Thursday, September 8, 2011

Drive to build thorium reactor prototype launched in U.K.

The Weinberg Foundation says success with thorium-based reactors could lead to rapid deployment

Thorium8 Sept (NucNet): A new London-based lobbying organization aimed at promoting nuclear  technologies fuelled by thorium is calling for the UK's Sellafield site to be used as a research centre into next-generation reactors.

The Baroness Worthington, the new organization's patron, said yesterday in the House of Lords that Sellafield is a unique site and could become the home of “world-leading research” into the use of next-generation nuclear reactors.

She said thorium reactors, as well as being more efficient in their fuel use, generating no long-lasting waste, can be designed to burn up existing stockpiles of plutonium held at the Sellafield site. 

The U.K. government is closing the Sellafield site which had been producing MOX fuel for Japan from surplus plutonium. The U.K has not decided on a plutonium disposition strategy.

The Weinberg Foundation, which is being officially launched in London, says thorium-based reactors could “radically change perceptions of nuclear power leading to widespread deployment”.

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element. According to the Weinberg Foundation thorium can be “found in abundance” throughout the world.

The not-for-profit foundation is named after Alvin Weinberg, who pioneered a Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR) during the 1950s and 1960s at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US.

Thorium backersAccording to a business newsletter, advocates of the technology are also convinced that  much of the necessary theoretical work has already been done through the late Alvin Weinberg's design for a thorium-based liquid-fuelled reactor.

Photo left: Backers of the thorium reactor project, L-R:  Laurence O’Hagan, JoAnne Fishburn and John Durham

According to the newsletter BusinessGreen, John Durham, co-founder of the Weinberg Foundation and an environmental philanthropist, urged policymakers to take a serious look at the technology's potential.

"The abundance, safety and proliferation resistance of thorium, utilised in proven reactor platforms, presents real hope for a viable and peaceful solution to our global energy needs – from desalination in desperately arid regions to lighting our homes and cities," he said. "We must seize this time and the clear inclination of progressive nations to make safe nuclear energy a reality."

The foundation said the LFTR was proven to be safe and to “massively reduce” the generation of long-lived waste. Despite its many potential benefits this unique reactor was never fully developed or commercialized, the foundation said.

The foundation said China has announced a program to develop a thorium-fuelled molten-salt nuclear reactor. Success of the multi-million dollar endeavor would establish China as “a world leader” in generating safe, cost-effective and politically palatable thorium energy.

On the Web

The Weinberg Foundation: http://the-weinberg-foundation.org

EnergyFromThorium: http://energyfromthorium.com

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

China restarts progress on its nuclear energy program

Post-Fukushima safety checks are done, but the size of the new build will be smaller

China reactor core under constructionAfter five months China has mostly completed the safety inspections of its 11 GWe of nuclear energy plants. Work will resume on on the start of construction of new nuclear power stations. China temporarily suspended its nuclear new build on March 16, 2011.

In May 2011 the Chinese Environmental Ministry announced a series of supplemental measures to improve safety at the nation's nuclear power plants. In August an IAEA team completed a review of China's nuclear regulatory program with a series of recommendations to beef up its capabilities.

It’s not clear that work ever stopped on construction of reactor projects that had already broken ground. That includes four reactors being built by Westinghouse and two being built by Areva.

No operating reactors were reported to be closed by the inspections. The government did not released the results of the safety inspections. The report said that the safety checks would continue through October 2011.

"The consequence of (the Japanese) incident is very serious and the lesson is very profound," Vice Minister Li Ganjie said in state-media report posted on the environmental protection ministry's website.

Scope of China’s safety reviews

Vice Minister Li said, after the occurrence of Fukushima nuclear accident, the Chinese Government attached great importance to it with quick and effective response.

“We start doing the following two activities:

1) Large scale inspection on safety of nuclear power facilities. This work started in April and will be finished within 6 months. Among them, inspection on safety of all nuclear facilities under operation will be conducted in the first stage.”

In the second stage, we will carry out comprehensive review of the safety of all nuclear power plants under construction. At present, the work of the first stage has been finished with the safety check pace similar to that of EU and the United States.

2) Development of China National Plan for Nuclear Safety as soon as possible. The Chinese Government will suspend the review and approval of all new nuclear power plant projects before the approval of this Plan. “

(Complete Summary of Ganjie’s remarks in English) Note that there haven't been any English language references to the 'China National Plan for Nuclear Safety' since this June statement.

Li has called for a major overhaul of China's nuclear oversight in the wake of Japan's disaster. However, regulatory developments are not seen as impeding China’s drive to build up its commercial nuclear fleet.

U.S. Energy official meets with Li

Li's remarks came in a meeting June 15 in Beijing with the U.S. Energy Department Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Pete Lyons. The two discussed the Japanese disaster and called for closer cooperation on nuclear safety.

According to the China Daily, Lyons complimented the Chinese government on its immediate reaction and judgment shown after the crisis outbreak.

He also raised two issues regarding nuclear safety: one is the reliability and completeness of the instrumentation and control equipments; the other is the protection of emergency facilities in nuclear plants. Lyons is a former NRC Commission and has previously traveled to China to share expertise on nuclear safety.

In August 2011 China fired up the Ling Ao II nuclear power plant for revenue service which is a CPR-1000, the focus of safety concerns in the West. The reactor went critical in February and was connect to the grid in May 2011. These actions are a clear signal China is not slowing down development of its nuclear fleet.

New build scaled back

RPV Ling AoHowever, the government said it would scale back the size of its new build. Last year China announced it would build the equivalent of 80 1,000 MW nuclear power plants. Now China’s National Energy Administration is saying it will complete an additional 30 GW of plants by 2015, and an additional 28 reactors in the next decade, for a total new build of about 60 GW.

Ling Ao II RPV – Photo: World Nuclear News

Last December this blog wrote that it was unlikely that China would be able to complete construction of 80 GW of new reactor generating capacity in ten years.

The mandarins in Beijing will discover they're outrunning their ability to build out their plans for 80 GWe of new reactors in ten years. There are limits to how much concrete, steel, and nuclear engineering talent can be put into play in that short a period of time. They might build 25 GWE in ten years.

Improvements need in manufacturing quality and safety

The head of the National Energy Administration, Zhang Guobao, who is stepping down, said Aug 30 the restart of work on new projects, in addition to those where construction is already underway, needs to be supported by improvements in manufacturing quality of components, safety regulation, as well as increasing overall output.

While these developments were taking place, newspapers in the U.K. published formerly classified diplomatic cables released by a Swedish political group that revealed U.S. analysts are worried about the safety of China’s new reactors. The cables revealed concerns about the weakness of an independent regulatory safety program. Also, the cables stressed that China’s “second generation” plants might have problems due to aging equipment.

Another problem with safety is having enough trained nuclear engineers to run a credible program. The cables quote a former Westinghouse executive named Gavin Liu who is cited in them sometime in 2010 as saying “a bottleneck” exists in getting enough trained people to build the new reactors and regulate them in terms of safety.

Liu left Westinghouse in early 2011 to take a senior position with ABB in China. He is an expert on China’s nuclear technology with a Bachelor of Science in Thermal Engineering from Tsinghua University in 1991 and a Master’s degree in Economics from Peking University in 1998.

The cables reportedly compared the speed of construction, and lack of strong safety regulation for nuclear power, to the situation with China’s high speed railways. Last July a crash killed dozens of people. The cause of the accident is being blamed on China having put construction and start-up as priorities ahead of safety in operation.

Fast reactor news

China has hooked up a fast reactor to the grid supplying electricity from one for commercial use for the first time in that country. The China National Nuclear Corporation plant is generating 20 MW and has a capacity of 65 MW. It was built with help from a consortium of Russian state-owned companies.

800px-Sodium-Cooled_Fast_Reactor_Schemata.svgBloomberg wire service reported July 21 that the success with the prototype will pave the way for larger commercial units.

Work is also proceeding to build two BN-800 sodium-cooled fast reactors based on a Russian design. The China Nuclear Energy Industrial Corp. is working with Atomstroyexport to build the plants.

Media reports indicate a coastal site will be selected for the reactors. Groundbreaking is expected in 2013 or 2014.

According to World Nuclear News, the coastal city of Haiyan, on the Yangtze Delta, has been selected to house the 'Nuclear City'. It is some 118 kilometers (70 miles) southwest of Shanghai and close to the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou and Ningbo. WNN noted it also lies midway along China’s coast, where several nuclear power plants have been constructed or are planned.

Prior coverage on this blog

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