Skip to comments.Heavy-Metal Nuclear Power
Posted on 11/25/2004 5:05:53 PM PST by SunkenCiv
It's been decades since a nuclear power plant was commissioned in the United States, but nuclear engineers mindful of problems with reliance on fossil fuels for long-term power generation continue to look at novel reactor designs. Loewen and his colleagues have evaluated one of the technologies under consideration for the next generation of reactors. It would exploit the physical and safety characteristics of leadchiefly, a high boiling pointas a coolant in place of water. Such a reactor could use fast neutrons and operate at high temperature, making it capable of burning many of the radioactive isotopes in the spent nuclear fuel produced by the nation's 103 light-water reactors.
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Thorium Fuel for Nuclear EnergyThe use of thorium in power reactors has been considered since the birth of nuclear energy in the 1950s, in large part because thorium is considerably more abundant than uranium in the Earth's crust. Roughly speaking, there is about three times more thorium than uranium. Unfortunately, thorium atoms cannot themselves be easily induced to split -- the basic requirement of a fission reactor. But when a quantity of thorium-232 (the common isotope of that element) is placed within a nuclear reactor, it readily absorbs neutrons and transforms into uranium-233, which, like the uranium-235 typically used for generating nuclear power, supports fission chain reactions... A conventional reactor breeds various isotopes of plutonium from uranium-238, and some of that plutonium in turn undergoes fission in the reactor, adding to the power the uranium-235 provides... The breeding of uranium-233 from thorium is more efficient than the breeding of plutonium from uranium-238, because less of various nonfissile isotopes is created along the way.
by Mujid S. Kazimi
Heavy-Metal Nuclear Power:Thirty years have passed since the last nuclear reactor was ordered in the United States -- yet the future of nuclear power remains a national and international public-policy issue. Early in this year's presidential campaign, the long-term disposition of nuclear waste once again became a focus of political and legal debate. Meanwhile the world's energy appetite continues to grow, and many leaders worry over the environmental and geopolitical costs of relying on fossil fuels for energy. Last year an interdisciplinary study organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that the "nuclear option" must be kept on the table and explored, with careful attention given to crucial economic and environmental questions.
Could an unconventional coolant
enable reactors to
burn radioactive waste
and produce both
electric power and hydrogen?
by Eric P. Loewen
Away from the public spotlight, scientists and engineers have continued to develop new nuclear-power technologies in the hope that we can build reactors that are safe, efficient, affordable and reliable -- and that resist weapons proliferation and reduce hazardous waste. It's a tall order. My colleagues and I have studied one of several current technologies that appear to have these attributes and that have been chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy for continued research and development. Like some others, our concept is a newer version of a reactor technology that was not widely adopted as electrical utilities and national power ministries chose designs during the 20th century. Some new science and engineering, and a new emphasis on the longer-term issues of waste disposal and resource depletion, suggest it may be time to reconceive the metal-cooled reactor. With a nod, then, to the coming-of-age days of the last generation of reactor design, we call this technology "heavy metal nuclear power."
Heavy Metal Fission - A Reason for Optimism
Energy Pulse - Insight, Analysis, & Commentary on the Global Power Industry | November 4, 2004 | Rodney Adams
Posted on 11/21/2004 7:07:58 PM EST by mvpel
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