Nuclear safety projects launched in China

This looks like smart policy:

A series of research and development (R&D) projects has been launched by China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) to improve the country’s emergency response capabilities at nuclear power plants in the event of an extreme disaster.

The NEA said that the projects are aimed at improving safety-related technology employed in Chinese nuclear power plants, taking into account lessons learned from the Fukushima accident in Japan.

A total of thirteen R&D projects are to be conducted by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) and the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology in cooperation with Tsinghua University. Engineers and researchers will work to develop advanced nuclear power safety technology through targeted research and plant site analyses, the NEA said.

The R&D projects will include the development of passive emergency power supply and cooling water systems, as well as development of passive containment heat removal systems. The projects will also analyse the impact of multiple simultaneous external events and response measures. Research into beyond design basis earthquake and external flooding, as well as measures for the prevention and mitigation of used fuel accidents will also be conducted. Projects will also cover beyond design basis accident mitigation equipment and systems, while others are aimed at developing hydrogen control devices and emergency rescue robots. Other projects will study the monitoring and treatment of contaminated ground and water.

All the projects are expected to be completed by 2013. According to the NEA, implementation of the results will improve the safety of China’s second-generation nuclear power plant technology by lowering the probability of large early radioactive releases and reactor core damage.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

[From Nuclear safety projects launched in China]

MacKay: risk assessment for energy-related severe accidents

mackay_deaths_per_gwy.jpg

We made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons, as if all things nuclear were evil. I think that’s as big a mistake as if you lumped nuclear medicine in with nuclear weapons. —Patrick Moore, former Director of Greenpeace International

UPDATE: I’ve bumped the timestamp on this post to 2012 for (my) ease of access.

In his marvelous “Sustainable energy without the hot air” David Mackay’s Chapter 24 Nuclear? examines nuclear power. From that chapter I extracted the memorable Moore quote above, and the graphic at left.

For my own reference I wanted to include David’s computation of deaths per GWy (gigawatt-year), which he has extracted from two of the studies we’ve already referenced (ExternE, and the Paul Scherrer Institute).

The graphic at left has translated those studies into David’s preferred units of GWy. Here’s an excerpt from David’s analysis of comparative energy generation risks:

(…) When quantifying the public risks of different power sources, we need a new unit. I’ll go with “deaths per GWy (gigawatt-year).” Let me try to convey what it would mean if a power source had a death rate of 1 death per GWy. One gigawatt-year is the energy produced by a 1 GW power station, if it operates flat-out for one year. Britain’s electricity consumption is roughly 45 GW, or, if you like, 45 gigawatt-years per year. So if we got our electricity from sources with a death rate of 1 death per GWy, that would mean the British electricity supply system was killing 45 people per year. For comparison, 3000 people die per year on Britain’s roads. So, if you are not campaigning for the abolition of roads, you may deduce that “1 death per GWy” is a death rate that, while sad, you might be content to live with. Obviously, 0.1 deaths per GWy would be preferable, but it takes only a moment’s reflection to realize that, sadly, fossil-fuel energy production must have a cost greater than 0.1 deaths per GWy – just think of disasters on oil rigs; helicopters lost at sea; pipeline fires; refinery explosions; and coal mine accidents: there are tens of fossil-chain fatalities per year in Britain.

So, let’s discuss the actual death rates of a range of electricity sources. The death rates vary a lot from country to country. In China, for example, the death rate in coal mines, per ton of coal delivered, is 50 times that of most nations. Figure 24.11 shows numbers from studies by the Paul Scherrer Institute and by a European Union project called ExternE, which made comprehensive estimates of all the impacts of energy production. According to the EU figures, coal, lignite, and oil have the highest death rates, followed by peat and biomass-power, with death rates above 1 per GWy. Nuclear and wind are the best, with death rates below 0.2 per GWy. Hydroelectricity is the best of all according to the EU study, but comes out worst in the Paul Scherrer Institute’s study, because the latter surveyed a different set of countries.

David then moves on to one of my favorite topics, which he terms Mythconceptions, which include “nuclear involves huge amounts of concrete and steel whose creation involves huge CO2 pollution” and “Isn’t the waste from nuclear reactors a huge problem?” For those discussions please visit the site and buy the book! Which is now available in a Kindle version for only USD $27, the best book value I have ever purchased.

For more on Dr. MacKay and the book please see my Oct 2009 post.

Nuclear waste: in Sweden, Finland, USA communities want spent fuel storage facilities

There’s a secure solution to America’s energy problem buried under booming Carlsbad, N.M. If only Washington would get out of the way.

French and US polls that I’ve read consistently show that people who live near nuclear power stations want to have more nuclear, not less. That perspective is almost impossible to find in the usual sensational media coverage. But this recent Forbes article is different. Carlsbad New Mexico is the site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP ).

(…) Since opening in 1999, WIPP has operated so smoothly and safely that Carlsbad is lobbying the feds to ­expand the project to take the nuclear mother lode: 160,000 more tons of the worst high-level nuclear waste in the country

(…) Carlsbad has a different take. “It’s really a labor of love,” says Forrest. “We’ve proven that nuclear waste can be disposed of in a safe, reliable way.”

This attitude—“Yes in my backyard,” if you will—has brought near permanent prosperity to this isolated spot that until recently had no endemic economic engine. Unemployment sits at 3.8%, versus 6.5% statewide and 8.5% nationally. And thanks to this project—euphemistically known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP—New Mexico has received more than $300 million in federal highway funds in the past decade, $100 million of which has gone into the roads around Carlsbad. WIPP is the nation’s only permanent, deep geologic repository for nuclear waste. The roads have to be good for the two dozen trucks a week hauling in radioactive drums brimming with the plutonium-laden detritus of America’s nuclear weapons production.

As recommended by the Obama administration’s blue ribbon commission, community involvement is essential to the successful siting and operation of a spent fuel storage facility. A similar story is found in the Swedish town of Östhammar a town of 22,000 inhabitants a two-hour drive north of Stockholm. Spiegel May 19, 2011 Why One Swedish Town Welcomes a Waste Dump. The towns of Östhammar and Oskarshamn competed for the new storage facility:

(…) For years, local officials were worried that another town with a nuclear power plant — Oskarshamn, which is 465 kilometers away and was also vying to be the site of the repository — would end up winning the contest. The two towns decided to make a deal. The company building the repository, Svensk Kärnbränslehantering (SKB), would provide two billion Swedish krona, or about €223 million ($312 million), of which the runner-up would receive 75 percent and the winner only 25 percent.

Some might say it was an attractive incentive for one of the towns to step on the brakes and come in second place.

The decision was made on a rainy summer day in 2009. Edelsvärd remembers the day very clearly. Östhammar town officials were sitting at the town hall, watching a live broadcast of the showdown in Stockholm. When the name of their community appeared on the screen, Edelsvärd says that “people weren’t cheering the way they would at a football match, but you could sense the feeling of elation in the room. It was a very Swedish way of expressing joy.”

Another case of good decisions resulting from competent community consultation is Finland’s new repository at Onkalo.

Please remember that what the media and Greenpeace call “nuclear waste” is actually incredibly valuable fuel for power generation. E.g., in the case of England, the UK DECC chief scientist David MacKay supported estimates that all of England’s electrical needs can be supplied for 500 years by burning the existing UK “waste”. This is in the context of Duncan Clark’s article on deployment of fast reactors such as the GE Hitachi PRISM being proposed to burn the UK “waste plutonium”.

(…) According to figures calculated for the Guardian by the American writer and fast reactor advocate Tom Blees, this alternative approach could – given a large enough number of reactors – produce enough low-carbon electricity from Britain’s waste stockpile to supply the UK at current rates of demand for more than 500 years.

MacKay confirmed this figure. “As an upper bound on what you could get from those resources in fast reactors I think it’s a very reasonable estimate. In reality you’d get all kinds of issues so you wouldn’t achieve the upper bound but I still think it’s a reasonable starting point.”

Nuclear vs Nuclear vs Nuclear

Another terrific George Monbiot essay. David MacKay has gone public with burning the UK nuclear ‘waste’. George explains that we have three technology choices to elect for waste: bury it, MOX recycle, IFR full recycle. George favors the GE Hitachi full reprocessing package; i.e., the IFR design.

Here’s a quick excerpt — more tomorrow.

We can’t wish nuclear waste away: we must choose one of three options for dealing with it.

By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s website, 2nd February 2012

Duncan Clarke’s article in the Guardian today should cause even the most determined anti-nuclear campaigner to think long and hard about the choices that confront us. He reveals that David McKay, chief scientific adviser to the government’s energy department and author of Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, has endorsed a remarkable estimate. The UK’s stockpile of nuclear waste could be used to generate enough low-carbon energy to run this country for 500 years.

If the material we have seen until now as waste is instead seen as fuel, it has the potential to solve three problems at once: the UK’s contribution to climate change, possible future energy shortfalls and a significant component of the massive bill – and massive headache – associated with cleaning up the current nuclear mess.

The technology with the potential to solve these problems is the fast reactor, ideally the integral fast reactor (IFR), about which I wrote in December. It exploits the fact that conventional nuclear power plants use just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels them. IFRs, once loaded with nuclear waste, can, in principle, keep recycling it until only a small fraction remains, producing energy as they do so.

(…) GE Hitachi has offered to build a fast reactor to consume the plutonium stockpile at Sellafield, though not yet the whole kit (the integral fast reactor). It has offered to do it within five years, and to carry the cost if it doesn’t work out. This is the proposal the government is now considering. I would like to see it go further and examine the case for the full works: an integral fast reactor (incorporating a reprocessing plant) that generates much more energy from the waste pile.

Read the whole thing »

I confess to being a bit excited to see George taking up this vital issue. And the extent of the commentary he is generating. Read the comments – see what you think. So far I would rate about 25% of the comments as being constructive and engaged. And less than 50% are of the typical unthinking anti-nuclear sort. Those comments are usually being thoroughly refuted by multiple contributors.

Eamon: Japan’s political dynamics after the Tohuku earthquake

A fascinating post by Japan-resident Eamon on Brave New Climate. It seems that even in Japan politicians “Never pass up a good crisis…” to seek political advantage.

Note the brief outline of “Amakudari”, the Japanese term for revolving door from regulator-to-industry. If this practice is permitted the resulting incentives ensure regulatory capture. In the US it is common for regulators to retire on a nice pension, move a few blocks to “K Street” into a cushy job lobbying their former officemates. You can make this transition without having to change car pools.

Roger Clifton, on 17 January 2012 at 6:40 PM said:

@Eamon — more questions. I’ve done some homework for you already — perhaps you could, as a Japan resident, prepare a short summary for us here on the political dynamics after the Tohuku earthquake?

No problem Roger, though my call for info was because the people on this forum would likely be able to point me in the direction of scientific studies, rather than the dross that abounds on the Web these days.

The political dynamics are shaped by two factors: a deeply entrenched bureaucracy that is used to shaping policy-making, and the political-class that appreciates the figurehead position that this creates.

After the earthquake people expected quick movement on generating and approving finances to help rebuild the Tohoku area. This got dragged out immeasurably by political sniping (some from inside the ruling party) by those wishing to be the next at the reins of power. Also, many minor parties, often needed to form ruling coalitions, have become firmly anti-nuclear, which will complicate things in the future.

One of the consequences of the powerful bureaucracy is that it is used to sharing knowledge sparingly within its myriad departments, and there has been little need for the public or politicians to challenge this given the Confucian ethos that, until recently, permeated Japan.

This gave rise to some of the most damaging revelations during the disaster, though typically, an increasing anti-nuclear media is portraying this as an nuclear industry issue, rather than a bureaucracy issue. The revelations include:

* The Nuclear Safety Commission ignoring information from the SPEEDI System (System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information, Department of Trade, Industry and Education). This lead to evacuees staying in an area of high radiation, which could have been avoided by consulting SPEEDI.

* The Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency asking TEPCO to assess the risk of Tsunamis to its Fukushima Plants. TEPCO reported back a few days before the tsunami that there was a risk of a 9-metre tsunami.

* The Agriculture Ministry banning the feeding of livestock with hay, as it could be contaminated by fallout. They forgot that Japanese farmers also use rice straw to feed livestock. Result – contaminated meat.

* Bureaucrats forgetting that gravel and other aggregates are stored outdoors. Contaminated gravel was widely used in construction in Fukushima Prefecture after the disaster, one condominium’s ground floor having two orders of magnitude more radiation than the local background.

* Prime Minister Kan ordering the halting of seawater injection into the damaged cores due to NRC quavering on its pros and cons. Luckily the site manager requested that his staff ignore the order and they did.

Please note I’m referring to public perceptions here – contaminated meat in small amounts will not have a noticeable effect (if at all) on a person’s health, though there is argument on the sensitive of young children to radiation doses. Also note that an increasing distrust of the bureaucracy (and with good reason) leads people to question what they hear from them – especially with regards to food safety these days.

One of the lessons learnt from the evacuation in Ukraine was how it damaged the health of hundreds and the quality of life of thousands of evacuees. Assuming the lesson had reached his advisers, why then did PM Kan order an evacuation from a 20 km radius of the damaged power station? Did competent authorities get excluded from the advice?

I will say first, that I agree with his decision, as a precautionary measure – though I think it should have also been bounded by probable contaminated areas (Using data from SPEEDI) rather than a simple radius. Until a good picture of the actual dangers on the ground are it seems sensible, and moreover, was a political necessity given the public pressures on the administration. There was also the additional factor of having to deal with the tsunami and earthquake damage across Tohoku

I will add at this juncture that my knowledge of that time is spotty – we were without electricity, kerosine and petrol, and low on supplies. We got general emergency updates over a battery powered radio. So apologies if this seems a broad summary.

As for competent authorities, it’s very hard to judge, given the bureaucracy’s secrecy and industrial ties (Amadukari#), but when we got our power back the experts consulted on NHK News seemed to be non-activist academics, though that changed as bureaucratic bungling came to light.

Alternatively, the Japanese Cabinet may have been misled by other advice, that more deaths would result if these people were left rebuilding after the tsunami than if they were evacuated. If so, he would have quoted an estimate of the net number of deaths averted. Please advise us of any official estimates of the consequences of action and inaction.

That kind of information is not available, as far as I know, and given the lack of solid information at the time of the evacuation order it might not have been reliable enough to accurately weight scenarios.

Or could it be that the order to evacuate was just a placation of a public made needlessly frightened ?

Given the advance to INES Level 7 (we really need a 6.5 here!) it probably was the right choice, solidly from a public relations viewpoint, and generally from a precautionary viewpoint. The partial melt-downs that occurred back up the latter, especially given that fact that jury-rigged systems were needed, fed by an erratic power supply, to fight to stabilize the plant in the days and weeks ahead.

Finally, sorry for the delay in my response. Family, work, and the need to combat anti-nuclear hype in the various fora I’m a part of in Japan kept me from it.

#Amakudari – the system where bureaucrats retire to cushy jobs in the industries they previously supervised. Serving bureaucrats must ensure they do not affect bureaucracy-industry links so much that they find themselves without a lucrative post-retirement position. This makes for ineffective oversight, and often out-and-out corruption.

You can’t make this stuff up – UK anti-nuclear “Greens” oppose carbon floor price

This is from a comment by the ever-reliable quokka on the bravenewclimate.com ” Open Thread 20”:

Anti-nuclear types are attempting to mount a legal challenge, based on purported subsidies, in the EU to new nuclear power stations in the UK.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/19/anti-nuclear-campaign-british-legal-challenge

One [of] their main gripes, it would seem, is the proposed carbon floor price in the UK implemented by a contract for difference mechanism. If the market price for carbon is less than the floor price, then the generators pay the government the difference. If it is higher, the government pays the generators. Current market price is about EUR 7 per tonne. Proposed market price is GBP 16. The intent seems to be to provide stability for investors in low emission plant.

Though some “green” groups back the floor price, it seems that the UK Green Party and Greenpeace do not and are actively opposing it:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/26/carbon-floor-price-blow

This is an unedifying sight, exhibiting an extraordinary level of political opportunism in the anti-nuclear crusade. Was a $23 per tonne price in Australia (roughly equal to the UK proposed floor price) opposed? Of course not. I doubt that many seeking serious emissions abatement believe that a price on carbon is not necessary (though not sufficient) and I personally find the Greenpeace position contemptuous.

One further “argument” that appears to be doing the rounds is that nuclear fuel is not subject to tax (except in Germany) and this constitutes a subsidy. That’s easily fixed. How about $100 per tonne, regardless of fuel type in electricity generation? Investors would be falling over themselves to build nuclear.

Personally, I hold Greenpeace (in particular) responsible for most of the coal-plant carbon emissions dumped into our atmosphere since 1980. Every megawatt of nuclear power that Greenpeace has successfully blocked has been replaced by a filthy coal plant, or more recently by less-filthy-but still polluting gas plant. Yes, Greenpeace can take the blame for the insane German anti-nuclear policy.

Stanford physicist Burton Richter’s moderate approach to climate change

Stanford’s Nobel laureate Burton Richter is a reliable source for effective policies that work. Dr. Richter was one of the principal contributors to the California’s Energy Future — The View to 2050.

Richter’s proposals bear no similarity to the typical “feel good”, money-wasting California subsidies and mandates. Prof. Richter was interviewed recently by Mark Golden for Power Engineering. Excerpt:

If you got one wish on international policy on climate change, what would it be?

That we would abandon the stupid notion of legally binding agreements on emissions. What are the fines for not meeting your agreements? Who levies the fine? Where does the money go? There are no sanctions, so what does “legally binding” mean?

Also, 15 countries are responsible for more than 80 percent of the world’s emissions. Why are we trying to get a deal with 196 countries, most of which are spending all their time trying to figure out how to get the richer countries to pay them money? What we really need is to get these 15 countries, which includes some developed countries and some rapidly developing countries, to agree on a deal.

(…)

Your book takes a middle ground between the deniers of climate change and what you call “ultra-greens,” who insist on drastic action immediately but reject nuclear power and some other low-carbon solutions. Can you talk about that middle ground?

What I tried to say is: Here is what we know, and here is how we know it. Here’s what the uncertainties are. Here’s what I think we ought to be doing. But the reader should think about what we ought to be doing, too.

The future is hard to predict, because it hasn’t happened yet. For some, this is an excuse for inaction. “We don’t know enough. Since we don’t know enough, we shouldn’t do anything.” Whereas there are a lot of things we can do now that don’t cost much at all and that can have a relatively large impact.

Secondly, no matter how good some solution is, some people will demand that we wait for a better solution. This is a problem that some environmentalists generate, because they’re not willing to settle for partial solutions. The example I use is switching from coal to natural gas to generate electricity, which would eliminate 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and by the way, the electricity would be cheaper.

California has this “Million Solar Roofs” program, ($2.1 billion in state subsidies). For 15 to 20 percent of the cost, I could eliminate twice as much CO2 emissions by simply converting the Four Corners coal-fired power plant from coal to natural gas. That doesn’t say don’t use any solar. But it does say let’s do things that can have a big impact now, and let’s give credit for it. The mandate to utilities should be to reduce emissions. It shouldn’t be to use certain technologies.

Read the whole thing »

I just ordered the Kindle Edition of Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century.

Lastly, for a very easy to understand five-part video series on nuclear power, see the Richter interviews by Stanford prof. Margot Gerritsen for her Smart Energy podcast.

A nuclear solution ticks all our boxes

Please do not miss George Monbiot’s latest essay — this is seriously good. George offers a very straightforward and easy to understand explanation of the benefits of fourth generation IFR nuclear power:

It is a devastating admission to have to make, especially during the climate talks in Durban. This year, the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.

As a result of shutting down its nuclear programme in response to green demands, Germany will produce an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That is almost as much as all the European savings resulting from the energy efficiency directive.

Other countries are heading the same way. These decisions are the result of an almost mediaeval misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.

(…)

I do not know how to evaluate the impact of this essay, given Monbiot’s green credentials — it should be very positive.

Nuclear Risk in Perspective: Making Fact-Based Energy Choices

Thanks heaps to Mark Flanagan at NEI Nuclear Notes for linking this article. Kevin Makinson and Andrew Klein wrote a pragmatic memo on electrical generation options for the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI). I was a bit surprised to see a balanced discussion under the PPI banner, so it is especially good to see some dialogue in the part of the political spectrum where we often here “all we need is conservation, solar and wind”.

The authors’ enlightened perspective should not be a surprise because Kevin is a Ph.D. Candidate at Oregon State University in radiation health physics, while coauthor Klein is a Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University.

Here’s a representative excerpt, selected because it summarizes the “dirty little secret” that the intermittent options require over-building equivalent peaking power:

(…) The third type of power generation is relatively new to the electricity production world and comes from renewable but intermittent sources such as wind, solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wave, and tidal. Such generation typically must be operated in tandem with peaking power plants of equal capacity to fill the gaps when demand is high and the wind drops or the sun is obstructed by clouds. To provide continuous power from intermittent electrical power sources without peaking power plants would require the effective storage of electricity on an un- precedented scale. We are decades away the development of storage technologies (e.g., traditional batteries, pumped hydro storage, compressed air, molten salt, etc.) on a scale necessary to smooth out intermittent power fluctuations.

I.e., very roughly you have to overbuild generation capacity by about 100% and hence are locking-in a dependance upon fossil energy. Caveat – this is in the typical case where excess hydro capacity isn’t available for firming the intermittent sources. E.g., so long as Norway can sell excess hydro peaking power, Denmark can avoid paying directly for the excess capacity required when there is a week or two of little or no wind.

I wrote a short comment on the PPI article which has not so far been published (presumably in the moderation queue), as follows:

I appreciate the editorial constraints on such a piece for the non-technical reader, but really there is not much to fault in your survey-level article. If I could make one revision I would add a couple of paragraphs explaining that nuclear “waste” is actually valuable fuel for fast neutron reactors like the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). With that understanding, then the used fuel from the US once-through fuel cycle would no longer be a ” largely intractable issue”.

As it happens, progressive author and UK Environmentalist George Monbiot recently wrote an essay for The Guardian on just this topic titled “A nuclear solution ticks all our boxes“. George concluded with this paragraph

So we environmentalists have a choice. We cannot wish the waste away. Either it is stored and then buried. Or it is turned into mox fuels. Or it is used to power IFRs. We should determine where we stand. I suggest we take the radical step of using science, not superstition, as our guide.

For more depth on the IFR the US public media published an interview with Dr. Richard Till, Nuclear physicist and associate lab director at Argonne National Laboratory West in Idaho. He is co-developer of the Integral Fast Reactor, an inherently safe nuclear reactor with a closed fuel cycle.

Another recommendation — the recent article recommending fast neutron reactor reprocessing of the nuclear “waste” by William H. Miller, a professor with the University of Missouri’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute.