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Somehow I don’t think they’re using He-3 from the Moon November 9, 2008

Posted by Thomas Olson in Uncategorized.
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They want to make mini-nuke plants the size of a garden shed that can power 20000 homes:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/09/miniature-nuclear-reactors-los-alamos

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1. matt - November 9, 2008

I thought He3 was only useful for fusion reactors. Since they said the design was decades old it must be a fission reactor.

I am sure practical use for fusion fueled from lunar He3 and electricity from space solar power will be practical soon, though.

2. Thomas Olson - November 10, 2008

It is…but those “fusion reactors” don’t exist. Nevertheless, that little fact doesn’t stop the promoters of He-3 mining on the Moon continuing to promote their scheme.

Keep in mind that the Cynics sometimes use sarcasm to make their point, and we don’t warn in advance.

3. Eric Haynes - November 11, 2008

Ah yes, CON-FUSION. Always decades away. ALWAYS.

4. Marcos Passarello - November 15, 2008

I see the diagrams of how to obtain He3 from the moon studying the papers of University of Wisconsin.The design of mining machine to do this process that go to the moon, extract He3,
come back to earth and in the middle of the way process the he3.
The methodology” BIA”, a matrix of all problems that the machine
could have in the way to the moon and in the way to earth.
The Impact found simple problems that could have the machine in the way To the moon, and criticals problems, always is high. The times, for develop the mining machine. The last matter will be work in Bio-fuels-Diesel, it could be good for the future analyses of how to process He3 fuels.I work and develop since years a methodology of Risk Space Management using standards 4360 AUS-NZ ,NIST -800-30 and in the end i am working with ISO 31000, and 31010.

Thank you very much

Marcos Passarello

5. Thomas Olson - November 16, 2008

But so far, Marcos, all you’re spending your time on is an intellectual exercise. Sometimes that can be very rewarding, but you don’t make the mortgage payment on it.

We’ve all said this until we’re practically blue in the face, and apparently it still doesn’t sink in with some people: THERE ARE NO COMMERCIAL FUSION REACTORS RUNNING HE-3. THEY DON’T EXIST. THEY MAY NOT EXIST FOR YEARS, EVEN DECADES. THERE IS NO MARKET FOR HE-3 MINED FROM THE MOON, AND THEREFORE NO JUSTIFICATION FOR THE ABSURDLY HIGH START UP COST TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Yes, the world has energy problems. But we need solutions NOW, not decades from now – fortunately those solutions are coming out of the lab as you read this – and they will make money for investors.

I’ve discovered that Rogaine won’t restore hair that I’ve torn out myself in exasperation.

6. Brian Wang - November 17, 2008

These reactors are uranium hydride liquid metal FISSION reactors.

I have many articles on the reactors including coverage of the patent by Otis Peterson of Lawrence Livermore.

They plan to use uranium fuel enriched to 4.9%. Reactors will weigh 15 tons or 20tons including extra shielding. I believe that size is only for the core and does not include the generator. But that core size is about one seventh the size of compact sub reactor cores.

A simple google search will turn up about 200 articles on this with a lot more technical detail.

I believe that if this Venture Capital funded reactor gets built (they claim to have 100 orders) that it would be good to deploy to build far better space infrastructure. 27MWe, 70MWth. But space use would run into the usual PR barriers. So a compact system to process the concentrations of Uranium and thorium on the moon would have to be developed. Concentrations on par with granite on earth in the better locations. There are methods to get uranium from such low concentrations but tend to be expensive. However, even $1000-10000 per kg to recover low concentration uranium from the moon would be worthwhile. Then if we were to use the General electric/silex laser enrichment (being deployed commercially in 2012) that could then bring the material up to sufficient enrichment efficiently and more compactly.

Estimate the silex laser process needs 5-50 kWh/SWU [separative work units], actual details are classified but based on the 2-20 times better gas centrifuge statements.

A kilogram of LEU requires roughly 11 kilograms U as feedstock for the enrichment process and about 7 separative work units (SWUs) of enrichment services. To produce one kilogram of uranium enriched to 3.5% U-235 requires 4.3 SWU if the plant is operated at a tails assay 0.30%, or 4.8 SWU if the tails assay is 0.25% (thereby requiring only 7.0 kg instead of 7.8 kg of natural U feed).

7. Paul F. Dietz - December 8, 2008

Moderately enriched uranium is going to be nearly as strongly regulated as highly enriched uranium, since going from the former to the latter is much easier than starting from unenriched uranium.

Given the overhead costs imposed by security concerns, I don’t see much market for small nuclear reactors.

Mining uranium on the moon is Really Stupid, btw. Compare the mass of the mining, processing, and enrichment equipment to the mass of the (enriched) uranium it would produce. Which would be easier to ship to the moon?

8. Glyn - March 26, 2009

It turns out that one of the biggest problems with tokamak fusion reactors is that you need liquid helium to make the magnets super-conducting. It is a finite resource, currently coming from two holes in the ground (one in the US, one in Russia), and is about the price of whiskey. I can see a time when we would need to try and find a new source of it. So, yes I can possibly see a time when we might need to find another source of helium for widespread industrial use. However, it would have to become incredibly valuable before you could even think of making a cost-effective lunar mining program. Instead of that, let’s just focus on developing high-temperature superconductors.

Also, no-one has ever explained to me why we would go to the moon to get He-3 fuel, when we can make fusion from Deuterium (from sea water) and Tritium (from the lithium blanket surrounding the reactor).

As far as uranium goes, I am not aware that we have discovered any up there yet. Plus, there is plenty of uranium here on Earth. Fuel is really not the issue for fission power, it’s the disposal of the radioactive waste.

9. Paul F. Dietz - June 30, 2009

Fuel is really not the issue for fission power, it’s the disposal of the radioactive waste.

Actually, no, disposal of waste is not the problem either. The major problem of nuclear power is the capital cost of the equipment. Waste can be adequately and economically dealt with simply by sealing it in armored cannisters and guarding them on the surface. In a few centuries the waste will have decayed enough that the contained plutonium is not “self protected” from diversion by the fission product radiation field, but thanks to the miracle of non-zero interest rates, the net present value of disposing of that waste will be negligible.


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