As many readers of this blog probably know, the Integral Fast Reactor project was killed by a very narrow Senate vote in 1994, with the connivance of the Clinton administration.
This was all done very much behind the scenes. The public at large had no knowledge of what was going on (I sure didn't), and what happened was probably driven by a few relatively narrow special interests.
Times have changed.
In an effort to dis-intermediate government a bit, the Obama administration (Energy sec'y: Steven Chu) has a new feature on the White House website called "We The People". It allows people to create petitions asking the White House to examine certain topics. If a petition receives 5000 endorsements, it gets a closer examination. This isn't anything like a guarantee of action, but at least it's something. If nothing else, it forces someone close to the seat of power to get familiar with the issue.
There is currently an active petition to "restart the Integral Fast Reactor nuclear power technology program". As of this posting, it has 465 out of the required 5000 signatures. I recommend that all readers of this blog, who are US citizens, take the following steps to sign the petition:
5000 signatures are required by October 29. That is about 300 signatures a day. We need to push this. Be part of it.
North Sea gas production has slumped by 25% in the second quarter of the year, an alarming increase in the rate of decline that will cut tax revenues and could put more pressure on government to agree controversial shale gas developments.
Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also show a 36% rise in coal imports, but a leap from 6.3% to 9.6% for the amount of electricity generated by wind and other renewables.
The department records that the output of oil and associated gas liquids fell by 16% in the three months to the end of June, compared with a year earlier – the biggest decline since records began 16 years ago.
This left Britain importing 3.6m tonnes of oil in the second quarter, compared with 2.8m tonnes in the same period of 2010, even though total oil demand fell by 1.7%.
But the largest fall was in the amount of gas produced from the southern North Sea, where operators have been arguing that projects may have to be shut down because of a rise in government taxes in the last budget.
On this day ten years ago I was fighting my way through morning rush-hour traffic, going to an out-of-town plant to work on some production issues. After getting through the worst of it, I stopped for refreshment and another motorist told me that a small plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I switched from the CD player to the radio, and listened the rest of the way as the horror unfolded. By the time I got live TV coverage, the towers had collapsed. The TVs at rest stops showed the smoking rubble all day.
At my destination, people were desperately filling up every gasoline container they could find. I saw two men with a trailer full of brand-new 5-gallon cans, filling them all. I filled my car with enough fuel to get me through the week and home again. I had hoped to get a New York Times the following morning. I don't think I saw one that whole week.
The lack of contrails in the sky was eerie.
The agents behind the first (failed) WTC attack, and the suicide nature of the successful one, suggested strongly that it came from Islamists, specifically Al Qaeda. This was later proven; the attackers were from the Middle East, all Muslim, 15 of the 19 from Saudi Arabia. Our so-called "friends" there killed roughly 3000 people that day, mostly Americans, on American soil. Yet there was zero political response to this in Washington; while illegal Pakistani immigrants received a lot of attention and many returned home abruptly, the Saudi royal family was treated with kid gloves.
Nothing has changed in that respect. The US government has, against all reason, expanded allowances for Saudi immigration. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was admitted to the US in 1999 (after the first WTC attack) and granted US citizenship in 2009!
US immigration and citizenship policy is somewhere between reckless and suicidal. The question everyone should be asking is "Why?", followed immediately by "How do we fix it?"
It's easy to see why. The answer is "oil money". We have done precious little to wean ourselves off oil since 9/11 (Congress and the Bush administration continued policies of guzzler promotion for years after the attacks), and all those dollars flowing to Riyadh and Caracas and Kuwait flow back as political influence. We're not buying oil with dollars or grain, we're handing over control of our government.
It's imperative to cut US dependency on oil. The price of oil wouldn't matter to the economy if there wasn't an effective "petro-state tax" on most people just to get to work. I did what I could in 2004, when I cut my fuel needs by about 1/3. But today I'd find it hard to do that again. I'd need to get up to 60 MPG or so, and there are precious few vehicles sold in the USA which can do that. The Volt (sold out for months) is good for a couple iterations of this game and the latest Prius is in the ballpark, but the Fusion hybrid barely ekes out the mileage I often get today.
We've done practically nothing. We've continued to hand money and power to the people who've proven they will use it to do us harm. If it were only our elites I'd say it was treason, but sentiment among ordinary Americans is the same. See no evil, and drain the retirement account to fill up the pickup to take the toy-hauler and the 4-wheelers out for a weekend on the trails.
Fixing this requires a complete 180 in attitude. Oil must be treated as a necessary evil, but an evil. Guzzling vehicles and wasteful driving must be subject to both fines and social opprobrium. We need the PNGV or something like it back pronto, expanded production of all supply-chain components for hybrids and PHEVs (preferably all sited in the USA), feebates, higher gas taxes, the works. We can't manage a full war footing yet, but we need urgent action NOW. That attitude shift would help fix the flow of dangerous immigrants as well. We should have no Faisal Shahzads or Umar Abdulmutallabs or even Richard Reids coming into the USA.
I don't see this happening. Anyone who advocates any of the necessary changes is immediately stigmatized as "anti-American" (like R. James Woolsey?) or "islamophobic" (which is only half a step from "racist"). There's a stone wall, maintained by both major political parties, against making the changes we urgently needed to make starting on that clear sunny day ten years ago.
If this country doesn't wake up and get a clue, we're doomed.
Bureaucracy is a tool to keep the world as it is, not to change it. So, in perfect Tainter-style, the system works hard to avoid innovation, not to promote it. It is almost impossible to be financed to study resource depletion; that would highlight problems that would require changes and that's a no-no. Instead, it is still possible to obtain research grants as long as there is no risk that the results will threaten the status quo. Hydrogen as a fuel is a good example. It is high-tech, fashionable, sophisticated, popular, environmentally friendly, and it doesn't work. This last characteristic makes sure that its development will bring no changes whatsoever.—Ugo Bardi.
Note this well: "the Army... has the regulatory authority to approve new reactors for military bases without NRC involvement."
Also presenting was Col. Paul Roege, U.S. Army, who delivered the event’s other piece of important news. The Pentagon, Roege said, could be able and willing to offer licensing capability for companies building LFTRs or other forms of innovative nuclear power reactors. Most thorium advocates agree that the NRC is unlikely in the near term to license alternative reactor designs – even ones, like LFTRs, that have been thoroughly proven out in operation. Given the military’s need for clean, modular, transportable energy sources for forward operating bases, the swiftest routes to a license could be through the Army, which has the regulatory authority to approve new reactors for military bases without NRC involvement.
In the traditional licensing process, Roege said, “Innovative reactors are at the end of the line. That obstacle could potentially could be overcome if we pursue military applications.”
The fundamental problem of the nuclear power industry is not reactor safety, not waste disposal, not the dangers of nuclear proliferation, real though all these problems are. The fundamental problem of the industry is that nobody any longer has any fun building reactors. It is inconceivable under present conditions that a group of enthusiasts could assemble in a schoolhouse and design, build, test, license and sell a reactor within three years. Sometime between 1960 and 1970, the fun went out of the business.
The adventurers, the experimenters, the inventors, were driven out, and the accountants and managers took control. Not only in the private industry but also in the government laboratories, at Los Alamos, Livermore, Oak Ridge and Argonne, the groups of bright young people who used to build and invent and experiment with a great variety of reactors were disbanded. The accountants and managers decided that it was not cost effective to let bright people play with weird reactors. So the weird reactors disappeared and with them the chance of any radical improvement beyond our existing systems.
We are left with a very small number of reactor types in operation, each of them frozen into a huge bureaucratic organization that makes any substantial change impossible, each of them in various ways technically unsatisfactory, each of them less safe than many possible alternative designs which have been discarded. Nobody builds reactors for fun anymore. The spirit of the little red schoolhouse is dead. That, in my opinion, is what went wrong with nuclear power.
Well, everyone I've known has had a complaint here and there.
But I haven't seen a site quite like Employvent for letting the whole world feel your pain. That is all.
We already have quite a few "paper reactors" that look promising. Likely they need more design simulation. But we will not know how good any of these reactors really are until those paper designs are expressed in operating hardware.
I think our shortage of prototype reactor hardware is much more critical than any shortage of reactor simulation tools.
So, what do we learn?Of course, if you started with #5, #'s 1-4 would be superfluous.
- Don't use nuclear power.
- If you do, don't build in an earthquake zone.
- If you do, don't build on a tsunami-prone seaside.
- Make sure the emergency cooling system works, even in an emergency.
- Make sure the reactor is fail-safe in a power cut.
A discussion elsewhere brought this issue up, and these numbers should be posted for reference.
Replacing diesel with LNG requires roughly the energy equivalent of methane, plus whatever it takes to purify the gas and convert it to liquid. The info on liquefaction energy is hard to find; Linde Engineering doesn't even mention energy cost in its promotional material on its LNG plants. But I found a paper on Russian stuff which supplies a graph on page 15. This indicates about 250 Wh/kg at typical temperatures. This figure will increase for smaller, less-efficient systems, so figure 0.5 kWh/kg for a truck-stop sized unit. 1 kg of natural gas has 13.83 kWh of energy (47,200 BTU) so it takes about 2.9 kg of LNG to replace a gallon of diesel. This gas takes 1.4 kWh to liquefy. If this is done with electricity supplied from a CCGT powerplant at 50% efficiency delivered, it takes another 0.59 kg of gas per gallon-equivalent; if the power is generated on-site from e.g. a Capstone C60 gas turbine at 30% efficiency, it takes another 0.99 kg of gas per gallon-equivalent.
Replacing 70% of the 3037,000 bbl/day of distillate used for transport in 2007 (46.6 billion gpy @ 138,000 BTU/gal average for US distillate per EIA) would need 114 to 127 billion kg of natural gas, depending on the liquefaction overhead. This is 5.4 to 6.0 quads of gas. The USA produced ~21 trillion cubic feet in 2009; at 1020 BTU/scf, this is 21.4 quads of gas. Substituting for just 70% of diesel with LNG (no gasoline) would require increasing NG production by at least 25%. This may be possible, but it will require much higher NG prices (which are coming anyway).
Electrification needs less. If a dual-mode semi-truck averages 1.5 kWh/mile and traffic is 20% greater than the 2001 figure of 135.4 billion miles, annual electric power requirements would be 244 billion kWh, or about 6% of US demand for a complete replacement of diesel (not just 70%). Supplying this from NG using CCGT's at 50% efficiency delivered to the vehicle would require 3.53 billion kg of natural gas, or 1.67 quads. This is far more efficient, and the electric system can also use electricity from anything else on the grid. Finally, moving trucks to dual-mode rail eliminates pavement damage and cuts road-repair costs. The electric rail system is a better target for policy than converting semis to LNG.
I just went to the EIA website to look up some historical data.
Surprise! According to the EIA's new data, the world began in 2005! At least, that's the limit of the info I can get on natural gas. The rest of the site is equally horrid, in a MySpace kind of way; it looks glitzy, but it is now geared at the level of a 9th-grade school report rather than providing detailed data for the public's in-depth analysis.
This is a huge disappointment. There's no good reason for existing sections to be suddenly removed, breaking all the references painstakingly created over the rest of the web. And why remove 56 years of data from public view? Did it suddenly become invalid? Maybe somebody is trying to sell it? We, the public, paid for that data; for it to suddenly become someone's proprietary product isn't just a sin, it's a crime.
I'm still trying to find out what the EIA did with the historical data, and the detailed breakdowns such as the heating value compared to raw physical quantities. Maybe if other people ask similar questions, they'll fix things faster. Pester the webmaster or ask the information people where the information all went; enough mail, and they'll have to start questioning the wisdom of this move.
Update: The data still exist at www.eia.gov (link to historical data page), but a lot of queries get re-directed to the dumbed-down pages at www.eia.doe.gov and there's no obvious way to find your way back. Ask the webmaster about this. Pointedly.
Visits since 2006/05/11: