Thursday Throughput for 5/9/19


Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    [ThTh4] And some might say “but the only reason that nuclear deaths have been so few is our obsessive focus on safety, which results in such a degree of redundancy and oversight that even the worst disaster is contained immediately and has cleanup resources on-hand”. And you’re right! But that obsessive focus on safety isn’t what stops nuclear plants being built, it’s people who take the idea that there should be No Nukes Nowhere No-how and use every possible method to block their construction, filing lawsuit after lawsuit, waiting out pro-nuclear legislators’ terms of office.

    Like, if you want a legislative solution to climate change, how about “any nuclear plant based on an existing design, having been approved for construction by a government body, shall not have its construction, certification, or operation impeded by legislative action until said action and any permissible appeals are resolved”…Report

    • Avatar Philip H says:

      This may be the only place you and I ever agree. Write that down.

      I have long thought the perception of Nuclear as “unsafe” is more about our human inability to grasp chronic injury and death versus acute injury and death. Nuclear accidents are almost always seen as acute incidents, and thanks to Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have a fairly good idea of what that looks like on a large city level scale, even though nuclear power accidents are far less deadly. Where no one is doing a good job however is in reminding the general populace that deaths from air pollution, black lung disease and a thousand other fossil fuel burning induced chronic conditions are far grater in number annually and in toto then deaths from nuclear meltdowns. Even once all the Chernobyl responders die from their horrible cancers their total will be way below the number of people who died this year from pollution related chronic conditions in the US. So long run, nuclear has great potential to mitigate not only environmental damage but also healthcare costs.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Yup, the deranged refusal by the environmental groups to entertain nuclear power always cuts them off at their knees. Especially the idiotic enviro-two-step:
      “We need non-carbon power, forget economics, the world is at stake!!!”
      What about nuclear power?”
      “Oh, well that’s too expensive.”

  2. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    [ThTh4] I’ll probably agree with you globally, but disagree regionally. Some places can build out sufficient renewables for less than the cost of nuclear. The new nukes at Vogtle in Georgia will cost on the near order of $12.5B per GW of capacity*. In the US Western Interconnect, wind farms run about $1.5B per GW (and are getting cheaper each year), HVDC transmission runs about $1.4B per thousand miles, and pumped hydro storage about $1.5B per GW. It’s easily possible to overbuild geographically diverse capacity, add storage, and build the transmission links to tie everything together for less than Vogtle is costing.

    * Assuming they are finished. The Georgia PSC has now set a limit on the costs that can be passed on to rate payers. If there’s another large overrun increase that Georgia Power and its parent company have to eat, they may well abandon the project and default on the federally-guaranteed bonds.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      We’ve had this discussion, and a lot of that cost is thanks to an unwillingness to entertain reactor designs that aren’t some descendent of Adm. Rickover’s baby.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        The NRC has always been willing to license non-LWR designs, it’s just pricey. I live down the road from the site of a former helium-cooled mixed uranium/thorium-fuel commercial power reactor. It was a technical success: load following, high thermal efficiency, high burn-up. (The downfall was a new water-lubricated bearing design in the helium circulation system. Today that’s a solved problem.) Derivative designs have also been licensed.

        The problems are that the federal government got out of the business of building prototype reactors almost 50 years ago, the utility business model currently pushed by the feds largely disconnects guaranteed revenue streams from power generators*, and the reactor companies can’t raise a billion dollars to build a prototype.

        * It is not surprising that the only new nukes are/were being built in SC and GA. Those states have pretty much maintained the old vertically integrated business model. The Georgia PSC is allowing Georgia Power to include the new Vogtle nukes in the rate base prior to completion. Roughly 20% of the typical residential electric bill in Georgia today is paying for those still-unfinished nukes.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          I will have to do a bit of searching to verify, but IIRC the NRC hasn’t been too keen to hand out licenses as of late, which has caused companies to shop designs overseas in order to try and get someone to let them build a full scale prototype.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            Several companies with non-LWR designs have given the NRC official notice that they intend to engage in regulatory interactions (ie, seek licenses). None of them have actually applied for anything because applications to build are site-specific and they can’t find a site in the US.

            At least IMO, DOE is the real hurdle right now. Prototypes would typically be done under their oversight at either INL or Hanford. The legal shackles Idaho and Washington have put on DOE pretty much rules those out. The last I read, DOE was trying to convince the Pentagon to give them a big chunk of land in Nevada for building prototypes.Report

            • Avatar George Turner says:

              Why not site the test reactors in Detroit, so if something goes horribly wrong it won’t have an impact?Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Last report I read was that the NRC was the holdup, but it was a local news report, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they mixed up NRC and DOE.

              And I don’t blame WA or ID, but the DOE has to find some place to run these kinds of tests. Honestly I’m wondering why they don’t just buy an old floating oil rig and convert it.Report

  3. Avatar George Turner says:

    ThTh7: If you set up a simple experiment with an couple tons of sample material and detect the rarest event in the universe as it happens naturally in your lab, the event really isn’t all that rare.

    But I’m somehow screwing up on the math. As stated, 18 sextillion years is 1.8e22 years. They used 3.2 tonnes of Xenon 124, which is 3.2e6 grams of mwt 124, which should be 25,806 moles, or by Avagadro, 1.55e28 Xenon atoms, which is 860,000 times larger than the number of years in their half life result. So either I’m screwing up on something basic, or the writer did.Report

    • Avatar Ozzy! says:

      18 sextillion years is the half-life. The article has some other things that seem wonky (Dark matter makes up 35% of universe by mass in the top and 85% at the bottom), but I assume what they are doing is they have the xenon around the detector, and given X time it has been operating and the number (in this case 1) of decay incidents detected, the implied half life is 18 sextillion years.Report

  4. Avatar George Turner says:

    I have another article to add.

    Temperature swing solvent extraction for super-saline brines

    There are a bunch more articles on the research, and it seems to be a transformational approach to desalination.
    They mix one of several possibe amines into the brine, then heat it to 70 degrees C, and the water separates from the salt. It can handle vastly higher salt loadings than reverse osmosis, and is vastly more energy efficient than distillation. Anyone could do it in their kitchen. If anyone can get past the paywall to access that actual research paper, that would be nice!

    This may be the breakthrough everyone has been looking for, one that will free mankind from the shackles of limited water resources.

    But there’s also this:

    Doctor Flamond: You see, a year ago, I was close to perfecting the first magnetic desalinization process so revolutionary, it was capable of removing the salt from over 500 million gallons of seawater a day. Do you realize what that could mean to the starving nations of the earth?

    Nick Rivers: Wow. They’d have enough salt to last forever.

    Yeah, I totally stole that from another site’s post on this research.Report

  5. Avatar George Turner says:

    Jeff Bezos had a press conference today and said he’s going to move a trillion people into space colonies. He had a mock-up of a new lunar lander that uses a deep-throttling LOX/LH2 engine.Report