Friday, February 26, 2010


We need a bold new ENERGY TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM similar to the APOLLO PROGRAM that will engage the minds of young Americans. A noble vision is needed to engage the imagination of the young to solve our collective power generation problem in a way that the SPACE PROGRAM engaged a previous generation. We need Boys and Girls to enter Physical Science and Engineering as they did after Sputnik and use their youthful energy and intelligence to design clean energy technology that will power the planet and help mankind avoid wars over energy resources. By 2050 the world needs to find a way to generate from 10 to 30 additional Terawatts of electricity (with the high end 30 Terawatt figure which is required to bring the rest of the planet up to the energy utilization level of the United States being much preferred).

What information, and what form of presentation, would engage the imagination of youth and provide them with a sense of MISSION to solve the planet’s energy scarcity problem (approximately 2 billion of the world’s people currently have no regular access to electricity)? Perhaps there is utility in examining influences that shaped the imagination of 1950's born children to persue the challenge of SPACE. As a youngster I found the following Disney special genuinely inspirational.

Disney/Von Braun Man in Space

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dr. Patrick Moore talks Nuclear Energy

Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Green Peace and more recently founder of Green Spirit and Co-Chair of CASEnergy Coalition, discusses the potential role nuclear energy can play right now and in the future. He calls nuclear energy "clean and sustainable" and says it would be ridiculous not to include it in the overall clean energy portfolio.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Would Thorium Powered Ships be better for the Navy?

The Navy is studying using alternative "green" fuels for powering Navy ships and would like to be climate conscientious while it defends the nation's shores. The Navy uses nuclear power for its largest ships but must use fuel oil for its smaller vessels. There is a style of nuclear energy that produces no green house gasses and is well adapted to mobile applications and safe operation under dangerous conditions as might exist in a sea battle.

The Navy could build substantially better nuclear power particularly appropriate for smaller Navy vessels based on alternative Thorium nuclear fuel in Molten Salt Reactors. Molten Salt Reactors have the highest energy density of any style of nuclear reactor (mostly because the molten coolant salt has the highest thermal transfer efficiency of any reactor coolant) and can safely change power levels and quickly respond to real time demands for varying power levels. Molten salt reactors tend to be physically smaller for a given power output and are not subject to core meltdowns or high pressure coolant accidents. When used in appropriate alternative reactors designed to burn it Thorium produces one hundredth the amount of nuclear waste [1].

In an effort to appear sensitive to the larger themes of the Obama Administration the Navy (and other services) appear to be making efforts to qualify their military systems to burn bio-fuels. I personally feel that down-grading range and performance of military systems to reduce carbon or import of foreign oil is perverse. It is better to chose technology that allows you to improve the performance of your military systems to levels that exceed anything your enemies can achieve.

The Navy would be better off with nuclear ships and would be a more effective integrated fighting force with both large and small ships able to operate at full speed for unlimited distances. A navy where only the largest ships are nuclear powered runs the risk of having to reduce speed and restrict range just to avoid outrunning smaller fossil fuel powered support vessels.

The power density and power to weight characteristics of Molten Salt Reactors is without peer among current Gen-4 nuclear designs (shielding must be provided for all reactors and shielding requirements can tend to swamp some of the advantages Molten Salt Reactors over other reactor concepts). The fact that salt coolant for Molten Salt Reactors operates at low pressure makes MSRs a safer and more suitable choice under battle conditions. If an enemy shell goes through the ship and damages the reactor plumbing or the reactor core of a MSR the fuel salt just drips into a flat collection tray pre-placed under the reactor and via this passively safe mechanism fission stops and the reactor stops operating. This beats core meltdown scenarios that other reactor concepts suffer when there is damage to coolant pumping in the primary coolant area. Physically small high power to weight reactors are important to get excellent high levels of performance out of small ships - MSRs can be successfully built in sizes as small as 2 MW and this permits use in even quite small Navy ships. MSRs do not require heavy forged steel reactor containment vessels to be safe – this is responsible for many performance advantages and high power to weight ratio when applied in naval applications in smaller ships.

Why not make plans for a future in which all Navy ships, not just the very largest, perform at high levels and exhibit extraordinary range and capability to stay on station as ordered without requirement for refueling?
Why compromise naval performance to be politically trendy when a better technology choice would eliminate production of GHG and preserve unmatched world class naval performance and safety?

[1] Le Brun, C., "Impact of the MSBR concept technology on long lived radio toxicity and proliferation resistance"