- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
SCGI's purpose is to provide technological and political frameworks that will result in policies leading to abundant energy and resources for all nations. Our primary effort is to get a commercial-scale version of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) built as quickly as possible in order that it might prove the concept and provide a standard design that can be deployed globally. This project requires the involvement of the leading experts in the field (who are already members of SCGI) and their engagement with world leaders and policymakers who can achieve the goal.
SCGI’s effort to get the first US-designed commercial-scale fast reactor built somewhere in the world is proceeding on many fronts. Just recently, at an International Energy Agency conference in Paris where SCGI was a participant, a representative from Singapore expressed great interest. Singapore is a small but thriving and often forward-thinking country, and they want to build their first nuclear reactors. Since GE-Hitachi has offered to build the PRISM reactor in the UK, the question is why Singapore should settle for even Generation III+ nuclear technology (like the AP1000 or the ESBWR) when they can go immediately to Gen IV technology with the PRISM. There are compelling reasons to do so, not the least of which is total energy independence, since all the PRISM requires is about a ton of depleted uranium per year per gigawatt.
There will be an IFR conference in Tokyo at the end of May, 2014, and Singapore will have its representatives there along with South Korea and, of course, Japan. Several members of SCGI will be participating, as will Robert Stone, the filmmaker whose film Pandora’s Promise has kindled worldwide interest in the environmental benefits of nuclear power.
The World Energy Forum conference intended for Beijing was canceled, and is tentatively scheduled for later in 2014 in London. The UK is very seriously considering GE-Hitachi’s offer to build a pair of PRISMs, and finally have officially stated that it is a viable option for their plutonium disposition. GE continues to work closely with the UK and the longer this collaboration goes on the more support is building. But the Brits are being quite deliberate about this and likely will take a year or more to finally make a decision.
The USA has a similar issue with plutonium disposition, but of a somewhat different nature. Whereas the British plutonium is reactor-grade material, the USA has 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that resulted from a massive reduction of nuclear weapons in the early Nineties. Russia and the USA have an agreement that specifies how each country will dispose of its stockpile. The Russians will use their new fast reactor, the BN-800, which is just about to come online this year (2014). The USA is committed to using a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel facility that’s partly built at Savannah River National Laboratory. This has gotten to be a money pit, however, currently estimated to cost over ten times the original bid, and the Dept. of Energy has put the project on hold while it looks at other options. The most logical option, and one that Russia will certainly agree to, would be to use a fast reactor like the Russians have been suggesting since 1993. Savannah River Lab has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GE-Hitachi to build a PRISM at that site. Currently there is a lawsuit pending over this issue: The state of South Carolina has sued the DOE, claiming that it can’t stop the MOX project because of our treaty obligations with Russia. It’s doubtful that will hold up since Russia is more than ready to agree to a change of course. Using a fast reactor to dispose of that plutonium would take far less time than the MOX path (and would be far less expensive). If the US Dept. of Energy does decide on the fast reactor option, it will very likely influence the similar choice being debated in the UK. SCGI members have been acting as consultants on such projects, since our ranks include many of the world’s top experts in this technology. This expertise is sorely needed, for there is an abysmal lack of knowledge about IFR technology among policymakers in every country.
On other energy fronts, IBM’s premier research center, the Almaden facility near Silicon Valley, has made some exciting breakthroughs in lithium-air battery technology. They expect to have them ready for production in 2015, to the extent that they could be the obvious choice for both light and heavy highway transportation. Unlike all the other purported systems for future transportation, electric vehicles will require no major new infrastructure, since our grid extends to virtually every corner of the country. That makes electrifying our road transport extremely compelling, far better than hydrogen, ammonia, boron, or biofuels. The conversion could be made quickly and cheaply. Of course that will still come back to the ultimate question of where we get the primary energy to do it. Hence our untiring efforts to build IFRs, to assure that all that energy will be produced cleanly and economically.
Cutting-edge recycling efforts are proceeding apace as well. The world’s largest plasma converter is due to come online in Teesdale, England in August of 2014. This plant is intended to be a full-scale demonstration of the promise of plasma converter technology. If it’s successful, it will pave the way for worldwide adoption of this amazing technology that can solve the world’s formidable solid waste challenges, converting such material into energy and valuable materials. SCGI has teamed up with a Russian physicist who invented an improved plasma torch that we intend to test in the new facility, and which we’ve been making arrangements to manufacture in the USA in order to improve the economics of plasma conversion. It should be noted that creating a profitable market for trash around the world will attack the problem of plastic in the ocean gyres (the Great Seas of Plastic) at the source of that problem: the rivers into which trash is currently dumped because of a lack of garbage infrastructure in developing countries.
Finally, SCGI is currently putting together a proposal to drought-proof California. The state’s agricultural sector provides about half of all the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the USA. This has been made possible by creating the nation’s garden in California’s semi-arid Central Valley, utilizing the most far-ranging and sophisticated water storage and transport infrastructure in the world. But that system relies on snowmelt primarily from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and this year is the third and most severe year of a statewide drought. Thousands of acres of farmland will lie fallow this year for lack of water, with billions in direct costs to the state multiplied in an economic ripple effect as produce prices across the nation climb to unprecedented levels.
California’s dilemma is but one small example of one of the most serious challenges that will face the world in the first half of the 21st century. In a world where at least two billion people already live in water-stressed situations, we’ll likely have about three billion more joining us by mid-century. Providing water for billions of people will require desalination on a hitherto undreamed-of scale, and that process—plus moving the water to where it’s needed—will require prodigious amounts of energy.
The proposal is to build several large desalination plants near Eureka in northern California, then pump the water over the Coast Range and into existing reservoirs. This could completely stabilize agriculture in California using the water storage and transport infrastructure already in place, assuring farmers of ample water for all their cropland. The entire system would be run with PRISM fast reactor modules, providing not only the energy to do the desalination and pump the water over the mountains, but additional electricity to be fed into the grid for the San Francisco Bay area. GE-Hitachi’s price tag for PRISM power plants is so low that the system would pay for itself in short order. SCGI intends to enlist the support of agricultural communities and organizations in California to make this plan a reality. Not only would it solve California’s water problems for good, it would act as a model for desalination projects around the world that will be desperately needed in the coming decades.
Introducing a new type of nuclear technology on a commercial scale is no small task. In order for a technology to be widely deployed it must not only be technically but economically viable. GE's PRISM reactor—the commercial version of the IFR—promises to meet the economic requirements necessary for widespread adoption. Perhaps just as crucially, however, the modular PRISM is perfectly suited to replace coal burners at coal-fired power plants that are spewing not just CO2 but a host of pollutants into the atmosphere. The PRISM modules will be able to do that by simply replacing the coal burner with a small underground reactor vessel.
In addition to our activities with scientists and policymakers around the world, SCGI has sometimes augmented the efforts of GE-Hitachi by independently publicizing GEH's PRISM technology, as well as initiating contacts between GEH and foreign entities. Our independence from GEH is an important factor in our effectiveness.
The successful demonstration of commercial-scale IFR technology will pave the way for an energy-abundant future for every nation, since we already have sufficient fuel at hand to power the entire planet for hundreds of years without any further mining or other sort of extraction process necessary. In the short term this will provide the USA, and those countries with which it first shares the technology, to initiate the largest public works project in the history of the planet. Several major US companies were involved in the development of the commercial design (GE, Westinghouse, Bechtel, Raytheon, etc.). Ultimately, though, companies all over the planet will participate in the fabrication and construction of these power plants. The resulting energy abundance will allow even the most benighted nations to develop far more rapidly than in a world where energy supplies are subject to constant competition due to their limited supply. SCGI's goal is to hasten that day.
(Check sent: 7/1/2013)