Saturday, May 16, 2015

Thorium Nuclear Reactor Not the World Savior

Subtitle: Archibald Writes Wrong on Thorium

A recent article on Watts Up With That, WUWT (see link) sings the praises of thorium-fueled nuclear power plants as the savior of the world.  The article is by David Archibald, "a visiting fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C."  

Mr. Archibald could not be more wrong in his assessment - with one small exception, see end of this article. 
Thorium molten salt reactor schematic
source: Idaho National Lab

As written in several articles on SLB, nuclear power in any form is hopelessly uneconomic, impractical and unsafe.  see link, and link, and link.   As a result, almost full subsidy from government is required for any nuclear plants to be constructed and operate  (see link). 

Mr. Archibald opines that fossil fuel will disappear "soon" and only thorium-based nuclear power will be available.   He states that solar and wind will be unable to provide power, especially economic power.  

He states that a 250 MWe thorium power plant would be the basis for new plants.  This suffers from the same economy of scale problem that plagues small nuclear reactors (see link).   He further makes the mistake of using overnight (estimated) cost for the fully installed cost of a plant.  He uses $3,246 per Kw for overnight cost and a plant size of 250 MWe, then states the installed cost is $800 million each.   The fact is, as written on SLB (see link), major industrial projects require far more costs than just overnight cost.  The costs associated with material and labor inflation over time, and interest on construction loans can easily double or triple the overnight costs.  Construction schedules, or time to construct, typically stretch far beyond initial estimates, with actual time from start to startup being 8 to 10 years or more.  

Now, as to what Mr. Archibald got right.  He correctly stated that coal will run out.  His timetable is off by a couple of centuries, but he is correct that it will run out.  As earlier stated on SLB, the facts that coal will soon run out, and coal presently provides almost one-half of the world's electricity present one of the biggest challenges of our times.  Perhaps, it is the single biggest challenge.  

The alternative to coal is not nuclear, as Mr. Archibald states, but the vast amounts of free, renewable, zero-pollution, reliable power provided by ocean currents, solar, and wind with appropriate energy storage.  Note carefully, though, that ocean current power needs no storage.  (see link

I have not read the comments on Mr. Archibald's article at WUWT, but they are sure to be entertaining.  And for the most part, very wrong.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mars Colony - Bad Idea

Subtitle: A One-Way Death Voyage

The idea of sending men (and presumably, women) to Mars, and having them establish a base in which to live has long been discussed. NASA has a webpage on the subject. (see link)  This article, and subsequent articles, discusses the Mars colonization issue from the perspective of an experienced process engineer.   The conclusion is grim: A Mars colony has very little hope of success due to very difficult conditions on Mars, the frailty of humans, and inevitable decay and malfunction of processes.   Evidence is presented from a variety of sources, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and NASA's own studies.  
credit: NASA website

To begin with the basics: humans require several things for life.  These things include (but are not limited to) breathable air, drinkable water, palatable and nourishing food, heat or cooling to maintain the body within a narrow comfort range, medical care, sanitation, protection from intense radiation, and protection from deadly meteors that fall from the sky.  For a colony to be self-sustaining, basic biology dictates that a sufficient number of unrelated people be included to produce healthy children.  

The conditions on Mars are now fairly well-known: the atmosphere is unbreathable, even corrosive; water exists but requires great effort to make clean enough for drinking, cooking, and bathing; ambient temperatures range from a few moments of 70 degrees F in daytime down to minus 200 F at night; soil is likely poisonous to plant life; radiation at the surface is deadly, plus the radiation penetrates as much as 3 feet into the surface; and the atmosphere is too thin to effectively burn up meteors.   As if those conditions were not sufficient, the long journey from Earth to Mars requires prospective colonists to endure strong, inter-planetary radiation.    

Ideas for colonies generally attempt to overcome these obstacles.   There is typically some energy source to provide electricity that is then used for air production, heating, lighting, and powering various equipment.   The energy source typically is stated as solar photo-voltaic, or PV.  What is not stated is the very weak solar energy at Mars' distance from the sun, nor the difficulty create by tremendous dust clouds that obscure the sun.   How much the PV system will be degraded by wind-blown dust is not mentioned much, if at all.   Storing the limited PV-provided electricity for use at night and during dust storms is a major issue.   

Living quarters must be enclosed to keep out the thin Martian atmosphere, and retain the human-tolerant air inside.   The pressure inside is much greater than that outside, so any leaks or punctures will send precious air out into the atmosphere.  That air must be replaced.  Living quarters must also provide shielding from deadly radiation from space, and from meteors of any size that smash into the surface.   Some proposals call for cave-like living quarters located under the surface.  

One recent MIT study (see link) showed the plans for growing plants would result in a poisonous air composition within a short time due to an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, CO2. 

It is assumed by colony proponents that seeds will survive and be viable after the long journey from Earth, even after being exposed to deep-space radiation.  Studies on Earth show that seeds are detrimentally affected by ionizing radiation. 

One of the greatest problems, though, is the impact on mechanical systems and especially their lubricants, from fine dust found on Mars.  It is as yet unknown how long a system would operate before the grit in the dust causes the mechanical systems to fail.   It may be that filtration or cyclonic systems can be designed and implemented to reduce dust-related failures.  

The lack of spare parts, and additional food to sustain the colonists are issues to be considered.   It is likely that unmanned, resupply ships must be sent on a regular basis to the colony.  Given the long transit time, it will be difficult to obtain needed parts and supplies on a timely basis.  This is not like contacting an internet store and having the items appear at your doorstep the next day.   Crop failures, and critical equipment malfunctions, could and probably will cause early death for the colonists. 

Finally, for this article, the basics of biology dictate that Mars colonists should not have children.  A small gene pool would result in birth defects in subsequent generations.   Proponents might respond that that problem can be overcome with sperm banks and ova, however the technology to successfully perform artificial insemination may be far beyond that found in a Mars colony. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Arctic Sea Ice Not Melting in 2015

Subtitle:  Where Is All The Heat That Melts The Ice?

Arctic sea-ice extent, 4/22/2015, Red line is 2015
source: NORSEX SSM/I
One of the interesting aspects of being a global warming skeptic is observing the data that cannot be easily falsified, fabricated, adjusted, or plain made-up.   As readers of SLB will know, my view of the entire Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) issue is that there is zero cause for alarm from warming.  There is, however, genuine reason for concern over global cooling.   

The graph at the right shows a close-up of sea-ice extent data from NORSEX for the past few years, with the red line indicating extent for 2015  (see link).  What caught my attention is the relative flat-ness of the red line, compared to most of the earlier years.  The graph shows ice extent in millions of square kilometers on the vertical axis.  The horizontal axis shows time in approximately 10 day increments (three increments for each month), with January 1 at the far left. 

Is this normal, or unprecedented?   Careful inspection of the graph shows that the light green line, representing the data for 2011, also had a similar flat trend over the same period.  Therefore, the flat trend for this year has a precedent.  

One can also speculate on the reasons for the ice not melting at the "normal" rate, where "normal" is provided by the blue dotted line.  The blue dots represent the monthly average of the period 1979 - 2006.   The slope of the blue dotted line from the maximum (roughly March 10th) to April 22 is (very roughly estimated) 15 million to 14 million, or a decrease of 1 million square kilometers.  Yet this year, only (roughly) one-third that amount of ice melted.    Could the reason be that CO2 in the atmosphere is not getting the job done?   Are there clouds over the Arctic this year, preventing solar heat from hitting the ice?   Are the ocean currents that enter the Arctic colder than usual this year?   Is the black carbon soot that normally falls on the ice absent this year?    Perhaps the Arctic winds are not blowing the ice floes to the south, where they meet warmer waters and melt.  

I don't know the answer or answers.  What I do know is that the ice is not melting this year, at least not at the historic rate.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California
Copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nuclear Plant May Have Unsafe Steel

Subtitle:  France May Have Installed Unsafe Steel In Flamanville Reactor

Several recent articles, including this one from BBC (see link), and this from RT (see link) state that the new nuclear power plant under construction in France's Flamanville complex has reactor vessel components with high carbon content; making the steel weaker than it should be.  
EPR Reactor Vessel for Flamanville, France

From the BBC article:

"In a joint statement, Areva and EDF said new tests were under way on the "reactor vessel head and bottom".

"It said this followed initial tests which had shown "greater than average carbon content" - something French regulators said caused "lower than expected mechanical toughness" in the steel."

This nuclear plant is the new, 1600 MWe EPR design, or European Pressurized Reactor.  Another EPR is under construction at Olkiluoto, Finland.   The planned new reactor at UK's Hinkley Point is to also have the same EPR design.   

Not having access to the laboratory test reports for the reactor components at Flamanville, it is not possible to assess the problem.  However, a few comments are in order. 

First, what quality control measures are in place that would allow such steel to be fabricated and installed?   It would appear that French regulators are remiss in their duty to ensure only acceptable materials of construction are used. 

Next, what impacts will occur if (and when) the reactor is rejected as unsafe?  How long will a new reactor require for fabrication and installation?    What will be the cost impacts?  Will the plant be finished, or abandoned as hopelessly costly?   Alternatively, can the reactor be modified at this time and made safe?  What will be the cost and schedule impacts of such modifications?

Next, what impact will there be on future plants?  Is the reactor at Olkiluoto made of the same steel?  The Hinkley Point EPR reactors are also stated as made from the same steel.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California USA

copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Brutal Winter of 2015 - Not Over Yet

Subtitle: When will Congressional hearings occur to hold mis-leading scientists accountable?

The winter of 2015 is not yet over, not by a long shot.  The US east coast is having a record year for total snowfall, with one blast of cold air following another. Blizzards have brought major cities to a standstill, with public transportation not operating.  Roofs are collapsing on buildings.   Record cold temperature is reported in many areas (record lows, and in some cases, daily high temperatures that are lower then ever recorded).  (citations: too many to include, future visitors are encouraged to search the internet for Winter 2015)  However, here is one link to a NOAA pdf file that describes conditions on the east coast on February 14-15, 2015 see link.  

The conditions mentioned above are entirely consistent with what I wrote, and discussed in a speech in May of 2015, posted on SLB here, see link.  (note, this article is the second most-viewed post on SLB).   The speech title is "Warmists are Wrong, Cooling Is Coming."   A brief portion of the speech is below, from "Part III: Implications" --

Transportation and industrial output:  this will be huge.  We do not move barges over frozen rivers.  We know this.  When a river is frozen for many months out of the year, how can you get your materials moved?  What about trains or heavy ground transportation; will they work? Probably not. The train is going to cross the Rockies’ grades in the snow and ice?   Likely not.

Industrial output: how does one move materials around?  How do we get raw materials into the factories and the products out?  If we have seen big trucks trying to go up even a small incline during an ice storm, well, they don't.  We can not get trucks to go up or down the Grapevine incline here just north of Los Angeles when snow falls.  Multiply this 1000 times across the northern tier of the United States.

Communications and infrastructure: we know what happens when ice storms or big snowstorms occur.   The system fails.  Why does it fail?  It is due to ice on the lines or tree limbs falling on the lines.  Can you imagine this on the scale something like the Little Ice Age?  We’re going to need serious reconsideration of infrastructure.   

We have seen employers being unable to open their doors because their employees cannot get to work.  Mandatory curfews - stay indoors orders - have been issued.  Light rail transportation systems are stopped; the various parts will not function reliably in the deep snow and cold.  One example cited in Boston is rail switches that cannot be operated reliably.   

Power grids are failing due to high winds, with hurricane-level winds, ice on the lines, and limbs or entire trees smashing into the lines.    City budgets for ice and snow removal are already exhausted.   Simply finding a place to put the snow is a major problem. 

In an unprecedented move (to my knowledge), Boston officials allowed snow to be dumped directly into the Boston harbor - an area previously off-limits due to environmental regulations.  

The nuclear power plant at Plymouth, in Massachusetts, has shut down as a precaution in this storm (Feb. 14, 2015) - but was also shut down in an earlier storm a few days ago when the grid failed.   Plant operators assured everyone that they had plenty of fuel for the emergency generators and the plant was safe.   Well, one would expect them to have sufficient fuel for the diesel generators.

The storms are not finished, either.  Weather predictors show yet another blizzard with very cold air next weekend.  

At some point, currently unknown, the US Congress or Senate will hold hearings to inquire why the prominent climate scientists were so very, very wrong.   It won't be while Obama is president, because he has maintained (many times) that global warming is real and a serious threat.  That is entirely false.  Global warming stopped more than a decade ago and the global cooling has begun. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California USA
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell 

Nuclear Plant Delayed Yet Again - Costs Soar

Subtitle:  Vogtle Plant Expansion approaching $17 billion and 3 years late

The twin-reactor nuclear power plant under construction at the Vogtle site in Georgia (US) has once again had delays and cost over-runs. see link.   From the article:  

“The abysmal failure to execute this project, with the long delays, repeated construction screw-ups and escalating costs, means that even if Vogtle (expansion) is completed, it will not be the starting gun of the race for new (nuclear) reactor construction in the U.S.,” said Mark Cooper, a fellow with the Institute for Energy and the Environment. “It will be the mausoleum in which nuclear power is laid to rest.”  
Vogtle nuclear power plant and expansion project --
Wiki Commons by Charles C. Watson Jr.

This is not a surprise (see link) as nuclear power plants are almost always reported (and sold) at a figure far below the final cost, and their startup dates are optimistically stated as many years before they finally start. It will likely be at least 10 years total, maybe more, to get the plant running.   The project was announced with a 4 year construction period for the first reactor, and clearly that will not happen as 3 years are already added to the schedule. 

The consequences to the utility, and ultimately the rate-payers, are grim.  This is for at least three reasons: 1), the builder must pay interest on the construction loans, 2)  inflation keeps increasing the prices of labor and materials, and 3) the utility must keep purchasing power to send into the grid, power that the nuclear plant is not producing. This may be from keeping older plants running past their shutdown date, or buying power from others. None of this is news, as the South Texas Nuclear Plant (STNP) showed clearly back about 30 years ago. Austin, San Antonio, and Houston all were scrambling to find power for their cities when the STNP ran years and years over schedule. The power they had to purchase was very, very expensive.   

One can speculate what problems are causing the cost over-runs and the delays.   Typical delays on large projects include, but are not limited to, tearing out and re-working faulty construction, equipment suppliers providing late or defective items, serious adverse weather, unforeseen site conditions, and redesign for new regulatory (NRC) requirements.  Also, delays can be caused by worker slowdowns, lawsuits for allowable causes, owner-contractor disputes, contractor-subcontractor disputes, faulty design that requires corrections, acts of God or the enemy (force majeur), improper scheduling by the contractor, inadequate workforce staffing or untrained workforce (learning on the job), poor supervision, and others. 

Even with the unprecedented move of charging rate-payers more on their monthly bills while the plant is constructed, this Vogtle plant will be very costly, perhaps as much as $20 billion at completion.  It may very well require more than 10 years to complete.  At that, it should indeed be the "mausoleum in which nuclear power is laid to rest".   

Sadly, nuclear proponents have only rose-colored glasses and will say something like "it is wrong to condemn an entire industry because one new-technology plant was a bit over-budget."     In the same vein as the nuclear safety mantra, with its steady progression from “no one has ever been injured”, to “no member of the public has ever been injured”, to “no member of the public has died”, to “nuclear power is safer than coal or natural gas,”  nuclear proponents dig ever-deeper in finding creative ways to vainly justify the enormous costs and years-long schedule overruns for nuclear power plants. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Marina del Rey, California   
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

Friday, January 2, 2015

Most Important Event of 2014

Subtitle: Weak Sunspot Cycle - Most Important Event was Not On The Radar

Cycle 24 - weakest, at bottom.  Source:
As the year 2015 has arrived and 2014 is gone, many writers have already discussed what they view as the most important event or events of 2014.  This is a very common thing, reviewing the old year as the new year arrives.  

This article addresses briefly a half-dozen events (more or less) that made the news in 2014, in no particular order, then discusses the most important event of the year: Sunspot Cycle 24 (the current cycle) peaked right on schedule, but far below most previous cycles.   The world-wide climate implications are grim. (see chart showing the relative activity of the four most recent solar cycles, 21, 22, 23, and 24)

1.  US midterm elections - resulting in conservative majorities in House and Senate for the remaining 2 years of Liberal Obama presidency.   Many of Obama's presidential accomplishments will be criticized, and a few will be reversed.   The defection of some Democrat legislators to vote with conservatives will be required.  However, the defection will likely save their electoral lives as they can show increasing distance from a wildly unpopular president.  

2.  Ebola outbreak, treatments improved, vaccines tested.   The deadly virus spread to many countries with this most recent outbreak, including the US and some in Europe.  Treatment systems and protocols work, at least for those who seek early treatment and are correctly diagnosed.  

3.  Space - first landing on a comet, successful test blastoff and return to Earth of Orion system.   The comet-lander bounced a bit and landed in a shadow, which is unfortunate because the batteries are solar-powered.  The solar panels are essentially useless in the shade.  We may never receive data from the lander again.  

Meanwhile, the Orion spacecraft was a huge success.    The Orion may be the technology that carries men to other moons and planets in the solar system, and perhaps asteroids.  SLB soon will carry an original article on the idiocy of a Mars manned colony.  As a preview, the hard reality is that Mars has strong radiation, very little protection from meteors, an unbreathable atmosphere, and is very cold, to mention only a few deadly issues.   

4.  China passed the US as the world's largest economy.  The diplomatic implications are staggering, as China can, and probably will, either threaten or impose economic sanctions on the US to achieve their goals.   

5.  OPEC caused the world price of oil to decline more than 50 percent by maintaining cartel output.  Gasoline prices have dropped to under US $2 per gallon, although California in its infinite wisdom increased state gasoline sales tax as part of the futile effort to combat global warming under state law AB 32, "The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006."   Worldwide, the lower oil price has many important implications.  Russia, a major oil exporter, will have greatly reduced revenues.  OPEC members will also see reduced revenues.  As SLB predicted years ago, this will very likely see OPEC fractured and member nations withdraw so they can pump all the oil they want.  Natural gas prices in many countries will also decrease, which will make electricity prices also decrease.  Consumers will have more disposable income, which will boost economic activity. 

6.  Nuclear power - Another US plant shutdown, Vermont Yankee; Sowell published 30 articles on SLB on Truth About Nuclear Power showing the futility of building and operating nuclear power plants, as not economic, not safe, and not sustainable long-term; as predicted, plants under construction are hopelessly delayed and have escalating construction costs; French plants are aging and are not reliable.   Providers of small, modular nuclear plants failed to attract investment or orders, completely as predicted - the small plants cannot possibly hope to be economic.   

7.  CO2 capture plant started operating in San Antonio, Texas - a commercial scale and economically viable plant designed and operated by Skyonic, Inc. of Austin, Texas.   This falsifies the statements made by many (ill-informed?  Deliberately misleading?) who maintain that there is no viable technology to reduce atmospheric CO2, therefore draconian reductions in fossil fuel use are required.    

8.  World coal consumption passed 9 billion tons annually, further decreasing the remaining years of economically viable coal.   An economically viable, and long-lasting (sustainable) source of 40 percent of the world's electricity production must be found and proven, long before the coal runs out.  This should be a strong priority for planners and policy makers around the world.  Economically produced coal is expected to run out in approximately 50 years.  

9.  Sunspot Cycle 24 had a weak peak and is now declining.   This is the single most important fact of the year 2014.   The sun's magnetic poles reversed, indicating the maximum has occurred.  The long, slow decline in sunspot number is now underway.   The Cycle 24 peak was approximately 80, compared to 120 (cycle 23), and 160 (both cycles 22 and 21)  (see graph at top of post).  

Some prominent solar physicists are on record calling for awareness that the weak solar activity is strongly associated with cold, sometimes bitterly cold, temperatures on Earth.   They also predict a return of the cold based on the very weak Cycle 24.   The winter of 2014-2015 has already started, with unusually cold events across the northern hemisphere.  As just one indication, winter ice appeared on the US Great Lakes far earlier than normal.   As another, Heating Degree Days for November in the US, per EIA, were 13 percent above average, however some regions experienced 30 and 36 percent greater than normal HDD.   Data for HDD for December will be published by EIA soon.   And yet another, the NOAA-predicted El Niño did not occur.   Finally, a new media term emerged: Polar Vortex, to describe vast areas of bitterly cold air plunging southward from Arctic regions and causing ice storms, heavy snow, and cold temperatures.  

As stated in other posts on SLB, there is no man-made global warming from burning fossil fuels.   Tiny increases in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere have no measurable effect on Earth's temperatures, as stated (paraphrased) by the imminent climate scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen (professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT).  

The area of grave concern, however, is the sudden and dramatic decrease in solar activity and the associated cold weather.   More detail on the implications are at an earlier post, Warmists are Wrong - Cooling is Coming (see part II), see link

There is no doubt about it:  the sun is weaker than it has been in the past 60 years.  Winter weather is earlier and colder.   The implications of prolonged and bitter cold are grim.   The most important event of 2014 was the weak peak of Sunspot Cycle 24.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California
Copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell