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DailyDirt: Taking Another Look At Nuclear Energy...

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Nuclear energy has been around for decades, but its safety and the safety of its radioactive waste have always been a political nightmare. Still, some researchers have been redesigning nuclear reactors to make them safer in many ways, but these newer designs have yet to be scaled up and used commercially. Maybe someday nuclear technology will be ubiquitous, but it'll likely take a long time before anyone is willing to embrace fission/fusion energy that doesn't come from the Sun. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.


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  1.  
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    mudlock (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 5:26pm

    In before...

    In before the thorium cheerleaders!

    Which, by the way, is how the production ADS is imagined to work: With a proton beam aimed at a thorium target.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 5:48pm

    Re: In before...

    I wonder if ADS systems are more flexible with their fuel? I'm no nuclear scientist, but it sounds like there's an analogy of gasoline-engine-fuel-injector and the particle accelerator here... and there's a possibility that the nuclear fuel mixture could change, and the particle accelerator could be altered to change with it?

    So maybe these fancy new reactors could use thorium or plutonium or uranium... and help us destroy our weapons-grade stockpiles without needed a whole new reactor design?

     

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  3.  
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    cpt kangarooski, May 20th, 2013 @ 9:55pm

    The safety of the technology isn't the issue. The problem is that humans will always manage to screw it up somehow, and when they do, the consequences with this stuff can be very bad. Useful as it might be, it's just too big of a risk. We ought to be pursuing green energy production and significantly reducing our energy consumption by being more efficient.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 2:46am

    Re:

    After Chernobyl and one other large-ish accident (also, I think, in the former USSR?) the next several most deadly nuclear accidents are _medical_, not power, related.

    Even including Chernobyl, wind power has caused more fatalities per watt-hour than nuclear.

     

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  5.  
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    Wolfy, May 21st, 2013 @ 3:13am

    Where something can go wrong, it usually will. Look at Japan. Someone "liberated" the gas for the backup generators (or it just wasn't there to begin with). Then there was an earthquake. The dice were cast right there. The tsunami was just icing on the cake. #3 is right, humans will always find a way to screw things up, either deliberately (Shoddy workmanship, cutting corners for extra profit... what American company would do that?!?) or by a gazillion ways accidentally... use your imagination. I'll be you could come up with a couple ways a nuc. plant could be compromised.

     

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  6.  
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    Wolfy, May 21st, 2013 @ 3:14am

    and commenter # 4 is just plain full of shit.

     

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  7.  
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    anony mouse, May 21st, 2013 @ 4:01am

    Under capitalized nuclear power plants will likely never get cleaned up.

    My folks help develop the U235 gaseous diffusion isolation method, their work was ignited over Hiroshima. In the last few decades, I've had cause to observe another fuel cycle: coal. A lesson I can draw from the behaviour of that energy sector is that , more often then not, private bads are left to become public bads. The willful shell gaming common to coal production and combustion is a model for other undercapitalized, short-term-win/long-term-loss energy producers. From what I have seen, I expect "small modular nuclear reactors" will also become orphaned in their dotage, buried under generations of transient owners. The money will be made in the production and sale of the reactor, and it's operating life, say 1E2 years, to be generous. The waste products need attention for 1E4 years, at least. That is a very very long time to spend money without revenue, and you can bank on folks dumping those burdens on the public. Regardless of the other pro/con arguements about nuclear energy, small modular reactors are a bad idea that will cost the public a lot more they they earn.

    p.s., Re: Thorium- http://phys.org/news/2012-12-thorium-proliferation-nuclear-wonder-fuel.html

    ppss-The gaseous diffusions production sites (Paducah, Oak Ridge) haven't yet been cleaned up- and they've been obsolete since the 1960's.

     

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  8.  
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    teka (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 6:22am

    Re:

    Yeah, those darn atomic power stations are always just exploding. Every day you hear about a reactor rupturing and scattering millions of tons of super-uranium across the countryside.


    Or maybe that does not happen.
    Maybe every generation is safer and more efficient. Maybe NIMBY attitudes should not be allowed to place reactors on sea-level beaches in tsunami zones. Maybe the anti-nuke activists should enlighten themselves every now and then.

     

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  9.  
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    ChrisB (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 6:40am

    Re:

    Nuclear is already one of the safest power sources around. Humans just can't judge risk properly. For heaven's sakes, people think "pipelines" are a real problem. That is like saying roads are responsible for too many cars and too many accidents.

    Reducing energy consumption won't work; it never has. Other people just consume the cheaper fossil fuels. And unless you want to go to war to enforce your opinion, it is a losing battle.

    Green energy is waiting for battery technology. The best we have is lithium ion, and that took a quarter century to develop.

    One solution to global warming is to move fully to nuclear and wean off coal. (Oil and gas don't really affect climate change compared to coal.) Of course, another solution is to just deal with the consequences, like migrating farms and relocating coastal cities.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 8:43am

    Re: Re: In before...

    "I wonder if ADS systems are more flexible with their fuel?"

    yes.

    "and there's a possibility that the nuclear fuel mixture could change, and the particle accelerator could be altered to change with it?
    "

    yes.

    "So maybe these fancy new reactors could use thorium or plutonium or uranium... and help us destroy our weapons-grade stockpiles without needed a whole new reactor design?"

    yes, and yes.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    thousands or hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the mining and generating of energy (directly) using coal alone, not to mention crude oil mining and processing.

    Number of people killed by nuclear power generation (directly) less than 100.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 8:53am

    Re:

    and how many people were killed by radiation in Japan ??

    "Someone "liberated" the gas for the backup generators "

    a freaking great wave shut down the generators required to maintain the cooling ponds.

    The reactors shut down safely when the quake struck, and were not damaged.

    The backup generators that supplied power to pump cooling water around the SPENT fuel rods were overcome by a big wave.

    If the cooling ponds were located remotely there would not have been any issues at all in Japan.

    Again, how many people were killed ??

    ZERO !!!!!

    How many coal miners have died mining coal in the past 1 year ??? (I bet significantly more than 1).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 9:01am

    Re: Under capitalized nuclear power plants will likely never get cleaned up.

    Very good Documentary about Oak Ridge and what happened and why.. I think it was one of those "Seconds from Disaster" doco's.

    They show how Oak Ridge happened, and how the clean up of the site was conducted, how the reactor was dismantled and the decontamination process was conducted. It also shows the cause of the accident, as well as exposing what measures were taken so that could not happen in the future.

    Many valuable lessons were learnt, and a lot of knowledge gained. 3 people died.. about the same as one bad car accident.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 9:04am

    Re: Re:

    and the medical related deaths was due to SOFTWARE errors, not because of misuse or an accident.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 9:07am

    Re: Re: Re:

    and X-ray radiation is not really considered "nuclear" radiation..

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 10:14am

    Re:

    Solar IS nuclear.....

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 10:23am

    Civilization's embarrasment

    The Kardashev Scale

    One day me might progress to Type 1, but as yet we simple cannot get away from "burning shit" to get our energy, just like the cave man did... Now that's progress for you..

     

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  18.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    Decentralized power

    Building plants that generate electricity that is then distributed across a power grid is both inefficient and locks people into a centralized system.

    It is better to create more location-based systems (for example, using solar to run individual housing units).

    Now, you could perhaps have nuclear plants in very isolated, safe areas that use that electricity to create hydrogen that would then power fuel cells.

    And perhaps some day there will be very small nuclear units that power homes or blocks.

    But replacing current oil or gas-fired power plants with nuclear power plants is both costly and less flexible than other options.

     

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  19.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Decentralized power

    Also, nuclear power continues to give control to a small group of people: owners of companies that mine and process fuel and owners of power plants that distribute the energy.

    Also, since fuel isn't available equally in all countries, you have the same issues that generate wars and tension between countries.

    It's far better, economically and politically, to give individual consumers as much control over their own power as possible. So the more that can be done locally and the more the entire system can be broken down into units cheap enough for individuals or small groups to own themselves, the better.

     

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  20.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re: Decentralized power

    I can't stress this enough. If you want to see a true grassroots revolution, it can't happen via nuclear energy. You don't really want the world to become dependent on nuclear energy because there are too many opportunities for political/economic control by just a few players.

     

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  21.  
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    mudlock (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 6:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Typically in these cases, your talking about something like cobalt-60, which is a gamma emitter. Worse than x-rays, and considered "nuclear".

    Most famous wasn't a software error either. It was a scrap dealer who took apart a machine that he didn't know what it was, that never should have been scrapped, and killed 10 people.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2013 @ 7:54pm

    Google Therac-25

    "It was involved in at least six accidents between 1985 and 1987, in which patients were given massive overdoses of radiation, approximately 100 times the intended dose.[2]:425 These accidents highlighted the dangers of software control of safety-critical systems, and they have become a standard case study in health informatics and software engineering."

     

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  23.  
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    Michael Ho (profile), May 22nd, 2013 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Re:

    Your profile icon is fitting for this discussion, ChrisB.

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/liquid-batteries-0214.html

    High temperature liquid metal batteries might be useful for grid-scale electricity. Someday?

     

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