DailyDirt: Towards Safer Nuclear Energy

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Nuclear energy has the obvious drawbacks of dealing with its waste (potentially for hundreds of years) and getting political support. But on the other hand, nuclear power can be more convenient as a power source compared to alternatives like solar or wind. Newer nuclear power plant designs are supposedly much safer than any of the current commercial reactors in operation, but there’s no operational history for power plants that haven’t actually been built. Here are just a few links on building safer nuclear reactors.

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Towards Safer Nuclear Energy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Thorium is thought to be less of a proliferation risk, not because it’s hard to make a weapon but rather because U233 (unlike U234 or U235, or plutonium) relesases gamma radiation as it decays, making it very hard to conceal from anyone looking for it… I don’t think anyone who knows anything about the subject ever claimed that bombs could not be made from U233, or even that they were harder to make than it is from natural uranium (indeed, it may even be easier to make an atomic bomb from scratch startin with Thorium ore rather than Uranium ore).

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem with natural power is that it’s low yield and relative expensive. You can’t serve a country’s power requirement unless you’re willing to blanket the land with windmills or solar panels.

Nuclear has different problems: proliferation (ironically the countries whining the loudest are the same with the most nuclear weapons), cost of fuel, which is relatively rare and needs further processing, waste disposal, accidents are more dangerous because of the radiation.

Thorium would be a step up in nuclear fuels. Unfortunately we have legacy players here too (processing uranium and handling waste is apparently profitable business) and ones who would lose influence and $$ if cheap electricity replaced oil, coal and gas.

The result is fearmongering and much handwaving.

TheNamesHaveBeenChanged ToProtectTheInnocent says:

How safe is the spent fuel?

Today, engineers at Fukishima are struggling to remove the Spent Fuel Rods (SNF) from a damaged cooling pool. Anyone doing the math on the mass of radionuclides, the LD50 of that mass, and the simple fact that the rods will ignite unless retained in water and segregated from one another should offer their defense of the safety of nuclear power.

My folks helped develop U235 isolation, their hand isolated Uranium fissiles were the only ones ever detonated over a civilan population. It is my opinion that “safety” and “nuclear” pretty much don’t co-exist.

Allan says:

Re: Re: How safe is the spent fuel?

Anything labelled “nuclear is unsafe “if sufficient leakage occurrers ….contaminated sites and decontaminating sites are not built into the construction of the sites as they are deemed “safe”…that’s until something unforeseen happens…then it’s a case of duh what the …..!
Many dollars cancers and lives latter not to mention food chain contamination… Possibable mutant DNA …
I have a theory that the politicians that propose these ideas have big egos lack scientific knowledge about these matters and dramatically discount the risks.
Planes cars trains boats are all supposed to be “safe” yet we accept accidents occurr….however accidents in any nuclear situation are clearly not acceptable…the only way to avoid a nuclear accident is not to not to construct future nuclear power industry….nothing is 100percent safe nuclear risks outway any future energy gains…plus results can last thousands of years!

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Re: How safe is the spent fuel?

Let’s reiterate a few things that you’ve glossed over.

The damaged cooling pond was damaged because of a major earthquake and tsunami, and as yet has not killed anyone.
The earthquake and tsunami killed tens of thousands, and the nuclear plant was not the only power plant to have issues. Almost a dozen were killed as a result of a hydro-dam breaking at the same time, and yet no-one’s hitting on hydro-power, despite it being much more deadly (not just now, but in general).

I haven’t done the maths you suggest, but I have worked in that field, developing some things at a different location that may be in use there now for this (I don’t know how specific I’m allowed to go) and that’s WHY people like me worked on the things we did.

Also, if your folks worked on the first two cores (and, I’d assume, the Demon Core?) you’d know just how NOT actually lethal it is until it reaches its criticality point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How safe is the spent fuel?

you can easily build backup generators that can withstand being flooded, you have them in New York and most places where there is a significant chance of flooding, if Fukishima had that the cooling ponds and pumps would have kept working, how many people did that kill … ZERO,, how many will it kill … ZERO.

How many did chernobyal kill ?? less than 100 directly, (the workers that went into the chamber just after the explosion). (probably more like less than 50 actually)..

The nuclear bogyman is really casper the friendly ghost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How safe is the spent fuel?

tell that to the families of the thousands upon thousands of coal miners killed please.

Or the pacific islands that are no longer habitable because in high tide the entire island is below sea level !!

not the mention the fossil fuelled wars and the thousands of lives that has taken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How safe is the spent fuel?

tell that to the families of the thousands upon thousands of coal miners killed please.

Right after you talk to the Navajo people and the effects of the Uranium mining.

not the mention the fossil fuelled wars and the thousands of lives that has taken.

With many taken with Depleted Uranium rounds. Say, do the mutated children in the DU used towns get to talk about the heavy metal mutations of Uranium?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Where to Put the Power Plants

Here’s a thought: high-voltage electric power lines (800 Kvolts, DC) have reached a point where they are 97% efficient per thousand kilometers. California draws electricity from hydropower plants along the Colorado River, and from coal-burning plants in Arizona and Nevada. In the case of Washington and Oregon, the power comes from hydropower plants along the Columbia River. At the other end of the country, New York gets electricity from the Baie James project in Northern Quebec. I don’t think there’s any compelling reason why nuclear power plants should not be located in the historic government atomic reservations, that is, Hanford, Washington, and the Nevada Test Site, which are already used for long-term storage of nuclear wastes. The situation in the East is more complicated, but it ought to be possible to located nearly all new nuclear power plants in thinly populated districts which vote Tea Party Republican, and which, objectively, do need the money besides.

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Re: Where to Put the Power Plants

I’d much rather have a nuc plant here. As it is, within 25 miles of me, I have the biggest coal-fired plant in the US, and a hydro-plant.
BTW, guess where the only cases of uranium poisoning of residents in the last 10 years in the state of Georgia happened? 2 years ago, within 5 miles of the coal plant.

Of course, yes, this is a tea-party district (I don’t live here by choice) being covered by both Austin Scott, and Paul Broun.

The real problem most people have with nuclear power though is one of ignorance, and I partly blame superheros. Hulk, invisible man, fantastic 4, Spiderman, Sam Beckett, Alex Mac, Dr Manhattan etc… They all give the idea that ‘radiation does things and changes you’, and so people get afraid, because they don’t know the reality. And unfortunately, in this area, people cherish their ignorance (my landlord is PROUD of the fact he’s 84, and has got through life with only a 4th grade education)

That’s actually the wider problem now. People in the US think that education means elitism, and that it’s somehow ‘wrong’. At least, that’s the impression in the south.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Where to Put the Power Plants

People in the US think that education means elitism, and that it’s somehow ‘wrong’.

I’ve heard that there are parts of the country that have this attitude, but it certainly isn’t true across the whole nation. I only rarely see this where I live, and those that express this opinion are usually laughed at.

At least, that’s the impression in the south.

That’s where I hear that this attitude exists. I would suggest living elsewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Coal power stations

produce far more radioactive waste into the environment than any nuclear power station, not to mention the THOUSANDS to 1 death rate from coal over nuclear in power generation.

you don’t need weapons grade nuclear material for power generation, or anything close to ‘critical mass’.

as for cost, that equation will not last that long after the reserves of fossil fuels are depleted.
Thorium, there is enough in Australia alone to provide the worlds power requirements for the next 1000 years.

much more than the 100 years or so for fossil fuels.

It really is stupid to think fossil fuels are somehow better than nuclear power, a massive loss for our environment, and we are just starting to pay the impossible to fix cost of this stupidity.

TheNamesHaveBeenChanged ToProtectTheInnocent says:

How safe...

Good discussion folks:

I’d suggest doing the bit of math about the mass of SNF, it’s an impressive number.

Fukushima is a glossy example of human failing: old cash cow power plants that have flawed designs like Fukishima’s, where the diesel powered cooling systems failed and the core melted down, are run by humans with a profit motive. The US is relicensing most of its old plants, though some are simply closing because they are not profitable to maintain.

Good luck arguing that the molten cores, SNF, and primary coolant leaks are not a nuclear safety issue, however they happen.

Nuclear power is the poster child for hubris-from “Atoms for Peace” to “Megatons to Megawatts”, we divert fissiles to make bombs to be ‘safe’, we divide the world into haves and have-nots (E.G: Israel, Iran), we tax ourselves to build HEU stockpiles that we then tax ourselves to downblend. Most of the Pu ever reprocessed remains on shelves, hoping no one steals it. The A.Q. Kahns of the world pretty much assure that the means and methods, once developed, will get around to your friends and enemies in time.

I’ve been to Uravan, and boated the Deloras River: Uranium mining in the US is a checkered mess. The Navajo miners’ Radon and Uranium epidimiologies are well documented, and the regions scarce water resources are challenged by new mining plans. As mining goes, Uranium mining is dirtier than most.

No-one with a clue argues that coal is clean: coal combustion puts more radionuclides into the air than the nuclear industry – that coal has a radiation problem has no bearing on whether small nuclear reactors are a good idea.

As one who lives in the Appalachian coal fields, there is a parallel between the coal and nuclear energy industries: the revolving shell game of holdings and liabilities that coal companies employ (try following the ownership of the “Arch Minerals” familiy of businesses), and with the link between undercaptialization and pollution. Look up “L.D. Gorman” and the “2 acre exclusion” to see how small energy producers worked out in the Appalachian coal fields. Basically, post mining remediation never happened, the small operators just went bust. When small nuclear reactor operators go bust, it will be more expensive for the public to redress an underfunded nuclear cleanup than some 2 acre strip job. Given the paucity of strip mine “orphan land” reclamation, there is little to suggest that “orphan reactors” would get cleaned up readily either.

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