Meta-Blog

SEARCH QandO

Email:
Jon Henke
Bruce "McQ" McQuain
Dale Franks
Bryan Pick
Billy Hollis
Lance Paddock
MichaelW

BLOGROLL QandO

 
 
Recent Posts
The Ayers Resurrection Tour
Special Friends Get Special Breaks
One Hour
The Hope and Change Express - stalled in the slow lane
Michael Steele New RNC Chairman
Things that make you go "hmmmm"...
Oh yeah, that "rule of law" thing ...
Putting Dollar Signs in Front Of The AGW Hoax
Moving toward a 60 vote majority?
Do As I Say ....
 
 
QandO Newsroom

Newsroom Home Page

US News

US National News
Politics
Business
Science
Technology
Health
Entertainment
Sports
Opinion/Editorial

International News

Top World New
Iraq News
Mideast Conflict

Blogging

Blogpulse Daily Highlights
Daypop Top 40 Links

Regional

Regional News

Publications

News Publications

 
Mining the Moon
Posted by: McQ on Friday, February 09, 2007

Sean Brodrick lays out a schedule for us:
On April 17, the Chinese are blasting off an unmanned lunar orbiter.

Next year, they will send astronauts up to orbit the Earth …

Two years later (2010), they’ll aim to put a rover on the moon ...

And by 2020 — 13 years from now — China plans to bring back lunar samples.
Unlike our moonshot of 1969, the Chinese aren’t undertaking their trips to the moon for purely nationalistic pride, flag planting and a round of golf.

Nope, they have bigger plans than that. They’re looking for Helium-3 a potential fuel for nuclear fusion:
Helium-3 is constantly spit out by the sun. It bounces off the Earth’s magnetic field, but the moon — which has no magnetic field — soaks it up. This is why the moon’s crust is saturated with helium-3.

Used in a fusion reactor — which China says it tested successfully last year — helium-3 will produce a clean, potentially limitless source of power. And at least in theory, just 40 tons of helium-3 could keep on all the lights in the U.S. for a year.
And 40 tons of coal? Just snap your finger ... yeah, about that long.

Let’s digress a minute. You remember my post about the elephant in the global warming room? China has a growing economy which is going to require tremendous future output of power generation - generation which to this point doesn’t exist. In fact, on the drawing board there are 2,200 new coal fired plants. Can you say pollution central?

So you have to ask, why not nuclear? Well, in relative terms you don’t build nuclear power plants over night like you can coal plants. In fact, if you measure the projected world demand for increased power, and wanted to build nuclear plants instead of coal fired plants (leaving the coal powered plants now in existence to continue to produce power) you’d have to build 900 nuclear plants by 2050.

That’s a heck of a lot of nuclear plants. And if you wanted to take down the coal fired plants, well you’d have to build about 2 to 3 times that many.

But lets bring nuclear plans a bit more down to earth. Focusing on only China and what they plan in terms of increasing nuclear power you have to ask, what would that mean in terms of fuel for their reactors?
-China is on track to build two new nuclear reactors every year for the next 14 years.

-By 2010, its annual uranium demand will triple — from 3 million pounds currently to more than 10 million pounds.

-By 2020, China plans to import 5.5 million pounds of Australian uranium per year as it builds 24 to 30 new atomic power plants.

-At the same time, China’s total uranium demand will soar to 16.5 million pounds per year!
And then there’s all that nuclear waste produced. So while nuclear power is still better than coal, it too causes some unwanted problems.

So, what’s with Helium-3? Two major points:

1. The appeal of helium-3 fusion stems from the nature of its reaction products. Most proposed fusion processes for power generation produce energetic neutrons which render reactor components radioactive with their bombardment, and power generation must occur through thermal means. In contrast, helium-3 itself is non-radioactive. The lone high-energy proton produced can be contained using electric and magnetic fields, which results in direct electricity generation.

2. The amount of fuel needed for large-scale applications can also be put in terms of total consumption: According to the US Energy Information Administration, "Electricity consumption by 107 million U.S. households in 2001 totaled 1,140 billion kWh" (1.114e15 Wh). Again assuming 100% conversion efficiency, 6.7 tonnes of Helium-3 would be required just for that segment of one country's energy demand, 15 to 20 tonnes given a more realistic end-to-end conversion efficiency.

Presently the conversion efficiency is about 30% so, as stated it would actually take about 20 tons of Helium-3 to power the US for a year. Contrast that with the 8,250 tons of uranium that China will require to power only part of its grid.

But consider those advantages in terms of just pollution and efficiency. Non-radioactive and extremely efficient in comparison with uranium.
Cosmochemist and geochemist Ouyang Ziyuan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is now in charge of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program has already stated on many occasions that one of the main goals of the program would be the mining of helium-3, from where "each year three space shuttle missions could bring enough fuel for all human beings across the world."
Oh, and us? Haven’t you heard?

We’re going to Mars.
 
TrackBacks
Return to Main Blog Page
 
 

Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Well, in all fairness, Bush also said we were also going back to the Moon. I’ll believe either one when I see it. And speaking of believing when I see it, about China’s claims that they’ve successfully tested a reactor? Yeah... Testing a reaction is one thing, getting a full sized reactor to work efficiently and safely is another. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Still a neat idea though. The economics of this whole thing would be kinda scary though. Using a value I saw 10 minutes ago and taking it at face value, helium-3 would be worth about $3 billion a ton. The question is, what’s the minimal amount of material that we can produce to justify setting up an undoubtedly costly moon refinery? And how many reactors will that support, and how much will they cost to support? Even if helium-3 fusion is completely viable, I’m afraid this sort of chicken and the egg scenario (can’t build reactors until there’s helium, can’t mine helium until there’s reactors) might hinder it.
 
Written By: Mariner
URL: http://www.concordparty.org
Being from Eastern Kentucky, I’ll trade some safe nuclear energy to rid ourselves of coal-fired plants, though I doubt if we’ll stop until the last piece of coal is burned.

It’s hard for me. I’m from a coal-mining region, have family and friends on the working end of the coal industry. I’m for whatever will save our mountains and clean up the air. We’re going to need some other profession back home other than rifleman, though rifleman is an honorable profession.
 
Written By: Nick Stump
URL: http://
Even if helium-3 fusion is completely viable, I’m afraid this sort of chicken and the egg scenario (can’t build reactors until there’s helium, can’t mine helium until there’s reactors) might hinder it.
Well actually we can manufacture it:
Due to the rarity of helium-3 on Earth, it is typically manufactured instead of recovered from natural deposits. Helium-3 is a byproduct of tritium decay, and tritium can be produced through neutron bombardment of lithium, boron, or nitrogen targets. Current supplies of helium-3 come, in part, from the dismantling of nuclear weapons where it accumulates; approximately 150 kilograms of it have resulted from decay of US tritium production since 1955, most of which was for warheads. However, the production and storage of huge amounts of the gas tritium is probably uneconomical, as roughly eighteen tons of tritium stock are required for each ton of helium-3 produced annually by decay (production rate is N γ = N t½ / (ln2); see radioactive decay). If commercial fusion reactors were to use helium-3 as a fuel, they would require tens of tons of it each year to produce a fraction of the world’s power. Breeding tritium with lithium-6 consumes the neutron, while breeding with lithium-7 produces a low energy neutron as a replacement for the consumed fast neutron. Note that any breeding of tritium on Earth requires the use of a high neutron flux, which proponents of helium-3 nuclear reactors hope to avoid.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Being from Eastern Kentucky, I’ll trade some safe nuclear energy to rid ourselves of coal-fired plants, though I doubt if we’ll stop until the last piece of coal is burned.
Well you’re going to have to get some environmentalists to back off their opposition to them then. At the moment about 30 are proposed in the US but few are actually being built.
We’re going to need some other profession back home other than rifleman, though rifleman is an honorable profession.
Heh ... I always thought it was.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
McQ;

It’s an ambitious project. However it also makes some serious sense, given their situation. But I’d like you to consider something:

The Chinese seem far more willing than we to put up with some short term pollution problems, in order to allow some economic growth, which in turn funds projects like this, which in its turn, fuels more economic expansion. They seem to understand, more clearly than we lately, that such economic expansion will benefit the environment, and not hurt it.

Whereas we on the other hand are so concerned about pollution that we spend all of our time fighting over the best way to cripple our own economy so as not to destroy the environment. As an example; look at this note Rich Lowry got today from a reader:

I am glad to hear that you don’t mind switching to florescent lights. California may mandate them. By the way, a few years ago California declared florescent tubes to be a hazardous waste because they contain mercury As of this year, you can be fined if they are found to be in your garbage.
Forgive me, but it seems to me the priorities here are somewhat skewed; aren’t we supposed to be a capitalist society? Aren’t they supposed to be a socialist society?

I’m not quite sure of drama lines as clearly as I could have, but I think you get my point.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
Disclaimer: I don’t know Richard about this stuff.

Assuming this reactor works, why not just build a mining facility on the moon? Yes, it would take years more than something like the Intl Space Station as mining equipment weighs a lot more than space station sections do. So use multiple whatever launches to get the heavy equipment up there. I don’t know where this helium-3 is, is it on the surface, does it permiate the sands, or is it deep underground? Whatever, get the necessary equipment up there to mine the ore and extract the helium-3.

But getting away from traditional interstellar bucket loaders, build a launch station. The moon doesn’t rotate on its own axis. So you pick a spot that faces the earth. Ferry up via the shuttle or whatever a bunch of essentially ’dump trucks’. Load the ore in them and when the rotation of the moon is right, fire them back towards the earth. These ’dump trucks’ have only chutes that deploy, so if you shoot it at a particular angle, it will re-enter the atmosphere at a particular point, go through the atmosphere, and the chutes deploy, and the cargo drops to earth.

And what is helium-3? Is it a gas or a solid? If it’s a gas find a way to impregnate it at a high density into say, sand. If it’s a solid the job is done for you. If it’s a gas you could also just build containment vessels as ’dump trucks’. These dump trucks either float to earth (If helium-3 is a gas), or come crashing to earth (If it is a solid), and we recover it from the crash site.

Does this work?
 
Written By: civdiv
URL: http://
"Used in a fusion reactor - which China says it tested successfully last year"

If China successfully tested a practical fusion reactor there must be great consternation and worry in the scientific community of the rest of the world, since no one else has come close yet.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
If we use anything nuclear or whatever, it shouldn’t be coal that we ditch. It should be oil.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
But getting away from traditional interstellar bucket loaders, build a launch station. The moon doesn’t rotate on its own axis. So you pick a spot that faces the earth. Ferry up via the shuttle or whatever a bunch of essentially ’dump trucks’. Load the ore in them and when the rotation of the moon is right, fire them back towards the earth. These ’dump trucks’ have only chutes that deploy, so if you shoot it at a particular angle, it will re-enter the atmosphere at a particular point, go through the atmosphere, and the chutes deploy, and the cargo drops to earth.
And as an added bonus, you can also bombard the earth with them!

See the novel "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress".
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
helium-3 would be worth about $3 billion a ton
And at present it costs around 5-10 billion per ton to put something just in orbit. Now consider the price to launch mining equipment, people and a base camp to the moon and helium-3 return. Perfect for a government program. ROTFLMAO
 
Written By: Jay Evans
URL: http://
First, great point at the very end, McQ. At least China has a specific stated purpose for going to the moon. It can be debated on its merits much more easily than the US plans for Mars.

Second, their plans are certainly predicated on the expectation that they can make a fusion reactor viable by 2030 or so. And that’s not at all unreasonable. Why would they wait until having a working prototype before seeking out the fuel source?

Third, Jay Evans’ point is an excellent one, except that launch costs are falling. And there is no reason to assume that the plan stops with bringing He3 back to Earth indefinitely. If China has even the hint of an idea of colonizing sometime in the next century, then the cost/benefit ratio changes dramatically. I would love to know the details.

And fourth, just to pick on a finer point of civdiv’s, the moon does rotate on its axis. The period of rotation matches its period of revolution - 27.3 Earth days, which is how it manages always to show us the same face as it circles us. But the fact that the same side always faces us was civdiv’s real point, so I’m just being pedantic about the rotation.
 
Written By: Wulf
URL: http://www.atlasblogged.com
I just read it quickly....Hydrogen isn’t radioactive either guys...The problem with Fusion is the NEUTRONS released. There will be RADIOACTIVE WASTE from fusion just like Fission. TANSTAAFL here...the reactor vessel will be extremely hot after use. Plus I’d like to echo the sentiments expressed that IF the PRC maintained a useful fusion burn I think it would have been a bit more publicized. Finally Helium is sub-optimal for fusion, Hydrogen is better...and Helium is available HERE, so why go to the Moon?

Bottom-Line: nice fairy tale for the Chinese, Sino-philes and -phobes alike, but still pretty much a fairy tale.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I just read it quickly....

Well, then try reading it slowly.
 
Written By: Wulf
URL: http://www.atlasblogged.com
And at present it costs around 5-10 billion per ton to put something just in orbit. Now consider the price to launch mining equipment, people and a base camp to the moon and helium-3 return. Perfect for a government program. ROTFLMAO
True word.

China has an economy worth $10 trillion p.a. and currently running a trade surplus of approximately $100 billion p.a., this is unlikely to last forever. China is competing as the best low cost manufacturing provider and the inflationary pressures of its success will decrease its competitiveness. Loss of competiveness will lead to a slowing in the economy that will then require a direct infusion of cash. If it was America it might invade someone or offer tax cuts or build bridges in remote locations or provide universal healthcare. As it is China (prideful, inward looking, long history, nationalistic government) a grand project is more likely - past examples include Chin’s Mausoleum, Great Wall, Cultural Revolution and the 3 Gorges Dam. This Moon Program would provide national pride, is economically logical spending and has the possibility of practical longterm benefits, so they will probably attempt it.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/

 
Add Your Comment
  NOTICE: While we don't wish to censor your thoughts, we do blacklist certain terms of profanity or obscenity. This is not to muzzle you, but to ensure that the blog remains work-safe for our readers. If you wish to use profanity, simply insert asterisks (*) where the vowels usually go. Your meaning will still be clear, but our readers will be able to view the blog without worrying that content monitoring will get them in trouble when reading it.
Comments for this entry are closed.
Name:
Email:
URL:
HTML Tools:
Bold Italic Blockquote Hyperlink
Comment:
   
 
Vicious Capitalism

Divider

Buy Dale's Book!
Slackernomics by Dale Franks

Divider

Divider