Archive for the ‘REACTOR TYPES’ 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

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

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


.

………… 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). 

    (more…)

    Arnie Gundersen writes to Bill Gates – about public funding for Gates’ false Natrium nuclear solution to climate change

    September 14, 2021

    History shows a legacy of failures in the pursuit of the sodium reactor fantasy. As Admiral Rickover said almost 70 years ago, sodium reactors are “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.

    Mr. Gates, it’s time to face the music (and the facts) – your supposedly foolproof, sodium-cooled Natrium brainchild will encounter those same obstacles. In my fifty years of nuclear power expertise, I have learned that sooner or later, in any foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs. Now is the time to stop the Natrium marketing hype and instead use those precious public funds to pursue renewable energy options with a proven history of actually working inexpensively in a time frame that will prevent catastrophic climate change!

    An Open Letter to Bill Gates About his Wyoming Atomic Reactor,  https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/08/20/an-open-letter-to-bill-gates-about-his-wyoming-atomic-reactor/
    BY ARNIE GUNDERSEN      Dear Mr. Gates,

    I am writing this open letter to you because I believe you have crossed the line by leveraging your fortune maneuvering State Governments and indeed the US Government to syphon precious taxpayer funds in support your latest atomic contrivance in Wyoming. How you spend your personal fortune is your decision and yours alone, but I question your zeal to leverage that fortune by securing additional public funds for an unproductive techno-solution[1] that claims to solve the climate crisis! Your latest technofix is the scheme to have taxpayers fund your new nuclear power concept in Wyoming, claiming that it will mitigate the climate crisis. It won’t!

    Atomic power generation is not part of your skillset, but it is mine. The many facets of nuclear energy have been areas of my professional focus for the last 50 years. Beginning in 1971 with two nuclear engineering degrees, a Reactor Operator’s license, a corporate Senior Vice President position for an atomic licensee, a nuclear safety patent, two peer reviewed papers on radiation, and a best-selling book on Fukushima, nuclear power is in my wheelhouse, not yours.

    Based on my experience, I am writing this public letter to express my fear that you have made a huge mistake by proposing to build a sodium-cooled small modular reactor (SMR) in Wyoming. Mr. Gates, your atomic power company Natrium (for the Latin word for sodium) is following in the footsteps of a seventy-year long record of sodium-cooled nuclear technological failures. Your plan to recycle those old failed attempts to resurrect liquid sodium yet again will siphon valuable public funds and research from much more inexpensive and proven renewable energy alternatives. Spending public funds on Natrium will make the global climate crisis worse, not better!

    Let me explain why Natrium is doomed. As you probably have already been told, all present-day atomic reactors are cooled by water and are called Light Water Reactors (LWRs). Similarly, all US coal, oil, and gas-fired electric plants heat water, not exotic coolants. While some Small Modular Reactors concepts retain water cooling, Natrium’s proposed design deviates from this pattern by cooling the atomic chain reaction using an exotic coolant and specially designed steam generators to remove the atomic heat. Nuclear power concepts that do not use water for cooling are called Non-Light Water Reactors (or NLWRs), and Natrium claims that cooing with liquid sodium is safer and more reliable than traditional water-cooled reactors. What evidence exists to support that assertion?

    World renowned energy economist Mycle Schneider calls Natrium and other proposed conceptual reactors “PowerPoint Reactors” as none are close to being fully designed yet all are being marketed as though their successful and safe operation were a fait accompli. According to Mycle Schneider, as reported in Politico EU:

    All they have right now are basically PowerPoint reactors — it looks nice on the slide but they’re far from an operating pilot plant. We are more than a decade away from anything on the ground.”

    The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently completed an exhaustive, 140-page study of the supposed safety improvements claimed by NLWR manufactures like Natrium. Entitled Advanced Isn’t Always BetterUCS concludes:

    “But a fundamental question remains: Is different actually better? The short answer is no. Nearly all of the NLWRs currently on the drawing board fail to provide significant enough improvements over LWRs to justify their considerable risks.”

    Recently, the media and governors in western states have become enthralled with one NLWR design hyped by you and your publicity team at Natrium. Using your successes at Microsoft, you are now asking state and national governments to bankroll a “fast reactor” concept that is cooled by liquid sodium.

    “Wyoming To Lead The Coal-To-Nuclear Transition

    Interest for new nuclear plants is growing beyond Wyoming as states in the western region like Montana, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho and North Dakota reevaluate the role of nuclear energy – particularly applications for advanced nuclear reactors … the brainchild of Bill Gates, … has developed a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system.”

    The history of sodium as an atomic coolant does not support your grandiose claims for its success. Mr. Gates, the marketing hype associated with your latest “brainchild” ignores 70 years of failures using liquid sodium as an atomic reactor coolant. What follows are just a few examples of the monumental failures that have used liquid sodium that I am not so sure you have studied carefully before pressing for government funds in pursuit your idea.

    According to Scientific American, liquid sodium “is no mere novelty; as dangerous as it is captivating…  Sodium has significant disadvantages. On contact with air, it burns; plunged into water, it explodes.”

    The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists goes even further stating:

    Unfortunately, this pitch glossed over stubborn facts… because plutonium fast-breeder reactors use liquid metal coolants, such as liquid sodium, operating them safely is far more challenging and expensive than conventional reactors. When private industry tried in the early 1960s to operate its own commercial-sized fast-breeder, Fermi I, the benefits were negative. Barely three years after Fermi 1 came online, a partial fuel meltdown in 1966 brought it down… These facts, however, are rarely emphasized….”

    In addition to the meltdown at Fermi 1, whose failure is highlighted in the book We Almost Lost Detroit, other sodium cooled reactors have failed in the United States and worldwide. Beginning in 1950, the Navy attempted to develop a sodium-cooled reactor for the Seawolf submarine. According to the American Nuclear Society, Admiral Rickover, the founder of the nuclear Navy, testified to Congress in 1957 stating:

    “We went to full power on the Seawolf alongside the dock on August 20 of last year.  Shortly thereafter, she developed a small leak. It took us 3 months, working 24 hours a day, to locate and correct the leak. This is one of the serious difficulties in sodium plants.”

    Rickover killed the Navy’s sodium powered reactor because of sodium leaks, sodium’s volatility and because sodium repairs take too long and radiation exposure to workers was too high. The problem of high radiation exposures to maintenance personnel while repairing inevitable sodium leaks was also highlighted by Rickover in that same 1957 testimony when he stated:

    “Sodium becomes 30,000 times as radioactive as water. Furthermore, sodium has a half-life of 14.7 hours, while water has a half-life of about 8 seconds.”

    Making rapid repairs in a sodium-cooled reactor is impossible because sodium becomes highly radioactive as it flows through the reactor core and it stays radioactive for weeks after shutdown. In contrast, water used to cool conventional reactors stays highly radioactive for about one minute.

    After failed attempts to use liquid sodium on the Seawolf and on Fermi 1, nuclear zealots convinced the US Congress to subsidize yet another sodium-cooled reactor at Clinch River in Tennessee. The concept of a sodium reactor at Clinch River originated before the meltdown at Fermi 1, but was continued with huge government subsidies until 1984. Overcoming the safety issues presented by cooling atoms using liquid sodium led to delays and cost overruns that were certainly significant factors when the project was finally killed by Congress. However, serious, game-changing, safety concerns were also a factor in the cancelation of the project. According to The Rise and Demise of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Scientific American:

    “In 1982 … the Energy Department videotaped safety tests it had conducted of how molten sodium might react once it came in contact with the reactor’s concrete containment structure. Concrete contains water crystals. Molten sodium reacts explosively when it comes in contact with oxygen, including oxygen contained in water. What the test demonstrated and the video showed was concrete exploding when it came in contact with liquid sodium.”

    Even after the cancelation of the Clinch River fiasco, those same nuclear zealots continued to pursue the fantasy of a sodium-cooled reactor at the Monju site in Japan. Construction began in 1985 and about a decade later, the Monju sodium-cooled reactor was finally ready to operate. It did not operate long, however. After operating only 4 months, Monju had an emergency shutdown when the inevitable sodium leak caused an inevitable sodium fire.

    According to a report issued by the Monju Construction Office entitled Sodium Leak at Monju-Causes and Consequences, the failure mode that caused the leak could not have been anticipated by Monju’s designers.

    “On December 8, 1995, a sodium leak from the Secondary Heat Transport System (SHTS) occurred in a piping room of the reactor auxiliary building at Monju. The sodium leaked through a thermocouple temperature sensor due to the breakage of the well tube of the sensor installed near the outlet of the Intermediate Heat Exchanger (IHX) in SHTS Loop C… On the basis of the investigations, it was concluded that the breakage of the thermocouple well was caused by high cycle fatigue due to flow induced vibration in the direction of sodium flow.”

    After ten years of construction, Monju’s four months of operation were followed by a fifteen year shutdown, Monju again restarted in 2010, but operated for less than a year when the equipment used for refueling fell into the reactor while a refueling was in progress. It never restarted. The simple fact is that the Monju sodium reactor took ten years to construct, ran intermittently for one year, and failed operate for twenty years. And then there is the matter of Japan’s government subsidized costs which exceeded $11 Billion USD.

    “The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts around the world to make the technology commercially viable and potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste…. With Monju’s shutdown, Japan’s taxpayers are now left with an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) to decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) spent on the project.”

    A half a world away from Japan, France generates 75% of its electricity for light water cooled atomic reactors and has also considered sodium reactors. Given the repeated failures of sodium-cooled technology in Japan and the US, and with the falling price of renewable power, in 2019 France chose not to pursue the path chosen by you and NatriumAccording to Reuters, France has decided to pull the plug on its sodium-cooled reactor designs for at least half a century!

    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s CEA nuclear agency has dropped plans to build a prototype sodium-cooled nuclear reactor, it said on Friday, after decades of research and hundreds of millions of euros in development costs. Confirming a report in daily newspaper Le Monde, the state agency said it …is no longer planning to build a prototype in the short or medium term. “In the current energy market situation, the perspective of industrial development of fourth-generation reactors is not planned before the second half of this century,”

    There are more reports I could outline but I think I have made my point! History shows a legacy of failures in the pursuit of the sodium reactor fantasy. As Admiral Rickover said almost 70 years ago, sodium reactors are “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.”

    Mr. Gates, it’s time to face the music (and the facts) – your supposedly foolproof, sodium-cooled Natrium brainchild will encounter those same obstacles. In my fifty years of nuclear power expertise, I have learned that sooner or later, in any foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs. Now is the time to stop the Natrium marketing hype and instead use those precious public funds to pursue renewable energy options with a proven history of actually working inexpensively in a time frame that will prevent catastrophic climate change!

    Signed,

    Arnold “Arnie” Gundersen

    Moltex Energy’s nuclear pyroprocessing project with plutonium would produce weapons grade material and encourage weapons proliferation

    September 14, 2021

    Will Canada remain a credible nonproliferation partner?  https://thebulletin.org/2021/07/will-canada-remain-a-credible-nonproliferation-partner/

    By Susan O’DonnellGordon Edwards | July 26, 2021 


    Susan O’Donnell
    Susan O’Donnell is a researcher specializing in technology adoption and environmental issues at the University of New Brunswick.

    Gordon Edwards
    Gordon Edwards is a mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,

    The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

    Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

    The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

    Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

    On May 25, nine US nonproliferation experts sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern that by “backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the Government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime that Canada has done so much to strengthen.”

    The nine signatories to the letter include senior White House appointees and other US government advisers who worked under six US presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; and who hold professorships at the Harvard Kennedy School, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin, George Washington University, and Princeton University.

    Plutonium is a human-made element created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. It’s a “Jekyll and Hyde” kind of material: on the one hand, it is the stuff that nuclear weapons are made from. On the other hand, it can be used as a nuclear fuel. The crucial question is, can you have one without the other?

    India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974 using plutonium extracted from a “peaceful” Canadian nuclear reactor given as a gift many years earlier. In the months afterwards, it was discovered that South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Argentina—all of them customers of Canadian nuclear technology—were well on the way to replicating India’s achievement. Swift action by the US and its allies prevented these countries from acquiring the necessary plutonium extraction facilities (called “reprocessing plants”). To this day, South Korea is not allowed to extract plutonium from used nuclear fuel on its own territory—a long-lasting political legacy of the 1974 Indian explosion and its aftermath—due to proliferation concerns.

    Several years after the Indian explosion, the US Carter administration ended federal support for civil reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the US out of concern that it would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by making plutonium more available. At that time, Canada’s policy on reprocessing also changed to accord with the US policy—although no similar high-level announcement was made by the Canadian government.

    Moltex is proposing to use a type of plutonium extraction technology called “pyroprocessing,” in which the solid used reactor fuel is converted to a liquid form, dissolved in a very hot bath of molten salt. What happens next is described by Moltex chairman and chief scientist Ian Scott in a recent article in Energy Intelligence. “We then—in a very, very simple process—extract the plutonium selectively from that molten metal. It’s literally a pot. You put the metal in, put salt in the top, mix them up, and the plutonium moves into the salt, and the salt’s our fuel. That’s it. … You tip the crucible and out pours the fuel for our reactor.”

    The federal government recently supported the Moltex project with a $50.5-million grant, announced on March 18 by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc in Saint John.

    At the event, LeBlanc and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs described the Moltex project as “recycling” nuclear waste, although in fact barely one-half of one per cent of the used nuclear fuel is potentially available for use as new reactor fuel. That leaves a lot of radioactive waste left over.

    From an international perspective, the government grant to Moltex can be seen as Canada sending a signal—giving a green light to plutonium extraction and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

    The US experts’ primary concern is that other countries could point to Canada’s support of the Moltex program to help justify its own plutonium acquisition programs. That could undo years of efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that might want to join the ranks of unofficial nuclear weapons states such as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The Moltex project is especially irksome since its proposed pyroprocessing technology is very similar to the one that South Korea has been trying to deploy for almost 10 years.

    In their letter, the American experts point out that Japan is currently the only nonnuclear-armed state that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, a fact that is provoking both domestic and international controversy.

    In a follow-up exchange, signatory Frank von Hippel of Princeton University explained that the international controversy is threefold: (1) The United States sees both a nuclear weapons proliferation danger from Japan’s plutonium stockpile and also a nuclear terrorism threat from the possible theft of separated plutonium; (2) China and South Korea see Japan’s plutonium stocks as a basis for a rapid nuclear weaponization; and (3) South Korea’s nuclear-energy R&D community is demanding that the US grant them the same right to separate plutonium as Japan enjoys.

    Despite the alarm raised by the nine authors in their letter to Trudeau, they have received no reply from the government. The only response has come from the Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan. His reply to a Globe and Mail reporter is similar to his earlier rebuttal in The Hill Times published in his letter to the editor on April 5: the plutonium extracted in the Moltex facility would be “completely unsuitable for use in weapons.”

    But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in nonnuclear weapon states.

    Similarly, a 2009 report by nonproliferation experts from six US national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military, called PUREX.

    In 2011, a US State Department official responsible for US nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries went further by stating that pyroprocessing is just as dangerous from a proliferation point of view as any other kind of plutonium extraction technology, saying: “frankly and positively that pyro-processing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.”

    And, despite years of effort, the IAEA has not yet developed an approach to effectively safeguard pyroprocessing to prevent diversion of plutonium for illicit uses.

    Given that history has shown the dangers of promoting the greater availability of plutonium, why is the federal government supporting pyroprocessing?

    It is clear the nuclear lobby wants it. In the industry’s report, “Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada,” released in March, the reprocessing (which they call “recycling”) of spent nuclear fuel is presented as a key element of the industry’s future plans.

    Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious Canadians should sit up and take notice. Parliamentarians of all parties owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability. To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy.

    Countless Canadians have urged Canada to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that came into force at the end of January this year. Ironically, the government has rebuffed these efforts, claiming that it does not want to “undermine” Canada’s long-standing effort to achieve a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Such a treaty would, if it ever saw the light of day (which seems increasingly unlikely), stop the production of weapons usable materials such as highly enriched uranium and (you guessed it) plutonium.

    So, the Emperor not only has no clothes, but his right hand doesn’t know what his left hand is doing.

    Bill Gates’fast nuclear reactor ”Natrium” – not so safe and a nuclear weapons proliferation risk

    September 14, 2021

    At the March Senate hearing, TerrPower’s CEO described a future for the Natrium project that had almost unlimited export opportunities for Natrium and much larger plants. As Levesque explained, the current Natrium offering is a 345-megawatt (electric) machine—not so small in itself—because that size was what today’s market would accept. As TerraPower gained experience, though, he anticipated “growing Natrium output back up to gigawatt scale,” the size of current large light water reactors. The obvious conclusion is that, despite the current ballyhoo about the economic advantages of small units, TerraPower doesn’t think the smaller units would be as economic as larger ones. The “small” label is apparently just for the easily impressed.

    Bill Gates’ Fast Nuclear Reactor: Will It Bomb?,  https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/bill-gates%E2%80%99-fast-nuclear-reactor-will-it-bomb-189967 The principal reason for preferring fast reactors, historically the only reason, is to gain the ability to breed plutonium. Thus, the reactor would make and reuse massive quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in warheads.

    by Victor Gilinsky Henry Sokolski 23 July 21, “Fast” means Natrium relies on energetic neutrons as opposed to “slow” neutrons that drive all our current power reactors. That’s also what gives it the “advanced” label. DOE and nuclear enthusiasts have advertised that small, factory-built, modular reactors will be cheaper and safer, and will be so attractive to foreign buyers that they will revive America’s nuclear industry, currently dead in the water; that they will enable the United States to compete in an international market now dominated by China and Russia; and they will provide a solid nuclear industrial base for meeting U.S. military nuclear requirements.

    With all these supposed advantages it is not surprising that DOE is pouring money into SMRs. And based on little more than slogans, it is also getting enthusiastic bipartisan Congressional support. To understand what is really going on, one has to look beyond most of DOE’s small reactor projects, mere distractions with little future, to TerraPower’s Natrium. This is not, by the way, the company’s original “traveling wave” concept. That one apparently did not work.

    The Natrium project, more than any other, offers the possibility to fulfill the nuclear community’s eighty-year-old nuclear dream to develop a nuclear power plant that can run on all mined uranium, not just on the relatively rare uranium-235 fissile isotope, as current reactors do, thereby vastly increasing fuel resources. It does this by first turning the inert uranium into plutonium and then using the plutonium as fuel. It can even “breed” excess plutonium to fuel new fast reactors. Those outside the nuclear community have no idea of the grip this captivating idea has on nuclear engineers’ minds. It has, however, serious practical drawbacks. What concerns us here is that plutonium is a nuclear explosive—a few kilograms are enough for a bomb, and it is an awful idea to have untold tons of it coursing through commercial channels.

    Fast breeder reactors are not exactly a new idea. The DOE’s predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, pushed fast breeder reactors in the 1970s as the energy solution in what was thought to be a uranium-poor world. It turned out we live in a uranium-rich world, so the expensive project, whose safety problems had not been fully resolved, made no economic sense. Congress canceled the Clinch River Fast Breeder Reactor demonstration project in 1983. Enthusiasts tried but failed to revive fast reactors during the second Bush administration. That effort flopped. Now they are trying again with Natrium, a scaled-up version of a General Electric design for a small sodium-cooled, plutonium-fueled fast breeder reactor (natrium is German for sodium).

    TerraPower, of course, is Bill Gates’s company. One might ask, naively, why he of all people needs government support if the Natrium project is as good as he apparently thinks it is, but let us pass over that to focus on what the project technically entails and the difficulties those technical details pose.

    Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s CEO, told a March 25 Senate Energy Committee hearing that the Natrium would be fueled with uranium enriched to 20 percent U-235 rather than explosive plutonium. But will that remain the preferred fuel if the Natrium reactor takes off and is offered for export? Currently, only a handful of nations can make 20 percent enriched uranium. It’s hard to believe that foreign customers will want to be tied to a U.S. supply of this fuel.

    If they want another source for 20 percent fuel, will the United States go along with foreign enrichers offering it? We currently oppose Iran producing it on grounds that such material is too close to bomb-grade uranium. In a 1976 statement on nuclear policy, President Gerald Ford said the United States would not act in its civilian program in a way contrary to what we ask of others. Has this level of consistency and respect for others gone by the boards?

    The thing to remember is that the principal reason for preferring fast reactors, historically the only reason, is to gain the ability to breed plutonium. That is surely what foreign customers will want. The original GE design on which Natrium is based included an onsite reprocessing plant. So configured, the reactor would make and reuse massive quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in warheads.

    The potential weapons link is obvious in India, which has refused to allow international inspections of its fast reactor. And the recent disclosure that China is building two fast reactors more or less under wraps immediately provoked international concerns about Chinese possible weapons plutonium production. The plutonium produced in the fast reactor uranium “blanket” surrounding the reactor core is well over 90 percent plutonium 239, which is ideal for nuclear weapons.

    At the March Senate hearing, TerrPower’s CEO described a future for the Natrium project that had almost unlimited export opportunities for Natrium and much larger plants. As Levesque explained, the current Natrium offering is a 345-megawatt (electric) machine—not so small in itself—because that size was what today’s market would accept. As TerraPower gained experience, though, he anticipated “growing Natrium output back up to gigawatt scale,” the size of current large light water reactors. The obvious conclusion is that, despite the current ballyhoo about the economic advantages of small units, TerraPower doesn’t think the smaller units would be as economic as larger ones. The “small” label is apparently just for the easily impressed.

    Nor are the touted safety advantages of fast reactors what they seem. The low pressure of sodium-cooled reactors is an advantage. But sodium burns violently when exposed to air or water. And a fast reactor needs a large, concentrated amount of fissile material which becomes more reactive if it loses its coolant. In short, the comparison with the safety of light water reactors is at best a draw.

    The March Senate hearing discussion about competing with Russia and China made clear the nuclear industry’s business plan centers on exporting fast reactor technology around the world, however implausible this may be given the cost and safety issues we’ve noted. The question for the U.S. government is, should it be encouraging nuclear technologies that threaten to flood the world with untold tons of plutonium?

    Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter made it U.S. policy to discourage commercializing of plutonium-fueled reactors. Ford’s words bear repeating: In 1976, he announced that the United States wouldn’t support reliance on plutonium fuel and associated reprocessing of spent fuel until “the world community can effectively overcome the associated risks of proliferation.” Fast reactors like TerraPower’s Natrium don’t meet this test.

    Victor Gilinsky serves as program advisor to The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, is a physicist, and was a commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations.

    Environmental degradation, illness, international tensions – small nuclear reactors had bad results in the Arctic

    September 14, 2021

    The U.S. military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors

    the U.S. still has no coherent national strategy for nuclear waste disposal, and critics are asking what happens if Pele falls into enemy hands.

    The US Army tried portable nuclear power at remote bases 60 years ago – it didn’t go well   https://theconversation.com/the-us-army-tried-portable-nuclear-power-at-remote-bases-60-years-ago-it-didnt-go-well-164138
    Paul Bierman
    Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment, Professor of Natural Resources, University of Vermont, 21 July 21

    In a tunnel 40 feet beneath the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, a Geiger counter screamed. It was 1964, the height of the Cold War. U.S. soldiers in the tunnel, 800 miles from the North Pole, were dismantling the Army’s first portable nuclear reactor.

    Commanding Officer Joseph Franklin grabbed the radiation detector, ordered his men out and did a quick survey before retreating from the reactor.

    He had spent about two minutes exposed to a radiation field he estimated at 2,000 rads per hour, enough to make a person ill. When he came home from Greenland, the Army sent Franklin to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. There, he set off a whole body radiation counter designed to assess victims of nuclear accidents. Franklin was radioactive.

    The Army called the reactor portable, even at 330 tons, because it was built from pieces that each fit in a C-130 cargo plane. It was powering Camp Century, one of the military’s most unusual bases.


    Camp Century was a series of tunnels built into the Greenland ice sheet and used for both military research and scientific projects. The military boasted that the nuclear reactor there, known as the PM-2A, needed just 44 pounds of uranium to replace a million or more gallons of diesel fuel. Heat from the reactor ran lights and equipment and allowed the 200 or so men at the camp as many hot showers as they wanted in that brutally cold environment.

    The PM-2A was the third child in a family of eight Army reactors, several of them experiments in portable nuclear power.

    A few were misfits. PM-3A, nicknamed Nukey Poo, was installed at the Navy base at Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. It made a nuclear mess in the Antarctic, with 438 malfunctions in 10 years including a cracked and leaking containment vessel. SL-1, a stationary low-power nuclear reactor in Idaho, blew up during refueling, killing three men. SM-1 still sits 12 miles from the White House at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It cost US$2 million to build and is expected to cost $68 million to clean up. The only truly mobile reactor, the ML-1never really worked.

    The U.S. military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors.

    Nearly 60 years after the PM-2A was installed and the ML-1 project abandoned, the U.S. military is exploring portable land-based nuclear reactors again.

    In May 2021, the Pentagon requested $60 million for Project Pele. Its goal: Design and build, within five years, a small, truck-mounted portable nuclear reactor that could be flown to remote locations and war zones. It would be able to be powered up and down for transport within a few days.

    The Navy has a long and mostly successful history of mobile nuclear power. The first two nuclear submarines, the Nautilus and the Skate, visited the North Pole in 1958, just before Camp Century was built. Two other nuclear submarines sank in the 1960s – their reactors sit quietly on the Atlantic Ocean floor along with two plutonium-containing nuclear torpedos. Portable reactors on land pose different challenges – any problems are not under thousands of feet of ocean water.

    Those in favor of mobile nuclear power for the battlefield claim it will provide nearly unlimited, low-carbon energy without the need for vulnerable supply convoys. Others argue that the costs and risks outweigh the benefits. There are also concerns about nuclear proliferation if mobile reactors are able to avoid international inspection.

    A leaking reactor on the Greenland ice sheet

    The PM-2A was built in 18 months. It arrived at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland in July 1960 and was dragged 138 miles across the ice sheet in pieces and then assembled at Camp Century.

    When the reactor went critical for the first time in October, the engineers turned it off immediately because the PM-2A leaked neutrons, which can harm people. The Army fashioned lead shields and built walls of 55-gallon drums filled with ice and sawdust trying to protect the operators from radiation.

    The PM-2A ran for two years, making fossil fuel-free power and heat and far more neutrons than was safe.

    Those stray neutrons caused trouble. Steel pipes and the reactor vessel grew increasingly radioactive over time, as did traces of sodium in the snow. Cooling water leaking from the reactor contained dozens of radioactive isotopes potentially exposing personnel to radiation and leaving a legacy in the ice.

    When the reactor was dismantled for shipping, its metal pipes shed radioactive dust. Bulldozed snow that was once bathed in neutrons from the reactor released radioactive flakes of ice.

    Franklin must have ingested some of the radioactive isotopes that the leaking neutrons made. In 2002, he had a cancerous prostate and kidney removed. By 2015, the cancer spread to his lungs and bones. He died of kidney cancer on March 8, 2017, as a retired, revered and decorated major general.

    Camp Century’s radioactive legacy

    Camp Century was shut down in 1967. During its eight-year life, scientists had used the base to drill down through the ice sheet and extract an ice core that my colleagues and I are still using today to reveal secrets of the ice sheet’s ancient past. Camp Century, its ice core and climate change are the focus of a book I am now writing.

    The PM-2A was found to be highly radioactive and was buried in an Idaho nuclear waste dump. Army “hot waste” dumping records indicate it left radioactive cooling water buried in a sump in the Greenland ice sheet.

    When scientists studying Camp Century in 2016 suggested that the warming climate now melting Greenland’s ice could expose the camp and its waste, including lead, fuel oil, PCBs and possibly radiation, by 2100, relations between the U.S, Denmark and Greenland grew tense. Who would be responsible for the cleanup and any environmental damage?

    Portable nuclear reactors today

    There are major differences between nuclear power production in the 1960s and today.

    The Pele reactor’s fuel will be sealed in pellets the size of poppy seeds, and it will be air-cooled so there’s no radioactive coolant to dispose of.

    Being able to produce energy with fewer greenhouse emissions is a positive in a warming world. The U.S. military’s liquid fuel use is close to all of Portugal’s or Peru’s. Not having to supply remote bases with as much fuel can also help protect lives in dangerous locations.

    But, the U.S. still has no coherent national strategy for nuclear waste disposal, and critics are asking what happens if Pele falls into enemy hands. Researchers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Academy of Sciences have previously questioned the risks of nuclear reactors being attacked by terrorists. As proposals for portable reactors undergo review over the coming months, these and other concerns will be drawing attention.

    The U.S. military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors.