Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rethinking nuclear power hits the road

Robert Hargraves takes his Dartmouth class to Vermont Yankee on a field trip and then lights up Google with a talk on thorium power

by: Robert Hargraves
Guest Contributor to Idaho Samizdat

Students enrolled in the Dartmouth ILEAD course, Energy Policy and Environmental Choices: Rethinking Nuclear Power toured Entergy's Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant May 21. Weeks before we had submitted personal identification information for screening by homeland security. After a brief talk by our hosts we passed through several security checkpoints, where we were given ID badges, X-rayed and puffed at metal and radiation detectors, issued two dosimeters each, and escorted into the heart of the plant.

Inside Vermont Yankee

VT Y coreWe visited the turbine generator room. I'm impressed that 640 megawatts of electric power is produced by a single generator on a single shaft spun by high and low pressure steam turbines. The water that cools the reactor passes directly through the turbines, so this area is mildly radioactive.

My own Russian radiation counter showed rates about 10 times normal background; the Entergy-loaned dosimeter showed I was exposed to a total of 0.6 mrem during the tour. (Background radiation is about 350 mrem/day here.)

We also walked around the reactor vessel containment structure and looked at the hydraulic actuators for the control rods. After another security check we visited the control room. On the way out we passed through security checkpoints, surrendered the dosimeters, and were measured for any radioactive contamination. Everyone enjoyed the interesting visit and many asked for an opportunity to ask further questions.

Course motivation

I started teaching this course in 2008. I had previously written a tutorial blog about the pebble bed reactor, a Gen IV technology that promises high temperature and efficiency, passive safety, and continuous refueling. After many talks I was too often confronted with "but what about the waste?".

Consequently I decided to address the energy issue more broadly, writing an eight-week course with about 700 PowerPoint slides entitled Energy Policy and Environmental Choices: Rethinking Nuclear Power, offering it to members of Dartmouth College's Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD).

ILEAD ILEAD has about 1500 members -- mostly business, educational, and professional people who have retired in the area surrounding Dartmouth College in Hanover NH. It offers over 200 courses a year led by former writers, bankers, CIA-spooks, submariners, musicians, ecologists, doctors, farmers, publishers, and teachers.

Rethinking Nuclear Power course topics

  • 1. Introduction: energy, power, units, efficiencies, uses, demand growth, doing the math.
  • 2. Fear: Chernobyl, TMI, weapons, biological effects, medical radiation.
  • 3. Environmental choices: impacts of oil, natural gas, depletion, global warming, coal, oil shale, tar sands, wind, hydro, solar, corn, ethanol.
  • 4. Current technology: submarines, PWR, LWR, Candu, NRC, Westinghouse AP-1000, GE ESBWR, Areva.
  • 5. New technologies: high temperature gas reactors, hydrogen electrolysis, fuel synthesis, waste reprocessing, integral fast reactor, Gen IV, GNEP, molten salt reactor, and my Aim High! talk.
  • 6. Site visit: Vermont Yankee (Seabrook last year). The students heard guest speakers: Howard Shafer, a submariner; Neal Boucher, DHMC radiation safety officer; Richard Bower, NY PUC member during Shoreham; Graham Wallis, NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.


Twenty-nine students enrolled in the course, nearly twice as many students as last year. They told me that previously they had no knowledge of the costs and benefits of nuclear power compared to other energy sources. They are urging me to teach it again, so others can also learn. One student told me "Taking your course is one of the best things I have ever done."

Aim High! Teachers also learn

After giving the course last year I learned about the molten salt thorium reactor. I was so impressed with its potential that I put together the Aim High! presentation and have spent many days in trying to make people aware of the need for R&D in this area.

Course presentation materials availability

The course presentations are based on about 700 graphic, tutorial PowerPoint slides, with web references for further discovery. They are all posted on the course website, in .ppt and .pdf form.

There are also audio recordings to accompany the slides. I encourage anyone to use these materials to educate interested people in other communities.

Hargraves at Google

Mankind's fossil fuel burning releases CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and deadly air pollution. Natural resources are rapidly being depleted by world population growth. Safe, inexpensive energy from the liquid fluoride thorium reactor can stop much global warming and raise prosperity of humanity to adopt US and OECD lifestyles, which include lower, sustainable birth rates.

Category: Science & Technology Tags: google tech talk liquid flouride thorium nuclear energy

Video of Hargraves at Google May 26, 2009

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