I received this PDF document by email from a friend, and then found it listed on Ted Rockwell’s excellent blog. It’s called:
and I highly recommend reading it (as I am at the moment). Especially interesting are the real facts about the number of deaths per unit energy generated by wind, solar, and nuclear power. Guess which one is dead (no pun intended) last? (by a long shot)
Hint: it’s not “safe, clean, green” wind and solar.
Forgive my alliterative title, but Dr. Per Peterson of UC Berkeley is a co-chair of the Generation IV Proliferation Resistance and Physical Protection Working Group. Several months ago on the thorium-forum he posted five specific categories of performance issues/threats that serve as a basis to assess the proliferation resistance of a proposed reactor design. As a preface to further discussion of this subject, I thought it would be a good idea to repost those categories here:
1) Concealed diversion or production of nuclear material in a declared facility. The primary approach to risk reduction involves the application of effective IAEA safeguards. Knowing where materials are is valuable from the perspectives of safety, reliability, and physical protection, so designing a system to facilitate the application of IAEA safeguards is a great idea in any case.
2) Production of material in clandestine facilities. Here the primary methods for risk reduction involve restricting access to sensitive technologies that are difficult to detect when replicated in a clandestine facility (particularly enrichment), application of effective export controls to detect attempts to acquire dual-use technologies, state-level assessments by the IAEA, and effective use of national technical means and intelligence efforts.
3) Breakout. Here the primary methods for risk reduction involve minimizing the attractiveness of materials used in the system, and sustaining a system of positive and negative security assurances (commonly multilateral or bilateral) that reduce the incentives and security concerns that might lead to breakout.
Physical security threats:
4) Theft of nuclear material for use in nuclear explosives. Here the primary risk reduction involves minimizing the attractiveness of materials used in the system, handling them in areas with very low accessibility (e.g., in hot cells), applying effective physical protection measures to the facility, and having the capacity to respond to and mitigate the consequences if theft does occur (not likely to be Gen IV reactors, but instead attractive legacy materials handled in current systems).
5) Radiological sabotage. Here the primary risk involves power reactors, and the primary risk reduction comes from adopting simpified and passive safety systems for reactivity control and decay heat removal, hardening the vital equipment that performs these safety functions, providing defense in depth with backup from active systems, and providing effective physical protection measures for facilities.
“Proliferation Resistance” is a highly ambiguous term, that allows all sorts of expensive, deterministic, prescriptive requirements to be invoked for future nuclear energy systems. As soon as “Proliferation Resistance” is broken down into these 5 categories of security threats, it becomes much easier to discuss specific and effective approaches to assure that the risks posed by these security threats can be made very low.
I look forward to discussing the performance of the LFTR, in several of its potential variants, against each of these categories.
Here are two articles. Both are in the New York Times. Both are written by Matthew Wald. Both are about “nuclear power” (meaning light-water reactors in this case). But they are separated in time by twenty years:
Every plant of the more than 100 ordered since 1973 has been canceled, and many others are approaching retirement. But reactor manufacturers say that fears of global warming – the greenhouse effect – are giving them a second chance. Nuclear power advocates have, of course, been predicting the industry’s rebirth for years. But the plans are becoming more specific, and political calculations are coming into play. Reactor builders are readying designs for a new generation of plants that, they say, will be far safer, less expensive and simpler to operate.
Thirty years after the American nuclear industry abandoned scores of half-built plants because of soaring costs and operating problems like the Three Mile Island accident, skepticism persists over whether the technology is worth investing in.
Yet the pendulum may be swinging back. The 104 plants now running have sharply raised their output, emboldening utilities across the country to make a case for building new ones.
And the industry is about to get a big boost. In the next few days, the Energy Department plans to announce the first of $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for building new reactors.
During the twenty years that separates these two articles, a lot of things happened. The Soviet Union collapsed. We fought two wars in some of the most oil-rich country on Earth. Islamic terrorism became a global scourge and thousands were killed by suicidal airborne terrorists. The internet grew exponentially and our ability to communicate has been vastly improved. We’ve had speculative bubbles in tech and housing come and pop.
But “nuclear power technology” hasn’t changed much at all. It is not difficult to recognize most of the same players and the same reactors from the 1989 article to the 2009 article. Sure, some of the companies have been sold or switched hands, but the products that they’re marketing are easily recognizable.
The reason I bring this up is–if we want to have a “nuclear renaissance” we need to change the things that are keeping the growth in nuclear energy down and slow right now. The number one of those is the capital costs of building a reactor. The technology of a light-water reactor doesn’t scale down cost-effectively (as I think B&W will discover) and so you want to build them big. That leads to a lot of capital being tied up while you build the plant, and for most utilities it either exceeds or strains what they want to risk. Buying a new set of gas-turbines and plugging into the nearby gas line, on the other hand, risks FAR less capital. You just have to worry about the severe fluctuations in fuel costs that are inherent in natural gas. But utilities have learned that they can push those off on rate-payers anyway. With nuclear power, fuel costs are VERY low but ratepayers generally don’t make that connection.
The LFTR technology we advocate on here has the potential to really do something about the capital costs of the reactor, and the main reason is the superior heat-transfer capabilities of fluoride salt. Dr. Per Peterson at UC Berkeley is doing some of the best work right now describing this cost advantage, but because fluoride salt can move a lot of heat, at atmospheric pressure, everything in the plant gets smaller and cheaper. Less steel, less alloy, less concrete, less nuclear-grade material. A nuclear power plant that could have the physical footprint of a gas-fired power plant. Maybe even less.
I hope that by advancing fluoride reactor technology that twenty years from now when Mr. Wald writes another article about nuclear energy that he’s reporting on the successful operation of several dozen liquid-fluoride thorium reactors.
For those of you who have procrastinated buying the January 2010 issue of WIRED magazine, it looks like your waiting might have paid off:
Thanks to the Wired article, we’re getting record traffic onto the blog. If you’re new here and would like to learn more, I would really recommend watching one of the YouTube videos linked on the right-side column of the blog. “LFTR in 16 minutes” is probably one of best if you want to learn more quickly.
Also, with regards to the article, it’s important for me to mention a few things. First of all, fluoride salt is NOT highly corrosive if it’s put in the right container material. The high-nickel-alloy Hastelloy-N was proven by Oak Ridge scientists and engineers to be compatible with fluoride salt at the elevated temperatures at which LFTR would operate. Discovering Hastelloy-N and proving it would work was one of their great accomplishments.
Also, LFTR is tightly controlled–but it is predominantly self-controlled. This is the best kind of control of all. Like putting a marble in a bowl and knowing it will always roll down to the middle, the LFTR controls the nuclear reaction naturally and without operator intervention. If the reactor starts to overheat, the salt expands, there’s less fuel in the core to sustain the reaction and the reaction naturally slows down. If the reactor gets too cool, the salt contracts, there’s more fuel in the core, and the reaction speeds up. If heat removal is lost, the reactor naturally shuts down, and if no intervention is made, it melts through a salt plug at the bottom of the reactor vessel and drains into a passively-cooled tank. The reactor is literally walk-away safe. That is one of the truly magic things about using a fluid fuel–you can achieve a level of safety that is truly amazing.
Here’s the speech that I would have written for Obama to give at Copenhagen, if I had been asked:
“Greetings fellow delegates.
We are here to confront the issue of global climate change. For me, I must admit, I am not a climatologist nor a scientist, and there are many things that I don’t understand about the science. But the most essential element appears to be the connection between the emission of carbon dioxide and an increase in global temperatures. There is increasing uncertainty about how closely coupled those two factors are.
But there is no doubt that carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere, and that as societies industrialize, they tend to use more and more fossil fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. We are having this conference in large part because people want the benefits of fossil fuels without wanting the effects that the emissions might cause. And no one wants to give up the benefits of using fossil fuels if they think that everyone else is still using them.
I am here with very good news for all sides involved. Consider a single barrel of crude oil, that might sell for 50 to 100 American dollars, depending on the mood of the market at the time. Our American scientists, nearly 60 years ago, figured out how to extract a hundred times more energy from an equivalent volume of common rock as from this barrel of oil. Everyone has lots of common rock in their country, and so this discovery means that every nation can be energy independent. The best news is that this technology can produce this energy without emitting greenhouse gases.
Based on this innovation, I declare that the intent of the United States is to decarbonize its economy while making it more powerful and more competitive. Rather than making energy more expensive, we’re going to make it less expensive. We plan to do this regardless of what other nations plan to do, because it will be in our economic self-interest. Thus, our need to negotiate joint reductions in CO2 so as to not unfairly hurt our own economy has largely gone away. We do this in order to increase our economic competitiveness.
We have made available this research online for years. Other nations are free to follow this compelling research as well. But make no mistake, the United States plans to lead and succeed at this thrilling effort.
Thank you, and my best wishes for your futures.”
Recently a member of the thorium-forum who has also been a member of the “environmental” group Environmental Action, received a form letter asking him to renew his membership. He perused their website and found nothing about nuclear energy, except for the fact that here in the U.S. we now get 19% of our electricity from nuclear. On the other hand, on one of their web pages was a statement that we get 2% of our energy from “clean” sources. He wrote a letter to them and enclosed it in their return envelope, and gave me permission to re-post it here. I do so in the hopes that others might follow his example and ask these groups why they oppose the source of energy that has the very best chance for lifting the human race out of poverty and suffering AND drastically reducing our impact on the environment:
44 Winter Street
Boston, MA 02108
SUBJECT: PLEASE EXPLAIN
Today I received a request from your organization to renew my support. However, before doing so, I want a question answered and to make some points. My renewal depends on your response.
I found the following statement on your web site:
“We get only 2% [of our electricity] from clean energy sources such as wind and solar power.”
However, we get about 19% of our electricity from nuclear power, as you already know, yet you have not included nuclear power as clean energy. Why?
China emits more CO2 than we do. Both China and India have a population of approximately one billion. India has a population density 11 times greater than ours, and China has a population density 4.3 times greater than ours. Because of their high population densities, it would be totally impossible for China and India to meet more than a fraction of their growing power needs with wind and solar power. Thus, unless they and other densely populated countries use nuclear power, they will use huge amounts coal in which case our attempts to reduce CO2 emissions would be meaningless. In fact, it is doubtful that we could meet all of our power requirements without using nuclear.
Thirty years ago, fear of nuclear power was valid. However, there have been considerable advances in nuclear power over the last 30 years, and the advances should allay the fears that formerly were valid.
Nuclear “waste” need no longer be a problem. The “waste” is actually contains more than 60% U238 plus considerable plutonium and can be burned in fast breeder reactors, thereby reducing the “waste” to a tiny fraction. The remaining waste would have a short life and would need to be sequestered for only a few hundred years, rather than thousands of years.
Also, reactors can be, and have been, designed to use thorium for fuel instead of uranium. A thorium reactor produces only a fraction as much waste as a pressurized water thermal reactor (the most common type currently in use), and the waste decays quickly.
Obviously Environmental Action has one of two problems:
1. It’s anti-nuclear stance is like a religion and will not change regardless of what evidence is presented, or
2. It has failed to do the necessary research to keep its knowledge up to date.
There are many sources of information that Environmental Action can use to update its understanding of nuclear power. I particularly recommend the book, Prescription for the Planet by Tom Blees; it is available from Amazon.com. Even though the book is not perfect, it does make many good and valid points regarding nuclear energy and the imperative to use it. Because the book does not cover thorium as a reactor fuel, I suggest doing a google search on “thorium reactor.” Thorium reactor technology has been proven effective.
If you do the necessary research work, I believe that you will be convinced that nuclear power can be safe, that it is essential to solving our environmental problems, and that opposing nuclear power is a serious mistake.
A few posts ago I mentioned the UK TV show where they showed an army of “energy slaves” pedaling away, trying desperately to generate enough power for a single family…a better demonstration of the concept of energy slaves, I’ve never seen.
I predicted we’d see more of such foolishness as the Copenhagen conference neared–what I didn’t expect was to see this insanity itself IN Copenhagen!
At the Danish capital’s City Hall Square, 15 to 20 volunteers can sit on stationary bikes located around a massive, decorated tree and pedal away to keep it light, at least during the day. The bikes are connected to electrical tie-ups that ultimately power hundreds of lights on the tree.
Oh man, there’s so much to say about the stupidity of this…perhaps I had better just stop now. But not before I mention that most of the electrical energy in Denmark is generated by fossil fuels, and that the Danish government has gotten rich off selling North Sea crude for years.
Here’s another good example of junk science being used to sell newspapers and stoke anti-radiation fear:
Using normal doses of radiation for the procedure, about one in 270 women who receive it at age 40 and one in 600 men will develop cancer as a result, Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman of UC San Francisco and her colleagues found. For a routine head scan, one in 8,100 women and one in 11,080 men will develop a tumor.
Bull. I know how they generated this number, and it’s based on using the “linear, no-threshold” hypothesis for radiation exposure. It’s based on the simplifying (and wrong) assumption that small cumulative doses of radiation have a fractional effect of one large dose. It was formulated fifty years ago (in the absence of evidence for its truth) to be EXTRA CONSERVATIVE when it comes to radiation exposure.
But it has been used to generate all kinds of unintended, and wrong risk assessments. LNT is roughly analogous to saying that if 50% of people who fall from 50 feet die, and 100% of people who fall from 100 feet die, then falling 1 foot gives you a 1% chance of dying, and falling 1 foot 100 times means you’ll die too.
And since, by the terms of the hypothesis, it would be unethical to expose large populations to low-doses of radiation and to see if the supposed cancer cases turn up, no one will ever attempt to disprove LNT clinically. Pretty convenient to have a theory that makes a prediction that makes it unethical to ever attempt to disprove the theory.
But nature is a test laboratory for LNT all the time, because there’s lot of places in the world where people get background doses of radiation 10, 50, even 100 times higher than what people commonly get. Do we see larger numbers of cancers in those places? No, we don’t. Some places we see even less cancer occurence.
Here’s the simple fact–the body can repair radiation damage. It does it all the time. But LNT assumes that this doesn’t happen. It’s like working out–you “break down” your muscles and they build up stronger than before.
But the Chicago Tribune has published this article with a SCARY headline intended to sell newspapers–but the real cost will come from people who do not seek medical treatment out of an imaginary fear of radiation that then leads to serious medical conditions going undiagnosed that WILL kill them. But I’m sure the scaremongers who wrote this article will rest easy knowing that at least they didn’t die from TERRIBLE SCARY RADIATION!!!
(thanks to Eric McErlain for the heads-up on the article…)
I was interviewed several months ago by the author for this article.
One form of MSR, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), has garnered particular enthusiasm among those who regard thorium as an attractive replacement for uranium and plutonium in the fuel cycle. (Thorium is both cheaper and more abundant than uranium.) According to Kirk Sorensen, an engineer at NASA who also runs a blog on the merits of the thorium cycle, natural thorium provides at least 250 times more energy per unit than natural uranium. However, unlike fissile uranium, natural thorium must be “seeded” with external neutrons in order to get it to fission. Another obstacle for the MSR is finding materials capable of withstanding hot, corrosive, radioactive salt.
A few months back I blogged about going out to see the old Yellow Creek Nuclear Reactor site north of Iuka, Mississippi. I went back last Friday:
You can stand in the middle of this old cooling tower and speak no louder than a whisper and yet it comes back to you nearly as clearly as if you were speaking in a full voice.