Tuesday, 20 December 2011

60 years since the world’s first nuclear reactor powered four light bulbs

60 years ago, on December 20, 1951, the world’s first nuclear reactor generated electricity to power four light bulbs! This is a nice write up about the history and the future of nuclear energy: http://energy.gov/articles/60-years-nuclear-turned-lights "At 1:23pm on December 20, 1951, Argonne National Laboratory director Walter Zinn scribbled into his log book, “Electricity flows from atomic energy. Rough estimate indicates 45 kw.” At that moment, scientists from Argonne and the National Reactor Testing Station, the forerunner to today's Idaho National Laboratory, watched four light bulbs glow, powered by the world’s first nuclear reactor to generate electricity.
Fifteen years later, in Arco, Idaho, President Johnson stood at this same site and designated the reactor a national historic landmark. He said, “We have moved far to tame for peaceful uses the mighty forces unloosed when the atom was split. And we have only just begun. What happened here merely raised the curtain on a very promising drama in our long journey for a better life.”" also see http://www.inl.gov/ebr/ for more info on this first reactor EBR-1... 
also for a video tour of this reactor see: http://www.inl.gov/research/experimental-breeder-reactor-1/

Monday, 19 December 2011

Nuclear waste storage in Canada

Aside from using a language that seems biased against nuclear power and aside from making it like a sensational story, this series of articles seem to be an in-depth reporting on the issue: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Canada+nuclear+cleanup+will+cost+billions+dollars+take+decades+complete/5874209/story.html ... see also: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/atomic-wasteland/index.html .... let us not forget that other energy sources also have hazardous implications for thousands of years and beyond (CO2 greenhouse effect, global warming which could be irreversible)... to stop using the nuclear technology that is clean compared to other sources of energy as well as its other benefits such as medical isotopes and neutron scattering because of the waste seems to be shortsighted... Nuclear waste has been and continues to be stored safely... quoting McCauley, the director of the uranium and radioactive waste division at Natural Resources Canada in the article: "My view is that we’ve got a pretty good story ... to tell in terms of radioactive waste management. I’m not saying that it’s not a big challenge for us, but I do think we’ve got the framework in place that we can be successful."

Friday, 16 December 2011

Will Saskatchewan build a nuclear power plant?

Listen to Premier Brad Wall, Government of Saskatchewan, answering the question whether Saskatchewan will build a nuclear power plant on December 13, 2011. Paraphrasing: 1. Saskatchewan continues to find ways to add value to uranium mining in the province, 2. Saskatchewan is working with private sector and UofS establishing the nuclear research centre there, 3. Saskatchewan is working with Hitachi on developing small reactor technology, 4. Saskatchewan will continue working on nuclear medicine reclaiming its leadership position in that field: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/1325532118001
 See also the recent budget address: http://www.finance.gov.sk.ca/budget2011-12/BudgetAddress "This year our government is providing Innovation Saskatchewan with $3.5 million for research into areas with promising commercial potential in clean energy, nuclear science and medicine and agriculture biotechnology.
Over the next 7 years our government will invest $40 million to establish Saskatchewan as an international leader in nuclear medicine, science, engineering and safety. "
see: http://www.hitachi.com/New/cnews/110825a.html also see: http://www.gov.sk.ca/news?newsId=19c54e4f-13e9-40f3-b56b-5dc9ac4de086

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Discovery of Radioactivity by Henri Becquerel

115 years ago, in 1896 Henri Becquerel while investigating phosphorescence in uranium salts accidentally discovered radioactivity. He was born on December 15, 1852. In honour of his birthday, here is a good historical read on this life changing discovery: http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2011/12/13/henri-becquerels-discovery-of-radioactivity/ ... "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903 was divided, one half awarded to Antoine Henri Becquerel "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity", the other half jointly to Pierre Curie and Marie Curie, née Sklodowska "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel": http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/ ... and also: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/becquerel-bio.html

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

An interview with Dr. Ted Hsu, recently elected Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands, about science policy in Canada

A must read interview with Dr. Ted Hsu, recently elected Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands, about science policy in Canada published in the July-Sept. 2011 issue of Physics in Canada (http://www.cap.ca/en/article/interview-ted-hsu-liberal-mp-kingston-and-islands-conducted-june-2-2011), well said Dr. Hsu: "I would like to see Canada build a new research reactor. This is not something that is party policy. Personally as far as nuclear power is concerned I would like nuclear power to compete on a fully-costed basis and leave it at that. By fully-costed I mean making sure we take into account the full cost of decommissioning and waste disposal and the risk of something going wrong. But a research reactor is a different thing. It’s easy in the physics community to say “Let’s build a research reactor. You know it’s not the same as a power reactor” and physicists understand that but the general public doesn’t. There is still a certain element of fear of nuclear anything, so I think it will require some good communication to explain that no, Canada has a Nobel prize in neutron scattering and we had a world-leading facility in Chalk River that brought industrial and basic researchers from all over the world to collaborate with Canadian scientists, to train Canadian students and bring leading-edge research to Canada. That this reactor is very old and it’s going to break down in a few years again and we are after all made of nuclei but people tell me the average voter may not even know that or be able to vocalize that. So if you want to study matter then you need a source of neutrons and if you want to make medical isotopes you need to have a reactor and if nuclear energy is going to be part of the energy mix in the future, then you need to study how materials are affected by radiation. I think there is a very good case to be made that Canada should commit to build a new research reactor and commit to being in the lead again in research in that area. So that’s something that I would like to see."

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Small modular reactors: key to future nuclear power generation in the US?

Do small modular reactors hold the key to future nuclear power generation in the US? a study released earlier this month from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) concludes yes indeed: http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2011/12/13/small-reactors-could-figure-us-energy-future "“Clearly, a robust commercial SMR industry is highly advantageous to many sectors in the United States,” concluded the study, led by Robert Rosner, institute director and the William Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
“It would be a huge stimulus for high-valued job growth, restore U.S. leadership in nuclear reactor technology and, most importantly, strengthen U.S. leadership in a post-Fukushima world, on matters of nuclear safety, nuclear security, nonproliferation, and nuclear waste management,” the report said.
The SMR report was one of two that Rosner rolled out Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Through his work as former chief scientist and former director of Argonne National Laboratory, Rosner became involved in a variety of national policy issues, including nuclear and renewable energy technology development.
The reports assessed the economic feasibility of classical, gigawatt-scale reactors and the possible new generation of modular reactors. The latter would have a generating capacity of 600 megawatts or less, would be factory-built as modular components, and then shipped to their desired location for assembly." ..., here is the link to the full report: https://epic.sites.uchicago.edu/sites/epic.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/EPICSMRWhitePaperFinalcopy.pdf

Monday, 12 December 2011

Why nuclear power plants might cost several times more than they should in initial capital investments

This is a great read by Rod Adams as to why nuclear power plants might cost several times more than they should in initial capital investments: http://atomicinsights.com/2011/12/examples-of-regulatory-costs-for-nuclear-energy-development.html

TRIUMF continues to pursue the production of technetium-99m by medical cyclotron technology

TRIUMF continues to pursue the production of technetium-99m by medical cyclotron technology... even if this will be viable route, let's not forget that a new reactor replacing the aging NRU not only could produce medical isotopes but also it could allow neutron scattering to continue for many years more... here is a recent report by TRIUMF on their activities: http://www.triumf.ca/headlines/workshops-conferences/triumf-global-isotopes-conversation ... "This week, Dr. Thomas J. Ruth is participating in a 3-day "Moly-99 Topical Meeting" in Santa Fe, New Mexico, organized by the U.S. DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration. Tom is one of only three Canadians invited to the workshop (the other being from the Government of Canada and Nordion). The meeting features leaders from the major U.S. laboratories and research organizations as well as nuclear-medicine companies and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Tom is speaking about the NISP program he leads with support from Natural Resources Canada that is demonstrating how existing, conventional medical cyclotrons can be modestly upgraded to become viable suppliers of Tc-99m for locall urban regions. "
 This is the link to more details on their joint program with Natural Resources Canada: http://www.triumf.ca/nrcan-nisp

Safe disposal of nuclear waste from new nuclear power reactors without cost to taxpayers

Is safe disposal of nuclear waste from new nuclear power reactors without cost to taxpayers possible? The UK seems to have a solution: "From the start of generation, operators of new nuclear power plants will be required to set aside enough money to meet this expected cost. A cap has also been set, giving operators certainty of the maximum that they would pay, and this is set at about three times the current estimate." ... "What this boils down to is a charge per unit of electricity generated. An operator can expect to pay £0.20 ($0.31) per MWh if the facility is built to current cost estimates with a cap of £0.71 ($1.11) per MWh. These compare to current prices of electricity for a large industrial user of about £83 ($130) per MWh."... read more: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR_Waste_costs_for_UK_new_build_0912111.html

Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan

Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan (OLTEP) allocates 46 per cent of future grid space to nuclear generation, see here for the full plan in pdf: http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/ltep/ ... A recent report by Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) just released suggests there is no business case for nuclear power and without subsidies the industry would not survive in Ontario... The report, Nuclear Power: Where’s the Business Case can be found here: http://www.ontario-sea.org/Page.asp?PageID=122&ContentID=3483). It argues that nuclear power retains an unfair advantage over renewable power generators because of federal and provincial subsidies and also that no nuclear project has ever been delivered on time and on budget in Ontario ... There is a must read review of this report on Renew Canada pointing out the reports shortcomings: http://renewcanada.net/2011/osea-ontario-doesnt-need-nuclear/ : "However, the report fails to explain why a significant investment in nuclear reactors from OPG will actually affect Hydro One’s ability to invest in local distribution systems. The report cites the construction of the Bruce to Milton transmission line as a $650 million subsidy to nuclear power(because Bruce Nuclear required the transmission line to feed power from the newly refurbished reactors at its site), but fails to mention that this transmission line is serving a dual purpose–it also allows major wind farms a connection point for grid access. While it is true that the project is primarily for Bruce Nuclear, the report does not make it clear that major renewable generators will also gain increased transmission access.
OSEA further suggests that Ontario does not require nuclear power for baseload supply because of the availability of hydroelectricity and the opportunities for major industries to adopt Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems. Yet, the report does not provide any numbers showing how much energy will be required in the future. The OLTEP suggests, under its medium growth forecast, that the province will require approximately 160 TwHs of electricity per year. With no reference to these kinds of numbers in its report, OSEA has a hard time proving that Ontario will not require additional baseload power. In addition, there are no numbers showing the potential available megawatts of power from hydroelectric and CHP projects. This, again, makes it difficult to assert that Ontario will not require additional baseload power." ... "While the report does accurately describe the reasons why nuclear power is an incredibly expensive and heavily subsidized form of energy, it does not prove that renewable energy can replace nuclear. By failing to show how much energy could be generated by the suggested baseload replacements, or how much energy Ontario will require in the future, the report fails to demonstrate that Ontario does not need nuclear power."

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

US steps up efforts on producing HEU-free medical isotopes

US steps up efforts on producing HEU-free medical isotopes (I am not sure whether there are any plans or efforts already on the way to convert the HEU medical isotopes at NRU or not): "An agreement by the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to fund $2.3 million in development work at NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes could lead to creation of a domestic supply for molybdenum-99, the most widely used medical radioisotope. The cost-shared cooperative agreement will help the Madison, Wisconsin, company with development of its accelerator-based process for manufacturing the isotope by bombarding targets of the naturally occurring isotope 100Mo with gamma rays." ... "the US is without a domestic source of 99Mo, an isotope with a 66-hour half-life whose decay product, metastable technetium-99 (99mTc), is used in 8 out of 10 nuclear medicine procedures—about 16 million imaging procedures annually in the US. For decades, roughly half the world’s output of 99Mo has been provided, and most of the US demand has been met, by the Canadian company Nordion, which processes HEU targets irradiated at the aging National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in Chalk River, Ontario.
In recent years the NRU has been forced to shut down for extended periods, which produced severe shortages of 99Mo. In October NRU operator Atomic Energy of Canada reaffirmed previous commitments to halt medical isotope production in 2016." ... "In addition to its cooperative agreement with NorthStar, the NNSA is funding different novel approaches to 99Mo production at three other US companies: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

U of Saskatchewan cobalt-60 legacy

U of Saskatchewan must see videos: "about the cobalt-60 legacy, new U of S initiatives that advance nuclear medicine, and former or current U of S scientists who’ve made advances in medical imaging and nuclear medicine research. Some of these videos are produced by the U of S and some are produced by others." http://www.usask.ca/cobalt60/videos.php
Also see: http://www.usask.ca/cobalt60/

Building CANDU in Ontario

Now that the restructuring of AECL is completed is the time to make decisions about new nuclear builds in Ontario as well as the future of Chalk River Labs including building a new research reactor to replace the aging NRU: "To win internationally we have to win domestically”. The need for collaborative efforts between the Canadian nuclear industry, its partners and all levels of government is needed to encourage growth and development in the Canadian Nuclear industry, an industry expert told local business and industry representatives..." ..."Mr. Lamarre noted that to win internationally we have to win domestically and the decision to build CANDU in Ontario would send a powerful signal to the global nuclear marketplace that Ontario has a leading energy-generating manufacturing technology. Mr. Lamarre said that support of Durham Region is essential to CANDU and the future of the industry in Ontario and Canada and that we all need to be ambassadors for this technology.
Mr. Lamarre finished by identifying the need for collaborative efforts between the Canadian nuclear industry, its partners and all levels of government in encouraging growth and development in the industry. Mr. Lamarre identifying the potential of the creation a ‘nuclear cluster’ in southern Ontario, incorporating existing nuclear industries and offering opportunities for future expansion.
A clearly defined national nuclear energy strategy is supported by the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce." read more: http://www.oshawachamber.com/What-s-New/building-candu-in-ontario-would-send-powerful-signal.html

Companies should think nuclear

Companies should think nuclear: "Imagine if a Hamilton company won a contract to build a supertanker in its port. Now imagine if there was a contract to build 90 supertankers throughout southern Ontario.
The multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the Darlington nuclear power plant scheduled to start in 2014 has the equivalent potential to boost the province’s economy."... "“There does need to be some internal discussion around (the importance of nuclear),” she said about government departments. “People have to stop tiptoeing around nuclear.”"... read more: http://www.thespec.com/news/business/article/634825--backers-urge-area-companies-to-think-nuclear

A national energy strategy?

A national energy strategy must be established before it is too late, a national dialouge is a good start!: "The federal government must start playing a more active role in establishing an energy strategy and coordinating with Canadian provinces. If they don’t, we will leave it up to industry and our American partners to define what this strategy should be."... "We need to address nuclear energy issues such as nuclear waste management and the future role of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), the exploration of inter-provincial energy and electricity interconnectedness and opportunities, technology developments and R&D investments for cleaner energy generation and extraction. We also need to deal with energy supplies and security in northern communities and the risks of deep water and Arctic drilling for oil and gas resources."... read more: http://www.hilltimes.com/policy-briefing/2011/12/05/we-need-a-coordinated-national-strategy-more-than-any-in-the-world/29012

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Wind farms littering the planet

A point of view on the wind turbines for electricity production: "There are many hidden truths about the world of wind turbines from the pollution and environmental damage caused in China by manufacturing bird choppers, the blight on people’s lives of noise and the flicker factor and the countless numbers of birds that are killed each year by these blots on the landscape.
The symbol of Green renewable energy, our saviour from the non existent problem of Global Warming, abandoned wind farms are starting to litter the planet as globally governments cut the subsidies taxes that consumers pay for the privilege of having a very expensive power source that does not work every day for various reasons like it’s too cold or the wind speed is too high." read more: http://toryaardvark.com/2011/11/17/14000-abandoned-wind-turbines-in-the-usa/

Dec. 2 1942, a double milestone for nuclear research

Dec. 2 1942, a double milestone for nuclear research: first man-made sustained nuclear chain reaction was created this day 69 years ago ( http://aps.org/publications/apsnews/201112/physicshistory.cfm) and then 15 years later in 1957, the first full-scale nuclear power plant went online. This is a nice write up about bothe events: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/12/dayintech_1202 ... also see: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fermi-produces-the-first-nuclear-chain-reaction, see also: http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-12-02/december-2-1942-enrico-fermi-and-atomic-chicago-94361
This is also a nice summary of the history of uranium: http://www.virginiaenergyresources.com/s/UraniumFacts.asp?ReportID=138056
As you may know Canada was also putting in efforts to achieve the sustained nuclear chain reaction during the same time period, the reason they lost to the Americans in the race was access to large quantities of high purity graphite. There is a very nice write up by George C. Laurence detailing these efforts: "Experiments in Ottawa
Heavy water was scarce and costly to produce. The 185 kilograms, that the French scientists had obtained from a hydroelectric plant in Norway and brought to England, was most of the world's supply. Rough calculations with the inaccurate data then available suggested that it might be possible to obtain a large release of energy using some form of carbon, instead of heavy water, with the uranium. Carbon would be less suitable for the purpose but was cheaper and easier to obtain. I decided to experiment with carbon and uranium oxide. The experiment would have to be done mostly in overtime because my small section was very busy assisting Canadian industry to become proficient in the radiographic inspection of parts for military aircraft and other equipment. Months later, I learned without surprise that similar experiments with carbon and uranium had been started both in England and the United States at about the same time.
The purpose of the experiment was to determine whether a very large release of nuclear energy would be possible in a large bulk of the kinds of uranium and carbon which I had. It would be possible if at least as many neutrons were released by fission as were captured. That implied that if an independent source of neutrons is surrounded by a small quantity (i.e. a few tonnes) of the combination of uranium and carbon, more neutrons would reach the surrounding walls than if the combination of materials was not present.
In our experiments in Ottawa to test this, the source of neutrons was beryllium mixed with a radium compound in a metal tube about 2.5 centimetres long.   Alpha particles, emitted spontaneously from the radium, bombarded atoms of beryllium and released neutrons from them.   The carbon was in the form of ten tonnes of calcined petroleum coke, a very fine black dust that easily spread over floors, furniture and ourselves.   The uranium was 450 kilograms of black oxide, which was borrowed from Eldorado Gold Mines Limited.   It was in small paper sacks distributed amongst larger paper sacks of the petroleum coke.
The sacks of uranium and coke were held in a wooden bin, so that they occupied a space that was roughly spherical, 2.7 m in diameter.   The wooden bin was lined with paraffin wax about five centimetres thick to reduce the escape of neutrons.   The arrangement is shown above, as a sectional view through the bin and its contents.
A thin wall metal tube supported the neutron source at the centre of the bin, and provided a passage for insertion of a neutron detector which could be placed at different distances from the source.   In the first tests the detector was a silver coin, but in most of the experiments it was a layer of dysprosium oxide on an aluminum disc.
The experimental routine was to expose the detector to the neutrons for a suitable length of time, then remove it quickly from the assembly and place it in front of a Geiger counter to measure the radioactivity produced in it by the neutrons.   The Geiger counter tubes and the associated electrical instruments were homemade because there was very little money to spend on equipment.
The relative rates of neutron capture and neutron release by fission were calculated from the data obtained.   If the release had been greater than the capture it would have been possible to estimate the "critical quantity" of uranium and coke, that is the minimum quantity needed to produce a self-sustained reaction that would release a large amount of nuclear energy.
Prof. B. Sargent of Queen's University joined me in these experiments during the summer university vacations of 1941 and 1942.   Progress was slow because the work was interrupted by other duties and we lacked the better equipment that would be available today.
By late summer in 1942, our measurements had shown that the release of neutrons by fission in our combination of materials was a few percent less than the capture.   Therefore, it would not be possible to obtain a large release of nuclear energy in that combination of materials even if large quantities were used.   There was too much loss of neutrons by capture in impurities in the coke and uranium oxide and in the small quantities of paper and brass that were present.   We did not then realize how a little impurity could lead to failure.
Meanwhile in the United States, E. Fermi, H.L. Anderson, B. Field, G. Weil and W. Zinn, after a first attempt that was also unsuccessful, did succeed in showing that a large release of energy would be possible using purer uranium and very pure carbon in the form of graphite.   Using the necessarily larger quantities, the Americans then built the first nuclear reactor and operated it on December 2, 1942.   They called it an "atomic pile".
In the summer of 1940, R.H. Fowler visited Ottawa, followed soon by J.D. Cockroft.   They had been to the United States to stimulate greater American interest in research of military importance.   They told me about the nuclear energy research in England and that in the United States which they had just seen.
With Prof. Fowler's introduction, I visited L.J. Briggs, who was chairman of the committee that coordinated the American nuclear energy research at that time, and also J.B. Conant, E. Fermi, H.C. Urey and P.H. Abelson and learned of their work.   After my visit, we received in Ottawa copies of reports on the American nuclear energy research for the next two years.   One of them that was particularly helpful was "A Study Concerning Uranium as a Source of Power" by J.B. Fisk and W. Shockly, dated September 17, 1940, a remarkable theoretical discussion of the feasibility of a nuclear reactor to have been written so early.
In response to Cockroft's suggestion when he returned to England we received a gift of $5,000 from Imperial Chemical Industries, which was involved in the nuclear research in England, in support of our experiment.   It was an important addition to our budget, but I valued it most as an expression to Dr. Mackenzie of British confidence in our work." read more: http://media.cns-snc.ca/history/early_years/earlyyears.html