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On Naval Reactors Should Be Empowered to Show the Way Again


On Atomic Insights, I have been gradually collective evidence of the involvement of fossil fuel interests who oppose the use of nuclear energy. Those posts can be found with a search for "smoking gun".

i know there are parts of the antinuclear opposition that do not seem to be well funded when seen from the trenches, just like there are portions of the energy industry that do not provide lucrative paychecks for the workers.

However, when you look at the annual budget figures for some of the major international groups that are significant participants in activity meant to slow nuclear energy development, you can perhaps see the reason that I call the movement "well funded". Friends of the Earth, UCS, Sierra Club, NRDC, Public Citizen and RMI are just a few example members of the long running coalition against nuclear development with annual budgets in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

in addition to the sources documented in the smoking gun posts on Atomic Insights, consider the fact that major foundations supporting "environmental" groups that are almost uniformly opposed to nuclear energy include the Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, and the George and Cynthia Mitchill Foundation. The common thread of all of these groups is that their wealth came from oil and gas.

Finally, do not limit your view to the US. The Green Party in Germany has received substantial support from both domestic coal and Russian gas suppliers.

Individuals have also "made bank" after working hard to slow nuclear energy. Two small examples out of many: Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor that was the architect of Germany's initial plan to phase out nuclear energy, went to work for Gazprom immediately after he left office

Joschka Fischer, a Green Party founder who was Germany's longest serving foreign minister became an advisor to the Nabucco pipeline coalition to bring natural gas from the Caspian Sea to central Europe. (Oil Road: Journeys From the Caspian Sea To the City of London pg 326

November 16, 2013    View Comment    

On Energy Risk: Radiation Superstition

@Michael Berndtson

I also like rules and regulations; I am, after all, a retired US Navy nuke who spent a portion of my career training prospective officers at the Naval Academy.

However, human imposed rules are subject to change. They should be changed when they are not based on correct science. The motivation to seek change comes when one realizes that the rules of the game have been purposely chosen to benefit the established players at the expense of all other potential participants.

Appropriate reviews of established regulations don't happen by magic, especially when there are people that like the way things are today. They start when people, some of whom may be outside of the industry, point out the fallacies and incorrect assumptions. The reviews continue when people who have struggled to implement the rules and recognize their extreme costs speak up. (That is not easy, by the way. One person's extreme cost is another person's generous revenue stream. Something tells me that you have spent your career on the revenue side of implementing regulations.)

I've been in the industry and struggled with the excessive costs. I've seen the size of the design teams, and the cost of the excessively redundant layers. I've seen the numbers associated with meeting dose rate limits in the case of the "worst case scenarios" that that include magical dispersal of the entire core volume and give little or no credit for physical boundaries like 7 inch thick pressure vessels installed inside containment buildings that have 1 inch thick steel walls surrounded by 3 foot thick concrete shield buildings. Ten mile emergency planning zones are part of that cost, even though the State of the Art Reactor Consequences Analysis (SOARCA) indicated that there was little to no possibility of any injury outside of the plant boundaries.

I've watched the situation in Japan, where tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their homes in order to protect them from minor contamination that would give them an annual dose rate that is less than half of what I was allowed to receive as an occupational worker when I first started my nuclear career - and the Navy has kept extremely careful records for more than 50 years that show those limits were quite conservative already. The cost of evacuating people from their homes is almost incalculable, but one indication of the cost is that somewhere close to 1,000 people suffered an early death as the result of the process and the stress involved.

Finally, I have done enough review of the projected design of waste repositories to know how much additional cost was added due to the EPA setting a limit of 15 mrem per year - which is about 1/20th of average background exposure in the US not including medical - and establishing a requirement that the designers seek to ensure that the repository meet that limit for a million years into the future. 

We need to challenge the basis for the regulations so that we can make intelligent design choices that balance safety with cost. The alternative to addressing nuclear system cost is to keep pricing it out of the market and encouraging more fossil fuel consumption by default. That is not the safe path.

This is as good as any place to keep the discussion going and to increase the pressure for sensible change.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

PS - I have no worries that sensible radiation dose rate regulations will change the economics of oil and gas production. That industry already has sensible limits because they have convinced their regulators that radiation from Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) is somehow less damaging to human health than radiation associated with nuclear energy production. When doses are equal, human bodies cannot tell the difference between natural and "artificial" radiation.

October 23, 2013    View Comment    

On Energy Risk: Radiation Superstition

@Michael Berndtson

Please provide your own CV so we can stop dismissing your comments as coming from "some random guy on the internet". My resume can be found here - (I need to update it with my most recent job change.)

If you visit Atomic Insights go to the Archives section and look for the articles on Radiation or Health Effects. They include numerous references to peer reviewed research on the health effects of low level radiation. Even the government's official model of a linear no threshold dose response indicates that low doses provide low risk of any health effects. There is a great deal of science behind a statement saying that the LNT model is conservative and gives the upper limit of risk.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 22, 2013    View Comment    

On Energy Risk: Radiation Superstition

I disagree. Nuclear opposition is all about selling more natural gas, coal, and oil. That is the several trillion dollar per year business whose profitability is threatened by the existence of abundant nuclear energy.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 21, 2013    View Comment    

On Energy Risk: Radiation Superstition

@Michael Berndtson

You wrote:

I have a feeling you are not familiar how a chemical and radiological health risk assessment is performed. Which is why I don't want internet based nuclear cowboys hawking nuclear power with less oversight by downplaying health and safety risk.

Your assumption is not correct. I have some professional experience in risk assessment. Though I contribute to Internet discussions, I live and work in the real world and hardly consider myself a cowboy. My former bosses in the Navy and in commercial nuclear power plant design would hopefully testify to my cautious approach to realistic risk assessment.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights. 

October 21, 2013    View Comment    

On Energy Risk: Radiation Superstition

@Michael Berndtson

I suppose it is "the market" that requires the receipt of a federal license prior to the start of nuclear plant construction. I suppose it is "the market" that established a process for that license that takes approximately 42-120 months (the long end was the actual time required for the most recently awarded COLAs including the time required to obtain the Design Certification for the AP1000) and costs $274 per bureaucrat hour spent in the review? 

I suppose it was "the market" that has placed a ban on new nuclear power plant construction in a number of states until such time as a permanent repository for used nuclear fuel has been sited and licensed by the federal government and established the licensing requirement that the facility must ensure that no one ever receives more than 15 mrem per year of exposure over the first 1,000,000 years that the facility is in operation?

There are many other irrational, fear-related additional requirements that have been imposed upon the development of nuclear power plants that add both cost and an indeterminate amount of time to the process of building the plants. A substantial portion of the fear has been stoked by the marketers of competitive products like coal, oil, natural gas, wind, solar, and biomass.

Bob's effort is part of the effort that is required to overcome these imposed requirements so that nuclear energy projects can compete on a more level playing field for investment dollars. On a technical basis, nuclear energy already wins - its fuel costs about 70 cents per million BTU and the process of using that fuel to produce electricity produces NO atmospheric pollution or greenhouse gases. Since fission heat is just another way to boil water, there is no real reason why its "heat engines" should cost so much more than fossil fuel heated engines.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 21, 2013    View Comment    

On European Renewable Energy Subsidies Under Fire From Major Power Generators

@Scott Shugarts

I lived for several months at a time inside a sealed submarine powered by a nuclear reactor. I did that 11 different times during my youth. Later in my Navy career, I was responsible for financial analysis of ship and submarine maintenance facilities and learned that all of the Navy's used cores were stored in a single small facility in the Idaho desert, while all of the decommissioned reactor compartments were stored in a single, relatively small section of the Hanford nuclear reservation.

You can say or write anything you want, but you will never convince me that a nuclear reactor is anything but a safe, emission-free, machine that reliably turns a tiny quantity of fuel into a long lived source of useful power.

October 19, 2013    View Comment    

On European Renewable Energy Subsidies Under Fire From Major Power Generators

@Aaron Cosbey

How does Germany's irrational decision to shut down its highly respected, carefully engineered, emission free nuclear plants fit into your story of unintended consequences?

Do you really believe that Poland leads the EU decision process regarding coal and emissions trading. With all due respect to the inhabitants of that often invaded land, I don't think Poland is the most influencial member of the EU on any issue. 

October 18, 2013    View Comment    

On Robert Stone Addresses Anti-nuclear Heckler at Australian Showing of Pandora's Promise

@Edward Kerr

The light water breeder reactor used thorium as the fertile material to breed U-233. There was little to no plutonium created in that core; there was no U-238 and it takes a lot of absorptions and decays to work up from Th-232 to Pu-239.

Molten salt is not the only way to use your favored actinide.

October 18, 2013    View Comment    

On Robert Stone Addresses Anti-nuclear Heckler at Australian Showing of Pandora's Promise


Light Water Breeder Reactors do not current "exist", but the technology has been developed and proven in a five year long test. The last core of the Shippingport nuclear power plant, the large light water reactor built as a commercial demonstration project in the 1950s, used a core designed to breed U-233 from thorium-232. As a test unit, its capacity factor was only moderate - 65% - during the five year test program, but that is not too bad for a reactor that needed to be shutdown and operated at a varying power level as part of the test program.

The testing ran from 1977 through 1982. That year, the reactor was shut down to allow for careful, destructive testing of the fuel bundles. The final report was not issued until 1987. By then, there was fading interest in new nuclear power plants due to the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

However, the final report showed that there was about 2-3% more fissile material in the core after 28,000 effective full power hours than there was at the beginning of core life.


That core was designed by Alvin Radkowsky, one of Admiral Rickover's best core designers. He took his knowledge and used it to attract some capital investors to form a company named Thorium Power. That company is still operating today under the name of Lightbridge. It continues developing fuel that can be used in light water reactors. Some of its designs lead to high conversion ratios that approach breeding.



October 18, 2013    View Comment    

On Breakthrough Institute on Cheap Nuclear Energy

@Charles Barton

I have not yet finished your piece, but I needed to take a break and respond to the following statement:

The Pebble Bed Reactor is often pointed to as an example of Generation IV Inherent Safety, but part of that safety requires a very large core.  In fact a core that is larger than the core of commercial Light Water Reactors.  The Pebble Bed core costs as much to build as a LWR and thus no one seems to be moving forward with conventional Pebble Bed Reactor projects.  

You and I have had this discussion before; claiming that pebble bed reactors cost as much to build as an LWR because they have large cores exposes the simplistic nature of your understanding of cost drivers. Big structures are not necessarily more costly than smaller structures; there are many factors included in cost computations in addition to physical size. For example, an NFL football stadium is a much larger structure than the "nuclear island" of a large, 1000+ MWe class nuclear reactor, but even with all of the bells and whistles of modern stadiums, stadiums are considerably less expensive.

Your statement that "no one seems to be moving forward with conventional Pebble Bed Reactor projects" is a little exaggerated; there are two commercial pebble bed reactors under construction in China as part of their continuing methodical development of the technology. Those two reactors build on the lessons learned by ten years of operating the 10 MW experimental HTR-10.

Designated as HTR-PM, those two reactor cores are going to both provide the heat and steam for a single 210 MWe turbine. The choice to use two reactors to heat a single turbine helps to expose the complex nature of cost computations when you make a complete paradigm shift from a pressurized water cooled reactor to one that uses pressurized helium as the heat transfer mechanism.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 12, 2013    View Comment    

On How Painful Will the Coming Spike in Natural Gas Prices Be?

@Robert Rapier

There is more inertia than you think in the oil and gas markets. Do you really believe that producers will move drilling rigs back into gas production from oil production if there is just a small margin between cost and price?

Each barrel of crude oil contains approximately 5.6 MMBTU of heat. With a current WTI market price of $102 per barrel, oil is selling for $18 per MMBTU. Why would any driller shift capital resources from oil extraction to gas extraction if gas is selling for 1/3 of that market price? Historically, there has been only a 10-30% difference betwen the cost of oil and gas when compared on a heat content basis. Where is the financial incentive to shift resources from more lucrative oil plays? Who is going to provide the $5-$10 million in risk capital required for each drilling project?

In my opinion, the big players in the energy game are ready for their five-year-long price war against coal and nuclear to end. They want to start reaping the benefits of having pushed their competitors down far enough so that they will have a nice long period with substantial profits before overall supplies increase enough to lead to lower prices.

Natural gas prices must rise quite a bit higher than $7 per MMBTU to provide the incentive for a significant increase in production rate. I am betting that gas prices will begin rising this winter and that they will exceed $10 per MMBTU before there is any change in the upward slope.

Rod Adams

Publisher, Atomic Insights


October 10, 2013    View Comment