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Is there a silver bullet for reactor meltdowns?

Aku Head (663933) writes | more than 3 years ago

Japan 1

Aku Head (663933) writes "In the context of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, what if you could cover the overheating nuclear fuel with liquid aluminum? Aluminum is a good conductor of heat so that you could spray the aluminum with sea water to avoid melting. Would this solve the problems of decay heat and hydrogen generation? What if you alloyed the aluminum with neutron poisons such as hafnium or cadmium? Any other suggestions of something that you could cover the nuclear plant with to mitigate the problem?"

1 comment

It's an old plant, with compliance issues (1)

macpacheco (1764378) | more than 3 years ago | (#35489772)

Nuclear reactor safety issues are much like airline safety issues.
People fly in aircraft everyday, and they are very safe. But they weren't that safe 50-60 years ago. Same goes for Nuclear reactors.
And when one aircraft crashes and kill hundreds of people, the general population forgets that thousands of people die daily worldwide due to car crashes.
Same goes for Nuclear reactors versus Coal power plants. Coal power plants kill people due to lung cancer all the time. Even if the nuclear side of this kill 100 people it would still have been better to use those nuclear reactors instead of coal power plants.
Nuclear reactors operating today belong to 3 different generations of nuclear technology. Fukushima reactors are of 1960 design, built in 1970, operating since mid 1980s. So 25 years of service. About as old as the older nuclear reactors operating worldwide. Those reactors should have been replaced with modern designs, or should at least have been scheduled for that.

Running nuclear reactors in regions that are prone to severe earthquakes is risky. That plus the age of the reactor is the real issue with this nuclear accident.

I'm no physicist, so I'm not providing the list with an expert technical opinion. I have some engineering level physics knowledge, without any nuclear specific knowledge.

Look into Heavy Water reactors. By using D2O instead of H2O (Deuterium = Hydrogen with one neutron versus usual hydrogen that has no neutron), those reactors run on nuclear fuel that would not produce nuclear fission without the Deuterium (regular hydrogen absorbs neutrons, while deuterium absorbs almost no neutrons, hence the requirement that light water reactors run on enriched Uranium, Plutonium or some other nuclear fuel that can meltdown if left uncooled). So they have this inherent safety feature that if you replace the heavy water with regular water, fission dies right away (it becomes sub critical). In fact those reactors can run on regular Uranium, a simple U2O uranium fuel (unenriched). Newer heavy water reactors prefer running with lightly enriched Uranium to reduce nuclear waste production, but still a U235 concentration that wouldn't produce sustained fission in light water reactors.

But even modern light water reactors are hugely safer than 1960s designs.

I would not be surprised if an in depth investigation find out months or years from now that some of the safety systems on the Fukushima plant were at least borderline. Diesel generators for backup cooling can be far more earthquake resistant than the reactor itself. Those should not have failed.

But trying to speculate on solutions or reasons for this before some investigation gets completed is pointless. Like modern Airliners, modern Nuclear reactors are extremely safe. But this is NOT a modern nuclear reactor. Its an OLD one.

Like airliner accidents. All Nuclear accidents trigger upgrades in nuclear safety standards very quickly.

It you are a Japanese citizen, focus on pressuring your government for responsible nuclear oversight of nuclear plans BEFORE an accident happen.
For instance, France and many other countries have spotless safety records with nuclear energy.
It all boils down to effective oversight. When a country goes through a serious economic stagnation, you will typically see all kinds of lobby towards turning a blind eye towards safety issues, big business will pressure everyone they can to reduce costs.

In today's world (at the current state of the technology), I believe the right solution for electricity generation is a combination of Hydro, Nuclear and Wind sources for utility level electricity generation. Solar is great for electricity and heating for end user utilization right now. Wind power is great in areas that have strong sustained wind activity through most of the year.

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