Archive for June, 2012

Cyber weapons – the new arms race

June 24, 2012

Atomic scientists compare cyberwar to development of nuclear bomb Cyberbombs are the new atom bombs. Fox News, 15 June 12,  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned Friday that the race to build and deploy cyberweapons — secret programs only recently discovered by security researchers, the extent of which is not yet fully known — closely resembles the race to build the first nuclear weapons. (more…)

Very low dose radiation increases children’s risk of leukaemia

June 24, 2012

Natural gamma rays linked to childhood leukaemia,University of Oxford, 12 June 12,  A small but statistically significant link between risk of childhood leukaemia and the gamma rays we are all exposed to from our natural environment has been detected in a very large study led by Oxford University researchers.

Exposure to gamma rays from natural sources in the environment isn’t something that can readily be altered, but the study adds to our understanding of the small cancer risks associated with other low doses of radiation, such as from medical X-rays and CT scans. The findings demonstrate that there are small effects of radiation at very low doses.

Guidelines on exposure to low doses of radiation have largely been based on estimated risks from models using data from Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs, where radiation exposures were brief and very much higher. As a result, there have been some long-standing uncertainties about the extrapolation of these risks to low radiation doses.

The researchers conclude that the size of the increased risk of childhood leukaemia with natural gamma-ray exposure is consistent with these models and supports their continued use in radiation protection. The results of the study contradict the idea that there are no adverse radiation effects, or might even be beneficial effects, at these very low doses and dose rates. (more…)

USA’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear spending – it’s all controlled by military interests

June 24, 2012

The Nuclear Weapons Industry’s Money Bombs, How millions in campaign cash and revolving-door lobbying have kept America’s atomic arsenal off the chopping block. Mother Jones, By R. Jeffrey Smith, Center for Public
Integrity   Jun. 6, 2012
  Employees of private companies that produce the main pieces of the US nuclear arsenal have invested more than $18 million in the election campaigns of lawmakers that oversee related federal
spending, and the companies also employ more than 95 former members of Congress or Capitol Hill staff to lobby for government funding, according to a new report. (more…)

Don’t play Russian roulette with nuclear power – closing reactors is also cheaper than dealing with accidents

June 24, 2012
Europe’s approach is the prudent one…….America’s approach is to play russian roulette with 105 reactors that are already showing plenty of signs of serious wear and tear 
 by Geoffrey Small,6/9/2012  The article (How hard is it to dismantle 150 nuclear reactors?)  fails to put costs and risks in their proper perspective. The cost of de-commissioning a nuclear plant is easily 1 billion euros or dollars. And no, these costs are never honestly factored in by the nuclear industry when accounting for costs per kw/hr or new-build construction bids.
But they are actually puny when faced with a major nuclear accident. At current best estimates today, Fukushima will cost well over 250 billion dollars. Not 1 but 250 billion. That’s a quarter of a trillion dollars.
And there are a truckload of unpredictable complications that could further push that estimate much higher, including another major accident involving the still-vulnerable spent fuel rod pools at reactors 3 and 4. And that is only for a single major accident. (more…)

The task of closing down Europe’s nuclear reactors

June 24, 2012

How hard is it to dismantle 150 nuclear reactors?  Europe is about to find out http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/how-hard-is-it-to-dismantle-150-nuclear-reactors-europes-about-to-find-out/2012/06/09/gJQA2EH0PV_blog.html
Brad Plumer, 06/09/2012  Last year, after the tsunami and reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, many European nations decided to phase out their existing fleets of nuclear power plants. Germany and Belgium are aiming to end all atomic generation by 2030. Switzerland is shooting for 2035.

Not so easy to get rid of.  Yet the mere act of shutting down those reactors is going to pose a huge challenge in the years ahead. According to a new report  from GlobalData, Europe is on track to decommission nearly 150 nuclear power plants in the next two decades. Some, like those in Germany, are being mothballed for political reasons. Others, in France and Britain, are simply getting old. Yet dismantling a nuclear reactor is an arduous, time-consuming task — typically costing between $400 million and $1 billion per plant. And it’s not clear that Europe is fully prepared for the onslaught of (more…)

World’s nuclear reactors in operation – now around 400, but down to 200 by 2030

June 24, 2012

GlobalData’s report shows that more than 200 nuclear power stations across the world are expected to be closed by 2030, almost half of the number that are currently in operation.

Europe to Decommission Majority of Nuclear Power Stations by 2030    http://www.globaldata.com/PressReleaseDetails.aspx?PRID=174&Type=Industry&companyID=jpr Europe to Decommission Majority of Nuclear Power Stations by 2030 While US Bucks Global Trend   06 Jun 2012

Europe expects to decommission almost 150 of its nuclear power plants by 2030, while the US has granted life extensions to 71 and chosen to close only five, according to a report by experts in energy GlobalData.

The new report* shows that the figure for Europe accounts for nearly 69% of the total global number of expected nuclear power reactor closures by 2030, the largest amount for any region. Baring any changes, the European commercial nuclear decommissioning market value stands at $81,484m. (more…)

Origin of the idea of Thorium nuclear reactors

June 10, 2012

Are New Types of Reactors Needed for the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance? Scientific American By David Biello  | February 19, 2010  “……….Fears of such a uranium shortage led India, which has limited natural supplies of the nuclear fuel, to explore another fissile element, thorium, as an alternative. Wrapping highly fissile plutonium in a thorium blanket could produce enough nuclear fuel indefinitely, according to the vision laid out by the architect of India’s nuclear program, physicist Homi J. Bhabha, in 1954. The Indian government is currently building such a prototype fast breeder reactor, despite limited success with a precursor, said Princeton physicist M. V. Ramana during the IPFM call. “The cost of electricity is 80 percent higher than from heavy-water reactors,” he added. Uranium prices would need to increase 15-fold from current levels of roughly $80 per kilogram to make it economically attractive…..

Fast-neutron reactors would not improve the economics of nuclear power based on past experience, ….

As far back as 1956, Adm. Hyman Rickover, who oversaw both the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion efforts as well as the dawn of the civilian nuclear power industry, cited such sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors as “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.” That judgment remains despite six decades and $100 billion of global effort, according to physicist Michael Dittmar of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who wrote, “ideas about near-future commercial fission breeder reactors are nothing but wishful thinking” in a November 2009 analysis.

“For that $100 billion we did learn some things,” remarked physicist Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, during the IPFM call. “We learned that fast reactors were going to cost substantially more than light-water reactors…[and]…that, relative to thermal reactors, they’re not very reliable.”….

And even if a fleet of fast-neutron reactors were built, Cochran noted, “you’re not going to eliminate the need for a geologic repository.”   http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-new-types-of-reactors-needed-for-nuclear-renaissance

– Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors (IFRs), including Thorium ones

June 10, 2012

Are New Types of Reactors Needed for the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance? Scientific American By David Biello  | February 19, 2010 |  “……  struggles to find a permanent resting place for nuclear waste has prompted some to resurrect an idea that stretches back to the Manhattan Project: so-called fast-neutron reactors that can consume nuclear waste through fission. Whether it is billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates touting a new design for a traveling-wave reactor or the South Korean government promoting spent fuel reprocessing and fast breeder reactors, observers and governments seem to think it is time to reconsider fast reactors—despite the fact that the designs have a mixed track record. Since the 1950s, roughly $100 billion has been spent on the research and development of such reactors around the world, yet there is currently only one producing electricity—the BN-600 reactor in Russia, operational since 1980…..

Going fast with sodium
The most prevalent type of fast-neutron reactor, so-called because the neutrons used to initiate the fission chain reaction are traveling faster than neutrons moderated bywater in conventional nuclear reactors, operate at temperatures as high as 550 degrees Celsius and use liquid sodium instead of water as a coolant. Sodium burns explosively when exposed to either air or water, necessitating elaborate safety controls…..

But attempts to make that technology commercial have largely failed, mostly because of difficulties with controlling sodium fires and the steam generators that transfer heat from the sodium to water…….

The French Superphenix sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor operated successfully for more than a decade—but only produced electricity 7 percent of the time, “one of the lowest load factors in nuclear history,” said nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider, an IPFM member during the call. An accident at the plant cost one engineer his life and injured four other people when a leftover tank with roughly 100 kilograms of sodium residue exploded, according to Schneider.

Further, such reactors require that the spent nuclear fuel be reprocessed, a technical program that involves extracting plutonium and other fissile materials from the depleted uranium fuel rods. Such elements can then be used in the fast-neutron reactor or mixed with uranium to form so-called mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and deployed in a more traditional nuclear reactor. The U.S. had such a program until the 1970s that was briefly resuscitated by the second Bush administration; it was again shelved by the Obama administration in 2009.

Of course, such plutonium and highly enriched uranium are also exactly the isotopes used to fashion nuclear weapons, making the materials security threats. Already, the world has roughly 250 metric tons of such spare plutonium stockpiled, largely concentrated in the U.K. and France, that has been reprocessed but never used as nuclear reactor fuel. That’s enough to make 30,000 “Nagasaki-size” nuclear bombs, according to von Hippel……..

Fears of such a uranium shortage led India, which has limited natural supplies of the nuclear fuel, to explore another fissile element, thorium, as an alternative. Wrapping highly fissile plutonium in a thorium blanket could produce enough nuclear fuel indefinitely, according to the vision laid out by the architect of India’s nuclear program, physicist Homi J. Bhabha, in 1954. The Indian government is currently building such a prototype fast breeder reactor, despite limited success with a precursor, said Princeton physicist M. V. Ramana during the IPFM call. “The cost of electricity is 80 percent higher than from heavy-water reactors,” he added. Uranium prices would need to increase 15-fold from current levels of roughly $80 per kilogram to make it economically attractive…..

Fast-neutron reactors would not improve the economics of nuclear power based on past experience, ….

As far back as 1956, Adm. Hyman Rickover, who oversaw both the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion efforts as well as the dawn of the civilian nuclear power industry, cited such sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors as “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.” That judgment remains despite six decades and $100 billion of global effort, according to physicist Michael Dittmar of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who wrote, “ideas about near-future commercial fission breeder reactors are nothing but wishful thinking” in a November 2009 analysis.

“For that $100 billion we did learn some things,” remarked physicist Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, during the IPFM call. “We learned that fast reactors were going to cost substantially more than light-water reactors…[and]…that, relative to thermal reactors, they’re not very reliable.”….

And even if a fleet of fast-neutron reactors were built, Cochran noted, “you’re not going to eliminate the need for a geologic repository.”   http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-new-types-of-reactors-needed-for-nuclear-renaissance

How USA and Israel devised computer worm to attack Iran’s nukes

June 4, 2012

Obama ‘gave full backing to Stuxnet attack on Iran’   http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/onepercent/2012/06/obama-gave-full-backing-to-stu.html  1 June 2012 When George W Bush handed over the presidential reins to Barack Obama in 2008, he asked that the incoming man continue running what he regarded as two of his administration’s most promising security programs: the remotely-piloted drone war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan – and the development of a cyberweapon nicknamed ‘the bug’, aimed at destroying Iran’s nascent nuclear capability.

Obama agreed – but we have now come to know that bug by another name: Stuxnet.

This revelation is at the heart of an apparently impeccably-sourced book due to be published in the US on 5 June. In Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, author David Sanger alleges that Stuxnet, which eventually wrecked hundreds of uranium centrifuges in Iran in 2010, was created by cyberweapons experts at the US National Security Agency in collaboration with ‘Unit 8200′, a cyber operation of Israeli intelligence. (more…)

Affordable distributed solar energy for the world’s poor

June 4, 2012

Barefoot Power’s products are brightening up the lives of those with limited or no access to grid power.  Products range from single desk lamps to complete kits for use by homes, clinics and schools. With good links to microfinance organisations and exceptional customer care, Barefoot has sold more than 400,000 lanterns and lighting kits to two million rural poor in Africa,Asia Pacific, India and the Americas. 

Solar power pioneer wins global green energy award, PR Wire 1 June 12,  A company specialising in providing affordable solar power products to remote rural communities has won a coveted Ashden Award for its work in Africa.

Barefoot Power was awarded some £20,000 in prize money at a prestigious ceremony in London this evening after joining other Award winners at a meeting with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at Clarence House in the morning.

The Ashden judges said: “With its astonishing sales figures, Barefoot is a fantastic example of a market-led solution to bringing renewable electricity to Africa’s rural poor. Through its network of micro-entrepreneurs it is overcoming the barriers of how to access remote communities and how to make solar power affordable.” (more…)