Probably no more than a thousand people in the entire world fully understand the paradigm, although thousands more understand bits and pieces of it. Much of the paradigm was shaped by Eugene Wigner, a authentic genius and a man of singular vision. Wigner foresaw the need for extracting the enormous energy potential from thorium and using it to sustain human civilization. Wigner’s vision included a heavy-water fluid-core reactor as the instrument through which thorium was to be transformed into nuclear fuel. Alvin Weinberg, Wigner’s former sidekick and another genius, realized that liquid-fluoride reactors were a far superior tool for realizing the full energy potential of the thorium fuel cycle, and the potential to increase energy efficiency to increase its energy potential even further by coupling it with massive desalinization projects in desert countries.
During the last year I have worked on a conceptual level to explore the LFTR paradigm and its limitations. That is, I have attempted to explore the paradigm as it presently stands. My findings are that the LFTR paradigm answers all of the traditional objections to nuclear power. It is very safe, it is proliferation resistant, and the paradigm works best if the LFTR is used to destroy nuclear waste as well as nuclear weapons material. Because the LFTR is safe, unconventional siting approaches are possible. I have pointed out the environmental advantages of the LFTR. It would occupy a very small footprint. The LFTR would produce little to no nuclear waste. It could be used to destroy transuranium reactor products rather than produce them. Fission products have uses in the economy, and in an era of increasing resource scarcity, LFTRs will become an important source of rare and valuable materials. Design concepts for the LFTR conforms to the standards of Green Engineering, and its input output matrix is consistent with the goals of Green Chemistry.
The LFTR is capable of providing base power at a very attractive price, but because of its potential for load following and rapid power output buildup from a standby condition, and its potential for low cost manufacture, the LFTR holds potential use as a peak power generating source.
There is enough thorium in the United States that is above-ground in the form of mine tailings to provide the United States with all of its energy needs for thousands of years. AEC sponsored research, during the 1960′s showed that the total recoverable thorium reserve in the United States was large enough to provide all of the United States’ energy needs for millions of years.
Research conducted in Oak Ridge from 1948 onwards solved many of the technological problems of fluoride reactors. Other researchers have solved other potential problems of the LFTRs indirectly. If a crash LFTR development program that would be similar in scope to the World War II Manhattan Project were to be undertaken by 2012, large scale factory production of LFTRs could probably be undertaken by 2020.
Given a crash program of LFTR development in the next decade, and the potential for rapid deployment through factory production, most American electrical production could be coming from post carbon sources by 2030, and at a lower cost than from either conventional nuclear or renewable energy sources.
The LFTR paradigm offers a comprehensive low cost solution to the problem of switching the generation of electricity to post carbon sources. Because of its potential for rapid expansion, LFTR technology could also provide the generating capacity to support the electrification of ground transportation. Mini-LFTRs could be used to power ships. Stand alone small and mini LFTRs could provide electrical energy and heat to isolated communities. LFTRs can be cooled by either water or air. Waste heat from sea side LFTRs can be used to desalinate sea water.
The LFTR paradigm then suggests that the technology for a low cost transformation of American electrical generation already exists, and is capable of rapid development and deployment in little more than a decade provided Manhattan-project type resource commitments are made to realizing the paradigm. Like all new paradigms, the LFTR paradigm is poorly understood, and its potential is only seen by a limited number of people. However the LFTR paradigm is being discussed on the internet and knowledge of the paradigm could spread rapidly. Skeptics might argue that there is no such thing as a silver bullet to solve the energy problem, yet the paradigm suggests that there is a liquid thorium bullet.
Update: Early phases of paradigm shifts are often periods of confusion. There is now a great deal of confusion about the LFTR. People, who fail to understand how radically different the LFTR is from better understood light-water reactors still wonder how the LFTR could not have all of the flaws of LWRs. In fact the LFTR paradigm offers solutions to all of the major problems of LWRs without difficult and expensive fixes and workarounds. Until people adjust their thinking to include the new paradigm, the confusion will continue to be common.
The Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was the bad boy of 19th century German Philosophy. Schopenhauer attacked the sober, serious world views of the philosophic followers of Kant and Hegel and helped set the stage for the 20th century post-modern movement among scholars in the humanities.
Schopenhauer was aware of the limitations of knowledge and of the human capacity to know, and those limitations of knowledge are certainly at the heart of his thinking. In particular Schopenhauer offered to the will a central role in knowledge, and indeed suggested that the will and our mental representations of the world were one in the same. Thus knowledge itself has non-rational foundations. Schopenhauer knew what he was doing, and was capable of joking about it. In a text called The Art of Controversy, he jokingly suggested that
“We must regard objective truth as an accidental circumstance, and look only to the defence of our own position and the refutation of the opponent’s . . . Dialectic, then, has as little to do with truth as the fencing master considers who is in the right when a quarrel leads to a duel.”
In the third chapter of his book on arguments Schopenhauer discusses thirty-eight sure fire argument techniques or stratagems. All 38 are fallacious, and thus the chapter is an incomplete catalogue of logical fallacies and practical advice on deploying them in argument. Schopenhauer was probably not entirely serious in his argument, because most of his philosophical writings were the sort of tightly reasoned, logical arguments that he advised his readers to reject. It should be noted however that the same tightly reasoned, logical arguments would suggest that argument was an exercise in social one-upsmanship that had nothing to do with truth, and therefore low blows were permissible, because it was impossible to stop them.
There are however limitations to fallacious opinions. Truth, while often not carrying a great weight in society, does offer certain convenience in dealing with facts. I would never turn the repair of my car over to a mechanic whose chief claim to fame was his ability to craft clever but fallacious arguments. Fallacious arguments to often repeated, tend to be treated as facts, and the factualization of the fallacious can have humbling consequence.
Fallacious arguments often begin with laziness or incompetence. When Ralph Nader did not understand an ORNL discussion of “defense in depth” in reactor safety, he did not assign his incomprehension to a limitation of his own knowledge, but to the use of meaningless jargon by the scientists. Thus Nader uses a fallacious argument move to cover his own ignorance and to discount the chance that the Oak Ridge scientists might have been offering an important insights into nuclear safety. This trick is noted by Schopenhauer:
If you know that you have no reply to the arguments which your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge: “What you now say passes my poor powers of comprehension; it may be all very true, but I can’t understand it, and I refrain from any expression of opinion on it.” In this way you insinuate to the bystanders, with whom you are in good repute, that what your opponent says is nonsense.
In response to criticisms by Michael C. Baker, a Los Alamos scientist, self styled nuclear expert Helen Caldicott snipped Should I defend myself against attack by members of the nuclear industry from Los Alamos where new and better nuclear bombs are currently being designed for use in third world countries now that the Cold War is over? Why is this evil thinking and action countenanced by you people when such weapons would invoke the incineration and vaporization of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings?
Caldicott frequently if not habitually makes use of such ad hominem attacks to answer her critics. Schopenhauer advises his readers that
Another trick is to use arguments ad hominem . . .
Nuclear critics claim that nuclear power is dirty, that despite the safety record of nuclear plants it kills, that is is dangerous not only now but for millions of years,. For example Canadian anti-nuclear critic Jim Harding claims:
Nuclear power is dirty, dangerous and expensive — and it won’t solve global warming either.
Yet the only dirt he mentions in connection with nuclear power is
the two dirty coal-fired plants at Paducah, Kentucky.
Some of the power from those plants power the Department of Energy’s obsolete and soon to be closed gaseous diffusion plant at Paducah. Thus the use of the word is “dirty” is not tied to any facts or actual evidence of dirtiness of nuclear power. In fact the dirt comes not from nuclear power itself, but from coal fired power plants that produced electricity for a soon to be closed cold war uranium enrichment plant.
Using the words “Three Mile Island” and “Chernobyl” as proof, nuclear critics tell us over and over how “dangerous” nuclear power is. Schopenhauer tells us,
you must begin by choosing a metaphor that is favourable to your proposition. For instance, the names used to denote the two political parties in Spain, Serviles and Liberates, are obviously chosen by the latter. The name Protestants is chosen by themselves, and also the name Evangelicals; but the Catholics call them heretics. Similarly, in regard to the names of things which admit of a more exact and definite meaning: for example, if your opponent proposes an alteration, you can call it an innovation, as this is an invidious word. If you yourself make the proposal, it will be the converse. In the first case, you can call the antagonistic principle “the existing order,” in the second, “antiquated prejudice.” What an impartial man with no further purpose to serve would call “public worship” or a “system of religion,” is described by an adherent as “piety,” “godliness”: and by an opponent as “bigotry,” “superstition.” This is, at bottom, a subtle petitio principii. What is sought to be proved is, first of all, inserted in the definition, whence it is then taken by mere analysis. What one man calls “placing in safe custody,” another calls “throwing into prison.” A speaker often betrays his purpose beforehand by the names which he gives to things. One man talks of “the clergy”; another, of “the priests.”
I will not contend here that anti-nuclear critics rely only on fallacious arguments to advance their position, but they frequently make use of fallacious arguments. The fallacies have, of course, been pointed out on numerous occasions, but there are never retracted by critics by nuclear power and continue to be repeated. Thus at the very least many of the best known critics of nuclear power deliberately use fallacious and irrational arguments to further their case. Thus the case against nuclear power is not presented in a truthful fashion. Nuclear critics simply resort to dishonest means and resort to deceptive arguments to further their case. The word “lies” would not be in appropriate.
Update 4:39 PM 12/24/08 (My God what happened to 2008! A whole year has suddenly disappeared.): the term the “dirty energy sector” by writer Dave Giza. Needless to say Dave did not say why he classified nuclear power as dirty energy, but he is clearly intent on slurring clean nuclear power by limping it with CO2 emitting energy sources Coal and Oil. Interestingly Giza did not lump CO2 and Radon emitting natural gas in the durty energy sector even though radioactive and chemical pollutants from natural gas probably kill far more upwards of 20,000 people. I guess “clean” means what Dave Giza chooses it to mean.
`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – - that’s all.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.’
`Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
`Ah, you should see ‘em come round me of a Saturday night,’ Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, `for to get their wages, you know.’
- Lewis Carroll
I have added a link on Nuclear Green to Alexander deVolpi’s knols on nuclear non-proliferation. Dr. DeVolpi’s writings are required reading for anyone who who wants to claim expertise on nuclear proliferation. DeVolpi was a peer of the late J. Carson Mark of Los Alamos, and his knols correct the view that Mark thought reactor grade plutonium was a practical weapons materials. DeVolpi also parses statements on reactor grade plutonium from official sources, often cited by anti-nuclear experts. For example DeVolpi points to a statement by David Hafemeister of the United States DoE,
” [Advanced] nuclear-weapon states such as the United States and Russia, using modern designs, could produce weapons from reactor-grade plutonium having reliable explosive yields, weight, and other characteristics generally comparable to those of weapons made from weapon-grade plutonium.”
“I suggest a discriminating reader would see that the quote is limited to “advanced nuclear-weapon states,” confined to “modern designs,” and qualified by terms such as “could produce,” “reliable yields,” and “comparable characteristics.” Since official declarations (hedges) are usually the product of a careful inter-agency vetting. His statement, thus, pretty much excludes reactor-grade plutonium as source material under a number of realistic circumstances: less-advanced nuclear-weapon states, less-sophisticated designs, less-than-assured yields, and other sub-marginal situations. In other words, neither advanced weapon states, nor less-advanced weapon states, nor threshold weapon states are likely to produce weapons from reactor-grade plutonium (for reasons validated by Hafemeister’s carefully chosen omissions).”
Needless to say nuclear critics do not engage in such careful reading of the documents that they draw on to make their case. But then nuclear critics are not interested in questions of truth or accuracy. They simply mine sources for supportive quotes, and hope that no one will note important qualifications. Such selective misreading of texts, such cherry picking turns sources into sock puppets on the hands of nuclear critics like Dr Frank Barnaby, who has become the new anti-nuclear wacko on scitizen.
Barnaby, a sometimes associate of the infamous Jan Storm van Leeuwen in the Oxford Research group, appears to belong, like Storm van Leeuwen, to the Club of Rome wing of the anti-nuclear movement. A successful post carbon shift to nuclear power would definately put a crimp into the goal of Club of Rome fans to kill off most of the human race and return the economic basis of society to a medieval like peasant economy. In order to bully us into accepting this extremely unattractive scenario, Barnaby has to threaten us with nuclear proliferation, as if the dieoff of a few billion human beings would be a preferable consequence, and the termination of modern society would be a more acceptable outcome.
I previously called Dr. Barnaby to task for ignoring DeVolpi’s telling views on nuclear proliferation, but he continues to do so, no doubt because DeVolpi makes it quite clear that that reactor grade plutonium is not a practical material for the building of nuclear weapons, and that the danger of nuclear proliferation is not increased by building civilian power reactors that produce reactor grade plutonium as a byproduct. Needless to say, Dr. Barnaby ignored my comments, just as he ignores Alexanger DeVolpi’s writings on reactor plutonium. Dr. Barnaby copes with criticism by ignoring it. By doing so he discounts himself as a serious intellectual. A serious intellectual acknowledges his critics, and tries to answer them. If he or she makes mistakes and they are pointed out he or she acknowledges them, at least to self, and learns to not make the same mistakes again. Since Barnaby does not even acknowledge mistakes when they are brought to his attention, his is not a rational voice.
Eric Sprott, a Canadian investment funds manager has read the tea leaves. Sprott has stated:
“There are so many job cuts and output cutbacks it’s shocking. That’s not a recession, that’s a depression. I look at the data points and they just scream at me that we are off the cliff.”
During the last few months the Fed and the US Treasury have been running the printing presses at a historically high rate. The money creation machine has been working overtime. Conventional economic theory tells us that this should lead to rampant inflation yet as Craig Harrington notes
Despite the Fed’s creation of hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air and the Treasury’s massive foreign borrowing campaign, the prices of everything from gas and groceries to electronics and clothing has gone down. Most of us are struggling through economic hardship of our own, and the recent drop in prices has been a welcome relief; but these price corrections could have a more sinister undertone. When prices fall across the board the phenomenon is called “deflation.” If this occurs over the course of a few months we typically herald it as a relief. If it occurs over an elongated time period, it spells doom to an economy.
When prices drop across the board companies are forced to lay off workers, lay offs lead to decreases in disposable income which in turn lead to decreased consumption. In order to bring in customers companies must drop prices further, thus setting off another cycle. If this spirals out of control we could see massive joblessness, falling personal income, and prices so low companies cannot afford to produce or sell goods.
The word depression seems appropriate. What is happening is not a local matter in the United States. We are dealing with a world wide phenomena. The entire global economy economy is in a tail spin. The insane economic policies of the Bush Administration have something to do with the problem, but the Bush administration policies were expediencies designed to cope with a deeply flawed international economic structure. In my own opinion, the problem has at least as much to do with distortions in the international economy by the fact Asian consumption of consumer goods was not growing as fast as their production in China and to a lesser extent India.
From time to time I have to adjust my thinking to catch up with the economic reality we confront. Chinese overproduction forced prices some down, while Chinese spending to expand their economy drives the prices of energy and raw materials every higher. Eventually something had to start giving, and eventually the United States absorbed more debt than it could handle, and as debtors were unable to repay their loans, financial institutions began to collapse, and with the resulting collapse of confidence, consumers world wide have stopped buying.
It is probably too soon to assume that we will have a deep and prolonged international depression, but we certainly cannot rule it out. certainly we will see a reversal of the inflation in the price of energy production facilities. This will be true of nuclear power plants.
Normally a reasonable assumption in predicting the future is that the future will be like the present. This assumption is not always correct, however. We seem to be undergone a sea change in the international economy, and its consequences still have to be measured. Many of our deepest held beliefs about economics may have to be unlearned, and the international economic structure may have to be rebuilt.
Recovery will probably be the eventual outcome, but when is the big question. The present national and international debt structure appears to be collapsing. Irving Fisher argued that this is precisely what caused the Great Depression of the 1930′s. Fisher postulated 9 factors that lead to the prolongued depression:
1. Debt liquidation and distress selling
2. Contraction of the money supply as bank loans are paid off
3. A fall in the level of asset prices
4. A still greater fall in the net worth of business, precipitating bankruptcies
5. A fall in profits
6. A reduction in output, in trade and in employment.
7. Pessimism and loss of confidence
8. Hoarding of money
9. A fall in nominal interest rates and a rise in deflation adjusted interest rates.
All nine conditions have arguably have been meet, and the collapse continues at a pace. By this time next year, economic conditions are likely to be much worse than they are now.
Recovery may take far more time than we would expect, and thus projecting the future becomes impossibly problematic. The impact on the cost of building new nuclear power facilities could be very considerable. How much no one knows. But the price of nuclear facilities before the power plant inflation between 2002 and 2007 was running around $2 billion per GW. It could drop considerably lower than that, however. The price of basic material like steel and cement has dropped dramatically, as has energy costs. If the price of labor falls over the long term, the cost of reactor construction could fall very dramatically.
At the very least, high end estimates of the future cost of nuclear power seem improbable. If last week, I thought that the high end cost of building a nuclear plant in 2015 would run to $8 billion, $4 billion now seems more like the extreme limit, and $2 billion or less is at least plausible. A depression is extremely grim news the world’s economy, but it ought not to stem the fight against global warming, and will significantly lower the cost of achieving success in that fight.
This post started as a comment on the EfT comment section. It got way too long for a comment, so I decided to turn it into a blog post. I have written everything I have to say here before. But I flatter myself that these things are important, and probably can stand to be repeated. So if all this sounds familiar to the point of being boring, please be patient.
I learned of the CO2/AGW theory during am informal briefing at ORNL by Jerry Olsen in 1971. Jerry was attached to the ORNL-NSF Environmental Studies Program that I was working for. I had at the time what amounted to an internship. Jerry Olson was a plant ecologist who specialized in the role of plants in the world carbon cycle. I suspect he had just briefed Alvin Weinberg on the increase of the CO2 content of the atmosphere, and its implications for world climate. Shortly afterwards, ORNL set up a group to study atmospheric CO2 and its effects on global climate. Alvin Weinberg persuaded Freeman Dyson to come to ORNL to participate in the CO2/climate change research. By 1975 Weinberg, who had been director of ORNL, was talking to Congress about climate change. My father was writing about CO2 driven climate change as accepted scientific fact in 1977.
I still find it more than a little shocking that people refuse to accept what highly regarded scientists a generation ago considered to be a scientific fact. I stopped arguing with global warming skeptics after I analyzed how the global warming mitigation costs might be paid. I came to the startling conclusion that CO2 mitigation would have significant secondary economic benefits that might appeal to AGW skeptics. First, many fossil fuel power plants are old and need to be replaced. Coal and natural gas are no longer cheap fuels, and most utilities such as TVA have just gone through a round of very substantial electrical price increases, primarily to cover the increasing cost of fossil fuel. Many older fossil fuel power plants are worn out and in need of replacing. Thus the cost of building replacement power plants will have to be paid regardless of what we believe about global warming.
Secondly, eliminating coal from the power mix will probably lower medical costs now borne by taxpayers, employers, individuals and their families. A few years ago, a group of Canadian doctors and other medical researchers came to the startling conclusion that Canadian coal-burning power plants had an adverse health related cost attached to them. That cost was paid by Canadian taxpayers and by sick individuals and their families, in terms of direct and insurance payment for treatment of medical conditions caused by coal-burning pollution. As much as 20% of Canadian and American health care expenses can be tied to the burning of fossil fuels as an energy source by our society. Thus mitigating CO2 emissions will have a large, positive economic benefit, and will improve the health of many people.
There are also similar powerful arguments against gasoline powered cars. Gasoline powered automotive technology and other internal combustion technologies is already a significant drag on the economy, and will become increasingly so. The United States cannot go on paying for imported oil with credit cards. I favor switching to electrical powered cars rather than some carbon neutral liquid fuel. We would get the same sort of secondary health care cost benefits that carbon mitigations in electrical generation would bring us, provided we used electrical power in the transportation system. Liquid fuels, even carbon neutral liquid fuels, would continue to impose indirect health care costs. Thus one need not believe in AGW to acknowledge the benefits of switching to post carbon transportation. I would expect by 2040 that battery technology will be greatly advanced, and that we will be plugging in our cars at night. Urban trucking should also be electrified, but the long distance trucking industry will probably die, because rail transportation is far more carbon efficient, and can be electrified. The cost of transforming the transportation system will be at least partially paid for as replacement costs for older, worn out equipment. We will also be partially compensated by lower healthcare costs, and by better health.
I would also like to point out the ideological nature of global warming skepticism, and how I think the ideological problem can be made solved. There is a definite political and ideological divide in the global warming debate, with most global warming skeptics tending to be on the political right. For example, last year surveys found that a clear majority of college-educated Republicans were global warming skeptics. An overwhelming majority of Republican political bloggers are global warming skeptics. If we look at Europe we find a similar pattern with skepticism more associated with the right than the left. There are exceptions. Some extreme left-wingers are also global warming skeptics.
I view the skepticism of the right as most unfortunate, for several reasons. First, my analysis suggests that AGW can be mitigated much less government intrusion into the market than many Greens suggests. While I have no doubt that some intrusion may be required, because the crisis resemble a major war in significant respects, it is highly desirable that there be the widest spread support for the needed intrusions as possible. Woodrow Wilson was wise to give Republican Herbert Hoover a major role in the World War I system of economic controls, for example.
I am concerned about the “Green” capture of the left, because “Greens” are not liberals, and they are not political pragmatists. Greens tend to take a view that would require far more government intrusion into the economy, and into the personal lives and lifestyle of people that is justified by the situation we face. Some greens appear to take what can be described as an anthropo-phobic view point. They don’t like modern civilization and view it as doomed by energy and resource shortages. They openly view the mass die-off of people that would accompany the collapse of modern civilization as a good thing rather than a tragedy. As a liberal I view this attitude to be reprehensible and antithetical to liberal principles. So while I would not agree with political conservatives on many issues, we need them in the discussion on AGW mitigation to balance the views of the nut case Greens.
Lars Jorgensen is an Electrical Engineer who is Chief Technologist for Radio Products for Texas Instruments. In his spare time Lars has an unusual hobby. He is doing unpaid work on the development of the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, in a project that Rod Adams describes as the nuclear equivalent of the Open Source movement in computing. The goal of the project is to develop viable LFTR designs including the design tools that would be useful for nuclear engineers. In addition Lars is doing research on the use of LFTRs to solve the problem of the nuclear waste from other reactors. At the same time, Jorgensen’s concept will produce vast amounts of electricity from the waste destroying process through the use of the LFTRs involved in the electrical generation process.
The idea of “burning” transuranium elements, the principal long-lived waste in nuclear waste, in molten salt type reactors is not new. During the 1950′s my father verified that plutonium was compatible with a molten salt fuel carrier, and thus was suitable for use as a nuclear fuel in molten salt reactors. The idea of using LFTRs to destroy nuclear weapons was pioneered by a group of nuclear scientists and Engineers at ORNL. In 1991, Uri Gat, and J. R. Engel of ORNL, and C. H. Dodds, of the University of Tennessee, proposed burning fissile fuel from dismantled nuclear weapons in LFTRs, as a means of nuclear deproliferation. That is the process of destroying the raw materials of nuclear weapons.
V. V. Ignatiev, S. A. Konakov, S. A. Subbotine, and R. Y. Zakirov of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, and K. Grebenkine proposed the use of Molten Salt Reactors as a means of disposing of nuclear waste. They noted that LFTRs had advantages over Liquid Metal reactors for nuclear waste disposal. The Russian research has lead to the development of the MOSART reactor design. The MOSART is a liquid salt fuel reactor concept intended to burn nuclear waste.
A similar proposal has come from Charles W. Forsberg of ORNL.
Forsberg noted that the development of
Brayton power cycles (rather than steam cycles) that eliminate many of the historical challenges in building MSRs and (2) the conceptual development of several fast-spectrum MSRs that have large negative temperature and void coefficients, a unique safety characteristic not found in solid-fuel fast reactors.
Forsberg pointed to the potential of MSRs to both produce electricity and destroy the dangerous components of nuclear waste.
In a draft paper titled. “An Improved End Game for the Non-Moderated Thorium Molten Salt Reactor”, Lars Jorgensen has determined that by combining the disposal of nuclear waste and the generation of electricity in LFTRs vast amounts of electricity can be generated. Jorgensen foresees a world wide demand for 7,500 GWe, nearly 20 times the current electrical consumption in the United States. With the use of electricity for water desalinization, Jorgensen further foresees electrical demand increasing to as much as 20,000 GWe.
Jorgensen, drawing on work by French nuclear scientists, H. Nifenecker, D. Heuer, J.M. Loiseaux, O. Meplan, A. Nuttin, S. David, and J.M. Martin, offers plans
to simultaneously reduce the current TRU wastes 15-fold (with onsite recycling) to 15,000 fold reduction (with the best offsite recycling), while also supplying 9000 GWe electricity for an energy-hungry world.
This is surely an ambitious undertaking.
Despite his ambition, Jorgenson’s plan is simple. He reference the French Non Moderated Thorium Molten Salt Reactor, a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, as the waste burning power generation reactor. By 2046 enough fissionable transuranium elements will be present in American Light Water Reactor Waste to start enough TMSRs to produce 125 billion watts of electricity. The TMSR is a breeder, that is it will produce more fuel than it burns. Other reactors will be started with U-233 from original TMSR fleet.
Jorgensen believes that his concept would work world wide to get rid of nuclear waste. As many as 1000 large TMSR could be built to use the word wide supply of 8842 tons LWR TRU waste as nuclear fuel. Each reactor would produce 1 billion watts of electricity. From that initial fleet enough U-233 would be produced to start another 8000 reactors. Enough to supply the entire wolds electrical demands 100 years from now.
Jorgensen plans for the TRUs from light water reactors to remain in TMSR cores until they are used up, a process that would take several hundred years. After 200 years more that 56% of the original LWR TRU inventory will have been used up. If there is a desire to shut down the TMSR fleet, as the amount of TRU drops inside the TMSRs, the TRUs can be withdrawn from the core by batch chemical processing of the fuel, Fission products and U-233 would of course be processed out of the fuel salts at the same time. The withdrawn TRUs would be transfered to the cores of other reactors, and the reactor whose TRUs are processed out can be shut down.
According to Jorgensen:
We can virtually eliminate the inventory TRUs in the reactor cores by gradually shutting down the reactors and fissioning the residual inventory off. The optimization goals of the shutdown procedure are:
1) minimize the final inventory of TRUs disposed as waste;
2) shut down the vast majority of reactors, as quickly as possible, consistent with the first goal.
Eventually the TRU’s and U-233 involved in the process can be “burned down” to a tiny amount of waste. as much as an 11,000 fold reduction in the amount of waste. The final waste will come from two sources: a very small leak of TRU and U-233 into the fission product stream, and the TRU and U-233 inventory left over when the final, very small TMSR no longer contains enough fissionable material to maintain a chain reactor.
The deployment not only provides 1,800,000 GW-yr (1.8 PW-yr) of electricity, but eliminates 90 to 99.99% of the world’s predicted transuranic waste inventory. The NM-TMSR’s fuel flexibility allows virtual elimination of the waste inventory arising from shutting down the reactor fleet. This sort of flexibility is much more difficult to achieve with any proposed solid fuel reactor. The Th-U233 cycle operates with TRU inventories only 5% of those for U238-Pu239 based breeder reactors. While much R&D needs to be funded and completed to bring this reactor to fruition, it is far less than the projected costs for Yucca Mountain, and solves both the TRU waste and energy generation challenges facing our society today.
For those concerned about nuclear proliferation, the TMSR and similar LFTRs are wonderful deproliferation tools. Uranium and plutonium from nuclear weapons and weapons available stockpiles can be used as starter charges for LFTRs and burned up by the nuclear process. LFTR can be designed to produce no more U-233 than is burned up in its chain reaction. Thus far from being a nuclear proliferation menace, the LFTR can becomes a prime tool for lowering the possibility of nuclear war.
George Hart of the Ocean Energy Institute has recently proposed the building of a huge 5 billion watt generating capacity wind arrays in the Gulf of Maine. There is little doubt that New England states and the State of Maine in particular are in need of new energy resources. Winter heating is, in particular heavily reliant on heating oil. But the cost of heating oil is subject to the wild gyrations of the oil market, and the cost of home heating during cold New England winters threatens to depopulate the region. New technology, a form of air source heating designed to operate in New England winters, offers the possibility of replacing oil with lower cost electricity in New England home heating. Note that I wrote lower cost rather than low cost. The price tag that the Ocean Energy Institute has placed on the project is $25 billion. I will demonstrate that that much money is not pocket change, and the nuclear alternative ought to be given long and careful thought, before the wind option is adopted. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Ocean Energy assumes its deepwater wind turbines will have a “capacity factor” of 45%, or about half what a nuclear power plant has.
The relative capacity factors of nuclear and wind means that for every watt of electricity that Gulf of Maine windmills will produce during a year, A nuclear plant of equivalent rated capacity will produce 2 watts. But arn’t reactors more expensive than windmills? Currently cost figures for reactors of $8 billion dollars are being discussed for reactors to be built between 2012, and 2020, but this cost is highly speculative, and assumes a rate of inflation for building costs that may never occur. The same rate of inflation would undoubtedly effect the cost of wind projects, and if we use the $8 billion figure for nuclear we ought to assume a similar inflation cost for wind.
Offshore turbines exposed to stronger winds more months of the year also take a battering, which leads to downtime for additional maintenance and repairs, pushing total output back down.
The European Wind Energy Association figures offshore wind in the future could reach a capacity factor of 40%. In Britain, where the government hopes a raft of big, offshore wind farms will help the country meet its renewable-energy targets, experts figure offshore wind farms get about 33% capacity. In practice, U.K. offshore wind farms tend to produce between 25% and 35% of the listed power capacity. That’s not much better than cheaper onshore wind farms, which average about 27% in the U.K.
It is not my any means all down side for Gulf of Maine wind. Peak electrical generations is most likely to occur at night rather than during the day, and during the winter, rather than the summer, thus Maine residents and other New Englanders would have a fair assurance that electricity would be flowing to their air source heaters at night. In addition Gulf of Maine windmills would seem to nicely compliment Canadian Hydro. Still we have to look at the heavy costs.
If we assume that the current economic down turn will soon be over, then we can expect that the inflation of new power facility costs will continue into the next decade. By the time construction of the Gulf of Maine project would begin the inflated price of off shore windmills could easily reach $8 to $10 per Watt. It would appear that nuclear could easily match this cost. In addition it costs less to keep a nuclear plant running than to keep to keep off shore wind turbines running. OFf shore windmills are located in a harsh ocean environment, that is likely to corrode essential parts. Thus they are far more likely to break down than reactors. The turbines themselves need to be replaced every 20 years, while the anticipated lifespan of new reactors is is 60 to 80 years. Thus the wind mills are going to cost more to operate and will probably cost more to build.
The question then is whether the residents of Maine and the rest of New England are romantic or practical. The romantics, of course want the windmills in the Gulf of Maine, while practical people would probably wish for the lower costs power flowing from reactors.
My readers know that I much prefer Generation IV nuclear technology to Generation III+ technology. Generation IV technology has a real chance of lowering the costs of building lowre cost nuclear electrical generating facilities, and would cost far less than the projected costs of solar and both land based and offshore generating facilities. But even Generation III+ nuclear technology, offers a great deal more at its price than renewables do.
When countries go broke they run the printing presses to print more money. In the United States money is not literally being printed, it is created by the Federal Reserve System. The money being used for the economy bail out is being created. Not a dollar of it was lying in the all too empty coffers of the US treasury when the crisis broke. I will not point the finger of blame at anyone, least of all one of my Dallas neighbors. Lets just say that some very bad decisions have been made during the last few years.
It is also the case that many coal fired power plants are old and reaching the end of their useful life, and will have to be replaced. Thus the expense of replacing coal fired power plants cannot be avoided. The only question then is what technology to use. As I have noted the country is broke, and power plants have to be built as cheaply as possible.
Current estimates of the future costs of nuclear power plants indicate very high capitol costs, but the same cost inflation factors that will effect the cost of nuclear plants will also inflate the cost of renewables including solar and wind generating systems, probably to a greater extent. The cost of base equivalent power with solar and wind is very expensive, and future costs are likely to rise with inflation rather than drop as renewable advocates assume. It seems unlikely that a virtually bankrupt country like the United States will be able to afford the expensive fixes offered to thenational generating system, by either reneables or conventional nuclear power any time soon.
I have argued in the past that LFTR technology has a very significant potential to lower the capital costs of nuclear power plants. Mass production of transportable reactors will lower nuclear manufacturing costs. Innovative siting approachs such as under water or underground siting, and recycling old coal fired power facilities can also lower costs. Small transportable reactors can be wildly dispursed. Small LFTRs can be clustered, creating the equivalent of a large coal or nuclear power plant, but with greater thermal efficiency. Not only would LFTRs provide a low cost alternative to expensive renewables base load power, but they would provide a very superior and less expensive alternative to current old fashion and expensive Light Water Reactors.
LFTRs produce little to almost no nuclear waste. They have many attractive safety features, and pose no danger to the public. LFTRs are also recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency as proliferation resistant. And the fuel for LFTRs cost almost nothing. Thorium is the basis for the LFTR fuel cycle. At present enough wasted thorium sits above ground in mine tailings, to power the American economy for hundreds of year. There is enough easily recoverable thorium in the crust of the earth, to provide the human economy with all its energy needs for millions of years. Thus LFTRs constitute a sustainable energy source.
Thus not do LFTRs answer all of the traditonal objections to nuclear power, but they will do it at a far lower cost than traditional Light Water Reactors, and renewable power systems.
Thus because the United States is broke, it has no option other than to choose the lowest cost post-carbon power system. But it turns out that the lowest cost choice, the LFTR is also the best choice, the choice that will involve the fewest compromises.
A new paper, Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, by Mark Z. Jacobson, announces that
this reviews and ranks major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security while considering other impacts of the proposed solutions, such as on water supply, land use, wildlife, resource availability, thermal pollution, water chemical pollution, nuclear proliferation, and undernutrition .
Unfortunately Professor Jacobson as committed so many errors in his review of issues associated with nuclear power, that the value of his entire assessment must be questioned.
This study is simply a crock. For example the study assumed CO2 emissions appear to be based on old studies during the period when uranium was enriched with the gaseous diffusion process that consumed a large amount of electricity from coal fired power plants. Jacobson sites in his references a paper by the infamous B. K. Sovacool, Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: A critical survey.
I may offer a further review the Sovacool paper, since debunking Sovacool is one of my hobbies, but the use of the methodologically challenged and biased Sovacool as a source is a sure giveaway of an abandonment of critical standards for chosen source by Jacobson.
Current enrichment technologies enriched U-235 with electricity for the gaseous coming from coal fired power plants. Nuclear is assumed to use far more land surface than wind, and this would seem to be very had to justify. In fact as the study assumes much of area occupied by nuclear is a buffer. Most of the buffer area is left in its natural state or left to revert to natural state, thus becomes wildlife habitat. Uranium mines are assumed to occupy a large land surface. Nuclear is assumed to have significant impact on wild life, worse than concentrated solar, which typically strips the soil bare by bulldozing it before constructing the facility. Estimates of available uranium resources are absurdly low.
And we have the following discussion:
4d. Effects of nuclear energy on nuclear war and terrorism damage
Because the production of nuclear weapons material is occurring only in countries that have developed civilian nuclear energy programs, the risk of a limited nuclear exchange between countries or the detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists has increased due to the dissemination of nuclear energy facilities worldwide. As such, it is a valid exercise to estimate the potential number of immediate deaths and carbon emissions due to the burning of buildings and infrastructure associated with the proliferation of nuclear energy facilities and the resulting proliferation of nuclear weapons. The number of deaths and carbon emissions, though, must be multiplied by a probability range of an exchange or explosion occurring to estimate the overall risk of nuclear energy proliferation. Although concern at the time of an explosion will be the deaths and not carbon emissions, policy makers today must weigh all the potential future risks of mortality and carbon emissions when comparing energy sources.
Here, we detail the link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons and estimate the emissions of nuclear explosions attributable to nuclear energy. The primary limitation to building a nuclear weapon is the availability of purified fissionable fuel (highly-enriched uranium or plutonium).68 Worldwide, nine countries have known nuclear weapons stockpiles (US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea). In addition, Iran is pursuing uranium enrichment, and 32 other countries have sufficient fissionable material to produce weapons. Among the 42 countries with fissionable material, 22 have facilities as part of their civilian nuclear energy program, either to produce highly-enriched uranium or to separate plutonium, and facilities in 13 countries are active.68 Thus, the ability of states to produce nuclear weapons today follows directly from their ability to produce nuclear power. In fact, producing material for a weapon requires merely operating a civilian nuclear power plant together with a sophisticated plutonium separation facility. The Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has been signed by 190 countries. However, international treaties safeguard only about 1% of the world’s highly-enriched uranium and 35% of the world’s plutonium.68 Currently, about 30000 nuclear warheads exist worldwide, with 95% in the US and Russia, but enough refined and unrefined material to produce another 100000 weapons.69
The explosion of fifty 15 kt nuclear devices (a total of 1.5 MT, or 0.1% of the yields proposed for a full-scale nuclear war) during a limited nuclear exchange in megacities could burn 63–313 Tg of fuel, adding 1–5 Tg of soot to the atmosphere, much of it to the stratosphere, and killing 2.6–16.7 million people.68 The soot emissions would cause significant short- and medium-term regional cooling.70 Despite short-term cooling, the CO2 emissions would cause long-term warming, as they do with biomass burning.62 The CO2 emissions from such a conflict are estimated here from the fuel burn rate and the carbon content of fuels. Materials have the following carbon contents: plastics, 38–92%; tires and other rubbers, 59–91%; synthetic fibers, 63–86%;71 woody biomass, 41–45%; charcoal, 71%;72 asphalt, 80%; steel, 0.05–2%. We approximate roughly the carbon content of all combustible material in a city as 40–60%. Applying these percentages to the fuel burn gives CO2 emissions during an exchange as 92–690 Tg CO2. The annual electricity production due to nuclear energy in 2005 was 2768 TWh yr-1. If one nuclear exchange as described above occurs over the next 30 yr, the net carbon emissions due to nuclear weapons proliferation caused by the expansion of nuclear energy worldwide would be 1.1–4.1 g CO2 kWh-1, where the energy generation assumed is the annual 2005 generation for nuclear power multiplied by the number of yr being considered. This emission rate depends on the probability of a nuclear exchange over a given period and the strengths of nuclear devices used. Here, we bound the probability of the event occurring over 30 yr as between 0 and 1 to give the range of possible emissions for one such event as 0 to 4.1 g CO2 kWh-1. This emission rate is placed in context in Table 3.
Well no one wants nuclear war, but Jacobson does not demonstrate that the use of nuclear power in either the United Stats or world wide increases the likelihood of a nuclear exchange. As Jacobson himself notes, there is world wide enough fissionable material to build 100000 nuclear weapons. The way to dispose of this weapons material is by using it in reactors. No nation has used power reactors as a route to nuclear weapons, and Israel, and India produced weapons materials from non-power reactors that were of a very different design from power reactors. North Korea, found that the blueprints of a Plutonium producing reactor were available in the United Kingdom, and simply copied the design. Pakistan and South Africa chose to use Uranium enrichment technologies, In the case of South Africa, the enrichment technology was unique. Finally plutonium form power reactors cannot be used in nuclear weapons because of heat, radiation, and other technical problems. Thus the possession of power reactors would not appear to be a cause of nuclear proliferation, nor would it be.
In a category “Effects on air pollution emissions and mortality” we find the following observation:
The assumption is that the existence of nuclear power plants in the United States would lead to an increased likelihood of a nuclear exchange. This assumption is never explained.
Under “energy supply disruptions” we find the following:
In the case of centralized power sources, the larger the plant, the greater the risk of terrorism and collateral damage. In the case of nuclear power, collateral damage includes radiation release. In the case of hydroelectric power, it includes flooding. In the case of ethanol and coal-CCS, it includes some chemical releases. Whereas, nuclear power plants are designed to withstand tornados and other severe whether, the other power plants are not. However, nuclear power plants are vulnerable to heat waves. Because nuclear power plants rely on the temperature differential between steam and river or lake water used in the condenser, they often cannot generate electricity when the water becomes too hot, as occurred during the European heat wave of 2004, when several nuclear reactors in France were shut down.
Because nuclear power plants are centralized, release radiation if destroyed, and may shut down during a heat wave, we deem them to be the most likely target of a terrorist attack and prone to energy supply disruption among all energy source
We see in the guise of a scientific study, the Green propaganda machine at work. For example, Jacobson notes that CSP facilities use cooling water – indeed, and Jacobson does not tell us that CSP uses as much cooling water as nuclear power plants. Because solar productivity becomes an issue outside the desert Southwest, water for massive CSP fields must be found in a desert region, surely a daunting prospect, and power producing operations would be far more vulnerable to drought conditions than better watered parts of the country. Jacobson underestimates the centralization of solar and wind facilities. In fact power production with solar and wind are likely o be confined to a relatively small number of high production locations, These locations are not close to most electricity consuming areas of the country, thus necessitating a new, extremely expensive, and extremely vulnerable to terrorism system of electrical distribution and long range transportation of electricity. Jacobson over estimates the vulnerability of nuclear facilities to successful terrorist attacks, and greatly over estimates the consequences of these attacks. He, of course, fails to justify his very questionable contentions.
Finally I would like to make note of Jacobson claims about opportunity costs. Although Jacobson frequently mentions the words “opportunity cost “ in his paper, he does not provide his readers with an adequate discussion of what those words mean. Furthermore he fails provide a criteria for identifying relative “opportunity costs.” Nor does he provide or point too a data base which might be used to support his judgment. Thus there is no substantiated analysis behind his very pointed pronouncements about the opportunity costs. Thus we ought to read statements about opportunity costs as evidence of a personal rather than a professional opinions. It is clear then that Mark Z. Jacobson has not offered a serious effort to detached himself from his personal views, and this lack of detachment has seriously impaired his judgment in the paper under review.
(A hat tip to Axil for alerting us to this paper.)
Update: I have now had a chance to look at the new Sovacool paper. It is actually of far better quality than his previous work. For once Sovacool takes a nuanced view that does not support any sweeping judgments about nuclear power. Indeed, Sovacool suggests that sweeping judgements about the carbon output of nuclear power on the basis of existing studies are not possible. I must commend Dr. Sovacool for the progress of his scholarly skills. I must also note that Dr. Sovacool’s conclusion:
Rather than detail the complexity and variation inherent in the
greenhouse gas emissions associated with the nuclear lifecycle, most studies obscure it; especially those motivated on both sides of the nuclear debate attempting to make nuclear energy look cleaner or dirtier than it really is.
Unfortunately Mark Z. Jacobson fails to note the limited uses of these studies, and thus invites onhimself significant criticism.
Vaclav Smil has a very significant voice in the current discussion of energy. Smil is very intelligent and knowledgeable, and beyond that his intellect is wide ranging and probing. Smil falls like Alvin Weinberg into the catigory of resource optimists that the Neo-Malthusian Club of Rome cult calls a Cornucopian.
Smil, however, does not understand the potential of the nuclear future or the virtually unlimited nature of the thorium resource. Smil tells us,
nuclear power’s contribution is constrained by limited fissionable material.
Like others who make such pronouncements, Smil failed to look carefully at the facts. Smil is a technophile, and a believer in progress and science. Thus his failure to accord the nuclear option its full due stems more from incomplete information than from ideology. Smil completely rejects Hooverization as the solution to energy shortages.
Smil’s eminance as an energy expert is growing, and for that reason his latest essay, “Moore’s Curse and the Great Energy Delusion” is bound to attract attention. True Smil’s essay seem
more directed at Al Gore’s wildly exaggerated belief that complete transition from fossil fuels in electrical generation to renewables is possible by 2020.
In 2007 the country had about 870 gigawatts (GW) of electricity-generating capacity in fossil-fueled and nuclear stations, the two nonrenewable forms of generation that Gore wants to replace in their entirety. On average,these thermal power stations are at work about 50 percent of the time and hence they generated about 3.8 PWh (that is, 3.8 x 1015 watt-hours) of electricity in 2007. In contrast, wind turbines work on average only about 23 percent of the time, which means that even with all the requisite new high-voltage interconnections, slightly more than two units of wind-generating capacity would be needed to replace a unit in coal, gas, oil, and nuclear plants. And even if such an enormous capacity addition—in excess of 1,000 GW—could be accomplished in a single decade (since the year 2000, actual additions in all plants have averaged less than 30 GW/year!), the financial cost would be enormous: it would mean writing off the entire fossil-fuel and nuclear generation industry, an enterprise whose power plants alone have a replacement value of at least $1.5 trillion (assuming at least $1,700/installed kW), and spending at least $2.5 trillion to build the new capacity.
But because those new plants would have to be in areas that are not currently linked with high-voltage (HV)transmission lines to major consumption centers (wind from the Great Plains to the East and West coasts,photovoltaic solar from the Southwest to the rest of the country), that proposal would also require a rewiring of the country. Limited transmission capacity to move electricity eastward and westward from what is to be the new power center in the Southwest, Texas, and the Midwest is already delaying new wind projects even as wind generates less than 1 percent of all electricity. The United States has about 165,000 miles of HV lines, and at least 40,000 additional miles of new high-capacity lines would be needed to rewire the nation, at a cost of close to $100 billion. And the costs are bound to escalate, because the regulatory approval process required before beginning a new line construction can take many years. To think that the United States can install in 10 years wind and solar generating capacity equivalent to that of thermal power plants that took nearly 60 years to construct is delusional.
And energy transitions from established prime movers to new converters also take place across time spans measured in decades, not in a decade. Steam engines, whose large-scale commercial diffusion began with James Watt’s improved design introduced during the 1770s, remained important into the middle of the 20th century. There is no more convincing example of their endurance than the case of Liberty ships, the “ships that won the war” as they carried American materiel and troops to Europe and Asia between 1942 and 1945. Rudolf Diesel began to develop his highly efficient internal combustion engine in 1892 and his prototype engine was ready by 1897. The first small ship engines were installed on river-going vessels in 1903, and the first oceangoing ship with Diesel engines was launched in 1911. By 1939 a quarter of the world’s merchant fleet was propelled by these engines and virtually every new freighter had them. But nearly 3,000 Liberty ships were still powered by oil-fired steam engines. And steam locomotives disappeared from American railroads only by the late 1950s, while in China and India they were indispensable even during the 1980s.
Smil continues on with his recitation of of the time lag between the advent of a technology and is penetration into society. This was a 20th century pattern, and even in the 20th century there were exceptions. For example within 12 years of the Wright Brothers first powered flight, thousands of aircraft were being built. The circumstances of this rapid adoption was the outbreak of World War I, and the subsequent discovery of the military usefulness of air craft.
Nuclear technology is not new. It has been subjected siince 1942 to wide scale scientific investigation, and there are something over 400 reactors in operation world wide. In the United States from the 1970′s onward, both the construction of power reactors and the research and development of new reactor technologies were increasingly deferred, never the less, the commercial electricity has been generated in the United States for almost half a century, and far mor advanced reactor designs were explored in the United State before that moment. It is clear then that nuclear power has not followed typical development patterns and that this occurred for a variety of reasons. If the penetration of nuclear power into the American Economy has not followed typical patterns in the past, there is no reason to expect that this would be the case in the future.
Smil directs his critic primarily to Al Gore’s plan to transform American electrical generation technology by 2020 by the use of renewable generating systems. The major flaw of the Gore plan from my prospective is the intermittency of renewable generation systems, and the lack of low carbon backups technology for renewables. The Gore plan also would have required an enormous and quite expensive expansion of the electrical grid, since you have to string wires out to West Texas and the Nevada desert to collect electricity from the generating facilities that mothernature forces you to locate there. Then there is the matter of cost, renewables are not exactly cheap, and to get 24 hour a day electricity from renewables is going to be oh so expensive. Al Gores’s renewables system would not cut the mustard on electrical demand. You should expect rolling blackouts on any day when there is high electrical demand.
So do not need to talk about the historic pattern of new technology penetration to raise substantial objections to the Gore plan. Quite aside from that, none of the technologies involved are new, and an argument can be made that both solar and wind have conformed to the historical pattern and pro-renewables spin merchants argue that both wind and solar are poised to take off. Of course the same spin merchants also claim that without enormous subsidies, solar and wind will falter and come crashing to the earth.
Finally we come to the case of nuclear, which certainly has been around long enough and has penetrated the electrcal market sufficiently to conform to the pattern. Nuclear could certainly become the technology of choice if it w
ere not so expensive, although I should hasten to add, not as expensive as renewables. I have noted that Smil also complains that there is not enough nuclear fuel. The nuclear fuel argument is quite weak, however. There is something around 120 trillion tons of thorium in the earths crust. The average concentration of thorium in crustal rock is 10 parts per million. If you dug up a ton of rock with a 10 ppm concentration extracted the thorium from it, and ran the thorium you got through a Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor, you would get about the same amount of energy you would get from 30 tons of coal. What is more current mining techniques require a whole lot less energy to mine the thorium that mining the thorium would take. You don’t need to remove all of those rocks from the ground. In the late 1960′s the USAEC set out to determine how much thorium could be recovered if the market price were set at $500 a pound. Their answer was an astonishing 3 billion tons. Three billion tons of thorium, used as LFTR fuel could provide the United States with all of the energy it cuurrently consumes for several million years.
Unfortunately Smil does not seem to be aware that thorium exists. But how, you ask, can we build all the reactors we would need by 2030 while not running up enormous expenses. The answer is what I call the Grand Nuclear plan. Many people have contributed to this plan, so I won’t take credit for it, and the advocates of this plan should one day put together a manifesto, that would lay out our program. Here is a brief summery of the Plan:
We need a crash development program for the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor as soon as possible.
The development should aim at developing a small – perhaps 100 MWe – Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.
The reactor should be small enough to be transportable br rail, barge or truck.
Build the reactors in large numbers in factories. Used advanced technology during the manufacture to save money, when ever possible.
Build many reactors quickly, ship them out quickly, set them up quickly.
Recycle coal fired power plants for use as reactor sites.
Cluster the LFTRs so that each cluster produces about what the old coal fired power station produced.
Use the old grid connection facilities to hook the nuclear cluster up to the grid.
Don’t stop building until the job is done.
Extract Thorium from already mined sources, or from ore coming out of the ground already.
Use Plutonium from “nuclear waste” as “start up charges” for the LFTRs. If you requite more fissile material go to weapons Pu-239 and U-235 stockpiles. If that is not enough start breaking down nuclear weapons for their fissile content.
That, Professor Smil, is how we can decarbonize electricity by 2030.