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On The Future of Energy: Why Power Density Matters

Robert

Excellent post on an important topic. I apologize for being a little late to the party.

When it comes to energy density as measured by watts per square meter of land use, you did a good job of pointing out both current figures and the asymptotes for many renewable sources. Have you thought much about the theoretical limits associated with nuclear fission technology?

Here is some food for thought for you and others in this discussion. The B&W mPower(TM) reactor is designed to produce 360 MWe and to be sited on a 40 acre site. That works out to roughly 2,200 watts/square meter.

That kind of power plant may someday be located within densely populated cities, reducing the need for land to be devoted to transmission lines. As a submariner who has coexisted inside a sealed ship with a reactor all ways less than 200 feet away, I am comfortable with having mPower type reactors as next door neighbors.

There are many other fission power systems that can achieve this kind of power density. They are safe and emission free. I used mPower numbers because I happen to have them at my fingertips.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

Disclosure: My comments on the web are strictly my own views and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. However, I am employed by B&W on the mPower reactor development team, so I suppose I have an inherent bias. I am proud of the technology we are refining.

August 11, 2013    View Comment    

On The Future of Energy: Why Power Density Matters

You used a lot of words to come to an incorrect conclusion based on more than one false assumption.

For example, I once ran an engineering department on a nuclear submarine. I was 27 years old with a BS in English and an MS in Systems Technology. Five or six members of my department has BS degrees. The rest of the 35 were skilled tradesmen with technical training.

The average age was about 24.

Running a nuclear plant requires trained people with high integrity and a good work ethic, but they do not need to be PhD level intellects. The necessary skills are widely available and can be developed.

System costs can be brought down by applying well understood concepts of series production and interchangeable parts.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

August 11, 2013    View Comment    

On The Future of Energy: Why Power Density Matters

Deleted by author. Post did not appear in correct location in thread, so it made no sense.

August 11, 2013    View Comment    

On Cost of Closing San Onofre Nuclear Plant: 13.6 Billion

@CaptD

I have spoken to some that knew those that were there when Unit 3 started leaking, two hours elapsed between the first alarm and starting the reactor shut down sequence!


Your own post contradicts that statement. A couple of paragraphs later you state that the initial alarm was received at 15:05. By 17:05, two hours later, the reactor power was less than 35%.

You may not understand what you wrote, but that tells me that the operators immediately started shutting down the plant. It takes some time to reduce power in a reactor producing enough juice to power half a million to a million households. It would not be prudent to rapidly reduce power (scram) a plant that has evidence of a leak - the thermal stresses would be likely to increase the size of the leak.

Rod Adams

July 31, 2013    View Comment    

On Cost of Closing San Onofre Nuclear Plant: 13.6 Billion

@Zak Red Ridge

Nearly all of my friends and colleagues developed over the past 30 years have far more detailed nuclear knowledge than an unidentified "nuclear technician". Among those friends I can probably count no fewer than 2 dozen with PhD's and a substantially larger number with MS NEs. Then there are the people who are qualified Senior Reactor Operator or Engineer Officer on nuclear powered ships.

They would agree that your friend is misinformed.

The IAEA and the WHO also have issued reports indicating that there is little chance that there will ever be any deaths that can be attributed to the radiation exposures received by the small discharges of radioactive material (something less than 20 kilograms of Cs-137 and a few tens of grams of I-131)

Einstein was absolutely correct. Atomic fission is one hell of a way to boil water. Humans worked for several thousand years before discovering such a nearly perfect source of heat - huge energy density of 2 million times more than oil, almost no waste, and no need for an external oxygen source.

 

 

July 31, 2013    View Comment    

On Nuclear Energy Plant Designed, Constructed, Tested in Less Than Two Years

@Robert Bernal

You are getting close to being fully aware.

If you look at the history of solar energy, for example, you will find that most of the initial private capital came from companies like BP and Chevron. They had to have known that the sun's fundamental characteristics of diffuse, erratic power would never even nick their primary income stream.

Even if advanced automation makes solar panels as cheap as fabric, do you have any idea how much MATERIAL is involved in covering hundreds, much less thousands of square miles of land. Speaking of which, where are you going to find the resources to purchase the land to cover with the panels? What happens when the land starts to run low; can you manufacture more?

What is wrong with pressure? We have been dealing with retaining pressure for a long time. In fact, the ASME was initially formed to gather and share the engineering expertise required to safely handle the pressure inside of steam boilers. It is a well understood, painstaking, but successful branch of engineering.

I understand why people can get excited about LFTR, but there is no reason to try to sell it by damning other fission technology. Compare it to oil, natural gas and coal; they are the ones with the market share.

July 31, 2013    View Comment    

On Cost of Closing San Onofre Nuclear Plant: 13.6 Billion

@Robert Bernal

You appear to have accepted the arguments of the antinuclear opposition. I would guess that you might be one of the molten salt / thorium reactor proponents who claim that all will be better and nuclear energy will prosper if we simply move on to "better" technology.

Based on my reasonably deep well of knowledge about the safey and reliability of light water reactors over their fifty year operating history - approximately 25,000 reactor years worth LWR operations around the world (about half of that number comes from shipboard power plants) - the real issues that lead to such a strong organized opposition do not stem from the weakness of LWR technology. LWRs certainly have their challenges, but most have been mitigated with good design, maintenance and operation.

There are people that will oppose any nuclear technology that actually makes it into the market place. Some of them hate nuclear because of its tenuous relationship with nuclear weapons. Some hate nuclear because it provides abundant, reliable energy and they would prefer for human society to revert to an earlier, less powerful time when people only had access to "natural" energy sources.

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, there are people who oppose nuclear energy because it competes directly with their favorite sources of energy and income - coal, oil, gas, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal. If not artificially restrained, it is a formidable competitor that not only captures market share, it drives down the market prices of all other forms of energy because it represents an increase in the supply without increasing the demand.

Energy suppliers hate the idea of selling fewer BTUs at lower unit prices per BTU. So do their bankers, equipment suppliers and other investors.

Rod Adams

Publisher, Atomic Insights

July 31, 2013    View Comment    

On Cost of Closing San Onofre Nuclear Plant: 13.6 Billion

@CaptD

Your statements are not true. The operators shut down unit 3 immediately upon the receipt of the radiation alarm. 

It is never quite kosher to use a self-reference, but I published a carefully reasoned, referenced analysis of the technical reports filed by both SCE and the steam generator vendor. It is far too long to post as a comment.

http://atomicinsights.com/san-onofre-steam-generators-honest-error-driven-by-search-for-perfection/

Although the internet is a place that protects anonymity, my professional training and work history is published for all to see.

http://atomicinsights.com/wp-content/uploads/Rod-Adams-resume-Atomic-Insights-April-15-2013.pdf

Readers can feel free to evaluate that information to determine if they would rather believe my analysis or the work of an anonymous commenter with a history of statements in opposition to the beneficial use of nuclear energy on a variety of sites.

I will leave people with a final link - I wrote this post to contrast the reaction given to the small leak of essentially pure water from San Onofre to the reaction to a fatal refinery accident and release of massive quantities of toxic material.

http://atomicinsights.com/media-coverage-chevrons-richmond-ca-refinery-versus-scegs-san-onofre-nuclear-generating-station/

I wrote that long before the decision was made to use that tiny leak as an excuse to shut down a two unit facility that provided approximately 15% of California's electricity in favor of massively increasing the state's natural gas consumption. It is clear to me who the real winners are in the battle to make people irrationally fear nuclear energy - the oil&gas companies are taking additional earnings of $2-$10 million to the bank every day.

July 31, 2013    View Comment    

On Harming Humans by Reinforcing Nuclear Energy Fearmongering

@Ivor

Thanks for the comment. Feel free to write your own pithy blogs. I may be a little verbose at times, but that is my right. Space on the web is virtually infinite.

June 16, 2013    View Comment    

On Wind Energy Growing Faster than Coal in China: False Math

@Robert Wilson

There is something funny about the statistics page - http://www.cec.org.cn/yaowenkuaidi/2013-02-22/97555.html - referenced in the original article - at least as translated from Chinese into English using Google translate. It says that from 2011 through 2012, Chinese electricity production from nuclear increased by 12.6% to 982 billion kilowatt-hours. That would indicate that nuclear production in 2011 was 872 billion kilowatt hours. 

Those numbers cannot be correct considering China's installed nuclear capacity of roughly 14 GWe - http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/China--... -  even though that number is rapidly growing.

Plants totalling 14 GWe of capacity can only produce 123 billion kilowatt hours of electricity at 100% CF. My guess is that the nuclear component of the report is off by a factor of 10.

(Note: US nuclear electricity generation in 2012 was just 769 billion kilowatt hours - http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf - which is down by 5% from the 806 billion kw-hrs achieved in 2007, 2008, 2010)

I'm not arguing about your commentary, just pointing out that the numbers quoted from the original source might be subject to some revision.

May 21, 2013    View Comment    

On Risks to American Nuclear Energy from "Non-Proliferation" Excesses

@I K

The blunder if you want to call it that, was that perhaps not as much effort was placed into running the things optimally.

I don't disagree. Part of the issue is the way that the electric power industry has been structured since the breakup of the Insull empire. For many years, there was a legal prohibition that prevented equipment vendors from owning and operating power plants. That drove designers to focus on selling products and services. Basic human nature led them to ignore operations and even led them to making design choices that would add cost to operations so that the customer was driven to purchase more products and services.

Arguably, the very best designers and operators of razor blade making equipment in the world work for Gillette. The company does not sell its equipment and expertise; it sells razor blades.

IMHO that is a model that would be seriously competitive in the energy market - a power plant designer and manufacturer that operated its own equipment. 

May 20, 2013    View Comment    

On Risks to American Nuclear Energy from "Non-Proliferation" Excesses

@I K

The biggest blunder of nuclear was that at the beginning of its commercial life outages/maintenance took too long. The very same reactors now achieving 95% plus CF were only getting 50% or so decades ago. If only near the beginning of the western nuclear builds the management systems were in place to allow quick refuelling and maintenance then America would probably have built another 200 reactors taking her grid to 75% nuclear 25% other (mostly hydro). Europe would have followed.

That is like saying that Apple's biggest blunder was that the MacPlus was not an iPad.

Believe it or not, it takes time to put systems in place and to learn how to accomplish complex tasks. It does not help when some of the "leadership" in charge of key portions of the technology development effort really did not want anyone to learn how to use fission energy effectively because doing so would reduce sales of hydrocarbon energy.

We have some of the best operating nuclear plants in the world in the US, but we never really learned how to build new ones in a cost effective manner. We let way too many distractions get in the way and we ignored some of the most basic lessons of achieving economic performance through the use of series manufacturing techniques. We also allowed the wrong people to drive the technology in the wrong direction.

I, for one, refuse to believe that Americans are hopelessly doomed to continue on our present course and speed. We have the skills needed; we must put them to better use.

May 20, 2013    View Comment