[FoRK] why the nuclear energy industry is dying

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Wed Jun 19 00:24:41 PDT 2013

On 6/18/13 11:27 PM, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> On Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 12:40:18PM -0700, Stephen D. Williams wrote:
>> Yes, I vaguely know all of this.  The traditional designs and
>> methods are annoyingly short-sighted.  But imagine that the plant
>> components are more modular, are on sleds that can be picked up and
>> transported.  Imagine a processing plant / factory that, within yet
>> another containment mechanism, grinds up and reprocesses the steel,
>> a radioactive foundry, etc.?  The fact that it's brittle makes it
>> easier.  All difficult problems, but throw a few billion my way and
>> I could make it happen.  And then you have a scalable solution that
>> doesn't take a few billion every time.  But, no one seems to be
>> thinking that far outside the box.
> Decomission costs are only a fraction of reasons why nuclear
> energy doesn't work.

The $3B number was a big part of that link's analysis as to why it wasn't feasible, even though current plants are doing well 

> You will need a breeder, preferably with onboard fuel processing --
> a thorium fuel cycle MSR, especially if it can be primed with
> reactor-grade Pu from waste as initial in-core inventory (there's
> not enough U-233 in the world to kick-start even one Th MSR).
> Can it be made to work? Nobody knows! And won't find out for
> another couple decades, assuming you can get it funded.
> But nobody funds it, so it's dead, Jim.

It's being funded by Norwegian cruise ship companies, as I noted a while back.  That or another project was trying to use a 
cyclotron (or similar) for priming the reaction.  Is there a fundamental reason that a high-energy source of neutrons couldn't 
replace a Pu or U-233 reactor?  Seems convenient to be able to flip the switch to turn it off.

Related/semi-random links:
> China Central Television claimed that the newly developed recycling technology would, presumably at current usage, mean that 
> China’s uranium resources would last for 3 000 years.
> Possible billion dollar return from one tonne of Thorium
> Posted on December 13, 2010    • Posted in Funding, LFTR, nuclear, thorium    • Tagged "Waste", chloride reactor, energy 
> awareness, fluoride reactor, Kirk Sorensen, LFTR, Nuclear Advocates, thorium, Thorium. Nuclear Energy    • 1 Comment
> Kirk Sorensen provided this fascinating look at what a LFTR could do in the not so distant future:
>     Each metric tonne of thorium consumed in a LFTR could produce:
>     9900 GWe*hr of electricity (at 45% conversion efficiency)
>     up to 15 kg (8400 watts*thermal) of Pu-238 for NASA space missions
>     20 kg of molybdenum-99 for medical procedures
>     5 g of thorium-229 for targeted alpha therapy medical procedures
>     3300 thermal watts of strontium-90 for heating sources
>     150 kg of stable xenon
>     125 kg of stable neodymium
>     that’s about
>     $600M worth of electricity
>     ~$100M worth of Pu-238
>     ~$200-300M worth of Mo-99
>     and about $300K worth of xenon and neodymium
>     and many lives saved through clean electricity and medical radioisotopes.
> See Kirk’s talk on Google Tech Talk posted Dec 6th 2010 – Is Nuclear Waste Really Waste?

> China has officially announced it will launch a program to develop a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, taking a 
> crucial step towards shifting to nuclear power as a primary energy source.
> The project was unveiled at the annual Chinese Academy of Sciences conference in Shanghai last week, and reported in the /Wen 
> Hui Bao/ newspaper (Google English translation here 
> <http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&sl=zh-CN&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwhb.news365.com.cn%2Fyw%2F201101%2Ft20110126_2944856.htm>).
> If the reactor works as planned, China may fulfill a long-delayed dream of clean nuclear energy. The United States could 
> conceivably become dependent on China for next-generation nuclear technology. At the least, the United States could fall 
> dramatically behind in developing green energy.

> China’s new program is the largest national thorium-MSR initiative to date. The People’s Republic had already announced plans 
> to build dozens of new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, increasing its nuclear power supply 20-fold and weaning itself 
> off coal, of which it’s now one of the world’s largest consumers. Designing a thorium-based molten-salt reactor could place 
> China at the forefront of the race to build environmentally safe, cost-effective and politically palatable reactors.
> “We need a better stove that can burn more fuel,” Xu Hongjie, a lead researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, 
> told /Wen Hui Bao/.
> China’s program is headed by Jiang Mianheng, son of the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin. A vice president of the Chinese 
> Academy of Sciences, the younger Jiang holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Drexel University. A Chinese delegation 
> headed by Jiang revealed the thorium plans to Oak Ridge scientists during a visit to the national lab last fall.


Edinburgh University keen to join hands with CSIR-NCL
> Chemistry scientists from University of Edinburgh, School of Chemistry (UK), recently visited Pune based Council of Scientific 
> and Industrial Research-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL) and expressed interest in doing collaborative research 
> projects, especially on using thorium for generation of nuclear power.
> As part of a science road show organised by University of Edinburgh (UK) recently in Delhi, Chennai and in Pune at CSIR-NCL, 
> three chemistry scientists Jason Love, Colin Pulham and Stephen Thomas were in India to discuss about sustainable ways to 
> develop energy generation.
> The scientists from Edinburgh had a meeting with CSIR-NCL researchers and representatives with special interest in India’s 
> plans to develop a nuclear power industry based on thorium, a radioactive metal of which India has large reserves.
> A reader in inorganic chemistry and with research interests in sustainable chemistry and energy, Jason Love, while talking to 
> DNA, said, “Our idea is to explore collaborative research work in sustainable chemistry and looking for any degree of overlap 
> in our areas of research work wherein we can compliment each other. This will help us to attack big problems in chemistry 
> sciences.” He confirmed that their first meeting with CSIR-NCL researchers and representatives was positive.
> Love informed that India has one of the largest reserves of thorium, along with US, Norway and Australia.
> “There are various issues with using uranium as a source for nuclear energy because its reserves are estimated to last not 
> more than 100 years. Thorium is much more abundant in nature than uranium, which can last for over 1,000 years. However, there 
> are still scientific issues with using thorium for generating nuclear energy,” he said.
> He added that India is carrying research for developing thorium-based reactors for generation of power and they are excited 
> about the on going research work at CSIR-NCL. (DNA)

>> As observed in Japan (and the Gulf for that matter), contamination
>> of the ocean itself is less of an issue:  it is too big to stay
> Oh, yes? You think it's not an issue?

It is an issue, but according to published reports mainly because of the shallow water along the coast.  They specifically said 
that the contaminated water itself would dissipate quickly.  So, in deep water, much less of a problem, up to a point of course.

>> concentrated for long.  Shores are another issue, but the ocean
>> itself dissipates most things nicely apparently.
> I would like a few peer-reviewed reference for that claim.

Whatever those published authorities are quoting...  I can't judge the relative magnitude of the ocean well enough here.

>> A power or processing plant in deep water is still dangerous, but less permanently.
> Let's dump a few tons of high-activity waste per year into the
> ocean for a few decades, and then let's see how you will like
> your seafood. Youthful thyroids just *love* that seaweed iodine.
> You noticed they have banned seaweed harvesting in that area?

Sink a big reactor in the middle of the Pacific and see if I care...  The bottom currents will eventually show up on the 
California coast, in quite a long time, with most particles settled out.
Not a good idea, but not the end of the world.

This is the basic problem:
On the one had, the enermalthusiastic insist there will be widespread energy shortages, economic and cultural breakdown, famine, 
pestilence, death, etc. very soon at scary magnitude.
On the other hand, all solutions that are not absolutely safe are doomed to be impossible, inapplicable, and no match for their 
doomsday prophesy.  In other words, "don't crush my post-apocalyptic horror flick, man".

So, which is it?  In the former scenario, many people die or wish they were dead.  In the latter scenario, at the very worst a 
moderate number die early from radiation induced cancer (which we're rapidly conquering or holding at bay).  Right now, fossil 
fuels are said to kill hundreds of thousands every year and are now said to be a leading cause of autism etc.  To offset these 
known deaths and do worse than the enermalthusian fetish, err... nightmare, would take chronic and repeated sloppiness with 
nuclear.  Since nuclear accidents, even in rapid haphazard growth, are likely to be learned from quickly, over any period of 
time this is not likely to be a worse course of action.


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