Tag Archives: Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Reactors: Small + Modular

Small Modular Reactor. Image from http://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-reactor-technologies/small-modular-nuclear-reactors

DOE

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are nuclear power plants that are smaller in size (300 MWe or less) than current generation base load plants (1,000 MWe or higher). These smaller, compact designs are factory-fabricated reactors that can be transported by truck or rail to a nuclear power site. SMRs will play an important role in addressing the energy security, economic and climate goals of the U.S. if they can be commercially deployed within the next decade….

Because of their smaller size, they also can use passive safety systems and be built underground to limit the dangers of radioactive leaks. The modular design could allow parts of the plant to be made in a factory to ensure consistent design and cheaper costs.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) (see also TVA) is in a joint pilot project with the U.S. Department of Energy to help test the new technology. Dan Stout, senior manager of SMR technology at TVA, said working with DOE to test the new power plant “is part of TVA’s mission,” although he said any final decision will require that the power source is also cost effective. “We’re focused on providing an option that provides reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy, and so we want to pursue this early site permit to give us the option for possibly locating SMRs on the site for 10 to 20 years,” Stout said.

Excerpts from US Department of Energy

and Oak Ridge could take lead in new TVA nuclear design, but critics question secrecy, need

The Politics of Nuclear Summitry

ligiht at end of tunnel

The fourth and most likely the final Nuclear Security Summit will be held March 31-April 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. The three previous summits in Washington (2010), Seoul (2012), and The Hague (2014) have been the most visible features of an accelerated international effort to help prevent nuclear terrorism. President Obama, who launched the effort in a speech in Prague in April 2009 and set the aim to ‘secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years’, has expressed his intention to ‘finish strong in 2016’. …

Further ratifications of legally binding instruments such as the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) are necessary to sustain attention on the issue. With regards to the 2005 Amendment, the United States’ ratification in July 2015 brings entry into force one step closer but more states need to ratify it before the amendment can take effect….
The group of 35 countries that signed the Joint Statement on ‘Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation’ at the 2014 Summit can take its contents as a template to implement a more ambitious agenda. The Joint Statement, also known as the Trilateral Initiative, is an initiative through which states agreed to implement the major recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear and radiological source security. In October 2014, these 35 countries requested that the Joint Statement be circulated by the IAEA Secretariat as an IAEA Information Circular.
…How to include in the nuclear security system all nuclear materials, military as well as civilian. The mechanisms that already exist apply to only 17 percent of weapons-usable nuclear materials, those that are used in civilian applications..…[but do not apply to] the remaining 83 percent, commonly categorised as ‘military materials’. ..

The third potential challenge for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit is Russia’s decision not to attend.,,[ and justification for abstaining from the summit]*,US cooperation with the Russian nuclear regulator continues; the US and Russia will continue to work to repatriate HEU from Kazakhstan and Poland. Also, Russia and the United States will continue to co-chair the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT).

Excerpts from Ana Alecsandru, 2016 Nuclear Security Summit: Can Obama ‘Finish Strong’? , European Leadership Network,  Jan. 7, 2016

*According  to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova Nuclear Security Summits, “have played their role” and that their political agenda has been exhausted.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must be a central force “to coordinate the world’s efforts in global nuclear security,” Zakharova added.  She also said that the nuclear summits try to interfere in the activities of international organizations, including the IAEA, and impose the “opinions of a limited group of states” on international structures, which is “unacceptable.”  (Radio Free Europe, January 21, 2016)

 

The Nuclear Waste Nightmare: Germany

Nuclear plant at Grafenrheinfeld, Germany. Image from wikipedia

Germany aims to phase out its nine remaining reactors by 2022, faster than almost any country. But nobody knows exactly how much it costs to shut and clean up atomic-power plants and all the facilities used over decades to store radioactive waste. Building a depository for the waste deep underground and delivering the waste add additional unknown costs…

“There are still no clear answers to many fundamental questions involving final and intermediate storage, dismantling [reactors] and transporting radioactive waste,” said Frank Mastiaux, chief executive of EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, one of Germany’s largest utility companies. “Concrete concepts have long been promised, but there is nothing yet in sight.”

Nuclear energy accounts for about 16% of German electricity production, down from a peak of 31% in 1997, according to the federal statistics office. France gets roughly 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and the U.S. around 20%, according to the World Nuclear Association. The issue of Germany’s decommissioning became urgent in 2011, after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plant, when Ms. Merkel decided to accelerate the shutdown of all German reactors by as much as 14 years, to 2022.

That move forced EnBW and Germany’s other big utilities—E.ON SE, RWE AG and a unit of Sweden’s Vattenfall AB—to book billions of euros in write-downs on nuclear assets and increase their provisions for early decommissioning of the facilities. The provisions now total about €37 billion ($40 billion).

The cost could ultimately top €50 billion, estimates Gerald Kirchner, a nuclear expert previously at Germany’s federal office for radiation protection.And that money might have to be covered by taxpayers if a power company faces insolvency or some other scenarios, the government report warned.

The energy companies are being pummeled by falling electricity demand in Europe and billions of euros in government-subsidized so-called green energy flooding the power grid. Both effects are eroding wholesale power prices, leaving conventional power stations unprofitable….
Germany isn’t alone in tackling decommissioning. The International Energy Agency says roughly half of the world’s 434 nuclear-power plants will be retired by 2040. Most are in Europe, the U.S., Russia and Japan.Despite this global trend, no country yet has a site ready for final disposal of radioactive waste.

Germany is trying to find a deep geological site suitable to store highly radioactive waste for about one million years—the time waste needs to become safe to most living organisms. The country expects about 600,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste by 2080. And that doesn’t include more highly radioactive waste slated to be shipped back soon from France and Britain, where German nuclear fuel had been sent for reprocessing…

Until a final disposal site is found, all waste will be stored temporarily. Keeping interim facilities safe is expensive. E.ON has said delays in finding a disposal site will cost the German nuclear industry €2.6 billion.Utilities have sued the German government to recover some cleanup costs, but verdicts could be years away. And their efforts face political opposition.

Excerpts By NATALIA DROZDIAK and JENNY BUSCHE, Germany’s Nuclear Costs Trigger Fears, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 22, 2015

The Ascend of a Nuclear Power: India

Bush_&_Singh_in_New_Delhi

In a major step towards realizing its nuclear energy ambitions, India is engaged in talks with the European Union to sign a civil nuclear cooperation agreement and the deal is expected to be inked by next year.  “An agreement is expected to be signed between the India’s department of atomic energy and joint research centre of the European Union. It will mostly focus on areas of research and energy,” EU’s ambassador to India Joao Cravinho told PTI…Cravinho said talks between the two sides are on and the agreement should be signed next year (2015). He, however, did not give any specific time frame on when the agreement will be inked.“There were concerns raised by few countries about signing an agreement because India is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but there is a consensus on this now,” he said….

The deal would provide a major boost to India’s efforts in getting an entry to the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group, considering the clout of the EU on the global platform.  After the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal, India has signed nuclear deals with Russia, Kazakhstan, United Kingdom, South Korea, Mongolia, and France.  It also signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Australia in September, paving way to import uranium for its reactors.

India, EU to sign civil nuclear pact by next year, PTI,  Nov 16, 2014

Sweden–100 percent Renewable Energy?

Swedish waste management. Image from http://www.skb.se/default____24417.aspx

Sweden may be facing the phase out of nuclear power following agreement by the country’s Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner, the Green Party, to set up an energy commission tasked with achieving a 100% renewable electricity system….The parties said in separate, but identical statements that nuclear power should be replaced with renewable energy and energy efficiency. The goal, they said, should be at least 30 TWh of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. A goal for 2030 has yet to be set, they added. Support for offshore wind and solar power are needed “in addition”, they said.

Nuclear power “should bear a greater share of its economic cost”, they said. “Safety requirements should be strengthened and the nuclear waste fee increased.”  Waste management in Sweden is undertaken by SKB while safety regulations are set by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. Both of these operate independently of government.  State-owned utility Vattenfall’s plan to build a new nuclear power plant has been “interrupted”and the company will lead the country’s energy system towards a higher share for renewable energy, they said.

Excerpt from Sweden faces future without nuclear, World Nuclear Association, October  12014

United States Subsidies for Nuclear Energy

core of crocus, a small nuclear reactor used for research

The Department of Energy has issued a draft solicitation that would provide up to $12.6 billion in loan guarantees for Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects, supporting the Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and bringing the nation closer to its low-carbon future. Once finalized, these loan guarantees will provide critical financing to help commercialize advanced nuclear energy technologies, supporting projects that are often unable to secure full commercial financing due to their scale and use of innovative technology. This draft solicitation represents another step in the Department’s commitment to help overcome the financial barriers to the deployment of next generation technologies that will diversify America’s clean energy portfolio.

“For the first time in more than 30 years, new nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States,” said Secretary Ernest Moniz. “This solicitation would build on that investment and help support the construction of the next generation of safe and secure nuclear energy projects. Expanding on the Administration’s commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy, these projects will provide clean energy to American families and businesses.”

Authorized by Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects Solicitation would provide loan guarantees to support construction of innovative nuclear energy and front-end nuclear projects in the United States that reduce, avoid, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions. While any project that meets the eligibility requirements may apply, the Department has identified four key technology areas of interest in the draft solicitation: advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, upgrades and uprates at existing facilities, and front-end nuclear projects.

Department of Energy Issues Draft Loan Guarantee Solicitation for Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects, US Department of Energy, Sept. 30, 2014

Three Companies to Grapple with Fukushima Mess

tritium

The [Japanese] government picked three overseas companies to participate in a subsidized project to determine the best available technology for separating radioactive tritium from the toxic water building up at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.  Tokyo Electric Power Co. is currently test-running a system it says is capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium.  Thus tritium-laced water is expected to accumulate at the plant in the absence of any method to remove the isotope.

The three firms chosen from 29 applicants are U.S. firm Kurion Inc., which offers technologies to treat nuclear and hazardous waste; GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., a joint venture of Hitachi Ltd. and U.S. firm General Electric Co.; and Federal State Unitary Enterprise RosRAO, a Russian radioactive waste management firm.

The government will provide up to ¥1 billion for each examination of the technologies and running costs, and consider whether any of them can be applied to treat the water at Fukushima No. 1, the industry ministry said.  The three companies are to conclude their experiments by the end of March 2016, a ministry official said.  The official cautioned there is no guarantee that any of the technologies will be put to practical use.

Three firms picked to help tackle toxic water at Fukushima No. 1, Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2014

In January 2014 it was made public that a total of 875 terabecquerels (2.45 g) of tritium are on the site of Fukushima Daiichi,and the amount of tritium contained in the contaminated water is increasing by approximately 230 terabecquerel (0.64 g) per year. According to a report by Tepco “Tritium could be separated theoretically, but there is no practical separation technology on an industrial scale.”  See Wikipedia

India as the Exception: the Geopolitics of Nuclear Weapons

NSG-India

The United States, Britain and others have argued that nuclear-armed India should join the secretive 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – established in 1975 to ensure that civilian atomic trade is not diverted for military purposes.  But other NSG states have voiced doubt about accepting a country that built up a nuclear arsenal outside a 189-nation treaty set up four decades ago to prevent states from acquiring such weapons of mass destruction.

Days ahead of the June 26-27 NSG meeting in Buenos Aires, India said it was ratifying an agreement, a so-called Additional Protocol, with the International Atomic Energy Agency to expand oversight over its civilian nuclear programme.  The United States said this marked another “important step in bringing India into the international non-proliferation mainstream”. But some critics questioned the step’s significance, as it would not affect India’s nuclear weapons programme and sensitive atomic fuel activities.  They said the Indian agreement was a much weaker version of a deal most other IAEA members have, giving the U.N. watchdog wide inspection powers to make sure there are no covert nuclear activities in a country.  “India’s version of the Additional Protocol is a paper tiger,” said Daryl Kimball of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, a research and advocacy group….

The diplomatic tussle centres on whether the emerging power should be allowed into a key forum deciding rules for civilian nuclear trade, even though it never joined the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which it would have to give up its nuclear weapons…

India – Asia’s third-largest economy – would need the support of all NSG states to join the cartel that has a pivotal role in countering nuclear threats and proliferation.  If India eventually were to become a member, it would boost its standing as an atomic power. It would be the only member of the suppliers group that has not signed up to the NPT.

Supporters say it is better if the country is inside than outside the NSG as it is already an advanced nuclear energy power and will in future become a significant exporter as well.  Those who are sceptical argue it could erode the credibility of the NPT, which is a cornerstone of global nuclear disarmament efforts.

Diplomats have said that China and some others have been doubtful. Beijing’s reservations are believed to be influenced by its ties to its ally Pakistan, India’s rival, which has also tested atomic bombs and is also outside the NPT, analysts say.

Excerpts,Nuclear Suppliers Group to discuss ties with India,Reuters, Jun 24, 2014

Less Radioactive: the advantages of thorium reactors

MSR Reactor. image from wikipedia

Existing  nuclear reactors use uranium or plutonium—the stuff of bombs.. Thorium, though, is hard to turn into a bomb; not impossible, but sufficiently uninviting a prospect that America axed thorium research in the 1970s. It is also three or four times as abundant as uranium. In a world where nuclear energy was a primary goal of research, rather than a military spin-off, it would certainly look worthy of investigation. And it is, indeed, being investigated.

India has abundant thorium reserves, and the country’s nuclear-power programme, which is intended, eventually, to supply a quarter of the country’s electricity (up from 3% at the moment), plans to use these for fuel. This will take time. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research already runs a small research reactor in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai plans to follow this up with a thorium-powered heavy-water reactor that will, it hopes, be ready early next decade.

China’s thorium programme looks bigger. The Chinese Academy of Sciences claims the country now has “the world’s largest national effort on thorium”, employing a team of 430 scientists and engineers, a number planned to rise to 750 by 2015. This team, moreover, is headed by Jiang Mianheng, an engineering graduate of Drexel University in the United States who is the son of China’s former leader, Jiang Zemin (himself an engineer). Some may question whether Mr Jiang got his job strictly on merit. His appointment, though, does suggest the project has political clout. The team plan to fire up a prototype thorium reactor in 2015. Like India’s, this will use solid fuel. But by 2017 the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics expects to have one that uses a trickier but better fuel, molten thorium fluoride…

One of the cleverest things about (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) LFTRs is that they work at atmospheric pressure. This changes the economics of nuclear power. In a light-water reactor, the type most commonly deployed at the moment, the cooling water is under extremely high pressure. As a consequence, light-water reactors need to be sheathed in steel pressure vessels and housed in fortress-like containment buildings in case their cooling systems fail and radioactive steam is released. An LFTR needs none of these.

Thorium is also easier to prepare than its rivals… By contrast thorium, once extracted from its ore, is reactor-ready…[T]horium reactors can run non-stop for years, unlike light-water reactors. These have to be shut down every 18 months to replace batches of fuel rods.  Thorium has other advantages, too. Even the waste products of LFTRs are less hazardous than those of a light-water reactor. There is less than a hundredth of the quantity and its radioactivity falls to safe levels within centuries, instead of the tens of millennia for light-water waste.

Paradoxically, though, given thorium’s history, it is the difficulty of weaponising thorium which many see (as it were) as its killer app in civil power stations. One or two 233U bombs were tested in the Nevada desert during the 1950s and, perhaps ominously, another was detonated by India in the late 1990s. But if the American experience is anything to go by, such bombs are temperamental and susceptible to premature detonation because the intense gamma radiation 233U produces fries the triggering circuitry and makes handling the weapons hazardous. The American effort was abandoned after the Nevada tests….. Rogue nations interested in an atom bomb are thus likely to leave thorium reactors well alone when there is so much poorly policed plutonium scattered around the world. So a technology abandoned because it could not be turned into weapons may now, in part for that very reason, be about to resurface.

Excerpts from Thorium reactors: Asgard’s fire, Economist,  April 12, at 78

Fukushima Nuclear Waste will Go Here

Okuma, Futaba and Nahara disposal locations Fukushima

Fukushima prefectural authorities have asked the Environment Ministry to reduce from three to two the number of sites it plans for the temporary storage of radioactive debris generated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.  Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato on Feb. 12 submitted a request to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Takumi Nemoto, the minister in charge of post-quake reconstruction, asking them not to build a storage facility in the town of Naraha so that its residents can return home earlier.  Based on the request, Ishihara said the Environment Ministry will review the initial plan to erect facilities in Naraha, as well as the towns of Okuma and Futaba.

The central government intended to construct intermediate storage facilities in the three towns, all in Fukushima Prefecture, that are capable of storing 13.1 million, 12.4 million and 2.5 million cubic meters of debris, respectively. The smallest of the sites was to be built in Naraha.

However, Sato argued in his request that if collected debris were burned to reduce its volume, the two larger sites could accommodate all the waste.  The governor also proposed that the ministry build a plant to process the ash from debris with radioactive values at 100,000 becquerels per kilogram or lower in Naraha instead…Elsewhere though, many other municipalities in the prefecture have urged the prefectural government to quickly facilitate the building of those facilities because radioactive soil and other associated waste generated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster are filling up temporary storage sites throughout the prefecture. The Environment Ministry estimates that 1.6 million cubic meters of debris was stored across Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of last October.

Excerpt, Fukushima seeks limit on radioactive waste disposal sites, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Feb. 13, 2014