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Muons and ADNA proposing using accelerator-driven subcritical reactor for heat for production of synthetic fuels and chemicals

28 December 2012

Gemstar
Functional elements of the GEM*STAR reactor. Source: Muons, Inc. Click to enlarge.

Muons, Inc., a private-sector high-energy accelerator physics firm, and ADNA (Accelerator-Driven Neutron Applications) Corp., are proposing using spent nuclear fuel (SNF), natural uranium, or excess weapons-grade plutonium (W-Pu) in a proposed GEM*STAR accelerator-driven subcritical reactor (ADSR) to provide the process heat and steam for the Fischer-Tropsch production of synthetic diesel from natural gas and other carbonaceous feedstocks (e.g., biomass or coal).

An initial proposed plant using GEM*STAR’s with the Fischer-Tropsch process would produce 70 million gallons of diesel fuel per year at an estimated cost of production of less than $2.00 per gallon, according to the company, while also dealing with the issue of waste nuclear materials.

Current nuclear power relies on fission—a reaction when the nucleus of an atom, having captured a neutron, splits into two or more nuclei, and in so doing, releases a significant amount of energy as well as more neutrons. These neutrons then go on to split more nuclei and a chain reaction takes place. The only materials in significant quantity capable of a sustained nuclear reaction are U235 and Pu239, which has been created in U235-based reactors. A critical mass of either of these isotopes will create enough neutrons to sustain a chain reaction. However, other materials including nuclear waste from conventional reactors, or natural uranium can be used to produce energy if additional neutrons can be added.

The two known methods to add neutrons use 1) fast breeders reactors or 2) particle accelerators similar to those developed for basic physics research. While the development of fast breeder reactors has been on hold in the USA because of nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, particle accelerator technology has reached the point where spallation neutrons can be produced in sufficient quantity for practical ADSR uses.

—Bowman and Johnson (2011)

Sub-critical reactors run by design with fewer neutrons than required to sustain the chain reaction; the external source (the accelerator) supplies the extra neutrons required to maintain the reaction, and thus enable the use of other nuclear materials such as SNF and W-Pu. In theory, the reactor is inherently safe; when then external neutron source is turned off, the reaction inside the reactor stops.

The external neutrons are provided by the interaction of accelerated charged particles with matter. The most widely proposed systems use high energy protons; the nuclear reaction of high energy protons with nuclei is called the spallation process. The accelerator, says Roger Barlow, one of the pioneers of work on ADSRs and president of ADNA, requires about 5-10% of the power generated by the reactor to run.

Challenges with ADSRs include accelerator performance; spallation target performance; and the subcritical reactor itself. Design decisions for ADSRs include:

  • The type of neutron spectrum: fast or thermal.

  • The type of fuel: solid (metallic, oxides, nitrides, carbides, etc.) or liquid (fluorides, chlorides).

  • The type of spallation target: lead, lead– bismuth, tungsten, molten salt, etc.

  • The nature of the cooling agent: gas, molten metal, molten salt.

  • The accelerator system: cyclotrons or LINACs.

Adna
Conceptual design of a GEM*STAR reactor in underground placement. The vertical dimension is about 30 ft. The gray box is the graphite reflector for the core. Horizontal beams from two accelerators are shown at the top being bent by magnets about 45° into the core where both strike a target shown schematically in the center of the core. The tank below shows an accumulation of salt that overflowed into it from the free salt surface. Space is provided around the outside of the reactor for convective flow of air down to the bottom and then up by the core for passive removal of decay heat if required. Source: ADNA. Click to enlarge.

The GEM*STAR (Green Energy Multiplier*Subcritical Technology for Alternative Reactors) being developed by ADNA Corp. and Muons, is a molten-salt based ADSR that uses a linear accelerator to produce spallation neutrons.

Molten salt fuel can include natural uranium, depleted uranium, natural thorium, excess W-Pu, and SNF from conventional Light Water Reactors. The Molten Salt Fuel technology was successfully demonstrated at the ORNL Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) conducted from 1965 to 1969.

A molten-salt fuel mixture is held in a graphite-reflector, Hastelloy-N container which also contains the heat exchanger (non-radioactive) liquid salt. Beams of energetic protons hit targets to cause spallation neutrons to enter the fuel mixture. Volatile radioactive by-products are constantly purged by a flow of helium gas.

The helium purging greatly reduces the possibility of accidental releases of radioactivity—a well-known problem of technologies that employ fuel rods that must contain years of built-up radioactive volatile elements.

ADSR using molten-salt fuel has impressive advantages: 1) ability to burn any number of materials including conventional reactor waste, excess plutonium from weapons, and very abundant thorium; 2) exceptional safety advantages including subcriticality to eliminate Chernobyl disasters, 3) no build-up of volatile radioactive elements to eliminate 3-Mile Island problems; 4) no storage of solid nuclear waste that can catch fire.

—Bowman and Johnson (2011)

In a recent talk at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dr. Rolland P. Johnson of Muons, suggested that the molten salt fuel and the relaxed availability requirements of process heat applications—such as the production of synthetic fuel—imply that the required accelerator technology is available now.

Gemstar2
Conceptual F-T production using process heat from GEM*STAR and coal as a feedstock, from a 2010 ADNA presentation. Click to enlarge.

One 10 MW proton accelerator feeding four GEM*STAR units could burn and destroy the 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium slated to be destroyed by the US-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) to provide the US DOD with green diesel fuel to satisfy most of its needs for the next 30 years, Johnson suggested.

The current cost estimates for the first pilot GEM*STAR power project is $25 million in design costs and $500 million in construction costs ($200M for the accelerator, $150M for the Reactor and $150M for the Fischer Tropsch diesel producing plant). To burn 34 Tons of W-Pu in 30 years for the National Nuclear Security Administration would require the 10 MW proton accelerator ($600M) and four GEM*STAR units ($300M/each).

Recently, a Chinese roadmap for long-term development of accelerator-driven subcritical (ADS) technology was proposed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a start-up budget of $260 million has been approved for ADS test setup construction. The Chinese ADS program was started in the first half of 2011.

Resources

December 28, 2012 in Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Coal-to-Liquids (CTL), Fuels, Gas-to-Liquids (GTL), Nuclear | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)

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This appears to be a fission-based solution to nuclear waste. Few people recognize that all the long lived highly radiaocative waste is but 1/2 of 1 prcent of the radiaoctive waste; and is made up of transuranic elements principally Americium and Pu 240.

"Burning" this 1/2 of one percent of the waste results in no long lived highly radiaoctive waste. The ultimate green result. The French already process about half of the these transuranics in their own fission Light Water reactors by fashioning special reprocessed fuel rods,and then burning them up.

This process is called "Actinide Burning". But the French process does not produce enough energetic nuetrons to "crack" and consume all the transuranic waste. About half, or 1/4 of one percent, is immune to the French "Actinide Burning" process.

Theroretically this GEM-STAR process could crack and burn the rest of the radiocative high level waste. Instead of worrying how to store radiaoctive waste for thousands of years, the residual waste would decay in a couple hundred years to th level of raw uranium ore, along with all the 99 and 1/2 percent of the other radioactive waste. We have plenty of experience with storing such a volueme of materials. Look at Fort Knox as an example.

This solves the radioactive waste problem forever.

I myself prefer to use a Fusion based reactor to generate the high energy nuetrons needed. The radioactive waste would be simply placed in the sheilding and transuted as the fusion reactor operated. The radiaoctive waste would have no part of the operation of the Fusion reactor.

The combined functions would make some of the first Fusion reactors more cost efficient, producing two sources of revenue, both electricity and waste processing. To completely process all the world's stockpile of high level radioactive waste, only one or a few Fusion reactors would be needed for the task. So they could be exclusively operated by the government, perhaps by TVA, ensuring the inaccessable access to the high level waste waste by terrorists. Only mild reprocessing to separate the transuranics would be needed, an additional safety feature.

The solution to the highlevel radiaoctive waste problem is much more thorough and complete than any other. It also facilitates the world's coversion to a low radiaoctive, virtual inexhaustible, and abundant energy future. It is the genuine solar enrgy solution, bringing to Earth the power of the Sun.

'I myself prefer to use a Fusion based reactor to generate the high energy nuetrons needed.'

?? You prefer a technology which we are nowhere near to being able to build to those which we are pretty well able to do shortly?
That makes no sense to me.

There are a dozen ways of solving the non-existent 'waste' 'problem' for nuclear, so that we can get on building sensible energy solutions instead of throwing money at intermittent wind and solar in regions which are too far north.

The purpose of the D persona (and others) is to troll energy forums and divert attention from anything which would actually threaten the position of fossil fuels in the near term.  Trying to convince the public that new "totally safe" nuclear needs to wait for fusion as a neutron source is part of his charter.  There are two psyops angles to this:

  1. The public is implicitly told that current Gen III+ technology is still "too dangerous", generates "too much waste", etc.
  2. The public is told that we should wait until new technology is available, in 3+ decades.
This is exactly what a disingenuous oil/coal promotor would do.

Excuse me, disingenuous gas/coal promotor.

I do not know how close such ADSRs ACTUALLY are to production status, public acceptance and regulatory approval, but they seem like something that should not be dismissed simply on the assumption that the “current renewable sources” are here and all alternates are the enemy.

The renewables are not fully ready, nor completely here - coal power plant commissioning has not ended and when the old coal plants are replaced they are often replaced by new coal plants or NG plants not solar, wind, geo, surf or hydro.

ADSRs are nuclear reactors and nuclear power is considered unsafe and unclean.

Not a fair assessment;
For instance the Fukushima disaster was a tsunami disaster, not a nuclear reactor disaster.

The tsunami killed 20,000.

The total related to nuclear radiation is:
• No immediate deaths due to direct radiation exposures
• 6 to 12 workers have exceeded lifetime legal limits for radiation
• Up to 100 predicted future cancer deaths.
• 300 plus people have received significant radiation doses

Neither is it true that nuclear waste is a significant threat but the ADSRs should be much more acceptable on both the safety and waste issues; making a case for public and regulatory acceptance.

We need all options pursued as reasonably (LOL) as possible.

Wind is not a threat to solar, nor is NG, geo, surf, hydro, hydrogen, critical or sub-critical nuclear.

I am dismayed that so many people believe that only one or two ways are acceptable; one ball team, one auto company, one computer type (Apple), one form of transportation and one source of energy (and cost is no object).

@Engineer-Poet

the process you described is exactly what GM was doing with Fool-Cell cars.

@dursan:
Polemics such as 'fool cell' are designed to obfuscate real debate.
Those 'fool cells' performed better than either diesels or batteries in keeping the lights and power on during hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, with only one failure, and that due to failure of ancillary equipment.
Since many of them are PEM cells like those to be used in cars and buses, it would seem that such foolish rhetoric is ignorant of the engineering realities.

After fork lift trucks, which are pretty much a conquered market, the next target is buses:

'Ballard has a product in development that it believes will help achieve this:
its seventh generation fuel cell module is being designed-to-cost in an intensive development programme, and redevelopment of other elements of the drivetrain and ancillaries is also underway.
The aim is for the total cost of ownership of a fuel cell bus to match that of a comparable diesel hybrid bus by 2014. A parallel aim is to increase the lifetime of fuel cell units to match that of internal combustion engines in conventional buses in their first lifetime, which means at least 30,000 hours of operation, and it is expected that this target will be met in the second half of 2014. Hydrogenics is also refi ning its fuel cell bus modules to be very compact, light and simple to integrate, and is
producing these in various outputs to suit bus size and level of integration; the company currently offers a warranty to 20,000 hours of stack operation. Automotive OEMs have achieved significant cost reduction of their fuel cell modules towards their FCEV launch targets, and we can expect the fuel cell bus products from these manufactures to benefit considerably as a result.'

http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/media/1713685/fct_review_2012.pdf

I don't call technologies which have good prospect of freeing our cities of very large amount of lethal vehicle fumes a 'fool' technology, and indeed 'fool' would seem a more apt description of those who would seek to use polemical devices to dismiss them and narrow our technological options.

Paranoid beliefs that GM can dictate what people buy are evidence of feeble mindedness; not proof, but an indicator just the same.

GM's planned obsolescence dictated for a couple decades that people would buy short-lived vehicles.  GM's marketing of flex-fuel trucks as "green" (and lobbying to credit them with petroleum savings they did not and could not create) sold a lot of them.

“is to troll energy forums and divert attention from anything which would actually threaten the position of fossil fuels in the near term.”


Did E-P get a new tin hat? The people making decisions about the choice of power plants are knowledgeable concerning the choices and do not check the internet to get the opinion.

“300 plus people have received significant radiation doses ”

Really! This sounds like a made up number. To my knowledge no one received exposures in Japan that would be classified as 'significant' if the criterion of significant was measurable harm.

Every year millions receive significant radiation doses as part of medical treatment. It is not like we have not studied the risk and benefits.

“one ball team ”

I agree but 'I am dismayed' by how many think that a little league team that never had a player get to first base can win the World Series. It is fun to root for an underdog but the goal is to keep the lights on.

“cities of very large amount of lethal vehicle fumes”

How come Davemart can figure that handling spent nuclear fuel is not a problem and fail to recognize that for the last 20 years pollution controls on ICE and industrial facilities have eliminated harmful levels of pollution in such places as the US?

It does come back to 'one ball team' concept and failing to recognize that there are many good ways to meet a goal. Picking an impractical solution will not prevent others from pursue what works.

'How come Davemart can figure that handling spent nuclear fuel is not a problem and fail to recognize that for the last 20 years pollution controls on ICE and industrial facilities have eliminated harmful levels of pollution in such places as the US?'

Its called 'evidence' Kit.

I've quoted umpteen links before demonstrating the harm that PRESENT levels of air pollution do even in advanced economies.

How about you post some of your evidential studies that show no harm, since you ignore those that do?

while catalytic converters and the end of draft tubes are huge improvements and remove large amounts of dangerous pollution (HCs and NOx) from the atmosphere.

The end game in the world of energy would be a 100% sustainable, renewable, and safe use of energy.

Now, even if could put enough solar and wind to satiate the need for transportation/industry/residential, we'd still be looking at a fundamentally unreliable system... some days the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't always shine, sure you could build in a 70% over capacity ect but it may not be enough.

What can be done, is to use what energy we have available and use it in a clean effective way.
If using nuclear to produce synthetic gas is a part of that, so be it... if it means using renewables to produce H2 for off-peak-generation hours and transportation so be it,

There is no 'one' perfect solution,
ICEs will be here for a long while until something else becomes readily available and interchangeable, batteries have a long way to go, Fool Cells are making leaps and bounds in progress, several industries are replacing batteries with fuel cells, its a promising future until we can make those magical Na-Air and Li-Air batteries... but to push down a technology that is maturing on its own without major government incentives is absurd. Just maybe its more viable than most would like to admit.

I only care that we make progress towards sustainable, cheap, effective energy... this all or nothing attitude approach stagnates progress.

@Davemart

you obviously don't the difference between PEM and SOFC.

and you sh!t about GM's fool-cell campaign

@dursan:
Your manners are equal to your knowledge.
What don't you understand about:
'Since many of them are PEM cells like those to be used in cars and buses'

Some were SOFC, some PEM.

Had you read the link I provided, you would have begun to educate yourself about the facts on the technology of fuel cells, and would not indulge yourself in childish polemic.

I am not sure what the advantage of retaining dirty coal is supposed to be, although to be sure the Chinese are looking at a lot of options such as underground gasification which would greatly reduce its pollution burden.

Another Chinese initiative is a high temperature pebble bed reactor, due for completion in 2016.
That sort of technology could produce hydrogen at around the cost per mile that they are quoting to include coal as part of the mix when the superior efficiency of fuel cells is considered. The hydrogen could be used to make methanol, DME etc if that is more convenient.

To be clear I will be perfectly happy if battery technology improves fast enough to provide convenient long distance transport, but we have alternatives if not without having to produce coal.

I do suspect however that fossil fuels will continue to form a substantial proportion of the mix for many decades regardless of the consequences for global warming.

I am not sure what the advantage of retaining dirty coal is supposed to be, although to be sure the Chinese are looking at a lot of options such as underground gasification which would greatly reduce its pollution burden.

Another Chinese initiative is a high temperature pebble bed reactor, due for completion in 2016.
That sort of technology could produce hydrogen at around the cost per mile that they are quoting to include coal as part of the mix when the superior efficiency of fuel cells is considered. The hydrogen could be used to make methanol, DME etc if that is more convenient.

To be clear I will be perfectly happy if battery technology improves fast enough to provide convenient long distance transport, but we have alternatives if not without having to produce coal.

I do suspect however that fossil fuels will continue to form a substantial proportion of the mix for many decades regardless of the consequences for global warming.

I am not sure what the advantage of retaining dirty coal is supposed to be
Probably the obvious:  it's cheap to build and doesn't have major bad consequences if it's incompetently operated or maintained.

The only materials in significant quantity capable of a sustained nuclear reaction are U235 and Pu239, which has been created in U235-based reactors.

Not really true, that. Abundant thorium can be bred to U233, which fissions very nicely. Fast breeders are not required--thermal breeders will do.

Putting our stockpiles of nuclear 'waste' to good use is a great idea. Molten salt is the right direction for high-temperature coolant, but lose the complicated accelerator and just go with a much simpler design, which has already been developed at Oak Ridge during the '60s-'70s (MSRE or Molten Salt Reactor Experiment).

Everything old is new again. See:

energyfromthroium.com

'it's cheap to build and doesn't have major bad consequences if it's incompetently operated or maintained.'

Uh? Mass deaths are routine for coal and its emissions.
No crisis needed.

I agree that that is the public perception as against nuclear though.
It is much nicer to contract lung disease from good old familiar coal and diesel, and not have all that nasty new fangled radiation from nuclear to worry about, even if the likelihood of being killed by it is vanishingly small.

“contract lung disease from good old familiar coal and diesel

Could you you be more specific? Is it coal or diesel? Which disease?

I know some people who worked in coal mines and shipyards. Chest x-rays indicated that they have the associated lung disease. However, since they never smoked; they have no symptoms. Research indicates that many occupational exposures are greatly exacerbated by smoking.

The point here is that there is no evidence that pollutions causes lung disease although it may exacerbate it in those with a lung problems. There are about a billion 'common colds' a year. The cause is bacteria not coal-based generation.

@ Kit P

The particulates in diesel exhaust have been shown through public health as well as animal studies to cause lung cancer. These particles tend to be small enough so that they lodge deep in the lungs which the body is unable to get rid itself of.

Fuels containing sulfur will generate particulates at a higher rate than their cleaner counterparts. German car and truck makers have been required to reduce the particulates by exhaust after treatment. Mercedes for instance uses a technology based on injecting ammonia into the exhaust to accomplish this. This development as well as the use of low sulfur diesel has allowed foreign car makers to reintroduce diesel cars once more in California as well as several New England states.

@Mannstein

How about mixing some science in to the discussion? What were the levels of pollution that were found to cause harm and what are the levels of pollutions that people are exposed to?

The methodology is called source, pathway, receptors. If the source is a large number poorly maintained buses in trucks burning high sulfur diesel in dense urban area. The pathway is cities with large building build in locations where the weather patterns trap the pollutants. Of course the receptors are the people who crowd into urban areas because they must think that diesel fumes and noise enhance the taste of their 'famous' hot dogs.

I do not how things work in the EU but in the US the politicians in big cities point a finger at coal plants hundreds of miles away. It is a lot easier than accepting responsibility and fixing the problem they created.

There is a systematic approach to solving problems. As Mannstein points out, if the problem is urban air pollution we use low sulfur diesel and add more pollution controls on vehicles.

The result is levels of air pollution below levels that cause harm.

They want to use coal as a feedstock? Forget it. Get back to us when they want to use CO2 from the air.

Oops, my bad: biomass is OK also. Carry on.

@ Kit P:
Here is the results of one of several studies associating particulate pollution with increased mortality:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240569/pdf/ehp109s-000483.pdf

Lots more where that came from. Just Google "health effects of particulate pollution".

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