Next Generation Nuclear Fission: Slow Growth for Fast Reactors

… according to GE’s Eric Lowen, [GE’s PRISM reactor] should… be able to extract 99 times as much energy from a given unit of uranium than any reactor currently in use. This is due to the system’s use of liquid sodium as its coolant, rather than water. The liquid sodium doesn’t suck as much energy from radiating neutrons as water does and that extra energy in turn creates a more efficient fission reaction. And not only does this generate more electrical power per unit of fuel, it drastically reduces the half-life of the remainder—only about 300 years, down from the 300,000 years of conventional nuclear waste. The reactor itself will produce an expected 311 MW of electricity, though they will generally operate in 622 MW pairs over their 60 year service lives. _More Power, Less Waste

Image: GE’s PRISM Liquid Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor

GE’s PRISM reactor (pictured above) is one of the five recipients of new “cost-share” funding to aid development of new nuclear fission technologies.

The US Department of Energy announced that five advanced reactor projects would receive a total of $13 million in cost-share funding to address technical challenges to the design, construction and operation of next-generation nuclear units.

The companies receiving the awards are:

Areva Federal Services with TerraPower, Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and Texas A&M University for modeling and simulation for longer life cores, thermal hydraulic simulations and experimental investigation for liquid metal cooled fast reactor fuel assemblies;
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy with ANL for development and modernization of next-generation probabilistic risk assessment methodologies related to its PRISM reactor design;
General Atomics with the University of California at San Diego and the University of South Carolina for fabrication and testing complex silicon carbide structures for advanced reactor fuel concepts;
NGNP Industry Alliance with Areva, UltraSafe Nuclear Company, Westinghouse, and Texas A&M University for high temperature gas reactor (HTGR) post-accident heat removal and testing;
Westinghouse Electric Company with ANL and the University of Pittsburgh for development of thermo-acoustic sensors for sodium-cooled fast reactors.
__Token USDOE Investments in Advanced Fission Technologies

At the same time, China, Russia, and South Korea are working on alternative approaches to advanced fission reactors.

Much of this new work is made possible by advances in materials science and technology.

Advanced metallic and ceramic fuels are being investigated for a variety of Generation IV reactor concepts. These include the traditional TRISO-coated particles, advanced alloy fuels for ‘deep-burn’ applications, as well as advanced inert-matrix fuels. In order to minimize wastes and legacy materials, a number of fuel reprocessing operations are being investigated. Advanced materials, continue to provide a vital contribution in ‘closing the fuel cycle’ by stabilization of associated low-level and high-level wastes in highly durable cements, ceramics, and glasses.

Beyond this fission energy application, fusion energy will demand advanced materials capable of withstanding the extreme environments of high-temperature plasma systems. Fusion reactors will likely depend on lithium-based ceramics to produce tritium that fuels the fusion plasma, while high-temperature alloys or ceramics will contain and control the hot plasma. All the while, alloys, ceramics, and ceramic-related processes continue to find applications in the management of wastes and byproducts produced by these processes.

Nuclear Fuels and Cladding

Advanced materials play a major role in the generation of electrical power from heat produced by nuclear fission and in special applications by radioactive decay. Ceramic fuels (nominally UO2 or Pu-U mixed oxide (MOX) fuels) offer higher melting temperatures, chemical compatibility with cladding materials, improved resistance to corrosion, and dimensional stability combined with fission product retention during irradiation. These properties of ceramics provide for an increased margin of safety over metallic fuels, even with metal’s higher thermal conductivity and ease of fabrication. __Materials for the Nuclear Renaissance

Much more in the body of the linked article, which provides an excellent quick look into the future material needs of nuclear energy.

GE’s PRISM reactor is meant to be built in a mass production factory setting, then assembled on-site. Because it is an “integral fast reactor,” the PRISM is meant to handle waste-processing and fuel recycling on-site.

History of Integral Fast Reactor:

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) is a fast reactor system developed at Argonne National Laboratory in the decade 1984 to 1994. The IFR project developed the technology for a complete system; the reactor, the entire fuel cycle, and the waste management technologies were all included in the development program. The reactor concept had important features and characteristics that were completely new and fuel cycle and waste management technologies that were entirely new developments. The reactor is a “fast” reactor – that is, the chain reaction is maintained by “fast” neutrons with high energy – which produces its own fuel. The IFR reactor and associated fuel cycle is a closed system. Electrical power is generated, new fissile fuel is produced to replace the fuel burned, its used fuel is processed for recycling by pyroprocessing – a new development – and waste is put in its final form for disposal. All this is done on one self-sufficient site. __Argonne’s IFR

A very important thing to point out regarding nuclear energy, is that it is not a technology for stupid Idiocracies such as one finds scattered across the third worlds, large parts of the BRICS, and in a significant number of “more advanced” western nations. Maintenance requirements alone are staggering.

Stupid people make stupid mistakes when put in positions above their levels of competence, a la Homer Simpson. This often leads to unfortunate consequences for large numbers of innocent bystanders. Such unfortunate juxtapositions are more likely to occur when low-IQ, low-EF third world labour is used in the installation, operation, and maintenance of advanced technologies.

Up until now, Barack Obama and Harry Reid have been successful in stymieing advanced nuclear reactor development in the US. Now the ball is in the new congress’ court, and we may see a more active approach taken by the USG toward advanced reactor development, such as the integrated fast reactor.

Too bad such research and development was not undertaken in earnest 50 years ago, and kept in motion long enough to develop a prosperous advanced nuclear reactor industry in North America, the Anglosphere, and Europe. Thanks to the great green-lefty-Luddite Idiocracy conspiracy, we are now 50 years behind where we should be in the production of safe, reliable, affordable, scalable nuclear reactors with the capacity to provide abundant power to humans for tens of thousands of years.

For truly advanced materials that are affordable to the masses, some form of nano-molecular programmable assemblers will be needed. These assemblers may take the form of designed life forms, quasi-life forms, molecular assembler systems built from “pseudo-enzymes” produced by living systems, or simply advanced molecular assemblers built by other advanced molecular assemblers — as in Eric Drexler’s “Engines of Creation.”

The doomer mindset is diametrically opposite to the “human ingenuity mindset” adopted by the Al Fin Institutes. Environmental Doomers have always been useful idiots for enemies of an expansive and abundant human future (such as the former USSR and its descendants). Frightened people are easily taken in by doomer predictions of climate apocalypse, energy scarcity armageddon, global pollution holocaust, and other quasi-religious movements of fear, designed to grab political power for corrupt purposes.

Also see Virginia Postrel for another example of someone who sees oft-overblown everyday problems in the light of clearer reasoning.

A society of smart people can do a lot of things that societies of stupid people cannot do. Such as to develop and implement clean, abundant, affordable, and reliable forms of energy that should perform well into the foreseeable future.

Smart people can even provide advanced services for societies of stupid people, which allows the stupid societies to experience higher qualities of life than they would otherwise do.

But that will only work as long as there are enough smart people around to empower both smart societies (a dying breed) and stupid societies (the shape of things to come, apparently). We should probably not count on benign and benevolent Artificial Intelligence entities to bail us out.


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