Tag Archives: nuclear-power

India to export thorium nuclear reactors

wheels_and_cablesCharles Stross highlights the news that the Indian government is preparing to manufacture and export nuclear reactors that use the thorium fuel cycle:

The original design is fuelled by a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium bred from thorium using fast neutron power reactors earlier in a thorium fuel cycle. The LEU variant is suitable for export because it does away with the plutonium, replacing it with uranium enriched to 19.75% uranium-235.

As countries like India and China continue to industrialise we will see more and more technological innovation from these developing countries. Both India and China are hungry for cheap energy to raise the standard of living for their people. This thorium reactor design is important because it can be used by developing countries with minimal industrial infrastructure:

The design is intended for overseas sales, and the AEC [India’s Atomic Energy Commission] says that “the reactor is manageable with modest industrial infrastructure within the reach of developing countries.”

The reactor design is intended minimise the threat of nuclear proliferation, as it does not produce the right amount of bomb-worthy plutonium-239, and the long-term high-level waste is also minimised. All in all, it looks like a really excellent piece of hardware, and a thoroughly Good Thing.

Thorium is more plentiful than uranium and offers the opportunity of a long-term low-CO2 energy base. I strongly suspect that when the brown-outs start there will be huge public demand for a solution, as it will be difficult for the UK to generate all its energy needs using renewables, and it could well be that the UK ends up buying thorium reactors from India or pebble-bed reactors from China to secure our energy future.

[via Charles Stross, from World Nuclear News][image from Shahram Sharif on flickr]

Charlie Stross on the future of nuclear power

power_plantCharles Stross has made an interesting point on the view that there is only a very short supply of useable nuclear fuel:

firstly, the supply of known uranium deposits will only last 80-100 years if we don’t recycle it and start burning MOX. I’d like to note that today’s light water reactors are horribly inefficient — they only extract 3% of the available energy from their fuel before it is considered “spent” and reclassified as waste. If we use high burn-up reactors such as the EPR, we can get a whole load more energy out of the same amount of fuel. And if we use fast breeders and run a plutonium cycle we can convert U238 into Pu239 and burn that instead of U235: there’s 500 times as much U238 lying around.

Secondly, we haven’t even tried to build a thorium reactor yet, although we’ve got good reason to believe it would work — and thorium is considerably more abundant than uranium.

As I have mentioned before, nuclear really should be part of the future energy mix of any industrialised country. Renewables can provide a large chunk (depending on local availability) of our energy needs but that still leaves a gap that needs to be plugged with something reliable and non-carbon-dioxide emitting.

David JC MacKay has more on nuclear power in his excellent free online textbook Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.

[image from christian.senger on flickr]

Fusion on a budget

fusionreactorCanadian company General Fusion are developing a fusion reactor that is based on a process called magnetized target fusion:

The reactor consists of a metal sphere with a diameter of three meters. Inside the sphere, a liquid mixture of lithium and lead spins to create a vortex with a vertical cavity in the center. Then, the researchers inject two donut-shaped plasma rings called spheromaks into the top and bottom of the vertical cavity – like “blowing smoke rings at each other,” explains Doug Richardson, chief executive of General Fusion.

The last step is mainly well-timed brute mechanical force. 220 pneumatically controlled pistons on the outer surface of the sphere are programmed to simultaneously ram the surface of the sphere one time per second. This force sends an acoustic wave through the spinning liquid that becomes a shock wave when it reaches the spheromaks in the center, triggering a fusion burst.
General Fusion has just started developing simulations of the project, and hopes to build a test reactor and demonstrate net gain within five years. If everything goes according to plan, they will then build a 100-megawatt prototype reactor to be finished five years after that, which would cost an estimated $500 million.

Like general artificial intelligence, generative fusion power is one of those technologies that always seems to be 10-20 years in the future.

It is good to see alternative techniques to the well-known ITER project or Inertial Fusion Energy being adopted as it increases the chances that some genuinely practical approach will be found.

It’s also heartening to see (relatively) smaller operations engaging in generative fusion research.

[from Physorg][image from Physorg]

Over to Mars in 39 days

marsA fascinating article at New Scientist on a new nuclear powered ion drive called VASIMR that could transport astronauts to Mars in as little as 39 days:

VASIMR works something like a steam engine, with the first stage performing a duty analogous to boiling water to create steam. The radio frequency generator heats a gas of argon atoms until electrons “boil” off, creating plasma. This stage was tested for the first time on 2 July at Ad Astra’s headquarters in Webster, Texas

Thanks to the radio frequency generator, VASIMR can reach power levels a hundred times as high as other engines, which simply accelerate their plasma by sending it through a series of metal grids with different voltages. In that setup, ions colliding with the grid tend to erode it, limiting the power and lifetime of the rocket. VASIMR’s radio frequency generator gets around that problem by never coming into contact with the ions.

Hitherto most plans to get to Mars involve lengthy journey times, during which exposure to cosmic rays and extended periods of weightlessness (ameliorated somewhat by centrifugal artificial gravity) could have a debilitating effect on the adventurers.

The creation of these powerful ion drives is an exciting and interesting development. Certainly I hope to see someone get to Mars within my lifetime. I wonder what technique will be used?

[from New Scientist][image from chipdatajeffb on flickr]

Nuclear in China

chinese_workerContracts have been signed for the building of the first batch of Sanmen AP1000 nuclear reactors in China:

An engineering contract was signed last week towards building the Sanmen AP1000s. Real construction work should begin within one month on the nuclear power reactors.

The result will be the first Westinghouse-designed AP1000 pressurized water reactors in the world, ahead of the others at Haiyang in Shandong province and more expected in the UK and the USA.

The Chinese government is also helpfully developing pebble bed nuclear reactors as well.

[via Next Big Future][image from Saad.Akhtar on flickr]