A critical analysis of future nuclear reactors designs

Once upon a time I used to be a fan of nuclear energy. As far as I saw it, nuclear energy was the silver bullet solution to all of our energy problems and more. However, the more I’ve learned about the industry the more critical I’ve become.

Notably the fact that most of the economic figures in support of nuclear power (a couple of typical delusions you’ll find here and here) come straight out the Hogwarts school of magic, wizardry…. and economics (more realistic appraisals of nuclear economics can be found here and here). There is the question about the world’s limited stockpiles of fissile material, not helped by the fact that the Light water Reactors (LWR’s) that make up the bulk of our present capacity are ridiculously fuel inefficient – only about 2-3% of the fissile material is actually consumed by them! Imagine going into the GM board room and proposing a car that would throw away 98-97% of its fuel as dangerous toxic waste! you’d likely be fired on the spot! Reprocessing isn’t economic and involves turning a small pile of High level waste (HLW) into a much bigger pile of Intermediate level waste (ILW). And what are we planning to do with this waste? Various proposals have been made, but no nation on earth has yet to comprehensively solve this problem. Then there’s the glacially slow build rate of reactors, and of course, the nagging issue of nuclear safety.

But is there a better way?

Of course some supporters of nuclear energy would say that all of the problems I’ve just listed off boil down to one fateful decision taken back in the 1950’s – to build large LWR’s in preference to the many other reactor designs proposed at the time. There are a multitude of reasons why this decision was taken, I will review these factors in part 4 of this posting when we review the light water design. But regardless of the “why’s?” the fact is that the nuclear industry did embarked on this plan and is now stuck down a blind alley because of it. But one of the key reasons the LWR was chosen was cost – it was simply a lot cheaper and easier to get a program of LWR’s off the ground than anything else. Unfortunately in the process of doing this the nuclear industry laid a trap for themselves.

The LWR was originally designed by the US navy to run submarines, specifically they were small in scale with outputs of between 15-50 MWe versus the 500-1,600 MWe behemoths the civil nuclear industry use. These large “megatron” LWR’s were scaled up to the point where they became inherently unsafe – if the cooling system for any reason failed, the reactor would go into meltdown. This meant the cooling systems and all backups related to it (including its backup power generators) HAD to work perfectly i.e. critical system components. Unfortunately several accidents since then, notably TMI and Chernobyl, revealed flaws in the original design. The only way to correct these flaws was to include further safety systems, as well as by building a large concrete containment dome over the reactors to contain any radiation releases. The end result has been the size and scale of nuclear projects has ballooned in size, as has the costs of new nuclear build. All these safety critical components also need careful testing prior to commercial operation, meaning the pace of new nuclear construction has slowed to a crawl. Fukushima will now inevitably likely lead to another round of recriminations, further expensive upgrades, redesigns and a further round of reactor shutdowns.

If there’s one fact that both supporters of nuclear power and opponents have to agree on is that if the nuclear industry is to have any future, then we need to ditch these mega-LWR’s for something else. Various alternatives to the LWR have been proposed, these include:

High temperature gas Reactors , “modular” Pebble bed Reactors , the advanced CANDU reactor, so-called “fast” reactors  and the LTFR/MSR reactors  .

But could these reactors actually supply us with something better? In the following series of article we will explore this question by subjecting these designs to a critical review.

Part 2 – Assessment criteria and FMEA

Part 3 – High temperature materials

Part 4 – Light water reactors

Part 5 – Heavy water reactors and the CANDU design

Part 6 – Assessment of High Temperatre Gas  Reactor (HTGR’s)

Part 7 – The Gas cooled Fast Reactor (GcFR’s) concept and waste Transmutation

Part 8 – The MSR (molten salt reactor) and LFTR reactor concepts

Part 9 – Fusion power

Part 10 – Small modular reactors and mass production options

Part 11 – Summary and Conclusions

Home page

Comments welcome, but the comments section is getting a little long and difficult for newcomers to follow, so please try and keep them brief (I’ve had as you can see a few novels posted!), link to other pages if you’re going to make a long post and don’t post thing’s like video’s (link it!), etc. Also try not to comment on topics that have already been covered in depth unless you have something new to add. I reserve the right to remove or edit comments that do not conform to these conditions, especially if they make outlandish claims that are not supported by a suitable reference or include profanities, etc.

191 Responses to A critical analysis of future nuclear reactors designs

  1. BlueRock says:

    I’ve only read this section, MSR / LFTR and Summary, but it’s superbly done. Very informative but accessible to the non-engineers in the crowd. I’ll be referencing this often. Thanks.

    > There seems to me to be a very condescending attitude prevalent in the whole nuclear movement. A view that seems to regard the average guy in the street as too stupid to comprehend the issues and that he must therefore be manipulated, talked down to and in many cases lied too.

    Very much my experience. The nuke industry more resembles a crime syndicate or Scientology-esque cult than it does a professional industry. It’s a closed rank of thugs who will attack and smear anyone who threatens to derail The Message.

    Thanks again for an excellent analysis.

    • daryan12 says:

      Now now!

      Language Timothy!

      ….but yes, there needs to be a willingness of the industry to open up, wash its dirty linen in public and come out with their hands up as regards costs, etc.

      Else as the situation in Germany and Italy shows, they’ll quickly find public support drains away and this closed rank behaviour ends up having the complete opposite effect that was intended.

      • BlueRock says:


        Re. public support – worth a skim:

        * It’s 2050: Do you know where your nuclear waste is? If the safe, secure and sustainable lifecycle of nuclear power, from mining of uranium ores to disposal of spent nuclear fuel cannot be achieved and is not thought out from the beginning, then the public will reject nuclear as an energy choice. http://bos.sagepub.com/content/67/4/30.full

        As dumb as humans collectively are, I suspect the nuke industry has overestimated public gullibility in the face of a mountain of evidence that exposes the truth about the nuclear carbuncle.

        Don’t miss some of the notes at bottom of page, e.g.:

        “Worldwide nuclear production is generally declining, and many new projects are experiencing construction delays. Even if reactors can be operated for an average of 40 years, 74 new plants would have to come on line by 2015 to maintain the status quo, which is impossible given current constraints on fabricating reactor components.”

    • Um you do not understand thermal creep in “liquid” thorium do you. Admit it you do not even know what it means. Also you sound like soem conspiracry guy among the many voices of homless peopel I personnaly know whom are frankly basign thier logic on thier emotions not facts and have long since gone insane.

      • daryan12 says:

        As I recall the Thermal creep mentioned was in the walls of the reactor (i.e. the nickel alloy) not the liquid Thorium. I don’t understand how you could reach such a conclusion….although you’re poor spelling & raving about “conspiracies” suggests an obvious explanation!

    • Dr. A. Cannara says:

      Dary… or whatever his/her real name is, seems happy to spend time cutting from real sources and writing oddly here, but provides no real comment system that makes sense to serve readers well. So I’ll simply stick my general comment here.

      Whenever someone talks about limitations of “nuclear fuel stocks”, we can know the person doesn’t know about nuclear power. There’s far more Uranium and Thorium easily available than needed for thousands of years.

      Dary… also diminishes trust through odd statements like this on the MSR: ” While it is certainly true that such a reactor ran successfully for 4 years and that this project proved that some of the ideas behind the MSR have merit, there are a couple of key things it didn’t do. Notably, it never generated a single watt of electricity”
      Does Dary… not understand that the experiment was to design and debug molten-salt nuclear power, not electrical generation?
      Then Dary… further debits his expertise with: “As I’ve mentioned previously the turbo generator systems for high temperature reactors is technically challenging,”
      Does Dary… not get that solar thermal, liquid-metal and other systems have long been coupled to hi-temperature turbine systems?.

      I’ve been asked to critique Dary…overall on the MSR/LFTR topic, and will do so, but so far, it appears his readership is being exploited in the same way climate deniers exploit folks — lots of pictures & verbiage, but inaccurate statements and avoidance of facts. Also, get a spell checker.
      Feel free to call, Dary…

      Dr. A. Cannara
      650 400 3071

      • daryan12 says:

        Nuclear fuel stocks,
        I would quote from sources (but I won’t because I’ve done so a dozen times above but here’s a link to a summary article) such as Harvard, MIT, the IAEA, the NNL, Dr David Mc Kay of the DECC and the WNA (world nuclear association) that agree that within the existing paradigm of once thro-reactors, there is sufficient fuel to maintain the existing world fleet of nuclear reactors for a just short of a century or so…but! they only generate 5% of the world’s energy. Any significant expansion beyond this would be well outside of what our fuel supplies can provide, even if we factor in Thorium.

        Now if some form of “cheap” Fast breeder reactor could be created, then yes, this might change things. But there’s the rub, we’ve never been able to get the technology to work cost effectively beyond a few prototypes, as I summarise here.

        MSR prototype
        As I mentioned in the post, yes it did run for 4 years (ish!) but it didn’t run continuously and if you read through the reports, there are factors that give concern as to the viability of the design. No show stoppers, but a number of tricky questions to answer with further research. In short the technology is along way from technical viability.

        Also we’ve seen many examples of nuclear reactor concepts that did well in the early prototype phase but didn’t perform nearly so well when scaled up (again fast reactors exhibited a similar development history).

        Solar Molten salt
        The suggestion that solar plants are “similar” to an MSR because they both use Molten salt is disturbing, as it seems to indicate that the Dr Cannara doesn’t understand that they use very different salt mixtures. Generally solar CSP plants use potassium nitrate based salts, typically at much lower operating temperatures, where the purpose of the MS is to essentially act as an energy storage medium (e.g. a sort of large thermal battery). Its like arguing that because a steam engine and a jet engine basically both involve burning fuel, we can bolt a steam engine onto the side of an 747 or take a jet engine, bolt it to an loco and have the guy in the firebox shovel coal through it!

        Climate deniers
        Then odd that I spend a good deal of my blog slagging them off!

        You’re statement however, along with the emotionally charged tone, does make me worry that you have an emotional attachment to the LFTR that exceeds the rational.

      • daryan12 says:


        Follow up question, why the single minded obsession with the LFTR? I mention it to my pro-nuke colleagues (some of whom have actually worked in a nuclear plant) they tend to turn their nose up at it. If they were forced to use Thorium as a fuel they say they’d rather use it in a Gas cooled Reactors or CANDU’s, not least because these represent proven technology, while LFTR’s are in the early concept stage. But many LFTR fans I come across don’t seem to even be aware of the idea that thorium can be used in other reactor designs.

        Again, it is little facts like this that have me worried about “Thorium” advocates. It suggests that they aren’t as well informed about nuclear power as they claim and that they have reasons for supporting LFTR’s are driven more by ideology.

      • TRThomas says:

        Ignoring the fact that you have failed to refute a single fact or argument presented by our host, what stands out about your comment is how rude and sneering it is. This seems to be a common affliction amongst the nuke fan club – probably because they know at some level that their beliefs and dreams are not supported by reality. But rather than accept reality and see that their ideological love of nukes is flawed, they become angry at people who communicate uncomfortable facts.

        A quick Google shows that ‘Dr. A. Cannara’ is “an electrical engineer, software and networking consultant”. So, no expertise or credibility in this subject. Just another amateur with an opinion and an internet connection. Let’s look at a credible source: UK National Nuclear Laboratory “…we are unable to support LFTR as a viable alternative to other reactor systems.” http://i.imgur.com/uGc3jJb.png

        LFTRs are not going to happen any time in the short to medium term. And by the time it might be possible to build one the grid will be designed around distributed renewables. There will be no need for LFTRs and they won’t be able to compete economically.

        Basically, LFTRs are a techno fantasy for a certain personality type – rightwing, authoritarian. And that same personality type is angry, aggressive, and obnoxious when challenged – as ‘Dr’ Cannara has demonstrated.

        P.S. Styling yourself as “doctor” on internet forums makes you look like you’re compensating for something.

        P.P.S. You really shouldn’t be acting the pedant over a few spelling errors given your poor grammar and sentence structure.

      • daryan12 says:

        I think its important to distinguish between the real scientists working on Molten salt tech and the (as you put it) “techno fantasists”, out on the internet “campaigning” for LFTR research.

        This has never sat well with me, real scientists working on renewables, or for that matter LWR research, don’t “campaign” online for it. They may keep a blog, have the odd moan, but if they want funding, they apply for it thro the proper channels (do research proposals, background work in a lab, write journal papers, etc.)

        While I don’t oppose research into this area, I think its important to be clear about the fact that a LFTR is at a fairly low level of technology readiness and along way from commercial maturity…if indeed that’s even possible!

        Inevitably life is about priorities and with 100GW/yr of renewable energy being added annually (see the REN 2013 report) that has to take priority. Nuclear by contrast, I came across a report a wee while ago from the IAEA predicting what amounted to an annual growth of just 6.6 GW/yr for nuclear between 2010 and 2030 (1/15th the rate of renewables!). And I’d even question if this is possible given that at least half the world’s reactors will have hit the end of their service lives by 2030.

        Even those who are pro-nuclear generally want to stick with LWR’s. As switching to a new reactor design would simply (as they see it) be a dangerous distraction at a time when the industry is under threat. And again even if they did take on board Thorium, they’d question why we’d need to go to the whole trouble of re-inventing the wheel when we already have reactor designs (HTGR or CANDU’s) that can use thorium.

  2. redditPoster says:

    You might be interested to know that your blog post has been completely ripped apart here:


    Also, what’s with trusting non-credible sources like IEER over the Royal Engineering Society? What’s the impact factor of their self-published “studies”?

    • daryan12 says:

      - Far from being “ripped apart” most of the comments and criticism I make aren’t even addressed. Also he seems to have missed the point of a “critical analysis”….the whole point is that its supposed to be critical….much like a nuclear power stress test is supposed to be stressful….otherwise its not a “stress test”!

      A word of warning to anyone following the link above, there’s swearing in the above post, so no small children ;)

      It is important we differentiate between the two groups advocating MSR’s – the real scientists and the kool-aid drinking “cargo cult” members. Which category the above poster falls into I shall leave it to the reader to decide. I would note that some symptoms of such “cargo cults” include:
      – Extreme hostility towards alternative options or criticisms of established doctrine
      – An unwillingness to engage in debate about said issues with anyone outside of their peer group
      – A paranoid outlook that seems to fear that “they” are “out to get us”

      ….on this last point you’ll note the blogger posted it reddit and then e-mails me anonymously…obviously he fears I would report him to Obama’s death panels and send in the Black Helicopters ;)

      As far as the actual points he makes on the above post…..

      “there is no Isotope Separation plant…but a chemical separation plant”
      Funnily enough, in my original draft of this article I used the term chemical separation plant, but I was concerned that it might serve to confuse people, especially those for whom English is not their first language, who might think I was refereeing to some else. So I decided to use the term Isotope Separation Plant in order to be clear about what I was talking about. If it makes you so upset, I could easily change it back?

      “The author completely failed to comprehend what he read in the IEER-Sorensen debate”
      I am not a nuclear scientists and don’t claim to be. I was merely highlighting that there was a debate (I gave the links to both sides so that the reader could assess both views himself…if I was “one of them” don’t you think I would have avoided posting a link to Dr Sorensen altogether?)

      Also the wider point I was making is that there is a need to separate out the various “nasty stuff” from the MS/fuel mixture. Mr anon points out the issue of Pa and Th separation himself. Obviously a power station with an associated chemical plant is going to be a lot less economically viable than an alternative reactor design (such as LWR’s or HTGR’s) which require none, or indeed various fossil fuel and renewable energy options.

      “…clueless speculation follow…”
      Part of the problem here of course here is, no such chemical separation plant actually exists, hence I have no alternative but to speculate. All the blogging in the world will not solve this problem and magically conjure you up a working CSP, hard science in a lab and a working prototype will only achieve that. And speculation and hypothesis are what drives such scientific progress.

      “..Author doesn’t seem to comprehend basic thermodynamics…”
      I have a PhD in a thermodynamics related field (natural convection) thought I was initially trained as a Mechanical Engineer, with a Masters specialising in materials science with most of my experience in this field revolving around high strength materials, such as ceramics and so-called “super alloys”. I shall again leave it to the reader to decide whose advice he trusts with on this topic – an anonymous blogger or someone with a PhD!

      “…Heat capacity of FLiBe at 700 °C is about 5 kJ/(L*K)….3 megajoules ….Same litre, in core, generates maybe 200 kW heat, or 3 megajoules every 15 seconds…”
      This and various other rants Mr Anon makes seems to confirm my worst fears, that Mr Anon and possibly many other advocating MSR’s have no idea how much energy this CSP will consume nor the practicalities involved in building and running it.

      Again hard headed economics will come into play. Give a Utility company a choice between a power plant that sells nearly all of the electricity generated to grid, against one where he has to shunt X amount of it into our chemical plant (plus buy in any chemical feedstock, pay staff to run it and of course pay the cost of building the whole thing in the first place) and I think you can guess which design gets taken forward and which one gets left on the shelf.

      My wider point here is that anyone advocating MSR’s needs to come up with some hard answers to this questions not wild speculation, else the concept will never get taken forward.

      “….Actual MSR temperatures are not likely to exceed 750 °C….”
      Indeed the thermal “window” of the MSRE was 705 to 566°C, if memory serves me correct. Unfortunately that’s barely a 260 °C “window” of temperature for our heat exchanger to work with, which as I highlight could lead to issues with poor thermal efficiency or at the very least “complicate” the whole design. The usual practice would therefore be to try and raise this window of temperature up as high as possible, in order to maximise efficiency.

      There are also worse case emergency scenarios where the temperature could drift upwards to in excess of 1,000 °C. It would therefore as I see it be critical that whatever core material is utilised that it must be capable of withstanding the vaporisation temperature of the UF4 or TF4 at atmospheric pressure. This would provide an additional layer of security and maintain the whole idea of passive safety. Now in the case of the UF4 I’m reasonably confident that Hastalloy can do this, but I’m less certain as regards the Thorium option.

      I would also note that one of the major question marks over material selection here (under normal operating conditions) is related to the issue of surviving exposure to the combination of neutron fluxes and molten salt, and not just a simple matter of temperature resistance. Indeed the wider point I was trying to make is missed, my reading of the MSRE results suggest it was seriously pushing the boundaries of what is possible, again notably the intergranular corrosion issue. Now it’s possible there’s a simple work around (I speculate on a few) but equally we have to contemplate that Hastalloy is simply not the correct material choice. Again, the LFTR community seems to think Hastalloy N is a slam dunk, and will hear of no other. If I were working on such an idea I’d be hedging my bets and investigating alternative materials, just in case some “show stopper” for Nickel emerges.

      “…he gets as far as stating positively that LFTRs will be made of ceramics…”
      Indeed its just occurred to me that Tantalum or Molybdenum alloys, or a coating of either on a Hastalloy base might be a viable alternative (while I’ve worked with Ceramics before I probably would pull my own teeth out before recommending its use….oh!…bad memories!). I may do an edit later to reflect on this point.

      Either way, using TF4 rather than UF4 throws another curve ball into the design, and there’s enough technical problems to overcome with this design without adding new ones. So my advice would be ditch TF4 in the short term, get it working with UF4 and if it proves viable then return to the idea of TF4 later, sensible no? Learn to walk before you learning how to run!

      “..completely idiotic premise that LFTRs must be operating at over 1,100 °C..”
      If one was forced into using Ceramics it would seem sensible to make the best of a bad situation, i.e. push the operating temperature of the core higher and improve thermal efficiency. Also core temperatures in this range could allow use of the Sulfur/Iodine process to make hydrogen. Of course whether any of this is economically viable is another matter entirely!
      Again, as I make clear in part 3 of this study, as things currently stand I would avoid using ceramics in any such design unless there was no other choice…..
      …….However, since we are talking about it….I would also note that the manufacturing technology of ceramic materials is improving rapidly. I’ve heard of proposed designs for entire gas turbine and IC engines made out of them, so watch this space. But as far as the here and now goes, yes I’d stay away from ceramics.

      “what’s with trusting non-credible sources like IEER over the Royal Engineering Society?”
      Unfortunately the Royal Engineering Society is something of a shadow of its former self. The destruction of British Industry over the last few decades has sapped it of its strength and it’s been taken over by various lobbying groups for the nuclear industry, very sad.

      Part of the point of groups like the IEER (or Greenpeace) has always been to hold the “establishments” feet to the flames and make sure they do their job properly.

      ….you’ll have to excuse me now I must go. The “silent mode” in my black helicopter needs fixing and I need to get back to Area 51 ;0

    • BlueRock says:

      > You might be interested to know that your blog post has been completely ripped apart here…

      Where “completely ripped apart” in nuke cult parlance means “someone ranted and raged with a little tech jargon to give a veneer of credibility”.

      The very simple litmus test as to who is right: after ~50 years of research, do commercially viable MSR / LFTR designs exist?


      They exist only in YouTube videos and the feverish imaginations of some clearly unstable people on the internet.

      • daryan12 says:

        Indeed yes,

        Do you have any idea how many thousands of engineers and scientists work for established nuclear companies worldwide?

        Do you think that if half of what the LFTR crew would have us believe were true that all these people couldn’t figure it out along time ago?

        And if it were true surely they’d invest in and build LFTRs, why haven’t they done that already?

        The anwer I suspect is that these companies are all too aware of the practical issue and technical barriers that are in the way.

        Now the LFTR guys will come out with various conspiracy theories to explain this fact away, but as I point out in chapter 3 a combination of practical matters, and a certain level of laziness on the part of the industry are much more plausable explainations.

        ….opps! sorry I meant chapter 4!

  3. Inuit says:

    Have you considered the effect of adding 1%-2% niobium to Hastelloy N in order to help combat the inner-granular cracking? Here is a paper on the topic: http://www.moltensalt.org/references/static/downloads/pdf/ORNL-TM-6002.pdf

    • daryan12 says:

      Good point, that might solve a few problems…or create other ones!

      Either way my point is that there’s some material science issues with regard to the MSR that need investigating before any serious reactor test program can be considered.

      Failure to implement this will inevitably lead to delays and cost overruns, as frequently happened with the various Fast reactor and Gas reactor programs of the past.

    • daryan12 says:

      ….In fact my memory’s just been stirred. I seem to remember reading the report you linked to a few months back. Now if memory serves me correct, it did suggest that 1-2% of Niobium greatly reduced (but did not completely eliminate) the cracking problem. However, increasing the concentration of Niobium caused it to reappear. Also the tests did not include the effects of a neutron flux (which may or may not worsen the problem). They also found that minor changes in the salt mixture could cause this problem to reappear or disappear, even in Niobium free samples.

      The above suggested to me that there is some “tipping point” to this problem, if that could be identified, the problem might be solved easily, Niobium might be the solution, some minor change to the salt mixture is another possiblity, but that will need to be checked a little more thoroughly. Alternatively, it could be easier to just use some alternative material, or as I suggested, lining the reactor with a Tantalum or Niobium coating. So further research is needed, as this is the sort of problem you want to work out as early as possible in any design process.

  4. Dez Akin says:

    Wow. The section on the LFTR is simply uninformed at best.

    For instance:

    “Obviously, once we exhaust the world’s U-235 stockpiles, LFTR’s and any other Thorium fueled reactors will cease to function.”

    Start over. with 40 trillion tonnes of U235 in the crust, its not hard to imagine a few thousand LFTRs coming up with enough U235 to make startup fissile.

    Worries about long lived fission products are uninformed at best. Radiotoxicity is inversely proportional to half-life after all…

    “This would be very technically challenging, especially in the LFTR case given the importance about separating out of U-232 (and its Thallium-208 payload) from U-233 or indeed removal of protactinium-233 as well as a host of other nuclear “poisons” discussed.”

    Pa separation isn’t necessary at all. Its desired for some reactors that have compact blankets, but you can have larger blankets without any Pa separation. U232 separation isn’t just unnecessary, its currently undesired as an antiproliferation agent. Sure U232 contamination is terrible if you want to make a bomb, but for a reactor all it does is make the fissile material fine for power and bad for bombs.

    Further the notion that a chemical separation plant that in operating reactors consist of bubbling helium through the salt and vacuum distillation that can rely on passive decay heat will somehow consume a large portion of a gigawatt is… ludicrous. Energy inputs indeed.

    Further, nuclear graphite doesn’t burn the way you suggest, it isn’t necessary in salt only moderated epithermal designs, which is noted. But the notion that a two fluid MSR is more complicated isn’t correct. It vastly simplifies the fuel processing and reduces the reactors exposure to neutron flux to one wall that needn’t be structurally strong and can be replaced if neutron damage is too severe. The challenge is to find a barrier that doesn’t need to be replaced, but a replacement every five to ten years of a tube isn’t exactly dissimilar to refueling of solid fuel reactors, so no real problems there.

    The whole section profoundly misunderstands the advantages and challenges of fluid fuel reactors in general and the liquid fluoride thorium reactor in particular.

    • daryan12 says:

      “40 Trillion tonnes of U-235″

      I think you’ll find the official figures are a bit lower, around 5.9 Mt of proven reserves and 22 Mt of speculated reserves if memory serves me correct. Either way, we cannot simply drag this stuff out of the ground at any arbitrary rate we choose and the key question here is how much of this will be left when the LWR’s are finished.

      Long half lives
      A number of the promoters of MSR’s online highlight the short half-lives of waste from Thorium reactors and argue because of this the waste from them is less of a worry. If what you’re saying is true, then won’t these shorter lived fission products make the Thorium cycle worse than the Uranium cycle? Either way, I was just highlighting a difference of opinion between two versions. You can’t have it both ways!

      Chemical Processing plant
      I’m sure to a physicist it looks like a neat & nice solution. To me it’s an unnecessary complication, to the guys writing the cheques its an unnecessary expenditure. The purpose of this article was to ask “is there something better than the LWR?” Given the power companies a choice between a plant with a CPP or an alternative design without one and guess which one they’ll pick, both now and in the future. Assuming the CPP can be developed, it would mean the MSR consumes less fuel and produces less waste, I mention that. Unfortunately, neither are priorities for the Nuke industry right now (it should be, but its not! get over it!) and it will be along time (at present consumption rates) before the fuel supply difficulties above will change this. I’m not advocating more LWR’s, I’m just explaining why they’re preferred.

      CCP energy consumption
      Yes, but it still will consume some significant amount of electricity, every watt being a watt that doesn’t get sold to the grid. The other designs reviewed do not have this handicap.

      Fire risk/Graphite
      I take you’re point, but all the way through Fukushima the drum the nuclear industry were banging was “it can’t turn into another Chernobyl, because that reactor was made of graphite and caught fire….” The precautionary principle says its your job to prove this fire risk wrong, not me (nor the IAEA’s) job to prove it right. And it’s not me you have to convince; it’s the regulators (inevitably full of LWR guys) and the general public. It would be far easier to just design this fire risk out of the reactor altogether in some way (eliminate the graphite core or bring in fire safety measures), I think we can both agree on that, but we’ll have to disagree about how much we think that will cost.

  5. Dez Akin says:

    “I think you’ll find the official figures are a bit lower, around 5.9 Mt of proven reserves and 22 Mt of speculated reserves if memory serves me correct.”
    Sure. Start over when you realize what proven reserves mean. Then figure out what log normal distribution means. Saying theres X amount from explored open mines at $130/kg is not the same as saying how much you can extract from the crust to produce power. Ordinary granite can supply light water reactors with fissile fuel from an energy basis, and I can run the numbers for you (as I’ve done countless times before) if you’re so inclined. For any breeding cycle its trivially obvious that the entire crust is laid bare. Start with Rossing mine, and you can see where it takes you.

    “If what you’re saying is true, then won’t these shorter lived fission products make the Thorium cycle worse than the Uranium cycle? Either way, I was just highlighting a difference of opinion between two versions. You can’t have it both ways!”

    You don’t understand. In this cycle actinides are consumed, and there is less total radioactivity in the spent fuel, and the waste is more easily managed over shorter periods of time. Now if you want to fear long lived fission products, you might as well try to avoid bananas and airplane flights as well.

    “Assuming the CPP can be developed, it would mean the MSR consumes less fuel and produces less waste, I mention that.”

    Ah, yes, but meaningless, except in the political realm. The advantage is that the chemical plant is simpler than many steam cycles at existing plants, and the true advantage is low pressure; From an engineering/economics standpoint that is. Now the political realm of eliminating waste isn’t exactly as meaningless as you make it out to be, or no one would be wasting any time on carbon capture coal plants, and LFTR’s ofter real economic advantages (low pressure, far higher energy density, lower capital costs) even before getting into the realm of politics.

    “Yes, but it still will consume some significant amount of electricity, every watt being a watt that doesn’t get sold to the grid. ”
    Just how much electricity do you think a couple of pumps would cost? You sound suspiciously unfamiliar with engineering if you think that this is a vast energy sink.

    “The precautionary principle says its your job to prove this fire risk wrong”

    The precautionary principle as applied by all so many dilettantes is poor risk evaluation that makes for iron doors and paper walls. Its why the world has and will continue to embrace the deaths of millions of people a year to accidents related to fossil fuels because they are familiar and banal.

    • daryan12 says:

      What your proposing is crazy, it ignores the most basic principles of geology, energy and economics.

      Ever heard of EROEI? (energy returned on energy invested), it means that beyond a certain point what you propose would consume more energy than it extracted! There are also a host of practical factors to consider, notably digging all that stuff out of the ground, meaning more diggers, front loaders and dumper trucks (and more people to drive them, more cost). You’d also need larger processing plants, more feedstock, fuel etc. Add it all up and below a certain cut off grade of ore it just isn’t practical to mine it any more, nor economic. I’m not sure what the cut off grade for Uranium is, but I’m sure you’ll find it on the NEA website.

      Also there’s the environment to consider. Your “lets just burn off the biosphere” plan would cause enormous environmental damage (hint, we sort of need it to live!). People are much more willing these days to object to mining operations and governments tend to impose much stricter clean up requirements, thought inevitably the environmentalists say not strict enough. Either way both of these two factors have meant that several proposed mining projects have either been shelved or cancelled. I’m personally sceptical about how much of that cherished 22 Mt will ever actually be mined, probably only a fraction of it.

      Also as the price of nuclear fuels would have to rise substantially to make what you propose possible, this would decrease the economic viability of nuclear, and there’s already plenty of people who’ll tell you it’s not cost competitive with renewables (right now!). So obviously in the scenario you paint, we’d abandon nuclear power and focus on renewables instead, or just use less energy and encourage more recycling. I might also note that many renewables (wind, wave, tidal, solar thermal (PV maybe more difficult), hydro) can be mass produced using abundant, easily recycled materials such as aluminium, steel, concrete, etc.

      In short, what you’re proposing is little short of pseudoscience. I would finally note that Meadows etal in the limits to Growth (1972) included a few runs where they basically threw the laws of physics and economics out the window and modelled scenarios not unlike what you propose. The end result? Final collapse of civilisation was hastened and all the more severe compared to the base case scenario.

  6. Inuit says:

    A criticism can be found here if you haven’t seen it already:


    • BlueRock says:

      uvdiv? A very dishonest nuke shill (although, is there a different type?!). I repeatedly debunked his pro-nuke / anti-renewable distortions and cherry picks on reddit before he was banned.

      Unlike our host and his excellent technical analysis, I worked out LFTR was fantasy and vapourware by looking at what is happening in reality *now* and what expert sources are predicting will happen in coming decades. For example:

      * MIT releases major report: The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. http://web.mit.edu/mitei/news/spotlights/nuclear-cycle.html

      There is no mention of thorium as a significant fuel source in the next 30 years – although it does make note of disadvantages. No mention of MSR / LFTR technology. That should be a big clue to anyone fond of reality rather than pleasant techno-fantasies.

      As country after country announces the end of nuclear – even France are now debating a complete exit with overwhelming public support! – and renewables continue their inexorable cost descent, the argument for a new, highly complex, extremely expensive, massively centralised energy source makes non sense. Thorium reactors have been researched and failed to deliver for decades. They had their chance, it’s gone – no matter how many YouTube videos Kirk Sorensen produces. ;)

      • BlueRock says:

        P.S. Some choice quotes from MIT:

        * “Thorium has been considered as a nuclear fuel since the very beginning of the atomic energy era. However, its use in early reactors, whether light-water cooled or gas cooled, has not led any commercial nuclear reactors to operate on a thorium cycle. … Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. … the technology of thorium fuel does not offer sufficient incentives from a cost or waste point of view to easily penetrate the market.” http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/nuclear-fuel-cycle.shtml

      • daryan12 says:


        Ya, I’ll have to go through this (when I’ve time, up the walls the last few days not helped by illness) and see if I can get a feel for MIT’s views on the Thorium cycle.

        The point I’m trying to get across in the article is that there’s a difference of opnion as to how effective an option Thorium would be. These guys over here say its a great idea, but this group over here disagrees, here’s the links and as Fox news (inaccurately) say’s here’s the facts, you decide (of course wt the scandal here in the UK it will soon be Here’s the Hack’s and this is what we’ve decided for you…but I digress)….unfortunately the LFTR guys seem to think what I’m doing is screaming Blasphemy in the Vatican! and so I must be burned as an obvious heretic by the temple guards.

      • BlueRock says:


        > …here in the UK it will soon be Here’s the Hack’s and this is what we’ve decided for you…

        Indeed – with copious assistance from the lovely people at EDF, Areva, Westinghouse, et al. Damian Carrington @ the Grauniad is worth paying attention to – provides some great analyses on how the greed / ideology-driven tossers (not his words :)) are manipulating the market to ensure we have a choice of approximately one energy source (with some token wind power as appeasement):

        * Powering the UK: why the new electricity plan is all about nuclear. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/jul/11/energy-electricity-market-reform-nuclear

        I’m currently fantasising that the Murdoch shitfest will drag Cameron and Co. down with it. It’s good to have dreams. ;)

        Hope you feel better soon. Cheers.


        P.S. Re. extraction of uranium from seawater – more nuke industry fantasy vapourware to distract from the uncomfortable reality of reality. The EROEI would struggle to exceed 1 – and that would be from the outset. The more that gets extracted, the more dilute it becomes, the more energy needed – a never-ending spiral of diminishing returns.

        * Mining the Oceans: Can We Extract Minerals from Seawater? “Extracting uranium from the sea is not a practical possibility.” http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4558

    • daryan12 says:

      Apologies for the delay in putting this up, I’ve been ridiculously busy the last few days!

      Fire risk
      I dealt with this before in previous comments(#comment-105), there is a “perceived” fire risk for graphite cored reactors. Now whether this is due to the graphite catching fire, or it creating an insulating blanket that allows the fuel to burn more furiously is irrelevant. The Precautionary principle says it’s your job to prove there is no fire risk, not my job (or the IAEA’s) to prove that there is a risk. While NuclearGreen’s comments go some way towards doing this (I may include a link to some of those articles he ref’s in a future update), I don’t think it’s been conclusively disproved.
      If adequate fire safety measures are not taken (or the core redesigned without graphite) the safety authorities (inevitably stacked with LWR guys) will never sign off on it, nor will the public accept said reactors presence.
      Also, one of the outcomes post-Fukushima is a proposal that all nuclear power stations have dedicated fire crews, as do all airports and many industrial plants. So this might well be a condition imposed regardless, although the current consensus seems to be to have some sort of dedicated global “Thunderbirds” team which will fly in robots from worldwide to a plant to put out the fire.
      I suspect the fire crew option will re-emerge thought once the practicalities of this are brought up, but watch this space.

      Air cooling
      The article I was critiquing referred to a reactor that “would be air-cooled via large air intakes”, which seemed to imply direct air cooling (i.e. fans), my calculations which I presented in 8.6 refer’s to such a situation. The B&W MPower 125 MW reactor that NG refers to is in fact cooled either directly by water (e.g a river or lake) or by water passed thro condensers (http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?sc=2054744) a quick low down on such systems can be found here (http://www.gea-energytechnology.com/opencms/opencms/gas/en/products/Direct_Air-Cooled_Condensers.html) Much like the forced draught or Hyperbolic cooling towers that I mentioned in 8.6, this system relies on the use of a liquid (tho not the evaporative cooling effect) to achieve high COP’s, tho the water loss per cycle is significantly reduced. While it is often referred to as “air based” cooling (as air is being used to directly cool the liquid as it passed thro the condensers), it’s a very different beast from what I was critiquing (the problems of direct air cooling, i.e fans) as it requires a liquid medium to function. The fact that NG seems to be unaware of the differences between the various cooling systems only serves to compound his original mistake.

      Natural Convection
      Yes indeed we could cool a reactor plant by natural convection, but this would have significant structural implications for the plant design (for starters, to use the stack effect….you sort of need a stack, i.e. a chimney!). So again, it’s a throw away comment, and one that can easily be misinterpreted.
      Such throw away language is dangerous (as with “air cooling”), I could for example say that wind turbines can achieve 60-90% capacity factor (on top of mountains!) or 100% for solar (in Norway during the midnight sun) or that Sarah Palin is an intellectual (compared to goldfish). Such throwaway terms are risky, without first including the caveats under which you apply it.
      If the author is seriously proposing natural convection he should include a discussion of the implications of such systems in a future article (pros and cons), with maybe some calculations of the volumetric flow rates (of air), how to counter backflow issues, structural and practical issues, etc.

      Open cycle gas turbines
      Again I was not proposing their use, quite the opposite, I was debunking the idea as I’ve seen on several blogs. The constant use by NG and Dr Sorenson of such throw away terms as “open cycle” and “air cooled” has obviously led to confusion among some. This is not helping the case for MSR’s. I would also note that the scenario NG describes (using MS mixture to heat atmospheric air in a heat-X which is then run thro a turbine) would not be terribly efficient and again open a few safety loop holes. A compressed gas (ideally inert) or a liquid working fluid in a similar scenario would be a much more efficient and practical option.

      Technical discussions on EfT are a critique of MSR’s
      ….Ah! no! the critique’s I’ve seen here amount to statement such as “MSR’s may work so well they put everyone else out of business” or “they may clean up the environment so well that the bears breed out of control, come out of the woods and eat us all”. There is no real effective critique here of the MSR concept, anyone who does try to do so (as I did) gets jumped on and flamed to a crisp, wt inevitable attacks on his character following.
      Trust me, a lack of effective criticism of a technology is the sort of thing that will automatically set off alarm bells within the minds of the powers-that-be, as they know that any such technology is likely to be at the very early stages of development, too early for them to take it seriously.
      I would also note that the extreme reactions to my attempt at a critique (or the Ecologists) will set off yet further alarm bells as it suggests MSR supporters are not good at handling criticism. Developing a thick skin is a critical survival strategy in the world of science. If you think I’m bad, wait till the nuke industry or Greenpeace start to criticize the MSR!

      Kool-aid drinkers
      I specifically differentiate between the real scientists promoting MSR’s (such as these Fuji researchers, who despite my misgivings at least seem to have their heads screwed on properly) and certain Kool-aid “space cadets” on-line. Its important to do this as the latter can easily scare off investors, politicians and the established scientific community.

  7. Bill Hannahan says:

    REVIEW COMMENTS ON 8.2 The MSRE experiment

    “Notably, it never generated a single watt of electricity. As I’ve mentioned previously the turbo generator systems for high temperature reactors is technically challenging, especially for the LFTR as the molten salt presents a number of design challenges….

    That said, the goal of the MSR experiment was to prove the reactor concept, not develop turbo machinery kit, which would have been a serious (and costly) distraction.”

    The Arthur effectively counters his own point. When GE builds a new jet engine they do not build a new plane to test it on. They test it on a stand. Then they test it on an OLD plane with other well proven engines. After the new design has met its performance requirements it is matted with the new airframe for which it was designed.

    We know how to convert high temperature heat into electric power.

    Checking the author’s link to part 3 to review the technical challenges for LFTR we find this;

    “Several of these proposed reactors have operating temperatures in excess of +800 °C. Some, such as the LFTR would need critical parts to go even higher as much as +1,600 °C…

    So before we even begin our evaluation, we have to conclude that a big stumbling block to several of the proposed reactor designs is this issue of materials choice.”

    One of the great advantages of the MSR is the ability to go to high temperature without pressurization, thereby allowing higher thermal efficiency and reducing component size. The author is trying to make A silk purse look like a sow’s ear.

    The most important quality in an engineer is the ability to compromise wisely. Engineers are trying to create the optimum balance over many issues, construction cost, life expectancy, efficiency, safety, maintainability, operating and maintenance cost etc. The engineer who focuses on one parameter at the expense of all others will design a failure.

    The author makes it sound as if these issues only apply to the MSR, but all engineering is like that, the Chevy volt, Ford Edsel, Boeing 787 etc are all compromises.

    Imagine doing the engineering for a solar thermal plant with molten salt storage. Some collectors are a mile away from the storage facility. They go from blazing hot temperatures at high noon to freezing temperatures on some nights. The salt temperature is constantly changing throughout the cycle, flow rates are constantly being adjusted. Heat exchangers, piping and storage vessels have to be extra large to envelope worst case conditions.

    The constant steady flow of clean high temperature intermediate loop salt into the steam generator of an MSR makes the design of those components a breeze by comparison.

    It is likely that the parametric studies will show that the first generation MSR’s should be simple uranium burning reactors made of familiar materials, operating at the low end of the MSR potential temperature range.

    We must pay for the R&D to do the studies and build a few plants to get the engineering data. That is how we make progress. That is how we develop systems that can make energy cheaper than fossil fuel and end the age of fossil fuel.

    “Stories of said pipe work glowing red (see below) are worrying, as it indicates they were operating well within the thermal creep zone… Consequently, its unlikely one could utilise the same design spec today for a commercial plant.”

    Yes, the design engineers will have to do some engineering to ensure that all materials are operating well within their nominal performance envelope.

    “Also, the MSRE never included the more tricky Chemical Processing Plant. One was designed by ORNL but never installed.”

    Right. This is why I think the first generation MSR will be the simple uranium burner that does not need on line processing.


    The general tone seems to be that the MSR is not mature fully developed technology; therefore we should not pursue it. If humans had taken that view throughout history we would still be living in caves.

    • daryan12 says:

      Apologies for the delay in putting this up!

      “the author counters his own argument…”
      I didn’t, I merely pointed out that the MSRE did not generate electricity, but that it was never intended to, as the goal was reactor research. However for someone to then say that its been proven that the MSR can generate electricity in a highly efficient manner would be innaccurate. While certainly possible, its not yet been proven in a working reactor.

      “The general tone seems to be that the MSR is not mature fully developed technology; therefore we should not pursue it…”
      On the contrary, if you read in part 11 I mention that I see no reason why such research should not be undertaken, I’m just not as hopeful as you are that it will yield a positive outcome! Also I’m being a little machiavellian here in that I realise that any research into MSR’s will be “dual use” and benefit other engineering disciplines too (but the nuke industry will be paying for the R&D!).

      Also given that we have wind energy and CSP at (or approaching) commercial maturity it would be sensible to focus on them now, and worry about MSR’s after/if the concept gets proven. Indeed to stay on topic as regards nuclear, we already have the HTGR which can use the Thorium cycle and deliver a high degree of safety available right now. I’m quite sure the engineers working on that would say why wait around for MSR’s? It would be foolish to base our energy strategy on an ulimately unproven reactor concept.

  8. Bill Hannahan says:

    Review of 8.3 Thorium Cycle questions and problems

    “we’ll still need supplies of Uranium to get Thorium reactors going again whenever we have to turn it off (which will happen at least once a year or so during its annual maintenance shutdown)…

    Obviously, once we exhaust the world’s U-235 stockpiles, LFTR’s and any other Thorium fuelled reactors will cease to function.”

    For the thorium breeder you would only need uranium 235 to startup and breed the uranium 233 sufficient to continue operation. There are 3 billion tons of uranium in seawater. Perhaps half of that is available at less than 5 times today’s price. That’s an insignificant cost in a breeder reactor that uses 1% of the uranium and/or thorium that today’s reactors use, about six ounces per 80 year lifetime supply of electricity at the U.S. consumption rate.

    “Thorium-232 is a problem with its half life of 14 Billion years (and while the T-232 isn’t a major worry its only mildly radioactive, all the time during this 14 Billion years it will be decaying and producing stuff that is!).”

    Right, Thorium-232 is scattered throughout the earths crust, including under your house and mine. So removing it, and converting it to fission products that loose the vast majority of their activity in a few hundred years, while extracting enormous quantities of emission free energy, and placing those fission products in a carefully selected location deep under ground or under the seabed, is a good idea.

    Nuclear power means earth will be LESS radioactive for most of its remaining years than it would have been without humans.

    • daryan12 says:

      THe extraction of Uranium from seawater is an unproven concept, indeed I’ve seen at least one paper saying that it would require almost as high an energy input in the form of the manufacture of the absorbent materials than it would deliver back in return (EROEI and all that) assuming average efficiencies in fuel processing and nuclear reactor running, tho I don’t have that paper to hand right now. This study here (http://www.stormsmith.nl/report20071013/partD.pdf) adresses some of the issues. There’s also the environmental issues that such capture will lead to.

      Either way building our entire energy strategy on a as of yet unproven concept would be dangerous. The same equally goes for Thorium.

      • Bill Hannahan says:

        The extraction of uranium from sea water has been demonstrated at an estimated cost of $160/kg.


        Smith makes some outrageous assumptions to claim that; “the cost estimates by Sugo et al. may be low by a factor of at least 10.” So let’s use his number, $1600/kg, $726/lb.

        Coal, our cheapest fossil fuel, costs 3.2 cents / kWh.


        We generate about 1,500 watts per person in the U.S., so an 80 year lifetime supply of electricity is about 1,000,000 kWh’s. Lifetime fuel cost with coal is $34,000, $424/year.

        A thorium breeder will consume 6 ounces of fuel to make this much electricity. To be conservative lets assume that the uranium required to start the reactor is 10% of the lifetime reactor fuel consumption (it’s probably more like 1%, even less considering that at end of life the uranium 233 can be transferred into a new reactor).

        So the amount of uranium required to start a LFTR per lifetime supply of electricity is 0.6 oz. So the cost of the uranium startup charge, using Smiths estimate, is $27 / lifetime, 34 cents / year. The thorium is essentially free.

        Note that with a uranium breeder, the fuel cost, using Smith’s number, would be $3.40 per year per person, less than 0.5% of the coal cost. This is how fission can put an end to the age of fossil fuel.

        “Either way building our entire energy strategy on a as of yet unproven concept would be dangerous. The same equally goes for Thorium.”

        I agree, that is why I recommend an all out R&D program to make it proven. Right now there is no proven technology that can replace coal at an affordable price.


      • daryan12 says:


        Gonna have to differ till I’ve reviewed both your and Bluerocks links. However, I would say that this “extract uranium from seawater” strikes me as an, at best, blue sky unproven concept. I’ll have to try and find that paper, tho I do recall even Bob Ballard (in one of his books, think it was the Titanic one) having a pop at the idea of minerals from sea water. This is sort of one of those idea’s which I’ll take seriously once I see it actually proven to work, in the mean time we need to focus on what we know does work, not focus on fantasy ideas that might not ever work.

        And if were going to start throwing around nuclear blue sky ideas, I’ve seen several papers presented by the PV guys about the idea of generating hydrogen directly from water using solar energy (without mucking around with Electrolysis) or PV panels with 90-95% energy efficiency, yet (in both cases) these panels use carbon (ironically enough) as the base material rather than those rare earth metals. Now, a fan of renewables I might be, but I’m sceptical of these ideas too. If I ever see one of these things doing its stuff (and I know both ideas are being actively researched as we speak), I’ll take it more seriously, in the mean time I’d recommend sticking with what technology we know works.

  9. Bill Hannahan says:

    Comments on 8.4 The Chemical Seperation Plant and waste output

    “One other misconception on the internet is the view that a LFTR reactor will produce almost no nuclear waste”

    It depends on your definition of almost. To generate an 80 year lifetime supply of electricity for one person in the U.S. with coal we burn 1,140,000 pounds of coal, producing 2,440,000 pounds of CO2 and thousands of pounds of toxic waste, much of it released into the atmosphere.

    To generate a lifetime supply of electricity with today’s reactors we mine about 58 pounds of uranium of which about 10 pounds gets into the reactor and produces 6 ounces of fission products. With breeder reactors we mine 6 ounces of uranium or thorium to do the same thing.

    The complete natural decay of one uranium atom to one stable atom of lead produces about 7 times more radiation than the complete decay of the fission products from one uranium atom. Uranium and thorium are nature’s radioactive waste, distributed throughout the earths crust without special containment vessels. Nature’s radioactive waste is not buried in carefully selected sites deep underground, it can often be found in soil on the surface.

    Some fission products have positive value.

    By destroying 6 ounces of uranium we make earth LESS radioactive for most of its remaining years than it would have been without humans, we prevent the formation of six ounces of lead that would be toxic forever, we produce some valuable material, we produce a lifetime supply of electricity, and we prevent the harmful effects of generating that energy by some other means.

    In my opinion any technology that destroys more waste than it produces meets the requirements of the above sentence.

    “I’ve seen various dusty line drawings of the 1970’s ORNL proposal, you can see them yourself here and here, but that’s it. I would firstly note that materials science and chemical processing technology has moved on hugely in the last 40 years, so I doubt it would be sensible to build an CPP as shown in these plans. A new one would have to be redesigned from scratch.”

    I agree with everything except “from scratch.” It makes no sense to ignore the knowledge and experience gained in the past. We should build on that.

    • daryan12 says:

      Sorry I had to wipe out that you-tube video, don’t want my bandwidth chewed up or getting cease and desist e-mails from people.

      What about the many hundred’s of pounds of mine tailings, spoil and depleted uranium that you end up generating?

      The Uranium we’re mining was safe underground and seperate from the biosphere while most nuclear waste is piled up in reactor cooling ponds or dry cask storage just waiting for an accident to happen. Its the concentrated nature of nuclear waste and the risk it possses for contamination of the biosphere that’s the problem.

      • Bill Hannahan says:

        I do not know why the video came up, I simply inserted this link;


        The uranium is breeder reactor fuel. The amount of mining required is insignificant compared to other mining activities, for example rare earths for windmills, lithium for batteries etc. We can bury the tailings. By cutting off the head off the decay chain its toxicity will drop much faster than it would have.

        The small volume of unused waste can be buried under the sea.


      • daryan12 says:

        Oh, and not so sure about this dumping at sea. Interesting article from the Guardian about it here, plus I know that Greepeace have sent down ROV’s and noted the condition of barrels and found that they were A) moving and B) rusting. Obviously the really nasty stuff (anything with a proliferation risk attached) cannot be disposed of in this way.

      • David says:

        Have you read Craven’s book on “Power to Save the World”? She goes into depth about the manor and locations of deep sea dumping which would make the process very safe. Also, water is one of the best radiation shields.

      • daryan12 says:

        You aren’t seriously going to suggest going on the basis of one popular science book and ignoring much peer reviewed research on this topic which says that waste is better disposed of in other locations, notably deep geological facilities such as being build in Finland.

  10. I do not have time at the moment for a long response. Mr Ryan claims to have a PhD, but does he know how to do research? He still has not got the Wikipedia article graphite, with respect to alleged grapjite fire hazards. He claims that “there is a “perceived” fire risk for graphite cored reactors. Now whether this is due to the graphite catching fire, or it creating an insulating blanket that allows the fuel to burn more furiously is irrelevant. The Precautionary principle says it’s your job to prove there is no fire risk, not my job (or the IAEA’s) to prove that there is a risk.” Perceived by who? Mr. Ryan it would seem. Now whether the claim has to do with graphite ignition or with some secondary effect of graphite on other flammable materials is relevant. First we know have reports from credible scientists in the United States, that nuclear graphite is at worst difficult to ignite and perhaps is impossible to ignite. Secondly we have reports that graphite is a flame retardant. Not the sort of stuff that we would expect to make fires worse. Mr. Ryan does not acknowledge these facts, nor does he offer any explanation. Instead we have a report from Mr. Ryan, IAEA expert, that the opposite is true, even though he does not tell us why.

    Ryan claims to be an expert on graphite fire risks. But I pointed out to him papers which are available from the US DOE’s Information Bridge, that I was able to locate over the course of a few days research. Ryan claims to be employed by the IAEA to do research, but I appear to have done a better job than he has in researching a topic he gets paid for researching. The IAEA ain’t getting its money worth as far as I can see. if a rank amateur like me can do a better job than he can. .

    Ryan also misrepresents my views on air cooling. First, if he knew what he claimed to know, he would know that the primary coolant in molten salt reactors is molten salt. This should be obvious for anyone who works for the IAEA as Mr. Ryan claims too. Instead his attributes to me a view that proposes to MSR internal cooling, not with molten salt, but with air. In the United States we are smart enough to figure out that air cooling refers to secondary cooling, but this news has not filtered through to Europe, and not to the IAEA. Thus when we speak of the mPower being air cooled, we understand that we are speaking of the cooling of condensor heat, not of the nuclear core. Likewise if we speak of air cooling of MSRs, we are either speaking of condensor cooling if a MSR provides heat to a steam generator or of dispersion of waste heat from either a closed cycle turbine or an open cycle turbine. Of course water can be used for that, and it might also be possible to move the waste heat through a boiler.

    As for a MSR fire risk. Mr. Ryan there are three major materials that can be found in MSR core. They are Graphite, Fluoride salts and either a nickel alloy shell (or Shells), or steel shells. I would expect none ofthese to be flammable. If a MSR is operated according to ORNL operating principles, no air will be allowed inside the MSR shells. Again if the MSR is opperated according to ORNL rules, the core will be emptied into a drop tank every time the reactor is shut gown. The core is then filled with a gas that will not react with oxygen. So where is the fire risk?

    • daryan12 says:

      Whoa there Josephine!

      who say’s I work for the IAEA? I was merely highlighting the fact that throughout the Fukushima crisis the IAEA guys appearing in the news, or any of the other Nuclear experts kept on going on and on about how it could not turn out like Chernobyl as that had a graphite core, blah, blah blah!

      Like I said, the issue of fire is at best undecided. I can say tho that here in the UK they have several graphite cored reactors, and the guys running them will tell you that while the risk of a core fire is low (and they’ll usually decend into a massive tirade against LWR’s pointing out a host of things that can go wrong with them, all far more likely occurances) they crtainly aren’t zero, and its doubtful the safety regulators would sign off on a similar design today.

      Whether you’d need to go as far as I do I don’t know, but certainly you’d need to do something to tick this box, else you won’t get it signed off. Show up at a reactor license approval hearing and say “graphite can’t catch fire so we didn’t account for it in the design…dah!” and you’ll be met by cold stares and silence, broken as they stamp a large “denied” on your form in red ink.

      At what point did I suggest MSR’s would use air as the primary coolant? I mean its called an M-S-R how could I not know the primary coolant was Molten Salt? As for air in the secondary loop, I reckon that would be a silly idea! That’s my point, better an inert gas of some sort! The issue of water/air cooling of the secondary fluid is a bit of a red herring as we don’t know enough about how these things will operate to make a call on this and its largely dependant on where the reactor is sited.

      “If a MSR is operated according to ORNL operating principles, no air will be allowed inside…”
      There’s your problem IF, what if its not operated this way or we have a technical malfunction, or some crazy terrorist decides to fly a plane into the thing? While unlikely, we need to consider these sorts of things.

      …oh, and its Dr Ryan by the way ;)

      • BlueRock says:

        > …or some crazy terrorist decides to fly a plane into the thing?

        Pre-empting the inevitable response that “reactor cores are totally impervious to aeroplane strike!”. No, they’re not. E.g.:

        * Nuclear risk from plane crashes is higher than estimated. A plane crash could trigger a ‘significant radiological release’, according to an inquiry into the expansion of Lydd airport in Kent, UK. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/21/nuclear-risk-plane-crashes

        And that’s from *light* planes.

        Also, some scary person on the interweb gave me this suggestion a while ago: load up a cargo plane with the prop. shaft from a large ship and fly that in at a few hundred knots. That’ll give any nuke core a bad day.

        P.S. Geek p0rn: http://www.geek.com/articles/chips/mit-researchers-are-printing-solar-cells-on-sheets-of-paper-20110713/

      • daryan12 says:


        Now that you mention it those AGR staffers (cynical old grey beards I’d descibe them as) did mention to me a couple of “things we’re not allowed to do” to the reactor, which I’m specifically avoiding mentioning as I do not want to be accused of giving terrorists tips and pointers. So let’s leave such talk at that….and suggest that what terrorist really shouldn’t do….is go…pick up all the litter on my street….or go after Murdoch….oh! we’d surrender tomorrow if they did that ;)

        Certainly tho, we do need to consider the possiblity that some nut case will do something to a reactor in future, tho I’ll equally admit that its an unlikely scenario and to be perfectly frank terrorists don’t strike me as being that smart. More “3 lions” than “executive decision”.

        Even so, as I think Amory Lovins put it “nobody’s threatening to fly planes into windfarms”

      • BlueRock says:

        > …….or go after Murdoch….oh!

        I have a spare room if anyone needs bed and breakfast while they’re carrying out the assassination. I can make a packed lunch if needed. [Dear MI5, that was a joke. Mostly.] :D

        > …as I think Amory Lovins put it “nobody’s threatening to fly planes into windfarms”

        Indeed. Another excellent Lovins’ quip: “Boiling water with nuclear energy is like cutting butter with a chainsaw.”

    • daryan12 says:


      “…a rank amateur like me…”
      Seriously! I had you down as a PhD in physics, or at the very least an employee of ORNL. No offence, but should you really be handing out advice on nuclear technology if your “a rank amateur”. At the very least you should acknowledge that fact on your website.

      Now, I’m not calling myself an expert in nuclear physics, indeed I point out the limits of my expertise (limited to thermodynamics, engineering and materials science) at several points, but I’m not advocating the construction of a whole new fleet of experimental (and generally untested) reactors in vast numbers…you are!

      Also note your comments on Fire risk are in my “in tray” and as soon as I get a chance to attend to the matter I’ll probably do an edit to show a difference of opinions on this matter…unfortunately, my “in tray” is sort of full right now! So it will be a couple of days before I do this, you’ll have to be patient.

  11. Bill Hannahan says:

    FOLLOWUP on sea water uranium comment by bluerock. “Extracting uranium from the sea is not a practical possibility.”

    If Bardi is right why can’t he answer questions? Why can’t he find the error in contrary analysis? What is your answer to these questions?


    • daryan12 says:

      Uranium from seawater
      I think you’ll find Barti’s original paper below, published in the Journal Sustainability. How credible a journal it is I don’t know, as I’m not familiar with it, but clearly Barti’s work has been thro the meat grinder of peer review.

      My favourite quote “it means that we would have to appropriate the whole North Sea with adsorption structures in order to get enough uranium for just 16% of the present world’s electric power production”
      Clearly impractical!

      Barti also cites one or two journals that reach similar conclusions to his, notably a Dr Dittmar. His name rings a bell, I seem to recall hearing a talk by him at a conference a few years ago, in which he mentioned something about Uranium from water and pointed out that you’d needs to capture something like 4-5 times the flow of the Rhine river just to run one or two reactors (don’t quote me on that I’ve probably got the exact figure mixed up). Again, hopelessly impractical.

      I would also remind you of this study I linked to earlier:

      Also reviewing the doc’s Bluerock linked to from MIT (which I just remembered that I’d read before) I see no mention of Uranium from Seawater. Thorium is barely mentioned either and usually only in the context of Fast Reactors.

      Also there’s the practical issues to consider. Who owns the oceans? I doubt the Russians will be happy if the Japanese start floating vast absorbent membranes out into the Pacific, nor indeed will their own fishermen. There’s the environmental costs to consider, fish stocks and the oceans are under enough stress as things stand. It needs harvesting of Uranium like a hole in the ozone layer….oh! wait damn! We have one of those already!

      Even just on a purely financial basis, a fishing boat can land several thousand or tens of thousands of euros worth of fish per trip. This fish needs little processing before being sold on to the customer. Your membranes yield only a few hundred euros of Uranium each, need huge levels of energy intensive processing and then be run thro a power plant before the customer sees anything. Whose lobby group do you think will prevail? Hint…the Fisherman’s lobby group is much larger and they have meat hooks and harpoons!

      All in all, I’d argue that Uranium from sea water is, at best, an idea on the fringes of science (at worst a pseudoscience) and cannot be considered as a viable alternative at this time.

    • BlueRock says:

      Bill Hannahan

      > If Bardi is right why can’t he answer questions?

      Don’t know. You’d need to ask him. Maybe, like me, he can’t be bothered to read, research and respond to every challenge that appears on the interwebs.

      Here’s one way to shut us all up: prove that it is technically and *economically* viable to extract uranium from seawater at quantities that could supply a global nuclear industry.

      Sensational claims on the internet are cheap and easy. Real world implementation, not so much.

  12. Bill Hannahan says:

    Comments on 8.5 Graphite core and Fire Risk

    “Graphite is basically ultra high grade coal!” …

    The Windscale reactor is basically a stovepipe charcoal starter with forced air ventilation, scaled up to the size of a power plant. If the designers had actually used coal as a moderator it would have fired up like a blast furnace. It would have destroyed the vent filters, vaporized much of the fuel and likely collapsed the building.

    “Inspections have shown that there was NOT a graphite fire: damage to graphite, caused by severely overheated fuel assemblies, was localised.”


    Graphite clearly does not burn like coal. The claim that, “Graphite is basically ultra high grade coal!”, is either based on lack of knowledge or it is deliberate disinformation.

    The author acknowledges that in a MSR the graphite will normally be submerged in molten salt, not air. I expect the dump tank will be filled with an inert gas. When the core is dumped, a vent line from the top of the dump tank to the top of the reactor vessel will transfer the inert gas into the reactor vessel. The reactor room will likely be inerted as well.

    For air to get to the graphite at least two barriers must be breached, and there will be no fans to generate a high flow rate.

    If the graphite did somehow burn, recall that the vast majority of fission products would be safely tucked away down below in the dump tanks, or previously removed to safe storage. Only a thin patina of fission products on the graphite would be subject to fire, not enough to support a big release.

    The graphite fire hazard claim with MSR’s is a groundless fabrication.

    A 50 year follow up of Windscale workers showed;

    “Despite the higher doses received by the fire cohort workers the SMRs by decade for
    all malignant cancer are consistently lower than those of the non-fire cohort workers.”


    Comments on 8.6 Why air cooling a LFTR would be a very bad idea

    “Another misconception is that LFTR’s can be air-cooled (here and here) rather than being dependant on the water cooling process we utilise in most other power stations.”

    Actually the high temperature of MSR’s makes them ideally suited for dry cooling in arid climates.

    “Firstly, fire safety, air is an oxidising substance. Fires start all the time at power stations (fossil fuel fired and nuclear ones), especially in the turbine halls and the last thing we want in an emergency is a load of big cooling fans blasting in air and literally fanning the flames!”

    I think the author has since acknowledged that the fans would be cooling the condensers located outside the turbine hall, not in the turbine hall or reactor building.

    “In this scenario we’d face the dilemma between stopping the fans and cutting of the source of cooling”

    The steam plant and its condenser are not a safety related systems, the reactor does not rely on the steam plant for safe cooling. Decay heat will be removed by natural convection of air or water. There are no flammable materials in or around the dump tanks.

    Regarding this; “The Uranium we’re mining was safe underground and seperate from the biosphere.”

    According to the EPA, thousands die from radon exposure every year in the U.S. alone. Nuclear power is far safer than natural uranium left in the ground.

    • daryan12 says:

      Graphite fire…
      I’ve been over this before a few times now, the “basically high grade coal” was a quip by an ex-nuclear industry worker (in the UK so spent much of his life walking on top of just such a graphite cored reactor). I might need to emphasise in a future edit that it was a quip not an official policy statement from BNFL or something like that!

      “…The graphite fire hazard claim with MSR’s is a groundless fabrication…..”
      I would strongly disagree. Sitting in front of me is a textbook, “Energy” by Aubrecht (2nd ed). He discusses the Chernobyl accident during his chapter on nuclear safety (chapter 18) mentioning the Graphite fire and how it helped carry radiation far and wide. He cites a Lawrence Livermore study showing a simulation of the fire induced spread of radiation over Western Europe. He cites several journal papers to back this analysis up. He also then goes on to discuss the Windscale fire, again citing several publications.
      You’ll see below three links from the recent Fukushima accident where we were assured that it couldn’t turn out like Chernobyl as that has a big graphite core….etc, etc.

      In all cases they quote a “Russian expert” or “IAEA sources” tho for all I know this might be the one Russian IAEA guy going around and doing multiple interviews! I also seem to recall an interview given by Hans Blix (who was the IAEA’s front man at Chernobyl) about the fire there and the problems it presented. The official NEA report “Chernobyl: 10 years on” specifically mentions a graphite fire and the difficulties encountered trying to put it out (chapter 1 below).

      I just had a quick trawl thro “Sciencedirect” and they cite several papers in a similar vein, both related to Chernbyl, Windscale and future reactor proposals. tho I’ll need to get behind a uni paywall and read thro them before I start ref’ing them. Either way there is clearly a “perceived” safety risk associated with Graphite cored reactors and it would scientifically incorrect to ignore this reality.

      And we’ve only discussed the more “normal” issues affecting a reactor, what about the consequences of a terrorist attack with a jet airliner? or a serious earthquake, etc. Any of these could easily start a major fire. Hence the importance of “defence in depth” and that means talking this issue seriously.

      …..BUT….On the other side of our scales, there is the paper’s that you and NG cited which disputes this description of events above. The one about Windscale is particularly interesting, as until a few years nobody could get near it to do a proper inspection and work out how much (if any) of the core had burned and it directly contradicts several other reports.

      So what I’m going to do is an edit in future to show this difference of opinion (as a quick fix I’m going to link to your post above, K?).
      However, since I’d still argue that the fire risk has not been completely eliminated, I should also include a discussion on the fire risk issue, as my suspicion is that the authorities will insist on seeing some measures taken before signing off on any future reactor.

      “the fuel will be safely tucked away in dumb tanks”
      IF the fuel dump process goes okay! This is the danger here, you’re relying on the successful functioning of your fuel dump process to counter the fire risk issue, i.e. relying on a backup system to work properly. Rule #1 of passive safety is “never rely on your backups!” by doing so you defeat the whole point of having backups! Defence in depth would require that other measures be taken also, although this could be as simple as just putting it all in a reinforced concrete building designed to withstand a high temperature fire.

      I was attempting to debunk a waver thin proposed design that would have bypassed several of the safety measures you mention. The point I’m trying to get across is that the same laws of physics and thermodynamics affect MSR’s as affect other reactors. While they might be a little easier to cool, they’re not substantially different and you still need some water on site and a secondary cooling loop, which has various design implications. Again, a minor edit should clear the matter up.

      Aubrecht has something to say about Radon too. He does mention (and pour cold water on) a dated (1987) paper in “Science” that talked of 13,600 deaths a year from Radon….trouble is the base case they used were Uranium mining workers, not householders! He also quotes a National Academy of Sciences study which suggests that a tripling of Radon levels to 150 Bq/m3 (v’s an average of 50 in the US) would increase your cancer risk by around 1%. Nasty, but not as bad as smoking!
      On the other hand he later mentions how Uranium mine tailings bring to the surface some 18.5xE15 Bq’s of radioactive material per year (and I think that’s just within the United States!), and there have been studies showing that this has led to minor (but still significant, 2 sv/yr in some cases) increases in radiation among people in towns such as Salt Lake City, Grand Junctions and Soda Springs. Again tho I’d note his sources are a little dated, but it gives us a flavour for the situation.

      And again we’re not “destroying” radioactive material in a reactor, we’re merely transmuting it from one form to another and were still left with a large pile of “nasty stuff” sitting in a storage container which we now have to either re-bury or baby sit for a few millennia.
      So all in all I’d argue uranium mining causes as many (if not more) problems than it solves.

  13. Mr. Ryan, recognizing the limitations of my credentials, I try to stick with the authority of credible sources, look for verifiable facts, and proceed only where logic takes me. You claim to know what happens at reactor licensing hearings, claiming that licensing authorities would reject any claim regarding graphite flammability.
    In fact General Atiomics has made such claims to the US NRC, and has backed them up with demnstrations similar to this.

    • daryan12 says:

      Your entire position seems to be that I’m saying “graphite cores catch fire the instant you put a match to em so ya can’t use em”. When What I’m actually saying is “there’s a potential fire risk here which we need to mitigate or design out of the system”.

      You don’t seem to understand how risk management works, nor that it’s not unheard of to have a difference of opinion between two scientific sources (I list several in my comments here (http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/#comment-135) which suggest graphite fires are a major risk. We do not go with the first piece of evidence we happen upon which supports our pre-decided conclusion (then try and bully others into excepting this), nor base decision where hundreds of lives are at stake on you-tube videos. Good engineers weight up the evidence and try to work out a safe course of action. As soon as I’ve assembled everything, I’ll probably be editing the article in question.

      “You claim to know what happens at reactor licensing hearings”
      No but I know how its supposed to work, when money and politics don’t interfere! The NRC should weight up all the available evidence both for and against, likely knowing them, using a complex statistical model that nobody other than Steve Chu will understand, then make a decision based the on evidence. One or two pieces of evidence for or against doesn’t count as conclusive proof either way.

      Also I would note, that you appear to be referring to the MHR, this is a very different beast from the MSR. Its design specifies that it be located underground with a containment building on top (this will solve some problems, but as I note in section 10.2.2 create a couple of others!). It is filled with an inert gas at 7bar+ (positive pressure) and its graphite core contains a layer of SiC to offset the fire risk (Penner etal 2007).

      Its possible the NRC may sign off on the above, its possible they’ll add a few extra conditions (such as those which I speculate on), we’ll see. However to then jump to the conclusion that just because they’re thinking of approving one graphite cored reactor that they’ll automatically approve of all of them, simply isn’t correct. The MSR would have to be weighted up on its merits, and that would include considering the various failure modes brought on by its CPP and exactly what form of MSR design we are advocating. Devils in the detail.

  14. Mr. Ryan, The sources I sited contradict your position and they are highly credible sources that deal in facts not speculation. I pointed to the records of a British committee that had been assigned the task, of finding the causes of the Windscale fire when that reactor was finally taken appart. Their finding was no fire. You have not the slightest idea what the NRC’s position on Graphite is, because you have not looked. The NRC stated in an Post-Chernobyl assessment of high temperature, graphite moderated, gas cooled reactors that, “The staff assessed the areas of operations, design, containment, emergency planning, and severe accident phenomena and found that the implications of the Chernobyl accident have generated no new licensing concerns for HTGRs; general conclusions and those pertaining to specific areas are the same as those for LWRs. In performing its assessment, the staff reviewed the existing information related to these areas and concluded that programs underway or being considered adequately satisfy any concerns that could be generated because of the Chernobyl accident. Thus, this licensing issue has been resolved.”

    Your attempts to modify your original position in order to deal with facts that have been pointed out to you would be called weaseling here. You are certainly not adding to your credibility.

    • daryan12 says:


      Firstly, the paper you point to with regard to Winscale is the minutes of a committiee meeting not an official statement or scientific anaylsis that has been subject to peer review. One could be unkind and describe it as “gossip”. It is also contradicted by one or two literature sources which say the several of the radiation products at Windscale (Chamberlain 1981 sticks in my mind) and Chernobyl (see the NEA report on the matter) had to have been caused by a graphite fire. Both of these latter two have been subject to peer review. “fire risk” has long been cited as a concern for all graphite cored reactors and while I detect a slight softening on this issue, I don’t see anything that would lead me to believe that there’s been a fundemental shift.

      You’re statement from the NRC above sounds like a quote, got a reference for that? If its that one related to the N reactor (a plutonium breeding non-power reactor, built in the middle of nowhere), don’t bother, its an entirely different beast and having read through it the paper’s entire position is based on spectulation rather than hard scientific anaylsis. Furthermore it relates to an existing plant (since shut down) not a newly built on. One cannot apply it as a statement on all other graphite cored reactors (that would be being “a weasel”).

      More important, I was left under the impression that the articles you linked to on the fire issue reperesented experimental data, it does not. There’s one related to a computer simulation (a very dated one I might add), which I still need to go thro and this one about the N reactor that low on scientific detail and directly contradicted by other sources. Without hard experimental data to back up your position (i.e. tests that have actually been run in a lab to determine the behaviour of graphite under a fire), then your position is untenable.

      Weasling? Ah, no! real engineers and scientists are prepared to change there position when present with facts that contradict a past held position. I presented several pieces of evidence that contradicted your position before (see comment 135), yet you’ve ignored them. It is people who rigidly stick to a position ignoring all evidence to the contrary, that are the “weasels”. And you are certainly not adding to your credibility by behaving in such a way.

      • Mr. Ryan, In the next two weeks or so, I intend to post a multi-part discussion of the Windscale fire, in which I will discuss the causes of the fire, what burned, and the subsequent political cover up of the facts. The same coverup, which I might add, you seem to be perpetuating by your graphite fire claims.

      • daryan12 says:

        Yes Mulder,

        You go and do that, but watch out for the Black helicopters Steve Chu, the IAEA, NRC and MI6 send after you!

        I would note that any “conspiracy” regarding Windscale was a case of saving ass by the then Tory gov and trying to deflect blame onto the staff involved (and not the bomb program), rather than to blame it all on graphite. The then government had just signed off on a whole series of graphite cored reactors at the time, but hey, why let facts get in the way of a good story!

        “…The same coverup, which I might add, you seem to be perpetuating….” LOL (…for about 10 min’s!…funniest thing I’ve heard in ages!). You have me down as a busy person, I mean when I’m not working for the IAEA, I’m sitting on NRC board meetings or banning incandescent bulbs, but I’m also helping to cover up Windscale! …In fact you know what ya! you’ve got me! Yes, I was the one who supervised the move of the Windscale reactor. Its now stored in the Torchwood bunker under Cardiff bay. We tried to send it to Hangar 18 but Royal Mail said they couldn’t get it in the letter box and returned it to sender. We’re using it as a holding pen for the Darleks…(LOL again!)

        ….meanwhile…back in the real world…you’ll note that I’ve since expanded the article on fire risk to include a brief discussion about how likely (or unlikely) a fire in graphite reactor is. Funnily enough I was originally going to link to one of your articles as a reference, but your paranoid ravings have lead me to question whether this was sensible, so I went and found some sources of my own (both for and against)….with a little help from the Smoking Man!

  15. Jim Holm says:

    I am an engineer that, after the 1973 energy crisis, was active for quite a while in wind turbine technology. While I undestand renewables cannot be a large, long-term source of the heat necessary to maintain civilization, I do have a wind turbine design that I think is best.

    With your in-depth knowledge of nuclear reactors, what is your pick for the best so far?


    Jim Holm, PEng.

    • daryan12 says:

      My position on nuclear is that its a niche carbon free energy source that some countries with poor renewable resources might need to rely on during the energy transitions to come. However, if forced to pick reactors, I’d go for the some sort of smaller (60-100 MWe) passively safe verison of the BWR or PWR or failing that a small ot medium sized (100-250 MWe) HTGR. I justify this decision on the basis that both designs would be much safer than existing reactors (important in the post-Fukushima climate), rely on proven technology, offer greater flexibility, could be used as industrial heat sources and could potentially be easier to decomission (again that last one is debatable).

      The downside is of course that both of the above options would likely be more expensive than our current crop of mega-LWR’s as we’d be loosing economy of scale (and gas cooled reactors are likely to be a more expensive option anyway!). However, my point would be, that if we’re only planning on building a relatively small number of them world wide, such higher costs could be justified, given all the other benefits that they would bring. Quality not quantity and all that.

  16. Sue Reid of the Daily Mail also is being chased by black helocopters. On March 19, she wrote:
    Yes Mulder,

    The truth is that Macmillan ordered an official cover-up — fearing the British people would reject the idea of nuclear energy if they found out about the accident or its potential danger to human health.

    The Government decreed that the official report into the fire should blame operator negligence and failed instrument readings. What’s more, ministers made sure the document would be kept secret by sealing it for 30 years.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367776/UK-Government-covered-nuclear-reactor-blaze-caused-death-cancer.html

    Similar reports have appeared on the BBC.
    In the United States that would be called a cover up, but you, Mr. Reid, still chose to believe what Harold MacMillan wanted you to believe in 1957.

    • daryan12 says:

      I SAID there was likely a coverup to blame the STAFF (can’t you read!) and NOT the bomb program nor your cherished graphite cored reactors, which the government had just approved a whole series of. If you think they could have come up with a story that didn’t involve the graphite catching fire that they would have done so? But all the evidence at the time seem to point to the fact that it did. So the article proves what I just said, but like I said, don’t let “facts” stand in the way of a good story.

      and btw the Daily Mail aka “the paper that supported the third reich” is hardly a reliable source of info!

      And Ms Reid also starts off the article by saying “Britain’s nuclear inferno: How our own Government covered up Windscale reactor blaze that’s caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of cancer cases”

      and then “Macmillan ordered an official cover-up — fearing the British people would reject the idea of nuclear energy if they found out about the accident or its potential danger to human health”

      Selective editing going on by CB me thinks!

    • BlueRock says:

      When you start ‘citing’ the Daily Fail, it should be a clue that there is something seriously wrong with your argument and your ability to determine credible sources from rightwing comics.

      My two favourite apologies from the never-ending stream that they need to publish:

      * “In fact Mr Bellamy had not been on an all day drinking session nor did he assault anybody. Mr Bellamy has been working in Sierra Leone setting up a charitable foundation for local children. We apologise for any embarrassment caused.”

      * “This was wrong. David Gest has never had a sexually transmitted infection and did not have Ms Minnelli’s dog killed.”

      > Similar reports have appeared on the BBC.

      Yes, “similar”. It’s those pesky details that often seem to differ.

  17. Mr. Ryan, you attempt to establish your case. Where is your proof that the Windscale fire was a graphite fire?

    • daryan12 says:

      Groan!….you’re starting to sound like a stuck record.

      Why do I need to establish my case when stating a known historical fact! Fears of graphite fires have always stalked the nuclear industry right from its earliest days, its why they build the Handford piles in the middle of nowhere, it was one of the reasons Heisenberg dismissed graphite in favour of heavy water (which effectively made it impossible for the nazi bomb program to keep up). Windscale seemed to confirm those fears, thought I’ll admit recent evidence does give one reason to doubt the strength of these past arguments, but not sufficiently to completely dismiss them. At the time (in the 50′s) it was natural for the investigators (who couldn’t even see much of the pile due to the radiation) naturally concluded that it had caught fire along with the fuel. While there may have been some effort (possibly even a “conspiracy”) to loft blame onto the staff (rather than the bomb program) this is a completely seperate issue.

      Much like your conspiracy theory that LFTR research was killed in favor of LWR’s to support plutonium production (actually simple economics and practical issues seem more likely reasons) you’re again attempting to concoct some half baked loony theory.

    • daryan12 says:

      And to head off any attempt by you to re write history:

      “…apparently in 1948 no less an authority than Edward Teller visited Harwell and raised the spectre of a fire starting in a graphite pile…” New Scientist, Nov 1982

      ” Hinton knew about the graphite questions, and noted in the Three Banks Review that using graphite presented ‘grave difficulties’ – that ‘it might be necessary to abandon the use of graphite as moderator and use heavy water instead’ ” Going Critical (1985), relates to a conversation in the 1950′s

      “The pile is cooled by water to eliminate the risk of fire” and “….but they (nazi bomb program) made the mistake of dismissing the use of graphite due to doubts about its effectiveness…” Into the Atomic age (published 1947)

    • daryan12 says:


      And I also have another more recent paper (2004) from Edward Teller somewhere in which he mentions the small but real risk to MSR’s possed by a graphite fire. Obviously of course, you a “rank amateur” knows way more than me or Edward Teller about nuclear physics.

      • daryan12 says:

        And btw I know Teller died in 2003, but he was 2nd author and strangely they didn’t publish the paper till…jasus! 2005. That’s peer review for you! And I thought I was having problems!

  18. By the way, thank you for the link. Now I know where the Windscale graphite fire story cam from. By the way, Teller was right that natural graphite is flammable, but he did not understand that nuclear graphite was not. General Atomics was the first to challenge the Graphite fire danger myth, and the NTC has accepted the General Atimics view with a few reservations.

  19. J. P. Logan says:

    The author vastly overcomplicates the answer to a simple question; why are LFTR’s a bad idea and a complete waste of time? The truth is remarkably simple.

    The molten salt reactor was proposed back in the 1960’s as a cheap breeding cycle for U-233 and plutonium fuel. Back then it was feared that a shortage of nuclear fuel was imminent. This hasn’t happened, vast reserves of Uranium were subsequently found in Northern Canada, Africa and Australia. A few days ago another large reserve was found in India. Also due to the economics of the time and TMI, the pace of nuclear reactor roll out worldwide has slowed substantially. Hence as no Uranium shortages are anticipated for some time, the primary purpose for which the MSR were intended, breeding fuel, is no longer an issue.

    As the author above correctly identifies using a MSR or LFTR as a power source would be technically challenging and probably uneconomic. Any MSR plant would pay for itself through fuel sales to existing light water reactors. As no supply shortage of fuel is anticipated any time soon, its not an economically viable idea. Even a doubling or tripling of nuclear power use globally would still not create the right economic circumstances to change this. And we’ll likely have Fusion by the 2050’s anyway.

    Thorium? As even the author above (anti-nuclear!) can identify there are already multiple reactor designs that can use the Thorium cycle notably, the CANDU and the Pebble-bed reactors. Both reactors are proven technology and have been tested running on Thorium since the 1980’s. We’re not running them on Thorium right now, because the economics say Uranium is a better fuel.

    The whole premise on which Kirk Sorensen and his supporters are selling LFTR’s to the world is both false and misleading.

    Only a massive expansion of nuclear energy use AND a failure to get Fusion power working would ever justify investment in LFTR’s and even then the purpose of them would be to generate fuel for other reactors.

    • daryan12 says:

      Some good points here, ta! Certainly economics seems to be the one major stumbling block for a MSR, as I personally share your doubts that they can be built on an economic basis and compete against LWR’s or indeed renewables.

      “…we’ll have fusion by the 2050′s…”
      You might want to give section 9 a skim. While its possible we’ll “have” fusion by then it depends how you define “having fusion”. If its one or two uneconomic test reactors that generate little to no commercial electricity, ya that a possibility, but if you mean a vast fleet of hundreds of fusion reactors, that could take a while longer…end of the century sort of time line. Also most of the major energy problems we face are likely to hit between now and 2050, so Fusion is not really an answer to our immediate energy problems. Tho I suspect you’re point is that we’ll probably develop something better than fission (or have abandoned its use) long before uranium supplies got to the stage where a LFTR became a viable alternative.

      Candu’s & Pebble bed’s
      While both have used Thorium, I suspect you’d be stretching things to say its been completely proven, as in both cases a number of technical problems emerged. But granted, certainly it would be more sensible if we were to start using Thorium tomorrow to use these reactors and solve those problems than try and invent some entirely new contraption, so I take you’re point.

    • Inuit says:

      LFTR supporters are not suggesting that we will run out of uranium. We’re saying that with the LFTR the fuel will be significantly cheaper per MWh because thorium can be fully burned up in it. Other reactors use u-235, which is far more rare (and thus more expensive) than thorium. Not only that, but with solid fuel reactors you have to create complicated fuel elements, which nuclear power companies make a lot of money selling.

      It’s also false to suggest that this is the “whole premise” on which we’re trying to advocate for LFTRs. We think there are many other advantages.

      • daryan12 says:

        I think the point being made is that many of the advantages of MSR’s won’t appear until the Uranium supplies start to run down. If as you suggest supplies are not an issue (and I’m not necessarily buying the point that they are’t going to run scarce), then its unlikely market conditions to support LFTR’s would ever emerge. Fuel costs matter little to nuclear power companies right now, its installation costs that count.

      • daryan12 says:

        …..and reading the above post I think the “whole premise” comment refers to the Thorium issue, i.e. we already have two reactors types that can use Thorium so why go to the difficulty and expense of developing a third?

      • Inuit says:

        The current cost of 1kg uranium reactor fuel is $2769 per kg (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html). When you factor in the low fission rate for solid fuel reactors, you’re basically burning platinum. Fuel costs may be small compared to current alternatives like natural gas, but they are still fairly significant (see link.)

      • daryan12 says:

        I think you’ll find the current platinum price is a little bit higher….as in $57,000 a kilo (http://platinumprice.org/), i.e. you’re numbers are off by a factor of 20! As I believe I pointed out in my blog you guys have a habit of being off in you’re calculations by a disturbing amount. Should we really be trusting people who are so awful at maths with the world’s energy future?

      • daryan12 says:


        And I accidentally trashed you’re previous post (I’m averaging a hundred spam a day right now!) regarding a pair of companies undertaking LFTR research “Flibe” and “transatomic”…..I just pumped Flibe’s mailing address into google….it looked at first glance like a domestic residence from Google earth, but actually street view will reveal it as a small office block. Even so, it doesn’t strike me as the sort of place where major experiments are being undertaken.

        I can find a reference to only one company operating out of this address, that being a media company by the name of “Media Fusion”.

        Sounds to me like the only serious MSR research being undertaken involves the use of Photoshop or powerpoint! Transatomic doesn’t even have a listed address. Hardly sounds like industry is taking this idea seriously to me!

      • daryan12 says:

        …..And another thing, I’m confused, are you trying to make a pro-nuclear argument or anti-nuke one here? This “burning platinum” sounds like a strong case against nuclear energy, not in favour. Remember that MSR’s will likely initially run of off Uranium too and they will only achieve the highly optimistic performance you speculate if that CPP plant can be developed and gotten working (which I personally doubt). In the mean time they’ll be “burning platinum” as well!

      • BlueRock says:

        > …a pair of companies undertaking LFTR research “Flibe” and “transatomic”…

        I’ve not dug in to ‘Transatomic’, but ‘Flibe’ (‘flibbee’? ‘fly-bee’? ‘fly-buh’? lol) belongs to Chief Thorium Fantasist, Kirk Sorensen.

        Sorensen is not a nuke engineer or scientist – he is a mechanical engineer who worked in the aerospace industry on launch vehicle design. Bizarrely, he jumped from that to become ‘Chief Nuclear Technologist’ for an engineering company – and left after barely a year. It’s almost as though someone wanted to manufacture some credibility for Sorensen.

        He then set up this thorium nuclear company – http://flibe-energy.com/company/ – with a 16-year old (?!) patent attorney, a retired USAF colonel and a retired mechanical engineer. Not exactly The Manhattan Project‎ II, is it?! Looks more like a gang of shucksters going fishing for money from gullible fools….

      • daryan12 says:

        Now, now!

        Let’s try and be civil about this, if you’re too critical (get it!) then one of these people might go into meldown :0 and I’ll have to decommission you’re comment :))

        ….but yes, it doesn’t exaclty strike me as a huge enterprise, although I would note that you are factually incorrect, the company in question is in fact about a month old (according to the blogger below anyway!


      • daryan12 says:


        Stop press! the link you gave, looking thro these guys bio’s, it seems none of them even have a PhD! And I don’t mean no PhD in a Nuclear engineering I mean no PhD period! And I’ve been putting up with various critiques and character assasinations from this LFTR lot this last two weeks and none of the high priests even has a PhD!

        I think I can proclaim that the LFTR emperor is indeed wearing no clothes!

      • BlueRock says:

        I suspect I have been responsible for a few prompt criticalities in the nuke fan club. I’ll turn the dial down. :)

        > …seems none of them even have a PhD!

        The more you scratch the surface of this thing, the more ridiculous it looks.

        Now, I’d like to offer you a golden opportunity to get in on the ground floor on a venture that will make you very rich.

        Me, Crazy Bob and Pisshead Rick are planning on setting up a colony on Mars. We’re confident of success. I’m good with Photoshop and Crazy Bob’s dad has a welding kit. Pisshead Rick will be the pilot as he has extensive experience on MS Flight Simulator 2008. We just need a bit more funding to get the job done. Send PayPal details or cash payment for this once in a lifetime opportunity. [conditions apply]

      • daryan12 says:

        I hope you’re not implying that the LFTR is little more than a Nigerian 419 scam?

        That would be most improper!

      • Inuit says:

        “Stop press! the link you gave, looking thro these guys bio’s, it seems none of them even have a PhD!”

        No degree of any kind is required to read the ORNL documents or do other research on nuclear reactors. As for the relevance of PhDs to having an adequate conceptual knowledge of LFTRs, I remember a video which mentioned the testimonial of an engineer who did have a PhD in nuclear engineering, who had said that LFTRs were completely new to him.

      • daryan12 says:

        “No degree required to read”
        Yes but you need one to understand the stuff! Going from concept to working hardware is a long and winding road and as I pointed out before ideas that will deliver at some distant future date aren’t much use right now.

        Also the fact that only a few small research units worldwide are working on this should tell you something, well four things: 1) the time to develop such hardware will potentially be long, 2) most of the really serious technical problems have neither been worked out nor positively identified, 3) its too early to say how much any of this will cost and 4) that the major players in the energy market reckon they already know the answer to 1, 2 and 3! It involves substitution of the words “too much” in the above points!

      • Inuit says:

        “Sounds to me like the only serious MSR research being undertaken involves the use of Photoshop or powerpoint!”

        There are labs doing MSR research in France (http://lpsc.in2p3.fr/gpr/gpr/rsfE.htm) and the Czech Republic.

      • daryan12 says:

        The French?
        Its too early in the morning to bring up the French, but have a look at this guy’s blog

        ….and my slightly tongue in cheek analysis of the french nuclear program here

        Either way one or two little research units doesn’t quite tie in with the impression given by the promoters of the LFTR. If a major company were seriously researching the idea or Stephen Hawking was promoting it you might have a bit more credibility.

      • Inuit says:

        Re: Platinum Metaphor

        As I said, you have to take into consideration the fact that only “2-3%” of the uranium is burned in LWRs. Once you factor that in, the uranium that’s actually getting used costs a bit more than platinum per kg.

        My argument is that fuel costs really do matter and could be significantly improved upon by LFTRs. It’s true that LFTRs need some uranium to start up, but you don’t need keep refueling them with more uranium every year and a half.

        Despite the fact that LWR fuel costs are not trivial, the fuel costs are still lower than they are for coal and natural gas plants (see previously provided link).

      • daryan12 says:

        I sense some serious back pedalling going on here!

        There’in lie’s you’re problem and the crux of my argument. LFTR’s “could” be an improvement, and you’ll note I see nothing wrong with continued research to try and find out. However, to start doing as many pro-LFTR bloggers on the internet do (i.e. assume on the basis of one you-tube video that its a slam dunk and start fantasying and generally j&*$king off to the idea and screaming burn the heretic at any one, usually respectable scientists, who raise a criticism) is the point at which you cross the threshold from scientific debate into “tinfoil hat wearing cargo cult”, and mainstream science has little interest in listening to such individuals.

  20. J. P. Logan says:

    And you also imply right at the end that MSR’s are scalable. There’s no proof that they are, indeed there’s good reason to suspect they cannot be scaled up significantly (my guess 50 MW thermal tops!). If you are using them as fuel production plants this is not a problem, you can just daisy chain them all to the same processing unit. But as far as commercial electricity production goes you now loose economies of scale and will incur higher maintenance costs. It is therefore all but impossible for MSR to compete on a commercial basis with existing or future nuclear energy options. And they certainly won’t compete with shale gas.

    The sole purpose they are useful for is as a means of fuel production, which we currently don’t need and are unlikely to ever need in the future.

    • daryan12 says:

      “my guess 50 MWth tops..”
      Dare I ask you for a reference here? Granted I reckon that scaling up an MSR would be a bit of a pain in the a$$ and maybe impractical, but I won’t go so far as to say its impossible.

    • Inuit says:

      “my guess 50 MW thermal tops!” Really? For cylindrical two fluid designs?

      ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F0tUDJ35So&feature=channel_video_title (start at 43:15)

      • daryan12 says:

        If everything in the world worked like its shown in You-tube videos we’d have colonies on Mars by now! Unfortunately back in the real world we have to deal with the issues of “practicality”.

      • Inuit says:

        In what way was the content of the video clip impractical?

      • daryan12 says:

        Read my article above again, particularly part 3 (materials) and part 10 (manufacture)

  21. Jim Holm says:

    I think thorium is about $28 a pound.
    Uranium-235 is as rare as gold, 4% enriched u-235+u-238 uranium oxide pellets in the fuel rod are about $3,000 a pound.
    A molten salt reactor is supposed to be able to extract about 250 times as much heat from either in a single pass as a solid fuel reactor.

    • daryan12 says:

      I think you’ll find that uranium yellowcake costs are $58 per pound, they don’t even list Thorium, so I’ll take you’re word for it. Gold comes in at $1,586 per toz or about $23,100 per lb. It is highly unlikely the mine 2 reactor costs of Thorium will remain as low as you say and obviously were it ever to become useful the market price would rise substantially. The early days of the nuclear age saw major problems with fuel shortages. Until Thorium mining catches up the same would happen again.

      Also fuel costs (if you follow the WNA link above) represent a tiny portion of the costs of nuclear energy. The major costs involve the decommissioning of plant, construction and maintenance of reactors. Its here, if you follow the link below where Thorium suffers.

      “250 times as much heat”
      ….in theory! As I commented earlier I’ve seen proposed designs for solar panels that can work with 90% eff and/or make hydrogen out of water directly, flying wind turbines in the jet stream with 60-90% capacity factors, radical designs for super efficient IC engines and hypersonic passenger jets. There’s a group here in the UK called Skylon looking to build an SSTO vehicle. It could work….in theory!….after we spent £10 billion trying to find out if the theory is right or not!
      Its the going from theory to practice that’s usually the stumbling block.

  22. daryan12 says:

    Updated 17/08/2011

    Another insane rant from BH can be found here

    with my reply below here

    Another critique of my critique of the LFTR can be found here:
    As with the previous ones they either deliberately miss-read my critique in an effort to build up straw man arguments or reading just isn’t one of Mr Bill Hannahan, or “Rank Amateur” (his words http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/#comment-126) Charles Barton’s stronger points. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which.

    Firstly, they misrepresent my views on graphite, which I point out is a “perceived fire risk” I was never suggesting it will catch fire if you put a match to it. I make this point repeatedly in the comments above, I even added a little section to chapter 6 to describe the two sides of the fire risk argument and clarify my position.
    But the fact opaque minds of BH and CB seem unable to absorb any information that contradicts their position. They also seem to have no idea about the concept of scientific uncertainty or the precautionary principle or the most basic concepts of how passive safety is guaranteed. These would require “some” action be taken on this issue.
    Indeed they compound there mistake by then misunderstanding why graphite is used in Class D fire extinguishers (for liquid metals!). Oh, and later on BH suggests you can use jet fuel to put out fires (yes really!). I’ll let the reader assess the practicalities of that!

    I could go thro this line by line but there’s no point, all they succeed in doing is demonstrating their own ignorance of the facts and inability to absorb any information that contradicts the LFTR gospel.

    “the author counters his own point” no I don’t! I was just trying to give a fair and balanced assessment, but don’t let facts get in the way of a good hatchet job. Also, I was making the perfectly valid point that no MSR has ever generated a single watt of electricity and so to say its been “proven” that they can do so is invalid. BH comparison to jet engines is not appropriate.

    “low vapour pressure” The pressurization issue is a bit of red herring, the major materials stumbling block is the issue of the combination of corrosive attack under temperature, with a bit of radiation thrown in for good measure. The low vapour pressure solves some problems but creates others due to the difficult it creates in getting decent thermal efficiency and that it increases the risk of intrusion of outside air (unless you surround the reactor in a inert gas Caladaria, but that would be pricy and “complicate things”).

    “MS in solar energy” – BH doesn’t seem to understand that solar thermal plants are a different kettle of fish, different salt mixtures, temperatures and pressures and most importantly no radioactive thorium suspended within.

    BH then goes into a detour unrelated to the article, but which came up in discussion, regarding his fantasy’s of removing uranium from sea water. This has been refuted by several peer reviewed papers (Barti 2007 and Barti etal 2011, Dittmar 2011) claiming that such a process would likely yield less energy back than it returned. Such proposals also ignore certain practicalities. Barti suggests http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4558 that we would have to cover the whole of North Sea with Uranium adsorption structures in order to get enough uranium for just 16% of the present world’s electric power production. Dittmar suggests http://greatchange.org/ov-dittmar,nuclear_option_ASPO.pdf that you would need to capture and filter the flow of 5 times that of the Rhine river to run just one nuclear power station, so clearly impractical! Of course building a dam and using such a flow for hydroelectricity would yield substantially more energy as would covering a small patch of the North Sea in wave energy machines. BH seems unable to absorb these facts. It was repeatedly pointed out to him in this discussion above and Barti and others in the blog he links to as well. BH seems to declare “victory” of sorts here on the fact that Barti gave up trying to get the message across (I don’t blame him!). Indeed if you view that blog string you’ll see even several pro-nuke bloggers running out of patience with BH one describing him as a “propagandist” http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/4558#comment-415499. He seems to think that just because everyone else left him mumbling to himself that counts as victory.

    BH also brings up Radon (or does he mean Roswell? ;0) that’s not in my article, but in the discussion here and I rebutted his point but typically he ignored it. Oh well, I did try!

    “Publishing a quip that you know is misleading and prejudicial is unethical”…no it’s a quip, an amusing comment, you know? A joke! I know Americans lack our British sense of humour, but how old are you? grow up! I would point anyone in the direction of where this quip was made as it is my contention that BH has taken this deliberately out of context in order to build up yet another straw man argument. Only a complete fool would unwithingly missinterpet this comment in the manner that he has, I’ll let the reader decide which category these chaps fall into!

    He then goes into a discussion about the CPP, making various stabs at it, that basically just confirms my worst fears (yet again) the LFTR fans have no idea how efficient this system will be, how to design it or what its implications to reactor operations are. Later he very wisely jettisons the idea, at least temporarily until the reactor is proven.

    Indeed as part of this effort he also throws out Thorium, Air based cooling, the CPP, open cycle operation, small exclusion zones, baby, bath water and pram go flying over the side in a desperate fit of back peddling. Of course this puts his post in direct contradiction to the infamous wired mag article (which specifically highlighted the lack of large exclusion zones and Thorium as key positives of the MSR). Shall they be calling Wired asking for a retraction of these points? or indeed alter they’re own websites and all of those LFTR videos doing the rounds (and at this rate if BH keeps it up those 2 hr vids will be down to “hello” and “goodbye”) to reflect this new position? Well of course not! Who said we should let facts getting the way of a good techno fantasy!

    Finally BH arrives at a point with a reactor design, not far removed from the Micro-fuji proposal, one that I acknowledged (8.12) had an air of plausibility surrounding it (of course he ignores this fact also). However BH neglects to point out the crucial arguments I made regarding cost. It’s clear that the MF will be rather expensive, far more so than any other reactor prototype of recent years and its difficult to avoid the argument that a follow on commercial unit will still be more expensive than existing LWR or HTGR technology. Given that we jettisoned all of the bits of the MSR that gave it its unique selling point, why would anyone invest in such an endeavor? You want cheap nuclear (relatively speaking!)? Use LWR’s. Want to burn Thorium? Use HTGR’s. Want cheap(ish) energy with no nuclear waste? We have renewables. We could add back in those bits of the MSR BH threw away, but that would greatly increase our R&D costs as well as the development time scale and increase the risk of the whole project failing.

    He tries to counter my point about load cycling by quoting figures from the, as of yet untested, AP1000. He ignores the fact that the grid can see sudden changes in the order of GW’s per second, I believe it hits about a 2-4 GW swing (in a few seconds) here in the UK when a popular soap ends. While I acknowledge that newer reactors like the AP1000 should offer much greater flexibility than past reactors (but that’s unproven as no AP1000 reactor has yet been commissioned), they certainly don’t close the circle and a LFTR would be a very different beast (if he’d bothered to read my article), so it’s not a relevant comparison.

    Also BH tries to disprove the well known toxicity of fluorine. He presents figures showing that fluorine (it doesn’t specify in which form) has a lethal dose (to a rat) of 300 mg (sounds pretty deadly to me!) and Chlorine at 4 times higher, with him then claiming that in fact it’s the other way around (i.e. the numbers suggest that Flourine is more deadly as it has a smaller lethal dose)…?…Also I would note that there’s a very big difference between both substances in various chemical forms or in the form of an easily inhaled gas, hence why people don’t keel over when brushing ones teeth!

    I could go on, but its pointless. As I’ve shown, many LFTR fans see the world thro rose tinted glasses. They only absorb facts that support their technofantasy, can’t see the contradictions in they’re own arguments and assume any criticism is the work of Satan and it must be exorcised at once least the flock here of such heresy. Anyone who criticizes there views is either misinformed (even if he’s a respected nuclear scientist) or “one of them”…which brings us onto…
    …Ad Homein comments? Pot calling the kettle black me thinks. Its strange that this is the opener from CB last time around (i.e. claim that I’m baised) and that the primary tool of LFTR fans is to attack the person and not the facts (as I think we’ve learnt most of them are “Rank amateurs”). Look at this rebuttal of the ecologist magazine article here: http://energyfromthorium.com/rees-article-rebuttal/. Almost all the various “rebuttals” of my critique online soon lurch into the form of personal attacks that question my credentials.

    • daryan12 says:

      And I refute and rebut a couple more of the points made above in the comments above, links below:
      This comments page is difficult enough to follow as it is so I don’t want to be repeating myself. Indeed I may simply move it all to a seperate page with a discussion…if I can find the time!

    • daryan12 says:

      Indeed it occurs to me that the comparison of a MSR (by BH in the linked doc) to a 787 won’t be entirely accurate. The 787 is an evolution on the basic 767 which traces its origins right back via the 737 and 707 to the 377 and turboprop aircraft. The Gen III+ LWR’s (or Gen IV HTGR’s) are perhaps more akin in the nuclear realm to the 787 as they are an incremental improvement on past designs. No, the MSR is the aerospace equivalent of a Concorde or a Hypersonic aircraft. A much better system granted, with higher performance, but more technically difficult to do. Most such proposals have never left the drawing board, and those that did have often been dogged by technical hold ups and often been cancelled after billions have been wasted on them. Concorde turned out to be a technical success but a commercial failure. Design compromises for mass production are discussed in section 10.

      Also the point about Uranium from seawater. Even if we were to throw out everything Barti and Dittmar say (and I’m not, but humour me for a sec), that doesn’t bode well for the LFTR. With plentiful uranium supplies their will be little incentive to invest in any new reactor technology, other than further incremental improvements in the existing designs. Thorium fuel? What would we need that for? Reactors with higher Uranium economy? Neither will be of interest if Uranium were plentiful. So Uranium from seawater is sort of an anti-MSR argument, not a pro one.

    • daryan12 says:


      And I also took that link of his to Fluorine Gas it says:
      “Dangerously reactive gas; contact with many materials results in ignition or violent reactions; highly irritating and corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes”

      Toxicity: The acute toxicity of fluorine is high. Even very low concentrations irritate the respiratory tract, and brief exposure to 50 ppm can be intolerable. High concentrations can cause severe damage to the respiratory system and can result in the delayed onset of pulmonary edema, which may be fatal. Fluorine is highly irritating to the eyes, and high concentrations cause severe injury and can lead to permanent damage and blindness. Fluorine is extremely corrosive to the skin, causing damage similar to second-degree thermal bums. Fluorine is not considered to have adequate warning properties.

      Sounds preety deadly to me! Selective editing by BH going on me thinks!

      And here’s something on LC50 data that shows BH read this data ass backwards, i.e. he just proved Fluorine is worse than Chlorine, not the other way around as he claims:

      Like I said, rose tinted glasses…or should that be Kool-aid tinted ones!

      • David says:

        In a salt? You are referring to the danger in a salt? Clorine in a Salt is fairly safe. Fluorine in a salt is just a safe.

      • daryan12 says:

        There is a potential issue with Fluorine coming out of solution if the waste from such plants is stored cold for lengthy periods (as will inevitably occur during decommissioning). There was a problem I believe along these lines with some leftover MSRE salts a few years ago, though to the best of my knowledge the authorities are aware of the problem and dealing with it.

  23. daryan12 says:

    Another insane rant from BH can be found here

    As far as my actual reply to latest BH ravings, there’s no point I’ve rebutted all BH points already, multiple times in fact. See these links below:

    BH is engaging in what I’ve noted seems to be a characteristic behaviour of LFTR fans, what I call the “Black Knight defence” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Knight_%28Monty_Python%29
    where you repeatedly attack with the same points over and over under the mistaken belief that if you never give up you’ll never loose and that if you repeat a particular myth often enough it will somehow be rendered true – or you can just drown out other voices or bully others into accepting it. Look at the comments page of this ecologist article for example of how LFTR fans engage in this behaviour:
    Naturally this does little to improve their credibility. Indeed if I was unkind I could describe this behaviour as a form of censorship as it amounts to trying to bury the opinions of others and make them inaccessible.

    My points regarding LFTR’s are well made and even BH has acknowledged some of them as being valid, I fail to see how any further discussion on this matter will achieve anything useful, other than increasing the share value of US mental healthcare firms.

    • daryan12 says:

      I would just make one final point on this issue:

      “The solution to the proliferation issue is education”

      LOL, does anyone know if there’s an Emoticon for laughing while rolling on the floor!

      So, BH, you’re going to sit Gaddafi and ….whatever his name is (Pres of Iran) and the Israelis down and educate them about not wanting to have nukes? Or tell the Indians and Pakistani’s to just kiss and make up. Do you know anything about geopoltics? And what about the nutter’s (not you ;) the guys in caves) looking for just one? You will not hear such a naive comment as the above outside of Hollywood action movies (or from spaced out hippies). Again it merely highlights how naive and out of touch with reality you are.

      • BlueRock says:

        > You will not hear such a naive comment as the above outside of … spaced out hippies).

        I take exception to that on behalf of spaced out hippies. I’ve spent time in their company and not once have I heard anything so ridiculous as suggesting the crazies can be stopped with “education”. Of course, solving all the world’s problems with a spliff is a constant theme.

        I’d be fascinated to read how Bill ‘Deep Thinker’ Hannahan imagines this “education” thing will work.

        Will the Navy Seals perform extraordinary rendition to some dusty shed where Krazy Karl will be convinced of the merits of being nice to people?

        Perhaps a remote ‘mind ray’ can be used to replace Insane Ibrahim’s thoughts of nuclear Armageddon with wholesome thoughts of buying Big Macs and Ford pickup trucks?

        It’s amazing the CIA / MI5 / Mossad haven’t head hunted Bill already….

      • daryan12 says:

        Smarty pants! ;0 Actually, I think the nickname would now be “Gallop’in Bill” if you follow the point above!

  24. J. P. Logan says:

    I believe the tactic is called the “Gish Gallop” its frequently used by creationists and global warming deniers.

    • J. P. Logan says:

      Oh, and some good points too! my past grumbles aside.

      As regards proliferation, that’s what we have the IAEA for!

  25. OHMSS says:


    I’m in finance and not a scientist but I have to agree with this post. I once thought the LFTR was the bees knees but the more I’ve learnt about it the less certain I’ve become. You present several technical problems that need to be addressed. But it is the temperament of the LFTR supporters that most puts me off. The author call’s them a “cargo cult”. I agree, I’ve hung out on the main hangout the EfT forum, and they are absolutely vicious. Bring up any criticism, and they’ll tear you apart. Bunch of cyber bullies who should be ASBO’ed. “lifters” they should call them “downers” ;)

    Also, for nuclear energy, passive safety is important in a future plant because of insurance costs. After Fukushima and the huge compensation TEPCO are going to pay means you really want to make everything as safe as possible. There’s been a debate on this comments string about fire safety for graphite cored reactors. While I’m no expert on the matter I would certainly recommend taking some measures to counter this risk, I think they describe a couple in part 6. This would lower the reactor insurance costs and reduce the business risk, lowering interest rates and thus lowering the cost of financing the reactor. It could therefore work out cheaper to build a reactor with the measures than building one without them.

    • daryan12 says:

      Good points!

      Yes we need to look at the bigger picture here. One of my main criticisms of nuclear technology, and certain renewables proposals, is assuming that the science alone will drive things. But we need to come up with technology engineers can build easily and quickly, that give the public confidence on the safety issue and that the markets can confidently invest in. And for people such as yourself the persons pitching an idea are as important as the idea. I wouldn’t want to invest millions in somebody whose response to criticism is the simply ignore it or scream “burn the heretic”.

      I would note tho that many nuclear plants are insured by the taxpayer, so ultimately the matter you raise is of little concern to them. Of course given we’re heading for an era of austerity and those government cheques will soon stop arriving, then yes the nuclear industry needs to ask the question about how they are going to ensure their economic viability and as you point out the markets will only invest in reactors with a very high level of passive safety. Have you read this report by Citigroup? It discusses a number of the financial questions surrounding new nuclear build.

      And appologies for the delay in putting this one up, I’ve been very busy the last two weeks!

  26. rtyecript says:

    I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

  27. daryan12 says:

    Another rant / rave / character assassination can be found here: http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2011/08/da-ryan.html
    Yet again “Rank Amateur” Charles Barton demonstrates all the standard methods employed by the LFTR cargo cult in dealing with opponents, i.e. quote mining, misrepresentation of their statements, deliberate straw man building and Gish Galloping galore. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gish_Gallop

    Again my views are completely misrepresented and taken out of context by CB. As anyone who reads what I actually say in my link below and compares it to what he claims I say (by quote mining) you will see a distinct difference. For example I acknowledged the new evidence that has emerged from the investigations into Windscale (showing minimal core burning) and even post a link to it on my page, although I also give several other counter points, as anyone doing a balanced critique would do, of course a fanatic like CB doesn’t see it that way.

    I would also note that CB asks where’s my evidence? I’ve pointed out to him much evidence in the link above, including several peer reviewed papers (both for and against) and the official NEA Chernobyl accident report, plus several more in comments exchanges. I have done these repeatedly, but he just doesn’t listen.

    Furthermore, as even BH has noted, some degree of containment of a MSR reactor would be necessary. Be careful there sir, CB maybe about to call you a heretic against his “precious” too!

    Consider the following, BH and CB have now devoted as best I can tell 11,000 odd words to they’re 3 “Gish Gallops” plus a further 3-4,000 odd words here (out of a total comments page length of 22,000, 90% of it run up by LFTR fans or the rebuttals to their points). All together they have written comments double the length of the original MSR article, and most of that has been directed at two small pieces (the fire risk sections) of at most 1,000 words length! The irony is, some LFTR fans have complained about my article being too long! Naturally such insane antics does much damage to their cause.

    I think they doth protest too much!

    • daryan12 says:

      Also towards the end CB quotes out of context an ORNL document. “Removing Chromium” from the alloy is one option mentioned in that document, but it is certainly not the conclusion of the report (as he implies), not least because this would be a radical step, that would essentially mean throwing away much of the materials science experience gained from the MSRE and all but confirm my worst fears as regards Hastalloy (in section 8.8).

      Also the paper CB links too (below) mentions on page 15 the issue of inter-granular cracking of several components and it states “Although the cracks were only a few mils deep in samples from the MSRE, there is considerable concern over how cracks would propagate by this process in a power reactor over a 30-year operating period”. It also discusses the problems of Grain-boundary embrittlement, a decrease in creep ductility in several parts, and the thermal fatigue failure of part of the freeze value (pg 39). Quote mining by CB again me thinks! I can only assume that at 104 pages long he assumed nobody would bother to download the document and check things out! Also this “remove chromium” strikes me as a throw away comment, one that can easily be misinterpreted. I’ve warned him of the dangers of making such mistakes in prior comments.

      The cracking issue is addressed further here
      It discusses possible solutions, but not a comprehensive one.

      Again to clarify, as no doubt my words above will be quoted out of context by CB, I’m expressing concern and doubt as regards Hastalloy N use in an MSR I’m not saying it categorically won’t work. The issue needs further study, I would note that the Micro-fuji project includes just such proposals (probably inadequate in my view, and certainly nowhere near what’s required if we follow CB’s suggestions), and I’d be hedging my bets as I described before (8.8) to counter the possibility that some showstopper for Hastalloy later emerges. If CB knew anything about material science he won’t make such grave errors. If he is the expert he claims to be perhaps he will enlight us with the details of what alternative material (than Hastalloy N) he favours and the technical reasons behind this decision, plus the details of some peer reviewed papers to support his claims. He will also explain how the ambitious schedule for LFTR roll out he freqently hints at will be maintained if we are forced to change track with materials.

      This document here discusses the likely distortion of graphite core elements under irradiation, tho it concludes they are unlikely to be large, but sufficient to warrant concern (if we’re looking at building commercial grade units).
      This matter is discussed further here

  28. J. P. Logan says:


    The disturbing behaviour of these characters is most distressing. While I was never much of a supporter of the LFTR concept to begin with, I am certainly dead set against it now. It is clear to me that the people promoting them are not reliable individuals, as demonstrated by the peculiar statements they have made here and elsewhere online. Indeed it is curious to note that for several weeks now that schoolboy error you pointed out above (http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/#comment-226 regarding the toxic nature of Flourine against Chlorine) has hung for two weeks as best I can tell, here and on the Nucleargreen Blog, and not one of the LFTR fans on his site has corrected him or pointed the error out! This should indicate the poor level of scientific understanding of these individuals.

    I would note that I still favour the graphite cored VHTR system and think it holds much promise. While I feel Dr Ryan may take things a little too far as regards fire risk, he is writing a critique and certainly some reasonable measures will have to be taken. Also I realize that much of the requirement for safety measures in nuclear is as much a necessity of ensuring public confidence as it is based on scientific analysis. Post Fukushima exactly where this public confidence lies for nuclear is in a state of flux. We will have to wait and see what measures the public deem satisfactory. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. Good manners cost you nothing!

    Furthermore, I would note that even Dr Ryan appears to conclude (in part 11), the fire risk in a gas cooled reactor are significantly smaller than the many accident risks likely to affect the LWR. Mr Barton has also failed to note that Dr Ryan has cited the fact that if forced to choose nuclear he would back the development of graphite cored HTGR’s as he regards them as safer than LWR’s as mentioned in this comment (http://daryanenergyblog.wordpress.com/ca/#comment-150).

    Also, and I do apologise for going on like this, but the main criticism as I see by Dr Ryan of graphite cored reactors is the issue of decommissioning. There have been a number of problems decommissioning the UK Magnox and AGR reactors, that much is true. But much is also being learnt in the process and this should reduce the cost of dismantling such reactors in the future.

    Finally Dr Ryan I would urge you to not respond to further comments from LFTR “experts”. This is not my first brush with such characters and they strike me as not people to waste ones time with. You will have about as much luck trying to explain evolution to a Tea Party member.

    • daryan12 says:

      J. P. Logan,

      Yes some of these guys are a little crazy. I actually had to take down my personal details due to the LFTR guys. Days after the article on LFTR’s went up, my account was overwhelmed with spam, tho the provider was able to sort the matter out. Little too much of a coincidence that! However, the bulk of my critique is technical, I’m just not convinced about it on a technical level, regardless of who is promoting it. If Stephen Hawking was talking up the idea I might take it a little more seriously tho, but certainly they do themselves no favours.

      As regard you’re technical points, yes the fire risk issue is in a state of flux as much for scientific reasons as well as the fallout from Fukushima, we’ll have to see.

      Decommissioning? It might work out cheaper in the long run but it might also work out more expensive. One problem is that in order to commit to building new nuclear plants the energy utilities need some estimate of how much this process will cost. They cannot vainly hope that the costs will come down, after all as well you know decommissioning cost estimates in the UK have gone up rather a lot since the process started. As I point out tho, whether the LWR is any cheaper to decom is an open ended question as we have yet to decom a “mega” LWR plant. Again, we’ll have to wait and see. However, the one thing the industry can’t do in these austre times is blindly assume that the government will continue to sign a blank decom’s cheque.

      “Tea Party? ” I think you’ll find that many of the LFTR fans are Tea party members. Also those goose steppers in the BNP favors LFTR’s too!

      • J. P. Logan says:

        The BNP favour LFTR’s, that’s a pretty damning indictment! I hope you’re not going to say that they favour nuclear power in general too? My faith in the nuclear renaissance is under sufficient threat as it is.
        Also, as I’ve pointed out before, right wing extremists, such as Nick Griffin or Bernard Ingrham are hardly reliable sources of scientific information.

      • daryan12 says:

        I think its more a case of them being in favour of something because leftie’s are against it, so therefore its likely they’ll be in favour of nuclear too, but not for entirely logical reasons! I wonder if greens should campaign for being in favour of breathing, maybe we could get the BNP and EDL to all collectively hold their breaths ;)

        Alternatively it could be something to do with this whole “Thor” part of Thorium’s name, Norse mythology, and all that usual fascist crap.

        Certainly I do find it odd how the usually publicity hungry LFTR supporters have completetly ignored a citation of the LFTR in the EU parliament…or is there in fact such a thing as bad publicity, and “Nasty” Nick Griffin has to count as it!

  29. Zaxxon says:

    I agree with everything here, for and against :)

    The sci-fi fan in me still thinks the LFTR is a good bet, as is Fusion, travelling wave reactors and gas cooled fast reactors. I’ve heard very little about those, good to see a summary! We need to keep working on these sort of ideas as well as things like SSTO’s, nanotech, geo-engineering and fuel cell cars. But, ya we got to be realistic about our timetable. Overcoming all the technical hurdles to get these tech’s to work. I mean why does fusion power always seem to be “30 years away”! They’ve been saying that since the 80’s! I suppose the LFTR will always be “10-20 years away” and I suppose they’ve been saying that since the 70’s! But there’s no reason to keep on trying.

    I’m not convinced that renewables can close the gap, so in the meantime we’ll be stuck with what we can squeeze out of older nuclear tech, renewables and a messy compromise with lots of shale gas, methane hydrates and shale oil linked up with carbon capture systems.

    • daryan12 says:


      We can keep trying! I was trying to burst the bubble that we could build LFTR’s next Thursday, primarily using powerpoint and photoshop (which seems to be the primary mode of LFTR R&D at the moment!), assemble them in IKEA flat packs and have the whole world running of them by next weekend, as will often been said on pro-LFTR blogs. There are substantial technical hurdles to be overcome, and it would be foolish to start planning out megalomaniac visions of LFTR use in the meantime, as so many LFTR fans do.

      Why does Fusion (or the other ideas you mention) always seem to be just out of reach? There are sound technical reasons why, they basically push the boundaries of our current state of the art as regards various technologies. The SSTO you mention is a classic example, every attempt to build one to date has failed, why? Because the rocket equation tells us that in order for a SSTO to achieve orbit 88-92% of its take-off mass (depending on orbit aimed for, location and mission profile, etc.) needs to be fuel. Everything else, the fuel tanks, the heat shield, engines, guidance, recovery system and of course the payload and crew has to come from that 12-8% of remaining mass. The (single use) Ariane 5 2nd stage is around 8.5% of EW but without any payload, heat shield or recovery system and its boosted into flight by a pair of SRB’s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsiolkovsky_rocket_equation.

      The author below comes to a similar conclusion:
      “The Cold Equations Of Spaceflight” http://www.spacedaily.com/news/oped-05zy.html

      In a similar vein “the cold equations of physics” and material science constrain the pace of nuclear development. The problems are not insurmountable, just bloody tricky to solve!

      I’m unsure whether in fact renewables can close the gap too (quietly confident, but certainly not yet convinced), my point is that as things stand nuclear can’t close the gap, so if you’re banking on nuclear energy saving us then you’re barking up the wrong tree. Yes it can help, a bit, but that’s all.

      • daryan12 says:

        Zaxxon (wasn’t that a computer game in the 80′s?),

        Also the point’s you made regarding alternative fossil fuels. I’m planning a future post to describe the problems here, but in the meantime read my concerns regarding shale gas below. Also the problem with fossil fuels, post peak oil, isn’t the risk of running out, there’s plenty left. It’s that we cannot simply extract this stuff out of the ground at any arbitrary rate we choose, not without risking spending more energy in the extraction process than we usefully get back (EROEI’s).

        For example, I’ve heard estimates for the Tar sands max output ranging from 3m bbl/day up to 8m bbl/day, with 5m bbl/day considered a “best guess” by the companies involved. Global oil demand today is 80m bbl/day (ten times higher than our highest tar sands estimate!) and 120m bbl/day by 2030 (24 times larger than our WEG’d output!). A drop in the ocean, and a very dirty and expensive drop at that!

  30. Beautiful post! Can you please state your sources regarding your conclusion?

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  38. Dear daryan, I appreciate what you’re trying to do. But I really don’t see you helping much.

    I am a student at a well-known US university studying chemical engineering. I have been interested in energy every since one of my friends suggested using lightning to electrolyze water one day in chemistry.

    The underlying message of your blog is renewable energy > nuclear. Ok. The problem is, you seem to think you can achieve this by bashing on nuclear power. You’re providing problems and no solutions, and assuming that renewables will come through, because you seem to want them to.

    Here’s the thing. There are blogs with plenty of raw data written by PhDs that bash on renewables (with a lot of economic data). There are blogs written by PhDs bashing on oil and gas, again with lots of data (but mostly climate data, and not economic data, because fossil fuels are clearly the most viable economic energy source we have at the moment). So your blog written by a PhD bashing on nuclear, again, isn’t really helping.

    I mean, really, of course there are technical and economic problems with nuclear energy. That doesn’t help when you’re trying to evaluate nuclear vs. renewables, which have their own technical and economic problems. Would it help anyone if I wrote a blog dedicated to debunking R&D on fuel cells due to problems with membrane crossover, slow reaction kinetics, corrosive electrolyte operating at high temperatures, keeping the membrane dry (PEM), use of very expensive platinum catalysts, the all-but-impossibility of storing hydrogen, etc? Even if I were a PhD?

    The problem with nuclear is this. Nuclear has no real government support because it’s supposed to be a mature industry. Industry hates risks. They simply won’t take the risk of investing enough to build new nuclear plants. If renewables were in the hands of industry, instead of relying on government subsidies to keep them and their R&D alive, they would probably suffer a similar fate. Maybe it would be better for renewables because of the lack of the sheer massive upfront cost of plant construction. Either way, they lose to fossil fuels.

    Thank you for reminding me that without government support for something else, fossil fuels will win the energy debate by economics. Thank you for reminding me that academia’s drive to research all possible energy schemes is counterproductive, because that means that renewables make slow progress on innumerable fronts (everybody has their own pet solution to the world’s problems) while fossil fuel companies make faster progress on the fronts that matter.

    Now I would like to remind you of some economics. Fossil fuels create negative externalities. That means that the market will produce more of them than is socially beneficial. Nuclear produces some negative externalities, but the market does not produce as much of it because of the high capital costs for plant construction, as well as political quagmires. Renewables produce less externalities in theory, meaning they are deserving of the government support they receive. But I remain unconvinced that nuclear does not deserve the same sort of support being given to renewables to develop it, since the designs we have in use are horrendously out of date.

    You are not earning points with me by citing no scientific papers and a lot of news articles. To be fair, I haven’t seen many real scientific papers cited by Energy from Thorium, but again to be fair, they have more links to scientific documents than you do.

    Please, in particular, do not take the argument that the proof that the LFTR will never work is because it was abandoned 50 years ago. In this case, I am much more convinced by the pro-nuclear argument that it was abandoned for political, not technical reasons, in favor of a technology that could produce nuclear weapons.

    I know you work for some sort of renewable something or other. Could you please explain your pet project to save the world and why it has less technical problems than nuclear? Or maybe we can sit back and argue while fossil fuels dominate the west and China develops LFTR (which I’m sure you know they have a huge R&D program in as of 2011).

    PS. I am in fact biased in favor of LFTR, a result of googling ‘problems with LFTR’ and not finding much. At least you can point out more problems, more reasonably, than anybody else I’ve seen. But there are many people with PhDs in Physics who are more bullish on this than you are, and for you to pretend otherwise is a disservice to the informed public.

    • daryan12 says:

      Appologies for the delay, just back from hols and lost my laptop in transit. Anyway, a long comment requires a bit of a long response.

      The purpose of this article was to ask the question, will new types of reactors radically change the game for nuclear power? My conclusion is that while yes they will help a bit…but only a bit. In many cases we’d be forced to compromise with higher costs and lower construction rates in favour of better safety, etc. While they do give us a bit more wriggle room, the gain in these new designs is modest and unlikely to be as dramatic as many supporters of nuclear energy propose. The impact they have on the fundamental problems for nuclear (of which safety is but one point) those of high costs, low construction rates and limited supplies of fuels, plus the need to divert much of the construction capacity to just standing still.

      On this last point, as I point out in my latest article, given the lack of new nuclear plant built over the last few years its very likely the UK (and possibly the US too) will wind up with a rather substantial energy gap, because nuclear plants are unlikely to be built quickly enough to replace worn out kit. In short if the UK nuclear industry succeeds in standing still in the next few decades, they will likely count themselves lucky.

      What do I favour as the alternative to fossil fuels…..
      Stuff that works! Many of these new reactor designs are entirely theoretical, and likely decades away from commercial deployment, indeed there is always the risk of some unforeseen showstopper appearing to consign some of these ideas to the dustbin of history (remember OTEC and Fast Breeders!). While I see no harm in continued research, life is about priorities. Renewables are being built now (see link below), already at rates far faster than nuclear reactors ever were (or possibly could be), and simple things such as CHP or hybrid cars also “work” so my advise would be to prioritise these things and if the situation for nuclear does radically change (which I doubt), then great we’ll incorporate that into the mix in future. But to do as certain nuclear cheerleaders do (start fantasising about megalomaniac scale nuclear energy schemes) at this stage is getting a little ahead of ourselves.

      Fuel cells….
      I’ve heard some not terribly kind things about these recently from people I know installing them into cars. They moan about reliability and costs. Now, I’ve heard kinder reports from those using fuel cells in static applications (buildings) and those doing research into the area always seem upbeat, but I refer back to me “things that work” point. Currently, they don’t work well enough and it would be foolish to start rolling such technology out on mass. In the meantime we’ll have to rely on such things as hybrid engines, or in the future hydrogen economy, Stirling engines or gas turbine technology, that is until fuel cells prove themselves.

      Also the door here swings both ways. Only about 20% of the UK’s energy consumption comes from electricity (think its about 30% in the US, but that’s off the top of my head, I had the exact figure…in the laptop I just lost!). The remaining 80% is for heating/cooling and transport fuels. Doing all of these jobs with electricity isn’t really practical for a whole host of reasons, not least being efficiency and range (I can buy small commuter cars being electric, but long distant lorries? Planes?). In many cases nuclear will hit the same stumbling block as renewables – the need for some sort of hydrogen economy. So if fuel cells don’t work out, it has implications for nuclear power as well.

      Scientific papers….
      Actually I quote a couple, but try to avoid doing so as I realise that readers are not necessarily sitting behind some university funded paywall and have access to a huge library, so I’ve tried to hunt down sources online. But must rectify that now that you mention it. Also I want to avoid blowing people away with science. If there’s one thing I disagree about its us making science out to be so much of a “black box” which those who aren’t scientists can’t engage with. This is how we end up with Creationists and Global warming deniers suspicious of us having “an agenda”.

      Grand visions…..
      I’m working on a long future series of articles about peak oil, its consequences, climate change mitigation and the future energy transition. But as I pointed out before its not just the “energy source” we need to worry about, but the means of transferring the energy and the support infrastructure that this entails (HDVC lines, energy storage, hydrogen networks, etc.). In short I doubt we can build renewable (nor nuclear reactors) and all that support infrastructure quickly enough to cope, not while trying to grow a global economy and give everyone in China a car. This will mean accepting some reductions in our future energy use and lifestyles. Fortunately, there is plenty of room for improvement as modern society in the west wastes energy to a ridiculous degree. Anyway, watch this space!

      Renewable subsidies….
      It is indeed a dangerous game for renewable to be dependant on subsidies, they can disappear! But nuclear energy too needs subsidies as I think you acknowledge. Unfortunately many of your friends in the pro-nuclear camp believe it can be done without subsidies. Hence I would favour a carbon tax or some similar charge to level the playing field somewhat.

      Although if you read that Citigroup report I linked to, you’d see that even subsidies nor a carbon tax won’t help. Its the unknown quantity of the various nuclear energy costs that has the markets spooked. So what nuclear really needs is large loan guarantees from the government, but there’s only so many of those the government can issue before someone starts asking questions about the impact of this on the national debt. So while you’ll get some reactors build, you’d again be struggling to replace existing kit, nevermind taking over from a few coal fired units.

      Why does fossil fuels win over renewable and nuclear…..
      Obviously economics is a factor, but its not the only reason. Oil is a very dense and versatile from of fuel and we simply have nothing else like it that’s anywhere near as good. Also the nuclear cheerleaders have to take some of the blame. As I point out in my recent article (about UK nuclear) they lobbied against wind energy, CHP and the Severn Barrage, all just to clear out a little niche for their precious. Unfortunately, now that its come time to deliver, its looking likely they will fall short for economic and practical reasons (nothing to do with Greenpeace nor FoE), leaving a large gap in the UK grid. I’ll let you hazard a guess at what will fill this gap (likely reading between the lines of gov doc’s a new generation of natural gas plants and some renewables).

      Chinese LFTR….
      While it is true that they are working on this, the bulk of their efforts are focused on conventional nuclear plants, with Thorium fuelled HTGR’s being a side project tacked on, with LFTR’s featuring to a lesser degree as a sort of “blue sky option”. Its normal in many scientific efforts to pickyback a “blue sky” idea onto a larger program, as it allows new ideas to be explored and helps pad your budget and resources!

      Also it should be remembered that the Chinese are playing superpower catchup and basically grapping every bit of western technology that’s not bolted to the floor. They are pretty much working on everything, so no surprise they’ve picked up on this. Furthermore, why are you LFTR fans always so paranoid about the Chinese working on LFTR’s? Surely you should be delighted!

      Work for some renwables org….
      What’s with you guys and you’re conspiracy theories! No, I just work for a university, not a Chinese wind farm maker! Nor do I work at Area 51…speaking of which…..

      Its a conspiracy!
      Let’s land those black helicopters once and for all! If LWR’s were favoured over LFTR’s back in the 60’s where is all that plutonium? Still locked up in the spent fuel rods of those LWR’s which operated on a once-thro process! Seems strange that they would go to all that trouble, but then not be bothered to extract it! Most of the US stockpile of plutonium came from dedicated reactors designed specifically to breed it, as it was always going to be cheaper to make it this way, or with fast breeders than using LWR’s.

      Also as I pointed out in chapter 4, LWR’s were favoured for sound engineering reasons, they could be made from easily forged and cast steel, used water and steam (of which industry had ample experience at the time), and were based on designs that had operated successfully in submarines for many years, under challenging operating conditions. MSR’s were made of exotic nickel alloys (and manufacturing techniques for these were in their infancy) and involved mucking around with molten salts and “nuclear lava” And they had never generated a single watt of electricity. Its no surprise which technology won and why.

      Of course there was the not-so small issue of safety! Weinberg’s objection was largely to these Mega scale LWR’s, not LWR’s in general (a point on which I agree with him) as smaller LWR’s were much safer, though less economic as they lost economies of scale. There was a bit of a turf war going back then between those who favoured lots of small scattered electricity generating kit and those who wanted to rationalise into a few big plants (be they dams, nuclear or coal fired stations). My suspicion is, Wienberg found himself caught in the crossfire. Also the key reason behind the LFTR in the 50’s was that it was feared that the world was about to run out of Uranium. However, by the 70’s new sources of uranium had be found and the rate of nuclear takeup was falling well short of the projections in the 50’s meaning the need for Thorium fuel essentially evaporated. So no dark conspiracy I’m affraid!

      • daryan12 says:

        I am in fact biased in favor of LFTR, a result of googling ‘problems with LFTR’ and not finding much…….
        Groan! actually that’s what should be setting off alarm bells. A lack of effective criticism of a technology or idea often indicates one of three things:
        1 – The technology is at such an early concept stage that nobody’s worked out what the real technical problems are likely to be (I speculate on a few) and hence the technology is a long way from commercial deployment
        2 – The tech/idea is considered so off the wall crazy by the establishment, that those with the qualifications to do a critique are reluctant to do so, as they don’t want to be seen dignifying such proposals with a reply!
        3 – Some sort of scam or confidence trick is in play

        I’ll let you decide which of the three it is in this case!

    • JonCT says:

      There are some huge holes in your premises and logic.

      1. nuclear has been subsidised for 60 years and still cannot fly unaided – how many billions and decades more do you think is needed? Why should this technology be given special treatment?

      2. nuclear costs are rising as renewables continue to fall, with wind + solar already cheaper (if you apply the simple fact that any new nuke started today will not come online for at least 10 years when solar will be far below the cost of nuclear – wind already is)

      3. private global investment in renewables now exceeds fossil fuels – there is no significant private investment in nuclear – it only exists when the state bankrolls it

      4. you discount the cost of catastrophic failures which are far more likely and far more costly than the nuclear industry claims

      5. you claim that China has “a huge R&D program” for LFTRs. Evidence? I know the son of the former premier is heading the alleged research program. What a coincidence that out of 1.3 billion people, the most capable nuclear engineer just happened to be the son of the premier! What are the odds?!!

      6. there is no major player investing in LFTRs. There’s talk of India, but I’ll bet they fail to deliver just like every other nation that has researched and abandoned the technology – too complex, too expensive, too much hot, hot, hot salt.

      P.S. Your tone suggests that you are personally offended by this article, as though you are emotionally attached to LFTRs rather than dispassionately assessing technologies. I have seen this a lot amongst the thorium supporters. It seems a little strange………

  39. Hi! I’m a big fan of your critical analysis. I created a Thorium Nuclear Information Resources post and included it. Please stop by and let me know what you think.
    Keep up the good work!

    • daryan12 says:

      Kevin, will have to check that out sometime.

      Important to differentiate between the “real” scientists doing research on this area, who generally recognise that’s it’s a blue sky idea years or decades away from commercial deployment (if indeed ever!)……and the kool aid drinking cheerleaders who’ve been convinced by a few PowerPoint slides and you-tube videos that it is a flawless solution to the world’s energy problems and the only reason it’s not being implemented is because of some massive conspiracy (or something!).

      Fortunately, the powers-that-be in the nuclear lobby, by and large, aren’t interested much in Thorium (other than continuing research), probably because they listen to the scientists and not the bloggers online. To them it’s more of a hedge against Fusion not taking off….as well as a useful bit of PR!

  40. Hi! I agree. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s much harder to create a viable thorium nuclear fuel cycle than it is to make youtube videos and distribute astroturf on the internet ;-)

    Meanwhile, the nuclear catastrophe here in Japan has given me the opportunity to learn a lot more about energy and efficiency than I’d ever thought is possible. The revolutionary (IMHO) changes that are rapidly taking place are fascinating.

    Thanks again for your wonderful posts! Keep up the good work!

    • daryan12 says:

      The unfortunate situation in Japan is forcing a bit of a reality check on the Japanese. I’ve never understood why they didn’t take advantage of their countries extensive offshore (wave, wind and tidal) energy resources or geothermal energy. They’ve invested a bit in solar I know, but not nearly enough. One can only assume that renewables kept getting squeezed out by the nuclear lobby who didn’t want the competition. Hopefully that will change now. Might do a future post on the situation myself!

      • You hit the nail on the head. Japan’s powers that *were* focused almost exclusively on nuclear energy. One interesting tidbit I saw sometime ago: In 2000, there were 30 or so national lab researchers specialized in geothermal alone. By 2010, there were only 5 :-(. Similar trends for all renewable energy types… very bad planning with hindsight.

        And, you are correct. Japan has enormous renewable energy resources. It’s a travesty that they’ve not been utilized.

        Moving forward, the new FIT schedule is quite good. I expect massive uptake of renewables in the near future.

        “Might do a future post on the situation myself!”
        Looking forward to it!

        Have a great weekend!!

      • David says:

        There is a good reason why they did not take advantage of off-shore wave, wind and tidal. These are VERY difficult to implement. The corrosion rates, the damage from storms, and the length of transmission lines as well as the energy storage problems all mitigate against anything offshore.

        I am NOT impressed that research scientists doubt that a LFTR could work. When Thomas Edison worked out the whole electric system that we currently use in a period of 18 months, there were current Scientific articles from research scientist who said it was not possible to do what Thomas Edision and his team accomplished. The point is that an engineer looks at a problem in very different ways than a research scientist.

        Also, the installed capacity for wind and solar is a direct result of paying MUCH higher than market rates for the power coming from these types of power. As soon as those subsidies are withdrawn the vast weaknesses, costs and unreliability of the “renewables” is exposed. Read any news from Spain in the last year?

        Much of the cost of Nuclear comes from an ever ratcheting LNT regulatory requirement. The actual hazards of radiation is very similar to other common hazards we face. The demand that we not be exposed to any level of radiation drives costs in both development and deployment. Finally, at least in the USA, the NRC has many strange rules that add to costs. Like the nearly 5 million dollar per year fee per reactor regardless of capacity

        Your statement that Thorium reserves are going to be used up soon is very strange. Monazite sands are common around the world and nearly all “Rare Earth” metals have to be separated from Thorium.

        Your comments about mass production are strange indeed. You seem to think that the production of reactors like M-Power and NuScale would be better built as one off rather than from an assembly line.

        I agree there is a political problem. Nuclear power is demonized with false information about the comparative hazards of radiation. When people learn the truth about the actual hazard they become supportive.

      • daryan12 says:

        offshore…difficult…corrosion rates..” so you’re saying that because its technically difficult to protect stuff from salt spray at ambient temperature we should invest in high temperature molten salt filled reactors filled with corrosive nuclear lava!…don’t think you thought that one through very well!

        energy storage/Transmission” You fall into the trap of many nuclear cheerleaders, you don’t seem to be aware of the fact that only 17% of the world’s final energy consumption is electricity and intermittency is only an issue for, at most, 50% of that and of course for some renewables intermittency isn’t an issue anyway(notably Tidal, Solar CSP, Geothermal, hydro and biomass, etc.) So basically you’re saying that nuclear power has a slight technical edge over some renewables for 8.5% of global energy demand. Unfortunately, the remaining 87% of non-electrical energy consists of things such transport fuels, heating + cooling (industrial and domestic), mining and materials feedstock and agricultural energy demands.

        As I point out in the link above the demand for many of these is highly variable and seasonal. To meet these without energy storage (i.e with reactors alone) would require you to drastically beef up the transmission grid of any country, in or for it to transmit the power (I recall calculating a while ago that you’d need a mainline grid capable of handling 8 times more power for the UK…and I still reckon there’s something I’m missing….and you make a big deal about a couple of DC cables to hook together a few wind farms!). Plus the power stations would spend much of their life idle or at low capacity output, as the bulk of the time, the demand for power they are meant to supply isn’t there. The only way out of this bind is to stockpile energy (bunkering to use industry speak) to cope with seasonal and daily fluctuations (hydrogen, methanol or other options). In short, beyond that 8.5% global energy supply (and nuclear currently only supplies about 5.8% of global energy) you end up hitting the same wall as renewables – the need for storage and large transmission networks. This is of course the whole reason why fossil fuels dominate the energy market – they can be easily stored and transported. Just to pick apart the issue of heat as I do in this link:

        “…I am NOT impressed that research scientists doubt that a LFTR could work…” Then that puts you in the same category of global warming deniers, creationists and cold fusion supporters who also doubt mainstream science! Yes, sometimes mainstream science is wrong, sometimes its slow to adopt new ideas, but 9 times out of 10 the establishment is correct, and the lone voice in the crowd is proved to be wrong. You’re mention of Edison is an unfortunate analogy (many historians now believe he stole a good deal of the inventions he is credited with, I came across a French history book once that described him as “the American technology thief Thomas Edison”). While Edison was right about a good many things, he was wrong about other things, notably he was on the losing side of the DC v’s AC debate. In a similar vein both I and the mainstream of energy industry would likely argue that Weinberg was right about a good many things, but probably wrong about the LFTR, much as Einstein was right about relativity but wrong about quantum theory.

        “….subsidies…” You seem to be neglecting the many “stealth” subsidies the nuclear industry receives. Casing point, nobody in the world is building reactors in a completely free market way (but there are renewables being installed in countries without any subsidies). I discuss the subsidy situation in more details in the link below:

        “…thorium reserves…” I do not state that Thorium will run out, merely that our ability to utilise them economically will have a relatively short shelf life. You make the mistake common to many Cornucopian’s of equating large reserves with unlimited energy. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple! I could similarly argue that fossil fuels will never run out because by tapping just the conventional reserves of oil, gas and coal we are only exploiting a mere 1/5 of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. Of course the remaining 4/5′s are unlikely to ever be exploited due to a combination of economic, environmental and practical factors. I discuss thorium and uranium reserve limits in more detail here:

        “…small reactors…” if my views “are strange” so too are the views of the NNL (the UK’s National Nuclear Labs). I discuss in the link below the similarities of my conclusions regarding SMR’s and there’s. Both they and I agree that the cheapest, simplest and most cost efficient way of utilising nuclear energy is using large LWR’s loaded with uranium operating on a once thro fuel cycle. There are a number of niche roles for SMR’s to perform but they cannot compete with mega-LWR’s on a cost basis for reasons that I point out. While the NNL is a little more upbeat about the size of this niche market (and the market for nuclear energy in general) than me, clearly SMR’s are no panacea:

        Nuclear power is demonized with false information” actually I find its the other way around. Supporters of nuclear energy seem to have this condescending attitude towards their critics, along the lines that anyone who critics nuclear is some sort of hippy with an irrational fear of radiation (likely caused by one too many bad trips on pot). Of course they fail to understand that there are many who oppose nuclear for a host of other reasons (technical, economic and geopolitical). Also this arrogant attitude of nuclear cheerleaders has often led to issues regarding safety being neglected, and inevitably once such issues are exposed, as with anything else in society, you end up with a lot of angry people and the media trying to make a federal case out of the issue.
        As an engineer for example I have no fear of flying, I understand who airplanes work and why they are so safe. But equally I understand why many do fear flying, when I see airlines make stupid mistakes and kill their passengers.

  41. Interesting.

    First, you are right on several counts. You may consider me unconvinced that “it is a flawless solution to the world’s energy problems and the only reason it’s not being implemented is because of some massive conspiracy (or something!)”. I should have been more skeptical.

    Second, “Your tone suggests that you are personally offended by this article, as though you are emotionally attached to LFTRs rather than dispassionately assessing technologies. I have seen this a lot amongst the thorium supporters. It seems a little strange………”

    The tone of the people who support this website, at least in this area of the website, is no better than the tone of my original post. I can understand daryan’s frustration at dealing with lots of people who don’t listen to technical arguments, but calling people “kool aid drinking cheerleaders” doesn’t help you win people over at all. That was one of the things that stopped me (at first) from taking you seriously.

    Third, I apologize for the tone of my original post. It was more vitriolic than it should have been. Although, I decided you probably worked for a renewables organization simply by looking at your profile.

    “About daryan12
    Engineer, expertise: Energy, Sustainablity, Computer Aided Engineering, Renewables technology”

    If you saw that somebody wrote that about themselves, who would you think they worked for?

    Fourth, I am happy the Chinese are working on molten salt reactors. If someone would actually build one without all the red tape we have in the US, we might be able to see if they work, and how well, without having pointless blog arguments.

    Fifth, I am really hoping that Tesla Motors makes electric cars work. They’re one of the companies I want to work for. That could, in theory, take a sizable chunk of the energy mix and move it into the category of electricity. Of course, we have to wonder what the market share of electric cars would be, but I like what I see.

    Sixth, I have to wonder if someone should do a critical analysis of current and proposed designs for a hydrogen economy. I certainly have yet to see a good one that doesn’t have its own host of technical problems. Being sincere, could you provide one? It doesn’t have to be yours, it could be anyone’s. I’m especially worried about the truck transport step, which has an extremely low efficiency any way you slice it (barring some huge breakthrough in storage) and the idea that we already have electric cars with a longer range than a hydrogen IC car–One concept car with a 300 mile range here:


    vs real cars being sold, expensively, that have a 300 mile range here:


    I can’t comment on heating and cooling; I know nothing about them. Maybe I should learn.

    Maybe I was going to say something else, but I can’t remember now, and I need to go to sleep.

  42. Do you have an opinion on the recently announced and megahyped MIT/Transatomic WAMSR? Haven’t seen any critical analysis of it; they don’t have a lot of detail available either but one would expect that this tech has gone through some decent due diligence given the players involved. Based on your Chapter 8 analysis of MSRs it seems there are still some materials science challenges they would need to address, right?

    • daryan12 says:

      I believe that the WAMSR is essentially a LFTR, with a few bells and whistles. I recall doing an online search for info on Transatomic awhile ago and couldn’t find any mailing address (which suggests the corporate HQ is some college student’s mum’s basement!). Certainly they are not the Manhattan project II. Just because they’re MIT students doesn’t mean that they have the full weight of MIT (i.e. its army of highly qualified staff, large nuclear labs, a budget of hundreds of millions per year) behind them. So yes, my suspicion is just alot of overblown hype.

      Of course I would comment that LFTR fans are sort of shooting themselves in the foot here. The only people with the sort of serious cash and resources to get an idea like this off the ground (according to any reasonable time scale anyway) are big corporations and government research councils. The sort of hype I hear from LFTR fans is exactly the sort of stuff that sets off alarm bells in the minds of those controlling such funds. After all, they’ve been burned before by similar promises of miracle break thro’s. Remember cold fusion!

  43. http://transatomicpower.com/team.php — I agree the company is likely virtual at this stage but these guys have heavy hitters backing them with Oak Ridge and other assets conceptually available on paper. Richard Lester is pretty highly respected in the community but as you said w/cold fusion – very smart, influential people often get lured into these things because the devil is in the details.
    The MIT group seem to be focused on spent uranium, not thorium. But the most detailed info on their design is this: http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/4fd0c235eab8ea2b7d000000/wamsr2.png

    Which isn’t very telling one way or the other. I guess the question is this – is the energy generation primary or secondary value? This tech could be useful in its own right if only to mass down and decrease the radioactivity of conventional reactor waste. Even if energy efficiency is low, this could be a solution to long-term storage that could open up the way for more nuclear projects across a range of technologies…

    • daryan12 says:

      Ya, sorry, typo, I should have said “MSR” rather than “LFTR”. Again, there’s a big difference between a few grad professors giving students their backing – And them backing up that blessing with the sort of serious resources they’d need to get things off the ground. A couple of my students from Saudi Arabia are off home and I wish them all the best in their careers (even tho I know some will wind up working for the oil industry). I’d even give some a reference if they asked for one, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be going over to the Middle East and helping them build oil wells! Also I sense some of their advisors may well fall into the category of “armchair academic” who let’s face it have a habit of backing ideas that just won’t fly in the real world.

      While a couple of new articles have come out about Transatomic recently, they’ve been around for awhile and are ultimately selling an idea that’s relatively old and one has to ask the question, why if its such a good idea has nobody picked up on it before?

      While these reactors might well generate some energy (if the technology works!) its doubtful they would do so anytime soon, nor at an economically viable rate. Generally any study I’ve seen into the nuclear waste issue has concluded that the cheapest and safest way of disposing of spent fuel (that hasn’t been subject to reprocessing) is to simply bury it in a suitable location (of course the devil is in the detail of what’s considered a “suitable location“). With Plutonium waste (where we have a strong incentive to put it beyond use) opinions differ on whether one should just “immobilise” it (i.e. mix it up with stuff that’s its difficult to separate from and then encase it in glass) or process it thro a fast reactor of some sorts, or processing it into MOX (for use as fuel in LWR’s or HWR’s).

      Even if we assume that the feat reactor option is better (and I doubt it is), only a handful of such reactors would be needed, i.e. the UK reckons one or maybe two 300MW reactors (and I do mean literally 1 or 2) could handle they’re fairly substantial post-Thorp Plutonium stockpile. Thus only a tiny fraction of current nuclear energy output would ultimately be generated by such reactors. So in the grand scheme of things its a drop in the ocean…and even that is subject to lots of caveats! Ultimately this proposal isn’t going to solve all our energy problems or produce a major “game changer” for nuclear.

      • daryan12 says:

        Just to round off this discussion string, here’s some references regarding the costs of different nuclear waste disposal options, one from Harvard, the other (Ironically!) from MIT.

        While they apply a good few caveats and one can dispute some of the numbers they come up with (I would argue they’ve underestimated both the cost of burial and fast reactors, but both points sort of cancel each other out) but the conclusion of both reports are similar – that burial is much cheaper. This matches similar studies I’ve seen before from European, SA and Japanese sources.

        Indeed, one of the issues here in the UK with reprocessing is that the utility companies discovered back in the 70’s that it was about 3 times cheaper to buy fresh fuel and pay the interim storage costs (out of their own pockets) than send it back to Selafield for reprocessing (despite the heavy state subsidy). Naturally this “rebellion” by the utility companies was not to the likings of the Whitehall mandarins as it sort of undermined their whole nuclear fantasy project (this was what led the UK down the MOX/THORP route which also turned into a white elephant).

        Either way, the point is that what TransAtomic are proposed is little more than a castle built on sand.

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  45. stan says:

    What about dmsr?
    My idea would be to put ceramic heat exchangers in the tank and pressurize the reactor.

    I would use the heat for producing tar sand oil,instead of electricity.

    • daryan12 says:

      I have been previously criticized (see comments above) by LFTR fans for suggesting that certain components withing the reactor or processing plant might need to be made from Ceramics. If you and I are correct on this, that’s bad news (potentially show stopping!).
      As I describe in chapter 3 of this series, while Ceramics have some wonderful properties, but building anything out of them is sort of a pain in the ass. Its expensive and the brittle nature of ceramics often makes them unreliable. It was the cost of building and maintaining that ceramic heat shield that turned the space shuttle from a cheap space truck, into an expensive white elephant that killed two sets of crew (one directly as a result of the ceramic heat shield failing). I am unaware of any single ceramic component as large and as complex as a LFTR reactor core (or hear exchanger) ever being build, so Its a fairly opened ended question as to whether what you propose is technically possible, economically viable, or how long it would take (and how much money it would cost) to develop.

      As for Tar sands, I’ve heard several nuclear fans talk of this and I would describe such a plan as little short of science abuse. You’re advocating using a low-carbon source of energy such as nuclear to create a load of carbon intensive energy such as tar sands oil! What about climate change?
      The major problem for tar sands is that it needs lots of heat, typically in the temperature range of low temperature steam, while a LFTR or any nuclear reactor typically operates at much higher temperatures. Regardless of how poor the efficiency of the heat exchanger is, it would always make more sense to use this high temperature superheated steam to run a turbine and generate electricity, which in most countries, sells for a higher price than oil. So essentially you’d still be wasting quite a bit of energy (and money).
      Worse, too make Tar sands oil economically viable, you’d need to sell that steam to the Tar sands companies fairly cheaply, probably well below the operating costs of any nuclear reactor operating today, or in the future. So its not economical and you’d be contributing too, what has been described as “the worse environmental crime of all time”.

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  47. stanem2 says:

    I THINK CARBIDE PEBBLES IN A BWR WOULD BE A SIMPLE DESIGN.New ,low cost magnets could make direct drive wind turbines possible.

    • daryan12 says:

      I would argue that the major technical problem with the PBMR is that fuel Pebble system. I would question the mechanical reliability and the long term maintenance of it under commercial scale operating conditions. The closest the Germans came to a serious accident with it was when a pebble jammed. However, a BWR would lack a HTGR’s near immunity to meltdown. So in essence you could wind up with a reactor that has the disadvantages of both a PBMR and a LWR!

  48. D A Ryan, you intelligently raise many issues about advanced nuclear power technologies such as LFTR. However they seem to be characterized as show-stoppers rather than technical challenges to be overcome. You ought to enter discussions with the technical professionals that are thinking hard about the sorts of problems that you are concerned with. I suggest that you come to Chicago for the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference 5, May 30-31. Observe the technical presentations and discuss solutions with the engineers there. You could offer conference organizer John Kutsch a presentation on your concerns in front of an educated professional audience. I understand the issues are difficult, but my Aim High presentations have had the objective of setting stretch goals for future nuclear power plants, so that the public and politicians will understand what the benefits might really be. Also, the costs and risks of achieving the benefits of advanced nuclear power have to be judged in the context of global warming, ocean acidification, coal-generated particulate air pollution, and the energy poverty that keeps billions of people living at bare subsistance levels.

    • daryan12 says:


      The point of this article, which reviews several different alternative reactor types (not just LFTR’s) was to ask the question, is there a better alternative to the current dominant nuclear paradigm of GW scale LWR’s operating on a once-thro fuel cycle? Ultimately, I think my conclusion would be by and large no. While I sense some wriggle room in terms of Gas Cooled Reactors (safer, higher efficiency, can utilise Thorium) and small to medium sized LWR’s, but even these options will struggle to compete with “Mega” LWR’s in terms of cost and installation rates. Indeed the NNL suggest than any alternative to large LWR’s (including LFTR’s or Fast Reactors) will only ever perform small niche roles within the energy market, LWR’s are in short the the industry’s best bet.

      Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that LWR’s can be rolled out quickly enough to even offset the shutdown rate of retiring plant, let alone meet the large amounts of new low carbon energy systems we’ll need to install to offset dangerous climate change/peak oil. The maximum ever build rate of LWR’s was just 30GW’s/yr (in the 70’s), and we are currently unable to match this rate. And even if we could it would mostly get swallowed up by replacing decom’ed reactors. To avert dangerous climate change/cope with peak oil, installation rates of several 100’s of GW’s per year of new installed capacity would be required.

      And as I highlight in the link below, a big part of the problem here is that much of this needed capacity is “front loaded”, i.e. if the IEA is to be believed, most of it needs to be installed in the next 25 years or so (just to stand still!). This pretty much means going with technology we already have available, or technology we are confident can be ramped up to mass production levels within the next decade or so. Re-tooling the entire nuke industry to a radical new design would inevitably mean a prolonged drop in output at exactly the time the industry can ill afford that.

      Whether we describe the obstacles to a LFTR as “showstoppers” or “technical challenges” I would argue is a little premature. Given that nobody has built one of these things for several decades we simply don’t know enough about the technology to make that sort of determination. I personally doubt that a commercial LFTR can be developed within the time scale I mentioned above and I am also doubtful that a LFTR will deliver all the benefits its supporters claim.

      Life is about priorities, and mine would be energy conservation, better recycling, renewables and mitigation of carbon emissions/CCS (in that order). If we include nuclear in this mix, you need to be realistic about what it can and cannot achieve (which is pretty much stand still and don’t have any more accidents!).

      While I see no harm in continuing research on new ideas (such as the LFTR or various radical proposals such as synthetic biology to produce fuel). But even here, ultimately other technologies that are closer to commercial use (which for nuclear would be those Gas-cooled reactors, for renewables, better mass production of existing systems) needs to be prioritised.

  49. Alex says:

    While I tend to love cool, innovative things, I definitely see challenges to gen IV designs. I don’t necessarily think they are as infeasible as you because you seem to have a very narrow view and focus only on the negative, thus you miss the positive. Even with a focus on the negative, you missed a few things (yeah, I’m both a skeptic and a fan).

    Things you didn’t mention against LFTR (some of this is recent):
    Protactinium is easy to separate in a chemical reprocessing plant, and decays into U233, which is usable in nuclear weapons, so it is a proliferation concern. Despite it being recently reported as a major proliferation issue, it is hardly news for anyone that has remotely researched the subject.
    LFTRs use Beryllium, which is also highly toxic. The test reactor in France, TMSR, uses Lithium instead (so lithium-fluoride + thorium-fluoride), which has a higher melting point but also not as toxic (but lithium itself is highly flammable…) and reduces tritium production – this therefore may be a better design choice than LFTR because tritium passes through everything.
    China has delayed MSR work by 2 years for unspecified reasons, suggesting again that this was the wild child in their try everything test.

    A few things I’m skeptical about from your critique:
    Restarting a LFTR probably doesn’t take as much fissionable fuel as starting it initially – the thorium is converted into U233 in the reactor (in fact, LFTRs don’t burn thorium at all, they burn uranium), and that is fissionable fuel, though shutdowns may contribute to wear and tear (again, I think this is a materials issue where research is needed). It may even be possible to get the starter fuel out of the mix by siphoning Protactinium (as per proliferation risk above).
    You argue only power efficiency and neglect that LFTR is more fuel efficient than LWRs, so even if energy is comparable due to extra energy needed to power the heat exchange and chemical reprocessing plant, you get nearly 200% the efficiency out of the fuel (.5% vs 99.5%). Note that the IFR is also nearly 100% fuel efficient (with on-site reprocessing), and both LFTR and IFR burn up actinides, leaving far less nuclear waste that doesn’t stick around long. This IMO offsets the cost of having on-site fuel reprocessing.
    Both LFTR and IFR can burn nuclear waste, and for a while at least, you could probably get it for free (heck, LWR owners would probably pay you to take it), thus all you need is sufficient starter fuel. I personally think this is more important in the short term than using thorium as a fuel.
    The British study link appears to be bad, but if you’re linking the thorium one, they don’t really specify exactly what they studied, but clues in the paper suggest it was about using solid thorium in a LWR (similar to India’s thorium reactors). Uranium is a much better fuel for solid fuel reactors because it doesn’t chew up neutrons converting thorium into uranium, slowing the reaction, if I understand how that works (I’m not a nuclear scientist, but I’m fascinated by it).
    Weinberg intended the coolant to be water because he proposed the reactor be used for both water and (steam) desalination – a larger plant, if built, was never intended to be air cooled (maybe that’s just LFTR fan delusions).

    A few things I’m on the fence about
    Since the reaction isn’t under pressure, you don’t really need a high pressure containment vessel to capture a fluorine (or beryllium) leak, though it would need to be airtight and have good floors that can drain molten nuclear slop. You may need such a vessel to contain an aircraft collision from the outside, however.
    Protactinium production apparently lowers and can be virtually eliminated with a larger reactor, but LFTR seems more ideal as a smaller reactor.
    Several arguments you make against LFTR also apply to other Gen IV reactors (such as cooling and heat exchange, chemical reprocessing, etc). Some of the negatives are offset by positives like better fuel efficiency.

    • daryan12 says:

      Thanks for the comments. I would respond by saying:

      Yes, this is one of those pesky little “facts”the LFTR cheerleaders need to get around. On the one hand, they say Pa is easy to separate so that can be used to fuel their reactors, but on the other hand when its pointed out the proliferation risk, they say its hard to extract (similar issue with U232 & U33 separation). They can’t have it both ways!

      Again, one of many problems. Whether it represents a “show stopper” or a technical solvable problem is difficult to tell at this point. But suffice to say, its the sort of thing that the LFTR promoters tend to try and ignore.

      “China LFTR”
      I’m not opposed to the idea of research into this field, merely that we should prioritize technology that already works over blue sky ideas that are decades away from deployment. If indeed, decades from not they do build a LFTR that works, then we might start fantasizing about its potential, or devoting billions to its commercial deployment. Presumably the Chinese are scaling back as it become obvious the scale of the problem they’ve set themselves. They’ve bigger fish to fry right now.

      “200% the efficiency out of the fuel”
      This assumes that the CPP technology actually works! This is one of the aspects of the LFTR I’m most skeptical of. Largely because its never been road tested for real and its function is largely dependent on a theoretical calculations. Of course the history of technology tells us there is a long history of ideas that looked great on paper, but didn’t work out so well in practice (OTEC, Fuel Cells, Fast Breeder Reactors, SSTO’s, Cold Fusion, Maglev’s, take you’re pick).

      Also note that the IFR also relies on somewhat unproven reprocessing technology (there seems to be an assumption it won’t be a total disaster like the reprocessing methods applied in Selafield, but that’s unproven…indeed I’d say its highly questionable, see the link below where I tackle Fast reactors).

      “burn nuclear waste”
      Again that assumes that the CPP works as proposed and that it isn’t just easier and cheaper to simply bury it. Further a LFTR will still generate some nuclear waste and that will also require burial (strictly speaking they don’t actually “burn” waste, just transmute it into a form with a shorter half life).

      Again there is a fallacy among the LFTR community that operating things things under high pressure is dangerous and this is the problem with LWR’s. I would point out that you’re car engine or boiler both operate under pressure, as does the mains water system in most houses. Gas-cooled reactors also operate under medium to high pressure and possess near immunity to melt down. Low vapour pressure operation does not provide any particularly unique advantages. Indeed when you consider its implications as far as energy efficiency goes its more of a hindrance than a help.

  50. neilrieck says:

    Comment on your article “Part 8 – The MSR (molten salt reactor) and LFTR reactor concepts”.

    A lot of people do not realize that some projects (like MSRE at Oak Ridge) are feasibility studies to prove a physicist’s hypothesis is somewhere between “impossible”, “possible but impractical”, and “practical”. Not every idea can be engineered into a practical implementation. For me, I wonder why anyone ever considered designs around any molten material when it was obvious to everyone that there were problems maintaining hardware associated “boiling water” and/or “steam”. My fears were recently confirmed by this IEEE article:
    which showed what damage a mildly acidic solution under pressure could do to a reactor core over many years.

  51. Tsk Tsk says:

    Wow, just wow. The author, and I’m being generous in that attribution, engages in so many logical fallacies and ad hominems and then has the audacity to pretend that he has the moral high ground against the nasty “cargo cult” rebuttals. He confuses the basic operation of the designs, imposes all sorts of strawmen and then does his best Don Quixote impression to knock them all down.

    Some basic physical facts that he simply fails to grasp:

    1) Claiming T-232(sic) is a radioactive waste product. Umm, no, Th-232 is the fertile fuel burned up in the reaction.
    2) Presuming that the reactor has to run at 1100 C when no one is proposing such a design, then proceeding to find all sorts of issues operating at that temperature.
    3) Making the absolutely bizarre assumption that the reactor salt has to flow into the power generation turbines even though he clearly was able to follow links showing the true operation of either 1 or 2 salt reactors.
    4) Applying the classic logical fallacy of appealing to authority (his own). Since he has a PhD, well, then he clearly must be right. For the record I have two engineering bachelor’s degrees, a master’s, and a PhD. Does that mean I win?
    5) He’s drunk so much green Kool Aid he sincerely thinks that we can’t build nuclear reactors fast enough to keep up with global energy demand, but we CAN cover the countryside with solar and wind installations with nameplate capacities 5X demand to account for their poor utilization. Don’t even get me started on the laughable notion of there being adequate amounts of energy storage for a continental scale grid let alone the complete lack of sufficient rare earth supplies (supplies, not reserves) to make this pipe dream come true. Amazingly enough he loves to dwell on the perceived toxic time bomb (beryllium? really?) in LFTR’s and yet completely ignores the toxic chemistry involved in the manufacture of photovoltaics and the toxic tailings from rare earth mining. Ironically Th-232 is the principle “toxic” byproduct of rare earth mining… Now if there were only a way we could use that Th-232.
    6) One of my personal favorites from someone claiming to be an expert in thermodynamics,
    ““….Actual MSR temperatures are not likely to exceed 750 °C….”
    Indeed the thermal “window” of the MSRE was 705 to 566°C, if memory serves me correct. Unfortunately that’s barely a 260 °C “window” of temperature for our heat exchanger to work with, which as I highlight could lead to issues with poor thermal efficiency or at the very least “complicate” the whole design. ”
    Does the author understand that the cycle through the turbines is not limited to that 260C window? That temperature range is the hot source in our heat engine. Unless the author believes that the entire generating plant is contained within the reactor and has to reject heat into the reactor, I don’t even understand why he would make such a bizarre claim. Presumably he thinks that existing reactors don’t work then when they supply ~300C steam to their turbines, but somehow they do… And they do so with an efficiency of about 35%. Perhaps the author would like to remind us what happens to thermal efficiency when the hot sources increase in temperature.

    The author contends that he has rebutted the rebuttals but to the critical eye he has done little more than erect more strawmen and evade the detailed and technical sound rebuttals with primarily school yard chants. For those who might be interested in the a far more accurate state of MSR’s here is a link to an updated summary of the state of the technology in 2006:


    And, of course, some the rebuttals themselves:

    Not specific to this post but addresses many of the issues as well: http://energyfromthorium.com/ieer-rebuttal/

    You will note that none of the links I have posted require the creation of any strawmen to fit a particular agenda. They address all of the “concerns” raised. In particular the ORNL summary highlights some of the outstanding technical issues and offers a very objective assessment and is much better than this sophistry.

    • daryan12 says:

      “ad hominem / strawman”
      Given that you’re comments above are built completely around enough strawmen to fill the fields of Kansas & more ad hominem than you’ll find in the play Julius Caesar, I find your comment here deeply ironic.
      I get this all the time. You point out to a LFTR fan that what he’s proposing is unworkable or impractical, Oh I’m using a straw man argument, you call him an idiot for being so stupid, that’s an ad hominem comment….. Oddly enough I’ve seen similar tactics from such individuals as climate change deniers, anti-vaccine conspiracy nuts, homoeopaths and free energy quacks……

      Sigh!….I’ve been over this a dozen times, I was debunking various suggestions that I’ve heard from LFTR fans suggesting that one could operate such reactors on an open cycle and/or that they could yield a overall efficiency of +55%. As you yourself admit, this is improbable, due to the need to need to insert a heat exchanger and the given temperature window of said H-X (not to mention the various parasitic loads). Had you actually bothered to read what I said (rather than trying to come up with some excuse to criticize me) you’d see I suggested a more probable operating level within the range you mention. But don’t let pesky little “facts” get in the way of a good hatchet job!

      I seem to recall mentioning this once, you’re making a big deal out of it. Perhaps the wider point here is how many LFTR propagandists online, often with fairly dubious qualifications, are prompting themselves as “experts” when in fact they are nothing of the sort.
      But what do the “experts” think? Well I know people in the nuclear industry who are, if anything, even more scathing of the LFTR concept that me! They will argue that there were good technical reasons why the MSR was rejected in the past and given that the laws of physics haven’t changed, they don’t see what they should give you the time of day. If a desire emerges for safer reactors with the ability to utilise Thorium they point to existing Gas-cooled designs and possibly CANDU’s as an alternative….the only difference being these reactors actually exist, while the LFTR exists only the imagination of its promoters.
      You will note incidentally that unlike them, I don’t object to further research in this regard (up to a point of course! life is about priorities)….a point in you’re effort to criticize me you’ve obviously chosen to ignore.
      I’ve linked above to position papers from both the NNL, MIT and Harvard all of which tend to pour cold water on the Thorium concept.
      There are of course some professional scientists working on the concept of MSR’s. However they tend to be a good deal more cautious and reserved in their projections than the many LFTR propagandists. Indeed last I heard the Chinese were looking at developing Pebble bed and solid cored MS designs first.

      “renewables v’s nuclear”
      The facts speak for themselves. The maximum ever build rate of reactors, in the 70′s was 30 GW/yr of new installed capacity.

      The current build rate, given the greater cost and complexity of reactors is between 10-20 GW/yr depending on who you ask. However the bulk of this is getting eaten up by “turnover” as older reactors (often in the West) are being decommissioned and replaced (often in Asia). Overall the global nuclear installed capacity has been on a downward path for the best part of a decade.

      Renewables are being installed at a rate of just shy of 100 GW’s/yr, with a rising rate of installation.

      As I discuss here EDF energy recently let slip that the “strike price” at which they believe nuclear to be competitive is in the range of about £100 per MWh (about $145/MWh) a good deal higher than the £80 – 40 MWh overnight cost for wind power and massively above the $60/MWh they’ve long claimed as the true cost of nuclear power.

      Operating a grid with a large proportion of renewables is not that controversial. As I discuss here Portugal has managed to maintain 70% of its grid via renewable thanks to combination of wind, hydro and pumped storage. Other countries get closer 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.

      But can we get 100% of our energy (not just electricity) from renewables? I speculate on this in the link below.
      I think I could summarise by stating, yes….but! The “but” is not because we’d run of room to build them (do the maths sometime, such an array would occupy only a tiny fraction of the world’s land area), nor anything to do with intermittency (a red herring, as I describe nuclear has its own problems).

      No, its the logistics of rolling out all of that hardware over such a relatively short period of time (if we want to cope with dangerous climate change/offset peak oil), which I fear could be “challenging“. Its entirely possible that a short fall could emerge between what energy we want to install and how much we can actually install. In all likelihood we’ll have to try and fill such a gap using a combination of cleaned up fossil fuels (CCS) and improved energy efficiency. Nuclear might help, but given the awful long term prospects for the industry, once you look beyond the rosy propaganda, I’m doubtful.

      “LCA PV”
      And indeed this is one of the other obstacles. Renewables do have an environmental impact and consume resources, such as rear earth minerals, various nasty chemicals and heavy metals, etc. However, I find that many such studies prompted by the anti-solar lobby often exaggerate the problem. e.g. they don’t seem to be aware that solar panels can be recycled and indeed that the solar industry often uses waste material from the IT industry for production. So if we stopped building computers and stopped all recycling (or somehow assumed that the problem would magically go away), then yes you might have a point. Furthermore, Concentrating Solar Power is not as dependant on rear earth metals and can potentially operate 24/7.
      While we can recycle nuclear material, this tends to be problematic due to it being mildly radioactive. As I recall pointing out, dealing with the waste from the MSRE is proving to be a bit of a headache for the authorities there.

      “fell for the cool aid”
      As in I’ve ignored the nuclear industry propaganda! As I mentioned above there is a massive yawning gap between the fantasy build rates for reactors the nuclear lobby proposes and how long it actually takes, as well as between the price they claim for nuclear and what it actually costs. I shall let the reader decide who has “drunk the kool aid” and who has not.

      I was countering the point that LFTR’s do not involve any long term radioactive materials, as well as referring to the IEER debate. Furthermore, as a number of LFTR fans have pointed out to me on this issue, materials with long half lives aren’t the problem, its the stuff with short half lives and high rates of heat generation that’s the problem….but isn’t that what you’re proposing to have coming out of a LFTR…?!?….what was that you were saying about logical fallacies!

      I think that covers everything…of course you will argue otherwise (as you do). But I would argue that the emotionally charged nature of you’re post suggests you are perhaps not applying fair or objective analysis and have an emotional attachment to the LFTR that exceeds the rational.

    • neilrieck says:

      I thought thorium-232 was transmuted to uranium-233 which is what is actually involved in the fission reaction. And I was led to believe that fission reactions involving u-233 created some really waste with long half-lives. Am I wrong in this belief?

      • daryan12 says:


        I think it depends on who in the LFTR fan club you’re talking too and which way around it suits him to argue. If you complain about the long time nuclear waste is radioactive, oh! he’ll say, LFTR’s produce no long term waste. If you ask about all that intensely radioactive stuff with short half lifes it produces, he’ll claim the opposite. White is black and black is white sort of stuff.

        In truth my understanding from talking to actual physicists and doing a little bit of research myself is that the decay chain of U-232 & U-233 is a lot more complex than LFTR fans suggest. It produces a combination of both short lived and intensely radioactive products and stuff with much longer half lives (which itself has a long complex series of decay chains).

        As the NNL’s position paper on Thorium stated, any reduction in nuclear waste from switiching to Thorium would be “modest” at best.

      • daryan12 says:

        That link I was going to throw into my comment above, see below, a useful website to use as a starting point on this:

  52. neilrieck says:

    I am not certain of the factualness/quality of this article but it seems to match stuff I have seen elsewhere: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle

  53. FeistyCanuck says:

    This blog is great!

    Have you looked into Travelling Wave Reactors at all? Are they just a flavor of MSR or something different?

    • FeistyCanuck says:

      Web Link – http://terrapower.com/pages/technology
      This company is related to Bill Gates / Intellectual Ventures

    • daryan12 says:

      Sorry for the delay, been on holiday!

      Traveling wave Reactors are very different from a MSR. One of the key problems with such reactors however is a lack of practical experience. It all sounds great on paper, but if everything worked as well on paper as in the real world, we’d have Fusion power and OTEC power, flying cars, SSTO’s, etc all working right now!

      Even the MSR has some (fairly limited) practical experience, so the TWR is I would argue considerably behind even this in terms of development. In short TWR’s are at best, currently a blue sky idea.

      • FeistyCanuck says:

        I spent over a year working as a consultant at Syncrude (at the time the largest oilsands operator) back around Y2K. Leaving aside all judgements about whether its a good idea or not…

        Oilsands production also uses a lot of electricity and could use more if it were cheap and local. They would take a co-gen approach and generate power with a nuke then use the waste heat coming off the turbine to produce process steam for the plant’s needs rather than wasting it with a cooling tower. There is some local natural gas fired generation that does the same thing. I’ve often joked that the whole process is simply a way to convert cheap natural gas into gasoline.

        The main practical economic argument against building a nuke up in Fort McMurray is that there is already a major shortage of skilled trades people like welders, pipe fitters and other industrial construction trades that there is a lot of competition to hire them which drives wages through the roof. Each new project makes everyone else’s projects more expensive.

        The early entrants (Syncrude/Suncor) built upgraders (partial refinery) on site to upgrade their heavy & sour bitumen into light sweet synthetic crude. In today’s Alberta construction cost environment, economically it makes to only build the parts of the process that MUST be on site at the mine site. If you are an oilsands company, it makes a LOT better sense to build/expand a mine and extraction plant with those trades people and ship the bitumen somewhere else to be upgraded. At least as far as the nearest major city (Edmonton) where costs would be lower for new-build refining capacity or even cheaper to somewhere that has spare, already built refining capacity (gulf coast / overseas).

        From an overall value judgement perspective with peak-oil in mind, it is strategic for Canada to have SOME development in the oilsands to ensure that we have the technology figured out and optimized so we can take care of ourselves in a post-peak world. However it makes no sense to me to be in a huge rush to build out the resource to the extent where it causes a local supply glut and depresses the local market price of oil (wasted money!). When I was up there around Y2K production was around 750k barrels/day and I think we should have capped it there. Current production is approaching 2M barrels/day with more coming on line all the time built in a crazy construction cost climate.

      • daryan12 says:

        The problem with using nuclear energy is that its a rather expensive source of energy and once you add the costs associated with that to the cost of the oil its questionable whether said oil would still be economic, quite apart from the practical considerations of building a nuclear plant in the middle of nowhere!

        To be honest, I’d tend to argue that the Tar sands should be left in the ground. They are the dirtiest of all forms of oil and if the IEA is to be believed we’ve already got too much oil to burn from a climate change point of view.

        But indeed, part of the problem with Tar sands, like tight oil and shale gas in the US is that a lot of spiv’s and speculators have gotten involved, including quite a few from the US, Russia and China. Consequently the project has taken on a life of its own. Indeed if only for the fact that the Canadians seem to be loosing control of the situation (I recall a local farmer complaining to me about how he risked loosing his land to the tar sands via a compulsory purchase order) that in itself is reason enough to abandon the whole thing.

      • FeistyCanuck says:

        That “local farmer being forced to sell land” must have been more of a pipeline issue than the actual oil sands. “Emminent domain” is used here for highways/pipelines/elecrical lines where needed to prevent a single unreasonable farmer from holding up a project with significant public impact. Canadian farms are HUGE compared to the european perspective. Most successful farms are multiple square miles. I have a cousin that plants over 25 square miles of grain (wheat / canola / lentils) so allowing a pipeline to traverse part of that land isn’t as impactful as it might be for a small farm. Once it is through I beleive they farm right overtop of the pipeline.

        The athabaska oilsands is all up in “Canadian shield” country, or as I joke “rocks, lakes, and trees forever”. It is a scale thing. The Boreal forest is not some euro style small protected park. It is HUGE… unfathomably huge for a lot of people which always kind of baffles me when people start throwing around terms like “biggest ecological crime ever committed”. The mining operations aren’t a whole lot different than coal mining districts or for that matter any kind of large scale open pit mineral mining.

        I wouldn’t say that it is the worst kind of oil… The oil shale in the Estonia is worse and I believe they are working on getting some oil shale going in the USA some place too. Admittedly, saying “oil shale is worse” doesn’t make oil sand look good at all…

        I think the development there is going faster than it needs to and I agree that the governments in question do not have as much control of the situation as they could/should have.

        My point with the economics of construction in that location simply reinforces your point that it doesn’t make sense. Basically building a nuke up there is a bad idea for all of the same reasons that there are cost issues everywhere but then compounded by the fact that it would cost double AGAIN as much due to local conditions. From bad idea to REALLY bad idea.

  54. FeistyCanuck says:

    I’ll take two of those fusion powered flying cars to go. Thank you very much! :)

  55. neilrieck says:

    With all forms of energy extraction, it is all about EROEI (Energy returned on energy invested). In the 1860s we read that the energy from 1 barrel of oil would return 120-150 barrels of oil. As surface oil became depleted, companies began to drill for it. Today, all the easy oil has been extracted causing oil companies to drill much deeper (DeepWater Horizon in the Tiber Oil Field was drilling 10 km (7 mi)) dropping world average EROEI to 30. Tar sands EROEI is officially 3 although others have claimed it is at least 5 but I think we all see a pattern here: when the EROEI is 1-to-1, or lower, costs will be passed to consumers and they will be forced to other energy sources. Now that is not to say that the oil industry will ever die out. People will always want take cruse ships to the Caribbean or 747s to far off destinations and I doubt that those technologies will convert to alternative fuels anytime in the next 100 years. But is it wise to extract tar sands oil using nuclear energy when the price of solar is falling faster than anyone could have predicted? It only makes sense to extract this oil when we need it -AND- when it can be extracted more cheaply.

    • daryan12 says:


      Indeed when I mentioned “costs” I wasn’t just talking about $$$ but also about energy costs also (if you’re going to build nukes or solar, better to dump the energy into the electricty grid). One of the problems with Tar sands or other unconventional oils is EROEI’s. Indeed that figure of 3 you mention is troubling. When you consider that the bulk of the oil is destined for use in cars where it will be consumed with an average cycle efficiency in the order of 15-30%, that suggests that the overall well to wheel EROEI’s for the tar sands might be less than one, i.e. a net energy sink rather than a source!

  56. neilrieck says:

    Good point about the efficiency of automobiles. Not sure how much has changed since I was in college but it used to be common knowledge back then that 30-40% of the energy was lost in the automobile drive train.

  57. kman says:

    Wow, you are so miss informed, please get your information correct about nuclear power cost, fuel availability and technology. What is your actual credentials anyway?

  58. neilrieck says:

    “KMAN” :: I have no nuclear energy certifications. I studied electrical/electronic technology at Conestoga College (1973) but now work as a computer programmer for a large Canadian telecom. Since then, I have continually attended classes through college or industry, seminars through the IEEE at the University of Waterloo, or lectures at the Perimeter Institute. I always post to blogs using my real name because I stand by what I say, publicly admit when I am in error, and publicly admit when I have been convinced to change my mind. Also, I am politically neutral. Now I can tell by your post that you choose to engage in vague remarks along with with spelling and grammatical errors which made it difficult for me to determine if you are pro-nuke or anti-nuke. In case you haven’t noticed, I am pro-nuke (especially CANDU) and believe my home province of Ontario could be 75% nuclear if something stupid happened today in the middle east. Even though the cost of solar is falling ridiculously fast each year (kind of a Moore’s Law for solar), I live too far north for this to ever be a reality. Wind is much more practical and although the installed cost is falling, it is not falling as fast as solar. So Ontario relies primarily upon hydro (I am a huge fan of “Big Becky”) and nuclear (we can mine the fuel, process it, burn it, and dispose of it all in Ontario; it also supports 77,000 jobs). A friend working at Candu Energy Inc. (Mississauga) once told me “pull out a 5-cent coin (colloquially known as a nickel) and realize that this weight in uranium, when burned in a CANDU, is the equivalent of three barrels of oil”. Think of it; cheap energy with no smoke stack pollution or carbon dioxide. Now here is the caveat: energy produced from chemicals (including fossil fuels) naturally works in the range of one-to-two electron volts. Nuclear energy naturally works in the range of one million electron volts. While chemical technology produces a million times more waste (comparatively speaking), nuclear waste (volume-for-volume) is a million times more dangerous. Put this way, large volumes of chemical technology are just as dangerous for planet Earth as nuclear technology. Since we never hear phrases like “core melt down” or “China Syndrome” with chemical technology then we assume it is benign. Getting back to nukes, since the government certifies certain professions (“Engineers” and “Air craft controllers” spring to mind) then we must only allow certified people to work on nuclear technology. I don’t even think we need to be a million times more careful; one hundred times might be more than enough.

  59. Pascal says:

    A very worthwhile exercise to analyze future nuclear reactor designs. Simply put; there seems to be no future design which combines inherent 100% safety (whatever that means), low cost and no waste. Moreover, even 100% efficient uranium or thorium burning reactors (instead of the few % or less in current water cooled reactors) will not provide enough nuclear energy to power the entire world for centuries to come.

    I would also like to see a critical analysis of renewable technologies. Just like the “nuclear” advocates do, “renewable” advocates often regard the “renewable” route as the only viable one to save our planet. And while that may be true; efficiency, costs and environmental impact are just as often disregarded. Here too, the end often justifies the means.

    Through renewable energy Western countries can cut CO2 emissions significantly but in the mean time China and India proposed more than 800 coal fired plants (http://www.wri.org/tools/coalmap/) offering energy at very cheap prices. We might be doing the right thing going renewable – and I’d stand behind it – but the tax-payer will have to pay the surplus in costs or else our industry will move to countries where energy is cheaper. The true cost of coal or fossil fuels in general (i.e. taking into account the impact on the environment, climate and health) has so far been irrelevant to those countries or at least their governments.

    • daryan12 says:

      While I don’t do an explicit renewables critic I do point to the limitations on renewables in a number of articles, such as the one below. Ultimately, its a case that while renewables are doing well, certainly more low carbon energy capacity has been added in the last decade or so via renewables than via nuclear, the need to do alot better.

      Of course there’s probably some physical constraint as to how much renewable capacity we can add over any given time period, and its possible that this might mean having to get by with less energy resources than we’d like too, or making use of quick fixes such as CCS or CHP as a temporary crutch.

      As for China and India, its worth remembering that they are both heavily investing in low carbon energy, both the nuclear variety and renwables. While we in the UK dither about a few MW capacity wind farms here and there, the Chinese have 75GW’s installed and are talking about building vast 20 GW mega scale windfarms!

      Ultimately we have to blame dithering from the West (notably under Bush) for creating the present situation. Had we taken a lead on this issue when the US/EU were both the leading polluters, but also the leading producers of renewables, things would have worked out very differently.

      • daryan12 says:

        Oh, and I probably should have also mentioned I’ve a follow up article in which I’m planning to go through the number, i.e. look at how well renewables (and nuclear) are doing relative to how well we need them to perform if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. Watch this space.

  60. Dr. A. Cannara says:

    First to Pascal — “there seems to be no future design which combines inherent 100% safety …low cost and no waste. Moreover, even 100% efficient uranium or thorium burning reactors (instead of the few % or less in current water cooled reactors) will not provide enough nuclear energy to power the entire world for centuries to come.”

    a) “100% safety” — you mean like your car? Like your bucycle? Like the hospital you go to? The escalator/elevator you trust every day? What western civilian nuclear-power has demonstrated for its 56 years of life is unmatched safety. Not good enough? If JFK’s efforts had been followed by later administrations, we’d indeed have eliminated combustion power in the US by about 2000. The EPA says ~13,000 Americans die each year from just coal emissions. None from nuclear. The combustion folks have even been allowed to emit far more radiation than nukes can — look up NORM Exemptions. So, if you want “whatever that means” safety, nuclear has already proven it’s up to the job, because its regulated well and folks going into each plant every day take what they do seriously. The 2nd video down illustrates the stats… http://thoriumremix.com/th/

    b) “no waste” the “waste” from a 1GWe advanced reactor running for 30 years full out fits in a trash can and, as the French have long done, is easily glassified and dropped into a borehole for permanent storage. Some of the ‘waste’ by the way, are medical/industrial isotopes of great value, not to be thrown away. And, advanced reactors consume any heavy isotopes, such as Plutonium, Curium… There is no need for “long-term waste” at all.

    So, when one mentions the nuclear “waste problem”, one opens oneself up to questions lkie: Have you bothered to study nuclear power & physics? Take a gander at what the French have long done, just with ordinary reactors over decades: http://tinyurl.com/kkmyhze (p7, 21 on).

    c) “…even 100% efficient uranium or thorium burning reactors (instead of the few % or less in current water cooled reactors) will not provide enough nuclear energy to power the entire world for centuries to come.” — the amount of Thorium and Uranium in earth and seas is far more than needed to serve all humanity at power levels used by advanced countries for thousands of years. The issue of food is more limiting to human futures. A handful of Uranium or Thorium runs an American’s grand lifestyle for life. And, Thorium is 4x as abundant as Uranium — latest IAEA reports… ftp://ftp.iaea.org/pub/thorium2013/

    Now for Daryan — He plans to “look at how well renewables (and nuclear) are doing relative to how well we need them to perform if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.”

    a) Unfortunately, “dangerous climate change” cannot be avoided, certainly not by ‘renewables’ which are not “renewable”, excepting perhaps for solar power. And Daryan, as do many, demonstrates lack of grasp of the more imminent and serious problem of ocean acidification. It’s now heading toward an irreversible extinction event before 2050, which can eliminate ~20% of all human food protein, as well as shut down the natural carbon cycle dominated by the oceans and their calcifying life forms.

    Those who’ve been warning of acidification effects, since Arrhenius in 1896 (pre-oil), are happy to see some media attention, at long last. Perhaps Daryan will also catch up?

    The need perceived by JFK, various Nobel folks, hundreds of scientist & engineers in the 1960s, was for completion of advanced nuclear power designs so that deployments would be about 1GWe per week in 1980. Some scientists also recommended that Congress support the planting of 1 trillion trees per year, into the future.

    One can calculate what a clean 52GWe per year, from 1980 on, would have netted us. It would not only have limited the worst effects of past emissions, it would have provided the US with a competitive, clean energy-system business worldwide — a business the Russians are now actively promoting.

    But, due to combustion-industry lobbying and naive ‘environmentalists’ we instead have created problems for which our descendents will likely spit on our graves.

    Fake ‘renewables’, like windmills, serve onl;y to subsidize the few from the many and to co-opt vast lands, all while wasting resources & power. It takes, for instance, ~2000 tons of resources just to build 1MW of average wind power. That 2000 tons (iron ore, rock, coal, limestone…) must be processed via fossil fuels. This is why the CO2 footprint for wind is as large as more powerful & more reliable sources, like hydro, geo & nuclear. And windmills are notoriously inefficient in extracting energy from moving air…
    http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/015021/ (video — note axes on graph)

    But what do Harvard & Stanford folks know, eh?
    But Daryan, feel free to steal some ‘renewables’ facts from: http://tinyurl.com/cxplxx3

    And remember, local solar PV/hot-water, EVs & efficient storage, plus advanced nuclear are all we need to address all the problems we’ve created through bias and ignorance. Our descendents are watching from the future.

    Feel free to call 650 400 3071

    • daryan12 says:


      I had to dig this one out the spam bin, it would seem even WordPress didn’t take too kindly to it! You’re comments merely shows that you see things thro a prism, performing various feats of mental gymnastics to filtering out an inconvenient facts that contradict you’re “faith”. Even when the source for that information happens to this thing called “reality”.

      As I pointed out to you before (but obviously you choice to ignore it) the growth rate of renewables is in the order of 159 GW/yr, while the IAEA’s long term estimates for growth between now and 2030 averages out at about 6.6 GW/yr. Even accounting for average cap factors for renewables, this still means that Renewables are now being built 10-15 times faster than nuclear. I discuss this in more detail in my latest post.

      And even achieving this 6.6 GW/yr would be a tall order once you factor in the legacy issues (many of the world’s nuclear plants will hit the end of their service lives between now and 2030) Indeed over the last decade or so the overall trend for nuclear has been generally downwards, so perhaps the IAEA’s prediction of any growth is being a tad optimistic.

      The fastest ever build rate for nuclear was 30 GW/yr in the 70’s, which clearly involved a level of corner cutting (Chyernobl, TMI and Fukushima were all built in this period), hence why I’ve long assumed that 10-20 GW/yr is a more realistic maximum build rate once we account for real world factors. The IAEA’s scenario is just about possible with this production level once we accounting for the legacy issues. Needless to say your figure of 52 GWe is laughably divorced reality.

      100% safety
      While I will accept the argument that modern reactors are a lot safer than older plants (but costlier). You obviously don’t understand the difference between “voluntary risk” (when you get into a car or take a flight) and “involuntary risk” (when a chemical plant down the road explodes due to poor maintenance or you get run over by a drunk driver). There’s an important and significant legal difference between the two.

      “French waste”
      It would be useful to stick with the numbers and not superlatives. France’s HLW stockpile is around about 2,700 m3, with a further 800,000 m3 odd worth of ILW & LLW (that’s going to be one heck of a big bore hole!). France’s policy of reprocessing basically resulted in trading modest reduction in HLW for a significant increase in ILW & LLW (at considerable cost). This stockpile is set to double or more between now and 2030.

      Furthermore, I though the whole point of the LFTR you favour was that it produces substantially less waste (something which a number of academic sources quoted at you by me or TRThomas don’t entirely support mind, but again you ignored that one too), but now you’re trying to claim that nuclear waste isn’t a big deal. In your mind black is white and when necessary, white is black. You can’t have it both ways!

      “ocean acidification”
      Without denying the seriousness of the issue, I tend to scold people for engaging in Doomer like behaviour, largely because this merely strengthen the hands of the deniers (who argue all environmentalists are a bunch of alarmists) and because it presents the obvious counter that if were doomed anyway, why try and cut fossil fuel use? (expect this to be the official position of the GOP on AGW in a few years time).

      Furthermore, I can’t help but notice that’s its nuclear kool-aiders such as yourself or Lovelock who tend to be the worst addicts when it comes to what I term “climate disaster porn”. I suspect this may be linked to the jilted lover effect. Given that the world appears to be largely rejecting nuclear ye want us all to suffer as life without nuclear just isn’t worth living.

      Adams & Keith (2013)
      You’re attempt at appealing to authority (are you aware of how many Stanford or Harvard academics take a pro-wind or anti-nuclear line?) with some anti-wind paper falls flat as its clear you don’t understand the point of the paper.

      This paper, by a physicist, attempts to establish a maximum upper limit for the wind energy resource worldwide. That there is an upper limit from the wind power that can be extracted by near surface winds is no surprise. Personally tho I’d argue that a host of real world economic and practical factors will kick in to limit wind power growth long before we run out of room to place them.

      The paper you quoted is at odds with several other studies which give a much higher estimate for wind power, notably Jacobson and Archer (2012) and Miller et al (2012). Furthermore all three of these papers (and many more I could quote) are based on theoretical models, and theoretical models have been known to be wildly off in the past (during my PhD I came across 3 models relating to natural convection which predicted very different outcomes under identical conditions, I eventually determined by experiments that all three were right…but also wrong, as the models only matched the experiments under a set of very narrow parameters, the three authors had just been feeling different parts of the same elephant at the same time).

      Furthermore, the maximum available resource (Adam & Keith hold back from giving an exact figure, probably because they recognize the limits of their model, but the other authors do give estimates), even in the worse case scenario is still in the order of 10’s of TW’s (allowing plenty of room for expansion) and would only present a problem if we ultimately tried to get all our energy from wind power (which would be silly, given the much larger reservoirs of available energy from the Sun, geothermal or ocean energy), plus these studies also ignore the fact that existing wind energy tech can only capture a relatively small portion of available wind energy, while so-called airborne turbines (which can be stacked vertically in places such as the jet streams), which are currently under development, can capture much more.

      Personally, I’d also argue that greater energy efficiency is crucial, so I’d question the wisdom of trying to match current energy consumption with alternative energy, regardless of whether its possible or not.

      Any true scientist would understand the importance of these caveats I list, however you, like so many in the anti-wind club, read what you wanted out of the paper (wind power bad) and took off running, going off at a complete tangent to imply things that the paper does not support.

      “wind subsidies”
      You are aware that many wind farms in the EU are owned by local farmers? Or that in some cases communities have gotten together and bought wind turbines, with the goal of generating power and income for the community. Granted this isn’t always the model, I’m sure there’s some capitalists out to milk the system for every penny they can (but equally, I’m sure there’s plenty in the nuclear industry), but that’s a fault of our economic system and not the technology. Personally, I’d rather see carbon taxes than a subsidy of energy systems.

      Please call
      Given that you’re clearly suffering from delusions I won’t be calling. However I have a friend who works in a funny farm who I’m tempted to pass on your number too. If you see a couple of guys in white coats coming up your drive with a straight jacket, you’ll know what’s going on. Don’t worry, they’re just there for a quiet chat, then they’ll take you some place where those nasty evil hobbits….sorry wind farms, can’t hurt you anymore.

  61. daryan12 says:

    [Been my usual busy self the last few days, too busy to maintain this site. The comment below (from Dr A Cannara) came by, and as it wasn’t going to come out in a readable format (massive length, a reply to a reply to a reply) so I thought I’d put it down here instead.

    Also given the large volume of half-truths, errors and outright howlers, this also affords me the opportunity to moderate what he says as he Gish Gallops along]

    From Dr A Cannara

    Daryan, if you want readers to view you as an honest broker of information, then you might try to avoid suggesting opponents in arguments visit the “funny farm” or are “addicts”, or even more desperate playground epithets — that just suggests you’re afraid of the facts.
    [Facts? As we will see you’re position is somewhat “fact free”. I presume you don’t watch the Daily Show, when your dealing with fanatics who for reasons of bigotry, ignorance or stupidity won’t listen to logical reasoning, often one is forced to rely on sarcasm and wit to get the message across.]

    You could also be honest that ‘renewables’ increasing at “159GW/year” is a peak value, whichj ignores the only useful number — average power delivered per year. That’s under 40GW-years. So, backup power from other sources, including fossil, hydro, geo and nuclear are necessary, as Denmark now requires.

    [Ah…no! Adding up and multiplying by cap factors, I come up with a number closer to 70-75, but then again if you’d actually bothered to read my article (and reading does not seem to be one of your strong points) you’d see I account for that and I also compare on the basis of kWh’s per year. If I was unable to dig up an exact kWh figure from IEA, IAEA or REN data I would estimate based on known capacity factors for that energy source.

    The fact you insist on using GW’s in this format (I noticed this in your own presentation) is troubling as it suggests you are not accounting for (nor aware) of the fluctuations in energy demand, i.e. that nuclear faces the opposite issue than renewables, that reactors like to be on all the time (for technical and economic reasons) but demand varies both daily and seasonally.
    This is particularly important when we go beyond elec (only 17% of TFC according to the IEA (KWES, 2012)) to heating, transport fuels or industrial needs, all of which are subject to significant seasonal fluctuations in demand.
    The only way to get around this with nuclear would be to use the same strategy as renewables (store energy in some form to even out the peaks and troughs) or have a massive oversupply of reactors, 2-3 times more than needed and accept the negative economics of operating them all with much lower cap factors (you are aware that peaking power plants tend to have low cap factors?)
    And speaking of Cap factors, you are aware that the average cap factor for nuclear in 2010 was just 72%, not 100% you assume, indeed just to be fair to nuclear I used 80% in my article. So applying capacity factors to you're own (made up) numbers (0.72x52 = 37.4), renewables still comes out on top!]

    As for the growth of nuclear power, your numbers don’t capture the great acceleration via Russian, Korean, Chinese and other vendors [No, wrong again, the values I give specifically rely on information from both within the IAEA or from the sort of build rates that were talked about by the WNO pre-Fukushima]. So, yes indeed present nuclear construction is well below the 52GWe we needed per year in 1980, but that’s irrelevant. Once nuclear acceleration takes hold, windmill deployments can never catch up, nor should their waste of resources & land allow them to.

    [The casual reader will notice the massive gap between the 6.6 GW/yr I’m getting based on values given by the IAEA Prospects report 2012 (or indeed their somewhat implausible fantasy of rates hitting 18 GW/yr) and this 52 GWe Mr Cannara talks about. He supplies no explanation as to where this number comes from, it would appear to have been plucked out of the sky.
    Reading between the lines I suspect what he’s done is go through the data for the world’s heavy forges and estimated how many reactors they can build and arrived at this value.
    However I would point out the some flaws in this line of reasoning. Many reactor vendors are tied to specific manufacturers for a host of contractual, technical and regulatory reasons. The reactor is the beating heart of a NPP, you don’t want to go for some cheap knock of!
    Furthermore, these Heavy Forge facilities are not at the exclusive call of the Nuclear industry. They have other important paying customers to cater for (oil & gas, pharma, chem’s, energy industry (gas, coal renewables), marine, military, etc.). Now I suppose if we imposed global communism, shut down several key global industrial sectors for a few decades and put up with soviet style queues for stuff (I am of course being ironic, I point that out because I realise that some nuke fans are probably thinking that this sounds like a good idea) we could then get something like the rates nuclear kool-aiders suggest, but I’m sort of guessing that won’t be popular!
    Course, those sneaky reds would probably very quickly realise that renewables are much easier to mass produce (hence why they’ve been out performing nuclear recently) and would prioritise them instead….or just ban energy wasteful practices such as SUV’s and short haul flying!
    Also heavy forgings is just one of many bottlenecks for nuclear. As I discuss (here) there are many other, for example pouring all that concrete takes time. It was one of the many hold ups in Finland (the French seem to have forgotten when they designed the reactor that it you don’t give it time to cure between pours concrete won’t harden properly). There the question as to whether the uranium mines could keep up with such a demand.
    And who is going to run these plants? A key contributory factor at Chernobyl was the fact that the Sov’s ability to build reactors had outrun their ability to train people to operate them. Many in the control room that night were dangerously undertrained. And who is going to pay for them? The capital costs of nuclear have gotten very high recently and there’s only so much cash the markets or governments can put up at any one time. This has long been a problem for renewables, even though recently capital costs have been falling.
    Also reactors are not immortal. As I point out in my article nearly half of all will retire before 2030. Once we factor in replacing all of them, this 6.6 GW/yr rate jumps to 15-20 GW/yr, which is I would argue, just about within the limits of possibly, based on the sorts of production rates discussed prior to Fukushima. However, even this will require a significant level of government support that I don’t currently see forth coming. In the absence of such support, present trends will continue and reactors will be turned off at a rate exceeding their replacement.]

    Local solar is excellent in efficiency [Most solar collector installers I know tend to be rather anti-nuclear largely because of past brushes with the nuclear lobby and its attempts to crush their industry, either by lobbying against efforts to encourage renewable heat and distributed power or some wholly eared nuke-cheerleader objecting to a neighbour’s solar panel because he has a brother in the nuke industry and feels he has a (im)moral duty to object to anything non-nuclear] and environmental impact and has a couple of efficiency (power density) doublings yet to go. Wind has none. The latest, 7MW Siemens windmill specs show a 500 ton nacelle — enough steel to build the largest nuclear reactor vessel ever needed..[ya and what about the 1,000 tons of piping, steam generators , pumps & economiser hanging above the reactor? And lets not forget the steam turbine plant and all that concrete (you do know concrete production releases GHG’s?) in the bio-shield] throw in the tower and a few more of these wasteful babies, and you have an entire nuke plant delivering 100x what the full Siemens wind ‘farm’ could deliver at peak, part of a day [The LCA of a nuclear plant extends well beyond the plant, you've got the mining of the fuel, processing, final disposal, etc.]. There’s no need for windmills. You and we all know these facts [You clearly don’t!], so why hide them here?

    [Various efforts have been made by pro-nuke & anti-renewables types to claim that renewable energy systems consume more energy in their construction than they offset in their operating life. Anti-nuke types have countered by coming up with similar studies of their own. Ignoring the inaccuracies of both parties and I tend to point out that even if we were to believe the worst case scenarios from both sides, the resulting CO2 LCA is still a fraction of that produced by even the cleanest of fossil fuel based options (a FC running on NG, or a coal plant with CCS). You are literally attempting to split hairs here, and clearly do not understand the issues at hand]

    Now to your friends chiming in on the inconvenient truth of the Harvard study — my own engineering degrees and experience aren’t at stake here [I couldn't possibly comment, but I don't think you're doing very well!]. A Stanford Nobel physicist [neither of the authors of this study you quoted (Adams & Keith, 2013) has ever won the Nobel prize, I have no idea how you came up with this] views the study as seriously damaging to wind’s promotion. The Chinese have already observed wind’s weakness in the face of climate change [Aye? The Chinese are talking about building giant 10GW wind farms, and talking about 300 GW’s worth of wind by 2020! Now if you understand China, you’ll realise this may or may not happen (those red’s again!). They made similar commitments to nuclear a while back, but you are clearly deluded]. So arguing about a variable source that’s both low in power density and unable to meet environmental changes [Are you referring to the French having to de-rate their nuclear plants in summer due a shortage of cooling water?] is just silly — especially when it demands an investment of ~2000 tons of resources [Reference?], all processed via fossil fuels [And those big dumper trucks at Uranium mines run on what remind me?], plus ~10 acres of land [And we have how many millions of acres on this planet?] just to gain 1MW of average power [the turbine you quoted was a 7MW, so 7x0.3 = 2.1MW..!?!].

    [As I mentioned before, a real scientist would understand that the paper in question has to be put in the proper context, i.e. we have an author operating out of his core field of study, who also happens to be president of a CCS company btw, coming up with a theoretical study that is at odds with other studies in the field. It doesn’t mean I’m saying he’s wrong, I’m just saying we need to put his results in the proper context (again, my suspicion is all of these authors are correct, but just feeling different parts of the elephant at the same time and thus reaching different conclusions).
    Running around claiming that one scientist's word cannot be challenged by other science is the point where you’ve crossed the threshold into science fantasy…as I see you Thorium trolls do all the time with Wienberg]

    Then we have your uninformed analysis of the very successful French nuclear program that has helped us all by avoiding the emissions that would ha\ve been produced over past decades if over 50GW of power had been generated via coal, etc. You sound childishly ungrateful to the wise French. The Germans, of course, thumb their noses now at emissions [German carbon emissions have gone down, there’s been some attempts to cherry pick by naysayers when, for example energy demand jumps in a cold winter and inevitably this means more FF burning (but the same also applies in France of course!), but the reality is, a generally downward trend], for naive political reasons [Germany abandoned nuclear because the politicians realised they could never get public approval for one again. What would you have them do? drive bulldozers over the protesters? Which part of “democracy” don’t you understand?], so have been pumping about 50 megatons of unnecessary CO2 out each year [French nuclear plants remember need to be backed up in case of any problems and some of that is provided by German or English fossil fuel plants], in abrogation of their previously-acclaimed world responsibility.

    [While I will give credit to the French for at least having an energy plan, unlike the UK or US. Other countries like the Germans, Danes, Iceland, Portugal, Norwegians and Swedes (to name a few) have all shown that you can achieve a lot with renewables. The French nuclear program (or Japanese one) has served to squeeze out any alternative to nuclear until recently. Also, as I discuss (here), there is the full life cycle costs of nuclear power and its effects on the French economy]

    But the French waste you claim is 2700 cubic meters. How big is that, Daryan? What’s 30m x 30m x 3m? Oh yes, a small warehouse [You seem to be forgetting about the 800,000 of LLW & ILW, plus the fact that the HLW & ILW piles are set to double by 2030…so you’re only wrong by an amount that would fill the Stade de France a couple of times!]. After decades of running a country on a clean power source, we have a small warehouse of ‘waste’? And, wait, it’s not even all waste, now is it, Daryan? Much of it is usable as fuel in advanced reactors. So, in comparison, how big is the coal-ash pile in Germany? [You are aware America has some 265 million tons of mildy Uranium mine tailings and about 90m gallons of radioactive processing liquids hanging around?] How radioactive is it? How poisonous is it? [I’m not exactly happy with Germany’s use of coal, there are other alternatives one of which is indeed nuclear, but again, politics!] How much coal does it take to make a windmill? Do you actually have any idea about real waste?

    [Deary me, you really don’t know a lot about nuclear power do you! Let’s pick this one apart shall we. Why do FoE and Greenpeace get in a tizzy about nuclear waste? (cos its radioactive?) And what does radioactive mean it does (decay?)…which means it heats up, what happens if you were to stack all of that French waste in a tiny room with no cooling system?
    This is why as part of any burial process the plan is to spread the waste out over a large area, at depth, in tunnels. The idea being that this should allow any decay heat to dissipate and more importantly as the waste will not remain encased in glass indefinitely and thus become subject to geological movement, the hope is that if they spread it out enough and bury it deep enough, by the time any of it made it to the surface (or if I should say) it would have decayed to a point where it will have negligible impact on the environment…or at least that’s the theory!
    Also while everyone seems to agree that this is a good idea, nobody seems to want the waste buried under their backyard, as events in the Yucca mountain or Cumbria in the UK have shown.
    More importantly this sort of “home spun truths” tactic (of giving true but deliberately misleading information) is a common tactic of climate deniers (highlighting for example the large weather related temp swings and contrasting them with climate related trends) but it is not compatible with the facts.]

    Glad to see you picked up another acronym in LFTR. Yes indeed, it’s idea is much reduced waste, along with walk-away safety. But you again miss the reality that new reactor fuel-cycle designing was given up here in the Cold War, so with nations just now restarting that effort, it will be important to ramp up present reactor production. The used fuel we have now (~68,000 tons) [Harvard and MIT studies don’t support this analysis I would note. They conclude that it would be vastly cheaper, safer and more practical to simply bury this waste. The economics of reprocessing is only viable if nuclear fuel costs were to get extremely high, which given the low build rate and negative economics of that, seems unlikely] and will generate in the future from those old designs will again be fuel for new MSRs (LFTR is not immediately necessary). Of course, Thorium, which provides the low-waste profile we desire [The UK’s NNL does not support this either, they point out that Thorium would result in an only modest reduction in nuclear waste. They also seem to conclude that a LFTR (if it ever became available) would only perform niche roles in support of large LWR's], can be and has been used in standard, solid-fuel reactors, which is what India is expanding [India’s Thorium policy doesn’t currently include use of MSR’s]. So there are plenty of ways for what you call “waste” to be used as fuel for the entire world for decades.

    [Also you’ve repeatedly refused to answer the question I keep asking, if Thorium is such a good idea, why not use existing gas-cooled reactor technology or CANDU’s? Both are proven technology, HTGR’s have a good safety record and both have been operated on a Thorium cycle already, decades ago in fact. It would seem foolish to wait around for an unproven reactor tech to be developed, when the tech to use Thorium already exists.
    Of course one is forced to conclude that the reason you don’t support this is it doesn’t fit in with your little technofantasy and persist the thought that HGTR’s actually did work an negate the need for “your precious”]

    So keep up the silly epithets, Daryan. Other readers may see them for what they are — a smokescreen for hiding from the facts. The world will be just fine for thousands of years using local solar, EVs, efficient storage and advanced nuclear. Oops, wind is irrelevant!
    And, you can still call, when you muster your Gumption, Daryan.

    [You do know I used to be pro-nuclear? What drove me towards scepticism of nuclear was the fact that I began to realise that much of the pro-nuclear propaganda was a mixture of myth, fantasy or just plain made up BS that did not stand up to rational scrutiny. Dr Cannara does not offer a shred of evidence to support his position and the instant we dig a little below the surface, his propaganda collapses like a house of cards.

    The second thing that put me off nuclear was that I realised that nuclear energy supporters, in their efforts to clear the way for their little darling, were sabotaging the efforts of other energy options that actually offered much promise, e.g. solar thermal, CHP, CCS or indeed wind power and PV.
    e.g. I’ve long noted the pathological hatred of wind power by some pro-nuke types. As another blogger commented before it does sort of imply that deep down they know their darling isn’t the bell of the ball anymore. So they feel they have to beat up wind power for committing the crime of being successful in bringing down carbon emissions and proving to the markets that renewables can work. Peeved at wind for being ahead of them on the ladder, they feel the best way to get on top is to saw away the bars supporting both of them.

    There are some major issues with renewables (not least being 159 GW/yr ain’t remotely enough, nor indeed would 52GW/yr of nuclear since we’re talking about it!), as I mention in my latest article. But it’s clearly the best shot we’ve got, other than simply cutting back consumption to some sustainable level.

    As the saying goes, your either part of the solution our you’re part of the problem. I’m increasingly forced to take the view that nuclear (or at least the fanatically cargo cult supporters of nuclear) is part of the problem]

  62. neilrieck says:

    I am still a fan of nuclear technology (they provide reliable base-load power and produce zero CO2 after the poured concrete has set) but they are expensive to build, expensive to operate, and expensive to decommission. Today’s investors demand a quick ROI (return on investment) and so are unwilling to put up the money to build a nuke which will not produce any power (hence money) for 5-7 years. So where investors are unwilling to go, we rely on government. The problem with this idea is most governments are broke -and- 50% of our society seems to want government to get out of the way. We now know that nuclear sites are expensive to decommission and many sites are never returned to a habitable state. Since investors can’t be relied upon to stick around during decommissioning, then governments need to step in. However, since they are broke they should be demanding that up-front decommissioning costs be placed in escrow (or perhaps, these costs could be skimmed from operating profits over the first 5-10 years but this lower ROI would just chase away investors). Meanwhile, If investors decide they want to install a wind farm, units can be installed and providing an ROI is just three months. On the other end, site decommissioning costs are tiny compared to nuclear. Yesterday I checked the mid-day wind power in Ontario (a province in Canada) and found it to be ~ 1.2 GW.
    Although new nukes are usually built in the 750 MW range, you could do the simple math, divide by one Gig then say that Ontario’s wind farms are the equivalent of one nuke. But check the stats for Texas where power production from wind farms is an order of magnitude higher.

    • daryan12 says:

      Although I’m skeptical, I don’t completely take nuclear off the table (its being pushed to the edge of the table and may fall off one day, but its still on the table), it has its uses and I accept there are some people who support it (including a number of engineers I know in the UK)…yet they are actually sane! Sensible people can agree to disagree on such issues.

      What I take issue with is the nuclear kool-aid sellers trying to pander various cargo cult myths about nuclear, failing to point out its limitations and then bashing anything that offers a credible alternative.

      Not only because such individuals are dangerous towards making any progress as far as AGW is concerned, but they’re actions are actually counter-productive in the long term as regards nuclear. Recall how we were all sold the “too cheap” too meter 100% safe nuclear dream back in the 50′s. Once people realized they had been lied too many, perhaps quite understandably became hostile towards nuclear. This same process could easily repeat.

      • neilrieck says:

        I fully agree. Adding to your points, I remember seeing 100-year-old articles about how Radium would be the answer to all of our woes. Too bad people didn’t yet know about DNA and how radiation from Radium could cause DNA to mutate (thus causing cancer). I always think about the ignorance surrounding Radium when I hear the choir singing the benefits of Thorium. Here are two, of many, references to the folly of Radium:


      • daryan12 says:

        At least the Radium quacks can be excused given that they existed during the Victorian era when such quack medicine was quite common. But we’re now supposed to be in a different age, one where the science is available to anyone who would care to look.

        I think a cautionary tale from the space industry would explain a lot. This scientists attends a NASA conference back in the 80′s. During the morning session, one of the presentations discussed NASA’s plan to replace the destroyed challenger with a new shuttle (Endeavour) for $3 billion, using mostly left over spare parts from other shuttles. In the evening session there was a presentation by the NASP team (a proposed SSTO vehicle) who suggested that they could develop all the necessary technology, design, build and test the X-30 for only $5 billion. Oddly enough nobody seemed to question the obvious contradiction between the two presentations. The “space cadet” parts of the NASA engineers had them all fired up about the potential from the NASP, stopped the critical part of their brain spotting the obvious.

        I wonder, sometimes if we see something similar with nuclear cheerleaders as regards things like fast reactor’s or Thorium.

  63. stan says:

    thorium power is more realistic than fusion or geothermal

    • daryan12 says:

      hmmmm, given that Geothermal power already exist, indeed Iceland gets most of its heat & electricity from geothermal, I’d question your reasoning.

      • Geothermal is thorium power, but not all locations have direct access to the secondary water cooling loop. I doubt heavy industry can use geothermal for more than its airco in most places.

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