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Earth Power Hardware

Nuclear Power Could See a Revival 415

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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  • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:10AM (#32896916) Homepage

    I thought I saw this supposedly quite safe "Pebble Bed" small-scale reactor design reported on then linked to by Slashdot some time ago, but I don't see it mentioned in the article. I am not having luck finding it in the Slashdot search either. Did I dream that? One of the important features of it was that it was "walk-away safe" - as in, were the cooling system to catastrophically fail, it could not achieve "meltdown." In fact, it could be safely repaired and re-started with very little material damage whatsoever.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:18AM (#32896942)

    Apparently not. [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Thorium (Score:5, Informative)

    by RudyHartmann ( 1032120 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:26AM (#32896972)
    Actually, thorium should not be anymore complex (probably simpler) than a uranium/plutonium based reactor. But all the years of the cold war and the lure of nuclear weapons has prompted all the engineering to be spent on uranium/plutonium reactors. It's not a physics problem. It's just that since all the current reactors are uranium/plutonium, the engineering is far more developed. From a physics standpoint, thorium is well understood. But from an engineering perspective it is mostly still experimental. If energy production is your only motive, eventually thorium has to win over current conventional reactor designs. It's just a matter of time. Heck, even with the current reactors, the main reason we have nuclear waste is because we do not reprocess fuel. You can thank Jimmy Carter for that decision too. But fast breeders that would have used the waste make it easier to get the resources to build weapons too. War sucks. We need LFTR's!!!!!!
  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:38AM (#32897026) Homepage
    But if you don't mind a bit of a long build time, why not something like Dynamic Tidal power? [wikipedia.org] Build a 50km concrete boom straight out into the ocean, another one perpendicular, and there you have an EIGHT GIGAWATT power generator.
  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hamsterdan ( 815291 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:56AM (#32897096)

    CANDU can already use spent fuel (along with dismantled warheads)

    (according to wiki)
    *CANDU fuel can be manufactured from the used (depleted) uranium found in light water reactor (LWR) spent fuel.*

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candu#Fuel_cycles [wikipedia.org]

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

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:57AM (#32897100)

    You make a fair point except for this bit.

    "and the shutdown and waste treatment and storage are almost never included in the financial picture before construction starts."

    this line gets repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over on greeny websites and it has fuck all basis in fact.

    that and "the cleanup costs are unknown"

    It's fair to say that most reactors go over budget when they're being built(it's fair to say that about almost all large complex costly projects) but to imply that all the engineers, accountants and physicists have somehow forgotten to include waste disposal or decommissioning is absurd.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:02AM (#32897116)

    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.

    Integral Fast Reactors [wikipedia.org]
    On-site reprocessing of fissile materials to feed the reactor, with only minor extra fuel input required (almost 1.0 ratio reacted fuel, after reprocessing) and can be used to "burn" waste products of other reactors.

  • by Unipuma ( 532655 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:21AM (#32897216)

    Actually, Europe is planning to do just that, although possibly not from Qaddafi. See the following article:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65J1ZO20100620 [reuters.com]

    They are currently looking into receiving power from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by jlar ( 584848 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:38AM (#32897274)

    It's one thing I'm pissed off at a lot of environuts for, they have a short sighted view that is just black and white. We don't have any commercial reactors here in Australia, mainly because of the environut movements. If they wanted to do good they'd stop the crap and find out what's real and what's not.

    On the other hand you have a lot of coal (85% of the electricity production plus exports). And coal by a conservative estimate kills 3 or 4 times the number of people who died due to Chernobyl each year!

    Here is an estimate of the number of people whose health is affected by coal based energy production in the USA:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5174391/ [msn.com]

    So in my view the environmentalists are in fact responsible for millions of deaths due to their insistence on yet non-viable clean energy sources and their refusal of nuclear energy.

  • by dicobalt ( 1536225 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:15AM (#32897450)
    They are already trying to add two new reactors to the Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami. http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/turkey-point.html [nrc.gov]
  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:17AM (#32897458)

    Ok... that remark was based not on the lack of insight with the engineers. It's based on the fact that it's impossible to predict the costs of decommissioning a nuclear power plant 50 years into the future. The shut down is in fact often more than 50 years after it was started up. Costs are often higher than expected (due to increased safety regulations). And I think it's not uncommon that governments have to financially assist companies when reactors are decommissioned.

  • Nuclear for Oil? (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:23AM (#32897502) Journal
    Why does everyone think of nuclear power (or coal, or natural gas, or renewables) and oil as some sort of zero-sum game? Oil is used for three things mainly: transportation fuel, heating fuel in some parts of the country, and as a raw material for industrial processes. Nuclear power is good for one thing: generating electricity. While I will admit that there is plenty of small ways that we can trade off oil usage for nuclear-generated electricity, there aren't many wholesale ways of reducing oil consumption via nuclear. Are you going to heat your New England home with nuclear electricity? Will you create plastics feedstock from nuclear electricity? Even though in both cases one can do these things, we aren't about to because it's cheaper to do them using oil.

    The big one is electricity, and I for one am pessimistic that we'll see a wholesale shift away from gasoline/diesel (i.e., more than 1/3 of all vehicles on the road propelled by electrical power)in anything less than 25 years.

    And even then, it's not like we'll magically be trading nuclear electricity off for only imported oil. Oil is a global commodity. The determining factor of where the U.S. gets its oil from is where how much it costs. If it's cheaper or more profitable to bring it by tanker from the Middle East than it is to pull it from the Gulf of Mexico, you can bet that is where we'll get most of it. In truth, where does the U.S. import most of its oil from? Canada. Mexico provides us with as much oil as Saudi Arabia. We get more from non-OPEC nations than we do from OPEC [lots of stats here [doe.gov]]. I am glad that the summary used the term "dependence on oil" rather than the more politically useful "foreign oil". I just wish that everyone else could wrap their head around it.
  • Re:Sodium (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:25AM (#32897506)

    No, that's not "the" problem with using sodium as a coolant, and neither is chemical reactivity (hot sodium explodes energetically in the presence of a standard atmosphere) -- both problems can be engineered around, or avoided completely by using NaK (for example). Modern engineering practices are unlikely to lead to the sorts of "condensation" jams seen in the Fermi meltdown or the SRE. However, "condensation" itself remains a serious problem.

    That is, the problem with sodium as a coolant is that the high neutron flux breeds radionuclides from the coolant, and some of them are highly likely to bind chemically with the material lining the sodium containment vessel(s), or to form plaques or other inviscid matrices that can fall out of suspension in the coolant during ordinary online operation. The latter causes turbulent or constricted flow, which may lead to a SCRAM and at the very least will cause poor operating performance. Plaques are a bit more serious because they can both cause and mask corrosion of the container vessel, and certainly contaminate the vessel permanently. Some radionuclide daughter products that can be expected from sodium nuclei immersed in a high neutron flux are highly troublesome and can breed up radionuclides in nearby rebar (54Mn formed by n-p reaction on 54Fe). These radionuclides also degrade the neutron economy of the reactor core, leading to poor operating performance.

    BARC has done a lot of work on sodium coolant chemistries including radionuclide trap studies. The Indian nuclear establishment has pragmatically chosen to invest instead in online-reconfigurable PHWR U-or-Th fuel cycle (thorium sands, while plentiful in India, are much more expensive to mine than it is to make lawful purchases of slightly enriched uranium or uranium ore), much like CANDU. (They generally call the strategy something like Thermal Neutron Breeder Reactor).

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by KovaaK ( 1347019 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:51AM (#32897650) Journal

    And how do you propose that happens? I'm guessing you are unaware of the fact that all modern nuclear power plants have a negative Moderator Temperature Coefficient. A positive MTC as in Chernobyl means that an increased in temperature causes an increase in power (which loops back on itself).

  • by Pinky's Brain ( 1158667 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:01AM (#32897718)

    It's all very nice in theory. In the mean time two types of reactors get build in number. Water moderated reactors (great safety record, but limited fuel) and molten salt reactors (catastrophic safety record, NIMBY please).

    All those other designs are interesting, but by the time they are production ready solar should be cheap, efficient and plentiful.

  • Re:Obligatory? (Score:5, Informative)

    by KovaaK ( 1347019 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:13AM (#32897780) Journal

    Highlights in the past 4 years:

    • In 2007, NRG files for two ABWRs as the first mover in quite a while.
    • This year, the Obama Administration has awarded loan guarantees for new reactors and more are being pushed.
    • While the Finnish OL3 reactor is taking more time and money, major lessons are being learned as it is the first reactor being built in nearly 3 decades.
    • Four reactors are under construction in China.
    • More small reactor firms are popping up and gathering attention.
    • New uranium enrichment plants are being built, and one has a green light from the NRC to begin operations in New Mexico.
    • The nuclear supply chain is ramping up with new component manufacturing plants being built in Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio, and elsewhere.

    Source [blogspot.com]

    And of course, the article that was for this story has more information. But who reads that?

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:28AM (#32897848)
    Captainpanic wrote :

    Name me one nuclear power station that actually went into operation and stayed within budget while it was constructed, operated and shut down agian.

    Sizewell B, a PWR that I was involved in building in the UK, was built within its time and cost budget. Hasn't shut down yet so I can't answer the last part.
  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:36AM (#32897890)

    "It only reduces the amount of waste if it doesn't produce other kinds of waste in equal amounts."

    It doesn't produce more waste than usual.

    "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."

    There will be waste, but most of it short-lived (decay to safe levels in 100-200 years). Not as harmless as CO2, but quite close not to worry about it much. As for chemical toxicity, the amount of waste is so small (even with our current reactors) that it doesn't matter. If our waste were as poisonous as arsenic but not radioactive we could have just dumped it in the sea without any problems.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:15AM (#32898148) Homepage

    A major part of the expense and construction delays are due to every reactor design being one-off and requiring individual approval by the government. The industry is now (finally) trying to get 'type acceptance' for a few well-engineered designs that can be built exactly to spec much quickly and for a lot less money.

    My local utility [dom.com] had chosen (see legend) [nrc.gov] the GE ESBWR but has switched [elp.com] to the Mitsubishi US-APWR [mnes-us.com].

  • Could? COULD!?!? (Score:4, Informative)

    by StickyWidget ( 741415 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:34AM (#32898368)
    There are 2 plants under construction RIGHT NOW in South Carolina, with tentative dates in 2016 for operation.

    Nuclear IS back.


  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:35AM (#32898378)

    Actually, we'd be better off with geothermal. We'd get it online quicker, too.

    MIT released a study (2007, link below) proving the economic viability of deep drilled, "hot-rock geothermal" energy in the US, delivered as electricity. The technology is proven and robust (Iceland has been doing it for a long time), the US just needs to drill deeper to find the same amount of heat. The plants are cheaper to build and last longer than fission energy stations because there's no neutron flux to chew up the materials and so no need to replace the equipment after 20-30 years. The technology is carbon neutral and clean, there's a lot less political and technical hassle getting permits, less toxic waste, no nuclear fuel cycle problems, and no radioactive waste (OK, maybe some radon). Just don't do too much hydraulic rock fracturing in geologically unstable areas (instead, build chambers to flow the water through, not just areas of cracked rocks with pressurized water) and it will be fine.

    When we start pushing wells into, for example, hot areas a few kilometers below and a couple of hundred kilometers horizontally from Yosemite and Yellowstone, we'll be able to plug lots of 100MW plants into the grid pretty much wherever we want. You don't even need to be close to such hot areas as Yellowstone: you can drill down pretty much anywhere and find sufficient heat if you go deep enough, and even the greatest depths are well within the limits of drilling technology.

    This isn't some wild dream: those MIT rocket surgeons have read books and stuff. ;*)

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/geothermal.html [mit.edu]

    http://iceland.vefur.is/iceland_nature/geology_of_iceland/geothermal_heat.htm [vefur.is]

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

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:00AM (#32898702) Homepage

    "Fissionable material" is somewhat rare. Depleted fissionable material can get reprocessed and enriched but all will eventually get extracted.

    Now if fusion is finally developed in a way that it outputs more power than is used to create and sustain it, then we would have something.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:24AM (#32899006)

    "Fissionable material" is somewhat rare.

    No it's not. Enriched uranium (U-235), used by current reactor technology, is somewhat rare, accounting for some 0.7% of all naturally occurring uranium. Breeder reactors can run on U-238, which accounts for nearly all of the remaining 99%, as well as Thorium-232, which is considerably more abundant than uranium. Breeder reactors would easily have enough fuel to last us tens of thousands of years at our current electrical consumption rates.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:27AM (#32899042) Homepage Journal

    Asking for an example that completed its entire lifespan is basically asking for the first-of-a-kind reactors and very early generation when people were still learning the hard way.

    Or the 'lemons' and plants that were shut down more due to political pressure than economic or ecological reality.

    Picking the first plant off the decommisioned list at the NRC, 'Connecticut Yankee', Haddam Neck, CT [wikipedia.org]. 582MW (half the size of 'modern' reactors).
    Commissioned: 1968
    Ceased production: 1996 (28 years)
    Decommissioned: 2004
    Dome demolished: 2006

    Fact sheet [connyankee.com], because the wiki page is pretty bare
    110 Billion kwh - $4B or so worth of electricity, at low utility rates. 619MW? - may be measuring closer to the reactor, not removing power used to maintain the plant itself.
    Decommisioning costs - not listed, but no federal funds are mentioned other than $34.1M awarded to them by the federal courts due to the feds violating the 'Nuclear Waste Policy Act(NWPA)' - The NWPA had nuclear plants pay the government a fee for each kwh generated, in exchange for them taking nuclear waste, starting in 1998. Yucca Mountain, in other words. Since they never took to accepting waste, CY had to store it themselves.

    Another: 'Yankee Rowe' [wikipedia.org] - 167MW. 1960-1992, 34B kwh produced($1.3B). Built for something like $45M back in 1960. No idea what the real decommisioning costs were, but was certified 'greenfield' in 1996, except for some land storing the waste until the feds pick it up(per law).

    Honestly enough, in my research the feds haven't had to pick up much at all; mostly just paying for waste fuel storage expenses because the feds haven't done their job.

    Now, decommission expenses are a very good reason for plants to want to keep operating; if we're really that concerned, just increase the reserve requirements for decommissioning that are built up over the life of the plant.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:18AM (#32900008)

    Lots of people talk about the positive MTC at Chernobyl, but they don't know what they are talking about. The transient at Chernobyl was too fast for thermal feedback.

    The big issue was the positive void coefficient and the control rod followers. The coolant in the core of Chernobyl acted as the opposite of a moderator, as a poison. If you form steam bubbles and remove the coolant, then this type of reactor will overpower. All you need is an initiating event. This was provided due to the fact that almost all of the control rods were fully withdrawn, and that the ends had rod followers (which aren't neutron poisons). When they initiated a reactor trip (or scram as some call it), the rod followers inserted and displaced coolant. This means that with a positive void coefficient they were effectively creating a void where the rod followers were. Boom.

    And yes, IAANE.

  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:58AM (#32900794) Homepage Journal

    I'm kinda curious about their reactors- what systems do they have in place to prevent loss of containment if their ship gets blown to bits?

    US ships with reactors are either normally underwater or the size of old WWII battleships. Even the subs are fairly large for WWII combat vessels.

    Why do I mention WWII ships? Because we did a lot of testing on them.

    Anyways - on to the point:

    Ships are TOUGH. Even in wartime they generally dont 'get blown to bits'. Instead they get holed, take on too much water and sink. A number of times combatants ended up scuttling(sinking) their own ships after battle damage rendered them combat ineffective and unable to reach a friendly port or fleet before likely capture. After Pearl Harbor, we actually raised and repaired a number of ships.

    After WWII, during testing we actually NUKED a lot of ships. Superstructure would be blown off, sometimes the smaller ships would capsize. Still, the ships were mostly intact when they sank.

    So, ships are generally 'mostly intact' even when sunk by battle damage. Reactors are located close to the bottome of the ship and have additional shielding.

    Basically, in the case of a uncontrolled sinking, crew or automatic systems SCRAM the reactors. The vessel sinks to the bottom, where the residual heat from the reactor is taken care of by the vast amounts of cold ocean water. If it's in shallow water, we then recover it. Deep water? Generally we leave it.

    What if the reactor vessel is breached? Well, Uranium isn't actually all that water soluble, and water doesn't pick radioactivity up that easily. There's already Uranium, Thorium, and other radioactive materials dissolved in seawater. Underwater vents release all sorts of nasty stuff, but also sustain some really wierd life like lobsters that gradually cook themselves while feeding. Speaking of vents - 400C water, but 2" away it's dropped to 2C. That's how much heat dispursion capacity deep water has.

    Any damage is likely to be extremely localized. Even if the fuel gets free, it's extremely dense and will likely bury itself into the seabed when it hits.

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

    by CommieLib ( 468883 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:06PM (#32902020) Homepage
    One last (supporting) comment: IIRC, the reason there was no containment building was that the Soviets wanted to be able to easily crane out plutonium for weapons manufacture. The whole thing was a deathtrap waiting to happen.
  • Re:glow, baby, glow! (Score:3, Informative)

    by FileNotFound ( 85933 ) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @02:23PM (#32904260) Homepage Journal

    You've clearly not been on a modern aircraft carrier. They'll stay afloat just fine after several hits with WW2 weapons. Does not matter if the shell blows through several compartments. They will all be sealed and the flooding will be contained. This is largely due to WW2 weapons being totally insignificant compared to today's weapons.

    Modern day warships are designed to deal with anti ship missiles like the Harpoon which packs just under 500lbs of modern explosives. For reference a Mark 48 torpedo carries 650lbs. This is enough to blow a ship in two pieces and no amount of armoring will help with that.

    I'm always a little surprised when I'm on a ship and they are doing combat drills. You see then pretend that they got incoming missile and put out a call to "brace for impact". I saw a guy get reprimanded for not "bracing well". It was very much like watching kids be told to climb under their desks in case of a nuclear attack.

    My point is that ships today are actually a little tougher than WW2 ships. Sure they do not have deck armor and are designed to withstand very different type of damage, but they are better compartmentalized and while the rare direct torpedo hit will cause a ship to break, it will still remain in large chunks. There is little chance of a ship being so damaged that any reactor material becomes exposed.

    Even the US nuclear subs that went down due to faulty torpedoes exploding in their chambers did not result in exposed nuclear material.

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

    by Szechuan Vanilla ( 1363495 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:27PM (#32915974)

    >MI proved that the safety systems can contain a runaway criticality

    No, TMI proved exactly the opposite.

    All the primary and secondary safety cooling systems failed, due to human error, design flaw, or because they broke as the system heated up and began to melt.

    What kept the core from finishing its melt down was a kludged-together coolant loop that relied on convection because all the pumps had failed. We were just damn lucky that convection (pure, no-tools physics relying on changes in water density due to heating) was able to pull sufficient water through the damaged core to draw off enough heat to stop the fuel melting and get the core into a non-SCRAMed but fission-controlled semi-shutdown state. And that's where the core stayed for decades because there wasn't much else we could do with it.

    Luck. Not safety systems. Get the facts.

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan