Author Archives: Martin Kral

About Martin Kral

Retired, just having fun writing about energy.

Practical nuclear waste storage:

Ukraine is leading the world in spent nuclear fuel storage. It is actually not that unusual because the nuclear intellectual base has been in Ukraine as part of the USSR following WWII. many early nuclear reactor experiments took place in the Ukraine and one of those experiments went badly and end up with the Chernobyl accident. History has proven that every accident of any kind has always provided a wealth of information to make things better. Since 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear accident has provide tons of data on all aspects of radiation exposure on humans, animals and plants – the local ecosystem.

Today, there is still a major cleanup effort going on to restore the environment to it’s natural state. Holtec International is a key player of world wide companies in this effort by providing the storage facility for all the spent nuclear fuel left over from the decommissioning of the entire Chernobyl four reactor complex, not just the single reactor meltdown. Holtec-supplied equipment and systems for the country’s soon-to-be-operational Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) (which is known as the “Consolidated Interim Storage Facility” in the United States) has been validated by the culmination of a successful series of tests at the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) to be implemented in 2020.

The final test involved heavy load handling evolutions demonstrated by handling and maneuvering of the HI-TRAC transfer cask from the rail car to the main reactor hall of RNPP, with final destination to CSFSF. These modern casks developed by Holtec International have two barriers that meet and exceed international requirements on nuclear and radiation safety and are of dual-purpose genre’ as they are designed for both transportation and storage of used fuel. This closed-system will be in used for several years before it is used here in the United States for the HI_STORE CISF site in New Mexico.

“Ukraine’s nuclear power generation is critical to the energy security of the country providing as much as 60% of its power need. It is heartening to observe Energoatom emerge as a world leader in terms of reliability of its nuclear units and management of its used fuel,” said Dr. Kris Singh, President & CEO of Holtec International.

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Thank God for Climate Change:

It is to bad the O&G could not see the light beyond the flame because if they had invested in nuclear energy when they had the chance, they would not have put themselves in a precarious position with world governments. While we can thank Big Oil and its unwitting US governmental accomplices for slowing down the rush to nuclear energy, Big Oil is far more of a killer than is the nuclear power industry, both directly due to massive pollution and oil wars, and as a result of oil-fueled global warming. Nature’s revenge for Big Oil’s activities will be far more lethal than for our use of peaceful nuclear energy.

Wind and solar farms are like cattle farms. They are unable to sustain the energy hungry human race. Unavoidably, then, improving the productivity of beef production through technology will be necessary to mitigate its environmental impacts. And so it is with wind and solar and their low productivity of electricity because of the low density of the capture devices: wind turbines and solar panels. To increase capacity, more and more devices have to be built out over more and more land surfaces. Like the cattle industry, compressing the density into smaller spaces allows for greater productivity. There is no greater energy density than uranium and thorium.

Unfortunately, there is a new crop of first time Congressmen/women that come from a perception that wind and solar can provide 100% of the clean renewable energy needed to solve the climate change issue. Hopefully the likes of Senator Cory Booker and Senator Lisa Murkowski are able to have some influence on them to consider nuclear in their mix of climate change solutions.

In the meantime, there is progress with small modular reactor (SMR) technology working it’s way through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval procedures. What these SMR provide is a smaller version of what we have today in Gen3+ version with a more passive operating environment. They are basically walk away safe systems with one flaw – they still produce spent nuclear fuel that has to be stored for 300 years. Until the Gen4 molten chloride salt fast reactor are available, we will have to continue storing the unused fuel. Remedy: HI_STORE CISF in Carlsbad New Mexico.

Radiation is everywhere:

Every time I mention nuclear, someone is screaming ‘NIMBY’ – (Not In My Back Yard). Well folks,
everything is radioactive and radiating us with alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays and x-rays. Bananas, rocks, concrete, lightning, the sun, the cosmos, your dog, your spouse, your friends, the trees, and the air all have radioactive components to them. Your own body and eyeballs are emitting radiation. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for as long as the planet has existed and for as long as it will exist.

So, is nature radioactive? You betcha! And so are the big scary toxic nuclear waste pits (Hanford, Washington .. ahem) and nuclear power plants (451 and counting). And modern medicine is full of radioactive tools for imaging, testing, cancer treatment, etc…

The more that we learn about radioactivity, the more we come to understand that life would be drastically different without it. Technically, life wouldn’t exist without the Sun releasing torrential amounts of ionizing radiation, heat and light at us every day.

Modern medicine was revolutionized by the discovery of X-rays. Nuclear medicine is revolutionizing other critical medical imaging procedures. Gamma rays are being used to sterilize food and medical equipment and also used to destroy cancer tumors. Romaine lettuce and other fruits and vegetables would be safe, if they would just irradiate it before distribution.

But wait! I thought radiation was bad! Radiation in its most basic form is the movement of energy in the form of waves, rays or particles. Radiation is measured in time, distance and shielding. If you were accidentally exposed to a high dose of radiation for a short period of time, up close, without any cover, you would get very sick and may die. That kind of acute radiation is very unlikely to happen with all the precautions that are taken.

Acute radiation is what can kill. There was no acute radiation released at Fukushima (2011) and there was no acute radiation released at WIPP (2014) and no one died. The world has been managing high level radiation safely since the beginning of the nuclear energy age. So, where is this fear of nuclear coming from?

California fires fed by extreme environmentalism:

It always amazes me when the national media will take a single word like ‘rake’ and make such a big deal out of it. After raking the President over the hot coals for comments made at Paradise Valley, he was actually on point about the need for annual under brush spot burning and logging to properly manage the forest the way nature has always done. The untra-extreme environmentalism of California’s government in Sacramento has as much responsibility for the fires as PG&E’s lack of maintaining their electrical towers and easements through the mountain ranges.

The cost of this catastrophe in human lives and personal property is off the charts primarily because of the infringement of humans and all their ‘stuff’ into the beautiful valleys of California. From the Delta fires to the Napa fires to the Malibu fires, everyone was more intense then the previous because of the excess fuel on the ground. It cannot be blamed on ‘poor’ management of the wilderness but it can be the result of no management of the ground cover or the grasslands. When the natural biota has been violated, this is the what happens.

Extreme environmentalism is also hindering California’s transition to cleaner energy solutions to generate electricity. Starting with hydroelectric, CA banned damming the rivers of the Sierra Nevada for water management and clean power generation starting in the 1970’s. It was more important to save the habitat for the silvery minnow than to store water for the natural drought seasons. Nuclear was then the better choice over hydro until 1979 when the Three Mile Island accident happened and without any scientific justification, CA banned clean nuclear energy too.

With only one nuclear power plant left for 10% electricity and 16 dammed river sources for 21% electricity, the state is now relying on intermitted wind and solar with natural gas as a backup for clean energy, as well as purchases from electricity utilities from other states using high voltage transmission lines across the forested lands. It is those transmission lines that have cause several major fires in California. There is a need to decentralize the national electrical grid with localized nuclear power stations.

The art of changing your mind:

As a pragmatist, I flow where the data takes me. In the realm of energy to power the world, the data flow has taken me to nuclear energy. If you are locked into an ideology that has very little wiggle room and you don’t invest in some serious critical thinking, you will never change. There are a lot of people in this arena and hopefully I am not perceived as one of them.

Back in 2007, I discovered a nuclear reactor technology based on thorium as a fuel and molten salt as a moderator in the liquid reactor. Interestingly, the technology was developed back in the 1960’s and never made available for commercial use. As I studied the technology I became convinced it was the future of nuclear energy; clean, safe, reliable without the alleged issues of today’s light water reactors. Thorium fuel is the future, but I am more concerned about what we can do now, not later.

This is where I was able to change my thinking and focus on technology that is available now. What I discovered was another advanced fast spectrum molten salt reactor design that not only addresses the long term energy solution but also today’s needs. Over the last 60 years, the nuclear industry produced tons of unused radioactive fuel called spent nuclear fuel (SNF). With all that existing fuel and newer fast reactor designs to consume it, there isn’t a need for the thorium reactors for the next couple hundred years.

All that unused nuclear fuel is scattered all over the country, safely stored in concrete and steel canisters placed in concrete cask, both above ground and partially below ground at each individual power plant. In order for that unused fuel to be consumed in advanced fast reactors it has to be moved to an advanced fuel conversion facility. The HI-STORE CISF in Carlsbad NM would be the perfect location for such a facility next to the stored SNF. All we have to do is change a few minds.

Better Energy Part Two

The AP1000 is a GEN3+ nuclear power plant designed and sold by Westinghouse Electric Company. The plant is a pressurized water reactor with improved use of passive nuclear safety. In December 2005, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) approved the final design certification for the AP1000 as our future nuclear reactor standard. Unfortunately the AP1000 ended up a partial failure for Westinghouse caused by many technical revisions and the many law suits by the anti-nuclear groups. In the end of what will be a 15 year nightmare, there may only be six AP1000 to commercialize; two in the US and four in China. There has to be a better way.

Small Modular Reactors (SMR) is making its way through the USNRC process today. NuScale Power has a flexible design and is redefining nuclear manufacturing. SMRs promise to bring nuclear power to the masses in much the same way that the Ford Model T brought mobility to the masses over a hundred years ago. The NuScale’s reactor is still a water cooled fission reactor that uses solid uranium fuel and creates spent nuclear to be disposed of. NuScale is only one of several SMR designs being developed around the world, including Holtec’s SMR-160. However, there still has to be a better way than water cooled small modular reactors.

The better way would be a scaleable molten salt reactor deign base on a single reactor core with modular heat transfer loops for low Mwh, detached from a national grid, up to 1000+ Mwh for clean reliable base load utility grid electricity 24×7. The ideal fuel source would be to use up all the stored unused nuclear materials, such as, spent nuclear fuel, depleted uranium, and even weapon grade plutonium or MOX, which will last centuries.

Elysium Industries is working through the USNRC to deliver the first molten chloride salt fast reactor to provide high heat for a long life cycle in a close loop system to produce electricity, industrial heat and even hydrogen transportation fuels, without waste. For me, the Elysium system is the better way that I can support.

Better Energy Part One:

In the early years of the nuclear industry there was this energetic burst of ideas of how to develop nuclear reactors to produce heat to create steam to generate electricity. A heat source is all that was needed, be it coal, O&G or nuclear fission. Because the nuclear industry was so new, there was some confusion about which reactor type to use. There were basically three different design strategies that would produce heat needed to generate electricity.

Water cooled solid uranium fueled reactors; were originally designed by the US Navy for their ships and were very small and efficient for use on remote ships at sea where there was plenty of water for cooling purposes. When the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) decided to upscale these water cooled reactors for land use, several obstacles had to be overcome. The industry overcame all those at great expense and now there are almost 500 reactors world wide producing trillions of megawatts of clean, safe electricity and spent nuclear fuel.

Molten salt thorium fueled reactor; was also designed and prototyped for 6 years as the commercial solution to nuclear powered energy during that same period. Unfortunately, through misunderstanding by non-scientific politicians, there was a lot of confusion about switching to a thorium based fuel system. Thorium molten salt reactors could have been any size, used any where, without any safety concerns, and did not produce a waste stream for proliferation. Perfect solution, lacked funding.

Molten salt cooled solid fuel fast breeder reactor; was originally designed and prototyped over a 30 year period as a clean commercial solution that used existing spent nuclear fuel reprocessed and did not produce more waste. It actually breed its own fuel but this program was also defunded by a very confused President and because of competition from the established water cooled nuclear industry.

Now the industry is at a crossroad again between existing designs or switching to more financially efficient reactors. At the same time the anti-nuclear movement is continuing their war on nuclear even with all the proof that nuclear is safer, cleaner, more reliable, more efficient, and in the long run more cost effective than all other sources to power the world.