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NRC Approves New Nuclear Reactor Design 299

Posted by samzenpus
from the minimal-leakage dept.
hrvatska writes "The NY Times has an article about the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval of the design of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor for the U.S., clearing the way for two American utilities to continue the construction of projects in South Carolina and Georgia. The last time a nuclear power plant in the U.S. entered service was 1996. The AP1000 was discussed on Slashdot a few years ago."
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NRC Approves New Nuclear Reactor Design

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  • Sour grapes (Score:5, Funny)

    by coldfarnorth (799174) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:16PM (#38467184)

    Now that the rest of the world is rethinking nuclear power, We Americans have changed our tune.

    However, I think the US might be on the right track here. Of course, it helps that the risk of tsunamis in the southeastern US is right between that of a zombie outbreak and Ralph Nader winning the presidency.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It's more likely than the Year of The Linux Desktop.
    • Yes let the rest of the world stop using the only scalable sensible power source. If we can avoid letting the big corps and the nimbly's making it massively expensive we could be positioned to make a resurgence. It will never happen were to short sighted for that.

  • by DevotedFollower (2232516) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:17PM (#38467196)
    The NRC should approve some more thorium reactors if it doesn't want to be buying technology off China 10-20 years down the line. From what I understand Thorium (especially LFTRs) are far safer. They are "walk away safe". My suspicion is that it is too late for the US to catch up though. As the article mentions..China already has a bunch these coming online in 2013...while it just got approved in the US. China is also filing more patents...they are progressing much fast than the states at this point. China and thorium: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8393984/Safe-nuclear-does-exist-and-China-is-leading-the-way-with-thorium.html [telegraph.co.uk] The US and their history with thorium and further thorium info: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4 [youtube.com]
    • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:27PM (#38467304) Journal

      Or the U.S. could just let them spend the money and take all the risks in terms of designing and testing the new reactors, then steal the designs and build the reactors themselves, forcing the Chinese firms to eat the R&D costs....

      Wait, something about this sounds familiar. I sense a pot and a kettle are involved.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        That's LONG overdue. The US should ditch its counterproductive pride and let other "early adopters" take the risks.

      • by MrMista_B (891430)

        Yeah, that sounds exactly like what the US did in the 1800's with their massive pirating of the European industrial revolution, stealing the designs, flaunting their massive patent and copyright violations, outright theft of designs and ideas, and massive intellectual dishonesty.

    • by thermopile (571680) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:27PM (#38467306) Homepage
      Thorium isn't being developed in the US for 2 reasons:

      1. Current uranium-based reactors are more affordable than thorium reactors.

      2. The path for licensing a thorium-based reactor in the US is exceedingly uncertain.

      While a thorium-based fuel cycle may be a good idea, it's just not going to be done by any commercial enterprise today. The costs and risks are too high. When staring at a $5B initial investment cost, any electrical utility is going to favor the known route ... which, frankly, could just as easily mean building 10 natural-gas fired plants instead of 1 big nuke.

      India, however, is going full-bore on a thorium-based fuel cycle, and has already built a few reactors that are capable of accepting thorium. Copied shamelessly [world-nuclear.org] from world-nuclear.org:

      India's plans for thorium cycle

      With huge resources of easily-accessible thorium and relatively little uranium, India has made utilization of thorium for large-scale energy production a major goal in its nuclear power programme, utilising a three-stage concept:

      Pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) fuelled by natural uranium, plus light water reactors, producing plutonium.

      Fast breeder reactors (FBRs) using plutonium-based fuel to breed U-233 from thorium. The blanket around the core will have uranium as well as thorium, so that further plutonium (particularly Pu-239) is produced as well as the U-233. Advanced heavy water reactors (AHWRs) burn the U-233 and this plutonium with thorium, getting about 75% of their power from the thorium. The used fuel will then be reprocessed to recover fissile materials for recycling.

      This Indian programme has moved from aiming to be sustained simply with thorium to one 'driven' with the addition of further fissile plutonium from the FBR fleet, to give greater efficiency. In 2009, despite the relaxation of trade restrictions on uranium, India reaffirmed its intention to proceed with developing the thorium cycle.

      A 500 MWe prototype FBR under construction in Kalpakkam is designed to produce plutonium to enable AHWRs to breed U-233 from thorium. India is focusing and prioritizing the construction and commissioning of its sodium-cooled fast reactor fleet in which it will breed the required plutonium. This will take another 15 â" 20 years and so it will still be some time before India is using thorium energy to a significant extent.

    • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:55PM (#38467480)

      if it doesn't want to be buying technology off China 10-20 years down the line

      Almost all of the post 1970s technology in the AP1000 came directly from the nuclear division of Toshiba in Japan after merging with Westinghouse. It's technology bought off Japan instead of China but still looks like what you are worried about.
      India is leading with Thorium at the moment and appear to have taken the US advances and added a couple of decades of development. Accelerated Thorium (mixed fuel such as expired weapons material or used uranium fuel rods in addition to thorium) holds paticular promise.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 22, 2011 @11:30PM (#38467966)

        Westinghouse employee here. The AP1000 final design certification was approved in 2006 [nrc.gov], and the design (including the predecessor AP600) began long before that (mid 90s).

        Toshiba acquired Westinghouse in late 2006 [mediaroom.com]. Prior to that, Toshiba had partnered with our domestic rival, General Electric to build plants in Japan. We sell Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs), they sell Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs). They're pretty different.

        Even now that they own us, there is very little technical collaboration between our two entities. If there's a technological connection between Westinghouse and Toshiba that predates any of that, I'm certainly not aware of it.

      • by arglebargle_xiv (2212710) on Friday December 23, 2011 @03:36AM (#38469060)

        Almost all of the post 1970s technology in the AP1000 came directly from the nuclear division of Toshiba in Japan after merging with Westinghouse. It's technology bought off Japan instead of China but still looks like what you are worried about.

        Beat me to the punch. The AP1000 is not a "new" design, it's a slightly warmed-over 1970s design that got NRC approval because it was close enough to the antiques currently in operation that no bureaucrat had to risk his pension by sticking his neck out and approving something that would be a genuine improvement (I'm lumping the Gen IIIs in with the Gen IIs here because they're mostly incremental improvements obtained from experience in running Gen IIs) . When the NRC approves anything Gen IV like a PBR or, heaven forbid, something genuinely modern like a TWR, then it's time to celebrate.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      The NRC should approve some more thorium reactors if it doesn't want to be buying technology off China 10-20 years down the line.

      And what's so bad about buying them from China? They'll be cheaper that way, and any catastrophic design flaws can be worked out on the other side of the globe rather than here...

    • Hmm. Thorium is intriguing, and quite possibly profitable. Perhaps more so than Uranium-based power plants.

      However, there are two problems: 1.) a proper Thorium power-plant needs to be designed (correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the Thorium reactor most often cited is a Research reactor -> promising, but not commercial), 2.) we need to begin mining for Thorium, which I imagine requires locating various deposits, and extracting the ore in quantity (Uranium mining is rather developed, and a Google se

      • by rubycodez (864176)
        no problem, thorium is just not a much-needed element right now. If you look at the extraction method for thorium, compared to uranium ore->uranium->uranium 235, you find pure thorium is by comparison trivial to obtain and the means MUCH less dangerous.
  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:20PM (#38467234)
    Still 56MW short of doing anything useful...
  • My google-fu is failing me here. I'm trying to determine if this is a lightwater reactor, some type of breeder, or some other configuration. If it's another lightwater I'm feeling a little "meh" about it. Despite being Gen III+ if it's lightwater we'll still have a ton of waste to take care of and I find that a little disheartening.
    • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday December 22, 2011 @09:43PM (#38467422)
      It is not a new design, it's just the newest of the old designs (1980s via Toshiba in Japan) that haven't had a single reactor commissioned yet. The first AP1000 is due to start running in the next year or two. Things move slowly in civilian nuclear power so it's just about the first design to take the lessons from Chenobyl into consideration.
      We wouldn't even have this level of civilian nuclear technology if it hadn't been bought off the Japanese. For some reason the US Nuclear Lobby mostly descended to the level of mere rent seekers in the 1980s so the only hope for advancement there is small startups based on military technology or input from overseas.
  • Passive design reactors are, by far, the safest type of reactor in the world (in fact, a meltdown is virtually impossible, because even catastrophic failure results in the core cooling down instead of heating up), and IMO, building *ANY* other type of reactor is just setting yourself up for a possible incident that's going to lead to eventual regret.
    • Sort of. Unlike Fukushima-style reactors, it doesn't require an external power source (like the DC generators that failed there) to cool the core following a shutdown, but it's not a purely passive system. Wikipedia's summary [wikipedia.org] is decent.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        The total failure there is that 100% of generated power is shipped out, and not available for running local systems, not under normal operation, and not under emergencies. So loss of grid tie and generator failure will result in meltdown 100% of the time, even if the plant is operating normally otherwise.
        • That appears rather unlikely, seeing as the point at which they'd tap the grid to run their own systems would be the same point at which their turbines feed power onto it.

          Now, pointing out that there shouldn't be a single switchboard in a place it can get flooded which will cut off all power everywhere if it gets flooded I can get behind. Also, I've got some notes from Hurricane Katrina here... "do not put emergency generators in basement"
          • by AK Marc (707885)

            That appears rather unlikely, seeing as the point at which they'd tap the grid to run their own systems would be the same point at which their turbines feed power onto it.

            I would envision either an inductive tap on the main lines going out to feed back in a small amount of power back in at usable levels or a secondary generator attached to coolant lines that will put out enough power to run the plant at even low levels of activity (say, the first week after a "total shutdown"). I'd leave the choice between those to nuclear engineers, but absolutely no locally powered backup at a power plant seems silly (or negligent).

          • by mark-t (151149)

            That appears rather unlikely

            Famous last words, I'm sure.

            Purely passive systems have virtually no chance of meltdown, even on a theoretical level, since if the system should ever fail, for absolutely *ANY* reason, all the way up to and including total systems failure, the core will immediately start to cool down.

            The cost for this safety is a small compromise in reactor efficiency, and I am at a complete loss as to why anyone would ever want to build a nuclear reactor that was not designed around a passiv

        • by rubycodez (864176)
          Eh, just need to keep the water tank topped off, if pumper firetruck can't reach it then send in fire fighting helicopter. hell, even a bucket brigade on scaffolds should do.
        • by HiddenCamper (811539) on Friday December 23, 2011 @04:12AM (#38469200)
          Nuclear engineer here The plant actually runs on generator power under normal conditions. Nuclear plants have 4 AC power sources. The normal source is taking generator power BEFORE it goes out to the power grid in through the auxiliary transformers and then using internally for 4160 and 6900V power. Because this power hasn't gone to the grid yet, we don't "pay" for it. Additionally, when we are shut down, we can disconnect the generator and backfeed power in through the aux. transformers for power. This is typically an emergency/contingency action or an outage action to allow us to work on the reseve power system. The standby source comes in from a different grid (or a different part of the same grid), and comes in from the reserve auxiliary transformers (sometimes called startup transformers). Because this is bringing power in from the grid, we "pay" for it (we get billed by the grid). The emergency reserve transformer (sometimes called backup transformers) comes from a completey different grid than everything else. They power ONLY safety systems. Normal systems cannot use it. The diesel generators are safety seismic and environmentally designed backup power systems. There is 1 DG for each primary safety division which has a decay heat removal function, and an additional DG for coolant injection. Most plants also have a fourth or fifth DG for DC power chargers only. There is enough fuel on site for a minimum of 1 week for all generators running 2% above maximum theoretical load of all equipment under worst case design conditions. The reality is you can probably get another 2-3 days past that since it assumes that like, air coolers and air heater are both on at the same time in the same area, and once you've stabilized an accident or emergency condition you can put most of the redundant safety systems into standby to conserve fuel.
    • by a_hanso (1891616)
      Passive designs for *anything* tends to beat active[ly controlled] designs in fault tolerance. Which is why, even as a software engineer, I'm against putting batteries and chips in every gorram thing that does not need it.
  • YAY! Radioactive Christians glow in the dark :)
    Or is this how the Zombie Apocalypse begins?

  • I hope this works better than the POS Westinghouse TV I bought last year...
    • Nuclear plants and similar heavy industrial equipment are about the only products of the "real" Westinghouse that still exist. They had nothing to do with your POS TV set.

      Like so many other venerable US brand names, The Westinghouse name and logo has been licensed for use on El-cheapo imported consumer electronics built by various "One Hung Low" outfits.

  • This reactor design in an improvement, but I would like to see a design which does not use a pressured coolant. I consider the usage of a pressurized coolant to be a possible point of failure.

    By the by, didn't Westinghouse have an earlier standardized reactor design?

  • I interviewed with NRC in 1991, they had "just approved" a new "advanced, passive cooling, highly safe" reactor design then. I asked the interviewer what my prospects were in an industry that hadn't built a single new facility in over 15 years, his response: "Oh, quite good, these new designs are coming online real soon now...."

    Fast forward 20 years... new design approved, but, will it be built? Or, will we continue to operate reactors that are dependent on powered pumps for cooling water, designed in th

  • Yay, nuclear. We'll NEVER run out of uranium. /s

  • by MagikSlinger (259969) on Friday December 23, 2011 @02:19AM (#38468734) Homepage Journal

    There are newer, better designs like pebble bed [wikipedia.org], or molten-salt reactors [wikipedia.org] which, when it fails, fails by shutting itself down and locking the radioactive materials in the core. I see some people talking about the thorium [wikipedia.org] cycle reactors above too.

    PWR can be safe, but frankly, there are far more effecient, potentially more cost effective and definitely safer designs out there. We have to stop using 1960 light-water reactor designs meant for nuclear submarines [wikipedia.org].

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