Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rod Adams Competes with Nuclear Green Author for Grumpy Old Man Prize

Rod Adams seems to have decided to compete with me for the Charles Barton Grumpy old man prize. Well part of being a grumpy old man is to get your facts straight, and when Rod gets Grumpy, he forgets to look at the facts.

In a recent comment on Nuclear Green Rod made a number of highly unflattering comments about Kirk Sorensen and myself. For example Rod states,
my issue with the messianic way that both you and Kirk push thorium is that your efforts carry a substantial risk of delaying important and measurable progress in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Wow Kirk and I have pushed thorium in a Messianic way, and we are in danger of impeding progress in the effort to reduce dependency on fossil fuels! Had Rod paid attention to what I have been saying for the last few months he would have known that I am not pushing thorium reactors as short run solution. I have advocated Uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors since last summer. Why? Because we can build them cheap, maybe at half the price of Light Water Reactors, Right now Light Water Reactors are considered too expensive by the market, and if Rod has not noticed investors are not exactly flocking to loan money for their construction. Nor are utilities seemingly willing to take a risk with them. There are hints that Kirk Sorensen may share my interest in practical, low cost uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactors. So if Rod were up to date he would accuse me of promoting uranium fueled reactors in a messianic way

Secondly Rod makes the point that
There are way too many people in the US and Europe who think there is a magical way to step from DOS to Windows 7 without going through the intermediate steps or a way to move from a Model-T to a Lexus without countless generations of learning in between.
Granted, i do not disagree with that, In fact I favor beginning molten salt development by commercializing the Molten Salt Reactor technology tested tested by ORNL with the MSRE during the 1960's. No one in the thorium community has disagreed with me.

Rid says,
We know how to produce, fuel and operate light water reactors safely and economically now. Many of us know they are not the ultimate technology, but we also know that prosperous light water reactor owners are far more likely to be interested in investing in the next big fission technology than are people whose money and power comes from combustion technology.
OK Rod Ford know how to build model T Fords too, but that doesn't mean that Ford should not be interested in building more modern cars. There are clearly things that LWRS can't do, for example compete with Natural Gas for the peak power market, or provide the high temperature output required for industrial process heat. If, as Rod's claim, light water reactors were all that economical, why isn't there a rush by utilities to replace their coal fired generating plants with LWRs?

Well lets see, depleted uranium following enrichment contains 0.2% to 0.3% U235, that means that between 28% and 42% of U 235 is lost in the enrichment process. When light water reactors are no longer able to burn nuclear fuel, it still contains 0.7% U.235, which means that you have lost another 23% of the fissionable U-235 from your Light Water Reactor. Now consider the truly terrible thermal efficiency of light water reactors. They operate at no more than 50% of the temperature of MSRs. So about how much more efficient does a light water reactor have to be in order to recover all of the lost energy potential of the uranium that goes into the original enrichment process? Rod brags,
Current reactors obtain roughly 5,000 MW days per tonne of natural uranium - the theoretical maximum is 1,000,000 MW-days per tonne of heavy metal. Where does the other improvement come from?
Rod, as I have demonstrated from amending the inefficiencies of Uranium separation, from rectifying the inefficiency of LWR U-235 use, and from greatly enhanced thermal efficiency.

Rod tells us,
I like the idea of using thorium and have no intention of trying to tell you guys to slow down, but why do you have to try to pull down uranium in your attempt to promote thorium. The enemies burn coal, oil and natural gas and dump their waste products into the environment without much thought at all.
Rod, as you can see, I do advocate a uranium fuel route to the future. in addition uranium fueled Light Water Reactors will be with us for some time to come, but their days are surely numbered by the inefficiencies of their fuel cycle. Uranium breeders could potentially be with us for far longer, but have to be built as fast reactors, which means that the they require 10 times the fissionable fuel LFTRs require. Thus among reactor types, LFTRs can be deployed far more rapidly, and for a span of time that stretches over millions of years.

My expectations of the LFtr are hardly messianic. After large scale LFT deployment, dogs and cats will still fight, men and women will get divorced, teenagers will still be disrespectful to their parents, and a universal era of peace may not begin. We will have abundant low cost land low carbon energy, and that will be an improvement.


charlesH said...


Rod et al need to find a way to lower the cost of nuclear energy or they will be left behind. In the US the NRC protects them from alternative lower cost technology. If this doesn't change, the market will migrate to China et al and the US will lose both the export opportunity and the low cost clean energy foundation of a competitive economy.

Charles Barton said...

Charles, Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Messianic? Really? I think rod has your and kirks efforts confused with those of the anti-nuke crowd. Surely he would not argue that despite being developed to a very high level, LWR's could compete with LFTR's in terms of cost, efficiency or safety.

Rick Maltese said...

People need to realize that the nuclear industry is an exception to the rule of free enterprise. The kind of rights and freedoms that we take for granted in most areas of our lives don't apply to nuclear energy. So I totally agree with Rod (and Charles) and see this as an opportunity to say the obvious (to most readers) but it still needs repeating here: That the regulatory system needs changing or replacing or both. Then costs and schedule concerns will both improve enormously when fair practice of rules and regulations are observed.

Rick Maltese said...

But I also totally agree that Charles and Kirk are not Messaianic. Just enthusiastic and rightly so. Identifying obstacles to nuclear energy growth are part of the constant work that all of us advocates pursue passionately.

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles,
as a long time reader of your blog i give you the (unasked) advice not to drag your disagreemends with Rod into a public forum. From experience it makes it just more diffucult to settle the matter and damages the reputation of both, rod and you, in the process. Also a public accusation usually tells me more about the accusor, then the accused.

Charles Barton said...

Anonymous, thank you for the advice. Rod and I are both people who feel strongly about things, and don't keep quiet about the things we feel strongly about. Since we don't always agree on things, we will sometimes have arguments. Will our arguments harm our reputations? I doubt it, but even if they did, I am not worried about protecting mine, and I will leave it to Rod to do what he needs to do to protect his.

NNadir said...

I know and like all of the principals here and I think you all work hard for nuclear energy.

I don't see that there will be only one kind of nuclear reactor, nor do I expect one kind of fuel.

I consider that the three great nuclei, U-233, Pu-239, and Pu-241 will all be essential to the energy future, should one exist.

I consider also that the two great fertile nuclei, thorium-232 and uranium-238 will each be essential to the energy future.

I love to squabble and quibble myself, but I agree with anyone who would argue that the real enemies of humanity are not the partisans of a particular type of reactor nor a typical fuel cycle.

The real enemies are the anti-nukes and their insipid dogma.

For the record, I'm not a partisan of any particular type of fluid phased reactors. The molten fluoride reactor of the ORNL type is a good technology, but it is certainly not the only type, nor possibly even the best type of fluid phased reactor than can be built.

I pulled "The First Nuclear Era" off the shelf last week and re-read it while fighting insomnia. It may be self serving, but I think that Dr. Weinberg would agree with me on that. I think he was not a one way kind of guy.

Anonymous said...

NNadir did say it best. The proper term is "evangelical" which I would hold too. It's a term Apple Computer made popular by hiring Guy Kawasaki to "evangelize the MAC OS for application makers" so more software could show up on the Mac.

I consider Rod to be evangelizing for SMRs and all of us for atomic power generally.

David Walters

Jerry said...

Rod is fundamentally right, even if he hit on the wrong people - those who DO understand we need to move gradually from current technology to the future.

A lot of people who I tried to convince keep on telling me "nuclear technology is great but we got to wait for nuclear fusion" - It's this kind of ivory tower attitude that continues to enrich Big Oil as we "wait" for the "perfect" technology to become available "some day".

Nuclear fission is at our fingertips right now, all it takes is the realisation that wind and solar have failed miserably, and that the risks of nuclear plants have been overstated greatly by green groups. Development of future nuclear technology is going to speed up dramatically when we actually move in the general direction and apply the technology we have today as best as we can.


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