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  • New Nuclear Offers Unique Advantages

    Last week at Heritage, representatives from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Thorium Reactors, Hyperion and General Atomics discussed the potential of new nuclear technologies for America. The full event is available and accessible by going to Heritage’s event site.

    The INL’s Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project, which is a private-public partnership that focuses on high temperature gas-cooled reactors, broadly expands the applications of nuclear energy beyond electricity production (by the way, the U.S. currently gets 20 percent of its electricity from 104 reactors). The heat produced from high temperature reactors can not only be used to run the turbines that produce electricity more efficiently, but the residual steam from that process can be used for many industrial processes, such as to manufacture plastic and throughout the petrochemical industry.

    For example, INL notes that to melt raw materials and mold them into plastic parts, companies need heat between 300 and 700 degrees Celsius. A high temperature reactor has the ability to cleanly provide the heat and energy needed for this process. You can learn much more at their site, Next Generation Nuclear Plants.

    Oh, and by the way, there is a whole bunch of oil trapped in tar sands and oil shale throughout North America, especially in the Green River Formation located in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. According to the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management, a moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. This reactor would be perfect for sending heat into the Earth to release that oil.

    Thorium power, although not commercially available in the U.S., has unique advantages that address two of the primary concerns for those skeptical of nuclear power.

    • The first is that it relies on a proliferation-resistant fuel cycle — no production of nuclear weapons-usable materials in spent fuel.
    • The second is the significantly reduced volume, weight and long-term radio-toxicity of spent fuel. Hasn’t Barack Obama said that he supports nuclear so long as the proliferation and waste problems are solved? Barack, Thorium. Thorium, Barack.

    Thorium isn’t quite new; in fact, it has been researched and developed for 30 years in six countries and been tested in several reactors. Two of India’s commercial reactors use a combination of thorium and uranium but use six times more thorium than uranium. While the technology is not fully developed, the future of thorium reactors looks promising.

    Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. is looking to commercialize small, nuclear reactors for remote locations as soon as 2013. The reactors, developed at the Las Alamos National Laboratory, are the size of a hot tub and buried under ground. According to Hyperion. it is impossible for them to melt down or be broken down into weapons. Furthermore, the amount of nuclear waste one of these reactors produces after about 5 years is about the size of a softball and could be reprocessed for more energy.

    And how much electricity do these “hot tubs” pump out? Enough to power 20,000 average-sized homes.
    Interestingly, Hyperion is concentrating on foreign markets because of the onerous nature of America’s nuclear regulatory regime.

    These examples provide sound logic for why we can’t move forward with centrally planned energy policy, let alone a centrally planned nuclear policy. Innovation and the market will develop unforeseen means to meet energy demands that would most likely be restricted by the tunnel vision of a central planner. That is why we need a regulatory regime, waste management strategy, and federal programs that invite competition and that are nuclear technology neutral.

    Next week we’ll be hosting William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey. Details of the event can be found here and it is open to the public.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to New Nuclear Offers Unique Advantages

    1. Eugene says:

      Now everyone is talking about the American economy and eclections, nice to read something different. Eugene

    2. Ken says:

      Sen. Obama is aware of Thorium Power Ltd. Susan Eisenhower is an adviser to both the Obama Campaign and is on Thorium Power's international advisory board. Amb. Thomas Graham Jr. is the Chairman of the Board of Thorium Power, a life long Republican and a member of Republicans for Obama. One of Sen. Obama's chief ecological advisers is Daniel Esty, a known Thorium Booster. There are multiple indications that when, in his acceptance speech he pointed to the camera and spoke of safer nuclear power, he was specifically referring to technologies mentioned in this article.

    3. htomfields, Idaho Fa says:

      You can find more information about Idaho National Laboratory's projects at http://www.inl.gov or at the YouTube site at http://www.youtube.com/user/IdahoNationalLab.

      Information about Generation IV Systems is available at

    4. Rod Adams says:


      I regret that I was unable to attend your recent event. It sounds like you had some excellent presentations.

      Like you, I believe that a centrally managed energy policy would be counterproductive. The government's proper role is to establish reasonable rules and to enforce those rules equally. (The equal protection clause often seems to be ignored for commercial enterprises, but it is a fundamental part of a well functioning democracy and free enterprise system.)

      That is one of the reasons that I am so distressed by what has been happening recently in the economy. When the government is an investor or a partner in an enterprise in a competitive business like banking or energy, they can no longer be a neutral enforcer of level playing field rules. Competing in such an environment can be like playing baseball in a game where the umpires are wearing your opponent's uniform.

      Just out of curiosity, have you ever heard of the Light Water Breeder Reactor? It was a very interesting proof of concept that used a U-233/Th-232 core in the Shippingport reactor to prove that it was possible to build a long life core that would actually create its own fuel as it operated. It ran for several years and was only shutdown to complete the science part of the experiment. It had plenty of fuel to continue running for quite a number of additional years.

      That was done in a conventional pressurized water reactor vessel.

    5. Eileen McCabe, Salt says:

      I am glad that the author notes that thorium power is not fully developed or ready for commercial development. It is also not clear how the waste would be handled. There is less of it, but it is hotter.

      While Hyperion says that theoretically the small reactors would be taken back, opened and the spent fuel reprocessed, they have not developed a process for doing so.

      Perhaps the NGNP reactors would be effective in sending enough heat into the earth to liquify the tar sands. However, what would the other effects be? Being from Utah, I'm not very eager to see the forests of the Uintahs and Green River Basin mowed down for tar sand development, and the river system put at risk for another dirty fuel.

      Our emphasis and investment must be on proven and incremental solutions now. Certainly, invest in the research for these ideas, but invest more and now in proven technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce our use of petroleum and other fossil fuels, such as solar, wind, electric cars and mass transit development. These are ideas that can be implemented NOW.

    6. Ken says:

      Thorium Power's fuel would be "hotter" coming out of the reactor due to a higher number and amounts of short lived isotopes rather than having a large amount of longer lived, and "cooler" trans-urnaics. This is essentially an evolution of the Shippingport experiment in the 1970's. They will probably require more water for post irradiation cooling. Since this part of the assembly stays in the reactor for 9 years vs 3, this shouldn't be a problem since this is a sizable fraction of the time any single assembly should require cooling.

      In terms of a faster solution based on an incremental advance, ISIS and NuScale are intermediate (300 MWhr) and small sized (12 MWhr) advanced light water reactors that are likely to be deployed in the near term. There are advantages to the small scale reactor in that less investment is needed up front and they should require vastly less containment. There is unfortunately very little information of late on the ISIS project, which Westinghouse and the DOE are coordinating. These reactors are also compatible with Thorium Power's fuel. Like the Pebble bed reactor, ISIS can be built into multi-module plants. If anyone can find what the current status of this project is it would helpful.

    7. Ken says:

      Sorry, that is IRIS not ISIS

    8. M Benjamin, Idaho Fa says:

      More information about the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Project is available at http://www.nextgenerationnuclearplant.com/.

    9. Pingback: hyperion nuclear

    10. Richard Slater says:

      Great work!
      Happy to let you know that your blog is reviewed at my blog. Your rest of the posts are really helpful, I have included your blog url at my blog roll also.

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