Saturday, July 28, 2012
"You Can't Build That" - Regulatory Two BitTorrent
The prevalent nuclear (Please don’t say it noo-kyoo-luhr) power plant design uses Uranium enriched with fissile U-235. Heat producing sustained nuclear fission takes place, when enough fissile material is located in the right physical proximity, like when Gaia ran a 100 kilowatt hour reaction for several hundred thousand years in the Oklo Fossil Reactors.
But for the design we use, the enriched Uranium is chemically processed into ceramic Uranium dioxide, pressed into a pellet and sintered to make it as non-porous as possible. The pellets are then machined to precise tolerances and fitted into zirconium rods filled with helium. In order to achieve the right proximity to support a sustained thermal reaction, the rods are bundled together and lowered by a crane, where they hang in a reaction chamber. The reaction chamber must be filled with cooling water, maintained under pressure. What could possibly go wrong?
So how did we get this wonderful design instead of the one that Gaia made? Our government required a uranium based power plant design, in order to maximize production of weapons grade plutonium. Thereafter, GE worked closely with the NRC to arrive at a design that served national interest and that also happened to make electric power. So our nuclear infrastructure supplies power about as much as an AK-47 is a sniper rifle. Power is an afterthought.
As much as I am suspicious of government public “partnerships,” I believe the genesis out our nuclear power industry was a proper exercise of constitutional national defense powers. At the time the GE atomic power design got the nod, the most successful mass murderer in the history of mankind headed up the U.S.S.R. However, once our regulated nuclear industry supplied our military with its weapons plutonium requirements, and proliferation risks were mediated, the power to regulate nuclear power should have faded into the background. Each state should then decide whether it wants a nuclear power plant, and if so what type. Instead, we now live in a federal nuclear police state.
Thorium is a naturally occurring element that is four times more abundant that uranium. It is safe enough to hold in your hand. It will support a sustained 1,200 degree nuclear reaction, at normal atmospheric pressure, if you put it and a little U-233 in solution with liquid fluoride salts in a cauldron. If the mix gets too hot, the fuel salt expands, increasing the distance between thorium and U-233 atoms and slowing the nuclear reaction. There is no risk of a meltdown of the containment vessel or the release of radioactive stream. In an emergency like an earthquake or tsunami, you can pull a plug at the bottom of the cauldron and let the liquid drain into a neutron absorbing medium, where the reaction slows and stops. The cauldron contents "freeze" at the lower temperature. The ice cubes can be removed a short time later. A China syndrome is not possible.
A Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) produces 200 times the output of a uranium reactor in terms of the amount of spent fuel, while at the same time producing 1,000 to 10,000 times less nuclear waste. 83% of LFTR byproduct is stable in 10 years, with the rest needing to be stored only 300 years, unlike the 10,000 years required for uranium waste. A LFTR reactor can consume spent uranium fuel. A LFTR can produce byproducts like thorium-229 and bismuth-213, which show promise as a cancer-fighting agent, plutonium-238 for use in radio telescopes, stable xenon, neodymium for high performance magnets, molybdenum and zirconium.
A factory can manufacture an LFTR reactor and ship it wherever you want power. It can use seawater as a coolant, which can be condensed into potable water. An LFTR can be much, much, much smaller than our supremely feared uranium monsters of the 1950's.
I have chosen the words in the title of this piece carefully. Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent serves on the Board of Advisors of Flibe Energy. Filbe Energy, I think though, understands what the 1950's vintage NRC giant behemoth has probably told them and their lawyers.
You can’t build that.