Posts tagged ‘Nuclear technology’

November 29, 2011

Nuclear power not a popular choice for energy future

by Jasmina Nikoloska

Since we are highly dependent on energy to accomplish our everyday needs, it is almost impossible to imagine the energy shortage, no matter what.

After Fukushima effect wakened the question can we feel safe using the current energy sources available and can we met our energy needs without nuclear?

For some time we are trying to abandon coal and it seems that more and more counties are realising that the nuclear power is not delivering a sustainable energy future to.

According to a recent poll by the global research agency GlobeScan, most counties believe that boosting efficiency and renewables can meet their needs.

The Agency polled 23,231 people in 23 countries from July to September this year and the results published by BBC News show that just 22% agreed that “nuclear power is relatively safe and an important source of electricity, and we should build more nuclear power plants”, with 71% which said their country “could almost entirely replace coal and nuclear energy within 20 years by becoming highly energy-efficient and focusing on generating energy from the Sun and wind”.

From the counties having nuclear programmes, comparing with 2005 survey there are significantly increased opposition to nuclear, with only the UK and US supporting the programme. In the UK, support for building new reactors has risen from 33% to 37%.

From the countries which already use nuclear continuing role for existing nuclear power stations while not building new ones was strongest in France and Japan (58% and 57%), however Spaniards and Germans (55% and 52%) were the strongest to shut down nuclear plants straightaway.

The other two polls Ipsos-Mori and the Japanese Asahi Shimbun newspaper published in June revealed not so different conclusion as well.

Tackling the greenhouse gas emissions and growing energy demand are challenges which favour nuclear power in the UK and according to the British Science Association-commissioned poll published in September 41% of respondents agreed that the benefits of nuclear power outweighed the risks, up to 38% in 2010 from 32% in 2005.

In the interview for the Guardian newspaper climate advisor to the German government, Jochen Flasbarth, said that building a new nuclear power stations, will make it harder for UK to switch to renewables.

In March, Germany announced its decision to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. According to Jochen Flasbarth who is advising German government on its nuclear phase-out, it is unlikely for Germany to experience an energy shortage because their energy plan is based on fostering growth of green energies, more than any other industrialised nation. Their calculated cost is no more than 5% increase in the energy bills for the next ten years.

How well is UK prepared for the nuclear future?

The UK energy strategy includes new nuclear reactors which will generate around 16 gigawatts by 2025, and nuclear future that would secure up to 40% of our electricity needs by 2050.

But the recent report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, which has considered how well we are prepared on the future development of nuclear power, concluded that we are not.

The problem, the committee claims, is that successive governments have lacked the necessary vision to invest in the research and development infrastructure needed to keep us at the forefront of nuclear technology. The expertise we’ve built up over previous decades is in danger of being lost as the current generation of nuclear scientists, engineers and regulators reaches retirement, – BBC News published on 22 November.

Since the UK is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, according to the Government nuclear technology is vital to achieve this target as well to secure energy supply and jobs.

The committee says lack of investments and research in the industry could create a skills gap and threatens long-term electricity plans.

A government spokesman said that they are already investing £540m in energy research through the research councils including money to be spent on research and training in nuclear fission.

July 5, 2011

Is Thorium the right choice for our energy future?

by Jasmina Nikoloska

The question on what our energy future should be based on  is complex.

Currently one of  the biggest environmental concern  is global warming and therefore investing in renewables and sustainable energy sources is reasonable, but could we meet our energy needs without nuclear?

German MPs recently voted 513-79 in favour of renewables, approving plans to shut down the country’s nuclear plants by 2022.

After Fukushima disaster Germany shut down instantly eight of the older reactors but remaining nine reactors will be shut down in stages by the end of 2022.

Their ambition is to double the share of energy stemming from water, wind, sun or biogas to at least 35%.

Some argue that that  if we back up from  nuclear, it would be in favour of the coal, which will directly affect with more CO2 emissions and  more global warming.

According to the latest figures published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), a growth trend of renewables is not strong as it would need to be but unfortunately the use of coal increased for 7%.

With eight new nuclear sites revealed, Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Programme updated and consultation document on  the way on  how potential sites for geological nuclear disposal will be identified and  assessed, it is more than obvious that Britain  is pushing ahead  its nuclear plans.

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 – Future nuclear technology with thorium?

Thorium - 350

Thorium - 350

India is presently further ahead than any other country in the development of the thorium fuel cycle, but even so the R&D has only progressed on  a relatively small scale.

As with India, Norway’s interest in thorium is because of the indigenous reserves and it is therefore clear why the level of investment and  recent interest has been shown.

For a country such as the UK, with neither thorium or uranium reserves, the incentive for thorium is much reduced, as in both cases it would remain dependent on overseas suppliers.

The thorium fuel cycle presents an alternative option  to the usual uranium plutonium fuel cycle that has long been advocated and researched, but which has yet to be adopted on a commercial scale.

The thorium fuel cycle is claimed to be advantageous in several respects, one of which is that it generates very low quantities of transuranic materials, including plutonium.

Although it is thought  that radioactivity reduction could be significant, still more realistic studies which take account of the effect of U-235 or Pu-239 seed fuels required to breed  the U-233 suggest the benefits are more modest.

Based on National Nuclear Laboratory’s (NNL) knowledge and experience of introducing new fuels into modern reactors, it is estimated that this is likely to take 10 to 15 years even with a concerted R&D effort and investment before the thorium fuel cycle could be established in current reactors and much longer for any future reactor systems.

While the thorium fuel cycle is theoretically capable of being self-sustainable, this is only achievable with full recycle.

According to the NNL economic benefits are theoretically achievable by using thorium fuels, in current market conditions the position is marginal and insufficient to justify major investment.

The conclusion of the NNL’s paper is that the thorium fuel cycle does not currently have a role to play in the UK context, other than  its potential application for plutonium  management in the medium to long term.

With the world’s population due to hit nine billion by 2050, it is unlikely that the pressure to reduce energy consumption is possible therefore we have to highlight every potential energy source.

On the other hand I can see a good point in the Jean McSorley’s, statement, senior consultant for Greenpeace’s nuclear campaign.

“Even if thorium technology does progress to the point where it might be commercially viable, it will face the same problems as conventional nuclear: it is not renewable or sustainable and cannot effectively connect to smart grids. The technology is not tried and tested, and none of the main players is interested. Thorium reactors are no more than a distraction”.


You can see the report here: 2010 National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) report (PDF)

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.

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.