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This web page touches on numerous topics that are addressed in detail on other web pages.
ENERGY AND SOCIETY - TABLE OF CONTENTS:
The evolution of the universe is governed by the laws of physics. There is a nearly constant flow of radiant energy emitted by the sun, a small fraction of which is absorbed by planet Earth. Historically there was a nearly equal flow of thermal radiant energy emitted by planet Earth into deep outer space, so Earth's average temperature remained nearly constant.
Today, due to excessive combustion of fossil hydrocarbons, planet Earth absorbs about more solar power than it emits via infrared radiation. The consequent ongoing net heat absorption by planet Earth is causing melting of polar ice, gradual warming of the oceans and an increase in average temperature on dry land. Of particular concern is the projected further drop in Earth's solar reflectivity (planetary albedo) due to ongoing melting of near polar ice, snow and air borne ice particles. This melting is causing the rate of net heat absorption by planet Earth to rapidly increase. This issue is obvious in northern Canada where the average temperature rise is 3X the average temperature rise in the USA.
Today staggering amounts of fossil fuels are consumed daily. The resulting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and microscopic soot to the atmosphere have triggered a process known as thermal runaway which is causing Earth's average lower atmosphere temperature to rapidly rise. This temperature rise is moderated only by the heat capacity of the oceans. In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of an approaching human extinction, elected politicians have failed to implement effective remedies. Most voters and most elected politicians lack sufficient understanding of physics to make rational energy policy decisions.
Elected politicians have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not ready, willing or able to face the scope of the global warming problem. Their commitments to fossil fuel consumption reduction made in Paris in 2015 were not sufficient to prevent thermal runaway, which will eventually cause an increase in Earth's average surface temperature of about 17.5 degrees C and will cause an eventual sea level rise of about 80 m. In 2020 there are still leading politicians in governments who refuse to promptly implement the measures required to reduce fossil CO2 emissions, including stopping further investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.
For decades fossil fuel producers have deceptively promoted "renewable energy" because in most electricity systems for every 1 kWhe of "renewable energy" supplied an additional 4 to 6 kWht of fossil fuel are required for generation balancing.
Today huge increases in sustainable non-fossil energy production, far beyond the dependable capacity of economically accessible renewable energy sources, are required to displace the fossil fuels presently used for electricity production, comfort heating, transportation, industrial processing and desalination of water as well as for meeting the increasing daily per capita energy demands of third world populations.
However, the water moderated nuclear reactors in common use today are not a sustainable source of non-fossil energy due to:
a) Poor natural uranium utilization;
b) Limited working life:
c) Production of large amounts of highly toxic long lived nuclear waste;
d) Dependence on rare metals.
The only solution to this problem is widespread adoption of liquid sodium cooled modular Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs). As compared to water moderated nuclear reactors, on a per kWh basis suitably designed FNRs enable:
a) A 100 fold reduction in natural uranium consumption;
b) A multi-century working life:
c) A 1000 fold reduction in production of long lived nuclear waste.
d) Minimal use of rare metals in energy production.
Further advantages of suitably designed modular FNRs as compared to water moderated reactors include:
a) The ability to efficiently modulate their power output to follow rapid changes in the net electricity load caused by intermittent parallel connected renewable generation;
b) A much longer working life which improves the financial return on investment;
c) Reduced production of decommissioning waste;
d) A higher operating temperature for improved efficiency in: electricity production, district heating and industrial chemical processing;
e) Assembly from components which are are factory fabricated and truck transportable on public roads;
f) A low primary coolant pressure which enables safe reactor siting in urban areas to minimize the costs of energy transmission and distribution;
g) Passive safety features which enable economic and safe autonomous operation.
The rate of large scale FNR deployment is limited by the availability of FNR core fuel, which initially should be made by reprocessing used water moderated reactor fuel. About 50 tonnes of used CANDU reactor fuel are required to produce 1.0 tonne of FNR core fuel. A 1000 MWt power FNR requires about 100 tonnes of core fuel. Thus it is necessary to reprocess about:
50 X 100 tonnes = 5000 tonnes
of used CANDU fuel to provide the start core fuel for one 1000 MWt FNR. Over the long term the supply of FNR core fuel can be increased by transmuting the used CANDU fuel residue, but the transmutation process is too slow to prevent near term thermal runaway. Hence in the near term a mixed fleet of water moderated reactors and liquid sodium cooled FNRs will be required. It is important to store used water moderated reactor fuel in dry casks where it can easily be recovered for reprocessing into FNR fuel.
For the purpose of pilot FNR deployment before the used CANDU fuel reprocessing facility is fully operational the required pilot FNR core fuel can be made by alloying military Pu-239 with depleted uranium. During use as FNR core fuel the fraction of Pu-240 in the fuel will increase which will denature the Pu-239 making it unsuitable for later military use.
Once fossil fuels are displaced there will be no pressing need for energy conservation. However, there will be an economically practical peak power per person limitation. At present energy conservation is partially successful in reducing peak power per person due to retail load diversity. However, as consumers install load control and behind the meter energy storage (such as battery electric vehicles) that load diversity will disappear.
The political leadership challenge today is implementation of governmental policy U-turns with respect to:
a) Implementation of a fossil carbon tax sufficient to keep fossil fuels in the ground;
b) Replacement of electrical energy conservation incentives with fossil fuel energy conservation incentives;
c) Implementation of peak kVA demand based dependable electricity pricing;
d) Implementation of interruptible electrical energy pricing;
e) Nuclear reactor and transmission line corridor zoning and siting;
f) Forcing efficient use of the finite limited natural uranium resource;
g) FNR technology deployment;
h) Used nuclear fuel concentration;
i) Transport of used nuclear fuel concentrates;
j) Used nuclear fuel concentrate electrolytic reprocessing;
k) FNR fuel recycling;
l) Nuclear district heating.
Governments must accept the necessity of major investments in FNR related infrastructure, particularly full public funding of reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. Construction and operation of a fully automated closed cycle electrolytic metallic nuclear fuel reprocessing facility is beyond the capacity and mandate of any single electricity utility. It is the responsibility of a national government.
The present reliance on low cost fossil fuels, water moderated nuclear reactors and onerous nuclear regulatory frameworks collectively discourages rather than encourages investment in FNR related technologies.
Governments must accept that to enable large scale FNR deployment nations must possess much larger, not smaller, plutonium inventories. The plutonium contained in FNR fuel must always contain a sufficient fraction of Pu-240 to prevent it being usable for fission bomb production. To provide public confidence with respect to non-proliferation FNR fuel bundles should be used in a first-in first-out rotation that must remain transparently open to public and international inspection.
One feature of electrolytic fuel reprocessing is that it does not produce military grade plutonium.
Governments must also face the reality that existing water moderated nuclear reactors also produce large amounts of decommissioning waste containing long lived low atomic weight radio isotopes. The cost of safe disposal of this waste rivals the original cost of reactor construction. Governments must be willing to pay the initial price premium required for deployment of FNRs and nuclear fuel reprocessing that together avoid production of both decommissioning waste and long lived used nuclear fuel waste.
In Canada the federal and provincial governments must:
a) Change the end user electricity rate to make the rate for dependable electricity reflect the actual cost of providing it. In most jurisdictions the rate for energy is far too high and the rate for peak demand is far too low;
b) Sell to Canadian consumers the interruptible non-fossil electrical energy that is instantaneously surplus to the requirements of the dependable electricity load at a price competitive with the consumer's marginal cost of fossil fuel energy.
c) Use remaining non-fossil electricity generation capacity for producing hydrogen to meet annual peak load requirements, instead of discarding this non-fossil energy.
d) Implement a fossil carbon tax of about $200 / fossil CO2 tonne to keep fossil fuels in the ground;
e) Abandon the existing policy of Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) disposal of used CANDU reactor fuel which still contains 99% of its potential fission energy;
f) Adopt a policy of full harvesting the potential energy contained in used CANDU fuel via use of Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs).
g) Fully fund timely reprocessing of used CANDU fuel to make FNR fuel;
h) Do all necessary to guarantee to reactor developers the future availability and price of FNR fuel and the future value of dependable electricity supply capacity;
i) Implement interim financial incentives for sustainable and dependable nuclear power comparable to the financial incentives that were initially used to promote wind and solar power;
j) Gradually replace CANDU reactors with FNRs and related nuclear fuel recycling;
Canada has exceptional natural uranium resources. However, around the world thorium is about 4X more abundant than uranium and is readily available as a byproduct of other mining operations. Through use of molten salt reactor technology thorium (Th-232) can be converted into fissionable uranium (U-233), which can then be fissioned to yield energy and convert more Th-232 into U-233. The near term importance of Th-232 to U-233 transmutation technology for countries like India, which lack uranium, is desalination and pumping of water for agricultural irrigation as well as electricity generation. Presently the Th-232 to U-233 CANDU transmutation process is enabled by the CANDU reactor fuelling machine technology which permits on-line reactor refuelling at full reactor power. In the future this transmutation process should be replaced by side arm chemistry operating on a molten salt reactor.
A key economic issue that governments must recognize is that private industry cannot develop advanced nuclear reactors unless governments do all necessary to guarantee the timely availability and price of FNR fuel. In practise that means that national governments must take responsibility for safe international exchange of plutonium, two step reprocessing of existing used nuclear fuel and three century fission product storage.
This web site addresses energy related regulatory issues in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Pipeline, pressure vessel and electrical safety regulations are not uniform everywhere. In some jurisdictions the regulations and/or their enforcement are completely inadequate.
Xylene Power Ltd. holds a Certificate of Authorization, issued by Professional Engineers Ontario, for provision of energy related engineering services. Charles Rhodes, the Chief Engineer of Xylene Power Ltd. holds a Honors B.Sc in Physics from Simon Fraser University, a M.A. Sc. in electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Toronto. Dr. Rhodes has wide experience in almost every facet of energy. He has been a practising professional engineer in the Province of Ontario since mid 1973.
Up until the late 19th century energy was defined as "the capacity to do work". During the 20th century energy became more rigorously defined in terms of rest mass, momentum, radiation and electric, magnetic and gravitational fields. On this web site it is shown that cold rest mass is energy contained in the electric and magnetic fields associated with quantized charge moving around a closed path at the speed of light. Part of room temperature rest mass is in the form of contained heat and photons of confined radiation. Gravitational fields contain negative potential energy.
The physical laws that govern the evolution of the universe are reviewed. The energy changes that occur during changes in physical state, chemical reactions and nuclear reactions are shown. For commercial transactions a change in energy is usually expressed in units of heat (joules or kWht) or in units of electrical energy (kWhe).
The flux of solar radiant energy absorbed by planet Earth is examined from its fusion reaction sources in the sun, through its use to do work, to its conversion into ambient temperature heat. At steady state planet Earth emits an infrared radiation energy flux into cold outer space that is approximately equal to the absorbed solar energy flux.
An increase in Earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration reduces infrared energy emission. The corresponding increase in lower atmosphere temperature reduces solar reflection by air borne ice particles. When soot particles emitted by combustion of fossil fuels deposit on ice and snow the ice melts causing the solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) to decrease which causes further solar radiation absorption. The resulting increased net energy flux absorbed by Earth becomes heat that is absorbed by the oceans and melts floating ice, which further reduces solar radiation reflection and hence causes yet more net radiant energy absorption by Earth. The net radiant energy absorption is increasing and is fundamentally changing Earth's climate.
Energy exists as rest mass potential energy, kinetic energy and radiation. Kinetic energy consists of both Center of Momentum motion energy with respect to the observer commonly referred to as "kinetic energy" and random particle motion energy with respect to the Center of Momentum, commonly referred to as "heat" or "thermal energy". Thermal energy also has an associated thermal radiation component.
Changes in potential energy arise from changes in overlap of fields associated with particles. Mathematically orthogonal potential energy components are commonly referred to as electric field, magnetic field and gravitational field energies. Potential energy changes resulting from chemical and nuclear reactions, which involve complex changes in electric and magnetic field overlaps, are commonly referred to as chemical and nuclear energies. However, on both very large scales (galaxies) and very small scales (neutrinos) there are still esoteric aspects of energy that are poorly understood.
Changes in chemical and nuclear energy usually involve absorption or emission of radiation photons. A photon is a packet of electro-magnetic energy radiation with zero rest mass that propagates at the speed of light. Photons have momentum. For macroscopic matter at thermal equilibrium the rate of photon energy emission equals the rate of photon energy absorption. The coupling between far infrared thermal radiation and molecular motion is mainly via molecules that have charge separation due to electrostatic chemical bonding.
In the local universe with which we are familiar most chemical and nuclear reactions evolve by net emission of radiation into the cold sink of deep space. A noteable exception is the action of chlorophyll in capturing solar radiation and forming carbohydrates from CO2 and H2O.
POWER AND EFFICIENCY:
Power is rate of energy transfer. Thermal power is usually measured in (J / s) or in kWt. Motive power, also known as kinetic energy per unit time, and electrical power are usually measured in kWe.
If power is expressed in kW there must be further information indicating whether the energy being transferred is electrical energy, mechanical energy, thermal energy, radiant energy or a form of potential energy. During most energy transfers or power conversions a portion of the input energy becomes waste heat. Hence the efficiency of an energy transfer or a power conversion can be expressed as:
Efficiency = (useful output energy) / (input energy)
= (useful output power) / (input power)
Conversions to and from chemical and nuclear potential energy are generally inefficient and result in production of heat.
With appropriate equipment and with a suitable heat sink thermal power can be partially converted into motive power. With appropriate equipment electrical power can be efficiently converted into either thermal power or motive power. With appropriate equipment motive power can be efficiently converted into either electrical power or thermal power.
Most utility scale thermal electric generation operates at a heat to electricity conversion efficiency in the range 25% to 50%. The Ontario rural electricity grid delivers power at an average delivery efficiency of about 90.8%. Most loaded electric motors operate at an electrical power to mechanical power conversion efficiency in the range 60% to 96%. Electricity to thermal power conversions usually have an efficiency close to 100%.
POWER USAGE BY HUMANS:
As compared to other animal species, humans in industrial societies use comparatively large amounts of power. An average adult human continuously produces about 0.120 kWt of heat via digestion of food. For short periods of time on a bicycle or a treadmill a human can develop about 0.060 KWe of motive power. However, in industrialized countries such as Canada on a daily average humans draw 1.0 to 2.0 KWe per person from the electricity grid and up to 4 KWt per person for fossil fuel space heating. During automotive driving up hills individual humans briefly demand as much as 600 kWt from fossil fuels. In Canada the annual average total delivered electrical plus thermal power is close to:
10 kW /person.
Thus the difference between humans in industrialized society and other similar size animals is 2 orders of magnitude in average power and 4 orders of magnitude in peak power.
Over human history there have been 16 significant progress steps in energy sourcing amd energy transmission.
1. Obtaining heat and energy by digestion of food.
2. Obtaining heat from fire (combustion of plant carbohydrate).
3. Obtaining solar (renewable) energy via agriculture, hydro power and wind power.
4. Obtaining heat by combustion of fossil fuels.
5. Conversion of heat into motive energy via engines and turbines.
6. Efficient transport of chemical potential energy over long distances via pipelines, railways and ships.
7. Efficient conversion of kinetic energy into electrical energy via electromagnetic generators.
8. Efficient transmission of electrical energy over long distances via transformers and high voltage transmission lines.
9. Efficient conversion of electrical energy into kinetic energy via electric motors.
10. Obtaining heat via fission of uranium-235.
11. Breeding of U-233 from Th-232 and fissioning the U-233;
12. Breeding of plutonium from U-238 and fissioning the plutonium in a fast neutron reactor (FNR) that produces yet more plutonium;
13. Obtaining heat and electricity via solar panels;
14. Obtaining heat via fusion of deuterium (H-2), tritium (H-3), helium-3 (He-3) and lithium (Li-6, Li-7);
15. Breeding plutonium start fuel for FNRs from U-238 using the energetic neutrons emitted by fusion of H-2, H-3, He-3, Li-6, Li-7.
16. Obtaining energy via fusion of hydrogen-1 and boron-11 into helium-4 (aneutronic fusion).
Steps #14, #15 and #16 above have yet to be commercialized.
ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT:
It took natural processes over 500 million years to accummulate fossil fuels in the ground. Today the relatively rapid conversion of the natually stored weakly bound carbon in fossil fuels into CO2 increases the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans, which significantly changes the environment. Since the commencement of the industrial revolution humans' principal source of energy has been combustion of fossil fuels. Combustion of fossil fuels is causing an ongoing increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration and the ocean bicarbonate [(HCO3)-] ion concentration. There is a corresponding decrease in the ocean (CO3)-- ion concentration which is seriously threatening a wide variety of marine micro-organisms near the bottom of the ocean food chain.
Products of combustion of fossil fuels are reducing radiant energy emission by Earth which has set Earth on a path toward an uncontrolled atmospheric temperature rise known as thermal runaway. If man kind fails to promptly cease use of fossil fuels the temperature over much of Earth's surface will become too hot for supporting large animal life, the climate will be characterized by frequent violent storms and the sea level will rise about 80 m. As the ocean temperature rises more CO2 will be releassed by (HCO3)- ions in ocean solution and Earth's atmosphere will become trapped in a "warm" state. The geologic record shows that full recovery from "warm" state trapping via natural processes will take at least two hundred thousand years.
This website addresses the physics of net radiant energy absorption (AKA global warming), thermal runaway and warm state trapping and the practical means of avoiding these problems by meeting human energy needs with non-fossil energy sources. To realize a sustainable environment for humans fossil fuels must be left in the ground and net production of long lived nuclear waste must be minimized. The nuclear waste that is produced must be isolated and safely stored for at least 10 half lives to allow natural nuclear decay to reduce the waste toxicity to a safe level. A key issue in safe nuclear waste disposal is use of Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) transmute long half life high atomic weight isotopes into short half life low atomic weight isotopes.
Solar energy that is captured via: solar panels, photosynthesis, wind generation or hydro-electric generation is known as renewable energy. Renewable energy is often not available when and where required. In theory the "when" problem can be technically solved by energy storage, but cycling energy through storage usually more than triples the delivered energy cost. The "where" problem can be technically solved by construction of sufficient electricity transmission lines, but long distance energy transmission typically doubles to quadruples the delivered energy cost. The combination of these cost escalation factors generally makes the delivered cost of dependable renewable power much larger than the delivered cost of locally generated nuclear power.
The high cost of delivered renewable power is further aggravated by use of generation constraint instead of load control to match total electricity generation to total electricity load. In typical North American electricity utilities, due to generation constraint and generation reserve, on average only about half of the available peak generation and transmission capacity is actually used. Hence use of a properly designed interruptible electricity rate in combination with 100% non-fossil generation would allow sale, generation and transmission of about twice as much energy at little extra cost and with greatly reduced net CO2 emissions.
The governments of Ontario and most other jurisdictions presently do not offer either an interruptible electricity rate or a kVA based dependable electricity rate to enable sale of surplus off-peak non-fossil electricity for displacement of fossil fuels. This situation is a major energy policy failure and is primarily the result of political lobbying by the fossil fuel industry.
Today most of the world's energy requirements are met by combustion of fossil fuels, by fission of uranium-235 and by renewable energy. However, to prevent thermal runaway combustion of fossil fuels must be ceased. Most economic hydro-electric sites have already been developed. The U-235 resource is insufficient to sustainably replace fossil fuels. The energy supply from U-235 can be extended by breeding the thorium isotope Th-232 into the fissionable uranium-233. However, this breeding methodology is chemically complex to widely deploy and produces long lived toxic nuclear waste that can only be eliminated using liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors. This fuel waste contains U-232 which is a hard gamma emitter. That U-232 makes U-233 unattractive as a weapon material.
The best near term energy solution is transmuting U-238 into Pu-239 and Pu-240 and fissioning the plutonium in a liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactor. The role of the Pu-240 is to prevent the material being usable for nuclear weapon production. This process generates enough spare neutrons to eventually allow it to be used to dispose of fuel waste from transmutation of Th-232 into U-233. The natural reserves of U-238 and Th-232 are sufficient to meet mankind's energy needs for several thousand years.
A problem common to all water moderated nuclear reactors is production of large amounts of long lived high atomic weight nuclear waste which, if not suitably processed and recycled through a fast neutron reactor, must be isolated and stored for at least 400,000 years to allow natural decay to render the waste safe for release into the environment. The best solution to this problem is use liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors (FNRs) to fission the long lived high atomic weight isotopes into short lived lower atomic weight isotopes that naturally decay away within a few centuries.
A problem that must soon be faced by several large nations including the USA, India, Pakistan and Australia is a major increase in energy requirements for desalination of sea water and for pumping the desalinated water from sea level to the continental interior for agricultural irrigation. Up until the now intensive agriculture has relied on fresh water obtained from natural subterranean aquifers. However, in many places these natural subterranean aquifers are close to depletion.
Another major problem is the increasing population of third world countries. Present population projections indicate that the world population will rise from 7 billion people to about 11 billion people before the population levels off.
Another major problem is the increased per capita energy expectation of inhabitants of third world countries. Bringing third world human populations to even half of the per capita energy consumption in North America requires enormous increases in installed electricity generation and transmission/distribution capacity. If even a fraction of this expanded third world electricity generation capacity is fossil fuel powered, industrialized nations must immediately totally convert to non-fossil energy to prevent near term thermal runaway.
An ongoing political problem is the deceptive and frequently repeated claims by "environmentalists" regarding the capability of energy conservation and renewble electricity generation of meeting public power requirements without nuclear power. The reality is that wind electricity generation and solar electricity generation are usually balanced by fossil fuel electricity generation for which the CO2 and other emissions are far too high. The parties making these false claims are usually funded by the fossil fuel industry. Some of the problems with these false claims are outlined in the film: Planet of Humans.
In Ontario for every kWhe of usable wind and solar panel generated electricity at least another 2 kWhe of electricity are supplied by natural gas fueled balancing generation. To produce the 2 KWe about 5 KWt of fossil fuel is consumed. This problem is exacerbated by the geographical problem that in Ontario most wind generation occurs during the electricity grid off-peak period when the financial value of wind generated electricity is very low. Hence large amounts of natural gas fueled balancing generation are required and the natural gas industry has a strong financial incentive to promote uneconomic wind generation. The geography of Ontario is not compatible with economic energy storage.
A recent positive step which may slightly mitigate the energy storage problem is an expanded electricity intertie capacity between Ontario and Quebec. This intertie may allow part of the Ontario based wind generation to be balanced by Quebec based hydro electric generation. However, the financial cost of firm power via an intertie expansion is very high. It is less expensive to expand local nuclear generation.
From both environmental and cost perspectives nuclear power, which has no GHG emissions and has minimal transmission costs, is far superior to natural gas balanced renewable generation. The major issues with nuclear power are conversion to FNR technology for improved natural uranium utilization and reduced spent fuel waste production and public education for political acceptance. In this respect Ontario Power Generation and its predecessor Ontario Hydro were and continue to be extremely foolish in public dealings with matters related to nuclear electricity generation and nuclear waste disposal.
Various claims have been made relating to future liquid fuel power reactors. However, an emerging safety issue is prompt neutron criticality in large liquid fuel power reactors. The issue is that in an earthquake or other accident fissionable molten salt liquid fuels may rapidly change their geometry and hence their local reactivity. A rapid change in local reactivity as small as 0.5% might cause local prompt neutron criticality and hence a reactor explosion. This problem is avoided in power reactors that have rigid fissionable fuels. It is likely that fissionable liquid fuels are only safe for use in relatively small rigid containment vessels in which the wall stresses related to maintaining a constant fuel geometry in a severe earthquake are manageable.
The present world fossil fuel consumption is staggering. In 2014 over 37,000 TWh of electricity were generated by combustion of coal and over 30,000 TWh of electricity were generated by combustion of natural gas. Petroleum extraction now exceeds 100 million barrels per day.
Due to CO2 emissions fossil fuels should not be used for stationary prime energy production. The tangible cost of flood, storm and fire related property damage and reduced agricultural output in North America, reasonably attributable to combustion of fossil fuels, is exceeding $300 billion per year and is growing. This tangible annual cost, which will continue far into the future, should be recovered via a fossil carbon emission tax. Due to persistent political tampering the so called cap and trade methodology has proven to be ineffective in almost every jurisdiction where it has been adopted and has become just an excuse for political inaction. Raising the cost of fossil fuels to consumers is also not helpful if consumers are not also provided an economic non-fossil energy alternative. As a minimum the fossil carbon tax revenue must be used for building more economic non-fossil energy generation.
Natural gas, which is a finite resource, is a convenient fuel for meeting low capacity factor high temperature heat requirements. Due to fossil CO2 emission natural gas should not be used for high capacity factor applications such as non-emergency electricity generation.
The Canadian and US electorates are becoming more aware of pollution and global warming problems and are resisting unsafe transport of liquid hydrocarbons and commitment of public monies to new fossil fuel infrastructure. One way of reducing the density of liquid hydrocarbons, thus making these hydrocarbons more acceptable for ocean transport, is to use nuclear energy to electrolyze water and to use the resulting hydrogen to reduce the liquid hydrocarbon density below the density of sea water. The waste heat from the electrolysis process can be used for comfort heating. This liquid hydrocarbon density reduction process (hydrogenation) has the further advantage of decreasing the hydrocarbon's viscosity which improves pipeline utilization. For this hydrogenation process to be successfully implemented both the Canadian federal government and the provincial governments must make a complete U turns in their policies relating to fossil fuels, nuclear energy and electricity pricing.
A concrete example of governmental electricity pricing stupidity is that Ontario currently discards about 20 TWh / year of non-fossil electricity when that electricity could be much better used for displacement of liquid fossil fuels in stationary heating applications and for vehicular power.
The present federally regulated Canadian safety standards for interprovincial transport of dangerous hydrocarbons are completely inadequate. Pipelines that are approved by the National Energy Board for transport of natural gas and highly volatile oils through urban areas of Ontario do not come close to compliance with Ontario provincial pipeline safety standards. Further, the National Energy Board has repeatedly failed to enforce compliance with existing national pipeline safety requirements. The situation has become so serious that in 2014 the the premiers of Ontario and Quebec demanded improved federal safety standards and regulation enforcement as a condition for allowing passage of inter-provincial hydrocarbon pipelines through their provinces.
The federally regulated Canadian safety standards for ocean transport of bitumen are also totally inadequate. In 2017 the voters of British Columbia elected a new government on a platform of blocking any expansion in bitumen carrying pipeline capacity through British Columbia.
The cultures at the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Alberta Energy Board (AEB) of discounting pipeline and related safety matters and environmental cleanup matters must change if investors are to realize value from the Alberta tar sands. The political appointees to these boards must be replaced and the board decisions made during the last decade must all be reviewed and corrected to restore public confidence in these boards. There is a whole generation of old pipelines with plastic wrap rather than fused epoxy dielectric coatings. The plastic wrap eventually fails due to "tenting" and subsequent cracking at pipe welds. The only certain method of detecting these cracks is via a hydraulic pressure test to the pipe's specified minimum yield stress (SMYS). However, in spite of a history of such failures the National Energy Board has bowed to the pipeline industry lobby and has failed to demand essential hydraulic pressure tests and has failed to demand sufficient third party insurance coverage. Absent a hydraulic pressure test the only certain solution to this problem is total pipe replacement. This pipeline regulatory problem is multiplied by failure by provinces and municipalities to demand sufficient safety setbacks for new building developments that are adjacent to large diameter high pressure pipeline corridors.
In Alberta public faith in the oil and natural gas industry regulators has been undermined by regulators who have permitted the existence of tens of thousands of abandoned and unremediated oil and gas wells as well as massive tar sands tailing ponds. In time fixing the environmental mess left by the oil and gas industry will likely cost taxpayers as much as $200 billion. However, the Alberta politicians are uniformly so corrupt that they refuse to face this mess. The blunt reality is that the Alberta government needs a provincial sales tax to provide the cash flow necessary to meet its environmental obligations.
In British Columbia pipeline problems have been further aggravated by the failure of governments to force Exxon to pay the original court ordered $20 billion compensation to parties damaged by the Exxon Valdez disaster. As a consequence the people of British Columbia have no confidence in either the courts or politicians for collecting major marine damages and will not allow new heavy oil pipelines through their province unless there are:
a) adequate on-going royalties,
b) adequate third party liability insurance coverages; and
c) adequate emergency response capabilities.
In spite of repeated verbal assurances the federal government has taken no effective remedial action in these areas. The only workable methodology is to reduce the density of hydrocarbons that are transported across provincial borders to below the density of warm sea water. In practise that density reduction by hydrogenation requires nuclear reactors to provide the necessary energy without further CO2 emissions. The Canadian federal government and the Province of Alberta have yet to face that simple reality.
The intolerance of BC residents to heavy oil ocean transport has been further aggravated by Canadian federal government indifference to global warming and related decline of natural fish stocks, particularly herring, Chinook salmon and hence a decline in the native orca (killer whale) population. Insect infestations enabled by global warming have destroyed much of the BC forest industry, which used to be the largest employer in BC.
Fossil fuel investors must face the reality that almost all of the fossil carbon in the Alberta tar sands must remain in the ground. The people of Alberta will likely be better served by investing available capital in nuclear energy and some wind generation. Wind generation should be used for production of electrolytic hydrogen, part of which could be used to reduce the density of heavy liquid hydrocarbons. The tar sands might still be used for limited non-combustion purposes such as production of tar for below grade water sealing of cement block and concrete used in new buildings.
Meeting the energy demand with non-fossil sources requires a combination of renewable and nuclear energy. Renewable energy is only economic to the extent that there are markets for interruptible electricity and electrolytic hydrogen. Otherwise nuclear energy is required.
A large potential market for interruptible electricity is for charging of battery powered electric vehicles. As shown on the video Tesla electric automobiles are now performance competitive with internal combustion vehicles.
Complete displacement of fossil fuels in Ontario presently requires at least a four fold expansion in nuclear power capacity in combination with implementation of urban nuclear district heating. Due to rising population within 60 years this nuclear power capacity expansion requirement will likely further double. In addition to displacement of fossil fuels it is necessary to displace asphalt in numerous solar exposed applications such as roofing, driveways and roadways.
Generation and transmission of renewable energy from remote intermittent sources such as wind in northern Ontario is very expensive because the distances are long and on average the generation and transmission equipment operate at less than 30% of peak rated capacity. Absent sufficient seasonal energy storage the market value of wind energy is very low because wind power is not reliably available when required. Seasonal energy storage is very expensive and quite inefficient. Significant behind the meter daily energy storage will not be constructed until the price of electricity is primarily based on peak demand (kW) instead of energy consumption (kWh). In setting electricity rates the government of Ontario and the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) have totally failed to recognize this basic economic reality. A 2015 agreement for 500 MWe of power exchange between Quebec and Ontario is a small positive step, but in terms of Ontario's total energy storage requirements it is almost insignificant.
During the last half century, in spite of a few well publicized accidents, nuclear power has become the safest and most economic non-fossil means of providing base load electricity for urban customers.
Liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) fuelled by relatively abundant U-238 could sustainably meet future human energy needs while producing very little long lived nuclear waste. This website provides extensive technical information relating to implementation of FNR technology. However, this technology is not presently receiving the funding and other government support required for implementation in Canada.
Nuclear technology implementation requires an educated work force with stable funding that is protected from scientifically illiterate politicians with short time horizons. Even in highly industrialized countries irrational public fears relating to nuclear energy influence politicians in ways that hamper development and safe application of nuclear power. In this respect safe siting of nuclear facilities and safe transport and storage of radio isotopes must take priority over political considerations.
CANDU reactors are the foundation of the present nuclear industry in Canada. They have a proven safety record, are reliable and give Canada energy independence. CANDU reactors currently provide about 60% of the grid supplied electricity in the Province of Ontario. CANDU reactors can be fueled with natural uranium or with spent fuel from foreign light water reactors.
However, the CANDU system is a 1960s technology that predated development of Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs). Major limitations of CANDU reactors are inefficient use the natural uranium resource, production a lot of high level nuclear waste, limited grid load following capability and limited working life. Mid-life fuel channel replacement in CANDU reactors is a major cost.
As CANDU reactors reach the end of their working lives they should be replaced with liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) which do not have these inherent problems.
FAST NEUTRON REACTORS:
Liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) use liquid sodium coolant operating at 330 to 517 degrees C and derive their energy output from the uranium isotope U-238, that is about 140 times more abundant than the isotope U-235 that fuels most existing water moderated power reactors.
As compared to CANDU reactors FNRs with fuel recycling improve natural uranium utilization efficiency more than 100 fold and reduce spent fuel long lived nuclear waste storage requirements by more than 1000 fold. A properly designed FNR also substantially reduces production of long lived low atomic weight isotopes.
FNRs can be fueled with reprocessed spent CANDU reactor fuel. Hence, FNRs can be used to dispose of the existing inventory of spent CANDU reactor fuel. The rate of deployment of FNRs in Canada is presently limited by the available inventory of spent CANDU fuel that is available for reprocessing into FNR fuel. Until a FNR fuel recycling program is fully operational Canada will need a mixed fleet of both CANDU reactors and FNRs.
Liquid sodium cooled FNRs should use a ~ 3 m thickness of liquid sodium to isolate the reactor fuel tubes from the liquid sodium pool containment wall. This separation prevents neutron activation of the primary sodium containment wall material which enables very long equipment working life, enables easier equipment maintenance and prevents formation of decommissioning nuclear waste.
FNRs can produce the electricity required for production of electrolytic hydrogen. This hydrogen can be used to efficiently convert biomass into methanol and then into energy dense liquid fuels such as propane, butane and aircraft fuels. Nuclear electricity can also be used to realize the high temperatures required for production of ammonia and for hydrocarbon reforming.
A FNR also permits rapid output power changes for electricity grid load following. Its ~ 480 degree C liquid sodium secondary loop inlet temperature enables efficient electricity generation with a natural draft cooling tower as a heat sink. This use of a cooling tower rather than direct lake water cooling minimizes the reactor's environmental impact on marine species. Hence FNRs are an optimal solution for bulk electricity generation and district heating. When suitably located the waste heat from FNRS can be used for absorption cooling, food processing, bio-fuel drying, methanol concentration, comfort heating, domestic hot water heating and greenhouse heating.
FNRs are inherently safe because as the fuel and liquid sodium temperature increases the reactor thermal output power decreases. The operating temperature set point of each fuel bundle is chosen to safely limit the fuel temperature.
FNR start fuel should have about 20% plutonium in the reactor core fuel rods. Once operating FNRs can produce plutonium faster than they consume it, thus enabling later startup of more FNRs. Existing inventories of plutonium should be preserved in safe accessible storage to accelerate FNR deployment.
Safe application of FNRs requires both technical competence and an uncompromizing attitude toward chemical and nuclear safety. Design safety margins must be maintained, regardless of the economic and/or political circumstances. There is no room for interference by non-experts or for bowing to NIMBY demands that impact system performance or safety.
An important safety issue with liquid sodium cooled FNRs is the flammability and water incompatibility of the liquid sodium. A liquid sodium cooled FNR should be operated with argon cover gas and floating steel covers. FNRs must be sited where they can NEVER be flooded by water. Hence the elevation of FNRs with respect to surrounding rivers, water bodies and drainage systems is of great importance and must over ride all other considerations.
Ideally for long term physical stability and certain liquid sodium containment a FNR should be built in crack free igneous bedrock. Alternatively a FNR can be built on shale and can be protected by suitable fill embankments.
One of the operating issues with FNRs is ensuring that the reactor fuel tube bundle changes follow a first-in, first-out sequence. This sequence, which maintains the Pu-240 / Pu-239 ratio, must be transparent to external observers.
In the USA a 20 MWe fully functional prototype liquid sodium cooled FNR known as the EBR-2 was built and successfully operated from 1964 to 1994, so all the technical aspects of liquid sodium cooled FNR technology are well understood. More recently in Russia a 600 MWe fully functional prototype liquid sodium cooled FNR known as the BN600 was built and successfully operated for over 30 years. See 600 MWe LIQUID SODIUM COOLED POWER REACTOR. The Russians also now have an operational 800 MWe FNR and are working on a 1200 MWe FNR.
This web site develops the design of practical power FNRs for urban electricity and heat production.
MOLTEN SALT REACTORS:
Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) are a special category of nuclear reactor that can operate at high temperatures. The main application for MSRs is for production of heat for high temperature chemical processes such as production of ammonia and hydrocarbon gas reforming. MSRs have unresolved problems related to: material corrosion, side arm chemistry, power stability, metallurgy, fission product deposition on heat exchange surfaces and toxic waste production that make MSRs uneconomic for bulk energy generation.
Deuterium (H-2) is a stable isotope of hydrogen that can be separated from lake water. Slow neutron capture by lithium-6 produces tritium (H-3), an unstable isotope of hydrogen. In principle the high energy neutrons emitted by deuterium-tritium fusion could be used with Li-7 and U-238 to accelerate production of FNR start fuel. However, development of deuterium-tritium fusion technology is a major technical challenge. A deuterium-helium-3 reactor might be possible but it requires mining He-3 from the surface of the moon. This web site considers the design requirements of a pulsed deuterium-tritium fusion reactor. There is nothing simple about physical realization of such a reactor.
Use of nuclear energy to displace fossil fuels is essential. However, elected politicians around the world have repeatedly demonstrated that they are incapable of prudent management of nuclear energy projects. Nuclear projects involve extensive personnel training and complex science and engineering matters that are outside the scope of expertise of almost all voters and elected politicians. It is important for governments to focus on nuclear regulatory simplicity, FNR fuel production and long term electricity price certainty so that non-government entities employing sophisticated technical personnel can successfully deliver nuclear power when and where required.
Attempts by governmental regulatory agencies to control the detail of nuclear plant engineering delay nuclear projects and drive up costs with almost no benefit for the public. Governments should rely on private insurers to assess the liability risk of a particular nuclear plant. The role of government should be to do all necessary to ensure that the plant has adequate safety procedures and adequate arms length third party liability insurance.
In Canada and Ontario the public's lack of knowledge about energy systems seriously hampers public policy. There is a fundamental failure of government agencies, both federal and provincial, to properly apply the laws of physics to energy policy development. Members of approval boards are appointed for their political loyalty and legal expertise rather than for their technical expertise. Governmental decisions in the energy sector are often driven by popular opinion or fossil fuel lobyists rather than by fact.
The scope of the technical education deficiency is evident in the present Ontario Long Term Energy Plan. This plan completely fails to address use of surplus non-fossil electricity for displacement of fossil fuels. There is no point in financially incenting renewable electricity generation when the present retail electricity price plan prevents sale of most of the renewable energy.
The scope of this education deficiency is further evident in the high level nuclear waste disposal plan currently advocated by the federally regulated Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). The problem is further evident in the low and intermediate level waste disposal plan currently advocated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG). None of these plans contemplate recycling of nuclear fuel or other neutron activated materials as required for long term non-fossil energy sustainability. None of these plans address sufficient displacement of fossil fuels to prevent thermal runaway.
The present NWMO and OPG nuclear waste disposal plans completely fail to address the future amount of nuclear power required to fully displace fossil fuels. As a result the NWMO and OPG conclusions relating to future nuclear generation capacity, future nuclear fuel requirements, future nuclear reactor types and future nuclear waste disposal methodology are completely wrong. The NWMO is directed by "perceived public opinion" instead of by realistic engineering and science. The OPG plan is driven by "political expediency" rather than by good engineering. The Ontario governmental decisions relating to sale of Hydro One had no relationship to the electricity transmission requirements for fossil fuel displacement. None of these parties takes into account the practical experience of the Canadian mining industry.
The NWMO is attempting to store untreated spent nuclear fuel with a toxic lifetime of over 400,000 years below the water table in a "receptive community". A fundamental problem with this storage concept is that it is unsustainable in a non-fossil energy system due to lack of sufficient concentrated uranium ore. Further, any site that is sufficiently dry to be geophysically suitable for safe long term storage of high level nuclear waste does not and will never have sufficient ground water to support a "receptive community". Viewed another way, the geology at any "receptive community" with adequate potable fresh water is unsuitable for safe long term underground storage of high level nuclear waste.
Neither the NWMO nor OPG have made reasonable provisions for nuclear fuel recycling.
Both provincial and federal government agencies have failed to grasp basic physical principles relating to the law of conservation of energy and to geology. There is abundant data relating to the rate of consumption of fossil fuels and to the impact of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration on the environment but there is complete failure by government agencies to face the energy system changes that are required to prevent atmospheric thermal runaway. These government agencies are:
a) Being manipulated by fossil fuel producers;
b) Failing to protect public safety;
c) Squandering public resources;
d) Sacrificing the future of young people in Ontario and around the world.
Canada and Ontario are becoming increasingly dependent on aboriginal peoples for rational decisions relating to environmental protection matters.
GOVERNMENT AGENCY IRRESPONSIBILITY:
Today society is paralyzed by the failure of elected governments to make rational decisions related to energy systems including:
a) Adoption of an adequate price on fossil carbon emissions;
b) Establishment of provincial land reserves for hydraulic energy storage;
c) Federal, provincial and municipal land zoning for energy transmission corridors;
d) Urban hydrocarbon pipeline and railway related safety standards;
e) Suitable electricity pricing;
f) Adoption of modular liquid sodium cooled fast neutron breeder reactors (FNRs);
g) Adoption of permanently accessible naturally dry radio isotope storage repositories;
h) Halting further development of fossil fuel resources;
i) Adoption of used nuclear fuel reprocessing.
For example, in August-September 2013 an opportunity for saving Ontario rate payers as much as $20 billion relating to nuclear waste disposal was lost because the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) both failed to post a timely $2 million deposit on then available Canadian real estate that is uniquely geophysically suitable for long term storage of nuclear waste and spent CANDU reactor fuel. As a consequence of this government agency corruption/incompetence the property in question was purchased by Chinese investors.
A further example occurred in May 2018 when the Justin Trudeau government purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline with the intent of tripling its capacity. This is a major long term commitment to increased fossil fuel production directly contrary to Canada's international commitments to reduce CO2 emissions.
North America is presently caught in a vortex of excess fossil fuel consumption. Due to thermal runaway the future survival of mankind on Earth is already uncertain. Imagined fears relating to potential nuclear weapon proliferation and nuclear accidents are preventing adoption of liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors, which are essential to prevent the demise of mankind via thermal extinction. The relevant scientific issues are not adequately addressed by the North American public education curriculum and hence are beyond the comprehension of most voters and most persons in elected office.
Meeting reasonable human energy needs without fossil fuels requires:
a) Widespread use of nuclear and renewable energy;
b) An electricity system sufficient to meet the reasonable total energy requirements of load customers;
c) An electricity rate structure that motivates efficient use of the electricity system by all parties.
The electricity rate structure should recognize that for many electro-chemical processing applications the amount of electrical energy required per unit of production is governed by the laws of chemistry and physics, not by the cost of the electricity. Hence electricity price increases per kWh intended by government to motivate electrical energy conservation actually cause commodity cost inflation and lead to entire resource sectors becoming internationally uncompetitive. The previous Liberal government of Ontario completely failed to appreciate the significance of this issue and then failed to address the unemployment triggered by actual and projected electricity cost increases due to wind and solar electricity generation subsidies. The problem was further aggravated by the failure of the government to implement an optional interruptible electricity rate that would financially enable use of surplus non-fossil electricity for:
a) Liquid fossil fuel displacement;
b) Electrolytic hydrogen production;
c) Electric vehicle charging;
d) Other behind-the-meter energy storage.
Over 90% of present Ontario electricity system costs are related to capital financing rather than energy supply. However, the present Ontario electricity rate structure does not reward efficient use of the capital assets and results in far too much curtailment of non-fossil electricity generation capacity. The failure to adequately market intermittantly available non-fossil electricity generation capacity causes a higher average electricity cost for all electricity consumers and high fossil fuel heating costs, especially in rural areas not served by pipeline supplied natural gas.
Renewable energy sources such as run-of-river hydroelectric power, solar power and wind power are environmentally comparable to nuclear energy but are frequently unsuitably located or not available when needed to meet the instantaneous uncontrolled customer load. When there is non-fossil electricity generation capacity in excess of the instantaneous uncontrolled customer load, the excess capacity, instead of being discarded, should be sold at a discount within Ontario as interruptible electricity.
The whole principle of "conservation first" advocated by the Ministry of Energy for the electricity system in Ontario is wrong because it leads to excessive consumption of fossil fuels while curtailing zero cost non-fossil electricity generation. The object should be to minimize total usage of fossil fuels in Ontario, not to minimize total electrical energy usage. These two objectives are mutually exclusive.
Due to improper electricity pricing large amounts of non-fossil electrical energy are currently being discarded or exported at a low price while simultaneously consumers are forced to consume large amounts of fossil fuel energy in stationary heating applications.
During most night time periods, during the spring and the fall and during high wind conditions Ontario has surplus non-fossil electricity generation and hence has the capacity to supply surplus interruptible non-fossil electricity at almost no marginal cost. In 2017 the amount of this surplus electricity exceeded 20 TWh, or about 15% of total Ontario electricity generation. The main markets for interruptible electricity are for:
a) Charging electric vehicles and thermal energy storage systems;
b) Fossil fuel displacement in hybrid heating systems;
c) Production of electrolytic hydrogen.
Sale of interruptible non-fossil electricity within Ontario is not happening because its price per marginal kWhe is far too high. The price per marginal kWhe of interruptible electricity must be significantly less than the price per kWht of the competitive fossil fuel in order for consumers to substitute energy from interruptible non-fossil electricity for energy from fossil fuels. Changing the electricity price structure requires a legislative change. The present system of allocating the electricity system Global Adjustment equally over all kWh sold within a rate group is not consistent with reduction in fossil CO2 emissions because it incents use of fossil fuels in preference to use of surplus non-fossil electricity.
The Global Adjustment should instead be allocated in proportion to a consumer's peak kW demand measured at times when surplus non-fossil electricity is not available to the consumer.
The on-going failure to sell into the Ontario market surplus non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement is costing Ontario consumers about $2 billion per annum in easily avoidable fossil fuel cost and is a significant contributor to Ontario's overall fossil CO2 emissions. This issue is an indication of the level of corruption and incompetence within the Ontario government and its agencies.
The Ontario Ministry of Energy has the mistaken belief that energy conservation within the electricity system is a good thing. This ministry totally fails to understand that within a non-fossil electricity system the object should be to minimize peak kVA, not kWhe consumption, and that subject to control of peak kVA the kWhe consumption should be permitted to rise to reduce fossil fuel kWt consumption outside the electricity system and to reduce the average cost per kWhe.
The climate change targets agreed to in Paris on December 12, 2015 simply cannot be met until this fundamental electricity pricing problem is fixed. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has contributed to the problem by adopting consumer electricity rates which do not encourage consumers to efficiently use the electricity grid or surplus electricity when it is available.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is dabling with program incentives aimed at reducing electricity costs for large industries, but these incentives are poorly designed and are causing electricity rate gaming. These program incentives are simply an excuse for continued governmental legislative inaction.
SYNTHETIC HYDROCARBON FUEL PRODUCTION:
In the future high energy density liquid hydrocarbons required for aircraft fuel must come from synthetic hydrocarbons instead of fossil hydrocarbons. The carbon component of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels likely must be obtained from biomass or atmospheric CO2 and the hydrogen component must be obtained by electrolysis of water. In order to avoid soil depletion due to extraction of phosphorus and potassium by biomasss used as feedstock for synthetic hydrocarbon fuel production, every major farm and forest product operation will need an on-site methanol production facility that recycles the phosphorus, potassium and other trace elements contined in the biomass residues back into the soil. Some synthetic nitrogen fertilizer should also be added to the soil along with the aforementioned recycled elements.
The thermal radiation emission frequency spectrum of the Earth, as seen by an observer in outer space, is examined. This thermal radiation is a radial flux of far infrared energy. A decrease in temperature at the location of photon emission causes a decrease in the emitted flux of infrared radiant energy and a corresponding decrease in the average radiation frequency. That is the mechanism by which increasing the atmospheric CO2 concentration reduces Earth's infrared emission. When the atmospheric CO2 concentration is high the thermal radiation with wave lengths in the CO2 absorption band is emitted from the top of the atmosphere which is cooler than the lower atmosphere.
At Earth's surface surplus heat is primarily dissipated by evaporation of water. The resulting water vapor rises in the Earth's atmosphere, cools, condenses and then freezes. The latent heat of vaporization is absorbed by impacts with O2 and N2 molecules. The latent heat of fusion efficiently becomes far infrared radiation which is emitted into outer space. When the daily average solar energy absorption rate by Earth exceeds the daily average infrared radiation emission rate into outer space the net heat flux is absorbed by the oceans. This net absorbed heat circulates via air and ocean currents and is melting polar ice and is gradually warming the oceans.
Presently Earth primarily relies on the liquid to ice phase transition of water for supplying the emitted infra red energy. As the atmosphere warms the infrared energy emission from this phase transition will decrease, which will cause further net heat absorption and warming. This IR emission decrease is visible in an equatorial band on IR emission maps.
Certain gas molecules in Earth's upper atmosphere such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), ozone (O3) and methane (CH4), which are collectively known as Green House Gases (GHGs), absorb radially propagating far infrared photons emitted by Earth in certain frequency bands and re-emit the absorbed infra red energy in random directions. From the perspective of an observer in outer space these GHG molecules make Earth's atmosphere appear opaque at photon frequencies within the infrared absorption bands. Within these absorption bands the infrared radiation reaching outer space is reduced in intensity and due to the lower emission temperature is shifted to lower frequencies. This temperature dependent frequency shift leads to apparent widening of the GHG absorption bands.
In order to restore energy flow balance between the total thermal infrared radiated power emission into outer space and the daily average absorption of solar energy after an increase in GHG gas concentration, the thermal infrared radiation emission in frequency bands where the upper atmosphere is transparent must increase. Hence the temperature near Earth's surface increases to maintain overall energy flow balance. This increase in the temperature near Earth's surface caused by the presence of GHGs in the upper atmosphere is known as the Green House Effect.
Combustion of fossil fuels causes both transient and steady state increases in the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Due to the increased CO2 concentration the upper atmosphere has become more opaque in the CO2 absorption band. Hence in this absorption band the flow of photons that is emitted into outer space is of reduced intensity and is emitted by CO2 that is colder than in the lower atmosphere. The consequent decrease in infrared energy emission into space in the CO2 absorption band reduces Earth's overall thermal radiation emission which in the presence of constant solar radiation absorption causes net heat absorption by Earth. Hence there is an increase in dry ground temperature and there is ongoing net heat absorption by the oceans.
The net heat absorption by the oceans has a multiplicity of effects. It melts polar ice and it causes thermal expansion of ocean water. These two effects both cause a rise in sea level.
An increase in ocean temperature releases dissolved CO2 and methane trapped in permafrost and on the ocean floor. In the atmosphere the methane decomposes to form yet more CO2. The ocean warming increases the energy available to drive major storms. It affects the mix of marine life. It also raises the atmospheric water vapor concentration which further increases the atmospheric GHG concentration.
Use of any non-renewable energy heat source on Earth increases the amount of heat that must be emitted into space. Increasing the emitted thermal radiation flux requires a temperature increase above and beyond the temperature increases due to GHG accumulation in the atmosphere and due to a decrease in Earth's Bond albedo (solar reflectivity).
The present size of the ocean-atmosphere CO2 pool, which enables modern animal and plant life, took several billion years to establish. Large scale combustion of fossil fuels is increasing both the non-equilibrium and the steady state atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Earth's rising atmospheric CO2 concentration is causing an increasing average cloud temperature. The average top of cloud temperature is approaching the freezing point of water at which temperature cloud particles change from microscopic ice crystals to microscopic water droplets. This phase change sharply decreases the average cloud solar reflectivity which will cause a rapid rise in net absorbed radiation power. This rapid heat absorption will cause a rapid temperature increase known as thermal runaway.
Thermal runaway will increase the saturated atmospheric water vapor concentration and hence will increase storm violence.
Further in the future is a related problem known as warm state trapping, which will occur as the ocean temperature rises. Warm state trapping will trap Earth at a high atmospheric temperature, in circumstances similar to those which existed during the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) period about 56 million years ago. During the PETM period both of the polar ice caps completely melted and there was a global extinction of all large land animals.
The present global warming is almost entirely due to large scale combustion of fossil fuels. Consequences of this global warming include: higher average ambient temperatures, frequent violent storms, drought, famine, pestilence, sea water inundation and large land animal extinction.
In Canada and Russia a major risk is rapid uncontrolled human immigration as large foreign populations seek relief from rising temperatures, rising sea level, violent storms and reduced agricultural capacity. The Canadian government should face the full scope of this problem before it becomes completely out of control. Experience in Europe and the southern USA has demonstrated that when migrants are sufficiently motivated immigration controls are extremely difficult to enforce.
Any solution to the global warming and thermal runaway problem requires leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground requires an alternative dependable energy source which means embracing use of fast neutron reactors. Minimizing energy system costs requires locating fast neutron reactors in high density urban areas. These are factual physical issues that elected politicians have thus far been unwilling to face.
The energy supply problems can be mitigated by orderly human population reduction.
Much can be learned about orderly human population reduction from actual experience in China, Japan, Europe and Canada during the last sixty years. Culture, religion, female education, female employment, sex education, free teenage contraception/pregnancy termination, adequate health care and adequate old age pensions are all important elements of a successful population reduction strategy.
Population reduction implies a reduction in many measures of economic output. However, often measures of economic output are poor indicators of average quality of life. A major advantage of life in Canada as compared to the USA is relative freedom from fear.
Successful population reduction requires adoption of taxation policies, health insurance policies, pension policies and utility rates that are sustainable with a constant or a decreasing population. To achieve population stability it is of paramount importance that people believe that they do not have to rely on their children for old age care. In Canada the average female fertility rate decreased from 3.9 children per woman in 1960 to 1.6 children per woman in 2010. The present Canadian population growth is entirely due to immigration.
ACCELERATING NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CONSTRUCTION:
Politicians are collectively afraid to acknowledge to the public that mitigation of climate change requires widespread adoption of nuclear power for displacement of fossil fuels. However, this fear will lead to tragedy due to the implementation time delays involved. Nuclear power systems are not like home renovations which can be planned and implemented in a few weeks. Major changes in nuclear power systems and related electricity and district heating take decades to implement.
Developing plans, performance specifications and drawings for a full scale nuclear power plant is a multi-year process at the best of times. If nuclear power is to save the world very serious dollars must be immediately committed to development of the required plans, specifications and drawings. The number of engineers with the relevant experience needed to supervise this work is extremely limited. Most are either retired or dead. The number one priority is to commence this work immediately.
Nuclear power plant site selection, which involves extensive interaction with the public, must commence immediately. Obvious sites are existing thermal generation sites. However, the number of such sites is no where near sufficient and most of the existing sites are not in urban areas where nuclear heat is most required. Urban power plant sites generally require changes to existing zoning.
Nuclear power plant site selection also triggers connecting electricity and thermal transmission corridor issues and district heating pumping, piping and heat exchange issues that must be simultaneously resolved. Nuclear district heating requires approval of district heating utilities, changes to buried services under roads and changes to the building code. Due to pipe static head pressures generally a district heating plant will only serve an elevation band of about +/- 100 m. Thus a town on a mountain side that spans 300 m of elevation may require two separate district heating systems.
Sites that are suitable for Light Water Reactors (LWRs) in general are not suitable for Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) and vice versa due to required elevations with respect to large water bodies.
The reader is reminded that the source of all the major problems at Fukushima Daiichi was failure by the Japanese electricity utility TEPCO to expropriate high elevation property behind the reactors for siting of emergency generation. This high elevation real estate is essential, regardless of NIMBY political or cost considerations.
Potential new reactor sites should be core drilled to check the location of bed rock, subsurface cavities, and underground water courses, etc. before these sites are seriously considered.
Thus major funding is needed right now for nuclear plant site planning, long before full plans, specifications and drawings are ready.
While potential nuclear power plant sites are being considered pilot plants must move ahead. It is crazy to consider any full scale nuclear power plant deployment without first building a pilot plant of similar design to iron out obvious problems. Right now there is no government commitment to the pilot plants that are required for large scale fast neutron reactor fuel production, fast neutron reactor power plant production and personnel training.
There must be early agreement as to the type of reactors to be used, as that sets the steam parameters. Once the steam parameters are set the design of the turbine/electrical and heat distribution portion of the plant can proceed almost independent of nuclear issues. Management of steam at part electrical load is a non-trivial issue. Rapid changes in electrical load can trigger both large transient thermal stresses and turbine clearance issues. Mechanical design to relieve or cancel thermal stress is a complex issue that is beyond the capabilities of most junior engineers. Pre-warming a turbine case requires an elaborate control algorithm that reliably anticipates the future load and how rapidly it must be met. Once a nuclear power plant departs from an existing field proven design there are no quick solutions to these matters.
This web page last updated June 20, 2020.
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