Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear power’


China to accelerate thorium reactor development.

March 30, 2014

Thorium is a viable alternative to uranium for power generation with some huge potential advantages.  It is a shame that the United States is not aggressively pursuing it as an energy source.  China has been exploring the use of thorium and just announced a rapid acceleration in their development schedule.

According to the South China Morning Post…

A team of scientists in Shanghai had originally been given 25 years to try to develop the world’s first nuclear plant using the radioactive element thorium as fuel rather than uranium, but they have now been told they have 10.

UntitledThat statement isn’t entirely true. There have been several reactors of varying design powered by thorium. My own state of Colorado had the thorium powered Fort St. Vrain power station back in the 1970s and 1980s.  Today, Thor Energy in Norway is pursuing a U-233/thorium fuel cycle

But the Chinese are working toward the holy grail of thorium reactors: a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR or “lifter”). Here is a nice “” video on the LFTR concept.

smogChina’s appetite for energy is growing by leaps and bounds.  Coal is their primary source of electricity, but the resulting smog chokes their cities.  Coal will continue to be heavily utilized in China in coming years, but they see thorium a likely route to a cleaner future.  They currently have nearly thirty nuclear reactors of various types under construction to meet some of the growing demand.  But the LFTR has the greatest potential for fuel supply, non-proliferation, and minimal long term radioactive risk.

It is sad that the great United States may have to learn this lesson from the Chinese.


James Lovelock says nuclear better than wind.

January 26, 2013

James Lovelock has worn many hats.  He worked with NASA to make instruments for studying extraterrestrial planetary atmospheres and surfaces.  He invented the electron capture detector for studying traces of various chemicals in gas.  He has been awarded multiple prizes from many academic and environmental groups.

However, he is best known as the founding father of the much-loved (by environmental groups) “Gaia Theory.”  According to…

“The Gaia Theory posits that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.” In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc.”

This seductive reasoning ignores the reality that life evolves, as best it can, to survive in a given environment, and while life may change the environment it does not “automatically control” it to “maintain its own habitability.”  But my point here is not to argue with the Gaia theory.

Lovelock was an icon in environmentalist circles, but since he started publicly endorsing nuclear energy a few years ago his aura seems to be fading.  He has been condemned as being senile or worse (see here or comments here).

In a recent comment (see discussion at Lovelock condemns a single proposed wind turbine in a bucolic English setting, calling it “industrial vandalism.”  But more importantly he goes on to say…

“we should look to the French who have wisely chosen nuclear energy as their principal source; a single nuclear power station provides as much as 3200 large wind turbines.”

I am not one to condemn wind turbines for aesthetic reasons.  In fact, I find that modern wind turbines have their own beauty in their graceful structure.  But Lovelock is certainly right in his comparison of the utility of wind turbines with nuclear energy.

Lovelock closes his comments with this homily…

I am an environmentalist and founder member of the Greens but I bow my head in shame at the thought that our original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. We never intended a fundamentalist Green movement that rejected all energy sources other than renewable, nor did we expect the Greens to cast aside our priceless ecological heritage because of their failure to understand that the needs of the Earth are not separable from human needs. We need take care that the spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island, monuments of a failed civilisation.


An easy climate change / energy quiz

November 13, 2008

Here is a simple, fun, 10 question quiz that covers a sample of climate change and/or energy issues.   Simply check the appropriate box and push the “vote” button for each question.  After you have pushed the vote button you will see the accumulated wisdom of everybody who has answered that question so far.  You can even leave a comment for any question, which I encourage.

Note that several of the questions requiring numerical answers have “order of magnitude” choices.   That is, they require “back of the envelope” type approximations, not high precision.

At the bottom of the quiz you will find a link to a solutions page, with links to supporting evidence, and “back of the envelope” calculations.  If you want, you can look at the solutions first and then take the quiz – but that would be cheating!

After enough people have answered the questions I will post the results at ClimateSanity.

Have fun!


 Here are five false color images of the sea ice in the arctic.  The images represent the ice on five year intervals on July 18th of 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2008.  Your task is to use your knowledge of changing conditions in the Arctic to put them in the proper chronological order.  Note that each image uses the same color scale (shown in the upper left corner of each image) to indicate the density of ice as a function of position. 

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5


Question 2


Question 3

In the fall of 2007, after the northern summer melt season, the Arctic sea ice extent anomaly reached its lowest level since satellite monitoring began in 1979.  This was followed by warnings that the Arctic ice could be completely gone by the summer of 2012. 


Question 4

In 1979 the worst nuclear accident in US history happened at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania. 


Question 5

A rising sea level is one of the feared symptoms of global warming.  According to the Jason and Topax satellite tracking of ocean levels, the average sea level rise rate for the last 10 years has been about 3.2 mm per year.  This is interpreted by some to indicate an accelerating sea level rise rate.  IPCC expert Simon Holgate’s 2004 data (Holgate, S.J., and P.L. Woodworth, 2004: Evidence for enhanced coastal sea level rise during the 1990s. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, L07305, doi:10.1029/2004GL019626.) was prominently featured in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4, Working Group 1: The Physical Science Basis of Climate change, Chapter 5).  In a more recent 2007 paper (S.J. Holgate, “On decadal rates of sea level change during the twentieth century“, Geophysical Research Letters34: GL019626 (2007)., Holgate reconstructed sea level rise rates from high quality tidal gauge data going back to about 1900.


Question 6

NASA Scientist James Hansen estimated a sea level rise of 15 feet for the 21st century.


Question 7

The northern coast of Greenland is at 83.5 degrees north latitude.  It is the closest land to the North Pole.  Satellite data since 1979 has always shown this region locked in sea ice.  If global warming were to result in an ice free arctic sometime during this century, it is believed that this area would be the last place to lose its summer ice.


Question 8

Compact fluorescent light bulbs use only 25% of the energy of an incandescent light bulb to give the same number of lumens of light.



Question 9


Question 10

Since 1963 Africa’s Lake Chad has experienced severe shrinkage.  While atmospheric CO2 levels have continuously increased since 1963, the surface area of the lake has dropped from about 25,000 square kilometers to about 1,500 square kilometers.  This fact has been presented by Al Gore and others as a consequence of anthropogenically induced global warming.  Of course, this evidence must be considered in comparison to how the lake was changing when CO2 levels were not increasing. 


***Click here for quiz solutions***



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