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Nuclear - Jan 17

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Britain’s nuclear powered trains

Mark Halper, Smart Planet
The company that runs the railway infrastructure across most of the U.K. will rely on nuclear power to keep the trains running on time and to slash CO2 emissions over the next decade.

No, Network Rail is not building some form of small, submarine style reactor into engine cars (not that it wouldn’t one day be possible!).

Rather, the privately held, government-backed rail operator - which is Britain’s single largest consumer of electricity - has struck a 10-year deal with utility EDF to provide the power that will enable it to expand the electrification of its lines and to reduce the number of CO2-spewing diesel-powered trains that run on Network Rail’s tracks.

But not just any power. The contract specifies nuclear.

“EDF Energy will ensure 100 percent of the electricity it supplies to Network Rail will be matched by low carbon energy generated from its eight nuclear power stations,” the companies said in a joint press release on both the Network Rail and EDF websites (as I reported earlier this week on my Weinberg Foundation blog)...
(16 January 2013)


Fukushima: Fallout of fear

Geoff Brumfiel, Nature Journal
...In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accident, public-health experts worried about the possible risk from radiation. Subsequent analyses have shown that the prompt, if frantic, evacuation of areas around the reactors probably limited the public’s exposure to a relatively safe level (see ‘The evacuation zones’). But uncertainty, isolation and fears about radioactivity’s invisible threat are jeopardizing the mental health of the 210,000 residents who fled from the nuclear disaster.

Researchers and clinicians are trying to assess and mitigate the problems, but it is unclear whether the Japanese government has the will, or the money, to provide the necessary support. Nor is it certain that the evacuees will accept any help, given their distrust of the government and their reluctance to discuss mental problems. This combination, researchers fear, could drive up rates of anxiety, substance abuse and depression...
(16 January 2013)


On second thought: IAEA re-categorizes the operational status for 47 of Japan's nuclear reactors

Mycle Schneider, Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences
In an unprecedented move, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today retroactively re-categorized 47 Japanese nuclear reactors from "in operation" to "long-term shutdown" in its Power Reactor Information System. Thus, the global number of nuclear reactors listed as "in operation" drops from 437 to 390, a number not seen since Chernobyl-year 1986, when 391 operating units were on the list. Without a doubt, the step is a unique revision of world operational nuclear data -- not to mention a solid recognition of the industrial reality in Japan.

However, numerous questions remain. Though the agency officially defines its reactor-status categories, the actual specifics related to the handling of these categories remain unclear. Units can remain in the long-term shutdown category for many years, without any apparent limit. With today's change, Japan now has a total of 48 units listed under this category -- the Monju Nuclear Power Plant, a fast breeder reactor that has not been generating electricity since a sodium fire severely damaged the plant in 1995, was the only unit that the agency qualified for long-term shutdown before today's reshuffling...
(16 January 2013)


'Nuclear waste? No thanks,' say Lake District national park tourism chiefs

Martin Wainwright, The Guardian
Cumbria's tourism board has joined the growing clamour against any further research into the burying of nuclear power station waste within the borders of the Lake District national park.

The board – which oversees the park, the county's largest earner and one of the most-visited group of attractions in the UK – has also stated its strong opposition to investigations in the Solway Coast area of outstanding natural beauty on the West Cumbrian side of the famous lakes and fells...

A crucial meeting of the three councils potentially affected – Cumbria county and Allerdale and Copeland districts – will decide on 30 January whether to agree to full-scale preliminary planning for a repository whose underground facilities would cover an area larger than the nearby town of Workington...
(16 January 2013)


It's time to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

Rolf Westgard, MinnPost
Little noticed in the attention paid to Japan’s nuclear crisis at Fukushima is Japan’s plan to open its long-planned nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Rokkasho in 2013. Japan would then join France as the world’s only large-scale processors of spent-nuclear-fuel waste from commercial nuclear power plants.

This news has caused some major media news outlets to express the old fears that recovered plutonium in reprocessing could be captured by terrorists for use in a nuclear weapon. But that plutonium is not weapons grade and won’t work in a nuclear bomb.

A major purpose for reprocessing, as France does at La Hague, is to both reuse the very valuable plutonium 239 (Pu 239) fuel and to recycle the uranium, thus extending the world’s nuclear fuel supplies.

The other important purpose is to greatly reduce the radioactive-spent-fuel storage requirement. Only the radioactive 5 percent fission products in those spent fuel capsules needs to be stored. The other 95 percent can be separated and returned to the new fuel production processes...
(13 December 2012)


Tokyo Electric Sued by U.S. Sailors Exposed to Radiation

Joe Schneider, Bloomberg
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), owner of the power plant which had the world’s biggest nuclear disaster since 1986, was sued by eight U.S. sailors claiming they were exposed to radiation and the utility lied about the dangers.

The sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear-powered aircraft carrier were involved in disaster relief operations following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan that caused the meltdown, according to the complaint filed in U.S. federal court in San Diego on Dec. 21.

The Japanese government was “lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdown” as it reassured the crew of USS Reagan that “everything is under control,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in the complaint. “The plaintiffs must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering.”...
(27 December 2012)


Experts okay restart of worrisome Belgian nuclear plants

AFP
Scientific experts have greenlighted the restart of two Belgian nuclear power plants despite signs of micro-cracks in reactor vessels, the daily Le Soir said Saturday.

No independent confirmation was immediately available from Belgium's nuclear safety authority, AFCN. Le Soir, which did not identify its sources, said "experts on material resistance who were asked for their opinion on the fate of the Tihange 2 and Doel 3 vessels have handed in a positive report."

Many "potential cracks" were found during inspections early last year at the base of the reactor vessel at Doel 3, near the northern city of Antwerp, which was closed in June, as well as at Tihange 2, near the southern city of Liege...
(6 January 2013)


China blazes trail for 'clean' nuclear power from thorium

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Daily Telegraph
The Chinese are running away with thorium energy, sharpening a global race for the prize of clean, cheap, and safe nuclear power. Good luck to them. They may do us all a favour.

Princeling Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin, is spearheading a project for China's National Academy of Sciences with a start-up budget of $350m.

He has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. He will have 750 staff by 2015.

The aim is to break free of the archaic pressurized-water reactors fueled by uranium -- originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s -- opting instead for new generation of thorium reactors that produce far less toxic waste and cannot blow their top like Fukushima...
(6 January 2013)

Image credit: Virgin Pendolino - rpmarks/flickr

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