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A Disturbing Documentary on the Piper Alpha Oil Platform Explosion.

Most people who are killed by petroleum are killed by its combustion products, aka air pollution.

As I never tire of telling people - not that they actually care - air pollution deaths are occurring right now at a rate of 7 million people per year, almost all of them related to oil, coal, gas (and yes - dangerous natural gas contributes to air pollution) and "renewable" biomass combustion.

However, oil and gas accidents, generally fires and explosions also kill people.

Everyone on the planet, more or less, is immediately aware of, say, Chernobyl, in 1986, but almost no one can talk about the Piper Alpha explosion in 1988, two years later.

Like, say, the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back, it's gone down the memory hole, because Americans all "need" gasoline for the important things, like say, keeping the grass covering suburban lawns and golf courses, clean and trim.

The Smithsonian Channel has a new series, called "Make It Out Alive."

It's been running in this series a documentary on what happened when the Piper Alpha offshore oil rig exploded owing to the operation of a dangerous natural gas line leading to a compressor. The explosion killed 167 people within a few hours.

The trailer for the documentary is here: Make it out alive

If you have a chance, watch it during one of the reruns of the episode. But don't be too concerned, because, um, we "need" oil and gas, apparently even more than we need water and air.

Don't worry, be happy. Nobody will stop building oil and gas platforms in your life time - your lawn mower is safe.

Here for instance, is information from the Danish Energy Agency, as of 2017, about how to license a new one now:

Danish "Responsible" Oil and Gas Leases

Enjoy the coming work week.

Danish Energy Agency Register of Wind Turbines:

The data can be found, in both Danish and English here: Master Data Register of Wind Turbines by clicking on the link for the Excel Spread Sheet:

Data on operating and decommisioned wind turbines (end of September 2017)

One may use the normal Excel functions to find the mean life time of these pieces of shit, the maximal lifetime, the shortest lifetime (in a few cases zero) and of course, the total energy produced by them. In fact, one can see the total energy produced by them month ot month, and determine how much gas they need to burn in that offshore oil and gas drilling hellhole, Denmark, to make up for the times the wind doesn't blow.

I have done these analyses, in detail, twice and it takes about two to three hours of data manipulation to get it all. One needs to use Excel date functions as well as a number of sorts to really understand how useless and pathetic this infrastructure actually is.

I'm not going to do all of this here; I'm tired of confronting people waving their hands in an oblivious fashion to defend the indefensible, that their pet theory - which they will not give up no matter how much information is thrown at them - hasn't worked, isn't working and won't work. I'll post some earlier details from one of my analyses at the end of this post.

However the figures for the month of September, 2017 are illustrative. In the entire nation of Denmark in the month of September, 831,779,994 kWh of electricity. Note that unlike the big lie sold repeatedly by the so called "renewable energy" industry a kiloWatt-hour is a unit of energy and not a unit of peak power. To convert it to the SI unit of energy, the Joule, we need to multiply a kilowatt hour by 3,600,000 to obtain 2.99 petajoules (peta = 10^15). A day has 86400 seconds in it and there are 30 days in September, equaling, therefore September lasts for 2,592,000 seconds.

Thus the average continuous power for the whole damned offshore oil and gas drilling hellhole of the nation of Denmark amounts to 1155 MW.

Each of the single reactors at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in California, due be closed in a few years because stupid people hate it and don't give a shit about climate change at all, or about air pollution deaths - or any of the other things on which nuclear energy is, by far the most successful technology ever at ameliorating - produce 1100 MW of power continuously. In August of 2017, the last entry on the EIA data Excel page reporting performance of US nuclear plants, the two reactors produced 1,682,881 megawatt hours of electricity, translating, as above to 6.58 petajoules, or 203% as much energy as all the wind turbines in the entire nation of that offshore oil and gas drilling hellhole, Denmark.

The entire nuclear power plant sits on 900 acres, not a whole fucking country along with a huge portion of the North Sea. It doesn't grind up birds and bats and it operates continuously whether or not there are gas plants nearby. All of the energy produced by the reactors is produced in two relatively small buildings which only take up a small portion of the 900 acres.

The Diablo Canyon reactors could easily operate way beyond the time that it is being forced to close (2025) owing to appeals to ignorance, selective attention, superstition and scientific illiteracy, but the decision has been made to kill people by closing them, and there's nothing I or probably anyone else can do about it. They came on line in 1986. Even so when fear and ignorance forces them to close, they will have operated for 39 years. Again, there is no technical reason they couldn't be operated longer, but never underestimate the power of stupidity to squander highly successful engineering on trivial obsessions.

Here was the results of my more extensive analysis of the Danish pieces of wind turbine shit back in 2015:

The Danes – and we will see that despite all the hoopla that has surrounded their wind program their actual energy production from wind energy is very small, even compared to wind capacity in other countries like the United States, Germany and China – keep an exhaustive and very detailed database of every single wind turbine they built in the period between the 1978 and the present day.[29] If one downloads the Excel file available in the link for reference 29 one can show that the Danes, as of the end of March 2015, have built and operated 8,002 wind turbines of all sizes. Of these, 2727, or 34.1% of them have been decommissioned. Of those that were decommissioned, the mean lifetime was 16.94 years (16 years and 310 days). Twenty-one of the decommissioned wind turbines operated less than two years, two never operated at all, and 103 operated for less than 10 years. Among decommissioned turbines, the one that lasted the longest did so for 34 years and 210 days. Among all 2727 decommissioned wind turbines, 6 lasted more than 30 years.

Of the 5,275 turbines still operating there are 13 that lasted longer than 34 years and 210 days, the longest having operated (as of March 31, 2015) for 36 years and 303 days. The mean age of operating Danish wind turbines is 15.25 years, 15 years and 92 days.

In March of 2015, the entire Danish wind industry produced 1,137,405,953 kWh (or 1.13 TWh) of electricity, which is the equivalent of 4.0967 petajoules (0.0041 exajoules). Thus for the 31 days of March 2015, the average continuous power output of the 5,275 operating wind turbines was 1529 MW. Since the rated (peak) capacity of the wind turbines operating in March of 2015 was 4096 MW, it follows that the capacity utilization of wind turbines in Denmark was 31.2%.

Sustaining the Wind, Part I

Have a nice weekend, and try not to notice that the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere was 404.17 ppm in the week beginning of October 29, 2017, 22.42 ppm higher than it was in the same week in 2007, as reported at the Mauna Loa observatory. (Accessed 11/10/2017).

By the way, according to the report by the Frankfurt School/UNEP/Bloomberg report, we've been squandering about a trillion dollars every ten years on the useless and land wasting wind industry, with the result that carbon dioxide concentrations are rising at an average of roughly 2.2 ppm per year, the highest rate ever observed since observations have been made.

Again, have a nice weekend.

Um, are you saying that Fukushima will cause 35 million deaths?

What, exactly, does this mean?

About air pollution, you say fukushima is two day of air pollution. But according to your own paper, fukushima is as well 1/4 of the deaths that nuclear avoid in the world every year.

I have no idea what you mean, but whatever it is, it represents the most spectacular misreading of this paper I've ever seen.

Before I address this bourgeois "negawatt" horse shit put out by that detestable fool Amory Lovins, I need to point out a few things.

First of all it is not my paper. It is a paper co-written by one of the most important climate scientists there is, Jim Hansen. It's not some crap put out by a scientifically illiterate newspaper journalist at the Guardian, it's um, a scientific paper published in one of the world's most important Environmental journals on the planet.


Your statement that:

"The truth is we don't really know what impact our nuclear wastes will have within the next 200,000 years.

...can only be represented as a statement showing that you lack basic knowledge of chemistry and physics, very basic knowledge.

Who is we?

How many scientific papers have you read to make such an incredible wrong statement? I've been reading on the chemistry and physics of actinides and fission products for 30 years. A crude estimate of the amount of time that I spend in scientific academic libraries would amount, estimating about 10 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, 30 years, would put it at about 15,000 hours of my life, in libraries reading pure science. Carbonite reports regularly that I have more than 600,000 files in my computer, the vast majority of which are PDF's from the primary scientific literature, or photoscans of monographs and papers that are from the primary scientific literature.

You seem to have spent less than 20 minutes contemplating an issue that involves the lives of every damned living thing on this planet, and then come here to lecture me about some fucking suburban garden that you claim will have plutonium in it 1500 years from now, with absolutely no evidence, no statement of mechanism about how this will happen to some putative bourgeois child centuries in the future.

Do you know how many children will die today from air pollution? And let's be clear on something, OK, these won't be children who reside in some bourgeois suburban garden. They will be poor children, desperately impoverished children.

In what kind of moral universe must one exist to value the life of some imagined child 1500 years from now over the 19,000 people who have died since yesterday from air pollution? And let's be clear on something, according the World Health Organization, 1.7 million of the 7 million people who die each year from air pollution will be children, mostly poor children.

While you were typing about plutonium in a suburban garden 1500 years from now, if you spent two minutes typing, that means six children died from air pollution.

Lovins' negawatt crowd have so much contempt for human poverty that they might as well be Republicans.

Sometime ago, referencing about 50 papers not from some asshole scientifically illiterate reporter from the Guardian, but the primary scientific literature, I wrote about the ethics of energy, arguing not that we needed to yank energy from those who do not have it, but that we needed to effectively double the per capita planetary average continuous power for the average human being from 2500 Watts (compared to about 10,000 watts for the average American to something on the order of 5,000 watts, in order to provide for the impoverished, and do so in a clean and sustainable way.

Current Energy Demand; Ethical Energy Demand; Depleted Uranium and the Centuries to Come

Here are some comments I made on that detestable fool Amory Lovins, in that post:

...In 1976, which – if I have the math right – was 3 years after 1973, the energy mystic Amory Lovins published a paper in the social science journal Foreign Affairs, “Energy Strategy, The Road Not Taken?”[3] that suggested that by the use of conservation and so called “renewable energy” all of the world’s energy problems could be solved. The thin red sliver on the 2011 pie chart, identified as “other” – solar, wind, etc, – obviates the grotesque failure of so called “renewable energy” to become a meaningful source of energy in the worldwide energy equation, despite consuming vast resources and vast sums of money, this on a planet that could ill afford such sums. As for conservation, in 2011 we were using 147% of the dangerous petroleum we used in 1973, 286% of the dangerous natural gas we used in 1973, and 252% of the dangerous coal we used in 1973. The rise in average figures of per capita energy consumption, as well as total energy consumed worldwide, show that energy conservation as an energy strategy has not worked either.

The reason that energy conservation as an energy strategy has failed is obvious, even divorced from population growth. According to the 2013 UN Millennium Goals Report[4], as shown in the following graphic from it, the percentage of the Chinese population that lived on less than $1.25 (US) per day fell from 60% of the population in 1990 to 16% in 2005 and further to 12% in 2010. From our knowledge of history, we would be fair to assume that the situation in China was even worse in 1976 than it was in 1990...

...By the way, it ought to weigh on the moral imagination…that figure…less than $1.25 a day…less than $500 per year…for all a human being’s needs…food, shelter, transportation, child care, education, health, care for the elderly…

...Seen from this perspective, Lovins’ writings are all marked by myopic bourgeois provincialism. The huge flaw in his 1976 conceit, and his conceits forever thereafter, was that for him, people living in the United States, and maybe Western Europe, represented the only human life that mattered. Chinese and Indians, for two examples, may as well have not existed if one reads his 1976 fantasy; he blithely assumed that they would agree to remain unimaginably impoverished while Americans pursued hydrogen HYPErcars[5] in every suburban garage and solar heated molten salt tanks[6] in every suburban backyard. Apparently, from his high perch in the überrich suburb of Aspen – Snowmass, Colorado – where he lives today in a super-efficient McMansion, he continues to issue rhetoric equally oblivious to the status of the larger fraction of humanity, this while collecting “consulting fees” from companies that among other things, mine and refine oil sands[7]. Consideration of the two to three billion people defined by the IEA today as living in “energy poverty”[8] – 1.3 billion of whom lack access to electricity for any purpose, never mind for the purpose of charging up their swell Tesla electric cars, and/or the 38% percent of human beings on this planet who lack access to what the IEA calls “clean cooking facilities” – is definitely not in the purview of a person who writes books with awful titles like, um, “Winning the Oil Endgame.[9]”

Lovins, a sometime consultant for dangerous fossil fuel companies, is a horrible human being, not just horrible, but ignorant as sin.

Right now, on this planet, John, there are 1.3 billion people who lack electricity. Just last week in Germany, I watched a BBC documentary about one village, out of the tens of thousands of such villages, where there are no improved sanitary facilities.

It's this one: Sue Perkins explores the Ganges, Part I

Apparently you believe that the world can be saved by making sure that none of the women described in that documentary ever have a fucking toilet bowl, because you're um, negawatting with Amory.

You know what?

This sort of thing, this obliviousness, this ignorance, this contempt, just makes me angry. Very angry. I'm tired of the twisted horseshit put out by people who wish to be regarded as reasonable who apparently have no idea of what reason, in particular, moral reasoning is. Today, 19,000 people will die, unnecessarily, because of anti-nuke nonsense.

I'm too old to be angry all the time; what is being done to future generations - and believe me what we are doing to future generations with climate change and with the depletion of resources to build useless crap like wind turbines is far worse than make believe plutonium in a putative garden 15 millennia from now - is criminal.

It breaks my heart that I will be leaving this planet shortly while the fight against ignorance has failed.

But rather than contemplate this stuff any more, I'll just continue to read science and hand off as much as possible to my son the engineering student and then die.

Before I die though, since I hope to live a little longer to discuss these things with my son - not too long, just a little longer - I really need to use the "ignore" button here to avoid the worst of the idiot anti-nuke rhetoric on this website.

It's time to use it again. Good luck with that electric car/wind turbine/solar cell bourgeois obliviousness, John.

When I encounter anti-nukes, pretending to be reasonable, there's always a kind of Trumpian transparency to it.

Have a nice life.

When was the last time a thought or a prayer stopped a bullet?

When was the last time a thought or a prayer brought back a child - or anyone else - blown away by a bullet?

They roll out "thoughts and prayers" it seems like once or twice a month.

What, exactly, does it do?

Someone bought my wife a gift subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine.

It's been coming here for a couple of years. We have no idea who sent this subscription. We've been married for more than three decades, with all that implies.

My wife keeps the copies lying around the house because my son is an Art student and occasionally cuts the pages up for absurdist collages.

One issue came yesterday, and after a long time of not looking inside, I finally did so.

There doesn't seem to be a table of contents in the magazine. It's all ads about meretricious beauty products. I believe I did encounter one article which was insipid "relationship advice," oh, and an article about the perfect, um, Cosmopolitan "man"

(It ain't me.)

There was a brief comment by a woman who spent her first date with a guy having sex all day, only to decide he wasn't for her, because, um, he sent for take out food and didn't order any for her.

You wonder how a complete idiot like Trump could actually be in the House where Lincoln, Grant, Obama and the two Roosevelts lived, and then you see something like this magazine, and you sort of, kind of, after a fashion, in a way, possibly, understand.

Materials Science Based on Biological Mimicry.

Last week, while on a long trip, I set out to read a very nice monograph by a very exciting scientist, Michel Barsoum, of Drexel University, a world leader in the development of "MAX Phases," a class of materials that exhibit properties of both metals and ceramics, making them potentially of great technological importance. I've been collecting and reading papers about this set of materials because of their potential use as refractory materials that can withstand neutron bombardment.

Here's Barsoum's book:

MAX Phases: Properties of Machinable Ternary Carbides and Nitrides

The MAX phases are known for their highly ordered layered structure, with the "A" element, members of groups 13 and 14, elements like aluminum, silicon, gallium, germanium, indium and tin, generally being a planar layer sandwiched between "M" (metal) octahedral cages surrounding "X" atoms, carbon or nitrogen.

To wit:

In the introductory chapter, I came across this text,

The second powerful idea to emerge in the last couple of decades in the materials science community is that of biomimetics, wherein Nature’s splendid designs that had evolved over millions of years would be imitated. For example, abalone shell (Figure 1.4b), mainly comprising a brittle calcium carbonate, is quite tough. This toughness arises from a submicrometer polymer film that lies between the calcium carbonate layers. The microstructural similarities between the fractured surfaces of abalone shell, for example, and those of the MAX phases are noteworthy (Figure 1.4). The layering in abalone, however, is on a much coarser scale. Another fundamental distinction is that Nature optimized the properties of abalone for room-temperature use. Heating an abalone shell to a couple of hundred degrees destroys the polymer and thereby its toughness. Wood is another example, where, again, there is a marked resemblance to the MAX phases (see e.g. Figure 9.24b). Since 1996, when our first paper on Ti3SiC2 was published, the MAX-phase community has embarked on an ambitious program of synthesizing and characterizing as many of the MAX phases as possible...

I had not thought of MAX phases as being reminiscent of abalone shells, but then again, I never thought about the structure of abalone shells at all, and having never actually held one in my hand - the species has nearly been rendered extinct by over fishing off the California coast - I never thought much about Abalone in any way.

But the thought struck me, and I wanted to tell my son - who is studying materials science engineering - about it, but I forgot to mention it when pointing out the recent issue of Chemical Reviews, one of my favorite journals for describing topics I know nothing about, this issue: Chemical Reviews, Vol. 117, Iss. 20

It's an issue about exploiting the information contained in the structure of biomaterials as inspiration for materials that are not biological at all, but have some of the wonderful properties that biomaterials possess, and they are remarkable materials. I mean, think about it, how amazing, really is, um, wood?

One paper I'm working my way through - since it involves some chemistry with which I was very involved when I was a kid - is this one: Biointerface Structural Effects on the Properties and Applications of Bioinspired Peptide-Based Nanomaterials (Tiffany R. Walsh*† and Marc R. Knecht*‡ Chem. Rev., 2017, 117 (20), pp 12641–12704)

This paper is happily open sourced, anyone can read it without a subscription or a trip to a good scientific library, and so I won't quote much of it here, except this bit from the opening paragraph which has, well, a kind of Karma attached to it:

There are many exquisite examples of biologically derived nanomaterials, where nature fabricates such structures for three key reasons: (1) protection against predation, (2) bioremediation, and (3) structural support. While such materials are fascinating, the typical chemical composition of these structures has little application in current technologies. For instance, mollusks generate a complex nacre structure in a brick and mortar arrangement where CaCO3 platelets are arranged in a biomolecule matrix, with this composite providing substantially increased fracture strength and fracture toughness compared to geological monolithic CaCO3;1 however, such materials do not possess inherent properties that facilitate their adaptation for technological advancement.

Reference 1 (after the CaCO3) is this one: (1) Meyers, M. A.; Lin, A. Y. M.; Chen, P. Y.; Muyco, J. Mechanical Strength of Abalone Nacre: Role of the Soft Organic Layer. J. Mech. Behav. Biomed. Mater. 2008, 1, 76−85.

Abalone, Abalone...

Karma man, Karma.

Seriously this points to an issue we should think about: When we make plants and animal extinct (as we've pushed abalone to the edge) we lose more than their intrinsic aesthetic beauty; we lose the information they contain, information assembled over billions of years by evolution.

Nevertheless we're engaged in a mass extinction event right now, another theft from all future generations by this generation.

As smart as we think we are, we are a race of damned fools.

Have a nice day tomorrow, on "hump day."

This delete was messaged by its author.

Industrial drawbacks to the use of neptunium in existing nuclear reactors.

I personally believe that nuclear energy is the last best hope for humanity to address the environmental issues now before us; and in fact, nuclear power represents the last best hope to prevent nuclear war, and in fact, all wars, inasmuch as most wars are resource related.

In the 20th century, beginning notably with the Second World War, the resource that drove most, if not all wars, was oil; in the coming century it is more likely to be water. The Second World War killed people at a rate of about 10 million people per year on average, making the practice of that war even worse than modern air pollution - about which we do little other than issue platitudes - which kills people at a rate of 7 million people per year.

This is noted in an interesting review I read that was mostly concerned with the physical chemistry of water, which although it was a scientific paper contained a quasi-political note:

Despite water’s abundance, its distribution is increasingly problematic for the world’s growing populations; see Figure 1 and Appendix A.3. The availability of drinking water is limited, and it is shrinking worldwide. By the year 2030, the world’s 8.5 billion people9 will consume 6 trillion cubic meters (6000 km3 ) of water per year.10 While today 11% of the global population lives with poor access to clean drinking water,11 it is estimated that in 2030 half the world’s population will be living under severe water stress.12 It is increasingly challenging to get clean water to where it is needed. Early civilizations settled near rivers. But now, clean water is increasingly provided through water purification, desalination, 4,13,14 and transport. Therefore, clean water increasingly requires access to energy. Also, water distribution increasingly poses technical challenges, requiring advances in separating water from salts and oils at low energy costs, for example.

Water conflict is a term used to describe a clash between countries, states, or groups over access to water resources. While traditional wars have rarely been waged over water alone,15 water conflicts date back at least to 3000 B.C.16 The U.S. Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s, which covered nearly 80% of the United States at its peak, drove mass migration. More recent droughts occurred in the southwestern United States in the 1950s, and in California and the southern United States in just the past few years. Water has been regarded as a component of conflicts in the Middle East,17 in Rwanda, and in the Sudanese war in Darfur. Eleven percent of the world’s population, or 783 million people, are still without access to good sources of drinking water.11 Increased water scarcity can compound food insecurity, and put pressure on human survival.

How Water’s Properties Are Encoded in Its Molecular Structure and Energies (Dill et al[, Chem. Rev. 2017, 117, 12385−12414)

The current nuclear infrastructure is actually overall a huge consumer of fresh water for cooling purposes, but wise use of waste heat could transform nuclear energy into a water source, a point I made elsewhere in this space: Two Interesting Papers On the Utilization of Low Grade Heat.

Similarly, as a generator of gamma radiation, many fission products, most notably Cs-137, especially in the form of certain insoluble titanates (although fission product based substances others might also fill the bill) represents a real opportunity to deal with one of the most intractable (and from my perspective frightening) issues in water pollution, halogenated organic molecules, as well as intractable pharmaceutical metabolites and personal care products, since gamma radiation blows otherwise stable molecules to pieces, something we need to happen for airborne and water borne otherwise highly stable pollutants like PFOS and other polyfluorinated, polychlorinated, and polybrominated pollutants.

The point of all of the above, is that nothing that is useful can or should be considered "waste."

From my perspective, another key to realizing the full potential of nuclear energy to save us from ourselves is very much connected with the minor actinides neptunium and americium, elements that have long been considered - foolishly - to be so called "nuclear waste." In fact, if these two elements were in fact, discarded rather than utilized, they would be considered highly problematic because the most stable form of neptunium (into which amercium-241 decays) is the neptunate (V) ion, an oxyanion with a negative charge and three oxygens which forms water soluble salts. I have no doubt that they could be stored for millions of years in a way that would have no major environmental impact, but the question remains, "why do so?"

I elaborated on how I think Neptunium should be used to denature plutonium - to make it unsuitable for use in nuclear weapons - elsewhere: On Plutonium, Nuclear War, and Nuclear Peace

These ideas - which I generally refer to as the "Kessler solution" because one of the most prominent scientists to advance the argument in detail is the German nuclear scientist Günther Kessler, A new scientific solution for preventing the misuse of reactor-grade plutonium as nuclear explosive (Kessler et al, Nuclear Engineering and Design 238 (2008) 3429–3444) - are actually not new, and were not new in 2008, when Kessler wrote the first paper I read on the subject, but hardly the first paper ever written. Here, for example, is a discussion of the same topic dating to 1980: A Uranium-Plutonium-Neptunium Fuel Cycle to Produce Isotopically Denatured Plutonium (P. Wydler, W. Heer, P. Stiller & H. U. Wenger (1980) A Uranium-Plutonium-Neptunium Fuel Cycle to Produce Isotopically Denatured Plutonium, Nuclear Technology, 49:1,115-120). Kessler's paper is still very worthwhile, since it discusses in considerable detail the design of nuclear weapons and shows why nuclear weapons with a considerable heat load would be impractical.

However, the utility of these ideas does not mean that they are immediately practical, as a paper I will no cite discusses with particular attention to nuclear reactor engineering, wherein the neptunium were used in reactors that, by far, dominate all operating reactors on earth, that is thermal reactors.

A paper written the same year as the Kessler paper just referenced addresses the problems associated with utilizing the uranium/neptunium/plutonium cycle and is written by French scientists, who unlike German scientists have direct practical industrial experience both with recycling nuclear fuel and, regrettably, building nuclear weapons.

That paper is here: Neptunium in the Fuel Cycle: Nonproliferation Benefits Versus Industrial Drawbacks (Selena Ng, Dominique GrenÉche, Bernard Guesdon, Richard Vinoche, Marc
Delpech, Florence Dolci, HervÉ Golfier & Christine Poinot-Salanon (2008) Nuclear Technology, 164:1, 13-19)

Some excerpts from that paper:

AREVA, as a major industrial actor in the nuclear energy sector, is firmly committed to proliferation resistance efforts in the civilian fuel cycle. This commitment is even more important in the present context of worldwide development of nuclear power, coupled with recent geopolitical events placing proliferation at the forefront of concerns with the continued use of civil nuclear energy. The realization that a worldwide resurgence in nuclear power will require more sustainable management of its fuel resource and optimization of final repository use has recently turned the spotlight on civilian used fuel treatment-recycling plants. We believe that proliferation resistance should be approached “holistically,” that is, using a combination of technical or intrinsic! and institutional or extrinsic measures that take into account the context in which the system is placed, an aspect that is reflected in the integrated safeguards concept. Industry can boast an excellent track record in that no plutonium has been diverted from commercial treatment-recycling activities to date...

This paper will examine yet another suggestion, which is to add actinides—such as neptunium—at various points in the fuel cycle in order to reduce the attractiveness of the material containing the plutonium for proliferation purposes, or to increase its detectability should the material be diverted. Plutonium is undeniably a material of potential interest to state or non-state actors for nuclear explosive devices. But not all plutonium is equal. A high concentration of the isotopes 238Pu or 240Pu is particularly undesirable to potential proliferators because of their very high rates of radiation and decay heat, which complicate handling and manufacturing, and of spontaneous neutron emissions, which can affect the reliability and overall yield of the ultimate device. Table I, based on calculations using the depletion code CESAR, presents the plutonium isotopic composition 1 yr after reactor discharge of used uranium oxide UOX fuel and used mixed oxide MOX fuel according to burnup. Table I clearly shows that with increasing burnup, fissile plutonium content 239Pu and 241Pu decreases while the concentration of the undesirable plutonium isotopes 238Pu + 240Pu increases. Moreover, it is worth noting that discharged MOX fuel even at 45 GWd0t contains plutonium with an isotopic composition even more degraded than that of UOX fuel at the higher burnup of 60 GWd/t...

...One might then ask how the plutonium contained in discharged UOX fuel could be further degraded. One efficient route could be to add neptunium to fresh fuel, because 237Np—effectively the only neptunium isotope present in used fuel—produces 238Pu by neutron capture in the reactor core via 238Np with a half-life of 51 h!. This proposal, sometimes referred to as the “238Pu heat spike concept,” has been suggested several times in the past 3– 6 a and is still considered today as a possible option to enhance proliferation resistance in the nuclear fuel cycle. The remainder of this paper will examine the industrial feasibility and effectiveness of this proposal...

After a discussion that is highly technical (and also economic, owing to the costs of changing enrichments), and involves reactor physics and safety margins in thermal reactors - these place practical issues as to the amount of neptunium that can be added to the fuel without compromising safety margins owing to the hardening of the neutron spectrum and thus the worth of control rods and boron poisons, they then raise an important technical point that is discussed in many other places where incorporation of neptunium is discussed in these terms, that neptunium itself, generally monoisotopic as the 237 isotope is itself a weapons grade material of unusually high purity:

A brief examination of the physical properties of 237Np shows that it presents a non-negligible proliferation risk in comparison to that presented by highly enriched uranium or 239Pu. Its critical mass bare sphere is similar to that of pure 235U, neptunium in metal form is easier to compress than highly enriched uranium, and it presents insignificant heat generation and spontaneous neutron emission barriers for use in an explosive device. The only drawback it presents compared with 235U or 239Pu is its gamma-ray emission 1 mSv/h{kg 1 at 1 cm, but this can be overcome. It is in fact largely recognized today14 that neptunium could be used to fabricate a nuclear explosive device and that some states may already have tested a nuclear explosive based on neptunium.

Well then...


Does this mean that the incorporation of neptunium into the fuel cycle is a bad idea?

I don't think so.

Neptunium has been been isolated for a number of years, and is still being isolated and the number of nuclear wars that has resulted as a result is zero. Much of the success of the American space program, most notably the recently completed Cassini mission has relied precisely on this technology, the Apollo missions, the Mars Rovers, the Cassini mission, the Pioneers, and the Voyager missions all, among others, relied on the isolation of neptunium and its conversion into plutonium.

It is also worth noting that the French discussion relies on thermal reactors - France has many of them - but fast reactors represent quite a different story. In the fast nuclear cycle it is possible, at least in theory, to utilize pure neptunium as a nuclear fuel - more likely diluted with, say, depleted uranium, of which we have a great deal. Most importantly, in the fast nuclear cycle there is a nuclear reaction which takes place the 237Np[n,2n]236Np reaction that is not appreciable in thermal reactors other than in the fast fission fraction. The cross section of this reaction for fast (1-2 MeV) neutrons is just shy of 1 barn.

Neptunium 236 is a fairly stable isotope; it's half life is about 154,000 years. What makes it useful is that it decays about 12% of the time into plutonium-236, which in turn, with a half life of roughly 2.9 years into uranium-232. Uranium-232's decay series is the reason that thorium based nuclear fuels are considered proliferation resistant, because of the intense gamma radiation associated with its decay product Thallium-208. (In addition 236Pu itself generates even a larger amount of heat than does 238Pu.)

Thus the use of neptunium in fast reactors is extremely proliferation resistant, since it is possible to denature neptunium itself. I have often noted in various places around the internet that the fast neutron cycle is superior to all other fuel cycles since it represents the only opportunity, given the large amounts of depleted uranium - along with the thorium dumped to provide materials for the useless and ineffective wind industry - to put an end to all energy mining for several centuries, no coal, no oil, no gas, fewer lanthanides (many important lanthanides are side products of nuclear fuel recycling, notably praseodymium and neodymium).

We need to wake up and smell the air, which is increasing polluted and degraded precisely because of the fear and ignorance directed against our last best hope.

As I noted in the link I produced above to a post on another website, we can never make nuclear war impossible, since the nuclear cat is out of the bag and as long as uranium exists - and it will always exist - it will always be possible to make nuclear weapons. But the key to making nuclear war less likely is not to ban nuclear power, but rather to embrace it, in particular in the fast cycle, since this cycle makes it possible to denature all potential nuclear materials, including those which occur naturally, specifically, uranium.

Have a nice weekend.

Powerful and strange documentary.

I'm in Germany this evening, and in my hotel, looking for something in English, I came across a documentary by Sue Perkins.

It's the Indian city where funeral pyres are started.


I'm not sure one can see it on line or not, but it's a remarkable film

I'm not sure if it's available on line, but it is fascinating, the spiritual importance of the river vs its environmental stress.

The biggest concern in one village is that women are required to not urinate or defecate until dark, and then must do so in the fields, where they can be assaulted or bit by snakes, scorpions.

Told gently with great respect.

We don't have television like this in the US.

I have never been so ashamed to be an American.

I'm at an industry event in Germany and there was a person checking attendees in at one of the halls.

There was no line behind me so she struck up a conversation.

She told me that her son is an excellent student, and that she'd worked all her life to be able to send him the United States for an American university education, but now she is afraid to do so. (She spoke excellent English, and excellent German.)

I tried to tell her that her son would be safe, but she refused to believe me.

She pinched her skin and told me she was born in Africa. "My son will not be safe in your country," she insisted.

I understand her point. It's very possible that an African young man with a German accent might well be killed in our country.

I'm so ashamed.

We are not just losing the fine citizens who saw our country as a promised land, the best of the best.

We are losing the intellectuals, the thinkers, the people of broad spirit and broad culture who have always enriched our country for more than 200 years.

I'm so ashamed.

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