The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Exploring molten cores of Fukushima nuclear reactors by means of cosmic ray particles

Cosmic Ray Particles Will Reveal the Molten Hearts of Fukushima Daiichi’s Reactors By Eliza Strickland 13 Feb 2015 In the radioactive ruins of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, engineers are testing a new sensor technology. The goal is to see through layers of steel and concrete to determine the location of nuclear fuel at the hearts of three melted-down reactors.

The sensor technology makes use of muons, subatomic particles generated when cosmic rays collide with molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere. About 10,000 muons reach every square meter of our planet each minute, and they whiz through most substances largely unimpeded. However, their progress can be blocked by heavy elements like uranium and plutonium.

Based on this discrepancy, several research teams around the world are developing systems that use muons the same way your dentist uses x-rays. By placing muon detectors near a Fukushima reactor building and determining where the particles’ progress is being blocked, researchers can produce a map of the globs of melted uranium fuel inside the reactor.

There’s a critical need for such maps. The 40-year decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is well underway: Robots are busily surveying and decontaminating the shattered reactor buildings, and workers are removing spent fuel rods from pools. But the hardest step is yet to come. Someday, TEPCO workers will have to remove the melted nuclear fuel that glooped at the bottom of the three reactors’ pressure vessels, leaked through fissures and weak spots, and pooled in unknown nooks and crannies.

Before TEPCO can remove this highly radioactive fuel, the company must first figure out its exact location inside the melted-down reactors. That’s a big challenge, as it will be many years before robots or heavily protected humans are able to remove the tops of the reactor vessels to drop down radiation-shielded cameras. What’s more, those cameras still won’t be able to locate the fuel that seeped out through the bottoms of the presure vessels.

That’s where the muons come in. TEPCO is first testing a system developed by Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, putting the device near the heavily damaged Reactor 1. This system uses a “muon permeation” method; essentially just determining where muons are blocked in their progress by uranium. According to an email from TEPCO, this first test is just to serve as a proof of principle, and won’t produce detailed maps of the melted fuel’s location.

Another system is under development by the U.S. company Decision Sciences, using a “muon scattering” method invented at Los Alamos National Lab in the early 2000s. This method places muon detectors on two sides of an object of interest, and tracks the trajectory of muons as they enter and leave the object. Because some muons interact with uranium nuclei and ping away in new directions, mapping this scattering can create a more precise map of a uranium blob’s location and contours.  Toshiba, a contractor for TEPCO, has enlisted Decision Sciences to develop its system for Fukushima Daiichi. That device will be tested later this year at Reactor 2.

February 14, 2015 Posted by | Fukushima 2015, Reference, technology | Leave a comment

Nuclear fusion – far too costly, even if they could get it to work

nuclear-fusion-pie-SmEven If Lockheed Has Made a Breakthrough in Fusion Power, the Hard Part Will Be the Economics Lockheed-Martin has just confirmed that it is among the private firms—the rest generally much smaller—that are pursuing various innovative designs for nuclear fusion reactors.  Some of these innovations may prove technically feasible. All will be very challenging: if we can do controlled fusion, it will be arguably the most difficult engineering humans have ever done.

However, even for technologists as skilled and innovative as those of the Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works, who have developed many not-quite-impossible aircraft (among other things), making a working, net-energy-producing fusion reactor will be the easy part. The hard part will be making it cheap enough to have a business case. That’s really hard because the required cost may have to be well below zero.
In a recent Forbes blog at, I explained why large-scale fusion reactors will very probably be uncompetitive even if the fusion-reactor part of the power station were free—which it assuredly will not be. The proposed Lockheed design is about a tenth the size of modern fission or fossil-fueled power plants, but that may well worsen the economics further.
Lockheed needs to be sure it’s got the right bogey. Central thermal power plants—nuclear fission, gas-combined-cycle, coal-fired—are not the technology to beat. All of them are uneconomic on the margin. The competitors to beat are, in order of increasing market price today, end-use efficiency at 1–3¢/kWh delivered (or less); windpower at under 4¢/kWh unsubsidized; solar power at under 7¢/kWh unsubsidized (or under 8¢/kWh delivered); and cogeneration at roughly 2–5¢/kWh delivered, net of credit for its recovered and reused heat.  (“Delivered” is an important advantage because delivering the average kWh from a central power station to retail meters adds costs and losses averaging around 4.3¢/kWh.) It is really hard to imagine that any new kind of generating technology based on a steam cycle could beat these empirical prices.

January 19, 2015 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

Robot technology for Fukushima nuclear clean-up operations

British robot maps radiation at Fukushima, Tanya Powley, Manufacturing Correspondent , 18 Jan 15  A robot developed by a UK start-up is helping to locate hazardous radiation sources at the scene of the Fukushima disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Createc, a small imaging company based in Cumbria, has developed camera technology called N-Visage for robots that can detect and draw a 3D map of high radiation locations that are too contaminated for human workers……..

Nuclear companies are turning to robotics as they look to deliver safer, faster and more cost-effective solutions for the £250bn worth of global nuclear decommissioning that is forecast to take place by 2030.

Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, which is leading the clean-up at Fukushima, deployed Createc’s N-Visage camera technology in stair-climbing robots to reach inaccessible areas deep inside the nuclear site. Fukushima was badly damaged by a tsunami in March 2011.

money-in-wastes-2N-Visage is the only technology that has the right weight, speediness and capability for high radiation, said a spokesman for International Nuclear Services Japan. “N-Visage is very likely to be deployed not necessarily only at Fukushima but also at other nuclear facilities in Japan,” he said.

The N-Visage technology was first used at Britain’s Sellafield, western Europe’s largest nuclear waste site.

Operators at Fukushima are now using the N-Visage technology to understand where radioactive material is coming from inside damaged reactors and help plan clean-up strategies…….

Sylvain Du Tremblay, chief technical and engineering officer at Sellafield, believes the adoption of N-Visage at Fukushima shows the UK can lead in robotics technology for the nuclear industry. “We are using Sellafield facilities that are waiting to be dismantled to test and validate new technologies,” he said.

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Fukushima 2015, technology | Leave a comment

Why won’t thorium nuclear power work? It’s the economics, stupid!

Thorium-dreamJanuary 16, 2015,  Jortiz3
Contrary to popular belief, the reason light-enriched-uranium reactors are used, and not thorium or breeder reactors, is due to simple economics. To run breeder reactors and thorium reactors, the neutron density and heat density must be so great that high-temperature coolants must be used throughout the core.

The systems used to manage these coolants are as exotic as the coolants are. This leads to increased costs, on the order of 20%. This 20% is enough that utilities simply choose light-enriched-uranium so that the reactor core can be cool enough that cooling with water is possible and savings can offset the cost of mining the ridiculous quantities of natural uranium required.

January 17, 2015 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment

 Lobbyists try to build a head of steam for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

 Small-modular-reactor-dudnuClear News, UK, Jan 2015 “…….Nuclear lobbyists have continued to try to build a head of steam behind Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the UK.
In NuClear News No.68 November 2014  we reported that Jim Green of FoE Australia had described this pro-SMR campaign as an implicit admission that existing reactors aren’t up to the job. SMRs are a new occupant in the graveyard of the nuclear renaissance – but the problem is
no-one wants to buy one.
……… August NuClear News No.65 reported that the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US point out that the economies of scale dictate that, all other things being equal, larger reactors will generate cheaper power. Even if SMRs could eventually be more cost-effective than larger reactors due to mass production, this advantage will only come into play when many SMRs are in operation. But
utilities are unlikely to invest in SMRs until they can produce competitively.
 The Washington-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) says SMRs will
probably require tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies or government purchase orders
and create serious concerns in relation to both safety and proliferation. By spreading SMRs
around the globe we will increase the proliferation risk because safeguarded spent fuel and
numerous small reactors would be a much more complex task than safeguarding fewer large
Speaking at the Nuclear New Build conference yesterday, shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex
warned the government that “no one, including the Chancellor as he drafts his Autumn Statement,
should be fooled into thinking that small nuclear reactors are somehow the answer to all our

January 14, 2015 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) facility would further pollute and endanger Georgia and South Carolina

MOXSavannah River Site Becoming World’s Nuclear Dumping Ground, despite Safety Risks By: GLORIA TATUM Atlanta Progressive News 6-9-2014

“……..We are wasting money and increasing the risk of a terrorist accident if we build that MOX plant at SRS.  Plutonium fuel cost more than uranium fuel and there’s plenty of uranium on the planet.  So we are taking other people’s plutonium to keep a MOX plant running and no one wants to buy the output from it,” Gundersen told APN.

Plutonium is a man made element derived from the transformation of uranium through fission. Plutonium, Pu-239, has a half life of 24,100 hundred years; that’s the time it will take for half of the plutonium to radioactively decay.  Radioactive contaminants are dangerous for ten to twenty times the length of their half-lives, meaning that if plutonium gets into the environment, it will be dangerous essentially forever.  If ingested into the body, it causes DNA damage in tissue, and cancer.

The use of MOX fuel does not get rid of plutonium; instead it becomes part of the lethal soup of ingredients termed “high level nuclear waste.”  There are no safe long-term storage for nuclear waste, only interim storage solutions for waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years.

“When I hear plutonium in the environment, it becomes a problem not only for the next generation – we were not even a [human] species a quarter of a million years ago – we might be a new species before this stuff completely disintegrates from the environment,” Gundersen said.

Citizens living downstream from the site have complained for years of high levels of cancer and death in their community, which they attribute to the SRS and Plant Vogtle’s nuclear reactors across the river on the Georgia side.

“The DOE is more interested in jobs this year and totally forgetting about the environmental costs for the next 300 or a thousand years.  It’s unfair to the people of Georgia and South Carolina to make some money now and pollute the Savannah River for a thousand years,” Gundersen said.

January 2, 2015 Posted by | - plutonium, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Despite the hype, Small Modular Nuclear Rectors face an uncertain future

text-SMRs“…… will likely be later than the estimated 2022 before TVA has an SMR online. And, the decision on whether one actually gets built will rest with the TVA board.

In April, B&W announced it was restructuring its mPower program. Instead of around $60 million a year, it would only spend $15 million per year.

The company also laid off about 200 people in Virginia and in Tennessee involved with the project. The company said in a statement that it was having trouble lining up investors.

Also on Nov. 5, B&W announced plans to spin off its nuclear operations, including the mPower program, into a separate company called BWX Technologies……”  TVA shifts focus on Oak Ridge nuclear reactor, Knoxville News Sentinel 4 Dec 14 

December 29, 2014 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Fast breeder nuclear reactors: Russia the only country with one in commercial operation

RUSSIAN NUCLEAR INDUSTRY OVERVIEW, Earth Life Johannesburg Vladimir Slivyak Russian environmental group, Ecodefense National Research University Higher School of Economics Moscow December 2014

“………..Fast breeders

The nuclear industry started to promote the so-called closed nuclear fuel cycle with fast breeder
reactors some 50 years ago. The idea was to develop a technological cycle that would involve
reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, extracting plutonium from it, and then “breeding” this nuclear
material in commercial reactors in order to provide the nuclear power industry with a virtually
inexhaustible source of fuel while also eliminating the problem of managing the highly toxic
nuclear waste. No country in the world, however, has since been able to introduce a closed fuel
cycle successfully. All breeders that were brought online in Western countries that attempted to
close the nuclear cycle stopped their commercial operation long before their designed lifetime
periods expired, for economic, safety, and technical reasons. As of 2014, Russia remains the only
country with a fast breeder reactor in commercial operation, a BN-600 operating at Beloyarsk
Nuclear Power Plant.

Continue reading

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, Russia | Leave a comment

“Superfuel” thorium is super-expensive, and does have weapons proliferation risks

“The difference in the state of development of thorium versus other sources of fuel is so vast and the cost of developing the technology is so high, it’s really questionable today whether it’s worthwhile to spend a lot of money on the development of thorium.”

Thorium-snake-oilIs the “Superfuel” Thorium Riskier Than We Thought? 
A new study in Nature says that using thorium as a nuclear fuel has a higher risk for proliferation into weapons than scientists had believed. Popular Mechanics, By Phil McKenna December 5, 2012 
Imagine a cheap, plentiful source of energy that could provide safe, emissions-free power for hundreds of years without refueling and without any risk of nuclear proliferation. The fuel is thorium, and it has been trumpeted by proponents as a “superfuel” that eludes many of the pitfalls of today’s nuclear energy. But now, as a number of countries including China, India, and the United States explore the potential use of thorium for nuclear power, researchers say one of the biggest claims made about the fuel—its proliferation resistance—doesn’t add up.

“It may not be as resistant as touted and in some cases the risk of proliferation may be worse than other fuels,” says Stephen Ashley of the University of Cambridge. Continue reading

November 19, 2014 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment

Small Modular Nuclear Recators (SMRs) ? – they’re a delusion

nuClear News Nov 14 
…………..Small Reactor delusion There’s an Alice in Wonderland flavour to the nuclear power debate, writes Jim Green of FoE  Australia, in the Ecologist. Lobbyists are promoting all sorts of new reactor types – an implicit  admission that existing reactors aren’t up to the job. But the designs they are promoting have two severe problems.

They don’t exist. And they have no customers. (1) On Patterson’s favoured Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) he quotes Thomas W. Overton,  associate editor of POWER magazine, who wrote in a recent article: “At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears  to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”(2)


The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants  can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones.
The SMR concept  disdains those economies of scale in favour of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing  that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately  produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. But first someone needs to build a  massive supply chain. Money for that would presumably come from customer orders – if there  were any.
Former CoRWM Chair, Professor  Gordon Mackerron says no SMR (properly defined) has yet  been commercialised anywhere in the world, and work on them – mainly in the USA – has been  waning, as their developers, notably Westinghouse, have said they cannot find a market. This is  unsurprising as their cost per unit of output is higher than the already expensive conventional,
larger reactors, unless hundreds can be sold to give manufacturing economies.
The MIT, in their  study of the future of nuclear power convincingly argue that radically new nuclear technologies  take up to 50 years to become established due to factors like the need for safety licensing,  prototype experimentation, planning and siting approvals, slow construction times – all in the  context of historically rising costs and a need to win public acceptance. So we should expect no significant contribution from SMRs by 2050, even if they do become commercialised, which is

November 10, 2014 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

US tax-payer money going to nuclear lobby’s latest gee-whiz gimmick

text-my-money-2GE Hitachi Receives Federal Funds To Assess New Nuclear Technology, Wilmington Biz BY JENNY CALLISON, NOV 6, 2014 GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) will perform a comprehensive safety assessment of its PRISM sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor, thanks to a multi-million-dollar federal investment from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the company announced Thursday.

GEH officials are not sure yet of the exact amount of federal funds allocated to the project, company spokesman Jon Allen said Thursday…….The technology on which PRISM is based was developed in the 1980s and, unlike other nuclear reactors, it can use spent nuclear fuel and surplus plutonium to generate electricity. Since the early 1990s, however, no risk assessments have been done on the technology……..
Plutonium has a half-life period of 300,000 years, Allen said, while use of that plutonium as fuel for the PRISM reactor cuts that half-life period to 300 years. A half-life period is the time required for half of the unstable, radioactive atoms in an element to undergo radioactive decay.

November 8, 2014 Posted by | politics, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

So far, insurmountable problems with nuclear fusion

nuclear-fusion-pie-SmDennis Matthews 21 Oct 14,  The whole containment vessel in which the fusion is carried out – so far very briefly and at no net energy output – becomes radioactive due to neutron bombardment, a process called neutron activation.

In addition it has one of the major problems that you have with nuclear fission. The people you train in Schools of Nuclear Science and Engineering can move effortlessly between fusion power and fusion weapons. There are no Schools of Nuclear Weapons Science and Technology but there are lots of Schools of Nuclear (Power) Science and Technology including one here in Australia that recently got restarted after several decades in the wilderness.

October 21, 2014 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

Nuclear fusion requires more energy to set up, than the amount obtained from it

Why We Will Never Make A Nuclear Fusion Reactor As Good As The Sun, Business Insider,  JESSICA ORWIG OCT 17 2014 “…………..combine four hydrogen atoms and you get a burst of energy that can destroy entire islands and did on Nov. 1, 1952. That day the US tested the first hydrogen bomb on the now-nonexistent Pacific island, Elugelab.……… Clean, limitless energy is the real holy grail. Combine that desire with the awesome power we first saw with the< H-bomb, and we’ve been dreaming of a way to harness nuclear fusion of the sun as a source of clean, endless energy.

But so far, only Hollywood has managed…….. The amount of energy we need to produce the conditions for nuclear fusion is more than the energy we get out. And we’ve been coming up short for decades with little signs of improvement, according to Charles Seife,author of the book “Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking“who has written about the turtle-paced race for nuclear fusion for Slate.
Unfortunately for us, it is incredibly difficult to fuse hydrogen atoms together. It takes extreme pressure and heat, something that the sun’s strong gravitational force does naturally in its core. But we don’t have access to this kind of gravity here on our comparatively tiny Earth, and the only way to manufacture it is to expend a ton of energy to create it.

For about the last 70 years, we’ve slowly developed ways of producing the extreme pressure and heat necessary for nuclear fusion. Today, the most promising methods use containment vessels called tokamaks that can sustain hot plasmas that produce nuclear fusion but require lots of energy and space to function. The other way is using powerful lasers to fuse hydrogen atoms together.

Both of these methods, however, still have a long way to go despite what you might read from the occasional headlines on the latest breakthroughs in new nuclear fusion technology………

October 21, 2014 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, technology | Leave a comment

Nuclear fusion still in the realm of fantasy, despite Lockheed’s hype


Contain your excitement

While the rewards of fusion power are substantial, so are the challenges of making it a reality. The deuterium-tritium reaction is the easiest fusion reaction to initiate, yet the optimal temperature needed is 100 million degrees C, which is six to seven times hotter than the core of the Sun.

Don’t get too excited, no one has cracked nuclear fusion yet, The Conversation, Matthew Hole 17 October 2014 Senior Research Fellow, Plasma Research Laboratory at Australian National University Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s announcement this week that it could make small-scale nuclear fusion power a reality in the next decade has understandably generated excitement in the media. Physicists, however, aren’t getting their hopes up just yet.

I recently returned from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fusion Energy Conference in St Petersburg, Russia, the world’s leading conference on the development of fusion power. There was no announcement of research by Lockheed Martin, and the company did not field any scientists to report on their claims. Continue reading

October 18, 2014 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

Technology problems, and costs, cloud any possible future for generation IV nuclear reactors

These Are The 6 Concepts For The Future Of Nuclear Power, Business Insider GEERT DE CLERCQ OCT 13 2014 “………..the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), developed by France, Russia and China from a concept pioneered in the United States in the 1950s.

EXPLOSIVE DRAWBACK    Liquid sodium is better than water at evacuating heat from the reactor core and its high boiling point of about 900 degrees Celsius allows SFRs to operate close to atmospheric pressure, negating the need for the thick, steel containment vessels at pressurised water reactors.But sodium has significant disadvantages, too. On contact with air, it burns; plunged into water, it explodes.Early SFRs built by France, Russia and Japan have suffered corrosion and sodium leaks. But these were not built to GIF standards and the CEA research facility amid the pine trees in Cadarache, southeast France, is working on how to tame sodium as the agency seeks to convince lawmakers to allow construction of its new Astrid reactor, a 600 megawatt SFR.

The Astrid project was granted a 652 million euro ($823 million) budget in 2010 and a decision on construction is expected around 2019.

The use of sodium, which occurs naturally only as a compound in other minerals, presents huge challenges, however.

Nitrogen-driven turbines are being designed to prevent sodium from mixing with water, while purpose-built electromagnetic pumps are seen as the solution to moving the superheated metal within reactors. Then there’s the headache of not being able to see through the liquid metal should something go wrong in a reactor core.

The other five concepts – including lead and helium-cooled fast neutron reactors and three very-high-temperature reactors – are less mature than the SFR and face similar technological hurdles.


But technology is not the only obstacle. Cost is key, as ever, and abundant U.S. shale gas and a renewables energy boom in Europe have undermined the viability of the nuclear industry, leading some GIF member states, including Japan, Canada and Switzerland, to scale back funding. …..

October 15, 2014 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment


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