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NRC Approves New Nuclear Reactor Design

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the minimal-leakage dept.

Power 299

hrvatska writes "The NY Times has an article about the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval of the design of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor for the U.S., clearing the way for two American utilities to continue the construction of projects in South Carolina and Georgia. The last time a nuclear power plant in the U.S. entered service was 1996. The AP1000 was discussed on Slashdot a few years ago."

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but (0, Flamebait)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467068)

And ignorant noobs will still think that nuclear power is unsafe.

Re:but (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467134)

Nuclear power is just as safe as any other electricity.

It's the heat source that is the problem.

Progress (2, Funny)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467152)

What we've seen since the technological advances after Chernobyl is that nuclear power is 100% safe. Anyone who thinks otherwise must be a Jane Fonda fan. I dare you to name just a single nuclear accident in the last few years.

Re:Progress (-1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467222)

Fukushima Daiichi?

Re:Progress (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467280)

Is an even older plant than Chernobyl.

Re:Progress (1)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467290)

I think you missed the sarcasm.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467852)

Holy WOOSH, Batman!

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467224)

Ignoring the massive earthquake, tsunami and the ancient reactor design of course...

Re:Progress (4, Insightful)

0WaitState (231806) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467284)

In other words, ignoring things that happen in the real world, and that even a first-world country like Japan can't get around human nature (laziness) and business imperatives to cut corners and defer upgrades.

Nuclear power would be great, if we didn't have to depend on humans to run it.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467336)

You're one of those idiots who don't understand how nuclear power works, why argue against it? The passive designs do not even require any humans to be present for them to be safe.

Re:Progress (1, Informative)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467512)

The passive designs have been proven unsafe as well (they age into unstable configurations, even - or especially - the pebble bed ones). The only "safe" passive ones are the ones used in satellites where no runaway fission is even possible because it is relying on the native radioactivity, and not some amplified chain reaction.

Re:Progress (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467636)

SUPO was an aqueous solution reactor tested at los alomos some time ago, although not for very long. it appeared to be self stabilizing, the closer it got to critical, the more bubbles were formed in the solution, which caused it to move further from critical.

Re:Progress (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467784)

There exist no reactor in the western world that is capable of having runaway, "amplified" chain reaction. If you have done any research, you would realize that positive void coefficient reactors are even illegal in the US and almost no one builds them. (CANDU is the only one that has a small positive void coefficient mostly due to Pu during course of running the reactor, but that is accounted for).

The problem is ALL reactors produce enough power that they can cause the reactor to melt.

Fukushima reactors were OFF. There was NO nuclear reaction. They melted because of something called daughter elements produced in fission. I guess one can say, the meltdown occurred precisely due to the scenario you are talking about

The only "safe" passive ones are the ones used in satellites where no runaway fission is even possible because it is relying on the native radioactivity

DING DING! That is exactly why Fukushima had a melt down.

I also question your understanding of AP-1000. The design is clearly passively safe. It requires no moving parts to maintain cooling of the native radioactivity of the daughter elements.

Re:Progress (0)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467892)

Fukushima reactors were OFF. There was NO nuclear reaction.

Then what generated the heat that caused the meltdown?

If you have done any research, you would realize that positive void coefficient reactors are even illegal in the US and almost no one builds them.

That's irrelevant to what I said. Every "normal" reactor can meltdown. Just withdraw all the control rods, and it'll glow. A reactor (just talking normal ones, commissioned for public power generation, not theoretical or research only), even with negative void coefficient, is still inherently unstable and requires control rods, no matter what level of coolant is present.

It requires no moving parts to maintain cooling of the native radioactivity of the daughter elements.

It still has a cooling system with moving parts. Why?

Re:Progress (4, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467944)

Then what generated the heat that caused the meltdown?

Radioactive decay, not fission.

It still has a cooling system with moving parts. Why?

I am by no means a nuclear expert, but my understanding is that:
(a) the passive cooling is for when the reactor is shut down but cooling off (think Fukushima), not while operating
(b) normally you need to move the heat over to the turbines in the most efficient way possible

Re:Progress (3, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468224)

Not being an nuclear engineer, the problem may be that I'm using dictionary definitions of words, as opposed to technical terms.

Radioactive decay, not fission.

The decay was an atom splitting into two smaller atoms and energy, which is fission. From the three dictionaries I looked up, "decay, not fission" is a contradiction, as the decay in question was necessarily *also* fission.

I am by no means a nuclear expert, but my understanding is that: (a) the passive cooling is for when the reactor is shut down but cooling off (think Fukushima), not while operating

The question was of why would fukishima need active cooling when passive cooling is so "easy" to do.

Re:Progress (2)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467792)

While I agree the passive cooling designs are promising, I think some people are counting their proverbial chickens before the designs are hatched. I think nuclear power can be done right, but that starts with getting a few of these promising designs built and thoroughly tested. It's not enough to get to the stage where you don't see a way the design can fail. *All* designs pass through that stage, then experience teaches us what we missed.

IIRC, it's a stretch to call the Ap1000 emergency cooling system "passive". I'd call it "automated". That's good, of course- possibly good enough - but not as good as a truly passively safe system would be,all else being equal.

Re:Progress (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468056)

I'd call it "automated"

That's the first I've seen anyone characterize gravity as automation.

Since you appear to believe you have some credibility defining these terms, we should compare your thinking to those that actually do. To a nuclear engineer designing an emergency cooling system passive means no pumps, no power and no control. By that criteria the AP600/1000 designs are passive.

Everything about this emergency cooling system design relies on the integrity of containment. Containment, in this case, is a large free standing steel shell (as opposed to stressed concrete.) Threats to this vessel include kinetic impingement and corrosion. The former was the cause of a recent AP1000 design modification the NRC insisted on, based on a hypothesized attack involving an airliner. The latter can only be addressed through diligent and costly surveillance of the vessel throughout its lifetime ... just the sort of thing that tends not to survive bean counters.

The point is that there are plenty of legitimate criticisms that one can make of the design. Kibitzing about your peculiar notion of 'passive' isn't a very good one.

I think it is worth noting that the AP1000 design would have prevented core damage and radioactive release at Fukushima. The AP1000 design is exactly suited to the 'blackout' conditions that prevailed in Japan.

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467338)

Nuclear power would be great if humans didn't have irrational fear about things there don't bother to understand. If reactor construction had not stopped after the Chernobyl disaster, very few of these old, crappy designs would still be in use. Most of the problems in the modern nuclear industry are related to ancient systems that have had their lives extended due to the lack of replacement plant.

Re:Progress (0)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467350)

wow so many typos today... there = they.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467438)

What else there is to say, besides the fact that people are lazy, irrational, and stupid?

Re:Progress (1)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467522)

indeed :P

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467456)

To be fair, most reactor construction in the United States stopped in the 70's, after Three Mile Island. So most functioning reactors in the USA are at least 40 years old, rather than just 25 years old.

Wait. That's worse!

Still, at least plants in the United States reprocess the fuel that is used. Oh, no, wait. Damn.

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467506)

Funny, when they built those "ancient" systems they promised us those were safe too.
But then, concentrating material that will remain highly radioactive for longer than any empire in history has stood, and for longer than any region of the world has gone without war, could never be safe when you stop and think about it.

Re:Progress (-1, Troll)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467694)

What's funny is how Slashdotters shrug off alarmist nuclear accident stories and say, "Comes with the territory..."

But when it comes to flus and other overhyped alarmist germ stories, their assholes pucker up and they're running and begging to be shot up with the latest untested vaccines, bathing in hand sanitizer, and spraying Lysol all over the place.

Re:Progress (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467820)

What's funny is how "Greenpeace whackos" shrug off alarmist bird flu stories and say "Comes with the territory..."

But when it comes to radioactivity and over hyped alarmist radiation stories, their assholes pucker up and they're are running for their radiation fallout bunkers and begging for iodine pills on ebay, having their Geiger counters continuously on afraid that 2 atoms of stray cesium will kill them.

Re:Progress (2)

OrigamiMarie (1501451) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467828)

I don't bother with seasonal vaccines, I know that hand sanitizer makes my skin dry and thus more susceptible to invasion by microbes, and aerosols bother most people around me. But I'm also mostly a read-only user of Slashdot, so my opinions don't factor in much.

Vaccines for one-time, airborn illnesses that kill lots of people and where we might erradicate the disease? Yes, everybody should get them.

Re:Progress (1)

uncqual (836337) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468144)

I've not noticed a lot of Slashdotters indicating that they bath in hand sanitizer or spray Lysol all over the place so I can't comment on that.

However, when the subject of vaccines comes up, I've noticed quite a few Slashdotters do indicate that they trust and even partake of the common ones. (Again, however, I've not noticed that many of these indicate that they take untested vaccines and, indeed, it seems they are usually talking about vaccines that have been approved by the FDA which requires some degree of testing to be done). This position on vaccines seems consistent with not dismissing nuclear power plant just because something "unknown could go wrong" and ignoring the benefits that accrue from both. A pretty standard engineering approach - cost vs. benefit coupled with a realization that there are no 100% guarantees about hardly any aspect of life.

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467988)

But they *have* proven *relatively* safe. It depends on the benchmark you judge "relative" to.

Fossil fuels kill people all the time. Coal miners, for example. The men on the Deep Water Horizons drilling platform. They sicken and kill people every single day through pollution. And if you believe in the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, it is likely they damage ecosystems on a global scale and (statistically speaking) kill people through extreme weather events.

The problem is that the killing, sickening and destroying fossil fuels do aren't visibly tied to fossil fuel use. We know these things happen in an intellectual way, but we don't viscerally associate them with flicking on the power switch and burning a little more coal in a plant twenty miles away.

The problem with nuclear power is that its risks are at the opposite extreme. Nuclear disasters are exceedingly rare, so our assessment of risks is based on assumptions built on very little practical experience with nuclear disasters. We don't really have a good basis for judging the risks of having, say, ten times as many nuclear power plants as we do now. The nuclear economy scenario is full of situations where an error in some assumption has non-linear effects on the probability of outcome. For example if you assume the height of a once-in-a-century tsunami is six meters, but in fact it is twelve, you don't *double* the probability of an accident. You transform what is for practical purposes a statistical impossibility into a near-certain disaster.

So what's the rational thing to do? I think it is to move away from a fossil fuel economy and *toward* more diverse energy sources in which nuclear power will be a key part. But I wouldn't go on a crash course to try to solve all our problems in a decade by building as many nuclear plants as we can. The almost certain result of that will be ending up with lots of white elephant designs which proved to be more problematic than we'd hoped. A measured increase allows us to gain experience with designs, and to develop approaches to problems like decommissioning, nuclear waste and, for certain designs, nuclear proliferation. It also provides space for other technologies to take larger roles in the energy economy, spreading our risk over many sources and thus limiting our exposure to problems with any one. Getting ten percent of our energy needs from biomass might be very helpful to us as oil becomes more costly; trying to get 20% might have disastrous effects.

Re:Progress (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468088)

And dispersing poisons we can not control at all is preferable?

All our energy choices including "none" are paid for in dead and maimed.

We also kill tens of thousands of people each year driving to work. It's a perfectly reasonable tradeoff.

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467532)

The real problem with nuclear power is something everyone understands -- namely, people's ability for sloth and cheapness. A properly constructed and maintained nuclear reactor can be exceedingly safe. The problem is, those that run said plants will cut corners everywhere -- construction, maintenance, etc. -- and when they do, the consequences can be huge.

Re:Progress (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467650)

hence the engineers creating designs which are redundant enough to survive mediocrity.

now hopefully they're built to spec... or at least halfway to spec.

Re:Progress (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467766)

Naturally engineers never make mistakes. ;-)

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

joeboomer628 (869162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468162)

The real problem with nuclear power is something everyone understands -- namely, people's ability for sloth and cheapness. A properly constructed and maintained nuclear reactor can be exceedingly safe. The problem is, those that run said plants will cut corners everywhere -- construction, maintenance, etc. -- and when they do, the consequences can be huge.

I totally agree, having spent most of my 25 year US Navy career serving aboard nuclear powered submarines I have no problem living in the same ship as those 60's design reactors. The training and quality assurance programs that were required when I was on active duty insured safe operation.

Re:Progress (1)

tantaliz3 (1074234) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467590)

Thing is...people, as a general rule, think they already understand everything ...because the media keeps them informed.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467638)

Nuclear power would be great if humans didn't have irrational fear about things they don't bother to understand.

Fear of the unknown kept humans alive for hundreds of thousands of years, so it's no wonder it's taking us a while to adapt. At least here in the western world we're starting to get over it bit by bit, as evidenced by the fall of religion.

Re:Progress (3, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467890)

If reactor construction had not stopped after the Chernobyl disaster, very few of these old, crappy designs would still be in use

Except for reactor construction did not stop after Chernobyl, a significant amount of reactors were built in Japan, but that didn't stop them from using the much older Fukushima plant.... One of the key issues with nuclear power that very few people seem to address is essentially the concentration of power generation that nuclear entails. For example the Fukushima plants provided almost 10% of the electricity consumed in the entire Tohoku region. Before the earthquake there was significant resistance towards transitioning away from the plant because of potential disruptions to factories, businesses, and homes. This dependence on one facility makes it incredibly difficult to shut down nuclear power plants, even if there may be valid safety concerns.

Now compare this to say coal fired plants. In the USA, there are 1436 plants providing 42% of the power, i.e. each plant provides an average of .03% of the country's total electricity use. On the other hand, there are 65 nuclear power plants providing 19.6% of the total electric power generation, or .287% of total electricity generation per plant, roughly 10x that of coal, and if you look at the regions that have nuclear power, I'm sure the % of total output for the region per plant is much, much higher.

In order for nuclear power to be practical, we have to come up with ways of seamlessly making up for this lost output in case a plant has to undergo an emergency shutdown. In Japan, the transition was not seamless, in Ibaraki prefecture where I live there were rolling blackouts, coupled with severe power rationing measures(it ironically helped that the earthquake put a lot of the factories out of commission for a while, significantly reducing power demand), and a mad dash to get coal and oil into the region ASAP so those plants could increase production. There has to be a better way.

Re:Progress (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467918)

I guess I should add that in the US, it might not be *as* bad as there is a huge, interconnected grid available to draw power from, whereas in Fukushima they did not have that luxury as for historical reasons very little power could be sent from the Kansai, Kyushu, and Shikoku regions and for geographical reasons(the center of Honshu is incredibly mountainous) very little power could be sent from the Sea of Japan area to Fukushima as there aren't a lot of power lines that link the two areas.

Re:Progress (4, Informative)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467956)

I'm astonished you compared averages and attempted to use this to backup your argument. Go and have a look at the distribution of power produced by each of those coal plants. You'll see that the majority of the 42% comes from a few large scale coal plants, equivalent in scale to the nuclear installations.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468202)

very few of these old, crappy designs would still be in use.

1.Those designs are in no way old on the scale of industry or safety.
2.The statement is false. Studies have shown that just like for "clean coal" opening new plants rarely means closing old ones.

Most of the problems in the modern nuclear industry are related to ancient systems that have had their lives extended due to the lack of replacement plant.

Many "old" nuclear plants operate in areas that don't need the extra energy. The sad fact is that many facilities are still operating simply because of how deep the funding system is built into the government (ie they're too filled with pork for anyone to want to get rid of).

Re:Progress (5, Insightful)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467734)

+1. If a building collapses due to an earthquake, it's not a civil engineering disaster, it's a NATURAL DISASTER. But somehow, no matter what hits a nuclear plant (be it an earthquake or an asteroid), its still a nuclear disaster.

Re:Progress (3, Insightful)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467882)

But somehow, no matter what hits a nuclear plant (be it an earthquake or an asteroid), its still a nuclear disaster.

There's no "somehow" about it. If radioactivity escapes from the plant and causes health problems (or evacuations to avoid health problems) then it is a nuclear disaster because of the problems caused by the escaped nuclear material.

If an earthquake damages a nuclear plant but no radioactivity is released, it is not called a nuclear disaster because it isn't one.

Re:Progress (3, Insightful)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468054)

Agreed. But what we should have taken away from the recent disaster is not how inherently unsafe nuclear power is, but how destructive the double-whammy tsunami was and that nuclear plants built in areas at risk of such disasters should have more fault tolerant designs.

If a disaster causes a technology to fail, the rational course of action is to make it disaster-tolerant; not to abandon it outright.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467270)

There was a spill at the local TVA nuclear plant.

Of course, it was dwarfed by the Ash spill by the same company, so...

Safety Scissors (2)

Narcocide (102829) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467312)

You made this statement sarcastically, right? Or are you going to split hairs and call this [wikipedia.org] some other type of accident other than nuclear... public relations perhaps?

Don't get me wrong, I think nuclear power *can be* and *usually is* used safely but 100% might be a bit overstated. We have a ways to go yet to call it anywhere close to 100% safe. Nothing is 100% safe, not even safety scissors, and a nuclear reactor is hardly as easy to operate safely as say, for example, safety scissors.

Re:Safety Scissors (2)

uncqual (836337) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468164)

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if safety scissors, on the average, kill and injure more people in the US than nuclear power plants do per year. Obviously if you include, for example, uranium mining accidents in the "nuclear count", you have to include some iron ore mining accidents in the "scissors count" as well.

Re:but (3, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467974)

It only needs to be as safe as automobiles, and it far exceeds that.

Good, good. (1)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467078)

Good. Glad to see a the US pushing ahead with a new generation of nuclear reactors. I hope we remain committed in the UK.

Re:Good, good. (5, Informative)

thermopile (571680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467176)

Very glad to see the US NRC, despite all of its recent antics [politico.com] , was still able to approve a new reactor design.

If you haven't seen, the scale of construction on these projects is mind-bogglingly large. See here for some juicy pictures of the site under construction [nuclearstreet.com] . It's just astounding.

Re:Good, good. (1)

CnlPepper (140772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467276)

Great pictures, they remind me of the ITER construction site. I love heavy engineering.

Re:Good, good. (1)

Oakey (311319) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467188)

Did you know Westinghouse was a British owned company sold by Gordon Brown for £2.9billion? Another spectacular own goal there.

Re:Good, good. (0)

The Askylist (2488908) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467794)

But Gordon saved the world!

He told us so when he pissed all our taxes away on bailing out his favourite Scottish bankers, so it must be true.

And he got us out of gold when the going was good, too.

Still, the Lesser Spotted Moron hasn't been seen much in Parliament lately, what with all his charity work...

Ah china, the new stimulator (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467114)

First you guys had to beat russia to the table in space. Now is it beating china in energy? God i hope so.

Sour grapes (5, Funny)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467184)

Now that the rest of the world is rethinking nuclear power, We Americans have changed our tune.

However, I think the US might be on the right track here. Of course, it helps that the risk of tsunamis in the southeastern US is right between that of a zombie outbreak and Ralph Nader winning the presidency.

Re:Sour grapes (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467198)

It's more likely than the Year of The Linux Desktop.

Re:Sour grapes (1)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467412)

We should write out the rest of the list . . . So much potential for snark.

Re:Sour grapes (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467664)

The bottom of the list would be you getting laid.

Re:Sour grapes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467262)

Hurricanes?

Re:Sour grapes (3, Insightful)

Amouth (879122) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468222)

if a hurricane was a threat to a reactor design then it never should have been built.. hurricanes really are not that damaging..

Re:Sour grapes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467302)

Guys! New disaster movie idea! Nuclear Nader! We start filming in February!

Re:Sour grapes (1)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467398)

Now that's a movie I'd pay good money to see!

Re:Sour grapes (2)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468076)

Yes let the rest of the world stop using the only scalable sensible power source. If we can avoid letting the big corps and the nimbly's making it massively expensive we could be positioned to make a resurgence. It will never happen were to short sighted for that.

why isn't thorium being developed? (5, Informative)

DevotedFollower (2232516) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467196)

The NRC should approve some more thorium reactors if it doesn't want to be buying technology off China 10-20 years down the line. From what I understand Thorium (especially LFTRs) are far safer. They are "walk away safe". My suspicion is that it is too late for the US to catch up though. As the article mentions..China already has a bunch these coming online in 2013...while it just got approved in the US. China is also filing more patents...they are progressing much fast than the states at this point. China and thorium: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8393984/Safe-nuclear-does-exist-and-China-is-leading-the-way-with-thorium.html [telegraph.co.uk] The US and their history with thorium and further thorium info: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4 [youtube.com]

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (5, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467304)

Or the U.S. could just let them spend the money and take all the risks in terms of designing and testing the new reactors, then steal the designs and build the reactors themselves, forcing the Chinese firms to eat the R&D costs....

Wait, something about this sounds familiar. I sense a pot and a kettle are involved.

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467686)

That's LONG overdue. The US should ditch its counterproductive pride and let other "early adopters" take the risks.

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (2)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467846)

Yeah, that sounds exactly like what the US did in the 1800's with their massive pirating of the European industrial revolution, stealing the designs, flaunting their massive patent and copyright violations, outright theft of designs and ideas, and massive intellectual dishonesty.

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (5, Informative)

thermopile (571680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467306)

Thorium isn't being developed in the US for 2 reasons:

1. Current uranium-based reactors are more affordable than thorium reactors.

2. The path for licensing a thorium-based reactor in the US is exceedingly uncertain.

While a thorium-based fuel cycle may be a good idea, it's just not going to be done by any commercial enterprise today. The costs and risks are too high. When staring at a $5B initial investment cost, any electrical utility is going to favor the known route ... which, frankly, could just as easily mean building 10 natural-gas fired plants instead of 1 big nuke.

India, however, is going full-bore on a thorium-based fuel cycle, and has already built a few reactors that are capable of accepting thorium. Copied shamelessly [world-nuclear.org] from world-nuclear.org:

India's plans for thorium cycle

With huge resources of easily-accessible thorium and relatively little uranium, India has made utilization of thorium for large-scale energy production a major goal in its nuclear power programme, utilising a three-stage concept:

Pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) fuelled by natural uranium, plus light water reactors, producing plutonium.

Fast breeder reactors (FBRs) using plutonium-based fuel to breed U-233 from thorium. The blanket around the core will have uranium as well as thorium, so that further plutonium (particularly Pu-239) is produced as well as the U-233. Advanced heavy water reactors (AHWRs) burn the U-233 and this plutonium with thorium, getting about 75% of their power from the thorium. The used fuel will then be reprocessed to recover fissile materials for recycling.

This Indian programme has moved from aiming to be sustained simply with thorium to one 'driven' with the addition of further fissile plutonium from the FBR fleet, to give greater efficiency. In 2009, despite the relaxation of trade restrictions on uranium, India reaffirmed its intention to proceed with developing the thorium cycle.

A 500 MWe prototype FBR under construction in Kalpakkam is designed to produce plutonium to enable AHWRs to breed U-233 from thorium. India is focusing and prioritizing the construction and commissioning of its sodium-cooled fast reactor fleet in which it will breed the required plutonium. This will take another 15 â" 20 years and so it will still be some time before India is using thorium energy to a significant extent.

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468264)

Not sure where you're getting your bullets from bud.

After reading that entire linked page, nowhere did it say 'uranium is more affordable', and that the only concern with 'licensing' is that of 'licensing experience'. Of course very few people, or agencies, have 'licensing experience' with Thorium based reactors. There aren't that many in operation, much less the US.

And for point of fact, the first bullets on that page you linked.

1. Thorium is more abundant in nature than uranium.
  - Might presently be cheaper to mine and process uranium due to almost 70 years of infrastructure, but I highly doubt rapidly creating an equivalent thorium processing industry would be a hassle to undermine that.

2. It is fertile rather than fissile, and can be used in conjunction with fissile material as nuclear fuel.
- Dual purpose. We're getting 2 bangs for the buck here. Come on!

3. Thorium fuels can breed fissile uranium-233.
- Hey look at that. It undermines the need for further discovery and extraction of natural Uranium deposits. That is, unless we really need to make more nuclear weapons.

While 10 'nat-gas' plants are great for the today argument in 'this economy', whilst we apparently have 'nat-gas' reserves in the US for the next 200 years [citation needed] (with recent reserve discoveries..; yes it's online, go find it), we shouldn't be looking for the easy way out. That type of thinking and policy especially regarding long-term energy solutions, is what gets us in half the trouble we're in with every other industry in existence. Case in point, the OIL industry, corruption behavior, and control is a damn travesty and everyone who isn't a direct profiteer knows it. We need to be looking at stable long term energy solutions that aren't driven by International commodities markets.

What I find most interesting, after reading your linked page, is that China is planning on building a LFTR (Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor) hoping to claim 'IP rights' on the tech if all goes well. Wonder if the US will violate their IP if China gets it right. Oh, and India is operating a combined U/P/Thorium reactor presently, and plans to build a Thorium based AHWR (Advanced Heavy Water Reactor) with its vast 12% of estimated Thorium reserves world-wide. And from your link, the US has 15% of the reserves. Nothing to scoff at since domestic supply won't be an issue.

Seems the only real thing standing in the US' way is with this technology is some further chemistry analyses, expanded engineering designs, policy, education, and a will to invest in a stable long term future. Sure as hell isn't a scarcity problem.

For those not versed on Thorium LFTR, please read this [wikipedia.org] . Yes it's wiki page, however it's kinda hard to lie on a page completely based on physics and chemistry.

That ship sailed long ago (5, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467480)

if it doesn't want to be buying technology off China 10-20 years down the line

Almost all of the post 1970s technology in the AP1000 came directly from the nuclear division of Toshiba in Japan after merging with Westinghouse. It's technology bought off Japan instead of China but still looks like what you are worried about.
India is leading with Thorium at the moment and appear to have taken the US advances and added a couple of decades of development. Accelerated Thorium (mixed fuel such as expired weapons material or used uranium fuel rods in addition to thorium) holds paticular promise.

Re:That ship sailed long ago (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467966)

Westinghouse employee here. The AP1000 final design certification was approved in 2006 [nrc.gov] , and the design (including the predecessor AP600) began long before that (mid 90s).

Toshiba acquired Westinghouse in late 2006 [mediaroom.com] . Prior to that, Toshiba had partnered with our domestic rival, General Electric to build plants in Japan. We sell Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs), they sell Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs). They're pretty different.

Even now that they own us, there is very little technical collaboration between our two entities. If there's a technological connection between Westinghouse and Toshiba that predates any of that, I'm certainly not aware of it.

Re:That ship sailed long ago (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468152)

The AP1000 uses different technology than what Toshiba used. One of the reasons Toshiba looked to purchase Westinghouse was due to their newer technology. Westinghouse didn't use Toshiba's technology. It's the other way around.

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467520)

You should check out how many American engineers are involved in those Chinese nuclear plants.

Don't even get started on the difference between quality and quantity in patent applications.

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467706)

The NRC should approve some more thorium reactors if it doesn't want to be buying technology off China 10-20 years down the line.

And what's so bad about buying them from China? They'll be cheaper that way, and any catastrophic design flaws can be worked out on the other side of the globe rather than here...

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467992)

So.. the next movie will be called "The America Syndrome"?

Re:why isn't thorium being developed? (1)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468228)

Hmm. Thorium is intriguing, and quite possibly profitable. Perhaps more so than Uranium-based power plants.

However, there are two problems: 1.) a proper Thorium power-plant needs to be designed (correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the Thorium reactor most often cited is a Research reactor -> promising, but not commercial), 2.) we need to begin mining for Thorium, which I imagine requires locating various deposits, and extracting the ore in quantity (Uranium mining is rather developed, and a Google search for Thorium mining is coming up with nothing).

Only 1.154GW? (5, Funny)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467234)

Still 56MW short of doing anything useful...

Re:Only 1.154GW? (-1)

yodleboy (982200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467332)

and .056 GW from powering my flux capacitor. so close, yet so far.

Re:Only 1.154GW? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467376)

Yes, that was the joke.

Re:Only 1.154GW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467724)

not too bright are ya?

Re:Only 1.154GW? (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468190)

Great Scott!!

Could someone elaborate (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467292)

My google-fu is failing me here. I'm trying to determine if this is a lightwater reactor, some type of breeder, or some other configuration. If it's another lightwater I'm feeling a little "meh" about it. Despite being Gen III+ if it's lightwater we'll still have a ton of waste to take care of and I find that a little disheartening.

Re:Could someone elaborate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467406)

its an lwr
http://www.doosan.com/doosanheavybiz/en/services/power/power_plant/nuclear_reactor/performance.page

Re:Could someone elaborate (5, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467422)

It is not a new design, it's just the newest of the old designs (1980s via Toshiba in Japan) that haven't had a single reactor commissioned yet. The first AP1000 is due to start running in the next year or two. Things move slowly in civilian nuclear power so it's just about the first design to take the lessons from Chenobyl into consideration.
We wouldn't even have this level of civilian nuclear technology if it hadn't been bought off the Japanese. For some reason the US Nuclear Lobby mostly descended to the level of mere rent seekers in the 1980s so the only hope for advancement there is small startups based on military technology or input from overseas.

Re:Could someone elaborate (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467714)

"For some reason the US Nuclear Lobby mostly descended to the level of mere rent seekers in the 1980s"

There is no incentive to lobby for nuclear power. There are other ways to make money.

Re:Could someone elaborate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467758)

Yes, they could make electrical power inconceivably cheap, to the point where the other industries would be severely discomfited.

People may protest having to spend an hour charging their vehicle, but when it would cost nothing to do, they'd find ways to live with it.

Re:Could someone elaborate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468194)

Toshiba bought Westinghouse to get the technology. It isn't Japanese tech. It also isn't an old design. The AP1000 is the first of the 4th gen plants. Toshiba previously had a completely different type of reactor and bought Westinghouse from British Nuclear to get the newer tech. The first of the AP1000s will be active in China in the next couple of years.

Re:Could someone elaborate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468280)

I'm intrigued. What relevant lessons do you believe have been learnt from a graphite moderated BWR RBMK reactor and applied to any western PWR or BWR reactor design in any meaningful way?

Is it designed around passive nuclear safety? (1, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467340)

Passive design reactors are, by far, the safest type of reactor in the world (in fact, a meltdown is virtually impossible, because even catastrophic failure results in the core cooling down instead of heating up), and IMO, building *ANY* other type of reactor is just setting yourself up for a possible incident that's going to lead to eventual regret.

Re:Is it designed around passive nuclear safety? (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467394)

Sort of. Unlike Fukushima-style reactors, it doesn't require an external power source (like the DC generators that failed there) to cool the core following a shutdown, but it's not a purely passive system. Wikipedia's summary [wikipedia.org] is decent.

Re:Is it designed around passive nuclear safety? (2)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467550)

The total failure there is that 100% of generated power is shipped out, and not available for running local systems, not under normal operation, and not under emergencies. So loss of grid tie and generator failure will result in meltdown 100% of the time, even if the plant is operating normally otherwise.

Re:Is it designed around passive nuclear safety? (1)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468108)

That appears rather unlikely, seeing as the point at which they'd tap the grid to run their own systems would be the same point at which their turbines feed power onto it.

Now, pointing out that there shouldn't be a single switchboard in a place it can get flooded which will cut off all power everywhere if it gets flooded I can get behind. Also, I've got some notes from Hurricane Katrina here... "do not put emergency generators in basement"

Re:Is it designed around passive nuclear safety? (2)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467780)

Passive designs for *anything* tends to beat active[ly controlled] designs in fault tolerance. Which is why, even as a software engineer, I'm against putting batteries and chips in every gorram thing that does not need it.

The US should wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467582)

Seriously. The US has a lot of working infrastructure right now, it just has to be maintained. Other nations will build the standardized nuclear reactors first, and there will be bugs that have to be fixed.

Re:The US should wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38467886)

Other nations will build

Other nations are building AP1000 reactors today. China didn't wait for NRC blessing. They're building several, in fact.

The US is where Westinghouse executives keep their wives. China is the center of the industrial universe.

The new design isn't perfect, (1)

stewartm0205 (1443707) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467884)

but its better than the old designs. I would agree to a one to one replacement of the oldest plants in the most unsafe locations.

Bible Belt Prophesy (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467960)

YAY! Radioactive Christians glow in the dark :)
Or is this how the Zombie Apocalypse begins?

Westinghouse Sucks (2)

offrdbandit (1331649) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467980)

I hope this works better than the POS Westinghouse TV I bought last year...

Looks good except for the single license part (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38468022)

"Up to now reactors had to obtain a construction license and then undergo a long wait for an operating license, resulting in expensive delays in starting up reactors that had essentially been completed."

Isn't a "long wait for an operating license" necessary to make sure that A) what was built actually meets the design specs (what the article refers to), and B) that the design specs actually work properly even if it was built to specs? There are these things called "design flaws" that don't always become evident until the design is implemented and thoroughly tested in operation. For example, these planes [wikipedia.org] were also built to specs -- flawed specs that pushed the technology envelope in ways that weren't recognized until problems started happening.

Getting approval all in one shot is indeed faster, but I'm not sure it is a good idea, unless I'm misunderstanding the distinction between construction and operating licenses.

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