letter ignore a potentially superior and potentially more acceptable to the public nuclear breeding option to the public, but it largely ignores emerging commercial options that use existing fast breeder technology. Notable among these options are the ARC-100 which is closely based on well tested EBR-II technology. Thus the letter writers appear more interested in further research and development rather than reaping the fruits of the 25 billion dollars f research money the government has already invested in fast breeder research. There things that the Obama administration could do to help bring that technology to market, that would not involve a large future research investment.

Secondly, although the letter mentions that,
France, Russia, China, India, Korea, and Japan are already firing up the next generation of nuclear plants, derived and improved from designs we created in our youth more than half a century ago. Over 400 commercial nuclear power plants, and a comparable number of naval vessels, have operated for decades with unprecedented reliability and radiological safety. No non-nuclear system works as well. The principle of breeding more fuel than is used has also been widely demonstrated in several countries, including the U.S. Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology is also demonstrated by extended operation of theFFTF in Washington State and the EBR II in Idaho.
While mentioning fast breeder R&D programs in other countries, the writers fail to suggest the possibility that the United States could benefit more by close involvement in these research probrams. In particular, India has announced a large R&D program to be undertaken during the next 15 years, that would perform all of the R&D tasks the letter writers have in mind. Collaboration with Indian fast breeder research will get us everything a go-it-alone research program would, at a fraction of the cost.

The July 4th letter was conceived of without widespread input from the pro-niclear community, and whil most of us would agree with many of the statements of that letter, we do not all agree with its emphasis on fast breeder technology, to the exclusion of other potentially more promising muclear breeding technologies. Guidance for the creation of the letter came from a small group of people, who are not interested in the input of views from other members of the pro-nuclear community. These people are not interested in open and honest within the pro-nuclear community, or in gaining widespread acceptance a statement of our views. They prefer secret deliberations, to open and public airing of our views. In short they do not offer a viable path forward toward the fulfillment of the promise offered by nuclear technology to our society.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

White Paper Draft: Deployment and Lowering Post-Carbon Energy Costs, Part 2

This is the second part of my draft the deployment and cost section of my draft White Paper on Global nuclear deployment, intended to demonstrate that a massive global deployment of nuclear power is possible before 2050. See Part 1 of this section here. The First Section can be found here. . The Second Section of the draft White Paper can be found here. A discussion of the nuclear power system system currently planned to be deployed in India can be found here.

Part 2

The issue of nuclear safety has already been addressed elsewhere in this white paper. There are three different philosophies of nuclear safety. They are:
A. Defensive safety which involves preventing the emissions of radioactive isotopes from a reactor through the use of a system of barriers to that spread. The barriers can also be barriers to prevent loss of cooling in the event of a loss of coolant accident. finally barriers may be barriers to dangerous human behavior that could could lead to radioisotope emissions. Both operator error and the actions of terrorists belong in this barrier category.
B. Natural or passive safety. this catigory of safety relies on the laws of nature to keep a reactor safe. One example would be the use of natural water circulation or thermal syphoning to keep coolant water circulating through a reactor core. With natural circulation one does not need to worry about the consequences of a pump failure.

A second natural safety system would involve the gravity feed of emergency coolant water into a LWR core, in the event of a loss of coolant accident.

In Integral Fast Reactors, the use of a coolant pool, the use of fuel metal expansion to create a negative coefficient of reactivity, and the use of natural convection coolant circulation all use the laws of nature to automatically provide safety without human intervention. Finally in molten fluoride salt the thermal expansion of the carrier/fuel salt, cause by increased reactor temperature automatically begins to expel nuclear fuel from the core. The hotter the reactor gets, the more nuclear fuel is automatically expelled until the reactor is unable to sustain a chain reaction and shuts down. This feature operates in an entirely automatic fashion and is not controlled by operators. Finally if a MSR core overheats, a drain plug at the bottom of the reactor automatically melts, and the core drains into drain tanks. the tanks are in turn cooled by the natural convection of air, and a chimney effect draws fresh air into the reactor chamber at the bottom and expelles hot air at the top of a chimney.

C A third philosophy of nuclear safety might be called precautionary or offensive safety. This approach is only possible in fluid core reactors. In particular it was investigated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor. Precautionary safety involves the removal of highly radioactive fission products from the nuclear core. These include the gasses xenon(Xe), and krypton (Kr),. and the volatile fission products, iodine(I), tellurium(Te), cesium(Cs), and rubidium(Rb). In particular it is considered highly desirable from the standpoint of reactor control to continuously bubble xenon out of the liquid salt core fluids, with krypton following the xenon out. They can then be captured and stored. Removing the volatile fission products enhances nuclear safety, nut solves some materials problems with MSR. Tellurium is a particular problem because it contributes to some materials problems in the MSR core. The removal of the noble metals,

The removal of the noble gases, volatile fission products, and Nobel metals can be justified by safety benefits as a step designed to increase nuclear safety while lowering overall nuclear costs. In addition the continuous removal of fission products will offer significant benefits to reactor designers.

Thus Molten Salt Reactors have unique precautionary safety features, that involve the removal of radioactive isotopes. Combining the precautionary safety removal of radioactive gasses, and volatile fission products with an underground location location would mean in practice that further defenses against radioisotope release in the event of a nuclear accident would be unnecessary because gravity would serve as a sufficient barrier to the movement of against the movement of non-volatile radioisotopes away from the reactor hot cell. In addition, MSRs including the Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor (LFTR) can be designed to operate with a negative coefficient of thermal reactivity, which protects the reactor from a loss of control over criticality as internal temperature rises.

MSRs can be designed to completely shut down before rising temperatures become a serious problem. In addition freeze core drain plugs offer a fall back passive safety feature that prevents reactor overheating. As core salt temperature rises past a certain point a plug of frozen salt is melted by simple heat transfer from the fluid core salt to the frozen plug salt. Once the plug melts the core salt drains into a tank or series of tanks shaped to prevent criticality. A passive air cooling system can insure that heat from the radioactive decay of the remaining fission products in the core salts will not become a problem.

The ARC-100, a proposed 100 MWe Integral Fast Reactor would share with other IFRs a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. A large tank of liquid sodium located in close proximity to the reactor core would then serve as a thermal reservoir to prevent overheating due to the radioactive decay of the fission products embedded with in the fuel. A passive air cooling system will prevent the core and sodium tank from overheating. The ARC-100 breeding ratio is unlikely high enough to pose a void wort problem, and even if it did, Argonne National Laboratory research indicates that the IFR negative temperature coefficient of reaction feature of IFRs would shut down the fission process in the ARC-100 core before the core is damaged.

Thus both the LFTR and other factory produced MSTs as well as the ARC-100 would offer outstanding levels of safety. In particular MSR safety could offer a major route to lowering reactor price, because massive safety structures would be unnecessary.

Disposing of dangerous waste

One of the the features of the Molten Salt Reactor system is its organic ability to reprocess dangerous nuclear products from its fuel. We will see elsewhere that fission products can be continuously processed out of nuclear fuel. The withdraw of some fission products makes a positive contribution to the operational qualities of molten salt reactors in addition to making them safer. We will also see that both stable and unstable fission products separated out of a MSR fuel salts represent a potential revenue stream for the reactor owner. The ultimate solution for the so called problem of nuclear waste is that “nuclear waste” is transformed into an above ground mine for mineral resources.

One advantage to the two fluid MSR design is that the recovery of fissionable yield from nuclear breeding is kept separate from from recovery of fission products. It is thus possible to keep all operations related to new fuel recovery and processing within the reactor hot cell, which becomes a significant barrier to nuclear proliferation.

The IFR technology used by the ARC-100 requires that its fuel be removed and batch processed outside the reactor. The metallic fuel is mechanically removed from the reactor and them disolved in a molten salt bath, and uranium and TRUs are separated from fission products, and then reformed into metallic fuel elements, and returned to the reactor. There are in efficiencies in this process, and up to 3% of the plutonium present in the reprocessed fuel may be lost to the process. It would be unacceptable for plutonium to contaminate recovered fission products. In addition, the potential for large plutonium losses in the recovery process could lead to accounting issues that could mask plutonium diversions for weapons purposes.

Transportation requirements

Professor Andrew Kadak,, who teaches nuclear engineering at MIT, has pointed out what happens when labor is transferred to the construction site to the factory.
“Building a reactor in a factory should save construction time, says Kadak. He estimates that what takes eight hours to do in the field could be done in just one hour in a factory. Once the reactor is manufactured, it would then be shipped to the site of a power plant along with the necessary containment walls, turbines for generating electricity, control systems, and so on.”

In order to take full advantage of the labor and cost saving potential of factory manufacture of reactors, the final product must be broken down into a relatively few, transportable and easily and quickly assembled components. Thus the successful factory manufactured reactor should be relatively compact. Reactors such as the PBMR have very large cores, and thus require considerable onsite assembly. They are not conspicuously less expensive than larger light water reactors manufactured by onsite assembly of factory manufactured kits. A Le Blanc tube MSR core would not only be very inexpensive to manufacture, but it would also be easily transportable. If the design of the MSR heat exchange can be kept to a transportable size, easy transportation and rapidly assembly of Le Blanc MSRs would be possible.

In contrast the small “factory built” mPower reactor would still require a few million hours of onsite labor and 2 years of onsite construction. It is not clear how much onsite manufacturing will be required for the ARC-100. Although its core is small, the sodium pool required by the IFR safety philosophy requires a much larger containment vessel, and its fuel handling machinery is fairly complex. It appears that the final assembly of the ARC-100 will be a larger and more complex task than MSR final assembly, but a great deal more should be known before final judgement n the matter is possible.

Self sustaining fuel cycles

The success of the nuclear technology of the 1950's is currently a curse to the nuclear industry. The short comings of 50's technology continue to offer grounds for opposition to nuclear power, while the the once through uranium fuel cycle cannot be sustained as the primary source of global energy. This circumstances was actually foreseen during World War II by Manhattan project scientist. Alvin Weinberg recored,

“At the April 28, 1944, meeting of the New Piles Committee, Phil Morrison had reported the known reserves of uranium at workable concentration to amount to only about 20 000 tons. With so little fuel, nuclear energy based only on the 0.7 per- cent of uranium-235 in natural uranium could hardly amount to much. Morrison also pointed out at this meeting that the vastly larger amount of residual uranium in the granites could be burned with a positive energy balance—but only if used in a breeder.”

According to Weinberg, Morrison added that

“more work should be done on the nuclear development of thorium because of its greater availability and also suggested experiments, . . .”

Weinberg records Morrison's excitement when,

“Morrison showed me his calculations . . .”

What Morrison demonstrated to Weinberg was that,

“if uranium (was) burned in a breeder (reactor), the energy released through fission exceeded the energy required to extract the residual 4 ppm of uranium from granitic rocks.”

Later Weinberg was to reduce this key to sustainable nuclear power to a single slogan, “burn the rocks.”

Later Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg came to prefer thorium breeding to uranium breeding. Both preferred the advantages of fluid core reactors. Eugene Wigner, who was still in Chicago, had become interested in breeder reactors, and their siblings, converter reactors. Wigner became intrigued by the potential of a thorium breeding cycle. Wigner concerned about future uranium supplies envisioned a reactor that would burn Pu239 and would be surrounded by a blanket of Th232. The reactor would produce U-233, a fissionable nuclear fuel. But, it was noted that the cost of fuel reprocessing for such a reactor would make it not competitive with coal as a power source.

At that point Wigner and Harold Urey realized that the aqueous homogeneous reactor offered a solution to the problem of fuel reprocessing costs. Unlike Fermi who was strictly a classical physicist, Wigner was trained as a chemical engineer. For Wigner, the fluid fuel approach meant that the fuel could be withdrawn without difficulty from the reactor, reprocessed, and returned in a process that would cost much less than the cost of reprocessing solid reactor fuel. It is a tribute to the genius of Eugene Wigner, that he understood the problem that would create nuclear waste in conventional civilian power reactors, and that started the process of developing a solution to the problem.

Wigner, and his bright young assistant, Alvin Weinberg, together with engineer Gale Young, wrote a report outlining the concept in the spring of 1945. Thus the notion that the aqueous homogeneous reactor could serve as a basis for a civilian power industry remained a focus of Wigner for some time. Weinberg, both a research director and later as general director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, championed Oak Ridge research on the aqueous homogeneous reactor until the end of the 1950’s.

Critics of nuclear power often depict nuclear scientists, as lacking in vision or a concern for human well being, and impractical. In fact the opposite is the case. Eugene Wigner was a scientist who could look long into the future and anticipated resource shortages. He was practical enough to see that low cost power was highly desirable, and as someone who had actually worked as a chemical engineer, he applied a sound chemical engineering approach to the reprocessing of nuclear fuel, and worked that approach back into the design of the reactor. Alvin Weinberg, Wigner’s young assistant, was to learn from Wigner’s long vision, and was to elaborate it during the coming years.

Eventually the Chemist Raymond C. Briant convinced Alvin Weinberg that the Molten Salt Reactor held more promise as a thorium cycle nuclear breeder than the aqueous homogeneous reactor.

Molten Salt Reactors are a reality. Two were built and successfully tested in the 1950's and '60's at Oak Ridge. A 1980's reactor experiment at Shippingport, Pennsylvania demonstrated that breeding thorium was possible. There appear to be no killer technological obstacles to the development of the Molten Salt Thorium Breeder, the LFTR. But can the LFTR be built at a cost that is significantly less than the cost of conventional reactors?

There is probable cause to believe that the answer is yes, but this is less than certain without further investments. There are financial risks for all forms of post carbon energy including for renewables, whose goose, according to T. Boone Pickens, would be cooked without very large government subsidies.

It certainly is no more certain that the AEC-100 or the mPower Reactor can be built for less than conventional reactors, and even less likely that either can be built for less than factory manufactured LFTRs.

Nuclear proliferation issues

In a famous essay, Hyman Rickover wrote about the difference between paper reactors and real reactors. A real reactor is one for which the challenges of implementation have been meet. Paper reactors is a reactor whose design only exists on paper. There are also real and paper proliferation routs. A real proliferation route is one which nations acquire nuclear weapons, contrary to international treaties. Paper routes to nuclear proliferation, are routes that no nation has actually used to acquire nuclear weapons, but which academic nuclear proliferation “experts” imagine might be used.

Academic Nuclear proliferation reactor specialist Frank von Hippel apparels to have invented a paper route to nuclear proliferation by dropping a sentence from an anthologized paper by nuclear weapons designer J. Carson Marks. The paper was on the explosive qualities of reactor grade plutonium (RGP), that is the the plutonium that found in “spent” reactor fuel. In his original paper, Marks had noted that while reactor grade plutonium was not weaponozable. In a later republication of Marks' paper, edited by von Hippel, the sentence stating that RGP was not weaponizable was dropped. Von Hippel then went on to postulate that RGP was weaponizable, offering as his authority Marls's (redacted) paper, thus creating a wholly paper route to the treaty violating development of nuclear weapons.

At the same time nuclear weapons have spread to a number of nations by routes wholly unforeseen by von Hippel and his academic and policy making followers. The actual routes to nuclear proliferation followed by real proliferators, have many advantages over the paper routes suggested by von Hippel and Company. The use of Generation IV reactor technology as a nuclear proliferation tool, would appear to be more paper routes to proliferation. Nuclear proliferation experts who express concern about the use of Generation IV nuclear technology would appeal place concern about such paper routes over proven proliferation routes. Contrary to the usual assumption, the development and use of Generation IV technologies would not make proliferation more likely.

The LFTR, which can be designed to only breed its own replacement fuel and nothing more, is a very unlikely proliferation too. In addition, by tweaking the LFTR fuel formula by adding U-238, separating out fissionable U-233 from the LFTR fuel would become very difficult.

The ARC-100 is another unlikely proliferation tool. If the ARC -100 is started with large amounts of RGP, even by running its fuel through short cycles before reprocessing will not produce plutonium of weapons grade purity. If an ARC-100 is started with weapons grade plutonium or HEU, then the would be proliferator already posses nuclear proliferation tools.

It should thus be concluded that the LFTR and the ARC-100 are paper proliferation risks, are not realistic proliferation options, and are highly unlikely to increase the probability that rogue states or terrorist groups will acquire nuclear weapons.

Manufacturing speed and cost

The construction of Light Water Reactors typically takes from 3 to 6 years and requires more that 10,000,000 hours of highly skilled labor. On average over two hours of each workers labor time is lost every day, due to project disorganization. Reactors are largely constructed on site, Modules typically weigh 40 tones. The AP-1000 is designed to be built from a kit which includes close to 300 40 ton modules, in addition to much more massive parts including pressure vessels and steam generators. There is much more to AP-1000 assembly besides connecting the modules like so many lego blocks.

Shifting from the construction of large reactors in the field, to manufacturing small reactors in factories, potentially holds the promise of a considerable labor savings. Technology changes might save even more labor and on other aspects of reactor manufacture as well. For Example, The Le Blanc tube MSR/LFTR core would be quite simple, and would require little labor compared to core manufacture for conventional reactors. Other parts of MSR/LFTR type reactor are also relatively simple, and probably could ber mass produced easily and cheaply. There are thus probable cause arguments that LFTRs can be factory manufactured cheaply and at low cost, and that their final assembly would be quick and inexpensive. There are also cautionary tales about quick, easy and inexpensive technology schemes. If cost certainty is an over riding goal in future energy technology development, we face a deeply troubling future.

There are however, reasons to believe that the factory manufacture of major LFTR components can don in a relatively short period of time. There would also be cost advantages to manufacturing large numbers of LFTRs. Hence there is a rational for mass production of LFTRs in factories, if the deployment logistics can be worked out. David Walters has proposed a the use of naval yards for LFTR factories, and this is an attractive proposal.

The mass deployment of LFTRs would require the creation of a karge number of deployment teams. A rapid deployment cycle would lead to deployment teams that were highly experienced, and hence final assemble would be involve far fewer problems than conventional
reactor field manufacturing. It thus would certainly not impossible for LFTRs to progress from order to criticality in under 6 months.

In contrast, the construction of a more conventional mPower reactor can, according to information from Babcock & Wilcox, be expected to take two years. How Long ARC-100 manufacture will take is unknown.


One of the allegations offered by critics of nuclear power is the “we are running out of water” story. The story says that reactors require too much water, and that we face a water shortage, thus we cannot supply enough water to cool reactors. Hence it is a waste of money to build them. This story is ironic because the tale teller is usually also a solar thermal advocate, and never has considered the water issues of solar thermal power. In fact the greatest future water shortages will be in the desert southwest, the area of the country where solar thermal power looks attractive. The “we are running out of water” story is far more telling for the Colorado River Basin, than for any other water shed in the United States. Hense, water shortages are going to be far more of a problem for renewable energy than for nuclear power. Nuclear power plants, can draw cooling water from the sea. In fact, California nuclear power plants can be located by the sea, and their water cooling system can also serve as be a desalinization system.

Most of the water used in reactor cooling is returned to its natural source, although a small percentage will be lost through evaporation. Reactors can be air cooled. The B&W mPower small reactor is designed to be either air or water cooled, with air cooling extracting a small efficiency penalty. The original Molten Salt Reactors were air-cooled, and there would be no major problems designing LFTRs for air cooling. Thus water shortages are not an obstacle to reactor deployment any where in the world.

Rapid and Massive Deployment

Significant problems, including AGW, and the decline of conventional oil sources will require a significant transition away from 20th century energy technologies during the next 40 years. For nuclear power to play a significant role in this transition, it will require both rapid and massive deployment of power generating reactors globally. The use of small factory produced reactors can facilitate this mass rapid deployment, because factory produced reactors can be built with greater labor efficiency and very likely at a lower cost compared to traditional reactor manufacturing technologies. In particular, Molten Salt type reactors including the LFTR have attractive features which would ease their mass production and mass deployment problems. These include:
A. The absence of massive steel components which are featured in water cooled reactors.
B. Very simplified cooling system compared to LWRs.
C. Simplified instrumentation system,
D. Flexible materials choices.
E. Relatively few parts.
F. Relative light weight of at least some major components.
The fuel and blanket salt cleaning and reprocessing systems of LFTR add both to their direct cost and the complexity of the LFTR. But even here we have a mixed picture, because fuel salt cleaning and reprocessing are safety and “Nuclear waste handling” features, that perform functions that are external for solid core reactors. In particular fuel cleaning may lower other safety related reactor construction expenses, blanket salt reprocessing would substitute for uranium enrichment in conventional reactors.

When ORNL researchers compared the potential costs of Molten Salt Breeder Reactors (a LFTR) with that of Light Water Reactors in the early 1970's, they found that the likely costs of the MSBR would be about the same as that of a LWR. However the costs of LWRs rose significantly later in the 1970's and 1980's. Much of that cost increase was dure to added LWR safety features, that would not be necessary for a LIFTR. Thus there is reason to suspect that a LFTR, even with fuel reprocessing will cost less to build than conventional reactors. If fuel reprocessing and cleaning systems are mas produced, their cost will be relatively low, thus for the LFTR, massive deployment would probably tend to lower component costs.

The prospects for massive deployment of small, factory produced LWR s such as the B&W mPower are far less certain. Fuel availability will be a major issue, and compared to the LFTR, the mPower is far more complex and therefore likely to be more expensive and require a significantly longer time to build.

Finally, too few details have been offered about the ARC-100 to even speculate about its costs. However, If the primary source of ARC-100 and LFTR start up charges is Reactor Grade Plutonium, 10 thermal LFTRs can be started for every 1 ARC-100. In addition the breeding ration of the ARC-100 would be probably be similar to that of the LFTR. Thus the ARC-100 could well be significantly handicapped in the race to provide massive deployment potential.

Fuel efficiencies

Both the LFTR and the ARC-100 offer significantly greater fuel efficiency than conventional reactors. Both are capable of 1 to 1 fuel conversion and both are capable of breeding. Both designs are consistent with a sustainable nuclear economy.

Fuel reprocessing

Both the LFTR and the ARC-100 offer integral fuel reprocessing technologies. The LFTR's technology offers some advantages and may cost less to manufacture and operate. Both technologies appear to offer fuel reprocessing at a lower cost than traditional reprocessing technologies. The ARC-100's reprocessing technology could loose as much as 3% of the plutonium present in reprocessed fuel, to its waste stream. The losse ration for the LFTR is unknown,

Long term nuclear waste

Both the LFTR and the ARC-100 could meet the 99% reduction of nuclear waste target. In addition both could be effective tools for reducing the amount of TRU fount in spent light water reactor fuel.

In Part 3 I intend to argue the probable case that Generation IV reactors can be produced and deployed at a sufficiently rapid rate to meet global carbon emission reduction goals by 2050. I will also argue the cost of Generation IV reactors is likely to be significantly lower than the cost of conventional reactors, Finally I will argue that Generation IV reactors represent sustainable energy technology, and thus represent a long term solution to meeting human energy needs,


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