by Tom Blees
2015 has been a fast paced year for SCGI. Since my last annual report, I have traveled to meetings in Singapore, New York, Washington D.C., Russia, California, Florida, London, Brussels, South Africa and Arizona. We are also involved in projects underway in South Korea, China, Japan, Indonesia and Australia. Around the world, there is increasing awareness of the role of advanced technologies in responding to problems ranging from climate change and ocean acidification to water scarcity and poverty. SCGI has been promoting a number of these solutions since our inception and it has been an exciting and gratifying time to be president of this organization. Here are some of the year's highlights.
The majority of our focus continues to be on nuclear power. The need for massive amounts of safe, affordable and clean energy has led to renewed interest in a variety of designs for nuclear power plants. This past year I spoke on this topic to groups in university lecture halls in South Africa, government policy meetings in Washington DC, Bloomberg's Future of Energy conference in NYC, and Global Energy Prize events in Moscow and Singapore. We continue to be a strong voice for nuclear technology in general and the Integral Fast Reactor in particular. A major step in the advancement of the IFR this year was completion of the design for a 100 ton-per-year pyroprocessing unit - the key step in recycling "nuclear waste" into fuel for fast reactors. This 2 year project at Argonne National Laboratory was promoted and facilitated by SCGI. The work was led by Dr. Yoon Chang, a charter member of SCGI and early leader in the development of the IFR.
During the past year I have been promoting IFR technology and encouraging collaborative projects in numerous countries. I am pleased to report that it is currently part of active discussions in Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, China, Australia and the US. The plutonium disposition project in the UK that I described in last year's letter continues to move forward. Our most recent effort has been to encourage a joint US/UK fast reactor development project for plutonium disposition. This would allow a sharing of the high costs that arise in such first-of-a-kind projects. An agreement for this venture has been drawn up and we hope to organize talks between officials from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and the US DOE in the coming year. As previously noted, four other countries also have strong interest in metal-fueled fast reactors. By sharing the experience and data gained in our national laboratories, the US has the potential to lead the development of this technology. I’m happy to say that this attitude seems to be finding a sympathetic ear from people within Congress and the Obama administration. SCGI will encourage future administrations to pursue this approach as well.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to interact with the founders of a variety of nuclear power start-ups. This year I have enjoyed working with Thorcon. This company is promoting a molten salt reactor design that is not only passively safe but previously proven and immediately buildable as modules in a "shipyard-like assembly line". Construction could well proceed more rapidly than the IFR and therefore accelerate humanity's transition away from fossil fuels. However, it does produce nuclear waste and would benefit from the tandem promotion of the IFR, using the IFR’s pyroprocessing technology to recycle its spent fuel. SCGI has helped Thorcon brainstorm a variety of ideas and make connections with potential customers and supporters.
Another technology that SCGI has promoted since its inception is the plasma conversion of waste to energy. It has the potential to eliminate landfills and spur the development of waste collection infrastructure throughout the world. The inventor of that technology, Dr. Lou Circeo, is another charter member of SCGI. It is with immense delight that I can report that the first large-scale plasma converter has finally been built in England and will be finishing the final stages of its shakedown operation before the end of 2015. That testing has been so successful that the second such unit is already under construction. If you would like more information about this relatively unheralded technology, check out chapter 7 of Prescription for the Planet. You can download it from our web site free of charge.
The electric truck development that SCGI has been monitoring for the past few years continues to progress. Already capable of driving a fully-loaded 18-wheeler over 150 miles on a half-hour charge, new batteries on the cusp of commercialization promise to double that range. This will be a game changer for both heavy and light vehicles. Other design features of the electric semi have been further refined, so once the new batteries are available they will have an immediate application. The truck’s designer has told me that he’ll take care of getting the trucks on the road, but we need to make sure that there’s plenty of zero-carbon electricity available to charge them.
There are additional exciting events on the horizon. SCGI has helped organize a presentation about nuclear power during the United Nations’ COP21 climate conference in Paris in December. Four of the world's leading climatologists (including Drs. James Hansen and Tom Wigley of SCGI) will urge the deployment of advanced nuclear power systems as a means for both reducing and managing future climate change. At the White House Summit on Nuclear Energy in early November it was announced that the US delegation to COP21 is also supporting the need for nuclear power. Despite the disappointment of past climate conferences, much of the world will be focused on Paris this December and we are confident that these advocates will help accelerate the growth of this vital resource.
Lastly, before the end of the year we hope to be able to announce progress in the development of fast reactors in China. SCGI initiated a relationship with Chinese nuclear engineers during our conference at UC Berkeley in 2012. In 2014 we hosted a tour of Idaho National Laboratory for Dr. Xu Mi, Chief Engineer of the Chinese Fast Reactor Project, and introduced him to Dr. Jim Hansen. Later this month, I will be attending a meeting in China with Dr. Xu Mi, Dr. Hansen, Dr. Per Peterson of UC Berkeley, and others to explore strategies for expansion of nuclear power in China.
The Science Council for Global Initiatives is making a difference.
I would like to thank the members of SCGI for their past work and ongoing contributions in support of energy egalitarianism and sound climate policy. I would also like to thank our board of directors for the time, oversight and encouragement they have given to this organization. Finally, we would like to thank those who have supported SCGI financially. Without you we would not be able to continue this work.
Please join us in promoting a healthier planet and higher quality of life for future generations.
Tom Blees President, The Science Council for Global Initiatives
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