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Proton-Lead Power

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Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Tanada » Mon 06 Jan 2014, 23:15:50

Just to be clear nobody has built one for power generation at this time in history, however the basic systems had been used since the 1930's and the technology is well understood. The issue is mostly the same as the issue for Fusion reactors, we know this works but building one that generates more power than it consumes has not been done yet and sadly nobody is working on one today either.

Testing done by physicists in the 1920's and 1930's demonstrated that if you hit an atom hard enough you can smash it into bits, which is where the concept of high energy physics being centered around "atom smashers" comes from. They also learned even way back then that atoms centered around Nickle and Iron are the most naturally tightly bound nuclei, Iron 56 and Nickle 62 specifically have the highest binding energy per atom. That means any fusion process that leads to the Iron or Nickle atoms produces energy and also any atom bigger than Iron or Nickle that gets smashed where one of the pieces is close to this mass also releases energy. When unstable atoms like the Actinides gets hit with a proton or neutron with enough energy it will fission, that is how a nuclear reactor works. As a ball park rule the isotopes we call fissionable meaning Uranium 233, U-235, Plutonium 239, Pu-241 are all so delicately balanced that it doesn't take any outside energy from the neutron to cause them to fission. If you use an atom smasher firing protons they have to have enough velocity expressed as electron Volts to overcome the positive charge of the target , but that is all the energy they need. As soon as they come into contact most of the atoms of those four isotopes will fission.

When a atom fissions the two biggest pieces will form smaller atoms, one of them will mass about 40% of the original mass and the other about 60%. Usually one or more neutrons are also released and frequently an alpha particle, a Helium nucleus also gets released in the break up. Because the Actinides are very heavy nuclei the resulting pieces are much closer to Iron and Nickle on the periodic table so energy that was contained in the original atom is released in the break up as radiation and as the violent motion of the fragmentary pieces and the neutron or neutrons shot out. Because Actinides like Uranium are so massive both pieces that result are usually much more massive than Iron or Nickle. However because some isotopes are so easily fissionable it is relatively easy to design a power plant that can maintain a chain reaction to generate heat.

A Proton-Lead system however can not carry on a chain reaction. The way the Proton-Lead system works is fundamentally simple, you use a particle accelerator to shoot protons at a lead core. You have to fire them with around 17 MeV just to get them past the repulsion effect of the Lead nuclei, but at energies that low the Proton is just absorbed and the nuclei is converted from Lead into Bismuth which doesn't accomplish very much for the person who built the atom smasher. When you turn the energy of the smasher up to about 50 MeV things start to happen that are much more interesting. First I need to point out that 98.5% of Lead is from three isotopes, Pb-206, Pb-207 and Pb-208. Pb-208 comes almost entirely from the decay pathway of Uranium and makes up just over 51% of all Lead on Earth. Unfortunately Pb-208 is at one of the 'Islands of Stability' which is to say that because of the way the Neutrons and Protons are arranged it is one of the most stable substances known to man making it harder to smash. Pb-206 is about 24% of all Lead and Pb-207 is about 22%, and there are traces of about 1.5% of Pb-204 as well in natural Lead found here on Earth. These three together make up about 49% of all earth Lead and because they do not sit on the island of stability they are somewhat easier to smash than Pb-208. When you smash Lead with a Proton moving with 50 MeV or more of energy it fissions just like Uranium or Plutonium do, that is to say it makes two main fragments of about 40% and 60% of the original mass plus ejecting one or more neutrons and radiation. However because Lead is not fissionable with slow Neutrons there is no chain reaction, regular fission neutrons have about 3 MeV to 10 MeV of energy which is not high enough to smash a Pb-204/206/207/208 nucleus and most of them just bounce around in elastic scattering collisions for a second or so losing a tiny fraction of their energy with each collision until they come to rest. A free Neutron has a half life of under 15 minutes, three hours after the atom smasher is shut off all of the free neutrons will have decayed into Protons.

If you turn up the power output on the atom smasher and fire the Protons at say 999 MeV instead of 50 then they will really smash the Lead nuclei they hit, only because they are hitting so hard the Lead doesn't just fission into two main pieces, it shatters into many small pieces and knocks several neutrons out of the debris at very high energy, around 100 MeV. Those kind of neutrons do have enough energy to fission other Lead nuclei, however the chain stops there because the neutrons released by the second set of atoms smashed are back in the 3 MeV to 10 MeV range. What is worse is ramping up the energy that high takes a lot more energy input for the accelerator so to get a positive energy return becomes much more difficult. Think of it this way, you can fire 19 Protons at 55 MeV and have several of them smash a Lead atom into pieces for the same energy input that will fire one Proton at 990 MeV. The very high speed Proton is almost guaranteed to smash the first Lead nuclei it hits straight on exploding it and releasing half a dozen 100 MeV neutrons and a dozen more in the typical 3 MeV to 10 MeV range. If all six of those high energy neutrons manage to fission another Lead nuclei then your total yield is seven nuclei smashed instead of about ten for the moderate speed Protons. From an energy in vs energy out point of view moderate speeds are better.

Each smashed nuclei from the 204/206/207 isotopes will yield around 150 MeV of energy, plus the input energy from the 55 MeV Proton minus losses of around 50% to elastic collisions will give a net yield around 170 MeV compared to an average yield from a Uranium atom of around 220 MeV. This means the energy out is 15-20% lower for a smashed Lead atom instead of smashing Uranium, but the safety factor is unparalleled. Shut the accelerator off and within seconds the smasher is no longer smashing lead. Within three hours the Neutrons have all decayed into Protons and only the fission fragments remain giving off residual heat. Turn the power on it gets hot, turn the power off it cools back down. Any Protons that are captured by the Lead without smashing it convert the nuclei into Bismuth, but Bismuth is also a useful fuel for an Proton accelerator power plant so that is not a major issue.

If they are so great why doesn't anyone build them? Well honestly, it is just much easier to build a regular Uranium Fission power plant and if you design it correctly it will maintain a chain reaction for years or even over a decade without needing more fuel. Civilian power reactors typically recycle ever 12 to 24 months exchanging a third or the core when they do so but military power reactors like the USN uses will run for 15 or more years between refueling cycles. The logical design for these Proton accelerator systems would be a molten pool of Lead with a very good vacuum in the chamber. Many of the fission fragments are gasses or would become gasses at molten lead temperatures so filters and cooling system on the vacuum system would be a must. Because you are not worried about maintaining a chain reaction with the neutrons released by the process you don't care about neutron poisons like Xenon or Gadolinium that forms some of the fission fragments in the 60% of Lead mass range. Because Lead isotopes are in the 204-208 range of masses the fragments with form around isotopes 80 and 125 nucleons in mass. This puts the two peak fragment sizes down a few elements from the Uranium/Plutonium peaks, but not very far. Most of the fragment sizes will overlap between any of the targets of the atom smasher.

Then there is the other factor, if you are smashing Lead, or Bismuth there is no way to make a real weapon of mass destruction out of it. That means most countries are just not interested in doing the research needed to prove if a proton accelerator Lead atom smasher is economically competitive. As much as people despise the facts Nuclear power is a side growth from nuclear weapon production. Fusion research got started because it is an outgrowth of nuclear weapon studies and research to build the H-bomb, if there had been no H-bomb program the basic research needed to understand how Fusion even works might still be waiting for funding. Accelerator systems for scientific study of collisions has been advanced, but no money has gone down the side channel to develop a power supply based on the knowledge gained. Lead is relatively speaking, a cheap material and abundant enough to be worth exploiting. Lead is about 5.5 times more abundant in the crust of the Earth than Uranium is, and 49% of its isotopes have a high energy yield in a Proton accelerator compared to 0.7% of Uranium in a light water reactor.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Synapsid » Mon 06 Jan 2014, 23:32:06

This is new to me. Thanks, Tanada.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Subjectivist » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 08:15:54

Synapsid wrote:This is new to me. Thanks, Tanada.


To Paraphrase The Six Million Dollar Man,
Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first Proton Power. Better than it was before. Better...stronger...faster.


Things like this technology tell me we could transition to a different way of doing things like generating power, if we could just get our leaders to get their act together and DO IT!!!!

It is enough to drive me mad knowing there are dozens of possibilities to pursue but the leaders are locked into business as usual like a lampry on a trout.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby SeaGypsy » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 08:46:45

You have quite an ability to explain this stuff Tanada- Bravo! :) (I couldn't resist running an originality check- it's all yours I know... :oops: )
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Tanada » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 09:25:10

SeaGypsy wrote:You have quite an ability to explain this stuff Tanada- Bravo! :) (I couldn't resist running an originality check- it's all yours I know... :oops: )


I got yelled at a lot for explaining stuff I found interesting when I was younger because I bored family and friends to death with it. I had to learn to cut it down to the essentials instead of taking a week to explain it if I wanted my target audience to stay awake.

I find this stuff fascinating so I read everything I can find about it, unfortunately this idea goes all the way back to a High School science teacher (Earth Science) whose name I have long since forgotten and little development has been done since. Way back then everyone was trying to think of every new idea they could to solve "the energy crisis". When I look around today just about everything I see is a derivative of something already existing, not something fresh and new hitting the problem of energy from a different direction.

Heck Lead is so common in our car culture its crazy, all the wheels on almost all the vehicles on the roads have lead weights attached to the rims to balance the rotation. You could do the same thing with depleted uranium but if you did people would freak out because of the word 'radiation' lol. Lead is about the cheapest metal out there, it is in batteries, weights, old pipes, soldered connections... Why not use a cheap material as a power source?

Image

The chart is from the London Metal Exchange http://www.metalprices.com/p/LeadFreeChart
It shows the last three years Lead has had a high sale price of $1.35/pound A couple of tons for a Proton-Lead accelerator power station would set you back a whopping $6,000.00, hardly a fuel cost that will damage your bottom line. To generate 1 GWe like an average modern power station you would consume about 200 grams per hour, a cost of $0.60 per hour for fuel. Certainly you also need to generate protons for the atom smasher but that cost is really trivial for the quantities you are talking about.

The cost is naturally not in the fuel, it is in the design and construction of the very special set of machines to accomplish the task while generating power. If you just want to smash some atoms with grid power you can build a machine for a few hundred million, but if you want to use it to generate a lot of electricity you need a lot more equipment and trained humans to operate and maintain that equipment. That is why nobody is certain it will work, it would be a very large investment for a private person or group to make especially if it didn't produce useful power when it was operating. The goal isn't just to smash some Lead into pieces after all, it is to generate power by smashing Lead into pieces.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Timo » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 10:17:34

I lead the government physicist to water, but he did not drink.

I gave him a nickle if he'd just take a sip, and he returned it, claiming it was wood.

He went to the uranium trough, lifted the lid, and started to glow. And then he was finally happy.

And dead.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Surf » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 12:00:33

Very old idea. However what is not mentioned is that it takes a lot of energy to get a proton up to the needed enegy level where it will smash atoms. It will not produce more energy than it consumes.

Hoever if you build a conventional fission reacto around the lead target. the nuetrons from the lead will start a chain reaction in uranium. In this design you will get more energy out then is consumed by the particle acelerator. The advantage of this design is that the fission reaction can be shut down by simply cutting power to the particle acelerator. The down side is that adding a particle acelerator to a nuclear reactor will add a significant cost. also it doesn't elliminate the need for emergency colling systems becasue the heat from decay of fisssion products can still melt the fuel.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Subjectivist » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 12:58:22

Surf wrote:Very old idea. However what is not mentioned is that it takes a lot of energy to get a proton up to the needed enegy level where it will smash atoms. It will not produce more energy than it consumes.

Hoever if you build a conventional fission reacto around the lead target. the nuetrons from the lead will start a chain reaction in uranium. In this design you will get more energy out then is consumed by the particle acelerator. The advantage of this design is that the fission reaction can be shut down by simply cutting power to the particle acelerator. The down side is that adding a particle acelerator to a nuclear reactor will add a significant cost. also it doesn't elliminate the need for emergency colling systems becasue the heat from decay of fisssion products can still melt the fuel.


Seems how nobody has shown the math or linked to a study showing that a proton induced fission of Lead is an energy loser what evidence do yo hav that it is? The energy amplifier project you are talking about is a silly way to spend a lot of extra money to use up Uranium when you could just build a regular nuclear reactor is that is our goal.

Do you have any sources for how much energy it takes to accellerate the Protons to the degree needed for the Lead Proton system to operate? It would be interesting to see an EROEI statement. If it takes an average of two 55MeV protons to cause one Lead fission and one releases 150 MeV of energy then you get 260 MeV gross from the reaction. If you are using a regular steam cycle you get about 30% of that back as electricity.
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Renergy

Unread postby Surf » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 15:41:49

Seems how nobody has shown the math or linked to a study showing that a proton induced fission of Lead is an energy loser what evidence do yo hav that it is?


Each reactor needs its own facility (particle accelerator) to generate the high energy proton beam, which is very costly. Apart from linear particle accelerators, which are very expensive, no proton accelerator of sufficient power and energy (> ~12 MW at 1 GeV) 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.[5] Its 1.1 billion USD cost included research equipment not needed for a commercial reactor.


Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_amplifier

That is for a nuclear reactor connected to particle accelerator. It's a lot cheeper to build a conventional reactor with passive cooling systems. Note many of the MEV numbers listed in the article refer to the energy of just one proton. For a functional system you would a lot more than one proton acceleated to those energy levels for a functional system.
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Re: Renergy

Unread postby Tanada » Tue 07 Jan 2014, 16:13:06

Surf wrote:
Seems how nobody has shown the math or linked to a study showing that a proton induced fission of Lead is an energy loser what evidence do yo hav that it is?


Each reactor needs its own facility (particle accelerator) to generate the high energy proton beam, which is very costly. Apart from linear particle accelerators, which are very expensive, no proton accelerator of sufficient power and energy (> ~12 MW at 1 GeV) 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.[5] Its 1.1 billion USD cost included research equipment not needed for a commercial reactor.


Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_amplifier

That is for a nuclear reactor connected to particle accelerator. It's a lot cheaper to build a conventional reactor with passive cooling systems. Note many of the MEV numbers listed in the article refer to the energy of just one proton. For a functional system you would a lot more than one proton accelerated to those energy levels for a functional system.



The Energy Amplifier scam is exactly NOT what I am talking about, go back and read the post at the start of the thread. I am talking about using a Proton Accelerator to fission Lead, not Uranium or any other Actinides, and I am talking about doing so at moderate energies, not GeV range power, 55 MeV range of power in the beam. If you want to fission Uranium build a bleeping nuclear reactor, it is cheaper, simpler and far more effective. If you want to fission Lead you can not do so with a conventional nuclear reactor, the neutrons simply do not have enough energy to cause the fission reaction.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Surf » Wed 08 Jan 2014, 01:38:06

The Energy Amplifier scam is exactly NOT what I am talking about, go back and read the post at the start of the thread. I am talking about using a Proton Accelerator to fission Lead, not Uranium or any other Actinides, and I am talking about doing so at moderate energies, not GeV range power, 55 MeV range of power in the beam.


MEV is not the only thing you have to worry about. You have to also consider beam current. Most particle accelerators today produce beam currents in the micro amp range.

For the energy amplifier they are proposing a 1GEV accelerator with beam current of 1 to 10milliAmps. And they are expecting it to consume about 10% of the power output of the reactor. The core of the energy amplifier is within sized to be about 90% 95% of what is needed to be critical. The particle accelerator only supplies 5% to 10% of what is needed to make make the core critical. The fissioning uranium atoms provide the rest.

For the proton lead reactor the particle acelerator provides 100% of the energty need to fisssion the lead. meaning you will need a big accelerator.

A 1 GW nuclear power plant has about 31X10E18 fissions per second. If you assume 1 proton will fission 1 lead atom , you will need a beam current of about 1Amp. That is at about a 1000 times more current than the energy amplifier would need. such a particle accelerator could consume much of the power output of the proton lead reactor.



Fissioning that much lead will create a neutron radiation field just as strong as one from a regular reactor. Weapons grade Plutonium is made by exposing uranium to neutrons. So switching from uranium to lead doesn't solve the weapons proliferation concerns. All the metal of the reactor will also become radioactive including the lead that is not fissioned. Also you still have to deal with the radioactive fission waste.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Beery1 » Wed 08 Jan 2014, 05:35:16

One more example (among many) of people so desperate to retain a hold on an unsustainable lifestyle that they're willing to irradiate the planet to get a few more decades of cheap energy to waste it heating and cooling homes.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Tanada » Wed 08 Jan 2014, 07:30:20

Surf wrote:
The Energy Amplifier scam is exactly NOT what I am talking about, go back and read the post at the start of the thread. I am talking about using a Proton Accelerator to fission Lead, not Uranium or any other Actinides, and I am talking about doing so at moderate energies, not GeV range power, 55 MeV range of power in the beam.


MEV is not the only thing you have to worry about. You have to also consider beam current. Most particle accelerators today produce beam currents in the micro amp range.

For the energy amplifier they are proposing a 1GEV accelerator with beam current of 1 to 10milliAmps. And they are expecting it to consume about 10% of the power output of the reactor. The core of the energy amplifier is within sized to be about 90% 95% of what is needed to be critical. The particle accelerator only supplies 5% to 10% of what is needed to make make the core critical. The fissioning uranium atoms provide the rest.

For the proton lead reactor the particle accelerator provides 100% of the energy need to fission the lead. meaning you will need a big accelerator.

A 1 GW nuclear power plant has about 31X10E18 fissions per second. If you assume 1 proton will fission 1 lead atom , you will need a beam current of about 1Amp. That is at about a 1000 times more current than the energy amplifier would need. such a particle accelerator could consume much of the power output of the proton lead reactor.



Fissioning that much lead will create a neutron radiation field just as strong as one from a regular reactor. Weapons grade Plutonium is made by exposing uranium to neutrons. So switching from uranium to lead doesn't solve the weapons proliferation concerns. All the metal of the reactor will also become radioactive including the lead that is not fissioned. Also you still have to deal with the radioactive fission waste.


Is the formula you are using V*A=W? I don't think that applies to eV but if you have a source please show me your source.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Surf » Thu 09 Jan 2014, 02:12:13

Is the formula you are using V*A=W? I don't think that applies to eV but if you have a source please show me your source.


Tanada what I did was use google to find out the number of fisssions for a typical 1GW power ploant. That told me how may protons were needed. Since electrons and protons have the same charge but opposite polarity, I again used google to find the number of electrons in amp of current. Turns out that number is quite close to the number of fissions. So I didn't convert eV to volts. However you got me thinking today.

You can convert MEV into watts. So I converted 55 MeV into watts and multiplied that by the number of protons. I came up with about 250MW. That is the beam power needed at the lead. That means that if you have a very efficient accelerator you could make this work. The particle accelerator would however consume about 50% of the power (a little less or more depending on the actual efficiency of the accelerator). However once you get to about 30% efficiency on the accelerator it is very doubtful that such a plant make money from the sale of power.

What is not known right now is how much it would cost to build an accelerator unlike any in existence now. Also we don't how reliable it would or how much maintenance it would need. The answer to those questions would tell you if this would be practical. In all likelihood advanced generation IV reactors with passive cooling and safety systems would always cost less to construct, operate, and maintain.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Tanada » Thu 09 Jan 2014, 18:26:55

Surf wrote:
Is the formula you are using V*A=W? I don't think that applies to eV but if you have a source please show me your source.


Tanada what I did was use google to find out the number of fisssions for a typical 1GW power ploant. That told me how may protons were needed. Since electrons and protons have the same charge but opposite polarity, I again used google to find the number of electrons in amp of current. Turns out that number is quite close to the number of fissions. So I didn't convert eV to volts. However you got me thinking today.

You can convert MEV into watts. So I converted 55 MeV into watts and multiplied that by the number of protons. I came up with about 250MW. That is the beam power needed at the lead. That means that if you have a very efficient accelerator you could make this work. The particle accelerator would however consume about 50% of the power (a little less or more depending on the actual efficiency of the accelerator). However once you get to about 30% efficiency on the accelerator it is very doubtful that such a plant make money from the sale of power.

What is not known right now is how much it would cost to build an accelerator unlike any in existence now. Also we don't how reliable it would or how much maintenance it would need. The answer to those questions would tell you if this would be practical. In all likelihood advanced generation IV reactors with passive cooling and safety systems would always cost less to construct, operate, and maintain.


Thanks, that is more or less what I said in the initial post. This technology has the potential to be an energy supply but without research. mathematical modeling and anyone actually constructing a unit we don't know if it will hold up in practice as it does in theory. If you need a 250 MW beam and you are building a modern high efficiency steam plant that delivers 37% efficiency you should make a usable amount of excess electricity you could sell on the grid. Fermi I, the first civilian breeder built in the USA was not far from where I grew up and I toured the plant site back around 1995. You wouldn't have a prayer of getting a tour since 9/11/2001 but of course none of us tourist appreciated what a privilege we were having at the time. People do not realize Fermi I also delivered power to the grid during its few years of operation, however it only produced an excess of about 67 MWe at full operating power. Back in the 1960's people built many demonstration projects that produced what we would call a minimum power level today, but not a whole lot of research has been done on this specific idea, it is just something that was offered as a possibility to me back around 1981 but that so far as I can tell has not bee modeled or developed since.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby pstarr » Thu 09 Jan 2014, 18:46:19

Beery1 wrote:One more example (among many) of people so desperate to retain a hold on an unsustainable lifestyle that they're willing to irradiate the planet to get a few more decades of cheap energy to waste it heating and cooling homes.
Nuclear radiation is over-rated. Check out the wolves of Chernobyl.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 11 Jan 2014, 02:06:01

pstarr wrote:
Beery1 wrote:One more example (among many) of people so desperate to retain a hold on an unsustainable lifestyle that they're willing to irradiate the planet to get a few more decades of cheap energy to waste it heating and cooling homes.
Nuclear radiation is over-rated. Check out the wolves of Chernobyl.


Isn't it sad how Hollywood has turned the word radiation into the boogy man of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries? Media personalities are given strong credence by the general public, but their knowledge of science in general and nuclear health science in particular are sorely lacking.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby dissident » Sat 11 Jan 2014, 12:04:48

The energy gain is there but the problem is getting enough accelerated proton flux to make this viable. Particle accelerators deal with tiny amounts of accelerated material. You don't just pump a kilogram of protons in an accelerator. You couldn't keep this much confined in the accelerator magnetic field as Coulomb repulsion would be enormous (this brings to mind all those stupid sci-fi beam weapons that manage to remain collimated). So what we are talking about here is some sort of new accelerator design that is somewhat like magnetic confinement in fusion reactors. Instead of a torus it would be a linear confinement chamber, with ionized hydrogen injected at one end in sufficient amounts and accelerated to 50 MeV at the exit.

As with fusion, you have all the nasty nonlinear MHD plasma issues and would want to prevent abrasion of your accelerator wall although it would not be lethal to the operation of the reactor as it is with fusion.

Then we have to figure out what happens to the lead exposed to this beam. The conversion would happen at the surface and the products would be vapourized. You don't want this vapour to flow into the accelerator, which it can since the proton flux does not form a perfect wall. You also want to capture the energy released so the heat exchanger would have to be trapping these products. The design of this part of the beam reactor is very problematic.

I wonder if there is some study somewhere (likely archived by DOE from decades ago) which evaluated all these issues. I doubt nobody has studied this concept seriously. Perhaps the lack of prototypes is not just an institutional bias towards dual use technology.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 11 Jan 2014, 18:07:34

dissident wrote:The energy gain is there but the problem is getting enough accelerated proton flux to make this viable. Particle accelerators deal with tiny amounts of accelerated material. You don't just pump a kilogram of protons in an accelerator. You couldn't keep this much confined in the accelerator magnetic field as Coulomb repulsion would be enormous (this brings to mind all those stupid sci-fi beam weapons that manage to remain collimated). So what we are talking about here is some sort of new accelerator design that is somewhat like magnetic confinement in fusion reactors. Instead of a torus it would be a linear confinement chamber, with ionized hydrogen injected at one end in sufficient amounts and accelerated to 50 MeV at the exit.

As with fusion, you have all the nasty nonlinear MHD plasma issues and would want to prevent abrasion of your accelerator wall although it would not be lethal to the operation of the reactor as it is with fusion.

Then we have to figure out what happens to the lead exposed to this beam. The conversion would happen at the surface and the products would be vapourized. You don't want this vapour to flow into the accelerator, which it can since the proton flux does not form a perfect wall. You also want to capture the energy released so the heat exchanger would have to be trapping these products. The design of this part of the beam reactor is very problematic.

I wonder if there is some study somewhere (likely archived by DOE from decades ago) which evaluated all these issues. I doubt nobody has studied this concept seriously. Perhaps the lack of prototypes is not just an institutional bias towards dual use technology.


Thank you for the educated and thoughtful response to the concept. I agree you would have to keep the hardest vacuum obtainable in the core chamber where the lead target was located and you would have to maintain it as well as possible. I do think that like the Molten Thorium Salt reactors the volatile fission products would boil off rapidly after being formed and this would lead to radioactive accumulation in the vacuum pump system unless a well though out system were put in place to precipitate the volatile fission fragments out into some type of grid or filtration system.

While certainly some of the atom smashing is going to take place directly on the surface of the lead target at least some of it will take place deeper inside, consider it takes a nearly dead centered impact for the accelerated Proton to penetrate the Coulomb barrier and strike the nucleus directly to break it apart. Anything less than a direct hit will simply curve away and reflect or refract further into the mass of the Lead target core. Probability is most of the actual head on collision will take place inside the mass of the Lead core, not on the plane of its surface, and how deep in the core is a function of how many MeV the Proton has. The higher the energy the more chances for it to still have enough energy to penetrate and produce a fission reaction after multiple near misses passing elastically in and out of the electron shells of the target mass. It is for this reason that I think the Proton beam reactor would generate a heat signature through a significant portion of the target mass.

It is possible that the DOE has reams of studies about Proton beam reactors but if they do nobody so far as I can tell has ever made them public. As I seem to recall there have also been studies using Deuterons instead of Protons effectively more than doubling the impact energy without increasing the Coulomb force between the beam and the target mass. Of course doing so requires even more power to be used to accelerate the particles in the beam, so studies would be needed to show where the cost/benefit ratio is.
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Re: Proton-Lead Power

Unread postby Subjectivist » Thu 06 Apr 2017, 15:05:39

So I saw a brief news blurb about this topic and it got me thinking. Uranium makes up just 2 ppm of the crust of the Earth while Thorium makes up almost 7 , but lead makes up almost 14. Not only that, but from what I read any isotope that fissions so that the lighter element of the pair is as heavy as Iron or heavier will release energy. This means basically every material from 64, Gadolinium and up, releases energy when fissioned because Iron/Nickle sit at the bottom of the binding curve of energy. In fact there are six elements at or close to this mass that are more abundant in the crust than Uranium. Samarium 62, makes up 7 ppm, Gadolinium 64, 6 ppm, Dysprosium 66, 5 ppm, Hafnium 72, 3.5 ppm, Erbium 68, 3 ppm, Yterbium 70, 2.8 ppm, Europium 63, 2.1 ppm, plus Lead 82, with 14 ppm.

In other words, given the already large energy content in Uranium and Thorium if Proton-Lead is energy positive that will grow the fissionable material by 43.4 ppm compared to 8 ppm for Uranium and Thorium combined.

Fission of Samarium, element 63, literally puts you right around Iron on the periodic table for the lighter fragment and around Strontium for the heavier fragment. Physics teaches students that fission releases energy because the fragments have a tighter binding energy than the heavy element had before they split apart. Fusion works the opposite, if you fuse two elements and the resulting nucleusis closer to Iron than they were the binding energy of the resulting isotope is higher. Aluminum fusing with itself gives you Iron, Aluminum and Silicon gives Cobalt, Silicon and Silicon gives Nickle and so on.

Lead fission where this whole concept started gives you fragments around Arsenic for the lighter piece and Tin for the heavier piece.

Of ourse all of this is based on a positive energy return, if this turns out to be a negative EROEI there won't be any reason to built accellerator systems unless you are just doing it as an external neutron source for sub critical reactors using Actinides for fuel. Of course if you are using external neutrons you can use waste aka spent nuclear fuel as your core and we have enough of that to power America for centuries without mining another gran of Urnium or Thorium.
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