Tag Archives: nuclear power

Fuel for Russia’s nuclear space engine

The competition heats up: According to Russian press sources, the first fuel for that country’s nuclear space engine project has now been delivered to Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy corporation.

The article is very unclear whether this space engine is a nuclear power plant similar to those used by NASA’s deep space Voyager, Pioneer, and Cassini probes, or whether it is a real nuclear-powered engine designed to provide thrust. Russia has never launched a probe with the former, so that would be an advancement for them, but it would not be a game-changer in the exploration of the solar system. If the latter, however, it will give them the capability no one else has to travel quickly and more efficiently to other worlds.

Based on a careful rereading of the article, I suspect the former.

U.S. production of plutonium-238 resumes

After a 30 year hiatus, the Department of Energy has produced the first plutonium-238 in the United States since the late 1980s.

Plutonium-238 is the fuel of choice for deep-space exploration. But for nearly 30 years, nobody in the United States was making it.

On Tuesday, that all changed. The Department of Energy announced that 50 grams of the stuff had been made by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Fifty grams isn’t much, but this is the first time the substance has been made in the country since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina stopped making it in the late 1980s.

What this does is provide NASA and the U.S. the ability to fly unmanned deep space missions for many more years. Without this plutonium-238, there would be no practical way to power spacecraft traveling out beyond Mars orbit.

And why did the U.S. stop making plutonium-238 in the late 1980s? The story is of course complicated, but one of the big factors is that at that time nuclear power had become politically incorrect after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plant failures, and thus politicians fell over themselves to be the first to ban any such production, even if it was harmless and incredibly beneficial.

The radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant failure in Japan has turned out to be less of a problem than predicted.

The radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant failure in Japan has turned out to be less of a problem than predicted.

[O]utside the immediate area of Fukushima, this is hardly a problem at all. Although the crippled nuclear reactors themselves still pose a danger, no one, including personnel who worked in the buildings, died from radiation exposure. Most experts agree that future health risks from the released radiation, notably radioactive iodine-131 and cesiums-134 and – 137, are extremely small and likely to be undetectable. Even considering the upper boundary of estimated effects, there is unlikely to be any detectable increase in cancers in Japan, Asia or the world except close to the facility, according to a World Health Organization report. There will almost certainly be no increase in birth defects or genetic abnormalities from radiation.

Even in the most contaminated areas, any increase in cancer risk will be small. For example, a male exposed at age 1 has his lifetime cancer risk increase from 43 percent to 44 percent. Those exposed at 10 or 20 face even smaller increases in risk — similar to what comes from having a whole-body computer tomography scan or living for 12 to 25 years in Denver amid background radiation in the Rocky Mountains.

The entire article is worth reading, as it outlines in detail the less than deadly consequences of both Fukushima and Chernobyl. This is the kind of information we should use to rationally decide whether we want to build more nuclear power planets.

The Fukushima nuclear reactor has reached the state of cold shutdown

Good news: The Fukushima nuclear reactor has reached the state of cold shutdown.

This means that the reactor core has cooled enough that there is no need to recirculate the water to keep the fuel cool. However, because the reactor continues to leak that water recirculation is still necessary, and will be for years.

As is typical of many modern journalists, the article above is also an unstated editorial both hostile to nuclear energy as well as private enterprise, best shown by the article’s concluding paragraph:

Meanwhile, the Japanese public and many of its politicians remained deeply mistrustful of the situation at Fukushima. In this week’s issue of Nature, two members of the Japanese parliament call for nationalization of the Fukushima Plant, to allow scientists and engineers to investigate exactly what happened inside the reactors, and to reassure the public that the decommissioning will be done with their interests at heart. Regardless of whether you agree with the authors, nationalization seems almost inevitable. The lengthy decommissioning process that will follow this cold shutdown, and the enormous cost involved, make it a job for a government, not a corporation. [emphasis mine]

First, he has no idea what the Japanese public thinks of this situation. Second, there is no evidence that the government could do this job better than the company that runs the reactor. Both conclusions are mere opinion, inserted inappropriately in a news article without any supporting proofs.

New York Metropolitan Opera stars, fearing radiation, skip Japan tour

Cowards: Two New York Metropolitan Opera stars, fearing radiation, have backed out of a Japanese tour in the cities of Tokyo and Nagoya. This, despite the documented lack of radiation:

Tokyo briefly registered nominally higher radiation levels in its air and water, but they have subsided to pre-tsunami levels. There was never any scientific concern of a radiation impact on Nagoya, which is much farther away.

Meanwhile, the efforts to stabilize the reactors in Fukushima are proceeding.

Power has been restored at all six Fukushima reactors

Power has been restored at all six Fukushima reactors in Japan.

Overall, the situation appears completely under control, so much so that in a rational world it probably would be possible to put several of these reactors back in operation. The Reuters story above, however, is amusing to read in one sense, as it struggles mightily to make things sound worse than they are.

The real disaster in Japan

The situation at the Japanese nuclear power planets continues to improve. Key quote:

It’s hard to imagine, but it’s now been eight days since the Honshu quake and tsunami, and evidence continues to accumulate that while it was certainly a bad industrial accident, the “doomsday” and “worst case” scenarios just haven’t happened. Every day longer makes those scenarios even less likely — the reactors are cooling, the Japanese are getting them supplied with power, and the fuel rods haven’t burned.

Meanwhile, the scope of the real disaster in Japan is becoming more clearly known: No bodies or survivors found in tsunami-hit Miyagi community.

Kobe fire department rescue team members, who also worked in areas affected by the Great Hanshin Earthquake, have been operating in Minami-Sanrikucho. But they do not have any idea of the whereabouts of the legions of missing people swept away after massive tsunami swallowed up houses. In all, 8,000 town residents remain missing.

What is it with today’s modern American press, that is obsessed about a non-problem at a nuclear power plant, while close-by whole cities have been laid waste, with literally tens of thousands of people killed?

My heart goes out to the Japanese people. Faced with such destruction, they still seem undaunted and unbowed. May they rebuild their country quickly and with courage.

Power reconnected to Japanese reactor site

Power reconnected to Japanese reactor site.

Increasingly, the panic over the Japanese reactor problems appears to have been overblown and childish. Meanwhile, the real disaster continues, with thousands dead and large areas of the Japanese northeast coast devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

The situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant continues to stabilize

Here’s some good news: The situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant continues to stabilize.

The article has a lot to say about the panicky overreaction of much of the press and political class over this incident. For example:

In summary it appears more and more that health consequences from reactor damage will be extremely minimal even for workers at the site. It will now be a surprise if anyone who has not been inside the plant gates this week is affected by the situation at at all – apart from all the people worldwide who have been taking iodide pills or eating salt unnecessarily. There may also be measurable psychological health effects from the global media-driven hysteria surrounding the situation, of course.

A detailed explanation of what has happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant

Check out this detailed engineering explanation of what has happened, is happening, and will happen at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Key quote:

The point is that the nuclear fuel has now been cooled down. Because the chain reaction has been stopped a long time ago, there is only very little residual heat being produced now. The large amount of cooling water that has been used is sufficient to take up that heat. Because it is a lot of water, the core does not produce sufficient heat any more to produce any significant pressure. Also, boric acid has been added to the seawater. Boric acid is “liquid control rod”. Whatever decay is still going on, the Boron will capture the neutrons and further speed up the cooling down of the core.