Monday, March 12, 2012

381 Royal Institute of International Affairs AND Lloyds Insurance warn of Peak Oil, Climate Change

Royal Institute of International Affairs AND Lloyds Insurance warn of Peak Oil, Climate Change

The RIIA is the Cecil Rhodes' or British movement devoted to One World under Anglo-American hegemony. That doesn't mean that Global Warming is a ruse; but it does provide an ulterior motive.

(1) Royal Institute of International Affairs AND Lloyds Insurance warn of Peak Oil, Climate Change
(2) BHP boss dumps on future of coal
(3) A Sustainable City in the Arabian Desert - but a Gated Utopia
(4) Solar panel blaze at the warehouse complex of BP Solar in Germany
(5) Simi solar panel fire raises safety issue
(6) Audit talks over solar panel fire fears
(7) Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium
(8) Thorium "Energy amplifier" reactor - developed by Carlo Rubbia, director of CERN

(1) Royal Institute of International Affairs AND Lloyds Insurance warn of Peak Oil, Climate Change

Lloyd's adds its voice to dire 'peak oil' warnings

Business underestimating catastrophic consequences of declining oil, says Lloyd's of London/Chatham House report

Terry Macalister, Sunday 11 July 2010 15.28 BST

by Terry Macalester, The Guardian (UK), Sunday 11 July, 2010

One of the City's most respected institutions has warned of "catastrophic consequences" for businesses that fail to prepare for a world of increasing oil scarcity and a lower carbon economy.

The Lloyd's insurance market and the highly regarded Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, says Britain needs to be ready for "peak oil" and disrupted energy supplies at a time of soaring fuel demand in China and India, constraints on production caused by the BP oil spill and political moves to cut CO2 to halt global warming.

"Companies which are able to take advantage of this new energy reality will increase both their resilience and competitiveness. Failure to do so could lead to expensive and potentially catastrophic consequences," says the Lloyd's and Chatham House report "Sustainable energy security: strategic risks and opportunities for business".

The insurance market has a major interest in preparedness to counter climate change because of the fear of rising insurance claims related to property damage and business disruption. The review is ground-breaking because it comes from the heart of the City and contains the kind of dire warnings that are more associated with environmental groups or others accused by critics of resorting to hype. It takes a pot shot at the International Energy Agency which has been under fire for apparently under-estimating the threats, noting: "IEA expectations [on crude output] over the last decade have generally gone unmet."

The report says the world is heading for a global oil supply crunch and high prices owing to insufficient investment in oil production plus a rebound in global demand following recession. It repeats warning from Professor Paul Stevens, a former economist from Dundee University, at an earlier Chatham House conference that lack of oil by 2013 could force the price of crude above $200 (£130) a barrel.

It also quotes from a US department of energy report highlighting the economic chaos that would result from declining oil production as global demand continued to rise, recommending a crash programme to overhaul the transport system. "Even before we reach peak oil," says the Lloyd's report, "we could witness an oil supply crunch because of increased Asian demand. Major new investment in energy takes 10-15 years from the initial investment to first production, and to date we have not seen the amount of new projects that would supply the projected increase in demand."

And while the world is gradually moving to new kinds of clean energy technologies the insurance market warns that there could be shortages of earth metals and other raw materials needed to help them thrive.

Lloyd's also calls on manufacturers, retailers and the wider business community to reassess global supply chains and their just-in time models because the "current system is increasingly vulnerable to disruption."

The report says government needs to do much more to bring additional price stability and transparency if the global carbon market is to become a reality.

Richard Ward, chief executive of Lloyd's, said the failure of the Copenhagen climate change talks last December has helped lull many business leaders into a false sense of security about the challenges ahead. "We are in a period akin to a phony war. We keep hearing of difficulties to come, but with oil, gas and coal still broadly accessible - and largely capable of being distributed where they are needed - the bad times have not yet hit ... all businesses ... will be affected by energy supplies which are less reliable and more expensive."

This article was amended on 12 July 2010. The original referred to Chatham House as being the Institute of Strategic Studies. It is the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

(2) BHP boss dumps on future of coal

Philip Wen and Phillip Coorey

September 16, 2010

THE world's largest miner, BHP Billiton, has weighed into the climate change debate, warning that Australia should ''look beyond coal'' and towards other energy sources.

The chief executive of BHP, Marius Kloppers, said Australia's economy will suffer if it does not significantly reduce its carbon emissions in anticipation of a global carbon price .

''Failure to do so will place us at a competitive disadvantage in a future where carbon is priced globally,'' he said.

BHP is one of the world's largest producers of thermal coal, which made up about 8 per cent of its revenue last year. And while BHP and the broader mining industry have acknowledged the need for action on climate change, Mr Kloppers is now calling for Australia to take a lead on the issue.

The mining industry, through the Minerals Council of Australia, was one of the most fierce opponents of the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme.

The call by Mr Kloppers, made at a business lunch in Sydney, is unlikely to be given a warm political reception. Both sides of politics are too scared to canvass the end of the coal industry because of the votes they would lose. Instead, both back the development of clean coal technology, such as carbon capture and storage.

Mr Kloppers stressed the need for a clear price signal on carbon emissions and recommended a combination of a carbon tax, land use actions and a limited emissions trading system, which could apply to electricity generators. He said Australia's energy production was particularly carbon intensive and the highest among OECD countries in terms of tonnes of carbon emitted per unit of energy. Coal-fired power stations account for almost half of the country's emissions.

''Australia will need to look beyond just coal towards the full spectrum of available energy solutions,'' he said.

The new Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, who has been charged with developing a policy involving a price on carbon, avoided mentioning coal when responding to the Kloppers speech.

''My three priority areas are support for renewable energy, greater energy efficiency in industry and households, and working towards the introduction of a carbon price,''' he said.

''I will be working with other parliamentarians, the business community and the environmental movement to build consensus and to discuss the best way we can achieve a price on carbon.''  ...

with Tom Arup and Clancy Yeates

(3) A Sustainable City in the Arabian Desert - but a Gated Utopia
From: WVNS <> Date: 29.09.2010 06:52 PM

In Arabian Desert, a Sustainable City Rises


September 25, 2010

The New York Times

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Back in 2007, when the government here announced its plan for "the world's first zero-carbon city" on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, many Westerners dismissed it as a gimmick — a faddish follow-up to neighboring Dubai's half-mile-high tower in the desert and archipelago of man-made islands in the shape of palm trees.

Designed by Foster & Partners, a firm known for feats of technological wizardry, the city, called Masdar, would be a perfect square, nearly a mile on each side, raised on a 23-foot-high base to capture desert breezes. Beneath its labyrinth of pedestrian streets, a fleet of driverless electric cars would navigate silently through dimly lit tunnels. The project conjured both a walled medieval fortress and an upgraded version of the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland.

Well, those early assessments turned out to be wrong. By this past week, as people began moving into the first section of the project to be completed — a 3 1/2-acre zone surrounding a sustainability-oriented research institute — it was clear that Masdar is something more daring and more noxious.

Norman Foster, the firm's principal partner, has blended high-tech design and ancient construction practices into an intriguing model for a sustainable community, in a country whose oil money allows it to build almost anything, even as pressure grows to prepare for the day the wells run dry. And he has worked in an alluring social vision, in which local tradition and the drive toward modernization are no longer in conflict — a vision that, at first glance, seems to brim with hope.

But his design also reflects the gated-community mentality that has been spreading like a cancer around the globe for decades. Its utopian purity, and its isolation from the life of the real city next door, are grounded in the belief — accepted by most people today, it seems — that the only way to create a truly harmonious community, green or otherwise, is to cut it off from the world at large.

Mr. Foster is the right man for this kind of job. A lifelong tech buff who collaborated with Buckminster Fuller, he talks about architecture in terms of high performance, as if his buildings were sports cars. And to some extent his single-minded focus on the craft of architecture — its technological and material aspects — has been a convenient way of avoiding trickier discussions about its social impact. (It's hard to imagine Mr. Foster embroiled in the kind of public battles over modern architecture that his former partner, Richard Rogers, has fought with the traditionalist Prince Charles in London.)

Not that Mr. Foster doesn't have ideals. At Masdar, one aim was to create an alternative to the ugliness and inefficiency of the sort of development — suburban villas slathered in superficial Islamic-style d├ęcor, gargantuan air-conditioned malls — that has been eating away the fabric of Middle Eastern cities for decades.

He began with a meticulous study of old Arab settlements, including the ancient citadel of Aleppo in Syria and the mud-brick apartment towers of Shibam in Yemen, which date from the 16th century. "The point," he said in an interview in New York, "was to go back and understand the fundamentals," how these communities had been made livable in a region where the air can feel as hot as 150 degrees.

Among the findings his office made was that settlements were often built on high ground, not only for defensive reasons but also to take advantage of the stronger winds. Some also used tall, hollow "wind towers" to funnel air down to street level. And the narrowness of the streets — which were almost always at an angle to the sun's east-west trajectory, to maximize shade — accelerated airflow through the city.

With the help of environmental consultants, Mr. Foster's team estimated that by combining such approaches, they could make Masdar feel as much as 70 degrees cooler. In so doing, they could more than halve the amount of electricity needed to run the city. Of the power that is used, 90 percent is expected to be solar, and the rest generated by incinerating waste (which produces far less carbon than piling it up in dumps). The city itself will be treated as a kind of continuing experiment, with researchers and engineers regularly analyzing its performance, fine-tuning as they go along.

But Mr. Foster's most radical move was the way he dealt with one of the most vexing urban design challenges of the past century: what to do with the car. Not only did he close Masdar entirely to combustion-engine vehicles, he buried their replacement — his network of electric cars — underneath the city. Then, to further reinforce the purity of his vision, he located almost all of the heavy-duty service functions — a 54-acre photovoltaic field and incineration and water treatment plants — outside the city.

The result, Mr. Foster acknowledged, feels a bit like Disneyland.

"Disneyland is attractive because all the service is below ground," he said. "We do the same here — it is literally a walled city. Traditional cars are stopped at the edges."

Driving from downtown Abu Dhabi, 20 miles away, you follow a narrow road past an oil refinery and through desolate patches of desert before reaching the blank concrete wall of Masdar and find the city looming overhead. (Mr. Foster plans to camouflage the periphery behind fountains and flora.) From there a road tunnels through the base to a garage just underneath the city's edge.

Stepping out of this space into one of the "Personal Rapid Transit" stations brings to mind the sets designed by Harry Lange for "2001: A Space Odyssey." You are in a large, dark hall facing a row of white, pod-shaped cars lined up in rectangular glass bays. (The cars' design was based on Buckminster Fuller's proposal for a compact urban vehicle, the D-45, which helps explain their softly contoured, timelessly futuristic silhouettes.) Daylight spills down a rough concrete wall behind them, hinting at the life above.

The first 13 cars of a proposed fleet of hundreds were being tested the day I visited, but as soon as the system is up, within a few weeks, a user will be able to step into a car and choose a destination on an LCD screen. The car will then silently pull into traffic, seeming to drive itself. (There are no cables or rails.)

It's only as people arrive at their destination that they will become aware of the degree to which everything has been engineered for high-function, low-consumption performance. The station's elevators have been tucked discreetly out of sight to encourage use of a concrete staircase that corkscrews to the surface. And on reaching the streets — which were pretty breezy the day I visited — the only way to get around is on foot. (This is not only a matter of sustainability; Mr. Foster's on-site partner, Austin Relton, told me that obesity has become a significant health issue in this part of the Arab world, largely because almost everyone drives to avoid the heat.)

The buildings that have gone up so far come in two contrasting styles. Laboratories devoted to developing new forms of sustainable energy and affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are housed in big concrete structures that are clad in pillowlike panels of ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene, a super-strong translucent plastic that has become fashionable in contemporary architecture circles for its sleek look and durability. Inside, big open floor slabs are designed for maximum flexibility.

The residential buildings, which for now will mostly house professors, students and their families, use a more traditional architectural vocabulary. To conform to Middle Eastern standards of privacy, Mr. Foster came up with an undulating facade of concrete latticework based on the mashrabiya screens common in the region. The latticework blocks direct sunlight and screens interiors from view, while the curves make for angled views to the outside, so that apartment dwellers never look directly into the windows of facing buildings. Such concerns are also reflected in the layout of the neighborhood. Like many Middle Eastern university campuses, it is segregated by sex, with women and families living at one end and single men at the other. Each end has a small public plaza, which acts as its social heart.

Still, one wonders, despite the technical brilliance and the sensitivity to local norms, how a project like Masdar can ever attain the richness and texture of a real city. Eventually, a light-rail system will connect it to Abu Dhabi, and street life will undoubtedly get livelier as the daytime population grows to a projected 90,000. (Although construction on a second, larger phase has already begun, the government-run developer, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, refuses to give a completion date for the city, saying only that it will grow at its own pace.)

But the decision of who gets to live and work in Masdar, as in any large-scale development, will be outside the architect's control. That will be decided by the landlord, in this case, the government.

And even if it were to become a perfect little urban melting pot, Masdar would have only limited relevance to the world most people live in. Mr. Foster's inspired synthesis of ancient and new technologies could well have applications elsewhere; it should be looked at closely by other architects. But no one would argue that a city of a few million or more can be organized with such precision, and his fantasy world is only possible as a meticulously planned community, built from the ground up and of modest size.

What Masdar really represents, in fact, is the crystallization of another global phenomenon: the growing division of the world into refined, high-end enclaves and vast formless ghettos where issues like sustainability have little immediate relevance.

That's obviously not how Mr. Foster sees it. He said the city was intended to house a cross-section of society, from students to service workers. "It is not about social exclusion," he added.

And yet Masdar seems like the fulfillment of that idea. Ever since the notion that thoughtful planning could improve the lot of humankind died out, sometime in the 1970s, both the megarich and the educated middle classes have increasingly found solace by walling themselves off inside a variety of mini-utopias.

This has involved not only the proliferation of suburban gated communities, but also the transformation of city centers in places like Paris and New York into playgrounds for tourists and the rich. Masdar is the culmination of this trend: a self-sufficient society, lifted on a pedestal and outside the reach of most of the world's citizens.

(4) Solar panel blaze at the warehouse complex of BP Solar in Germany

Those Deadly, Green Nazi Solar Panels

August 22, 2010 • 9:59AM

Not only does solar energy cost more to produce than it gives back, but rooftop solar panels are dangerous to your health and hearth. In Germany, Australia, and the U.S.A. fire departments are warning of the deadly threat of fighting blazes associated with solar panels.

In Germany the issue has recently become a major news item. While city and local governments, swept by the Green mania, are demanding more rooftop panel installations, many fire departments have warned that fires cannot be fought on houses with rooftop solar panel units, and the property will be completely destroyed.

The largest solar panel blaze in history took place in June 2009 in Germany at the warehouse complex of BP Solar! Talk about "accident prone." BP's 200 square meter array, at Buerstadt, near Mannheim, was one of the largest roof-mounted installations in the world. And it was fabricated by BP Solar.

A rooftop solar array produces direct current electricity at a potential of 600 to 800 volts, more than enough to kill—and it cannot be turned off. The standard firefighting technique of opening up the roof to vent a blaze is not possible, because putting an axe through the solar panels exposes the firemen to deadly voltages.

Firefighters in the U.S. also have a policy of letting the solar panel-related fire burn out, rather than fighting it. Reporting on a 2009 meeting of New Jersey fire chiefs, a Florence Township chief wrote: "The final question which was asked really put things in perspective — someone asked that since California is number one when it comes to Solar Panel System installations, 'What do their Firefighters do when a structure fire involves these systems?' Answer was 'they let it burn!'"  ...

(5) Simi solar panel fire raises safety issue

By Kim Lamb Gregory

Posted March 14, 2009 at midnight

A solar panel that recently sparked a fire on the roof of a Simi Valley home is an unusual occurrence and little cause for worry, solar experts say.

“We don’t have a history of fires,” said Sue Kateley, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Solar Energy Industries Association. “On the other hand, the number of systems being installed now is more than the number we’ve had in the past. Odds are, we’re going to see some issues.”

Including the Simi Valley fire, there have been four incidences of fires in California linked to solar panels, Kateley said. One was caused by a homeowner-installed panel, she noted.

‘It does happen’

Dean Dowd, chief technical officer for CalFinder, an Oakland-based network of contractors with a solar division, agreed fires are unusual. He said there have been no fires related to the 10,000 or so homes serviced by CalFinder. Its contractors have been installing solar energy in homes for the past 1 1/2 years.

“It’s a rare occasion, but like any kind of electricity there are going to be instances where it does happen,” Dowd said.

The Simi Valley fire occurred Sunday in the 500 block of Stonebrook Street. The single-family home was not occupied at the time.

“The system was about 1 1/2 years old,” said Capt. Ron Oatman, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department. “A neighbor saw a flash and called the fire department. It was minimal damage.”

Fire department investigators determined the fire was caused by the solar panel.

The Simi Valley company that installed the panel, California Solar, immediately contacted the manufacturer, Applied Solar Inc. in Solana Beach. A representative came out the next day, examined the panel, and took photos.

Applied Solar Senior Vice President Dalton Sprinkle said they are still looking into the cause.

“This has never happened to us before,” Sprinkle said. “I hope we’ll be able to figure it out.”

Sprinkle said their panels are Class A fire-rated by Underwriters Laboratory, the highest rating building materials can get, and that they go through rigorous testing.

Kateley recommended homeowners get panels installed by a licensed contractor, rather than doing a self-installation.

“There’s a value to a contractor because of the experience,” she said. “Especially when you’re dealing with electricity and hot water.”

City approval needed

Any homeowner who has a solar panel installed must have it cleared by the city’s Department of Building and Safety.

“We inspect all the components on the electrical solar panels as well as the attachment to the roof,” said Steve Berry, supervising building inspector for the Simi Valley’s Building and Safety Division. Inspectors follow 2007 California Electrical Code guidelines.

(6) Audit talks over solar panel fire fears

Joe Kelly The Australian February 18, 2010 10:28AM


PETER Garrett revealed today he is now considering an audit of solar panels installed under a government scheme amid fears thousands of homes could be at risk of electrical fires.

The embattled environment minister, who remains under fire over the bungled insulation scheme that has been linked to four deaths, is now facing fresh concerns over poorly installed solar panels.

A spokesman for Mr Garrett confirmed this morning that the department was in discussions about an audit into the government-subsidised solar panel scheme.

Ted Spooner, from Standards Australia's committee on renewable energy, has warned there are limited inspections of houses and no restriction on the importation of panels which do not meet the Australian standards.

“There is very, very limited inspection of houses to make sure they actually meet those requirements,” he told the ABC's Lateline program last night.

“If you have very poor quality control in modules, you can end up fractures in joints and those electrical joints can then lead to arcs developing, and then fires.”

Peter Marshall, of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, said there had been a rush to install the equipment without much thought of what would happen in the event of a fire.

Although no fires have occurred in Australia, the union argues that the electrical current in the panels can remain live after the power has been shut down and points overseas where a number of firefighters have been killed through electrocution.  ...

(7) Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium

If Barack Obama were to marshal America’s vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor

Published: 6:55PM BST 29 Aug 2010

We could then stop arguing about wind mills, deepwater drilling, IPCC hockey sticks, or strategic reliance on the Kremlin. History will move on fast.

Muddling on with the status quo is not a grown-up policy. The International Energy Agency says the world must invest $26 trillion (£16.7 trillion) over the next 20 years to avert an energy shock. The scramble for scarce fuel is already leading to friction between China, India, and the West.

There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday - produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. "It’s the Big One," said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

"Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels," he said.

Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.

After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.

"They were really going after the weapons," said Professor Egil Lillestol, a world authority on the thorium fuel-cycle at CERN. "It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. It wouldn’t be worth trying." It emits too many high gamma rays.

You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.

Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. "They didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology," he said.

Another decade was lost. It was a sad triumph of vested interests over scientific progress. "We have very little time to waste because the world is running out of fossil fuels. Renewables can’t replace them. Nuclear fusion is not going work for a century, if ever," he said.

The Norwegian group Aker Solutions has bought Dr Rubbia’s patent for the thorium fuel-cycle, and is working on his design for a proton accelerator at its UK operation.

Victoria Ashley, the project manager, said it could lead to a network of pint-sized 600MW reactors that are lodged underground, can supply small grids, and do not require a safety citadel. It will take £2bn to build the first one, and Aker needs £100mn for the next test phase.

The UK has shown little appetite for what it regards as a "huge paradigm shift to a new technology". Too much work and sunk cost has already gone into the next generation of reactors, which have another 60 years of life.

So Aker is looking for tie-ups with the US, Russia, or China. The Indians have their own projects - none yet built - dating from days when they switched to thorium because their weapons programme prompted a uranium ban.

America should have fewer inhibitions than Europe in creating a leapfrog technology. The US allowed its nuclear industry to stagnate after Three Mile Island in 1979.

Anti-nuclear neorosis is at last ebbing. The White House has approved $8bn in loan guarantees for new reactors, yet America has been strangely passive. Where is the superb confidence that put a man on the moon?

A few US pioneers are exploring a truly radical shift to a liquid fuel based on molten-fluoride salts, an idea once pursued by US physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee in the 1960s. The original documents were retrieved by Mr Sorensen.

Moving away from solid fuel may overcome some of thorium’s "idiosyncracies". "You have to use the right machine. You don’t use diesel in a petrol car: you build a diesel engine," said Mr Sorensen.

Thorium-fluoride reactors can operate at atmospheric temperature. "The plants would be much smaller and less expensive. You wouldn’t need those huge containment domes because there’s no pressurized water in the reactor. It’s close-fitting," he said.

Nuclear power could become routine and unthreatening. But first there is the barrier of establishment prejudice.

When Hungarian scientists led by Leo Szilard tried to alert Washington in late 1939 that the Nazis were working on an atomic bomb, they were brushed off with disbelief. Albert Einstein interceded through the Belgian queen mother, eventually getting a personal envoy into the Oval Office.

Roosevelt initially fobbed him off. He listened more closely at a second meeting over breakfast the next day, then made up his mind within minutes. "This needs action," he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project. As a result, the US had an atomic weapon early enough to deter Stalin from going too far in Europe.

The global energy crunch needs equal "action". If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke: if not, it is a boost for US science and surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus.

Even better, team up with China and do it together, for all our sakes.

(8) Thorium "Energy amplifier" reactor - developed by Carlo Rubbia, director of CERN

Energy amplifier

The concept is credited to Carlo Rubbia, a Nobel Prize nuclear physicist and former director of Europe's CERN international nuclear physics lab. He published a proposal for a power reactor based on a proton cyclotron accelerator with a beam energy of 800 MeV to 1 GeV, and a target with thorium as fuel and lead as a coolant.

Principle and feasibility

The energy amplifier uses a synchrotron or other appropriate accelerator (e.g. cyclotron, fixed-field alternating-gradient) to produce a beam of protons. These hit a heavy metal target such as lead, thorium or uranium and produce neutrons through the process of spallation. It might be possible to increase the neutron flux through the use of a neutron amplifier, a thin film of fissile material surrounding the spallation source; the use of neutron amplification in CANDU reactors has been proposed. While CANDU is a critical design, many of the concepts can be applied to a sub-critical system.[1][2] Thorium nuclei absorb neutrons, thus breeding fissile uranium-233, an isotope of uranium which is not found in nature. Moderated neutrons produce U-233 fission, releasing energy.

This design is entirely plausible with currently available technology, but requires more study before it can be declared both practical and economical.


The concept has several potential advantages over conventional nuclear fission reactors:

 Subcritical design means that the reaction could not run away — if anything went wrong, the reaction would stop and the reactor would cool down. A meltdown could however occur if the ability to cool the core was lost.

 Thorium is an abundant element — much more so than uranium — reducing strategic and political supply issues and eliminating costly and energy-intensive isotope separation. There is enough thorium to generate energy for at least several thousand years at current consumption rates.[3]

 The energy amplifier would produce very little plutonium, so the design is believed to be more proliferation-resistant than conventional nuclear power (although the question of uranium-233 as nuclear weapon material must be assessed carefully).

 The possibility exists of using the reactor to consume plutonium, reducing the world stockpile of the very-long-lived element.

 Less long-lived radioactive waste is produced — the waste material would decay after 500 years to the radioactive level of coal ash.

 No new science is required; the technologies to build the energy amplifier have all been demonstrated. Building an energy amplifier requires only some engineering effort, not fundamental research (unlike nuclear fusion proposals).

 Power generation might be economical compared to current nuclear reactor designs if the total fuel cycle and decommissioning costs are considered.

 The design could work on a relatively small scale, making it more suitable for countries without a well-developed power grid system

 Inherent safety and safe fuel transport could make the technology more suitable for developing countries as well as in densely populated areas.


 General technical difficulties.

 Each reactor needs its own facility (particle accelerator) to generate the high energy proton beam, which is very costly. For example the Spallation Neutron Source facility cost 1.1 Billion dollars, although it has a lot research equipment not needed for a commercial reactor.

 Apart from linear accelerators, which are very expensive, no proton accelerator of sufficient power and energy (> ~12 MW at 1GeV) has ever been built. Currently, the Spallation Neutron Source utilizes a 1.44 MW proton beam to produce its neutrons, with upgrades envisioned to 5 MW.[4] ...

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