Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Engineers are not Engineers

Recently I've seen more news stories popping up about the so-called drought in the south-east USA. I'm one of those people that go drought? What drought? I'm having to keep RainX on my windows.

However, regardless of what I see in the way of rainfall, water levels are reportedly dropping across the Southeast USA, and some of the nuclear power plants are in danger of shutting down. The shutting down of existing nuclear power plants to do lack of cooling means that energy costs will sky rocket in a section of the USA that has enjoyed drastically less energy costs and energy production problems than many others.

Now, as I think I've said before, I don't consider the Corps of Engineers to be Engineers. In fact, I consider them idiots. In fact, I've already got the potential energy problem for the southeast solved. In fact, I've got the energy problem for the entire United States solved. I know this because I know 3 facts.

Fact #1: The Alyeska Oil pipeline in Alaska. Quick review here:

It's over 800 miles long. Crosses 3 mountain rangers and over 800 rivers and streams. Functions in sub-zero to moderately warm temperatures. Not only was it finished in 1977, but in the over 30 years that it has been in operation, there hasn't been a single leak.

Fact #2: The USS Nautilus crossed the North pole beneath the Arctic ice cap in 1958, and the U.S.S. Triton circumnavigated the world in 1960 while submerged. What did both of these subs have in common? They used Nuclear reactors.

Want to know something else? To this date, aside from catastrophic failure due to poor maintenance or enemy sabotage, the US Navy hasn't had any known cases of radiation poisoning occurring in their nuclear subs. Despite the fact that Sailors are often under 100 feet or less to an operating nuclear reactor.

In fact, in order to properly cool the nuclear reactor, many subs could make use of Seawater.

Fact #3: We have oceans next to the US.

Okay, can you see where this is going? Let me spell it out. Back in the 1970's a private company built a leak-proof oil line through weather temperatures that are generally best described as extreme. Since the 1950's the US Navy has been putting small nuclear reactors to sea with sailors and never having a problem. Such subs could also use sea water to cool down their reactors.

What's to stop Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, or other states from using the salt water from the ocean... to cool their nuclear reactors?

Let me lay this out.

Build pumping stations on the costs. Route sea-water from the ocean to nuclear power plants. The nuclear power plants then use the SeaWater for cooling purposes instead of natural local water sources. This allows the natural local water sources to replenish themselves. In the case of artificial reservoirs like Clarks in Lake in between Georgia and South Carolina to be brought back up to level. Currently the reservoir is used to feed a hydro-electric plant. With a Nuclear Power Station, that Hydro Electric plant can be taken offline and be kept as a backup source of power.

Okay, I can already hear the technical problems involved with this sort of engineering feat, and I've already got them solved.

First problem, routing the Sea-Water pipelines. Okay, I know somebody who is a train fanatic. In fact he's got maps of all the railways in the Southeast USA. What you might not know is that every nuclear plant currently in operation... is serviced by a railway. Every port in Operation... is serviced by a railway. City, County, State, and Federal Zoning regulations have already set aside land to be used to route rail traffic. So, here's the solution to the running the pipelines. Build them over, or next to the existing Railway infrastructure. This accomplishes two goals at the same time. The first goal is routing the sea water without disturbing existing economical infrastructure. Job done. The paths have already been cleared. The second goal is monitoring the pipeline for leaks. Job done, trains that pass through can keep an eye out on the various pipelines. Not that such an effort is needed considering that the oil pipeline in Alaska is far less monitored by human eyes.

But wait a second... trains cause vibrations? They cause a pounding effect? Won't that loosen nuts, bolts, and other items within the pipelines? Okay, does anybody know the stress that is put on nuts in bolts inside the engine of a Bugatti Veyron? Does anybody know the stress that is put on the nuts and bolts of the engines for massive cruise ships and their monstrous 26,000+ brake horsepower output? Does anybody know the stress that is put on the nuts and bolts of a train trestle when a train goes over it?

Seriously, protecting a pipe carrying sea water from a train's vibrations is childs play compared to what has been accomplished 30 years ago. It's not even an issue.

Okay, Second problem. How exactly are these pipes going to be powered? Something has to push the water through. Remind me again where these pipes are being routed? Oh, yes. Nuclear Power Plants. Simple answer is to have the Nuclear Power Plants themselves provide the power to pump the seawater over the vast distances.

The more complex answer creates new jobs, and new job opportunities. Recall again that the Navy has been putting nuclear reactors in extremely small containers. Exampling the
USS Nautilus again. It measured at a length of 320 ft, a beam (width) of 28 ft and a draft (height) of 26 ft. Now, what's the size of the average American style football field? If you said 360 feet long by about 162 feet wide, you'd be about right. The average size in yards is about 120 yards long by 53 1/3 yards wide.

Alright, now how many football fields do you have around your local town? Probably 3 or so. Now, you could put a Nuclear Reactor as used in a submarine into the space smaller than a normal football field.

See where this is going? In order to keep the seawater pumping along the route, simply veer off occasionally from the rail system and into a pumping station powered by a submarine sized nuclear reactor. If you have the size of a football field to play with you have enough room for local reservoirs for the water to go into if it needs to cool off, and enough room to route the flow line.

This method also has bonus implications for surrounding communities, as there would be a cheap local source of power. At the same time, small pumping stations would create thousands of new jobs. The Navy has been training nuclear engineers for well over half a decade now to maintain such engines, so there is a massive pool of qualified people who can maintain such systems.

And it's not like local communities would have to be worried about excessive radiation poisoning or other problems. Keep in mind the startling lack of radiation sickness reported among sailors on-board nuclear submarines. Keep in mind that the engineers responsible for this submarines have to keep the subs running properly when they could be half a mile or more underneath the ocean, where the consequences of failure are far worse than of a problem in a localized pumping station.

Okay, job done. Pumping power solved. Jobs created. Clean efficient energy for the masses. What's the catch?

Well, there isn't one... aside from cost. The Alaskan Oil pipeline cost 8 billion dollars to build in 1977. Okay, engineering has not stood still since then. There are better metals, better plastics, better building materials. There are more extensive electronic monitoring tools available. Almost all of these materials are far less expensive to produce as well. On top of that, all these pipelines are carrying is sea water... which lets be honest, isn't likely to catch on fire. Also, if it does spill, big deal. A lot of salt water goes over some railroad tracks. Environmentally speaking then, even in a worse case scenario of the pipelines cracking open, it isn't an ecological disaster.

The financial cost is actually going to be found in other aspects of the plan, not just in the transporting of the water. The biggest problem is of course getting the water out of the ocean and filtering it.

Lets ignore power costs and go ahead and dedicate a football field to our localized nuclear power plant.

Lets also clearly define what we are looking to get, sea water only. We aren't really concerned about the saline content, as that will actually help with the water transport. Remember those science experiments as a kid where you made ice cream by mixing up some ice with rock salt? Salt lowers the freezing point of the water, which in turn means that the water can be transported further without having to worry about freezing the contents.

What we want to remove then is physical artifacts, such as fish and debris from the water. Probably the best way to do this would be to build our water collection devices in a closed lagoon or bay which is sheltered naturally from the currents. Alternatively, construct an artificial bay and float our collection devices in the middle. Building an artificial lagoon or bay might pose the advantage of being able to control fish and debris entry before the main pumps. Possible designs for collecting seawater include floating pumps that move the water through flexible or collapsible tubing into the main storage area for further processing.

While it might be desirable to filter the water as it enters the original pumps, this will raise maintenance costs to replace filters. A possible solution then is to filter the water after it is pumped from the ocean, but this raises the amount of real-estate needed to pump the water, filter it of physical debris, and send it on up the pipelines.

So, why only remove physical impurities? Why not clean the water chemically at this point?

Well, two reasons. The first is that building a filtration system for chemicals at the start of the sea-water pipelines will drastically raise production costs and maintenance costs as well as prolong construction time. The second is that by moving just sea water along the pump lines, new jobs can be created for water treatment professionals to treat and prepare the water for general usage along the way.

Possibly after the nuclear power plants are getting proper cooling support would be it be possible to move chemical filtration into the chain of supply at an earlier stage.


Now, imagine for a minute the possibilities that this infrastructure could bring in the future, and not just 5 or 6 years, 1 or 2 years.

Nuclear power is one of the cleanest energy sources available today, and one of the most plentiful. Smaller reactors along the pipeline path can help off-set power distribution of the current main nuclear power plants, so communities that host a pumping station might find that many of their basic power needs are met locally.

This infrastructure also presents unique travel opportunities. Currently I drive a Tahoe. Going to Atlanta and back is a 4 hour+ round trip which east about 3/4's of my gas tank. That gets kind of expensive, so I don't go to Atlanta that much.

Okay, what if a 200mph train system was built linking Atlanta, Augusta, Nashville, Orlando, Columbia, Winston - Salem, and Birmingham? What if that train system was powered by nuclear reactors in the same way the pipeline was powered? What if that train system was also built to accommodate the sea-water pipeline? Price per killowatt, such trains could charge $10 for a ride from Augusta to Atlanta, or $20 from Atlanta to Columbia, or $30 from Atlanta to Orlando... and still make a profit. Suddenly, goign to Atlanta wouldn't be that big of a deal. I could possibly go see the Braves every night they played. Going to Disney wouldn't be that big of an issue. Going to Columbia for football games... not that big a deal.

The power companies and the railway networks could literally within a year, make cheap travel possible from City to City in the South East.

And that infrastructure doesn't have to stop the there for travel or for energy development.

At the same time my plan has another great ecological benefit. By removing the need for Hydro Electric power, or for fresh water cooling sources, lakes such as the Clark's Hill Lake on the Border of Georgia and South Carolina can be raised back up to their desired levels.

Letting natural water sources return to normal will encourage rainfall, as their will be additional water available in order to generate rain. The result will be an artificial break on the "drought" that is occurring.


Now, most of my work is published under the Creative Commons Attributions Share Alike 2.0 license. Basically you can copy it, send it off, just as long as my name is attached and the original source linked to.

This one... is not. I'm intending to send this writing to various legislators across the SouthEast. I think this plan will build a model that will solve energy concerns for the entire US. I also haven't finished this yet. There still are some details, like the potential costs and how those costs can be covered that need to be dealt with.

The explicit terms of this post then are as follows : You may only copy segments, not the entire article. You may not re-write or modify the contents. My name and the original source must be linked clearly.

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