But for all the activity, the nascent SMR industry faces familiar nuclear challenges: cost, public acceptability, security and waste disposal. The nuclear industry has a long record of broken promises over cost
Developing SMRs is not going to be cheap either …40-70 SMRs would need to be ordered to make building a factory worthwhile…….. All the while, the competition from renewable energy gets hotter as it falls in price.
Security is also a key issue for nuclear plants….The challenge for SMRs is that security costs soar relative to power output if there are small reactors in many locations to protect.
Are mini-nuclear reactors the answer to the climate change crisis?
Industry looks to the UK to develop factory-built reactors ready to provide affordable, low-carbon energy wherever it is needed – but issues around security and waste disposal remain, Guardian, Damian Carrington, 24 Nov 15 Mini nuclear power plants could be trucked into a town near you to provide your hot water, or shipped to any country that wants to plug them into their electricity grid from the dock. That is the aim of those developing “small modular reactors” and, from the US to China to Poland, they want the UK to be at the centre of the nascent industry. The UK government says it is “fully enthused” about the technology.
With UN climate change summit in Paris imminent, the question of how to keep the lights on affordably, while cutting emissions, is pressing.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) aim to capture the advantages of nuclear power – always-on, low-carbon energy – while avoiding the problems, principally the vast cost and time taken to build huge plants. Current plants, such as the plannedFrench-Chinese Hinkley Point project in Somerset, have to be built on-site, a task likened to “building a cathedral within a cathedral”. Continue reading
Another option on the table is PRISM. Developed by GE Hitachi (GEH), PRISM is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses a metallic fuel alloy of zirconium, uranium, and plutonium. GEH claims PRISM would reduce the plutonium stockpile quicker than MOX and be the most efficient solution for the UK. The problem is, despite being based on established technology, a PRISM reactor has yet to be built, and the UK is understandably a little reluctant to commit in this direction. Seen as something of a gamble, it remains in the running alongside the currently more favoured MOX option.
Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure. Regardless of what decision is taken, a proportion of the plutonium will end up as waste and will need to be safely disposed of.
Unlike MOX and PRISM, immobilisation has no prominent industry backers. In comparison to exploiting the plutonium for our energy needs, there is no great fortune to be made from disposing of it safely. But immobilising the entire plutonium stockpile may in fact be a more economically sound approach than reprocessing
Sellafield plutonium a multi-layered problem, The Engineer UK, 6 November 2015 | By Andrew Wade “……..It takes somewhere in the region of 5-10kg of plutonium to make a nuclear weapon, so 140 tons is a slightly worrying amount to have sitting in a concrete shed in Cumbria. While everyone at the press conference was at pains to point out that there are no major safety concerns with the current storage, it is widely accepted that a long-term plan needs to be formulated. This, however, is where things get tricky. The potential energy of the plutonium if converted to nuclear fuel is massive, but there are several competing technologies vying for endorsement, none of which are well proven as financially viable.
Top of the list – and the government’s current preference – is for some application that uses mixed oxide fuel, or MOX. MOX is made by blending plutonium with natural or depleted uranium to create a fuel that is similar, but not identical, to the low-enriched uranium used in most nuclear plants today. MOX can be – and in several European countries is – used in thermal reactors alongside uranium. But despite past concerns, there is in reality no shortage of uranium today, so no huge need to supplement it with MOX in current reactors. Where MOX could in fact lead to greater efficiencies is in fast reactors, but these are costly and difficult to operate, and would not make economic sense unless the cost of uranium fell.
To complicate matters further, developing MOX is by no means a straightforward process. Continue reading
Peak Plutonium-238? U.S. Starts Making Nuclear Fuel For Deep Space Missions, Forbes, William Pentland , 8 Nov 15 In the next two or three years, the U.S. Department of Energy will begin producing small quantities of a material known as plutonium-238 a trefurbished federal nuclear facilities at in Idaho and Tennessee.
When fully operational, the facilities will be able to produce a little more than three pounds of plutonium-238 every year, or about enough to fill a can of soda pop. It will be the first time plutonium-238 has been produced anywhere in the world in nearly 30 years.
Plutonium-238, a special radioactive material that does not occur in nature, emits a constant level of heat for decades as it decays. It is the primary fuel source used to power more than two-dozen U.S. space missions for spacecraft and planetary probes that cannot rely on solar energy.
Other than exploring deep space or powering decades-long experiments on the dark side of the moon, plutonium 238 is pretty much worthless. It is not suitable for use in nuclear weapons. Ditto nuclear reactors.
It was originally produced as a by-product of nuclear weapons. When the United States and Russia shuttered their nuclear weapons programs in the 1980s, the world stopped producing plutonium-238.
Not surprisingly, plutonium-238 is expensive to make – very expensive. One pound of plutonium 238 costs about $4 million to make. And that does not include the upfront investment needed to reestablish production of plutonium-238 in the United States, which is expected to cost as much as $150 million or more……
Nobody needs the U.S. space program, but at least in the United States almost everybody wants it just the same, including me. http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2015/11/08/peak-plutonium-238-u-s-starts-making-nuclear-fuel-for-deep-space-missions/
NRA’s ‘new management’ call for Monju reactor proves divisive, Japan Times, BY ERIC JOHNSTON OSAKA, 6 Nov 15, – Two decades after a sodium leak and fire shut it down and nearly six decades after it was first conceived, the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, suffered another blow Wednesday when the Nuclear Regulation Authority called for it to be turned over to another operator.
To date, over ¥1 trillion has been poured into Monju — a plant that has never produced commercial electricity. Despite remaining inactive, safety measures alone cost ¥50 million a day.
Anti-nuclear activists have hailed the NRA’s unusually critical language as an important step toward scrapping the reactor, which was supposed to burn plutonium mixed with uranium.
Fukui politicians who heavily support Monju, including the prefecture’s governor and the mayor of Tsuruga, doubt that another operator can be found. They also worry that scrapping it would create local concerns as well as safety issues.
“What does it mean when the NRA says that it can’t leave Monju’s operations to the (government-backed) Japan Atomic Energy Agency? There aren’t any other organizations it can be left to,” Tsuruga Mayor Takanobu Fuchikami told reporters after the decision…….
Monju, conceived in the 1950s, has faced nothing but technical trouble, domestic and international controversies, and scandals.
Originally slated to go live in 1970, monju did not reach criticality until 1994. It was shut down following a December 1995 leak and fire involving liquid sodium. The incident was at that time Japan’s worst nuclear-related accident.
Further delays and scandals meant that by 2005, when Monju was taken over by JAEA after its predecessor organization was disbanded, officials hoped it would be commercially viable by around 2050.
But after it was revealed in 2012 that JAEA had failed to inspect nearly 10,000 reactor components in and after 2010, the NRA ordered Monju not to engage in preparatory work until it was satisfied safety had been improved…..
Activists are urging the government to give up on the project.
“Monju should be permanently shut down. If the Japanese government is capable of immediately and permanently scrapping Monju, we can gain some trust that it intends to have a logical, functional basic energy policy,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of Kyoto-based anti-nuclear group Green Action. “If it continues the status quo by flogging a horse that has been dead for 20 years, it bodes badly for Japan’s energy future.” http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/11/05/national/nras-new-management-call-monju-reactor-proves-divisive/#.Vj0CA9IrLGj
Whether or not a commercial fusion / thorium / plutonium power industry ever emerges in the next 20 or 30 years would be irrelevant to the climate debate if not for the huge commitment of resources, expertise and time that are going into these new reactor types, and that is cash that’s not being spent on scalable, decentralised clean energy networks. Despite this, these are the technologies that are presently carving the epitaph on the headstone on the nuclear industry, the Dream that Failed.
NUCLEAR NO ANSWER , Oct 29th, 2015
Nuclear power is the solution to a question no-one asked. Here’s why it is now known as “the dream that failed”. By Scott Ludlam The nuclear industry has been getting a fair bit of air time of late with the South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle and a well-credentialed new Chief Scientist throwing nuclear into the mix as part of the solution to climate change.
………. arguments against nuclear power probably still have a tinge of the 1970s about them. Particularly in the age of climate change, a new generation are querying whether opposition to the technology might be an ideological hangover that we can no longer afford.
It would be comforting if this were true, but it isn’t. The evidence shows the commercial nuclear sector is in terminal trouble, and its offers to deliver bulk, reliable ‘baseload’ energy are precisely the opposite of where global energy markets are heading.
The BP Statistical Review of World Energy released in June 2015, showed that nuclear now contributes just 4.4% of the global energy mix. Renewable energy, without the military-industrial head-start, now contributes 6% with an annual growth rate of 12%. BP concludes that “Consumption increased for all fuels, reaching record levels for every fuel type except nuclear power”.
Nuclear energy globally has been in decline since well before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. With ageing reactors, and increased safety standards driving increased costs, nuclear power has been dubbed the ‘Dream that Failed’ by The Economist. Flagship projects in Finland, France and the UK are so catastrophically over budget that it is unlikely some of them will ever be switched on, so some in the industry have changed tack and are out promoting a new generation of technology types.
The Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in the south of France was expected to cost $5 billion, but following multiple delays and management problems it is now expected to cost $21 billion. The prototype may or may not be operational by 2020. Even the proponents have stopped making confident estimates of when actual power stations might be able to begin making a contribution to decarbonising the world’s energy systems.
Thorium technology is frequently pitched as the front-runner to replace uranium fission plants, but there are sound technical reasons why nobody has ever been able to get an industry on its feet, despite a global abundance of the raw material. Almost anything is possible if you hurl enough money at it, but because the thorium fuel chain is not as intrinsically tied to nuclear weapons production as uranium technology, the technology has never benefitted from the impossibly deep pockets of the weapons developers.
Not so the plutonium sector: the dreamers of infinite energy took the reprocessing technology used to build the Nagasaki bomb and envisioned a ‘closed loop’ nuclear economy which would recycle fissionable uranium and alchemic traces of plutonium into mixed oxide fuel for feeding back into reactors. It is hard to gauge how much has been spent on this proposal for a nuclear perpetual motion machine, but we’re fortunate in that it’s been a total failure, because the environmental, public health and security consequences of a full-blown globally distributed plutonium economy are almost too hideous to contemplate.
Whether or not a commercial fusion / thorium / plutonium power industry ever emerges in the next 20 or 30 years would be irrelevant to the climate debate if not for the huge commitment of resources, expertise and time that are going into these new reactor types, and that is cash that’s not being spent on scalable, decentralised clean energy networks. Despite this, these are the technologies that are presently carving the epitaph on the headstone on the nuclear industry, the Dream that Failed. http://greens.org.au/magazine/national/nuclear-no-answer
Another Fusion White Elephant Sighted in Germany http://helian.net/blog/October 27th, 2015 Helian According to an article that just appeared in Science magazine, scientists in Germany have completed building a stellarator by the name of Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X), and are seeking regulatory permission to turn the facility on in November. If you can’t get past the Science paywall, here’s an article in the popular media with some links. Like the much bigger ITER facility now under construction at Cadarache in France, W7-X is a magnetic fusion device. In other words, its goal is to confine a plasma of heavy hydrogen isotopes at temperatures much hotter than the center of the sun with powerful magnetic fields in order to get them to fuse, releasing energy in the process. There are significant differences between stellarators and the tokamak design used for ITER, but in both approaches the idea is to hold the plasma in place long enough to get significantly more fusion energy out than was necessary to confine and heat the plasma. Both approaches are probably scientifically feasible. Both are also white elephants, and a waste of scarce research dollars.
The problem is that both designs have an Achilles heel. Its name is tritium. Tritium is a heavy isotope of hydrogen with a nucleus containing a proton and two neutrons instead of the usual lone proton. Fusion reactions between tritium and deuterium, another heavy isotope of hydrogen with a single neutron in addition to the usual proton, begin to occur fast enough to be attractive as an energy source at plasma temperatures and densities much less than would be necessary for any alternative reaction. The deuterium-tritium, or DT, reaction will remain the only feasible one for both stellarator and tokamak fusion reactors for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, tritium occurs in nature in only tiny trace amounts.
The question is, then, where do you get the tritium fuel to keep the fusion reactions going? Well, in addition to a helium nucleus, the DT fusion reaction produces a fast neutron. These can react with lithium to produce tritium. If a lithium-containing blanket could be built surrounding the reaction chamber in such a way as to avoid interfering with the magnetic fields, and yet thick enough and close enough to capture enough of the neutrons, then it should be possible to generate enough tritium to replace that burned up in the fusion process. It sounds complicated but, again, it appears to be at least scientifically feasible. However, it is by no means as certain that it is economically feasible.
Consider what we’re dealing with here. Tritium is an extremely slippery material that can pass right through walls of some types of metal. It is also highly radioactive, with a half-life of about 12.3 years. It will be necessary to find some way to efficiently extract it from the lithium blanket, allowing none of it to leak into the surrounding environment. If any of it gets away, it will be easily detectable. The neighbors are sure to complain and, probably, lawyer up. Again, all this might be doable. The problem is that it will never be doable at a low enough cost to make fusion reactor designs based on these approaches even remotely economically competitive with the non-fossil alternative sources of energy that will be available for, at the very least, the next several centuries.
What’s that? Reactor design studies by large and prestigious universities and corporations have all come to the conclusion that these magnetic fusion beasts will be able to produce electricity at least as cheaply as the competition? I don’t think so. I’ve participated in just such a government-funded study, conducted by a major corporation as prime contractor, with several other prominent universities and corporations participating as subcontractors. I’m familiar with the methodology used in several others. In general, it’s possible to make the cost electricity come out at whatever figure you choose, within reason, using the most approved methods and the most sound project management and financial software. If the government is funding the work, it can be safely assumed that they don’t want to hear something like, “Fuggedaboudit, this thing will be way too expensive to build and run.” That would make the office that funded the work look silly, and the fusion researchers involved in the design look like welfare queens in white coats. The “right” cost numbers will always come out of these studies in the end.
I submit that a better way to come up with a cost estimate is to use a little common sense. Do you really think that a commercial power company will be able to master the intricacies of tritium production and extraction from the vicinity of a highly radioactive reaction chamber at anywhere near the cost of, say, wind and solar combined with next generation nuclear reactors for baseload power? If you do, you’re a great deal more optimistic than me. W7-X cost a billion euros. ITER is slated to cost 13 billion, and will likely come in at well over that. With research money hard to come by in Europe for much worthier projects, throwing amounts like that down a rat hole doesn’t seem like a good plan.
All this may come as a disappointment to fusion enthusiasts. On the other hand, you may want to consider the fact that, if fusion had been easy, we would probably have managed to blow ourselves up with pure fusion weapons by now. Beyond that, you never know when some obscure genius might succeed in pulling a rabbit out of their hat in the form of some novel confinement scheme. Several companies claim they have sure-fire approaches that are so good they will be able to dispense with tritium entirely in favor of more plentiful, naturally occurring isotopes. See, for example, here, here, andhere, and the summary at the Next Big Future website. I’m not optimistic about any of them, either, but you never know.
Why Are We Allowing Uranium Miners to Pollute Groundwater in Drought Zones?
Uranium mining threatens aquifers that could provide the drought-stricken West with emergency water supplies. BRIAN PALMER OCT 16, 2015 Mining uranium, the fuel for nuclear reactors, is a dirty business. Following World War II, mining companies extracted millions of tons of uranium from Navajo tribal lands in the West, contaminating homes and water supplies in the process. It went on for decades, and Navajo miners developed lung cancer at very high rates.
Today, even as the United States nuclear power industry struggles to survive, uranium mining continues. The techniques are more modern, but conservationists say the threat could be just as insidious: polluting water supplies in drought-ridden parts of the country where drinking water is already alarmingly scarce.
New rules proposed by the federal government last year could help reduce the threat—although industry is fighting to weaken them, along with its Republican allies in Congress. And critics say the proposed regulations might not be strong enough anyhow. Ironically, this might all be happening to extract a resource we barely need anymore—at the risk of one that we most certainly do……..
The industry must now work with what geologists call “roll-fronts.” These are relatively thin uranium deposits that formed deep underground over the course of thousands of years. Typically just 10 to 30 feet in height—too small to be harvested by human miners—the roll-fronts can only be extracted by chemical means.
The process used today is called in situ recovery, or ISR, mining. (Opponents use the more chemically descriptive phrase “in situ leaching,” or ISL.) The mining company drills four or five holes, called injection wells, and then pumps down a mix of an oxidizing agent (often hydrogen peroxide or simple oxygen) and water. Pressure from the constant influx of fluid forces the solution to percolate through the uranium-rich layer of Earth toward another hole, called the production well, which carries it up to the surface. At this point, the company reverses the chemical reaction that dissolved the uranium, using a separate chemical to precipitate the metal out of the water. The water, now stripped of most of the uranium, heads back into the well to continue the cycle…….
In reality, ISR mining isn’t so tidy, and the few peer-reviewed studies available suggest that leaching uranium out of rocks contaminates the surrounding groundwater for decades. As Western states deal with increasing levels of drought, that’s a problem…….
Remediation is water- and time-intensive, but does it work? The answer is pretty disturbing: No one knows. There have been only a handful of major studies on the efficacy of the uranium-mining remediation process. Continue reading
The nuclear verification technology that could change the game, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 13 OCTOBER 2015 Kelly Wadsworth The historic agreement between Iran and six world powers to curb the former’s nuclear development, concluded over the summer and expected to be adopted this month, relies heavily on verification. The foreign powers are keen to make sure that Tehran doesn’t acquire enough plutonium or uranium to build a nuclear weapon, and Tehran wants to demonstrate good behavior in order to get sanctions relief. That raises questions about the imperfect verification methods used by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the organization charged with the task under the Iranian nuclear deal, and theInternational Monitoring System (IMS), a global network that detects nuclear explosions worldwide. Are they reliable enough? Some would argue no.
There may be, though, a new option for verification on the not-too-distant horizon. Antineutrino detection is an existing technology that, if political and diplomatic hurdles are overcome, could be put in place before the 10-year ban on Iranian enrichment R&D is lifted. And fully developed over the long-term, it holds great promise for monitoring similar deals in the future, and for reinforcing nuclear non-proliferation worldwide. Difficult to evade, antineutrino detection technology could allow the international community to reliably monitor a country’s nuclear activities in real-time, potentially without setting foot in the country. Similar in cost and technological scale to the space-borne reconnaissance methods governments use for detection today, antineutrino detection could not only help identify undeclared nuclear reactors, but could monitor nuclear facilities and detonations throughout the Middle East and beyond. More research and development could make this technology a viable nonproliferation verification option.
The problem with verification today. Current far-field verification methods have been evaded in the past……….http://thebulletin.org/nuclear-verification-technology-could-change-game8798
Nor should the industry look for help from the trendy new kids on the block: small modular reactors (SMRs) and Generation IV technologies. The report predicts that electricity costs from SMRs will typically be 50-100% higher than for current large reactors, although it holds out some hope that large volume production of SMRs could help reduce costs–if that large volume production is comprised of “a sufficiently large number of identical SMR designs…built and replicated in factory assembly workshops.” Not very likely unless the industry accepts a socialist approach to reactor manufacturing, which is even less likely than that the approach would lead to any significant cost savings.
As for Generation IV reactors, the report at its most optimistic can only say, “In terms of generation costs, generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies….though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task.”
So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current–and economically failing–Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be “challenging.” The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother……..
Nuclear advocates fight back with wishful thinking. Green World, Michael Mariotte September 3, 2015 It must be rough to be a nuclear power advocate these days: clean renewable energy is cleaning nuclear’s clock in the marketplace; energy efficiency programs are working and causing electricity demand to remain stable and even fall in some regions; despite decades of industry effort radioactive waste remains an intractable problem; and Fukushima’s fallout–both literal and metaphoric–continues to cast a pall over the industry’s future. Continue reading
Errors found in safety management of Monju reactor http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20150903_28.html Sep. 3, 2015 Japan’s nuclear regulators have found fresh faults with the safety management of the country’s fast-breeder reactor, which is currently offline. They say they have found thousands of errors in safety classifications of the equipment and devices at the Monju reactor.
The operator of the prototype reactor in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, has been banned from conducting test runs since 2013 following discoveries of a large number of safety inspection oversights.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority says it has recently found at least 3,000 mistakes with safety classifications of equipment and devices at the reactor during its regular inspections which are conducted 4 times a year. Its officials say, equipment and devices with high importance were, in some cases, classified in lower ranks in the 3-level system, which suggest the operator might have failed to carry out necessary inspections for them.
The errors found recently include those going as far back as 2007. The fact suggests that government inspectors have also overlooked the operator’s mistakes. The operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, built the Monju fast-breeder reactor in the early 1990s to reuse the spent nuclear fuel MOX, a mixture of plutonium extracted from spent fuel and uranium.
But it has been offline for most of the period after it underwent a fire from a leak of sodium, the reactor’s coolant, in 1995.
The operator aims to conduct the reactor’s test run by next March. But it is uncertain when the ban by the authority will be lifted. The plant’s director, Kazumi Aoto, says he will take the government’s report seriously. An NRA inspector, Yutaka Miyawaki, says the regulators will try to identify the actual effects of the errors.
“NuScale Power, LLC, Design-Specific Review Standard and Safety Review Matrix“Docket Folder Summaryhttp://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NRC-2015-0160 (If you don’t like the questions answer a different question, as per the advice that an MIT Ph.D. gave their grad student, and MIT is big on nuclear, the head of the US DOE, Moniz, teaches there, so it should be ok for this!)
NuScale in 2003 when it belonged to the US Gov and was called “MULTI-APPLICATION, SMALL, LIGHT WATER REACTOR (MASLWR)” INEEL/EXT-04-01626
Greenpeace’s Justin McKeating made an excellent analysis of NuScale last year (see below our commentary).
However, he overlooked that the US DOE actually invented NuScale under the name of MASLWR. So, this is at least a second round of government funding. The US government dropped MASLWR and former DOE workers picked it up, probably after the patent expired, dubbing it NuScale. And, they are still feeding off the taxpayer pork barrel dole. Plus, it’s NuScale Not! The nuclear industry only knows how to recycle the same old stuff.
There doesn’t appear to be much, if anything, new about NuScale. The only known immediate nuclear deaths from a nuclear accident, in the US, were from a mini-SL-1 reactor that made nuclear fallout in rural Idaho.  In 1968, in Lucens Switzerland, there was a mini-underground nuclear reactor, which had a major accident. Although smaller than NuScale, 100 Rem (1 Sievert; 1000 mSv) was measured in the reactor cavern, and it is ranked as a major nuclear accident. Radiation was measured in the nearby village; it continues to leak radiation from the cavern. From the beginning the Lucens Reactor was plagued by leaks in the underground cavern and corrosion issues due to its underground location.  NuScale too will suffer from additional corrosion and extra problems of hydrogen attack because it is part underground and stuck in water on all sides. Underground nuclear isn’t a magic fix, on the contrary.
NuScale is apparently not really passive either “Conduction through the vessel wall is by itself not a sufficient mechanism for heat removal in the present design. A circulation path is required to effectively remove the core decay heat. The sump makeup system is required.”  Furthermore, Italian researchers found that if if “SUMP valves are not operated and the ADS vent valves stuck open“, then there was a six hour “grace” period before CHF [Critical Heat Flux] “conditions are reached at top of the core. The dryout cannot be quenched. Primary system coolant released thorugh the HTC top valve outside the contaiment” . Six hour grace period to meltdown-nuclear accident. So, these are neither passive, nor perfectly safe. And, they are proposing putting them in large groups, which makes one wonder what’s the point. A quick look online shows that NuScale has just submitted a laundry list of patents (July 2015) which, looking at the list alone, sound less original, than trying to patent a chicken sandwich, as someone recently did.
“When it comes to nuclear power, small isn’t beautiful. Or safe or cheap.
Blogpost by Justin McKeating – June 19, 2014 at 11:55
Not beautiful, safe or cheap: a message to the United States, where the Obama administration has pledged to waste money financing the Small Modular Reactor (SMR).
SMRs are supposed to be small and prefab – constructed from parts made in a central location and slapped together onsite like a cheap prefab home. Those parts can then be shipped out and built by staff who don’t necessarily have the skills to build larger, more complex reactors.
The trouble is, this is merely old nuclear technology in new clothes. So why is the US Department of Energy (DoE) is giving $217 million dollars over five years to NuScale, a SMR manufacturer.
Let’s note, with a weary shake of the head, that this is yet another public subsidy for the failing economics of nuclear power, and take a look why this is a bad investment of taxpayer dollars by the Obama administration.
Dr. Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, has published a paper titled, The Economic Failure of Nuclear Power and the Development of a Low-Carbon Electricity Future: Why Small Modular Reactors Are Part of the Problem, Not the Solution.
In his paper, Dr. Cooper finds SMRs won’t be cheaper and, more worryingly, manufacturers and supporters of the technology want to short-circuit safety regulations to get them built.
With the Fukushima disaster in its fourth year and no real solution to the ongoing problems and massive contamination in the foreseeable future, maybe now is not the time to talk about reducing nuclear safety, particularly with experimental, untested technology.
Dr Cooper adds SMRs will be more expensive than traditional nuclear technologies and that up to $90 billion dollars will be needed to make SMRs commercially viable. That’s a huge sum that will drag financing away from renewable power projects that are vital in the fight against climate change.
We’ve been here before: the story of the nuclear industry wasting billions is an old one…….. https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/when-it-comes-to-nuclear-power-small-isnt-beautiful-nor-safe-nor-cheap-nor-even-new-usnrc-nuscale-comment-deadline-monday-night-31-august-one-minute-to-midnight-ny-dc-time/
nuClear news No.77, September 20156. Plutonium Conundrum A US Energy Department-commissioned study, which has been leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that it would be cheaper and far less risky to dispose of 34 metric tons of U.S. surplus plutonium at a federal nuclear waste repository in New Mexico than convert it into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for commercial nuclear power plants at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.
The unreleased report describes in detail the delays and massive cost overruns at the half-built MOX facility, located at the federal Savannah River Site. High staff turnover, the need to replace improperly installed equipment, and an antagonistic relationship between the local federal project director and the contractor are only some of the factors undermining the project. The new report also notes that there are “no obvious silver bullets” to reduce the life-cycle cost of the MOX approach.
According to UCS, a better alternative to turning the surplus plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel would be to “downblend” it, a method the Energy Department has already used to dispose of several metric tons of plutonium. It involves diluting the plutonium with an inert, nonradioactive material and then sending it to the nuclear waste site in New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), for burial. The new report’s analysis supports that assessment. …….
Concerns over reliability, safety, chemistry of planned Advanced Boiling Water Nuclear Reactors (ABWR)
New nuclear fuel bank a welcome development, Japan Times, 25 Aug 15 BY GARETH EVANS “………(on Aug. 27), Kazakhstan is establishing a major new international fuel bank, which it will operate on behalf of the IAEA. The new facility should once and for all remove the main excuse that has been advanced, sincerely or not, for building and maintaining homegrown enrichment capability.
Scheduled to commence operations in 2017, the Kazakh fuel bank will store up to 90 tons of LEU, sufficient to refuel three typical power-producing light water reactors. While Kazakhstan will physically operate the bank, the uranium will be owned and controlled by the IAEA, and made available to non-nuclear-weapon states if, for any reason, they cannot secure the LEU they need from the commercial market.
Provided the state in question is in compliance with its comprehensive non-proliferation safeguards agreement with the IAEA, it can draw the required fuel from the bank and transfer it to a fuel fabricator to make fuel assemblies for the reactors involved…….
The bank has been funded by voluntary contributions, including $50 million from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a U.S.-based NGO, $49 million from the U.S. government, up to $25 million from the European Union, $10 million each from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and $5 million from Norway…… http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/08/25/commentary/world-commentary/new-nuclear-fuel-bank-a-welcome-development/#.VdzQBSWqpHx
Fitch: ‘Failure’ of new nuke construction means fewer plants https://www.snl.com/InteractiveX/Article.aspx?cdid=A-33617164-10551 , Thursday, August 20, 2015 By Matthew Bandyk The troubled construction of new nuclear reactors in Georgia and South Carolina will likely chill the pursuit of more nuclear plants in the U.S., although recent actions by the U.S. EPA and the Department of Energy could improve the outlook over time, according to an analysis by Fitch Ratings.
As a result, there will be less new nuclear to replace the increasing number of retiring plants. Fitch said that the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s forecast of nuclear generation falling by 10,800 MW by 2020 might be too conservative if more plants retire due to local political pressure and the need for costly upgrades.
The nuclear projects at the Vogtle and V.C. Summer plants, the first new nuclear generation built in the U.S. in decades, use the Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC AP1000 reactor design, which promised to be cheaper and more efficient to build than past nuclear plants that saw spiraling cost overruns during construction. In particular, Westinghouse touted the “modern, modular” construction technique in which major plant components would be built off-site as modules, allowing pieces of the project to be completed in parallel and in turn speeding up construction.
But “the recent failure of modular construction to deliver lower prices and shorter timelines will likely keep a cap on U.S. nuclear development into the midterm,” Fitch analysts said in a statement Aug. 20. The Vogtle and Summer projects are each running about three years behind schedule and are now expected to cost a few billion dollars more than originally estimated.
The blame for much of the delays has been centered on subpar work on the modules at facilities like Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. N.V.‘s Lake Charles fabrication facility in Louisiana. CB&I has since shifted work to other facilities, and monitors of the Vogtle project recently reported that the module work has “improved significantly.” But the contractors continue to miss their own deadlines and there is still risk of more delays, the same monitors said.
In addition, four AP1000 reactors under construction in China are also seeing rising costs and delays, Fitch noted.
One of the best hopes for the U.S. nuclear industry comes from the EPA’s recently finalized Clean Power Plan, according to Fitch. The rule allows new nuclear plants and capacity uprates at existing plants to generate credits that states can use to reduce their CO2 emissions levels and comply with the rule. In addition, the DOE continues to try to lower the financing costs for the nuclear industry through loan guarantees. Last year the DOE said it is accepting applications from nuclear developers for $12.5 billion in loan guarantees.
Both the EPA and DOE efforts could “yield growth factors longer term,” Fitch said.
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