My largest concern at the moment is that we're not getting honest information from anyone. Unfortunately, I am forced to conclude, after significant effort, that Mr. Jaczko's credibility is questionable - and that's being kind.
In order to support a fission-based nuclear program of any sort in fact, despite whatever jawboning you might do, it is necessary to support reprocessing and burn-up of reaction products. It is also necessary to support production of new fissile materials from fertile ones. This isn't conjecture, it's fact.
That was March of 2011. Today?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The U.S. government said it will stop issuing permits for new nuclear power plants and license extensions for existing facilities until it resolves issues around storing radioactive waste.
Now we're f*ed. There are 14 reactors that are awaiting license extensions. Without them when their existing authorizations expire they will be forced to shut down.
All of this over politics, specifically Mr. Harry Reid, who is very interested in derailing the Yucca Mountain storage facility -- a facility that Jaczko killed through a procedure that was arguably illegal.
Behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy. We either resolve this problem, and we should resolve it using something like this proposal (or its expanded cousin in Leverage to the right) or we're in real trouble in a few years as these licenses expire.
Last year, Kirk Dorius and I travelled to London to participate in the kickoff of the Weinberg Foundation, an advocacy group for thorium energy. I am pleased to announce with them the formation of an “All-Party Parliamentary Group” or APPG that contains members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, to consider the potential of thorium as an energy source.
In a word, "Duh."
Here's the thing folks, when you boil it all down -- thorium is a no-brainer when it comes to a nuclear fuel and fuel cycle, assuming you want power and not bombs. It also is the enabling pathway to petroleum independence without changing the consuming end of the pipeline.
Many "green" evangelists are all ga-ga over electric cars. But they forget that while chargers are quite efficient (~80-85%) and electric motors are too (~85% for the best of what we can offer today) the fact remains that batteries have a crap energy density (meaning the amount of energy the contain per unit of both mass and volume is poor), they have a poor energy acceptance rate (how quickly you can charge said battery, requiring hours .vs. minutes to fill a fuel tank) and in addition they simply shift where the energy production takes place (to the coal plant behind the undesirable neighbor's house.) In other words they simply move the exhaust pipe instead of getting rid of it.
Indeed when you stack the inefficiencies electric cars don't look so good. A typical gasoline or diesel car is somewhere around 30% efficient end-to-end (that is, the number of BTUs of energy that go into the fuel tank .vs. the amount of energy that actually moves the car.) The rest is lost as heat in some form or fashion, whether out the tailpipe, rejected by the radiator or as friction somewhere in the middle.
But neither do electric cars. When we stack efficiencies we see the problem quite quickly:
30% (conventional nuclear or coal) to 50% (combined-cycle such as natural gas) at origin.
90% efficiency in transmission (transformers, loss on the electrical line, etc)
85% efficient (battery charger)
80% efficient (battery itself, assuming 50% charge state -- much less at 85%+ of full charge, perhaps as little as 50%)
85% motor, controller and gearing (in the car)
15.6 - 26% end-to-end
Oops; that's no better and if you start with 30% gross at the generating end it's actually worse!
So the argument for "energy efficiency" doesn't work in favor of electric.
Why does this mean we should use thorium?
Simple -- thorium reactors can be run not on pellets of fuel as conventional reactors using water as both a moderator and coolant, but rather with the fuel dispersed in a molten salt used as the working fluid and a fixed moderator in the reactor chamber.
This is a huge win for a number of reasons:
This is not necessarily a "cheap" oil replacement, but "cheap" is relative. Can we produce $20/bbl equivalent oil products with this technology? No. Can we match $100/bbl oil? Probably, and that's the point -- we can both produce electricity and 100% independent liquid hydrocarbons to fuel our buses, trucks and cars.
In addition we would be using a far safer technology than we use today for nuclear power.
I highlighted this alternative in Leverage for a specific reason -- behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy. If we are to ever rationalize our federal government spending on all things, including most-particularly our military, we must become energy independent.
We proved that these reactors can work in the 1950s and 60s at Oak Ridge. This is not "pie in the sky" technology or the subject of science fiction. It is a matter of science fact that we can, if we're willing, exploit to resolve our domestic energy requirements.
It appears that Britain is going to join China and India in heading down this road, leaving America behind.
We cannot afford to be left behind.
There are times I have to chuckle, although this is not likely to be very funny.
The world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, appears to have cut both its oil production and export in December, according to the latest update by the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI), an official source of oil production, consumption and export data.
If you remember just days ago Saudi Arabia said they "would not allow" the price of oil to rise over $100.
Well, it's $105 this morning, and that's definitely over $100.
Just a week or so back I was in Orlando and paid $4.03 for diesel on the way home, and that sucked. A good part of the state is right near or at $4, and while we're 15 cents or so cheaper (if you look closely enough) that's up bigtime over just a couple of weeks ago.
Nationally, we're also up about 20 cents on gasoline over the last month, and that's not good either. But heh, we're constantly told that this won't matter to the broader economy.
In a word: Nonsense.
Look, 20 cents a gallon doesn't sound like a lot. But the average commuting car get around 25mpg combined cycle in actual use (despite the claims otherwise) and a whole lot of people commute 50 miles a day (both directions.) So this is about a half-a-buck a day per person in impact, which in turn works out to about $15/month.
There goes about a quarter or so of the so-called "payroll tax cut" you were "given" by Obama -- never mind that the tax cut is a scam in the first instance, as it simply removes money that Social Security will need down the road -- and soon.
It gets worse of course if gasoline keeps going up. If, as some predict, we hit $5/gallon gasoline by summer, that entire "tax cut" will be gone and more.
Commodity prices -- and the cost of living generally -- are always the brake on the globalization/devaluation game. If the fools at the White House and Fed boil you slowly enough they hope you don't notice, but few people in truth don't notice. Most are well-aware of what's going on in this regard; who could (honestly) miss the ramp in food and energy prices in their daily lives?
When you couple this with collapsing demand the lie is put to the standard "supply/demand" claims of many in regards to energy. The fact is that gasoline consumption has fallen dramatically in terms of gallons consumed, which says quite loudly that people are getting squeezed. As I reported with the retail sales numbers so is food at home when inflation-adjusted, which again strongly suggests that people are unable to buy what they want in the grocery store -- never mind that those retail sales numbers ignore population growth as well.
On this President's day make sure you say "thanks" to our fine folks in DC for refusing to clean up the mess in Aisle 3 after the crash of 2008. We'd be well on our way to recovery by now if they had -- as it stands, we're in for a world of hurt in 2012 and '13.
The two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear-power station near San Clemente, Calif., will remain shut down this weekend while federal safety officials investigate why critical—and relatively new—equipment is showing signs of premature wear.
The problem surfaced Jan. 31, when one of the units sprang a leak in a pipe called a steam tube, releasing small amounts of radioactive steam and tripping radiation alarms. Operators shut down the reactor four hours later.
The problem rests in the steam generators in these plants (they're pressurized water reactors.) These are sort of like a car radiator, except that both sides are in water (if you have a boat with an inboard engine you've probably got a heat exchanger that is much like this in the cooling system.) The steam generator has primary water under very high pressure that takes the heat off the nuclear reaction and uses it to boil water in the secondary side, which turn turns the generating turbines. The advantage of this design is that the water on the primary side never boils and it is physically isolated from the steam turbine equipment. Since the primary side water becomes activated over time (that is, it is somewhat radioactive) this prevents the turbine equipment from being contaminated -- at least in theory. A boiling-water reactor (such as in Fukushima) on the other hand has only one loop; there are advantages and disadvantages to both designs.
Unfortunately like a car radiator these tubes wear out and can leak. Due to the high pressures and temperatures involved the tubes are made out of a special alloy.
These reactors were shut down a couple of years ago after the original steam generators had deteriorated to the point that they needed replacement -- they were nearly 30 years old at the time and had reached the end of their service life. The replacements were made out of a somewhat different alloy that was intended to address cracking problems that had intermittently shown up in the old design.
But now, with only two years of runtime on the new generators, some of the tubes are 10-20% eroded and a few had reached 35%. This is important because the usual engineering standards allow for 30% erosion at which point the tubes must be taken out of service, and when about 10% or so of the total have been removed from service the entire generator has to be removed and either reworked or replaced. This is a rate of deterioration that is several times that of the original, more than 5x as fast as expected!
Mitsubishi Heavy made the new replacements -- the old ones were made here in the United States. Of course Mitsubishi Heavy is a Japanese company, but one wonders what the original source of the materials that went into that tube bundle actually was.
So here's the question: Was the choice of alloy wrong -- an engineering failure -- or was there a manufacturing and inspection problem responsible?
And if the latter, where did the materials come from that the tubes were fabricated out of, and exactly where did that fabrication take place?
I suspect that I'm not going to like the answers to these questions.
When you're being stupid, there is only more and less stupid -- that is, it's a matter of degree.
AKRON, Ohio - FirstEnergy will close six older coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland by September 1 due to environmental regulations.
Bay Shore Plant, Units 2-4, in Oregon, Ohio; Eastlake Plant; Ashtabula Plant; Lake Shore Plant, Cleveland; Armstrong Power Station, Pennsylvania; and R. Paul Smith Power Station, Maryland are the six plants that will be retired.
529 employees will lose their jobs, and in addition there will be further tax losses occasioned by the shuttering as well, along with all the pass-through economic activity (everything from lubricants to cleaning supplies to the paper for the copiers) that disappears as well.
Why? Because we're stuck on stupid.
We have an intelligent way to use coal for energy production. We can use it to power our cars and make electricity at the same time.
Instead, we should be using nuclear energy from thorium for our electrical generation in liquid salt technology reactors. These run at a convenient temperature to provide process heat to convert coal to liquids. And the best part of it is that coal contains thorium itself, so we get multiple benefits:
But heh, we instead want to remain stuck on stupid, and then "crack down" on emissions from these coal plants, driving them offline.
That's just fine provided you don't mind when there's not enough energy to sustain economic progress.
There's a better way folks.
Ps: Pickens was bloviating this morning on CNBC again. Please do look at a long-term natural gas price chart before believing that crap. Yes, it's cheap now compared to diesel, but now is not always the future, and in addition while we have quite a bit of natural gas (as we have quite a bit of oil) the question is why we would build an entire new infrastructure for something that will again become scarce and thus expensive in another 10, 20 or 50 years, when we can have 500 years or more of energy security. Pickens' self-interest in this is amusing, but it's bad policy.
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