A Silly Way To Boil Water 94


As regular readers know, I have been involved with a company installing gas turbines in Ghana. Our next plan is to collect the exhaust heat, generate steam from it, and feed that into a steam turbine to generate more electricity for no added fuel cost.

That is a sensible way to boil water. It can go wrong – any large machine operating with high forces can do damage. But even the worst disaster would be localised and over in an instant.

All nuclear power stations do is to boil water to make steam for a steam turbine. Given the massively disproportionate potential forces at play, the capacity for a Chernobyl style disaster killing thousands, and the long term dangers from nuclear waste, that really is a very very silly – and enormously expensive – way to boil water. You have to be slightly deranged to see nuclear power as sensible.

Those massively disproportionate potential forces in play lead to nuclear power always bringing in its train government lies, secrecy, restrictions on liberty and increase in state power. For those reasons politicians find it attractive. As it involves massive capital cost, there is a big industry lobby that backs it. As many of the full costs are met by the state, the corruption possibilities are good too. That is why the lobby for this crazed option is so strong.

Here is another better way to boil water:

Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year. An area of around the size of a living room, covered by mirrors for concentrating solar thermal power plants, would suffice to cover the electricity need of one person day and night – carbon free.

Thanks to Ingo for the desertec link.


94 thoughts on “A Silly Way To Boil Water

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  • Clark

    Komodo, I asked you back here, and then got distracted myself. I’ll look through your links soon; thanks for posting them. I wonder if Anon and Derek will be back.
    .
    Yes, beryllium and fluorides are both very hazardous. I expect they have other industrial uses, so we can examine their dangers in other contexts.

  • Derek

    Yes, I am still here, but I am not sure there is much more to add to the discussion.
    .
    From the discussion so far I have come to realise that the dream of an MSR on every street corner is not going to happen, not just because of the NPT inspection issues, but I also found a page on the energy from thorium site (sorry I can not find the link again) in which Kirk Sorenson says that it would take 1 ton of U233 to start a Thorium research reactor, and the USA only *has* 1 ton of U233. The research reactor could create another ton of U233 each year of operation so production reactors could only become operational slowly. (Production reactors would only create enough new U233 to sustain themselves)
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    On the other hand I remain convinced that an MSR has the potential to give us the power we desperately need at much lower cost and inherently safer than the current generation of nuclear reactors. There may be nasty chemicals in the reactor vessel, but lots of industrial processes involve nasty chemicals. The important thing is that those nasty chemicals should not be able to enter the environment under any conceivable failure condition. Something our current generation of nukes manifestly fails to achieve.
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    As for replacing nuclear power with ‘renewables’, in my opinion wind power simply is not going to work. It is too intermittent and the energy it produces is too expensive, in the wrong place, or at the wrong time (And I say this as someone formerly associated with a wind energy company) If it were not for the ROC’s (renewable energy obligation certificates) there would be no wind energy industry.
    .
    Wave power looks promising, but the government has put the kibosh on the most promising project of them all, the Severn barrage.
    .
    That leaves shale gas, and today I note the government has given the green light to shale gas development. So that it what will happen. Shale gas production will soar, the tricky nuclear question can be safely ignored again, and renewables will quietly wither away. It might not be such a bad strategy if it were not for the fact that global warming is a reality and the only sensible thing to do is leave the shale gas in the ground.
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    You might think from reading the newspapers that the deniers had won the ‘argument’ and that global warming was a myth put about by governments to tax and oppress us, and by greedy scientists who would say anything for more research funding. The trouble is you will find precious few actual scientists agreeing…. But then they wouldn’t would they?…

  • Clark

    Derek, I agree, industry already handles beryllium and fluorides without excessive problems. I think the tritium issue has been covered on energyfromthorium.com somewhere; I’ll go looking for it.
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    I think the “one tonne of thorium” quote you were looking for is on about the 17th paragraph on this page:
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    http://energyfromthorium.com/plan/
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    but that’s for a full-sized, 1GW power station, not a research reactor, and LFTRs can be started on other fissile materials, too; see a couple of paragraphs down from my earlier reference.
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    Bad news about the shale gas.
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    I hoped Anon would return, too. Critical viewpoints are needed. I suspect that nuclear engineers end up biased against fluid fuelling; they just get used to thinking about solids and internal reactor structure. Designing to avoid meltdown becomes a prime obsession, and they freak out at the thought of a pre-melted core. So from traditional nuke engineers we just get contentless criticism like “nuclear engineers wouldn’t touch MSRs with a bargepole”; at least, I’ve seen a few comments like this, and little intelligent criticism. But the MSR also became known as “the chemist’s reactor”, chemists love working with substances in solution, and it was Anon’s comments and links above that suggested to me that MSRs are a really versatile nuclear / chemical reaction environment.

  • Komodo

    I have no particular position on MSRs. The details on beryllium etc were in response to Clark’s enquiry as to what would happen in the event of a meltdown/release due to a tsunami. A wide area would be cleared of sea life and the release of radioactive materials would be little different from a conventional reactor (failing a core fire), except that much more of the heavy element content would be in finely divided form and more easily dispersed. This might sound good until you remember the fuss that a few isolated particles of plutonium on the shore at Dounreay can generate (rightly), or think about those nice insoluble uranium and protactinium fluorides, concentrated by tidal action, forming a subcritical mass on a bathing beach down the coast…
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    Yes, chemists enjoy solutions…engineers might be a little less keen on handling highly radioactive liquids at temperatures approaching those associated with gas turbines, in settings where access is difficult or impossible. Recall that safety concerns demand that aircraft engines are subjected to regular disassembly, repair and testing routines. My mind boggles somewhat as I try to think how you might do this with an MSR circulating pump. For instance.
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    On the plus side, containment would probably be a less complex problem than it is with solid fuel assemblies.
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    That reference to tritium in the Zaghloul paper is faintly disturbing. Why is it considered a good idea that the solvent breeds tritium (from neutron bombardment of Li, presumably)? Other than nuclear weapons, is there some massive industrial requirement for tritium I haven’t heard of?

  • Komodo

    Mind you, if tritium could be made on an industrial scale, the possibilities are intriguing:
    http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/23959/
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    This technology is still evolving, and it looks to me as if high energy densities are possible with this approach.
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    You’d only have to fill up your NukePrius ™ every 12-25 years…

  • Komodo

    LOW-level radiation damage to structural components…sorry, I don’t have £308 to spare right now…claims to be the first book on the topic. The blurb suggests that a system capable of producing tritium efficiently might be rather good at stripping the protective fluoride “skin” off MSR pipework, but maybe I’m just being paranoid.
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    As I say, nuclear of any kind is a lousy solution, but it’s the best of a bad lot, pending efficient energy storage systems, and neglecting efficient energy use.

  • Clark

    I still haven’t caught up; busy day today. But for what it’s worth, I think humanity should become proficient in using nuclear power safely. It would be nice to do so in our own good time, but poor (or absent) planning has left us with major problems.
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    One reason that tritium production might be considered advantageous could be that tritium costs about $30,000 per gram:
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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium#Self-powered_lighting

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