Sunday, September 3, 2017

35. Fracking Killed Peak Oil

The advent of fracking (also known as hydraulic fracturing) has greatly increased the perceived amounts of available crude oil and natural gas supplies as fracking became widespread in the U.S. from ~2007 (guesstimate) through the present  (2/3rds through 2017). This increased supply from fracking has greatly reduced the price of oil and natural gas (with numerous downstream effects and cost reductions). Due to these price reductions which have had tremendous benefits throughout the greater overall economy, fracking has essentially killed peak oil/natural gas concerns (and likely been a substantial driving force of the bull market from 2009 through the present).

The combination of concern over climate change plus peak oil/natural gas was the primary impetus for the "nuclear renaissance" during the period from ~2004 through 2011, and sparked many other initiatives, including many of the subsidy programs for wind and solar power and the start of Tesla Motors (now simply Tesla) as a company.

Climate change concerns alone are far, FAR weaker than climate change concerns combined with peak oil/natural gas (NG) concerns in providing a driving impetus for finding truly capable alternative primary energy sources to crude oil and natural gas.

The 100% renewable "plans" (many would call them dreams or fantasies) would have been untenable in the age of concerns over peak oil/natural gas combined with climate change concerns and would have been given almost no credence whatsoever by those understanding the scale of energy use within the overall economy (my knowledge and biases suggest that electrical and mechanical engineers are maybe the two professions best-qualified in having a true gauge of this magnitude, along with mining and petroleum engineers). These renewable-only plans are only given credence at the level they are because peak oil/NG concerns have subsided thanks to fracking. The extra supplies of oil and natural gas that have become available as a result of fracking gave resulted in energy prices in the 2009 through 2017 period that have been considerably lower than those in the 2000 through 2008/2009 period (Note, these high prices provided a big part of the "fuel" for the all-too-brief nuclear power "renaissance").

Fracking will eventually be shown to not be enough. I have no clue when this will occur, but at that point, I envision nuclear power finally experiencing its full renaissance (barring a complete loss of knowledge). The 100% renewable plans/dreams will likely continue to seduce people as being possible for the period until fossil fuel prices again rise to levels where peak oil and natural gas re-emerge as real, viable concerns within single digit numbers of decades. Peak oil and natural gas are simply not concerns presently with gasoline at less than $2.60/gallon in most of the U.S. and with electricity price remaining in a reasonable range (<$0.15/kW-hr for large portions of the U.S.).

An additional proxy of this line of thinking is the delta between Al Gore being given a Nobel Prize following the first "An Inconvenient Truth" (released during the period of combined Climate Change + Peak Oil concerns). Alternately, Vice President Gore has gotten substantially less traction with the inconvenient sequel (released during the era of Fracking having killed Peak Oil/NG).

My posting here is not intended to provide a value judgment of whether climate change concerns alone should be an impetus for taking actual steps towards a more and more decarbonized economy (best done by far by increasing usage of nuclear power, imo). Instead, I am simply presenting my observation that climate change concerns during a period of seemingly abundant fossil fuels for transportation and intermediate/peaking power are insufficient (as shown by events from 2009 through mid-2017) for causing people/societies to take big steps towards legitimate, meaningful decarbonization.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

34. What is an Advanced Reactor

Early today, I saw a response to a tweet from David Roberts (@drvox on Twitter) that had posed a good question.

The term "Advanced Reactors" definitely doesn't have a hard and fast definition, unfortunately. Also, there are the Generation I, II, III, III+, and IV terms thrown around for different generations of reactors that possess different features in terms of technological advancements, fuel utilization, economics, and safety features.

These Reactor Generation designations are not incredibly well-defined, much less well-defines than the 300 MWe cut-off under which a reactor would be considered an SMR (small, modular or small or medium reactor).

Are Britain's gas-cooled reactors designed in the 1950's Gen I or Gen II?

Is it possible to have a water-cooled reactor that is Gen IV......even a super critical water-cooled reactor (according to the title of this .pdf, apparently yes for the super critical concept)? Or is substantial fuel breeding a prerequisite for "qualifying" as Gen IV?

Would the thorium breeding for Shippingport's final fuel load (additional writeup from Rod Adams) make that obviously Gen I reactor be closer to being a Gen III for that fuel cycle, since fuel was bred.........with the lack of "more modern" technology (lack of passive safety features.........or maybe Shippingport did have passive safety features?) and being literally the FOAK land-based PWR preventing it from being Gen IV (or even II or III)?

I chimed in with my present understanding (which has been painted by a few recent happenings).
Then I mentioned a few of the happenings.
As was mentioned in my Twitter response, I feel like the following 3 "advanced reactor" items are referring to non-light water cooled reactors (counting the 2 bills as a 1 of the 3). The Advanced Reactor Design Criteria (presently under a public comment period) are certainly explicitly geared that direction. The Nuclear Innovation Alliance also recommendations also seem to be geared that direction (with a big emphasis on how the licensing process relates to the confidence needed for investment capital to be risked).

The NRC's present licensing process is tailored to light water reactors (LWRs), and does not presently lend itself to licensing molten salt, molten salt-cooled/solid-fueled (like Per Peterson's "FHR"), gas-cooled, sodium-cooled, lead-cooled, etc. reactors. 

NRC comment period on Advanced Reactors:

Strategies for Advanced Reactor Licensing:

Nuclear Energy Regulatory Modernization Act:

Nuclear Utilization of Keynote Energy Policies Act (horrible bill name):

In conclusion, my thoughts are that although the Westinghouse AP1000 is a Gen III reactor and the A in its name is for "advanced", I would say that most of the recent discussion of "advanced reactors" is not referring to the AP1000 (or the APR1400 or any other iteration of a PWR or BWR) geared much more towards reactors designs other than light water-cooled reactors (LWRs, which includes pressurized and boiling water reactors [BWRs]) or CANDUs (which are cooled by heavy water). 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

33. How to END Global Fossil Fuels Subsidies

A headline from May 18th from The Guardian really caught my eye.

Fossil Fuels Subsidised by $10 million a minute, IMF says (note the British spelling of subsidize)

In summary, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has completed a study of global fossil fuel subsidies. They calculated a whopping $5.3 trillion worth of annual subsidies for fossil fuels. I have not yet had a chance to thoroughly read the study, and doubt that I will find time in the near future. 

These subsidy calculations include implicit impacts from both local air pollution (see: Beijing, China) as well as impacts purported to be the result of increased heat being trapped in the atmosphere due to the increase in the concentration of atmospheric CO2 that has been observed following the ever-increasing combustion if fossil fuels, with the combustion products (mostly CO2) being dumped more or less directly to the atmosphere. Most people shorten this to climate change, formerly known most often as anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

Note that this post is not meant to argue whether global warming or anthropogenic climate change exists, it is simply to lay out a simplistic plan that would eliminate, over a matter of roughly 2 to 3 decades, a great deal of the subsidies enjoyed presently by fossil fuels (which mostly freely release combustion products to the atmosphere).

The simple proposal (other than politically simple)
Most proposed carbon taxes I have seen over the years have suggested a tax of at least $25 dollars per ton. The article I linked above mentioned a projected cost of 42 pounds per tonne (roughly the same as a ton) of carbon dioxide emissions.
Aside: I should maybe be ashamed to admit that I never have bothered to research the rigor of whether these often-thrown out number are per ton of Carbon in the CO2 released or per ton of CO2, with the oxygen molecules included on the calculation. This is basically irrelevant for the discussion of my proposal here, other than being about a factor of about 3.66 off (3.66 = 44/12 : rough CO2 molecule atomic weight versus carbon atom atomic weight). End aside

Whichever method is typically used in the calculations for computing a carbon/CO2 tax, my proposal will involve instituting such a "carbon" tax in the U.S., but limiting the tax to only $10 per ton (of carbon or carbon dioxide). This cost is much lower than most carbon taxes that have been proposed (that I can recall). Of the revenues generated by this carbon tax, I propose that in the neighborhood of only $2-3 Billion per year for ONLY 5-10 years be allocated to help advance peaceful nuclear power. This level of spending will leave plenty of money leftover for other worthy causes, which I will leave for others to fight over. Despite this "relatively" modest amount dedicated to advancing peaceful nuclear energy, the amount would be enough to kickstart nuclear energy. Properly deployed funding within the U.S. would put the world on a course that can legitimately end the need for any future fossil fuel subsidies. This will eventually result in a reduction reduction global CO2 emissions and allow an increasing of the standard of living of people all across the globe.

For this reduction of CO2 emissions and increase of worldwide standard of living to occur, I would prefer to see the United States regain a top position in supplying nuclear power plants for export. The U.S.-produced designs must be capable of competing with Russian, South Korean, and Chinese plant designs, as those three nations are presently far-and-away leading the world in exporting ready-to-build nuclear power plants. I am afraid that without some fairly rapid policy shifts within the next 5 years, the U.S. will have fallen fully behind the 3 nations listed above, possibly with no hope of recovering.

2 Primary Uses of the Funds

1. Regulatory Funding Reform (combined with a shift toward Enabling rather than Disabling)

Of the $2-3 Billion annually to be allocated to advancing to U.S. peaceful nuclear power endeavors, $200 Million should go towards providing additional funding to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), above and beyond the present $1 Billion budget, all but about 10% of which is provided directly from license-holder fees. The primary use of these new funds (greater than 60%) should be to fund hiring of new employees and training staff to support licensing of advanced reactor design and fuel cycle facility license applications.

In conjunction with this new increase of funding, the overall direction of the NRC should be ever so-slightly re-calibrated, more towards enabling than disabling, with NO CHANGE to its reason for being:  "The NRC was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment."

2. D.O.E. Nuclear Innovation Fund

The funds wouldn't necessarily have to all go through the D.O.E., but more funding needs to be provided to some innovative nuclear power startups than the $452 Million over 6 years that the SMR program was allocating. While those funds should be useful, they are going to light water reactor designs, which are well-proven and probably a little less worthy of subsidizing than some advanced designs that could really advance the overall nuclear fuel cycle. These designs and concepts would not be limited only to reactor designs, but also to advanced fuel cycle facilities. 

Why Will It Work

Simple: Because E = mc^2  (E being energy, m being mass and c being the speed of light........and the speed of light is FAST, really really fast, and SQUARED; thus a tiny change in mass equates to a massive amount of energy)

If you don't understand why I provide such a short answer, PLEASE go read more about nuclear energy and energy density. Basically, nuclear power is a far superior energy source to any other alternative that has been commercially developed so far in terms of the combination of energy density, controllability, and overall environmental impacts.

Limiting the funding to no more than 10 years would make it slightly more palatable politically, although this proposal would be sure to have numerous vehement opponents who would stand to lose out in a true nuclear renaissance. The combination of several years of sustained funding, combined with slight regulatory recalibration would be sufficient to overcome the "coefficient of static friction" that is presently hindering the deployment of peaceful nuclear energy within and from the U.S. and enter a period facing only "rolling resistance" (kinetic friction). Kinetic friction is generally much less than static friction, so once nuclear power enters more of a kinetic friction regime, other sources of energy will be unable to beat it out in any properly-designed, fair market. The qualities that make nuclear energy a superior source of energy will cause it to win out in the markets it is suited for. I would expect that in this hypothetical future, that fossil fuel subsidies could be all but fully eliminated from the world within 25-30 years of the start of my proposed program.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

32. New Blog Post coming soon (dormancy ending)

It has been far too long since I have written a new blog. For that, I apologize.

My upcoming post will feature a song from Shovels and Rope. 

If anyone is reading this or following this blog closely, a new posting will happen soon. Sorry to not write anything since April 2013. I can make no promises regarding posting frequency in the future. I recommend Rod Adams' Atomic Insights for regular pro-nuclear slanted postings.

Friday, April 12, 2013

31. Risk vs. Benefit and the Best of Intentions

Pro-Nuclear Advocates vs. Anti-Nuclear Crusaders

Simplifying Unverified Assumption (NOTE: not always true):

The motives of advocates on both sides of this issue are pure, and are not driven primarily by greed nor generic financial interests.

The above, somewhat grossly simplified, Unverified Assumption (UVA for short) is simply for the purposes of this discussion. Independently exploring the frequency of the truth of this assumption for each side would make for an excellent homework assignment for anyone that happens to read this post, and could possibly be the subject of future postings here. Determining the accuracy of the assumption is far from an easily-completed task, particularly in cases of either undisclosed motivations or sources of funding (emphasis fully intended).

Aside: If you don’t mind thinking with an open mind and would be interested in exploring some thoughts about some possibilities for some of these undisclosed items from people fighting against Nuclear Power, I would recommend reading some of Rod Adams’ “Smoking Guns” series of posts as a starting point. I would not recommend accepting any of Rod's theories without critical thinking, but I don't think they should immediately be dismissed without a fair amount of further thought.
/End Aside

So, assuming that both Pro-Nuclear Advocates and Anti-Nuclear Crusaders are each driven by “pure” motives, what are the primary arguments forming the basic building blocks that each side stands upon?

This again requires some simplification and an ideal situation of people thinking through the issue rationally, but my view is that arriving at a strongly held position should fundamentally come from an in-depth weighing of the Risks of the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power vs. the Benefits derived from the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power.
Risks on one side               Benefits on the other
Or, if you prefer, like a see-saw.

The oversimplified position of Pro-nuclear Advocates (such as myself) is that the Benefits side of the ledger outweighs the Risks side (by a significant amount, in my case).  

The oversimplified position of Anti-nuclear Crusaders is that the Risk side outweighs the Benefits, and one would have to think that the staunchest of those Crusaders think that the margin is widely in their favor.


For an example of the benefit of Abundant Energy, I present this excellent video that has completely no mention of nuclear power. In case you aren't able to watch it at the time of reading, the video shows the progression of all the countries of the world's average wealth and average life expectancy from the year 1810 to the present. Based on the years that I have studied and given deep thought to energy-related issues and on my knowledge of the progression of energy sources that have been at our disposal, I couldn't help but watch the upward progression of both wealth and life expectancy over the past 202 years and note that the upward progression correlates essentially perfectly to people gaining more and more access to increasingly dense sources of energy at their command.

I highly recommend reading this post regarding human ingenuity that has been one of the most pivotal influences in my thinking regarding the issue of our need for nuclear power.

Recently, I was referred to on Twitter as a “Nuke True Believer” and a dreamer. I take NO offense to either term. I still believe in the future. I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the limited nature of fossil fuel resources in comparison to the "for all intents and purposes inexhaustible" nature of fission fuels, once Generation IV designs are ready to be built (which is admittedly, probably 9-14 years away). I watched as increasing gasoline costs provided the needle that burst the housing bubble in 2008. Without greatly increasing the amount of energy utilized from fission fuels, I see practically no way that the 2 Billion people in world presently lacking access to electricity will be able to move to that upper right quadrant in the video above.


Given the simplifying UVA at the beginning of this post, Anti-Nuclear Crusaders must truly believe that the risks of nuclear power generation outweigh the benefits.

Do I think that Nuclear Power Generation is a completely risk-free endeavor? Absolutely not, but neither is virtually anything on this planet we call Earth. Not to be callous, but the eventual death rate of people here on Earth is a rather staggeringly high 100%. Yes, Chernobyl was a horrific occurrence. Yes, the Earthquake and Tsunami in Northeast Japan were also terrible. Avoiding the areas of highest contamination that resulted from both of these occurrences is the right thing to do. I don't really see any major points of disagreement between either Pro or Anti-nuclear people on the relative scale of these incidents (outside of one particular piece of work, which may have been rather short on usage of the scientific method).

From my vantage-point, however, the major point of disagreement in regards to the risks of Nuclear power result from views regarding to the risks of lower levels of radiation. Much of the rhetoric that is the primary tool I have seen used by Anti-Nuclear Crusaders to convey their conclusion of weighing the Risks vs. Benefits is based on the use of adjectives that attempt to give the impression that any single ionization caused by radiation will absolutely cause a cancer. This is simply not the case. Whether the LNT hypothesis is true or not, at low enough doses of radiation, the increased cancer risk incurred from very low radiation doses is grossly outweighed by the numerous other cancer risk factors that we are faced with in our normal every day lives.

It may go without saying, but I have arrived at my position of being a Pro-Nuclear Advocate based on my weighing of these factors.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

30. Call Me "Johnny Atomicseed"

In addition to being something of a folk hero, "Johnny Appleseed" was an actual real-life pioneer who lived in the early days of America's existence. His actual name was John Chapman. American school children grow up learning that Johnny Appleseed traveled the American country-side in the pioneer days, planting apple seeds (or at least they learned that back in the late-1980's and early-1990's).
Depiction of Johnny Appleseed: If anyone has free time to create a Johnny Atomicseed logo, please do

So, I know you are asking "What does Johnny Appleseed have to do with Peaceful Atomic Energy?"

Nuclear power is an investment in future generations. It is an investment in technological progression. To oppose nuclear power is to be in favor of either a large amount of increasing combustion to meet energy needs or "Endarkenment" (Also: in favor of additional deaths in comparison to alternative means of cost-effective, reliable generation according to this recent study).

Like planting apple trees (or other fruit trees), building nuclear power plants is not an investment that pays off in the short-term. It is a long-term investment that provides benefits further into the future. You can't bake an apple pie next month from apples grown on a tree you decide to plant in your yard today. However, if you do decide to plant an apple tree today, 10 years or so from now (depending on many factors), you should have the benefit of some home-grown apples.

Nuclear power is not conducive to a mere quarterly financials-style outlook, which is far too common the default in today's society.

"How does building new nuclear plants pay off?" you ask. 

By providing the lowest life-cycle cost of electricity generation.

Even considering the massive investment outlay of roughly $14 Billion for the 2 new Westinghouse AP1000's being installed at Vogtle near Augusta, GA, the total life cycle cost of the electricity is estimated to be up to $4 Billion less than the next best generation option. The reason that number is uncertain and requires the words "up to" in front of the $4 Billion is primarily due to the volatility and future uncertainty of natural gas prices. From March of 2012 to March of 2013, the Henry Hub spot price of natural gas fully doubled from a low of under $2.00/MMBtu to over $4.00/MMBtu within the past few weeks.

For a similar real-world lowest-cost estimate, FPL/NextEra Energy estimates (per this fact sheet) that their Extended Power Uprate (EPU) projects at St. Lucie and Turkey Point would save their customers approximately $3.8 Billion for the time period of the remaining life of the 4 Units in comparison to other generating options.

Feel free to question these numbers from both Southern Company and FPL, but these 2 utilities are required to testify in front of public service commissions to justify that their costs for adding this new generation are reasonable and prudent, and they wouldn't have undertaken these projects if they didn't trust their own math.

The same FPL fact sheet linked above mentions that 2 new AP1000's at Turkey Point (Units 6 and 7) would save customers $58 Billion over their operational lifetimes. That even almost sounds absurd to me right off hand before giving it much thought. If you actually stop to consider that 2 AP1000's will generate 1100 MWe each, should be fully capable of operating for 60-80 years, and that the residential price of electricity in the presently nuclear generation-free Los Angeles area is about $0.23/kW-hr, the $58 Billion savings number starts to actually make a decent amount of sense. Would anyone want to sell me any natural gas futures with a 2030 delivery date at even $6.00/MMBtu?

Even further into the future

So far, I have only referred to conventional Gen II and III light water reactors (LWRs). Plenty of potential exists in the future for Generation IV reactor designs with many, many improvements over Gen II and III designs, particular in terms of the utilization of natural Uranium. Nuclear power being allowed to continue to progress will "plant seeds" for future generations to properly utilize the naturally-occurring 0.7% of Uranium that is fissile U-235 to be the seeds for virtually unlimited power by way of breeding fertile Thorium and the 99.3% of natural Uranium that is U-238, while reducing other potential impacts to levels below even the minuscule impacts of the present generation of light water reactors.

Nuclear power is an investment in the future. From my viewpoint of knowing a great deal about it, and about its potential for even further future improvements, I think nuclear power is THE investment in the world's future. A new nuclear power project started today won't pay dividends next quarter, but over the next 60-100 years, it will help make the world a better place by helping more people get close to a situation of having Energy Abundance.

Disclaimer: I did notice when I Googled the terms "Johnny Appleseed" and nuclear, that A.Q. Khan popped up several times with people calling him a nuclear Johnny Appleseed due to his role in past weapons proliferation, but that was not even close to the point of my post. Here at Entreprenuclear, I prefer to stick to talking about the benefits of peaceful atomic energy. So, I will  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

29. Energy Abundance, The Moral High Ground

Using energy does not make you a bad person.

A dangerously seductive idea has been adopted by many very intelligent people overestimating the possible benefits that can be obtained by foregoing the usage of energy/electrical power. The term "Negawatt" has been derived to refer to an amount of energy saved. Please, DO NOT twist my words to suggest that I am against the elimination of wasteful usages of energy or am against pursuing increasing energy efficiency, as I would disagree with either assessment. That said, I would like to make several points.

"Negawatts" have never powered desalination plants to change a single gallon of ocean water into clean drinking water or powered a single piece of life-saving medical equipment. Would anyone argue that those aren't desirable?

A "negagallon" of fuel has never powered the transportation of any person anywhere or delivered any goods to a new destination. The freedom provided by access to transportation is a major positive. Thanks to me owning a road-worthy personal vehicle and to the existing infrastructure of fueling stations, I was able to decide during the day on Friday (the same day as she broke her hip and had surgery) to travel 7 hours to visit my grandmother in the hospital 3 states away. I will fortunately be joined in the car by my two brothers who each live more than 4.5 hours away from me. Having the freedom of transportation to be able to travel and visit family (or friends) is certainly something that can easily be called a good thing.

A "negawatt-hr" of electricity has never powered a dishwasher or washing machine, 2 appliances which drastically reduce the needed human input time of accomplishing household chores. I would have considerably less time to read blogs if I had to handwash my clothes. Do you think that there might be a few people living in the less well-developed parts of the world today that would be happy to have the opportunity to have leisure time, rather than needing to strive for survival at every instant?

Negawatts don't keep lights on at night to allow people to study, learn, and improve their overall positions in life. Yes, candles can provide some light at night, but they do pose a higher fire risk than most electric lights.

On occasion, I have little thoughts of self-doubt that my goals of increasing the availability of energy and electricity will simply allow people to become increasingly lazy and be able to do more completely non-value added things, like send cat pictures around the Internet. (Ok, I admit that there is an ever-so-slight amount of value added by the 1,322,650,448th cat picture.) Yes, more cheap energy availability is likely to cause an increase in frivolous or wasteful uses of energy. When I think about the positive aspects of access to energy, though, like being able to travel three states away at almost the drop of a hat to join my Mom in visiting her Mom in the hospital, the positive aspects of access to energy far outweigh the meager negatives of greater potential for laziness and of increased frivolous usages of energy.

With access to sufficient energy, other needs like food and drinking water are fully attainable. Energy poverty begets poverty of all forms.

Guilt-derived negawatts "generated" (sarcasm intended) within America will do nothing to solve poverty in other parts of the world. Increased usage of nuclear energy, particularly within markets beyond baseload electric power, has the potential to enhance energy and thus other resource abundance, significantly reducing worldwide poverty. These effects would subsequently enhance people's levels of freedom and reduce the incentive to fight over constrained resources, since with abundant energy, other essential resources would become increasingly abundant. People whose needs are met are much less likely to feel a need to fight.

Late addition: Here is a song titled with what you don't need to feel.

Never feel any shame or guilt for utilizing energy for a non-frivolous purpose that fits within your personal budget. Don't be seduced by the idea that a soft energy path is a path that leads to a better future. A truly better future for the world is a future with increasingly affordable energy abundance, with minimal environmental impacts. Increasing usage of peaceful nuclear power and new beyond baseload electricity utilizations of nuclear energy are a means of achieving such a desirable future of abundance.

Avoidance of energy usage is not inherently morally superior to the numerous positive uses of energy.