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New science report: advanced nuclear reactors no safer than conventional nuclear plants

Advanced nuclear reactors no safer than conventional nuclear plants, says science group  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nuclearpower/advanced-nuclear-reactors-no-safer-than-conventional-nuclear-plants-says-science-group-idUSKBN2BA0CP, By Timothy Gardner-18 Mar 21,

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new generation of so-called “advanced” nuclear power reactors that Washington believes could help fight climate change often present greater proliferation risks than conventional nuclear power, a science advocacy group said on Thursday.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has made curbing climate change a priority and has supported research and development for advanced nuclear technologies.

The reactors are also popular with many Republicans. Last October, the month before Biden was elected, the U.S. Department of Energy, awarded $80 million each to TerraPower LLC and X-energy to build reactors it said would be operational in seven years.

Advanced reactors are generally far smaller than conventional reactors and are cooled with materials such as molten salt instead of with water. Backers say they are safer and some can use nuclear waste as fuel.

“The technologies are certainly different from current reactors, but it is not at all clear they are better,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“In many cases, they are worse with regard to … safety, and the potential for severe accidents and potential nuclear proliferation,” said Lyman, author of the report UCS released Thursday called “‘Advanced’ Isn’t Always Better”.

Nuclear reactors generate virtually emissions-free power [ if you ignore their total fuel chainwhich means conventional ones, at least, will play a role in efforts to decarbonize the economy by 2050, a goal of the Biden administration. But several of the 94 U.S. conventional nuclear plants are shutting due to high safety costs and competition from natural gas and wind and solar energy.

That has helped spark initial funding for a new generation of reactors.

Also, nuclear waste from today’s reactors would have to be reprocessed to make fuel. That technique has not been practiced in the United States for decades because of proliferation and cost concerns. Other advanced reactors emit large amounts of radioactive gases, a potentially problematic waste stream.

Lyman said advanced nuclear development funds would be better spent on bolstering conventional nuclear plants from the risks of earthquakes and climate change, such as flooding. The report recommended that the Department of Energy suspend its advanced reactor demonstration program until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires prototype testing before reactors can be licensed for commercial use.

The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also, nuclear waste from today’s reactors would have to be reprocessed to make fuel. That technique has not been practiced in the United States for decades because of proliferation and cost concerns. Other advanced reactors emit large amounts of radioactive gases, a potentially problematic waste stream.

Lyman said advanced nuclear development funds would be better spent on bolstering conventional nuclear plants from the risks of earthquakes and climate change, such as flooding. The report recommended that the Department of Energy suspend its advanced reactor demonstration program until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires prototype testing before reactors can be licensed for commercial use.

The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

March 19, 2021 Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety, technology | 2 Comments

Assessing types of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors

March 19, 2021 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, safety, technology | Leave a comment

How the British government reacted to the Fukushima catastrophe – with propaganda promoting the nuclear industry

March 19, 2021 Posted by | spinbuster, UK | Leave a comment

Unitede Arab Emirates $32 billion Barakah nuclear plant poses environmental, safety, and security problems

Does the UAE’s Barakah nuclear plant create more problems than it solves?  TRT World, 18 Mar 21, 

Part of Abu Dhabi’s clean energy push, the $32 billion nuclear power station risks destabilising a volatile region with detrimental consequences for the environment.

The UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant will begin supplying electricity to the national grid at the end of this month………..

Jointly developed by ENEC and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), construction of the $32 billion project began in July 2012 and was completed in May 2018.

Financed through a $16.2 billion direct loan from the Abu Dhabi government and a $2.5 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of Korea, the plant’s reactors are licensed by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety and projected to have a lifespan of 60 years.

The first reactor at the plant started operations last year after being connected to the national grid. Fuel is being loaded into a second reactor, which is planned to begin operating later this year. In total, four reactors will eventually operate at the site.

…………. Is Barakah worth the risk?

While the UAE inaugurates the development of civilian nuclear energy, several concerns have been being raised.

The plant, which lies on the western coast of the country, is in close proximity to Qatar. Doha has called Barakah a “flagrant threat” to regional peace and the environment, warning that a radioactive plume from an accidental discharge at the station could reach the country in five to thirteen hours.

Some have questioned the logic of introducing nuclear power in the UAE, where solar power is clearly abundant. Furthermore, in a region where tensions run high, Barakah could provoke the possibility of nuclear proliferation.

“The tense Gulf strategic geopolitical situation makes new civil nuclear construction in the region even more controversial than elsewhere, as it can mean moves towards nuclear weapon capability, as experience with Iran has shown,” argued Paul Dorfman, founder and chair of the International Nuclear Consulting Group.

Saudi Arabia has already pushed ahead with plans to complete its first nuclear reactor under the auspices of the Saudi National Atomic Energy Project. But as Yemen’s Houthi drone strikes against the kingdom’s oil refineries in 2019 indicate, nuclear energy safety will have to be linked to regional security.

Similarly, the spillover effect from the UAE’s foreign policy could make nuclear plants like Barakah a target for politically motivated actors. That Houthi rebels alleged to have fired a missile at the site in 2017, which the UAE denied, could become instantly catastrophic for the Gulf were a future attack to be successful.

There are also detrimental environmental costs. The Gulf region is among the world’s most water-scarce in the world and heavily dependent on desalination, and any accidental nuclear waste spill would have disastrous maritime consequences.

Not to mention climate change itself could impact Barakah, seeing as coastal nuclear sites will be increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels………. https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/does-the-uae-s-barakah-nuclear-plant-create-more-problems-than-it-solves-45121

March 19, 2021 Posted by | environment, safety, United Arab Emirates | Leave a comment

Tokai nuclear plant ordered to halt for lack of evacuation plans 

March 19, 2021 Posted by | Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station ‘could suck up 182 million fish a year’ from Severn Estuary

Independent 17th March 2021, Hinkley Point C nuclear power station ‘could suck up 182 million fish a year’ from Severn Estuary, report warns. Cooling system will extract 120,000 litres of seawater a second once the plant is operational. The Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant being built in Somerset could suck in 182 million fish a year from the Severn Estuary once it is operational, experts have warned the Welsh government.
Concern over the impact of the power station comes ahead of a public consultation on efforts by EDF energy to change the agreed conditions on which the French company is going ahead with the construction. The existing development consent order (DCO) which
the power station is subject to requires an acoustic fish deterrent to be installed at the site, but EDF is trying to have this part of the DCO changed so the deterrent is no longer required. The reason the deterrent was part of the original DCO is because due to the cooling operation required, the design features two vast tunnels capable of sucking up 120,000 litres of cooling water per second from the sea and circulating it through the system to cool the nuclear reactor.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/hinkley-point-c-power-station-fish-suck-b1818580.html

March 19, 2021 Posted by | environment, UK | Leave a comment

Hinkley Point nuclear reactors with cracks are allowed to resume limited operations

Reuters 17th March 2021, Britain will allow two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point where cracks were
found to resume limited operations ahead of their scheduled closure in 2022, the sector’s regulator said on Wednesday.

https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-edf-energy-nuclear/uk-to-allow-hinkley-reactors-where-cracks-found-to-restart-idUSKBN2B91CG?rpc=401&

March 19, 2021 Posted by | safety, UK | Leave a comment

Flamanville nuclear reactor: 3 new welds do not meet safety requirements

Actu Environnement 17th March 2021, Flamanville EPR: three new welds are a problem. Three new welds do not meet
all of the requirements that significantly reduce the risk of breakage. However, if they broke, the breach would be greater than envisaged in the .safety studies.

https://www.actu-environnement.com/ae/news/non-conformites-soudure-piquages-EPR-37225.php4

March 19, 2021 Posted by | France, safety | Leave a comment

France must restructure debt-laden EDF (Electricite de France) and reform nuclear sector by October

Reuters 17th March 2021, France’s parliament must pass a bill on reforming utility EDF and the country’s sprawling nuclear sector by October if the plan is to be agreed in time for a presidential election in 2022, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.

The reforms, which have sparked wrangling with the European Union and labour unions, involve raising price guarantees on nuclear power that state-controlled EDF sells to third-party providers, helping the debt-laden utility cover its costs.

The government has recapitalised EDF in the past and has for now agreed to take dividend payouts in shares to alleviate pressure on the company’s finances.

A crowded parliamentary agenda is piling pressure on France to reach a deal quickly with antitrust authorities in Brussels over the restructuring of EDF, the first step needed before reforms can go ahead. Sources told  Reuters last week that talks between Paris and the European Commission had entered a make-or-break phase, with end-March seen as a deadline to reach an agreement over antitrust and state aid issues or abandon the plan for now.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-edf-restructuring/france-faces-closing-window-to-agree-nuclear-reforms-before-election-idUSKBN2B92HH

March 19, 2021 Posted by | business and costs, France, politics | Leave a comment

Japanese regulator decides against restarting Kashiwazaki-Kariwa No. 7 nuclear reactor

Daily Mail 17th March 2021, Japanese nuclear regulators said Wednesday that the world’s largest nuclear
power plant, owned by the utility behind the Fukushima nuclear crisis, will
not restart anytime soon due to serious holes in the anti-terrorism
measures found at the facility.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority at its
weekly meeting decided to suspend further safety inspection and other
processes for a restart of the No. 7 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
nuclear power plant on the northern Japanese coast in Niigata prefecture.
The plant is owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Co.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-9372691/Japanese-regulators-say-TEPCO-nuclear-plant-prone-attack.html

March 19, 2021 Posted by | Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Deb Haaland -new U.S. Secretary for Interior, – first Native American in a U.S. presidential cabinet

Democracy Now 17th March 2021, Deb Haaland, a tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, is being sworn in as
secretary of the interior and will be the first Native American ever to
serve in a U.S. presidential cabinet. Just four Republicans joined
Democrats in voting to confirm Haaland, who will manage 500 million acres
of federal and tribal land.

Haaland will also oversee government relations
with 574 federally recognized tribal nations and is expected to address the
legacy of uranium mining on Indigenous land and other areas. Leona Morgan,
a Diné anti-nuclear activist and community organizer, says that while
it’s “impossible to expect one person to correct the centuries of
racism and policy that have really devastated our people,” there is hope
that Haaland will use her power to make important changes. “She will be
held accountable,” Morgan says.

https://www.democracynow.org/2021/3/17/deb_haaland_interior_secretary?s=09

March 19, 2021 Posted by | indigenous issues, politics, USA | Leave a comment

Duane Arnold nuclear reactor, same type as Fukushima Daiichi, vulnerable to extreme weather

March 19, 2021 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

UN expresses concern over UK’s move to increase nuclear weapons arsenal

March 19, 2021 Posted by | UK, weapons and war | 2 Comments

Plutonium used at Japanese reactor will be glassed, stored at Savannah River Site

Plutonium used at Japanese reactor will be glassed, stored at Savannah River Site, Aiken Standard, By Colin Demarest cdemarest@aikenstandard.com, Mar 17, 2021 

The National Nuclear Security Administration has decided a cache of plutonium sent from Japan years ago will be processed and disposed of for the foreseeable future at the Savannah River Site, a change of plans with local ramifications.

Up to 350 kilograms of stainless steel-clad plutonium from a Japanese reactor will be rid of using a slew of Savannah River Site facilities, tech and staff, recent federal documents show.

The Fast Critical Assembly fuel – already at the Savannah River Site – will be processed and dissolved at H-Canyon, a one-of-a-kind separations facility built in the 1950s. The material will then go to the tank farms, where millions of gallons of waste is stored.

After that, it will move to the Defense Waste Processing Facility, a mammoth plant that encases nuclear sludge in glass, making it safer to handle and stow long-term. The glass cylinders will ultimately go to an on-site storage building, where they will stay pending the availability of a dedicated depot, like Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The entire endeavor will take years. And Japan is helping defray the cost.

“NNSA had an agreement with Japan for us to dispose of Fast Critical Assembly” material, Savannah River Site manager Michael Budney said Monday. “And Japan is paying to put an electrolytic dissolver back in the canyon.” ……

The plutonium was previously slated to be handled and treated at the Savannah River Site and entombed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, a repository resembling a salt mine. “Direct disposal of the FCA materials” at the Savannah River Site is a “sound option,” said SRS Watch Director Tom Clements, but it drums up some other questions………..  https://www.postandcourier.com/aikenstandard/news/savannah-river-site/plutonium-used-at-japanese-reactor-will-be-glassed-stored-at-savannah-river-site/article_b7b08e4c-8667-11eb-b8cd-8f0fb9c35316.html?fbclid=IwAR1s_w6jcU21h64HZ6z-tzb7uaWt4x-51ECsKd8E3bw6tvGacJn9_9gGmA8

March 19, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, USA | Leave a comment

Conclusions and recommendations of safety assessment of advanced nuclear reactors – non-light-water ones

Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors,Union of Concerned Scientists, Edwin Lyman Mar 18, 2021  “Advanced” Isn’t Always Better  

”……….Conclusions of the Assessment

The non-light-water nuclear reactor landscape is vast and complex, and it is beyond the scope of this report to survey the entire field in depth. Nevertheless, enough is clear even at this stage to draw some general conclusions regarding the safety and security of NLWRs and their prospects for rapid deployment.

Based on the available evidence, the NLWR designs currently under consideration (except possibly once-through, breed-and-burn reactors) do not offer obvious improvements over LWRs significant enough to justify their many risks. Regulators and other policymakers would be wise to look more closely at the nuclear power programs under way to make sure they prioritize safety and security. Future appropriations for NLWR technology research, development, and deployment should be guided by realistic assessments of the likely societal benefits that would result from the investment of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Little evidence supports claims that NLWRs will be significantly safer than today’s LWRs. While some NLWR designs offer some safety advantages, all have novel characteristics that could render them less safe.

All NLWR designs introduce new safety issues that will require substantial analysis and testing to fully understand and address—and it may not be possible to resolve them fully. To determine whether any NLWR concept will be significantly safer than LWRs, the reactor must achieve an advanced stage of technical maturity, undergo complete comprehensive safety testing and analysis, and acquire significant operating experience under realistic conditions.

The claim that any nuclear reactor system can “burn” or “consume” nuclear waste is a misleading oversimplification. Reactors can actually use only a fraction of spent nuclear fuel as new fuel, and separating that fraction increases the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

No nuclear reactor can use spent nuclear fuel directly as fresh fuel. Instead, spent fuel has to be “reprocessed”—chemically treated to extract plutonium and other TRU elements, which must then be refabricated into new fuel. This introduces a grave danger: plutonium and other TRU elements can be used in nuclear weapons. Reprocessing and recycling render these materials vulnerable to diversion or theft and increases the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism—risks that are costly to address and that technical and institutional measures cannot fully mitigate. Any fuel cycle that requires reprocessing poses inherently greater proliferation and terrorism risks than the “once-through” cycle with direct disposal of spent fuel in a geologic repository.

Some NLWRs have the potential for greater sustainability than LWRs, but the improvements appear to be too small to justify their proliferation and safety risks.

Although some NLWR systems could use uranium more efficiently and generate smaller quantities of long-lived TRU isotopes in nuclear waste, for most designs these benefits could be achieved only by repeatedly reprocessing spent fuel to separate out these isotopes and recycle them in new fuel—and that presents unacceptable proliferation and security risks. In addition, reprocessing plants and other associated fuel cycle facilities are costly to build and operate, and they increase the environmental and safety impacts compared with the LWR once-through cycle. Moreover, the sustainability increases in practice would not be significant in a reasonably foreseeable time frame.

Once-through, breed-and-burn reactors have the potential to use uranium more efficiently without reprocessing, but many technical challenges remain.

One type of NLWR system that could in principle be more sustainable than the LWR without increasing proliferation and terrorism risks is the once-through, breed-and-burn reactor. Concepts such as TerraPower’s traveling-wave reactor could enable the use of depleted uranium waste stockpiles as fuel, which would increase the efficiency of uranium use. Although there is no economic motivation to develop more uranium-efficient reactors at a time when uranium is cheap and abundant, reducing uranium mining may be beneficial for other reasons, and such reactors may be useful for the future. However, many technical challenges would have to be overcome to achieve breed-and-burn operation, including the development of very-high-burnup fuels. The fact that TerraPower suspended its project after more than a decade of development to pursue a more conventional and far less uranium-efficient SFR, the Natrium, suggests that these challenges have proven too great.

High-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is needed for many NLWR designs, poses higher nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks than the lower-assay LEU used by the operating LWR fleet.

Many NLWR designs require uranium enriched to higher levels than the 5 percent U-235 typical of LWR fuel. Although uranium enriched to between 10 and 20 percent U-235 (defined here as HALEU) is considered impractical for direct use in nuclear weapons, it is more attractive for weapons use—and requires more stringent security—than the lower-assay enriched uranium in current LWRs.

The significant time and resources needed to safely commercialize any NLWR design should not be underestimated.

It will likely take decades and many billions of dollars to develop and commercially deploy any NLWR design, together with its associated fuel cycle facilities and other support activities. Such development programs would come with a significant risk of delay or failure and require long-term stewardship and funding commitments. And even if a commercially workable design were demonstrated, it would take many more years after that to deploy a large number of units and operate them safely and reliably.

Vendors that claim their NLWRs could be commercialized much more quickly typically assume that their designs will not require full-scale performance demonstrations and extensive safety testing, which could add well over a decade to the development timeline. However, current designs for sodium-cooled fast reactors and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors differ enough from past reactor demonstrations that they cannot afford to bypass additional full-scale prototype testing before licensing and commercial deployment. Molten salt–fueled reactors have only had small-scale demonstrations and thus are even less mature. NLWRs deployed commercially at premature stages of development run a high risk of poor performance and unexpected safety problems.

Recommendations

The DOE should suspend the advanced reactor demonstration program pending a finding by the NRC whether it will require full-scale prototype testing before licensing the two chosen designs as commercial power reactors.

The DOE has selected two NLWR designs, the Natrium SFR and the Xe-100 pebble-bed HTGR, for demonstration of full-scale commercial operation by 2027. However, the NRC has yet to evaluate whether these designs are mature enough that it can license them without first obtaining data from full-scale prototype plants to demonstrate novel safety features, validate computer codes, and qualify new types of fuel in representative environments. Without such an evaluation, the NRC will likely lack the information necessary to ensure safe, secure operation of these reactors. The DOE should suspend the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program until the NRC—in consultation with the agency’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and external experts—has determined whether prototypes will be needed first.

Congress should require that an independent, transparent, peer-review panel direct all DOE R&D on new nuclear concepts, including the construction of additional test or demonstration reactors.

Given the long time and high cost required to commercialize NLWR designs, the DOE should provide funding for NLWR R&D judiciously and only for reactor concepts that offer a strong possibility of significantly increasing safety and security—and do not increase proliferation risks. Moreover, unlike the process for selecting the two reactor designs for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, decision-making should be transparent.6 Congress should require that the DOE convene an independent, public commission to thoroughly review the technical merits of all NLWR designs proposed for development and demonstration, including those already selected for the ARDP. The commission, whose members should represent a broad range of expertise and perspectives, would recommend funding only for designs that are highly likely to be commercialized successfully while achieving clearly greater safety and security than current-generation LWRs.

The DOE and other agencies should thoroughly assess the implications for proliferation and nuclear terrorism of the greatly expanded production, processing, and transport of the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) required to support the widespread deployment of NLWRs.

Large-scale deployment of NLWRs that use HALEU fuel will require establishing a new industrial infrastructure for producing and transporting the material. The DOE is actively promoting the development of HALEU-fueled reactor designs for export. Given that HALEU is a material of higher security concern than lower-assay LEU, Congress should require that the DOE immediately assess the proliferation and nuclear terrorism implications of transitioning to the widespread use of HALEU worldwide. This assessment should also address the resource requirements for the security and safeguards measures needed to ensure that such a transition can occur without an unacceptable increase in risk.

The United States should make all new reactors and associated fuel facilities eligible for IAEA safeguards and provide that agency with the necessary resources for carrying out verification activities.

The IAEA, which is responsible for verifying that civilian nuclear facilities around the world are not being misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons, has limited or no experience in safeguarding many types of NLWRs and their associated fuel cycle facilities. NLWR projects being considered for deployment in the United States, such as the Natrium SFR and the Xe-100 pebble-bed HTGR, would provide ideal test beds for the IAEA to develop safeguards approaches. However, as a nuclear-weapon state, the United States is not obligated to give the IAEA access to its nuclear facilities. To set a good example and advance the cause of nonproliferation, the United States should immediately provide the IAEA with permission and funding to apply safeguards on all new US nuclear facilities, beginning at the design phase. This would help to identify safeguard challenges early and give the IAEA experience in verifying similar facilities if they are deployed in other countries.

The DOE and Congress should consider focusing nuclear energy R&D on improving the safety and security of LWRs, rather than on commercializing immature NLWR designs.

LWR technology benefits from a vast trove of information resulting from many decades of acquiring experimental data, analysis, and operating experience—far more than that available for any NLWR. This gives the LWR a significant advantage over other nuclear technologies. The DOE and Congress should do a more thorough evaluation of the benefits of focusing R&D funding on addressing the outstanding safety, security, and cost issues of LWRs rather than attempting to commercialize less mature reactor concepts. If the objective is to expand nuclear power to help deal with the climate crisis over the next few decades, improving LWRs could be a less risky bet.

Endnotes………

This is a condensed, online version of the executive summary. For all figures, references, and the full text, please download the PDF.  https://ucsusa.org/resources/advanced-isnt-always-better#read-online-content

March 19, 2021 Posted by | Reference, safety, technology | Leave a comment