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February 23, 2014

Salt Encapsulates Nuclear Waste for "Millions of Years"



DesertSaltMinesNuclearWaste2014-02-21.jpg"Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. Metal walls are installed once a "panel" is filled with waste containers and backfilled with salt, shown during a tour of the mines at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A9) CARLSBAD, N.M. -- Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste.

The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons.

The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years.


. . .


Some people despair of finding a place for what officials call a high-level nuclear "repository" -- they shy away from "dump" -- but Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist who is chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and who served on a presidential study commission established after the Yucca plan was canceled, said WIPP proves it can be done.

"The main lesson from WIPP is that we have already developed a geologic repository for nuclear waste in this country, so we can in the future," she said.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds." The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A9-A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014.)






May 25, 2013

Small Nuclear Reactor Is Easier to Cool and Protect




NuclearReactorSmaller2013-05-12.jpg

"A rendering of a smaller nuclear reactor being developed by Babcock & Wilcox for the Tennessee Valley Authority." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B6) "WASHINGTON -- The Tennessee Valley Authority will pay Babcock & Wilcox, a nuclear equipment company, to complete extensive design work and apply for permission to build a new kind of nuclear plant, a "small modular reactor," at a site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the T.V.A. and the company announced . . . .

The two entities did not disclose the value of the contract, which will be paid in part by the Energy Department under a program to encourage nuclear innovation. The announcement is a step forward in a program that advocates hope will develop a new class of nuclear plants that can be mostly built in a factory, shipped by rail or barge, deployed quickly, and sold around the world, especially in places where the power grid could not handle a big plant.

"This technology is very different," said Joe Hoagland, a senior vice president of the T.V.A. "It has built-in safety features and security features, so you can site it at places you wouldn't site a large reactor."

Because the reactors are relatively small, the idea is that in an emergency they can be cooled with the natural circulation of water and heat, rather than by systems that require pumps and valves and that could be disabled by power failures or human errors. The goal for Babcock & Wilcox is a reactor that can be operated by a relatively small control room crew, perhaps two operators, and meet security requirements with fewer guards."




For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Deal Advances Development of a Smaller Nuclear Reactor." The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)






June 27, 2012

Bill Gates Backs 4th Generation "Miracle" Nuclear Reactor



GatesBill2012-06-12.jpg




Bill Gates. Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.






(p. R2) MR. GATES: . . .

The next miracle is nuclear energy. The plants that are out in the world today are basically generation-one and -two plants. There's a few generation-three plants. The thing I'm investing in is a fourth-generation design.

MR. MURRAY: Can you explain a little bit about how this technology works?

MR. GATES: The part of uranium that's fissile--when you hit it with a neutron, it splits in two--is about 0.7%. The reactors we have today are burning that 0.7%. There was a concept that you would do a different type of reactor that would make a bunch of another element called plutonium, and then you would pull that out and then you would burn that. That's called breeding in a fast reactor. But plutonium is nuclear-weapons material, it's messy, and the processing you have to get through is not only environmentally difficult, it's extremely expensive.

The concept of the TerraPower reactor is that in the same reactor, you both burn and breed. Instead of making plutonium and then extracting it, we take uranium--the 99.3% that you normally don't do anything with--we convert that and we burn it. The 99.3% is cheap as heck, and there's a pile of it sitting in Paducah, Kentucky, that's enough to power the United States for hundreds and hundreds of years.



For the full interview, see:

Alan Murray, interviewer. "In Search of One Energy Miracle; Bill Gates on the need to think big." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 26, 2012): R2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 3, 2011

Plant Protein Levels Adapt to Allow "Flourishing" Near Chernobyl



(p. D3) In April 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and sent radioactive particles flying through the air, infiltrating the surrounding soil. Despite the colossal disaster, some plants in the area seem to have adapted well, flourishing in the contaminated soil.

This ability to adapt has to do with slight alterations in the plants' protein levels, researchers report in a study that appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"If you visit the area, you'd never think anything bad had happened there," said Martin Hajduch, one of the study's authors and a plant geneticist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Slovakia.



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "OBSERVATORY; Plants Near Chernobyl Appear to Grow a Shield." The New York Times (Tues., September 21, 2010): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 20, 2010.)






November 28, 2011

Animals Thrive at Chernobyl



WolvesRadioactive2011-11-09.jpg"PBS's "Radioactive Wolves" returns to a contaminated site." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C6) In the months since the Japanese tsunami, we've heard a lot about Chernobyl as a worst-case example: here's how bad Fukushima could have been. Now PBS's "Nature" offers another vision: Chernobyl as a best-case demonstration that life abides . . .


. . .


. . . the prognosis, coyly withheld until the end of the hour, is positive. . . . While the rate of slight birth abnormalities is twice as high as normal among the zone's growing animal population (but still in the single digits), overall health appears to be fine. It wouldn't be an acceptable situation for humans, but the dormice and eagles and gray wolves don't appear to be bothered.


. . .


The concrete high-rises of the city of Pripyat sit like islands in a green sea of towering trees; plants force their way up through the floors of empty schoolrooms.

Within this strangely pastoral setting the animals go about their business, sometimes finding uses for what we've left behind. The wolves rise up on their hind legs to peer through the windows of houses, looking for routes to the rooftops, which they use as observation posts for hunting. Eagles build nests in fire towers.

And beavers, forced out decades ago when the landscape was engineered for collective agriculture, have already undone much of man's work and restored one of central Europe's great marshlands. Just think what they could do if they had the whole planet.



For the full commentary, see:

MIKE HALE. "In Dead Zone of Chernobyl, Animal Kingdom Thrives." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 19, 2011): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 18, 2011.)





October 15, 2011

Nuclear Energy Much Safer than Previously Thought



(p. A14) ROCKVILLE, Md. -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is approaching completion of an ambitious study that concludes that a meltdown at a typical American reactor would lead to far fewer deaths than previously assumed.

The conclusion, to be published in April after six years of work, is based largely on a radical revision of projections of how much and how quickly cesium 137, a radioactive material that is created when uranium is split, could escape from a nuclear plant after a core meltdown. In past studies, researchers estimated that 60 percent of a reactor core's cesium inventory could escape; the new estimate is only 1 to 2 percent.


. . .


Big releases of radioactive material would not be immediate, and people within a 10-mile radius would have enough time to evacuate, the study found. The chance of a death from acute radiation exposure within 10 miles is therefore near zero, the study projects, although some people would receive doses high enough to cause fatal cancers in decades to come.

One person in every 4,348 living within 10 miles would be expected to develop a ''latent cancer'' as a result of radiation exposure, compared with one in 167 in previous estimates.

''Accidents progress more slowly, in some cases much more slowly, than previously assumed,'' Charles G. Tinkler, a senior adviser for research on severe accidents and one of the study's authors, said in an interview at a commission office building here. ''Releases are smaller, and in some cases much smaller, of certain key radioactive materials.''



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "N.R.C. Lowers Estimate of How Many Would Die in Meltdown." The New York Times (Sat., July 30, 2011): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 29, 2011.)

(Note: I am not sure the whole article appeared on p. A14---only saw the online version.)





March 16, 2011

Unclear Regulations Reduce Energy Innovation Investment



TerraPowerNuclearReactor2011-02-08.jpg


















"Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. R3) Bill Gates reshaped the computer industry by pumping out new versions of Microsoft Windows software every few years, fixing and fine tuning it as he went along.

He's now betting that he can reshape the energy industry with a project akin to shipping Windows once and having it work, bug-free, for 50 years.

Thanks to his role funding and guiding a start-up called TerraPower LLC, where he serves as chairman, Mr. Gates has become a player in a field of inventors whose goal is to make nuclear reactors smaller, cheaper and safer than today's nuclear energy sources. The 30-person company recently completed a basic design for a reactor that theoretically could run untouched for decades on spent nuclear fuel. Now the company is seeking a partner to help build the experimental reactor, and a country willing to host it.

It's a long-term, risky endeavor for Mr. Gates and his fellow investors. The idea will require years to test, billions of dollars (not all from him) and changes in U.S. nuclear regulations if the reactor is to be built here. Current U.S. rules don't even cover the type of technology TerraPower hopes to use.

"A cheaper reactor design that can burn waste and doesn't run into fuel limitations would be a big thing," Mr. Gates says. He adds that in general "capitalism underinvests in innovation," particularly in areas with "long time horizons and where government regulations are unclear."


. . .


The company has made pitches in France and Japan, Mr. Myrhvold says; both have big nuclear-power industries. He's also made the rounds in Russia, China and India, he says. So far, there have been no takers.

One country he is certain won't be a customer anytime soon is the U.S., which doesn't yet have a certification process for reactors like TerraPower's. It would likely be a decade or more before the reactor could be tested on U.S. soil. "I don't think the U.S. has the willpower or desire to build new kinds of nuclear reactors," Mr. Myrhvold says. "Right now there's a long, drawn-out process."


. . .


Mr. Myrhvold says he hopes the process will speed up and spark innovation to meet the world's growing energy demand. "Let's try 20 ideas," he says. "Maybe five of them work. That's the only way to invent our way out of the pickle we're in."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH. "A Window Into the Nuclear Future; TerraPower--with the backing of Bill Gates--has a radical vision for the reactors of tomorrow." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., FEBRUARY 28, 2011): R3.

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 7, 2010

Environmentalist Blue Planet Prize Winner Lovelock Endorsed Nuclear Power



LovelockJames2010-09-01.jpg






"The scientist James E. Lovelock during an interview at the Algonquin Hotel in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D2) Few scientists have elicited such equivalent heaps of praise and criticism as James E. Lovelock, the British chemist, inventor and planetary diagnostician who has long foreseen a clash between humans and their planet.

His work underpins much of modern environmentalism. The electron capture detector he invented in the 1950's produced initial measurements of dispersed traces of pesticides and ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, providing a foundation for the work of Rachel Carson and for studies revealing risks to the atmosphere's protective ozone layer.

His conception in 1972 of the planet's chemistry, climate and veneer of life as a self-sustaining entity, soon given the name Gaia, was embraced by the Earth Day generation and was ridiculed, but eventually accepted (with big qualifications), by many biologists.

Dr. Lovelock, honored in 1997 with the Blue Planet Prize, which is widely considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award, has now come under attack from some environmentalists for his support of nuclear power as a way to avoid runaway "global heating" -- his preferred alternative to "global warming."

In his latest book, "The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back -- and How We Can Still Save Humanity" (Perseus, 2006), Dr. Lovelock says that any risks posed by nuclear power are small when compared with the "fever" of heat-trapping carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "A Conversation With James E. Lovelock; Updating Prescriptions for Avoiding Worldwide Catastrophe." The New York Times, Science Times Section (Tues., September 12, 2006): D2.





July 29, 2010

Finland Approves Two New Nuclear Power Plants



(p. B5) The Finnish Parliament approved the construction of two nuclear power plants on Thursday, the latest victory for proponents of atomic energy in Europe.

Just two weeks ago, the Swedish Parliament narrowly voted to allow the reactors at 10 nuclear power plants to be replaced when the old ones are shut down -- a reversal from a 1980 referendum that called for them to be phased out entirely.

Nuclear power fell out of favor in much of Europe after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, Ukraine.

But in an era of concern about dependence on foreign supplies of fossil fuels and increases in atmospheric carbon, there is renewed interest in electricity generated by nuclear fission.

"Over all, opinions are firming and more positive," Ian Hore-Lacy, a spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, said of the European mood. "People are less concerned about waste because they've seen it's not a drama, and it's been well managed."



For the full story, see:

AVID JOLLY. "Why Is the Gulf Cleanup So Slow? There are obvious actions to speed things up, but the government oddly resists taking them.." The New York Times (Fri., July 2, 2010): B5.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 1, 2010.)





June 30, 2010

Swedish Town Wants Nuclear Waste Dump



OsthammarSwedenNuclearWasteSite2010-05-20.jpg"Osthammar is competing for the right to host a storage site for radioactive waste." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


After reading Petr Beckmann's The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear, a few decades ago, I became convinced that nuclear power was being rejected in the United States due to irrational fears based on a failure to make reasonable estimates of the costs and the benefits.

Isn't it ironic that the irrational fear of nuclear power is at long last being overcome mainly by the irrational fear of global warming?


(p. A10) . . . , in Osthammar, . . . as many as 80 percent of the 21,000 inhabitants are in favor of the nuclear waste dump. The town is now one of two finalists among the communities in Sweden that vied for the right to host the dump.

Sweden, which swore off nuclear power after less than 20 percent of Swedes approved of it in a referendum in the 1980s, would seem an unlikely place for such a competition. But it has reversed course recently and plans to begin building new nuclear reactors, adding to the 10 it already operates.

But legislation requires that before any new plants can be built, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, better known by the initials SKB, must first create permanent storage space for the radioactive waste the reactors produce.

In most countries, of course, people would sooner allow a factory hog farm or garbage incinerator in their backyards than a nuclear waste dump. But in Sweden, SKB found 18 of 20 possible towns near proposed sites intrigued by their proposition. Then it had to whittle the list down to two, Osthammar and Oskarshamn, both already the site of nuclear plants.

SKB recently said it would ask the Swedish government later this year for permission to build the storage depot in Osthammar. If the government gives the green light to Osthammar over Oskarshamn, construction could begin some time after 2015, officials said.

Claes Thegerstrom, a nuclear physicist who is the chief executive of SKB, attributed the new attitude of Swedes toward nuclear energy to fears of global warming. "In the 1980s nobody was mentioning CO2," or carbon dioxide, considered the major cause of global warming, he said. "Now, it's on the top of the list of environmental issues." Since they burn no fossil fuels, nuclear power plants do not produce carbon dioxide.




For the full story, see:

JOHN TAGLIABUE. "Osthammar Journal; A Town Says 'Yes, in Our Backyard' to Nuclear Site." The New York Times (Tues., April 6, 2010): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 5, 2010.)


Beckmann's wonderful book was:

Beckmann, Petr. The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear. Golem Press, 1976.





May 25, 2010

Walter Scott Endorses Nuclear as Only Economically Viable Green Energy Source



SokolScottAbelBuffett2010-05-18.jpg
















"MidAmerican shareholders. David Sokol, Walter Scott, Greg Abel and Warren Buffett." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below. (Note: bold added.)


(p. 1D) Despite recent steps to encourage wind-generated electricity in Nebraska, Omaha businessman and philanthropist Walter Scott said Thursday that nuclear power is the only economically viable way to generate electricity without carbon-dioxide emissions.

"To me, that is the ultimate answer if you want to reduce carbon dioxide," Scott told about 150 people at a breakfast session of the Omaha chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, held at Happy Hollow Club.

Solar and wind-generated electricity require government subsidies, Scott said. And because the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, Pa., shut down nuclear energy construction in the United States, this country will have to buy its new nuclear-generating equipment from France and Japan, which dominate that industry, he said.

"Isn't that a wonderful thing?" asked Scott, who also said electric vehicles eventually will capture a significant market.

The Three Mile Island accident "shook people up" even though no one was killed and the containment vessel worked as designed by engineers to prevent radioactive material from spreading, said Scott, chairman-emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc. and a director of several corporations, including Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Kiewit has been involved in the energy industry for decades, he noted, and Berkshire's energy division, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., has substantial wind farms in Iowa and several other states. But those wind farms are viable only because they operate under government rules that guarantee a return on investment, even with their higher costs, Scott said.



For the full story, see:

Steve Jordon. To Cut Carbon, Go Nuclear; It's the Ultimate Answer for Reducing Emissions, the Kiewit Official Suggests in a Speech." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, May 14, 2010): 1D-2D.

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "Scott: To go green, go nuclear.")





April 7, 2010

Smaller, Compact Design Makes Nuclear Reactor Cheaper, Safer and Quicker to Build and Expand



NuclearReactorSmall2010-04-03.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) A new type of nuclear reactor--smaller than a rail car and one tenth the cost of a big plant--is emerging as a contender to reshape the nation's resurgent nuclear power industry.

Three big utilities, Tennessee Valley Authority, First Energy Corp. and Oglethorpe Power Corp., on Wednesday signed an agreement with McDermott International Inc.'s Babcock & Wilcox subsidiary, committing to get the new reactor approved for commercial use in the U.S.


. . .


The smaller Babcock & Wilcox reactor can generate only 125 to 140 megawatts of power, about a tenth as much as a big one. But the utilities are betting that these smaller, simpler reactors can be manufactured quickly and installed at potentially dozens of existing nuclear sites or replace coal-fired plants that may become obsolete with looming emissions restrictions.

"We see significant benefits from the new, modular technology," said Donald Moul, vice president of nuclear support for First Energy, an Ohio-based utility company.

He said First Energy, which operates four reactors at three sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania, has made no decision to build any new reactor and noted there's "a lot of heavy lifting to do to get this reactor certified" by the NRC for U.S. use.


. . .


(p. A16) One of the biggest attractions, however, is that utilities could start with a few reactors and add more as needed. By contrast, with big reactors, utilities have what is called "single-shaft risk," where billions of dollars are tied up in a single plant.

Another advantage: mPower reactors will store all of their waste on each site for the estimated 60-year life of each reactor.


. . .


. . . , some experts believe that if the industry embraces small reactors, nuclear power in the U.S. could become pervasive because more utilities would be able to afford them.

"There's a higher likelihood that there are more sites that could support designs for small reactors than large ones," said David Matthews, head of new reactor licensing at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


. . .


Experts believe small reactors should be as safe, or safer, than large ones. One reason is that they are simpler and have fewer moving parts that can fail. Small reactors also contain a smaller nuclear reaction and generate less heat. That means that it's easier to shut them down, if there is a malfunction.

"With a large reactor, the response to a malfunction tends to be quick, whereas in smaller ones, they respond more slowly" which means they're somewhat easier to control, said Michael Mayfield, director of the advanced reactor program at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Once on site, each reactor would be housed in a two-story containment structure that would be buried beneath the ground for added security. They would run round the clock, stopping to refuel every five years instead of 18 to 24 months, like existing reactors.

Jack Baker, Energy Northwest's head of business development, says he was initially skeptical about small reactors because of the "lack of economies of scale." But he says he now thinks small reactors "could have a cost advantage" because their simpler design means faster construction and "you don't need as much concrete, steel, pumps and valves."

"They have made a convert of me," he says.

Babcock & Wilcox's roots go back to 1867 and it has been making equipment for utilities since the advent of electrification, even furnishing boilers to Thomas Edison's Pearl Street generating stations that brought street lighting to New York City in 1882.

Based in Lynchburg, Va., the company has been building small reactors for ships since the 1950s. In addition to reactors for U.S. Navy submarines and aircraft carriers, it built a reactor for the USS NS Savannah, a commercial vessel which is now a floating museum in Baltimore harbor. It also built eight big reactors, in the past construction cycle, including one for the ill-fated Three Mile Island plant.

When a U.S. nuclear revival looked imminent, the company debated what role it could play.

"Instead of asking, 'How big a reactor could we make?,' this time, we asked, 'What's the largest thing we could build at our existing plants and ship by rail?' " said Christofer Mowry, president of Modular Nuclear Energy LLC, Babcock's recently created small-reactor division. "That's what drove the design."




For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "Small Reactors Generate Big Hopes ." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 18, 2010): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)


ElectricPowerPieGraph.gif













Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






March 22, 2010

Small Nuclear Reactor Will Run on Spent Fuel From Big Reactors



GeneralAtomicsEM2reactor2010-03--01.jpg "An artist's modeling of the proposed EM2 reactor, which would be small enough to be transported by truck." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Nuclear and defense supplier General Atomics announced Sunday it will launch a 12-year program to develop a new kind of small, commercial nuclear reactor in the U.S. that could run on spent fuel from big reactors.

In starting its campaign to build the helium-cooled reactor, General Atomics is joining a growing list of companies willing to place a long-shot bet on reactors so small they could be built in factories and hauled on trucks or trains.

The General Atomics program, if successful, could provide a partial solution to one of the biggest problems associated with nuclear energy: figuring out what to do with highly radioactive waste. With no agreement on where to locate a federal storage site, that waste is now stored in pools or casks on utilities' property.

The General Atomics reactor, which is dubbed EM2 for Energy Multiplier Module, would be about one-quarter the size of a conventional reactor and have unusual features, including the ability to burn used fuel, which still contains more than 90% of its original energy. Such reuse would reduce the volume and toxicity of the waste that remained. General Atomics calculates there is so much U.S. nuclear waste that it could fuel 3,000 of the proposed reactors, far more than it anticipates building.

The decision to proceed with its 12-year program indicates that General Atomics believes the time is right to both make a nuclear push and to try to gain approval for an unconventional design proposal despite the likely difficulty of getting it certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The EM2 would operate at temperatures as high as 850 degrees Centigrade, which is about twice as hot as a conventional (p. B2) water-cooled reactor. The very high temperatures would make the reactor especially well suited to industrial uses that go beyond electricity production, such as extracting oil from tar sands, desalinating water and refining petroleum to make fuel and chemicals.




For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "General Atomics Proposes a Plant That Runs on Nuclear Waste." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., February 22, 2010): B1 & B2.






November 16, 2009

Third Generation Nuclear Reactors Are Simpler and Even Safer



WestinghouseAP1000Reactor2009-10-28.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. R1) Researchers are working on reactors that they claim are simpler, cheaper in certain respects, and more efficient than the last generation of plants.

Some designs try to reduce the chance of accidents by automating safety features and minimizing the amount of hardware needed to shut down the reactor in an emergency. Others cut costs by using standardized parts that can be built in big chunks and then shipped to the site. Some squeeze more power out of uranium, reducing the amount of waste produced, while others wring even more energy out of spent fuel.

"Times are exciting for nuclear," says Ronaldo Szilard, director of nuclear science and engineering at the Idaho National Lab, a part of the U.S. Energy Department. "There are lots of options being explored."


. . .


(p. R3) As a whole, . . . , the U.S. nuclear industry has a solid safety record, and the productivity of plants has grown dramatically in the past decade. The next generation of reactors so-called Generation III units is intended to take everything that's been learned about safe operations and do it even better. Generation III units are the reactors of choice for most of the 34 nations that already have nuclear plants in operation. (China still is building a few Gen II units.)

"A common theme of future reactors is to make them simpler so there are fewer systems to monitor and fewer systems that could fail," says Revis James, director of the Energy Technology Assessment Center at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent power-industry research organization.

The current generation of nuclear plants requires a complex maze of redundant motors, pumps, valves and control systems to deal with emergency conditions. Generation III plants cut down on some of that infrastructure and rely more heavily on passive systems that don't need human intervention to keep the reactor in a safe condition reducing the chance of an accident caused by operator error or equipment failure.

For example, the Westinghouse AP1000 boasts half as many safety-related valves, one-third fewer pumps and only one-fifth as much safety-related piping as earlier plants from Westinghouse, majority owned by Toshiba Corp. In an emergency, the reactor, which has been selected for use at Southern Co.'s Vogtle site in Georgia and at six other U.S. locations, is designed to shut down automatically and stay within a safe temperature range.



For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "The New Nukes; The next generation of nuclear reactors is on its way, and supporters say they will be safer, cheaper and more efficient than current plants. Here's a look at what's coming -- and when." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 8, 2009): R1 & R3.

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 27, 2009

Government Regulatory Costs Impede Energy Innovation



MetcalfeRobert_National_Medal_of_Technology.jpg














Robert Metcalfe receiving the National Medal of Technology in 2003. Source of photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Metcalfe



The author of the commentary quoted below is famous in the history of information technology. His Harvard dissertation draft on packet switching was rejected as unrealistic. So he left the academy and became the main innovator responsible for making packet switching a reality, through the ethernet.

(He is also the "Metcalfe" behind "Metcalfe's Law" about the value of a network increasing at a faster rate than the increase in the network's size.)


(p. A15) . . . new small reactors meet important criteria for nuclear power plants. With no control rods to jam, they are far safer than the old models -- you might well call them nuclear batteries. By not using weapons-grade enriched fuels, they are nonproliferating. They minimize nuclear waste. And they're economical.


. . .


As venture capitalists, we at Polaris might have invested in one or two of these fission-energy start-ups. Alas, we had to pass. The problem with their business plans weren't their designs, but the high costs and astronomical risks of designing nuclear reactors for certification in Washington.

The start-ups estimate that it will cost each of them roughly $100 million and five years to get their small reactor designs certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. About $50 million of each $100 million would go to the commission itself. That's a lot of risk capital for any venture-backed start-up, especially considering that not one new commercial nuclear reactor design has been approved and built in the United States for 30 years.


. . .

As we learned by building the Internet, fiercely competitive teams of research professors, graduate students, engineers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are the best drivers of technological innovation -- not big corporations, and certainly not government bureaucracies. So, if it's cheap and clean energy we want, we should clear the way for fission energy start-ups. We should lower the barriers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the approval of new nuclear reactors, especially the new small ones. In particular, we should drop the requirement that the commission be reimbursed for reconsidering new fission reactor designs.



For the full commentary, see:

BOB METCALFE. "The New Nuclear Revolution; Safe fission power is our future -- if regulators allow it.." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 24, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)





January 8, 2009

Kantrowitz Failed at Fusion for Lack of Funding


KantrowitzArthur.jpg "Arthur Kantrowitz, the "father" of laser propulsion, with a cone-shaped model in 1989, first suggested the use of ground based lasers to launch vehicles into orbit." Source of the caption and photo: the online version of the somewhat different December 9th version of the obituary at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/science/09kantrowitz.html?scp=1&sq=Kantrowitz&st=cse


(p. B13) Arthur R. Kantrowitz, a physicist and engineer whose research on the behavior of superhot gases and fluid dynamics led to nose cones for rockets, heart-assist pumps and the idea of nuclear fusion in magnetic bottles, among many other things, died in Manhattan on Nov. 29. He was 95.

. . .

After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from Columbia in 1936, he went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, the precursor to NASA, at Langley Field in Virginia. It was there, in 1938, that he and Eastman N. Jacobs, his boss, did an experiment that might have changed the world, had they succeeded.

The idea was to harness the energy source that powers the sun, the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, by heating hydrogen with radio waves while squeezing the gas with a magnetic field. At the time, nobody had tried to produce a fusion reaction; the Manhattan Project and other attempts to create nuclear fission were still in their infancy.

Knowing that their superiors would disapprove of anything as outlandish as atomic energy, they labeled their machine the Diffusion Inhibitor, and worked on it only at night. The experiment failed, and before the experimenters could figure out why, their director found out about the project and canceled it. Physicists unaware of the Langley experiment later reinvented the idea of thermonuclear fusion in a magnetic bottle, and they are still trying to make it work.

''It was a heartbreaking experience,'' Dr. Kantrowitz recalled. ''I had just built a whole future around this; I wanted to make it a career.''



For the full obituary, see:

DENNIS OVERBYE. "Arthur R. Kantrowitz, 95, Is Dead; Physicist Who Helped Space Program." The New York Times (Weds., December 10, 2008): B13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




November 17, 2008

"Nuclear Power Provides 77 Percent of France's Electricity"



FrenchNuclearReactorFlamanville20080824.jpg "France is constructing a nuclear reactor, its first in 10 years, in Flamanville, but the country already has 58 operating reactors." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) FLAMANVILLE, France -- It looks like an ordinary building site, but for the two massive, rounded concrete shells looming above the ocean, like dusty mushrooms.

Here on the Normandy coast, France is building its newest nuclear reactor, the first in 10 years, costing $5.1 billion. But already, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that France will build another like it.

. . .

Nuclear power provides 77 percent of France's electricity, according to the government, and relatively few public doubts are expressed in a country with little coal, oil or natural gas.

With the wildly fluctuating cost of oil, anxiety over global warming from burning fossil fuels and new concerns about the impact of biofuels on the price of food for the poor, nuclear energy is getting a second look in countries like the United States and Britain. Even Germany, committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2021, is debating whether to change its mind.



For the full story, see:

STEVEN ERLANGER. "France Reaffirms Its Faith in Future of Nuclear Power." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 17, 2008): 6. (Also on p. 6 of the NY edition)

(Note: ellipsis added.)

FranceNukeMap20080824.jpg





Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 5, 2008

McCain Supports Construction of Nuclear Power Plants


McCainNuclearFermi2Plant.jpg "Sen. John McCain, center, visits the Enrico Fermi nuclear plant in Michigan. From left: shift manager Phil Skarbek, CEO Anthony Earley, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich." Source of caption and photo: http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-08-05-mccain-nuclear_N.htm


I believe that the market is the most efficient institution for deciding the best mix of technologies for providing energy. But I am 'pro-nuclear' in the sense that the government should reduce past regulatory barriers, that have unjustifiably increased the cost of nuclear power relative to other energy technologies.

(p. A16) NEWPORT, Mich. -- Senator John McCain toured a nuclear power plant in Michigan on Tuesday to highlight his support for the construction of 45 new nuclear power generators by 2030, a position that he said distinguished him from his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, portrayed his support of nuclear energy as part of an "all-of-the-above approach" to addressing the nation's energy needs at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline. He called it "safe, efficient, inexpensive and obviously a vital ingredient in the future of the economy of our nation and in our mission to eliminate over time our dependence on foreign oil."

"If we really want to enable new technologies tomorrow like plug-in electric cars, we need electricity to plug into," he said in a statement after touring the Fermi 2 nuclear plant, its twin cooling towers spewing vapors used as a backdrop. "We need to do all this and more."

. . .

But market conditions have improved as demand for power has risen and the price of natural gas, a competing fuel, has jumped. Lately some environmental groups that had been critical of nuclear power have embraced it, seeing the technology as a way to meet the nation's growing energy demands without contributing more heat-trapping gases.

In addressing the nation's energy demands, Mr. Obama has focused on alternative energy sources like wind and solar, as well as conservation, which would apparently also be the main beneficiaries of the decade-long $150 billion government investment effort he promises if elected. He barely mentions nuclear power, usually just alluding to it in a sentence here or there.



For the full story, see:

MARY ANN GIORDANO and LARRY ROHTER. "McCain at Nuclear Plant Highlights Energy Issue." The New York Times (Weds., August 5, 2008): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




June 14, 2008

California's Unreliable Power Supply


(p. A11) . . . consider the story of the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station. Opened in 1975, it was capable of generating over 900 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power upward of 900,000 homes. Fourteen years after powering up, the nuclear reactor shut down, thanks to fierce antinuclear opposition. Eventually, the facility was converted to solar power, and today generates a measly four MW of electricity. After millions of dollars in subsidies and other support, the entire state has less than 250 MW of solar capacity.

. . .

. . . : California now imports lots of energy from neighboring states to make up for having too few power plants. Up to 20% of the state's power comes from coal-burning plants in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Montana. Another significant portion comes from large-scale hydropower in Oregon, Washington State and the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas.

"California practices a sort of energy colonialism," says James Lucier of Capital Alpha Partners, a Washington, D.C.-area investment group. "They leave those states to deal with the resulting pollution."

. . .

The unreliable power grid is starting to rattle some Silicon Valley heavyweights. Intel CEO Craig Barrett, for instance, vowed in 2001 not to build a chip-making facility in California until power supplies became more reliable. This October, Intel opened a $3 billion factory near Phoenix for mass production of its new 45-nanometer microprocessors. Google has chosen to build the massive server farms that will fuel its expansion anywhere but in California.



For the full commentary, see:

MAX SCHULZ. "California's Energy Colonialism." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2008): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





November 8, 2007

"Merchant Generator" Leads Nuclear Renaissance

 

  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted, and cited, below. 

 

(p. B1)  In a move that could mark the beginning of a nuclear-power revival, a New Jersey-based energy company today plans to submit an application to build and operate two new reactors. The request, the first submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 31 years, comes from an unlikely source: NRG Energy Inc., a company that has never before built a nuclear plant.

The application -- for a two-reactor addition to the company's existing South Texas nuclear station -- could offer the first full test of the nuclear agency's new licensing process, which has been under development since the 1980s. The new process allows companies to submit a single application for a construction permit and conditional operating license, eliminating the risk that a firm could build a plant but not be allowed to run it.

. . .

(p. B2)  . . . , the industry has regained momentum, partly because other forms of power generation have continued to show significant flaws. Coal-fired plants undermine efforts to combat global warming. Many natural-gas-fired plants rely on a fuel with volatile prices. And renewable energy mostly comes from intermittent forces like wind, rain and sunlight.

This first application comes from a somewhat unlikely source; NRG is a so-called "merchant generator," a company that makes electricity and sells it on the open market. NRG has never built a nuclear plant, and because it doesn't own a utility, has no ratepayers to whom it could bill the estimated $5.5 billion to $6 billion expense.

"We're like the uncola," says David Crane, NRG chief executive in Princeton, N.J.

. . .

So far, it appears merchant generators think Texas provides the most promising market. Deregulation in that state has resulted in a sharp run up in wholesale power prices since 2004. A recent decision by Dallas-based TXU to abandon efforts to build eight coal-fired plants could result in shrinking electricity reserves in the coming years, creating an environment receptive to operators looking to bring large units online and sell such units' full output.

 

For the full story, see: 

REBECCA SMITH.  "Nuclear Energy's Second Act? Bid to Build Two New Reactors In Texas May Mark Resurgence; NRC Gears Up for Many More."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., September 25, 2007):  B1 & B2.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




November 4, 2007

New Nuclear Design Reduces Already-Low Risks, and Increases Efficiency

 

  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C1)  WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 — In a bid to take the lead in the race to revive the nuclear power industry, an energy company will ask the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday for permission to build two reactors in Texas.

It is the first time since the 1970s and the accident at Three Mile Island that an American power company has sought permission to start work on a new reactor to add to the existing array of operable reactors, which now number 104.

. . .

(p. C11)  NRG is planning to build the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, which represents a relatively low-risk choice in an industry where few American companies have current experience with building a plant.  . . .

. . .

The new design has several innovations that are aimed at sharply reducing the risk of meltdown, a risk that is described by the industry and by regulators as very low in any case. Other innovations are supposed to reduce the time and cost of construction.

 

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Approval Is Sought For Reactors."  The New York Times  (Tues., September 25, 2007):  C1 & C11.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




August 7, 2007

Liberal Actor Paul Newman Endorses Nuclear Power

 

   Paul Newman.  Source of photo: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/columnists/howard_gensler/7660986.html

 

WASHINGTON: Venerable actor Paul Newman, known for his movies, his auto racing and his organic salad dressings, weighed in Wednesday on a nuclear power plant in New York's suburbs that some fear is a terrorist magnet.

The Indian Point plant is safer than military bases he has visited, Newman said.

Newman, the star of such films as "Cool Hand Luke," "Hud" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," visited the facility in Buchanan, New York, on Monday, according to Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear, the company that owns Indian Point.

The veteran actor, restaurateur and organic-food producer praised the nuclear power facility as an important part of the region's energy future because it does not produce greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.

 

For the full story, see: 

"Renaissance man Paul Newman endorses nuclear power plant some consider a risk to New York."   International Herald Tribune  (Weds., May 23, 2007).

 




July 11, 2007

Nuclear Expensive "Because of Exaggerated Popular Fears"

 

In his public testimony Mr. Gore seemed to be convoluting several things, suggesting somehow that nuclear plants are too expensive and take too long to build because they only come "extra-large." This is not true.

Nuclear plants take more time to build and are more expensive than comparative coal plants, but they are not prohibitively expensive. The Japanese are now building reactors in five years at competitive prices. Higher construction costs are more than compensated by lower fuel costs and higher capacity ratings. America's existing nuclear plants are now operating so profitably that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recently proposed a windfall profits tax because the state's reactors were making too much money.

. . .

The reason building nuclear plants has been expensive and time-consuming is because of exaggerated popular fears of the technology. The public is now coming around. Seventy percent now consider nuclear plants acceptable, meaning new plants will probably not become bogged down in endless court delays.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

WILLIAM TUCKER.  "Our Atomic Future."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., March 28, 2007):  A16.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




June 14, 2007

Entrepreneur Bets on Nuclear Power Revival

 

Entrepreneur Kyle Kimmerle at one of his 600 uranium claims.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Kyle Kimmerle is an entrepreneur, risking his own money.  If he guesses right, he will make himself rich, by helping provide the fuel needed for generating electricity for us. 

 

(p. C1)  . . .   Prices for processed uranium ore, also called U308, or yellowcake, are rising rapidly. Yellowcake is trading at $90 a pound, nearing the record high, adjusted for inflation, of about $120 in the mid-1970s. The price (p. C4) has more than doubled in the last six months alone. As recently as late 2002, it was below $10.

A string of natural disasters, notably flooding of large mines in Canada and Australia, has set off the most recent spike. Hedge funds and other institutional investors, who began buying up uranium in late 2004 to exploit the volatility in this relatively small market, have accelerated the price rally.

But the more fundamental causes of the uninterrupted ascendance of prices since 2003 can be traced to inventory constraints among power companies and a drying up of the excess supply of uranium from old Soviet-era nuclear weapons that was converted to use in power plants. Add in to those factors the expected surge in demand from China, India, Russia and a few other countries for new nuclear power plants to fuel their growing economies.

“I’d call it lucky timing,” said David Miller, a Wyoming legislator and president of the Strathmore Mineral Corporation, a uranium development firm. “Three relatively independent factors — dwindling supplies of inventory, low overall production from the handful of uranium miners that survived the 25-year drought and rising concerns about global warming — all have coincided to drive the current uranium price higher by more than 1,000 percent since 2001.”

. . .  

. . .   “We won’t build a new plant knowing there’s nowhere to put the used fuel,” Mr. Malone of Exelon said. “We won’t build one without community support, and we won’t build until market conditions are in place where it makes sense.”

But that is not holding back Kyle Kimmerle, owner of the Kimmerle Funeral Home in Moab. Mr. Kimmerle, 30, spent summers during his childhood camping and working at several of his father’s mines in the area. In his spare time he has amassed more than 600 uranium claims throughout the once-productive Colorado Plateau.

“My guess is that next year my name won’t be on the sign of this funeral home anymore and I’ll be out at the mines,” he said.

He recently struck a deal with a company to lease 111 of his claims for development. The company, new to uranium mining, has pledged $500,000 a year for five years to improve the properties. Mr. Kimmerle will receive annual payments plus royalties for any uranium mined from the area.

 

For the full story, see: 

SUSAN MORAN and ANNE RAUP.  "A Rush for Uranium; Mines in the West Reopen as Ore Prices Reach Highs of the 1970s."  The New York Times  (Weds., March 28, 2007):   C1 & C4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

UraniumPriceGraph.gif   Yellowcake, which is processed uranium, is in the third jar from the left of the top photo.  The photo below it is of old equipment at a dormant uranium mine.  Source of the photos and the graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




March 16, 2007

"Nuclear Energy is Suddenly Back on the Agenda"

   The Belguim windmill looks nice, but the electiricty is produced by the nuclear plant in the background.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

The latest word on energy, from the 2006 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland:

 

. . .  nuclear energy is suddenly back on the agenda — and not just here.  Spurred on by politicians interested in energy independence and scientists who specialize in the field of climate change, Germany is reconsidering a commitment to shut down its nuclear power plants.  France, Europe’s leading nuclear power producer, is increasing its investment, as is Finland.

At a time when industrialized countries are wrestling with how to curb carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear energy has one indisputable advantage: unlike coal, oil, natural gas, or even biological fuels, it emits no carbon dioxide. That virtue, in the view of advocates, is enough to offset its well-documented shortcomings.

“It has put nuclear back into the mix,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. “We’re seeing a new balancing of the costs and benefits.”

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARK LANDLER. "Europe’s Embrace; With Apologies, Nuclear Power Gets a Second Look."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., January 28, 2007):  3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 




September 26, 2006

Utilities Propose to Build 27 New Nuclear Reactors

W tours one of Constellation Energy's current nuclear power plants.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

(p. C1)  BALTIMORE — Nobody in the United States has started building a nuclear power plant in more than three decades.  Mayo A. Shattuck III could be the first.

As the chief executive of Constellation Energy, a utility holding company in Baltimore that already operates five nuclear reactors, Mr. Shattuck is convinced that nuclear power is on the verge of a renaissance, ready to provide reliable electricity at a competitive price.  He has already taken the first steps toward achieving that, moving recently to order critical parts for a new reactor.

 

The full story is strongly biased in favor of the standard politically correct environmentalist antagonism toward nuclear energy.  But if you want to read it anyway, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Slow Start for Revival of Nuclear Reactors."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 22, 2006):  C1 & C4. 

 

  Source of map graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

 




August 27, 2006

Power to the People


VogtleCoolingTowers.jpg Cooling towers at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.  Source of photo:  the online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


A long, and informative cover-story in the NYT, discusses the costs and benefits of nuclear power.  My read is that, on balance, the considerations in the article favor nuclear energy.  Here are a few passages from near the end of the article:


(p. 64)  Gary Taylor, . . ., the C.E.O. of Entergy Nuclear, says he believes a doubling of the number of nuclear plants around the world is inevitable, both to satisfy energy demands and to counter global warming.  As Taylor puts it:  ''The reality is, what is scalable in the time frame that addresses the issues?  If it isn't this technology, I don't know what it would be.''  Diaz, the former head of the N.R.C., told me he sees a similarly bright future for nuclear.  ''The world is going to go nuclear, because they do not have any other real alternatives,'' he says.  I met plenty of other engineers within the industry who went even further.  Their feeling about nuclear power is close to evangelical, in that they seem to approach the technology with moral certitude while being loath to acknowledge any of its many negatives.  Would that include the utility executives who will ultimately decide if -- and what -- to build?  I'm not sure it would.  To those I spoke with in the uppermost ranks, nuclear power isn't a belief system.  It's a business.  And to them, what might come out of, say, Vogtle Units 3 and 4 -- the waste and the power and the profits -- would be nearly identical to what comes out of Units 1 and 2.

At least that was my conclusion in Georgia, where Jeff Gasser, the Southern Company's chief nuclear officer, took me through a long tour of the plant.  He was smart, meticulous and intensely committed to the obscure safety protocols that go on at nuclear power facilities.  Most of all he was forthright about the advantages and disadvantages of the nukes business.  When we went to visit the spent-fuel pool in Vogtle, where the used fuel-rod assemblies are stored under 20 feet of protective water, Gasser let me know that we would die if we pulled one of the fuel assemblies out of the pool.  ''We would receive, before we could get to the exit door a few feet away, a lethal radiation dose,'' he said.  I quickly had to check the radiation dosimeter I was wearing -- another legal requirement of the N.R.C. -- to see if I was already glowing.  (It read zero.)  ''The communications people hate it when I use words like 'lethal' and 'irradiated,' '' Gasser continued.  ''But the fact is, there is no perfect way of generating electricity.  There are byproducts for every type.''  Like many others, he went through the positives and negatives of coal, gas, solar, wind and nuclear.  In his opinion, he added, with Vogtle's engineering, redundancy of safety systems and its trained operators, it was a safe, reliable and efficient way of making electricity.  That was his sales pitch.

We had already passed through the containment buildings, where the reactors heat the pressurized water.  So Gasser took me through the turbine building, an enormous room the size of a soccer field, where the steam turns the fan blades.  Eventually, we went out a back door into the sunlight.  The deafening sounds of turbines and machinery subsided to a dull thrum.  We removed our earplugs and walked over to a small forest of electrical transformers, our backs to the plant.  The electricity from the turbines inside comes out here, Gasser explained, its voltage is transformed, and it is then put into the grid.

Gasser made a pushing motion toward the green hills before us.

''Once the power is sent out of here, it can go everywhere,'' he explained.  And I could see that it did go everywhere.  The high-tension wires stretched away from where we stood, in several directions, through deep cuts in the pinelands, as far as I could see.

 

For the full article, see:

JON GERTNER.  "Atomic Balm? '   The New York Times Magazine, Section 6  (Sunday, July 16, 2006),  36-47, 56, 62 & 64.





August 13, 2006

Parts Order is a Major Step Towards a Nuclear Renaissance

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 — A partnership established to build nuclear reactors has ordered the heavy steel parts needed to make a reactor vessel, as well as other crucial components, apparently the first hardware order for a plant since the 1970’s.

The order, which an executive of the partnership said was worth “tens of millions of dollars,” was a major step toward actual construction after several years of speculation about a nuclear renaissance.

. . .

The design is derived from the Westinghouse layout already in service, but with several changes.  It is 1,600 megawatts, about a third larger than the largest reactor operating here.  It has a double-walled containment building designed to withstand the crash of a large aircraft.  It has four emergency core cooling systems, any one of which would be sufficient in an emergency, so that it can continue operating even if some of the systems are deactivated for maintenance and repair.  And because of design changes, it has 47 percent fewer valves, 16 percent fewer pumps and 50 percent fewer tanks than a typical existing model.

 

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Nuclear Power Venture Orders Crucial Parts for Reactor."  The New York Times (Fri., August 4, 2006):  C2.




April 27, 2006

Chernobyl Accident Cannot Occur In U.S. Type Reactors


Twenty years ago (April 25, 1986), the Chernobyl nuclear accident sent a plume of radiation into the air above Ukraine.  The word "Chernobyl" remains the most emotionally charged argument used by the opponents of nuclear energy.  But if examined carefully, the main lesson from Chernobyl may be that what happened there cannot occur in the better designed light water reactors used in the United States, and most of the rest of the world.  William Sweet, the author of the commentary below, has also authored Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.

 

(p. A23) . . . , though it went unnoticed at the time and has been inadequately appreciated since, Chernobyl also cast into relief the positive features of the reactors used in the United States and most other advanced industrial countries.

The reactor at Chernobyl belonged to a class that was especially vulnerable to runaway reactions.  When operating at low power, if such reactors lost water, their reactivity could suddenly take off and very rapidly reach a threshold beyond which they could only explode.  Making matters worse, surprisingly little more pressure than normal in the machine's water channels would lift its lid, snapping the vital control rods and fuel channels that entered the reactor's core.

On the night of April 25, 1986, poorly trained and supervised plant operators conducted an ill-conceived experiment, putting the machine into the very state in which reactivity was most likely to spike.  Within a fraction of a second, the reactor went from being barely on to power levels many times higher than the maximum intended.

This kind of accident cannot happen in the so-called light water reactors used in the United States and most of Western Europe and Asia.  In these reactors, the water functions not only as a coolant but as a "moderator": self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions cannot take place in its absence.  This is a very useful passive safety feature.  If coolant runs low, there is still a danger of a core meltdown, because the fuel retains heat; but the reactor will have automatically and immediately turned itself off.

 

For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM SWEET.  "The Nuclear Option."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A23.

 

The reference to Sweet's related book is:

Sweet, William.  Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.  Columbia University Press, 2006.


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0231137109/sr=8-1/qid=1146071688/ref=sr_1_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8






April 26, 2006

Founder of Greenpeace Endorses New Nuclear Reactors


MoorePatrick.jpg   Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace.   Source of image:    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/us/25nuke.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

(p. A24) WASHINGTON, April 24 — The nuclear industry has hired Christie Whitman, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, the environmental organization, to lead a public relations campaign for new reactors.

Nuclear power is "environmentally friendly, affordable, clean, dependable and safe," Mrs. Whitman said at a news conference on Monday.  She said that as the E.P.A. leader for two and a half years, ending in June 2003, and as governor of New Jersey for seven years, she had promoted various means to reduce the emission of gases that cause global warming and pollution.

But Mrs. Whitman said that "none of them will have as great a positive impact on our environment as will increasing our ability to generate electricity from nuclear power."

. . .

Mr. Moore said he favored efficiency and renewable energy, but added that solar cells, which produce electricity from sunlight, were "being given too much emphasis and taking too much money."  A dollar spent on geothermal energy, he said, was "10 to 12 times more effective in reducing greenhouse emissions."

Mr. Moore is the director of a company that distributes geothermal systems in Canada.  He is also a supporter of what he called "sustainable forestry" because, he said, building with wood avoided the use of materials whose manufacture releases greenhouse gases, like steel and concrete.

Mr. Moore, who left Greenpeace in 1986, favors many technologies that some environmentalists oppose, including the genetic engineering of crops, and has referred to his former colleagues as "environmental extremists" and "anti-human."

. . .

Representatives of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Teamsters also spoke in favor of new reactors.


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Ex-Environmental Leaders Tout Nuclear Energy."  The New York Times (Tues., April 25, 2006): A24.

 




March 31, 2006

Nuclear Power Looking "Increasingly Attractive"


(p. A2) Nuclear power has looked increasingly attractive in many nations amid advancing energy prices and concerns about rising emissions believed to cause global warming. Costs for energy sources such as coal have risen amid global expansion and China's increasing need for raw materials. China and India, especially, are looking to nuclear power as their consumption expands.

Meanwhile, emissions of the gases believed to cause global warming have risen despite efforts in many nations to adhere to the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.

At the same time, improved reactor design has led to increased interest in the long-dormant U.S. market, which dried up in the early 1980s amid public outcry about safety and investors' dismay over high costs. Since then, manufacturers have continued to build reactors overseas in Asia and Europe, while the U.S. remains the most coveted market because of its economic might and hunger for new energy sources.


For the full article, see:

DENNIS K. BERMAN. "Toshiba to Buy Nuclear-Power Firm." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 24, 2006): A2.

(Note: A somewhat different version of the article appeared in the online version of the WSJ, under the title: "Japan's Toshiba Wins Nuclear-Power Assets; Purchase of Westinghouse May Open Door to Markets Like U.S., China and India.")




December 13, 2005

Finland Building Europe's First New Nuclear Reactor in 15 Years



Petr Beckmann holding a copy of his The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear. Golem Press, 1976. Beckmann died on August 3, 1993. Source of photo and Beckmann date of death: http://www.commentary.net/view/atearchive/s76a1928.htm


Not all those who are right, live to see their ideas vindicated. Thank you Petr Beckmann, for writing the truth, when the truth was not popular.


. . . when Finland, a country with a long memory of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and considerable environmental bona fides, chose to move ahead this year with the construction of the world's largest nuclear reactor, the nuclear industry portrayed it as a victory, one that would force the rest of Western Europe to take note.

But the decision to build the reactor, Olkiluoto 3, Europe's first in 15 years, was not taken quickly or lightly.

. . .

"There is an expectation that others will follow, both because of the way the decision was made and the boosting of confidence in being able to get through all the oppositional fear-mongering," said Ian Hore-Lacy, the director of public communications for the World Nuclear Association, an industry lobbying group.

The United States, which has not had a nuclear plant on order since 1978, is experiencing a groundswell of interest. Taking the first step in a long process, Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based holding company, announced in late October that it would apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to construct and operate a pressurized water reactor like the kind being built in Finland, possibly in upstate New York or Maryland. The Finnish reactor, designed by Areva, the French state-controlled nuclear power group, is being built by Framatome ANP, a joint venture of Areva and Siemens, a Germany company.

In addition, President Bush signed into law an energy bill in August that offers billions of dollars in research and development funds and construction subsidies to companies willing to build new nuclear plants. Several utility companies have applied for early site permits, a preliminary step toward building reactors.

Worldwide, the resurgent interest in nuclear power is even more pronounced. Twenty-three reactors are under construction this year in 10 countries, most of them in Asia, which has aggressively pursued nuclear energy. India is building eight reactors. China and Taiwan are building a total of four reactors and are planning eight more. Russia is building four and South Korea is planning eight.

...

Nuclear energy's selling points were timely: it does not create emissions, unlike coal, oil and gas, and provides predictable electricity prices, a major bonus for Finnish industries, nuclear proponents said.

"The only viable alternative, if we want to maintain the structure of the economy, maintain our industries and meet our Kyoto targets, is nuclear," said Juha Rantanen, the chief executive officer of Outokumpu, one of the world's largest steel producers and one of Finland's biggest energy users. "We can't have a declining economy. We face huge challenges and an aging population. Something had to be done."

Environmentalists, however, argued that nuclear reactors could never be entirely safe. They are always radioactive, and their waste remains toxic for 100,000 years.

But the designers of Areva's pressurized water reactor, which is costing $3.5 billion to build, helped counter those arguments. In the event of a core meltdown, they said, the nuclear material would flow into a separate enclosure for cooling. They also said that the reactor is being built with enough concrete to withstand the impact of an airliner.

In the end, Finland's largest trade union supported the project, basically sealing the deal.

. . .




Read the full article at:

LIZETTE ALVAREZ. "Finland Rekindles Interest in Nuclear Power." The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)





October 23, 2005

The French Are Not Always Wrong

Editorial page advice from the budget minister of France:
The choice of nuclear power dates back to the end of World War II.  With insufficient fossil fuel reserves, our country very early on invested in energy alternatives.  The two oil crises of the '70s convinced us to accelerate the construction of facilities to produce safe and economically profitable nuclear energy.  That strategy paid off:  In 30 years, France's energy independence has risen from 30% to 50%.  While turning toward nuclear energy might have seemed unusual 60 years ago, I believe that it was an especially visionary choice.  The development of nuclear energy enabled us to meet several objectives:  energy independence and security of supply, and competitive, stable energy prices.  This nuclear option is also an economic and commercial asset for our country, whose capabilities in this cutting-edge area are world-renowned.  (p. A20)
JEAN-FRANCOIS COPE. "Energy a la Francaise." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 5, 2005):  A20.



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