Thursday, 17 December 2015

A politician asks: can thorium be profitable for Norway?

It will be profitable when done with the right reactor design. Today's PWR, BWR, designs are too expensive. E.g. Hinkley C in Britain is horrendously expensive. ThorCon (a startup company aiming to make molten salt reactors (MSR), using thorium), reckon they can make a safer reactor, within 6 years, for 20% of Hinkley C prices. ThorCon are not unique. There are a host of other startups and molten salt reactor designs: Transatomic Power, Terrestrial Energy, Seaborg Technologies, Flibe Energy, Moltex SSR, Chinese designs, the Russian MOSART, the EVOL MSFR in France, Japanese, and Czech reactors. Bill Gates TerraPower are said to be working on a molten salt reactor too.

Note:

  1. There are 3 practical nuclear fuels (fissile materials): plutonium-239, uranium-235, and uranium-233 (Pu-239, U-235, U-233).
  2. Uranium consists of a natural mixture of two isotopes: U-238 : U-235, in a ratio of 1000 : 7. Only U-235 is fissile. It must generally be concentrated 5 times (or more) to be used as fuel. In a reactor some of the U-238 "breeds" to Pu-239. U-235 is the only naturally occurring fissile material.
  3. There is about 3½ times more thorium available in the world than uranium. Thorium can be 'bred' to make a kind of uranium not found in nature : U-233. (much like Pu-239 is bred from U-238) U-233 performs better than any other fissile material in a thermal nuclear reactor (and 99%+ of reactors are thermal). This is the reason nuclear engineers love it.
  4. A molten salt reactor is a very good natural fit for thorium. Molten salt reactors are also:
    • safer - they do not use water compressed at 80 atmospheres. So the possibility of catastrophes like Chernobyl or Fukushima is eliminated.
    • more efficient - because they operate at much higher temperatures (almost 400ºC above a PWR temperature), they convert more heat to electricity
    • potentially less expensive - the intrinsic safety of a MSR allows many expensive safety boondoggles to be dispensed with.
    • for more see: Advantages of molten salt reactors

The magic of thorium is really uranium-233. Poor uranium-233 had all its limelight stolen by the thorium upstart. U-233 has excellent neutronic performance in the thermal neutron spectrum : 90.3% of neutrons hitting a U-233 atom cause fission and release the atom's energy. Only 7.7% of neutrons are wasted (captured and absorbed). The fission : capture ratio (table below) shows that U-233 is 3.1 times better than Pu-239. I'm measuring this performance in terms of fissionable atoms (and neutrons) wasted. The more that are wasted the more difficult it is for nuclear power to be sustainable. To be sustainable we must be able to breed more fissile material from thorium or uranium-238 than we use up in make energy. The couple: thorium and uranium-233 are sustainable in both the thermal and fast neutron spectra.

In practice, uranium-233 can only be made from thorium. That's why thorium is talked about. But it's really about uranium-233.

The relative performance of 3 fissile materials U-233, U235, Pu-239 under thermal neutron bombardment (aka - in a reactor) :

Thermal cross-section (barn)
capturefissiontotal% fissionfission : capture ratio
U-2334553157692.2%11.80
U-2359969279187.5%6.99
Pu-2392691025129479.2%3.81

Now it's not so much that plutonium-239 and uranium-238 don't make a sustainable couple too. They do. But it's U-238 + Pu-239 for the fast neutron spectrum only, but thorium-232 + U-233 for either the fast or thermal neutron spectra.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

"Hey, these guys had a pretty good idea. Let's go back to it."

Alvin Weinberg MSR Questions (2004). Youtube link

Dr Laurence Miller: One of the things that I considered was the choice between the liquid metal fast reactors and ...

Alvin Weinberg: [Interrupting] Excuse me. How do you increase the volume in here?

Dr Laurence Miller: You mentioned where did we go wrong. And one of your aims was the molten salt reactor and instead of that we went for the liquid metal reactor. Do you think that was a serious mistake?

Alvin Weinberg: Yes I think it was a mistake but, I guess, what I'm talking about goes much beyond the kind of reactor that we're going to build, or that will take over. Because no matter what kind of reactor you build, apprehensive members of the public, or Ralph Nader for that matter, will be able to use this confusion between phantom risk and real risk to scare people out of nuclear energy. So ... I think that that issue overrides the question of whether molten salt is better than liquid metal. I happen to think that molten salt is better than [liquid] metal.

Moderator: I have a follow-on question from cyberspace that we got by email right before today's colloquium and its related to Dr. Miller's question. This question comes from Kirk Sorensen who is with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and it has to do with the molten salt breeder reactor. He would like for you to comment on the inherent safety of the molten salt reactor and how we might be able to restart a molten salt reactor programme.

Alvin Weinberg: The molten salt people, who included most famous figures nuclear energy, in particular Eugene Wigner, are all dying off and once they're dead then I suppose you can reinitiate a program on molten salt. Are molten salts inherently safer than liquid metal fuel pin reactors? I think they are, as much as anything, because you don't have supercritical amounts of uranium involved in the system. You add uranium, bit by bit, as you need it because the material is molten. But I'm much impressed with the fact that, despite molten salt reactors having in a sense been a failure in that we don't have people building molten salt reactors now, the molten salt reactor experiment, which produced seven and a half megawatts of heat was one of the most important, and I must say brilliant achievements of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. And I hope that, after I'm gone, people will look at the dusty books that were written on molten salts and will say "Hey, these guys had a pretty good idea. Let's go back to it."

Monday, 7 December 2015

Radon is not nearly as scary as the authorities make it out to be.

Under normal circumstances, radon is not a threat to your health. No matter what the EPA tell you. There's no positive correlation between lung cancer rates and the distribution of background radiation. Radon-222 is a decay produce of radium-226, which is a decay product of uranium-238. Radon is a heavy gas which accumulates in homes and offices. According to the EPA it is a huge threat to life. In reality it is not such a big threat. It can easily be demonstrated that the effect of other background radiation on the lungs (e.g. from carbon-14 and potassium-40 decay) greatly exceeds the effect of radon-222 by about 100 to 1. So according to EPA logic there should be 100 times as much lung cancer due to potassium-40 and carbon-14 (compared to their projected radon cancers). There's not. There is no good evidence that, at the low doses found, radon-222 causes any measurable lung cancer. The EPA's worry about radon is based upon a projection of a bad mathematical model.

If anything, a map of the USA shows a negative correlation between radon concentration and lung cancer!

Perhaps better described as a positive correlation between radon concentration and no lung cancer!

For an average 70kg person:

  • Your lungs weigh approximately 1.3 kg; 1.86% of your body.[1]
  • We experience about 8300 Bq of radiation (mostly K-40 and C-14).[2]
  • It follows, our lungs experience about 158 Bq (mostly K-40 and C-14).
  • When doing mild activity, we breath about 14 litre/minute = 2.3 × 10-4
  • US average radon air concentration is 37 Bq m-3 (EPA).[4]
  • It follows that a US citizen's lungs are exposed to 37 × 2.3 × 10-4 = 0.00863 Bq radon

When accounting for the effect of that radon on the body we should assume it follows the main decay chain. That's because the other branches of the decay chain have very low probabilities. The main radon decay chain is shown below. It has 4 alphas in it [5]:

energy (MeV)½-life
Rn-222 → Po-218(alpha)5.593.8235 d
Po-218 → Pb-214(alpha)6.0023.1 min
Pb-214 → Bi-214(beta, gamma)1.02426.8 min
Bi-214 → Po-214(beta, gamma)3.27219.9 min
Po-214 → Pb-210(alpha)7.687164.3 µs
Pb-210 → Bi-210(beta)0.06422.2 y
Bi-210 → Po-210(beta)1.1635.012 d
Po-210 → Pb-206(alpha)5.305138.4 d

To convert to millisievert we need to weigh the decays. I won't convert to millisievert but we will weight radon far more heavily than other natural radiation experienced in our lungs. Comparing the effect of radon with other radionuclides we experience: mostly potassium-40 and carbon-14. When converting from grays to millisievert the weighting is normally:

alphabetagamma
2011

Because the EPA are so worried about radon, I'll assume they must know something I don't. So I will weight it twice and also assume every decay in the main decay chain counts. The main radon decay chain is worth 86 according to normal weighting. 4 alphas, 4 betas, and 2 gammas = 20 x 4 + 4 × 1 + 2 × 1. I'll double that to 172. Let's compare the lung radiation contribution of radon with K-40 and C-14:

radon= 172 × 0.00863= 1.5
K-40 and C-14= 158
The effect of K-40 and C-14 combined is about a hundred times that of radon. [even after I weighed radon twice as much as I should have!]

The following table shows the radioactivity found in a typical adult human body of 70,000 grams (about 154 pounds)[2]:

NuclideTotal MassTotal Activity (Bq)
Uranium90 µg1.1
Thorium30 µg0.11
Potassium-4017 mg4,400
Radium31 pg1.1
Tritium0.06 pg23
Polonium0.2 pg37
Carbon-1420 pg3,840
Total:8,302
Source: Radionuclides in the Ocean

References

  1. Lungs (Wikipedia)
  2. Radionuclides in the Ocean
  3. Radon decay chain
  4. Radon (Wikipedia)
  5. Radioactive series of radium-226
  6. EPA: The National Radon Action Plan
  7. Mohan Doss comment on radon at 'The Conversation'

Postscript

I said "perhaps better described as a positive correlation between radon concentration and no lung cancer!". Here it is:

Thursday, 12 November 2015

When "saving money" costs you two hundred fold more than you save.

I sometimes hear we can't afford to spend R&D money on MSRs. The best reply to that is we can't afford not to spend energy R&D.

85% of the world's reactors are PWRs, which operate with a thermodynamic efficiency of only 32% [only 32% of heat energy is converted to electricity]. MSRs can run at 750°C, giving a potential thermodynamic efficiency of up to 48%. Half as much again. Current power reactors make about 2370 TWh of electricity per year. The wholesale price of British electricity is about £40/MWh; making the world wholesale value of nuclear electricity about £95 billion/year. Compared to what MSRs could give we're throwing away £47 billion each year as heat which could've been made into extra electricity. All for the one time cost of £1 billion/£2 billion R&D we didn't spend to make MSRs real.

The US molten salt reactor experiment, MSRE, cost $5 million per year. Not the billions anti-nuclear power campaigners claim. Adjusted to today's money it works out at $30.52 pa., or £21.48 pa. Over 15 years that would cost Britain a total of $322 million.

Cost of R&D avoided: About half as much again as world electricity sells for, say: £47 billion (at wholesale prices)

Ref

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How much krypton-85 leaks into the atmosphere each year?

A recent paper estimated krypton-85 activity in a cubic metre of air at 1.31 Bq. See: Variability of atmospheric krypton-85 activity concentrations observed close to the ITCZ in the southern hemisphere.

Measurements between August 2007 and May 2010 covered three wet seasons. The mean activity concentration of krypton-85 measured during this period was 1.31±0.02Bqm-3. A linear model fitted to the average monthly data, using month and monsoon as predictors, shows that krypton-85 activity concentration measured during the sampling period has declined by 0.01Bqm-3 per year.
The measurement, done over 3 years found krypton-85 levels were stable. neither increasing nor decreasing by much. I'll assume that krypton-85 released in balanced by decay.

How much krypton-85 could there be in the atmosphere?

The surface density of air = 1.217 kg/m3
Total mass of the earth's atmosphere = 5.1 × 1018 kg
Let's assume 1.217 kg/m3 of surface air has a krypton-85 activity of 1.31 Bqm-3
Let's next assume that krypton-85 activity is the same throughout the air. This will overestimate krypton-85 because its heavier than air. It's almost twice as heavy as carbon dioxide.
Proceeding with our over-estimation. Total activity of Kr-85 in all the atmosphere:
= (1.31 Bqm-3) × (5.1 × 1018 kg) / 1.217 kg/m3
= 5.49 × 1018 Bq

The Specific Activity of krypton-85:
= 400 (Ci/g) [Ci = Curie]
= 1.48 × 1013 Bq/g

So our over-estimation for the amount Kr-85 in earth's atmosphere:
= (5.49 × 1018 Bq) / (1.48 × 1013 Bq/g)
= 3.71 × 105 g
= 371 kg

How much krypton-85 is made each year

Krypton-85 is about 0.3% of fission products. Let's assume there is 400 GWe of nuclear reactor capacity on earth. That a 1GWe NPP operating over a year produces just less than 1 ton of fission products. Let's call that 400 tons fission products per year for all the world's reactors. That's works out at 1200 kg of krypton-85 made each year.

But all of krypton-85 does not leak into the atmosphere. Most of it is in sealed casks. The amount that leaks must be about the same as the amount that decays.

t½(Kr-85) = 10.7 years
λ(Kr-85) = 0.693 / 10.7 years = 0.064766355 years-1
How much Kr-85 is left after 1 year:
Fractional proportion at time t = N(t) / N(0) = e-λ t
= e-0.064766355 years¯¹ × 1 years
= e-0.064766355
= 0.93728643
How much Kr-85 leaks?:
= 371 kg × (1 - 0.93728643)
= 23.27 kg
Note: Estimating the amount of fission products made/year

This depends upon the total capacity of all the world's nuclear reactors. There are:

  • 435 commercial nuclear power reactors operable in 31 countries, with about 375 GWe of total capacity.
  • 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines.
  • 240 research reactors
I'll assume an average of 50Me per research and/or sea vessel reactor. So 420 × 50 = 21 GWe of small reactors. Let's round that to 400 GWe capacity for all reactors.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How green anti-nukes closed a power plant delivering 620 megawatts of non-carbon electricity

Vermont Yankee was an electricity generating nuclear power plant, located in the town of Vernon, Vermont, USA. It generated 620 megawatts (MWe) of non-carbon electricity at full power. In 2008, the plant provided 71.8% of all electricity generated within Vermont, amounting to 35% of Vermont's electricity consumption.

  1. In May 2009, Vermont created the first statewide renewable energy feed-in law.
  2. Entergy requested a new state "certificate of public good" (CPG), but the Vermont legislature voted in February 2010 against renewed permission to operate.
  3. In 2011, the Vermont Electric Cooperative utility rejected a contract to buy Vermont Yankee power at below market rates:
    The board of directors at the Vermont Electric Cooperative, the third biggest power distribution company in the state, voted nine to one to reject a 20-year offer from Entergy to buy power from the 39-year old nuclear plant at below market prices.
    Their decision follows the lead previously set by Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service:
    "I really think today was a referendum on Entergy's relationship with the state of Vermont. In fact, we as a management team got a clear message not to speak with Entergy again"
    -- Dave Hallquist VEC CEO
  4. On 29 December 2014, Vermont Yankee owner Entergy ceased the plant's operations.
  5. Now the renewables advocates admit they can't provide renewable energy because the laws of physics just aren't right for the universe they live in.
    "Unless we get cost-effective storage, we can’t meet those goals — it’s a law of physics. The reason is because we’re trying to meet 100 percent of our annual energy needs with these projects that produce only 15 percent of the time. So you end up having to build six times the amount, and you end up having more generation than load, so there’s nothing you can do about it. We can’t meet our goals with the current physics."
    -- Dave Hallquist, CEO of VEC Vermont Electric Cooperative

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Hinkley Point deal is prohibitively expensive

So say the Guardian, again, today. It's not "prohibitively expensive" but it is "too expensive". Hinkley Point deal is too expensive is the common doxa, among both nukes, anti-nukes, and neutrals. The question of expense has interested me for sometime. Why so expensive, what can be done about that?

The AREVA EPR is the only modern reactor design currently approved by our regulator: Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR). If we want a reactor right now, this is the only one we can build. Had we more choice, we could build nuclear power plants for much less than this. Probably about half the price. [KEPCO build their APR1400 reactors in UAE for £3¼ billion each] So why don't we? Given the EPR design is the only one with a current UK GDA, the obvious question to ask is: what's holding up the UK GDA process? The obvious answer is often: lack of resources. But what resources?

Government framed the UK nuclear reactor regulatory process to discourage vendors from applying for reactor approval and spent no effort encouraging vendors to apply to get reactors approved. In effect, that's how current regulation works in the UK. There was no design nor malice in this, just the habit government have of copying what seems to work elsewhere. UK government, basically, copied the US model (how US funds their NRC : Nuclear Regulatory Commission). NRC funding works reasonably well in the USA because it's a big country. US electricity demand is 11 times UK's. Because US population is 5 times ours, and per capita electricity use just over twice ours. After a US reactor GDA application is approved, the reactor vendor has reasonable confidence that many will be built. That allows Americans to justify the up front costs of gaining NRC approval. Not so in the UK. A vendor trying to build reactors here can't expect many of their reactors to be built here at all. The market for new builds is just not that large.

Electricity requirement of UK / US
Average demand (GW)Per capita use (kWh)Population
US46313,010320 million
UK425,95864 million

UK Government framed legislation such that a large fee, probably about £40 million, is charged up front for reactor approval. This is large enough to discourage vendors putting their designs forward for GDA validation. That, and the 5-year approval period. The UK GDA process began in 2007 with 4 competing designs: the AREVA EPR (PWR), the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 (PWR), the GE-Hitachi ESBWR (BWR) and the AECL ACR1000 (Candu). The ESBWR and the Candu designs were withdrawn, leaving only 2. The AP1000 application was later suspended because the submission was not in S.I. units. That left only 1 reactor: EPR. Our system of taxing vendors beforehand led directly to GE-Hitachi pulling their ESBWR design out of the approval process despite spending £20 million on British approval. It partly led to AECL (Candu) not really trying. That might not be so bad in a world with lots of vendor competition. There are only about 7 such vendors in the world: AREVA (France), KEPCO (South Korea), Westinghouse (USA-Japan), GE-Hitachi (Japan), Rosatom (Russia), CANDU (Canada), Various Chinese. Some argue we should not consider Russian and Chinese designs due to security issues. CANDU reactors have positive voids, so many will not want them due to safety issues. That narrows the field down to 4 nuclear reactor vendors! So what other reactors could reasonably have been submitted for UK GDA? KEPCO have perfectly good designs they build at low cost (e.g. the APR1400 in UAE), but they've never been encouraged to apply for a GDA. That despite Britain and South Korea signing a special free trade deal in 2012. AREVA understood that their EPR design was too expensive at a very early stage: nearly 20 years ago. That's why they increased it's capacity from an initial 1100 MWe to 1650 MWe - to mitigate the expense by trying to gain an advantage in scale: in theory the cost of building and running 2 giant reactors being lower than 3 large reactors. It never panned out that way. Yet AREVA always had other designs it could've submitted for UK GDA. They had the KERENA and ATMEA1 designs too (since 2009 and 2007 respectively).

A better system would've seen the approval fee mostly paid for by a tiny tax on nuclear power, with an up front fee of, say 10% of approval costs. That would force immediate costs on the vendor of ~ £4 million. I think that would've encouraged KEPCO to apply for a GDA on a purely speculative basis. Imagine that it costs £40 million to approve a reactor for UK use. 10 different reactor approvals would cost £0.4 billion. A lot of money. The argument goes: the tax payer shouldn't have to cough up this money. Yet over a 35 year period, during which the Hinkley C contract for difference (CfD) applies, the electricity bill payer will cough up about £35 billion more than they would otherwise pay had their electricity been sourced at the current electricity wholesale price. We pay a tax anyhow. It's just that we're paying a tax at least 50 times larger than need be. Not quite: nearly all new nuclear power plants will need some kind of CfD but we could reasonably expect the difference in CfD and wholesale price to be half what it is for the EPR. So, instead of paying £35 billion more over 35 years, we'd pay £20 billion more over 35 years for a different reactor design.

  1. Guardian Live: should we say yes to nuclear power?
  2. KEPCO are building their APR1400 reactors in UAE for £3¼ billion each
  3. The costs of UK GDA for the AREVA EPR were said to be £35 million in 2012
  4. In 2007, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Submitted ESBWR to UK Regulators for Generic Design Assessment (GDA)
  5. CfD: contract for difference. A CfD means that the customer pays more for electricity than they would were they paying the market price. It allows new electricity capacity suppliers to recoup their capital costs. Think of it like a mortgage. You buy the house now, live there but it takes you 25+ years to repay the cost.
  6. The saga of Hinkley Point C: Europe’s key nuclear decision
  7. vendor: I'm using the term vendor here to mean `nuclear power plant design and construction company`
  8. GDA = Generic Design Approval. This is like a licence and safety certificate allowing one to build several nuclear reactors in one country.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Helen Caldicott exaggerates Fukushima Daiichi radiation by 7.5 billion times

In September 2014 Helen Caldicott used a hoax radiation dose map.

Dr. Helen Caldicott vs Fukushima Radiation
  • The hoax map was created and debunked in March 2011
  • This hoax was supposed to be a 'prediction'
  • Caldicott claimed 3½ years later that the hoax was true, and the predicted fallout happened.
  • Had it happened it would've been enough to kill about ½ the people on the US West coast. [The radiation dose in yellow is = 750 REM = 7500 mSv]

It goes without saying, that the amount of radiation released in the hoax was physically impossible. Back in the real world, suppose each person in the landed yellow area got 1 square metre worth of radiation :- it would've been equivalent to, at most, 11 seconds extra worth of natural radiation.[ref 1-3]

The ratio between Helen Caldicott's exaggeration and any possible Fukushima Daiichi radiation dose is at least 7.5 billion to 1.[ref 1-9]

Notes

  1. As of 2014, a peer reviewed estimate of the total radiation released at Fukushima Daiichi was 340 to 800 PBq, with 80% falling into the Pacific ocean.[ref 10]
  2. The yellow area on the map, covering land, is at least 3 million km², or 3 × 1012 m². Dividing that area into 20% of 800 × 1015 Bq
    = 0.2 × 800 × 1015 / (3 × 1012) Bq/m²
    = 53,000 Bq/m²
  3. Our bodies experience 5000 radioactive decays per second. (5000 Bq)
  4. 1 PBq (petabecquerel) = 1015 Bq
  5. 1 Bq = 1 radioactive decay per second
  6. Natural background radiation dose ~ 3 mSv per year, ~ 0.0000000095 REM per second
  7. Extra Fukushima Daiichi radiation dose (maximum) ~ 0.0000001 REM
  8. Extra Fukushima Daiichi radiation dose claimed by Caldicott ~ 750 REM
  9. Disparity between maximum possible and Caldicott's claim ~ 7.5 billion.
  10. "Comparison of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents: A review of the environmental impacts Science of The Total Environment Volumes 470–471, 1 February 2014, Pages 800–817".

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Does nuclear power cause climate change?

Krypton-85 is a fission product produced in nuclear reactors. A small amount leaks, mostly from spent fuel, into the atmosphere, where it decays, with a half-life of 10.7 years, to rubidium-85, via beta decay. This decay produces two ionized particles: Rb-85(+) and an electron(-). Various environmentalists/climate campaigners [refs 2-6] claim this atmospheric ionization causes climate change. In 2005, the amount of Kr-85 in that atmosphere was 1.3 Bq/m³ [ref 1]

When I compare the rate of production of ions (from Kr-85) decay to the rate of neutralization (from lightning), I find neutralization overwhelms the effect of Kr-85 decay by 2 million to 1.

So is Krypton-85 a real climate risk or not. If it's a risk why isn't solar radiation also a massive risk. Why does mainstream climate science tar denier on solar radiation proponents, at the same time ignore those posing nuclear power as a major cause?

Calculations

  • On average, about 4 Mega amps of lightning is discharged from atmosphere to earth each second.[refs 7,8]
  • Number of Kr-85 decays per second (in 2005)[refs 9-10]:
    = Number of decays per m³s-1 × total weight of air (kg) / weight 1m³ air
    = 1.3 × 5.15 . 1018 / 1.225 = 5.47 . 1018
  • Number of Kr-85 decay ionizations per second (in 2005) = 2 × 5.47 . 1018 = 1.094 . 1019
  • Global lightning discharges, per second:
    = number of amps discharged per second × number of elementary charges in one coulomb
    = 4 × 106 × 6.241 × 1018 = 2.4964 × 1025 [measured in elementary charges!]
  • Ratio of lightning discharge to Kr-85 ionizations = 2.284 × 106 = 2.3 million to 1 (in 2005)

So I'm baffled how a trace amount of krypton-85, decaying with a half-life of 10.7 years, can make such a great change to atmospheric ionization effects, given that the discharges due to lightning were 2,284,000 times greater in 2005.

Is Krypton-85 actually increasing? Not according to measurements taken below here: Variability of atmospheric krypton-85 activity concentrations observed close to the ITCZ in the southern hemisphere.

Measurements between August 2007 and May 2010 covered three wet seasons. The mean activity concentration of krypton-85 measured during this period was 1.31±0.02Bqm-3. A linear model fitted to the average monthly data, using month and monsoon as predictors, shows that krypton-85 activity concentration measured during the sampling period has declined by 0.01Bqm-3 per year.

Why do I never see climate scientists refuting anti-nuclear power claims such as: "nuclear power causes climate change"? I think many climate scientists seem happy to go along with any old garbage the anti-nuclear power movement come out with. No, I don't really thing that. I think they're totally focussed on the issues of GHG and denier narratives (such as the sun is the main cause of climate change). So much so they just don't care to refute this krypton-85 story.

Refs

krypton-85:

  1. because Kr-85 is a trace, its quantity is measured by its decay, which, in 2005, was about 1.3 per second per cubic metre.

Environmentalists

  1. "Majia's Blog" : Majia Holmer Nadesan (academic): Strangely Missing: Radionuclides' Effects on Climate
  2. "The Seneca Effect" : (Dutch academic blogger): Krypton-85: How nuclear power plants cause climate change
  3. "Climate Risks from Nuclear Power. Radioactive Krypton 85: Atmospheric-Electrical and Air-Chemical Effects of Ionizing Radiation in the Atmosphere"
  4. "After Cancún: Climate Governance or Climate Conflicts", edited by Elmar Altvater, Achim Brunnengräber, pp178-179 "In addition, nuclear power plants are emitting other gases, which also contribute to climate change. Of all the radioactive materials, the ionization of the air with radioactive noble gas, krypton-85, a product of nuclear fission, is the most intense ..."
  5. "The Global Casino, Fifth Edition: An Introduction to Environmental Issues", By Nick Middleton"

lightning:

  1. According to: V Rakov, M Uman "Lightning: Physics and Effects", CUP 2003 : An average bolt of lightning carries a negative electric current of 40 kiloamperes (kA) (although some bolts can be up to 120 kA), and transfers a charge of five coulombs and energy of 500 MJ, or enough energy to power a 100-watt lightbulb for just under two months.
  2. National Geographic say: "about 100 [lightning bolts] strike Earth's surface every single second"

atmosphere

  1. Density of the atmosphere = 1.225 kg/m³
  2. The atmosphere has a mass of about 5.15 × 1018 kg
  3. Ampere is equivalent to one coulomb (roughly 6.241 × 1018 times the elementary charge) per second.

Climate science

  1. W.L. Boeck "Environmental consequences of atmospheric krypton-85". Final report, January 1, 1977-September 30, 1979
  2. Climate risks by radioactive krypton-85 from nuclear fission Atmospheric-electrical and air-chemical effects of ionizing radiation in the atmosphere

Monday, 12 October 2015

What Paul Langley gets wrong

Paul Langley is an Australian anti-nuclear activist. A radiophobe.

Paul Langley: But the lingering danger from residual fuel and fission fallout particles -those which emit Alpha and Beta radiation – exist long after the explosion. Alpha is are not detected very accurately by film badges or dosimeters. For this, specialised Alpha detectors are needed. Although the scientists conducting the atomic tests in Australia at the time knew of these dangers, they chose to concentrate upon the dangers of exposure to Gamma radiation. That is, they were more interested in the immediate effects of the Gamma radiation burst at the time of atomic detonations.

My comment: An atomic blast instantaneously produces a large quantity of gamma, neutron and fission products (radiation). The gamma, neutron are gone after the initial damage they do. Fission products decay producing alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Most fission products have very short half-lives so are quickly gone. After 3 months, radiation from fission product decay is 0.1% of its initial value. Even after 12 hours it's well down. Living tissue is damaged by a large amount of radiation all at once (gamma from the bomb blast). That explains the scientists concerns (above). We're not harmed much at all, by small amounts over a long time. This is what Paul Langley misses. Back in the 1970s we believed that any amount of radiation is harmful. Today we know differently. Our bodies have several repair mechanisms to correct major and minor harm from radiation or anything else which damages DNA.

PS: A Nobel prize was just awarded to the scientists who studied these DNA repair mechanisms.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Jeremy Rifkin - how passé

In this video Jeremy Rifkin says there are 5 reasons why nuclear power is over:

  1. Nuclear power does not scale (it can't be built quickly enough)
  2. We can't recycle spent fuel nor store it. e.g. "Yucca mountain is cracked" and can't be used as a waste repository
  3. There's not enough uranium
  4. We can not use plutonium, and keeping it leads to uncertainty and terrorism.
  5. There's not enough water to cool reactors.
    Just before he stops talking, he remembers he wanted to make 6 points:
  6. Nuclear power is centralized it does fit the new technologies which are "distributed, collaborative and laterally scaled".

Let's refute Rifkin's points, one by one:

  1. After fossil fuels, nuclear power is the most scalable electricity generation source
  2. Waste disposal
    • Recycling. A number of new reactor designs are being designed to run on spent fuel. e.g. the IMSR by Canadians: Terrestrial Energy:
    • Waste disposal. This isn't an issue. The amount of waste produced by a nuclear power plant is quite small. We can reduce it over 30-fold by closing the uranium fuel cycle. We already have the technology to do that.
  3. The world's oceans contain 4 billion tonnes of uranium. This can be extracted for about $600/kg which is a low enough price to make it economic. New uranium resources are being discovered as I write. E.g. the huge new reserves recently announced in Iran.
    We don't have to rely only on uranium. Thorium is 3.5 times more abundant than uranium, and it too can also be used in nuclear fission reactors.
  4. Plutonium.
  5. Not every nuclear reactor needs water for cooling, but there's plenty of water anyway. Reactors built next to the sea will probably continue to use water cooling.
  6. "distributed, collaborative and laterally scaled"
    -- Hey man, have a toke on my reefer, and invent some kewl new energy paradigms of your own!

Rifkin should stop making stuff up and deal with reality instead.

Links

  1. A Green Road: Jeremy Rifkin - Five Reasons Why Nuclear Power is a Dead-End Business Model
  2. Historic Paths to Decarbonization
  3. IMSR: Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor - by Dr. David LeBlanc @ TEAC7
  4. Iran finds huge new supply of uranium
  5. China to help Bill Gates develop "pioneering" nuclear reactor
  6. the GE-Hitachi PRISM
  7. British Moltex fast molten salt reactor design
  8. European EVOL fast molten salt reactor design
  9. Copenhagen Atomics Thorium Molten Salt Reactor
  10. Weapons grade plutonium can only be made in special military grade reactors
  11. Israel tests ‘dirty bombs,’ finds they pose no substantial danger
  12. Dry cooling for nuclear power plants

Friday, 14 August 2015

The linear no-threshold (LNT) model is not science it's junk science.

The linear no-threshold (LNT) model recognises that even a small amount of radiation produces a small amount of damage.

The linear no-threshold (LNT) model is not science it's junk science. There never was any legitimate foundation for the theory and, in fact, the original purveyors of BEIR I made several mistakes, touching on actual fraud.(1)

There's never been a scientific consensus on radiation risk.(2) LNT was always a theory lacking evidential support aka a "hypothesis". The only reason LNT even became a theory in the first place was because it was easiest thing to model. All 3 fundamental assumptions in LNT were formulated to make it easy to model:

  1. Linear
  2. No-threshold
  3. Dose-response is additive over time.

Only the first assumption is approximately valid. The 3rd assumption is clearly nonsense w.r.t. radiation because radionuclides are generally not concentrated when taken up in the food chain, and actual exposure to radioactivity is not additive. The 2nd assumption (no-threshold) was always disputed too.

OK, so those are some arguments against LNT, why why am I calling it junk science? It's junk science because non-scientists, and non-radiation specialists rely on it to scare-monger over radiation and nuclear power.

References:

  1. Edward Calabrese challenges Science Magazine to right a 59 year-old case of scientific misconduct
  2. Dose-effect relationship and estimation of the carcinogenic effects of low-doses of ionizing radiation, by Maurice Tubiana, André Aurengo, 2005
  3. Nor does enforcing LNT for radiation make any sense. Better safe than sorry is an idiotic policy too: Radiation Risk and Ethics, by Zbigniew Jaworowski

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Green FUD about new Vogle Nuclear plants spins revenue into costs.

The projected revenues from the two new nuclear plants at Vogle, Georgia, USA were calculated to be $65 billion over a 60 year projected plant lifetime1. Each plant is 1117 MWe in capacity (net). Assuming a conservative 90% capacity is reached2. They can be expected to generate 1056.77 TWh of electricity, or 1056.77 billion units (a 'unit' is a kWh in Britain)3. The expected revenue works out at US 6.15¢ per kWh. In Britain my current electricity tariff is 14.04p per kWh (equivalent to: 21.9¢/kWh)4. So I'm paying 3.56 times the cost of Vogle electricity. I should be so lucky to have such low cost nuclear power.

The electricity cost above assume the new Vogle reactors (units 3 and 4) will undergo a cost overrun. Total costs to build them are projected at USD $7.5 billion.5. Even with a cost overrun Vogle plants will still make cheap electricity. One might think this is good news. Perhaps we should break open a bottle of Prosecco or Cava? No such luck. At least two green websites have spun this revenue projection by Bobbie Baker into "a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics"6,7.

They took Baker's expected revenue and turned it into expected costs! In the source they cited, Bobbie Baker is quoted saying: "The current total revenue requirement for the Project is approximately $65 billion"1. This was spun into: Vogtle: at $65 billion and counting, it’s a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics6. Some people have blinkered vision. They're so certain that nuclear power is expensive, their minds turn revenue into costs, and their prophecies are fulfilled.

Notes:

  1. To get the quote for $65 billion (what Commissioner Baker said):
    1. Follow this link: Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP Lawline Alerts
    2. Click on the link for "Georgia Utility Update – July 2015"
  2. US nuclear power plants had an average capacity factor of 91.8% in 2014. See: US nuclear plants set capacity factor record in 2014: industry group
  3. 2 × 1.117 GWe × 365 × 24 × 60 × 90% = 1056771.36 GWh
  4. My tariff of 14.04p includes the effect of a standing charge. See: EdF Energy 'Unit rate comparison'
  5. Plant Vogtle nuclear reactors expected to cost $7.5bn
  6. Vogtle: at $65 billion and counting, it’s a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics,
  7. Atlanta Progressive News: Vogtle Nuclear Expansion Total Cost Is 65 Billion Dollars, Former Commissioner Says

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Interesting online discussion I unearthed on the AREVA EPR

The question of why the EPR is turning out to be so much more expensive than other reactors is interesting. It looks like the EPR has overspecified safety requirements. For example: rather that just be certain the core could not melt in the event of an accident, the designers went one step further and built a core catcher in as well. Some people blame German Greens for the design complexity: (here:)

lion :
The EPR must meet the security demands of the ASN and, above all, the demands voiced by the German Green politician, Jürgen Trittin, who made the restrictions applying to the design and build so severe that it is almost unfeasible. So I wonder whether the EPR is not “over secure” in terms of design and build, a fact that would not even mean that it is optimally secure when it comes to operations.
Jürgen Trittin is a German Green politician. He was Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety from October 1998 to November 2005 in Germany. Angela Merkel was the Minister before him: From November 1994 to October 1998. [ Merkel was and is a pro-nuclear power person. ]

It seems to me that the design was substantially complete before 1998 when the Greens took over control of the German energy ministry. See this PDF report, which has some history and these NRC slides. The design continued from 1997 to 1999 with an updated "Basic Design Report" for the EPR issued in February 1999.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Edward Calabrese talking about hormesis

Youtube video. Time: 40:37

I wanted to validate the hormetic model in some sort of way and test its frequency in the population and in studies. And so I said how did the government and how did the scientific community validate the threshold model. Because I'll just copy how they did that, because I never validated a model before. So I'll just find what they did, follow what they did. Maybe I'll do it right. So I looked and I looked and looked and I looked and I looked and looked and, guess what, I never found that any government, any scientist, any industry, any expert committee, ever ever published a paper in which they attempted to, or showed validation of the threshold model for making accurate predictions below the threshold. Never. And we live below the threshold. All of our standards were based upon a model that was never validated by anyone. OK. All the drugs, all the environment contaminants that are based upon the threshold model have a model that was never a validated. Never thought to be validated.

So I decided to try to validate it. And so what happened is I got 3 or 4 very large datasets. Looking at a wide variety of compounds. Applied statistical analysis with a team of researchers to test the linear threshold and hormetic dose responses. And guess what happened. In every single case the threshold and the linear model fail to make accurate predictions in the low-dose zone. And the hormetic model was the only one that actually did it. We submitted it to the leading toxicology journals went through some tough peer reviews and all three made it through.

And basically what we showed, for the very first time, was that in fact the models that are used by the regulatory agencies fail when put to the test. The only one that actually passed the test was the one that the regulatory agencies actually ignored, marginalized, and basically would never consider. And so what you have is, you have a world that is governed by non-science really. And it's hard to tell them, it's hard to tell the teacher that they're wrong.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Case study in anti-nuclear power FUD

I noticed it here: Tas Uni academic less than “abundantly clear” about Generation IV nuclear reactors. An article by Dr Jim Green, the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia. It's purpose is to discredit pro-nuclear activist Barry Brook. It has a few misleading claims but the standout false claim is:

France has used a fast reactor to produce plutonium for weapons.

No such thing ever happened. France did have fast reactors which made plutonium, but they were never used to make nuclear bomb material. When challenged on this point, eventually a friend of the author (Dickie) narrowed down the claim:

Fact: The fast-neutron reactor Phénix, which operated at significant power level until the late 1990s, produced about 340 kg of plutonium for WMD.
- Dickie, Comment no. 17
, and sourced it to a website: International Panel of Fissile Materials. That website had 3 documents claiming Phénix made weapons grade material but only one claim mentioned 340 kg:
Global Fissile Material Report 2010, page 91

The claim begins:

To estimate the contribution of Phénix to the French stockpile of weapons plutonium, it is assumed that only the surplus plutonium—not the total amount of weapon-grade plutonium—extracted from the blankets was transferred to the weapons program.

So we're really dealing with guesswork here (to estimate, it is assumed), rather than fact, as was originally claimed. What of the guesswork? Is it likely, or even possible? No, not likely at all. There are several reasons to avoid using fast reactors to make weapons grade plutonium. First, let's figure out what ideal weapons grade plutonium contains. It is defined as being predominantly Pu-239, typically about 93% Pu-239. Additionally, three particular radionuclides pose a problem:

  • First and most important, plutonium-240, Pu-240 has a high rate of spontaneous fission, meaning that the plutonium in the device will continually produce many background neutrons, which have the potential to reduce weapon yield by starting the chain reaction prematurely.
  • Second, the isotope plutonium-238, Pu-238 decays relatively rapidly, thereby significantly increasing the rate of heat generation in the material.
  • Third, the isotope americium-241, Am-241 (which results from the 14-year half-life decay of plutonium-241 and hence builds up in reactor-grade plutonium over time) emits highly penetrating gamma rays, increasing the radioactive exposure of any personnel handling the material.
- Weapons-Grade Plutonium ... U.S. DoE

To summarize: people trying to make weapons grade plutonium want 93% Pu-239, with as little as possible Pu-238, Pu-240, and Am-241.

How to get there?

An obvious first step is to avoid fast reactors. A fast reactor has (n, 2n) reactions in addition to the normal absorption and fission reactions found in thermal reactors. To quote:

A side reaction chain also produces Pu-238:

U-238 + n -> U-237 + 2n
U-237 -> (6.75 days, beta) -> Np-237
Np-237 + n -> Np-238
Np-238 -> (2.1 days, beta) -> Pu-238

Pu-238: This isotope has a spontaneous fission rate, 1.1x10^6 fission/sec-kg (2.6 times that of Pu-240) and a very high heat output (567 W/kg!). Its very high alpha activity (283 times higher than Pu-239) makes it a much more serious source of neutron emission from the alpha -> n reaction. In high-burnup commercial reactor fuels it makes up no more than one or two percent of plutonium composition in extracted plutonium, but even so the neutron production and heating can make it very troublesome.

- Nuclear Weapons FAQ

A reactor may produce several kinds of plutonium. For example: Pu-238, Pu-239, and Pu-240, among other things. I'll concentrate on the plutonium made and particularly upon these 3 varieties. The kind required for nuclear bombs, and the two others most to be avoided. These 3 versions of plutonium are practically impossible to separate from each other. We can't use chemical means because they all have identical chemistry. We can't use physical means because they're nearly the same atomic weight. Once we've made too much Pu-238 and/or Pu-240, we must accept that our plutonium is bad for making bombs with. The smart A-bomb maker avoids Pu-238, Pu-240 and other such junk in the first place. They ensure their plutonium is nearly all Pu-239. They make plutonium under carefully controlled conditions, using thermal reactors, with slow burnups. Phénix was a fast reactor with a high burnup - the opposite of what a sensible person would choose.

Slow burnup is preferred because its plutonium has the least amount of spontaneous neutrons:

Type Composition Thermal power w/kg Spontaneous neutrons /s/g Origin Use
Weapons-grade Pu-239 with less than 8% Pu-240 2-3 60 From military 'production' reactors with metal fuel operated for production of low burn-up Pu. Purex separation. Nuclear weapons (can be recycled as fuel in fast neutron reactor or as ingredient of MOX)
Reactor-grade from high-burnup fuel 55-70% Pu-239; more than 19% Pu-240 (typically about 30-35% non-fissile Pu) 5-10 200 Comprises about 1% of used fuel from normal operation of civil nuclear reactors with oxide fuel used for electricity generation As ingredient (c. 5-8%) of MOX fuel for normal reactor
IFR-grade actinide Pu + minor actinides + U, 50% Pu fissile 80-100 300,000 From fast reactor used metal fuel by pyroprocessing recycle
- Plutonium, World Nuclear Association

Notice that two of the villains in plutonium atom bomb material are Pu-238, Pu-240. A fast reactor makes the most of this junk and a military reactor makes the least.

All this information used to find how not to make plutonium bombs has been readily available on the internet for decades. It's hard to understand how an august body such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials, with their swanky, plausible looking reports could've missed all this. It's almost as if they never did Nuclear Physics 101, but only write their reports to spread FUD. Perish the thought!

This blog has a lot of cut'n'paste in it. That's deliberate. I did it to show that you don't need a lot of know-how to decipher FUD. You just need to ask someone who knows, and do the obvious research (wikipedia)! The FUD promoted by Friends of the Earth and the International Panel on Fissile Materials misses out basic research. It begins with supposition (to estimate, it is assumed) and cross-references itself, claiming to be fact. A classic FUD technique that one.

Citations:

  1. Plutonium, World Nuclear Association
  2. Nuclear Weapons Frequently Asked Questions (internet FAQ)
  3. Tas Uni academic less than “abundantly clear” about Generation IV nuclear reactors, by Jim Green
  4. Wikipedia: Weapons-grade_plutonium
  5. Global Fissile Material Report 2010, page 91
  6. "Reactor-Grade and Weapons-Grade Plutonium in Nuclear Explosives", Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives (excerpted). U.S. Department of Energy. January 1997. Retrieved 5 September 2011.
  7. Dickie, Comment no. 17

Saturday, 27 June 2015

What to do with the British electricity market?

This began as a comment to a news article at Chemistry World: Austria to sue EU over UK nuclear aid. But a comment should raise only one point. I can't raise only one point because everything is interrelated.

Summary: British nuclear power is over-regulated, and the market distorted, forcing potential new nuclear power here (Hinkley C) to be the most expensive in the world. Our system of non-carbon energy rewards and subsidy is complex and raises electricity prices far more than it should. This is all the fault of British Governments who have conspired with environment campaigner designs to overprice electricity so that it's becoming a luxury good. The regulations and subsidies introduced are all bits and pieces measures: tinkering here, but ignoring the distortion it introduced there. Living in a pretend world, where they pretend there's a market when none exists. There's been no overall plan and no understanding of how regulation increases cost in unexpected ways.

The solution:

  1. Deregulate British nuclear power to enable competition for new nuclear builds.
  2. Replace current UK non-carbon subsidies with a simple unified system: Fee and Dividend.

I will argue that the problem in British electricity is two-fold.

  1. The market for nuclear power lacks competition due to over-regulation.
  2. The subsidy system is wrong.

1. Weak competition in UK Nuclear power is due to over-regulation.

  1. Only one consortia bid for the Hinkley C CfD. Nuclear power plants are expensive to build but, once built, supply inexpensive electricity. When the government began a bidding process to award the contract for difference, CfD, for new nuclear build, only two consortia entered. Possible consortia are limited to those who have a nuclear power plant design, can raise capital and have suitable experience. One consortium soon dropped out, leaving the Edf consortia with a monopoly as the only CfD bidder!
  2. The reactor design selected by Edf is, perhaps, the most expensive they could've found. The AREVA EPR is huge (1650 MWe), and over-designed. Per MWe it's nearly twice the price of a South Korean, KEPCO APR1400 (1455MWe). KEPCO are currently building their APR-1400 in the middle east for the price of USD $5 billion per reactor. The capital cost comparison: ERP: £4242/kW; APR1400: £2186/kW.
  3. The choices available to a supplier are highly constrained because it takes 5/6 years and £ millions in fees (£200 million per GDA was suggested to me) to obtain approval for a reactor design. UK Office of Nuclear Regulation, ONR, must do a Generic Design Assessment, GDA for every reactor design built in the UK. The GDA timescale is 5 to 6 years: (see page 5).
  4. This monopoly "choice" (of 1 reactor design) suits Edf. Edf and AREVA are both majority owned by the French state. AREVA also own the EPR design, and will build it. They developed the EPR together. In an ideal world an electricity provider will pick their nuclear plant design from the best solution provided by the market. Yet, there's no market here at all.
  5. There are 8 currently approved sites for new build nuclear power in Britain. These are the sites of decommissioned Magnox reactors (excepting Scottish sites where the SNP have banned new nuclear power). Each is owned by a potential nuclear plant builder and any new consortia wanting to build new nuclear power here must obtain such a site.

Five market failures lie at the feet of governments who've closed their eyes to the problems.

Two measures which could resolve this

  1. Force each new nuclear build consortium to pick their reactor from the best solutions available.
  2. Abolish the requirement for a specific UK generic design assessment.

My justifications

1. This requirement seems self-evident. For example, Edf should look at a number of compatible designs and sub-contract the build to a supplier providing the best solution.

2. At first glance, the UK ONR GDA approval process looks logical. ONR scrutinize reactor designs and make sure they're good enough for Britain. Our standards are very high. Yet ONR prefer to scrutinize designs which a peer has already approved. The preeminent ONR peer is the American nuclear regulator: NRC.

NRCONR
EPRUnder Review since Dec 2007, currently suspendedapproved Dec 2012
AP-1000approved Dec 2005expected approval in 2017
ABWRapproved 1997expected approval by Dec 2017
ESBWRapproved Sep 2014
APR-1400Under Review
US-APWRUnder Review

There are far more NRC approved designs available (3 modern reactors), and some of these, such as the ESBWR, are considered superior to similar types undergoing UK GDA certification, such as ABWR.

Britain gains nothing by imposing one GDA on top of another. We lose. We're forced to build the most expensive reactor design available anywhere in the world, or nothing at all. We should scrap the requirement for a specifically British GDA and simply accept that the US NRC do a thorough job. The US NRC have always taken a vanguard position in pushing through new nuclear reactor standards. Provided a new design satisfies core requirements for safety, or improves upon those requirements, it should be good enough for us. The NRC have many more GDAs under their belt than our ONR because the USA is a much larger market and acceptance by NRC is, to a degree, a gold standard. For my first recommendation to make sense, this next measure is essential. One can't select from several possible designs unless many designs are available.

2. The subsidy system is wrong.

Non-carbon energy is subsidised under 4 schemes in the UK:

  • Renewables Obligation, RO. It is only available for renewable energy.
  • Contracts for Difference, CfD. It forces government into decade long price support contracts. The Hinkley CfD is 35 years long.
  • Climate Change Levy aka 'carbon tax'. The carbon tax is now £18/tonne CO2 emitted. In electricity, it raises the price produced via fossil fuel. That increases profits for non-carbon electricity (renewable energy and nuclear power). It also increases minimum electricity prices; by about £1/MWh for each £1/tonne of tax. It hurts coal generation about twice as much as natural gas.
  • EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). This is notoriously gamed by business, and considered a sick joke by climate change campaigners.

[Hopefully I've haven't forgotten any. There are so many now, one loses track!].

The problem with subsidies is they distort the market, but some introduce worse distortions than others. Businesses will build their business model by chasing subsidy. This introduces inefficiencies into the national market. Because such businesses depend upon subsidy to keep them alive, they will lobby and fight tooth and nail to keep those subsidies going. A bad subsidy system is hard to abolish once introduced. A complex subsidy system, such as Britain has, enable businesses to play off one subsidy against another. Subsidies are gamed by business.

Most people pushing forward measures to account for fossil fuel externalities had an environmentalist mindset. It's a mindset that cares nothing for efficiency, and despises cheap, plentiful, energy because many environmentalists see energy as the problem: energy as the preeminent tool allowing humanity to harm the environment. Measures which unduly raise electricity prices are regarded as hidden bonuses by such people. As such we've ended up with an evil system of subsidies which unduly raise prices, and allow business to milk the system. With RO, environmentalists, must've thought they'd gained a major victory in pushing through their 100%-renewable energy utopia. Not quite. It lacks both legitimacy and public support. Because it only favours renewables it is illegitimate. Perhaps that illegitimacy has something to do with it's lack of public support?

The 'Fee and dividend' alternative.

In electricity, an alternative: "fee and dividend", could replace all current UK energy subsidies. It has few of the drawbacks of any of the 4 current systems.

Fee and dividend will work by charging fossil fuel electricity suppliers a fee for carbon burnt. Such a fee might be £40/tonne CO2 emitted. [ Many climate campaigners propose a tax of £75/tonne CO2. Done as Fee and Dividend instead, that would require a £75/tonne CO2 fee ]. In UK, a £40/tonne CO2 fee will raise the minimum wholesale electricity price to a floor of about £75/MWh. Any non-carbon supplier will, get this as the minimum price for their electricity. The fees raised are immediately given back to customers (to lower the actual price paid). The customer sees this 'dividend' on their bill as a refund. A fee and dividend will not raise prices by as much as a carbon tax.

Advantages

Fee and dividend is simple, hard to game, does not force government into decades-long price support contracts, favours no particular technology over any other (in the same way RO do), cannot be challenged in the courts (as the Austrian Government or Greenpeace may do with the Hinkley CfD). It cannot be toyed and gamed with as ETS is. It increases electricity prices by the least amount possible while being compatible with maximum carbon dioxide reduction. It has an advantage to an environmentalist, of introducing a system to penalize fossil fuel emissions just like a carbon tax would, yet will not raise consumer electricity prices to the same degree. A £75/tonne CO2 tax looks impossible from where I sit. A £75/tonne CO2 fee in electricity generation is almost doable.

Disadvantages?

Seven criticisms are made of fee and dividend (in the link above), but many of them are clearly nonsense. Just Gish Gallup, piled on. Legitimate criticisms of fee and dividend must acknowledge the existence of externalities in energy production and seek the best means to mitigate these externalities. In other words: if you have a criticism, then what's your, proposed alternative for dealing with externalities?

One legitimate criticism may be that it would be easy to introduce for electricity generation but difficult for other fuel uses. To answer this, for a start, the UK does not need any carbon taxes on vehicle fuel because we already tax motor vehicle fuel at about 4 times the level of the proposed carbon tax! UK motorists pay the equivalent of over £300/tonne CO2 in taxes. That leaves heating and industrial fuel use as two areas to be covered for externalities.

Acronyms

CfD
Contracts for Difference. A complex price support mechanism
RO
Renewables Obligation. A complex renewable energy subsidy.
ETS
Emissions Trading System. A complex carbon trading system. Shockingly easy to game.
CCL
Climate Change Levy. More complex than it need by. It may be traded off against the ETS.
Carbon tax
Climate Change Levy
ONR
Office of Nuclear Regulation. The British nuclear power regulator.
NRC
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The USA's nuclear regulator.
EPR
3rd generation (Gen III) pressurized water reactor (PWR) design. Developed by Edf and AREVA.
APR1400
3rd generation (Gen III) pressurized water reactor (PWR) design. Developed and designed by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

What's the real risk in a nuclear war?

Most people are very confused about nuclear war because all the information we pick up about it comes from science fiction, fantasy and dystopian culture. Being a child of the nuclear age, I can't help asking myself what's the real risk?

Nuclear bombs are powerful weapons

The data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki tell us that the real risk is immediate and proximate. Nuclear weapons are bombs of immense power. Anyone caught up in the blast radius is at major risk from the blast, the heat, and the electromagnetic (radioactive) pulse. This is all obvious.

If I survived the bombs, could I survive in the resultant nuclear wasteland and fallout?

People frequently write about a nuclear wasteland making life impossible after bombs have dropped. For example:

Three months after an atomic war, the real risk to life is barely measureable. Consider the chart showing how radioactivity decays after a nuclear bomb blast. Notice how sharply the curve falls until it almost flattens out. That's because many of the fission products produced have very short half-lives. They quickly decay into other radionuclides or inactive substances. After 2 hours activity is down to 18% of initial. Thereafter the biggest threat is from iodine-131. Iodine-131 can absorbed by the thyroid and may lead to thyroid cancer. It has a half-life of 8 days, so is thought to pose a real risk for up to 80 days. After 80 days its activity is down to just 0.1% of the initial value. The risk from iodine-131 is mainly to children and teenagers (those still growing). The way to mitigate this threat is to use iodine pills. Longer lived radionuclides such as caesium-137 and strontium-90 have half-lives of 30 years. It won't be until 300 years after the blasts that their activity is down to 0.1%. Yet these longer lived substances pose no big problem for survivors. First, longer half-lives give substances with much lower radioactivity; second, because survivors will be living in areas outside blast radii such as the countryside, suburbs, or small towns; third, because exposure to radioactivity below 100 mSv is not found to pose significant long-term harm to people. There's a radiation threshold we can tolerate. The realization of this threshold is quite recent. Prior to that, nearly all projections made for harm due to post-blast radioactivity and fallout assumed no-threshold. Modeling with no-threshold was regarded as the safe and responsible thing to do. Further, the mathematical model used, called linear no-threshold, LNT, had assumptions to make the maths as easy as possible. It was linear, had no dose threshold, and dose was considered additive. This theory turns science inside out. In place a theory deriving from evidence, LNT is a theory to make modeling as easy as possible. Field evidence doesn't support LNT. Much of the evidence outright contradicts it - showing improved health after low exposure to radiation; what is known as radiation hormesis. In short: when scientists follow the evidence they can't possibly arrive at a LNT model.

What about birth defects?

Don't worry. There's some small danger to pregnant women exposed to the electromagnetic pulse, but no danger to anyone exposed only to fallout. Read: Birth defects among the children of atomic-bomb survivors (1948-1954). Far more harm has been experienced from worrying over this. 200,000 women were persuaded to have abortions after the Chernobyl accident. We're now pretty certain that exposure to the Chernobyl radiation fallout would not have led to even a single birth defect.

Radiation sickness

Again, radiation sickness is only a threat to those exposed to the electromagnetic pulse at the time of an explosion. Such people will be close to the centre of a bomb explosion and be exposed to large amounts of radioactivity (exposure: 1000 mSv or more). It will be a small minority of people. Far more bomb casualties are blast or fire victims. Radiation sickness can lead to death but some subjects do recover. It's caused by massive tissue damage and cell die off.

Cancer

A larger number of people exposed to a high A-bomb electromagnetic pulse may develop cancer. (exposure: 100 mSv or more).

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki evidence shows the great majority of nuclear bomb victims died due to injuries inflicted by the blast, or fires.

Nuclear Winter?

In the 1970s, some scientists guessed that a large scale nuclear war would lead to fires most everywhere, burning for days on end, sending a plume of dust into the atmosphere. This dust would affect the climate for many months causing global cooling and a nuclear winter. Atomic bomb survivors would be hard pressed to feed themselves after the atomic war. These scenarios are basically models which assume the worse in every case. Other scientists have completely dismissed the nuclear winter scenarios. See: Cresson H. Kearny; Home Office dismissed nuclear winter threat as scaremongering, files show

Summary

Provided a bomb didn't drop right on you, and that you weren't in the immediate area of the blast and radiation pulse, you're unlikely to suffer radiation harm. The real threats after an atomic war will be crime, social breakdown, disease and malnutrition. Exactly what we find in the aftermath of conventional war. Even if you're close to an explosion centre, provided you don't die from blast or fire, you're still far more likely to live on, to survive, than you are to die.

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