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Small, Modular Nuclear Reactors — the Future of Energy?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the until-everybody-gets-their-own-mr.-fusion-machine dept.

Power 314

cylonlover writes "This year is a historic one for nuclear power, with the first reactors winning U.S. government approval for construction since 1978. Some have seen the green lighting of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to be built in Georgia as the start of a revival of nuclear power in the West, but this may be a false dawn because of the problems besetting conventional reactors. It may be that when a new boom in nuclear power comes, it won't be led by giant gigawatt installations, but by batteries of small modular reactors (SMRs) with very different principles from those of previous generations. However, while it's a technology of great diversity and potential, many obstacles stand in its path. This article takes an in-depth look at the many forms of SMRs, their advantages, and the challenges they must overcome."

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314 comments

Distributed Grid (5, Insightful)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075077)

Distributed power is how our grid should be set up. Also, being self-contained, these would allow us to put them closer to the actual users and cut transmission losses and costs. Why the hell aren't we doing it yet?

Re:Distributed Grid (5, Insightful)

everett (154868) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075157)

nimby

Re:Distributed Grid (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075187)

You can put them in my backyard! I totally don't mind if it means I can get cheap power in exchange!!!

Re:Distributed Grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075453)

I'm renting an apartment, so I don't really have a back yard. However, there is a nice big cloeset I don't plan to use, put one there.

Do you REALLY think (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075795)

Do you REALLY think that YOU will get cheap power in exchange???

No, they'll charge you more for it.

Because they can, or because they have to.

But they'll charge you and it won't be cheap.

Re:Distributed Grid (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39076001)

This would add meltdown to the possible excuses of being late...

Re:Distributed Grid (3, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076351)

I am weird, but I'd actually want to have an electronuke in my backyard...well, perhaps not in my backyard, since it wouldn't fit there (and there is a steel hill behind said backyard), but somewhere close. Just for the fun of it. And for the open-to-public days. And because I'm a geek who actually knows some physics and I'm not scared by people who guide their life by newspaper horoscopes. The only sad thing is that the new reactors would probably be imported, not locally built. We've build something like thirty good, reliable power reactors in the past and had them exported to other countries.

Re:Distributed Grid (4, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075979)

Actually, I don't think NIMBY is a factor simply because no one has yet to produce such a device, propose to install it somewhere, and then generate the hypothetical NIBY reaction.

These devices face an intrenched anti-nuclear lobby that trades off of ignorance and fear. In other words, the nuke Haters. If ever such a device was ready to be deployed, the nuke Haters would be at every hearing, file endless lawsuits and finally, pull some kind of OWS garbage to delay the actual deployment.

In my opinion, any person who has been adequately informed of the device's safety measures and economic benefits would not be bothered by having one installed at their local power plant.

Re:Distributed Grid (3, Interesting)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076135)

Well I would take one in my back yard for free power. Anyhow, this may also be some type of way to dispose of high level waste. Generating electricity off of the decay might power something.

Re:Distributed Grid (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075343)

Yea, totally. I mean, I can't think of one single reason why there isn't a small nuclear reactor on every block in the country. Everyone wants to live next to a nuclear reactor, right? I assume that's the reason the government hasn't approved construction of one in 34 years.

Assumption is wrong. (2, Informative)

Medievalist (16032) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075983)

I assume that's the reason the government hasn't approved construction of one in 34 years.

Nope. Two mistakes!

First, no approvals have been made because no proposals have been up for approval. Nuclear power isn't viable without government subsidies and there weren't any between 1980 and 2005, because the government in that time frame actually attempted to reflect the will of the taxpayers (oh, for such innocent times to come again!).

Second, the government doesn't actually do the approvals - the NRC does. The nuclear industry is regulated by the nuclear industry, effectively. The government is a couple steps away hiding behind some smoke and mirrors.

Re:Distributed Grid (5, Insightful)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076007)

Fear, justified or not, was the hold-up. The original light-water reactors have some...issues. To run one, you need qualified staff (supposedly Three-Mile was hiring high-school students (or someone equally unqualified) to run their plant, at the time of the incident, I imagine as a cost-cutting measure), and you need to use quality building materials (do not scrimp, and I'd favor capital punishment for any contractor who is caught using lower-grade materials while pocketing the difference; you probably want some more than low-grade cement / concrete for the outer shell, and a substitution here by less scrupulous people is a serious concern). As for the components here, Chernobyl suffered from, among other things, an untested emergency cooling system component (I believe it was a turbine or pump) which failed at a critical moment (it was shipped, apparently without adequate testing, so quickly, so that the staff at the manufacturing plant could declare a 'Worker's Victory' and claim their Christmas bonuses).

As for these micro-reactors, they are potentially a good idea. Uranium is relatively inexpensive these days, and the primary target for an environmentally sound operation is the careful disposal of the waste. However, before they are put into use, I'd advocate bringing up the general population to some level of actual understanding regarding nuclear fission reactions -> there is a lot if disinformation out there regarding nuclear fission, and it's treated as magic by the populace. The only cure for ignorance, which breeds fear, is information. Show them how hard it is for something to undergo an uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction, show them how the danger of fallout and radioactivity is inversely related to time. Explain to them what a rem is, and how the sun gives you more radiation in a day than most people will experience, with the exception of medical imaging devices and flying on high-altitude airplanes, throughout their lives. And above all, no lies. No propaganda. Just the truth, detailing what we do know, what we do not know, and where any potential problems may be.

   

Re:Distributed Grid (4, Interesting)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076289)

Everyone wants to live next to a nuclear reactor, right? I assume that's the reason the government hasn't approved construction of one in 34 years.

I've had the huge reactor/small reactor argument with nuc-e's for years. A long time ago, it was apparent to me that the huge plants make for huge problems. Part of enhancing safety is getting smaller plants that don't stress materials as much. The old paradigm was an economy of scale thing, one huge reactor in one location. Unfortunately, it was like building a dragster. Dragsters don't get 100 thousand miles on them. Little Toyota pickup trucks get 300 thousand.

Small reactors operating conservatively will not only have less problems, but will actually strengthen our power grid, as they add redundancy.

Of course, we could just go back to the 1300's.

Re:Distributed Grid (4, Informative)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075383)

"...put them closer to the actual users and cut transmission losses and costs. Why the hell aren't we doing it yet?"

Exactly! Here in Europe we had a cold spell of a few weeks and the French, with their dozens of nuclear reactors had to import electricity from Germany, who shut theirs down after the Japanese 'incident'.
French officials were grinding their teeth, they had predicted the Germans the opposite would happen in winter.
The Germans have tons of solar roofs and while it was cold as hell, the sun shone quite nicely as well as the wind was blowing.

Re:Distributed Grid (5, Informative)

gadget junkie (618542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075569)

"...put them closer to the actual users and cut transmission losses and costs. Why the hell aren't we doing it yet?"

Exactly! Here in Europe we had a cold spell of a few weeks and the French, with their dozens of nuclear reactors had to import electricity from Germany, who shut theirs down after the Japanese 'incident'. French officials were grinding their teeth, they had predicted the Germans the opposite would happen in winter. The Germans have tons of solar roofs and while it was cold as hell, the sun shone quite nicely as well as the wind was blowing.

Sources? I freely admit that I do not speak german, but a friend of mine who does told me that Der Spiegel [spiegel.de] had this article stating that net net, solar production was negligible this winter."[..]The only thing that's missing at the moment is sunshine. For weeks now, the 1.1 million solar power systems in Germany have generated almost no electricity. The days are short, the weather is bad and the sky is overcast.[...]"

Re:Distributed Grid (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076313)

Why is the above flamebait? He is asking for sources or a link for the GP's posting. I think that is MORE than fair to ask for.

Re:Distributed Grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39076389)

Solar power in Germany...in the winter... right. Considering it's well above the latitude of the US' lower 48 states, the intensity of the sun is poor and the daylight hours are short. That's gotta be EXPENSIVE electricity.

Re:Distributed Grid (4, Interesting)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075669)

That's the story that's being told in the newspapers. The truth is rather different.

Peak demand for electricity is in the evening hours - about 6pm. But sunset is before that in winter and Germany certainly didn't export any electricity to France during that time of peak demand. Rather, the exports were at noon, when solar power has its peak production. And since the decentralized eletricity grid in Germany is incapable of transmitting solar power to other parts of Germany beyond narrow margins (power plants are built within 50-100km of demand, with limited transmission capacity beyond that), the only place for solar power in south-west Germany to go is France. (And southern Germany is the place where the rich house owners live who can afford to put solar cells on their roofs - paid for by all private customers, regardless of how poor they are.)

In the evening, none of this was there. France did make do with its own reserves and all German reserves had to be used for Germany. Had the environmentalists of the BUND had their way, there would have been no reserve capacity at all - all of which was in fact needed during peak demand, even reserves in Austria had to be used to meet the needs in Germany when temperatures dropped. All that without any major technical problems, no powerlines cut, not major faults in power stations.

But hey, physics is just a corporate conspiracy.

Who gives a fook about peak? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39076047)

The story is that France had to NET IMPORT energy. From GERMANY. Who have shut down their nuclear reactors (not all, granted) and increased massively their renewables.

And also note: nuclear power doesn't follow load unless you make it more expensive overall and put extra stress on the nuclear reactor (reducing its economic life). Hence peak demand for electricity ABOUT NUCLEAR FRANCE is *irrelevant*.

Re:Who gives a fook about peak? (3, Informative)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076267)

That's wrong. French nuclear power plants have load factors of only about 75% instead of the usual 90% precisely because they do follow loads. As for renewables: Germany has not increased its share of wind power generation. Installed capacity has increased by about 30% over the last 5 years, but amount of energy generated has not grown at all. That's because the electricity grid cannot transmit wind power from where it is generated (north and east) to where it is needed (south and west).

Biogas and bioethanol production did increase and means that Germany will import grain this year, because it is burning too much of its own production. Germany has been a grain exporter for over half a century. Biofuels and biogas are the main culprits for the vanishing supply of global grain markets and the hugely increased prices. (Some 85% - only about 15% can be attributed to speculation.) 10% of the world grain harvest in currently being burned for "sustainable energy", a receipt for sustained famines.

Nickel-Iron batteries are available again (4, Informative)

Medievalist (16032) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076159)

Local battery storage is cost-ineffective for most small solar producers/ homeowners. If you don't aggressively manage your batteries they don't last worth a damn, and even if you do daily hygrometer checks etc. and get every last minute of life out of them, battery banks are unfortunately quite costly. I have an antique lead-acid electric tractor so I speak from experience!

But nickel iron batteries [ironedison.com] are back on the market - and despite their poor energy density, high mass & volume, and high cost they are still a great alternative for homeowners because they are so extremely robust. Market capitalism to the rescue? It's certainly a different approach than nuclear socialism, which is the model France and Scandinavia are on (and which the USA is attempting to emulate, only with our own special sauce of corporate profiteering liberally slathered over the top).

Re:Distributed Grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39076365)

Yup, we have tons of solar roofs, producing almost nothing during winter: http://www.transparency.eex.com/de/daten_uebertragungsnetzbetreiber/stromerzeugung/tatsaechliche-produktion-solar
(you can access historical data there, very interesting)

Or here, current and planned production (hint: the yellowish bit on top is "solar"):
http://www.transparency.eex.com/de/daten_uebertragungsnetzbetreiber/

Wind production (I think we currently have 29MW peak installed) usually oscillates between >20MW and... you won't guess it: 3MW. Of course, we have days where wind power is down to 0.8 MW. That's about 1.2% of power consumption.

I recently read an article about calculated extra (!) CO2 production from windpower in the Netherlands. Reasons? Among others, conventional power sources have to be kept on-line all the time - *below* their ideal working point, so their efficiency drops.

A couple of days ago, Germany almost faced a blackout. Of course, the energy traders are the guilty ones. Never the myriad of market interventions that made their rent seeking behavior possible in the first place (it is suggested that they didn't want to buy extra power at 380 EUR/MWh - roughly 6 times the average price).

Re:Distributed Grid (5, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075421)

Because we as Americans do not understand what a trade off means.

We want clean energy but we don't want power facilities near our homes. Nuclear is clean however it needs to be done right and there are too many complaining about the scary Nuclear and are unfortunally happy when they see a problem with a facility because it shows they are right.
Except a more responsible approach would be to support nuclear energy understand that it will be a long term investment and make sure it is done right and any mistakes will need to be fixed the right way before damage comes along, can solve many of our big pressing problems and only create smaller manageable problems.

Re:Distributed Grid (4, Interesting)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075513)

Because it is horribly economical.

With the exception of solar cells every major energy source used for electricity generation benefits greatly from economies of scale. As an example, the cost of building wind-turbines scale approximately linearly with their size (up to a point ), but the power generated increases as the square of the turbine radius, and with the third power of wind speed. As a consequence you want to build them big, you want to build them where wind conditions are the best, and you want to make them tall. The most economical wind turbines are quite large, and those little toys you see people put on their roof is a complete joke.

For nuclear power the maximum possible output of the reactor is largely dependent on the capacity of the cooling and safety systems. Since fuel costs are only a small part of the electricity cost, most of the cost is construction and operation of the plant. Since cooling capacity is related to volume ( how much coolant passes through the pipes ) it scales rapidly with reactor size, making larger reactors more economical ( the cooling capacity increases more rapidly with size than does material costs ). The limit in size is mostly determined by what can safely be built, transported and operated.

Now, there is one way distributed generation could become economical. If many small power generators could be mass produced, then one could take advantage of economies of volume. This works well for things where energy production scales at about the same rate as material costs. Solar cells would be a good example. The energy they produce is proportional to the surface area of the cells, and the cost of the cells is also proportional to the area. Thus if mass-production allows for reduced manufacturing costs per area of cell, it helps the economics.

I still think solar power would be more economical built to scale however, because the amount of electronics needed match the energy produced to the grid would then be much smaller per area of cells. Furthermore, roof-top solar cells are frequently poorly aligned and maintained. A larger facility could afford tracking devices and professional cleaning and maintenance, which increases the efficiency dramatically.

Re:Distributed Grid (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075533)

"Uneconomical"

Siiiigh.

Re:Distributed Grid (5, Interesting)

dj245 (732906) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075747)

I think you are ignoring the distribution costs, which are not trivial. The distribution fee is a significant part of my utility bill. It means that Solar or a small wind turbine doesn't have to be compeditive with the efficiency and cost of retail electricity at all. It could be miserably inefficient actually. But if the generation cost is cheaper than the utility's generation+distribution fees, then it may be financially viable.

Re:Distributed Grid (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076041)

What part of Small and Modular did you not understand?

The whole point of small and modular is to be able to manufacture these things in a plant and ship them to a location.

Re:Distributed Grid (1)

Tangential (266113) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075597)

Distributed power is how our grid should be set up. Also, being self-contained, these would allow us to put them closer to the actual users and cut transmission losses and costs. Why the hell aren't we doing it yet?

Exactly!

The fragility of our so-called "smart grid" terrifies me. Between solar events, terrorism, carelessness and stupidity it is bound to do some really bad things that impact our entire nation.

Distributed power like this (really a mix of this and NG CHP ) makes so much sense that there is almost no chance of our leadership in the U.S. ever allowing it to happen.

Re:Distributed Grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075707)

Especially considering ~65% of our electrical energy is wasted in transmission.

Mr. Fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075093)

Mr. Fusion

Ford Nucleon? (1, Funny)

owenferguson (521762) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075095)

Still not good enough. Where's my nuclear powered car already, damnit!

Nuclear power is corporate welfare (2, Insightful)

Medievalist (16032) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075099)

There are no economically viable nuclear plants without heavy taxpayer subsidies.

The original post implies that nuclear plants have been turned down for decades and now suddenly they aren't. This is bullshit.

Corporations are lining up for the gravy train of taxpayer dollars provided by the Cheney energy policy of 2005. Per-kilowatt subsidies, construction subsidies, reauthorization and extension of the Price-Anderson Act (which makes taxpayers liable for disasters), all negotiated in secret because taxpayers don't want their money spent that way.

Nuclear power is no different than TARP. It's corrupt politicians giving away taxpayer money to their rich cronies. People don't want it, don't need it, and it's not competitive with any other source of power economically.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075119)

Not exactly.
Toshiba [wikipedia.org] makes them.

Your link contradicts your post. (3, Informative)

Medievalist (16032) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076385)

The link you provided says the Toshiba design has not yet been built or approved - thus there are none in commercial production, right?

I said there are no commercial nuclear reactors that are not subsidized by taxpayer dollars. In the USA, sbusidies include the Price-Anderson act (which provides subsidized insurance) and the Cheney energy policy of 2005 (which provides per-kilowatt incentives and removes requirements for set-aside of decommissioning costs). Naturally, I got modded troll for speaking independently verifiable truths about a controversial topic.

Maybe it would be great if commercial nuclear fission were economically viable in the future, as your link suggests might be the case with Toshiba's product, but I'm talking about now.

Thanks for the link, though - it was very interesting!

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075295)

Hmm a vague post that makes broad conclusions, hints at government/industry conspiracies but provide no facts or empirical data to back up its FUD.

Clearly you are a paid greenpeace shill.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (4, Informative)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075529)

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (2)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076105)

The article doesn't mention that while nuclear has huge subsidies, so do the other methods of producing energy-- ALL OF THEM. In fact, the biggest subsidies go to-- you guessed it-- the green technologies. Clearly, wind is the closest to being a viable replacement to the others (once we settle on a solid means of handling base-load), but solar is phenomenally expensive even with its huge subsidies.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076339)

I didn't guess it - fossil fuels actually get the biggest subsidies.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076403)

In fact, the biggest subsidies go to-- you guessed it-- the green technologies.

That is just plain false. The truth is, that ALL of AE, gets less than EACH of Nuke, Coal, or Oil/Natural gas. In fact, it gets a real fraction of the total $. Now, in terms of $ / Joules, then yes, AE gets more. Today. HOWEVER, the idea was to stimulate the industry to grow local and then stop it. Two problems with that:
1) the republicans insisted that the same subsidies go to all products esp. Chinese products, even though China does not reciprocate. As such, Chinese products are heavily subsidized by both American and Chinese gov. in terms of Joules while the Chinese also block any western AE products from their shores.
2) As long as we continue to subsidize the other energies while many ignore those, AE will continue to be considered expensive.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075311)

"The original post implies that nuclear plants have been turned down for decades and now suddenly they aren't. This is bullshit."

This is slashdot ideology. Ideology doesn't have to have any basis in reality, you just need enough "libertarians" shouting about something angrily enough and long enough to establish it as a fact.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075325)

The reason nuclear power is so expensive is because of a massive amount of regulatory oversight any nuclear plant must go through. Then there's the decades long legal battles that the NIMBY's will kick off whenever anyone even hints at building a new power station anywhere. Power companies have to spent billions before they can even break ground on a new plant.

Once you subtract all the legal costs at the start, the actual construction and running of a a typical plant during it's 30 year life cycle is economically viable.

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075987)

Once you subtract all the legal costs at the start, the actual construction and running of a a typical plant during it's 30 year life cycle is economically viable.

So, if the government would just pass a law to 'shove it down the throats' of some local population, nuclear energy is like totally viable. Is that the latest libertarian viewpoint?

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075755)

can you cite sources for this argument? I want to believe it, but without any sources it is not creditable. (please no Wikipedia links) something like actual financial reports showing this, and don't tell me to Google it, its not my job to back up your argument

Re:Nuclear power is corporate welfare (2)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076103)

Lets compare: Greenpeace - not known for being either honest or supporters of nuclear power - claims that German nuclear power received some 350bn Euro of subsidies. But this includes research for nuclear fusion, particle accelerators, "research" reactors that provide hospitals with all the isotopes needed for medical diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other illnesses. Basically anything with "atoms in it". Nuclear power provided over 20% of electricity for over 30 years - about as much as hard coal used to. This figure (for coal) will rise. [wikipedia.org]

Compare that with some 150bn euro of subsidies (so far) in legal obligations to be received over the next 20 years for solar power, providing about 3% of electricity on average, though only when the sun is shining. Unlike other people I do not subtract a market price of 8ct per kWh for the electricity generated in that time - for the simple reason that Greenpeace doesn't do that in its own figures either.

What about Thorium (4, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075105)

Out of curiosity, what would be the regulatory hurdles if someone wanted to set up a thorium reactor for power generation? Since thorium can't make bombs, I can see how it would be easier. Since it hasn't been done in the US before I can see how it would be harder. Come to think of it, has anyone actually demonstrated thorium-based electrical power generation?

Re:What about Thorium (5, Informative)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075203)

No sure if anyone has, but India is aggressively pursuing it [guardian.co.uk] .

Re:What about Thorium (5, Informative)

gewalker (57809) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075399)

The best demonstration of Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR) was by ORNL in the 60's. They had a prototype molten salt reactor using U-233. This is the fissile component of the Th-232/U-233 fuel cycle. The breeding of TH-232 into U-233 was simply omitted as unneeded complication for this prototype. This was intended to prove / debug the molten salt reactor, it was very successful in key ways.

India has been working on solid fuel thorium reactors, this is an attempt to re-use our experience with U-235 reactors technologies. It is doubtful that this would ever be competitive with a clean LFTR design.

In the US, the regulatory hurdles for LFTR are very high, unless you bypass them by selling your design to the military, which has the option to bypass these regs. This is why Flibe Energy [flibe-energy.com] is planning to sell their LFTR to the military first. It is a lot easier to change the regulatory environment if there is clearly functional and safe product being used by the military.

Re:What about Thorium (1)

otis wildflower (4889) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076153)

Too bad research, development, licensing and implementation aren't states-rights issues, at least for non-weaponizable processes. For example, rebuilding the ORNL reactor from 1960s plans in, say, Texas, should be doable as long as there's no crossing of state lines.. The beauty of statism in effect!!

Re:What about Thorium (1)

FirstOne (193462) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076195)

Their was NO THORIUM in that tiny prototype Pu/U fueled, air cooled 7.4 MWth, molten salt reactor [wikipedia.org] .

To date, any experiments with thorium breeding has been in conventional thermal reactors were a small portion(less than 5%) of the U-238 was replaced with Th-232. Thus the entire concept of the LFTR is an untested/unworkable pipe dream.

Re:What about Thorium (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076391)

How do you know its unworkable?

Re:What about Thorium (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075809)

Th-232/U-233 was investigated as a nuclear fuel back in the 60s because there was widespread fear that uranium would prove to be scarce and prohibitively costly. That didn't turn out to be the case -- uranium is cheap (relative to the costs of the plant) and abundant. Light-water reactors fueled by low-enriched uranium oxide fuel pellets are well understood by utilities and regulators. Utilities are notoriously conservative and risk averse, so "amazing new technology" makes them nervous.

Molten salt reactors are essentially unproven in large scale testing. Yes, I am very much aware of the Air Force's experiments at Oak Ridge. But the fact remains that nobody has built a large one, and nobody has run one for long periods of time. On-line reprocessing is a clever idea that has never been demonstrated in a reactor. And U-233 most certainly can be used to make a weapon... so the proliferation resistance argument is a bit overblown.

Solid thorium oxide fuels were used at the Ft. Saint Vrain reactor in Colorado in a gas-cooled reactor. That's another promising technology that isn't going anywhere because the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has basically said "we know how to license and regulate LWRs. We don't have the manpower or resources necessary to do the same for a host of advanced concepts." And the utilities have basically said "we know how to run LWRs with better than 90% capacity factors. We're skeptical that you can do the same with an advanced non-LWR."

So yeah, we're gonna build Voglte-3 and 4 (AP1000 PWRs). We're gonna build Summer-3 and 4 (AP1000s again). Beyond that, the financing is the bottleneck. Until the economy picks back up, no utility is going to try to finance the overnight cost of a large-scale reactor. The SMRs that will be licensed in the next decade are all small PWRs: NuScale, mPower, Westinghouse SMR. GE isn't pushing PRISM (a sodium cooled fast reactor) in the US. Hyperion Power Generation is a joke with no realistic licensing strategy. The Traveling Wave Reactor is a pipe dream due to fuel cladding limits. It'll be advanced LWRs for the next two to three decades.

No Need See Here (1)

bridgey655 (800826) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075107)

The future power plant is no power plant. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ghhgUmGBjX8 [youtube.com] (TEDx Talk). This is a must see.

Re:No Need See Here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075373)

TED got trolled
The stuff he talks about is almost scifi as of now
Once it becomes practical, it can be considered, but not in the current world

Desert Island.... (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075111)

Give me one of these and a desert island... run a desalination plant and turn it into a little paradise.

Hurricane (2)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075255)

Until the first hurricane blows through and puts your island paradise under 20 feet of water...

Re:Hurricane (2)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075425)

Until the first hurricane blows through and puts your island paradise under 20 feet of water...

As long as the desert island isn't just a sand-pile, anchor the nuke securely and pour enough concrete so it doesn't care if it gets pounded by waves for a few hours.

Cleanup and rebuilding after the hurricane will be considerably easier with abundant electrical energy available.

Re:Desert Island.... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075437)

I'll open a bank on one and beat you to it.

Don't think so (2, Interesting)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075117)

The future of energy is using less energy :
Few or no planes, smaller cars, local food, small houses, better insulation, less AC, less imported gadgets...
Mod me down all you want, but the future of energy surely isn't "business as usual"+some nukes in the basement.

Re:Don't think so (4, Insightful)

dietdew7 (1171613) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075317)

The good old days when we used to plow our fields with pointy sticks.

Re:Don't think so (2)

the_fat_kid (1094399) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076157)

you lucky buggers!
you had pointy sticks?
we had to drag a large rock behind us.
uphill.
both ways.

Re:Don't think so (3, Funny)

gadget junkie (618542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075607)

The future of energy is using less energy :

we already do this, witness the size and capacity of the batteries in mobile phones, etc.

Re:Don't think so (1)

gewalker (57809) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075647)

Be sure to tell that to the guy starving in Darfur. If we could get the benefits of USA level energy consumption world-wide without destroying our environment, you would have to be evil to deny it to the rest of the world. If your solution to make western civilation use energy at 10% of current level, be prepared for a major die-off. I consider this to be evil in the extreme.

I am all for energy conservation, I am also for energy abundance.

Re:Don't think so (1)

twistedsymphony (956982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075827)

Historically speaking end users will do whatever is most convenient, even in the face of added cost or lower quality. I can certainly see us finding more efficient methods of using less energy to do what we do today, such as better insulation, or more energy efficient products. But I think the only way you'd going to get people support things like "few or no planes, smaller cars, less ac, etc." would be for planes, big cars and AC to be priced so totally out of reach of end users that they can't afford them even if they wanted to, or some form of energy regulation that forces them to give up those things.

I don't see the market ever buying into that future of their own free will, things would have to get really REALLY bad before that happens. If you want the market to support something, you have to make it the most convenient option. iPods became more popular than CDs even though the quality is lower, and you have fewer ownership rights to your music simply because it's a more convenient option. Laptops became more popular than desktops, and smartphones became more popular than laptops even though the functionality is lower and the cost is higher, simply because it's more convenient. In both those instances the more convenient option also ended up being the option that consumes less energy, but I doubt hardly anyone made those choices for energy reasons.

Re:Don't think so (1)

squizzar (1031726) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075849)

Ok, so let's drop our energy levels to what, a half? A quarter? A tenth? Now multiply that back up by the number of people in the world who currently use a tiny fraction of the power we do in the West, but make up a huge proportion of the world's population. Unless you are going to argue that the majority of people should be denied the quality of life granted by even a fraction of the energy used by the average westerner you still have a huge problem with massively increasing demand.

If we can develop safe, economical Nuclear power, then why shouldn't we use it? I firmly believe that we already have the technology to do just that, and certainly don't believe that humanity as a whole is going to do anything but demand significantly more power as time goes on.

Re:Don't think so (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076091)

Nah. Energy efficiency is important but really there's no shortage of energy all around us. The sunlight falling on a fiftieth of the Sahara could supply all the world's energy needs. We're in a transitional period now, moving from less efficient fossil fuels to just pulling energy out of the air, but our great grandchildren will look back at the oil, gas and coal age in the same way we look back on the steam age.

Re:Don't think so (1)

otis wildflower (4889) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076225)

There's no amount of conservation that will offset 3+ billion people living an adequately-powered lifestyle. And it is immoral to ask them to do so. LFTRs have the potential of generating all the power everyone on Earth will ever need for hundreds of years using stuff that's currently considered toxic waste, along with medically and industrially useful fission products, and generate far less waste of far shorter half-lives. Plus, LFTRs are inherently fail-safe and self-regulatory. The only haters are folks ignorant of the facts, religious Greentards, or self-interested rent-seekers in the legacy uranium fission industrial complex.

I won't mod you down, I'll just say you're delusional if you think any democracy or republic will accept a lower-quality lifestyle voluntarily.

Transmutation and segregation (1)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075129)

The next reactors to be built widely will probably those that burn nuclear waste. That is, "partitioning and transmutation" [ornl.gov] . It seems (although it doesn't say in that article) that you can burn nuclear waste in a way that produces excess energy. Since you need an accelerator to keep the reaction going, you have automatic shutdown in case of loss of mains power.

Both have their place (2)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075153)

Both large and small reactors have their uses, but AFAIK the small ones are likely to be less efficient and produce more waste* per kWh. I applaud the renaissance of 'modern' reactor construction to help wean us off the petro-teat, but am sorely disappointed that we're still burning less than 1% of the available energy in our current nuclear fuel and calling the other 99% 'waste'. Integral [nationalcenter.org] fast reactors [wikipedia.org] should be a part of (if not the future of) the world's energy production.

*Not necessarily waste from the fuel itself, but more incidental waste like cladding storage containers, contaminated clothing, etc.

Efficiency (1)

joelwhitehouse (2571813) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075981)

Energy differential is critical for efficiency, and smaller reactors may be far less efficient than large ones. We can heat water from room temperature into steam -- a difference of 100-200 degrees F -- and it will run a heat engine. However, reduce the difference in temperature to 50 degrees -- like you see between groundwater and an hot summer day in the US, and the heat engine won't run. We don't exploit geo-thermal for electricity generation because it's so inefficient that it's a net energy loss. The same applies for SMRs versus gigawatt generators, especially if the SMRs are running significantly cooler. A few gigawatt generators will have transmission line losses. But a large number for SMRs may be dramatically less efficient. Does anyone have numbers on this?

We need this "First Solution^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^hPost" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075155)

to our energy needs

Waste Product? (2)

gti_guy (875684) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075167)

The worst possible pollutant imaginable with no way to dispose of it. *That's* very "green".

Re:Waste Product? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076141)

I agree. The sulfur hexafluoride, cadmium, and selenium in solar panels are very nasty.

Re:Waste Product? (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076407)

It can be recycled.

Safety? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075177)

Even without a study I'd say that stuff is safe in theory but often not in practice...

oh dear (5, Funny)

lampsie (830980) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075207)

From the summary: "...It may be that when a new boom in nuclear power comes..."

...that's unfortunate phrasing.

Re:oh dear (1)

Burdell (228580) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075415)

No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow.

Re:oh dear (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075685)

Ah yes Ivanova in Babylon 5

Perhaps not the best choice of words (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075215)

"It may be that when a new boom in nuclear power comes"

Given Joe Public's irrational fear of a nuclear explosion, "boom" may not be the best word to use...

My future of energy is different (4, Insightful)

aglider (2435074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075221)

Use less energy and use it more efficiently.
Which unluckily is not what energy producers want.

Re:My future of energy is different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075469)

You should have used your energy more efficiently and not posted this. Won't you think of the electrons?

Re:My future of energy is different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075535)

Yes, we should all conserve more. But that's only part of the solution.
We have to change and improve the generation of electricity too.

Agreed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075861)

But decentralization is going to be the real game-changer. The mark of a new era. One day there will be no "grid" and no "service". All energy will be produced locally (or shipped in some form we can't even imagine today). That's a little difficult for most slashdotters to grasp, and it probably won't happen in our lifetimes, but it will happen. It has to. Centralized energy is wasteful, expensive, dangerous, and (most importantly) politically exploitable (as any instance of centralization). Decentralized energy will eliminate all of those risks and make life easier and safer in so many ways.

Independence and decentralization cannot be exploited nearly as much as dependence and centralization, and that is preciesely why government continually pushes for dependence and centralization.

Re:My future of energy is different (2)

squizzar (1031726) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075933)

That's your future of energy. How about the many billions in this world who still use a tiny percentage of the energy you do, even after your proposed savings. Would you deny them the better life that using a fraction of the energy you use would give them? I certainly wouldn't, and therein lies the problem: despite all the savings we energy-gluttonous westerners could make, the rest of the world wants, needs, and has as much right as us to have enough energy to allow them a decent life. To think that we can reduce humanity's desire for energy to less than what it is currently is daft. Nothing short of enormously reducing population would achieve this, and don't you think the first ones to go should be those who consume disproportionately vast amounts of energy?

Re:My future of energy is different (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076353)

Actually, they do want you to use less energy. The energy producer's short-term outlook is difficult, as they shut down old plants where mandated by new EPA rules and look to build very expensive, highly efficient and clean(-er) burning plants to replace those. In he near-term there is an assumption that short falls in capacity will be made up for through increasing energy efficiency at the energy consumer.

NIMBY=no power? (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075223)

So, the NIMBY guys get to pay exorbitant power charges by buying excess power from neighbours, or get no electricity?
Could be a good idea

This was already tried (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075447)

And it was posted on here.

A company had a small nuclear reactor, self-contained, the idea was pretty damn solid. Enough to power small towns.

What happened?

NRC killed it.
Go figure.

and then the terrorists win (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075473)

all one has to do now is target loads a small sites at once which is far easier then one uber secure location....

YUP i see this going no where goood in the end.
THIS message brought to you by the paranoid of the usa a proud tradition since richard nixon

Bad idea (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075541)

Too many little nukes around to regulate.

One of the selling point of electric cars is that they concentrate their pollution at a few large point sources. Sure, today they belch out coal byproducts. But as technology advances, we can monitor and retrofit a few large plants more quickly than having to hunt down the owner of every old beater car. These modular nukes are the logical equivalent of a fleet of cars. Eventually, they'll descend into beaterhood.

Re:Bad idea (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39076151)

Bzzt. Wrong. Do some math.

They are talking about 'mini nukes" that power approximately 50,000 homes each. So somewhere around 3000 of these would power 150 million homes, and thus most or all of our foreseeable electric demand. You're telling me its impossible to keep tabs on 3000 mini nukes??? FTA they would likely be installed in "batteries" of a few, meaning there'd probably be more like 1000 or so nuke sites. So hire 100 inspectors and you'd have each one responsible for 10 sites. They'd be able to be onsite at each site for 4-5 weeks per year. Which is way more probably than they spend at current power plants.

Sorry dude, epic math fail.
 

Almost anything that decentralizes electricity (1)

Coreigh (185150) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075653)

For residential I like solar produced hydrogen powered mini-turbines. Individual or neighborhood sized units.

Alas I am not a physicist or an engineer.

What about thorium or breeder reactors? (1)

master_p (608214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075675)

The article mentions the word 'thorium', but it doesn't specifically mention thorium or breeder reactors.

Isn't thorium reactors considered for the future? are the development issues with it so great that it has been abandoned?

MIT's molten salt reactor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39075751)

There doesn't seem to be a lot of information about this design yet but this TED talk makes the design look very promising.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAFWeIp8JT0

Remember the fudge about "money" (3, Informative)

gadget junkie (618542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075757)

one of the things that irks me about the nuke debate is how much it hinges on how much it costs to build a nuclear plant, while for example germany spends 8 billion euros a year [spiegel.de] in direct moneys to solar producers, and god knows how much it spent on subsidizing the panel build, added infrastructure, elastic supply to get in when solar output falls, etc.
All of this money, and I quote, "Solar energy has gone from being the great white hope, to an impediment, to a reliable energy supply. Solar farm operators and homeowners with solar panels on their roofs collected more than €8 billion ($10.2 billion) in subsidies in 2011, but the electricity they generated made up only about 3 percent of the total power supply, and that at unpredictable times." To summarize: only in transfers, NOT in total subsidy costs, Germans each years are paying themselves, meaning some taxpayers are paying other taxpayers through electricity bills, the amount of money needed to build one of finland's new reactor from scratch, after cost overruns, and a simple neat multiplication by 2 [nytimes.com] . Ain't life splendid?

If gov thinks sailboats are a terrorist threat... (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39075999)

If the federal government now considers personal sailboats parked a mile offshore an untenable threat to national security (
e.g., http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-g8-nato-boats-harbor-20120217,0,3473423.story [chicagotribune.com] ) ...what do you think the chances are that they would permit people to have their own nuclear reactor?

True distributed Grid (4, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076275)

In a way, America currently has a distributed grid. We have LOADS of small 200 MW coal systems and a number of 400-600 MW nuke system all over the USA. In fact, most cities have at least one small coal type system somewhere close to its core (originally on the edge, but then built up around it).
A number of these will closed over the next 10-20 years and larger centralized coal, natural gas, and occasionally nuke power plants will replace these. The reason is because these old powerplants are from the 40s(coal) or from the 60s (nukes). Now, note that each and every single one of these locations are IDEAL. All of them have massive connections to the LOCAL grid. Likewise, they have cooling in place. Some have decent generators (though most do not). ALL of them have a lot of land around them esp. the nukes. So, what are these ideal for?

The nukes sites have stored 'waste' fuel. Instead of shutting these down, tearing down everything and then moving the waste to WIPP, it would actually be better to build a number of GE PRISM reactors on-site while JUST the old reactors are dismantled and shipped out. GE PRISM are the IFR reactors that use 'waste fuel'. Basically, other than part of their initial load of fuel, there would be no more shipping of fuel to the site for the next 100 years. Instead, you would add to these reactors with the local 'waste' fuel. Once done, that 'waste fuel' would be a fraction of the size and it would be dangerous for less than 200 years.

As to the coal facilities, these would also be useful. Either put in a thorium reactor, similar to Ft. St. Vrain's old generator, OR, consider putting in thermal storage. Now I have seen a number of comments against thermal storage backed up by natural gas boiler. It is correctly pointed out that you lose 50% of the efficiency. HOWEVER, this is a cheap cheap way to take older equipment, keep it running for another 30 years, while using it to provide a buffer for AE AND regular power. In addition, the energy that would be stored would be from AE that would normally be discard. For wind generators, they simply feather the blades rather than run them 100%. For Solar, they lose a large part just in resistance in the lines as it takes a bit of time for electric loads to come and go. IOW, such a thermal system would allow a company to build larger base-load plants while dumping all of the on-demand systems (read expensive to run). How to do the thermal system? Simple approach is just use silos of salts and heat it up via direct heating or even microwave. There are other more efficient systems being developed, but this would be inexpensive to install. In addition, other than waste heat, most of the pollution would be gone (save when you need to run natural gas to add electricity due to high loads for say AC or other site outages). As electric cars or other energy storage systems become available, these can be phased out.

Regardless, it would be criminal to lose this cheap opportunity to re-develop our energy matrix.

Hope I'm not there! (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076309)

It may be that when a new boom in nuclear power comes,

Hope I'm far away when that happens.

Murphy's Law still holds (1)

InterGuru (50986) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076323)

The BP oil spill and Fukashima again prove that you can't repeal Murphy's Law. Nothing about these small reactors changes this.

Any progress in nuclear power (1)

magisterx (865326) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076335)

I think any progress in nuclear power is probably a good thing for the environment and economy.

Apparently some are *really* tiny (1)

cruff (171569) | more than 2 years ago | (#39076337)

One of the diagrams in the article at gizmag shows a 30 mVA transformer to handle the output of the module. I guess you could light a few LEDs with that one!
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