Monday, September 23, 2013

Letters to Jesse Jenkins Revisited

Jesse Jenkins is currently a graduate student at MIT.  In 2009 Jesse was the  the Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute.  Prior to his association with the Breakthrough Institute, Jesse appears to have been a deep dyed pro-renewable green advocate.  He was associated with the Renewables Northwest Project.  By 2009 Jessee was an active writer on the Energy Collective. Jesse seemed to be pro-Renewables, but there was an edge that suggested a growing skepticism about Renewables in the back of his mind.  I asked him if he would be open to a dialogue about nuclear power.  Jessee said that he would be interested and so I wrote Jesse a series of 6 letters.  No dialogue took place, but something that was perhaps even better occurred.  Jesse shared my letters with Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus.    How much did Breakthrough Institute honchos Shellenberger and Nordhaus learn from my letters to Jessee and from Nuclear Green? In July 2013, they wrote
Breakthrough Institute has analyzed the factors that drive the cost of new nuclear plants, and has proposed a way to deal with them. The key is innovation. In particular, developing, demonstrating and deploying advanced, or what are called Generation IV, nuclear technologies. Already Breakthrough's new report, How to Make Nuclear Cheap, has received positive notices from TimeSmartPlanet, and IEEE Spectrum (a leading high-tech science magazine), and was received positively by both Republicans and Democrats at a standing-room only briefing on Capital Hill last week.  Safety is critical to the economics of nuclear, but it is not the only factor. Advanced reactors that are able to operate at ambient pressures, and with fuels that are much more resistant to melting, require fewer redundant safety systems and less substantial containment. Molten metal and salt coolants promise not only greater safety, but also allow reactors to operate at higher temperatures, making them more efficient. Smaller reactors, produced modularly, or in many cases manufactured entirely off-site, promise to eliminate the rising costs and delays that have plagued large, customized reactor builds.  Reactor designs that can deliver these benefits while utilizing as much of the present light-water supply chain can be commercialized fastest and most cheaply.
Did my letters to Jesse Jenkins contribute to the above paradigm?  Shellenberger and Nordhaus may have learned from me or from other sources.  Most of the ideas found in Nuclear Green are second hand, not original.  I have learned from a lot of people and tried to pass their ideas on as part of a paradigm.  At a time when no one else was writing about controlling nuclear costs, I identified the issue, and laid out a set of ideas, most of which were not original.  I have tried, from time to time, to tip my hat to some of my sources.  Borrowing ideas from my peers is the sincere forms of flattery. 

At any rate, I will pass on my original letters to Jesse, and then in one or more later posts, look at the growing body of studies from Breakthrough Institute that reflect a similar paradigm.

Letter 1

I prefaced my post on the first letter with an account of the origin of the series. Jesse Jenkins is the Director of Energy and Climate Policy of the The Breakthrough Institute, an active Energy/Environment Blogger, and an active participant on the Energy Collective. Yesterday Marc Gunther posted an essay on Lemar Alexander's recent speech on land use. Marc's post is titled Nuclear power: An inconvenient solution. I commented:
Lemar Alexander's most useful role may be to provide political cover for Democrats who are beginning to see the light on renewables. My own case studies, over the last two years, suggest that nuclear power will be less expensive than renewables, and far more reliable. The case for energy efficiency is seriously flawed, and energy efficiency may never yield its projected benefits. That leaves nuclear as the only viable option. The question will not be, should we invest in nuclear? The right question is what form of nuclear will give us the lowest cost power, and what form of nuclear will produce the most rapid deployment. So far Senator Alexander is following the conventional nuclear route. This my not be, however, the best plan for a nuclear future. For far to often the advocates of nuclear power have been stuck in trying to defend it, without considering what would be the best form for nuclear to take. I have tried to point to alternatives, lower cost and faster routs, I hope that others will see the point in future discussions of a nuclear future.
Jesse responded:
Charles, nuclear power cannot be the only viable option. If it is, we will not see the world transition sufficiently to clean/low-carbon power sources. To de-carbonize the global energy supply and transition away from coal and oil over the next 50 years while keeping up with growing global wealth and energy demand, we will have to provide 2-3 times the total global energy supply entirely from clean energy sources. And that's assuming the world becomes 2/3rds more efficient overall (matching nation's like Japan's energy intensity of economic activity). Nuclear power, while a viable and probably necessary component of that mix, cannot fill the entire gap. No single technology can. I'm open to and increasingly supportive of nuclear power in our energy mix. I wish nuclear power advocates were not insistent on knocking down every other alternative in order to build the case for nuclear. We're going to need a lot of energy from a lot of sources, and not all will be anyone's definitely of ideal. Time to get the scale of our energy challenge clear, prioritize a portfolio of energy sources, and make the investments necessary to catalyze their development and deployment.
I suspected that Jesse did not know a lot about nuclear power, but at this point might be open to a dialogue, so I wrote back:
Jesse I would be happy to hold a serious conversation with you about the potential of nuclear power. My view is quite different than yours. I believe that I have identified nuclear deployment approaches that would be far more effective than your assumptions would allow. If you are interested in talking, let me know.
Jesse's response was very encouraging,
Hi Charles,
Do you write here for This would be a great forum for you to sketch out your vision for nuclear power expansion. The trick will be providing on the order of 15-30 terawatts of carbon-free power by 2050 and 25-45 TW by 2100. Can nuclear scale to that magnitude? That would be my question for you. Thanks for your honest answers.
So it is 1:00 AM and here I am writing the first part of my explanation to Jessee.


Dear Jesse, Some time ago Westinghouse estimated that it will take between sixteen to twenty million hours of labor to build an AP-1000 reactor. Most of those hours are performed by highly skilled laborers at large construction sites. Organizing such large scale construction projects has in the past posed very large problems. Past reactor builders climbed very steep learning curves and received very expensive educations on efficient reactor construction. Research on labor utilization at reactor building sites suggested a high degree of management disorganization, with an average worker not performing construction related tasks for 2 or more hours a day. Even when they are actually working, reactor builders are not performing in a very efficient fashion. How can labor efficiency be improved? The answer is simple; build more of the reactor in a factory. We can build big reactors in a lot of small pieces at factories and assemble them on site. Westinghouse plans to do this, but as we have seen building the reactor will still take 3 years and is quite expensive. We will call the "lot of little pieces" approach the Kit reactor. Another approach, which Babcock & Wilcox plan to take, is to assemble most of a small reactor in a factory, and then ship a few large pieces to the reactor site for final assembly. Babcock & Wilcox executives say that tasks that require a whole day of labor to perform on site can be accomplished in one hour in a factory. Construction of the small B&W reactor still requires two years and I suspect a lot of assembly has to be performed on site.

We could decrease labor by simplifying reactor design, including decreasing the number of parts used in the reactor, and decreasing materials input. Westinghouse has already done this in in their AP1000 design, and I suspect B&W will do it in their small 125 MW mPower reactor. Technological improvements now being researched could potentially increase the power outputs of the Westinghouse and B&W reactors by as much as 50% without increasing labor or materials input.

In the end however, Light Water Reactors are going to be complex, require a lot of labor, and potentially have limitations to their scalability. For rapid deployment, we will need to turn to far more simple reactors. Fortunately there are two alternative reactor technologies which potentially could be mass produced in factories, with significantly less labor and materials input, and be deployed in far less time than the B&W mPower reactor. These candidates have the potential for rapid ramp up of production, massive deployment, and resolution of many of the major problems that have plagued the Light Water Reactor. The candidate technologies are the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), and the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). Both designs produce little nuclear waste, both have significant safety features, both use nuclear fuel far more efficiently than current, and both could stretch nuclear fuel reserves for thousands and potentially even millions of years. Of the two, the IFR is potentially more controversial. I will discuss these options in another post.

Jessy you talk about 15-30 terawatts by 2050. I am skeptical about the value of energy efficiency. I also believe that if we are going to replace 80% of carbon based fuel we will probably need more like 1000 terawatts by 2050 of nuclear power. With factory production of advanced reactors and innovative implementation of reactor deployment, indeed a world wide deployment of 1000 terawatts of nuclear power would be possible by 2050. There is, of course, much more to the story, that I have told so far. - Charles

Letter 2

Dear Jesse, I would like a dialogue with you in order to increase your awareness of the creative thinking among nuclear supporters. There is actually a sort of peer review process among nuclear supporters. Newly proposed ideas usually are subjected to critical discussion on the Energy from Thorium Discussion forum. Many discussion participants are engineers and scientists, who are nuclear literate and are both intelligent and competent. Bad ideas get ferreted out. These discussions are making important contributions to the process of charting our future energy design and deserve attention from anyone who wishes to be known as an energy expert.

One of the more original ideas to have emerged from the community of nuclear supporters is Jim Holm's idea of recycling coal fired power plants into sites for the installation of small generation IV reactors. I thought that Jim Holm's idea of recycling coal fired power plants by converting them into nuclear power plants was crazy the first time I encountered it. I now think it is a terrific idea.

First they offer grid access. In a massive deployment of nuclear power in the United States, Grid hook up will definitely be a problem. By accessing the grid from existing power sites,
grid access costs can be kept to a minimum. Several small reactors, whose combined generation capacity could be closely matched to the output of the previous coal fired station, could hook up to that station's grid access transformer system.

A second advantage would be the access to water and a cooling system. Since reactors are going to be located on rivers and require both cooling towers and water use permits, the reuse of these facilities would save a considerable amount of money. The reactor core would, of course be factory produced and could be transported to the power plant site by train, truck or barge. Several small reactors could be clustered and matched to the old coal plants rated output. This would facilitate using the existing grid hook up.

The land for the facility might come at no cost. Or if ownership of the land were transferred, it could be with minimal problems.

Some existing plant structures might be reusable. A recycled turbine hall, now used for closed cycle gas turbines, could offer some more construction savings. Parking lots can be reused. Coal yards offer security and radiation protection perimeters. Reactors could be located either in existing buildings, with added containment features, in separate containment structures, or in underground chambers. Under ground siting might lower Generation IV reactor sit costs, while actually enhancing safety and security.

If the reuse of 100 coal fired power plants produced an average of $50 million in construction savings, the total savings would amount to $5 billion. This would be a savings from efficient reuse of resources.

The sites of natural gas turbine generators could also be reused as small reactor sites, with at least some of the same advantages that would be provided by the reuse of coal sites. Considering the large number of coal fired generation facilities world wide, the reuse of coal fired plants for nuclear power plant deployment might well be a standard feature of any large scale plan.

Letter 3

This is the third in a series of letters I am writing to Jesse Jenkins, the Director of Energy and Climate Policy of the The Breakthrough Institute, I am attempting to demonstrate to Jesse that a massive deployment of nuclear power plants is possible by 2050.

Dear Jesse, To the left is a greatly simplified depiction of a Light Water Reactor core. The core is only the beginning of Light Water Reactor complexity. Chris Mowry of Babcock & Wilcox told Robert Bryce
"We estimate there would be between 500 and 1,000 jobs at the site throughout the three-year field construction period."
That gives us somewhere from 2.5 to 5 million hours of labor on site to construct the B&W mPower reactor and its facility. This is no small project and suggests something of the daunting complexity of building a large reactor will confront the builders of small conventional Light Water Reactors. If factory labor is several times more efficient than on site construction labor, B&W has failed to move enough labor from the reactor site to the the factory. Thus the small Light Water Reactor proves to be something of a disappointment in that it will not offer an economic advantage compared to larger reactors. Chris Mowery stated:
The B&W mPower reactor uses the best features and elements of existing Generation III+ technology. This is technology with which the NRC is familiar, and for which NRC regulatory and licensing protocol already exists. By avoiding the use of new Generation IV technology concepts, we will ensure that the NRC is reviewing designs and reactor technology that it already has the ability to license.
It would appear that B&W believed that it had a choice between Generation III+ and Generation IV nuclear technology and chosen the former because of a perceived weakness of the NRC to assess new nuclear Generation IV technologies.

The major advantage of a small reactor would be that it would allow for the transfer of labor from the reactor site to the factory. Professor Andrew Kadak, who teaches nuclear engineering at MIT, has pointed out what happens when labor is transferred from the construction site to the factory.
Building a reactor in a factory should save construction time, says Kadak. He estimates that what takes eight hours to do in the field could be done in just one hour in a factory. Once the reactor is manufactured, it would then be shipped to the site of a power plant along with the necessary containment walls, turbines for generating electricity, control systems, and so on.
The great advantage of China and India in the construction of Generation II and Generation III reactors is that it is labor intensive and their labor costs are low. In order for European and American nuclear power to be cost competitive with the power produced in China and India, labor must be used with factory like efficiency. Thus if tasks requiring a day can be completed in one hour, all through the construction system, labor costs can be dramatically lowered.

In addition to moving reactor construction labor from the construction site to the factory, reactor design must be simplified and the production system automated. We have already noted the relative complexity of Generation II and III reactor cores. Here is the design of an extremely simple, low cost and safe Generation IV Molten Salt Reactor core. The core is basically made up of two hollow cylinders, one inside of the other. This core design is light weigh because it lacks internal structure, and because, unlike the Light Water mPower Reactor the Molten Salt Reactor operates under atmospheric pressure.

The Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) is not just simpler, it is more compact. It can be housed in a smaller structure. Compact cores mean smaller housing. The MSR cannot explode, that means a smaller containment structure is required. The late Edward Teller proposed locating MSRs underground for safety. Underground locations also protect against terrorists attacks via truck bombs or aircraft. Underground locations mean that massive and labor intensive containment structures are not required.

Of course some features of the MSR are not as simple as this core design. But it would appear that the MSR concept holds real promise of lowering reactor labor costs, while significantly adding to nuclear safety, and offering a sustainable nuclear technology that could provide high levels of energy to human society for hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of years.

Letter 4

Dear Jesse, The conventional view is that it would take a long time to develop Generation IV nuclear technology. This is mistaken because the Indians expect to complete a commercial Generation IV Fast Breeder Prototype Reactor in 2011, and then begin to build standard production reactors immediately after. They currently expect to complete at least 4 commercial fast breeders by 2020, and more later.

The long gestation period view assumes that the development of Generation IV technology would be conducted with business as usual approaches. But if we think that the fate of human society would rest on the pace of a Generation IV development project, would a business as usual approach make sense? Alternatives would be a semi-Manhattan project model and a mini-Manhattan project approach. The difference would have to do with time scale, with the Semi-Manhattan project approach trying to bring in everything in a two to three year time range, while the mini approach might take 5 years. The mini approach might cost $20 billion, perhaps twice the cost of the business as usual approach, but at the end of the five years a saleable product, and a factory to build it would be ready.

Let me illustrate what I mean by the Manhattan Project approach. The Manhattan Project was a massive research, development and production project conducted during World War II. The aim of the project was the development of deliverable nuclear weapons. That goal was meet. Rather than develop one single approach to the project, and perfect it, project scientists undertook to develop parallel approaches to project goals. Scientists identified two fissionable materials that could be used in Nuclear Weapons, U-235 and Pu-239. Rather than settle on one approach, they decided to develop two weapons, each using one of the fissionable materials. The method of producing Pu-239 was deemed very dangerous, and the production facility was located in a desert in Washington State. Production at the Washington State site was to be accomplished through the use of 3 large, experimental reactors of a type never built before. Construction of the reactors began in August 1943. The first was finished in September 1944, and the final reactor was completed by February 1945. The entire 3 reactor project was completed in 18 months. Despite questions about the safety of their design, the Hanford reactors never had a serious accident. Their designer, Eugene Wigner was trained by a chemical engineer who had done notable chemistry research in the 1930's.

A further research reactor was build in Oak Ridge with an overlapping time schedule to the Hanford Reactors. The X-10 Graphite Reactor, was intended to produce plutonium for the research required to weaponize it. The designer of the Graphite Reactor was a young scientist who had recently acquired a PhD in biophysics from the University of Chicago. Despite the fact that the youthful Alvin Weinberg had more training in biology and mathematics than in physics, and had no engineering training at all, he was able to design a reactor that was built in 10 months, performed flawlessly and proved a valuable research tool.

Thus from December 1942, when Enrico Fermi's Chicago pile went critical, and November 1944, the design of reactors leaped forward by what would have required a "business as usual" approach a generation to accomplish. Further more, the designers of these reactors would have been viewed as completely unqualified to perform this task because they lacked the proper educational background.

In addition to the development of reactors to facilitate the production of a plutonium based nuclear weapon, the project to develop a uranium based weapon had an equally remarkable history. Three separate uranium enrichment projects were developed in Oak Ridge. The Y-12 project developed and used electromagnets in devices called cauldrons to separate the uranium isotopes. The cauldrons required a huge amount of copper wire, and when copper was in short supply, the Manhattan project borrowed 14,700 tons of another electrical conductive metal, silver, from the United States Treasury to wire the magnets. A second uranium separation process was housed at K-25, which when finished was the largest building under one roof in the world.

The K-25 project would have cost $8 billion today. While it was being built, scientists and engineers did not know if they could make the gaseous diffusion method work. Again, a huge investment produced in months what a "business as usual" approach would have required years to accomplish.

I would argue that given the dual crises of CO2 emissions/Anthropogenic Global Warming and Peak Oil, and the potential for Generation IV nuclear technology, a rapid nuclear development program is demanded.

If a Manhattan project type endeavor were undertaken, regulation would be expedited but safety not compromised. The NRC would work alongside reactor researchers, establishing reasonable safety standards, and passing them on. During the development period the NRC should determine that reactor developments are meeting all NRC safety goals. The complete design should already have an NRC license, even before the prototype is built.

In the Semi-Manhattan project,  alternative design approaches would be researched in parallel, while in the mini approach they might be investigated sequentially. Both would involve spending at a robust level. There are shortcuts to development including licensing successful technology. This might include licensing Russian BN-600 technology, Indian Fast Breeder Prototype Reactor technology, in addition too drawing on American Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) technology and experience. I am not a big fan of the LMFBR type, but it is probably inevitable that we are going to build some, and if we do, we might as well develop and build them fast.

That document assumed a "business as usual" approach, and suggested development plans that would take a generation to realize. How much would it cost?

According to ORNL-4812, up to 1972 ORNL had spent $130 million dollars on MSR development. In 2009 terms this was less than than one billion dollars,

In 1980 the ORNL staff estimated that a commercial DMSR could be developed for $700 million (about 2.5 billion in 2009 dollars). Given another 2.5 billion for the development of the LFTR prototype we would have a total investment of between 5 and 6 Billion 2009 dollars. At that point there would be a product ready to go on the assembly line. Thus the total investment in the LFTR would be comparable to the Federal investment in the LWR. It would be one fourth the investment made so far in unsuccessful American LMFBR technology.

My analysis suggests that with factory production and by recycling coal fired power plants, modular LFTRs can come online for an investment as small as a dollar a watt. Let us assume that the actual cost is twice that. We still have a price for LFTRs that is lower than the 2009 price for windmills, even with a capacity factor no better than the windmills, the LFTR would be a far better buy because of its superior flexibility.

It would be nice to imagine a private enterprise investing in the LFTR. Is it possible? $5 billion would not be unreasonable for a private business to invest in LFTR development. There are American businesses that are capable of writing a $5 billion check for LFTR development today. Consider the €11 billion plus that Airbus invested in the development of the A380 aircraft. At a cost of $327 million, the A380 would be, if anything, more expensive than the modular LFTR. In fact it is doubtful that Airbus will ever recover the Airbus 380 development cost, while the LFTR potentially could be quite profitable.

Compared to the cost of renewables, the Manhattan project approach would be an incredible bargain. For example, the German newspaper Die Zeit recently reported that the costs of photovoltaic installations built in Germany up to 2008
will amount to even more than 30 billion Euros.
And how much electricity will German consumers get for their investment? A recent estimate reported that in 2008. German PVs produced 4,300 GWh, about half the power output of one conventional nuclear reactor. 30 billion Euros would pay the development of both Sandia's "Right Size" Reactor, a small, factory built Fast Breeder Reactor, and the the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, a very safe, factory build reactor.

Eventually, the LFTR will prove to have significant advantages over the Fast Breeder Reactors. First the core of the LFTR is smaller, hence the structure meant to house the LFTR core will be smaller, and lower cost. Secondly, the LFTR has safety advantages over the fast reactor. Even if the fast reactor proves in practice to be as safe as the LFTR, that safety is not entirely inherent, and will come at a cost. Finally, fuel reprocessing for the fast reactor will be far more expensive than with the LFTR.

Given the very great importance of a rapid and massive world wide deployment of low cost nuclear technology capable of safely meeting human energy needs, a Manhattan Project type approach to facilitate the development of promising nuclear technology seems more than warranted. Indeed, given the potentially disastrous consequences of failing to safely meet human energy needs, the rapid development of promising technology is an imperative, not an option. - Charles

Letter 5

Dear Jesse, Even if the LFTR could not be assumed to have excellent potential for lowering nuclear cost, its safety features, and handling of the nuclear waste problem would make it an excellent candidate for the role of future safe and nuclear waste free electrical producer. In addition, the LFTR has excellent operational characteristics that give it a flexibility comparable to natural gas turbine generators, but with a much lower fuel price. For this reason, low cost LFTRs can replace carbon emitting natural gas turbine generators. My analysis of potential backups for renewable electrical generation facilities, pointed to the LFTR as the best backup technology. The LFTR would be priced at a competitive cost, would have lower fuel costs than natural gas generators, and would be far more flexible than batteries, pumped storage, or compressed air storage. LFTRs can be kept spinning for days with no fuel expenditure, and for indefinite periods of time with very little fuel expenditure. In fact,  the LFTR's performance in the back up role for renewables would be such that the renewables being backed up would be redundant. This analysis led me to the conclusion that a single technology approach to post carbon energy could lower energy costs, while greatly increasing electrical reliability.

There are numerous sources reporting on Molten Salt Reactor/LFTR safety. (see here, and here). Since the core fluids of the LFTR are well below their boiling point, the LFTR operates at atmospheric pressure and thus poses no danger of a steam explosion. Coolant leaks are far less likely in a LFTR, are far less likely than in a water cooled reactor, and far less dangerous than in a LMFBR. Coolant leaks in a LFTR tend to be self limiting, because the coolant immediately freezes when exposed to the cooler temperature of the environment outside the reactor. Once the coolant freezes, further leaks are blocked.

Because the LFTR is safe in ways that water cooled reactors are not, safety features that are unique to water cooled reactors can be eliminated. Consider the now classic reactor dome, depicted here in a schematic for a relatively small Indian PHWR. This dome is much larger than the reactor, and one of it's safety features is that it has two separate containment walls. This design testifies to the Indian commitment to nuclear safety, and in Europe or North America would be very expensive to build. Indian Labor costs are much lower than those of more developed economies, hence the dome does not represent the sort of cost factor to Indian reactor designers that they would represent to European and American reactor designers.

The massive walls to the reactor dome prevent the escape of nonvolatile radioisotopes in the event that a steam explosion breaches the reactor pressure vessel or a pressure tube. But, what if there were no possibility of an explosive release of radioisotopes? We have seen that this is exactly the case with Molten Salt Reactors including the LFTR.

During the Mid-1960's Ed Bettis, who is often credited with inventing the Molten Salt Reactor, created a number of design studies for a cluster of 4 small MSRs. Bettis' design is startling and the most startling thing about it is the way the reactors are housed. Each reactor is contained in a small cell.

Note how compact Bettis' design is. The three cells Bettis drew would take far less labor and materials to build and would require far less time to build than the Indian reactor dome. Now look at another of Bettis' schematics:
Note that no dome is depicted, only a small structure that is robust enough to contain radioisotopes released in a reactor leak. The reactor core, the heat exchanges and even the coolant plumbing could be factory built, lowered into the reactor and hooked up. The reactor housing structure itself could be built in a matter of months, or if required, be prefabricated and assembled on site. In contrast to Babcock & Wilcox small mPower reactor, the LFTR could be assembled with much less labor, and in a matter of months rather than three years.

But would the Bettis design be safe from terrorist attack? First we should note that the Bettis design provides robust protection against fissionable materials diversion. The reactor housing would be around 600 degrees C, far too  hot for terrorists to tolerate. In addition, radiation from the reactor, from the fuel cleaning process, and from fuel storage, would be far too intense for terrorists to survive more than the briefest of exposures.

But what about terrorists attacks by aircraft or truck bomb? The late Edward Teller always believed that the underground siting of reactors would create optimal conditions for nuclear safety. In his last paper, Teller and his associate Ralph Moir advocated underground sited Molten Salt Reactors as the best possible nuclear technology. Even in relatively shallow underground placements, LFTRs would be well protected from truck bombs and aircraft attacks. Fissionable materials would be in an underground setting similar to the Bettis design and would be inaccessible to nuclear terrorists. In addition,  gravity, earth, the chemical nature of the hot salt fuel fluid, and the reactor housing structure would prevent radioactive materials from reaching the surface in the event of a nuclear accident.

Although Teller and Moir did not pay overt attention to the cost of their underground siting plan, it probably would not be more expensive than digging and building a small utility sub basement for an office building. Hence, with the LFTR, we can dramatically lower site construction costs, while improving nuclear safety.

Letter 6

Dear Jesse, I have decided to bring this series to a close, although I will be open to answering questions about what I have written for you. I will, of course, continue to write about what I see as the potential of nuclear energy and advanced nuclear technology. I will also continue to expose misinformation about nuclear power and alternative energy forms. I am distressed when I read poorly informed attacks on nuclear power by people who should know better. Unfortunately many people who seek to shape public opinion on energy issues are nuclear illiterate and cover their ignorance with a shallow, poorly informed opposition to nuclear power. We have unfortunately much of the same problem among politicians, some of whom I otherwise admire.

We need nuclear power in a post-carbon world. Our current energy and environmental issues were foreseen by scientists in Oak Ridge, at Argonne National Laboratory, and at Idaho National Laboratory. They sought to forge advanced energy technologies, technologies that would provide abundant, safe, and low cost energy for society over a time span that could last indefinitely, could last for millions of years.

The opponents of nuclear power believe improved nuclear safety is not possible.  I know better because my own father was among the first generation of nuclear safety researchers in Oak Ridge. He saw, during the 1960's, that the USAEC and congressional leadership opposed strong research programs directed toward identifying and developing stronger nuclear safety programs. Eventually nuclear safety research funding was shut off. My father's boss, Alvin Weinberg, a strong advocate for nuclear safety, and for safe advanced nuclear technology was fired as Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Eventually, the Three Mile Island accident proved that Weinberg's safety warnings were not mistaken.

During the 1970's, Weinberg also warned that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels could lead to a climate catastrophe. Weinberg spoke to nuclear critics like Ralph Nader and Amory Lovins about the problem. Unfortunately they did not understand what Weinberg did, that it was possible to introduce much safer nuclear technology that would answer environmental concerns, and their blind opposition to nuclear power produced a destructive fanaticism. Lovins and Nader both backed fossil fuels in opposition to nuclear power, and their short sightedness still distorts our dialogue about post carbon energy issues.

Energy discussions are still distorted by anti-nuclear illusions about energy. There is in fact substantial reason to doubt that energy efficiency will reduce energy demand over the next three generations. Despite a large body of research by economists, which demonstrates that energy efficiency leads to a rebound in energy use, self styled energy experts still insist that energy conservation amounts is the low hanging fruit in the struggle against global warming. It is just not so, and developing countries like China and India, each of which has a population larger than the United States and Europe combined, will continue to demand more energy during the present century. There is probable cause to believe, contrary to the claims made for energy efficiency, that world wide energy demand will be substantially higher 40 years from now than it is today. Our concerns should not be that developing countries be offered greater energy efficiency, but that they be offered technologies that bring them the greatest carbon reduction for their energy investments.

Secondly,  advocates of Renewables need to pay more attention to their costs and to the cost of making a Renewable dominated grid reliable. Renewables advocates too often rely on incomplete or just plain inaccurate cost analyses. Pro-nuclear critics of Renewables offer a strong case that the cost of solar and wind generated electricity is substantially higher than the cost of nuclear power, and that the cost of making Renewables as reliable as nuclear generated electricity would be impossibly expensive.
In my blog, Nuclear Green, I attempt to argue the following:

1. There is a very strong case that continued emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel sources will adversely effect the world's climate and that Climate Change will have large consequences for hundreds of millions of people and for many national economies.

2. There is a strong case that mitigation of an Anthropogenic Global Warming will cost far less than the cost of mitigating its consequences.

3, There is probable cause to believe that Renewable energy souses cannot replace fossil fuels in a cost effective fashion.

4. Replacement of fossil fuel energy sources by Renewable energy sources, will not lead to a favorable outcome.

5. There is probable cause to believe that mass world wide deployment of nuclear electrical generation technology is feasible if a well funded research and development program begins quickly.

6. There is probable cause that the deployment of Generation III and III+ nuclear technology is the most cost effective way to mitigated global warming and should be vigorously pursued until lower cost Generation IV nuclear technology becomes available.

7. There are good reasons to believe that Generation IV technology can be mass produced at a lower cost than current nuclear costs in Europe and North America.

It is my intent to focus more attention on these critical issues and to foster more debate between the supporters of nuclear power and the supporters of Renewables. I am very encouraged by the emergence of Barry Brook's blog, Brave New Climate, which addresses the same issues I do and does a better job than I do in fleshing the problems out.

This concludes my letters to Jesse.  Whether or not I have influenced the work of Breakthrough Institute, I do not know. What I understand of their recent work on nuclear technology suggests some of paths they are following are paths that I charted in the letters and in Nuclear Green.  I may look a little more at this later.  I also might look at what Breakthrough Institute has so far left out.

We live in an age of prophets.  We live in an age of new truths.  We live at the dawn of a new human era, an era that will manifest the energy of atomic energy. 


jimwg said...

It's funny how wind and solar and biofuel advocates seldom think or hawk themselves as part of a "mix" (i.e. we can do it all!!) but nuclear must when it _could_ do it all. Sure runs subs and city-sized aircraft carriers well enough without needing any PC "mix"!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Charles Barton said...

James, I agree with part of what you say, namely: "It's funny how wind and solar and biofuel advocates seldom think . . ."

Dee said...

They get away thinking that way because green biased TV commercials and news play it up that alternatives are end-all solutions without environmental consequence or risk. It's a lie of course but the uneducated don't know it is.


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Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High