The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector is dystopian

A documentary called New Fire was released promoting ‘advanced’ nuclear power concepts last year. The heroes of the film were young entrepreneurs Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, creators of a start-up called Transatomic Power that was establishing a ‘Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor’.

Problems arose during the long gestation of New Fire. Transatomic Power gave up on its strategy to use nuclear waste as reactor fuel after its theoretical calculations were proven to be false, and the waste-annihilating reactor was reinvented as a waste-producing, uranium-fuelled reactor.

Worse was to come: just previously the release of New Fire, Transatomic Power went broke and collapsed completely. An legendary fail.

Reactor

The Australian parliament’s ‘inquiry into the requirements for nuclear energy‘ is shaping up to be another epic fail. The conservative chair of the query claims that “new technologies in the field are leading to cleaner, more secure and more effective energy production.”

But the ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector isn’t advanced and it isn’t advancing.

The next ‘advanced’ reactor to commence operation will be Russia’s floating nuclear power plant, created to aid exploit fossil fuel reserves in the Arctic ‒ fossil fuel reserves that are more accessible because of environment modification. That isn’t ‘advanced’ ‒ it is dystopian.

Russia’s enthusiastic pursuit of nuclear-powered icebreaker ships (nine such ships are planned by 2035) is closely linked to its agenda of establishing military and economic control of the Northern Sea Route ‒ a route that owes its existence to climate modification.

China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) says the function of its partly-built ACPR50S demonstration reactor is to develop floating nuclear power plants for oilfield exploitation in the Bohai Sea and deep-water oil and gas advancement in the South China Sea.

God-awful

‘Advanced’ nuclear reactors are advancing environment modification. Another example comes from Canada, where one potential application of little reactors is offering power and heat for the extraction of hydrocarbons from tar sands.

Some ‘advanced’ reactors could theoretically take in more nuclear waste than they produce. That sounds fantastic ‒ up until you dig into the information.

An article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ‒ co-authored by Allison Macfarlane, a former chair of the US N uclear Regulatory Commission ‒ states that “molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled quick reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will in fact worsen spent fuel storage and disposal problems.”

The subclass of sodium-cooled fast reactors called ‘integral fast reactors’ (IFRs) might theoretically gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity, utilizing a procedure called pyroprocessing.

But an IFR R&D program in Idaho has left a god-awful mess that the Department of Energy (DOE) is having a hard time to deal with. This legend is comprehensive in a 2017 article and a longer report by the Union of Worried Scientists’ senior researcher Dr. Edwin Lyman, illustration on documents acquired under Liberty of Details legislation.

Breeder

Dr. Lyman writes: “Pyroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult type of nuclear waste and converted it into numerous difficult kinds of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to amplify, rather than simplify, the waste issue. … 

The FOIA documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of huge amounts of public money being wasted on an unverified technology that has fallen far short of the impractical forecasts that DOE used to sell the task”.

Some ‘advanced’ reactors could theoretically consume more fissile (explosive) nuclear material than they produce. Rather of contributing to weapons expansion dangers and issues, they might contribute to the resolution of those issues.

That sounds excellent ‒ till you dig into the information. After Russia’s drifting nuclear plant, the next ‘advanced’ reactor to commence operation might be the Model Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) in India.

Weapons

The PFBR has a blanket with thorium and uranium to type fissile uranium-233 and plutonium respectively ‒ in other words, it will be ideal for weapons production.

India plans to usage fast breeder reactors (a. k.a. quick neutron reactors) to produce weapon-grade plutonium for usage as the initial ‘driver’ fuel in thorium reactors.

As John Carlson, the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, has repeatedly noted, those plans are highly bothersome with regard to weapons expansion and security.

There’s nothing “cleaner, safer and more effective” about India’s ‘advanced’ reactor program. On the contrary, it is harmful and it fans regional tensions and proliferation concerns in South Asia ‒ all the more so given that India declines to allow International Atomic Energy Firm safeguards assessments of its ‘advanced’ nuclear power program.

And if those regional stress boil over into nuclear warfare, catastrophic climate change will most likely result. Fossil fuels supply the best route to catastrophic environment modification; nuclear warfare supplies the quickest path.

Reactors

The ‘advanced’ nuclear power sector isn’t advanced ‒ it is dystopian. And it isn’t advancing ‒ it is regressing.

The Russian government just recently clawed back United States$4 billion from Rosatom’s budget plan by postponing its fast neutron reactor program; particularly, by putting on hold plans for what would have been the only gigawatt-scale quick neutron reactor anywhere in the world.

France recently abandoned plans for a demonstration fast reactor. Pursuit of quick reactor innovation is no longer a concern in France according to the World Nuclear Association.

And funding is tight due to the fact that of yet another failing job: a 100- megawatt materials screening reactor that is 500 percent over-budget (and counting) and 8 years behind schedule (and counting).

Other fast reactor projects have collapsed in recent years. TerraPower abandoned its strategy for a prototype fast reactor in China last year due to restrictions put on nuclear trade with China by the Trump administration, and requests for United States government funding have apparently received a negative reception.

The US and UK federal governments have both thought about utilizing GE H itachi’s ‘PRISM’ fast reactor innovation to procedure surplus plutonium stocks ‒ but both federal governments have rejected the proposal.

Failed

Fast reactors and other ‘advanced’ concepts are often called Generation IV principles.

But fast reactors have been around since the dawn of the nuclear age. They are finest described as failed Generation I innovation ‒ “demonstrably failed technology” in the words of Allison Macfarlane.

The number of operating fast reactors reached double figures in the 1980 s however has progressively fallen and will stay in single figures for the foreseeable future.

Currently, just 5 quick reactors are operating ‒ all of them described by the World Nuclear Association as experimental or demonstration reactors.

Modular

As discussed previously in The Ecologist, most of the handful of small modular reactors (SMRs) under building are over-budget and behind schedule; there are troubling connections between SMRs, weapons proliferation and militarism more generally; and about half of the SMRs under building are meant to be utilized to facilitate the exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

SMRs aren’t leading to “cleaner, safer and more effective energy production”. And SMRs aren’t advancing ‒ projects are falling over left, right and centre:

  • Babcock & Wilcox abandoned its mPower SMR job in the US in spite of getting government funding of US$111 million.
  • Westinghouse dramatically lowered its investment in SMRs after stopping working to safe US federal government funding.
  • China is structure a demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) however it is behind schedule and over-budget and prepares for extra HTGRs at the same website have actually been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association.
  • MidAmerican Energy offered up on its prepares for SMRs in Iowa after stopping working to protected legislation that would force rate-payers to part-pay building and construction costs.
  • Rolls-Royce dramatically decreased its SMR investment in the UK to “a handful of incomes” and is threatening to abandon its R&D entirely unless enormous subsidies are supplied by the British federal government.

 

Zombie reactors

Fast reactors are demonstrably stopped working innovation. SMRs have failed formerly and are in the procedure of failing yet once again. What else is there in the ‘advanced’ nuclear sector?

Fusion? At best, it is decades away and most likely it will permanently remain decades away. Two articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Dr. Daniel Jassby ‒ a combination researcher ‒ thoroughly debunk all of the rhetoric spouted by combination lovers.

Thorium? There are no essential differences between thorium and uranium, so building a thorium fuel cycle from scratch to change the uranium fuel cycle would be absurd ‒ and it won’t happen.

High-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) consisting of the pebble-bed modular reactor sub-type? This zombie principle declines to die even as  one after another country embarks on R&D, stops working, and offers up. As pointed out, China is structure a prototype however has dropped prepares for additional HTGRs.

Paper reactors

Claims that brand-new nuclear technologies are leading to “cleaner, more secure and more efficient energy production” could just be warranted with reference to concepts that exist just as designs on paper.

As a nuclear industry insider quipped: “We understand that the paper-moderated, ink-cooled reactor is the best of all. All kinds of unanticipated issues may occur after a project has been introduced.”

There’s nothing that can be stated about ‘advanced’ reactor rhetoric that wasn’t said by Admiral Hyman Rickover ‒ a leader of the US nuclear program ‒ all the method back in 1953.

“An scholastic reactor or reactor plant practically always has the following fundamental attributes: (1) It is basic. (2) It is little. (3) It is cheap (4) It is light. (5) It can be developed really quickly. (6) It is really versatile in function (‘omnibus reactor’). (7) Extremely bit development is required. It will usage mainly off-the-shelf parts. (8) The reactor is in the research study stage. It is not being developed now.

“On the other hand, a useful reactor plant can be distinguished by the following qualities: (1) It is being constructed now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It is requiring an tremendous quantity of advancement on obviously minor items. Corrosion, in particular, is a problem. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to develop since of the engineering advancement issues. (6) It is big. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated.”

This Author

Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear advocate with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Display newsletter.


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