Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Nuclear Power in the Age of Idiocracy

The Generation IV project has selected six nuclear energy systems for further development involving a variety of reactor, energy conversion and fuel cycle technologies.

The six research areas are:
A gas-cooled fast reactor featuring a fast neutron spectrum, helium-cooled reactor and closed fuel cycle.

A very high-temperature reactor that is helium-cooled.

A super critical water-cooled reactor that is a high-temperature, high-pressure water-cooled reactor that operates above the thermodynamic critical point of water.

A sodium-cooled fast reactor that features a fast-spectrum, sodium-cooled reactor and closed fuel cycle.

A lead-fuelled fast reactor that includes a closed fuel cycle.

And a molten salt reactor that produces fission power in circulating molten salt.

According to the world nuclear association, most of the six systems employ a closed fuel cycle to maximise the resource base and minimise high-level wastes to be sent to a repository. Only one is cooled by light water.

Two of the remaining reactors are helium-cooled and the others have lead-bismuth, sodium or fluoride salt coolant, making it possible to operate at low pressure, with a safety advantage.

The sizes range from 150- 1500MW output with the lead-cooled one available as a 50-150MW electrical so-called "battery" with a long-core life (15-20 years without refuelling). _The Australian
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The good news is that several countries seem to be moving ahead to develop advanced nuclear reactors of a safer, more efficient, more reliable design. China, India, France, Japan, and Russia are working actively on new generation designs. Several US companies are also working on new designs -- but without any realistic expectation that their reactors will be put to use in their home country.

The best nuclear bet for the US and other apparently energy-averse western countries, seems to be the small modular nuclear reactor (SMR).
Most of the nuclear plants now working and being constructed overseas are big, capable of producing from 700 megawatts to 1700MW. Finland has several plants already and is expanding its complex at Olkiluoto from two to three plants.

But much of the research and development attention is also being focused on small-scale units that the industry hopes will be cheaper to build and more flexible to operate, drastically changing the economics of the industry.

According to former Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation chairman Ziggy Switkowski, there has been a big escalation of interest in small reactors of about 100MW capacity for application in remote areas and small towns. He says small reactors are expected on the market within five years.

These reactors will be the size of two shipping containers and can be built underground. They will be gas-cooled, so they will not require large amounts of water and they can be expanded.

A range of small land-based demonstration nuclear reactors will soon be trialled in the US.

French group DCNS, which has been a supplier of nuclear submarines to the French Navy, this week unveiled a small offshore nuclear plant called Flexblue.

Flexblue is a cylindrical unit 100m long and 12 to 15m in diameter, which houses a small nuclear power reactor as well as steam generators, turbines and a generator to produce from 50MW to 250MW of electricity.

The vision is for the reactors to be installed on the seabed under 60m to 100m of water, several kilometres from a centre of demand such as a city, industrial base or remote community, served via underwater cables.

The nuclear industry is hopeful that small nuclear plants could be the game-changer that will give nuclear a niche in a rapidly evolving electricity market being transformed to accommodate much greater use of renewable technologies such as wind and solar. _TheAustralian

But the Idiocracy presents a number of dangers to the use of advanced nuclear fission as a bridge to the future's energy technologies, such as fusion.

The Idiocracy comes into the picture in at least two ways -- in advanced industrial nations, advance vanguards of the Idiocracy enmeshed within the faux environmental movement and lefty-Luddite politica groups, work actively to shut down existing plants and prevent new nuclear plants from being constructed. In the third world, the Idiocracy is simply the established order, including a lack of qualified (and qualifiable) persons to run a technology as sophisticated as nuclear power.

A large number of nuclear power employment opportunities are expected to open up over the next decade. There are insufficient training institutions in the civilian infrastructure to supply these workers, although military schools such as the US Navy's Nuclear Power School should be helpful in supplying retired and separated military engineers and technicians.
Oxford Economics, an energy consulting firm, estimated the impact on employment from the construction of 50 new conventional light-water reactors by 2030, along with 20 advanced high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, 12 fast-spectrum reactors and three used-fuel recycling facilities. The company estimates this would create 75,000 manufacturing jobs, 100,000 construction jobs, and 100,000 indirect jobs.

... Under one scenario for high growth, domestic SMR manufacturing and construction would add 255,000 jobs annually to the U.S. economy. _BCE

Advanced western countries can provide these skilled workers if they get serious about both the technology and the training. Otherwise, the road toward an abundant energy future will be rocky.
As for the Idiocracy -- the third world and the "third worldisation" of the rest of the world -- a low IQ population is not suited to nuclear power. The potential for damaging accidents is too great when the people running the nuclear facility are not up to standards. Best for the third world to stick to biofuels and other simple, low-risk fuels. Even oil & gas pipeline infrastructure and basic electrical grid infrastructure are too much for many third world populations to manage safely and reliably without outside assistance. What a nightmare nuclear power would be in such environments.

When looking at the human future, it is clear that there will be several futures, corresponding to the ultimate potentials of different human populations. The violence and unrest across Northern Africa, the Middle East, Subsaharan Africa, Central Asia, and parts of South and Central America bear sad witness to the tendency of low IQ human populations to regress to low standards of behaviour, without oversight.

There is a wide range of energy technologies which are being developed. It is best to fit the energy technology to the abilities of the underlying society, to avoid too many serious mishaps.

Those who consider the Deepwater Horizon spill or the Three Mile Island breech serious mishaps, have clearly led very sheltered lives.

H/T Energy Tribune

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