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US To Build Nuclear Power Plants 622

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the doesn't-iran-want-to-do-that-too dept.
An anonymous reader writes "President Barack Obama has announced more than $8bn in federal loan guarantees to begin building the first US nuclear power stations in 30 years. Two new plants are to be constructed in the state of Georgia by US electricity firm Southern Company."
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US To Build Nuclear Power Plants

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  • by dmgxmichael (1219692) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @08:56AM (#31168266) Homepage
    Cause that's how long it will take them to get through all the red tape.
  • And we still need power so... not much choices left.

    • by friedo (112163)

      The amount of electricity that the US gets from burning oil is so small it might as well be zero. More nuclear power at least takes some burden off coal, which is the real environmental problem with power production in the US.

  • by PolyDwarf (156355) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @08:59AM (#31168304)

    nuclear wessels?

    (come on, it had to be said)

  • But where are we going to store the waste? I'm all for nuclear power. It's clean and not nearly as dangerous as a lot of people think, but the waste is a big political deal. No one wants the storage facilities in their back yard.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MortenMW (968289)
      Very simplified, but should work:
      1. Find a mountain
      2. Create a tunnel deep into it
      3. Build chambers inside the tunnel
      4. Fill chambers with waste
      5. Fill chamber with concrete
      • by BuR4N (512430)
        Its not easy and it costs _allot_ of money, in Sweden there is a research organization with the sole purpose to find a secure way to store the wast created by Swedens reactors.

        http://www.skb.se/Templates/Standard____24109.aspx [www.skb.se]
      • Re:That's good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:39AM (#31168840)

        Credits:
        SA Forums user: grover

        Has anyone suggested simply eating it? It would unfortunately then collect and concentrate in sewage treatment plants and septic tanks, and so would defeat the purpose, but I'm curious...

        12,000 metric tons of high-level waste (mostly spent reactor fuel rods) is produced worldwide each year. If that waste was let age for a few years like fine whiskey, split up into tiny 1.6mg portions encapsulated in glass, and then one fed to every person in the world...

        a) Spent nuclear fuel rods, clad or declad, from commercial electricity generating reactors; average radioactivity being more than 2.5 million curies per cubic meter.
                b) Semi-liquid sludge from nuclear bomb fabrication waste processing residue - average radioactivity being about 3500 curies per cubic meter.

                All this waste contains five shorter lived and longer lived radionuclides of main concern. The shorter lived are strontium-90 whose half life, t1/2, is 28.5 years, and cesium-137 whose half life, t1/2, is 30 years. See Ref. 1 for the half-life values used in this study. The radioactivity of these shorter lived nuclides is approximately 95% of the total radioactivity of the nuclides of concern. Total hazardous life for these shorter lived nuclides is considered to be between 600 years and 1000 years depending upon one's point of view.

                The longer lived isotopes are plutonium-239 whose t1/2 is 24,110 years, plutonium-240 whose t1/2 is 6,540 years, and curium-245 whose t1/2 is 8,500 years. Plutonium-238 whose t1/2is 88 years will have essentially disappeared after several thousand years, so in storage terms of the longer lived elements this isotope is not of concern as long as it will have been successfully contained for the next several thousand years. As for the life of these longer lived materials, the NRC considers 10,000 years as the storage time required; however, some people consider a lifetime as long as 100,000 years to 500,000 years as more appropriate.
        Sr-90 is a beta emitter, and the radiation won't penetrate the glass capsule.
        C-137 is a beta and gamma emitter, with 75% the energy released as beta, and the rest as 33keV and 662keV gamma.

        1 cubic meter of waste: 2.5 million curies
        % radiation in short-lived Sr-90/C-137 isotopes: appx 95%
        % radiation capable of penetrating capsule: appx 13%
        World population: 6.70 Billion
        Average mass of a human: 70kg
        Time for complete digestion: 24hr

        1 Ci = 37GBq
        1 rad = 0.01J/kg of absorbed radiation
        1 rem = rule of thumb is 1 rad, but it's actually a lot more complicated
        Q for gamma, external = 1
        Q for alpha, external = 0
        Q for beta, external = 0
        1 Sv = Q x 100rem
        1keV = 1.60217646 × 10-16 joules
        Density of fuel rods: 11.0g/cc

        Volume of fuel per capsule: 1.6mg/11.0g/cc= 0.145nm^2

        "Dangerous" radiation emitted from 1m^2: 2.5MCi * .95 * .13 = 308kCi = 1.14*10^16Bq
        "Dangerous" radiation emitted from 0.145nm^2: 1.14*10^16Bq/6.7G/3=567kBq/meal
        % of gamma rays striking human body absorbed by human body: appx 15%
        Radiation absorbed by the body: 85kBq
        Energy absorbed: 85kBq X (33keV/Bq+662keV/Bq)/2 * 1.60217646*10^-16 J/keV * 24*60*60s= 41mJ.
        Energy absorbed per kg: 41mJ/70kg/0.01J/kg = 0.6mrad
        Radiation exposure: 0.6mrem per meal
        Radiation exposure: 639mrem per year, or appx 255SWW.

        Conclusion: we could quite literally eat all the nuclear waste generated worldwide and barely double our annual exposure to natural radiation. Not that I'd advocate this, but jesus christ, there's nothing wrong with burying it all in a hole in the ground!

        Alternately, I could just go around the nation beating people with spent fuel rods until they gain some perspective in the matter.

    • Re:That's good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bmo (77928) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:05AM (#31168378)

      Reprocess it.

      Stuff you can't reprocess put at bottom of an oceanic trench. Subduction zones are MomNature's ultimate recycle bin.

      --
      BMO

      • by mangu (126918)

        Subduction zones have the inconvenient that they are potentially like shredders that may crunch your waste and spread it over. A better alternative is to bury it at the bottom of abyssal plains, some of which have been stable for a billion years or more.

        Waste enclosed in a glass or ceramic cylinder buried a hundred meters deep in mud that's under 5000 meters of water is as safe as it can get.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lwsimon (724555)

      I have an acre here in Arkansas, I don't mind storing it in my back yard. Its on a hill, and not really very usable for me anyhow. Where do I sign up?

    • Re:That's good (Score:5, Informative)

      by LordLimecat (1103839) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:10AM (#31168446)
      Ok, everyone complains about nuclear waste storage. But has anyone considered how convenient it is that we actually have the OPTION of storing it-- that it comes prepackaged in nice containers, rather than being spewed into the atmosphere where its a heck of a lot more difficult to get at (as with coal)?

      Plus, unlike coal emissions, we can actually USE the waste material and reduce it by reusing it in reactors-- if it is radioactive, that means it is emitting radiation, which can either be used in additional reactors, or worst case in radioisotope thermoelectric generators (not very efficient, but its an option). With smog and CO2 emissions, we can do....what again? Bury it so that it can leak back into the atmosphere after a while?

      Seems to me, if youre going to have a fuel source that has a waste product, the BEST thing you can ask for is that it deliver it in a prepackaged, stable, reusable form rather than as a useless aerosol.
    • Re:That's good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:13AM (#31168492)

      If it's still radioactive enough to be dangerous. It's still radioactive enough to be used for electricity.

      We just have retarded 'recycling laws'. Imagine if the US outlawed Aluminum recycling because at some point in the process you could use it as Thermite. That's how stupid our nuclear rules are.

  • by rcb1974 (654474) <richardballantyne@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:01AM (#31168320) Homepage
    What a great thing -- lots of reliably generated power that is greener than burning fossil fuels. The only bad thing about this is that it has taken 30 years for more people to realize that safe nuclear power generation is possible.

    This is one step closer towards reducing the amount of our dollars that go to the middle east while also stimulating the US economy. This also moves us closer to our goal of having electric vehicles that really are green. Wind/solar are not as reliable as nuclear because you only have wind when the wind blows, and solar when the sun is shining.
    • by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @10:56AM (#31170206) Journal

      What a great thing -- lots of reliably generated power that is greener than burning fossil fuels. The only bad thing about this is that it has taken 30 years for more people to realize that safe nuclear power generation is possible.

      That realization was never lacking. The problem all along has been $/KWH.

      The onerous regulations and protests and Jane Fondas simply added to the $/KWH. Government loan guarantees lower the $/KWH back down by increasing the plants' bond ratings (which lowers their cost of financing).

      It would've been better to just reduce the regulatory burden, rather than cripple the industry with regulations and then prop it back up with subsidies... but such is the democratic method of inculcating dependence on the State.

      • Oh, geez (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sean.peters (568334)

        Look, I'm all about moving from fossil fuels to nuclear (and solar & wind too), but seriously... reducing the regulatory burden? Are you nuts? Much is made of the fact that nuclear plants are very safe - and they are. The reason they're very safe is because they are quite sensibly regulated to within an inch of their lives. Without these regulations, there'd be nothing stopping the power companies from building Chernobyl-style plants all over the place, and every financial incentive TO do so - because a

        • Re:Oh, geez (Score:4, Interesting)

          by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @04:36PM (#31176462)

          I think a lot of the time people are talking more about the bureaucracy rather than safe reactor designs.
          I've heard some lovely stories about leaking taps in the canteens at nuclear facilities that never get fixed because of how much paperwork has to be done to do a trivial piece of work.
          It can also be about standardising the design of plants so that rather than building every plant as a one off and spending billions checking and rechecking the design every time you come up with 1 design which you check really well and then rubber stamp any plans that match that design perfectly.

          There was another interesting case I read about where there was a worldwide shortage of medical radioisotopes a few years back because a reactor which was designed to produce them. one which literally could not melt down because it didn't have the required material was shut down because some regulations designed for large power generating reactors were pushed through that required safety systems for dealing with failures in things the medical isotope reactor didn't even have and so they had to add all these pointless and expensive backups for backups for backup systems for things the reactor didn't need to do. because it came under the heading of a "reactor".
          I'll try to find the details.

          I'm all for sensible regulations but any old system builds up regulations which serve no purpose.

          You can be sure there's things like regulations requiring that reports be submitted typed in black ink on such and such quality paper which made sense back in the day but don't any more.

  • What plant design? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PolyDwarf (156355) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:02AM (#31168340)

    I've been hearing about this for the past few days, but I have yet to see what kind of nuclear plant they're talking about building.

    I'm really hoping we take a cue from France (yeah yeah, cheese eating surrender monkeys and all that... Fact is, they've been doing nuclear power a lot, and doing it much more recently than us), and standardize a reactor design or three to hopefully avoid some of that red tape.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by QuantumRiff (120817)

      First Article I read said AP1000 reactors.

      Also, this is going in at a site of 2 other reactors, so there will be alot less NIMBYism than if it was a new location.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:07AM (#31168398) Homepage
    They don't have electricity in Georgia.
  • by CajunArson (465943) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:09AM (#31168422) Journal

    I'm not an Obama fan, but when he does something right he deserves credit for it, so good job Mr. President. I just hope this doesn't get bogged down in too much bureaucracy and lawsuits by "environmentalists." Note how "environmentalists" is in quotes because anyone rational who claims to care about air pollution, global warming, deforestation, etc. etc. should love the idea of new, very safe nuclear power plants. A back of the napkin calculation means a 1.1 Gigawatt reactor can put out the peak energy of 110 of the big 10 Megawatt wind turbine... and the wind turbine can't output at peak energy all the time. Take into account the fact that the land footprint for a nuclear power plant is tiny compared to wind or solar and you have a solution that is a very good thing for the environment.
        As for nuclear waste, it's a political problem not a technological problem. Despite the fear-mongering you hear about "10,000 years of waste" the truly nasty stuff actually has a much shorter half-life, and the stuff that is radioactive for 10,000 years is dangerous... but not any more dangerous than the chemicals that get spewed from Coal-fired plants or the chemicals that are used in manufacturing photo-voltaic solar panels. One other thing.. if reprocessing were actually used in the US the amount of this nasty waste would be much much lower to boot. Once again, politics trumps technology in preventing solutions to problems from actually being implemented.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blind biker (1066130)

      I'm not an Obama fan, but when he does something right he deserves credit for it, so good job Mr. President. I just hope this doesn't get bogged down in too much bureaucracy and lawsuits by "environmentalists." Note how "environmentalists" is in quotes because anyone rational who claims to care about air pollution, global warming, deforestation, etc. etc. should love the idea of new, very safe nuclear power plants. A back of the napkin calculation means a 1.1 Gigawatt reactor can put out the peak energy of 110 of the big 10 Megawatt wind turbine... and the wind turbine can't output at peak energy all the time. Take into account the fact that the land footprint for a nuclear power plant is tiny compared to wind or solar and you have a solution that is a very good thing for the environment.
      As for nuclear waste, it's a political problem not a technological problem. Despite the fear-mongering you hear about "10,000 years of waste" the truly nasty stuff actually has a much shorter half-life, and the stuff that is radioactive for 10,000 years is dangerous... but not any more dangerous than the chemicals that get spewed from Coal-fired plants or the chemicals that are used in manufacturing photo-voltaic solar panels. One other thing.. if reprocessing were actually used in the US the amount of this nasty waste would be much much lower to boot. Once again, politics trumps technology in preventing solutions to problems from actually being implemented.

      I completely agree with you, on every point. However, 8 bn$ in loan guarantees is very little.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        I completely agree with you, on every point. However, 8 bn$ in loan guarantees is very little.

        It's $8 billion more than a bunch of capitalists should require from the government to build something incredibly profitable.

      • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @10:14AM (#31169418)

        And a loan guarantee simply means that a company can get a lower interest rate because investors know that in the event of default, the government will take over servicing the bond.

        However, the actual value of such a guarantee is far, far less than the principal value of those bonds. In fact, it can be treated as a put option on the assets of the firm that is being financed with the bonds (calculating that value required making a number of assumptions about those assets and their value to another firm, their alternative uses, ongoing income generation capabilities and so on).

        The value of this guarantee in this case is probably no more than a few hundred million dollars (i.e. a few percentage points of the principal amount). You can also simply estimate it by looking at the difference between the interest a similar firm would pay and what a government bond would pay, since that reflects the market's valuation of the default risk inherent in a firm like this.

        This is a drop in the bucket from a stimulus perspective, and a drop in the bucket of our nation's energy infrastructure.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:25AM (#31168648)
      I hope the administration really makes a PR push on nuclear energy. With Obama being a darling of the left and environmental types, his advocacy could go a long way in dispelling some of the hippie anti-nuclear horseshit and hysteria that has put us so far behind Europe in the last several decades. It might also finally get enough public support to break the Yucca Mountain logjam and finally implement a sensible storage solution.
  • by kriston (7886) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:10AM (#31168450) Homepage Journal

    Where is all the waste going? The political horse trading by the Obama administration promised to shut down Yucca Mountain, toileting over $9 billion.

    Is anyone doing the math??

    • by JSBiff (87824) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:30AM (#31168712) Journal

      Nuclear waste isn't a problem, it's an opportunity. That nuclear waste, is in fact, valuable fuel in some types of reactor designs. Notably, the Integral Fast Reactor-style of design (and, I believe there are some other design concepts being researched along similar lines). I've heard estimates (though I don't really know if they are true or not, but I've no current knowledge to contradict it) that the current 'reserves' of nuclear waste could power reactors for something like 500 years or 1000 years without mining any 'new' uranium.

      However, I think the Obama administration is making a bit of a mistake. It's my understanding that the reactor designs they are getting built are still based upon the once-through concept, which will need 'new' uranium to be mined and enriched, and produce more 'waste'. Seems to me we should really be pushing to the 'recycling' types of reactor designs, and maybe put a moratorium on importing any more uranium into the country. We should be trying to phase out the old style, once-through reactors.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vlm (69642)

        Seems to me we should really be pushing to the 'recycling' types of reactor designs

        Hmm. The purpose of a politician is to use the public's resources, to get money from special interests, to lie to and bribe voters.

        Given that background, lets consider two plans here:

        Non-recycled: New U costs about $25/lb long term, and the USA mined almost 17 kilotons in the peak year. That would be a bit less than a billion dollars. That'll buy a lot of votes, plus you can skim off a thousandth or so for re-election campaigns/bribes. Then you get to spend nine billion and counting on a waste facilit

  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:11AM (#31168466) Homepage Journal

    This is a pragmatic solution to the problems of global warming and foreign energy dependence. There's nothing magically evil about nuclear power. Environmentalists should applaud this move.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rockoon (1252108)

      There's nothing magically evil about nuclear power. Environmentalists should applaud this move.

      But they don't.. and thats why they can go fuck themselves.

  • by Halo- (175936) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:16AM (#31168536)
    No one will say nuclear is without serious drawbacks, but modern reactor design has pretty much reduced those to a single large "what do we do with the waste?" issue. I would rather have a comparatively small amount of containable waste and eons of time to figure out how to make it "go away"(TM) then have much larger environmental impacts which aren't so simple. It's reasonable to expect the human race to come up with a way to render a few hundred tons of radioactive waste inert in the semi-near future. It's much less reasonable to expect us to figure out how to scrub (billions/trillions/quadrillions?) tons of CO2 and other nasties out of the atmosphere, and deal with the other larger scale issues coal/oil/gas produce.
  • South Texas Project (Score:3, Informative)

    by Luyseyal (3154) <[swaters] [at] [luy.info]> on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:20AM (#31168594) Homepage

    The South Texas Project [stpnoc.com] is building two new units at its existing facilities near Matagorda Bay.

    -l

  • It's a pity ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:22AM (#31168610)

    ... that we aren't pumping money into thorium reactors. Their advantages are enormous. Waste storage time is reduced and you can use one to "burn" old nuclear waste. They cannot suffer from China Syndrome, since they need a sustained beam of neutrons to keep the reaction at critical. And in terms of proliferation, they don't lend themselves easily to building nuclear weapons, whereas conventional uranium reactor technology isn't too hard to adapt to building of simple atomic weapons ("enrich more and build a donut and plug bomb.")

  • finally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by agentultra (1090039) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:23AM (#31168628)

    It's about time some common sense was applied to the issue.

    Does anyone realize that you and I will each produce about a coke-can worth of nuclear waste in our lifetime (a TED speaker mentioned this, can't find the source atm)? I think that's pretty easy to store. At least compared to the thousands of tonnes of coal that would have to be burned in its place.

    You say the air is polluted and we have to stop burning coal; but you helped keep that industry alive because you protested nuclear energy into the dark ages for the past thirty years. Our modern lives don't exist without electricity and generating it is no easy task. There are trade-offs. I think we would have been better off if nuclear energy development had continued: we'd have thirty years more experience building, developing, and maintaining it.

    Good on this Obama guy for having a little common sense.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      "If all of the electricity you used in your lifetime was nuclear, the amount of waste that would be added up would fit in a Coke can." That's from Steward Brand. I was curious about that fact after reading your post, so poked around on Google and found his TED speech here [ted.com], with interactive transcript.
  • Nuclear waste (Score:4, Insightful)

    by adenied (120700) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:34AM (#31168770)

    All the anti-nuke people make claims of thousands of years of nuclear waste storage blah blah. Does anyone take into account the speed at which science accelerates? Isn't it likely that in 20-50 years we'll have tech that can just deal with the waste? Or hell, even 200 years if you want to take a pessimistic view of tech growth. Even if it was 1000 years I'd be pretty happy to have nuclear power than nasty coal that is actively poisoning things.

    • Re:Nuclear waste (Score:5, Interesting)

      by GooberToo (74388) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @11:03AM (#31170328)

      Does anyone take into account the speed at which science accelerates? Isn't it likely that in 20-50 years we'll have tech that can just deal with the waste?

      We already have the tech to deal with this issue. It can be handled in two ways. One is to reprocess it into new fuel rods which can then be used in the reactor from which it came. Two, it can be used as is in fast breeder-type reactor where it becomes enriched and then consumed as fuel. The combination means, rather than attempting to dispose of rods which contain 90%-97% usable fuel (aka, huge waste), something like 3% winds up needing disposal and much of that has a very short half life compared to what would have otherwise been thrown out.

      Sadly, US law forbids reprocessing of fuel on US soil. So option one is out. Option two is not possible as I'm not aware of any certified fast breeder reactors. Certification alone, thanks to the massive red tape forced on us all by loony environmentalist, costs billions of dollars. As a result, perfectly safe designs are simply not certifiable because no one has the years to spend billions of dollars with yet another decade of more red tape and construction before they can even hope to reclaim their investment.

      Its a really great example of why laws need to be changed and environmentalist need to be shot. Buses and cliffs are also an acceptable substitute; though it may be difficult to find room because of the large number of lawyers already in line.

  • by happyjack27 (1219574) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:40AM (#31168846)
    is it breeder reactor? liquid thorium blanket? what generation reactor? the article say nothing on that. i'd like to see some progress in reactor tech being implemented by the US.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 517714 (762276)

      None (zero) of the planned US reactors are significantly different than existing reactors in the US. They will be PWRs (Pressurized Water Reactors) and BWR (Bolining Water Reactors). They will have a fewer failure modes due to reduced component count, better passive safety, and many failure scenarios are better than existing plants.

      As someone who has worked for two decades for companies supplying primarily to this industry, I am disappointed that thorium molten salt and pebble bed reactors are not planned.

  • Made in Japan. . ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:43AM (#31168906)

    He did not give details on how Southern planned to divide its 30 percent share between debt and equity but said his company was not looking for financial backing from Japan. Toshiba of Japan is majority owner of Westinghouse, whose AP1000 reactor has been selected for the Vogtle plant's expansion and is under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    Okay. That's just pathetic.

    You know the U.S. is a fading empire when they need to turn to Japan to build their own infrastructure. What's next? The automotive industry?

    -FL

  • Who will build them? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ColoradoAuthor (682295) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @09:45AM (#31168944) Homepage

    There's a critical shortage of nuclear engineers. Very few engineers have joined the industry in recent decades, and those who joined during the industry's heyday are retiring.

    Schools including MIT are spinning up their programs, but however talented the students, they'll be inexperienced. These fine young men and women may know how to optimize a reaction, but will they know that valve X in location Y needs to be easily replaceable because it tends to corrode after 5 years? Do you want the plant in your town to be designed by a recent grad? Likewise, even the experienced engineers have been maintaining old plants, not designing new ones using the latest technology.

    Add in time for siting battles and regulatory approvals, and I wouldn't expect to see too many new plants open until 10-20 years from now.

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