Views of an Energy Conference in Wyoming

September 16, 2022

Kevin Kilty

From September 1980 to June 1981 I wrote four articles under commission for the trade magazine of the Wyoming Mining Association which touched upon the travails of the uranium industry[1], problems facing the coal mining industry[2], and strategic minerals[3]. It is no small irony that every problem of the 1970s appears to have returned in the present. Chief among these is an energy crisis created once before in the late 1960s and 1970s by bad energy policy which has returned as a result of bad energy policy. So, it was with amazement that I saw a conference entitled “Wyoming’s Energy Future” held on Wednesday September 15 in Laramie. The conference included four panel discussions. One each on: nuclear energy, oil and gas production, rare earths and critical minerals, and coal. It was like 1980 again.

This conference was organized by the Wold Foundation. Its intent was to help reboot the sort of attitude and enthusiasm that helped set off almost 50 years of prosperity in Wyoming producing mineral commodities beginning in the early 1970s. Each panel consisted of someone from industry, someone from the policy world, and occasionally a person from the regulatory or environmental world. In addition there was a keynote address by Governor Mark Gordon, and a few closing remarks by Peter Wold. One-third of the attendees were from industry with the balance coming from academia (students included), government and NGOs.

I didn’t attend all four panel sessions, but the two I did attend, nuclear power and coal, plus the keynote address and closing remarks proved very interesting for what was said explicitly and for what one could surmise. Since Wyoming is a key energy state, producing one-eighth of U.S. energy (with a population only about one six-hundredth of the U.S.) and exporting the bulk of it, what goes on here never stays here.

Nuclear Energy comes to Wyoming

This opening panel discussion of the day featured four speakers, but most interest and most of the audience questions targeted Chris Levesque who is the Chief Executive Officer of TerraPower. TerraPower plans to build a metallic sodium reactor near Kemmerer, Wyoming. Construction is due to begin in 2024. The initial work will be non-nuclear infrastructure. Approval from the NRC is planned for 2025. Wyoming produces a lot of fuel for nuclear reactors, but has never done more than supply yellow-cake to this time.

The TerraPower plant has a maximum capacity of about 350MW (electrical) which at 40% efficiency works out to around 875 MW (thermal). But this obscures what is unique about the Terrapower concept. Large nuclear power plants have difficulties load following and are suited to baseload applications. The Terrapower design does a two-step shuffle where the nuclear plant runs in a sort of baseload mode, but rather than running a turbine directly from steam, the output of the reactor transfers heat via liquid sodium metal to thermal storage using sodium salts.  Moreover, the molten salt storage, he says, integrates well with renewables which can contribute energy to the molten salt when they would otherwise have to be curtailed.

One of the more interesting questions he had to field was “where does the fuel come from?”

Terrapower had originally thought that they would purchase fuel from Russia. However, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine that is now gone. Instead they plan to make the first core load by diluting a source of highly enriched uranium (weapons grade perhaps) to the required 19% enrichment. After this they expect to have a fuel manufacturing capability available. What this entails exactly I don’t recall that he specified.

I had a short conversation with Mr. Levesque after the session where he told me, because of using the molten salts as the proximate source of steam,  the plant can ramp at a slew rate of 8% per minute, which I took to mean double its power in nine minutes. That is a pretty capable load follower.

Unfortunately Mr. Levesque didn’t have time to talk about a couple of other topics of interest. I don’t doubt there are some 800 very smart engineers in the company working on this project, but I have materials science colleagues who are pretty certain the molten salts present a distinct corrosion issue. Will the NRC, which moves painfully slowly and carefully, actually make an approval by 2025? For Wyoming in particular, a construction project that expects 2000 workers at peak in a remote town with only 2,700 residents may present some amount of social upheaval and an unpleasant boom/bust cycle.

Coal: The Future of a Wyoming Energy Pillar

Commissioner Mary Throne, Esq. from the Wyoming Public Service commission was on this panel along with Trina Pfieffer from the Center for Carbon Capture and Conversion at UW, and Patrick Forkin who is the Chief Development Officer for Peabody Coal.

All I will say about the Center for Carbon Capture and Conversion is that they are working on a number of interesting projects involving new markets for coal that don’t involve the specter of burning coal and releasing CO2. They are looking at building materials, soil fortifiers, pavement, and so forth.

Commissioner Throne made the most interesting, and I thought troubling remarks. As its website states, “It is the PSC’s responsibility to ensure the public utilities operating in Wyoming provide safe and reliable service to customers at just and reasonable rates.” Commissioner throne referred to this in her introductory statement as a mantra, which I found an odd choice of words,[4] especially following on the heels of “this isn’t your grandmother’s PSC.”

It brought to mind a controversy from several years ago.In 2019 the Wyoming legislature became concerned about early closure of coal-fired plants which would have detrimental effects on employment and the economy. One legislator from Gillette, Wyoming expressed concerns about unintended consequences.[5] PacificPower at the time was proposing an early closure of Jim Bridger power station in Western Wyoming. Their argument relied on the basis of providing cheaper power for customers through renewables for instance – appealing to a part of the PSC mission. But legislators thought they saw west coast politics involved which would end up injuring Wyoming employment and income.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have observed the Ercot catastrophe of February 2021 and its lesson about having sufficient dispatchable power available goes directly to the heart of the PSC duty to provide reliable power. I’ll speak more about this topic under the heading of environmentalism.

My question prompted Commissioner Throne to speak about legislation from the 2019 dust-up. The legislature has required that before a coal-fired plant can be retired early its owner must make an earnest attempt to find a buyer. None are forthcoming, she said. My guess at one reason for this I will explain later.

I asked the following three questions of the coal panel. 1) Rather than shutter coal plants, wouldn’t it be prudent to consider replacing them with advanced ultrasupercritical coal plants? 2) Since natural gas is a very high utility fuel doesn’t it make sense to burn coal, a low utility fuel, for electricity rather than burn natural gas? 3) Considering the amounts of land needed and the enormous quantities of materials required, how much renewable energy can we tolerate and still believe we are saving the Earth?

Commissioner Throne again provided the most interesting answers. To the first two questions she said that no coal-fired power plant would be permitted that releases carbon dioxide.

We now have an idea why there are no buyers for coal plants that are closing early. Besides having trouble over ESG in the financing of such, they would have to employ carbon capture, which without a nearby oil field needing CO2 for tertiary recovery would make the purchase non-economic. This almost convinces me that the PSC may be seeing climate change as a fourth goal to add to their mantra. A lot of potential unintended consequences will flow from having every board of commissioners adopt climate change as being within their purview.

Commissioner Throne  misinterpreted my third question as being “how much renewable energy can we tolerate in the grid?” She answered that everyone now understands that we cannot operate a grid without dispatchable energy. This sounds like progress. But then she took a stab at maybe 80% renewables. This is far too high as Ercot’s experience in Texas in February 2021 clearly shows. In fact without any dispatchable energy the worst of the February 2021 cold snap suggests one would need 8000% renewables.

With regard to coal-fired power, the most optimistic statement was in Bill Wold’s closing remarks. “Two years ago,” he said, “we thought coal was dead. Now it has a bright future because economics matters.”

The Environment

Though there was no panel specifically about environmental aspects of our energy future, environment related questions were often in the shadows. There was the ever present climate change concern. This was mentioned, albeit briefly, in every panel session, and in the key note address and closing remarks.

The most explicit reference to climate change came from Commissioner Throne who said during the Coal Panel “Coal is not the enemy, carbon dioxide is.”

However, rather than exonerating coal in any way, this statement actually makes all fossil fuels a target along with modern agriculture and most of the modern world. Carbon dioxide by product has to be weighed against the benefits that fossil fuels offer. In the two panels I sat through I saw that only industry focussed people would say something like this explicitly. The regulatory people, policy and political types will not. They operate under beliefs that appear to be axiomatic.

An example was provided through a happenstance communication with the Pragmatic Environmentalist Of New York.  At an energy conference in New York the day after the one in Laramie, Gov. Hochul said this:

“We have very ambitious goals, but I know we will meet them because we really have no choice as we talk about green hydrogen, and enhanced battery storage,” Hochul said yesterday at the 2022 Advanced Energy Conference in New York City.

“I mean, these are the challenges that lie before us, but there’s nothing, no challenge that cannot be solved through smart people, the use of technology, create good jobs, create that whole ecosystem right here in New York and be the template for the rest of the world.”[6]

Disregarding the daffy expression, nothing she said wasn’t repeated any number of times by some speakers in Laramie. Our own Governor spoke about joining a hydrogen hub, saving the world, and creating prosperity out of the energy transition.

Governor Gordon also made the perfectly valid point that we should not waste resources. Yet, embracing CO2 capture without a valid economic market to serve (say enhanced oil recovery) tacks perilously close to doing just that – wasting resources. The hydrogen hub must either bury half of the work potential of natural gas as carbon black or about a third if it is CO2 that ends up buried instead.

Re-engineering the world’s energy systems is a difficult task best appreciated by people who have built and managed the present ones. There is no guarantee it can be done at all. However,  the belief in a climate crisis has been so repeated it is now reflexive – Red state that supplies energy, Blue state that consumes it; no matter. It will lead to many poor decisions and waste of money because lurking behind every energy related decision is the perceived need to bury carbon dioxide. It becomes a deadly constraint.

Among other environmental concerns, on the other hand, these energy stakeholders in Wyoming are not quite ready to see renewable energy impacts on viewshed, natural scenery, noise, recreation and quiet enjoyment in quite the same way they saw threats to surface, water, and air quality in the 1970s. In summary they focus on the speculative but all consuming to the detriment of the real but overlooked.

Conclusion

In the 1981 article I wrote regarding coal mining I had this to say.

“Questions concerning the effect of carbon dioxide are another matter entirely. Carbon dioxide is a product of burning coal and as such cannot be eliminated or reduced. However, it is not clear that releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide will adversely affect the Earth’s environment. This is a complicated question involving some knowledge of how carbon dioxide moves through the hydrologic and food cycles on Earth. Environmental questions require very thorough study to insure [sic] that the cases for and against a particular energy technology are stated in proper perspective with our energy and economic needs.”

The great strides we have made in 41 years on this topic is to substitute carbon for carbon dioxide.

Notes:

  1. Kevin T. Kilty, “What has happened to the uranium industry?”, The Mining Claim, December, 1980, p. 4-5.
  2. Kevin T. Kilty, “Current problems in mining coal”, The Mining Claim, June, 1981, p. 6-7.
  3. Kevin T. Kilty, “Strategic Minerals”, The Mining Claim, September, 1981, p. 6-8.
  4. The Oxford language dictionary online defines the common English usage of mantra as: a statement or slogan repeated frequently.By odd coincidence they use it in a sample sentence as “the environmental mantra that energy has for too long been too cheap”
  5. Andrew Graham, “The Wyoming Public Service Commission’s uncomfortable time in the spotlight.” Wyofile, November 19, 2019. Found online at: https://wyofile.com/the-wyoming-pscs-uncomfortable-moment-in-the-spotlight/
  6. h/t Roger Caiazza, personal communication.
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Steve Case
September 20, 2022 10:44 pm

“Coal is not the enemy, carbon dioxide is.”
__________________________________________

That is “THE BIG LIE”

Reply to  Steve Case
September 21, 2022 4:23 am

Carbon dioxide is NOT the enemy or a pollutant, it is a life giving gas necessary for all life on Earth.

The composition of earth’s atmosphere in 2022 is the same as in it was in 1800 and it will almost certainly be the same in 2400 in spite of Australia’s proposed 43% emission reduction cuts and nett zero nonsense.

The Earth’s atmosphere of Nitrogen 78%, Oxygen 21%, Argon 0.9% with all other gases 0.01% which includes the almost unmeasurable, but unjustly demonized, CO2 which has increased from 0.03 to 0.04% in some 200 years.

Theoretically Australia’s proposed reduction in CO2 starting at 400 ppm with 3% man-made X 43% cut is 5.16 ppm, which will cost taxpayers billions if not trillions and will, likely achieve absolutely nothing in terms of controlling the Earth’s/Australia’s temperature/climate.

Also isn’t it about time we recognized real global temperatures rather than the deceitful temperature anomoly technique which is used to exaggerate activist temperature trends.

BobM
Reply to  Terence M
September 21, 2022 5:10 am

Typo? Don’t you mean “with all other gases 0.1%” (not 0.01%)?

TonyG
Reply to  Steve Case
September 21, 2022 9:52 am

Have to give her credit for at least remembering to add the “dioxide”. That’s more than we usually get.
Doesn’t make it right, but at least not as disingenuous.

mal
September 20, 2022 10:48 pm

“Coal is not the enemy, carbon dioxide is.” Every carbon atom in your body came from CO2 now explain to me how CO2 is an enemy?

Steve Case
Reply to  mal
September 20, 2022 11:55 pm

Yes, we are a carbon based life form and every carbon atom in our bodies came from CO2 in the atmosphere

Reply to  Steve Case
September 21, 2022 1:22 am

An every breath we take we are burning carbohydrates to generate energy

Scissor
Reply to  mal
September 21, 2022 6:03 am

I feel like we need to open your hearts to coal, like we do to so many Venezuelans and Pakastanis who walk across the Southern border of the U.S. without any id or screening.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Scissor
September 21, 2022 6:54 am

Biden is insane.

Scissor
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 21, 2022 7:05 am

I think he just wants to release his chakra.

Steve Case
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 21, 2022 8:20 am

It’s not just Biden or the Democrats although that’s the heart of it. Some day I’m going to break down and read this book:

Extraordinary Popular Delusions
And the Madness of Crowds
CHARLES MACKAY
More than a century before Alan Greenspan coined the phrase “irrational exuberance” to describe the speculative bubble inflating technology stocks, Charles Mackay was recording the history of “tulipomania,” a speculative madness surrounding the value of tulips in the 18th century that was the ruin of many Dutch and English investors. This is only one of the “extraordinary popular delusions” documented by Mackay in a fascinating study of group psychology. He also describes notorious witch hunts, haunted houses, the Crusades, beliefs in fortunetellers and in the magical power of alchemy, veneration of relics, bogus health cures and health scares, and many other examples of human credulity and flights from reason. This work is a true classic in the study of paranormal beliefs, a funny, shocking, and unbelievable yet true history of human gullibility.  LINK

Sure describe recent events and the Holocaust

Mike
September 20, 2022 10:54 pm

“Commissioner Throne again provided the most interesting answers. To the first two questions she said that no coal-fired power plant would be permitted that releases carbon dioxide.
We now have an idea why there are no buyers for coal plants that are closing early. Besides having trouble over ESG in the financing of such, they would have to employ carbon capture, which without a nearby oil field needing CO2 for tertiary recovery would make the purchase non-economic. This almost convinces me that the PSC may be seeing climate change as a fourth goal to add to their mantra.”

This is an EPA requirement that the Wyoming PSC is bound to enforce. It’s not the PSC’s fault.

[Edited to remove formatting that made it unreadable. Mod]

Last edited 15 days ago by Les Johnson
Kevin kilty
Reply to  Mike
September 21, 2022 5:53 am

OK, but she appeared fully on board with it, and the statement about CO2 being the enemy is very telling. Everyone should be informed about who the enemy is.

Dave Yaussy
Reply to  Mike
September 21, 2022 6:18 am

Not sure I agree, Mike. I work in this area and am not aware of EPA banning all new coal plants that emit carbon dioxide. (Although I have no doubt they would love to do just that.) West Virginia v. EPA was confirmation that EPA doesn’t have the authority to require carbon capture for all new coal plants.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Mike
September 21, 2022 7:33 am

It should be overturned if it is an EPA requirement, based on the recent SCOTUS decision.

Richard Page
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
September 21, 2022 8:19 am

No doubt the EPA will say it is merely a ‘suggestion’ or ‘guideline’ without revealing how much hidden pressure has been used.

Brad-DXT
September 20, 2022 11:22 pm

Every politician should be asked if CO2 is a pollutant. Any that answer yes should be run out of office.

Jeroen B.
Reply to  Brad-DXT
September 21, 2022 2:22 am

I’ll settle for merely being forbidding them to add their CO2 to the atmosphere.

Scissor
Reply to  Jeroen B.
September 21, 2022 5:41 am

Would identifying CO2 as H2O involve any more suspension of reality than identifying the following being as a woman?

https://reduxx.info/ontario-high-school-teacher-seen-wearing-massive-prosthetic-bust-to-teach/

starzmom
Reply to  Scissor
September 21, 2022 7:19 am

After all, H2O is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Scissor
Reply to  starzmom
September 21, 2022 8:24 am

That’s a dilemma I hadn’t considered.

Cam_S
Reply to  Scissor
September 21, 2022 10:45 am

Wow! I thought this was a joke. But, apparently this story is real!
– – – – – – – – –

Ontario transgender teacher sparks controversy by wearing giant prosthetic breasts in class
In a recent letter to parents, the school confirmed the video’s authenticity, but implied that it’s illegal to even suggest that the garb may be inappropriate

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/ontario-transgender-teacher-sparks-controversy-by-wearing-giant-prosthetic-breasts-in-class

starzmom
Reply to  Brad-DXT
September 21, 2022 7:18 am

Any who answer yes should be told to stop breathing.

RevJay4
Reply to  Brad-DXT
September 21, 2022 7:20 am

Answering yes would indicate that the pol did not pass Junior High Biology class. Which then indicates said pol is a fool and a grifter.

RickWill
September 20, 2022 11:27 pm

It is so disturbing to see the demonising of CO2 being thoroughly embedded.

People with knowledge and understanding need to make serious effort to be influential.

Suki Manabe has a lot to answer for. He was the first of a whole series of incompetents who put carbon sensitivity into computer models

mort
Reply to  RickWill
September 21, 2022 1:15 pm

we need a “Save the CO2” campaign.
Pictures of kids and puppies and little green plants.
everyone smiling and happy.

give today and help save CO2 and save the world.

Old Man Winter
September 21, 2022 12:32 am

All three WY PSC members are lawyers with liberal arts degrees, with Mary
Throne having gone to Princeton, then Columbia. Gov Gordon beat Mary in the 2018 & then appointed her to the commission. Gordon also went East
to school, which is where his familial roots lie. All of this explains the Liz
Cheney situation quite well- they all know where the gubmint trough is!

Last edited 15 days ago by Old Man Winter
Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Old Man Winter
September 21, 2022 5:47 am

How the west was won, er, I mean lost.

navy bob
Reply to  Old Man Winter
September 21, 2022 10:57 am

Liz Cheney is history, however. Is it possible that the Republicans who booted her from the party and chose Harriet Hageman instead could also put a pro-coal plank in their party? If it can’t happen in Wyoming, the country is doomed. (It probably is anyway.)

September 21, 2022 1:27 am

While a 100% renewable grid is simply impossible, a 100% nuclear, especially with a scattering of Natrium reactors with molten salt heat banks,. is nearly possible. Add in a bit of hydro and the job is done. No hydrogen, no batteries, no windmills, no solar panels.. no gas backup..
Why isn’t it being done?
Fat green envelopes

Mr Ed
Reply to  Leo Smith
September 21, 2022 8:00 am

A big issue with nuclear to me is the fact that all of the nuclear plants in this
country are of different design. I also remember the WPPSS aka WOOPS
power plant mess. Compare that to the nuclear propulsion power plants
used in the Navy. All of the same design. That allows several advantages.
one being if a design flaw arises it allows a fix to be applies to all units. We would
also have the economic advantage of the same design.

If we as a country were to adopt the nuclear route I would imagine smaller type plants
to be utilized not the super mega sized ones.

fretslider
September 21, 2022 1:45 am

My garden disagrees, low levels of Carbon dioxide are holding it back

September 21, 2022 3:12 am

Well, that was depressing. I would have thought that at least in Wyoming they’d be a little more open to weighing costs against benefits.

Even the nuclear discussion made me uneasy. It’s been over forty years since I represented a nuclear-reactor manufacturer, and even then my grasp of the physics was shaky. But I do remember that fast reactors struck me as presenting particular materials and other engineering challenges. I’m all for putting effort into meeting them, but we currently have so little reactor-manufacturing expertise left that even with designs that were shown to work back in the ’70s we’re likely to encounter cost overruns and maintenance issues that make nuclear look bad. In my view we should crawl before we walk.

Still, on this subject I’m no more entitled to an opinion than the guy on the next barstool, and maybe those guys will do for nuclear what SpaceX has done for rocketry.

Kevin kilty
Reply to  Joe Born
September 21, 2022 5:36 am

The conference was an eye-opener for sure, but not depressing exactly. There is some progress being made toward two truths: We can’t run a grid on renewables. Economics matters.

Maybe they will build a great prototype reactor that actually works as they expect. Many of the nuclear reactors of first generation which were advertized as providing power too cheap to meter, turned out to be very expensive, however. There are bound to be surprises. I figure the two-step heat shuffle and sodium salts will provide two of them, but we have to give some ideas an honest try. If it all goes poorly news travels slowly from Wyoming.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Kevin kilty
September 21, 2022 8:25 am

Just wondering what the US Defence Department would say about them using weapons grade heu?

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  Dave Andrews
September 21, 2022 10:06 am

I was only speculating about that, but I am unsure what other stores of uranium more enriched than 19% would be.

Beta Blocker
Reply to  Joe Born
September 21, 2022 9:02 am

TerraPower’s published schedule for its Wyoming project has no credibility given the realities of the diminished nuclear industrial base here in the United States, and the sheer volume of work needed to get their first plant into production operation.

Having been involved in cost and schedule planning for nuclear construction projects in the ten to fifteen billion dollar range — projects which had some good level of technical, programmatic, and financial risk — I can say with good confidence that every phase of TerraPower’s published schedule is hopelessly optimistic.

The mid-2030’s is the earliest a TerraPower plant could come online. And only then if their management team is very patient and very willing to devote the time, the money, and the effort needed to do a proper job from beginning to end; i.e., from concept through development through component manufacture and in-field construction on through to startup and production operation.

The largest problem the nuclear construction industry faces today is the problem of delivering nuclear projects on cost and on schedule. The very first order of business in solving that problem is taking a close look at every phase of a project and being completely honest in detailing out the true scope of work needed for each phase, and for each task within that phase. Everything else flows from that initial planning effort.

Building the very first nuclear plant using the TerraPower design is a high risk project technically, programmatically, and financially. What if TerraPower’s own management team actually believes their published schedule? That is to say, what if their schedule isn’t simply a public relations gimmick being used to sell the project to Wyoming’s politicians?

If that is the case, and if TerraPower’s management team attempts to hew to their highly over-optimistic schedule, failure is a certainty. For their team to do this kind of thing in the face of current industrial base realities would be a clear indication that TerraPower isn’t capable of properly managing a high risk nuclear project.

Last edited 15 days ago by Beta Blocker
RickWill
Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 21, 2022 3:56 pm

Chinese nuclear plants in China has reduced the average construction time to 7 years. I expect the Chinese will get better at producing nuclear plants.

The cost of generation for nuclear in China is now lower cost than gas scrubbed coal generation. Nuclear is the lowest cost source of power in China and will likely get even lower.

Australia relies completely on Chinese production for wind and solar and that is the only game at the moment as well as batteries that also depend heavily on Chinese manufacturing. So it would not be any different to engage Chinese to produce nuclear generators for Australia. Not that the place needs them.

The silly thing about wind and solar with storage is that it is far more carbon intensive than burning coal in the first place. That will change as China shifts from coal to nuclear because then the wind and solar become stores of Chinese nuclear energy rather than carbon based energy.

Beta Blocker
Reply to  Joe Born
September 21, 2022 9:08 am

TerraPower’s published schedule for its Wyoming project has no credibility given the realities of the diminished nuclear industrial base here in the United States, and the sheer volume of work needed to get their first plant into production operation.

Having been involved in cost and schedule planning for nuclear construction projects in the ten to fifteen billion dollar range — projects which had some good level of technical, programmatic, and financial risk — I can say with good confidence that every phase of TerraPower’s published schedule is hopelessly optimistic.

The mid-2030’s is the earliest a TerraPower plant could come online. And only then if their management team is very patient and very willing to devote the time, the money, and the effort needed to do a proper job from beginning to end; i.e., from concept through development through component manufacture and in-field construction on through to startup and production operation.

The largest problem the nuclear construction industry faces today is the problem of delivering nuclear projects on cost and on schedule. The very first order of business in solving that problem is taking a close look at every phase of a project and being completely honest in detailing out the true scope of work needed for each phase, and for each task within that phase. Everything else flows from that initial planning effort.

Building the very first nuclear plant using the TerraPower design is a high risk project technically, programmatically, and financially. What if TerraPower’s own management team actually believes their published schedule? That is to say, what if their schedule isn’t simply a public relations gimmick being used to sell the project to Wyoming’s politicians?

If that is the case, and if TerraPower’s management team attempts to hew to their highly over-optimistic schedule, failure is a certainty. For their team to do this kind of thing in the face of current industrial base realities would be a clear indication that TerraPower isn’t capable of properly managing a high risk nuclear project.

Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 21, 2022 9:20 am

Thanks for that input. Again, my knowledge of the subject is vestigial, but what you say rings true. You may also want to opine on a Michael Shellenberger piece about why nuclear steam-supply systems are so expensive.

Beta Blocker
Reply to  Joe Born
September 22, 2022 10:18 am

See my very detailed response here. My response is an informed opination, not an opinionation. Or so I believe, anyway.

Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 22, 2022 11:11 am

(This is the first time I’ve encountered either opination or opinionation.)

I greatly appreciate that input, particularly the point about SMR use tending to preserve expertise. I confess I dodn’t understand why SMRs “can be black started without external power from the grid” and larger reactors cannot, but I’ll leave that for another day; I’ve imposed on your time enough already.

Thanks again.

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 21, 2022 10:07 am

Thanks for this input.

starzmom
Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 21, 2022 2:02 pm

Years ago i worked for a major utility on analyses of future generating technologies and future plants. We estimated, based on experience, that once a site was decided upon and purchased, it would take 20 plus years to design, permit, build and license a new nuclear facility. These days, i would almost double that estimate. You would have to be very confident in future needs and emerging technologies to even attempt that now.

Beta Blocker
Reply to  starzmom
September 21, 2022 3:42 pm

Here in the US, once the SMR industrial base is up and running and is properly tuned up, it won’t take nearly that long to get the second and subsequent plants for each competitive SMR design built and into service.

But getting the first operational plant for a particular SMR design approved by the NRC and by state and local regulators, and then built according to the original cost and schedule estimates — this is an arduous and time consuming task.

The NuScale SMR design, slated for initial operation in Idaho in 2029, is now the project furthest along the difficult path towards getting that very first SMR plant into service here in the US,

If the Idaho project is brought in on cost and on schedule, the door is open for NuScale and for other SMR vendors to move quickly forward in selling their proposals here in the US.

John Garrett
September 21, 2022 4:04 am

Kevin T. Kilty wrote:
“…The great strides we have made in 41 years on this topic is to substitute carbon for carbon dioxide…”

LOL. That statement is true and it left me shaking my head in bemused disgust at H. [so-called] sapiens.
_____________________________________

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
― George Santayana

David Dibbell
September 21, 2022 4:14 am

Good write-up Kevin Kilty. Thank you. Your 1981 self had it right. The “carbon dioxide is the enemy” belief statement shows how deeply wrong the climate movement has become at its core.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  David Dibbell
September 21, 2022 6:58 am

I agree, it was a good write-up. And Kevin had it right in 1981.

Kevin kilty
September 21, 2022 5:58 am

Is the cover photo another beautiful Charles the Moderator effort?

DHR
September 21, 2022 6:41 am

This article and many others recently published discuss hydrogen as an available substitute for natural gas or various renewable energy storage schemes. A 2003 paper by Baldur Eliasson et. al. of ABB in Switzerland evaluated the thermodynamic properties of hydrogen and concluded that the energy needed to compress or liquify, store, ship and consume hydrogen are so great that in some scenarios somewhere between half and all of the energy content of a given quantity of hydrogen is consumed in these essential processes. In addition, hydrogen has unusual embrittlement properties with common pipeline materials and is very difficult to contain as NASA has recently re-informed us with regard to their new hydrogen fueled rocket and many of their much older hydrogen fueled rockets. Eliasson’s answer to his own question was, bleak.

I suggest that anybody who touts a “hydrogen economy” read his paper and if possible, include in their proposals at least an idea on how to solve hydrogen’s problems.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232983331_The_Future_of_the_Hydrogen_Economy_Bright_or_Bleak

Scissor
Reply to  DHR
September 21, 2022 9:55 am

What’s a factor of 2 or 3 among friends? Oh, your friends aren’t that generous. Would you believe wind and solar are free?

Good comment, DHR,

Tom Abbott
September 21, 2022 7:03 am

There is a coal-fired powerplant located about 20 miles from my house. It gets its coal from Wyoming.

During the February 2021 arctic cold snap, we had no blackout in this area.

President Obama tried to convert the plant to natural gas when he was in office, but it never came to pass. It’s still burning that reliable Wyoming coal.

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 21, 2022 8:02 am

One interesting side discussion I had at this conference was with a person well-placed in a generating company. The February 2021 cold snap that was ruinous for Texas had severe consequences throughout the Midwest and plains. One very large utility ended up purchasing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas supplied electricity unexpectedly. As I was told, that utility will be a long time in recovering the expense from rate payers.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 21, 2022 9:40 am

‘ It’s still burning that reliable Wyoming coal.’

That it can store on site. About the only ‘risk’ of coal-fired generation is getting it out of the gondola cars during a really hard freeze.

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 21, 2022 10:09 am

The power plant north of Ft. Collins had a lot of frozen coal in piles during a cold snap about twenty years ago.

roaddog
Reply to  Kevin Kilty
September 21, 2022 8:09 pm

Rawhide.

spren
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 21, 2022 4:12 pm

The coal is in hoppers, not gondolas. I worked on a steel industry railroad back in the 70s and 80s and during some of those brutally cold winters we had back then, we used to thaw the coal by placing flaming heating units under the hopper cars. Then it could be hauled up the trestle and dumped into the blast furnace where basic iron was produced.

Tom Halla
September 21, 2022 7:05 am

Whoever appointed Commissioner Throne needs to be voted out. The Governor does not seem much better. One should ask him what flavor the KoolAid was, as he definitely drank it.

tgasloli
September 21, 2022 7:27 am

So even with all of WY resources, its economic dependence on its resources, and its conservative population, the WY PSC is as science illiterate and lunatic left as CA.

WY clearly has a bigger problem them just Liz Cheney.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  tgasloli
September 21, 2022 9:45 am

The problem is the Federal bureaucracy, specifically the EPA. Red-teaming the science and undoing the so-called Endangerment Finding will quickly fix the problem.

AGW is Not Science
September 21, 2022 7:31 am

Nobody is asking g TerraPower the right question, which is…

“Instead of jumping through all these hoops trying to create a nuclear plant that can ‘load follow’ to make up for the inadequacies of worse-than-useless wind and solar, and lose efficiency in the process, why not just build state-of-the-art nuclear plants and use their energy directly (and more efficiently), since it will emit none of the CO2 you seem needlessly concerned about, and since it can be done without causing all of the problems of idiotic wind and solar installations?!”

Terry
September 21, 2022 7:33 am

Thanks Kevin. It seems inevitable that the future for the young will be significantly different than the past of the old. We are on our way to destroying our (their) standard of living.

roaddog
September 21, 2022 8:54 am

I continue to believe that our greatest hope of survival lies in educating Governor Gordon. That said, I have no idea how to proceed to do that.

Kevin Kilty
Reply to  roaddog
September 21, 2022 10:27 am

Gordon is very likeable, and he has an unusually high favorability rating and very low unfavorability rating. The reason is he is easy going. He is not bold, or at least doesn’t show such. Can he be bold, as bold as say Abbott or deSantis, when the time demands it? I dunno.

The general atmosphere of the conference was that we need to do something about climate change, or perhaps just resignation that we are going to be forced to do something anyway, and we should make the best of the situation. But I think this is wrong. If the situation demands some different approach (like doing nothing), we should try to make the case for it. It’s like looking at scenarios without ever considering the do nothing or do very little scenario in engineering economics.

roaddog
Reply to  Kevin Kilty
September 21, 2022 2:52 pm

I have to believe that he would be open to an approach from reasonable scientists, debunking all the current un-scientific alarmism. We certainly have the resources to do that, given yourself, and the fact that Tony Heller now lives in Cheyenne.

Kevin kilty
Reply to  roaddog
September 22, 2022 6:21 am

I have made outreach on several occasions on different topics, but what occurs is that I get hung up with his advisors, who simply assure me that the situation is under control… The latest simply began by telling me what I don’t know…

6CA7
Reply to  roaddog
September 21, 2022 8:06 pm

Gordon was on the John Kerry campaign back in 2004.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  6CA7
September 22, 2022 3:59 am

That’s a strike against him.

Dennis G. Sandberg
September 21, 2022 4:02 pm

TerraPower will run tests with depleted uranium, which is not used in fission, to determine which materials can hold molten salt without being damaged by corrosion
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333245378_Status_of_Metallic_Structural_Materials_for_Molten_Salt_Reactors

2018:
Hastelloy N has not been qualified for use in nuclear construction, and significant additional characterization would be required for Code qualification. …
… It is recommended that a systematic development program be initiated to develop new nickel alloys that contain a fine, stable dispersion of intermetallic particles to trap helium at the interface between the matrix and particle, and with increased solid-solution strengthening from addition of refractory elements.
With support from computational materials science tools, a speculative time frame for a down-selection program, using 20-30 kg heats, is about four to five years….

2022:
Another proposal is that the aggressive molten salt corrosive area, separate and apart from the reactor, will be shutdown every five (5) years for select component replacement. If TerraPower is operating in 2030 this is the procedure that will be used IMHO.

Dennis G. Sandberg
September 21, 2022 4:14 pm

The author states, “but I have materials science colleagues who are pretty certain the molten salts present a distinct corrosion issue. Will the NRC, which moves painfully slowly and carefully, actually make an approval by 2025? 

Depends how fully the molten salt can be kept away from the reactor, If it can’t be, to the satisfaction of the NRC, it’s going to take at least a decade. Accelerated corrosion testing to narrow the time requirement will be met with “skeptisim” (No way in Hell).

Source?
A series of four alloys was developed by ORNL and patented.20-23 Compositions of these alloys, specified in the patents. These alloys were developed using relatively short-term Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding, and the amount of characterization that was possible was limited to tensile and relatively short-time rupture testing. Resistance to corrosion by MSR salts and radiation-effects studies remain to be completed.

Thermodynamic simulations of the equilibrium phases in these alloys were completed and reported in the patents. The alloy described in patent 9,435,011 is solid solution strengthened with 1–2.25 wt.% M6C. Alloy 9,540,714 is a solid solution with the addition of γ’ (3–17.6 wt.%) strengthening and 1–2 wt.% M6C.

The primary strengthening in Alloy 9,683,279 is from carbides: 1.9–16.14 wt.% M6C and 1.9–16.14 wt.% M23C6. Alloy 9,683,280 has primary strengthening from carbides (1–8 wt.% M6C, up to 3.5 wt.% MC) with the addition of intermetallic precipitates (up to 3 wt.% Ni5M). The total volume fraction of precipitates is in the range 4.0–10 wt.%.

Kevin kilty
Reply to  Dennis G. Sandberg
September 22, 2022 5:51 am

You sound like a guy who might know this, are the molten salts contemplated soluble in liquid sodium?

Kevin kilty
September 21, 2022 6:14 pm

Whoops. I see I mentioned Bill Wold as making remarks, That was Peter Wold.

Kit P
September 21, 2022 6:58 pm

Nobody is going to build a nuclear power plant in Wyoming because it is not needed.

Bill Gates is not going to build a nuke anyplace. He is a violation of the no clown rule.

It is that simple.

Bob
September 21, 2022 8:37 pm

This is the take away message.

“Commissioner Throne again provided the most interesting answers. To the first two questions she said that no coal-fired power plant would be permitted that releases carbon dioxide.”

“However, the belief in a climate crisis has been so repeated it is now reflexive – Red state that supplies energy, Blue state that consumes it; no matter. It will lead to many poor decisions and waste of money because lurking behind every energy related decision is the perceived need to bury carbon dioxide. It becomes a deadly constraint.”

The first quote shows the total ignorance and arrogance of the political, regulatory, administrative and bureaucratic community. She has no justification for what she said she is merely a parrot.

The second quote is the real problem, nearly everyone has accepted these lies about CO2 almost without question. That needs to change, these pompous administrators/bureaucrats/politicians need to be made to defend their erroneous statements in detail with facts and figures that match observations. No more thinking we are going to accept the shoddy, lazy and incorrect work from faux climate scientists.

Beta Blocker
September 22, 2022 10:08 am

Joe Born in response to Beta Blocker: “You may also want to opine on a Michael Shellenberger piece about why nuclear steam-supply systems are so expensive.”

“If innovation makes everything-cheaper, why does it make nuclear power more expensive?”

Michael Shellenberger’s article from 2018 offers the opinion that innovation in nuclear technology can have major adverse impacts on the costs of new-build nuclear power plants. He claims that one of the most important reasons why the VC Summer and Vogtle 3 & 4 projects went so badly over cost and schedule was the AP1000’s innovative design.

His Forbes opinion piece goes on to advocate for the adoption of large 1200 Mwe plants of a similar or identical design under the theory that constructing the larger unitary reactors is more cost effective overall than constructing smaller reactors which might be either ganged together or else singly installed as smaller unitary plants .

The AP1000 is in fact an upgraded Gen III design not that radical a departure from previous large-scale reactor designs. The two most important reasons why the VC Summer and Vogtle 3 & 4 projects went so badly awry are that: 1) each nuclear project was grossly mismanaged from the very beginning in that the hard lessons from the 1970’s and 1980’s were ignored; and 2) the nuclear construction industrial base in the United States isn’t nearly what it was thirty years ago.

Shellenberger’s opinion that the large unitary reactor designs are more cost effective was appropriate thirty years ago when the nuclear industrial base was much more robust in the US than it is today, and when demand for electricity was steadily increasing. Enough reactor projects were in progress so that nuclear manufacturing and nuclear construction expertise could be kept alive from one project to the next.

We don’t have that industrial base anymore. Moreover, growth in the demand for electricity isn’t sufficient enough or steady enough to support construction of the large 1200 Mwe reactors on a more-or-less continuous basis. Innovation in reactor design, manufacturing, and construction is the only practical means we have to fix the problem of keeping nuclear’s capital costs under control.

The conventional wisdom today is that the long-term future of nuclear power here in the United States depends upon successfully fielding the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Here in the US, the SMRs now represent the only hope we have for getting the end-to-end process of designing, constructing, and commissioning a nuclear power plant under complete and effective management control. 

— The most costly safety and QA processes can be placed into a repeatable factory setting. 
— Smaller reactor designs are easier than larger ones to produce in a factory environment.
— Nuclear knowledge and expertise is more likely to survive from one reactor order to the next.
— The smaller SMR designs are more scalable to emerging market needs as these evolve through time.
— Most of the new SMR designs have a smaller emergency management footprint; e.g. NuScale’s emergency response boundary ends at the plant fence.  
— SMR’s are better at load following, can be islanded in smaller grids, and can be black started without external power from the grid.

Concerning the massive cost & schedule overruns at VC Summer and at Vogtle 3 & 4:

When the cost and schedule feasibility planning was being done in the mid-2000’s for new reactor projects, it was recognized that all of the hard lessons from the 1970’s and 1980’s had to be applied to these new projects, and that their cost and schedule estimates had to include the hard work of passing through the nuclear learning curve for a second time. 

The learning curve for new-build nuclear construction applies just as much to the professional staffs as it does to the component manufacturers and to the in-field construction workforce.

The details of the problems and issues being experienced in the 1970’s and 1980’s are further outlined in my WUWT comment from September, 2021:

“A History of Nuclear Construction’s Cost & Schedule Overruns in the 1970’s and 80’s”

The following topical areas and issues are covered in my history of that period:

— Lack of nuclear project management skills
— Lack of a properly trained and experienced construction workforce
— Mismatch of written plans versus field implementation
— Complex, first of a kind projects
— Strength of the industrial base
— A changing technical environment
— Lack of design maturity at the start of construction
— A changing regulatory environment
— Project management effectiveness
— Issues with matrix management systems
— Overconfidence based on past project success
— Reliance on contractor expertise
— Management control systems
— Cost & schedule control systems
— Issues with Quality Assurance
— Construction productivity & progress
— Project financing and completion schedule
— Lack of regulatory oversight effectiveness
— Lack of early NRC presence at construction sites
— Lack of NRC boldness and risk taking
— Working relationships with regulators

These are not yesterday’s issues. Most of the issues listed here are the same ones which caused the VC Summer and Vogtle 3 & 4 projects to blow their original cost and schedule estimates so badly — with the result that VC Summer was cancelled outright; that Vogtle 3 & 4’s original contractor team was fired and completely replaced; and that Vogtle 3 & 4 went from 2012’s estimate of $12 billion dollars US to its current estimate of $28 billion dollars US.

The first sign of serious problems at VC Summer and at Vogtle 3 & 4 happened early on in 2011 when contractor teams were chosen which did not have the depth of nuclear experience, nor the necessary staff, needed to do a proper job of end-to-end nuclear project management.

Things went downhill from there. Just as happened in the 1980’s, most of the problems being experienced at those two projects were avoidable if sound management practices had been followed.

Vogtle 3 & 4 survived and is now on track for completion in 2023 even if its capital cost has doubled from the original $12 billion estimate. The project’s original nominal capital cost was targeted at roughly $5,000 per Kwe, but it is now roughly $13,000 per Kwe. 

I hear through the grapevine that the best another AP1000 project could do would be roughly $9,000 per Kwe nominal capital cost. In comparison, NuScale’s SMR design is targeted at $5,000 per Kwe for the first six-module 462 Mwe plant, and at $3,500 per Kwe or even less for subsequent plants.

I don’t work for NuScale but I pay close attention to what they are doing. The NuScale project team of Fluor, UAMPS, and Energy Northwest is taking a thoroughly professional approach to managing their eastern Idaho project, currently slated for operation in 2029. It remains my prediction that NuScales’s SMR design will be the first to reach commercial operation in the United States.     

Kit P
Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 22, 2022 3:54 pm

The NuScale project team of Fluor, UAMPS, and Energy Northwest is taking a thoroughly professional approach to managing their eastern Idaho project, currently slated for operation in 2029. “

Based on that staement, beta blocker will fail drug screening.

SMR comes from the same thinking process that got us wind farms and solar panels. Stupid ways to reduce ‘carbon’. Bad ideas!

I worked for ENW back when they were WPPSS. Pathtic. Bottom of industry performance but they thought they were good. They hold the record for failure and not learning from thier failure.

I also worked for some of the best building large nuke plants where they were needed. Well managed utilities good at every thing they did including building steam plants of all kinds. Good at operating them too. Good at keeping them running past 40 years.

Good idea!

The US does not need to build reactors because of the performance of the exisiting reactors. When we do, it will not be SMR. It will improvements of the large reactors such as a large equipment hatch.

Here is somthing else to think about. While I saw the god I also saw the bad when it came to building. It does not matter much when it comes to dividing by 40, 60, or 80 life of the plant.

Beta Blocker
Reply to  Kit P
September 22, 2022 10:40 pm

Kit P, I have given a detailed explanation for the problems and issues that occurred with the VC Summer and the Vogtle 3 & 4 projects. But do you yourself have your own explanation for what happened at VC Summer and at Vogtle 3 & 4?

Why did Vogtle 3 & 4 go from 2012’s estimate of $12 billion dollars to its current estimate at completion of $28 billion dollars? Why was an additional five years added to the original Vogtle 3 & 4 project schedule? Why was the original EPC contractor team at Vogtle 3 & 4 fired in 2015 and completely replaced?

I’ll say further that in my humble opinion, the problems seen at VC Summer and at Vogtle 3 & 4 between 2011 and 2015 were the very same kinds of problems seen at the Satsop project in the 1970’s before the management team there was replaced and a much more disciplined style of project leadership was adopted.

At the time of the WPPSS bond fiasco, the Satsop plant was further along than the Hanford plant, now known as the Columbia Generating Station. But for the vagaries of project financing structure for the WPPSS nuclear plants, the Satsop plant might have been completed as well.

Kit P
Reply to  Beta Blocker
September 23, 2022 3:00 pm

I did not comment on the construction of Westinghouse plant since I was retired. Before that I was working on the US EPR design certification.

One of our problems was that the French did not understand that regulators had become much more skeptical. For a good reason.

After the navy, I worked for GE startup so I was not involved with construction management other than when my job would start at the plant.

The reason many plants like Satsop were cancelled is they were not needed. The demand for power growth was over estimated. The reason the gas fired at Satsop was not finished was other places like China now make aluminum.

With the DC process and EIS done much of the paper work is done for the 36 nukes on the NRC radar the last time natural gas prices were high as is much of the site development.

Just waiting for the need.

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