I was thrilled when the first windmills appeared on the Laurentian Divide near my hometown of Virginia, Minnesota, but a few years later, having noticed a significant amount of “down time,” I checked on wind power’s record with the help of my new associates in the Thorium Energy Alliance and discovered that the windmill industry had been selling more sizzle than steak.
During the “green” search for energy alternatives, which was guided by an “anything but nuclear” bias, the Sierra Club and others to which I once belonged took pains to define what was “renewable” and what was not. In so doing, they deliberately (and ironically), excluded CO2-free nuclear power, even though we have enough uranium and thorium to last 100,000 years.
Because those who profit from wind and solar said nothing about their carbon footprints, environmental damage, resource use, inefficiency, bird, bat and human deaths (death prints) and the need for huge subsidies, we drank their Kool-Aid, and now wonder why it’s making us sick. Well, here’s why, from many points of view.
Number 1 – Safety
Windmills kill 1 million birds and 1 million bats per year, even as insect borne diseases like Zika, dengue fever and malaria are increasing. (Bats can be killed by just getting too close to the low pressure area that accompanies each blade, which ruptures their lungs) How “green” is that?
Don’t these “environmentalists” care that, according to Science magazine, a “single colony of 150 brown bats has been estimated to eat nearly 1.3 million disease-carrying insects each year”? Shouldn’t they know that, according to the US Geological Survey, bats consume harmful pests that feed on crops, providing about USD 23 billion in benefits to America’s agricultural industry every year?
“North America lost 3 billion birds between 1970 and 2019” [ WSJ] but no one mentions windmills for contributing to this disaster!
A modern, 1 GW LWR generates 9,000,000 kWhrs per year which, at 10 cents per kWhr, creates revenue of USD 900,400,000 per year. Deduct USD 220 million for operating expenses for a profit of USD 680 million per year. California’s Diablo nuclear plant generates electricity for about 3 cents per kWhr.
If the plant’s two reactors cost USD 7 billion, their combined profit will repay the 7 billion in 5.7 years, after which they will net USD 1.3 billion/year while employing about 1,000 well-paid workers.
While we temporise, Russia and South Korea are building modular reactors (conventional and MSRs), for sale abroad, some of which will be mounted on barges that can be towed to coastal cities, thus making long transmission lines, with their 10% power loss, unnecessary. In 2020, the first of these barges began operation in Pevek, a town in eastern Siberia. (China makes a 1 GWe reactor for USD 3B in less than 5 years – Dr. Alex Cannara.)
In 2016, Russia inaugurated a commercial Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) that extracts nearly 100% of the energy value of uranium. (LWRs utilize less than 5%.) The FBR creates close to zero waste and guarantees that we will never run out of thorium, uranium and plutonium, which yield 1.7 million times more energy per kilogram than crude oil.
Instead of pursuing these profitable programs, we [USA] have spent USD 400 billion on worthless F-35 jet fighters plus USD 2 billion PER WEEK in Afghanistan – AND there’s that missing USD 8.5 TRILLION that the Pentagon can’t find. [The Pentagon’s $35 Trillion Accounting Black Hole, by Michael Rainey, January 23, 2020]
Meanwhile, according to the GUARDIAN, “in 2013, coal, oil and gas companies spent USD 670 billion searching for more fossil fuels, investments that could be worthless if action on global warming slashes allowed emissions.”
California plans a USD 100 billion high speed train to serve impatient commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in 2014, Wall Street paid over USD 28 billion in bonuses to needy executives. If you include greedy sports team owners and players who, between 2000 and 2010, received 12 billion tax dollars to help pay for their arenas, the total could exceed USD 1 trillion.
With that money, we could easily build enough MSRs to end the burning of fossil fuels for generating electricity while drastically cutting carbon dioxide production.
According to WORLD NUCLEAR NEWS, Russia’s Rosatom Overseas intends to sell desalination facilities powered by nuclear power plants to its export markets: Dzhomart Aliyev, the head of Rosatom Overseas, says that the company sees ‘a significant potential in foreign markets,’ and is offering two LWRs producing 1200 MW each to Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity as part of a combined power and desalination plant.
“Desalination units can produce 170,000 cubic meters of potable water/day with 850 MWh of electricity per day. This would use only about 3% of the output of a 1200 MWe nuclear plant. In addition, two desalination units are also being considered for inclusion in Iran’s plan to expand the Bushehr power plant with Russian technology, and another agreement between Argentina and Russia also includes desalination with nuclear power.” Dzhomart Aliyev, chief executive officer of Rusatom Overseas.
In 2016, the Vice President of Rosatom reported that the company plans to build more than 90 plants in the pipeline worth some USD 110 Billion, with the aim of delivering 1000 GW by 2050.
Stratfor Global Intelligence reported in an October, 2015 article titled Russia: Exporting Influence, One Nuclear Reactor at a Timethat “Rosatom estimated that the value of orders has reached USD 300 billion, with 30 plants in 12 countries. From South Africa to Argentina to Vietnam to… Saudi Arabia, there appears to be no region where Russia does not seek to send its nuclear exports.”
However, our [USA] nuclear industry, opposed by Climate deniers like Donald J Trump, fervent “greens” and powerful carbon companies that put profit before planet, struggles to stay alive.
In Why Not Nuclear?Brian Kingdescribed our failure to build Generation IV nuclear plants that, unlike LWRs, take advantage of high-temperature coolants such as liquid metals or liquid salts that improve efficiency.
“Argonne National Laboratory held the major responsibility for developing nuclear power in the U.S. By 1980, there were two main goals: Develop a nuclear plant that can’t melt down, then build a reactor that can run on waste from nuclear power plants…
“In the early 80’s Argonne opened a site for an experimental breeder reactor in Idaho. About five years later [two weeks before Chernobyl], they were ready for a demonstration. Scientists from around the globe were invited to watch what would happen if there was a loss of coolant to the reactor, a condition similar to the event at Fukushima where the cores of three reactors overheated and melted.
“Dr. C. Till, the director of the Generation IV project, calmly watched the gauges on the panel as core temperature briefly increased, then rapidly dropped as the reactor shut down without any intervention!
“The Argonne Generation IV project was a success, but it couldn’t get past the anti-nuke politics of the 1990’s, so it was shut down by the Clinton administration because they said we didn’t need it.
“One can only imagine what the world would look like today, with a fleet of Generation IV nuclear plants that would run safely for centuries on all of the waste at storage sites around the globe. No heat-trapping carbon dioxide would have been created – only ever increasing amounts of clean, reliable power. So why not nuclear power?
“Unfortunately, most environmentalists oppose nuclear power, as do many liberals. The Democratic Party is afraid of anti-nuclear sentiment… like the Nation Magazine, the Sierra Club and others. Why are all these people against such a safe and promising source of energy?
“… nuclear power has been tarred with the same brush as nuclear weapons. Nuclear power plants can’t explode like bombs, but people still think that way….
“There is also a matter of group prejudice, not unlike a fervently religious group or an audience at a sports event of great importance to local fans. People are afraid to go against the beliefs of their peers, no matter how unsubstantiated those beliefs may be.
”Finally, some good news: In July, 2018, Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) and Canada’s New Brunswick Power agreed to build a sodium-cooled, small modular reactor (SMR) – and thereafter at other sites worldwide.
“The ARC-100 includes a passive, “walk away-safe” design that ensures the reactor cannot melt down – even if the plant loses all electrical power. The ARC-100 can consume the nuclear waste produced by LWRs and operate for 20 years without refuelling. Ontario approves nuclear.
Produce only a small amount of low radioactivity waste that is benign in 350 years.
The liquid fuel, besides being at 700-1000 degrees C, contains isotopes fatal to saboteurs.
Do not require water cooling, so hydrogen and steam explosions are eliminated.
Don’t need periodic refuelling shutdowns because the fuel is supplied as needed and the by-products are constantly removed. (LWRs are shut down every 2-3 years to replace about ¼ of the fuel rods, but, LFTRs can run much longer.)
Thorium 232 is far more abundant than U-235. Well suited to areas where water is scarce.
Do not need huge containment domes because they operate at atmospheric pressure. Breed their own fuel.
Can’t “melt down” because the fuel/coolant is already liquid, and the reactor can handle high temperatures.
Fluoride salts are less dangerous than the super-heated water used by conventional reactors, and they could replace the world’s coal-powered plants by 2050.
Are suitable for modular factory production, truck transport and on-site assembly.
Create the Plutonium-238 that powers NASA’s deep space exploration vehicles.
Are intrinsically safe: Overheating expands the fuel/salt, decreasing its density, which lowers the fission rate.
Although our current LWRs are very safe and highly efficient, LFTRS are even more productive, and they cannot melt down.
Data from the Australian Nuclear Society and Technological Organization of the Australian government: + Thorium fuelled molten salt reactors have an energy return ratio of 2,000 to 1. [Also called Energy Density] + Our current LWRs that are fuelled with uranium have an energy return ratio of 75 to 1. + Coal and gas have an energy return ratio of about 30 to 1. Wind has an energy return ratio of 4 to 1. + Solar has an energy return ratio of 1.6 to 1.
It would be very difficult to make a weapon from LFTR fuels because the gamma rays emitted by the U-232 in the fuel would harm technicians and damage the bomb’s electronics.
Uranium could be stolen during enriching, production of pellets, delivery to the reactor, and for long-term storage, but LFTRs only use external uranium to start the reaction, after which time uranium is produced within the reactor from thorium.
A 1 GW LWR [Light Water Reactor] requires about 1.2 tons of uranium per year, but a 1 GW LFTR only needs a one-time “kick-start” of 500 pounds [225 kg] of U-235 plus 1 ton of Thorium per year during its 60 year lifespan.
The half-life of Thorium 232 is 14 billion years, so it is not hazardous due to its extremely slow decay.
[When Thorium 232 takes up a neutron, the subsequent decay takes two paths: mostly U233 and some U232. The U233 provides most of the useful energy production by Fission. U232 provides protection against proliferation as several decay daughters are high energy gamma emitters – meaning they burn out silicon chips. For example the gamma spike coming from Thallium 208 is 2.6 MeV. ]
[Shielding using advanced materials and methods, such as distance (air), lead, and water can reduce radiation energy to levels where dosages are at recommended levels around 10 microSiverts per hour or 100 milliSiverts per year.
Note that there have been many examples of doses much higher than this causing no concern, such as 350 microSiverts per hour received by Albert Stevens for over 20 years.
Radiation shielding is a mass of absorbing material placed between yourself and the source of radiation in order to reduce the radiation to a level that is safer for humans.
This is measured by using a concept called the halving thickness – the thickness of a material required to halve the energy of the radiation passing through it.
Remember also, that Radiation decreases with distance in accordance with the inverse square law.]