Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

A New Class of Nuclear Reactors

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the can-we-make-them-levitate dept.

Power 560

prunedude tips this quote from a post at Freakonomics about Japan's nuclear crisis: "The folks over at IV Insights, the blog associated with Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures, point out that it was the complete loss of power that disabled the cooling systems protecting the plant's reactors. Which raises the question: Is there nuclear technology that could withstand such a catastrophe? Possibly. TerraPower, an Intellectual Ventures spin-off that also boasts Bill Gates as an investor, is working on a new reactor design called a traveling wave reactor that uses fast reactor technology, rather than the light water technology used at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The two biggest advantages of the fast reactor design is that it requires no spent fuel pools and uses cooling systems that require no power to function, meaning the loss of power from the tsunami might not have crippled a fast reactor plant so severely."

cancel ×

560 comments

If Bill Gates is involved . . . (1, Troll)

drsmack1 (698392) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566418)

Does that mean he had previously dismissed it as a bad idea and then after someone else made progress he jumped aboard?

Just saying' . . .

Re:If Bill Gates is involved . . . (1, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566554)

Does that mean he had previously dismissed it as a bad idea and then after someone else made progress he jumped aboard?

No ... though it sure could offer new meaning to 'Blue Screen of Death'.

Re:If Bill Gates is involved . . . (0)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566772)

Does that mean he had previously dismissed it as a bad idea and then after someone else made progress he jumped aboard?

No ... though it sure could offer new meaning to 'Blue Screen of Death'.

Only if it's a hardware problem, yeesh.

no one will need more then 640W (3, Funny)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566598)

no one will need more then 640W

Wikivertisement (2, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566942)

The Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] has been hijacked by their marketing dept, it's the closest things I've seen to an advertisement in Wikipedia.

NUKE EM !! DUKE EM ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566420)

What in the world is this about then?

Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (4, Interesting)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566424)

My understanding is that breeder reactors and pebble bed reactors wouldn't have had the problem that hit the plant in Japan. That and breeder reactors have the added benefit of eating nuclear waste over and over until whatever is left might make you sneeze. Maybe I'm completely off on that, but why do we need a new design on this kind of reactor unless it's relatively simple to retrofit older reactors?

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (4, Informative)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566478)

Indeed, this was what came to mind immediately to me as well.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor [wikipedia.org]

Doesn't Matter (1, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566632)

It doesn't matter how safe they are, the forces of extreme environmentalists and Luddites will say No! No! No!

Already idiots in Congress, without knowing anything more than the hyperbolic news reports, are calling for shut downs and "slow downs" and endless Congressional Investigations where people who know about Nuclear Power try to convince people that don't that you can't burn a hole in the earth straight through to China

Environmentalists would LOVE pebble bed and breed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566816)

It doesn't matter how safe they are, the forces of extreme environmentalists and Luddites will say No! No! No!

The extreme environmentalists only have a problem with the waste disposal - the fact that it takes 10,000 years or more for it become safe. If these new reactors will actually use nuclear fuel until it's about as radioactive as any other natural source, the "extreme" environmentalists will be behind it 100%.

I have never, ever, come across a Luddite who was against nuclear power - ever.

Re:Doesn't Matter (1)

kwerle (39371) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566824)

It doesn't matter how safe they are, the forces of extreme environmentalists and Luddites will say No! No! No!

Already idiots in Congress, without knowing anything more than the hyperbolic news reports, are calling for shut downs and "slow downs" and endless Congressional Investigations where people who know about Nuclear Power try to convince people that don't that you can't burn a hole in the earth straight through to China

I'm eternally optimistic that our fine congressfolk know better. Most of 'em, anyway. And that they are calling for shutdowns and slow downs as a response to their constituents - because they are spineless and because nobody [at the top] has stood up and said "we can and should make better, safer reactors."

Re:Doesn't Matter (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566932)

If that is your response to the argument that pebble bed reactors are safe, then I see why some people don't believe a word that proponents of nuclear energy say. It has already been shown that pebble bed reactors are not inherently safe designs, so claiming that they are is another lie in a very long list of lies in favor of nuclear energy. Why would people listen to those who keep lying to them? The "Luddites" may not know everything about nuclear physics and reactor design, but they certainly seem to have the lobbyists and politicians figured out correctly.

Re:Doesn't Matter (2)

Cramer (69040) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567024)

burn a hole in the earth straight through to China

I've always loved that... for starters what's most likely to happen is the molten goo hits the water table resulting in a flash boil the blows toxic, radioactive crap everywhere. The less likely possiblity (and this is WAY remote) is that it burns burns all the way through the mantle and becomes lava. (then you have lava and toxic, radioactive crap everywhere. :-))

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566760)

Germany ran a pebble bed reactor at the Nuclear Research Facility at Juelich. The Juelich post-mortem report concluded that pebble bed reactors have severe problems in practice (at least some of them base design flaws), in the specific case of the Julich AVR reactor leading to Strontium-90 contamination of the soil and aquifer beneath the reactor.

The post-mortem report is posted here http://www.eskom.co.za/content/AVR-Report-Press.PDF

Some interesting bits from the report:

The AVR primary circuit is heavily contaminated with metallic fission products (Sr-90, Cs-137) which create problems in current dismantling. The amount of this contamination is not exactly known, but the evaluation of fission product deposition experiments indicates that the end of life contamination reached several percent of a single core inventory, which is some orders of magnitude more than precalculated and far more than in large LWRs.
[...]
It leads to the conclusion that the AVR contamination was mainly caused by inadmissible high core temperatures, increasing fission product release rates, and not - as presumed in the past - by inadequate fuel quality only.

From the conclusions:

As outlined above there exist unresolved safety problems in pebble bed reactors for design basis accidents, as for beyond design basis accidents like severe air ingress with graphite burning. Previously a superior safety behaviour of pebble bed reactors was claimed compared to other nuclear systems including an allegedly catastrophe free design. According to the above presents arguments there are doubts, whether this depicts reality.

So while pebble bed reactors have some advantages over traditional designs, they are by no means the silver bullet that some people make them to be.

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567044)

Most of those problems are about shielding and disposing of the plant when you shut it down. The remainder can be solved by using a moderator that doesn't burn. You don't have to use graphite. You could, for example, use beryllium....

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566790)

One instance of that design is 20 miles from here. It is only a small reactor built to study this type of reactor. It has contaminated the soil and groundwater beneath it. It has been very close to exceeding the worst case scenario for this type of reactor and only luck prevented a catastrophe. It is unclear if the dismantling of the reactor is technically possible in the planned timeframe because the containment is much more radioactive than expected. Scientists working at the institute which operated the reactor have studied the failure modes exhibited by this reactor. They deem the design unsafe. A commercial scale implementation of the same type has exhibited additional problems.

There is no inherently safe nuclear reactor design. The energy densities involved are too high to be inherently safe. The hubris and conflicts of interest surrounding nuclear energy will always create potential for disaster.

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (1)

skylerweaver (997332) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566704)

According to TFA, a travelling wave reactor is a type of breed-burn reactor.

http://www.terrapower.com/Technology/Timeline.aspx

Breeder Reactor = weapons grade material (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566778)

Breeder reactors have the potential to create material that is considered "weapons grade."

A google search for "breeder reactor weapons grade" will give you a laundry list of such concerns.

Hands up all those that want a nuclear breeder reactor in, say, Iran, or Afghanistan, or ... get the picture?

Re:Breeder Reactor = weapons grade material (1)

KillAllNazis (1904010) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566832)

Worst case scenario it levels the playing field?

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566786)

Your exactly right. The plants in Japan are using 30+ year old designs. Modern plants would most likely been fine.

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (0)

Locutus (9039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566798)

Microsoft people are best known for reinventing what others have already done and selling as their invention. These "New Class of Nudlear Reactors" can only be run using Microsoft Windows. Does that answer your question as to why we need a new design as the OP mentioned?

LoB

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566988)

All they needed was a backup supply of water that would be gravity-fed. One big tank on that big hill behind the plant, with a nice, flexible hose leading to a fat, manual valve behind enough shielding to protect someone even if the reactor was breached.

But no. GE sells generators, and that's what Fukushima Daichii got. Fucked by GE.

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (1)

no-body (127863) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567032)

Please note:

The premise "that it was the complete loss of power that disabled the cooling systems protecting the plant's reactors" in the original post is incorrect.
Causes for failures on the JA plants were many.
Besides being under-designed for a 9 earthquake (7.? designed) and a too low tsunami wall to hold up the one occurred, there were failures in maintenance/upkeep/supervision.

Any plant can have those "failures" and the "uups, we did not think of that ever happening" is too costly and will happen again. IMO - get rid of that stuff asap!

And yeah, let that pebble core get compromised and the graphite fuel balls in there start burning... PU-239 is not your friend.

Re:Um, don't safe reactors already exist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35567040)

Unfortunately Jimmy Carter shut down the only breeder reactors that were operating in the United States

THESE reactors should't have had a problem (4, Insightful)

unassimilatible (225662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567052)

It can't believe nobody has mentioned this, but the reactor designs were not the problem. All of these cooling problems could have been solved by some sort of waterproof backup power, even if it had to be stored 50 miles away and delivered via an underground cable that comes up under the reactors. Some of these reactors' cooling systems failed because the battery backup power was in the farking basement for crissakes! Below sea level on an Island! Totally flooded. I'm a social science (excuse the contradiction of terms) and I know better than that.

How hard would it be to either 1) keep battery backup at a high point above a nuke plant* (I know, weight, whatever, engineer around it) or 2) the plan I mentioned above, the same redundancy that data centers have, redundant power located elsewhere. Either would have likely saved these reactors.

*Patent pending.

Same as it ever was (5, Insightful)

drsmack1 (698392) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566434)

Of course any new reactors designed will have safeguards against any previous disaster - it's the ones that never happened before that fuck us.

Re:Same as it ever was (1)

monkyyy (1901940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566558)

now if only this applied to all parts of life

Re:Same as it ever was (2)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566936)

The thing is, even prior to this disaster we had designs that would have safeguarded against it (Pebble Bed Reactors aren't new). It just cost too much to tear down the old ones and build nice safe ones. Well, now we have a nice, big example to point to of why fiscal conservativeness is not always the most effective long-term strategy.

Re:Same as it ever was (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567066)

See above for the comments on Pebble Beds. It appears that even after decades of research and engineering into nuclear reactors, we still don't know enough to be confident that any particular design or implementation will behave the way the designers expect. Not exactly surprising since anything more complicated than a paper towel seems to have those same issues but it does mean that any progress will have to come slowly and hopefully carefully.

Just because it looks good in Autocad doesn't mean it will actually work correctly.

Re:Same as it ever was (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567016)

Depends on who's doing the thinking and who's doing the spending.

The thinkers can only fuck us by lacking imagination, and the spenders can only fuck us by making sure the thinkers lack imagination.

Pebble Bed (1, Troll)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566436)

Supposedly the pebble-bed reactor type is also resistant to the type of damage suffered at the Fukushima plants, and it has the added bonus of not being encumbered by ex-Microsoft patent trolls. I remember reading that the Germans had been experimenting with the design but dropped it for political reasons.

Re:Pebble Bed (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566630)

Actually, the pebble reactor in Julich, Germany (I'll assume that's what you are referring to) had severe problems leading to long half-life fission products contaminating the soil and water around the reactor.

The flaws are not based on the particular design of the AVR facility, but seem to be flaws in the whole pebble-bed idea. You can read the Julich Research Facilities own post-mortem here: http://www.eskom.co.za/content/AVR-Report-Press.PDF [eskom.co.za]

Re:Pebble Bed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566690)

Um, no. While http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor [wikipedia.org] mentions political reasons as well as economical ones, you should keep in mind that the pebbles are graphite-based, so if the brown stuff really hits the fan, you get a Chernobyl-like fire and thus a larger area of contamination. Also, the Chinese test reactor is said to have suffered from pebble deformation - which makes unloading depleted pebbles rather difficult (and the Germans suffered an accident that released radiation due to just the same problem).

Re:Pebble Bed (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566980)

With those political reasons being the radiation leaks, contaminations, the plant operator covering up and lieing about the the problems, and so on.

Thorium?? (1, Insightful)

Kickboy12 (913888) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566438)

Once again, Thorium is ignored as a solution. Thorium is cheaper and easier than TerraPower's concept, yet it is continually ignored.

Re:Thorium?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566476)

It's not ignored. Thorium energy is under development in India for example. This is just ANOTHER solution.

Why do you have a problem with that?

Re:Thorium?? (1)

drsmack1 (698392) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566482)

I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.

Cobalt Thorium G is even better - if it is a shroud you're wanting.

Re:Thorium?? (1)

kevinmenzel (1403457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566564)

It's not ignored. CANDU reactors can use Thorium. That means, for example, all of Ontario, Canada's reactors (which provide more than 50% of Ontario's power mix) could switch to Thorium without problems.

Re:Thorium?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566910)

AFAIK, it doesn't produce viable weapons grade materials unlike other present reactor designs and implementations

Overall benefit for mankind, but unfortunately M.A.D. still haunts the psyche.

Safe nuclear does exist -- it is spelled LFTR (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566448)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8393984/Safe-nuclear-does-exist-and-China-is-leading-the-way-with-thorium.html

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_new_nukes/

What about Thorium, Molten Salt Reactors (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566464)

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium

Some of the benefits of thorium when compared with uranium as fuel:
  * Weapons-grade fissionable material (U-233) is harder to retrieve safely and clandestinely from a thorium reactor;
  * Thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste;
  * Thorium comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment, whereas natural uranium contains only 0.7% fissionable U-235;
    * Thorium can not sustain a nuclear chain reaction without priming, so fission stops by default.

Re:What about Thorium, Molten Salt Reactors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566896)

One of the reactors at Fukushima actually uses Thorium.

It's so safe... (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566488)

...that we never bothered testing it!

Thorium makes more sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566492)

There's a lot of good things about a thorium reactor (substantially less waste, can burn the waste we already have, and can be easily shut down with the flip of a switch). What a shame Bill isn't working on one.

CANDU (4, Interesting)

andymadigan (792996) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566504)

Since a CANDU (Heavy Water) reactor's fuel isn't naturally capable of going critical, couldn't that existing, tried and true design be used instead? We can fuel it with nuclear waste from American reactors, or use raw uranium ore, with no need for centrifuges or other tech that can be used to create nuclear weapons. If the cooling system fails, then you should have the backup of draining the heavy water from the reactor core, thus killing the reaction.

I'm not saying that's the only solution, I'm just saying that a known good solution that's been working for decades is probably better than a new one.

Re:CANDU (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566592)

But then Microsoft patent trolls can't benefit. How are they supposed to become even more wealthy without rent seeking?

Re:CANDU (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566856)

Not only that but is is enclosed in a massive light water heat sink to soak up the residual decay energy once the initial moderator controlled reaction has stopped. It would take about a week to overheat the passive heat sink which can easily be cycled using a standard 4" fire hose and pump should its standard cooling system be compromised.

Re:CANDU (1)

Fierlo (842860) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567068)

The calandria is in a vault, which is generally filled with light water (shield tank). The purpose of the light water is shielding and keeping the temperature of the concrete low. It's not really meant to be a heat sink.
The calandria is filled with heavy water, which *is* meant to be the ultimate heat sink for certain types of accidents (large loss of coolant accidents, for example).

What happened to thorium power? (2)

NoAffiliation (1987958) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566514)

I read a wired article about how using thorium instead of uranium will give you a much safer reactor, and would cause much less damage in the case of a meltdown. Also, thorium nuclear power can't be used to fuel WMD's. In the article, it was saying that its inability to be used as WMD's is why it wasn't developed back in the 50's. Our country wanted to make nukes. Anyone know anything about this, or am I just crazy?

What is the advantage of this over thorium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566528)

Why not use Thorium reactors instead?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8393984/Safe-nuclear-does-exist-and-China-is-leading-the-way-with-thorium.html

Re:What is the advantage of this over thorium? (1)

Goragoth (544348) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566606)

Thorium is another great solution, especially because it is so abundant. However, the huge advantage of the TerraPower design is that it burns existing nuclear waste, making it very cheap (nobody wants the waste) and solves one of the biggest problems with all those existing reactors (what to do with the waste).

Is there nuclear technology? (4, Insightful)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566544)

"Is there nuclear technology that could withstand such a catastrophe? Possibly."

Yeah, as in all other modern designs.

Passive cooling has been the hot new thing since, you know, the 80s.

Re:Is there nuclear technology? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566884)

Yeah, as in all other modern designs.

Passive cooling has been the hot new thing since, you know, the 80s.

It's funny, because I've seen a couple U.S. nuclear industry representatives/experts on TV being asked about the disaster, could it happen to our reactors, is nuclear power safe? And they'd hem and haw and talk about designing structures around local conditions. Nothing about technology itself. I'm guessing because they don't want to have to talk about how outdated reactor designs in the U.S. are, and how we didn't keep up in research so they're going to be outdated for quite some time. Especially since when your unfortunate take-away message is "Um, yeah, it totally could happen here if there was an unprecedented earthquake", you don't really make people feel much better by saying "But technology developed in the 1980s and which we could have built by the 2030s won't have that problem!"

Alternative reactor designs (1)

SkOink (212592) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566546)

Another promising reactor design is the pebble-bed reactor. Its reaction has a negative temperature coefficient, meaning that the reaction self-moderates if it gets too hot, rather than requiring an external control system to prevent meltdown. This means that if the cooling system were to fail, the reactor would just sit in a mostly-dormant state until cooling was re-established.

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

Molten salt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566560)

Wiki it.

Dumb question... (4, Insightful)

sideslash (1865434) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566566)

If nuclear power plants are used to power cities, why can't they power their own cooling? Seems like keeping the darn thing running would be safer than watching it sit there unpowered and on the verge of blowing up. (Don't get me wrong; I'm sure there's a good reason. I'm just curious.)

Highy Complex (2)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566634)

I'm sure there's a good reason. I'm just curious.

Long-standing rules require that cooling system pumpbs be turned by thirteen blind eunuchs running on a treadmill, backwards.

Backup systems powered by steam engined fueled by burning kittens and the tears of homeless orphans are becoming popular.

Re:Highy Complex (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566680)

Damn that blind eunuchs union, if only we could remove the right to collective bargaining from blind eunichs.

Re:Dumb question... (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566640)

That works quite well, until a say an earthquake rated at 9 on the Richter scale hits and then the tsunami from it does even more damage.

Re:Dumb question... (1)

TD-Linux (1295697) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566668)

You are exactly right. The Fukushima plant actually had steam-powered water pumps that could have kept the core cool during operation. But the reactor was automatically (or procedurally?) SCRAM'd at the first sign of the earthquake, which means that the reactor wasn't putting out close to enough steam to power the pumps.

Re:Dumb question... (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566986)

Seems simple to me: Put some stirling engines with big heatsinks in and out of the reactor vessel to provide continual energy for cooling. With the reactors running at 7% load, you can still siphon lots of power.

Re:Dumb question... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566684)

It's not a dumb question, I'm curious myself.

I'm guessing you don't want it to run during an earthquake because if mechanical damage happens inside, you won't be able to power it off or control it (e.g. if control rods can't be lowered). Once it was stopped, it's probably a very bad idea to power it back on without adequate water circulation.

A related question is - why can't the decay heat be used to actually produce power? Why can't the steam turbines continue to operate after shutting down the reactor, since it's still producing a lot of heat?

Re:Dumb question... (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566916)

A related question is - why can't the decay heat be used to actually produce power? Why can't the steam turbines continue to operate after shutting down the reactor, since it's still producing a lot of heat?

Yeah, that's been bugging me for quite a while now. They have steam-turbines and generators, and a fuckload of steam. What's the problem?

Re:Dumb question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566730)

I guess that could work. But safety regulations say that in case of a disaster, the reactors should automatically stop, as they did in Japan. Come up with a design for your suggestion and try convince some safety commission that, in case of a major disaster that destroys even the emergency power generators, you still need to keep one reactor critical in order to prevent the others from exploding. Although your solution technically works, you will probably get as an answer, to just design better emergency power generators.

Re:Dumb question... (1)

neiras (723124) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566742)

It seems like it should be possible to design a closed storage pool that would use depleted fuel rods' decay heat to create circulation through a passive radiator of some sort, delaying or eliminating the need for powered cooling.

Has this been done?

Re:Dumb question... (2, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566766)

If nuclear power plants are used to power cities, why can't they power their own cooling?

They do power their own cooling.

Alas, when you shut the plant down, it stops providing power for its own cooling. Which they did here.

Note that the kneejerk response (earthquake, therefore shutdown the reactor!!!!), was, in this case, absolutely the worst thing that could be done. If they'd left the reactor running but begun a slow shutdown (as opposed to a SCRAM), they'd likely have had enough power to keep things under control.

And if it turned out an emergency shutdown was needed, well, that option would still be on the table.

It is probably worth noting also that there's a pretty good chance of lot of reactor plant operations manuals are going to be revised as a result of this little adventure. With an eye toward keeping the reactor operational at lower power output until it absolutely, positively needs to be shutdown right the fuck now!

Re:Dumb question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566948)

Clearly we need a reactor within the reactor to provide power while it's unpowered.

Re:Dumb question... (1)

Leuf (918654) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566956)

I understand there isn't enough power to run the turbines, but couldn't they have a secondary smaller turbine designed to run on the power level available in the shutdown state that would just generate enough power to run the cooling systems?

Re:Dumb question... (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566784)

If nuclear power plants are used to power cities, why can't they power their own cooling? Seems like keeping the darn thing running would be safer than watching it sit there unpowered and on the verge of blowing up. (Don't get me wrong; I'm sure there's a good reason. I'm just curious.)

The reactors were configured to shutdown when a major earthquake hit as a precautionary action, which they did. The reactors would then use power from the grid to continue cooling. Just in case the grid had issues, there were on-site generators (which I've heard were not sitting above ground, but I'm not 100% sure on that one). The tsunami knocked out the power lines to/from the grid and either the generators or the electronics between the generators and the reactor.

Their planning wasn't horrible as they 1) went into a safe mode and 2) had on-site backups. They failed to anticipate the scenario where a tsunami swept over the sea wall (where you want to build things to be waterproof, protected, and able to just ride things out).

Re:Dumb question... (3, Informative)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566830)

Because, in order for the reactor to produce power it needs at least some of its control rods to be removed. Having the control rods removed during an emergency is FAR FAR more dangerous than a loss of cooling. The point of the cooling pumps is to prevent the core from getting so hot that it melts the control rods and the slags down to the bottom of the containment chamber. All modern reactor designs do not need active cooling like these reactors do. They are some of the oldest reactor designs in existence and upgrading such reactors have by put off due to cost and unending legal challenges by environmental groups. It's sad that we could replace our horrendous coal and hydroelectric power grid that does untold damage to the environment, with modern safe reactors within a few decades but can't because "Environmental" groups hold on to this windmill pipe dream... oh wait, they file legal challenges on the windmills to...

Re:Dumb question... (1)

thetartanavenger (1052920) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566834)

When something goes wrong you have to stop the reaction shutting down the generation. Or the something that goes wrong damages something else along the line similarly stopping the generation. Hey presto, no more power for cooling. You probably could for a lot of situations, but for that one time every goes very wrong, kinda like fukushima, you don't want to have to rely upon it.

Re:Dumb question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566862)

The reactor shuts down automatically when the earthquake is detected and switches to aux (diesel) generators. This is what happened at Fukishima. However, the generators only had an hour of fuel due to the Tsunami wiping out the fuel lines.

Location, Location, Location.

Re:Dumb question... (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566912)

It's like asking why my car won't start when the engine is blown. Or why my wounds aren't healing when I'm already dead. The power plants just broke. It's not really an issue of how they're suppose to work at that point but rather the extent of how fault tolerant they are. Like airbags if it were a car etc.

Re:Dumb question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566992)

If nuclear power plants are used to power cities, why can't they power their own cooling?

Normally it does, but when you're trying to turn it off, you still need power to do that safely. The heat from the nuclear reaction continues to require cooling even after the reaction has been damped down enough that you don't have any more electricity from the process.

"The plant's operator tried to bring in mobile... (2)

Rick Richardson (87058) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566586)

"The plant's operator tried to bring in mobile generators to restore power, but the connections reportedly didn't match up."

Ref: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/03/14/6268351-clearing-up-nuclear-questions

Re:"The plant's operator tried to bring in mobile. (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567038)

How nice of GE to provide one-off parts for a safety system.

On the other hand, you'd think the operators of an electric plant could splice a couple of 3-phase lines together.

Pebble bed reactor (2)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566596)

I'd love one of these in the back of my field connected to the grid. A cool 10MW or so is all I need.

These are only the size of a shipping container and are a self contained unit. They would be a great way to bypass the NIMBYism associated with nuclear power plants. They are also much safer. If these can be bought by people with a bit of cash in the attic and installed in the countryside unknown to the neighbours we can all enjoy cheap nucular energy while everyone is blisfully oblivious to the fact that the neighbours little 'storage' container is actually a nucular power plant

Re:Pebble bed reactor (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566898)

These are only the size of a shipping container and are a self contained unit. They would be a great way to bypass the NIMBYism associated with nuclear power plants. They are also much safer. If these can be bought by people with a bit of cash in the attic and installed in the countryside unknown to the neighbours we can all enjoy cheap nucular energy while everyone is blisfully oblivious to the fact that the neighbours little 'storage' container is actually a nucular power plant

It turns out that pebble beds aren't quite so maintenance free. Although the helium used as a coolant doesn't become radioactive, the graphite in the pebbles absorb radioactive metals and spread it around in graphite dust particles. Both the the AVR and HTR reactors in germany had big problems with contamination of the reactors due to this and due to the inability of the pebbles to contain radioactive isotopes.

Also, the pebble bed itself can't be instrumented so it becomes a black box resulting in unexpected hot currents of gas that can be significantly (200+K) warmer than expected. This resulted in maintenance issues in the two reactors in Germany (I don't think there is information on other experimental or production reactors using a pebble bed design). These problems might be surmountable but right now they're pretty big issues.

GSoD (1, Funny)

geekgirlandrea (1148779) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566600)

With Bill Gates involved, we're sure to discover the joys of the Gamma Screen of Death soon.

... or maybe: "Your Microsoft Nuclear Reactor is experiencing a prompt criticality incident. Please remove all the fuel rods, reinstall them, and restart the reactor."

Re:GSoD (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566794)

ok ok

Re:GSoD (0)

Outtascope (972222) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566902)

Hell, I'd pay good money to watch Gates' demonstration of this one. From a (very) remote terminal of course.

Re:GSoD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566904)

Shouldn't that be the beta screen of death (bsod)?

or just used a modern... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566602)

...design.

The problem with the reactors in japan is their age. The designs are over fifty years old and were constructed over forty years ago. You need only use a design which is slightly older than 30 to have been extremely resistant to these types of failures. In fact, passive, convective cooling is an integrel component of newer generation reactors and have been so for several generations now.

Really, the biggest problem is anti-nuke dorks have made it so difficult to migrate to newer technology, older, less safe designs are being extended rather than replaced. If you must shake a finger of blame, it largely lies with the the anti-nuke dorks rather than any other place.

Nuclear is extremely safe, clean, and can be made even moreso if only we can get anti-nuke idiots to stop forcing higher risks on the wold just because they are ignorant and/or stupid.

The only problem with TerraPower (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566604)

They've never actually built a reactor...so when they do then I'll consider them more than perpetual motion salesmen

Location, location, location (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566670)

Placing a plant at sea-level in an earthquake zone was mistake number one. And one that likely won't be repeated.

That then leaves other inherently melt-proof designs like pebble bed and CanDU as existant.

Fast, as in Fast Breeder? (3, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566694)

The problem with Fast Breeder reactors is that they make plutonium. Great for atomic bombs, and if you don't want to develop the technology, it's still an extremely powerful chemical poison.

Re:Fast, as in Fast Breeder? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566710)

It's also a great fuel for nuclear reactors. Keep two fast-breeder plants running in slightly different configurations, and you never have nuclear waste to worry about - you can take "waste" from older reactor designs and burn that up.

Re:Fast, as in Fast Breeder? (2)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566976)

Non breeder reactors, like every power reactor on the planet, also make plutonium.

For weapons you want only Pu-239 and not much Pu-240 or heavier nuclei which will cause problems in your weapons.

The only thing is that you take the fuel rods out early (uneconomically) if you want to make weapons.

In either case, the critical problem is cracking open the fuel rods and separating the plutonium from the very dangerous (if free) radioactive products. Reprocessing is the critical technology for weapons manufacturing, not 'breeder vs non breeder' reactor.

A high density of fast neutrons also makes the heavier actinides (that's how they get that way) which makes bomb making more difficult.

Toshiba 4S reactor (1, Troll)

Dog's_Breakfast (771023) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566718)

The Toshiba 4S (Super Safe, Small and Simple) reactor solves all these problems: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_4S [wikipedia.org] It's a mini-sized fast neutron reactor... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_neutron_reactor [wikipedia.org] It can burn thorium or depleted uranium, and actually help to eliminate the current stockpile of nuclear waste. This was invented several years ago, but has yet to be deployed anywhere. It's mainly the fear of anything with the word "nuclear" that prevents use of this technology. Ironically, the failure to build more nukes means we'll be building more coal-fired power plants, with disastrous effects on climate. Yeah, I know, the anti-nuke people say that "wind and solar is all we need." And they are right - all we've got to do is reduce the world's population by 90% and move everybody to a place that is windy or very sunny. So, if you live in the Aleutian Islands, the never-ceasing howling wind can provide lights for your hut. Or if you live in Death Valley solar will keep your cell phone and laptop recharged. See, we don't need nukes.

Re:Toshiba 4S reactor (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566882)

Or we could put the panels in the desert and let the people live where ever they like. I know crazy idea.

Sure nukes have a place, but at this point they are more heavily subsidized than any other power generation method. I say that because cleanup costs always come from the tax payer. Solar thermal plants in our deserts and Wind where that fits can be a large part of our power needs. Nukes will still be needed, but unless something can be done about their high costs, coal will sadly stay in use.

It isn't a matter of innovation. (2)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566776)

Be it the levees that failed in New Orleans, or the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi, it isn't a lack of innovation that causes any of these disasters. It is in lack of maintenance, and just *caring* in general.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Well, look where it got us.

I would contest innovation actually. That is how governments waste tax dollars. Stick to time tested simple solutions that multiple contractors can compete for. Innovation is for the private sector.

We need even more advanced reactor technology. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566796)

... which don't require radioactive materials.

Yes, laugh now... we'll see later.

Nuclear power plant lost power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566844)

Im confused. A power generating device lost power? Where did the power go to? Has anyone found it yet? They should have used a current bush.

From the same folks that brought you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566850)

the blue screen of death? doh.

Thats a Thorium reactor then (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35566892)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWUeBSoEnRk

Looks like Congressman Chet Holifield can be blamed for us not having safe reactors

What makes it so safe? (1, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 3 years ago | (#35566954)

I'm having trouble finding any details on what makes this TWR reactor safe. They mention that it uses passive liquid metal cooling to ensure safety, but even passive cooling has potential failure modes. They state that relying on the laws of physics makes for a reliable reactor, but the laws of physics that govern diesel generators are well studied, yet they still failed at Fukushima.

From reading about other liquid metal designs, it sounds like natural convection alone is enough to keep the coolant flowing, but what happens if the earthquake or some manufacturing flaw causes a leak in the coolant pipes and the liquid coolant ends up on the floor of the reactor?

The PBR is supposed to be self regulating -- higher temperatures reduce the rate of the reaction, so even a total loss of coolant means that the fuel heats up to some steady state temperature and will stay there forever. What happens to a TWR if the coolant flow stops for any reason?

Teller and Dyson - TRIGA Mark I - designed in 1956 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35567000)

quoted from http://www.ga-esi.com/triga/about/index.php ... TRIGA is no ordinary light water reactor because much of its "moderation" of neutrons is due to the hydrogen that is mixed in with the fuel itself. Therefore, as the fuel temperature increases when the control rods are suddenly removed, the neutrons inside the hydrogen-containing fuel rod become warmer than the neutrons outside in the cold water. These warmer neutrons inside the fuel cause less fissioning in the fuel and escape into the surrounding water. The end result is that the reactor automatically reduces power within a few thousandths of a second, faster than any engineered device can operate. In other words, the fuel rods themselves act as an automatic power regulator, shutting the reactor down without engineered devices.

Why is this on Slashdot? (0)

janwedekind (778872) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567018)

The last thing we need now is Intellectual Ventures and their toxic patents. Nuclear research already is crippled enough in the interest of national security.

Kind of off topic, borderline AC even, but.. (5, Funny)

drfreak (303147) | more than 3 years ago | (#35567050)

If Bill Gates' life was to flash before his eyes, would it be a blue flash?

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...