Australian news, and some related international items

Bill Gates pushing the very dubious promise of nuclear energy

Bill Gates comes to Washington — selling the promise of nuclear energy, WP, By Steven Mufson, January 25 

Bill Gates thinks he has a key part of the answer for combating climate change: a return to nuclear power. The Microsoft co-founder is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to spend billions of dollars over the next decade for pilot projects to test new designs for nuclear power reactors.

Gates, who founded TerraPower in 2006, is telling lawmakers that he personally would invest $1 billion and raise $1 billion more in private capital to go along with federal funds for a pilot of his company’s never-before-used technology, according to congressional staffers…….

 Gates said in his year-end public letter. “The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation.” …..

But many nuclear experts say that Gates’s company is pursuing a flawed technology and that any new nuclear design is likely to come at a prohibitive economic cost and take decades to perfect, market and construct in any significant numbers.

Lawmakers are listening to him. Through the Energy Department, Congress approved $221 million to help companies develop advanced reactors and smaller modular reactors in fiscal 2019, above the budget request. But Gates and TerraPower, which received a $40 million Energy Department research grant in 2016, are looking for more. …….

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said TerraPower is one of many companies that is raising the public’s hopes for advanced nuclear reactor designs even though they’re still on the drawing boards and will remain unable to combat climate change for many years.

We think the vendors of advanced nuclear power designs are saying they can commercially deploy them in a few years and all over the world,” Lyman said. “We think that is counterproductive because it is misleading the public on how fast and effective these could be.” ……

Many nuclear power experts say that the technology Gates is promoting — called a “traveling wave reactor” — does not work as advertised, at least not yet. “These designs . . . require advances in fuel and materials technology to meet performance objectives,” a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report said last year.

TerraPower has changed key elements of its design and has still not resolved critical problems, experts say……

critics say TerraPower has been stumbling over a handful of obstacles.

First, TerraPower has discovered that the traveling wave didn’t travel so well and that it would not evenly burn the depleted uranium in the “candle.” Second, and partly as a result, it needed to change the design to reshuffle the fuel rods — and do that robotically while keeping the reactor running. Third, it has struggled to find a metal strong enough to protect the fuel rods from a bombardment of neutrons more intense than those commonly used in reactors — and for a much longer period of time…….

In many ways, TerraPower’s design resembles fast breeder reactors. Fast breeders have faster moving neutrons, the subatomic particles that trigger fission.

Allison Macfarlane, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said earlier versions of fast breeder reactors have turned in a “dismal performance.” The United States built two small reactors at a government laboratory in Idaho, Japan built a commercial unit called Monju, and France built two called Phenix and Superphenix — and all of them have been shut down.

……TerraPower has also been working with the Energy Department on another reactor. If it moved ahead, it could obtain federal funds for 60 percent of the cost of a test reactor, Burkey said. That design would rely on molten salt as both coolant and fuel. TerraPower believes an advanced molten salt reactor could be more efficient and produce less waste than current models.

However, that technology was examined in different countries 60 years ago — and abandoned. Lyman said the molten salt was “highly corrosive, so you need special materials for the reactor. That’s an engineering problem they still have to confront.” ……–selling-the-promise-of-nuclear-energy/2019/01/25/4bd9c030-1445-11e9-b6ad-9cfd62dbb0a8_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.115327089881


January 26, 2019 - Posted by | General News

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