Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Japanese radiation reaches Britain raising doubts about Britain’s nuclear programme

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Two days ago, Scotland was on radiation alert after traces of iodine-131 were found in the air in Glasgow and Oxfordshire.

Although, the Health Protection Agency said there was no public risk, “significantly below any level that could cause harm to public health”, sill the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency increased checks for the substance.

Also, low levels of contamination had already been detected across the United States and Europe since Japan’s Fukushima plant was damaged by a tsunami caused by the earthquake on March 11.

However insignificant the level of radiation for humans are at these point it highlights how far radioactive material can travel on the winds and how vulnerable we would be if there was a serious radiation leak thousands of miles away.

But been lucky not being in an earthquake zone and not suffering the secondary consequences of the tsunami, also having different design of nuclear power plants, does it mean that we could believe that nuclear can be safe, even with strengthen safety procedures!?

This raises concerns and suspicions on Britain’s nuclear programme and plans to double nuclear power capacity by 2025, building new generations of nuclear power plants.

A study led by Sir David King, scientist, showed that the industry is better equipped to manage the decline and decommissioning of existing nuclear plants, rather than set up new ones. If Britain is to deal with its nuclear waste, as well as build new reactors, then more waste must be recycled.

Doug Parr, the green campaigning group’s chief scientist at Greenpeace, thinks that by reprocessing nuclear waste and turning it into fuel, it is created even more nuclear waste “than you would otherwise have to deal with anyway.”

According to Sir David King, nuclear power seems to be the safer energy so far.

”Even hydroelectricity has caused more fatalities”, he said. The catastrophe that hit Japan was “an extremely unlikely event”. He pointed that the safety systems kicking in correctly, acting exactly as supposed so, in those circumstances.

But, could we rely only on renewables to meet our energy consumption demand, without nuclear?

The latest figure shows that it is possible for more than 80% of Europe’s power to come from clean, renewable sources. “It simply isn’t necessary to take on the risks inherent with using plutonium” – according to Doug Parr.

Anti-nuclear campaigners here insisted any radiation in our atmosphere should set alarm bells ringing. Even Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warned that new nuclear power plants could be too expensive and risky.



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March 15, 2011

Future nuclear technology with thorium?

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Energetika.NET – reliable energy news for SEE – China towards new nuclear energy era with thorium Author: Jasmina Nikoloska, Valerija Hozjan

In late January, the Chinese National Academy of Sciences announced its initiative to investigate and develop an entirely new nuclear energy programme using thorium as a fuel.

Currently, nuclear stations in China account for only 2 per cent of the country’s total power generation. According to the NDRC’s (National Development and Reform Commission) nuclear and long-term development plan, by 2020, China’s installed capacity of nuclear power will reach 40GWe and by 2050 it may be increased to 260GWe or more. The Chinese National Academy’s ultimate target is to develop a wholly new nuclear system that will be the future of advanced nuclear fission energy – a nuclear energy, thorium-based molten salt reactor system – within about 20 years.

The thorium molten-salt reactor (TMSR), as the Chinese call it, is a fourth-generation nuclear reactor which uses liquid salt as both fuel and coolant, also known as liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), British news source The Register wrote on 1 February.

Thorium (or uranium-233 produced from it) can be used as fuel in different reactor designs. In USA, for example, thorium was used in the high temperature reactor in Fort St. Vrain, which operated as a commercial nuclear power plant between 1977 to 1989, dr. Igor Jencic from the Jozef Stefan Institute explained for Energetika.NET. There are molten salt reactor designs, which use uranium (plutonium) as fuel; at the same time, some use thorium as fuel. The interlocutor agreed that the current combination of molten salt and thorium fuel was the most promising. He said this was not, however, exclusive Chinese idea. “A molten salt reactor is one of the six possible reactor designs of the 4th generation. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Great Britain, USA, Switzerland, Euratom, China and Russia participate in GEN-IV, where these reactors are being developed. The concept researched and the time spent on individual research depends on the country.” Jencic added that research results within the mentioned project were “public in principle”. “Once specific technological solutions are reached, this might change.”

Breakeven conversion ratio

In Kirk Sorensen’s recent blog entry about the announcement of the new nuclear scheme at the Chinese National Academy of Sciences, he explained that the Chinese recognised that a “thorium-fueled MSR is best run with uranium-233 fuel, which inevitably contains impurities (uranium-232 and its decay products) that preclude its use in nuclear weapons. Dr. Jencic added there were many uranium-233 weapons deficiencies (due to the presence of uranium-232) in comparison with plutonium; therefore the Americans had abandoned such military use in the past. “An air engine was being developed which could (because of the small size or large specific power) be operated by a molten salt reactor. This development most likely had military implications, but it was abandoned by the end of the 50ies.”

Operating an MSR on the “pure” fuel cycle of thorium and uranium-233 means that a breakeven conversion ratio can be achieved, and after being started on uranium-233, only thorium is required for indefinite operation and power generation, says Sorensen. He also estimated that between 5000-6000 tons of thorium could produce as much energy as the world currently consumes each year.

Future nuclear technology?

Switching from uranium to thorium as the primarily nuclear fuel was one of the promising energy and climate change solutions proposed two years ago as a part of the Manchester Report. Such could lead to cheaper, safer and more sustainable nuclear power.

Jencic added that probability of certain kinds of accidents did not depend on fuel, but on the design (light water reactor, gas cooled reactor, etc.). “It is true that certain kinds of accidents or technological problems, which are the most dangerous with light water reactors, cannot occur, even in theory, with molten salt reactor; the latter have, however, other problems. Again, problems do not depend on fuel (uranium or thorium).” It is true that radioactive waste that occurs when using thorium as fuel is short-lived in comparison with waste that occurs when uranium is used. Thorium waste decays to the level of natural radioactivity within several hundreds of years.
It is supposed that they have been storing thorium from rare-earth mining for years and if this is true, the Chinese will have hundreds of thousands of years of thorium already mined and available for use, according to Sorensen. The Chinese understood that “we need a better stove that can burn more fuel”, as Xu Hongjie, a researcher on the future of nuclear power at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, said in an interview with Wenhui News.

Although the prospects are promising, scientists say that there are still many difficulties to be overcome. But it is clear that China is becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well in other aspects of the fuel cycle.

March 14, 2011

SuperGrid is a synergistic bridge which will create Europe’s future

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Energetika.NET – reliable energy news for SEE Zubaidah Razak: SuperGrid is a solution for transmitting energy overseas Author: Jasmina Nikoloska

Ten ministers from northern and western European countries, representatives of the Offshore Grid Initiative and the European Commissioner for Energy assembled in early December 2010 to discuss a project known as SuperGrid. Their gathering resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding to develop this offshore electricity grid enabling interconnection between continental, offshore and British energy resources.

SuperGrid is an ambitious project that could secure the feeding of renewable energy generated offshore into the grid and delivery to where needed.

PHOTO: Jasmina Nikoloska

From 19 to 21 January, at the Synergistic SuperGrid for Transmitting Energy Overseas 2011 event in London, leading industry representatives, ministries, associations, solution providers and investors got together to extensively discuss insights into SuperGrid development, pathways to achieving efficiency and seeking upcoming opportunities in Europe and abroad.

Energetika.NET spoke with Zubaidah Razak, managing director at InnoQube, the organiser of Synergistic SuperGrid for Transmitting Energy Overseas 2011.

In your opinion, how important is this event in promoting the SuperGrid project and can it help to push faster the development of grid infrastructure and regulatory framework?

I would even say that there are lot of an events related to SuperGrid, based on the event I am organising – Synergistic SuperGrid for Transmitting Energy Overseas 2011. It is important and beneficial to have these three days, because we have a lot of people from different industries and backgrounds: the operators, the solution providers, the government. Planning for the event was done diligently, and we are getting good feedback from people who now understand much more. Compared with other events that only touch a little bit, we are having very good coverage.

Do you believe that SuperGrid is a synergistic bridge which will create Europe’s future?

Definitely, of course! We need something to connect, so SuperGrid, I would say, is the only thing that will help the European Union ambition to promote and to share energy among Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so SuperGrid is a solution.

This conference is coming to an end: What does your future hold?

Based on the feedback we received, as well as what we heard, and understanding more about this project, our plan is to fine-tune to get much more coverage in the development of SuperGrid, because we also want to contribute and help by organising the next event aiming at 2020-2050.

March 10, 2011

Alternative fuel from everyday life could power cars

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Humans face an unprecedented challenge to maintain their standard of living while reducing the environmental impact of fossil fuels. The rapid introduction of new technologies and if possible changing our consumption habits is essential.

Last March I was writing that a sports carmaker Lotus together with Intelligent Energy is developing new technology to make famous black taxi cars in London greener. The idea is to use hydrogen-powered fuel cells in order to reduce CO2 emissions from transport and hopefully, London’s famous black cabs to use hydrogen fuel cells by 2012

Then is August, Scottish scientists recognised the available potential in the £4 billion local whisky industry, in that by using two main by-products of the whisky distillation process – pot ale, or the liquid from the copper stills, and draff, or the spent grains – it could be possible to develop the next generation of biofuel, Biofuel from Scotch whisky could power cars

Recently I discovered that possibly the main difficulty, in using hydrogen power in cars, storing the fuel, have been overcome.

Hydrogen atoms are so small that they can slip between the spaces in molecules of other materials, and the gas escapes it can be a threat.

Therefore, Cella Energy Ltd developed safe, low-cost hydrogen storage materials. The innovation is based on materials using nano-structuring to safely encapsulate hydrogen at ambient temperatures and pressures which sidesteps the requirement for an expensive hydrogen infrastructure.

According to Cella Energy Ltd web site hydrogen fuels for vehicles you can pump like regular gasoline at room temperature and pressure, safer to use than gasoline or diesel but with zero carbon emissions.                                                                                                                                                      

Also, the microbeads could be used in a regular vehicle, with standard combustion engines, with minimal modifications as a fuel additive that could allow vehicle to meet the Euro 6 emission standards, by helping it to burn petrol more cleanly and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s more, Conservation Magazine published yesterday, that scientists develop technology to turn urine into hydrogen fuel. Generating hydrogen fuel from urine is a promising idea.

Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University, recognising that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea.

He showed that if an electrode is placed in wastewater and apply a gentle current, and voila: hydrogen gas that can be used to power a fuel cell.

In fact, ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so less energy is required to split them off.

Professor Botte’s technology has also the potential to be used in locations where a lot of people come across, for example an office building with 200 to 300 workers could generate 2 kilowatts of power.

Although, that’s not enough to power the building, it is a step forward in finding way to use human wastewater as an effective alternative to fossil fuels.

Illustration: Corbis Images

March 3, 2011

Shale gas drilling a controversial energy alternative

by Jasmina Nikoloska

In my article Could shale gas become a new energy source for Britain’s energy needs? I’ am writing about UK plans to investigate and introducing shale gas drilling techniques, in a field near Blackpool in Lancashire.

Shale gas is nothing uncommon for the energy industry; it is the actual methodology and techniques for its extraction and use that are new. A US engineer, George Mitchell, developed the current technique, known as “hydraulic fracturing”.
To access shale gas, drilling must be downwards into the gas-bearing rock more than 3 kilometres below the surface, and then horizontally for thousands of metres more with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand being pumped in under high pressure to fracture the rock.

The water opens up cracks in the rock in which the sand grains then lodge, keeping them open and creating space for the gas to travel up and be collected at the surface.

While shale gas extraction in Britain is still in developing stage, the technique has already revolutionised US energy market.
But, environmental concerns have been raised in US related to several pollution incidents and potential contamination of water with methane, all of which were supposedly caused by shale gas drilling.

Also the quantities of water that would be needed during the process can’t be ignored.

The Tyndall Centre, a climate change research body, estimates about 2,500-3,000 horizontal wells spread over some 140-400 square kilometres would need to be drilled using some 27 to 113m tonnes of water in order to sustain production levels equivalent to 10% of UK gas consumption.

Mark Miller, chief executive at Cuadrilla Resources, the company responsible for shale drilling in UK, told MPs at the select committee hearing into shale gas that 99.8% of this is pure water bought from local supplier United Utilities. The rest is made up of two chemicals: a fluid to reduce friction inside the pipe and an unspecified additive, the Guardian wrote on Tuesday 1 March.

Miller also confirmed that only about a third of the water mix is recovered during the initial period, with at least half remaining underground and he believes that the solid rock in top of the aquifer would prevent the water mix contaminating it.

On top of it, the Guardian reveal that the results of the first attempt to extract shale gas in the UK using a controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, will be kept secret for four years.

It was confirmed by the Government that according to the oil and gas practise it is not unusual for the industry to keep some information confidential for a period, in these case till 2015.

Energy companies are very much interested in exploring Europe’s potential for shale gas, because any kind of gas is a relatively carbon-friendly alternative to oil, and it could significantly affect the energy market.

 

Written by: Jasmina Nikoloska