Advocating the Aim High Project as Policy
My advocacy for the Aim High concept is fundamentally political. Robert Hargraves named the Aim High energy concept and has explained it. The goal of the Aim High project is the rapid development and deployment of a very large number of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors not only in the United States, but in most of the world, between 2020 and 2050. I view the LFTR as a lowest cost potential energy source, that is safe, pollution free, and sustainable. This Aim High goal cannot be reached unless it becomes a matter of United States government and International policy. Thus my goal on Nuclear Green, and in my other postings is the adoption and implementation of the Aim High Project as National and International policy.
It would not be rational to promote the Aim High Project as good policy, without explaining why other competing policy options are less desirable than the Aim High Project option. The two options I have reviewed are the renewables option and the conventional nuclear option. My goal in these studies has been to demonstrate that both the renewables option and the Light Water Reactor option policy is unlikely to produce a post carbon energy system. I have argued for the desirability of this goal both because the use fossil fuels have undesirable consequences even if the Anthropogenic Global Warming issue is excluded. In addition a plausible case has been made that global oil production will soon begin to decline world wide. This concern leads to a policy consideration that electrical technology be substituted for Fossil Fuel technology in transportation. This possibility has not been well thought through by either renewables advocates or the conventional nuclear industry, but it could lead to a significant increase in electrical demand.
Renewables advocates appear to believe that a large power production gap will exist in a renewables generating system and that the gap will be filled through greater efficiency. This would appear unlikely if transportation is electrified to any considerable extent. Thus the renewables option would appear to open an energy gap, especially if transportation is electrified.
The French model demonstrates that conventional nuclear power can takeover providing electricity on a national scale. The French nuclear model also provides for some use of electrification in transportation. However, American nuclear advocates have not advanced the claim that the American electrical system can or should be entirely converted to conventional nuclear technology.
Both the renewables model and the conventional nuclear model leave significant questions to be answered, before they can be considered good policy options. Among the most serious questions is that of cost. I have tried to show that making renewable generated electricity reliable raises its costs. Indeed the cost of reliable renewable generated electricity appears higher than nuclear units with comparable electrical output.
Even the highest estimated cost of nuclear generated electricity appear to be lower than the likely costs of reliable renewables. Thus there ought to be a considerable policy preference for conventional nuclear generation of 24/7 base electricity. There are never-the-less problems with a nuclear base. First, the economies of nuclear power are such that running LWR’s at full power on a 24/7 basis yields the best return. While conventional reactors can produce power on a 16/7 or 16/5 basis, this would increase the cost of power from high priced nuclear facilities to customers. On exception would be the use of older reactors for 16/7 0r 16/5 electrical generation, since older reactors are already paid for. Conventional reactors do not make a good fit to peak reserve requirements. Peak reserve capacity is usually characterized by low capital cost and high fuel costs. In addition older and inefficient coal powered generation facilities are also assigned peak reserve roles.
Wind powered generation facilities without storage are inappropriate for any generation role requiring reliability. In most localities peak wind capacity of ten occurs during the night when electrical demand has ebbed. During day time however wind speed often slackens in many localities, while electrical demand increases. Finally over much of North America, wind produces almost no electricity during the hottest days of summer. Only with electrical storage does wind emerge as an important post carbon power source. But while storage adds to the reliability of wind it also increase wind’s capital costs. With power on demand 16 hours a day reliability wind does not have a cost advantage over nuclear, and with 24 hour a day reliability, wind is at a decided cost disadvantage compared to conventional nuclear.
Solar generated electricity has many liabilities even where compared to wind even in most favorable localities solar facilities only produce about 20% of their rated power a day and then only under very favorable climatic conditions. Both clouds and winter adversely effect solar output. It is sometimes suggested that wind and solar compliment each other; solar having its peak output during days while wind at night, and so on. The disadvantages of such a hybrid system become apparent when the cost of redundant capacities are calculated and the number of hours during a year during with neither wind nor sun alone or in combination will generate enough electricity to satisfy consumer demand. Thus without storage renewables are not reliable. With storage, renewables are are more expensive than nuclear. Renewable advocates sometimes attempt to solve the problems of renewable limitations by pointing to the grid as a adjunct to renewable power. But this would assume that carbon based power would continue to be available in a post carbon energy era, and actually quite a lot of carbon based power. This leads us to the paradox that renewables in a post carbon energy scheme would continue to require the presence of carbon based generating capacity in order that the grid be reliable.
My conclusion then is that neither the mostly renewables grid nor the mostly conventional nuclear grid work well and would not provide low cost electricity. In contrast the LFTR grid would work well and at a far more modest cost. Thus advocating a Aim High oriented energy policy can and should include a discussion of the cost, reliability and other advantages of the Aim High option compares to the conventional nuclear or renewables options.
I have been criticized for discussing the disadvantages of both renewables and conventional nuclear power especially in comparison to Aim High LFTR technology. But it is difficult to portray the advantages of the Aim High project without pointing to the cost other advantages over the conventional nuclear and the renewables options. What sort of advocacy would refrain from pointing to the advantages of the preferred course?
Part of the Aim High project is the development of cost savings that are not possible with other energy approaches.
We should not plan the energy future without acknowledging economic fact.