Atoms for power; What the future will bring
All. Of the. Old. Program produced by Purdue University underground from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today's program written and produced by Bob McMahon bears the title what the future will bring. God. Was. God. This week's program marks the final chapter of the present series of atoms for power during the last 14 programs we have covered the broad field of atomic power in as much
detail as it was in our power to give you. And we hope that you have found these programs interesting and enjoyable. But lest we forget. And final summation. Let's take another glance at some of the topics we have talked about and some of the conclusions that were reached program number one we called the Power picture. It described the present status of the world's fossil fuels and the need for a new power source. In the words of Palmer Putnam the world is presently consuming energy at a rate of 20 percent tree and if present trends continue this rate will have climbed to one hundred per cent. By the year 2000. This calculation includes energy consumption in all forms for propelling ships automobiles trains and aircraft for heating homes offices and factories for supplying heat for industrial processes for producing electric power.
It is sobering to match these figures against the best estimates of the world's reserves of coal oil and gas for economical recoverable coal reserve estimate is about 70 CU for oil and gas together. It is about 8. Q If these estimates are correct they are probably not too far wrong. The world's fuel reserves would last for about 400 years. At the present rate of consumption and for less than 80 years at the rate of consumption that will very likely be reached by the year 2000. Whatever the margin of error is it is plain that we cannot continue to rely forever upon traditional sources of energy. Program number two told of the romance of uranium. It gave a detailed account of the world's supply of the new atomic fuels uranium and thorium. Mr. Oliver Townsend of the atomic industrial forum.
It has been estimated by experts that the amount of energy that is contained in the uranium deposits of the world and also in the foreign deposits which is another potential source of atomic energy the amount of energy in those deposits is 23 times as much as is contained in all the coal and oil and gas deposits in the world. Next we describe the complicated processes whereby a row uranium ore can be turned into fuel for an atomic furnace. And we went on to discuss and program a number for the question of whether or not power from the atom and they made as cheaply as it can be manufactured from our fossil fuels. Dr. W.H. is a former director of the Argonne National Laboratory one of our nation's greatest atomic development centers. What. Is the chance that in the near future in this country we will get electricity from. Nuclear energy
at a cost equivalent to what we can get from coal. Well we have very tough competition. The generation of electricity from coal is a highly developed art. It has been developing for 100 years and a great deal of money has been spent in the development there has been an enormous amount of practical experience. And here we're asking something which is very new which is not even 10 years old to step in and compete with it. It's surely having a baby compete with a man. But that's what is asked of us. Now what is the case for nuclear power plants. They're all at least $100 per kilowatt of higher than for the equivalent coal plant. And these are only estimates. No one has actually done this. And this is what people think they can do now. But we can see plenty of places where we could be better where we can improve. And then you see we get a
nuclear power cost which is smaller perhaps than the cost of power from coal. It's because of our faith that this can be done that we believe it makes sense to continue to do research and development and to build nuclear power plants because a day will surely come when the power is economically can be competitive and therefore useful. How far off is that time Dr Zen is talking about when atomic power in the United States can be produced as cheaply as power from any other source. Present estimates say that by 1965 we will have reached that goal. Other nations of the world do not have to wait even that long. Dr. Harrison Scott Brown a member of the staff of the California Institute of Technology and England is in a very difficult situation with respect to coal. She is mining coal at the present time. At the rate of about 200 million tons a year. And she has been mining coal of about this rate for a very long time.
She should be mining coal of a much more rapid rate if she is going to keep up with the industrial activity that she should have in order to give her people an adequate standard of living. But mining coal at a greater rate in England is really exceedingly difficult. The seams are very steeply pitched they're very thin. They are not susceptible to easy mechanization and in addition to that coal mining as many of us know is not the most pleasant of professions and you just can't get everybody to go down the mines. The net result of this is that I firmly believe that atomic energy is going to be used in England to generate electricity in the growth of atomic energy. Developing development in England is going to be very very rapid. The cost curves are right on the ragged edge of crossing at the present time
and very very short play. It should be really truly competitive without any fudging of the accounts. Now this is going to have an a very a very very profound effect upon the world economy and I cannot help but look back a bit to well quite a ways as a matter of fact to the time when England almost ran out of trees. At one time England manufactured a lot of steel and they used charcoal. And charcoal was the only thing you could use with which to make steel and the forests of England became They were cut down and the land was diluted and all of a sudden after a great deal of effort on the part of many people someone emerged with a technique which permitted coal to be so treated that you could make Coke which in turn could be used to make steel. And this was the
salvation at that time of England. And I can't help but believe today that. A similar revolution is taking place and that we are witnessing today a revolution of an order of magnitude probably as rare as the winking of cold to irony which led to the original way to the industrial revolution. Professor Marcus Oliphant of the Australian National University of Canberra speaking at the Geneva conference. Australia in particular is very interested in power plants which derive their energy from nuclear processes but which do not require large quantities of cooling both at cooling water being absent in many inland areas of the strait. Now this means the use of gas to Binns the production of reactors that will heat gases to very high temperatures as compared with what's needed for a steam operation. And when I was beginning to see now
from the proceedings of the conference and from discussions that this. He's now on the horizon. It's almost practicable. And finally Dr. W. E. Parkins of atomics International. The U.S. produces about 42 percent of all the power in the world. So as I say about two fifths Europe combined is about another one fifth of the remainder lies between the Russian controlled countries and the rest of the world. This including Central America South America Africa India Japan Philippines. But they say that a man asserting that the world why there are certain countries for which the atomic energy is going to be more important others just because of their their fuel situation. Actually in spite of the fact there are certain countries that probably need it worst. You can take some
of the countries that have a poorer resource problem or a situation like India and even Japan Brazil Syria. In spite of the fact these countries needed for worse they're probably not going to get it first. And I think for reasons that you appreciate it is a sufficiently complicated new technology required that it's going to be the countries that can really support it industrially. And have the technology to back it up which will be making first use of it. If you really talk about plants being built and electricity on the line the country that's out in front of the present time is the United Kingdom by quite a bit. Russia is probably a good second if they're already doing everything they say they're doing. I think United States probably running about third France or fourth and. Certain others are following
that. It is true of course that there are just many countries that are seriously interested in this field and the possibility of using atomic energy for power production purposes. On the later programs in the series we took a look at some of the results of the various reactor building programs the world over. First our own. We discussed with our designers some of the advantages of and problems connected with the boiling water reactor and the breeder reactor under construction at the Argonne National Laboratory. The homogeneous reactor at Oak Ridge the pressurized water reactor being built by Westinghouse it's shipping port Pennsylvania and the sodium graphite reactor under construction by atomics International at South as a Santa. California. We next visited England France and Canada to learn more about their own reactor building programs many of them called by carbon dioxide gas instead of by a liquid metal or by water. We examined the problems of atomic waste. The ashes of the nuclear front us ices that are extremely dangerous to handle and remain that way for long
periods of time. Dr. Gerald wente of United Nations radio in all the handling of radioactive materials and working with reactor horse probably the most dangerous operation is the removal of the highly radioactive fission products from the uranium fuel. After some period of operation of the reactor these fission products collect and slow down the operation so they must occasionally be removed. It is a complicated chemical process but it is conducted wholly by remote control from behind heavy concrete walls. The operators never see what they're working with except through mirrors and sometimes a television set. The process is so successful that the pill Yuen him with less than one percent loss. I can go back into the reactor as fresh fuel the radioactive waste products that have been removed now may be further separated into individual isotopes for use in industry medicine and research. Most of the time today however the usual
practice is to store these wastes for a period of long as five years during which there radioactivity is reduced to one or two percent of the original. They are stored in large underground tanks made of concrete with a steel lining and they may be 80 or more feet in diameter. Really very large tanks and sometimes a whole series of them. The highly radioactive material heats itself up by its own rays when it is stored like this. As a result the solution boils. One it comes off and they burst. So underground there is a whole system of management which includes condensers to cool the vapors and to bring the water back into the tank on the way. There are underground cycling separators to remove the spray and also filters to remove the dust and the remaining vapors if there are any. I lead to a tall smokestack. All of course there is no smoke and I then
released into the high air in this way. The disposal of radioactive wastes is has been made completely safe. One very important disadvantage of nuclear fission. As the very fact that it's radioactive byproducts are extremely dangerous. But by this time another word has been mentioned a number of times a word that may furnish an answer. Dr. Homi Bhabha created quite a sensation among the members of the press when he made this statement at the Geneva conference on atomic power a conference on which he served as president. The historical period just entering in which atomic energy released by the fusion process will supply some of the product promise of the world may well be regarded one day as the primitive period of the atomic age. It is well known that atomic energy can also be obtained through some process and there is no basic scientific knowledge in opposition today to show that it is impossible for us to obtain this energy from the fusion process in a controlled manner.
The technical problems. But one should remember that it is not yet 15 years since atomic energy was released in atomic for the first time by fair means. I venture to predict that the method will be found liberating frozen energy in a controlled manner within the next two decades. When that happens the energy problems of the world will truly have been solved. Whatever for the future will then be a spent well as the heavy hype and the awful Professor Marcus elephant of the Australian National University in Canberra. This is a process that is always there. It caught my imagination very much indeed indeed and I myself from doing experimental work in this field in my laboratory in Australia and hope to do more. And I knew that work is going on in a large number of countries of the world. There is no reason why this president should be not realize there is no reason in principle to troll but it is
extremely difficult in the sense that in order to bring about these fusion reactions you've got to produce temperatures which are in the region of million or several millions of degrees and there is no known substance which will stand up to these temperatures. Everything that we know is the lad who lived at that temperature so that it requires considerable ingenuity to be able to produce these very high temperatures even in enclosures. Which will melt at a temperature of a few thousands of degrees. So we are. They sit for ways of dodgy missed difficulty and I think ways will be found. Well you would not like to suggest a time. Each one of them is pretty just it might break tomorrow. Perhaps in one of the laboratories of the world it's already been achieved. I did. But I'm quite certain that it will be achieved. Perhaps Dr Bob buys a system it
is a realistic one. Perhaps it may take longer. With luck it may take very much shorter than Doctor 10 and we'd like to have your opinions concerning fusion before we finish with today's program. But first what do you think the future of atomic energy will be and what kind of an effect is it very likely to have on the world and the people in it. Attempts to forecast the future of atomic energy have tended to run to two opposite extremes. On one hand and us have pictured a world in which atomic energy will drive our cars and around the world airplanes blast aside mountains melt down ice caps heat our homes and kill our germs Parreira roads and run our factories. Control our weather and transport us to the moon. On the other hand pessimists have asserted Tomic power will never be practical except for a very limited kind of use. Probably neither of these extreme points of view are entirely correct and the path of the future lies somewhere in
between. My own views lie somewhat on the optimistic side. Well it is obvious that many difficult engineering problems must be solved before it can come to pass. I am convinced that not too many years of nuclear power plants will become a very light and compact clean and safe source of low cost and versatile energy. Today our major developments in atomic power are leading toward the use of power reactors in large central electric generating plants. This is based on the idea that only large nuclear power plants will be able to compete economically with our conventional coal fired generating stations. But I think the real future of atomic power lies in small generating stations placed wherever we want them. Atomic power can open up new areas of the world that heretofore have been considered uninhabitable. We may even find ways of making use of the
radioactive waste products of fission. And if we can do this we can overcome the greatest disadvantage connected with nuclear power. We could build central heating plants to warm blocks of houses or houses or office buildings with the residual heat contained in this material. Fleets of nuclear powered submarine ships and their planes will soon be with us and then two atomic energy may be the only answer for a while at least to the problem of rocket flight and space travel. Well apropos to that subject we had a interesting conversation just recently with Dave Elliott a research member of the staff of the jet propulsion lab here at Purdue and with him at the time was Donald L. Crabtree student a mechanical engineering and winner of last year's student award of the American rocket society for a paper. On rockets.
What are some of the problems that rocket propulsion brings to light. Most of the problems of rocket propulsion stem from one central problem. This is that there are no filling stations out in space they rocket us to travel this entire journey using the fuel that it can take off with. The problem is similar to the problem you might face if you try to drive your automobile from here to New York without stopping at a filling station. To do this you would first tune up the engine to get the maximum possible mileage. And also you would load up the car with as many drums of gasoline as possible. Now to do the same thing with a rocket you similarly try to carry as much fuel as possible and that's why rockets are so huge and consist mostly of fuel when they take off. To get as much mileage as possible out of the rocket means getting as high a velocity as possible when the fuel is all consumed. When you drive a car due to air resistance and traffic laws you drive at a cost and speed but for a rocket there are no speed limits and there is no resistance once it gets out of the atmosphere. So
to get as far as possible with the rocket you want to burn the fuel immediately. The rocket is propelled by the thrust of a high velocity jet of gas. The higher the velocity of the gas the higher the velocity the rocket will have when the fuel is all gone. And to get high velocity gas coming out of the rocket means that you must heat the gas as hot as possible in the rocket and you must use as light weight a gas as possible. Well how does atomic energy and her into the picture of atomic polish in our rocket propulsion we should say then. Well the two big advantages of nuclear propulsion with respect to rockets is the fact that it can give you a high temperature and you can use a low weight gas now possibly a method of building a rocket which would use. Atomic power would be to take a reactor and build it in such a way that you could pass this gas through it bore holes in it make it out of a porous material or
stack it in layers and you could put this like gas through it. And while you were putting it through it the nuclear reaction would heat up this gas and supply the necessary heat to give you this high velocity. Now possibly in the future rocket power plants will be built using nuclear fuels which will operate at a very high temperature and will be give very very good efficiency with respect to Iraq and partly. Thank you very much Dave Elliot tan Don Crabtree. Well now we can at last pass on to a few comments on fusion. There is not enough time left in the program today to explain its workings to you but perhaps we can have doctor attend them outlined the problem for us how to control thermal nuclear reactions for power production is one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. Successful control would have profound consequences. The oceans contain enough to carry him the raw material for the fusion process
apply 1000 times of the present power needs of the world for the next one million years. When we talk about fusion we mean the burning of hydrogen to form helium in a fusion reaction of the thermonuclear self-sustaining type. We can take it nearly for granted that it is this process occurring in the interior of the large mass of a star which furnace Perny is the enormous amount of energy spent by its radiation. Nevertheless this process cannot be used for power plants because it can proceed as a self-sustaining chain reaction only in a stove of extremely high temperature and bass dimensions. The core temperature of a star is measured in terms of millions of degrees. This interior temperature is maintained only because of the the enormous size of the star does not permit the heat to radiate away very quickly.
We must discover a means of creating these temperatures in an object of small dimensions and we must remember in addition to this fusion unlike fission is not self-sustaining. Instead we must find ways of setting up a chain reaction a fusion fusion meaning particles by artificially creating the proper conditions for the reaction to grow. This is a most difficult operation to perform as a matter of fact no one has ever succeeded in doing very high temperatures temperatures of many millions of degrees are needed to maintain the chain reaction. This means that first of all we have to furnish this tremendous heat energy before we can get any useful product and we must contain it somehow and containing it will not be easy. Since temperatures of this magnitude will vaporize every material we know the only thing which conceivably is capable of
containing this type of reaction is any electric or magnetic field which might be used to insulate the walls of a reaction chamber from the extremely high temperatures at the center of the container. Thus in essence the problem is that of ionizing the deuterium heating the resulting gas discharge to temperatures of millions of degrees and confining it at this temperature long enough to permit an appreciable fraction of the deuterium ions to fuse with the consequent release of energy. Then this energy would somehow have to be converted into a usable form. These are just a part of the difficulties. And there is no way out of them. A major technical breakthrough is required if controlled Thermal Nuclear power is to become a reality. Perhaps before that day arrives we will find other means of producing power by some such thing as harnessing the heat of the sun or the heat energy that is contained in the molten core of the earth.
We can only hope to live to see the day when some of this occurred. Well thank you very much Dr. Ted. In closing our final program today I would like to mention the names of a few people and organizations without the cooperation of which there could have been no series called atoms for power. I would like first of all to thank United Nations radio for opening their archives to us and helping us in every way possible during a two week stay on their premises. I would like to thank Charles H Robbins and Oliver Townsend of the atomic industrial forum for helping us with contacts. Mr Gordon S. Dean former chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission for his assistance the British French and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Without whose cooperation there could have been no series on the international atom. The Atomic Energy Commission and its contractors the Argonne at Oak Ridge National Laboratories the Westinghouse corporation and atomics international law making some of the greatest minds in the nuclear development of our Nation available at the microphone. And finally we'd like to show
- Atoms for power
- What the future will bring
- Producing Organization
- Purdue University
- WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
Advisor: Tandam, Donald J.
Narrator: Richter, Walt
Producer: McMahon, Bob
Producing Organization: Purdue University
Producing Organization: WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
Writer: McMahon, Bob
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-59-15 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Atoms for power; What the future will bring,” 1957-05-17, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-z02z7k27.
- MLA: “Atoms for power; What the future will bring.” 1957-05-17. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-z02z7k27>.
- APA: Atoms for power; What the future will bring. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-z02z7k27