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The Topic of Alternative Energy.

Posted 02-03-2011 at 11:55 PM by Spectre
Updated 02-05-2011 at 11:09 PM by Spectre
Lately there has been a lot of talk around the topic of renewable and "green" energy sources to power our future needs. Many of the proposed ideas include in some fashion the use of natural wind, ocean currents, or solar energy as effective alternatives. Although these are indeed viable pathways to accomplish cleaner energy for all to use, the technology needed to effectively use them is still years down the road and still in development.

I attended talks from the University of Kentucky's Department of Engineering and Center for Advanced Materials Research given by well noted experts in these vary fields. Most of them paint a picture of effective wind and solar power within the next 50 or so years with the development of long distance power transfer and efficient battery storage. However, this is still 50 years down the road with plenty of guessing time whether it will come in time, if at all.

Another issue at hand however is the United States current use of Nuclear power. This is where the brunt of my conversation lies. The United States makes use of what is known as the Light-Water reactor, a high-pressure vessel which drives the neutron bombardment of fuel to produce high thermal energy which can be leaked off to power steam turbine system and generate electricity. This is all fine and dandy until the fuel becomes too potent within the reactor to safely use anymore. Now I won't go into the gory details over the reaction, however the end result is a very corrosive, very high energy and very dangerous nuclear material that we simply store in containers onsite of reactor facilities.

Here is where the issue lies. This material by law must remain in the designated container on the reactor site. Big deal some may say; however this is completely and totally absurd. The nuclear material WILL eat through the "corrosion resistant alloys" used in the container construction before the half-life reduces the harmful material to acceptable concentrations. This not only poses as a massive safety risk to national safety with both health and environmental risks, but is a total waste of useful near-limitless energy.

What limitless energy use ask? The energy contained within the nuclear material used in light water reactors to power our electrical grid only constitutes about 1% or less of the total energy content of the fuel. If the engine in your car were that efficient, you wouldn't make it to the gas station.

So what alternative exists? What do we do from here? Well the technology and experience exists to build and operate what is known as the Integral Fast Reactor. IFRs are a variant of breeder-reactors used to refine certain grades of nuclear fuel. The difference in the IFR is that it consumes all fissile material placed inside it's vessel regardless of its grade. Up to 98% of the energy contained in the fuel can be converted to thermal energy and used to power electrical systems. So long as fuel placed inside the reactor is fissile, it may be consumed for power. When spent, the fuel may simply be removed and discarded as it has been reduced down to a non-radioactive material. In short, IFRs can take all that fuel which sits dangerously outside our Light Water reactors and convert it into energy which can be used to power the States for, I kid you not, close to an estimated one billion years at our current consumption rates.

So where's the catch? It must be dangerous? Or expensive? No, there is none. IFR's use an ambient pressure vessel that make use of a liquid alkali coolant to transfer the thermal energy to adjacent steam systems. They lack the danger of LWR high pressure vessels which have the potential to burst if the reaction is not properly catalyzed and maintained. Redundancy is built into the coolant system as the liquid coolant can easily handle the reaction taking place within the IFR's vessel and radiate it safely into the ambient surroundings. In short, they are efficient, safe, and have near limitless potential. So where are they?

You tell me. The technology is decades old, it exists in the here and now. The DOE began construction on a facility in the late 90's but closed it due to accusations of contractors skimming off the top of the budget. Only recently has a senate committee been formed to re-analyze the use of these reactors. However since there exists a heavy negative stigma attached to the word "nuclear" implementation is foreseeable as slow. On top of that, if one views Washington's interest in "clean coal" as an acceptable method of "green" energy, the use of IFR seems like a faint dream in the distance. Clean coal is for a lack of a better term, hogwash. There is nothing clean about a process that dumps thousands of tonnes of carbon into the air everyday.

I've made it a point to start spreading knowledge of this technology to the people around me. I feel an ignorance of the subject needs to be suppressed and that there should be a greater knowledge of this alternative. This nuclear alternative. Nuclear energy is not what it was 40-50 years ago. We do not live in a day and age akin to Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Fearing technology over mistakes made in the past is not an acceptable way to discard future endeavors. You are surrounded by nuclear technology whether you know it or not. I urge you to do your own research, form your own opinions. If you feel the same as me, do the same and spread the word. Make it known to your government officials, thats their job anyway.
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  1. Old
    NH_Nitemare's Avatar
    I completely understand where you are coming from. We need to look no further than our friends accross the atlantic. Europe has been using nuclear power for years to power the countries over there, I am not sure what type of reactors they use, but I do know that they also have the ability to use our Nuclear waste, but due to NAFTA (I think) regulations we can't ship nuclear "waste." Unfortunately your scenario will probably never happen because of the image of nuclear power. Same goes for diesel. The problem is like you said is the negative "image" that americans paint on things. What if I told you that you could drive a BMW M5 Sedan with 50 MPG (equivalant MPG to the prius, but in a practical, more stylish vehicle) using a diesel hybrid motor. Or the new concept that VW has tested, problem is it won't take off because of the image of Diesel. Same goes for Nuclear, we have X amount of plants in America and there are ton of them in Europe and how many meltdown have there been? 3? 4? I agree completely and would love to see the US head towards nuclear energy.

    More bang for you buck
    Posted 02-04-2011 at 08:00 AM by NH_Nitemare NH_Nitemare is offline
  2. Old
    Carnival's Avatar
    This makes so much sense. What better way to be green than to recycle hazardous waste and use it for power. Thank you Spectre for educating me about this. Honestly, why haven't we implemented this yet? It's not even close to the nuclear stigma since it's reducing the harmful effects of nuclear plants into harmless safe material.
    Posted 02-04-2011 at 10:22 AM by Carnival Carnival is offline
  3. Old
    79stang's Avatar
    Well whats going to hafta happen is the price of oil is going to hafta go up to about 200 bucks a barrel, the government is going to ban coal and electricity is going to quadruple, and they will not be able to drill for natural gas because of govt, tech, etc. All of these problems could be fixed, but if they all work together then you could see this.

    Also, I really dont think there is an unpopular image towards diesel. If people think its bad then they are retarded because everything you buy comes on diesel.

    I really want the government to get off their butts and push through laws to make biodiesel and ethanol. Now before you go bashing them both, they both can be made effectively if they are used throughout the process and the put the American Farmer back in business for either food or fuel.
    Posted 02-04-2011 at 02:58 PM by 79stang 79stang is offline
  4. Old
    Dmsdock's Avatar
    I too heartily agree with you Spectre. Looking at our current situation, it is easy to see that we are on an unsustainable path of using fossil fuels for energy. Solar power and wind power are great and everything, but solar technology is not where it needs to be and wind power is limited in use. People need to stop chasing clean coal and "cold fusion" and start using nuclear power. All we need to do is educate people on the fact that an incident like Chernobyl is extremely unlikely with today's new found technology.

    To NH Nitemare, I am currently only aware of 2 meltdown incidents in nuclear power plant history (correct me if i'm wrong) one in Chernobyl and one in Pennsylvania.
    Posted 02-04-2011 at 03:22 PM by Dmsdock Dmsdock is offline
  5. Old
    Spectre's Avatar
    Nitemare, most of the world outside of the United States makes use of the Heavy Water Reactor, which can handle more volatile isotopes then our LWRs. In most cases nations using HWRs will take their spent fuel cells and ship them to refinement facilities, usually within France. The refinement facilities will then run the fuel through a chemical reaction or another breeder-reactor until the fuel is back to acceptable standards and send the it again back to be used in the reactor power plants. You get longer use of the same material used over and over again, but there still is a great deal of nuclear waste produced by this process. On top of that, the United States has almost made it a critical mission to purchase as much of this nuclear waste as we possibly can. Why? To "prevent it from falling into the wrong hands."

    I should add for the sake of being fair that the IFR does produce nuclear waste, however the time required for this waste to cool to safe-healthy levels is on the order of one or two hundred years. Thousands of magnitudes lower then the time needed for nuclear waste produced by LWR or HWR, which take hundreds of thousands of years to cool. We can build structures that will last a few hundred years, but there is zero precedent for something that will need to live for one hundred centuries...
    Posted 02-05-2011 at 01:05 AM by Spectre Spectre is offline
    Updated 02-11-2011 at 12:30 AM by Spectre (I swear auto-correct hates me.)
  6. Old
    Sparky's Avatar
    Americas screwed. Lets move to Canada!
    Posted 02-05-2011 at 03:23 PM by Sparky Sparky is offline
  7. Old
    79stang's Avatar
    I dont want to hafta get clear bodies for my airsoft guns, so no Sparky. I'm not moving.
    Posted 02-05-2011 at 04:51 PM by 79stang 79stang is offline
  8. Old
    Kitten's Avatar
    Then we could use this power to completely cut our dependence on foreign oil by converting to electric cars such as the Chevy Volt.

    You make a great point though Spectre, that was a very interesting read.
    Posted 02-05-2011 at 08:06 PM by Kitten Kitten is offline
  9. Old
    Qonold's Avatar
    "I am the Mid-West regional manager for General Electrics US, and I can honestly tell you that from my experience and research, nuclear energy is the only way to move off of fossil fuels and onto renewable sources. New technology eliminates waste by allowing you to reprocess uranium-238 until it is stable. Also, U-238 is 100 times more plentiful than the original U-235 used to power most of our nuclear power plants.

    This development makes uranium as plentiful as tin. In fact, with the new "Fast Breeding" technology, (plants that allow you to use U-238), we'd have enough fuel to cleanly power all our energy needs for 10,000 years by mining the uranium under our own feet. Just look at France, they're energy is somewhere around 73% nuclear, and the have the cleanest air of any industrialized country in the world."

    ^My dad and I were just talking about this and that's a summary on what he had to say on the matter.^

    As for me, I agree entirely. I've been telling people those facts for years. Now you might be wondering why it is we aren't moving closer and closer to a full nuclear grid, after all, we are only about 20% nuclear. The answer is simple, the government. Environmental regulations established 40 years ago make it take more than 6 times longer to build a plant here than in France. The problem with these laws is that they were designed around old tech, it's just like 100 years ago speed limits in England were 10 mph. Laws have to evolve with technology, and it's time for our laws to start evolving.
    Posted 02-05-2011 at 08:29 PM by Qonold Qonold is offline
  10. Old
    Karma's Avatar
    Interesting, I didn't know anything about breeder reactors or IFRs. Thanks for giving me something else to add to my agenda of things to read up on.

    Oddly enough I just started reading Energy Victory by Robert Zubrin the other day. It offers a pretty compelling argument on the idea of using methanol/ethanol as a replacement for oil. While that's not really what you're promoting, the idea of being able to mine our own coal/natural gas for methanol and mine our own uranium for IFRs together to achieve total energy independence is a pretty incredible idea.
    Posted 02-06-2011 at 06:40 PM by Karma Karma is offline
    Updated 02-06-2011 at 06:44 PM by Karma
  11. Old
    Spectre's Avatar
    I personally don't believe in Ethanol. Currently the only way to produce it involves subtracting from the food supply. I view the push towards ethanol as a gimmick used by car companies to push the same vehicles with the same emission standards with a slightly tweaked tolerance for fuel.
    Posted 02-07-2011 at 01:26 AM by Spectre Spectre is offline
  12. Old
    NH_Nitemare's Avatar
    Kitten, the Chevy Volt is not a Full Electric, it is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle, meaning you can plug it in and charge it but only go about 20-50 miles on electric only depending on how you drive, using gas to go up to an extra 300 mi. We would need to go with the Ford Focus Electric (no gas tank) or the Ford Transit Electric (Shameless Ford Plug :P lol)

    Thanks for the clarification Spectre.

    And Dmsdock, thanks for proving my point
    Posted 02-07-2011 at 09:07 AM by NH_Nitemare NH_Nitemare is offline
    Updated 02-07-2011 at 09:36 AM by NH_Nitemare
  13. Old
    Spaniard's Avatar
    i agree using that tech in the states, way much safer, and while we r talking about alternitive energy a possible gold mine could be africa and the middle east, billions sitting in these deserts the problem is that most of the governments that have deserts are highly unstable ex: libya, western sahara, sudan, egypt (recently), iran, iraq, afganistan, and all the other countries that aren't unstable ex: UAE, Arabia, just don't realize the profit in such an industry. even in the US such an industry is ignored, mojave desert has thepotential to provide power to most of the western states if solar farms were established. if capitalized by companies billions could be made off of solar farms and pumped into the world's economy if industries or governments used these power farms to fill batteries (im talking truck sized batteries not those little AA's) and power homes, factories, even cities!
    So where are the solar farms and the billions that could be made? I don't know all i know is that it's time for all those scientists looking for alternitive energy to look at what's right in front farms
    Posted 02-11-2011 at 08:29 PM by Spaniard Spaniard is offline
  14. Old
    Spectre's Avatar
    Storing that much electric energy inside of a battery is not a simple process. Its the topic of much debate and research. With current tech, a battery the size of a semi-truck will weight far too much to be transportable on normal roads, and have an efficiency rating greatly disproportional to the fuel needed to move the vehicle. Solar Farms are not an end-all be-all. The tech is pretty hyped up for what it really is. You essentially have something that can only operate during half of the day, has a start-up time (with the liquid sodium core variants) and is extremely expensive to build. Ever look up the cost of efficient photo-voltaic cells? Yeah...they aren't cheap.

    Keep in mind with solar energy, you are getting the energy from somewhere. The Laws of Conservation of Energy and Thermodynamics dictate that light energy used to create our electrical energy will subtract from the amount that would normally be received by the environment. And FYI, there are research facilities within the US for solar power... So my view of solar power right now? A novel research topic, but not good enough.

    From the perspective of someone who has studies in the hard sciences for the last four years, I can tell you the overwhelming consensus is nuclear power. Its efficient, its now safe, and its plentiful.
    Posted 02-12-2011 at 01:10 AM by Spectre Spectre is offline
    Updated 02-12-2011 at 01:17 AM by Spectre
  15. Old
    Sundown's Avatar
    Interesting discussion so far: Let me throw out a few points to consider.

    1. You can't drive your car on nuclear (at least not now)
    2. Solar is going to become more prevalent as the efficiencies of the cells increase and costs reduce.
    3. Wind works for power generation but it is not easy to just plop a wind farm anywhere you want.

    Nuclear power can reduce the dependencies on foreign oil.

    Somewhere in the middle lies the solution with wind & nuclear for powering our cities, increased use of hybrids and diesels for cars along with increased use of composites (ie this reduces weight).

    I grew up near a nuclear power station and I don't glow.....

    PS: I should disclose that I work very closely with wind blade manufacturers, fuel cell manufacturers and composite fabricators as well as power transmission and distribution people.
    Posted 02-12-2011 at 12:49 PM by Sundown Sundown is offline
    Updated 02-12-2011 at 12:50 PM by Sundown (update)
  16. Old
    Najentus's Avatar
    The IFRs use a sodium fluoride solution, right? My friend was talking about this earlier today, so odd that I stumbled upon it. But, the real gold in nuclear energy lies in those IFRs using Thorium instead of uranium or plutonium.

    Short list of advantages of Thorium for those who don't know about it:

    -requires no isotopic separation
    -3 to 4 times more abundant than other nuclear fuels.
    -less radioactive waste in mining/processing/use.
    -unable to weaponized in it's natural form, unless the U233 is removed during a cycle
    -produces roughly 200 times more energy per ton than uranium does (3.5 million tons of coal equivalent)

    While Thorium is not fissile itself, after absorbing neutrons it turns into U233 which is then used as a fissile material.
    Posted 02-16-2011 at 05:21 PM by Najentus Najentus is offline
  17. Old
    Spectre's Avatar
    I understand the benefits of Thorium, (which is a different type of reactor) and am not ruling the tech out, but I am pushing the IFR due to the fact that it can consume all of our current nuclear waste.

    There sheer amount of material that sits unused is incredible is alarmingly high, no way you could simply store it under a mountain like they intend on doing.
    Posted 02-16-2011 at 06:00 PM by Spectre Spectre is offline
  18. Old
    Najentus's Avatar
    The point I was trying to make was that if new material was going to be used thorium would be ideal, especially with the self reprocessing benefits of LFT (liquid fluoride thorium) reactors. In theory one could use the waste of fissile material previously expended and use a small seed of thorium in an LFT reactor and use that to then eliminate some of the waste. Also IFRs can be used to process the waste into material to start LFTRs, which would magnify the amount of power generated in a shorter amount of time rather than using fast breeders to create more fast breeders (which takes roughly 20-30 years to do).

    Also we have a lot of uranium hexafluoride, which can be converted into uranium oxide (which is how it was originally acquired) and be safely buried, the fluorine could then be used to fluorinate spent nuclear fuel, which then can be enriched and used in LFTRs.

    There's a pretty good site with info about thorium that outlines the essential ideas of how it would work.

    "With this approach, plutonium from weapons and reactor fuel will start about 70 chloride fast reactors. Each one will make enough uranium-233 each year to start 70 new LFTRs at a gigawatt each. That means that in less than 20 years we could have 1000 LFTRs online, generating all of the energy our nation needs, all the while we’re burning down and destroying the plutonium we’ve generated over the last 60 years for weapons and from reactor operation. Compare that to the standard fast breeder approach where in 20 years the 70 fast breeders we started have generated enough new fuel for another 70 fast breeders and you can see really quickly how fast uranium-233 and slowed-down neutrons can let you move ahead and replace coal and other fossil fuels."

    Hopefully my reading and comprehension skills haven't completely mangled what the articles I've read about it were trying to say.
    Posted 02-17-2011 at 12:21 AM by Najentus Najentus is offline
    Updated 02-17-2011 at 12:23 AM by Najentus (clarity)
  19. Old
    Naga's Avatar
    Interesting topic. I have long been interested in ethanol. I personally believe that ethanol is a good start, but by no means the best solution. Seeing as the vast majority of the crops used to produce it are utility-grade crops (indeed, the vast majority of the food crops grown in the U.S. are not intended for human consumption,) and the fact that a byproduct is dried distiller's grains, there really isn't much of a loss to the food supply. Of course, there's the whole debate about whether or not it results in a net gain of energy, but I don't feel like getting into that now, so I will simply say that I believe it does result in a net gain.
    Posted 02-20-2011 at 10:30 PM by Naga Naga is offline

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