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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-30-07 03:28 AM
Original message
The Nuclear Option: Facts & Fantasies [ASPO 06 presentation]

The Nuclear Option: Facts & Fantasies

Michael Dittmar has given me permission to post this message.

-- Philip B. / Washington, DC

>From: michael_d132000 <michael.dittmar@...>
Sent: Sep 25, 2007 7:28 AM
Subject: My ASPO 06 contribution


I am back from Ireland and need to keep up with all the things I havn't done
during the last week(s).

Just quickly now, in case you want to have a look, you can find my presentation
(on the morning of the second day) here.

The reaction was kind of overwhelming and even three days later people came to
thank me and congrateulate me.



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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-30-07 04:31 PM
Response to Original message
1. Um, well, let's see...
What is it exactly that makes Michael Dittmar an expert in uranium extraction?

Let me guess, he's one of the oracles of your imagination because he says what you want to hear...

The guy is a physicist. He is not a mining engineer, he is not a nuclear engineer, he is not a chemist, and he is not a geologist.

In general the anti-nuclear industry, it attempts to posit its own actions as indicative of physics.

The anti-nuclear industry, lead by people like the Gazprom executive Gerhard Schroeder and the Royal Dutch Shell consultant, Amory Lovins, tried to destroy the world's largest, by far, source of climate change gas free of energy, mostly because, like most religions, it had a poor interaction with science.

Having peaked somewhere around 1990, the anti-nuclear industry created economic uncertainty for nuclear power. At the middle of the 1990's, in the meantime, a large surplus of uranium was created by the Russian-American treaty to fission surplus weapons uranium.

Frankly, 500 dumb power point presentations from 500 people using the "appeal to authority" logical fallacy do not mean a thing.

Particularly amusing is the claimed "special knowledge" about the seawater experiments. One would think that a scientist would know that the existence of a single experiment usually proves very little.

The antinuclear industry has been predicting uranium shortages for 50 years. It's been predicting regular nuclear accidents for 50 years. It has been predicting nuclear war based on power for 50 years. About the only thing it didn't predict was the nuclear renaissance and the quadrupling of nuclear output over the last 30 years.

Basically the anti-nuclear industry has a big, big, big, big, big credibility problem, not that many religions are checked by reality.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-30-07 04:48 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Do you disagree with his statements on uranium supply/demand?
i.e. demand is 67,000 tonnes/yr and current supply is only 40,000? And that supply seems to be on a declining trend right now despite rising prices (does that remind anyone else of the situation with oil)?

How about the fact that the WNA reference scenarios will require the world to double or triple uranium production over the next 20 years? Do your credentials in uranium mining permit you to say with authority that such targets can be met?

How about his predicted net growth rate of 0.3% based on the published list of planned projects vs. the shutdown of aging reactors?

We may want and need fission power, but just as with the case of renewables, wanting it and needing aren't the same as getting it.

The realistic maximum prospects for nuclear power look to me like an increase in net capacity of 50% over the next 25 years. What current trends (not just hoping and wishing) can you point to that would contradict this assessment?
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-30-07 10:18 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. Um, well, yeah.
Edited on Sun Sep-30-07 10:21 PM by NNadir
I absolutely disagree that the world is going to run out of nuclear resources in the lifetime of anyone now living.

Then again, I've spent lots of time reading about advanced fuel cycles. I happen to know the difference between CORAIL and MOX-UE, not one of which was mentioned here.

Neither was the Radkowsky fuel cycle mentioned. In fact, the presentation is at a rather low level. The remarks on tritium breeding are roughly correct, but I have never been on this website hawking fusion.

Looking at the current fuel cycle and pulling out a little excel spreadsheet and making a cute graph based on current enrichments and burn-ups doesn't cut it, not even remotely.

Further I've actually read all 17 papers on amidoxime resins which are so blithely dismissed in this (poorly edited) "presentation," with its website links.

In fact, I have most of them on my hard drive. For instance from Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2000, 39, 2910-2915, which could have been referenced in this presentation but somehow wasn't - it took me about 2 minutes to find it and download it - we can read:

The amount of uranium adsorbed in the submerged mode of operation at an ocean site for 20 days of contact is shown in Figure 8a as a function of the weight ratio of AN/MAA or AN/HEMA in the monomer mixture. The AO fibers prepared by cografting MAA with AN at a weight ratio of AN/MAA of 60/40 and subsequent amidoximation exhibited a maximum value of 0.90 g of U/kg. However, the submerged mode of operation includes some uncertainity because the temperature and velocity of the seawater vary according to weather and seawater conditions. The uranium adsorptivity of the fibrous adsorbents was ascertained in the flow-through mode in a laboratory, where the temperature and flow rate of seawater were maintained at prescribed values. A similar dependence of the amount of uranium adsorbed on x/y was observed as shown in Figure 8b.

Note that very little has been done to optimize this approach, but it is relatively easy to see that with a breeding ratio of close to one - and I'm leaving fast cycles out of this arbitrarily - a reactor with a reasonable neutron efficiency and a breeding ratio near one can operate for decades on the annual output of 500,000 tons of resin - assuming there is no other source of uranium. The thermodynamic penalty is small, since, ironically enough, the energy driver for the separation - which produces essentially a low grade uranium ore - is solar energy - the ocean currents.

A breeding ratio of 1.00 is easily approachable with existing types of thermal reactors particularly those types using thorium - an element in the periodic table which apparently the "presenter" never heard about. Currently most of the world's thorium is dumped as a side product from monzanite ore processing for lanthanides.

India - which is rich in thorium - is actively developing a thorium fuel cycle and in fact the very first nuclear reactor in the United States, the Shippingport reactor operated on thorium for its last fuel cycle. Thus the technology for thermal breeding is about 40 years old, though you'd never hear it from our "calculate the amount of U-235 available from mines" set.

If one can operate thermal reactors at such a breeding ratio, it is really, really, really, really silly to build elaborate liquid metal fast breeders - not that they won't work. The anti-nukes, with their rather childish insistence that nuclear technology unlike what they say their pet solar systems - which have yet to produce a single exajoule - is locked in the 1970s. Actually the advances in material science since say, 1975, have been enormous.

The main reason that advanced fuel cycles were not developed in the 1970's was 1) uranium proved to be far more common than ever believed and 2) nuclear power was constrained in its growth rate by technical (but probably inevitable) growing pains and thus less uranium was needed than expected and 3) artificial and fanciful fears of plutonium based on silly war scenarios produced by the likes of Amory Lovins, internationally famous Walmart marketing genius.

Japan has built a reprocessing facility recently and plans to expand it, in spite of the fact that recent earthquake that killed everyone in the country. France has examined proposals for its plutonium inventories and has decided that about 600 MT would keep the fires burning for quite a long time.

Some fast spectrum reactors will probably prove necessary - should humanity survive climate change (and it won't without nuclear power) - if only to minimize the accumulation of higher actinides like curium, although curium-244, curium-242 and plutonium-238 all offer the potential of an extra "kick" per kg because of their high thermal output from alpha decay. A few grams of Cm-242 (half life about 162 days) could provide about the average power output of a typical human being on this planet, about 2000 watts. Regrettably only a few hundred kilograms of this isotope could ever accumulate because of radioequilibrium, but in fact one could extend actinide resources by a few percent by this simple, currently unused approach (except on spacecraft like Cassini and Voyager).

Uranium is about as common as tin, and tin is not a particularly rare element. The energy density of uranium is enormous. One kg of uranium, fully fissioned represents about 600,000 gallons of gasoline. The fact is that the world ran all of its nuclear power plants on inventory through the 1990's, making uranium an almost worthless commodity as a mined fuel.

As it happens, only a tiny fraction of the available energy in uranium is extracted. If you haven't read a single nuclear technology article since 1968, you might believe that these resources cannot be recovered, but on the other hand if you keep up with modern literature, you quickly recognize that only a tiny subset of approaches to breeding have ever been touched. There are, for instance, nearly an infinite set of molten salt reactors, but none have been commercially developed. Why? Because the existing pressurized water reactor was so damn good, they weren't needed.

As it happens, fuel burn ups, particularly with thorium - which has mystically stayed out of this presentation for the reason that the point of the presentation seems to be yet another paean that we're all going to die - is missing. Reactor burn-ups have risen from less than 20,000 MW-day/MTHM in the 1960's and 1970's to well over double that figure, but there is no intrinsic reason to expect that higher burn-ups are not feasible in one fuel cycle. Recently reactors have been approaching 2 years without refueling and records are being rather regularly broken, accounting for the huge rise in capacity utilization. Burn-ups of 45,000 MW-day/MTHM are now pretty routine from my understanding.

Nuclear power can do enormous things. Consider that while the anti-nukes were bitching about nuclear power and claiming with a rather curious inattention to the tragedy of dangerous fossil fuels; dangerous fossil fuel waste, dangerous fossil fuel terrorism, dangerous fossil fuel depletion, dangerous fossil fuel war, etc, etc, the output of nuclear power went to nearly 30 exajoules of primary energy, nearly quadrupling since 1980, without building all that many new reactors. Imagine if people had been remotely sensible and literate about the subject. We might not be in this fix.

In the same period that nuclear was quadrupling on an exajoule scale, with all kinds of cheering, the non-hydro renewable energy has remained below 2 exajoules as electricity, where it has been for nearly 50 years.

Will realizing nuclear's potential be easy and cheap? No, of course not. However it will be easier and cheaper than all other options, because there really are no better options. There never have been and there never will be probably.

In fact, nuclear power is the only new ten exajoule scale form of primary energy developed in the last 50 years. If it doesn't work, nothing will work.

The one size fits all "peak" fantasy may apply to oil and coal and gas and in fact should apply to them because they are so dangerous but frankly, I find it reasonable to consider that nuclear resources may, in fact, be quite nearly renewable, given that most of the earth's internal heat derives from uranium thorium and that nuclear materials are continuously recycled from earth's mantle. As to how "renewable" they are, uranium resources may be better in fact than things like biofuels, which are hardly really renewable given the fact that they mine soil and water and depend on industrially fixed nitrogen to work. Certainly the external cost of nuclear is lower than biofuels and the return on both energy invested and money invested is much, much, much, much larger.

It doesn't matter, though, whether nuclear energy can do everything. I think it can - at least in a world with a reduced population - and I find all the tortured representations like this silly presentation rather amusing. The point is that we should test the limits of what nuclear can do by investing in it heavily. It gives the biggest bang for the buck, by far.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-01-07 05:58 AM
Response to Reply #4
6. Do androids dream of nuclear sheep?
Edited on Mon Oct-01-07 06:22 AM by GliderGuider
I absolutely disagree that the world is going to run out of nuclear resources in the lifetime of anyone now living.

That's a disappointing straw-man argument from someone of your obvious acumen. It's the same one, in fact, made by the dangerous fossil fuel lobby when anyone raises the spectre of Peak Oil. Nobody is saying we were going to run out of either oil or uranium. What we are trying to decide is whether uranium (or other nuclear sources) will be able to fill a looming global energy shortfall.

You seem to put a lot of faith in the immediate availability of thorium reactors. Here's a comment on their status , from the Uranium Information Centre (a knowledgeable source, I think you might agree):

Despite the thorium fuel cycle having a number of attractive features, development even on the scale of India's has always run into difficulties. Problems include:

* the high cost of fuel fabrication, due partly to the high radioactivity of U-233 chemically separated from the irradiated thorium fuel. Separated U-233 is always contaminated with traces of U-232 (69 year half life but whose daughter products such as thallium-208 are strong gamma emitters with very short half lives);
* the similar problems in recycling thorium itself due to highly radioactive Th-228 (an alpha emitter with 2 year half life) present;
* some weapons proliferation risk of U-233 (if it could be separated on its own); and
* the technical problems (not yet satisfactorily solved) in reprocessing.

Much development work is still required before the thorium fuel cycle can be commercialized, and the effort required seems unlikely while (or where) abundant uranium is available. In this respect international moves to bring India into the ambit of international trade will be critical. If India has ready access to traded uranium and conventional reactor designs, it may not persist with the thorium cycle.

Nevertheless, the thorium fuel cycle, with its potential for breeding fuel without the need for fast-neutron reactors, holds considerable potential long-term. It is a significant factor in the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.

That's hardly a ringing industry endorsement of thorium. It almost sounds like we will be stuck using mostly uranium from mines for the next decade or two, at least for commercial power generation.

Despite your impressive technical self-education, I have much the same problem with your position as I do with the wind-and-sun crowd. The emphasis of both is primarily on looking back (to assess blame on those who stood in the way of development), and looking forward to some unspecified point in the future where the technology will finally triumph over its naysayers and save humanity. Both positions ignore the conditions of the present and resolutely refuse to acknowledge any of the myriad technical, economic and social difficulties that stand in the way. In both cases those challenges apparently "will be overcome with sufficient investment".

In a way, each position has an inverse set of opportunities and challenges here in the present. Nuclear has the advantage of its current scale, which you rightly point out. Wind and solar, at the moment (and in the near future) do not. However wind and solar have remarkable present-day growth rates which nuclear does not. This of course is largely due to social acceptability factors.

The real problem is that both technologies are operating under severe a time constraint at this point. If the "net oil export" scenarios that are beginning to float around are anywhere near correct, oil importing nations have about ten years to develop supplementary energy solutions, as net exports may well drop to zero in that time. Such a deadline does not bode well for either renewables or nuclear, given the state of the installed base on one hand and social acceptance on the other. Just as I insist that jpak and JohnWxy acknowledge the challenges their pet technologies face, I insist the same of you. Being a realist, of course, I have no expectation that any of you will do that.

Of course humanity should not put all its eggs in any one technical basket. Given the severity of the problem on the horizon there should and will be investment in all possible solutions from the sublime to the ridiculous. Both nuclear and renewables will be given the opportunity to prove themselves in a variety of marketplaces: the investment marketplace, the technical marketplace, the marketplace of public acceptance, and the market for the electricity they produce.

Given my reading of the situation humanity is in right now, I strongly expect that both nuclear and renewables will fail to deliver on the promises of their proponents, leaving us with the two C's: Conservation and Coal. Which, when you put it like that, adds up to a third C: Catastrophe. That's a conclusion based on a reading not of the past or the future, but of the present.

I will close with your own words:

In fact, nuclear power is the only new ten exajoule scale form of primary energy developed in the last 50 years. If it doesn't work, nothing will work.
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jpak Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-30-07 06:19 PM
Response to Reply #1
3. He's a physicist - not a hobbyist
'nuff sed...
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-30-07 11:02 PM
Response to Reply #3
5. Oh really? What kind of physics does he do?
Edited on Sun Sep-30-07 11:04 PM by NNadir
Is there some reason that working an accelerator suddenly makes you an expert in geology?

The anti-nuclear industry loves to present people who don't work in the nuclear industry as "experts."

The asshole Walmart executive Amory Lovins - hydrogen hyper car enthusiast - and Royal Dutch Shell marketing consultant - advertises himself as a physicist, even though his primary work - and very, very, very, very, very, very, very stupid work it was - is in the "physics" journal Foreign Affairs.

One wonders why, if nuclear resources are running out and nuclear energy is going to collapse - like the asshole Walmart executive predicted in 1980 - the anti-nuke industry spends so much time crying and crying and crying.

I mean if they believed themselves, won't they stop crying and just wait for the industry to go away?

Let's look at what the shit for brains Walmart executive wrote in 1980, in the "physics" journal Foreign Affairs in 1980, page 1138, Fall edition.

...Nuclear power elsewhere is in grave difficulties. Only in centrally planned economies, notably France and the U.S.S.R., is bureaucratic power sufficient to override, if not overcome, economic facts. The high nuclear growth forecasts that drove INFCE'S endorsement of fast breeder reactors are thus mere wishful thinking. For fundamental reasons which we shall describe, nuclear power is not commercially viable, and questions of how to regulate an inexorably expanding world nuclear regime are moot. We shall argue that the collapse of nuclear power in response to the discipline of the marketplace is to be welcomed, for nuclear power is both the main driving force behind proliferation and the least effective known way to displace oil: indeed, it retards oil displacement by the faster, cheaper and more attractive means which new developments in energy policy now make available to all countries...

Thus spake the "physicist" 27 years ago.

And now, not that we'd wish to trouble a "physicist" with something called numbers:

There is not ONE member of the anti-nuke industry who knows shit from shinola about numbers, not one.

Oh, and let's compare the numbers in the United States:

You come here, with your special insight to all things scientific, to announce that solar energy is a grand success and - reciting the rosary of your religion - that nuclear power has failed.

From the above table, Mr. "'Nuf Said" it would appear that you are totally and completely unaware of what the ratio between 8.16 Quads and 0.066 Quads is, not that you have ever understood what either a quad or an exajoule is. Here let me help you: It's about 124.

If you believe that solar is a success and nuclear is a failure, when the later contributes a factor of 124 more energy than the former, I have some hydrogen hypercar SUV company stock I'd like to sell you.

Oh, I see. It's Ronald Reagan's fault. That senile old fuck has been brain dead for about 20 years, but still, it's a great excuse, no? Let's not forget Dick Cheney too. It's all Dick Cheney's fault. He's the one who's responsible for the dismal performance of renewables in Germany.

How are your pals over in Germany? Do they miss their chief anti-nuke Gerhard Schroeder now that he's working for Gazprom and pulling down the big bucks? Have they cancelled even one of their new proposed 26 massive new coal plants?


The big solar brazillion German solar roof program hasn't done everything?.

Why am I not surprised?

Paying an anti-nuke Chancellor big bucks has been good for the gas business in Germany, I see:

Gas consumption rose by 11% from 2002 to 2005 in Germany by 0.39 exajoules. Good marketing.

The big deal renewable energy business rose in the same period by 0.10 exajoules.


I guess they couldn't care less about dangerous fossil waste in Germany - we already knew that - since they can't even keep up with dangerous fossil growth there with their big, big, big, big, big renewable energy scheme. Just wait until they fire up their twenty-six new coal plants!

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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-01-07 01:43 PM
Response to Original message
7. The most interesting part of that presentation is the chart of reactor ages.
Based on that data, here's a graph of what our nuclear future might look like:

I started with the data from the reactor age chart and the nuclear energy consumption figures for 1965-2006 from The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2007. I assumed a 40 year lifespan for the reactors. Each year I removed the reactors in year (y-40) and added in an estimate of that year's newly-constructed reactor capacity. The high rate of construction in the 1970s and 1980s causes the massive fall in capacity 1n 2010 to 2030 as those reactors age out.

The construction forecast I used called for 3 GW/year for the next 10 years, 4.5 GW/yr for the subsequent decade, 6 GW/year for the next two decades, followed by a 1% pa decline in new construction until 2100 (when we would still be installing 3.5 GW/yr). Personally I think that's too optimistic, but I wanted to be generous.

So basically we're at Peak Nuke right about now, due to the aging of the installed base and our inability to replace those reactors as they age. One good thing is that under this scenario we might not outrun our uranium supply, since by 2020 the requirement would be back under 50,000 tonnes/yr.
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