Could Next-Gen Reactors Spark Revival In Nuclear Power?, National Geographic By Wendy Koch, JULY 24, 2015 Tech titans like Bill Gates are helping fund a new generation of commercial nuclear reactors,………..These are complex systems…They look good on paper but could be difficult to realize in practice.
Matthew McKinzie “These are complex systems,” says Matthew McKinzie, director of the nuclear program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that prefers solar, wind and energy efficiency—rather than nuclear—as climate solutions.
“They look great on paper but could be difficult to realize in practice,” he says of the advanced reactors. “A lot of projects in the past have led to disappointment.” He says reactors that don’t use the light-water design common in today’s nuclear power plants will need prototypes for testing and their private funds aren’t enough to cover the cost.
In addition, “molten salt is corrosive and messy to work with,” says McKinzie, who holds a doctorate in experimental nuclear physics..
Russ Bell, senior director of new plant licensing for the Nuclear Energy Institute says many new reactor designs are safe and “extremely innovative,” but since they need to be prototyped, it will take 20 to 25 years to bring them to market……
Bill Gates has visited China several times to seek its cooperation in developing a next-gen reactor. He chairs TerraPower, which has designed a traveling wave reactor that runs on depleted uranium and produces very little nuclear waste……
“It’s American technology. I personally want the United States to get it first,” says Leslie Dewan. Her company, Transatomic, plans five more years of experimental and design work before aiming to build a 20-megawatt prototype.
“We’ve been talking with the national labs about it,” she says, noting the Department of Energy has a new loan guarantee program for advanced nuclear reactors. “There’s really good buy-in from DOE for developing a wide range of technologies.”
Even if all goes well, Dewan says, it will take at least a decade to develop a commercial molten salt reactor.
Construction starts and delays. Deconstructing the nuclear industry
Myle Schneider,Antony Froggatt, 27 July 15 “…………WNISR 2015 goes further and deeper than previous reports in analyzing the pace of nuclear power plant construction: the length of the process, the reasons for delays, the number of projects that have been cancelled or suspended, and how construction trends vary from country to country. These are limiting factors in any plan for a global scale-up of nuclear power.
The average construction time of the 40 units that started up in nine countries since 2005—all but one (in Argentina) in Asia or Eastern Europe—was 9.4 years, with a large range from 4 to 36 years. Construction starts plunged from 15 in 2010 to three in 2014. There are currently 62 reactors under construction, five fewer than a year ago, and at least three-quarters of these projects are facing delays. In 10 of 14 countries that are building new reactors, all projects are delayed, many by years. Five reactors that are “under construction” are projects that began more than 30 years ago.
For the first time, this year’s report devotes a full chapter to Generation III+ reactors such as the Westinghouse AP1000, Rosatom AES-2006, and Areva EPR—advanced reactors designed to improve the safety and economics of nuclear power. These reactors are not proving easy to build: By May 2015, 18 next-generation reactors were under construction, but only two projects were still on schedule; the rest were running behind by two to nine years. This includes the AP1000s being built at the Summer and Vogtle nuclear plants in the United States, which after only two years of construction are late by at least two years.
Generation III+ reactors were originally seen as a transition to even more advanced Generation IV reactors, but if Generation III+ reactors fail, the future for the nuclear industry looks bleak. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) or radically new reactor designs, known as Generation IV and optimistically touted by some nuclear lobbyists as the key to de-carbonizing the global economy, are still decades away from commercial deployment. Meantime, existing nuclear plants around the world are edging toward retirement, with an average age that has been increasing steadily and now stands at 28.8 years……. http://thebulletin.org/deconstructing-nuclear-industry8565
Around the World, Nuclear Can’t Compete With Growing Renewables “What is spectacular is the extent to which the nuclear industry is appearing to ignore reality.” Katherine Tweed Greentech Media, July 16, 2015 “……..For the reactors that are in operation, many are aging rapidly. The mean age for reactors worldwide is about 29 years, and most were designed for life spans of 40 years, but many will operate beyond that. The cost of going beyond 40 years isn’t cheap — about $1 billion to $5 billion per reactor. By 2050, nuclear’s share of global electricity generation is expected to be similar to its role today, which amounts to about 10 percent.
Given the cost and time necessary to build large reactors, many in the industry have argued for a move to small modular reactors. Yet SMRs have also suffered from higher-than-expected costs and long development timelines, the report states.
The U.S. Department of Energy has been one of the proponents of this technology, yet none of the designs it said in 2001 could be available by the end of the decade were deployed. Of the two companies the DOE chose years later for SMR development funding, one slashed its spending on SMRs in 2014. NuScale, the other SMR manufacturer, is still continuing with development. Even so, “there is no evidence that SMRs will be constructed in the United States anytime soon,” the report states.
The picture is not rosier in other countries that have lent support to SMRs. South Korea, for example, has been developing an SMR since the 1990s, and while it was approved in 2012, no orders have yet been received. Saudi Arabia did say earlier this year it would test the technology in a three-year pilot.
“The static, top-heavy, monstrously expensive world of nuclear power has less and less to deploy against today’s increasingly agile, dynamic, cost-effective alternatives,” wrote Porritt. “The sole remaining issue is that not everyone sees it that way — as yet.”http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/renewables-outpace-nuclear-in-major-economies
USA’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-II now permanently entombed, World Nuclear News
01 July 2015 The main clean-up contractor at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Idaho Site, has entombed an historic nuclear reactor in place and treated the reactor’s remaining sodium coolant….CH2M-WG, Idaho, LLC (CWI) said yesterday that crews with the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Program recently completed pouring more than 3400 cubic yards of concrete grout into the basement of the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) building to fill in any remaining void spaces and effectively entomb the reactor.
Workers also removed and treated the last of the sodium coolant from the reactor’s nine heat exchangers. The exchangers were used to cool the liquid metal and direct the steam to a generating turbine to produce electricity when the reactor was operating.
The EBR-II was the basis of the US Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program…….. The reactor was shut down in 1994 and its fuel was removed and transported to another site facility for safe storage.
The DOE grouted the reactor in place instead of removing it to protect workers from industrial hazards and radiological risks, CWI said. Crews filled the reactor vessel with grout over two years ago and recently completed the remainder of grouting at the facility under CWI’s contract.
Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, told VICE News that companies have spent $100 billion worldwide trying to commercialize breeder reactors without success.
“So now you’re telling me that this combination of reactors has $1.3 billion scattered over more than a dozen technologies?” he said. “Bill Gates’ investment … is hopeless.”
Tech Titans Like Bill Gates Are Gambling on Nuclear Power — But It Looks to Be a Losing Bet, VICE News, By Laura Dattaro July 4, 2015 Nearly 50 American and Canadian tech companies, including heavy hitters like Bill Gates, have invested over a billion dollars in next-generation nuclear technologies in the last 10 years, according to the think tank Third Way.
Despite declining public trust in nukes, especially since the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan in March 2011, proponents argue that nuclear is key — some say the key — to providing reliable energy while at the same time helping to rid the world of fossil fuels.
“We were compelled by a mission to get involved in a very pressing energy challenge …. Marcia Burkey, chief financial officer of TerraPower, told VICE News. Bellingham, Washington-based TerraPower was founded by Bill Gates and is developing new nuclear reactor technologies.
But critics of nuclear power say this rosy picture does not match the realities of the industry, and that the technologies are too far from being scaled up commercially to meet the urgency of lowering emissions. What’s more, they say, the money behind the current push for more advanced reactors is paltry compared to the costs associated with developing, licensing, and constructing even a single nuclear plant.
“You can’t really in good faith put forward a technology that we don’t know how to do, and have no real prospect of knowing how to do in the next couple of decades. The solution needs to be underway already or to be capable of beginning tomorrow,” Peter Bradford, a professor at Vermont Law School and former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), told VICE News. “That’s really not true of any of those designs mentioned in the [Third Way] report.” Continue reading
Small modular reactor bill passes state Senate BY ANNETTE CARY Tri-City HeraldJune 30, 2015 A bill to support the manufacturing of small modular reactors in Washington state passed the state Senate 31-12 on Tuesday as the Legislature wrapped up its work.
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, however, the House had yet to consider it…………….
There is interest in the Tri-Cities for positioning the community as a center for assembling or manufacturing the small nuclear plants to be shipped around the world, including to Asia. The reactors are proposed to be manufactured in modules and then shipped to where they will be used, with additional modules added as demand for electricity production increases…….
Added to the bill is a requirement that the state Department of Commerce and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction prepare a joint report to the Legislature by Dec. 1 with recommendations for a clean-energy education program.
The program would be required to include grants both for clean-energy ambassadors and for professional development for teachers.
The clean-energy ambassadors would visit classrooms to introduce students to clean energy science and technology. They could cover solar and wind power, small modular reactors and opportunities for nuclear waste cleanup technology careers…….
Certified science teachers could receive grants to help them pursue professional development opportunities in clean-energy science and broaden their exposure to the field.
“One way to ensure that young people understand nuclear energy is to introduce them to our many great scientists, engineers and others who work in the nuclear field,” Brown said. “It’s also one of the best ways to guarantee that the next-generation of Washington job-seekers is prepared for opportunities in emerging nuclear and other clean-energy fields.”…….http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2015/06/30/3632808_small-modular-reactor-bill-passes.html?rh=1
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
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