Thursday, June 30, 2011

Climate Change and extreme weather

(A hat tip to Jay Gulledge who on the Energy Collective discussed recent information sources on AGW and extreme weather.)

Gulledge is the co-author of a Pew Center white paper Extreme Weather and Climate Change
Understanding the Link, Managing the Risk
. In addition John Carey has posted a 3 part series on the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events:
Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather Is a Product of Climate Change
Global Warming and the Science of Extreme Weather
Our Extreme Future: Predicting and Coping with the Effects of a Changing ClimateExtreme weather is and probably will be a topic of growing importance in the climate debate. In the Pew Center White Paper Daniel G. Huber and Jay Gulledge state that in 2010,
874 weather and climate-related disasters resulted in 68,000 deaths and $99 billion in damages worldwide.
It is going to grow increasingly difficult for climate change skeptics to deny the reality of climate change with six feet of flood waters in their garage, or while watching their house burn during a droughts driven wildfire.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nuclear Industry Subsidies Part III: The Military Connection

This is the Part III of my review of Doug Koplow, Union of Concerned Scientists report titled, Nuclear Power: Still not viable without subsidies. The Part I offered some definition of subsidies, and noted that very large government subsidies to the renewable power industry had not made renewable generated electricity cheap. Part I noted that the definitions of subsidy and nuclear industry needed to be determined in any valid study of subsidies, and questioned whether Koplow had done so. Part II looked at Koplow's claims about subsidies to the uranium mining and determined that these subsidies were largely intended to support military uses of uranium, were typical of the energy and mining industry, had little effect on the cost of nuclear generated electricity, and had offered little long term benefit to the either the American uranium mining industry or to the American civilian nuclear power industry as a whole. At the end of Part II. I promised to look carefully at Koplow's claims concerning the relationship between military nuclear weapons programs, and the civilian nuclear industry.

Although Doug Koplow frequently makes many factual and logical errors in his report "Nuclear Power: Still not viable without subsidises," he is sometimes on the right track. He correctly acknowledges military involvement with the United States Nuclear program as creating problems for the Civilian Nuclear power industry. Koplow quotes
Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the “dual-use [civilian and military] nature of nuclear technology is unavoidable. For the five nuclear-weapons states, commercial nuclear power was a spinoff from weapons programs; for later proliferates, the civilian sector has served as a convenient avenue and cover for weapons programs” (Squassoni 2009a). By artificially accelerating the expansion of civilian programs, subsidies to nuclear technology and fuel-cycle services worldwide exacerbate the already challenging problems of weapons proliferation. To date, the negative externality of proliferation has not been reflected in the economics of civilian reactors.
In fact there have been several attempts to serve military interests with ostensibly civilian oriented nuclear R&D programs. In other instances scientists diverted military programs to civilian purposes. The ORNL report, AN ACCOUNT OF OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY’S THIRTEEN NUCLEAR REACTORS, by Murray W. Rosenthal demonstrates examples of both tedencies at ORNL. For example the ORNL gas cooled reactor was an attempted replication of the British dual purpose Magnox reactors.
The British wanted to produce plutonium for bombs and simultaneously generate nuclear power, and the 50 MW(e) Calder Hall power plants that they built used dual-purpose reactors that could do both. The British did not yet have enriched uranium and had no domestic source of helium, so the Calder Hall reactors were restricted to natural uranium and used carbon dioxide as the coolant. The metal fuel was clad in a magnesium alloy called Magnox, and from that they came to be called Magnox reactors. The Calder Hall reactors were the first to supply commercial amounts of power to a utility grid.

The dual-purpose Magnox reactors were followed in the United Kingdom by larger gas-cooled power reactors. They were still cooled with carbon dioxide but used low-enriched uranium in stainless-steel-clad UO2 fuel elements that enabled higher temperatures and thus higher thermal efficiency.
The British attempt to kill two birds with one stone was much admired by some members of the United States Congress who probably thought the British approach would save money. In fact, the Magnox reactors produced plutonium of an inferior quality. British and American weapons testing involving the use of Magnox plutonium's, proved so disappointing that work on the Oak Ridge gas cooled reactor was terminated before the reactor could be tested. This was unfortunate because the gas cooled reactor was probably safer than conventional water cooled reactors.

The ORNL Aircraft Reactor Experiment was an example of the diversion of money from a purely military program to civilian oriented scientific use. The idea was to design a reactor to power large military aircraft - bombers. The reactor had to be light and compact, but it also had to produce a lot of power. Oak Ridge engineers came up with a novel idea, a high temperature salt cooled reactor, with the uranium fuel dissolved in the liquid salt. None of the scientists and engineers involved in the project believed that the ARE would serve a military purpose.

The ORNL Thirteen Reactor Report states,
The Air Force was pleased with the performance of the ARE and brought Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company aboard to develop the indirect cycle power plant. ORNL began the design of a compact 60 MW reactor. And in spite of growing skepticism about success and the recognition that missiles might substitute for bombers, industrial and political support kept the national program going. But it was killed in March 1961 soon after John Kennedy took office.

Thus ORNL’s ANP program came to an end, but in its 12-year run, it greatly expanded knowledge of the chemistry and technology of molten salts and made advances in materials, shield design, and other areas that enlarged the Laboratory’s ability to undertake new projects.
So basically ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg tricked the United States Air Force into developing new civilian nuclear technology.

The Shippingport Reactor was an apparently successful dual purpose nuclear program, but one which was to have a serious long term consequences for the United States nuclear industry. The design of the Shippingport reactor emerged from the design of the of a reactor intended to power air craft carriers. Early in the Eisenhower the Navy was not yet ready to build nuclear carriers, so when President Eisenhower proposed the Atoms for Peace Program Hyman Rickover offered to build an experimental nuclear power plant based on the Navy carrier reactor design, but with low enriched fuel, rather than the highly enriched fuel. The beauty of the Rickover plan is that the Navy got a reactor it wanted to test for nothing while seemingly operating the test reactor as a peaceful atomic project.

While the Shippingport project probably proved useful to the Navy, it may have had a negative impact on the development of the Civilian nuclear industry. Everyone involved in reactor development understood that there were safety problems with the Light Water Reactor (LWR). The military realized that there were safety problems with its LWRs, but thought that it could solve those problems with careful designs, reactor operator training, and rule books that cover every possible aspect of reactor operation.

The Soviets did not take reactor safety seriously, used careless naval reactor designs, allowed untrained people operate its reactors, and had operation rule books that were no where as strict and comprehensive. The Soviets had far more accidents, and worse accidents, so the U.S. Navy's approach works, but the U.S. submarines were Cadillacs driven by engineers who followed precise rules, while the Soviet subs were probably cheaper to own and operate. Sure accidents in Soviet Subs would every now and then kill a member of the crew, but there were always plenty of farm boys who could take their place.

Unfortunately the Cadillac approach is required to keep the Light Water Reactor safe, so towards the Light Water Reactor safety ends up costing money, which the Civilian Nuclear Power industry has to pay. LWR operators are expensive to train, and everyone has to follow detailed rulebooks. All of which makes nuclear power expensive. Those expensive reactors frightened the public too. Of course, nuclear power while expensive, is not as expensive as making renewable generated electricity reliable. And a reliable no-nuclear, all renewable grid can be built with big enough subsidies, built that is, if society does not collapse under the weight of the subsidies to renewable power.

Edward Teller had a different approach to nuclear safety. He thought that reactors should b e buried deep underground and operate with out human intervention. That way if the reactor broke, you could throw in a few shovels of dirt, and that would be all it took to keep the reactor safe forever, or so Teller thought. Towards the end of his life, Teller realized that Alvin Weinberg's Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) was safe, and that if you built MSRs they would not have to be buried so deep in order to protect the public. The MSR was very stable, in fact so stable that no operators were required. Since the reactor core was a molten fluid, you did not have to worry about nuclear meltdown. Teller explained it all in his last paper, Thorium fueled underground power plant based on molten salt technology.

We don't have MSRs because the government preferred to subsidize a money pit called the Fast Breeder Reactor. People at ORNL knew that the MSR would be cheaper to develop, cheaper to build, and cheaper to operate. But the fast breeder was capable of producing bomb grade plutonium. Could the MSR be built without subsidies? Undoubtedly yes, it would be no more expensive develop than a modern large passenger jet is. It would probably be no more expensive to buy as well. A business would just have to be willing to take an unsubsidized risk.
Thus the statement
commercial nuclear power was a spinoff from weapons programs;
is undoubtedly true, but the statement
the civilian sector has served as a convenient avenue and cover for weapons programs
is quite problematic. Many of the dual purpose technologies proved quite useless for military purposes, and in other instances development of military technologies for civilian purposes proved quite expensive as well as militarily useless.

The claim that
By artificially accelerating the expansion of civilian programs, subsidies to nuclear technology and fuel-cycle services worldwide exacerbate the already challenging problems of weapons proliferation.
is more than questionable. The fact is that with the exception of India, nuclear power programs played no role in the development of nuclear weapons, and India should have never been excluded from the original nuclear arrangement. It is absurd to suggest that cost related to nuclear proliferation and its prevention somehow represent a subsidy to the nuclear power industry. The global spread of nuclear technology has not lead to nuclear proliferation. Most nations which have developed nuclear weapons without authorization by anti-proliferation treaties, have done so without possessing civilian nuclear power industries. Knowledge of nuclear weapons technology is sufficient to start a nuclear weapons program, and that knowledge can be found in physics and physics and engineering text books. South Africa demonstrated that a limited number of nuclear weapons could be built from scratch very cheaply. The nuclear proliferation problem will not go away, or lessen even if there are no civilian power reactors, as long as there are physic and engineering textbooks.

Koplow boasts of his many reviewers,
We are grateful to the following people for reviewing versions of this paper: Michele Boyd (Physicians for Social Responsibility), Peter Bradford (University of Vermont Law School), Simon Carroll (Swedish Biodiversity Centre and Member, Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board, UK), Mark Cooper (University of Vermont Law School), Robert Cowin (UCS), Antony Frogatt (Chatham House), Ken Green (American Enterprise Institute), Autumn Hanna (Taxpayers for Common Sense), Dusty Horwitt (Environmental Working Group), Stan Kaplan (U.S. Congressional Research Service), Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute), Ed Lyman (UCS), Arjun Makhijani (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research), Alan Nogee (UCS), Doug Norlen (Pacific Environment and ECA Watch), Marcus Peacock (Pew Charitable Trusts/Subsidyscope), Mycle Schneider (Mycle Schneider Consulting), Henry Sokolski (Nonproliferation Policy Education Project), Sharon Squassoni (Center for Strategic and International Studies), and Steve Thomas (University of Greenwich Business School).
Didn't one of them catch the erroneous linking of the nuclear proliferation problem and subsidies? Of course most of these reviewers are strident critics of nuclear power, who may be emotionally incapable of spotting logically fallacious anti-nuclear arguments.

Thus the marriage of military and civilian nuclear technology proved to be quite unsuccessful, and in cases where it worked, expensive. Reactors that are both cheaper and safer are possible, and without subsidies. What is required is some investors who are bold and imaginative enough to take some risks. Government subsidies to the nuclear power industry have been relatively small, and have not enhanced nuclear weapons programs. A civilian nuclear power industry might flourish if left to its own devices and if it were willing to take a risk on the molten salt nuclear technology developed in Oak Ridge.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nuclear Industry Subsidies Part II: The Mining Sector

Doug Koplow, in a Union of Concerned Scientists report titled, Nuclear Power: Still not viable without subsidies," has offered us an attempt to assess subsidies offered by the Government to the Nuclear Industry. Koplow charges that one form of government subsidy has to do with Uranium mining,
The mining and milling stages have historically been environmentally damaging, and available data (Table 15, p. 61) indicate the taxpayer cost to address these issues has rivaled the market value of the minerals extracted.
Yet the sale price of Uranium made fuel an almost insignificant part of nuclear power costs. The World Nuclear Association notes,
Fuel costs are one area of steadily increasing efficiency and cost reduction. For instance, in Spain the nuclear electricity cost was reduced by 29% over 1995-2001. This involved boosting enrichment levels and burn-up to achieve 40% fuel cost reduction. Prospectively, a further 8% increase in burn-up will give another 5% reduction in fuel cost.

Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is easily and cheaply transportable. The quantities needed are very much less than for coal or oil. One kilogram of natural uranium will yield about 20,000 times as much energy as the same amount of coal. It is therefore intrinsically a very portable and tradeable commodity.
The WNA argues that increases in nuclear guel costs has little effect on the cost of nuclear produced electricity.
The impact of fuel costs on electricity generation costs
The WNA reports:
Doubling the uranium price (say from $25 to $50 per lb U3O8) takes the fuel cost up from 0.50 to 0.62 US cents per kWh, an increase of one quarter, and the expected cost of generation of the best US plants from 1.3 US cents per kWh to 1.42 cents per kWh (an increase of almost 10%). So while there is some impact, it is comparatively minor, especially by comparison with the impact of gas prices on the economics of gas generating plants. In these, 90% of the marginal costs can be fuel. Only if uranium prices rise to above $100 per lb U3O8 ($260 /kgU) and stay there for a prolonged period (which seems very unlikely) will the impact on nuclear generating costs be considerable.

Nevertheless, for nuclear power plants operating in competitive power markets where it is impossible to pass on any fuel price increases (ie the utility is a price-taker), higher uranium prices will cut corporate profitability. Yet fuel costs have been relatively stable over time – the rise in the world uranium price between 2003 and 2007 added to generation costs, but conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication costs did not followed the same trend.

For prospective new nuclear plants, the fuel element is even less significant (see below). The typical front end nuclear fuel cost is typically only 15-20% of the total, as opposed to 30-40% for operating nuclear plants.
Kaplow claims that the Civilian Nuclear power industry is subsidized by government tax policies that benefit all mines.
Subsidies to uranium mining and milling come through three main routes. First, special percentage-depletion allowances for uranium allow highly favorable tax treatment for this mineral. Second,“hardrock” mining on public lands, including uranium mining, is governed by the arcane and archaic Mining Law of 1872. This law, which has withstood numerous attempts at modernization, enables extraction of hardrock minerals with very low payments and no royalties, and it includes patenting provisions that allow public land to be privatized for only a few dollars per acre. Third, there are bonding requirements for post-mining restoration, but they are too modest, resulting in significant residual damage at uranium mines—a public health and safety obligation that falls to the taxpayer. The government has also historically sought to main- tain a strategic stockpile of uranium, though the impacts of this effort on the industry have varied over time—sometimes reducing costs to users, and other times restricting cheaper supply and driving up prices (PNL 1978: 118–126).
But note that these government policies are not intended to subsidize the Civilian nuclear power industry directly.

Terms like Uranium mine or uranium minor do not give us enough information to determine whether the mine operator should be classified as part of the Civilian Nuclear power industry. So who owns the Uranium mines. I noticed that two American uranium mines were owned by Cameco , which also owns uranium mines in Canada and Kazakhstan. A glance at the Wikipedia reveals that Cameco stands for Canadian Mining and Energy Corporation. The Cameco web page reveals that Cameco would definitely belong in the Canadian Nuclear industry,
Refining & Conversion

Cameco is a major supplier of uranium processing services required to produce fuel for the generation of clean electricity.

Cameco's Port Hope conversion facility is one of only four commercial uranium hexafluoride (UF6) production plants in the western world. UF6 is exported to international customers, to be enriched for use in light water nuclear reactors. The Port Hope facility is also the world's only commercial supplier of natural uranium dioxide (UO2) conversion services needed to produce fuel for Candu nuclear reactors. Both processes receive refined uranium (UO3) feed from Cameco's uranium refinery located in Blind River, Ontario.

Cameco also has access to additional UF6 capacity through a toll processing agreement with the Springfields Fuels Limited plant located in Lancashire, UK.
Fuel Manufacturing

Cameco operates a fuel manufacturing facility in Port Hope, Ontario and a metal fabrication facility in Cobourg, Ontario. The company manufactures and sells the fuel bundles used in Candu reactors, serving nuclear utilities in Canada. The company also makes reactor components and provides nuclear fuel and consulting services to Candu operators around the world.
Power Generation

Cameco produces nuclear electricity through our 31.6% share of the four Bruce B reactors at the Bruce Power nuclear power generating site, North America's largest nuclear generating station, located in Ontario, Canada.
Thus Cameco is a part of the Canadian Civilian Nuclear power Industry. Camieco owns about half of the Uranium currently mined in the United States of America. But the American uranium mining industry is small compared to the Uranium mining Industries of Canada, Australia, and several other countries. Thus the tax subsidy policies of the United States Government has little effect on the cost of uranium ore. However, in the past this might have been different.

During World War II most of the Uranium used by the Manhattan Project came from Canada or the Belgium colony of the Congo. After World Wat II, the United States Government sought to develop domestic uranium supplies, for national security reasons. There is no doubt that during the 1940's and 1950's the United States Government heavily subsidized exploration for uranium as well as domestic uranium mining. The February 1949 issue of Modern Mechanix reported,
the Atomic Energy Commission desires desperately to uncover any new sources of worthwhile ore and the commission has announced that a $10,000 prize or bonus will be paid for the delivery of 20 tons of ore or concentrates that assay 20 percent or more in uranium oxide, provided that the material comes from a new, previously unworked deposit. In addition the commission will pay for the ore at the ordinary price. The offer applies to any discoveries inside the United States, its territories, possessions and the Canal Zone. . . .

The guaranteed minimum AEC price for uranium ores is at the rate of $3.50 per pound of uranium oxide that is recoverable from the ore, less refining costs, plus allowances for other valuable minerals that may be contained in the ore. Carnotite ores are priced on a different schedule at rates that vary from 30 cents to $1.50 per pound of contained uranium oxide, plus certain bonuses, plus allowances for other valuable constituents. Carnotite purchases are made in minimum lots of 10 tons. Ores that assay less than 0.10 percent uranium oxide or that contain excessive quantities of lime are not purchased.

During the Middle 1950's the United States Atomic Energy Comission (AEC) paid out over $2,000,000 for new uranium discoveries with some prospectors reportedly making $150,000 a month. For example uranium deposits were discovered near Moab, Utah
in 1952 by Texan prospector Charles Steen, who went on to make millions of dollars . . .
The AEC financed uranium rush was not intended to subsidize the domestic nuclear power industry however, rather
large uranium ore deposits were first tapped for the voracious Cold War nuclear weapons program in the early 1950s, . . .
The AEC purchased uranium to go into nuclear bombs, nuclear warheads, and reactors meant to power submarines, not domestic power reactors. Thus past domestic uranium subsidies were intended to produce uranium for military use, and not to subsidize the Civilian Nuclear power industry. The subsidies did not in fact produce a flourishing domestic uranium mining industry, and indeed once the military demand for uranium slowed, the domestic Uranium mining industry withered on the vine, because American produced uranium was more expensive than military surplus uranium, much of it coming from Russia, that was offered to civilian power reactors bythe United States Government. The intent of this program was to dispose of unwanted Russian weapons grade U-235 which the United States government feared would fall into evil hands and then used by terrorists and third rate failed states, to attack more peaceful countries.

Paradoxically if domestic uranium mining is to be counted as part of what is included in the American domestic nuclear industry. the sale of low cost Russian U-235 to the American Civilian Nuclear Industry has weakened the mining sector of that industry. But if the United States government had stockpiled Russian uranium which it purchased to keep it away from evil hands, the domestic uranium mining industry would not have profited nearly as much as foreign uranium mines, that do not receive receive U.S. Government subsidies. The price of uranium would have risen, but this would have little effect on the cost of producing nuclear power in the United States as we have seen.

Thus past large U.S. Government uranium mining subsidy policy was related to national security concerns, and failed on a long term bases to offer positive economic benefits to the domestic uranium mining, reactor manufacture and nuclear power production segments of the domestic nuclear power industry. Thus the so called "legacy" uranium mining subsidies would have been paid whether on not there was a domestic nuclear power industry, and much of it was paid before the inception of the civilian nuclear power industry.

The current subsidy to the domestic uranium mining industry large enough to effect its fate. Koplow acknowledges,
An estimate by the Texas comptroller (2008) pegged uranium’s share of this provi- sion at an insignificant $0.5 million for 2006, and that for coal at less than $30 million. In contrast, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated total subsidies from percentage depletion flowing to fuels other than oil and gas to average $160 million per year between 2008 and 2012 (JCT 2008: 62). This figure, which applies to coal and uranium, is more than five times the Texas comptroller’s estimate.
Kaplow acknowledges the weakness of this data,
Three factors call both of these estimates into question.
And then plows ahead to claim on the basis of a guess that,
the subsidy value of percentage-depletion allowances for uranium is about $25 million per year.
Nor does Kaplow acknowledge the subsidies to the Oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar thermal and photovoltaic industries.

Kaplow notes
between 1994 and 2007 the share of domestic uranium purchased by the civilian sector dropped from more than 20 per- cent to less than 8 percent . . .
Then he observes,
Surging uranium prices in the past few years have greatly increased interest in uranium mining throughout the West . . .
But the few U.S based active Uranium mines produce only a tiny amount of the Uranium produced by the United States nuclear power industry, and half of the uranium produced comes from Canadian owned mines.

Kaplow talks about legacy costs, for example claiming
Uranium-tailing remediation costs approach the value of ore. . . . The cost per pound of U3O8 produced, even using values only through 1999 (scaled to 2007 dollars), exceeded the average value of uranium during the period tracked by the EIA prior to the commodity price spikes that began in 2006. Even with surging prices included, socialized remediation costs were still more than 80 percent of the value of the ore produced during the period. Assuming full remediation costs, including all Title I sites, Title II sites, and unfunded liabilities associated with uranium mine and enrichment facilities, the degree of subsidy to upstream processes would grow even more substantially.
But most of those tailings were produced by the mining of uranium for military purposes. A small percentage of those tailings can be legitimately be assigned to to the nuclear power industry. Yet Kaplow appears to believe that every penny payed by the government for uranium mine site reclamation is a subsidy to the domestic nuclear power industry.
To cover the cost of proper mine reclamation, it is reasonable to assume that the price per pound of U3O8 would need to have roughly doubled. Based on data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA 2009b) on the contribution of raw uranium prices to the delivered price of nuclear power, the underpricing of uranium has generated a subsidy to nuclear power of 0.13 to 0.32 ¢/kWh of resultant nuclear electricity produced. It is striking that this range exceeds what the industry currently pays the federal government to take full responsibility for its nuclear waste from reactors.
Is government cleanup of domestic uranium mines that was on federal own lands, and were mined because the government was purchasing uranium for military purposes, really a subsidy? Or is the government taking care of a responsibility which was its all along. Kaplow argues that government policy should have included bonding of uranium mines for the environmental consequences of its mining, but the government through its various arms was the principal consumer of uranium during the uranium rush days, and it made the rules easy so that uranium would be easy to obtain. Thus the uranium tailings were the consequence of government desires to lower military costs, not to benefit a civilian nuclear power industry. Thus the tailings clean up responsibilities can be largely assigned to the United States government, and thus is not a legacy subsidy for the nuclear power industry.

In the nest part of this review, I will look more carefully at Kaplow's claims about the complex relationship between United States national security interests and the civilian nuclear power industry.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nuclear Industry Subsidies Part I: Definitions

Any analysis of nuclear industry subsidies should begin with definitions of the terms "Nuclear Industry" and "subsidy." We need to understand what it is we are talking about before we can talk intelligibly.

The broadest meaning of term "nuclear industry" can only be understood nominally. Both the medical uses of radioactive isotopes, and the manufacture of nuclear weapons are understood as activities of the Nuclear Industry, but they are very different sorts of activities, usually carried on by different industrial organizations. For example, some materials used in nuclear weapon are manufactured in specialized reactors, and medical specific radioisotopes are also manufactured in specialized reactors. At one time the same reactors might have been used for both purposes, but current requirements lead to a separation of medical isotope and nuclear weapons manufacture technology, and those two activities may not be carried on by the same organization.

Nuclear medicine and nuclear weapons production are regulated by different sets of laws,rules and regulations. Thus, for example, reactors used in the production of medical radioisotopes are required by international regulation to use low enrichment uranium, while military reactors are not required to do so. The handling sale and use of reactor modified actinides used in weapons, is regulated by a different set of rules than those governing the handling, sale and use of fission products.

Thus statements true about set of economic activities - for example the production, sale and use of medical radioisotopes - may not be true about a different economic activity - for example the manufacture of reactor modified actinides for nuclear weapons use.

The government pays for the research and development of military reactors, but this is not a subsidy, since the government, through its military arm, intends to use the reactors. Many products developed under the auspices of military or other government programs, cannot be spoken of as subsidized. For example, the jet engine originated from civilian developed technology, but the first aircraft uses occurred in a military context. It would not seem however, that government investments in military jet technology was a subsidy for civilian military jet aircraft related industries.

A subsidy is defined as:
Monetary assistance granted by a government to a person or group in support of an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest.
assistance given by one person or government to another.
Barron's Business Dictionary defines subsidy as
Payment or other favorable economic stimulus (such as remission of taxation) given by government to certain individuals or groups of economic entities, usually to encourage their continued existence, growth, development, and profitability. In the United States, subsidies are given to the agricultural industry, the very poor, and many other groups.
The Barron's Real Estate Dictionary defines subsidies as
A transfer of wealth intended to encourage specific behavior considered to be beneficial to the public welfare.
The Columbia Encyclopedia states,
The term subsidy has had widely varied usage in the 20th cent. Subsidies may be granted to keep prices low, to maintain incomes, or to preserve employment. They are most important as grants to private corporations for performing some public service, such as to shipping companies and airlines for carrying the mail or to railroads for maintaining passenger service. These are often required where a necessary public service, particularly one that might otherwise not be profitable, is granted funds to remain in operation. . . Other commonly subsidized enterprises include agriculture (see agricultural subsidies), business expansion, and housing and regional development. . . . Medical and educational institutions are among the largest recipients of subsidies. . . Subsidies have also been granted by one country to another country to aid it in pursuing a war effort, to gain its goodwill, or to help stabilize its economy.
Thus subsidies are payments in which the payer does not receive goods or services, or payments in kind. Subsidies may be direct, or indirect. For example, government subsidies to farmers, intended to keep them in business even when food sells at a low price, in effect indirectly subsidizes me as a good purchaser.

In effect everyone is a recipient of indirect subsidies.

It this follows, that short of scrapping the entire system of government subsidies, singling out individuals, businesses or industries to question their subsidies may punish them, and indeed may punish them unfairly.

Now if a government gives an individual money or indirect and receives something, arguably of comparable worth in turn, the arrangement may not involve a subsidy. For examples government payments to sailors in the Navy, are salaries, not subsidies.

In many instances military financed Research and Development, has contributed to private Industry.

Radio is an example of how government sponsored development can set the stage for flourishing new markets. During World War I the United States government came ro regard radio as an important military tool. The Government took over control of all aspects of radio, with notable long term results.
During World War One the military took over control of the entire U.S. radio industry, and in conjunction with the major electrical firms made great strides in radio engineering using vacuum-tubes. In addition, wartime work exposed thousands in military service to the changes which were taking place, especially with respect to vacuum-tube equipment. The Vacuum Tubes entry by Major General George O. Squier, in the Signal Corps section of the 1919 edition of War Department Annual Reports, reviewed the advances made in vacuum-tube manufacturing and engineering from 1917 to 1919, with the prediction "That vacuum tubes in various forms and sizes will, within a few years, become widely used in every field of electrical development and application is not to be denied." And shortly after the war ended articles started to appear that showed a comprehensive scientific understanding and explanation of the design and operation of vacuum-tubes, for example L. M. Clement's The Vacuum Tube as a Detector and Amplifier (extract), from the April, 1920 issue of QST. H. Winfield Secor's The Versatile Audion, which appeared in the February, 1920 Electrical Experimenter, reviewed the advances taking place in thirteen areas of vacuum-tube engineering. In April, 1919 American Telephone & Telegraph, employing vacuum-tube versatility from six of Secor's categories, transmitted speeches and entertainment by phone lines and radio to a Victory Liberty Loan drive, as reported by Speeches Through Radiotelephone Inspire New York Crowds, from the May 31, 1919 Electrical Review. By 1922 vacuum-tubes had been firmly established as a major technological advance, and the Vacuum Tubes chapter of William C. Ballard, Jr.'s 1922 Elements of Radio Telephony reviewed the device and its construction.
Thomas H. White noted the emergence of radio as entertainment under government auspices,
While radio remained off-limits for the general public during the war, there were occasional hints of what lay ahead. Wireless Music for Wounded Soldiers from the April, 1918 The Wireless Age reviewed a short-range electrostatic induction system that could be used to entertain hospitalized soldiers with music and news. And between the cessation of hostilities in November, 1918, and the end of the civilian radio restrictions in 1919, there were scattered reports of military personnel firing up transmitters in order to broadcast entertainment to the troops -- for example a February 2, 1919 "Moonlight Witches Dance" transmitted from off the coast of San Diego, California by the battleship Marblehead, reported in Music by Wireless, in the March, 1919 issue of Telephone Engineer. In addition, the May 7, 1919 Dallas Morning News reported that U.S.S. George Washington, during its transatlantic crossing, had employed its radio transmitter to provide nightly a Concert by Wireless for Vessels at Sea.
After the war, government controls of radio were lifted, and commercial broadcasting, boosted by war time government financed Research and development took off with astonishing speed. By some definitions, the government investment in radio R&D could be considered a subsidy to the commercial radio industry.

I have already noted the role that government subsidies played in the development of Jet Aircraft. It should be noted the extent to which the military development of jet aircraft lead to the emergence and growth of the modern commercial passenger Jet aircraft industry. Boeing designed the KC-135 aircraft in response to a military need for fast air tankers, to refuel jet bombers in the air. The KC-135 was powered by the J57 turbojet, first designed for use by B-52 bombers. Although designed for military use, Boeing designed the KC-135 to be wide enough for 6 passenger to a row seating, a feature which Boeing engineers included for commercial rather than military purposes.

The design Boeing 707, the progenitor of the modern Commercial Passenger Jet Industry was derived from the KC-135. Thus it could be argued that the modern passenger jet industry was based on government subsidized research and development programs.

The development of the 707 was not the first time the United States government aided a transportation related industry. The government dredged harbors and navigation channels during the 19th century and continues to do so, thus subsidizing the the shipping industry. During the 19th century the government subsidized railroads by land grants, and though mail shipment contracts. During the early 20th century, airmail shipment contracts were given to early air lines under very generous terms.

Government subsidies have also played an important role in energy related industries. The domestic oil and gas industry was granted three tax code preferences, or subsidies: (1) expensing of intangible drilling costs (IDCs) and dry hole costs, introduced in 1916;
(2) the percentage depletion allowance, first enacted in 1926 (coal was added in 1932);
(3) capital gains treatment of the sale of oil and gas properties.

Oil depletion allowances ammount to a huge government subsidy of the oil and gas business. Robert Bryce described the operation of oil depletion:
An oilman drills a well that costs $100,000. He finds a reservoir containing $10,000,000 worth of oil. The well produces $1 million worth of oil per year for ten years. In the very first year, thanks to the depletion allowance, the oilman could deduct 27.5 per cent, or $275,000, of that $1 million in income from his taxable income. Thus, in just one year, he's deducted nearly three times his initial investment. But the depletion allowance continues to pay off. For each of the next nine years, he gets to continue taking the $275,000 depletion deduction. By the end of the tenth year, the oilman has deducted $2.75 million from his taxable income, even though his initial investment was only $100,000.
President John Kennedy was fighting to repeal the oil depletion allowance at the time of his death, and a Democratic attempt to repeal it was recently killed in the Senate. billionairs are the oilmen of the 21st century, and they seek tax advantages too. Nashville Scene tels us,
Amazon, as you may have heard, is sitting on a massive tax-abatement package and other incentives that could ultimately cost Tennessee more than $100 million in revenue over the next decade. In exchange, the company is offering to create about 1,200 full-time jobs at two distribution facilities in or near Chattanooga.
Of course Tennesseans who shop from Amazon benefit too, by avoiding taxes on locally bought goods.

Sales Tax is hardly the only local and state tax that Tennessee forgoes in order to attract industry according to the Columbia Daily Tribune:
Tennessee has given generous incentives to manufacturers — the usual free real estate, property tax abatements, infrastructure improvements and training for workers. In addition, the state has included the unusual and highly questionable behind-closed-doors private letter rulings to exempt new industries from collecting Tennessee sales tax or paying other taxes that long-established businesses pay.
If Dot-com billionaires are the new Texas Oil men, the renewables business is the new Texas oil business. Glenn Schleede has made important points about wind energy subsidies over the last decade, and the public should be listening to what he says. Mr Schleede has repeatedly argued that:
The true cost of electricity from wind energy is much higher than wind advocates admit. Wind energy advocates like to ignore key elements of the true cost of electricity from wind, including:
* The cost of tax breaks and subsidies which, as indicated above, shift tax burden and costs from “wind farm” owners to ordinary taxpayers and electric customers.
* The cost of providing backup power to balance the intermittent and volatile output from wind turbines.
• The full, true cost of transmitting electricity from “wind farms” to electric customers. “Wind farms” are highly inefficient users of transmission capacity. Capacity must be available to accommodate the total rated output but, because the output is intermittent and volatile, that transmission capacity is used only part time. The wind industry seeks to avoid these costs by shifting them to electric customers.
* The extra burden on grid management.
In response to a report on the Cape Wind project prepared by the Charles River Association, Schleede disagreed with the claims,
Adding Cape Wind would lead to a reduction in the wholesale cost of power averaging $185 million annually over the 2013-2037 time period, resulting in an aggregate savings of $4.6 billion over 25 years.

With Cape Wind in service, over the 2013-2037 time period, the price of power in the New England wholesale market would be $1.22/MWh lower on average.
Schleede argues in a letter to the Editor of the Cape Cod Times posted yesterday on MasterResources
Frankly, the numbers in the slick 9-page “consultant” study released by the developer of the Cape Wind project of $4.6 billion in savings over 25 years just don’t add up ,
Schleede notes,
The true cost of electricity from wind – particularly offshore wind — is huge. No one who is paying attention expects the price that Cape Wind charges for its electricity to be cheap. In fact, over 25 years, the wholesale cost to New England utilities for electricity from Cape Wind apparently will be well over $5.75 billion and probably much more.

The arithmetic is simple: The CRA “study” (table 1, page 6), shows that the developer expects to produce about 1,150,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. If utilities are forced to pay even $0.20 per kWh, the utilities cost over 25 years would be $5.75 billion. [1] The cost would be $6.9 billion if utilities have to pay the $0.24 per kWh that NatGrid apparently agreed to pay for electricity from the planned Rhode Island offshore “wind farm.”
Does anyone in New England seriously expect that the WHOLESALE price of non-Cape Wind electricity in New England will average $0.20 or $0.24 per kWh over the next 25 years (up from about $0.08 per kWh in 2008.
Schleede also noted that the CRA study was flawed by a choice to use old rather than newer data, a doubtful assumption that a Federal tax of $30 to $60 per ton charge on carbon emissions. Finally the CRA study failed to account for many hidden costs of the Cape Cod wind project, including the cost of building transmission lines, for the Cape Cod Wind project, and the costs of various Federal and State Tax breaks, which ammounts to a huge subsidy for the Cape Code wind project. These Breaks include
a. Production tax credit (PTC). The Cape Wind project owners would be eligible to receive a federal tax credit, currently $0.021 per kWh for electricity produced during the first 10 years of the project life. Using the production apparently expected by Cape Wind (1,150,000,000 per year) a $0.021 per kWh credit (which is adjustable for inflation), would permit the owners to avoid federal corporate income taxes of $24,150,000 per year or $241,500,000 over 10 years.

The recent federal “stimulus” legislation– The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009–gives “wind farm” developers the option of selecting an investment tax credit in lieu of the PTC or electing to receive from the US Treasury a cash grant equal to 30% of eligible capital costs! Again, ordinary taxpayers pick up the tab.

b. Accelerated depreciation. “Wind farm” owners are also permitted by the IRS to use the lucrative “5-year double declining balance accelerated depreciation” (5-yr; 200%DB) to recover the capital costs from their otherwise taxable income. Depreciation deductions would permit the owners to avoid $490 million in federal corporate income taxes – in addition to the Production Tax Credit – again shifting the tax burden to ordinary taxpayers.

c. Additional [state] tax break
Thus the Cape Cod Wind Project is assured of at least a $730 million dollar subsidy from the Federal government, half of its total costs. In addition,
a study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University
Massachusetts green credits, totaling $1.7 billion over the entire 25-year lifespan [projected Cape Wind generator lifespan], would be worth $487 million.
Despite this huge subsidy, Jay Fitzgerald reported to Boston Harold readers,
National Grid customers will experience sticker shock after the giant utility negotiates a long-term electric contract with Cape Wind developers, energy experts warn.

Business groups worry that a National Grid contract with Cape Wind, which needs a long-term deal to secure funds to build a giant wind farm off Cape Cod, could add tens of millions of dollars per year to electric bills.

They point to a recent price agreement between National Grid and a Rhode Island wind-farm developer as cause for alarm.

The Rhode Island deal calls for National Grid to pay an eye-popping 24 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from Deepwater Wind’s proposed wind farm off Block Island for 20 years. That’s three times higher than the current price of natural-gas generated electricty – and the Rhode Island deal includes a 3.5 percent annual price increase over the life of the contract.

Rhode Island officials have estimated the small Deepwater contract will add about $1.35 per month in the first year to an average residental customer’s bill – and it will add far more to the bills of big energy-using companies.

Analysts say a Cape Wind contract could come in at about 15 cents per kilowatt hour – about twice as high as current prices for natural-gas generated electricity.

“It’s still double the price – and the ratepayers will be picking up the tab for it for 20 years,” said Robert Rio, a senior vice president at Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

One source, who supports the Cape Wind project, said officials are hoping National Grid can negotiate a price at about 12 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour in the first year – but that’s still far above today’s 6 to 8 cents for natural-gas generated electricity.

Dennis Duffy, a vice president at Cape Wind, cautioned that the price of natural gas is volatile and was much higher only a few years ago, before the global recession dramatically reduced energy prices.

Cape Wind stands by its assertion that it will eventually save customers an average $25 million a year, when the long-term advantage of free wind starts to exert competitive pressure on other power generators, Duffy said.

The $1 billion-plus price of building and installing Cape Wind’s 130 giant turbines on Nantucket Sound will have to be paid for, he said. But the long-term price and environmental benefits of wind farms will a huge plus, he said.

Peter Beutel, an analyst with Cameron Hanover, said he agrees wind farms are “worthwhile in the long run” for energy markets.

“But can I justify (wind energy) financially today? No I can’t,” he said.
The hoped for 12 to 14 cents per kWh for heavily subsidized Cape Wind electricity must be contrasted with a statement which the American Wind Energy Association made in an attack on Schleede,
“The cost of electricity from new wind plants is competitive with the cost of new conventional power plants, when the federal wind energy production tax credit is taken into account,”
This then is a context in which the topic of nuclear subsidies can be properly discussed.

In the second part of this discussion I will discuss the Analysis of nuclear subsidies made by Doug Koplow in "Nuclear Power: Still not viable without subsidies."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Energy from Thorium Suspended

Energy from Thorium has been suspended by its host, for allegedly using too much bandwidth. Kirk's account was suspended after the first warning. This is silly and unprofessional. The suspension includes the discussion form and the document repository as well as the EfT blog.

12:00 PM: Kirk's blog os back up. But the discussion isstill down.

Doing something about the weather

Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. - Mark Twain

On the evening of June 21, 2011, Knoxville, Tennessee experienced a strange onslaught from Mother Nature. A relatively small thunder shower moved through the area and left in its wake thousands of downed trees and limbs. The storm did not seem that intense except for a few seconds of hard wind, but its aftermath left 2/3rd of the Knoxville Utility Board's electrical customers without electricity. Over half of the KUB customers experienced an outage during the evening of were still without electricity the next morning. In addition many Knoxville, Knox County streets and roads were blocked by downed trees and power lines. As of this morning some 25 streets and roads are still closed as work crews struggle to restore order from the storm damage.

My wife Becky and I took a brief tour of north west Knoxville during the next morning and saw downed trees and tree limbs everywhere, some still in streets and roads. Two houses in our neighborhood, next door to each other, both had large trees blown onto their roofs. Downed trees and limbs were still tangled with utility lines that came precariously close to the roadway. Businesses, still without electricity, were closed.

What is most amazing about this storm was that on April 26 a seemingly more powerful, more intense storm, had knocked out some 50,000 KUB customers, and that had been the largest previous outage in KUB history. Thus the June 21 storm, because of its consequences qualifies as an extreme climate event.

Microburst are common in East Tennessee. I recall witnessing several as a young man. These were truly memorable experiences, which included driving between Jacksboro and Caryville, Tennessee in a torential downpour, that was coming so hard that I could not see the road in front of the hood of my car. I could not pull off the road, because I could not see the edge of the road, and thus could not tell whether it was safe to pull off, or even where the edge of the road was. I still do not know how I survived the experience. On another occasion I stood at a window in the Old Oak Ridge, Tennessee Public Library and watched the rain flow off the ridge on Kentucky Avenue several inches deep. Water flowing off the ridge pooled at the old tennis Courts, where my father use to play on summer evenings. A garbage can had somehow floated into the pond that the tennis courts had become. That day the Oak Ridge did not go to press, because its basement located printing press got flooded. My mother use to call the weather pattern that produced East Tennessee microburst "Florida weather." She was not mistaken.

Only recently did I come to realize that these memorable experiences were examples of Wet Microburst. WCTV of Tallahassee described a Wet Microburst
Seven-thousand people went to bed in the dark Sunday evening, and some area traffic lights were out of commission Monday morning, all thanks to a small, but powerful storm that rolled through Tallahassee Sunday afternoon.

In a matter of seconds, sheets of rain, bursts of high wind, and chunks of ice descended upon the Tallahassee landscape shortly after 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon. described a microburst
A microburst is a brief, powerful gust of wind that appears to radiate from a central point on the ground. It is caused by strong downdrafts that form in the central part of a congestus or cumulonimbus cloud. . . .

The wet microburst is usually associated with heavy rain and, again, evaporation is the vital ingredient producing strong surface winds. However, in this case, the precipitation reaches the land below. Often, the wind and rain meet the ground with such force that they spread outward and upward, forming a distinctive curl.
The Airline pilots account added,
The dry microburst occurs in dry conditions, when a column of rain falls into a layer of dry air beneath the cloud, and immediately begins to evaporate. Since evaporation produces cooling, this accelerates the downward motion of the air column, producing a powerful gust of wind that spreads in all directions. Where there is warm air near the ground, this will tend to rise and counter the downdraft. However, the descending air may still reach the surface with some velocity. Because the precipitation usually evaporates completely, the only visible sign of a dry microburst will be raised dust.
The WCTV story also covered the origin of a dry Microburst
There are special things that favor the formation of microbursts. These include a warm, moist environment near the ground, with some dry air a few thousand feet above us. As rain falls through the dry air, it cools through evaporation. The cool air descends from the storm and spreads out violently as it reaches the ground.
Knoxville got clobbered with an unusual microburst, one which the Weather Bureau says was supercharged with winds from a second weather front.

Microbursts are dangerous, they can cause floods, and they can and have most assuredly have killed people. If we are sane, we don't want to see them more frequently.

Not just Knoxville but most of the Southeast has had an unusually wet spring. In fact the news staff of a Knoxville TV station took off time from reporting the latest rampage of mother nature to not how unhappy they were with the abnormal weather and to wish that the weather would return to normal. Of course if we are undergoing climate change, the abnormal will become the new normal.

Knoxville is not the only area of the country to see abnormal spring weather. The middle part of the country has seen unusual flooding with floods on the Mississippi, the Missouri, and now the Souris River in the Dakotas and Canada. In the Southwest, from Texas to California, a drought has lead to record forrest fires. Now this might all be simply coincidence, of it all could be harbingers pf climate change.

How will we know if climate change is upon us? If the climate does not turn back to the old norm we will have witnessed climate change. Climate change skeptics claim that CO2 emissions will not change the climate, and that no undesirable climate changes are taking place.

We have been in a period of confusion about our climate and remedies for climate change. The time of that confusion is almost over. The confusion involves both the acknowledgement of the reality of climate change, and its danger, and the choice of practical steps to bring the forces that are changing our climate under control. As Pogo said,

We need to quickly find paths to post carbon energy, and set out to make those changes. Extreme weather events, which may be signs of climate change, are happening now, and they appear to be happening with increased frequency. We can do something about the weather if we want to act, and not simply talk about it, and the time to act is now.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Burning Waste Minor Actinides and Plutonium

The word actinides refers to a family of heavy metals, some of which are fissionable, while others are fertile. Of the actinides only uranium and thorium occur in large amounts in nature. Both Uranium and Thorium undergo nuclear decay. U-238 and Th-232 decay slowly, and are present in the Earth's crust in fairly significant amounts. Neutron absorption by U-238 produces Plutonium 239 a fissionable isotope. Neutron absorption by Th-232 produces U-233 a fissionable isotope of Uranium.

Pu-239 is viewed as a desirable weapon constituent, while the military value of U-233 is problematic due to hard radiation from a very contaminant product associated with U-233 production in reactors. Only one U-233 weapons test was ever conducted by the United States, and that was not considered successful. In addition any deliverable U-233 weapon would require heavy shielding, making it extremely awkward for use by terrorists or by a military organization. Nations wishing to acquire nuclear weapons for military purposes have inevitably preferred Pu-239 or U-235 over U-233 although U-233 is quite easy to manufacture in low cost and technically unchallenging to build reactors. Pu-239 can be manufactured in such reactors and has always been preferred by weapons developers.

In the "Military Effects Test" of April 15, 1955 Weapons designers reportedly found that by substituting U-233 for U-235 in a standard test weapon, they lowered the weapon yield from 31 kt to 22 kt, a yield reduction of nearly a third.

A secret 1963 document, titled U-233 and prepared by Hanford weapons designer, A.E. Smith, set out Smith's concerns about U-233 weaponization. Smith indicated that in order to produce U-233 with low levels of U-232 contamination, a weapons material productions reactor at Hanford or Sevannah River would require three years. A test using high U-232 contaminated U-233 could be conducted more quickly, but it would involve problems that were not known, but which would probably involve "real sacrifices and risks to overcome." People assigned the task of purifying the U-233 would "take high radiation exposures." The U-233 would have to be purified to remove U-232 daughters, followed by rapid processing and assembly. A U-233 bomb test itself would cost between $7.5 and $15 million in 2011. Expected shelf life of a U-233 weapon would be 4 years, but disassemble and refurbishment would be more complicated and difficult than with a plutonium weapon.

Nations wishing to produce U-233 based nuclear weapons, would already have the resources to produce Pu-239 weapons, or would be capable of developing technology to produce U-235 weapons. U-235 or Pu-239 weapons would have superior military characteristics relative to U-233 based weapons. The potential militarization of U-233 seems unlikely to increase the risk of nuclear proliferation by nations, while the expenses, risks, costs and unknown challenges of militarizing U-233 would prove daunting to a terrorist organization.

U-235 was developed as a weapons material at the same time Pu-239 was. U-235 is extracted from Raw uranium which contains 99.3% U-238 and 0.7% U-235. It is possible to design quite simple weapon with U-235, and if a nation can design a low cost U-235 separation technology, U-235 is the royal road to nuclear power. South Africa proved, during the 1960's, 70's and 8Os's that developing a low cost U-235 separation technology was a relatively insignificant challenge for even a small country. Pakistan, a larger country, but one with even fewer industrial resources than South Africa, also developed U-235 separation technology at about the same time. Both nations used information that was readily available in other countries, as well as parts clandestinely obtained from other countries. Libya also undertook to obtain U-235 separation technology, and Iran has had developed a successful Uranium enrichment program prior to the appearance of the Stuxnet virus.

It should be assumed then that if a nation possesses a low cost, easily mastered route to nuclear weapons, the acquisition of a second, higher cost, less easily mastered route to nuclear weapons, will not increase the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. And given the choices of two routes, on difficult and one easy, nations can be expected to chose the easy cheap route over the more difficult and expensive path.

In addition to other fissionable materials, fairly small amounts of neptunium and americium can at least in theory can be used to power nuclear explosive devices according to the DoD. Reference to nuclear explosive devices rather than nuclear weapons suggest that the path to use of these materials in nuclear weapons.

Np-237 is produced by a double neutron capture conversion process which converts U-235 into Np-237. About 19% of U-235 fails to fission after a slow neutron capture, thus conversion of U-235 to NP-237 is fairly common. 19% of U-235 slow neutron capture leads to conversion rather than fission. In addition Np-237 is also produced via an (n,2n) reaction with U-238 after it encounters a high energy neutron. Np-237 is the product of alpha decay of Am-241.

In theory about 10 times as much Np-237 will be produced in a Uranium fuel cycle reactor than in a Thorium fuel cycle reactor. However, when NP-237 remains in a reactor for a significant period of time, it undergoes conversion to Pu-238 by the further capture of another neutron.

All uranium cycle reactors are capable of producing large amounts of plutonium will also produce Np-237. The ratio of plutonium to neptunium will be very high, over 20 to one, but enough Np-237 will be left in the nuclear waste to build a nuclear device every couple of years, if the nation who possess the nuclear waste. However, no nation is known to have built an Np-237 weapon, although the French reportedly may have done some research in that direction. However, no data has been published on Np-237 explosive devices or weapons designs, leaving the would be weapons designers to guess. Different statements on how much Np-237 is required to produce a nuclear explosion, with 60 kg asserted for a gun type device, and perhaps 30 kg for an implosion type device.

David Albright and Kimberly Kramer state,
Thus, large quantities of neptunium 237 are found in spent nuclear fuel. Each year, a typical 1,000-megawatt-electric light-water reactor produces about 25 tonnes of spent fuel containing about 10 kilograms of neptunium 237. The same spent fuel contains about 230 kilograms of plutonium. By weight, neptunium 237 discharges are about five percent of plutonium discharges and about 0.05 percent of spent-fuel discharges.
It should be noted that both uranium fuel cycle and thorium fuel cycle MSRs produce some Np-237, with LFTRs can be expected to produce less than 10% of the Np-237 produced by conventional LWRs.

David Albright and Lauren Barbour note that as a nuclear explosive, americium would be considerably more problematic than Np-237.
The three most important isotopes are americium 241, americium 242m, and americium 243. All three have bare-sphere critical masses, but they vary widely and are uncertain. Americium 241 has a bare-sphere critical mass between about 60 to 100 kilograms. Americium 242m has the lowest bare-sphere critical mass, about 9 to 18 kilograms. The bare-sphere critical mass of americium 243 is somewhere between about 50 and 150 kilograms, indicating that public estimates of its critical mass vary enormously.
Despite its explosive capacity. Americium has civilian uses, including in smoke detectors, as medical diagnostic tracers, and in neutron sources. In all of these uses very small amounts of americium are used. It would appear that would be proliferators who might chose americium weapons would have strong motives for preferring U-235 or Pu-239 weapons. Any state which possess the capacity to manufacture americium would also possess the capacity to produce weapons grade Pu-239. Weapons grade Pu-239 is far more predictable that americium, and thus far more desirable for weapons purposes.

Finally, in addition to Np-237 and americium, Protactinium-231 might also be mentioned as a further fissionable minor actinides. Pa-231 is very rare and can occur naturally as a U238 or U-235 decay product. Pa.231 is the longest lived Protactinium isotope, having a half life of 32,000 years. Small amounts of Pa-231 as well as Pa-233 would be produced in thorium cycle reactors. Even less is known about the explosive and military value of Pa-231, than is known about americium, and thus any weapons designer would be left to guess amount important details such as critical mass, and some authorities appear to deny that any amount of Pa-231 can explode. Once again, any state capable of building a Pa-231 weapon would also be capable of producing a Pu-239 weapon, and any sane weapons designer would prefer to use Pu-239.

It would be highly desirable to dispose of actinides in fast neutron reactors, and liquid sodium cooled reactors, either burners or breeders, would be very serviceable for this task, although fast MSRs would be equally serviceable, and might offer some advantages. Even thermal MSRs can be used for actinide disposal, although less energy would be extracted in the process than would be the case with fast reactors and other aspects of the process might turn out to be less efficient.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are safer reactors possible?

Critics of nuclear power argue that all reactors are inherently dangerous, and point to nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima as evidence of the danger. The primary worry about nuclear power stems from the release of radioactive fission products, and other radioactive materials that are produced inside reactor cores. Among those materials Plutonium which is produced by a nuclear process which occurs when Uranium-235 and U-238 fail to fission following the absorption of neutrons inside reactor cores. Tritium a hydrogen isotope is also viewed with concern, although in practice tritium is viewed as so safe that it is used to illuminate the hands and dials of some wrist watches. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) explains,
Tritium (H-3) is a weakly radioactive isotope of the element hydrogen that occurs both naturally and during the operation of nuclear power plants. Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years and emits a weak beta particle. The most common form of tritium is in water, since tritium and normal hydrogen react with oxygen in the same way to form water. Tritium replaces one of the stable hydrogens in the water molecule, H2O, and creates tritiated water, which is colorless and odorless.

Tritium can be found in self-luminescent devices, such as exit signs in buildings, aircraft dials, gauges, luminous paints, and wristwatches. It is also used in life science research and in studies investigating the safety of potential new drugs.
In fact, if there were any significant danger from tritium, the NRC would outlaw using it in wrist watches. Just how dangerous is tritium? Recently a very small tritium leak from the Vermont Yankee power and was the subject of a big todo in Vermont. Nuclear critics insisted that the tritium represented a huge danger to the people of Vermont. The blog Minor Heresies suggested,
Tritium causes all the usual radiological effects: cancer, genetic defects, cell death, birth defects, and loss of fertility. . . .
My conclusion from all this is that the present tritium leak at Vermont Yankee is no small thing. The material is dangerous at low concentrations, persistent in the human body, impossible to filter, and hard to contain. The leak is limited to the area in and around the plant for now, but I can’t imagine the isolation and cleanup is going to be easy.
Well not exactly. Not in the amount we are talking about.

The silliness of the Vermont Yankee tritium scare was captured by a former Naval Officer who served in nuclear powered submarines, Rod Adams, who is currently a well regarded blogger on the uses of nuclear energy. Adams noted,
Based on reading a number of different articles and checking through the tables provided by the Vermont Department of Health, the fluid that was leaking into the ground contained tritium at a concentration of approximately 2.5 million picocuries per liter. That is equal to 2.5 x 10^-6 curies per liter. The rate that it was leaving the pipe was roughly 100 gallons (370 liters) per day. If the leak had been going on for a year before being detected and stopped, the total quantity of fluid that left the pipe would equal 138,000 liters. The total activity released would be 0.35 curies.

If a single person consumed every drop of that water, their whole body radiation dose would equal roughly 30 rem. According to a 1977 UNSCEAR study, the LD-50 (lethal dose for 50% of the population receiving the exposure) for tritium in adult rats was determined to be 1000 Rad. For the kind of low energy beta emissions that are produced by tritium, a rem is equal to a Rad. A dose of 30 rem received over a 1 year period would be unlikely to cause any immediate health effects, though it might add an additional risk of developing cancer sometime during the person's life. The magnitude of that risk could be computed using the conservative linear, no-threshold dose assumption.

Of course, a person who tried to drink 378 liters per day for a year would have problems more immediate the possibility of increasing their lifetime risk of cancer.

I also was asked to put this discharge into some kind of perspective, so I decided to compare it to the allowable and measured releases from a well operated and safe CANDU reactor in Ontario. Pickering B has a Derived Release Limit (DRL) for tritium of 490,000 terabecquerels each year. That is 4.9 x 10^17 Bq or 13 million curies.
Critics of nuclear power would insist that if we had a release of 13 million curies of tritium in the United States, we would have a crop of two headed babies. However, in Canada where 13 million curies annual releases of tritium are the norm, two headed babies are not being born.

On the other hand no one doubts that the escape of plutonium from a reactor can be a dangerous matter. Yet unlike tritium which is less dangerous than salt, but likely to escape from a reactor, Plutonium os very dangerous, but very unlikely to escape from a reactor. Nuclear critics love to recited how dangerous plutonium is. For example, journalist David McNeill stated
We might also cite the example of MOX fuel and plutonium, a substance so toxic “that a teaspoon-sized cube of it would suffice to kill 10 million people,”
In fact the Guardian reported,
In a possible sign that the contamination is more widespread than previously thought, a university researcher said at the weekend a small amount of plutonium had been identified a mile from the front gate of the Fukushima plant.

It is the first time plutonium thought to have originated from the complex has been detected in soil outside its grounds.
But was the escaped plutonium dangerous? The Guardian reportsed,
Masayoshi Yamamoto, a professor at Kanazawa University, said the level of plutonium in the sample was lower than average levels observed in Japan after nuclear weapons tests conducted overseas.
In conventional Light Water Reactors plutonium is produced inside fuel pellets. The fuel pellet is a ceramic and in almost every case the fuel plutonium will remain there. The only way the plutonium might escape the fuel pellet, would require that the reactor core overheat to such an extent that the ceramic fuel pellets start to melt. Once the plutonium escapes the fuel pellet, it faces a further barrier, the pressure vessel, which contains the reactor core inside a thick steel wall. If the plutonium managed to get past the wall of the pressure vessel, it would face one or more cement barriers, and then the forces of gravity as it pulled the plutonium to the outside grounds of the nuclear power plant. So how did the plutonium manage to travel a mile away from the Fukushima reactors? The answer is probably because it was ejected from the reactor building by a hydrogen explosion. More likely the plutonium was contained inside the spent fuel pellets that were housed in a pool above the Fukushima reactors. It is far from satisfactory that any plutonium managed to escape from the beyond the grounds of the Fukushima reactors, but in fact the amount that escaped was so tiny that it could do no harm.

So is there anyway, to insure that no plutonium ever escapes from a reactor core? Yes there is, in fact no plutonium can escape from a reactor if plutonium is not produced inside the core. But how is that possible? First while a lot of plutonium is produced in uranium fuel cycle reactors, less than 10% of that amount is produced in the thorium fuel cycle. A 1 GW LFTR would produce about 40 Pounds of Plutonium a year. If the goal is to minimize plutonium production this can be easily done. If the goal is to destroy plutonium, the presence of thorium in a reactor core facilitates the burning of plutonium. Finally if the goal is to produce no plutonium, then the use of fluid fuel thorium breeders (LFTRs) is highly recommended, because Neptunium-237, a plutonium predecessor isotope can be cleaned from a molten salt coolant before it can be converted from neptunium into plutonium by absorbing a neutron. Cleaning NP-237 from molten salt fluid is a relatively easy and low cost procedure. Once out of the LFTR core the neptunium can be destroyed in a burner reactor.

Thus if preventing the escape of plutonium from a reactor core is a major nuclear safety goal, designing molten salt thorium fuel cycle reactors that feature neptunium cleaning from core salts, would prevent the production of plutonium. If there is no plutonium production there can be no escape of plutonium.

Thus we have a choice of safety approaches to plutonium management, with the possibility of complete elimination of plutonium from waste stream a real possibility if it was desirable to do so. Total burn of plutonium would be yet another option.

A further approach to Plutonium safety issues would involve the use of underground reactor placement. If the reactor core and all radioactive fluids were kept underground. In Thorium fueled underground power plant based on molten salt technology, Ralph Moir and Edward Teller, Nuclear Technology 151 334-339 (2005), the authors explain,
An important feature of our proposal is to locate every- thing that is radioactive at least 10 m underground—where all fissions occur—while the electric generators are located in the open, being fed by hot, nonradioactive liquids. The reactor’s heat-producing core is constructed to operate with a minimum of human interaction and limited fuel additions for decades. . . .

Under- grounding will preclude the possibility of radioactive contam- ination in case of airplane disasters. A combination of 10 m of concrete and soil is enough mass to stop most objects. It would eliminate tornado hazards and, most particularly, contribute to defense against terrorist activities. In case of accidents, under- grounding, in addition to the usual containment structures, en- hances containment of radioactive material. The 10-m figure is a compromise between safety and plant construction ex- pense. We anticipate the cost to construct underground with only 10 m of overburden using the berm technique will add ,10% to the cost.
Moir and Teller note the safety advantage of underground placement,
A fourth safety measure is locating the reactor underground, which itself is one extra “gravity barrier” aiding confinement. A leakage of material would have to move against gravity for 10 m before reaching the atmosphere.
Plutonium is very heavy. In order for plutonium to overcome the "gravity barrier" some force would have to transport it to the surface. That force cannot be an explosion, because there is nothing in the reactor or its fluid salts that cannot explode. Nor can it be a fire, because no fire is possible. Thus the plutonium is trapped underground. In "Migration Paths for Oklo Reactor Products and Applications to the Problem of Geological Storage of Nuclear Wastes," G. A. Gowan repotted that plutonium along with many fission products including Zr, Nb, Ru, Pd, Ag, Te, Bi, and the rare earths, were immobile the the Oklo natural reactors core areas over a period of time of well over a billion years.

D.G Brookins found,
The actinides . . . were all retained in the host pitchblende.
In fact it appears that less than 10% of the actinides present when the original Oklo deposit was laid down had been lost to natural causes over a nearly two billion year period of time. Thus we can have a high degree of certainty that plutonium would be contained in underground reactor chambers, following the very unlikely event of the release of plutonium carrying salt inside the underground reactor chamber.

As noted what holds true for Plutonium also holds true for many fission products. The Oklo Reactors "natural experiment," that an underground reactor accident would not lead the the release of most fission products and actinides in a reactor or in a nuclear cool down storage. Neptunium would be a potential exception and for that reason it should be removed from long term storage of nuclear wast and disposed of by nuclear burning.

The fission products that are likely to escape in the event of a nuclear accident are well known and their behavior is well understood. They are noble radioactive gases, and volatile fission products. In fact the noble gases appear to pose little danger, and while volatile fission products are more dangerous, that danger can easily be mitigated. However, in Molten Salt Reactors it is easy to prevent the escape of fission products from the core fluid simply be removing them by simple and well understood processes. Reactor researcher, David LeBlanc states,
The volatile fission products such as the noble gases and noble metals come out of the salt as produced. Noble gases simply bubble out and are stored outside the reactor loop. Noble and semi noble metals will plate out on metal surfaces and can be collected by replaceable high surface area metal sponges within the loop.
Ralph Moir and Edward Teller note,
The molten salt reactor that operated in the 1960s had a big advantage in the removal of many fission products without much effort. Gases ~Kr and Xe! simply bubble off aided by helium gas bubbling, where these gases are separated from the helium and stored in sealed tanks to decay. Noble and semi noble metals precipitated. In the planned reactor, the old method of removing the gases may be repeated.
And what of Tritium? Tritium can be completely eliminated from MSRs by elimination of Tritium predecessor isotopes from the salt formula, or if that is not considered desirable for other reasons, it can simply be trapped in coolant salts, or by venting it in the off gas system and then trapping it in sodium fluoroborate.

Clearly then if the public wishes to be assured that it will never be exposed to radioactive isotopes from reactor cores that can be accomplished at a relatively trivial cost without sacrificing any of the advantages offered by nuclear power. I can not assess how much safety the public will want or view necessary in order to be comfortable with nuclear safety, but the technology to provide the public with safety that would assure no human deaths due to accidental releases of radioactive isotopes in a reactor core accident. This standard may not be rational, but the Oklo Natural reactors demonstrate that such a standard is obtainable, and with Molten Salt Reactor technology it is obtainable without paying a high financial cost.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

No more business as usual: Rare Film of Wartime Oak Ridge

Few people understand what can happen when a society commits itself to engage in an unusual task. Such activities usually only happen in war time, and then only if the war involves existential issues, that is the survival of the society. The Manhattan Project is an example of what can happen under such circumstances. The Manhattan Project is an example of what can be done if business as usual can be set aside.

Critics frequently argue that we cannot do certain things, while assuming a business as usual environment. These videos remind us that business as usual is not always the case. Hat tip to Frank Munger.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

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