Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thorium Can Fuel the Next Millenium

For humans to enjoy a clean and abundant energy future, they will need to move to energy from nuclear reactions -- which means nuclear fission, for now. Thorium is the main alternative to uranium as a large-scale nuclear fuel. Here are some basic facts about thorium:
Thorium is a naturally-occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by a Swedish chemist, Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The silvery white metal is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium. Typical garden variety soil commonly contains an average of around 6 parts per million (ppm) of thorium.

Thorium oxide, also called thoria, has one of the highest melting points of all oxides at 3300°C. When this oxide is heated in air, thorium metal turnings ignite and burn brilliantly with a white light. Because of these properties, thorium has found applications in welding electrodes, heat-resistant ceramics, light bulb elements, lantern mantles and arc-light lamps. Glass containing thorium oxide has a high refractive index and dispersion and is used in high quality lenses for cameras and scientific instruments.
Sources and geographical distribution

The most common source of thorium is the rare earth phosphate mineral, monazite, which may contain up to about 12 percent thorium phosphate; however, the average is closer to a 6-7 percent range. Monazite is found in igneous and other rocks but the richest concentrations are in placer deposits, concentrated by wave and current action with other heavy minerals. World monazite resources are estimated to be about 12 million tonnes, two-thirds of which are in heavy mineral sands deposits on the south and east coasts of India. Australia is estimated by the USGS to host approximately 24 percent of the world’s thorium reserves. A large vein deposit of thorium and rare earth metals have been discovered in the Lemhi Pass region of Idaho and Montana.
Going nuclear
Although not fissile itself, thorium has started to reemerge as a tempting prospect to employ as fuel in nuclear power reactors. Thorium 232 will absorb slow neutrons to produce uranium 233, which is fissile (and long-lived). The irradiated fuel can then be unloaded from the reactor, the uranium 233 separated from the thorium, and fed back into another reactor as part of a closed fuel cycle. Alternatively, uranium 233 can be bred from thorium in a blanket, the uranium 233 separated, and then fed into the core.
The use of thorium-based fuel cycles has been studied for about 40 years, but on a much smaller scale than uranium or uranium/plutonium cycles. Basic research and development has been conducted in Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA. China and India have been among primary catalysts in research efforts to use it. Test reactor irradiation of thorium fuel to high burn-ups has also been conducted and several test reactors have either been partially or completely loaded with thorium-based fuel.
Thorium can be used in Generation IV and other advanced nuclear fuel cycle systems.
China has been working on developing the technology for sodium cooled fast reactors which are a type of liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs). The advanced breeder concept features a molten salt as the coolant, usually a fluoride salt mixture. This is hot, but not under pressure, and does not boil below about 1400°C. Much research has focused on lithium and beryllium additions to the salt mixture. In mid-2009, AECL signed agreements with three Chinese entities to develop and demonstrate the use of thorium fuel in the Candu reactors at Qinshan in China. _UraniumInvesting
The best ongoing source for information on thorium energy is Kirk Sorensen's blog "Energy from Thorium".

Kirk is featured in the introductory video below. You can click on the YouTube icon on the video below to watch the vid at YouTube, and to find links to several related videos -- some of them well over an hour in length.

Another blog dedicated to the molten salt reactor is the Nuclear Green blog.

Here's more on thorium, from a piece in Popsci from last summer:
An abundant metal with vast energy potential could quickly wean the world off oil, if only Western political leaders would muster the will to do it, a UK newspaper says today. The Telegraph makes the case for thorium reactors as the key to a fossil-fuel-free world within five years, and puts the ball firmly in President Barack Obama's court.

Thorium, named for the Norse god of thunder, is much more abundant than uranium and has 200 times that metal's energy potential. Thorium is also a more efficient fuel source -- unlike natural uranium, which must be highly refined before it can be used in nuclear reactors, all thorium is potentially usable as fuel. _Popsci

Another basic overview on thorium

Yet another overview from Wired

Taken from an earlier article published at Al Fin Energy


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Small Cities as Seeds to Help Feed Knowledge Economy

The US is a dynamic mixture of large and small. While in most nations it is the large central cities which feed knowledge and culture to the rest of the society, in the US knowledge and culture flows in both directions.
Images from Wired

Livable cities draw creative people, and creative people spawn jobs. Some places you’d never expect—small cities not dominated by a university—are learning how to lure knowledge workers, entrepreneurs, and other imaginative types at levels that track or even exceed the US average (30 percent of workers). Here are some surprising destinations from the data of the Martin Prosperity Institute, directed by Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class. _Wired

Most conventional analysts of societal growth and knowledge dynamics will assume that knowledge flows out of large universities and university towns into society at large. But in a free society with a market economy, knowledge is apt to originate most anywhere the market operates. And that knowledge is apt to flow anywhere the market can reach.
Above: How Omaha Nebraska was transformed into one of the US Midwest's most vibrant cultural hubs, starting in the 1990s and proceeding into the 2000s (see case study).


Saturday, June 18, 2011

$74,000 for a Tiny Piece of God's Country

Rio Grande River Valley Near Taos

Images via Zillow

Somewhere within 20 miles of Taos, New Mexico, sits a tiny 320 sq ft dome with a lovely view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Also nearby is the scenic Rio Grande River Gorge. Skies over the dome are almost always clear -- deep blue in the daytime and incredibly starry at night. The dome sits on 10 acres of land, all for $74,000. But you will need to get used to living off the grid.
“There’s quite a few people who are interested in building dome homes,” explained listing agent John Kejr of Dreamcatcher Real Estate. “There are a probably a couple of dozen different companies that have [the kits].”

Dennis Johnson of Natural Space Domes in Minnesota sells kits for building a dome home — either the entire pre-fabricated kit with framework and sheeting and interior panels or a basic kit, which just includes the metal connection brackets.

While a small dome home kit, like the one in Taos, costs somewhere under $5,000, three, four and five-bedroom plus homes can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000, and Johnson claims they’re relatively easy to build and someone without a lot of construction experience can build one.

“The dome is a connect-the-dots kind of thing, a very easy system,” he said. “It’s like a giant Tinkertoy set.”

...The home is near the Rio Grande river and has “spectacular views” of the mountains, Kejr said, but be prepared to use an all-wheel drive vehicle to access the property during heavy rainstorms due to muddy conditions. _Zillow

Hmmm. Remote location, off-grid, difficult to access in wet or wintry weather? Generally fine weather. Beautiful view of the Sangre de Cristos and relatively near access to the river gorge and to prime winter skiing?

Who could ask for a better location for surviving the next apocalypse?


Monday, June 13, 2011

Japan, Switzerland, Norway: Most Expensive Cities in World

Where do you go when you need to get rid of a lot of money quickly, merely by living a normal life? According to the World's Most Expensive Cities List from KPMG, Japan, Switzerland, and Norway are likely to have a town for you.

No. 1: Tokyo

Quick lunch: $20.80
Beer at a bar: $10.56
Kilogram of rice: $9.80
Dozen eggs: $4.50
Movie theater ticket: $23.80

Although the consumer price index in the Tokyo area has been falling since 2009, according to data from Japan's statistics bureau, the city remains the world's most expensive. While housing costs are not included in this survey, ECA International estimates that the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Tokyo stood at $4,352 in September.

No. 2: Oslo

Quick lunch: $45.20
Beer at a bar: $13.18
Kilogram of rice: $6.10
Dozen eggs: $8.50
Movie theater ticket: $18.80

Norway's capital is a major hub for trade, shipping, and finance and is home to the Oslo Stock Exchange. Oslo has ranked among the world's most expensive cities for years, which is not surprising when a quick lunch costs about $45 and a dozen eggs, $8.50.

No. 3: Nagoya, Japan

Quick lunch: $19
Beer at a bar: $11.37
Kilogram of rice: $8.50
Dozen eggs: $3.60
Movie theater ticket: $21.80

Nagoya is one of Japan's premier industrial and technological centers and is well known for its high quality of life and competitive business costs, according to the U.S. Commercial Service. Unlike Japan's other major cities, Nagoya was not significantly harmed by the global economic downturn and has maintained its growth.

No. 4: Stavanger, Norway

Quick lunch: $32.30
Beer at a bar: $12.83
Kilogram of rice: $5.70
Dozen eggs: $6.80
Movie theater ticket: $17.30

Stavanger was mainly a fishing community until oil was found in the North Sea in the 1960s, transforming it into a major Norwegian city. Today, Norway is a leading oil exporter, with Statoil as the largest oil company in the Stavanger region. The industry has become central to the local economy and has attracted many residents from other countries.

No. 5: Yokohama, Japan

Quick lunch: $16.90
Beer at a bar: $6.59
Kilogram of rice: $4.20
Dozen eggs: $2.50
Movie theater ticket: $21.70

Japan's second-largest city after Tokyo, Yokohama is easily reached from Tokyo by train. The port city is home to over 300 IT firms and has a growing biotechnology base, according to the city. Yokohama has nine main business districts and exports many cars and auto parts.

No. 6: Zurich

Quick lunch: $32.90
Beer at a bar: $10.54
Kilogram of rice: $3.70
Dozen eggs: $7.90
Movie theater ticket: $19.60

The financial sector is an important part of Zurich's economy and the city is home to the Swiss Stock Exchange and companies such as Credit Suisse and Swiss Re. Zurich is also a major transportation hub. Mercer ranked the city second in the world for quality of life in 2010, but such a high standard of living does not come cheap: Zurich jumped to No. 6, from being the 10th most expensive city last year.

No. 7: Luanda, Angola

Quick lunch: $52.40
Beer at a bar: $6.62
Kilogram of rice: $4.60
Dozen eggs: $5.20
Movie theater ticket: $13.90

Luanda was the most expensive city in the world in ECA International's 2009 ranking. Last year it slipped to third place, due to the depreciation of the kwanza, and this year it fell again, to No. 7. While the city has a high poverty rate, it remains one of the most expensive places for expatriates to maintain standards of living comparable to those in their home countries.

No. 8: Geneva

Quick lunch: $33.70
Beer at a bar: $9.12
Kilogram of rice: $4.70
Dozen eggs: $8.60
Movie theater ticket: $19.20

Truly a global city, Geneva is home to such international organizations as the United Nations (which has an office in the city) and the International Committee of the Red Cross. An important center for banking, government, and technology, Geneva attracts many professional visitors, as well as tourists. It ranked as the third-best city in the world for quality of life in Mercer's 2010 report.

No. 9: Kobe, Japan

Quick lunch: $15.60
Beer at a bar: $8.69
Kilogram of rice: $9.30
Dozen eggs: $3.10
Movie theater ticket: $20.80

Kobe is one of Japan's busiest ports and a manufacturing center for appliances, food, and transportation equipment. The city offers many types of cuisine, though it's known best for high grade and pricey Kobe beef.

No. 10: Bern, Switzerland

Quick lunch: $28.80
Beer at a bar: $7.46
Kilogram of rice: $4.70
Dozen eggs: $8.40
Movie theater ticket: $19.10

Switzerland's capital, Bern is the center of Swiss government, the engineering industry, and the precision industry, as well as a manufacturing center for watches and other technology used in the medical, IT, and automotive sectors, according to the Bern Economic Development Agency. Branded watches such as Rolex, Longines, Swatch, and Rado are manufactured in the Canton of Bern.

_Yahoo h/t ImpactLab

Personally, I prefer more out of the way locations with more modest costs of living. And to be honest, my own home brewed beer tastes as good or better than most of the best crafted beers one will find. For the cost of a quick lunch in some of the cities above, one could employ a skilled cook to prepare all of one's meals, in many locales.

Of course, when one travels on a business expense account, time, taste, and convenience (and what one can justify) tend to trump everything else.


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Why Couldn't Sub-Saharan Africans Invent the Wheel?

IQ Map of World

Before relatively recent contact with outside cultures, Subsaharan Africans did not invent the wheel, did not invent writing, developed minimal art, or agriculture, lacked musical instruments beyond simple percussion, and came up virtually empty in terms of math, science, and technology. Why the absence of invention and development?

The map of world IQ at top provides a tentative answer to the question, but the map raises a more central question: Why do SubSaharan African populations test so low, on average, on tests of IQ, executive function, and impulse control? Is it possible that a significant part of the development of the human "superbrain" -- which makes modern advanced civilisation possible -- developed after humans left the African birthplace?
The dispersal of modern humans from Africa to Europe some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago provides a “minimum date” for the development of language, Hoffecker speculated. “Since all languages have basically the same structure, it is inconceivable to me that they could have evolved independently at different times and places.”

A 2007 study led by Hoffecker and colleagues at the Russian Academy of Sciences pinpointed the earliest evidence of modern humans in Europe dating back 45,000 years ago. Located on the Don River 250 miles south of Moscow, the multiple sites, collectively known as Kostenki, also yielded ancient bone and ivory needles complete with eyelets, showing the inhabitants tailored furs to survive the harsh winters.

The team also discovered a carved piece of mammoth ivory that appears to be the head of a small figurine dating to more than 40,000 years ago. “If that turns out to be the case, it would be the oldest piece of figurative art ever discovered,” said Hoffecker, whose research at Kostenki is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

The finds from Kostenki illustrate the impact of the creative mind of modern humans as they spread out of Africa into places that were sometimes cold and lean in resources, Hoffecker said. “Fresh from the tropics, they adapted to ice age environments in the central plain of Russia through creative innovations in technology.”

Ancient musical instruments and figurative art discovered in caves in France and Germany date to before 30,000 years ago, he said. “Humans have the ability to imagine something in the brain that doesn’t exist and then create it,” he said. “Whether it’s a hand axe, a flute or a Chevrolet, humans are continually recombining bits of information into novel forms, and the variations are potentially infinite.” _SB

The absence of sophisticated invention or innovation prior to the human diaspora out of Africa, or in SubSaharan Africa since that diaspora, suggests a potentially deep distinction in the way that humans inside SS Africa think in comparison to how Eurasian humans learned to think.

It would be good to be able to research this puzzle, but unfortunately, the straitjacket of Political Correctness prevents the raising of such questions -- even for purposes of objective scientific research. Which means that those of us who are curious will have to conduct our investigations under the table, so to speak.

Is that not always how it is, when intelligent and curious humans are faced with oppressive and authoritarian culture-reichs, such as the modern quasi-left postmodern PC culture?

Ancient Inventions

Inventions of Ancient China

Top 10 Ancient Inventions

Previously published at abu al-fin

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

More Ways to Halt the Mosquito Apocalypse

Scientists at UC Riverside have made some discoveries which put them in something of a race with scientists at Vanderbilt University, to produce the best chemical mosquito repellent and/or neutraliser.
To find human hosts to bite and spread disease, these mosquitoes use exhaled carbon dioxide as a vital cue. A disruption of the vital carbon dioxide detection machinery of mosquitoes, which would help control the spread of diseases they transmit, has therefore been a long sought-after goal.

Anandasankar Ray, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues report in the June 2 issue of Nature (cover story) that they have identified in the lab and in semi-field trials in Africa three classes of volatile odor molecules that can severely impair, if not completely disrupt, the mosquitoes' carbon dioxide detection machinery.

...The three classes of the odor molecules are:
Inhibitors: Odor molecules, like hexanol and butanal, that inhibit the carbon dioxide receptor in mosquitoes and flies.

Imitators: Odor molecules, like 2-butanone, that mimic carbon dioxide and could be used as lures for traps to attract mosquitoes away from humans.

Blinders: Odors molecules, like 2,3-butanedione, that cause ultra-prolonged activation of the carbon dioxide sensing neurons, effectively "blinding" the mosquitoes and disabling their carbon dioxide detection machinery for several minutes.

"These chemicals offer powerful advantages as potential tools for reducing mosquito-human contact, and can lead to the development of new generations of insect repellents and lures," said Ray, who led the study. "The identification of such odor molecules – which can work even at low concentrations, and are therefore economical – could be enormously effective in compromising the ability of mosquitoes to seek humans, thus helping control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases." _PO
Mosquito borne diseases take a severe toll in human life and cause untold disability every year. Learning to distract mosquitoes from seeking out human victims would improve living conditions across much of the world.

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