An inconvenient solution

Here is an article written by me that was published in The Australian newspaper on 9 June 2009:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25607083-7583,00.html

If climate change is the “inconvenient truth” facing our fossil fuel dependent society, then advanced nuclear power is the inconvenient solution starting right back at the environmental movement.

Since the 1970s, when the Sierra Club and other prominent environmental groups switched from being active supporters to trenchant detractors, nuclear power has fought an ongoing battle to present itself as a clean, safe and sustainable energy source.

Today, a mix of myths and old half-truths continue to constrain people’s thinking on nuclear power. Some of the most regularly raised are that uranium supplies will run out, nuclear accidents are likely, long-lived radioactive waste will be with us for 100,000 years, large amounts of CO2 are produced over the nuclear cycle, it’s too slow and costly, and that a build out of nuclear power will increase the risk of weapons proliferation.

Yet, the surprising reality is that none of these perceived disadvantages of nuclear power need to apply in the future. Indeed, many don’t apply now.

Worldwide, nuclear power is undergoing a renaissance. There are 45 so-called ‘Generation III’ reactors currently under construction, including 12 in China, and another 388 are planned or proposed.

These modern reactor designs are efficient, with capacity factors exceeding 90%, and have a high degree of passive safety based on the inherent principles of physics. For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic and Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years. So judging the ESBWR against the type of reactor that was destroyed at Chernobyl is like comparing the safety of a World War I biplane against a modern jetliner.

In terms of costs and build times, standardised, modular, passive-safety designs, which can be factory built and shipped to site, are game changers for the industry.

The future of nuclear power is brighter still. Although the 2006 Switkowski report on nuclear power in Australia hardly mentioned so-called `fast reactors’, these have the potential to provide vast amounts of clean, baseload energy, for thousands of years.

For instance, there is a technology developed between 1984 and 1994 at the Argonne National Laboratory in the US, called the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), which burns up 99 per cent of the nuclear fuel, leaves only a small amount of waste which drops below background levels of radiation within 300 years, shuts itself down if the control systems fail or the operators walk away, and cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material. A new book by Tom Blees, Prescription for the Planet, describes this technology in fascinating detail.

The IFR, and other `Generation IV’ designs using depleted uranium and thorium as a fuel, offers a realistic future for nuclear power as the world’s primary source of sustainable, carbon-free energy. And the cost for new nuclear power is only fractionally more than coal and with even a modest carbon tax, is cheaper than coal.

Renewable energy such as solar and wind, and energy efficiency and conservation, will certainly allow for a partial transition to a low-carbon economy. Indeed, these are Australia’s only realistic prospect for emissions reductions over the next decade. But I am convinced that ultimately, they will be insufficient for the problems we face.

We will need concentrated sources of energy that are not constrained by geography, intermittency and do not require large-scale energy storage and fossil-fuel backup. We need Power to Save the World, to borrow from the title of another recent book on nuclear energy, by Gwyneth Cravens.

The only realistic way out of the climate and sustainability pincer is to find ways to generate more energy, not less. This is patently obvious globally, with the rapidly developing mega-economies of China and India, but it will also be true for Australia. Desalination and electric vehicles will be two new, energy-hungry demands.

The Switkowski report said that under a fast-paced schedule, we could see nuclear power delivering electricity in Australia within 10 years. Perhaps, with sufficient will, and a decent carbon price, we can get there even faster. But it’s absolutely clear that we must start the process now.

As a climate scientist, I consider the public dialogue on nuclear power to be every bit as urgent as the debate on a carbon price and the need for climate change adaptation. Yet right now, Australia is foot dragging while the world, especially places like China and India, are leading.

Australia’s sustainable energy future depends critically on choices made today. It’s time for green groups to become rational ‘Promethean environmentalists’. Why? Because there’s no ‘silver bullet’ for solving the climate and energy crises. The bullets are made of depleted uranium and thorium.

Barry Brook is the Sir Hubert Wilkins professor of climate change at the University of Adelaide.

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112 Comments

  1. Cool! You used my title!

    Barry, I applaud your efforts to take this discussion to a broader audience. And I love the idea of a Promethean environmentalist – a beautiful and perfect description that I hope will catch on.

  2. I did. Thanks John. I actually used it for the piece I submitted to The Oz too, but their titler changed it to “Nuking green myths”. Yours is much better. The “Promethean environmentalist” nom de plume (see I use it now in my blog byline too) comes from a suggestion from my good friend Haydon Manning.

  3. I agree that electrical demand is likely to increase not decrease. Demand management such as smart metered time-of-day electricity pricing may help somewhat. Against that is transport electrification, desalination and the thermal comfort needs of an ageing population. 50C summer temperatures won’t help. I strongly suspect though that we will head to natural gas powered transport rather than electric vehicles.

    The big desal plants like Pt Stanvac may draw 35 MW average power. That might need 100 MW of new wind plus no net CO2 increase to be said to be ‘offset’. SA alone may need 3 or 4 desals.

    While I think opposition to nuclear power will be less fashionable within a decade as we tighten our energy belts I’m not confident any nuclear plans will materialise. The more likely response may be to flog our gas resources until they can’t keep up.

  4. Barry,
    Reading the comments to your article it seems that a lot of people are in favor of nuclear power, some would prefer renewable energy but none seem to be supporting a continuation with burning coal.

    The nuclear waste issue appears to be more of an issue than safety or nuclear proliferation. This is probably going to be the critical factor in broadening support.

  5. Agreed — and this simply requires more explanation. For instance, a future Op Ed of this kind could focus SOLELY on an issue like waste, and how there are real solutions to this problem available that also yield huge amounts of energy. Indeed, the waste issue is intimately tied up with the U supply issue, so I guess an essay would look at these co-jointly.

  6. Barry, Regarding Australia’s focus, there is an important reasons for Australia to lead in renewable development and integration. This is because of the situation of disadvantaged nations who have little prospect on nuclear power in the medium term. Australia is among the best positioned nations to maximise the mix of renewables in a rapid timeframe. In doing so we will be harnessing resources that are abundant in some of the most disadvantaged regions on earth (especially solar).

    By integrating renewables in a maximal mix we will be developing solutions that can be employed by these disadvantaged nations. Without a rich nation forging this path, many of these integration solutions will remain unaddressed for a longer timer.

    Would you see it as a reasonable point that nuclear power would be the focus of some nations with a poor match of renewable resources to power demand, but for Australia, we would be achieving multiple benefits by maximising our mix of renewables and developing the integrating solutions to enable this?

  7. Promethean environmentalists versus nuking green myths. Against the optimism and starting afresh of the first we have the Oz subbie rubbing their green noses in the MAD obscenity of nuclear weaponry.
    I know we can’t dictate a story headline to Rupert’s minions or any of those other font fondlers, that you just have to hold your breath and hope they don’t stuff up and turn readers away. This issue is too important for those slighted by a headline. Fingers crossed.

  8. I couldn’t disagree more. ‘Renewable’ energy, so called, is the most expensive, least reliable energy available. Expecting disadvantaged nations to hobble themselves with it is downright anti-humanitarian, and if a nation like Australia, high-tech, low population density, plentiful wind and sun, etc, attempted to mislead other less fortunate countries into adopting the ‘renewables’ non-solution to energy and climate problems, I would characterise such behaviour as bordering downright criminal.

  9. Finrod,

    You seem unaware that renewable are widely used already in disadvantated situations, for the very reason that they are available and cheap. Upgrading the type of renewable can be done to suit specific needs, with relative low capital costs.

    And wider distribution of renewables with low capital costs is the among the few energy options available to hundreds of millions (like mobile phones used in many regions vs full tele-network which are absent).

    Most among the bottom billion have similar access to solar resources to Australia (and are far less wasteful). So Australia’s development and integration role would provide a long lasting benefit to billions who can pick from solutions that are developed. No hobbling involved, just a wider range of options for people who are unlikely to see nuclear power for the medium term.

    I doubt your anti-humanitarian hyperbole will get much traction, but again, its up to you Finrod.

  10. … the waste issue is intimately tied up with the U supply issue …

    Not really. Prospecting additional barrels-oil-equiv … OK, that’s making oil the benchmark, which is really bad symbology, or bad something.

    Prospecting an additional tonne of uranium was recently costing on the order of $1000. Prospecting a uranium-tonne-equivalent of oil, more like $500,000.

    That’s in keeping with the total selling prices — prospecting, raising, and all — of the respective fuels: a tonne of the real thing, $130,000; a U-tonne-equivalent of the pro-tem standins, petroleum, $7 million; natural gas, $2.3 million.

    So if you want to enlist a projected uranium scarcity as a justification for de-ashing ash-choked fuel, and you plot the past reserve growth versus consumption as part of this argument, you need to chop the future reserve growth to zero to make it work. I think it would make for a pretty silly-looking graph.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  11. Finrod,
    It’s too late, China now has a goal of generating 20% electricity from renewable energy by 2020. Their plans for nuclear energy? 5-6% by 2020.

    Sure renewable can be intermittent, but it has considerable advantages over all other energy resources, especially for a country that is trying to double electricity production in 10 years.

  12. Neil, China’s renewables plan is mostly centred on hydo and biomass — the contributions of technosolar to that total will be relatively trivial by comparison. Both hydro and biomass have some strong social and environmental impacts, but are the most reliable and sensible renewable energy in terms of its flexibility (use for baseload or peaking, small and large scale) and natural capacity for energy storage.

    I’m quite certain Finrod is talking about technosolar, and I’d agree with him that it’s simply confusing to conflate these techs (wind turbines, solar thermal, PV etc) with hydropower. What % do you expect technosolar to contribute to China’s electricity in 2020?

  13. Barry, Neil,

    I’m referring less about on Grid China, I’m thinking more about off grid remote China/Inida and African nations who’s power range from solar stoves, harnessing bio-gas, right down to burning dung and scavenging bio-mass. These are the disadvantage who need step-wise establishemtn of energy solutions.

    While China and India may be able to spread their grid, there are many nations (home to a large fraction of bottom billion)that require bottom up solution to to political and economic barriers to massive coordinated infrastructure.

    Regarding techno-solar, PV makes sense already for offgridy applications that are currently dependent on diesel generators.

  14. Mark, I definitely think Australia will (by reason of history and momentum) be a leader globally in the deployment of a mix of renewable energy sources. As I noted in my 33% by 2020 in SA thread, this is good, as it will provide ‘proof of concept’ of the wins and losses that comes with such deployment, and the advantages and challenges in integration.

    So my point is that we should be pushing forward on our renewables, but we MUST also start on the nuclear path NOW if it is to be ready within a 10 year timeframe.

    Re: remote regions, nuclear batteries hold huge appeal and could be the first type of power reactors in Australia.

  15. You seem unaware that renewable are widely used already in disadvantated situations, for the very reason that they are available and cheap. Upgrading the type of renewable can be done to suit specific needs, with relative low capital costs.

    I’m aware that PV panels are often used for remote, off-grid low-power applications. I’m also aware that to encourage people to take them up in advanced nations, governments offset the considerable expense of these systems by offering subsidies and feed-in tarrifs, so it would be useful to know just how these systems are financed in ‘disadvantaged’ regions. There must be some sort of subsidy going into it.

    It’s a pity those countries either can’t or won’t finance the establishment of a proper electric grid. I have heard that one of the greatest environmental problems in sub-Saharan Africa is illegal land clearing in areas designated for heritage, simply because people need firewood to cook. I understand that in some areas there’s a virtual civil war being fought between park rangers trying to save the woodlands, and the hard-pressed rural population desperate for some meager resources to provide for their basic needs. A proper rural electrification program in those areas would be a great environmental boon, but it won’t come about with a few PV panels. You need proper baseload. There’s no getting around it.

    As for wasting less… well, if you start off as poor as a churchmouse, your opportunities for extravegant waste sre few.

  16. Finrod,
    It’s too late, China now has a goal of generating 20% electricity from renewable energy by 2020. Their plans for nuclear energy? 5-6% by 2020.

    Sure renewable can be intermittent, but it has considerable advantages over all other energy resources, especially for a country that is trying to double electricity production in 10 years.

    What Barry said.

  17. Oh dear. My apologies, Mark. That comment above was directed to Neil. What follows is for you:

    Regarding techno-solar, PV makes sense already for offgridy applications that are currently dependent on diesel generators.

    So long as the application you have in mind uses no more than a few hundred watts at most, and you don’t need to run it all night. Learn how to preserve such meat as you can afford. Buy a meatsafe if you can afford one, and try to keep a dairy cow handy. Chooks too.

  18. Barry,
    I looked back at the article, doesn’t give many details, apparently, the target is >15%( 20%) of all energy to be from non-FF, including nuclear(5-6% of electricity(60GW), 2-3% total?), wind target is now 100,000MW capacity(35GW),hydro will probably be 120GW,(based on 33% capacity utilization). China could very easily increase solar PV by diverting exports to local instillation’s at least while exports are down.
    I think the balance of that 15-20% (10%)is from solar hot water and bio-gas. So while hydro is the largest the other renewables and nuclear are all significant.
    No doubt China would like to start building more reactors but has just started construction of the first AP1000′s so is probably going to wait and see outcome before expanding, or there may be other supply issues. I see the push for solar and wind as a quick fix interim measure, but if either become cheaper they may expand further. With coal imports rising I am sure every opportunity to replace coal by any and all non-FF sources.

  19. And just how many batteries and extra panels do you think these people can afford? As for how people do it off-grid, they do it the way I described above, or at least that’s how my grandparents who raised me did it until 1972 when we moved into a house in town that had the power connected (I was seven at the time).

  20. You mean “these people” you expect to install nuclear power?

    Yes. kW.hr for kW.hr, Nuclear power is far cheaper than technosolar.

    The batteries etc. are for the medical centre (for now- spreading in the future). Other lower cost tech are shared via teach-in and entrepreneurial step-up options via micro-loans.

    These are expensive interim measures. I see the value of them insofar as they can be deployed relatively quickly, so the population can have access to some low-power applications, but imagining they could ever run the world, or even offer the most impoverished people more than a minor leg-up is just fantasy.

    If I had to rely on a hospital out in the middle of nowhere which boasted PV power with battery storage, my mind would be greatly eased to learn there was a deisel generator or two also on hand.

  21. Perhaps you could convince a wealthy donor or the World Bank fund a nuclear plant? In the mean time Australia’s deployment role and a carbon price in general will provide production and solutions that reduce the cost of renewables.

    Not all renewables are high cost. We’re rolling out solar cookers. We’ll bring some off-grid farmers in from China to teach locals to harvest bio-gas with rudimentary materials.

    I’ll take every “minor leg up” I can get. Every bit makes a difference. And When the changes are structural the benefits compound.

  22. Perhaps you could convince a wealthy donor or the World Bank fund a nuclear plant? In the mean time Australia’s deployment role and a carbon price in general will provide production and solutions that reduce the cost of renewables.

    If an area is politically stable, you could possibly convince some industrialists to make such an investment. I wouldn’t expect the World Bank to do diddly.

    Not all renewables are high cost. We’re rolling out solar cookers. We’ll bring some off-grid farmers in from China to teach locals to harvest bio-gas with rudimentary materials.

    I guess you can do that sort of stuff in the interim, but I’d hardly call it a solution to AGW. Nuclear power must be used to phase out the fossil fuel plants, then to expand CO2-free power production worldwide. These charitable measures you talk about may be good in some areas, or at least better than doing nothing, but they do not address the core of the AGW issue.

  23. Barry Brook – “Renewable energy such as solar and wind, and energy efficiency and conservation, will certainly allow for a partial transition to a low-carbon economy. Indeed, these are Australia’s only realistic prospect for emissions reductions over the next decade. But I am convinced that ultimately, they will be insufficient for the problems we face.”

    However this is your opinion only. There is sufficient solar energy falling on the Earth to power us several times over. We so far have not been smart enough to use it. That is changing as we start to deploy wind, now growing at 30%, and solar thermal that is starting from years of neglect.

    I have finished Prescription for the Planet. The really hard part I am having is reconciling what I have read with the people that are supporting it. I cannot fathom how people with any degree of political knowledge could think that GREAT would ever stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting off the ground. I am desperately trying to think of something that would come to a acronym of KAOS to replace GREAT.

    I did actually get one laugh – when Tom Blees wrote that the boron car could be on the road in 5 years. As this is apparently the paper that he is referring to:

    http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/235_248.pdf

    I defy anyone to make head nor tail of this paper – I am sorry I can’t. Suffice to say that there is no laboratory prototype of any part of a boron car propulsion system anywhere in the world at the moment. Nor is there even a design on paper.

    If you are basing your optimism about nuclear power on this book then I guess I know where you are coming from. Based on this the future does indeed look rosy. I am sorry Barry I still cannot agree with you even after reading the book. There is so much wrong with it I am at a loss to understand why you can’t see it. I will still be donating it to the local library so anyone in Wanneroo council area will be able to read it. Or if anyone here on the blog that wants to read it I will send it to with the promise that you must send it to someone else that has not read it and wants to.

  24. I’ve written extensively on Chinese energy on the US based Daily Kos.

    The first thing everyone should be aware of is that the Chinese are going to build…everything. The only thing they are really concerned about is coal, and that’s why the are investing in all forms of non-FF power, most notably nuclear and hydro.

    “Renewables”, per se, is not high on the list but they ARE building lots, as noted above. If you speak to utility representatives in south China, as I have, this is more of a market research done Chinese style: they want to BUILD wind turbines so they can get into the huge, highly subsidized wind turbine market. But all their grid integration, HVDC and now, the newer HVAC over upgraded lines, is oriented toward Hydro.

    Don’t be fooled by the first 2 AP1000s under construction…the big money now is in their CPR-1000 reactors (Gen II+) which has about 10 under construction, a VVER set and two more. The Chinese are right on schedule (and budget) for building 70 GWs by 2020 and 160 by 2030. If plans change, expect these number to increase, vastly.

    Part of their ability to meet, and exceed these goals, is based on the development of their vertically integrated components industry where their goal is to manufacture over 80% of all new nuclear ‘in house’. IF the expansion of this atomic component infrastructure is successful, the Guandong folks tell me expect the 2020-2030 number to increase greatly.

    The key is watching their deployment over the next 6 years, through 2015. That is their budgetary, scheduling, ramping up of components, etc etc.

    Clearly the Chinese future energy is heading toward hydro and nuclear with all others closely following up the rear.

    The danger for the anti-nuclear movement is that if the Chinese are successful, it will essentially be a nail in the coffin of the increasingly desperate movement. Conversely, if the Chinese seriously falter then it will definitely be a nail in the coffin of the “renaissance”, which, right now, is quite alive and healthy and speaks Mandarin (actually Cantonese but that’s another story).

    David

  25. The whole solar project in India, “decentralized” roof top panels; massive deployment of lead-acid batteries is, in my view, an NGO wet dream and a people’s nightmare.

    The whole philosophy of this POV is based on extreme energy conservation and energy starvation. It’s why I oppose it as a paradigm since it’s essentially the Westerner’s prescription for continued underdevelopment. All great advances in human culture have involved the greater use of increasingly denser and more efficient energy forms. The result, or distillation of this very simple: it distills to a light switch. Yes, a simply light switch that allows for the user to have light anytime they want, or, say, a refrigerator, or as class room hooked into the internet when the want it, or air conditioning, for at least ONE room.

    The Indian’s REAL plan in the continued mass electrification of the Indian country side based on baseload power: coal, natural gas, and, as *quickly as possible* GWs and GWs of nuclear energy, more and more of it thorium powered. And this is what they are doing.

    The only way to slow down the fossil growth in this equation is to support vastly expanding beyond the 40,000 MWs of planned nuclear they have stated they would like to see in the next 20 years. It’s simply not enough.

    David

  26. David,
    The Chinese nuclear story sounds exciting but the reality of how many reactors have actually been completed since 2003(1GW), have been started(8-10GW) and if all goes well are planned for completion by 2015(25GW) is rather small considering the projected increase of 100GW per year in electricity demand.I see no reason why China cannot build 70GW of nuclear by 2020(if all goes well on existing construction), but that will still be only 5% of electricity demand, and a maximum completion rate(8GW per year) much less than the US achieved in mid 1970′s. It’s easy to see why hydro solar and wind energy are going to be promoted in the next decade, twice as much new electricity(2GW)came from wind in the last 12 months than came from new nuclear in the last 6 years, and probably will be another 3-6GW of wind energy(output not capacity) will before the next nuclear plants(2GW) are completed in 2010.

  27. Neil,
    It’s actually 11 under construction according to the WNA. Another 22 to start over the next 18 months.

    My point was that these numbers ARE actually low…I agree on a % basis. However, this 2015-2020 period is the key period. By 2015 the full extent of the component infrastructure should be mostly completed. It is from this period that we should see the numbers actually start to rise and, far be revised upward. The Chinese have, for example, already increased the 2020 date’s expected nuclear on line from 40 to 70 GWs in as many as 4 separate revisions. I think, Neil, this shows what they’d *like* to do and the direction they want to go.

    I think they’ve already exceeded the “8 per year” or will soon if the planned becomes actual construction. It will be interesting.

    The bigger issue, of course, is what else can they do?

    Clearly, they need to reign in SOME control over this expansion of 100GWs per year…albeit we already have seen signs this number is decaying and quite rapidly.

    They seem intent on filling the gaps (nuclear, hydro, wind, peddle-power on the one hand) with coal. No one on this list, and the Chinese themselves, are ‘for’ this but the Chinese economy is between a rock and a hard place. They either expand their energy generation or they die.

    David

  28. It’s hardly “pragmatic”. If you believe that the static energy consumption per capita is “OK”, then that is pragmatic.

    The Indian gov’t (both Congress and the Hindi-chauvinist BJP) have pushed large centralized power stations…coal, nuclear and natural gas. Alternative energy forms have also been ‘pushed’ but clearly the Indians are doing exactly what the Chinese are doing and there is no slowing them down: fossil is increasing as a % of energy production.

    I ‘push’ nuclear because it is the only thing that can effectively phase out the FF side of the equation. Fortunately, the Indian gov’t is of like mind. It’s no dream, it’s being implemented.

    David

  29. Hi Neil – This report in the ABC seems to confirm what you are saying:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/06/12/2597095.htm

    “According to Zhang Xiaoqiang, the vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, China will easily surpass its targets for wind and solar power by 2020, so it is now considering targets three times higher.

    He told the Guardian newspaper that while the current goal for wind power over the next 11 years is 30 gigawatts the new target could be more like 100 gigawatts over the same time period.

    He also said that the total installed capacity for solar energy would be at least three times the original target of 3 gigawatts.

    “China could have a massive one fifth of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020,” he said.”

    Certainly it seems that wind and solar are proving easier and faster to deploy than nuclear.

  30. 1. Bold plans by China on technosolar — I hope they work out. But it’s all still just ‘dreams’ right now. China (2006 IEA figures) has about 450 MW capacity (about 1.3 GW peak) wind and 12 MW (60 MW peak) solar.

    2. China’s nuclear programme is just beginning, with their first lot of reactors being built. So its ultimate contribution is also a ‘dream’.

    The big difference is that nuclear have ended up constituting a major part of the electrical capacity of many countries, and technosolar has been able to do it anywhere so far.

    So why do you say “Certainly it seems that wind and solar are proving easier and faster to deploy than nuclear.” when it’s currently all just a hypothetical projection?

  31. Stephen, I agree with you on the boron car technology in P4TP. This is the weakest part of Tom’s book, and I think it does a disservice to the plasma torch technology, and especially the IFR technology. I had also read the paper you reference and I agree with your comments.

    The boron car posits an oxygen-from-air separator, a boron combustion chamber, and some sort of steam engine to transform heat to motive power. None of these technologies exist in a suitable form, to the best of my knowledge, and the material in P4TP does not allow me to connect the dots in my head to get there.

    The O2 separator for instance. I did look into these systems over a decade ago, so perhaps my knowledge is out of date and I’m happy to stand corrected, but I don’t believe the technology exists that would produce the volumetric output of pure oxygen required to power a car, that is sufficiently compact and with sufficiently low power consumption. The best outputs are obtained from ceramic membranes operating around 1000 C, which creates its own problems. My own small, light car wants up to about 200 cubic feet per minute (of air, not oxygen, at ambient temperature, not 1000 C) to oxidise the fuel required for its modest output. I just can’t see this technology being available.

    Similarly, the combustion chamber and heat engine don’t exist. It seems to me there are decades of engineering R&D between us and this vehicle, and the engineering is in materials science and other technologies that advance slowly, not the design and IT sciences which advance rapidly.

    Getting personal transport off fossil fuels is critical for arresting global warming, but I’m far more optimistic about the possibility of doing it with electric vehicles, for which there are well developed component technologies, and developing component technologies, and stepping stone configurations like hybrids which offer a friendlier ramp-up route for mass production of the components for the car business, and incremental experience in real world deployment and integration etc. That obviously means lots of new electricity, which is one reason why I think nukes are necessary.

    I think Tom overreaches in some of his discussion of the plasma torch, but it looks like a very interesting, very available technology that, even if it doesn’t have the diversity of application envisaged still has a lot of promise.

    But I think its facile of you to reject the IFR on the basis of the boron vehicle and your scepticism around GREAT. Thats throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The IFR technology is already well developed and is a coherent technological concept and I’d be interested in your reasons for rejecting it, on its own merits, rather than by association with other concepts.

    Something along the lines of GREAT doesn’t strike me as any more improbable than any number of international groupings, treaties, trade organizations, the EU, etc. Saying this can’t be done is simple defeatism. Its a counsel of despair, and considering what is presently at stake with global warming, I’d expect a little more resilience in the face of difficult challenges along the path to an admittedly inconvenient solution.

  32. David, I don’t see how this addresses any of my points. A billion people need stepwise solutions now. Pragmatism means delivering solutions that fit, starting now.

    If you oppose the viable options available today for the “bottom billion” then I’d respectfully disagree and work around you.

    If you can deliver nuclear power to the bottom billion then I’ll listen.

  33. David, I don’t see how this addresses any of my points. A billion people need stepwise solutions now. Pragmatism means delivering solutions that fit, starting now.

    If you oppose the viable options available today for the “bottom billion” then I’d respectfully disagree and work around you.

    If you can deliver nuclear power to the bottom billion then I’ll listen.

    This is a red herring. The “bottom billion” are not major contributors to AGW. They may become so in the future though, so we need nuclear power to be available to them when they follow us on the path of development.

  34. “Red herring”. Finrod obviously has a perspective that different to mine. I see the structural inequality of the bottom billion as a significant factor. A factor relevant to the development of renewable technology.

    Obviously I do. My objective with pro-nuclear advocacy is twofold: To address the issue of AGW effectively, and to enable large quantities of clean, reliable, high-quality power to be available for a multitude of human purposes into the indefinite future.

    Mark, if you believe that your time is better spent promoting such measures as you’ve mentioned to make the bottom billion’s lot a little more cheerful while we solve those other problems, and get around to extending development and its benefits to them, then that’s your judgement call. I guess there’s a place for that sort of thing… but that place is not here. It is not really relevant to the issues this blog was established to address. One might also suspect that you yourself are just using the bottom billion issue to push renewables, although they clearly cannot address AGW.

  35. Barry,
    You should know by now that 3 year old IEA data on wind capacity is as useless as using that data for the number of reactors under construction in China(2 or 3? in 2006).
    Last year China installed 6,000MW wind capacity, a 100% increase for a total of 12,000MW(4GW average ie about half the present 9GW capacity of nuclear completed since 1990). It seems probable that >9,000MW of wind will be installed every year to 2020.

    China has been building nuclear reactors for a while, but the big push seems to have started in planning 2004, with first reactors coming on line in 2010.

  36. I’ve already seen it. It’s not convincing. You seem to be trying to draw this thread away from the subject and onto a completely different issue.

    You will NOT solve global warming by giving the poorest billion people their own solar ovens, PV panels and sets of batteries.

  37. My initiation into Gen IV nuclear power was P4TP, and it represents a great primer. But if you want to know the technology at deeper levels, then you must educate yourself much further. I have done that (I estimate well over 200 hours of additional reading from a wide variety of sources, including technical papers and regular email discussions with some of the key developers of this technology).

    So if you imagine my view on IFR is formed on the basis of P4TP and nothing else, you are gravely mistaken.

  38. My own small, light car wants up to about 200 cubic feet per minute …

    5663.3693184 litres per minute …

    … (of air, not oxygen, at ambient temperature, not 1000 C) to oxidise the fuel required for its modest output.

    Definitely not. The 100 kW of minus-delta-’G’ that a car motor turns into 20 or 30 kW at the drive wheels requires, if the fuel is octane, that per minute only about 320 zero-Celsius 1-atm litres of oxygen react. If it is boron, about 170.

    Don’t assume that what Gloor cannot, or doesn’t care to, understand, you can’t. The paper did get published, in a refereed journal, and it has an “Oxygen denier readiness” section.

    (You should be able to explain the “oxygen denier” coinage.)

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  39. John D Morgan – “But I think its facile of you to reject the IFR on the basis of the boron vehicle and your scepticism around GREAT”

    I am not rejecting the IFR at all. I am rejecting the premise of the “Prescription for the Planet”. For this prescription the three legs are IFR, Boron Cars and the Plasma Torch all held together with GREAT. The modular quick build and cheap IFR, so far, only exists on paper as a design of the S-PRISM. I acknowledge that fast reactors are not new however the S-PRISM design will have to be proven along with industrial scale fuel production in the remote controlled electrochemical process. The Boron car is not even on paper and I agree with your arguments and GREAT to my mind is completely unworkable with many many questions unanswered in the book. Again I could be wrong about GREAT however Iran rejecting an offer of nuclear fuel from Russia to abandon it enrichment facility seems to invalidate the claim that countries will embrace GREAT in exchange for unlimited energy. India’s nuclear program is also a source of great national pride and I don’t see them welcoming a UN style GREAT taking nuclear out of their hands.

    I am sure the IFR reactor will work fine and the plasma torch will recycle garbage and provide syngas for gas turbines to provide peaking power that the IFR will need as much as wind power.

    I have no special objections to IFR technology other than I think that it is unecessary and exposes us to a small risk of proliferation. I prefer the LFTR for reasons I have detailed in other posts.

    I don’t think that Tom Blees produced a convincing case for the title of the book “Prescription for the Planet”

  40. Barry Brook – “So if you imagine my view on IFR is formed on the basis of P4TP and nothing else, you are gravely mistaken.”

    Point taken and I stand corrected. However even as a layperson I have taken to time to research renewable technology and my position on nuclear is not on the basis of a couple of books either.

    What I strenuously object to is your statements in previous comments and posts that to be anti nuclear is to be basically complicit in wrecking the climate. ie: to be serious about the climate you have to embrace nuclear.

    I believe that our society is unsustainable no matter how much energy we throw at it. We need to cut back and do more with less and then substitute energy sources that embrace nature’s flows rather than natures stores.

  41. G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan ’til ~1996 – “Don’t assume that what Gloor cannot, or doesn’t care to, understand, you can’t. The paper did get published, in a refereed journal, and it has an “Oxygen denier readiness” section.”

    Sorry mate you are not helping here as I did not get one thing from this. Perhaps I am just stupid however do you have a design or anything in metal that would lead me to believe that the boron car in nothing more that a dream.

    Also please assume that you are explaining it to a 10 year old when you reply so I can have a change of understanding it.

  42. I believe that our society is unsustainable no matter how much energy we throw at it.

    What is your basis for this belief? Why could we not, given access to sufficient cheap, reliable, clean energy, establish a truly sustainable civilisation of high material and spiritual wealth? What is the actual reason that this could not be done?

    We need to cut back and do more with less and then substitute energy sources that embrace nature’s flows rather than natures stores.

    Relying on ‘nature’s flows’ for our energy will certainly not result in using less. They are so dilute that in order to get any kind of meaningful power from them will entail commandeering great swaths of nature for generating power. Rather than seeing this as a green option, I consider it a formula for ensuring that a desperate human race will consume all of the biosphere’s resources in a fairly short time span trying to stay alive, consuming vastly more for much less return.

  43. I believe that our society is unsustainable no matter how much energy we throw at it. We need to cut back and do more with less and then substitute energy sources that embrace nature’s flows rather than natures stores.

    And if we cannot do this (locally or globally, for whatever reason), what’s your Plan B?

    Also, what’s your Plan C, for retiring all those new coal-fired power stations currently built, well before their due date?

  44. Steve, the RD&D is much further along than you might think, with iron- and aluminium-fuelled cars, are being actively researched and prototyped at Oak Ridge National Labs:

    http://www.mng.org.uk/gh/renewable_energy/metal_NS_article.htm
    http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/v41_1_08/article19.shtml
    http://www.techno-preneur.net/information-desk/sciencetech-magazine/2007/jan07/metal_fuel.pdf
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22428504-26017,00.html

    Thanks to GRLC’s innovative idea of pure oxygen combustion, boron is likely to be a better idea. It’s just a newer idea. But no one is arguing that this is the most immature of the 3 technologies. However, the physical and engineering principles are sound, as the ORLN research already indicates.

    This is actually a niche were somewhere like Australia could take a real research lead, as the value of these vehicles in a post-peak-oil world is patently, obvious irrespective of the source of electricity. I’m not saying BEVs won’t be the mainstay, but like energy supply, I suggest we have multiple irons in the fire, and this is, in principle, much more scaleable than batteries and could be used for shipping and even possibly aircraft. It deserves serious attention!

  45. OK, I agree with much (not all) of this, so I think we are not actually in substantial disagreement on the specific merits of P4TP. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented your position, my apologies.

    Where we differ is our reaction to this prescription. In a nutshell, my response to the book’s theses is:

    * The boron car is a non-starter.
    * The plasma torch will succeed where applied and dispose of waste, provide power, syngas and some useful material byproduct. I have no feel for the scale of the syngas output relative to the shortfall that will come post peak oil. I have no feel for the potential for materials generation, though I thought Tom’s view was at the optimistic end of the scale. Therefore I don’t know whether this will be a key technology or just a niche.
    * The IFR (or some other breeder reactor) is the key to a sustainable technological civilization on a habitable planet. (I know you don’t agree with this.)
    * GREAT is not what we will end up with. But we will end up with something that does roughly the same job.

    So I could say, one or more of the three legs of the tripod have been knocked out, and GREAT will never happen, so I’ll donate my book to the local paper recycler and waste no further time on it.

    But I don’t. Instead, where I don’t like Tom’s solution I try to figure out what might work instead. I mentioned electric vehicles as an alternative to the boron vehicle. This won’t offer some of the nice features and synergies of a born energy carrier, but it is equivalent in that it is vehicle transport powered by IFRs, and I don’t have to strain my credulity at all to see it happen because its already happening around me.

    Likewise, I see all sorts of problems with GREAT. But thats not the point. Its a first pass attempt at defining the problems wondering what a solution might look like. As a thought experiment, it serves to clarify the problems that need solving, and look at one model of addressing them. Its a starting point, not an end point. Don’t agree with the nature of the problems? OK, lets figure out what they really are. Don’t like the solution proposed? OK, lets try out a different model and test that one against informed critique. So I look at GREAT as a great way to start thinking seriously about these questions.

    Some big thinking is required to solve our present problems, and Tom doesn’t hold back. I don’t like some of the particulars of his synthesis, but I regard it as the start of a discussion, not the last word.

    The IFR content though stands alone, and is sufficient in itself to make this an important book.

  46. Finrod, I’ll be more explicit. Their is more than one way to address AGW. Different assumptions lead to different costs. I am aware of different assumption leading to claims that nuclear is very cheap and renewable’s expensive. And other assumptions vice versa. You seem to be saying that you’ve got “the” solution mix .

    As a potential “Promethean environmentalist”, I am bringing attention to some of the costs and benefits of another solution mix.

    One of the cost/benefits (impact on development for the bottom billion) will be effected if nations (like Australia) with very high renewable energy potential follows the maximal RE development path.

    Renewables are more cost effective in some circumstance than others (Australia and some highly disadvantaged areas have regions of high solar insolation for example). The renewable nature of renewables mean that there costs will only reduce (with technological advancement). The rate of cost reduction is dependent on the scale of production.

    Considering the rapid evolutionary cycle of solar tech, It is uncertain which technology will be most effective for each region. Some renewables may (in some regions) be more cost effective than nuclear power (depending on the cost included and excluded).

    One of the costs/benefits that could be included or excluded is the impact on barriers to development for the bottom billion.

  47. John D Morgan – “If I have misunderstood or misrepresented your position, my apologies.”

    No apologies necessary. You did not misrepresent my position – I failed to make it sufficiently clear.

    I agree that the boron car is a non-starter. The funny thing is that if he had used the Zinc fuel cell car then this would have been far more acceptable as there are zinc fuel cell cars on the road.
    http://www.electric-fuel.com/evtech/EF-tech-brochure.pdf

    Also with V2G, electric cars become part of the solution not a problems. With millions of batteries, that utilities do not have to pay for, available for storage renewables become far easier to deploy. V2G is being trialled now and can be integrated into virtual power stations.

    http://www.udel.edu/V2G/
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=4747064
    http://www.abc.net.au/ra/innovations/stories/s2418865.htm

    “Likewise, I see all sorts of problems with GREAT. But thats not the point. Its a first pass attempt at defining the problems wondering what a solution might look like.”

    The massive advantage of renewables is that you don’t need GREAT. Renewables are scalable from 1kW to 1GW and nobody cares where they are put because no matter what you do to them they cannot be turned into weapons of war so you don’t have to watch them. For a majority renewable solution a huge bureaucracy is not needed. The solution Tom has outlined has its problems too – have a look at the NSW state railways or the way Telstra stifled competition in Australia so that we are 10 years behind the rest of the world in our telecommunications. As a Social Democrat I am all for a balance of socialism however GREAT to my mind is too far the other way. GREAT could turn out to be overly powerful.

    That is the solution I propose – no IFR no GREAT. Why waste time, money and political capital on the creation of a huge department when there is a solution that does not need it? I know that you do not agree with a majority of renewables however it is a real possibility.

    A start to a compromise would be 30% or so of IFR and LFTRs with the 70% coming from renewables. GREAT can look after the 30% which prevents it from being a monopoly and dictating what the world does with energy. Some countries like Australia would not need any nuclear at all and should be allowed to choose this if they want to.

  48. Your ‘alternative’ does nothing to address AGW. Nothing. Nada. Nix. Zero. You’re just trying to avoid the inevitable conclusion concerning the viability of ‘renewable’ tech, namely that it is a useless toll for addressing AGW, or much of anything else.

  49. A start to a compromise would be 30% or so of IFR and LFTRs with the 70% coming from renewables.

    Stephen, this is an eminently reasonable position, in fact generous, given your reservations, and as much as I would ask for. 30% of gen IV power would mitigate the risk that renewables won’t be sufficient. If we planned for that sort of mix, we’d have the infrastructure in place to scale up if required or wind it back if not. The risk of failure of an all renewables scenario would be mitigated. Having the capability for rolling out breeders is the critical thing.

    Would you support planning for and implementing such a mix, at least until the case for renewables is proven?

  50. John, Steve, please see my comment above, in case you missed it.

    In sum, there is no reason at all to claim that metal-fuelled cars are a non-starter. That’s an extremely narrow vision and not shared by the engineers working on this project. Indeed, given the current status of this technology, there is every reason to believe that they could be here and delivering within 5-10 years with sufficient effort. This was Tom Blees’ point.

  51. A maximal mix of renewables in Australia’s ethical response to AGW (reaching a target set on principles of ethics, justice, and science ~ [approaching zero net emissions]; Will meet our ethical CO2e target, whilst meeting obligations, in terms of redressing part of the barriers to entry facing structurally disadvantaged peoples.

    When considering costs, its a question of the costs we include and exclude.

  52. John D Morgan – “Stephen, this is an eminently reasonable position, in fact generous, given your reservations, and as much as I would ask for.”

    However, and there is always an however, I go a bit further than you might want to go. I would also make the provision for the 30% of nuclear as follows into a new law of nuclear.

    “All nuclear reactors must use naturally occurring elements or isotopes of naturally occurring elements. No non-natural element is allowed to be created in any nuclear reaction”

    This gets around the problem of plutonium and easy proliferation. The LFTR breeds U-233 from thorium so this would be OK. The IFR uses plutionium so it would be unacceptable as would all present GEN III and GEN II nuclear reactors.

    GREAT could enforce this and make it really really hard for any country to develop nuclear weapons.

  53. Barry,
    Thanks for the links to metal fuel vehicles.
    metal fuels appear to be better than H2 fuel as far as storage on board.
    This statement seems to be solving a problem that doesn’t exist;
    He predicts that a car with a modified engine powered by boron powders could drive three times as far as today’s petroleum-fuelled internal combustion engine.
    On a long drive my bladder doesn’t even last 500kms, between re-fueling stops, my eyes water to think what a 1500 km/pit stop would be like.

    Reading the articles about B, Fe and Al, I thought WHY NOT USE THE METAL LITHIUM, it’s lighter than B and Fe, but throw away the heavy, thermodynamically inefficient ICE and use a small 95%efficient electric motor. Could also save on metal recycling with hydrogen and the losses of generating the hydrogen by electrolysis by keeping the Lithium in a sealed container,using electricity to regenerate the Li metal; could also regenerate energy during braking, we don’t really have to do much more research, I am using a Li metal energy storage power pack right now, a Lithium battery. All we need is for Holden to build the EV’s, come to think of it, that’s also going to be a problem with Bor Fe metal fueled vehicles.

  54. I think I’ll respond to the boronmobile discussions here.

    Barry, I read your references, and while I think its great work and a really interesting concept, they haven’t swayed me from my original assessment, which is that its not within a 5-10 year timeframe regardless of effort. It would be unfair to the research to give a serious critique because it is at such an early stage but thoughts that occur to me include

    large scale manufacturing methods for the nanoparticles (boron or otherwise)
    stability of the nanoclusters to atomic rearrangement
    stability of the nanoclusters to coalescence and Ostwald ripening processes
    a fueling system based on dry powder handling from tank to injector
    achieving good dispersion on injection into the combustion chamber
    avoiding clogging at all points during powder transfer
    avoiding deposition of solid residue in the combustion chamber
    fundamental understanding of the combustion process, development of the ‘flame’ front etc. through the combustion chamber
    control of same
    the oxygen denier (or N2 enricher or air separator or rephlogisticator) cited by GRLC that provides a suitable O2 source weighs in at 1.6t. I know you can make them smaller, I will look to see whats happening in that space, but my scepticism around this component being feasible remains high.
    handling the superfine smoke exhaust (nanoscale particles need nanoscale filters)
    boron toxicology (say goodbye to the bees)

    I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but these are some no-joke basic research questions. The component technologies don’t exist for these systems, let alone integrated systems designed to the point of consumer acceptance of reliability.

    When you compare this concept with, say, EVs and battery development, or FCEV if that floats your boat, where the components are available in volume, and we’re starting to get real world experience of their perfomance and integration issues, and the materials science is sufficiently advanced to underpin engineering R&D, and there are transitional technologies like hybrids, and there’s serious support from the car companies, there’s a much rosier picture.

    Technology advances like this show what might be possible soon. Like Neil, I like might metal fuel burned as the anode of a battery.

  55. Are you saying that, maximising the mix of renewables in Australia’s zero carbon programme does nothing to address AGW?

    No. I’m saying that directing the most impoverished billion people on this planet to abort their potential for industrial development by adopting useless ‘renewable’ power sources does nothing to address AGW. You are nonetheless correct in ascribing to me the position that maximising Australia’s use of those same technologies will also do nothing to address AGW.

    If I understand what you are writing, then I disagree with you conclusion/opinion.

    Obviously. So what? If you want to really impress people, you need to say why you disagree with me, not just state that you do without further explanation.

    A maximal mix of renewables in Australia’s ethical response to AGW (reaching a target set on principles of ethics, justice, and science ~ [approaching zero net emissions]; Will meet our ethical CO2e target, whilst meeting obligations, in terms of redressing part of the barriers to entry facing structurally disadvantaged peoples.

    I could agree with this if you consent to change one word. Instead of ‘maximal’, you should say ‘optimal’.

    I hereby propose the highly ambitious target for Australia of reducing our CO2 emissions 90% by 2035.

    I further propose that this should be done by an agressive program of adopting nuclear power, with an emphasis on breeder reactors and small-scale reactors for regional grids and specialist high-energy consumption industries, in parallel with a crash program to establish a viable electric transport and synfuel transportation system based on nuclear power.

    Given that under that scenario, Australia’s energy production would be considerably higher than it is today, the most you could reasonably expect ‘renewables’ (excluding hydro) to contribute might be about 1-2%. This may then be regarded as the optimal mix for renewables (after all, theres likely to be some remote, off-grid applications where they make more sense than paying for a grid connection).

    Emphasising the development of mini-reactors will put the technology within closer reach for the most impoverished nations, so we would be making a real contribution to their betterment there.

    When considering costs, its a question of the costs we include and exclude.

    So true.

  56. I’m saying that directing the most impoverished billion people on this planet to abort their potential for industrial development by adopting useless ‘renewable’ power sources does nothing to address AGW.

    Finrod, you have ignored that renewables provide the stepwise solution for the most disadvantaged. This is the point I’ve made (and you’ve engaged with), and ignoring this does not help your argument.

    The rest of your post describes a proposal that similarly seems to have an assumption that counts all the costs against renewable and ignores the cost against nuclear power. If this is your belief, you have not demonstrated it, only asserted through implicitly.

  57. Finrod – “Relying on ‘nature’s flows’ for our energy will certainly not result in using less. They are so dilute that in order to get any kind of meaningful power from them will entail commandeering great swaths of nature for generating power.”

    This is what I don’t get. You are quite happy for commandeering great swaths of nature for generating the power that runs you ie: food However the thought of commandeering a tiny proportion of this to generate some energy makes you dismiss it out of hand.

    With wind farms the agriculture continues on underneath the wind turbines undisturbed and at least half of the wind farms will be out at sea. Solar power station will be largely in areas where land is plentiful. Here in WA you can fly for 2 hours in a fast jet and still be in the same state. A lot of countries, the USA included have sufficient land many times over to support any expansion of solar thermal power.

    Unless you are now objecting to spreading self reproducing nanoscale solar collectors (plants) by the billions over land and then either eating them or eating something that eats them then I suggest that you withdraw this ridiculous objection.

  58. Finrod, you have ignored that renewables provide the stepwise solution for the most disadvantaged. This is the point I’ve made (and you’ve engaged with), and ignoring this does not help your argument.

    I’ve indulged you by engaging with your stupid side-argument against deploying effective zero-GHG emission technology in an advanced nation because a handful of impoverished nations can’t afford it. This ludicrous position displays the extent to which your thinking is distorted by ideology.

    I am personally quite upset that so many people in this world don’t enjoy access to the same opportunities which I do. I want to see that change. I want to see the deployment of REAL solutions. I don’t guilt myself to sleep over it each night, but I do wish general good fortune upon my fellow humans, and want to see a world where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their potential. In large part this means giving them reasonable access to the fruits of modernity. And that takes LOTS of power. More than your plan allows.

    I do not for one second believe that you have any concern at all for the ‘bottom billion’ except as a propaganda tool to use in a last-ditch effort to pretend that ‘renewables’ have some relevance to this topic.

    I find your characterisation of your plan to lock the most impoverished people on the planet into a low-energy, low-tech future of misery by hoodwinking Australia into providing an example of taking up an energy ‘solution’ which solves nothing and is already known to not work (thereby dragging us down as well), as ethical to be offensive in the extreme. I now hold you to be nothing more than a hairshirt green, an anti-human, anti-technology ideologue who would sacrifice humanity and the biosphere both (and both would be sacrificed under your low-tech plan) for the sake of your belief system.

    The rest of your post describes a proposal that similarly seems to have an assumption that counts all the costs against renewable and ignores the cost against nuclear power. If this is your belief, you have not demonstrated it, only asserted through implicitly.

    It’s based on the known advantages and disadvantages of both. I’m not going to recapitulate those arguments here. I know you’ve read them elsewhere.

  59. You are quite happy for commandeering great swaths of nature for generating the power that runs you ie: food However the thought of commandeering a tiny proportion of this to generate some energy makes you dismiss it out of hand.

    No I’m not, and kindly refrain from attributing such opinions to me before learning what I really think.

    With wind farms the agriculture continues on underneath the wind turbines undisturbed and at least half of the wind farms will be out at sea. Solar power station will be largely in areas where land is plentiful. Here in WA you can fly for 2 hours in a fast jet and still be in the same state. A lot of countries, the USA included have sufficient land many times over to support any expansion of solar thermal power.

    No they won’t, because nothing like the enourmous infrastructure required to run our civilisation off them is ever going to be built.

    Unless you are now objecting to spreading self reproducing nanoscale solar collectors (plants) by the billions over land and then either eating them or eating something that eats them then I suggest that you withdraw this ridiculous objection.

    As a matter of fact, I do object to it. I want to see a major research effort aimed at enabling large-scale production of (initiallly) hydroponic food factories to alleviate some of the pressure our current agricultural systems put on natural ecosystems, and (eventually) production of synthetic food based on advanced biotechnology with the energy input coming from nuclear reactors. This should enable us to return what are currently agricultural lands to managed wilderness. It would be a tremendous boon to the environment, and to humanity.

    I do not know for certain if this is actually possible, but I’m reasonably optimistic that the goal is reachable sometime this century, if it can be reached at all (I don’t know of any fundamental scientific barriers to its achievement).

    But you couldn’t run it with renewables. Such a technology would require a large energy input.

  60. Well, there is no arguing with that line of belief.

    “Redhering”, “stupid sideline”.

    “your plan to lock the most impoverished people on the planet into a low-energy”

    “hoodwinking Australia into providing an example of taking up an energy ’solution’ which solves nothing and is already known to not work”

    “I now hold you to be nothing more than a hairshirt green, an anti-human, anti-technology ideologue who would sacrifice humanity and the biosphere both (and both would be sacrificed under your low-tech plan) for the sake of your belief system.”

    “propaganda tool”

    Some belief systems are impenetrable.

  61. “All nuclear reactors must use naturally occurring elements or isotopes of naturally occurring elements. No non-natural element is allowed to be created in any nuclear reaction”

    This does nothing to prevent proliferation since you can make a perfectly good bomb starting with natural uranium (and more easily than with the IFR fuel cycle).

    You enrich the uranium first, then, according to Luis Alvarez,

    “With modern weapons-grade uranium the background neutron rate is so low that terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material on to the other half.” J Carson Mark

    Or take Marsh and Stanford:

    “Arguably, enriched uranium is a more pressing proliferation concern than plutonium.”

    I recommend another paper of Marsh and Stanford, Bombs, Reprocessing, and Reactor Grade Plutonium for a good discussion of these issues.

    So you can stay within the letter of your law and still make bombs. On the other hand, the IFR would be “illegal”, even though its proliferation resistant.

    Right now we have China, India, France, Japan, Russia, and South Korea embarking on breeder reactor programmes. Wouldn’t it be best if the breeder technologies they pursue are the most proliferation resistant possible? On that basis, would you support the 30% contribution from gen IV power you suggest if the implementation were limited to countries that already have the bomb? Again, the critical thing is to make sure we have the capability available if we need it. Its an insurance policy against disaster.

    I’d support your proposal if the LFTR was ready to go, or if time was not an issue. But the LFTRs not, and time is. We need to act now, and of the breeder designs with which we have experience the IFR offers the best proliferation protection.

  62. Well, there is no arguing with that line of belief.

    Some belief systems are impenetrable.

    You have no valid arguments against my line of reasoning. You have resorted to repetative mouthing of your original assertion, ignoring the objections raised against it. Now you do not have the courage to tackle the points raised, but resort to non-contextual quoting.

  63. What line of reasoning? You mean just asserting stuff and ignoring the barriers to entry that I am bringing to attention?

    No, I mean your deliberate ignorance of the point that your ‘barriers to entry’ argument has nothing to do, and can have nothing to do with the effort to abate AGW, that it is a red herring intended to provide a role to ‘renewable’ energy which it otherwise would not have, and that your contention that such a scheme will have an overall positive effect on the people it’s aimed at is at best unproven. That line of reasoning.

  64. I’ll let each of readers of this page judge whether I’ve articulated clearly enough the benefits of renewable development to help readdress structural disadvantage for many of the most vulnerable.

    If I’ve not be articulate enough, I’d be glad to clarify any issues.

  65. And I shall allow that our readers have enough of a heads up to understand where I’m coming from when I assert that Mark’s argument is irrelevant to AGW concerns, and likely detrimental even to the people he claims to want to help.

  66. Finrod, can you backup this claim, that Australia’s developing renewable solutions , and maximising the level of renewables in our carbon neutral mix is:

    s irrelevant to AGW concerns,and likely detrimental [to the structurally disadvantaged bottom billion]

    Or is this another assertion based your preferred assumptions?

  67. Finrod, can you backup this claim, that Australia’s developing renewable solutions , and maximising the level of renewables in our carbon neutral mix is:

    s irrelevant to AGW concerns,and likely detrimental [to the structurally disadvantaged bottom billion]

    Or is this another assertion based your preferred assumptions?

    I already have. Or haven’t you been taking notice?

  68. … large scale manufacturing methods for the nanoparticles (boron or otherwise)
    stability of the nanoclusters to atomic rearrangement
    stability of the nanoclusters to coalescence and Ostwald ripening processes
    a fueling system based on dry powder handling from tank to injector
    achieving good dispersion on injection into the combustion chamber
    avoiding clogging at all points during powder transfer …

    Also, the fuel chosen should burn readily enough in purified compressed oxygen, but be non-ignitable in breathable air. If in a nanoparticulate state it would be ignitable in air whereas in palpably large pieces it is not, then in a fire-taming effort one would have it in palpably large pieces. The side effects of making it inhalable, and hard to clean up when spilled, would also be avoided.

    Similarly, one would not have it generate another fuel, one that burns readily or
    explosively in air, by taking oxygen from that other fuel’s ash.

    Above, BB says,

    … I’m not saying BEVs won’t be the mainstay, but like energy supply, I suggest we have multiple irons in the fire …

    That’s one way, but per kWh of minus-delta-’G’ you need 594 grams of iron and 226.9 grams of oxygen. Change “i” to “bo” and the total reagent mass goes from 820.9 g/kWh down to 212.1 g, including 146.2 grams of oxygen.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  69. All the references above refer to nanoparticle systems, which is why I mention those issues. I don’t think P4TP talks about nanoparticles (my copy’s out on loan so I can’t check what it does say right now), but nor does it provide enough information for me to grasp how the engine might work, so I wasn’t sure if it really did require nanoparticulate boron.

    I’m still none the wiser as to the design of a boron pellet eating engine. Is it an external combustion engine like a steam train? Some sort of Stirling cycle? How do pellets move into and ash move out of the combustion chamber? And there’s that oxygen separator …

    So far I’ve only seen the argument on the basis of the free energy content of the fuel in combustion. There’s a lot of things you can burn. I’m interested in seeing the system that converts that energy into mechanical work. So far, it seems, the ORNL guys have just burnt their materials and have yet to produce a system that produces mechanical work.

  70. I readily admit that the boron car is the farthest of the three from realization, but the principle is sound and with a concerted effort I doubt it would take many years, nor do various physicists and chemists I’ve discussed it with. But in the meantime we could start making ammonia-fueled cars and converting existing IC engines to ammonia power. I didn’t write about it in the book because I didn’t know about it then, but these engines are already being made. Ultimately I think boron will be best, but ammonia can be done here and now, and is already being used to fuel tractors (because farmers have access to ammonia). You just need a lot of hydrogen to make it with (ideally via electrolysis from nuclear plants’ electricity).

    Electric cars obviously can be part of the vehicle power solution. Again, we need nuclear for that.

    As for GREAT, several people have told me they think it’s politically naive, but there are some very highly-placed individuals in government who think it’s a very viable idea, even a necessary one. I don’t claim that the way I present it in P4TP is how it will look in its final form. I only present it as a way of showing how we can both manage fissile material while internationalizing IFRs and maintain the ultimate in safety and economy for consumers of electricity by taking out the profit motive of plant operators (the builders of the IFR plants would still make money hand over fist). Such a system would also assure the inclusion of the very poor nations in the electrical build-out, where otherwise they might well be frozen out for a long time.

    Saying GREAT is a lame idea based on Iran’s refusal to eschew uranium enrichment is just bogus. Iran isn’t being offered anything remotely like GREAT as an alternative. Even with a new name, Ender, your arguments are really weak.

  71. Here is something relevant to add to the mix:
    http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,25740211-5006301,00.html

    South Australia must build a nuclear power plant says expert

    CLARE PEDDIE, SCIENCE REPORTER
    July 06, 2009 03:08pm
    SOUTH Australia must build a nuclear power station within the next 10 years, says the state’s top expert on climate change.

    At the State Government’s Adapting to Climate Change Forum in Adelaide today, Professor Barry Brook said we should aim to build a “fast reactor” in 10 years to provide “a strong, consistent baseload energy source for the future” – or fail in our attempts to avert dangerous climate change

    “We have to start that process now, or we’ll find in 10 years time we’re way behind where we wanted to be,” he said.

    “There is no time to lose.”

    Professor Brook said fast reactors had “huge potential” to supply “enough energy for millions of years” because they burned up to 99 per cent of the nuclear fuel, leaving only a small amount of relatively short-lived waste.

    Fast reactors could even run on the radioactive waste produced by conventional nuclear power plants, solving the problem of what to do with spent fuel rods.

    “It’s a winning scenario,” he said.

    “And the other thing that turned me was that I’m really worried that we can’t do it on renewables. It’s a choice of failing, or having a much better chance of succeeding.”

    Renewable energy such as solar, geothermal and wind power would not replace coal and gas-fired electricity in the short term, he said. And the demand for energy would continue to rise.

  72. Tom Blees – “But in the meantime we could start making ammonia-fueled cars and converting existing IC engines to ammonia power.”

    OR we could use the electric cars that are just coming onto the market now that don’t need nuclear power as you seem to think. V2G will help renewables with batteries the utilities can rent rather than buy. Ammonia is an appalling choice for a widespread fuel. Imagine the consequences of even a small spill.

    “As for GREAT, several people have told me they think it’s politically naive”

    Which is what I thought too. There is no explanation of how such an agreement would be reached. Considering the pathetic response to climate change with all the bickering and self interest groups demanding a place at the trough GREAT is an order of magnitude more difficult problem to implement.

    “Saying GREAT is a lame idea based on Iran’s refusal to eschew uranium enrichment is just bogus.”

    Is it? If your premise for the start of GREAT is correct or even workable an indication would be that powers that want nuclear power for ‘peaceful’ purposes should jump at the chance to get nuclear fuel. Iran has a major power shortage as it wants to generate as much revenue as possible from oil and gas and it has a significant and rising internal demand for energy. Nuclear energy for them is heating in their cold winter allowing more exports of gas. They could have their nuclear reactor sanction free with nuclear fuel from Russia and are turning down cheaper and ‘unlimited’ energy from nuclear power so they can also produce nuclear weapons to counter their perceived threat from Israel and the USA/Britain. I would say that almost every such state would do the same thing even if offered unlimited energy from GREAT. Nuclear power is primarily a weapon of war with civilian nuclear reactors only a spin off from weapons research.

  73. Nuclear power is primarily a weapon of war with civilian nuclear reactors only a spin off from weapons research.

    You arsehole.

    You have had more than enough opportunity (by far!) to identify, recognise and publicise the various failings you percieve to arise from the operation of nuclear power plants. I have witnessed you taking apart nomscientific AGW denialist bullshit in a manner that indicates you know full well what you are taliking about, and I have seem you use the flimsiest of arguments to support any attack on nuclear power production.

    You are not stupid. You know full well what you are trying to do.

  74. Finrod – “You arsehole.”

    Obviously I touched a nerve and if so I apologise.

    The problem is that I cannot seperate nuclear power from nuclear weapons. If you are able to do this then so be it however the facts of India, Pakistan, Isreal, North Korea and South Africa all using civilian nuclear power to produce nuclear weapons. None of these countries would have traded anything for this capability as they thought they needed it to protect their homelands.

    I was not actually attacking nuclear power production at all – I was attacking the premise in P4TP that a country would willingly trade unlimited power for giving up control of their nuclear power in a system like GREAT. I simply pointed out that as these countries really wanted nuclear weapons and used civilian nuclear power as a smokescreen they would have stayed out of GREAT as much as the stayed out of the NPT.

    Also given your fanciful suggestions as to the possible rollout of nuclear power I consider my restraint quite good by not replying in kind.

  75. Finrod – “You arsehole.”

    Obviously I touched a nerve and if so I apologise.

    And I too wish to apologise. I’m sorry I posted that. I should not have been carried away by emotion to that extent, and should have engaged you with rational discussion without resorting to such language.

    The problem is that I cannot seperate nuclear power from nuclear weapons. If you are able to do this then so be it however the facts of India, Pakistan, Isreal, North Korea and South Africa all using civilian nuclear power to produce nuclear weapons. None of these countries would have traded anything for this capability as they thought they needed it to protect their homelands.

    Do the North Koreans even pretend to have a civilian nuclear power program? I thought that they’d always been up front about the military nature of their program.

    At any rate, it hardly matters. Any moderately industrialised nation which desires nuclear weapons can develop them if they feel they absolutely must have them. This issue has nothing to do with civilian power generation one way or the other, and should not enter into discussions about civilian nuclear power.

    I was not actually attacking nuclear power production at all – I was attacking the premise in P4TP that a country would willingly trade unlimited power for giving up control of their nuclear power in a system like GREAT. I simply pointed out that as these countries really wanted nuclear weapons and used civilian nuclear power as a smokescreen they would have stayed out of GREAT as much as the stayed out of the NPT.

    Really? Then you should have clarified that more fully rather than coming out with a statement like “Nuclear power is primarily a weapon of war with civilian nuclear reactors only a spin off from weapons research”.

    Also given your fanciful suggestions as to the possible rollout of nuclear power I consider my restraint quite good by not replying in kind.

    Fanciful? What do you mean?

  76. Finrod – “Still waiting on Gloor’s explanation concerning his “fanciful” remark…”

    I realise also that I should apologise for the “Weapons of war remark” as this is inflammatory and unnecessary. Sometimes it gets the better of me as well.

    As to fanciful I refer to your suggestion in earlier posts that the solution to the world’s problems is to ‘simply’ rollout thousands of nuclear reactors as if energy was the only problem we have, quite apart from the resources needed to bring all the world’s population to our standard of living.

  77. As to fanciful I refer to your suggestion in earlier posts that the solution to the world’s problems is to ’simply’ rollout thousands of nuclear reactors as if energy was the only problem we have, quite apart from the resources needed to bring all the world’s population to our standard of living.

    Apologies for not responding sooner.

    Could you refer directly to the post you’re talking about, so I can discern the context of the comment?

  78. Since we are talking broadly about nuclear weapons and the relationship between these and nuclear power perhaps it’s useful to drill down and try to get at what disturbs us most about them

    Most of us are troubled by the idea of any weapon that has the potential to harm humans that are not merely not party to a conflict at the time, “collateral damage” is part of every military conflict. but in time windows far removed from the actual conflict. The use of defoliants in Indochina for example is still showing up years after the conflict ceased. Ideally then we’d like to remove both these weapons and the possibility of creating them as soon as possible. That’s a given but the world is a far more complex place than that.

    With or without nuclear power all sorts of states will put their hands on these and other horrific weapons — pathological agents and chemicals come to mind. No amount of blocking of nuclear power will prevent that. Most troubling is the idea that unstable or failed states might acquire them because that’s a short step to them being placed into the hands of people who unlike for example North Korea feel as if they could use them symbolically on a target populace without consequences they’d bother about.

    But the trouble is that in none of the places where nuclear weapons exist is there any likelihood that the regime will permanently dismantle them — the genie can;’t be put back into the bottle. The US and the UK and France and Russia and China are not going to do that, even though nuclear weapons are probably useless to them. Conventional weapons can do quite as much damage when it counts and are much more likely in practice to be actually used. A weapon your own populace thinks is evil is not very useful. You can’t really threaten anyone with it.

    Where a nuclear weapon is useful is in the hands of a state that

    a) might well use it
    b) is known to be capable of delivering it against a more powerful and foreseeable enemy
    c) has only limited time and opportunity to stage a sustained attack

    North Korea, left with purely conventional weapons and delivery systems would not last 5 days in a shooting war with any significant power nor could it acquire the assets to do so in any timeframe that is meaningful. If it is to maintain sovereignty it needs a trump — and that is a nuclear weapon. Ditto Iran and Pakistan and Israel at least to some extent. Of course, once you use it, all the advantage is gone because the power you use it against, if it is not devastated — and it probably won’t be will exact military restitution without let or hindrance. So in practice even the small state can’t actually use the weapon. All it can really do is look nutty enough to keep its enemies guessing.

    It’s worth observing that if Saddam really had had deliverable nuclear weapons in 2003 there would probably have been no Iraq War escalation in that year. Perhaps 600,000 fewer Iraqis and about 6000 or so coalition forces would have died and there’d have been fewer injuries too. Indeed the whole scenario from 1991 would have been less bad. Bush probably wouldn’t have been re-elected in 04. Nuclear weapons may well have stopped India and Pakistan going to war in 1999.

    Does that mean the situation is healthier with nukes? Of course not. But as we are unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to deprive those who have them of the weapons, one can look on the bright side. It could be worse. But whatever it is, it has little to do with nuclear power. Thatcher clearly wanted nuclear power so that she could get materiel for Trident rather than seeing Trident as a spin off from nukes. She also wanted to smash the miners’ union who’d destroyed Heath in 1974. But Trident was key. It still is. Blair and Brown are renewing. Rather than fussing about nuclear power we ought to be asking why the hell they want nuclear missiles and whom they are planning to use them on.

    One final observation. Small states really ought not to be spending large sums on defence. Nukes are a lot cheaper than having having a massive army which in some cases, is going to be used mainly or repress the populace in a way that a nuke can’t. One could argue that if nukes aren’t used and if they keep the peace and if small states don’t spend up big on armies then nukes might be the lesser evil, given that we aren’t about to invade and seize them. North Korea has a large army anyway, but one can certainly imagine a small state that wasn’t repressive –Nicaragua in 1979, Bolivia today for example — and one could think of others — who might simply want not to be attacked but not spend up on maintaining a huge army and air force. Please understand — I’m not endorsing them getting nukes — but as I can’t stop them I can understand them thinking it might be the best option.

    The alternative is not banning nuclear power but forcibly depriving states who have them from keeping them and essentially occupying them to prevent programs being reinstated. The US would have to occupy Pakistan and Israel and India and China and talk the other powers into giving them up and doing the occupation. I don’t see that as a saleable proposition. Pakistan? Maybe but not the rest. It would be better to do it cooperatively, as tricky as that is. In the case of Pakistan, DPRK and Israel, you probably have to resolve internal conflicts first. Maybe you could tempt them to use less proliferation-ready technology or offer them cash to design solar thermal instead — though in DPRKs and Israel’s case, it seems doubtful. The question is existential.

  79. Many folks agonise about ‘proliferation problems’ with IFR or other commerical nuclear power, yet fail to admit that if a nation state (or extremely well-funded and well-resourced terrorist group) wanted to proliferate, the favour routes (in order — with other options probably missing) would be:

    1) U-235 enrichment
    2) Small, short-cycle research reactor
    3) Commercial LWR on short cycle with PUREX
    4) Fast Breeder with PUREX
    5) IFR with pyroprocessing or Th-cycle LFTRs

    Why would any nation state go beyond step 2? As I understand it, no one has made it to step 3 since the 1950s (Russia was using graphite-moderated reactors like Chernobyl, not LWRs, to fulfil a dual Pu-breeding/power supply role). With IFRs, you’d never build a PUREX plant. Indeed, I would be delighted if we got rid of all existing PUREX plants as soon as possible — beyond the potential proliferation concern, it wastes Pu in MOX that would be better used as start charges for IFRs or LFTRs.

  80. Pingback: Is clean nuclear power finally an green option?

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