Saturday, February 25, 2012

Brian Wang Presents Carnival of "Nucular" Bloggers #93

Brian Wang presents the 93d edition of the Nuclear Blogging Carnival at his home blog, Next Big Future. Here is a short teaser excerpt:
1. Idaho Samizdat - Small modular reactor vendors seek investors and customers. First they have to prove they can build one. This report, the 2nd in a series, looks at opportunities to develop prototypes at the Department of Energy's Savannah River site.

2. Science and Technology at Newsok has an article about Uranium Enrichment.
When carrying out uranium enrichment, there are many safety aspects unique to the radiological process which are present in addition to the expected industrial hazards of a factory setting. This includes the radioactive decay emissions of the uranium and its decay products. When uranium atoms undergo radioactive decay, they emit both gamma and alpha particle radiation. In doing so, the uranium atom loses a couple of protons and becomes a different element (thorium). This thorium decay product is also radioactive as are its decay products and so on. Eventually this decay chain results in the creation of a final lead atom with the alpha particles all becoming (very quickly) neutral helium atoms. The gamma radiation given off in this decay process does not tend to be extremely large due to the very long half life of uranium (which is measured in billions of years) and so very little of the uranium undergoes radioactive decay at any given time.

The enrichment process will increase the U235 content in the uranium hexafluoride by up to as much as 5% for commercial nuclear reactors. This means that by weight, 5% of the enriched uranium would be U235 as opposed to the natural case where only 0.7% of any uranium is this isotope.

3. ANS Nuclear Cafe - The 11th Annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day was celebrated Thursday February 23. Dr. Jane LeClair of Excelsior College discusses aspects of her own career in nuclear high technology and the importance of encouraging and mentoring prospective young women of science and technology.

4. Yes Vermont Yankee has a guest post by Vermont State Senator Joe Benning, An Open Letter to Attorney General Sorrell. Benning is a lawyer as well as a legislator. He tells the Vermont AG why Vermont should NOT appeal the recent legal ruling in favor of Vermont Yankee. Benning shows that if the AG appeals, he will lose.

5. Yes Vermont Yankee has a second post that dissects and debunks parts of the biased CNN program about Vermont Yankee. (Debunking the whole program would take a very long post indeed!). CNN had Hatchet Job about Vermont Yankee. _NextBigFuture Nuke Carnie 93

Is the UK getting serious about taking an intelligent approach to nuclear power?
...the UK Nuclear Fission Technology Roadmap Preliminary Report has been prepared by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) on behalf of a project team consortium comprising government agencies, public bodies and industry representatives: the Energy Research Partnership (ERP); the NNL; the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA); the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); and the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The report starts with the premise that nuclear power will have to play a much greater role if the UK is to enjoy a secure, low-carbon energy mix by 2050. This requires a long-term strategic approach that focuses on a secure supply of fuel, management of additional waste arising and also maximising supply chain opportunities.

The report looks in depth at two possible but, it claims, realistic scenarios for UK nuclear deployment: a replacement scenario, envisaging the replacement of the UK's existing nuclear park with 16 GWe of new nuclear generation capacity by 2025, and an expansion scenario, seeing the same 16 GWe to 2025 and further expansion to reach 40 GWe by 2050. It then considers the facilities, infrastructure and skills that will be needed to maintain and develop the necessary expertise and capabilities from a technology standpoint.

Ensuring the availability of relevant skills, especially within the regulatory sector, will be vital, the report notes. To ensure the necessary skills are available to build and operate the required facilities, "the UK needs a skills pipeline starting now," it warns, adding that any delays or gaps in delivering a coordinated program will lead to unnecessary costs and delays to future new build programs. _WorldNuclearNews
Finally, physicist Tom Murphy outs himself as a Malthusian peak oiler -- albeit an MPO of the more rational and open-minded type, who is more likely than most to grow out of that phase.
When the descent stage of petroleum hits and production drops by several percent per year, the economic shocks and global reaction will be significant, and we will be scrambling to find our exits—only then to realize that nothing is as easy as it seemed during times of surplus, and that all new infrastructure efforts require the very energy that is in short supply (the Energy Trap). It’s true that shortage of one form of energy does not mean shortage of all types of energy. A liquid fuels shortage won’t directly translate into electricity shortage, for instance. But virtually every facet of our modern society requires our transportation capabilities to remain intact. Without that, virtually everything becomes hard.

...I firmly believe that Malthus will ultimately be proven right that growth collides with finite resources so that growth must stop. His timing was off because he did not see fossil fuels coming, and I could likewise be accused of not seeing the next big wave of energy that will wash over us and “kick the ladder” of fossil fuels out from under us—a compelling notion, to be sure.

...I only fell into this “limits” camp because practically every time I performed quantitative analyses on this, that, or the other alternative energy proposal, I came up disappointed. I really did want the pleasure of personal discovery that we have an obvious path forward. I am delighted by the abundance of solar energy input to the planet. I am reassured by the vastness of thermal energy in the oceans and crust. I am tentatively excited about the vast energy represented by uranium in the oceans and by thorium using functional molten salt reactors. I truly do see these as positive lights in the darkness.

Yet over and over, quantitative analysis knocks out many of the “exciting” ideas we hear about in the sensationalized media world. Already, this is a damaging blow to our collective perception that solutions abound.

...What hit home for me personally is the notion that a worst-case collapse of civilization (not unknown to history, let us recall) would be damaging to the thing I hold dearest: our accumulated knowledge of how the world works—science. Science is a luxury of highly functional societies.

...I do not want to accept defeat. I have a similar urge when it comes to our future challenge: this predicament requires all-out commitment. The problem is, commitment on an individual scale does not amount to much. That’s why I started Do the Math: to convey my sense of just how challenging our future will be, so that we might increase the chances of some collective action that can make a difference. My path started with hope, but was largely supplanted by fear. _Tom Murphy
While it may not seem logical to many readers, this "moment of truth" which Murphy is facing is actually a good thing -- for him. Being both intelligent and open-minded, Murphy has a good chance of making the transition which many of the rest of us have made, when confronted by the same dilemma. It is a moment-of-truth which Murphy should have faced a decade or two earlier, in a more rational society that possessed more competent methods of child-rearing and education. But better late than never. Good luck, Tom.

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