Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The ADS Reactor

I do not know much about the ADS (Accelerator-Driven System) reactor, but I have heard it mentioned by a small group of supporters from time to time. I would like to know more about it if possible. The basic principle is one of a sub-critical reactor core that produces free neutrons during the process of spallation, but I am not sure what the spallation process would theoretically be. Finally, I have heard about the ADS reactor reducing the amount of actinides produced but I am not sure what the quantity of leftover material to be disposed of would be compared to that of the traditional LWR.

How does the ADS design stack up to the LFTR and would it be worth pursuing in favor of the LFTR? Does it also have a high enough operating temperature that can be used as process heat for the synthesis of many chemical compounds like the LFTR and VHTR? Where is the research in the development and construction of such a reactor as the ADS? How much would it theoretically cost to build one? Does it have the scaling problems that many reactor designs do?

If anybody knows the details of the ADS reactor, feel free to tell me, as I am eager to learn more about it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thorium Comic

This is interesting. The Energy From Thorium blog posted a webcomic regarding thorium energy. Take a look

Friday, January 22, 2010

An Obscenely Bad Idea

Normally I try to keep my views on politics that are not related to nuclear energy and other technological and scientific developments off of this blog, because I feel that N^4 is not the place for that sort of thing. However, I feel I must speak up about the most recent ruling by the US Supreme Court regarding campaign contributions by corporate interest groups. In effect, it has ruled that there is no cap or limit in terms of how much a company can spend on an election campaign to influence its outcome. The amount of corporate influence in our country's major elections is already intolerable, and now this practically a validation that the voices of corporations are more important than the rest of the voting public. As it is, many of our political "representatives" are already bought and paid for as they effectively do the bidding of who ever has the deepest pockets. In this case, it is almost like the equivalent of applying a thick layer of grease to the highway to hell as we are all forced to ride it through its inevitable downward spiral.

I have had some doubts that our political system was up to the task of looking after the welfare of our nation's citizens, but this ruling has made its inherent dysfunction blatantly obvious. Prior to this ruling, I have also kept my views on healthcare off of this blog because I felt it was a subject that was best left untouched as my blog is not normally meant to be a political soapbox. However, I have been following the whole debate with a feeling of rising anger as I saw how people that were elected to represent us were fully prepared to deliver us bound-and-gagged to the very corporate racketeering scheme that people were seeking shelter from. Needless to say, my confidence in my government has largely taken a complete nosedive after my trust in it had already been languishing for years.

The implications of this ruling are obvious. It takes the first amendment and places it for sale to the highest bidder as it says that free speech can now be bought and sold like any other commodity. Those with limited financial means are now considered to be "less free" as they would not be able to afford to purchase as much "freedom" unlike some of our well-heeled corporate representatives. Our political system is broken, and evidently beyond repair at this point as it has largely resisted any attempt at reform.

So, once again I apologize to my readers for the brief outburst of indignation but this has made me very angry indeed. It does not matter whether you consider yourself a conservative or a liberal at this point your right to free speech has been given a price sticker. Unless you can afford to buy up all of the media outlets, thinktanks, and funnel soft money to political candidates, your first amendment rights have now largely been revoked. We might as well dress up in our new company-issued uniforms complete with a ball gag and handcuffs and bow before our corporate overlords. Our Supreme Court has failed us all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Changing Minds, but is it Enough?

When I started this blog two years ago, it was out of a combination of frustration and anger at how quickly people dismissed nuclear energy like it was some sort of arcane and unholy type of technology. Even though the facts were otherwise, many people still opposed it tooth and nail as they either ignored the benefits or thought that the data itself was part of some sort of conspiracy promoted by "Big Nuclear". I was never against nuclear power at all, even when I was relatively misinformed about it but I did have some reservations about what to do with the spent fuel as I like many other people thought that it was dangerous and difficult to deal with. However, I still thought that was magnitudes better when compared to coal and natural gas. As these fuel sources were very dirty indeed and as it was the late 20th, early 21st century I thought that it was ridiculous that we were still depending on fossil fuels as our main source of energy. Yet I also knew that wind and solar power lacked the energy density and reliability to be able to produce the amount of electricity on a regular basis that a developed country like the US needed.

Then my eyes caught an article in Scientific American around 2005 talking about nuclear energy and what sorts of reactors could be built and the pros and cons of the different designs. I was fascinated as I read about designs that could be used to breed more fuel or greatly reduce the quantity and half-life of existing stockpiles of spent fuel as well as close the nuclear fuel cycle to ensure a virtually infinite and environmentally friendly source of energy. I also began to grow very angry, as the only thing holding nuclear technology back seemed to be a combination of NIMBYism, fossil fuel interests, and just the overall lack of will that would be needed to restructure our energy producing infrastructure.

I began to research nuclear power online as a hobby in addition to reading whatever I could find on it in various books and publications. My amazement was underlined by seething anger at how the US had let coal and natural gas expand and entrench themselves over the decades as we had not built a new nuclear reactor in this country since the 1970s. Our back was turned on nuclear power out of a combination of fear, pointless bureaucratic redtape, and the canceling of many planned reactor projects after the oil crisis thirty-seven years ago. This was all due to politics and scaremongering rather than a legitimate reason to condemn nuclear power.

This was a direct reversal of the attitude that characterized the previous two decades as nuclear powerplants were being built at a rapid pace and nuclear reactors were quickly adapted to be used for naval use. The cold war and a feeling of optimism towards nuclear science and technology spurred rapid development in this field and it also threatened to put coal power out of business. However, the nuclear industry was practically moribund by the early eighties through a misinformed but successful campaign against nuclear energy that had grown out of the fear of nuclear warfare and was helped along by fossil fuel lobbyists and their paid off politicians. Ironically, nuclear power has had the best safety record of any energy sector in the US and even across the world yet it had been rejected in favor of coal which kills thousands of people worldwide through its normal operation.

After seeing the ridiculous comments and hysterical fears surrounding nuclear power being touted by various "environmentalists" I decided to create this blog in the hopes of taking an honest look at nuclear power. This was part of an effort to help people realize the environmental benefits of an infrastructure largely based on nuclear energy as well as the fact that nuclear power is the only clean form of energy that can be used practically anywhere on earth and deliver a constant supply of energy regardless of weather conditions. Scaling back production and energy usage would never be the answer because as we increase our technological development, the demand for energy increases. However, it is through more technology, not less that we can hope to make a better world for everyone. The past is gone, but trying to revisit the past by rejecting technological progress would be foolish because the "past" presented by various primitivist and neoluddite groups is based on a highly idealized and impractical vision of what previous generations of humanity really faced. Ironically, the popularity of these movements has been aided by the technology brought to them by the internet and computer revolution. I would very much doubt that humanity would want to go back to the days before running water, electricity, heating, cooling, hygiene, sanitation, and modern medicine. We can thank all of these previous comforts for our greatly improved lifespans. A few hundred years earlier, a middle-aged man or woman of 40 would be considered elderly.

As I look around, I see that people are slowly starting to realize that nuclear energy is not nearly as bad as various sources portray it as being. There is a lot of misinformation and outright lies regarding nuclear technology as there are many organizations that have made it their business to vehemently oppose nuclear power on all fronts, especially when they have or are allied with entrenched fossil fuel interests. I have a cautious degree of optimism as I watch people starting to push back against this tide of nonsense and hope that we can start looking forwards to a clean, energy rich future again as nuclear power is the only option that we have that can deliver on this promise. We need to get the liquid fluoride thorium reactor development path up and running again after its cancellation during the early 1970's as this design shows a stunning degree of versatility and efficiency at practically little to no cost to the environment.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

AREVA Discussion

Yes, I had my AREVA conference call in the morning yesterday, and it turns out that AREVA is stepping up its efforts to start building more EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) and PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) type reactors in the US. In addition, they are heavily pushing the VHTR (Very High Temperature Reactor) for the GenIV research path in the US in addition to the GCFR (Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor) in Europe, particularly France. Currently, AREVA has no plans to develop any thorium based reactors.

Although the VHTR would not be my first choice for the GenIV development path, it does have its advantages in the fact that it would utilize a much higher actinide burn up ratio in addition to being more efficient in terms of power output to fuel usage. Finally, one of the main reasons why AREVA is pursuing the VHTR is because of the high amount of heat that the reactor gives off during its operation that can be put to use for many industrial applications ranging from hydrogen production, petroleum distillation, and desalination. AREVA mentioned that one of the main challenges that they foresee is getting the design approved through the NRC, which is a notoriously fickle administration. The GCFR has been chosen for Europe because of the political viability of a closed nuclear fuel cycle which has traditionally met with some difficulty in the US. GCFR reactors can use many different fuel grades for energy including material that is left over from the operation of LWR (Light Water Reactor) and PWR reactors. The GCFR can be used as a breeder and it operates at a high enough temperature in that it can take advantage of the Brayton cycle.

It was a very productive and interesting meeting and I am glad that I was able to attend as I no longer have a class during Friday morning. I look forward to next month's topic and hope that this is going towards a greater role and acceptance of nuclear energy in our future. Once again, I thank AREVA for their time and efforts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

AREVA Conference Call

AREVA is hosting another conference call this week. It has been awhile since I have been able to attend one of these but I have had a Friday class last semester that prevented me from participating. Now that I no longer have any classes scheduled on Fridays for this semester this is no longer a problem.

I will put up a follow up post regarding the subject of the conference call and what I have learned for those of you who are interested. Once again, I have an opportunity to learn what is going on in the nuclear industry from inside experts. I am excited.