Australian news, and some related international items

TODAY: The growing influence of the nuclear lobby on education.

It’s one thing for the nuclear lobby to pour money into universities in the USA and UK, to set up prestigious-looking nuclear departments. That’s one way to gain the respectability, approval and awe that the nuclear priesthood crave.

The original scientists of the Manhattan atomic bomb project enjoyed adulation (for a while) when everyone was encouraged to think that their brilliant device saved the world from Hitler. But that adoration faded as it transpired that Japan would have surrendered anyway, and the war in Europe was over, months before the “wonderful” bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

To assuage their guilt, most nuclear scientists enthusiastically embraced “Atoms for Peace” – and off and away went the public story that nuclear power is so good. The nuclear priesthood, being highly technical and male – developed a mindset, a reductionist point of view – the idea that technical achievement is all-important, and side issues like radiation effects, biology, environment, ecology, health, economics, history, criminal connections, are – well – just side issues.

But dammit! Those side issues just keep on coming up. Perhaps this is because the universities have been teaching too much of that other girlie “soft” stuff. So we need not just more more Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – but Nuclear Science now too!

Australian journalist Liam Mannix, covers this new nuclear lobby push in his article ‘Cherish’ the power”, and points out that the uranium and nuclear industries have much more money to push for their interests, than do those “more socially constructive areas”.

The previous government in Australia determinedly downgraded humanities studies. Perhaps this is a worldwide trend. Anyway there is a saving grace for increasing STEM education – it gives girls and women that necessary knowledge – traditionally reserved for males. They, and men who can think, can gain the knowledge they need, to better evaluate pro nuclear propaganda.

Perhaps the world does need more nuclear scientists – there will be much need for them, in the marathon tasks of dismantling the toxic nuclear power/nuclear weapons industry. But we surely need also more humanities education, to understand and face the crises coming upon the world.

December 30, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Growing climate, nuclear risks spark doomsday fears

Past year has prompted warnings of armageddon amid war in Ukraine and concerns over higher rate of warming, but has also seen COVID pandemic recede and other positive signs By SHAUN TANDON 29 Dec 22, WASHINGTON (AFP) — For thousands of years, predictions of apocalypse have come and gone. But with dangers rising from nuclear war and climate change, does the planet need to at least begin contemplating the worst?

When the world rang in 2022, few would have expected the year to feature the US president speaking of the risk of doomsday, following Russia’s threats to go nuclear in its invasion of Ukraine.

“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis” in 1962, Joe Biden said in October.

And on the year that humanity welcomed its eighth billion member, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the planet was on a “highway to climate hell.”

In extremes widely attributed to climate change, floods submerged one-third of Pakistan, China sweat under an unprecedented 70-day heatwave, and crops failed in the Horn of Africa — all while the world lagged behind on the UN-blessed goal of checking warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Biggest risk yet of nuclear war?

The Global Challenges Foundation, a Swedish group that assesses catastrophic risks, warned in an annual report that the threat of nuclear weapons use was the greatest since 1945 when the United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in history’s only atomic attacks.

The report warned that an all-out exchange of nuclear weapons, besides causing an enormous loss of life, would trigger clouds of dust that would obscure the sun, reducing the capacity to grow food and ushering in “a period of chaos and violence, during which most of the surviving world population would die from hunger.”

Kennette Benedict, a lecturer at the University of Chicago who led the report’s nuclear section, said risks were even greater than during the Cuban Missile Crisis as Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared less restrained by advisors.

While any Russian nuclear strike would likely involve small “tactical” weapons, experts fear a quick escalation if the United States responds.

“Then we’re in a completely different ballgame,” said Benedict, a senior advisor to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which in January will unveil its latest assessment of the “doomsday clock” set since 2021 at 100 seconds to midnight.

Amid the focus on Ukraine, US intelligence believes North Korea is ready for a seventh nuclear test, Biden has effectively declared dead a deal on Iran’s contested nuclear work and tensions between India and Pakistan have remained at a low boil.

Benedict also faulted the Biden administration’s nuclear posture review which reserved the right for the United States to use nuclear weapons in “extreme circumstances.”

“I think there’s been a kind of steady erosion of the ability to manage nuclear weapons,” she said.

Charting worst-case climate risks

UN experts estimated ahead of November talks in Egypt that the world was on track to warming of 2.1 to 2.9 C — but some outside analysts put the figure well higher, with greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 again hitting a record despite pushes to renewable energy.

Luke Kemp, a Cambridge University expert on existential risks, said the possibility of higher warming was drawing insufficient attention, which he blamed on the consensus culture of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists’ fears of being branded alarmist.

“There has been a strong incentive to err on the side of least drama,” he said.

“What we really need are more complex assessments of how risks would cascade around the world.”

Climate change could cause ripple effects on food, with multiple breadbasket regions failing, fueling hunger and eventually political unrest and conflict.

Kemp warned against extrapolating from a single year or event. But a research paper he co-authored noted that even a two-degree temperature rise would put the Earth in territory uncharted since the Ice Age.

Using a medium-high scenario on emissions and population growth, it found that two billion people by 2070 could live in areas with a mean temperature of 29 C (84.2 F), straining water resources — including between India and Pakistan.

Cases for optimism

The year, however, was not all grim. While China ended the year with a surge of COVID-19 deaths, vaccinations helped much of the world turn the page on virus, which the World Health Organization estimated in May contributed to the deaths of 14.9 million people in 2020 and 2021.

December 30, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How did the US nuclear industry fare in 2022?

Nuclear plants big and small are getting support from the feds. Still, problems persist — TerraPower can’t source fuel, Oklo and NuScale are tangled in red tape, and more.

Canary Media 28 December 2022 Eric Wesoff

The U.S. nuclear power market continued to sputter in 2022 as it faced regulatory, technical and financial setbacks — despite solid support from the federal government. 

This mirrors the global nuclear scene; plant closings and construction delays have resulted in nuclear falling to just 9.8 percent of global power generation in 2021, its lowest level since the 1980s, according to the World Nuclear Industry 2022 annual report.

The United States generates more nuclear power than any other country in the world, with about 95 gigawatts of capacity, followed by China, but construction of new plants has been plagued by cost and schedule overruns, as well as an inability to keep up with the plunging costs of natural gas and renewable energy sources. Still, nuclear power provides a crucial 20 percent of U.S. electricity from the 92 light-water reactors that were built in a seemingly unreplicable construction binge in the 1970s and ​‘80s.

Some of these plants are struggling financially, many are approaching their decommission dates, and the only new large reactors constructed in recent memory, at the Plant Vogtle in Georgia, have been calamitous money pits brimming with incompetence and even fraud.

Here are the U.S. nuclear industry’s highs and lows from 2022. 

Diablo Canyon lives

Diablo Canyon, California’s last remaining nuclear plant, was granted up to $1.1 billion in support from the U.S. Department of Energy in November, which might allow the two-reactor plant to remain in business. ……………..

Still, Diablo faces a reckoning with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding its license, as the plant must now confront years of deferred maintenance in the run-up to its anticipated retirement. 

Fuel loading at Vogtle

On October 17, Georgia Power reported that ​“fuel load” into the Plant Vogtle Unit 3 reactor core had been completed, marking an overdue milestone in the bumpy journey of getting two new reactors at this power plant up and running. During the fuel-loading process, technicians and operators transferred scores of fuel assemblies one by one to the Unit 3 reactor…………………….

On December 7, Vogtle’s Unit 4 completed cold hydro testing, the penultimate step before hot functional testing, which is scheduled to begin early next year. 

The two units are the first new nuclear units to be built in the U.S. in more than three decades — and they haven’t made nuclear power look good. The project is six years overdue and will cost utility customers over $30 billion, more than double the original price tag. DOE’s Loan Programs Office provided more than $12 billion in loan guarantees to help complete Vogtle’s expansion.

DOE and IRA love nuclear power

The Biden administration is committed to maintaining the existing nuclear fleet and bringing innovative, new nuclear-reactor designs to market.

The Inflation Reduction Act provides generous production credits for existing nuclear plants and added premiums for meeting prevailing-wage requirements. These credits offer a potential $30 billion lifeline to struggling plants at risk of early retirement. 

The IRA also provides a tax credit for advanced nuclear reactors and a credit of up to 30 percent for microreactors, while devoting $700 million to support the development of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), the highly enriched fuel used in many advanced nuclear reactors. 

This funding is in addition to the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit program, which lets existing U.S. reactors bid on credits to help support their continued operations. The DOE’s Loan Programs Office also has $11 billion in funding for nuclear plants and nuclear supply chains, according to Jigar Shah, director of the office. 

………………………….. TerraPower and dozens of other advanced nuclear startups require a concentrated form of fuel — HALEU. But the only current commercial supplier of HALEU is Tenex, a Russian state-owned company. That wasn’t a great situation even before Russia invaded Ukraine.

In mid-December, TerraPower announced that it has pushed back the planned start date for its reactor because depending on HALEU sourced from Russia had become an unworkable business plan. ​“Given the lack of fuel availability now, and that there has been no construction started on new fuel enrichment facilities, TerraPower is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to being able to bring the Natrium reactor into operation,” said CEO Chris Levesque.

The world’s fleet of light-water reactors runs almost entirely on fuel enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, which is classified as low-enriched uranium (LEU). In contrast, the vast majority of non-light-water reactor designs in development, like TerraPower’s, run on enrichments of 5 to 20 percent (HALEU).

X-energy goes public via SPAC

X-energy, a developer of small modular nuclear reactors and fuel, is going public through the magic of a merger with Ares Acquisition Corporation, a publicly traded special-purpose acquisition company…………… Once the disreputable domain of pink-sheet over-the-counter stocks, SPACs have become an acceptable way for companies to go public without the burden of revenue or the actual due diligence most public companies go through. ………………………………………………..

NuScale’s NRC blues………….

December 30, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NuScam’s small nuclear reactors have both regulatory and financial woes

How did the US nuclear industry fare in 2022? Canary Media 28 December 2022 Eric Wesoff

“……………………………………………………………………….. NuScale’s NRC blues, NuScale Power has led the charge on small nuclear reactors for more than a decade but is still struggling with the NRC, as well as facing rising costs on a crucial first-of-a-kind 462-megawatt project in Idaho. 

The proposed project from NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a group of 50 municipal utilities spanning seven Western states, was initially slated to begin operation of the first of six small modular reactors in 2029. But according to December reporting in E&E News, ​“NuScale’s first reactor now faces sharply higher construction cost estimates, due to inflation and higher interest rates. If projected costs rise above $58 per megawatt-hour, it would trigger an up-or-down vote as early as next month from the project’s anchor customers.” E&E also reported that the costs of construction materials such as steel plate and carbon steel piping have skyrocketed since the project was approved in 2020.

In addition to cost issues, NuScale has run into a regulatory snag. The company replaced its NRC-approved 50-megawatt design and now needs to gain regulatory approval for the 77-megawatt module it plans to use in the UAMPS project. Utility Dive reported in November that the NRC has concerns about the new design, writing in a letter to NuScale that the company’s proposed module raised ​“several challenging and/​or significant issues” with its draft application. 

Small module reactor architecture is an unproven solution to the nuclear industry’s cost and schedule overruns. Scaling down new reactors in power output and size theoretically enables small modular and micro solutions that can be constructed less expensively off-site using fewer custom components with lower total project costs.

But even NuScale’s design, a small modular reactor that bears some resemblance to existing light-water reactors, poses challenges to the testing and approval processes of the NRC. NuScale says it has spent over $500 million and expended more than 2 million labor hours to compile the information needed for its design-certification application. 

And it’s not just the nuclear regulators, engineers and politicians who need to weigh in on this project. These days, it’s the nuclear accountants who have the final say. And so far, small reactors have not proven to be a financial or regulatory slam dunk. ……………

December 30, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment