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21 comments

Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

Posted January 21, 2009 8:18 AM

The U.S. should go straight ahead and develop a new generation of nuclear power plants. France and Japan both rely heavily on the technology and have shown rational ways to incinerate and store the tiny amounts of radioactive ash that comes from the process. Plus, nuclear plants running at night could use their energy to produce hydrogen, which is clean fuel for automobiles. Standard designs would speed up the approval process. We could have new plants in 5 to 10 years, instead of 10 to 20.

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#1

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/21/2009 12:28 PM

Yeah!

Also, the US should look at some used nuclear fuel recycling!

Power Magazine has some great info on the technology available and why it is not being used today. Check it out!

http://www.powermag.com/issues/features/How-to-solve-the-used-nuclear-fuel-storage-problem_1388.html

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#8
In reply to #1

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 12:21 PM

I've thought that should be done since the first time I learned that so-called nuclear fuel "waste" could be used in a different style reactor as fuel. Anything less is foolish behavior. We don't burn the best 5% of the crude oil and discard the rest do we?

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#10
In reply to #8

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 4:45 PM

Hi,

the first reactor to be able to burn much more of the fuel in the rods is the above mentioned from AECL (and also its forerunners CANDU).

This longer and more use of fuel is including a large fraction of the "waste" as most of this "waste" is fissionable material.

This can be used only in reactor with high excess reactivity, possible only if either higher enrichment in fuel or heavy water in moderation is used.

Higher enrichment is very expensive (not the uranium but the enrichment is setting the price-tag!)

So the solution of AECL: use a little bit of heavy water - directly surrounding the fuel rods for moderation. Enclose this in a tube and let this tube be immersed in ordinary water. This is the elegant concept of a heavy water moderated and light water cooled reactor.

This is much safer than any other concept as at loss of coolant or at rupture of heavy-water to light-water tube there will be no accident nor the necessity to a fast interaction. At loss of light water (cooling) there would be rupture of heavy water tubing thus reducing reactivity and shutting down the reactor.

Emergency cooling (for some minutes) necessary as in any reactor-type to remove the prompt (high intensity) after-heat to prevent melting of fuel-rods.

But: the world seems to stick to its own inventions: US to US companies, Europe to European companies, ... Sad reality but result of lobbying.

Everybody should argue to improve this situation.

RHABE

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#2

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 2:12 AM

Hi,

the following is from www.aecl.ca

they have near ready one of these advanced reactors, incorporating significant better use of fuel and much less waste:

overview is on: http://www.aecl.ca/Assets/Publications/ACR1000-Tech-Summary.pdf

I am not linked nor attached to any of these Nuclear companies but I try to stay independent and judge so.

French and German companies are cooperating since some years to develop one of the next generation reactors. German government has decided to get rid of all nuclear power! As the electrical power grid is integrated from Norway to Sicily they just buy - they did not consider that this may be a bad approach. Green fundamentalism!

RHABE

ACR-1000 Design Simplification

  • Light water coolant allows elimination of systems for coolant heavy water cleanup and recovery; and simplifies containment atmosphere cleanup systems.
  • Stable reactor physics characteristics allow simpler control mechanism design (eliminating adjustor rods and liquid zone controller mechanisms).
  • Simpler arrangements to set up "Guaranteed Shutdown State" (GSS) used in Maintenance outages.
  • Light water coolant enables simpler connection with Emergency Core Coolant (ECC) System—replaces 16 large motor-operated, safety-qualified injection valves with passive check valves and simplifies coolant system/ECC system interface components.
  • Quadrant-based safety and heat sink system layout design, with additional redundancy in actuating signals, simplifies on-power maintenance and testing.
  • More durable feeder materials and robust design margins for fuel channels simplify inspections.
  • Computerized testing of major safety systems and automatic calibration of in-core detectors control signals reduce both online testing and startup testing time.
  • Fuelling machines improved to speed up de-fuelling of fuel channels for pressure tube in-service inspection.
  • Ventilation systems allow main airlock doors to be open during an outage, thus allowing much faster movement of personnel, without risk of airborne contamination spread.
  • Maintenance-based design provides required space allocation, reduction in temporary scaffolds and hoists; provisions for electrical, water and air supplies built-in for on-power and normal shutdown maintenance.
  • Containment dousing system eliminated.
  • Reduced number of trip parameters.
  • Reduced number of sensors due to (permitted) sharing between systems


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#3

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 6:22 AM

Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen because the current administration is in the stranglehold of the new terrorism, environmental evangelicalism. The Environment has become the new god and a new theology has given birth to a new religion to replace Christianity. Our atheist brothers and sisters of the late 60', 70's & 80's have become the high priests of the mindlessness foisted upon us by a completely dysfunctional educational system. Their "education" has fomented a distaste and hate of science caused by their ignorance thereof. Don't you know science is hard. It much easier to obtain a degree in "communication" or "business" and other fluff courses.

Hope springs eternal, but you're dreaming if you think the Obama administration is going to rebuff the trend of the envioro-whack-jobs. He is just as ignorant of technology as his star struck mob.

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 7:28 AM

I agree. Rumor has it that the off-shore drilling laws are to be revoked by the White House.

http://in.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idINWBT01046020090121

There is little reason to expect anything different with this administration on any other form of energy technologies that have substance. I don't believe this is strictly an environmental driver that is doing this, but that's another story.

However, on that note, a standard nuclear design would help somewhat, but the bulk of the road blocks for nuclear plants (and other energy generating plants) are not Federal regulations, but the huge number of private law suits by different organizations committed to saving the environment.

Those suits may be technically wrong, but it takes years and years to vet them all out.

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 9:31 AM

Smile people....Westinghouse is already building "seven" plants, last time I heard. They are braking ground this year with two plants in South Carolina US. The NRC has approved ( insert big number here) for others to follow. The old school of thought was ten year build times. I believe less than five using the new moduler design. Remember, even with five year build times, it would take twenty years to meet the demand for electricity. Electric cars will become a reality once we produce clean electricity using Nuclear. But before then, COAL...........................

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#4

Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 6:26 AM

Yugoslavia, before its civil war, was considered itself a stable and safe country. They had their own nuclear programs and reactors mainly for research purpose ( as far as I know). When civil war happened, there were a lot of risk of PERMAMENT GLOBAL contamination that will last for 100,000 years. I dont know what is the situation right now, but I know that that responsible government is gone....and there is at least minor contamination done....not to mention waste waiting there...

See....http://cns.miis.edu/npr/pdfs/koch43.pdf

Who is going to clean up (eh...deal with that waste in person)..... me?...no way....you...I dont think so.

ANY TECHNOLOGY, THAT IS NOT SAVE TO HUMANITY AND ENVIRONMENT ON ITS OWN AND WHEN NOT BEING IN USE, IS NOT A SOLUTION TO OUR PROBLEM...END PERIOD.

Countries whos engineers emphisice nuclear technology failed to see that there is a better alternative. Those countries are not problem solvers. The are problem makers for the long run.

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 11:12 AM

Please, enlight us with a better alternative that is technologically viable.

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#9

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 4:25 PM

There is a compelling need for electrical power now...Utilizing current generating capacity from all sources via an integrated,functional grid,wherein power produced doesn't have to be dumped regularly into a revolving web would help as would conservation at all levels,particularly night lighting..An article in to-days nature mentions that ecologists and astronomers both have reason to subdue man made lighting..Looking at satellitte images of the Globe both Europe and North American metropolitan areas appear to be afraid of the dark...Living in the country with the light from the urban area casting a pinkish curtain over the horizon to the east i can say with certainty that night lighting is necessary to "see"where i am going,at least at this latitude and longitude,perhaps 30% of the time.The human eye adapts to low light levels very well...I would be interested in any estimates re power required to light up urban nights say in North America ...Something tells me it is equivalent to quite a few modest sized electrical power generating plants..LED lighting may prove sufficient in most settings and will have a moderate influence on the need to build a lot of new plants....Overall the thought of more nuclear facilities makes sense from a number of directions...Preserves fossil fuels which are hard to replace without impacting the human food/fibre chain...Involves some of the highest levels of humanities creative thought...Is virtually limitless...and as mentioned in one of the comments a good power source to produce hydrogen and perhaps give us a source for magneto levitation highway systems ...The future is in abundant clean power..The key is abundant....Marty W

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#11
In reply to #9

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/22/2009 5:36 PM

Martywolf

I agree with you hundred percent.

Conservation is the best way while waiting for better technologies. We could rapidly reduce our demand for energy simply by being more careful, by adding some insulation in our house, changed those old single pane windows, and not keep our houses and stores at frigid temperature in the summer... As you said, turning the lights off at night would have many benefits.

We are talking about gigawatts of energy being wasted. Enough to shut down a few old coal thermal stations.

Yes, oil would be better used to make fertilizer or plastic then to burn it and produce CO2.

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#12

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/23/2009 3:35 PM

What is the use of new technology when companies cut on maintenance costs which results in dangerous practices. No nuclear plant is safe because of company greed and management/worker stupidity. Take the case of Japanese workers moving yellow cake in "buckets" because equipment had broken down. This caused a reaction that killed some and required testing of nearby village and surrounding for radiation. This could have been a lot worse and these same factors of neglect and stupidity are most likely the cause of past melt downs. New technology is great providing nothing can go wrong and no stupid people will ever be involved in the day to day running of the plant. Guaranty these factors will never be an issue and I will go along with nuclear power plants being great. However if these must be factored in, I don't want a potenial nuclear bomb within a million miles of me. When these same "human" factors are applied to nuclear waste it has already been shown that many sites all over the world have already been contaminated through dumping radioactive waste by companies who did not think about their cheapskate dumping practices.

If there was no alternative to nuclear power it maybe worth the risk. However, every engineer knows there are many cleaner alternatives, so no "engineer" should be pushing high risk technology simply for efficiency. This just proves my point, human risk factors are high even among "engineers".

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/23/2009 4:34 PM

I guess I need some references to the yellow cake causing death. Had some friends who worked in the stuff when young and are older than me.

Brad

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#14
In reply to #12

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/23/2009 5:25 PM

Guest

I don't want a potential nuclear bomb within a million miles of me.

Sorry but you already have tons of real nuclear bombs within a few hundred miles from you. And a few are pointed right at you.

Do you trust the military commanders with those toys? What are the chances of accidents from ogives made to explode compared with reactors made to cool down in malfunction?

Keep your list of threat in perspective.

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#15

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/24/2009 1:40 AM

While I generally agree that nuclear power is a pretty good solution compared to coal and oil burners, there are a few issues which are mentioned in the above posts that I would like to comment on before I get to my own main point.

First of all is the issue of safety. The US Navy has a just about perfect nuclear safety record. Why not simply require all nuclear power plants be operated by US Navy nuclear veterans, or perhaps create a program in cooperation with the US Navy to train nuclear workers, and make it as tough to graduate from as it is for a sailor? This would solve many problems.

I absolutely agree with the recycling of nuclear fuel through the use of new and innovative reactor designs (providing of course that the reactor designs are reasonably well tested on a small scale before being built on a commercial scale, and operated by men and women thoroughly well trained in the technology). One interesting point however about nuclear waste, which was made by Robert Heinlein more than 20 years ago. The simplest way to deal with nuclear waste is to cast it into concrete and pile it in some useless corner of a desert somewhere, like say, Edwards AFB. Post signs all around it to warn off casual wanderers and a fence to keep out the critters, and the rest pretty much takes care of itself. Any fool who thinks he's gong to steal the stuff won't live very long. And if we are seriously worried about it, it'd be pretty simple to keep it under real-time surveillance. Besides, how do we know what will be considered "waste" in 20 years?

Conservation, heck yeah! LED street lamps are a fabulous place to start for all the reasons already mentioned. Besides, astronomers amateur and professional would be absolutely thrilled. LEDs put out a very monochromatic light, which is very easily filtered out, making serious work possible even within a city. Plus of course, LEDs use a fraction of the power that more conventional lights use. Now there would be a great place for the new administration and environmentally crazy congress to send some of those stimulus dollars. And it is going to have to make bottom-line sense to Mr. Scrooge before he's going to switch over from incandescent, mercury-vapor, florescent and what not to LEDs.

Now, let us be completely realistic about this. This country runs on electricity. It runs our industrial plant, or homes, our farms and our laboratories. Even if we cut our total electrical requirements in half by a massive switchover to LED lighting, we still need one heck of a lot of electricity. So much so that so called green technologies like solar, wind, tide, etc, are unlikely to be able to take up the slack. Plus, many of the existing coal and oil burners are approaching the ends of their useful lives. Nuclear is probably the only relatively clean, near-term technology available to us that can realistically provide the necessary output.

Which brings me to my main point. There is one near term technology that is absolutely pollution free and more than capable of supplying all of our electrical power needs indefinitely. Plus, it's pretty likely even the environmental wacko movement would go for it. That technology is space-based solar.

Consider. Up at geosynchronous orbit, solar energy is streaming by at a rate of about 1.6kw/m2, and it is never interrupted by sunset or weather. Here at the surface, the very best we are ever going to hope for is less than a fourth of that, and that only when the sun is actually above the horizon and not blocked by clouds. The problems of how to build these power plants and how to get the power down here are well understood and easily solved. For a reasonable fraction of the "stimulus" monies under discussion in congress, we could easily put up all the power generation capability we could ever need. Plus, there is another, absolutely massive payoff included in the package.

Consider this. NASA, which would obviously be spearheading such a project, is the only government agency that has ever paid for itself. Look around you. Everywhere you look are technologies that were created through research paid for by our space program. If NASA had the patents on everything it's research dollars had ever paid to discover and create, it would be the single most powerful industrial concern on the planet.

The spin-offs that would come from this kind of a project are absolutely staggering. We are talking about the creation of whole new industries, new research possibilities, new technologies, the true opening of the final frontier, the creation of new wealth on a scale that dwarfs anything we've ever seen before. The possibilities are beyond imagination.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/24/2009 5:31 PM

"is to cast it into concrete and pile it"

Hi DrMoose,

I agree to most of your statements, but concrete is porous and readily leached by occasional rain.

More suitable would be to make a tough ceramic from this waste (necessary to dilute but not a problem). Maybe reprocessing will be useful in some years so accessibility would be a good idea.

Concerning Edwards or other desert AFBs: I do not estimate the climate for the next 200,000 years, but may be some very wet times to come, may be abandoned AFBs and nobody knows any longer about the material, and, and , and.

So if the next generation reactors are efficient (that have "only" 10,000 years necessary storage time to let the radioactivity decay to an acceptable level) I would agree that a storage like a pile of rocks maybe suitable. But 200 Kyears is a bit too longtime.

So I would suggest to deposit the used fuel elements - untouched after unloading - we do not need Pu extraction any more! Your argument that any attempts to steal may immediately harm the intruders is convincing if additional measure are implemented to do more harm than the slow acting radioactivity does. In the first years the radioactivity will kill anybody nearby within hours but after some time?

So if we pile the elements that are used "to exhaustion" today, we can reprocess these as soon as the next generation reactor is existing: the demands on fissionable elements will be much relieved, so anything we consider today to be waste will be precious material in a few years. Precious because enrichment is not necessary, enrichment is the biggest contribution to fuel price!

Solar farming in big satellites? What is price the estimate for 1 square mile reflector-area in space, including the steering mechanism that the reflected beam will hit the ground-based steam generator and not the next city? (Will yield near 1 GW electrical power).

So subdivision into 100 to 10,000 units will be necessary. I would like a planning for this. But at 50K$/Kg transportation cost I fear not too realistic.

RHABE

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/24/2009 10:26 PM

I admit to not being a nuclear physicist or worker. I therefore see no real argument to your thoughts on that issue. I simply think that rational solutions rather than hysteria must prevail.

Regarding the space based solar power idea which I am proposing, the first issue does seem to be lift cost, doesn't it? However, what if we build these things in orbit from materials scraped from the lunar crust? We use a electromagnetic catapult to launch the raw materiels up to our geosync construction site, where we use the plentiful solar energy to process it, fabricate components, etc. Using such a bootstrap technique would reduce the total cost tremendously and create whole new industries in the process.

This entire concept was spelled out by Dr. G. K. O'Neill at Princeton some 30 years ago. He wrote a very readable book on the subject called "The High Frontier", which is now in it's third edition. Well worth reading if the idea fires your imagination as it does mine.

As to turning all that raw sunlight into usable power, there are any number of workable possibilities. Photo-voltaic power cells, thermoelectric effect, even relatively conventional turbo-generators using solar energy to provide the heat. Just to name a few. Getting the power to the ground could be easily done using microwave transmission, lasers, or even eventually cables that are part of a beanstalk space elevator.

I am not real crazy about the idea of diverting raw sunlight down to the surface. The light pollution alone strikes me as a Bad Thing, and probably something that would stir up the environmental wackos. Though I do have to admit that it is the simplest way possible of going about the thing.

Please also consider this. The benefits of such a project reach far beyond simply providing for our electrical power needs. It can be reasonably argued that the prosperity of the 1960s here in the U.S. may be directly traced to our national commitment to place a man on the moon before decades end. This effort created whole new industries and tens of thousands of jobs, which generated hundreds of thousands more jobs to support them. Plus the new discoveries and technologies impacted everything from making tires to advancing medicine. A major new space program could be fully expected to have the exact same effect now, short circuiting this economic downturn and rippling across the economy of the entire world.

Furthermore, the research possibilities or staggering. Since the dawn of science, we have had a single world-model to base all of our discoveries upon. We live and conduct our researches at the bottom of a 9.81m/s2 gravity well in a thick atmosphere and a powerful magnetic field. Imagine the possibilities if we could work in flat space, with all of these parameters totally controllable? It's worth adding that the industrial possibilities of free fall and hard vacuum are pretty amazing also.

Finally, there is one, far more important benefit to consider. The U.S. space program of the 1960s was the single most uplifting event in human history in millennia. This kind of renewed space program would have the same effect. To be able to look up into the sky and know that ordinary people are living and working up there, and that any one of us could go too. Now that is an uplifting thought.

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/25/2009 2:58 PM

Hi,

same situation: all I know about nuclear is from reading, talking and thinking.

A friend organised the ICENES 2007 conference on emerging nuclear reactors, so I could get some insights.

I like the concept of a satellite to capture solar energy!

But geostationary will need a beam down to earth that has maximum 1 (?2)Km diameter, which is not really easy at 300Km high orbit (allowable deformation of mirror), This is much more difficult in a geostationary orbit.

I was a supporter of the microwave transmission but the extra cost for conversion and transmission and the large antenna will not allow this approach.

With 0,4 to 0,7┬Ám optical wavelengths and cm to mm in microwave transmission there will be a huge problem with antenna side-lobes (and backside too) in a microwave antenna and there will be an even bigger problem with a 1GW microwave amplifier, waveguide, switch and transmit to antenna circuitry.

So let us stay with low orbit optical transmission - this has enough problems.

Laser is not an option as loss is tremendous.

Sunlight to power:

photo-voltaic: no, 15% yield?

thermoelectric: no, below 1%??

turbo-generators (steam?) yes, but on earth.

cables: no, never. (If possible then NASA and ESA and...would use it.)

Light pollution will be not too bad if focusing is good and if the power station is surrounded by a high wall or mountain or on the sea.

I do see the benefits of such a program as you. Would be a gold-rush.

RHABE

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#19
In reply to #18

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/25/2009 3:29 PM

One small point. Carbon nanotubes, which are the likeliest candidate material for a skyhook, or space elevator, are in some configurations, superior to silver as electrical conductors. Also, superconductor research is ongoing.

Now a skyhook is without a doubt the best, cheapest way possible to get off-planet. It might not be really quick, but the cost per kg to geosync would be almost trivial. And I suppose it is obvious that once a space based industrial plant becomes established, a series of these would be needed to meet the requisite carrying capacity.

Furthermore, it seems rather obvious that the actual mechanisms of lifting and returning payloads would be electrical in nature, probably linear electric motors or something similar. Which means that a skyhook would require built-in electrical carrying capacity just to do it's job. So, why not design them to also carry current from nearby solar power satellites to the surface?

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#20
In reply to #15

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

01/26/2009 8:28 AM

"One interesting point however about nuclear waste, which was made by Robert Heinlein more than 20 years ago."

From the "for what it's worth" dept., actually, I think it was Dr. Jerry Pournelle who made that comment.

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#21

Re: Full Speed Ahead on Nuclear

02/15/2009 1:40 PM

I'm not much for more Nuclear thinking there is evidence we could build and integrate solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power systems if we really wanted to. I don't think Nuclear is going away though. In light of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island some fear and respect for it is not unreasonable./ Seems to be some flaw in direction to say that because Coal is dirty, we need Nuclear to me./ /As far as beaming down power, I thought there was a danger of putting holes in the Ozone layer due to ionization when microwaves were used. Carbon nanotubes for the Space Elevator seem a bit off in the future. /My overall recommendation is that we do with what we have now, to the best of our ability, as safely as possible, and hope for the best.

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