Guest essay by David Archibald
The good and the great are uneasy about the state of the world. They know that our current standard of civilisation has been made possible by cheap fossil fuels that will run out one day. And then what? Their experiments with solar panels, with mirrors, with windmills have been disappointing. And it is dawning upon people that 70 percent of the protein we eat has its origins in fossil fuels.
Our current dominant nuclear technology of burning U235 in light water reactors is inherently unsafe and produces a lot of waste while doing so. And it uses only 0.2 percent of the nuclear fuel available to us.
The situation is summed up in this blog comment:
So biofuels will power the mining of phosphorus and the manufacturing of nitrogen via the Haber Bosch process to fertilize crops to make biofuels to mine phosphorus etc etc and as well create surplus power for our appliances and food requirements. Sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me. If you think solar power can replace oil (power our industrial civilization) and have enough surplus power remaining to mine the elements needed for the manufacture of solar panels, make solar panels, and maintain solar panels then I think you’re living in a dream world. Magical thinking at its finest.
In other words, solar panels are cheap only because the diesel and coal used in their making are very cheap. So the Breakthrough Institute has announced the formation of Breakthrough Energy Ventures to fund the development of new technologies that will provide reliable and affordable power. The funding available is $1 billion, provided by private individuals. In part, global warming is a religion that elites believe in and try to impose on the rest of us. So the first order of business for their new venture is to genuflect to their god with the prime requirement that the new technologies they will invest in “have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton.”
They have their screening processes for evaluating projects put to them but I can save them a lot of trouble. There is only one technology that can save civilisation – the thorium molten salt reactor, written up on WUWT here, here and here. If that technology produces power at $0.03 per kWh then liquid hydrocarbon fuel could be produced at about US$120/bbl equivalent. The molecule most likely to be used as an energy carrier is dimethyl ether (DME) which has an energy content and handling characteristics similar to those of propane. Civilisation could continue at a high level indefinitely.
Thorium has been wilfully neglected. How that came about is shown in the following graphic:
Fission of uranium was first demonstrated in Berlin in 1938. The following day, physicists at Oxoford University were brainstorming on how to make a fission-based bomb. That kind of development pace continued for three decades. Early work on how to run a thorium molten salt reactor was conducted at Oak Ridge in the mid-1960s. Then that work was terminated in favor of plutonium breeder reactor research which in turn was killed off. And nothing much has happened since, until a Chinese engineer read an article in the July, 2010 issue of American Scientist and the Chinese research effort into thorium molten salt reactors was initiated.
There are literally hundreds of different nuclear reactor designs and a range of fuels can be used. There is also a basic division on how to approach fission with consequences for inherent safety, handling and processing of fission products, and operating and decomissioning costs. That basic choice is either having the fuel circulate or having the coolant circulate, illustrated in the following graphic:
The first commercial reactor for power generation was commissioned in in 1958 in Shippingport, Pennsylvannia. It used a uranium-burning, lighwater reactor from a cancelled aircraft carrier. All subsequent commercial power reactors have the coolant circulating.
Over the last decade, governments around the world have spent tens of billions of dollars on all sorts of schemes to make energy from anything other than fossil fuels. They have tried everything except the only thing that will work. When the new administration comes into power, they will stop the waste of billions per annum on green nonsense. It would be wise to put aside a little bit of what is going to be saved and apply it to the only thing that will work.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution To The F-35 Nightmare.