20 episodes

The Atomic Show Podcast includes interviews, roundtable discussions and atomic geeks all centered around the idea that nuclear energy is an amazing boon for human society.

The Atomic Show Rod Adams - Atomic Insights

    • Science
    • 4.2 • 24 Ratings

The Atomic Show Podcast includes interviews, roundtable discussions and atomic geeks all centered around the idea that nuclear energy is an amazing boon for human society.

    Atomic Show #314 – Economies of scale for micro, small, medium, large reactors – with James Krellenstein

    Atomic Show #314 – Economies of scale for micro, small, medium, large reactors – with James Krellenstein

    James Krellenstein is a physicist, consultant and nuclear energy historian. He is currently employed as a senior advisor to Global Health Strategies. He started up their decarbonization practice with an emphasis on nuclear energy along with renewables. He was the lead author on GEH’s report on ways to reduce global dependence on Russia for necessary supplies of enriched uranium.

    He had the unusual and fortunate experience of growing up with a father who was a nuclear engineer turned nuclear financial specialist and a grandfather who ran a custom manufacturing machinery production facility. Both were the kind of professionals that enjoyed their work enough to “bring it home” for discussions around the dinner table and while engaging in bonding activities like fishing and camping.

    (I know what that is like from both sides of the parent/grandparent/child relationship.)

    James has become a bit of an “overnight sensation” in the world of pronuclear podcasting most notably with repeat appearances on Dr. Chris Keefer’s Decouple Podcast and Age of Miracles, hosted by Packy McCormick and Julia DeWahl. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the US nuclear industry and a unique perspective on current and future actions needed to restore its prominence.

    I was motivated to invite him for a chat after listening to his thoughts on the relationship between reactor size and the cost of produced electricity.

    We talked about the need for a larger catalog of options that can meet the needs of a wider variety of customers, the advantages of larger sizes in producing bulk electricity in grids and markets that can accommodate the output, and the differences between seeing reactors as a product that might be manufactured or seeing them as a “stick-built” factory that produces a bulk commodity.

    Though our emphasis and perspectives are different, we hold similar points of view. Our conclusions for prioritization vary considerably.

    I think you will learn something from this show and hope that you will take the time to share your thoughts on the topics discussed. Though there are many who dismiss the importance of conversation and discussion compared to concrete action that gets things done, it’s hard to successfully complete the latter without responsible and involved people engaging in the former.

    • 1 hr 24 min
    Atomic Show #313 – Stefano Buono, Founder and CEO of Newcleo

    Atomic Show #313 – Stefano Buono, Founder and CEO of Newcleo

    Stefano Buono is a physicist and the successful founder of Advanced Accelerator Applications, a multibillion dollar company that pioneered the use of several therapeutic medical isotopes. After making several people very rich, including himself, he sold the medical isotope business and returned to his early 1990s field of study – nuclear fission reactors using molten lead as a coolant.

    About two years ago, Stefano Buono and some of his colleagues and associates founded newcleo, a company with Italian roots based in the UK. Last year, newcleo ran two successful rounds of start-up funding that netted the company a total of €400 M. After passing through several important milestones, it is raising a subsequent round with a target of €1 B for continued development and for a state-of-the-art fuel manufacturing plant.

    Dr. Buono visited the Atomic Show to share his insights on the paths to success as an entrepreneur in a deeply technical and undervalued field and on the role that timing – both planned and fortunate – plays in business success. He is convinced that it is a good time to be building a nuclear fission energy company.

    Lead cooling for reactors has a long history with some demonstrated success. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union operated a class of submarines called the Alfa class, which were famously the fastest and deepest diving submarines in the world at the time. Seven subs were completed and operated with both impressive performance and technical issues that limited their reliability and service life.

    The reactors in those submarines were metal cooled thermal reactors using lead-bismuth eutectic for cooling and beryllium for moderation.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent economic conditions halted most lead cooled reactor development in Russia, but it resulted in a diaspora of Soviet scientists and engineers that stimulated research and development of the technology in Europe, especially in Italy and Sweden.

    For several reasons, the lead cooled reactor community moved from lead-bismuth towards pure lead and away from beryllium moderation.

    Compared to water, lead is virtually invisible to neutrons, letting fission neutrons remain in the fast spectrum. Fast neutrons will fission all actinide materials, allowing reactors to advantageously consume the long-lived components of used nuclear fuel and to breed new fuel from fertile materials like Uranium 238.

    Lead remains in liquid form at temperatures far above reactor operating temperatures, eliminating the need to pressurize the coolant system. Compared to sodium, the molten metal that has been used more frequently by reactor designers, lead is not subject to explosive or flammable reactions if it comes in contact with water or air. Though sodium-cooled reactor designers have devised ways to ensure safe use of their chosen fuel, the techniques require additional systems and components that add cost.

    Newcleo – France, Lyon Portraits d’entreprise

    One disadvantage of lead has limited its attractiveness as a coolant. At the temperatures of interest for a reactor, corrosion rates in contact with stainless steel can cause operational problems. For the Alfa class submarines, corrosion products created some clogging issues – mainly in small diameter piping like that found in steam generators.

    newcleo, Stefano’s company, is taking advantage of research and development conducted during the 40+ years since the Alfa’s were designed and operated.

    • 1 hr 2 min
    Atomic Show #312 – Tyler Bernstein, CEO Zeno Power

    Atomic Show #312 – Tyler Bernstein, CEO Zeno Power

    Zeno Power makes cost-effective radioisotope power systems (RPS) for some of the most challenging environments in the solar system. Its systems use a proprietary package that allows a wider variety of isotopes to perform functions previously reserved for Pu-238, a rare isotope that is slowly produced at great expense.

    What is the value of RPS?

    RPS’s produce power and/or heat by usefully capturing the energy released when radioactive materials decay. Diminishing quantities of heat are produced as the materials release their alpha, beta and/or gamma emissions, with the production rate being governed by the half life of the isotope. It is a power source that is predictable as time; it can neither be accelerated nor decelerated.

    By continuously producing useful power for decades at a time without a break, radioisotopes have enabled exploration of the most distant reaches of our solar system while remaining capable of relaying their findings back to Earth. It is a well established technology that has been used since the very beginning of the Atomic Age.

    The majority of the radioisotope power supplies that have powered past space missions have used Pu-238, a marvelously capable isotope. It has an 87-year half life and decays with a pure, easily shielded, high-energy alpha particle. Unfortunately, it is slowly produced in specialized reactors and needs expensive processing and refinement. As a result, Pu-238 costs tens of millions of dollars per kilogram. It is only available for the most carefully screened mission applications.

    The Strontium-90 option

    Strontium-90 has good characteristics as a heat source for RPS. It has a 28.1-year half life and it decays with an energetic beta emission that is reasonably easy to shield.

    With its relatively high specific heat generation, Sr-90 has been used in the past for terrestrial applications, but its decay produces occasional gamma radiation in addition to the dominant, heat-producing beta emission. Additionally, as the high energy beta interacts with conventional shielding materials, it produces bremsstrahlung radiations that must also be shielded. As a result Sr-90-based power systems require enough shielding to make them too heavy to launch into space.

    Sr-90 RPS have been used to power remote light houses, underwater sensors, navigational buoys and remote weather monitors. Alternative, lower-cost power sources have gradually replaced Sr-90 RPS for each of those applications.

    By the 1990s, the US had stopped producing Sr-90 RPS and was decommissioning the systems that had been deployed. A 2009 paper titled End of an Era and Closing the Circle – Disposal of Strontium-90 Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators contains a statement that almost sounds like a eulogy. “This unique and creative use of nuclear technology is fading into obscurity and soon will be forever a thing of the past.”

    Times have changed. With a dramatically growing business of satellites plus lunar and planetary exploration, there is a crying need for reliable power supplies that are more affordable and more available than the ones that need Pu-238. Sr-90 is still available and it still has the physical properties that attracted early developers, but the technology for capturing the energy needed improvement before it could be c...

    • 43 min
    Atomic Show #311 – Mary Jo Rogers – Founder, Rogers Leadership Group

    Atomic Show #311 – Mary Jo Rogers – Founder, Rogers Leadership Group

    Mary Jo Rogers is a trained clinical psychologist who developed her interest workforce safety cultures and leadership in the nuclear power sector while consulting and working for ComEd (later Exelon). At the time she began her work, ComEd was a perennially under-performing utility with new leaders that were committed to turning it into the best nuclear plant operator in the United States. That leadership team included Oliver Kingsley and Chris Crane at the operating level and John Rowe at the corporate level.

    Dr. Rogers learned many lessons in leadership, and safety culture and observed the way that implementing strong programs that protected workers also helped to improve operational performance. She took those lessons with her to a major consulting group that served the entire nuclear industry. She wrote a book titled Nuclear Energy Leadership: Lessons Learned from U.S. Operators and founded Rogers Leadership Group which provides safety culture and leadership consulting to organizations in a variety of potentially hazardous industries.

    Mary Jo visited the Atomic Show to share her perspectives on the importance of leadership in creating a high performance organization. We talked about the relationship between safety culture and operational excellence along with the question of whether one has to make tradeoffs between safety culture and cost culture.

    You will enjoy this episode. Please participate in the comment section.

    • 36 min
    Atomic Show #310 – Ron Faibish on Space Nuclear Power

    Atomic Show #310 – Ron Faibish on Space Nuclear Power

    In the past few years, there has been a strong revival of interest in using nuclear fission energy to power space travel and planetary exploration. There have also been new developments in radioisotope thermal generators that will make them more widely available with greater energy density. Though there has been interest in using nuclear energy in space since the earliest days of the Atomic Age, financial support has waxed and waned with changing program priorities. George Bush was president the last time there was this much investment in space nuclear power.

    Members of the US Nuclear Industry Council that have an interest in developing and deploying space nuclear energy systems created a working group to help them cooperate in ways that further their common interests.

    Ron Faibish, chair of US NIC’s Space and Emerging Technologies Working Group visited the Atomic Show to talk about the nuclear systems being developed for space power and propulsion. We discussed propulsion options including nuclear thermal rockets and nuclear powered electric propulsion. We talked about the power requirements for early applications and about the materials technology improvement that will enable better performance.

    You should enjoy the visionary nature of this episode and the way space explorers are planning to use technologies that are well advanced on the TRL (technical readiness level) scale.

    Please take the time to share your thoughts in the comment section. Reader contributions add significant value here.

    • 36 min
    Atomic Show #309 – Matt Huber, Geography of Energy

    Atomic Show #309 – Matt Huber, Geography of Energy

    Matt Huber is a professor of geography at Syracuse University. He writes about energy, economies and the way that energy sources have influenced modern societies and economies.

    One of his first books was Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital (2013) which is very briefly described as follows:

    Looking beyond the usual culprits, “Lifeblood” finds a deeper and more complex explanation in everyday practices of oil consumption in American culture. Matthew Huber, associate professor of geography and the environment, uses oil to retell American political history from the triumph of New Deal liberalism to the rise of the New Right, from oil’s celebration as the lifeblood of postwar capitalism to increasing anxieties over oil addiction.

    In April 2022, Huber published a significant piece in Jacobin with Fred Stafford that explains how his research has revealed that most of the financial benefits associated with renewable power system development and electricity production “deregulation” have been captured by entities that the Left is supposed to dislike.

    When we look at the actually existing decentralized renewable energy industry, we see many things the Left should abhor — deregulated markets, tax shelters for corporations, a rentier development model, and an anti-union industry dependent upon a transient and insecure workforce.

    Though the environmental left may not want to accept it, the small-is-beautiful approach of decentralized energy provides ideological cover for a ruthless form of renewable energy capitalism. And even worse, it threatens our fight to halt climate change in its tracks.

    In Defense of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Jacobin 40/04/2022

    Huber believes that large, capital intensive power plants have been valuable investments as anchors in our electricity grid. Contrary to the characterizations offered by critics and advocates of radical transformation, he believes that the grid is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century and that we should add to its capabilities instead of seeking to completely rebuild it with a different generation model.

    He notes that emission-free nuclear power plants provide many of the same benefits for workforces, local economies, and grid stability as large coal plants. He is strongly supportive of the coal-nuclear path that is gaining favor with the government and utilities.

    Huber and I share strong negative feelings about the work (damage) done by a couple of influential renewable energy gurus – Amory Lovins and Mark Z. Jacobson. We also share deep respect for the work that Meredith Angwin is doing on educating the public and government leaders about the way our electrical grid is trending to a greater state of disfunction and fragility. (We both recommend that people buy her book Shorting the Grid, The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid.)

    I hope you enjoy the show, even if Huber’s self-description as a Marxist gi...

    • 53 min

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