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Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Saturday, August 14, 2021

Are you intrigued by the possibility of using nuclear reactors to curb emissions, but worried about their water use and long-term safety? There might be an impending solution. LiveScience reports that China has outlined plans to build the first 'clean' commercial nuclear reactor using liquid thorium and molten salt. The first prototype reactor should be ready in August, with the first tests due in September. A full-scale commercial reactor should be ready by 2030.

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I have been talking about the fact we need to be pursuing this for 15 years...

#1 | Posted by GalaxiePete at 2021-08-13 08:40 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

This technology is not as new as they make it out to be. They've been used molten sodium in breeder reactors since the early 50's. That being said, things haven't always gone well. Take Fermi I as an example.

Fermi I was a so-called 'fast breeder' reactor built just South of Detroit, near Monroe, Michigan. 'Breeder' reactors were supposed to, in addition to producing electricity, they would also transmutate lower grade Uranium into a more radioactive version which could then be harvested from the expended fuel rods and reprocessed into fuel for a conventional reactor. The idea was sold to the public as something that would produce more fuel that it would use, getting the electricity as basically a 'free' byproduct. I know all of this as I was a teenage when this plant was being built and my cousin worked for one of the electrical contractors that helped build the plant. He got us a private tour of the plant while it was still under construction. We were even allowed into the containment building, right up next to the reactor itself (that was a year or so before the reactor was 'fueled'). As the plant was nearing completion the PR people promoted the idea that this plant was going to revolutionize the nuclear power generating industry and that Fermi I was going to be the first of dozens of plants like it. In the end, it was the first and ONLY commercial 'fast breeder' reactor ever built. Note that the only other ones that were in operation in the US were those used to produce Plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. Obviously these were run by the government and were not used to produce power.

For more information about Fermi I, go to:

en.wikipedia.org

Note that the term 'China Syndrome' was coined as a result of descriptions by the engineers and scientists of what might have happened had the entire core melted in the Fermi I plant in 1966. The accident that happened in 1966 caused a control rod to stick and the reactor overheated causing a partial melted-down of the fuel-rods. They were able to shut the reactor down and cool the core avoiding a total meltdown, but it was close. There was a book written in 1975, titled 'We Almost Lost Detroit', which detailed what went wrong and how close we came to a full blown nuclear disaster.

For the record, I was living in Michigan at time of the accident, but I was in engineering school in the Upper Peninsula, several hundred miles away, but I had several family members, including aunts, uncles and cousins, living within only a few miles of the plant, some of them could even see the containment building from their homes.

People talk a lot about 'Three Mile Island', but in reality, the Fermi I meltdown, because of the reactor design using molten Sodium as the liquid that transferred the heat from the reactor to the steam generation system, if it had ruptured the resulting explosion would have been catastrophic, and the potential to do much more damage than 'Three Mile Island' could ever have done.

OCU

#2 | Posted by OCUser at 2021-08-14 04:35 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 3

Ahh the hubris of man.

Americans have some hubris. There can be no doubt.

But the Chinese definitely disregard them divinely fixed limits on human inter actions with a so called ordered cosmos. The karma nature dispenses can be a -------! But they have plenty of them -------- (and women) so they can afford to lose a few million every now and then with their hubris. I guess.

I wish them well. Hope it turns out better than for them than it did for Japan.

#3 | Posted by donnerboy at 2021-08-14 06:29 PM | Reply

@#2

Reminds me of the "Clean Coal" campaign of years ago.

While the "clean" in this instance seems to do mostly with the cooling water that is no longer used and with the "plutonium is forever" problem, "clean" in this instance may not mean "safe if built next door" which is what everyone is really looking for.

My big question regarding nuclear power is --- why is every reactor unique? Wouldn't it be better to move towards some manner of modular design that is repeated so that problems can be identified and fixed more systematically, instead of on a per-spec basis?

#4 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-08-14 07:27 PM | Reply

#4 - I believe you answered your own question. A historic example: Robert Goddard did not build just one kind of rocket and work on improvements to make it better. He built several kinds (load rocket, solid fuel rocket, liquid fuel rocket, etc.) He found the liquid fuel rocket worked the best. Had he stuck with his original load rocket and worked to improve that, he would have never come up with the liquid fuel rocket that is predominately used today.

There are many more examples of product design that did not stick to one concept with improvements to it and no other.

#5 | Posted by jakester at 2021-08-14 07:39 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

There will not be clean nuclear power until fusion technology is perfected. Any fission plant can fail in some manner that it suddenly becomes messy. If a fusion plant fails, it simply stops working. There is no radioactive mess to clean up.

#6 | Posted by jakester at 2021-08-14 07:48 PM | Reply

@#5 ... There are many more examples of product design that did not stick to one concept with improvements to it and no other. ...

But we are past the Robert Goddard stage in nuclear reactor technology? Or are we?

After trying all of these various designs, we still cannot come up with something that is safe.

To your example, it is not load rocket vs solid fuel vs liquid fuel, etc., in the reactor design.

They are all basically the same fundamental process, fission.

Yet they are all so different in design because ... ?

At what point do we say fission doesn't work and move on?

#7 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-08-14 07:56 PM | Reply

"Yet they are all so different in design because ... ?"

The technology behind a graphite reactor (Chernobyl, e.g.) vs salt reactor vs water water reactors is very different. Yes, at the heart of them all an atom is split, just as at the heart of Godddard's rockets, a chemical reaction takes place. But they (both rocket and fission reactors) are quite different technologies.

Graphite reactors were the first. It's a good thing the world moved past them and found different technologies.

#8 | Posted by jakester at 2021-08-14 08:07 PM | Reply

@#8 ... It's a good thing the world moved past them and found different technologies. ...

And we should continue moving forward to find new technologies instead of building many different variations of the same basic design. That is the issue, we have not really moved to new technologies, just differing, and failing, ways to implement the same old technology - fission.

As you note, fusion may have hope ....

I am old enough to remember the hype that atomic power would be so plentiful that it would be ~too cheap to make it worthwhile to have an electric meter on your house.~

In my view, we haven't progressed to far beyond that level of hype, Dr Goddard notwithstanding...


#9 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-08-14 08:33 PM | Reply

"I am old enough to remember the hype that atomic power would be so plentiful that it would be ~too cheap to make it worthwhile to have an electric meter on your house.~"

I am old enough to remember that, too. Ever since i was a kid fusion power was always "only 15 years away". I think it's still "only 15 years away." LOL

#10 | Posted by jakester at 2021-08-14 08:36 PM | Reply

#2 | Posted by OCUser

The breeder reactors you are talking about are very different from a Thorium powered reactor.

But that was a very good reminder on Fermi I and breeders. Also if I am not mistaken they were used for creating material for nuclear weapons. If I am not mistaken the Chinese are about to fire up 3 of them?

I agree with the idea of a fusion reactor but as you guys have said they have been "15 years away" since I was a kid. Thorium reactors as I understand it are far more safe than any of today's conventional reactors. They don't require the massive cooling towers and ponds, etc. If we are going to get off fossil fuels anytime soon they are a part of that picture. China gets it. So does India. Which is why it amazes me we do not. I am waiting for the massive improvements required for solar, wind, etc and battery tech. They may come and they may not.

#11 | Posted by GalaxiePete at 2021-08-15 04:42 PM | Reply

Whey would also transmutate lower grade Uranium into a more radioactive version which could then be harvested from the expended fuel rods and reprocessed into fuel for a conventional reactor. The US shut that down on the 90's. They were melting fuel rods for many years.

#12 | Posted by Sniper at 2021-08-15 05:28 PM | Reply

Safety concerns, such as they are. We probably cannot turn climate change around quickly enough without nuclear energy. It's very likely our only hope of staying below 1.5 degrees.

#13 | Posted by Whatsleft at 2021-08-15 07:24 PM | Reply

Hey, let's build machines that need 100years to turn off and clean up... oh, and the waste will last for 10 generations. Yay science! Too bad global warming makes it so hot they can't cool reactors with cold river water.

#14 | Posted by Brennnn at 2021-08-15 10:44 PM | Reply

#12 | Posted by Sniper

In short? Nuclear Weapons is why.

Weapons grade material is removed from the "spent" fuel during reprocessing.

#15 | Posted by GalaxiePete at 2021-08-17 09:48 AM | Reply

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