Monday, April 02, 2007

50 Years Ago: The Start of Commercial Nuclear Power

Early this morning over at NAM Blog, our friend Carter Wood posted about the opening of the Vallecitos Atomic Electric Power Plant, the proud owner of NRC Reactor License #1:

Two generations later, America's nuclear renaissance is picking up speed. Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 5-0 to authorize an Early Site Permit (ESP) to System Energy Resources Inc. for the Grand Gulf site near Port Gibson, Miss. Supporting documents are here and the NRC's news release is here. The ESP process, while cutting government red tape, still covers all the important areas to ensure each site's plant safety, environmental protection and comprehensive emergency response plans.

[...]

Good news, good developments, indeed. Two generations after the first commercial nuclear power plant began generating electricity, nuclear energy is being reborn in the United States. All the more reason to make 2007 a year to celebrate.
Here, here.

2 comments:

tesla said...

Take action now!
Laser Power Systems is developing new cutting edge technology to meet the world's energy needs. Commercial applications will soon be available. Laser Power Systems has the best, most versatile technology to safely burn thorium in a wide range of applications that no other technology offers including the replacement technology for the internal combustion engine.
Help Laser Power Systems become a reality. We need your voice to reach the decision makers across the globe that can help us bring this amazing new technology that can produce an unlimited amount of power for both all application of electrical power including transportation to the world. Let everyone know you want to see Laser Power Systems powering your homes and cars, end our dependence on oil, coal, and large nuclear power plants and improve our planet for future generations.

Batteries do not end the use of fossil fuel as you must “charge them” therefore they merrily shift the burden to the power grid running up the cost of electricity to every one and stretching what is already an old out of date system and increasing the use of coal fired power plants that are already the major cause of green house gases and global warming. Batteries weather installed or replaceable requires building a lager new infrastructure that will cost billions.

Hydrogen suffers from the same problems plus hydrogen being very explosive and dangerous to handle adds even more cost to its use.

Hydro power (dams) have just about reached there limit in that there is hardy a river in the world wreath damming that has not been.

Nuclear power (uranium based) is by far the most dangerous power generation technology and the most too expensive to build and maintain.

New Thorium base large nuclear power plants are much safer, but still can melt down, are targets for terrorism, requires power transmission line infrastructures which is the main reason for power outages.

Wind and solar are good technology but have very limited applications.
But combined with LPS, would be the best of both worlds. The LPS systems will either reduces or eliminates all of these problems. They are scalable from small units less than 1 kw and as large as 100 mega watts or more they are highly versatile can be used in just about any application.

• No new infrastructure required
• Power grid
• Transportation
• Industry
• Homes
• Business
• Air craft
• Space
• Ships

These systems offer a long list of advantages:
• Emissions free
• Safe to operate
• Cheap to build and operate
• Decentralized distributed systems
• Lager centralized grid based systems
• Back up or Stand by systems
• Scalable From 1Kw to 100 Mkw
• Mobility for use in transportation systems

tesla said...

The investment opportunity is not in the thorium itself, it's in the technology that unlocks the value of thorium.

This is intended to education the public about the value of thorium as a future energy source. Despite the fact that our world is desperately searching for new sources of energy, the value of thorium is not well-understood, even in the "nuclear engineering" community.

The fundamental basis for considering nuclear energy over chemical energy is the binding energy released in each case. Chemical energy is released when the electron configuration of atoms is rearranged through a chemical process (combustion, digestion, etc.) Electrons are bound to nuclei with binding energies measured in electron volts (eV).

The protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus, on the other hand, are bound with energies measured in millions of electron volts (MeV). Thus, rearranging the nucleus of an atom (through fusion or fission) releases roughly a million times more energy than chemical energy release.

There are four basic nuclear "fuels" found in nature: deuterium, lithium, thorium, and uranium. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen that is found wherever hydrogen is found (such as water). Lithium is a light metal found in lake evaporates. In a traditional fusion reactor, lithium is converted to tritium (another hydrogen isotope) and then fused with deuterium, releasing energy and additional neutrons. But fusion is fundamentally difficult because positively charged particles tend to repel each other strongly, and only extraordinary temperatures, magnetic confinement, and complicated engineering can coax them to fuse. Despite all this effort, the goal of economical fusion energy is distant and perhaps unreachable, even if the physics can be conquered.

Fission of uranium or thorium, on the other hand, is much easier because neutrons are used to induce destabilization and splitting of the nucleus. The neutron is uncharged, so there is no magnetic repulsion to contend with in the fission process. No magnetic confinement or vacuum chambers are required either. The downside of fission is the generation of unstable, neutron-rich fission products that seek stability through successive beta decay.

Fission of natural uranium requires the construction of reactors that maintain high neutron energies (fast-spectrum reactors) throughout their operation. This is because the fission of plutonium-239 (the result of neutron absorption in uranium-238, the dominant isotope) does not produce enough neutrons to sustain the process unless it is bombarded by high-energy neutrons.

Fission of natural thorium, on the other hand, is much easier because its absorption product (uranium-233) produces enough neutrons from collision with a slowed-down (thermal) neutron to sustain the fission reaction, given that the reactor is designed to be frugal with its neutrons. This feature, and the abundance of thorium worldwide, give thorium a profound advantage over the other nuclear fuels for sustained energy generation.

Thorium is abundant in the Earth's crust and widespread across the United States and around the world:






This is a storage cask containing 200 lbs of thorium nitrate. This thorium was formed in a supernova over five billion years ago, and during its formation, it was infused with vast amounts of energy in the structure of its nucleus. For five billion years this material has stored its energy, and only in the last 60 years have we realized how to utilize it.


Inside the cask we see the thorium nitrate, with a consistency much like sugar. It is mildly radioactive, not so much from the thorium itself but from decay products that have formed. The material can be handled with only a rubber glove as shielding.

Releasing the energy from thorium is a three-step process. First, the thorium must be exposed to neutrons. When it intercepts and absorbs a neutron, it will transmute from thorium-232 to thorium-233. In a few minutes, the thorium-233 will decay into protactinium-233.

Next, the protactinium-233 must be isolated from neutrons. The Pa-233 nucleus has a half-life of 27 days, and when it decays it will decay into uranium-233. But during its time as Pa-233, it has a great affinity for capturing another neutron. This is undesirable since it will lead to the formation of Pa-234, which will then decay to U-234, which is not fissile.


But if the Pa-233 is isolated from neutrons, it will decay as planned, and a nucleus of uranium-233 will be formed. Then the uranium-233 is reintroduced into the reactor and exposed to neutrons. It will undergo fission, releasing additional neutrons to continue the consumption of additional thorium.


This technique of "expose, isolate, expose" is essentially impossible to do in a typical solid-fueled reactor, because it would require the fuel to be almost continually reprocessed. This is why "fluid-fueled reactors" were examined as thorium burners almost from the outset of the nuclear age. As early as 1948, scientists like Eugene Wigner were proposing ways to build reactors with nuclear fuel in a fluid form to consume thorium. Several of these reactors were built, and as a class, they had tremendous safety and operational advantages.

But one was superior on practically all counts--the liquid-fluoride reactor. This reactor represents the ideal thorium burner, in my opinion, and I shall attempt to show why I think so.

MaxFeLaser TRANSMUTATION OF UNWANTED NUCLEAR MATERIAL
The threat to safety and security posed by the radioactive waste generated nuclear power plants and the growing stockpile of plutonium and other fissionable materials presently being recovered from disassembled nuclear bombs might be reduced. A theory offered by Tesla Dr. Charles Stevens CEO of Laser Power Systems, LLC holds the solution to the problem of dealing with unwanted nuclear material that is piling up after the disassembly of nuclear warheads and reactors.
The proposed Maxium Effect Free electron process in the LPS laser uses a electromagnetic pumb and containment field, acting on the radioactive substances, which in effect, accelerates the rate of random nuclear decay. In addition to dealing with a result of the long awaited move toward disarmament, the ever increasing accumulation of radioactive waste from various civilian activities might also be dealt with. With the alternative being long term entombment, with all of the associated costs and perils.

Dr. Stevens is developing a system for the relatively quick transmustation of nuclear waste products to a short-lived or stable non-radioactive form through a process he calls “MaxFelasing" The technology involves a reaction known as photofission. Photoelectric Effect: This describes the case in which a gamma photon interacts with and transfers its energy to an atomic electron, ejecting that electron from the atom. The kinetic energy of the resulting photoelectron is equal to the energy of the incident gamma photon minus the binding energy of the electron. The photoelectric effect is the dominant energy transfer mechanism for x-ray and gamma ray photons with energies below 50 keV but it is much less important at higher energies.
The technology is being developed to create a new generation of MaxFeLaser power generator systems for the safe production of electrical power. "The physical principles underlying the MaxFeLaser technology are established conventional photonuclear principles applied in a new and revolutionary manner." It may be that all we need now is an economical source of Fuel.

The following is an abstract of Dr. Steves paper "MaxFeLaser Photo-transmutation for Waste Management" that explains the basics.

"A three axel electro-magnetic accelerator, which also acts as a containment vessel, accelerates electrons in a rear earth matix (which contains the “fuel” to be burned”) to generate Photons and gamma rays, the reaction, thus releasing about 200 MeV. A MaxFeLaser built according to this principle requires an “accelerator” driven by 12 v power supply employing a tesla coil which steps up the voltage to 100,000 v. The reaction is not self-sustaining and stops when the system is turned off.
This MaxFeLaser may be used to "burn-up" a wide verity of fuels spent fuel from fission reactors, if simply one option. The fact that the reaction is not self-sustaining is a safety feature allowing immediate shut-down in the event of a problem."
The photo-fission results in typical spent fuel waste products such as Cs137 and Sr90 which undergo photodisintegration by the (g, n) [(g , n)] reaction resulting in short lived or stable products. Chemical separations of the spent fuel isotopes is not necessary.
:
The application of photonuclear physics to nuclear waste is called Photodeactivation. Photodeactivation involves the irradiation of specific radioactive isotopes to force the emission of a neutron, thereby producing an isotope of reduced atomic mass. These resultant isotopes can be characteristically either not radioactive or radioactive with a short half-life.
The fundamental mechanism works on the laboratory scale, and preliminary research suggests that this technology will also work on the industrial scale. LPS is taking the steps necessary for commercialization of the technology. As for most of the advanced nuclear technologies developed today, computer simulation is one of the most important and necessary steps. LPS will use and improve research and development, design, test, improve, and develop experiments and commercial facilities through computer modeling.
LPS plans to capitalize on its patent and patent-pending technology by forming strategic alliances and joint ventures with well-established leaders in the nuclear industry. Continued revenue streams are expected through licensing of the technology with both upfront fees and ongoing royalties.
LPS technology, the MaxFeLaser process by its very design is the best applications for remediation of nuclear waste. The proposed process would operate at a sub-critical level, and be inherently safe. Any excess heat produced by the process could also be recovered for heating.
The efficiency claimed exceeds 90% due to the high cross-section reactions in the the MaxFelaser and its Resonance region. The 10 MeV electron beam produces typical fission reactions in the 200MeV range effectively turning high level solid wastes such as spent fuel into an energy source. The process is intended for on-site power gernation something that current nuclear technology can never offer.

While this idea is similar in topology to a system being developed by Los Alamos National Labs, Dr. Stevens approach offers several advantages: no need for extensive chemical pre-processing and the energy required to effect transmutation is greatly reduced. No new technology needs to be developed, yet the engineering of such a MaxFeLaser must be completed and it could itself become a practical method for generating power.



If developed on a commercial scale the technology would transform nuclear power generation from a hazardous and prohibitively expensive means of power production by making it safer and cheaper. The same technique could be applied to other radioactive wastes like technetium-99, strontium-90 and isotopes of caesium, plutonium and americium.

The question of transmutation of all radioactive waste in this manner is just a short way down the track, probably three to five years, if proper funding is secured. The only way of doing this at present is by building huge accelerators. However, in the less time MaxFelasers will develop enormously and so there will be two players on the block.'" One big difference is the MaxFelaser is an all in one system that is the prime mover in electrical power generation. The next step for LPS is to develop this technology on an industrial scale.


• "The MaxFelaser: Producing Power By Burning Nuclear fuel"
• "Neutralizing Nuclear Waste Using Applied Physics"
• "Transmutation Of Nuclear Waste Products Using Ultra hign energy MaxFelasers"
• "Laser-transmutation for Waste Management"
Hi Nuke1, the thorium is in the form of a tetrafluoride (ThF4) dissolved in a solvent of lithium fluoride and beryllium fluoride. Upon neutron absorption, it will break apart (ionically) and reconstitute as 233ThF4, which will then beta-decay and reconstitute as PaF4. After decay to protactinium, it will be removed from the blanket by a processing system and be allowed to decay to UF4 outside of the reactor's neutron flux, then be reintroduced into the core salt of the reactor as a fuel.
Yes, the neutron is electrically neutral, and therefore it does not electrically interact with the positively charged nucleus. This electrical neutrality allows the neutron to penetrate the electron cloud surrounding the nucleus and collide with the nucleus. Momentum is not exchanged between the particles unless there is a collision, unlike interactions between charged particles, which can take place at (relatively) great atomic distances. Electromagnetic scattering is the fundamental reason why fusion reactors must operate at such extraordinary temperature (~10 keV), density, and confinement.
I've been asked the same question about thorium investment by a number of different people and I'll give you the same (free) advice I gave them--it's not really worth doing right now. Of all the problems relating to getting thorium to the point of being a viable global energy source, thorium supply is about problem number #962.

The investment opportunity is not in the thorium itself, it's in the technology that unlocks the value of thorium.

A hundred years ago, Marie Curie and her husband would pain-stakingly process tonnes of pitchblende ore, throwing out the worthless uranium, to get at the very small amount of radium in the ore. Later on, she figured out that the radium was coming from the uranium--it was part of the decay chain. Later on after that, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner figured out that that uranium could be fissioned (at least the U-235). So the technological breakthrough made the uranium non-worthless.

Right now, thorium is so "worthless" that the US government buried 3200 metric tonnes of it in the Nevada desert due to lack of demand. If it was economically advantageous to go and put thorium in today's light-water reactors, it would have already been done. This has been looked at for decades, examined in documents like WASH-1059, and even attempted in the last core of the Shippingport reactor. Can it be done? Yes. Is it economically advantageous? No.

We need the reactor that can advantageously use thorium. All of my research points me to the liquid-fluoride reactor as the machine that can make thorium useful. Fluoride reactor technology was developed and demonstrated in the United States at Oak Ridge National Lab. But because it threatened the AEC's committment to sodium-cooled plutonium fast-breeder reactors, the AEC killed it in 1974.

I think someday history will record that as one of the biggest mistakes in nuclear development.

Are there functioning thorium reactors today? Yes, the Indians have a research reactor that's using thorium, but it's solid-core and not a thorium burner.

The energy amplifier--unnecessary complexity proposed by scientists who've made their careers on particle accelerators.
MAXFELASER TECHNOLOGY Fuel Abundance
Laser Power Systems has spent more than 20 years in the quiet research and development of Uranium or thorium-fueled High-energy and Ultra-High energy laser LPS is now ready to make its research public and offer-for the first time in history - safe, clean, affordable, abundant, carbon-free energy on a national scale.
In the past ten years, computer technology was developed that allowed us to move thorium forward as a viable fuel source. The key factor in the computer analysis is discerning the difference in the reactions of thorium and U238.
• Eliminates production of greenhouse gases
• Dramatically lowers the volume and toxicity of waste
• Significantly improves safety
• Removes the hazards associated with current fuel production
• Operates in an environmentally safe manner
• Prevents nuclear weapons proliferation
• Significantly reduces Felaser size and complexity
• Drastically reduces fuel costs
• The LPS MaxFel fueled Thorium laser can produce electricity for less than $0.05 per kilowatt-hour
The natural abundance of thorium, its low cost of mining and milling, the low volume of waste produced, and its lower long-term radiotoxicity mean that the LPS MaxFelaser systems.
 uses fuel that—mass for mass—is 500 times cheaper and produces about 18 million time more energy than Coal.
 has less than 50% of the capital costs, based on a design philosophy of robust mechanical simplicity