Flux capacitor supply
I want my Mr Fusion box generating 1.21GW now please; waiting round for lightning is so passe....
A startup firm funded in part by Bill Gates is in talks with Toshiba about creating small, efficient nuclear energy reactors that are fueled not by treacherous uranium-235 or plutonium-239, but by relatively benign uranium-238. According to a report (paid subscription) in the Wall Street Journal, a Toshiba spokesman says that …
The proliferation of small high power generators will still exacerbate the whole global warming thing. They aren't replacing fossil fuel generators with these units, they are plonking them where there was nothing before, and that is a bad thing. We will all eventually succumb to the heat-death of the universe if unlimited power is available (clean or not).
Or am i monging some serious doom here?
That more people having 4 bar heaters will be enough to heat up the world, or that we should have no more power genaration than we do? I realy don't get what your getting at... Why is it a bad thing to have new clean power?
Appart from anything else they will reduce the number of genorators, and increase the use of low carbon transport.
That depends on several assumptions that may or may not hold water.
An interesting theory postulates that an ever expanding universe increases the maximum entropy value faster than the total entropy increases, effectively getting away from heat death.
The second law of thermodynamics is quite empirical and it does not take into consideration things like black holes, dark matter, quantum dynamics and most of the XX century discoveries.
Personally, I'll wait for a complete standard model of physics before considering the final fate of the universe.
Why is more generation bad ?
Global warming isn't driven by man-made energy generation. All the man-made generation is SWAMPED by solar radiation - it's about 70000 times the electricity generation on the planet. Total solar radiation striking the earth is about 5E24J /year which dwarfs man-made generation. The total output of the sun is 10 orders of magnitude greater than the radiation arriving on earth and that's a little star in a quiet backwater. So I don't think humans are contributing to the eventual heat death of the universe in a meaningful way.
"They aren't replacing fossil fuel generators with these units, they are plonking them where there was nothing before, and that is a bad thing."
That might possibly be a bad thing for you. Although I doubt it.
But i think the poor buggers with no electricity in the third world won't sympathise much with you.
Talk about selfish!
The Intellectual Venture website seems to be long of promise and short on detail. It could be that this suggestion from the Wikipedia entry about the design they are proposing is not be far wrong:
"Its theoretical existence and publication before a working prototype has been developed may be a means of extorting license fees rather than actually furthering the state of the art. The company carrying the patent has been described as a patent troll. As such, although the invention may not work in reality, it may work as a chilling effect on breeder reactors."
...why get Toshiba involved? A patent troll works alone - there wouldn't be any point in getting a 3rd-party involved and yet they're in talks with Toshiba about developing the technology (because of Toshiba's expertise in building nuclear reactors no doubt.)
And since when has Wikipedia been trust worthy? Think about who could have written that entry and what their agenda might be.
>No TWR's on every street corner.
Supposing there is one per street? or even one buried in each garden (depending on size)? we could all have a stable, non-polluting (for 50-100 years at least) power supply that would be able to wean us off oil, gas and coal rather quickly.
How long before electric vehicles wipe out the internal combustion engine?
Rather than having a national grid it could be managed on a far more local level.
At the risk of coming over all Elf and Safety, there might just be a small security issue in having boxes full of radioisotopes every few hundred yards.
At the moment those boxes are full size reactors, there aren't very many of them, and they're relatively easy to put chain link fence and armed guards around.
Small boxes all over the place would be impossible to secure properly, and all too easy for International Terrorists/National Terrorists/Hoodies to have at with explosive charges or pickaxes.
"How long before electric vehicles wipe out the internal combustion engine?"
Why would they? If ample, cheap electricity is available, it would make a lot more sense to synthesize pure (sulfur-free) hydrocarbons out of atmospheric CO2 and water, and use them to fuel IC vehicles. Since we'd be taking as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as putting back in, the only greenhouse-gas contribution would be water vapor. And transportation's contribution to greenhouse gasses already isn't all that large - take out extracting, refining, and burning natural fossil fuel and it's negligible.
Electric vehicles are a lousy idea for most applications. They require lots of high-density batteries, which means mining lithium (wasteful and destructive), manufacturing batteries, recycling batteries at the end of their short lives, and hauling a bunch of weight around. They have lousy range and long refuel cycles.
Internal combustion engines have great power density, and we already have a lot of them, plus a whole infrastructure for distributing the fuel and refueling vehicles. Fuel is easy to store and transport.
Hell, with some improvements in fuel cell technology, it'd probably make more sense to build an electric car (if you absolutely must have one) using fuel cells and synthesized pure hydrocarbons than with lithium-based batteries. Or just a good old diesel-electric design.
If this is can live up to its potential, then I think we're on to a winner here.
The idea of a network of reactors chugging away at peak efficiency and using their excess capacity at times of low demand to hydrolyse hydrogen from water of desalinate seawater into something usable for agriculture would go a long way to helping save the planet.
Of course, this is just me being hopelessly optimistic before I start work today.
Ask me later and I might be more cynical.
That All sounds extremely familiar and far too similar to NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive IT to dismiss as being something other than an interesting Parallel AIdDevelopment. Has Billy Boy Gates been joining up Virtual Dots for the Greater Cosmic Picture?
Is Mr Gates Venturing into Great Game Relative Field Theory .......... or, if one prefers, Great Game Relative Theory Fields? ........ which are Multi Dimensional to at least a factor of an arbitrary eleven if one is to believe Stephen Hawking.
That of course would suggest that there are any number of Parallel Dimensions in which to Work, Rest and/or Play ...... which DOES Create a Vast Playground in which to Exercise Possibilities and their Future Probability in that Place in Space we call Reality.
...this just sounds too good to be true. The (very simplistic) explanatation of the process makes it sound like a piece of cake, which begs the question why it's taken so long to get going. (Hell, it's not like the best minds in science haven't been working on nuclear power and weapons for 80 years or so).
All smells a bit too much like a marketing push worthy of those crooks at Steorn. From the pamphlet "the TWR can theoretically run forever". Ah-ha-ha-ha. No.
Unfortunately that won't be eliminated, at least in the long run.
Nuclear waste consists of both the fragments of fissionable material (that stuff doesn't just vanish when the neutrons hit it), which tend to be radioactive themselves, and the surrounding reactor structure which becomes radioactive over time as fast neutrons hit it. The fact that the TWR's running off depleted rather than enriched uranium won't make much difference to either of these.
If the TWR runs as a sealed unit for its lifetime you _will_ remove the need to open it up and swap out horridly active (and potentially leaky) fuel rods, which is good, but at the end of that lifetime you'll still have a box full of nuclear waste you'll need to deal with in some way.
"you'll still have a box full of nuclear waste you'll need to deal with in some way."
A sealed box of relatively small volume is a vastly simpler disposal problem than an open system, such as conventional reactors or indeed the large amounts of low-level waste churned out by the routine use of radioactive isotopes in industry and medicine.
And then, if we're counting, let's not forget the radioactive waste spewed by coal-fired plants into the surrounding atmosphere. Oh hang on, the fossil fuel industry never has to clean up. I forgot.
That'd be nice, but if you could make disposable sealed units that could be safely disposed of like that all we'd need to do with current waste is make an empty TWR case, pop the nasty stuff inside, seal it up and park it down a mineshaft.
The hypothetical expired TWR would have the same problems/objections as present day disposal problems - "what if it leaks/gets dug into by ignorant post-apocalypse ancstors/mutates rabbits which then breach containment", etc...
@Ken H: Each box might be small, but they are hoping to make a lot of them - could turn out to be a sizeable problem overall. And low level industrial/medical waste is a separate issue to TWRs altogether.
"Each box might be small, but they are hoping to make a lot of them - could turn out to be a sizeable problem overall. And low level industrial/medical waste is a separate issue to TWRs altogether."
Could be. Obviously the numbers matter. The article was talking about several hundred MW a pop, which means we are talking thousands not millions. These aren't going to be the plastic bags of the 21st century.
Low-level waste, on the other hand, might well be. Yeah, its a separate issue, but I thought it worth flagging up society's double standard on radiation. Whilst society has largely turned away from radioactive technologies for power generation it has happily gorged itself on such technologies in industrial and medical applications. As far as I can see, you are allowed to "dispose" of the latter by diluting it down to low-level and chucking it in a hole (*), but the former is immoral and mustn't be produced in the first place. (Sigh! If only it were *just* the numbers that mattered.)
(* Or, if you are a coal-fired power station, chucking it up the chimney and letting it fall on the neighbours.)
Here in germany we have a VERY big problem with a super stable and dry salt mine which was picked as a dump for all nuclear waste. It should last for several thousand years and now, a couple decades later, is instable and flooded with lots of highly poisonous and radioactive waste in corroding containers stuck down where nobody can survive any more.
Oh, companies like Vattenfall and Eon and RWE don't pay a dime for that, what are taxes good for?.
Put a wheel at each corner, attach a hefty electric motor to the reactor output, and away you go. Plug your house into the car (rather than vice versa) when you're at home, and you're sorted there too.
May have a few problems with low bridges, but on the other hand zero emissions so no congestion charge and low road tax.
Pretty much *all* modern reactor designs incorporate walk-away-safe features designed to shut it down and continue the heat removal (essential to avoid core meltdown) despite loss of pump power, large amounts of coolant etc. Sealed for life reactor designs have been developed by both the Brazilian and South African nuclear authorities. the holy grail remains the simple sub-critical reactor. Sadly while there are multiple sub critical mass nuclear weapons designs no one has *ever* cracked this problem.
BTW IIRC correctly this guy is mentioned in "Barbarians lead by Bill Gates" by another ex-microsoftie.
TWR still produces radioactive waste, doh!. Guess we put the rad film badge next to the picture on the drivers license and swipe through the radiation detector at Heathrow to see if we're clean. "If my mother had wheels she'd be a wagon." ElReg: What, no radiation symbol? When is a nuclear reactor not a nuclear reactor? Answer: When the radiation level falls below .1 mr/hr
The article claims that there is no Plutonium in the reactor, while the reactor cycle diagram on the Intellectual Ventures website clearly shows that the reactor cycle is in fact driven by the fission of Pu239 (you may know it as "weapons grade Plutonium).
Anyway, there are a lot of people looking into this style of reactor, only using less problematic fuels like Thorium.
The Plutonium is produced from the Uranium, so no input, and then breaks apart into other elements shortly after creation. Taking a guess here but I think trying to get enough Plutonium out of the reactor before it decays would stop the chain reaction, which would stop producing fast mvoing neutrons, which would stop producing any more Plutonium.
Standing by to be corrected by someone who actually knows what they are talking about....
Before you install one in your basement or add four wheels and drive away ,make sure you have at hand a few billions liters of water, 'cause you need it to make steam and spin the turbine.
For my own safety I'd rather have a few big, well guarded reactors than thousands plants spread randomly around the world, with no one looking after them.
(If I was a terrorist I'd might prefer the latter option though.)
The end product of a nuclear reaction still has radioactive nuclides in the spent fuel, so it's still a problem after the end of its life. Besides, any company (at least in the U.S.,) that makes these will not be able to get insurance nor funding, so it's doubtful that anything like this will ever get built.
Maybe they could just tow an old nuclear submarine up to the dock and plug it into the power grid. If anyone asks, just tell 'em it's charging its batteries. ;-)
...that if these things take off and live out their potential 75-100 year life time then by the time we need to dispose of them (and other waste) it would be a simple matter of hoisting them up a space-elevator, bolting on some solar panels and a vasimir drive and sending them on their merry way into the sun.
Even then I bet some greeny will whine that 'we're polluting the sun and making it radioactive'.
Uranium (element 92 IE 92 protons in the nucleus) consists of multiple isotopes with differnent numbers of neutrons. The biggies is U235 (92protons/143neutrons). Nearly all the rest is U238. Depleted Uranium (Uranium Lite?) has *no* U235, enriched is any with a level higher than 0.7%.
anyone who thinks this is going to be available in house size units is delusional. The target size is 300MW, not 300Kw. This seems (*very* vague on constructional details) to be a fast reactor, no moderators (graphite, heavy water) needed. That makes the core *smaller*, not *small* as in desktop. We're talking several meters on a side and with an SG of 19 (relative to water) that won't be light.
It helps if you know this is also called a breed/burn. The enriched Uranium ignitor starts breeding the U238 to Plutonium (like a breeder reactor) but which then fissions in-situ. It's more like an underground coal seam fire than a conventional all over burn.
1)Getting the heat out of this *solid* block of material fast enough that it does not melt. Making it out of Uranium should improve thermal conductivity (relative to the oxides and carbides they've been making modern fuels out of). It seems they are looking at molten sodium as per fast breeder practice. This is *not* a safe material. It's highly corrosive (but maybe it won't be allowed to get too hot) and *very* bad things happen if even gets a sniff of water (sodium/water "excursions" have been a regular fixture of fast breeder development).
2)No apparent control rods. Like that coal seem fire you *can't* put it out. You need 2 loads, a conventional one (like grid supply) and some kind of dump load. Power management consists of varying the split between these. ideally the dump load can take *full* power (if necessary) and turn it into something useful, but is just as happy taking say 1% when the system is doing what it's designed for.
The only thing I've seen *like* this is an Oak Ridge (IIRC) design using fuel pellets embedded in a carbon foam. constant (c1MW) power output. If it overheats foam expends and reactivity goes down. Quite neat.
I note that *noone* has called it a cigarette reactor, which I'm pretty sure what some would have called it in the 1960's.
Mine's the one with "Reactors for Dummies" in the pocket.
There are so many errors in this article, that it's a bit difficult where to start.
However, "a small amount of enriched uranium, which triggers a wave of neutrons that move relatively slowly through the TWR's core of depleted uranium, more efficiently splitting uranium atoms in the core" Strictly speaking it is only the zone of activity that moves slowly through the core, the neutrons are fast (as in fast [breeder] reactor). Uranium 238 is only fissile to fast neutrons, the more often met with slow or thermal neutrons are capable of fission in U 235 only.
"An energy source that gobbles up existing nuclear waste, is small enough to be installed in emerging markets, and that can run for decades with no intervention could certainly improve lives, especially at a time when carbon-spewing oil, coal and gas plants are contributing to climate change." Again, strictly, and in every other sense, the reactor, fuelled with natural, or depleted uranium does not gobble up nuclear waste, unless the author is referring to depleted uranium, which is not "nuclear waste", but simply the waste from chemical processing.
"In addition, by obviating the need for uranium enrichment and reprocessing, TWR technology could allow the production of nuclear energy without that annoying drawback of the proliferation of weapons-grade nuclear materials". A triple whammy, here. Enrichment is required for the "seed" nuclear fuel, and at an enrichment, probably quite a lot higher than needed in normal thermal reactors. There is no need in either case for re-processing. The US does not re-process the waste from their civil reactors, intending to store the fuel as is. We (the UK) do re-process, for other reasons. Natural uranium contains about 0.7 percent of U235, commercially enriched uranium for the power programme is enriched to about 1.5 to 2.0 percent U235. Weapons grade Uranium is about 99.9 percent U235. You do not get from one to the other without doing a hell of a lot of work, particularly as enrichment at the high end has lots of additional difficulties.
There is a lot unsaid in the article, and in the outpuorings of the company, particularly in respect of:- How do you extract the energy from the fissioning core.
How do you control the reaction to avoid a runaway, or to modulate the power output.. Or even to start the thing up.
Another factor not covered is the declared plant life of 50 to 200 years. As far as I know, no-one has managed to create any dynamic machine system that will run that long. The present reactors are not retired through nuclear issues. They are closed when the infrastructure ages and can no longer be kept in repair. Something that these proposed new plants will not be free from
Disposal shouldn't be a problem. The fuel containers can't be more than a couple of meters to a side, so we can stack quite a lot of them together and ship them to the moon. We'll build a base there (since it's the first one, let's call it Alpha) which will be tasked with burying the waste containers in vast silos on the "backside" of the moon, in case of a runaway reaction.
No problems. No sir. Coat? Mine's the one with the "Moonbase Alpha" mission patch.
These are pebble reactors, designed by the Germans in the 1960s. The technological rights were sold and re-sold a few times because development of nuclear power was a taboo politically. They are complete safe and greatly effective. In other words, every green voter's utter nightmare.
"Another promising small scale reactor type is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR)."
I think this is a variation of what is commonly called a "molten salt" reactor. work on this certainly dates from the mid 1950s US nuclear powered aircraft programme.
Some projects on this were done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It's low pressure, fairly high temperature, can burn multiple fuels including nuclear waste isotopes (although being a thermal reactor not depleted Uranium) as well as Thorium. 1 Practical feature I especially like is that unlike solid fuel systems you don't need the moderator to be precision machined.
BTW I believe India is looking at Thorium fueled reactors as part of its experimental programme but I don't think they're a more conventional solid fuel design.
"...especially at a time when carbon-spewing oil, coal and gas plants are contributing to climate change."
Give it a damned rest, Rik. We hardly need that kind of gratuitous assertion especially at a time when propaganda-spewing politicians, pundits, and puerile reporters are contributing to totalitarian world government.
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