The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Robot technology for Fukushima nuclear clean-up operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“………..Fast breeders

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

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, insurmountable problems with nuclear fusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Contain your excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents may claim.

Thorium-snake-oil  May 7, 2012

Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents may claim.

You don’t have to trust me on this, see what the experts at various institutions have to say below:

MIT Energy Initiative, The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Appendix A starts on page 181 of the Appendices PDF file. The relevant statement from MIT is:

  • Proliferation And Security Groundrules:
    Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. Policy decisions on appropriate ground rules are required before devoting significant resources toward such fuel cycles. U-233 can be treated two ways.
  • Analogous to U-235. If the U-235 content of uranium is less than 20% U-235 or less than 13% U-233 with the remainder being U-238, the uranium mixture is non-weapons material. However, isotopic dilution in U-238 can significantly compromise many of the benefits.
  • Analogous to plutonium. Plutonium can not be degraded thus enhanced safeguards are used. The same strategy can be used with U-233. A complicating factor (see below) is that U-233 is always contaminated with U-232 that has decay products that give off high energy gamma radiation which requires additional measures to protect worker health and safety. There has been no consensus on the safeguards / nonproliferation benefits of this radiation field.

The point being made here is that thorium can be used to make Uranium-233, which in turn can be used to make bombs. The complicating U-232 contamination mentioned above is what many of the thorium proponents refer to as making thorium resistant to proliferation. MIT has more to say about this proliferation protection in their summary:

On one hand, high radiation dose [from U-232 decay] provides self protection to separated fissile material against diversion and misuse. On the other hand, it makes the U-233 recycling more complex and costly.

The point here is that the U-233 is in fact subject to ‘diversion and misuse’ (like atomic bombs) if it can be separated out from the highly radioactive U-232 contaminants. If the U-232 is not somehow processed out, however, there is no way to operate the reactor for peaceful purposes, or otherwise.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Filtering contaminants out of thorium bred U-233 to make weapons grade fissile material is not rocket science. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) created a process to do this. They kindly wrote about it in a history included in the ORNL Review publication (search the long page for the words “THOREX” or “Uranium-233″):………..

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

The mirage of much hyped, (but non-existent) new nuclear reactors

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.”……..

text-SMRsSo 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.”


October 3, 2014 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | 1 Comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 969 other followers