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On Nuclear Safety and the Fukushima Dai-ichi Explosion

Ernesto all of my sins have come to roost, a garbled sentence in a quickly written post.  I usually take several days to write a post but yesterday I felt that I needed to sacrifice accuracy for speed.  As soon as I posted my essay, I begin to find errors in it.  This exercise gave me some sympathy for for journalists who work on a 24 hour schedule.   

March 13, 2011    View Comment    


Paul, Mr. Mariotte will positively cry is things turn out no worse for the Japanese unclear industry than they are now.  He is quite willing to over look the unfolding tragedy, the potential for tens of thousands of deaths, and hundreds of billions of dollars in property loss, if he finds something that he can include in his next anti-nuclear hit peace.   

March 12, 2011    View Comment    

On Explosion at nuclear plant in secondary containment portion of reactor building

Hay Rod, if I had never been wrong,, I would have been happy to invite you to my house for your crow dinner, but since I have probably been wrong more times than you have been, if you ever come to Knoxville, I will try to serve you something more appealing.  I do have a reputation as a good cook.  .  

March 12, 2011    View Comment    


Michaele In order to judge how well nuclear power performed during the earthquake disaster, we need to know a great deal more about the performance of other energy sources.  Were dams weakened? Did the earthquake effect hydroelectric performance?  We know that some oil refineries caught on fire.  How many refineries caught on fire? Were their casualties?  How many gas line breaks?  How many fires and casualties were caused by gas line rupture.  How did coal fired power plants fair?  How did the disaster effect wind and solar generation facilities.  Are rooftop PV units continuing to function, or did they fall on their owners heads.  How did electrical transmission systems do?  Those are questions that should be looked at in order to contextualize nuclear performance

March 12, 2011    View Comment    

On Industrial Process Heat and the SmAHTR

Rod the only flaw of the Adams Atomic Engine was that it was idea that was ahead of its time.  All gas cooled graphite reactors have relatively large cores, and require fairly massive containment vessels.  

March 11, 2011    View Comment    

On Can Clean Energy Drive America's Economic Recovery?

I see no evidence thart offshore wind advocates are fulfilling their due diligence obligations, which are needed to demonstrate that offshore wind is more cost effective than other post carbon nuclear options. In particular offshore wind would appear to cost ratepayers more by the kWh than nuclear power, while being much less reliable.  It is dishonest of offshore advocates to withhold this information from their readers.   

March 10, 2011    View Comment    

On Is the Obama Administration getting the message? I say, "NO"

David Lewis, I examined the last AEC report on the MSR, WASH-1222, and have done what no one one has ever done before, wrote a detailed review of it.  The only coorsion problem that WASH-1222 mentioned was intergranular cracking caused by a fusion product, not by the molten salts.  i then examined ORNL research literature on the problem, and found that ORNL researchers had proposed two solutions to the problem.  ORNL offered a detailed report on the problem in ORNL-4829: 1972-11 (Intergranular Cracking of INOR-8 in the MSRE)

Development Status of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactors
They were prevented from testing their solution by the US DoE.  I have heard that the cracking problem poses an accident danger if a MSR is allowed to operate for a period of over 1000 years.  I will not sware to it, but the MSRE operated for over 3 years without an accident. 

My father was a reactor chemist at ORNL who developed the molten salt formula that was used in both ORNL MSR prototypes.  He was unaway of any corrosion problem involving molten salt use in the prototype reactors.  I have reviewed ORNL reports on the MSRE and noted that small abouts of corrosion was observed during the operation of the MSRE, Roy Thoma observed in ORNL-3658 Chemical Aspects of MSRE Operation that in every instace inwhich corrusion had been observed, the reactor had been opened for repairs and motification, and humid air may have entered. Roy Thoma noted, "The cumulative generalized corrosion within the fuel circuit resulted in the removal of chromium from the alloy to an average depth of 0.4 mil, while that in the coolant system was undetectably low. The results of postoperational examinations, although corroborative of predicted corrosion, also indicated finite but slight intergranular attack."  

Thoma continued,  Chemical analyses showed corrosion with the 2LiF*BeFz coolant system to be negligible. This has    rn been borne out by subsequent examination of the salt side of the tubes from the air-cooled radiator and of the coolant side of the primary heat exchanger. Similar but more numerous analyses suggested that corrosion within the fuel system was slight (but observable). The cumulative generalized corrosion within the fuel circuit resulted in the removal of chromium (the most chemi- cally active constituent of the alloy) from an average depth of 0.4 mil, some ten times less than was anticipated from the preoperational laboratory measurements of self-diffusion coefficients of chromium in Hastelloy N. It is inferred that the major fraction of this corrosion resulted from interactions of atmospheric oxygen retained in the graphite moderator after periods of reactor maintenance.

Postoperational examination by metallographic techniques confirmed the low generalized corrosion but disclosed a grain-boundary effect near surfaces exposed to the fuel which resulted in cracks to a depth of one grain in strained specimens. This hitherto unobserved phenomenon is currently being investigated."

ORNL offered a detailed report on all of the developmental steps required to reach a commercial prototype building stage for a MSBR (ORNL-4812: 1972-08 Development Status of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactors, and in ORNL-5018: 1974-12 Program Plan for the Development of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactors)  These report does not indicate and huge developmental problems for MSBRs.

Where did Chu find his evidence of a serious salt related corrosion problem?  Chu is a physicist not a chemist, is it possible that he turned for advice to people who had an oppinion but no knowledge..   What problem does Chu and Holdren know about MSR oroblems that ORNL scientists who worked on MSR technology for 25 years did not know ?  But beyond the lack of evidence that Chu and Holdren knew what they were taling about, why did they not turn to the primary evidence, the ORNL reseacn reports.  We now find ourselves in a critical situation in which the country faces serious energy problems, while the Presidents top science advisors make inaccurate statements about promising technology, and seem unaware of how to find accurate information.  The president needs better advisors, and better advice. 

February 21, 2011    View Comment    

On Is the Obama Administration getting the message? I say, "NO"

David,you stated, From a non-proliferation standpoint, thorium-fueled reactors present a unique set of challenges because they convert thorium-232 into uranium-233 which is nearly as efficient as plutonium-239 as a weapons material


"Thorium produces through a nuclear reaction the fissile isotope 233U. 233U has been determined to be at least as efficient as 235U as a weapon material. Therefore, a relatively small amount of natural (or enriched) uranium can be added to thorium in order to dilute the generated 233U below the proliferation level of 12%, thus creating an effective barrier to diversion of 233U. . . ."


"The objective of thorium fuel cycle should be to ensure ‘proliferation-resistance’ of ‘fissile’ material and at the same time produce minimum quantities of ‘radiotoxic waste’. The radiotoxicity of the waste can be significantly reduced if the bred 233U is separated and recycled but the disadvantage associated with this strategy is that 233U is ‘fissile’ and constitutes the proliferation problem. The 233U can be rendered proliferation-resistant through mixing with 238U and denaturing. . . . "


"232U is always present in ‘fissile’ 233U and has the daughter product 208Tl, which emits highly penetrating 2.6 MeV gamma photons. . . . .

The gamma activity provides adequate barrier to diversion, particularly when the 232U content is in the higher range. . . . 


In contrast to uranium-fuelled reactors (238U+235U), where there is no natural denaturant for plutonium isotopes, 238U is an effective denaturant for the bred 233U in thorium (232Th) cycle. A possible solution to safeguard the reactor grade 233U is to denature with 238U. Denaturing the reactor-grade uranium with a equal quantity of 238U should be regarded as the lower limit for non-proliferation.   


"232Th /233U offers potentially significant advantages over 238U/235U/239Pu, in terms of lesser transuranic actinide waste and adequate proliferation-resistance."

February 20, 2011    View Comment    

On European Commission Report Finds Fuel Produced From Canadian Tar Sands Significantly Dirtier Than Average

Of course, if nuclear powered heat sources were used to separate hydrocarbons from tar sands, the whole Co2 emissions picture would be different, but the Eu would prefer to ignore the nuclear option.

February 10, 2011    View Comment    

On Texas Power Blackouts and Green Energy

Michael, I would revise this story if I were to write it today, because one of my sources contained some accuracies.  My sources also failed to make clear the limitations of transmission capacity between Texas wind generators and the Texas electrical consumers.  Further I ignored two major flaws of the Texas wind system.  !. Wind generators are not located close to the electrical consumers, and (2) the wind generators cannot produce electricity when consumers want or need it unless the wind is blowing.  On the day of the blackouts, had the texas Wind generators been able to produce electricity at 100% of capacity, and the wind generators had been located near Texas consummers, there would have been no blackouts. 

February 8, 2011    View Comment    

On Great Green Fleet Neither Great Nor Green?

It is clear that to the extent the Military can be made green, it, like the civilian economy will have to rely on nuclear power for CO2 free energy.  I reserve fossil fuels for military use, in my thinking about the energy future.  

January 27, 2011    View Comment    

On The focus turns to the 2020s

I continue to argue that policy approaches to climate change mitigation are non-starters and doomed to failure with technological fixes.  An ideal technological fix would involve a low cost, rapid deployment nuclear technology.  One such technology would involved the use of factory constructed small Molten Salt Reactors, which would be no more complex or expensive than large passenger aircraft like the Airbus-380, or the Boeing-787.  Such reactors could be built in very large enough numbers.  In addition to supplying electrical energy, they can supply process heat, including heat for the production of hydrogen gas, the production of shale oil, or te production of methane.  Molten Salt reactors can also produce space heat for district heating systems, and can be used to desalinate sea water.   Molten salt reactors are even safer than the latest generation of NPPs.   Finally a second generation of Molten Salt Reactors designed to breed thorium would offer a truly sustainable energy system which could offer high energy level support for human society over a period of many million years.  

January 27, 2011    View Comment