Category Archives: English

Happy birthday chain reaction!

Yesterday it was 70 years ago since Fermi and his gang of researchers pulled out the control rod in Chicago Pile one and initiated the first controlled self sustaining fission chain reaction. By all accounts a momentous moment in the history of both science and mankind. The first time we took the step from primitive chemical energy to an energy source a million times more dense and powerful. It's a day worth celebrating and remembering, and it marks the real beginning of the Atomic age (otherwise usually said to have started on July 16 in 1945 with the Trinity test). Looking back at it now it is quite amazing what the scientists then accomplished with only their brains, pen, paper and slide rulers.

Of course some nuclear opponents consider 70 years a very old age and claim that nuclear is a bit to old to party (a claim clearly disproved by the first picture in this blog post), but is 70 years a valid retirement age for an energy source? Let's consider other energy sources.

Biofuels were discovered sometime during the evolution of humanity when Grok (or was it Gruk?) started thinking about burning trees after a lightning struck. At some point he figured out that steak tastes better if tossed onto one of these burning trees, and so the biofuel powered bbq was invented. It also had a very nice side effects of making the cave more comfy in the winter and helped make it possible for humanity to spread out from warm and cozy Africa into cold(er) Europe and Asia. By all accounts we are talking about more than a hundred thousand years ago. Biofuels and fire is thus pretty damn old compared to the strapping youth of fission. So why do not anti-nuclear people seem to object to biofuels due to its immense age?

Coal can probably be crammed into roughly the same category as biofuels because it can't have taken so long for Grok to see that those weird black stones also burn when tossed into a fire, although its massive used didn't start until James Watt perfected the steam engine in the 18th century. That makes large scale use of coal a couple of hundred years older than fission.

Oil is a relative newcomer, sort of the rookie in the fossil family. It was first seen as either a health remedy or a nuisance, at first it was mostly used to rub onto all kinds of sores or warts but not much else. In 1840 James Young discovered how to distill kerosene from oil and all of a sudden a replacement for whale oil in lamps was available, leading to the use of oil really taking off. That makes oil use about 100 years older than fission, but it had been known for thousands of years.

Fossil gas came as an unwanted (and often dangerous) by-product from oil drilling and coal mining, but the commercial development of it as an energy source went i parallel with the oil extraction. The first gas well for commercial purposes was dug by hand in Fredonia, New York, by William Hart in 1821, but already the ancient Greeks used it for a more esoteric use: The Oracle of Delphi probably got her visions and divine answers from breathing the fumes of gas sipping out of the rock at the temple.

What about renewables that are seen as young upshots that can change the world? Well, wind power has been used on an industrial scale since the 19th century, among other things in order to keep the Dutch from needing to don wet-suits to get to work. Of course wind has been used for sailing for as long as humanity has known how to make a sail. That makes wind anything from 200 years older than fission to thousands of years older.

Solar power is a bit younger, at least solar cells. The process how to get electricity out of photons (the photoelectric effect) was the discovery from 1905 that gave Einstein his Nobel prize in 1921, some 40 years or so before fission. So even solar cells are younger than fission. Actually there is NO new energy source that has been discovered after fission, making fission the youngest on the block despite its 70 years. It is thus pretty moronic to nag on nuclear for being an old fart, it is hardly out of its diapers yet!

But how has this young lad done so far? Well, the first real use of fission for power (excluding things that go boom) was in 1954 with the Obninsk reactor in the Soviet Union, then followed by Calder Hall reactor in the UK in 1956 and the Shippingport reactor in the US in 1957. After that nuclear took off and within 30 years nuclear was producing close to 1250 TWh of electricity per year (over 150 GW of installed capacity). 20 years later production had more than doubled to 2800 TWh/year. The thermal energy produced is almost equivalent to the combined oil production of Saudia Arabia and Russia! Not bad, not bad at all.

The future is looking mighty bright as well, we have barely scratched the surface of the potential of nuclear energy. Right now we are only using 0.5% of the available energy in the fuel and in fairly inefficient designs as well. The next technological step has already been demonstrated in many countries, and within a short time span we can expect to see nuclear fulfill many more roles than today. Process heat for industry, nuclear reactors for space applications, small reactors for remote communities, there is no energy niche where nuclear can not play a part in the future. Furthermore, there are many niches where only nuclear is applicable (submarines and deep space exploration, for instance).

So happy birthday to fission! We wish you another 70 years of success and good health until the day comes when your cousin controlled nuclear fusion has matured enough to be a competitor.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent (chart found at


Other blogs or web sites that honours the anniversary:



Visit to Marviken

Sometimes the NPYP bunch tires of being rough on the roughnecks and decides to leave the jungle headquarters for a walk on the streets like normal people. Such an momentous occasion happened this week, and where else could they be found other than at the only oil fired nuclear power plant in the world (don't tell us we don't know how to party!)?

The power plant in question is Marviken, located about 150 km driving distance from Stockholm. It was supposed to be the first large scale electricity producing nuclear power plant built according to "the Swedish line". The design principles behind the Swedish line was:

  • Natural uranium as fuel so that the abundant Swedish uranium resources could be utilized without any need to depend on import.
  • Heavy water as moderator because light water steals to many neutrons to be possible to use with natural uranium fuel.
  • Possibility to refuel during operation so that fuel bundles can be removed at the point where the Plutonium isotope composition is the most beneficial as weapons material.

Continue reading Visit to Marviken

Information for the foreign visitors to the Swedish nuclear power plants

The recent visits to the nuclear power plants at Forsmark and Ringhals and the surrounding nature, mainly by foreign citizens, raises a few concerns. Many Swedes are of course charmed by the sudden increase in tourism to the northern parts of Uppland and Halland counties, October is not the most attractive season. There are, however, some useful information that would be good for any foreign visitor to be aware of, and we will therefore give a bit of advice, should this increased level of tourism continue.

The beautiful nature near the Forsmark nuclear power plant

In Sweden we have something called "Allemansrätten" (usually translated as "Right of public access" or "Everyman's right"). Allemansrätten gives you the right to access of our nature, not only at national parks and other dedicated areas. In principle you may go anywhere you like all over Sweden; our forests, pastureland, mountains, lakes and rivers are all available for you to enjoy, Swede or foreigner alike. But there's more to it. You are also allowed to pick flowers, berries and mushrooms for your enjoyment, and you may raise a tent almost anywhere for a night or two without asking for permission. Continue reading Information for the foreign visitors to the Swedish nuclear power plants

Joseph Mangano never stops, and he never gets it right

Joseph Mangano has once again puffed too hard on the alarmist pipe, now with a new article in the August 15 edition of the political newsletter Counterpunch. We recognize the pattern from before: First spread a bit of scaremongering disguised as research in some fringe media. You mix the alarmistic message with some caution in order to cover your back in case somebody will put you to task, knowing that the alarmistic part will advertise itself, be inflated and spread through the internet and possibly some news media. Then some time later you publish an extended study with a similar message in a scientific journal with low quality threshold.

Joseph Mangano seems happily surprised that people once again are falling for his junk science.

This time the title of the Counterpunch article starts with the rather cynical Let the Counting Begin followed by Fukushima’s Nuclear Casualties. It is just a calculation exercise for Joe, and it could have been an interesting one if it weren't for the fact that:

  • he is counting dead people in Japan during 2011, claiming that the cause of death for 38,700 of them are unexplained, with the implication that radioactivity from Fukushima is the cause, and
  • a closer scrutiny shows that once again he is handling the data in a very irresponsible way in order to push his own anti-nuclear agenda.

Continue reading Joseph Mangano never stops, and he never gets it right

A few interesting videos of reactor experiments

During the 50's and 60's a number of experiments where conducted in the US to examine criticality accidents in light water reactors. One basically inserted large amounts of criticality (by ejecting control rods from the core) to see what happens. It is quite fascinating to watch the videos of the experiments. The first two videos are from the Borax experiments and the third one from SPERT, enjoy watching them!

I will try to find some time to write more about criticality, prompt criticality and feedbacks that keep reactors stable and how one calculates transients, but until then if someone technically minded wants to read more about the experiment I recommend searching on DOE's information bride (


Sweden's largest utility applies to start building new reactors

Sweden's largest utility - state-owned Vattenfall - which today owns seven of Sweden's ten nuclear power reactors - has applied to commence planning building new reactors with Sweden's nuclear regulators: the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority.

Application received for construction of new nuclear power reactors

Vattenfall AB submitted an application to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority today concerning replacement of up to two of the company’s existing nuclear power reactors.  According to Vattenfall, this step facilitates an analysis of the preconditions for a possible future investment in new reactors.

Short history of nuclear power in Sweden:

Late 1930's-1940s's: Jewish-born Lise Meitner flees Austria after Nazi-germany annexes it. Ends up at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. There she is made member of an advisory group that soon after the war recommends that Sweden develop nuclear power.

1950's: Reactor 1 (R1) is built at KTH. It is a heavy water moderated research reactor. Sweden aims - secretly - to become self-sufficient regarding nuclear power and atomic weapons.

1960's: R2 and R2-0 - pool-type reactors - are built in Studsvik. R3 - a heavy water moderated reactor that delivers electricity and distric heating - is taken into operation in Farsta, a suburb of Stockholm. R4 however - a combined heavy water boiler and plutonium breeder design - fails miserably as it becomes obvious that swapping out fuel during normal operation of a boiler reactor is grossly impractical. The reactor is never built and a oil fired boiler is put in its place to drive the built turbines and generator. The nuclear weapons program is put on hold and eventually scrapped. Private netures begin projecting light water reactors instead.

1970's: The Swedish Center Party - wishing to adopt an "environmental profile" - meet with Nobel prize laureate -Hannes Alfvén and are made to believe that Plutonium contamination will be inevitable is nuclear power is used. They begin campaigning against nuclear power. The first privately owned commersial reactors into operation from 1971 and onwards. The nuclear debate rages hotter and more intense towards the end of the decade, even causing the fall of one govenment cabinet. The Three Mile Island accident makes all politicla parties to agree on a referendum.

1980: The referendum is held... but the choices the people get to vote for are three "lines" of action, all of them meaning the abandoning of nuclear power in Sweden. "Line 2" wins, meaning that "nuclear power will discontinued when suitable replacements are in operation and provided that work and well-being are not compromised". The Swedish parliament puts into law that no new power reactors will be built, and that in the year 2010 all nuclear power shall be closed in Sweden.

1986: As a result of the Chernobyl accident, Sweden receives large amounts of contamination. The so-called "Thought-ban" - which makes planning, designing or even calculating the cost of a new power reactor in Sweden punishable by fines or jail up to two years - is put into effect the following year.

1997: A bi-partisan agreement is made between the then government and the Center party. The government is given legal power to order the closure of any of Sweden's twelve power reactors without going through parliament. Also the end date of 2010 is lifted.

1999 and 2005: Using the powers mentioned above, the two nuclear reactors at Barsebäck nuclear power plant are shut down permanently.

2006: The "Thought-ban" is lifted after 20 years as it is concluded that all development of nuclear technology in Sweden has ceased... including safety improvements.

2009-2010: The "Alliance for Sweden" coalition government reaches an agreement that the ban on nuclear power in Sweden shall be lifted.

2011: The Fukushima accident sparks an intense flurry of debate... which then oddly enough dies out completely after about six months and doesn't come back until the end of the year.

The big bad nuclear mafia

Quite often in the nuclear debate one encounters the idea that the nuclear industry is some industrial juggernaut of immense proportions, so large and rich that it can pay an army of lobbyists and crush the poor little renewable energy industry beneath its heel. Nuclear is firmly place next to oil, gas and coal in magnitude, richness and reach in the opponents mind. Renewable energy companies on the other hand are envisioned as small mom and pop buisnesses run out of the back of the yard with very small means and no political or economic clout to speak of.  But what is it really like? Continue reading The big bad nuclear mafia

Radioactive tourism - A trip to the Ytterby mine

I am taking a online geology course for fun right now, the subject has always interested me and it is quite different from the maths heavy physics I am used to. Sweden has a grand history in geology, mineralogy and chemistry and chief among historic locations must be the mine in Ytterby, a suburb to Stockholm. In 1787 the lieutenant, chemist and amature geologist Carl Axel Arrhenius was sorting through the mine heap at Ytterby and discovered a unusually heavy black rock. Realizing that it must be a undiscovered mineral he sent samples of the rock to several chemists for analysis. The man that did the best job was Johan Gadolin and the mineral was named Gadolinite in his honor. The mineral contains, among other things, the element yttrium and it was the first of the rare earth elements to be discovered. Another 6 new elements where discovered in minerals from Ytterby and no less than 4 is named directly after the location (Yttrium, Terbium, Erbium and Ytterbium along with Skandium, Thulium and Holmium).

I happen to live in Stockholm which means a small field trip to Ytterby is a must and there I went a few weeks ago. Anyone that has been following the rare earth situation in China also knows that where there is rare earths usually one also finds Thorium, properly armed with a dosimeter I was looking forward to some rads! Continue reading Radioactive tourism - A trip to the Ytterby mine

Friday arithmetic, the end of cheap energy?

It's Friday, a thunderstorm is raging outside and I am on vacation so there is not much else to do than some simple calculations. On a Swedish blog I made a comment regarding how everyone is ignoring the uranium elephant when it comes to energy discussions. Pessimism abound regarding the reserves of fossil fuels and doomsday is commonly predicted. But I have long held the view that nobody can seriously claim humanity will ever run out of energy (however that doesn't exclude bumps on the road), many might find that to be a naive idea, but some very simple arithmetic proves my point. Continue reading Friday arithmetic, the end of cheap energy?