Friday, February 24, 2012

Nuclear Developments in Argentina

Argentina's CAREM Reactor

When the tsunami in Japan generated the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011, Argentina not only confirmed its decision to increase the share of atomic energy from from 6% to 15% of its energy mix, but started building the prototype Central Argentina Modular Element (CAREM) reactor, the first Latin American reactor design, with the aim of becoming by 2020 one of the stars of the next generation of reactors.

...the design developed by the National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) and the signed off by Applied Research (INVAP) is part of what the nuclear community calls G3+ (generation three plus): it substitutes external subsystems such as pressurizing and water pumps for cooling by natural systems that operate within the reactor vessel. Thus, the design decreases the amount of sensitive components and contact with the outside.

Furthermore, an innovative incorporated hydraulic safety system eliminates the dependency on external energy sources and works passively. For any imbalance in the reactor, graphite rods fall by gravity, thus absorbing excess neutrons and causing a safe shutdown (or SCRAM) in two seconds. For 36 hours the plant would not require external help. ”A tsunami would never have been a problem” ensures the CNEA with an eye to Fukushima.

...small G3+ reactors appear to be one of the futures of the nuclear industry. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that by 2030 there will be at least 43 of these plants in operation worldwide and 96 optimistically. A document from the US Department of Energy (DOE) prepared by the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago does not hesitate to recommend them as one possibility for the US to return to being competitive in reactor design. In the meantime, suppliers like Russia and France’s Areva have decided to join the race.

...In addition, they are best suited to serve markets with small power grids or isolated geographic areas, which is common in emerging markets where energy demand is growing immensely. _Opinno
In other Argentinian nuclear news, the SNC-Lavalin Group, new owner of the CANDU reactor technology, is looking at both refurbishment jobs and new nuclear builds in the South American nation.

Dan Yurman provides an update on the state of SMRs in the US. Contrary to the situation in Argentina, where the government is supporting nuclear innovation, the US under the Obama regime (and the NRC under Gregory Jaczko) is hindering new nuclear technology.

More on the movement to convert from uranium cycle to thorium cycle reactors. Thorium technologies still need to be proven on a commercial scale over an extended timescale, but the early signs are hopeful.

Argentina's government has not been particularly friendly toward private business enterprise -- a very bad sign in a government -- but some particular departments within the government may be promoting some rational policies. That is to be expected, since no government of any size at all is truly monolithic.

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