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Bloggingheads
05-22-2008, 01:26 PM

otto
05-22-2008, 01:46 PM
... to say something which Bh.tv's investors would object to, if only I knew what that would be.

JIM3CH
05-22-2008, 03:32 PM
At long last, a BH episode with actual substantial relevance. I'll bet the number of comments will be few indeed.

Overall a good discussion. But I must say that Thomas Cochran’s ideas are about as old and tired as he looks in the diavlog. Jack Spencer’s fresh views are very welcome and give cause to be optimistic. Time to retire Mr. Cochran…, a closed nuclear fuel cycle is essential if future generations are to enjoy the same standard of living that you have had during your long life. Safety, Security, Non-proliferation, all problems...true enough, but also all solvable.

bjkeefe
05-22-2008, 03:45 PM
But I must say that Thomas Cochran’s ideas are about as old and tired as he looks in the diavlog. Jack Spencer’s fresh views are very welcome and give cause to be optimistic.

Heh. I would say that if anyone's ideas are old and tired, they were Jack's. "Let the market handle it." "Get the government out of it." "Nuclear power is cheap, safe, plentiful." "Nuclear waste ... uh ..."

All at least sixty years old.

I thought Thomas did a good job of debunking most of the standard talking points.

I am not one of those who is absolutely against nuclear power. I also acknowledge that exaggerated fears have hampered progress. But I have yet to hear any good answers about disposal of waste, and given our paranoia about terrorism lately, I think any cost estimates for an expanded nuclear power program are bound to be way low. I would much rather see an emphasis on conservation, efficiency gains, and alternate power sources as the first priorities. It seems to me that we've made more recent progress in these areas than we have in the nuclear area.

I'm not saying that nuclear power can't be made to work and can't be made better, but in the political climate of this country, I don't see it happening, and I'd rather not be handing out more subsidies to that industry when the money could be better spent elsewhere.

look
05-22-2008, 03:49 PM
At long last, a BH episode with actual substantial relevance. I'll bet the number of comments will be few indeed.

Overall a good discussion. But I must say that Thomas Cochran’s ideas are about as old and tired as he looks in the diavlog. Jack Spencer’s fresh views are very welcome and give cause to be optimistic. Time to retire Mr. Cochran…, a closed nuclear fuel cycle is essential if future generations are to enjoy the same standard of living that you have had during your long life. Safety, Security, Non-proliferation, all problems...true enough, but also all solvable.

What took you so long, Jim?

;)

As soon as I saw this, I though 'Jim should be along soon.' I haven't seen this DV yet, but I've been thinking that these fast-breeder reactors would be on strictly guarded military reservation, etc. (Although that's a big 'duh', I guess.)

Also, this might be of general interest:

Altho this is not the correct forum for this, France made a terrible decision and now finds itself importing essentially 100% of oil – which much of its economy runs on. Its crushingly expensive nuclear program (most of the costs are hidden in its almost Byzantine government corporation) and its plants are in terrible shape. Outages are driving them into having to import electricity.

After spending zillions of dollars France gets only a fifth of its delivered end-user energy from nuclear power.

It is NOT a solution. Its high costs DISPLACE more effective alternatives.

A short essay on the linkages between proliferation and nuclear power by Lovins can be found here

An oldy but a goody is Amory Lovins Negawatt presentation where he is discussing Quebec Hydro (the Canadian utility company), but the concepts are universal.

Take a look….

or for another view here…

— Yale Simkin · Dec 11, 03:05 PM ·

I forgot to add this link on one of many plans for leading France out of the nuclear dead-end

— Yale Simkin · Dec 11, 03:21 PM ·

http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1732/gates-on-the-iran-nie#comment


If you go to the site, you can follow the links mentioned. Are the reactors in France non-breeder?

AemJeff
05-22-2008, 03:57 PM
A market based nuclear recycling regime is not my first choice. Markets respond economic pressures very well. There’s a whole panoply of things they’re for which they’re really not appropriate, and the health and safety of third parties is high on that list. If you want to make use of the efficiencies that might result from using a market-based approach, then by all means created a mechanism through which private participation is encouraged within the framework of a publically managed system – but I don’t want to relinquish the responsibility for managing something with such broad based and profound dangers to private management.

JIM3CH
05-22-2008, 04:23 PM
The issue of how you deal with waste is integral with whether you close the fuel cycle or not. The Japanese are making very good progress with partitioning and transmutation technologies that essentially eliminate the so called “waste” problem. What you refer to as waste is actually an extremely valuable energy resource for future generations, composed mostly of un-fissioned uranium, plutonium, and burnable transuranic elements.

I tend to agree with you that nuclear energy is not well suited to the free market environment, because it is hard to discount such things as safety, security, and non-proliferation. Strong government involvement is important. And, although being a champion of the free market, Jack very eloquently pointed to the need for strong US governmental leadership, not just for US nuclear policy, but for International nuclear policy.

I really hope that this debate is injected into the general election debate. However, as I understand them, all three candidates tend to support a nuclear renaissance.

JIM3CH
05-22-2008, 04:34 PM
I guess I am a bit of a "one trick pony", always lurking and only popping out when some arcane nuclear issue is thrown around. Kuodos to Bob Wright for making sure the BH audience is exposed to this important issue from time to time.

Thanks for the links.

With regard to the French. I am of the impression that their nuclear industry is robust. Their reactors, until now, have been of the light water variety, but they are experimenting on modern fast reactor technology in cooperation with Japan.

bjkeefe
05-22-2008, 04:47 PM
The issue of how you deal with waste is integral with whether you close the fuel cycle or not. The Japanese are making very good progress with partitioning and transmutation technologies that essentially eliminate the so called “waste” problem. What you refer to as waste is actually an extremely valuable energy resource for future generations, composed mostly of un-fissioned uranium, plutonium, and burnable transuranic elements.

You sound like you know more than I do about the state of the art. All I can say is that this notion of reusing fuel has been a story I've been hearing all my life, and for whatever reason, it obviously hasn't worked as well as in reality as it did on paper.

I agree that the "waste" has the potential to be useful to future generations, and I have always thought the idea that waste storage had to be proven for of order 10,000 years was crazy talk. Nonetheless, it does have to be stored for 10-100 years, it would appear, at least given the design of many existing reactors. There is also all of the peripheral contaminated material that is inevitably generated -- low- and medium-level waste that probably truly is waste, at least for the foreseeable future.

There's also the problem of creating more plutonium. I am less afraid of terrorists or rogue nations using nukes or dirty bombs than are most people, but that is not to say it is nothing to worry about.

Again, I'm not a no-nukes zealot. I think it has to be considered part of the energy portfolio from now until we solve fusion or something else equally far away, and I think there's no reason, in principle, to believe we can't solve the associated problems.

What I am more troubled by is the place that we've gotten ourselves into -- we seem to be doing little besides applying more lipstick to the same pig, and the result has been that that no one wants to build a new plant anymore, due to the costs and the hassles. I think we need to do some serious prep work before we fire up the nuclear renaissance. One piece might be a fresh round of reactor design. Another might be rethinking how we plan to handle waste (or "waste.") Certainly I think we need to get much farther down the road to figuring out how we're going to deal with all of the other countries who will want their own reactors -- is there going to be an impartial international body that controls the fuel? Are we going to let our friends build power plants but not our enemies? And so on.

Meanwhile, while all this is being worked out, I want to see serious efforts made in other energy areas. I am suspicious that nuclear gets an unfair amount of attention just because it's been around a long time, there are close ties between government and industry figures, there's a huge amount of money sloshing around, and it's in general associated with establishment types. Wind, solar, conservation, and similar approaches are on the other hand seen as dreams coming from hippies.

graz
05-22-2008, 05:02 PM
Wind, solar, conservation, and similar approaches are on the other hand seen as dreams coming from hippies.
http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/154822

JIM3CH
05-22-2008, 05:12 PM
Frankly I am pro-energy and welcome energy from any energy source.

With regard to creating more plutonium, I would note that we already have 100s of tonnes of plutonium sitting around in spent fuel ponds. That plutonium can either be burned in fast reactors (different pig, better lipstick) to make hydrogen fuel cells for cars planes and trains, or left as a static residual proliferation risk for the next 10 to the 10th years.

piscivorous
05-22-2008, 05:30 PM
Beyond the minor problem of cost there resides the ever present base load problem. It takes a certain amount of power 24/7/365 to make the gears go round. Neither solar or wind can supply this base load with a high enough level of certainty that we could rely on them alone. To count on a guaranteed base load supply would require a very significant amount of over capacity designed and built into the supply system.

For solar there is also a need to use the lights at night so some means of soring the generated power must be designed into the system. I hate to think of the battery requirements to store enough power for my little berg of Lake Worth much less New York city. At best can be used to supplement the peek load power require on a fairly consistent basis. Of course this is not true in the more northern climes where peek load will come at night if we move to using electricity as the primary heating source in these areas that currently use natural gas or fuel oil.

Wind is the better candidate for base load supply for it has the possibility of work 24/7/365. But wind is somewhat quirky as well. You must not only have sufficient wind you must not have to much wind either. While current wind technology has made strides in lowering the minimum threshold and raising the upper threshold it is still only a window of wind speeds that are usable and even a narrower range of those speeds that can produce the theoretical maximum output.

I would argue for a second Manhattan project, but not for a weapon, but to get the next generation of nuclear reactors up and running by not 2020 and commercially viable by 2030 as the projections now say. There are essential two basic types of designs for the next (fourth) generation reactors; "thermal reactors" and "fast reactors". Both have the benefit, to varying degrees, the ability to use the projected high temperatures they will create to produce hydrogen at significantly lower cost than we can do it today.

bjkeefe
05-22-2008, 05:31 PM
With regard to creating more plutonium, I would note that we already have 100s of tonnes of plutonium sitting around in spent fuel ponds. That plutonium can either be burned in fast reactors (different pig, better lipstick) to make hydrogen fuel cells for cars planes and trains, or left as a static residual proliferation risk for the next 10 to the 10th years.

Can't argue with the emotion, but if it's so easy to do, why aren't we already doing it? And what's the "ash" that comes from "burning" this plutonium?

bjkeefe
05-22-2008, 05:37 PM
pisc:

I agree that the base load, intermittencies, and energy storage are problems with solar and wind. I don't think that they'll be the complete solution, at least not right away. I just think we could be getting a lot from them, and that every kilowatt-hour that we do get from them means one less kWh that doesn't have to be gotten from fossil fuels or nukes. It's going to take contributions from all sources, and I would just like to see how much we can get out of the really clean sources first, including conservation and efficiency gains, and not just go plunging into a second Manhattan Project instead.

Anyuser
05-22-2008, 05:39 PM
I really hope that this debate is injected into the general election debate. However, as I understand them, all three candidates tend to support a nuclear renaissance.

I'm with you.

Assuming for the moment (and only for the moment) that nuclear energy is safe and economical, I can't think of any project more appropriate to government regulation and subsidy. This is an energy and environmental issue, of course, but also a balance of trade issue and, to the extent that it could reduce the need to buy oil from the worst people on the planet, a foreign policy issue. The federal government could approve reactor designs and insulate the design itself from local review and lawsuits (but not prevent local governments from declining to permit nuclear plants). Also, the federal government could pick up and limit the indemnity obligations.

I've been trying to get my head wrapped around nuclear energy and, brilliant as I am, it's not easy. There are dueling scientists that flat out contradict each other on every single aspect of the energy issue. I've read that Integral Fast Reactors are cheaper, safer, and produce less waste, but if I'm hearing Cochran correctly, he disputes that.

One wonders if there's a better way to debate the issue than between a professional tree-hugger and a professional free-marketeer. One also wonders how politicians can coax a sensible decision out of the electorate on what isoverall a scientific issue. Most of the promoters of nuclear energy start out their argument by saying, a little radiation is no big deal. Mr. Uranium Atom is our friend! I live in a community that is, I suppose, scientifically switched on (Silicon Valley, Bay Area biotech, all that), that supports solutions to global warming, supports stem cell research, but also supports universal radon testing for homes and schools. I wonder if the electorate can be easily bowled over by scare tactics.

ed fielding
05-22-2008, 05:45 PM
With an AE wonk hovering, I’ll go out on a limb: Call me old-fashioned, but I’m agin’ it.
Though I’ve come across reports in the last few months that it’s a dying industry, which impression Thomas seems to support.

A puzzle, somewhat snarky, presents itself: Why, when both men are suited and tied, with cognate haircuts, did I immediately, seeing the images, look at the left-hand one and think “Suit”? Deepening the snark, Jack’s suit is less-well tailored, but that should produce the opposite judgment. </snark>

Loved that counter of Thomas’s, welcome news, that more wind power came online globally last year than nuclear power.

Finally, Jack’s leaning all his weight on nuclear’s being non-emitting. It emits toxic materials whose danger is far longer lasting than just about anything, possibly excepting atmospheric carbon levels. There is no comparison with wind or solar. A bullheaded idea held over from the Fifties. Lotsa money into development since then, sure. Enough?

2nd finally, the mountaintop waving with windmills sounds awesome, and in more than the slacker sense. ’Twould be an amazing sight.

AemJeff
05-22-2008, 05:52 PM
This is pure blue sky speculation, but I've never heard anybody discuss electrolysis of seawater as a (near infinite, low cost) source of hydrogen. It seems to me that even an inefficient conversion of solar energy on a large enough scale might allow for the production of a lot of usable energy. There are issues with the portability of hydrogen, but fuel cells might mitigate that problem and building hydrogen fueled power stations near warmer coasts could help, too.

I know very little about what the obstacles might be for this sort of scheme, but to me it seems like an obvious thing to investigate.

bjkeefe
05-22-2008, 06:08 PM
2nd finally, the mountaintop waving with windmills sounds awesome, and in more than the slacker sense. ’Twould be an amazing sight.

I did laugh at how Thomas busted Jack on his claim that "mountaintops are being cut away for wind energy."

There is, however, just as much of a NIMBY problem with wind power as with any other form of power plant. Not everyone shares your view that such a mountaintop would be appealing, unfortunately.

fedorovingtonboop
05-23-2008, 12:22 AM
Thomas - I like you.

Jack - you seem like a huge douchebag

"...market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market."

JIM3CH
05-23-2008, 03:45 AM
It isn’t easy to do. Sorry if I’ve given that impression.

Regarding plutonium, it fissions essentially the same the way that uranium does, leaving both long lived actinides and shorter lived elements. The longer lived actinides, fortunately can be fissioned, leaving behind shorter lived elements. Therefore a closed fuel cycle would be composed of fast reactors that are both burning plutonium and uranium, reprocessing facilities to chemically separate the remaining plutonium, uranium, and minor actinides from the spent fuel to make new fuel assemblies (from the plutonium and uranium) and accelerator driven sub critical facilities to fission the minor actinides. The waste is composed of shorter lived radio-nuclides that have no proliferation hazard, but require isolation for about 100 years (e.g., no generational legacy issues).

So, why aren’t we doing it? Because it is hard and we‘re hopping for the return of cheap oil and other easy answers. Why are the Japanese doing it? Because they have no choice. The good news is that they are succeeding. We could do it also.

JIM3CH
05-23-2008, 03:47 AM
With an AE wonk hovering,...

I resemble that remark!

JIM3CH
05-23-2008, 04:03 AM
The trouble is, Brendan, that we're running out of time.

Eastwest
05-23-2008, 05:29 AM
I wonder how much funding the Heritage Foundation gets from the nuclear industry.

Jack Spencer's spiel was such a joke, he made it abundantly clear he's just a traveling salesman putting on transparently obvious commercials for new nuclear power plants.

EW

JIM3CH
05-23-2008, 05:50 AM
I agree with your well stated comment. Until now the subject of nuclear energy has been ripe for political demagoguery, and has been essentially an all or nothing partisan issue…, conservatives for, liberals against. But I sense (or hope) that the issue will soon become less a political mine field, and more a topic for informed and meaningful political debate.

bjkeefe
05-23-2008, 07:06 AM
Jack Spencer's spiel was such a joke, he made it abundantly clear he's just a traveling salesman putting on transparently obvious commercials for new nuclear power plants.

One telling moment in support of this came when, unprompted, he identified himself as "what you would call a [global warming] denier."

Now, there are other worthy arguments in favor of nuclear power, even if you don't care about CO2 effluent. The idea of cutting down dependence on foreign petroleum supplies makes me listen, all by itself. But Jack's admission did speak volumes about his other motivations here.

bjkeefe
05-23-2008, 07:15 AM
The trouble is, Brendan, that we're running out of time.

In some senses, I agree. In others, I don't. I read a really good article examining the "peak oil" problem a while back, in Wired, I think. The gist of the article was: Yes, we're at or near peak oil production. However, this does not mean there will come a day when, all of a sudden, there's no gas to put in your car and all the lights go out. What will happen is that as oil becomes more scarce and/or harder to extract, other energy sources become cost effective and/or politically palatable. Examples range from shale oil to using more coal to rich people on Cape Cod allowing windmills to be erected where they can see them. And yes, using more nuclear power. And yes, people adjusting to using less energy.

I think it doesn't help to say "we're running out of time." I think this leads to panicked decision making, spurred by politicians who need a pet issue and business interests who have something to sell. In some sense, we've always been running out of time -- responsible people have been aware for decades that there is only so much oil underground.

I don't think you yourself are fear-mongering here, at least not excessively. But the phrase pushed one of my buttons.

bjkeefe
05-23-2008, 07:32 AM
Thanks for that explanation, Jim. It sounds like an appealing prospect to cut the waste storage problem down to manageable time scales. Still, 100 years is a lot longer than the next fiscal quarter or term of Congress, so it's not surprising that I haven't heard this as one of the selling points for this type of system. "Closed fuel cycle" sounds much better.

zookarama
05-23-2008, 03:38 PM
As a resident of the Chicago area, I've been aware for some time now of the tremendous problems involved in retiring nuke plants. These plants have a finite productive life, as do all such instruments, but when a wind turbine wears out, its not necessary to bury the entire facility in a desert cave as it is with a nuke plant at the end of its productive life.

Also, don't fast breeder reactors require cooling by liquid sodium? The dangers of a nuke plant who's primary loop is filled with sodium are magnitudes more imposing than those of light water reactors, no? I recall my days long ago in the navy sub service where a machinists mate was transferred to my boat (SSBN) from the old Seawolf. He spoke of the hazzards of sodium cooled reactors with a convincing tone of fear in his voice. I'm pretty sure that the 1st Seawolf was the only US sub ever to use a liquid sodium cooled plant.

look
05-23-2008, 03:42 PM
Thomas - I like you.

Jack - you seem like a huge douchebag

"...market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market market."An analysis for the ages.

AemJeff
05-23-2008, 04:58 PM
An analysis for the ages.

Fed's trying awfully hard. It's hard to be outraged by someone who's so obviously invested in pushing buttons, particularly when the attempt is so remedial and obvious.

handle
05-23-2008, 07:38 PM
... to say something which Bh.tv's investors would object to, if only I knew what that would be.

A poster laid claim, can't remember his handle, but the claim involved sexually objectifying a blogging head. I will refrain from PUNditry here. Oops that was a pun... never mind.

handle
05-23-2008, 08:16 PM
Anybody want to weigh in on re-ramping up the space program to retrieve helium 3 to feed fusion reactors? Is this possible? viable? or sci-fi?

look
05-23-2008, 08:44 PM
Fed's trying awfully hard. It's hard to be outraged by someone who's so obviously invested in pushing buttons, particularly when the attempt is so remedial and obvious.I usually ignore him; I plead caffeine silliness.

bjkeefe
05-23-2008, 10:19 PM
Anybody want to weigh in on re-ramping up the space program to retrieve helium 3 to feed fusion reactors? Is this possible? viable? or sci-fi?

When we have a working prototype fusion reactor that puts out more energy than it consumes, then yes.

In the meantime, I am for re-ramping up the space program for other purposes.

Where do we need to go to get helium-3, anyway? Can we just sweep it up from orbit? Or do we need to start drilling Jupiter?

ChrisC
05-25-2008, 01:41 PM
Strip mining the moon is the most common suggestion for obtaining Helium-3. The moon could also be used as a power satellite. Process the lunar regolith extract helium-3 and silicon. Build thin film solar cells over the processed land. Sputter grow electrodes. Take the power and put it into a microwave generator and beam it down to earth. If you can't immediately do that then put it into cheap massive flywheels for storage.
You can also microwave typical lunar regolith, which heats iron clusters within it and it sinters the silicon dioxide into glass. So you can build structural elements using a microwave generator and a mold filled with regolith.


Darn thought I'd stopped thinking about this ages ago, but you got me started again!

bjkeefe
05-25-2008, 02:01 PM
ChrisC:

Apart from beaming microwave energy, I'd never heard of any of these speculations, so thanks for showing us your old hat.

ChrisC
05-25-2008, 02:45 PM
Old!!! I'm 22!

Seriously though had a long running argument with a guy on the space.com forums a coupla years back. I'm actually very pro-nuclear, but was arguing against it for a moon base and for a solar approach. Annoyingly getting the silicon from the regolith is harder than the He3, which just needs a solar furnace. Then again thin film silicon would hardly need that much silicon, and instead you can get it from the rocks as you get oxygen from them.
Another great thing is that the entire moon is almost at the same pressure as the semiconductor processing vacuums. Well by close I mean 3-orders of magnitude too high! And you don't want all that solar wind hitting your silicon during manufacture (would play havok with the doping). But anyway you'd still need a vacuum chamber, but it's walls could be tin foil rather than metal sheeting like on earth.

There are a couple of problems with space based solar. Solar wind and cosmic rays mess up the doping and add defects to crystals, but these depend on shielding. Also the moon seems to have an unusual wind that sweeps across it's surface. Hard UV light kicks electrons off dust particles and can suspend them just above the ground. It was discovered when the particles covered a temperature sensor left on the moon by one of the Apollo's, causing it's temperature to spike. One of the many things that happen to the moon that make the idea that the astronauts footsteps will last millions of years a complete joke.

Must stop now, or will continue typing for hours.

bjkeefe
05-25-2008, 04:05 PM
ChrisC:

Old!!! I'm 22!

Heh. I apologize if I sounded ageist. I meant by "your old hat" that your knowledge had been with you for a while, that's all.

And let me say that I am glad to see another hard sci-fi thinker posting here.