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ENERGY AND SOCIETY - TABLE OF CONTENTS:
The evolution of the universe is governed by the basic laws of physics. However, most voters and most elected politicians lack sufficient understanding of these basic laws to make rational energy policy decisions.
Today staggering amounts of fossil fuels are consumed daily. The resulting emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere has set Earth on a path toward a global large land animal extinction process known as thermal runaway. In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence, elected politicians have completely failed to implement effective remedies.
Elected politicians have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not ready, willing or able to face the scope of the global warming problem. Their commitments to fossil CO2 emission reduction, even at Paris in 2015, are insufficient to prevent continued increase in Earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration and hence onset of thermal runaway.
For decades fossil fuel producers have deceptively promoted "renewable energy" because in most electricity 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 used for electricity production, heating and transportation, desalination of water and to meet the increasing per capita energy demand 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.
There is a solution to this problem which is ready for commercial implementation. It 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 nuclear waste mass requiring long term isolation.
The rate of FNR deployment is limited by the availability of FNR core rod fuel, 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 rod fuel. A 1000 MWt power FNR requires about 80 tonnes of core rod fuel. Thus it is necessary to reprocess about:
50 X 80 tonnes = 4000 tonnes
of spent CANDU fuel to provide the initial core rod fuel for one 1000 MWt FNR. Over the long term the supply of FNR core rod fuel can be increased by fuel breeding, but the breeding process is too slow to prevent near term thermal runaway. Hence in the near term we will need a mixed fleet of water moderated reactors and liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors.
The political leadership challenge today is implementation of governmental policy U-turns with respect to: carbon tax, peak kVA based electricity pricing, nuclear reactor and transmission line siting, FNR technology, spent fuel transport and reprocessing and nuclear fuel recycling.
Governments must further accept the necessity of major investment in FNR related technologies. The existing reliance on low cost fossil fuels, water moderated nuclear reactors and the existing nuclear regulatory and patent law frameworks collectively discourage rather than encourage investment in FNR related technologies.
Governments must accept that to enable large scale FNR deployment nations must have much larger, not smaller, plutonium inventories. The plutonium-239 contained in FNR fuel must be diluted by sufficient plutonium-240 to ensure that the plutonium mixture is unsuitable for atom bomb production. To provide public confidence with respect to non-proliferation the entire FNR fuel cycle must remain open to international 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 a significant initial price premium for nuclear reactors that do not produce significant amounts of either decommissioning waste or spent fuel waste.
In Canada the federal and provincial governments must implement a prohibitive price on fossil CO2 emissions and must gradually replace CANDU reactors with FNRs and related nuclear fuel recycling. There should be financial incentives for nuclear fuel recycling similar to the financial incentives that were used to promote wind and solar power. The existing policy of burying unprocessed spent CANDU reactor fuel that still contains 99% of its potential fission energy must be abandoned.
This web site addresses energy related regulatory issues in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Pipeline and electrical safety regulations are not uniform across North America. 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 matters. 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 extended electric, magnetic and gravitational fields. On this web site it is shown that rest mass is simply the energy contained in the electric and magnetic fields associated with quantized charge moving around a closed path at the speed of light.
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, through its use to do work, to its conversion into ambient temperature heat. At steady state an infrared radiation energy flux approximately equal to the absorbed solar energy flux is emitted into outer space.
An increase in Earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration reduces infrared energy emission. The resulting trapped heat is absorbed by the oceans and melts floating ice, which 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 "thermal energy". Thermal energy also has an associated 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. However, on both very large scales (galaxies) and very small scales (neutrinos) there are still aspects of energy that are poorly understood. 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.
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. For macroscopic matter at steady state the rate of photon energy emission equals the rate of photon energy absorption. The coupling between far infrared 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 deep space. A noteable exception is the action of chlorophyll in capturing solar radiation and forming carbohydrates from CO2 and H2O.
Power is rate of energy transfer. Thermal power is usually measured in (J / s) or in kWt. Motive power and electrical power are usually measured in KWe. 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 converted into either thermal power or motive power. With appropriate equipment motive power can be converted into either electrical power or thermal power.
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)
Most utility size thermal electric generation operates at a heat to electricity conversion efficiency in the range 25% to 60%. 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 a limited period 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 15 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);
13. Obtaining heat and electricity via solar panels;
14. Obtaining energy via fusion of hydrogen-1 and boron-11 into helium-4 (aneutronic fusion).
15. Breeding plutonium start fuel for FNRs from U-238 using the energetic neutrons emitted by H-2 - H-3 fusion.
Steps #14 and #15 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.
The rising atmospheric CO2 concentration is causing net radiant energy absorption by Earth and has set Earth on a path toward a rapid uncontrolled atmospheric temperature rise known as thermal runaway. If mankind fails to promptly reduce the atmospheric CO2 concentration 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 its "warm" state that will cause a global extinction of large land animals. The geologic record shows that full recovery from the "warm" state via natural processes will take about five 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 frequently insufficient for meeting human needs or is not available when and where required. 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 intermittent 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 little extra cost and with greatly reduced net CO2 emissions.
The government of Ontario presently does not offer either an interruptible electricity rate or a kVA based standard 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.
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.
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 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 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 atmospheric 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 emissions are far too high. The parties making these false claims are usually funded by the fossil fuel industry.
In Ontario for every kWh of usable wind and solar panel generated electricity at least another 2 kWh of electricity are supplied by natural gas fueled balancing generation. 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.
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 projected cost of reliance on 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 have been extremely foolish in public dealings with matters related to nuclear electricity generation financing 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 was about 85 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 $100 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.
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 volitile or high density 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 the Canadian federal government and the Ontario provincial government 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 pays other jurisdictions to take surplus Ontario generated non-fossil electricity when that electricity could be much better applied in Ontario 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 culture at the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Alberta Energy Board (AEB) of discounting pipeline 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 few years 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" at pipe welds. The result is hard to detect external cracks 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 the 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 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, third party insurance and emergency response capabilities.
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 can still be used for non-combustion purposes such as production of: tar for roof and basement water sealing, black top pavement and plastic and epoxy resins.
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.
Displacement of fossil fuels today would require a world wide 50 fold expansion in non-fossil electricity generation and transmission. Due to ongoing rising third world population and per capita energy demand, displacement of fossil fuels 60 years hence will require a 100 fold expansion in non-fossil electricity generation and transmission. In Ontario the required expansion in non-fossil electricity generation and transmission for overnight fossil fuel displacement is about 7 fold, and within 60 years will likely become about 15 fold. Due to lack of seasonal energy storage in Ontario most of that non-fossil electricity generation capacity expansion must be nuclear.
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. Even behind the meter daily energy storage will not be constructed unless the price of a delivered on-peak kWh is more than three times the price of a delivered off-peak 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 the 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 almost no 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 over 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 breeder 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 up to 480 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 50,000 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 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 containment wall. This separation prevents neutron activation of the heat exchanger and wall material which results in a much longer equipment working life and much less 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 ammonia production and other critical industrial processes.
A FNR also permits rapid output power changes for electricity grid load following. Its 445 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 evaporative 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.
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.
FNRs require about 20% plutonium in the fuel in the reactor core. Once operating FNRs can produce plutonium faster than they consume it, thus enabling later startup of more FNRs. Existing inventories of plutonium 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 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 political considerations.
For physical stability and certain liquid sodiuum containment a FNR should ideally be set deep in crack free igneous bedrock.
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 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 from about 1984 to 2016. See 600 MWe LIQUID SODIUM COOLED POWER REACTOR
This web site develops the design of a practical power FNR 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 materials, aging and toxic waste production that make MSRs unsuitable for bulk electricity generation. Large size MSRs have power stability safety issues related to criticality with fast neutrons.
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 U-238 to accelerate production of FNR start fuel. However, development of deuterium-tritium fusion technology is a technical challenge. This web site outlines the design requirements of a practical pulsed 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 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.
The scope of this 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 educational 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). Neither of these plans contemplate recycling of nuclear fuel or other neutron activated materials.
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 any site that is sufficiently dry to be geophysically suitable for safe long term storage of high level nuclear waste does not and never will 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 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; dynamic 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 result of this decision paralysis is that North America is 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 breeder 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 law of conservation of energy, not by the cost of the electricity. Hence electricity price increases 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 has completely failed to appreciate the significance of this issue and has failed to address the increase in unemployment triggered by actual and projected electricity cost increases due to wind and solar electricity generation subsidies. The problem is further aggravated by the failure of the government to implement an optional interruptible electricity rate that financially enables use of surplus non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement 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.
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 constrained or dumped, should be sold at a discount within Ontario as interruptible power.
The whole principle of "conservation first" in the electricity system in Ontario is wrong because it leads to excessive consumption of fossil fuels while constraining non-fossil electricity generation. The object should be to minimize total usage of fossil fuels in Ontario, not to minimize total electricity usage. These two objectives are mutually exclusive.
Due to improper electricity pricing large amounts amounts of non-fossil electrical energy are currently being constrained, dumped over hydro electric dam spillways or exported at a financial loss while simultaneously consumers are unnecessarily burning large amounts of fossil fuels in stationary applications.
At certain times of the day, during certain seasons of the year and under certain wind conditions Ontario has constrained non-fossil electricity generation and hence has the capacity to generate and deliver large amounts of extra non-fossil electricity at almost no marginal cost. The availability of the extra non-fossil electricity is intermittent and hence this extra electricity should be marketed as interruptible power, not as firm power. The main markets for interruptible power are for: charging energy storage systems, fossil fuel displacement in hybrid energy systems, production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels and electro chemical processing such as production of ammonia, aluminum, hydrogen, lithium, magnesium, sodium and chlorine.
Sale of surplus non-fossil electricity within Ontario is not happening because within the existing Ontario electricity system no party has a mandate for changing the electricity rate structure. The present system of a Global Adjustment equally distributed over all kWh sold incents use of fossil fuels in preference to surplus non-fossil electricity.
The on-going failure to sell into the Ontario market off-peak surplus non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement is costing Ontario electricity rate payers over $2 billion per annum and is costing consumers another $2 billion per annum in easily avoidable fossil fuel consumption. This issue is an indication of the present level of corruption and incompetence within the present 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, 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 Ontario electricity pricing problem is fixed. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has contributed to the problem by adopting a consumer rate that fails to encourage consumers to efficiently use surplus electricity.
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 pricing problem is relatively small. These program incentives are simply an excuse for governmental inaction.
SYNTHETIC HYDROCARBON FUEL PRODUCTION:
In the future the 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 trace element residues extracted from biomass 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 spherically radial stream of far infrared photons. An increase in temperature at a location of photon emission causes an increase in the emitted flux of infrared photons and an increase in the average photon frequency.
At Earth's surface 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 fusion efficiently converts into 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 and is melting polar ice and gradually warming the oceans.
Presently Earth 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 process 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 lower atmosphere appear opaque within their infrared frequency absorption bands. The infrared radiation reaching outer space originates from the upper atmosphere where the temperqture is 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, 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 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. The consequent decrease in infrared energy emission into space in the CO2 absorption band causes net heat absorption by the oceans and causes an increase in dry ground temperature.
The net heat absorption by the oceans has a multiplicity of effects. It melts floating polar ice. It will eventually melt methane hydrate trapped in permafrost and on the deep ocean floor. Through ocean warming it increases the steady state atmospheric CO2 concentration. It increases the net absorbed solar energy available to drive major storms. It affects the mix of marine life. Through atmospheric warming it raises the atmospheric water vapor concentration which further increases the atmospheric GHG concentration.
Use of any non-renewable energy heat source on Earth is ultimately limited by the acceptability of the corresponding 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 is 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 55 million years ago. During the PETM period the polar ice caps completely melted and there was a global extinction of all large land animals.
The present atmospheric CO2 problem is almost entirely due to combustion of fossil fuels. Consequences of this CO2 problem include: higher average ambient temperatures, frequent violent storms, drought, famine, pestilence, sea water inundation and large land animal extinction.
In Canada 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.
There is no solution to the global warming and thermal runaway problem if the atmospheric CO2 concentration continues to increase. Decreasing the atmospheric CO2 concentration requires about a 90% reduction in world wide fossil fuel consumption. This is an issue 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, existing measures of economic output are poor indicators of average quality of life.
Successful population reduction requires taxation policies, health insurance policies, pension policies and utility rates that are sustainable with a constant or a decreasing population. 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 January 1, 2017.
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