Where Do We Stand On Uranium In The Post-Pandemic Energy World?

The Uranium Committee  of the Energy Minerals Division of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists just released their draft 2020 Annual Report last week and the prices and supplies of U look pretty good.

The Uranium Committee monitors the global uranium industry activities, rare earth metals, and the production of electricity from nuclear power, because these drive uranium exploration and development in the United States and overseas. [Full Disclosure – I am a member of the Committee’s Advisory Group]

Modern technological societies require a lot of rare metals, such as lithium, cobalt, vanadium and neodymium, and uranium if you have nuclear power. In fact, there are 35 minerals that are critical to our society. Unfortunately, we don’t produce many of them in the United States, but are dependent on other countries like China for our supply.

This has been a recognized problem for years, but has become especially worrisome after this this pandemic has shown the flimsiness of our supply chains.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) re-introduced her American Mineral Security Act specifically to strengthen those efforts. The bill, which was somewhat bipartisan, attempts to rebuild the domestic mineral supply chain through geological surveying, forecasting, workforce training, research and development, recycling, and a more efficient permitting process.

But uranium seems to be doing pretty well. The United States has more nuclear power plants than anyone else, and is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity.

Our 96 reactors produce 20% of our own nation’s electricity, and requires about 25,000 tons of U each year to do so. In contrast, 624,000,000 tons of natural gas is used to generate 34% of our electricity, and 750,000,000 tons of coal for 30%. 1,000,000,000 tons of petroleum (7,200,000,000 barrels) fuels our transportation sector, the energy equivalent of 1,500,000,000 tons of coal.

But do we have enough U in North America to fuel our own nuclear future until that happens?

Fortunately for us and our northern neighbor and closest ally, the highest-grade U deposits in the world are found in the Athabasca Basin of Saskatchewan in Canada, often referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of Uranium”. And new deposits in this basin keep being discovered.

But a new U.S. uranium district has been identified in the eastern Seward Peninsula of Alaska on the eastern margins of McCarthy Basin. Thorium and rare-earth elements have been discovered in the surrounding igneous rocks, making it key to loosening China’s grip on our technological future.

Even Virginia has a huge untapped U deposit. Uranium supplies have not been a major issue since Canada and Australia have great sources and are close allies.

Uranium is leached from the original ore, either from crushed ore rock at an above-ground facility or directly underground by in situ leaching, to form U3O8 yellowcake (see figure above).

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the USA produced a total of 170,000 lbs of U3O8 (65.4 tU) of uranium concentrate from all domestic sources in 2019, 89% less than on 2018, which itself was 33% less than in 2017. 2018 production was primarily from six facilities: five in-situ leach plants in Nebraska and Wyoming (Crow Butte Operation, Lost Creek Project, Ross CPP, North Butte, and Smith Ranch-Highland Operation) and one underground mine.

At the beginning of 2020, two conventional uranium mills – Shootaring Canyon Uranium Mill in Utah and Sweetwater Uranium Project in Wyoming – were on standby, and the White Mesa Mill in Utah was no longer producing uranium.

There’s lots and lots of U in the world, and more keeps being discovered. U resources increased about 25% over the last decade, which has kept prices low. We get most of our U from other countries, a diversity that serves us well in most thongs. But the sudden sight of our supply chains vulnerabilities in this pandemic has made some think that we should secure uranium from domestic sources.

We are also working hard to make extraction of U from seawater the real future of the U supply beyond this century, although it is a decade or two away from becoming economic. At that point, U supplies would last for billions of years, in effect, making nuclear completely renewable.

Uranium has outperformed major commodities this year, even as the energy sector has suffered from the coronavirus pandemic. MarketsInsider shows that a significant rise in uranium prices has been underway since the pandemic began, up to $34 from $24 per pound of U3O8, a price that had been pretty stable for over a year.

The uranium industry was excited last year about the Administration’s support of Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that would protect the U.S. uranium mining industry. A White House task force is recommending that the federal government buy more uranium from domestic producers, mainly as a way to revive the U.S. uranium mining industry and in part as a way to address security concerns, although according to Sharon Squassoni at George Washington University those concerns are not warranted.

DOE might even create a new national uranium stockpile.

With these higher prices, many international companies are resuming extraction operations. Numerous discoveries of high-grade uranium deposits have been made in Canada and new low-grade deposits are under development in Argentina and Peru. The main Australian uranium mines in South Australia have resumed operations and mines in Western Australia are preparing to resume operations An undeveloped, new uranium “roll front” district has been identified in the eastern Seward Peninsula of Alaska with thorium and rare-earth elements.

Research funding by university and industry remains low in the United States, but state geological surveys (e.g., Wyoming and New Mexico) and the U.S. Geological Survey are moving forward with robust research on uranium and rare earths.

There is general agreement that substantial uranium (and thorium) will be available to fuel the United States as the world’s largest fleet of nuclear power. Although a few more reactors are scheduled for retirement on economic grounds and low-priced natural gas, the other reactors are operating even more efficiently, producing more power than before.

In addition, two new reactors are being completed in Georgia. Following a 30-year period during which no new reactors were built in the United States, it is expected that these two Vogtle units will come online soon after 2020.

Since mid-2007, there have been 16 license applications to build 24 new nuclear reactors, most of which are of the new small modular reactor (SMR) design.

So it seems that we have more uranium (U) than we need for hundreds of years of nuclear power as a big chunk of our energy generation. Which is critical, since we need to double nuclear power to address climate change and replace coal, even as we ramp up renewables.

Together with the fact that the nuclear industry has dealt with the pandemic better than most sectors, both uranium supply and nuclear power should not be much affected in the post-pandemic world.

Nuclear waste will last a lot longer than climate change

Preface.   One of the most tragic aspects of peak oil is that it is very unlikely once energy descent begins that oil will be expended to clean up our nuclear mess.  Or before descent either.  Anyone who survives peak fossil fuels and after that, rising sea levels and extreme weather from climate change, will still be faced with nuclear waste as a deadly pollutant and potential weapon. 

According to Archer (2008): “… there are components of nuclear material that have a long lifetime, such as the isotopes plutonium 239 (24,000 year half-life), thorium 230 (80,000 years), and iodine 129 (15.7 million years). Ideally, these substances must be stored and isolated from reaching ground water until they decay, but the lifetimes are so immense that it is hard to believe or to prove that this can be done”.

Below are summaries of two articles on nuclear waste.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Ro, C. 2019. The Staggering Timescales Of Nuclear Waste Disposal. Forbes.

This most potent form of nuclear waste needs to be safely stored for up to a million years. Yet existing and planned nuclear waste sites operate on much shorter timeframes: often 10,000 or 100,000 years. These are still such unimaginably vast lengths of time that regulatory authorities decide on them, in part, based on how long ice ages are expected to last.

Strategies remain worryingly short-term, on a nuclear timescale. Chernobyl’s destroyed reactor no. 4, for instance, was encased in July 2019 in a massive steel “sarcophagus” that will only last 100 years. Not only will containers like this one fall short of the timescales needed for sufficient storage, but no country has allotted enough funds to cover nuclear waste disposal. In France and the US, according to the recently published World Nuclear Waste Report, the funding allocation only covers a third of the estimated costs. And the cost estimates that do exist rarely extend beyond several decades.

Essentially, we’re hoping that things will work out once future generations develop better technologies and find more funds to manage nuclear waste. It’s one of the most striking examples of the dangers of short-term thinking.

Fred Pearce. 7 March 2012. Resilient reactors: Nuclear built to last centuries. New Scientist.

All nuclear plants have to be shut down within a few decades because they become too radioactive, making them so brittle they’re likely to crumble.

Decommissioning can take longer than the time that the plant was operational.  This is why only 17 reactors have been decommissioned, and well over a hundred are waiting to be decommissioned (110 commercial plants, 46 prototypes, 250 research reactors), yet meanwhile we keep building more of them.

Building longer lasting new types of nuclear power plants

Fast-breeders were among the first research reactors. But they have never been used for commercial power generation. There’s just one problem. Burke says the new reactors aren’t being designed with greater longevity in mind, and the intense reactions in a fast-breeder could reduce its lifetime to just a couple of decades. A critical issue is finding materials that can better withstand the stresses created by the chain reactions inside a nuclear reactor.Uranium atoms are bombarded with neutrons that they absorb. The splitting uranium atoms create energy and more neutrons to split yet more atoms, a process that eventually erodes the steel reactor vessel and plumbing.

The breakdown that leads to a reactor’s decline happens on the microscopic level when the steel alloys of the reactor vessels undergo small changes in their crystalline structures. These metals are made up of grains, single crystals in which atoms are lined up, tightly packed, in a precise order. The boundaries between the grains, where the atoms are slightly less densely packed, are the weak links in this structure. Years of neutron bombardment jar the atoms in the crystals until some lose their place, creating gaps in the structure, mostly at the grain boundaries. The steel alloys – which contain nickel, chromium and other metals – then undergo something called segregation, in which these other metals and impurities migrate to fill the gaps. These migrations accumulate until, eventually, they cause the metal to lose shape, swell, harden and become brittle. Gases can accumulate in the cracks, causing corrosion.

A reactor that does not need to be shut down after a few decades will do a lot to limit the world’s stockpile of nuclear waste. But eventually, even these will need to be decommissioned, a process that generates vast volumes of what the industry calls “intermediate-level” waste.

Despite its innocuous name, intermediate-level waste is highly radioactive and will one day have to be packaged and buried in rocks hundreds of meters underground, while its radioactivity decays over thousands of years. It is irradiated by the same mechanism that erodes the machinery in a nuclear power plant, namely neutron bombardment.

Toxic legacy

Nuclear waste is highly radioactive and remains lethal for thousands of years and is without doubt nuclear energy’s biggest nightmare. Efforts to “green” nuclear energy have focused almost exclusively on finding ways to get rid of it. The most practical option is disposal in repositories deep underground. Yet, seven decades into the nuclear age, not one country has built a final resting place for its most toxic nuclear junk. So along with the legacy waste of cold-war-era bomb making, it will accumulate in storage above ground – unless the new reactors can turn some of that waste back into fuel.

Without a comprehensive clean-up plan, the wider world is unlikely to embrace any dreams of a nuclear renaissance.

References

Archer, D., et al. 2008. The millennial atmospheric lifetime of anthropogenic CO2. Climactic Change 90: 283-297. https://geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/archer.2008.tail_implications.pdf

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Energy in Context and Correcting a Critic

Nextbigfuture has tracked and analyzed nuclear blend, nuclear fission and other energy.

Nextbigfuture has dozens of posts comparing all energy sources based on safety utilizing the deaths per terawatt hour metric.

In 2008, Nextbigfuture had its first death per terawatt-hours for all energy sources.

Nextbigfuture has actually composed hundreds of posts about air contamination and the problems with coal, oil and natural gas. Air contamination is bad and indoor and outdoor air contamination causes 7 million deaths per year. Hardship is even worse and triggers about 18 million deaths per year. Hence getting low-cost energy from burnable dirt (coal) to lift a country out of hardship is in fact a internet gain. This particularly true if the energy can be cleaned up as quickly as possible.

The USA and UK had really unclean air from 1880 -1970 and then cleaned up their air. China has extremely filthy air from 1970 -2020 however must have relatively tidy air by 2030.

Cheap, Clean Energy Would Be Great

The World invests about $6 trillion a year buying energy and building energy. If we cleaned up the fossil fuels we would save 7 million lives per year. Nevertheless, fossil fuels are 80% of international energy use. If we can make energy half as pricey, then the world may spend $3 trillion per year instead of $6 trillion.

In 2013, Nextbigfuture kept in mind that the world should not have debates which treat money for energy research study as limited. The World invests about $100 billion per year on energy research.

Energy research and advancement (angels and endeavor capitalists) in the U.S.A. is about $10 billion per year. Worldwide it is about $50-100 billion (government and industry). For a $6 trillion per year market with an average of 2% for research, there need to be $300 billion being invested on energy research study.

The top countries in research (Japan, Israel) by percent of GDP spend 3.5 -4.2% on research study. Get energy right and the world can double the whole economy. Rather of targeting double the world energy and world economy in 2040, we might target triple or quadruple. With energy that is four times less expensive then we have a lot of energy for clean water and other methods to modification the world for the much better. We would have the energy and cash for area.

Energy is money. The energy efficiency of an economy is slow changing relationship between GDP per unit of energy utilized.

Natural gas became low expense and plentiful due to the fact that of fracking and horizontal drilling. This shows that technology can shift energy markets and the cost of energy within a few years.

We can target transforming nuclear fission energy with factory mass-produced deep burn (burn 99+% of the uranium, plutonium or thorium) with a expense of 1 cent or less per kWh. Deeper burn breeder reactors that are about three times more effective with Uranium have actually been produced.

China will quickly be mass producing deep pool nuclear fission reactors that will be walkaway safe and have costs of about 1.65 cents per kwh of thermal heat. Routine nuclear reactors for electrical power can get down to $2500 per kilowatt in China for the Hualong 1 reactors. China is down to 2.5 to 3 cents per kwh for existing nuclear fission when the interest rate for funding is 3%.

Cheap energy is great for mankind. Affordable nuclear fission with less nuclear waste is achievable. There are less technical questions than for reaching a industrial nuclear fusion breakthrough. Utilizing a baseball analogy, we should continue to go for energy tasks that get songs and doubles. Nevertheless, going for house runs with development 99% deep burn nuclear fission and for commercial nuclear combination should still be done.

Fairly predictable energy and transport projects with relatively low technical threat:
Converting all new vehicles to electric cars and trucks. Tesla has made 1 million electric cars and trucks and there are about 5 million electric automobiles on the roadways now. Electric cars can be utilized for 1 million miles of driving due to the fact that they have fewer moving parts and simpler upkeep.

Electrifying transportation can happen much faster than replacing all brand-new (100 million per year) and used cars and trucks (1.5+ billion old vehicles and trucks). We can convert the ridesharing automobiles to electric first.

Trucks use far more fuel and generate far more pollution than cars and trucks. The Tesla Semi could enable trucks to be transformed to electrical and get contaminating trucks away from cities where most individuals live.

Electrifying lorries would stop the use of about 15 -20 million barrels per day of oil.

Converting coal plants for heating in Northern China to nuclear district heating reactors might stop the burning of up to 500 million lots of coal each year.

ThorCon is working on mass production of a molten salt nuclear reactor. Molten Salt nuclear reactors were developed and operated in the 1960 s in the U.S.A. at a couple of megawatts of power.

About 15% of the World’s nuclear waste (unburned uranium) is reprocessed every year. China has prepares to scale up reprocessing to close the nuclear fission fuel cycle. This would involve structure many breeder reactors. Breeder reactors have actually been built and run. There are improved variations that have been funded and are in advancement and building and construction.

Mass production of traditional nuclear fission reactors could see 500 -1000 Gigawatts of nuclear power by about 2060 and if breeders and reprocessing centers are built the fuel cycle can be closed. The main location this will occur is in China. If China does not pick a mass nuclear fission route then the nuclear fission market will be far less unless there are energy job advancements.

If we are handling the World’s energy job portfolio, then we need to increase general energy research study to $300-600 billion each year. The molten salt fission reactors and district heating deep pool reactors need to be established. About 5 -10% of general research need to go for different nuclear blend tasks. More technologies ought to be explored since there will be the benefits from reduced air contamination damage (economic, lives and health) and from the financial cost of more pricey energy.

Correcting a Critic About My Nuclear Combination Protection

Daniel Jassby is a research physicist, who worked on nuclear combination experiments for 25 years at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. Daniel has composed a paper which he has actually published at Vixra called “Voodoo Fusion Energy”.

Daniel points out about 15 of my nuclear blend posts and ignores where I had important posts of nuclear fusion, summaries of combination and contextual analysis. My summaries and criticism happened many years before Daniel’s short article. Daniel himself is a enormous hypocrite. He worked on the goal of nuclear combination experiments for 25 years and did not start calling it out publicly up until 18 years after he retired.

I have noted the insults of this short article before. However, a nuclear combination scientist brought it up in a recent conversation. I wanted to address it once again.

Of the nearly 30,000 short articles that I have written on Nextbigfuture, I have composed about 700 about nuclear fusion and are tagged with blend as a category. There are nearly 2000 articles on energy.

Daniel grumbles in the 15 posts, I did not slam each project as they were being announced.

Daniel got paid for 25 years working on nuclear combination and has been retired given that 1999. Daniel might have actually written about each nuclear blend startup as they announce and slam timelines and propositions as they are made. Nevertheless, he did not. He has actually composed two posts for the Publication of the Atomic Scientist. One knocks the ITER job and another claims that even if nuclear combination energy is commercialized that it will not be that good.

So Daniel picked to get paid for 25 years working towards a goal that he now declares draws.

Nextbigfuture Has Pointed out Delays, Technical Risks and Other Problems for Years Before Daniel’s Voodoo Combination Post

Daniel disregarded the multiple Nextbigfuture combination summaries and analysis posts. He cherry-picked the 3% of the articles on announcements.

I have actually written numerous summaries on the work on nuclear blend.

In 2018, one of the vibrant sub-titles kept in mind the issues and large delays in schedules.
Most of the venture-funded possibilities for advancement nuclear combination have stalled or have sluggish progress

I note in the summaries that schedules slipped and work is proceeding more gradually than claimed. I had a summary of fusion jobs in 2010.

I have pointed out the New Combination Race slides which track triple blend item accomplished by tasks and experiments.

I had an upgrade in 2014, that noted the sluggish rate of progress and schedule slippage.

Daniel claimed I was constantly uncritical. This is incorrect. I likewise provided better summaries and analysis than Daniel has. I would also note that Daniel is a hypocrite for taking 25 years of salary from Princeton Plasma Physics Lab before choosing to be important of the objective and projects. Is Daniel going to give back part of his income to the taxpayers that partially fund Princeton?

For the last lots years, Wang has actually priced quote uncritically forecasts of future
accomplishments with dates supplied by task promoters. Wang treats all jobs
and unjustified claims seriously, however you, dear reader, will simply take note of the dates
promised for business combination reactors.

Another 2014 summary of blend jobs.

In the 2013 Nextbigfuture nuclear blend summary, I kept in mind the slippage with Tri Alpha Energy.

In 2010, I had a summary that talked about the path to commercializing nuclear blend and how we needed to work on enhancing nuclear fission.

In 2010, I kept in mind Eric Drexler’s criticism of the Tokomak and some other nuclear fusion jobs.

Eric : As numerous of you have noted, what I say about “fusion power” is actually about tokamaks, the dominant method to combination today. I’ve been following the advancement of blend power ideas, consisting of the many alternative approaches, for years now. All machines that appearance more-or-less like existing tokamaks (stellarators, for example) would have similar capital-cost problems.

Laser-driven inertial confinement schemes are various but have led to sketches of power plants that once again seem extremely implausible.

Bussard suggested a number of fusion-machine principles, including a scheme for a extremely various kind of tokamak (with a small, disposable core), and, of course, the totally different Polywell approach. There’s not much in print about Polywell, at a technical level, but from what I‘ve read, (1) I’d offer long odds against the proposition that the scheme actually makes physical, technological sense, and (2) I’m glad to see that it’s being examined more carefully.

I said in 2010. I believe ITER is inferior to deep burn fission by itself. I promoted deep burn fission and getting to faster building times and annular nuclear fuel and other enhancement to reach 1 -2 cents per kilowatt hour with very little waste.

Nextbigfuture has written posts about bad declares from ITER and nuclear fusion startups.

ITER and Many Nuclear Blend Start-ups Usage Deceptive Power Terms.

ITER fusion project is even worse than advertised

ITER blend project lies about the dates, budget plan and power levels

The hope and speculation is that after DEMO’s a nation might then continue to make a industrial combination reactor model. However the science and physics might make complex things and another pre-prototype might be needed.

So several pre-prototype tasks out to 2060. State four countries each with their own $100-200 billion job out to 2060.

Then models out to 2070. This is all presuming the innovation is working.

International Tokamak Combination is thousands of lifetime physics and engineering tasks, November 22, 2016

In 2012 European Blend Advancement Arrangement (EFDA) provided a roadmap to fusion power with a strategy proving the reliances of DEMONSTRATION activities on ITER and IFMIF

Conceptual style to be complete in 2020
Engineering design total, and choice to develop, in 2030
Construction from 2031 to 2043
Operation from 2044, Electrical energy generation demonstration 2048

So now with the eight year hold-up in ITER, Nextbigfuture included the time to 2012 DEMONSTRATION first commercial combination reactor strategy
Conceptual style to be complete in 2028
Engineering design total, and decision to build, in 2038
Construction from 2039 to 2051
Operation from 2052, Electrical energy generation demonstration 2056

Nextbigfuture has likewise written about other bad jobs like California high speed rail.

Daniel has actually composed 2 articles for the Publication of the Atomic Researchers (anti-nuclear weapon organization.)

Link to all nextbigfuture fusion articles.

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Synchrotron-based high-resolution photoemission spectroscopy study of ZIRLO cladding with H2O adsorption: Coverage and temperature dependence

Fig. 1 shows the Zr 3d, O 1 s, C 1 s, and Sn 3d HRPES spectra obtained from ZIRLO before the deposition of H2O. Previous study reveals that tin element alone was detected by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), among the minor alloying elements present in ZIRCALOY-4 cladding10. When we performed preliminary experiments using commercial XPS (VG Scientific ESCALAB 220i-XL), the Fe 2p and Nb 3d peaks were not observed in ZIRLO; moreover, the Nb 3d signal was not detected in our HRPES spectrum. Therefore, to enhance the surface sensitivity without considering the detection of the Fe 2p signal, we lowered the photon energy as much as possible, resulting in a photon energy of 710 eV. Furthermore, as the primary analysis in this study involves the Zr 3d spectra, we reduced the photon energy up to 400 eV to obtain the most sensitive Zr 3d HRPES profiles. Fig. 1a displays the Zr 3d spectra acquired at photon energies of 400, 630, and 710 eV, respectively. The Zr 3d profiles obtained at photon energies of 630 and 710 eV were similar; however, that obtained at 400 eV was different. The electron inelastic-mean-free-paths (IMFPs) at photon energies of 400, 630, and 710 eV for Zr 3d, and 710 eV for C 1 s and Sn 3d were calculated to be 7.1, 11.4, and 12.8 Å, and 14.2 and 8.3 Å, respectively, using the NIST electron inelastic-mean-free-path database (Version 1.2) with an algorithm developed by Tanuma, Powell, and Penn23,24. In addition, the IMFP at photon energy of 710 eV for O 1 s was approximately estimated as 7 Å using the universal curve19. In particular, the IMFPs for Zr 3d indicates that the spectrum at a photon energy of 400 eV contains more surface information compared to the others. Therefore, only the Zr 3d spectrum measured at a photon energy of 400 eV will be considered henceforth. The detailed analysis of the Zr 3d spectra with the peak fitting results is presented in Fig. 2.

Figure 1
figure1

(a) Zr 3d, (b) O 1 s, (c) C 1 s, and (d) Sn 3d HRPES spectra obtained from ZIRLO before the deposition of H2O, where PE means the photon energy (eV). Black, red, blue open circles in (a) indicate Zr 3d spectra acquired at the photon energies of 400, 630, and 710 eV, respectively, which were normalized using Zr 3d5/2 peak of zirconium metal at 179.3 eV. The dots and the solid lines in (b) represent the experimental values and the peak fitting results, respectively.

Figure 2
figure2

Zr 3d HRPES spectra of ZIRLO recorded at the photon energy of 400 eV (a) before the adsorption of H2O, after the dosing of (b) 100 L and (c) 1000 L H2O, and after annealing at (d) 100 °C, (e) 300 °C, and (f) 500 °C subsequent to the deposition of 1000 L H2O. The open circles correspond to the experimental values, and the solid lines are obtained by peak fitting. The experimental data in (a) is the same with the spectrum obtained at the photon energy of 400 eV in Fig. 1a.

Fig. 1b displays the O 1 s HRPES profiles, in which three peaks can be observed: O1 at 530.0 eV, O2 at 531.4 eV, and O3 at 533.0 eV. The O1, O2, and O3 peaks are assigned to the O2-, hydroxyl OH, and the chemisorbed H2O features because the binding energies associated with them appear at 530.0–530.2 eV, 531.4 eV, and 533.4 eV, respectively, in literature25,26,27. The C 1 s HRPES profile is depicted in Fig. 1c, where two distinct peaks can be observed at 281.5 eV and 284.6 eV. We assigned the peak at 281.5 eV to zirconium carbide produced by the reaction between zirconium metal and the adsorbed hydrocarbon; this value is similar to the reported binding energy of 281.6–282.0 eV in previous investigations10,28. In addition, the peak at 284.6 eV was assigned to adventitious carbon composed of various hydrocarbon species based on the previously reported value (284.6 eV)29. As shown in Fig. 1c, the full width at half maximum (FWHM) of adventitious carbon at 284.6 eV is broader compared to that of zirconium carbide at 281.5 eV, which may be due to the existence of various types of hydrocarbons. In the Sn 3d HRPES profile (Fig. 1d), two types of Sn 3d5/2 peaks at 484.1 and 486.0 eV, and 3d3/2 signals at 492.5 and 494.4 eV, respectively, appeared with binding energy separation of 8.4 eV between them. In general, the binding energy of Sn 3d5/2 is used to analyze the Sn 3d HRPES profile. It is known that the binding energies of Sn metal and the SnO2 features in ZIRCALOY-4 cladding occur between 483.9–484.7 eV and 486.0–487.2 eV, respectively10,18. Therefore, we assigned the two Sn 3d5/2 peaks at 484.1 and 486.0 eV to Sn metal and the SnO2 compositions, respectively. Thus, by analyzing the HRPES spectra (Fig. 1) obtained from ZIRLO, we established the presence of O2-, hydroxyl OH, chemisorbed H2O, zirconium carbide, adventitious carbon, Sn metal, and the SnO2 species.

The fact that such features appeared despite our cleaning process suggests that they may be due to the intrinsic oxygen and carbon in ZIRLO, which was also observed in prior XPS studies on ZIRCALOY-4 cladding10,21.

Fig. 2a depicts the Zr 3d HRPES profile, shown in Fig. 1a, with the peak fitting results. Because the binding energy of Zr 3d5/2 is typically utilized to analyze the Zr 3d HRPES profile, we explain the zirconium species using the binding energy of Zr 3d5/2. In Fig. 2a, six peaks can be observed: Zr1 at 179.3 eV, Zr2 at 180.4 eV, Zr3 at 181.3 eV, Zr4 at 182.4 eV, Zr5 at 183.1 eV, and Zr6 at 184.2 eV. We first assigned Zr1 at 179.3 eV and Zr5 at 183.1 eV to the Zr0 (zirconium metal) and Zr4+ (ZrO2) features, respectively, based on their binding energies ranging from 179.1–179.3 eV and 182.9–183.4 eV in literature9,10,18,30. In addition, it is known that the intervals of the binding energies between the Zr+, Zr2+, Zr3+, Zr4+ oxidation states are approximately 1 eV1,31,32. Considering the binding energy of the Zr4+ feature (183.1 eV) in our system, we assigned Zr2 at 180.4 eV, Zr3 at 181.3 eV, and Zr4 at 182.4 eV to the Zr+ (Zr2O), Zr2+ (ZrO), and Zr3+ (Zr2O3) compositions, respectively, which are zirconium suboxides. Moreover, Zr6 at 184.2 eV, of which a small quantity was present, was assigned to zirconium hydroxide (Zr(OH)4) because its reported binding energy (183.6 eV) was similar to our value33,34. Previously, through the analysis of the C 1 s HRPES profile in Fig. 1c, we had established the existence of zirconium carbide in ZIRLO. According to literature, the binding energy of zirconium carbide in the Zr 3d spectrum is 179.2 eV10,28, which is almost the same as that of zirconium metal (179.3 eV). Although the zirconium carbide component should be considered when the Zr 3d HRPES profile is analyzed, we could not confirm whether this peak was due to zirconium metal or zirconium carbide, in agreement with the previous report 10. Hence, we had to unavoidably ascribe the peak at 179.3 eV to zirconium metal.

It has been previously revealed that the order of the surface components in intact ZIRCALOY-4 cladding are as follows: The uppermost hydrocarbon, zirconium hydroxide, zirconium dioxide, zirconium suboxides, and zirconium bulk layers10. In addition, zirconium carbide is expected to exist in the hydrocarbon layer. As a result, based on the analysis of the Zr 3d, O 1 s, C 1 s, and Sn 3d HRPES spectra, along with the prior report, we concluded that the surface species in ZIRLO cladding could be the same as previously reported. Additionally, we propose that Sn metal and SnO2 compositions could exist within the zirconium bulk layer, and that the chemisorbed H2O feature could be present in the uppermost layer.

To confirm the change in the relative proportions of the zirconium features depending on the H2O coverage and annealing temperature, we calculated the ratio of each peak area obtained from the peak fitting results because the ratio of each peak integral in the Zr 3d HRPES spectra corresponds to their relative proportion (Table 1). As the proportion of zirconium hydroxide is negligible, we consider the other populations, herein. As shown in Fig. 2 and Table 1, the relative proportion of zirconium metal is the largest, and gradually decreases in the following order Zr+, Zr2+, Zr3+, and Zr4+, in accordance with their relative trends reported in literature1. After the exposure of ZIRLO to 100 L and 1000 L H2O, the relative proportion of zirconium metal decreased whereas those of the zirconium oxides including the Zr+, Zr2+, Zr3+, and Zr4+ features mostly increased (Fig. 2 and Table 1). This indicates that when H2O is adsorbed on ZIRLO, H2O and zirconium metal in ZIRLO react each other, relatively decreasing and increasing the metal population and the total quantity of zirconium oxides, respectively, in agreement with previous research on H2O adsorbed on pure zirconium and ZIRCALOY-2 samples1. This phenomenon can be explained by the dissociation of H2O into the adsorbed oxygen and molecular hydrogen gas on ZIRLO at room temperature as reported in the prior study of water molecule on Zr(0001)35. We performed annealing experiments on the 1000 L H2O system adsorbed on ZIRLO. As shown in Fig. 2d, the Zr 3d HRPES profile after annealing at 100 °C for 30 min is similar to that before annealing, indicating that any detectable change did not occur due to annealing at this temperature. However, when temperatures of 300 °C and 500 °C were applied for 30 min, the relative percentage of the Zr0, Zr+, and Zr2+ valence states increased, whereas those of the Zr3+ and Zr4+ oxidation states decreased (Fig. 2e,f). According to literature, on annealing at 200 °C or more, the oxidation states of zirconium are converted to lower oxidation states because of the decomposition of the Zr2O3 and ZrO2 compositions, and the depopulation of oxygen in the surface region accompanied by oxygen diffusion into the bulk10,20. Therefore, we concluded that the decomposition of Zr2O3 and ZrO2 and the diffusion of oxygen into the bulk lead to the reduction of the oxidation states of zirconium at 300 °C.

Table 1 Relative proportions of the zirconium species in ZIRLO calculated from each peak integral of the peak fitting results of Zr 3d HRPES spectra in Fig. 2.

Fig. 3 displays the coverage and temperature dependence of the O 1 s and Sn 3d HRPES profiles. As shown in Fig. 3a, after the adsorption of 100 L and 1000 L H2O on ZIRLO, the peak related to chemisorbed H2O notably increases. This increase is attributed to the excess H2O molecules on ZIRLO, which could be the remaining quantity after sufficient reaction with zirconium metal. After annealing at 100 °C for 30 min, the profile of the O 1 s HRPES spectrum remined unchanged, in accordance with the analytical result of the Zr 3d HRPES spectrum at this temperature. When the sample was annealed at 300 °C and 500 °C for 30 min, the enhanced peaks returned to the state before the adsorption of H2O on ZIRLO, indicating that the excess H2O molecules were completely desorbed at 300 °C. In the Sn 3d HRPES profiles (Fig. 3b), the peaks related to the Sn metal and SnO2 compositions gradually disappear due to the deposition of 100 L and 1000 L H2O on ZIRLO. As the adsorption of H2O on ZIRLO increases the surface thickness, these signals may be reduced because the probing depth for ZIRLO itself relatively becomes shallow. After annealing at 100 °C for 30 min, only the peak at 486.0 eV related to the SnO2 configuration remained indistinctly in the Sn 3d HRPES spectrum. Furthermore, after annealing at 300 °C for 30 min, it completely vanished instead of recovery, despite the desorption of H2O molecules at this temperature. Therefore, we infer that SnO2 composition decomposed and that Sn metal migrated into zirconium bulk at 300 °C, sequentially.

Figure 3
figure3

(a) O 1 s and (b) Sn 3d HRPES spectra of ZIRLO measured before the deposition of H2O, after the adsorption of 100 L and 1000 L H2O, and after annealing at 100 °C, 300 °C, and 500 °C subsequent to the deposition of 1000 L H2O. O 1 s HRPES spectra in (a) were normalized using O1 peak at 530.0 eV. Sn 3d HRPES spectra obtained after annealing at up to 300 °C are exhibited in. (b) The dashed lines express the positions of the binding energy of each feature.

Stuck inside? Brookings Foreign Policy recommends movies and shows to watch

With an estimated 20% of the global population on lockdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are in search of ways to occupy ourselves online or on our TVs. Here, scholars and staff from across Brookings Foreign Policy recommend feature films, TV shows, and documentaries that can enhance your understanding of the world and of U.S. history — and, of course, that can entertain.


William Burke-White recommends

Chernobyl

HBO's ChernobylWhat it’s about: The inside story of the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Soviet Union highlights the dangers of a failed national response to an unexpected catastrophe and the heroism of the individuals who stepped up in time of crisis. The (relatively) accurate period drama brings alive late Soviet politics, showing how a closed, top-down system under-appreciated the magnitude of the disaster and hid it from its own people. As the Chernobyl reactor melts down, the viewer sees the melt-down of the Soviet system itself, leading to the countries’ eventual collapse just a few years later. Yet, in a moment when we need heroes, the mini-series also highlights the incredible ingenuity and bravery of the individuals and groups that responded both during the accident and in the fraught containment and cleanup efforts that followed. The parallels to the challenges and failures of the response to COVID-19 are powerful and informative.

How to watch it: HBO or Amazon Prime


Adrien Chorn recommends

First They Killed My Father (មុនដំបូងខ្មែរក្រហមសម្លាប់ប៉ារបស់ខ្ញុំ)

"First they killed my father"What it’s about: “First They Killed My Father” is an excellent film directed by Angelina Jolie, based on the memoir written by Loung Ung of the same name. The film was released on Netflix in 2017 and depicts the harrowing experience of five-year-old Loung living in Cambodia from the outset of the takeover by the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975 through to the period of Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 and then takeover in January 1979. This film is incredibly important for educating audiences (including the children of Cambodian refugees who still today struggle to discuss this recent traumatic period with their families) of the atrocities and genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge, as well the realities of famine, disease, and overwork in the concentration camps. The film’s actors also give great performances, and its cinematography is beautiful and expressive.

How to watch it: Netflix


Eyal Tsir Cohen recommends

Band of Brothers

"Band of Brothers" imageWhat it’s about: This 10-hour miniseries recounts the chronicles of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division in the U.S. Army. The story follows them from D-Day till the end of World War II. This almost-documentary is based on powerful interviews with survivors of Easy Company, as well as soldiers’ journals and letters. In this series, we intimately share the experiences of ordinary young men who accomplished extraordinary things under unthinkable duress and gruesome fear. The series outlines beautifully extremely admirable, yet complex, characters such as Lieutenant Richard Winters and Captain Ronald Speirs. Their actions, decisions, and the values they lived by offer exceptional food for thought and a lesson in humility. It was the worst of times, with flashes of humanity at its best. Something to think about in today’s unprecedented times.

How to watch it: Amazon Prime


Samuel Denney recommends

Babylon Berlin

"Babylon Berlin"What it’s about: “Babylon Berlin” is one of the most enjoyable, interesting, and most importantly accessible representations of interwar Germany I’ve seen in quite a long time. Combining a discussion of the legacy of World War I, a noir detective story, increasingly fractured politics, and a vivid depiction of Weimar-era Berlin’s unique and hedonistic cultural milieu, Babylon Berlin has something to offer for both Germany-nerds (read: me, who once wrote a thesis on Weimar-era literature) and casual viewers drawn to an under-explored time period. And for those who have visited Berlin, the fact that the show is filmed largely in the city adds another draw as you watch the show’s cast traverse its streets and neighborhoods.

How to watch it: Netflix


James Haynes recommends

The Farewell

"The Farewell"What it’s about: “The Farewell” depicts a family gathering, ostensibly for a wedding in China, but actually for a final reunion before the death of the grandmother and family matriarch (who isn’t told the truth about her health situation or the reason for the gathering). The story is based on director Lulu Wang’s own experience, initially shared in a radio story on This American Life. Nominated for two Golden Globes, The Farewell” made President Obama’s 2019 list of favorite films. Among the film’s highlights include Zhao Shu-zhen’s portrayal of the grandmother, the visual depictions of hospitals, banquet halls, and apartments in a mid-tier Chinese city, and the too-brief scene where Chinese family members who emigrated to the U.S. and those who stayed on the mainland argue about the future of the U.S. and China. For those looking for an accessible film on U.S.-China issues (that isn’t very political), The Farewell” deserves a watch.

How to watch it: Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu for rent or purchase (subtitled)


Scarlett Ho recommends

The Man Who Cracked the Nazi Code

"The Man Who Cracked the Nazi Code"What it’s about: “The Man Who Cracked the Nazi Code” is a documentary by Denis van Waerebeke. It tells the story of Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician, who contributed to the Allied success in World War II by ciphering Nazi Germany’s “Enigma” encryption machine. Amidst today’s global panic and fight against COVID-19, this remarkable story provides grounds for much-needed optimism and inspiration. This short documentary combines themes of humanity and chaos with scientific reason and logic. It also demonstrates how solidarity and the coming together of human minds can overcome a united threat that transcends borders. Lastly, viewers can also get a deeper understanding of the genesis of modern-day computing and artificial intelligence, whose discovery can be traced back to Turing, the father of modern computing.

How to watch it: Amazon Prime


Robert Kagan recommends

Casablanca/To Have and Have Not Bogey Double Feature

"To Have and Have Not" and "Casablanca" movie postersWhat it’s about: “Casablanca” is not a love story. No one is in love. It is a geopolitical romance about America’s relationship with Europe and the evolving American foreign policy character. Every person in the movie represents a country — except Ingrid Bergman, who plays Europe to Bogart’s America. Watch it with that in mind. “To Have and Have Not” is a much, much better movie but with the same general message. I know, you’ve seen them. Watch again! These films will make your day. Documentaries will not.

How to watch it: Amazon Prime


Emilie Kimball recommends

The Spy

"The Spy"What it’s about: “The Spy” chronicles the true story of Eli Cohen, a Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) operative who infiltrated Syria’s political and military community. Eli is played by Sacha Baron Cohen — a welcome reversal away from the comedy the actor is largely known for. The series delivers a satisfying espionage tale along with some history, as you watch Cohen establish a relationship with Colonel Amin al-Hafez, who eventually goes on to become Syria’s president. Viewers also see Eli Cohen touring the Syrian regime’s military infrastructure at the Golan Heights which Israel would go on to capture during the Six-Day War in 1967.

How to watch it: Netflix


Caroline Klaff recommends

Miracle

"Miracle" posterWhat it’s about: My favorite movie, “Miracle,” chronicles the real-life story of the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team. It’s a film that you may be familiar with, but should watch again (and again, and again…). “Miracle” taps into the American Cold War mentality and the politicization of international sports competitions by layering engaging interpersonal stories, hometown rivalries, and arguably the greatest locker room speech of all time, against a backdrop of domestic social and economic malaise and geopolitical antagonism. From a foreign policy perspective, the movie puts the importance of the “miracle on ice” into context. By rooting the film amid U.S.-Soviet tensions, splicing in segments of President Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence” speech and footage of the Iran hostage crisis, and highlighting the uncertainty of Olympic boycotts, “Miracle” underscores why the American victory was such a boost to the nation then, just as this feel-good movie can be a boost to us now.

How to watch it: Netflix


Jesse I. Kornbluth recommends

The Motorcycle Diaries

"Motorcycle Diaries"What it’s about: On a motorcycle journey up the spine of the Andes and through the heart of the Amazon, a young middle-class medical student from Rosario, Argentina, Ernesto Guevara, is exposed to the immeasurable inequality on his home continent. Throughout the journey with his friend and “co-pilot,” Alberto Granado, the pair come face to face with the exploitation of the continent’s indigenous and marginalized peoples and its natural resources at the hands of corrupt political systems and foreign capitalist endeavors. It is over this road trip that Ernesto begins to develop the identity that will lead him to become the Marxist revolutionary, “Che” Guevara. “The Motorcycle Diaries” is a visually and emotionally captivating coming-of-age film and a thought-provoking view into the politics of inequality in South America. Ideal for a quarantine, it is a film of magnificent views — of breathtaking landscapes and the vibrant and diverse mestizo cultures of South America.

How to watch it: Rent on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, Apple iTunes


Filippos Letsas recommends

Quantico

"Quantico"What it’s about: The drama thriller TV series “Quantico” exposes the lives of young FBI recruits training at the Quantico base in Virginia when one of them becomes a prime suspect in a terrorist attack on Grand Central Terminal. The story shifts between the present day (the quest to find the suspect) and the past (the training at the academy, during which recruits’ complex personal stories and tangled relationships are revealed). Some viewers are captivated by the fast-paced, intricate, and suspenseful plot; critics claim that the story line is out of touch with reality. No matter which camp you might fall into, the show’s character-driven narrative will put on full display the strikingly diverse set of motives driving young people to work in law enforcement, to conduct sensitive national security investigations, and to become public servants. It may even kick up enough adrenaline for you to pursue a career as a FBI agent.

How to watch it: Netflix


Michael O’Hanlon recommends

The Interview

"The Interview"What it’s about: This movie actually produced a diplomatic crisis. At the time of its completion, back in 2014, North Korea carried out massive cyberattacks against SONY, which distributed the film, and threatened any movie theaters that might show it. The movie mocked the young North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un about three years into his rule, and also pilloried the North Korean state, including for the horrible treatment of its own people. As mediocre as it may have been artistically, it clearly struck a nerve in Pyongyang. And I sort of liked it, I have to admit, for the comedic value and for how it (not completely inaccurately) portrayed North Korean life. I may be alone in the Brookings Foreign Policy program in recommending this movie, however!

How to watch it: Netflix


Ted Reinert recommends

Atlantics

"Atlantics" posterWhat it’s about: Young African men tired of stark inequality at home braving a sea crossing in hopes of making a better living in Europe form the backdrop for Mati Diop’s Senegal-set feature directorial debut. But the film stays on the coast with the young women left behind — and some supernatural developments. “Atlantics” is a fascinating piece of storytelling, and I look forward to Diop’s next film. In the meantime, her earlier shorts are being featured on the Criterion Channel (easily the best streaming service for cinephiles, so please subscribe if you don’t already).

How to watch it: Netflix


Bruce Riedel recommends

Charlie Wilson’s War

What it’s about: The 2007 movie about America’s secret war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan gets the most important part of the war right: the central and crucial role of Pakistan, and especially its dictator, Zia ul Huq. It was really Zia’s war. The CIA provided aid to Zia, he decided who got it, and he favored the most extreme Islamists. Much of the rest of the movie is either fiction (Israel did not help the war effort) or exaggerated (Congressman Wilson was far less important than President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in determining American strategy). It’s a great movie which gets the most important history right and played an important role after 9/11 in helping Americans understand Afghanistan, now its longest war.

How to watch it: Rent or purchase on Amazon


Frank Rose recommends

The World at War

"The World at War"What it’s about: “The World at War,” produced by Jeremy Issacs, remains the definitive documentary of World War II. Filmed in the early 1970s, the program features interviews with key political and military leaders from the war (on both the Axis and Allied sides) as well as ordinary people. I have viewed the series numerous times over the past 30 years, and have always learned some new and interesting fact each time I have watched it.

How to watch it: YouTube


Israa Saber recommends

Capernaum

"Capernum" posterWhat it’s about: Focusing on 12-year-old Zain who’s suing his parents for giving him life, “Capernaum” uses flashbacks to provide an intimate glimpse into life for Lebanon’s most vulnerable. Though the film focuses on the difficulties children face, especially those born in poverty, and the rights society owes them, the film also highlights the refugee and migrant struggle in Lebanon. Lebanon hosts the most refugees per capita in the world, a result of the Syrian civil war, and has struggled economically, socially, and politically under the strains of this influx. “Capernaum” also sheds light on other social issues such as human trafficking, child marriage, misogyny, and official indifference, depicting how entangled they all are. The film is at times difficult to watch but its occasional dark humor and Zain’s streetwise antics help blunt the emotional toll it takes on the viewer. I’d highly recommend you give this film your time and undivided attention.

How to watch it: Amazon Prime


Suzanne Schaefer recommends

The Expanse

"The Expanse"What it’s about: “The Expanse” is a science fiction drama that is set hundreds of years into the future when humanity has colonized space and where political tensions are high between Earth (ruled by the United Nations), the Martian Congressional Republic on Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance (the OPA). In the midst of this galactic feud over power and resources, the viewer is taken aboard the Rocinante, whose crew — brought together by circumstance — pulls at the thread of an unprecedented and dark discovery. “The Expanse” is both a detective thriller and political spectacle that explores the themes of diplomacy, governance, technology, exploration, the human condition, and even involves a brewing pandemic. Sure to satisfy any connoisseur of foreign affairs, it is a complex drama that expertly entertains while making you ponder the world as you know it and the distant future of foreign policy.

How to watch it: Amazon Prime


Rachel Slattery recommends

Atomic Blonde

"Atomic Blonde"What it’s about: If you’ve read Constanze Stelzenmüller’s excellent essay, “German lessons,” you’ll know how pivotal the fall of the Berlin Wall was for how Germany views its place in the world. Well, “Atomic Blonde” is a different kind of Berlin Wall story. Based on a comic book, the movie follows MI-6 operative Lorraine Broughton (played by Charlize Theron) as she navigates a divided Berlin in search of a mole in the intelligence community before the wall falls. Featuring head-bopping iconic 80s tunes and kick-ass fight scenes, this spy thriller will have you ready to fight the KGB too.

How to watch it: Hulu, or you can rent from Amazon or Vudu


Amanda Sloat recommends

Occupied

"Occupied" posterWhat it’s about: “Occupied” is a Norwegian show, with three seasons currently available. Set in the near future, Middle East turmoil and U.S. withdrawal from NATO triggers an energy crisis. The Green Party takes power, led by an idealistic prime minister who cuts off fossil fuel production in the hopes of developing thorium-based nuclear power as an alternative. A desperate European Union acquiesces to a Russian-led invasion and soft occupation of Norway. As viewers are sitting at home during the coronavirus pandemic, “Occupied” provides interesting food for thought about future scenarios that could confront the trans-Atlantic relationship.

How to watch it: Netflix


Tom Stefanick recommends

The Best Years of Our Lives

"The Best Years of our Lives"What it’s about: I collaborated on this pick with my friend Murray Biggs, a semi-retired associate professor of English and theater at Yale who has lectured on “The Cinema of War” there and at West Point. Released in 1946, “The Best Years of Our Lives” remains an American classic. Winner of numerous Oscars and other awards, with black-and-white cinematography by the innovative Gregg Toland, and running at nearly three hours, the film depicts in painful detail the social difficulties of returning veterans seeking to resume a normal place in mainstream American life. Not quite a documentary, the movie nevertheless brings home the everyday experience of those trying to adjust to civilian routine after years of acutely disruptive military service abroad. It includes a brief scene in which someone asserts that the United States made a mistake in going to war. He is promptly knocked out.

How to watch it: Netflix


Constanze Stelzenmüller recommends

The Loved One

"The Loved One" posterWhat it’s about: On the principle of confronting one’s worst fears head-on in grim times, I emphatically recommend the undeservedly obscure “The Loved One,” an absolutely-nothing-is-sacred 1965 black-and-white satire of the American funeral industry based on books by Evelyn Waugh and Jessica Mitford, with a screenplay by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood. If that’s not enough to make you drop everything, consider the stars: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, John Gielgud, Robert Morley, Roddy McDowall, James Coburn, Rod Steiger, Milton Berle, Tab Hunter, and — wait for it — Liberace as a funeral director at the “Whispering Glades” cemetery and mortuary. But Anjanette Comer playing an embalmer named “Aimée Thanatogenos” alone is worth the price of admission. What are you waiting for?

How to watch it: Apple iTunes

Update on Copenhagen Atomics Molten Salt Fission From CTO

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Four Noteworthy Technology Trends To Watch In The Next Five Years

So much of a CEO’s time and mental energy is devoted to running a company and staying up to date on their specific industry.

But if you’re like me, you tend to have a diverse set of interests. Our team is in logistics, but I’ve always been interested in a wide variety of science and tech-related subjects. Here are four of the technology trends I’ve had my eye on lately:

1. Mobility As A Service

We’ve begun the slow transition away from car ownership, especially in crowded, growing cities.

Companies are working on self-driving taxis. Ridesharing apps make it more convenient to hail a ride, and are focusing heavily on their own self-driving technology, as well. Once self-driving cars become the norm, there will be even less incentive for people to own a vehicle.

At that point, mobility as a service will have a strong presence. It will likely be best for small to midsized cities that lack strong public transportation and dense city centers. In cities with concentrated populations, public transportation will still be the best option for most people because the roads simply aren’t built to handle an increase in traffic.

Regardless, autonomous vehicles have arrived. It’s now just a matter of seeing how quickly these new methods of mobility will be integrated into our daily lives, and how entrepreneurs can best adapt to this new environment. Paradigms like service stations will change: Today they’re hubs for not just fuel, but food and more, but it remains to be seen how self-driving systems will change this entire business model.

2. Improved Biologic Drugs

A variety of stories in the news lately have been about breakthrough treatments that use gene therapy or monoclonal antibodies (mAB) to cure diseases. The catch is that these drugs are customized for a single patient.

In the case of mABs, immune cells are extracted, modified, grown in a lab animal, extracted from that animal, and finally put back into the patient’s body. Through this process, the immune cells are customized to better fight whatever illness the patient has. Currently, mAB drugs are good for treating autoimmune disorders, but they’ve also shown a lot of promise in fighting cancer.

And because these therapies are specific to one individual, they’re also incredibly expensive. Price tags can range anywhere from $250,000 to $2 million for treatment. The hurdle here is simply figuring out how to pay for it, whether the money’s coming from insurance companies, the government or some combination thereof.

Still, the efficacy of these treatments will make them hard to ignore in the coming years, for patients, medical professionals, investors and entrepreneurs alike.

3. Advanced Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear power comes with a well-known stigma: It’s too dangerous for widespread use. However, by and large, the nuclear industry is safe. Countries like France, which gets 75% of its power from nuclear plants, can attest to that.

Usually, the other sticking point for detractors is the waste produced by nuclear plants. But there are promising developments in the use of thorium, rather than uranium, in nuclear power. A liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is even safer than current reactors. It can’t melt down because the reaction automatically stops if the reactor gets too hot. Thorium is more abundant than uranium, and, critically, the waste produced from thorium is less radioactive, has a shorter half-life, is not weaponizable and does not include plutonium, which can be used to create a bomb.

As the world looks for sources of electricity that don’t emit CO2, we may see more progress in developing advanced nuclear reactors that use thorium. Startups are entering this space once again, backed by major institutions and even the likes of Bill Gates, and clean energy as a service is only just beginning.

4. Blockchain In Government

Blockchain has been pegged as the technology of the future — a system with almost unlimited uses. As with any new tech, some of the hype is bound to be unfounded.

Blockchain has many legitimate uses, however, and governments will likely begin exploring them in the next few years. Specifically, federal and local governments may be able to use blockchain to produce digital identities and secure voting in elections.

Digital identities are a good way to meet in the middle when it comes to the voter ID debate. Republicans want to eliminate voter fraud in our elections. Democrats insist that voter ID laws lead to discrimination and voter disenfranchisement. Digital identities on a blockchain can help bridge that gap by allowing for secure, immutable voting records.

In fact, the Swiss city of Zug has already held the first test of a local, blockchain-based voting platform. Using digital IDs, residents who signed up were able to cast votes during the platform’s trial run. And by all reports, the project was a success, hopefully leading the way toward immutable, traceable voting records in larger elections around the world. The Iowa Caucus disaster is a good example that change is needed, and entrepreneurs should be ready to explore B2G Blockchains even further.

It’s clear we live in an age of rapid technological change. While five years may not seem like a long time, consider that it’s been that long since the Apple Watch was first announced. So, it’s always a good idea to have a sense of where technology trends might be headed, even if they aren’t in your specialty. You never know what innovation may cross industry lines.

Update on Copenhagen Atomics Molten Salt Fission From CTO

Aslak Stubsgaard, CTO of Copenhagen Atomics provided an update to Nextbigfuture on their development of a Molten Salt nuclear fission reactor. They are a molten salt reactor company developing a 100MW(th) thorium molten salt reactors with an initial load plutonium from spent fuel. The reactors are designed to be roughly the size of a 40-foot shipping container and can be produced on an assembly line at low cost and scalable.

The goal is a walkaway safe reactor that is mass produced in a shipping container form factor.

They have chosen to validate a paper design through regulator pre-approval stages without building anything.

In 2019, they received two major danish grants. Copenhagen Atomics partnered with Alfa Laval who are one of the world’s leading heat exchanger producers and moved a majority of their lab facilities to Alfa Laval’s site in Copenhagen.

They are building pumped molten salt reactor loops, capable of pumping 700C fluoride/chloride salt. Copenhagen Atomics will soon open up for a public investment round.

Above, you see the molten salt loops currently under construction, in Alfa Laval’s production facility.

Let Brian Wang know if you have questions in the comments here. Aslak will be contacted and answers will be placed into follow up articles.

Walk-away Safe Shipping Container Reactor

The Copenhagen Atomics waste burner version 0.2.3 is a 50 MW(t) heavy water moderated, single fluid, fluoride salt-based, thermal spectrum, molten salt reactor. Copenhagen Atomics Waste Burner 2.0 and above versions are expected to be breeder and converter type designs, breeding more fissile material than consumed while converting fissile transuranic from existing uranium cycle waste to start a thorium-based cycle. The core, fission product extraction and separation systems, dump tank, primary heat exchanger, pumps, valves, and compressors are all contained in a leak-tight 40-foot shipping container surrounded by a shielding blanket of frozen thorium salt.

Target Application
The following applications are foreseen:
– Addon units at existing nuclear sites, coupled with a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing unit.
– Ship or barge-based power systems.
– Biofuel production and desalination plants.
– Baseload power in Asia and Africa.
The reactor design effort is focussed on a small modular thorium breeder thermal spectrum fluoride molten salt reactor, made to fit inside a 40-foot shipping container and with an initial fissile inventory made up of spent nuclear fuel transuranic.

They have moved beyond the conceptual stage to building and testing key components. The IAEA 2018 SMR book has details on this and all other Small Modular Reactor projects.

SOURCES- Copenhagen Atomics CTO Aslak Stubsgaard
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

Nuclear Energy Projects Move Ahead Despite Global Virus Threat

  • Canadian Partnership Announces SMR Fuel Research
  • Rolls-Royce and Turkey’s EUAS  Plan Joint SMR Construction Effort
  • NRC Issues Draft EIA For Holtec Spent Fuel Facility In New Mexico
  • Indonesia Dusts Off Plans for Nuclear Energy
  • IAEA Addresses Safety of Smart Devices in Nuclear Power Plants

Canadian Partnership Announces SMR Fuel Research

cnl2.logo(WNN) Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has agreed to collaborate with USNC-Power, a subsidiary of Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), on research in support of USNC’s Micro Modular Reactor(MMR). The project will include exploring the feasibility of siting a reactor component manufacturing facility for USNC’s fuel at CNL’s Chalk River campus.

The project, which is funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI), will include research related to the manufacturing of USNC’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Microencapsulate (FCM) fuel, the design of an irradiation program for the reactor’s graphite core, and the establishment of a laboratory for fuel analysis at Chalk River.

It will also include the development of a multi-year testing program to support the validation of USNC’s fuel and core as they progress through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s vendor design review process.

CNL President and CEO Mark Lesinski said the agreement with USNC-Power represented a step forward in pursuit of the organization’s goal of making the “next generation” of nuclear reactors a reality. ”

“Based on our ongoing dialogue with SMR vendors, it’s clear that there is a need for increased access to our expertise and facilities to support SMR research and development. The CNRI program is intended to fill this void.”

The MMR features a core of hexagonal graphite blocks containing stacks of FCM fuel TRISO type pellets, which USNC says has a low power density and a high heat capacity resulting in very slow and predictable temperature changes. The helium-cooled reactor is fueled once for its 20-year lifetime.

USNC CEO Francesco Venneri said the joint research will be “an important next step in validating our approach to SMR reactor and fuel design”.

The agreement with USNC is the first under the annual CNRI program, launched by CNL in 2019 to accelerate the deployment of SMRs in Canada by enabling R&D and connecting the SMR industry with the facilities and expertise within Canada’s national nuclear laboratories. The agreement includes CAD1.5 million (USD$1.1 million) of in-kind contributions from CNL for the project and will be completed by the spring of 2021.

CNL has identified SMRs as one of eight strategic initiatives it is pursuing as part of its long-term strategy, with the goal of siting an SMR by 2026. At present four proponents are engaged in a four-stage invitation process launched in in 2018 to evaluate the construction and operation of a demonstration SMR at a CNL site.

  • U-Battery Canada Ltd, with a design for a 4 MW high-temperature gas reactor;
  • StarCore Nuclear, with a proposed 14 MW high-temperature gas reactor; and
  • Terrestrial Energy, with a 190 MW integral molten salt reactor, have all completed the first stage of the process.
  • Global First Power, with a proposal for a 5 MW MMR supported by USNC and Ontario Power Generation, has completed the first two stages and begun the third stage.

Rolls-Royce and Turkey’s EUAS  Plan Joint SMR Construction Effort

rolls royve logo(NucNet) The companies plan to look at market potential for small modular nuclear plant.

Rolls-Royce and Turkey’s state-owned electricity generation company EUAS have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to carry out a study to evaluate the possibility of building small modular reactors in Turkey.

Rolls-Royce said the two companies would evaluate the technical, economical and legal aspects of SMR construction. They will also look into the joint production of SMRs. Rolls Royce has recently rolled out plans for a 440 MW PWR, but SMRs are usually considered to have power ratings of 300MW or less.

The agreement, which Rolls-Royce has signed in its role as a member of a consortium designing an SMR, said the agreement commits to a study that will look at market potential for the plant in Turkey and for global markets.

EUAS chief executive officer Yahya Yılmaz Bayraktarlı said Turkey wants to diversify electricity resources with nuclear power. His cautious statement may indicate that the MOU is the first step in a long journey to a deal.

“The feasibility of small modular reactors is a research and development issue we continuously monitor.”

The consortium which is designing the power station comprises Rolls-Royce, Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Jacobs, The Welding Institute and Nuclear AMRC.

Components for the Rolls-Royce SMR would be manufactured in standardized sections in factories, before being transported to sites for rapid assembly inside a weatherproof canopy. The result is lower upfront costs, and a faster, predictable construction and commissioning periods

Status of Turkey’s Commercial Nuclear Program

Turkey has begun construction of its first commercial nuclear station at Akkuyu. It will have four Russian Generation III+ 1,200-MW VVER units, with the first expected to come online in 2023 and a further unit starting every year afterwards.

Rosatom, the Russian export agency funding the project, has been seeking investors for Turkey’s 50% share of the project. So far several potential deals have fallen through.

A second site proposed for the Sinop site on Turkey’s Black Sea Coast was abandoned by its Japanese investors in December 2018.  According to a Reuters report, escalating costs, and the unproven nature of the 1100 MW ATMEA PWR, were the reasons for the decision.

Plans for a third site remain in the talking stage although a general location has been selected by Turkey’s energy ministry.  The Igneada site is located on Turkey’s Kirklareli Peninsula about 12 miles from the border with Bulgaria. China is reported to be proposing to build two CAP1400 PWRs there, but little progress has been made on the project since it was announced four years ago.

NRC Issues Draft EIA For Holtec Spent Fuel Facility

(NucNet) Holtec International is planning to build an underground fuel storage facility called Hi-Store in southeastern New Mexico. Holtec International and its partner, the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), decided to establish the facility on land owned by ELEA in 2015.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed consolidated interim storage facility in New Mexico.

The draft statement includes the NRC staff’s preliminary recommendation that there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the NRC from issuing a license for environmental reasons.

Holtec said the Hi-Store project will provide a significant step on the path to the federal government’s long-standing obligation for disposition of used nuclear fuel by providing a centralized facility for storage of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste until such time that a permanent solution is available.

The initial application for the Hi-Store facility includes storage of up to 8,680 tonnes of uranium in commercial used fuel (500 canisters) with future amendments for up to 10,000 storage canisters total.

Holtec said the US has more than 80,000 tonnes of used nuclear fuel in storage and more is being generated at a rate of 2,000 tonnes a year.

In a separate effort, Interim Storage Partners, which is developing a similar site in Andrews, TX, says on its website it expects an NRC license for it in 2021.

Indonesia Dusts Off Plans for Nuclear Energy

(Wire Service Reports) According to trade press and English language media in Indonesia, the country is said to be considering updating its plans to building one or more nuclear energy power plants.  Over the years several vendors have approached the government with proposals, but so far no commitments have been made.

State utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara and US nuclear energy startup ThorCon International reportedly planned a preliminary study for the $1.2 billion development of a 500 MW reactor that uses thorium rather than uranium.  Russia has also proposed to build 1000 MW VVER type reactors and China has proposed a high temperature gas cooled reactor with a power rating of approximately 250 MW.

Recently, Indonesia’s parliament has begun consideration of a bill has omnibus bill to encourage private sector investment in nuclear energy. According to media reports the legislation has the support of Indonesia President Joko Widodo.

The legislation loosens requirements for the private sector to pursue nuclear power projects especially in the area of getting permits from the government.

IAEA Addresses Safety of Smart Devices in Nuclear Power Plants

(WNN) The safety of smart digital devices used in nuclear power plants – some of which were not initially designed for nuclear-related purposes – was discussed last month at a meeting in Vienna organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The objective of the meeting was to establish guidance on the selection and evaluation of smart devices to be used in systems important to the safety of power plants.

Smart digital devices such as smart sensor transmitters, electrical protective devices, and variable speed drives, are increasingly used at many nuclear power plants. Old and obsolete equipment in power plants is often replaced with smart devices

These devices are connected to other devices or networks via different communication protocols and are able to operate to some extent interactively and autonomously. This can include devices with artificial intelligence software.

However, the nuclear market is too small for the development of customized smart devices specifically for power plants. Adaptation is key. Operators are turning to devices initially developed for other market segments and certified by non-nuclear authorities. The result is that they may require extra reviews to be used for nuclear power plants.

“Smart devices can be used in equipment or systems to increase nuclear power plant safety and reliability, enhance safe operation or improve various functions,” said Alexander Duchac, nuclear safety officer at the IAEA.

“However, if not properly selected and qualified, they may potentially introduce new hazards, vulnerabilities, and failure modes. It’s a potential issue for both operating and new nuclear power reactors.”

However, regulators do not normally have access to the design information of equipment to make an informed decision on the devices’ safety.

The equipment qualification is very often almost impossible without cooperation from the vendor, who tends to protect the intellectual property of commercial development processes. Moreover, operators often lack guidance on how to provide sufficient information to the regulator under such circumstances

The IAEA plans to produce its first safety report on the use of smart devices, which will be published later this year. The report intends to provide a common technical basis for all countries. It will contain a model of how to design, select and evaluate candidate smart devices for their safe use in nuclear safety systems, including instrumentation and control, electrical, mechanical and other areas.

# # #

 

Has US Nuclear Power Reached Its Half-Life?

Nuclear power plant with dusk landscape.

Nuclear power plant after sunset. Dusk landscape with big chimneys.


Getty

This is the fifth of a multi-part series on the state of the main sources of energy in the US and how they compare globally. The series will cover solarwindoil & gas, coal, nuclear, and geothermal (so far) and will answer the same four questions for each.

1.   How big is the U.S. nuclear industry, and what is its growth trajectory?

The US nuclear industry directly employs about 100,000 persons (indirectly about five times as many) and the sector generates about $40-50 billion in economic value per year. The US currently has just under 100 operating nuclear reactors for a total of about 100 GW of generation capacity. Nuclear plants have the highest capacity factors (percentage of time they are producing power over a year) of all power plant types and provide the most carbon-free electricity of any other source in the US, about 20% of annual production.  

The majority of US nuclear power plants were built in the 1970s and 80s and thus the average age of operating reactors is now pushing 40, which is about the length of their initial operating licenses. However, most have received extensions for at least 20 years. There is currently only one nuclear power facility under construction in the US state of Georgia, Plant Vogtle, but it is behind schedule and over budget.

The last nuclear plant to come online in the US was the Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2016, 20 years after the next youngest one. Other plants have had more trouble — after spending $9 billion and completing less then 40% of construction, V.C. Summer Units 2 & 3 have been abandoned, although recently there has been a talk of a new buyer for the units. Currently, more nuclear plants are retiring than coming online in the US.  

2.   Which US states lead in nuclear?

Most nuclear power plants are located in the eastern half of the country. The US state of Illinois has the most nuclear power plants with 11 units totaling about 12,400 MW of capacity. Illinois also produces more electricity from nuclear than any other state. Three states get over half of their power from nuclear; South Carolina at 58%, New Hampshire at 57%, and Illinois at about 53%.  

Most uranium mines in the US are located in the western part of the country. However, as prices have fallen, US uranium production in 2018 was the lowest it has been since the 1950s, with the bulk of our uranium supply now being imported.

3.   What are the biggest challenges faced by the nuclear sector today?

One of the biggest challenges facing the nuclear power sector is the cost (overruns) and size of nuclear power plants. Like coal, nuclear plants have typically been built very large to capture economies of scale and provide cheap energy. However, we are generally not building large power plants of any type anymore. Instead we are focusing on smaller and easier to build and finance power plants, like renewables and natural gas.

The move away from vertically-integrated monopoly electric utilities towards deregulation and competition in electricity markets in the US has also been difficult for nuclear plant construction. Under the old monopoly system, the risk and costs could be spread over many ratepayers, but in deregulated areas the risk is borne by far fewer investors. The size and risk of traditional nuclear power plants has proven to be more than many wish to accept and the only nuclear power plants under construction in the US are in areas that are still regulated monopolies, thus able to rate-base the assets.   

Nuclear power plants, with a few exceptions, have mostly been one-off designs, each requiring extensive engineering analysis to make sure they were safe. If the car you drove were a hand built one-off instead of a mass produced clone of, it would cost millions of dollars to make sure that it was functional and safe for US roads as well. Also, when we stopped building them, we also lost the needed supply chains, only further increasing their costs.

The nuclear industry has responded to both of these issues by pushing for smaller and more standardized designs. These units are one-half to one-third (or smaller) in size and the core is assembled in a controlled factory setting, not on-site like the larger plants we built in the past. NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor is currently working its way through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s permit process, with hopes of deploying a dozen units in Idaho in the mid 2020s.

Although the total amount of nuclear waste generated by power plants is relatively small for all the electricity it has produced, the fight over what to (or not to) do with it is quite large. Yucca Mountain was probably the most politically possible waste storage site, until last week when President Trump reversed his stance on the controversial project. Perhaps the silver lining of the decision is that the site isn’t great for hosting the waste in the first place.

The best location to store the waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), cannot currently take commercial nuclear waste. The WIPP site is better than sites like Yucca Mountain because overtime, the WIPP’s salt formation actually engulfs and seals off the waste. The rock only allows water to move about one inch in 270 million years, which would likely work for our purposes, whereas Yucca Mountain is much more permeable.

Also, the US nuclear industry workforce is aging and having trouble finding replacements as competition from other sectors is high. Retiring plants and a shrinking workforce also have national security implications as weapons inspectors also come from this sector.

4.   How does the US nuclear sector compare globally?

The US is the number one producer of electricity (over 800 TWh, 30% of the world’s total) from nuclear power plants, more than twice as much as second-place France. However, France is first in terms of percentage of electricity from nuclear at over 70%, giving them one of the lowest carbon intensities of electricity of large nations.

China currently leads with world in nuclear power plant construction with 11 units, totaling just over 11,000 MW, coming online by 2024, followed by South Korea, UAE, and India with over 5,000 MW each. The US currently has two reactors under construction totaling about 2,500 MW.

While nuclear power is growing in some parts of the world, such investments are seen as quite radioactive in the US. Time will tell if small modular reactors are able to provide a new nuclear renaissance, but it appears that the days of building the large plants are over. Other nuclear technologies, such as thorium and fusion need more R&D before they are ready to make their mark, if they ever do. However, if we do decide that we want to fully decarbonize the grid, firm low-carbon sources of electricity, like nuclear, are helpful in keeping the lights on for a reasonable cost.

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This is the fifth of a multi-part series on the state of the main sources of energy in the US and how they compare globally. The series will cover solarwindoil & gas, coal, nuclear, and geothermal (so far) and will answer the same four questions for each.

1.   How big is the U.S. nuclear industry, and what is its growth trajectory?

The US nuclear industry directly employs about 100,000 persons (indirectly about five times as many) and the sector generates about $40-50 billion in economic value per year. The US currently has just under 100 operating nuclear reactors for a total of about 100 GW of generation capacity. Nuclear plants have the highest capacity factors (percentage of time they are producing power over a year) of all power plant types and provide the most carbon-free electricity of any other source in the US, about 20% of annual production.  

The majority of US nuclear power plants were built in the 1970s and 80s and thus the average age of operating reactors is now pushing 40, which is about the length of their initial operating licenses. However, most have received extensions for at least 20 years. There is currently only one nuclear power facility under construction in the US state of Georgia, Plant Vogtle, but it is behind schedule and over budget.

The last nuclear plant to come online in the US was the Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2016, 20 years after the next youngest one. Other plants have had more trouble — after spending $9 billion and completing less then 40% of construction, V.C. Summer Units 2 & 3 have been abandoned, although recently there has been a talk of a new buyer for the units. Currently, more nuclear plants are retiring than coming online in the US.  

2.   Which US states lead in nuclear?

Most nuclear power plants are located in the eastern half of the country. The US state of Illinois has the most nuclear power plants with 11 units totaling about 12,400 MW of capacity. Illinois also produces more electricity from nuclear than any other state. Three states get over half of their power from nuclear; South Carolina at 58%, New Hampshire at 57%, and Illinois at about 53%.  

Most uranium mines in the US are located in the western part of the country. However, as prices have fallen, US uranium production in 2018 was the lowest it has been since the 1950s, with the bulk of our uranium supply now being imported.

3.   What are the biggest challenges faced by the nuclear sector today?

One of the biggest challenges facing the nuclear power sector is the cost (overruns) and size of nuclear power plants. Like coal, nuclear plants have typically been built very large to capture economies of scale and provide cheap energy. However, we are generally not building large power plants of any type anymore. Instead we are focusing on smaller and easier to build and finance power plants, like renewables and natural gas.

The move away from vertically-integrated monopoly electric utilities towards deregulation and competition in electricity markets in the US has also been difficult for nuclear plant construction. Under the old monopoly system, the risk and costs could be spread over many ratepayers, but in deregulated areas the risk is borne by far fewer investors. The size and risk of traditional nuclear power plants has proven to be more than many wish to accept and the only nuclear power plants under construction in the US are in areas that are still regulated monopolies, thus able to rate-base the assets.   

Nuclear power plants, with a few exceptions, have mostly been one-off designs, each requiring extensive engineering analysis to make sure they were safe. If the car you drove were a hand built one-off instead of a mass produced clone of, it would cost millions of dollars to make sure that it was functional and safe for US roads as well. Also, when we stopped building them, we also lost the needed supply chains, only further increasing their costs.

The nuclear industry has responded to both of these issues by pushing for smaller and more standardized designs. These units are one-half to one-third (or smaller) in size and the core is assembled in a controlled factory setting, not on-site like the larger plants we built in the past. NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor is currently working its way through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s permit process, with hopes of deploying a dozen units in Idaho in the mid 2020s.

Although the total amount of nuclear waste generated by power plants is relatively small for all the electricity it has produced, the fight over what to (or not to) do with it is quite large. Yucca Mountain was probably the most politically possible waste storage site, until last week when President Trump reversed his stance on the controversial project. Perhaps the silver lining of the decision is that the site isn’t great for hosting the waste in the first place.

The best location to store the waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), cannot currently take commercial nuclear waste. The WIPP site is better than sites like Yucca Mountain because overtime, the WIPP’s salt formation actually engulfs and seals off the waste. The rock only allows water to move about one inch in 270 million years, which would likely work for our purposes, whereas Yucca Mountain is much more permeable.

Also, the US nuclear industry workforce is aging and having trouble finding replacements as competition from other sectors is high. Retiring plants and a shrinking workforce also have national security implications as weapons inspectors also come from this sector.

4.   How does the US nuclear sector compare globally?

The US is the number one producer of electricity (over 800 TWh, 30% of the world’s total) from nuclear power plants, more than twice as much as second-place France. However, France is first in terms of percentage of electricity from nuclear at over 70%, giving them one of the lowest carbon intensities of electricity of large nations.

China currently leads with world in nuclear power plant construction with 11 units, totaling just over 11,000 MW, coming online by 2024, followed by South Korea, UAE, and India with over 5,000 MW each. The US currently has two reactors under construction totaling about 2,500 MW.

While nuclear power is growing in some parts of the world, such investments are seen as quite radioactive in the US. Time will tell if small modular reactors are able to provide a new nuclear renaissance, but it appears that the days of building the large plants are over. Other nuclear technologies, such as thorium and fusion need more R&D before they are ready to make their mark, if they ever do. However, if we do decide that we want to fully decarbonize the grid, firm low-carbon sources of electricity, like nuclear, are helpful in keeping the lights on for a reasonable cost.