Monday, March 17, 2008

Better, Safer Nuclear Fuel Technologies

Current high oil prices add an exclamation mark to the need for new, reliable energy sources. Converting our automobiles from petrol to electricity will require new high capacity power plants--like nuclear fission reactor plants. It is important to make nuclear power so safe that the public becomes more accepting of the necessary expansion.

Brian Westenhaus at New Energy and Fuel explains some clever modifications of nuclear fuel that will make the fuel both safer for use and disposal--and--much less likely to be used to make nuclear weapons.
The technology is about the coatings that are applied to particles of fuel. Two paths are being followed, one is a cylinder shaped pellet of particles and the other is the pebble or spherical shaped pellet. The choices are made due to the diverging engineering sets that are going to pebbles that are entered into a fuel system and reside until burned through and rods filled with cylindrical pellets in common use today. The paths exist to accommodate the helium-cooled reactor where the helium gas is used to transfer the heat out to the electrical generation plant.

Spherical pellets are planned for use in systems that would meter through the fuel so avoiding a full shutdown to refuel. Cylindrical pellets would be used in rods that would produce larger reactors while still requiring a shutdown to refuel.

The advantages of the research and development of coating technology offers more beyond the increase of burnup percentage. The effects yield that the total fuel used is reduced, the amount needed to produce a given output is reduced and most importantly, the operating temperatures can be raised which brings a dramatic increase in the efficiency, or much more electricity is generated for a given amount of fuel. Nevertheless, the main concern for utility owners and customers is the safety increases as the coatings are stable beyond the reactive temperatures of the active fuel so blanking the “meltdown” or being a rich deposit of fuel that could be made into weapons.___NewEnergy

These technologies appears to offer several advantages in both safety and operational efficiency over current designs of fission fuel.

Brian Wang at NextBigFuture explains that nuclear energy is actually much safer than people believe--even in its worst designs.
Those who talk about PV solar power (millions of roofs) need to consider roof worker safety. About 1000 construction fatalities per year in the US alone. 33% from working at heights.

Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. An average of 362 fatal falls occurred each year from 1995 to 1999, with the trend on the increase. 269 deaths (combined falls from ladders and roofs in 2002).___NextBigFuture
As Brian explains at his post, only 50 workers died at Chernobyl, the worst commercial nuclear reactor accident. And of course, no one died at Three Mile Island, the most celebrated nuclear reactor mishap in the western world.

Ambitious planners who wish to see solar panels put on every rooftop, would likely be responsible for the deaths of many thousands of workers from accidental falls. Similar safety problems apply to the use of wind generators--which can be particularly hazardous.


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