Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Barry Brook Charts the Path to the Future

Yesterday I presented what I consider to be Barry' Brook's most significant contribution to the current energy discussion, a very powerful critique of what could be called the Renewable Energy Paradigm. Barry has written a number of posts, but other posts by Peter Lang, Ted Trainer and others have fleshed out the picture. There critiques have received what can be called the open science treatment. That is anyone can comment, and commenter can and do present evidence both in support of and in opposition too the substance of the critique. Not every critical discussion is lead off by a formal paper. The first discussion of the Zero Carbon Australia 2020, a discussion that drew 560 comments. Comments included extensive quotations from the report as well as links to hundreds of sources. Many of the best comments focused on sources from which ZCA2020 drew its assumptions. The original ZCA2020 discussion was followed up a month later by a paper by ‘Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan’ – Critique, by Martin Nicholson and Peter Lang, This paper built on the earlier discussion, and has drawn another 200 comments.

Barry can be thought of as following Karl Popper's model of science in his blog. Barry's hypothesis is, that nuclear power offers the only satisfactory long term energy solution to the post fossil-fuel era. One null hypothesis, offered by renewable advocates is renewables advocates is that renewable energy (and efficiency) offer a long term energy solution to the post fossil fuel era. Brave New Climate has, I would contend, offered convincing evidence that the Null Hypothesis is not true. This in its self demonstrates that the implementation of the nuclear solution is required if our form of energy intense civilization is to survive, and expand to the rest of the people on earth. Nuclear Green has followed the same path to the same conclusions.

Critics of nuclear power have offered a second null hypothesis which Barry addresses. The limitations of nuclear power are so serious that nuclear power forms an unacceptable form of energy. Those alleged limitations include:
* Unacceptable safety risks due to the inhalant design flaws of nuclear reactors
* Unacceptably dangerous risks to the human and environmental future posed by nuclear waste
* Unacceptable limitation on available nuclear fuel
* Unacceptable risk to the human future posed by the increased risk of nuclear proliferation and subsequent nuclear war, posed by a link between civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons manufacture.
* Unacceptable costs of power reactors
* Unacceptable scalability limitations of the nuclear solution.
Brave New Climate has certainly not ignored this null hypothesis. Like Nuclear Green, Brave New Climate relies heavily on the potential development of Generation IV nuclear power plants as a to correct defects in current NPP designs. Generation IV technology offers solutions enhanced nuclear safety, solve the problem of nuclear waste, assure the availability of nuclear fuel for millions of years to come, potentially lower nuclear costs, and offer solutions to the scalability limitations of current nuclear technology. Beyond the potential technological improvements, nuclear advocates including Barry Brooks and other Brave New Climate posters have point out evidence that suggest that the problems of the current generation of nuclear power plants are not nearly as bad as critics claim.

Barry's approach to nuclear technology is more as an educator, than as an explorer of possible nuclear futures. A review of Barry's 100+ posts related to nuclear energy will demonstrate how Barry organizes knowledge in a textbook type fashion, and lays it out in easy to understand language. It is not without reason that Barry has won an award for his contributions to science education.

I do have one major disagreement with Barry. Barry bought into Tom Blees view that the Integral Fast Reactor offered the best rout to the nuclear future. I support another Generation IV technology involving the use of Molten Salt Reactor technology, especially by realizing its potential to breed new nuclear fuel from thorium. Barry's liquid sodium cooled fast breeding, IFR, while offering many attractive features, would have some disadvantages when compared with the Liquid Fluoride (Salt) Thorium Reactor (LFTR). Kirk Sorensen has created a grass roots movement around his pro-LFTR blog, Energy from Thorium that has not been matched by IFR supporters. EfT along with BNC practice open science, but the open science of EfT focuses on problems that likely would be encountered during any implementation of the LFTR designed. BNS does not look at similar IFR technical issues.

EfT offers links to hundreds of research based documents, that chart the development of MSR technology in Oak Ridge. Some of those documents are reviewed on EfT while discussions often center around research findings reported in ORNL documents. Nothing like this level of technical specificity exists in IFR related discussions on BNC. I would not describe this as a BNC weakness, but it is a weakness of the IFR advocacy that nothing like EfT has come out of their advocacy efforts. EfT has very successfully controlled discussion of Molten Salt Reactor technology, by offering superior information resources, coupled to a very high level of technically oriented discussions. EfT has become a major resource to MSR/LFTR advocates in their very successful outreach campaign which has made their basic concepts known to a much wider audience. It would be very helpful to IFR advocates if they could reference a similar site.

This should not be taken as a criticism of Barry. He has created in Brave New Climate an outstanding and important web site, that deals with both climate and post-carbon energy issues. In addition to his important contribution to increasing understanding of the limitations of renewables, Barry has made an important contribution to increasing public understanding of nuclear energy. The importance of this contribution cannot be overestimated. Barry has done a first rate job of organizing educational materials that can aid the public in better understanding the nuclear option. This is a remarkable accomplishment in two years, and Barry dissevers public recognition and accolades for his accomplishments.


Adam Hoffman said...

Let me join you in applauding Barry and the BNC community's efforts. I, too, value Brave New Climate for its transparency and outreach in Australia and beyond.

However, I have to disagree with you that the lack of a fast reactor equivalent to Energy from Thorium reflects a weakness of sodium fast reactor "advocacy". One need only review the proceedings of a conference in nuclear reactor technology to see the radical differences in the research support for the two technologies. A cursory review of the proceedings from the 2010 International Congress on Advanced in Nuclear Power Plants (a biannual embedded topical meeting at the American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting) revealed 40 papers on sodium fast reactors to 1 paper on the molten salt reactor.

This ratio is reflective of the relative research intensity between these two technologies in the nuclear engineering community. I judge that this is the "advocacy" that counts. If the LFTR advocates are serious about developing and deploying the technology, this is the community that they should target.

That said, the public is woefully uneducated about the array of options for managing used nuclear fuel, and all efforts to address this issue should be valued.

Charles Barton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Barton said...

Adan the researchers don't count for much if the politicians aren't funding research. Sodium cooled reactor have lots of enemies, who are quite willing to oppose funding fast breeders, The grassroots play should not be sneered at. Grassroots mean votes to politicians. When researchers come to politicians with their hands out, the politicians wonder, "how may votes will this bring me?"

It is better to be open with the public, if you act like you don't trust them, they won't trust you. Open Science invites trust from the public. Ignoring the public doesn't make you more trustworthy, and doesn't put money in your pocket.

Barry Brook said...

Thanks Charles, I'm humbled by your two posts and I thank you sincerely for your acknowledgement.

Still, that doesn't mean you're always right :) After all, I absolutely know the IFR is the right tech! I'll justify that statement a little better in the coming months as I write up my experiences at the EBR-II site outside of Idaho Falls (I visited in Aug 2010), and continue on with my IFR FaD series.

But that said, I really hope LFTR gets a good run too. It's definitely got promise...

Charles Barton said...

Barry, it is your loss that you have never visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which in addition to having the really creative heart of American Reactor design, has been for over 40 years a major center for carbon cycle research. Oak Ridge scientists including Alvin Weinberg and my father, were warning of the dangers of atmospheric CO2 emissions before you were born. And ORNL was virtually the only research institution in the world to take the carbon problem seriously during the 1970's

Unknown said...

Barry, my name is Jaeger. I am doing a project called NHD (National History Day) for school. The theme this year is Debate & Diplomacy: Success, Failures, and Consequences. I was wondering if you could give me some information, that involves the theme, on EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor 1) in Arco, Idaho. I would also appreciate any websites, documents, etc. that you think would help me. You can contact me by email or a call. E-mail Mobile Phone (208) 965-9998 Home Phone (208) 938-1587. Thank you.


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