What about the waste?

If we are talking about LFTR/MSR power, the waste is minimal and disappears quickly (~100’s not 100,000+ years), but let’s address the waste from standard reactors (typical US light-water).  The graphic shows how fresh fuel becomes “spent” fuel and how it changes while in the reactor.  At the end of the cycle, it is removed and put in a pool of water in the plant, then later transferred to more long-term storage (generally casks).


As you can see from the picture, most of the material left behind is fuel.

Put simply, “spent” fuel isn’t spent.  It is roughly like burning the bark off of wood in a fire then removing the wood.  A hotter fire can burn the wood and not just the bark.

There are newer reactor technologies that could consume currently available “spent” fuel, as well as Canada’s CANDU reactors.

The component that is the long-lived part of the “waste” is plutonium, which comes from U-238 absorbing a neutron (and decaying twice to plutonium).  This plutonium is FUEL.  If it were to be consumed, the long-lived nature of this waste would basically disappear.

There is NO long term waste issue with so-called “spent” fuel.


Our Nuclear Future

What I would like to see for the world’s energy solution.

In response to:


I do NOT like this Energy Gruel rationing idea at all. It flies in the face of anything else I’ve learned about energy.
I agreed with this article up until the very end. We do have good solutions (though not perfect) and we need more energy, not less. Energy directly contributes to quality of life, health and is necessary to the developing world to curb population growth and improve quality of life. If it is not provided somehow, then people will do anything to get it, and that means usually burning dirty sources (biofuel, coal, stolen oil, tar, dung, etc).

We need a source of energy that outputs lots of reliable energy with minimal eco-footprint. I’ve news for you, we already have it and it is nuclear power. While “current/old” nuclear is good, we will be able to do so much better. Exploring first current nuclear, about an ounce of uranium fuel pellets would power the typical US home for a year. By contrast, it takes 4 tons of coal, or about 30 sq meters of solar (in AZ, and you need backup) for the same supply. The same 1 oz of fuel becomes one oz of “waste” which is nothing more than ceramic material housed in metal tubes. The fear surrounding waste and radiation is irrational, but lets just look at some facts – about 70,000 tons of “waste” has been generated from 50 years of US nuclear, supplying ~20% of the country’s demand. It would take up ONE football field, less than 10 ft high.

Now the fun part – that “spent” fuel really has only had a small portion (mostly the enriched U-235) used. With Gen IV designs, we could consume the plutonium that was created, and consume the unused uranium (which is 94% of the remaining “spent” rod). This would roughly multiply the output by ~30-100x and reduce the volume of the waste by as similar amount. Further, the duration of the remaining waste becomes similar to background in about 100-300 years, rather than 100,000+ years.

Not enough? Consume thorium instead – a byproduct from the mining of rare-earths (mentioned in the article), thorium is found everywhere on earth in large amounts. It can be consumed by other Gen IV reactor designs, such as the MSR and LFTR technologies. It too would generate 100-300 year rather than 100,000+ year waste. If we had lots of MSR/LFTR/WAMSR plants, we would have vast amounts of reliable electricity at low cost as well as a number of wonderful “process heat” sources – these can MAKE liquid fuels, which means you can now fuel your planes and cars with sensible, energy dense liquid fuels, rather than throwing away dead batteries.

The future becomes limitless when you focus on this kind of power – space exploration (Pu238), indoor food growth, targeted nuclear cancer therapy (MATT), water desalination, liquid fuel production, medical isotopes, consumption of “spent” fuel, oh… yeah, and electrical power at an actual low cost – making whatever country that implements this an economic powerhouse. Thanks for reading.


Green Tree

Having seen this “tree” around in Facebook memes, I knew it wouldn’t work.  It is about as useless as “solar roads”.
green-treeSo, I did the math (don’t worry, it is pretty painless).

The website itself lists the output of the unit, and for a strong average wind, output is expected at about 3000 kWh per year (they don’t mention year, but the numbers work out).  Since power is worth roughly 15 euro cents per kWh, you multiply and get 450 EUR of output per year.  Divide the price tag by the output, and get:

Wind also has the interesting physical property of the energy content being relative to the CUBE of its speed.  If the average wind speed were cut in half of this example, you can cut your output by 8x, and therefore multiply your time of return by 8, giving you 500 years.

I’m doubting something with that may rotating parts will last much more than 10 or 20, which makes this a net loss in energy, money and sanity.

Does no one check these things before propagating memes, articles, or investing?

Here is the link if you care to do the math yourself:


Replacing Nuclear with Solar (part 2)

I did the math (and maps) recently to compare Arizona Public Service’s (APS’s) brand new “Solana” solar power plant to the current Palo Verde Nuclear power plant.

The Solana plant is one of the most efficient solar thermal plants in the US today and it has thermal energy storage to be able to continue to produce power when the sun goes down.   It is so new, I was unable to locate a Google map to display it, so I’ve just represented it as an orange box to compare the area.  Here is how it roughly compares with the Palo Verde Nuclear power plant (outlined in blue) in area.


It doesn’t look too bad right?  The nuclear plant takes up roughly 1.5+ square miles including the nearby cooling ponds to the east, and the solar plant is 3 square miles.

However, where it gets interesting is when you compare Wikipedia for the total annual output in GWh (gigawatt-hours).  On your electric bill, power is paid for and measured in kWh.  1 million kWh = 1 GWh, so that should give you a sense of scale.

The Solana plant is expected to produce 944 GWh per year!  Amazing.

The Palo Verde plant will produce 29,250 GWh in the same year.  Oh.  Its about 31x more than the solar plant even though the nuclear plant is about half the size of the solar plant.  That’s about 60x less space for the same power.

If you wanted to build 31 Solana’s (at about $2 billion x 31 total cost), you could then equal the output of the Palo Verde plant (which cost $6 billion in 1988).  It would take up roughly 100 square miles.  Here is what that looks like comparing the current nuclear plant (blue), the solar plant size (orange) with the required equivalent solar (yellow).    Note the size of Phoenix to the east.  The blue box is hard to see at this scale. PVvsSolarThermal


It depends on where you say Phoenix ends and the suburbs begin, but I’d say it would need to be quite a bit larger than the city of Phoenix in size.

Speaking earlier of costs, APS is to lease the power from Solana for about 14c/kWh, or put simply higher in cost than the current price of electricity consumers pay in Phoenix.  That means the costs for electricity will be going up, and/or it will be coming out of tax subsidies.  The nuclear plant generates energy for less than 2c/kWh.

The nuclear plant is cheaper than coal and about 7x cheaper than solar thermal, and takes up less than 60x the space for the same yearly energy output.



 Coming soon – I visited the Palo Verde Energy Education Center in Buckeye (located between Phoenix and the plant).  I took some video…


Replacing Nuclear with Solar

You sometimes hear:  “We should use the nuclear station in the sky for all of our power needs”

I did some interesting math to look at the environmentalist idea of replacing all of our current power plants with solar plants.

In Pickering, Ontario, Canada, is the “Pickering Generating Station” consisting of 8 CANDU reactors, each producing about 0.5 GW.  Put together they are over 4.1 GW.  I wondered how much space this would take up as solar panels…

The picture shows clearly the efficiency between a 4.1GW nuclear plant and its equivalent in solar.  To actually replace solar in Pickering would actually take up twice the space shown, since the solar radiation is about half of what was used in the calculation.  In short, you would have to cover the entire town in solar panels, to do what one plant can do (see the light blue box in the lower right corner).

Proof (warning, MATH!)

To give this a fighting chance, I imagined that the solar is put in Phoenix AZ (well known for its 300+ days of sun/year), and looked up the solar “insolation” – a measurement of the average power of the sun in an area over a year.  Phoenix is about 6.5 kWh per square meter.

With 15% efficient panels (normal) and ignoring all other losses, it results in about 1 kWh.  Multiplying by 365, gives about 365 kWh of output every year, per square meter.

The nuclear plant on the other hand is 4.1 GW of output, all day, every day, or 4.1 GW x 365 x 24 hrs x 1 million kWh per GWh = 36 thousand million kWh = 36,000,000,000 kWh per year from the plant.
Divide this by 365 kWh per year: 36,000,000,000 / 365 = 100,000,000 square meters, or 100 square km (roughly).



The purple line drawn is 10×10 km to make 100 square km.  In reality, if you replaced the actual Pickering plant, and put the panels in Pickering, you would need about 200 square km of them, since the solar insolation is about half that of phoenix, and don’t even get me started on the snow removal on 200 square km of solar panels.

Consider also the cost of building and installing and maintaining 100-200 square km of solar panels, or the environmental damage of that much shade (if you built it somewhere remote).  Or, consider that they will need to be replaced about every 30 years, or that there is only power generated when the sun shines.

The original technology for the CANDU reactor used in this example (sitting operating in Pickering), is over 40 years old.  It isn’t even a thorium LFTR reactor, which would be about 100x more efficient than the CANDU or about 300x more efficient than the standard US based light-water reactors.

The math took care to use an average number for the year, but unless you don’t mind either huge costly energy storage solutions, or not having power at night – other solutions must also be added in.  It is just too bad we don’t have:  something that is on 24/7, doesn’t use vast amounts of resources, and doesn’t emit greenhouse gases – like nuclear power.  Hmm!  How about that – We do!  And with thorium and LFTR, it could be better.



Awesome News – Bill Gates is looking at Thorium

Some people reading this might be aware of Gate’s Terrapower company which is in the process of building a uranium based traveling wave reactor, but this is news!

“TerraPower, the Gates-chaired nuclear power company, has garnered attention for pursuing traveling wave reactor tech, which runs entirely on spent uranium and would rarely need to be refueled. But the concern just quietly announced that it’s going to start seriously exploring thorium power, too.”



Full article (original source) at the Weinberg Foundation: