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The Answer: Why Only Mini Nuclear Power Plants Can Save The World Hardcover – Aug 23 2011
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About the Author
Historian Reese Palley is the author of many books and articles, including Wooden Ships & Iron Men: The Maritime Art of Thomas Hoyne, Concrete: A Seven-Thousand Year History, and The Answer: Why Only Mini Nuclear Power Plants Can Save the World. He lives in Philadelphia.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book provides the reader with an accessible study of the range of problems leading to climate disruption. The problems are in fact enormous, so only our most powerful and advanced technology can take them on, directly, and overcome them. If we are going to end coal burning, we need its equal -- in cost, reliablity, abundance of fuel, and so on. Ultimately, the new kind of inherently safe, mini nuclear power plants can be produced in the quality and number that will replace the coal burning infrastruture with thousands of SMRs, small modular reactors (if the human element-- strong and lasting public support arises ).
The world simply cannot withstand the prospect of burning all the world's coal reserves. The line has to be drawn somewhere -- yet the replacement must equal coal in cost and reliability. That is the crux of a problem that may start to overwhelm civilization sometime in the 21st century.
After a decade-long discussion about sustainable green energy the time for contemplation has expired, due its sheer length and the oncoming climate disruption. While we need to identify a range of solutions (ranging from ending coal use, preserving the rainforests and temperate forests, and a plant-based diet), the single best approach is the "The Answer" by Reese Palley, namely "Inherently Safe, Mini Nuclear Power Plants."
I encourage all environmental groups and citizens to read this book and strive for coordination between government, industry, and the United Nations to develop this vital energy source.
The reactor was operating at full power, the control rods were disabled so that they would not automatically shut down the reactor, and power was turned off. The reactor started to heat up but the design is such that as the reactor heats up, the fuel expands, the criticality of the fuel decreases as the fuel expands, and the heat generated by the reactor decreases. The reactor entered a safe state without operator intervention and without automatic intervention using control systems and valves. The physics of the design safeguards the reactor from meltdown.
The Integral in IFR refers to the inclusion of recycling facilities at the reactor site. Pyroprocessing is used to separate fission products from the heavy metals in order to recover 96% of the nuclear "waste" for reuse as fuel. The process uses electicity is collect the heavy metals (Uranium, plutonium, etc.) on the cathode for return to the reactor.
There have been several proposed small modular reactor designs for this technology. The Toshiba 4S is an example.
This following book provides an account of the history and technology associated with the IFR.
Plentiful Energy: The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor: The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific bases for non-specialists
But---whether you are aware of it or not---we are at a fantastic and unprecedented precipice, one that has the dangerous profile of the 'slippery slope', the seductive entrapment of slow accommodation, and a scale in time and space that is both epochal and global. This book will help you, as I suspect no other will, to "do the math."
And the math is scary stuff, but only if you have kids you care about. Despite having already become convinced, prior to reading The Answer, that nuclear power was the only safe answer to heat both liberal and conservative houses alike, I had no idea how many were the ways of my ignorance. I suspected that most alternative energies were merely stop-gaps but I did not know that they are often outright CO2 losers. I thought that forests were a straightforward CO2 winner but now, I not only accept Palley's explanation that forests are merely CO2 neutral, I wonder how I could have thought otherwise. (The logic goes like this: if forests had a net absorption of CO2 they would have long ago thrown nature terribly out of balance. Their CO2 logic reverses when vegetation dies and decomposes.) I did not know the relative persistence in the atmosphere of the various greenhouse gases. I did not know the military motivation that explains our pathetic nuclear policy, using the term 'policy' too generously. I did not know that too-big-to-fail is just as fatal in our electrical grids and containment vessels as in our banks. I did not have quite the right understanding of the energy risk to drinking water... my children and yours' most likely short term risk. And so on and so on. I did, however, know that population growth, and growth in any terms, is unsustainable (or the very opposite of sustainability) but Palley wisely leaves this challenge to his closing message. After all, he's no da Vinci, right?
And I did have some inkling of the potential of small reactors, having read of them in a recent Wired magazine article. But I had no framework in which to gauge if it was pulp-nonfiction or earth-moving fact. It remains to be seen whether and when small modular reactors (the answer... SMRs) will be perfected. But it would not seem that there is any other viable path forward without cataclysmic downsizing of Mankind.
Reese Palley didn't have to write this book. Far from it, I suspect. Rather, it appears to be a gift. Is it perfect? No. It could benefit from a few good graphs and an explanation of SMRs earlier on. And I'd like a little more info on the CO2 balance sheet on wind energy. But that's not important. What is, is that you read it and spread the message. Now.
The author considers ACAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming) caused by CO2 to be the biggest threat to mankind. Electricity production using coal or natural gas is a big contributor to CO2. He talks about solutions for providing electricity while still allowing people to live in the same lifestyle as we do today in the USA with plentiful and cheap energy in an industrial world. The book can be of interest to CAGW skeptics as well as it is some insight into how part of the CAGW community is moving toward accepting nuclear power as a solution.
He understands that electricity must be generated when needed and the amount supplied must match the demand. He covers the problems of wind and solar not being on demand sources that the utilities can order up as required, as they can with nuclear, coal and gas power plants. The demand varies for each utility every day, with more electricity needed in the morning when people get up, and start their day, and then a fall off in the middle of he day, and then an increase in the late afternoon, falling off at night. The requires that the utilities have base load power, always on, to provide the steady power requirement, which is typically a mix of nuclear, coal and gas.
He makes the point that small nuclear reactor powered electrical generators seem to be the way to go in the future. They are smaller, and thus cheaper and quicker to build than the large nuclear plants that we have today. These are excellent arguments.
Dr. Weinberg, the head of ONRL, tried in the 1960 to get the USA to move to an inherently safe reactor, specifically, a LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor), following on to he prototype one that they had running for several years at ONRL. Dr. Weinberg tried so hard to get the government to change its position on nuclear power reactors for industry, that he got fired as the head of ONRL.
I am please to see this book out of the CAGW community, pushing for a solution to the electrical power generation issue, using small nuclear reactors, which would be inherently safe.
The author also appreciates that getting a new reactor design through the bureaucratic approval process will be time consuming and expensive. Unfortunately, we live in an administrative state, and it is not concerned with getting new and novel things approved. It should be noted that the US armed services do all of the review and approval and inspection process for the military that the NRC does for the civilian world. The reactors used to power ships etc. and are much smaller than the commercial reactors in use today. They are a family of reactors that are of a size similar to what the author discusses. Getting the NRC to approve a new design will be a real challenge unfortunately. The process delays will run up the costs will will be passed on to the rate payers as more expensive electricity, and taxpayers as an increased cost.
All in all a good book that could benefit from having some real numbers on power used, and power required now and in the future to help people understand. A book that could help in this regard is "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" by David JC MacKay.
Palley begins by explaining the need for nuclear power, which creates NO CO2 in these days of accelerating Climate Change, and has a safety record some 8000 times better than coal and 900 times better than oil.
Some will argue with Palley and those who support nuclear power, but if you look behind their arguments you will find millions of dollars of coal, oil and natural gas money, or an ignorant, misconception-riddled fear of nuclear power caused by Fukushima, which was not a failure of nuclear power, but was the predictable result of repeated corporate penny pinching and the failure of the Japanese government to enforce the construction of a higher seawall like the one that easily turned back the tsunami at the nearby Onagawa nuclear power plant.