BRIGID project: society
social impact of BRIGID
Project BRIGID will have a huge social impact.
There is no way one can inject this technology into society without a proper long term plan on impact handling.
Hence this page. This page of the BRIGID website is essentially a discussion on long term societal decisions, not on physics and engineering. Therefore anyone has the right to disagree. This is our opinion on the matter.
Due to the shear size, the very long time frame, the urgency, and the fact that BRIGID is essentially not renewable, the introduction should be done
properly. Remember we are looking at a project that spans hundreds of years, including a point of no return.
There are many, many ways thorium reactors can be conceived in the wrong way. In fact, both from a physics and engineering point of view, from a regulatory point of view, and from a social point of view, there are only very few options to do it properly. Any current development of nuclear technology we observe world wide, as in the Generation IV hemisphere, has some serious negative repercussions:
safety, efficienty, proliferation, regulation, military, economical, waste, risc analysis, and so forth.
BRIGID was specifically set up to avoid any of these traps.
BRIGID boldly skips a development generation, that's why we call it Generation V. We do this by giving up any form of backward compatibility with the existing nuclear industry, cut all links with military influences, and start the BURD (BRIGID User Requirement Document) from scratch, in today's context, with a long term perspective, and with the benefit of society as the ultimate target.
We thereby focus on one goal only: full scale and reliable secondary energy production for civil use. All other requirements are skipped: flexibility, experimental features, modularity, compatibility of any kind, reusability, medical or industrial isotope production, radiation services, silicon doping, materials testing. There are other reactors today which can do those specific jobs.
By simplifying the requirements, we simplify the design, with a beneficial feedback on all complexity aspects, including safety, cost, development time and availability.
As a service to society, we do however feel obliged to recycle the Belgian decomissioned spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the predecing decades.
To a strictly limited number of BRIGID reactors, this definitely complicates the design, the reactor, the fuel cycle, which is otherwise surprisingly elegant and simple. In due time, we therefore expect political support to render the decomissioned fuel into a BRIGID compliant fuel additive. This is a unique event. The Belgian SNF should be used for this purpose, and for no other option.
huh? energy is not renewable?
Thermodynamics is the scientic accounting method for energy. "Renewable" is a weird term in thermodynamical context. BRIGID accepts that energy is not renewable. The second law of thermodynamics heuristically states a perpetuum mobile cannot exist. That means that, unless proven otherwise, there is no system from which one can drain energy indefinitely. (Become immortal by proving us wrong.)
The only Earth-system long term energy inputs from an external source on a usable macroscopic scale are sunshine and tides.
Wind energy, wave energy and potential energy as in rain for hydroelectricity are also caused by sunshine. So are aminal and human labour, because all living creatures digest food, which is grown by sunshine.
Although it is romantic to believe that small scale agriculure by human labour is significantly more energy efficient than large scale industrial agriculture. It is not. It is also not economically viable.
All fossile fuels, coal, turf, lignite, mineral gas and oil are frozen sunshine in the form of carbohydrate molecules. Stocks are limited and using them is not climate neutral.
Geothermy and Earth-core radioactivity are energy sources created before and during the formation of the Earth, and stored ever since.
Unfortunately, these sources are either polluting, intermittent, horribly inefficient or plain unpractical.
Even sun and wind, which are primary energy sources that can be used to produce usable secondary energy at no resource cost at all, require equipment wear and a conversion step that is inherently not renewable.
So much for renewable energy.
Nonetheless, and although misleading, we shall keep using the word renewable for sun and wind, to avoid confusion. By the way, hydro has no place in the Belgian context, except in the form of a lossy and inefficient battery. We have no heights...
At the current stage of human development, society effectively needs a reliable secondary energy source, which is environmentally clean and climate neutral, both in production and comsumption.
Saving energy by all means possible is picking low hanging fruit. It's already done several times, by introducing new products, such as flatscreens replacing CRTs, LED lights to replace light bulbs, for every product that was made obsolete by a better product, and that could be scaled up sufficiently. However, replacing a sucessfull product by a more expensive one, just for ecological reasons, only happens when funded. Or did you pay for your EV all by yourself?
BRIGID assumes society has already made the choice on energy needs, and is not willing or even able to backtrack that decision.
Certainly not in a global context, unless the Belgian society becomes strategically dependent on the persistent goodwill of other nations. It should therefore accept the inevitable consequences.
For climate reasons and due to depleting natural resources, future secondary energy production cannot be fossile. Nor can it be 100% renewable, due to the ration of the low density and the intermittant character compared to the shear size of the energy demand. Numerous opportunities to save energy or to invest in renewables have been missed in the past.
Apparantly, no one is genuinly interested in large scale investments in technology for ecological reasons only, if there are no economical incentives.
And massive scale investments in renewables appear just as scary as investments in nuclear, let aside that renewables can never be scaled up to an economically viable level that no longer requires government funding and without an unacceptable impact on the environment. BRIGIDs 270 TWh per year is equivalent to 90,000 3 MW huge wind turbines with a realistic load factor of 25%. This can never be realised. We have less than 500. And they produce electricity, intermittent even so, and no synfuels. Comparable story for solar panels.
funding does not work
If a believed ecological product does not launch by itself, there is always a lobby that gets it funded. Funding only works if lots of
people pay a small share in the large expense of a few early adopters. As soon as every one installs solar panels, everybody would be funding everybody else. This clearly is not sustainable.
It is therefore argued that funding is only needed until mass production cuts the cost under a psychological boundary. It remains to be proven that this boundary actually exists for wind turbines, solar panels, home batteries and electric cars. As funding continues, this is clearly not yet the case.
The net CO2 reduction of the Belgian funding mechanisms does not show up in any statistics.
revisiting the idea of recycling
Most people embrace the concept of recycling materials. Slowly but steadily the world is making progress in collecting and recycling all kinds of valuable materials. These days, new products are designed with material recycling in mind.
However, not all materials are considered worth recycling: in general only "valuable" materials are treated: gold in computer chips, lithium in car batteries, glass bottles, metals.
Or materials that are "easy" to recycle, such as paper.
Some materials are recycled because they are "harmfull" to life and to the biosphere, such as mercury.
The same recycling principle holds for chemical fuel components just as well.
Although it seems only reasonable to collect waste materials to recycle them, this has never been considered for C and N atoms which form the backbone of fossile fuels: the fuels are burned and the waste products, CO2 and NOx are simply vented into the athmosphere, which was always considered to be infinite. It is not.
The reason is simply economical: C and N atoms have never been considered as "valuable" materials, nor as "harmfull". And they are certainly not "easy" to collect for recycling. However, it is now clear that they fall into the category of "harmful" waste after they have been used. Therefore, it seems logical to also collect them and recycle them, just as any other recycling material.
This however costs lots of energy, obviously. Besides the "usefull" secondary energy used to "charge" these molecules, it also costs energy to collect the molecules and to compensate the losses in the conversion processes. But that's no reason not to do it, we do it for lots of other materials too.
Never forget the cost of recycling: it's lots and lots of energy... This holds for materials recycling as well as for fuel recycling. And that's where BRIGID steps in: an abundant and reliable source of energy to recycle fuel and materials both. In this way BRIGID can provide a substantial contribution to solving the conventional waste problem.
energy is limited
The amount of energy available to us in a useful form, or secondary energy, is limited.
We must stop burning fossile fuels both for climate reasons and to stop athmosphere pollution. Sun and wind are intermittent sources. So the only large scale secondary energy carriers that can be generated reliably in our national context, are electricity and synthetic fuels, generated from nuclear fuel.
But the amount of earthly materials to produce nuclear fuel is also and definitely limited. It is a primary value.
Let's take the time to think about value first...
energy as a value
What is value? Is it money? Is it labour? Intellectual property? Real estate? Gold?
The real answer is: energy. And more particular energy in a useful form: secondary energy.
Most people consider money as a value. It is not. Money is a briliant invention: it allows the efficient exchange of goods and services, independent of time and place, in a very practical way. Cash notes, exchange bills, bank accounts, and even crypto currencies are just different versions of ye olde money concept. Their relevance is based on 1 and 1 assumption only: trust. Society trusts that its value is
accepted by the whole of society as more or less stable in time and place, assuming inflation within acceptable bounds.
Governments guarantee this stability within reasonable currency variations and inflation.
But the basic idea is that of trust: a butcher who sells a hamburger for 2.75 € today is
pretty sure that he can buy a loaf of bread in the bakery in the next town a week from now for that same 2.75 €.
However, money is not immune to inflation. The trust may break down, as shown once more in the 2007 financial crash. Financial wizzards seek shelter in gold, real estate, lithium supplies, or any other asset when the financial sky is clouded.
Money value is also not global. Economists have once coined the idea to use a Big Macs as a academic measure to compare economic figures worldwide. It's not such a bad idea, but there exists a far, far better one: energy. For instance in 1 kWh units.
The basic problem is that you can't eat money. Or gold for that matter. Or bitcoins. But you do need energy at all times. To produce food. For heating. For transport. For leasure. For cultural activities. In one word: to live.
Energy is thus a more fundamental value. And we mean energy in a useful form, or secondary energy. In its most practical form, it's fuel and electric power (we should say energy, but everyone keeps saying power), available on the power grid.
Considering the problem of inflation, limiting the amount of bitcoins that can be mined was one of the essential ideas of the bitcoin creator.
It is clear that the amount of secondary energy we can produce using natural resources is also limited. Much like mining bitcoins. This time, however, it is not limited by any human, say, political decision, but by mere physics.
It's also global.
The SI unit to measure energy (any form of energy), is Joule. However, in daily life Joule is a very small unit.
1000 Joule is about the energy released when one lights a match.
Joule is an unpractical unit in this discussion.
In a nuclear or chemical sense, Joule is a very large unit. Engineers use eV as a working unit. A single chemical combustion reaction delivers a few eV or energy, a nuclear fission reaction delivers about 200 MeV of energy. That's a factor of 100,000,000 in energy density.
Traditionally, literature mentions many other energy units, such as liters of fuel, barrels, kubic meters of gas, BTU, calories and ... Calories, and so forth. Belgian government sites are downright confusing if one want to make a global energy budget.
Let's cut it all. In order to avoid confusion and errors in budgeting and accounting energy requirements,
BRIGID therefore consistently uses kWh as a basic unit to measure energy.
Anyone can image the size and value of 1 kWh. You are billed by the electricity company in kWh units. It's the energy used by any 1000 Watt appliance operating for 1 hour. Its the amount of energy a healthy person produces by physical labour in an 8 hours shift. An electric kWh costs around 30 cents, consumer price, ball park figure.
A gardener producing the same kWh costs 40 EUR/hr times 8 hrs = 320 EUR. In essence, in a nation with no natural resources, that is the basis of our wealth. It's that particular factor of 1000.
But let's talk big now. Large amounts are denoted as MWh (on industrial consumer scale) or GWh (on power plant scale) or TWh (on a national scale).
So how much energy do we need?
A Belgian citizen typically comsumes 7000 kWh of electricity per year, and the entire country consumes 85 TWh per year.
But that's only a small part of the story: an average Belgian citizen consumes about 65000 kWh of primary energy per year, and all of us Belgians a stunning 720,000,000,000 kWh/yr or 720 TWh/yr.
And 80% of this comes from fossile fuel, 15% from nuclear power plants, and the pittyful rest is renewables. Even after years a funding wind turbines and solar panels.
On this website, you can figure it out for yourself: https://ourworldindata.org/energy/country/belgium
A 1 GWe electric power plant operating for 1 year, i.e., for 365 days/year and 24 hrs/day, or 8760 hrs/year, produces 8760 GWh of electric energy, thus supplying 1.2 million Belgian citizens.
Remember however that BRIGID is not only about electricity production, but mainly about synfuels. A Belgian household comsumes typically 30 GWh per year on heating, cooling, private transportation, air travel, and from various energy sources: electricity and fossile fuels. In addition, Belgian railways and industry consume most of the rest. We also account fossils fuel consumption as primary resources to produce plastics and fertilisers.
The total annual Begian consumption is no less than 720 TWh/yr.
If all this energy would have to be converted from nuclear fuel, we would need to install 85 GW nuclear power plants. Fortunately, the problem is somewhat less stringent than it seems.
However, at this point, it should be clear that "renewables" have no part in the discussion whatsoever.
The total amount of secondary, and not primary, energy is used to dimension BRIGID. It will account for all the energy consumed by Belgian society as of 2030.
In this perspective, the contribution of renewable sources will always remain marginal.
energy as a human right
Energy is the most basic human right. No energy, no life, no fun. Secondary energy is what frees people from survival labouring and allows a society to develop.
Taking this a step further, BRIGID considers the Belgian grid as a Safety-of-Life (SOL) application. So anyone has the right to consume a fair amount of energy, next to the energy consumption of common facilities, such as factories, hospitals, schools, public tranport and traffic control.
If we accept the unit "kWh" as a monetary value, we can compute the minimum value any person should
be entitled to.
Moreover, the energetic production cost of any product or service can be used to properly and fairly tax it's value.
Obviously this amount should be limited to a maximum per person per lifespan, as energy is a physically limited quantity. Unlike money, which can be printed by issuers at will.
As BRIGID's golden energy consumes thorium, the process is inherently not renewable, and the amount anyone may be entitled to, is limited.
Therefore, it is a political decision to quantise the energy needs of any indiviual or organisation. BRIGID assumes politics will issue law to prevent free market mechanisms to disrupt society.
If the amount of affordable energy per capita is limited, how large can it realistically be?
Thorium is the most dense form of energy the universe has stored for us. A single thorium marble of 1.5cm diameter contains all the energy a person will consume in a 100-year life span, including heating, transportation and his use of electric appliances. Mind: this is true on condition the energy is harvested in the most efficient way, i.e., in a state-of-the-art MSR thorium breeder reactor. The Belgian thorium requirement for the next 500 years fits into a few dozen 40ft containers. However, this does not mean that thorium supplies are endless. It just says its dense.
Next, the total amount of energy needed worldwide can be easily computed.
Now, here's the tricky part. In order to avoid the problems caused by free market
mechanisms in the past, it is mandatory to agree worldwide on a global energy budget.
One might argue it is a political duty to avoid the monopolisation of thorium supplies, and any entity buying large quantities of thorium at this point in time, with the sole intention to generate a huge profit, should be submit to government seizing at the time the reactor technology is effectively rolled out.
However, the abundancy is such that long term stashing makes no sense.
Practically, due to radiating daughter products, it is far more sensitive to mine it as needed.
It is also a political duty to avoid a world wide armed conflict over thorium supplies. This includes supplies on the moon.
From the global energy budget, one should politically decide on the lifetime of Earth's energy supply: by integrating the world population over time, multiplied with the budget per person, until the ultimate supply limit is reached. If the world agrees on the time frame, the maximum world population is determined.
to save the climate, we have no choice but to consume our non-renewable thorium supply, and we need to do this as rationally as possible. It's a simple budgetary issue.
pricing BRIGID energy
There is no reason to assume that BRIGID will be a monopolistic company, even if this would be desired by BRIGID or the Belgian government.
In a competitive market, the price of any asset is detemined by the marginal production cost. In the future, the value of energy will therefore be determined by the marginal production cost of both BRIGID and renewable energy. The marginal cost for renewables will be virtually zero. Therefore BRIGID energy, is only competitive if there is no wind or sun. It is however mandatory to provide the base load production. The alternatives, such as burning fossile fuel for peak production, will render the marginal cost to a maximum, while violating all environmental regulations.
It is a political duty to establish regulation to avoid energy overconsumption
To summerise: selling energy produced cheaply by a BRIGID plant at prices determined by the high marginal production cost
of a gas fired power plant is not the best idea.
earning money with BRIGID energy
BRIGID is not set up as a cash cow. It is a basic service to society. Obviously, contributers must be properly rewarded for their work. Also, development and exploitation costs should be fully covered. On the other hand, if we consider a fair amount of energy per time frame as an essential human right, the price should be democratic and above all:predictable.
Therefore BRIGID will offer energy at a fixed price, independent of the marginal production cost of any competing production. This is absolutely essential.
Likewise, since government regulation will make overconsumption impossible by law, BRIGID energy marketing makes no sense and is not allowed. It is not the intention to stimulate energy consumption in any way, for the mere turnover, market share or profit of the company.
Therefore BRIGID will bill enery proportional to energy consumption.
Instead, BRIGID is conceived as an environment to create added value. Money can be earned by other companies based on this environment, by creating added value using BRIGID energy, and combining it with propriatary initiative, creativity and labour. But this will be possible in a stable and clean environment, for many decades to come.
Anno 2019, CO2 has been identified as the culprit. Many suggestions have been put forward to reduce the CO2 level in the athmosphere, or at least to not increase it by 2030, or lately as the goals seamingly cannot be reached, by 2050.
It would be a wrong decision to invent and build large facilities to capture CO2 from the athmosphere.
It would be an equally wrong decision to invent and build large facilities to store CO2 into the soil.
In fact, CO2 should be no longer considered as a human waste product, but as an asset. According to BRIGID, it's the primary compound for a carbon-neutral energy cycle, synthesising methane and dimethylether driven by thorium power. To stop burning fossile fuels and to start reusing athmospheric CO2 in synfuels is the logical way to stop the CO2 increase.
Any large facility producing CO2 should be obliged by law to capture it's exhaust, and make it readily avaible for recycling, instead of venting or dumping it.
On the other hand, stopping the increase will not suffice.
Instead the level should be actively lowered. Again, capturing and storing it is not the proper way.
The most easy, cheap and comfortable way is to plant trees.
Growing wood is the renewable alternative for a carbon neutral energy cycle.
Trees absorbe 6 tons of CO2 per year and per ha.
Compare this to the production of electricity using solar panels: 1 ha produces 770 MWh per year and avoids 270 tons of CO2 emissions per year, not counting the overhead.
The only disadvantages of growing trees are that it takes time, and space. The time aspect cannot be relieved, this can only be coped with by long term planning. The space problem is an artificial one: most people would prefer large areas to be occupied by trees rather than by wind turbines or planes of solar panels. When grown and harvested properly, the wood can serve 2 consecutive purposes: timber and energy production, thus also avoiding demolition waste.
Planting 1 ha of wood costs 5000 EUR for the trees and labour. Equipping 1 ha of PV cells costs 6M EUR, without the connection to the grid. The choice is really easy. It's cheaper to absorb by trees than to avoid by solar cells.
Growing wood also avoids small scale installations for capturing CO2. While large scale facilities have to capture their exhaust for re-use, small scale facilities can still vent it into the athmosphere. Trees will do the job.
Note however that growing trees is not sufficient, as one forest fire could easily destroy decades of CO2 capturing. Hence the need for a BRIGID type of carbon cycle.
Methane can be exothermally synthesised from CO2 and hydrogen by the Sabatier process. The resulting methane can be directly injected into the existing gas storage and distribution network. Obviously, this requires large scale efficient hydrogen production. Hydrogen can be produced by renewable sources, but the required scale and efficiency brings us back to direct hydrogen production via BRIGID high enthalpy steam.
A nitrogen cycle can be used to complement the carbon cycle.
And of course, hydrogen can be directly useful in large scale facilities, that are sufficiently equipped with safety measures to avoid accidents.
the role of politics
Our first and most important suggestion: stop funding what you do not understand, and stop taxing what you cannot control.
Avoid hypes. Avoid marketing people.
study. Next, listen to scientists.
Conceive long term goals. Take your time to maintain consistency.
Then, talk to engineers.
Accept their plans.
Compute a viable business model, with real costs, fair prices, fair taxes and without government funding. Reserve the funding for social projects, such as fundamental scientific and medical research.
Judging the way solar panels were introduced both technically and economically into the Belgian power grid under untransparant economical and political pressure, idem dito for so-called smart metering, wind parks, forcing power down modulation of base load nuclear power plants in an attempt to stabilise the Belgian power grid, the idea to revive moth ball plants and even emergency aggregates for peak production, the prolonged life time of Generation II PWR power plants in Doel and Tihange without showing any insight in the nuclear fuel cycle, the costly expansion of the power grid towards neighbouring countries or even as far as Danmark, and recently even subsidised gas turbines for peak electricity production, it is clear that Belgian politicians and their cabinet backups need to go back to school. We suggest they start their journey into intelligence on this very website. It also does not harm to read some technical history books, and learn why strategical technical decisions were once taken in the past.
Not everyone is an engineer, or needs to be. But even in common sense matters, Belgian politics yield amazingly vexing situations.
Besides forcing factories to capture their CO2 exhaust for recycling, there is another task for politicians here: in 2021, the market price of agriculture land in Belgium is on average 50,000 EUR/ha, and rising fast. Industrial food production for export, land speculation, and high prices paid for government funded wind turbine deployment, blow up prices.
On the other hand, wood land values 15,000 EUR/ha.
In Belgium, it is also cheaper to cut trees than to plant them, because the issued compensations to cut trees, are insufficient to buy compensation land.
This explains why Belgium does not even succeed in reaching the very modest target to simply maintain the wooded area, let alone to increase it.
And then, there's the matter of regulations...
a word on regulations
Obviously, regulation is extremely important in the nuclear sector, for various reasons: safety, proliferation, security, availability, military.
Also, this regulation is very complex, because the regulated technology is inherently very complex.
Moreover, it's an international matter, in which we cannot dodge any responsibility.
As for any other large scale facility, the existing regulations to acquire building permits is viable for BRIGID plants, including the nuclear containment aspects.
Exploitation permits are however a different matter.
Perfectly viable, the existing exploitation regulation was tailored to Generation II/III nuclear technology. But BRIGID is Generation V and it differs substantially. It would be dangerously opportunistic, and therefore a huge mistake to develop new technology that is backward compatible to the existing regulations, in order to save time and money. The regulations should envision the safety of the new technology, and not the other way around.
In the nuclear context, society simply cannot afford rear guard fights on regulatory issues.
Therefore, now is the time to start conceiving new regulations. Note that they will be completely different form the existing ones, not because of economical or practical reasons, but because of the physics and engineering concepts used in BRIGID.
a final word on global warming
BRIGID can cut Belgian's CO2 production entirely by 2050. How about the rest of the world? Are we to install BRIGID plants all across the globe to cut the global green house gas emissions? One can hardly imaging this can ever happen, taking proliferation aspects into account.
Here's the solution: imagine a large cluster of reactors in a few central positions of the globe, producing the world demand on synthetic fuels. These fuels can be transported by conventional means. They can be used as fuels or locally converted into electricity as required. A new world order can emerge.
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Last update: 2021-10-14