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Author Topic: Future of Emergency Power: Small, Mobile Nuclear Power Plants (from Army)  (Read 22528 times)
VK5CQ
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Posts: 115




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« on: November 12, 2012, 10:08:49 PM »

After viewing a short talk by Kirk Sorenson (at TED.com):

+ "Kirk Sorensen: Thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel"

http://www.TED.com/talks/kirk_sorensen_thorium_an_alternative_nuclear_fuel.html

I've been exploring Thorium, as an arm-chair researcher can,
ie, via YouTube:

1. "The Thorium Molten-Salt Reactor: Why Didn't This Happen (& Why is Now the Right Time?)"

+ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbyr7jZOllI

2. "Kun Chen from Chinese Academy of Sciences on China's Thorium Molten Salt Reactor TMSR Program"

+ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UT2yYs5YJs

3. "COL Paul E. Roege - Can nuclear energy fill critical gaps in the military energy portfolio?"

+ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Bk_07gaSs

That 3rd talk included a question from an audience member, on whether
smaller, -mobile- nuclear power plants couldbe rolled-out as part of
disaster recovery or normalisation...

After seeing the large number of people in NJ & NY,
who lost power during & after Mega-Storm "Sandy"
it seemed like a pretty good idea, to me.

Have you heard any rumbings of similar ideas, that
- if we had done it earlier - might have lead to use-
ful sources of Electricity?

"Sandy" also reminded me of a British engineer's
portable water filter, that was demo'd in a TED-
talk I saw a few years ago (To prepare potable
water, just scoop-up whatever water happens
to be flowing by... pump the handle a few times,
& you've got a liter or so of safe, drinkable water)

(Of course, those filter devices would be costly,
about $200 a pop... but if it meant people could
have safe water, on demand, it might be worth
having...)

I'm just as impressed by Thorium-fueled, nuclear
power plants - by all accounts, safe enough to
seriously consider for mobile configurations (eg,
for military applications & maybe disaster recov-
ery, in cities).

Here's me trying to convince our Gov't to give
it a fair go, sooner rather than later:

Longer link: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/revive-fund-us-rd-safer-plutonium-free-thorium-based-k-lftr-energy-technologies-reclassify-thorium/Xdv6KfjL

Shorter link: http://wh.gov/9Lw5

If you like how I've worded it, I'd appreciate your
support, at that site (No cost or obligation, of
course).

It'd likely be of interest to engineers & scientists
familiar with the technology (developed in the
1950's & 60's, at Oak Ridge NL; later developed
in Germany in the 1980's, I understand.)

Of course, those early workers were researching
the basics... More recent efforts - if they get
funded -will try to make an impact on how we
generate our Electicity, in future, without fossil
fuels.

I'd sure likie to see mobile nuke's come of it all,
eg, to help places hit by big storms (NJ & NY,
in recent weeks) get electricity earlier, eg, for
pumps to push flood waters out to sea, etc.
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LA9XSA
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Posts: 376




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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2012, 12:55:03 AM »

In the post-Sandy situation, there isn't really a lack of generation. It's a question of lines being down and substations being flooded.

There could be other emergencies where major trunk lines get knocked out, or generation gets hit, where mobile power plants might come in handy. I'm thinking mobile natural gas power plants mainly - those already exist.

There is considerable interest about thorium power plants here in Norway, in some parts of the political scene, but unfortunately others don't see the need They ask why should Norway work for clean power for the world when we have so much hydro power and natural gas here, and isn't nuclear bad. The obvious answer is that if Norwegian companies got ahead in the thorium technology they'd earn boatloads of money, and much of the rest of the world could replace coal and gas plants with clean power without the nuclear waste products of fission - and if you're really serious about man-made climate change (and not using it as an excuse for some hidden agenda) it's the only reasonable thing to do.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2012, 12:59:30 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
KA1BIN
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Posts: 33




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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2012, 01:21:27 AM »

Hi,
Well I remember Thorium Molten-Salt Reactors from many years ago when they still had (as of then, large unsolved) problems, today most of those problems are indeed solved.

But portable generators for use in emergencies? Maybe in a PRE 9/11 world but in todays society?

Where would these portable "mini-nuke generators be kept and who would guard them? Even though the Thorium has no value as a weapons grade material, it still could be used to construct a simple "dirty" bomb, the type that any militant kid could make in his parents basement. Also, during an emergency like a major hurricane, how easy would it be for a more dangerous group with a weapon or two to attack the "guard" and take possession of it.

Remember when Louisanna got hit with hurricane Katrina, groups went into the major cities to knock off banks, jewelery stores, etc. No real attempt was made to stop them because of the condition of the cities.

Almost 40 years ago (way before 9/11), a very small Plutonium battery was designed for heart pacemakers and future artificial hearts. There was no way that the FDA and other US government departments would allow this "nuclear battery" to be implanted, not because of possible harm to the implantee, but most feared that a person with a nuclear battery in his chest would be kidnapped, killed, and the battery cut out of him. And this isn't just the US, no Western Nation nor Japan or Korea allows the use of implanted Plutonium battery powered devices.

Thirty years ago, I could have gone to my local Nuclear Reactor (Pilgrim, Massachusetts), drove through a residential area which was about 60 feet above and overlooking the Reacter complex, got out of my car, go throught the woods, climb down to a field near a fence that was only about 8 feet high (with NO barbed wire), jumped the fench and walk 30 feet to the COOLING POND, yes the COOLING pond, there was no guards, no dogs, and I doubt very much that there were any security cameras because who the heck is going to steal spent radioactive fuel rods?

Today of course, things are different, I doubt that you could get within 1/2 mile in any direction before you would be confronted by armed guards who are paid to use and will use deadly force if required. For a while we had a National Guard detachment to protect it after 9/11.

Also, just a week or so ago, Hurrican Sandy hit us in Massachusetts, not as bad as New Jersey or New York, but over 300,000 people lost their power. BUT NONE OF OUR POWER PLANTS SUCH AS PILGRIM OR NIAGARA FALLS ACTUALLY BLEW UP OR WERE EVEN DAMAGED! None of our substations were knocked out.

Loss of power is usually a localized thing, a tree falls down and takes out 300 homes, another tree falls down and takes out 100 homes. How is a portable power station going to really help when the problem isn't in the generation of power, it is in the distribution of power. A portable power plant isn't going to restore power to where it is lost that easy. Because in the above statement I made the 300,000 people or homes that lost their electricity had probably over 10,000 causes of this loss.

A miniature Nuclear generator is going to be no better than any portable generator burning any type of fuel if all it can do is restore power to a city block.
If that is the intended goal, then it would be a lot safer just to utilize 1,000 or 10's of thousands of small to medium sized gernerators 20-100KW mounted on trucks, barges, or towed in with ATVs to service the small areas that share the same power distribution interuptions. No terrorist group is going to try to initiate a major attack to steal an Ingersoll Rand diesel-powered generator.

Also, you might find interesting... 300,000 people or homes lost their power in Massachusetts with a storm that barely gave US 60 mph gusts, last week we had a rain storm on Wednesday that cause more damage than Hurricane Sandy  because the winds were much higher and substained longer. So why all those people lose power?

This ain't the 1960's when power companies use to employ scores of people to inspect their power lines all over the State. Today our Electric Company carries out practically no preventive maintenance, when a tree falls down and takes out a power line, then they come to repair the line, even though the tree in question has been rotten for almost 5 years and has been reported numerous times by the neighbors who live near the tree. I remember as a kid over 45 years ago, all during the warmer months seeing nothing but Edison trucks all over my part of the city, trimming trees limbs, removing dead trees and also reinforcing lines that had sagged just a little.

In ending, Thorium-fuel generators will be great for multi mega-watt installations, but that is it, and yes smaller ones might be great on our Naval ships, but once they become too portable, we run the risk of them being used as a cheap weapon against us and they are not going to solve a electricity problem that has it roots more in neglect of the electrical distribution infrastructure.

Steve

« Last Edit: November 13, 2012, 01:30:57 AM by KA1BIN » Logged
VK5CQ
Member

Posts: 115




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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2012, 02:57:19 AM »

I'm impressed by both answers; thanks for your time & efforts.

In the time, since I posted my seed-post, I found another's question about Issues with LFTR's on Physics.StackExchange.com

One author suggested that some fission products from Thorium-fueled reactors -could- be considered "weapon grade" eg due to the Gamma rays it / they emit.

On the positive side, others say there are products useful for eg medical diagnostic procedures, and some useful for producing power plants for deep-space missions.

Re: This thread's topic

I'd say there could be some health advantages to a power plant that doesn't produce Carbon Monoxide, in its vicinity.

'don't know how noisy a small nuclear power is while running...?

Unlike some of the Physics sub-site's authors, however, I see some cost savings - in the construction phase - due to more modest containment wall thicknesses & lower pressures involved during operation. Of course, I am not a nuclear engineer.

PS: A (proposed) Nuclear Engineering sub-site - under the StackExchange umbrella - got deleted, due to too few posts!
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KA1BIN
Member

Posts: 33




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« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2012, 12:03:30 PM »

I too am vey Pro-Nuclear Power Plant. My last post may have made me seem like Anti. I am nearly 100% for these types of plants. Of course look at the oil savings we could enjoy if we generated nearly 100% of our electricity this way, especially with newer, safer types of reactors. Look at the reduction of green house gasses...

But what has it been now since the last construction of a nuke plant? - Over a generation, at least several decades. The average person is against them for various reasons, mostly due to ignorance. When you have an Education system such as ours now, that uses liberal anti-this, anti-that, it looks like it will now take 50 years for anything massive to be built in this country. "nope can't build this because an EPA study shows that it will endanger this Spider"......

When the average kid receives an education that is devoid of history and literally turns him into a "Droid" when it comes to matters like Nuclear Power Generation.....
as the teacher says......."Now Class, repeat after me...... Nuclear Power is Bad, Solar Energy is Good..... Republicans are bad...... Democrats are good......"

Steve
« Last Edit: November 13, 2012, 12:06:59 PM by KA1BIN » Logged
KD0REQ
Member

Posts: 1006




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« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2012, 09:57:45 AM »

~BIN:  thorium is indeed fissionable, it was considered for power plants and bomb work in the 30s and 40s.  as an actinide-series element, it will probably drill for the bones and other calcium structures in the body if it gets loose.

looks like dirty-bomb fodder out of controlled hands.

I don't think you'll find the portable power "piles" at your local surplus center any time soon.  when you consider all the costs and liabilities of stacking the things up in warehouses for emergency service, the level of guard needed both in storage and in deployment, and the necessity for nuclear-trained management of the system... the trailer-mount portable diesel generator is going to win out by a factor of zillions to one.

certainly they're not going to put 8 or 10 of them four miles from my house on a snow-swept National Guard field with two strands of barbed wire atop a Cyclone fence keeping them away from wacko bin loonies.
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AI8P
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Posts: 118




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« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2012, 10:01:35 AM »

Check out SL-1 - the Army's last attempt at portable nuclear power - not likely they will try again!
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KE4DRN
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« Reply #7 on: November 20, 2012, 05:56:11 PM »

http://www.thorium.tv/en/thorium_reactor/thorium_reactor_1.php
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AA4HA
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Posts: 1591




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« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2012, 03:21:50 PM »

Other than things like RTG's (radiothermoelectric generators) where the disintegration of plutonium is used as a heat source to power thermocouple devices (like on space probes or old USSR lighthouses) there is not a convenient, rapidly set-up way to generate electricity. Real nuclear fusion generates a LOT of neutrons, gamma rays and a whole skew of "daughter products" of radioactive disintegration. Even the Army SL plants that were developed in the 1950's took almost a year to set-up (according to the very liberal guidelines that were in place at the time for military use of nuclear power).

nuclear fission requires shielding, there is no short-cut around that. Shielding requires lots of materials (rock, water, etc...) to keep a critical nuclear reaction from cooking people or equipment and to minimize "neutron activation" (neutrons make non-radioactive elements transmute, often into radioactive isotopes like Cobalt 60).

Given the preparedness-response-recovery phases of a disaster they would still be debating on where to put a plant while the infrastructure of a city would already be rebuilt. As was mentioned by a previous poster, the problem was not generation of electricity, it was transmission and distribution.

Truck mounted diesel generators or even gas turbines would arrive in days and weeks, portable nuclear (even under the most optimistic outlook) would take months and years.

SL-1 actually blew up and killed the three operators while they were doing routine maintenance and exercised one of the control rods to the point where the reactor went prompt critical, suffered a steam explosion, blew the rods out of the core (impaling one guy to the ceiling), lifted the lid and contaminated a small area of Idaho. Little reactors do not have the same sort of protective systems in place that you find on the big commercial plants as one rod action can make things happen really quickly. There was some thought that the rod was sticking, some claims of a suicide (sounds like the same hooey that came about when a 16" gun blew up on a battleship) or a bad design.
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Ms. Tisha Hayes, AA4HA
Lookout Mountain, Alabama
G3RZP
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« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2012, 08:51:39 AM »

There were some pacemakers fitted with the very small plutonium generator. Weren't popular. One reason is that the average pacemaker has a life of ten years, give or take - exceptional low demand ones can be as much as 18 to 20, but that's very rare.  A longer life battery means less repeat work changing the pacemaker, equals less cash for the hospitals and surgeons and less repeat business for the manufacturers. There's also the disposal problem. Those pacemakers are the reasons why pacemakers in bulk are considered hazardous air cargo to this day.

Pacemaker batteries are surprisingly high impedance, for obvious reasons. Makes designing radios to go in implants interesting, though.
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KB3HYM
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« Reply #10 on: February 27, 2013, 08:13:50 PM »

I read an article several years ago (cant remember the author) where it suggested that if we would bury all electric lines it would eliminated power outages due to natural disasters.  Coupled with smaller more frequent nuclear plants the author believed underground lines would have a huge cost savings.  No utility poles to get blown over by winds and knocked down by ice/snow.  No poles to get hit by cars.  And in the event of disaster, with no poles to right and lines to restring, it would save the companies money that would offset the installation.  No overhead lines means fire departments could safely use aerial devices.  Lower RF.  Author suggested that every homes could have backup electric heat connected to grid.

Food for thought
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K7RBW
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« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2013, 08:26:03 PM »

It would seem to me that if buried distribution lines were cheaper than overhead lines, the power company would have gone to that a long time ago. While buried lines aren't subject to storms and car accidents, they are are subject to moisture, trees, animals and other underground hazards. Buried lines also require burying (expensive), insulated cables instead of bare wires (more expensive), and so on.

I'm guessing the article was long on assumptions and conjecture and short on accounting and accurate risk assessment.
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W8JX
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« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2013, 09:16:29 PM »

It would seem to me that if buried distribution lines were cheaper than overhead lines, the power company would have gone to that a long time ago. While buried lines aren't subject to storms and car accidents, they are are subject to moisture, trees, animals and other underground hazards. Buried lines also require burying (expensive), insulated cables instead of bare wires (more expensive), and so on.

I'm guessing the article was long on assumptions and conjecture and short on accounting and accurate risk assessment.

The biggest problem with buried lines is that they loose more power than overhead ones especially on HV distribution lines.
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KF7GFL
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« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2013, 06:10:53 PM »

About a year after I moved into my house, the power company sent out a proposal to erect high-voltage power lines right behind my house. My neighbors and I all suggested they bury the lines instead but the power company said it was too expensive as well as a number of other excuses. So we all threatened to litigate. The local government entity that regulates utilities forced the power company to tear up the road and bury the power lines. Turns out that it ended up being less expensive. So why did the power company hesitate? They had never done it before and didn't have the expertise. Now all new power lines in the area get buried because they know how to do it and have the equipment.

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WA6MJE
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« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2013, 01:57:52 PM »

The technology for underground powerline installation has markedly improved.  I just watched them install new fiber optics down the street where I work.  They used a trenchless system. Workers came down the street and dug about a five foot hole every 50 feet or so down the street.  Then using a hydraulic device they tunneled from hole to hole dragging the cable along as they went.  They did not have to dig a trench from hole to hole as it was unnecessary.  In a couple of days they were done, the entire couple of blocks had underground cable, and all there was left was about ten or twenty holes to fill up and surface and they went home.   
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