Atomic Electricity has moved

You will find ATOMIC ELECTRICITY at:

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4 April 2011 – We have added new references on Molten Salt Reactor Pumps in the Selected MSR Sources Page.

There are new posts in PLAN and ENERGY COST pages.  We’ve addressed the Anti-Proliferation WP in response to some questions.  And we’ve added a new page, “SELECTED MSR SOURCES”, to make available the chief research we have used in this endeavour.

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…That’s Why We’re Doing It.

Nuclear power after Japan disaster

Dan Juneau, Columnist

Published: Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.

Last Modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 9:11 p.m.

The voices of doom are already predicting the end for energy derived from nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the Japanese reactor failures. Germany is already signaling a retrenchment from its nuclear energy program.  China and other nations are also announcing a re-examination of their nuclear power generation plans. These are serious issues since nuclear-generated power supplies 17 % of the electric power generated worldwide and 20 % of the total in the U.S.

But what if the nuclear system failures in Japan could lead to an expansion, not a reduction, of nuclear-generated power? What if that expansion was the result of safer, less expensive reactors with much less nuclear waste?

What if this new type of reactor could greatly reduce the dangers of nuclear proliferation in the world? Finally, what if the solution to cleaner, safer nuclear power was something that brought many on both sides of the “global warming” debate together in support of a new approach?

All of that may sound too fanciful to be true, but the common denominator is a nuclear reactor technology that was proven in the past to work but is not now being used. It’s called a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (or LFTR, for short).

Years ago, just such a reactor was proven to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but the technology was abandoned in favor of reactors that produced the plutonium necessary for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Basically, the U.S. military dictated the direction our nuclear power industry took. Perhaps it is time to rethink that direction. The LFTRs are fueled by thorium, a naturally occurring, mildly radioactive element. In an article in the July/August 2010 edition of American Scientist magazine, authors Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir made a compelling case for thorium reactors. As they point out, only 500 tons of thorium could supply all of U.S. energy needs for a year. They note that in one small area near the Montana/Idaho border, there is an estimated 1,800,000 tons of thorium.

One of the major advantages of LFTRs is the low generation levels of nuclear waste. Wastes from an LFTR are about 10,000 times less toxic than those from a standard nuclear reactor. Indeed, safety is a great selling point for the LFTRs.

The problem in the Japanese reactors didn’t come from the core where power is generated. It came from the storage ponds where spent solid fuel rods are stored. There are no such rods in the LFTRs since they have liquid cores.

The standard reactors operate under tremendous pressure that requires complex tubing and pumping systems to prevent overheating and explosions. In the LTFRs, the coolant is not pressurized, making it inherently safer.

From a cost standpoint, LFTRs can be produced at a lower cost because of the different cooling systems and also because the LFTRs do not need the hugely expensive containment systems that the standard reactors need. Thorium, as mentioned previously, is also much less expensive to obtain than uranium.

The unique nature of these reactors also works against the problem of nuclear proliferation in the world. These reactors don’t produce the excess amounts of fissionable material that standard reactors produce, the by-products that can be diverted into weapons of mass destruction. It is extremely costly to decommission a standard nuclear reactor, and when it is decommissioned, all of the ancillary equipment to transmit the electricity becomes almost useless. LFTRs could be sited in the same vicinity of a decommissioned reactor, maintaining much of the support facilities of that site. The disaster in Japan shouldn’t kill the quest for clean, safe nuclear energy. Thorium reactors may be what move nuclear power forward.

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This Book Belongs On Your Shelves

Download “SEWTHA”… The author intended it to be freely available to you.

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Why Should The Nation Borrow Money For Bad Ideas?

“Pres. Obama laid out an ambitious goal — by 2035, America gets 80% of its electricity from clean energy sources.  Obama includes nuclear and emerging clean coal tech — and many environmentals don’t embrace them…

Private investors chasing green investments are having problem.  “The stocks of renewable energy companies — e.g., wind / solar power providers — have been big losers.  The Clean Edge Global Wind Energy Index, tracking wind stocks, is down about 27% over the last 12 mos.  This is disappointing since oil stocks and the S&P500 both surged upward 20% over the same period.

” ‘The sector is not much loved at the moment,’ concedes Edward Guinness, co-manager of the Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy Fund.  With a nearly 22 percent loss in 2010, the fund finished last among 83 funds specializing in energy stocks, according to Morningstar. The $38 million portfolio was weighed down by solar and wind energy stocks, most of which fared poorly last year. One of its biggest holdings, SunPower Corp., fell 46 percent…” — Mark Jewell, 6 Feb 2011, (AP),,

Investors seek profits for a reason:  they make the enterprise sustainable, instead of a ‘Money Pit.’

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This VC Is On To Something

“…Cleantech companies just can’t seem to get it right.  At least, that’s the notion Peter Thiel — a co-founder of PayPal and president of Clarium Capital — subscribes to when he looks at cleantech companies as potential investing opportunities. He made the comments at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco Wednesday.

“ ‘ …Most of the people who run cleantech companies are sales people, not engineers,” Thiel said. “Something seems to have gone quite wrong with cleantech.’

“…As a result, most cleantech companies that try to develop alternative energy forms are building power sources that are more  expensive. Solar panels, for example, are still not a cost-efficient way to generate power, Thiel said.  ‘We need something cheaper, not more expensive,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t matter if the energy is cleaner, it doesn’t work if it’s more expensive.’ ” — Matthew Lynley, VentureBeat, 3 Feb 2011

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A Fork In The Road…

[The following is excerpted from a recent, on-line discussion]

JBG: •THE CHALLENGE TO INTEGRATE RENEWABLE – WIND and SOLAR – ENERGY ON GRID… We have to have security and resources to accommodate Wind and Solar output variation.  A Smart Grid with high concentration of renewable energy will require simultaneous consideration of the system’s rapid response and long term evolution.

Renewable and Generation Distributed bring constraints on resource availability, that the current Grid were not designed to address.

Addressing these constraints will require new efforts at coordination of resources and capabilities within the electric grid, both to mitigate difficulties and to maximize benefits.   Built to provide energy from different sources for various loads through a single large interconnected infrastructures.

The system requires active control, in real time, the resolution of control in Space and Time is limited by extant technology and design philosophy.

Control Time
-Energy storage and Demand Response;
-Stability and Oscillation;
-Seasonal, hourly and instantaneous dispatch.
Control Space
-Transmission capacity;
-Resource location;
-Protection capacity;
-Voltage regulation.

Intermittent, what we still do not know…
-How much advance warning can we get before rapid variations in Solar and Wind output, and how we can use this information effectively.
-What is the point of intermittency of renewable energy that can cancel the high penetration levels, locally and around the system.
-How quickly will vary from aggregate production for large and diverse collections of resources for Solar and Wind.

To manage all these variables the Utilities will have to build a sophisticated information technology infrastructure, and to do this will develop knowledge and expertise worthy of the area of IT.

GRL:  • Dear Mr. JBG,

I would suggest this is an excellent piece on the economic viability of wind in the grid:

JBG:   • Dear GRL,

As I suggested earlier, the feasibility of renewable energy resources depend largely on the IT set up by the Utilities.

The Utilities must undergo a long period of learning to manage these resources, but believe they have achieved.   To avoid fluctuations of voltage and frequency – the Achilles Heel of renewable resources – a new class of “regulators” should be developed.

The oil / gas has a century of use, we give time to these new energy sources, Information Technology that determines the speed of this integration.
We can not develop the “art” of seeing and not spotting!


“Smart grids are absolutely essential to the widespread adoption of solar and wind energy”.

On a traditional electrical grid, the intermittent flows from wind farms or solar plants can sag or surge. To compensate, fossil fuel-powered energy then ticks up or down. But the movements are not adequately controlled and can lead to costly stoppages, energy leaks and overwhelming voltage levels.

The global expansion of smart grids means that renewable energy sources could increasingly hop onto a system that tracks energy flows in real-time and responds immediately to digital commands, thus taking much of the risk out of going green.   With a more efficient connection, more clean energy could reach consumers rather than get held up on an outdated grid.

Shihab Kuran, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Petra Solar, said: “Seventy percent more solar energy could be implemented if you incorporate smart grid features. In order for solar to be successful, you really need smart grid to go there.”

Since its start in 2006, Petra Solar has won around $6 million in grants from the Solar Energy Grid Integration System (SEGIS) program by the U.S. Department of Energy to study how solar penetration affects electrical grids. The firm then went on to build its SunWave module, which features a solar panel and microinverter that attach to power poles to create a smart grid network in half an hour’s time.  “You have to think about reliability first, and solar production second,” Kuran said.

KC:  • Some folks are already working on the prediction –  The more solar and wind you have the more predictable the supply is going to be. In the long term the cheapest solution is just to over produce on the renewables and find ways to dump excess power on an ad hoc basis (e.g. desalinating water/generating hydrogen). The other thing needed is more HV-DC grids to move power round the planet.

The “smart” stuff is mostly about managing the transition.

JBG:  • The main problem with “Distributed Generation” is not predictable, but the connection and disconnection of these units to the “Grid”, taking into account time and space.
GRL:  Dear Mr. JBG, 

It seems to me that power grids are operated today as a rational business in that the power grid manager strives to match the supply of energy with the demand of energy. “Bad” is not having energy when customers require it. “Good” is having enough energy at the right price so that customers can demand it and use it as they see fit.

From the foregoing comments, (Am I wrong?) it seems that the commenting persons here are acting upon the assumption that the grid’s operating “values” must change:

“Good” is using renewable energy first and always when it is available, regardless of the cost, regardless of its point of origin / distance from the customer.

Now the Europeans are currently discussing the building of a EUROS 25 Billion continental grid transmission system that would speed solar and / or wind energy generation thousands of km from where it is “now” being created to where it can be utilized by some customer no matter how far away from the point of origin.

The economics of this new “Good” for the grid are quite daunting:  Should we seriously assume that the 7% power losses we experience now with high voltage long-distance transmission will go away? Should we take into account that 2% or 10% utilization of these expensive new direct current high voltage long-haul facilities will add more amortization cost per mWh actually transmitted that will dwarf the economic savings of power loss reduction from 7% to perhaps 3% (I know no one believes there is a tooth fairy that will enable DC to deliver 0% power loss over several hundred kms)…?

I also wonder what happens to that euphemistic “spinning reserve”, that load-chasing energy generation resource (maybe a gas turbine, maybe a coal-fired plant with a souped-up management system?) that must the throttled down to ‘idle’ while the ‘Greater Good’ wind and solar ‘moments of energy availability’ take precedence.

It seems folly to me that a hugely expensive direct current high voltage transmission system, should be managed by an also extremely costly, sophisticated self-aware smart grid management system that manages energy traffic in every grid nook and cranny in favor of solar and wind and IN LIEU OF those pedestrian, less expensive, and far-more-filthy gas, coal, and nuclear base load alternatives.

What the utility really needs is a low-cost, non-polluting small modular energy generator that can be co-located with the existing local power distribution grid. This small modular energy generator should follow the energy demand of the grid naturally by means of its operating design, not by the miraculous management manipulation of the grid.

Such a power generator would be much less expensive to build and deploy than thousands of km of new DC distribution infrastructure, and tens of electricity devouring data centers running energy management DBs with 3 million line algorithyms.

Just such a small modular energy generator was conceived of but discarded forty years ago by the all seeing eyes of the U.S. Dept. of Energy in its wisdom.

Just such a small modular energy generator is now being dusted off and will become prevalent finally in power grids. It is a simpler more economically rational solution than a collossal new grid built and managed to chase after ephemeral renewable energy.

Why will this small modular power generator prevail instead of the DC transmitted and newly smartened grid? It will lower the cost of electricity — even from current alternatives. It will make electricity more available and more reliable, bolstered by a more modest but managerially still superior smart grid.

As a result more people in more places will be able to take advantage of low-cost energy to pursue their prosperity.

I believe this small modular power generator may actually act upon the same principle that water does when it strives to seek its own level, obeying the gravity of its economics.

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