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Nuclear Fission Power Plants and Transition to ITER and Fusion Nuclear Power

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Currently, there are 438 nuclear power reactors in 30 countries. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) estimates at least 60 new nuclear power plants in the next 15 years. 1)   The current nuclear power plant technology requires very careful planning so that nuclear power plants are not built proximate to earthquake faults for very obvious reasons.

In addition, nuclear power plant design requires accessible piping in the periphery of the plant, a disaster recovery plan and extensive contingency planning and waste disposal . The Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants licenses and predefines standards. 2)

There are two acceptable storage methods for spent fuel after it is removed from the reactor core:

Spent Fuel Pools – Currently, most spent nuclear fuel is safely stored in specially designed pools at individual reactor sites around the country.

Dry Cask Storage -When pool capacity is reached, licensees may move toward use of the above-ground dry storage casks.

In the event a power company decides to close its nuclear power plant permanently, the facility must be decommissioned by safely removing it from service. Residual radioactivity must be reduced to a level that permits the release of the property and termination of the operating license. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has strict rules governing nuclear power plant decommissioning.

These rules involve cleanup of radioactively contaminated plant systems and structures , as well as removal of the radioactive fuel. These requirements protect workers and the general public during the entire decommissioning process and thereafter . To be acceptable, decommissioning must be completed within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations. A time beyond that would be considered only when necessary to protect public health and safety in accordance with NRC regulations. 3)

Transitioning from the current nuclear power fission plants to ITER-Fusion Power Plants will require a significant decommissioning effort for nuclear power plants worldwide, transportation of residual nuclear waste disposal and plant customization to the ITER-Tokamak Fusion Device or its operating
equivalent. The Tokamak Fusion Device will be quite costly to research, design, test and build. Therefore, strict care must be exercised in constructing these new devices away from earthquake zones or places where extensive flooding could be foreseen.

The Tokamak is a device employed in nuclear-fusion research for magnetic confinement of plasma. It consists of a complex system of magnetic fields that confine the plasma of reactive charged particles in a hollow, round-shaped container. The tokamak (an acronym from the Russian words for toroidal magnetic confinement) was developed in the mid-1960s by Soviet plasma physicists. It produces the highest plasma temperatures, densities, and confinement durations of any confinement device. 4)

Achievements like these have led fusion science to an exciting threshold. The long sought-after plasma energy breakeven point describes the moment when plasmas in a fusion device release at least as much energy as is required to produce them. The current record for energy release is held by JET, which
succeeded in generating 70% of input power. Scientists have now designed the next-step device-ITER-which will produce more power than it consumes. For 50 MW of input power, 500 MW of output power will be produced. 5)

Graphene is the thinnest possible material and its strength is about 200 times greater than steel. Graphene conducts electricity better than any material known in the engineering art at room temperature. Accordingly, graphine may be considered for electrical components associated with fusion energy projects. 6) The scientific goal of the ITER project is to deliver ten times the power consumed. 7)

“The EAST project research results will be significant for the International Thermonuclear Experiment Reactor, or ITER, in terms of basic research in engineering technology and physics,” said Wan Yuanxi, who is the head of the project. Wan Yuanxi said ITER will also be a full superconducting experimental
Tokamak fusion device with an advanced configuration. The program is still in its evolving stages. Participants include the USA, Russia, Japan, the European Union, China and the Republic of Korea. There is also a burgeoning Livermore ITER Project. Controlled nuclear fusion is seen as an efficient way for people to generate infinite, clean energy to offset the scarcity of oil and coal. 8) 9)

The implications of fusion power will be profound. First, more power will be produced than consumed. In addition, the fusion power reactor may( in time ) be appended to a desalination water plant to reduce the cost of producing water for use by consumers. Even solar energy is being considered as a potential means of reducing the high costs of the desalination process. Commercializing desalination plants and cost containment is a major research challenge for countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even in the USA.

Later on this century, fusion powered space vehicles may be employed to go to the moon Titan where there are believed to be vast reserves of hydrocarbons . A prime research goal will be to perfect the multiplier of fuel consumed in order to create fuel produced for space travel.

These hydrocarbon rich elements are the building blocks for amino acids necessary for the formation of life. Titan’s surface temperature appears to be about -178°C (-289°F). Methane appears to be below its saturation pressure near Titan’s surface. Scientists believe lakes of ethane exist that contain dissolved methane. Titan’s methane, through continuing photochemistry, is converted to ethane, acetylene, ethylene, and (when combined with nitrogen) hydrogen cyanide. 10)

1) http://www.invap.net/nucsnew/images/pdfs/197AG___Plans_for_New_Nuclear_Reactors_Worldwide.pdf

2) http://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage.html

3) http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/decommissioning.html

4) http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Tokamak+design

5) http://www.iter.org/sci/beyonditer

6) http://bigthink.com/ideas/24381

7) http://www.iter.org/proj/itermission

8) http://english.cas.ac.cn

9) http://science.howstuffworks.com/fusion-reactor.htm/printable

10) http://www.solarviews.com/eng/titan.htm

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About Dr Joseph S Maresca

I've taught approx. 34 sections of collegiate courses including computer applications, college algebra, collegiate statistics, law, accounting, finance and economics. The experience includes service as a Board Director on the CPA Journal and Editor of the CPA Candidates Inc. Newsletter. In college, I worked as a statistics lab assistant. Manhattan College awarded a BS in an allied area of operations research. The program included courses in calculus, ordinary differential equations, probability, statistical inference, linear algebra , the more advanced operations research, price analysis and econometrics. Membership in the Delta Mu Delta National Honor Society was granted together with the degree. My experience includes both private account and industry. In addition, I've worked extensively in the Examinations Division of the AICPA from time to time. Recently, I passed the Engineering in Training Exam which consisted of 9 hours of examination in chemistry, physics, calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, probability/ statistics, fluids, electronics, materials science/structure of matter, mechanics, statics, thermodynamics, computer science, dynamics and a host of minor subject areas like engineering economics. A very small percentage of engineers actually take and pass the EIT exam. The number has hovered at circa 5%. Several decades ago, I passed the CPA examination and obtained another license in Computer Information Systems Auditing. A CISA must have knowledge in the areas of data center review, systems applications, the operating system of the computer, disaster recovery, contingency planning, developmental systems, the standards which govern facility reviews and a host of other areas. An MBA in Accounting with an Advanced Professional Certificate in Computer Applications/ Information Systems , an Advanced Professional Certificate in Finance and an Advanced Professional Certificate in Organizational Design were earned at New York University-Graduate School of Business (Stern ). In December of 2005, an earned PhD in Accounting was granted by the Ross College. The program entrance requires a previous Masters Degree for admittance together with a host of other criteria. The REGISTRAR of Ross College contact is: Tel . US 202-318-4454 FAX [records for Dr. Joseph S. Maresca Box 646 Bronxville NY 10708-3602] The clinical experience included the teaching of approximately 34 sections of college accounting, economics, statistics, college algebra, law, thesis project coursework and the professional grading of approx. 50,000 CPA examination essays with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Additionally, membership is held in the Sigma Beta Delta International Honor Society chartered in 1994. Significant writings include over 10 copyrights in the name of the author (Joseph S. Maresca) and a patent in the earthquake sciences.
  • Quote: “First, fusion reactors will not have the same cleanup and earthquake safety issues as fission reactors. Some fusion reactor technology generates high energy neutrons that activate the building and require radioactive cleanup, but some do not create significant amounts of these neutrons. No fusion sources have the high level waste issues, so fission cleanup involving this waste, which is currently stored at the reactor in many cases so is part of reactor decommisioning, is not necessary for fusion.”

    Response: Fusion will be a very significant investment and the facility should not be built on or too proximate to an earthquake zone for insurability and recovery purposes.

    Quote: ” No fusion sources have the high level waste issues, so fission cleanup involving this waste, which is currently stored at the reactor in many cases so is part of reactor decommisioning, is not necessary for fusion.”

    Response: This is known about fusion. When fusion comes along, virtually every fission power plant will be obsolete and require de-commissioning. Then, the transfer technology to fusion and dismantlement issues for fission reactors will become more prominent.

  • tim

    We will see if ITER, ICF, or some other source of energy is first. ICF experiments today look nothing like reasonable power plants. They look like concept research, like magnetic confinement research did 50 years ago. Perhaps ICF will quickly catch up, breakthroughs are by their nature unpredictable!

    I would disagree that ICF is simpler than Tokamak. Current ICF concepts are certainly simpler than ITER, outside of the laser system, but fifty years ago Tokamak was thought to be relatively simple, and Tokamak does not have the ICF problems Dr Maresca mentioned. ITER is supposedly the step before a demonstration reactor. An ICF at the same level might be equally or more complicated than ITER. We will see.

    I would like to mention that there are other types of demonstrated fusion power sources such as polywell, focus fusion, MTF. None of these has generated as much power as JET, but any of these might achieve the breakthroughs necessary for creation of commercial power reactors before ITER or ICF. They have become very active in the last year or so. Or something else might come completely out of left field. We will see.

    Regarding this article, there are a few errors. First, fusion reactors will not have the same cleanup and earthquake safety issues as fission reactors. Some fusion reactor technology generates high energy neutrons that activate the building and require radioactive cleanup, but some do not create significant amounts of these neutrons. No fusion sources have the high level waste issues, so fission cleanup involving this waste, which is currently stored at the reactor in many cases so is part of reactor decommisioning, is not necessary for fusion.

    In addition, fusion does not have the same earthquake problems as fission, for two reasons. The total energy in a fusion plant at any moment is insignificant compared to a fission plant because the amount of plasma (density times volume) is tiny compared to a fission reactor’s fuel. As evidence of this, in a fusion plant new fuel is practically continuously added. In a fission plant fuel is added about every three years. Therefore a fusion plant has much less reacting fuel at any given time to be a problem if some calamity such as an earthquake happens. Also, fission generates significant power from radioactive isotopes that are created during the process, around 7%. This power can not be turned off! This is one of the major problems with fission, and is the reason why the Japanese are having such difficulty: they shut down the fission in the reactors in seconds after the earthquake, but the plant is still generating a high level of power. There is no residual power in fusion, so this could not happen. Fusion is fundamentally immune to meltdown, unlike other developing nuclear technologies where this is claimed because of clever technology fixes, which provide immunity as long as the technology works.

    Finally, when this article lists the ITER members it misses India. India is a full member of the project and has been involved since 2005.

  • The primary problems with increasing ICF performance since the early experiments in the 1970s have been of energy delivery to the target, controlling symmetry of the imploding fuel, preventing premature heating of the fuel (before maximum density is achieved), preventing premature mixing of hot and cool fuel by hydrodynamic instabilities and the formation of a ‘tight’ shockwave convergence at the compressed fuel center.


  • duane

    Yes, of course. That’s not the point. I was asking about the ICF approach to fusion power, which, at this time, seems more likely to succeed. It’s a competing approach.

    To borrow from your example, if a mechanical four-wheeled means to transportation were being researched in an imaginary 1890s, one might have designed a propellor system, in which the power of internal combustion was sent to the propellors. A competing design would be to transmit the power along a crankshaft that turns two of the four wheels themselves. These are both difficult. No doubt, a few more decades of research could have produced a reliable and economical propeller car. But it became unnecessary, since the simpler method became viable earlier.

  • In answer to Duane,

    The Edsel didn’t work until more research was done to produce more workable models. The ITER project is in its infancy. Many countries are working on perfecting the input/output power ratio. In the near future, more workable test models will be produced until the most practical alternatives are found. This happens with just about every new technology or technological enhancement. The first TV tubes were bulky and barely workable until
    black/white and later color TV models were perfected.

  • duane

    It’s not clear that the ITER approach will succeed. Magnetic confinement is a bear. Don’t you think that inertial confinement fusion, although a tough problem, is a more viable approach?