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View Diary: Who can own the future? (262 comments)

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  •  One idea perhaps (17+ / 0-)

    If nuclear reactors are small, 10s of MW and about the size of a car, intrinsically safe so even a total idiot can't blow it up, and can be popped off an assembly line like cars (hence dirt cheap), then we could have distributed power for all kinds of things.  Local cooperatives could use this power in many ways.  Grow local food (greenhouses that can be heated and lit by artificial light without a thought of energy cost), heat the village by district heating loops (heat your home without a thought toward the cost of the power), you name it.  With cheap power, you could do almost anything.  

    Distributed nuclear heat with a cheap fission-power module that comes with decades-worth of fuel built-in can FREE people from the shackles of Big Corp.  Right now, the thing that enslaves us is our dependency on huge corporations to sell us the dirty and expensive energy we need to survive (food, heat/light, transportation, etc.).  Controlling access to energy is THE biggest racket going.  Just ask Exxon, with hundreds of BILLIONS in revenue.

    Making nuclear heat cheap and universally available is perhaps the biggest threat imaginable to fossil-fuelled energy racket. Perhaps the best thing we can do as a  society is learn how not to be afraid of fission and how to put it to work to serve us.  The implications of universal access to cheap energy are huge.  One small lump of Uranium could power a village for 25 years.  Imagine, unlimited power on demand... its almost like magic, except that it is really possible because fission is 50,000,000 times more energetic than combustion.

    The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

    by mojo workin on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 06:44:42 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  I recall reading about a reactor design... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Subterranean

      ....that was essentially a big frying pan filled with marbles, the marbles being fissionable material surrounded by some sort of insulating material that prevents enough nuclear fuel getting concentrated into a mass that could achieve criticality, instead of superheating steam and requiring elaborate cooling systems to keep it from melting down, it would just get "warm" (whatever THAT means) enough to power some sort of operating fluid in a heat-cool cycle and produce electricity...

      This still doesn't deal with the issue of what to do with the spent marbles....

      "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

      by leftykook on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:10:55 AM PDT

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      •  Don't you still have the problem of generating (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Panacea Paola

        more heat than can be dissipated, leading to an exacerbation of global warming?  In fact climate change is the elephant in the room that this very interesting article failed to address.

        •  I think the overall heat generated by the... (9+ / 0-)

          ...civilization as a whole is apparently small compared to the heat generated by changing the way the atmosphere holds heat.

          IE, "global warming" is not the same thing as the heat generated by our direct actions, the climate changes are caused by gasses we've released into the atmosphere, not from the heat radiated into the environment by our devices.

          "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

          by leftykook on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 08:09:29 AM PDT

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          •  Right, but that's because energy is expensive. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            leftykook

            Once it's "free", you can bet we won't be using just 15TW anymore.  If it grows by just a few orders of magniture, we enter the territory where it's comparable to the energy we get from the sun.

            But I agree that if we simultaneously solve the problem of greenhouse gases, this becomes less of a concern.

        •  Too bad we can't (or can we?) pull the 'warming' (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SuWho

          out of global warming and convert that energy to our use. Thus solving 2 problems at once.

          I can dream can't I?

          Help us to save free conscience from the paw Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw. ~John Donne

          by ohiolibrarian on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 02:00:20 PM PDT

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      •  You're talking about PBMRs (0+ / 0-)

        (Pebble Bed Modular Reactors), one of the most overhyped next-gen reactors out there.  They play up its "safety" way too much, and they have to, because they plan to build them without a freaking containment structure to try to save money (because nuclear is always absurdly expensive, and costs keep rising, not falling).  

        The reality is that PBMRs have already suffered a release of radioactive material even in the small-scale experimental phase.  It's a massively difficult problem.  First off, there's no way you can ensure good enough quality control that all of the tens of thousands of fuel pellets at each reactor will be properly made - and failures propagate.  And within each pellet are dozens to hundreds of individual fuel grains, each also supposedly sealed, and any rupture increasing the rate of corrosion.  When constantly churning through so many pellets, you're also pretty much guarantee that you'll at some point get some sort of jam or crush fuel pellets or something of that nature.  Jams also mean your pellets get pushed together tigher than they're supposed to, and broken pieces can fill the gaps between pellets, all meaning that your reaction rate rises higher than it was supposed to.  Your reactor operates at very, very high temperatures, and the supposed method of backup cooling is air cooling - air going right through the reactor core.  Defects in your graphite (helped along by the constant radiation flux) could easily spell fire in such a circumstance, with propagation aided by the rising core temperature.  New, proper nuclear-grade graphite is fire resistant, but even it erodes, and but burning graphite is believed to have been what spread most of the radioactive material at chernobyl.  Oh, and some PBMR designs have a secondary water/steam loop near the core.  Steam + graphite + heat = hot hydrogen = explosion.

        I could keep going, but you get the picture.  Now envision that without a containment structure.  Containment structures have save our collective arses over and over, way more than most people realize.  You simply don't emit that, no matter how much you want to hype your design.

        The main way they try to hype them is by pushing the whole negative void coefficient argument - that is to say, as temperatures rise, the reaction rate falls.  But that's already the case in most reactors on Earth today; there are very few positive void coefficient reactors out there.

        If I had to pick a nuclear reactor design to go with, I'd probably go with the Russian BREST design.  It's very simple in form, so less stuff to break.  It's a fast reactor (aka, it burns through all your uranium, not just fraction of a percent), yielding little waste, which is much more easily recycled.  It can burn excess plutonium from nuclear weapons and even waste from regular slow-neutron reactors.  The reactor core is dozens of meters underground, so it forms a natural tomb and any radiation has to pass through significant ground to reach the surface.  Unlike most fast reactors, it uses molten lead/bismuth as the coolant, not sodium; the USSR has been learning about how to avoid corrosion from molten lead/bismuth for the past 50 years and have pretty much gotten it nailed down.  So by not using that mix, not only is your coolant not a highly explosive material which can react with the very concrete of your containment structure (aka, sodium), but it means that even in the case of some unexpected runaway defect, your reactor is automatically entombed in lead.  The design is, like a PBMR, capable of not melting down just using natural convection as its cooling system (in this case, convection of lead instead of helium or air).  The surface containment structure is smaller and not as demanding - as if a crashed plane or missile or whatnot is going to cause a problem to something at the bottom of many meters of molten lead.  Etc.  And any leak caused by a major natural disaster (powerful enough to damage an underground concrete cistern, would have to be very powerful) would automatically be sealed off by the escaping lead/bismuth mix as it cooled.

        And on and on.  I think it's a brilliant design, safety-wise.  But like all nuclear reactors, it'd still probably be way too expensive.

        •  Oh, and also (0+ / 0-)

          while BREST doesn't get as hot as a PBMR, it still gets very hot (as you'd guess from the whole molten-metal aspect).  Hot enough for very good efficiency and for direct thermal hydrogen production if desired or other such thermal reactions.

    •  This is (8+ / 0-)

      fascinating.
      http://www.youtube.com/...

      Thorium Reactors. Most likely squelched by big oil.

      Mojo, can you imagine if someone came out with a completely safe small reactor like you mentioned. You'd see big oil and their political puppets screaming "Regulate! REGULATE!!!"

      "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

      by fugwb on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:28:56 AM PDT

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      •  They ALREADY DO (8+ / 0-)

        With regard to licensing of new reactor types, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission won't even offer a guess as to when they could even start to look at it.  Then it would be 5 years of paperwork, as it is now with old reactor designs.  So, innovation such a pebble-bed reactors, molten-salt reactors, etc. are rendered still-born.  I believe it is ON PURPOSE to protect the Exxon-economy.  

        BTW, proliferation is one of their standard arguments for fear and hyper-regulation, but one cannot make a bomb from reactor-grade plutonium.  

        As for fear, radiation is actually a weak carcinogen.  You need a lot to cause harm - about 1000 times higher than current regulated limits.  See Radiation and Reason.  A nuclear plant is not permitted to emit radiation to the extent of 10 times LESS than natural background.  How that is helpful to public health, I don't know.  But, I sure know how such a reg as that drives costs to the sky.  Again, either they are stupid to use such an unreasonable limit or its on purpose...

        The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

        by mojo workin on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 08:42:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks Mojo. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          4CasandChlo, orlbucfan

          And we go merrily on down the road while our worthless, whore politicians continue to do their master's bidding.....

          But hey! We've got McDonald's and American Idol!!....

          "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

          by fugwb on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 09:04:22 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Instead, I think they would all be issuing state- (0+ / 0-)

        ments regretting the loss of the "brilliant minds" in all those "tragic accidents.  (Heh, heh.)"

    •  The problem with fission power is corpitalism (5+ / 0-)

      & its enablers in a government of the profits, by the profits & for the profits.

      I'm a huge fan of liquid fluoride thorium (breeder) reactor technology--or rather, the prospect of what a mature LFTR culture (which promises to be highly efficient, non-proliferating, relatively small, nearly-waste-free & -disaster-proof) could mean for the planet & the species.

      The central advantage of the LFTR is the liquid fuel cycle, which permits inclusion of a reprocessing loop to (among other things) remove reaction-poisoning fission products such as xenon-135. The buildup of those elements inside the metal-clad solid fuel elements used in contemporary light water reactors is the main reason LWRs are so inefficient--the rods have to be pulled after only a tiny fraction of the fissionable material has been "burned" (& then form the vast majority of so-called "nuclear waste"). Meanwhile a LFTR, like a certain pink rabbit with a bass drum, keeps going & going & going...& (quite probably) could be tweaked to gobble up that "spent fuel" now sitting at the bottom of LWR holding ponds in a Cerenkov-blue glow.

      It seemed so clear to me this was the way atomic power should be going that it stunned me how sublimely uninterested DOE has been in encouraging the growth of the technology. They are far more focused on pushing things like "pebble-bed" reactors--which are much more accident-proof than current LWRs but don't share the LFTR's efficiency in extracting energy from fissionable material.

      Then I asked myself how the contemporary nuclear industry manages to survive with new reactor construction at a standstill.

      The answer: Fabricating replacement fuel rods for existing LWRs..

      Implement LFTR technology--whose fuel is fluoridated, not fabricated--would put a corp(se) like Westingrump (my term for the nuclear remnant of a once-proud company I once worked for) out of business as the old LWRs go out of service. (Not to mention putting most uranium mines out of business--while thorium, 4 times as abundant as uranium, is a byproduct of mining for rare earths, which are already hot commodities for hi-tech applications.)

      But "pebble-beds" will have the same problem of reaction-poison buildup inside the graphite-shelled pebbles. A simple change of fabrication machinery & the Westingrumps (along with the low-grade uranium mines) of the world keep profiting from inefficiency. And governments of corpitalist economies know that the surest way to oblivion is to break the corpitalists' rice bowls...

      BALTIMORE RAVENS--SUPER BOWL XLVII CHAMPIONS! WOOO-HOOO!

      by Uncle Cosmo on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 08:24:48 AM PDT

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    •  can't be done (0+ / 0-)

      to make a nuclear reactor work you are at the core of it,
      tickling the dragons tail. you want sustained criciticality
      but not a chain reaction.

      you live on the knifes edge.

      screw up and you lose it.

      •  Not so sure about that... (0+ / 0-)

        People who work in nuclear submarines are cheek-by-jowl with a bloody reactor.  Sealed inside a steel tube with a reactor.  Hundreds of small nuclear reactors have been operated all over the place by the US Navy for many decades without incident.

        The thing is, "losing it" implies a run-away criticality situation.   Reactors can be engineered to guarantee this can never happen, guaranteed by the physics of the fuel and reactor design.  Chernobyl was a reactor design that did not have this feature.  Even at that, it was not a "nuclear" explosion.  It was a power excursion that resulted in a massive steam explosion - without any kind of containment structure.  No reactor in the world could be certified to operate with a design such as this today.  

        A bomb must be upward of 90% fissile material.  A reactor uses fuel that is just a few % fissile content.  A CANDU reactor uses natural uranium, with no enrichment at all.  There is no way that a reactor can go up like a nuclear bomb.  It is physically impossible.

        The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

        by mojo workin on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 06:31:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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