nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Russia’s massive nuclear-powered icebreaker to seek oil reserves in Arctic

Russia to dominate Arctic Ocean with world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker The 586-foot ship will help Russia uncover massive oil reserves Market Watch By JURICA DUJMOVIC, 23 June 16,  Russia is the only country to use nuclear-powered icebreakers.
There are six of these ships in active service, with the seventh and largest, named Arktika, soon to be deployed. On June 16, the hull of the ship was floated out of the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, nearly three years after the keel had been laid……..

Arktika is just one icebreaker in a class known as Project 22220. The other two — Sibir, which was laid down in May 2015, and Ural — are also planned. If completed, Sibir will reportedly have the propulsion power of 110 MW, almost twice as powerful as Arktika. Both ships are part of a $1.2 billion contract that Baltic Shipyards signed in 2014 with Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corp.

Arktika will join the Russian atomic fleet, Rosatom flot, in 2017…….

Why would Russia need nuclear-powered icebreakers in the first place? Obviously, for defense. Icebreakers can clear a path for military ships, allowing for increased mobility and range for the Russian naval fleet.

They’re also used for escorting merchant ships, especially tankers and container ships. Still, there’s one much more important reason why you’d want one of these ships in your arsenal. You see, the Arctic north end of Russia is believed to hold a quarter of the world’s oil deposits, as well as natural gas and other minerals……….http://www.marketwatch.com/story/russia-to-dominate-arctic-ocean-with-worlds-largest-nuclear-powered-icebreaker-2016-06-23

June 24, 2016 Posted by | ARCTIC, Russia, technology | Leave a comment

Russia’s powerful new nuclear icebreaker

Russia unveils ‘world’s biggest’ nuclear icebreaker, Yahoo News June 17, 2016,  Moscow (AFP) – Russia on Thursday floated out a new nuclear-powered icebreaker, said to be the world’s biggest and most powerful, to be used for hauling liquefied natural gas from its Arctic terminal.

Arktika, ordered by Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear agency, was built at the Baltic Shipyard in Saint Petersburg, and will be ready to use by the end of next year.

“There are no icebreakers like it in the world,” said Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko at the ceremony, according to a company statement. “The Arktika icebreaker presents truly new opportunities for our country.”…….It can cut through ice of up to 2.8 metres (nine feet) thick. https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/31854163/russia-unveils-worlds-biggest-nuclear-icebreaker/#page1

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Russia, technology | Leave a comment

Fleet of little nuclear reactors for Britain. Rolls Royce to build them?

SMR football stadium

Rolls Royce Shortlisted to build fleet of baby nuclear-reactors, CITY AM Jessica Morris, 5 June 16 ,  FTSE 100-listed engineering company Rolls-Royce has been shortlisted to build a fleet of mini nuclear reactors, City A.M. understands.It’s part of the government’s £250m nuclear research programme unveiled in last year’s Autumn Statement, which includes a competition to identify the best value small modular reactor (SMR) design for the UK.

An industry source said that the SMR scheme won’t be a “short process”. This comes despite the UK energy policy crisis, with an increasingly strained power supply. Almost 6,000 MW could be lost this year.

Of the 38 companies which submitted expressions of interest in the competition, 33 were eligible to compete in the next round, according to the Sunday Timeswhich first reported the news.

These also include US engineering giant Bechtel, NuScale Power which is backed by US engineer Fluor, and Canada’s Terrestrial Energy……The company declined to comment, while the Department for Energy and Climate Change hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment. http://www.cityam.com/242623/rolls-royce-shortlisted-to-build-fleet-of-baby-nuclear-reactors

June 6, 2016 Posted by | technology, UK | Leave a comment

Monju: the failing nuclear reprocessing dream

Nuclear Holy Grail Slips Away From Japan With Operator Elusive http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-31/nuclear-holy-grail-slips-away-from-japan-with-operator-elusive  sstapczynski  

  • Japan to pick a new operator for Monju fast-breeder reactor
  • The prototype plant has cost more than $9 billion amid delays

Japan is missing its own deadline to find a new operator for a prototype nuclear power program that’s failed to succeed in the two decades since it was built, threatening the resource-poor country’s support of a technology other nations have abandoned.

fast-breeder-Monju

The country’s nuclear regulator demanded in November a replacement for the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency be found within six months for the Monju fast-breeder reactor. Monju, which has functioned for less than a year since its completion more than 20 years ago, now faces the possibility of being scrapped.

The so-called fast-breeder reactor — a cornerstone of its atomic energy strategy dating back to the 1950s — uses spent nuclear fuel from other plants and is designed to produce more atomic fuel that it consumes. The reactor, named after the Buddhist deity of wisdom, has cost the nation more than 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) and has barely operated since it first generated electricity in 1995.

 “The potential closure of Monju would be a major blow not just to the fast-breeder community in Japan, but also those supporting reprocessing of spent fuel,” M. V. Ramana, a professor at Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, said by e-mail. “I wonder if the government will allow Monju to be shut down? I would expect that they will simply create a new agency to oversee Monju.”

1950s Strategy

Monju is currently operated by the JAEA, a quasi-government organization that is under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. JAEA declined to comment. The nation’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, didn’t respond to e-mailed questions regarding the status of Monju.

“We don’t have plans to decommission the reactor,” said Hiroki Takaya, director of the ministry’s International Nuclear and Fusion Energy Affairs Division, which oversees Monju. “We are exploring many different options for who will operate the reactor — either a new entity or an existing company.”

The NRA said in November the science ministry must find a new operator or consider closure. The ministry drafted a set of criteria for a new operator, but have yet to name a replacement, it said on May 27. The ministry hopes to find an operator as soon as possible, but hasn’t set a concrete deadline.

 “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build,” Allison MacFarlane, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said by e-mail. “Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | 1 Comment

America’s NRC changing nuclear fee structure to help Small Nuclear reactors: Shillenberger delighted

 NRC Sets Variable Fees for Small, Modular Nuclear Reactorshttp://www.environmentalprogress.org/    , Bloomberg,   By Rebecca Kern May 23 — The annual fee structure for small, modular nuclear reactors will vary depending on how much heat a reactor generates, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a final rule…….

text shillNuScale Power LLC is expected to be the first company in the U.S. to submit a small modular reactor design application to the NRC by the end of the year, with project commercialization by 2024. NuScale’s reactor modules would each generate 50 megawatts (95 ECR, 5/17/16).

The NRC is implementing a variable annual fee schedule for these reactors including a minimum fee, a variable fee and a maximum fee based on the reactor’s cumulative licensed thermal power rating, which is the total heat output for all modules at a nuclear power plant. …..

Safety Concerns from Environmentalists

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organization focused on scientific research of environmental issues, opposes different fees for small modular reactors because the safety risk of these reactors is still unclear, it said.

“It’s not clear that the relative risk of SMRs and the effort needed to license and regulate them is proportional to the power rating,” Ed Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg BNA May 23. He said this is especially true “since SMR applicants are requesting exemptions that require significant technical analysis, such as reducing emergency planning zone size and weakening security requirements.”

Also, Lyman disagreed with the statement that the SMRs would require less regulatory oversight. “NRC inspections of a multi-module SMR bundled unit may be more complex and entail more labor than inspections of a single large reactor with the same power rating,” he said.

Similarly, Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information Resources Service, said he thinks that reduced fees for SMRs would ultimately impact NRC safety inspections.

“Smaller reactors means there would be several times more reactors requiring inspections and oversight for the same amount of power. Basing the fees on the generation capacity seems like it’s likely to starve the agency of resources to do its job,” he told Bloomberg BNA May 23.

TVA Submits Early Site Permit for SMR

The Tennessee Valley Authority submitted an early site permit application for the potential to construct and operate multiple small modular reactor units at its Clinch River site near Oak Ridge, Tenn. TVA is the first in the nuclear industry to submit any such application related to SMR technology to the NRC, TVA said in a May 13statement.

The utility, which currently operates three nuclear plants in the South, has not decided what company it would purchase the SMR technology from, a TVA spokeswman told Bloomberg BNA May 23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington atrkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl atlpearl@bna.com

May 25, 2016 Posted by | politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors not economically viable, but being promoted anyway

text-SMRsSmall Modular   Reactors Get Their First Chance In The US, MIT Technology Review,  Richard Martin Editor 12 May 16  Small, modular reactors have long been viewed by many in the nuclear power industry as the most promising technology—indeed, as the only realistic path forward—for nuclear power in the United States. In a possible step forward for next-generation nuclear power, the Tennessee Valley Authority is applying for a permit to build one such reactor. Although the specific reactor technology has yet to be determined, the utility could have it running by the mid-2020s……..
As with most nuclear power technology, the promise of small modular reactors is the subject of some dispute, and none have been deployed to date. A 2013 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that “unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realized, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power.”
Nonetheless, the U.S. government has long supported the development of small modular reactors……Last year the White House issued an executive order that requires all federal agencies to get 25 percent of their electricity by 2025 from “alternative energy” sources, specifically including small modular reactors.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies power to nine million people in seven southeastern states, was expected to file its application for a small modular reactor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday. That marks the first step in a years-long licensing process.

The site chosen for the project, on the Clinch River, is notable in the checkered history of nuclear power in this country: it was to be the site of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, on which more than $1 billion was spent in the 1970s and early 1980s. The project was finally killed by Congress in 1983, and many date the decline of the U.S. nuclear industry to its demise.

May 14, 2016 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear fusion – International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor not likely to succeed

Why the World’s largest Nuclear Fusion Project May Never Succeed.  Cost overruns and delays plague the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. MIT Technology Review, By Richard Martine, 4 May 16 The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project reached a critical phase last week, as a panel of experts convened to review the latest revised budget and time line to build the proposed fusion reactor delivered its findings. Launched in 2006, ITER has been plagued with delays and cost overruns as the challenge of bringing six countries—the United States, China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—together with the European Union to build an experimental reactor has proved nearly insurmountable.
The latest schedule put forth by the project’s director, French nuclear physicist Bernard Bigot, calls for the machine to be switched on by 2025 and to actually achieve fusion only in 2035—a dozen years later than originally planned. The panel found that timing plausible but said that the latest budget, which would add another €4.6 billion ($5.3 billion) in cost overruns to the project, was unlikely to become available…..

May 6, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

What’s Wrong with The Bill Gates Nuclear Vision? Well, a lot, actually

Gates'-travelling-Wave-NuclBill Gates Still Trying To Corral The “Wild” Nuclear Unicorn, Clean Technica May 3rd, 2016 by     Legendary tech billionaire Bill Gates has been pitching the idea that nuclear energy is the only technology that can be deployed quickly enough to ward off catastrophic global warming. However, Gate’s favored nuclear technology is not nearly ready to come off the drawing board. Meanwhile, solar, wind, and other clean technologies are already sweeping into the real world.

Nevertheless, Gates continues to soldier on. In the latest development, he made the case for a nuclear energy “miracle” to the readers of MIT Technology Review.

The Bill Gates Nuclear Vision

One should expect an ultra-savvy marketer like Bill Gates to come up with a far-reaching strategy for his nuclear vision, and he has. In 2006 he formed a nuclear company called TerraPower with the aim of providing the world with “a more affordable, secure and environmentally friendly form of nuclear energy.”

Gates bumped his strategy up to the next level in December 2015. In a splashy media event coordinated with the COP21 Paris climate talks, he launched a new investment group called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

BEC was designed as private sector companion to Mission Innovation, which also launched at COP21. Mission Innovation is a coalition of energy-producing governments that have pledged to increase public sector investment in clean energy.

Given Gate’s interest in TerraPower’s success, we’re thinking that BEC is also designed to deflect investment toward nuclear. Although Gates has positioned BEC as source-neutral, in a blog post during COP21 he laid down a pretty big hint that nuclear was the way to go:

The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths—and that means we also need to invent new approaches.

What’s Wrong With A Little Nuclear Energy?

Joe Romm of Think Progress has picked apart Gates’s most recent pro-nuclear pitch, concluding that:

…Gates is just wrong about everything here. He is wrong that energy miracles are needed by the industrialized countries to achieve CO2 levels in 2050 consistent with beating the 2°C target. He is wrong that achieving that target requires focusing on R&D rather than deployment. He is wrong that there is some sort of consensus to that effect. He is wrong that a carbon price isn’t important in achieving the rapid reduction the rich countries need. He is wrong to make it seem like boosting energy efficiency is not as vital a strategy as reducing carbon intensity.

Ouch!

Romm’s basic point is that clean energy solutions are already here and now, just not in the form that Gates would prefer to invest in.

The solar industry, of course, is one place where you’ll find a lot of agreement with Romm. One example is the graphic above, which represents the winnowing-out process used by the company Siva Power to settle on its market-ready thin film solar technology.

Last December, Siva CTO Markus E. Beck, a recognized leader in thin film technology, shared some thoughts with CleanTechnica about Gates’s nuclear solution. He emphasized that solar insiders are not the only skeptics:

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition’s premise is flawed. The BEC argues that at present there are no workable solutions to tackle the world’s increasing need for energy while reducing carbon emissions at an affordable level. Studies by Goldman Sachs, MIT, McKinsey, the IEA, Shell and others provide data supporting a counter argument — i.e. the solutions exist: namely solar (PV) and wind.

Tough Row To Hoe For Nuclear Energy

We’ll give the last word on TerraPower to the Senior Editor of MIT Technology Review, Richard Martin.

In a brief but eyebrow-raising article last fall, Martin raised some questions aboutTerraPower’s choice of nuclear technology, the traveling wave reactor. Apparently, after spending a considerable amount of time and money on traveling wave R&D, the company has modified its course and is now experimenting with a molten chloride design:

Many nuclear industry observers have been skeptical about the concept from the outset. The traveling wave is a subspecies of a sodium-cooled fast reactor, and the track record of those reactors is not encouraging.

Martin also cites M.V. Ramana, a Princeton nuclear physicist:

“The problem with sodium is that it has been pretty much impossible to prevent leaks… Fast reactors in general have never been commercially viable, and I haven’t seen anything from TerraPower that suggests that their design will fare any better………..http://cleantechnica.com/2016/05/03/bill-gates-still-trying-corral-wild-nuclear-unicorn/

May 4, 2016 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Documents reveal poor performance of Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX)

MOXMOX Contractor Slammed for Poor Performance http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/05/mox-contractor-slammed-for-poor-performance.html?referrer=http://paper.li/artmackay/1324257026?edition_id=94aab260-1141-11e6-9ab7-002590a5ba2d   By: Lydia Dennett, 2 May 16 Investigator, POGO  Documents obtained by Savannah River Site Watch are providing even more evidence than is already out there that it is time for Congress to follow the Department of Energy’s recommendation and cancel the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) for good.

“Overall performance is below the level needed for successful project completion, as culminated in cost overruns and schedule delays,” the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) wrote in its analysis of the contractor in charge of constructing MOX.

According to the NNSA documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and released by Savannah River Site Watch, the MOX contractor, CB&I AREVA MOX Services (CB&I), received only 49 percent of the possible award fee. This dock in award fee was due to concerning findings regarding DB&I’s management of the project, including the fact that the contractor failed to adequately perform random drug testing of its employees. However, CB&I still received $4.33 million of the possible $8.86 million in award fees.

CB&I has now been the MOX contractor for over nine years. The project’s estimated total life-cycle cost (which includes construction and operating the plant for 20 years) has gone from $4 billion to a whopping $25 billion. But even $25 billion may not be enough.Independent cost estimates have found that unless annual appropriations more than double over the next few years, the whole MOX project could cost as much as $110 billion and won’t be complete until 2100. Government officials have further noted that the contractor is running at a 25 percent rework rate, meaning approximately one quarter of the work done on the MOX facility will have to be re-done.

The MOX project is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle that, even if completed, will not be able to complete its mission. Just this year the Administration announced they believe it would be in the best interest of taxpayers to pursue an alternative plan, but it’s up to Congress to make the final cut. With the contractor performing so poorly, and the cost mounting with every delay and mistake, it’s time to make the fiscally responsible decision and end MOX.

May 4, 2016 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

China planning Floating Nuclear Power Plants

floating nuclear powership ChinaChina to Develop Floating Nuclear Power Plants, NYT, By MICHAEL FORSYTHE APRIL 22, 2016 HONG KONG — All the radar systems, lighthouses, barracks, ports and airfields that China has set up on its newly built island chain in the South China Sea require tremendous amounts of electricity, which is hard to come by in a place hundreds of miles from the country’s power grid.

Beijing may have come up with a solution: floating nuclear power plants.

A state-owned company, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, is planning to build a fleet of the vessels to provide electricity to remote locations including offshore oil platforms and the contentious man-made islands, the state-run newspaper Global Times reported on Friday.

The paper quoted an executive at the company, Liu Zhengguo, as saying that “demand is pretty strong” for the floating power stations, which would be built by one of its subsidiaries.

In January, Xu Dazhe, the director of the China Atomic Energy Authority,told reporters in Beijing that China was planning to develop offshore floating nuclear energy plants, saying they “must undergo a rigorous, scientific evaluation,” but also linking these to China’s desire to become a “maritime power.”……

Typhoons regularly cross the South China Sea, and ships and submarines that run on nuclear power generally have the means to quickly sail away from a storm. It is unclear how mobile or seaworthy these reactor ships will be. Safety regulations for the seaborne reactors are being drawn up and reviewed, Global Times said, quoting Tang Bo, an official at China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and the director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that in the event of a major nuclear accident at a floating barge, like a meltdown of the reactor core, winds could carry radioactivity to large population centers.

“The floating nuke accident scenario also carries with it the potential for molten parts of the reactor core burning through the bottom of the barge to reach the water below,” Mr. Lochbaum wrote in an email. “The water is good for cooling, but not good for containment.”……..

Gregory B. Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at C.S.I.S. said it was too soon to tell how a possible deployment of the floating nuclear power stations would play out in the complicated politics of the South China Sea, though he said it was “potentially worrisome.”

“But it appears that the idea hasn’t gotten any farther than conceptualization yet, so we seem to have years to wait before we find out,” Mr. Poling wrote in an email.

A rendering of a possible Chinese floating nuclear power station was published on the English-language website of Global Times’s parent company, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily. The image showed the small ship or barge next to a pier, surrounded by what looked like floating ice. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/world/asia/china-nuclear-power-south-china-sea.html?_r=0

April 23, 2016 Posted by | China, technology | Leave a comment

Nuclear industry up to their old tricks, spruiking “new nuclear”

Thorium reactors Some enthusiasts prefer fueling reactors with thorium – an element 3x as abundant as uranium but even more uneconomic to use. India has for decades failed to commercialize breeder reactors to exploit its thorium deposits.

But thorium can’t fuel a reactor by itself: rather, a uranium- or plutonium-fueled reactor can convert thorium-232 into fissionable (and plutonium-like, highly bomb-usable) uranium-233. Thorium’s proliferation [8], waste, safety, and cost problems differ only in detail from uranium’s: e.g., thorium ore makes less mill waste, but highly radioactive U-232 makes fabricating or reprocessing U-233 fuel hard and costly.

nuclear-dream-1

‘New’ nuclear reactors? Same old story, Ecologist, Amory Lovins 12th April 2016 The nuclear industry is forever reinventing itself with one brilliant ‘new’ idea after another, Amory Lovins wrote in this classic 2009 essay. But whether it’s touting the wonders of future SMRs, IFRs or LFTRs, the reality never changes: the reactors they are building right now are over time, over budget and beset by serious, entirely unforeseen technical problems….. Continue reading

April 15, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

The folly of wasting time and money on EPR nuclear reactor

posterdontnukeclimate1115Nuclear power and climate change Too little, too late
According to the International Energy Agency, to avert catastrophic climate change the world has only until 2017 to stop investments in fossil-fuelled power plants and start reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases. A single new nuclear power plant takes more than a decade to go from inception to operation. Building a thousand large new reactors, as suggested by some scenarios put forward by the International Energy Agency, would take at least four decades and yet only cut global CO2 emissions by a mere 4.5%. 
This means new nuclear reactors will make zero contribution to meeting the climate change deadline, but nuclear investments would divert money and time from renewable energy and energy-saving technologies — the technologies that can deliver more solution per dollar, and do it much faster

 The EPR nuclear reactor A dangerous waste of time and money NIRS Briefing January 2012  The French EPR* is a nuclear reactor design that is aggressively marketed by the French companies Areva and EDF. Despite the companies’ marketing spin, not only is the reactor hazardous, it is also more costly and takes longer to build than renewable-energy alternatives. While no EPR is currently operating anywhere in the world, four reactors are under construction in Finland (Olkiluoto 3, construction started in 2005), France (Flamanville 3, 2007) and China (Taishan 1 and 2, 2009-10). The projects have failed to meet nuclear safety standards in design and construction, with recurring construction defects and subsequent cover-ups, as well as ballooning costs and timelines that have already slipped significantly.

Flawed and risky design The EPR design, which was supposed to be completed and ready for construction in the early 2000s, remains unfinished. The design has numerous flaws:
 • The EPR is the first reactor design proposed that is to be controlled by fully computerised systems both during normal operation and during accidents. Areva’s original design for the computer systems has been found to violate just about every basic principle of nuclear safety, and many regulators are requiring an analogue back-up system. Using several complex software systems to control a nuclear power plant introduces an enormous amount of potential errors and unpredictable interactions. As of November 2011, no approved design of the control systems exists, even though Areva has been working on this system for years. In addition, in many of the EPR components Areva is proposing to use off-the-shelf computer systems that do not comply with nuclear safety standards.

Continue reading

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Reference, technology | Leave a comment

$Billions being spent on research for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, that are unlikely to be viable

smaller ones generate less power than large ones, and therefore more are required to meet the same energy needs. Multiple SMRs may actually present a higher risk than a single large reactor, especially if plant owners try to cut costs by reducing support staff or safety equipment per reactor.’

text-SMRsTheir report concludes:

‘Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realised, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power.’  

Big Nuke in big push for small nuclear reactors near towns https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/big-nuke-in-big-push-for-small-nuclear-reactors,8873 Climate News Network 13 April 2016  Global nuclear companies are meeting this week to discuss licensing the controversial small modular reactors that would be sited near towns. Paul Brown reports.

CONCERNS ARE being raised about the billions of dollars being spent on research to design and build small nuclear reactors for electricity production The world’s big powers are in a race to build a new series of small reactors, which they believe will combine with renewables to create a low-carbon future for the planet.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) have hardly been heard of by the public, but many billions of dollars are being spent in the U.S., China, Russia, the UK and France on research and development.

The nuclear industry believes the first reactors can be deployed as early as 2025 and the plan is for them to be sited close to towns to produce the local electricity supply.

This week, leaders of companies from across the globe are meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, to assess progress on prototypes and to address the all-important question of licensing these new designs for safety.

The U.S. government has already put $217 million into one commercial design and is offering billions of dollars in loan guarantees for others.

Preferred designs  The UK government has just announced a competition to get the best design, and has put £250 million into a fund to pay for research and development over the next five years.

Preferred designs will be picked later this year and the UK plans to be a world leader in the technology, exporting small reactors across the world, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The industry says the smallest reactors could be produced on a factory production line and transported by large lorry, and the larger ones could be produced as prefabricated components to be assembled on site. This would vastly reduce both building costs and construction time.

In an editorial, the Nuclear Energy Insider newspaper expresses its enthusiasm for the strategy, but calls for

‘… more resources to accelerate the development and approval of SMR designs so that consumers can benefit from lower costs and the UK’s nuclear renaissance can be cemented.’

The newspaper claims that the new designs will produce power at one-third of the cost of the planned Hinkley Point reactors in southwest England, where the 3,200 megawatt output will cost double the current market price of electricity.

So far, there has been no reaction from the British public to this commitment to a new generation of nuclear reactors, but that will no doubt come later this year when the Government names the sites where it plans to build the SMRs.

Most likely locations for the first prototypes will be at existing nuclear sites where old reactors have been shut down or nuclear fuel is made. Another alternative is the land owned by the military, where no planning permission will be required — although this might not go down well with the public.

The new reactors can have an output of anything from 10 to 300 megawatts. This ranges from the needs of a small town to a very large one.

To be cost-effective, they need to be placed near towns, producing electricity where it is needed. What the local population will say to having a nuclear power station in their midst is hard to say; wind farms in Britain have raised such opposition that the government has allowed people to veto them.

The alternative is to group a whole series of these small reactors together so that they produce the same power as a large reactor, but critics wonder how this will keep down costs and are concerned about safety. Would a group of reactors need to be under a concrete shield to contain any accidental release of radioactivity?

Enthusiasts for the technology point out that small reactors are not new, with hundreds in operation across the world as power plants for submarines and icebreakers.

Critics accept that while the technology is known to work, the costs are unknown. Small reactors are for military use and so economic considerations do not apply in the same way.

Efficiency and cost

British members of parliament on the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee were keen on the idea. Their report enthused that SMRs are designed in a way that allows them to be manufactured at a plant, brought to site fully constructed, and installed module by module, thereby potentially improving manufacturing efficiency and cost, while reducing construction time and financing costs.

The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists points out the difficulties of placing small reactors close to centres of population and doubts that they can produce power more cheaply than larger ones. It points out that existing commercial reactors originally got bigger and bigger to produce economies of scale.

The scientists accept industry claims that smaller reactors are inherently less dangerous than larger ones, but argue:

‘While this is true it is misleading, because smaller ones generate less power than large ones, and therefore more are required to meet the same energy needs. Multiple SMRs may actually present a higher risk than a single large reactor, especially if plant owners try to cut costs by reducing support staff or safety equipment per reactor.’

Their report concludes:

‘Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realised, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power.’  

https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/big-nuke-in-big-push-for-small-nuclear-reactors,8873

April 13, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

USA Energy Dept moving away from dangerous MOX nuclear fuel plan

MOXRadioactive Pork Finally on the Chopping Block Project On Government Oversight.  By: Lydia Dennett 9 Feb 16 A “Sensitive But Unclassified” document from the Secretary of Energy, obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, indicates that the Department is concerned that parochial interests in Congress may thwart their plans to kill the MOX program.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) is the result of a bilateral agreement with Russia in which both countries agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of nuclear weapons grade plutonium. In 2002 the U.S. decided to construct the MOX facility to convert this dangerous material into fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors. But now, 14 years later, the MOX program is almost 3,000 percent over budget, lacks even a single potential customer for the fuel, and could actually be putting our nuclear material at risk.

The November 2015 memorandum from Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to President Obama states that MOX is a “high-priority ‘hot potato’ issue” for this Congress and indicates that the Department is finally beginning to shift focus and funding away from MOX and toward a plutonium disposition process that will actually work: “We are working with our appropriators and other stakeholders to shift our plutonium disposition strategy from MOX power reactor fuel to dilution and underground disposal. This is much faster and cheaper.”

Last year, an independent study performed by the Aerospace Corporation confirmed that the cost of finishing construction of MOX and operating the plant for the next 20 years will be at least $47.5 billion and could be as much as $114 billion depending on annual funding from Congress. That would be in addition to the $5 billion already spent on the project. MOX was originally expected to cost a mere $1.6 billion.

Despite the project’s long history of skyrocketing costs, safety and security concerns, and construction problems, it has been kept alive in large part by political officials who have an interest in making sure funding for the project continues.

Problems with the MOX program were first raised in the early 2000s by then-Representative David Hobsen (R-OH), who was serving as Chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee at the time. His efforts to halt construction of the MOX facility were stalled in 2006 due to pressure from the Department of Energy, the Administration, and his own party.He was told that canceling the project would hurt then-South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s chances of being reelected.

In 2013, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC)placed a hold on the president’s nomination for Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz until Moniz promised to finish the MOX plant. Graham eventually relented and removed the hold but remains one of the most outspoken supporters for the project along with Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Representative Rick Allen (R-GA).

Representatives Wilson and Allen recently denounced the dilution and underground disposal method, which would involve mixing the weapons grade plutonium with other materials before sending it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground repository in New Mexico. The Aerospace Corporation found that this method would cost $17 billion over its lifetime as opposed to the $47.5 billion needed to complete the MOX project.

The Center for Public Integrity has previously detailed the long history of lobbying and campaign donations to the South Carolina members by large companies with a financial interest in the MOX project. Many of these same officials bill themselves as budget hawks, committed to limited federal spending while, at the same time, supporting this multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Secretary Moniz’s November memo to the president references this difficult history. “While Senate appropriators agree with us, the House appropriators are concerned about alienating the South Carolina delegation.”

One of the concerns raised by Representative Wilson and others is that moving away from the MOX strategy will require re-opening negotiations with Russia, something Wilson told the Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor (behind a paywall) “the U.S. should avoid.” Although the Energy Department acknowledges that US-Russia relations are “complicated,” Moniz’s memo confirms that the Energy Department’s Russian partners “are amenable to discussion.”

POGO is pleased to see the Energy Department formally move away from the MOX program and begin working toward a cheaper, faster, and less risky strategy for disposing this dangerous material.

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Dangerous, pointless nuclear race in East Asia

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

A Little-Known Nuclear Race Taking Place in East Asia Is Dangerous and Pointless  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-von-hippel/nuclear-race-asia_b_9609116.html 5 Apr 16   Frank von HippelSenior Research Physicist, Emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University   Fumihiko YoshidaVisiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace   

plutonium238_1Plutonium was first produced and separated during America’s World War II nuclear weapons project. Its destructive power became apparent at the end of the war when, in one-millionth of a second, one kilogram of plutonium in the Nagasaki bomb fissioned and destroyed the city below.

Today, a number of countries — including France and Japan — are separating plutonium from the spent fuel of their reactors and building dangerous stockpiles of this weapon-usable nuclear material with no good economic purpose.

Japan, the only non-nuclear weapons state that separates plutonium today, has accumulated almost 50 metric tons. Last month, Japan shipped more than 700 pounds of mostly weapons-grade plutonium — enough for about 50 nuclear bombs — to a more secure location in the U.S. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been simultaneously pushing through a law to guarantee funding for a new spent fuel “reprocessing” plant designed to separate hundreds of tons of plutonium for use in reactor fuel.

Meanwhile, China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to buy a reprocessing plant from France that will separate plutonium that will probably accumulate like Japan’s. And South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan.

These plans and desires are troubling. As President Obama said during the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, “We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis … We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”

Nuclear scientists working on weapons in the U.S. during World War II had a vision that plutonium could have a peaceful use. They proposed a plutonium “breeder” reactor that would convert uranium-238 into chain-reacting plutonium whose fission could power civilization for millennia. During the 1960s, this vision infected the global nuclear energy establishment. Since the 1970s, industrialized countries havespent about $100 billion on attempts to commercialize breeder reactors. Fortunately, this effort failed. We now understand the increased dangers of nuclear terrorism and proliferation that would have resulted had plutonium, a nuclear weapons material, become a commodity like petroleum. Conventional reactors are fueled by low-enriched uranium that is not usable in weapons.

In the absence of breeders, however, France has been continuing to separate plutonium and using it to fuel some of its conventional reactors; Japan has been trying less successfully to do the same.

The plutonium-uranium “mixed oxide” fuel produced in this way costs 10 timesmore than the low-enriched uranium that is the primary fuel for conventional reactors. But France’s government insists that Électricité de France continue to fund the bankrupt government-owned company AREVA to separate plutonium from EDF’s spent fuel. Meanwhile, Japan’s government is obliging its utilities to separate more plutonium as well. Globally, including failed plutonium programs in Russia and the United Kingdom, a surplus of more than 250 tons of plutonium — enough for 30,000 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons — has been accumulated in civilian plutonium programs.

How can one explain the continuing interest in France, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea in separating plutonium? Institutional inertia is most of the answer in France and Russia but, in East Asia, the original use of plutonium — nuclear weapons — is also a factor. In South Korea, demands that the nation should have the right to be able to separate plutonium peak after North Korean nuclear tests. Security experts in Japan also increasingly justify its plutonium program as providing a latent nuclear deterrent against North Korea and China. China’s nuclear energy establishment is still enthralled with breeder reactors, but some analystsworry that China could use the reprocessing plant it plans to buy from France to quickly build up its nuclear weapons stockpile to the same scale as those of Russia and the United States.

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The United States cannot dictate to any of these countries. But it has a lot of leverage by virtue of being South Korea and Japan’s most important military ally and its agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation with both.

 The Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy can continue indefinitely, but either country can terminate it starting in 2018. On March 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman indicated that the U.S. was planning on using this leverage to force a discussion of Japan’s plutonium program. At the very least, the U.S. should demand that Japan focus on disposing of its already separated plutonium before separating more. After all, Japan’s Toyota invented the “Just-in-Time” system for minimizing inventories.

In the recently completed negotiations over the renewal of the U.S.-Republic of Korea Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the two countries kicked the issue of South Korea’s demand for the right to reprocess spent fuel down the road by launching a joint 10-year study of the “feasibility” of South Korea’s proposed program.

If the U.S. cannot convince France to hold off selling a reprocessing plant to China, it should at least insist that, as a part of the deal, both countries commit to “just-in-time” plutonium separation — that is, no stockpiling.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

The U.S. must continue to press the holdouts.

April 6, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, ASIA, reprocessing | Leave a comment

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