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ENERGY AND SOCIETY - TABLE OF CONTENTS:
The evolution of the universe is governed by the laws of physics. There is a nearly constant flow of radiant energy from the sun, part of which is absorbed by planet Earth. Historically there was a nearly equal flow of thermal radiant energy from planet Earth into deep outer space. Today the presence of products of combustion of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere causes about a 2% difference between the absorbed solar power and the emitted infrared radiant power. The consequent net absorbed heat flow is causing melting of polar ice, gradual warming of the oceans and an increase in average temperature on dry land. Of particular concern is the projected further drop in Earth's solar reflectivity due to melting of near polar ice and snow which will cause this net absorbed heat flow to rapidly increase.
Today staggering amounts of fossil fuels are consumed daily. The resulting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and microscopic soot to the atmosphere have set Earth on a path toward global thermal runaway in which Earth's surface temperature rapidly rises. In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of an approaching human extinction, elected politicians have completely failed to implement effective remedies.
The larger Earth's human population the smaller the available emitted radiant
power = energy flow per unit time
per person. This issue impacts decisions relating to the environment. However, most voters and most elected politicians lack sufficient understanding of physics to make rational energy policy decisions.
Elected politicians have demonstrated that they are simply not ready, nor willing nor able to face the scope of the global warming problem. Their commitments to fossil fuel consumption reduction at Paris in 2015 were not sufficient to prevent thermal runaway, which will eventually cause an increase in Earth's average surface temperature of about 17.5 degrees C and will cause an eventual sea level rise of about 80 m.
For decades fossil fuel producers have deceptively promoted "renewable energy" because in most electricity supply systems that incorporate "renewable energy" for every 1 kWhe of renewable energy delivered an additional 4 to 6 kWht of fossil fuel are consumed for generation balancing.
Today huge increases in non-fossil electricity production, far beyond the capacity of economically accessible renewable energy sources, are required to replace fossil fuels presently used for electricity production, comfort heating, transportation, industry, desalination of water and to meet the increasing daily per capita energy demands of third world populations.
However, the water moderated nuclear reactors in common use today are not a sustainable source of nonfossil energy due to: poor natural uranium utilization, limited working life and production of large amounts of highly toxic long lived nuclear waste.
The solution to this problem is widespread adoption of liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs). As compared to water moderated reactors, on a per kWh basis FNRs enable a 100 fold reduction in natural uranium consumption and a 1000 fold reduction in production of long lived nuclear waste.
Further advantages of FNRs as compared to water moderated reactors include:
a) the ability to efficiently modulate their power output to follow the electricity load,
b) a much longer working life which improves the financial return on investment,
c) reduced production of decommissioning waste and
d) a higher operating temperature for an improved heat to electricity conversion efficiency.
The rate of FNR deployment is limited by the availability of FNR core fuel rod material, which is presently obtained by reprocessing of spent water moderated reactor fuel. It typically takes about 50 tonnes of spent CANDU reactor fuel to produce 1.0 tonne of FNR core fuel rod material. A 1000 MWt power FNR requires about 80 tonnes of core fuel rod material. Thus it is necessary to reprocess about:
50 X 80 tonnes = 4000 tonnes
of spent CANDU fuel to provide the initial core fuel rod material for one 1000 MWt FNR. Over the long term the supply of FNR core fuel rod material can be increased by fuel breeding, but the breeding process is too slow to prevent near term thermal runaway. Hence in the near term a mixed fleet of water moderated reactors and liquid sodium cooled FNRs will be required. It is important to store spent water moderated reactor fuel such that at a future date it can easily be reprocessed into FNR fuel.
Once fossil fuels are abandoned there will be no pressing energy conservation issue. However, there will be a practical peak power per person limitation. At present energy conservation is partially successful in reducing peak power per person due to retail load diversity. However, as consumers install load control and behind the meter energy storage that load diversity will gradually disappear.
The political leadership challenge today is implementation of governmental policy U-turns with respect to: fossil carbon tax, energy conservation incentives, peak kVA based uninterruptible electricity pricing, nuclear reactor and transmission line siting, FNR technology, spent nuclear fuel concentration, transport of spent nuclear fuel concentrates, spent nuclear fuel concentrate reprocessing and FNR fuel recycling.
Governments must further accept the necessity of major investments in FNR related technologies. The present reliance on low cost fossil fuels, water moderated nuclear reactors and onerous nuclear regulatory frameworks collectively discourages rather than encourages investment in FNR related technologies.
Governments must accept that to enable large scale FNR deployment nations must possess much larger, not smaller, plutonium inventories. The plutonium-239 contained in FNR fuel must be contain a sufficient fraction of plutonium-240 to ensure that the plutonium isotope mixture is unsuitable for fission bomb production. To provide public confidence with respect to non-proliferation the entire FNR fuel cycle must remain transparently open to inspection.
Governments must also face the reality that existing water moderated nuclear reactors produce large amounts of decommissioniing waste containing long lived low atomic weight radio isotopes and that the cost of safe disposal of this waste rivals the original cost of reactor construction. Governments must be willing to pay the price premium required for nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel processing that avoid production of significant amounts of decommissioning waste and long lived spent fuel waste.
In Canada the federal and provincial governments must implement a prohibitive extraction tax on fossil hydrocarbons and must gradually replace CANDU reactors with FNRs and related nuclear fuel recycling. To finance the required nuclear fuel recycling infrastructure there should be financial incentives comparable to the financial incentives that were initially used to promote wind and solar power. The existing policy of Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) disposal of spent CANDU reactor fuel that still contains 99% of its potential fission energy must be completely abandoned.
This web site addresses energy related regulatory issues in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Pipeline, pressure vessel and electrical safety regulations are not uniform everywhere. In some jurisdictions the regulations and/or their enforcement are completely inadequate.
Xylene Power Ltd. holds a Certificate of Authorization, issued by Professional Engineers Ontario, for provision of energy related engineering services. Charles Rhodes, the Chief Engineer of Xylene Power Ltd. holds a Honors B.Sc in Physics from Simon Fraser University, a M.A. Sc. in electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto. Dr. Rhodes has wide experience in almost every facet of energy. He has been a professional engineer in the Province of Ontario since mid 1973.
Up until the late 19th century energy was defined as "the capacity to do work". During the 20th century energy became more rigorously defined in terms of rest mass, momentum, radiation and electric, magnetic and gravitational fields. On this web site it is shown that part of rest mass is energy contained in the electric and magnetic fields associated with quantized charge moving around a closed path at the speed of light. Part of rest mass is in the form of contained heat and photons of internal radiation. Gravitation causes negative potential energy.
The physical laws that govern the evolution of the universe are reviewed. The energy changes that occur during changes in physical state, chemical reactions and nuclear reactions are shown. For commercial transactions a change in energy is usually expressed in units of heat (joules or kWht) or in units of electrical energy (kWhe).
The flux of solar radiant energy absorbed by planet Earth is examined from its fusion reaction sources in the sun, through its use to do work, to its conversion into ambient temperature heat. At steady state planet Earth emits an infrared radiation energy flux into outer space that is approximately equal to the absorbed solar energy flux.
An increase in Earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration reduces infrared energy emission. When soot particles emitted by combustion of fossil fuels deposit on ice and snow or cloud ice particles the solar reflectivity (Bond albedo) decreases causing increased solar radiation absorption. The resulting net energy flux absorbed by Earth becomes heat that is absorbed by the oceans and melts ice, which further reduces solar radiation reflection and hence causes yet more net energy absorption by Earth. This net energy absorption is fundamentally changing Earth's climate.
Energy exists as rest mass potential energy, kinetic energy and radiation. Kinetic energy consists of both Center of Momentum motion energy with respect to the observer commonly referred to as "kinetic energy" and random particle motion energy with respect to the Center of Momentum, commonly referred to as "heat" or "thermal energy". Thermal energy also has an associated internal thermal radiation component.
Changes in potential energy arise from changes in overlap of fields. Mathematically orthogonal potential energy components are commonly referred to as electric field, magnetic field and gravitational field energies. Potential energy changes resulting from chemical and nuclear reactions, which involve complex changes in electric and magnetic field overlaps, are commonly referred to as chemical and nuclear energies. However, on both very large scales (galaxies) and very small scales (neutrinos) there are still esoteric aspects of energy that are poorly understood.
Changes in chemical and nuclear energy usually involve absorption or emission of radiation photons. A photon is a packet of electro-magnetic energy with zero rest mass that propagates at the speed of light. Photons have momentum. For macroscopic matter at steady state the rate of photon energy emission equals the rate of photon energy absorption. The coupling between far infrared thermal radiation and molecular motion is mainly via molecules that have charge separation due to electrostatic chemical bonding.
In the local universe with which we are familiar most chemical and nuclear reactions evolve by net emission of radiation into the cold sink of deep space. A noteable exception is the action of chlorophyll in capturing solar radiation and forming carbohydrates from CO2 and H2O.
POWER AND EFFICIENCY:
Power is rate of energy transfer. Thermal power is usually measured in (J / s) or in kWt. Motive power, also known as kinetic energy per unit time, and electrical power are usually measured in kWe.
If power is expressed in kW there must be further information indicating whether the energy being transferred is electrical energy, kinetic energy, thermal energy or a form of potential energy. During most energy transfers or power conversions a portion of the input energy becomes waste heat. Hence the efficiency of an energy transfer or a power conversion can be expressed as:
Efficiency = (useful output energy) / (input energy)
= (useful output power) / (input power)
Conversions to and from chemical and nuclear potential energy are generally inefficient and result in production of heat.
With appropriate equipment and with a suitable heat sink thermal power can be partially converted into motive power. With appropriate equipment electrical power can be efficiently converted into either thermal power or motive power. With appropriate equipment motive power can be efficiently converted into either electrical power or thermal power.
Most utility scale thermal electric generation operates at a heat to electricity conversion efficiency in the range 25% to 50%. The Ontario rural electricity grid delivers power at an average delivery efficiency of about 90.8%. Most loaded electric motors operate at an electrical power to mechanical power conversion efficiency in the range 60% to 96%. Electricity to thermal power conversions usually have an efficiency close to 100%.
POWER USAGE BY HUMANS:
As compared to other animal species, humans in industrial societies use comparatively large amounts of power. An average adult human continuously produces about 0.120 kWt of heat via digestion of food and for short periods of time on a bicycle or a treadmill can develop about 0.060 KWe of motive power. However, in industrialized countries such as Canada on a daily average humans draw 1.0 to 2.0 KWe per person from the electricity grid and up to 4 KWt per person for fossil fuel space heating. During automotive driving up hills individual humans briefly demand as much as 600 kWt from fossil fuels. Thus the difference between humans in industrialized society and other similar size animals is 2 orders of magnitude in average power and 4 orders of magnitude in peak power.
Over human history there have been 16 significant progress steps in energy sourcing amd energy transmission.
1. Obtaining heat and energy by digestion of food.
2. Obtaining heat from fire (combustion of plant carbohydrate).
3. Obtaining solar (renewable) energy via agriculture, hydro power and wind power.
4. Obtaining heat by combustion of fossil fuels.
5. Conversion of heat into motive energy via engines and turbines.
6. Efficient transport of chemical potential energy over long distances via pipelines, railways and ships.
7. Efficient conversion of kinetic energy into electrical energy via electromagnetic generators.
8. Efficient transmission of electrical energy over long distances via transformers and high voltage transmission lines.
9. Efficient conversion of electrical energy into kinetic energy via motors.
10. Obtaining heat via fission of uranium-235.
11. Breeding of U-233 from Th-232 and fissioning the U-233;
12. Breeding of plutonium from U-238 and fissioning the plutonium in a fast neutron reactor (FNR) that produces yet more plutonium;
13. Obtaining heat and electricity via solar panels;
14. Obtaining heat via fusion of deuterium (H-2) and lithium (Li-6, Li-7);
15. Breeding plutonium start fuel for FNRs from U-238 using the energetic neutrons emitted by H-2 - Li-6, Li-7 fusion.
16. Obtaining energy via fusion of hydrogen-1 and boron-11 into helium-4 (aneutronic fusion).
Steps #14, #15 and #16 above have yet to be commercialized.
ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT:
The release of the natually stored chemical energy in fossil fuels increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans, which significantly changes the environment. Since the commencement of the industrial revolution humans' principal source of energy has been combustion of fossil fuels. Combustion of fossil fuels is causing an ongoing increase in the atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations.
Products of combustion of fossil fuels are causing net radiant energy absorption by Earth and have set Earth on a path toward an uncontrolled atmospheric temperature rise known as thermal runaway. If mankind fails to promptly cease use of fossil fuels the temperature over much of Earth's surface will become too hot for supporting large animal life, the climate will be characterized by frequent violent storms and the sea level will rise about 80 m. As the ocean temperature rises more CO2 will come out of ocean solution and Earth's atmosphere will become trapped in a "warm" state. The geologic record shows that full recovery from the "warm" state trapping via natural processes will take at least two hundred thousand years.
This website addresses the physics of net radiant energy absorption (AKA global warming), thermal runaway and warm state trapping and the practical means of avoiding these problems by meeting human energy needs with nonfossil energy sources. To realize a sustainable environment for humans fossil fuels must be left in the ground and net production of long lived nuclear waste must be minimized. The nuclear waste that is produced must be isolated and safely stored for at least 10 half lives to allow natural nuclear decay to reduce the waste toxicity to a safe level. A key issue in this process is transmutation of high atomic weight long half life isotopes into low atomic weight short half life isotopes.
Solar energy that is captured via: solar panels, photosynthesis, wind generation or hydro-electric generation is known as renewable energy. Renewable energy is often not available when and where required. In theory the "when" problem can be technically solved by energy storage, but cycling energy through storage usually more than triples the delivered energy cost. The "where" problem can be technically solved by construction of sufficient electricity transmission lines, but long distance energy transmission typically doubles to quadruples the delivered energy cost. The combination of these cost escalation factors tends to make the delivered cost of renewable energy uneconomic as compared to the delivered cost of locally generated nuclear energy.
The high cost of delivered renewable energy is further aggravated by use of generation constraint instead of load control to match total electricity generation to total electricity load. In typical North American electricity utilities, due to generation constraint and generation reserve, on average only about half of the available peak generation and transmission capacity is actually used. Hence use of a properly designed interruptible electricity rate in combination with 100% non-fossil generation would allow sale, generation and transmission of about twice as much energy at relatively little extra cost and with greatly reduced net CO2 emissions.
The governments of Ontario and many other jurisdictions presently do not offer either an interruptible electricity rate or a kVA based uninterruptible electricity rate to enable sale of surplus off-peak nonfossil electricity for displacement of fossil fuels. This situation is a major energy policy failure.
Today most of the world's energy requirements are met by combustion of fossil fuels, by fission of uranium-235 and by renewable energy. However, to prevent thermal runaway combustion of fossil fuels must be ceased. Most usable major hydro-electric sites have already been developed. The U-235 resource is insufficient to sustainably replace fossil fuels. The energy supply from U-235 can be extended by breeding the thorium isotope Th-232 into the fissionable uranium-233. However, this breeding methodology produces voluminous long lived toxic nuclear waste and must be carefully regulated because it provides a simple path to atom bomb production. The best solution is converting U-238 into Pu-239 and Pu-240 and fissioning the plutonium.
A problem common to all water moderated nuclear reactors is production of large amounts of long lived high atomic weight nuclear waste which, if not suitably processed and recycled through a fast neutron reactor, must be isolated and stored for at least 400,000 years to allow natural decay to render the waste safe for release into the environment. The best solution is fissioning the long lived high atomic weight isotopes to produce short lived isotopes that naturally decay within a few centuries.
A problem that must soon be faced by several large nations including the USA, India, Pakistan and Australia is a major increase in energy requirements for desalination of sea water and for pumping the desalinated water from sea level to the continental interior for agricultural irrigation. Up until the now intensive agriculture has relied on fresh water obtained from natural subterranean aquifers. However, in many places these natural subterranean aquifers are close to total depletion.
Another major problem is the increasing population of third world countries. Present population projections indicate that the world population will rise from 7 billion people to about 11 billion people before it levels off.
Another major problem is the increased per capita energy expectation of inhabitants of third world countries. Bringing third world human populations to even half of the per capita energy consumption in North America requires enormous increases in installed electricity generation and transmission/distribution capacity. If even part of this expanded third world electricity generation capacity is to be fossil fuel powered, industrialized nations must immediately totally convert to non-fossil energy to prevent near term thermal runaway.
An ongoing political problem is the deceptive and frequently repeated claims by "environmentalists" regarding the capability of energy conservation and renewble electricity generation of meeting public power requirements without nuclear power. The reality is that wind electricity generation and solar electricity generation are usually balanced by fossil fuel electricity generation for which the CO2 and other emissions are far too high. The parties making these false claims are usually funded by the fossil fuel industry.
In Ontario for every kWhe of usable wind and solar panel generated electricity at least another 2 kWhe of electricity are supplied by natural gas fueled balancing generation. To produce the 2 KWe about 5 KWt of fossil fuel is consumed. This problem is exacerbated by the geographical problem that in Ontario most wind generation occurs during the electricity grid off-peak period when the financial value of wind generated electricity is very low. Hence large amounts of natural gas fueled balancing generation are required and the natural gas industry has a strong financial incentive to promote uneconomic wind generation. The geography of Ontario is not compatible with economic energy storage.
A recent positive step which may slightly mitigate this problem is an expanded electricity intertie capacity between Ontario and Quebec. This intertie may allow part of the Ontario based wind generation to be balanced by Quebec based hydro electric generation. However, the financial cost of firm power via this intertie expansion is very high. It is less expensive to expand local nuclear generation.
From both environmental and cost perspectives nuclear power, which has no GHG emissions and has minimal transmission costs, is far superior to natural gas balanced renewable generation. The major issues with nuclear power are conversion to FNR technology for improved natural uranium utilization and reduced spent fuel waste production and public education for political acceptance. In this respect Ontario Power Generation and its predecessor Ontario Hydro were and continue to be extremely foolish in public dealings with matters related to nuclear electricity generation and nuclear waste disposal.
The present world fossil fuel consumption is staggering. In 2014 over 37,000 TWh of electricity were generated by combustion of coal and over 30,000 TWh of electricity were generated by combustion of natural gas. Petroleum extraction is close to 100 million barrels per day.
Due to CO2 emissions fossil fuels should not be used for stationary prime energy production. The tangible cost of flood, storm and fire related property damage and reduced agricultural output in North America, reasonably attributable to combustion of fossil fuels, is already in excess of $200 billion per year and is growing. This tangible annual cost, which will continue far into the future, should be recovered via a fossil carbon emission tax. The so called cap and trade methodology has proven to be ineffective in every jurisdiction where it has been adopted and is really just an excuse for political inaction. Raising the cost of fossil fuels to consumers is not helpful if consumers are not provided an economic non-fossil alternative.
Natural gas, which is a finite resource, is a convenient fuel for meeting low capacity factor high temperature heat requirements. Due to fossil CO2 emission natural gas should not be used for high capacity factor applications such as non-emergency electricity generation.
The Canadian and US electorates are becoming more aware of pollution and global warming problems and are resisting unsafe transport of liquid hydrocarbons. One way of reducing the density of liquid hydrocarbons, thus making these hydrocarbons more acceptable for ocean transport, is to use nuclear energy to electrolyze water and to use the resulting hydrogen to reduce the liquid hydrocarbon density below the density of water. This liquid hydrocarbon density reduction process (hydrogenation) has the further advantage of decreasing the hydrocarbon's viscosity. For this hydrogenation process to be successfully implemented both the Canadian federal government and the provincial governments must make a complete U turns in their policies relating to fossil fuels, nuclear energy and electricity pricing.
A concrete example of electricity pricing stupidity is that Ontario currently discards about 20 TWh / year of non-fossil electricity when that electricity could be much better used for displacement of fossil fuels.
The present federally regulated Canadian safety standards for interprovincial transport of dangerous hydrocarbons are completely inadequate. Pipelines that are approved by the National Energy Board for transport of natural gas and highly volatile oils through urban areas of Ontario do not come close to compliance with Ontario provincial pipeline safety standards. Further, the National Energy Board has failed to rigorously enforce compliance with existing national pipeline safety requirements. The situation has become so serious that in 2014 the the premiers of Ontario and Quebec demanded improved federal safety standards and regulation enforcement as a condition for allowing passage of inter-provincial hydrocarbon pipelines through their provinces.
The federally regulated Canadian safety standards for ocean transport of bitumen are also totally inadequate. In 2017 the voters of British Columbia elected a new government on a platform of blocking any expansion in bitumen carrying pipeline capacity through British Columbia.
The culture at the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Alberta Energy Board (AEB) of discounting pipeline and related safety matters must change if investors are to realize value from the Alberta tar sands. The political appointees to these boards must be replaced and the board decisions made during the last decade must be reviewed and corrected to restore public confidence in these boards. There is a whole generation of old pipelines with plastic wrap rather than fused epoxy dielectric coatings. The plastic wrap eventually fails due to "tenting" and subsequent cracking at pipe welds. The only certain method of detecting these cracks is via a hydraulic pressure test to the pipe's specified minimum yield stress (SMYS). However, in spite of a history of such failures the National Energy Board has bowed to the pipeline industry lobby and has failed to demand essential hydraulic pressure tests and has failed to demand sufficient third party insurance coverage. Absent a hydraulic pressure test the only certain solution to this problem is total pipe replacement. This pipeline regulatory problem is multiplied by failure by provinces and municipalities to demand sufficient safety setbacks for new building developments that are adjacent to large diameter high pressure pipeline corridors.
In British Columbia pipeline problems have been further aggravated by the failure of governments to force Exxon to pay the original court ordered compensation to parties damaged by the Exxon Valdez disaster. As a consequence the people of British Columbia have no confidence in either the courts or politicians for collecting multi-billion dollar damages and will not allow new heavy oil pipelines through their province unless there are: adequate on-going royalties, adequate third party insurance and adequate emergency response capabilities. In spite of repeated verbal assurances the federal government has taken no effective remedial action in these areas. The only workable methodology is to reduce the density of hydrocarbons that are transported across provincial borders to below the density of warm sea water. In practise that density reduction by hydrogenation requires a nuclear reactor to provide the necessary energy without further CO2 emissions. The Canadian federal government and the Province of Alberta have yet to face that reality.
The intolerance of BC residents to heavy oil ocean transport has been further aggravated by Canadian federal government indifference to global warming. Insect infestations, enabled by global warming, have destroyed much of the BC forest industry, which used to be the largest employer in BC.
Fossil fuel investors must face the reality that most of the fossil carbon in the Alberta tar sands must remain in the ground. The people of Alberta will likely be better served by investing available capital in nuclear energy and wind generation. Wind generation is only useful to the extent that there are balancing electricity interties to Peace River and Columbia River hydroelectric generation. The tar sands might still be used for limited non-combustion purposes such as production of tar for below grade water sealing of new buildings.
Meeting the energy demand with non-fossil sources requires a combination of renewable and nuclear energy. Renewable energy is only economic to the extent that there is sufficient economic energy storage and energy transmission for renewable energy to be reliably available when and where needed. Otherwise nuclear energy is required.
Complete displacement of fossil fuels in Ontario presently requires at least a five fold expansion in nuclear power production. Due to rising population within 60 years this expansion requirement will likely further increase. In addition to displacement of fossil fuels it is necessary to displace asphalt in numerous applications such as roofing and driveways.
Generation and transmission of renewable energy from remote intermittent sources such as wind in northern Ontario is very expensive because the distances are long and on average the generation and transmission equipment operate at less than 30% of peak rated capacity. Absent sufficient seasonal energy storage the market value of wind energy is very low because wind power is not reliably available when required. Seasonal energy storage is very expensive and quite inefficient. Behind the meter daily energy storage will not be constructed until the price of electricity is primarily based on peak demand (kW) instead of energy consumption (kWh). In setting electricity rates the government of Ontario and the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) have totally failed to recognize this basic economic reality. A 2015 agreement for 500 MWe of power exchange between Quebec and Ontario is a small positive step, but in terms of Ontario's total energy storage requirements it is only a drop in the bucket.
Liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) fuelled by relatively abundant U-238 could sustainably meet future human energy needs while producing very little long lived nuclear waste. This website provides technical information relating to implementation of FNR technology. However, this technology is not presently receiving the level of funding and other support required for implementation in Canada.
Nuclear energy allows reliable heat production and electricity generation without combustion of fossil carbon.
During the last half century, in spite of a few well publicized accidents, nuclear power has become the safest and most economic non-fossil means of providing base load electricity for most urban customers.
However, nuclear technology requires a highly educated work force that can function independent of scientifically illiterate politicians with short time horizons. Even in highly industrialized countries irrational public fears relating to nuclear energy influence politicians in ways that hamper development and safe application of nuclear power. In this respect safe siting of major nuclear facilities and safe transport and storage of radio isotopes must take priority over political considerations.
CANDU reactors are the foundation of the nuclear industry in Canada. They have a proven safety record, are reliable and give Canada energy independence. CANDU reactors currently provide about 60% of the grid supplied electricity in the Province of Ontario. CANDU reactors can be fueled with natural uranium or with spent fuel from light water reactors.
Limitations of CANDU reactors are inefficient use the natural uranium resource, production a lot of high level nuclear waste, limited grid load following capability and limited working life. Mid-life fuel channel replacement in CANDU reactors is a major cost.
As CANDU reactors reach the end of their working lives they should be replaced with liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) which do not have these inherent problems.
FAST NEUTRON REACTORS:
Liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) use liquid sodium coolant operating at 330 to 450 degrees C and derive their energy output from the uranium isotope U-238, that is about 140 times more abundant than the isotope U-235 that fuels most existing water moderated power reactors.
As compared to CANDU reactors FNRs and fuel recycling improve natural uranium utilization efficiency more than 100 fold and reduce spent fuel long term storage requirements by more than 1000 fold. A properly designed FNR also substantially reduces net production of long lived low atomic weight isotopes.
FNRs can be fueled with reprocessed spent CANDU reactor fuel. Hence, FNRs can be used to dispose of the existing 54,000 tonne inventory of spent CANDU reactor fuel. The rate of deployment of FNRs in Canada is presently limited by the available inventory of spent CANDU fuel. Until an FNR fuel recycling program is fully operational Canada will need a mixed fleet of CANDU reactors and FNRs.
Liquid sodium cooled FNRs should use a 2.8 m thickness of liquid sodium to separate the reactor fuel tubes from the heat exchangers and the liquid sodium pool containment wall. This separation prevents neutron activation of the heat exchanger and primary sodium containment wall material which enables much longer equipment working life and prevents formation of decommissioning nuclear waste.
FNRs can produce the electricity required for production of electrolytic hydrogen. This hydrogen can be used to efficiently convert biomass into methanol and then into energy dense liquid fuels such as propane, butane and aircraft fuels. Combustion of hydrogen can also be used to realize the high temperatures required for production of ammonia and for hydrocarbon reforming.
A FNR also permits rapid output power changes for electricity grid load following. Its 430 - 440 degree C liquid sodium intermediate loop inlet temperature enables efficient electricity generation with a natural draft cooling tower as a heat sink. This use of dry cooling rather than direct water cooling minimizes the reactor's environmental impact on marine species. Hence FNRs are an optimal solution for bulk electricity generation. When suitably located the waste heat from FNRS can be used for absorption cooling, food processing, bio-fuel drying, methanol concentration, comfort heating and domestic hot water heating.
FNRs are inherently safe because as the fuel and liquid sodium temperature increases the reactor thermal output power decreases. The operating temperature set point of each fuel bundle is set to safely limit the fuel temperature.
Starting FNRs requires about 20% plutonium in the reactor core fuel rods. Once operating FNRs can produce plutonium faster than they consume it, thus enabling later startup of more FNRs. Existing inventories of both pure plutonium and plutonium in spent water moderated reactor fuel should be preserved in safe accessible storage to accelerate FNR deployment.
Safe application of FNRs requires both technical competence and an uncompromizing attitude toward chemical and nuclear safety. Design safety margins must be maintained, regardless of the economic and/or political circumstances. There is no room for interference by non-experts or for bowing to NIMBY demands that impact system performance or safety.
An important safety issue with liquid sodium cooled FNRs is the flammability and water incompatibility of the liquid sodium. A liquid sodium cooled FNR should be operated and maintained with a floating steel cover and with argon cover gas. FNRs must be sited where they can NEVER be flooded by water. Hence the elevation of FNRs with respect to surrounding water bodies and drainage systems is of great importance and must take precedence over all other considerations.
Ideally for long term physical stability and certain liquid sodium containment a FNR should be set deep in crack free igneous bedrock. Alternatively a FNR can be protected by suitable fill embankments.
One of the operating issues with FNRs is ensuring that the reactor tube bundle changes follow a first-in, first-out sequence. This sequence, which maintains the Pu-240 / Pu-239 ratio, must be transparent to external observers. Tube bundles containing Li-6 for tritium breeding must be treated differently than other fuel bundles.
In the USA a 20 MWe fully functional prototype liquid sodium cooled FNR known as the EBR-2 was built and successfully operated from 1964 to 1994, so all the technical aspects of liquid sodium cooled FNR technology are well understood. More recently in Russia a 600 MWe fully functional prototype liquid sodium cooled FNR known as the BN600 was built and successfully operated for over 30 years. See 600 MWe LIQUID SODIUM COOLED POWER REACTOR
This web site develops the design of practical power FNRs for electricity production.
MOLTEN SALT REACTORS:
Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) are a special category of nuclear reactor that can operate at high temperatures. The main applications for MSRs are for production of heat for high temperature chemical processing such as production of ammonia and hydrocarbon gas reforming. MSRs have unresolved complex problems related to metallurgy and toxic waste production that make MSRs unsuitable for bulk electricity generation. Large size liquid fuel MSRs have potentially serious power stability safety issues related to unplanned prompt neutron criticality due to oscillations in fuel geometry.
Deuterium (H-2) is a stable isotope of hydrogen that can be separated from lake water. Slow neutron capture by lithium-6 produces tritium (H-3), an unstable isotope of hydrogen. The high energy neutrons emitted by deuterium-tritium fusion can be used with Li-7 and U-238 to accelerate production of FNR start fuel. However, development of deuterium-tritium fusion technology is a major technical challenge. This web site considers the design requirements of a pulsed deuterium-tritium fusion reactor.
Use of nuclear energy to displace fossil fuels is essential. However, elected politicians around the world have repeatedly demonstrated that they are incapable of prudent management of nuclear energy projects. Nuclear projects involve extensive personnel training and complex science and engineering matters that are outside the scope of expertise of almost all voters and elected politicians. It is important for governments to focus on nuclear regulatory simplicity and long term wholesale electricity price certainty so that non-government entities employing sophisticated technical personnel can successfully deliver nuclear power when and where required.
Attempts by governmental regulatory agencies to control the detail of nuclear plant engineering delay nuclear projects and drive up costs with almost no benefit for the public. Governments should rely on private insurers to assess the liability risk of a particular nuclear plant. The role of government should be to ensure that the plant has adequate safety procedures and adequate arms length third party liability insurance.
In Canada and Ontario the public's lack of knowledge about energy systems seriously hampers public policy. There is a fundamental failure of government agencies, both federal and provincial, to properly apply the laws of physics to energy policy development. Members of approval boards are appointed for their political loyalty and legal expertise rather than for their technical expertise.
The scope of the technical education deficiency is evident in the present Ontario Long Term Energy Plan. This plan fails to adequately address use of available non-fossil electricity for displacement of fossil fuels.
The scope of this education deficiency is further evident in the high level nuclear waste disposal plan currently advocated by the federally regulated Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). The problem is further evident in the low and intermediate level waste disposal plan currently advocated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG). None of these plans contemplate recycling of nuclear fuel or other neutron activated materials. None of these plans address sufficient displacement of fossil fuels to prevent themal runaway.
The present NWMO and OPG nuclear waste disposal plans completely fail to address the amount of nuclear power required to displace fossil fuels. As a result the NWMO and OPG conclusions relating to future nuclear generation capacity, future nuclear fuel requirements, future nuclear reactor types and future nuclear waste disposal methodology are completely wrong. The NWMO is directed by "perceived public opinion" instead of by realistic engineering and science. The OPG plan is driven by "political expediency" rather than by good engineering.
The NWMO is attempting to store untreated spent nuclear fuel with a toxic lifetime of over 400,000 years below the water table in a "receptive community". The fundamental problem with this storage concept is that it is unsustainable due to lack of sufficient concentrated uranium ore. Further, any site that is sufficiently dry to be geophysically suitable for safe long term storage of high level nuclear waste does not and will never have sufficient ground water to support a "receptive community". Viewed another way, the geology at any "receptive community" with adequate fresh water is unsuitable for safe long term underground storage of high level nuclear waste.
Neither the NWMO nor OPG have made reasonable provisions for nuclear waste recycling.
Both provincial and federal government agencies have failed to grasp basic physical principles relating to the law of conservation of energy and to geology. There is abundant data relating to the rate of consumption of fossil fuels and to the impact of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration on the environment but there is complete failure by government agencies to face the energy system changes that are required to prevent atmospheric thermal runaway. These government agencies: are being manipulated by fossil fuel producers, are failing to protect public safety, are squandering public resources and are sacrificing the future of young people in Ontario and around the world.
Canada and Ontario are becoming increasingly dependent on aboriginal peoples for rational decisions relating to environmental protection.
GOVERNMENT AGENCY IRRESPONSIBILITY:
Today society is paralyzed by the failure of elected governments to make rational decisions related to energy systems including: adoption of an adequate price on fossil carbon emissions; establishment of provincial land reserves for hydraulic energy storage; federal, provincial and municipal land zoning for energy transmission corridors; urban hydrocarbon pipeline and railway related safety standards; suitable electricity pricing; adoption of liquid sodium cooled fast neutron breeder reactors (FNRs); adoption of permanently accessible naturally dry deep geologic radio isotope storage repositories; and halting further development of fossil fuel resources.
For example, in August-September 2013 an opportunity for saving Ontario rate payers as much as $20 billion relating to nuclear waste disposal was lost because the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) both failed to post a timely $2 million deposit on then available Canadian real estate that is uniquely geophysically suitable for storage of nuclear waste and spent CANDU reactor fuel. As a consequence of this government agency corruption/incompetence the property was purchased by Chinese investors.
A further example occurred in May 2018 when the Trudeau government purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline with the intent of tripling its capacity. This is a major long term commitment to increased fossil fuel production directly contrary to Canada's international commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.
North America is presently caught in a vortex of excess fossil fuel consumption. Due to approaching atmospheric thermal runaway the future survival of mankind on Earth is uncertain. Imagined fears relating to potential nuclear weapon proliferation and nuclear accidents are preventing adoption of liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors, which are essential to prevent the demise of mankind via thermal extinction. The relevant scientific issues are not adequately addressed by the North American public education curriculum and hence are beyond the comprehension of most voters and most persons in elected office.
Meeting reasonable human energy needs without fossil fuels requires: widespread use of nuclear and renewable energy, an electricity generation / transmission / storage / retransmission / distribution system sufficient to meet the reasonable energy requirements of load customers and an electricity rate structure that motivates efficient use of the electricity system by all parties. The electricity rate structure should recognize that for many electro-chemical processing applications the amount of electrical energy required per unit of production is governed by the laws of chemistry, not by the cost of the electricity. Hence electricity price increases per kWh intended by government to motivate energy conservation actually cause commodity cost inflation and lead to entire resource sectors being internationally uncompetitive. The Liberal government of Ontario completely failed to appreciate the significance of this issue and failed to address the unemployment triggered by actual and projected electricity cost increases due to wind and solar electricity generation subsidies. The problem was further aggravated by the failure of the government to implement an optional interruptible electricity rate that financially enabled use of surplus non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement, electrolytic hydrogen production and for behind-the-meter energy storage.
Over half of present Ontario electricity system costs are related to power control, energy storage, energy transmission and energy delivery rather than energy supply. However, these non-energy costs are much larger per kWh for wind and grid connected solar generation than for nuclear electricity generation. The present Ontario electricity rate structure does not reward efficient use of the electricity grid by generators or load customers and results in far too much constraint of non-fossil electricity generation capacity. The failure to adequately market intermittantly available non-fossil electricity generation capacity causes higher average electricity costs for all electricity consumers and high fossil fuel heating costs, especially in rural areas not served by pipeline supplied natural gas.
Renewable energy sources such as run-of-river hydroelectric power, solar power and wind power are environmentally superior to nuclear energy but are frequently unsuitably located or not available when needed to meet the instantaneous uncontrolled customer load. When there is non-fossil electricity generation capacity in excess of the instantaneous uncontrolled customer load, the excess capacity, instead of being discarded, should be sold at a discount within Ontario as interruptible electricity.
The whole principle of "conservation first" advocated by the Ministry of Energy for the electricity system in Ontario is wrong because it leads to excessive consumption of fossil fuels while constraining zero cost non-fossil electricity generation. The object should be to minimize total usage of fossil fuels in Ontario, not to minimize total electrical energy usage. These two objectives are mutually exclusive.
Due to improper electricity pricing large amounts of non-fossil electrical energy are currently being discarded while simultaneously consumers are unnecessarily burning corresponding large amounts of fossil fuels in stationary applications.
During most night time periods, during the spring and the fall and during high wind conditions Ontario has surplus non-fossil electricity generation and hence has the capacity to supply surplus non-fossil electricity at almost no marginal cost. In 2017 the amount of this surplus electricity exceeded 20 TWh, or about 15% of total Ontario electricity generation. The availability of this surplus non-fossil electricity is intermittent and hence this surplus electricity should be sold as interruptible electricity, not as firm power. The main markets for interruptible electricity are for: charging energy storage systems, fossil fuel displacement in hybrid heating systems and production of electrolytic hydrogen.
Sale of interruptible non-fossil electricity within Ontario is not happening because its price per kWhe is far too high. The price per kWhe of interruptible electricity must be significantly less than the price per kWht of the competitive fossil fuel in order for consumers to substitute energy from interruptible non-fossil electricity for energy from fossil fuels. Changing the electricity price structure requires a legislative change. The present system of allocating the electricity system Global Adjustment equally over all kWh sold is not consistent with reduction in fossil CO2 emissions because it incents use of fossil fuels in preference to use of surplus non-fossil electricity.
The Global Adjustment should instead be allocated in proportion to a consumer's peak kW demand measured at times when surplus non-fossil electricity is not available.
The on-going failure to sell into the Ontario market surplus non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement is costing Ontario consumers over $1 billion per annum in easily avoidable fossil fuel cost and is a significant contributor to Ontario's overall fossil CO2 emissions. This issue is an indication of the level of corruption and incompetence within the Ontario government and its agencies.
The Ontario Ministry of Energy has the mistaken belief that energy conservation within the electricity system is a good thing. This ministry totally fails to understand that within a non-fossil electricity system the object should be to minimize peak kVA, not kWhe consumption, and that subject to control of peak kVA the kWhe consumption should be permitted to rise to reduce fossil fuel kWt consumption outside the electricity system and to reduce the average cost per kWhe.
The climate change targets agreed to in Paris on December 12, 2015 simply cannot be met until this fundamental electricity pricing problem is fixed. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has contributed to the problem by adopting consumer electricity rates that do not encourage consumers to efficiently use the electricity grid or surplus electricity when it is available.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is dabling with program incentives aimed at a few large industries, but the impact of these incentives on the overall electricity price is relatively small. These program incentives are simply an excuse for continued governmental legislative inaction.
SYNTHETIC HYDROCARBON FUEL PRODUCTION:
In the future high energy density liquid hydrocarbons required for aircraft fuel must come from synthetic hydrocarbons instead of fossil hydrocarbons. The carbon component of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels must be obtained from biomass and the hydrogen component must be obtained by electrolysis of water. In order to avoid soil depletion due to extraction of phosphorus and potassium by biomasss used as feedstock for synthetic hydrocarbon fuel production, every major farm and forest product operation will need an on-site methanol production facility that recycles the phosphorus, potassium and other trace elements contined in the biomass residues back into the soil. Some synthetic nitrogen fertilizer should also be added to the soil along with the aforementioned recycled elements.
The thermal radiation emission frequency spectrum of the Earth, as seen by an observer in outer space, is examined. This thermal radiation consists of a radial stream of far infrared photons. An decrease in temperature at the location of photon emission causes a decrease in the emitted flux of infrared photons and a corresponding decrease in the average photon frequency. That is the mechanism by which CO2 reduces the infrared emission from freezing of water molecules.
At Earth's surface surplus heat is primarily dissipated by evaporation of water. The resulting water vapor rises in the Earth's atmosphere, cools, condenses and freezes. The latent heat of vaporization is absorbed by impacts with O2 and N2 molecules. The latent heat of fusion efficiently becomes far infrared radiation which is emitted into outer space. When the daily average solar energy absorption rate on Earth exceeds the daily average infrared radiation emission rate into outer space the net heat flux is absorbed by the oceans. This net absorbed heat circulates via air and ocean currents and is melting polar ice and is gradually warming the oceans.
Presently Earth primarily relies on the liquid to ice phase transition of water for efficient infrared energy emission. As the atmosphere warms the infrared energy emission from this phase transition will decrease, which will cause further net heat absorption and warming.
Certain gas molecules in Earth's upper atmosphere such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), ozone (O3) and methane (CH4), which are collectively known as Green House Gases (GHGs), absorb radially propagating far infrared photons in certain frequency bands and re-emit the absorbed infra red energy in random directions. From the perspective of an observer in outer space these GHG molecules make Earth's upper atmosphere appear opaque at photon frequencies within the infrared absorption bands. Within these absorption bands the infrared radiation reaching outer space originates only from the upper atmosphere where the temperature is much less than in the lower atmosphere. Hence the radial flux of infrared photons emitted by Earth within the GHG absorption bands is substantially reduced.
In order to restore energy flow balance between the total thermal infrared radiated power emission into outer space and the daily average absorption of solar energy after an increase in GHG gas concentration, the thermal infrared radiation emission in frequency bands where the upper atmosphere is transparent must increase. Hence the temperature in the lower atmosphere must increase to maintain overall energy flow balance. This increase in the lower atmosphere temperature caused by the presence of additional GHGs in the upper atmosphere is known as the Green House Effect.
Combustion of fossil fuels causes both transient and steady state increases in the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Due to the increased CO2 concentration the upper atmosphere has become more opaque in the CO2 absorption band. Hence in this absorption band the photons that are emitted into outer space originate from CO2 that is colder than previously. The consequent decrease in infrared energy emission into space in the CO2 absorption band reduces overall thermal radiation emission which in the presence of constant solar radiation absorption causes net heat absorption by Earth. Hence there is a step increase in dry ground temperature and there is ongoing net heat absorption by the oceans.
The net heat absorption by the oceans has a multiplicity of effects. It melts floating polar ice and causes thermal expansion of the ocean water. These two effects both cause a rise in sea level.
An increase in ocean temperature releases methane trapped in permafrost and on the ocean floor. In the atmosphere the methane decomposes to form yet more CO2. The ocean warming increases the energy available to drive major storms. It affects the mix of marine life. It also raises the atmospheric water vapor concentration which further increases the atmospheric GHG concentration.
Use of any non-renewable energy heat source on Earth increases the amount of heat that must be emitted into space. Increasing the emitted thermal radiation flux requires a temperature increase above and beyond the temperature increases due to GHG accumulation in the atmosphere and due to a decrease in Earth's Bond albedo (solar reflectivity).
The present size of the ocean-atmosphere CO2 pool, which enables modern animal and plant life, took several billion years to establish. Large scale combustion of fossil fuels is increasing both the non-equilibrium and the steady state atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Earth's rising atmospheric CO2 concentration is causing an increasing average cloud temperature. The average cloud temperature is approaching the freezing point of water at which temperature cloud particles change from microscopic ice crystals to microscopic water droplets. This phase change will sharply decrease both the average cloud solar reflectivity and the infrared emissivity which will cause a rapid rise in net absorbed thermal power. This rapid heat absorption will cause a rapid temperature increase known as thermal runaway.
Thermal runaway will increase the saturated atmospheric water vapor concentration and hence will increase storm violence.
Further in the future is a related problem known as warm state trapping, which will occur as the ocean temperature rises. Warm state trapping will trap Earth at a high atmospheric temperature, in circumstances similar to those which existed during the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) period about 56 million years ago. During the PETM period both of the polar ice caps completely melted and there was a global extinction of all large land animals.
The present global warming is almost entirely due to combustion of fossil fuels. Consequences of this global warming include: higher average ambient temperatures, frequent violent storms, drought, famine, pestilence, sea water inundation and large land animal extinction.
In Canada and Russia a major risk is rapid uncontrolled human immigration as large foreign populations seek relief from rising temperatures, rising sea level, violent storms and reduced agricultural capacity. The Canadian government should face the full scope of this problem before it becomes completely out of control. Experience in Europe and the southern USA has demonstrated that when migrants are sufficiently motivated immigration controls are extremely difficult to enforce.
Any solution to the global warming and thermal runaway problem requires leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground requires embracing use of fast neutron reactors. Minimizing energy system costs requires locating fast neutron reactors in high density urban areas. These are issues that elected politicians have collectively been unwilling to face.
The energy supply problems can be mitigated by orderly human population reduction.
Much can be learned about orderly human population reduction from actual experience in China, Japan, Europe and Canada during the last sixty years. Culture, religion, female education, female employment, sex education, free teenage contraception/pregnancy termination, adequate health care and adequate old age pensions are all important elements of a successful population reduction strategy.
Population reduction implies a reduction in many measures of economic output. However, often measures of economic output are poor indicators of average quality of life. A major advantage of life in Canada as compred to the USA is relative freedom from fear.
Successful population reduction requires adoption of taxation policies, health insurance policies, pension policies and utility rates that are sustainable with a constant or a decreasing population. To achieve population stability it is of paramount importance that people believe that they do not have to rely on their children for old age care. In Canada the average female fertility rate decreased from 3.9 children per woman in 1960 to 1.6 children per woman in 2010. The present Canadian population growth is entirely due to immigration.
This web page last updated June 20, 2018.
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