The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Britain’s national disgrace: nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield

The National Audit Office (NAO) stated these tanks pose “significant risks to people and the
environment”. One official review published in The Lancet concluded that, at worst, an explosive release from the tanks could kill two million Britons and require the evacuation of an area reaching from Glasgow to Liverpool. These dangerous tanks have also been the subject of repeated complaints from Ireland and Norway who fear their countries could be contaminated if explosions or fires were to occur.

In short, the practice of reprocessing at Sellafield has been and remains a monumental national disgrace.


Especially serious are the ~20 large holding tanks at Sellafield containing thousands of litres of extremely radiotoxic fission products. Discussing these tanks, the previous management consortium Nuclear Management Partners stated in 2012:

“there is a mass of very hazardous [nuclear] waste onsite in storage conditions that are extraordinarily vulnerable, and in facilities that are well past their designated life.”

most of all, we should recognize that nuclear policies, in both weapons and energy, have poorly served the nation.

sellafield-2011Sellafield exposed: the nonsense of nuclear fuel reprocessing  Ian Fairlie  6th September 2016   Last night’s BBC Panorama programme did a good job at lifting the lid on Britain’s ongoing nuclear disaster that is Sellafield, writes Ian Fairlie. But it failed to expose the full scandal of the UK’s ‘reprocessing’ of spent fuel into 50 tonnes of plutonium, enough to build 20,000 nuclear bombs – while leaving £100s of billions of maintenance and cleanup costs to future generations.

Many readers will have seen the interesting Panorama programme on the poor safety record at Sellafield broadcast on BBC1 last night.

The BBC press release stated this was a “special investigation into the shocking state of Britain’s most hazardous nuclear plant” – and it certainly was.

The most important of several whistleblower revelations was that the previous US managers had been shocked at the state of the plant when they took over its running in 2008.

Although the programme producers are to be congratulated for tackling the subject, it was only 30 minutes long and tells only a fragment of the whole sorry story.

This article tries to give more background information, and importantly, more analysis and explanation. The full story would require several books, and provide exceedingly painful reading.

What is reprocessing for? Continue reading

September 7, 2016 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, UK, wastes | Leave a comment

The end of the line for Japan’s super expensive nuclear reprocessing project?

Monju has drifted on for years after its future was clearly in doubt. A decision now to terminate the project seems sensible. Such a decision should also prompt the government to stop and consider whether its nuclear fuel cycle still makes sense.


flag-japanMonju and the nuclear fuel cycle Media reports that the government is finally weighing whether to pull the plug on the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, due to the massive cost needed to restart the long-dormant facility, should come as no surprise. Once touted as a “dream reactor” for an energy-scarce country that produces more plutonium than it consumes as fuel, Monju has been a nightmare for national nuclear power policy for the past two decades.

The sole prototype reactor for this kind of technology has been in operation a mere 250 days since it first reached criticality in 1994. It has mostly been offline since a 1995 sodium coolant leak and fire. Its government-backed operator has been declared unfit by nuclear power regulators to run the trouble-prone reactor, and the education and science ministry, in charge of the project, has not been able to find a viable solution.

More than ¥1 trillion in taxpayer money has so far been spent on Monju, and maintenance alone costs ¥20 billion a year. Restarting the reactor under the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new safety standards would cost another several hundred billion yen, including the expense of replacing its long-unused fuel as well as its aging components — though there would still be no guarantee that it would complete its mission of commercializing fast-breeder reactor technology.

The Abe administration may think that writing off the ill-fated costly project, even with the projected ¥300 billion cost of decommissioning the facility over 30 years, will help win more public support for its policy of seeking to reactivate the nation’s conventional reactors — most of which remain idled in the wake of the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 plant — once they’ve cleared the NRA screening. Public concerns over the safety of nuclear energy remain strong after the Fukushima disaster, with media surveys showing a large portion of respondents still opposed putting the idled reactors back online.

If it is going to decide to decommission the Monju reactor, however, the government should also rethink its pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle — in which spent fuel from nuclear power plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium for reuse as fuel. Monju, which runs on plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, has been a core component of the program. As Monju remained dormant for more than 20 years, the government and power companies have shifted the focus of the policy to using MOX fuel at regular nuclear power plants. The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, which resumed operation in August, runs on MOX fuel. The government apparently thinks the Monju program is no longer essential to the policy.

But the nuclear fuel cycle itself has proven elusive, and some say the policy has already collapsed. It is still nowhere in sight when the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture — another key component in the program and whose construction began in 1993 — will be ready for operation.

After its scheduled completion in 1997 has been delayed by more than 20 times due to a series of technical glitches and other problems, its construction cost has ballooned three times the original projection to ¥2.2 trillion.

If indeed the Rokkasho facility is completed and starts reprocessing spent fuel from power plants across the country, the Ikata power plant is currently the only one in operation that consumes plutonium-uranium fuel. It’s not clear how many more will be up and running in the years ahead given the slow pace of restarting the idled reactors, and the Rokkasho facility operating without a sufficient number of reactors using MOX fuel would only add to Japan’s stockpile of unused plutonium — which has already hit 48 tons.

If it’s the cost problem that’s finally spelling doom for the Monju project, the government and power companies should also consider the cost-efficiency of the nuclear fuel cycle program, including the extra cost of reprocessing spent fuel into MOX fuel. They should also think about whether the program is compatible with the government’s stated policy — though its commitment may be in doubt — of seeking to reduce Japan’s dependency on nuclear power as an energy source.

Monju has drifted on for years after its future was clearly in doubt. A decision now to terminate the project seems sensible. Such a decision should also prompt the government to stop and consider whether its nuclear fuel cycle still makes sense.

September 5, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Global nuclear industry ponders ways to get taxpayers to pay up for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)



Doncha love the way they leave the word “nuclear” out of “SMRs”, hoping that people somehow won’t notice that SMRs are nuclear reactors?

Can SMRs unlock financing? World Nuclear news,  24 August 2016 Whilst a project of the size and complexity
of Hinkley Point C faces a range of challenges which lessen the availability of limited-recourse financing, it is clear that nuclear plant construction violates the basic precepts of project finance due to the unpredictability of project costs and schedule, write Rory Connor and Ken Culotta of law firm King & Spalding…..

For the industry to flourish, even in the presence of strong government policy support, the ability to finance is critical. There is the possibility though that new technology and new construction techniques, in the form of small modular reactors (SMRs), may hold the key to overcoming such issues……..

……..a long-term, minimum-price, power purchase agreement (or equivalent) a fundamental bankability requirement.


The UK government’s Electricity Market Reform initiatives, including the flagship contract-for-difference, have shored up the bankability of nuclear power projects. However, in a controversial field like nuclear power, there remains a risk that political or public sentiment could change during the life a project; as happened in Germany, which effectively ended its nuclear power industry in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Lenders will require assurances that changes in policy will not adversely affect their exposure. For Hinkley Point C, the UK government agreed to enter into a so-called Secretary of State Agreement with the project sponsors, which grants the sponsors a put-option against the government in the event of a political shutdown of the project, effectively requiring the government to compensate the sponsors for their loss of investment – project lenders would no doubt expect similar protection to cover the cost of repayment of all outstanding project debt.

Nevertheless, not even the package of the Hinkley Point C contract-for-difference (which guarantees a power price of more than double the prevailing market price over a 35-year term) and the Secretary of State Agreement was enough to satisfy prospective lenders or bond underwriters that the project represented a bankable proposal. The problem lurked elsewhere – construction risk……..

The first SMRs to be installed will doubtless surface interesting risk issues, particularly the perceived ‘new technology’ risk which would likely see lenders requiring extended warranties from SMR technology providers. …..

construction risk alone is not the only issue that makes project financing a challenge for nuclear projects – the highly regulated nature of nuclear power does not sit easily with many standard project financing instruments and techniques. In any event, the developer(s) of the first commercially deployed SMRs may decide to finance on-balance sheet or by other means.

But the fact is that SMRs are no longer just ‘pie in the sky’ – billions of dollars of investment has been committed to the development of this technology (including more than $200 million by the US Department of Energy and up to £250 million by the UK government) and, in the UK at least, the possibility of contracts-for-difference, and other government-backed credit enhancements, create an attractive framework for investment and financing.

August 27, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, politics, technology | Leave a comment

Secretive manouvres involve tax-payer funds for Bill Gates’ small nuclear reactors

months have elapsed since the Microsoft Corp. co-founder and 27 other billionaires rolled out their Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) — a promise to invest billions of dollars with a very long payback horizon on groundbreaking new carbon-neutral technologies. And the group has barely been heard from since.

Jonah Goldman, a spokesman for the coalition, said much of the work is happening behind the scenes.

Gates brought his message to Capitol Hill, where he met twice with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in the past year to press the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee chairman for federal support for research and development.

The two men discussed small modular nuclear reactors and carbon capture and storage technology at the meetings, an Alexander aide said.


Nineteen countries joined the United States in backing Mission Innovation in Paris, and the European Union signed on in June. Since then, the Obama administration has followed up with a fiscal 2017 funding request of $7.7 billion for clean energy R&D across the federal government, with $5.9 billion of that going to DOE programs

What’s happening with Bill Gates’ multibillion-dollar energy fund? EENews, Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter, ClimateWire: Monday, August 15, 2016 Bill Gates believes the key to addressing climate change is an “energy miracle,” and in November, he set about trying to conjure one.

Flanked by President Obama and more than a dozen other world leaders in Paris for the first day of a landmark climate summit, Gates claimed a role for the private sector in delivering new solutions.

“We must … add the skills and resources of leading investors with experience in driving innovation from the lab to the marketplace,” Gates said that morning. “The private sector knows how to build companies, evaluate the potential for Breakthrough Energy Coalitionsuccess, and take the risks that lead to taking innovative ideas and bringing them to the world.”

But months have elapsed since the Microsoft Corp. co-founder and 27 other billionaires rolled out their Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) — a promise to invest billions of dollars with a very long payback horizon on groundbreaking new carbon-neutral technologies. And the group has barely been heard from since.

Jonah Goldman, a spokesman for the coalition, said much of the work is happening behind the scenes. The fund, he said, will make announcements about the kinds of investments that will be made when it is up and running, likely toward the end of this year.

“But the focus is definitely more on doing the work we’ve committed to than making public pronouncements,” he said.

A few things are clear. Some of the group’s contributions will flow through a fund that will concentrate on certain kinds of investments. The group is currently hiring scientists and investment professionals who will direct those decisions. Goldman declined to say how many people are working to stand up the fund or how many employees it will eventually have.

Other things remain a mystery, including the coalition’s eventual capitalization target. Gates promised to invest an additional $1 billion of his own dollars when he launched BEC, and predicted the other members would contribute a collective “couple” billion more toward the venture. But it is unclear how much of that $3 billion — if it is $3 billion — will flow through the fund, versus members investing it independently. Goldman said the total size of the fund and targets for investment will be based on this year’s fundraising.

He said the goal would be to raise a level of capital that the fund could deploy effectively, with the understanding that some of the group’s members will continue to invest in projects outside the fund.

“We feel tremendously confident that we will get significant participation in the ultimate funding vehicle, but each of the potential investors will have to make that decision based on the terms presented, and we’re not quite there yet,” he said…..

Gates brought his message to Capitol Hill, where he met twice with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in the past year to press the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee chairman for federal support for research and development.

The two men discussed small modular nuclear reactors and carbon capture and storage technology at the meetings, an Alexander aide said.

Then, in the three months before Paris, Gates bore down. He joined Energy and State department officials and White House personnel on calls with foreign governments to urge them to sign on to Mission Innovation, a commitment by countries to double their individual R&D budgets by 2020. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz spearheaded the initiative, which was unveiled in Paris alongside BEC (EnergyWire, Dec. 17, 2015).

On those calls, former officials say Gates offered the private investors fund as a kind of carrot, promising to help carry technologies produced in national laboratories across the “valley of death” — where ideas often perish for lack of investment — toward greater development that leads to commercialization.

But first governments had to put up the money…….

DOE vague on BEC relationship

Nineteen countries joined the United States in backing Mission Innovation in Paris, and the European Union signed on in June. Since then, the Obama administration has followed up with a fiscal 2017 funding request of $7.7 billion for clean energy R&D across the federal government, with $5.9 billion of that going to DOE programs…….

DOE was less forthcoming about its work with BEC post-Paris. A department spokesman said in response to an inquiry only that the agency “is in communication with thousands of researchers, entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses and large corporations.”

While the spokesman asserted that the investors’ group and Mission Innovation are “separate” and “complementary,” the private-sector group has popped up in DOE communications with interested members of civil society. It figured, for example, in a slideshow presentation that Office of International Science and Technology Collaboration Director Robert Marlay prepared for the U.S. Energy Information Administration earlier this year.

The presentation states that the fund would provide “seed, angel and series A” investments. Seed capital is offered in exchange for a stake in a company, while angel investments help startup companies. “Series A” investments are typically the first round of venture capital investments that are made in a new company….

Some of the Gates group’s radio silence appears to be strategic.

Bodnar said Gates and his partners opted not to put forward a concrete pledge of dollars in Paris because it wasn’t a venue where the contribution would appear in its best light. Even a funding target that would be enough to fulfill the group’s goal of readying promising technologies for the market would pale in comparison to the hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars that are routinely discussed in the multilateral climate process…..

what the 28 billionaires managed to do was to signal there will now be “truly patient, flexible” capital available for promising technologies that make it through the basic research phase. Patient capital is seen to be key, because the high risk and very long time horizons for payback have generally made these technologies unattractive to conventional investors.

Bodnar said Gates and his colleagues were confident that the money they put up would be sufficient to ensure the gap is bridged between federally funded basic research and ready-to-deploy commercial technologies……

August 17, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, secrets,lies and civil liberties, technology, USA | Leave a comment

With Hinkley Big Nuclear in decline, the “Small Nuclear” lobby sees its chance

Don’t worry: British nuclear doesn’t have all its eggs in one basket, Weinberg Foundation August 11th, 2016 by Suzanna Hinson
Small nuclear salesman

Hinkley Point may be taking all the attention at present, but it is not the be all and end all of nuclear power in the UK. There is plenty more in the pipeline so, whatever happens in Somerset, progress can be made elsewhere. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation aims to complete Generic Design Assessments for new reactors, the AP1000 and Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), during 2017.

NuGen, jointly owned by Japan’s Toshiba and France’s Engie, is progressing with plans to build an AP1000 at Moorside in West Cumbria. At present, they are carrying out site assessment surveys, including geophysical surveys, geological age dating and some borehole drilling work, which must be completed before construction can begin. AP1000 reactors, designed by Westinghouse, are being planned in multiple countries worldwide, with the first plants scheduled to come online in China this year. There have been some delays on these world-first reactors, but not as serious as those in France and Finland for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) proposed for Hinkley…….

In addition to these planned sites, there is also ongoing research and development into the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors. The Government promised, in Autumn 2015, an investment of £250 million over 5 years to develop the reactors of the future. This includes a competition to decide which small modular reactor or reactors should be demonstrated in the UK. Advanced reactors have the potential to be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer than current designs, and have added benefits such as the potential ability to use up spent fuel and the plutonium stockpile. (Weinberg Next Nuclear will soon be publishing a report on how to manage plutonium)….

August 14, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

The tiresome ‘Thor-Bores” – exploding the hype about thorium nuclear reactors

Thorium-cultThorium: new and improved nuclear energy?

There is quite some – sometimes tiresome – rhetoric of thorium enthusiasts. Let’s call them thor-bores. Their arguments have little merit but they refuse to go away.

Here are some facts:

  • There is no “thorium reactor.” There is a proposal to use thorium as a fuel in various reactor designs including light-water reactors–as well as fast breeder reactors.
  • You still need uranium – or even plutonium – in a reactor using thorium. Thorium is not a fissile material and cannot either start or sustain a chain reaction. Therefore, a reactor using thorium would also need either enriched uranium or plutonium to initiate the chain reaction and sustain it until enough of the thorium has converted to fissile uranium (U-233) to sustain it.
  • Using plutonium sets up proliferation risks. To make a “thorium reactor” work, one must (a) mix the thorium with plutonium that has been stripped of the highly radioactive fission products; (b) use the mixed-oxide thorium-plutonium fuel in a reactor, whereby the plutonium atoms fission and produce power while the thorium atoms absorb neutrons and are turned into uranium-233 (a man-made isotope of uranium that has never existed in nature); (c) strip the fission products from the uranium-233 and mix THAT with thorium in order to continue the “cycle”. In this phase, the U-233 atoms fission and produce power while the thorium atoms absorb neutrons and generate MORE uranium-233. And so the cycle continues, generating more and more fission product wastes.
  • Uranium-233 is also excellent weapons-grade material. Unlike any other type of uranium fuel, uranium-233 is 100 percent enriched from the outset and thus is an excellent weapons-grade material and as effective as plutonium-239 for making nuclear bombs. This makes it very proliferation-prone and a tempting target for theft by criminal and terrorist organizations and for use by national governments in creating nuclear weapons.
  • Proliferation risks are not negated by thorium mixed with U-238. It has been claimed that thorium fuel cycles with reprocessing would be much less of a proliferation risk because the thorium can be mixed with uranium-238. In fact, fissile uranium-233 must first be mixed with non-fissile uranium-238. If the U-238 content is high enough, it is claimed that the mixture cannot be used to  make bombs with out uranium enrichment. However, while more U-238 does dilute the U-233, it also results in the production of more plutonium-239, so the proliferation problem remains.
  • Thorium would trigger a resumption of reprocessing in the US. In most proposed thorium fuel cycles, reprocessing is required to separate out the U-233 for use in fresh fuel. Reprocessing chemically separates plutonium and uranium and creates a large amount of so-called low-level but still highly radioactive liquid, gaseous and solid wastes.
  • Using thorium does not eliminate the problem of long-lived radioactive waste. Fission of thorium creates long-lived fission products including technetium-99 (half-life of over 200,000 years). Without reprocessing, thorium-232 is itself extremely long-lived (half-life of 14 billion years) and its decay products will build up over time in irradiated fuel. Therefore, in addition to all the fission products produced, the irradiated fuel is also quite radiotoxic. Wastes that pose long-term hazards are also produced at the “front end” of the thorium fuel cycle during mining, just as with the uranium fuel cycle.
  • Attempts to develop “thorium reactors” have failed for decades. No commercial “thoriumreactor” exists anywhere in the world. India has been attempting, without success, to develop a thorium breeder fuel cycle for decades. Other countries including the US and Russia have researched the development of thorium fuel for more than half a century without overcoming technical complications.
  • Fabricating “thorium fuel” is dangerous to health.  The process involves the production of U-232 which is extremely radioactive and very dangerous in small quantities. The inhalation of a unit of radioactivity of thorium-232 or thorium-228 produces a far higher dose than the inhalation of uranium containing the same amount of radioactivity. A single particle in the lung would exceed legal radiation standards for the general public.
  • Fabricating “thorium fuel” is expensive. The thorium fuel cycle would be more expensive than the uranium fuel cycle. Using a traditional light-water (once-through) reactor, thorium fuel would need both uranium enrichment (or plutonium separation) and thorium target rod production. Using a breeder reactor makes costly reprocessing necessary.
The bottom line is this.Thorium reactors still produce high-level radioactive waste. They still pose problems and opportunities for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They still present opportunities for catastrophic accident scenarios–as potential targets of terrorist or military attack, for example. Proponents of thorium reactors argue that all of these risks are somewhat reduced in comparison with the conventional plutonium breeder concept. Whether this is true or not, the fundamental problems associated with nuclear power have by no means been eliminated.


August 13, 2016 Posted by | Reference, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

Are tax-payers paying for nutty space nuclear research?

BRINGING NUCLEAR POWER TO MARS – FRANK H. SHU (SETI TALKS 2016), Raw Science  SETI Talks @ MicroSoft Silicon Valley – July 29, 2016 Dr. Frank Shu lectured with SETI Talks at MicroSoft Silicon Valley on July 29, 2016:


Establishing a lunar base is probably a wise first first step to colonizing Mars, and colonizing Mars will be a giant leap forward for humankind to travel to the stars…..

A reliable source of primary energy is needed for such tasks, but anywhere on the surface of the Moon, there is no sunlight two weeks out of four, and no wind whatsoever. Nuclear power is the default option, just as is the case of naval submarines where the crews need to live and work in closed environments submerged under the water of the ocean for months at a time. However, the light water reactors of naval submarines are not a good choice for environments that lack large bodies of water, and we argue, as first realized by a former NASA Engineer, Kirk Sorensen, that molten salt reactors, of the type invented by Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, are much better suited for a lunar base, or for that matter, a Mars colony.

Dr. Shu discussed his patented design for the best possible two-fluid molten-salt breeder-reactor (2F-MSBR) that one could build, using thorium that can be mined locally without requiring shipments from mother Earth. He closed by considering two spin-off applications:
(1) saving civilization on Earth from the worst ravages of climate change by scaled-up 2F-MSBRs;
(2) using the fission fragments of related nuclear fission reactions for ion-propulsion that produces rockets two to three orders of magnitude faster than achievable with chemical rockets, making possible, perhaps, a first generation of starships.

August 12, 2016 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

UK govt accidentally published list of preferred bidders for funding for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

Emperor's New Clothes 3flag-UKChinese firm with military ties invited to bid for role in UK’s nuclear future
China National Nuclear Corporation on government list of preferred bidders for development funding for next-generation modular reactors,
Guardian, , 8 Aug 16“……….The list of companies accepted for the competition was published briefly, apparently accidentally, on the website of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Friday before being deleted. It reads as a who’s-who of US, British, Japanese and Chinese industry players hoping to develop and build small modular reactors. These are much smaller than conventional nuclear plants with a capacity of less than 300MW – or a 10th of what Hinkley Point C should provide.

They are pitched by industry as a cheaper and quicker way to provide low-carbon energy capacity than conventional big nuclear plants because they could be built in a factory and transported to where their power is needed. The US and UK are racing to be the most attractive home for the first of the new designs to be commissioned.

Last November, George Osbornepromised £250m over five years for a nuclear research and development programme to “revive the UK’s nuclear expertise and position the UK as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies”. An undisclosed amount of that sum is for a competition to find the best value SMR design for the UK, to “pave the way” towards building one in the UK in the 2020s.

CNNC sits alongside US companies such as NuScale; British ones including Rolls-Royce, Sheffield Forgemasters and Tokamak Energy; Japanese-owned Westinghouse; and the US-Japanese partnership GE-Hitachi, as participants the government considers eligible for phase one of its competition.

CNNC’s chief designer of small nuclear plants visited a conference in London last year to pitch a plan for cooperating with UK industry, and is already partnering with Rolls-Royce. It hopes to build the first SMR in the UK, with future ones sold around the world.

NuScale Power put itself forward for the competition in the spring. Its design, said its managing director, Tom Mundy, “answers the particular needs of the UK’s energy market and the wider UK economy, and we intend to participate fully in the government’s competition”.

The 33 participants will be whittled down in several phases, with the announcement of the eventual winners scheduled for late 2017……

When asked about the list published on Friday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “In March 2016, the government launched the first phase of a competition to identify the best value SMR for the UK. The ambition is to create an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in SMRs.

“Those companies which are eligible to participate in the competition have been aware for over two months.”

August 8, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) NOT the nuclear solution that its fans claim it to be

IFR-lemonNuClear News August 16  Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) George Monbiot told the Radio 4’s Today Programme on the 29th July that the “humungous waste problem at Sellafield could be turned into a humungous asset by using a technology such as Integral Fast Reactors (IFR) to turn it into an energy source.” He said “it gets rid of the waste, and according to one estimate could provide all the UK’s energy needs for 500 years.” He said that instead of wasting our money on Hinkley Point C Government should invest in the development of IFRs to “see if we can use it to crack two problems at once – our nuclear waste mountain [and] create a massive source of low carbon energy”. The only problem is, as Professor Catherine Mitchell just had time to point out, it wouldn’t work. To claim that they are proliferation resistant and help “use up waste” is just plain wrong.


The IFR would be a liquid-sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor. The use of liquid sodium as a coolant has proved to be a huge problem in the past – it catches fire on contact with air. Over the years the world’s leading nuclear technologists have built about three dozen sodium-cooled fast reactors. Of the 22 whose histories are mostly reported, over half had sodium leaks, four suffered fuel damage (including two partial meltdowns), several others had serious accidents, most were prematurely closed, and only six succeeded. As Dr. Tom Cochran of NRDC notes, fast reactor programs were tried in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the USSR, and the US and Soviet Navies. All failed. After a half-century and tens of billions of dollars, the world has one operational commercial-sized fast reactor (Russia’s BN600) out of 438 commercial power reactors, and it’s not fuelled with plutonium.



IFRs would require an ambitious new nuclear fuel cycle because they would be fuelled with a metallic alloy of uranium and plutonium. In theory they would operate in conjunction with onsite ‘pyroprocessing’ to separate plutonium and other long-lived radioisotopes. Unlike the reprocessing plants currently at Sellafield they wouldn’t separate pure plutonium, but would keep the plutonium mixed with other long-lived radioisotopes.


Its novel technology, replacing solvents and aqueous chemistry of current reprocessing with high-temperature pyrometallurgy and electrorefining, would incur different but major challenges, greater technical risks and repair problems, and speculative but probably worse economics. Reprocessing of any kind makes waste management more difficult and complex, increases the volume and diversity of waste streams, increases by several- to many-fold the cost of nuclear fuelling, and separates bomb-usable material that can’t be adequately measured or protected. In the UK the Government would be unlikely to want to see more plutonium separated so any IFR built here – at least to begin with – would probably just be used to use up our huge stockpile of plutonium. The problem is that the plutonium is stored as plutonium oxide which would have to be converted to plutonium metal probably involving the fluorination of plutonium dioxide, normally with highly corrosive hydrogen fluoride, to produce plutonium fluoride, which is subsequently reduced using high purity calcium metal to produce metallic plutonium and a calcium fluoride slag.



IFRs are often claimed to “burn up nuclear waste” and make its “time of concern … less than 500 years” rather than 10,000-100,000 years or more. That’s wrong: most of the radioactivity comes from fission products, including very long lived isotopes like iodine-129 and technicium-99, and their mix is broadly similar in any nuclear fuel cycle.


IFRs’ wastes may contain less transuranics, but at prohibitive cost and with worse occupational exposures, routine releases, accident and terrorism risks, proliferation, and disposal needs for intermediate- and low-level wastes. It’s simply a dishonest fantasy to claim, that such hypothetical and uneconomic proposals can deal with the humungous waste problem at Sellafield.



It is claimed that IFRs could produce lots of greenhouse-friendly energy and while they’re at it they can ‘eat’ nuclear waste and convert fissile materials, which might otherwise find their way into nuclear weapons, into useful energy. Too good to be true? Sadly, yes. Nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists writes: “The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”


August 5, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, technology | Leave a comment

With UK and USA government help, NuScale hopes to go ahead with “mini” nuclear reactors

NuClear News No 87, 5 Aug 16 Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) Britain’s ambition to build small modular nuclear plants took a step forward as the nation’s last independent steelmaker said it will work with Fluor Corp.’s NuScale Power to make components. Sheffield Forgemasters International Ltd. will forge a large civil nuclear reactor vessel head by the end of 2017. It is part of a £4m programme funded by the government-backed Innovate U.K. agency. NuScale is providing an undisclosed sum of additional funding.
In the USA, NuScale says it is “at an advanced stage” of development compared to its nearest competitors. NuScale is the only SMR developer to be currently receiving US Department of Energy match funding ($217 million over five years), the only SMR developer to be close to submitting a Design Certification Application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission – which NuScale says will happen later this year – and it has “multiple active customer deployment projects under way”. The first NuScale facility is planned to be in operation in 2024 in the state of Idaho. (2)
New “mini” nuclear reactor technology should be built at Trawsfynydd – the site of a closed Magnox station – according to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. The nuclear plant in Snowdonia National Park has been shut down since 1991 and is undergoing the lengthy process of decommissioning. The Welsh Affairs select committee said the site would make an “ideal” location to build small modular reactors, and urged the Government to designate it as a site for their construction. Trawsfynydd was not included on the list of approved sites for new nuclear construction drawn up by the Government in 2009, due to its inland, national park location and small size. But there is growing support in Wales for the idea that it could be suitable for small module reactor (SMR) technology, which is by definition smaller and proponents say will be much easier to construct.
NuScale Power has become a supporting partner of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) in Sheffield. The two bodies said the move, which follows several years of informal collaboration, will further enable the two organisations to support each other’s ambitions to bring SMR technology to the UK. The announcement was made on the same day that Nuclear AMRC hosted NuScale Power’s first UK Supplier Day at its facility at the University of Sheffield.
For further information on SMRs see the NFLA Briefing:

August 5, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, politics, technology | 1 Comment

NASA to send nuclear powered spacecraft to Mars (hope it doesn’t crash)

spacecradt-plutonium-NASA books nuclear-certified Atlas 5 rocket for Mars 2020 rover launch, Spacefilght Now, July 25, 2016 Justin Ray CAPE CANAVERAL — America’s next Mars rover, a $2.1 billion nuclear-powered vehicle to search for evidence that life once existed there, will be launched to the Red Planet in the summer of 2020 by a powerful Atlas 5 rocket.

Jim Green, planetary science division director, revealed the selection of the United Launch Alliance vehicle at the NASA Advisory Council meeting in Cleveland this afternoon.

“It will be the Atlas 5 carrying Mars 2020 to Mars,” Green said.

ULA’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4-Heavy and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy were studied as possible launch vehicles for the intermediate-to-heavy classed payload. It was not immediately known if SpaceX submitted a bid for this launch contract.

But, currently, Atlas 5 is the only launch vehicle that holds a NASA certification for launching the nuclear batteries made of plutonium that will power the 2,000-pound rover.

The six-wheeled robot will use by a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, enabling surface operations day and night by converting heat into electricity.

Atlas 5 has successfully performed the only launches of nuclear-equipped spacecraft for NASA in recent history: New Horizons to Pluto in 2006 and the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover in 2011.

The Mars 2020 mission will search for indications of past Martian life, building upon the ongoing field geology work by the Curiosity rover that shows the planet’s early history had conditions suitable for life…….

July 27, 2016 Posted by | technology | Leave a comment

Spent nuclear fuel pools are unsafe

Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods and Storage Pools: A Deadly and Unnecessary Risk in the United States. Based on an Institute for Policy Studies report by Robert Alvarez entitled “Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage.” 

Ì More than 30 million highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods are submerged in vulnerable storage pools at reactors all over the United States. These pools at 51 sites contain some the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet. Yet, they are stored under unsafe conditions, vulnerable to attacks and natural disasters.

Ì Spent nuclear fuel rods have enough pop to cause a catastrophic radiation fire, a nuclear chain reaction, or explosion. As the Fukushima Dai-Ichi tragedy shows, the risk to the public is all too real.

Ì Spent nuclear fuel rods are so deadly that a motorcyclist blasting past them at 60 mph at a distance of one foot would be killed from the effects of that fleeting radiation exposure.

Ì The metal tubing that holds the spent nuclear fuel is thinner than a credit card. This thin sheath is the only major barrier preventing the escape of radioactive materials. Cracked or damaged metal tubing that was holding deadly nuclear material at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactors resulted in the release of an enormous amount radioactivity, much of which seeped into air, soil, and nearby ocean water.


Ì Approximately 75 percent of U.S. spent nuclear fuel rods are kept tightly packed together in storage racks, submerged in pools located at nuclear reactors. These storage facilities resemble large above-ground swimming pools and this practice puts the American public at risk. Spent fuel storage pools are often housed in buildings no more secure than a car dealership. Instead, these fuel rods should be safely stored in dry, hardened, and sealed storage casks.

Ì Spent fuel storage pools are vulnerable. Massive land contamination, radiation injuries, and myriad deaths would result from a terrorist attack, earthquake, or even a prolonged electricity blackout — as happened at the Fukushima DaiIchi reactor site in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami. Pools need electricity to pump water to cool the rods, as well as to maintain a high water level to diffuse the escape of radiation. Despite these dangers, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) doesn’t require nuclear reactor operators to even have back-up power supplies for these spent-fuel pools to prevent disaster.

Ì If the water in a spent nuclear fuel pool drains to six feet above the fuel rods, it would give off life-threatening radiation doses to workers on site. These pools were originally designed to hold less than one fifth of the radioactive material they now contain.


Ì If the water were to drain entirely from a spent fuel pool, it could trigger a catastrophic radioactive fire that would spew toxins and render hundreds of thousands of square miles uninhabitable. The devastated area would be larger than the wasteland that resulted from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.


Ì Life-threatening incidents have occurred at multiple U.S. spent fuel storage pools. In Haddam Neck, Connecticut, a pool sprung a leak in August 1984. About 200,000 gallons of water drained in just 20 minutes, according the NRC.


Ì Dry cask storage is a much safer alternative to pools — which were originally designed to hold less than one-fifth of what they now contain. It doesn’t rely upon a constant supply of electricity or water, and it also can be stored in separate blast-proof containers, making it less susceptible to terrorist attack or earthquakes.


Ì Over the next 10 years, we could remove all spent fuel older than five years for a cost of $3 billion-$7 billion. The cost of fixing America’s nuclear vulnerabilities may be high, but the price of doing too little is incalculable……..

July 23, 2016 Posted by | Reference, technology, wastes | Leave a comment

They’re STILL pretending there’s a “Nuclear Renaissance”

The Myth of the Nuclear Renaissance The game is already over for nuclear energy. U.S. News Linda Pentz Gunter July 18, 2016Desperate times for the nuclear industry call for desperate rhetoric. Hence the reach, once again, for “renaissance,” even though the facts support no such thing and the industry itself dare not even resurrect the mythological moniker. [“The New Nuclear Renaissance,” 6/11/2016]

With nuclear power priced out of the market – not only by natural gas but, more importantly for climate, by renewables – die-hard nuclear proponents are dressing up old reactors in new propaganda.

Sodium-cooled, fast and even small modular reactors are all designs that have been around – and rejected – for decades.


Sodium-cooled reactors are prone to fires, explosions and super-criticality accidents. A rapid power increase inside the core of such a reactor could vaporize the fuel and blow the core apart. Far from “walk away safe,” these on-paper designs have not been submitted to the kind of rigorous “all scenarios” testing that could definitively designate them as meltdown proof.

 The reactor that consumes its own radioactive waste as fuel is not the waste management panacea its sounds like. It could theoretically “transmute” wastes by reducing the proportion of long-lived isotopes contained in them. But radioactive fission products would remain, some of which are very long-lived. Management of these radioactive wastes would still be necessary for several hundred years. They would not magically vanish.

Small modular reactors that deliver lower amounts of electricity than large ones present an economy of scale that has proven to be a deterrent to investors. Capitol costs per kilowatt for these reactors are estimated at double those for a traditional light water reactor.

Furthermore, so-called “new” designs that are still on the drawing board will remain there for years to come, too late for climate change that can be answered quickly and far more cheaply by immediate and widespread implementation of wind and solar energy, whose prices are falling precipitously.

 Not that climate change is the agenda here: Sen. James Inhofe, for one, is the most notorious climate denier on Capitol Hill. Rather, this is a thinly-veiled effort to resurrect the Argonne laboratories from obsolescence while propping up an industry that otherwise will crumble under the weight of its own disastrous economics……

The real race the U.S. is letting China win is in the renewable energy field. China’s renewable investments in 2015 totaled $100 billion, according to the just released 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report,” more than five times the amount the country invested for new reactors, which was $18 billion.

The game is over for nuclear energy and there is no extra time, even in China. “Construction starts for new nuclear reactors fell to zero globally in the first half of 2016 as the atomic industry struggles against falling costs for renewables and a slowdown in Chinese building” the report found.

 If there is $1 billion to spare for energy “innovation,” why not spend it on renewables, energy sources that could not radioactively contaminate vast areas for decades, use no fuel and produce no waste? That would be truly “modern.”

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that bridged Medieval times to the so-called Early Modern Age. Like nuclear energy, it is of the past, not the future.

July 20, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

Floating nuclear reactors for China in South China Sea?

reactors-floatingChina media again touts plans to float nuclear reactors in disputed South China Sea.  Reuters, 15 July 16China aims to launch a series of offshore nuclear power platforms to promote development in the South China Sea, state media said again on Friday, days after an international court ruled Beijing had no historic claims to most of the waters.

Sovereignty over the South China Sea is contested by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and any move to build nuclear reactors is bound to stoke further tension in the region.

The China Securities Journal said 20 offshore nuclear platforms could eventually be built in the region as the country seeks to “speed up the commercial development” of the South China Sea.

“China’s first floating nuclear reactor will be assembled by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s (CSIC) subsidiary, Bohai Heavy Industry, and the company will build 20 such reactors in the future,” the newspaper said.

“The marine nuclear power platform will provide energy and freshwater to the Nansha Islands,” it said, referring to the disputed Spratly Islands.

The newspaper was citing a social media post by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), which has since been deleted…….

The news is old,” an expert with the China Nuclear Energy Association said. “It is repeated in reaction to the latest South China Sea disputes,” the expert, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

“Little progress has been made on building such a small reactor.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked at a daily news briefing, said he did not know anything about the plans.

Floating reactors were first proposed in the United States in the 1970s but then abandoned. The first demonstration of the technology is due to be launched in Russia next year.

“This will need several years of design and safety analysis before it can go into full construction,” said Li Ning, Dean of the School of Energy Research at Xiamen University…….

A spokesman for CNNC told Reuters the floating reactors plan had been drawn up by its affiliate, the Nuclear Power Institute of China, and a final decision would be made by CSIC. CSIC was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Kathy Chen and David Stanway; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

July 16, 2016 Posted by | China, technology | Leave a comment

The dodgy economics and doubtful future for Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

SMRs-mirageFOR GENERAL ATOMICS, SMALLER NUCLEAR PLANTS ARE BEAUTIFUL, San Diego Union Tribune  But can its technology work? And is it even needed? BY ROB NIKOLEWSKI July 15, 2016 The scientists and engineers at General Atomics think the future of nuclear energy is coming on the back of a flatbed truck.

And the leadership at the San Diego-based company, which has been developing nuclear technologies for more than 60 years, has already spent millions in the expectation that its ambitious plans for the next generation of reactors will actually work.

“We have technology that we think is going to qualitatively change the game,” saidChristina Back, vice president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics……’s designed to produce a reactor that’s so compact that the company’s handout material shows it being transported by tractor-trailer.

But EM² is still a long way from becoming a day-to-day reality in a fast-changing energy landscape.

Just building a prototype, Back said, is at least 10 years away and, “we’re looking at 2030-ish” before a commercial reactor could be up and running using EM² technology……And there are no guarantees the design will work……

Here in the United States, natural gas may pose an even greater challenge. Techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have unlocked vast amounts of natural gas in North America and the increased supply has lowered prices. Utilities are increasingly turning to natural gas-fired power plants to generate electricity, at least in large part, because gas burns much cleaner than coal.

Where does that leave nuclear?…….. nuclear has long faced intense opposition from those who consider it an inherently dangerous source of power and the EM² technology is being developed at a time when nuclear plants are getting shut down in places such as Illinois, Vermontand New York.

The environment for nuclear power in California is even more daunting……Critics of nuclear power point  to the falling costs and rising production numbers for renewable energy, as well as a mandate from the California Public Utilities Commission ordering the state’s big three investor-owned utilities to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage to their grids by the end of the decade.

McKinzie said the success of any advanced nuclear technology largely rests on its performance in the prototype stage, which does not come cheaply.”Safety and performance really have to be addressed by the protoype,” said McKinzie, who holds a doctorate in experimental nuclear physics from the University of Pennsylvania. “When you’re talking on the order of a billion dollars to get to that point, that’s a pretty high hurdle.”….The leadership at General Atomics has invested $40 million so far in the EM² technology…….General Atomics was one of five companies that received a share of a $13 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy in October 2014…….

July 16, 2016 Posted by | Reference, technology, USA | Leave a comment