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An Apology

This is by way of apologizing for the light blogging lately: I've been somewhat busy, because ...

Regular readers might have noticed occasional references to an ongoing project of mine which first got started under the working monicker "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation". It's a trilogy, which is to say a lump of prose about the size of a typical Neal Stephenson novel, or maybe "The Lord of the Rings", and rather than risk writing myself into a corner by letting book one escape into print before I'd lined up all my ducks for the ending of book three, I argued for writing the whole damn thing before first publication. This has good consequences and bad consequences. The good: not writing myself into a corner with giant plot holes locked in place by publication. The bad: everything takes much longer than expected—much longer.

Book one of the trilogy now known as "Empire Games", titled "Dark State", is provisionally scheduled to show up some time in Q1/2017. It will be followed by "Black Rain" and "Invisible Sun". It's set circa 2020 in the divergent future of the Merchant Princes universe, in the security state that evolved after the US president was assassinated in the White House with a stolen nuke in 2003 by narcoterrorists from a parallel universe. With the DHS tasked with protecting the USA from threats from all over time lines, America in this version of 2020 isn't a terribly happy (or liberal) place. And then they make contact with another time line—one that has developed its own nuclear weapons and paratime infrastructure, and sees words like "democracy" and "imperialism" in a different light ...

I've spent a chunk of the past two months head-down, redrafting and tidying up the second book, "Black Rain". But that on its own wouldn't be enough to keep me from blogging.

I've also spent a chunk of the past two months head-down, redrafting and tidying up the seventh Laundry Files novel, "The Nightmare Stacks". This is now in the production pipeline, and is due for publication by Ace on June 28th, 2016 in the US, and by Orbit on June 23rd, 2016 in the UK. You can pre-order it here in the UK/EU and here in the USA. (Note: there will be a UK ebook link in due course but it's not up yet. The US link goes to the Kindle edition; you can find the hardcover one mouse-click away.)

As the American cover copy explains:

After stumbling upon the algorithm that turned him and his fellow merchant bankers into vampires, Alex Schwartz was drafted by The Laundry, Britain's secret counter-occult agency that's humanity's first line of defense against the forces of darkness. Dependent on his new employers for his continued existence--as Alex has no stomach for predatory bloodsucking--he has little choice but to accept his new role as an operative-in-training.

Dispatched to Leeds, Alex's first assignment is to help assess the costs of renovating a 1950s Cold War bunker into The Laundry's new headquarters. Unfortunately, Leeds is Alex's hometown, and the thought of breaking the news to his parents that he's left banking for civil service, while hiding his undead condition, is causing more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses.

Alex's only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a drama student appearing in the local Goth Festival who is inexplicably attracted to him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock.

But Cassie has secrets of her own--secrets that make Alex's night life behaviors seem positively normal...

As you probably figured out, this isn't a Bob novel (or a Mo novel), it's a Laundry novel. However I think it's just as much fun as the others; and we'll be going back to Bob's snarky viewpoint in book eight, "The Delirium Brief", which I'm planning for 2017.

What's next?

By the time "Invisible Sun" and "The Delirium Brief" are in production, I will have written seven in-series books in a row. Moreover, the books immediately before (or interleaved with) these were also sequels. In fact, I haven't begun a totally clean-sheet novel length project since 2007, and my Muse is going a bit stir-crazy. Upshot: the next book will probably be something utterly different and, hopefully, fresh. But I'm not planning on abandoning either ongoing series—I just need to write something different once in a while.

Oh, and hopefully I'll have a little more time for blogging from now until the end of the year.



It will be interesting to see if Bob from the POV of Alex manages to look as scary as Angleton.


Glad to hear about the Empire Games. Been looking forward to the new merchant princes series for a long time. Is the release schedule for them going to be one per year from 2017 or will it be shorter given the write-in-one-go approach?


Bob barely features in "The Nightmare Stacks" because TNS is the tipping point in the series after which the Laundry's relationship with the state can no longer remain secret. (To put it in Bob terms, the sewage plant hits the wind farm.) As "The Delirium Brief" is a Bob book, I didn't want Bob to spend the entire story suspended pending a public enquiry into how his department managed to fuck up [REDACTED].


Uh, you don't owe us anything. Except to complete all those books immediately and blog daily. And crank out another Song of Ice and Fire novel NOW or I'm going to have a fit. You monster, I hate you.


Release schedule: unknown. (It seems to vary every time I ask.)


Thanks for the Merchant Princes update. Undoubtedly my favourite series of yours, so I'm sure it will be worth the wait.


As others have said - no need to apologize - but a big thank you for the update. I absolutely loved the Merchant Princes and the update was great to see.


Perhaps they have the luxury that when it's ready, it's all ready. It becomes the series they can settle into their production schedules round everything else.

So when anything else on the conveyor belt twitches, they just move yours around.

(Any relationship between this speculation and reality is purely coincidental)


Possibly. There's also been a lot of editorial polishing going on behind the scenes. Ahem.

Note that publishing an entire trilogy at 3 month intervals is technically possible -- if you've got final manuscripts as inputs -- but in practice extremely demanding for the author. The author has to check the copy edits and then the page proofs of each book, a process which should take 1-2 weeks for each stage -- so six weeks work to slot in over a six month period. This might not sound like much, but it's time-critical; you usually get about a day's warning, then a drop-everything-priority-job-coming-through arrives. Which is as disruptive as hell when you're trying to work on your regular bread-and-butter job, i.e. the next year's novel, or even just doing regular stuff (appearances at SF conventions, vacations, succumbing to an unexpected and unwanted infection).

I'd actually be happier if it ends up coming out at 6 or 9 month intervals ... or (mad idea) at one month intervals (because then I can simply work on it full-time with minimal disruption to the rest of the working year).

But in the final analysis, this isn't up to me: it's a judgement call for Marketing to make.


Even though you said "something utterly different", I read "and now for something completely different", and there's the Liberty Bell march rattling around my head again. Curses!


And to infect everyone else:

You're welcome.


Funny thing. The Amazon link shows the Kindle part as 34 USD, but when adding to the wish list, the price shown there is 13 USD. I guess will have to let it settle a bit before pre-ordering :D


I didn't expect the...


Why 3 books rather than one blockbuster?

I guess will have to let it settle a bit before pre-ordering :D

Amazon does "pre-order price guarantee", they charge you the lowest price they had for the entire period during which it was on pre-order.

Happened to me once, but that's because I rarely pre-order anything, except DVD releases. At 53 unread ebooks on my reader, I need to dial back on my purchase. I blame virtuality: it's hard to remember I've bought so many books when I don't see the stacks on my dedicated shelf...

But for M. Stross, it's never ebooks. I blame Orbit; their production pipeline gives me ebooks with one paragraph per page for 2/3rd of their books. So hardcover pre-order it is.


In my experience they do this so that they can publish book 3 in a format that is an inch taller than 1 and 2, and thus make peoples bookshelves untidy.


Practicality? The three books comprising the combined editions of the first six MP novels take up about twice as much space on my bookshelf as the single-volume version of LOTR, and that itself is an awkward book to read purely because of its size. Trying to read something twice as thick as that is not a prospect that appeals to me.


I look forward to everything. Also, if you're taking suggestions for your next unrelated to anything else novel, can I suggest something similar to Lobsters, and/or your Scottish police procedurals? I.e. a small step into the future. You've already got a lot of the ideas written down in your MP: TNG...

Or, maybe you could branch into swords and sorcery. I'd love to see your take on that genre.


Because I am not Neal Stephenson and my market is a lot smaller. So publisher would rather sell three books instead of one. (Also: look at the structural problems in a typical NS doorstop. It's a lot easier to keep track of pacing and plot in something that isn't the size of the USS Nimitz.)


But for M. Stross, it's never ebooks. I blame Orbit; their production pipeline gives me ebooks with one paragraph per page for 2/3rd of their books. So hardcover pre-order it is.

What format/store are you using (and are you doing anything like cracking DRM/transcoding/reformatting in Calibre after purchase, or just reading in the standard store app)?

If this is happening to you using an unmodified file on a stock e-reader, then I can raise it as an issue.


Practicality? The three books comprising the combined editions of the first six MP novels take up about twice as much space on my bookshelf as the single-volume version of LOTR

That's because the existing first Merchant Princes series is about 70% longer than The Lord of the Rings. (I'm not kidding.) When you add covers and front/back matter, that accounts for the difference.


Also, if you're taking suggestions for your next unrelated to anything else novel, can I suggest

No. Because those are things I've already written.

"Something new and different" means different. Not the same!


OK, I'll live :). How about a bodice ripper? I understand that many of them are actually written by authors from other genres...


Yay! I'd personally prefer the printing to be spread out, otherwise the variety of authors I read in 2017 will be limited. Also easier on the wallet. And no doorstops, please.


"Something new and different" means different. Not the same!

So no novel length Palimpsest. Still, I'll look forward to whatever you come up with, it'll undoubtedly be a new look at $SUBJECT.


No Palimpsest? Just fuck my shit up. I guess I'll go read it again in mourning.


Not very likely to sell to an SF/F imprint, and I've heard enough moaning about Harlequin's standard contract T&C's that I don't really want to go there.

Anyway, "The Nightmare Stacks" includes a Mani(a)c Pixie Dream Girl, so ...


A new novel that is not part of a series?! Yippee!

I love Merchant Princes and the Laundry series, but it was Accelerando that got me hooked on reading Charlie Stross. I loved all the other stand-alone novels particularly Saturn's Children and Neptune's Blood. A sci-fi novel about accounting, really?! with slow and fast money that is so believable and such a key technology.

What I loved about Accelerando is that you let the clutch slip a little. Not every detail, every idea has to be fleshed out. You were playing improvisational jazz in words. I found that reading it fast really works. Every time I reread it, I get a little more out of it, just like listening to Miles again. I have recruited many new readers for you by pointing them to the free, online version. They all go, Wow! Big ideas that seem like they might be the future if I squint a little bit.

So, please, take a deep breath, do whatever you do to clear your jets, do a little dreaming, take a chance, and write something unusual!


Interesting chioce of words there: paratime infrastructure, Shades of H Beam Piper, or not, as the case may be. AIUI, someone wrote at least a couple of sequels after Piper's death, but they are very hard to obtain, IIRC.

Didn't also someone else write a short & couple of others set in a universe where the humans were high-tech, but had missed the "obvious" route to interstellar travel - they found us, but their max military level was approx 1650 by our reckoning - after which it went very pear-shaped for them. Several thousand years later, "we" encounter a n other techno-advance culture. Damn, can't remember the author.


Harry Turtledove "The Road Not Taken".

I haven't read it, but it turned up on a tvtropes random walk :)


Christopher Anvil, Pandora's Planet, if I'm not mistaken.


Hey, I'm not complaining; I'm just being glad that it's in separate books so that I don't have to deal with holding an object the size of a breeze block to read it :)


Renovating a 1950s bunker (I'm guessing Lawnswood, but it looks from Google Streetview that it's being demolished)? You could talk to the team at Barnton Quarry, they're currently well into making Halting State partly true (they're trying to do what they did with the Troywood bunker)... or visit Kirknewton before they finish demolishing it.

Shame they demolished the one in Kirknewton, or the one at Turnhouse where Dad used to work. And while Cultybraggan is more modern, it's only semisubmerged and somewhat of an anticlimax.

The problem with the ROTOR bunkers and their various RSG conversions is that (London and Corsham aside) none of them were very large - certainly not big enough to run a large Government department, although big enough for a regional office. If you followed modern H&S guidelines, you might manage to fit working space for thirty or forty people :)

Now I've got a mental image of additional concrete reinforcements being shaped in the form of a ward before the concrete was poured in the 1950s, "just in case"...


To avoid confusion - I thought to look up whether they'd actually demolished Kirknewton yet, added that they had, didn't remove the "before" clause in the first paragraph...


I think OGH specifically mentioned the old DWP offices at Quarry Hill a few months ago.,_Leeds

Largely for the thing on the roof.

Not beyond the realms of possibility that it would have a bunker.



You mention in cmt 9, "Which is as disruptive as hell when you're trying to work on your regular bread-and-butter job, i.e. the next year's novel, or even just doing regular stuff (appearances at SF conventions, vacations, succumbing to an unexpected and unwanted infection)."

Ahem. IIRC, you have a family as well, and your wife might be annoyed at being ignored....


We're actually going to go from "secret agency that prevents the apocalypse" to "apocalypse"? Cool! I'll be interested to see how Bob's PoV has changed after "The Rhesus Chart": The flat, factual summary of the final battle that he missed was one of the most moving passages I've ever seen in any of your fiction; it has to have changed Bob to encounter tragedy and heroism that closely.


Yes, it's Lawnswood, and yes, I used a bunch of details from the ROTOR 4 bunker restoration project at Barnton (although I took a number of liberties with it -- including adding an extra story to the site!).

But the real site described in the novel is Quarry House -- the Laundry is moving in, as the DSS and DoH are moving out -- and the Royal Armouries. And, ahem, the not entirely secret but we-don't-talk-about-this-in-public installation adjacent.


"Anyway, "The Nightmare Stacks" includes a Mani(a)c Pixie Dream Girl, so ..."

Sweet! I'm sure OGH has put his own unique spin on that trope!.


Author Apologizes by Announcing Multiple New Books. Might contain new material!

Fans are horrified.

I see what you did there.

Oh, and please: take a break! Scotland this Winter is going to be grim. Go Alpine or Go Icelandic.

Note: Icelandic humor is really hardcore. It's like Chinese humor. Once you get it, it's great: up till then you'll be doing that meme all day. (Fry: Not sure if...)


Peanut Gallery: he's referencing the dreaded HMRC

If anyone is going to provide a foil to Laundry, it's their expenses division. ("Yes, really: we don't allow personal deductions from so-called 'occult spillages'"

On a meta-note: personal blog now far above wiki page. Never think small, think big!


Oh, and please: take a break! Scotland this Winter is going to be grim. Go Alpine or Go Icelandic.

Luckily in January 2014 I was in Detroit, so field-tested my cold weather gear, and in January/February 2015 I was in NYC and Boston during the Deep Freeze (multiple states of emergency due to unusually cold weather hitting New England! Yippee!) and got to field test it again.

I'm pretty sure Edinburgh won't get that cold. Although things could get dicey if we have an extended power cut. (Need electricity to run the pump to move the water through the radiators, even though the central heating burns natural gas.)

(Snow is a distinct possibility -- heavy snow and temperatures down to -10, maybe -- but the Scottish Government seem to be aware of the long term forecasts and so are Edinburgh Council; they've both been talking about their extra preparations. So, fingers crossed.)


What, grimmer than winter was 5 years ago,when we had snow and ice for a couple of weeks at a time? Or winter 4 years ago when we had 18 inches of snow, twice, and the motorways were shut due to crashing lorries and people were stuck in their cars all day?

Really, given it's an El Nino year, there are other places to be concerned about.


The prognosis is for another 2011-grade winter in Edinburgh, yes. When the city was cut off from the rest of the frickin' planet for 4 days due to a tiny snowfall that would have caused giggles anywhere on any continent north of the 50th parallel but which we're utterly unused to because of the Gulf Stream.

(Remember reports a year or so ago of refugees in places like Syria and Iraq dying of exposure because there'd been a half-inch snowfall and the temperature had dipped below freezing overnight? It's all about what you're used to or equipped for.)


Very much this.

I regularly drive around the Cairngorms in Winter. People on the roads are all generally competent, apart from the southern types who are just up for the skiing. You can spot them a mile off because they are actually trying to hit the speed limit and tailgating everyone on the mountain roads.

The south west of England on the other hand... Get a couple of cm in Bristol or London and it's absolute carnage, and people will be talking about it for days.

People who only need warm clothes to move from home->car->office/shop tend not to know how to layer up properly either. You don't need anything fancy, but it's not just a matter of throwing on a jacket with a bit of fluffy trim.


Oh, yay, a new Laundry novel and a new POV character. I mean, I knew they were coming and I knew it would be one of the vampires, but this is welcome.

Since this thread is at least marginally related to both the Laundry and the plot arcs of future books, I sort of have a question, the answer to which might be "wait and see."

I'm wondering if we're ever going to see the Laundry novels confront the... well, the nature of the Laundry. Even if you can justify its existence as legal, relying as it does on secret provisions of secret treaties, the Laundry... doesn't play nice. It routinely violates peoples human rights. It enslaves its employees. This gets danced around a lot, but... Bob and Mo are slaves. So was Angleton. The only reason the finale of the Armageddon Score happens is because Mo is a slave; the person holding her whip cracked it and she was forced to obey. The Auditors grossly violate the bodily autonomy of those they interrogate as casually as they might get coffee. They desecrate corpses and use them as highly unreliable security guards.

For that matter, one gets the impression that the only problem the British Government had with the Home Secretaries plan was that it was unfeasible and it failed spectacularly. Once they are made aware of the fact that the Laundry can reliably bind people to complete and utter servitude, their various security services are going to line up salivating to get their hands on that power. What happens if the PM and Parliament unleash the Laundry on "anti-social" people within the UK, with orders to bind them to obedience, orders that they, themselves, have to obey because they're bound to obedience?

These seem like weighty issues, but neither Bob nor Mo ever really seem to think about or consider them, or the larger policy implications of the Laundry's existence, or how it interacts with the UK's wider society. You don't see Mo issuing ultimatums like "Fuck you, I'll only come back to work on the condition you motherfuckers stay out of my mind from now on, I'm tired of being a meat puppet anytime someone with the right command phrase walks up to me."

Mo is properly horrified by the Home Office's little plan to violin the hell out of the populace, but that plan is entirely in keeping with the increasingly authoritarian nature of the British State, and she is very, very likely to be called upon to do something like it again, especially since Case NIGHTMARE GREEN will be a crisis that provides a perfect excuse for cracking down on an unruly populace.

These are things it seems should be very salient, but the Laundry novels so far have not focused on them at all, and I'm starting to wonder if they ever will.


Whose prognosis though? The usual AGW denialist 'news'papers have their usual, repeated every year, articles about we're all going to die from lots and lots of snow and ice. But where can I find the actual reputable view on the likely winter weather?

E.g. I look up the Met office, who are generally reckoned to know a bit about the weather, and find this:

"Most of the global drivers discussed above tend to increase the chances of westerly weather patterns during our November to January outlook period. Our numerical prediction model, being sensitive to these drivers, also predicts a higher-than-normal chance of westerly conditions. This results in an outlook for an increased chance of milder- and wetter-than-usual conditions, and a decreased chance of colder and drier conditions, for the UK. Our outlook also indicates an increase in the risk of windy or even stormy weather." from:

which clearly indicates that they don't think it's going to be a really bad winter. Bear in mind too that Edinburgh gets it's worst snow from easterlys coming across the north sea.


There will be a cold winter this year, guaranteed.

Nothing to do with climate models, el nino or anything like that. There are stronger forces at work!

For starters, I won't be able to get into the mountains this winter therefore conditions will be fantastic, once in a lifetime stuff.

All winter climbs will be in perfect condition from December through to May and they will have the best ski season since the 60s.

When I am free to travel it is usually 5 degrees and raining.



It helps if you understand that Host has a sense of humour and it's satirical / metaphorical. (Aka: imagine if these chains of ours were real, and Lovecraft was correct, and girls with ponies are mind control devices).

Remember: lemur was the exit state for 'Saturn's Children', not human.


Well, the Merchant Princes stuff is all about the integration of the weird paratime powers some people have into a wider social context. And both Saturn's Children and Neptune's Brood are about how toxic social structures influence power dynamics.

Our Host has a long and proud history of always centering his works in the broader social context of their universe as a commentary on the social context of our own, and it is far and away my favorite part of his writing. But it has been... I dunno, from my perspective, curiously absent or very much downplayed in the Laundry novels, which are about a state security agency, something that our Host has very strong views on.


Ahem: you're looking for the matter at the heart of "The Delirium Brief" (Laundry book 8 and the next Bob novel) which I'm spewing out a first draft of for nanowrimo, and "The Golgotha Graph" (book 9, no ETA, narrator probably one of Mhari or Derek, who you haven't met yet).


Oh, I'm diving into political satire in the next couple. Bob is finally senior enough to get a ring side seat, after all. And, oh boy have I got an ironic twist in mind for the climax of these two books.

(Current plan for total world domination is a 12 book series arc, by which time I'll have been writing laundry for 20 years which is ENOUGH. Ahem; subject to extension if aTV/film deal comes along, of course -- I could use a pension.)


Hurrah! You've made me very happy, Charlie. I will continue to give your publisher my cash moneys in exchange for your words.

(It occurred to me about five seconds after I hit submit that I was very likely to become the next in a long line of commenters here who ask about the lack of something in one of your series only to be informed it is about to hit them like a truck. Still, good company.)


Oh, I think that could be arranged.

I'm thinking HBO rather than anything lesser. (G_D knows they ballsed up Constantine on other channels, which is practically impossible given the source material).

I'm also thinking that with the return of X-Files, the weird n kooky is going to become more mainstream. Utopia burnt out far too early, but it didn't do satire / tropes well: I'm seeing an opening for something with some familiar satire (Government; Police; Bureaucracy) with that twist.

Now, the question is:

Who would you have (ideal) to play Bob?


Can't wait to read the books. Seriously.

But please tell me the german prices are not final: The Kindle eBook costs more than the hardcover! WTF?


"(Need electricity to run the pump to move the water through the radiators, even though the central heating burns natural gas.)"

I think I mentioned this before, but I don't know if you spotted it...

A central heating pump consumes around 100-150W, and these days you usually need a bit over to power the electrical things in the boiler.

A lead-acid battery will power the system via an inverter for a couple of hours, maybe more (a leisure/traction battery would be better, but on the other hand it is possible to acquire an indefinitely large bank of reduced-capacity car batteries for nothing).

A suitcase generator will run it for a few days on a gallon of petrol; alternatively converting it to run off gas itself would not be hard. You can get crappy but adequate ones for under a ton these days. The silencing on them is pretty good. Large-bore central heating pipe will do fine for leading the exhaust out of the window.


When the city was cut off from the rest of the frickin' planet for 4 days due to a tiny snowfall Tchah. Slight exaggeration for effect. We were driving in and out of Edinburgh every day, from the cold frozen wastelands of Midlothian (made it down to -20 a few times). In a pair of two-wheel-drive Volvos. Never got stuck, didn't have chains or studded tyres.

The cockup that was "don't have adequate gritters on standby when the severe weather report comes in at the weekend" resulted in the main motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow being iced solid for a couple of days (the passengers in all the vehicles stuck on it had to be evacuated to an overnight stay at a local facility), but the airport and railways stayed open IIRC.


Who would you have (ideal) to play Bob?

Dunno: I don't watch enough TV or films to know who the working actors are this century.


Prices are not final. Relax.


but the airport and railways stayed open IIRC.

No they didn't. Turnhouse was closed by 20cm of snow on the runway and taxiways -- they had nowhere to put it. The ECML was shut down for a while, the M8 and M90 were closed as was the A1, and the ferry port was shut for a couple of days. We really were cut off by 20cm of snow.


That's a great idea, lets have thousands of flats in central Edinburgh running their heating with standby generators they've stored for 3 years waiting for just the couple of days they'll be used. Not to mention the expense and storage of a leisure battery if you want to use one. As far as I can recall there hasn't been a proper power outage in the central belt for years and years and years. It's mostly places outside the towns that suffer from snow and ice on the lines.


Well, I thought so. It sounds better to me than freezing your arse off, which Charlie at least seemed to think was a significant risk. Heck, my house (which is in a more clement part of the UK and is ridiculously well insulated) has an entire heating system in it, which has seen less than 1 day's use in 6 years, waiting for it to get cold enough to be needed.


I could think of a subject or two that might benefit from that Stross touch, it's going to be more fun to see what you choose. On that power failure thing, would it be workable wire a box into the pump that would accept an extension cord from an inverter equipped car or truck?


Well, the dude playing the latest Dr. Who could play Angleton, I think.

Actually, there's a thought. If they cancel Dr. Who, maybe the BBC can go with the Laundry in its place...


Come on.

I survived four weeks in the Canadian wild zone during winter with only a bear pelt and a decent set of survival gear; sure I took that bear's cave but damn did I survive off sucking the marrow out of the bears' previous victims.


Ok, not 1815, 2015.

I meant: I had a full set of SAS survival gear, a top of the line tent that included dual walls, 20 MRE rations and 100 days of firelogs.

Then I saw a bear and ran back to my car.


Sorry, what were you saying again?


Would you mind putting a chunk of the first New Merchants book online prior to release (chunk defined as whatever you judge to get a sense of the new books). I really only finished the first series oot of a sense of duty to my sunk time costs, I know you have chronicled the issues that bedeviled you had writing the original series; and I don't doubt they will not feature in the new books. However, those issues aside, I'd like to find a few more protagonists a little more sympathetic. Your characters were well observed but (to me) not particularly fun to read. A good example of this was the end sequence where the major Republican characters behaved as you would think they would given the plot, but I got no enjoyment from reading about it.


My understanding was that Our Gracious Host lived under some fairly draconian zoning laws regarding what he can and cannot allow to be visible from the street. For example, upgrading the windows from single-glazed heat siphons to something modern is verboten. Home-built exhaust systems may be non-starters before you even get to the storage space and aesthetic objections. Or maybe I am talking out of my ass here.


We have remarkably flaky electricity in my part of the Midlands, and I've thought a few times about building a backup power supply based on leisure batteries, an inverter and a good trickle charger.

I have a canal boat and we can run a fridge, a TV, lighting and sundries when not travelling off a bank of three 110AH units. And inverters are stupidly cheap these days,

I think you could fairly easily build the kit to keep a house running (with careful management: no washing machines!) for a night for about 500 quid and get some change. But: a) you need to be able to switch over - that's going to be difficult and probably expensive to do it right and legally*. b) you want to vent those batteries - easier in a house than a flat c) the longer your want to manage, the more it will cost and the harder (and more expensive) it will be to maintain.

*The "double plug lead" is not the answer.


There was a trial (scores / hundreds of homes, not thousands) a couple of years ago somewhere in the UK where they fitted homes with gas central heating boilers that contained a Stirling-cycle engine to make use of the excess heat; and to generate electricity.

The expensive bit was apparently the circuitry to change from being a consumer of electricity, to being a generator - but I rather suspect that the rooftop solar panel industry has driven those prices down.

It didn't appear again in the IET News, so I'm assuming that it wasn't the raging success necessary for further investment...


Found a link... The downside is the £2k price increase over a standard condensing boiler:


dbp & theophylact @ 31 & 32 Thanks - it was the Turtledove I was thinking of. I'll have to look for the C Anvil one, though - sounds interesting & highly amusing.


Actually, not too bad - the problem with "Dunedin" of course is the hills, whose road-surfaces will rapidly morph into glazed, compressed ice .... However, I remember the great winter of 62-63, when my side-road in NE London had snowdrifts over 85cm deep (!)


Important correction: but that plan is entirely in keeping with the increasingly authoritarian nature of the British State, .... Actually, although the model for the HS in "Armageddon Score" is all-too-obviously the deeply unpleasant T May, Britain is still not as bad as many other places.

You have to remember that ALL states will tend to increasing authoritarianism, simply because it SEEMS SO EASY & appears ( & I do stress "Appears" ) to make things work better. Until it goes worng, of course. And here, there are always people, including some very unlikely ones, who are all too aware of these pitfalls & shout danger warnings, which are usually listened to. If only because of the dangers of vanishing up your own areheole, if you don't. Um.


Oh, I'm diving into political satire in the next couple And you weren't, before this? Shurely shome mishtake, as the "Eye" frequently says. Could be very funny, for certain "black" values of funny, I suppose.


The expensive bit was apparently the circuitry to change from being a consumer of electricity, to being a generator - but I rather suspect that the rooftop solar panel industry has driven those prices down

Note though that almost all of these shut down if the external power goes away, you can't cut yourself off from the grid and run on internal power only.


Actually, there's a thought. If they cancel Dr. Who, maybe the BBC can go with the Laundry in its place...

The BBC will only do that if there is are suitable merchandising opportunities.

Magic phone apps and toy basilisk guns would be an obvious start, but they aren't exactly sonic screwdrivers or radio controlled Daleks.

There are possibilities though.

The monsters suffer a bit from being largely invisible, but "action figures" with glowing eyes are probably more marketable than Cthulhu?

Other equipment is mostly mundane. Parents aren't big on toy guns this decade but a "My first summoning" grid for preschoolers would be an obvious educational toy. It would have to work obviously.

And of course we can't forget "My Little Equoid".


I'll have to look for the C Anvil one, though - sounds interesting & highly amusing.

It's available as "Pandora's Legions" which includes other works in the same setting on the Baen CD "The Baltic War" which you can find in places like The Fifth Imperium. You'll need to do some format conversion, but Baen will also sell you the ebook in other formats.


It's possible to get either kind, but you can't get one with a switch go from selling your excess power to using it. It's never flex fuel (or selective fire, if you like). You can set up to buy all your power from the grid and sell your solar to the grid OR you can set up to have your solar be off grid (which wouldn't preclude you from having grid power separately, though the power companies are getting wise and wanting to charge extra if you make them maintain power lines just to be a low spending backup for them). My suggestion for a stand alone: post apocalyptic.


I may be unique here in that I actually run a self-contained power supply (actually two) because I live on a Dutch barge which is still in what they call "passagemaking" condition. That is, if we cut the shore power and cast off, we still have electricity.

It is not as easy as you may think.

First of all, there are space considerations. We keep 800Ah of lead-acid battery on hand as our store. This takes about about 2 square metres, which must be ventilated (because lead-acid batteries vent hydrogen while charging). Lead-acid batteries must also be serviced annually or, in the case of maintenance-free, replaced every 5 to 8 years. So you need a space that is accessible. No sticking them under a false floor.

You also need space for your inverter, because 12 or 24 volt power is bog-all use for your domestic systems. Our inverter kicks out 16A nominal and is about 60x30x20cm in size. It's also the charger for your battery so it needs to be as close as possible to your batteries, although ideally for safety you want a wall between the two. It makes a noticeable amount of noise when running, FYI. Your normal domestic supply is probably 63A, so you're not going to be running your electric shower off the inverter.

If you're running lead-acid batteries, you need double the capacity you think you'll ever use, because lead-acid does not recover from being deep-discharged, which we usually take to mean 50%. So we wouldn't risk drawing more than 400Ah from our 800Ah bank. You can get more effective use of space if you use deep-discharge-capable AGM or even Li-ion batteries but these are between 3 and 10 times more expensive.

Then, of course, you're dealing with 800Ah that can happily discharge at extremely high rate through the nearest conductor: you. So you need some very good class-B breakers, some 200A super fuses and someone quite specialised to hook it all together. We have solar panels, which means we also need to integrate the amusing named BAPS power controller into the system. And of course your inverter needs to be wired in pass-through mode into your existing mains electrics. When we had this all modernised earlier this year (just the distribution, not the batteries or panels) it cost a couple of grand.

Now, let's talk about generators. A generator is of course a small internal combustion engine, so you may think about, as a random example, a Renault Clio and think "ah yes, that's quite quiet and refined, that would be OK running in the next room." There's a world of difference between an inline 4 cylinder petrol engine behind a firewall and a ton of soundproofing, farting through a CFD-optimised exhaust system, and a one-lunger diesel in a bent pipe frame venting direct from the exhaust port. Generators are loud, and they're dirty even when they're not running because they need diesel and oil to function. Ours is in its own room in the chain locker and we can still hear it throughout the boat. They need maintenance too, and if they're of any reasonable size, their own cranking battery (and associated charging apparatus) too. And you'll probably want somewhere to store 25l jerry cans of red diesel, even if you're running a suitcase-sized genny.

But that's not even the biggest problem with running a domestic genny. The biggest problem is that your genny is that unless you can have it outside or in a separate building, it is not safe to leave running overnight or when you're out of the building. Edinburgh is largely terraces, as I recall...

(As an aside, we have the added problem that our genny is water-cooled, so we can only use it during the state of tide that the boat is afloat. So our operational hours at our current mooring are something like the 16 hours a day that we're awake, minus the 8 hours that we're at work, minus 3 to 6 hours of low tide when we're aground. During last year's 56-hour power outage we got something like 3 hours of genny usage in. Our (diesel) boiler is now wired to the inverter not the genny.)

So the practicalities are not in favour of your average domestic living space. Then in terms of cost, I'd conservatively estimate that to buy and install the relatively modest system we have would cost around £9,000.

Incidentally, domestic CHP is a great solution for scavenging waste energy and improving efficiency, but it's not really suitable as a sustainable off-grid supply until it's operating at the scale of at least a hamlet.


Oh, someone suggested getting a load of discarded car batteries and using those as a domestic store. If you mix states of cathode wear and internal resistance and overall capacity, that's a recipe for very short battery bank life at best.


I'd just concur. When I was young, we lived for a few years off grid, mainly because the cost of running power poles to the nearest mains electricity was somewhat deterring.

So we had a turbine running off the river, which just about kept the household going during high river conditions (a reason I'm sceptical about micro-hydro is that I know how little you get off a river in the lowlands, even one big enough to float a sailing dinghy). And then we had a couple of ex-fairground diesel generators in an outbuilding.

Big. Noisy. Smelly. Dangerous. My father ended up in intensive care one winter — he'd been up the stepladder refilling the radiator on the big generator, and he dropped the torch. Which fell across and shorted out the bank of truck batteries we used to start it. Which torch went up like a flare (magnesium alloy case) and set fire to the nicely full fuel tanks.

It's decades later and I'd expect generating equipment to be a lot smaller and more efficient than that, but even if it took up just one room, ah, no.

(In case anyone wonders, that house is now on grid, because the water authority paid for it in compensation for lowering river levels and leaving the turbine high and dry)


That's awful, I hope he made a good recovery.

Safety is something I worry about constantly with our system. DC terrifies me because it has so many subtle failure modes and no Earth pin to save you if all else fails. Our macerating toilets mix a 25A supply with water and spinning blades.


Yep, the "living off-grid" idea is a sweet one for many folks but the realities are more onerous. People hate making regular payments to the energy supply companies but they'd hate the amount of effort and cost required on a regular basis to actually live off-grid plus the inconvenience when stuff goes wrong and needs to be fixed right away or do without the little things in life like lighting, pumps, heating etc.

Friends of mine also live on a Dutch barge but they're on a grandfathered-in BWB residential mooring on a canal so they don't have to worry about tides. The mooring has a "Dalek" on the towpath supplying water, power, phone and internet so they don't live off-grid like you do, until they go cruising at which point the diesel propulsion engine provides several kW of electricity from the inline generator. They also have a small suitcase-style generator which can supply a kW or so if they're tied up away from the mooring, that's usually enough to do them (assuming No. 1 Son isn't running his gaming rig which is water-cooled via a radiator plate clamped to the hull under the waterline...)


I've had multiple power outages over the past couple of years -- usually 15 minutes to 2 hours. (Much of the time I only notice the next day when I discover all the computers rebooted and the clock on the microwave has reset itself, but there was this one cold night when the power went out and took the central heating with it for 6 hours.)

I'm in the New Town. The power distribution is all underground, and a retrofit, and every so often something goes wrong and they have to dig up the road -- or shut down the block substation in the basement under my flat because someone's bathtub overflowed upstairs.


would it be workable wire a box into the pump that would accept an extension cord from an inverter equipped car or truck?

Where, precisely, is this car or truck going to be located? (Hint: top floor apartment in the middle of a big city, overlooking a parking-mostly-forbidden main road. No garden (US: yard).)


Would you mind putting a chunk of the first New Merchants book online prior to release (chunk defined as whatever you judge to get a sense of the new books).

That's not my department; that's up to the publisher. However, Tor usually put an extract of big new titles on, so it's likely to happen.

Massive spoiler: this trilogy gets a less-unhappy ending than the previous series. Not "they all lived happily ever after", but not Donald Rumsfeld gloating over a nuclear winter, either.


Ha, the water-cooling is brilliant. I had plans early on for ghetto air conditioning using a similar principle, sadly stymied by the tides.

By the way, we don't live off-grid (other than the shore power supply being inadequate for the size of these moorings and falling over a lot). We technically could, but I'd rather leave the cost, complexity and supply chain management of generating electricity to people who specialise in optimising them all.


I had a couple of random brainfarts about the world of the new trilogy. Presumably, in order to restock the nuclear arsenal the US has invested heavily in modern nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants. And I'd imagine that seeing the US actually use its nuclear weapons and then rapidly rebuild its stockpile would send Russia (and probably China) into a new cold war proliferation frenzy. And has the US gone looking for oil in any of the parallel realities yet?


What kind of hair trigger would their ICBMs be on if they knew they could get bushwhacked from the universe next door with 0 minutes warning?

I would expect everyone to be investing big on submarines.


There are probably some niches for it, but I suspect the move towards decarbonization is going to force a big re-think on the way we in the UK use natural gas (methane) as a fuel source for domestic heating. It's relatively clean as fossil fuel goes, but it's still fossil fuel. Passivhaus and good insulation helps, but it's not a practical retrofit to old dwellings (built a century or more ago), and then there are planning regs based on external appearance in specific areas (e.g. the total ban on double glazing and rooftop solar where I live).

Electric heating is much more expensive but ... might we see a switch? The night storage heater begins to look like a less-bad idea if you have a grid with substantial solar or wind inputs. Or we could end up burning biosynthetic methane in our existing infrastructure. (The one thing I don't see is the UK switching to hydrogen for domestic central heating. It's much less energy-dense than methane and it leaks, so the entire distribution network -- and every boiler in the country -- would need replacing.)


I assume we'd retain the natural gas infrastructure but switch the supply to (nominally) carbon-neutral biogas sources.


to restock the nuclear arsenal

  • looks blank *

They used less than a tenth of it. At current draw-down from cold war levels. Re-stocking is not an immediate problem.

... Although it's a long-term issue because you and dpb spotted a bunch of the interesting strategic implications left over at the end of the series. Ground-based ICBMs are defenseless and SLBMs are only useful as a deterrent to threats originating in your own time-line. But drones and cruise missiles with world-walking tech and extremely precise inertial navigation are another matter entirely.

But the most likely adversary -- the one that gives the 2020 ~USAF's war planners ulcers -- is a fleet of crude B-36/Tu-95 class bombers with world-walkers in the bombardier's seat, a bucket of instant sunshine in the bomb bay, and good enough maps of your own time line that they can pop out of nowhere less than thirty seconds out from ground zero over one of your major cities ...

Good luck keeping F-22s on 24x7 combat air patrol over all the population centers in CONUS!

(They know they need something better. Hence the material of the trilogy.)


The French do a lot of home electric heating using cheap nuclear power instead of (to them) expensive imported gas. It's one of the reasons the French usage of electricty per-capita is a lot higher than the UK. Norway also heats homes using their abundant hydroelectric power to the point where they can, for example, provide always-on underfloor heating for bathrooms and such.

There are other benefits to electric heating; the domestic gas supply occasionally goes badly wrong and blows up a row of houses, and a gas boiler/radiator system is an expensive bit of kit to start with, never mind the cost of annual maintenance and safety service visits. Someone I used to work for had electric heating in his home since he didn't trust gas (a place he was lodging in when he was younger blew up due to a gas leak) and the place where he was building a house was just off the gas grid and it would have cost him several thousand quid to get a connection. Instead he got a 3-phase electrical connection and ran the heating off that (along with a solid-fuel stove loaded with scrap wood in the living-room). The baseboard heaters he installed in 1970 were still in place and working fine when he sold the house in the early 2000s having cost him zero for maintenance, servicing, repairs, replacements etc. Gas would have been cheaper but not by as much as you might expect.


Whoop whoop thank you Mr Stross. More books.


Good point! Surely though, if you can do the difficult and dangerous approach phase in a different reality, you don't need a B-36, or indeed any fixed-wing aircraft. All you need is a zeppelin, which is well within New Britain's abilities...


All you need is a zeppelin, which is well within New Britain's abilities...

As are, by 2020, B-36 analogs ... and spy satellites.

(Think about the implications of 17 years' of forced urgent modernization, assisted by systematic industrial espionage, and driven by the fear of being discovered by a hyper-aggressive paratime civilization. Oh, and bear in mind Gibson's Law -- "the future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed" -- as applied to Miriam's view of the New British Empire. If you looked around the USA in 1940 you would have seen steam trains and a fair number of biplanes still flying; you wouldn't guess they'd be less than thirty years away from Boeing 747s and moon landings.)


Someone I used to work for had electric heating in his home since he didn't trust gas

I can only think of two gas explosions in Edinburgh in the past few decades; so it's hardly a frequent failure mode. I heard Guthrie Street go boom from my bed three hundred yards away (the front door, and my bedroom window, both rattled; first thought was that either the crane they were using to build the Scandic Crown Hotel had fallen over, or that someone had set off an infernal device at Holyrood).

That's two deaths from gas explosions (although I may have missed a few) but I suspect several more than that from electrocution and electrically-sourced house fires...


I'm presuming a central system at a lower level of the building, and a degree of flexibility during a power failure, perhaps I presume too much.


Nope, there's no common ownership in these flats -- it's not a leasehold, I own the stonework and the air under my feet outright and we don't get to do anything collectively (even re-paint the stairwell) without getting everyone to agree on who's going to pay on a per-task basis. This is Scotland, remember: we do things differently.


Pretty much every house has an electricity supply and sometimes it goes wrong and causes a house fire. It doesn't cause explosions though the way gas does when it goes wrong, or people mess with the supply -- there's a black market of folks tapping into gas lines to steal gas for businesses like fast food restaurants in some areas of the country and that sometimes results in explosions, property damage, injuries and occasionally deaths.

There are also the suicidal idiots who decide to open the gas taps and go out with a bang -- I recall one case where an idiot whose girlfriend had finally wised up and left him taking the kids and he decided to poison himself with gas to make her feel guilty. Of course it didn't work since it was natural gas, not carbon monoxide so when he woke up the next morning with a headache he decided to have a smoke... The resulting explosion crippled him for life. Pity about the child living next door who was killed when the house collapsed.


A couple of years ago an enterprising local scrap dealer in these parts got in a spot of bother for "recycling" the copper gas pipes from the back of a restaurant while they were in use.

Apparently that sort of thing isn't uncommon with current metal prices.


How defense works in the Merchant Princes multiverse has been a real interesting headache I've puzzled over since reading the books. It just seems too insanely easy to be mobile, even if you fully doppelgangered one world each of the DPs are vulnerable to surprise attack from a materialising nuke with a 1 second timer. Then there's the possibility of rapid sequential jumps i.e bolt two physics packages to a bomb and have the second activate milliseconds after the first, thus having the bomb arrive and leave the DP'd universe almost instantly before interception is possible.

The only two ideas I could think of were insanely expensive. Option A: Do the space cadet thing and move everyone off planet into space habs and have those habs make random course corrections every now and then to avoid being hit from a neighbouring verse (this idea is why I'm very interested to learn more about the door-to-nowhere in world 4). Option B: Imperialism. Create a constantly expanding multiverse empire for the purpose of securing more and more worlds between the outside and your homeworld.

TL;DR, really looking forward to the books, especially if they address this problem.


So does this mean the muggles are going to figure out the Knots?

And oy. The potential and flaws of paratime. It's a security nightmare, otoh, a world one jump over has all that tasty resources. Who needs the Saudis when you have Texas and California. Sure you'll need to build the infrastructure, but shipping it back is easy enough.

Which can make for a super nasty world where fortress america is a much bigger concept.


Option B: Imperialism. Create a constantly expanding multiverse empire for the purpose of securing more and more worlds between the outside and your homeworld

Is there a "between" though? The knots seem to take you between a pair of worlds which aren't necessarily adjacent in any way.


Surely the removal of any need to compete for resources would result in worldwide peace and stability.

Even formerly suspicious paratime powers would soon realise that there is more than enough multiverse for all and there is no basis for their conflict.

You can disarm now.


It took me a little while to get how the knots worked when I first read it. The easiest way I conceptualised it was that each universe has a "door" to another universe. Call them A, B, C...

Knots are tied to doors, not specific universes or directions. That's why a single knot toggles you between universes and why two can potentially take you anywhere.

Whether or not the Multiverse Imperialism option really works is dependant on if there are a finite, or infinite, amount of doors. If each universe only directly connects to N-others (where N is a manageable number of worlds to occupy) then the strategy works because to get to you an attacker needs to get to those.

If not then it won't work perfectly...but it may still be worth it to deny some passages to the "enemy" and it's not like aggressive states have a history of logical justifications for their actions.


Knots are tied to doors, not specific universes or directions. That's why a single knot toggles you between universes and why two can potentially take you anywhere.

Nope. A knot encodes a vector transform that connects two sets of coordinates -- which just happen to be different universes within a many-worlds cosmology. They're transitive, so you can stack them, but not commutative (I think). Oh, and trying to use one will result in a headache and getting nowhere if the destination timeline has something physically blocking your equivalent location. By the end of "The Bloodline Feud" Miriam had two knotworks; the original (maps between the world of the Gruinmarkt and the ~USA) and the borked one the founder of the hidden family created from memory (maps between the Gruinmarkt and world three, the world of the New British Empire, rather than the ~USA). Using the borked knotwork in the ~USA gets you between the ~USA and world four (the dome) -- but only at latitudes which aren't under a mile-thick ice sheet. To get from the ~USA to world three requires the use of both knots -- any order will work, as long as you're not trying to world-walk into a glacier.


Hrm, I was looking forward to buying four of your books next year, so Empire Games being pushed off until 2017 is a downer.

Questions now to tide over, is description as "Mani(a)c Pixie Dream Girl" just a reference to "manic" as mental state, a reference to "Mani" as a prophet, or both

SLBMs are only useful as a deterrent to threats originating in your own time-line

Why would that be? Put the world walking black box on the missile, it jumps while in midair, same as the bombers did.


Insulating old windows:

Know someone living in an older house who tried a thermal plastic film over the windows. Worked quite well, fairly inexpensive and easy to put up (blow dryer). As for the esthetics ... as long as you have full-coverage blinds/drapes/curtains, it's okay. No idea which manufacturer my friend used, but this is the general idea. (Frost King Window Kits) Note - this just covers the pane ... there's still quite a lot of heat leakage possible from around the frames.

Thinking back to elementary school science re: exothermic reactions ... I used to wonder why not use vegetation as a heat source. Basically a combination pantry-silo-furnace. IIRC, if you use beans/peas, you can set up a still alongside it and you can even produce your own ammonia to keep your windows nice and clean, and allow more free light/heat via sunshine. Then if you're really enterprising, try some Mendelian genetics to breed the most exothermic peas/beans.


Hmm, I must be missing something (perhaps my understanding of what a vector transform is) because I'm pretty sure that's the relationship I described albeit in far more simplistic terms.

Describing it as a vector transform confuses me somewhat because if the knots work in that manner then using the same one wouldn't send you back the way you came.

Picturing it on a grid and starting at coordinate (2:3) if the knot codes [+1,-2] using it you would end up at (3:1). Using it again would take you to (4:0), not back to (2:3).

Hence my, highly conceptualised, model involving set relationships between universes.


To get from the ~USA to world three requires the use of both knots—any order will work, as long as you're not trying to world-walk into a glacier.

If either order works, then the operation is commutative, at least in principle (though one order may be blocked by environmental conditions). It's the same as vector addition: the operation is commutative, a + b = b + a, even though the intermediate location is different.

A non-commutative system would be if knotwork A followed by knotwork B got you ~USA→Gruinmarkt→New Britain, whereas knotwork B followed by knotwork A got you ~USA→world 4→somewhere else.


Yes, I think a chance in house heating will take place, because of the electricity as you say, and also the improvements in storage heater tech. They are now the size and shape of gas radiators, but without the boiler. Okay, still not quite as responsive, but easy enough to fit into a lot of houses that are better insulated than yours. Such as mine. But my gas system has a decade or so left in it, so I won't be changing right now.


One lot of friends in London lived in a Victorian house without any central heating at all, in the depths of winter they just used the cooker and some wee electric or gas ones.
Plus as has been said above, it's a conservation area, etc etc.

The other issue is of course that blocks of flats built 150 to 220 years ago don't tend to be eaisly fitted with block heating systems, nice and efficient though they might be. And if you suggest demolishing the old town of Edinburgh I will hunt you down.


The problem with paratime and nukes is preventing/avoiding a first strike. If you can deliver a successful first strike before your target knows you exist/how to find your universe, then there is zero risk of retaliation.

Sub-based missiles can only target time lines you know about in advance. And SLBMs historically were less accurate than larger land-based missiles; they're designed as a second strike system. Hmm.

BTW, you might want to google "manic pixie dream girl". It's a meme-shaped media thing.


It works if your coordinates are in Z/2Z, or in other words the position along each dimension can only be 0 or 1 (and 1+1=0).

For CS guys, the universe number is an integer, and a knot does an xor with a fixed per-knot value.

The interesting questions become "how many bits there are in the integers" and "can you build a knot for a given xor value".


Note for the unaware - the 200 to 250 year old part of Edinburgh is known as the "New Town", and was being built well before the Treacherous Slaveowners rebelled against His Majesty King George ;) The "Old Town" is the stretch between the Castle and the Palace, and used to be walled (there are a few bits of the wall left, but not much). Plenty of older stuff is still there...

My one-bedroom first flat was just outside the walls - so while part of the Canongate, ISTR it was only 130 years old or so. It leaked heat like a sieve, not that I had central heating (electric storage heaters and an electric fan heater for a boost if required).


Re: 'BTW ... google "manic pixie dream girl". It's a meme-shaped media thing.'

Met a few people who think that such describes the 'real thing', typically phrased as 'searching for someone that (note: not 'who') completes me'. If you hear that, run!

Good to hear about a new POV in the upcoming Laundryverse; IMO, a sign that that universe is robust.


Most houses leaked heat like a sieve even a few decades ago. My late 1970's flat has airbricks in it, designed to permit free circulation of the outside air, and if I hadn't insulated the place properly and accidentally cut down the cross section of the airbricks I'd be scunnered heat wise. Of course they made more sense in the days before double glazing and when people used coal fires, but in the case of houses like mine there aren't coal fires either.


a sign that that universe is robust

In the past couple of years it went full Discworld on me -- by which I mean, it's expanded from Bob's unreliable work diaries into a major setting.

(I could[*] kill Bob off and keep writing the Laundry Files. If he ever pisses me off enough.)

[*] Only kidding, I think: I can just imagine the howls of rage!


Next time I paint and if I can find it locally, I'm going to give insulating paint a try.


'Painting the interior or the exterior of a house can be quite an arduous task, but few realize that adding a fresh splash of color to the walls and siding of their homes can lead to reduced energy consumption and substantial savings on utility bills. Hy-Tech Thermal Solutions, LLC, of Melbourne, Florida, is producing a very complex blend of ceramic vacuum-filled refractory products designed to minimize the path of hot air transfer through ceilings, walls, and roofs. The insulating ceramic technology blocks the transfer of heat outward when applied to paint on interior walls and ceilings, and prevents the transfer of heat inward when used to paint exterior walls and roofs, effectively providing year-round comfort in the home.'


You're going to do political satire?

Speaking as a US citizen, and staring at the Clown Car of GOP 2016 presidential candidates.... how?

Oh, right: if you wrote what's been happening for the last six or so months in the US, everyone's suspenders of disbelief would have snapped, so you can't go that far....


PS: Wonder if some transdimensional alien is watching us, sitting on a couch, and eating popcorn (or throwing it at the screen....)


Good luck with that. I really don't see the point, you'd get much much more benefit from cavity wall insulation and double glazing. I note the article doesn't include figures on how good the paint is. The uses and benefits claimed are so broad I don't see much room for any real insulating use.

(I used to work at a place that made carbon-carbon insulation similar to that on the space shuttle)


Speaking as a US citizen, and staring at the Clown Car of GOP 2016 presidential candidates.... how?

British political satire. (Hint: what happens when the Laundry goes public, if you posit this happens in April 2014 and there is an I-can't-believe-it's-not-the-LibDem/Con-Coalition running the shop? If your answer doesn't include back-scratching, pocket-lining, and outsourcing you're not reading from the right playbook.)

Mind you, British politics this past few years has been jaw-droppingly weird. Oink oink!


I can't see a paint-thin layer being of much insulation value unless it's as efficient as aerogel. Mmm, aerogel. Is anyone trying to commercialise that as building insulation? It would be a positive thing for decarbonisation...


Answered my own question: yes, someone is, and at only 15 times the cost of standard rockwool. Give it another ten years...


BTW, you might want to google "manic pixie dream girl". It's a meme-shaped media thing.

I'm familiar, I was just wondering what would be your own spin on the meme.


You can buy the book and find out!


I'm just going to forget about the word "vector".

Rotations in more than 2 dimensions would be nicely non commutative in general, with constrained cases which would commute. Simple rotations/quaternions are a bit mundane though.

I spent some time trying and failing to get my head around octonians a few years ago. They manage to be non commutative and non associative.

A paratime structured around octonion algebra would be just on the right side of possible to develop navigation software for I think...

But someone else would have to do it.


Good point ... so I looked further. Depending on whether you're located in hot vs. cold climates, there's a mix of recommended products/applications. And apparently there's been some testing to put numbers on the savings. Maximum savings was for this as estimated by a pretty well known lab. This would be even more attractive to commercial/industrial/rental properties than home owners.


Roof: Insulating Roof Coatings In tests conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, white reflective roof coatings saved up to 50% in energy costs.

Rant: I'm very ticked off that many utility companies still reward large users with much much lower unit rates. How is that going to change/decrease excess usage if higher usage=higher savings. This rewards waste therefore is exactly opposite to what should be done.

For energy and a few other things, I think a hybrid or multilayer approach is advisable if only to not become overly reliant on any one technology/set of circumstances.


MUST be at least a 4-vector: [x,y,z,S] where S is the "timelike" positioning between worlds/universes & remembering that the geography of the parallel worlds is congruent at the basic level, then I suspect it is more likely to be/have 7 or 8 "components". Which is going to hurt your brain, or require a good, well-programmed computer.

Oh, just seen dbp @ 128. Yes, quite so!


If we get a serious Winter power-cut, we can probably just stay above freezing, by running the front gas-fire for the central heating boiler at minimum & leaving the cooking oven, also gas, at minimum. Yuck, though!


Yes, good house climate control is a little tricky. White roofs in much of the USA is something that should have been done 20 years ago. You should note though that the most important thing in that 'use the fancy paint to make the roof white' thing is that it is white, not that it has expensive wee balls in it. Which is what I meant by it doing so much. There are just too many pathways for heat energy to transfer through a paint like that, and it's too thin to do much as a fancy paint, but as a white paint reflecting the energy, it's fine.

I am reminded of a neighbour of a friend's uncle in Mexico who built a mostly glass houe in a sunny place with a nivew view. Oddly enough it was almost unliveable from the heat...


Only kidding, I think: I can just imagine the howls of rage!

You'll have heard, said and generally dealt with this thousands of times I'm sure, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to repeat that Bob is a very specific everyman for a set of (mostly but not exclusively Gen X and mostly but not exclusively male) people who took the techie path (perhaps by default) and figured they may we well try to make something of it. This population survived a stage of extreme hubris in the years either side of the dotcom boom, but were obliged to eat their pride to continue working in a world run by gibbering management school types for whom ICT is a business discipline, mostly unrelated to engineering of information science.

You still see clusters of techies in large organisations with their own infrastructure and usually such people overvalue their own roles in relation to the organisation's goals. For those of us who moved on, these embittered, embattled BOFH-gatekeepers are the reefs in the ICT project seas, in the general sense they prevent ICT innovation rather than enable it. Usually because their vision for what ICT can do for the world ossified in 1995.

So if you happened to escape this mindtrap, like many did, it might be harder to appreciate the extent to which those who did not will cling to figures like Bob as representative of their vocation. I think I managed to avoid becoming such a person, or that if I was one I am no longer and would not especially like the me that could have been. I think most people here did too.

But the point is that Bob is a paragon of a less salubrious sort, and the population who identify with him will include some interesting characters, but also some you don't particularly want to deal with (unless you have a large ICT project and they are perversely one of the gatekeepers).


I like Bob ... a good example of someone in a technical/specialist field (which is the majority of the workforce these days) forced into middle management, then fast tracked because 'somebody's got to do the job!'. Work-life balance issues so far are also pretty realistic, apart from no mention about how any of this impacts children. Even fast-track management types often have kids.


Great, thanks And ironically, your characterization of Rumsfeld was backed up by senior Bush today


As we hit the Dominate phase of Pax Americana, we will have a Bush Augustus, Bush Caesar, Clinton Augustus and Clinton Caesar, who will reign over shifting quarters of American interests.

Rainy Day Ascian


I've got Patrick Malahide (Cheerful Charlie Chisholm from Minder) as Angelton. Think he'd carry off the creepy menace and School master mannerrisms quite well.


April_D @ 67: I wasn't thinking of a permanent installation; rather, something that could simply be stuck out of the window (with some kind of packing to fill the gaps) when it was needed, and stowed indoors the rest of the time. (Although having said that, all that would be visible from outside in the case of a permanent installation need be something that looks exactly like an overflow pipe, so I can't imagine it causing a problem.)

Nick @ 68: Switching over is easy: everything after the meter is yours, so a big DPDT switch to disconnect the house from the meter and connect it to the auxiliary supply will do. Or an entertaining tangle of relays to do it automatically (one alone will not do in case of faults like one set of contacts switching while the other set sticks, which could be nasty). It's only complicated if you want a system which is capable of supplying the grid as well as your house.

(Note: I am ignoring fiddlepotting rubbish from recent years in the form of regulations trying to forbid people from doing what they like with their own stuff, especially since I probably know more about electricity than the bureaucrats responsible can ever hope to and regard such interference as an insult as well as being unrightful in principle.)

Jamesface @ 79: That is an entirely different kind of setup from something which just needs to keep the electrical auxiliaries of a central heating system going for a few hours!

I used to both build generators and repair those built by others, so I know very well how noisy and mucky ordinary diesel generators are, and how hard it is to insulate them for sound. And vibration; those bent pipe frames fall apart at the welds eventually... Suitcase generators, on the other hand - ie. the wee things with about 700VA max output, petrol-powered and fully enclosed with a carrying handle on top - are neither mucky nor noisy. They are very well silenced. It does become necessary to blast the silencer through with hot oxygen-rich gas (oxyacetylene torch with big oxygen surplus) to remove the carbon buildup after they have been running the lights in a burger van day in day out for months on end, but unless Charlie has a sideline he hasn't told us about I can't see him running across that problem.

This is why if I lived in a house that did need heating I would build my micro-CHP system using not a conventional industrial generator engine (which use the wrong fuel anyway), but indeed a "Clio engine", or at least something from a car, suitably modified (Atkinson cycle, and output controlled by intake timing rather than a throttle) as the converter. Running at way under its maximum rated load and at constant speed and temperature, a Volvo redblock ought to last for aaaaaages, and if it does need repairing it's easy to work on and parts availability is good and likely to remain so.

@80: Yes, I know, but it is of little concern in so small a "bank" as I am postulating, and of even less concern since the batteries are readily available for nothing. People throw them out and the bin men won't take them so they hang around and all you have to do is pick them up.

(As an aside, I also thought: why do people always make such a meal out of boat electrics? You see sailing boats with a dashboard like an aircraft cockpit, where only one of the instruments reports anything that you can't detect with your own senses and the rest are redundant, a pile of gubbins below that looks like a data centre, and an owner constantly moaning about how awkward it is to keep it all supplied with power. Not to mention the well-known incompatibility of electronic equipment with salt water which means it will fail and the only question is how soon. It is far simpler to just not bother with all the expensive junk in the first place. All you need electricity for on a sailing boat is the echo sounder, a long-wave AM receiver (15 minutes use a day to get the shipping forecasts), and nav lights (if they are not oil lamps), which are definitely the biggest consumer; enough charge to keep this lot happy can be obtained from a generator winding on the outboard used for manoeuvring in harbour - and it is remarkable how often an outboard will already have a spare yoke under the flywheel so all you have to do is put a winding on it. Everything else that requires an energy source can use LPG - cabin lighting by gas mantle, cabin heating by gas fire, gas cooker with hob kettle, gas fridge (absorption cycle) - and one bottle lasts for ages.)

Charlie @ 90: storage heaters... really? I lived in a place which had them once. They were completely useless - because they did not store. Even if you set them to run at full pelt all night - in which case you woke up with the beginnings of heatstroke, no joke - they would still lose enough heat during the day that the place would be cold in the evening, no matter what you did. It was actually cheaper to use a fan heater as the occasion required, full rate or no, and I eventually took them out entirely, rewired the circuit to run off the all-day supply, and replaced the connections to the heaters with general-purpose sockets.

The problem was very simple, and is the same as afflicts other domestic appliances such as fridges and ovens: idiotic designers who are not engineers giving bullshit factors a higher priority than basic functionality, in this case manifested in an almost complete lack of insulation to try and make them smaller. There was about a quarter of an inch of fibreglass and that was it. With a vital component reduced to a mere token it is not surprising that they were useless.

If as someone mentioned they are now available in a form so thin as to be comparable with central heating radiators, I confidently expect those to be even worse and you'd be better off trying to heat the place by lighting farts.

As far as I can see storage heaters have one function and one function only: enabling landlords to charge a higher rent on the grounds that the place "has heating" even though for all practical purposes it doesn't, without having to worry about annual gas inspections.

Guthrie @ 113: "And if you suggest demolishing the old town of Edinburgh I will hunt you down."

Wasn't suggesting anything of the sort :) What I would do if I lived in such an area would be go nuts with fibreglass: wads of it in the roof, under the floorboards, and behind plasterboard attached to the inside surfaces of the walls. (My current house has this, apart from the floor which is concrete, as well as insulated cavity walls.) And I would fit double glazing, but inside the existing windows: result, still looks the same from outside, but works even better than it would normally.

Gas explosions, generally: reporting bias. If someone's house goes up in a fucking great bang it gets in all the papers and on TV and everything. If someone just wires themselves up to the mains and dies inside it there is a paragraph in the local rag and that is all, so nobody notices.

Plus the general tendency for people to panic like nutters about anything connected with fire. The reactions are always amusing when someone sees me cleaning engine parts by washing them in a bucket of petrol while smoking and then putting the fag out by chucking the dog-end into the bucket. (Which in turn reminds me of the one time Iain Banks made a real howler over technical details: you cannot ignite an oxyacetylene torch off a fag (and acetylene is a lot more unstable than petrol). I have tried. Very hard. No matter how you vary the flow rate and mixture, nothing happens. The oxygen may make the fag burn a bit brighter but that is all. Which is a pain when the torch goes out in the middle of a weld and I have to grub about for the lighter instead of just using the burning thing I already have in my mouth.)


dpb @ 76: "My Little Equoid"? It exists...

Olivier Galibert @ 115: Yes, the exclusive-or function is my mental model of how the knots work. It seems to fit straight in without any need for wiggles to handle exceptions.

The bit that puzzles me about them is how do the Americans manage to produce from their analysis of walker brain tissue an automated version that goes to the right target. It's OK when the mechanism is part of someone's brain because you can imagine handwaving-argument-of-choice about how patterns of consciousness and neuronal activation and what-have-you affecting its operation in subtle ways, but as I remember it the techno version operates essentially by growing a bit of the structure that actually effects the transfer and then poking it with a stick. And once they get it to work at all it seems to go to the intended destination first off. I'd have thought it much more likely that it would have gone to some different and random destination, and probably a different one every time, which means the Americans would have clued on to the existence of multiple alternate worlds a lot sooner than anyone else did.

Related to this - sooner or later, I imagine, someone is going to work out how to edit the knotwork pattern in a directed manner to achieve a specific result. I won't ask Charlie to comment on this, I'd rather wait to read it :)


Pigeon I have such a DPDT switch - put in by me, "just in case" - must remember to get spare BIG fuses for it, though .... But - boats - you forgot one important thing that can't operate without "juice" - Radar. Um.


Gas mantles? It may be my own fault for not making clear, but my boat is not, in fact, moored in 1872. Anyhow, the arrangements of tupperware vessels are of little interest to me.

@Greg - Radar, VHF, GPS at a bare minimum. Electronic charts almost entirely as the norm, AIS where required. Not that most tupperware would need more than a passive radar reflector; nor indeed AIS. These days you can get away with a hand-held VHF and an iPad for everything else.


Yes, the exclusive-or function is my mental model of how the knots work. It seems to fit straight in without any need for wiggles to handle exceptions.

With exclusive-or you get circles: 110 ^ 101 ^ 011 = 000 ie. you can get a knot that combines two other ones. It is also commutative ( 101 ^ 110 = 110 ^ 101 ) and associative ( (110 ^ 101) ^ 1011 = 110 ^ (101 ^ 1011) ie. 011 ^ 1011 = 110 ^ 1110 ). The number of parallel worlds is 2**(number of bits in a knot).

If you want to avoid circles you need to restrict knots to have only one bit set. (001, 010, 100, 1000, 10000, ...)


Yes, dear sir, you are quite right in saying that power cuts have been rare up to now. Mind you, up to now Scotland has always kept a fair amount of spare generating capacity on hand for emergencies, instead of relying on legions of wind turbines.

Interesting things, wind turbines. Their salesmen sell them on the basis of "Installed Capacity", a weasel value based on near perfect conditions. Their detractors point out that conditions of windless high pressure are often associated with prolonged deep freeze conditions in Britain, and don't wind turbines perform poorly when there is no wind?

Me, I prefer to merely point out how much plutonium Britain has in stock, and wouldn't it be a really great idea to build a big power station somewhere that could use this stuff for generation, so that it cannot be used for bomb-making?


Please don't kill Bob off; it's so much fun to watch him being tormented.

Cheers on the hard work now and in the near future. I eagerly look forward to more late night reading!


The thing is that Bob has moved on too. And the more he does so the further he gets from the paragon of the sort of chaps I was discussing. Which also probably means that Charlie doesn't need to kill him to generate the howls - it will happen anyway unless he traps Bob in the changeless world they live in.


Maybe they could take him as an example and start plotting an escape from the hell they are working in. Howls are more likely though.


Yep. I tend to use elevator pitches as navigation beacons when writing these days, to keep me on course. One of the two elevator pitches for "The Delirium Brief" is "Bob grows up, whether he wants to or not". (The other is "A Very British Coup vs. The Laundry".)


Problem with having your own generating capacity coupled to a grid connection is what happens to the linemen who isolate a subdivision or even just the feed into your home so they can work on the sparkly bits and then you fire up your generator or try and sell your surplus solar/wind power back to the grid? This has killed people. Sure, YOUR homebrew uncertificated and untested system is perfectly safe and has absolutely no failure modes that will kill people. Riiiight.

The point about houses going bang! when the gas feed goes wrong is that anything gas does domestically can be achieved by electricity (heating, hot water and cooking) and all houses have an electricity feed anyway. The gas supply costs a lot of money to install and operate correctly with servicing and replacement of boilers etc. every decade or so (although plenty of folks will run a boiler until it breaks rather than pay for a replacement before failure) and it kills people every now and then.

The only reasons I can see to use gas at all in a domestic environment is perceived lower cost for the consumer and "we've always done it this way". The deaths and destruction are considered an acceptable tradeoff by most people, just like burning coal to generate electricity.


I'm actually looking for advice on this. I have a kayak with an enormous (70l) dry hold.

I was wondering what sort of power generation and storage would be suitable long term occupancy and intercontinental voyages...

I'm currently thinking radioisotope generator with heat sink in the water and extra shielding on the bulkhead behind the seat...



The problem with escape plans is that they have to pass the Kantian categorical imperative test: what if everyone did it? If the answer is "everyone gets shot", then the plan won't work.


In the obstructive IT case the most likely outcome is that companies migrate to cloud services a year before they were going to anyway.


And the fellows we're talking about will resist growing up with all their spleen et ideal.


Many still need their local IT to co-operate with making cloud stuff work. And you get some really weird procurement processes around cloud.

Typically there are still internal gatekeeper trollums.


That's true.

I wasn't assuming that everyone would take the hint and find a more rewarding career simultaneously though.


What sort of radioisotope generator? One fuelled with Pu-238 requires very little shielding as the radioactive decay only produces an alpha particle. It's expensive and quite rare though so the cheaper option would be an Sr-90 RTG, there's lots of that about. The shielding needs to be a bit heavier though since its decay chain produces a couple of beta particles.


I'm happy to take advice on it. Last time I studied these things in any detail was in the 90s.

The boat is still controllable with about 20kg in the hold, but it does effect the handling. Closer to the bulkhead the better from that point of view, which unfortunately also means closer to the paddler.


The obvious answer is to mount a microturbine on the hull of the kayak. That way when you need electricity you can simply paddle faster.


If I can divert some of the power to a propeller then we are in business! :)


when you need electricity you can simply paddle faster.

For encouragement, put a very small speaker at the back.

"Paddle faster, I hear banjos..."


Martin, no more than half of the signatories of the declaration of independence owned slaves, if slavery was the sole reason for the revolt, I think the yankees would've waved goodbye. Don't forget the dodgy land speculation that was going on at the same time...


When embarking on a river float in the United States, it's considered bad form to make pig noises...


Yeah, it wasn't just slavery! There was the British blocking of American Manifest Destiny re: genocide and colonization as well.

(We're winding you up a bit.)


The south west of England on the other hand... Get a couple of cm in Bristol or London and it's absolute carnage, and people will be talking about it for days.

I remember February 200...9, I want to say, when Southeastern England had two centimeters of wet snow, and completely shut down for two days -- no flights, no trains, no buses, and I was in Cambridge, ranting and raving because I was forced to use up vacation days 'cos I was stuck and the entire part of the country lost its collective mind.


Yeah, I remeber that one. Mind you, I had no problems ( Answer = Land-Rover - oh what FUN I had! )


I found out recently that there are modern fairly safe reactor designs that actually burn spent nuclear fuel and dangerous isotopes. So obviously we need to build some of them. However the politicians are determined to sell the country to China rather than actually have government do what it is supposed to do.


If you look at the history of the UK programme it makes sense.

Throughout the AGR programme there were several competing designs, and the UK ended up building one or two of each. Every single plant was a prototype, and came with prototype R&D costs. Most of them were years late.

Then Sizewell B was built using an off the shelf core. It was finished on time and on budget.

The lesson learned from this is that if all you want is nuclear power then buy in a design after someone has made half a dozen of them already and worked the bugs out. Let someone else do the R&D so you don't have to.

This is why I fond it hard to take many new reactor concepts seriously. They may be better on paper, but they will only be better in practice once someone has sunk a decade or two into actually trying to make them work.

And for the same money you could build half a dozen cheap PWRs.


I think you missed this bit: "It's only complicated if you want a system which is capable of supplying the grid as well as your house." Sure, making that safe is hard, but I am only considering setups which do not do that, and in that case it is easy.

As for domestic gas supplies, they make a huge amount of sense, especially when you consider that all the big loads are heating loads. Burning fuel in a power station to make steam to generate electricity to send down the wires to run a heater at the other end when you have the alternative option of burning the fuel right where you want the heat is a really wasteful and inefficient method which is frankly bloody stupid. Of course it uses some energy to run a gas distribution system, but it is still a whole lot more efficient than converting the energy into electrical form first and then distributing that. Relying on electrically-powered heating only makes sense in isolated areas where it isn't practical to maintain a gas distribution network.

It is for these same efficiency reasons that if I wasn't lucky enough to live in a house with such minimal need for heating, I would power it using a CHP setup running off the gas supply. Given that I consume a certain amount of electricity, its generation and supply involves the loss of a corresponding amount of energy from inefficiencies. If the electricity is supplied from a power station, that energy is simply wasted. If I generate the electricity myself, I can capture it and use it for heating purposes. Or to look at it the other way round, by providing myself with heating I am also provided with electricity for free.

The principal reason I don't do this is simply that in this house I have no use for the waste energy, so there is no point. (There is also no point in doing it purely so as to sell juice to the grid; the money received would be at best about the same as that spent on the gas to run it, so this would only make sense if I had a significantly greater proportionate need for heating than electricity. Not to mention that I simply couldn't be arsed with all the associated paperwork and bureaucracy hassle.)


UK nuclear power was also compromised by the requirement in the early stages for enabling plutonium production for nuclear weapons, which does not really sit all that well with power generation, and simply by the fact that nuclear power was entirely novel anyway so there was no such thing as a non-experimental design. And having said that, the AGR was a pretty good bit of kit.

A PWR-in-a-box may be superficially simple, but it is really not a very good idea at all overall. Mainly because it wastes the vast majority of the available energy in the uranium - it requires enriched uranium fuel so all the tailings from the enrichment process, an amount far greater than the enriched product, are not used, and it only uses about 3% of the energy in the uranium that does get used. After that the fuel rods become too poisoned with neutron-absorbing fission products and need to either be reprocessed, which is really messy, or just thrown away which seems to be more popular at the moment. The result is lots of nasty waste and horrendously wasteful usage of uranium. The problem is that at the moment uranium ore happens to be cheap, so the usual characteristic of politicians and their ilk of choosing options that happen to be cheap now and sod what happens in the future when it'll be someone else's problem comes into play and messes everything up.

The types of designs that Guthrie was talking about solve a whole lot of problems. The important principle is that they produce lots of spare neutrons, and the neutrons have a non-thermal energy spectrum. This means that poisoning is less of a problem as there are enough neutrons to compensate, and there are enough fast neutrons that merely fissionable as well as fissile isotopes get fissioned so you can burn all the 238U and also all the higher actinides produced by side reactions which are the most troublesome component of high-level waste. Such designs produce far less waste overall, and the waste they do produce is mostly composed of short-lived isotopes which decay into harmlessness on a timescale short by human standards; it is only the 10% or so of things like 90Sr that remain to be a nuisance.

Moreover, the problem of designing nuclear reactors is a lot easier these days than in the 50s because we have much greater computing resources available, so it is possible to do much more of it by simulation and the simulation is of higher quality. We also know a lot more about such matters as the alteration of the properties of materials under high neutron flux so we are starting from a better position.

It is simply not acceptable to wait for some other bugger to make one first and in the meantime burden ourselves with another batch of PWRs, leaving us with the same disadvantages to cope with for several extra decades. Someone has to build one first, and I don't think it's going to be US capitalists doing quite nicely out of existing designs and backed by a government whose attitude is that if it isn't possible to keep nuclear power exclusive to the US it is at least possible to keep some control over what other countries do with it by keeping them dependent on US-supplied kit. As with all matters of important national infrastructure, it is not something that can be left to capitalists to deal with because they will produce something optimised primarily for making money as fast as possible which does not fulfil its actual function as well as something designed with that as its first priority and which ends up being a burden to everyone else for a long long time. It is something which requires politicians to be beaten round the head enough to get them to drop their short-termist attitudes for once and commit to a properly-funded state programme of development. For sure this is hardly trivial, but it is still a deal more tractable a problem than trying to get capitalists to act in anything other than their own interest.


I think we agree on what would be desirable. I just think that the scenario you described as "not acceptable" is the best we are going to get under realistic conditions.

The political calculation is that all nuclear options are likely to be equally unpopular so they will take the cheap one. The government are only backing nuclear at all because 20+ years of apathy has backed them into a corner.


Eh, you can buy fast breeders of the shelf if you insist. Rosatom is quite happy to export, and apparently even licence out the design of the BN-800. Since that design is a slight upscaling of the most reliable breeder ever built (the BN-600 had better uptime than every other reactor in Russia.) This wouldn't be a very scary bet as far as technology goes.


BN-600 has better uptime than every other Russian reactor? That's a harsh indictment of other Russian reactors if correct. The BN-600 has exhibited 73% capacity factor. For comparison, the US commercial reactor fleet was at 92% last year.

Far too many pitches for exotic reactors go something like "just give me $50 billion up front, and I promise magnificent results within 20 years." They propose to take nuclear power's biggest current problems (big lumpy financial commitments, many years' lag between financial commitment and seeing revenue, unplanned budget and construction time increases) and make it even worse. It's The Political Economy of Very Large Space Projects problem, impressively replicated without even going into orbit. It's very much like the space cadet who says "forget expensive, intermittent rooftop solar; I can do better in every way beaming power down from orbit." Even weirder, so many of these schemes for legendary engineering come from people who fancy themselves libertarians. But the only thing less likely than a government providing a 12 digit budget for unproven technology is the private sector doing so.


"Than every other Russian reactor in Russia at the time". The Fins bought some Rosatom designs, upgraded their instrumentation to "Our electronics shopping list wasn't embargoed by the cold war" standards, and those ran at factors in the 90 % range. Presumably, if they had bought BN's those would have done.. eh.. well, even better tough eventually, you do have to refuel even a fast breeder. Or possibly the staff of that particular reactor was just far more competent than that of most of Russia's reactors because it was.. well, the only fast breeder on the planet consistently hooked up to a grid.


well, the only fast breeder on the planet consistently hooked up to a grid.

Well, apart from the Soviet/Russian BN-350 (about 90MWe, ran at 80% availability some years, 1GWt with half of its output process heat used for desalination) and the little-known BOR-60 (about 10MWe, first started in 1969 and just given an operating licence extension till 2020).

The Rosatom VVER reactors are standard 1970s PWR designs with incremental upgrades in terms of more power, better uptime, better safety, lower cost of construction, longer operating lifetime etc. There's no real connection between them and the fast reactors being touted as the Next Big Thing in nuclear energy. Fast-spectrum reactors are a solution without a problem at the moment since once-through uranium is readily available and cheap as chips for at least a complete build-operate-decommission cycle of modern PWRs (about a century or so). After that there will be a lot of slightly-used uranium spent fuel sitting around waiting to be reused in the new designs for the next millennium or so. After that there's fusion.


Ian Richardson (Urquhart from BBC's House of Cards) passed on in 07 but I think his spectral image may have lurked in Charlie's imagination as he developed the Angleton character, either that or he's generating signal interference as I recreate him from the page.


Since you seem to know obscure reactors, do you have any sources that report the capacity factor of the Experimental Breeder Reactor II? I received the impression that it had pretty good reliability. I haven't found hard numbers to confirm that impression though.


There are no real numbers I can find -- the IAEA power reactor database doesn't include the EBR II since it was never grid-connected, the power it generated was used "in-house" at Argonne. The Wikipedia article about the EBR II reports it was operational for about 30 years and (unsourced) produced "over" 2 billion kWh of electricity. Reverse-engineering those two figures and knowing its maximum capacity was 20MWe gets an availability of about 35% or so.

Being an experimental reactor it would have been taken out of service for refuelling, testing, changing configuration etc. on a regular basis so that 35% figure is actually quite good. Modern reactors have a typical average availability of 80%-plus but that's after a lot of practical experience in keeping a reactor running with short outages for refuelling and inspection. In the 1970s when second-generation PWRs and BWRs like Browns Ferry and Calvert Cliffs were coming on stream the typical availability was about 70%.


A genuinely new series, eh? So nothing like, say Machael Ransour and Spartin Mingfield in a not-perceived-by-the-author-as-broken Eschaton-verse? Dang!

I could imagine Charlie writing some excellent contemporary-ish military / political thrillers under a pen-name. However, they might be a hard sell since they would have a rather different political slant than the usual fare, and would be focussed more on the societal and human implications than on the go-fast-and-explodey bits. Oh wait! I know, write it as literary/romance! "Tom Clancy meets Patricia Highsmith" should catch the modern reading public...


Nope: try Richard E. Grant (in pre-Doctor Who bad guy mode). Nobody does demonic intensity like Richard E. Grant, unless you resurrect Vincent Price.


contemporary-ish military / political thrillers under a pen-name

Try "Charles Stross" and look for the Empire Games trilogy (which continues the Merchant Princes saga, only in a near-future SF/thriller direction with added post-Snowden surveillance state paranoia).

Already mostly written, stuck in edit hell (and I need to rewrite the ending of book 3 -- on my to-do list for 2016).


True story: a classmate of mine won tickets to a preview session of Withnail and I in 1987 after calling in to a radio quiz and correctly answering Jimmy Hendrix's middle name (Marshall).


My apologies, I meant "contemporary-ish" in the "not Sci-Fi, set in the present universe and time, no explicit worldbuilding" sense. It is a different sort of difficulty, probably not far off from the sort of tetris-y stunt-writing that got us Declare.

However, this NYT piece's mention of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson like to re-read Fleming's Bond books when they are contemplating new (non-Fleming) Bond projects called to mind your careful study of the Bond ouvre for The Jennifer Morgue.

I am quite certain you could turn out an excellent Bond novella, with a conveniently movie-script sized plot and setting, a tragicomically insensitive (though not misogynistic) Bond and a genuinely new and horrifying (but not supernatural) villain.

And you could expense a night down the pub with Warren Ellis as "research"! Hm, and LGW-EDI flights are mad cheap...


"Fast-spectrum reactors are a solution without a problem at the moment..."

Not at all. They are a solution to the problem of generating large amounts of hellishly radioactive crud that stays that way for yonks.

And uranium being cheap is a purely artificial situation created by human factors, ie. lots of people digging it up and not a lot of people wanting it. The latter in particular is not a dependable condition since if you build lots of new PWRs it is no longer true.

It is indeed highly unfortunate that we (as in humanity in general) are ruled by idiots who don't understand anything other than money, but their being the rulers does not mean that their views, based on a wholly artificial concept, on what is a good idea or not should supersede the views of those who base their decisions as to whether something is a good idea on the unchangeable realities of physics. It merely means that they are not fit to be the rulers.


I am quite certain you could turn out an excellent Bond novella...

Perhaps like one in here: Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond Haven't read the book, of course, but I'd guess something in there will fit your bill.


Oh my, I did not know of this! Looks like quite a bunch of writers!


My question about a Charlie Stross bodice ripper is whether the bodice would be ripped from the inside (as in Aliens), the outside (along with the chest underneath) by a monster, or the outside in some emergency medical procedure (in a high-tech crossover, whether it's the Merchant Princes or some post-singularity thing.)


I only just found out about the 774-775 AD C-14/Be-10 isotope spike, but it strikes me as something that could be profitably used in some Merchant Princes follow-on. A fictional briefing(*) on The Facts and What They Mean could be quite effective.

(*) As noted earlier, OGH does briefing scenes exceedingly well.


(*) As noted earlier, OGH does briefing scenes exceedingly well. Or exceptionally badly. Most other writers' briefing scenes feel much more like being exposed to "death by Powerpoint" which is more correct but less fun for the reader.


We don't have a solution for dealing with the hundreds of millions of tonnes of toxic waste produced by burning coal every year, and that hell's brew of organic poisons, heavy metals etc. has to be sequestered forever, it has no convenient half-life. Mostly we just ignore it and hope it will go away and say "what's a few million people killed and hundreds of millions poisoned, it's cheap power!"

The few thousand tonnes of nuclear power station spent fuel produced each year IS carefully sequestered, it IS taken care of and kept from leaking out into our air, water and food. It is easily disposed of permanently in deep geological burial sites once there's enough of it to actually be worth spending money on the disposal effort (the Finns have made a start on a deep geological disposal site although it's probably too early from a purely business point of view). It's possible that in the interim before permanent disposal becomes widespread economics and technology developments will mean we'll recycle the spent fuel so we'll only need to actually bury a few dozen tonnes of real waste each year rather than tens of thousands.

Tell me, what scares you about nuclear power spent fuel and its waste? It's obvious you see it as a real danger, more dangerous than natural events like tornadoes and earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes or man-made incidents like Bhopal (thousands poisoned, no outcry to stop building chemical plants) or Brent Alpha and Alexander Kielland (hundreds dead, no-one planning to stop offshore drilling for fossil fuel). The evidence from a thousand million years of fission products resulting from the Oklo reactors show that long-lived waste isotopes are nearly immobile in geological strata, they don't spread easily after deep burial. Do you think the small amount of waste produced each year is somehow an existential threat to all life on the planet? If so, why?


James Hogan, slightly before he went totally irrational, wrote a book called "Minds, Machines, and Evolution" --half fiction and half nonfiction. The nonfiction essays had a sort of theme running through them that basically great industrial empires are built on a revolutionary technology (he gave hydrocarbon burning as an example) and the motivation of these empires is not to keep up competition and innovation, as they claim, but to bring real competition and innovation to a halt. He mentioned nuclear power as an example of a technology being held back by the oil companies, and their environmentalist fifth columnist minions. I'm not sure I believe him on the specifics, but the idea about those who have made it through competition wanting to end competition stuck. Anyway, (1) coal is recognized as also bad.
(2) radioactive waste may not destroy the whole planet, but it can make real estate useless for a long time and be very bad for living things in a large area

Why not run nuclear power plants inside some remote Antarctic mountain to make some kind of green chemical fuel by driving an endothermic reaction, then just export the fuel to the whole world? Just that one area, where the plants are run and the waste stored, would be endangered. Plenty of ice handy if there's a problem. Worst case is Antarctica becomes a huge Chernobyl zone. Making the standard to reject a plan "it would destroy the world" isn't really fair.


The reality is:

(1) radioactive waste is recognized as also bad. (2) coal is destroying the whole planet, it is making real estate useless pretty much forever and is lethal for living things in large areas such as urban China.

Coal is a familiar killer whereas nuclear is perceived as a barely-chained demon hence the disparity in treatment and the odd beliefs many people have of its dangers.


My objections to nuclear waste? Well a big one is that it is something people kick up so much of a fuss over. It seems self-evident that it is going to be much easier to gain public support for a nuclear programme if the waste problem is already taken care of at the start by using a technology that doesn't create it in the first place.

And while one might argue over how much of a problem it is, it cannot be denied that it is a problem, and when you have a method at hand that can reduce the problem by a few orders of magnitude it is daft not to use it.

Recycling it in future reactors is not the answer. The methods used to render it safe for long term (by human standards) storage and make sure it stays hidden away necessarily also make it hard to get it out again, and the process of separating the nuclear material from the inert (but by now radioactive) encapsulation material is going to generate lots of radiologically- and chemically-toxic crud.

(Also, once "oh, we'll be able to deal with it eventually" becomes an entrenched and accepted excuse, everything will be done and excused on that basis and "eventually" will never come.)

There is also the matter of inputs. The more efficiently the uranium is used the less of it is needed, therefore the less extraction of it needs to be done. That isn't exactly a clean process; not only are there the usual type of chemical waste problems that arise from any heavy metal mining, but most of the activity of uranium ore is from the decay chain rather than the uranium itself, and that all gets separated out and needs to be disposed of somehow. (And all this has to be done well downwind of any tobacco plantations that may be about.) Hardly anyone wants radium these days, but with its half-life being what it is you can hardly ignore it.

Fast spectrum reactors also have an advantage, since they do not use water, in not needing a pressure vessel or means to contain a large volume of vaporised coolant or moderator in the event of an accident. You don't have to deal with pressure vessels' materials' properties changing for the worse under neutron irradiation, nor the possible explosive release of energy that happens when a steam or pressurised-water circuit fails. If the coolant leaks it will either remain as a liquid or solidify and immobilise itself (probably, depending what it is; NaK and the like are still somewhat dodgy and create risks of hydrogen explosions, but at least it won't flash-vaporise, which would be a guaranteed explosion).

And then there is simply the sheer wastefulness and inelegance of once-through cycles. They are like feeding yourself not by just taking one steak and eating it, but by taking a hundred steaks, licking the juice off, and throwing the rest away to rot. If you had no teeth that might be the best you could do, but as soon as they invent dentures you'll stop doing it, not carry on as before to save buying the dentures.


Future nuclear energy development will depend more on policy makers' calculations than those of economists, technicians, or climatologists. Because economically it pays, technically it's a solved process, environmentally it's the only total coal replacement, and the big objections are all political. So their calculations will mostly involve the tradeoff of climate remediation versus radiation hazard. That's why I think they're far more likely to just expand current LWR practice, where risks are quantifiable by decades of experience and spent fuel can be handled with interim dry cask storage and later deep burial in salt layers stable for a half billion years, like the Waste Isolation Pilot Program did it. Much less likely would be a big program to fund liquid metal cooled reactors, in spite of their superior technical features. Simply because it's not as easy to specify long term probabilities of coolant leaks under typical conditions of commercial power production, as it is for the 'devil they know'. So it's a bit like Keyne's remark on stock selection, more a matter of knowing judges' criteria in a beauty contest than debating the contestants' merits.


Coal waste is radioactive waste too -- the planet digs up and burns about 8 billion tonnes of coal a year, most of it for electric power generation. Coal assays at anything between 1 and 2 parts per billion of radium-226, a decay product of uranium which assays at between 4-40 ppm, so that's a total of about maybe 10 tonnes of radium gets burned each year. Assume the flue traps catch 90% of that radium then only, ONLY one tonne of radium escapes into the atmosphere downwind from all those smokestacks, usually quite close to large cities like St. Louis which has the 3GW Labadie coal-power station complex about 50km to the south-west of the city centre, burning nearly ten million tonnes of coal each year. The other 9 tonnes of flue-ash radium is dumped in open ponds and left for future generations to deal with. Every year. There are hundreds of tonnes of radium in those ponds right now.

Uranium mining digs up about a few million tonnes of ore a year but the uranium is processed locally into yellowcake (U3O8) and the spoil is dumped usually as mine backfill or on the surface. The radium content of the ore is much higher than coal but it isn't vapourised and dissipated into populated areas the way coal-sourced radium is.

Of course there's mercury, beryllium, cadmium, sulphur, particulates, tars and all the other crap in kilotonnes quantities that nuclear just doesn't produce at all, from mining through to waste fuel disposal but which coal-burning power plants spew when they're working perfectly and within legal pollution guidelines.

As for future use of spent fuel, fast reactors, reprocessing and such the economics are against them at least for a light-water reactor generation of 80 to 100 years. Spent LWR fuel spends about a decade or so in pool storage while decay heat reduces to a watt or two per kilogram at which point it can be dry-casked or prepped for deep burial. It may be wasteful and inelegant but them's the (financial) breaks. There is work being done on cheaper reprocessing methods but it's not a priority.

Myself I'd design the deep disposal sites for spent fuel to be readily accessible in a thousand years or so rather than permanently sealing them up after they are filled but I'm not in charge.


Indeed, we only use half the energy in coal. Such is the disparity in energy levels between chemical and nuclear reactions that you could get as much energy out of it again by fissioning its trace uranium content as you do by burning it.

As I said before, that 80-100 years thing is only valid in circumstances which will no longer apply if everyone starts trying to take advantage of it. Reliance on that sort of thing leads to everyone building lots of grossly inefficient reactors expecting them to be cheap, only to find that they aren't cheap any more because now that everyone's wanting lots of it the fuel has got really expensive. Of course governments do that kind of dumb shit all the time, but it doesn't make it any less dumb.


Which makes it even more obvious that we need fusion power, but it is still "30 years away". Is practical, controllable fusion power actually feasible? It seems that it ought to be, but, so far, every method tried seems to be either a dead-end or hideously complicated & expensive. In spite of the amount of money spent on fusion research, have we really spent enough? Or have we forgotten Rutherfords advice: "We haven't the money, so we've got to think. " ??


Power stations only convert about a third of the thermal energy from burning coal into electricity, not half. The Carnot cycle is a bitch. It's the same for LWRs and BWRs since they work at about the same temperatures as coal does (about 350 deg C steam). The British AGR is a bit better being a higher-temperature reactor with an efficiency of about 40% and the various high temperature molten-metal and helium-cooled reactors are also in that 40% ballpark.

Coal uses a lot more energy elsewhere though, in the mining and transportation process. It takes a lot of energy to extract and transport three million tonnes of coal to generate a gigawatt of electricity for a year compared to the hundred tonnes or so of enriched uranium needed to produce a comparable amount of electricity in a clean safe nuclear reactor. On the other side though the coal burners don't spend much money or energy dealing with their waste, they just pump it and dump it because no-one cares enough to stop them doing it.


No, I meant that we waste half the available energy in coal by sending up the chimney its trace uranium content, which if fissioned instead, would yield roughly the same amount of energy as burning the flammable content does.

Greg: I can't help feeling that current approaches to fusion must be barking up the wrong tree, and we ought to be trying something else. The question is, though, what?


Given that natural fusion reactors are confined by very high pressures, one wonders if inertial/laser confinement is not a better route to follow - or something .....

Usual problem Birds can fly, but when humans want to fly, they make huge gliders, more like albatrosses+ engines tham any other type of birds - ornithopters are not really preacticable. Higher-speed travel requires wheels + guidance, not legs. What are we missing?


As I said before, that 80-100 years thing is only valid in circumstances which will no longer apply if everyone starts trying to take advantage of it. Reliance on that sort of thing leads to everyone building lots of grossly inefficient reactors expecting them to be cheap, only to find that they aren't cheap any more because now that everyone's wanting lots of it the fuel has got really expensive. Of course governments do that kind of dumb shit all the time, but it doesn't make it any less dumb.

There's also a large risk of prematurely optimizing for fuel efficiency when what nuclear power really needs is shorter, more predictable construction times and lower capital costs. Consider the fate of low-silicon and no-silicon solar photovoltaic startups that pitched their technologies based on the 2008 refined silicon shortage/price spike (over $450 per kilogram) and then crashed and burned when prices fell below $30 again.

In 1970 Alvin Weinberg was making the case for breeder reactors on the assumption that in the 21st century there might be up to 20 billion people, all consuming energy like Americans, mostly on the basis of nuclear fission. All 3 of those assumptions now seem as retro-futuristic as orbital colonies where the women all wear miniskirts.


... as orbital colonies where the women all wear miniskirts. Did you HAVE to do that? Now I'm dribbling again!


In orbital colonies, as on spaceships, nobody has to wear anything. Another huge cultural assumption of SF writers.


There are no shortage of fusion alternatives to Tokamak. Plasma Fucus Fusion Stellarator Polywell Tri-Alpha...

IMHO the Tokamak route will be seen by history as a gigantic waste of time chasing a dead end. We could have had a fusion reactor 30 years ago.


Which of that list of speculative concepts have actually demonstrated fusion?

I know the Stellarator was a front-runner for fusion sixty or seventy years ago before the vastly superior and much simpler tokamak took its lunch money. Tokamaks have demonstrated megajoule-class fusion energy production with a Q not far from unity, the rest seem to be mostly Powerpoint presentations and begging-bowls.

If a stellarator design does end up being the cheapest form of fusion energy production then it will be because of fifty years of research in creating and maintaining plasmas in tokamaks -- the ITER is going to be a plasma physicist's dream machine even if it never results in a fusion power plant, same as CERN is the Mecca for particle bashers.


Demonstrating fusion is easy. The real question is how much fusion for a given energy input.


I'm surprised that there has been no mention of Molten Salt Reactors in this thread with so much other nuclear discussion (though I see somebody mentioned Alvin Weinberg - one of the inventors of the PWR and the MSR).

Best publicised of these is the LFTR (Liquid Floride Thorium Reactor). Originally designed back in the 1960s using the thermal spectrum but 'canned' due to a preference for fast breeder reactors which have never really worked out well.

The LFTR (and many other MSRs) would operate at atmospheric pressure so no need for elaborate containment of the sort required for PWRs and other fast reactors using exotic coolants such as liquid sodium or molten lead. In the event of a core breach, there couldn't be any sort of a catastrophic meltdown because the reaction actually slows the hotter it gets. You could just drain the reactor and the salts containing the fissile material (whether Uranium or the more abundant Thorium) would solidify harmlessly. No chance of explosions or fallout anywhere. Not to mention that, if you design in ongoing reprocessing (which ought to be feasible), the waste produced has decayed down to background levels of radiation within a couple of hundred years.

A MSR experiment ran for a number of years in the US in the 60s and 70s so many of the the difficulties with the technology are understood and can be resolved relatively easily. With the billions being thrown at ITER fusion, it is just very sad that nobody other than the Chinese and one or two private companies have bothered to invest any money in MSR research.

Too many vested interests around either stopping investment in any form of nuclear power or simply keeping the industry on the PWR route as that is where they know they can make the money.


So how much actual fusion has Polywell, backed by the US Navy, demonstrated? Focus Fusion? Muon catalysis?

The Joint European Torus (JET) ran a fusion campaign twenty years ago that yielded 22MJ of fusion energy in a 1.5 second burst with a Q of about 0.6 i.e it took about 35MJ of input to get that 22MJ of fusion energy out. The ITER tokamak is being designed to produce 500MW thermal output for 50MW of input, sustainable for thousands of seconds. That's a Q figure of 10 and a big step on the roadmap towards a commercial fusion generating station, if it ever exists.

Now it's entirely possible the ITER won't achieve those numbers, that's why there's the letter "E" in the name, for "Experimental". The physicists and engineers designing and building ITER think it can be done but there are always uncertainties. On the other hand there's no magic, there's no "...and then a miracle occurs" since tokamaks have a real-world track record of producing fusion in large measurable amounts.


The "vested interests" aren't interested in developing a fission reactor concept like molten-salt fuel transport because they want to spend their money building proven reactors that will produce electricity at about 5c/kWh for at least half a century.

I notice you didn't, like most other folks who boost the molten-salt concept, conflate it with thorium breeding. Thank you. I've lost count of the number of people who have breathlessly told me that the US had a for-reals! LFTR working in the 1960s and it was the evull nuclear weapons people who put the kibosh on it for nefarious purposes.

As for "if you design in ongoing reprocessing (which ought to be feasible)" there are two things wrong with that. The first is that there is no "if". An LFTR requires continuous reprocessing to remove certain isotopic products from the breeding process otherwise the reactor stops working properly. The second is that this reprocessing plant has to work for decades and it will be contaminated with large amounts of radioactive isotopes and fission products and no-one has been able to say exactly how it would be repaired when it broke or needed parts replaced. Decommissioning it at end-of-life is another interesting challenge and something that needs to be solved to a regulatory body's satisfaction before any LFTR will be licenced for construction.

There are other problems that an LFTR design faces in the real world but the margins of this blog are too narrow for me to write them in.


Though a fully-functioning LFTR would be the ideal, I think you're correct about the difficulty of getting one developed, especially as the nuclear industry is dead set on building iterations of PWRs.

For this reason, I know that some proponents of MSRs are promoting other designs such as the Denatured Molten Salt Reactor. Some of the benefits of an LFTR (chiefly in lack of complexity in comparison to some of the other Gen IV reactors and inherent safety due to operation at atmospheric pressure), but using Uranium along with Thorium and with no attempt to reprocess the fuel.

The idea behind a DMSR is to reduce the cost and increase the safety. Would be a good idea from my viewpoint though, again, the current nuclear industry probably wouldn't be interested in getting on board.

I must say, I had originally hoped that the British government might have punted a billion or two on new reactor designs as some stimulus following the financial crisis in 2008 but, unfortunately, we ended up with incompetent Osbornomics instead. Nuclear certainly needs to be a big part of our energy mix but the current political classes have kicked the can so far down the road that we're reduced to throwing money at the Chinese and French to build and operate reactors for us at eye-watering costs.


Must disagree ... The rabid anti-nuclear movement were not even half-discredited in this country until at least half-way through the coalition guvmint. And they are still out there, screaming & moaning, every time anyone even mentions the word "nuclear" Oddly enough Osborne actually understands technical investment for the future - the first chancellor to do so for a very long time - oddly enough, because of his family firm's business ... he understands that, even in a Paint-&-Wallpapers company, you need state-of-the art presses & industrial chemists & that you can't just turn the tap off & on at random. But, the ship sailed sometime in the early 2000's - that was when we should have got back on to nuclear power. Now, we must catch up. I agree it's pathetic.


Molten-salt reactors are actually much more complex than light-water, heavy-water, fast spectrum and other commercial reactors being operated and built today. In their case the fuel stays still and coolant is circulated around it, boiling-kettle steam-engine simple. The coolant (gas, water, steam, sodium, whatever) doesn't pick up any contamination from waste isotopes in the jacketed fuel and at the end of each operating cycle the fuel pins containing all the waste materials produced are removed and stored to be buried or reprocessed after the short-halflife actinides have decayed. At end of life the reactor structures are only slightly radioactive from neutron activation and they can be dealt with by safe handling or by waiting a few decades for most of that radioactivity to decay away when it becomes a regular demolition operation. 99.999% of the dangerous waste a reactor produced during its operation is safely contained in the fuel pins.

In contrast molten salt reactors move a stream of liquid fuel mixed with fission isotope products at 700 degrees plus through piping and heat exchangers and an isotope-removal processing plant and then back through the core. It is mind-bogglingly radioactive throughout the entire path and operating over a period of decades radiochemistry and heat will contaminate the hundreds of tonnes of piping involved to an mindboggling level with waste isotopes. I've never seen a credible method of dealing with this mess described by the LFTR boosters. No rational nuclear regulatory organisation will issue a licence to construct and operate a reactor today without a detailed description of how such decommissioning will take place and how it will be funded.

Moving-fuel reactors have been tried, both MSRs and pebble-beds but only the pebble reactors have gone to commercial operation. The results have not been very good in terms of breakdowns and contamination -- the German THTR-300 pebble-bed reactor famously released a lot of contamination into the atmosphere a couple of days after Chernobyl blew its top and they still don't know how to decommission it given its broken state with fuel fragments all over the place inside.

The Chinese think they've got the bugs out of pebble-beds and fuel pellet construction and they are building a commercial prototype of a modular helium-cooled pebble-bed reactor at the moment. We'll see.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 4, 2015 11:22 AM.

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