Paths To Knowledge (dot Science)

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Safer Nuclear Reactor Designs Are A Must

Posted by pwl on March 17, 2011

“Video of helicopters water-bombing nuclear reactor, close-up shots of Fukushima”

RT reports that allegedly only four helicopter loads of water have so far been dropped, and that 100 loads of water are needed to even have any cooling effect. Not good.

“17 March: During the morning, Self-Defense Force helicopters dropped four containers of water on the spent fuel pools of Units 3 and 4.[35] In the afternoon it was reported that the Unit 4 spent fuel pool is full with water and none of the fuel rods are exposed.[36] Construction work was started to supply a working external electrical power source to all six units of Fukushima I.[37]”
Fukushima I Nuclear Accidents, Wikipedia

When the last resort is dropping water onto nuclear rectors from helicopters is the solution being used you know it’s really bad. It looks like most of the water spray misses the target (hard to tell from the camera angle).

Clearly nuclear reactor designs must be revisited to take into account a complete loss of the coolant systems. Safer designs are a must, and designs that don’t have the flaws seen at Fukushima are a must.

Some immediately obvious design improvements.

Water proof and bunkered generators and fuel tanks. In a tsunami zone this is a brain dead must. It’s amazing that that the diesel backup generators and their diesel fuel tanks were susceptible to water damage (assuming that is what happened to knock them out as is alleged).

Hydrogen explosions like these two at Fukushima Unit 1 and Unit 3 Rectors need to be prevented at all costs.

A means of venting hydrogen gas or capturing and pressurizing it so it is less likely to explode destroying the infrastructure and safety systems. This seems to be a new flaw that wasn’t known to the general public before, that nuke facilities are subject to impressive hydrogen explosions. If anything this is what will kill new reactors, the “impressive, most impressive” hydrogen explosions.

Much bigger tsunami walls around ALL coastal nuke plants. Allegedly Fukushima was designed to defend against a 6.3 meter tsunami surge wave but was hit with a 10 meter wave. Research of the history of tsunami waves is a must and plan for that. Sure it might not look nice having massive walls around nuclear plants but it does improve safety and not just from tsunamis. In this case ugly is safer.

Big BOB (big-old battery) backup? A Bunkered BOB at the Fukushima plant would have had 8 Megawatts of power on standby to power the cooling systems at a cost of a messily $25 Million Dollars and if protected against earthquake and tsunami dangers would have been able to provide the energy to keep the cooling systems and control systems energized (assuming that those systems didn’t themselves sustain direct damage from the earthquake or tsunami 55 minutes later). If 8 megawatts wouldn’t be enough, built the BOB bigger. Now that is cheap considering the abandoning of four to six perfectly good billion dollar nuclear reactors (although one or more were scheduled to be retired this year) not to mention the improved safety to humans.

“A sodium-sulfur battery is a type of molten metal battery[1] constructed from sodium (Na) and sulfur (S). This type of battery has a high energy density, high efficiency of charge/discharge (89–92%) and long cycle life, and is fabricated from inexpensive materials. However, because of the operating temperatures of 300 to 350 °C and the highly corrosive nature of the sodium polysulfides, such cells are primarily suitable for large-scale non-mobile applications such as grid energy storage.”
Sodium-Sulfur Battery, Wikipedia.

Storing of “spend” rods in a bunkered containment structure, something that could be retrofitted at many sites.

Storing of “spent” rods away from the reactor itself, maybe a kilometer or more distant so that explosions at the reactor can’t spread to the storage ponds.

Recycling of “spent” rods as new fuel sources for newer reactor designs to eliminate the long term storage issues.

“Fast-neutron reactors could extract much more energy from recycled nuclear fuel, minimize the risks of weapons proliferation and markedly reduce the time nuclear waste must be isolated.”

“If developed sensibly, nuclear power could be truly sustainable and essentially inexhaustible and could operate without contributing to climate change. In particular, a relatively new form of nuclear technology could overcome the principal drawbacks of current methods—namely, worries about reactor accidents, the potential for diversion of nuclear fuel into highly destructive weapons, the management of dangerous, long-lived radioactive waste, and the depletion of global reserves of economically available uranium. This nuclear fuel cycle would combine two innovations: pyrometallurgical processing (a high-temperature method of recycling reactor waste into fuel) and advanced fast-neutron reactors capable of burning that fuel. With this approach, the radioactivity from the generated waste could drop to safe levels in a few hundred years, thereby eliminating the need to segregate waste for tens of thousands of years.”
Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste (PDF), Scientific American, December 2005,

Use of advanced robotics for handling the nuclear fuel and for moving it from one location to another on site so that humans don’t have to handle this dangerous material.

Cameras everywhere on the site for 100% plus redundant coverage.

Worst case meltdown cooling and capture systems using gravity feed of coolant. Maybe even a containment vessel floor that can withstand the heat of the molten nuclear fuel. Are there any such materials? Have to look into that. This would prevent the molten fuel from getting into the ground water systems by capturing the molten metal in a capsule under the reactor.

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