Zirconium is a metallic element that has been used extensively in light water reactors for fuel cladding.  It is the first line of defense against radioactive fission products entering the environment. (BWT the second line of defense is the reactor vessel, usually about 4 inches of steel, and the third is the containment building of thick reinforced concrete and lined with around an inch of steel.)

Zirconium is virtually transparent to neutrons, so it doesn’t absorb them in the fission process and it has good heat conduction properties to allow the fission heat to leave the fuel rods and be transferred to the primary coolant.  The zirconium is made into long tubes that contain the uranium oxide fuel pellets.  The fuel rods are then assembled into groups called bundles, with dozens of bundles forming the core of the reactor.

The zirconium rods and bundles are a work of art, IMO.

Nuclear fuel rods and bundles

I also imagine that all this beautiful, precision metal work costs about the same as Rolex watch parts – a lot!

One of the advantages of molten salt reactor technology it that all this expensive zirconium is not needed.  The molten fuel is not contained in rods or tubes or bundles.  The level of safety will still be defense in depth, but should be considerable cheaper without all the Rolex parts.

My apologies to a local company, Western Zirconium, that is a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric and produces zirconium from the minerals in the Great Salt Lake.  In the somewhat distant future we will not be needing so much zirconium when molten salt reactors come into their own.  In the meantime, they can make zirconium hydride control rods for WAMSR. (I owe my readers a post about WAMSR in the near future.)

I am not too worried about Western Zirconium in the near future, since Westinghouse sold all the zirconium metallurgical technology to the Chinese along with the AP-1000 reactors being built in China.  Providing fuel assemblies for those reactors should keep Western Zirconium plenty busy.

BTW, here are some cool pictures I took of the evaporation ponds that Western Zirconium uses in their process to extract zirconium from the mineral rich Great Salt Lake.

Western Zirc flying 068 Western Zirc flying 065 Western Zirc flying 061 Western Zirc flying 055Note: The Northern Arm of the Great Salt Lake is red from algae in the very salty water.


New Nuclear Blogger

Atomic Insights reported yesterday that the blogger, Dan Yurman, who ran Idaho Samizdat has returned after two years with a new blog called Neutron Bytes. I read the articles at his site and I recommend them.

Curiously enough, Dan has an article about the total quantity of once through nuclear fuel:

How much spent fuel is out there?

According to the Congressional Research Service (using NEI data), there were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.

Of that total, 48,818 metric tons – or about 78 percent – were in pools.
13,856 metric tons – or about 22 percent – were stored in dry casks.

BTW, I prefer to call it once through nuclear fuel. It hasn’t been spent, since 90% plus is unused and since there is still so much of it that can produce electricity, like I talked about yesterday, why call it waste?

For those of you who think that 63,000 metric tons (2200 pounds per metric ton) is a lot, consider all the coal ash and byproducts generated in the US each year – 125 million tons!

The 63,000 metric tons of once through nuclear fuel was produced over decades while providing a substantial percentage of the electricity used in the US.



Framing the Debate

What do you call 70,000 tons of ceramic oxides and metallic elements that can produce enough primary energy to meet the needs of the US for nearly a century?  That energy happens to be worth trillions and trillions of dollars! (A trillion is 1 followed by 12 zeros)

The NRC, Greenpeace, most environmentalists, most Americans and coal, oil and utility execs call it “nuclear WASTE“.

How interesting!  Stuff that can be converted into energy and profitably sold is called waste.

My fellow Americans, (all you that believe in nuclear WASTE), please send me all of your gold and silver and platinum jewelry and diamonds too.  It is waste and should be strictly regulated, lest it get into dangerous hands and be used for nefarious purposes! Send your waste to me now!  I will store the stuff for you (in my bank vault and charge you exorbitant fees)!


Radiation is Safe Within Limits

Radiation: The Facts

Radiation is safe within limits.

Nuclear power is a green environmental solution. It generates no CO2. The fuel is cheap and inexhaustible. Green nuclear power can solve the global crises of air pollution deaths and climate change. Cheap energy can help developing nations escape poverty and let industrialized nations improve economic growth.

Is it safe? The primary obstacle to nuclear power is misunderstanding of radiation safety

This is the beginning of a wonderful brochure put together by Robert Hargraves to educate the public regarding radiation and safety. Please take a few minutes to read it. Click here.

Triga Reactor

Recently, I had a tour of the only working fission reactor in Utah. I have been to some other commercial power reactors; Palo Verde in Arizona, San Onofre in California, and Browns Ferry in Alabama. Or course, visiting the other reactors was always from the outside. I wanted to see one up close.

I went to the University of Utah (with some family members) and received a tour of their Triga research reactor. I was hoping to see the Cherenkov radiation (the blue glow) seen in working reactors, but I was already pushing my luck. The reactor was not operating the day I went. The thermal output of the reactor is 100 kW, but the real point of the reactor is to produce a neutron flux inside the core that can be used for neutron activation analysis (NAA).

The NAA samples are delivered to the core of the reactor through a pneumatically operated tube called the “rabbit”. It is very similar to the pneumatic tube that is used in drive up banking. I thought it was quite novel.

The nuclear engineering program at the U has been reinvigorated in the last couple of years. They hired a reactor operator with experience from the US Navy nuclear program, who also has commercial nuclear operating experience.

We were able to stand over the reactor and look through the water and see the core at the bottom of the tank.  Ryan (the licensed operator and tour guide) also showed us the control room and explained the controls to us. We were not permitted to take photographs, but this is similar what the reactor looked like.  BTW, there are some 70 Triga reactors worldwide, so there are plenty of photographs of them on the web.  This one is of the Triga at Kansas State University.

Triga reactorAfter the tour, we were chatting with Ryan and he explained that an Ohio class submarine has a reactor about the size of a refrigerator that is able to push the submarine around the world (submerged) for 20 years without refueling. That is a great testament to the power contained in uranium and the characteristic of nuclear power that I keep harping about.

If you live in Utah, you might want to schedule your own tour.  You can contact Ryan here.


Eight Dunces

I saw this clip and simply must share it with you.  It is a clip of Jon Stewart making fun of 8 US presidents. (Warning: Jon Stewart is irreverent and some words have to be bleeped.)

Here is the video clip

Eight DuncesCount them, 8 presidents, going back more than 40 years and all of them saying the exact same thing! And it was all rubbish.  I assume they simply read the speeches prepared for them and did not understand what they were saying. That’s why I called them dunces.  (My other choice was liars, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Also, as I recently wrote in the previous post, energy independence is a dangerous distraction, What we need is innovation in energy production, particularly nuclear energy production.  And it doesn’t matter where that innovation comes from. I will embrace it, because it will benefit everyone on earth.

BTW, the 8 dunces (and more going back to Eisenhower and beyond) also said similar things about fixing education, the environment, and lots of other things.  Are we starting to see a pattern here?


Energy Independence?

The flourishing of human society that I envision and hope for will be fueled literally by nuclear power.  I am not interested in using less energy personally, as a family, as a nation, or as any other group that can be imagined.  Nor, do I ask others to use less energy.  I also do not support schemes that exclude large portions of humanity from access to clean, abundant energy.  I consider wind and solar power, in their actual, current embodiment, to be such schemes.

I want to use more energy.  I want a nuclear heated swimming pool and a nuclear cooled house.  I would greatly enjoy a nuclear powered car. (powered by wires in the roads, connected to nuclear reactors, with the appropriate electrical pick-ups in my car).

How can I consume more energy?  By making energy more abundant and therefore cheaper.  From economics it is known that when the price of something is lower, more is demanded by consumers, all things being equal.

Occasionally, a writer comes along that understands this.  Here is a quote from Dr. Gary North:

Anyone who uses the phrase “energy independence” does not understand the division of labor economy. In other words, he does not understand economics.

What we should be hoping for is not energy independence. What we should be hoping for is an energy breakthrough that dramatically increases our dependence on energy, both as individuals and as citizens of the nation. What we want is for all Americans to consume more energy, but in today’s prices or even lower prices. We should not pursue energy independence; we should pursue policies that will enable us, as individuals, to buy more energy than we do today.

Do not be misled by people who promise energy independence. They simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

I am not promising energy independence for the US through nuclear power.  I don’t care where the uranium, thorium, or plutonium comes from. (I lie a little. I hope the plutonium comes from previously fabricated bombs.)

What I am promising is more energy at lower prices. That is the only way that I or anyone else on the planet can use more of it.

Remember, a pound of uranium contains as much energy as 30 tanker trucks (1 million pounds) of petroleum.  A pound of uranium (slightly enriched light water reactor fuel) sells for about $30 dollars.  One million pounds of petroleum sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The hardware to burn nuclear fuel or fossil fuel, at the margin, without rent seeking incumbents interfering in the market, should be comparable in price.  This is the way to make energy more abundant and cheaper.  It also happens to be immensely clean.

Have I been clear enough?  I want to use more energy.  I want others to use more energy.


Words of Wisdom from Ted Rockwell

That tactic, of making problems out of advantages—making sow’s ears out of silk purses, I call it—permeates the whole nuclear enterprise. The advantage that radioactivity continually and automatically gets less and less toxic every day, is converted to, “it stays toxic for thousands of years.” And this is implied to pose an unprecedented problem that humanity is not equipped to deal with. And breakable light bulbs containing mercury are called “green,” and radioactivity is called uniquely hazardous.

Nuclear Power Is Inevitable

Nuclear Power is Inevitable

Recently, I woke up one morning with a profound confidence regarding nuclear power. I have no idea what triggered this, but I will accept the gift with appreciation and gratitude. Here are some things we have going for us:

  1. We have the truth about nuclear power. We don’t have to tell lies about fossil fuels.
  2. Nuclear power is millions of times denser than fossil fuels.
  3. Nuclear power is millions of times cleaner than fossil fuels.
  4. Nuclear power can provide for the needs (at Western living standards) for the entire world. (Yeah, I know that scares the beejeebers out of the green crowd.)
  5. There is enough uranium, plutonium, and thorium to power the entire world for millennia.
  6. The technology has been demonstrated again and again.
  7. Truth and charity are more powerful than lies and greed.
  8. The world needs what nuclear alone can provide.

What I am not saying about the new nuclear age:

  1. Incumbent energy providers are not going to resist the setting of their stars and the rise of everyone else’s.
  2. Incumbents won’t use their political allies to try and stop the new nuclear age.
  3. Incumbents won’t continue to fund greenies to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about nuclear power.
  4. There won’t be opposition in all things.
  5. It will happen overnight.
  6. It won’t take years.

The incumbents are going to resist, I expect them to. But nuclear power is a million times denser, a million times cleaner, more abundant, etc.

Can you imagine the whale oil folks resisting the coming of petroleum 150 years ago? I’m sure they did resist, but petroleum was so much better than whale oil. Think of fossil fuel as the whale oil of tomorrow.

The new nuclear age is still years away and I have my work cut out for me, but I am full of confidence, thanks to the gift!


The Nuclear Regulatory Comission – Defund!, Not Capture

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – Defund!, Not Capture

What I am working toward is more than a nuclear renaissance. I am working for a nuclear age, one that is particularly marked by an abundance of clean nuclear energy for the entire world. What it will ultimately take to achieve this is unknown at this point, but like the proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I believe that there are a number of things wrong with the way that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates commercial nuclear power in the US, which has hamstrung the innovation and deployment of nuclear power since it was created in 1974. Compare the work of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) under the real scientist, Glenn Seaborg and the work of the NRC under Gregory Jackzo, a political hack from the offices of Senator Harry Reid. During the AEC, many reactors were licensed.  Mr. Jackzo voted against licensing 2 reactors while he was at the NRC

I could lament about how long it takes the NRC to license reactors or even re-license research reactors. I could explain to you, the reader, about how the NRC really only knows light water reactors and is at a total loss to license new types of reactors, which we desperately need. And how the NRC enables the abuse of the federal judiciary to delay, delay, delay the licensing of new reactors until the investors cry uncle. Furthermore, I could relate the illogical way that power plants are charged for their license, which has distorted the size and siting of reactors. But, I am not going to do this.

What I am going to do is this – I call for the complete defunding of the NRC, lock, stock and barrel. May I quote from Dr. Gary North,

“You don’t need a revolution to escape the system. You need secession. You need a withdrawal of support for the existing systems. You need to revoke the legitimacy which you extended to these organizations. You need to do it, and everybody else needs to do it. Nobody organizes this. People just learn, scandal by scandal, bureaucratic snafu by bureaucratic snafu, that the system is irreparable. It cannot be reformed. It must not be captured. It must be defunded. The secret of liberty is not revolution; the secret of liberty is to defund the existing centralized order.”

Let the states regulate nuclear power and let there be many flavors and many levels. One size does not fit all. I suppose that California will always hate and reject nuclear power. So what! Let the entrepreneurs in Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, and Baja California Norte (that’s part of Mexico) build nuclear plants in their states/countries and sell electricity to California.

The nuclear age that I envision isn’t going to happen by doing things the same way they have been done for 4 decades. What we need is a new vision and this is my vision. Bye, Bye NRC!