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A critical analysis of future nuclear reactors designs

By D A. Ryan,  Once upon a time I used to be a fan of nuclear energy. As far as I saw it, nuclear energy was the silver bullet solution to all of our energy problems and more. However, the more I’ve learned about the industry the more critical I’ve become.

Notably the fact that most of the economic figures in support of nuclear power (a couple of typical delusions you’ll find here and here) come straight out of Hogwarts school of magic, wizardry….and economics (more realistic appraisals of nuclear economics can be found here and here).

All in all my conclusion is that the case for future Generation IV nuclear reactors is much narrower than the supporters of nuclear energy would have you believe. While they do offer some advantages over LWR’s, notably in the area of safety, this comes with strings attached, notably higher capital costs. This is largely a result of the fact that many of these would need to be built from much more exotic materials, such as high temperature stainless steel alloys  Nickel alloys or Refractory materials, while the predominant material of choice in current reactors is steel (stainless and forged ferritic) and concrete. This materials requirement is itself an issue related to the high temperatures these alternative reactors would be required to operate at, not to mention the more aggressive and corrosive environment in some of them, notably the MSR proposals. Of course one to question whether these higher construction costs (and in some cases higher decommissioning costs) are justified……..

Small to medium sized modular reactors do offer a good deal more flexibility in terms of how nuclear power could be used and yet a further improvement in safety. However, they also comes with lower economies of scale and thus higher construction costs and worse a slower rate of reactor roll out (at least in the early days). We could claw back on these two issues by mass producing said reactors in large volumes but as I point out (again see the full article), it is far from proven whether that would be economically viable and whether there is in fact a market for large numbers of small reactors…….
by and large mass production means “dumbing down” our design, and that means accepting a reactor that’s much cheaper and easier to build but has a lower thermal efficiency, a higher rate of fuel consumption and ultimately produces larger volumes of nuclear waste compared to our “mega” reactors. With the exception of a small number of narrow cases, it’s difficult to envisage how this would offer an improvement on the current status quo…..

 Thorium fuelled reactors still need fissile isotopes, drawn ultimately from Uranium, for startup purposes. Failing this they require the use of expensive (and generally uneconomic) fast reactors and reprocessing of spent fuel. So yes, while Thorium could help stretch things out, it can only help a little bit, but not nearly as much as the supporters of Thorium reactors would have you believe. Thorium fuelled reactors would still generate substantial quantities of nuclear waste and come with a number of potential proliferation risks attached. Even the UK National Nuclear Laboratories (NNL) pours cold water over the idea……


Finally, I also had a look at Fusion power . his is the great white hope of nuclear energy and it has to be said we are making progress, but it’s a case of slow and steady progress. Indeed I would question whether we are in a position yet to even estimate how long it will take for fusion power to become commercial available…if indeed ever! Recent news from ITER is not positive, its now not due to go online till 2026, which would imply a completion of experiments in 2046. And it will take sometime beyond that before we wind up with a viable working commercial fusion reactor. As I speculate (here), it would likely be the latter half of this century (or the beginning of the next one) before we start to see Fusion play any sort of major role in mass global power generation…… nuclear energy supporters need to overcome their pathological hatred of renewables

July 25, 2012 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, technology | Leave a comment

Further delays for Finland’s and France’s new nuclear power plants

Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 nuclear plant delayed again, BBC News 16 July 12 Olkiluoto 3 has been hit by repeated delays and is over budget The launch of a flagship nuclear power station in Finland has been delayed for a third time, officials say.

Finnish electricity company TVO says the Olkiluoto 3 plant will not be ready by the latest deadline of 2014 and a new timetable has not yet been set.
The plant will be powered by a new generation of nuclear technology called the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR)….. Olkiluoto 3, originally due to be ready by 2009, is being built by French nuclear company Areva and German engineering giant Siemens.

In a statement, TVO said it was “not pleased with the situation” although solutions to various problems were being found one by one and work was “progressing”.

It said it was waiting for a new launch date from Areva and Siemens.

Work on the site in south-west Finland began in 2005 but has been hit by repeated delays and has run way over budget….. a similar project in Flamanville in northern France is itself running four years behind schedule….

July 25, 2012 Posted by | business and costs, Finland | Leave a comment

The continuing gloomy story of Finland’s Olkiluoto nuclear reactor

Nuclear dawn delayed in Finland BBC News, By Rob Broomby  8 July 2009  The turbine is the world’s largest and will generate about 2m horse power When it is finished, Finland’s 3 (OL3) nuclear reactor will be the biggest the world has ever seen, the excavation site alone is the size of 55 football fields.
It was to have been a pilot project for bigger, better, cleaner, Generation III reactors, which would lead the charge back to nuclear power in a continent which had gone cold on atomic energy after the accidents at Chernobyl and Thee Mile Island.
But hopes of an early nuclear dawn on the Baltic coast are fading –  Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | business and costs, Finland | Leave a comment

Veil of secrecy over France’s unaffordable nuclear power decommissioning

“What is not tolerable is that the funds are managed by the operators” 

Over the past six years there has been a veritable veil pulled over this subject.”

French Nuclear Dismantling Funds May Fall Short, Report Says By Tara Patel – Jul 24, 2012 Electricite de France SA and Areva SA (AREVA), along with other French nuclear operators, may not be setting aside enough funds to pay for future dismantling of reactors and treatment and storage of atomic waste, according to a parliamentary report. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | decommission reactor, France, Reference | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste travelling from Italy to La Hague, France

“In both Italy and France, nuclear energy is at an impasse: they don’t know what to do with nuclear waste”

Italians voted overwhelmingly against a return to nuclear energy in a
June 2011 referendum

Convoy taking Italian spent nuclear fuel to France: reports 24/07/2012 A rail convoy  highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel from Italy to France set off from the northern Italian town of Saluggia overnight, Italian media reported Tuesday. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | France, Italy, wastes | Leave a comment

Japan’s religious leaders call for an end to nuclear power

Religious figures call for future free of atomic energy 14, 2012 Regardless of differences in faiths, 51 religious figures on July 13 jointly published a statement calling for an end to nuclear power generation.

Initiators of this statement, including the former president of the
Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF) and a reverend of the Anglican
Episcopal Church in Japan, met in Kyoto City to seek broader support
to the statement from other religious leaders.

Kono Taitsu, the former JBF president and now the chief priest of the Myoshinn-ji branch of the Rinzai Zen Denomination, said, “As a religious leader who speaks to the value of life, I came to feel  obliged to say something” about the nuclear energy issue.

The statement asserts that the Fukushima accident has proven that all beings and creatures cannot coexist with atomic energy, and points out that as nuclear power plants “inevitably accumulate radioactive wastes, they will endanger ‘all living things’ and pass on a negative legacy to future generations.”

The statement requests that the government and nuclear establishment complete the earliest possible decontamination, provide long-term healthcare for victims, and sincerely fulfill compensation obligations.

Regarding the resumption of operations and export of nuclear power plants with the cause of the Fukushima accident still remaining unknown, the statement criticizes these moves as “giving preference on ‘making money’ over safeguarding ‘lives’.”

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Japan, Religion and ethics | Leave a comment

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation

The report, Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk − Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutritiois available here. Videos are posted on youtube − search ‘nuclear famine’.

Nuclear power & nuclear weapons – two sides of the same coin,  July 24, 2012 Green Left, By Jim Green  “……. The report on the catastrophic potential of nuclear warfare has important implications for the ongoing debate over nuclear power. Apologists for the nuclear industry trot out any number of furphies in their efforts to distance nuclear power from WMD proliferation, but the facts are in. There is a long history of ostensibly peaceful nuclear programs providing political cover and technical support for nuclear weapons programs − and an expansion of nuclear power can only exacerbate the problem.

Of the 10 nations to have produced nuclear weapons: Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Heavy metal music: ACDC strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities

Iran nuclear facilities ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC malware Jacob Aron, technology reporter  In 2010, Iran’s nuclear facilities were infiltrated by Stuxnet, the centrifuge-wrecking malware allegedly cooked up by the US government.

Now they seem to have been hit again by a bizarre attack forcing nuclear plant workstations to pump the song Thunderstruck by heavy metal band AC/DC through the speakers at full
volume. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Iran, secrets,lies and civil liberties | Leave a comment

Japan Shifts from Nuclear Power to Renewable Power

International Support for Renewable Energy, Environmental Leader,  Jeff Colton, 24 July 12“……As a result of the vulnerability and global scrutiny of nuclear power following the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and the resulting Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan recently approved incentives for renewable energy, which will help the country decrease its dependence on nuclear power and increase clean energy programs, such as offshore wind farms . These incentives could result in billions of dollars in clean energy investment, expanding revenue from renewable generation and equipment, including wind turbine components such as ultracapacitors, to more than $30 billion by 2016…….. Just 1 percent of Japan’s power supply comes from renewable energy sources, apart from hydro-electric dams which account for most of the rest of the electric power.

Despite the low starting point, Japan has the potential to generate cleaner and safer energy from renewable sources such as the sun, wind and geothermal. Over the past decade, Japan’s wind power capacity has multiplied to 2.5 million kilowatts, and the Japan Wind Power Association estimates  the country can generate 740 million kilowatts of wind power on a commercial basis on land and offshore. With worldwide estimates suggesting 118,000 wind turbines installations through 2015 and nearly 75 percent of new turbines using electric pitch control systems, wind turbine design teams will turn to ultracapacitors as a reliable and cost-effective option. The newly approved incentives aim to spur growth in the renewable energy industry in Japan, just as subsidies have driven substantial renewable energy growth in Germany…..

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Japan, renewable | 1 Comment

USA rejects South Korea’s push to enrich uranium

Samore says no need for S. Korea to enrich uranium By Lee Chi-dong WASHINGTON, July 23 (Yonhap) — Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s top aide for nonproliferation, said Monday that the U.S. sees no need for South Korea to enrich uranium, a stance against Seoul’s goals. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | politics, South Korea, Uranium | Leave a comment

USA safer with fewer nuclear weapons say experts, and defense chief

Leading experts and military officials agree that the United States would be more secure with fewer nuclear weapons. A new report  chaired by Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argues that the U.S. could reduce its arsenal to 900 total nuclear weapons.

Defense Hawk Says Cut the Nuclear Arsenal HUFFINGTON POST,  Benjamin LoehrkeSenior Policy Analyst, Ploughshares Fund. 24 July 12 A leading defense hawk took to the floor of the House of Representatives to argue that greater security in the 21st century means spending less on nuclear weapons. This could signal a turning point as leaders in Congress see the strategic and fiscal realities behind why the U.S. should reduce its nuclear arsenal.

Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) is a steadfast supporter of national defense. He is the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee and has served on the Subcommittee on Defense for 34 years. He speaks forcefully — both in style and substance. Last week, he stood on the House floor to oppose a proposal on nuclear weapons. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Solar energy panels designed specifically for Japanese roofs

Global Solar Energy Brings Powerful Building Integrated Solar to Japan’s Growing Renewable Energy Market, Clean Technica, JULY 24, 2012 BY NICHOLAS BROWN Global Solar Energy Incorporated, a manufacturer of flexible solar panels, has announced that it is entering the Japanese solar market with flexible solar panels that are designed specifically for Japanese roofs. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | decentralised, Japan | Leave a comment

Radiation exposure to over 40 Indian nuclear power plant workers

40 India nuclear plant workers contaminated: Firm  Economic Times, 24 JUL, 2012,   JAIPUR: More than 40 workers at a nuclear power station have been exposed to tritium radiation in two separate leaks in the past five weeks, company managers said on Tuesday.

The first accident occurred on June 23 when 38 people were exposed during maintenance work on a coolant channel at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station in Rawatbhata, senior plant manager Vinod Kumar told AFP.

Two of them received radiation doses equivalent to the annual permissible limit, he said, but all those involved have returned to work.

In a second incident last Thursday, another four maintenance workers at the plant were exposed to tritium radiation while they were repairing a faulty seal on a pipe.

India is on a nuclear power drive, with a host of plants based on Russian, Japanese, American and French technology under consideration or construction. … environmental watchdogs have expressed concerns about safety in India, where small-scale industrial accidents due to negligence or poor maintenance are commonplace and regulatory bodies are often under-staffed and under-funded…..

No explanation was immediately available as to why the first incident at the plant took a month to emerge.

In May 2011, four labourers were exposed to low levels of radiation at the Kakrapur Atomic Power Station in eastern Gujarat state.

In November 2009, workers at a nuclear plant in southern Karnataka state fell ill after radioactive water contaminated their drinking water. …

July 25, 2012 Posted by | incidents, India | Leave a comment

A worker set fire to a nuclear submarine

A Guy Started A Fire On A Nuclear Submarine To Leave Work Early CASEY CHAN 23 July 12, Here’s a friendly reminder for everyone who wants to leave work early: don’t ever set fire to your workplace. Especially if you work on a million nuclear submarine. Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

Japan not able to find truly independent nuclear power regulators

  Japan Struggles to Find New Nuclear Regulators WSJ, By MARI IWATA TOKYO   July 24, 2012,—Racing against a legislative deadline, the Japanese government
is trying to find regulators who understand nuclear technology—but aren’t close to the nuclear industry.

Cronyism has been widely blamed for contributing to the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. following the huge earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March 2011. In a scathing investigation commissioned by parliament, a panel concluded: “The Tepco Fukushima nuclear-power-plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco.” Continue reading

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Japan, safety | Leave a comment