Ex-regulator: All 104 nuclear reactors in US have a safety problem that can't be fixed. They should be replaced.

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no nukes smaller

I am a staunch non-fan of nuclear energy. Not only is it dangerous as hell, not only do I live relatively close to two reactors situated in earthquake country, but what really irks me is how we have no safe place to store all that extremely dangerous nuclear waste. Gregory B. Jaczko has a thing or two to say about a nuclear thing or two.

Via the New York Times:

All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives. [...]

[I]t is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.

Jaczko said he would have spoken up sooner, but he only just came to his conclusions "recently." One of those conclusions is that we've been putting Band-Aids on major problems. Well, there's that. Follow the link for more.

You want to know how you can trust his judgment? The nuke industry hates him:

Dr. Jaczko resigned as chairman last summer after months of conflict with his four colleagues on the commission. He often voted in the minority on various safety questions, advocated more vigorous safety improvements, and was regarded with deep suspicion by the nuclear industry.

ding ding ding

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  • WhatTheFlux

    Nuclear power isn't the problem.

    The problem is, we've been using the wrong reactors. If the reactors at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island had been Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) nothing would have happened.

    • Molten salt reactor technology was developed at Oak Ridge National Labs in the 1960s. Although the test reactor worked flawlessly, the project was shelved, a victim of political shenanigans in the Nixon Administration. But MSRs have been gathering a lot of new attention since the events in Japan.

    • An MSR is a completely different kind of reactor, as different as an electric motor from a gasoline engine. It can't melt down, and it automatically adjusts its power output to meet changing workload demands. It requires no active cooling system and no external power source during an emergency, so it can be installed literally anywhere on earth, even an underground vault. A tsunami or tornado would roll over it, like a truck over a manhole cover.

    • MSRs use liquid fuel - nuclear material dissolved in molten salt. While modern solid-fuel reactors are far safer than the ones at Fukushima, a meltdown is still possible, with the steam ejection of radioactive material. MSRs don’t use water, and always operate at ambient (atmospheric) pressure. A meltdown would be completely impossible in an MSR, even if someone tried to induce one.

    • An MSR could deliver 750ºC heat for industrial processes, or spin a high-temperature gas turbine to generate power. If disaster strikes and an MSR springs a leak, the spill cools to an inert lump of rock, chemically locking the atomic material inside. Radioactive particles would not spread downwind or downstream, and all the material could be recovered and used again. A spill would be measured in square meters, not square kilometers.

    • MSRs will run on Thorium, a mildly radioactive material more common than tin and found all over the world. America has already mined enough Thorium to power the entire country for 400 years. It’s found by the ton in the tailings of our abandoned Rare Earth Element mines.

    • MSRs will be highly resistant to proliferation. When 232-Thorium is converted to 233-Uranium inside the reactor, it is virtually impossible to isolate the material in its pure form for use in a nuclear weapon. MSRs will be the best reactors for making energy and the worst reactors for making bombs.

    • An MSR's liquid fuel can be continuously cleaned of the contaminants that spoil solid fuel, while the reactor is operating at full power. This unique feature enables MSRs to consume fuel so thoroughly that they will be able to use the spent fuel from conventional reactors. MSRs will enable us to greatly reduce our stockpiles of nuclear waste, while producing a minuscule amount of waste themselves.

    • A 1-gigawatt MSR, big enough to power a city of one million, will run on one ton of Thorium per year, or about 2 teaspoons per hour. The long-term waste will be the size of a basketball, and virtually harmless in just 500 years.

    A national rollout of Molten Salt Reactors would create thousands of good jobs in every region of America, by launching a new paradigm of safe, cheap, and abundant carbon-free energy. A national Thorium infrastructure was visualized by the Kennedy administration as far back as 1962. Sadly, the molten salt program at Oak Ridge was shut down ten years later, even though the test reactor ran without a hitch for nearly 20,000 hours.

    While a lot of useful R&D has been performed since then, the MSR is still on the drawing board. But with sufficient R&D funding (probably less than $2 billion), five years to commercialization is entirely realistic, and another five years for a national rollout is eminently feasible. Some technical issues still need to be addressed, but nothing insurmountable.

    Remember, we geared up overnight to build thousands of Liberty ships, tanks, and bombers (not to mention the Manhattan Project) and we did it all without the aid of a single computer or cell phone. There's no reason to think we can’t do it again, because this isn’t rocket science, it’s just a kettle of chemicals with high-temperature, low-pressure plumbing.

    In the fall of 2010, a Chinese delegation toured Oak Ridge. Under a collaboration agreement between the U.S. DoE and the Chinese Academy of Science, several subsequent meetings ensued in which we shared our molten salt technology.

    In theory, this sounds hopeful for the future of MSR, and the expansion of carbon-free energy for the entire planet. But realize that if we drop the ball again, the Chinese won’t. And they will patent every advance they make.

    The MSR languished on America’s drawing boards for decades, but now it’s on China’s drawing boards as well. And they mean business. If we don't follow through this time, we will soon buying our own invention from China.

    If this isn’t a Sputnik Moment, then I don’t know what is.