Two Recent talks by PhDs from the US Department of Energy (DOE)

I recently had the opportunity to hear two separate presentations in two different venues regarding nuclear energy. One was a basic introduction to nuclear power and other was about the Fukushima reactors. Both presentations were given by two nuclear engineers from the Department of Energy.  One recently retired from INL (Idaho National Lab) and the other is currently employed by Sandia.

I will start with the first presentation.  Dr. Steve Piet has spent his career with the DOE at INL.  He has degrees in nuclear engineering from MIT.  He has also spent a considerable amount of time working on ITER (hot fusion).  He used the word “when” not “if” regarding hot fusion and was even asked by a member of the audience why he did so.  He replied that he thought that hot fusion would eventually power our society one day, even if it is in the distant future.

Dr. Piet explained the basics of nuclear energy and how it differs from chemical energy (millions of electron volts (Mev) for a nuclear reactions versus electron volts (ev) for a chemical reaction – burning gas, coal etc.) and how the energy is released through fission, fusion, or radioactive decay.

After the presentation, someone asked Dr. Piet about thorium. (It wasn’t me).  Dr. Piet replied that he thought there was some merit in thorium, but that it had been “oversold”.  I took the opportunity to give a UTE business card to the gentleman who asked the question.  Dr. Piet also went on to explain some difficulties with thorium mining.  I wasn’t much persuaded by the discussion, but my expertise is not in mining.

I concluded that it was ironic for Dr. Piet to claim that thorium was oversold, but hot fusion was “when” not “if”!

At least he presented a chart that technical people can understand that shows why nuclear energy beats all others. click here:

Energy Density

The second presentation was given by Dr. Randall O. Gauntt, Manager Severe Accident Analysis Department at Sandia National Laboratories, entitled “Demystifying the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident”.

Dr. Gauntt spent an entire month in Japan right after the tsunami and advised the Japanese government (at the request of the US DOE) regarding the nuclear accident.

He started off by telling the audience that he was “pro-nuclear”.  He then spend the next 40 minutes going over the forensics of the earthquake, tsunami, and damaged reactors, talking about how it is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up the damaged reactors at Fukushima and how the land is contaminated with radiation.

I was thinking to myself that if he is pro-nuclear, I would hate to imagine what an “anti” would say about Fukushima and the future of nuclear power that Dr. Gauntt did not already say.

I wanted to make a quip about him, being “pro-nuclear”, but I had been invited by a guest and didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t say anything.  However, another member of the audience asked him why he is still pro- nuclear after Fukushima and he replied that because of CO2 and climate change, “the only way we can hope to power our civilization is with nuclear power”.  (I agree that we ought to power our civilization with nuclear energy. ed.)

I think his presentation did more to turn people from nuclear energy than to persuade them that it is something that our civilization should pursue.  If I didn’t know what I know about nuclear energy, I would be thinking, “Why should we choose nuclear if you haven’t demonstrated why we need it and if accidents can occur that cost hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up and leave the land contaminated for decades if not hundreds of years? This seems like a risk with no benefit.”

Fortunately, I know better and I hope that the readers of this site know why we need nuclear energy and that it is safer than existing sources of energy that are capable of powering industrial civilization.

During the Q & A, I asked about LNT and ALARA inflating concern and regulatory response about the degree of contamination around Fukushima. He agreed that LNT and collective dose are incorrect, but he also said that the “NRC is wedded to LNT”.

My conclusions from these two presentations:

  1. Nuclear PhDs are poor spokesmen for nuclear energy.
  2. The DOE is a poor custodian and spokesman for our nuclear future.
  3. The NRC and LNT need to get a divorce. (Both probably need to go)

I view the benefits of nuclear power like the difference between Mev and ev – the benefits of nuclear power are millions of times greater than those of chemical power!

bwr

Golden Rice

I haven’t posted anything in a while. I have been insanely busy and I will admit that I have been a little discouraged. Molten salt technology is more than 50 years old – half a century and yet we still cannot see it realized. I was despairing if we would ever see it in my life time or ever.

Then, just last week, I was reading about Golden Rice and saw some parallels with nuclear power. Click here to learn more about it.

How is Golden Rice like nuclear power? In more ways than you might imagine. Let me explain.

In a nutshell Golden Rice is a genetically modified rice that has beta carotene in it to prevent blindness and death due to vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in the poor whose diet consists mostly of white rice. White rice contains no vitamin A or precursors (beta carotene).

Over 400 million poor people in Asia, Africa, and other poor countries where they eat mostly white rice get no vitamin A and go blind and die because of the deficiency.  So, professors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer engineered this rice to have beta carotene.  See this cool picture of the color of the Golden Rice compared with white rice.

Golden Rice

Also, according to the Helen Keller Institute, 190 million pre-school children and 19 million pregnant women are currently vitamin A deficient (VAD). Each year, an estimated 670,000 children will die from VAD, and 350,000 will go blind.

The Golden Rice project wants to give the poor the Golden Rice seeds for free so they can raise their own rice and no longer go blind and die from VAD.

But there is opposition from Greenpeace and from government bureaucracies preventing the poor from getting this rice to grow themselves. In fact, Greenpeace has spent $20 million on propagandizing against genetically modified organisms (GMO), which is nearly 3 times what it cost to create Golden Rice.

Potrykus wants to live to see his invention put to good use before he dies. He said in October 2013, “I hope to live long enough to see it through. I was in my mid-50s when I
started. It’s my eightieth birthday in two months’ time.”

Here is are a few things that he says about the regulations preventing and delaying the adoption of Golden Rice:

1. GMO regulation is irrational, opportunistic, and unjustified

2.GMO regulation prevents, so far, use of the technology, and refuses to consider benefits (to the poor and malnourished)

See, I told you that Golden Rice has a lot in common with nuclear power.

The nuclear regulations seem to have a lot in common with the GMO regulations. As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA)  is one of these in the nuclear industry. Only the risks are counted (and exaggerated) and the benefits are ignored.

Maybe the tides are turning (I hope) and Greenpeace will be seen for what they really are – evil. Until then, the poor will continue to die and we will continue to pay high costs for energy. For the poor and malnourished, I feel empathy. For us, I am just disappointed.

bwr

 

Great Websites

One of the great things about the internet is how it allows us to collaborate with others who are like minded and build on each others efforts.  People we could never otherwise connect with because of time and distance.

One of those people is Rod Adams.  He runs a website called Atomic Insights.  I highly recommend it!

Another new website is called Atoms for California.

Another pro-nuclear advocate has put together an informative and useful brochure about radiation. Please take the time to read it and learn about radiation, so you can’t be manipulated by unscrupulous journalists.

Engineers

I was having a water cooler moment at work just the other day.  We are all engineers and overwhelmingly pro-nuclear.  Some of the guys even have degrees in nuclear engineering, have taken nuclear engineering course work, or have worked at nuclear facilities.

Question: Why are so many engineers pro-nuclear? Call us nerds if you have to. I really don’t mind. We are not employed by the nuclear industry and don’t have any financial interest in nuclear energy. So why are we pro-nuclear? I guess because we understand the limitless energy contained in the nucleus of some certain heavy elements, like thorium. And these elements are abundant and can provide everyone on earth with abundant, clean energy for millennia.

The Promise of Nuclear Power

Last night we got a taste of life without abundant and relatively cheap electricity.  A high voltage Rocky Mountain Power transmission line went down and left Brigham City without power for about 30 minutes.  We were in the dark, but not really long enough to start getting cold.

Few of us can imagine what life would be like without abundant energy.  My parents certainly do know what is like, since they both grew up with wood and coal burning stoves that cooked their food and provided what warmth there was in their humble homes.

When I was younger, I visited my grandparents in both of those homes, which had long since been converted to natural gas and propane.  I remember some winters there also.  My mom’s parents lived on the Bountiful bench which would usually get a few feet of snow throughout the winter.  While my dad’s parents lived near Woodruff, which wouldn’t get much snow, but the -40°F temperatures more than made up for the lack of snow.  They were survivors, or I wouldn’t be writing this now.  Kerosene lamps, firewood, and coal allowed such survival, barely.

Our lives are vastly more prosperous and productive today because of abundant energy.  It has transformed our lives.  I want that to continue, but it will not, unless we make decisions today that will allow scientists, engineers, physicists, and entrepreneurs the freedom to pursue nuclear energy without the killing regulations that only serve to keep the fossil fuelers in power and awash in money.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower said this on 8 December 1953 in a speech entitled, Atoms for Peace,

The United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no dream of the future. That capability, already proved, is here–now–today. Who can doubt, if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, that this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient, and economic usage?
(See paragraph 62)

Well, what the heck happened?  Atomic Rod has written some well researched articles about what went wrong and who derailed the progress of nuclear energy. Click here to learn more.

Thanksgiving

I know this post is a little bit late, since Thanksgiving was last week, but after very pleasant weather for the week, it turned bitter cold.  I’m talking about temperatures in the single digits (°F); an arctic blast straight out of the north.

It was then that I realized what I was thankful for (besides my loved ones).  I had enjoyed the company of my family, for which I am most grateful.  But, the cold weather reminded me of the incredible prosperity that we have because of cheap energy.  Central heat (and central air conditioning in the summer) is a blessing of incomparable value, one that has not been enjoyed by many people. The Kings and Lords of old did not enjoy such opulence as we do in this regard.

Most of the land in the United States is at high latitudes where there are cold, harsh winters.  I don’t think anyone born after 1960 can imagine what life would be like without electricity at our beck and call.  We flip a switch and are able to accomplish what would be considered miracles just a few decades ago.

I want this type of lifestyle to continue for me and my family and for the whole world.  Great things have been accomplished with fossil fuels, but increasing global consumption of oil, coal, and gas will eventually drive up their prices as supplies are reduced.  Only nuclear power can provide the energy we need in the quantities necessary for our continued prosperity.

bwr

Cui Bono

Cui Bono is a Latin Phrase that means “who stands to gain”.  That is an important consideration when talking about nuclear power these days.  This is equivalent to asking you to “follow the money”.

Consider this, the Chicago Tribune recently reported that Japan shippers are planning to order 90 new liquified natural gas (LNG) tanker ships by 2020.  These ships are estimated to cost nearly 20 billion dollars! That is an amazing 200 million dollars each!

The article clearly states that these ships are necessary to transport LNG “to generate electricity and make up for the shortfall from the shutdown of nuclear reactors after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima facility in 2011.”

So who stands to gain from the shutdown of nuclear power in Japan? LNG shipping companies for one.  LNG producers for another.  And again the amount of money we are talking about is astronomical – tens of billions of dollars!

So next time you are tempted to think that the anti-nuclear response in Japan or anywhere else is a grass roots rational response to risks posed by nuclear power, think again!  Any organization planning to spend 20 billion dollars knows how to market and buy media coverage to insure their investments.

Also, consider that thorium fuel could be transported in a small jet. No need to spend 20 billion dollars on ships when one small jet could do the job. And a thorium shipment would only be needed every year or so at each nuclear plant.

That is because thorium is the most energy dense substance in the universe.  The energy is locked in the nucleus of the thorium atoms and is released by splitting the thorium atoms in a nuclear reactor. As the graphic (stolen from www.energyfromthorium.com) below shows, a bowling ball sized piece of thorium contains as much energy as an oil supertanker.  If you have the bowling ball, you don’t need the supertanker!bowling ball of thoriumbwr

The Dose Makes the Poison

Paracelsus once taught that the dose makes the poison.  A fact that is true for most things, including radiation.  To introduce the subject I have created this pyramid, which I adapted from another website:

The Dose Makes the Poison

The Dose Makes the Poison

We use salt regularly in our diets.  A small amount enhances the flavor of our food.  Too much can ruin the food.  If you ate a pound or two, you would probably be hospitalized.  If you at 100 pounds, you would certainly die.

Radiation can be compared to salt. This is the graphic that I stole the salt pyramid idea from.  It is an ad to sell radiation detection meters. Don’t be distracted by that.

The Radiation Dose Make the Poison

The Radiation Dose Make the Poison

Low doses of radiation are part of human existence.  Nowhere on the earth is there a location of no radiation. This level of radiation, which varies greatly depending on where you live, is called background radiation.  We all live in it 24/7.

So, when the media is selling the latest nuclear fear of the day (NFOTD), unless the dose is put into the context of background radiation levels, don’t waste your time listening or watching.

(BTW – stealing someone’s idea is just proof that they had a good idea; a form of flattery. No one has ever stolen my ideas.  I even have a blog where I invite people to steal my ideas.)

bwr

The Babushkas of Chernobyl

Prepare to have your minds blown by watching this short clip about grandmothers who live, guess where???? wait for it…………….in Chernobyl!

Remember as you watch the video that the exclusion zone where these ladies live is contaminated with radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl reactor number 4.  Remember that the whole area is toxic beyond compare.  Remember that the food they grow for themselves is contaminated with radioactivity.  Remember that the “dead zone” they live in is very alive.

Then, remember that almost everything you know about radiation is probably wrong and was picked up from the media who like to fear monger about all things nuclear.

The radiation protection mafia in Japan should take a lesson from these courageous grandmothers and let those displaced because of Fukushima return and rebuild their lives and cities.

 

Location, Location, Location

I know that I am getting ahead of myself, but I have scouted out the perfect location for the first molten salt Thorium reactor in Utah.  Of course, there are no commercial molten salt reactors available any where in the world just yet, but when they are ready, I have the perfect site – Garbage in the Mist.

Garbage in the Mist, That’s what I like to call it.  Years ago, Box Elder County created a land fill on top of a local hill called “Little Mountain”.  It’s a pain to have to take your garbage there yourself.  It will take you a minimum of 1 hour round trip plus the time to unload your trash.  I named it after Sigourney Weaver’s movie about Dian Fossey and the mountain gorillas in Rwanda called “Gorillas in the Mist”.

Anyway, the site, in my view is ideal; remote, but close enough to my city to provide the 35 Megawatts needed, secure – only one road goes to the landfill. Waste heat could be sold as process steam to the Proctor & Gamble paper plant a couple of miles away.

The beauty of my desire to have Thorium power is that if peak oil is for real, and I have reason to believe it is, the rising price and competition for oil and gas will drive the prices very high.  I might not be able to convince my fellow Utahns that molten salt Thorium reactors are a good idea using physics and logic to overcome fear mongering, but gasoline at $20 or $30 per gallon can be a very powerful motivator.  Trouble is that the reactors need to be developed now and capital needs to be invested now to get these reactors online before a crisis.

Question is, am I ready for the reaction I might receive when people in Box Elder County find out about my “proposal”?