Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So Much for International Cooperation in Space

Earth and space science missions developed and implemented by federal agencies in collaboration typically result in additional complexity and cost and increased risks from divided responsibilities and accountability, says a new report from the National Research Council. Federal agencies should not partner in conducting space and earth science missions unless there is a compelling reason to do so and clear criteria are met in advance.

"A common misperception among policymakers and individual agencies is that collaboration on these missions will save money or somehow boost capabilities," said D. James Baker, director of the global carbon measurement program at the William J. Clinton Foundation and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. "However, multiagency partnerships generally have just the opposite effect and drive up overall mission costs because of schedule delays, added levels of management, and redundant administrative processes."

Earth and Space Science Missions Have Fewer Risks if Conducted by a Single Government Agency

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chevy Volt Named Motor Trend 2011 Car of the Year

“We expected a science experiment, but this is a moon shot. The Volt delivers on the promise of the vehicle concept as originally outlined by GM, combining the smooth, silent, efficient, low-emissions capability of an electric motor with the range and flexibility of an internal combustion engine. It is a fully functional, no-compromise compact automobile that offers consumers real benefits in terms of lower running costs.” Motor Trend: January 2011


Monday, November 15, 2010

Energy, Environment, and the US Military

The following are excerpts from a speech by Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington D.C. last October 13, 2010:

"Recently, I traveled to Tucson and the very first question I fielded during a town hall meeting was not related to our policies in Iraq or Afghanistan or other topics you might expect but related to their interconnection – to the interconnection between energy, security and our global future.

And at the University of Arizona, the very next place I visited later that day, an engineer named Vincent Polowski (sp) shared with me that he believed the number-one national security challenge in the 21st century would be climate change. Vincent is not alone in his concerns. And we are in fact seeing evidence of climate change’s potential impacts on our security.

Near the polar cap, waterways are opening that we couldn’t have imagined it a few years ago – opening trade routes, presenting both opportunity and vulnerability and rewriting the geopolitical map of the world. And it’s not just the people of Arizona who are thinking about these things. Americans around the country are starting to connect the dots between energy, security and our future.

My friend and columnist Tom Friedman has spoken eloquently about – of the growing need and awareness to rethink our views on energy and minimize our dependence on overseas energy sources that fuel regimes that do not always share our interests and values while not further damaging a world that is already becoming overheated, over polluted and overstretched.

We in the Defense Department have a role to play here. Not solely because we should – should be good stewards of our environment and our scarce resources but also because there is a strategic imperative for us to reduce risk, improve efficiencies and preserve our freedom of action wherever we can....

"Quite simply, like most of America, my shipmates and I operated under a “burn it if you’ve got it” mentality. We were providing supporting fire off the coast of Vietnam and when we needed fuel we got it. A few years later, in fact, the very first ship I commanded, the USS Noxubee, was a gasoline tanker dedicated to keeping fuel flowing throughout our fleet.

Now, I do not want to imply that we were deliberately wasteful or reckless. We just held a very conventional view that fuel was cheap, easy and available, without ever really connecting it to any broader geopolitical implications. Clearly, that is not the world we’re living in today.

Many of us here this morning are acutely aware of the cost and challenge in terms of both blood and treasure of providing energy to our forces in Afghanistan today. And recent headlines of NATO fuel convoys being attacked only serve to remind us of these vulnerabilities. DOD is using 300,000 barrels of oil every day. The energy use per soldier creeps up every year. And our number-one import into Afghanistan is fossil fuel.

Yet there is no doubt we are making some progress. Secretary Mabus, who will speak towards the end of this session, is leading the Navy on an ambitious path to cut the nontactical petroleum by 50 percent by 2015 and sail great, green fleets by 2016..."

You can read the rest of Admiral Michael Mullen's speech at:


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The TVA Could be the First to Have Mini-Nuclear Power Plants

TVA could take lead for 'mini nuke' plants

Chattanooga Times Free Press
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Dave Flessner

The Tennessee Valley Authority is first in line to test a new type of modular nuclear plant that designers boast will be smaller, cheaper and safer than existing reactors.

TVA officials said Wednesday they have taken the first step toward gaining regulatory approval to build up to six new mini-nuclear reactors on the site of the abandoned Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Oak Ridge. In a four-page letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TVA Vice President Jack Bailey said the federal utility "is evaluating the feasibility" of erecting two of the new Babcock & Wilcox-designed "mPower reactors" by 2020.

Each of the new reactors would produce 125 megawatts of electricity -- about 10 percent as much as conventional reactors at TVA's other plants -- and could be built in controlled factory conditions to cut production costs and ensure construction quality.

"The mPower design makes substantial use of modular construction technology which enables major portions of the plant to be fabricated in controlled manufacturing environments and shipped to the site via rail and trucks," Bailey said.

If approved by the TVA board and regulators, TVA would be the first utility to build the new reactor design.

But critics question why TVA is pursuing a new plant design that is yet to be certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We are highly skeptical that these modular designs are going to deliver as promised," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "There is a whole set of issues that are likely to be raised about these plants so TVA, the NRC and the contractors should expect a real fight."

Smith said he is encouraged that TVA opted to pursue regulatory approval for any mPower units built in Oak Ridge under the NRC's older, two-step licensing process. Rather than the single combined-operating license process being used for other new plants, TVA will seek a construction permit to build the new units and a separate licensing permit once the units are completed.

TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said the utility is using the two-step licensing approach to allow more flexibility for TVA and the manufacturers of the mPower reactor to change the way the plant is designed and built over the next decade. Under the single combined operating license, the NRC must pre-approve the design and construction method for any new plant before any building work begins.

Johnson said the Oak Ridge site was deemed appropriate for a nuclear plant in the 1970s when the U.S. Department of Energy planned to build a breeder reactor on the Clinch River site. The nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which helped develop the first atomic reactors in the post World War II "atoms for peace" program, could help support and use the power from at least one of the new reactors, Johnson said. TVA has set a goal of generating at least half of its power from noncarbon sources and the Oak Ridge lab has set a goal of being carbon-free in its own energy consumption by 2020.

Rick Bonsall, vice president of business development for Babcock & Wilcox, said the proposed TVA plant in Oak Ridge will be the launch site for the new mPower reactor. But he said B&W and its alliance partner, Bechtel Engineering Corp., are talking with several utilities also interested in using the new modular design reactors.

Although the design of the mPower reactor is still under regulatory review, Bonsall said it uses many of the technologies of existing pressured water reactors and the reactors will be small enough to be built underground to add extra containment.

"Any time you can do a lot of work in a factory environment, you have a lot more control on schedule and costs," he said.

TVA and B&W declined to release any early cost estimates for the new reactors, but Johnson said any units "will be competitive in price" with other power options available for the future.

The new reactor could be build as soon as 2020 as a follow-up to TVA's Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor scheduled for completion in 2012 and the Bellefonte Unit 1 reactor scheduled for possible completion as soon as 2018.

TVA could take lead for 'mini nuke' plants

mPower Small Nuclear Reactor Conference

Monday, November 8, 2010

NASA's Next Heavy Lift Vehicle?

NASA Selects Companies For Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle Studies

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected 13 companies for negotiations leading to potential contract awards to conduct systems analysis and trade studies for evaluating heavy-lift launch vehicle system concepts, propulsion technologies, and affordability.

The selected companies are:

Aerojet General Corp., Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Analytical Mechanics Associates, Huntsville, Ala.
Andrews Space, Tukwila, Wash.
Alliant Techsystems, Huntsville, Ala.
The Boeing Co., Huntsville, Ala.
Lockheed Martin Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Orbital Sciences Corp., Chandler, Ariz.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, Calif.
Science Applications International Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.
United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.
United Space Alliance, Huntsville, Ala.

The awards total approximately $7.5 million with a maximum individual contract award of $625,000. Each company will provide a final report to help lay the groundwork for the transportation system that could launch humans to multiple destinations, including asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and Mars.

"These trade studies will provide a look at innovative launch vehicle concepts, propulsion technologies, and processes that should make human exploration missions more affordable," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "If we are to travel beyond low-Earth orbit, industry's collaboration is essential to reduce the cost associated with our future exploration goals and approaches and make the heavy-lift vehicle affordable to build and fly."

The studies will include heritage systems from shuttle and Ares, as well as alternative architectures and identify propulsion technology gaps including main propulsion elements, propellant tanks and rocket health management systems. The reports will include assessments of various heavy-lift launch vehicle and in-space vehicle that use different propulsion combinations. The companies will examine how these combinations can be employed to meet multiple mission objectives.

NASA will use the recommendations to evaluate heavy-lift launch vehicle concepts and propulsion technologies for affordability that will be required to enable robust and sustainable future exploration missions.




Tuesday, November 2, 2010

TerraPower's New Website

TerraPower has a new website promoting the development of its future Traveling Wave Reactor which in theory could utilize spent fuel, depleted uranium, and thorium to produce nuclear energy for commercial use.

Using the Traveling Wave Reactor, TerraPower hopes to develop nuclear reactors that never have to be refueled and are capable of utilizing the world's depleted uranium stockpile which would be able to produce hundreds of trillions of dollars of electricity for utilities and for synfuel production. With a US depleted uranium stockpile of nearly 500,000 tonnes, the US has enough depleted uranium to pay off its national debt (approximately $14 trillion) several times over.

The new TerraPower website is located at:


Watch these interesting videos to learn more about the potential of the Traveling Wave Reactor.

Traveling Wave Nuclear Power Videos

Fueling Our Nuclear Future

Marcel F. Williams

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