Click to get your own widget

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Big Engineering 63 Using Nuclear Electricity

   I have previously had Big Engineering articles on nuclear power. In particular on a factory mass producing small/medium reactors.

   I have also put up the proof, undisputed by any factual argument from anybody, that such mass produced reactors could cut electricity prices to around 2% of what they are (at least at the production end).

    The correlation between energy use and gdp growth is 1:1 and undisputed. If energy use went up close to 50 fold so would national wealth. (Though it may well be that the existing energy companies think it would go up less so they make more if they go along with windmill Luddism - another example of the fact that big business is not inherently the friend of market freedom, nor the poor losers from such freedom.)

   But, as always, there are political problems. Would politicians allow such a productive factory to be built - well only UKIP ones. Would politicians both here and abroad allow such reactors to be sold and installed worldwide, otherwise the factory might not be able to sell enough? That is a more difficult one, though small, mobile reactors that can be installed quickly (& sold and removed) are vastly less vulnerable to regulatory parasitism than large static ones that take a long time to build.

    However, when you are talking about building a factory that will cost £10s of billions to build and need to sell many 10s of them annually just to break even the fact that it would be able to turn out hundreds, still makes it an enormous gamble, albeit one with a theoretical return in the hundreds of billions.

    What we need is an almost unlimited market for power.

    Of course there is an almost unlimited economic demand for power but for 40 years the politicians have suppressed it. We need industries that themselves have almost unlimited demand for their products and need energy but no other inputs not readily available.

     So here are 2 1/2.

Fertiliser - ammonium nitrate, the nitrate of ammonia with the chemical formula NH4NO3, is a white crystalline solid at room temperature and standard pressure. It is commonly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer

    Nitrogen is available from air, hydrogrn and oxygen from water, all in literally unlimited quantities.

     This is normally done through the Haber process which is more complex but energy efficient but the Birkeland Eyde process is also used which uses just water and air. In the end the nature of the universe means that chemical reactions always use a set amount of power. With cheap enough power an unlimited market can be supplied.


In the United States, magnesium is obtained principally by electrolysis of fused magnesium chloride from brines, wells, and sea water. At the cathode, the Mg ion is reduced by two electrons to magnesium metal.

  Most of it is made in China where electricity is cheaper ;-)

  So the only input apart from electricity is seawater.
   "Magnesium is the third-most-commonly-used structural metal, following iron and aluminium. It has been called the lightest useful metal". It is far more expensive than those other 2 and would be used far more if it was cheaper. So once again demand is virtually unlimited and since the process is being done now it can clearly be done at far lower prices if the wholesale price is 50 fold lower (assuming production is close to the generator so grid transport cost is close to zero.

H2O can be divided into oxygen and hydrogen and the latter burned in air to regain the power, just as we do with oil and natural gas. I am counting this as only the "1/2" because we would need some technical changes for gas pipes, cars and planes to work on hydrogen but it is certainly feasible. Methane could be manufactured by using carbon (CO2, wood) which is instantly usable but that is introducing an input, albeit a common one.


   So if, for example, permission was given for a reactor factory (I have suggested North Jura which is almost uninhabited and could, with tunnels, be an hours drive from Glasgow, but any such coastal place anywhere in the world where there is a reservoir of educated people can and will someday do it, even a floating artificial island).

   In which case that can also be the site of manufacturing of unlimited quantities of valuable materials.

   In fat the situation is better than it seems. One advantage/disadvantage (ok feature) of nuclear is that it produces 100% of its power all the time. Mostly we don't want that because we use more during winter than summer (except in countries that use air conditioning) and more when we are awake than asleep. However this process can use the unlimited off peak energy we don't. Such power is not available at such virtually zero cost from normal coal/gas generators. Peak UK power use is about 70GW but we rarely use more than 40GW. 70 GW would produce, over 1 year 613 terrawatts of power - about 5 times what we normally use but costings are based on what we normally use so this previously unusable amount is close to free.

   I do not know how much fertiliser, magnesium or hydrogen we could make or its value but taking that power at 2p per kwh, well below current costs, that 80% pare would be worth [80% X 613,000,000,000 X £0.02] £9.8 bn a year. With the AP1000 reactor available for £800 m individual and much less if you get 70 of them that would, even at this remarkably low price, pay off the investment, even without selling any actual reactors and without even charging for the 20% of the power put into the grid, in 3 years 7 months (though granted this is from when the reactors go online and we are assured by our politicians that it takes 10 years to build a reactor in Europe or 3 in China ;- I don't believe even the Chinese figure).

   Somebody is going to do it.

Labels: , ,

Your mention of ammonium nitrate recalls an idea I had where large kites ( acting like parachutes in reverse dragged water turbines through the ocean to produce power. As the best localities for this would be off shore and away from normal shipping, it occurred to me at that time that production of a commodity such as ammonium nitrate would be a good way to use the energy , if it was cheap enough at the point of collection.
Wind speed increases with height above the surface and it's energy is a cubic function of speed. Whilst a mast of several hundred metres is technically difficult, the tether of a kite at these altitudes is well within our present capabilities. A wind speed of twenty knots would be commonplace in the Southern ocean and a water stream of that speed would have about 800 times the energy density, so the turbines could produce a lot of power from modest winds.
That is intriguing.

I have previously written about floating islands tethered to the seabed on the equator, powered by the heat differential of deep ocean water. As suggested in Marshall savage's wonderful Millenium book. See

However that works only at the equator because the heat differential is less elsewhere (& kites probably woundn't work so well there because there is little weather.

However your idea could power such islands elsewhere in the world including off the Scottish coast, assuming our weather would not make such islands impractical over a Scots winter/the wind would be consistent enough to to provide reliable power.

If you have more on that you can contact me on the email mentioned in LINKS.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

British Blogs.