Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Energy Amplifier and Vermont Yankee

But What About the Future?

Let's face it. It is awfully tempting to just go with the renaissance, and forget about these older plants. Does it really matter whether a plant is extended for twenty years or not? We are building new plants, after all, and there are new designs and everything is getting better and better...I guess.

I don't believe this reasoning. I met my first fake-environmentalist thirty years ago, when I was in geothermal. He said that the Geysers power plant should be allowed to expand only when "all the environmental problems of geothermal were solved."

This is a common tactic: we don't want this old thing, with this outdated technology. Let's wait to build with the new, wonderful technology which is just around the corner.

If we don't fight for current plants, we play into this method of opposing every plant.

The Energy Amplifier

My experience with the Energy Amplifier shows the problems with this approach.

About a year ago, a group of us from the Coalition for Energy Solutions were invited to a meeting in Brattleboro by three very nice people who were dedicated to shutting down Vermont Yankee. We came to the meeting, of course. The people wanted our support to build an Energy Amplifier at the Vermont Yankee site. This untested type of reactor would use thorium (a good thing) but would require a particle beam to run the reaction, since the reactor would be sub-critical. As a matter of fact, they did not want us to call the system a "reactor."

They were quite sincere and hoped this new technology be very safe (unlike Yankee, in their opinion). The new technology would also would burn up the spent fuel from Vermont Yankee, material that they consider to be very dangerous and nearly impossible to handle.

However, light water reactors like Yankee are already very safe. In France, spent fuel is reprocessed without particle accelerators. (I've been to France and seen the reprocessing.) In my opinion, the amplifier proponents in Brattleboro were solving non-problems.

Nevertheless, the amplifier proponents were sincere, and we were happy to meet them. The divide between our groups was not very broad. We all had respect for each other and there was no fear-mongering or accusations of lying or anything like that.

On the other hand, shutting down an operating reactor to build something that MIGHT work seemed farfetched to me. It's similar to shut-it-down and let's-build-wind-turbines. "Let's close the proven technology and build the untested one." The people supporting this approach may be sincere, but the approach itself is unreasonable.

Note: What did I mean by may be sincere? In my opinion, the Energy Amplifier supporters in Brattleboro were sincere, but the geothermal "environmentalist" was just trying to stop the Geysers plant from expanding. An argument for using untested technology is not proof of sincerity or its absence.

The Future and the Past Are Part of Each Other

In my opinion, we have to fight for the future. We have to test and build new types of reactors. But we won't have a good future unless we use the resources the past has given us. Resources like Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, and Oyster Creek.

Wikimedia graphic of part of the Hadron Accelerator.

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