Saturday, August 28, 2021

China set to begin first trials of molten salt nuclear reactor using thorium instead of uranium

Scientists in China are about to turn on for the first time an experimental reactor that's believed by some to be the Holy Grail of nuclear energy — safer, cheaper and with less potential for weaponisation.

Construction on the thorium-based molten salt reactor was expected to be finished this month with the first tests to begin as early as September, according to a statement from the Gansu provincial government.

Thorium is a metallic element with radioactive properties, close to uranium on the periodic table, which was considered as an alternative fuel source when the US was first developing nuclear energy technology in the 1940s.

The Americans even developed an experimental thorium-based molten salt nuclear reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but the US shut it down and abandoned thorium in favour of uranium in the early 1970s.

The new reactor, built at Wuwei on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China, is an experimental prototype designed to have an output of just 2 megawatts.

According to a paper published in the Chinese scientific journal Nuclear Techniques by the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, the longer-term plan is to develop a series of small molten salt reactors each producing 100 megawatts of energy, enough for about 100,000 people.

Molten salt plants don't use water for cooling like traditional nuclear power plants and so can be built in desert areas, the paper says, such as China's sparsely populated western regions.

The first commercial plants using the new technology are reportedly planned to come online in 2030.

President Xi Jinping has pledged to make China carbon neutral by 2060.

Nigel Marks, an associate professor of physics at Curtin University, said China pushing ahead with thorium as a nuclear fuel was an exciting development. "They've effectively reactivated a research program that the US mothballed back in the 60s," Dr Marks said. "Who knows, maybe in a different climate with some different economics they could make it work."

Thorium — named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder — has a few key advantages over uranium. The radioactive waste from thorium only needs to be stored for about 500 years, compared to several thousand for uranium.

It's also much more difficult and time consuming to make weapons-grade uranium out of thorium.

Some thorium advocates have even speculated that the US only went with uranium rather than thorium because it was more useful to make nuclear weapons.

However, Dr Marks said this was "all bollocks". "The main reason that uranium has been used since the first reactor back in the early 40s is just because everything works so easily for uranium," he said. "There's only one element that can naturally produce a fission reaction out of the box, and that's uranium.

"Thorium, in principle, you can release the energy but it's nowhere near as easy as it is with uranium."

For example, thorium is fertile rather than fissile, which means it needs another nuclear technology, typically a uranium reactor, to kick start the thorium chain, he said.

"Chemically it's a very different element," he said. "So things that just happen to be simple for uranium, just happen to be complicated for thorium."

India, which was unable to access uranium for nuclear power plants until 2008, had been trying for decades to develop thorium power but never got it to work, he said.

He said the main thing holding back thorium as a potential fuel source was the expense and risk of developing a new technology that may not ultimately work or be cost-effective.

Dr Marks said the same molten salt technology could just as easily be used with uranium as thorium. Using molten salt instead of water means a reactor can't melt down in the same way as traditional water-cooled reactors.

Molten salt reactors are also potentially cheaper because they don't need to be pressurised to keep the coolant water from turning into steam.

Dr Marks said China's approach was not to "keep all their eggs in one basket". "They've got a couple of different technologies, and there's loads of different reactor designs they're pursuing across their whole nuclear sector," he said.

"So they're giving it a good shot, and I'm really interested to see what happens."


The hockeystick is back

Although climate scientists keep telling that defects in their “hockey stick” proxy reconstructions don’t matter – that it doesn’t matter whether they use data upside down, that it doesn’t matter if they cherry pick individual series depending on whether they go up in the 20th century, that it doesn’t matter if they discard series that don’t go the “right” way (“hide the decline”), that it doesn’t matter if they used contaminated data or stripbark bristlecones, that such errors don’t matter because the hockey stick itself doesn’t matter – the IPCC remains addicted to hockey sticks: lo and behold, Figure 1a of its newly minted Summary for Policy-makers contains what else – a hockey stick diagram. If you thought Michael Mann’s hockey stick was bad, imagine a woke hockey stick by woke climate scientists. As the climate scientists say, it’s even worse that we thought.

Curiously, this leading diagram of the Summary of Policy-Makers does not appear in the Report itself. (At least, I was unable to locate it in Chapter 2.) However, it is clearly the progeny of PAGES2K Consortium (Nature 2019) and Kaufman et al (2020), both of which I commented on briefly on Twitter (see here).

It’s hard to know where to begin.

The idea/definition of a temperature “proxy” is that it has some sort of linear or near-linear relationship to temperature with errors being white noise or low-order red noise. In other words, if you look at a panel of actual temperature “proxies”, you would expect to see series that look pretty similar and consistent.

But that’s not what you see with the data used by the IPCC. You’d never know this from the IPCC report or even from the cited articles, since authors of these one- and two-millennium temperature reconstructions scrupulously avoid plotting any of the underlying data. It’s hard for readers unfamiliar with the topic to fully appreciate the extreme inconsistency of underlying “proxy” data, given the faux precision of the IPCC diagram.

Many of the series discussed in this post, including nearly all of any HS-shaped series, have been previously discussed in Climate Audit blog posts (tag/pages2k) from 2, 5, 10 or even 15 years ago or in tweets from 2019 and 2020 (see here).

The PAGES2019 is not a “random” selection of proxies, but winnowed through ex post criteria. As Rosanne d’Arrigo explained to the NAS panel many years ago: if you want to make cherry pie, you first have to pick cherries.

The PAGES2019 dataset consists of 257 proxies, selected from the prior PAGES2017 dataset consisting of 692 proxies, which had previously been selected from thousands of proxy series accumulated by many authors over the years.

In order to give readers an overview of the underlying data – not the massaged final product, I’ve plotted three batches of 11 randomly selected series from each of PAGES2017, PAGES2019 and then PAGES2019 North American tree rings and then commented on each batch. (The samples were selected by R formula sample(1:K, 11) where K is the size of dataset being sampled.) In each case, there were usually series that I had already studied plus numerous non-descript series, which are notable and important to show precisely because the majority of proxies are non-descript and you need to see this to understand it.

MORE here


Australia: Port Kembla power proposal deemed critical for the environment

This is tokenism. The new plant will rely 95% on natual gas -- a "fossil fuel"

A hydrogen-gas turbine power station proposed for the Illawarra region of NSW has been declared "critical state significant infrastructure", meaning the project will be fast tracked.

The plan by businessman Andrew Forrest to build the $1.3 billion project at Port Kembla will still need environmental approval, but will not be subject to third party appeal rights.

The project is in an area marked as a potential hydrogen gas hub.

The proposed power station has committed to using up to five per cent cent green hydrogen.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the plant was a step towards safeguarding the state's energy needs while providing jobs.

"The Port Kembla power station will be a game changer, not just for NSW but Australia," Mr Barilaro said in a statement.

"It will provide the energy capacity our state needs as existing coal-fired power stations reach their end of life, and household power bills will be the big winner as the project maintains downward pressure on prices."

The coal-powered Liddell Power Station near Muswellbrook, in the NSW Hunter region, is due to come offline in 2023.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the proposed power station would produce up to 635 megawatts of electricity on demand and create 700 construction jobs.

"The Port Kembla power station will be a critical part of the NSW energy mix as we move to cleaner, greener renewables," Mr Stokes said.

The power station would sit adjacent to the import terminal the Forest-owned Squadron energy group is already building. It has the capacity to handle both LNG and green hydrogen.

The federal government has previously committed $30 million to support initial works for the Port Kembla power station, and has shortlisted it for future funding support.

The final approval will rest with Mr Stokes.


Australian court makes key climate change ruling

A court has ordered NSW's Environment Protection Authority to develop goals and policies to ensure environment protection from climate change.

The landmark ruling came after a challenge from a community organisation founded in the ashes of a devastating bushfire that swept through Tathra in 2018.

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action had argued the EPA had a duty to protect the environment from significant threats and climate change was a "grave" and "existential" threat.

The EPA had failed to do this, BSCA contended in the NSW Land and Environment Court, with whatever instruments the agency had developed to ensure environment protection were not enough or even intended to deal with the threat of climate change.

The government said its current measures were adequate, including measures that incidentally regulate greenhouse gas emissions such as methane in landfill. But first and foremost, it said its environmental protection duty was a general duty and wasn't a duty to ward off particular threats, such as climate change.

Chief Judge Brian Preston on Thursday found none of the documents the EPA presented to the court was an instrument that showed it was ensuring the protection of the environment from climate change.

He ordered it develop environmental quality objectives, guidelines and policies to meet their duty on climate change.

But the EPA will maintain discretion on how it fulfils its duty, as the judge knocked back the BSCA's wish for specific objectives including the regulation of sources of greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting a global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

"This is a significant win for everyone who has been affected by bushfires," BSCA president Jo Dodds said in a statement.

"Bushfire survivors have been working for years to rebuild their homes, their lives and their communities. This ruling means they can do so with confidence that the EPA must now also work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state"

The Nature Conservation Council said most people would be astonished to learn the EPA had not regulated greenhouse gas but the ruling should "a chill through the state's most polluting industries, including the electricity and commercial transport sectors".

"Allowing politicians to set greenhouse gas emission targets and controls rather than scientific experts has led us to the precipice," NCC chief executive Chris Gambian said.

In a statement, the EPA said it was reviewing the judgment.

It described itself as an active government partner on climate change policy, regulation and innovation and was involved in work that "assists with and also directly contributes to measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change".

"The EPA supports industry to make better choices in response to the impacts of climate change," the agency said.

Last month, a federal judge ruled federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley had a duty of care to protect children from future personal injury caused by climate change.

Ms Ley is appealing the decision, which resulted from her involvement in the approval of the expansion of a northern NSW coal mine.




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