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Next generation nuclear power is unlikely to save the industry from bankruptcy

“The story the nuclear industry tries to offer, is that while old reactors may have been afflicted with problems, the new generation is going to be immune. But while they will get around some, they will also have a new set of problems,” says Ramana. “If it were up to me, I would say it’s not worth spending more money on these things, throwing good money after bad.”

“The nuclear industry is sort of riding into the sunset,” he says. “The question is how fast is it going to ride into it.”

For those who see a nuclear sunset on the horizon, the clearest solution to the problem of both energy production and climate change is renewables.

What the end of the atomic renaissance means for nuclear power, New Scientist,  The next generation of nuclear reactors was meant to bring cheaper, safer power. Where are they, and can they save the industry from bankruptcy and closure? By Lisa Grossman,7 May 2017

IT’S not a great time to be a nuclear reactor engineer. Plants are closing all over the world, even before the end of their usable lives. The most recently shut was a £15 billion power station in Cumbria, UK.

In the US, the only four reactors being built are years late and billions over budget. Should the four Westinghouse models under construction in South Carolina and Georgia ever be finished, it’s hard to say who will service them. Westinghouse Electric, their manufacturer and one of the last private companies building nuclear reactors, filed for bankruptcy on 29 March.

What happened? Just four years ago, we were supposed to be entering a nuclear renaissance. The US had started building its first reactors in 30 years to much fanfare. The Bush and Obama administrations increased spending on nuclear energy R&D by billions of dollars. Radical new designs for the next generation of reactors were supposed to spread safer, cleaner, sustainable energy around the globe.

 Instead, we seem to be stuck with a dwindling supply of mid-20th century models. “Even if they finish those [Westinghouse] reactors, they will not be monuments to the nuclear renaissance,” says economic analyst Mark Cooper at Vermont Law School. “They will be mausoleums to the end of nuclear power.” Can the next generation of reactors still save the day?

“New reactors will not be monuments to the nuclear renaissance – they will be mausoleums”

Between 1996 and 2016, the share of global electricity generated by nuclear power dropped from 17.6 to 10.7 per cent. The downturn is perhaps surprising given nuclear’s green credentials. The typical nuclear power plant splits uranium atoms in a process called fission, and uses the heat from that reaction to produce steam, drive a turbine and generate electricity. This offers cheap, clean energy – nuclear power plants produce no greenhouse gases or air pollution, they run day and night, and are relatively inexpensive to operate………

The designers of these “Generation IV” reactors tried to take innovative approaches to safety, moving away from standard ways of making power from uranium – which accounts for most of the safety measures – to less dangerous ways like depleted uranium and other materials that don’t require enrichment or reprocessing, reducing proliferation risks. Other safety measures included burying the reactor or simply making them small and modular.

These reactors were moving steadily through the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval process, but there has been no sign of them.

 Some think the stall is permanent. “The story the nuclear industry tries to offer, is that while old reactors may have been afflicted with problems, the new generation is going to be immune. But while they will get around some, they will also have a new set of problems,” says Ramana. “If it were up to me, I would say it’s not worth spending more money on these things, throwing good money after bad.”

“The nuclear industry is sort of riding into the sunset,” he says. “The question is how fast is it going to ride into it.”……..

Some places will keep building the old models. Adoption is up in Russia and Asia, particularly South Korea. Other places will keep their ageing fleet on life support as long as they can. Three plants in New York, each more than 40 years old, will remain operating for another 12 years.

Even if new models do come online, it leaves a long time between the decline of the ageing fleet of nuclear reactors and the emergence of the first credible alternatives.

In the meantime, something will be needed to provide electricity. If municipalities build capacity with ever improving wind and solar devices, which have much lower set-up costs, it could render new nuclear plants unnecessary….

For those who see a nuclear sunset on the horizon, the clearest solution to the problem of both energy production and climate change is renewables. Nuclear energy might be sustainable, in the sense that it will last a long time, but ultimately Earth’s uranium supplies will run out. Not so wind and sun, says Cooper.

“Anyone who wants to buy that small modular reactor can look up in the sky and feel the breeze blowing and know they don’t have to go that route,” Cooper says. “Nuclear is never going to catch up.”…https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23431262-800-what-the-end-of-the-atomic-renaissance-means-for-nuclear-power/?utm_campaign=RSS%7CNSNS&utm_source=NSNS&utm_medium=RSS&utm_content=physics&campaign_id=RSS%7CNSNS-physics

 

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May 19, 2017 - Posted by | general

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