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Transportable nuclear power

Nik

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"...an anti-nuclear shill"

Some years ago, when our local council slid so far to the 'Looney Left' they seemed to be in 'Twilight Zone', bold signs suddenly appeared on main routes into city declaring we were a 'nuclear free zone'.

The many local humorists --Seems to be something in the water-- promptly reported the existence of a 'swimming-pool' research reactor at Uni's outstation, and sundry 'industrial strength' gamma sources for non-destructive testing of big castings, welds etc. Then the local hospitals mentioned they used radioactive materials for diagnostic and cancer treatments. Oh, and don't forget the fleck of 'hot' isotope in the many, many ionising smoke alarms...

The 'nuclear free' signs were taken down as covertly as they'd been erected, but the fiasco's expense did not escape the city auditors' notice...
 

drejr

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The guy may be an "anti-nuclear shill" for writing an op-ed saying a medical reactor is using HEU unnecessarily, but it's hard to argue with him that at least one element of the analysis in the 2018 report has been proven empirically wrong in dramatic fashion.

This puts the rationale behind this specific reactor on shaky ground but I suspect if the argument has shifted to civilizational imperatives we're beyond things like missile CEPs and costs per kwh.
 

Orionblamblam

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And the problems of conquering the accessible universe will not just "disappear on their own,"

The problems of "conquering space" are less pressing than dealing with real problems.

The conquest of space is the most important of mankinds priorities, by a *vast* margin. Everything else pales in comparison. Anything that works against that goal is tantamount to treason against not just humanity, but life itself.


Problems like water scarcity, de-industrialization, and changing climates shifting cereal grain growing regions in coming decades.

All of which can be solved by space exploitation and/or the technology developed for it.
 

Kat Tsun

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Thanks but there's plenty of water here on Earth. I'd rather farmers just grow crops that use less of it.

Probably better than needing to spend $500 in 2021 dollars for a bottle of comet water, and $50 per comet ice cube.

Not sure how powering cafeterias in Iraq or Afghanistan with pint sized atomic powerplants helps people go to space though. Seems like a waste of time. Westinghouse should stick to making AP1000s or something, but making them cheaper and easier to build. Unlike some of the odder anti-proliferation rooted arguments, that is the one that you'd everyone can agree is correct. Costs comparison to an 810B farm is pretty definitely against anything like Pele, which is why small reactors don't really exist anywhere on Earth, and likely never will.

It's a really silly solution to a problem that seems to be fixing itself without much Army input.
 
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Orionblamblam

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Not sure how powering cafeterias in Iraq or Afghanistan with pint sized atomic powerplants helps people go to space though.

Because improved cafeteria nukes make space nukes cheaper, safer, better. As with every technology, the more people work on it, the better it gets. How is this not obvious?
 

Kat Tsun

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20-30 cafeteria reactors isn't really going to help NASA if it has to make a Megapower. The operating environments of "<insert extraterrestrial body here>" and "Afghanistan" are sufficiently different that you would make a new reactor anyway.

Any work on Pele isn't going to be transferred over, aside from the unrelated fuel pellet (TRISO) which was developed independently by DOE for the AGR. However, BWXT recently became the commercial producer of the pellet, which is why they will probably get the final design option to build a prototype next year, assuming the Army decides to make a prototype. So if they make a prototype for Pele, it will be a good exercise to keep skills sharp, but that's all it was ever going to be.

Thus, "the reactor worked great, but we found a better solution, thanks". But you can keep engineers and machinists trained and experienced through shockingly small amounts of work, which was the whole basis of the Army arsenal system, so it shouldn't be much an issue. Westinghouse has enough work with the AP1000, for instance.

It's highly questionable it will be economical to run a very small scale reactor in reality, for any use, but neither Afghanistan nor Iraq make compelling arguments in favor.
 

Orionblamblam

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20-30 cafeteria reactors isn't really going to help NASA if it has to make a Megapower. The operating environments of "<insert extraterrestrial body here>" and "Afghanistan" are sufficiently different that you would make a new reactor anyway.

Sigh. It's like I'm talking to an NPC. Are you being intentionally obtuse?
 

Kat Tsun

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I'm not sure how having an expensive, overly complicated solution to reducing fuel truck losses in Iraq is important. It's very simple:

1) The MEPS 810B is the primary field prime power generator in the U.S. Army. It's an 840 kW towed diesel generator also used by the USAF. Prime power provides commercial grade electricity to places without electricity, like rural Afghanistan or Alabama. There's not a lot of them, because it's a large generator, but they're usually found at major airbases like Camp Speicher or Kandahar.

2) The HEMTT 20-ton truck is the primary heavy tactical truck of the U.S. Army. The FMTV is a 5-ton or 2.5-ton truck that does the same thing. Both trucks are used to tow volatiles such as diesel fuel, which is used by the MEPS 810B to generate electricity. It is generally stuck to roads, specifically major highways ("main supply routes"), which makes it vulnerable to attack by insurgents with RPGs and mortars.

3) Between 2001 and 2010 the US Army lost quite a few convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been seeking a solution to this problem for a while. One solution was to up-armor the HEMTT and FMTV trucks with new cabs, which cost a lot (they've roughly doubled the price of a HEMTT). They make them a bit hardier, so they can drive through ambushes, but they aren't reducing potential crew losses.

4) The important thing is that specifically the US Army isn't particularly interested in losing the fuel: it's interested in not losing personnel. No one cares if some trucks explode, but they do care when soldiers die, and soldiers are more expensive than trucks anyway. Especially when they're on VA disability. Eliminating 810Bs, which use a small amount of diesel, isn't going to eliminate fuel convoys. It isn't clear what Pele hopes to accomplish by this, since the US Army just upgraded its 810Bs, and there's nothing particularly wrong with diesel generator sets.

5) Because the key issue is the convoy's manpower (something acknowledged even by Pele, even if it has absolutely asinine assumptions built into it), eliminating the manpower of the convoy is more important than eliminating sources of fuel. Unless Pele can make running a Humvee on nuclear energy viable (hint: it can't) then it's not really of much use. Eliminating a minor consumer of diesel isn't really going to do much for the US Army, which still has to supply tons more diesel to every 1, 5, 10, 30, and 50 kW generator towed by a battalion or company to power its shelter tents where prime power sets aren't available or aren't used.

6) Robotic vehicles show promise in reducing the actual manpower losses, thus achieving Pele's ostensible objective without replacing diesel generators with an expensive nuclear powerplant, which would require its own fuel handling infrastructure and additional security measures on FOBs. But Pele's study seems to think that Iranian missiles only hit within half a mile, not within, say, 30 to 300 feet, as was demonstrated by recent missile attack on the United States. Thus, their (the SCO and the Army office responsible) understanding of reality is a bit tenuous at best, and it calls into question Pele's purpose in the first place.

Here is an actual snippet from an Army nuclear power study:

(...) Approximately 18,700 casualties (or 52 percent) of the approximately 36,000 total U.S. casualties occurred from hostile attacks during land transport missions (Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom [Daehner et al. 2015]). This observation lends substantial weight to DOD initiatives that evaluate and deploy alternatives to petroleum-based fuel systems (DSB 2016). Mobile nuclear power is a viable option where:

Fuel logistics and storage of Class III curtails Combatant Commander’s (CCDR) options, increases complexity, and imposes substantial economic challenges.

Infrastructure requires large-scale power (e.g., ports, airfields, rail, other transport supporting transport infrastructure, industry etc.).

Mission Assurance is required or where “islanding,” providing continuous power to a location even though energy from an electrical grid or external power source is no longer present, is desirable.

Energy-intensive systems (e.g., forward radar site operations) require significant power.

Power is desired to support Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA).

Remote bases where access to an established or stable electrical grid is unavailable or where the electrical grid requires reinforcement or reconstitution to support intermediate staging bases, logistics staging areas, and/or medium to large base camps. (...)

A few of these are met just fine by existing quiet tactical generators (1-60 kW sets), which aren't a target for Pele (2-20 MWe), but rather it's obviously targeting 810B farms. Truly strange reasoning going on here either way.

Fuel supplies aren't going to actually be reduced by use of field nuclear energy to an appreciable degree, so there's no real benefit to be had on quite a few of these points: logistics, intensive systems, and remote island bases (read: company FOB). Fuel isn't stored for use in generators, it's stored for use by aviation, and to a lesser extent, ground troops in mechanized vehicles.

Does DOD intend to stuff Pele into F-22s, M1 tanks, and Humvees? That might actually reduce the fuel consumption considerably. But no, of course Pele isn't interested in that. It's interested in replacing one of the most boring and lame parts of the Army using a flimsy justification that doesn't make much sense.

While there are times to be right for the wrong reasons, this isn't one of them.

Pele may be right in that nuclear power is useful for reducing fuel concerns, but it's bit like saying that instead of buying air defense missiles, the US Army should consider putting all its tanks and trucks underground or underwater to hide from the sky. It's...an approach that could be done, to be charitable, but it's not particularly clever within the context of its justifications. Which calls into question whether the people suggesting it are aware of what is actually a good justification for anything.

You can read it for yourself here: https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD1087358.pdf

Space travel is an irrelevant, frankly bizarre, tangent that you brought up. It has nothing to do with this thread, nor with Pele, so I'm not sure what made you think of it.
 
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Archibald

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We need a TL where the 6-days War leds to an earlier oil shock - just in time to rescue the Army Nuclear Energy Depot. From there...
- Molten Salt Reactors
- MSR / fusion hybrids symbiosis (trading fast neutrons against tritium)
- To produce hydrogen, and then ammonia and methanol
- Ammonia instead of gasoline - no carbon emissions (methanol is fine, too, but has carbon)
 

Archibald

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or someone might make an atom bomb like in that Tom Clancy book that anti-proliferation guys like (for some reason the pro-nuclear guys like Red Storm Rising)"
Wrong book. Do you mean "the sum of all fears" ? the notzis don't even make the bomb: they recover an Israeli one lost during the 1973 bloodfest when a Skyhawk goes missing.
 

Kat Tsun

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Yes I was referencing the Sum of All Fears. That's an even sillier premise than I figured, though.
 

chimeric oncogene

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Small reactors could potentially be a driver of nuclear power... if a program were in place to build and install somewhere in the ballpark of 300 reactors per year in remote communities worldwide, and such a program was somehow politically acceptable, and had multiple vendors to build a big institutional knowledge base and a healthy competitive environment.

That's the kind of benefit small reactors are supposed to provide, but for small reactors to actually be better, you need to buy them in bulk.

So a 12-reactor program might be useful as a proof-of-concept, but not much moreso than a demonstrator; because the endgoal - the improved institutional experience, the reactor-dumbing-down process, the political acceptance - always runs through mass production of nuclear reactors.
 

Nik

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Snag is a diesel generator group & tank farm is a 'big, juicy target', but a TEU with a nuke-sticker would represent a nigh irresistible target, guaranteed to earn each successful attacker a dozen virtual virgins plus a state funeral 'in absentia'...

Off Earth, however, with no stomach to lose a quorum of deep-space crews to solar flares CMEs etc, there seems scant alternative to small nuclear reactors.

(Yes, yes, I know there are clever ways to arrange a 'storm shelter', but that only mitigates exposure. Spending several months on each Hohmann-transfer orbit just offers hostages to fortune... )

IMHO, would help if such reactors were 'related' to small, modular designs in civilian use...
 

_Del_

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Fuel supplies aren't going to actually be reduced by use of field nuclear energy to an appreciable degree
Electrical generation accounts for approximately half of the fuel consumed by a typical FOB.
At one point FOB's in Sandistan were accounting for 15% of total fuel consumption of the entire DOD. That'd be 7.5% of the total DOD budget for fuel (and probably more for related logistics). You also need to burn fuel to deliver fuel and return an empty tanker.
Saying, "Yeah, but those bases still need fuel" makes you sound incredibly naive to people who have ever looked at logistics for pretty much any enterprise.

I'm not even incredibly gung-ho on portable reactors for FOB, but the prime reason the idea has gained an amount of traction is, in fact, the "appreciable degree " of eased logistics.
 

Orionblamblam

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Fuel supplies aren't going to actually be reduced by use of field nuclear energy to an appreciable degree
Electrical generation accounts for approximately half of the fuel consumed by a typical FOB.
At one point FOB's in Sandistan were accounting for 15% of total fuel consumption of the entire DOD. That'd be 7.5% of the total DOD budget for fuel (and probably more for related logistics). You also need to burn fuel to deliver fuel and return an empty tanker.

Now, consider this: Assume something like a green new deal gains traction and fossil fuels start going the way of coal-burning steam trains. There are elected officials who want the US to stop selling internal combustion engines within ten to fifteen years, and probably will try to make them actually *illegal* not long after. How expensive will diesel generators and the like be when the petrochemical industry has collapsed? Is a FOB supposed to set up a few square km of solar panels in order to provide the electricity to power not just the radar and the computers and the AC, but to power up the batteries for the E-Hummers and the E-tanks? Doing substantial damage to a compact nuke would be a hell of a challenge for anyone who doesn't have air supremacy. But trashing a field of PV arrays? A doofus with a mortar or a couple drones carrying paint would do wonders.
 

Orionblamblam

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Snag is a diesel generator group & tank farm is a 'big, juicy target', but a TEU with a nuke-sticker would represent a nigh irresistible target, guaranteed to earn each successful attacker a dozen virtual virgins plus a state funeral 'in absentia'...

Good. Set up a dozen compact nukes at each FOB. Eleven of them are decoys, the twelfth looks like a bank of porta-potties.
 

_Del_

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Is a FOB supposed to set up a few square km of solar panels in order to provide the electricity to power not just the radar and the computers and the AC, but to power up the batteries for the E-Hummers and the E-tanks?
To say nothing of the LASERS!
 

drejr

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Fuel supplies aren't going to actually be reduced by use of field nuclear energy to an appreciable degree
Electrical generation accounts for approximately half of the fuel consumed by a typical FOB.
At one point FOB's in Sandistan were accounting for 15% of total fuel consumption of the entire DOD. That'd be 7.5% of the total DOD budget for fuel (and probably more for related logistics). You also need to burn fuel to deliver fuel and return an empty tanker.
Saying, "Yeah, but those bases still need fuel" makes you sound incredibly naive to people who have ever looked at logistics for pretty much any enterprise.

I'm not even incredibly gung-ho on portable reactors for FOB, but the prime reason the idea has gained an amount of traction is, in fact, the "appreciable degree " of eased logistics.

Imagine the eased logistics of not occupying "Sandistan" for decades.

This is the logical disconnect I see in the AEC study - using "Sandistan" and its large long-term FOBs like Bagram as the scaling baseline for these reactors while being told forward bases need to be smaller and more agile makes the whole thing seem like leftover pork from the Forever War looking for a mission.

If you read between the lines it looks like they'll mostly be used far enough from the front (like in Guam) that the claimed reductions in convoy casualties and fuel use won't be as large as claimed.
 

_Del_

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Imagine the eased logistics of not occupying "Sandistan" for decades.
I'm all for that, 100%.

But the fact is we are there, and we're guzzling millions of gallons of fuel there producing electricity, and that "investment" is a huge drain on logistical capability. There will no doubt be other places we may or may not like being in the future which will present many of the same logistical problems. It betrays a complete lack of knowledge of the subject to say, it wouldn't reduce on-site fuel dependence to "an appreciable degree" which makes me wonder what sort of shallow or non-existent foundation this kind of statement and concurrent "arguments" are built on.


If you read between the lines it looks like they'll mostly be used far enough from the front (like in Guam) that the claimed reductions in convoy casualties and fuel use won't be as large as claimed.

I have it on good authority that we anticipate any more tank farm capacity on Guam will, in fact, cause the island to tip over and capsize.
 

drejr

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Imagine the eased logistics of not occupying "Sandistan" for decades.
I'm all for that, 100%.

But the fact is we are there, and we're guzzling millions of gallons of fuel there producing electricity, and that "investment" is a huge drain on logistical capability. There will no doubt be other places we may or may not like being in the future which will present many of the same logistical problems. It betrays a complete lack of knowledge of the subject to say, it wouldn't reduce on-site fuel dependence to "an appreciable degree" which makes me wonder what sort of shallow or non-existent foundation this kind of statement and concurrent "arguments" are built on.

Currently the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is probably below the number at which a reactor of the scale envisioned is economical.

I'm not sure what he means by "an appreciable degree" but the AEC study almost certainly exaggerates in a few areas as well.

Anyway I can see nuclear being part of the solution but I'm not so quick to scoff at renewables. Certainly they should be in the mix for any future long-term stability or nation-building operation - they have the practical advantage of being able to used for local infrastructure improvements after the mission without the security hazards of radioactives.

Any reduction in logistical tail, whatever the source, is going to increase combat effectiveness so I'm glad the Army is looking at a wide array of alternatives. I'm uncertain about the scaling however.

On a side note the contrast between the 2018 AEC study and the old ANPP reports is striking. Maybe I'm just predisposed to think overuse of buzzwords is intended to mask a real sense of purpose and direction.
 
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_Del_

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I'm not sure what he means by "an appreciable degree"
I think a reasonable person considers half "an appreciable degree". When someone says half is not an appreciable degree, I find it difficult to believe any of their other statements come from a reasonable place.


Anyway I can see nuclear being part of the solution but I'm not so quick to scoff at renewables.

The tipping point is cost-capability, as always. There is a number where the time and transportation and cost of a PV and/or wind genny makes sense for replacing some of the production from diesel generators. It's going to depend on the site location, so it will not be a one-size fits all answer. But a bean counter somewhere is going to develop such an equation that gets presented to a few hundred committees who will then vote to do whatever the hell they originally wanted to do using that equation (or one by another rival bean counter) as justification.
The flip side, is with the alternative green gennies, I will still need energy storage and backup generators/fuel anyway. Now I have to haul, install, and maintain both alternatives and diesel generators at the FOB to utilize the alternatives. That green light where the numbers all make sense might ultimately be much lower than you or I would naively suspect.

My favourite is the DARPA low-maintenance algae farm grown on site, just because it seems to me it would be hard to beat on price, and space is often cheap out in the boonies where there is little infrastructure. Turns out that tending an algae farm requires electricity for circulation and such, as well. So the ultimate viability of that, too, is an open question.

There are open questions about the portable reactors as well that need to be addressed, and since no one currently has one that we can point to with answers for particulars, they will remain open for a while.

Maybe one day we'll be using forward-deployed nuclear, wind, PV, for electricity, and using some of the electricity there to produce hydrogen for vehicle use, but I doubt it because physics dictates a volume problem.

I'd be pretty cautious with anyone with a strong stance from any side of this debate. Particularly when strong, broad statements are made in the face of facts.
 

chimeric oncogene

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Solar panels work very well in Afghanistan, so well that opium farmers are turning to solar en masse to run groundwater pumps to increase opium production.


1620183406774.png

In Lashkar Gah market, solar panels are now stacked in great piles three storeys high.
 

Kat Tsun

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Small reactors could potentially be a driver of nuclear power... if a program were in place to build and install somewhere in the ballpark of 300 reactors per year in remote communities worldwide, and such a program was somehow politically acceptable, and had multiple vendors to build a big institutional knowledge base and a healthy competitive environment.

That's the kind of benefit small reactors are supposed to provide, but for small reactors to actually be better, you need to buy them in bulk.

So a 12-reactor program might be useful as a proof-of-concept, but not much moreso than a demonstrator; because the endgoal - the improved institutional experience, the reactor-dumbing-down process, the political acceptance - always runs through mass production of nuclear reactors.

Civilian remote areas are generally better served by microgrids of renewables, like wind or solar, because these are cheaper to make, and don't require DOE guards or create possible Superfund sites. Nuclear power is better to provide energy to cities that aren't in the Sonoran or Mojave, with large reactors.

That said wind and solar probably aren't great for Little Diomede, but I don't see nuclear energy providing much of a benefit in that case either. Those kinds of communities will either become more austere, or just be abandoned entirely, though.

Fuel supplies aren't going to actually be reduced by use of field nuclear energy to an appreciable degree
Electrical generation accounts for approximately half of the fuel consumed by a typical FOB.
At one point FOB's in Sandistan were accounting for 15% of total fuel consumption of the entire DOD. That'd be 7.5% of the total DOD budget for fuel (and probably more for related logistics). You also need to burn fuel to deliver fuel and return an empty tanker.
Saying, "Yeah, but those bases still need fuel" makes you sound incredibly naive to people who have ever looked at logistics for pretty much any enterprise.

I'm not even incredibly gung-ho on portable reactors for FOB, but the prime reason the idea has gained an amount of traction is, in fact, the "appreciable degree " of eased logistics.

That would be great if massive FOBs and few mechanized combats were the Army's future it's decided for itself.

Maybe if were being proposed 10 or 15 years ago, then Pele would make sense, but there are no FOBs in "Sandistan" in the future. The Long War is over. Big power hungry bases are going to be hooked up to a civil electrical grid, like a POMCUS site or Ramstein, and small bases won't have anything besides vehicle alternators and TQGs.

The US Army has long since decided that it needs to focus on mechanized combat against other mechanized armies. Fuel use in Desert Storm and the 2003 Iraq invasion would be more relevant to look at as models. Considering the USAF interest in using highways and Combat Talons to refuel and rearm F-22s (and other aircraft), it's kinda doubtful big FOBs or airbases like Speicher or Kandahar will exist in a contested air environment, and the rest of them (Ramstein, Okinawa, Anderson) are all hooked up to civil power grids which are outside Army prime power's purview.

Dispersed operating bases of small, company sized units, doesn't really help Pele's case. Neither do brief, high intensity combats between mechanized armies.

And the fact that it's tiny, being only 5 MWe, instead of something more reasonable for nuclear power like 100 or 500 MWe, is also kinda bad.
 
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chimeric oncogene

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Civilian remote areas are generally better served by microgrids of renewables, like wind, because these are cheaper to make, and don't require DOE guards or create possible Superfund sites. Nuclear power is better to provide energy to cities that aren't in the Sonoran or Mojave, with large reactors.
Under the current political, industrial, and economic regime, you are definitely 100% correct.

What OrionBlamBlam is proposing is a complete multitrillion-dollar revamp of the industrial base to orient it in a nuclear-friendly direction. If you ignore the potential health effects of accidents and drop an array of regulations, and build up a healthy, large nuclear industry, I see no reason why microreactors would not work, and could not potentially be cheaper. It's alien space bat territory at this point - I can't imagine how we could get to such a state within a decade.

The goal is ultimately not just to make renewables affordable, but for new energy sources to be too cheap to meter.
 
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_Del_

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Solar panels work very well in Afghanistan, so well that opium farmers are turning to solar en masse to run groundwater pumps to increase opium production.


View attachment 656493

In Lashkar Gah market, solar panels are now stacked in great piles three storeys high.
The electric needs of a forward operating base greatly out strip the capability of "two arrays of 18 solar panels powering two electric pumps." The farmers probably aren't giving a lot of thought to the impact on power availability when random mortar rounds at 3am.
 

Kat Tsun

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What OrionBlamBlam is proposing is a complete multitrillion-dollar revamp of the industrial base to orient it in a nuclear-friendly direction.

I don't see what that has to do with Pele. Nuclear power is already here, and has been here for decades. It's not going to disappear, it's probably going to become the "third leg" of a solar and wind predominant green grid, along with hydrodams, at least once natural gas is consigned to the dustbin of history along with coal and oil.

Nuclear is the only thing that can provide reliable large scale power pretty much anywhere. Wind requires big land areas and, well, wind. Solar doesn't like low to moderate insolation. Hydro dams need rivers and want reservoirs. Nuclear just needs water, though.

The electric needs of a forward operating base greatly out strip the capability of "two arrays of 18 solar panels powering two electric pumps." The farmers probably aren't giving a lot of thought to the impact on power availability when random mortar rounds at 3am.

A few solar panels could have easily powered some of the more austere FARPs in Desert Storm without too much trouble. Mortar rounds weren't an issue.

Again, the basic issue is that Pele's justifications aren't meshing well with what DOD thinks it's going to be doing in the future: fighting Russia and China. Nor do they really make a lot of sense even in the past couple of years. In the latter half of the Afghanistan war, convoy ambushes and losses overall dropped bigly. Probably why Pele's big Powerpoint only counts casualties up to 2010, which was around the peak of Afghanistan and post-peak Iraq. Why would you want to use nuclear power if your losses in convoy personnel are basically zero?

If Pele kicks off to something serious it will inevitably be used far from the frontlines, either as an adjunct to broadly functional and responsive civil energy grids (like Texas, Japan, and Germany), or to power large theater bases (like Anderson and Okinawa) that will rapidly be emptied of combat materiel and personnel to avoid long range missile, artillery, or air attacks. Or are so far from the frontlines that they are in no danger at all (Ramstein, Fort Hood, etc.). Thus the justification for reducing manpower losses in convoy casualties is really tenuous, at best. I'd be more concerned about the survival of the airbase in general than anything providing power to it.

If the Army were serious about nuclear power, and Pele wasn't just a hanger-on from the Long War, it would be better off buying a larger commercial scale reactor or something. The Army's pretty interested in microgrids and islanding, after all, so something like a NuScale SMR would make more sense in that case. That said, that's probably not feasible at the moment, since natural gas is still a lot cheaper and better at handling sudden power demands and the SMR module plant is still a good way down the road.
 
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Nuclear power is already here
Yes, but not in the thousands of gigawatts hoped for in the sixties. Nuclear energy is not yet too cheap to meter, isn't it? We aren't greening the Sahara with nuclear desalination? NAWAPA isn't irrigating the American Southwest by using nuclear power to pump water from British Columbia across the Rockies? 25,000 TEU Container ships aren't making thirty-three knots on nuclear gas turbines, cutting cargo travel times in half? Nuclear-powered aircraft and nuclear-powered hovercraft aren't cutting the cost of shipping cargo quickly?

Nuclear power was not supposed to keep things the same. It was supposed to bring light to the Third World and allow social and economic problems to be solved by the application of enormous amounts of cheap energy, even in an inefficient manner - up to and including direct carbon capture from the atmosphere to remediate global warming. That was the promise of advancing energy technology.

Perhaps distributed solar shall become too cheap to meter, or Powersats will actually leave the pages of overoptimistic 1970s reports, and maybe the Sahara will be greened by solar-powered/rectenna powered desalination plants, each consuming ten gigawatts to irrigate ~10,000 square kilometers of desert (with attendant knock-on environmental effects elsewhere, but if the Amazon goes dry, we can irrigate that too with desalinated water!).

The ideological component of technological utopianism is obviously strong, but well, that's the vision.
 
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Kat Tsun

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Well, not even France was able to get to a total nuclear energy grid, despite what they wanted with the Messmer Plan you could argue it failed compared to what it promised (although it delivered a lot, regardless). And the Gaullists had far greater political and bureaucratic unity than basically any modern democracy outside of Japan. Everything is far less inspiring in reality compared to the promises, ultimately, but that doesn't mean it's worthless. Solar and wind are shaping up to be just as disappointing, anyway.

Nuclear energy is probably impossible to get "too cheap to meter" or produce "oodles of gigawatts" simply because reactors are high capital cost items. They require large investments in heavy industry, and the construction methods used are not particularly adaptable or flexible to anything else, which tends to make them fairly expensive. A Pigovian tax targeting natural gas and coal would probably be sufficient to offset the capital costs, at least in cost per kWh. Nuclear tends to lose to natural gas because methane is so responsive, even though it's almost as bad as coal, but that would be union busting in the Thatcherite (or Soviet) sense and possibly reignite the Coal Wars. Perhaps we could call them the Fart Wars?

Comparatively, solar panels can be constructed using methods and processes that are similar to other modern semiconductors, and use many of the same materials. So they both benefit from improvements in silicon wafer technology. They're not directly equivalent (for one, PVs are bigger), but they use a lot of the same basic materials, so generally things that upstream in the production chain for a integrated circuit (larger silicon wafers, crystal growth improvements) improve PVs, CMOS, and CCDs all at once. Most modern high-tech economies are well suited for producing all of these cheaply, because they have a lot of uses for the civilian economy (or rather, they make a lot of money, as computers aren't inherently more useful than doing spreadsheets with pen and paper) and have huge infrastructures that seem to be self-supporting.

Anyway it's still much better to make a regional nuclear plant that provides a gigawatt or two of base load for when the Sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing.

However it doesn't make much sense to push for an all nuclear power grid anymore than it makes sense for all solar, all wind, or all hydropower. Nuclear has a place in future green energy economies. It's not coal or natural gas, which are its real main competitors, for one. Solar and wind are efficient, but only when the wind is blowing or sun is shining, which means during certain periods of the year they will be much less effective than other periods. And different places have different periods of sunlight relative to overcast. So you'll need big powerplants to cover that, probably nuclear, or hydro where it's practical, to cover the gaps.

I don't see the value of powering a neighborhood (or neighborhood equivalent FOB) with a pint sized atomic powerplant when you can do the same thing with PVs though. Likewise, maybe a tiny, hot, dry country, like UAE or Kuwait (or a particularly empty country, like Australia), will be able to power itself entirely with PVs, but none of those guys are huge nuclear customers either.

Much like transportation, energy is a local, or at best regional, concern. It depends on the geography, topology, and hydrology of the local area. There's no one-size-fits-all solution. The only thing that most can agree on is that fossil fuels aren't too good and nuclear energy is one of the best options for large scale power production. Given how much e-waste solar PVs are gonna produce in the coming decades, and the effects on temperature and climate that wind has in truly massive scales, I don't think that either will become predominant power sources anymore than nuclear replaced everything.

tl;dr Big countries like America will need a diverse energy grid, because solar, wind, nuclear, and hydro all have their niches and places where they function best.
 
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chimeric oncogene

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And different places have different periods of sunlight relative to overcast. So you'll need big powerplants to cover that, probably nuclear, or hydro where it's practical, to cover the gaps.
Nuclear power's advantage is predictability and controllability. You know more-or-less exactly how much power you'll be getting, and when, and you can control the output within a reasonable range. Solar and wind benefit from really good weather reports, but you still need gapfilling - and nuclear is just bad for that because nuclear is a capital cost freak. Natural gas, maybe with carbon capture, just flat-out wins in a solar/wind economy. Even hydro might have advantages despite its huge capital cost - you can run the reservoir dry for a few hours before waiting for it to refill for the next peak load; turbines I think are cheaper than dams.

Nuclear has high capital costs, yes, but if the nuclear industry was sufficiently large and if regulations were loosened (which may or may not have downsides), those costs could be brought down. Not all the way down, but the potential is there. I mean, if you're cranking out 50-100 1-GWe marine reactors for container ships and bulk carriers every year... the scale of a hypothetical gunning-for-too-cheap-to-meter nuclear economy has just never been tried before, and will likely not be tried in the next century.

The US has like 300GWe in baseload - an all-nuclear grid will require ~10GWe a year. The world needs somewhere like 7,500GWe in baseload if we want to bring living standards up to American. Replaced over thirty years, that's something like 250GWe a year, or one 1GWe reactor every 36 hours. High-end estimates for carbon capture suggest a need for 30,000 GWth of power in high-temperature reactors, so, uh, the scale of that kind of economy may involve up to two reactors coming online a day.

I wouldn't be too concerned about applicability to other industrial sectors, although I guess energy isn't as big a part of the economy as it used to be, because the potential demand for energy is very high.


Nuclear power is also compact; you can theoretically, with enough cooling water or good forced convection towers or one of those atmospheric vortex engines or whatever, build a 16-reactor 20GWe complex over 2 square kilometers anywhere on Earth.

This is of course highly highly speculative. I would put money on your pessimistic estimate, but scale will affect the economics of any reactor design. It's just a completely different environment.

=/=

I think it's clear that under the existing regulatory regime, solar and wind are the way forward, no matter their limitations. People are clearly more willing to build giant battery farms and compressed gas tanks to store power than to build reactors, and with electric cars, you could modulate their charging patterns over the internet and use them to stabilize the grid, especially at night (and most people drive during rush hour only). China is installing 70GWe of boilerplate wind a year (about 15GW effectively) and 50GWe of boilerplate solar (10GW or so), and have pretty much scaled their nuclear reactor program waaay back because even they think they can't handle the political risk. Renewables are here to stay, whatever their disadvantages. People are not willing to tolerate risk for the sake of the relatively nebulous potential benefits of unlimited energy.
 
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Kat Tsun

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Sure, but "a reasonable range" isn't "nothing to everything in under an hour" though.

Methane is currently eating every other large plant's lunch because it's very responsive to energy demands. It's like a hydro dam except a methane plant doesn't need a river. Nuclear can provide a backbone but you really don't want to lower or raise power output much. The real issue is that there's not much else besides methane and hydro that can respond flexibly for this, TBH.

Nuclear isn't getting looser regulations, so nuclear engineers are going to have to adapt and be better at engineering, and more nukes would probably bring more regulation anyway. Also I would consider it optimistic, since I'm not actually accounting for the fact that solar fields and wind farms will likely displace quite a few large plants, I'm sort of just mentally expecting that large plants can be watt for watt replaced by nuclear.

IMO pessimism is nuclear goes the way of all coal and methane plants, and dies entirely. That seems unlikely, I think, as both nuclear and hydro are fairly green in terms of emissions. But it's clear that large powerplants are going to be less of a necessity with all the future microgrids that will hypothetically exist, and large acre solar and offshore wind farms that will actually exist.

All nuclear was always going to be something of a silly idea, like all space based solar, and tiny nuclear reactors are just the opposite of common sense. Big powerplants will probably be less important in the future than they were in the past, since solar can actually be used to power a house directly without much trouble, but I don't think solar or wind will exterminate big powerplants, either. It just means fewer of them.
 

chimeric oncogene

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Sure, but "a reasonable range" isn't "nothing to everything in under an hour" though.
Yeah, I know, which is why I said I'd bet on natural gas and wind and solar in my post. I agree with your reasoning. I'm more pessimistic than you are - like I said, even the CCP isn't pursuing nuclear power, and I think nuclear power is unfortunately on its way out, at least for the next fifty years. I'm certainly not going to invest any substantial amount of money in any nuclear power corporation, no matter how much I might love the Atom personally.

Like I said, people would rather hook all their electric cars to an internet-controlled smart grid infrastructure and use their car batteries for grid stabilization than build nuclear reactors. Countries would rather build HVDC powerlines across Eurasia and under the Mediterranean than build nuclear reactors. Utilities would rather build centralized natural gas plants with carbon capture than build reactors. There are a zillion solutions to renewables; but all the nuclear industry's solutions run into huge political concrete walls.

But techno-utopianism - all-nuclear, Solar Power Satellites - held promise, and people are (rightfully, IMO) bitter that we didn't go with that development tree, even though that tree may well have run through enormous problems of its own, including massive nuclear proliferation.
 

jeffb

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However it doesn't make much sense to push for an all nuclear power grid anymore than it makes sense for all solar, all wind, or all hydropower. Nuclear has a place in future green energy economies. It's not coal or natural gas, which are its real main competitors, for one. Solar and wind are efficient, but only when the wind is blowing or sun is shining, which means during certain periods of the year they will be much less effective than other periods. And different places have different periods of sunlight relative to overcast. So you'll need big powerplants to cover that, probably nuclear, or hydro where it's practical, to cover the gaps.

I don't see the value of powering a neighborhood (or neighborhood equivalent FOB) with a pint sized atomic powerplant when you can do the same thing with PVs though. Likewise, maybe a tiny, hot, dry country, like UAE or Kuwait (or a particularly empty country, like Australia), will be able to power itself entirely with PVs, but none of those guys are huge nuclear customers either.

Much like transportation, energy is a local, or at best regional, concern. It depends on the geography, topology, and hydrology of the local area. There's no one-size-fits-all solution. The only thing that most can agree on is that fossil fuels aren't too good and nuclear energy is one of the best options for large scale power production. Given how much e-waste solar PVs are gonna produce in the coming decades, and the effects on temperature and climate that wind has in truly massive scales, I don't think that either will become predominant power sources anymore than nuclear replaced everything.

They're building a lot of grid scale batteries here and improving the network to better share between the state based power systems. Far cheaper than nuclear options, scales easier and can be built and deployed faster. Strong take up here of rooftop solar as well, along with Tesla Wall type installations, although these are still too expensive for them to be really popular.

Then there's a lot of stuff like this:
 

_Del_

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A few solar panels could have easily powered some of the more austere FARPs in Desert Storm without too much trouble. Mortar rounds weren't an issue
Between this and the "appreciable amount" statement, I'm pretty sure you're working backwards from a conclusion. Good luck.
 

Kat Tsun

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A few solar panels could have easily powered some of the more austere FARPs in Desert Storm without too much trouble. Mortar rounds weren't an issue
Between this and the "appreciable amount" statement, I'm pretty sure you're working backwards from a conclusion. Good luck.

You mean the conclusion that there are no more massive FOBs in the future, and they will resemble those austere FARPs in Desert Storm, Panama, and the 2003 Iraq invasion? Then yes, that's correct. Because that's literally what the US Army thinks, and what the USAF is practicing.

If you can make a solid argument as to why the US Army is going to be in "Sandistan" in the future, then by all means, but Pele sure isn't doing that.

Even if it were the case, it's a pretty lame use of nuclear power. It would be better if the USN puts a 2-3 GWe plant in a supertanker or something and runs cables to the shore.
 
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