Energy From Thorium Discussion Forum

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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2012 3:17 pm 
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Capacity factor, annual energy production GWh/year and $/kWh delivered are key metrics to run these discussions on. Others have already said it, but watch out for the number invisible swapping that often gets done. "The average power consumption of homes in ABC-land is 1 kW, our new [insert name here] development brings 500,000 kW of clean low carbon generation capacity to the grid of ABC-land, to your home. We're really making a difference."

Yeah right !


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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2012 3:25 pm 
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Cyril,
I assumed you had not noticed the figures, as they are clearly not zero.
Mis-statements and exaggerations are what the renewables everywhere crowd do.
We don't need to, and should call 1% 1%, not zero, to avoid getting bogged down in sterile debate about inaccuracies.

At 1% it is perfectly clear to anyone not ideologically blind that it is entirely useless as an energy source.


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PostPosted: Jan 06, 2012 12:02 pm 
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Yes, it can. If you look at what the US accomplished during WWII, or the Russians for that matter, you can see an example of a society mobilized around a particular industrial goal. The question of getting "5 reactors a week" is not really a question anything else other than a political . one. It is 100% devoted toward the issue of what society is *willing* to do to accomplish stated task.

5 reactors a week a 250 a year. I don't think we need quite that many. But assume we do.

First, the transition to easier built LFTRs (of any size) is a not a function to start of how quick LFTR (or IFRs or any Gen IV reactor) can be built, but, oddly, how quickly Gen III+ reactors can be built. It's a good baseline for what we want want to work towards. I firmly believe we should all STOP dissing LWRs to make LFTR look better as if Gen III reactors fail, LFTR will too as it will suck the political acceptance of all things fissionable down the drain.

But lets talk about Gen III. The Chinese understand full well the problems of this exponential expansion of the LWR fleet. They are learning a lot (as is the Shaw Group and other international, transnational construction corps) about modular reactor building and they *are getting better* at doing it. So we can expect by 2015/2016 when scads of these suckers will be going on line what it will take from a construction POV to build out a huge fleet of thousands.

COMPONENTS:

Secondly are components. Components, the parts in the box with the funny written instructions in 5 languages, is one of hte biggest issues. But this is a question of simply...I mean that, "simply" laying out your component infrastructure by REAL PLANNING, some the U.S. has not done since WWII. X number of reactors will require X number of components which require X number of factories producing those components and X amount of raw material.

[We do not do this in the US because it violates our religious adherence to "The Market" and letting industrial develop occur 'naturally according the market'. Fortunately, the Chinese never believed in any sort of 'canon religion' so they are not hindered by such Orthodoxy.]

So this IS what the PRC is doing...building up their vertically integrated nuclear industry via state and private corporation, filling up empty capacity at overseas non-Chinese component industrial groups (Doosan Industries in Korea, JSW in Osaka, and numerous others). Their idea is to eventually eliminate the overseas sub-contracting for things like heavy turbines, generators, steam generators and reactor vessels. Then they simply ramp up. The Koreans too have done this based on the 1950s Japanese industrial expansion model.

If the Indians, Russians and Chinese do this, then starting, and completing "5 reactors a week" is quite doable. But you to do as they do and PLAN for this with the end game in mind.

HUMAN RESOURCES:

Human resources are always a problem.

The US has the advantage of the largest nuclear navy in the world from which to draw off of, and a highly developed on the job, NRC overseen training regimen. The Chinese are addressing this the same way now, minus non-existent navy personnel. They simply double and triple shift their operation shifts at existing nuclear plants. ALL their power plants are way "over staffed" by American standards, using 5, 6 times the number of mechanics and technicians and operators, especially the latter, to run all their plants. They've done this since the early 1980s as they saw...because they plan...the huge increase in energy generation based on coal. At some of their plants they have one employee for ever MW produced...Seriously. I've discussed this with two Chinese delegations to my power plant in the last 20 years.

The key thing is to expand, first, their regulatory regime first with high quality engineers. They are doing this, but too slowly. Bad planning on their part but again, they are aware of this and trying change the system and produce more safety regulators.

They are building no less that 3 'nuclear universities'...full 3 and 4 year task specific engineering collages to turn out the huge army of nuclear engineers. They've already expanded their engineering student bodies at existing universities, sending hundreds abroad to study as well. It is a major cause of concern. But they are addressing this.

To have, say, a full 3,000 reactors by 2030...that is, in 18 years, is probably hard to accomplish. But one never knows. Society, the planet, has to decide to do this. Which is why I always get back to the politics, as it is often enough ALWAYS a political question, not a technical one.

The above is based on my current understanding of Chinese nuclear growth. It exludes the development of SM-LFTRs (small modular-LFTRs), or HEAVY-LFTS (1 GW size and above) all of which, I'm convinced, can be produced far more quickly than what even the Koreans and PRC is accomplishing.

David

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PostPosted: Jan 06, 2012 12:15 pm 
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About planning...so we should be more specific than "5 reactors" a week.

The US has about 300 GWs of coal. China has abut 650 GWs of coal. Other countries go down from there.

It would take less than 300GWs of new nuclear to eliminate that coal. Capacity factor for nuclear runs about 10 to 20% higher for nuclear vs coal. We can build 220 or so Gen III nukes to eliminate the coal for electrical generation (a lot is used for metallurgy but this is a much bigger problem for China, Korea and Japan where basically shipped all our basic steel. VHTGRs might be able to substitute for coking coal.)

Back to the US. How long would it take to build 220 plants? I think we could do it in 20 years. That's 10 a year or 1 every 5 weeks. The longer it takes the higher the rate of construction (and all the other issues i described in the above post) and by 2030, assuming a "Chinese style" plan, we can start serously cutting into gas fired generation as well. As LFTRs will, I hope, come on board, with 'full production' we can probably 'easily' do 10 x 100MW/5 x 200MW net LFTRs a week and then move on from their. We are only limited by our own imagination.

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Dr. Isaac Asimov:
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"


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PostPosted: Jan 06, 2012 1:39 pm 
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David,
I agree with you that this is largely a political issue more than anything else. The US will not make a move on nuclear until something drastic happens that forces them to (ice shelf breaking apart, etc.). Ignorance of the people is the Achilles heel of our free society.

George


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PostPosted: Jan 07, 2012 6:03 am 
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David,
We can move far faster than that, because there is no point in adopting old inefficient energy use structures for a nuclear economy.
CO2 air source heat pumps are suitable for a climate such as the US, and increase the efficiency of space heating by a factor of 3 or so.
Electric cars are several times as efficient as gas burners, at any rate if one discounts power station losses, so that around 100GWe of nuclear power, about the same as the present nuclear fleet, could provide enough juice for all the US light vehicle fleet.

I would suggest then that an energy flow of 1.5-2kw of power would be enough to run an advanced society on, so that we could get a lot more bang for the buck from expanding nuclear.


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PostPosted: Jan 07, 2012 11:02 am 
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Dave please note that I put ironic quotes around "5 per week". Lets examine what we have to do around climate change (somewhat controversial). One has to really work out the numbers to see what we *need* in terms of lowering GHG emissions. Personally, I actually believe we are too late, tipping point and all that. Very depressing. But doesn't mean we should try. I personally believe we can, world wide, start at least half a dozen a week, but not right now. The politcial decision to do so has to be made (source of my depression) and then the plans laid out to Manhattan Project the entire world. This means the kind of budget, direct gov't intervention, that the US and Commonwealth did during WWII. If we are, for example, willing to convert existing industry, build up new plants and so one, there is simply nothing we can't do. But those numbers have to worked out and the societal costs taken into consideration if we, say, as the US did from 1943 and 1944 *end auto production* to build tanks, in this case LWRs and LFTRs later, then yes we can work faster.

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Dr. Isaac Asimov:
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PostPosted: Jan 07, 2012 1:30 pm 
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There is no public acceptance of emergency decisions as it was in WWII. Carbon dioxide or things nuclear(radioactive)-which is the greater evil? The discussion is unending. The way ahead is lead by China and others following. I wish India was in the race but it is not.
I also hope there is a surprise in Czech Republic or someone else leading in molten salt technology and there is a competition in getting ahead in stead of the now apparent one horse race.


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PostPosted: Jan 07, 2012 7:23 pm 
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There was acceptance in the US and the UK. Sure there were strikes and whatnot, every important miners strike in 1943 but overall, people went along or supported the overall war effort. If viewed this way, as a 'war effort' but one where the clear majority are lead by a science driven political leadership, then the mobilization of society for a fission future is assured. The minimum level is the funding and support received by the US Apollo Program which didn't take up a large double digit percentage of the GNP but was generally widely supported.

The Chinese *point the way* in terms of developing the needed vertical integration for such a program. And while most agree there is a general popular support for this, as such, the ruling Party holds sway over almost all sources of information, public input being quite little if non-existent. But you can see what one can do in this regards with such forms of planning. Think about what one could do with genuine public support and mobilization?

David

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Dr. Isaac Asimov:
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"


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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2012 1:05 am 
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I know a lot more about politics than I do engineering right now. I don't understand a lot of the stuff on this site. However, let's say that we have the political will to make the LFTR one of our major energy sources. If we started a program RIGHT NOW with LFTR's sort of like the Manhattan project, would it be economically and technically practical to derive 80 or 90% of energy (excluding energy hydroelectric) from LFTR's by 2030? The first thing we would need to to is stop adding new plants from other energy sources. In the first 5 years, there would be an intense testing and designing phase to find the best way to build these plants, and a few demonstration plants would be built. By the end of the 5 years, hopefully the first commercial LFTR plants will be under construction or already finished. For the next 5 years, we should find the best ways to build these plants and mass produce some of the major components. For the next 10 years, we will phase out all energy sources that are more expensive to run. It will start with renewables, then natural gas, older coal plants, and our current nuclear fleet. By 2030, we should have more practical electric cars and phase out most oil, and only newer coal plants would remain. To have enough money for this, we would end all stupid wars in the Middle East. We would end all foreign aid to other countries. The U.S. developing an extremely cheap source of energy will benefit these countries a lot more in the long run. We could cut back on health care and some other welfare stuff. We could raise taxes. We could end subsidies, funding, research, etc. for other energy sources. The scientists that can't work there anymore can switch to LFTR research. People shouldn't mind having their taxes rise if it would go to something like this. We would need to start a program that would pump out a lot of engineers as fast as possible. We need to somehow get our smartest students to become engineers and scientists instead of doctors and lawyers. At the start of the program, we could bring in people from the Czech Republic, India, or whoever knows something about thorium reactors. Also, the regulation process would need to go a lot faster. I see no reason why it should take years to get a plant through the regulation process. This is a scenario where politics, regulation, and funding are not an issue. How fast can we get about 80% of our energy needs from thorium reactors? Is 2030-2035 a realistic technical and economical goal? What I mean by economics is that from 2020-2030, can it replace 80% of other energy sources at a cheaper cost?


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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2012 2:07 am 
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Lots of blue sky here.
The next step is to build MSBE - a 150MWth version of MSRE. Scale up the power 15 but the size barely changes.
It took about four years to build the MSRE. I think it would take about the same time to build MSBE.

It took four years to learn the lessons from MSRE, so perhaps we need to plan on four years for MSBE.

We would then want to scale up to a 2200 MWth preproduction unit. Another four years?
We have used 12 years thus far.

Now for the volume build. Between 1971 and 1979 50 new power plants went on line or roughly 6 per year.

To supply the US we need a total of 500 GW, we have 100 so we need to build 400 more.
LFTRs should be considerably easier to build than LWRs since the containment should be much smaller.
ABSOLUTELY wild guessing - perhaps 1/4th the work - so at a commercial speed 24 per year or about 16 years to do the build out.
Roughly 2040.

The Manhatten project tried multiple approaches in parallel - to avoid losing schedule in case the idea that people thought was the best did not work out. This costs more but buys schedule. Likewise, they built things based on their best guess for what was needed - sometimes that worked out and they bought schedule, sometimes it didn't and they had to rip up what they built. Perhaps by spending more money you could buy four years off the development time.

Pushing the production likely could be done (again uneconomically) to double the production rate saving 8 years.

Net we make your 2030 timeframe - if it really is that critical. BUT it costs the country quite a bit to do this. There is a terrific amount of money spent to buy those last 12 years, and likely some risks too. Why is 2030 such a magic time?


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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2012 6:20 am 
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'Pushing the production likely could be done (again uneconomically) to double the production rate saving 8 years.'

This does not account for the savings from having the power available earlier.
LFTR power is likely to be very cheap, and so the quicker we have it the better.
In the US gas is very cheap, but this is not the case in much of the world, where a very fast build would be even more economic.

The biggest saver would be the replacement of oil with LFTR electricity. Around 100GWe would be needed to run the whole US light vehicle fleet, saving hundreds of billions on oil imports alone.


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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2012 10:02 am 
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I really don't care about short term inefficiencies. Like I said, there are plenty of areas to cut costs in government. I agree with DaveMart that the sooner we get these built, the sooner we can start saving. If we go through a Manhattan style approach, we may discover a problem or breakthrough sooner, and this approach may even be cheaper over the next 20 years than a more gradual approach. If they had the political will from 1971-1979, they could probably make more than 12 a year instead of 6. Also, usually the more you make and the faster you make them, the cheaper they are to build. That being said, 2035 may be a little more realistic. You are going to have to build the infrastructure sometime. Why not push it to 2030 even if the total investment may cost a little more. Even though it costs more for this, there may be side benefits that will actually reduce costs overall in society. Maybe someone will invent an LFTR engine for trains and ships 5 years sooner than the gradual approach, and that alone will be more than worth the extra cost.


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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2012 12:56 pm 
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To deploy this quickly one would also need to have a design that can start on 235U LEU, so this implies a thermal spectrum using graphite in the core (not a bad choice). It also means that we need enrichment capacity similar to the current capacity to provide the startup fuel. This implies either we build up more enrichment plants (costs a couple of billion) to double our current capacity and then only use them for 12 years (after that we don't need them in the US anymore but perhaps they would be useful for providing startup fuel for reactors in Asia, South America, and Africa). OR we take all the enrichment capacity to feed the startup demands for LFTRs and turn off the existing LWRs.

One concern I have with going so fast is that it is likely that some feature will prove troublesome and we won't discover it until we have already built 100 reactors. Perhaps they could be retrofitted but perhaps we end up just having to live with it. The faster we go the more likely we are doing retrofits.


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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2012 9:05 pm 
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An interesting problem, normally I would advocate for DMSR, but for a rapid deployment I'm not confident that 7Li can be produced quickly enough to keep up. So thermal yes, DMSR denatured fuel cycle preferably for low levels of supervision and good proliferation resistance, but with a cheaper more readily available fuel salt solvent. One can always switch to FLiBe later if it represented a major improvement.

I like the idea of pursuing parallel pathways, so if one is willing to open the SNF treasure chest by applying simple processing techniques to LWR SNF to extract recovered U (RU) and mixed Pu for fast spectrum designs, that approach only makes sense if you are tapping fissile currently hidden away and difficult to access (SNF).

That might leave you with the fissile efficient graphite filled thermal reactors running a denatured fuel cycle to allow widest possible distribution using clean/virgin denatured U as LEU. Then for fully secured and closely supervised sites set up as reactor parks, run fast spectrum cores on RU and mixed Pu roughly extracted from SNF using fluoride volatility type process's such as FREGAT 2. The INL/IFR style of electrolytic separation of SNF may also be acceptable.

If time is everything, fissile may be a constraint, simple and light-weight construction desirable and money is nothing and efficiency not that important early on then, go for the two fluid design running at high power/L and replace the barrier as frequently as required. It is not a design that I would normally support, but for an all out effort willing to accept risks and inefficiencies, it might be worth it, but it's not one I that would support in normal circumstances.


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