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In Nuclear Power, Size Matters

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the you-can-put-one-in-my-backyard dept.

Power 230

PerlJedi writes "Most nations with nuclear power capabilities have been re-assessing the risk/benefit of nuclear power reactors following the Fukushima plant melt down, a newly released study suggests the U.S. should expand its nuclear power production using 'Small Modular Reactors'. 'The reports assessed the economic feasibility [PDF] of classical, gigawatt-scale reactors and the possible new generation of modular reactors. The latter would have a generating capacity of 600 megawatts or less, would be factory-built as modular components, and then shipped to their desired location for assembly.'"

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230 comments

Not just Nuclear Power.... (-1, Offtopic)

Samalie (1016193) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372672)

Size matters in many other areas as well.

And yes, when you're wife/girlfriend/other said otherwise, they were lying.

Oh wait, this is /. - what I meant to say is when the girl on the live cam said otherwise, she was lying.

Re:Not just Nuclear Power.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372762)

"Your" obviously new around here, "you're" comment is stoopid

Re:Not just Nuclear Power.... (-1, Offtopic)

Samalie (1016193) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372840)

Fuck, I hate it when I fail at grammar

Re:Not just Nuclear Power.... (0)

homey of my owney (975234) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373052)

You are grammar seems irrelevant in this case.

Re:Not just Nuclear Power.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373348)

Irregardless, he's got a tiny wee-wee.

His wife/gf/(m)other told me last night while I was doing her.

Ohhhh! CAPTCHA = "nonsense". So true, so true.

Re:Not just Nuclear Power.... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373970)

Just for the record: Girls bits come in different sizes too. Some are too big, some are too small, some are just right.

Either:
a) You're so far to the left of the bell curve that most women can't feel yours
b) Your only experience is with owners of big, sloppy, bucket-size vaginas.
or
c) You don't have any experience at all, you're just parroting what your mom says (see 'b').

Lots of little Carrington events? (0)

AttyBobDobalina (2525082) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372696)

I know, I'm paranoid...but really...what is going to happen to all the spent fuel rod cooling ponds when all the transformers get blown?

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372720)

Lots of little diesel generators are going to come online?

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (-1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372830)

What do diesel generators have to do with spent fuel rods? You don't read so good, do you?

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372984)

Whoosh!

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373734)

The diesel generators power the pumps, that provide cooling water to the reactor vessel and spent fuel rod pools, in the event of a failure of main power. This is what was supposed to happen at fukushima, however, the generators were taken out by the tsunami. If the generators had been protected (maybe as simple as putting them on the other side of the building, away from the water), then things might have gone a lot differently.

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373064)

Cooling pools are not a problem. Just add a way to add more water into them. Like a simple flexible pipe that leads outside of the cooling pool building and can be connected to a fire engine).

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373460)

Cooling pools are not a problem. Just add a way to add more water into them. Like a simple flexible pipe that leads outside of the cooling pool building and can be connected to a fire engine).

That's an engineer looking for a complicated solution. The right answer is dig a hole beneath the local water table or below sea/lake/river level, and install a one way valve. Local water table is 500 feet below? Don't build the plant there, build it somewhere within 50 feet of the water table, or lake/sea/river level..

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373660)

Beautiful. So in an event of a meltdown the molten fuel can happily disperse to everyone in vicinity, polluting the groundwater for the next couple hundreds years.

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373944)

Woosh.

Re:Lots of little Carrington events? (2)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374000)

That is the main reason why size matters. Small reactors can be cooled by conduction into its surroundings, and (infrared) radiation.

right idea - Wrong fuel (3, Interesting)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372728)

Should be using Thorium instead.

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (5, Informative)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372760)

/. ate my link
http://thoriumremix.com/2011/ [thoriumremix.com]

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (1)

PerlJedi (2406408) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372800)

I'm not disagreeing with you, but if you could give a reason, and (hopefully) some supporting data/references?

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (0)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372850)

He did. Slashdot "ate" his link [slashdot.org] .

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (5, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373302)

Theres a whopping big wiki article that tries a little too hard to be "balanced" when in all fairness Th is a PITA fuel, that kinda sucks.

Its only good for non-proliferation from a distance. Up close its worse. You need to boot up with a slug of Pu because there are no fissile Th isotopes. So no one ever builds "a Th reactor" they build a "bomb grade Pu reactor" surrounded with a Th shell that eventually can breed itself into reacting, hopefully your breeding plan curve matches your electrical demand curve.

Its only good for non-proliferation if you define proliferation as current designs. Historically plenty of U233 bombs were blown and research done. No you cannot make a current model US B61 out of stuff from a Th reactor. Yes, you can make something almost as good as a B61 that is U233 based using what comes out of a Th reactor. It in no way prevents proliferation merely makes it a slightly more involved research project (slightly!)

In a way, not being useful for proliferation dooms Th. The US and Russia and China and god only knows who else (Iran?) are still going to need U based reactors so now you've gotta run both technologies... Why not just run one? And that one's gotta be U, at this time. So trying to push Th means your sales will be pitiful because you can only sell to 3rd world and not much else.

Plus it gives the non-proliferating Th owners experience in plant operation which they can transition to new/secret U plants of their own anyway, its like bootstrapping proliferation not preventing it.

Anyone who says Th = nonproliferation is either misinformed or being paid or trolling.

Its an unholy PITA to recycle due to hard gammas, or you can have agony when disposing. Its waste stream is just "worse" than a traditional reactor.

Its harder to run, more neutron poisons like Pa build up.

To be economical, you just have to burnup into the ground, which is kind of like saying a F-350 has a lower lifetime environmental cost IF you can get it to survive 600K miles. Its... ambitious. You don't achieve high burnup by just wishing, its difficult, dangerous if you have cladding failures, and expensive. Otherwise the prius wins again for overall lifetime costs.

Its interesting to learn about, good to learn about, but it shows good engineering judgment to avoid a Th design.

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (2)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373386)

Cite?

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373614)

Cite?

Come on man, its called "google for fuel cycle of thorium reactors" and the first thing is the wikipedia article. Its not a perfect article, tries too hard to be "equal" rather than be "correct"... but I saw no obvious factual errors when I read it.

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (3, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373418)

Whoops also forgot another reason why Th sucks, its harder to make fuel rods. Hotter manufacturing temps. So they end up being more expensive and/or less reliable than U, which is supposedly the opposite of what the system is supposed to produce. So the theoretical 3rd world operator finds it easier and safer and cheaper to use U rods.

Th is a second class fuel. The best thing to burn in your steam locomotive is anthracite, if you can still get it. Next worse is bituminous. If you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel and gotta do what ya gotta do, you harvest irish peat and burn that in your steamie. But trying to convince people peat is just as good as anthracite, or peat is cheaper, or peat should really be your first choice, or I read an article about peat and figure it might be fun to try, thats just not gonna work. Stick to the U and Pu designs until the world runs out of U in 20000 years or so. After that, you gotta do what you gotta do, and whip out the Th designs.

You obviously didn't watch the video... (5, Informative)

andersen (10283) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373618)

They are NOT at suggesting using solid thorium and making fuel rods. That would indeed be truly stupid.

The LFTR uses thorium dissolved in molten floride salt. It is proven tech, since the US government
built one back in the late 60s and ran it for 5 years -- with 1.5 years at full power...

Watch the video http://thoriumremix.com/2011/
then and only then can you properly comment on thorium....

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (1)

leucadiadude (68989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373456)

What a gigantic pile of steaming FUD. You win the FUD award of the decade.

I tried hard, but I could not find a single factual statement in anything you wrote. Every single statement is a lie. Wow.

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (1)

gstrickler (920733) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374270)

False [wikipedia.org] . They don't need Pu to start up, they need a small amount of fissile material (e.g. 235U) to get them through the first 45 days. Once in operation, they breed their own fissile fuel.

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373136)

Why? And yes, the link is useless.

1. There are molten nuclear reactor designs using uranium. Nice in theory, ugly in practice. Solid fuel is less "icky" (less crap to cleanup afterward). Decommissioning costs are important in practice.

2. Uranium has an established fuel chain! Read this and re-read this. The costs of using thorium are the same as having a car run on 100% alcohol vs. gasoline - gasoline is established!

3. There is little advantage to thorium, except if you are in a nation that has lots of thorium and little uranium, then maybe.

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (4, Interesting)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373936)

Watch the video first. (at least first 10 seconds of it)

1. With LFTR you have next to no waste.
From what I remember, there are 2 radioactive leftovers and both are valuable.
-molybdenum-99 (Medical usage)
-Plutonium-238 (Space probes)(VERY valuable)

2. Uranium has an [Expensive] established fuel chain. You can only get fuel pellets from ONE supplier: the one who built the reactor. And no, they don't have sales.

3. Advantage of thorium vs uranium:
-No enrichment
-No 10000 year radio-active waste
-No high-pressure water cooling schemes that need power to work and backups up the wazoo.
-Others mentioned in the video

Re:right idea - Wrong fuel (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374098)

Wrong idea.

If lots of little complex mechanical gadgets all worked more reliably than a few big complex mechanical gadgets, then the Soviets would have won the race to the moon with their N-1 rockets that sported 43 engines each. As it happened, their four N-1 launches achieved four explosions.

Lots of little things work OK when you need at least some of them to work (that's redundancy). But large numbers of things is not the solution when you can't afford to have *any* of them fail.

Olds (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372734)

A friend of mine was interning for a company that did a lot of work with these about 10-11 years ago. He was saying they were the big thing, back then. Lower risk, easy to setup/install, cheap due to mass production. Of course, he was stating they they wouldn't go above 100MW., which is a bit of a difference.

Anyway, I'm surprised it's taken this long for them to see the feasibility in the idea. It really does make a lot of sense.

Re:Olds (5, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372814)

A friend of mine was interning for a company that did a lot of work with these about 10-11 years ago. He was saying they were the big thing, back then. Lower risk, easy to setup/install, cheap due to mass production. Of course, he was stating they they wouldn't go above 100MW., which is a bit of a difference.

Anyway, I'm surprised it's taken this long for them to see the feasibility in the idea. It really does make a lot of sense.

And Toshiba has been trying to get it's small, modular 4S [wikipedia.org] reactors sited in nowhere Alaska for decades and hasn't been able to do it. Not gonna happen.

The only way for this to work is, as mentioned in TFA, have the US government buy a bunch and test them out. Seems actually a fairly reasonable idea - the military has need of off grid power in odd places, has built in technical and security forces that should allow for safe evaluation of the reactors, has the money to do this. So, if this has been true for at least a decade, what's the problem? Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

Re:Olds (2)

emilper (826945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373046)

the US government already has a bunch small nuclear power plants, had them for 50+ years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Nautilus_(SSN-571) [wikipedia.org] and they're pretty well tested. Russia, France and UK have them too.

Re:Olds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373196)

Admiral Rickeover forced the use of a limited number orf reactor designs across the US NAvy so the debugging would be easier. It worked. Let's use the existing and tested designs for the smaller nuclear beasts.

The navy doesn't have any answers (4, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373672)

Naval reactors -- be they powering submarines, aircraft carriers, etc. -- don't have to show a profit. When they need money to run them, they just take it from you and me. Rinse, wash and repeat.

Compare that to one of the very few nuclear powered cargo ships, the NS Savannah [wikipedia.org] . Truly beautiful ship; fast, clean, etc. Couldn't be run cost-effectively, some of which was due to a bit of overzealous streamlining and so forth, but in terms of propulsion costs, oil fueled cargo ships are simply less expensive.

That's why you're not going to see naval reactor designs in your back yard. Ever. Commercial reactors have to be practical.

The right answer is solar and/or wind and/or hydro plus storage. We just don't have cost-effective / space-effective storage. Yet.

Re:The navy doesn't have any answers (3, Insightful)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373902)

Compare that to one of the very few nuclear powered cargo ships, the NS Savannah [wikipedia.org] . Truly beautiful ship; fast, clean, etc. Couldn't be run cost-effectively, some of which was due to a bit of overzealous streamlining and so forth, but in terms of propulsion costs, oil fueled cargo ships are simply less expensive.

From the link, that ship was built more than 40 years ago, had an overly-small cargo-hold and was done more as a proof of concept (which seems silly). Doing the same today (and doing it economically) would yield different results.

Re:Olds (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373446)

I think 100MW is a little small today, but I am biased by living in LA and having over 2.5GW of generation within a 3 mile radius of my house. I also think 600MW is a little too big in terms of a mass-produced design. I think a happy medium is around 230MW; that is roughly the scale of a good sized substation (2,000A at 66kV). It would also scale pretty well for large industrial facilities to be able to export power in their vicinity, and is about the size of a single high voltage circuit.

You have to get them closer to neighborhoods to make it really viable. You would need about 3,500 to fully satisfy the US demand.

I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites ... (4, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372750)

So you're going to increase the number of sites? I thought Not-In-My-Backyard was the reason we didn't just build more big nuclear reactors. You can make the designs as safe as you want -- hell, look at molten salt thorium reactors and the CANDU design. The problem is that the people living anywhere near it are going to be dead set against it. And Fukushima didn't help that image.

Also I didn't see anything about this increasing the number of attack sites for anyone who wants to hit one of these things or steal it. That would be an increased risk factor, as well, right?

From an engineering and economic perspective these things are probably great ideas. But what state or township is going to approve a nuclear power plant -- even a small modular one -- given unfortunate recent events?

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372866)

One led by people who have a clue? ... if you find such a place, please let me know.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (1)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372940)

You have the option of increasing the number of sites or not. If not, then put a bunch of small standalone reactors together. It probably makes sense from an efficiency and reliability standpoint to have many sites rather than one big one. Although security for many smaller sites seems more problematic.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (4, Insightful)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373040)

NIMBY might be less of a problem outside the US. For example, I suspect China doesn't give a shit about who wants what on his backyard.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373170)

if the plant is small enough for a platoon of Former Military folks (which i think we have a bunch of right now) to guard properly the security should not be a problem as such (hint if everything is within "shooting distance" of like 4-6 guys then its the right size)

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373180)

But what state or township is going to approve a nuclear power plant -- even a small modular one -- given unfortunate recent events?

Although it does, the 'recent' shouldn't matter. No matter how well you design something, there's always a statistical probability of catastrophic failure. Simplistic: if there's a 1 in X chance that a plant will have a meltdown this year, and you have X number of similar plants across the globe, you could expect (on average) 1 of those to have a meltdown this year. You wanna host that party?

And even 'minor' events could have devastating consequences for people that live in the area. Not saying other options like a coal plant are any better, but the NIMBY syndrome is perfectly understandable (& perhaps logical as well) for lots & lots of reasons.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373186)

But what state or township is going to approve a nuclear power plant -- even a small modular one -- given unfortunate recent events?

You've never been to South Carolina, have you?

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373234)

If I had the money I would put one of these in my back yard and sell the power back to the power company or the local town. I want one with simple mechanical controls and really good circuit breakers though. Failsafe baby, especially if there are 'unforeseen' events.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373356)

NIMBYism isn't the problem (unlike what the anti-environmentalists will tell you), it's that big nuclear power plants aren't attractive to investors. Would you invest $10 billion knowing you wouldn't see any return on that for a decade? It's a very risky proposition for something that doesn't have a particularly great return. If you can make them modular, so it doesn't take a decade to build them, that radically alters the risk-reward proposition.

Compare the U.S. with France which gets over 80% of it's electricity from nukes. Is it because the French are docile sheep who won't protest a nuclear power plant? No, they shut down their country with strikes at the drop of a hat. It's that the French power plants were built by the government which has a much broader view of investment than private investors and will tolerate not seeing a profit for a decade.

Galena, Alaska (1)

Quila (201335) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373406)

They've been waiting on their Toshiba 4S reactor for seven years now.

Of course their heating and electricity comes from fuel oil, which gets very expensive up there since it only comes by boat in the short summer, and by airplane any other time.

Harsh realities such as that tend to temper NIMBY. I'm also guessing there aren't too many Greenpeace activists in that town to protest, mainly working people. Greenpeace will probably fly in some protesters when construction starts, but the locals won't be too friendly to these strangers threatening their livelihood.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373488)

Tax distribution lines at a high rate (scaled by capacity), and pass it on to consumers. Internalize the cost of putting generation in BFE.

Re:I Thought NIMBY Prevented Even the Big Sites .. (2)

slinches (1540051) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373538)

If it fit in my backyard, I might want a small one to power my neighborhood. I'll get some extra income from selling power to the NIMBY folks and they have nothing to complain about since the reactor is in my backyard, not theirs.

interacts badly with neighbor opinion (5, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372756)

One thing favoring the big plants is that neighbors' opinion about nuclear power, at least in the U.S., often follows a pattern where initially putting one in is very unpopular, but once one is put in, as it brings jobs, seems to be safe, and unlike traditional industry doesn't pollute or produce bad odors, local popularity goes up. In fact when you poll people living near a major nuclear plant about the possibility of putting in a new unit, results are usually quite positive. So from a political perspective at least, that favors putting in a bunch of power generation in the same place: it's not worth going through the trouble of convincing the local population in each place only to generate 600 megawatts there.

For these to work, I think we'd need a more widespread change where the default attitude towards being near a nuclear generating facility is positive or at least neutral. Then you could just scatter then around without much worry.

Re:interacts badly with neighbor opinion (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372886)

I think you have this backwards. The initial plant is going to be a nightmare to get support for, no matter what. Once you have it, though, it should be significantly easier to get support for another one within, say, a couple hundred miles (people have noticed they live relatively near an existing plant with no ill effect). If each plant is gargantuan, this is a waste. If they're small and modular, you can gradually creep across the country this way. Additionally, the initial convincing-cost will be lower with a smaller reactor, since the potential damage is more limited.

So small + modular means the first plant has a lower cost in the court of public opinion, and subsequent nearby plants (where the effect you mention is useful) provide additional utility. Big plants means higher initial public opposition, and no use for the effect you mention.

Citation? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373006)

I work as a consultant for electricity planning, and I have *never* seen a single survey which shows that folks who live near a nuclear plant are in favor of new units being built at the site. Not a single survey. Not even for Vogtle units 3 and 4, being built right now next to units 1 and 2, located on the Georgia-South Carolina line... a place where I'd expect a more favorable response than most.

If you've got one, I'd love to see it.

Re:interacts badly with neighbor opinion (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373174)

As another replier has said, once you place one 600MW plant there, it becomes easier to put another one nearby.

Just make sure to have a decent amount of separation - Fukushima would not have been such a problem if it didn't have 4 reactors built as close to each other as possible, with 2 more in extremely close proximity.

Probably rule of thumb should be twice the distance between the furthest Fukushima units from each other - that way if one unit has a problem, it doesn't cause the problems managing nearby units that Fukushima had.

Re:interacts badly with neighbor opinion (1)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373776)

The problem managing the Fukushima reactors wasn't caused by them being near to each other, it was caused by the earthquake knocking out power and damaging the roads so that emergency services couldn't get there for days, and the tsunami flooding the emergency generators & emergency switchboard (which were both in the basements).

How would the spacing between RBs have changed anything?

Re:interacts badly with neighbor opinion (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373222)

I think the U.S. would be a much better run country of the decisions were not left up to Gallop.

Re:interacts badly with neighbor opinion (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373632)

Americans are technophobes. They USE the magic but don't understand it.

We should, instead of nukes, build more coal and natural gas power generating facilities. We have plenty of both fuels, and they are a practical solution to our energy problems for a very long time.

Foreign companies can develop mature nuke tech, then we can buy it. The idea that being innovators is always the best way to go is silly. Let others do the work then we can buy the product.

Re:interacts badly with neighbor opinion (1)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373778)

Putting a new plant in leads to fears about homes being devalued. The devaluation has already happened (or it's realised a devaluation does not happen) by the time the second plant comes along.

Maybe it's different in other countries, but here in UK where there is high ownership and properties are a relatively high investment, fears about home devaluation play a significant role. Even if a local was fully aware a plan is ultra safe, he'll be worried about ignorance among potential home buyers.

While nuclear may well be significantly better in pretty much every way, there's a lot of talking on /. about nuclear like it's the perfect clean option.

Genuine fears of a meltdown, however minute the probability, aren't to be written off, as Fukushima proves. Playing devil's advocate here: oh but designs are so much safer now? That's what they said back then, and even if they are better now why wasn't Fukushima upgraded or whatever? There's logical explanations but there's no getting past the point that a plant was operating that was thought to be perfectly safe, until it really wasn't. Or maybe they understood the risk but felt it was acceptable - I'm not sure which is worse. How are you going to convince a public that you're right now, when they have a perfect example that you were wrong for all that time before when you were telling them the same thing?

Anyway, given a perfect design, there's real risk - not of meltdown, but adverse consequences - from the day-to-day carelessness and cutting corners that you get at every organisation. Like Dounreay [wikipedia.org] . You can release plans led by teams of brilliant people, design the safest plant possible, come up with safeties and procedures all you like, over the next 20 years you get a few Homer Simpson's working there.

homer simpson will run the plant (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372764)

homer simpson will run the plant

Modular is good (2)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372768)

But this makes it sound like modular is being used a bit like a car is "modular" before it gets to the assembly line.

What we really need is small plants in more places using gen-4 technology to keep them running safe. The fact that we still ship power across the damn country is shameful. I'm frankly less concerned about how the power is generated than where.

Toshiba 4S (4, Interesting)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372824)

The Toshiba 4S [wikipedia.org] seems like it would make an ideal neighborhood reactor. Plus, I love the design. Rather than using control rods to stop the reaction, the reflector enables the reaction. By controlling the radioactivity of the core you ensure it can never get too critical. And the reflecting band even if it gets jammed only enables a small part of the core to overheat.

And it's small enough to be self-contained.

Re:Toshiba 4S (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373082)

The Toshiba 4S seems like it would make an ideal neighborhood reactor.

Yep, I had one of those laptops and I agree with everything you said, although "small enough to be self contained" might be pushing it a bit.

Re:Toshiba 4S (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373168)

Both of mine that failed went down safely, including one that experienced a meltdown.

Re:Toshiba 4S (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373362)

The biggest problem I have with a liquid sodium cooled reactor isn't the radioactivity, but how reactive sodium is when exposed to either air or water. A better choice may be lead (from a safety perspective) even though it causes additional problems when refueling the reactor. For a neighbourhood reactor, I would take safety over the ease of refueling any day.

Re:Toshiba 4S (4, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373500)

You forgot "and it's pretty much vaporware", never having been tested or proven in hardware.

Re:Toshiba 4S (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373562)

Maybe when it hits 50MWe it will be viable, but at 10MWe it is pretty hard to justify over a small turbine.

waste? (2)

photonyx (2507666) | more than 2 years ago | (#38372888)

Still would not solve the nuclear waste problem.

Re:waste? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373256)

its a scale thing when the fuel is spent you basically get a BAC with a hook to stick the whole core on a truck and then ship it to a long term storage facility or you do the really smart thing and cook the core long enough that any long term "gunk" has been spent.

Re:waste? (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373274)

It will all go into your backyard.

Re:waste? (0)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373640)

Have they solved the problem with pollution from coal plants?

Re:waste? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373662)

There isn't enough VOLUME of waste to matter.

Contain it above ground for convenient inspection and container repair for the time required, don't bury it then rely on wishful thinking.

Cheap energy saves lives. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372916)

It took one of the worst Earth Quakes immediately followed by one of the worst Tsunamis in modern history to take down a 40 year old nuclear plant via a flaw found and reported 35 years ago (but never corrected). Like it or not, nuclear energy has come a long way and is pretty damn safe.

Don't like that the flaw wasn't fixed or how the accident unfolded ... but I admire how tough that facility was engineered.

Re:Cheap energy saves lives. (5, Insightful)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373646)

As far as I understand it, the main problem most people have with Nuclear Reactors -- at least over here in Europe -- is not that they can go kablooie when something deemed "unlikely" hits them. This is just a problem as long as they are actually running, and a few years after for cooling down.

The problem is rather: Where do you put all that irradiated waste, ranging from water over metals, concrete, oils, various sealants and so on? After all, most of this stuff happily glows for a few decades at minimum and hundreds of thousands of years at the upper echelon. I mean, if I look at the Egyptian tombs for example, I find it hard to believe that anybody could guarantee that a sign of "Keep out or else you'll die horribly" would actually stop future people from digging up that stuff.

And that already excludes the observation that nothing humankind has ever built or excavated managed to stay permanently, physically sealed for more than a few hundred in most cases and a few thousand years in all cases. That's at least two orders of decimal magnitudes too few time to guarantee anything.

Of course things like coal, gas, etc. are not better -- especially regarding the climate. But at least they don't cause such extremely permanent issues that we can't even imagine a kind of physical or chemical process to get rid of it. They are still bad, but in a less ... distant way.

And if you finally arrive at hydroelectric, geothermal, solar and wind generation, the scope of the problems you cause by running them can be measured in "less than a decade" for cleaning up a broken dam and "what problems?" for solar and wind. That fundamental difference between nuclear, coal/gas and finally regenerative power is what is important to most environmentalists and general critics of the first and to a lesser extend next two kinds of power generation. The fact that they can go kablooie is just icing on the cake compared to that.

I always wonder if people who fully and blindly support nuclear power have ever heard what the term "neglectful precursors" means. After all, economy is mostly a private affair and expires with the generation who had to live in it, but ecology gets inherited fully and permanently.

Re:Cheap energy saves lives. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38374236)

They must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can they be unmade.

Re:Cheap energy saves lives. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38374310)

So in summation:

Nuclear: ecological danger for 100,000+ years
Coal/Diesel: kills a boat load of people every year, kills environment pretty readily, but only for as long as we run them
renewable: only feasible theoretically unless massive commitment from people to reduce their energy requirements 10-fold or more, never actually feasible for base-load generation unless your location wins the geological lottery.

I think realistically the most efficient power generating schema based on current technologies is nuclear plants supplemented by renewable sources.

Re:Cheap energy saves lives. (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374334)

we can't even imagine a kind of physical or chemical process to get rid of it

There are physical processes to get rid of it. Recycling spent fuel and breeder reactors solve the fuel problem (you'll still have to protect the residue for 100-200 years). Reusuing the materials and water solve that problem too, but it was never such a big deal to star with (they were initialy at the <200 years bucket).

Those things are just expensive, not impossible.

Love the post title (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38372918)

It's not the size of your fuel rod, it's what you do with it.

Now baby, give me a tour of your breeder reactor.

Cause and effect all backwards (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373022)

Cause and effect all backwards. Its not that small reactors are inherently more economical than large reactors, they most certainly are not. Its that new designs including some pretty radical fuels and coolants are being proposed, and you don't scale those bad boys in one jump from lab simulations to GW+. So these new designs are going to start small, then you build midrange 100s of MW, then you build the big ole GW+ roasters, thats just how its always been and going to be.

The next issue is there is a magic shopping list of rewards, but they're all interrelated to people that know about nukes. Can use natural convection cooling. Well, OK. Look at cube-square law and tell me how a smaller reactor at a given specific thermal output could not possibly be harder to cool? Or given an infinite budget to make a really low specific volume thermal output giant, you can convection cool them too, assuming you can manufacture something that huge. Also you get safety tradeoffs, the dough you spent on a 5 times larger vessel could have gone to quintuple redundant diesel drive coolant pumps on top of 100 meter tsunami wave proof seawalls... Big pieces of reactor grade steel are staggeringly expensive. So you are getting better burnup and better Pu non-proliferation? OK well tell me how to get better burn up without eating its own bomb isotope Pu? Answer, you can't, has nothing directly to do with size, the longer a rod sits in a core the less bomb grade Pu you can refine out of it.

Don't get me wrong, these are cool, very cool. But don't confuse having to release version 1.0 at a small scale as a permanent long term trend. "In the long run" the only thing better than an itty bitty cute little modernized PBMR or a cute little RS-MHR is a cool freaking huge PBMR or RS-MHR, but the big momma version is most certainly not going to be release 1.0. Maybe 10, 20 years after the new high tech ones are rolled out, then, out comes the plans for big ones.

I think this is the mistake the fine article makes, confusing this small beta release, with a long term roadmap. Its very much like thinking that internet sites that roll out slowly via invitations means they intent to stay small forever... not so, its just the scale up process.

Re:Cause and effect all backwards (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373624)

The argument for smaller units is based on de-centralizing generation. This limits the proliferation of transmission lines, and brings the effects of generation closer to people's homes. The peak demand in the US is around 75GW. 75GW-scale nuclear reactors isn't going to spark innovation. Limiting them to around half that capacity (or 20%) gives you some opportunities to "mass produce" them.

Re:Cause and effect all backwards (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373806)

I agree. I think another big issue that is pushing the economics in favor of the smaller reactors is certification. It is more cost effective (and just smarter) to certify a design and then make a ton of exact copies of it, than it is to take a general design and modify it enough at each site to require a recertification, which is what historically happened with our "big" LWRs.

Re:Cause and effect all backwards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373816)

Cause and effect all backwards. Its not that small reactors are inherently more economical than large reactors, they most certainly are not

I believe you have it all backwards: Smaller reactors are inherently more economical because you can take advantage of economies of scale. Each big reactor is pretty much unique... small reactors can be cranked out on an assembly line. What they aren't is more efficient... but who cares that you're getting 50% of the power instead of 60%, if the fuel cost is next to nothing?

Why Small Modular Reactors? (1)

i_b_don (1049110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373160)

I looked all through out the article and I couldn't find any arguments for "small modular" vs "massive". With all the permitting problems and the like, small and modular seems much harder to pull off. I'd rather have more eyes on a single large facility making sure nothing goes wrong and that security is foolproof than 100 sites scattered around hoping none of them have a Homer Simpson running them.

d

Re:Why Small Modular Reactors? (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373602)

"permitting problems"

Perhaps then the Feds should look at the permitting requirements. I feel 100% confident in suggesting that the majority of the permitting requirements are pure bullshit.

Re:Why Small Modular Reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38374044)

The main problem with permitting these days in the US is that no one is even trying to apply for one. The permitting process has been overhauled within the last decade, but it's never been tested because no one wants to invest in a nuclear power plant (even with government loan guarantees like Solyndra got).

Re:Why Small Modular Reactors? (1)

i_b_don (1049110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374120)

Well whatever. Permitting problems are often a sign of a community or a group of people that are fighting back by using lawyers. That's not always bullshit but sometimes it is.

d

Re:Why Small Modular Reactors? (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373656)

Beyond distributed generation, you have the goal of standardizing across a large number of sites. That makes operation and maintenance easier to pull off effectively. In software, it is the difference between rolling your own and buying from an established vendor.

Re:Why Small Modular Reactors? (1)

i_b_don (1049110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374218)

I don't get why you think building 100 smaller plants is standardizing but building 10 large ones isn't. None of these are going to be done on a mass manufacturing scale where parts are "tooled up for high volume manufacturing". In both cases a large engineering company like Parsons or GE will come in do a design that must be approved. Scale won't change things too much in that whole process. You won't save much money either way from an engineering or building perspective, but if you look at it from a site to site perspective, getting 100 smaller nuclear plants sites picked out an approved it'll be 10 times harder than getting 10 large ones approved. These days, that's where all the stress and headache is so I don't see why anyone would think smaller is better.

d

Nothing Doing (2, Insightful)

hercubus (755805) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373300)

As other posters have said, the not-in-my-backyard effect means any proposal along these lines is dead-on-arrival in the United States for the near-term.

However, in the long-term there is likely going to be a "come to Jesus" moment when Texas turns to desert or California burns to the ground, when even hard-core skeptics will realize something has to give. Then maybe a plan like this would be dusted off and put into practice.

Wasn't it W. Churchill who said "You can trust the Americans to do the right thing after they've exhausted all other possibilities." Maybe we'll pull our heads out but it'll be a long time coming.

Things will have to get desperate, such as the situation in Galena Alaska where remoteness means energy costs are crazy high. As long as the dollar costs of coal extraction are low and there's not an undeniable disaster in progress due to climate change then coal-fired will burn on.

Nuclear is dead in the US. (0)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373326)

We have coal for a couple of centuries and are finding increasing amounts of oil. We can cease nuclear development while foreign countries fund it instead, avoiding the need to bother with transitional designs. There are plenty of countries which do well without trying to lead the world in anything.

We can choose to use those resources, and choose to accept the consequences. Anthropogenic global warming, if there be such, is inevitable anyway so we can choose to "make hay while the sun shines".

The US and EU and most of the rest of modern civilization span regions which will be less affected by desertification, while our enemies are often less fortunate. It would be fitting that while consuming Jihadist oil we help warm their region. The more stress on Middle Eastern water resources the better.

Solar is the only real hope (2)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373350)

I recently became convinced by an argument made by Lawrence Berkeley Lab scientists that solar is the only power source that we have that really makes sense for powering human needs in the future. Check it out here http://www.lbl.gov/solar/ [lbl.gov]

Re:Solar is the only real hope (2)

PerlJedi (2406408) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374190)

Let me preface this by saying: "I am not a physicist." (If I am completely off base, or even just mis-informed or misunderstand, please explain, I like to learn).

It seems obvious to me that given the laws of thermodynamics as I understand them, that solar power is ultimately the only source of power that we know we will not exhaust. The amount of energy on earth is finite. We are constantly losing energy to space (mostly via heat and light), while simultaneously taking in energy in the form of radiation from stars (the vast majority of it coming from the sun). That all tells me that regardless of how we are getting the energy, it has to come from the sun. In fact even the energy we get from burning of fossil fuels, in a way came from the sun, just a really really long time ago (therefore making the burning of fossil fuels incredibly inefficient in the grand scheme.

NIMBY Waste (1)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373396)

Increase in power plants = increase in backyards. What killed nuclear power in the USA was kicking the can down the road on the nuclear waste. The USA population, and the world's, keeps increasing, meaning more and more "backyards". If they would have dealt with Yucca Mountain 40 years ago, the community would be dependent on disposal tax base by now and there would have been an answer. Some things don't get better with time. Well, ok... there is half-life.

It's University of Chicago economics (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373516)

The point of the actual paper has nothing to do with reactor design. It's that the financing of a 1GW plant creates too much economic risk for utilities. They point out that 70% of utilities with large nuclear plants at some point faced a bond rating downgrade.

A production line with steady production improves costs more than "modularity". That's how France did nuclear power - a lot of plants, built in the 1980s, all the same, with common components. There's a scale issue with how big an object you can move to the site - if the thing will fit on a road or rail car, it can be built and tested in a factory. There's a big discontinuity in delivered price when something gets too big to move and essentially gets built on site. The paper doesn't address that issue when talking about "modularity".

(This is even an issue with wind turbines. The upper limit on size comes from how big an object you can truck to the site. Ocean units can be bigger because they're brought in on barges.)

Doesn't just scale (2)

drwho (4190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373844)

The problem with this idea is that some of the most important parts of the reactor, that which contain neutrons, have a fixed wall thickness. This leads to an inescapable problem, and why we could never have a nuclear powered wristwatch (however, it is possible to have a low-power, long-lived radioisotopic heater (RTG) such as those used in deep-space probes. These can generate small amounts of electricity as well). This is not to say that the idea of a nuclear reactor on a railroad boxcar in infeasible (though it may be infeasible for other reasons).

I see the economic rationale for this, and would like to think that nuclear power plants can be built on a production line. Perhaps less of a production of an automobile and more like the production center of a large aircraft, but still, there would be great benefit. I only hope that whoever does this has the sense to use liquid fuel.

Coincidence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38373882)

I wonder how much this has to do with Bill Gates announcing his partnering with the Chinese in developing a new nuclear power plant design?

Sounds great (1)

das3cr (780388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38373992)

Lets just hope they aren't made in china and shipped here.

From what I hear ... the things they are having factory made and shipped into the US from china to use in the nuke plants is of dubious quality. There was a time when the US would only use items made in the US at nuke plants. They seriously need to go back to that.

Cold Fusion reactor will be OK? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38374084)

Like this one:
http://www.defkalion-energy.com/files/HyperionSpecsSheetNovember2011.pdf

"Defkalion described the documents as “a first preparation of our pre-industrial Hyperion product” and stated that final products would be ready for market in 2012. The company also claimed to have received interest from 850 companies in 60 countries for license agreements."

Here is whole story:
http://www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/energi_miljo/energi/article3358483.ece

Wow, more but smaller melt-downs! (2)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374262)

The idea is right insofar as the resulting catastrophes will be smaller (and more numerous) so for each individual catastrophe, less people will be affected and protest and hence protests will get less effective.

As long as nuclear power cannot be insured for the full damage caused (i.e. "unlimited"), this technology is not safe. As soon as it can be insured, realistic cost estimates become possible (namely risk-cost = insurance fee) and I predict that it is the most expensive form of energy generation. And BTW, same for the spent fuel: Unlimited and infinite time insurance for all damage caused.

As it is, nuclear power is a great amoral scheme to make lots of money for a few people as they do not have to pay for the damage they cause. That is also contaminates the biosphere irreversibly is just a side effect.

Why new reactors? (1)

Mojo66 (1131579) | more than 2 years ago | (#38374374)

Wouldn't it be more technologically advanced to focus research more on power-saving, or generally speaking, efficiency, instead of building more and more reactors, even if they are smaller?

How to order? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38374394)

Yes, my name is Answar Al-Qeda. I would like to purchase one of your modular nuclear reactors to power my home.

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