Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

Australian Greens REJECT Australia joining Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession

July 24, 2017
Dissenting Report – Australian Greens, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young Australian Greens Senator, 
While not always supporting the outcomes, the Australian Greens have acknowledged previous JSCOT inquiries on nuclear issues for their diligence and prudence. We are disappointed on this occasion to submit a dissenting report into the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession. The inquiry process into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems has been unduly rushed and lacked adequate public hearings or detailed analysis and reflection of public submissions. This is particularly disturbing given that this inquiry relates to public spending for an undefined period of time towards a technology that is prohibited in Australia.
The Australian Greens’ dissent to Report 171 (Section 4: Generation IV Nuclear Energy Accession) is based on a range of grounds, including:
The lack of transparency regarding the costs to the Australian taxpayer over an undefined period of time;
The technology that this agreement relates to is prohibited under Australian law and its promotion is inconsistent with the public and national interest;
The lack of consideration of the global energy trends away from nuclear technology;
The lack of procedural fairness in refusing adequate public hearings and consideration of public submissions;
An unjustified reliance on the submissions from the highly partisan Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The Australian Greens note that ANSTO is not a disinterested party in this policy arena. Furthermore, ANSTO has made a number of unfounded assertions, particularly regarding the Agreement’s impact on Australia’s standing on nuclear non-proliferation.

Unchecked capacity and resourcing

The timeframe for the agreement is loosely stated as being between 10 and 40 years. Over this period there is a commitment for Australia to pledge resources and capacity at the expense of Australian taxpayers. In exchange for this undefined public expense for an undefined period of time, there is no clear public benefit – given that the technology is, properly and popularly, prohibited in this country.
Point 4.20 states that the Framework is in essence about spreading the significant costs associated with the development of Generation IV reactors. In public submissions made to JSCOT there are detailed cost estimates for individual projects that are all in the range of billions of dollars. There have been numerous delays, cost constraints and problems with the various types of reactors described as Generation IV. While some countries continue to pursue this technology, there is no clear end-game in sight and many nations are stepping away from this sector. Most Generation IV reactors only exist on paper while some others are modified plans of expensive failed projects but are still just conceptual.
It is understandable that countries who are invested in Generation IV would seek to transfer costs and inflate the potential benefits. It is unreasonable, however, for a Government agency to commit Australian resources to fund and develop this technology which is decades away from being anything more than a concept.
ANSTO submits in the National Interest Analysis that the “costs of participation in the Systems Arrangements will be borne by ANSTO from existing funds”. The Australian Greens note that in the last financial year ANSTO reported a loss of $200 million (including $156 million in subsidies). The commitment of funds and resourcing from an agency that operates with an existing deficit that is already funded by the Australian people is fiscally irresponsible and has not been investigated through the JSCOT process.
The Australian Greens maintain that there is a particular need for the rationale of any contested public expenditure to be rigorously tested. Sadly, this Committee has failed in this role.
Point 4.24 of the report states that “Australia was required to demonstrate that it could contribute to the research and development goals of the GIF” yet the inquiry process failed to establish exactly what form those contributions will take and the cost of those contributions to the Australian people.

Prohibited Technology

Point 4.39 on the question of nuclear power in Australia brushes aside the fundamental issue that the future of nuclear energy in Australia is entirely dependent on changing Commonwealth laws.
Report 171 section 4 fails to acknowledge that the technology in question is prohibited under two separate pieces of Commonwealth legislation:
Section 37J of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
Section 10 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.
These Acts reflect considered positions, public opinion and the environmental and economic risk associated with nuclear technology which has repeatedly proved to be dangerous and expensive. The position reflected in these laws has been repeatedly reiterated in subsequent Government reports into the technology and prospects for development in Australia. For example:
The Switkowski Report – Uranium Mining, Processing, and Nuclear Energy – opportunities for Australia? (2006)
The Australian Power Generation Technology Report – Summary (Nov 2015)
Department of Energy and Science Energy White Paper (2015)
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (South Australia) (May 2016)
These reports all arrive at the same conclusion: that there is no case to develop nuclear power in Australia, albeit for different reasons. These reasons include costs, time constraints, legal constraints, public opposition, restrictions on availability of water and other environmental factors.

Lack of Procedural Fairness and over reliance on evidence from ANSTO

ANSTO has pursued this agreement, signed the agreement, will be responsible for enacting the agreement, drove the National Interest Analysis and were the only agency invited to present at a hearing. This agency is publicly funded, has run at a deficit, and is seeking to further commit Australian resources to a technology that is not only unpopular but is prohibited under Australian legislation.
There is a wide range of experts and public interest groups who have lodged detailed submissions and requested an audience with the Committee to offer some scrutiny and balance to the highly selective view of Generation IV options presented by ANSTO.
These submissions are barely mentioned in Report 171 and additional public hearings were denied. This level secrecy and denial of procedural fairness is of grave concern and, while out of character for JSCOT, is very much in line with the secrecy synonymous with ANSTO and the wider nuclear industry.

Australia’s accessibility to nuclear technology and standing on nuclear non-proliferation

ANSTO claim in the NIA that a failure to accede “would impede Australia’s ability to remain constructively engaged in international nuclear activities and would limit our ability to forge links with international experts at a time when a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway……. It would diminish Australia’s standing in international nuclear non-proliferation and our ability to influence international nuclear policy developments in accordance with our national economic and security interests.”
The Australian Greens understand that Australia currently pays $10 million per annum to the International Atomic Energy Agency which grants us access to the safety and regulatory fora and to publicly published research. Where there is a commercial interest in the technology this would no doubt be made available to Australia at a price – but a price not borne by the taxpayer in this crude subsidy by stealth proposed in report 171 (Section 4).
Claims that our failure to accede would somehow diminish our standing on nuclear non-proliferation are absurd. While the industry might promote Generation IV as addressing issues of nuclear non-proliferation there is little concrete evidence that it can or ever would be done. It was the same promise industry proponents made about Generation III reactors and failed to deliver.
Australia’s standing on nuclear non-proliferation is currently being diminished because this Government is actively boycotting the current UN process supported by 132 nations on negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, not because our country has not been funding research into nuclear power.
The Australian Greens fundamentally dissent from this Committee’s findings and believe that no compelling or credible case has been made to proceed with the treaty action. Rushed, limited and opaque decision making processes are a poor basis for public funding allocations in a contested policy arena.

Nuclear agency secretly signed Australia up to The Generation IV Nuclear Energy Framework with no parliamentary discussion

July 24, 2017

Submission to:  Inquiry: The Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession. by Noel Wauchope, 24 April 2017

First of all, I find it very strange that this agreement has been signed up to in advance, not by any elected representative of the Australian Parliament, but by Dr Adi Patterson CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, apparently pre-empting the results of this Inquiry!

I find it disturbing that this Inquiry is being held without any public information or discussion. Are we to assume that the decision to join this “Charter” is being taken without prior public knowledge?

It is a pretty momentous decision. According to the World Nuclear Association the 2005 Framework agreement “formally commits them (signatories) to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.”

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 currently prohibits the development of nuclear power in Australia. Nuclear power cannot be approved under either the EPBC Act or the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998.  These prohibitions are, as I understand it,  supported by all major parties in Australia?

This would be an extraordinary step for Australia to take, especially in the light of the recent South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) pro-nuclear Royal Commission, which, while recommending South Australia for an international nuclear waste dump, nevertheless stated that

The recent conclusion of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which issued updated projections for fast reactor and innovative systems in January 2014, suggests the most advanced system will start a demonstration phase (which involves completing the detailed design of a prototype system and undertaking its licensing, construction and operation) in about 2021. The demonstration phase is expected to last at least 10 years and each system demonstrated will require funding of several billion US dollars. As a result, the earliest possible date for the commercial operation of fast reactor and other innovative reactor designs is 2031. This timeframe is subject to significant project, technical and funding risk. It extends by six years a similar assessment undertaken by GIF in 2002. This means that such designs could not realistically be ready for commercial deployment in South Australia or elsewhere before the late 2030s, and possibly later.”

This was hardly a ringing endorsement of Generation IV nuclear reactors.

The South Australian Citizens Jury, Community Consultations, numerous economists, and the S.A. Liberal Party all rejected that nuclear waste plan, as not economically viable.  A huge amount of preparation was done by the NFCRC in investigating the phases of the nuclear Fuel Cycle (more accurately Chain) to arrive at their rather negative view of Generation IV nuclear reactors.

That makes it all the more extraordinary that the Australian government would be willing to sign up so quickly to ANSTO’s request that Australia put resources into these untested, and so far, non-existent nuclear technologies.

I hope that the Committee is aware of the present financial troubles of the giant nuclear corporations, such as AREVA, Toshiba, and Westinghouse Electric. Nuclear power is turning out to be a financial liability wherever it is not funded by the tax-payer, (as in China and Russia). (1)

The World Nuclear Association describes the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) as countries for whom nuclear energy is significant now or seen as vital in the future. Australia’s situation in no way fits these criteria.

Nuclear energy is not significant now in Australia, and even the NRCRC nuclear proponents do not see it as vital for Australia’s future. It is almost laughable, that right now, renewable energy systems are taking off in Australia – both as large solar and wind farms, and as a huge increase in small decentralised systems such as home and business solar panel installations.

That’s where Australia should be putting its resources of human energy, talent, and funding.

The claims made by the nuclear lobby, ANSTO and some politicians, notably Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop, about Generation Iv nuclear reactors, do not stand up to scrutiny:

Non proliferation “-   Furthering Australia’s non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives.” The well-known claim that a “conventional” nuclear bomb cannot be made from these new types of reactor, might be true, to a certain extent. However, IFRs and other plutonium-based nuclear power concepts fail the WMD proliferation test, i.e. they can too easily be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The use of thorium as a nuclear fuel doesn’t solve the WMD proliferation problem. Irradiation of thorium (indirectly) produces uranium-233, a fissile material which can be used in nuclear weapons.  These materials can be used to make a “dirty bomb” – irradiating a city or other target.  They would require the same expensive security measures that apply with conventional nuclear reactors.

If the purpose in joining the GIF is to strengthen non-proliferation and safety – why is ANSTO the implementing agent not the Australia Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office?

Solving nuclear waste problem? Claims that these new nuclear reactors will solve the problem of nuclear wastes are turning out to be spurious. For example, 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. (2) Even at the best of times, the “new nuclear” lobby admits that their Gen IV reactors will produce highly toxic radioactive wastes, requiring security for up to 300 years.
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. (3)

Climate change. The claim that new nuclear power will solve climate change is spurious. This ignores life-cycle CO2 emissions

Nuclear energy is not zero carbon.

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 Economics. For “a time when significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway” – this is a laughable falsehood. In reality, nuclear power economics are in a state of crisis, most notably in America, but it is a world-wide slowdown. (4)

The vagueness of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) agreement is a worry. Australia is to formally commit to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D.  Surely Australia is not going to sign up to this, without any detail on what kind of research, what kind of reactor, what amount of funding we would be committing to the GIF.

And all this without any public discussion!

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/11/toshiba-losses-uk-moorside-nuclear-plant-westinghouse
  2.  https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy- startup-transatomic-backtracks-on-key-promises/
  3. https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4555
  4.  http://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-industry-crisis-29735/

 

Crushing rejection, from medical association, of Australia joining the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems

July 24, 2017

Here’s another fine submission to Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia joining the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems . This one blows out of the water any idea that these so far non existent reactors could solve any nuclear waste problem, or be in any way economically viable.  It also throws the spotlight on The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Just how much of tax-payers’ money is going to this secretive organisation?

The latest reason for generation IV reactors centres on the unsolved problem of how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The proposition is that plutonium and other long lived transuranics in reactor fuel (that like plutonium also create a disposal problem) could be used up in so called “burner” reactors.

Analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences found this proposal to have such very high cost and so little benefit that it would take hundreds of years of recycling to reduce most of the global inventory.

Should ANSTO propose collaboration can occur without further cost to the taxpayer, then a funding review should be conducted to establish what research is already being done by ANSTO, at what cost, for what purpose and at whose behest. With an average loss of A$200 million annually, ANSTO should be able to provide disaggregated accounts for both transparency and accountability.

Generation IV Nuclear Energy – Accession  Submission Medical Association for Prevention of War  (MAPW) PO Box 1379, Carlton VIC 3053 Australia (03) 9023 195 m. 0431 475 465 e. eo@mapw.org.au w. http://www.mapw.org.au

Executive Summary

MAPW recommends strongly against Australia becoming a party to this agreement. There is no proposal for Australia to get a nuclear power program.

This framework agreement applies to technologies that are economically, socially, environmentally, and from a nuclear security perspective, very dubious. Generation IV reactors are an assortment of proposed technologies that have been put forward over the last 70 years, tried and failed.

ANSTO is already very heavily subsidised by the Australian government, and extending its operations into this research sphere will require further scientific effort, expertise and funding. This is highly inappropriate given the current major constraints on government spending, and the urgent need to focus research energies on realistic, financially viable and proven measures to contain emissions from electricity generation.

Collaboration would mean taxpayer subsidies would go to an industry which has already wasted many billions in public funds and resulted in major adverse legacies. No private industry is prepared to invest in this research without large government subsidies because none are prepared to lose so much money.

It is also clear that Australia has no policy to use these long promised and never commercially delivered reactors. Therefore any involvement just subsidises those who hope to use them. If Australia wishes to expand its nuclear expertise, then research into “non nuclear waste” generating technologies (such as those to produce medical isotopes) would be much more productive and also be of positive benefit to the Australian population.

Background

Objectives of GIF Framework Agreement (more…)

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 .

Contacts:

• Jim Green (Friends of the Earth, Australia) jim.green@foe.org.au, 0417 318 368

• Dave Sweeney (Australian Conservation Foundation) dave.sweeney@acf.org.au, 0408 317 812

Contents

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 http://thebulletin.org/fusion-reactors-not-what-they%E2%80%99re-cracked-be10699  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…….http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/uk-funding-development-autonomous-robots-help-clear-nuclear-waste-1608985

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……https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy-startup-transatomic-backtracks-on-key-promises/

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.  https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4555

Debunking the myths of the “New Nuclear” lobby

February 1, 2017

http://www.helencaldicott.com/common-myths-of-the-nuclear-industry/ 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. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-grossman/the-push-for-more-spacebo_b_1717531.html