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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    

On Population Growth: Addressing the Real Problem

@Robert Wilson

You have identified the primary reason why the US consumes more energy per capita than France, German or Switzerland and it is not because Americans are naturally more wasteful than residents of those countries. Instead, it is primarily based on the fact that our country is much larger, with a population density that is quite a bit lower than any of your examples. As you pointed out in your comment, if you draw circles around urban areas in the US, you will find that we walk, live in smaller spaces and take public transportation enough to lower our average energy consumption to something that is close to that in your example countries.

You also point to measures like life expectancy, child mortality and education as measures of wealth. You ignore measures that seem important enough to people to attract them to the US and cause deep queues waiting for permission to emigrate here. On average, Americans that do not live in dense, walkable cities live in larger homes, have more property between them and their neighbors, have the freedom to travel on their own schedule, and can take advantage of entertainment and employment opportunities that are not within walking or biking distance. Our freedom to move requires less efficient, but often more comfortable transportation in the form of personal automobiles. Our larger homes require more energy to maintain at comfortable temperatures. Our employment flexibility often comes with an energy cost.

I think many of us are less wealthy today than we were when I was a child and gasoline cost about 25 cents per gallon. I lived on a suburban street with teachers, engineers, mechanics, retirees and airline employees. Three of my neighbors owned their own plane. About half had a swimming pool and/or a powerboat. Most had cars large enough to drive a carpool so we could get to swim meets, baseball games and wrestling matches in nearby cities. Most of us took annual vacations lasting at least two weeks that involved thousands of miles of travel in comfortable automobiles or campers.

I've been fortunate enough so that I have been able to provide my own children with some similar experiences, but I would bet that most teachers, mechanics and engineers have not been as fortunate as their earnings have failed to keep pace with the cost of liquid fuels that enabled many of those "luxuries" to be affordable for the masses.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 7, 2013    View Comment    

On Population Growth: Addressing the Real Problem

@Nathan Wilson

The unreliable nature of the wind and the sun is a huge contributor to their high cost. The other component is the fact that they are diffuse, weak energy sources. Their weakness necessitates very large collection systems, their unreliability means that those collection systems are often idle or producing at far less than their design capacity. Capital equipment that is idle does not produce revenue, so it must produce make up revenue at the times when it is not idle. If those productive times cannot be scheduled for times when prices are high, it adds to the challenge.

Coming up with process uses like ammonia production or water distillation does not solve the problem of unreliability since those processes are also dependent on capital investments and since most chemical processes are far more efficient if operated on a steady basis. Start up and shut downs of process equipment tend to be wasteful periods with poor quality output while piping is being warmed and flows are being balanced.

I am terribly sorry if pointing out these limitations offends people that promote unreliable power systems, but I do not expect to win any friends among competitors in the energy supply industry. Instead, I am aiming my messages at energy customers, the people that will benefit from making it easier to supply them with power that continuously falls in price per unit and that approaches a zero emission asymptote. Competitors don't like the idea of selling power at lower and lower prices; that harms their profitability because they have already taken about as much action as they possibly can to reduce costs.

In contrast, nuclear fission power plant designers, manufacturers, builders and operators have a tremendous amount of scope within which to improve their cost structure. Most of them have operated within a "cost is no object" culture of adding redundant layers of "safety" systems, even though nuclear fission power plants constructed with 1960s vintage design standards have an enviable record of protecting the public from harm.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 7, 2013    View Comment    

On Population Growth: Addressing the Real Problem

@Robert Wilson

I am sorry that you find my accurate term for wind and solar energy to be "disagreeable". I cannot help the fact that systems using those naturally variable forces are inherently unreliable and uncontrollable by humans or human designed control systems. That is simply the way it is.

In contrast, our current prospects for using more nuclear energy are defined by human decision making in the form of either political or business decisions. Since the decisions are driven by humans, they can be influenced by humans. I will continue to believe that we can -- and must -- change course and speed in nuclear energy development.

I'm kind of a believer in the Serenity Prayer.

October 4, 2013    View Comment    

On Population Growth: Addressing the Real Problem


You will get no disagreement from me on the following point:

However significant long term declines in carbon emissions in the eyes of some American climate change "skeptics" are going to lead to inevitable declines in quality of life. Yet if North America simply consumed and produced energy like France and Sweden its emissions would be three times lower. 

It is self evident that we need no technological breakthroughs to emulate the way that France, Sweden and Switzerland produce their power, though we need to recognize that our terrain limitations are more similar to France's than to Sweden and Switzerland. We use hydro where possible and should use reliable nuclear reactors for nearly all of the rest.

We should electify more of our transportation infrastructure, especially in the form of intercity rail (electric trains are a more useful investment than "high speed trains") and intracity subways and surface trolley systems. We should replace oil burning furnaces with electric heat pumps, perhaps supplemented with natural gas heat for the days too cold to allow heat pumps to be effective.

You and I agree. There are best practice examples that we can follow. It is past time to get started. It is a good thing that we started building commercially competitive nuclear electricity generation plants in 1963 and have learned to operate them quite reliably. It is a shame that we have lost several decades worth of building experience and infrastructure development to ill advised opposition efforts combined with really poor nuclear industry project management and promotional efforts.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

October 3, 2013    View Comment