Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is the Obama Administration getting the message?

From NPR's Ira Flatow, February 18, 2011:
JEFF (Caller): Thank you. Tons of questions but one pops out is what can you say about these thorium-based nuclear reactors? I've heard - I've read good things about them, but no one wants to get it off the ground.

FLATOW: What are the features of - what is the future of nuclear reactors?

Dr. HOLDREN: I think there are a lot of interesting concepts in the nuclear reactor domain that are still being explored. The thorium-fueled ideas have been looked at from really many decades. For 50 years, people have been interested in thorium-fueled nuclear reactors, but there are some very substantial technical challenges in the way of making the thorium cycle really attractive. And nobody has up until now really demonstrated that those challenges can be overcome in a way that would make thorium reactors economically competitive.

I think a more interesting idea, which is reflected with a modest amount of money in the president's 2012 budget proposal, are the small modular nuclear reactors which could be manufactured in, basically, assembly-line way, would have the potential for getting the cost down, are potentially economically attractive in much smaller sizes than the nuclear reactors we've been relying on. That makes them applicable in a wider variety of places. And they could be basically switched out and returned whole to the manufacturers so there wouldn't be any spent fuel that could be used for nuclear bomb making left behind after the reactor has lived out its useful life.

Answer: No.

Comment: Obama needs to fire Holdren. Not only does he exagerate the LFtr challenges, he seems opposed to doing anything to overcome them. LFTRs are ideal as small modular reactors. They are highly efficient, and can be built in small packages.


Rick Maltese said...

I agree. His answer is very dismissive answer to the point of being uninformed. If he's a science advisor he should at least acknowledge that China has started a program and that someone is taking it seriously.

Atomikrabbit said...

“And nobody has up until now really demonstrated that those challenges can be overcome in a way that would make thorium reactors economically competitive.”

If Dr. Holdren had fought for sending Oak Ridge a few billion of those subsidies and grants given to his wind and solar pets (or even the $535 million guarantee likely to be defaulted on by Solyndra), who knows what might have happened?

I have always suspected that, if administered truth serum, the President would admit that his heart is more aligned with hard-green appointees like czars Van Jones and Carol Browner, and that he only supports nuclear as a bone to the unions who will build and operate them, and as a bargaining chip to the Republicans so they will go along with his real agenda.

Besides, with Jaczko in place, Obama can publicly seem to be pushing forward, while the NRC leadership quietly holds back the throttles.

Atomikrabbit said...

“so there wouldn't be any [SMR] spent fuel that could be used for nuclear bomb making”

Holder also seems to think that used power reactor fuel is a good feedstock for bombs. Someone should make him read Depleted Cranium’s excellent tutorial on that subject:

I agree that replacing him with a science advisor that actually knew nukes would be a good demonstration of Obama’s genuine favor towards a US nuclear renaissance.

jagdish said...

I agree that the science adviser should be more knowledgeable about nuclear energy. However thorium should be introduced in the present generation of reactors before LFTR is finalized. That will make it easy to accept thorium based fuel.
The way forward is indicated by Indian brochure on AHWR300-LEU. There can be further modification to optimize the concept. 19.5%LEU should in encased in a metallic thorium casing to give a fuel with high burn up. When required, these casings can be electro-refined for thorium and U233. The thorium casing can double as cladding in addition to its real role as fertile fuel.

Robert Hargraves said...

I wrote Ira Flato...

Ira, I heard your interview with John Holdren and the Q&A about thorium reactors; there's much more to this story. A liquid fuel nuclear reactor with thorium can produce energy cheaper than from coal, checking global warming and increasing economic prosperity globally. Indeed this reactor was demonstrated in the 1960s at Oak Ridge. I recommend you do a show on the liquid fluoride thorium reactor.

Email me or call me at 603 643 5080. For background visit
or the blog and forum
or a June 2010 American Scientist paper
or a Jan 2010 American Physical Society publication

Charles Barton said...

Good for you, Bob!

EL said...

@Atomikrabbit. For a look at Obama's commitment to nuclear, you'd be best to look at his long voting record and advocacy for the industry as a Illinois State Senator. Illinois gets 50% of it's energy from nuclear, is an active participant in megatons to megawatts program, and Obama has been in the forefront of this (just look at his role in START). In fact, this record points to a possible strategy for Thorium advocates for getting reactor pilot programs off the ground. It seems to me that Obama likes nuclear as a power source (reliable, affordable and clean baseload generation), it helps him in bipartisan energy support from Republicans, but he likes it even more as a way to promote nuclear weapons safety and reduction of global weapons stock and anti-proliferation efforts. It seems to me thorium advocates are in an excellent position to make a winning case with administration ON THIS BASIS.

What's primarily standing in the way, in my mind, is not one science advisor in the administration (I think Obama has long made up his mind about the issue), but the tide of opposition from conservative right against government backed spending programs. Oak Ridge has been in the forefront of lobbying government to protect it's budget on clean energy and R&D. But it's been a loosing battle. Cost cutting ideologues have proposed reductions in DOE EERE program (35%), Office of Science (18%), State Energy Program (100%), DOE Loan Guarantees (cut by $25 billion), National Science Foundation (less $359 million), National Institute of Standards and Technology (19%). Oak Ridge National Labs has come out in defense of State Energy Programs suggesting "each dollar of SEP funds generates $7.22 in cost savings and leverages $10.71 of state and private funds." And now it looks like that program is GONE! It seems this (and attacks on science education) severely hobble any serious strategy to get innovative technologies off the ground and into pilot projects, and also drawing in substantial private sector resources on large capital projects (such as a LFTR pilot plant) where public-private partnerships are crucial to getting such projects started and capitalized on a stable basis.

And it's not that we are broke … we've been giving out tax breaks as fast as we can think them up, and there's huge resources permanently parked in non-discretionary parts of budget. It's a manufactured argument to keep the spigots open on the status quo, and profits flowing from oil and natural gas.

fireofenergy said...

How could ANYONE dismiss the benefits of LFTR?
There needs to be a new law, one that states:
People that choose to dismiss any chances of getting this country weened from FF's - are deemed a traitor.

Isn't there any possibility of proving that the likes of Holdren are detrimental and thus flat out dangerous to keep around...

DocForesight said...

If Holdren is willfully ignorant of LFTR then I agree with previous posters -- fire him! Good grief, he is advising the POTUS on factual science-based developments and potentials, not pie-in-the-sky hopes.

@fireofenergy -- you must mean "weened from FF's" for electricity generation since there is no viable alternative to FF's for combustion engines and transportation uses.


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