India’s Ambitious Nuclear Power Plan – And What’s Getting in Its Way

As India embarked on its commercial nuclear power production in 1969, its nuclear power program was conceived to be a closed fuel cycle, to be achieved in three sequential stages. These stages feed into each other in such a way that the spent fuel generated from one stage of the cycle is reprocessed and used in the next stage of the cycle to produce power. This kind of a closed fuel cycle was designed to breed fuel and to minimize generation of nuclear waste. The stage at which India is currently at in its nuclear power production cycle will be a major determinant of the future of nuclear power in India.

The three-stage nuclear power production program in India had been conceived with the ultimate objective of utilizing the country’s vast reserves of thorium-232. It is important to note that India has the world’s third largest reserves of thorium. Thorium, however, cannot be used as a fuel in its natural state. It needs to be converted into its usable “fissile” form after a series of reactions. To aid this and to eventually produce nuclear power from its thorium reserves, Indian scientist Dr. Homi J. Bhabha drew the road map of the three-stage nuclear program.

In the first stage, Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) will be used to produce energy from natural uranium. PHWRs do not just produce energy; they also produce fissile plutonium (Pu)-239. The second stage involves using the indigenous Fast Breeder Reactor technology fueled by Pu-239 to produce energy and more of Pu-239. By the end of the second stage of the cycle the reactor would have produced more fissile material than it would have consumed, thus earning the name “Breeder.” The final stage of the cycle would involve the use of Pu-239 recovered from the second stage, in combination with thorium-232, to produce energy and U-233 — another fissile material — using Thermal Breeders. This production of U-233 from thorium-232 would complete the cycle. U-233 would then be used as fuel for the remaining part of the fuel cycle.

As of now, India produces about 6.7 GW power from nuclear fuel from its 22 nuclear power plants, effectively contributing 1.8 percent to the total energy mix. This is way lower than the vision of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which hoped to produce at least 20 GW of nuclear power by 2020, and at least 48 GW by 2030. While India has successfully completed the first stage of its nuclear fuel program, the second stage is still in the works and has taken much longer than expected. The first 500 MW Pressurized Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) BHAVINI, being set up in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, is still in the process of being commissioned and has suffered from significant time and cost overruns. It is expected to be ready by 2022-23, with an estimated total cost of a whopping 96 billion Indian rupees.

The government of India, after a long pause, in its budgetary announcements of 2017-18 provided for the construction of 10 units of 700 MW indigenous PHWRs. Of these, the Kakarapar Atomic Power Project being developed in Gujarat became the first one to achieve criticality. The Indian government has announced that seven more reactors with a cumulative capacity of 5,500 MW are under construction. It has also cleared the paperwork for 12 more reactors with a cumulative capacity of 9,000 MW.

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While these are significant initiatives, the future of nuclear energy in India looks less promising than it did about a decade ago. With the signing of the India-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008 and other important agreements with France and Japan, India’s nuclear energy sector looked set for a promising overhaul. However, post- 2011, there has been an evident slowdown in the country’s nuclear energy sector.

The observed slowdown and the below par level of contribution of nuclear energy to India’s total energy mix can be attributed to a slew of factors. A primary reason has been the delays in rolling out the second stage of the nuclear fuel program. Technological problems arising in the process of commissioning the PFBR and the associated time and cost overruns have contributed significantly to the delay. Other factors involve the critical disruptions that renewable energy technologies have caused in the global energy systems. With the commercialization and enhanced use of renewable energy technologies, the per unit cost of electricity produced from renewables has gone down significantly. The cost of solar power in India right now is Rs 2.62 per unit, almost half of the per unit cost of electricity being produced by the recently operational Kudankulam nuclear power plant (Rs 4.10 per unit).

Additionally, the nuclear power sector in India has witnessed its share of controversies and protests over issues of land ownership, location, as well as the safety and security of power plants in the event of natural or man-made disasters. These have also contributed to the time and cost overruns of India’s nuclear power projects. Another very important contributing factor to the state of nuclear energy in India has been the global retrenchment in the sector following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. That event led to a situation where countries rolled back significantly on their nuclear power programs and global nuclear majors like Areva and Westinghouse declared bankruptcy.

Given, however, rising energy demand in the country, and India’s huge dependency on import of not just oil and gas, but also critical raw materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel used for the production of solar panels and other renewable technologies, indigenously developed nuclear power plants that are fueled by domestically available thorium reserves remain an important pillar of India’s energy independence. This would, however, require the Indian government to push forth with its nuclear power program by investing in cost-effective technologies, cutting down red tape in processing approvals, streamlining land reforms, and creating special purpose vehicles for the development of nuclear power plants. A competitive domestic nuclear energy sector is key to India’s energy security. It must be developed keeping in mind India’s limited options when it comes to other forms of energy resources and technologies.

Niharika Tagotra is a nuclear physicist and currently Doctoral Candidate in International Politics at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Nuclear Reactor Development History

Nick Touran, 2020-01-12. Reading time: 85 minutes

“You have to know the past to understand the present” — Carl Sagan

The dream for economical nuclear power was born well before the discovery of nuclear
fission, but the quest for it began in earnest in the late 1940s and involved some 100,000
persons for several decades in the USA alone. This page is a grand tour of reactor
development programs from 1945 to about 1970, also known as the nuclear heyday. As we proceed
with new reactor development programs today, remembering what was done back then may help
us navigate developments of the future.

Our economics page discusses developments and
economics from 1970 to the present.

The starting point

When nuclear fission was discovered in 1938, 235U existed at 0.7% in natural
Uranium (decayed down from over 25% when Earth was formed). Without isotopic enrichment
available (of uranium or hydrogen in water), only a handful of configurations could
sustain a chain reaction. Enrico Fermi and co. figured it out by 1942, and operated the
first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1), using pieces of natural uranium metal
dispersed carefully in a lattice of high-purity graphite blocks in a Chicago squash court.

Note: This is written largely from the US perspective.
Developments in other countries are not well covered here. Also, the chains
of events are difficult to classify so the time linearity of the following is not perfect.

Nuclear weapons production reactors

Vast wealth and effort was first invested in nuclear reactor development because the
unique characteristics of the atomic chain reaction could provide fundamental and dramatic
military strategic advantages. Accordingly, the first high-power reactors were designed
and built to produce plutonium as fuel for nuclear explosives.
As in CP-1, they had natural uranium fuel dispersed in a graphite moderator.

Workers laying graphite in the B reactor

Workers laying graphite in the Hanford B plutonium production
reactor under construction (from HAER-WA-164)

Unlike CP-1, the Hanford reactors were cooled with ordinary water. Since water is a
neutron absorber, the reactor had to be large, and it required extra-pure graphite with
minimal neutron-absorbing impurities (like boron). It also needed a lot of
metallic natural uranium. Eugene Wigner proposed cooling with low-pressure,
low-temperature water instead of high-temperature, high-pressure helium because he was
worried that the fuel would not survive high temperatures, and that pumping and
maintaining an inventory of helium would be challenging. His calculations showed that a
water-cooled reactor would indeed chain-react, and his unwavering drive to beat the Nazis
bolstered his confidence. Water-cooled reactors were built.

After the plutonium-producing B reactor at Hanford was operational, the scientists who
designed it began imagining a better time, beyond the war, when the newfound power of
the atom could be applied to the peaceful enrichment of humankind. The first documented
reactor innovation sessions occurred around this time. Many reactor concepts were dreamed
up at these New Piles Committee meetings. No one knew whether
nuclear-powered electricity generating stations could be cost-competitive with
conventional power plants.

Some early reactor ideas from a New Piles
Committee meeting

Some
early reactor ideas from MUC-LAO-42. See also
the Piles of the Future
Review
from October, 1944 where a longer discussion of their views of future reactors
is recorded. They thought pressurized water would lead to corrosion issues at high
temperature and considered liquid metal (specifically lead-bismuth) to be the most
promising coolant. Written 5 days after Hanford B came online, it does have a pretty funny suggestion about gold being the
best shield.

Putting nuclear heat to work

After the war, the civilian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) took responsibility for US
nuclear technology, as authorized by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Building up new
weapons material production capabilities and weapons technology dominated its efforts,
but power reactor development did legitimately begin at this time.

Truly exotic energy conversion was seriously considered in the 1940s
(thermionics, endothermic chemical reactions, etc.), but converting heat to
electricity in a standard steam cycle was considered the easiest way to reach
economical nuclear power. This conversion requires high-temperature,
long-endurance fuel that can withstand an intense radiation environment. This
was a fundamental technological departure from the plutonium-production
reactors, which generated heat only as a nuisance and were kept at low
temperature. Robert Oppenheimer explained this
well
.

In 1947, the AEC proposed and funded four new reactors, all of which made use
of new availability of enriched uranium rather than natural
uranium. All four were completed in the early 1950s:

  • Fast reactor — A fast reactor to explore the possibilities of breeding (now known as EBR-1)
  • Navy thermal reactor — a prototype for submarine propulsion (now known as STR or S1W)
  • Materials Testing Reactor (MTR) — A testing facility to investigate potential materials
    to be used in power reactor construction. The resistance of materials to the environment
    required for power production was the primary challenge of power reactor development.
  • Knolls intermediate reactor — to explore the possibilities of breeding and to develop usable
    power (soon repurposed as another submarine prototype, called SIR and/or S1G)

The first three were built in Idaho, thus creating what was then called the National
Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) and is now the Idaho National Lab (INL). The fourth was built
north of Schenectady, NY in a giant sphere at the center of Knolls Atomic Power Lab’s
Kesselring site. During design of the MTR, Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) built a
mechanical mockup reactor, which they then converted to a real reactor called LITR: the
first water-cooled, water-moderated reactor.

The LITR reactor top

The LITR, the first
water-cooled, water-moderated reactor, in 1950 at ORNL (CC-BY-2.0
ORNL
)

The MTR under construction

The MTR under construction in 1951 (source)

The MTR core

Specialized military reactors after WWII

As nuclear weapons have orders of magnitude more destructive force over conventional
explosives, nuclear engines for submarines, ships, rockets, and aircraft offer orders of
magnitude more range than conventional fuels. Accordingly, the next major application of
the chain reactor was in specialized military contexts.

The nuclear-propelled Navy was developed by Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Rickover’s role in
the development of naval propulsion goes without saying, but his influence on the
commercial industry simply cannot be overstated. He was born in 1900 in a Polish ghetto,
moved to New York at the age of 6, and then to Chicago’s West Side. He entered the Naval
Academy in 1918 and requested submarine service in 1929. He translated Das Unterseeboot
from the Imperial German Navy as a labor of personal interest. In 1937, he became a
Engineering Duty Only (EDO) officer, focused on the design, construction, and maintenance
of ships. After WWII ended, he was sent to Oak Ridge to learn about nuclear technology as
part of a team to investigate nuclear ship propulsion. He established himself as the
leader of the team and fought hard to secure funds and authority to kick off the naval
reactors program.

He kicked off two reactor development programs in parallel for naval propulsion: the
sodium-cooled beryllium-reflected/moderated reactor (Project Genie) and the pressurized
water reactor (Project Wizard).

The S1W Nautilus prototype in Idaho
The S1G dome in New York

The sphere for the SIR/S1G Seawolf sodium-beryllium prototype in New York
(from Atomic Shield, higher-res from
LIFE
)

The PWR and the Nautilus

Alvin Weinberg and the Oak Ridge team suggested using pressurized water as a submarine
reactor coolant and moderator for two reasons: (1) the distance neutrons in water travel
is one-fifth the distance they travel in graphite, so the water reactor could be very
compact (good for small enclosed spaces), and (2) water systems are simple, familiar, and
reliable in a naval context. The ORNL team made preliminary sketches of such a reactor.

The preliminary work of ORNL was transferred to Argonne along with a team of engineers who
were coming off the just-cancelled Daniels Pile project, which had attempted to
develop a high-temperature pebble-bed gas-cooled power reactor using highly-enriched uranium.

Against the prevailing wisdom (e.g. of Weinberg), Rickover boldly decided to build the
full-scale Nautilus prototype reactor (STR) in Idaho without first building a much-cheaper
pilot model. Simultaneously, construction of the Nautilus submarine itself began in
Connecticut. Rickover’s ruthless and aggressive schedule was driven by a conviction that
whoever developed nuclear engines first would rule the seas.

Rickover strictly required that the two projects fit together. At one inspection, he
forced the Idaho team to move a coffee maker outside the hull since it would not be in the
real submarine.

During STR development, the effect of radiation on components and equipment was tested in
the MTR. Vast programs successfully developed the hermetically sealed pumps with
appropriate bearings, thin stainless steel or Inconel liners, motor winding cooling, and
high-pressure electrical terminal seals. A complete line of hermetically sealed,
hydraulically operated stainless steel primary system valves was developed.
Welding of heavy wall stainless piping was developed. Weldability and weld
cracking as functions of material composition was found and understood. Design criteria
for auxiliary systems supporting waste disposal, coolant purification, emergency cooling,
fuel handling, ventilation, as well as feasible engineering techniques to satisfy the
requirements were developed.

STR went critical on March 31, 1953 and reached full power by May 31.

After a massive reactor technology development program and the operation of a land-based
prototype reactor in Idaho, the second major application of nuclear reactors became the
propulsion system of naval submarines, marked by the message
from the USS Nautilus on Jan 17, 1955:

UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER

Launch of the Nautilus with lots of people

The launch of the USS Nautilus (SSN-571). Click the photo to enlarge; you will
not be disappointed. (Credit: Naval History and Heritage
Command photo UA 475.05.02)

The astoundingly high energy density of nuclear fuel allowed the submariners to gallivant on wild new
adventures, such as reaching the North Pole under
ice

for the first time and circumnavigating the
world
in one non-stop submerged
session for the first time. Such high adventures are remembered by people who were young
at the time (like Gwyneth Cravens) as deeply inspiring.

The SIR and the Seawolf

The sodium-cooled intermediate-spectrum power breeder that GE was working on for the AEC
at KAPL got swooped into the Naval Reactors development program, and its first reactor
became the land-based prototype for the USS Seawolf. At first, Rickover preferred the
sodium-cooled approach with a beryllium reflector/moderator because it used silent
electro-magnetic pumps and offered very high thermal efficiency. The prototype (S1G)
experienced leaks in the superheaters due to an incompatibility between the liquid metal
sodium and the particular steel used. Because of Rickover’s insistence in building
prototype concurrently with the real thing, the real Seawolf also experienced
superheater leaks. They plugged tubes, performed difficult repairs (sodium has high
induced radioactivity and high chemical reactivity), and eventually bypassed the
superheater. Seawolf worked at reduced efficiency, logged some tens of thousands of
hours, but eventually had its propulsion system swapped out for a PWR.

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

Alongside the naval propulsion project, the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program was
launched. Long-range bombers that could stay in the air for months or years at a time
with unlimited range were thought to be militarily important. In addition, significant R&D
on nuclear-powered cruise missiles and scramjets was performed.

A wild looking nuclear jet engine concept art

A nuclear-powered jet engine concept (from APEX-901)

The HTRE-2 nuclear-heated jet engine

An actual test of a nuclear-powered jet engine in Idaho, called HTRE-2 (photo by me)

The ANP was a massive program spanning more than 10 years and a billion (1955) dollars.
JFK ended the program early in his presidency at the recommendation of Alvin Weinberg.
Progress in ICBMs effectively eliminated the need for nuclear-powered bombers. The molten
salt reactor technology still actively discussed today is a direct descendent from this
massive development program.

The Army Nuclear Power Program

With the Navy and Air Force reactor programs in full swing, the Army was not to be left
out. The Army Nuclear Power Program (ANPP) focused on the deployment of very small
reactors to remote locations. It got going in the late 1950s and early 1960s, well after
the Navy and Air Force programs. Small nuclear reactors were built and tested at factories
and then transported to, re-assembled, and operated in a military ice base in Greenland
(Camp Century), McMurdo Station in
Antarctica, the Panama canal on a mobile barge, Sundance Air Force Station in Wyoming, and
Fort Greely, Alaska. An exotic nitrogen-cooled truck-mounted model was developed and
tested in Idaho but not deployed.

After the STG and Nautilus, the third PWR to operate was the first plant built under the ANPP: the
APPR-1 (later designated SM-1). It was built by Alco and Stone & Webster, and
came to power in April, 1957. While the Shippingport design effort predates APPR-1 effort
(discussed below), the APPR-1 team pioneered some ideas, such as the vertical vapor
container, as opposed to Shippingport’s horizontal ones. They innovated a lot while
considering internal missile protection, but ended up with a rather expensive reinforcing
job.

Before fabricating the fuel, Alco Products built a critical testing facility to perform
zero-power experiments with their proposed fuel and control design. The mock-up core
was built in a 2500 sq. ft. facility, and by 1957 they were soliciting other companies to
perform related experiments in it.

The PM-3A and PM-2A remote military reactors in Antarctica and Greenland were also PWRs.

The development of civilian reactors

AEC Civilian Reactor Programs

The AEC executed several programs specifically dedicated to the quest for economical
nuclear power. In this period, its prospects were highly tentative, and the magnitude of
work needed to achieve it was regularly estimated somewhat accurately (3-5 years to make a
little power, 20-30 years before contributing significant power). Nonetheless, everyone
was eager to see if it could be done.

The 5-year plan

In 1954, the AEC announced the government-funded Five-Year Plan to explore reactor
concepts from a commercial point of view. They included:

  • Shippingport Pressurized Water Reactor
  • Experimental Boiling Water Reactor (EBWR)
  • Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE)
  • Homogeneous Reactor Experiment-2 (HRE-2)
  • Experimental Breeder Reactor-2 (EBR-2)

Atoms for Peace

Eisenhower (the first Republican president in 20 years) vastly increased the AEC’s focus
on private participation in nuclear technology with his famous December 1953 Atoms for
Peace speech
.
The first international conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy was held in Geneva
in 1955. It was an incredible event filled with optimism and excitement.
Private funding, ownership, and operation was on its way.

Schematic of the reactor

Schematic view of the reactor that ORNL flew in and built at the Geneva conference (from delegation
report
)

People in Geneva looking down into a reactor

People viewing the reactor at the UN conference on Atoms for Peace (from delegation
report
)

Volume 2 of the delegation report (June 24, 1955), recorded AEC Chairman Strauss giving a
rousing speech about how American industry was willing to cover 90% of the Power
Development Reactor Program plant costs. He also hinted at the political situation,
justifying the stockpiling of weapons as protection against “menaces from those who have
destroyed freedom in the expansion of their own ruthless philosophy”. While investments
in conventional weapons could only be recovered as scrap in times of peace, the nuclear
material being stockpiled could be used later for peaceful purposes:

But when the day comes that our atomic armament is no longer required to deter
aggression, the nuclear material which it contains can be easily converted into
energy sources to provide very great amounts of power to turn the wheels of industry,
furnish us with light, heat, transportation, and the many other conveniences
and blessing of peace. We who work in the Atomic Energy Commission work with
the vision of that day before use.

Sidenote: this vision really did come true when between 2003 and 2013, fully 10% of the
USA’s electric power was derived from dismantled ex-Soviet nuclear bombs.

Certainly Atoms for Peace contained an element of propaganda. All involved wanted to
realize a peaceful application for horrifying weapons. By this time, thermonuclear fusion
“H-bombs” had been developed, which were literally 1000x more powerful than the atomic
bombs dropped on Japan. Their horrible implications almost defy comprehension.
Nonetheless, applying the newfound force of nature to the betterment of civilization by
making useful power was a noble goal.

Pressure from abroad

Competing with other countries was a top concern voiced frequently in Congressional
hearings from the early 1950s. The UK got the first full-scale commercial production of
electric power from a dual-purpose plant (Calder Hall) in 1956. The Soviet Union, via Dr.
Ivan Kurchatov,
explained that
they would have 2,500 MWe of nuclear capacity by 1960, with developments ongoing in the
following reactor types:

  • Water-moderated and cooled thermal and epithermal 200 MW reactors
  • Graphite-moderated steam and water-cooled reactors of the type used at the existing 5 MW
    USSR station
  • A heterogeneous heavy water-moderated, gas-cooled reactor
  • A unit with water-moderated thermal reactor and a turbine operated by slightly
    radioactive stream fed directly from the reactor
  • A homogeneous heavy-water moderated thermal breeder with thorium fuel
  • A thermal graphite-moderated sodium-cooled reactor
  • A fast sodium-cooled breeder on the U-Pu fuel cycle

(Recall that heavy water, also called D2O, is water with the
hydrogen atoms replaced with isotopically-enriched deuterium. It has very low
neutron absorption and is a best-in-class moderator.)

The Power Demonstration Reactor Program

The AEC’s Power Demonstration Reactor Program (PDRP) kicked off after the Atomic Energy
Act of 1954 allowed private ownership and operation of reactors. It involved 3 separate
requests for proposals from private industry wherein the AEC would provide nuclear fuel and
perform research and development work necessary to bring forward commercial nuclear power
plants.

The three invitations between 1955 and 1960 are visible in the figure below, with some
straggling proposals trickling in around 1960. Utility consortiums sent in significant
and bold proposals covering a diverse range of reactor types and sizes including pressurized
and boiling water reactors, an organic cooled/moderated reactor, two nuclear superheat
BWRs, a sodium-cooled fast reactor, and a sodium/graphite intermediate reactor.

Timeline of reactors the Power
Demonstration Reactor Program

The reactors of the 3+ phases of the AEC’s Power Demonstration Reactor
Program (PDRP). These were funded jointly by the AEC and the commercial partners. Note that
several of the reactors are what we would consider today exotic.

The commercialization of the pressurized water reactor

The positive experiences with the STR and the APPR-1, plus a strong desire to stay ahead
of the Russians and to catch up with the UK resulted in strong support for a large-scale
water-cooled demonstration reactor. At the same time, a troubled aircraft carrier
prototype reactor program was just defunded by Eisenhower. The project was converted to a
commercial power prototype called Shippingport. It would become the USA’s first
commercial nuclear power plant.

Construction of
Shippingport
One of the Shippingport steam generators being installed

One of the Shippingport heat exchangers
being installed. The plant had 2 steam generators of the Babcock and Wilcox U-tube design
and 2 Foster Wheeler straight-pipe designs (from Lib of Cong.)

The initial Shippingport core used highly enriched uranium. High temperature, high-burnup
fuels in water conditions were developed. Metallic uranium fuel in water failed rapidly.
They found promising results when they alloyed uranium with molybdenum, niobium, and both.
Alloys with 3.8% Silicon with intermetallic U3Si silicides were also promising
(more recently revived under the name Accident Tolerant
Fuels
), but a suitable clad
fabrication process with this fuel was elusive. A high-temperature in-pile loop had to be
developed to carry out this alloy development program (at both MTR in Idaho and NRX in
Canada). Troubles with Uranium-Molybdenum cladding were encountered, and high medium-speed
neutron absorption was discovered. Along the way, it was discovered that the ceramic
uranium oxide was surprisingly good as a reactor fuel.

Many lessons were learned in early Shippingport operation. Valves sometimes bounced
between open and closed during the operation of other valves, and valves drifted from
closed to open in certain situations. Pressurizer steam relief valves leaked due to
thermal distortions. Leaks in four steam generators were found, caused by stress
corrosion. Pieces of the turbine moisture separator ended up breaking off and lodging in
the turbine low-pressure blades due to vibrations. Excessive fission products appeared in
the coolant, likely due to defective UO2 blanket rods.

Despite the trouble, Shippingport was a successfully-operated plant, but its capital cost
was about 10x more than an equivalent fossil-fueled plant. Economical nuclear power was
elusive.

Given the realities of Shippingport, utilities continued in their hesitation. The PWR was
urged toward commercialization by the AEC’s public/private PDRP. The Yankee reactor at
Rowe was proposed in the first round of the PDRP by a consortium of 10 New England
utilities, who funded the entire capital cost. It reached full power of 110 MWe in Jan
1961. Yankee Core I was the first to use UO2 fuel with stainless steel
cladding. The Yankee experience was very positive from R&D to construction to operation.
They completed the plant 23% below projected capital costs. Now things were looking up.

Indian Point was a 163 MWe PWR that went critical in August 1962 with homogeneously mixed
oxides of highly enriched uranium and thorium. Its purpose was to develop the thorium fuel
cycle for power breeding in order to extend the resources available to PWRs in the event
of a global-scale fleet ramp-up. The benefits of thorium fuel proved elusive, and so the
second core was low-enriched UO2 with no thorium.

Also in 1962, the small 20 MWt Saxton PWR “hook-on” reactor became critical in
Pennsylvania. It added nuclear-generated steam to an existing fossil-powered turbine.

San Onofre and Connecticut Yankee came online in 1968, and then somewhat of
a deluge of orders became the majority of today’s nuclear fleet.

The Palo Verde Nuclear Station, 3 giant PWRs in Arizona

The Palo Verde Nuclear Station, made of 3 giant PWRs in
Arizona that went into service in the late 1980s (source)

A land-based prototype for the NS Savannah merchant ship’s core was built and operated
in Lynchburg, VA in February, 1960. This reactor had full-length fuel assemblies and
provided information needed before finishing the NS Savannah plant.

Nuclear-powered merchant ships could help decarbonize and clean up
international shipping. However, the one such operating
vessel
is basically forbidden from most
international ports. So either hearts and minds would have to be wholesale changed, or
some kind of nuclear-powered deep-sea tugboat/barge system is needed to progress in this
idea.

On the military side, dozens of land-based prototypes of new naval PWRs have been
built, along with hundreds of their deployed at-sea counterparts (mostly
in subs and aircraft carriers, but also in a few Destroyers).

Many variations on the PWR, like the thorium-fueled spectral shift control PWR
were studied but didn’t break through.

The N-reactor at the Hanford site was a dual-purpose water and graphite
moderated variation on a PWR used to make power for the area as well as weapons materials.
This was a somewhat significant deviation from the low-temperature earlier production
reactors.

As cost dynamics pressured PWRs in the 1970s, simpler and more economical
designs were developed. France chose a standard PWR and built them in bulk.
South Korea also developed highly-optimized PWRs based on CE designs. This will
be covered in a follow-up article.

The development of the boiling water reactor

With the PWR developed for naval propulsion, the Argonne National Lab (ANL) set forth to
develop a simpler and cheaper water-cooled reactor intended specifically for power
production. The Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) avoided the 2000 psi pressure, reduced the
required pumping power, and eliminated the costs and complications of intermediate heat
exchangers (i.e. the steam generators). For the most part, it was able to leverage the
materials and fuel work already done for PWRs.

Boiling water in a reactor was mentioned on the front page of the New York Times in 1939.
Early concerns about whether a reactor with boiling in the core would be stable were
investigated in lab tests of heat transfer in boiling water at the ANL. After
calculations suggested stability was possible, Argonne performed a series of BOiling water
ReActor eXperiments (BORAX) with real chain reactions at the NRTS in Idaho to prove it.

BORAX-1 was built by the AEC in a hole in the ground. It proved that BWRs could be
self-regulating, though it indicated oscillatory “chugging” with 1 second frequencies
given certain large reactivity insertions. A larger experiment, BORAX-2, was built to
ensure stability at higher powers. It was re-designated BORAX-III with the addition of a
turbine, which subsequently powered the entire town of Arco, ID for one hour.

Positive indications in these small experiments motivated the creation of a small but
prototypic reactor called the Experimental Boiling Water Reactor (EBWR) rated at 5 MWe.
R&D plus construction were estimated to cost $17 million.

The EBWR was built at ANL. It was a direct-cycle BWR making saturated steam at 600 psig
(489 °F). A complete, integrated power plant was necessary to answer questions associated
with direct coupling between the reactor and the power generating equipment: uncertainties
in induced radioactivity, reactivity feedback, corrosion, erosion, leakage, and water
quality control. The EBWR was unusually flexible because it was an experimental plant
intent on providing as much information about future BWR operation as possible. It
accommodated future conversion from light water moderator with natural circulation cooling
to forced circulation and heavy water moderation.

General Electric rallied hard for the 1954 changes to the Atomic Energy Act allowing
private ownership and operation of nuclear facilities. Before it passed, they had
three nuclear departments: operating the Hanford production reactors, doing submarine
testing at KAPL, and working on the aircraft nuclear propulsion project. They also
contributed significantly during the Manhattan Project. After the 1954 act, they added a
fourth nuclear division: an atomic power equipment department.

At this time, General Electric (GE) boldly took on a contract to build what became the
large-scale Dresden BWR. They started performing vast amounts of commercial nuclear R&D on
their own dime because they were convinced at this time that commercial nuclear was going
to be big business. Regarding the proposed large-scale Dresden BWR, GE’s VP McCune said
in 1956 that:

I have already testified that the developmental work required to produce this plant,
particularly fuel element development, will be very expensive. Unless we obtain
substantial future business, we will lose considerable sums on the Dresden station. At
the time we contracted to build this plant for Commonwealth, we were well aware of this.
We are aware also of the difficult technical problems ahead of us and of the large
investments in developmental facilities, these very expensive tools of the trade, which
would be required.

Moreover, when we signed the Commonwealth contract, we faced serious problems in
addition to the technical ones. The regulatory and licensing situation was still
unsettled. The Commission was just beginning to break down the information barriers.
Above all, the liability problem had not been resolved.

Nevertheless, we took on the Dresden station because we were convinced that by doing so
we would serve the long-run interests of our share owners, our responsibilities to the
system of private enterprise, and the national interest. Out decision to go forward was
also based on the belief that Congress expected this kind of a job to be done by private
industry. We had faith that Congress, and particularly this committee, as well as the
Commission, wanted to encourage private development and would take all reasonable steps
to promote that development.

Soon, GE enlisted services of their steam turbine-generator department for the plant
design, their induction motor department for special motors, their carboloy department for
fuel development, their general engineering lab for instrumentation, and their R&D
capabilities, also for fuel development. They created the 1,600-acre Vallecitos Atomic
Laboratory in California to be their component testing grounds, with a hot lab and an
experimental physics building containing a critical experiment facility. They went so far as to
build the Vallecitos BWR (VBWR) on the site with 100% private capital to help GE staff
gain the knowledge and experience necessary to deliver on the large-scale Dresden BWR
project. It was about the same size as the AEC’s EBWR (Senator Anderson even prodded
McCune about what they’d learn at VBWR that wasn’t learned at EBWR), but featured a dual
cycle, where steam could be generated from the stream drum or from a lower-pressure steam
generator. This was expected to improve load-following capabilities. It was also higher
pressure: 1000 psia instead of 600.

As Dresden was being designed, GE had 2,250 scientists and engineers in their four nuclear
departments.

Given their experience operating the Hanford production reactors, GE spent a lot of their
own money exploring the design of a graphite-moderated electricity-producing plant. They also
looked hard into homogeneous reactors. But, when the time came, they decided that the BWR
design was the most promising, and they leapt in full-force with the Dresden contract.
Specifically, Dr. Walter Zinn’s confidence in the ANL-designed BWR is what convinced GE to
go for it rather than the homogeneous reactor.

Dresden featured a dual-cycle steam system, and produced power in April, 1960. The
plant operated well. After Dresden came Humboldt Bay with natural circulation.

Timeline of BWR development history

BWR development history/timeline/geneology (from ANL Summer school, 1961)

There was one tragedy along the BWR development pathway. The Army’s SL-1 in Idaho was part
of the Army Package Power Program, previously called the Argonne Low Power Reactor, ALPR.
It was designed to be built on the tundra above the DEW
line
to power radar stations.
It suffered an explosion on January 3, 1961 that resulted in 3 casualties. SL-1 was a
small, natural circulation, direct cycle BWR designed and built by ANL. ANL directed the
project, and Pioneer Service & Engineering Company was the A/E. Operation was turned over
to Combustion Engineering after the plant was operational.

The SL-1/ALPR reactor

The SL-1 reactor in Idaho in 1960, before the accident (from DOE)

Before the accident, the reactor had been shutdown and the night-shift workers were
preparing for a power ascent. The procedure required them to lift the inserted central
control rod about 4 inches to hook it back to the drive mechanisms. For a reason that will
forever be unknown, the worker lifted the rod quickly by 20 inches. A prompt-supercritical
(e.g. very fast) chain reaction ensued, vaporizing and expanding fuel before the water had
time to boil and add its negative feedback component. After the core was at very high
power (around 20 gigawatts), the vaporizing fuel elements vaporized and rapidly boiled the
water. The steam accelerated the seven-foot column of water above the core, slamming it
into the lid of the pressure vessel at 160 feet per second, forming a massive water
hammer. The shield plugs ejected at up to 50 feet per second, along with much of the
shielding. The three military personnel who were on
top of the reactor head at the time suffered fatal and gruesome injuries (one was pinned
to the roof through the groin by an ejected moderator assembly). The creation of 10,000
psi pressure from the water hammer within the sealed pressure vessel had not been expected.
Had the vessel featured an open top, for example, the most destructive effects would not have
occurred. It became an important lesson to never put reactors into such a configuration.

Analysis showed that the control rod was pulled with less than full force. Some have gone
so far as to hypothesize that a love triangle was involved, and that this accident was a
murder-suicide by nuclear chain reaction. (This seems very unlikely). In any case, a
cleanup ensued and the site is now barely noticeable as you drive through the Idaho
sagebrush.

Big Rock Point in Charlevoix, MI (critical on September 27, 1962) first conducted a 4.5
years AEC research program demonstrating high power density
cores
that had
been tested in VBWR. Obtaining more power out of a volume would possibly allow smaller
pressure vessels and uprates at existing plants. After the tests, the plant switched over
to producing commercial power for the region, which coincidentally is where I spent my
childhood. I grew up about 10 miles from Big Rock, which operated well until my teens.

Big Rock Point reactor

The Big Rock Point nuclear plant near Charlevoix, MI was an
experimental BWR (from DOE)

Elk River was another small “hook-on” reactor that added steam to an
existing conventional plant. It was a BWR though, and a part of the PDRP. Its criticality
was 2 years behind schedule. Steel strikes and other strikes delayed the project, as well
as hairline cracks discovered in the cladding inside the pressure vessel. Repairs were
made and authorization to operate was given. It was coupled to a coal-fired superheater.

In 1964, GE sold the Oyster Creek reactor to Jersey Central Light at a guaranteed fixed
capital cost that was competitive with fossil fuels. Widespread euphoria spread throughout the
nuclear developers. At a State of the Lab speech, Alvin Weinberg shouted:

Economic nuclear power is here!

Between 1963 and 1966, 10 utilities purchase 12 PWRs and BWRs from GE and Westinghouse
under these turnkey contracts.

Alas, the turnkey era was short lived. The reactor vendors struggled to make money on
these sales. Coal executives claimed that GE had priced Oyster Creek below cost. GE denied this,
saying they’d make a small profit unless unforeseen difficulties were encountered. The plants
were still large, complex, and expensive. Increasing public scrutiny and the associated
regulatory instability caused various cost escalations.

Today, multiple PWRs have had to shut down prematurely due to intractable steam generator
problems. This at least partially validates the major BWR advantage of having a direct
primary cooling loop.

Advanced-model BWRs were developed in more recent years, focusing on simplicity and economics.

The Hallam sodium-graphite reactor in Nebraska

Ok, you may have been aware of the developments so far, but let’s now dip into some of the
more exotic developments of the days gone by.

Liquid metal is an excellent coolant fluid, enabling low-pressure operation, phenomenal
heat transfer, and thrillingly little corrosion. It was used in the EBR-I fast-neutron
reactor in 1951. Since fast-neutron reactors require far more fissile material to start
up, a sodium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor was envisioned as a potential candidate
for producing low-cost nuclear electricity. This would allow low-pressure operation
without all the expensive and thick pressure containment systems and backup cooling while
also allowing the reactor to run on natural or very-slightly enriched fuel.

On the downside, many liquid metals are chemically reactive with water, air, and concrete,
and the complications related to inerting the environment and dealing with leaks and fires
would have to be weighed against the aforementioned benefits. Additionally, sodium becomes
highly radioactive as it passed through a nuclear core. The combination of radioactivity
with chemical reactivity necessitates an additional intermediate heat transfer loop,
especially when a metal-water steam generator is used. The extra loop comes expensive
additional equipment: pumps, valves, instrumentation, controls, heaters, and piping.

North American Aviation contributed $2.5M to the $10M cost of research, development,
and construction of the 20 MWt Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) at Santa Susana, CA.

Heavily informed by the AEC’s S1G submarine prototype reactor in New York and the Sodium
Reactor Experiment
north of LA,
the Hallam Nuclear Power
Facility
was a 75 MWe
attempt to approach commercial viability of a sodium-graphite reactor. It was proposed in
the first round of the PDRP.

The component testing and R&D in advance of Hallam operation was astounding. In spite of
experience acquired at from the smaller SRE, Atomics International still knew they
needed to build much of the equipment at the larger scale in order to shake down the
scaled-up designs. For example, they built an entire mockup fuel handling facility and a
full-scale fuel handling
machine
and
operated it at temperature, in sodium! This allowed them to fix scaling design issues as
well as to practice the various fuel handling activities that would be required in the
operation of the plant.

The Hallam facility was built relatively quickly but struggled with reactor problems
during the shakedown period. After many repairs and lessons, the issue of rupturing
moderator cladding and subsequent over-expansion and closing-off of coolant channels was
the final straw. Consumers Public Power District chose to not purchase the facility from
the AEC, and it was grouted in place by 1969.

The grid plate of the Hallam nuclear power facility under construction

The Hallam Nuclear Power Facility
grid plate during construction (from Mahlmeister 1961)

Today, the fossil side of the plant still operates, and if you look at a satellite
view

you can see the perfect outline of the nuclear part partially entombed in beautifully cut
grass, which is actually part of the containment. You can also see a big coal train right
outside…

Interesting thought
Since Hallam operated, vast amounts of experience have been gained in sodium-cooled
fast-neutron reactors. It’s curious to wonder if a sodium-graphite reactor with that
expanded knowledge-base wouldn’t perform significantly better than Hallam did. Then again,
some of the world’s newfound sodium experience (e.g. Monju, SuperPhénix) has not been
positive.

Organic cooled/moderated reactors: Piqua in Ohio

The second solicitation for the PDRP specifically sought small reactors. The Piqua
proposal fit the bill, at just 11.4 MWe. It featured organic coolant and moderator made of
terphenyl isomers (hydrocarbons). It was supposed that organic coolant
would lead to low capital costs. The low vapor pressure of the coolant allowed
low-pressure operation at high temperatures, reducing the weight and bulk of the pressure
vessel while increasing the thermal efficiency. Organic coolant also has low corrosion,
allowing conventional materials like carbon and low-alloy steel to be used rather than
stainless steel in the pressure vessel, pumps, pipes, etc. Lastly, induced radioactivity
in pure organic liquids is very low, unlike in the liquid metals.

The price to pay for the benefits of organic coolant comes in the form of decomposition
cleanup and purification systems. Radiation and heat both cause the fluid to break down
into water vapor, hydrogen, methane, and other hydrocarbons. Also, the heat transfer
characteristics are generally worse than for water, requiring high surface area
fuel element design.

The AEC contracted Atomics International (AI) to do research and development at the
Organic Moderated Reactor
Experiment
(OMRE) in
Idaho. This established the basic feasibility of organic-cooled reactors, and allowed AI
to build experience in the system. They measured coolant properties, fabricated fuel,
built and operated the reactor, measured heat transfer, operated purification systems,
built control rod test towers, built a hot cell to examine irradiated fuel, and performed
dozens of other R&D tasks.

The Organic Moderated Reactor Experiment in Idaho provided Atomics International
with the technology and experience to design and build the Piqua plant (from AI
Annual Report 1959
and Nov 1956
Prog. Report
)

As a follow-up to OMRE, the AEC contracted AI to build the Experimental Organic Cooled
Reactor (EOCR), also at the NRTS. This facility was built to 99% completion by the
contractor, but ended up never operating.

The OMRE established the organic-cooled concept sufficiently to motivate the Piqua team to
submit a proposal for a commercial plant.

The business plan for Piqua was that the AEC would own and operate the plant for 5 years,
selling steam to the city for the same price of conventional fossil-fueled steam. After 5
years, the city would have an option to purchase the plant from the AEC. Given their
experience from the OMRE, Atomics International was again contracted to design and build
the Piqua plant.

Piqua was brought to criticality on June, 1963, and reached full power in January 1964.
The plant produced 20% of Piqua’s power in 1965, and the city proudly referred to itself
as The Atomic City.

Piqua operation in 1964

Piqua operational history in 1964 (from Progress report
5
)

In 1966, two control rods were found to not move freely in their guide tubes, and four fuel
elements required abnormally high forces to unseat and would not reseat. The obstruction
was found to be a carbonaceous deposit. Fuel was shipped to Atomics International for hot
cell examination, where a hard continuous film was found on the surface, patches of film
were found on the tips of the cladding film, and the inner moderator space was found to be
full of carbonaceous material. A three-phase core disassembly/rehab program was developed.

As the rehab was ongoing, it became clear that Milton Shaw, the director of Reactor
Development at the AEC, had given up on the organic concept:

There is an expression used around our office about reactor projects. It is not
those that have the slow death that worries us; it is those that have a life after
death
.

He concluded that the AEC would support the Piqua facility but would otherwise discontinue
all work on the organic cooled concept. The writing was on the wall. In the FY1969
authorization hearings of the
AEC
, the
announcement to terminate the Piqua contract was made:

The Commission is in the process of terminating the operating contract for the Piqua
reactor project. Several factors entered into this decision including: an increasing need
for available resources (manpower and funding) by higher priority programs; little
programmatic interest since support for organic cooled and moderated reactors and the
HWOCR concept has been phased out; the technical problems which continue to delay
reoperation of the plant and the unlikelihood of the City to purchase the plant.

Today the small dome still stands, and it looks
like

it’s used as a warehouse. The City had to change its nickname to “The City of
Opportunity”.

A 23-minute video explains Piqua in some detail.

Fate of molten salt
Notably, Milton Shaw is much derided for focusing all reactor development efforts on the
fast breeder program around this time. In particular, Oak Ridge’s Alvin Weinberg and Shaw
fought at this time over the fate of the molten salt reactor program.
Apparently, the organic reactors and molten salt reactors are brethren in this.

Atomics International: reactor development badasses extraordinaire

Take note that the AEC contractor, Atomics International designed and built those last
two wildly innovative reactors. They had a process:

  • Explore feasibility in the Santa Susana lab
  • Build and operate a small reactor experiment to shake it down at power
  • Perform large-scale component development, building and operating them in mock-up
    facilities
  • Build a medium-sized municipal reactor in a rural town to produce power

Their component development and testing facility at Santa Susana was incredible.

Direct nuclear superheat in Puerto Rico and South Dakota

Interview: ‘From an General Safety Point of View, There is not a Huge Concern [About Flooding at Yongbyon]’

The Korean peninsula has been hit by record-breaking precipitation, with state-run Korean Main News Company (KCNA) reporting last week that floods had ruined 40,000 hectares (154 square miles) of farmland, 16,680 houses, and 630 other buildings all over the nation.

Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the nation’s primary nuclear center, captured the attention of analysts at 38 North, a North-Korea analysis website moneyed by the Washington-based Stimson Center.

38 North reported that although the five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon does not appear to have actually been recently operating, “damage to the pumps and piping within the pump houses provides the most significant vulnerability to the reactors.”

“If the reactors were running, for circumstances, the inability to cool them would need them to be shut down,” the report stated.

RFA’s Korean Service Thursday talked to Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Firm (IAEA), and current prominent fellow with the Stimson Center’s 38 North program.

He talked about the potential damage that the flooding might cause to Yongbyon and the Pyongsan uranium mine, another flooded center. The interview has actually been modified for length and clearness.

A  view  of  the  Yongbyon  Nuclear  Scientific  Research  Center  on  the  bank  of  the  Kuryong  River  in  Yongbyon,  North  Korea,  July  22,  2020.  By  August  6,  2020  the  location  had  ended up being  flooded.

A view of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center on the bank of the Kuryong River in Yongbyon, North Korea, July 22, 2020. By August 6, 2020 the location had ended up being flooded.
Airbus Defence & Area and 38 North/Pleiades via Reuters

RFA: It has actually been reported that the North Korean nuclear facility in Yongbyon was impacted by the recent flooding. Do we have a major disaster on our hands?

Heinonen: As you understand, I have been a number of times to Yongbyon, and I have likewise been there during flooding, and in fact this flooding is about as bad as I think I saw when I was there. I believe the first big flood I saw there, maybe it was in 1992, that long earlier.

So I believe my first reaction to these images, which likewise come from the company which I now serve, the Stimson Center, … North Korea is aware of this flooding, they put on’t come as a surprise, and they have actually taken some countermeasures in the design of these nuclear facilities to conquered any difficulties. This is the very first point, and I’ll return to it quickly.

The 2nd thing we requirement to keep in our mind is actually that these facilities are virtually not operating now. So when you appearance at the satellite image survey, the five-megawatt reactor doesn’t run, the speculative light-water reactor is under building and construction, the processing plant is far away from the river, but it still needs water in order to keep it.

Same concern the uranium enrichment part, they need some water but the real operation, we are not so sure how much it’s operating now. And then there are some other setups that use radioactive product. Not nuclear material, but [they conduct] radioactive experiments for medical, scientific and other purposes.

I wear’t think this flooding has had much of an impact on those, so from an general security point of view, there is not a substantial issue for the time being.

The next question: Has this flooding triggered damage to the devices there?

I wear’t think there is any huge damage for the following factors:

Let’s appearance now at the experimental light-water reactor and the five-megawatt reactor. I believe that they can go for a while without having much water in utilize, or taken from the river, so they can stop the pumps… In addition to that, these kinds of installations, when they operate, they have a kind of filtering system in the front of the piping that takes the water. So it will also screen away some of the dirt, so if they requirement to briefly take some water I think they can maybe manage it.

But certainly under present scenarios, you can not go to long-lasting operations till the water level comes down, and until the front of these water-taking locations are cleaned and put back in complete order.

So this is my take on this, and I have seen them also designing and taking part in a reactor that was constructed in Syria. And I was at that point in the IAEA and we have actually composed some Syria reports about the water for that reactor…and it was I think, a relatively typical commercial plan for the water to be taken from the river, and how this system was made in such a way that it can manage likewise flooding.

Now we see that the consumption structure or the pump home in Yongbyon, especially for the reactor, is surrounded by water, however I wear’t think that it makes a huge damage on that due to the fact that at least in Syria we saw that the electronic devices part was fairly well protected.

Then I also see that the individuals have not looked at the other water intake places. They are all concentrated just on water intake for the five-megawatt reactor and the experimental reactor.

On the other side of the river is a pump house which probably takes water to the river… and the situation there is quite much the same as for the reactor, so there is a lot of water around the pump house… so that’s where we are.

So I put on’t think that there is any significant situation. They requirement to do some repairing, but it’s not extremely likely that they are all damaged.

There is one thing that people likewise need to remember. The construction of the buildings, in North Korea, their standards are not that advanced as you and I have become used to.

For example when it rains a lot, in some centers, water can get to the cellar because of the bad isolation in the basement. So that’s another thing that is most likely taking place in some of the centers. We’re just not seeing it because satellite images will not program it.

What kind of damage has that triggered? It’s tough to say. A lot of likely they simply requirement to pump some water away and tidy the properties, the cellars, and the lower levels of those buildings.

But once again, I wear’t think it will stop the operation of those centers, considering that it didn’t do anything in the 1990 s, so why would it do that today?

RFA: What is the danger of flooding at the Pyongsan uranium mine?

Heinonen: When you do the uranium mining, you usage a lot of water to tidy the ore, which in this case is anthracite coal in Pyongsan. So you have to clean it, you have to liquify it, and then when you do this cleaning and this dissolution, you recover uranium, which is fine, however the exact same time you leave a lot of radioactive waste like radium, thorium, and then both of those, they are radioactive materials, so at one point in time, they decay to radon, which is a gas.

So, when you have these huge ponds where the wastewater goes, we wear’t understand how well they are developed and how they deal hen there is a huge rain—whether the rain simply falls into these open ponds, or whether they overflow and then this radioactive waste gets to the environment, groundwater, and then ultimately either to the river, or to the drinking water of the people.

If that takes place, then it has an effect.

Also, we put on’t understand how well these ponds are actually made. In regular cases, really they are like substantial swimming pools. So they are not such that there is a pond or lake on a typical rice paddy or regular ground. You need to isolate this waste liquid from the rest of the ground water.

Since we wear’t know how they have done that, I think that’s why when we appearance at this heavy rain, which was likewise in the Pyongsan location, that may be a matter of issue.

There is a possibility that water might overflow and get to the environment.

I’m not so worried about the milling center itself, the one that takes the ore and separates uranium there, since they are chemical procedures and they occur in piping and vessels and numerous tanks, so it should not effect the operations of those.

But the waste containment ponds are a different story. When you appearance at the image on the website, there are in fact 2 such ponds. One is near the actual mine, up there on the mountain, and then there is a pipeline that [connects with the] milling center, and then the liquids, which are waste from that milling center, they cross the river in another pipeline and go to a pond over there.

So those 2 ponds, one on the other side of the river and one up there on the mountain, I believe, might have some dangers when there is such a heavy rain as we have seen in the last couple of weeks.

Reported by Sangmin Lee for RFA’s Korean Service.

.

Skeptoid #740: Student Questions: Yellow Glasses and Nuclear Waste for Tomorrow

Student Questions: Yellow Glasses and Nuclear Waste for Tomorrow

Once again it’s time to open up our mailbag for students. Today we’re going answer questions from students of all ages from all walks of life, sent in from all over the world. And if you’re a student yourself, you can do this too — just listen until the end to find out how. Today’s questions cover infrasound to enhance horror movies, the miraculous claims attributed to Padre Pio, whether oysters are vegan, how we can protect people thousands of years in the future from today’s nuclear waste, and finally, whether wearing yellow-tinted glasses can protect your eyes from damage from using screens. Let’s get started!

Infrasound in Horror Movies

My name is AJ Rodriguez from Bakersfield, CA. I have heard that infrasound (inaudible sound below 20 Hz) has been used in horror movies to increase fear in moviegoers. Is there any scientific basis for this?

There may well be. In the most famous such experiment, researchers in 2003 designed a controlled study where 750 people heard four pieces of music in a concert hall, some of which were accompanied by inaudible infrasound at 17 Hz. Sure enough, a statistically significant percentage of the audience — 22% — reported increased feelings of unease, sorrow, chills down the spine, or even worse feelings such as nervousness, revulsion, and fear when the infrasound was present.

But has this been done successfully in the wild? No. A movie theater’s subwoofers — or indeed any commercially available subwoofers — cannot come close to the infrasound levels needed to show an effect in these studies. They required a gigantic specially designed acoustic pipe seven meters long.

Padre Pio

Hi Brian, my name’s Bernard and I’ve got a topic that I’m not sure you’d touch with a bargepole to be quite honest. Tonight I was watching on Unsolved Mysteries a story about Father Pio and it really started to hit a lot of notes that we talk about to be Skeptoid of, and I’d really be grateful if you could have a look into it for me.

Padre Pio (1887 – 1968) is a famous Catholic saint. All sorts of miracles are attributed to him, both during and after his lifetime. He was most famous for his stigmata, wounds on the body (most notably on his palms) corresponding to the crucifixion injuries of Jesus. We’ve actually mentioned him here on Skeptoid before, back in episode #126 on incorruptible corpses — bodies that do not decompose after death but remain lifelike, generally with some alleged divine cause. The Catholic Church lists Padre Pio as an incorruptible, even though by their own admission his body was badly decomposed when it was exhumed for display, and today a silicone reproduction is shown. And this one tidbit is a fair metaphor for everything about Padre Pio.

It’s not my practice to criticize belief systems here on Skeptoid, only factual claims that can be proven or disproven through science. There is no implied criticism of Catholic religious beliefs in pointing out that virtually everything about Padre Pio has been found to be fraudulent, and not just by outside investigators, but by some of the Church’s own investigators too. In 1919, an emissary was sent from the Vatican to check out reports of healings and other miracles attributed to Padre Pio, and found that every single one of them was bogus.

Much has been written about this; whole books have been devoted to debunking the claims of Padre Pio. This is to be expected, as any Catholic saint is (almost by definition) a controversial figure and is going to draw both passionate critics and passionate supporters, regardless of the merits. What counts is what the findings are and their validity. There’s no record of anyone actually observing Padre Pio self-inflict his stigmata, but he was known to keep and frequently request resupply of bottles of carbolic acid, a few drops of which produce a gory wound on the skin. He spent most of his life wearing fingerless gloves to keep his palms out of sight, consistent with someone who’s tired of putting acid on his hands — hands which were, at his death, found to be entirely injury-free. Many of his writings describing mystical experiences he’d had were later found to be plagiarized word-for-word from an earlier stigmatic, Gemma Galgani, and so we know for a fact that those claims did not reflect any experiences he’d actually had. The examples go on and on.

Did Padre Pio also make true miracles happen? Well, maybe he did; but if we believe that, we’re forced to consider why he would have also faked so many others.

Are Oysters Vegan?

Hi, I’m Jules Sans, and I am wondering: Are oysters vegan? I heard they do not feel pain and do not have a brain. Are oysters vegan?

So what you’re asking here really isn’t a science question; it’s a marketing question. Vegan is not a scientific term, it’s a word used to define a segment in the food marketing industry. This is handled differently in different countries, but in the United States, private companies arose to take advantage of this and sell their own self-styled certifications to food producers to assist them in promoting their products to customers who choose vegan diets. The certification is not official or legal, it’s purely marketing. Chief among these is Vegan Action, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit. Under their criteria, oysters are no way, nohow considered vegan. Products they certify contain “no animal ingredients or animal by-products, [use] no animal ingredient or by-product in the manufacturing process, and [are] not tested on animals.”

However, outside of this commercial context, different people may use the term vegan to refer to different things. Some may choose to apply it to products containing nothing from animals that have brains and/or feel pain, as you describe. To others it may not mean that. So, truthfully, there’s no hard-and-fast answer to your particular question. Without a strict scientific definition for what vegan means, it turns out to be a matter of personal preference.

Nuclear Waste in 10,000 Years

Hi Brian, my question is how do we warn people in the future not to open our containers of nuclear waste? I mean, we don’t know what language they’re going to speak, or if they’re even going to be us. All the best, Rich Cattle.

So this is a question that scientists have been wondering about for a long time. The field actually has a name: nuclear semiotics, referring to durable, language-agnostic symbology that could be used to warn some future party about the danger. This decades-old conversation even has its own Wikipedia page. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, various international teams made all sorts of proposals and reports for how this message could be reliably communicated tens of thousands of years in the future.

But in the opinion of this writer, it’s one of those questions that’s more of an interesting, speculative thought experiment than it is a realistic problem in need of a serious solution. It’s like wondering “How do I keep aliens from beaming into my living room and stealing my TV,” which is also a difficult problem to solve, but probably one that we don’t need to worry too much about. I say this because all signs are that nuclear waste is a temporary problem — albeit a thorny one.

While it’s true that most nuclear power plants under construction today are still the same basic 60-year-old open fuel cycle design that produce radioactive waste, those on the drawing board are closed fuel cycle reactors that can consume the most dangerous components of existing radioactive waste. So far China is the only nation actively developing these so-called Generation IV designs, such as the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, of which they already have several under construction. (For a complete rundown on these, see episode #555, Thorium Reactors: Fact and Fiction.)

Combined with the fact that technology for reducing and recycling existing nuclear waste continues to proceed — including options like simply diluting it into the oceans at levels far below the natural background, and even depositing it into subduction zones where nobody would be able to get to it even if they tried — my opinion (not presented as fact) is that such waste will be a historical footnote within a century or two, long before we have to worry about semiotics.

Yellow Glasses to Avoid Computer Eye Strain?

Hello Brian, this is Tim. I understand that UV light is harmful to our eyes, but lately I’m seeing advice from optometrists that anyone who’s in front of a computer screen for long periods should wear yellow tinted glasses to protect against blue light. I understand blue light interferes with being able to sleep, but is there any validity to blue light damaging your eyesight?

Wherever there is a product that can be sold, you can be assured that plenty of people will come up with plenty of reasons to sell it. Glasses claiming to block blue light from computer screens are the perfect example.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, has published a series of articles (like this and this) debunking virtually every claim you’ll find for such glasses. These include that blue and ultraviolet light from your computer screen will harm your eyes over time, both by retina damage and eye strain. The products have been successfully marketed, in part by misrepresenting a published study that retinal — a form of Vitamin A found in your eye — can damage cells when overexposed to powerful blue light. However nothing in the study was relevant to eyesight; that association was just marketing spin by the people selling these glasses.

Yes, overexposure to blue light and ultraviolet can indeed damage your eyes; but computer screens produce no measurable UV and the normal amount of blue light they produce is not harmful. Eye strain is real and has a number of causes, but blue light is not among them. To avoid it, sit the proper distance from your screen or use glasses to help you comfortably focus. Blink regularly. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. You’ll be just fine. Conversely, if you buy the yellow glasses but don’t do anything else to avoid eye strain, you’ll be just as susceptible as you were before.

Teachers!

So teachers, if you’ve got a classroom full of students — particularly if that’s a virtual classroom — let’s hear from your students. Use the Teachers Toolkit, which is our free platform for sharing collections of Skeptoid podcast episodes to a classroom full of students in a free, secure, anonymous, and accessible way. Have your students listen to some episodes in the field you’re currently teaching, and then get them to send some questions to be answered right here. In some cases I can even have the episode come out on a specific date that you request. It’s completely free and a great way to share Skeptoid with a classroom, and maybe make it an extra credit opportunity. For all the details, just come to skeptoid.com and click Answering Student Questions.


By Brian Dunning

Cite this article:
Dunning, B. “Student Questions: Yellow Glasses and Nuclear Waste for Tomorrow.” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
11 Aug 2020. Web.
12 Aug 2020.

UPSC Static Quiz – 2020: IASbaba’s Daily Static Quiz – SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY [Day 50]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

For Previous Static Quiz (ARCHIVES) – CLICK HERE

 

DAILY STATIC QUIZ will cover all the topics of Static/Core subjectsPolity, History, Geography, Economics, Environment and Science and technology.

This is a part of our recently launched, NEW INITIATIVE IASbaba’s INTEGRATED REVISION PLAN (IRP) 2020 – Road Map for the next 100 Days! FREE INITIATIVE!

We will make sure, in the next 4 months not a single day is wasted. All your energies are channelized in the right direction. Trust us! This will make a huge difference in your results this time, provided that you follow this plan sincerely every day without fail.

Gear up and Make the Best Use of this initiative.

Do remember that, “the difference between Ordinary and  EXTRA-Ordinary is PRACTICE!!”

To Know More about the Initiative -> CLICK HERE

SCHEDULE/DETAILED PLAN – > CLICK HERE

Important Note

  • After completing the 10 questions, click onView Questions’ to check your score, time taken and solutions.
  • Don’t forget to post your marks in the comment section. Also, let us know if you enjoyed today’s test 🙂 

 

UPSC Static Quiz – 2020: IASbaba’s Daily Static Quiz – SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY [Day 50]

Information

To view Solutions, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on – ‘Start Test’ button
  2. Solve Questions
  3. Click on ‘Test Summary’ button
  4. Click on ‘Finish Test’ button
  5. Now click on ‘View Questions’ button – here you will see solutions and links.

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  1. Question 1 of 10


    1. Question

    Consider the following statements regarding ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor):

    1. ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment intended to prove the viability of fission as an energy source.
    2. India is also one of the partner countries in building this reactor.

    Which of the statements given above is/are NOT CORRECT?


    Correct

    Solution (a) 

    ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment intended to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect. 

    ITER is currently under construction in the south of France. In an unprecedented international effort, seven partners—China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States—have pooled their financial and scientific resources to build the biggest fusion reactor in history.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (a) 

    ITER is a large-scale scientific experiment intended to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect. 

    ITER is currently under construction in the south of France. In an unprecedented international effort, seven partners—China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States—have pooled their financial and scientific resources to build the biggest fusion reactor in history.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

  2. Question 2 of 10


    2. Question

    Consider the following statements:

    1. In Nuclear fission, the nucleus of a heavy atom is bombarded with low-energy neutrons.
    2. Nuclear fission reactions are the source of energy in the Sun.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (a)

    In Nuclear fission, the nucleus of a heavy atom (such as uranium, plutonium or thorium), when bombarded with low-energy neutrons, can be split apart into lighter nuclei

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    Nuclear fusion reactions are the source of energy in the Sun and other stars.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (a)

    In Nuclear fission, the nucleus of a heavy atom (such as uranium, plutonium or thorium), when bombarded with low-energy neutrons, can be split apart into lighter nuclei

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    Nuclear fusion reactions are the source of energy in the Sun and other stars.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

  3. Question 3 of 10


    3. Question

    Consider the following statements:

    1. The hydrogen bomb is based on thermonuclear fusion reaction.
    2. A nuclear bomb based on the nuclear fusion of uranium or plutonium is placed at the core of the hydrogen bomb.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (a)

    The hydrogen bomb is based on thermonuclear fusion reaction.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    A nuclear bomb based on the fission of uranium or plutonium is placed at the core of the hydrogen bomb.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (a)

    The hydrogen bomb is based on thermonuclear fusion reaction.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    A nuclear bomb based on the fission of uranium or plutonium is placed at the core of the hydrogen bomb.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

  4. Question 4 of 10


    4. Question

    Consider the following statements:

    1. Uranium ore mined in India are of very low grade as compared to those available in other countries.
    2. Uranium Corporation of India Limited is a Public Sector Enterprise under the Ministry of Mines.

    Which of the statements given above is/are NOT CORRECT?


    Correct

    Solution (b)

    Uranium ore mined in India are of very low grade as compared to those available in other countries.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct. 

    Uranium Corporation of India Limited is a Public Sector Enterprise under the Department of Atomic Energy.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (b)

    Uranium ore mined in India are of very low grade as compared to those available in other countries.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct. 

    Uranium Corporation of India Limited is a Public Sector Enterprise under the Department of Atomic Energy.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

  5. Question 5 of 10


    5. Question

    Consider the following statements:

    1. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is a Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
    2. NPCIL is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power reactors.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (c)

    Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is a Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    NPCIL is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power reactors.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (c)

    Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is a Public Sector Enterprise under the administrative control of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    NPCIL is responsible for design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear power reactors.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

  6. Question 6 of 10


    6. Question

    Which of the following is/are the applications of biotechnology:

    1. Therapeutics and Diagnostics
    2. Genetically modified crops for agriculture
    3. Bioremediation and waste treatment
    4. Energy production

    Choose the correct answers using the codes given below.


    Correct

    Solution (d)

    The applications of biotechnology include therapeutics, diagnostics, genetically modified crops for agriculture, processed food, bioremediation, waste treatment, and energy production.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d)

    The applications of biotechnology include therapeutics, diagnostics, genetically modified crops for agriculture, processed food, bioremediation, waste treatment, and energy production.

  7. Question 7 of 10


    7. Question

    Consider the following statement about induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).

    1. They are derived from embryonic stem cells.
    2. The tissues derived from these iPSC can avoid rejection by the immune system.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (b)

    Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) produced by genetically manipulating human skin cells to produce embryonic-like stem cells that are capable of forming any cell types of the body.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    Tissues derived from iPSCs will be a nearly identical match to the cell donor and thus probably avoid rejection by the immune system.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (b)

    Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) produced by genetically manipulating human skin cells to produce embryonic-like stem cells that are capable of forming any cell types of the body.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    Tissues derived from iPSCs will be a nearly identical match to the cell donor and thus probably avoid rejection by the immune system.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

  8. Question 8 of 10


    8. Question

    Which of the following reasons make Escherichia coli suitable for gene cloning?

    1. The E. coli genome was the first to be completely sequenced
    2. It grows slowly for days and gives a stable condition for observation
    3. E. coli is naturally found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals

    Select the correct answer using the code given below:


    Correct

    Solution (c) 

    The E. coli genome was the first to be completely sequenced

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    Under ideal conditions, E. coli cells can double in number after only 20 minutes.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

    E. coli is naturally found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (c) 

    The E. coli genome was the first to be completely sequenced

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    Under ideal conditions, E. coli cells can double in number after only 20 minutes.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

    E. coli is naturally found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.

  9. Question 9 of 10


    9. Question

    Consider the following statements with regard to Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)

    1. AERB is engaged in the development of nuclear power technology, applications of radiation technologies in the fields of agriculture, medicine, industry, and basic research.
    2. The regulatory authority of AERB is derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
    3. The AERB reports to the Atomic Energy Commission.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (c)

    Department of Atomic Energy (not AERB), established in 1954 is engaged in the development of nuclear power technology, applications of radiation technologies in the fields of agriculture, medicine, industry, and basic research.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    The regulatory authority of AERB is derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    The AERB reports to the Atomic Energy Commission, which is a high level policy making body for the all atomic energy matters in the country.

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (c)

    Department of Atomic Energy (not AERB), established in 1954 is engaged in the development of nuclear power technology, applications of radiation technologies in the fields of agriculture, medicine, industry, and basic research.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    The regulatory authority of AERB is derived from the rules and notifications promulgated under the Atomic Energy Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    The AERB reports to the Atomic Energy Commission, which is a high level policy making body for the all atomic energy matters in the country.

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.

  10. Question 10 of 10


    10. Question

    Consider the below statement with regard to human genome sequencing:

    1. India is among the league of countries who have demonstrated the capability of mapping all the genes of a human.
    2. The world’s first human genome sequence was completed in 2003 by the International Human Genome Project, to which Indian scientists had also contributed.

    Which of the statements given above is/are NOT CORRECT?


    Correct

    Solution (b)

    India is among the league of countries who have demonstrated the capability of mapping all the genes of a human.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    The world’s first human genome sequence was completed in 2003 by the International Human Genome Project with scientists from the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan and China. 

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (b)

    India is among the league of countries who have demonstrated the capability of mapping all the genes of a human.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    The world’s first human genome sequence was completed in 2003 by the International Human Genome Project with scientists from the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan and China. 

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

UPSC Static Quiz – 2020: IASbaba’s Daily Static Quiz – SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY [Day 48]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

For Previous Static Quiz (ARCHIVES) – CLICK HERE

 

DAILY STATIC QUIZ will cover all the topics of Static/Core subjectsPolity, History, Geography, Economics, Environment and Science and technology.

This is a part of our recently launched, NEW INITIATIVE IASbaba’s INTEGRATED REVISION PLAN (IRP) 2020 – Road Map for the next 100 Days! FREE INITIATIVE!

We will make sure, in the next 4 months not a single day is wasted. All your energies are channelized in the right direction. Trust us! This will make a huge difference in your results this time, provided that you follow this plan sincerely every day without fail.

Gear up and Make the Best Use of this initiative.

Do remember that, “the difference between Ordinary and  EXTRA-Ordinary is PRACTICE!!”

To Know More about the Initiative -> CLICK HERE

SCHEDULE/DETAILED PLAN – > CLICK HERE

Important Note

  • After completing the 10 questions, click onView Questions’ to check your score, time taken and solutions.
  • Don’t forget to post your marks in the comment section. Also, let us know if you enjoyed today’s test 🙂 

 

UPSC Static Quiz – 2020: IASbaba’s Daily Static Quiz – SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY [Day 48]

Information

To view Solutions, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on – ‘Start Test’ button
  2. Solve Questions
  3. Click on ‘Test Summary’ button
  4. Click on ‘Finish Test’ button
  5. Now click on ‘View Questions’ button – here you will see solutions and links.

You have already completed the test before. Hence you can not start it again.

You must sign in or sign up to start the test.

You have to finish following test, to start this test:

  1. Question 1 of 10


    1. Question

    Consider the following statements regarding Astra missile:

    1. Astra has a range of more than 100 km.
    2. Astra is a Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile.

    Which of the statements given above is/are NOT CORRECT?


    Correct

    Solution (d) 

    Astra has a range of more than 100 km. The missile has midcourse guidance and RF seeker based terminal guidance to achieve target destruction with pin point accuracy.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct. 

    Astra is a Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM).

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d) 

    Astra has a range of more than 100 km. The missile has midcourse guidance and RF seeker based terminal guidance to achieve target destruction with pin point accuracy.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct. 

    Astra is a Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM).

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

  2. Question 2 of 10


    2. Question

    Consider the following statements regarding Pinaka Missile System:

    1. Pinaka missile system was developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
    2. The Pinaka MK-II Rocket is modified as a missile by integrating with the Navigation which is aided by GPS.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (d)

    Pinaka missile system has been jointly developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories. The Pinaka is an Artillery Missile System capable of striking into enemy territory up to a range of 75 kilometres with high precision.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    The Pinaka MK-II Rocket is modified as a missile by integrating with the Navigation which is aided by the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d)

    Pinaka missile system has been jointly developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories. The Pinaka is an Artillery Missile System capable of striking into enemy territory up to a range of 75 kilometres with high precision.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    The Pinaka MK-II Rocket is modified as a missile by integrating with the Navigation which is aided by the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

  3. Question 3 of 10


    3. Question

    Which of the following Country participated in joint military training exercise Shakti-2019 with India:


    Correct

    Solution (b)

    Shakti-2019 is a joint military training exercise between India and France. The aim of the exercise was to achieve interoperability, to acquaint each other with operational procedures, combat drills and understand the functioning in such a situation. It was evident that both the armies were able to achieve this aim. 


    Incorrect

    Solution (b)

    Shakti-2019 is a joint military training exercise between India and France. The aim of the exercise was to achieve interoperability, to acquaint each other with operational procedures, combat drills and understand the functioning in such a situation. It was evident that both the armies were able to achieve this aim. 

  4. Question 4 of 10


    4. Question

    Consider the following statements:

    1. INS Vela is the first Frigate of Class of P17A Frigates.
    2. INS Khanderi is the second submarine of Scorpene class (Project 75).

    Which of the statements given above is/are NOT CORRECT?


    Correct

    Solution (a)

    The first of Class of P17A Frigates, ‘Nilgiri’ was launched recently at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai. 

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect. 

    INS Khanderi is the second submarine of Scorpene class (Project 75).

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (a)

    The first of Class of P17A Frigates, ‘Nilgiri’ was launched recently at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai. 

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect. 

    INS Khanderi is the second submarine of Scorpene class (Project 75).

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

  5. Question 5 of 10


    5. Question

    Consider the following statements:

    1. GISAT-1 is the first state-of-the-art agile Earth observation satellite which will be placed in a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit by GSLV-F10.
    2. GISAT-1 will facilitate near real time observation of the Indian sub-continent, under cloud free condition, at frequent intervals.

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (c)

    GISAT-1 is the first state-of-the-art agile Earth observation satellite which will be placed in a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit by GSLV-F10. Subsequently, the satellite will reach the final geostationary orbit using its onboard propulsion system.

    A 4 metre diameter Ogive shaped payload fairing is being flown for the first time in this GSLV flight. This is the fourteenth flight of the GSLV.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    Operating from geostationary orbit, GISAT-1 will facilitate near real time observation of the Indian sub-continent, under cloud free condition, at frequent intervals.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (c)

    GISAT-1 is the first state-of-the-art agile Earth observation satellite which will be placed in a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit by GSLV-F10. Subsequently, the satellite will reach the final geostationary orbit using its onboard propulsion system.

    A 4 metre diameter Ogive shaped payload fairing is being flown for the first time in this GSLV flight. This is the fourteenth flight of the GSLV.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    Operating from geostationary orbit, GISAT-1 will facilitate near real time observation of the Indian sub-continent, under cloud free condition, at frequent intervals.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

  6. Question 6 of 10


    6. Question

    Chemical weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction (WMD). One of the very famous WMD is Sarin, used as a chemical weapon due to its extreme potency as a nerve agent. It contains


    Correct

    Solution (d)

    Nerve agents are a class of phosphorus-containing organic chemicals (organophosphates) that disrupt the mechanisms by which nerves transfer messages to organs.

    Sarin was once in news due to Syria, recently Sarin was find in a mail bag outside Facebook’s Office.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d)

    Nerve agents are a class of phosphorus-containing organic chemicals (organophosphates) that disrupt the mechanisms by which nerves transfer messages to organs.

    Sarin was once in news due to Syria, recently Sarin was find in a mail bag outside Facebook’s Office.

  7. Question 7 of 10


    7. Question

    With reference to The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Consider the following statements: 

    1. CDS will be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
    2. CDS will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Minister for Defence on all tri-Services matters.
    3. The Chief of Defence Staff will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

    Which of the statements given above is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (d)

    CDS will be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. 

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    CDS will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Minister for Defence on all tri-Services matters.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    The Chief of Defence Staff will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), Ministry of Defence.

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d)

    CDS will be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. 

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    CDS will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Minister for Defence on all tri-Services matters.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    The Chief of Defence Staff will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), Ministry of Defence.

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.

  8. Question 8 of 10


    8. Question

    Consider the following statements about The Indian Nuclear Power Programme.

    1. In the first stage of the programme, natural uranium fueled pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) produce electricity while generating plutonium-239 as by-product.
    2. The Stage II Fast Breeder Reactors are designed to “breed” more fuel than they consume.
    3. The Stage III reactor or an Advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232-uranium-233 fueled reactors.

    Which of the above statements is/are correct?


    Correct

    Solution (d)

    In the first stage of the programme, natural uranium fueled pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) produce electricity while generating plutonium-239 as by-product.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    The Stage II Fast Breeder Reactors are designed to “breed” more fuel than they consume.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    The Stage III reactor or an Advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232-uranium-233 fueled reactors.

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d)

    In the first stage of the programme, natural uranium fueled pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) produce electricity while generating plutonium-239 as by-product.

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    The Stage II Fast Breeder Reactors are designed to “breed” more fuel than they consume.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    The Stage III reactor or an Advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232-uranium-233 fueled reactors.

    Hence Statement 3 is correct.

  9. Question 9 of 10


    9. Question

    Which of the following statements is/are correct about ‘Anti Tank NAG’ Missile?

    1. It has been indigenously developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP)
    2. It is a fire and forget missile.
    3. It can be launched from land, water and air based platforms.

    Select the correct answer using the code given below:


    Correct

    Solution (a)

    It has been indigenously developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP)

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    It is a fire and forget, heat seeking guided missile.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    It can be launched from land and air based platforms.

    Hence Statement 3 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (a)

    It has been indigenously developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP)

    Hence Statement 1 is correct.

    It is a fire and forget, heat seeking guided missile.

    Hence Statement 2 is correct.

    It can be launched from land and air based platforms.

    Hence Statement 3 is incorrect.

  10. Question 10 of 10


    10. Question

    Which of the following statements are correct regarding Parker Solar Probe?

    1. Parker Solar Probe uses Mercury’s gravity to gradually bring its orbit closer to Sun.
    2. Parker Solar Probe is a joint mission of NASA, European Space Agency and ROSCOSMOS .

    Select the correct answer using the code given below:


    Correct

    Solution (d)

    Parker Solar Probe uses Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    Parker Solar Probe is a mission by NASA. The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.


    Incorrect

    Solution (d)

    Parker Solar Probe uses Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun.

    Hence Statement 1 is incorrect.

    Parker Solar Probe is a mission by NASA. The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

    Hence Statement 2 is incorrect.

ThorCon Inks MOU to Develop a 50MW Thorium Reactor for Indonesia

  • ThorCon to Develop 50MW Thorium Fueled Reactor in Indonesia Leading to 500MW Units Built in Shipyards.
  • Rosatom Pitches Indonesia for Conventional Light Water Reactors
  • USNC Collaborates with South Korean Industry Leaders to Develop Advanced Nuclear Reactor Power Systems
  • CEZ Signs Framework Deal with Czech Govt for New Nuclear Unit

ThorCon to Develop 50MW Thorium Fueled Reactor
for Indonesia

thorium periodic table symbol

According to ThorCon, the firm and Indonesia’s Defence Ministry have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to study developing a 50 MW thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR) for either power generation or marine vehicle propulsion. In an email to this blog, Robert Hargraves, a spokesman for ThorCon, said several developments are taking place in Indonesia for the company.

  • The ongoing work to develop shipyard-produced thorium/uranium fueled power plants generating electricity cheaper than coal, and  the MOU establishes the basis for providing technical advice for building 50 MW thorium fueled plants. ThorCon is a graphite-moderated thermal spectrum molten salt reactor.
  • In 2019 the Ministry of Energy successfully completed a study of the safety, economics, and grid impact of the 500 MW prototype ThorConIsle (Fact Sheet – PDF file).
  • Phase 1 is to build and test it with step by step commissioning, ending in a licence for future power plants. Phase 2 is shipyard production of multiple 500MW ThorCon plants to provide an additional 3000MW of cheap, reliable electric power.
thorcon timeline
ThorCon Timeline: Image: company website

The MOU was signed by the head of ministry’s Defense Research and Development Agency, Dr Anne Kusmayati, and ThorCon International Chief Representative Bob S. Effendi. According to the ThorCon statement, the project expects to make significant progress by 2025.

The proposed reactor is, however, much smaller than a fully commercial 500 MW nuclear power plant that Thorcon has been designing over the past five years and which is the ultimate design objective.

MOU Details

ThorCon provided the following details of the agreement. According to Mr. Effendi at ThorCon, Indonesia’s Dr Kusmayati said;

“The thorium-based power development research and development in the Defence Research and Development Agency is in line with the policy of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources which mandates the need for concrete steps to prepare nuclear power development projects, bearing in mind dwindling fossil energy sources and the length of time needed to construct a nuclear power plant.”

“The thorium-based power development research program represents the Ministry of Defence’s efforts to be the initiator or lever in mastering 4th generation nuclear technology that utilises thorium, which is available in abundance in Indonesia.”

ThorCon said it would provide technical support to the ministry’s research and development (R&D) body to develop “a small-scale TMSR reactor under 50 megawatts (MW).”

The Jakarta Post ran a more conservative report which quoted Indonesia’s National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan) director Dandang Purwadi. He reportedly told the newspaper that thorium nuclear technology is not yet ready for commercial application.

“We have to wait around 10 years for the technology to mature, then it takes 10 years to build the facility.”

Progress Reported on Design of 500 MW Thorium Fueled Reactor

Thorcon said a fair amount of the design phase for the 500 MW design has been completed, which is documented in 2D drawings and 3D CAD models, and which has been shared with potential suppliers. The firm did not provide additional details on its potential supply chain for a thorium-fueled nuclear reactor.

20180912_Thorcon_isles_power_from_shore-copy
Conceptual Image of ThorCon 500 MW Design

The World Nuclear Association has a review of the technology related to the thorium fuel cycle and describes historical and current efforts by multiple countries to develop thorium fueled reactors. At this time no other thorium fueled reactors are in commercial revenue service though there are multiple prototype efforts ongoing globally.

Plans for a Prototype

The company said it will build a pre-fission test facility (PTF) at full scale, including the components of the fission island and the thermal power conversion chain. The fuel salt will not contain enriched uranium and will not sustain a chain reaction to generate power.

The components will be brought up to operating temperatures using electric heating. The absence of radioactivity allows intrusive instrumentation, direct observation, and internal access to components.

EPC Role for First of a Kind Unit

The plan is to build a 500 MW power plant at a world-class shipyard. The shipyard will be ThorCon’s EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) contractor. The expensive, massive, precision supercritical steam turbine-generator must be pre-ordered to achieve the one-year shipyard build time. ThorCon’s ship with the thorium reactor will be towed to the Indonesia near-shore site prepared with breakwaters and seawater cooling piping and a connection to the PLN electric power grid.

The firm has outlined plans for testing and commissioning of the first of a kind unit supervised by Indonesia’s Bapeten nuclear safety regulator. Once the first unit is in revenue service, it hopes to book orders for at least six more 500 MW units in global markets. The firm did not name potential customers.

India and China have been adapting CANDU type reactors to use thorium fuel. In 2018 English language media reports indicate that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has announced plans to invest $3 billion (USD) over the next two decades in development of molten salt reactors of various designs. A first order objective is reported to be the  development of a first of a kind 100MW thorium molten salt reactor in 2020 in the city of Wuwei in Gansu province. Commercial development is targeted for the early 2030s.

The program is called the Thorium-Breeding Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR). According to the media reports, the R&D program has two major components and both are tied to fuel types (solid and liquid) for various kinds of molten salt designs.

Indonesia / Officials Studying Russian Plans For New Nuclear,
Says Its Ambassador

(NucNet) Indonesian officials are studying a proposal by Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom to build the Southeast Asian country’s first nuclear power plant, the country’s ambassador to Russia Mohamad Wahid Supriyadi told state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti.

“Rosatom has prepared a detailed proposal for the first nuclear power plant in Indonesia. And we have already sent it… because various ministries in Indonesia will deal with this,” the ambassador said.

According to the ambassador, the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo has been proposed as a potential site for the plant.

USNC Collaborates with South Korean Industry Leaders
to Develop Advanced Nuclear Reactor Power Systems

Hyundai Engineering, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute to Cooperate with USNC on Incorporating Best-in-Breed Technologies into Micro Modular Reactor

U.S.-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) announces the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Hyundai Engineering (HEC) and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI). The five-year agreement outlines goals for development of technologies that enhance the USNC Micro Modular Reactor’s (MMR) ability to produce and deliver carbon-free power, heat, and hydrogen. The value of the agreement in terms of cash, or engineering design and support services in return to equity, was not disclosed.

ulta safe process heat as a product
Potential end uses of heat from the MMR. Image: Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp.

There are two primary areas of exploration outlined in the MOU: Multiple MMR reactors can be linked together to provide between 5 and 10 MW of electricity per unit, up to 150 MW of heat, or a combination of the two.

High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (HTGR) plant – development and deployment of HTGR technology for supplying power as well as process-heat production, critical to the operations of industrial processing plants.

Very High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactors (VHTR) plant – development and deployment of a VHTR system for production of hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

“We are committed to combining the simple, elegant design of our MMR with state-of-the-art energy-production technologies from around the world,” stated Francesco Venneri, CEO, USNC.

“Working with leaders like Hyundai Engineering and KAERI on advanced nuclear reactor technologies will improve the overall performance and value of our MMR, and accelerate our path to wide-scale deployment.”

USNC plans to incorporate technologies resulting from this collaboration into the MMR Project at the Chalk River Laboratories site in Ontario. The Chalk River MMR is currently in Stage 3 of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ thorough process to select proponents to construct and operate a small modular reactor (SMR) at that location. The firm is also involved in an R&D collaboration with CNL on fuel for the reactors.

According to the website of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, UNSC initiated Phase 1 of the vendor design review process in December 2016.

The USNC MMR Reactor consists of two plants: the nuclear plant that generates heat, and the adjacent power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications.

The USNC system is designed to be uniquely simple, with minimal operations and maintenance requirements, and no on-site fuel storage, handling, or processing. Key to the overall design is USNC’s Fully Ceramic Microencapsulated (FCM) fuel, providing a new approach to reactor safety at the fuel level.

About The Ultra Safe MMR Reactor

Reactor Core – The reactor core consists of hexagonal graphite blocks containing stacks of FCM fuel pellets. The MMR reactor core has a low power density and a high heat capacity resulting in very slow and predictable temperature changes. The MMR reactor is fueled once for its lifetime.

Helium Coolant – Helium gas is the MMR™ reactor’s primary coolant. The helium passes through the nuclear core and is heated by the controlled nuclear fission process. The helium then transports the heat away from the core to the Molten Salt System.

The MMR reactor uses helium as it is an inert gas; a radiologically transparent, single-phase gas with no flashing or boiling possible. Helium does not react chemically with the fuel or reactor core components. It is easy to accurately measure and control the helium pressure in the reactor. The FCM fuel ensures the helium is clean and free of fission products.

Molten Salt Loop – Intermediate Heat Transfer Loop; The MMR plant is simple to operate, and flexible in its outputs. The use of molten salt thermal storage allows for significant flexibility in the supply of both electricity and process heat.

CEZ Signs Framework Deal with Czech Govt for New Nuclear Unit

(Reuters) – The Czech government this wek signed agreements with CEZ for a planned multi-billion dollar expansion of the majority state-owned utility’s Dukovany nuclear power plant.

The agreements cover the general framework of the project and its initial phase, including a competitive tender in which CEZ will seek to have a preferred list of suppliers by 2022 and sign a contract with one by 2024. Construction should start in 2029, when the bulk of costs will start, and the new unit is expected to be operational in 2036.

The Czech government is seeking to expand the use of nuclear energy to reduce its use of lignite coal for power generation.

The state, which holds a 70% stake in CEZ, last week approved plans to give an interest-free loan for the roughly 1,200 megawatt unit. Recently, it approved a model to buy electricity from the new unit at a determined price, with consumers making up the difference if that price is higher than wholesale market prices.

Officials have estimated a cost of approximately $7 billion. Critics, including some CEZ minority shareholders, argue costs could be much higher. CEZ may have to buy out the minority shareholders to stem the threat of lawsuits.

Russia’s Rosatom, China’s China General Nuclear Power, France’s Electricite de France, South Korea’s KHNP, U.S group Westinghouse, and a joint venture between France’s Orano – formerly known as Areva – and Japan’s Mitsubishi are expected to participate in a tender to build the plant.

# # #

The Misguided Exile of Nuclear Power

 

By Dan Lennon

1. Nuclear Accidents Have Been Overblown:

Due to media hype surrounding three major nuclear accidents, the risk of nuclear power has been greatly overstated and therefore public opinion is against it. As a result, this very valuable tool in our arsenal against climate change is being left on the sidelines. This will be seen someday as a mistake of enormous proportions.

Let’s consider each of the accidents:

A. Chernobyl:

The Chernobyl accident occurred on April 26, 1986 when the fourth reactor suffered a huge power increase, leading to the explosion of the plant. The reactor at Chernobyl was designed and built by the Soviet Union. Two very serious safety omissions were the absence of a steel containment vessel around the reactor core and the absence of a concrete containment dome around the reactor itself. With no containment, any significant failure was bound to be catastrophic. Furthermore, the personnel that operated the reactor were inadequately trained. These are radical departures from standard design and operating procedures in other countries, therefore the Chernobyl accident should be seen as an outlier, not a representative case.

As a result of the accident, 29 disaster relief workers died of acute radiation exposure in the immediate aftermath of the accident. In 2011, The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated the worldwide additional long-term cancer deaths at 45,600, an increase of 68 millionths of one percent. The worst affected were the 25,000 residents in the most contaminated areas. They experienced an increased cancer incidence of 4%, producing an estimated additional 1,000 early deaths over time. The IAEA had predicted 4,000 deaths. After the accident, all people were evacuated from a one thousand square mile exclusion zone. With man gone, wildlife has flourished so much that the area has become a tourist attraction.

B. Three Mile Island:

On March 29, 1979, a reactor at the Three Mile Island Plant in Middleton, Pennsylvania experienced a partial meltdown. Approximately 2 million people who lived around Three Mile Island during the accident received an average radiation dose of about 1 millirem above the area’s usual background dose of 125 to 150 millirem per year. By comparison, a chest X-ray is about 6 millirem. In spite of serious damage to the reactor, the accident had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment. There were no deaths.

C. Fukushima:

On March 11, 2011, power supply and cooling to three reactors was disabled following an earthquake and tsunami, causing a partial meltdown of all three. Although 154,000 Japanese citizens were evacuated from a 12-mile exclusion zone around the power station as a precaution, radiation exposure beyond the station grounds itself was limited. There was no major public exposure, and no deaths from radiation, however Fukushima prefecture counted 1,368 deaths related to the Fukushima plant accident. The cause was mainly displacement of the sick and elderly while in temporary housing and shelters, degraded living conditions, and separation from support networks.

There are 60 nuclear power plants in the U.S. and 450 worldwide that have been operating for decades without incident. Exaggerated reporting about these accidents has caused the safety concern in the public’s mind about nuclear energy to be greatly magnified. Surprisingly, coal presents a far greater risk of exposure to radioactivity.

2. Fossil Fuels are More Dangerous than Nuclear:

A. Death Rates From Nuclear v Fossil Fuels:

The fear of nuclear power has gone viral, but it is fueled by emotion. Here are the facts:

Coal has 333 times the death rate of nuclear; oil has 249 times the death rate of nuclear, biomass has 63 times the death rate of nuclear, and gas has 38 times the death rate of nuclear.

B. Coal Plants Emit More Radiation than Nuclear Plants:

Because coal contains trace amounts of uranium and thorium, and because a typical coal-fired power plant burns 10,000 tons of coal per day, the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant, a by-product from burning coal for electricity, carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. This is because the radioactivity from coal plants is not regulated whereas the radioactivity from nuclear plants is. This is why working at a nuclear power plant is extremely safe.

3. Disposing of Nuclear Waste:

The issue of nuclear waste storage and disposal is complex and fraught with controversy. As in the United States, nearly every nuclear waste disposal program around the world has fallen behind schedule due to scientific uncertainty and public opposition.

In 1987, the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Depository was designated as the site for the disposal of U.S. nuclear waste. But the plan was vigorously opposed by the citizens of Nevada, the State of Nevada, and other non-local groups. As a result, funding for the depository ended in 2011. This was not a technological failure, but a political one. Nuclear waste continues to be stored in spent fuel pools at reactor sites where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has determined that spent nuclear fuel can safely be stored for at least the next 100 years.

As of 2019, the status of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain remains uncertain. The site has been abandoned and nothing exists but a boarded up exploratory tunnel; there are no waste disposal tunnels, receiving and handling facilities, and the waste containers and transportation casks have yet to be developed. Moreover, there is no railroad to the site, and the cost to build a railroad through Nevada could exceed $3 billion. Today, the only thing that actually exists at Yucca Mountain is a single 5-mile exploratory tunnel. And there is also ongoing debate over whether the geologic features and proposed engineered barriers at Yucca Mountain will provide sufficient isolation for permanent disposal.

The Yucca Mountain repository would have a capacity of 77,000 tons. In 2003, 46,000 tons of high-level waste was stored around the country. Nuclear power facilities produce an additional 2,000 tons of waste a year. However, spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste would be shipped to Yucca Mountain on an unprecedented scale. According to a recent study completed by the National Academy of Sciences, just one year of waste shipments to Yucca Mountain would exceed all shipments made in the past 30 years. This raises a big question about the safety of transporting this material.

4. Cost of Nuclear v Solar:

If you consider only construction costs, solar is cheaper than nuclear. But nuclear plants operate at 90% capacity and solar plants only operate at most around 25%, so you would need to build four times the capacity of solar power to equal the power of nuclear.

Even with this adjustment, some calculations show that solar is still cheaper. It remains a subject of debate. But the cost of a solar plant does not take into consideration the cost of providing backup energy for solar which is legally mandated in most jurisdictions. The costs are both financial and environmental because this backup is provided by plants that run on fossil fuel. And it doesn’t count the considerable cost involved in building a vast global energy storage capacity that is currently not within the realm of our technology. The same argument applies to wind turbines, except that wind turbines are about twice as efficient as solar farms, so would need to build twice the capacity for them in order to match nuclear.

5. Lead Time to Build/Need for Federal Subsidy:

In 2013, after 30 years with no new construction of nuclear power plants, work began to expand the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant near Jenkinsville, S.C. Two new reactors were to be built at a cost of $9B. Unit 2 was to become operational in 2016 and unit 3 in 2019. By 2017 the operational dates had been pushed back to 2020, the project was only 40% complete, and cost overruns were expected to run the project cost up to $23 billion. The owners decided to abandon the project rather than saddle their customers with additional costs.

In 2013 work began to expand the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Georgia. Two new reactors were to be built at a cost of $14 billion. They were scheduled to become operational in 2016. By 2018 the operational dates had been pushed back to 2021 for unit 3 and 2022 for unit 4, and cost overruns were expected to run the project cost up to $28B. Despite talk of abandoning the project, work continues.

Here’s why these projects have been plagued with problems:

  • Since these are new designs with passive safety systems and a smaller footprint, they should be less expensive to build, but with new designs there is always a learning curve.
  • Since no nuclear plants have been built in the U.S. in 30 years, there is little experience. For the same reason, everything from manufacturing to supply chains to regulation is ad-hoc.
  • There is no existing manufacturing infrastructure and therefore no economies of scale, so the contractors must bear the high fixed costs of building the infrastructure.
  • Without trained personnel, quality control and construction problems increase.
  • On the regulatory side, the NRC and state authorities err on the side of caution which dramatically slows the building process.

The drawback with evaluating the success of these projects based solely on return on investment and cost to consumers is that it ignores the consequences of continuing to rely on fossil fuels. The cost of continuing to increase GHG emissions will ultimately be much higher than the cost of building these plants.

Moreover, one-third of the United States’ nuclear power fleet – 21 of 60 facilities – could be closed in the next decade before their operating licenses expire. These are mostly smaller, single reactor plants, but they provide more than one-fifth of the country’s 800 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity from nuclear power. If they are not replaced with new nuclear plants, they will be replaced with coal and natural gas plants which would generate an estimated 275 million tons of additional CO2 annually.

What we don’t seem to be factoring into our decisions about nuclear is the consequences of not replacing fossil fuels as quickly as possible. It should not just be a matter of letting the markets decide. Nuclear is not a substitute for renewables, but it is a clean source of energy that should be included in a portfolio of GHG emission abatement efforts.

The government must step in and pay for the cost overruns on these new plants as part of an aggressive R&D budget. Once the problems normally associated with cutting edge technology and the learning curve associated with its implementation are solved, the costs will be much lower and in the range that are economically competitive.

But the Federal Government is not doing enough. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a Federal program mandated by Congress to coordinate Federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment and their impacts on society. In 2016 (the latest I could find) it’s budget was $2.6 billion divided among 13 different agencies. By comparison, the 2018 R&D budget for the Department of Defense was $96 billion. We have the money to do this, but our priorities are terribly wrong. Another aircraft carrier or nuclear submarine is not going to be very helpful if we can’t feed ourselves.

6. Baseline Load:

To be efficient, the electric industry must match power supply with power demand. And it must provide electricity reliably. Most electricity is provided by large coal, gas, and nuclear power plants that run constantly at a maximum capacity that is designed to meet the grid’s usual demand (the baseline load). These plants are the most efficient at generating power, but it takes 8 to 10 hours for them to warm up and come on-line, and they can only operate at their peak power and cannot be adjusted to meet peak demands. In industry jargon, they are not “dispatchable” sources. To meet this demand, the industry has power plants that use gas turbines or diesel engines. They can come on-line in 10 or 15 minutes but are not very efficient.

Now consider renewable energy sources. Because their power supply is intermittent and does not match demand, we cannot count on them to supply either a base load or peak demand. This means that, until battery technology can be deployed on a global scale so that renewable energy can be stored for when it is needed, we will continue to need both large baseline power plants and peak supply power plants.

The largest battery backup plant in the world is the facility built by Tesla at the Hornsdale Power Reserve in Florida. It can store a maximum of 129 megawatt-hours of electricity – enough to supply 30,000 houses with electricity for 8 hours. This is tiny compared with the amount of renewable energy that will eventually have to be stored globally. And the plant cost $61 million, so large-scale deployment of the current technology is not feasible.

Raising the share of electricity produced by renewables above 40% creates at least two adverse effects:

  • First, because baseline power produced by large power plants cannot be reduced, more and more solar farms and wind turbines must be unplugged from the system during their most productive hours because more electricity is being produced than is needed. This adversely affects both traditional power suppliers and renewable suppliers.
  • Second, more back-up generating capacity is needed to fill in when wind and solar are not generating power. So there is a natural stopping point at which a marginal increment of wind or solar will become unprofitable. It has been estimated that solar and wind can only economically supply electricity to its maximum rated capacity. For wind power, this typically ranges between 20 and 40 percent, while for solar it runs between 10 and 25 percent. This means that the maximum percentage of electricity that can economically be generated by solar and wind is between 30 and 55 percent of demand.

7. Nuclear Fusion

Work continues on fusion powered plants. The advantages of fusion are high power density, low and manageable waste production, and no possibility of uncontrolled energy release. But fusion requires heating hydrogen to over 100,000,000o C at which temperature electrons are stripped from nuclei and the hydrogen becomes a plasma. This is no mean feat. And controlling the plasma is also very difficult. The behavior of plasma is chaotic. It is too hot to touch the walls of the tokamak (the containment vessel), and so it must be suspended in air by magnetic fields. Stellarators are devices that control the magnets that control the plasma by twisting its flow in specific ways. A recent new stellarator design using a fixed magnet offers a simpler approach than previous designs, and this may accelerate progress in controlling the plasma.

The largest fusion experiment in the world is ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) being built by an international consortium in Provence in the south of France at a cost of $2 billion. But despite its price tag, ITER is just a proof-of-concept plant and will not provide energy for public use. And it isn’t scheduled for full power operation until 2035. Optimistically, if we get some breaks and don’t run into any insurmountable obstacles, we could see the first fusion plant online between 2050 or 2060. In the meantime, we need non-polluting baseline power now, and only fission can provide that.

Nuclear is not the sole solution, but it could be the most important element of the EDF’S portfolio of Fourth Wave Environmental Innovation to bridge us to the day when we get all our power from fusion reactors.

8. Conclusion:

We must immediately begin replacing fossil fuels with clean energy at a scale that can provide both secure baseline power and reliable peak demand power. It makes sense that we choose the only source of clean energy that can do this – nuclear.

Previously published on Emagazine.com.

***

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Photo credit: istockphoto.com

 

Destination Moon: A 70th Anniversary Appreciation

Al Jackson is back this morning with an essay examining another old friend, the 1950 film Destination Moon. Talk about fond memories! I first encountered the movie at a birthday party for a bunch of unruly 4th graders, finding the birthday boy absorbed in watching the spaceship Luna enroute to the Moon in an upstairs room while the party went on below. I stayed right there until his mother came up to scold him and bring us both back down to eat cake, dying to know what happened. Since then I’ve enjoyed the film numerous times, especially appreciating the Woody Woodpecker teaching sequence and the ingenious solution to the crew’s problems getting everyone back home. A veteran of the Apollo days and a science fiction fan with encyclopedic knowledge of the field, Dr. Jackson gives us a look at how the film was made and illuminates Robert Heinlein’s connections to the project. Time to pull out my DVD for another look.

by Albert A Jackson

I was two weeks away from age 7 in October 1947 when Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 at Mach 1 over Rogers Dry Lake in California. That really seized my mind; I read what I could about rockets and jets. I built a StromBecker wooden model of the X-1. I finally got a spaceflight book in early 1951, when I was 10: Rockets, Jets, Guided Missiles and Space Ships, by Jack Coggins and Fletcher Pratt. Quite a treasure! I did not see a copy of Bonestell and Ley’s 1949 book Conquest of Space, which would have been a bit overwhelming when I was 10, until about 20 years later.

I remember seeing an article in LIFE magazine, (April 24th 1950), for a movie called Destination Moon [1]. Later there were ads for the film that really caught my eye. There was a movie about a rocket going to the Moon with people in spacesuits. There were even radio ads that I heard. Alas, I was 10 in the fall of 1950, and my family was 2 years away from taking me and brother and sister to downtown theaters. Destination Moon may have come to a neighborhood theater in the spring of 1951 but I did not see the film until the fall of that year at a kiddie matinee. The wait was worth it, for it was a moment of transport.

Origins

Destination Moon, or something like it, probably would have been made in the late 40s or early 50s; it pretty much owes its origin to Frau im Mond, the 1929 Fritz Lang film about a trip to the Moon. Willy Ley, who had worked as an uncredited technical adviser on that Fritz Lang film, came to know Lang well. (The technical adviser on Frau im Mond was Hermann Oberth, who Ley knew. Even though Oberth studied in Munich he was from a small town and hated Weimar Berlin. Ley had to shepherd him around and act as a liaison for Lang.) Lang moved to Los Angeles after the Nazis came to power. After the end of World War II, Robert Heinlein moved back to Los Angeles. During this time Willy Ley, who Heinlein knew, would come to LA to visit Lang.

With the end of World War II, Heinlein began to develop a close interest in rockets and atomic power. He made it a personal campaign at the end of 1945 and beginning of 1946 to get the Navy interested in rockets [2, 3]. The advent of the large rocket, the V2, was on Lang’s mind too; he talked to Ley about making another movie about a spaceship to the Moon. Ley put Lang in touch with Heinlein. Lang invited the Heinleins for dinner often in 1946 and 1947. During those years. Lang and Heinlein talked about a lot of things, Heinlein was reluctant to start writing young adult novels, but Lang convinced Heinlein it would be an excellent way to connect with an audience that had an appetite for space flight. So Heinlein wrote Rocket Ship Galileo, which turned out to be a commercial success. Finally, in March of 1948 [2, 3], Lang had Heinlein huddle with him over making a film. At first Heinlein suggested Rocket Ship Galileo, but he and Lang decided they needed a more adult narrative. During this time, Lang spent a lot of time trying to convince a studio to finance a film about a trip to the Moon. None would have it. Heinlein had earlier taken on a Hollywood agent, Lou Schor, because of the need to handle possible radio adaptations of his works. When Heinlein suggested that he and Lang use his Hollywood agent, Lang had a problem with this. This led, by mid-1948, to Heinlein and Lang parting ways, though they remained friends [2, 3].

Screenplay and George Pal

Heinlein now had a ‘Hollywood bug’, likely because he had just come out of a rough financial period. Lou Schor put him in touch with screen writer Alford (Rip) Van Ronkel [2, 3]. After a week of talking, Van Ronkel suggested Heinlein write a treatment of the story. Heinlein did this, and within a few weeks handed van Ronkel a 97 page story narrative called ‘Operation: Moon’ on July 21 1948 [3]. Heinlein may have had an extensive outline in hand from his work with Fritz Lang. Using his novel Rocket Ship Galileo, Heinlein took only the narrative about an atomic powered rocket, a trip to the Moon and a crew of four, now adults (the Nazis on the Moon in the novel were removed). Some of Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon” also diffused into the treatment. Within a few weeks, van Ronkel wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the film. Shortly thereafter, Schor arranged for Van Ronkel to be at a cocktail party where he introduced him to George Pal; there he told Pal about the screenplay. At this time Pal wanted to move from his animated “Puppetoons” into full-up film features. Also, Pal’s home studio had lost its financing. Pal was intrigued and had Heinlein and Van Ronkel come to his office for a pitch meeting [2, 3]. They struck a deal; Pal took the project to Paramount, but that studio said no [4].

Heinlein and his wife Virginia moved to Colorado Springs in the fall of 1948. Pal was striking out when it came to finding a studio when the former head of RKO, Peter Rathvon, formed his own production company, Eagle-Lion, and showed interest. He made a deal with Pal for two films, although he considered Destination Moon too speculative, so arranged things so that if it had losses, Pal would make a ‘Christmas Film’ called “The Great Rupert” to cover Destination Moon’s shortfall at the box office. It turned out the other way around! [2, 3]

It took until May of 1949 for Pal to swing this deal. In April 1949 Heinlein finally got paid for the screen story and the rights to Rocket Ship Galileo (even though very little of the novel was to be used). Heinlein also contracted to be the technical adviser (1) for the movie. He insisted that Chesley Bonestell be hired to work on the film [3]. Heinlein and Virginia moved, temporarily, back to LA. There, he worked with the production design crew and director Irving Pichel. He found Pichel to be bright, understanding and in agreement about the story. This was good because Rathvon convinced Pal to take on another screen writer, James O’Hanlon, who rewrote the script even to the point of making it a musical, or at least inserting a musical number! (2) Thankfully almost all of O’Hanlon’s revisions were torn up by Pichel. Shooting was delayed from summer of 1949 to November so that The Great Rupert could be completed, which Pichel also directed. Principal photography on Destination Moon began on the 14th of November, 1949, and ran until roughly the 16th of December.

Image: Robert Heinlein with director Irving Pichel

Heinlein and Bonestell worked out many designs for the film. The space ship, called Luna, was initially submitted by Bonestell, and was the Lunar ship (2) in Conquest of Space by Ley and Bonestell [6], except that Bonestell (maybe consulting with Heinlein) did away with the aft V2-like fins and modified the wings. (2) Art director Ernst Fegté changed the design, keeping the central ogive and moving the wings back, the wings and a strut became part of the ‘landing gear’.

Luna is a beautiful ship and is functional enough. Bonestell made a model of the landing site, the crater Harpalus, and then a 14 foot matte lunar surface painting for the set. Pal’s production crew spent 2 months building the on-set ‘surface’. Heinlein and Bonestell were appalled when they saw it! It looked like a dried lake bed, impossible on the Moon. Pal and cinematographer Lionel Lindon decided that on a relatively small set they needed to increase the depth of field , so the added ‘cracks’. Heinlein went along with this, but Bonestell was never happy with it. Luna’s cockpit had to be designed four times in a back and forth between Heinlein and Bonestell and production design. Amazingly the cockpit was a rotating set [10], quite a feat for 1949, on a budget, (roughly 18 years before Kubrick used one, in a spaceflight movie, Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Image: At left is the ship from Conquest of Space; at right is Bonestell’s design for Destination Moon.

The Movie

The movie starts in a block house with stock footage of a V2 launch. This is the only time we see a control room, one that looks pretty good, if simplified. Heinlein was in one when he went to a V2 launch at White Sands, New Mexico in 1946 [3]. There is a ‘motor’ failure, which is a bit kludgy since Dr. Charles Cargraves ‘engine’ is supposed to be a nuclear reactor. There is talk about sabotage but it’s all kind of vague. A technician, Joe Sweeney, is about to run outside but Cargraves (3) stops him.

General Thayer later visits Jim Barnes, owner of an aircraft company, and tells him he suspects the rocket was sabotaged. Thayer wants Barnes to help Cargraves. He also speculates that the next rocket Cargraves builds will have an improved engine powered by atomic energy and could travel to the Moon. Jim is skeptical, but Thayer convinces him that the combined resources of American industry could put a rocket on the Moon within a year.

We have now been introduced to the crew that goes to the Moon: John Archer as Jim Barnes, Warner Anderson as Dr. Charles Cargraves, Tom Powers as General Thayer and Dick Wesson as Joe Sweeney. Pal, as some references say, looked for a cast of actors who were unknown but is not clear why it was B-list wooden Indians (4)! It is not Z- level movie acting but certainly near low B level. Dick Wesson is the comic-relief, an old Hollywood cliché, and it seems Heinlein went along with this. Wesson’s character plays the part of an ‘everyman’ to whom some of the scientific facts can be explained.

At a formal gathering, Jim tries to interest a consortium of industrial leaders in the project, and he shows them a Woody Woodpecker cartoon that explains how space travel could become a scientific reality. Besides teaching some basic physics, the cartoon has mission detail never mentioned elsewhere in the film, namely that when Luna returns to Earth there is some areo-breaking and a landing by parachute [1], with fins down but no full retro rocket landing.

Image: Woody Woodpecker explains rocket flight, and recovery methods on Earth.

General Thayer tells the group it is vital to global security that America be the first country to reach the Moon, warning that a foreign power could use the Moon as a missile base and thus gain control of the earth. Shades of the cold war! The industrialists fall all over themselves to finance the project. No mention is made of just which foreign power he is talking about.

When Luna is finished, Cargraves receives word that the government has denied his request to test it at the construction site, citing concerns about radioactive fallout. (Actually as I will note later, and though Heinlein would not have known it, this would have been an extremely dangerous launch.) Growing public opposition to the project leads Jim to suspect they have been targeted by a subversive propaganda campaign, and he decides to launch the rocket without waiting for permission. The crew is Cargraves, Barnes, Thayer and replacement radio man Sweeney. There is a stressful launch. High-g tests were being done by the Aeronautical Systems Center in 1948. I don’t know if there were photographs of the effects — it was not hard to extrapolate that a 5 g launch would distort the face — but this was a bit overdone in the film, and I’m not sure why Heinlein decided on 5 gs. It is notable that there are no ground control scenes, though indirectly we see what looks like a control center. We see the initial liftoff but not even a portion of the ascent. That could have been due to budget constraints. Almost all the ascent is depicted inside the ‘cockpit’.

Image: Cockpit during ascent. Couches and control panels to the right in the rotating cockpit set.

Once they are in transit to the Moon, the men don magnetic boots, which allow them to walk around in the zero g environment. Zero g had been accounted for in Frau im Mond (though in that film it never appears on screen). Destination Moon seems to be the first ‘full up’ portrayal of freefall. Those magnetic boots were a bit clunky but served their purpose.

Image: Zero g in Destination Moon.

There is a failure of the radar antenna, forcing the crew to put on spacesuits and go outside the ship to repair it. The suits are derived from pressure suits Heinlein had seen at the labs at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where he worked in WWII. Science fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp, also there, had been involved with this. The suits have a remarkable resemblance to some from 1943 (2a). I also think this is a better airlock in a film about space flight because the one in Frau im Mond is kind of confusing. This airlock is nicely functional.

Cargraves, of all people, loses magnetic contact with the ship and goes adrift in space (it would have been hard to train for this zero-g extravehicular activity on the ground!). He has to be rescued. The outside point of view shots are very nicely done, with some good stop-motion work with miniatures, one of Pal’s specialties. Heinlein noted that the star background was the best they could do in 1949 [10], but it looks good enough.

The ship eventually approaches the Moon, and having to account for rough terrain, they do some translating (shades of Apollo 11!) before finally touching down, though they have used more propellant than expected. This sequence starts with a beautiful outside shot of Luna rotating to a tail-down attitude with the lunar surface below. Attitude control seems to be by ‘gyro’ alone, as it seems no one thought of attitude jets. An auto-pilot is mentioned several times and seems to be in command many times. I am pretty sure all these technicalities are due to Heinlein (2a).

Cargraves and Barnes emerge from the ship to climb down a long row of retractable ladder rungs; there is some good stop-motion work here. The duo claim the Moon in the name of the United States. “By the grace of God and in the name of the United States of America… I take possession of this planet on behalf of, and for the benefit of…all mankind.” The technicalities of just how one would enforce that claim are left hanging in the vacuum.

Image: On the Lunar surface with the ‘cracks’ Bonestell hated. The full sized bottom of Luna.

The crew members conduct scientific tests, with General Thayer discovering there may be deposits of uranium on the Moon. There is some 1/6th-g action in a traverse. I am not sure but this may have been the only low-g demonstration on the Moon in a movie until recent times. Some of this was done with suited midgets on wires using forced perspective on a small lunar landscape set.

Barnes communicates by radio with Dr. Hastings at ‘mission control’ back home (we never see ‘mission control’, or Hastings, the astrodynamics guy back on Earth). Hastings confirms that their difficulties during landing used up too much of their reaction mass. Not clear why it was Barnes talking with Hastings, since Cargraves would have had more technical knowledge.

The earlier extravehicular activity (EVA), during transit, was just a minor mishap; now have a real problem to solve. Hastings instructs them to lighten the ship, and the men strip off nearly 3,000 pounds by removing metal fixtures and discarding all non-essential equipment. When Hastings tells them they must eliminate another 110 pounds, Thayer, Cargraves and Branes each volunteer to stay behind. They are about to draw lots when Sweeney sneaks out of the ship. He urges the others to leave, but Jim devises a way for them to discard the radio and the last spacesuit, thus reaching their weight goal. The ship takes off successfully, and the four men joyfully begin their journey back to Earth. Those high-g couches must have smarted without their cushions! Unlike the Earth launch more of the ascent is shown, and it is not so ‘sparky’, with better exhaust effect. One supposes they got back without having to do an EVA! Earth recovery required only a very small reaction mass (5). (The shooting script, maybe added by O’Hanlon, had scenes of domestic life with Cargraves and his wife at home. These may have been shot and then cut for the final movie).

Image: Lunar descent and ascent in the film.

Luna and Technology

It is quite striking that the spaceship in Destination Moon is single stage to the Moon and back. Heinlein had used this in his ‘kind of Tom Swiftian’ novel Rocket Ship Galileo, and it was one of the few technologies he brought over to Destination Moon from that novel. If one listens carefully when General Thayer is talking to Barnes, he mentions two numbers: an exhaust velocity of 30,000 ft/sec and a thrust of 3,000,000 pounds [1]. Exhaust velocity of 30,000 ft. per second is 9144 meters per second. Heinlein would have known that to do a single stage to the Moon, the delta V budget is 15 to 16 km/sec. Playing with the rocket equation, if one picks a mass ratio of 5 and calculates the exhaust speed, one gets about 9000 m/sec. It also implies an Isp of about 1000. No ordinary chemical fuel has a specific impulse like that. A number of guys at Los Alamos had realized that Isp was attainable with atomic energy. The first mention of an atomic rocket motor, before 1945, may have been Stan Ulam. Many technical reports came in 1945-1948 [14, 15, 16, and 17].

Heinlein knew Robert Cornog, who was at Los Alamos and would have known the skinny on nuclear rocket propulsion. Cornog had probably seen reports by Theodore von Karman and Hsue-Shen Tsien (1945) [17]), as well as Robert Serber (1946) [14], and Cornog wrote a report of his own (1945) [15]. Shepherd and Cleaver were the first to describe nuclear rockets in the open literature in 1948 [16]. Heinlein knew Cornog well and helped him keep a clearance after the war. The same calculation by Willy Ley (early 1949 [6]) is, in a roundabout way, in Conquest of Space.

The reactor in Destination Moon is never described, but it is not the rather funky Thorium one in Rocket Ship Galileo. The word ‘reactor’ is never used; it is usually ‘pile’, and the reactor seems to be a solid core. The reaction mass in the Destination Moon propulsion system is water, which would be very easy and safe to handle. The problem is that one can’t get an Isp of 1000 using water with a solid core nuclear engine. One can — I doubt Heinlein knew this — do it with a liquid core nuclear reactor (5), attaining an Isp of 1000 seconds.

Piecing together clues from the dialog in the screenplay, Heinlein’s novelette and his article in Astounding [10], some people have figured out the size and mass of Luna (5). The ship is 150 ft tall, with a ‘wet’ mass of about 250 metric tons and a dry mass of about 50 metric tons. Luna is a very good extrapolation fix-up from Rocket Ship Galileo, and not a sort of ‘hobby’ ship as in the novel. It is more planned, and put together by a SpaceX-like company without government money.

One element in the film where the government was right — Heinlein would not have known this — is that a liquid core nuclear rocket (5) has a radioactive plume coming off the reactor system which would be a cloud of death. The system would have been extremely hazardous if used in the atmosphere. The order sent to the launch site, which Barnes ignores, was thus correct. Liquid core atomic rocket engines were not proposed until 1953.

Guidance, navigation and control goes under the heading ‘automatic pilot’ in the movie, since we don’t really know, as far as I can tell, what date the flight is made (it looks like 1950). Heinlein makes the extrapolation that the electronics for doing this exists in the story. Note that Werner von Braun worked up The Mars Project in 1948 with the same kind of vacuum tube GNC systems, with no details given.

There is the use of ‘gyro’ attitude control, common to other writers about space flight at the time. Reaction jet attitude control was known in the engineering community but didn’t seem to get into science fiction. Gyro control was a favorite of von Braun also.

When it came to spacesuits (2a), Heinlein had experience with the issue during WWII at the Aeronautical Materials Lab at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where he was a supervisor. L Sprague de Camp was recruited by Heinlein and was studying high altitude pressure suits. The spacesuits in Destination Moon were based on these [24]. I can only recall one movie before Destination Moon, Frau im Mond, that had spacesuits, and they were not really needed there.

Image: Pressure suits in the film on the left; on the right, a design being tested in Philadelphia in 1945.

Summary

Destination Moon is the product mainly of Robert Heinlein (6), facilitated by producer George Pal and film director Irving Pichel. Heinlein, when talking about a possible film with Friz Lang, started a reformulation of Rocket Ship Galileo into a more mature narrative. The Nazis (6) are jettisoned, and his ‘treatment’ seems reflected in the novelette he wrote of the same name [13]. After things did not work out with Lang, he wrote a treatment of his conversations with Lang and incorporated some of ‘The Man who Sold the Moon” within it. The ‘screenplay’ is online. It is all dialog, with no scene headings, action or transitions, which is odd, but probably this is just one of several script forms for the movie.

It is not clear what Pal wanted in the screenplay, but he was committed to a sort of docudrama. That’s what made the film an almost Popular Mechanics movie, so to speak. Pichel seemed to go out of his way to give Pal what he wanted. There was outside interference — the owner and CEO at Eagle-Lion, Peter Rathvon, imposed screenwriter James O’Hanlon, who inserted goofy stuff like musical numbers! (7). Pichel threw away all of O’Hanlon’s ‘script-doctoring’; there seems no record of what Pal thought of this, but he sure did not discipline Pichel. (Nor do we know what Rathvon thought of the final film which he was so nervous about).

Heinlein and Ginny returned to LA for film production in June of 1949 and remained until February of 1950. It is not clear if Heinlein advised on any of the post-production work, which was not completed until April 1, 1950. The finished film, if one could see a pristine version, looks great in Technicolor. The budget of almost $600,000 was not generous but sufficient, with hard work, to produce good special effects and production design. Heinlein was paid for the option of Rocket Ship Galileo and paid a portion for the screenplay; also, he was hired as technical consultant. I could not find what he got paid but it was enough for him and Ginny to get a start on a house in Colorado Springs [3].

Heinlein and Ginny returned to Colorado Springs in February, 1950. Patterson states the advertising and promotion of the film had a budget of $1.2 million, which is twice as much as production cost [3]. (I also found a promotion budget of $500,000 for the film [19].) Heinlein did publicity work in LA before he left, even a TV interview show with Pal and Bonestell [20]. Magazine and radio ads were everywhere and created a buzz for the movie [2, 3].

The film premiered in New York on June 27th, 1950. It seems that John W. Campbell was there, but it is not clear if Willy Ley or any of the New York Futurians attended. Bosley Crowther’s review in the New York Times was favorable, finding the film a visual treat; he was not much taken with the narrative drama. Other film reviews of the time were favorable, seemingly because of its novelty. Destination Moon made $5 million on its first run, which is almost a 3-multiplier (or a 5-multiplier if the advertising budget was 500,000), very good by modern standards.

Alas, much of profit was eaten up by coverage of the losses from The Great Rupert. The film would have made more but Eagle-Lion ran into distribution problems due to distribution control by the major studios [19]. Eagle-Lion entered into litigation for several years. Neither Peter Rathvon nor James O’Hanlon’s reaction to the film seems to be on record anywhere. Patterson’s biography does not make clear when Heinlein saw the film. He had to wait two years to get royalties for the first run, a little over $4000, and four more years before he got a small final payment [3].

Destination Moon is a bit of a quirk in film history. The public interest in science and technology was impacted by World War II, the atomic bomb, ballistic missiles, supersonic flight, radar, and the Cold War. Hollywood in 1948 was still in a mode that considered spaceflight crazy Buck Roger’s stuff. It took an independent studio and maverick producer and a science fiction grand master to get the film made.

In a way, Destination Moon was a sort of culmination of John W Campbell’s ambition to move away from pulp SF to something more sophisticated. The film is about as far away from Brass Bras and Bug Eyed Monsters as one can get. Destination Moon’s success did not usher in a great era of space flight movies. Its competitor in 1950, Rocket Ship X-M, was actually a more interesting story although with silly engineering physics and a pulp-fiction Mars story. Pal followed with a film based on the second rate SF novel When Worlds Collide, and we got the totally goofy, pulpish Flight to Mars in 1951.

There were some weak efforts after 1951. Heinlein had a possible TV series called The World Beyond, but the pilot was released as a poorly financed movie called Project Moon Base. Pal’s 1955 Conquest of Space was the last serious space flight movie of the 1950’s. Alas, even though technically pretty good, James O’Hanlon seemed to get his revenge with a sappy story for the film. Then followed a torrent of schlock SF, awful films most of which were not even up to bad pulp standards! (8)

Destination Moon is a unique film. It took 18 years before there was a film with the same factual rigor, and probably more — that was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Destination Moon was influential; I know it impacted my life. When I was 11, I had no idea who Robert Heinlein (9) was. A year later I was reading his young adult novels. Almost simultaneously, in 1952, the Colliers series on spaceflight came out, then the Disney TV series. I could not imagine, at the time, that I was headed toward participating in Apollo and the first lunar landing. Looking back I am still a bit amazed.

Notes

1. At one point Heinlein suggested a backup technical adviser, Jack Parsons. That was odd; Parsons only real knowledge was rocket propellants. At that time, there were three guys from CalTech who Parsons knew and they were young and significant experts in spaceflight: Frank Malina, Martin Summerfeld and Hsue-Shen Tsien. Apparently Heinlein met Tsien but not Malina or Sommerfeld. They were all in LA at the time. Malina was an SF fan and expert in the new field of spaceflight, but apparently Heinlein never met him.

Chesley Bonestell did some technical advising on the film.

It is not clear if Pal agreed with Rathvon’s interference. Pal had wanted a documentary-style film and he had it in hand. Adding O’Hanlon meant some money when to him.

Heinlein wrote Willy Ley asking technical questions. Ley was not happy about this. He wrote back an angry letter asking to be paid for consulting. At the time Ley was strapped for money; I also wonder if he was a bit upset that he had been a facilitator of the whole course of events, since Conquest of Space seemed to be an input to the movie too. Heinlein tried to smooth things over but Ley remained unhappy [5]. In the 1954 edition of Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel, Ley has a footnote about Destination Moon, saying he liked the film and praising its technical information [7].

Heinlein also consulted astrophysicist Fred Zwicky at CalTech and Robert S Richardson, an astronomer at Palomar Observatory and an SF author. Richardson did some detailed astrodynamics for Heinlein for Destination Moon.

2. Luna shows up in at least one or two more films, but Bonestell’s modified Conquest of Space ship is copied an uncountable number of times in movies [8, 9]. It shows up next in the 1951 Flight to Mars, and in modified versions on Tom Corbett Space Cadet and other TV shows.

2a. The spacesuits were suggested by Heinlein [3]. Like Luna, they were copied in other movies and TV shows many times. Color coding on uniforms and other similar clothes was not new, but the film used it to good advantage and it enhanced the Technicolor. It’s interesting that years later Kubrick used the same suit colors in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the commander in red and the 2nd in command in yellow, with blue suits for the other crew and green for the suit in the emergency entrance [8].

Werner von Braun had, in 1948, vacuum tube guidance, navigation and control technology in the mission design for his Mars Project.

3. Cargraves is the only character carried over from Rocket Ship Galileo. The name seems to be a play on the name of Sir William Congreve, a 19th century military solid rocket pioneer.

4. Pal was looking to keep the budget down. It is not clear why he picked these actors or if Pichel could have gotten better performances. Pichel as veteran actor could have doubled as a character himself. Across town, Lippert Pictures made a film to piggyback on Destination Moon’s publicity campaign, Rocket Ship X-M, (where M is Moon). The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo is full of scientific howlers but the story is not as awful as the 1953 Cat Women of the Moon (or other Z movies of the 50s). On a budget of $94,000, Lippert hired good actors like John Emery and Noah Beery, Jr., as well as Lloyd Bridges and Hugh O’Brian. These guys sure would have been an improvement in Destination Moon even with the same dialog.

Heinlein found out about Rocket Ship X-M through a letter from L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard claimed to be working on that film, though as far as can be determined, he had nothing to do with it [2,3]. How Pal’s film became known to Lippert is not known, although Heinlein had informed Forest J Ackerman about Destination Moon’s greenlighting in May of 1949. Destination Moon seems to have become known to fans in the LA area in early 1949. It is odd that Lippert even put up $94,000 when all the majors were nervous about a movie Moon-trip story.

5. Winchell Chung at the web site Atomic Rockets has the best summary, with some massaged numbers to make the dynamics of Luna work better. I think he is the first to notice that using water as the reaction mass requires a liquid core nuclear reactor [18].

6. Heinlein in his prose was an accomplished storyteller and good at writing dialog. The novelette Destination Moon has better dialog, though not polished. The basic story feels guided by Heinlein’s hand but in a very strict narrative. He wanted a no-nonsense story line and that is what results.

In the novelette Destination Moon, ‘domes’ are found, supposedly Russian. I doubt this was in any version of the screenplay. Nazis on the Moon became a pop-idea that would not die. This is what the film Iron Sky (2012) was about.

7. Pal must have had a weak spot for this; in the 1955 film Conquest of Space, O’Hanlon inserted a televised musical number by Rosemary Clooney to the space station.

8. Ley finally got some money from Pal by selling him the rights to Conquest of Space, which had no film story in it [4]. Conquest of Space seems to have had no technical adviser, although director Byron Haskin is quoted as saying he talked to Werner von Braun a lot [21]. However, there is a picture of Pal, Bonestell, Ley and director Haskins around a large table with Ley expounding on technical issues.

The movie Conquest of Space, aside from the narrative, is an odd mix of von Braun, Ley and Bonestell’s popularization of space flight by way of the Collier’s series, von Braun’s The Mars Project and the book The Exploration of Mars. An April 1954 issue of Collier’s (the last issue of the spaceflight series) had a full realization of the 1948 von Braun Mars Project. Ley and Bonestell were pressuring von Braun to make a book of this. However, von Braun wanted to redesign the expedition, taking the Mars fleet down from 10 ships to 2. The movie Conquest of Space took it down to 1. Most of the rest of the design was from the Collier’s series: The space station, the spacesuits, the orbital ferries and the Mars ship. Somehow some retrorockets got added to the Mars ship; I doubt that was von Braun’s design.
I could not find a single reference that related what Wernher von Braun thought of Destination Moon.

Except for Destination Moon and Conquest of Space, I don’t think a single spaceflight movie in the 1950s had a technical adviser.

9. Reading several essays about Destination Moon it is strange how Heinlein’s involvement is either not mentioned or touched upon only briefly. The Moon flight film would have never been made if it had not been for Ley’s introduction to Lang, after Heinlein broke with Lang, and if Heinlein had not persisted with the story and screenplay in 1948.

10. Arthur C. Clarke had mentioned atomic propulsion in 1945 [22] and had written a novel, Prelude to Space in 1947 [23], which used a nuclear powered two stage vehicle.

References

1. Destination Moon, screen play by Rip Van Ronkel, Robert Heinlein and James O’Hanlon, from a novel by Mr. Heinlein; directed by Irving Pichel; produced by George Pal and released by Eagle-Lion. (Premiere: June 29 1950).

2. Patterson, William H., Jr. 2010. Robert A. Heinlein in Dialogue With His Century: 1907–1948 Learning Curve. An Authorized Biography, Volume I.

3. Patterson, William H., Jr. 2014. Robert A. Heinlein in Dialogue With His Century: 1948–1988 The Man Who Learned Better. An Authorized Biography, Volume II.

4. Gail Morgan Hickman, The Films of George Pal, A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1977.

5. Jared S. Buss, Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age. University Press of Florida, 2017.

6. Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell, The Conquest of Space. New York: Viking, 1949.

7. Willy Ley, Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel, Viking Press, 1954.

8. Jack Hagerty and Jon C. Rogers, Spaceship Handbook, ARA Press, October 1, 2001.

9. Ron Miller, The Dream Machines, Krieger Pub Co, July 1, 1993.

10. Robert Heinlein, Shooting Destination Moon, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1950.

11. Robert A. Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo, Scribner’s, May 1, 1947.

12. Alford Van Ronkel, Screenplay for Destination Moon,
https://www.scripts.com/script/destination_Moon_6783

13. Robert A. Heinlein, “Destination Moon,” Short Stores Magazine, September 1950.

14. Robert Serber, “The Use of Atomic Power for Rockets,” Project Rand, RAD-2, July 5 1946.

15. R. Cornog, “Rocket Computations,” NEPA-508, August 3, 1946.

16. L. R. Shepherd and A.V. Cleaver; “The Atomic Rocket 1 and 2,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, volume 7, no. 5 and 6, 1948.

17. H. S. Tsien; “Rockets and Other Thermal Jets Using Nuclear Energy,” Chapter 11 of The Science and Engineering of Nuclear Power, volume II, edited by Clark Goodman, Addison Wesley Press, Cambridge, MA., 1949.

18. Winchell Chung, Luna from Destination Moon, http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/

19. Bradley Schauer, “The Greatest Exploitation Special Ever: Destination Moon and Postwar Independent Distribution,” Film History An International Journal 27(1):1-28, 2014.

20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOZyoJKltKI

21. Thomas Kent Miller, Mars in the Movies: A History, McFarland, 2016.

22. Arthur C. Clarke, “Extraterrestrial Relays,” Wireless World October, 1945.

23. Arthur C. Clarke, Prelude to Space, World Editions, 1951.

24. Dennis Jenkins, ‘Dressing for altitude: U.S. aviation pressure suits – Wiley Post to space shuttle,” NASA SP; 2011-595, 2012.

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Thorium 232 primer

2019 video gives a good primer .

“THORIUM 232 – From History to Reactor

This is a visual summary of all the information about thorium.
Thorium is a weak radioactive element with atomic number 90 and a half-life of 14.05 billion years. About the age of the universe. Although it is one of the rarest metals on earth, its availability is much higher and stable than that of Uranium. 99.98% of this element is encountered as thorium 232 while uranium is mostly found in as Uranium 238 which is a poor contributor for the production of energy.

Uranium reserves are estimated to be about 5.5 million tones but only 0.72% of that is U235 necessary for the reaction. In comparison, thorium reserves are estimated to be 6.3 million tones with a 99.98% usability.