Why nuclear innovation is needed

November 23rd, 2015

Posted by Katherine Chapman

Chancellor George Osborne should announce in this week’s Comprehensive Spending Review that the government will fund prototype demonstrations of advanced nuclear reactors. Existing nuclear reactors are already safe and low-carbon, so some more should be built. Future reactors could be even safer and even lower carbon, so prototypes should be constructed.

The advantages of next-generation nuclear power are outlined in a new report; Why nuclear innovation is needed, from Weinberg Next Nuclear, the UK charity promoting nuclear power. These advantages include:

  • They can use liquid fuel, so the core cannot melt down;
  • They can re-use the spent fuel – which still contains over 90% of the energy that was in the original uranium;
  • Advanced reactors could reduce the amount of nuclear waste which has to be managed by future generations (and which already exists so cannot be wished away) by around 95%;
  • They can use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world;
  • They can be built as small modules and then assembled on site to reach the scale desired. So they can be installed where the heat could be used as well as the power.

Safety is inherent to the design of next-generation reactors, rather than being a costly add-on. ‘Small Modular Reactors’ can be built on a production line, reducing construction costs. So advanced reactors are likely to be cheaper to build than existing ones – though this will not be known for certain until one has been built and operated.

Energy and Climate Secretary Amber Rudd said in her ‘reset’ speech last week: Let’s be honest with ourselves, we don’t have all the answers to decarbonisation today. We must develop technologies that are both cheap and green. This means unleashing innovation.” She is right. Innovation is needed in renewable energy and carbon capture and storage, but also in nuclear energy.

George Osborne has a great opportunity on Wednesday to begin the delivery of the Government’s reset energy and climate plan. He can show that the UK is a world leader, not only in phasing out coal but also in developing clean alternatives. We led the industrial revolution; now we must lead the post-industrial revolution.

Stephen Tindale, Director, Weinberg Next Nuclear, 07941 433780

Comments

  1. Roy Roebuck says:

    I’ve been refreshing my knowledge of the Thorium energy topic.

    It occurs to me that blending a Thorium232/Uranium233 (TU) molten salt reactor (MSR) capability into the prevailing Uranium/Plutonium (UP) reactor environment might be a workable path to full MSR development and implementation.

    As I understand it, TU reactors, using molten salts for both cooling and fuel, operate with the intent of producing high heat for many subsequent indirect or downstream product (DP) uses having increasing economic value.

    These molten salt reactors (MSR) also have many byproducts (BP), e.g., newly created fuel to perpetuate operation of the TU reactor. Other direct TU reactor BP are medical isotopes and rare earth metals for use by science (e.g., NASA), industry (e.g., High Tech), and our western lifestyle’s devices (e.g., components of smartphone, magnets in small headphones and speakers).

    Downstream products (DP) derived from the MSR’s high heat include: generation of electricity, consumption (e.g., decomposing) of societal waste (e.g., trash, industrial waste, mining waste), desalinization of water, water purification, and consumption (e.g., decomposing into MSR fuel) of conventional (Uranium+Plutonium, UP) reactor waste.

    So why not position/market an MSR as an augmentation to a conventional nuclear plant, whose primary purpose would be consumption of conventional nuclear waste, but also providing, in the same facility, the other BP and DP capabilities, and which could augment the electrical power capacity of the UP nuclear plant, and increase its overall economic value.

    Thus, to gain support for building and deploying an MSR capability, position and deploy MSR as the “waste disposal” mechanism for a conventional nuclear plant, while also providing the “value-added” increase to the electrical, DP, and BP products of the conventional nuclear plant. (UP+TU=Increased Benefits (e.g., clean, available, safe, etc.) with Reduced Costs (e.g., financial, social, and environmental).

    Then, when economical, the TU reactors can become primary and the UP reactors can be evolved to better designs or deactivated and their facilities cleaned/remediated of radioactivity and toxins.

  2. That guy says:

    this is the section of the commenter I’d like a ..second or third opinion, my apologies to the poster for being off topic:

    hard math and facts show that a thorium reactor fleet would take centuries to be deployed. The reason is summarized in two words: doubling time (or Td). This is the time it would take for a TMSR to breed enough U-233 to fuel another identical TMSR. And the answer is, in the best of cases, 52 years (in the worst case, 200 years). Remember, first, that U-233 does not exist in nature, it must be created in a breeder reactor in the first place, by breeding thorium, then processing the spent thorium to separate and remove the U-233. Second, because thorium is not fissile although it is fertile, a TMSR requires a certain quantity of U-233 to get a critical reaction started. Check here for the math: https://indico.cern.ch/event/222140/session/7/contribution/27/attachments/363090/505441/Daniel_Mathers_v2_ThEC13.pdf (that’s from CERN so I assume these guys know what they are talking about).

    • Katherine Chapman says:

      Thanks for your comment, however I think you have slightly misunderstood the National Nuclear Laboratory presentation that you have linked. Doubling time, which is the effect that the presentation discusses, is the amount of time needed to double the amount of useful material you have to create more energy. However, you can use the energy that is being created in the process right from the beginning of the doubling process. Doubling the amount of material is a bonus because it means that you can actually start creating enough material for another reactor to run off, however it is not necessary to make Thorium work as a fuel.

      • That guy says:

        First of all, again my apologies for this off-topic disruption of your article (I was clean out of nuclear physicists friends to call…actually I do know one come to think of it…ah well). So in any event thank you all for the hospitality.

        It looks like some of what I wrote is missing, I only wrote the first paragraph. I’m not a physicist or scientist hence my uninvited presence here because I read a comment from someone after one of Kirk Sorensen’s talks (Denmark I believe). Most of the arguments made on youtube are rarely longer than 2 sentences and more than often (I get the impression) just people venting. But this was the first solid comment/argument against using thorium I’d heard so far..as a layman mind you. I’ve been following the developments (or lack thereof) for almost 10 years now so I am eager to find out if what this guy says makes any sense.

        Usually these arguments are rebutted on the spot by other commenters but this was not the case and whether this guy is right or wrong he obviously paid attention during some classes. At the very least when rhetoric was discussed. Let me find the link…ah: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR8PiBZPKw0

        The commenters name is André Balsa and (for youtube comments) it looks more like a thesis than a comment. I copy/pasted an excerpt in my previous post, if interested it’s easiest to follow the link and check the comment section. There are only a handful of comments.

        Hope I peaked your interest enough to take a look. I’m curious what the verdict if any so to speak will be.

        Kind regards and again my apologies,

        Bas Kalter

  3. That guy says:

    Hi Katherine,

    I think I found out what I needed to find out (certainly couldn’t have done it without you).
    I still don’t know whether or not the technical stuff pans out but I’m pretty sure …he’s just…well judge for yourself; I couldn’t deny you his and my latest comments. I hope you find them entertaining, if not…then sorry for wasting your time and thanks again for the reply. (XiliXi is me and his name is Andre). For the full convo…you have the youtube link up there.

    =====================================

    +XiliXi Mao Got a reply from the weinberg foundation …but they only saw an excerpt …I’ll just post the whole thing: …

    p.s. oh sweet irony, she used to work at CERN, so in your words minus the sexism we can assume she knows what she’s talking about.

    André Balsa2:09 PM

    Her reply does not in any way address the basic issue of doubling time for any significant deployment of a fleet of thorium reactors that I have explained in my original comment.
    In any case, as I have repeatedly indicated and yet the trolls refuse to acknowledge, the entire question of a deployment of thorium based nuclear reactors is moot, due to the current availability of low-cost renewables.
    KS and the horde of thorium/TMSR fanboys should switch to encouraging wind and solar (and other renewable energy sources) deployment. Nuclear is dead.
    Show less

    XiliXi Mao2:25 PM

    I couldn’t…or failed to post your entire ‘thesis’ , I’ll try again. I’m sure we can find someone who can address the issues at hand. If all else fails…. she’s a Cambridge graduate (Masters in Nuclear Energy…sry 2x Masters in nuclear energy). But it seems she enjoys giving back to society and as a second job she also works as a private tutor, might be an idea for you, never too old to learn (bonus, she’s isn’t hard to look at either). 

  4. That guy says:

    Well, I’d better hit the donate button here, the enemy has succeeded in wasting your time….I consider my time spent on this a valuable lesson. Turns out this internet entity is copy/pasting this stuff all over the internet comment sections….but it’s concentrated around the site of our old friend Helen Caldicott.

    It’s an uphill battle….there’s just a few of you but for a nickle and a dime you could hire an army of trolls spreading this and other nonsense. Most you wouldn’t even have to pay, fear is an easy sell.

    B.

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