Climate of Failure: how alternate energy dreams are pie in the sky solutions for emissions

Green Energy

Green Energy (Photo credit: bkingzen)

Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. had a worthwhile guest essay in Foreign Policy titled: Climate of Failure published last year that Dr. Judith Curry has made a post about today that she calls a “good topic for Sunday discussion”. I agree. While I see many of the same things she does, I also see a different path forward. Her last takeaway point is:

… focus on goals that can actually be accomplished and  getting people who think differently to act alike.

We have the technology to do that in our hands now, all we need is the will. If it weren’t for the need to make nuclear bombs (of which uranium based nuclear power is a spinoff), we might already have been there. Few people know this, but the demonization of coal didn’t start with environmentalists, it started with nuclear power advocates, but that is a story for another day.

Here are some excerpts from Pielke Jr’s essay in FP:

Environmentalists are just now waking up to the reality that if we’re going to stop global warming, we’re going to have to be a lot more politically savvy.

So what’s the next step? For years — decades, even — science has shown convincingly that human activities have an impact on the planet. That impact includes but is not limited to carbon dioxide. We are indeed running risks with the future climate through the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and none of the schemes attempted so far has made even a dent in the problem. While the climate wars will go on, characterized by a poisonous mix dodgy science, personal attacks, and partisan warfare, the good news is that progress can yet be made outside of this battle.

The heady days of early 2009, when advocates for global action on climate change anticipated world leaders gathering later that year around a conference table in Copenhagen to reach a global agreement, are but a distant memory. Today, with many of these same leaders focusing their attention on jump starting economic growth, environmental issues have taken a back seat. Leaders’ attention to climate policy is not coming back — at least not in any form comparable to the plans being discussed just a few years ago.  A rising GDP, all else equal, leads to more emissions. But if there is one ideological commitment that unites nations and people around the world in the early 21st century, it is that GDP growth is non-negotiable.

Stabilizing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would require more than 90 percent of the energy we consume to come from carbon-free sources like nuclear, wind, or solar. Policymakers often discuss reducing annual emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels. But emissions today are already more than 45 percent higher than in 1990, so that higher level implies a need to cut by more than 90 percent from today’s levels. Put another way, in round numbers, we could keep at most 10 percent of our current energy supply, and 90 percent or more would have to be replaced with a carbon-free alternative. Today, about 10 percent of the energy that we consume globally comes from carbon-free sources — leaving a long way to go.

Consider this: If the goal is to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a low-level by 2050 (in precise terms, at 450 parts per million or less), then the world would need to deploy a nuclear power plant worth of carbon free energy every day between now and 2050. For wind or solar, the figures are even more daunting.

Natural gas is not a long-term solution to the challenge of stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, because it is still carbon intensive, but the rapidly declining U.S. emissions prove an essential policy point: Make clean(er) energy cheap, and dirty energy will be quickly displaced. To secure cheap energy alternatives requires innovation — technological, but also institutional and social.  The innovation challenge is enormous, but so is the scale of the problem. A focus on innovation — not on debates over climate science or a mythical high carbon price — is where we’ll make process.

The vast complexity of the climate issue offers many avenues for action across a range of different issues. What we need is the wisdom to have a constructive debate on climate policy options without all the vitriolic proxy battles. The anger and destructiveness seen from both sides of this debate will not be going away, of course, but constructive debate will move on to focus on goals that can actually be accomplished.

Full essay here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/08/06/climate_of_failure

Notes from Anthony:

“…the world would need to deploy a nuclear power plant worth of carbon free energy every day between now and 2050. For wind or solar, the figures are even more daunting.”

Given the size of the task presented, and the “herding cats” nature of individual sovereign nation economies, it seems to me that the promise of clean energy alternatives as a solution to carbon emissions is essentially stillborn.

In my opinion, Thorium based nuclear power is the way forward. It has all the benefits of zero carbon emissions, plus it has less problematic fissile by-products than comparable Uranium235  based power systems. Plus, the fuel components of thorium based power systems aren’t generally compatible with current fission and thermonuclear bomb making technologies, making such technology less of a terrorist action risk. Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.

Surprisingly, the US has already had (and discarded) a Thorium based power plant. The very first nuclear power plant at Shippingport , which converted to Thorium and began operating in August 1977:

It used pellets made of thorium dioxide and uranium-233 oxide; initially the U233 content of the pellets was 5-6% in the seed region, 1.5-3% in the blanket region and none in the reflector region. It operated at 236 MWt, generating 60 MWe and ultimately produced over 2.1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. After five years the core was removed and found to contain nearly 1.4% more fissile material than when it was installed, demonstrating that breeding had occurred

It was decommissioned in 1982 and dismantled, the former site has been cleaned up and released for unrestricted use without any radioactivity issues.

Just think of the good people like Bill McKibben could do if they got behind ideas like Thorium power, rather than wasting their efforts trying to tear down existing energy supplies and replace them with impotent alternatives.

Here are two videos on Thorium based nuclear power, the first is  30 minute documentary,

The second is a 5 minute intro into LFTR reactors for the time-challenged.

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Aldous

If only McKibben were actually concerned about energy infrastructure and not remaking humanity in his own image

Gnomish

Oh, has somebody demonstrated that CO2 is a problem?

M Courtney

Thorium sounds great.
But the truth is it has never been developed economically.
Can anyone explain why the Shippingport plant was abandoned?
I want it to work but I also want to know why it hasn’t worked so far.

Bloke down the pub

The BBC is running a number of programmes on tv and radio this week focusing on future energy needs and production. Time will tell if it’ll all be unicorn farts and fairy dust.

GlynnMhor

An existing CANDU reactor can use the Thorium-U233 cycle without any major design changes.

Pat Frank

Roger Pielke, jr., “For years — decades, even — science has shown convincingly that … We are indeed running risks with the future climate through the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
His statement would be correct if and only if climate models made falsifiable predictions. They do not, have not, and will not for the foreseeable future.
Roger reads and posts here often. So I’d like Roger to publicly summarize here the scientific evidence he has to support his strong, positive, zero-doubt averral that human CO2 emissions have had or will have an impact on climate.
I claim no one knows what they’re talking about as regards any relation between human CO2 emissions and recent climate warming. Prove me wrong, Roger.

cirby

“Can anyone explain why the Shippingport plant was abandoned?”
Basically, it was too expensive. The aftermarket breeder core was costly to make (the way they went about it), and the rest of the plant wore out – it was too expensive to replace the outdated parts.

Bruce Cobb

Man’s effect on climate has not been shown to be in any way a concern, whether it’s from CO2 or anything else. It therefore should not, and must not be in any way part of the discussion about energy. Soot is only a concern because it is an air pollutant, nothing more. Methane is in no way a threat.

pat

Let the thorium research begin without abatement.
Meanwhile, a stab at the insanity of Obama and the EPA.
EPA To Regulate Water Vapor Emissions.
http://pjmedia.com/blog/epa-to-regulate-water-vapor-emissions/
No task is too big for Obama, the visionary.

DrJohnGalan

In a very similar way to the corruption of science that has been associated with the cAGW saga, and starting around a similar time, the scientific establishment (probably with a little political help and a lot of help from the media) buried the observations of Fleischmann and Pons in 1989 through falsified data and ad hominem attacks. Sound familiar? If genuine scientific curiosity had followed their observation of excess heat generation (based on five years’ carefully constructed experiments) as it should have done, possibly, by now we would have a CO2-free, very cheap, local source of energy. Instead, in a matter of weeks the topic was discredited.
It is interesting to follow both “debates”. The cold fusioneers (still going today!) rely on observations and data (and freely admit that the theory is not understood). The sceptics of cold fusion rely on theory (does not follow the established laws of physics), despite well-constructed experiments and good data being produced over the past 24 years. In the cAGW debate it seems to me to be the other way round – the “believers” rely on their (not-well-understood) theories and computer models, the sceptics prefer the observational data. Also Wikipedia’s approach to cold fusion (LENR) research is “Fringe topic with insufficient coverage in mainstream sources”. Wikipedia’s approach to climate scepticism seems to me to be similarly played down.
The corruption of science in both cases, in my view, has resulted in a world that is a poorer place.

Claude Harvey

Re: pat says:
September 1, 2013 at 11:12 am
“EPA To Regulate Water Vapor Emissions.”
I think you’ve “been had” on that one, Pat. The piece looks to me like an obvious spoof. I certainly hope so.

Brian

A couple of points:
“In my opinion, Thorium based nuclear power is the way forward.”
You mean power from Uranium-233.
“It has all the benefits of zero carbon emissions, plus it has less problematic fissile by-products than comparable Uranium235 based power systems.”
No. The fission products are largely the same. Anything that fissions is going to produce highly radioactive fission products. The advantage of using U-233, instead of U-235, is that reactors relying on U-233 don’t have the U-238 (the main component of both natural and “depleted” uranium) in the fuel. This other isotope, which doesn’t fission often enough to support a chain reaction, is the main isotope in natural uranium. Even uranium enriched to about 5% U-235, which is used as fuel in today’s nuclear reactors, is 95% U-238.
The problem with U-238 is that it readily absorbs a neutron and becomes a heaver nucleus. Sometimes this is good (depending on the application), because U-238 can be transformed to Pu-239, which is useful as both nuclear fuel and bomb material. Sometimes when it absorbs a neutron, U-238 eventually becomes other actinides, which are (slightly) radioactive materials that have half-lives of thousands of years or more. Whenever someone talks about needing to store “nuclear waste” for tens of thousands of years, it’s because of the actinides.
“Plus, the fuel components of thorium based power systems aren’t generally compatible with current fission and thermonuclear bomb making technologies,”
No, it is no easier to build a nuclear bomb from Pu-239 generated from U-238 in the spent commercial fuel from today’s nuclear reactors, than it is to build a bomb uses U-233 generated from Th-232 in a thorium reactor. The reasons are quite technical, but anyone who is claiming that spent nuclear fuel from today’s commercial reactors can be used as bomb material is selling snake oil.
“Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.”
It’s more abundant overall, but it is less concentrated in ore and not as easy to mine.
“Surprisingly, the US has already had (and discarded) a Thorium based power plant.”
In addition to Shippingport, the Fort St. Vrain reactor in Colorado used a uranium/thorium fuel cycle. The Thorium High-Temperature Reactor (THTR-300) in Germany also used thorium as fuel.

Norm

Is this a piece from the Onion? What next, bottles we have to exhale into to collect both CO2 and water vapor?
OTOH, if true then they could ignore CO2 completely, but how are they going to stop water vapor from 70% of the earth’s surface?

Robert in Calgary

Thorium was discussed in the last third of this Bloomberg item that I saw Friday.
http://www.bloomberg.com/video/three-of-mit-tech-review-s-top-innovators-under-35-sJcwnquFSB~FTmnLrUljKg.html
The company site.
http://transatomicpower.com/index.php

NC Brian

Thorium is probably the long term solution. The problem is, we have several hundred years worth of power tied up in spent fuel rods. There are a several proposal that use molten salt fuel that are designed to burn up our current and future spent fuel rods. One is the proposal out of MIT and the other is the DFR out of Germany. We should be looking at how to reduce our current stockpile of spent fuel.

Rud Istvan

Good topic. Needs parsing.
First, parse into liquid transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel, jet kerosene) and other, which is mainly natural gas or electricity from various sources.
Second, parse into short term (10-20 year horizon) and long term.
Now, liquid transportation fuels are a short term potential problem that nuclear does not solve, because hydrogen for fuel cells isn’t practical (storage and logistics). Without any new invention, some blend of conservation (e.g. Hybrids like Prius or Fusion, PHEV, smaller vehicles, more efficient drive trains like DCT transmissions, intermodal long haul freight) and biofuels (e.g.the KIor process, perhaps) buy decades to get to more inventive solutions. But that needs to start soon given lead times on full fleet changes. Most places outside Europe it isn’t in any meaningful way.
If one has a concern about coal fired electricity, the immediate short term solution is off the shelf CCGT. Combination of greater efficiency (about 61% for latest and greatest CCGT versus about 41 for SCS coal) plus nat gas as fuel reduces CO2 emissions by 2/3. That is why Muller suggested helping China learn how to tap their shale gas reserves. That is one way the US xceeded Kyoto targets despite itself.
The long term electricity solution is obviously nuclear. Hubbert said that in 1956. But we perhaps have a few decades to develop better engineering solutions, of which thorium is only one. Modular non-refueled units (like the Navy), traveling wave “breeders” like Bill Gates is investing in at TerraPower, and a host of other ideas deserve development before committing to massive construction programs with 50 year plant lives.
The sad part is that with focus on general CAGW cap and trade, or carbon taxes, or ‘renewable’ but unfortunately irredeemably intermittant and therefore costly electricity,none of these things are getting the attention they merit, and on which a lot of common ground could be found–except among diehard greens such as those opposing fracking in the UK.

Thorium is the way forward in a Molten Salt Reactor. It can’t blow up, melt down and is walk away safe. Actually Thorium is 500 times more prevellant than the Uranium Isotope needed for power plants and it is found in high quantities with rare earth elements. It’s presence is why China has a monopoly of REEs, EPA regulations force Thorium containment. Thorium burns 99% of its fuel in a Molten Salt Reactor, while. Light water reactor burns 1-3% or so, with 300k years of needed storage versus decades for a MSR waste stream.

Mike Smith

“For years — decades, even — science has shown convincingly that human activities have an impact on the planet. That impact includes but is not limited to carbon dioxide.”
There is little doubt that human activities over the past 100 years have increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
I fail to see any clear evidence to show those CO2 levels have changed global temperatures or climate. Nor am I convinced that the impact of the extra CO2 is harmful in any way. It might be beneficial for much/most of the planet and its inhabitants.

Energy policy for the future is easy. Everyone makes it out as if this is a hard choice, but the reality is this:
Only power sources that are on demand (put out 100% capacity when it’s needed) are worthwhile. Anything that does not do that is by definition obsolete.
Nukes, coal, ng, hydro, and even biomass are what we have to work with. Anything else is obsolete and not worth even exploring. Tidal is a terrible idea because its not in demand. Funny enough geo can work like this, but I doubt it’s a very large solution to energy needs.
if you believe carbon is pollution your only option is nukes. Otherwise, you must advocate research and development for other sources of power whether that be thorium as Anthony says, or fusion power or yet some undiscovered technology such as sim city microwave power.
Wind power for instance became obsolete the second The modern power grid came into being and solar is just a tad better than wind. Those and other green advocated power sources should be relegated to special circumstances such as islands that are off the beaten path that don’t mind spending the extra money for those sources.
I would actually argue Antarctica wouldn’t be a bad place for a combination of wind and stored power. No flying animals to kill, very few mammals including humans to be effected by ulf sounds, an best of all the gravity winds are nearly constant making it actually feasible.
In any event, either promote what we have or advocate for research and development. Any other advocacy is a waste of time and money that will accomplish nothing in the end and you will have only yourself to blame for advocating obsolete technology,

eco-geek

OK some people have fallen for the spoof on H20. That is sad but the article does make the point that H20 is the major GHG both in quantity and effect.
Climate sensitivity is the extra GHE caused by the extra H2O in the atmosphere due initially to CO2 warming the place up a tad (warmist and skeptic theory). Atmospheric H2O has shown it is entirely governed by the Gore Effect and has gone seriously the other way of late despite increasing CO2.
Gizza link somebody….

J Martin

Just think of the good people like Bill McKibben
deserves a comma between the word good and the word people
unless you were intending to describe Bill McKibben as a good person.
OK the could do after it almost rescues it, but by then one has already misread it to mean that Bill is a good chap.

The real problem is dropping the word “that”, it has somehow become optional in English, but cause so many problems when left out.

Stephen Richards

I am getting sick of jnr’s fence sitting. He is playing both sides against the middle at every opportunity in order to maintain his ego and funds in good shape. Give me dad any day.

Argiris Diamantis

New forms of nuclear power, like thorium, are the solution to the energy problem. Why are we not full speed ahead busy developing that? There is support for developing new nuclear power sources by someone you would least expect to agree with Antony Watts. I am talking about James Hansen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZExWtXAZ7M
So when both Watts and Hansen have a lot of agreement about the new energy we need in the future, how come the world is wasting enormous amounts of money on very expensive, unreliable ineffective and inefficient windmills and solar panels, a bottomless pitt? That is not the answer to our need of abundant and cheap energy, whether you believe in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (like Hansen) or not (like Anthony Watts).

Gary Pearse

Some comment that Thorium is abundant but dispersed. It has become much more readily available with the recent rapid development of demand for rare earth elements (lanthanons: 15 metals La to Lu+ yttrium) with which Th occurs. Indeed, many excellent rare earth deposits are shut in because of the abundance of Th contained in them (because of hysteria over radioactivity yet it is readily fixed and removed virtually 100% before separation of the individual rare earth metals). If many knew that natural beach sands around the world tend to have a significant content of monazite sand, a rare-earth thorium mineral, they may abandon their tans.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monazite
“Thorium content of monazite is variable and sometimes can be up to 20–30%. Monazite from certain carbonatites or from Bolivian tin veins is essentially thorium-free. However, commercial monazite sands typically contain between 6 and 12% thorium oxide.”
Monazite bearing-sands are produced in Australia, India, Brazil, and even in the USA (Florida and South Carolina beaches). They get a number of products like titanium and zirconium minerals, garnet, etc. along with monazite.
http://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/1390/report.pdf
Go to Thorium and the rare earths for magnets for windmills and other electric generators and motors would become considerably cheaper, too. How’s that for green?

Stephen Richards says:
September 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I agree. It reads like a pitch for funding to me.

Why do we need to “stabilize” CO2 in the atmosphere at 450 ppm or any other figure, when it ebbs and flows quite naturally and had done for millions of years? Any proposition to stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere is not talking anthropogenic emissions, but talking all emissions – and 97% of that is caused by nature. How are they planning to control nature? What are they going to do, ban it? We can’t even take charge of our measly 3% – how the heck do they figure we can do anything about all of it?

rogerknights

J Martin says:
September 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Just think of the good people like Bill McKibben

deserves a comma between the word good and the word people

Better would be a that.

Sorry – should read “has done for millions of years” (not “had”).

J Martin

Rogerknights said “Better would be a that.
Good point.

Don B

“If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.
China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8393984/Safe-nuclear-does-exist-and-China-is-leading-the-way-with-thorium.html

Crispin in Waterloo

@Brian
I have a number of quibbles because in general your comments seem to offer a conclusion that is unexpected (to me at least).
>>“In my opinion, Thorium based nuclear power is the way forward.”
>You mean power from Uranium-233.
No, the energy comes from the transmutation of Thorium into U233. If your comment was correct, then it would also be correct to say that a U238 reactor derives its energy from Plutonium, which is not correct. Some of the U233 and P239 fission and give heat, but is it not the main energy source.
>>“It has all the benefits of zero carbon emissions, plus it has less problematic fissile by-products than comparable Uranium235 based power systems.”
>No. The fission products are largely the same. Anything that fissions is going to produce highly radioactive fission products. The advantage of using U-233, instead of U-235, is that reactors relying on U-233 don’t have the U-238 (the main component of both natural and “depleted” uranium) in the fuel.
Both of these statements are incorrect, the first less so. U235 systems like the CANDU produce a very different profile of elements from either Thorium 232 or U238. I think there is confusion about how U235 5% reactors work and the high concentration U238 fuel reactors.
>This other isotope, which doesn’t fission often enough to support a chain reaction, is the main isotope in natural uranium. Even uranium enriched to about 5% U-235, which is used as fuel in today’s nuclear reactors, is 95% U-238.
This confirms the confusion. U235 5% runs in heavy water reactors and U238 is concentrated to 95% for light water breeders. They are completely difference approaches to generating power. U235 goes into CANDU’s which are also inherently safe in terms of shut-downs but still waste a lot of the fuel. Thorium can be used in a CANDU reactor if it is mixed with some U235. Chalk River has done that for years in experiments.
“…and reduced plutonium and actinide production” confirming better and easier final handling of products. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle
>>“Plus, the fuel components of thorium based power systems aren’t generally compatible with current fission and thermonuclear bomb making technologies,”
>No, it is no easier to build a nuclear bomb from Pu-239 generated from U-238 in the spent commercial fuel from today’s nuclear reactors, than it is to build a bomb uses U-233 generated from Th-232 in a thorium reactor.
It is very, very difficult to make a fission bomb starting with U233.
>The reasons are quite technical, but anyone who is claiming that spent nuclear fuel from today’s commercial reactors can be used as bomb material is selling snake oil.
That is different from ‘could be used’. There are other more efficient methods so they use them. They certainly to not use U233 or TH232.
>>“Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.”
That is true, but it is not evenly distributed.
>It’s more abundant overall, but it is less concentrated in ore and not as easy to mine.
There is no shortage of Thorium. There are about 100,000 tons available in Canada alone and that is without looking hard. That would power the entire planet for decades. There are millions of tons elsewhere. If people want to burn spare U235 they can mix some into the fuel. Waste products from all reactors can also eventually be consumed this way.
If the US doesn’t get its Thorium act together they will be importing containerized plants by the hundred from Germany, France, South Africa, India and China. It reminds me of the mindless resistance to seat belts and car headlights that were not round.

Thorium reactos may win out, but there is no advantage in terms of fuel availability – using fast reactors allows for a estimated 5 billion years’ worth of uranium energy – this because the cost per kWhr is so low that esentially all of the uranium in the sea, etc can be extracted and fuel costs will never increase. They are trivial as it is – less than one cent per kWhr. I’m not sure what the costs of Thorium are, but it could not be enough to make a difference if lower but might be if greater.
Take a gander at Pandoras Promise – a documentary of formerly anti-nuclear types who came to beieve that nuclear is the ony path to low carbon energy. As for non-profilferation issues, it makes no difference which technology we choose. Other countries will choose what they want. China and India are the two countries with the greatest nuclear ambitions and India wants to go closed cycle route, which means Thorium. China expects 400 reactors by mid-centuy, 1600 by turn of century.
I think most of those in the business see fast reactors as the future, along with conventional Gen 3 3 reactors.

Brian H

As for solar, solar farms makea lot more sense economically than solar rooftops, not that they make much economic sense either. The one new nuclear plant per day figure, if changed to all solar, would mean each day another 80,000 acre solar farm would have to be created.

Paul Linsay

DrJohnGalan says:
September 1, 2013 at 11:27 am
“In a very similar way to the corruption of science that has been associated with the cAGW saga, and starting around a similar time, the scientific establishment (probably with a little political help and a lot of help from the media) buried the observations of Fleischmann and Pons in 1989 through falsified data and ad hominem attacks. Sound familiar? If genuine scientific curiosity had followed their observation of excess heat generation (based on five years’ carefully constructed experiments) as it should have done, possibly, by now we would have a CO2-free, very cheap, local source of energy. Instead, in a matter of weeks the topic was discredited.”
Puhleeese… What nonsense. I helped organize the MIT experiment at the Plasma Fusion Center to test out Fleishmann and Pons’ claims. We were quite excited by the initial claim. Quite frankly, a lot of people hoped it was true because it promised a new cheap source of energy and there was going to be a ton of gold in them thar hills (Don’t kid yourself, there was a lot of greed stimulated by the initial reports).
F&P got exited because they were doing an experiment that involved the electrolysis of deuterated water. They came back one morning after leaving the experiment running overnight to find the experiment vaporized and a hole burned in the concrete floor of their lab. This got them so fired up that they went and got equipment to look for nuclear by products. Not knowing what they were doing, they were chemists who did electrolysis for a living, not nuclear chemists or physicists, they completely botched the measurements. The neutron counts were at natural background levels and the gamma ray spectra were artifacts due to saturated electronics and no idea how to run a pulse height analyzer. These bad results were reported with enormous hype to a very receptive press. At this point, no one outside their lab had ever looked at what they’d done. Once we got the faxed pre-prints, it was very obvious how bad it all was.
What they should have done is ask themselves if there was a more ordinary explanation for what caused that hole in the concrete floor. The experiment they were doing was
D2O + electricity -> 2D + O
The inverse of this is
2D + O + a spark -> D2O + very loud bang
This is the most powerful chemical reaction there is. If you’re old enough to remember the Saturn moon rockets, they used liquid hydrogen (instead of deuterium) and liquid oxygen as the propellents. [Be very careful if you do this at home with ordinary H2O]
Their claims of 1 W of nuclear power generation were nonsense too. Just for comparison, CP-1, the very first nuclear reactor, was deemed too dangerous to operate within the Chicago city limits once it reached 1 W of output. It was surrounded by tons of graphite and paraffin shielding. If F&P had been generating any kind of nuclear power they should have been dead of radiation poisoning shortly after they gave their news conference.
As for calorimetry, we learned that it very hard to do even a 1% measurement of energy-in, energy-out in an electrolysis experiment with a controlled environment . This is not for the faint of heart because of all the different effects that have to be taken into account and requires very careful experimental design. [This experience makes me laugh every time I see the Trenberth diagram of the earth’s energy balance and numbers quoted to several decimal places and no errors at all.]
==========================================
Back on topic, Pilke’s comment “We are indeed running risks with the future climate through the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere” is nonsense. There is absolutely no evidence to prove this. All we know is that human land use affects the local environment and that’s puny compared to the size of the earth.

RockyRoad

DrJohnGalan says:
September 1, 2013 at 11:27 am


In a very similar way to the corruption of science that has been associated with the cAGW saga, and starting around a similar time, the scientific establishment (probably with a little political help and a lot of help from the media) buried the observations of Fleischmann and Pons in 1989 through falsified data and ad hominem attacks. Sound familiar? If genuine scientific curiosity had followed their observation of excess heat generation (based on five years’ carefully constructed experiments) as it should have done, possibly, by now we would have a CO2-free, very cheap, local source of energy. Instead, in a matter of weeks the topic was discredited.

Yes, isn’t it interesting that all those high-powered labs came back in TWO weeks with “difinitive proof” P & F were wrong when it takes FOUR weeks to load the Pd cathode with heavy water before the reaction can even start.
Apparently, they couldn’t wait to toss the baby out with the bath water.
Also disconcerting is the fact that NONE of the labs trying to confirm the experiement even bothered to contact Pons and Fleishmanm and ask about their methodology. I’m not sure if the reason was they though it was beneath them, they wanted to discover “cold fusion” their own way, or their only objective was to uncategorically deny any and all positive results.
Whatever the reason, it ranks right up there with the most egregious example of laborator science ever undertaken, especially when a few of these labs were later caught hiding positive results. At least a few have since recanted and pursued the science, notably MIT.

Keitho

It is a most wonderful concept. Will the greens allow them to be built though?

DrJohnGalan says:
In a very similar way to the corruption of science that has been associated with the cAGW saga, and starting around a similar time, the scientific establishment (probably with a little political help and a lot of help from the media) buried the observations of Fleischmann and Pons in 1989 through falsified data and ad hominem attacks. … It is interesting to follow both “debates”. The cold fusioneers (still going today!) rely on observations and data (and freely admit that the theory is not understood). The sceptics of cold fusion rely on theory (does not follow the established laws of physics), despite well-constructed experiments and good data being produced over the past 24 years.
The problem I have with “cold fusion” is the lack of neutrons. Tritium / deuterium fusion produces a blizzard of neutrons, approx. 100x more neutron flux for the amount of energy produced than an equivalent fission reaction.
If you consider the nuclear criticality accident of Louis Slotin, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Slotin , in which he accidentally brought two masses of plutonium together, producing a burst of supercritical radiation – the metal which killed several people in the room (including Slotin) from massive radiation poisoning, barely got warm to the touch. Slotin pulled the metal apart by hand – he didn’t receive thermal burns. He did receive a monstrous dose of radiation which led rapidly to his death.
Compare this blizzard of radiation from a momentary fission accident, to “cold fusion” experiments which purport to show substantial calorific gain. Fusion is known to produce around 100x the neutron flux that fission reactions produce – one of the key remaining problems with the construction of a viable fusion reactor, is to find a material which can withstand the blizzard of neutrons without crumbling into dust.
Production of a calorific gain of the magnitude claimed by cold fusioneers, with a nuclear reaction which is known to produce 100x the neutron flux of an equivalent fission reaction, should flood the demonstration hall with enough radiation to kill everyone witnessing the experiment, and possibly any people passing in the street outside.
This glaring hole in cold fusion “results” contrasted with our position on AGW – its not that we disagree with the theory that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, its just we disagree with one of the assumptions of catastrophic AGW – that water vapour will automatically amplify the admittedly weak CO2 forcing. We postulate that instead of producing a warming blanket, any excess water vapour will simply form clouds. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/11/air-conditioning-nairobi-refrigerating-the-planet/
As evidence, we cite the disagreement between alarmist theory and observation – for example, the fact that a key prediction of alarmism, the equatorial tropospheric hotspot, has never been observed.
We don’t try to turn the known physics on its head, the way the cold fusioneers seem to want to do, invoking “mysterious” unknown reactions to explain the lack of radioactivity, we simply disagree with the application of the known physics – we think they’ve got their sums wrong.
Until cold fusion find an adequate explanation for the lack of radioactivity, I believe it is reasonable to remain highly skeptical.

RockyRoad

Paul Linsay says:
September 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm


If F&P had been generating any kind of nuclear power they should have been dead of radiation poisoning shortly after they gave their news conference.

That would be correct if the nuclear reaction were based on the strong forces, but that’s not how LENR works–it works within the realm of weak forces and doesn’t generate the levels of radiation of which you speak.
You’ve demonstrated the basic falacy of trying to discredit LENR by applying the wrong theory to the reaction–as the name LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) implies, it doesn’t follow the same reaction pathway, hence no significant radiation. Reactions are implemented in a crystal latice with peculiar characteristics and invoked by particular frequencies.
And while it sounds too good to be true, LENR is a up-and-coming field where serious physicists aren’t limiting their theoretical explanations to the nuclear strong forces. Too many detractors are trying to discredit LENR with this completely unrelated theory, but don’t expect to be taken seriously.

David Riser

Brian,
Thorium can be used with a variety of other fissile’s. So your straw man is bs. There is a current test of Thorium with plutonium which would otherwise have to be stored. If this test works out it should produce a very nice fuel which helps solve long term waste problems without adding to them. If that is the case, it will be a very good day for the world. Check it out:
http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/160131-thorium-nuclear-reactor-trial-begins-could-provide-cleaner-safer-almost-waste-free-energy

Felflames

Keitho says:
September 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm
It is a most wonderful concept. Will the greens allow them to be built though?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
There is a bumper sticker in Australia that says “Fertilize the Bush, bulldoze in a Greenie”

Don K

Brian
No. The fission products are largely the same. Anything that fissions is going to produce highly radioactive fission products. … No, it is no easier to build a nuclear bomb from Pu-239 generated from U-238 in the spent commercial fuel from today’s nuclear reactors, than it is to build a bomb uses U-233 generated from Th-232 in a thorium reactor.

=========================
I’m by no means an expert, but I think you’re mostly correct. I do have the impression that if you had your choice or U233,U235, or PU239 for a nuclear weapon you were going to develop from scratch, that you’d probably pick one of the latter two, but that a U233 bomb is by no means impossible. I believe that India has in fact detonated a single very low yield U233 device.
As for whether Thorium-U233 is the best reaction material for nuclear power. I can’t help thinking that it is being oversold, but that it might well really be a better choice than the other options.
That said, as Fukushima has demonstrated, the nuclear industry has been less than candid about nuclear safety in the past. For example, they neglected to mention that boiling water designs require forced cooling even during shutdown. What else do nuclear power proponents neglect to tell the public?
IMHO, we need to forget Pu vs U235 vs “Thorium” for a while and first design and proof unconditionally safe nuclear reactors that natural disasters, TEPCO, crazed Russian technicians, less crazed technicians following faulty procedures, or knowledgable individuals deliberately attempting sabotage can not convert into disasters. I don’t care if they are pebble beds or something else. Until that is done (and I think it probably can be done), nuclear power is probably going to experience catastrophes every decade or so, and is going to be a terribly difficult sell.

Brian

Crispin – The energy comes from the fission of U-233. You are terribly confused when it comes to using uranium in reactors. Light water reactors use fuel that is enriched to between 3 and 5 weight percent U-235. Heavy water reactors, such as the CANDU’s, can operate with natural uranium (which is 0.7% U-235). That is one of the reasons why heavy water reactors like the CANDU were originally developed, to save on having to build an infrastructure to enrich uranium.
David Riser – I have presented no straw men. I have merely clarified a few points.
Don K – U-233 is perfectly good material for a nuclear weapon, assuming that it is pure enough. The difficulty in bomb making comes from contamination by U-232, which also appears as a result of the nuclear processes in a thorium fuel cycle. Nevertheless, if bomb making is your objective, then it is quite possible to chemically separate out the protactinium (the precursor to U-233 after Th-232 absorbs a neutron) during production and prevent the formation of too much U-232. It’s all a matter of timing.
It’s the same deal with building a bomb with plutonium. Short fuel cycles (on the order of a month or less) lead to the production of Pu-239 without the production of too many of the other plutonium isotopes that make bomb-making difficult. This has been known for about 70 years now. It’s one of the reasons why a plutonium production reactor is very different from a commercial power reactor.
Speaking of what is already known, you are completely off-base when you claim that the nuclear industry has been “less than candid.” Bulls-t. If anything, the nuclear industry has been more than candid; you simply haven’t been paying attention.
If it were really true that the industry “neglected to mention that boiling water designs require forced cooling even during shutdown” then why, please tell me, has the industry been paying a fortune to install Emergency Core Cooling Systems in all of their reactors? What do you think that these expensive pieces of equipment were for if not to provide forced cooling after shutdown?

RockyRoad

[corrected by author below]

RockyRoad

(corrected)
Eric Worrall says:
September 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm


The problem I have with “cold fusion” is the lack of neutrons. Tritium / deuterium fusion produces a blizzard of neutrons, approx. 100x more neutron flux for the amount of energy produced than an equivalent fission reaction.

As a continuance of my reply to Paul Linsay, you call it “cold fusion”, which is a misnomer–it creates fusion products but not the way the sun or “hot fusion” creates it–by squeezing atoms together beyond the Coulomb barrier until they become one.
Instead, LENR cheates the strong-force realm and utilizes the weak forces, which haven’t been studied as much as their strong-force counterpart. Researchers are now studying it and find remarkable results–so much that it wouldn’t surprise me if the panacea to our energy future is largely if not completely LENR.
But to require characteristics of a reaction that isn’t that reaction only means you don’t understand what LENR is.

pekke

Experimental Thorium reactor in Halden, Norway.
http://www.thorenergy.no/en.aspx

JohnWho

Pat Frank says:
September 1, 2013 at 11:01 am
Was about to post and make similar point and query.

DrJohnGalan

It is interesting to see comments concerning my post which demonstrate the very issue I suggested. The fact that excess heat (beyond any conceivable chemical explanation) has been generated in literally hundreds of experiments in many different laboratories around the world is somehow trumped by “there are no neutrons”.
Excess heat has been measured. Helium and tritium have been detected. Transmutation has occurred. Observations trump theory. While the mantra in 1989 was that the calorimetry was faulty, that can no longer be trotted out after many different experiments by many different people demonstrate the phenomenon (some closely scrutinised by sceptics who then had to accept that the excess heat was real).
My comparison between the two fields was not to disagree with the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but to marvel at the ability of climate scientists to convince gullible politicians that they can model the earth’s climate in a way which can predict the future. And then, when the models fail to conform with observations, to go through endless contortions to try and make the data fit. Climate observations do not match the models. “Cold fusion” – LENR does not conform to established physics.
We are too arrogant to admit that there are things we simply do not understand. To dismiss observations simply because they do not conform to established theory does not wash with me.

Bruce of Newcastle

I am very pleased that Anthony has cited the Shippingport reactor, which uses a fuel-element design.
There is so much hype over the molten fluoride reactor design that it is refreshing to see the benefits of the fuel-element design pointed out.
Why introduce severe metallurgical risks of a corrosive and radioactive melt into the engineering? The experience of breeder reactor programs have been that engineering for molten sodium cooling systems is harder than it looks on paper – much harder. And molten fluoride systems are worse (you cannot use the methods which aluminium smelters use because of the radioactivity – and they don’t attempt to pump the molten salt around).
I think the thorium option is the most promising proposed long term energy source on the books of the human race. But not the molten fluoride design. What happens when when leaks develop and a pool of very hot very radioactive very corrosive stuff pours out all over everything? Try selling it to voters after that. Buckley’s chance.

John

Anthony, the reason nuclear power doesn’t at this point have much of a future (that could change if small modular reactors are approved and turn out to have lower costs than current technology) is for the same reason that wind and solar at current prices are causing EU electricity bills to skyrocket, helping kill jobs and taxes over there. It is way too expensive at current costs.
The US economy is exceptionally lucky for visionaries such as George Mitchell, responsible for the fracking revolution. If it weren’t for cheap natural gas and lots of domestic oil from fracking, how much worse would our economy be? And how much higher would our electricity prices be, with EPA causing existing coal plants — our cheapest domestic source of electricity other than the big hydroelectric projects of the 1930s — to shut down?

Frank Kotler

Thorium offers great promise… say the same people who promised us that the original designs were safe. I distinctly remember, when the earthquake/tsunami first hit Fukushima, several commenters here who clamed to know all about it assured us that it would all be over in 12 to 24 hours. I wonder what they say now, with increasing leakage reported nearly every day? “Just another 12 to 24 hours. Sorry, I meant 12 to 24 centuries.” Heaven save us from experts! Give me CO2 any day!