The Transition to a Different Climate and Geology

           and Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors

June 6 2019


Part 1    Proposition

Part 2    Will the human species survive

Part 3    Why nuclear and why not renewables

Part 4    CO2 and global mean temperature variation


PART 1

Proposition -

For the purpose of slowing and limiting global warming while fulfilling all land and ocean based energy requirements, molten salt nuclear reactors are necessary and perhaps ultimately sufficient, and at least one company has a prototype ready for implementation.

Today's solar panels, hydroelectric, and especially wind and ethanol are environmentally inferior to molten salt reactors, and cannot meet our energy requirements.

As the population grows and energy consumption grows, the equation becomes ever more difficult, even for nuclear.

Society is rushing forward with wind and solar installations, of which wind is the bigger mistake. Today's solar panels average 17 percent efficiency. They will all need to be ripped out and replaced with new panels in the years ahead, assuming cell efficiency can be increased two or three fold as some people are predicting. At 50 percent efficiency, solar panels could actually be a meaningful contributor to carbon free energy.

A recent headline in U.S.A. Today was that of a just-approved 100 megawatt (capacity) solar farm project in Utah. If we see 500,000 more identical headlines before world population increases, then we will have achieved global carbon-free energy.


PART 2

Before proceeding to the energy resource essay -

Some basic considerations about our chances of surviving as a species:

There are many theorized geological, oceanographic and atmospheric tipping points ahead, and we will remain mostly clueless as to the particulars or the timing until they are well underway, if they do occur.

We're now at 0.9 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial global mean temperature.

Humans can survive in the outdoors in the upper and lower latitudes until the global mean temperature exceeds roughly ten degrees celsius above pre-industrial.

Plant life, including food-producing plant life, can thrive at those higher temperatures. Plants thrive at extremely high levels of CO2, and even humans can thrive at a CO2 levels of 3000 ppm. The legal limit for submarine crews is 5000 ppm. Our current atmospheric CO2 level is 415 ppm.

Primates have lived during times when global mean temperature was eight degrees celsius higher than today's and atmospheric CO2 was at least as high as 750 ppm (more likely 1500 ppm).

No one is predicting storms at any point in the future that are so powerful and numerous as to wipe out civilization.

No one is predicting that all land mass on the planet will ever dissappear.

If molten salt nuclear reactors - or perhaps even fusion reactors - become sufficiently numerous, it's plausible that carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere, as the obstacle has always been one of insufficient energy to perform the task.

Even if we continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas, it's plausible that civilization would survive the transition to high temperature conditions and reduced land mass, since the transition will proceed at a rate such that even small differences in climate or geology would be noticed on a yearly, rather than weekly basis.

We'll return to the topic of global warming after the following essay on energy sources.



PART 3


S O L A R,   W I N D,   E T H A N O L   and   N U C L E A R

You've probably heard that we have made great strides in renewable energy in recent years.

Take a quiz:   What percentage of the world's energy consumption in 2018 did the combination of solar and wind power provide? The answer is near the bottom of this page.

Neither wind power nor today's solar panels can possibly be an adequate solution to global warming. No combination of today's renewables can meet the needs of the global infrastructure already in place.

People fear nuclear energy due to their lack of understanding of simple concepts associated with it, especially when it comes to comparing the environmental impact of nuclear energy with the environmental impact of every other form of energy production, including every type of renewable energy  (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, biofuel).

Molten salt nuclear reactors are nearly set to begin replacing the current generation of reactors. Even so, looking back: Power plant meltdowns and nuclear waste have had insignificant environmental impact in the global context compared to naturally occuring radiation, and compared to other types of pollution.

Also, consider the number of deaths globally per watt-hour from both pollution and accidents associated with all fossil fuels and biomass. Nuclear's impact in that area has been comparatively insignificant. A chart is lower on this page.

And again, I'm writing here of our old fashioned nuclear plants. With molten salt reactors, the superiority of nuclear power goes up even more.

Molten salt reactors are immune from meltdowns, even in the absence of human controllers. They consume as fuel our current stockpiles of spent uranium and plutonium, including weapons grade plutonium. Beyond that, they can use thorium as fuel. Thorium is abundant on a global scale, and there is enough to meet the needs of civilization for about a thousand years. Additionally, molten salt reactors can function as breeder reactors, producing an infinite amount of fuel.

And they produce a small fraction of the waste of current nuclear reactors. Additionally, the waste produced is innocuous after 300 years, versus tens of thousands of years for current nuclear waste.

Molten salt reactor technology is sixty years old. A successful demonstration plant operated for four years in the late 1960s. Political dealings in those years by uninformed people resulted in funding loss for continuing development. The technology was revived during the first few years of this century, and at least one company has a prototype ready for implementation.

Molten salt reactors can be mass produced in factories at scales ranging from backyard sized to giga-sized, and quickly implemented. The challenge is one of politics, public perception, and beaurocracy.

Keeping all existing nuclear power plants operational during the redevelopment of molten salt reactor technology would have been the best ecological path.

The implementation of wind farms and low efficiencey (17% average) solar farms was an environmental travesty in many ways. They are devastating to rural and wilderness areas both ecologically and visually. (Which is one of the reasons I had pontificated against them from the outset.)

They exact a large toll on the wildlife of the land, even in desert settings. Wind farms are additionally devastating to birds and bats.

And we get little in return.

The amount of power generated as a ratio to the gigantic footprint and infrastructure of these "farms" pales in comparison to the ratio of power/infrastructure of nuclear power, which of course is tiny footprint and high output.

Land area required for 10 Gigawatts capacity:

   Wind:    5000 km2

   Solar:    400 km2

   Nuclear:    2 km2


The intermittent power generated by solar and wind farms complicates the electrical grid while at the same time necessitating a greatly expanded grid (meaning a great increase in transmission towers and transmission lines) which of course devastates even more rural and wilderness area. And of course massive scale battery storage of the intermittent energy produced would be another substantial environmental adversity.

All of that is in addition to the land area comparison in the above map.

As for infrastucture - even 1970s era nuclear power plants required 1/5 the steel and 1/11 the concrete per watt delivered to the consumer of today's wind turbines. That favorable comparison to wind power increases when one considers the extra transmission towers neccesitated by wind farms.

Rooftop solar panels and backyard wind turbines also complicate the electrical grid due to the intermittent output. Perhaps it works better than centralized solar or wind farms, but the intermittency and associated batteries remain a significant drawback. Additionally, today's solar panels can't meet our larger energy requirements.

Again, molten salt reactors can be mass produced in factories at scales ranging from backyard sized to giga-sized, and quickly implemented. The challenge is one of politics, public perception, and beaurocracy.

Germany has purportedly made more progress than any other western nation the past ten years in the area of "clean energy", relying solely on solar and wind to make their transition. But their carbon emissions over that time period have changed little, and in fact are currently rising, due largely to the recent decommission of nuclear power plants.

In short, today's large scale solar power and wind power are not only failures as compared to nuclear, they are ecologically inferior. Not only are they ecologically inferior in and of themselves, but every dollar of our natural resources and time spent on them is a dollar not available to spend on nuclear.

Ethanol from corn is at least as tragic. Every time you fill your tank with ethanol, you are contributing to global warming more than you would by filling up with pure gasoline. More carbon is released in the process of making ethanol than what is saved by burning ethanol instead of pure gasoline. And the land used for growing this damaging fuel is never allowed to capture carbon properly, as it would if it were left in a natural state or used for traditional farming and allowed to recover periodically. Ethanol exists only as an attempt by non-analytical and/or opportunistic politicians to win votes by claiming it would set us free from reliance on foreign oil. The false ecological pitch was part of the misrepresentation, and big business seized the opportunity to get rich from the government subsidy.

Links for further reading are provided at the bottom of this page.

Five graphs pertaining to energy sources

Many promoters of solar and wind power will mislead regarding the contribution of solar and wind to global energy consumption by talking only about global electrical energy consumption.

Global electrical energy consumption is only 18 percent of global total energy consumption.

At 0.83 percent, wind power has yet to make a dent in meeting global energy needs.

At 0.33 percent, solar power has yet to make a dent at making a dent.

Solar and wind combined contribute less than 1.2 percent.


The percentages in the graph below were obtained by looking up actual energy globally consumed on a resource by resource basis, and then dividing that energy consumption by total global energy consumption.

You will see other percentages in pie chart graphs done by other people. They seem to be confusing energy generation capacity with energy consumption regarding various energy resources, and then dividing a capacity quantity by the total consumption quantity. Even in those charts - with their inflated percentages for wind, solar, hydroelectric and nuclear - solar and wind show up at only about three percent when combined.



















Largely as a result of the net loss of nuclear power
plants over the past 20 years, the percentage
of global "clean energy" has drastically declined:






PART 4


CO2 AND GLOBAL MEAN TEMPERATURE VARIATION

Over any time interval, increased atmospheric CO2 will raise global temperature, and increased global temperature will result in increased geological and oceanographic release of CO2 into the atmosphere. In other words, there are feedback loops which occur on any time scale. There are a multitude of other natural phenomona driving global temperature change over long time periods as well.

None of that has any bearing on what has been happening over the past century.

Only over the past century does data clearly indicate which of those two parameters is driving the other over the particular short time interval in question:

This past century is a special case in that we know how much carbon has been released into the atmosphere (where it combines with oxygen to form CO2) as the result of burning fossil fuels. Although that amount is small compared to natural releases of carbon (as part of the CO2 molecule) into the atmosphere, it is the part that has seemed to disrupt what had been an overall stable system going back thousands of years:

The oceans and land release carbon, but they also absorb it. Burning coal and oil only releases carbon. That is what is unique to the past century.

The additional CO2 in the atmosphere (up from 280 ppm to 415 ppm) is mostly accounted for by the carbon released by burning fossil fuels over the past century.

Whether or not a doubling of atmospheric CO2 (to 800 ppm) is possible (given the debate about CO2 saturation)
I couldn't tell you. That would apparently raise the global mean temperature another one or two degrees celsius.

Studies suggest that atmospheric CO2 was at least as high as 2700 ppm 500 million years ago. However, unlike the past 800,000 years, atmospheric CO2 and global mean temperature show little correlation with each other on the millions of years scale. See graphs below.


Next, let's look at CO2 and temperature 
graphs for four time periods -


  1880 - 2018

  Past 1000 years

  Past 800,000 years

  Past 570 million years



1880 - 2018





Past 1000 years





Past 800,000 years





Past 570 million years






FINAL NOTE:

Among the next generation of nuclear reactors,
molten salt reactors are getting the most attention,
and that is one of the reasons I focused on them
in this article.

Also, ThorCon is about set to begin building molten 
salt reactors for implementation in Indonesia.

It's a good thing there are many companies
developing both MSR's and other types of next 
generation reactors, because it doesn't seem that
ThorCon's plan alone could switch the planet over
to nuclear soon enough.  Lars Jorgensen of ThorCon
states in one of his presentations that his builders
can turn out 100gw of new reactors every year.
I did the arithmetic.  At that rate it would take
120 years to bring enough of them online to meet
today's land based and ocean based energy requirements.

Also, there are only about two decades of lithium 
reserves in the world for making batteries for cars 
and trucks, once internal combustion engines have 
been entirely replaced with electric motors.  Another 
energy storage device will need to replace lithium 
batteries in the near future.  Nano-technologists 
will perhaps invent materials which will improve 
performance of flywheel energy storage.


June 6 2019   Roger Luebeck



FURTHER READING


Nuclear Power in India
Srikumar Banerjee, nuclear scientist and metallurgical engineer,
is the Indian Department of Atomic Energy’s Chair Professor at 
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

Thorium to Light Up the World

_____________________________________


ThorCon: Cheap, Reliable, CO2-Free Electricity by Lars Jorgensen 

ThorCon

_____________________________________


Moltex SSR (Stable Salt Reactors)  -  A Roadmap to Thorium
Published on May 31, 2019

Adam Owens of https://moltexenergy.com/ outlines Moltex Energy's 3 reactor designs: 
SSR-W, SSR-U and SSR-Th.  Each one targets a different world market, with the 
primary distinction being SSR-W is fueled by Plutonium from spent reactor fuel.

Moltex Energy

_____________________________________


Fast-Spectrum Molten-Salt Reactor - Elysium Industries - Ed Pheil

Elysium Fast Spectrum

_____________________________________


The Molten Salt Reactor Experiment

The Oak Ridge 1960s Reactor

_____________________________________


WNN: Why nuclear

World Nuclear News 

_____________________________________


NASA:  Causes of global warming

climate.nasa.gov/causes