Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

Damning refutation of Australian Government plan to join the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems

May 18, 2017

Today, I am taking the unusual step of publishing an entire submission. That’s because it is so good.  The nuclear lobby pulled a swifty on Australians, by having government and media very quietly do what is sure to be a “rubber stamp” job on Australia joining up to the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

They allowed a very short time for submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry. The nuke lobby must have been in the know, as they put in 11, whereas there were only 3, (one mine) critical of the plan.

Fortunately the critical ones contain compelling information. So, here, in full, is the:

Submission from Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation .


• Jim Green (Friends of the Earth, Australia), 0417 318 368

• Dave Sweeney (Australian Conservation Foundation), 0408 317 812


1. Introduction and Response to National Interest Analysis

2. Generation IV Reactor Concepts ‒ Introduction

3. Decades Away

4. Purported Benefits

5. French Government’s IRSN Report

6. US Government Accountability Office Report

7. The Slow Death of Fast Reactors

8. Integral Fast Reactors

9. Thorium 10. Small Modular Reactors 11. Fusion Scientist Debunks Fusion (more…)

Fusion nuclear reactors? Let’s bust the hype!

May 18, 2017

These impediments—together with colossal capital outlay and several additional disadvantages shared with fission reactors—will make fusion reactors more demanding to construct and operate, or reach economic practicality, than any other type of electrical energy generator.

The harsh realities of fusion belie the claims of its proponents of “unlimited, clean, safe and cheap energy.” Terrestrial fusion energy is not the ideal energy source extolled by its boosters, but to the contrary: Its something to be shunned.

Fusion reactors: Not what they’re cracked up to be  Daniel Jassby, 19 Apr 17 Daniel Jassby was a principal research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab until 1999. For 25 years he worked in areas of plasma physics and neutron production related to fusion energy research and development. He holds a PhD in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University.

Fusion reactors have long been touted as the “perfect”energy source. Proponents claim that when useful commercial fusion reactors are developed, they would produce vast amounts of energy with little radioactive waste, forming little or no plutonium byproducts that could be used for nuclear weapons. These pro-fusion advocates also say that fusion reactors would be incapable of generating the dangerous runaway chain reactions that lead to a meltdown—all drawbacks to the current fission schemes in nuclear power plants.

And, a fusion-powered nuclear reactor would have the enormous benefit of producing energy without emitting any carbon to warm up our planet’s atmosphere.

But there is a hitch: While it is, relatively speaking, rather straightforward to split an atom to produce energy (which is what happens in fission), it is a “grand scientific challenge” to fuse two hydrogen nuclei together to create helium isotopes (as occurs in fusion). Our sun constantly does fusion reactions all the time, burning ordinary hydrogen at enormous densities and temperatures. But to replicate that process of fusion here on Earth—where we don’t have the intense pressure created by the gravity of the sun’s core—we would need a temperature of at least 100 million degrees Celsius, or about six times hotter than the sun. In experiments to date the energy input required to produce the temperatures and pressures that enable significant fusion reactions in hydrogen isotopes has far exceeded the fusion energy generated.

But through the use of promising fusion technologies such as magnetic confinement and laser-based inertial confinement, humanity is moving much closer to getting around that problem and achieving that breakthrough moment when the amount of energy coming out of a fusion reactor will sustainably exceed the amount going in, producing net energy. Collaborative, multinational physics project in this area include the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) joint fusion experiment in France which broke ground for its first support structures in 2010, with the first experiments on its fusion machine, or tokamak, expected to begin in 2025.

As we move closer to our goal, however, it is time to ask: Is fusion really a “perfect”energy source? After having worked on nuclear fusion experiments for 25 years at thePrinceton Plasma Physics Lab, I began to look at the fusion enterprise more dispassionately in my retirement. I concluded that a fusion reactor would be far from perfect, and in some ways close to the opposite.

Scaling down the sun.  (more…)

UK’s nuclear waste cleanup costs – up to £219 billion, with development of autonomous robots

March 9, 2017

UK funding development of autonomous robots to help clear up nuclear waste A new UK consortium will be developing robots to handle nuclear sites, bomb disposal, space and mining. International Business Times,     By   February 28, 2017 The UK government is funding a new consortium of academic institutions and industrial partners to jump start the robotics industry and develop a new generation of robots to help deal with situations that are hazardous for humans.

It is estimated that it will cost between £95 billion and £219 billion to clean up the UK’s existing nuclear facilities over the next 120 years or so. The environment is so harsh that humans cannot physically be on the site, and robots that are sent in often encounter problems, like the small IRID Toshiba shape-shifting scorpion robot used to explore Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, often break down and cannot be retrieved.Remote-controlled robots are needed to turn enter dangerous zones that haven’t been accessed in over 40 years to carry out relatively straightforward tasks that a human could do in an instant.

The problem is that robots are just not at the level they need to be yet, and it is very difficult to build a robot that can successfully navigate staircases, move over rough terrain and turn valves.

To fix this problem, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is investing £4.6m ($5.7m) into a new group consisting of the University of Manchester, the University of Birmingham, the University of the West of England (UWE) and industrial partners Sellafield, EDF Energy, UKAEA and NuGen…….

Transatomic Power’s false claims about Generation IV nuclear reactors

March 9, 2017

It’s interesting the way that, for dubious nuclear enterprises, they like to put a young woman at the top. Is this to make the nuclear image look young and trendy? Or is it so they she can cop the flak when it all goes wrong?

Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises The company, backed by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, revised inflated assertions about its advanced reactor design after growing concerns prompted an MIT review. MIT Technology Review by James Temple  February 24, 2017 
Nuclear energy startup Transatomic Power has backed away from bold claims for its advanced reactor technology after an informal review by MIT professors highlighted serious errors in the company’s calculations, MIT Technology Review has learned.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company, founded in 2011 by a pair of MIT students in the Nuclear Science & Engineering department, asserted that its molten salt reactor design could run on spent nuclear fuel from conventional reactors and generate energy far more efficiently than them. In a white paper published in March 2014, the company proclaimed its reactor “can generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor.”

Those lofty claims helped it raise millions in venture capital, secure a series of glowing media profiles (including in this publication), and draw a rock-star lineup of technical advisors. But in a paper on its site dated November 2016, the company downgraded “75 times” to “more than twice.” In addition, it now specifies that the design “does not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel,” or use them as its fuel source. The promise of recycling nuclear waste, which poses tricky storage and proliferation challenges, was a key initial promise of the company that captured considerable attention.

“In early 2016, we realized there was a problem with our initial analysis and started working to correct the error,” cofounder Leslie Dewan said in an e-mail response to an inquiry from MIT Technology Review.

The dramatic revisions followed an analysis in late 2015 by Kord Smith, a nuclear science and engineering professor at MIT and an expert in the physics of nuclear reactors.

At that point, there were growing doubts in the field about the company’s claims and at least some worries that any inflated claims could tarnish the reputation of MIT’s nuclear department, which has been closely associated with the company. Transatomic also has a three-year research agreement with the department, according to earlier press releases.

In reviewing the company’s white paper, Smith noticed immediate red flags. He relayed his concerns to his department head and the company, and subsequently conducted an informal review with two other professors.

“I said this is obviously incorrect based on basic physics,” Smith says. He asked the company to run a test, which ended up confirming that “their claims were completely untrue,” Smith says.

He notes that promising to increase the reactor’s fuel efficiency by 75 times is the rough equivalent of saying that, in a single step, you’d developed a car that could get 2,500 miles per gallon.

Ultimately, the company redid its analysis, and produced and posted a new white paper………

The company has raised at least $4.5 million from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Acadia Woods Partners, and Daniel Aegerter of Armada Investment AG. Venture capital veteran Ray Rothrock serves as chairman of the company.

Founders Fund didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry……

Dispelling the false story about why thorium nuclear reactors were not developed

February 1, 2017

Thorium Reactors: Fact and Fiction, Skeptoid  These next-generation reactors have attracted a nearly cultish following. Is it justified?   by Brian Dunning  Skeptoid Podcast #555  January 24, 2017

Podcast transcript     “………True or False? Thorium reactors were never commercially developed because they can’t produce bomb material.

This is mostly false, although it’s become one of the most common myths about thorium reactors. There are other very good reasons why uranium-fueled reactors were developed commercially instead of thorium-fueled reactors. If something smells like a conspiracy theory, you’re always wise to take a second, closer look.

When we make weapons-grade Pu239 for nuclear weapons, we use special production reactors designed to burn natural uranium, and only for about three months, to avoid contaminating it with Pu240. Only a very few reactors were ever built that can both do that and generate electricity. The rest of the reactors out there that generate electricity could have been any design that was wanted. So why weren’t thorium reactors designed instead? We did have some test thorium-fueled reactors built and running in the 1960s. The real reason has more to do with the additional complexity, design challenges, and expense of these MSBR (molten salt breeder) reactors.

In 1972, the US Atomic Energy Commission published a report on the state of MSBR reactors. Here’s a snippet of what was found:

A number of factors can be identified which tend to limit further industrial involvement at this time, namely:

  • The existing major industrial and utility commitments to the LWR, HTGR, and LMFBR.
  • The lack of incentive for industrial investment in supplying fuel cycle services, such as those required for solid fuel reactors.
  • The overwhelming manufacturing and operating experience with solid fuel reactors in contrast with the very limited involvement with fluid fueled reactors.
  • The less advanced state of MSBR technology and the lack of demonstrated solutions to the major technical problems associated with the MSBR concept.

In short, the technology was just too complicated, and it never became mature enough.

It is, however, mostly true that, if we’re going to use a commercial reactor to get plutonium for a bomb, recycling spent fuel from a uranium reactor is easier, and you can get proper weapons-grade plutonium this way. It is possible to get reactor-grade plutonium from a thorium reactor that can be made into a bomb — one was successfully tested in 1962 — but it’s a much lower yield bomb and it’s much harder to get the plutonium.

The short answer is that reduced weapons proliferation is not the strongest argument for switching from uranium fuel to thorium fuel for power generation. Neither reactor type is what’s typically designed and used for bomb production. Those already exist, and will continue to provide all the plutonium that governments are ever likely to need for that purpose.

There’s every reason to take fossil fuels completely out of our system; we have such absurdly better options. If you’re like me and want to see this approach be a multi-pronged one, one that major energy companies, smaller community providers, and individual homeowners can all embrace, then advocate for nukes. You don’t need to specify thorium or liquid fuel or breeders; they’re already the wave of the future — a future which, I hope, will be clean, bright, and bountiful.

Debunking the myths of the “New Nuclear” lobby

February 1, 2017 by  on 18 December 2015 

Myth: the new generation of nuclear reactors are designed to recycle nuclear waste

BUST: These reactors don’t exist

These reactors often spoken of by advocates of nuclear energy are hypothetical. There are none of these “Generation IV” reactors commercially operating anywhere in the world:

  • Even the demonstration plants are still decades away
    • Various designs are still under investigation on paper and have been for many years.
    • The first demonstration plants are projected to be in operation by 2030-2040, so they are yet to be tested and still many years away.
  • Problems with earlier models
    • The specific type of Generation IV reactor that would recycle waste – the Integral Fast Reactor – only exists on paper, but earlier models of fast reactors have been expensive, underperforming, and have had a history of fires and other accidents, with many countries abandoning the technology.
  • These reactors would still produce some waste
    • The Integral Fast Reactor is called “integral” because it would process used reactor fuel on-site, separating plutonium (a weapons explosive) and other long-lived radioactive isotopes from the used fuel, to be fed back into the reactor. It essentially converts long-lived waste into shorter lived waste. This waste would still remain dangerous for a minimum of 200 years (provided it is not contaminated with high level waste products), so we are still left with a waste problem that spans generations.
  • The theory is that these reactors would eat through global stockpiles of plutonium
    • When thinking about recycling waste it’s important not to confuse recycling existing stockpiles of waste with these reactors perpetually running off of their own waste, which they could also be operated to do. If they ran off their own waste, they would not consume existing waste beyond the initial fuel load.

Myth: nuclear is the only alternative to coal for baseload power

BUST: We don’t need baseload

Baseload describes the minimum amount of electricity required by society at a steady rate. It is argued that renewables cannot provide this constant minimum energy because they are unreliable or variable, because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so we need nuclear energy to replace our coal-fired baseload stations. We don’t need baseload because:

  • Geographic dispersion of renewable energy stations, storage of renewable energy, and demand management can address fluctuations in energy availability from renewable sources
    • Geographic dispersion of renewable energy power stations would address variability. Although one windmill is variable, a system of windfarms in various locations is much less so.
    • Energy storage can also address variability. Solar thermal energy storage is commercially available, not hypothetical, allowing for the dispatch of energy at peak periods or when the sun isn’t shining.
    • A transparent “smart” electricity grid could inform consumers of dips in energy availability and facilitate energy use that takes availability into account.
  • Nuclear power stations are too inflexible to operate alongside a renewable energy mix
    • Baseload stations are designed to operate continuously and cannot be ramped up or down quickly. To accommodate fluctuations in wind and sun, renewables require “back-up” from power stations that can provide energy flexibly, not constantly as traditional baseload does.
    • South Australia is already operating on nearly 40% renewable energy. Nuclear energy is a poor partner for such a high penetration of renewables.

Myth: the nuclear renaissance

BUST: The nuclear industry is in decline

Whilst the Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle is assessing the feasibility of expanding the nuclear industry in SA, the global nuclear industry is stagnating. Rather than a “nuclear renaissance,” there are:

  • Fewer reactors
    • The commonly cited number of reactors currently operating in the world is 437. This includes reactors that have not been operational for over a year. As of October 2015 there are actually 392 operational reactors.
    • These 392 reactors are 46 fewer than the 438 operating in 2002.
    • Further reductions are expected as a significant proportion of the world’s nuclear reactors are ageing – closure of almost half the world’s total is expected by 2040.
  • Fewer reactors being constructed
    • Nuclear plant construction starts have fallen from fifteen in 2010 to three in 2014.
  • No growth in nuclear share of global power generation
    • The nuclear share of global power generation has stagnated over the last three years at 10.8%, after a steady decline from its peak of 17.6% in 1996.
  • Overall decline in global nuclear energy generation
    • Annual global nuclear electricity generation peaked in 2006 at 2660 TWh. In 2014 it was 9.4% lower than 2006 levels.
  • Slow growth compared with renewables
    • Compared with 1997, in 2014, an additional 185 TWh of electricity was produced from solar, 694 TWh from wind, and just 147 TWh from nuclear.
    • Between 2013 and 2014, electricity generation from solar increased by over 38%, for wind power over 10%, and for nuclear power 2.2%

Myth: expansion of the nuclear industry would be good for the economy

BUST: Expansion of any sector would be good for the economy. Why choose a sector which:

  • Has little potential for growth
    • The nuclear renaissance is a myth.
    • Uranium prices remain below the average cost of production and supply continues to exceed demand. In 2012 BHP Billiton shelved its plan to expand the Olympic Dam mine and has since sacked hundreds of workers. In October 2015 the Wiluna uranium mine in Western Australia was put on hold due to the ongoing downturn in demand and prices.
    • The global market in uranium conversion, enrichment & fuel fabrication is already oversupplied.
  • Is likely to increase electricity costs
    • Nuclear energy has very high capital costs and is expensive and heavily subsidised to offset these costs.
    • The UK government has guaranteed the French company EDF AU$173.30 per megawatt-hour generated by the planned Hinckley Point reactors in Somerset, England, for 35 years. This is 2.5 times higher than wholesale electricity prices in Australia.
  • Has serious environmental, health and weapons proliferation risks – comparable employment can be generated in renewable projects, without the associated risks
    • On return from an overseas visit, Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce announced at a press conference on 24th July 2015 that the Canadian nuclear industry accounts for 60, 000 jobs – had he gone to Germany to explore alternatives he would have learnt that the renewables industry there has created nearly 400,000 jobs.

Myth: nuclear energy is zero carbon so we need it to mitigate climate change

BUST: Nuclear energy is not zero carbon

  • This ignores life-cycle CO2 emissions
    • These include emissions from the other stages of nuclear power generation, such as uranium mining, milling, enrichment, transport, reactor construction and decommissioning, and mine site rehabilitation.
    • On average, life cycle emissions from wind and solar thermal are found to be much lower than emissions from nuclear energy, and solar PV comparable or lower (depending on the materials used to make the solar cells).
    • Estimates of the life cycle emissions of nuclear energy vary depending on assumptions made. Assuming no attempt should be made to rehabilitate sites, or that radioactive mine waste will be left above ground rather than buried, pushes emissions estimates for nuclear energy down.
  • Emissions from nuclear energy are set to rise
    • Emissions from nuclear will increase significantly over the next few decades as high grade ore is depleted, and increasing amounts of fossil fuels are required to access, mine and mill low-grade ore.
    • To stay below the 2 degrees of global warming that climate scientists widely agree is necessary to avert catastrophic consequences for humans and physical systems, we need to significantly reduce our emissions by 2050, and to do this we need to start this decade. Nuclear is a slow technology:
    • The “Generation IV” demonstration plants projected for 2030-2040 will be too late, and there is no guarantee the pilots will be successful.
    • Nuclear reactors have long lead up times. The global average construction time for existing technology is 9.4 years, with a wide range from 4 to 36 years.
    • Long delays are common – at least three quarters of all reactors currently under construction are delayed. The Flamanville reactor in France began construction in 2007, with commercial operation projected for 2012 – this timeframe has now been pushed back to the fourth quarter of 2018.
    • It has been estimated that it would take 10 to 15 years to build one nuclear power station in Australia. Once accounting for “paying back” the energy from fossil fuels used to construct it – it would take 15 to 20 years for this station to make a contribution to cutting emissions.
    • Renewables are much faster to roll out. The industry standard for wind is 1 year. The first US large scale solar thermal plant with storage, Solanis, took 3 years to build.

Myth: we can isolate high level radioactive waste from the environment for 200,000 years

BUST: There is no operating dump for high level waste anywhere in the world

The Royal Commission is considering the feasibility of establishing a high level nuclear waste dump in South Australia to store other countries nuclear waste.

  • Even countries that actually have stockpiles of high level waste have not been able to solve this problem
    • There is one deep underground repository for long-lived intermediate level waste in New Mexico – the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Before it opened it was predicted that it may have one radiation release in 200,0000 years. In February 2014, after 15 years in operation, a waste barrel exploded leading to an aboveground release of airborne radiation. Twenty-two workers tested positive to low-level radiation exposure.
  • Australia can’t even manage the waste it has
    • In the late 1990’s the Australian government “cleaned up” the Maralinga nuclear test site, leaving tonnes of plutonium-contaminated debris buried in shallow, unlined pits. In 2011, 19 of the 85 pits containing contaminated debris were found to be subject to erosion or subsidence, including the main Taranaki trench where the radioactive debris from the weapons trials was buried.

Myth: of an empty interior

BUST: The desert isn’t empty

  • Historically the nuclear industry in Australia has disproportionately impacted Aboriginal communities
    • The uranium mining industry in has a track record of stripping Aboriginal communities of their land rights and heritage protections. For example, the Olympic Dam mine is exempt from the Aboriginal Heritage Act that applies elsewhere in the state.
  • Previous attempts to impose nuclear waste dumps on Aboriginal communities in SA and the NT have faced fierce opposition from traditional owners.

Myth: we can import high level waste at a massive profit and turn it into free electricity

BUST: If nuclear waste was such an asset why would other countries pay us to take it?

The idea that nuclear energy can result in free electricity is not a new one. In the 1950’s it was claimed that atomic energy would make electricity “too cheap to meter.” It hasn’t.

  • On what basis have the calculations been made that building the first repository for high level waste in the world and the first Generation IV reactor in the world could be paid for by the money generated from importing nuclear waste?
    • No repository for high level waste has been built anywhere in the world so we don’t know how much this would cost.
    • No Generation IV reactor has been built anywhere in the world so we don’t know how much this would cost.
    • There is no existing market for high level nuclear waste so we don’t know how much this would make.
  • Pursuing a plan to import high level waste for use in a reactor before such a reactor is built is likely to lead to South Australia being left with stockpiles of waste as these reactors are hypothetical at this stage
  • If this hypothetical reactor ran off its own waste, then:
    • It would only alleviate fuel costs not capital costs which would take years to pay off.
    • Very little waste would actually be required as it would not require waste beyond the initial load, potentially leaving SA with stockpiles of high level waste.
  • If this reactor required an ongoing input of waste, then:
    • This waste would become an asset and countries would stop paying SA to take it, again leaving SA with a high level waste problem, or (if indeed SA managed to do what no other country has) a deep geological repository that cost billions to build with no waste to put in it.
    • Another likely scenario is that instead of the waste being treated as an asset, “recycling” it would be treated as a service, with the operator of the reactor charging a fee to dispose of the nuclear waste. The SA government would then be importing waste from overseas only to pay for its disposal. This “service-model” has been proposed by GE Hitachi for its PRISM fast reactor model for the disposal of stockpiles of plutonium in the UK.

Further information: Friends of the Earth Adelaide

Plutonium space operations are a huge danger to the world

February 1, 2017

The problem — a huge one and not mentioned whatsoever by World Nuclear News — involves
accidents with space nuclear power systems releasing radioactivity impacting on people and other life on Earth. That has already happened. With more space nuclear operations, more atomic mishaps would be ahead.

are subject to falling back to Earth and raining deadly radioactivity on human beings and other life on this planet.

The Push for More Spaceborne Nuclear Russian Roulette  HUFFINGTON POST, Karl Grossman, Investigative reporter  07/31/2012
World Nuclear News, the information arm of the World Nuclear Association that seeks to boost the use of atomic energy, last week heralded a NASA Mars rover slated to land on Mars on Monday, the first Mars rover fueled with plutonium.

“A new era of space exploration is dawning through the application of nuclear energy for rovers on Mars and the Moon, power generation at future bases on the surfaces of both and soon for rockets that enable interplanetary travel,” began a dispatch  from World Nuclear News. It was headed: “Nuclear ‘a stepping stone’ to space exploration.”

In fact, in space as on Earth there are safe, clean alternatives to nuclear power. Indeed, right now a NASA space probe energized by solar energy is on its way to Jupiter, a mission which for years NASA claimed could not be accomplished without nuclear power providing onboard electricity. Solar propulsion of spacecraft has begun. And scientists, including those at NASA, have been working on using solar energy and other safe power sources for human colonies on Mars and the moon.

The World Nuclear Association describes itself  as “representing the people and organizations of the global nuclear profession.”….. The problem — a huge one and not mentioned whatsoever by World Nuclear News — involves accidents with space nuclear power systems releasing radioactivity impacting on people and other life on Earth. That has already happened. With more space nuclear operations, more atomic mishaps would be ahead. NASA, before last November’s launch of Curiosity, acknowledged that if the rocket lofting it exploded at launch in Florida, plutonium could be released affecting an area as far as 62 miles away — which includes Orlando. Further, if the rocket didn’t break out of the Earth’s gravitational field, it and the rover would fall back into the atmosphere and break up, potentially releasing plutonium over a massive area. In its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the mission, NASA said  in this situation plutonium could impact on “Earth surfaces between approximately 28-degrees north latitude and 28-degrees south latitude.” That includes Central America and much of South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The EIS said the costs of decontamination of plutonium in areas would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” The Curiosity mission itself, because of $900 million in cost overruns, now has a price of $2.5 billion.

NASA set the odds very low for a plutonium release for Curiosity. The EIS said “overall” on the mission, the likelihood of plutonium being released was 1 in 220. Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space , which has for more than 20 years been the leading opposition group to space nuclear missions, declared that “NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining its dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry. Both entities view space as a new market for the deadly plutonium fuel. … Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima?”

Plutonium has long been described as the most lethal radioactive substance. And the plutonium isotope used in the space nuclear program, and on the Curiosity rover, is significantly more radioactive than the type of plutonium used as fuel in nuclear weapons or built up as a waste product in nuclear power plants. It is Plutonium-238 as distinct from Plutonium-239. Plutonium-238 has a far shorter half-life  — 87.7 years compared to Plutonium-239 with a half-life of 24,110 years. An isotope’s half-life is the period in which half of its radioactivity is expended.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear physicist and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, explains that Plutonium-238 “is about 270 times more radioactive than Plutonium-239 per unit of weight.”….

The worst accident of several involving a Soviet or Russian nuclear space systems was the fall from orbit in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite powered by a nuclear reactor. It also broke up in the atmosphere as it fell, spreading radioactive debris over 77,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada…..

the pressure by promoters of nuclear energy on NASA and space agencies around the world to use atomic energy in space is intense — as is the drive of nuclear promoters on governments and the public for atomic energy on Earth.

Critically, nuclear power systems for space use must be fabricated on Earth — with all the dangers that involves, and launched from Earth — with all the dangers that involves (one out of 100 rockets destruct on launch), and are subject to falling back to Earth and raining deadly radioactivity on human beings and other life on this planet.

Mars travellers risk permanent brain damage from cosmic radiation

November 21, 2016

Mars-goers may face permanent brain damage from cosmic radiation Oct. 12, 2016 Deep space travel could cause serious, irreversible brain damage, NBC News reports. Scientists have long known that leaving Earth’s magnetosphere—the magnetic bubble of plasma surrounding our planet—strips astronauts of their protection from radioactive particles, putting them at higher risk for health issues, including heart disease. Now, a new study out this week in Scientific Reports suggests that changes at the cellular level could also lead to worsened anxiety and even brain cancer. That could be bad news for NASA and other commercial space companies that want to send humans to the Red Planet by 2030. But NASA is working on it: The agency is researching methods to prevent exposure to radiation, which could find their way into new, improved space suits.

Despite the hype, fast nuclear reactors face a gloomy future

November 21, 2016

Nuclear: The slow death of fast reactors Jim Green, 5 Oct 2016, RenewEconomy,

Generation IV ‘fast breeder’ reactors have long been promoted by nuclear enthusiasts, writes Jim Green, but Japan’s decision to abandon the Monju fast reactor is another nail in the coffin for this failed technology.

Fast neutron reactors are “poised to become mainstream” according to the World Nuclear Association. The Association lists eight “current” fast reactors although three of them are not operating. That leaves just five fast reactors ‒ three of them experimental.

Fast reactors aren’t becoming mainstream. One after another country has abandoned the technology. Nuclear physicist Thomas Cochransummarises the history: “Fast reactor development programs failed in the: 1) United States; 2) France; 3) United Kingdom; 4) Germany; 5) Japan; 6) Italy; 7) Soviet Union/Russia 8) U.S. Navy and 9) the Soviet Navy. The program in India is showing no signs of success and the program in China is only at a very early stage of development.”

The latest setback was the decision of the Japanese government at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on September 21 to abandon plans to restart the Monju fast breeder reactor.

Monju reached criticality in 1994 but was shut down in December 1995 after a sodium coolant leak and fire. The reactor didn’t restart until May 2010, and it was shut down again three months later after a fuel handling machine was accidentally dropped in the reactor during a refuelling outage. In November 2012, it was revealed that Japan Atomic Energy Agency had failed to conduct regular inspections of almost 10,000 out of a total 39,000 pieces of equipment at Monju, including safety-critical equipment.

In November 2015, the Nuclear Regulation Authority declared that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency was “not qualified as an entity to safely operate” Monju. Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said on 21 September 2016 that attempts to find an alternative operator have been unsuccessful.

The government has already spent 1.2 trillion yen (US$12bn) on Monju. The government calculated that it would cost another 600 billion yen (US$6bn) to restart Monju and keep it operating for another 10 years.

Decommissioning also has a hefty price-tag ‒ far more than for conventional light-water reactors. According to a 2012estimate by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, decommissioning Monju will cost an estimated 300 billion yen (US$3bn).

India’s failed fast reactor program   India’s fast reactor program has been a failure. The budget for the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) was approved in 1971 but the reactor was delayed repeatedly, attaining first criticality in 1985. It took until 1997 for the FBTR to start supplying a small amount of electricity to the grid. The FBTR’s operations have been marred by several accidents.

Preliminary design work for a larger Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) began in 1985, expenditures on the reactor began in 1987/88 and construction began in 2004 ‒ but the reactor still hasn’t started up. Construction has taken more than twice the expected period. In July 2016, the Indian government announced yet another delay, and there is scepticism that the scheduled start-up in March 2017 will be realised. The PFBR’s cost estimate has gone up by 62%.

India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has for decades projected the construction of hundreds of fast reactors ‒ for example a 2004 DAE document projected 262.5 gigawatts (GW) of fast reactor capacity by 2050. But India has a track record of making absurd projections for both fast reactors and light-water reactors ‒ and failing to meet those targets by orders of magnitude.

Academic M.V. Ramana writes: “Breeder reactors have always underpinned the DAE’s claims about generating large quantities of electricity. Today, more than six decades after the grand plans for growth were first announced, that promise is yet to be fulfilled. The latest announcement about the delay in the PFBR is yet another reminder that breeder reactors in India, like elsewhere, are best regarded as a failed technology and that it is time to give up on them.”

Russia’s snail-paced program  Russia’s fast reactor program is the only one that could be described as anything other than an abject failure. But it hasn’t been a roaring success either.

Three fast reactors are in operation in Russia ‒ BOR-60 (start-up in 1969), BN-600 (1980) and BN-800 (2014). There have been 27sodium leaks in the BN-600 reactor, five of them in systems with radioactive sodium, and 14 leaks were accompanied by burning of sodium.

The Russian government published a decree in August 2016 outlining plans to build 11 new reactors over the next 14 years. Of the 11 proposed new reactors, three are fast reactors: BREST-300 near Tomsk in Siberia, and two BN-1200 fast reactors near Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk, near the Ural mountains. However, like India, the Russian government has a track record of projecting rapid and substantial nuclear power expansion ‒ and failing miserably to meet the targets.

As Vladimir Slivyak recently noted in Nuclear Monitor: “While Russian plans looks big on paper, it’s unlikely that this program will be implemented. It’s very likely that the current economic crisis, the deepest in history since the USSR collapsed, will axe the most of new reactors.”

While the August 2016 decree signals new interest in reviving the BN-1200 reactor project, it was indefinitely suspended in 2014, with Rosatom citing the need to improve fuel for the reactor and amid speculation about the cost-effectiveness of the project.

In 2014, Rosenergoatom spokesperson Andrey Timonov said the BN-800 reactor, which started up in 2014, “must answer questions about the economic viability of potential fast reactors because at the moment ‘fast’ technology essentially loses this indicator [when compared with] commercial VVER units.”


China’s program going nowhere fast   Australian nuclear lobbyist Geoff Russell cites the World Nuclear Association(WNA) in support of his claim that China expect fast reactors “to be dominating the market by about 2030 and they’ll be mass produced.”

Does the WNA paper support the claim? Not at all. China has a 20 MWe experimental fast reactor, which operated for a total of less than one month in the 63 months from criticality in July 2010 to October 2015. For every hour the reactor operated in 2015, it was offline for five hours, and there were three recorded reactor trips.

China also has plans to build a 600 MWe ‘Demonstration Fast Reactor’ and then a 1,000 MWe commercial-scale fast reactor. Whether those reactors will be built remains uncertain ‒ the projects have not been approved ‒ and it would be another giant leap from a single commercial-scale fast reactor to a fleet of them.

According to the WNA, a decision to proceed with or cancel the 1,000 MWe fast reactor will not be made until 2020, and if it proceeds, construction could begin in 2028 and operation could begin in about 2034.

So China might have one commercial-scale fast reactor by 2034 ‒ but probably won’t. Russell’s claim that fast reactors will be “dominating the market by about 2030” is unbridled jiggery-pokery.

According to the WNA, China envisages 40 GW of fast reactor capacity by 2050. A far more likely scenario is that China will have 0 GW of fast reactor capacity by 2050. And even if the 40 GW target was reached, it would still only represent aroundone-sixth of total nuclear capacity in China in 2050 ‒ fast reactors still wouldn’t be “dominating the market” even if capacity grows by orders of magnitude from 0.02 GW (the experimental reactor that is usually offline) to 40 GW.

 Travelling-waves and the non-existent ‘integral fast reactor’

Perhaps the travelling-wave fast reactor popularised by Bill Gates will come to the rescue? Or perhaps not. According to theWNA, China General Nuclear Power and Xiamen University are reported to be cooperating on R&D, but the Ministry of Science and Technology, China National Nuclear Corporation, and the State Nuclear Power Technology Company are all skeptical of the travelling-wave reactor concept.

Perhaps the ‘integral fast reactor’ (IFR) championed by James Hansen will come to the rescue? Or perhaps not. The UK and US governments have been considering building IFRs (specifically GE Hitachi’s ‘PRISM’ design) for plutonium disposition ‒ but it is almost certain that both countries will choose different methods to manage plutonium stockpiles.

In South Australia, nuclear lobbyists united behind a push for IFRs/PRISMs, and they would have expected to persuade a stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission to endorse their ideas. But the Royal Commission completely rejected the proposal, noting in its May 2016report that advanced fast reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.

A future for fast reactors?

Just 400 reactor-years of worldwide experience have been gained with fast reactors. There is 42 times more experience with conventional reactors (16,850 reactor-years). And most of the experience with fast reactors suggests they are more trouble than they are worth.

Apart from the countries mentioned above, there is very little interest in pursuing fast reactor technology. Germany, the UK and the UScancelled their prototype breeder reactor programs in the 1980s and 1990s.

France is considering building a fast reactor (ASTRID) despite the country’s unhappy experience with the Phénix and Superphénix reactors. But a decision on whether to construct ASTRID will not be made until 2019/20.

The performance of the Superphénix reactor was as dismal as Monju. Superphénix was meant to be the world’s first commercial fast reactor but in the 13 years of its miserable existence it rarely operated ‒ its ‘Energy Unavailability Factor’ was 90.8% according to the IAEA. Note that the fast reactor lobbyists complain about the intermittency of wind and solar!

A 2010 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists summarised the worldwide failure of fast reactor technology: “After six decades and the expenditure of the equivalent of about $100 billion, the promise of breeder reactors remains largely unfulfilled. … The breeder reactor dream is not dead, but it has receded far into the future. In the 1970s, breeder advocates were predicting that the world would have thousands of breeder reactors operating this decade. Today, they are predicting commercialization by approximately 2050.”

Allison MacFarlane, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recently made this sarcastic assessment of fast reactor technology: “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build. Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”

While fast reactors face a bleak future, the rhetoric will persist. Australian academic Barry Brook wrote a puff-piece about fast reactors for the Murdoch press in 2009. On the same day he said on his website that “although it’s not made abundantly clear in the article”, he expects conventional reactors to play the major role for the next two to three decades but chose to emphasise fast reactors “to try to hook the fresh fish”.

So that’s the nuclear lobbyists’ game plan − making overblown claims about fast reactors and other Generation IV reactor concepts, pretending that they are near-term prospects, and being less than “abundantly clear” about the truth.

Dr Jim Green is the national anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter published by the World Information Service on Energy.

As a method of dealing with radioactive wastes, nuclear reprocessing is a failure

November 21, 2016

Where will SA put lethal nuclear waste?, BD Live, BY NEIL OVERY  SEPTEMBER 20 2016, “……THE UK’s Thorp reprocessing plant, built at great cost in the 1990s, is due to close in 2018, leaving a decommissioning nightmare estimated to take at least 100 years to complete, at huge cost. In Japan, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which was due to open in 2008 at a cost of R100bn, has yet to open and has so far cost nearly R400bn over a 26-year period.

France, the only country that reprocesses nuclear fuel on a significant scale, has only been able to do so because of a huge subsidy from the state-owned energy company, EDF.

Despite initial hopes, a large quantity of highly radioactive waste that still needs disposing remains after processing. There are also serious security considerations, because reprocessing high-level waste results in the creation of separated plutonium, which could be stolen and worked into a simple, dirty bomb. The very existence of separated plutonium eases nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear proponents often champion so-called “fast reactors” as a different form of reprocessing that could solve the waste problem. These reactors are designed to burn more plutonium than they breed.

But after 50 years of research and vast expense, not one has operated commercially due to the high costs associated with running them and the fact that they still produce significant quantities of high-level waste that needs disposal. Due to these chronic limitations, most have closed down.

The Kalkar fast reactor in Germany, which cost R100bn to build, never operated and was sold at a huge loss in 1995 and converted into an amusement park.

The US National Academy of Sciences stated in 2008 that the reprocessing of nuclear fuel makes nuclear energy “more expensive, more proliferation-prone and more controversial”……

The US has tried, and after spending the equivalent of R1.4-trillion, has given up. In 2002, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was identified as the site for an underground repository for high-level waste. Despite tens of thousands of pages of scientific research and countless investigations, no agreement has been reached about whether it is safe to store high-level nuclear waste underground. The site was closed in 2011 by the Obama administration.

In Onkalo, Finland, a R75bn underground repository is being built, despite significant opposition.

Similar options are being considered in the UK, France and Sweden.

No one knows, however, if waste can be stored safely underground for tens of thousands of years……..