November 10, 2013

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 182 - the Week that the nuclear documentary Pandora's Promise appeared on CNN

1. Atomic Insight - I want a nuclear plant in my backyard. So do some of my neighbors

A substantial number of the town’s residents gathered at their historic Colonial Theater on October 30 to watch Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise, they cheered with pride when the film turned its attention to their home territory. They paid close attention as the film told the story of Chuck Till and the effort that he led for a decade to develop the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), a sodium cooled fast reactor that was intelligently designed with several evolutionary features worth a brief mention.

* It used a large pool of sodium rather than a piping system to move coolant.
* It used double walled tubes in the steam generator.
* It used a metal alloy fuel.
* The project also included development of a fuel recycling method that, while still not perfect, addressed many of the issues associated with the first generation aqueous reprocessing method first developed to isolate virtually pure Pu-239 for explosive uses.

The Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) operated at Argonne-West in Idaho from 1964 to 1994

Those features combined to form a complete system that demonstrated — by physical testing — that it could withstand a complete loss of all power without any damage. That was the initiating event that led to the memorable core melts and hydrogen explosions at some of the units at Fukushima Daiichi.

EBR-II, the power plant part of the Integral Fast Reactor project, produced reliable electricity for 30 years; it was a demonstration plant, not a “bread-board” prototype. The IFR project also came close to showing that the system could recycle material that other reactors discharged as “waste” and that it could perform that task without producing any material that would be even as useful for weapons as the low grade uranium ore that is distributed throughout the world.

Of course, the Idaho Falls audience for Pandora’s Promise also knew enough of their history to be saddened by the politically driven decision, announced by President Clinton in 1994, to remove funding from all nuclear reactor research, including the IFR. I was sitting close enough to Chuck Till in the audience that I heard several people come up to him after the film’s showing to console him about the tragedy of having his program halted just when it was getting close to final success.

2. Atomic Insights - European broadcasters shun the nuclear energy documentary "Pandora’s Promise". It contradicts their prior investments.

At the end of September 2013, Robert Stone was interviewed about Pandora’s Promise by Société Française d’Energie Nucléaire (SFEN). During that interview, he described his inability to convince a single European broadcaster — outside the UK — to show his documentary. According to Stone, representatives of broadcasting companies throughout the EU have told him that his film contradicts many of the other documentaries and programs that they have paid to develop and show to their viewers.

When companies or individuals have invested large sums of money to tell a tale, even if it is untrue, it is in their best interest to do whatever they can to silence someone telling a different story, even it is absolutely true.

Pandora’s Promise aired on CNN on November 7 at 9:00 pm EST and on November 8 at 12:00 am.

3. Atomic Insights- OPEC analysis – is there room for all of the oil the cartel can produce?

OPEC has a long running goal of trying to ensure that oil prices are set high enough to provide them with as much revenue as possible without being so high that they encourage the development of effective alternative energy supplies.

Of course, many people have misunderstood exactly which alternative energy sources are of the greatest concern when it comes to OPEC’s ability to sell as much oil as possible at the highest price that the market will bear.

As demonstrated by the most effective “energiewendes” (energy transitions) ever undertaken — France’s nearly complete shift from oil to nuclear energy in its electrical power system over a 20 year period and the US’s complete replacement of oil in aircraft carriers and submarines — uranium is one of the primary threats to OPEC’s market domination.

World oil prices, as established by OPEC production quotas and world events like sanctions on Iran, war in Iraq, and regime change in Libya have been stable at a relatively high level for the past several years.

During the same several years, production from oil sands in Alberta and shale rock in Texas and North Dakota has steadily increased. The often mentioned production gain in those unconventional resource fields would not have happened without the steady high prices.

4. Hydrocarbon-fueled establishment hates idea of plutonium economy

I’d like Robert Kennedy Jr to explain why he seems concerned about the prospect of producing hundreds of gigawatts of electricity for hundreds of years by turning waste into clean, affordable, emission-free electricity.

5. Atomic Insights - Fantasy Crossfire debate: Ed Lyman versus Rod Adams on fast breeder reactors

I’ll provide a sample of what they might hear by creating an imaginary dialog using quoted excerpts from Lyman’s slanted rant about Pandora’s Promise portrayal of the potential embodied in the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR).

Lyman: Like the story of Pandora itself, the tale of the integral fast reactor (IFR) — or at least the version presented in the movie — is more myth than reality. In the final assessment, the concept’s drawbacks greatly outweighed its advantages. The government had sound reasons to stanch the flow of taxpayer dollars to a costly, flawed project that also was undermining U.S. efforts to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism and proliferation around the world.

Adams: The IFR project was only budgeted for $100 million per year. Not only were the scientists and engineers doing the kind of fundamental research that only the federal government can perform, but the reactor operated as part of that project was a complete power plant that provided about 50% of the electricity used on the 860 square mile Idaho National Lab without producing any air pollution or CO2.

Till and his team were within a couple of years of proving that it was possible to turn uranium 238, which represents 99.3% of natural uranium and 95% of used nuclear fuel, into vast quantities of emission-free heat and electricity. It could have been an undeniable demonstration that the real myth is that using nuclear energy produces an unsolvable waste problem.

Lyman: In the film, scientists who worked on the IFR program unsurprisingly sing its praises. For example, Charles Till, a former program manager, claimed that the reactor “can’t melt down” and would therefore be immune to the type of catastrophes that occurred at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Fukushima in 2011.

“Pandora’s Promise” referenced two successful safety tests conducted in 1986 at a small demonstration fast reactor in Idaho called the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II). But EBR-II operators scripted these tests to ensure the desired outcome, a luxury not available in the real world. Meanwhile, the EBR-II’s predecessor, the EBR-I, had a partial fuel meltdown in 1955, and a similar reactor, Fermi 1 near Detroit, had a partial fuel meltdown in 1966.

Adams: What do you mean, scripted? One of those tests simulated a complete loss of electrical power while the reactor was being operated at its design capacity. That is exactly the initiating event that eventually resulted in the Fukushima core meltdowns.

The experiences at predecessor reactors is irrelevant; the IFR design included features like a large pool of sodium and metal alloy fuel that were specifically incorporated as refinements derived from the lessons learned during the events at the more primitive reactors that you mentioned. For example, unlike Fermi 1, the EBR-II did not have an “internal core catcher” that could get dislodged and clog cooling channels.

6. Atomic Insights - NNadir's guest post on Plutonium, Nuclear War, and Nuclear Peace.

Nuclear war will never be impossible; it is not impossible now and it never was impossible.

But would it be less probable?

Of course it would.

And that’s the best we can do, until we teach ourselves to abjure not just nuclear war, but all war, because the problem is not uranium, nor plutonium, nor jet fuel, nor nitroglycerin, nor poison gas, or any warlike application of chemistry, nor, for that matter, guns, sticks, nor spears nor rocks.

The problem is war itself.

On the question of nuclear war — the only kind of war that people ever seem interested in preventing — I note again that the first nuclear weapon ever to be dropped on a city, Hiroshima, did not require the construction of a single nuclear reactor. It was made from natural uranium, processed using coal powered electricity and hydroelectric power to run a gaseous diffusion plant in Tennessee to separate a single isotope in natural uranium, 235U, which was then used to construct the bomb in question. Despite this fact, no one has ever proposed the banning of hydroelectricity or coal fired power plants (or any other form of electricity) to prevent nuclear war.

The scientists who built the uranium weapon were so confident in its performance that they didn’t even bother to test it; its first test being on the city it destroyed. The first nuclear bomb ever detonated — this famously took place in New Mexico — as well as the second, and last, nuclear bomb ever used in the only nuclear war relied on plutonium, which was produced in a nuclear reactor — a reactor designed and built solely for the purpose of making nuclear weapons — using natural uranium as a starting material. Because of plutonium’s rather strange properties, represented by the fact that it has more allotropes than any other element, the scientists did need to test their plutonium weapon — to make sure it worked, as it was a far more challenging device to make — before they used a second plutonium device at Nagasaki.

7. Atomic Power Review - Conflict between SCE, MHI over San Onofre continues

The most expensive contractor-related fiasco in modern times for nuclear energy continues to evolve. In the latest development, Southern California Edison alleges that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has never offered any viable plan to either repair or replace the faulty San Onofre replacement steam generators.

8. At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reports her "discovery" that there is still a niche market for "uranium glass," a product that saw its heyday about a century ago. She came upon her unexpected "find" at a recent craft fair in Washington, DC, where she discovered a contemporary glassblower displaying sculptural glass objects that glowed under ultraviolet light. She points the interested reader to documentation on uranium glassware and its levels of radioactivity.

9. ANS Nuclear Cafe: "Realistic look at Small Modular Reactors in Idaho" by Rod Adams

Rod Adams attended, with a group of about 150 people, a conference on Small Modular Reactors held in Idaho Falls (near the historic sites of the Idaho National Laboratory). Presentations addressed technical progress so far, and the long, challenging development path that must be traversed to allow the technology to begin contributing to the world’s energy security.

Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer of NuScale Power, described his company’s history and unique technology. The NuScale concept of building a 540 MWe power plant from a collection of twelve identical, independently contained, natural circulation 45 MWe reactors, each with its own power turbine is quite different from any of the other proposed systems. As McGough reminded everyone, NuScale opened up its initial licensing dialog with the NRC in 2008. McGough claimed to have been happy that NuScale was later joined in the race to commercialization by B&W and Westinghouse as they each recognized the potential value of the smaller reactor market.

The vendors all acknowledged that their systems will be tough sells in the US under conditions of current natural gas prices, but a number of attendees reminded everyone that no one really knows what natural gas prices will be in the 2022 to 2025 time frame when the first SMRs will begin commercial operations. Even more importantly, no one knows what the prices will be during an SMR’s 60-year lifetime.

As some speakers pointed out, natural gas prices in Europe, parts of South America, and the Far East are already high enough to encourage a reasonably high level of excitement about SMR development. With ongoing concern about climate change, it is always worthwhile to invest in a zero emission power source that can compete with methane (aka natural gas). That fuel’s climate-related boast is that it is… only half as dirty as coal.

10. ANS Nuclear Cafe - "Past, Present, and Promise" by Will Davis

A personal recounting by Will Davis on why the upcoming ANS Winter Meeting Technical Tour of the commercial nuclear ship Savannah, and last year's tour of the US nuclear navy's submarine USS Albuquerque, are so meaningful to him.

11. Yes Vermont Yankee - The Right Side of History and Pandora's Promise: Guest post by Angwin and Cravens

Gwyneth Cravens and Michael Angwin show that supporters of nuclear energy are on the right side of history. Guest post at Yes Vermont Yankee. (Yes, that's Michael Angwin of Australia, not Meredith Angwin of the blog itself!)

Pandora's Promise appeared on CNN. This documentary interviews leading environmentalists, including Gwyneth Cravens. They describe their journey to supporting nuclear energy. It's a world-wide project, including footage of Fukushima and of areas of the world with high natural background radiation.

12. The Hiroshima Syndrome/Fukushima Commentary…

Cherry-picking Japanese Press Feeds Spent Fuel Fears -

The Press frenzy over F. Daiichi spent fuel removal is intensifying. Japan Times is feeding fears by "cherry picking" their cited experts preaching impending apocalypse, and providing no balance at all. The Times even neglects calming opinions by long-standing international antinuclear groups like NRDC and UCS! The Times is only interested in fomenting fiction-based fears. and..

Japanese Politician Falls Prey to an Antinuclear Paradigm

One of the long-standing antinuclear tenets is that their “evidence” is largely unknown to most people. They feel that if their concepts were widely reported, the world would necessarily turn against their great Satan – nuclear energy. A young antinuclear lawmaker in Japan has fallen prey to this concept and performed a taboo act that has cost him dearly.

13. Dr. Robert Bruce Hayes at NewsOK describes why nuclear reactors cannot behave like an atom bomb.

14. Nextbigfuture - China could become the third largest producer of nuclear energy in 2014.

Russia currently has the third largest active production of nuclear energy. Japan has more but most of their nuclear reactors are shutdown. Japan is likely to only have a partial restart of about 12 nuclear reactors in 2014. Russia could complete 1-4 nuclear reactors by the end of 2014.

China could complete 8-15 nuclear reactors by the end of 2014. Several were scheduled to start in 2013 and are close to starting by the startup might slip a few months into the early part of 2014.

By adding 10 GW of nuclear power (completing nine of nuclear reactors currently under construction), China should pass Russia and South Korea.

15. Nextbigfuture - The GE/Hitachi Laser Uranium Enrichment facility has completed its first test loop.

GE and Hitachi are building the first commercial-scale U-235 laser enrichment facility licensed for production. It will use an Australian-developed laser enrichment technology known as Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX). Currently Silex has completed its phase I test loop program at GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment’s (GLE) facility in North Carolina. When the commercial plant is built, its target enrichment level will be 8 percent, which puts it on the upper end of low-enriched uranium. SILEX is only one of a number of new approaches that have been investigated for uranium enrichment. Estimates suggest that a laser-based uranium enrichment plant would have an initial cost, size, and power requirement about one-fifth that of an equivalent centrifuge-based enrichment plant. The operating cost would also be expected to be far smaller.

16. Nextbigfuture - MIT Charles Forsberg suggests to find a way to divert excess power from a nuclear plant, making it a “dispatchable” source of electricity — one that can easily be ramped up and down to balance the disparities between production and demand.

The paper outlines three concepts, which Forsberg says could have potential in the coming decades. They involve pairing a nuclear plant with an artificial geothermal storage system, a hydrogen production plant, or a shale-oil recovery operation.

The last of these ideas would locate a nuclear plant near a deposit of oil shale — a type of deposit, technically known as kerogen, that has not been used to date as a source of petroleum. Heated steam from a nuclear plant, in enclosed pipes, heats the shale; the resulting oil can be pumped out by conventional means.

At first glance, that might sound like a “dirty” solution, enabling the use of more carbon-emitting fuel. But Forsberg suggests that it’s quite the opposite: “When you heat it up, it decomposes into a very nice light crude oil, and natural gas, and char,” he explains. The char — the tarlike residue that needs to be refined out from heavy crude oils — stays underground, he says.

17. Nextbigfuture - Summary of the November update on the Focus Fusion commercial nuclear fusion project:

* Two tests indicate that a new design for a Tungsten component should succeed in solving current inpurity problems
* Pinch timing measures impurities and sparks international project
* Laser experiment gives new visibility to pB11 fusion
* Italian physicist analyses Focus Fusion, sees promise
* Motherboard features LPP’s role in fusion race

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