Sunday, December 11, 2011

UK, China, Both Looking at Fast Nuclear Reactors

The British Department for Energy and Climate Change is seeking ways to deal with its 87 metric tons of legacy plutonium from its nuclear weapons and commercial power program... General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy has proposed to the British government building a new reactor using its Power Reactor Innovative Small Module design or Prism, Penn Energy reports.

The Prism reactor is a liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor – one where the fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons. It is based on the Integral Fast Reactor, invented by Idaho Falls physicist Charles Till.

The prototype reactor is on of many designs of the next generation of nuclear reactors that are smaller than current reactors. The proposed reactor would produce 622 megawatts of power compared with 1,200 megawatts but could be built half that size.

The plant would take approximately five years to build and have a 60 year operational life. Ironically, the idea is for the reactor is to reduce the amount of fuel and make money. Till’s integral fast reactor was a breeder.

It was designed not only to turn itself off and cool itself down, but also to burn much of its nuclear waste and create more fuel than it used._IdahoStatesman
China's state nuclear power company, CNNC, has held talks with Microsoft's Bill Gates about developing the TerraPower fast reactor design in China.
Terra is in the “early stages” of discussions with CNNC. Don’t believe the more sensational reports saying it’s a done deal. While that might eventually come true, Terra and China are still talking.

What makes an eventual China deal plausible is that Terra’s reactor fits a design known as “fast neutron reactor,” or FNR. China plans — there’s that planning again — to shift heavily towards FNRs by 2050, according to the WNA.

Unlike today’s conventional reactors, FNRs do not slow down, or “moderate”, the neutrons that split out of atoms and serve as the heat source that eventually drives a turbine to make electricity. FNRs can be more efficient and cost-effective. Depending on the design, they can burn both the depleted and spent uranium left over from the conventional nuclear fuel cycle. And FNRs tend to use as fuel the weapons-grade plutonium left over after burning uranium, rather than leaving the plutonium as hazardous waste as happens in today’s reactors. Terra uses an FNR design called a “traveling wave.” _SmartPlanet
Here is why US nuclear reactor designers are going overseas in search of customers and partners:
Developing nuclear technology in the United States means squeezing through the portals of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that 11-story building in Beltsville, Md., that serves as corporate headquarters and clearinghouse for all new ideas in the nuclear industry. Right now, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko is complaining he doesn’t have enough staff to conduct license-renewal applications for aging reactors such as Vermont Yankee and New York’sIndian Point (which will conveniently allow him to postpone these contentious issues until after the 2012 election, thereby protecting President Obama’s environmental flank). Getting approval from the NRC to build anything new is basically a lost cause. Eight years ago, innovative engineers at Los Alamos came up with the idea of creating Small Modular Reactors — like the kind we have put in submarines for the last half-century — and burying them deep underground so they could power a town of 20,000 with something that could fit in a church basement. Several start-up companies have been trying to commercialize small-modular reactors but so far they have barely managed to get a foot in the door at the NRC.

So where to go with your revolutionary ideas? Why, China, of course! There they don’t have a mandarinate bureaucracy or hordes of environmental lawyers waiting to oppose your every move. So Gates has taken his pet idea to China — which means, of course, that if the Travelling Wave [fast nuclear reactor] ever becomes a reality, China will be manufacturing them. _NRO

So while much of Europe is sinking into an energy starvation quagmire involving big wind and solar, and while the US Obama administration is wallowing in its own ineptly suicidal policies of energy starvation, at least a few countries are considering moving ahead to safer and cleaner forms of nuclear fission.



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