Scientists call for a global nuclear renaissance in new study

Aug 12, 2010

Scientists outline a 20-year master plan for the global renaissance of nuclear energy that could see nuclear reactors with replaceable parts, portable mini-reactors, and ship-borne reactors supplying countries with clean energy, in research published today in the journal Science.

The scientists, from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, suggest a two-stage plan in their review paper that could see countries with existing nuclear infrastructure replacing or extending the life of nuclear power stations, followed by a second phase of global expansion in the industry by the year 2030. The team say their roadmap could fill an energy gap as old nuclear, gas and coal fired plants around the world are decommissioned, while helping to reduce the planet's dependency on fossil fuels.

Professor Robin Grimes, from the Department of Materials at Imperial College London, says: "Our study explores the exciting opportunities that a renaissance in nuclear energy could bring to the world. Imagine portable nuclear power plants at the end of their working lives that can be safely shipped back by to the manufacturer for recycling, eliminating the need for countries to deal with . With the right investment, these new technologies could be feasible. Concerns about climate change, and depleting fossil fuel reserves have spurred a revival of interest in nuclear power generation and our research sets out a strategy for growing the industry long-term, while processing and transporting nuclear waste in a safe and responsible way."

The researchers suggest in their study that based on how technologies are developing, new types of reactors could come online that are much more efficient than current reactors by 2030. At the moment, most countries have light water reactors, which only use a small percentage of the uranium for energy, which means that the uranium is used inefficiently. The team suggest that new 'fast reactors' could be developed that could use uranium approximately 15 times more efficiently, which would mean that uranium supplies could last longer, ensuring energy security for countries.

Another idea is to develop reactors with replaceable parts so that they can last in excess of 70 years, compared to 40 or 50 years that plants can currently operate at. Reactors are subjected to harsh conditions including extreme radiation and temperatures, meaning that parts degrade over time, affecting the life of the reactor. Making replaceable parts for reactors would make them more cost effective and safe to run over longer periods of time.

Flexible nuclear technologies could be an option for countries that do not have an established nuclear industry, suggest the scientists. One idea involves ship-borne civil power plants that could be moored offshore, generating electricity for nearby towns and cities. This could reduce the need for countries to build large electricity grid infrastructures, making it more cost effective for governments to introduce a nuclear industry from scratch.

The researchers also suggest building small, modular reactors that never require refuelling. These could be delivered to countries as sealed units, generating power for approximately 40 years. At the end of its life, the reactor would be returned to the manufacturer for decommissioning and disposal. Because fuel handling is avoided at the point of electricity generation, the team say radiation doses to workers would be reduced, meaning that the plants would be safer to operate.

The scientists believe the roll out of flexible technologies that could be returned to the manufacturer at their end of their shelf life could also play an important role in preventing the proliferation of nuclear armaments, because only the country of origin would have access to spent fuel, meaning that other countries could not reprocess the fuel for use in weapons.

In the immediate future, the researchers suggest the first stage of the renaissance will see countries with existing nuclear energy infrastructure extending the life of current nuclear power plants. The researchers suggest this could be made possible by further developing technologies for monitoring reactors, enabling them to last longer because engineers can continually assess the safety and performance of the power plants.

The researchers say new global strategies for dealing with spent fuel and radioactive components will have to be devised. Until now, countries have not developed a coordinated strategy for dealing with waste. One suggestion is to develop regional centres, where countries can send their waste for reprocessing, creating new industries in the process.

Professor Grimes adds: "In the past, there has been the perception in the community that nuclear technology has not been safe. However, what most people don't appreciate is just how much emphasis the nuclear industry places on safety. In fact, safety is at the very core of the industry. With continual improvements to reactor design, nuclear energy will further cement its position as an important part of our energy supply in the future."

However, the authors caution that governments around the world need to invest more in training the next generation of nuclear engineers. Otherwise, the nuclear industry may not have enough qualified personnel to make the renaissance a reality.

Dr William Nuttall, University Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, concludes: "The second phase of the 'Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance' is not inevitable, but we would be foolish if we did not provide such an option for those that must make key energy technology decisions in the decades ahead. Too often, decisions shaping the direction of research and development in the sector are made as part of a strategy for eventual deployment. As such small research capacities can become confused with multi-billion dollar plans and stall as a result. Relatively modest research and development can, however, provide us with important options for the future. Such research and development capacities need to be developed now if they are to be ready when needed. While some good measures are already underway, the possible challenge ahead motivates even greater efforts."

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User comments : 38

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newscience
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 12, 2010
Pure nonsense. The real cost of nuclear is higher then solar and wind. Nuclear is dangerous. Most of the nuclear plants are already running beyond their designed lifetime. Put possible terrorist threats or some nut into the equation and you will see nuclear is clearly not the direction to go. Solar is now down to a dollar an installed watt. If one reactor melts down in Europe or the US it will make the gulf oil spill look like a cake walk. You need an energy policy that cannot be high-jacked by nutcases or human error. Nuclear clearly will never meet this requirement.
ormondotvos
3.9 / 5 (9) Aug 12, 2010
The garbage resides in the previous comment, another fear-mongering business as usual tirade.
Sanescience
4.8 / 5 (6) Aug 13, 2010
Newscience: You have no idea what could have been if Clinton hadn't killed the IFR project. By now we might have been significantly reducing our dependence on foreign oil and well on our way to solving our reactor "waste" issues.

BUT NO! Politics got involved and people who claimed they were concerned with safety and the environment left us stuck with the first reactors that are wasteful and polluting!

Such arrogance, such short sightedness, so sad!

We should have been well on our way to fast reactor technology that will extract 99% more energy from uranium, create about 1/20th the volume of dangerous waste. They can also take all of our current waste and use it as fuel as well. And what waste does get created only lasts centuries, not millenniums.

Ask any expert about what base-load energy is and you will find out that solar and wind alone can't solve our energy needs.

The IFR:
http://en.wikiped..._reactor
LuckyExplorer
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 13, 2010
For me, these are no scientists, these are stupid, ignorant lobbyists of the "Nuclear Power Industry".
Atomic power is and will be dangerous, expensive and will leave dangerous radioactive wast to our children for a much too long time.
Alternative Energy source are our only opportunity
Tahoma
1 / 5 (11) Aug 13, 2010
The Coming Nuclear Crisis - the world is running out of uranium and nobody seems to have noticed.

http://www.techno...v/24414/
http://www.theoil...ode/2323
http://www.theoil...ode/2379
ShotmanMaslo
4.6 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2010
Nuclear is the best source of energy we currently have.

Very cheap, very safe (I live a few kilometers from nuclear plant..), very clean. You can burn both thorium and uranium, and with modern and proposed advanced reactors, there will be high efficiency and almost no waste. There is enough nuclear fuel for a few thousand years.

Only thing that stands between nuclear renaissance is this irrational fear of the public.

http://en.wikiped..._reactor
http://en.wikiped..._reactor
ShotmanMaslo
4.6 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2010
Tahoma - did you read your links? Because your second link says that there is at least 500 years of uranium reserves available..

Uranium is quite cheap, so even if its cost would increase, it is still viable as a power source.
SiBorg
2 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2010
Aside from the Nuclear vs Renewables tirade, I fail to see how small modular nuclear plants will reduce proliferation. Surely it is just putting fissionable materials in a portable package.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.8 / 5 (6) Aug 13, 2010
The Coming Nuclear Crisis - the world is running out of uranium and nobody seems to have noticed.

http://www.techno...v/24414/
Uranium is just as present as Tin in the earth's crust. Beyond that thorium is 3.5 times more prevalent.

The arguments against nuclear stating there is a limited amount of fissle material are utterly baseless.
Hesperos
5 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2010
This sounds like a plan to me, but we should, like the French, also pursue parallel fusion reactors with vigor.
Tahoma
1 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2010
I'm not saying, nuclear technology has no potential - but currently it cannot replace oil and gas industry at all. And it's inherently dangerous, when exported to countries with unstable regimes.
DoubleD
1.7 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2010
Do ANY of you know ANYTHING about nuclear technology ? Spent fuel is chock full of fissile material. Different reactor designs (like everything else) have different problems. Liquid sodium separated by a thin wall tube from water will continue to be a LMFBR challange. One little primary-secondary tube leak in a LWR is no big deal, but is catastrophic in an LMFBR. ITER is a global project. France is not pursuing fusion, the world is. Its a well documented fact that the entire petroleum supply chain causes many many many more deaths a year than the nuclear supply chain. How many coal miners died in the world last year ? How many uranium/thorium miners ? And nuclear is inherently dangerous ? ITS ALL INHERENTLY DANGEROUS FOLKS.

I WANT TO PUKE
Javinator
5 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2010
Only thing that stands between nuclear renaissance is this irrational fear of the public.


People fear the unknown. Coal and gas burning is hated due to pollution, but it's not feared because people understand that burning releases energy. Similarly people don't fear wind or solar because you can see the sun and feel both the warmth of the sun and the wind. Most people have no idea how fission works.

Unfortunately most peoples' only exposures to the nuclear industry are the disaster at Chernobyl and the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. Well those and the thoughts of nuclear bombs.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2010
I'm not saying, nuclear technology has no potential - but currently it cannot replace oil and gas industry at all. And it's inherently dangerous, when exported to countries with unstable regimes.
Nuclear is less dangerous than the oil industry.

Nuclear can be controlled, oil pays for these unstable regimes.
Royale
4.3 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2010
Thank you DoubleD for the reality check. Solar and wind is fine to pursue for awhile, but that's still taking Fusion energy from Sol in order to work. If humanity is really to reach the next step in evolution we need fission (for now) and fusion to be able to get away from not only fossil fuels, but also Solar fuels.
bottomlesssoul
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2010
I'm a huge fan of peaceful nuclear power. It's way less dangerous and lower impact than any current power source. And today we can harvest almost 99% of the available nuclear energy through recycling and different nuclear burn techniques.

The only problem as I see it is the fuel so limited in the accessible crust. It's still an important stop gap to displace fossil fuels before we understand fusion.

For those who see the dual use potential for weapons, you're going to have to come to terms with that yourself. Everything ever made has dual use potential as a weapon, it's why you can't take nail clippers on a plane I think ;-).

At least try not to make weapons yourself, not even for defense, since they usually get used quite offensively. Try dammit! It's all I ask, that and please let the the rest of the world go on.
Sanescience
3 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2010
Bottomlesssoul:

Please support your position about "so limited" fuel. Because I read that it is not limited. NOT AT ALL! It is a question of cost of recovering the uranium.

Read this:

http://www.americ...ium.aspx

As for the weapons proliferation argument against uranium, your incoherent babble needs to be updated. Advanced reactor designs do not produce weapons grade ores at any point during the fuel cycle.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2010
I myself endorse Nuclear Power. True current reactors are Dirty but thats because the tech is very old compared to what can be built now. Even the wast is usefull in some way.
bottomlesssoul
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2010
@Sanescience: Wikipedia lists global estimated recoverable assets at about 5.5 10^6 tonnes, Thorium is about 5-10 times this. Average total energy consumed per capita in the US is about 10kW/h/person, apply that to 6.7 billion people and it's a few hundred to 1,000 years. Maybe 100ky if we harvest thorium from the moon. We've only been really modern for a century and the species we replaced lasted a few million years. We need fusion.

As for weapons grade risks, you're not trying hard enough or paying enough. And why use modern reactors? The US was killing people with nuclear weapons with 1940's technology. Also it could be trivially used for dirty bombs. In fact this has all never been easier.

Which is why the real risk we face is not that it can be done, it clearly can, it's someone actually doing it. To this I say resist the urge.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2010
bottom,

Wikipedia is incorrect. That would be the recoverable amount within known reserves. We haven't gone looking for Uranium for a LOOOOONG time. Couple that with the fact that if you increase the current price of uranium by a factor of 10 to $500 per kg, the cost to nuclear power would increase a paltry 2 or 3 cents per kwh but the recoverable reserves would exponentiate.

As for weapons. Add a little bit of cerium and the ore is almost entirely useless for weapons creation, but it remains capable of generating power akin to the un-"poisoned" source.
bottomlesssoul
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2010
@skeptic Wikipedia is correct in that is a representation of what is known, you are talking about what can be. Let's deal with the facts and feel happier if and when our wishes come true.

The same remains true of weaponization. The reality here is why would any self respecting insane group making a weapon add cerium? Military groups in America certainly won't, neither in France, Russia nor any other nuclear power.

Adding cerium justs makes it hard for insane people to buy material on eBay. A coordinated insane group can make their own material and are smart enough to know not to add cerium. Unfortunately no one person or even group is smart enough to even own a nuclear weapon.

However, I do hope poisoned fuel becomes a commodity one day so we can have commercial mini nuclear generation and we learn to deal with it safely. I think I would feel happy if that came true.
Sanescience
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2010
bottomlesssoul:

I find your argument to ignore the economics of uranium recovery from deposits via market price incentives nonsensical. Just look at the history of oil and how it was predicted to have run out long ago. Read this:

http://economics...._oil.htm

As for weaponization, you are confusing the diversion of fuel grade uranium intended for generation of energy into the hands of someone who would build a thermonuclear device, and entities developing the infrastructure to purify their own weapons grade uranium.

The cliche term that comes to mind is: That genie is out of the bottle. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, a great deal of knowledge and weapons grade material went underground, and is out there. Probably easier by orders of magnitude to obtain than some "Mission Impossible" operation to steal it from a power plant that doesn't store purified enriched uranium to begin with.
Xaero
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2010
Just look at the history of oil and how it was predicted to have run out long ago.
The oil will never run out, but its prices will become unacceptable for most of world.
bottomlesssoul
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2010
@sanescience I don't ignore them, they're not real, they're predictions into a hopeful future. The facts as they stand are it is limited, the rest is theory without evidence. If there is evidence it's counted, the rest is literally Enron style accounting until PROVEN otherwise. It's not that I don't believe you, I just need evidence, not equations, and not prayer.

And for your weaponization counter claim, I never confused diverting fuel to make weapons, I apologize if I was not clear. To say it another way, if a hayseed like NK can make it it's truly easy to do, no mission impossible needed for them, they did it. Others will follow and so far only a single group has stepped back from it, South Africa.
bottomlesssoul
3 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2010
@sanescience, Please don't get me wrong, I'm full of hope that there is far more nuclear fuel than we know about. But I know it's hope.

And weaponization IS a real concern for me and I hope for everyone else. NK wasn't a wakeup call for me, Hiroshima was.

The survivors of the actors of the madness and their children and grandchildren are still convinced it was the right thing to do and they had no choice.

What scares me more is they are so confident that they may need to face that so called choice again so they maintain and huge arsenal. Their logic tells them it's the only way they can be strong to make the tough decisions.

They frighten me.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2010
@skeptic Wikipedia is correct in that is a representation of what is known, you are talking about what can be.
Incorrect.
The same remains true of weaponization. The reality here is why would any self respecting insane group making a weapon add cerium?
They wouldn't. Any self respecting group using it for energy would.

Military groups in America certainly won't, neither in France, Russia nor any other nuclear power.
All 3 commonly add cerium to their fuel sources to prevent proliferation.
Adding cerium justs makes it hard for insane people to buy material on eBay. A coordinated insane group can make their own material and are smart enough to know not to add cerium.
You're going full retard here. You might want to do a little research on how nuclear weapons work before you say these silly things.
bottomlesssoul
not rated yet Aug 15, 2010
@skeptic:
@skeptic Wikipedia is correct in that is a representation of what is known, you are talking about what can be.
Incorrect.
Proof? The figures are from USGS and DOE
All 3 commonly add cerium to their fuel sources to prevent proliferation.
Not to their weapons they don't, and neither did NK norwill the next nuclear power.
You're going full retard here.
I don't appreciate this.
bottomlesssoul
3 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2010
@sanescience
I find your argument to ignore the economics of uranium recovery from deposits via market price incentives nonsensical. Just look at the history of oil and how it was predicted to have run out long ago.
That is EXACTLY what Greenspan was saying about the housing market until it collapsed. He really believed it too.

He didn't have a right to, had no backing evidence, just hope.
Shootist
5 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2010
For me, these are no scientists, these are stupid, ignorant lobbyists of the "Nuclear Power Industry".
Atomic power is and will be dangerous, expensive and will leave dangerous radioactive wast to our children for a much too long time.
Alternative Energy source are our only opportunity


You do not know what you are talking about. Dangerous? Expensive? France.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2010
Proof? The figures are from USGS and DOE
Those figures are for 238 exclusively, otherwise known as weapons grade or "pure fissle" material. Check your source notes.
All 3 commonly add cerium to their fuel sources to prevent proliferation.
Not to their weapons they don't, and neither did NK norwill the next nuclear power.
And when we start talking about weapons and not energy that will be relevant. Since we're tlaking about nuclear ENERGY and preventing weaponization your comment above is worthless.
You're going full retard here.
I don't appreciate this.
Then don't do it. I don't appreciate outright fallacy passed as fact.
bottomlesssoul
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2010
@skeptic
You're going full retard here.

I don't appreciate this.
Then don't do it. I don't appreciate outright fallacy passed as fact.
This sounds very angry, if I have made an error it is an honest mistake. I have made an honest effort to to present facts as I understand them and can validate them with good quality references which I have read.

Perhaps you could use different wording. In an argument I feel I've won if my opponent slips into ad hominem but it's an ugly win.

But this wasn't an argument or even a debate, I thought I was just correcting misunderstandings on my initial points or trying to understand what you were saying by asking the questions differently. How did this get so ugly?
bottomlesssoul
3 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2010
Nuclear promises a wonderful future but only a few hundred years to millennia based on best known data to date. And lets face it, no one is going to be going around and grinding up through the entire crust to get more. There are simple thermodynamic reasons to show it's not even possible. We WILL need fusion and should chase it now. The oceans hold more than enough fuel to last until the sun scorches the Earth. We could be a truly long live species, maybe even beat alligators.
bottomlesssoul
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2010
The fact of the matter for nuclear proliferation prevention is it's a fantastic idea and I'm 100% for it. Unfortunately it can never be perfect. I was not surprised when NK did it.

I saw the science as child's play in my university days with only a few extra years of modern schooling. I graduated BEFORE the internet and I was the son of an illiterate dirt farmer. NK had the internet, it was hard not to make one.

Even if we all step back today, there is nothing to stop a step forward by someone a hundred years later. It's too easy.

I see no way out, we have to learn to live with the threat for as long as our species can produce a large civil project with a 1940's US war time economy and level of technology. I think that means forever.

In my mind it's a settled question so not an issue, practice best practices, let's be careful and let's move forward. Go Nuclear!
Sanescience
not rated yet Aug 16, 2010
Ok, lets do a reboot.

Bottomlesssoul, you stated "And today we can harvest almost 99% of the available nuclear energy through recycling and different nuclear burn techniques."

As the US does not recycle it's fuel as of yet, and fast neutron reactors are not mainstream anywhere yet, I would say this is a statement of theoretical possibility, not "reality" as you say.

But lets say we do develop that capability. You said "Wikipedia lists global estimated recoverable assets at about 5.5 10^6 tonnes, Thorium is about 5-10 times this. Average total energy consumed per capita in the US is about 10kW/h/person, apply that to 6.7 billion people and it's a few hundred to 1,000 years"

As the US does not recycle *or* recover the energy of plutonium and other actinides via fast neutron technology, your figures represents the recovery of about 1% of the energy uranium can deliver before it gets put aside as "waste". Which would put you off by two orders of magnitude.
Sanescience
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2010
Bottomlesssoul, also, it is not theoretical that sea water contains about 3 parts per billion uranium.

"Seawater contains 3.3x10^(-9) (3.3 parts per billion) of uranium, so the 1.4x10^18 tonne of seawater contains 4.6x10^9 tonne of uranium. All the world's electricity usage, 650GWe could therefore be supplied by the uranium in seawater for 7 million years."

http://www-formal...hen.html

On dangers of proliferation, you said: "And weaponization IS a real concern for me and I hope for everyone else. NK wasn't a wakeup call for me, Hiroshima was"

As weaponization in this context is uranium that is obtained from an energy generation installation and turned into a weapon (presumably thermonuclear) discussions about rogue states or groups mining and processing uranium themselves is off topic.
ThanderMAX
not rated yet Aug 16, 2010
I think we need to focus more on fusion based nuclear reactor, they have abundant raw material and can provide very clean source of energy (without the harmful effect of uranium, though we need a litle bit of uranium to sustain the fusion).

Lets hope that current experiment on ITER works well. Once the initial hurdles is crossed, we wouldn't need to look back.
ThanderMAX
not rated yet Aug 16, 2010
"Seawater contains 3.3x10^(-9) (3.3 parts per billion) of uranium, so the 1.4x10^18 tonne of seawater contains 4.6x10^9 tonne of uranium. All the world's electricity usage, 650GWe could therefore be supplied by the uranium in seawater for 7 million years."


@Sanescience , Bottomlesssoul mentioned about hydrogen and helium not about uranium and talked about fusion instead of inefficient fission reaction.

Truly the amount of hydrogen & helium in ocean is vast, more than we can consume in our lifetime.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Aug 16, 2010
@ BS,

There's no emotion within my text. Play a game of follow the source before you post silliness that is factually inaccurate.
This sounds very angry, if I have made an error it is an honest mistake. I have made an honest effort to to present facts as I understand them and can validate them with good quality references which I have read.
Not thoroughly enough. You need to inform yourself of fact as opposed to believing everything that you read without investigation.
Perhaps you could use different wording.
No.
In an argument I feel I've won if my opponent slips into ad hominem but it's an ugly win.
Not an ad hominem, a humorous contemporary reference to popular media. Please do try again, it's hilarious that you've run out of silly things to say when confronted with factual commentary.

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