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Power Science

Nobody Builds Reactors For Fun Anymore 326

Posted by Soulskill
from the try-turning-it-into-an-MMO dept.
stox tips an article from Nobel Week Dialogue about the biggest problem of the nuclear power industry: it's not fun anymore. The author, Ashutosh Jogalekar, expands upon this quote from Freeman Dyson: "The fundamental problem of the nuclear industry is not reactor safety, not waste disposal, not the dangers of nuclear proliferation, real though all these problems are. The fundamental problem of the industry is that nobody any longer has any fun building reactors. Sometime between 1960 and 1970 the fun went out of the business. The adventurers, the experimenters, the inventors, were driven out, and the accountants and managers took control. The accountants and managers decided that it was not cost effective to let bright people play with weird reactors." Jogalekar adds, "For any technological development to be possible, the technology needs to drive itself with the fuel of Darwinian innovation. It needs to generate all possible ideas – including the weird ones – and then fish out the best while ruthlessly weeding out the worst. ... Nothing like this happened with nuclear power. It was a technology whose development was dictated by a few prominent government and military officials and large organizations and straitjacketed within narrow constraints. ... The result was that the field remained both scientifically narrow and expensive. Even today there are only a handful of companies building and operating most of the world's reactors. To reinvigorate the promise of nuclear power to provide cheap energy to the world and combat climate change, the field needs to be infused with the same entrepreneurial spirit that pervaded the TRIGA design team and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs."
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Nobody Builds Reactors For Fun Anymore

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  • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:12PM (#45629671) Journal

    Learning is slowly being made illegal and replaced with schooling.

    Chemistry sets were effectively banned a long time ago as a side effect of the war on drugs.

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:39PM (#45629805)

    no, he did not make a fission reactor. he made a fusor with a variation on design that many other people have done. which is impressive but not relevant to this article of fission reactors

  • by nojayuk (567177) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:54PM (#45629855)

    The molten-salt reactor could have produced weapons-grade plutonium (just add U-238 and continuously extract Pu-239 from the molten salt flow) but by the time it was up and running the US had as much plutonium as it wanted or needed for its thousands of in-service nuclear warheads, created in purpose-built breeder reactors running in Hanford and elsewhere in the 50s and early 60s.

    As for "just drain(ing) the liquid nuclear fuel from the reactor" then what? How do you clean it up afterwards? You can't just leave it there. Mop and buckets, or a big sponge?

    Going back to the original article there are some fun things folks have been doing recently with experimental reactors but the usual result has been expensive messes that are difficult to clean up afterwards. Commercial breeder reactors, for example, most of which have been shut down as either uneconomic or easily broken (or both). Gas-cooled pebble-bed designs; the Germans are still waiting for the radioactivity in their one to decay sufficiently so they can finally defuel it, including all the bits of fuel pebbles that fractured and jammed the mechanisms. It's been 25 years now and counting. Gas-cooled graphite-moderated son-of-Magnox designs like the British AGRs have high thermal efficiency but fuel is cheap and they were expensive to build and operate so the extra efficiency didn't help them proliferate in the world markets. We'll pass quickly over the RMBK-4 graphite moderator designs... CANDUs are doing quite well in some markets but they're expensive for the amount of generating capacity they provide and heavy water reactors present all sorts of proliferation risks. The Russians are doing some interesting things with compact fast-spectrum reactors which have very high burnup rates, effectively closed-cycle breeders with a possible sideline in isotopic waste destruction but they are very very experimental -- liquid sodium coolant, say no more.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @08:55PM (#45629863) Homepage Journal

    The design uses a "salt" plug that is cooled. Cooling shuts off the plug melts and the fuel drains into a tank that lacks a moderator so the reaction stops. There is no water to boil and fuel is already melted. It will then cool and solidifies.

    As long as you have gravity then you are good. Now if all of a sudden gravity stops working then we have much bigger problems.

  • by nojayuk (567177) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:20PM (#45630031)

    Then what? The reactor operators can't just leave this mindbogglingly-radioactive boiling-hot slurry in those tanks, they have to clean it up. How do they intend to do so? It will be a requirement of the licencing of such a reactor design that they have plans and procedures ready if it ever does and equipment on standby just in case. "...and then a miracle occurs." is not going to pass scrutiny anywhere in the modern world's nuclear regulatory environment.

    BTW the dump tanks don't need to be of sub-critical volume -- in fact they can't be. The molten salt stream carrying the fissionable materials only goes critical when it passes through the carbon moderator in the reactor core. Outside that core no fission can occur unless something goes really badly wrong and moderating material gets mixed into the molten salt stream (say if the graphite moderator core gets badly damaged) at which point you really don't want to be within a thousand miles downwind of this "safe" reactor -- one of the commonly posited cost-saving points of molten salt reactors is that like the Soviet RMBK-4s they don't need an expensive containment structure because they're "safe". Honest.

  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @09:35PM (#45630105)

    Chemistry sets were effectively banned a long time ago as a side effect of the war on drugs.

    This fully funded Kickstarter project is an authentic recreation of an A C Gilbert chemistry set from the 1920s to 1940s.

    Chemical List Arranged in the order originally published by the A.C. Gilbert Company along with their item number and the 1936 pricing) []

    Heirloom Chemistry Set []

  • Decay heat? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Saturday December 07, 2013 @10:16PM (#45630281) Homepage Journal

    Stopping the chain reaction is the easy part. What causes meltdowns is that short-lived fission products keep decaying and generating so much energy that there needs to be continued cooling.

  • Re:Decay heat? (Score:4, Informative)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @01:00AM (#45630843) Homepage Journal

    Yes but the molten salt and the storage container will act as heat sinks. The fuel is in the mass of the salt and not contained in the fuel rods. Not to mention that the fuel is already melted so no worry about a meltdown damaging the fuel rods. No water to boil, the fuel is in the coolant, and no possible steam explosion and it all works at one atmosphere.

  • Re:Not true (Score:4, Informative)

    by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:29AM (#45631379)

    Actually there's a fairly simple fusion reactor [] that you can build on your tabletop. It even works, but it doesn't produce more energy than it consumes. The Philo T. Farnsworth mentioned is also regarded as the best candidate as the original inventor of TV. The Wikipedia article also has links to some other methods.

  • Re: On whose planet? (Score:2, Informative)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:59AM (#45631879)
  • by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @12:05PM (#45633029)

    If you enjoyed that, you might like the "Things I Won't Work With" posts on Derek Lowe's blog [] since he writes with a similar style.

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman