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October 01, 2006

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Kirk Sorensen

Thorium-fueled liquid-fluoride reactors can generate the high-temperatures needed for hydrogen production, plus they have a closed-fuel cycle based on thorium, unlike the suggested gas-cooled reactors.

They are more compact and less-capital intensive than the gas-cooled reactors, because their core power densities are higher and the core operates at ambient pressure, unlike the highly-pressurized gas-cooled reactors. Their passive safety features also scale upward favorably, unlike the passive safety features of a typical gas-cooled reactor like the pebble bed, which relies on certain maximum core cross-section to passively reject decay heat.

amazingdrx

Any large scale effort like this with totally untested nuclear technology will take a very long time and way more capital than will ever become available for energy investment (not too mention paying to fight all the NIMBY lawsuits)to expand to a capability that could put a signifigant dent in liquid fuel from oil.

It's pie in the sky, like the hydrogen economy. Renewable energy is affordable and will boost the economy with lower energy costs and great long term jobs. But the scarce research and development money needed is squadered on wacky dangerous projects like this.

But please keep talking up thorium and flouride kirk. Maybe someone will feature the unimaginable danger involved in widespread use of these substances? As our founders wisely foresaw, freedom of speech helps US make better choices for our future.

Last but not least, if nuclear power were used on a scale large enough to help stop global climate disaster, they would run out of fuel in a few years.

And more combustible fuel does not sequester CO 2, it spreads it. Eliminating combustion based energy in favor of renewable electric powered battery vehicles actually curtails combustion and greenhouse gas production.

Cervus

This seems like an awful long way to go for such a small reduction, considering far simpler and cheaper technology is available via fuel algae.

Kirk Sorensen

It's always fun to have technology called "pie-in-the-sky" by someone like you "drx".

At any rate, the supplies of thorium, if consumed in liquid-fluoride reactors, will enable sustained energy production for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. And those are just the terrestrial supplies. Thorium is kind enough to make itself known on other solar system bodies as well.

Ender

Why do you have to produce the hydrogen from nuclear reactors? Solar hydrogen will last even longer than thorium, is available today without massive research costs and produces NO waste products.

The intermittant nature of solar power does not matter here because the products can be produced when it is sunny.

I wrote something like this here:
http://stevegloor.typepad.com/sgloor/2004/09/the_methane_eco.html

Jim from The Energy Blog

I am no expert on reactors, but the reactors chosen were supposedly selected because they could produce the required high temperatures and they would require the least research. This idea is trying to be sold because it could totally replace our dependence on imported oil for transportation uses with the least research. The reduction in CO2 is a very necessary benefit, rather than going to the expense of geological sequestration which has not been proven to be effective or possible in all locations.

Solar hydrogen is much more expensive, at the present time, and would require massive collectors that could not be built in the required time period. Wind power for hydrogen is possible, but is also very expensive and is not suitable for all locations.

Likewise the construction of the required number of reactors in the required time is beyond my imagination, even not considering the NIMBY factor. Pebble bed reactors were specifically excluded for this use for unstated reasons, I would guess for their size limitations and the requirement for an even larger number of reactors.

This discussion just points out the dilema that we are in as to the solution of just two, but perhaps the most important, of our energy and global warming problems.

I certainly am in favor of pushing the hybrid and EV path as hard as posible for partially solving these problems. It does not really solve the global warming problem, just makes it a little smaller, but probably at too slow a pace.

Renewable energy for power production should also be pushed, as should fuel cells for power production. These are unlikly to make a large enough dent in global warming by 2025.

The answer is likely to use a diverse number of technologies to solve these problems. What we need is an adequately (meaning huge) funded energy policy with an energy czar that could coordinate all these techniques in a timely and objective manner. The likelyhood of this happening is minute.

DOE just released another Hirsch report, Economic Impacts of U.S. Liquid Fuel Mitigation Options, that tackles this problem. I don't particularly agree with the conclusions, but it is an attempt for DOE to focus in on the liquid fuels problem. I need more time to digest it but hopefully will be commenting on it soon.

Kirk Sorensen

Jim,

Replacing hydrocarbon fuels is going to require a staggering amount of energy. If produced from nuclear reactors, they must be judicious with their fuel and minimize waste. Furthermore, they must have minimal capital costs considering just how many we must build. We have to investigate reactor types that can be made compact, inherently safe, built in bulk, have high heat-generation temperatures, and can take up residence in locations that are near load-centers but unwanted. Some of the reactors under consideration (such as the pebble-bed) can meet some of these goals. I am of the opinion that only the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor is capable of meeting all these diverse goals.

If you'd like to learn more about different reactor types that could use thorium, I would recommmend reading WASH-1097: The Use of Thorium in Nuclear Power Reactors. References that discuss uranium-burning reactors are easy to find and offer a wealth of information.

Paul Dietz

At any rate, the supplies of thorium, if consumed in liquid-fluoride reactors, will enable sustained energy production for tens to hundreds of thousands of years.

Terrestrial thorium will last far longer than that. Remember, if you breed, it's energetically acceptable to extract the thorium even from very dilute ores, like ordinary granite.

But this is an issue for the distant future; breeding of any kind will not be needed in our lifetimes.

amazingdrx

"The reduction in CO2 is a very necessary benefit, rather than going to the expense of geological sequestration.."

That's part of the problem with this scheme Jim. It uses CO 2 yes, but then re-releases it. A system (like battery powered renewable energy based electric plugin cars) that is combustion free bypasses the whole CO 2 problem.

By using synfuel one keeps the internal combustion system going, which in turn will encourage fuel farming and the use of fossil fuels to produce synfuel that competes on price with this nuclear synfuel.

Nuclear power produced synfuels from coal, fuel farming, and tar sands will be cheaper than this supposed purer form of synfuel. This all extends the life of iCE power and it's disastrous effect on our climate.

And the waste, cost, and safety issues with nuclear power remain problematic. This insures it can't meet demand, and we will fall back on fossil and farm based synfuels.

Talking up thorium and flouride, plutonium and breeder reactors really helps convince the public that nuclear power is too dangerous. It's great to see nuclear power boosters exposing their real point of view here. Keep up the great work, thanks.

Kirk Sorensen

In the same year – 2025 – the entire world will require 16.87 billion barrels of EtOH or 22.49 billion barrels of MeOH to replace the CG that will otherwise be used. This amount of hydrogen and the associated energy requirements will demand between 1800 and 2300 GWth to produce the needed EtOH or between 2550 and 3500 GWth to produce the needed MeOH.

To produce 1800 to 2300 GWth of energy from a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor would require approximately 720 to 920 tonnes of thorium per year. To produce 2550 to 3500 GWth of energy would require 1020 to 1400 tonnes of thorium per year. It is significantly less than today's mining of uranium at approximately 65,000 tonnes per year. The basis of the improvement is the ability of the reactor to completely consume the thorium resource.

barry hanson

Could someone please explain why a sensible and prudent strategy would not be to continue with the commercialization of high temperature fuel cells, both SOFCs and DCFCs. Fuel cells are a form of distributed generation...this nuclear nonsense above relies on a dysfunctional grid that costs approximately $100 billion per year just to maintain. Fuel cells are already operating at up to 90% overall efficiency (input to elect and heat) and will be installed at $400 per KW within a few years.

Kirk Sorensen

Barry, where do you anticipate getting the fuel for the SOFC from? Natural gas?

barry hanson

Kirk
Waste and Biomass

amazingdrx

The main energy source ought to be electricity from solar, wind, and water power. And superconducting energy storage to backup the grid.

Distributed generation and storage relying on mainly batteries in homes and vehicles can provide for local and individual home power supply.

This would leave the use of liquid fuels in fuel cells for just the very slim margin of transportation that can't be done on batteries. Eventually maybe around 10% of present liquid fuel use. Vehicles, including aircraft with battery electric and fuel cell/turbine hybrid power systems.

Natural gas could be used for additional fuel cell backup for local grids. And every grid connected vehicle that has fuel cell backup could also backup local grids and homes by using natural gas and biogas. This use for natural gas would also be a small margin of total energy use. But it would always be there just in case.

It looks like biogas for cooking produced directly from home and farm digestors will be a cost effective technology for a long time and it provides a supply of biogas for fuel cell grid backup power too. Although it does produce CO 2, that gas can be reprocessed through algae growing solar collectors that can produce the liquid fuel that is still needed.

Dangerous, expensive systems, that rely on ever scarcer and more costly fuel and produce contaminating waste, employing nuclear or fossil power systems could be phased out as this new distributed generation and storage grid comes online.

It's the only way that will really head off climate change and create a boom of good jobs and a growing economy. These other schemes are bankrupt from every aspect, financial, environmental, and in terms of global politics. Nuclear proliferation and oil wars alone make the present course untenable.

Kirk Sorensen

Proliferation concerns and waste concerns are addressed through the use of thorium fuel. Thorium breeds to uranium-233, which is fissile, but uranium-233 is inevitably contaminated by uranium-232, which has a daughter product (thallium-208) that is a hard gamma emitter. That's why thorium/U233 fuels aren't used in today's solid-core reactors, and why no one builds weapons out of U-233. They prefer U-235 or Pu-239 which are easily shielded.

In a fluoride reactor core, all actinides can be completely consumed and only fission products rejected as wastes. The thorium fuel cycle produces essentially no transuranic actinides (plutonium, americium, curium, etc) so the fission product waste decays to background levels of radiation in approximately 300 years. Yucca Mountain is driven in large part by the need to isolate current waste for 10,000 years, which is turn is related to the levels of transuranic actinides in the waste.

With an actinide-free nuclear waste stream 300 year isolation is far, far more easily accomplished. It is straightforward to establish the geologic stability of a potential waste disposal site for 300 years. Heck, some people in Europe live in houses that are older than 300 years.

Ender

Kirk - "With an actinide-free nuclear waste stream 300 year isolation is far, far more easily accomplished. It is straightforward to establish the geologic stability of a potential waste disposal site for 300 years."

But solar hydrogen production produces no waste products at all. Why bother with a nuclear process no matter how good if solar produces the same products at probably less cost because there are no waste products to deal with and no fuel to mine and buy.

Unless of course you are in the nuclear business and want to appear green.

Kirk Sorensen

Hi Ender,

No, I'm not in the nuclear business, and believe it or not, I spend FAR more time working on solar power systems than on nuclear systems. But I'm an engineer, and I run the numbers, and they simply don't add up for solar power, especially if your goal is to get the world off fossil fuels.

The best niche I've located for solar power is on the home scale, where all byproducts of the solar heat can be profitably used, and that's exactly what I'm working on. It would be wonderful if the whole world lived in suburbs or rural areas, but we live in cities, and in cold places at that. You simple cannot beat the power density of the nuclear reaction.

Nuclear energy from thorium can be safe, widespread, and practially eternal. The waste can be isolated and allowed to decay over 300 years. (most of the chemicals in solar power systems are plenty toxic if you get around them too, and they don't stop being toxic!)

Solar is pleasant and should be developed to the maximum extent possible, but it is no substitute for nuclear energy.

amazingdrx

The "power density" of nuclear is exactly what makes it dangerous. Those compact radioactive atoms from leakage contamination breaking down inside our bodies. And the concentrated power of a "suitcase nuke" smuggled by terrorists.

Energy is used on a distributed basis so distributed generation and storage is inherently more efficient. No one will use a solar panel or wind generator to threaten anything except the monopoly on energy held by multinational corporations using torturing dictators like the Shah of Iran and Saddam and organizations like OPEC.

Nuclear power is far too expensive in terms of initial building cost, fuel cost, and hidden costs foisted upon taxpayers like waste disposal, decommisioning cost, and uninsurable risk.

The nuclear power lobbying organization is number two in terms of free corporate jet trips for congressmen. That is the way the whole nuclear power financial mess is kept hidden. By the time the bills come due for the massive contamination, it will be too late.

Leaking facilities are passed from the management of one shell contractor corporation to another as responsibility is permanently ducked by employing corporate bankruptcy laws.

There is many times more power available from wind, solar, and water power than is used by humankind even with the massive waste of fossil fuel combustion and nuclear based power.

The typical efficiency between 10 and 35% with monopolized fuels undergoing soaring costs at the whim of manipulated unregulated trading, makes an easy target for replacement with renewables.

If the necessary capital for transition were not under control of monopoly corporations with vested interests in the status quo, free market forces would acomplish the energy revolution spontaneously.

Only reversing corporate welfare for nuclear and fossil fuel based power, actually removing the tax breaks and shifting it to renewables, will allow this energy revolution to occur in time to head off global climate disaster at this late date.

A large portion of the cash flowing from taxpayers, all borrowed thanks to the budget busting costs of oil wars, to these multinational feudal corporate "citizens", must go instead to consumers to subsidize the cost of solar, wind, electric cars, and geothermal heat pump heating and cooling.

The rest of the tax breaks for energy companies ought to go towards paying down the huge national deficit. And all the hidden costs of fossil and nuclear power need to be exposed and the whole earth destroying mess curtailed as soon as possible.

Kirk Sorensen

No, the power density of nuclear energy is what makes it attractive from a capital cost perspective. A lot less steel and concrete per megawatt than solar or wind, with the prospect of major improvement beyond that.

Some people have this mistaken notion that fission is some wild stallion that is just waiting to break away and explode like a bomb. Nuclear engineers understand that it's not that way it is at all. They design reactors with "negative temperature coefficients of reactivity"...which is a complicated way of saying a simple thing.

When the rate of nuclear reactions increase, you make it so that reactions become less probable. In a thermal-spectrum reactor (which is what the vast majority of the world's reactors are) this happens in multiple ways. One of the ways is that the uranium-238 in the fuel gets more absorptive as the fuel heats up, thus eating up neutrons and shutting the reaction rate back down (resonant absorption due to Doppler broadening is the specific term). Another way is that water (the moderator) expands when it heats and there's less of it to moderate neutrons, which shuts the reaction down quickly too.

All of these phenomena behave like a mass on a spring. If you displace it from equilibrium, it tends to restore itself with a force proportional to its displacement. Thus it is with nuclear reactors. They're not wild stallions. They're like masses on springs, and they want to "stay put".

Ender

Kirk - "But I'm an engineer, and I run the numbers, and they simply don't add up for solar power, especially if your goal is to get the world off fossil fuels."

Yet you are quite happy to eat food from a farm that is seems to work quite well on solar energy. All the food growing on the planet is solar powered.

Nuclear energy only gives us an advantage that it allows us to waste as much power as we want. It allows us to continue our basically unsustainable economy without any changes.

Renewable energy forces us to be more frugal and treat energy as the precious resource that it really is. We have to make fundamental changes to the way we use energy rather than patching up a basically broken system.

Run the numbers on exponential growth and see where it leads you. No-one expects solar energy alone to power the future. Renewables are an integrated system of wind/solar/tidal/biomass etc. Electric cars and Vanandium flow batteries can provide storage with fossil fuels a very small baseload.

Kirk Sorensen

An appeal to exponential growth will show the futility of all energy systems. But growth statistics prove that when you give people a decent standard of living, their birthrates taper off and their populations reach a steady state level. Giving people more energy won't make them multiply exponentially. Rather, giving people the energy they need to enjoy a decent standard of living will make the birthrate decelerate to a makeup level.

Compare and contrast birthrates and per capita energy consumption in sub-Saharan Africa to Europe and ask yourself if being "force[d] to be more frugal and treat energy as a precious resource" leads to lower birthrates.

To stabilize human populations, the human race needs more energy, no where more than the countries that currently use the least. Fortunately with thorium, we can provide that energy now and for thousands of years to come.

Ender

"But growth statistics prove that when you give people a decent standard of living, their birthrates taper off and their populations reach a steady state level."

Except even thorium cannot provide enough energy for all the world's population to have our standard of living at its current level of waste. We would also need another couple of Earths to grow the food. To have ANY chance of more that 20% of the world's population to have a reasonable standard of living we have to consume a massive amount less so there is enough to go around. An economy built around renewable energy can do this if we are prepared to change.

You solution is just more of the same and the result will be the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

Kirk Sorensen

Stephen, please reference this analysis and this one. There is plenty of thorium to provide for world energy needs. With the ability to desalinate seawater using reactor waste heat and the ability to generate fertilizer from the atmosphere using electicity (the Haber-Bosch process), areas that are currently infertile can be used to grow food.

Yes, there is enough for everyone. Far more than enough, in fact.

amazingdrx


This thorium solution to all of the ills of nuclear power maybe a good one.

However there is one big BUT! But first it needs research, development, and testing. That will take a decade or two at the speed that the nuclear industry and government regulators move.

I have already proposed a compromise wherein nuclear power is given a second chance to prove itself. Let a few waste eating reactors, new generation safer reactors, maybe the thorium design you are proposing, be built in areas already contaminated by nuclear power mismanagement and corruption. That waste has to be dealt with.

Use already radioactive sites like Hanford or Yucca Mountain. That way any leakage and contamination will not be as serious. Moniter these projects carefully and publicly, no more "nuclear priesthood" keeping their screwups secret under the guise of national security as in the past. Complete open public oversight.

When the industry comes up with a proven safe and cost effective design, reconsider the roll out of more nuclear plants. Put all the real costs, including waste disposal, insurance, inevitably rising fuel costs, health risks and other considerations into the comparison with other sources like wind, water, and solar power.

In return for this second chance for nuclear power we would expect a total elimination of tax breaks, corporate welfare, and all subsidies for fossil and nuclear power, all the hidden subsidies like making taxpayers liable for nuclear accidents, health problems. and waste and fossil fuel pollution and health effects.

Half of the savings from elimination of these tax breaks should go to paying down the huge war deficit and debt built up over oil wars, and half ought to go for direct tax breaks for consumers to buy solar and wind power systems, renewable power from utilities, and plugin vehicles, either hybrid plugin or full electric cars.

I think it's a reasonable plan, what say you kirk?

amazingdrx

Great blog kirk! I just wonder of a worst case scenario where the radioactive salt is spread into the atmosphere by catastrophic failure. The helium still is highly pressurized.

This would be a very toxic form of fuel.

amazingdrx

Would this molten salt allow waste to be irradiated perfectly to neutralize it? It's a possibility.

Kirk Sorensen

There is a variant of a molten-salt reactor, using liquid chloride salts rather than liquid fluoride salts, that would be advantageous for transuranic waste destruction. I have also thought for some time that the Yucca Mountain area would be the ideal place to construct a handful of these chloride reactors, dedicated to destroying the transuranic wastes that have been produced by our light-water reactors over the last fifty years.

The chloride reactor can accomplish this task because it would have a very fast neutron spectrum, but would retain the other innate safety features of a molten-salt reactor (the ability to drain its liquid core for passive heat removal, low pressure operation, strong-negative temperature coefficient, no excess reactivity, etc.)

By building thorium-fueled fluoride reactors we can have nuclear energy without making any more transuranic waste, and with a few chloride reactors we can destroy the transuranic wastes we have already generated.

Further information on chloride reactors can be found here.

amazingdrx

Interesting Kirk! I sure hope someone with influence and access to capital is reading blogs like this.

The very best policy on nuclear power is to develop an efficient,cost effective,safe and safely operated energy generating reactor that renders waste harmless. I think it is possible.

When renewable power has had a chance to overcome the monopolistic resistance from government subsidized sources, say after 10 years or so, fair competition should take hold and ALL subsidies should be cancelled.

The huge federal debt needs to be taken seriously and the productivity gains and energy cost reductions of a new energy economy boom coupled with an end to corporate welfare might just put this nation back on a firm financial footing.

Udo Stenzel

amazingdrx wrote:
Nuclear power is far too expensive in terms of initial building cost

Oh, is it? Have you actually compared the numbers? A nuclear plant costs around $1 per Watt peak power, and so does a wind turbine. But the nuke plant produces 9 times more electricity.

Efficient distributed generation my ass.

amazingdrx

Hmm one dollar huh? Nice estimate. But the latest 1000 mw plants here is the US look to come in at around 5 billion dollars if they are ever built. and that's without hidden government subsidies.

Delays and cost over runs are also legendary in nuclear contracting. So much so that the bush administration has offered to pick up NIMBY lawsuit delay costs with taxpayer funds.

Maybe one dollar per watt of generating capacity for Chernobyl clones built in countries like Iran and North Korea with no environmental laws udo? Is that what you meant? I don't think we want any Chernobyls in the good old USA, sorry.

As far as how many kwh produced by wind, read the graph and weep dude, hehey.

http://www.gepower.com/prod_serv/products/wind_turbines/en/36mw/36mw_data.htm

No waste, no soaring fuel costs (as with a large scale nuclear power roll out),no uninsurable risk (nuclear plants have a liability waiver from the uS government for this very reason, no one will insure them for the catastrophic risk of an accident or leak), no radioactive entombment costs, no monopoly control, no nuclear proliferation (heard of N. korea and iran in the news lately?), no cancer deaths from mining contamination as in southwest indian reservations that allowed uranium mining,no leaks that elevate cancer deaths as in st lucie Florida,and on and on and on.

Udo Stenzel

Okay, drx, then let's use your numbers, $5bn per GW. (Now we're overestimating the cost for nuclear and underestimating that for wind. I'll let it slide for the time being.) That's still cheaper than wind, even excluding the absolutely visible government subsidies for wind. Since NIMBY lawsuits are apparently a fault of the generating technology, we should probably include them in the cost of large and ugly wind parks, too.

What is GE's advertisement supposed to tell me? That wind turbines indeed do generate electricity if the wind blows at 6m/s? A pity it does so for less than 1400h per year, even at a hub height of >100m. (In 2005, the German wind parks achieved a load factor of a measly 16% on average and only 12% when land based. California's wind parks didn't exceed 10% in the summer of 2006.)

The rest is complete nonsense. No, wind turbines are not emission free, building them does produce waste. (Life cycle analysis cuts both ways. 10.000 monstrosities 150m in height use an awful lot of concrete, steel, copper and oil-derived composite materials, and that's only the equivalent of a single fossil or nuclear station.) And have you looked at a wind farm recently? There's nothing decentralized about them, they do need an expensive grid, and only monopolies (read: the goverment burning taxpayer money) can afford them.

Kirk Sorensen

Capital costs and load factor are the real ding I have against conventional wind power. I used to live about 20 miles south of the wind farms in Tehachapi, in the Altamont Pass, in California, and I didn't think there was anything particularly attractive about seeing hundreds of windmills covering the hillside. Furthermore, my power bill while living there was incredibly high.

The form of wind energy that makes the most sense to me comes from a company called Sky Wind Power and they propose to put wind turbines up in the jet stream where they can take advantage of strong and steady winds.

amazingdrx

Yep I hear your objections to that Altamont Pass installation Kirk. I agree on skywind. Great technology. Skywind type systems could power ships.

But can it compete on cost with just really huge wind/wave power platforms? A 1500 diameter floating wave power platform supporting a 1200 foot high wind machine anchored offshore in windy, wavey location could produce as many kwh as a 50 mw continuously operating power source.

Huge wind machines like this on land would produce over 25 mw continuous equivalent kwh per year. Storage built into systems like this, like a flywheel driving each generator, would even out the power flow.

I think these systems would be the least expensive present alternative, least expensive least polluting source of the kwh we need, and the easiest to recycle at the end of their useful operation. Steel melted down and concrete ocean platforms turned into coral reef growing space.

Udo Stenzel

A flywheel! What an excellent idea, that might actually work! Let's see how large it has to be. (Sorry for not including the complete calculation, but typesetting equations in ASCII is just too painful.)

Assume a 1MW wind turbine, effectively only 166kW, which we want continuously. We will equip it with a flywheel of the same diameter as the main rotor, that's 100m. High angular velocity is good, therefore we will need high tensile strength and low density. We will use carbon fiber with a tensile strength of 5650N/m² and a density of 1750kg/m³.

Integrating centrifugal force over a ring of constant cross section gives us a limit on the angular velocity, which works out to 0.014 1/s or 0.135 rotations per minute for carbon fiber. Faster than that and the flywheel breaks apart.

Now we can calculate how much mass we need to store the energy to bridge a given time of no wind. We will need 170 tons(!) of carbon fiber to bridge an outage of one second or 612.000 tons (that's no typo, I really mean half a Megaton) to bridge an hour. Even power generation over days of no wind shouldn't be a concern, should it?

You're really cracking me up, drx. Unless you build them flywheels out of hugely expensive Unobtainium, the turbine tower won't carry them. Even cold fusion is more realistic than that.

BTW,

"concrete ocean platforms turned into coral reef growing space"

that reads "carelessly dumped" in my book. That's also what you green wackos^W warriors called it when Shell wanted to sink an old oil rig.

amazingdrx

Actually Udo, I favor electric cars plugged into the grid and distributed storage in homes and businesses and superconducting magnetic energy storage to bridge gaps in supply and demand, with fuel cell/turbine local backup generation using biogas and coal for emergency situations.

The flywheel effect is suitable to smooth out the power generation from wind and water power as GE has found with the flywheel effect in their very large wind plants like the 3.6 mw model.

Sorry about dissing nuclear power, but the industry has really done in itself with accidents, leaks, astronomical costs, and weapons proliferation.

Brian Wang

The costs for nuclear power went up when over-regulation happened in 1970's and 1980's. This over-regulation was partially in response to those who were vehemently anti-nuclear. Here is an article that lays out the history of that over regulation that started in the Carter administration

So it is ironic that the anti-nuclear people who made nuclear power more expensive and have helped create the delays use that as an excuse for not correcting the bureaucracy and allowing nuclear power to proceed.

Reactors in China cost $1.5 billion for 990GW reactors and they make them in 4 years.

30 reactors are being built in 11 countries. 60 new plants are expected in the next 15 years, making 430 GWe by 2020. We could boost nuclear plant efficiency and power by 50% by modifying the fuel and the water for cooling. This would add 190GW of power worldwide and 160GW in the US. New plants would cost $1.5b for 1.5GW of power with the new efficiency. Just the plants already being built and planned plus the efficiency boost from recent research would increase 2020 nuclear power to 645GW.

Solar panels added 1.7GW of power in 2005. Wind added 12GW in 2005.
The world needs 100-200GW of new power every year.

The real enemy is coal. As I point out in my articles on coal. By burning 4.6 billion tons of coal in 2005, 20000 tons of Uranium and thorium were released into the air. So if the terrorists call themselves coal companies, and provide inexpensive power then we ignore the equivalent of 80 one ton "dirty nuclear" bombs going off every day. The nuclear industry had some relatively small accidents. 50 dead in Chernobyl. None dead in Three mile island. 4000 sick form Chernobyl. Coal mining kills 10000 every year. 24000 people in the US alone die 14 years prematurely from coal related pollution. In china, 2 million people have lung disease from coal. There is at best a 15% 5 year survival rate for lung cancer. 85% of those people are dead in 5 years. 350,000 dead per year. So globally we are looking at over 600,000 dead per year from coal. Nuclear deaths are potential and feared deaths.

Coal plants in normal operation (no accident needed) spread more nuclear material than nuclear plants. Carbon sequestering costs $100-300 per ton of carbon now and they hope to get it down to $15/ton in 2015. Carbon plants are tossing out about 1 billion of the 6 billion tons of carbon that humans make each year.

Weapons proliferation has not directly killed anyone yet. The nuclear weapons that killed people were from the the USA the original holders of weapons. Coal as indicated is a Hiroshima (75000) + Nagasaki (130000) three times per year.

Also, nuclear weapons are not the only way to kill people. In the 20th century, 170-220 million people were killed About 0.1% from nuclear weapons. In world war 2, a few days of firebombing of of Tokyo killed 100,000

Conventional firebombing weapons are now 10-20 times more effective. If a country with air superiority did that and took out the medical infrastructure and then messed up the water supply for survivors...how many dead? How would the suffering compare to nuclear weapons? How much more precise would the conventional weapons be?

It should not be nuclear weapons and WMDs that people should be concerned about it is all out war. The reason people care more about nukes and WMDs is that standard military dominance shutsdown the conventional weapons atrocity but the underdog might slip in a nuke.

Coal industry commits atrocities every year.

Why don't we triple the installed nuclear power base and use the extra 10-20% boost from ramping up solar and wind as fast as we can to get rid of coal by 2020?. 600 new 1.5 GW plants. 65 new plants per year. (1.5GW plants with the new fuel (cylinders instead of rods) In parallel, we research and ramp up thorium. If we fast tracked it, it could start contributing in 5-10 years. Plus the thorium reactors can help process the waste.

Whatever the nuclear industry did or did not do in the past. Look at the size of problem. Find solutions that fit the size of the problem.

Brian Wang

Coal is 40% of global 4 terawatts of power. So we would need just over 4 times our current nuclear power to get to 1.6 terawatts. The world would need 5 times the 20GW or so that we are adding each year to displace the coal we are adding.

Udo Stenzel

Actually, I favor ... superconducting magnetic energy storage.

I favor pixie dust for the same purpose. And orgon accumulators for generation. Both are about as real as superconductor storage. Back to the drawing board, drx.

... and coal for emergency situations.

You favor a technology that needlessly kills 6.000 people in my home country (Germany) every year, and that just to get around the cognitive dissonance of recognizing nuclear power as being clean. Clean enough to power a sealed submarine, as Rod Adams puts it.

Well, if you like killing people, go ahead. But at least use correct arguments. If you have a problem with nuclear waste, that's a valid concern. Cost isn't, especially not if you mention wind in the same sentence.

amazingdrx

Sorry to tell you this, but a utility here in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Public Service actually uses superconducting energy storage to handle industrial loads from paper plants.

This coal kills and nuclear doesn't talking point is pure bunk. Check out Sprol for the huge list of cancer causing problems from nuclear power, from mining to fuel processing to power plant leaks from strontium 90, tritium, plutonium, and on and on.

Anyway I am not in favor of coal as it is used now, but only in solid oxide fuel cell/turbine systems where it is only used when other sources (wind, solar, water, biogas through fuel cell) run out due to ocasional emergencies.

Coal would be around 5% of the total from the local backup fuel cell system and all the emissions from, the coal would be cycled through algae solar collector recovery.

Udo Stenzel

No matter how you burn the coal, you still have to deal with the ashes, which contain all sorts of nasties. Quick, what's the half-life of mercury? That's right, infinite!

Coal ashes are approximately 1500 times more dangerous than radioactive waste, because you have to deal with a 100.000 fold amount. This stuff doesn't need to leak, it's simply dumped. Your closing your eyes before the numbers and calling a rational analysis "bunk" is just testament to your complete detachment from reality.

Please check for yourself at http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter12.html and notice how that is an analysis of the unspeakably inefficient once-through-cycle.

Strontium 90, btw, isn't leaked from power plants. In fact, Sr forms extremely stable and insoluble compounds, you couldn't "leak" it if you tried with both hands. It was dispersed in the atmosphere by nuclear weapons tests and by an exploded weapons factory known as Chernobyl.

Anyway, all of this doesn't change the fact, that your asserting that nuclear power is expensive (at least more so than wind power) is a blatant lie and you're now wildly changing the topic to avoid having to admit it. Poor drx.

Brian Wang

drx

Nuclear could kill. Nuclear did kill some.
However, how many do you think are dying from coal ? Last year. This year. Next year.

The guys in the coal mines. How many in mining accidents? Uranium mining could also kill some people, but we are mining 1% or less of the material to get the Uranium versus the 4.6 billion tons of coal.

The coal miners with lung disease. There is 15% 5 year survival rate on lung cancer. Meaning 85% are dead within 5 years.

The fact that you are not in favor of the current way coal is produced... how does that help the 200,000+ being killed by it this year. You sat "Sorry families of 200,000+ dead people who were killed by coal, but at least drx and other environmentalists were not in favor of the coal plant or the coal mine that killed them. Drx prefers fuel cell based coal. What is that you are saying one of one million people in mourning? There is almost no fuel cell based coal generating the 1.6 global terawatts of coal based power. The 100+ new coal plants being added in China, US and other places this year...all of them are not fuel cell based plants either."

drx. What are your numbers for actual deaths for nuclear power versus coal power?

amazingdrx

http://www.sprol.com/?cat=17

Here's all the latest contaminating nuclear facility revelations including links to increased cancer risk related deaths. Strontium 90, tritium, plutonium (in the groundwater in Paducah, kentucky from the nuclear fuel processing plant there), and on and on, covered up for decades.

I'm not in favor of coal burning or mining as usual. Coal should only be a transitional emwergency backup used in fuel cell/turbine systems that normally operate on biogas from waste and algae. Algae that produces liquid fuel also.

Because coal as usual is bad, does not imply that nuclear power as usual is an acceptable alternative.

The only acceptable alternative is renwable energy from wind, water, and solar power and conservation from electric vehicles, heat pumps, and architecture that has energy conservation built in.

This is what I say to those who lost loved ones from fossil and nuclear power, from those killed in oil wars, coal mines, uranium mines, or from pollution and contamination related causes.

Vote to reform our world energy economy and stop all these causes of very personal family tragedy. Oust the corporatist monopoly government officials that keep this murderous corporate kleptocracy going.

If nuclear advocates want nuclear power to be a part of the energy equation in the future, support my compromise and reform the industry. I think you will find that the nuclear power industry is not willing to go this route, but keep trying.

Udo Stenzel

Very interesting website this sprol.com is. Only what's nuclear weapons production (Hanford, Chelyabinsk) got to do with power plants? Also, as usual, no numbers, just scaremongering. A few grams Sr-90, even if they were released, which they aren't, just don't compare to 200.000 tons of ashes simply dumped, including all the heavy metals.

And btw, it still seems you feel compelled to invent numbers because you fear your other arguments won't stand on their own. How about you be a man just once and admit that you were wrong about the alleged high cost of nuclear power, drx?

Brian Wang

drx

So your numbers for St Lucie county population of 240,000 is 16 more deaths per 100,000 women from sr-90.

So you have a possible but not proven 20 more deaths per year in that county. Half of the population being women.

So let us say for 105 USA nuclear reactors we have the same. 2100 in the US. And for 440 reactors in the world we have 8800.

That is still 4% of the 200,000+ coal deaths per year. Less than the confirmed deaths in coal mines.

Plus how much easier is it to try to prevent or detect and move people from gram quantities of Strontium leaks than it is for the 20,000 tons of Uranium and Thorium falling down from coal emissions. How about 1000 tons of mercury per year (48 tons from US coal, 500+ tons from China coal)
2000 tons of lead globally, 200 tons of Chromium, 100 tons of arsenic, 400 million tons of solid waste - more than triple all municiple waste - laced with heavy metals and toxic compounds.

Nuclear plants are at least 25 times better.

It took a decade for the clean air act to reduce some emissions 60-77%.

who are these officials who will do things differently as you describe? Democrats have been in power. Where is the election in China that will change things there? How about India? Russia?

when do you project the cleaner sources that you support from not only replacing all new power but get rid of the old bad power sources? 2050? 2100?
2050 - 10+ million more dead
2100 - 20+ million more dead

so you support water renewable. Does that include the three Gorges Dam ? 24 GW.


Brian Wang

Notice that at the bottom of one the articles on Sprol about strontium 90 in St Lucie
http://www.sprol.com/?s=strontium+90

They plan to build a coal plant in 2008.

More support for the case a choice against nuclear is a choice for coal.

The residents of st Lucie will get more radiation from coal emissions plus the other toxins. Bon appetit

Udo Stenzel

That Sr-90 study is flawed. No, actually it's loaded, because the conclusion was a given even before the study. Anyway, think about it:

If, by whatever means, Sr-90 is released now and ingested by a child, when would this baby tooth study detect it? That's right, when the tooth comes out, which is in 2011, give or take a year.

So when Sr-90 levels in baby teeth rose in "the last half of the 1990s", when was this caused? Right again, in 1992-93, when the US still tested nuclear bombs.

As I said before, unlike tritium, iodine and cesium, strontium does not form volatile compounds. It is therefore impossible to release Sr-90 from a power plant, unless you grind up spent fuel, dissolve it in concentrated nitric acid and dump the acid. Which is not usually done at power plants, in case you wonder.

BTW, the curie is a stupid measurement for the danger of radioactivity, and so is the becquerel. How many sieverts were released? Nobody knows? Sure the guys at sprol know! They just don't tell, because the number isn't all that impressive any more. Oh, and drx, nuclear power is still cheaper than wind power, which you really should acknowledge.

amazingdrx

You keep pushing that flase dilemna fallacy. You pretend it is a choice of either coal as usual or nuclear power as usual. No one needs to die from radiation from nuclear power or coal. Renewables are the answer.

Nuclear in China, Iran, N Korea, and Russia is cheaper than wind and solar here? I have already stated why that comparison is flawed. Nuclear power in a dictatorship where no one can complain is not a real cost estimate, it leaves out all the long term costs.

And waste disposal, soaring fuel costs, delays from NIMBY lawsuits, and all the hidden costs are left out of your estimates for nukes here in the US.

Wind is the least expensive in the combined outlook of short and long term costs. The bottomline? Wind power at 2 cents per kwh with all the long and short term costs figured in. No waste, no fuel, CO2 emissions from construction made up for with clean electric power in 6 months.

Compare it to the huge amount of fossil fuel used in processing nuclear fuel alone and resulting CO2 and other greenhouse gases a 100 times worse in fuel processing added to the huge energy and cO2 debt from plant construction.

Maybe that is why electric power consumers are rushing to buy wind power, so much so that there is actually a shortage now in Texas of all places, and a years long backlog waiting for new wind machines.

And Udo, despite your acerbic advocacy, Germany is shuttering nuclear plants and going to wind and solar. What do they know that this administration does not? I would contend nearly everything about sound renewable energy policy.

You forgot the Paducah fuel processing article in sprol. Plutonium leaking through groundwater contaminating the Ohio river and the whole Mississippi basin eventually. And no one is acting to stop it, in fact it has been covered up for decades.

Kirk Sorensen

Drx, the comparison between coal and nuclear is accurate because they are the competitors for baseload power. Solar and wind are not baseload power sources today, and will require a lot more infrastructure on your $0.02/kWh claim before they could ever be so.

Germany is shuttering nuclear power plants and building filthy coal plants. They are conveniently "not counting" this towards their Kyoto requirements. Read about the 6000 MW of coal plants the Germans plan to build here.

Ah, the German Greens and the law of unintended consequences...

The greenhouse gas emissions of today's wasteful nuclear cycle is still far below coal and gas, and a thorium fuel cycle promises to improve it by about a factor of 3000 over today's already impressive results.

Udo Stenzel

Drx, you didn't refute anything. Instead you parroted an inflated cost estimate for american nuclear plants (after pointing fingers at the Russians, no less), and as I already mentioned, even that is cheaper than wind power. Which you should probably acknowledge, since I'm getting the feeling your math skills are underdeveloped, to say the least. Wind power at 2ct/kWh? Who are you kidding?! The capital costs for the expensive turbines alone amount to 15ct/kWh.

Nuclear fuel costs don't soar, uranium today is at 1980's prices. Even if they rose, it would hardly be noticable. In fact, uranium prices could increase a hundredfold, and nuclear power would not yet approach the cost of wind power. No, "huge amounts of fosssil fuel" are not needed, unless you really believe Storm van Leeuwen and Smith, who by a very questionable method of "estimation" conclude that the Roessing mine in Namibia consumes lots more electricity that the whole country produces. (Which is not just inaccurate, but nonsense, in case you wonder.)

Oh, and thanks for mentioning Germany. What is Germany doing to keep the lights on when the wind doesn't blow? They burn lignite (brown coal) as if there is no tomorrow and buy nuclear power from the French, that's what. How do I know that? Because I live in Germany and have to pay the bills for that goddamn wind nonsense!

Hell, our wind toys have cost 1.500.000€ per rated MW on average and achieve a whopping 16% availability (only 12% if land based, less than that for new plants in less suitable regions). That's 70% more than in my estimate way above before you lumped power and weapons production together. Nobody is "rushing to buy wind power" but the corrupt government. That's real subsidies, not imagined hidden costs of nuclear power. (The very real external costs are estimated to 0.02ct/kWh, both for nuclear and wind power.)

While your at it, why don't you mention Denmark? Is it probably because the pioneers of wind power got a clue and canceled all subsidies for the toys a few years ago? Not a single turbine has been installed since. So much for competitiveness in a free market...

amazingdrx

In Minnesota power companies are doing it Udo, 2 cents per kwh with everything figured in.

With 1000 foot scale machines offshore (with wave power floating platforms)and in the very high average wind speed areas of the great plains, it will be even cheaper.

Just because coal and nuclear plants are generating the vast majority of power now, does not mean that should or will continue.

The huge greenhouse gas release from nuclear fuel processing comes from solvents used, the kind of solvents that are 100s of times more effective than cO2 as greenhouse gases, as well as the oil based energy intensive process of mining and refining.

Nuclear fuel would reach a similar rising cost cycle to that of peak oil production, were nuclear power to become the replacement for coal. Unless of course some sort of breeder/waste consuming reactor design could be proven safe and cost effective.

And as I say, I'm all for a few experimental reactors to be built at Yucca Mountain or at another nuclear site to prove this out.

But we anti-nuclear power environmentalists will need to have corporate energy monopolies give up their corporate welfare government subsidies,obvious and hidden in return (they will need to buy liability insurance and pay for their own waste disposal, split up the trillion dollar waste disposal cost amongst all 168 US nuclear reactors? Maybe 60 billion per plant? Will consumers pay for that?).

And the government devote half the savings to tax credits to consumers for plugin hybrids or electric cars, geothermal heat pump heating/cooling systems, wind, and solar.

That's the deal. Make a counter offer that makes sense. Please.

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