Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Will Russia and China Dominate Ocean Nuclear Technology?

Chinese floating nuclear power station (Credit: China General Nuclear Corporation)

by Marcel F. Williams

Today, more than 180 small nuclear reactors power more than 140 sea vessels (submarines, aircraft carriers, and icebreakers) on the Earth's oceans. Nuclear power plants have been cruising the high seas since the United States Navy first deployed the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear submarine, in 1955. More than 12,000 reactor years of operation in the marine environment has been accumulated from floating nuclear reactors since the 1950's. Although originally designed for naval use, the US Army operated Pressurized Water Reactors from 1954 until 1974.  But the success of the Navy's Pressurized Water Reactors eventually led to the first commercial nuclear reactors in the US. 

Six countries, the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, People's Republic of China, and India, currently deploy some form of strategic floating nuclear-powered vessel.  And other countries, such as Argentina and Brazil have ongoing projects to build strategic nuclear-powered submarines.

Russian Typhoon Class Nuclear Submarine

The American USS Enterprise and the French Charles de Gaulle nuclear aircraft carriers. 

Since the early 2000s, the Russian Federation has been working on the deployment of centrally mass produced floating nuclear power plants. With operating lifespans of 40 years, these floating nuclear barges are to be designed to produce 70 MW of electricity or 300 MW.  While these floating nuclear power plants are initially designed to be used in the Russian Arctic regions, Rosatom, the State Atomic Energy Corporation, has reported that nations such as:  China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, Namibia, Argentina,  and Cape Verde have shown interest in such floating reactors. 

Artist rendition of future Russian floating nuclear power station

Now Chinese nuclear company, CGN (China General Nuclear), has announced that its  ACPR50S reactor design has received approval by China's National Development and Reform Commission.
The construction of CGNs first floating reactor is expected to start in 2017, with electricity generation to begin in 2020. The reactor is being developed in order to supply 60 MW of electricity or 200 MW of heat for desalination.

In October of 2015,  Lloyd's Register of the UK announced it had signed a framework agreement with   a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) - to support the design and development of a floating nuclear power plant based on a  100 MWe design.

But the United States is actually no stranger to floating nuclear power production. A US Antarctic base was powered by a 1.5 MWe marine reactor from 1961 until 1972. From 1967 until 1976, a 12,000 tonne ship that was originally built in 1945 was used as a floating nuclear power plant, supplying power on Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal Zone. The ship supplied 10 MWe of electricity for the Canal Zone for nine years. 

44% of the world's population lives within 150 kilometers of  marine coastlines. In a world facing the dangers of global sea rise and ocean acidification due to the use of fossil fuels,  centrally mass produced floating nuclear power plants could easily be deployed near coastal towns and cities around the world to produce carbon neutral electricity. And there is enough uranium in seawater to meet all of the world's energy needs for more than three thousand years (more than 5000 years if the spent fuel is reutilized). The use of thorium could add  another 2800 years.

Floating nuclear power plants also  have the safety advantage of not being vulnerable to earthquakes or tsunamis.  Additionally, the endless heat sink of the ocean environment would make nuclear meltdowns impossible.
US Navy modular floating platform concept (Credit: US Navy)

However, potential terrorist attacks on such facilities is likely to stoke some degree of nuclear phobia amongst the populace-- even though such an attacks are unlikely to cause any significant environmental damage. The political consequences, however, could have significant economic consequences for the nuclear industry.

Protection of a floating nuclear facility could be significantly enhanced by surrounding them with enormous floating  tubular cement modules such as those proposed by the US Navy for constructing ocean aircraft platforms and artificial islands. Each floating cement module for the naval platforms were supposed to be 20 meters in diameter an nearly 80 meters tall!  And each floating module could be assembled in a variety of configurations. The assemblage of  such statuesque structures could  enhance the protection of  floating nuclear power plants both above and the below the water.  

But nuclear phobic anxieties could be further reduced by simply moving floating nuclear  facilities out of the visual range of the coastline.   Most proposed floating nuclear facilities are usually positioned just 10 to 20 kilometers off the coast. But the relatively low cost of submarine cables could  make the  largest ocean nuclear power facilities (1000 MWe plus)  economically viable even if they were located a 1000 kilometers away from the coastline. Less than 300 kilometer off the coast would be well within a nations economic exclusion zone.

On the other hand,  floating nuclear power plants wouldn't have to be near any coastline  if they were simply used to produce synthetic carbon neutral fuels. Far out to sea, floating nuclear power plants could utilized to produce carbon neutral: methanol, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and dimethyl ether. These synthetic fuels could be produced through the pyrolysis of garbage and sewage imported from coastal towns and cities. The syngas produced from the pyrolysis of the biowaste and plastics could then be converted into a variety of synthetic fuels. But the production of synfuels could be greatly enhanced  by adding hydrogen to the syngas produced through the electrolysis of seawater.

However, the US Navy has recently developed a technology that could produce carbon neutral synthetic fuels by solely using electricity and seawater, taking advantage of the high levels of carbon naturally present in seawater.

Methanol produced at sea could be shipped by tanker to coastal cities for the production of electricity while the gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel produced at sea could be shipped to coastal cities for use in automobiles, trucks, and aircraft.

MIT's floating nuclear power plant concept (Credit: MIT)

MIT has recently developed a concept for two types of floating nuclear power plants, a 45 meter in diameter 300 MWe power plant and a 75 meter in diameter 1100 MWe power plant. Large remotely located nuplexes consisting of several 1100 MWe floating power plants could supply all of the energy needs of coastal cities, towns, and islands throughout the world. And even substantial amounts of  the continental interiors of North and South America could be supplied with carbon neutral fuels from floating nuclear facilities via the transport of fuel up large river systems connected to the oceans.

While there are good economic reasons for the US to invest in floating nuclear power plants, the US Navy, for more than a decade,  has  expressed a desire to switch from fossil fuels to carbon neutral synthetic fuels  for both environmental and strategic reasons. The US Navy's desire for ocean nuclear synfuels  could be the means to get an Ocean Nuclear industry started in America.

 Through the urging of the DOD and the US Navy, Congress could pass a law offering funding to  private US and allied industries to develop  floating nuclear power plants ranging from 100 MWe up to 2500 MWe   for the production of carbon neutral aviation fuels and other carbon neutral synthetic fuels for the US armed forces. The US Navy could agree to  purchase carbon neutral jet fuel  from floating nuclear facilities for all of its liquid fuel needs once such carbon neutral fuels are available.

Such legislation could help the US Navy meet its environmental and strategic goals while also helping to develop a new carbon neutral  synthetic fuel industry,  the way the US Navy helped to develop the nuclear industry back in the 1950s.

Marcel F. Williams
New Papyrus Magazine

Links and References

Nuclear-Powered Ships

A new look for nuclear power

Russian floating nuclear power station

CGN to build floating reactor

CNNC to construct prototype floating plant

China plans 60 MWE modular nuclear reactor by 2020 and a floating reactor by 2025

The Floating Stable Platform: Office of Naval Research

The Future of Ocean Nuclear Synfuel Production

Nuclear Navy's Synfuel from Seawater Program: An interview with Kathy Lewis of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Extracting Uranium from Seawater

Fueling our Nuclear Future

Spent Fuel and the Thorium Solution

UN Atlas: 44 percent of us live in coastal areas

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Case for an International Space Agency

Acronym for a proposed International Astronomy and Space Organization

What if there were a space agency that made it affordable for even the poorest nations on the globe to participate in a vigorous and inspirational international space program. Such a space organization could also allow up to eight citizens from each member nation to participate as astronauts in an international astronaut corp. Funds from this international space agency  could also be used to  contribute towards the development and deployment of  space telescopes and space probes primarily being funded and developed by other space organizations.

I'll call this proposed global space agency the: 


NASA's current funding level is over $19 billion a year (less than 0.5% of annual US Federal expenditures). Russia spends about $5.6 billion a year on its space efforts. But  I propose a membership fee for each nation participating   in the  IASO of only $50 million per year. Such a low annual membership fee for an international space program would make it affordable for even the poorest nations on Earth to participate. The small annual fee also wouldn't be large enough to significantly hurt funding levels for national space programs being financed by some of the wealthier member countries.  

But the purpose of the IASO would not be to replace existing national space programs. Instead, the IASO would utilize the existing resources and infrastructure of the various government space agencies and private commercial space companies. Doing so would  increase demand for the products and services of private aerospace companies while minimizing IASO cost for operating their space program.  This could also allow IASO astronauts from all participating nations to quickly become part of a vigorous pioneering space program. 

Future Boeing Starliner (CST-100) Commercial Crew spacecraft (Credit: Boeing Aerospace)
The countries most likely to want to participate in the IASO would be those nations that are already operating manned and unmanned space programs. That's because the products and services that the IASO is most likely to utilize will come from commercial vendors used to support the current national space programs.  The United States, of course, not only has a civilian government space program (NASA) put also has several private space companies (ULA, Space X, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada, Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, etc.) with various levels of aerospace capabilities that could be utilized by the IASO for their space efforts.  And, of course, Europe and Russia and nations like China, India, and Japan could also provide extensive space services for IASO efforts.

The ISS (International Space Station) program currently has the participation of five space agencies and 26 nations. These countries could serve as the core nations for the IASO. Since each participating nation will have equal status and votes in the IASO, including other nations with existing space launch capability such as  China, India, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Israel, South Korea and Iran could add some voting balance to an initially heavily European dominated organization.

But there are other nations with emerging space programs that could gradually be added to the IASO over the years such as:  Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, Taiwan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Of course, there would probably be more than a dozen other European nations that enjoy the status and excitement of  joining such an international space organization. Its also not difficult to imagine that economically advanced countries like  Australia and New Zealand might also want to join such an affordable space program.

In principal, the IASO could  add two member nations every year in order to maintain institutional stability. This could  engendering excitement each year for the pair of nations lucky enough to be allowed to join the international organization that particular year.

Philosophically, I believe that at least 60% of the IASO budget should be spent on its astronaut corp. And each member nation should be allowed to have up to four adult men and four adult women in the IASO astronaut program. After two years of membership, the IASO should guarantee a member nation  that  at least one of their national astronauts  will  be deployed into space every year.

Its not difficult  to imagine an IASO consisting of at least 40 permanent members quite early in its formation. At $50 million per member, such an international space agency could have  a  $2 billion annual budget with at least  $1.2 billion a year specifically dedicated to human spaceflight related activities. 

Artist rendition of future Bigelow Aerospace space hab (BA-330)(Credit: Wikipedia)
Initially, crewed IASO astronaut missions to LEO could simply require purchasing tickets to ride aboard private Commercial Crew vehicles to private commercial space stations. Bigelow Aerospace plans to charge between $26 million to $37 million for a 10 to 60 day stay aboard one of its BA-330 space habitats. But a 40 member IASO would be able spend a couple a hundred million a year to purchase its own space habitat perhaps from Bigelow, or Boeing (SLS propellant tank derived habitat), or from Russia's  RSC Energia. At least 30% of the IASO budget could also be utilized to purchase and  deploy habitats at LEO, the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, the surface of the Moon, Mars orbit, the surface of Mars, and beyond through private aerospace companies. 

A notional  16 day IASO  missions to an IASO owned LEO habitat would give IASO astronauts launch and landing experience aboard a space craft with at least 14 days of experience inside of a microgravity habitat, plus at least one or more Flexcraft and pressure suit excursions outside of the habitat modules. Such spaceflight experience might even make some IASO astronauts desirable to participate in future beyond LEO missions conducted by other major space agencies such as NASA and ESA.

Orion MPCV for deep space missions (Credit: Wikipedia)
The IASO could take part in  beyond LEO missions conducted by NASA or ESA or other major   space agencies by offering to contribute $150 million for every IASO astronaut allowed to participate in the mission. NASA currently plans to send four astronauts on beyond LEO missions aboard a spacecraft (the Orion) that could accommodate six astronauts. If two IASO astronauts were allowed to join the mission then NASA could cut the cost of the crewed mission by $300 million. A pair of  IASO astronauts, on the other hand, would be able to take part in a beyond LEO mission  for just $300 million.

Once the age of water and propellant depots arrive, commercial companies could provide IASO astronauts with frequent and affordable access to habitats on the surface of the Moon and perhaps even Mars. Eventually, the IASO could simply purchase their own habitats from private companies on the lunar and martian surface.
The IASO could eventually purchase a pair of regolith wall shielded lunar habitats from private aerospace companies which could give IASO astronauts the ability to remain on the lunar surface for months or for years.

Other IASO funding could be  contributed to international organizations involved in locating potentially dangerous asteroids and comets that could someday imperil the Earth and towards the development and deployment of new types of space telescopes and exploratory probes.

So basically, the IASO  could help other existing space agencies to finance their manned and unmanned missions while also utilizing the services and infrastructure of private space companies to minimize the cost of their own space program.  And this could allow a lot more nations, and the astronauts of those nations,  to participate in the exploration and pioneering of the Moon and Mars and the rest of the New Frontier!

Marcel F. Williams

Links and References

International Space Station

Congress Set to Give NASA $19 Billion Budget in 2016

List of Government Space Agencies

Commercial Crew Development

Orion Spacecraft

Utilizing the SLS to Build a Cis-Lunar Highway

Reusable Hoppers and Orbiters for Rapid Lunar Transportation and Exploration


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Syrian Refugee Children Enjoying the Snow

Syrian refugee children enjoying the snow in Canada!

And the absolute horror the  refugees are fleeing from in Syria!   

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Destination Moon

glennwsmith said... Very nice, Marcel. This is one of the most beautifully put together, forward-looking, and yet also understated videos which I've yet seen from a major space agency -- and it just goes to show that there's a lot of good material out there if you know where to find it.

G. W. (Glenn) Smith


Stena Line to Covert Passenger Ferry to a Methanol Fueled Sea Vessel

michael jordan said...

Stena Germanica RoPax ferry is the first commercial marine vessel to run on Methanol.It is the largest ferry in the Nordic region and second biggest Ro-Pax ferry in the world.For this overall project cost comes to nearly $25.5m.It measures 240m long and 29m wide and lane metres of 3,907m.It is going to accommodate 300 cars and 1,300 passengers and freight capacity of 46,353t.