New’ reactor types are all nuclear pie in the sky Ecologist Dr Jim Green 2nd October 2014 There’s an Alice in Wonderland flavour to the nuclear power debate, writes Jim Green. Lobbyists are promoting all sorts of new reactor types – an implicit admission that existing reactors aren’t up to the job. But the designs they are promoting have two severe problems. They don’t exist. And they have no customers. Some nuclear enthusiasts and lobbyists favour non-existent Integral Fast Reactors, others favour non-existent Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, others favour non-existent Pebble Bed Modular Reactors, others favour non-existent fusion reactors. And on it goes.
Two to three decades ago, the nuclear industry promised a new generation of gee-whiz ‘Generation IV’ reactors in two to three decades. That’s what they’re still saying now, and that’s what they’ll be saying two to three decades from now. The Generation IV International Forum website states:
“It will take at least two or three decades before the deployment of commercial Gen IV systems. In the meantime, a number of prototypes will need to be built and operated. The Gen IV concepts currently under investigation are not all on the same timeline and some might not even reach the stage of commercial exploitation.”
The World Nuclear Association notes that“progress is seen as slow, and several potential designs have been undergoing evaluation on paper for many years.”……..
So work continues on Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) but the writing’s on the wall and it’s time for the nuclear lobby to come up with another gee-whiz next-gen fail-safe reactor type to promote … perhaps a giant fusion reactor located out of harm’s way, 150 million kilometres from Earth.
And while the ‘small is beautiful’ approach is faltering, so too is the ‘bigger is better’ mantra. The 1,600 MW Olkiluoto-3 European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) under construction in Finland is nine years behind schedule (and counting) and US$6.9 billion over-budget (and counting).
The UK is embarking on a hotly-contested plan to build two 1,600 MW EPRs at Hinkley Point with a capital cost of US$26 billion and mind-boggling public subsidies.
Economic consulting firm Liberum Capital said Hinkley Point will be “both the most expensive power station in the world and also the plant with the longest construction period.”http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html
‘New’ reactor types are all nuclear pie in the sky Ecologist Dr Jim Green 2nd October 2014 “………. In any case, Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors (IFRs) are yesterday’s news. Now it’s all about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The Energy Green Paper recently released by the Australian government is typical of the small-is-beautiful rhetoric:
“The main development in technology since 2006 has been further work on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs have the potential to be flexibly deployed, as they are a simpler ‘plug-in’ technology that does not require the same level of operating skills and access to water as traditional, large reactors.”
The rhetoric doesn’t match reality. Interest in SMRs is on the wane. Thus Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, wrote in a recent article:
“At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”
Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program. As he explains:
“The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones.
“The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs.
“It’s an attractive idea. But it’s also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. … That money would presumably come from customer orders – if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR “market” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks [US Nuclear Regulatory Commission] approval.”
Can’t find customers, can’t find investors
Dr Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, notes that two US corporations are pulling out of SMR development because they cannot find customers (Westinghouse) or major investors (Babcock and Wilcox). Cooper points to some economic constraints:
“SMR technology will suffer disproportionately from material cost increases because they use more material per MW of capacity. Higher costs will result from: lost economies of scale; higher operating costs; and higher decommissioning costs. Cost estimates that assume quick design approval and deployment are certain to prove to be wildly optimistic.”
Academics M.V. Ramana and Zia Mian state in their detailed analysis of SMRs:“Proponents of the development and large scale deployment of small modular reactors suggest that this approach to nuclear power technology and fuel cycles can resolve the four key problems facing nuclear power today: costs, safety, waste, and proliferation.
“Nuclear developers and vendors seek to encode as many if not all of these priorities into the designs of their specific nuclear reactor. The technical reality, however, is that each of these priorities can drive the requirements on the reactor design in different, sometimes opposing, directions.
“Of the different major SMR designs under development, it seems none meets all four of these challenges simultaneously. In most, if not all designs, it is likely that addressing one of the four problems will involve choices that make one or more of the other problems worse.”
The future is in … decommissioning
Likewise, Kennette Benedict, Executive Director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,states: “Without a clear-cut case for their advantages, it seems that small nuclear modular reactors are a solution looking for a problem.
“Of course in the world of digital innovation, this kind of upside-down relationship between solution and problem is pretty normal. Smart phones, Twitter, and high-definition television all began as solutions looking for problems.
“In the realm of nuclear technology, however, the enormous expense required to launch a new model as well as the built-in dangers of nuclear fission require a more straightforward relationship between problem and solution.
“Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.”
And as Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick said in January: “The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment – it’s that there’s no customers.”
Instead of going for SMRs, IFRs, Pebble Bed Reactors or thorium technologies, Westinghouse is looking to triple the one area where it really does have customers: its decommissioning business. “We see this as a $1 billion-per-year business for us”, Roderick said.
With the world’s fleet of mostly middle-aged reactors inexorably becoming a fleet of mostly ageing, decrepit reactors, Westinghouse is getting ahead of the game.
The writing is on the wall
Some SMR R&D work continues but it all seems to be leading to the conclusions mentioned above. Argentina is ahead of the rest, with construction underway on a 27 MWe reactor – but the cost equates to an astronomical US$15.2 billion per 1,000 MWe. Argentina’s expertise with reactor technology stems from its covert weapons program from the 1960s to the early 1980s…………. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html
“………Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are a case in point. According to the lobbyists they are ready to roll, will be cheap to build and operate, couldn’t be used to feed WMD proliferation, etc. The US and UK governments have been analysing the potential of IFRs.
The UK government found that:
- the facilities have not been industrially demonstrated;
- waste disposal issues remain unresolved and could be further complicated if it is deemed necessary to remove sodium from spent fuel to facilitate disposal; and
- little could be ascertained about cost since General Electric Hitachi refuses to release estimates of capital and operating costs, saying they are “commercially sensitive”.
The US government has also considered the use of IFRs (which it calls Advanced Disposition Reactors – ADR) to manage US plutonium stockpiles and concluded that:
- the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration;
- it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and
- the ADR option is associated with “significant technical risk”.
Unsurprisingly, the IFR rhetoric doesn’t match the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. As nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned
Scientists puts it:
“The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”……….http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html
Scientist: Massive spikes in radioactivity are being hidden from public — Radiation doses around nuclear reactors increase exponentially — It’s a major worry… very, very important — Something must be done (VIDEO) http://enenews.com/scientist-massive-spikes-radioactivity-being-hidden-public-radiation-doses-around-reactors-increase-exponentially-major-worry-very-very-important-video?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ENENews+%28Energy+News%29
Interview with Dr. Ian Fairlie, Radiation Biologist, Nuclear Hotseat hosted by Libbe HaLevy, Aug 19, 2014 (at 35:30 in): One of the key things I’d like to mention to your listeners is this; Up until 2012, we didn’t really know what happened with emissions from nuclear reactors. The only data that we had was annual data… we didn’t really know the time pattern — now we do. Now we know that the large majority — say two-thirds, three-quarters — of the annual emissions from a reactor occur just once, during one spike.
And that spike occurs when the reactor is opened up to take out the old fuel and to put in fresh fuel. During that time period — about a day, day-and-half — the reactors are depressurized… they open up the valves and the radioactive gases shoot out. It’s during that time that we think that the people down wind are exposed to high levels of radioactivity, i.e. high radiation doses… Instead of having even, little bits of emissions throughout the 365 days, you haveone big, massive spike which happens over a day-and-a-half period. And that happens roughly speaking, once a year…
That’s important — Very, very important — because it results in doses that are at least 20 times higher, maybe even as much as 100 times higher… That’s a major worry… I’ve said to a number of nuclear operators, “Why don’t you do this at night time when people are in bed? Why don’t you do it when it’s really, really windy out — and it’s not raining?” … When it’s very calm it just drifts everywhere and you get big doses — No response… These spikes have been hidden from us ever since the beginning of the nuclear power program … nobody knew about them apart from people who work in the nuclear industry and they keep really quiet about it. I’d like to say to your American listeners, this is very important. You have to go to your regulator and say, “There’s no reason why this is not occurring at US reactors. These data are from German pressurized water reactors… We know that it’s very, very likely the same thing is happening with US reactors.” I hope that at least some of your listeners will pick this up and say, “Whoa, we’ve got to do something here.” >>Full interview available here
Dr. Donald Mosier, Scripps Research Institute’s Dept. of Immunology and city council member in Del Mar near San Onofre nuclear plant, Oct. 19, 2013 (at 27:15 in): The problem with the data is that tritium releases are episodic. They’ll have a release of tritium one day a month, but when they report that to the NRC, they’ll say this is the amount of tritium we’ve released over the year. You have 5 days of release, but you divide that by 365 days, it doesn’t look like so much tritium. But if you’re sitting right next to the plant on the day of the release, it’s quite a bit. There’s some data from Europe that says those spikes are dangerous. There’s no data in the US that you can interpret. >> Watch the community symposium here
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been proposed as a possible way to address the social problems confronting nuclear power, including poor economics, the possibility of catastrophic accidents, radioactive waste production, and linkage to nuclear weapon proliferation. Several SMR designs, with diverse technical characteristics, are being developed around the world and are promoted as addressing one or more of these problems. This paper examines the basic features of different kinds of SMRs and shows why the technical characteristics of SMRs do not allow them to solve simultaneously all four of the problems identified with nuclear power today. It shows that the leading SMR designs under development involve choices and trade-offs between desired features. Focusing on a single challenge, for example cost reduction, might make other challenges more acute. The paper then briefly discusses other cultural and political factors that contribute to the widespread enthusiasm for these reactors, despite technical and historical reasons to doubt that the promises offered by SMR technology advocates will be actually realized.
It’s anybody’s guess how long Thorium, with its “peacenik” aura, will take to get traction in corridors well-trodden by the US nuclear energy lobby, who have singularly shown zero interest in the blandishments of Thorium.
Thorium lobby thunder intent on hijacking rare earths’ coattails Investor Intel August 12, 2014 by Christopher Ecclestone Anyone in the Rare Earths space knows that Thorium frequently appears as an unwanted guest at the party. Explorers have worked on various ways to get around the issue. However there is a small group out there who we would call the “deniers”. They absolutely love Thorium. They are like Swedes liberated from the sauna in the dead of winter and would roll around in the stuff naked, if they could, to prove their commitment. While greater love hath no man to a chemical element than the Thorium crowd to their object of desire, the more measured amongst us realize that the mineral has been stuck for decades like a racehorse suffering a starting-gate malfunction.
What are we talking of here Continue reading
Report: New Nuclear Power Technology Would Siphon Resources Away From Renewable Energy, PROGRESS ILLINOIS Ellyn Fortino Friday August 8th, 2014, “…….one nuclear financing expert argues in a new report that SMRs, which have yet to be built in the United States, would be no cheaper than their larger counterparts. Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at theInstitute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School, also warns that SMR development would suck up funding that could otherwise be used for what he says are more attractive energy options like wind and solar.
“Large reactors have never been economically competitive and there is no reason to believe that smaller reactors will fare any better,” Cooper said. “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.”………
Although SMRs would be smaller in size, “creating an assembly line for SMR technology would require a massive financial commitment,” Cooper writes in his report, “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.”
He projects it would cost between $72 billion and $90 billion by 2020 to fund the development of just two SMR designs and assembly lines.
The estimated price tag to invest in SMRs is roughly equivalent to 75 percent of the total projected investment in U.S. electricity generation over the same time period, the report noted. It is also “substantially more” than what is expected to be spent on renewables, Cooper said.
“This massive commitment reinforces the traditional concern that nuclear power will crowd out the alternatives,” he added.
SMRs themselves would also cost more, not less, than larger reactors, according to the report.
“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,” Cooper noted.
SMRs are up against greater challenges than previous technologies because they are “a radical new technology that its advocates would like to have treated in a very different way with respect to safety and licensing,” Cooper explained.
“They would like to deploy lots of reactors close to population centers. That’s the way they can make their economics work,” he continued. “And they need to relax safety … They’ve asked for a number of changes in safety to try to drive down the cost, and even then they cannot compete on costs.”……
the industry’s hype around SMRs is now fizzling, Cooper explained. The “unproven” SMR technology has already experienced setbacks in the marketplace, he said, pointing to recent announcements from Babcock & Wilcox and Westinghouse Electric Co., another small-reactor industry leader developing a 225-megawatt SMR.
Babcock & Wilcox said last month that it is slowing the development of and funding for its mPower technology because the company cannot find major investors for the effort. Westinghouse — after being passed up twice by the DOE for SMR cost-sharing agreements — announced in February that it is shifting its attention away from small-reactor technology because it does not have a customer base for SMRs.
“They are cutting back for simple reasons: They can’t find customers. They can’t find investors,” Cooper said. “In a market economy like ours, that is a death knell, and so they have slashed their commitment to small modular reactors……….”http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2014/05/18/report-new-nuclear-power-technology-would-siphon-resources-away-renewa
Report: New Nuclear Power Technology Would Siphon Resources Away From Renewable Energy, PROGRESS ILLINOIS Ellyn Fortino Friday August 8th, 2014 “………With the industry currently unable to garner enough customer and investor interest around SMRs, it is trying to save nuclear power by making a “desperate attempt to undermine the alternatives, which are succeeding,” Cooper added.
The nuclear energy industry “says, ‘Look, just get rid of their subsides. Gerry-rig the market so that we can stay in business. Avoid policies that will let (alternatives) stay in business … and then we’ll have a level playing field.’ But of course it doesn’t look anything like a level playing field,” he said.
Over the past 60 years, the nuclear energy industry has collected 10 times more subsidies than what renewables have received, Cooper said. Government funding for SMR research and development currently represents the smallest subsidy out of many received by the nuclear power industry, he added.
He said the U.S. nuclear energy industry is grappling with a “fundamental conflict.” After failing to bring online 90 percent of new reactors as part of a “nuclear renaissance” suggested by nuclear power advocates in the early 2000s, the hope was that SMR technology would rescue the industry. And since that has yet to happen, the industry is “now struggling to save the aging reactors… simply because they cannot compete against the alternatives available.”
“The death of the small modular reactor hype really is emblematic of the fundamental conflict that’s going on in the industry,” he said. “The near term will decide, not just the fate of nuclear power, but the fundamental approach that we take to addressing the challenge of climate change.”
Looking ahead, Cooper said he questions nuclear power’s place in the emerging “integrated, two-way electricity system based on decentralized alternatives.” In such a system, an “inflexible source of supply like nuclear does not have value,” he said, adding that nuclear power “becomes a burden on the flexible system rather than a benefit.”
Nuclear power, Cooper said, is not a smart “economic proposition” or “portfolio asset” for a low-carbon electricity future.
“And looking carefully at the urgency of dealing with climate change, it’s also the most costly, most risky approach to climate change,” he stressed. http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2014/05/18/report-new-nuclear-power-technology-would-siphon-resources-away-renewa
Small Modular Reactors Huffington Post, Dr Helen Caldicott 08/07/2014 Now that the “nuclear renaissance” is dead following the Fukushima catastrophe, when one sixth of the world’s nuclear reactors closed, the nuclear corporations — Toshiba, Nu-Scale, Babcock and Wilcox, GE Hitachi, General Atomics, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — will not accept defeat.
Their new strategy is to develop small modular reactors (SMRs), allegedly free of the dangers inherent in large reactors: safety issues, high cost, proliferation risks and radioactive waste.
But these claims are fallacious, for the reasons outlined below.
Basically, there are three types of SMRs, which generate less than 300 megawatts of electricity compared with current 1,000-megawatt reactors.
1. Light-water reactors
These will be smaller versions of present-day pressurized water reactors, using water as the moderator and coolant, but with the same attendant problems as Fukushima and Three Mile Island. Built underground, they will be difficult to access in the event of an accident or malfunction.
Because they’re mass-produced (turnkey production), large numbers must be sold yearly to make a profit. This is an unlikely prospect, because major markets — China and India — will not buy U.S. reactors when they can make their own.
If safety problems arise, they all must be shut down, which will interfere substantially with electricity supply.
SMRs will be expensive because the cost per unit capacity increases with a decrease in reactor size. Billions of dollars of government subsidies will be required because Wall Street is allergic to nuclear power. To alleviate costs, it is suggested that safety rules be relaxed, including reducing security requirements, and reducing the 10-mile emergency planning zone to 1,000 feet.
2. Non-light-water designs
These include high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) or pebble-bed reactors. Five billion tiny fuel kernels consisting of high-enriched uranium or plutonium will be encased in tennis-ball-sized graphite spheres that must be made without cracks or imperfections — or they could lead to an accident. A total of 450,000 such spheres will slowly and continuously be released from a fuel silo, passing through the reactor core, and then recirculated 10 times. These reactors will be cooled by helium gas operating at high very temperatures (900 degrees C).
A reactor complex consisting of four HTGR modules will be located underground, to be run by just two operators in a central control room. Claims are that HTGRs will be so safe that a containment building will be unnecessary and operators can even leave the site (“walk-away-safe” reactors).
However, should temperatures unexpectedly exceed 1,600 degrees C, the carbon coating will release dangerous radioactive isotopes into the helium gas, and at 2,000 degrees C the carbon would ignite, creating a fierce, Chernobyl-type graphite fire.
If a crack develops in the piping or building, radioactive helium would escape, and air would rush in, also igniting the graphite.
Although HTGRs produce small amounts of low-level waste, they create larger volumes of high-level waste than conventional reactors.
Despite these obvious safety problems, and despite the fact that South Africa has abandoned plans for HTGRs, the U.S. Department of Energy has unwisely chosen the HTGR as the “next-generation nuclear plant.”
3. Liquid-metal fast reactors (PRISM)
It is claimed by proponents that fast reactors will be safe, economically competitive, proliferation-resistant, and sustainable.
They are fueled by plutonium or highly enriched uranium and cooled by either liquid sodium or a lead-bismuth molten coolant. Liquid sodium burns or explodes when exposed to air or water, and lead-bismuth is extremely corrosive, producing very volatile radioactive elements when irradiated.
Should a crack occur in the reactor complex, liquid sodium would escape, burning or exploding. Without coolant, the plutonium fuel could reach critical mass, triggering a massive nuclear explosion, scattering plutonium to the four winds. One millionth of a gram of plutonium induces cancer, and it lasts for 500,000 years. Extraordinarily, they claim that fast reactors will be so safe that they will require no emergency sirens, and that emergency planning zones can be decreased from 10 miles to 1,300 feet.
There are two types of fast reactors: a simple, plutonium-fueled reactor and a “breeder,” in which the plutonium-reactor core is surrounded by a blanket of uranium 238, which captures neutrons and converts to plutonium.
The plutonium fuel, obtained from spent reactor fuel, will be fissioned and converted to shorter-lived isotopes, cesium and strontium, which last 600 years instead of 500,000. The industry claims that this process, called “transmutation,” is an excellent way to get rid of plutonium waste. But this is fallacious, because only 10 percent fissions, leaving 90 percent of the plutonium for bomb making, etc.
Then there’s construction. Three small plutonium fast reactors will be grouped together to form a module, and three of these modules will be buried underground. All nine reactors will then be connected to a fully automated central control room operated by only three operators. Potentially, then, one operator could face a catastrophic situation triggered by loss of off-site power to one unit at full power, another shut down for refueling and one in startup mode. There are to be no emergency core cooling systems.
Fast reactors require a massive infrastructure, including a reprocessing plant to dissolve radioactive waste fuel rods in nitric acid, chemically removing the plutonium, and a fuel fabrication facility to create new fuel rods. A total of 15 to 25 tons of plutonium are required to operate a fuel cycle at a fast reactor, and just five pounds is fuel for a nuclear weapon.
Thus fast reactors and breeders will provide extraordinary long-term medical dangers and the perfect situation for nuclear-weapons proliferation. Despite this, the industry plans to market them to many countries.
Floating Nuclear Power Plants Might Be the Future of Energy, VICE News, By Kayla RubleAugust 1, 2014 “…………Critics are concerned about some of the design aspects of this type of NPPs. Edwin Lyman, a senior global security scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists, told VICE News that a lot of what needs to be done to make these plants deployable is the opposite of what the industry needs to do to make their land-based facilities safer. He explained that having to build lighter reactors for use in the ocean and accessibility issues are concerns with the floating plants.
Perhaps these technical problems can be overcome, but why would anyone bother to try, knowing in advance that the MSR plant will be uneconomic due to huge construction costs and operating costs, plus will explode and rain radioactive molten salt when (not if) the steam generator tubes leak. There are serious reasons the US has not pursued development of the thorium MSR process.
Reports are, though, that China has started a development program for thorium MSR, using technical information and assistance from ORNL. One hopes that stout umbrellas can be issued to the Chinese population that will withstand the raining down of molten, radioactive fluoride salt when one of the reactors explodes.
The Truth About Nuclear Power – Part 28 Subtitle: Thorium MSR No Better Than Uranium Process, Sowell’s law blog July 20, 2014
- 1 NUCLEAR ISSUES
- business and costs
- climate change
- indigenous issues
- marketing of nuclear
- opposition to nuclear
- politics international
- Religion and ethics
- secrets,lies and civil liberties
- weapons and war
- 2 WORLD
- MIDDLE EAST
- NORTH AMERICA
- SOUTH AMERICA
- Christina's notes
- Christina's themes
- rare earths
- resources – print
- Resources -audiovicual