Debate over future of nuclear power systems in space, Enformable, Karl Grossman 29 Jun 2015NASA has released a study claiming there is a need for continued use of plutonium-energized power systems for future space flights. It also says the use of actual nuclear reactors in space “has promise” but “currently” there is no need for them.
The space plutonium systems—called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGS)—use the heat from the decay of plutonium to generate electricity in contrast to nuclear reactors, usually using uranium, in which fission or atom-splitting takes place.
The “Nuclear Power Assessment Study” describes itself as being done as a “collaboration” involving “NASA centers,” among them Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “the Department of Energy and its laboratories including Los Alamos National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories,” and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
The study, released this month, comes as major breakthroughs have been happening in the use of solar and other benign sources of power in space. The situation parallels that on Earth as solar and wind power and other clean, safe technologies compete with nuclear, oil, coal and other problematic energy sources and the interests behind them. Examples of the use of benign power in space include the successful flight in May of a solar-powered spacecraft named LightSail in a mission funded by members of the Planetary Society. Astronomer Carl Sagan, a founder of the society, was among those who have postulating having a spacecraft with a sail propelled through the vacuum of space by the pressure of photons emitted by the sun. LightSail demonstrates his vision.
Yet, meanwhile, NASA cancelled its own solar sail mission scheduled for this year. Continue reading
‘Scorpion’ robot to help develop new robots that could go deeper into Fukushima nuclear reactor unit 2
Officials hope the robot can see the fuel in the pressure vessel in the middle of the reactor. The fuel hasn’t been located exactly and studied because of the high radiation levels.
The difficult work of decommissioning the Fukushima plant damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami will take decades. The scorpion robot is the second to enter a primary containment vessel, after “snake” robots were sent in April inside the worst-hit Unit 1. One of the two robots used in that reactor became stuck and had to be left behind, and neither was able to spot the melted fuel debris.
This time, the scorpion crawler, which is 54 centimeters (21 inches) long when it is extended, will enter through a duct designed as a passageway for fuel rods. Toshiba has no back up machine……….
Toshiba officials said they hope the robot can capture images of deeper areas of the vessel, though the primary focus is the platform area, so they can design suitable robots that can go deeper into the vessel……
The robot’s entry is just the beginning of the reactor investigation required before the most challenging task of removing the melted fuel.: http://phys.org/news/2015-06-small-robot-interior-fukushima-daiichi.html#jCp
Japan eases fuel rules for India nuclear deal, Japan Times KYODO, JUN 19, 2015 Japan has given in to India’s demand that it be allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from Japanese-made reactors, negotiation sources said, marking a major shift in Japan’s stance against proliferation.
India, a nuclear power that conducted its first weapons test in 1974 using reprocessed plutonium, has not joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Japan has been seeking measures to guarantee India will not divert extracted plutonium — which could be used to build nuclear weapons — for military use, but no agreement has been reached on the issue, the sources said Thursday…..http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/06/19/national/japan-eases-fuel-rules-for-india-nuclear-deal/#.VYSSFfmqpHw
Pentagon’s arms provider, and billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen in propaganda push for Small Nuclear Reactors
Planet Ark 16-Jun-15 USA Timothy Gardner The Pentagon’s top arms provider and firms partly funded by Silicon Valley billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen are among dozens of companies collectively betting more than $1.3 billion that a new wave of nuclear power can be a force to fight climate change.
Advanced nuclear power plants, which will employ techniques such as using fuels other than uranium and coolants other than water, have attracted private investments from more than 40 companies from Florida to Washington state, the Third Way think tank says in the first report specifying the number of firms and total money invested in the technologies……..
Companies expressing faith in advanced nuclear power range from Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon’s largest supplier, to Holtec International, which is building a $260 million technology campus in economically depressed Camden, New Jersey.
Gates has partially funded TerraPower, a company that aims to build reactors cooled by liquid metal, and Allen has partially funded TriAlpha, a company that plans to make nuclear fusion plants……
Critics of advanced nuclear say companies have yet to make small reactors economically viable despite decades of development by energy companies and the U.S. military. Advanced reactors using new fuels, such as thorium, and new cooling systems, such as molten salt, are also difficult to make economically viable, they say.
The nuclear industry has also been weakened by a political backlash following radioactive leaks at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011. And the U.S. natural gas boom has slashed the cost of that fuel, making it harder for nuclear power to compete.
The Third Way report was not funded by the nuclear industry. But the think tank has received financial support from The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s lobby group, and Babcock & Wilcox, a company hoping to build small nuclear reactors…….http://planetark.org/enviro-news/item/73313
Nuclear war on the Hill Fusion research splits the House and Senate. Why? Because, er… science. Politico.com , 12 June 15 By BOER DENG On a patch of land in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, in the South of France, cranes recently installed two massive electrical fixtures, industrial gray and 87 tons each — the first components of a plant that will house the world’s biggest scientific project.
If it succeeds, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, will turn hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, into virtually limitless clean energy. But success is far from assured, getting results will take years, and construction is behind schedule.
Now Congress has split on whether to continue supporting the enterprise at all. ……..Ambitious science projects frequently crash into funding rocks, and nuclear fusion is a particularly vexing problem for politicians. More than four decades have been spent trying to turn the reaction that fuels stars and H-bombs into a viable source of energy. Is it worth shelling out ever more on a very risky bet with a big potentialpayoff — a step towards securing the world’s, not to mention the country’s, energy future? Or is it yet another boondoggle science project recklessly spending taxpayer money?….
like many “big science” projects, it has a record of overrunning its cost estimates. ……
Plenty of physicists are skeptical of ITER, … “I was on the site and it’s appalling how little work has been done,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society. Some researchers have derided the Department of Energy’s most recent fusion strategy, which includes ITER, or have written to Congress to plead for pulling out of the experiment. The technology the reactor will use is too costly to be viable, they say, and the money would be better put toward research on alternative designs…..http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2015/06/nuclear-war-on-the-hill-000083
NASA Releases Space Nuclear Power Study, Federation of American Scientists, (FAS) Jun.04, 2015 NASA has released a long-awaited Nuclear Power Assessment Study that examines the prospects for the use of nuclear power in civilian space missions over the next 20 years.
The Study concludes that there is a continuing demand for radioisotope power systems, which have been used in deep space exploration for decades, but that there is no imminent requirement for a new fission reactor program.
The 177-page Study, prepared for NASA by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, had been completed several months ago but was withheld from public release due to unspecified “security concerns,” according to Space News. Those concerns may have involved the discussion of the proposed use of highly enriched uranium as fuel for a space reactor, or the handling of plutonium-238 for radioisotope power sources……
development of nuclear reactor technology for use in space has been dogged by a repeated series of false starts in which anticipated mission requirements failed to materialize.
“The United States has spent billions of dollars on space reactor programs, which have resulted in only one flight of an FPS [fission power source],” the new NASA report noted. That was the 1965 launch of the SNAP 10-A reactor on the SNAPSHOT mission. It had an electrical failure after a month’s operation and “it remains in a 1300-km altitude, ‘nuclear-safe’ orbit, although debris-shedding events of some level may have occurred,” the report said.
The development and use of space nuclear power raises potential environmental safety and public health issues. As a result, the NASA report said, “it may be prudent to build in more time in the development schedule for the first launch of a new space reactor. Public interest would likely be large, and it is possible that opposition could be substantial.”
In any case, specific presidential approval is required for the launch of a nuclear power source into space, pursuant to Presidential Directive 25 of 1977.
“For any U.S. space mission involving the use of RPS [radioisotope power sources], radioisotope heating units, nuclear reactors, or a major nuclear source, launch approval must be obtained from the Office of the President,” the report noted. http://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2015/06/nasa-npas/
Small reactors, in fact, date back to the earliest days of atomic power, and this long history shouldn’t
be overlooked as vendors tout new generations of the technology. As the history makes clear, small nuclear reactors would be neither as cheap nor as easy to build and operate as their modern proponents are claiming they would be.
nothing in the history of small nuclear reactors suggests that they would be more economical than full-size ones. In fact, the record is pretty clear: Without exception, small reactors cost too much for the little electricity they produced, the result of both their low output and their poor performance.
In the end, as an analyst for General Electric pronounced in 1966, “Nuclear power is a big-plant business: it is most competitive in the large plant sizes.” And if large nuclear reactors are not competitive, it is unlikely that small reactors will do any better. Worse, attempts to make them cheaper might end up exacerbating nuclear power’s other problems: production of long-lived radioactive waste, linkage with nuclear weapons, and the occasional catastrophic accident
The Forgotten History of Small Nuclear Reactors Economics killed small nuclear power plants in the past—and probably will keep doing so, The Spectrum, By M.V. Ramana 27 Apr 2015 A tantalizing proposition has taken hold again in the nuclear industry: that small nuclear reactors have economic and other advantages over the standard-size ones being built today. The idea is that by reducing the substantial financial risk of a full-scale nuclear project, small reactors are the best option for kick-starting a much-discussed revival of nuclear power. Continue reading
Star power: Troubled ITER nuclear fusion project seeks new path, Phys Org 23 May by Pascale Mollard “……Launched in 2006 after years of wrangling, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project is saddled with a reputation as a money pit.
It has been bedevilled by technical delays, labyrinthine decision-making and cost estimates that have soared from five billion euros ($5.56 billion) to around 15 billion. It may be another four years before it carries out its first experiment………
ITER’s job is to build a testbed to see if fusion, so far achieved in a handful of labs at great cost, is a realistic power source for the energy-hungry 21st Century.
Fusion entails forcing together the nuclei of light atomic elements in a super-heated plasma, held by powerful magnetic forces in a doughnut-shaped chamber called a tokamak, so that they make heavier elements and in so doing release energy.
The principle behind it is the opposite of nuclear fission—the atom-splitting process behind nuclear bombs and power stations, which carries the risk of costly accidents, theft of radioactive material and dealing with dangerous long-term waste…….
The tokamak—a word derived from Russian—by itself is an extraordinary undertaking: a 23,000-tonne lab, three times heavier than the Eiffel Tower.
“This is a project of unprecedented complexity… a real challenge,” said Mario Merola, in charge of ITER’s internal components division.
Part of ITER’s problems lie in a diffuse managerial structure and decision-making among its partners: the 28-nation European Union, which has a 45-percent stake, the United States, Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and Switzerland. he partners are providing their contributions mostly in kind, which has been a cause of messy, protracted debate about who should provide what, when and how. It has been further complicated by the role of national agencies, which in turn deal with their own suppliers.
In some cases, said Bigot, discussions have dragged on for six whole years without resolution……..By November, there will be a new progress report, with the likelihood of a further increase in the price tag. The project has no reserve fund to deal with the unexpected…..So far around seven billion euros have been contractually committed to the thousand or so companies working on the scheme. Every year of delay adds 200 million euros to the bill……”clearly if we can’t manage this project correctly, if undertakings are not kept… (the project) could be in danger.” http://phys.org/news/2015-05-star-power-iter-nuclear-fusion.html
Nuclear Reprocessing Pay more, risk more, get little,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 21 May 15 Hui Zhang“…… Lately, advocates for fast neutron reactors have been arguing that breeders and reprocessing can reduce the long-term hazards associated with burial of high-level waste. But these long-term benefits are offset by short-term risks and costs.
For example, breeder advocates argue that the risks surrounding leakage in geological repositories could be reduced if all the long-lived isotopes of plutonium and other transuranics contained in spent fuel were transmuted (or fissioned), thus significantly reducing the doses of radioactivity that could escape due to any leakage. But studies show that long-lived fission and activation products in spent fuel—not isotopes that could be fissioned through breeders and reprocessing—dominate the radioactivity doses that leakage could release.
Plutonium, in fact, is quite insoluble in deep underground water. So, reprocessing delivers no obvious long-term benefits in reducing leaked doses of radioactivity—but it does involve routine releases of long-lived radioactive gases from spent fuel. Reprocessing also increases the risk that tanks for high-level liquid waste might explode.
(In a similar vein, advocates for fast neutron reactors argue that reprocessing, by reducing the need to mine uranium, can reduce human radiation exposure. But any such benefit is canceled out because plutonium reprocessing and recycling themselves expose workers and the public to radiation. In short, the net effects may well be negative.)
Meanwhile, all reprocessing and fast neutron reactor programs currently under consideration significantly increase the economic costs of nuclear energy. This means that nuclear decision makers must choose between achieving rather insignificant reductions in the long-term hazards associated with nuclear waste—and achieving short-term gains in the areas of safety, security, human health, and the environment.
The choice seems rather clear-cut. The US National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1996, based on a review of the costs and benefits of reprocessing and fast neutron reactor programs, that “none of the dose reductions seem large enough to warrant the expense and additional operational risk of transmutation.” That assessment remains valid today…….http://thebulletin.org/reprocessing-poised-growth-or-deaths-door/pay-more-risk-more-get-little
A negative learning curve on steroids What to make of the EPR saga? Areva is backing the wrong horse − the outcome of current political debates will result in a declining role for nuclear power in France, coupled to the growth of renewables.
A new report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, concludes that a 100% renewable electricity supply scenario is feasible in France. The report estimates that the electricity production cost would be €119 per megawatt-hour in 2050 in the 100% renewables scenario, compared with a near-identical figure of €117/MWh with a mix of 50% nuclear, 40% renewables, and 10% fossil fuels.
Areva has also backed the wrong-sized wrong horse: a giant reactor with a giant price-tag. That said, the backers of ‘small modular reactors‘ are having no more success than Areva. And Areva isn’t having much luck with its mid-sized ATMEA pressurised water reactor………
The EPR saga shows that developing modified versions of conventional reactors (in this case pressurised water reactors) can be complicated and protracted and can end in failure. How much more difficult will it be to develop radically new types of reactors? The French government’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety has recently produced an important critique of Generation IV nuclear power concepts. It states that there “is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors” and it is sceptical about the safety claims made for Generation IV concepts.
Feeling the pressure: Bumbling nuclear’s negative learning curve Jim Green, 21 May 2015, Climate Spectator http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2015/5/21/energy-markets/feeling-pressure-bumbling-nuclears-negative-learning-curve
French state-owned nuclear giant Areva is offering to sell its ‘world leading’ nuclear technology to South Australia. The offer is being reported in the South Australian media without a hint of irony. A reality check is in order.
NuClear News May 15 The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) is a co-operative international endeavour which was set up to carry out the research and development needed to establish the feasibility and performance capabilities of the next generation nuclear reactors.
Six reactor types have been selected for further development. These include: the Gas-cooled Fast Reactor (GFR), the Leadcooled Fast Reactor (LFR), the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR), the Supercritical Water-cooled Reactor (SCWR), the Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor (SFR) and the Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR). (1)
The French Radiological Protection Agency (IRSN) has carried out a review of these systems from the point of view of safety and radiation protection. On the basis of its examination, IRSN considers the SFR system to be the only one of the six to have reached a degree of maturity compatible with the construction of a Generation IV reactor prototype during the first half of the 21st century.
Even then this will depend on further studies. (2) This is hardly a ringing endorsement, let alone anything like a quickly deployable climate solution – ie the SFR is the best possibility depending on further studies leading to a prototype before 2050!
DECC estimate in their 2013 Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap (3) that the first commercial Generation IV reactors should be operating by 2040. That is still years away considering the timescale for dealing with the climate change threat.
Yet pro-nuclear environmentalists still promote these new fast reactors as if they are just around the corner. (“It may take ten years for these reactors to prove their potential” according to Kirsty Gogan writing in Nuclear Engineering International.)(4) http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo74.pdf
Crisis for Areva’s La Hague plant as clients shun nuclear, News Daily May 6, 2015 EMMANUEL JARRY FOR REUTERS BEAUMONT-HAGUE, France – Areva’s nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in La Hague needs to cut costs as its international customers disappear following the Fukushima disaster, and its sole remaining big customer, fellow state-owned French utility EDF, pressures it to cut prices.
Located at the westernmost tip of Normandy, La Hague reprocesses spent nuclear fuel for reuse in nuclear reactors and is a key part in Areva’s production chain, which spans uranium mining to fuel recycling.
Its valuation and outlook are crucial for the troubled French nuclear group, which is racing to find an equity parter after four years of losses have virtually wiped out its capital……….
One of the world’s biggest nuclear waste storage facilities, La Hague’s four pools hold the equivalent of about 50 reactor cores under four meters of water.
Protected by 1.5 meter thick anti-radiation concrete walls, employees in space suits cut up spent nuclear fuel rods, extract uranium and about one percent of plutonium, and melt the remaining waste into glass for eventual deep storage.
Areva says reprocessing reduces natural uranium needs by 25 percent but opponents say that separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel increases the risk of nuclear proliferation.
The United States does not reprocess its nuclear fuel, but Britain has a large reprocessing plant in Sellafield. A planned recycling plant in Rokkasho, Japan – modeled on La Hague – has been plagued by problems and is years behind schedule.
Since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Areva’s reprocessing unit has lost nearly all of its international customers.
The company’s “back-end” sales – which include reprocessing, logistics and decommissioning – have fallen to 1.53 billion euros in 2014, 18 percent of Areva’s turnover, from 2 billion euros, 30 percent of nuclear revenue, in 2004.
In the past decades, more than 32,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel has been reprocessed at La Hague, of which nearly 70 percent for EDF, 17 percent for German utilities, nine percent for Japanese utilities and the rest for Swiss, Belgian, Dutch and Italian clients.
This year, La Hague expects to treat 1,205 tonnes of spent fuel, of which just 25 tonnes will come from abroad. That leaves Areva with EDF virtually as its sole customer, and although both firms are state-owned – Areva 87 percent, EDF 85 percent – EDF has played hardball in contract negotiations.
La Hague extracts plutonium from used nuclear fuel, which it then sends to Areva’s Melox plant in southeast France, which produces MOX fuel – a mixture of plutonium and spent uranium – for 22 (soon 24) of EDF’s 58 reactors.
The arrival of new management at both companies since the start of the year has ended years of hostility between France’s two nuclear champions, but a 6.5 billion euro contract to treat and recycle 1,100 tonnes per year of EDF’s spent fuel for the 2013-2020 period has still not been signed…………http://newsdaily.com/2015/05/crisis-for-arevas-la-hague-plant-as-clients-shun-nuclear/
successfully developing deep-hole disposal techniques would be a great development for society
it could be devastating for next-generation nuclear developers attempting to utilize existing used nuclear fuel stockpiles
Why Sending Nuclear Waste to the Center of the Earth is Bad News for General Electric,Motley Fool By Maxx Chatsko April 30, 2015 “………the U.S. Department of Energy is set to experiment with a technique to dispose of nuclear wastes by drilling 3-mile boreholes into the Earth’s crust and then, well, dropping radioactive materials into their geological tombs. For good
………Fergus Gibb, the technique’s pioneer, told The Engineer that each bore hole, measuring roughly 3 miles deep and 2 feet wide, would cost just a few tens of millions of dollars to drill. …
Future Of Nuclear Industry Takes Yet Another Hit http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Nuclear-Power/Future-Of-Nuclear-Industry-Takes-Yet-Another-Hit.html By Charles Kennedy, 28 April 2015
Despite the rough patch that the nuclear industry has experienced in recent years, its future remains bright, the industry insists. That is because the next generation of nuclear reactors will provide significant safety and economic benefits over current reactors.
But what if the new designs are actually not all that much better than the current fleet?
That is the provocative conclusion that France’s nuclear watchdog came to in a new report. Published on April 27, the IRSN said that the so-called “generation IV” reactors of the future may not be able to offer major upgrades in safety (most of the reactors running today are generation II – built in the 1960’s and 1970’s – and the newer designs that are currently under construction today are considered to be generation III).
The IRSN report reviewed six of the most promising generation IV reactor designs: sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFR); very high-temperature reactors (VHTR); gas-cooled fast reactors (GFR); lead-cooled fast reactors (LFR); molten salt reactors (MSR); and SuperCritical water reactors (SCWR).
Out of all of those, ISRN found that only the sodium-cooled fast reactor is close enough to maturity. SFRs have been trumpeted as an exciting concept – they can burn nuclear waste, reducing the need to build long-term spent fuel storage.
But after looking into the technology ISRN says it’s hard to say whether or not SFRs would be better. “While it seems possible for SFR technology to guarantee a safety level at least equivalent” to generation III reactors, “IRSN is unable to determine whether it could significantly exceed this level,” the report concluded. That is because liquid sodium can explode if exposed to water. IRSN also questioned the extent to which SFRs could actually burn through dangerous nuclear waste.
The report amounts to a big rebuke for generation IV reactors, the first significant criticism of a nuclear dream that has been hailed as the key to solving energy and climate change challenges.
However, ISRN also ultimately said that the devil will be in the details. The reactor designs could solve some of their drawbacks as the specifics are fleshed out. But unless generation IV designs can prove to be much safer than generation III designs, the nuclear renaissance may not be as bright as many had hoped.
LePage’s plan to negate rule on nuclear power plants could be radioactive. Observers wonder why his attention to the issue begins with an attempt to disempower Maine voters. 26 Apr. BY BILL NEMITZ COLUMNIST email@example.com | @BillNemitz Consider yourselves warned, fellow citizens. Gov. Paul LePage is fiddling around with Maine’s nuclear hot button.
“We anticipated this might provoke a conversation,” noted Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, in an interview on Friday.
Under LePage’s new plan, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday at 1 p.m. before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, voters would no longer have a say on the creation of nuclear power plants with generating capacities of 500 megawatts or less.
(Just so you know, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant’s Unit 1 reactor – one of three destroyed by Japan’s apocalyptic tsunami in 2011 – had a generating capacity of 460 megawatts.)
Let’s back up a little.
Considering the complexity and controversy bound to greet any talk of dusting off nuclear generation in Maine, why start with a bill that effectively tells voters they’re being cut out of the process?
Or, as longtime anti-nuclear activist Ray Shadis of Edgecomb put it on Friday, “You don’t start a conversation by throwing a hand grenade in the room.”
Shadis, who currently represents the lone remaining intervenor in the proposed relicensing of New Hampshire’s Seabrook nuclear plant, sees this week’s hearing as “the kind of rudeness we’ve come to expect from Gov. LePage.”
He also thinks the governor is dreaming if he thinks small modular reactors – the brainchildren of a new generation of nuclear engineers working mostly out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – can attract the investment capital needed to put them on the energy radar here in Maine or anywhere else, for that matter.
“The most rabid anti-nuclear crowd are the investors in the market,” Shadis noted. “It takes a long time to realize any return at all. And the entirety of what you invest can turn from an asset to a liability overnight. Why bother risking your money? So they don’t.”
Thus, he said, LePage’s bill at best “is impractical, it’s silly. Out there in the energy world, where people are really trading on this stuff, it will make Maine the laughingstock. It will make us look like patsies.”
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