Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Can There Be Nuclear Reactors That Consume Their Own Radioactive Wastes?

With mankind’s energy demand slated to double in the next 30 years, will a nuclear reactor that burns its own radioactive wastes provide an answer? 

By: Ringo Bones 

With coal burning power plants that emit excessive carbon dioxide no longer viable in our increasingly climate change conscious global village, is there a power plant that provides reliable safe and competitively priced energy with the extremely low carbon dioxide output of traditional nuclear fission power plants? If Leslie Dewan gets her way, there will probably be – and lots of them. 

Leslie Dewan CEO of TransAtomic Power already has plans for a “carbon neutral” energy generating power plant sans the risk and waste disposal problems of current nuclear fission power plants. Dewan was also named Time magazine’s 30 people under 30 that changed the world in 2013. Leslie Dewan got the idea of a nuclear fission power plant that consumes its own long-lived nuclear wastes back in February 2010 together with TransAtomic Power co-founder Mark Massie while working on her white-paper finishing her PhD in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Dewan and Massie turned to a nuclear fission power plant technology developed but never commercialized in the 1950s due to its relatively high initial building cost in comparison to competing designs - i.e. the  light-water fission reactors that comprise 99-percent of commercial power plants that had been in operation for over 50 years. The TransAtonic Power's WAMSR or Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor - can burn spent nuclear fuel safely in a liquid salt reactor instead of a traditional light water reactor similar to the design used in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant that went into a tragic meltdown after the March 2011 tsunami.

TransAtomic Power's WAMSR or Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor, it is way safer than current nuclear fission power plants – even from a defense analyst’s / counter-terror analyst’s point of view – because the uranium fuel assembly used to start WAMSR is “too diluted” to be used in a uranium-235 based nuclear device. On the long-lived radioactive waste issue, WAMSR produces only 20 to 30 kilograms of long-lived atomic wastes a year – like the “notorious” neptunium-237 which has a half-life of 2.2-million years (it still contains half of its radioactive strength after laying around for 2.2-million years) that can still be fashioned, with some skill, into a crude nuclear bomb. 

This is way less than a conventional commercial light-water nuclear reactor which generates 20 to 30 tons of long-lived highly radioactive wastes in a typical year of operation. Speaking of the long-lived radwaste issue, commercial light-water nuclear fission power plants currently in operation have a current stockpile of 270,000 metric tons worth of long-lived radwastes whose permanent disposal is still in Limbo. Would TransAtomic Power’s WAMSR plant provide a viable solution?

Unfortunately, TransAtomic Power currently only has 3.5-million US dollars in government funding, way less than the billions of dollars of “subsidies” rubber-stamped by “conservative politicians” at Capitol Hill to conventional commercial light-water reactors currently in operation in strategic areas in the United States. In economic viability terms, TransAtomic Power’s WAMSR nuclear fission power plant only has half the operating cost per megawatt generated when compared to conventional commercial light-water nuclear fission power plants. If Uncle Sam green-lights Dewan and Massie’s proposal, it would take 8 to 10 years to open a Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor and probably just a few years to solve the United States’ high-level long-lived radioactive waste disposal and future energy problems. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whatever Happened To The Schadewald Gravity Engine?

Its working principles were described a few years after the OPEC Crude Oil Embargo of 1973 as a solution to the global energy crisis, but does anyone know whatever happened to the Schadewald Gravity Engine? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The October 17, 1973 OPEC Crude Oil Embargo and its impact on the energy hungry West finally made everyone realize that we are not only addicted to crude oil – and still are until this very day – but are also very dependent on non-renewable energy sources. Given that the still ongoing global energy crisis and our desperate search for viable solutions had for sometime established some so-called “perpetual motion energy religious cult” for sometime now - as if devotees of the “Our Lady of Perpetual Motion” already has the free energy problem already worked out. Speaking of energy generating machines that relies on the principle of perpetual motion, does anyone still remember the Schadewald Gravity Engine of the late 1970s? 

The late, great physicist Paul A. M. Dirac conjectured that the universal force of gravity slowly decreasing. If this is true, consider a wheel with one heavy weight at the top. As the weight rotates to the bottom, the wheel picks up kinetic energy, which transfers back to potential energy as the weight swings up the other side. Since gravity is decreasing, the value of g is less on the second part of the full revolution, it follows that there should be a net gain in kinetic energy, causing the wheel to speed up indefinitely with every revolution. 

Science writer Robert Schadewald reported this breakthrough as his own in Science Digest back in April 1, 1978 – a time where the 1973 OPEC Crude Oil Embargo was still topically fresh in everyone’s minds. Schadewald even closed the article by quoting: “As of April 1, 1978, I yield my invention to the public domain, that it may solve the energy crisis and bring peace and prosperity to the world. I ask only my initials be inscribed on the wheel of every engine, so that my genius may get the sort of recognition it deserves. – Bob Schadewald.” Given that he surrendered his invention to the public domain, free energy devotees of the late 1970s became very euphoric after reading the article. 

Despite such bold hints that the article was intended as an April Fools’ Joke, Schadewald was taken seriously, even by the scientific community at the time. Some people wrote him and asked for more information. Others sent drawings of their own machines that allegedly work on the same Dirac – based principle and one person even offered to buy the plans quite convinced in believing that the physics and mathematics behind the Schadewald Gravity Engine were valid. Given the hints of “credibility” of the physics and mathematics behind the device, whatever happened to the Schadewald Gravity Engine? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Artificial Photosynthesis: Clean Energy’s Holy Grail?

Given that unsustainable fossil fuel burning has now endangered our planet’s fragile climate, will artificial photosynthesis based energy generation be the clean and sustainable energy production’s “Holy Grail”? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Given the recent dire UN IPCC irreversible climate change warning, it seems that if humanity can master an energy generating system based on photosynthesis used by plants for millions of years would not only serve as a very viable clean, sustainable and renewable energy production for industrial use but also serve as a viable way of cleaning up the excess carbon dioxide already in the earth’s atmosphere produced by decades of uncontrolled fossil fuel burning. But is there an inherent difficulty of artificial photosynthesis that it is now labeled as the “Holy Grail” of cleaning up the energy generation systems of our industrialized world. 

Joel Ager of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories is just one of the 5 energy research labs in the United States currently working to develop a viable way to replicate photosynthesis in generating energy for industrial use. Their latest prototype is an “artificial leaf” that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and water to convert it into methanol / methyl alcohol but in a chemical reaction that’s ten times faster than typical plant based reactions found in nature. Once perfected, artificial photosynthesis could provide a truly carbon neutral way to generate electricity to power the wheels of industry. Though this is the latest phase of the development of artificial photosynthesis, research into the concept has been around for a few decades now. 

Back in 1980, “splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen via ordinary sunlight” has been a goal of photochemists finding ways to wean industry from its heavy dependence on crude oil when it comes to energy generation. Michael Gr├Ątzel and his team at Lausanne, Switzerland had devised a system with special catalysts that carries out this process with high efficiency. The catalytic material consists of platinum and ruthenium dioxide deposited on titanium dioxide. A notable feature of the system is that it is effective over long periods, with hydrogen production undiminished after two days of ordinary sunlight exposure.