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Uranium Pebbles May Light the Way

simoniker posted more than 10 years ago | from the glowing-green-goodness dept.

Science 629

kristy_christie writes "According to Wired News, South Africa's state-run utility giant Eskom and its international partners want to build the world's first commercial 'pebble bed' reactor, which, instead of using fuel rods, 'is packed with tennis ball-size graphite "pebbles," each containing thousands of tiny uranium dioxide particles'. To developers, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor promises a rebirth of nuclear energy. Proponents insist that the reactor's design features make it 'meltdown-proof' and 'walk-away safe'."

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629 comments

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wow (-1, Redundant)

darkani (106122) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518406)

WOW!!!!!11

Pebbles (-1, Offtopic)

soloport (312487) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518412)

What would Fred and Willma think?

Re:Pebbles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518474)

Would that be Fruity or Coco? The coco were the best.

Re:Pebbles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518564)

But your honor, I only hit him in the face with a pebble. I don't know what he's whining about.

Since when shit the size of a tennis ball is considered a pebble.

Get the straight facts about marijuana (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518565)

Marijuana

Usually smoked as a cigarette or joint, or in a pipe or bong, marijuana has appeared in "blunts" in recent years. These are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and re-filled with marijuana, sometimes in combination with another drug, such as crack. Some users also mix marijuana into foods or use it to brew tea.

The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Short-term effects of marijuana use include problems with memory and learning; distorted perception; difficulty in thinking and problem-solving; loss of coordination; and increased heart rate, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Health Hazards

Effects of Marijuana on the Brain. Researchers have found that THC changes the way in which sensory information gets into and is acted on by the hippocampus. This is a component of the brain's limbic system that is crucial for learning, memory, and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivations. Investigations have shown that THC suppresses neurons in the information-processing system of the hippocampus. In addition, researchers have discovered that learned behaviors, which depend on the hippocampus, also deteriorate.

Effects on the Lungs.

Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have. These individuals may have daily cough and phlegm, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and more frequent chest colds. Continuing to smoke marijuana can lead to abnormal functioning of lung tissue injured or destroyed by marijuana smoke.

Regardless of the THC content, the amount of tar inhaled by marijuana smokers and the level of carbon monoxide absorbed are three to five times greater than among tobacco smokers. This may be due to marijuana users inhaling more deeply and holding the smoke in the lungs.

Effects of Marijuana Use during Pregnancy.

Research has shown that babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness, and a high-pitched cry, which may indicate problems with neurological development. During infancy and preschool years, marijuana-exposed children have been observed to have more behavioral problems and to perform tasks of visual perception, language comprehension, sustained attention, and memory more poorly than nonexposed children do. In school, these children are more likely to exhibit deficits in decision-making skills, memory, and the ability to remain attentive.

Effects of Heavy Marijuana

Use on Learning and Social Behavior. A study of college students has shown that critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning are impaired among people who use marijuana heavily, even after discontinuing its use for at least 24 hours. Researchers compared 65 "heavy users," who had smoked marijuana a median of 29 of the past 30 days, and 64 "light users," who had smoked a median of 1 of the past 30 days. After a closely monitored 19- to 24-hour period of abstinence from marijuana and other illicit drugs and alcohol, the undergraduates were given several standard tests measuring aspects of attention, memory, and learning. Compared to the light users, heavy marijuana users made more errors and had more difficulty sustaining attention, shifting attention to meet the demands of changes in the environment, and in registering, processing, and using information. The findings suggest that the greater impairment among heavy users is likely due to an alteration of brain activity produced by marijuana.

Longitudinal research on marijuana use among young people below college age indicates those who used have lower achievement than the non-users, more acceptance of deviant behavior, more delinquent behavior and aggression, greater rebelliousness, poorer relationships with parents, and more associations with delinquent and drug-using friends.

Sweet (5, Insightful)

tehdely (690619) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518408)

I applaud this kind of work.

Nuclear Power, despite the cries of environmentalists, is possibly the cleanest mass power source. On a scale of power generated per ton of input material it is incredibly efficient (bested only by those power sources which require no nonrenewable input, like wind/tidal/etc.), generates no effluent or air pollution, and needs only a competent staff (and, unfortunately, security), to stay running properly.

Nuclear plants may be prohibitively expensive to build these days, but if "pebble bed" reactors cost significantly less, then they may lead the way back towards what I view as our ideal energy source.

It's time to give nuclear a second chance.

I predict.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518417)

a flame war.

Re:I predict.... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518461)

While the density of the uranium in the pellets would not be high enough to produce the temperatures needed to ignite the graphite or cause a meltdown, the density of the craniums of slashdotters is close to infinite...

Re:Sweet (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518418)

Nuclear power is definitely efficient. Nuclear waste, on the other hand, is not clean, and that's the problem environmentalists have with fission power.

Re:Sweet (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518448)

However, coal power plants release more radioactive waste into the enviroment than nuclear power plants and still provide most of the power in the US.

There's big money in keeping things the way they are. Nuclear power is so heavily regulated that it is too expensive. Thats the only reason we don't have more of it. If the other types of plants were regulated just as strictly we'd switch over as quickly as we could build them.

Re:Sweet (5, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518492)

the problem that most people have with nuclear power is tchernobyl(or similar catastrophy that would release radioactivity to a wide area).

'most people' don't know even the basics of how the energy is generated, all they know is that the place can explode and then there's going to be 3eyed fishes. the problem is that even if it's a 'failsafe'(won't explode) plant there's going to be hell explaining it to the people who are against nuclear power for mainly emonational reasons(and assume that people defend nuclear power for similar reasons because they hate the environment or something silly like that, or just for pure greed).

it's like that old joke... "what we need nuclear power for? i only need electricity"(dunno how the variation goes in english actually, but you get the idea).

around here there's a need for another reactor(industry needs the juice) but there's quite many people who are against it, yet they don't complain when we need to buy the same amount of electricity from russia(that is generated by nuclear reactor there, just over the border, at lower safety standards than what would be in place if the reactor were on our side of the border).

Re:Sweet (-1)

larien (5608) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518589)

It's spelled "Chernobyl".

Most people when they think of nuclear power worry about leaks, failures and "3 eyed fish" etc. However, those problems are fairly rare, but the issues regarding long-term nuclear waste storage are, in my opinion, more important. We're dealing with stuff that will be dangerous 100,000 years down the line.

Re:Sweet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518615)

It's spelled "Chernobyl".

Actually, I think it's probably spelled with some Cyrillic characters, and either the OP's or your "English-ized" spelling may be correct.

Re:Sweet (2, Informative)

SteveAstro (209000) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518465)

On a scale of power generated per ton of input material it is incredibly efficient (bested only by those power sources which require no nonrenewable input, like wind/tidal/etc.) Possibly not true, because for the same energy output you need a lot more material and maintenance with the "renewable" systems - a gigawatt of wind power would be 100 10MW windturbines - and 10meg windturbines would be VERY big. Steve

Re:Google does it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518567)

Check this [linksynergy.com]

Re:Sweet (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518607)

Possibly not true, because for the same energy output you need a lot more material and maintenance with the "renewable" systems - a gigawatt of wind power would be 100 10MW windturbines - and 10meg windturbines would be VERY big.

Yes, but the turbines could probably be designed to be 99%+ recyclable.

Perhaps there is a nuclear power solution that would be safe enough on all measures. The history of nuclear power so far, however, doesn't leave one optimistic.

Decomissioning and waste management? (1, Insightful)

Moderation abuser (184013) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518488)

Ah right, decomissioning doesn't cost anything, just stick up a fence round the reactor and bury the waste in the ground.

And before you mention the lack of effluent, bathing in the irish sea or eating fish caught there is now considered a "risky activity".

Re:Decomissioning and waste management? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518536)

Yeah, disposal is a problem.. but it's not like it wasn't just lying around to begin with. It isn't going to vanish from underneath hillsides simply because we don't use it (um.. assuming it doesn't all decay immediately). It'll still contaminate groundwater. And Radon gas will still seep up into basements all over the world.

Re:Sweet (1)

nikster (462799) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518551)

"generates no pollution..."

Two words: Nuclear waste.

There is not a single permanent disposal site world-wide. no one can guarantee the safety. the U.S. government even has a website on _just this problem_ [nwtrb.gov] . Ready-made dirty bombs are driven in trucks all over the country. GREAT IDEA.

Re:Sweet (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518609)

Test

Walk away safe? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518414)

I can't be the only one to immediately think of this [pitt.edu]

Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (4, Insightful)

Tim C (15259) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518426)

It's how to handle the waste. That represents a real engineering challenge - some of that stuff is going to remain toxic for tens of thousands of years. Not only does it have to be stored safely and securely, but you have to work out some way of marking it so that should anyone stumble across it in a couple of thousand years, they understand not to touch it. The amount languages and cultures change, you can't just write on it, and even things like skull pictures could be interpreted as meaning "burial chamber - archaelogists, get digging!".

That said, I'm not against nuclear power (from fusion) per se. Of the options we have, it's one of the best at the moment. "Alternative" power sources need a lot more work, and fusion, whilst extrememly promising, just isn't practicable yet (unless I've missed a major breakthrough in the last couple of years). I'm just pointing out that there are still other problems that need to be addressed.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (1)

Jonas the Bold (701271) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518459)

What, exactly, is the problem with encasing it in a block of concrete and burrying it somewhere? Am I missing something?

It seems to me you could even drop the blocks of concrete into the ocean and let them settle at the bottom, with some sort of parachute device to make sure they don't crack on impact.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (2, Insightful)

AlecC (512609) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518481)

"What, exactly, is the problem with encasing it in a block of concrete and burrying it somewhere? Am I missing something?"

I think you are. While stable on human lifetimes, concrete is not, I believe, stable on the necessary time perios. It is also water permeable on a long enough timescale. In the past, people were researching "glassification" - incorporating the wast into a kind of glass which is much more stable than concrete. Even then, I believe they found that the heat generates by radioactive decay increased the mobility of the waste through the glass so that it might be expected to start leaking out of the block in 250,000 years worst case.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (3, Interesting)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518539)

burying it deep enough is the key(so that it's not too probable that anyone with brains will just accidentally stumble upon it while on a picnic, also at relatively not too deep there's natural radiation also so that anyone who would dwell there would need to have the brains to protect himself anyways), or wait till we can send it to the moon/sun/mars/alfa centauri(50-400years.. if there's not a huge nuclear ww3 before that and then i wouldn't worry about nuclear waste).

burying it deep in some stable part of the earth is the best way currently though(at least much better than the sometimes used method of just stacking it in a shack). and besides, ancient egyptians got their cursed tombs, WHY CAN'T WE HAVE THEM??!?!?-)

however, we have much bigger waste problems than just nuclear waste.

Re: Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518597)


> burying it deep in some stable part of the earth is the best way currently though(at least much better than the sometimes used method of just stacking it in a shack). and besides, ancient egyptians got their cursed tombs, WHY CAN'T WE HAVE THEM??!?!?-)

One line of thinking is that when word goes around that the site is cursed, people will conclude that the curse must be guarding a buried treasure and the chances of a dig goes up instead of down.

(Hmmm... maybe all those Egyptologists died of radiation poisoning...)

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (1)

arikb (106153) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518463)

Just throw them in the sea. The sea can take anything you dump into it and nobody is the wiser.

Giant squids? Who said anything about giant squids?

Fusion isn't perfect (1)

dlr03 (644019) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518476)

Nuclear fusion is not only unpracticable, but it also generates radioactive waste! The plant and reactor become themselves radioactive over the years (even in the research labs where the "production" is only minimal).

So what do you do with that radioactive steel mass?

Re:Fusion isn't perfect (-1)

sujan (464326) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518490)

Nuclear Fusion reactors?

Wow that's a first one.

Re:Fusion isn't perfect (1)

dlr03 (644019) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518546)

Maybe I got the wrong translation ;-)

That would be "Reacteur de fusion nucleaire" in French, not the plane's engine.

Sorry!

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (4, Insightful)

Znork (31774) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518489)

The solution to that is simple. You make new fuel of the waste. The technology to do it already exists, so instead of using a miniscule amount of the fuel and then considering it 'spent' and trying to store that highly radioactive material you can run it through a breeder reactor and use it again. And again. And again. And again.

That way you dont get a lot of waste, and you get many many times more use out of the fuel you have.

Nuclear waste is a problem that already has a solution, and a solution that is ecologically sound and very much in line with recycling and reuse.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (2, Interesting)

NSash (711724) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518508)

Indeed, reprocessing spent uranium is the best solution, both from a commercial and an environmental standpoint. However, re-enriching uranium is banned under international treaty, since the uranium could then be used to make nuclear weapons. Yet another example of why sometimes there are non-technical considerations in a seemingly technical problem.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (5, Interesting)

Znork (31774) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518568)

As far as I know there are no international treaties banning breeder reactors; the bans that exists in the US for example, are internal to the country.

Maybe it's time to reconsider those bans, as it is becoming quite apparent that there is no near term solution to the energy problem apart from nuclear energy and there is no other good way to handle nuclear waste.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (2, Interesting)

Afty0r (263037) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518591)

However, re-enriching uranium is banned under international treaty


I would be very surprised if this is true, care to provide some links? I have had dealings with BNFL - British Nuclear Fuels Limited. They carry out this reprocessing of spent Uraniaum on facilities less than 50 miles from where my parents lived all their lives.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (1)

KjetilK (186133) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518598)

The problem in this field is that there are solutions that look good in theory, but there bump up practical issues when you start implementing them. And once practical issues come up, then you need to assure that people don't start cutting corners.

That's the main problem with nuclear energy, not that it is not technically sound, the problem is that people are much too inclined to ignore engineers and cut corners. Especially for profit.

I would like to see more research into accellerator based fusion. There you operate on sub-critical material, and you beam it untill you have stable iron or nickel. That's a much more elegant solution than anything that exists today, but very little research has been done.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (2, Interesting)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518620)

The problem with reprocessing is that

a) it's quite messy, dangerous and difficult to do safely. Not impossible, but neither easy nor cheap.

b) You turn a lot of moderately radioactive waste into a smaller amount of highly radioactive waste (purified fission products) and some reusable fuel (some of which is plutonium, which raises certain accounting and security issues) and in the process create a whole lot of medium level waste (irradiated machinery and such).

Neither is insuperable, but recycling is not a panacea

I'm a fan of fusion. If you look at the whole solar system, there are really only two large pools of energy -- light elements that could be fused and gravitational and kinetic energy in the planets orbital motion. Using the latter on a really large scale runs into a few problems with conservation of angular momentum, and also involves dropping Jupiter into the Sun, which is a but destructive, so it seems that fusion must be the way. Whether it is better to have one big central fusion reactor (as at present) and broadcast the energy (surely rather wasteful) or to distribute the generation more widely, I'm not sure. Breaking up the Sun into local sunlets might also be seen as a bit radical.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (1)

poszi (698272) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518496)

you can't just write on it, and even things like skull pictures could be interpreted as meaning "burial chamber

The same applies to chemical waste which is produced in levels that are orders of magnitude higher than nuclear waste. Anybody cares about it? And nuclear waste will be safer with time due to the decay process while chemical waste will be in most cases toxic forever.

Every year 300 million tons chemical waste is produced in the USA while only total 30000 tons of nuclear waste (and only a small fraction is high-level waste which is very dangerous) link [uiuc.edu] . Surely, some nuclear waste is more dangerous but there is a lot less of it.

Waste is less of a problem in this setup too (2, Informative)

fruey (563914) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518511)

Check out this page [pbmr.com]

It would seem, critically, that the waste can be stored on site for 40 years, does not need to be transported elsewhere, and is inherently more stable than the waste in a typical water reactor.

Re:Meltdown isn't the (whole) problem (4, Informative)

chthonicdaemon (670385) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518518)

That's kinda the point of these pebbles. I have seen a lot of work on this reactor technology, and waste is an important concern. The Fuel spere pebbles safely encase the nuclear material -- you can handle them and throw them around a bit. "The silicon carbide coatings that surround the uranium fuel particles within the pebble form a miniature pressure vessel. This pressure vessel provides a highly efficient barrier against the release of fission products during operation." - from the linked-to [pbmr.com] site

A good idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518427)

Graphite in a nuclear reactor? Sounds like a good idea, lets see what the folks at Chernobyl think...(yes, I realize the lower density of uranium would prevent thermal runaway).

The other thing is, any nuclear reactor is safe to walk away from. Just take long, quick steps.

Re:A good idea! (1)

mav[LAG] (31387) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518554)

Graphite in a nuclear reactor? Sounds like a good idea, lets see what the folks at Chernobyl think...(yes, I realize the lower density of uranium would prevent thermal runaway).

The reactor is not a traditional core moderated by graphite control rods - it's an enclosed High Temperature module which simply heats up inert helium as it passes through. The graphite walls just reflect the neutrons and insulate the module. The entire design of the reactor means that it dissipates heat faster than it is generated should there be any failure. There's no need for complex systems to prevent criticality since it can never happen.
I didn't read the article either but then I don't have to since I'm in the middle of helping write a book on South African innovation. The PBMR formed a large part of the energy chapter and will be vital to the country's future since we are 71% coal driven at the moment (very cheap but very polluting).

I'm a proponent of nuclear energy (3, Insightful)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518431)

I think it is important to move away from the current reliance on fossil fuels as quickly as possible and move towards nuclear power generation as the only realistic sustainable alternative power generation scheme.

Many of the world's problems exist because of the small patch of oil-soaked land out in the Middle East and the lack of trustworthy stewards of those fields. With Gulf War II over and those oil fields finally in the hands of Western democracies we may see some improvement in global stability vis a vis the opening of OPEC to its main customers. However, because we continue to rely on oil as our primary power source we will likely continue to have problems as the oil fields run drier and drier.

It is good to see Africa (of all nations!) take the lead in this new system of nuclear power generation. Older systems like the ones in Canada and France are fine, however it would be a stretch to say that they are perfect. There is plenty of room for improvement in those power plants. This usage of uranium pebbles is one such improvement, but there are more.

It is a problem that people would be willing to block the development of Africa because they object to the usage of these newer power systems. Especially so because for the most part the same protesters unwittingly reap the benefits of their own country's nuclear power generation systems.

Re:I'm a proponent of nuclear energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518469)

Out of curiosity, what do you think would come of the unrest of the middle east were we to substantially reduce the only source of revenue the tyrannts have to control the populaces they govern? Would they all take to the streets with love in their hearts for the western nations who through their pact with satan stole the world their God promissed them dominion over, now that the west moved on, doesn't need them for anything anymore leaving them forever poor? Some how I doubt it.

But it does make nuking the region, and obliterating everything that looks similar to an asshat through the thermal imaging mode of some spy sattellite much cheaper. Since the Colbalt 60 will all be decayed by the time we'd need those oil reserves, I suppose.

Re:I'm a proponent of nuclear energy (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518477)

A few things:

1) Africa is not a nation. Yes, i know it is a typo, but please proofread your posts.
2) Spent nuclear fuel is currently a major issue. This stuff is "hot" for thousands upon thousands of years. There is no way to mark these containers, or to totally destroy them.
3)Nuclear energy is by no means "safe", but when you think about it, are fossil fuels? How many deaths are there in the manufacture of these fuels alone, annually? I would rather life next door to a nuclear reactor, however, than a coal power plant any day.

Finally, i have to agree, i'm glad someone is finally stepping up to the plate and devoloping nuclear technology once again. Chernobyl was bad, but if the place was kept up, much less designed proberly, it never woudl have happened. Three Mile Island was teh same way. It was an early reactor, and some idiot of an engineer allow a single person to remove the control rods(I'm not a nuke engineer, i know what the stuff does, but not what it is called) COMPLETELY! Maybe pebble beds are they way to go - if not, at least we are going somewhere with it, you know?

Re:I'm a proponent of nuclear energy (2, Insightful)

spankalee (598232) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518543)

Are you saying that the US is a "trustworthy steward"? Maybe from the point of view of a Patriotic American, since it's a bit like trusting yourself.

Global instability over the past, oh... how about all of recorded history, has been about power struggles (that usually have very little to do with oil). Imperialism, world wars, revolutions, slave revolts, coups, violent protests, terrorism - all these examples of instability are caused by struggles for power (freedom being a power). Oil may seem like the cause of recent problems, but really it's just a weapon in the war. We fight for oil because without it we couldn't fight for power.

And what western democracies are the oil fields in the hands of? Iraq certainly doesn't constitute "those oil fields", and after we're out of there we may very well see Iraq run by a government unfriendly to the US. What other western democracy is over there? Not Kuwait. Calling them a democracy is a joke.

OPEC is probably doing the world a favor by controlling the oil production. If we pumped the oil out as fast as possible to reduce prices we'd only exagerate the problems of polution and a limited supply of oil.

It is good to see Africa (of all nations!) investigate cheap and clean power since they need it so very badly, but I worry about how the waste will be handled. The environmental and saftey issues of nuclear energy has caused us to spend millions and possibly billions on researching and implementing advanced waste disposal. Will cash strapped nations in Africa be as diligent?

Re:I'm a proponent of nuclear energy (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518621)

It is good to see Africa (of all nations!)

At the risk of redundancy, Africa is not a nation. The article poster meant to say "South Africa", which is.

Re:I'm a proponent of nuclear energy (1)

tymbow (725036) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518547)

"Many of the world's problems exist because of the small patch of oil-soaked land out in the Middle East and the lack of trustworthy stewards of those fields. With Gulf War II over and those oil fields finally in the hands of Western democracies we may see some improvement in global stability vis a vis the opening of OPEC to its main customers."

This could start a flame war so I'll say only one thing on this subject but the statement above really bothers me - so is what is good for the United States the best thing for the world now? What if those oil bearing countries decided to "go pebble nuclear" (which the US probably wouldn't allow anyway because that they must be making nuclear weapons) and hold on to their oil?

Waste disposal (3, Insightful)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518435)

The perennial question is one of waste disposal. It's all very well having a realtively clean source of energy right now, but if you have to guard against people getting hurt for X years, where X is a very large number...

They claim the graphite and silicon carbide around the pebbles will keep it sealed for ~ 1 million years, which is impressive. It'll be interesting to see if humanity is around in ~1 million years ...

It also produces about 19 tons of radioactive waste (in the form of these coated pebbles) every year. That's going to be some landfill site, if the technology takes off...

Simon.

Re:Waste disposal (5, Informative)

netwiz (33291) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518471)

19 tons of heavy metal radioisotope doesn't take up much space. These elements are quite dense.

I remember seeing a demo of this stuff in school.. It's so safe to use in a reactor it's crazy; they referred to it as "walk-away" safe. Lose _all_ cooling in the core, leave it over the weekend, fix it on Monday. It was going to bring about a revolution in safety WRT nuclear power generation. It's nice to see this finally coming to fruition.

Re:Waste disposal (1)

niftyzero (239711) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518561)

Err... 19 tons is much less than how much *one* US family generates in garbage.

Re:Waste disposal (1)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518593)

Err, yes, but a US family's garbage isn't radioactive for a significant fraction of a million years!

There are differences between landfill sites for domestic waste, and those for nuclear waste, with there being significantly less choice in the nuclear sites...

Simon

Re:Waste disposal (1)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518563)

waste disposal is simple... sink it in a deep sea trench... no human will be able to reach there for a VERY long period of time and if sealed properly wont do any damage to the environment until it reaches a very very impressive depth at which no man made machines are currently able to operate

Re:Waste disposal (1)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518604)

"We know more about the dark side of the moon than we do about the depths of the oceans on our own planet".

Do you really want to drop nuclear waste (ie: the most dangerous thing we've ever manufactured, modulo the safety claims) into an unknown environment ?

Before we potentially cause catastrophic harm to an environment, perhaps we should know something about it first ?

There are lots of ways to get rid of nuclear waste. Every one I've come across has serious drawbacks, mainly due to the nature of the waste, the harm it can do if the safety controls are breached, and the longevity of that harmful state...

Simon.

Clean nuclear power (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518437)

How can anyone say that nuclear power is clean? what happens to the depleted uranium? It's radioactive for something like 40,000 years after it gets used in a power station. Would you like that toxic waste buried in your backyard? Depleted uranium disposal is a growing problem in every country that has nuclear reactors...oh, we could just build some missiles and shells with the depleted uranium and use them in conflicts the world over, thus spreading the radiation thinly over the planet's surface, making sure that cancer and birth defects can be shared by all...

Re:Clean nuclear power (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518467)

A number of studies show that the radiation level of the depleted uranium in shells and tanks is not high enough to cause health problems. Your glow-in-the-dark wristwatch is more likely to cause cancer than walking near a piece of depleted uranium.

Re:Clean nuclear power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518480)

I'm pretty sure that if you are in range of depleted uranium, you're in quite a bit more danger than just a glow-in-the-dark watch.

Re:Clean nuclear power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518483)

Yeah right, tell that to all those people living in Iraq & to the soldiers that are getting ill.

Want is to shoot a few rounds at your house and see if you want to keep living in it?

Re:Clean nuclear power (2, Insightful)

October_30th (531777) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518510)

Your glow-in-the-dark wristwatch is more likely to cause cancer than walking near a piece of depleted uranium


The difference, of course, is that you're breathing in the radioactive depleted uranium dust. Radioactivitiy is much more dangerous inside your body. Human skin pretty much blocks weak alpha radiation, but such an emitter in lungs is highly dangerous.

Re:Clean nuclear power (1)

Mondorescue (652638) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518529)

Shrek II - "Dude, there's a depleted uranium wristwatch in your butt!"

Re:Clean nuclear power (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518560)

A number of studies show that the radiation level of the depleted uranium in shells and tanks is not high enough to cause health problems. Your glow-in-the-dark wristwatch is more likely to cause cancer than walking near a piece of depleted uranium.

That follows only if you assume the only possbible health risk from depeleted uranium is from the radiation. It's also a heavy metal, and these are notoriusly good for health. Not.

There's also another way in which they differ. Why not blow up your glow-in-the-dark wristwatch and sprinkle the resulting dust into your aircon system, then asses the resulting risk.

Re:Clean nuclear power (1)

larien (5608) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518582)

Yup, my first thoughts on depleted uranium was that it was "depleted", therefore not radioactive. Once I read a bit more, I discovered the other issues, i.e. DU is poisonous to the human system if ingested/breathed in and it's a bit difficult no to breathe in dust which surrounds an area after an attack. Basically, on impact, DU superheats (part of its effectiveness) and ends up as a dust residue in the area. According to some sources, this has been causing health problems in both Iraq (after the first war) and the Balkans.

In short, holding a piece of DU is fairly safe; breathing in DU dust isn't.

ATTENTION ILLITERATE IDIOT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518493)

Hi. Radioactive waste does not consist of depleted uranium (you moron). Also, the rest of your post is extremely stupid as well. I bet you smell bad. I expect no more from a Slashdot reader.

Oh yea... (1, Funny)

FrostedWheat (172733) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518439)

Proponents insist that the reactor's design features make it 'meltdown-proof' and 'walk-away safe'."

Said a Mr.J.Simpson.

do they have a mountain (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518446)


so they can sweep the highly toxic waste under it like the USA does ?

so much for "clean" power egh

-1 Flamebait (4, Insightful)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518452)

Reading some of the comments in this article, I have to wonder when 'Geek' and 'Nerd' transformed into 'Reactionary Luddite'.

Re:-1 Flamebait (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518500)

Because "geeks" and "nerds" think they're smart and qualified to comment on everything. In reality, they're usually not smart, just arrogant. They are unqualified to comment on anything, but it makes them feel big to post on slashdot, and they're very attached to their "ideas" so it's hard for them to face the truth. Perhaps this is why "nerd" is a term of denigration. Hope this helps.

Africa? A continent not a country (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518457)

"Africa's state-run utility giant"... WTF?
Africa is not a state or a single country for that matter, it's a continent made up of many states. Please be specific, ppl are very ignorant about this, just like many think that all africans speak the same langauge (there are over 200 langauges in Nigeria alone for example).

Re:Africa? A continent not a country (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518569)

I would not trust the country you mentioned, Nigeria, with one of these new reactors though...

There might be 200 languages there, but the only maintenance I've seen there is AFTER something breaks down... now, not having a meltdown when the reactor goes haywire is good, but still...

Sorry to say this... Nigeria is not the example country you should have used here.

Re:Africa? A continent not a country (1)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518573)

The sheer ignorance of the post also shocked me. Of course they meant South Africa, but c'mon...

It should be high-school knowledge that culturally and genetically, there is more variation in Africa than in the entire rest of the world, by a huge factor. It's easy just to lump this huge, seething continent together into an amorphous lump, but it's very far from the truth, which is that even a small part of a country like Nigeria has measurably more human variety than anything we're used to.

Ehrojue, bioju obo!

Re:Africa? A continent not a country (1)

radbrad (687225) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518581)

As a _South African_ i am offended that we get lumped in with the whole of Africa. It is our achievemnt Dammit!

Go ZA!

Re:Africa? A continent not a country (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518586)

Thank you very much for pointing that out. We've got 11 official languages in South Africa. As far as this bed is concerned ... Having spoken to one of the engineers, we've got reason to worry, as the waste disposal will probably be handled by the highest briber ...

"Africa" is not a state (0, Redundant)

kilf (135983) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518472)

"Africa" is not a state- it's a continent containing many many independent, sovereign nations - about 50, I think. In this case, the state in question is called "South Africa". They have the state-owned company with this new proposal.

Re:"Africa" is not a state (0)

EnglishTim (9662) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518553)

Hooray for the Slashdot 'Editors'!

Don't support these monsters! (-1, Troll)

BabyDave (575083) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518482)

Using Google's image search, I have uncovered pictures [bordernet.co.uk] that are clear evidence [conwytouringpark.com] that these people use child workers [beyondplay.com] to assemble these reactors.

N.b. I would mirror these myself rather than linking directly, but the only web space I have is on a friend's ADSL connection.

I hate ignorance! (5, Informative)

Rico_za (702279) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518494)

Africa's state-run utility giant Eskom
I'm going to pop a vein! Afirca is not a country, it's a continent [reference.com] . South Africa, the country where Eskom resides, is a country in Africa (easily confused with South America by Americans. South America is a continent south of North America, the continent with three different countries on it, including the USA). There are 54 independent, different countries in Africa, each with their own government. Africa is not simply a big ol' jungle where everyone speaks Swahili (only 50 million of the more than 700 million people in Africa speak Swahili). /rant
OK, now that I got that off my chest: Eskom has been talking about this for a while now, and they are facing some resistance to the idea. The problem being the general conception that "nuclear is evil".

Re:I hate ignorance! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518545)

hmmmm caffas

Re:I hate ignorance! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518552)

I used to think that "nuclear is evil", but after I read the article, which says that "when the system malfunctions ... the radioactivity is contained" I'm no longer worried about it. Who would've guessed that radioactivity would be so easy and problem-free to contain?

Say, would you be interested in a really cool old bridge?

Re:I hate ignorance! (1)

medraut (136992) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518566)

"Sorry. You say you come from New York? Isn't that somewhere near Yorkshire!? I must apologise for my ignorance, I dont know Asia very well"

Medraut

The proponents are also... (-1, Offtopic)

boris_the_hacker (125310) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518498)

...looking forward to pay day when their patents are used and their stocks and shares pay out.

In other news, Apple have been the main proponents of a new UNIX like OS called OS X, and Microsoft are the main proponents of a OS called Longhorn citing "We are supporting this OS especially it's security features".

Re:The proponents are also... (1)

a whoabot (706122) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518559)

This post makes a good point that many people forget. News/literature from a group supporting that group is usually meaningless. I'm thinking every news article should have, in big bold font, at the beginning "this article was written by etc." and including, where appropriate, "we are owned/I was paid by etc."

Environment/North Korea (5, Interesting)

lostnihilist (679855) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518501)

We (USA in the 90s) promised two of these (or very simiar to these) to North Korea so that they a) could have plenty of power and thus might spend money on economic growth/feeding their people and b) couldn't develop nuclear weapons from the material. but oops, congress wouldn't approve it. Now look where we are with them. big mistake

though many popular activists site environmental reasons as opposition to nuclear energy, disposing of nuclear waste really isn't that difficult. Most scientists (at least those in the field) object to nuclear power because of the potential of the spread and proliferation of weapons. while environmental issues ARE a concern (there's always some governmental dweeb that screws things up), it is something that can fairly easily be isolated given the proper precautions. Part of the reason that these reactors get so much attention is that these same experts have much fewer qualms with them precisely because they are so much more difficult to make weapons-grade uranium/plutonium from. (i cite Howard Margolis, Dealing with Risk as a decent summary of this topic).

Africa isn't a state (3, Informative)

Bozovision (107228) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518503)

For you geographically challenged people. Africa is a whole continent. Like North America, South America and Australia.

South Africa is a country. It's at the tip of Africa. You'll never guess where it is in Africa.

It was a British Colony, but gained independence about 55 or so years ago, and promptly began to institutionalise pernicious racially-based discrimination. It was called Apartheid. After a long struggle (40 years) the white people agreed to share power and democratic elections took place. Nelson Mandela (you may have heard of him) was elected president.

The economy of South Africa is split - there's a strong first world component, and a large third world component. The first world component rivals the economies of Europe and the USA in sophistication - though it's much smaller. The third world component - i.e. subsistence farming, and subsistence trading - involves many more people. Unemployment rate is high - a few years ago it was 40%. Not sure what it is now. HIV/Aids rate is probably the highest in the world - hitting around 10% of population. Some places have rates as high as 40%. The current government until recently has ignored the problem.

Eskom is a world-class power utility. They have existing nuclear reactors, which were learning grounds for the Apartheid state in their quest for nuclear weapons. (Ten or so years ago South Africa admitted that they had nukes, and then destroyed them. Thank you Nelson Mandela and South Africa for making the world a safer place.)

It's questionable whether South Africa needs more nuclear power plants but Eskom has traditionally had a strong technocratic streak. (I was an employee a long time ago.) SA is rich in coal and natural gas.

I personally think that the money could be better spent given South Africa's problems - the only justification would be to export the technology. And maybe greater access to nuclear expertise is not what the world needs.

Jeff Veit

Re:Africa isn't a state (1)

Rico_za (702279) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518519)

South Africa is currently the ONLY country in the world to voluntarily stop and dismantle their whole nuclear weapons program.

Re:Africa isn't a state (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518574)

Thank you sir for syaing this before I did, and better than I could have.

"Africa's state-run utility giant Eskom" indeed!

Mosfet (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518512)

Liquid

Ever heard of Hamm-Uentrop? No? Read this... (3, Informative)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518517)

This technology has been around for at least 30 years. The Germans even built an example pebble bed reactor at Hamm-Uentrop which has led to the technology being heavily criticized by enviromentalists. Normally I would be hesitant to swallow raw what enviromentalists feed onto the internet, especially the religiously fanatical German anti nuclear lobby, but in this case their claims are reenforced by the fact that their opinions of pebble bed reactors are shared by the German state who shut the Hamm-Uentrop plant down in 1989 after the management covered up serious problems with the reactor. The whole affair has led the People of Hamm-Uentrop to start a citizens group [thtr-a.de] which among other things aims to start an Information exchange with the people of South so that the Africans can take into account the German experiences before one of these things gets built in their back yard. Feel free to call this a troll but with so many people singing the "See!! I told you nuclear is safe" psalm here I figured the other side of the coin deserved a mention.

Re:Ever heard of Hamm-Uentrop? No? Read this... (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518599)

This technology has been around for at least 30 years.

And it is possible that it has improved in that time.

Re:Ever heard of Hamm-Uentrop? No? Read this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518618)

links please.

Come on, its ancient... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7518524)

Such reactors are not new, e.g. there was/is one in Hamm-Uentrop, Germany called "THTR 300".

Building started 1970, reaction started 1983, shut down 1988, disassembling started 1991.

Its output was 308MWe, so I assume it was not just a toy.

AFAIK they had problems with the moderation and breaking of the balls.

Nothin' new, actually.

Money (0, Redundant)

OMG (669971) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518525)

Why do they invest more money in such technologies. They have the Sahra desert. 10% of that desert would be enough for supplying the whole world (yes, even the USA) with enough energy.

The problems with solar based energy production are purely political, not technical.

Re:Money (1)

Zog The Undeniable (632031) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518570)

What about transmission losses? Even if you crank the output up to several hundred thousand volts, you need some very thick lengths of aluminium to get it out of the desert, let alone over the Atlantic.

Re:Money (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518592)

What about transmission losses?

RTFA. The whole point of Pebble Bed Modular Reactors is that they are smal and well, modular. You can deploy several small ones, each near where they are needed.

Re:Money (2, Informative)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518580)

Why do they invest more money in such technologies. They have the Sahra desert.

No thay don't. This article is about a company in South Africa, which is nowhere near the Sahara Desert. It's a bit like responding to an article on Canada by mentioning the desert in Mexico because hey, both are in North America.

I want this technology for my car (3, Funny)

Powercntrl (458442) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518527)

Seriously. I hate buying gas. Would be nice not to have to buy gas again - ever.

Oh sure, what happens if I get into an accident? Well, that's why you build the reactor compartment the same way as an airplane's black box, if that can survive a plane crash, a car crash should be a walk in the park.

There's a problem with terroists getting uranium and making dirty bombs you say? Not a problem either! Just outlaw radiation suits so anyone that opens the reactor is instantly nuked like a frozen chicken pot pie. Of course, that means no more tinkering with your car, but would you really miss it if you never had to buy gas again?

I want my nuclear car, damnit.

Re:I want this technology for my car (2, Funny)

Pompatus (642396) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518619)

Well, since the reactor compartment will be built out of the same material as an airplane's black box, I demand that my nuclear car can fly.

Face facts (1)

tobybuk (633332) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518535)

I think people see three problems with Nuclear power generation. 1. It might blow up or some similar disaster. This is what this type of reactor is designed to eliminate. 2. During its operation, it may pollute the environment with radioactive waste. This is IMHO the unanswered question. 3. Decommissioning and storage of Nuclear waste is unattractive. I think this is an easy one. We already have places on earth that are so horribly polluted that adding more would have no detrimental effect on the environment - just put it a mile below the surface. Take a look at http://www.ga.gov.au/oracle/nukexp_query.html for possible sites. (America is lucky enough to have some very good sites indeed ;) Wise up people - we all like our homes to be warm, our nice large cars and our industry that produce the goods we buy - it all takes energy. The ONLY reason we don't have more Nuclear energy is that we have sufficient fossil fuels (currently) for our needs. Just watch what happens when this starts to run out - then we'll see how serious people are with not wanting this type of energy.

That's South Africa (0)

bvdm (3884) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518572)

Not to be pedantic, but this is something that many Africans, myself included, are rather sensitive about. Africa is a continent, not a country!

Eskom is South Africa's electrical utility, though it is active throughout Southern Africa (the region).

Safe pebbles (1)

gringer (252588) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518579)

But where can you buy these uranium-oxide enriched pebbles?

Your local confectionary shop [chocolatevault.com] , of course. I'm used to the chocolate filled type, but I guess they come in all varieties. Just make sure you get the ones that look a good ripe green.

Pebbles - so safe, you can eat them!

Been there, buil that, dircarded it (3, Informative)

phooka.de (302970) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518590)

It's been done before. In Germany. It was called "schneller Brueter". It never went operational.

The rationale was that it would be vatsly more efficient. In practice, those "balls" were harder to control than the normal rods. In testruns they would jam as they were processed in the facility.

So it's neither the first time this is being built, nor is it the answer to all energy-questions in the world.

Where to get Uranium pebbles... (1, Funny)

Bazman (4849) | more than 10 years ago | (#7518608)

Sellafield Beach, Cumbria, UK, obviously.


Just go here [iop.org] .

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