Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

New nuclear reactors will pose a bigger, hotter, more long-lasting waste problem

April 30, 2022

As Boris Johnson prepares a new push for nuclear power, the £131bn
problem of how to safely dispose of vast volumes of radioactive waste
created by the last British atomic energy programme remains unsolved.

The hugely expensive and dangerous legacy of the UK’s 20th-century nuclear
revolution amounts to 700,000 cubic metres of toxic waste – roughly the
volume of 6,000 doubledecker buses. Much of it is stored at Sellafield in
Cumbria, which the Office for Nuclear Regulation says is one of the most
complex and hazardous nuclear sites in the world.

As yet, there is nowhere
to safely and permanently deposit this waste. Nearly 50 years ago the
solution of a deep geological disposal facility (GDF) was put forward, but
decades later the UK is no nearer to building one.

Experts say new nuclear
facilities will only add to the problem of what to do with radioactive
waste from nuclear energy and that the “back end” issue of the
hazardous toxic waste from the technology must not be hidden.

An assessment by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says spent fuel from new
nuclear reactors will be of such high temperatures it would need to stay on
site for 140 years before it could be removed to a GDF, if one is ever
built in the UK.

“It is essential to talk about the back end of the
nuclear fuel cycle when you are considering building new nuclear power
stations,” said Claire Corkhill, a professor of nuclear material
degradation at the University of Sheffield and a member of the Committee on
Radioactive Waste Management, an independent body that advises the
government.

Whilst we have a plan to finally and safely deal with the
waste, it is less certain how this will be applied to the modern nuclear
reactors that the government are planning to roll out. “These are
completely different to previous reactors and we are at a very early stage
of understanding how to deal with the waste.

In my personal view, I do not
think we should be building any new nuclear reactors until we have a
geological disposal facility available.” “The amount of legacy waste is
not small in terms of nuclear waste,” said Corkhill. “It is expensive
to deal with. These materials are hazardous and we are looking at an
underground footprint of some 20km at a depth of 200 metres to 1,000
metres.

So regarding new nuclear sites, we need to think about whether it
is possible to build a GDF big enough for all the legacy waste and the new
nuclear waste.” Steve Thomas, a professor of energy policy at the
University of Greenwich, said: “Despite 65 years of using nuclear power
in Britain, we are still, at best, decades away from having facilities to
safely dispose of the waste. Until we know this can be done, it is
premature to embark on a major new programme of nuclear power plants.”

A government spokesperson said: “This is not an either/or situation. As the
prime minister has said, nuclear will be a key part of our upcoming energy
security strategy alongside renewables. We are committed to scaling up our
nuclear electricity generation capacity, and building more nuclear power
here in the UK, as seen through the construction of Hinkley Point C – the
first new nuclear power station in a generation. Alongside this we’re
developing a GDF to support the decommissioning of the UK’s older nuclear
facilities.”

 Guardian 28th March 2022

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/28/push-for-new-uk-nuclear-plants-lacks-facility-for-toxic-waste-say-experts

Robots used to remove Fukushima’s highly radioactive used nuclear fuel, but they’re still problematic

April 30, 2022

Plutonium problems won’t go awayBy Chris Edwards, Engineering and Technology, February 15, 2022  ”’………………………………………At a conference organised by the International Federation of Robotics Research on the 10th anniversary of the accident, Toyota Research chief scientist Gill Pratt said the first robots “got there in the overhead luggage of commercial flights”. For all of them it was a baptism of fire.

Narrow staircases and rubble turned into insurmountable obstacles for some. Those that made it further failed after suffering too much radiation damage to key sensors and memories. Finally, some developed by the Chiba Institute of Technology were able to explore the upper floors of Reactor 2. The researchers designed their Quince to work for up to five hours in the presence of a cobalt-60 source that would generate an average dose of 40 grays per hour.

Direct radiation damage was not the only problem for the Fukushima robots. Reactors are protected by thick concrete walls. Wireless signals fade in and out and fibre-optic cabling becomes an impediment in the cluttered space of a damaged building.

To be close enough to the machines, operators had to wear bulky protective clothing that made teleoperation much harder than it would be in other environments. Several robots went into the building only to fail and get stuck, turning into obstacles for other machines.

The risk of these kinds of failure played into the nuclear industry’s long-term resistance to using robots for repair and decommissioning. Plant operators continued to favour mechanical manipulators operated by humans, separated by both protective clothing and thick lead-heavy glass.

Since Fukushima, attitudes to robots in the nuclear industry have changed, but remote control remains the main strategy. Pratt says humans remain generally better at control and are far better at dealing with the unstructured environments within many older and sometimes damaged installations.

The long-term aim of those working on these systems is to provide robots with greater degrees of autonomy over time. For example, surveillance drones will be flown with operator supervision but the machines are acquiring more intelligence to let them avoid obstacles so they need only respond to simpler, high-level commands. This can overcome one of the problems created by intermittent communications. One instance of this approach was shown when UK-based Createc Robotics recently deployed a drone at Chernobyl and Fukushima, choosing in the latter case to survey the partly collapsed turbine hall for a test of its semi-autonomous mapping techniques.

To get more robots into play in the UK, the NDA has focused its procurement more heavily on universities and smaller specialist companies, some of which are adapting technologies from the oil and gas industry.

The NDA expects it will take many years to develop effective robot decommissioning and handling technologies. It has put together a broad roadmap that currently extends to 2040. Radiation susceptibility remains an issue. Visual sensors are highly susceptible to damage by ionising radiation. However, a mixture of smarter control systems and redundancy should make it possible to at least move robots to a safe point for repair should they start to show signs of failure.

Another design strategy being pursued both in the UK and Japan is to build robots as though they are a moving, smart Swiss-army knife: armed with a variety of detachable limbs and subsystems so they can adapt to conditions and possibly even perform some on-the-fly repairs to themselves.

Slowly, the technology is appearing that can handle and at least put the waste out of harm’s way for a long time, though you might wonder why the process has taken decades to get to this stage of development. ……………. (Goes on to laser developments, again, far from a sure thing.) https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2022/02/plutonium-problems-won-t-go-away/

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority considers abandoning the reprocessing of nuclear waste.

April 30, 2022

ASN is considering abandoning the reprocessing of nuclear waste,  https://reporterre.net/L-ASN-envisage-l-abandon-du-retraitement-des-dechets-nucleaires The director of the Nuclear Safety Authority ( ASN ) described on January 19 the “ fragilities of the fuel cycle and the nuclear fleet ”. It opened up the possibility of eventually stopping the reprocessing of spent fuel, a particularity of French industry.

For the first time, to the knowledge of Reporterre , a nuclear manager in France is openly considering the end of the reprocessing of spent fuel at La Hague (Manche). On Wednesday January 19, during his back-to-school video press conference, Bernard Doroszczuk, Director of the Nuclear Safety Authority ( ASN ), said that this option had to be considered: ” It will be necessary either to provide for the renovation of the installations current if reprocessing is continued ; or anticipate the implementation of alternative solutions for the management of spent fuel, which should be available by 2040, if reprocessing is stopped. »

For the first time, to the knowledge of Reporterre , a nuclear manager in France is openly considering the end of the reprocessing of spent fuel at La Hague (Manche). On Wednesday January 19, during his back-to-school video press conference, Bernard Doroszczuk, Director of the Nuclear Safety Authority ( ASN ), said that this option had to be considered: ” It will be necessary either to provide for the renovation of the installations current if reprocessing is continued ; or anticipate the implementation of alternative solutions for the management of spent fuel, which should be available by 2040, if reprocessing is stopped. »

 spent fuel, it has a whole series. Each poses a difficult management problem: plutonium (we can’t manage to use all the stock), minor actinides, reprocessed uranium, spent Mox, etc. By evoking the end of reprocessing, Mr. Doroszczuk therefore attacks a sacred cow of French nuclearists.
Why this new proposal  ? Because, explained the director of the ASN , ”  a series of events weakens the entire chain of the fuel cycle  ” and several of its links are clogged:


• the pool at the La Hague plant (Manche), in which the spent fuel is currently stored, is reaching saturation  point ;


• Orano’s Melox plant, in which part of the plutonium is recycled to make fuel, says Mox, works very poorly: “  We have too many breakdowns. Last year, we produced between 50 and 60 tonnes while the order book shows 120 tonnes per year ,   Régis Faure, spokesperson for the Orano Melox site , told Usine Nouvelle . Thus, the plutonium accumulates at the entrance, while at the exit, explained Mr. Doroszczuk, ”  these problems that Orano has not mastered lead to the disposal of waste that contains more plutonium than expected.  »  ;

• finally, revealed the director of the ASN , “  the faster-than-expected corrosion of the evaporators at the Orano La Hague plant weakens the reprocessing capacities   .

It therefore recommends anticipating the crisis, and either choosing to continue the reprocessing or to stop it. In both cases, this will involve very substantial investments, which we must think about now.

“  A nuclear accident is always possible  

More generally, the ASN director underlined “  the absolute need to maintain margins so that there is no competition between production needs and safety decisions  ” . Indeed, the nuclear situation is very tense, both currently, with ten reactors shut down, and in the future: it is not at all certain that the reactors will be able to operate beyond fifty years, indicated Mr Doroszczuk. And the sector lacks skills, both to manage the current fleet and its future dismantling and waste management: it would be necessary to “  train 4,000 engineers per year  ” . We are far from it.The director of the ASN of course wants to stay out of the political debate. But it is clear that the “  messages  ” he formulated on January 19 should be carefully listened to and understood by all presidential candidates who believe that nuclear power is the magic answer to climate change. He also repeated throughout his speech the requirement of security. ”  A nuclear accident is always possible ,  ” he said.

What future for small nuclear reactors?

April 30, 2022

Small nuclear reactor? It’s a lemon!

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects

In 2022, nuclear power’s future looks grimmer than ever, Jim Green, 11 Jan 2022, RenewEconomy

”……………………………………….. Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs. Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of A$1.4 billion / GW for an integrated 300 megawatt (MW) plant, while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”. Now, the cost estimate is more than 20 times greater at A$32.6 billion / GW. A little over A$1 billion for a reactor with a capacity of just 32 MW. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s 70 MW floating nuclear power plant is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production). The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (A$688 million), equivalent to A$9.8 billion / GW. The construction project was nine years behind schedule.

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated A$279 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (A$182-284) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about A$7.0 billion / GW and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is A$8.4 billion / GW. Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the A$2.8 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China’s HTGR was partially grid-connected in late-2021 and full connection will take place in early 2022.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW (three reactor modules feeding one turbine). China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 additional HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One. Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

The World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects other than those listed above. In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100. According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia. In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was A$780 million, but the cost estimate has more than doubled and now stands at A$1.9 billion.

SMR hype

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype. For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe. In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects.

failed history of small reactor projects. A handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays. And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade. Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Everything that is promising about SMRs belongs in the never-never; everything in the real-world is expensive and over-budget, slow and behind schedule. Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

SMRs for Australia

There is ongoing promotion of SMRs in Australia but a study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$225 / MWh for SMRs. The Minerals Council of Australia states that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at about one-third of that cost.

In its 2021 GenCost report, CSIRO provides these 2030 cost estimates:

* Nuclear (SMR): A$128-322 / MWh

* 90 percent wind and solar PV with integration costs (transmission, storage and synchronous condensers): A$55-80 / MWh

Enthusiasts hope that nuclear power’s cost competitiveness will improve, but in all likelihood it will continue to worsen. Alone among energy sources, nuclear power becomes more expensive over time, or in other words it has a negative learning curve.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and the author of a recent report on nuclear power’s economic crisis. https://reneweconomy.com.au/in-2022-nuclear-powers-future-is-grimmer-than-ever/

Small nuclear reactors for military use would be too dangerous – excellent targets for the enemy

December 26, 2021

In normal operation, they release potentially hazardous quantities of fission products that would be widely distributed by any penetration of the reactor vessel. More worryingly, the resiliency of tri-structural isotropic particles to kinetic impact is questionable: The silicon carbide coating around the fuel material is brittle and may fracture if impacted by munitions.

Further, graphite moderator material, which is used extensively in most mobile power plant cores, is vulnerable to oxidation when exposed to air or water at high temperatures, creating the possibility of a catastrophic graphite fire distributing radioactive ash. Even in the case of intact (non-leaking) fuel fragments being distributed by a strike, the radiological consequences for readiness and effectiveness are dire.

Given these vulnerabilities, sophisticated adversaries seeking to hinder U.S. forces are likely to realize the utility of the reactor as an area-denial target…….. , a reactor strike offers months of exclusion at the cost of only a few well-placed high-explosive warheads, a capability well within reach of even regional adversaries

Even an unsuccessful or minimally damaging attack on a reactor could offer an adversary significant benefits…………..placing these reactors in combat zones introduces nuclear reactors as valid military targets,

MOBILE NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS WON’T SOLVE THE ARMY’S ENERGY PROBLEMS, War on the Rocks, 14 Dec 21, JAKE HECLA  ”………… As China and Russia develop microreactors for propulsion, the U.S. Army is pursuing the ultimate in self-sufficient energy solutions: the capability to field mobile nuclear power plants. In this vision of a nuclearized future, the Army will replace diesel generator banks with microreactors the size of shipping containers for electricity production by the mid-2020s.

…….  the question is whether or not reactors can truly be made suitable for military use. Are they an energy panacea, or will they prove to be high-value targets capable of crippling entire bases with a single strike?

nuclear power program is confidently sprinting into uncharted territory in pursuit of a solution to its growing energy needs and has promised to put power on the grid within three years. However, the Army has not fielded a reactor since the 1960s and has made claims of safety and accident tolerance that contradict a half-century of nuclear industry experience.


The Army appears set to credulously accept industry claims of complete safety that are founded in wishful thinking and characterized by willful circumvention of basic design safety principles……….. 

(more…)

Dr Jim Green dissects the hype surrounding Small ”Modular” Nuclear Reactors.

December 25, 2021

 Nuclear power’s economic failure, Ecologist, Dr Jim Green, 13th December 2021     Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs.

Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated a cost of US$1 billion / GW for an integrated 300 MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”).

Now, the cost estimate for the CAREM reactor is a mind-boggling US$23.4 billion / GW (US$750 million / 32 MW). That’s a truckload of money for a reactor with the capacity of two large wind turbines. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s floating plant

Russia’s floating nuclear power plant (with two 35 MW reactors) is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production).

The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (US$502 million).

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated US$200 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.

The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (US$131-204) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

Climate solution?

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about US$5 billion / GW, about twice the initial cost estimates, and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays.

The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is US$6 billion / GW.

Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the US$2 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW but the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

HTGR plans dropped

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One.

Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

In addition to the CAREM reactor in Argentina and the HTGR in China, the World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects.

In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100.

According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

Fast reactor

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia.

In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was 42 billion rubles; now, the estimate is 100 billion rubles (US$1.36 billion).

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype.

For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of different ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe.

In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Subsidies

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage.

Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects:

* The French government abandoned the planned 100-200 MW ASTRID demonstration fast reactor in 2019.

* Babcock & Wilcox abandoned its Generation mPower SMR project in the US despite receiving government funding of US$111 million.

* Transatomic Power gave up on its molten salt reactor R&D in 2018.

* MidAmerican Energy gave up on its plans for SMRs in Iowa in 2013 after failing to secure legislation that would require rate-payers to partially fund construction costs.

* TerraPower abandoned its plan for a prototype fast neutron reactor in China due to restrictions placed on nuclear trade with China by the Trump administration.

* The UK government abandoned consideration of ‘integral fast reactors’ for plutonium disposition in 2019 and the US government did the same in 2015.

Hype

So we have a history of failed small reactor projects.

And a handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays.

And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade.

Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

Hype cycle

Dr Mark Cooper connects the current SMR hype to the hype surrounding the ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the late 2000s:

“The vendors and academic institutions that were among the most avid enthusiasts in propagating the early, extremely optimistic cost estimates of the “nuclear renaissance” are the same entities now producing extremely optimistic cost estimates for the next nuclear technology. We are now in the midst of the SMR hype cycle.

* Vendors produce low-cost estimates.

* Advocates offer theoretical explanations as to why the new nuclear technology will be cost competitive.

* Government authorities then bless the estimates by funding studies from friendly academics.”  ………………. https://theecologist.org/2021/dec/13/nuclear-powers-economic-failure

Nuclear Fusion Recedes Into Far Future For The 57th Time

December 25, 2021


Fusion Recedes Into Far Future For The 57th Time,  Clean Technica
,  Fusion has an amazing future as a source of energy. In space craft beyond the orbit of Jupiter sometime in the next two centuries. By Michael Barnard, November 9, 2021  Fusion has an amazing future as a source of energy. Which is to say, in space craft beyond the orbit of Jupiter, sometime in the next two centuries. Here on Earth? Not so much. At least, that’s my opinion.

Nuclear electrical generation has 2.5 paths. The first is nuclear fission, the part that is the major electrical generation source that provides about 10% of the electricity in the world today. 

And then there’s fusion. Where fission splits atoms, fusion merges them. Instead of radioactive fuel, there’s a lot of radioactive emissions from the merging of things like hydrogen-3, deuterium, and tritium that irradiates the containment structures. Lower radioactive waste that doesn’t last as long, but still radioactive waste for those who think that’s a concern…….

fusion generation of electricity, as opposed to big honking nuclear weapons using fusion, is a perpetual source of interest. When Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, talked about nuclear being “too cheap to meter” in 1954, he was talking about fusion, not fission. Like everyone since the mid-1950s, he assumed that fusion would be generating power in 20 years.

And so here we are, 67 years later. How is fusion doing?

Let’s start with the only credible fusion project on the planet, the ITER Tokamak project. It’s been around for decades. It planted its roots in 1985 with Gorbachev and Reagan. 35 countries are involved. Oddly, ITER isn’t an acronym, it’s Latin for “The Way,” a typically optimistic and indeed somewhat arrogant assumption about its place in the universe.

It’s supposed to light up around 2040. That’s so far away I hadn’t bothered to think much about it, as we have to decarbonize well over 50% of our economy long before that. As a result, I had a lazy read on it. I had assumed, as most press and indeed pretty much everyone involved with it asserted, that it would be generating more energy than it consumed, when it finally lit up…………..

ITER will require about 200 MW of energy input in total running as it creates 500 MW of heat. But the exergy of heat means that if it were tapped, it would only return about 200 MW of electricity. So it might be a perpetual motion machine, but one that wouldn’t do anything more than keep its lights running as long as you fed it tritium, about $140 million worth of the stuff a year.

And it gets worse. ITER is planning at the end of this process to maintain this for less than 3000 seconds at a time. That’s 50 minutes. This is at the end of the process. As they build up to less than an hour, mostly they’ll be working on fusion that lasts five minutes, several times a day. It’s a very expensive physics experiment that will not produce climate-friendly energy. It’s going to teach us a bunch, which I completely respect, but it’s not going to help us deal with climate change.

I expected more from ITER. Not much more. I mean, it is a million-component fission reactor expected to light up in 2040 and not generate any electricity at that point. But I had assumed based on all the press that it would generate more electricity than it used to operate if you bolted a boiler and some turbines to it, even if it were grossly expensive. Apparently not. Just grossly expensive, no net new electricity………..

However, ITER is not the only fusion reactor in the game. There are startups! And we all know startups make no promises that they can’t keep and are excellent at disclosure.

Like Helion. They have a photo-shopped peanut asserting it’s a 6th prototype with regenerative power creation that’s never achieved fusion that is backed by Peter Thiel! It just received $500 million more of VC funding, with an option to get up to $2.2 billion if they hit their targets!

I’m not sure if I could have made up a paragraph less likely to make me think that there was some there there.

The website is likely intentionally lacking in anything approaching detail. It’s low-information and VC friendly, which in the energy space is Thiel’s jam. He’s the guy who, despite being partnered with Elon Musk, has never realized that electrical generation was already being disrupted by wind and solar. His acolytes in startups disrupting energy crashed and burned, because he and they never bothered to do the hard work of understanding how electricity actually works at grid scale. At least Musk was solid on solar, although he got the wrong end of it and hasn’t quite figured that out yet.

While Helion has achieved 100 million degrees Celsius, it’s with a high-energy laser pulse — not new ideas, in fact 1950s ideas, just easier now — and they are incredibly coy about duration. The assumption to be taken is that it lasts for a picosecond at a time. They talk about their prototype having worked for months, but that means it’s maintaining a vacuum and occasionally creating plasma, a precursor to fueled fusion. Many years and tens of millions of dollars in, they are promising the moon, and soon. And to be clear, they are well behind on their initial schedule…………..

 fusion generating electricity appears to be as far away as ever. https://cleantechnica.com/2021/11/09/breaking-news-fusion-recedes-into-far-future-for-the-57th-time/

International Thermonuclear Experimental (fusion) Reactor (ITER) will consume as much power as it will generate

December 25, 2021

The ITER organization has confirmed that the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is not designed to produce net power. This disclosure comes four years after articles in New Energy Times revealed that the ITER design is equivalent to a zero-net-power reactor.

In an article in the French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé last week, Michel Claessens, the former ITER organization spokesman, explained the ITER power discrepancy.


“For many years, it was claimed that the reactor will generate ten times the power injected. It is completely wrong. Thanks to a patient investigation, the American journalist Steven Krivit showed that ITER will consume as much [power] as it will generate,” Claessens said. “We know now that the net [power] balance will be close to zero.”

 New Energy Times 3rd Nov 2021

http://news.newenergytimes.net/2021/11/03/iter-organization-concedes-reactor-is-not-designed-for-net-power-production/

Terra Power’s Natrium nuclear reactor will be an economic lemon

December 25, 2021

This host of factors makes it reasonably certain that the Natrium will not be economically competitive.

In other words, even if has no technical problems, it will be an economic lemon.


Ramana, Makhijani: Look before you leap on nuclear   
https://trib.com/opinion/columns/ramana-makhijani-look-before-you-leap-on-nuclear/article_4508639b-d7e6-50df-b305-07c929de40ed.html, Oct 16, 2021  

The Cowboy State is weighing plans to host a multi-billion dollar “demonstration” nuclear power plant — TerraPower’s Natrium reactor. The long history of similar nuclear reactors, dating back to 1951, indicates that Wyoming is likely to be left with a nuclear lemon on its hands.

The Natrium reactor design, which uses molten sodium as a coolant (water is used in most existing commercial nuclear reactors), is likely to be problematic. Sodium reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air, a serious vulnerability. A sodium fire, within a few months of the reactor starting to generate power, led to Japan’s Monju [at left] demonstration reactor being shut down.

At 1,200 megawatts, the French Superphénix was the largest sodium-cooled reactor, designed to demonstrate commercial feasibility. Plagued by operational problems, including a major sodium leak, it was shut down in 1998 after 14 years, having operated at an average capacity of under 7 percent compared to the 80 to 90 percent required for commercial operation. Other sodium-cooled reactors have also experienced leaks, which are very difficult to prevent because of chemical interactions between sodium and the stainless steel used in various reactor components. Finally, sodium, being opaque, makes reactor maintenance and repairs notoriously difficult.

Sodium-cooled reactors can experience rapid and hard-to-control power surges. Under severe conditions, a runaway chain reaction can even result in an explosion. Such a runaway reaction was the central cause of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor explosion, though that was a reactor of a different design. Following Chernobyl, Germany’s Kalkar sodium-cooled reactor, about the same size as the proposed Natrium, was abandoned without ever being commissioned, though it was complete.

All these technical and safety challenges naturally drive up the costs of sodium-cooled reactors, making them significantly more expensive than conventional nuclear reactors. More than $100 billion, in today’s dollars, has been spent worldwide in the attempt to commercialize essentially this design and associated technologies, to no avail.

The Natrium design, being even more expensive than present-day reactors, will therefore be more expensive than practically every other form of electricity generation. The Wall Street firm, Lazard, estimates that electricity from new nuclear plants is several times more than the costs at utility-scale solar and wind power plants. Further, the difference has been increasing.

To this bleak picture, Terrapower has added another economically problematic feature: molten salt storage to allow its electric output to vary. Terrapower hopes this feature will help it integrate better into an electricity grid that has more variable electricity sources, notably wind and solar.

Molten salt storage would be novel in a nuclear reactor, but it is used in concentrating solar power projects, where it can cost an additional $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity. At that rate, it could add a billion dollars to the Natrium project.

This host of factors makes it reasonably certain that the Natrium will not be economically competitive. In other words, even if has no technical problems, it will be an economic lemon.

To top it all off, the proposed Wyoming TerraPower demonstration project depends on government funds. Last year, the Department of Energy awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial taxpayer funding; this may increase $1.6 billion over seven years, “subject to the availability of future appropriations” and Terrapower coming up with matching funds.

Despite government support, private capital has recently abandoned a more traditional project, the mPower small modular reactor, resulting in its termination in 2017. And it was Congress that refused to appropriate more money for the sodium-cooled reactor proposed for Clinch River, Tennessee when its costs skyrocketed, thereby ending the project in 1983.

A much harder look at the facts is in order, lest Wyoming add to the total of many cancelled nuclear projects and abandoned construction sites. Of course, the Natrium lemon might be made into lemonade by converting it to an amusement park if it is never switched on, like the Kalkar reactor, now refashioned into Wunderland Kalkar, an amusement park in Germany, near the border with the Netherlands. For energy, the state might look to its natural heritage – its wind power potential is greater than the combined generation of all 94 operating U.S. nuclear reactors put together, which are on average, about three times the size of Natrium.

M. V. Ramana is Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and the Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia. Dr. Ramana holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Boston University.

Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, holds a Ph.D. in engineering (nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley.

Small nuclear reactors, uranium mining, nuclear fuel chain, reprocessing, dismantling reactors – extract from Expert Response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021


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………… If SMRs are used, this not least raises questions about proliferation, i.e. the possible spread of nuclear weapons as well as the necessary nuclear technologies or fissionable materials for their production.    ………..

By way of summary, it is important to state that many questions are still unresolved with regard to any widespread use of SMRs – and this would be necessary to make a significant contribution to climate protection – and they are not addressed in the JRC Report. These issues are not just technical matters that have not yet been clarified, but primarily questions of safety, proliferation and liability, which require international coordination and regulations. 

  • neither coal mining nor uranium mining can be viewed as sustainable …….. Uranium mining principally creates radioactive waste and requires significantly more expensive waste management than coal mining.
  • The volume of waste arising from decommissioning a power plant would therefore be significantly higher than specified in the JRC Report in Part B 2.1, depending on the time required to dismantle it

    Measures to reduce the environmental impact The JRC Report is contradictory when it comes to the environmental impact of uranium mining: it certainly mentions the environmental risks of uranium mining (particularly in JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.2, p. 67ff), but finally states that they can be contained by suitable measures (particularly JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.5, p. 77ff). However, suitable measures are not discussed in the depth required ……..

    Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

    ”…………………3.2 Analysing the contribution made by small modular reactors (SMRs) to climate change mitigation in the JRC Report   
      The statement about many countries’ growing interest in SMRs is mentioned in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) without any further classification. In particular, there is no information about the current state of development and the lack of marketability of SMRs.

    Reactors with an electric power output of up to 300 MWe are normally classified as SMRs. Most of the extremely varied SMR concepts found around the world have not yet got past the conceptual level. Many unresolved questions still need to be clarified before SMRs can be technically constructed in a country within the EU and put into operation. They range from issues about safety, transportation and dismantling to matters related to interim storage and final disposal and even new problems for the responsible licensing and supervisory authorities 


    The many theories frequently postulated for SMRs – their contribution to combating the risks of climate change and their lower costs and shorter construction periods must be attributed to particular economic interests, especially those of manufacturers, and therefore viewed in a very critical light

    Today`s new new nuclear power plants have electrical output in the range of 1000-1600 MWe. SMR concepts, in contrast, envisage planned electrical outputs of 1.5 – 300 MWe. In order to provide the same electrical power capacity, the number of units would need to be increased by a factor of 3-1000. Instead of having about 400 reactors with large capacity today, it would be necessary to construct many thousands or even tens of thousands of SMRs (BASE, 2021; BMK, 2020). A current production cost calculation, which consider scale, mass and learning effects from the nuclear industry, concludes that more than 1,000 SMRs would need to be produced before SMR production was cost-effective. It cannot therefore be expected that the structural cost disadvantages of reactors with low capacity can be compensated for by learning or mass effects in the foreseeable future (BASE, 2021). 


    There is no classification in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) regarding the frequently asserted statement that SMRs are safer than traditional nuclear power plants with a large capacity, as they have a lower radioactive inventory and make greater use of passive safety systems. In the light of this, various SMR concepts suggest the need for reduced safety requirements, e.g. regarding the degree of redundancy or diversity. Some SMR concepts even consider refraining from normal provisions for accident management both internal and external – for example, smaller planning zones for emergency protection and even the complete disappearance of any off-site emergency zones. 

     The theory that an SMR automatically has an increased safety level is not proven. The safety of a specific reactor unit depends on the safety related properties of the individual reactor and its functional effectiveness and must be carefully analysed – taking into account the possible range of events or incidents. This kind of analysis will raise additional questions, particularly about the external events if SMRs are located in remote regions if SMRs are used to supply industrial plants or if they are sea-based SMRs (BASE, 2021). 

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