Former anti-nuke protester: Increase nuclear power use to save the world

posted at 7:12 pm on December 7, 2007 by Bryan

I like this story, mostly because it proves that people can change their minds as the facts warrant. It goes without saying that I prefer it when people change their minds in ways that bring them to align with my thinking. Don’t we all. The former protester, Gwynneth Cravens, has looked into environmental issues as they relate to nuclear vs other power sources and has come to interesting conclusions.

Wired News talked with Cravens on the phone from her home in New York.

Wired News: You don’t argue that nuclear power is entirely safe, but that it’s vastly better than coal and fossil fuels. Do we have to choose between them?

Gwyneth Cravens: I used to think we surely could do better. We could have more wind farms and solar. But I then learned about base-load energy, and that there are three forms of it: fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear. In the United States, we’re maxed out on hydro. That leaves fossil fuels and nuclear power, and most of the fossil fuel burned is coal.

In the U.S., 24,000 people a year die from coal pollution. Hundreds of thousands more people suffer from lung and heart disease directly attributable to coal pollution.

WN: That’s opposed to a minuscule number of people who have been directly harmed by nuclear power?

Cravens: It’s zero in the United States. Of course there is the occasional industrial accident amongst the workers. But over the lifetime cycle of nuclear power, if you go cradle-to-grave with uranium, the total carbon emissions are about those of wind power.

WN: You have an interesting statistic comparing the waste levels produced by individuals over a lifetime.

Cravens: A family in four in France, where they reprocess nuclear fuel, would produce only enough waste to fit in a coffee cup over a whole lifetime. A lifetime of getting all your electricity from coal-fired plants would make a single person’s share of solid waste (in the United States) 68 tons, which would require six 12-ton railroad cars to haul away. Your share of CO2 would be 77 tons.

WN: What about clean coal plants, and carbon-sequestration technologies? Aren’t they a practical alternative?

Cravens: At this point, no. There’s one prototype in Colorado that the government is trying to sponsor. From a practical point of view, I think nuclear plants could be up and running and replacing fossil-fuel plants sooner than we get clean coal.

As the joke goes, more Americans have died in Ted Kennedy’s car than from nuclear accidents. Read the rest of the article. It’s interesting stuff.


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Obviously, however, the article is meant to discuss basic concepts, not provide exact numbers for the entire project. You don’t need a velocity of 30km/s to launch nuclear waste from earth orbit into the sun. Even if the exhaust velocity alone was insufficient (which it shouldn’t be, but worst case scenario…), the cargo capacity of a nuclear lifter would be high enough that you could easily include a smaller rocket as part of it’s payload for the sole purpose of propelling the waste toward the sun. The extra cost would be negligible.

c6gunner on December 8, 2007 at 5:23 PM

You do realize that a nuclear rocket launched in the earths atmosphere is going to give off a tritium vapor trail right? Tritium is radioactive with a half-life of 12.32 years, there is no way any responsible government on earth is going to launch a nuclear rocket from in our atmosphere.

Assemble them in orbit and use them for interplanetary travel perhaps, but not as launch vehicles.

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 5:40 PM

That depends on the design you’re using. Some leak, and some don’t. Moreover, even assuming some leakage were inevitable, a single nuclear-bomb test dumps as much radiation into the atmosphere as a thousand such launches would, and we’ve set off dozens of nuclear bomb tests without causing any measurable damage to either the environment or average human life expectancy.

c6gunner on December 8, 2007 at 6:32 PM

The only way to rescue our plug-hungry planet from catastrophic global warming is to embrace nuclear power, and fast.

false premis

allrsn on December 8, 2007 at 6:34 PM

That depends on the design you’re using. Some leak, and some don’t. Moreover, even assuming some leakage were inevitable, a single nuclear-bomb test dumps as much radiation into the atmosphere as a thousand such launches would, and we’ve set off dozens of nuclear bomb tests without causing any measurable damage to either the environment or average human life expectancy.

c6gunner on December 8, 2007 at 6:32 PM

No, it does not depend on the design you are using and its not leakage. Further more your assumptions regarding tritium volumes are way way way off. Tritium is created when hydrogen is irradiated. Because hydrogen is present is such small quantities in the atmosphere air burst nuclear blasts generate very little tritium.

This will not be the case of a nuclear rocket because its exhaust will not be hydrogen, but tritium. The vast majority of its exhaust mind you. In other words millions of times the concentration levels of all the air burst nuclear blasts combined.

The United States abandoned nuclear rocket engines for atmospheric lift platforms in the late sixties and this was one of the primary reasons they did so. NASA is now reconsidering them, but not as atmospheric lift platforms.

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 8:24 PM

That’s assuming you use hydrogen for reaction mass. Didn’t we already go over this?

I’m pretty sure the problem was worked out anyway by simply separating the reaction gas from the fissile material. There’s no need to irradiate it if you design the engine correctly. After all, we use water to cool nuclear reactors and to provide the steam which drives the turbines, but we don’t end up with tons and tons of radioactive water as a waste product.

c6gunner on December 8, 2007 at 8:49 PM

That’s assuming you use hydrogen for reaction mass. Didn’t we already go over this?

I’m pretty sure the problem was worked out anyway by simply separating the reaction gas from the fissile material. There’s no need to irradiate it if you design the engine correctly. After all, we use water to cool nuclear reactors and to provide the steam which drives the turbines, but we don’t end up with tons and tons of radioactive water as a waste product.

c6gunner on December 8, 2007 at 8:49 PM

Doesn’t quite work the same, the reaction gas has to pass through the core for two different reasons. 1) the reactions gas is the coolant. 2) the reaction gas has to be heated to approximately 2500 kelvin in order to achieve thrust. You need to do some more reading on these engines, they are low orbit and interplanetary boost platforms, they are not designed or intended to be used as planetary boost platforms.

The reactors in submarines use a dual coolant heat exchange system where a primary coolant passes through the core and transfers heat to a secondary coolant which flashes over to steam to drive the turbines. The primary coolant is a closed system while the secondary is an open system.

The amount of heat required to drive a turbine to generate electricity is far less than the amount required to produce thrust.

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 9:18 PM

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 4:18 PM

Firstly, you are a lier.
Secondly, I’ve challenged you directly multiple times to give me specific examples of this “evidence” – and each time you’ve ignored it.
Thirdly, you’ve presented yourself a self-proclaimed “expert” about nuclear energy, when it’s apparent you are “somewhat familiar” with the concepts – but in no way a true expert.
fourthly, you’ve repeatedly presented incorrect information as fact, when it is not, and have ignored or otherwise refused to acknowledge that you’ve done so.
Overall you leave me with the impression of an old, stubborn, arrogant, crotchety, know-it-all.

KMC1 on December 8, 2007 at 10:39 PM

c6gunner on December 8, 2007 at 8:49 PM

Eventually you’ll learn to ignore him.

KMC1 on December 8, 2007 at 10:39 PM

Firstly, you are a lier.
Secondly, I’ve challenged you directly multiple times to give me specific examples of this “evidence” – and each time you’ve ignored it.
Thirdly, you’ve presented yourself a self-proclaimed “expert” about nuclear energy, when it’s apparent you are “somewhat familiar” with the concepts – but in no way a true expert.
fourthly, you’ve repeatedly presented incorrect information as fact, when it is not, and have ignored or otherwise refused to acknowledge that you’ve done so.
Overall you leave me with the impression of an old, stubborn, arrogant, crotchety, know-it-all.

KMC1 on December 8, 2007 at 10:39 PM

So you claim, your claims lack any substance however. In fact they are nothing but empty claims and threats.

Eventually you’ll learn to ignore him.

KMC1 on December 8, 2007 at 10:39 PM

Like you have learned to do? Good looking out their bucko…

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 11:45 PM

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 9:18 PM

Exactly how would tritium be produced in a nuclear rocket using hydrogen for reaction mass?

How is the secondary side a PWR considered an open vs. a closed system. What’s open about it?

What source are you using that tells you that the NERVA or KIWI Projects were abandoned because of excessive tritium production?

Water is used as a coolant in all commercial reactors in the U.S. (except Ft. St. Vrain which was shut down long ago). Water contains a lot of hydrogen. The only thing separating that water from the uranium is the cladding. Neutron flux is very high in the core of a reactor yet primary production of tritium is not from irradiation of hydrogen. That’s because hydrogen has a very low absorption coefficient for neutrons of any energy level. How would this differ in a nuclear rocket using hydrogen as reaction mass?

Oldnuke on December 9, 2007 at 3:01 AM

Exactly how would tritium be produced in a nuclear rocket using hydrogen for reaction mass?

How is the secondary side a PWR considered an open vs. a closed system. What’s open about it?

What source are you using that tells you that the NERVA or KIWI Projects were abandoned because of excessive tritium production?

Water is used as a coolant in all commercial reactors in the U.S. (except Ft. St. Vrain which was shut down long ago). Water contains a lot of hydrogen. The only thing separating that water from the uranium is the cladding. Neutron flux is very high in the core of a reactor yet primary production of tritium is not from irradiation of hydrogen. That’s because hydrogen has a very low absorption coefficient for neutrons of any energy level. How would this differ in a nuclear rocket using hydrogen as reaction mass?

Oldnuke on December 9, 2007 at 3:01 AM

Follow this thread and its links and you will see where my assertions are coming from..

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 12:02 PM

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 12:02 PM

Just my opinion but I’d suggest you find a different source.

Here’s one about tritium production.

Tritium is produced in commercial reactors from the absorption of a neutron by Li-6 not by irradiating hydrogen. One of the reasons light water was chosen as a moderator is that it has a very low absorption co-efficient. That means it doesn’t absorb neutrons which would be necessary not once but twice to get tritium.

From everything I’ve read or seen the nuclear rocket program was abandoned because it was expensive, had too many engineering problems mainly vibration stress and corrosion/erosion problems with the fuel elements and the big one politics. It had nothing to do with a tritium vapor trail. It’s still a bad idea on every level, just not due to tritium.

Oldnuke on December 9, 2007 at 12:55 PM

From everything I’ve read or seen the nuclear rocket program was abandoned because it was expensive, had too many engineering problems mainly vibration stress and corrosion/erosion problems with the fuel elements and the big one politics. It had nothing to do with a tritium vapor trail. It’s still a bad idea on every level, just not due to tritium.

Oldnuke on December 9, 2007 at 12:55 PM

When NERVA was canceled one of the main reasons given was the radioactive exhaust, they didn’t specifically state the tritium vapor trail. However it was covered in this report.

3.2 – TRITIUM IN SPACE
Tritium is biologically active, about 9600 Ci/gram, and must not be released in the atmosphere.
5 kilograms of tritium is about equivalent, in Curies, to the biologically active Chernobyl release.
Its biological hazard potential, however, is much less.
Page 7
Because of mass limitations, DT reactors in space would probably not be able to support a blanket
to breed tritium, or recover tritium from the escaping plasma of a direct fusion rocket.
The fuel burn-up fraction for magnetic DT reactors is likely to lie between 0.05

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 1:07 PM

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 1:07 PM

You’re right tritium was mentioned in that report. However it had nothing to do with the abandoned nuclear rockets and their emissions. What this report indicates is a propulsion system that utilizes tritium as reaction mass. A different type propulsion altogether. Perhaps I misunderstood your comment “You do realize that a nuclear rocket launched in the earths atmosphere is going to give off a tritium vapor trail right?” Where exactly is the tritium coming from? Are you assuming that any nuclear propulsion system is going to use tritium? NERVA and KIWI both used plain hydrogen.

Oldnuke on December 9, 2007 at 1:40 PM

Oldnuke on December 9, 2007 at 1:40 PM

Are you assuming that any nuclear propulsion system is going to use tritium?

Thats a tricky one, it does seem to be the direction most designers are heading. The ability to use D/T as a catalyst with LOX as an after burn agent seems to be quite appealing.

NERVA and KIWI both used plain hydrogen.

True, however I am basing my assumptions regarding the tritium levels in the NERVA exhaust on documentation from Los Alamos National Laboratory abstracts regarding tritium exposure guidelines for the NERVA/Rover project.

Since they were not using tritium as a fuel catalyst yet implemented tritium exposure guidelines my personal experience as a health physics technician suggests to me that they were detecting substantially toxic tritium levels in their exhaust.

There had to be tritium coming from somewhere, or they would not have implemented tritium exposure guidelines. My best estimate/guess was the incorporation of lithium-hydride into the tie-tubes resulted in tritium production in the core which meant tritium in the exhaust plume.

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 3:56 PM

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 3:56 PM

Dang it…

NERVA and KIWI both used plain hydrogen.

was not suppose to be NERVA and KIWI both used plain hydrogen.

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 3:58 PM

Well crap, this is detrimental to one of my main arguments against Global Warming.

So long as nearly everyone who claimed to believe in Global Warming, believe the direst of predictions (that we’d need to cut CO2 Production by 85% worldwide, 97% in the U.S. by 2050 per the IPCC for example); and was still militantly incapable of being serious about the problem, or any realistic or noticeable solution… it was clear that even they didn’t take themselves seriously.

If they do start taking themselves seriously, promoting real plans with noticeable CO2 reduction and significant changes; I might have to reevaluate the situation.

I have to say it was easier to decide on what to do when both the pro-GW and anti-GW crowds were both promoting not taking the problem seriously.

gekkobear on December 9, 2007 at 4:51 PM

gekkobear on December 9, 2007 at 4:51 PM

Yup most of the global warming crowd have the Gore mentality, which is everyone else needs to reduce their carbon footprint while he increases his, which BTW, was already about 100 times larger than the average Americans.

I’ll take these scandalous douche bag crooks serious when they quite buying carbon offset and actually reduce their carbon footprints to around the size of mine, but they can go to hel1 if they think I am reducing mine so they can increase theirs or continue to have a carbon footprint 100 times greater than mine.

doriangrey on December 9, 2007 at 5:04 PM

Just one note:

The big problem with storing high grade radioactive waste is the Sr-90 and other heat producing isotopes … they make the waste slowly boil.

If that portion of the waste is removed and used run low capacity small power plants, we get two wins. The high ngrade waste can be stored and ignored ( instead of monitored ), and we get portable safe nuclear batteries.

I could see a pebblebed Sr-90 reactor powering a large SUV …

Kristopher on December 9, 2007 at 11:45 PM

Kristopher on December 9, 2007 at 11:45 PM

Please tell me you’re joking.

Oldnuke on December 10, 2007 at 1:06 AM

I like this story, mostly because it proves that people can change their minds as the facts warrant.

Bryan – as you might have realised by now, issues prompting left wing anger work on a sliding scale scale.

“Injustice to rich white males” sits neatly at the bottom – just below “Anti-Christian bigoty”, “Pedofile rights” and anti-semitism.

“Anti-nuclear activism” is rather yesterday’s issue. There’s little “progressive” mileage in it these day…little opertunity for lefties to show “how much they care” (i.e. go on marches and try to get laid).

These days, left wing rage is focussed on Global Warming, which falls just beneath Islamophobia and a few select buddies at the top of the sliding scale. This means that it trumps most other concerns.

To illustrate, if it was shown that production of a new drug paraplegia drug created carbon emissions, it would have to be banned. Advocacy for the disabled falls beneath global warming on the scale.

However, when the left realise that nuclear energy will diminish the political power of Chavez, Ahmadinejad and the Muslim world, it will be quietly forgotten.

Global warming has actually been losing traction as an issue since Live 8 ensured its mainstreaming.

This means that the left will need a popular new cause to replace it.

I’ve long predicted that pedophilia will rise up the scale. It is one of the few issues that will cause genuine moral offence to decent people. It is therefore ideal as a militant cause celebre.

PedoAid 2010 could yet be a reality.

uptight on December 10, 2007 at 1:34 AM

Please tell me you’re joking.

Oldnuke on December 10, 2007 at 1:06 AM

That one kind of jangled me a bit as well. I mean I know its been a while since I got out of the industry but I haver never heard of any reactor technology that uses Strontium 90 as a feed stock.

I remember reading that thorium 90 was one of the proposed feed stocks for the pebble bed reactors, but nothing I have ever read suggests that it was actually used. Furthermore considering the tennis ball sized requirement for the pebbles in a pebble bed I cant imagine how a pebble bed could possible be made small enough to power a SUV.

To top it off I cant imagine anyone being crazy enough to put anything as dangerous as Strontium 90 in a motor vehicle where the reactor was exposed to the dangers of a accident that could release Strontium 90 into the atmosphere.

doriangrey on December 10, 2007 at 9:01 AM

RTGs are actually a very real thing and some of them use Sr(90) as a heat source. Here’s another link which contains some reference to one called SNAP acronym for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power. We love our acronyms. I’m not very familiar with them, just aware that they existed and sort of how they operated. In reality they’re just thermocouples with a nuclear heat source. They’re low power but last a long time. They also have a habit of falling out of the sky and crapping up the landscape. Several instances of Iodine on the corn with these things. I’ve never heard of one being used outside of military applications. Sr(90) is not a fissile or even fissionable material and thus could not be used as fuel in any kind of reactor pebble or otherwise and you definitely wouldn’t want one out on the interstate in a SUV. That post was just ridiculous on so many levels that I’m hoping it was truly made in jest. My guess some 17 year old overdosed on SciFi. If he was serious I hope he can’t vote. Click on his screen name it’ll take you to his blog. Interesting.

OBTW I’ve been digging around and can still find no reference to tritium in the exhausts of either NERVA or KIWI. I did, however, find plenty of reference to core material being ejected as part of the exhaust due to vibration and erosion. I understand now where you got the idea but those government guidelines probably had a lot of useless information in them. That’s why most utilities massage their own ODC manuals and weed out the crap that the government stuck in unnecessarily.

Oldnuke on December 10, 2007 at 10:49 AM

Kristopher on December 9, 2007 at 11:45 PM

Please tell me you’re joking.

Oldnuke

I was joking.

I use the Nuclear SUV argument to freak greens.

Next time I’ll use a hyperbole tag … humor and sarcasm is difficult to detect in posts … my bad.

I do think it would be possible to make more use of SNAP generators … we do need to find some use for heat producing “waste”.

Letting the stuff boil high level waste is far more dangerous than putting it to use.

Kristopher on December 10, 2007 at 12:32 PM

doriangrey on December 8, 2007 at 4:28 AM

My only issue with your long, well thought out potential doomsday scenario is that I doubt humans will sit idly by and get crushed by a 2 mile high wall of ice moving however many miles per year. Much of the equatorial and tropical regions of the earth will still be habitable, and the likelihood is with our current technology you might be able to turn the glaciers into a useful resource still, either as cold storage tunnels or something. You could probably grow some form of low-light plant material in them if you could set up artificial sunlight.

If you found a way to melt the glacier into a controlled stream of water you could even have more hydroelectic capability. We’ve come a long way since the last Ice Age. There are enough brilliant people who could find a way to use an oversized ice cube.

BKennedy on December 10, 2007 at 12:39 PM

All the hippies that held up “Nuclear Disarmament” signs in the 60’s have officially had kittens.

Thank you for your co-operation.

Ryan Gandy on December 10, 2007 at 1:59 PM

This guy does sound a bit like a crank.

Never mind.

Kristopher on December 10, 2007 at 4:28 PM

Kristopher on December 10, 2007 at 4:27 PM

I’ll believe this when I see it. :-)

BTW there’s a post lost out there somewhere in which I tell you that I’m soooo happy your previous post about SUV’s was a joke.

Oldnuke on December 10, 2007 at 4:35 PM

BTW there’s a post lost out there somewhere in which I tell you that I’m soooo happy your previous post about SUV’s was a joke.

Oldnuke

I still think the technology might have been eventually safe and doable … but I doubt we will ever get there after allowing a bunch of greenie retards to regulate things they know nothing about.

Kristopher on December 10, 2007 at 5:53 PM

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