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Earth Power Hardware

Nuclear Power Could See a Revival 415

Posted by kdawson
from the comforting-bremsstrahlung-glow dept.
shmG writes "As the US moves to reduce dependence on oil, the nuclear industry is looking to expand, with new designs making their way through the regulatory process. No less than three new configurations for nuclear power are being considered for licensing by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The first of them could be generating power in Georgia by 2016."
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Nuclear Power Could See a Revival

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  • Re:Thorium (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @02:50AM (#32896826)

    There problem with that design is there IS no design. It's a great idea (probably), but there's a lot of work between "good idea" and "ready to deploy"... and for some reason, people insist on a whole lot of testing and failsafes for nuclear plants. AP1000 has taken years and years to develop, and it was just a "relatively" simple upgrade of the AP600 design, compared to changing EVERYTHING for thorium.

  • by MacFury (659201) <me&johnkramlich,com> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @03:14AM (#32896928) Homepage

    Now, if we could only reprocess the damn fuel we'd have a clean method of power generation with very little overall waste for a couple hundred years at least.

    The beauty of some of the new reactor designs is that they use old radioactive waste as their fuel source. By some people's estimates we have about two centuries worth of fuel for the energy needs of the entire United States just in our existing stockpiles of nuclear waste. Not only would we not have to mine additional fuel, we would be significantly reducing the amount of waste that we need to store.

    Here's a TED talk that covers the subject:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaF-fq2Zn7I [youtube.com]

    By the end of life of these new reactors, solar should be cheap, efficient and plentiful.

  • by turing_m (1030530) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @03:24AM (#32896968)

    The biggest issue I have with using nuclear energy for power in a widespread fashion is that it is the most dense source of energy known to man by far, and once used it's gone. Future space exploration and colonization will probably require nuclear fuel, especially if it's beyond the solar system.

    Meanwhile we have deserts that are receiving orders of magnitude more solar energy than the world currently uses, that could be harvested using technology we have today.

  • Re:Thorium (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RudyHartmann (1032120) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @03:52AM (#32897084)
    I forgot to mention that LFTR's have the potential to produce energy so cheaply, that oil, coal, solar, etc will become irrelevant. Fusion is the dark horse if they EVER figure that one out. So far tokamaks have just been government research projects that sucked in billions of dollars. But if we ever get to the moon we have a chance for mining helium 3 which might make these fusion reactors work. But that is a HUGE engineering problem compared to thorium reactors. Google and Bill Gates have invested boatloads of money into thorium reactors too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @03:52AM (#32897090)

    It only reduces the amount of waste if it doesn't produce other kinds of waste in equal amounts. Also consider that radioactivity is not the only danger with the waste. The materials involved are also very toxic. I highly doubt that even the newest generation of nuclear reactors takes in fissable heavy metals and outputs something at most as dangerous as CO2. I would be happy if you prove me wrong.

    Also I wouldn't put all my hopes into this without at least one fully functional power plant.

    I am not very fond of nuclear power anymore since I learned about all the corruption and lies around Frances nuclear energy market. That convinced me that even nuclear energy isn't scary enough to make the managers ponder about consequences of saving money on security. Just imagine a fuck up like the oil spill related to nuclear energy.

  • by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @03:59AM (#32897104) Homepage

    http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_new_nukes/ [wired.com]

    KTHXBYE.

    (But seriously, seems like a good idea from what I've read.)

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:12AM (#32897168)
    In almost all cases, the overruns are dominated by the delays causing inflation and other issues. And the delays are caused by lawsuits. If these are done, they will hit budget only if the government makes them unsuable. And shut down isn't as big as the ones that assumed reprocessing of the fuel, then reprocessing was made illegal. But again, that's a legal, not technical issue.

    Just about every problem with nuclear is related to the legal issues and not technical ones. Get the plants certified and make design flaws unsuable. Have the plants commissioned and built on government land, with eminent domain and unsuable. Then, if we are to give our infrastructure to private companies to be exploited as we currently do with power, sell it to the operator at the contract rate, after the government built it in an unsuable manner. If the operator screws up the operations, they will be responsible. If the plans are faulty, then the government is on the hook. And the plants will get built, and on budget. Otherwise, I don't see nuclear being something that gets built because no one wants to build a lawsuit.
  • by zwei2stein (782480) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:40AM (#32897288) Homepage

    ("most eco friendly", see coal power plant for exact opposite)

    Nuclear waste is, unlike other waste

    a) Overrrated danger.
    b) Potentionally valuable fuel.

    There are problems with its storage because people are scared of it, hence few want it anywhere near their homes and safety precautions are expensive.

    Avaialability is always concern, but unless you have better idea what to do with it ... Not to mention that this does not have much to do with ecology.

    ---

    Anyhow, all other options are way less eco friendly. Yeah, lets burn some carbon and ejoy smog. Or no, lets build dams and flood valleys. Maybe solar cells are safe ...

    Nuclear has yet to do some lasting enviromental damage, and in fact location of worst accident is now better of than ever (thanks to humans moving avay and letting nature take over 20km radius).

  • by jcochran (309950) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:03AM (#32897408)

    Nuclear power is one of the cleanest sources of power we have so far. Now if Obama will correct the damn stupid mistake Carter did, things will be a heck of a lot better. Yes, we have a nuclear waste problem and it's a large one. But it's not a technical problem, it's a political problem. President Carter back in 1977 issued a directive that stopped reprocessing of civilian nuclear waste. Mind, the US nuclear industry was built with the assumption that waste reprocessing would be available. So the result is that we have more waste than planned for being stored for longer periods than planned for, all because of a decision to change the way things were done. And said decision was made without putting into place an alternate method of handling the waste. Yes people, we have a nuclear waste issue, and if Obama can reverse the brain dead stupid decision made 33 years ago, that would be one of the best possible things he could do for the United States. But some people still hear the word "nuclear" and suddenly their brains and reasoning turn off and they start thinking worse case issues and problems ignoring the fact that many of the problems are political and not technical. What about cost overruns? Well, stop dragging them into court attempting to stop construction. What about the nuclear waste? See the beginning of this post people. What about Three Mile Island? Your point is? The safety measures worked and the public never was in danger. During TMI, they debating for *three days* about whether or not to evacuate the area. Next time a damn bursts, be sure to take three days to come to the decision about heading for high ground. The safety measures *worked* even though the operators practically did everything they could to screw things up.

  • by FuckingNickName (1362625) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:36AM (#32897560) Journal

    Environmentalist wackjobs shouldn't get a free pass on their irrational fear of nuclear power

    Yes, but you're not going to get anyone on-side by complaining about "wackjobs" with an "irrational fear". It is quite healthy and rational to fear nuclear power, just as it is healthy to fear a tiger - but the response to fear doesn't always have to be to run away. Translate into a list of perceived hazards; provide explanation of how resultant risks are managed.

    It is also important to be honest about the unique problems of nuclear power - waste management in particular - with a demonstration of how any expansion of a nuclear power programme can be matched by increased waste containment.

    Fossil fuel lobbyists aren't going to change their minds because they already know you're right - it's just not in their interest to admit it. But some environmentalists are simply misguided by a lack of knowledge of nuclear power or by rhetoric from those who have a pecuniary or power interest in pseudo-environmentalism (Greenpeace, PETA, etc.). These organisations aren't "wackjobs" either - they're working on the same basis as the fossil fuel lobbyists.

  • conFusion (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:58AM (#32897700)

    Fusion is the dark horse if they EVER figure that one out.

    More like ... dark cap. We'll never get more energy out of it then needed to keep it steadily contained and under sufficient pressure. Once it is well understood why, they'll generalize it into Fourth Law of Thermodynamics.

  • Re:Thorium (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:26AM (#32897838)

    Except there WAS a demonstration LFTR reactor built at Los Alamos and operated for several years back in the 50s and 60s.

    LFTR has several advantages over Uranium based reactors.

    • Thorium is a thousand times more abundant than fuel-grade Uranium.
    • We have enough Thorium inside the continental US to supply our energy needs for millenia.
    • LFTR reactors produce a tiny fraction of the nuclear "waste" that Uranium based reactors do.
    • LFTR reactors have a simpler cooling requirement than conventional reactors (at a cost of a more complex chemical reprocessing requirement).
    • The nuclear reaction in a LFTR reactor is inherently thermaly self-regulating (similar to pebble-bed reactor design); i.e., no nuclear runaway reaction.
    • The LFTR reactor design is failsafe. In the event of an accident, the Thorium fuel drains out of the reactor into a storage tank and the reaction STOPS.

    We don't have to change EVERYTHING for Thorium RIGHT NOW, but maybe we should be start investigating LFTR technology again so that a decade or two from now so we WILL HAVE a safer, more reliable alternative to Uranium based reactors.

    Yeah, I know, LFTR reactor is redundant.

  • by tophermeyer (1573841) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:15AM (#32898140)

    People only fear nuclear waste because it is concentrated in a very dense area.

    This is a point that I think a lot of environmental activists miss entirely. The highly concentrated nature of nuclear waste is a benefit to nuclear power, no? I have trouble seeing how people do not see this as inherently better than the current distributed CO2 spewing systems. It's not like we're going to run out of places to safely store nuclear waste, but we are in a position where we are very rapidly poisoning the atmosphere of the entire planet.

  • Re:Nuclear for Oil? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KovaaK (1347019) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:34AM (#32898362) Journal

    You are correct, and the summary is stupid. Nuclear is ideally a replacement for coal and natural gas power plants. Of course, if electric vehicles take off, then we could see more of a use for nuclear in transportation. Then again, maybe people are taking the Ford Nucleon [wikipedia.org] seriously.

  • ideology and facts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:50AM (#32898582) Homepage Journal

    Same discussion in europe as well.

    What pains me is that facts don't matter, ideology does. We want to get out of nuclear power, says a majority here in Germany, but it leads to no new nuclear power plants being built. Which sounds fine until you realize that it means the old ones continue to run. And run. And run. The most unsafe ones, some built in the 1960s.

    Would I rather not have something that can blow up horribly in my neighbourhood? Uh, yeah. But given the choice between a 1960 reactor that is long past its expected life span, and a new more modern one, why are we picking the 1960s?

    Ideology, plain and simple. Stupidity and greed.

    To the power companies, the old ones are more profitable - no expenses building a new one, but full profit.
    To the politicians, they don't want to be seen "supporting" nuclear power by issuing permissions for new plants. But they don't want to turn down the briber^H^H^Hlobbyists, either and not endanger the power supply, so they make - the worst choice possible. Congratulations.

    Why are we paying these guys, again? To represent us? A twit and a braindead hooker could do better.

  • Re:Nuclear for Oil? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:38AM (#32899246) Journal
    I reiterate the last sentence of the first paragraph: "Even though in both cases one can do these things, we aren't about to because it's cheaper to do them using oil."

    I'd be quite happy to use geothermal for both heating and cooling in my house. But in reality it is much more cost effective to tighten the place up and improve efficiency first. That reduces the need for both chemical heating (fuel oil, nat. gas, wood pellets, etc.) and/or electricity, no matter the source. Next I'd focus on ways of augmenting the central heat with passive solar, which is likewise cost effective and reduces the need for other energy sources (other than the sun, obviously).
  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:42AM (#32899330) Homepage

    Yeah, Chernobyl could never have happened in the United States:
    1) Numerous aspects of reactor design (netative MTC, negative void coefficient) make US reactors inherently safer than Chernobyl's reactor (which had, IIRC, positive MTC and positive void coefficient. Void coefficient is the effect that bubbles of steam in the coolant have on reactor power.)
    2) General operational procedures. At the point the Chernobyl accident occurred, at least 2-3 points where the reactor should have SCRAMed itself and the operators overrode the safety mechanism had been passed.
    3) Reactor materials and design. Chernobyl had a graphite moderator, i.e. superheated flammable radioactive material in its core. It also had no proper containment building - when it blew its lid, the core was basically exposed to the outdoors. A US-based reactor could likely handle a power excursion like that without significant contamination of the environment - no graphite to burn, and a reinforced containment building to keep the mess inside.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:13AM (#32899910)

    really?
    Currently the US gets something like 20% of it's power from nuclear.(most of them decades old plants with decades old tech of course).
    It's been that way for decades.
    In that time the US has had exactly zero Chernobyl type disasters.

    Worldwide they provide about 15% of the worlds energy.

    hell there are even quite a few awful reactors which have more in common with Chernobyl reactors than with anything in the US which somehow haven't exploded.

    Given that coal kills vast numbers of people every year(directly through mine accidents and indirectly through health problems caused by smog, heavy metal poisoning and radioactive materials released when mining or burning coal) many lives could be saved by switching even if there was another Chernobyl every couple of decades which isn't going to happen anyway.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:23AM (#32900118) Homepage Journal

    Yea that is trouble free... Did you read the one line concerns?
    "Other concerns include: shipping routes, marine ecology, sediments, and storm surges.Other concerns include: shipping routes, marine ecology, sediments, and storm surges."

    So just take a look at that for a second and read it.
    I live in South Florida. Do you know the environmental problems that inlets and jetties cause! Beach erosion destroying habitat for nesting sea turtles and sea birds. Sedimentation causes the loss of sea grass beds and reefs! And let's not even think about storm surges and the destruction that could bring.
    And you freaking want to risk building TWO 50KM jetties! Something that has NEVER been done. And will cost billions and could destroy the coastline for how goodness knows how many miles!
    Hey we already have a nuclear power plant and it hasn't killed anybody. Frankly it is a HECK of a lot safer than that nightmare you are proposing.

  • Re:Nuclear for Oil? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Muad'Dave (255648) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:52AM (#32901752) Homepage

    Naturally tightening up the structure is a good first step. Regardless of the efficiency of the structure, some form of energy will be needed in many (most?) climates for heating _and_ cooling. While "augmenting the central heat with passive solar" helps heating, it does nothing for cooling. Why not invest in a technology that provides benefit with both scenarios, such as a higher efficiency ground source heat pump instead of cobbling on passive solar for heating?

    I agree passive solar is a great addition to domestic hot water production, but as an investment to provide heat only, I'd rather invest in a dual-use solution.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mike Van Pelt (32582) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:15PM (#32907860)

    My CRC Handbook says that thorium is "about as common as lead", and "there is probably more energy available in the earth's crust from thorium than from uranium and all fossil fuels put together."

    Beyond that...

    Back in the 1970s, the Japanese demonstrated an ion exchange process to extract uranium from sea water, at a cost of about $200/pound (1970-something dollars.) That's large enough a potential source that it might as well be infinite.

    If we haven't perfected fusion, or built solar power satellites in all that time, we might as well just give up, rip off all our clothes, and climb back into the trees.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Szechuan Vanilla (1363495) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:12AM (#32914052)

    wrong: TMI proved exactly the opposite.

    What finally got the core cooled was a mickey-moused cooling loop that depended on convection. Got it? What worked was basic, no-tools physics, not any safety system, primary system, or any system at all.

    That cooling kludge had nothing to do with the designed safety systems. We were just plain damn lucky that enough water could passively circulate through the damaged core, based on changes in water density due to heating, to pull out enough heat to stop the melting that was going on and then keep the plant in a non-SCRAMed but fission-controlled state while we figured out what had happened (poof went the fuel) and where the radioisotopes had gone (fizz went the coolant water; hissss went the gas releases) and while GPU and the NRC figured out what lies to tell.

    Everything that was supposed to prevent what happened failed: the system, the humans, the NRC. All of it.

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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