Archive for the ‘Nuclear Power’ Category

warheads

Here’s a remarckable fact: For the past two decades, 10 percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States has come from Russian nuclear warheads.

It was all part of a deal struck at the end of the Cold War. That deal wraps up today, when the final shipment of fuel arrives at a U.S. facility.

The origins of the plan lie in the early 1990s. At the time, Philip Sewell was working for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Soviet Union had just disintegrated, and Sewell’s job was to find ways to collaborate with the former adversaries. In practice, this involved driving out into the Russian countryside, to military facilities that weren’t even on the map. When Sewell got there, what he saw wasn’t pretty.

“Windows were broken, gates were not locked, and there were very few people around,” Sewell says.

But inside these crumbling buildings, the Russian government stored the uranium from thousands of decommissioned nuclear weapons. It seemed like practically anyone could walk off with stuff for a bomb. Sewell and his colleagues wanted to get rid of this uranium. So they decided to try to persuade the Russians to sell their surplus to the U.S. After all, the stuff was just lying around.

Initially, the Russians refused. “It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism,” Sewell says. “Even though they didn’t need that excess material, [and] they didn’t have the money to protect it, they didn’t want to let go of it.”
But in the end they did let go. For one reason: money.

“Russia’s nuclear industry badly needed the funding,” says Anton Khlopkov, the director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies outside Moscow. He says Russia’s nuclear complex had nearly a million workers who weren’t getting paid a living wage.

So, in 1993 the deal was struck: The Russians would turn about 500 tons of bomb-grade uranium into nuclear fuel. The U.S. would buy it and sell it to commercial power plants here. Khlopkov says it was a win-win. “This is the only time in history when disarmament was actually profitable,” he says.

Very profitable. The Russians made around $17 billion. Sewell’s government office was spun off into a private company — the United States Enrichment Corporation — and made money from the deal too. And the U.S. power plants got the uranium at a good price.

But all good things must come to an end, says Matthew Bunn at Harvard University. “Russia is a totally different place today than it was twenty years ago,” Bunn says. “As the Russian government is fond of saying, they’re ‘no longer on their knees.’ ”

Still Bunn says this deal will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever.

“I mean, think about it – 20,000 bombs’ worth of nuclear material, destroyed forever,” he says. “[Bombs that] will never threaten anybody ever again.”

The last shipment arrives today at a US storage facility. It will be sold off to utilities in coming years. So when you turn on the lights, feel good. Your bulb may be powered by what was once a bomb.

http://www.npr.org/2013/12/11/250007526/megatons-to-megawatts-russian-warheads-fuel-u-s-power-plants

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Advertisements

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea’s two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Each nation gets a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the top and bottom bars of the screen. Hashimoto, who began the project in 2003, says that he created it with the goal of showing”the fear and folly of nuclear weapons.” It starts really slow — if you want to see real action, skip ahead to 1962 or so — but the buildup becomes overwhelming.

http://memolition.com/2013/10/16/time-lapse-map-of-every-nuclear-explosion-ever-on-earth/

Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Some of the world’s top climate scientists say wind and solar energy won’t be enough to head off extreme global warming, and they’re asking environmentalists to support the development of safer nuclear power as one way to cut fossil fuel pollution.

Four scientists who have played a key role in alerting the public to the dangers of climate change sent letters Sunday to leading environmental groups and politicians around the world. The letter, an advance copy of which was given to The Associated Press, urges a crucial discussion on the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change.

Environmentalists agree that global warming is a threat to ecosystems and humans, but many oppose nuclear power and believe that new forms of renewable energy will be able to power the world within the next few decades.

That isn’t realistic, the letter said.

“Those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough” to deliver the amount of cheap and reliable power the world needs, and “with the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology” that has the potential to reduce greenhouse gases.

The letter signers are James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Hansen began publishing research on the threat of global warming more than 30 years ago, and his testimony before Congress in 1988 helped launch a mainstream discussion. Last February he was arrested in front of the White House at a climate protest that included the head of the Sierra Club and other activists. Caldeira was a contributor to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Emanuel is known for his research on possible links between climate change and hurricanes, and Wigley has also been doing climate research for more than 30 years.

Emanuel said the signers aren’t opposed to renewable energy sources but want environmentalists to understand that “realistically, they cannot on their own solve the world’s energy problems.”

The vast majority of climate scientists say they’re now virtually certain that pollution from fossil fuels has increased global temperatures over the last 60 years. They say emissions need to be sharply reduced to prevent more extreme damage in the future.

In 2011 worldwide carbon dioxide emissions jumped 3 per cent, because of a large increase by China, the No. 1 carbon polluting country. The U.S. is No. 2 in carbon emissions.

Hansen, who’s now at Columbia University, said it’s not enough for environmentalists to simply oppose fossil fuels and promote renewable energy.

“They’re cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction that all we need” is renewable energy such as wind and solar, Hansen told the AP.

The joint letter says, “The time has come for those who take the threat of global warming seriously to embrace the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems” as part of efforts to build a new global energy supply.

Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard professor who studies energy issues, said nuclear power is “very divisive” within the environmental movement. But he added that the letter could help educate the public about the difficult choices that climate change presents.

One major environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Defence Council, warned that “nuclear power is no panacea for our climate woes.”

Risk of catastrophe is only one drawback of nuclear power, NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. Waste storage and security of nuclear material are also important issues, he said.

“The better path is to clean up our power plants and invest in efficiency and renewable energy.”

The scientists acknowledge that there are risks to using nuclear power, but say those are far smaller than the risk posed by extreme climate change.

“We understand that today’s nuclear plants are far from perfect.”

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/climate+scientists+environmentalists+support+nuclear+power/9118639/story.html

sn-radwaste

It seems these days that no data storage medium lasts long before becoming obsolete—does anyone remember Sony’s Memory Stick? So have pity for the builders of nuclear waste repositories, who are trying to preserve records of what they’ve buried and where, not for a few years but for tens of thousands of years.

Today, Patrick Charton of the French nuclear waste management agency ANDRA presented one possible solution to the problem: a sapphire disk inside which information is engraved using platinum. The prototype shown costs €25,000 to make, but Charton says it will survive for a million years. The aim, Charton told the Euroscience Open Forum here, is to provide “information for future archaeologists.” But, he concedes: “We have no idea what language to write it in.”

Most countries with nuclear power stations agree that the solution for dealing with long-lived nuclear waste is to store it deep inside the earth, about 500 meters below the surface. Finland, France, and Sweden are the furthest advanced in the complicated process of finding a geologically suitable site, persuading local communities to accept it, and getting regulatory approval. Sweden’s waste management company, SKB, for example, spent 30 years finding the right site and is now waiting for the government’s green light to begin excavation. It plans to start loading in waste a decade from now, and will be filling its underground pits for up to 50 years.

While the designers of such repositories say they are confident that the waste will be safely incarcerated, the most uncontrollable factor is future archaeologists or others with a penchant for digging. Archaeologist Cornelius Holtorf of Linnaeus University in Sweden showed meeting participants an early attempt at warning future generations: a roughly 1-meter-wide stone block with the words “Caution – Do Not Dig” written in English with some smaller text explaining that there is nuclear waste below. But who knows what language its discoverers will understand in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years—or even if they will be human beings? Holtorf points out that a much earlier attempt to warn off future excavations, the Egyptian pyramids, were looted within a generation. “The future will be radically different from today,” says archaeologist Anders Högberg, who is also from Linnaeus University. “We have no idea how humans will think.”

In 2010, ANDRA began a project to address these issues, says Charton. It brings together specialists from as wide a selection of fields as possible, including materials scientists, archivists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and even artists—”to see if they have some answers to our questions.” The initial goal is to identify all the approaches possible; in 2014 or 2015, the group hopes to narrow down the possibilities.

The sapphire disk is one product of that effort. It’s made from two thin disks, about 20 centimeters across, of industrial sapphire. On one side, text or images are etched in platinum—Charton says a single disk can store 40,000 miniaturized pages—and then the two disks are molecularly fused together. All a future archaeologist would need to read them is a microscope. The disks have been immersed in acid to test their durability and to simulate ageing. Charton says they hope to demonstrate a lifetime of 10 million years.

Researchers have some time to work on the problem because the repositories will probably not be filled and sealed up until the end of this century. “Each country has its own ideas, but we need to get a common approach,” says SKB’s Erik Setzman. “We technical people can’t solve this problem ourselves. We need help from other parts of society.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/07/a-million-year-hard-disk.html

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

image2A

image1A2

A Norwegian company is breaking with convention and switching to an alternative energy it hopes will be safer, cleaner and more efficient. But this isn’t about ditching fossil fuels, but rather about making the switch from uranium to thorium. Oslo based Thor Energy is pairing up with the Norwegian government and US-based (but Japanese/Toshiba owned) Westinghouse to begin a four year test that they hope will dispel doubts and make thorium the rule rather than the exception. The thorium will run at a government reactor in Halden.

Thorium was discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius who named it after the Norse god of thunder, Thor. Found in trace amounts in rocks and soil, thorium is actually about three times more abundant than uranium.

The attractiveness of thorium has led others in the past to build their own thorium reactors. A reactor operated in Germany between 1983 and 1989, and three operated in the US between the late sixties and early eighties. These plants were abandoned, some think, because the plutonium produced at uranium reactors was deemed indispensable to many in a Cold War world.

Thorium is ‘fertile,’ unlike ‘fissile’ uranium, which means it can’t be used as is but must first be converted to uranium-233. A good deal of research has been conducted to determine if fuel production, processing and waste management for thorium is safe and cost effective. For decades many have argued that thorium is superior to the uranium in nearly all of the world’s nuclear reactors, providing 14 percent of the world’s electricity. Proponents argue that thorium reacts more efficiently than uranium does, that the waste thorium produces is shorter lived than waste from uranium, and that, because of its much higher melting point, is meltdown proof. An added plus is the fact that thorium reactors do not produce plutonium and thus reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Some experts maintain that the benefits of thorium would be maximized in molten salt reactors or pebble bed reactors. The reactor at Halden is not ideal for thorium as it is a ‘heavy water’ reactor, built for running uranium. But it is also a reactor that has already received regulatory approval. Many thorium supporters argue that, rather than wait for ideal molten salt or pebble bed reactors tests should be performed in approved reactors so that their benefits can be more quickly demonstrated to the world.

But is thorium really cheaper, cleaner and more efficient than uranium? And if so, do the added benefits really warrant the cost and effort to make the switch? Data is still pretty scarce, but at least one report is urging us to not believe the hype.

Through their National Nuclear Laboratory the UK’s Department of Energy & Climate Change released a report in September that stated: “thorium has theoretical advantages regarding sustainability, reducing radiotoxicity and reducing proliferation risk. While there is some justification for these benefits, they are often overstated.” The report goes on to acknowledge that worldwide interest in thorium is likely to remain high and they recommend that the UK maintain a “low level” of research and development into thorium fuel.

The place where thorium is proven either way could be China. The country is serious about weaning itself off of fossil fuels and making nuclear power their primary energy source. Fourteen nuclear power reactors are in operation in China today, another 25 under construction, and there are plans to build more. And in 2011 they announced plans to build a thorium, molten salt reactor. So whether it be Norway, the UK, China, or some other forward-thinking countries, we’ll soon find out if thorium reactors are better than uranium ones, at which point more countries may want to join the thorium chain reaction.

http://singularityhub.com/2012/12/11/norway-begins-four-year-test-of-thorium-nuclear-reactor/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

A Swedish man who was arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen said Wednesday he was only doing it as a hobby.

Richard Handl told The Associated Press that he had the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his apartment in southern Sweden when police showed up and arrested him on charges of unauthorized possession of nuclear material.

The 31-year-old Handl said he had tried for months to set up a nuclear reactor at home and kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove.

Only later did he realize it might not be legal and sent a question to Sweden’s Radiation Authority, which answered by sending the police.

“I have always been interested in physics and chemistry,” Handl said, adding he just wanted to “see if it’s possible to split atoms at home.”

The police raid took place in late July, but police have refused to comment. If convicted, Handl could face fines or up to two years in prison.

Although he says police didn’t detect dangerous levels of radiation in his apartment, he now acknowledges the project wasn’t such a good idea.

“From now on, I will stick to the theory,” he said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/03/richard-handl-nuclear-reactor-home_n_917585.html

US Nuclear Reactors

Posted: May 5, 2011 in Nuclear Power

Click here for a link that can tell you all about each nuclear reactor on this map.

http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/#USMap

And click here to read a stoy from the latest issue of Rolling Stone that describes how we’re ignoring regulation on nuclear reactors here in the US.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/america-s-nuclear-nightmare-20110427