Gates to go nuclear with China?

Looks like Bill Gates trying to partner up with China in order to test the TerraPower TWR. We’ve been wondering about this design, namely about the heat transfer medium, nuclear waste management and reactor decommissioning. There’s no information about these issues on the TerraPower website and we all know the devil is in the details. Then we found out about a guy named Kirk Sorensen criticising the concept. He addressed exactly the last two points while providing a hint about the first. It turns out the heat transfer medium to be used by the TWR is liquid metal. Probably sodium. TerraPower’s idea of decommissioning and nuclear waste management is burying the whole thing once the nuclear fuel has been used up. Sorensen thinks it’s a bad idea to simply bury a 60 year old container with sodium and plutonium in it and any sane person would fully agree with him. Why? Well, probably because sodium is flamable and will explode in contact with water, while plutonium is radioactive and accumulates in the human body. In the end you essentialy have a big dirty bomb buried underground.

Looking at the footnote about Sorensen’s criticism we’ve found this video. It’s mainly a description of the LFTR and how this techology differs from current designs. Really interesting.

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8 Responses to “Gates to go nuclear with China?”

  1. Cris Says:

    I thought people were starting to think a bit about what they were doing building nuclear power plants. I’ve read that they are not in the least efficient, neither to build nor to exploit:

    http://www.ifg.org/pdf/ -> Nuclear_Roulette_book.pdf

  2. Cris Says:

    By the way, I assume the reactor would be called “Nuclear Windows” & will have a special feature called “the blue restart button”. :-D

  3. ggl Says:

    Actually the TWR is the nuclear reactor analogue of Windows 95. But instead of a Blue Screen of Death you get the Dirty Bomb of Death. A mere groundwater leak into the container is enough to make the thing go boom and spread all the radioactive fission producs around. Perhaps this is part of the Gates plan to reduce world population, haha.

    Jokes aside, the LFTR is nothing like current designs. Just watch the first 5 minutes of the video in the last paragraph. And the thing is it’s not new. It’s been around since the ’50s, known as the Molten Salt Thorium Reactor. It’s just that people were always making the wrong choices with nuclear. Commercial nuclear reactor designs have always been married with nucelar weapons programmes. You just had to tweak a reactor a bit in order to make weapons grade plutonium. By contrast LFTR is proliferation resistant because it uses the thorium cycle. It would be really dumb and rather inefficient to build nuclear weapons with stuff taken out of it.

    Here’s another interesting video.

  4. VM Says:

    “…Bill Gates IS trying” :)

  5. CD Says:

    There’s that old joke about an economist not bothering to bend and pick up from the street a $100 note, because “it isn’t any note there; had it been one, somebody else would have picked it up a long time ago.”
    Same here. Had this technology been a winning proposition, it would have earned its place under the sun a long time ago. Same for the stuff I’ve wasted several years of my life with, nuclear fusion. Technological dead-ends.
    Not saying these are never ever going to happen, but let the likes of Bill Gates waste their time and money with them.
    Meanwhile, take a look to the solar modules market. “The China price” has just about crossed into under-$1/Wp territory. Solar, hydro, wind (in this particular order), decentralized generation and, more than anything else, a significant change in the way we consume electricity, all together hold a lot more promise for a solution to the energy crisis than nuclear reactors of any size, shape and color. My 2 pennies.

  6. ggl Says:

    While wind and photovoltaics are okay for a remote cabin in the mountains, I seriously doubt they could solve the global energy crisis. Both of them require vast space and are not very efficient. PV has got capacity factors too small, about 12…20%. Even solar-thermal which is a bit better needs to be run on gas during the night in order to improve its capacity factor and put it in base load powerstation area (>75%). And in order to do that you need to have a gas pipe around. CF for wind power is in the 20….40% figures. This is without mentioning costs. Wind and PV cost a lot.

    Nuclear and geothermal plants by contrast normally achieve capacity factors of >90%. I’m not a big fan of nuclear as it is today, but this is the reality. Geothermal energy is essentially nuclear fission and decay taking place inside the Earth.

    What we need is cheaper proliferation-resistant nuclear energy that doesn’t use pressurized reactors. Their output should be suitable for Brayton or combined cycle gas turbines, because we can achieve efficiencies up to 50%. The rest we can use as cogeneration heat for manufacturing concrete, ammonia or other zero emission fuels, or whatever.

    World superpowers have been busy building nuclear bombs and the nuclear industry has been busy selling complicated and expensive designs which are inherently unsafe. Almost everything in the nuclear industry revolves around the plutonium fuel cycle. That’s how the world ended up using PWRs and BWRs and with huges amounts of nuclear waste.

  7. CD Says:

    Guess we could have this conversation in private and in Romanian, not sure anyone else is following it :-)
    Having doubts is healthy and commending (even when you’re utterly wrong, like in the case of believing wind energy is a sound option for that remote cabin); since the great Frenchman, only the idiots have certainties.
    I’m not sure you really gave a serious thought to my previous message, but I won’t spend a lot more time trying to persuade you or others; I am old enough to have learned the lesson of humbleness.
    “Your” technology proposition is 50 or 60 years old, has produced no tangible results so far and attracted several billions in investments. “Mine,” i.e. PV energy, has really been around for like 25 years, has attracted many trillions and has some nice results to show (will send you asap a chart to post it here if you can), not the last of which is grid parity in some expensive markets.
    Speaking of humbleness, I have long learned not to believe myself a lot smarter than the market — which basically concentrates the collective wisdom of tens of thousands, or even millions of people. This collective wisdom was proved wrong before, but not too often. The low risk bet is to assume the market is right and hence PV will prevail over thorium, or controlled fusion, or energy transfer via stellar gates (yes, there are people who consider themselves serious proposing such “solutions”).
    But ultimately facts speak for themselves. Do let me know when you build a thorium-cycle reactor in your backyard; you will probably hear of my PV work in less than two years. Might even have an enticing business proposition for you :-)

  8. ggl Says:

    The MSTR produced “no” tangible results so far due to policy makers betting everything on LWR designs in their PWR and BWR incarcations. And then kicking the PWR deisgner, Alvin Weinberg, out because he kept promoting this other technology, the MSTR. It was the Nixon administration who did that — the same people who brought us the Vietnam war. I really recommend this fine documentary to get some insight on some of the current commercialy available nuclear technologies.

    It’s not “my” technology, but I believe it can solve the bigger part of the problem if it’s designed, implemented and used correctly. This belief is shared by at least two emerging world powers: China and India. These two contries account for half of the world’s population, hence market. China has licensed almost every possible nuclear technology available and India is very much into thorium.

    I would not put all my faith in the market.

    I am definitely not going to build a nuclear reactor in my back yard. This is silly. Even if I tried, I’d have the ENSREG allover the place pretty soon. Nuclear power is not something you build in your garage. Only free energy devices are built in garages. And they don’t work.

    But what I am doing is selling and installing solar panels. Thermal and PV, mainly for residential systems. And what I’ve found out is that solar power is merely and adjuvant. Not the primary source. Not your base load power station, for reasons outlined above. In order to put solar power into base load power plant territory, you need to oversize the collector area by a factor of at least six and also employ tracking systems. You also need efficient energy storage and you need lots of it.

    About fusion. Controlled hot fusion really is magic. And cold fusion is almost always a scam. Here’s a fusion joke: fusion is the energy source of the future and it will always be. Until then, fission is good enough.

    The alternative to nuclear energy almost always equates to burning fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases, particulate matter and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic and cadmium from burning coal) into the atmosphere. Geothermal is another green alternative, but it’s highly localized and more expensive to implement (costs as much as current nuclear technologies).

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