From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: California electricity
Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 18:54:14 -0400
R Lindberg / E Winnie wrote:
> The ->BIGGEST<- draw back for nuc power is the limited life span of the
> power plant. Depending on the design it can be a low as 25 years. Power
> plants built in the 60's are now hitting the end of their life cycle and
> being taken off-line (actually not all are being taken off, some are being
> switched to conventional fuel).
No they're not. A few small units have been decommissioned for
purported economic reasons (really political) - Trojan comes to mind
- but most if not all large plants will receive license extensions
for at least 20 years. The 40 year lifetime often quoted was a
guess. In reality, the plants will have indefinite lives. The site
license and hardware are too valuable to abandon. Steam generators
have been successfully and relatively inexpensively replaced. The
neutron embrittlement boogeyman of the 80s and 90s has turned out to
be vaporware, for the most part so reactor pots will likely NOT have
to be replaced. In-situ annealing procedures have been developed if
a particular reactor pot shows signs of problems.
In this regard, nukes are no different than large coal plants - or
the farmer's ax for that matter. You know, 3 heads and 5 handles
but it's been a grand old ax. The Widow's Creek coal plant in
nearby north Alabama is something like 80 years old. With multiple
units (13, I believe), one or more unit is always being updated and
upgraded. The "plant" will likely last another 100 years.
It is going to be REALLY fun watching NYC this summer. The Shoreham
plant out on Long Island (one of the plants my company did work for)
is just sitting there, a victim of radiophobia and that asshole
Cuomo (sp? who cares?) People may recall that when the plant was
at the zero power testing stage (next to the last phase before going
commercial), Cuomo forced LilCo to sell the plant to the state which
promptly shut it down. I bet those 2200 MW would look REAL good to
NYC this summer when the blackouts start. During the blackouts,
maybe the gangs will burn the whole city down this time and we'll be
rid of that scourge.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: About renewable energy
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 04:50:59 -0400
On 25 Apr 2006 08:21:09 -0400, email@example.com wrote:
>Nuclear bigness may be a problem. Too big, like large municipal union
>public transit and garbage collection systems with crippling strikes and
>automatic pay raises. An over-concentration of economic and political
>power, as well as electrical power. Smaller plants might be better-
>controlled, politically, with fewer opportunities for bribery and other
>skullduggery, eg terrorism. They might even provide district heating :-)
There are several problems involved here. At the core of the matter
is the fact that Rickhover's little submarine reactor design didn't
scale up 10X or more very well. What works well at 50 or 100MW
doesn't work so well at 1200 or more.
Unfortunately Rickhover was able to throw enough temper tantrums that
the government and Westinghouse went along, Shippingport was a PWR and
the rest is history.
There are MUCH better methods of making a few thousand megawatts of
nuclear heat than the light water reactor. Some of those will be
deployed on this next round of nuclear build-out.
As far as business bigness, it has been the small utilities that have
had the most problems. I came out of TVA where despite media hype to
the contrary, we did things mostly right. There were the necessary
resources available for first class training and equipment.
TMI was my first venture outside the big utility biz. Frankly I was
stunned. Met-Ed was a tiny utility - a few hydro plants, a couple of
coal plants. And the nukes. I got the distinct impressing that back
in the 60s someone was thumbing through the latest issue of "Power"
magazine, saw an ad for a nuke plant, dialed 1-800-nukes-r-us and put
one on the company Iridium Amex card :-)
Pre-accident, they relied almost 100% on navy nuke training. No
simulator (they sent operators to B&W's simulator whenever they
could). Little technical depth, as they relied on the constructor/A-E
to build the plant. Little plant-specific training.
In contrast, TVA built its own simulator facility with a simulator for
each of the three brands of reactors. It had its own design
engineering division which designed everything except the actual NSSS
(nuclear steam supply system) We were all trained in-depth and in
many disciplines in-house. I served an engineering apprenticeship AND
trained as a reactor operator - almost 9 years total.
Additionally, TVA would pay for any job-related training. I became a
certified welder and a certified non-destructive testing engineer,
just because I wanted to. TVA still has the reputation as the educator
for the industry. BPS, Ga Power, Duke and other very large utilities
are about the same.
Going on the "outside" was like parachuting from the Concorde and
ending up on a deserted island with nothing but a stick for a tool.
Culture shock en extremis!
One of the major contributing factors to the TMI event was that the
operators were trained as navy nuke operators to never, ever let the
reactor coolant system go solid - that is, no expansion space in the
pressurizer. Taking a large power plant solid is of no consequence.
There is enough elasticity in the miles of piping that no damage is
done when the system is hydraulically locked. But based on this navy
nuke training and a defective pressurizer water level indicator (stuck
pointer), they turned off the emergency core cooling system at the
very moment it was needed the most - when a steam bubble was forming
in the reactor.
Had these pumps been allowed to operate on automatic, the incident
would have ended with a flooded containment sump, a press release,
some bureaucratic finger pointing and not much else.
Having spent probably thousands of hours on full scale power plant
control room simulators and having run the emergency drills many times
that involved letting the primary system go solid while figuring out
just what the hell was going on, when I read the prelim
sequence-of-events report from TMI, I just shook my head and wondered
out loud, "what the hell were those guys thinking?" Flood the system
with cooling water and THEN assess the available info and figure out
what the root problem is. I found out that they were thinking
>A friend who taught physics in the 50s built a reactor in a pickle barrel
>in a college basement, reminding his students not to carry around more
>than one critical mass in their hands. Why do we need such big nukes?
Arguably we don't. Utilities tended to copy practices developed from
coal plants. Fuel is the biggest cost for a dirt burner. Fuel is a
negligible cost for nukes. Fossil plant designers do whatever they
can to eek out fractions of a percent improvements in efficiency.
Efficiency improves faster than cost with scale.
Other factors tend to make the operating experience with huge plants -
fossil or nuke - less than completely satisfactory.
An example. Cumberland City steam plant was for quite some time the
largest coal plant in the world. 14 story boiler, about 3200 psi, 900
deg F steam, more than 1400MWe output per unit. When the two units
were running, they supplied a significant fraction of TVA's entire
load (I think the entire system load back then was on the order of 20
gigawatts and Cumberland City supplied about 3 gigawatts.) The heat
rate (efficiency) was the best of class.
However. When one of those units tripped, and they tripped a lot, it
rattled the whole grid. Worse, many times the other unit would suffer
a sympathetic trip. Instantly losing 3 gigawatts really shakes things
Reliability was and is a problem simply because everything has to be
so large. Unit coal trains run through the plant continuously day
and night. Coal cars are emptied by being flipped over, 3 at a time,
every few seconds as the 100 car unit train slowly moves through the
yard. I forget the exact spec but a train car full of coal only lasts
a minute or two.
OTOH, let's look at Widow's Creek plant near Scottsboro, Al. This
plant has 13 units of various sizes, the largest being about 300MWe
and the smallest about 80. (This is from very old memory so don't sue
me if you look it up and the numbers are a little different.) The
plant is ancient in design, some parts over 80 years old.
There is ALWAYS something wrong with one or more units and there is
ALWAYS at least one unit off-line for repairs. BUT! There are also
ALWAYS 8 or 10 or more units running. Always. Despite individual
units being highly unreliable and worn out, the plant as a whole is
one of the most reliable generators in the system.
The industry has realized that the same thing will hold true for
nukes. Rather than 2-3 >1000MWe plants at a site, build a dozen or
more little 100-300MWe plants. Even better, scatter them around the
system, locating each close to a load center. One or more units may
be off-line for maintenance at any given time but something less than
100% output is always there.
Equally important, when a unit trips, it doesn't destabilize the
system. This is very important.
I was in the control room at Sequoyah in Chattanooga the day in 1975
when they set the Browns Ferry NP (BFNP) control room on fire with the
candle. TVA built the switchyard at Sequoyah a good ten years ahead
of the plant construction. The yard served as a major transmission
hub, wheeling power from multiple sources.
Both approx 1100MWe units at BFNP tripped within minutes of each
other. The resulting grid disturbance took down both Cumberland City
units (3000MWe) and another smaller plant, I don't remember which. The
operators at Sequoyah and at Central Dispatch in Chickamauga spent
over an hour sh*tting nails trying to keep the entire grid from going
The grid underwent a severe "load slosh" event. Load Slosh is when,
because of the dynamical nature of the grid, loads swing back and
forth across the grid, like water sloshing in a canoe. One sees the
load on a given plant swing wildly from near zero to overload in
Think of holding a slinky stretched out and shaking one end. The
disturbance sloshes back and forth. Unlike the Slinky where friction
dampens the oscillations, a power grid can easily go divergent and
ultimately go down.
The grid operators had to not only figure out what major loads to shed
but exactly WHEN to shed them to generator a counter-balancing
transient. At the same time, the operators at the power plants had to
ride the throttle and the generator excitation to try to catch and
dampen the slosh.
I've had to address sloshes on the simulator and I can tell you that
there's nothing more stressful. I'd come out drenched in sweat and
totally drained of energy, even though the entire evolution might last
only 20-30 minutes.
With many diverse generating units, this sort of major disturbance or
loss of capacity just isn't possible, except maybe from a major
Small units bring additional benefits. Easy to site. Not so much
land needed. Massive amounts of cooling water not needed. None of
the headaches of transporting components too large for the highway or
When new nukes are built here, this is the route the industry will go.
The US has lost ALL its heavy nuclear manufacturing base. New plants
will come from overseas. Japan has a nifty little intrinsically safe
100 MWe plant just ready and waiting. This is a standardized design,
a package unit as it were, that will only require heavy safety
analysis scrutiny once. After that they'll be stamped out
There is a consortium of utilities, A-Es and manufacturers working
through the NRC's new streamlined licensing procedure as a "will it
work" test. Once a standardized design is type-accepted and licensed,
construction should only take 2-3 years for each unit.
I'd love to see units of an appropriate size and number be scattered
around cities everywhere so that they could supply district heat/steam
in addition to electricity. It seems kinda dumb to turn heat into
electricity, only to turn it back into heat again by the end-user.
Especially low grade comfort heat.
>PS: Is it true that it costs more energy to mine and refine uranium than
>the net energy gain from burning it in a US nuclear plant? Is the US nuke
>industry merely a way to provide less expensive nuclear weapons?
No, not at all. Mining coal and mining uranium aren't all that much
different, especially now where much coal is washed and otherwise
processed to remove sulfur and heavy metals.
Now consider the respective energy densities. A 1100MWe, 2500MWt
nuclear plant contains a bit over 100 tons of low enriched fuel. This
amount of fuel is good for full power operation for about 4.5 years.
And during that time less than 3% of the uranium is actually
fissioned. By the time the fuel is burned up that much, fission
products that absorb neutrons and interfere with the reaction have
built up enough to make further operation impossible.
When the "spent fuel" is removed from the reactor, 97% of it is still
"un-spent". Re-refine the fuel to remove the fission products and use
it again. Except that since the Carter administration debacle, that
hasn't been happening. "Spent fuel", actually only slightly used
fuel, is stored at each plant with the ultimate stated goal of the
government being to bury the stuff at Yucca Mountain. Insane!!!
To put this in perspective, I have a little plaque that was given to
me by Westinghouse to celebrate the initial criticality of Sequoyah I.
It contains one fuel pellet, a sintered uranium oxide mass about 3/8"
in diameter and maybe 1/2" long. The caption notes that at the 2.5%
burnup level Sequoyah was initially designed for, that pellet makes
the same energy as about 15 coal cars full of coal. There are
hundreds of thousands of these pellets in the core.
Think back to that Cumberland City steam plant. A railroad car full of
coal lasts a few seconds to a minute there. That same car filled with
uranium would fuel a nuclear reactor for the life of the plant and
Fuel cost is a tiny part of the operating cost of a nuclear plant. I
don't recall the exact numbers anymore (I'm sure EPRI or someone
similar will have that on the web) but it seems like it is in the 3-5%
range. That's with virgin, non-recycled fuel and that is NOT using
surplus weapons fuel.
As far as the commercial industry being a shill for the bomb
community, nothing could be further from the true. For political
reasons, the civilian and military nuclear programs have been kept
completely isolated. As of now, nothing from the civilian side
crosses over to the weapons side and vice versa. This may change in
the future if the plans to burn surplus Pu from decommissioned bombs
work out. I certainly hope so since we'll be burning "free" fuel from
both our and the Russian arsenal.
You might recall the debate about weapons tritium production 3-4 years
ago. Since the Savannah River production reactors have been shut
down, there is no source in the US for new tritium, a vital ingredient
in nuclear bombs. Tritium decays away with a 12.28 years but long
before it decays away, helium, one of the decay products, neurotically
contaminates the stuff so that it's worthless as bomb fuel. Therefore
a new supply is constantly needed. For now, so many bombs have been
decommissioned that the contaminated tritium can be purified and
reused but ultimately all that will decay away and new will be
One proposal was for TVA to produce tritium in their power reactors.
All that is required is to load a few "fuel" bundles with Li-6 instead
of Uranium and place them in the core. The Li-6 absorbs a neutron and
becomes H-3. Very simple and completely safe.
Yet it didn't happen, other than a small proof-of-concept. Why?
Because nobody wanted to cross that barrier between weapons and
civilian power. TVA didn't want the stigma of the first use of a
civilian plant to make a weapon fuel. Therefore, though the plans are
still up in the air, it looks like DOE will build an accelerator to
produce H-3. This will be vastly more expensive, of course but that
line will not have been crossed.
Another example of the barrier between civilian and military nuking
was when I calibrated the post-accident radiation monitors for TMI-1.
These monitors were designed to measure the radiation levels involved
in a hypothetical design-basis accident where millions of curies of
fission product would be released inside the containment. An
impossible event, but that never slowed the NRC rule makers.....
Calibrating these monitors meant subjecting them to known, extremely
intense radiation or in the case of noble gas monitors, very high
concentrations of radioactive gas.
There were no civilian facilities designed to handle this kind of
radiation and radioactive materials so I went hunting for a DOE
facility. The hot cell in my previously posted photos was what I came
up with. This was an old plutonium research facility and nuclear
rocket engine assembly facility located on the same site. There had
been no plutonium work on the site for >20 years but some obsolete and
ancient Pu weapon pits were stored in a vault so technically it was
still a weapons site.
The contractor who operated the site was renting it out for all sorts
of civilian uses - radiation sterilization, medical and industrial
isotope source preparation, radiation polymerization research, etc.
We negotiated the lease and had things ready to go when we presented
the plan to the TMI NRC site inspector for approval. The fecal matter
hit the air mover! This plan, oh my Gawd, had a nuclear power project
being conducted at a WEAPONS facility. Bureaucrats from Harrisburg to
Washington and back spun in place and wrung their hands in despair.
Many trees were killed so that hundreds of memos could flow back and
Ultimately it was decided that the facility had been out of the bomb
business long enough and sufficient numbers of civilian jobs had been
done there since then that it wasn't actually a weapons facility any
longer. Despite the concentric 10 ft high concertina-topped fences
with continuous armed guard patrolling the space between the fences.
:-) It was funny. I could photograph anything I wanted inside the
facility but I could not photograph the ordinary chain-link fences
around the place!
This "separation of powers" made it difficult to move one's career
back and forth. I managed to work in both communities but that was
only possible because I owned the company and we did very specialized
work with almost no competition.
Beyond the political aspects, the technical requirements for power vs
bomb fuel are vastly different. For safety and ease of control
considerations as well as cost, civilian US reactors are designed to
use very low enriched uranium, typically containing less than 3%
U-235. After we denied Canada entry into the nuclear community after
WWII, they designed their CANDU heavy water power reactors to use
natural uranium. Smart doods, eh? :-)
In contrast, uranium-fueled bombs use highly enriched uranium (HEU).
HEU is generally regarded as anything 90% or more enriched U-235. For
a number of technical reasons, HEU isn't the fuel of choice for
general weapon fuel. Plutonium is. Specifically Pu-239.
Pu is produced in a so-called "production reactor". This is a reactor
specially designed for high efficiency Pu-239 production.
In a neutron flux, natural U-238 absorbs a neutron and becomes Pu-239.
Unfortunately that atom can absorb another neutron and become Pu-240.
Thus, when natural uranium is first placed in a production reactor,
Pu-239 builds up rapidly but less rapidly, so does Pu-240.
Unfortunately Pu-240 spontaneously fissions so rapidly that it is
unfit as a weapon fuel. As the super-critical mass is assembled
during the implosion process, this spontaneous fission causes
premature detonation before the optimum mass is reached. This is
known as a "dud". Therefore weapon-grade Pu-239 has to have a very
low concentration of Pu-240.
This requirement results in a "quick-in, quick-out" reactor design.
Whereas fuel remains in a power reactor for 4.5 or more years, fuel in
a production reactor is in the core only for days. The Handford
production piles were designed so that virgin U-238 slugs could be
pushed in one side while pushing out irradiated slugs on the other,
all while the reactor operated at full power. Initially the heat was
discarded as waste, though eventually they some of the heat to make
electricity. Fueling the reactor was a continuous daily activity,
quite unsuited for power operation.
Here's a good brief summary of the problem.
I should add that this "bomb from reactor grade plutonium" is yet
another one of those strawmen created by the anti-nukes to spread FUD.
True, DOE did manage to make a bomb explode using "reactor grade
plutonium" but by any measure other than political, it was a dud. It
required a massive amount of Pu and all the expertise the US nuclear
weapons community could muster to design the thing. The actual
fabrication required the highest level hot cells and work facilities
to handle the hugely radioactive spent fuel and then to handle the
thermally and radiologically hot and chemically unstable reactor grade
Pu. After all that work it did little more than go pop. On a nuclear
scale, of course. And had the device not been promptly detonated
after construction, the intense radiation given off by contaminants
and decay products in the Pu would have quickly degraded the implosion
It is almost completely inconceivable that even a non-nuke nation
could muster the resources to do this kind of work and not have their
actions be detected. It is for sure that they'd not have the computer
codes we have to design and simulate the design.
If you want to spend months reading about nuclear stuff on the "other
side", go here:
This is most of the Los Alamos National Lab's unclassified e-library.
At least as it existed before the convulsive knee-jerk reactionary
cowards in Washington made them take down public access in the
Fortunately many folks including myself had archived most or parts of
this library so it was possible to reconstruct most of it.
This is fascinating reading. If you have the bandwidth, I highly
recommend webstripping the LANL papers to your local machine so that
you can read the stuff at your leisure. Lots of leisure :-)
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: About renewable energy
Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2006 23:44:42 -0400
On 27 Apr 2006 15:28:30 -0700, "Abby Normal" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>I didn;'t realize Canada was denied entry into the nuclear club I think
>they chose not to join.
If they want to tell it that way, it's fine with me :-)
>The Candu stands as one of the safest reactors.
I hate to even comment on this, as it implies some reactors are more
dangerous than others. CANDUs have had their share of incidents that
like the US counterparts, didn't amount to a hill of beans for the
> think the big
>difference is it works with saturated steam rather than the superheated
>stuff. A little more cushion I think.
No. All three of the major brands of US reactors generate saturated
steam (not sure about CE reactors, as there are so few.) For
superheating, there must be some mechanism to add additional heat to
the steam after the water is boiled. That isn't there in US reactors.
Now I think (memory might be fuzzy here) that GE claims just a little
superheat but that's bragging rights instead of anything meaningful.
Even if reactors did superheat, that would have nothing to do with
safety. Safety is in the coefficients being of the right polarity and
the defense-in-depth concept that drives reactor design. DID means
that at no place in the system is safety reliant on only one feature.
There are ALWAYS redundancies and wherever possible, multiply diverse
Example: The emergency feedwater pumps on PWRs are multiply redundant
(3 where one can do the job) and diverse (typically 2 electric and 1
steam-driven pump). Each electric pump is fed from a different,
separate and redundant power bus, the separation extending to the
Another example: The HPSI and LPSI (low and high pressure safety
injection, pronounced "Lipsy" and "Hipsy") pumps that supply cooling
water to GE BWR plants in the event of containment isolation or a
primary cooling loop breach. Depending on the plant design there are
up to 3 of each type of pump, one steam and two electrical driven.
CANDU is somewhat better in that it does not require the large
inventory of pressurized water that a PWR or BWR does. But it has its
own complications. The large inventory of rather expensive heavy
water, for one. The large number of pressurized tubes for another.
None of these are design faults, just different design problems.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: About renewable energy
Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2006 19:34:29 -0400
On Wed, 26 Apr 2006 09:49:17 GMT, Shiver <shiver@me_timbers.com>
>> Neon John <email@example.com> wrote:
>Fascinating post snipped for brevity.
>> After we denied Canada entry into the nuclear community after
>> WWII, they designed their CANDU heavy water power reactors to use
>> natural uranium. Smart doods, eh? :-)
>So out of curiousity... in your opinion, in this day and age
>just where does the CANDU reactor stand on the world stage.
>Is it getting long on the tooth compared to more modern designs,
>or can it hold it's on on the world stage.
I like the CANDU. They keep right on trucking with few problems. It's
an easy reactor to control and all the temperature coefficients go in
the right direction for safety. They were designed with maintenance in
mind so if, for example, a coolant tube starts leaking, they can
replace it right away without a major outage.
Plus they were visionary enough to design the reactor for isotope
production in addition to power. Much of this continent's medical
isotopes, especially the short lived ones, comes from CANDU. That has
turned out to be a very profitable business. I know that every time I
needed 100Ci of Xe-133 for a calibration, they got about $15,000 of my
client's money :-)
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: About renewable energy
Date: Mon, 01 May 2006 11:04:13 -0400
On 1 May 2006 05:52:26 -0400, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
>>How much energy do we need to mine and enrich and
>>fabricate and transport the 100 tons of fuel?
>I read somewhere that centrifuges use 50X less than gas diffusion.
Probably about right. Modern thinking is toward even lower
enrichment. Once the cycle is closed and Pu enters into the fuel
cycle, natural, unenriched U will be the feedstock to make up for what
is burned. Even conventional burners (non-breeders) will make enough
Pu to let natural U be burned without enrichment.
>Among the various web numbers, one site said the energy balance was about
>10:1. Another said a plant breaks even after 33 years, based on the embodied
>energy in the concrete, and so on. How far should we go with this? Count
>paperclips used in the office? The fuel for the truck that delivers them?
>The paperclip salesman's shoe leather? :-)
This seems way off from what I recall of TVA's analysis. I'm not at
home now and I'm not going to rely on memory but it seems like payback
was under 10 years before the mass nuclear insanity of the 70s hit.
You have to be careful what input numbers you use. Trying to do any
sort of analysis with post-70s grossly inflated cost figures is
impossible. For example, TVA built Browns Ferry Units 1 & 2 for about
$300 million and about 4 years construction time each. Unit three got
caught up in the beginnings of the hysteria. The construction time
was over 8 years and the cost rose to the billions. Sequoyah was >10
years and they quit posting cost numbers at about $20 billion or
something like that.
You have to realize that during the Carter/David Freeman debacle when
Sequoyah was built, TVA went passively along with whatever the NRC fad
of the day was. They built, tore down and rebuilt Sequoyah at least 3
times and part of it 4 times. Part of it was TVA's management
incompetence, of course.
For example, they had to tear out Unit 2's reactor building because
instead of preparing mirror image drawings of U-2 like they should
have, they rubber-stamped Unit 1's plans for Unit 2. They had the
reactor hanging over the reactor pit before Design in Knoxville
acknowledged what the field had been telling them - that the piping
wouldn't fit. It took over a year to blast out the concrete, cut out
the piping and get ready to do it all over again.
Freeman hated TVA and his written stated goal was to dismantle the
agency and sell off the pieces so my conspiracy theory side thinks
that all this might not have been accidental.
Something else to keep in mind is that for equivalent output, a nuke
and a dirt burner are of equivalent size. The secondary side (steam
plant and turbines) are essentially identical. Whatever the payback
interval for a dirt burner that has to be fed thousands of tons of
coal a day, a nuke has to be many times better since it runs for over
18 months between refuelings.
The standard level of performance in the industry now is to pull the
rods after a refueling and run the thing wide open, base-loaded 24/7
until the next refueling outage. No dirt burner ever gets close to
that level of performance.
>The reprocessing of spent commercial nuclear fuel for the purpose of
>extracting fissionable plutonium to supplement mined uranium in fresh fuel
>(the "closed fuel cycle") has been prohibited in the United States by past
>Administrations, for reasons of preventing the proliferation of key
>technology and materials for nuclear weapons.
This is a false statement. There was no "technology for nuclear
weapons" involved in reprocessing civilian spent fuel. The only
justification for the ban on reprocessing - a huge strawman - was the
claimed proliferation risk of reactor-grade Pu. Reactor-grade Pu is
worthless as a bomb fuel because of the high level of Pu-240 in the
mix. Yeah, as I mentioned before, DOE managed to make a bomb from
reactor-grade Pu but it was a dud and even that required all the
resources the DOE had to throw at the problem.
The allegation was that some terrorist would stroll into a nuclear
power plant or storage facility and amble out with enough spent fuel
to reprocess into a bomb. This is ludicrous on its face. Fresh spent
fuel is so radiologically and thermally hot that it must be handled
under water in high level radioactive materials facilities -
facilities that don't exist outside of government labs. A terrorist
cell certainly isn't going to do it in a basement workshop. Any
government with the resources and know-how to build a spent fuel
processing shop has the resources and know-how to build a production
reactor and avoid all that messy Pu-240 in the first place.
The whole proliferation thing was a huge strawman erected by the nuke
haters, ironically of which Carter was one, as just another roadblock
in the way of civilian nuclear power. The oil and mining interests
played a big part in this. That oil interests in particular, funded
the anti-nukes is no secret - the activities were done right out in
>However, from the perspective
>of nuclear engineering, our present "once-through" fuel cycle is wasteful
>and illogical, and it condemns nuclear energy to a far more limited resource
>supply (only the naturally fissionable uranium-235, which is a small
>fraction of total uranium reserves) than it could enjoy if the conversion of
>abundant uranium-238 into fissionable plutonium were exploited. In the
>context of ambitious plans for long-term energy supply through nuclear
>fission, revisiting the issues of reprocessing and breeder reactors (those
>designed for the explicit purpose of converting the abundant uranium) would
>become inevitable, and arguments in favor of such a policy reversal would
>undoubtedly be voiced once the nation had committed to the nuclear path. Yet
>the complexities and risks (and thus the potential economic and political
>costs) of a closed fuel cycle and breeder program would vastly exceed those
>of our accustomed once-through cycle.
This is another strawman, the purported exorbitant cost of
reprocessing. Invariably, the analysis was done based on DOE's
weapons process that used fuel hot out of the production pile and the
PUREX chemical process, used because the chemistry worked in the very
high radiation environment of fresh spent fuel. Since for the weapons
boys, booms were more important than bucks, who cared?
PUREX is certainly NOT the best process to use for cool fuel. Instead
of trying to work with fresh hot spent fuel, simply put it in dry
storage for 10 or 20 or 30 years. At the end of that time, most the
high specific activity, short lived isotopes have decayed away and
what remains is easy to deal with.
The financials for a process optimized for CIVILIAN instead of the
military fuel cycle would look much nicer. It should be patently
obvious to even the casual observer that removing the approx 3% waste
from spent fuel and reusing the rest is far more economical than
mining and refining virgin U and at the same time, trying to dispose
of tons of perfectly good spent fuel.
>It should further be noted that nuclear technology, owing to its intrinsic
>hazards and economies of scale, is antithetical to the philosophy of
Neither of the premises are necessarily true so neither is the
conclusion. Nuclear is neither intrinsically more hazardous nor does
it benefit from economies of scale more than other sources. Looking
at both industries end to end, from mine to grave, both the fatality
and injury rates for non-nuclear sources are far higher than nukes.
Just the orders of magnitude in scale of the mining operations between
coal and uranium make that obvious.
I personally regard nuclear (and coal and oil) as unsuited for the
free market not because it is inherently dangerous but simply because
energy production is a national security matter. I believe that the
government must do whatever is necessary to ensure an inexpensive,
reliable and plentiful supply of energy. The French experience proves
>A nuclear program cannot be done piecemeal - at least
>not economically. Indeed, the lack of standardization among U.S. reactors
>and procedures has often been cited as a reason for the high cost of our
>nuclear program (and unfavorably compared in this regard with the French
>system, which is completely centralized). And a nuclear program cannot be
>done in good conscience without government oversight.
This so-called lack of standardization is often claimed but that
doesn't stand up to careful analysis. The French didn't settle on
standardized designs until late in the game. They have about as many
variations on the theme as the US.
The difference is that the French rightly regard cheap and reliable
energy as a national security matter not open to any more public
debate than defense strategy. They achieved success by simply
excluding the public and the press from the process. The French have
had their share of nuclear "accidents" including a partial core melt
at Super Phoenix. The difference between that and TMI was that the
French simply classified all but the most sketchy details.
History has certainly proven that to be the correct approach. Just
stop and think for a moment how badly the French have screwed up
everything else they've touched in the last 100 years and then
consider that the French energy program is the model for the world. If
a national security-basis of energy production worked for them then
it'll damned sure work for the rest of the free world!
>Despite the high historical costs of nuclear technology, people tend to find
>it easier to imagine large amounts of inexpensive electricity produced by
>nuclear power plants than from renewable resources. I believe this to be a
>perceptual distortion resulting from the different cost structures of these
>two very different approaches to energy supply.
Perceptual distortion? Well let's see. On one hand we have Sequoyah
with 2 1200 MWe (now upgraded to 1400MWe) units sitting on about 500
acres of land. The buildings are attractive (TVA has received
architectural awards for the design.) Under normal operation the plant
emits no noise or pollution (under abnormal conditions, only some
escaping steam noise is heard) and the only environmental impact is
positive - fish seem to like the warm discharge water. No dirt, dust,
soot, rumbling trains or other noises and emissions.
Let's take, say, wind power on the other hand. TVA has installed a
small (electrically) 50MWe wind farm in middle Tennessee. Each
turbine is huge while only making 1 MWe. The farm covers a huge area,
from horizon to horizon in that hilly territory. The turbines are
ugly, noisy, bird killers, TV ghost generators, unreliable and
non-functional when the wind doesn't blow. The local residents,
initially welcoming the turbines with open arms, now hate them. At
the locals' request, Lamar Alexander is working a bill through
Congress that would prohibit TVA from constructing any more turbines.
All this for only 50MWe. It would take 2,800 of these things to equal
Sequoyah! And Sequoyah works when the wind isn't blowing.
Perceptual distortion or simple reality?
>A nuclear energy program presumes a substantial investment in an extensive
>infrastructure, from uranium mining, fuel fabrication, plant design,
>construction, and decommissioning, identification of appropriate sites,
>spent fuel storage, transport, and disposal to personnel training, security,
>insurance, and regulatory design. In every country with a nuclear program
>today, this infrastructure is government-subsidized, and some of its costs
>may be further masked by being exported into the future.
Yadda yadda yadda. The same holds true for all other sources of
energy. Just the nature of the beast.
>However, once this infrastructure is assumed to exist, the marginal cost of
>each additional megawatt-hour generated is very small. It thus becomes easy
>to neglect or underestimate the sunk infrastructural cost and focus on the
>low marginal energy cost, which becomes lower per unit of energy the larger
>we assume the initial infrastructure to be. This type of declining cost
>structure entails the psychological effect of de-emphasizing awareness or
>selectiveness of energy consumption - in essence, promising a world in which
>you needn't worry about turning off the light when you leave the room...
And when the interstates were built, we no longer had to worry about
getting stuck in mud holes. Duh. I'm not sure what this person's
Of course infrastructure is expensive. That's why one desires it to
be, say, a once in a century investment. It's like the farmer who
bought a reliable tractor that lasted him his lifetime. The up-front
cost was painful. But once the thing is paid for, he no longer need
worry about that cost since he'll not have to absorb it again.
The nuclear infrastructure, even more so than other forms of energy
that require huge continuous raw material inputs, works like that.
Once constructed, plants may well last 100 years or more if politics
don't intrude. Sequoyah's design life was 40 years. Now it's known
life is 80 years. No doubt, at the end of that period, a major
overhaul will make it good for another 80 years - unless some other
nuke design developed in the meantime is so much more economical that
it would pay to demolish the plant and build anew.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: About renewable energy
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 05:35:05 -0400
On Mon, 24 Apr 2006 18:51:49 -0700, Offbreed
>> Given the required refueling/maintenance + unscheduled NRC-required
>> inspections, I wouldn't put nuclear plants in the same category as coal
>> and natural gas plants in covering loads
>I've been seeing mention of the ashes from coal plants being extremely
>radioactive. Does anyone near a coal fired plant have a Geiger counter?
I have a gamma spectroscopy lab. Does that count?
Fly ash is radioactive. Certainly not extremely so. The
radioactivity comes from natural U, it's daughter products and
sometimes Th that co-deposited with the coal. Burning the coal
concentrates the non-volatile U and daughters in the fly ash.
Fly ash will barely tickle a survey meter that uses a thin window
geiger tube. A "geiger counter" is a pretty blunt instrument for this
sort of measurement. The gamma spectrometer is the usual instrument
used to make such low level measurements.
Comparison is sometimes made between the gaseous discharge of a nuke
and the stack emissions of a coal plant. The radioactive levels are
similar, with the coal plant being a bit hotter. It's not that the
coal plant is actually very hot; it is that the nuke is so clean.
If you want to see something that is very hot, look in the mirror. The
human body contains several Curies of radioactive K-40, a naturally
occurring radioactive isotope of potassium. I can do a "whole body
count" on a person and learn a lot about his diet. In particular I
can tell a vegetarian from a regular person. The vegetarian is MUCH
If you want to brag to your friends that you're eating radioactive
stuff, get yourself a can of salt substitute and use it. Here's a
photo of the contents of this can:
laying on the face of a thin window geiger tube:
Note the reading on the meter - about 5,000 counts per minute. Normal
background with that probe and meter in my lab is 40 counts per
BTW, in case you're interested, here's what a failed fuel rod looks
I'm standing here:
Looking through 9 feet of heavily leaded glass into that hot cell. The
fuel rod came from this bundle:
The thing in the foreground is the other end of the remote manipulator
shown in the second photo (hot_cell_3.jpg). I was working on a team
investigating why that fuel failed so badly. That bundle was from the
Oyster Creek unit.
The fuel was still so hot that the emitted radiation could be felt. In
hot_cell_3.jpg, you can see a square steel plate with a round white
plug in it to the lower left of the window. That is a beam port. It
opened into the cell when the shield plug was removed.
We were trying to measure the contact radiation dose on the rod by
clipping a thermo-luminescent-Dosimeter (TLD) to the rod. The TLD
holder looked like a kid's plastic decoder ring. The manipulator was
too clumsy to achieve the task so finally I pushed the rod into the
beam port, removed the plug, reached in quickly and snapped the ring
on the rod.
The intense radiation deposited enough energy in my fingertips to
stimulate the nerves and make it feel like thousands of little
pin-pricks going off all over my fingers.
No, that wasn't normal procedure, Yes, the lab manager would have had
a cow, yes, I still have my hands, no, there's nothing wrong with them
other than a little arthritis and yes, they still work just fine.
Radiation's a highly over-rated hazard.
An interesting aside: After we finished working with the fuel bundle,
we used it to make some nifty souvenirs. We got some clear glass
ashtrays. We used lead X-ray letters (used to put "L" or "R" or the
patient's initials on the film) to spell out a name or our initials by
gluing the letters to the bottom of the ashtray. The ashtray would
then be held up under the fuel bundle for an hour or so.
The very intense radiation would solarize the glass (turn it black)
everywhere except where the lead letters were. The result - an eerily
deep looking black glass ashtray with transparent initials.
Unfortunately the solarization wasn't permanent and slowly reversed
itself. After about 5 years the glass was clear again.
A lightbulb in a portable fixture in the hot cell would only last
about a week before the glass turned black. Solarization reversal is
speeded up by heating. There was a technician who regularly went
around collecting the blackened bulbs and baked them to turn them
Obvious question: why not just throw them away and use new ones?
Answer: Because after being in the hot cell, the bulbs were rad waste
and were potentially contaminated. Disposing of the rad waste was so
expensive that it was more economical to bake and re-use the bulbs
until they burned out.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: "Europe: No. 1 in Sustainable Energy"
Date: Mon, 06 Aug 2007 17:19:09 -0400
On Mon, 06 Aug 2007 11:08:04 GMT, Ann <email@example.com> wrote:
>"Currently more than 25,000 wind farms are operating throughout Europe,
>and capacity is expected to double by 2015.
>Similarly, solar panel capacity in Germany, the world's largest market
>with annual sales over $5 billion, is expected to reach 4,500 megawatts by
>2010-the equivalent of almost six coal-fired power stations.
Or about 4 full sized nuclear plants.
>Ocean Power Delivery, a Scottish company that has designed a turbine
>powered by wave energy, has targeted North America as a key battleground.
>Growth in the U.S., according to the company's Business Development
>Director Max Carcas, could propel the wave-power sector to a $10
>billion-per-year industry by 2012."
This is like standing back and watching kids play house. Fun to watch but pretty
much meaningless. Except to those who have to pay for all this reckless spending, of
Funny thing, no where in that article does it mention the cost per KWh of power
produced by these boondoggles. There's a reason for that, something we call "sticker
Meanwhile TVA announced last week a major step toward energy independence for this
region. It announced that it will be completing and starting up Watts Bar nuclear
plant, scheduled to be online by 2012. That's between a 1200 and 1400 megawatt chunk
of capacity (depending on what core and turbine upgrades they include.) in one fell
I expect sometime in the near future for them to announce that they'll finish Belle
Fonte nuclear plant which is over 90% finished.
Those two actions should give the Valley a positive reserve margin for the first time
since the 80s. A nice position to be in, with no taxpayer money and no silly games
Are those crazy Germans still planning on shutting down their nukes? Wouldn't
surprise me. Look at all the other crazy crap they've pulled over the last 100
years. Maybe we won't be there to bail 'em out this time.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: "Europe: No. 1 in Sustainable Energy"
Date: Tue, 07 Aug 2007 02:41:38 -0400
On Mon, 06 Aug 2007 23:45:17 GMT, Ann <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>"New Reactor Costs Daunt U.S. Utilities as TVA Restarts Old Unit"
>" July 9 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush plunged into the cotton
>fields of northern Alabama last month to fete the restart of the Tennessee
>Valley Authority's oldest, most troubled nuclear reactor after a $1.8
>"We want to start building plants," said Bush, whose administration is
>promoting loan guarantees and tax breaks to get the first new U.S.
>reactors constructed since 1996."
>And who other than taxpayers is paying for these tax breaks and loan
when you quote mass media as your source of information, "URL warrioring", you run
the risk of appearing quite stupid. Such is the case here. That article is all over
the place and has little to do with industry reality.
All that blather is based on old plant design, something that isn't even a
consideration for new plants. The modern designs which will be type-accepted ahead
of time so that costly licensing hassles against the obstructionists won't have to be
done for each plant, and will be mostly shop-fabricated and site-erected will greatly
reduce the cost. How much? Who knows until one is actually built.
FWIW, On general principles, I'm opposed to both "tax breaks" (using the government
to thieve money from working people to give it to those who need it least) and "loan
guarantees". I'm not sure what a "loan guarantee" means in the context of a federal
corporation such as TVA.
To answer your specific question of who pays, why the ratepayers, of course, just
like they do for the so-called alternative energy boondoggles, environmental
extremism, taxes, fees and all the other stuff that gets heaped on 'em. All the loan
guarantees do is make the overall cost to the ratepayers - you and I and most
everyone else - lower.
BTW, you snipped out a fairly important piece:
"TVA's renovation of Browns Ferry Unit One was attractive because it retooled an old
reactor for just $1,558 per kilowatt.
By comparison, traditional coal-fired plants cost $2,022 per kilowatt to build, Hunt
says. And Congress is considering clean-air legislation that would add about $500 per
kilowatt to the cost of those conventional coal plants."
"Investment banking consultant Gary L. Hunt, president of Global Energy Advisors in
Sacramento, California, estimates the cost of building a plant at $2,214 per kilowatt
of generating capacity. The market places a value of $1,730 per kilowatt of
generating capacity on currently operating reactors, he says."
If we accept these last numbers as valid, which I don't since they're based on old
technology, nuclear and coal construction costs are neck and neck with the winner
going to nuclear by a nose. Thing is, once a nuke is built, the major costs stop.
Fuel is relatively so cheap that it has little effect on power costs. Nuke
operational overhead costs are higher, of course, but not nearly enough to offset the
cost of coal.
Now I'm intimately familiar with BFNP, as I worked there as an engineer for years.
What TVA did with Unit 1 was basically to build a new plant inside the shell of the
old plant. TVA both proved that it could be done and proved that it could be done at
moderate cost. This will be a common thing to do in the future as so many plants
reach the end of their design lives. Rebuilding like this saves the cost of
acquiring and licensing a new site and it saves the cost of the heavy construction of
things like reactor and turbine buildings and other massive structures. TVA is to be
congratulated for a job well done.
One other point. The article notes - correctly this time - that BFNP #1 was
constructed for about $300 million. It was one of the few "turnkey" plants that GE
was allowed to build (without utility interference) and is regarded as one of the
best bargains in the industry.
If we plug $300 million into the government's inflation calculator here
http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl we see that $300 million in 1974 works out to
about $1.3 BILLION in today's dollars. BFNP 1 and 2 were built before all the
ruinous over-regulation and obstructionism and OSHA and lawyers and lawsuits and all
the other government crap that has been heaped on the industry since then. If a
plant were to be built today under those same conditions, it would cost almost $1.5
billion. Government regulation has jacked up the price of everything else so it's no
surprise that to build a plant of the old design today would cost double.
A $3 billion plant would be about the cost of what, 2 B2 bombers, something that has
little direct benefit to us here in the states. By that measure, even an old design
nuclear plant would be a bargain.
>Assuming there is never another drought:
>"Drought hits TVA power production"
>"Nonetheless, TVA has had to rely on more power generation from alternate
>sources this year, he said. Minimum flows have cut normal hydroelectric
>power generation nearly in half, while warmer-than-normal reservoirs are
>threatening to curb or even halt production at nuclear and fossil fuel
>plants, Mr. Gibson [TVA's water supply manager] said.
>"We're getting very close to the limits," he said. "It's something that
>everyone at TVA is very concerned about."
Oh bullsh*t. When they hit the "limit", that is, some arbitrary value for water
temperature, they'll simply fill out some forms, get the proper exemptions for higher
water discharge temperatures and keep on generating. Happens every few years. Until
the NY times bought out the Free Press a few years ago, they'd have not wasted ink on
such routine happenings. Now they fabricate controversy out of thin air and TVA is
as good a place to look as any.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), drones such as this
guy and the other PR flacks in TVA are separate from Power Operations, the guys who
actually make and ship the power. Just something else Power Operations has to put up
If some state 'crat ever tried to upset this procedure and actually force a plant to
shut down, TVA would simply restate their federal supremacy and ignore 'em. Everyone
involved knows that so all those types do is huff and puff to the media. Shutting
down a plant for such silliness isn't even on the table.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: nuclear power (was Re: Hyrogen cell Technoloy)
Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2007 17:05:29 -0400
On Thu, 18 Oct 2007 16:04:31 -0400, "Johns Yard" <email@example.com> wrote:
> I use to work for the company that supplied the controls for Three Mile
>Island. We had a lot of work up till the incident.
> Do we even have the manpower or technology to compete in the nuclear
>industry anymore? It has been a long time since I've seen an ad in the
>paper for a nuclear engineer?
Probably not. Like everything else in this country, the next round of nukes will
most likely be foreign made. France and Japan, most likely, with China bringing up a
Manpower is easy enough to address, given a few years. There are still enough
greybeards out there that can train the newcomers. The national labs are doing a
half-assed job at keeping nukes busy and passing on the knowledge to the next
The biggest problem is manufacturing. Combustion Engineering is but a faded memory.
Westinghouse (whomever they're a division of now) doesn't have any nuclear grade
heavy fab capability that I know of. GE does but I'm not sure where. Babcock &
Wilcox? I think their nuclear fab is gone too.
Large components will surely have to be manufactured off-shore. How that stands us
for so-called energy-independence isn't clear. <sarcasm alert>