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Meet the Man Who Could End Global Warming
December 18, 2009 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Meet the Man Who Could End Global Warming The miracle solution goes by different names: the sodium fast reactor, the integral fast reactor, the liquid-metal-cooled reactor. It burns nuclear waste, emits no CO2, and shuts itself down in an accident. We have enough fuel to power the whole world for tens of thousands of years. It will end global warming, and even if global warming is just another paranoid Armageddon fantasy, it will save us from the dying oceans and starvation and resource wars that are inevitable as the world's energy supply dwindles. It will unleash new industries and revitalize America's manufacturing industry.
posted by vronsky (185 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Best of all, it's made of chocolate.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:45 PM on December 18, 2009 [20 favorites]


I just want to meet a reactor that actually has to be cooled by liquid metal. Yowza.
posted by koeselitz at 3:46 PM on December 18, 2009


Maybe.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:48 PM on December 18, 2009


Save me science!
posted by pianomover at 3:50 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Note: the link is to the 2nd of 3 pages)

(Also note: reactor not really made of chocolate. It's made of licorice and cilantro. )
posted by filthy light thief at 3:50 PM on December 18, 2009


I don't want to sound all skeptical hippo and whatnot, but why are we hearing about this in Esquire?
posted by Pragmatica at 3:50 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I want these fries julienned. is this where I go?
posted by Fraxas at 3:51 PM on December 18, 2009


"The death toll at Chernobyl was 56 people."

I think you stopped counting too soon.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2009 [34 favorites]


revitalize America's manufacturing industry

Only to the degree that those industries were being bound by energy costs, which generally wasn't the issue.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2009


Proliferation of highly radioactive materials into the developing world?

I'm guessing that anyone who is significantly invested in New York City or Washington, DC real estate is going to oppose this on general principle.
posted by Wufpak at 3:54 PM on December 18, 2009


(Note: the link is to the 2nd of 3 pages)

sorry - emailed mods to fix it.
posted by vronsky at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2009


Fixed the link.
posted by jessamyn at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2009


This guy?
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:59 PM on December 18, 2009


AND he and his wife care for foster kids. AAAAAANND he makes chainsaw sculptures. (not really on the last one.)
posted by longsleeves at 4:00 PM on December 18, 2009


Betcha it'll deliver electricity too cheap to meter, too!
posted by gompa at 4:04 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


If it's not this, it'll be something else. Nuclear is the way to go. Avoid nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like not eating molasses because you might get drowned in it in the street.
posted by GuyZero at 4:06 PM on December 18, 2009 [36 favorites]


He starts drawing little squiggles on the whiteboard, trying to explain how the miracle technology actually burns nuclear waste, neatly solving the biggest problem associated with nuclear power.

I have no idea what he's talking about.


Not only does the author know so little about nuclear power that he thinks nuclear waste can be burned, but he admits to knowing nothing right in the article.

Why should anyone pay any attention?
posted by ssg at 4:07 PM on December 18, 2009 [15 favorites]


It's been a while since I last read about fast sodium reactors, but I seem to remember there were some serious technical hurdles to overcome before they were feasible. The promise is good, but can they deliver now what they haven't been able to in the past?
posted by lekvar at 4:10 PM on December 18, 2009


I don't want to sound all skeptical hippo and whatnot, but why are we hearing about this in Esquire?

Because this post consists of a link to an Esquire article?

Simply googling "sodium fast reactor" returns plenty of results if you want to know more. It's not some secret that only the tireless investigative journalists at Esquire could turn up.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:12 PM on December 18, 2009


The concept is amazingly simple, from what I can understand. I'm honestly surprised it hasn't been worked on any sooner - take the waste fuel (comprised of transuranics, uranium and other radioactive stuff), use the transuranics to make electricity, recycle the uranium, ship the rest to storage where it de-radiationifies after only 500 years. Speaking as one of the Three Mile Island evacuees, I'd personally love to see this put into practice.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:13 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


If it's not this, it'll be something else. Nuclear is the way to go. Avoid nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like not eating molasses because you might get drowned in it in the street.

Unfortunately it is part and parcel of the human inability to correctly evaluate relative risks. People tend to freak out much more about very rare but intense risks than constant, medium level risks which over time cause far more problems than the first type.

Our current fossil-fuel power generation causes both far more damage to the environment and far greater health problems, including deaths, to humans and animals under normal operating conditions than nuclear plants cause under near worst-case scenarios. And yet people wet themselves in fear over the latter because it makes a good narrative and it looks scary on TV. I'm not sure how you get around this issue without changing human nature.
posted by Justinian at 4:14 PM on December 18, 2009 [16 favorites]


I always thought the environmental concerns with regards to nuclear waste was the biggest reason why people opposed nuclear power.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:17 PM on December 18, 2009


Liquid Metal Reactor.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:18 PM on December 18, 2009


It will end global warming, and even if global warming is just another paranoid Armageddon fantasy, it will save us from the dying oceans and starvation and resource wars that are inevitable as the world's energy supply dwindles.
posted by shmegegge at 4:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


more from Esquire's Best and Brightest 2009

Encyclopedia Pictura: Filmmakers of the Future

JR: Graffiti You Can See from Space

Daron Acemoglu: Why Failed States Fail

AXS Studio: The Mind-Blowing Animations

Anthony Woods: Candidate of the Year
posted by vronsky at 4:19 PM on December 18, 2009


From the beginning of the S-PRISM Fuel Cycle Study report (PDF), prepared by folks at GE Nuclear Energy and two fellows retired from Burns and Roe and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
S-PRISM is an advanced Fast Reactor plant design that utilizes compact modular pool-type reactors sized to enable factory fabrication and an affordable prototype test of a single Nuclear Steam Supply System (NSSS) for design certification at minimum cost and risk. Based on the success of the previous DOE sponsored Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor (ALMR) program GE has continued to develop and assess the technical viability and economic potential of an up rated plant called SuperPRISM (SPRISM) 1-4.
Presented at the 2003 International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants (ICANPP '03)

Why should anyone pay any attention?

Jazz hands!
posted by filthy light thief at 4:19 PM on December 18, 2009


I think you stopped counting too soon.

You mean like when HIV killed that airline steward that one time?
posted by Wataki at 4:20 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


It appears that a sodium cooled fast-breeder reactor has been operational in Russia since 1980.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:20 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because this post consists of a link to an Esquire article?

Well, yes- I'd gotten that bit, thanks. My point was to wonder why Esquire in particular as opposed to Discover, National Geographic, Nature or someplace a little more... I dunno... sciencey.

It's sort of like first reading about a faster than light drive in Maxim. Doesn't fit, you know?
posted by Pragmatica at 4:21 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another fun one: coal-burning power plants leak more radiation
into their surrounding environments than nuclear plants generating an equivalent amount of electricity.
posted by mullingitover at 4:21 PM on December 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


"The death toll at Chernobyl was 56 people."
I think you stopped counting too soon.
Coal mining kills thousands of people per year in the US alone [PDF], and that ignores deaths due to other aspects of coal power, such as air pollution from coal plants. Or widespread famine from global warming.

There's no such thing as clean energy, but there is energy that's cleaner or safer than other energy.
posted by hattifattener at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


This concept has always scared the hell out of me. The inner coolant is liquid sodium. The outer coolant is water. There's a huge heat exchanger with tons of liquid sodium on one side and tons of water on the other side.

What if there's a leak? BIG explosion. HUGE explosion.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:26 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's not some secret that only the tireless investigative journalists at Esquire could turn up.

BUT MOM SAID I WAS SPECIAL
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:28 PM on December 18, 2009


I always thought the environmental concerns with regards to nuclear waste was the biggest reason why people opposed nuclear power.

Have you hard about what comes out of coal plants? And it's not just the CO2 I'm talking about.
posted by GuyZero at 4:31 PM on December 18, 2009


Liquid metal cooled fast breeder reactors have been around for a while; there's one - Phénix - that's only just stopped operations in France that went live in 1973. Test ones were built in the UK, France, Russia (mercury cooled!), Germany and Japan. India are building one right now, to open next year thereotically.

Sodium cooled fast breeder reactors conventionally use a mix of plutonium dioxide and uranium dioxide, with uranium-238 converted to plutonium as a byproduct. The biggest issue with fast breeder reactors is they're more complex and expensive to build, but they're considerably safer than the old water cooled reactors like Chernobyl - there's no chance of a runaway reaction/meltdown as the reaction doesn't work that way. There was a lot of interest in the technology, but as governments got cold feet over nuclear power, we ended up replacing them with coal stations that just chuck the radioactive waste into the atmosphere instead...

The other main issue with fast breeded reactors is the risk of proliferation; creating plutonium is considered a Bad Thing these days, though you can of course use it for more fast breeder fuel instead of weapons. There is the SSTAR program to create a small, sealed, tamper-resistant fast breeder reactor that you could basically stick in as a 30 year 10MW generator, that could go to developing countries or other less secure sites, and then be returned for reprocessing/refuelling after it's drained - prototypes due by 2015.

So by the sounds of it, he's dusted off the plans for an SSTAR style modular fast breeder that use 'transuranics' (i.e. plutonium) and uranium-238 with sodium cooling. There's nothing wrong with that - anybody that can convince people that modern nuclear power is a real option is useful - but it's not some magical new chocolate discovery, this stuff's been around for 50 years.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


The miracle solution goes by different names: the sodium fast reactor, the integral fast reactor, the liquid-metal-cooled reactor.

Um, not having read the article, but don't fast breeder reactors have an incredibly poor track record safety-wise and economically? They're simply not the revolution they claim to be, and in fact constitute a dangerous money sink.
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on December 18, 2009


Save me science!

I have eaten
the science
that was in
the ice caps

and which
you were probably
saving
for global warming

Forgive me
it was delicious
so sweet
and so cold
posted by The World Famous at 4:44 PM on December 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


Coal pollution mostly ends when you stop using coal, and can be cleaned up when not (aside from CO2).
Nuclear waste lasts 10 times longer than all human history since the invention of language, and we have no real plan to handle it.
posted by msalt at 4:45 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's an excellent overview of this type of reactor in Chapter 4 of Prescription for the Planet, which you can download here. GE-Hitachi are working to commercialize an IFR with their PRISM reactor. It's a fantastic idea that's past due.
posted by Dasein at 4:47 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whatever happened to the Pebble Bed reactor? There was some buzz about them a few years back that sounded promising, and then nothing much happened.
posted by Artw at 4:48 PM on December 18, 2009


"Nothing like this will be built again" - Charles Stross visits an AGR reactor.
posted by Artw at 4:49 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Such is science/progress that, day to day, one is not sure just what to fear.
posted by Cranberry at 4:50 PM on December 18, 2009


Wow, he's invented the LMFBR. Here's a hint -- when it already has a standard acronym, you're not new. We started one in, I think, 1963, at Fermi Generation Station in Michigan. It broke. :-)

The fun thing to think of is the scale. You need a large vat of molten metal to make it work. Metals that stay liquid, like Mercury or NaK (Sodium-Pottasium alloy) are good for prototype, so that you don't have to thaw the reactor after every shutdown, but Lead-Bismuth alloys and pure sodium work very well if you don't shut the thing down often and have enough live steam to remelt once you want to restart the reactor.

Oh, and think about this -- don't throw a water ballon into the large vat of molten, partially radioactive sodium unless you *really* want to make it mad.
posted by eriko at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the Wiki article: "Disadvantages include difficulties associated with inspection and repair of a reactor immersed in opaque molten metal." Ya think?
posted by msalt at 4:52 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


But much of the environmental movement continues to hate nuclear power as an article of faith, and armchair scientists point to the difficulties of the fast nuclear plants in Russia and Japan, and the infinite armies of inertia simply avert their eyes.

This was the part that stuck out the most, to me. It's not a completely new technology, and it's not clear from the article if this dude's conception includes some new process or method. So why are the apparently real difficulties encountered by the Japanese just sort of hand-waved off? It seems most likely that it's because there are serious technical issues that haven't been worked out yet, and frankly it's a bit insulting to the readership that this part of the story is ignored.

This is only tangential, but with all the bright young nerds online these days, why are we still reading such sub-par science and technology journalism?
posted by clockzero at 4:56 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Marisa et al: US policy on fuel reprocessing [PDF]. It's mostly a weapons-proliferation-risk thing, as I understand it, since refining a spent fuel rod will leave you with some plutonium, and the technology is related to what you'd need to refine that Pu to bomb quality.

As an aside, the French have been reprocessing and reburning nuclear waste since the mid-70s, on behalf of their own power industry and several other countries', though not the US.
posted by hattifattener at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2009


Not only does the author know so little about nuclear power that he thinks nuclear waste can be burned

I'm pretty sure I've heard knowledgeable people describe the process of transmuting radioactive waste into easier-to-deal-with elements by fissioning it inside a reactor as "burning."

Coal pollution mostly ends when you stop using coal, and can be cleaned up when not (aside from CO2).

The heavy metals released by coal combustion will continue to be toxic literally forever. Ask tuna how easy it is to clean up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


It's sort of like first reading about a faster than light drive in Maxim

The only 'worthwhile' science article that could ever appear in Maxim would be a feature about that three-boobed woman from Total Recall.
posted by chambers at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2009


Well, lets face it, making bombs was always the big driver for nuclear reactors. People are less keen on that now, reactors that don't make bomb material are going to get less of a push from it anway, and the people opposed to nuclear reactors don't give a shit, they'll oppose them all. It's all a bit of a non-starter.
posted by Artw at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2009


msalt: Coal pollution mostly ends when you stop using coal, and can be cleaned up when not (aside from CO2).

But the CO2 is the main problem.

Nuclear waste lasts 10 times longer than all human history since the invention of language, and we have no real plan to handle it.

Which do you think future generations would prefer? The scenario where we create a few death vaults of radioactive waste in the world's uninhabitable deserts or the scenario where we irrevocably screw up the planetary climate, killing off most of the planet's biodiversity?
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:01 PM on December 18, 2009 [21 favorites]


The Russians of course are building WORLD'S BIGGEST modular reactor
posted by clockzero at 5:03 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live "in the shadow" of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (5 miles due west, but one of the 1000 people closest to it). It was one of the facilities targeted by the "No Nukes" campaign (and concerts) of 1981. It was opposed by a lot of but not most of the locals, but still became operational in 1986, forcing local activists to change their role from opposition to watchdog. Its operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, has been extra meticulous in its upkeep, recently replacing major components in one of two reactors a couple years ahead of their 'minimum lifespan'. Getting its backup cooling water from the Pacific Ocean has had minimal affect on the nearby sea life (and there are people besides PG&E checking). It has one of the best safety records in the industry and has been a very good neighbor. But still, they test a network of emergency sirens in every populated area within 20+ miles once a month, and send out an annual pamphlet showing evacuation plans and include coupons for free Potassium Iodine tablets for radiation poisoning, just in case.

And though few of my neighbors will openly admit it, the plant is at an ideal location, midway between the big SF and LA metropolitan areas, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and overlooking an inaccesible stretch of coastline, and having only about 1000 people living within 5 miles, less than 100,000 within 20 miles, and 0 within 2 miles). Unfortunately there aren't very many locations nearly as good, but I personally would not object if they added a couple more reactors to the two currently operating, and I supported the "No Nukers" in 1981 (when I lived 200 miles away).
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:05 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sodium burns when it comes in contact with air and water.

Breeder reactors were designed to create a continuous cycle of plutonium fuel.

Stupid, overthought prestige technology is not a solution
posted by KokuRyu at 5:08 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


People tend to freak out much more about very rare but intense risks than constant, medium level risks

You make this sound completely irrational, but it's often reasonable to prefer constant risks to catastrophic ones. Moderate but constant risks can be easier to cope with, even when they may cost more in the long run, while major catastrophes can be life-changing in ways that are worth avoiding even at very high costs. This is why it makes sense to buy insurance, for example.

Yes, people do have a hard time making judgments about these situations, and I certainly don't know enough to say if nuclear energy is a case like this, but I do think there's some value in having more predictable risks.
posted by moss at 5:11 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I've heard knowledgeable people describe the process of transmuting radioactive waste into easier-to-deal-with elements by fissioning it inside a reactor as "burning."

Certainly. But the phrase "miracle technology actually burns nuclear waste" suggests that the author doesn't know the difference between metaphorical burning and actual burning.
posted by ssg at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2009


I read the article and I still don't know anything about the various advantages of this type of reactor against current ones, isn't that kind of FPP, you know, frowned upon here?
posted by Blasdelb at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2009


msalt - one of the advantages of fast breeder reactors is that they generate very little nuclear waste; the plutonium they create from U238 (the common stuff) can be reprocessed as fuel for the fast breeder. But yeah, immersing your reactor in molten sodium is umm, fun stuff.

On the other hand they won't contribute to drowning the pacific islands through global warming from CO2, so there's that.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:14 PM on December 18, 2009


Have you hard about what comes out of coal plants? And it's not just the CO2 I'm talking about.

I'm aware of what comes out of coal power plants. I was just bringing in where I believe the envirnmental concern about nuclear power comes from; not my personal stance on nuclear power in general, which is actually a lot more favorable than burning coal.

Do I know what comes out of coal power plants. Sheesh ...
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:23 PM on December 18, 2009


Sodium burns when it comes in contact with air and water.

Now explain to us how all the world's climatologists have overlooked solar flares.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:24 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


And then there's David Hahn, who built a breeder reactor in his shed.
posted by Artw at 5:25 PM on December 18, 2009


He starts drawing little squiggles on the whiteboard, trying to explain how the miracle technology actually burns nuclear waste, neatly solving the biggest problem associated with nuclear power.

I have no idea what he's talking about.


This is a horrible article. It's all breathless enthusiasm, with almost no understanding or analysis.

Also, I find it fascinating that esquire appends a link back to the main site into your clipboard when you try to copy text from their article. Try it - it's kind of neat.
posted by heathkit at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Finding a nuclear engineer who proposes nuclear reactors as a solution to everything is not exactly hard either - they're all like that. It's a peculiar kind of tunnel vision that comes with the job.
posted by Artw at 5:28 PM on December 18, 2009


clockzero - the problems at the Japanese Monju plant were down to bad welding, causing a liquid sodium leak, which reacted with the air and its moisture - the heat from which melted steel, but they didn't shut the plant down for several hours after getting the alarms. The company in charge then tried to cover it up (and botched it), and that lead to all sorts of understandable public outrage and court cases when they tried to restart operations.

Last I heard they were getting close to reopening again, possibly february next year, and they're planning on building a new 'super Monju' now. So the problems at Monju were not with LMFBR tech per-se, but sub-standard construction and really, really bad management.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2009


It's interesting that past problems with reactors are so often written off as some kind of trivial result of human error. As if we're NOW in a wonderful new human error-free universe where everyone knows what they're doing at all times.

If people fucked-up in the past they'll fuck shit up in the future. I think we should plan for that in a very big way, instead of fiercely applying our laser beam focus to whatever our pet project is.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:44 PM on December 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Z-pinch laser-initiated fusion!
posted by Artw at 5:45 PM on December 18, 2009


Breeder reactors were designed to create a continuous cycle of plutonium fuel.

They can, but they weren't designed to do so, they're just good at it if you do the "right" thing -- which is surround the fuel with a wrapper of 238U and leave the whole mess in the reactor for a few weeks at most. Otherwise, you end with too much 240Pu in your 239Pu, and your bomb goes off while you're machining the fissionables.

OOPS.

However, LMRBRs are really, really, REALLY bad at making weapons grade materials, because the fuel and the U that you are trying to make into Pu is buried in moten metal. Indeed, the best thing to do with weapons grade Pu (that is, less than 8% 240Pu) is to shove it into a breeder, like, say, an LMFBR, for a couple of months and convert even more of the 239Pu into 240Pu. The advanced course in nuclear weapons proliferation is to then extract that now-not-safe fuel and accidently "leak" it into the hands of theoretical nuclear terrorists, who will then become actual radioactive holes in the ground.
posted by eriko at 5:45 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now explain to us how snark snark snark blah blah blah etc

Here you go Einstein

You must derive pleasure from being so willfully obtuse.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or they wrap it around some semtex and blow it conventional in the middle of a major city.
posted by Artw at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm very very sorry...

Metafilter: ...Must derive pleasure from being so willfully obtuse.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:24 PM on December 18, 2009


KokuRyu, it's already been explained in this very thread that the cause of that accident was, and I quote, "sub-standard construction and really, really bad management." Opposing this technology based on Monju is like opposing fission power based on Chernobyl.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:26 PM on December 18, 2009


Well, both would show that graceful degradation is a desirable and somewhat lacking feature of their respective technologies.
posted by Artw at 6:35 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Graceful Degradation isn't relevant, though. In the Monju case, the system was built and run in a shoddy way- blaming the underlying technology is like being against cars because somebody built a car with crappy brakes and drove it drunk. In the Chernobyl case, the people running the plant shut down safety system after safety system after safety system- they all but pushed a button reading "meltdown". I don't think you can disable the safety and stare down the barrel of a loaded gun and then complain to the manufacturer that you got your face blown off.

If we're talking about graceful degradation, Three Mile Island is perhaps a more relevant example. Something went wrong, an amount of radiation not significantly higher than background was released, and the safety systems kicked in and shut things down. Fission reactors are designed around the concept of graceful degradation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:42 PM on December 18, 2009


Even the disaster at Chernobyl killed just fifty-six people

CREDIBILITY_FAIL

Why'd he have to go and do a thing like that? It's like how they tell you that marijuana makes people turn into drug-addicted losers, and when you find out that isn't true you start wondering what else they're lying to you about.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:45 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


An inherent tendency to blow the fuck up when there is an operator error or faulty weld would seem to be a graceful degradation issue to me.
posted by Artw at 6:47 PM on December 18, 2009


I'd be interested in an analysis of the worst-case scenario assuming maximal incompetence: leakage of radioactive primary coolant and resultant fire; like Monju but the primary coolant, which the documents suggest would be radioactive to some degree. How significant would the radiation release be? (If it helps, use fractions of one coal plant's emissions during normal operation over any period of your choice as the unit of measurement.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:48 PM on December 18, 2009


An inherent tendency to blow the fuck up when there is an operator error or faulty weld would seem to be a graceful degradation issue to me.

I'm just not convinced that one incident constitutes a tendency.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:50 PM on December 18, 2009


KokuRyu, it's already been explained in this very thread that the cause of that accident was, and I quote, "sub-standard construction and really, really bad management." Opposing this technology based on Monju is like opposing fission power based on Chernobyl.

I believe it's called human error. Not even NASA can escape it, so it's going to be impossible to prevent accidents like Monju. Impossible.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2009


Opposing this technology based on Monju is like opposing fission power based on Chernobyl.

I do concede your point (to a certain degree), but sodium-cooled fast-breeder reactors are an extremely complex and unproven technology that has been abandoned most recently by France, the only other country besides Japan that had pursued a "plutonium economy" based on fuel recycling.

Breeder reactors are science fiction wankery, and are basically dangerous national prestige projects.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:57 PM on December 18, 2009


My passion probably comes from the fact that I lived in Tsuruga, home of the Monju fast breeder, and have lived through numerous nuclear accidents and incidents. Accidents are not just something I have dredged up on Wikipedia.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:59 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am for any nuclear power system with passive safety. Although I have grave reservations that any any system using a molten explosive as a coolant can be truly safe, much less passively so.
posted by clarknova at 7:00 PM on December 18, 2009


Well that was simple. Moving on to the next problem...the Middle East. Any ideas?
posted by republican at 7:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Proliferation of highly radioactive materials into the developing world?

I'm guessing that anyone who is significantly invested in New York City or Washington, DC real estate is going to oppose this on general principle.
Well, that's what really matters right, making people who live NYC and D.C. comfortable. It would be much better for people in the developing world to go without electricity, or be wedded to obsolete technologies then let them have access to nuclear energy. Those darkies can't be trusted.

Anyway, hyping specific technologies is kind of a silly. Even if this thing works, it may not be cost effective compared to wind, solar, or traditional nuclear energy. Put in a carbon tax, or do cap and trade, and then money will flow to whatever technologies are most effective.
posted by delmoi at 7:25 PM on December 18, 2009


I am for any nuclear power system with passive safety. Although I have grave reservations that any any system using a molten explosive as a coolant can be truly safe, much less passively so.

It's not explosive, it's reactive. There's a pretty big difference.
posted by delmoi at 7:26 PM on December 18, 2009


Is this guy with Steorn? They've got a live webcast up of an acrylic spinny thing that is supposed to set us all free (energy wise). Perhaps they'll duel in a fantasy place where they're both right.
posted by msbutah at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It only explodes when you combine it with uncommon substances such as air or water.
posted by Artw at 7:28 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


People who argue that Chernobyl and other acccidents are avoidable because they were the result of bad management and lax construction fail to understand that bad management and lax construction are pretty much ubiquitous. They also seem to fail to understand the meaning of the word accident.
posted by humanfont at 7:41 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


None of this pointless bickering is going to matter once the US Patent Office clears my plans for a giant windmill to power the planet. And I don't just mean a larger version of the things you see out in Palm Springs. I mean one, gigantic windmill, tall enough to reach into outer space, propelled by the breeze created by the rotation of the earth.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:50 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have a hard time characterizing Chernobyl as an accident because that implies that it's something that just happened. It was the result of a wildly reckless experiment to see what would happen if all the safety systems were manually disabled and the control rods were pulled out of the core. If not for the sheer insanity of the idea that somebody would deliberately cause a nuclear meltdown, you'd have a hard time describing it as accidental.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:54 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


typically regarded not as sources of energy but for their capacity to vaporize cities.

Prepositional syllepsis, or just clumsy writing?
posted by kenko at 7:58 PM on December 18, 2009


Phénix is a lousy name for a nuclear power plant.
posted by Herodios at 8:10 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


It was the result of a wildly reckless experiment to see what would happen if all the safety systems were manually disabled and the control rods were pulled out of the core.

...in a reactor *intentionally* built without a containment vessel to facilitate the extraction of fissionable plutonium.

Chernyobl isn't an example of what can go wrong, it's an example of what will go wrong when you deliberately and systematically design a system that's unstable and put bad controls on it. A LMFBR can't do what Chernyobl did -- it can fail, and if you build enough of them, it *will* fail, but a LMFBR -- indeed, all FBRs -- will fail in a much more graceful way than a graphite moderated water cooled reactor.

Those wonder why should look up the phrase "positive void coefficient." The key to nuclear reactor stability is "what happens if I boil the coolant?" If the answer is "It catches fire and blows up", this is a RBMK-1000 bad design.

ALL power plants fail. See the Taum Sauk Pumped Storage Plant for a particularly bizarre and dramatic example. The trick is "fail gracefully" and if you can't manage that, "fail with least harm." LMFBR reactors are really good at this -- if the big screwup happens -- namely, a LOCA, the reactor shuts down and you end up with a bunch of fuel element *wrapped in solid metal*.

This is seventeen metric shitloads better than TMI, and about 17 billion better than Chernyobl, which is the canonical example of how not to build it *and* how not to run it if you did build it that way.

Nuclear power generation has serious issues -- but I get seriously annoyed at people who think that these issues are insurmountable and propose building more coal power plants. While I'm not *certain* of this, I'm very confident that coal generation has killed far more people than the entire history of nuclear power. And by nuclear power, I'm including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Without them, it's not even close. It's a dead certantiy that far more Curies of radioactivity have been emitted by coal plants than nuclear -- and that include Chernyobl.
posted by eriko at 8:27 PM on December 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


It only explodes when you combine it with uncommon substances such as air or water.

It doesn't explode in contact with air, it just turns black. Keeping water out of the works doesn't seem that hard. Any hydrocarbon power plant needs to be kept dry too, obviously. It's not that hard.
posted by delmoi at 8:35 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The lead alloy cooling solution seems more reassuring than sodium. Apart from being inert and harmless as long as you don't go eating or injecting it, the fact that it's a solid at room temperature seems to be at the very least a PR plus: inconvenient in engineering terms but it does mean that when the reactor is shut down, it ends up encased in rather a lot of optimal shielding material. Mind you, the prospect of superheated lead vapor being thrown into the air is not encouraging, but I don't know that that possibility even exists.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:35 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Btw, the key difference between something explosive and something reactive is that if a reaction starts, it stops when the reactant is used up. So if you get a few drops of water on sodium, you get a little pop, but it doesn't cause all of the sodium to explode the way you would if you dropped something on TNT.
posted by delmoi at 8:37 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


When you find a better coolant than liquid sodium, which goes boom when in contact with water, even the water vapor in the air, then we can talk. The nuclear side is cool, except for the fact that it uses bomb grade plutonium to run, but hey what could go wrong. Also, please go google up the disaster which was the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. This solution is the classic Hobson's choice - death by flooding or death by radiation.
posted by caddis at 9:24 PM on December 18, 2009


"Wow, he's invented the LMFBR. Here's a hint -- when it already has a standard acronym, you're not new"

here's a hint dipshit - they mentioned this on page three of the article.

"Gradually, he put the story together. The first glimmer of the fast-reactor concept began at the federal government's Argonne National Laboratory in 1951, when the sodium-cooled Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 powered four lightbulbs and proved that nuclear power was a real thing. In 1965, Argonne put into service Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 2, a demonstration project that ran successfully for thirty years. In 1971, Richard Nixon launched the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, putting together thousands of government and industry scientists in an effort to come up with a commercial prototype, but after twelve years, a mixture of technical problems, procurement scandals, and the relentless opposition of environmentalists finally led the Senate to kill it."
posted by vronsky at 9:27 PM on December 18, 2009


I dropped sodium pellets into the glass of water in 8th grade chemistry too caddis, but if you read george spiggot's link above, the reactor in russia seems to have caught fire several times without catastrophic explosions. And it was built in 1980. We barely had computers in 1980.

"There have been incidents involving sodium/water interactions from tube breaks in the steam generators, a sodium fire from a leak in an auxiliary system, and a sodium fire from a leak in a secondary coolant loop while shut down. All of the incidents were classified as the lowest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, and none of the events prevented restarting operation of the facility after repairs"
posted by vronsky at 9:35 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm waiting for the person who can end pants.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:54 PM on December 18, 2009


None of this pointless bickering is going to matter once the US Patent Office clears my plans for a giant windmill to power the planet. And I don't just mean a larger version of the things you see out in Palm Springs. I mean one, gigantic windmill, tall enough to reach into outer space, propelled by the breeze created by the rotation of the earth.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 PM on December 18, 2009


eriko Thanks for the Taum Sauk Pumped Storage Plant link. That's very interesting.
posted by sneebler at 10:08 PM on December 18, 2009


We barely had computers in 1980.

We had the Vic-20. 64k ought to be enough for anybody.
posted by chemoboy at 10:20 PM on December 18, 2009


We barely had computers in 1980.

BS! We had Vaxen! One MIPS, baby, we were cookin' with gas! I did my first kernel programming on the Vax. Now that was a real machine.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:10 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. All that ... and I bet it's safe, clean and too cheap to meter, too!

Fortunately, Pu-239 decays almost entirely after 240,000 years. Unfortunately, some of it turns into radioactive uranium which takes 7 million years to decay. But hey, no doubt Whack'n'Hut or BlackWidder will still be around to keep our nose clean.

Or we could just choose renewables now and get it over with.
posted by Twang at 11:16 PM on December 18, 2009


That's right, no solution that doesn't send our standard of living into the toilet is allowed.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:19 PM on December 18, 2009


A lot of people here are clamoring about the dangers of sodium. Serious question: how dangerous is that, really? From what I can see, the sodium in the intermediate coolant loop isn't even radioactive. Mix it with water and it'll get really hot, spray sodium hydroxide everywhere, and create a billowing hydrogen fireball. But how hard would it be to contain that inside the reactor building? This sounds like the kind of thing that's only a disaster when it happens in your kitchen. Your average oil refinery or pesticide plant seems a lot more dangerous.
posted by ryanrs at 11:19 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Canuck government has announced it's privatizing its CANDU technology. I have no idea if that's a good idea or a bad idea. It involves the Harper government, so I'm inclined to believe bad.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:21 PM on December 18, 2009


huh, what happened to you're a kitty's comment? I was going to ask if maybe her dad could chime in with a comment and clarify some of the confusion that has arisen in this thread.
posted by vronsky at 11:31 PM on December 18, 2009


Mix it with water and it'll get really hot, spray sodium hydroxide everywhere, and create a billowing hydrogen fireball. But how hard would it be to contain that inside the reactor building?

It can cause explosions and fires, which can breach the containment vessel and send a radioactive plume over the surrounding community. At the very least, a sodium fire would shut down the facility for years, meaning: no electricity. What a waste of time, effort and money.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:21 AM on December 19, 2009


Even the disaster at Chernobyl killed just fifty-six people

Honestly, attributing anything beyond that statement with credibility makes one a complete and total sucker.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:28 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


This Loewen guy was energy consultant to Chuck Hegel and wrote this article for the Marshall Institute which seems to deny AGW on a quick scan. (The quote that makes me think it's denying AGW: Simply put, the qualification and veracity of data used in building bridges, calculating corporate finances, and reporting national student graduation rates is more rigorous than that in the data used in climate models whose input is driving crucial public policy. The “data” input to climate models is intended to allow the models to project temperatures, precipitation, major storms, and changes in the climate parameters. To do so, both the data and the models must be accurate and valid. How can we trust the model output if the input is questionable? Climate modeling is proving the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.”)

Obviously, since his field of expertise is this glow-in-the-dark stuff, the above doesn't disqualify him from talking about nuclear power. I'm just not sure that I trust him to "end global warming." You can't disagree with everything he says in that article (we want good science), but I get some red flags (and raised blood pressure) reading it and knowing it's being used to push denial of AGW among our legislators.
posted by crataegus at 1:46 AM on December 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm ambivalent about the issue of nuclear power to solve climate change. On one hand I know enough about renewables to be pretty certain that they won't be enough to replace our current use of fossil fuels, and I know enough about human nature to be pretty certain that we can't expect any meaningful push to curtail our energy use (see Copenhagen today). Both things are sad, but true.
On the other hand, I just don't trust the nuclear industry much. When I went to engineering school, back in the nineties, nuclear engineering was so vilified in the post-Chernobyl era that it seemed only to attract inept students and misfits. I shudder when I consider the current generation of nuclear engineers.
But yeah, we should be fighting global warming with everything we've got: renewables, efficiency, caps, taxes, ccs, and also nuclear. It's a real tragedy that the modern environmental movement came of age fighting nukes, and that it thus finds it so difficult now to ally itself with the old enemy to fight the bigger threat.
posted by Skeptic at 3:32 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


He starts drawing little squiggles on the whiteboard, trying to explain how the miracle technology actually burns nuclear waste, neatly solving the biggest problem associated with nuclear power.

Feynman diagrams

Fortunately, Pu-239 decays almost entirely after 240,000 years. Unfortunately, some of it turns into radioactive uranium which takes 7 million years to decay. But hey, no doubt Whack'n'Hut or BlackWidder will still be around to keep our nose clean.


Yeah, well the thing is if something has a really long half life it means that it isn't that radioactive by definition. If it has a short half life it'll be very radioactive but won't last long, so not so much of a storage issue. It's the medium half life (in the 10s of thousands of years) waste that is the most dangerous.

In theory of course, as long as something is still radioactive, there is still energy to be extracted. So if you design your fuel and reprocessing cycles right you can end up with virtually no waste.
In practice though, reprocessing is expensive and dangerous, and this doesn't happen.
posted by atrazine at 7:11 AM on December 19, 2009


It's tempting to laugh at this guy now, but I can't help thinking that one day -- one day -- we puny ants will WORSHIP HIM! HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!
posted by Legomancer at 7:28 AM on December 19, 2009


"At the very least, a sodium fire would shut down the facility for years, meaning: no electricity. What a waste of time, effort and money."

This applies to all large scale engineering projects. Should the Russians not have built the Sayano–Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station because 45 years later the #2 turbine would explode causing wide spread blackouts and then the on going power shortage would result in hundreds of thousands of tons of aluminum not being smelted? Should we stop building bridges?

Besides one of the advantages of the article's reactor is they are small and easily manufactured. An incident with a single reactor won't drop 6.4 TeraWatts of power off the grid. And being small they can be spread around reducing the need for transmission lines though we'll probably see the reactors, if they ever come to production, mostly along the coasts where essentially unlimited cooling water exists.
posted by Mitheral at 8:14 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's say they can get the safety concerns worked out. What'll these things cost? What will the electricity they produce cost?

The US DOE tried to build a cousin of one of these in the 1970s (which became the 1980s and the 1990s).
One issue was continuing escalation in the cost of the project. In 1971 the Atomic Energy Commission estimated that the Clinch River project would cost about $400 million. Private industry promised to contribute the majority of the project cost ($257 million). By the following year, however, projected costs had jumped to nearly $700 million.[6] By 1981 $1 billion of public money had been spent on the project, and the estimated cost to completion had grown to $3.0-$3.2 billion, with another billion dollars needed for an associated spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility. [5][7] A Congressional committee investigation released in 1981 found evidence of contracting abuse, including bribery and fraud, that added to project costs.[7] Before it was finally canceled in 1983, the General Accounting Office of the Congress estimated the total project cost at $8 billion.[4]
Big Energy likes big capital intensive projects. And it likes to keep its customers tethered to the electricity it sells rather than choosing some alternate. So Big Energy trots out a new take on the solution that best fits its priorities and will next expect us to throw gobs of money at it to make it work.

Are those my priorities?

I want electricity for my internet machine. I like clean, elegant solutions. And since I live in sunny SoCal, I can *almost* make it myself, with Solar Panels that produce the electricity *almost* as cheaply as coal, with net metering and a coffee-tabled sized fuel cell that's almost a battery (and is almost a reality) to see me through the cloudy days. That's where I want government research dollars and tax incentives to go -- to removing the almosts and helping me produce my own clean energy. And I certainly don't want government dollars and incentives to go toward solutions that keep me dependent on big energy.
posted by notyou at 8:30 AM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Or we could just choose renewables now and get it over with.

Sure! That will be 30-50 cents per killowatt hour please. And no griping about closing factories or frozen pensioners.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2009


Even the disaster at Chernobyl killed just fifty-six people

Honestly, attributing anything beyond that statement with credibility makes one a complete and total sucker.


Why? Afaik that number was taken from the 2005 UN study into the effects of Chernobyl. The study also predicted a 4% increase in cancers, possibly leading to the premature deaths of 4000 more, but these haven't happened yet, so one can't be precise. I'm not saying it wasn't horrifying, but the stated impacts seem trustworthy.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:45 AM on December 19, 2009


Sure! That will be 30-50 cents per killowatt hour please. And no griping about closing factories or frozen pensioners.

Wow, those are sure some authoritative-sounding numbers you've yanked outta thin air there. Guess we should all just abandon the green pipe dream now and get it over with, eh?

Meanwhile, back here in reality, one wonders - just for example - what the actual kw/h price of electricity would be in the province of Ontario (the last North American jurisdiction to bring a nuclear plant online) if the $10 billion in cost overruns attached to the construction of the Darlington plant had showed up as a line item on the power bill instead of vanishing as further general tax burden into the recessionary quagmire of the early '90s. One wonders indeed if Toronto might have another subway line or two by now.

Also back here in reality, Germany introduced the most ambitious feed-in tariff for renewable energy the planet's yet seen in 2000, to predictions of economic calamity far and wide. Rates for solar were set particularly high for catholic North American economic expert tastes. Renewables on the German grid went from next to nothing to 14 percent with a bullet inside ten years, a quarter million jobs were created, the seemingly terminal unemployment epidemic in the former GDR was brought under control, and Germany now leads the world in cleantch. Total estimated cost to the average German ratepayer: about $50/yr. Total additional federal tax required: $0. Not even the hardcore neocons in Germany oppose the feed-in tariff anymore.

But hey, don't let the facts get in the way of whatever random number generator told you it couldn't be done without freezing people, bleeding jobs and quadrupling energy bills.
posted by gompa at 11:42 AM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing that anyone who is significantly invested in New York City or Washington, DC real estate is going to oppose this on general principle.

That ad of The Shaw of Iran ordering fission plants - what would have been the reaction to the plants working status and THEN the revolution/overthrow of the Shaw.

So will only 'stable' places get fission power?

It's been a while since I last read about fast sodium reactors, but I seem to remember there were some serious technical hurdles to overcome before they were feasible. The promise is good, but can they deliver now what they haven't been able to in the past?

The expermental reactor back in the 50's (or was it 60's) had some of the worse accidents on US soil.

As for 'deliver' - the 1950's peaceful atom idea has shown to be a flop. Price Anderson (enacted to cover the industry 'till they could show how safe they are) is extended. Every year fines for not operating per safety rules are issued.

And even simple things like not having sleeping security guards....

than nuclear plants cause under near worst-case scenarios.

Vs what - actual case scenarios like, oh, say Chernobyl? How about with an active war - doesn't blowing up a working plant cause issues?

I see no sign of mankind going cold turkey on war.

Oh, hey hows this news: Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Radioactive Longer Than Expected

reactors have an incredibly poor track record safety-wise and economically

Yes they do. But when you have a captive audience under government market protection - you get to charge what you have to to make a profit!


the scenario where we irrevocably screw up the planetary climate, killing off most of the planet's biodiversity?

Oh, so now we are worried about the biodiversity? I'd suggest examining all the strange chemicals now in the biosphere as an even better starting point.

At least with CO2 one can, oh say, grow plants, char the plants and bury the char.

An old chem prof was into a movement that anything chemical that could be made should have an unmaking plan, some way for it to be re-broken down before it was mass produced.

Finding a nuclear engineer who proposes nuclear reactors as a solution to everything
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair

Given the non-healthy tie between the money system, energy, 'stuff', (on and on) with most people in the 1st world - rather than examine "can we live with less" the question is "how can what we have keep going and expand". Thus answers like "lets have fission power"

the cause of that accident was, and I quote, "sub-standard construction and really, really bad management."

Right - and the glowing light of Capitalism - The US of A never, ever has sub standard construction or really, really bad management. So the 2 could never EVER get together.

I believe it's called human error.

Add to that failure modes. For man's machines have a history of failure - what is the failure mode is always a good question.

Nuclear power generation has serious issues -- but I get seriously annoyed at people who think that these issues are insurmountable

And the fission industry has had years to show they can operate without safety fines AND without the need for Price-Anderson.

Yet safety fines keep happening. And the Industry (as a whole it seems) keeps asking Congress to extend the law.

Not to mention the geopolitical issue of 'big nation over here can have fission power, little nation over here can not' or how the fission plants are known targets in symetric or asymetric warfare.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:12 PM on December 19, 2009


rough ashlar: Oh, so now we are worried about the biodiversity? I'd suggest examining all the strange chemicals now in the biosphere as an even better starting point.

'Strange chemicals' in the biosphere are not good for the biodiversity. But they won't even being to compare to when we finish acidifying the oceans and obliterate every coral reef on the planet.

At least with CO2 one can, oh say, grow plants, char the plants and bury the char.

Well for one thing, burning the plants would release most of the CO2 back into the atmosphere. The char would contain some carbon, but not most of it. It would, however, contain the phosphates and such you would need to grow more plants, thus preventing you from burying it as you suggest.

Also, the whole process would take more energy than you got using the fossil fuels that put the carbon into the atmosphere in the first place, thus defeating the point of the entire endeavor.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:12 PM on December 19, 2009


Nuclear power is an essential component in the move away from fossil fuels towards sustainable energy, and we should be doing alot more research, especially into smaller reactors that could be sited beside existing coal-fired generators.

I myself am not much concerned about the problems around storing and guarding nuclear waste (unless it's contracted out); it seems to be an easier problem than capturing and sequestering carbon, and I believe that today's nuclear waste is tomorrow's fuel.

Those worried about nuclear terrorism might consider not acting in ways that create terrorists. Just sayin'.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:31 PM on December 19, 2009


Wow, those are sure some authoritative-sounding numbers you've yanked outta thin air there

Sigh. My numbers are hardly piled from thin air. They come from a 2006 study of levelized unit electricity costs for Ontario by the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

The Darlington cost overruns are factored into your electricity bill. It's right there in that "debt retirement" charge. You still end up with cheap electricity compared with most of the globe

Finally I am in complete agreement with you re. subsidizing wind power as they do in Germany, but please note that this does have the effect of raising electricity prices. Moreover, the backup natural gas fired capacity they have over there to cover for when the wind doesn't blow increases the cost ( and ghg emissions) still further. This last point is why you will never see installed wind/solar capacity supplying more than 25% or so of the grid. ( I'm being generous here. Most times you here figures like "Wind suppllies 18% of Germany's electricity" they're talking about nameplate ratings. With a < 30% capacity factor, the actual output is far less)

But hey, don't let the fact that we agree stop you from throwing out ad hominem attacks!
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:33 PM on December 19, 2009


Why don't we store our nuclear waste on the moon?

what could possibly go wrong?
posted by wittgenstein at 1:46 PM on December 19, 2009


Why don't we store our nuclear waste on the moon?

what could possibly go wrong?


I believe that was tried back in the 90's, if I recall, there as an accident in 1999.
posted by Snyder at 2:29 PM on December 19, 2009


Whatever happened to Toshiba's tiny micro nuclear reactors?
posted by Duug at 2:47 PM on December 19, 2009


Well for one thing, burning the plants would release most of the CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Which is why I said 'char' and not 'burn'. 50% of the carbon remains after charing has been cited.

Not to mention charing say tomato stalks keeps the tomato viruses from being in the compost pile.

Also, the whole process would take more energy than you got using the fossil fuels that put the carbon into the atmosphere in the first place,

Depends on how one chars the material. Scheffler dishes can be used for the charing, as an example.
Scheffler dish maker

Or one can use the mirror idea from a FreeBSD coder Sohara


Those worried about nuclear terrorism might consider not acting in ways that create terrorists. Just sayin'.

Or one can go without the nukes - hard to blow up a fission plant OR have arguments about why nation-state X has fission while nation-state Y does not if no one has the toys.

That is what the 'peaceful atom' program/idea was supposed to solve back in the 1950's. Alas - it failed.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:20 PM on December 19, 2009


This last point is why you will never see installed wind/solar capacity supplying more than 25% or so of the grid.

IF the eestor EESU is ever a shipping product that could change rather quickly.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:24 PM on December 19, 2009


That's a pretty big if. They haven't exactly installed confidence to date.
posted by Mitheral at 4:46 PM on December 19, 2009


It can cause explosions and fires, which can breach the containment vessel and send a radioactive plume over the surrounding community. At the very least, a sodium fire would shut down the facility for years, meaning: no electricity. What a waste of time, effort and money.

So don't mix it with water! I don't understand why you people think it's that difficult. And it doesn’t explode in contact with air, just water. People keep chemicals from mixing all the time, and there are lots of installations that use sodium metal.
Or we could just choose renewables now and get it over with.
Sure! That will be 30-50 cents per killowatt hour please. And no griping about closing factories or frozen pensioners.
It's not even close to that expensive. According to this the cost is just between 4-6¢/kwh for wind power. We just need a more efficent power grid built to move the electricity generated around the country.
Well for one thing, burning the plants would release most of the CO2 back into the atmosphere. The char would contain some carbon, but not most of it. It would, however, contain the phosphates and such you would need to grow more plants, thus preventing you from burying it as you suggest.
He said 'char' not burn, which I think means overheating in a low-oxygen environment. As far as not getting phosphates from buried remnants, um, where do you think plants usually get neutrients? FROM THE GROUND. You don't even need to burry it; just dump it on the ground. Amorphous carbon is not CO2. You can grow plants in it if you want.
Also, the whole process would take more energy than you got using the fossil fuels that put the carbon into the atmosphere in the first place,
Only if you assume the only way to heat something is by burning fossil fuels, which is obviously not the case.

That said, that is probably not a very useful way to get CO2 out of the air.
posted by delmoi at 6:18 PM on December 19, 2009


That said, that is probably not a very useful way to get CO2 out of the air.

Well, it is a way to do it that has a side benefit - the Nitrogen part of the plant growing cycle seems to stick about.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:18 PM on December 19, 2009


delmoi: It's not even close to that expensive. According to this the cost is just between 4-6¢/kwh for wind power. We just need a more efficent power grid built to move the electricity generated around the country.

I should have said "10-50 cents / killowatt hour". The Ontario Standard Offer program currently pays 11c for wind power and 42c for solar PV. That's 2 to 10 times the going (nuclear / hydro) rate.

As I mentioned before, that cost would be much higher if the renewables formed a significant fraction of the grid capacity because of the need for something to manage the power fluctuations (gas fired backup, giant energy storage projects, mythical super-efficient transmission, whatever). I want to reiterate - I support paying more for our electricity! But most people don't agree with us, and I pity the politician who takes that stand.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:58 PM on December 19, 2009


Is super-efficient electricity transmission mythical? I thought it was a problem the world had solved.
posted by Lleyam at 2:23 AM on December 20, 2009


Too expensive to build, too expensive to decommission, too slow to deploy, don't need it, don't want it.
posted by flabdablet at 5:46 AM on December 20, 2009


I want to reiterate - I support paying more for our electricity!

And what about accepting that energy flows will change with the rotation and season cycles?

Its only in our lifetimes (and well the readers of this site I'd hazzard a guess) that the sun going down doesn't mean the end of light, nor that winter is cold, et la. (In parts of the world when it is nighttime its dark and these places tend to lack access to the blue,)

Would it be so bad that humans would have to 'make hay while the sun shines' -> use that PV power while the panels are lit up?

Now such would seem to crash the economy, the too big to fail would fail. But then again the too big to fails are part of the group who want to take 70% of the carbon tax for themselves.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2009


Would it be so bad that humans would have to 'make hay while the sun shines'

Hell yes that would be so bad. Feel free to go live in a cave or whatever, but most of us humans aren't going to accept stepping boldly backwards into the 17th century. We require consistent electricity 24 hours a day.
posted by Justinian at 2:38 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hell yes that would be so bad.

And I think its very bad when one pays a 70% extortion to people who claim they are 'saving us all' with "carbon trading".

We require consistent electricity 24 hours a day.

No, humans don't. At least healthy ones.

But where's the outrage then over the lack of 24X7 electrical power for, say, the North Koreans? And given this whole thread is about nuke power - I look forward to the link to the white paper showing how North Korea needs fission reactors.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:02 PM on December 20, 2009


rough aslar: I suppose that depends on what you mean by "require", then. Technically speaking humans don't require consistently delivered electricity. They also don't require consistent access to housing or food. Since you can survive without consistent access to any of them.

But, yeah, I would consider access to a decent 24-hour power grid to be about on par with indoor plumbing and a stable food supply.
posted by Justinian at 3:36 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately I haven't time now to read this post, pity, but for those still readign, i would jsut like to link to Professor Barry Brook's Brave new Climate blog, which is a strong advocate for IFR, and contains masses of information on the subject.

I'm quite sold on the idea myself.

If i get time, I'll come back and try to clean up any unanswered criticisms raised above.
posted by wilful at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2009


Vronsky writes: huh, what happened to you're a kitty's comment? I was going to ask if maybe her dad could chime in with a comment and clarify some of the confusion that has arisen in this thread.

Well, Dasein already linked to the chapter on IFR tech from my book, which answers a lot of the questions and issues here. The S-PRISM design's risk assessment studies, already vetted by the NRC, indicates the probability of a core meltdown to be astronomically improbable, and even then it would make a mess within the vessel that would be subcritical. Many of the concerns expressed here about sodium are generally either overblown or mischaracterized, as other commenters have pointed out. Monju's fire was due to a thermocouple fitting vibrating loose, and made a mess of non-radioactive sodium that they cleaned up and tried to cover up. The cleanup wasn't the problem, it was the coverup. A sodium fire can't melt metal, since sodium burns with very small flames at a termperature only about 1/16th as hot as a gasoline fire. The bottom line is that dealing with sodium is simply a matter of engineering. Any location where a leak might result in a sodium/water interaction would involve only non-radioactive sodium and in a separate structure, not where the subterranean reactor vessel is located within an argon environment to displace air (argon being heavier than air). As you can imagine, the design makes any sodium/water interaction, even with the non-radioactive sodium, extremely improbable.

To those who figure that we can get away from both fossil fuels and nuclear and get all the energy we need from wind and solar, and to those who advise that we just look at the data, I would suggest reading about Denmark's experience with 25 years of wind power development. Or look at the data from Germany's 2-decade commitment to solar power.

Virtually all of the issues raised here have been hashed out in detail on the bravenewclimate.com blog run by eminent Australian climatologist Barry Brook. For anyone interested in delving into this subject, I would recommend following the conversations there. Being a climatologist, Barry was desperate for a solution to the AGW problem but had crunched the numbers for wind and solar and come to the conclusion that it simply couldn't be done. He quickly realized that Integral Fast Reactors (IFR) could provide all the energy humanity needs and more, without any more uranium mining or enrichment for nearly a thousand years. For over a year now his site has served as a forum for discussing the pros and cons of nuclear (all kinds, but particularly the IFR, the type discussed in the Esquire article) and renewables.
posted by Tom Blees at 5:46 PM on December 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


But where's the outrage then over the lack of 24X7 electrical power for, say, the North Koreans?

"We could TOTALLY live like North Korea" says DUDE ON INTERNET
posted by effugas at 9:46 PM on December 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


OK, I'm kicking a dead thread at this point, but this line:
Would it be so bad that humans would have to 'make hay while the sun shines'
reminds me of a story:

Years ago I worked for a very right wing boss (ironically designing "green buildings"). He used to say "Environmentalists just want us to freeze in the dark!". As an environmentalist myself, I used to accuse him of attacking a straw man.

Flash forward to this year when I go out east to visit a friend who has moved in to an old shack to start an organic farm. During a discussion about their rising insurance premiums, my friend and his housemates started wondering how bad it would be just to disconnect the house's wiring entirely. Sure, they would have to give up their evening card games, and they would have to wear extra layers to bed in the winter, but how bad could it be? I was flabbergasted. They were literally proposing to freeze in the dark.

This is the point where I think some environmentalists depart from issue solving and enter religious territory. The rhetoric begins to sound like Mennonite puritanism, or dippy pantheism. Of course we can live more sustainably by returning to 16th century living conditions, but why? Why condemn us to shorter, more miserable lives when we can instead apply the knowledge we've built so arduously over the last 300 years to solve the problem?
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:45 PM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really want to meet the man who can end this style of journalism.
posted by newmoistness at 6:59 AM on December 21, 2009


Thanks for your comment Tom! I just ordered your book.

I am not a scientist, but as someone who grew up very "green," it seems to me that the new IFR technologies may be our only way out of our present predicament. I think that there is a strange divide going on in that the right has it anti-science camp firmly in the denial of AGW, but the left goes all anti-science when it refuses to look at newer, safer forms of nuclear as a solution to the problem. I guess I am a "pro nuclear green" if that makes any sense. Someone upthread said - "I support paying more for our electricity!" I am the opposite. I want cheap, clean electricity for everyone, and I just can't believe that we as a society can't come together and solve this. The climate summits and endless bickering just seems like noise to me. And I have a hard time taking any of it seriously when nuclear isn't even on the table for discussion.
posted by vronsky at 6:32 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


effugas: “‘We could TOTALLY live like North Korea’ says DUDE ON INTERNET”

"Gee, it must suck to live in North Korea, repressive and brutal dictatorships aren't really a big deal but HOLY CRAP it must suck to not have electricity!" says OTHER DUDE ON INTERNET
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 PM on December 21, 2009


koeselitz and effugas
sitting in a tree
K-I-S-S-I-N-G!!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on December 21, 2009


But, yeah, I would consider access to a decent 24-hour power grid to be about on par with indoor plumbing and a stable food supply.

There has been outrage on The Blue about the change of the power, water and food status in Iraq as 'caused' by US policy.

If the 'only solution' to 24x7 power is fission power - what is the ACTUAL criteria for getting it?
The 1950's vintage paperwork at the UN?

An actual solution 'to global warming' is one that everyone will be allowed to have.

So far, I see no evidence that 'everyone' will be 'allowed' the solution of splitting the atom.

But go ahead pro nukers. Show the links to the white papers that explain how 'everyone' gets to play with the same fission toys.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:21 AM on December 22, 2009


safer forms of nuclear as a solution to the problem.

Got no problem with that idea.

'Cept the group of people who say "this time its gonna be better" tend to be the same group who goes to Congress and then begs for Price-Anderson.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:25 AM on December 22, 2009


Why condemn us to shorter, more miserable lives

Yea, why have that with the 300+ chemicals tracked by the body burden project or upped mutation rates with exposure to depleted Uranium.


when we can instead apply the knowledge we've built so arduously over the last 300 years to solve the problem?

You mean like insulation, passive solar, solar hot water, PV, wind?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2009


You mean like insulation, passive solar, solar hot water, PV, wind?

Conservation is indeed the #1 source of energy for developed countries over th next few decades but slowing consumption won't solve the problem.

Solar and wind simply aren't reliable full-time base load generation techniques. The power system has non-trivial base load demands that require a power source that's on 100% of the time. This may only be a fraction of peak load but it's impossible to create a power system solely on wind and solar.

So your choices for base load are wood, coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear. It's a question of choosing the least shitty option.
posted by GuyZero at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoops, left off hydroelectric there. Which is a pretty good choice but in North America we've kind of built about all we can build for hydro. Apparently it doesn't do fish any favours. Possibly we could build better turbines and get more juice out of existing dams, but that's speculative.
posted by GuyZero at 10:00 AM on December 22, 2009


You also left off assorted kinds of solar thermal, pumped wave power, and geothermal.
posted by flabdablet at 3:31 PM on December 22, 2009


Geothermal is interesting but it's still relative little power and that whole earthquake thing puts it behind hydroelectric in terms of people wanting to build it.

In fairness, someone hates every single kind of power generation but they always love the electricity.
posted by GuyZero at 3:42 PM on December 22, 2009


It should also be noted that the most cost-effective way to get emissions down quickly would be to replace coal-fired power with natural gas, and replace oil-fueled transport with electric. This is counterintuitive (aren't we supposed to be getting off fossil fuels?) but if we're seriously considering nuclear as a stopgap measure on the way to a fully sustainable energy future, we ought to be doing that on the basis of cost-benefit analysis, not technological coolness appeal.

Sustainable technologies are already being deployed worldwide, and their growth rate beats nuclear power's all hollow, purely because their economics make more sense. In about fifty years, there's no reason we're going to need nukes at all. Also, by then our baseload requirement will have shrunk considerably, since most of the vehicle fleet will be electric: widespread deployment of vehicular traction batteries, each of which is capable of powering a house for a week, will have dealt effectively with the energy storage problem. Everybody who owns a vehicle will be using it, in part, to make a little money while it's parked, by buying electricity when it's cheap (e.g. at night) and selling it when it's expensive.

There's more than enough natural gas to fill the gap between what we need and what we can make sustainably. If we took every dollar we were going to spend on nuclear plant R&D, deployment, fueling and decommissioning, and simply spent those dollars building gas-fired power stations instead, we'd buy about three times the CO2 emission reduction per dollar spent, and not end up with a waste shitpile at project end-of-life.
posted by flabdablet at 3:45 PM on December 22, 2009


It's always hard to tell whether those analyses take into account the fact that the price of natural gas will go way up as a result of the increase in demand and how that will also have a huge impact on home heating costs anywhere north of the 44th parallel (more or less).

That plan also assumes advances in battery technology that haven't been proven possible yet. Electricity is super-expensive to store which is why we need peak generation capacity as opposed to just charging non-distributed batteries at night. Anyway, super-batteries would be great but they're not here yet.
posted by GuyZero at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2009


Geothermal is interesting but it's still relative little power

In spite of its enormous potential, the geothermal option for the United States has been largely ignored ... Because of limited R&D support of EGS in the United States, field testing and supporting applied geoscience and engineering research has been lacking for more than a decade. Because of this lack of support, EGS technology development and demonstration recently has advanced only outside the United States with accompanying limited technology transfer. This has led to the perception that insurmountable technical problems or limitations exist for EGS. However, in our detailed review of international field­testing data so far, the panel did not uncover any major barriers or limitations to the technology ... EGS is one of the few renewable energy resources that can provide continuous base­load power with minimal visual and other environmental impacts. Geothermal systems have a small footprint and virtually no emissions, including carbon dioxide. Geothermal energy has significant base­load potential, requires no storage, and, thus, it complements other renewables – solar (CSP and PV), wind, hydropower – in a lower­ carbon energy future.

More.
posted by flabdablet at 3:56 PM on December 22, 2009


That plan also assumes advances in battery technology that haven't been proven possible yet.

Get with the program, chief.
posted by flabdablet at 3:57 PM on December 22, 2009


Solar and wind simply aren't reliable full-time base load generation techniques. it's impossible to create a power system solely on wind and solar.

Solar and wind are fine if one is willing to live with actual cycles VS the 24X7 power most Blue readers are used to.

And if *I* have a choice between no electricity or electricity that is within cycles - I'll take the cycling. Because the ability to harness the labor of a (fit) man and all I need to do is spend $1000 and need sunshine for 20+ years - its a slam dunk.

And I still see no answer to the question - what's the plan to let, say North Korea, have these fission reactors.

It's a question of choosing the least shitty option.

Not if you accept non 24x7Xas-much-as-you-want power.

Or if you happen to live in someplace where you won't be allowed fission power.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:04 PM on December 22, 2009


Or if you have a car with a decent battery in it.
posted by flabdablet at 4:10 PM on December 22, 2009


Or happen to live on a planet with a hot interior.
posted by flabdablet at 4:11 PM on December 22, 2009


Dude, teslas have nice batteries but they have a pretty short range and they cost a fortune. This isn't just a scale issue either - there are a lot of exotic materials that are plain old expensive, like lithium. It'll be decades before cars like that will be anything but toys and even if they were as common as Civics they don't hold enough juice to make a serious dent in smoothing the peak load curve. Your dishwasher, lights and PC would wipe it out in short order. At 120V there's something like 490 amp-hours in a tesla battery, which is a lot but probably right on or below the line of what an average house uses in a day.

Also, sure, geo is great but it's still just 4.5% of California's generating capacity and they're way ahead. Even if they get it way, way up, most US states don't have any geothermal capability at all so it's kind of academic.
posted by GuyZero at 4:11 PM on December 22, 2009




For certain values of interesting.

It has been a tough month for enhanced geothermal: A geologist is on trial for earthquakes associated with a project in Basel, Switzerland, which has been shut down. A second high-profile project in California has also disbanded.

posted by rough ashlar at 4:17 PM on December 22, 2009


Also, if you're going to advocate load-smoothing via distributed energy storage, you're probably better off building gigantic fixed flywheels which are a lot more cost effective, assuming they have a low enough failure rate.
posted by GuyZero at 4:26 PM on December 22, 2009


Now what if one could, somehow, transform say wind into something that would be less ephermal than electromotive force?

Say as a fuel for internal combustion engines, as a fuel for plant growth, and as a way to make ice from sunshine I present Ammonia.

Matt Simmons is pimp'n this very material.

offshore wind generators to produce fresh water and ammonia from wind, air and sea water.

Note how ammonia works as transport fuel.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:31 PM on December 22, 2009


From the linked article above:

The ammonia-economy fantasy is the result of an inability to come to grips with the central reality of our time. The era of virtually unlimited cheap energy, the era of cheap oil, is coming to an end.

I reject the first supposition while I whole-heartedly endorse the second. Death to cheap oil. Long live cheap energy.

Once all those fusion plants come on line, woo-hoo. I'll settle for second-best for the moment.
posted by GuyZero at 4:36 PM on December 22, 2009


even if they were as common as Civics they don't hold enough juice to make a serious dent in smoothing the peak load curve. Your dishwasher, lights and PC would wipe it out in short order.

I just checked my last electricity bill, and it shows that my house's average consumption over the past year was a little under 30 kWh/day; maximum was 40 kWh/day. The Tesla Roadster's battery pack stores 56 kWh. So if I owned a vehicle containing a comparable battery, I could power my house with it for very nearly two days.

That's enough to make a serious dent in smoothing my own peak curve right now. Are you seriously suggesting that after another 50 years of pursuing across-the-board energy efficiency as a policy goal, and another 50 years of battery R&D, that electricity storage is still going to be so problematic that we're still going to need non-renewable baseload generation by then? Seriously?

most US states don't have any geothermal capability at all so it's kind of academic

Maybe you should have actually read that executive summary I linked to above. Let me quote a bit more of it:
The accessible geothermal resource, based on existing extractive technology, is large and contained in a continuum of grades ranging from today’s hydrothermal, convective systems through high­ and mid­-grade EGS resources (located primarily in the western United States) to the very large, conduction­ dominated contributions in the deep basement and sedimentary rock formations throughout the country. By evaluating an extensive database of bottom-­hole temperature and regional
geologic data (rock types, stress levels, surface temperatures, etc.), we have estimated the total EGS resource base to be more than 13 million exajoules (EJ). Using reasonable assumptions regarding how heat would be mined from stimulated EGS reservoirs, we also estimated the extractable portion to exceed 200,000 EJ or about 2,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States in 2005. With technology improvements, the economically extractable amount of useful energy could increase by a factor of 10 or more, thus making EGS sustainable for centuries.
(emphasis mine)
posted by flabdablet at 4:43 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


if you're going to advocate load-smoothing via distributed energy storage, you're probably better off building gigantic fixed flywheels

Why build something large, expensive, potentially dangerous and single-function, when every car in every garage will already be capable of doing exactly the same job as well as moving people around, for zero additional engineering and manufacturing cost?
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 PM on December 22, 2009


Your argument is essentially that we don't need to use a thing that is proven to work (possibly sub-optimally) because in the future we'll all have stuff that doesn't currently exist. I realize that things get better over time but there are serious arguments to be made that your projections will not come to pass. We will never be able to make lithium out of thin air. And maybe geothermal is indeed a panacea but there's simply no proof of it yet.

You're arguing that the unproven benefits of geothermal and magic batteries are better than the proven shortcomings of nuclear.

Quoting the Geothermal Energy Association about how it's available everywhere and can supply 20,000% of our needs is like quoting the nuclear industry on how trivial and safe it is to dispose of nuclear waste. (am I arguing for or against my own position there?) But silly analogies aside, there's simply no proof that what they claim is true (that it can be done everywhere) beyond their own assertion of it. It's promising but as of yet unproven over the long run.


Why build something large, expensive, potentially dangerous and single-function, when every car in every garage will already be capable of doing exactly the same job as well as moving people around, for zero additional engineering and manufacturing cost?

Because battery research did not start yesterday - they're actually over a hundred years old - and we still haven't cracked this nut. Overestimating technological advances is as silly as underestimating them, possibly worse. You cannot wait for tomorrow because tomorrow never comes.
posted by GuyZero at 4:57 PM on December 22, 2009


That's enough to make a serious dent in smoothing my own peak curve right now.

Residential electricity consumption is 21% of total consumption according to Wikipedia, so it's close to possible, completely uneconomic and only solves a fifth of the problem - and only shaves off the peak at best. Conservation is probably a better residential strategy, certainly in terms of economic payback.

Are you seriously suggesting that after another 50 years of pursuing across-the-board energy efficiency as a policy goal, and another 50 years of battery R&D, that electricity storage is still going to be so problematic that we're still going to need non-renewable baseload generation by then? Seriously?

Well those are two different things. One, I think efficiency as a policy goal will help a lot but that the demand for electricity will still increase, yes. And two, yes, I think that in 50 years batteries will still be pretty similar to where they're at now. There is no magic bullet on the horizon.

Now, to be fair, your arguments for geothermal baseload generation are pretty reasonable (although my argument that's it's not proven is reasonable too) so maybe that's all it takes. If nothing else, diversity is a good thing and the current generation of nuclear reactors need to get supplemented somehow. Replacing them with something more reliable but fundamentally the same is hardly an outlandish idea.

Let me clarify that my position is not nuclear-is-the-only-option. I just think it's a perfectly good option for baseload generation that gets supplemented by variable pricing structures, peak/variable generation from renewables (wind primarily) and whatever else works in the local area (geothermal, solar). My primary belief is that it's dumb to continue to rely on burning coal, oil and gas for electricity when there are better options both for electricity generation and using the oil. I'm not really so completely way out there FWIW.
posted by GuyZero at 5:08 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once all those fusion plants come on line, woo-hoo.

*points at big light in sky*

That fusion plant has gotten us this far.

*points at you, then me*

And other decommsioned fusion plants are what we are made of.

Accept that, ask for funding for ballard/cold fusion/other wackery....

I'll settle for second-best for the moment.

tied up consumer culture you are.

growth constant is cancer - ask for constant growth death is then.

Sit. Head Clear. Cycles around you. Fight not them. Cycles use.

My primary belief is that it's dumb to continue to rely on burning coal, oil and gas for
electricity


Yet, making fission "the answer" when it sure does seem like a good 1/2 of humanity won't be "allowed" that same "answer" is a poor point to argue from.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:18 PM on December 22, 2009


And two, yes, I think that in 50 years batteries will still be pretty similar to where they're at now.

Oh, pish tosh. 50 years ago we didn't even have Li-ion batteries.

There is no magic bullet on the horizon

Eestor's investors would disagree with you.

Conservation is probably a better residential strategy, certainly in terms of economic payback.

Energy efficiency is the biggest, cheapest energy resource on the planet right now, and should be pursued ahead of everything else - if for no other reason than that it makes every other energy resource less costly by enabling actual reductions in energy demand. Many people pooh-pooh efficiency because of the Jevons Paradox, but provided public policy is implemented correctly, this needn't be a problem: all we need to do is incrementally increase taxes on fossil fuel every year, and efficiency will have to be pursued in order to contain costs. In effect we can, if we choose, drive the Jevons relationship from the other side.

The increased tax take can be used (among other things) to provide subsidies for stuff that contributes to efficiency, like insulation for homes or electric cars. This won't actually end up dropping the end cost of those things to the consumer much, as manufacturers will simply raise prices across the board to soak up the subsidy money; but what it will do is allow more businesses to make a living supplying efficiency aids than is currently the case. Increasing taxes on fossil fuels also allows us to reduce taxes on other things like employing people or selling stuff.

Your argument is essentially that we don't need to use a thing that is proven to work (possibly sub-optimally) because in the future we'll all have stuff that doesn't currently exist.

No, my argument is that we should be aggressively replacing coal-fired power generation with gas-fired power generation right now because we know how to do that already, it can be done quickly (it can even be retrofitted to existing plant in some instances) and it will save more greenhouse emissions per dollar spent than doing anything else; and we should also be making public policy that supports energy efficiency in all forms (by artificially raising energy prices, if necessary) starting right now, because we know that wasting energy is rank stupidity.

We should do these things right now, not wait decades for significant amounts of nuclear capacity to come on-stream, because there is already too much fossil-fuel-derived CO2 in circulation and we need to be reducing our emissions of it as fast as we possibly can.

We need to be pushing electric vehicles hard starting now, because the only thing making them so hideously expensive today is lack of mass production and they're an excellent fit within an overall drive toward energy efficiency. The more batteries we have available to attach to the grid, the better the grid will work, and it's easier to clean up emissions from a few power stations than from countless tailpipes.

Our overarching goal in energy policy must be to work toward a future where all the energy we use comes from renewable sources - from ambient energy flows, not limited energy stores. We actually already know how to generate as much renewable energy as we need, but making today's renewable technologies even vaguely economically competitive with mined fuels would require a heavier demand management regime than most people would support, so it's not going to happen overnight.

But going fully renewable should happen sooner rather than later. Mined fuels are artificially cheap: they're priced according to cost of extraction, which - especially in the case of very energy-dense fuels such as uranium - bears virtually no relationship to the replacement cost of the stored energy they embody. The longer we keep building stuff that relies on mined fuels, the higher our total energy demand and therefore total energy production is going to rise, the more waste heat we're going to generate, and the more disruptive it's going to be to manage the inevitable cutover to renewable sources when they're all we have left.

In other words: we will eventually need to rely totally on renewables, it's never going to be easier to start the cutover than it is right now, so let's get stuck into doing that. Nukes are cute, but they're an expensive distraction from the main game. Don't need them, don't want to pay for them, don't want to wait for them.
posted by flabdablet at 3:34 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey flabdablet, we can do better than pressing a Tesla Roadster into backup.

Solar panels on roof to generate electricity + Bloom Box (25 kwh fuel cell) for backup + fuel cell vehicle (which can also send electricity to the house) + net metered to the grid for redundancy.

Excess electricity from the solar panels is used to make H from H2O, which powers the Bloom Box and the car. Anything left after that flows onto the grid.
posted by notyou at 7:23 AM on December 23, 2009


Increasing taxes on fossil fuels also allows us to reduce taxes on other things like employing people or selling stuff.

I'd rather see taxes than government mandated protected market that allows the private firm a 70% gross profit margin under the protected scheme.

These 'cap and trade' groups are the same ones that needed the TARP bailout. The same ones that execute stock trades so fast that NASDAQ is considering issuing the same length of CAT6 cable to interconnect to trading servers.

Cap and trade combine government power with corporate power - the same thing that Mussolini commented on - "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. "

Our overarching goal in energy policy must be to work toward a future where all the energy we use comes from renewable sources - from ambient energy flows, not limited energy stores.

Alas, government policy seems to be about passing laws to enrich the various people who 'donated money' to them.

Tie that to rejection of such an idea from the "must have 24x7" position crowd, and there is no way such an idea will happen as a 'we chose this path'.

Mined fuels are artificially cheap: they're priced according to cost of extraction,

And as such your post should be uprated. Yelled from the highest peak even.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:56 PM on December 23, 2009


Solar panels on roof to generate electricity + Bloom Box (25 kwh fuel cell) for backup + fuel cell vehicle (which can also send electricity to the house) + net metered to the grid for redundancy.

Excess electricity from the solar panels is used to make H from H2O, which powers the Bloom Box and the car. Anything left after that flows onto the grid.


Again, this is an almost-good plan.

PV generation drops in winter when you need electricity the most, so you're still going to need a large base load generation capability. And current PV technology requires nearly as much power to create the cells as they generate in a decade - critics have called them batteries and not an actual power generation technology. With a huge, HUGE investment this plan might be able to handle the entire residential demand which is still just 20% of the total, solving only a fraction of the problem. Again, it relies on unproven technologies: fuel cells which are great, but they simply don't exist in a stable mass-market commercial form. Finally, handling hydrogen gas is seriously non-trivial because it tends to diffuse through everything. Hydrogen is not a great fuel.

I am seriously getting confused between this thread and the one on realistic spaceship battles. Yes, you can create all sorts of wonderful solutions if your base assumption is having something that doesn't actually exist.

Separately...
Yet, making fission "the answer" when it sure does seem like a good 1/2 of humanity won't be "allowed" that same "answer" is a poor point to argue from.

This is the literal definition of a non-sequitur but - lots of countries use nuclear fission. Why? Because they have stable governments and functional economies. The issues of engineering a sustainable power generation system and having a functional government are only slightly related but it seems silly to make one of the engineering requirements "usable by a hostile stone age dictatorship". Let North Koreans worry about what they're going to do. My suggestion is for them to liquidate their government and merge with South Korea and then get all the nuclear power they want.
posted by GuyZero at 1:52 PM on December 23, 2009


Not looking for 100% replacement for baseline right out of the gate, GuyZero, just looking to make incremental improvements.

We don't wait for the technology to emerge fully-formed before we make the switch. We go with what we've got and improve as we move forward.

Solar panels exist. Bloom boxes exist. Fuel cell powered automobiles exist. Compressed hydrogen appears to be a reasonable solution for hydrogen storage. I'd probably need $70-90k to set it up here at the house ($20k for the solar, $20k for the Bloom Box, $30-40k for the car; $10-20 for H making and storage). Not cheap, but 1) that includes a car and its fuel; 2) each piece is bound to get cheaper.
posted by notyou at 2:33 PM on December 23, 2009


- lots of countries use nuclear fission. Why? Because they have stable governments and functional economies.

With that as criteria - does the US have a functional economy these days? How about a stable government? (if there is a declared state of emergency - does that indicate failure?)

Do both have to be "in failure modes" to take away the fission power? Who decides if a failure mode has been reached?

Remember that the Shaw of Iran had 2 fission plants on order. Imagine if they had been delivered and were operational and THEN the Shaw was overthrown. Who/What was going to come and take away the fission plants - if that was even the an option.

silly to make one of the engineering requirements "usable by a hostile stone age dictatorship".

What about a religious based government in the Middle East? Or how about a fascist state? Both could have a 'functional economy' and 'stable government'?

Oh and hostile to whom? One governments 'hostile' is another's business as usual.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:00 PM on December 23, 2009


What about a religious based government in the Middle East? Or how about a fascist state? Both could have a 'functional economy' and 'stable government'?


Like the one in Abu Dhabi? Because they're starting construction on their power plant next year.


growth constant is cancer - ask for constant growth death is then.

Sit. Head Clear. Cycles around you. Fight not them. Cycles use.

Yeah, ok. We get it. Earth is dominated by 4-dimensional simultaneous cycle.
posted by atrazine at 4:02 AM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


notyou writes: Excess electricity from the solar panels is used to make H from H2O

What excess electricity? This is pure fantasy. Take a look at hard data, okay? Start here. Then try here for the wind angle.

But notyou, don't get me wrong. I think producing hydrogen using solar panels is a wonderful idea. In fact, it could solve all our problems of integrating wind and solar into the grid, and avoid the astronomical costs of building a smart grid. More on that idea here.
posted by Tom Blees at 11:15 AM on December 24, 2009


Like the one in Abu Dhabi? Because they're starting construction on their power plant next year.

International 'law' per the 1950's peaceful atom idea exists. If they are following those rules - what should be said other than 'you go girl'?

Where this gets interesting is if the nation with fission is in actual violation of actual laws. Will one support a double standard on the matter where one nation can have it and another can not?

I think producing hydrogen using solar panels is a wonderful idea.

Don Lancaster thinks different. Hydrogen is a gas
posted by rough ashlar at 12:45 PM on December 24, 2009


Earth is dominated by 4-dimensional simultaneous cycle.

??????
posted by rough ashlar at 12:45 PM on December 24, 2009


Says Tom Blees: What excess electricity? This is pure fantasy. Take a look at hard data, okay? Start here. Then try here for the wind angle.

Well that depends on how much PV capacity I install on my roof.

You're absolutely right that I need to look at hard data -- starting with minimum PV capacity on my roof and winding up at volumes of H required to feed the fuel cell(s) for an hour of household electricity.
posted by notyou at 2:15 PM on December 24, 2009


Fuel cells and stored hydrogen are certainly an alternative to batteries in cars. The main reason I lean toward preferring batteries is because their overall charge vs discharge efficiency is already much higher than that for hydrogen electrolysis followed by powering a fuel cell (roughly 90% vs roughly 60%) so using batteries wastes less energy; also, making a serious contribution to load levelling requires serious amounts of installed capacity, which I think is only likely to happen "accidentally" as a side effect of people buying cars they would have bought anyway.

If you're interested in installing some form of non-mobile energy storage, take a look at vanadium redox batteries. These are best understood as rechargeable fuel cells. They have similar high efficiencies to Li-Ion, but they're cheaper, heavier, don't need smart cooling systems to avoid catching fire, and their power delivery and energy storage ratings can be scaled independently.
posted by flabdablet at 2:57 AM on December 28, 2009


Aren't EEStor capacitors proving themselves the real solution? Better than chemical batteries by far, I should think.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:02 AM on December 28, 2009


fff: I live in hope that EEStor will actually start selling something soon. If they actually can do what they claim they can do, then lots and lots of good stuff becomes easier.
posted by flabdablet at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2009


Aren't EEStor capacitors proving themselves the real solution?

Nope - EEStor hasn't shipped a thing. No one is known to have one to be able to show or test.

Once EEStor actually ships something or has a unit "us commoners" can see and touch, I'm sure it'll make the blue. And I'm betting I'll be beaten to the punch in posting it.

Same goes for an inexpensive stirling engine or even a mass produced one.

If you want to watch tea leaf reading on the topic of eestor - www.theeestory.com
posted by rough ashlar at 2:09 PM on January 14, 2010


tee heestor
posted by flabdablet at 4:58 PM on January 14, 2010


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