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The Rise of Small Nuclear Plants

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the small-neutrons-a-specialty dept.

Earth 490

ColdWetDog writes "The Oil Drum (one of the best sites to discuss the technical details of the Macondo Blowout) is typically focused on ramifications of petroleum use, and in particular the Peak Oil theory. They run short guest articles from time to time on various aspects of energy use and policies. Today they have an interesting article on small nuclear reactors with a refreshing amount of technical detail concerning their construction, use, and fueling. The author's major thesis: 'Pick up almost any book about nuclear energy and you will find that the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive. This assumption is widely accepted, but, if its roots are understood, it can be effectively challenged. Recently, however, a growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies, and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units, and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing. The resulting systems are a welcome addition to the nuclear power plant menu, which has previously been limited to one size — extra large.'"

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Since they're small, (1)

aquila.solo (1231830) | about 4 years ago | (#32971408)

I'll take three.

Re:Since they're small, (1)

ceraphis (1611217) | about 4 years ago | (#32971494)

Be sure to hide one in the janitor's closet of the room where one is hiding in plain sight.

Re:Since they're small, (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971692)

I'm a hidin one up your mother cunt. One more up her ass.

Small nukes (2, Insightful)

countertrolling (1585477) | about 4 years ago | (#32971436)

Great for pumping stations and desalination plants... probably the cheapest way.

This is good. (3, Interesting)

elucido (870205) | about 4 years ago | (#32971440)

Nuclear energy is probably the best chance we have are breaking our addiction to oil. Nuclear energy is also relatively clean. I don't know why the government doesn't just fund the development of a bunch of nuclear power plants and put them on the coast or on the ocean somewhere. We could generate enough power to power the entire country, not to mention we could probably put hundreds of thousands of nuclear power plants in the desert.

put them all over as the power grid is not setup f (2, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 4 years ago | (#32971482)

put them all over as the power grid is not setup for having a lot of power in one place.

Re:put them all over as the power grid is not setu (3, Insightful)

spazdor (902907) | about 4 years ago | (#32971804)

I can't imagine investing in a national nuclear infrastructure without also overhauling the distribution grid.

it easyer / cheaper to start local with grid upgra (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 4 years ago | (#32972018)

it easyer / cheaper to start local with grid upgrades then to load it all in one area then one tree limb / train crash can wipe out most of the power system.

Re:This is good. (2, Insightful)

ickleberry (864871) | about 4 years ago | (#32971560)

There is no one fix to this problem. For the past 100 years or so oil was an all you can drink buffet but now the end is in sight. There is talk of a Peak Uranium which may already have passed. Nuclear has its uses as a reliable base load but its not the one great solution that will solve all our energy problems.

Solar, wind, geothermal, pumped storage all have their place but really the national grid should be designed to better accomodate micro-generation and 'unreliable' generators like wind turbines - efficient power plants that can easily reduce their output in a way that actually saves fuel so that no wind or solar energy ends up wasted.

Re:This is good. (4, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32971648)

Peak Uranium? So then we move to thorium, or get uranium out of the sea, or burn our spent fuel. This is a solvable issue.

Re:This is good. (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 4 years ago | (#32971700)

Read Asimov's "The Last Question" some time. No power source lasts forever.

Re:This is good. (1)

Surt (22457) | about 4 years ago | (#32971936)

A classic story.

But of course, in reality human civilization is probably only going to last another hundred years or so, so nuclear will last plenty long.

Re:This is good. (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32972022)

We have been hearing that claim for thousands of years. Human society will last a lot longer than that.

Re:This is good. (3, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | about 4 years ago | (#32972258)

No one had the technology to kill everyone on earth until the mid 70s, so that was a pretty implausible claim for all but the last 40ish of those thousands of years.

Re:This is good. (5, Interesting)

JackCroww (733340) | about 4 years ago | (#32971812)

I recently was part of a discussion about energy here in the US and this was my brother's contribution:

It's quite simple, actually. The United States has not built a nuclear power plant since the seventies. Almost all of the plants we built then, and all of the plants that are still online, are pressurized light water (PLW) designs. This means that that coolant in the reactor, which also moderates the nuclear reaction, is ordinary water under great pressure (typically at least twice the industrial norm of 600 lb/in^2 steam). A PLW reactor produces as much plutonium 239 as it consumes uranium 235. We erroneously call Pu-239 nuclear waste, and the governments since the Clinton Administration have been looking to find a place to bury it for a quarter of a million years.

However, until the Clinton administration, your government was busy designing a better reactor. The program was called integral fast reactor, or IFR. IFR was a metal-moderated reactor. The coolant was liquid metal, sodium or lead. These elements don't moderate the neutrons, they fly unhindered through the pile. That means they can fission Pu-239. In fact, they can fission anything higher than uranium on the periodic table. That's not all a fast reactor can do, though. It can also turn anything on the other (left) half of the bottom row of the periodic table into fissionable material. That's what "fast" means in the name. The reactor produces its own fuel from thorium or uranium in its natural state! Just the uranium that has been mined to date, which we use for cannon shells once we've taken the U-235 out of it, is sufficient for 300-400 years of the US energy needs. The known reserves are good for 50,000 years or so. Uranium is more plentiful in the earth's crust than gold or tin, and there is three times as much thorium as uranium. Energy forever.

What does "integral" mean? It means that the fuel is recycled on-site. The fuel in the IFR is in metallic, rather than ceramic form. It is simply re-smelted periodically (not the whole load, just a few rods' worth), and the slag is the only waste. The balance of the fuel plus a tiny bit of uranium or thorium in its natural state, is recast into pellets and returned to the reactor. The volume of the nuclear waste is reduced by several orders of magnitude. The nature of the waste is only the light elements that are the products of the fission reaction. They have either extremely short half lives, measured in seconds to months, or such long half lives that they are essentially stable. They are also mainly low-energy beta emitters, instead of neutron and gamma emitters. While this waste is hellishly radioactive at first, it will be less radioactive than uranium ore in less than 300 years, and reactors might produce a couple hundredweight in a fifty year lifespan, instead of thousands of tons of spent fuel rods as a PLW reactor would.

Additional benefits of the IFR design? The fuel is in metallic form, suspended in liquid metal. It gets no hotter than the coolant, and thus cannot have a catastrophic loss of coolant, or "blow down", which is what happens if there is a leak in the primary circuit of a LWR. The fuel in a LWR is in ceramic form, and gets much hotter than the coolant (which is in turn much hotter than liquid sodium). If it were not continuously cooled, it would destroy its container and melt, hence the term "melt down." If that happens to enough fuel elements in a reactor, the fuel gathers at the bottom of the vessel and continues to react, until it melts through the bottom of vessel, or the "china syndrome." None of these is possible with the IFR design. As it gets warmer, the fuel assemblies expand and move away from each other, slowing or stopping the reaction. The IFR, in fact, was tested for this. They turned off the control system. The reactor heated slightly, and stopped working. The cut off the heat exchanger (simulating what happens if the heat exchanger or a turbine goes bad at a LWR plant)--same thing. The reactor heated slightly and shut itself down, without human intervention.

So what you have is a reactor that produces its own fuel, cannot blow down or melt down, and consumes nuclear waste, including the tons and tons of old Russian warhead plutonium we've bought and the million of tons of spent fuel we intend to bury. The fuel is useless for weapons, because it contains a mixture of elements and isotopes that is much more expensive, dangerous and difficult to separate than starting from scratch. You could give such a plant to Libya, Iran or N. Korea with no problem. When the reactor or turbine plant is too old to go on, the fuel is still perfectly good--just put it in the new plant.

So what does this cost? A tiny bit more than building "clean coal." Coal plants currently cost about $1200 per KW of capacity, including scrubbers for fly ash and sulfur. The French, Japanese, and Chinese are building nuclear plants for less than $1400 per KW of capacity. A 1 GW coal plant eats 100 train car loads of coal per day, and requires labor to move and store that fuel, and remove and cart away the cinders, fly ash, and sulphur that are collected, that latter two must be treated as hazardous waste, all three are actually pretty radioactive. In fifty years, a 1 GW IFR type reactor would produce about a cubic yard of waste.

The US has a generating capacity of about 1000 GW, demand grows at about 4% per year, and about 2% of capacity is retired as obsolete every year. That means that the power industry builds the equivalent of 60 1 GW power plants every year, using their own money. If all of those were nuclear, it would cost 90 billion instead of 72 billion, counting the cost of nuclear at $1500/KW. 18 billion dollars of tax incentives could get that done.

If in addition, you built another 2% of capacity (20 GW or 30 billion dollars) of surplus generation each year (doubling to 60 billion in 36 years), you would double US generating capacity in 36 years. That surplus electricity could cover transportation, whether by battery, hydrogen, fuel cell or catenary, and much of the home and industrial heating. Carbon emission would be cut by over 3/4. No more coal mining. No reliance of foreign oil. No dams on the rivers. It would cost a pittance. Nuclear is the greenest energy there is. Clinton's energy secretary, Hazel O'Leary (a lawyer, not an engineer), canceled the program in 1994 at the behest of Senator Kerry of Massachusetts and VP Gore. It cost more and took longer to shut down the reactor than it would have cost to finish the program. The prototype is shuttered up in Idaho. If we had begun building such plants then, we'd be nearly half done, and they'd be improving the prototype. There would be cheap, carbon-free electricity for hydrogen and electric cars. Actually, if you use lead for the moderator in such a reactor, it is hot enough to dissociate water directly to yield hydrogen, which could be done at night when electrical demand is low. And the Russians even built such a plant that uses the post-turbine steam to desalinate water. The French have built two. The Japanese have built two such reactors. All of them work fine, but the groundless fear of plutonium is strong, all have been shut down by environmental and anti-proliferation activism.

That's my energy plan. Oh, and it would obviously not be necessary to turn food into automotive fuel when a billion people in the world go to bed hungry every night.

Re:This is good. (-1, Flamebait)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | about 4 years ago | (#32971902)

Ya know, you had me there for a while--right up to your sig. Now I just figure you're another Libertarian nutcase, "the autistics of politics."

Re:This is good. (3, Informative)

JackCroww (733340) | about 4 years ago | (#32972244)

Your rebuttal is an ad hominem attack? Normally I'd ignore you, but instead, I'll let you try looking at the first bullet point under the "Global Significance" section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Fast_Reactor [wikipedia.org] to see if you might change your mind. As for Libertarianism, do you have a better suggestion? At this point, almost anything has to be better than the two parties currently spending our children into oblivion: http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/files/2008/11/fed-rev-spend-2008-boc-s1-federal-spending-has-increased.gif [pajamasmedia.com]

Re:This is good. (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | about 4 years ago | (#32971934)

mod parent up. the whole "nuclear is evil" trend has to stop.

Re:This is good. (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | about 4 years ago | (#32972252)

there is no such thing as peak nuclear power because you can use breeder reactors to create new fissionable material (plutonium 239). http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/NucEne/fasbre.html [gsu.edu]

there is this farsical disscuion that always gets recycled about uranium, that there is only 50 years supply left. yes, there is 50 years of KNOWN AND DEFINED ore body. there has been almost zero exploration done in the last 40 years due to hard campgaining against uranium mining and nuclear power. it's dishonest of the green lobby to succeed in banning uranium mining in most countries then claim short supply as a problem for nuclear power. In australia alone we have massive deposits that aren't properly explored, and there's no doubt there are more deposits we don't even know about.

Re:This is good. (1)

Daryen (1138567) | about 4 years ago | (#32971682)

Well, I'm not sure how many plants we could put in the desert, as nuclear energy usually requires a large amount of water.

Re:This is good. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32972034)

We could not possibly use anything else for cooling, no way. It would be impossible to use the ground as a heatsync or air. Expensive maybe, but surely not impossible.

Re:This is good. (1)

master0ne (655374) | about 4 years ago | (#32971784)

Because a lot of politicians and "regular people" are scared shit-less of nuclear power because of incidents like 3 mile island, and chernobyl. It becomes a NIMBY issue, no one wants the plants anywhere near them, and they will fight vehemently to prevent them from happening.

Re:This is good. (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 4 years ago | (#32971866)

I don't know why the government doesn't just fund the development of a bunch of nuclear power plants and put them on the coast or on the ocean somewhere.

Yes you do: mostly a perception issue with the voters, a lot of politics, and some actual reasons. There's the stigma of nuclear power that we have yet to shake, any elected official who votes for nuclear is going to lose the green vote, and the green vote is the big one that really cares about ending fossil fuels. Few elected officials if any could say "sure, bury that radioactive waste in my district, my constituents are aware that they're facing bigger environmental hazards from various superfund sites, not to mention realizing that radioactive waste in a bunker is less of a threat than climate change."

As far as the specific off the coast idea, I myself would be a lot more skeptical of that given recent events. Seems to me if we can't handle pulling oil out of the ground in the gulf, regulating it, and stopping it if there's a problem, we might not be competent to operate a nuclear reactor out there.

Re:This is good. (0)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about 4 years ago | (#32971974)

Nuclear energy is probably the best chance we have are breaking our addiction to oil. Nuclear energy is also relatively clean.

Sorry, but neither of these is true. I'm no environmentalist, but I see several problems with nuclear power.

First, the nuclear power industry has a terrible track record with regard to things like performing proper maintenance and basic honesty (ie, lying and covering up problems).

Second, nuclear power is neither cheap nor clean. Every nuclear plant ever built has been extremely expensive and this cost is passed on to consumers as higher electricity rates. Although nuclear power may not generate air pollution like a conventional (coal) power plant, it generates something just as bad or worse -- radioactive waste that we still don't know how to deal with. We can't even built containers that will last more than a few decades without falling apart. France, long a world leader in nuclear power, is now getting first hand experience with this problem as buried nuclear waste is beginning to leak out, and in at least one case, threatening a famous vineyard.

Third, only 1% of the electricity is the U.S. is generated using. Nuclear power will have absolutely no effect on our consumption of oil.

Fourth, and maybe most telling of all, is the Obama administration's recently proposal of $8 Billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear power industry. Translation -- nuclear power is such a bad investment that nobody wants to give them any money.

The biggest problem with coal is air pollution. There is technology available to reduce pollution to negligible levels, but nobody wants to use it because it's "too expensive". Instead of flushing a few Billion down the toilet with nuclear power, we could put that money into clean coal technology.

Re:This is good. (3, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32972060)

Clean coal cannot exist. What are you going to do with all the waste? What will you do with the CO2?

It is a freaking PR job by the dirtiest industry in the USA. They top off mountains and dump the remains into peoples drinking water. Then they store hazardous waste in open ponds and let that run onto people's property. These folks make the nuclear industry look like saints.

Re:This is good. (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 4 years ago | (#32972088)

"Nuclear energy is probably the best chance we have are breaking our addiction to oil."

I think you mean "addiction to coal"

There isnt a lot of oil fired electric power plants.

Nuclear powered cars and trucks (and aircraft) are not gonna happen.

Re:This is good. (1)

shemyazaz (1494359) | about 4 years ago | (#32972160)

Placing them near the ocean would be an effective way to facilitate a move to hydrogen for portable power. I've always thought we should do this. Nuclear and Hydrogen......the future.

The Navy? (4, Interesting)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 4 years ago | (#32971456)

I would assume the nuclear plants found on submarines and large warships both provide a lot of energy and are not in the category of 'extra large.'

Re:The Navy? (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32971526)

I would assume the nuclear plants found on submarines and large warships both provide a lot of energy and are not in the category of 'extra large.'

Nor are they in the category of "economical", which is what was meant by "the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive." Economically competitive, you see. Something the Navy cares about far less than, well, basically every other factor that goes into the design of a naval nuclear power plant.

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971578)

If they are not economical, why does the Navy use them(in the case of carriers) over gas turbines?

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971626)

To minimize sound possibly?

Re:The Navy? (2, Funny)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | about 4 years ago | (#32971694)

Because a huge carrier is so hard to see, I have to listen for it.

Re:The Navy? (4, Informative)

RsG (809189) | about 4 years ago | (#32971772)

To minimize sound possibly?

Not even a little. Nuke plants are noisy. This actually poses a problem aboard nuclear subs. Of course a carrier isn't stealthy to begin with, especially not if deployed in a battle group, so the reactor noise isn't relevant.

The GP asked why the navy would use a nuke if a gas turbine would do the job. Fuel is the biggest answer, as a nuclear reactor needs refueling infrequently, and removing the need for large fuel tanks leaves more room for other stuff - in the case of a carrier, the "other stuff" would include aviation fuel and munitions, two things needed in quantity. In the case of a sub, the reactor is desirable in that it lets you stay submerged more or less indefinitely, since you can electrolyze water for oxygen.

Other than those two situations (carriers and subs), naval nuclear reactors are uncommon for exactly the reason given at the beginning of the thread: cost.

Re:The Navy? (1)

spazdor (902907) | about 4 years ago | (#32971914)

since you can electrolyze water for oxygen

Is doing this likely to compromise stealth in any way? I can't imagine there are that many natural phenomena with elemental hydrogen bubbling up from the sea floor..

Re:The Navy? (4, Informative)

RsG (809189) | about 4 years ago | (#32972260)

Sure, if you had some way of searching the ocean for faint traces of hydrogen bubbles, and if said bubbles co-operated by not reacting with anything in the meantime. So far as I know we've never developed anything like that. Now, to put on my paranoid hat for a second, "so far as I know" could just mean that attempts to do this were classified, though I think the easier explanation is that nobody has bothered.

I don't want to say it isn't possible, because that's the sort of sentiment that invites the universe to prove me wrong, but lets just say it's a needle in a haystack sort of problem. You'd be looking for faint chemical trace over a vast area, with the trace in question being chemically reactive enough to virtually guarantee it won't linger. At a minimum, your solution would need to be used over a narrow search region.

Now, look at the problem from the opposite direction. Stealth under water is relative. A submarine, however well designed, however well commanded, can be found using existing methods, provided you know roughly where to look for it. Think of how many shipwrecks have been found by searching the general area they sunk, often decades or more after the fact. Now, factor in that those wrecks are on the ocean floor, meaning it's harder to spot them on active sonar than a sub, that the wrecks are utterly silent instead of just mostly silent, and that many of those wrecks were found using non-military hardware (meaning a few boats with active sonar pinging the ocean floor, instead of a fleet of warships and air-dropped sonar buoys).

The key concept here is knowing where to look. If all you know is that a sub is somewhere in the Atlantic, then you aren't going to have much luck finding it. If you know where to look, you don't need anything like a hypothetical hydrogen searching method when more straightforward options exist.

Re:The Navy? (2, Informative)

aquila.solo (1231830) | about 4 years ago | (#32971646)

I think perhaps the GP meant "commercially" competitive. The Navy's reactors are certainly economical for the criteria they have: quiet, high power density, infrequent refueling, no oxygen requirement, reliable, etc.

Cost still factors in to the equation, but it would seem that gas turbines aren't cheap enough to offset the other benefits nuclear provides.

Re:The Navy? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32971926)

I think perhaps the GP meant "commercially" competitive. The Navy's reactors are certainly economical for the criteria they have: quiet, high power density, infrequent refueling, no oxygen requirement, reliable, etc.

They are not economical. They are simply the only thing that can provide all the capabilities that a naval nuclear reactor provides. When you have something that is incredibly expensive but with unique capabilities, you use it in spite of it being uneconomical.

The Saturn V was not an economical rocket at all. But it was the only thing that could launch the Apollo mission, so they used the uneconomical rocket.

The SR-71 was a stupidly expensive airplane both to build and to run (the fucker leaked jet fuel literally like a sieve until it got up to speed), but nothing else could fly high and fast enough to avoid Russian SAMs, so they used it.

Cost still factors in to the equation, but it would seem that gas turbines aren't cheap enough to offset the other benefits nuclear provides.

Nobody cares about cost when it comes to building aircraft carriers or attack/ballistic missile subs. The endeavor is inherently expensive and uneconomical. Gas turbines could cost negative one billion dollars and the Ohio-class submarine would still be sporting its expensive nuclear reactor.

Long and short of it is: Nuclear power plants are a fantastic choice for certain Naval operations. They are not, nor are they intended to be, economical.

Re:The Navy? (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32972110)

The SR-71 did not even use regular jetfuel much less leak it. They did however leak a very small amount of what they ended up calling jp7, but not like a sieve at all. Satellites avoided SAMs just fine, this just provided oversite on an on demand basis.

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971656)

If they are not economical, why does the Navy use them(in the case of carriers) over gas turbines?

Unit of energy per unit of fuel.

Re:The Navy? (2, Informative)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 4 years ago | (#32971662)

It doesn't have to be an efficient nuclear plant to beat other forms of propulsion. And the nuke plants can run far longer without refueling.

Re:The Navy? (1)

spun (1352) | about 4 years ago | (#32971684)

Nuclear reactors do not need to carry extra fuel, and so the endurance of a ship at sea is not limited by the amount of fuel it can carry. Carrying less fuel, the ship can carry more supplies and ammunition.

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971756)

Energy density. You don't need to refuel a nuclear submarine many times, if ever, for the useful lifespan of the sub.

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32972122)

That's not entirely true. They do need to be refueled "every so often," depending on how hard it's been running (i.e. how fast it's been burning through the fuel). However, they do last MUCH longer than diesel boats, obviously, and there are no requirements to snorkel while charging batteries, etc etc.

Re:The Navy? (1)

masterwit (1800118) | about 4 years ago | (#32971854)

  • A ship that weighs 88,000 tons and draws the same electricity requirements as a small city.
  • Oil cannot be used as this would require the carrier be dependent on refuel to cross the Atlantic twice.
  • They are the most efficient form of power at that scale when applied to propulsion of that scale. (with minimum speed requirements!)

Basically I know the lack of efficiency is not the issue - rather it is the fact that nothing else will suffice. Chris Burke nailed it when he stated:

Something the Navy cares about far less than, well, basically every other factor that goes into the design of a naval nuclear power plant.

Plus with the newer prototypes being considered, the need for power on these things could double, we'll see.

Re:The Navy? (1)

spazdor (902907) | about 4 years ago | (#32971874)

Nothing else packs even close to the same fuel density (think joules per kilogram).

I'm sure the lack of need for an oxygen supply for combustion doesn't hurt either.

Re:The Navy? (1)

spazdor (902907) | about 4 years ago | (#32971886)

(er, I missed the 'carriers' bit. I imagine it's only subs which have any oxygen concerns.)

Re:The Navy? (1)

codemaster2b (901536) | about 4 years ago | (#32971894)

Gas Turbines, and Diesel-Electrics both require oxygen and fuel. As for fuel, a nuclear sub needs to be refueled less often. More importantly, it doesn't breathe air. That means it can run deeper and longer than any other design (pending storing your own oxygen).

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971944)

So that carriers can deploy and stay deployed. The need to refuel every few days would require them to stay within a reasonable distance of a friendly and secure port with adequate infrastructure to refuel a carrier. Or the need to shuttle fuel to the carrier via another fleet of support ships. So it basically comes down to nuclear power allowing a carrier to operate uninterrupted and focused on its mission.

Re:The Navy? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971640)

The Navy's plants are "not economical" for a pretty big reason. They have to be able to withstand a shock loads (aka bombs exploding) and resulting impact of the water hammer that hits it, and not fail. Of the US Naval vessels that have sunk, I don't believe any of them have leaked contamination into the seas. They also now make plants that last for 30 years with out being refueled. Oh yea, they're also freakin WARSHIPS, maybe that contributes to the cost as well.

Re:The Navy? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#32971598)

I've always wondered, I mean I have a vague idea of how nuclear plants work - do subs and warships use the ocean as their water source for the reactor? Is that why it's essentially so small? Does this mean a nuclear sub dumps heavy water into the ocean? (even though its only a drop in the bathtub, so to speak)

Re:The Navy? (2, Informative)

Buelldozer (713671) | about 4 years ago | (#32971654)

Naval reactors are completely contained, they don't dump anything.

Re:The Navy? (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | about 4 years ago | (#32971726)

If anything they dump hotter sea water. They may take in sea water to act as cooling and dump that out. That is about it. The Navy does not want any radioactive material leaking.

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971680)

Heavy water exists naturaly in the ocean, it is slighly more likely to find heavy water molecules deeper down since they are slightly heavier than ordinary water.

Re:The Navy? (2, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 4 years ago | (#32971718)

I've always wondered, I mean I have a vague idea of how nuclear plants work - do subs and warships use the ocean as their water source for the reactor? Is that why it's essentially so small?

No, the primary loop on a Naval reactor does not use seawater.

Naval reactors are so small because the uranium they use is more highly enriched than the uranium in civilian plants.

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971924)

do subs and warships use the ocean as their water source for the reactor?

No. Reactor "water" in nuclear engineering is a carefully controlled substance. Sea water would require a lot of refining for use in the primary loop of a reactor. Seawater is used to provide a heat sink (cooling) for the secondary loop and never approaches the reactor core.

Does this mean a nuclear sub dumps heavy water into the ocean?

No one intentionally dumps heavy water anywhere. Heavy water is precious and expensive.

Re:The Navy? (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 4 years ago | (#32971614)

Pick up almost any book about nuclear energy and you will find that the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive.

They probably mean competitive with other nuclear plants. Commercially. The Navy's doesn't need to make a profit, and its nuclear plants are competing with diesel engines.

Re:The Navy? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971676)

Not implausible. It's often reported that the Hawaiian island of Kauai was plugged into a nuclear sub [snopes.com] after a hurricane knocked out the local power. It never happened, but considered until power was restored.

The Army had a program [wikipedia.org] for about two decades to supply power to remote locations and even powered the Panama Canal Zone [wikipedia.org] .

Re:The Navy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971768)

Naval reactors use enriched uranium, as opposed to typical power reactors which use refined natural uranium. It isn't weapon grade, but it is very far from natural uranium and requires hellishly expensive processing.

Naval reactors are about propulsion for the most expensive and important weapons platforms our species has ever created. Cost, efficiency and proliferation issues are all further down the list of priorities.

No one will be manufacturing mini-reactors that rely on enriched uranium outside of military applications.

This response is really tangent to your point. Naval reactors are, as is this case with this story, frequently overlooked by the media.

Not just one back yard anymore. (2, Interesting)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 4 years ago | (#32971496)

Brilliant. Instead of needing to get one "back yard", you now need half a dozen.

Actually, this could work out... smaller plant means smaller yard, right? We could put them in rougher terrain away from people.

Re:Not just one back yard anymore. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32972206)

No, modern IFR reactors can't meltdown, so although you wouldn't want it right next to a major metropolis you shouldn't have to put it in the middle of nowhere either. Of course, the general public, ie: read morons more interested in Starbucks and Dancing with the Stars, probably couldn't pass a college physics class nor have the brain capacity to understand the science behind this. They just hear nuclear and freak out after watching one too many action movies or bad sci-fi movies.

What would Amory Lovins say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971498)

With some eco-aware folks (like Stewart Brand) converting from anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear in the face of global warming, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has consistently and rationally debunked their pro-nuclear arguments [rmi.org] .

But much of Lovins' anti-nuclear stance is based on the tremendous cost of nuclear vs. renewables. I wonder if these small plants change that equation significantly.

theres still problems (4, Insightful)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 4 years ago | (#32971506)

as a small nuclear plant still needs almost as much safety, inspection infrastructure not forgetting the larger number of armed guards (the nuke police had guns way before they where that common in the rest of the uk) as a big one.

Re:theres still problems (2, Insightful)

Amouth (879122) | about 4 years ago | (#32971958)

it all depends on the fuel and the process.

Re:theres still problems (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 4 years ago | (#32972100)

Well true different processes have different failure modes (I worked on some CFR (Fast Breeder) models (in FORTRAN to boot) back in the day ) but your still going to need a lot of infrastructure and support and its more efficient to have one big plant.

Also the planning permissions would be just as hard for a small plant as a big one.

Not true (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 4 years ago | (#32972008)

as a small nuclear plant still needs almost as much safety, inspection infrastructure not forgetting the larger number of armed guards

There has been talk of very small reactors for developing countries that are basically sealed concrete boxes, several feet thick.

You need no guards or monitors, because they are self-contained and self regulating.

Then when they are spent (I seem to remember 20-50 years as a figure) you take them away and put in new ones.

If you make them small and compact enough you really can do away with a ton of infrastructure (on site infrastructure anyway).

Re:Not true (1)

Edmund Blackadder (559735) | about 4 years ago | (#32972082)

Really? and how would keep anyone from taking the whole thing breaking it apart somewhere else and selling the valuable fuel grade uranium on the black market?

Or worse yet, using the uranium and all the radioactive parts of the reactor for a dirty bomb?

Or even worse yet, trying to do one of the above, but fucking up and letting all kinds of radioactive liquids drain in the drinking water underground?

Re:Not true (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32972226)

Dirty bombs are not that big a deal. Oh noes we need to clean up some contamination what ever will we do! Leakage would be a far bigger deal.

What black market is there for fuel grade uranium?
If you have to go to the black market to get it, you probably don't have the money to do anything with it anyway.

un-American (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971508)

Isn't it un-American to have something that is the size you need when you could have something that is 100X the size you need?

Re:un-American (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971580)

That only pertains to asses.

Re:un-American (3, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | about 4 years ago | (#32971582)

Yes. That's why in my bathroom you have to climb up a ladder to get to the toilet seat, then hang on for dear life for fear of falling into the swimming-pool sized bowl.

It also has a bidet function, which isn't wimpy and French; it's got a firehose pump powered by a small nuclear plant.

Re:un-American (4, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32972024)

It also has a bidet function, which isn't wimpy and French; it's got a firehose pump powered by a small nuclear plant.

Ya almost had me up to that point, ya cheese-eating pansy!

The NIMBY effect (2, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 4 years ago | (#32971536)

The amount of objections that citizens raise doesn't appear to be related to the size of a nuclear plant. They just seem to object to its very existence. Therefore it makes sense, that once you've got through the planning process, reviews, delays, hostility and protests you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and make the plant as large as practically possible.

Re:The NIMBY effect (1)

demonbug (309515) | about 4 years ago | (#32972098)

The amount of objections that citizens raise doesn't appear to be related to the size of a nuclear plant. They just seem to object to its very existence. Therefore it makes sense, that once you've got through the planning process, reviews, delays, hostility and protests you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and make the plant as large as practically possible.

Making a plant as large as practically possible may be the pertinent point here. Large nuke stations create a hell of a lot of power, but also require a hell of a lot of water to cool. One of the primary constraints on siting a nuke plant is providing sufficient water for cooling. In the western U.S. at least, this is a major constraint on where you can site them, as water is often a very limited resource. If it is economically feasible to build smaller plants, with lower water requirements, then all of a sudden there may be a lot more places that you can put them.

Nuclear waste (0, Flamebait)

Zorpheus (857617) | about 4 years ago | (#32971564)

The big problem with nuclear power is radioactive waste. There is no way to recycle it, and no matter where you put there is always the risk that it will show up in drinking water or somewhere else in the environment in the long run. I guess that all these small reactors will produce a lot more waste.

Re:Nuclear waste (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971696)

Nope! Modern reactor tech takes that waste, and re-uses it. Then, THEIR waste is still processable by OTHER reactors, all down the line...and pretty soon, you wind up with stuff that's only about as dangerous as your average mining slag. (You don't want it in your groundwater, but it's not utter devestation).

Re:Nuclear waste (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | about 4 years ago | (#32971942)

The reactors can reuse Uranium and Plutonium, but not the fission products and all the material that becomes radioactive after being exposed to the neutron radiation.

Re:Nuclear waste (2, Informative)

aquila.solo (1231830) | about 4 years ago | (#32971798)

There is no way to recycle it...

Here, let me give you a couple [wikipedia.org] citations [wikipedia.org] to look at.

The only thing preventing us from recycling nuclear waste is government regulations inspired by hippy FUD. If we could get past those artificial roadblocks we'd find ourselves with a much longer timeline to deal with peak uranium (it's still a finite resource, after all) and we wouldn't have to squabble over Yucca Mountain and other potential repositories.

Re:Nuclear waste (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | about 4 years ago | (#32971972)

Hippies don't want nuclear power period ... the proliferation sensitivities of reactor designs and reprocessing plants they don't care shit about.

Pure government paranoia, nothing to do with hippies.

Re:Nuclear waste (4, Informative)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about 4 years ago | (#32972208)

WRONG. The technology to reprocess nuclear fuel has existed for more than half a century and is currently employed the world over. Just not in the U.S. In fact breeder reactors [wikipedia.org] incorporate reprocessing into the design to use a fraction of the fuel and produce a fraction of the waste of those reactor types permitted in the U.S.

The problem with nuclear waste is one of politics, not of technology. Following on the heels of Gerald Ford's ban of commercial plutonium reprocessing, Jimmy Carter signed an order to ban the reprocessing of spent commercial nuclear fuel. Regan overturned the ban in 1981 but there was no funding provided to start up reprocessing facilities nor has the DOE provided license for anyone to do it. While they've waffled a bit during the Bush-Obama presidencies the DOE presently doesn't want domestic reprocessing. This has accordingly put a rather big crimp in the success of the GNEP [wikipedia.org] which had closed loop nuclear power as a primary goal.

DIY Nuclear Reactor (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 4 years ago | (#32971566)

Re:DIY Nuclear Reactor (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32971948)

You can buy heavy water, unlike that story claims. United Nuclear sells it.

Macondo blowout? (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 4 years ago | (#32971586)

Let's call it what it is. The BP disaster.

Re:Macondo blowout? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971786)

The Macondo blowout is more specific. If you just say the BP Disaster, people aren't sure whether you're talking about the Alaskan Pipeline Incident, the explosion at the Texas City refinery, or the Macondo Blowout.

Eats, shoots, and leaves (0)

ipeet (1796550) | about 4 years ago | (#32971596)

Small nuclear plants: glowing foliage coming soon to a garden near you!

Waste of Uranium (2, Interesting)

thms (1339227) | about 4 years ago | (#32971612)

As much as nuclear energy would help reduce CO2 emissons, the the anti-nuclear crowd has to be seen as a "force of nature" making new power plants less likely. The idealist would fight against irrationality, but as a realist I would redirect that energy elsewhere, e.g. against the NIMBYs who think wind turbines ruin the coastlines and kill birds or bats.

Also, if oil is non-renewable because it takes millions of years to re-form, then nuclear fuels are the ultimate non-renewable with a "when is the next supernova due?" regeneration period. And the energy density and relative ease of use is just too good to waste it powering our washing machines and slashdot browsing. Maybe in a few hundred years outer solar system exploration will be in a serious crunch because the lack of a good power source after all the uranium, thorium, plutonium etc. has been used up.

Re:Waste of Uranium (2, Informative)

lazn (202878) | about 4 years ago | (#32971724)

the anti-nuclear crowd should be renamed the anti-braincell crowd

Re:Waste of Uranium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971782)

fine, please give us your address so we can send the nuclear waste to your ground as you dont seem to have any problems with it

it's not the plants i am against, but the management of the waste which is lunatic, and having thousands of small nuclear plants wont make that problem less

Re:Waste of Uranium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971796)

Considering that with reprocessing, thorium & U238 breeding program, we've got about 100,000 years of nuclear fission based energy at our disposal. I would think a power source that will last several times as long as the whole of recorded history will be sufficient to get us to something longer term, like fusion.

Re:Waste of Uranium (2, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 4 years ago | (#32971982)

Also, if oil is non-renewable because it takes millions of years to re-form, then nuclear fuels are the ultimate non-renewable with a "when is the next supernova due?" regeneration period. And the energy density and relative ease of use is just too good to waste it powering our washing machines and slashdot browsing. Maybe in a few hundred years outer solar system exploration will be in a serious crunch because the lack of a good power source after all the uranium, thorium, plutonium etc. has been used up.

That's kind of a silly argument, no one is in favor of renewables -just- for the renewable aspect. It's the fact that the widely used non-renewables are mostly dirty.

You have a point about using up the nuclear power sources, seems we always consume resources faster than we expect and only think about what's next until it's crunch time. I'd say though that we have to get through the current transition we need to do first. I'm no expert, but it seems that the experts are convinced that nuclear is one of the only viable solutions at this point, nothing else would be able to generate most of the power that coal is now. At least, that's what I've heard. And we probably will be facing the same crunch when it's time to get off nuclear power, but at least we'll get to that stage if we use nuclear now.

Unfortunate Nuke PR Person (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971706)

I predict that these plants will promote themselves with slightly misleading commercials like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRc2B9EPuWU

Titles are useless (1)

J4 (449) | about 4 years ago | (#32971792)

Peak oil is nonsense. Why are there hydrocarbons in space?

Bald statements mean nothing (1)

AkkarAnadyr (164341) | about 4 years ago | (#32971970)

Word salad 'Zippy the Pinhead'-style quotes go in the 'fortune' script at the bottom of the page.

Re:Titles are useless (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32971996)

Because there is hydrogen and carbon in space.

Peak oil is not about running out of oil, it is about running out of oil that is cheap and easy to get. Those hydrocarbons in space are too expensive to bother with, especially when we have all this uranium and thorium laying around.

Re:Titles are useless (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 4 years ago | (#32972186)

We don't have that much uranium lying around. In fact peak uranium not far off.

Re:Titles are useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32972236)

Because you don't have a clue what the different hydrocarbons are? And tell me, oh smart one, when it takes more than one barrel's worth of energy to extract one barrel of oil from the ground, what are you hoping to achieve?

Before we start on nukes.... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 4 years ago | (#32971810)

Isn't there room for quite a lot more hydroelectric power in the USA?

I mean, build a diversion pond, put in a generator, hook to grid. Repeat on a small to medium scale thousands of times wherever it makes sense. Same with solar. Same with wind. Same with geothermal.

Seems that a distributed heterogeneous solution would make a lot more sense in terms of sustainability over the long run. Not to mention being much more difficult for your average (or even above-average) terrorist to exploit for nefarious purposes.

Re:Before we start on nukes.... (1)

Krahar (1655029) | about 4 years ago | (#32972010)

It seems to me that a bomb below a dam can be a whole lot more dangerous than the inconvenience a bomb at a nuclear power plant would cause.

PBNR (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32971898)

I just have one thing to say, Pebble Bed Nuclear Reactors!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

http://www.pbmr.co.za/

Building big is better (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 4 years ago | (#32972154)

With every single form of energy generation in widespread use today, economies of scale heavily favors building big plants, assuming you're in a country with a well developed electric grid.

This is not only true for nuclear, but also coal, natural gas, hydro, wind turbines and even solar installations. Even combined heat and power works better when implemented as a district-heating system ( as is done many places in the world ). The effect is even more pronounced for nuclear, however, because capital costs associated with construction is such a big part of its cost. Since power output increases more rapidly than material and construction costs, this heavily favors large installations.

There is one exception I can think of, and that is if you try to build a nuclear plant to do load following, in which case you want to keep capital costs low, since you will be operating the plant at a low capacity factor. For such an installation it might make sense to make it as small as possible while still being able to deliver adequately during peak hours.

Commas Gone Wild (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | about 4 years ago | (#32972172)

This assumption is widely accepted, but, if its roots are understood, it can be effectively challenged. Recently, however, a growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies, and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units, and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing.

The word-to-comma ratio is a little on the high side. (I'm not an English major)

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