Andrew Topf writes in Oil Price 06 July 2014“there are some unanswered questions. One is what would happen to the surrounding marine life should an uncontained nuclear meltdown occur at sea. Who can forget the Google Earth map depicting a yellow-green plume of radiation stretching half-way across the Pacific? While the authenticity of the map was later questioned, scientists have discovered trace amounts of radiation on the North American West Coast, a full three years after the event.
Another is the threat of terrorism. The MIT researchers claim that offshore nukes would be harder to attack, but on the other hand, they would also be tough to defend. Todd Woody, writing for The Atlantic, observed that defending these “nuclear islands” from terrorist assault, by ships and submarines, “would require some James Bond-like machinations,” including early detection systems, barriers to vital access points, and the use of automatic weaponry”
New nuclear power, especially Small Modular Reactors, are the most costly of the low carbon energy options
The EPA carbon plan: Coal loses, but nuclear doesn’t win , Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Mark Cooper. 19 June 14 “………New nuclear capacity would be expensive. The day before the EPA carbon plan was proposed, efficiency was the least costly way to meet the need for electricity. Gas and onshore wind were next. The cost of solar was dropping like a rock, and load factors for wind and solar—the so-called intermittent resources—were rising dramatically, due to technological improvements, the rapidly falling cost of energy storage, and information and control technologies that make it possible to manage fluctuating energy sources on a minute-by-minute basis. The EPA plan does nothing to change the fundamental economics of low-carbon resources in the mid- and long term.
As a result of this economic reality, a boatload of independent analysts—including Lazard, Citi, Credit Suisse, McKinsey & Company, Sanford C. Bernstein, The Motley Fool, Morningstar, and Barclays—not only had concluded that efficiency, renewables, and natural gas would account for the vast majority of resources deployed to meet the need for electricity over the next decade, but also that the model of the electric utility that dominated the 20th century has become obsolete.
The adoption of the climate change rule is likely to reinforce the pressure to modernize the electricity system and, to the extent that it requires more low-carbon resources, it will accelerate this process. In the short term, this might have the effect of raising the cost of electricity slightly, because resources with slightly higher costs will be pulled into the market. On the other hand, because many of the alternative energy sources have not been dominant in the past, accelerating their adoption might actually lower electricity costs, because these energy sources are still at the stage of development where innovation, learning by doing, and increases in economies of scale are dramatically cutting the price.
As I have shown in a number of reports over the past five years, most recently a May 2014 report on small modular reactors, nuclear power in not one of the technologies that will benefit from the emergence of an integrated, two-way electricity system that accommodates decentralized energy production. It remains among the most costly of the low-carbon options and will become relatively more costly as the other technologies develop. The target reduction in carbon emissions under the EPA plan is well within the capacity of the lower-cost alternatives……http://thebulletin.org/epa-carbon-plan-coal-loses-nuclear-doesnt-win7253
they must stop making this radioactive trash
Failed Nuclear Weapons Recycling Program Could Put Us All in Danger io9, Mark Strauss, 7 June 14, Some government screw-ups are so epic that they require decades of effort. Such was the case for the recently cancelled plan to convert surplus weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. Not only did the U.S. waste $4 billion dollars, it increased the likelihood that terrorists could obtain bomb-making materials.
It sounded like a good idea at the beginning. Let’s turn megatons into megawatts!
In 2000, the United States and Russia signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). Each country pledged to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of plutonium from their nuclear weapons programs. U.S. nuclear weapons contain less than four kilograms of plutonium, so the combined total of 68 metric tons is enough for some 17,000 nuclear weapons. Disposing of this plutonium would make it more difficult to reverse U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions and would prevent terrorists from gaining access to the material.
The United States settled on a plan to convert most of its surplus plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors. A massive reprocessing plant would be built at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, which, during the Cold War, had refined nuclear material for deployment in warheads. Now, the site would have a new mission: creating nuclear fuel from a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxide, otherwise known as mixed oxide fuel, or MOX. Although nuclear power plants in the U.S. use fuel made from low-enriched uranium (LEU), other countries had demonstrated that MOX was a viable alternative.
Instead, the final outcome was a mothballed facility and a still-increasing supply of surplus plutonium. Like I said, this isn’t your typical government boondoggle. It was twenty years in the making………. Continue reading
Christian Science Monitor, Small-scale nuclear plants can be strung together and might save utilities on capital costs. But critics question the efficiency and operating costs of small-scale nuclear plants. By Ken Silverstein, June 1, 2014 The Obama administration wants to seed the United States with pint-size nuclear reactors, and this week it backed a new developer to do it. The US Department of Energy (DOE) said it would provide $217 million in matching funds over five years to NuScale, which builds small, ready-made reactors that can be strung together.
But NuScale only gets the federal funds if it can match them with money from private investors, who so far have been leery of the technology. In April, Babcock & Wilcox said it would scale back its DOE-backed plans to build modular reactors for the Tennessee Valley Authority because it failed to secure venture capital. Will NuScale do any better?
NuScale says its advantage is that 12 of its modular reactors can be combined to form a 540 megawatt unit. When one of the modules goes down, it could easily be maintained while the rest of the reactors continue to operate, so that whole facilities are not knocked off the grid. Each individual module could be refueled in relatively short order.
The cost of a 540 megawatt unit would be between $2.2 billion and $2.5 billion. That’s marginally less expensive per unit of output than a traditional nuclear plant. And at that price, utilities would not be taking the kind of financial risks they might otherwise have to if they built a $15 billion to $20 billion central nuclear facility.
“This expansion … is critical to completing NuScale’s design and submitting our design certification application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” writes Mike McGough, chief commercial officer of NuScale, in an e-mail. The company hopes to submit its design certification in the latter half of 2016. And it plans to begin signing commercial contracts by 2023.
That’s a long and arduous process – just as it is for a larger nuclear plant. Typically, investors don’t want to tie up their money for that long. The Department of Energy’s involvement is aimed at trying to create some legal and financial certainties so they can invest with more confidence. While NuScale says that its units are more affordable than larger centrally located nuclear facilities and that they can replace retiring coal plants, its critics say that the technology lacks efficiencies and cannot compete against combined-cycled natural gas facilities.
“I wish them luck but the economics don’t make sense,” says Mike Keller, president of Kansas-based Hybrid Power Technologies, in an interview regarding both NuScale and Babcock & Wilcox. He adds that the smaller units are inefficient, which means that they produce more nuclear waste than their larger nuclear cousins while they would generate power at three times the current cost of a combined cycle natural gas plant.
“Having a big chunk of money [from the government] does not equal commercial success,” adds Mr. Keller. “The US government should do more due diligence.”………http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2014/0601/Pint-size-nuclear-plants-get-a-boost-from-Obama-administration
Thorium Nuclear Information Resources http://kevinmeyerson.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/thorium-nuclear-information-resources/ There is a rash of misinformation on the net about the supposed merits of the ‘new’ nuclear energy source on the block, thorium. I am sure that in a perfect world where nobody lies, thorium would be the perfect answer to the world’s energy needs as is claimed. This is unfortunately not the case.
Apparently, every time there is a new nuclear catastrophe, the thorium ‘miracle’ is promoted again as the ‘savior’ for the world. The Fukushima nuclear radiation catastrophe was not unique and the thorium misinformation artists have come out in droves. It’s the nuclear industry’s defense mechanism – create a new ‘safety myth’ that regular people can latch onto.
In reality, the thorium nuclear fuel cycle has been under development since the very early days of the nuclear industry. India, for example, has spent decades trying to commercialize it, and has failed. The US, Russia, Germany, and many others tried and failed as well. At best, thorium based nuclear power generation may be commercialized in a few decades.
I doubt it.
Fortunately, there are a number of independent trustworthy and expert sources of information on the internet regarding thorium nuclear. Here they are: Continue reading
USA’s Westinghouse taking over nuclear fuel supplies to Ukraine, despite problems in those fuel assemblies
Chernobyl memories faded? Kiev turns blind eye to disaster risk in nuclear deal with US http://rt.com/news/159848-ukraine-nuclear-deal-westinghouse/ May 19, 2014 In order to alleviate energy dependence on Moscow, the coup-imposed government in Kiev has resurrected a contract with a US company to supply fuel to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. Using US fuel rods was banned in 2012 due to dangerous incompatibility.
The rivalry for nuclear fuel supply to Ukraine between Russia’s nuclear fuel cycle company TVEL and America’s Westinghouse took a twist when in April 2014, shortly after the armed coup, Kiev signed a new deal with America’s leading nuclear fuel producer, Westinghouse Electric Company, instead of the Russian TVEL company that has been supplying fuel rods to Ukraine for years.
Ukraine’s 4 nuclear power plants constitute a huge part of the country’s energy system. The country’s 15 nuclear reactors produce at least 50 percent (over 13 megawatt) of all electric power generation in Ukraine. All nuclear fuel for Ukrainian reactors (worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year) has been produced in Russia, which also recycles Ukraine’s nuclear waste.
Moreover, Russia’s Rosatom state-owned nuclear monopoly is currently constructing a nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Ukraine, where nuclear fuel rods will be assembled using uranium enriched in Russia.
All in all, Ukraine has relied on Russia in all atomic matters – but the West has muscled in on the relationship.
The Westinghouse Electric Company has been trying to ‘ease’ the former Soviet-bloc countries energy reliance on Russia and enter the market in Eastern Europe for over a decade. For that purpose the company was also using political leverage. Back in 2012, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to convince Czech leaders to pick up America’s Westinghouse as a primary nuclear fuel supply partner instead of Russia, which would create thousands of new jobs in the US.
Actually, Westinghouse has already supplied nuclear fuel to Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear power generator company. In 2005, six experimental Westinghouse fuel assemblies, adopted for use in USSR-developed reactors, were tried at the South Ukraine plant in one reactor together with Russian fuel rods.
Though nuclear engineers were skeptical of the pilot probe, the government of former president Viktor Yushchenko signed a deal in 2008 with Westinghouse on fuel rod supply, despite the fact that American nuclear fuel is significantly more expensive and technologically different: Russian nuclear fuel rods are hexagonal in section, while Americans produce fuel assemblies of square section
This time a batch of 42 fuel assemblies was loaded into three reactors at the South Ukraine nuclear power plant for a standard three-year period of commercial operation.
When in 2012 the time came to replace the fuel assemblies, Ukrainian nuclear engineers found that Westinghouse assemblies deformed during exploitation and got stuck in the core.
Energoatom accused Westinghouse of producing poorly engineered assemblies, whereas Westinghouse countered, accusing the Ukrainian engineers of installing the rods badly.
After the incident the use of American nuclear fuel was banned in Ukraine fuel rods were returned to the producer ‘to get fixed’ and Russian experts were summoned to help with the repair of the equipment produced in the USSR. The Energoatom Company lost an estimated $175 million.
Similar problems with Westinghouse fuel assemblies occurred at a number of other USSR-constructed nuclear power plants: NPP Krško in Slovenia, NPP Loviisa in Finland and NPP Temelin in the Czech Republic. All these countries opted to return to time-proved fuel assemblies produced by Russia’s TVEL Company.
Now Ukraine appears to be ready to fall into the same trap twice. The coup-imposed Kiev regime has renewed the 2008 nuclear fuel deal till 2020, to replace 25 percent of the Russian-made fuel rods with an option to “provide more if needed,” reported the Associated Press in April – all this for the sole purpose of ‘diversifying’ supply.
Kiev’s interim authorities may be not familiar with nuclear energy technologies, but they surely have a clue about theconsequences of a Chernobyl-like tragedy.
What happened back in 2012 at Zaporozhskaya NPP could have potentially ended with another Chernobyl, because having unextractable fuel assemblies loaded means a potential loss of control over the fission processes inside the reactor.
But the new Kiev authorities, supported by Washington, are making every effort to cut Ukraine’s economic ties with Russia, so crossing over from Russian nuclear fuel to American sounds attractive to Arseny Yatsenyuk’s government despite the 2012 incident.
Furthermore, Westinghouse won’t recycle its fuel rods when they ‘burn out’, so Ukraine will be spending even more budget money to prepare special storage facilities for nuclear waste. Also, the company may have its sights set on a much-hotter prize.
“This move by Westinghouse is really to secure not just a fuel contract, which will go on for many years, but to put its foot in the door to build a fuel fabrication plant in eastern Ukraine. And that’s what’s most important and that’s what they’re after,” John Large, an independent nuclear analyst from London, told RT.
Experts generally agree that nuclear power plants are constructions that should not undergo drastic transitions. A nuclear reactor demands a coherent structure of operations. The active reactor core is the most dangerous when it comes to the impact it may have on people and the environment. All reactors differ in smallest details, and toying around with them leads to no good,” Evgeny Akimov of the International Union of Nuclear Energy Veterans told RT.
And if something goes wrong, Kiev may find that they are lonely in facing the consequences.
“As far as I know, Westinghouse signs contracts in which the company bears no responsibility, so the burden will lie with Ukraine,” said Rafael Arutyunyan, a nuclear security expert and professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
With Chernobyl and Fukushima being the prime examples, nuclear power is a force to be handled with great care. Yet, Kiev’s actions seem to be dictated by politics rather than risks, even when the consequences may affect not just Ukraine, but the entire European continent.
When the Chernobyl tragedy occurred back in 1986, it was a pure coincidence that Ukraine’s wind direction, usually directed into Europe, changed, sending radioactive fallout in the direction of Russia and Belarus.
In this over-politicized case, European capitals would do well to learn how the wind blows beforehand.
Record high radiation in seawater off Fukushima plant, Japan Times, 17 May 14 “………..Tepco is struggling to reduce contamination at the poorly protected plant, which was damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Measures include plans to build a gigantic underground ice wall around the plant to keep the daily flow of groundwater from entering the cracked reactor buildings and mingling with the highly radioactive cooling water in their basements.
The ice wall project is expected to cost ¥31.9 billion and will put a massive burden on the power grid when completed: It will need about 45.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity to operate, equal to annual power consumption of 13,000 average households.
The project involves freezing the soil into barricades 30 meters deep and 2 meters thick for a distance of 1,500 meters around the buildings housing reactors 1 through 4.
The soil will be frozen by sinking pipes into the ground and running liquids through them at a temperature of minus 30 degrees.
On Friday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and contractor Kajima Corp. demonstrated a miniature ice wall to reporters at the site.
“We can confirm the frozen soil’s effect in blocking water,” a ministry official said afterwards.
The department aims to begin construction next month. But the Nuclear Regulation Authority has not approved the plan, saying its backers have so far provided insufficient reassurances about public safety. International nuclear experts have also expressed concern about the effectiveness of the plan. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/05/17/national/record-high-radiation-in-seawater-off-fukushima-plant/#.U3ptgdJdWik
“………..Unachievable assumptions about cost: Even industry executives and regulators believe the SMR technology will have costs that are substantially higher than the failed “nuclear renaissance” technology on a per unit of output. The higher costs result from
• lost economies of scale in containment structures, dedicated systems for control,
management and emergency response, and the cost of licensing and security,
• operating costs between one-fifth and one-quarter higher, and
• decommissioning costs between two and three times as high.
Irresponsible assumptions about a rush to market: To reduce the cost disadvantage and meet the urgent need for climate policy, advocates of SMR technology propose to deploy large numbers of reactors (50 or more), close to population centers, over a short period of time. This compressed RD&D schedule embodies a rush to market that does not make proper provision for early analysis, testing, and demonstration to provide an opportunity for experience-based design modifications. This is exactly the problem that arose in the 1970s, when utilities ordered 250 reactors and ended up cancelling more than half of them when the technology proved to be expensive and flawed.
Unrealistic assumptions about the scale of the sector: While each individual reactor would be smaller, the idea of creating an assembly line for SMR technology would require a massive financial commitment. If two designs and assembly lines are funded to ensure competition, by 2020 an optimistic cost scenario suggests a cost of more than $72 billion; a more realistic level would be over $90 billion. This massive commitment reinforces the traditional concern that nuclear power will crowd out the alternatives. Compared to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimatesof U.S. spending on generation over the same period, these huge sums are equal to
• three-quarters of the total projected investment in electricity generation and
• substantially more than the total projected investment in renewables.
Radical changes in licensing and safety regulation: SMR technologies raise unique safety challenges including inspection of manufacturing and foreign plants, access to below ground facilities, integrated systems, waste management, retrieval of materials with potentially higher levels of radiation, flooding for below-ground facilities, and common designs that create potential “epidemic” failure. Yet ,SMR advocates want pre-approval and limited review of widely dispersed reactors located in close proximity to population centers and reductions in safety margins, including shrinking containment structures, limitations of staff for safety and security, consolidation of control to reduce redundancy, and much smaller evacuation zones. In the wake of global post-Fukushima
Calls for more rigorous safety regulation, policymakers and safety regulators are likely to look askance at proposals to dramatically relax safety oversight.
Unfounded claims of unique supply and demand advantages: Despite their high costs, advocates argue that smaller reactors are more attractive than large reactors because they are moreflexible, requiring smaller capital commitments and shorter construction times.
• By these same criteria, non-nuclear alternatives are far more attractive – smaller, less
costly, quicker to market, and already scalable.
• The alternatives also do not possess the security and proliferation risks and environmental problems that attach to nuclear power. …….. http://188.8.131.52/Cooper%20SMRs%20are%20Part%20of%20the%20Problem,%20Not%20the%20Solution%20FINAL2.pdf
First, the viability of SMRs is dependent on the very economic processes that have eluded the industry in the past. The ability of the small modular reactor technology to reverse the cost trajectory of the industry is subject to considerable doubt. The empirical analysis of learning processes in the “Great Bandwagon Market” discussed in Section I and the failure of regulatory streamlining, advanced design and standardization in the “nuclear renaissance” certainly question the ability of the new technology to produce such a dramatic turnaround. As a result, even under the best of circumstances, the SMR technology will need massive subsidies in the early stages to get off the ground and take a significant amount of time to achieve the modest economic goal set for it.
Second, even if these economic processes work as hoped, nuclear power will still be more costly than many alternatives. Over the past two decades wind and solar have been experiencing the cost reducing processes of innovation, learning and economies of scale that nuclear advocate hoped would benefit the “Renaissance” technology and claim will affect the small modular technology. Nuclear cost curves are so far behind the other technologies that they will never catch up, even if the small modular technology performs as hoped.
Third, the extreme relaxation of safety margins and other changes in safety oversight is likely to receive a very skeptical response from policymakers. This is just the latest skirmish in a 50 year battle over safety. The push to deploy large numbers of reactors quickly with a new safety regime recalls the mistake of the early “Great Bandwagon Market.”
Fourth, the type of massive effort that would be necessary to drive nuclear costs down over the next couple of decades would be an extremely large bet on a highly risky technology that would foreclose alternatives that are much more attractive at present. Even if the technology could be deployed at scale at the currently projected costs, without undermining safety, it would be an unnecessarily expensive solution to the problem that would waste a great deal of time and resources, given past experience.
Finally, giving nuclear power a central role in climate change policy would not only drain away resources from the more promising alternatives, it would undermine the effort to create the physical and institutional infrastructure needed to support the emerging electricity systems based on renewables, distributed generation and intensive system and demand management.
The paper concludes that the prudent approach to resource acquisition is to build the institutional and physical infrastructure that achieves the maximum contribution from the more attractive resources available in the near and mid-term. With a clear path of more attractive resources, we do not have to engage in the hundred year debate today, although there is growing evidence that prospects for high penetration renewable scenarios for the long terms are quite good. The available and emerging alternatives can certainly carry the effort to meet the demand for electricity with low carbon resources a long way down the road, certainly long enough that the terrain of technologies available may be much broader before we have to settle for inferior options like nuclear power…
Russia’s Plans for Floating Nuclear Power Motley Fool, By Maxx Chatsko May 4, 2014 | “………. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have proposed building a floating nuclear power plant roughly five to nine miles offshore. Huh? Is that even possible?
I’m all about American innovation, but the idea was not originally conceived by MIT researchers, although their designs are novel. The original idea for floating nuclear power plants was actually developed in Russia. More surprising is that its more than just an idea — designs are being constructed and commercialized as you read this article. Is the world really ready for floating nuclear power?
The Russian designs for floating nuclear power plants were created by Rosatom, which originally planned to build up to eight facilities by 2015. Those plans were proven overly ambitious, but the first two reactors were installed (non-operable) last October and are expected to be deployed in Pevek. Each power plant will consist of two nuclear reactors ranging from capacities of 35 MWe to 325 MWe each and boasting a lifetime of 38 years. The plan is to tow the facility back to port every 12 years for one year of maintenance and fuel reloading. Some will produce power exclusively for the grid in remote locations lacking access to Russia’s abundant natural gas reserves and extensive pipeline network through underwater transmission cables, while others will act as cogeneration facilities capable of feeding the grid and desalinating large quantities of seawater. Meanwhile, the ship hulls are being constructed in Russia, although South Korea and China have been rumored to be possible partners in future facilities.
It’s not difficult to imagine the ambitious and pioneering projects experiencing cost overruns — and that’s exactly what has happened. Planned facilities have been canceled, moved, sold, bought, and resold in their relatively short existence. Whether the floating nuclear power plants can produce power economically remains to be demonstrated, although the cost is expected to drop with each new facility………
The potential risks are numerous,….Unfortunately, the risk increases for unproven and unverified designs. There would be unique threats such as terrorists, pirates, or stray tankers, as well as familiar threats such as equipment malfunctions…. environmentalists would be sure to interpret proposed designs as humanity’s disregard for marine life,
MOX project of little value http://beta.mirror.augusta.com/opinion/letters/2014-05-01/mox-project-little-value By Victor J. ReillyAiken, S.C. Thursday, May 1, 2014 MOX is a mix of oxides of uranium and plutonium that can be used as fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. It removes some plutonium from the sticky fingers of terrorists. Sound good? Yes, until the cost of doing this soared.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has recently said that if MOX is shelved, she wants the plutonium out of South Carolina. That is silly, but it reflects a 2002 federal law that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had demanded.
Apparently, idiocy is endemic.
First, our plutonium problem. With welcome reductions in our nuclear arsenal, we now have about a hundred tons of plutonium in storage. In the wrong hands, less than 20 pounds of it could make a nuclear bomb. That would be a catastrophe. We must store it securely for decades. Savannah River Site would be logical for this job, with its huge area and a staff experienced in handling plutonium. This would provide good jobs that the governor should have jumped at.
MOX’s design capacity is to disable one ton of plutonium per year, so if MOX were the way to work it off, it would take more than a hundred years. A stock of one ton requires as much protection as for 100 tons.
With the huge increase in fixed costs from construction, would it be profitable? If we plan to cancel the program, we would end up writing off the sunk costs, so why not do it anyway? Would it then be profitable? If MOX fuel can’t be sold at a profit, why continue with it?
In summary, MOX has no value in ridding us of our stored plutonium.
Alternatives must be sought for that. The United States will need to have one or several plutonium storage sites, indefinitely. South Carolina should accept the job for one of them.
mPower Pullback Stalls Small Nuclear, Forbes, 28 April 14 Richard Martin Nuclear technology supplier Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) has slashed funding for its Generation mPower program, an effort to develop a small modular reactor (SMR) for power generation and other applications. The pullback represents a major blow to the development of SMRs, which have been hailed as the next step forward for the nuclear power industry.
All told, B&W, the DOE, and partners have spent around $400 million on the mPower program. Another $600 million was needed just to get the technology ready for application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for licensing…..B&W said last year it would seek a majority investor in the project but was unable to secure a buyer. ..
A Botched Plan to Turn Nuclear Warheads Into Fuel Bloomberg, By Matthew Philips April 24, 2014 As the Soviet Union was unraveling and the Cold War was winding down in the early 1990s, negotiators in Washington and Moscow began talking about how best to dispose of the plutonium inside thousands of nuclear warheads the two nations had agreed to dismantle. The cheapest and easiest method was to immobilize the radioactive material by encasing it in molten glass and burying it. But the Russians balked at that, likening it to flushing gold down the toilet. Ultimately, it was decided that the plutonium would be converted into fuel for nuclear power plants. In September 2000, the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement under which each side would turn 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX, that could be combined with uranium for use in commercial reactors.
In the U.S., that huge task would take place at an aging plutonium factory in South Carolina called the Savannah River Site. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the 310-square-mile facility had churned out about 36 tons of weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear warheads. Now, the plant would turn those same warheads into fuel rods. The Department of Energy initially estimated it would cost about $1 billion to convert the plant. Construction began in August 2007, with an expected completion date of 2016.
The U.S. government even had a ready customer for the rods. Charlotte-based Duke Energy (DUK), one of the largest nuclear power companies in the U.S., signed on as a buyer. From 2005 to 2008, the company ran tests of MOX fuel the Department of Energy got from France. The fuel worked fine. Everything was going according to plan.
Almost seven years after construction began, the MOX plant is now 60 percent built. But it’s looking increasingly likely that it won’t ever be completed….The MOX plant in South Carolina requires 85 miles of pipe, 23,000 instruments, and 3.6 million linear feet of power cables. The project is vastly over budget: The Department of Energy has sunk about $5 billion into it so far and estimates it will cost an additional $6 billion to $7 billion to finish the plant, plus an additional $20 billion or so to turn the plutonium into fuel over 15 years. In its 2015 budget request released in March, the Department of Energy announced it will place the MOX project on “cold standby,” effectively mothballing the project for the foreseeable future. “It’s a major fiasco,” says Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. It’s a classic boondoggle.”
The MOX plant is the latest blunder for the Department of Energy, which has a reputation for mismanaging big, complicated projects, particularly those related to nuclear energy. Costs for a nuclear waste treatment plant in Washington State have nearly tripled to $13 billion. A uranium processing facility in Tennessee once estimated to cost around $1 billion is now tipping the scales at around $11 billion, according to an Army Corps of Engineers study. It’s also running about 20 years behind schedule. A Department of Energy spokesman declined to comment for this article…….http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-24/u-dot-s-dot-botches-plan-to-turn-nuclear-warheads-into-fuel
Another one (or more) bites the dust …http://johnquiggin.com/2014/04/20/another-one-or-more-bites-the-dust/ April 20th, 2014 John Quiggin Coming back yet again to nuclear power, I’ve been arguing for a while that nuclear power can only work (if at all) on the basis of a single standardised design, and that the only plausible candidate for this is the Westinghouse AP1000. One response from nuclear enthusiasts has been to point to possible future advances beyond the Gen III+ approach embodied by the AP1000 (and less promising competitors like EPR). The two most popular have been Small Modular Reactors and Generation IV (fast) reactors. Recent news suggests that both of these options are now dead.
The news on the Small Modular Reactor is that Babcock and Wilcox, the first firm to be selected by the US Department of Energy to develop a prototype, has effectively mothballed the project, sacking the CEO of its SMR subsidiary and drastically scaling back staff. Westinghouse already abandoned its efforts. There is still one firm left pursuing the idea, and trying (so far unsuccessfully) to attract investors, but there’s no reason to expect success any time soon.
As regards Generation IV, the technology road map issued by the Gen IV International Forum in 2002 has just been updated. All the timelines have been pushed out, mostly by 10 years or more. That is, Gen IV is no closer now than it was when the GenIV initiative started. In particular, there’s no chance of work starting on even a prototype before about 2020, which puts commercial availability well past 2035. Allowing for construction time, there’s no prospect of electricity generation on a significant scale before 2050, by which time we will need to have completely decarbonized the economy.
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