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View Diary: The Utility of Light: Getting Real with the Existing Energy Infrastructure. (122 comments)

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  •  There is an interview with Alvin Weinberg that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, bryfry

    one can view by going to Kirk Sorensen's website about Thorium reactors - I don't happen to have the link handy - wherein Weinberg said - just before his death in his 90's - that it would be difficult to make reactors safer than those that already exist.

    What Weinberg meant, I think, was that modern reactors are already extraordinarily safe and we've already reached a point of diminishing returns on what we can accomplish.

    It seemed that all of the nuclear engineering students and professors in his audience were going to have heart attacks when he said that.

    Alvin Weinberg was almost like a god in my imagination, and I was surprised by his remark, but I think that we can in fact make better reactors than those built in the 1960's and 1970's.   The work of that generation was a spectacular success but we have a broader mission now.

    I think we need many different types of reactors.

    •  Why? (0+ / 0-)

      I think we need many different types of reactors.

      could you elaborate on that.

      The only shame in ignorance is taking pride in it.

      by carver on Tue Jun 19, 2007 at 03:27:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well in some sense the body of my diaries makes (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, JeffW, bryfry

        the case.

        I think the "standard" pressurized water reactor has been a specatacular success at generating baseload electricity.   There is plenty of room for this mission to be expanded of course, and I suggest we follow this avenue as quickly as is possible, that is that we finish the job with respect to baseload electricity and move toward banning coal.

        It is also obvious that there are high temperature applications - including the mission of manufacturing safe fluid fuels - that need fulfilling.   Also it is immediately obvious that the vast majority of the potential energy in uranium - the bulk of it in fact - is now regarded as "waste."

        Nuclear resources are limited if we only use that portion of them that is accessible from the current main technology which essentially relies on U-235, a minor isotope among the available actinides on earth.    We will need other types of reactors to address this issue of resources.

        If we are to address poverty we will also need small modular reactors of various types, including types that require very little infrastructure and very little attention from operators.   These needs are not met ideally by the standard designs that prevailed in the last century.

        •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kurt

          That's a good explanation.  One of my concerns about nuclear power generation is that we would be committing to another depletable resource and wind up in the same position we are currently in, namely relying on other countries for an ever dwindling resource.
          What is the current state of development of the small modular reactor?

          The only shame in ignorance is taking pride in it.

          by carver on Tue Jun 19, 2007 at 06:40:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The most developed modular concept (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LIsoundview, JeffW

            is the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), being developed primarily by the South Africans and the Chinese and based on work done by the Germans from the 60s until the 80s.

            The Chinese actually have a small test reactor that is based on this concept. The South Africans are farther along in the design and want to build a full-scale prototype soon, but funding problems have delayed the project.

            The US is also looking into a small, modular design for its Next Generation Nuclear Plant project. The Department of Energy is still in the "pre-conceptual design" phase, however, and hasn't even chosen a specific concept to go with. Nevertheless, Congress appears to be behind this project, so it will go forward.

            If you want to talk about a very small, modular reactor, Toshiba is currently marketing its 4S design, which it describes as a "nuclear battery." This concept is essentially a small reactor that can be deployed remotely and operated for decades with hardly any attention and no refueling. When it finishes its lifetime, it is pulled out of the ground (it sits below ground) and shipped back to the manufacturer, who takes care of the disposal. The power generated by this type of reactor is relatively expensive, so it is targeted mostly for remote locations where energy is expensive -- e.g., remote places in Alaska that have to ship in expensive oil to run diesel generators.

            •  Thanks again. (0+ / 0-)

              I am going to do some research on those reactors; I do think they can be a valuable component for a more sensible and stable energy policy.  In your diary you  mentioned the radioactivity present in coal burning.  I have read that if nuclear power plants were producing the same about of radiation that coal burning plants were, they would be in violation of NRC regulations.  How much truth to that is there?

              The only shame in ignorance is taking pride in it.

              by carver on Fri Jun 22, 2007 at 12:52:41 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Perhaps a short anecdote (0+ / 0-)

                will help illustrate this better than citing some numbers and figues.

                It is interesting to talk to people who have worked at the Crystal River 3 nuclear plant in Florida, because if you do they can tell you about an interesting problem that this plant has had. This problem had to do with radiation and their detectors, but unlike what most people would expect, the problem was not with radiation getting out of the plant, it was with radiation getting in.

                Crystal River 3 is a lone nuclear plant in the middle of four coal-fired plants, and the small particles and whatnot from the stuff coming out of the stacks of the coal plants would get on the workers as they were in the parking lot or on the way into the plant. Thus, these workers were frequently setting off the radiation detectors as the entered the plant.

                These detectors are there to detect radiation leaving the plant and to protect the workers, and as far as I know, there have been no serious problems with radiation getting out of the plant. The stuff coming out of the stacks of the neighboring coal plants every day that they operate is obviously held to a different standard, wouldn't you say?

                •  That would be funny (0+ / 0-)

                  if it wasn't so outragous.  I may be wrong, but I don't believe the standards for the new "clean" burning coal plants addresses the radiation issue.  That may be because the technology to "scrub" the radiation out doesn't exist.
                  China is building new coal plants faster than a tract home developer; I wonder how long it will be before the deliterious effects become obvious.

                  The only shame in ignorance is taking pride in it.

                  by carver on Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 06:40:41 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Relax, you can laugh (0+ / 0-)

                    This story is much less about the amount of radioactive material released from coal plants than the very stringent requirements of the nuclear industry and the very tiny amounts of radioactive material that are released into the environment by the normal operation of nuclear plants.

                    The public health impact of radioactive material from coal plants is really not that large -- or to put it a better way, compared to the impact on public health of all of the other non-radioactive stuff that comes out of the stacks of coal plants, the impact of the radioactive material is insignificant. The radioactive material that is released is just stuff that has been in the ground for a very long time and decays very slowly. Thus, it releases little radiation.

                    By the way, you obviously haven't talked to anyone who has been to China in the last decade. Sadly, air pollution is already a very serious problem in China. The air pollution in their major cities is now on a scale that is unfathomable to us in the modern West. It's beyond obvious.

                •  Trojan had issue with radioactive Columbia water (0+ / 0-)

                  Trojan was downstream of Hanford on the Columbia River.  The bomb factory reactors at Hanford were only shut down 4 to 7 years before Trojan opened.  The bomb reactors had stopped releasing their 42,000 curies a month, but the sediment in the river bottom is still cleaning out to this day.

                  The water pumped out of the river first went through a fine sieve filter to remove suspended sediment.  The filter wash water was FAR more radioactive than any other point in the service water system.

                  The drinking water in the plant also originally came from the river (with treatment of course) but was switched to well water to reduce worker on the job dose.

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