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The Almighty Buck Power

Transatomic Power Receives Seed Funding From Founders Fund Science 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-up dept.
pmaccabe writes "The company aiming to make a Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor(WAMSR) is now getting $2 million from the venture capital firm Founders Fund. From the article: "The Founders Fund is the firm behind some of the more successful Internet startups out there including Facebook, Yammer and Spotify, but also some science-focused companies such as Climate Corporation, Space-X and satellite startup Planet Labs. The fund, which was created by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and his partners, promotes this manifesto: 'we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.'”
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Transatomic Power Receives Seed Funding From Founders Fund Science

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @11:25PM (#47619811)

    The thing is, the realities of Chernobyl and Fukushima are the realities of ancient, outdated equipment, bad design and unsound engineering. Oh, and human stupidity in playing with dangerous things.

    The fact is, we can build reactors that don't blow up NOW.

    Fukushima's failure had less to do with any outdated technology than the "human stupidity" in placing backup generators in the basement rather than atop a hill, and underestimating the severity of potential tsunami. If your generators fail, and you have a prolonged containment loss, no variant of a light water reactor design (the only kind with any sort of significant track record) can save you from a meltdown.

    As for the molten salt design, the primary coolant itself is highly radioactive and, being a circulating coolant, is not as well contained as the fuel rods are in a light water reactor. Thus, you have a small radioactive disaster every time you have a leaky pipe. Did I mention that those pipes are a lot harder to make leak-proof than in light water reactors because the molten salt goes up to something like 700 deg C, as opposed to 100-200 deg C for pressurized water or steam? I am very skeptical.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @11:28PM (#47619833)

    > All because stupid people are scared and conditioned to outbreed smart people.

    No, people like you are the problem. Dismissing people with concerns as "stupid" and touting the idiocracy meme as a way to marginalize them is the very same thing that causes them to distrust people like you in the first place.

    40 years ago there were people just like you saying how perfectly safe nuclear power is. It is entirely reasonable for normal people to believe in the principle of "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." Self-righteous technocratic arrogance is a pretty strong predictor for failure. If you want to undo the damage done by your idealogical fore-bearers then the last thing you should be doing is calling people stupid because, in the entire history of mankind, that has never even once been a successful argument.

  • Re:Net waste gain (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Thursday August 07, 2014 @01:31AM (#47620313) Homepage Journal

    If this is like other designs I've read, it would use that radioactive waste to generate power, the the waste from that would be at BACKGROUND radiation levels in 200-500 years.
    Yes, coming out it's 'more redioactive' but it's less material, and radioactive for a much, MUCH shorter period.
    at 200-500 years would could keep it buried on site.

  • by Chas (5144) on Thursday August 07, 2014 @01:37AM (#47620341) Homepage Journal

    No. Fukushima was a study in human stupidity.
    Real engineers had warned them the sea walls weren't high enough.
    They ignored it.
    TEPCO has had a history of stupid decisions like this, and it pretty much ALWAYS comes back to bite them in the ass, Godzilla-style.

    As for the molten salt design.

    Uhm. You know the molten salt design is essentially a double-hulled containment vessel that's not running under pressure.
    In the event of a loss of power to the cooling device (a fan/blower keeping a plug of salt cold and solid, it drains the fuel out of the reactor vessel, in a gravity-fed situation, and into a dump tank, away from the catalyst.

    This immediately kills the reaction.

    And, if the line to the dump tank is somehow compromised, the fuel merely spills into the outer hull of the reactor vessel.

    Also, steel melts around 1300C. If you put in plumbing of sufficiently large gauge, in a dump tank reactor flush, the fuel is already cooling off as it hits the pipe, and doesn't spend long enough in there to heat the plumbing to sufficiently dangerous levels.

    So. Exactly how do we have a "radioactive disaster"?

    You have two scenarios. Both of which wind up requiring you to pump the fuel back into the reactor vessel after re-plugging it. The messier of the two options requires some cleanup of a reactor vessel interior which was never open to the outside world anyhow.

    http://daryanenergyblog.files.... [wordpress.com]

  • by Chas (5144) on Thursday August 07, 2014 @02:06AM (#47620449) Homepage Journal

    Actually the Fukushima reactor DID survive the earthquake. Mainly because it wasn't under the epicenter.
    Had it been sitting on the epicenter there's pretty much NOTHING that could have saved it.
    It was nearly 110 miles from the epicenter.

    What Fukushima did NOT survive was the TSUNAMI. And, had the sea wall been built as their engineers had suggested, it's entirely possible that the facility COULD have shut down gracefully. But the sea wall had been built shorter, despite evidence from the engineers that it should be built higher. Therefore the tsunami topped the wall and flooded the generators. A day later the battery backups ran out and...POOF.

  • by Tailhook (98486) on Thursday August 07, 2014 @03:45AM (#47620757)

    daffy country-on-a-ship plans

    Or China.

    Greenies don't actually trump everything, everywhere.

    WAMSR is a paper reactor. It has all the problems of any molten salt reactor, plus a few new ones thrown in for good measure.

    It requires fuel channels made of unobtainium. We can't actually make unobtainium so we use Hastealloy instead which cracks at some rate faster than anticipated plant life, as found in ORNL's MSRE. Neutron flux embitterment is also an issue for fuel channels and the long term effect of this is not perfectly understood. WAMSR actually runs at slightly higher temperatures than MSRE which will not improve the cracking problems due to even greater temperature gradients. Transatomic speculates about using certain exotic ceramics to solve this, and that could pan out; materials science does actually solve problems from time to time, but this one hasn't been solved yet.

    The reactor produces relatively large quantities of tritium (~12y half life) requiring active separation and storage of the gas. It's effectively impossible to capture all the tritium (hydrogen is slippery stuff), however enough could be retained to bring it in line with conventional reactors, they claim. This assumes the capture system works, is maintained and doesn't leak. Good luck with that. Amusingly the Transatomic Power Technical White Paper [transatomicpower.com] claims the addition of Lithium-7 can reduce tritium generation, and you can read about it in section 2.6.4, which doesn't actually exist ...... hopefully the ~$2 million funding injection will get that written. Tritium is among the larger spikes being driven through the heart of Entergy's Vermont Yankee right now, in case one wonders how much this might matter.

    As with all MSR designs, fuel must be reprocessed on-site concurrent with reactor operation. This is always offered as a nonproliferation benefit of MSRs. Unfortunately handling molten reactor fuel is a difficult mechanical and chemical process that has never actually been fully modeled in an experimental reactor and would probably be a source of the usual drama inherent in chemical processing operations; leaks, fires and whatnot. Personally I believe this to be the biggest risk involved with MSR reactors; any failure mode that leads to uncontained fuel will produce a lethal radiation flux, fires lofting clouds of radionucleotides and other fun stuff. Bear in mind that every single plant and its resident Homer Simpsons will have to operate their own reprocessing facility for the entire life of the plant; it's not a question of if a mistake will happen, but rather; how heinous are the consequences when it happens. Liquids tend to get away [nytimes.com] from people.

    Finally, WAMSR uses zirconium hydride as the primary neutron moderator, which is pretty novel and a source of some unknowns. The zirconium hydride exists as rods inside the reactor core which also contains the molten fuel and the primary loop coolant water. If, for whatever reason, the zirconium hydride came into contact with the super-heated water in (the inevitable) presence of oxygen, huge quantities of explosive molecular hydrogen would be produced. This is what blew up the reactor buildings of Fukushima no. 1 and 3. The moderator, fuel and coolant are all in close proximity inside the reactor core, flowing through what appear to be relatively fine tubes. Again, due to the chronic shortage of uncrackable unobtainium, we make vessels and tubing such as these out of various steel alloys which frequently crack and corrode and leak.

    So, WAMSR is not without its problems.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday August 07, 2014 @08:12AM (#47621611)

    So. Exactly how do we have a "radioactive disaster"?

    From the problems you don't predict. From unexpected design flaws. From the black swan events. We have little operational experience with reactors of the sort you describe so there undoubtedly are problems we haven't come across yet. There could be problems with containment materials like embrittlement or corrosion. The design may have flaws we aren't aware of yet. Overlooked/neglected maintenance. Parts of the reactor not being built properly. Improper management of the core mixture. Externalities like natural disasters or wars. Management may take shortcuts in pursuit of economic gain. Etc. There are plenty of failure modes out there and not all of them can be addressed with an improved design.

    All the advantages you describe sound great on paper but there are lots of designs that are great on paper but not so great in the real world. Until we've actually tried (and we should) its a little premature to declare that it is perfectly safe.

  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Thursday August 07, 2014 @08:44AM (#47621737) Homepage

    > Greenies don't actually trump everything, everywhere.

    Or anything, ever. It was native rights that killed the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, for instance, not the legions of greenies.

    The nuclear industry loves to point fingers at practically everyone as the cause of their problems, and the softer the target the better. So they point at the eco hippies and chant "its their fault". When that doesn't work, they point at the regulators, then the local governments, the local residents and finally the bankers. That last one is called biting the hand that feeds you.

    But the root cause of the problem is and always has been the soaring CAPEX. In spite of herculean efforts, $/W continues to go up, up and away.

    http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/SynapsePaper.2008-07.0.Nuclear-Plant-Construction-Costs.A0022.pdf

    And if you care to turn to page 5, you'll find that the reason for this has little to do with nuclear anything, and that the cost drivers are out of the industry's control. Copper prices aren't going down if we do or do not build a reactor somewhere. On page 6 we learn that most of the suppliers have left the field, and if a new reactor was to be built in the US, it would rely almost entirely on foreign companies.

    It's dead. That noise you hear is the dead cat bounce.

One man's constant is another man's variable. -- A.J. Perlis

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