Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Friday, March 11th, 2011
March 11, 2011
Things are starting to move at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. On top of renewing Vermont Yankee’s license, the NRC has awarded design approval to GE Hitachi’s ESBWR, giving a boost to the consortium’s international efforts.
“The FSER [final safety evaluation report] and FDA [final design approval] mark a crucial step forward for the ESBWR’s global commercial prospects,” said Caroline Reda, president and CEO of GEH. “We appreciate the diligence of the NRC during the review process, which enables the ESBWR to remain on track to receive the NRC’s final design certification by this fall.”
Although Michigan’s DTE has chosen the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) for its proposed Fermi Unit 3 near Detroit, the first construction will probably be abroad. India is experiencing a nuclear renaissance and has designed a site for multiple ESBWRs. The GE Hitachi consortium is also making inroads in Poland. Last month it signed a memorandum of understanding with POLATOM, the research institute that advises the Polish government on nuclear issues.
Thirty years ago, GE and Westinghouse dominated the reactor industry. GE’s boiling water reactor constituting one-third of America’s 100 reactor fleet while Westinghouse’s pressurized water reactor most of the other two-thirds. GE has not built a BWR since the ill-fated Shoreham plant, which never opened. Former GE CEO Jack Welsh was openly contemptuous of nuclear and current CEO Jeff Immelt notes that “no GE CEO has ever made money in nuclear.” Westinghouse’s fortunes revived after it was bought by Toshiba in 2006, however, and GE followed by partnering with Hitachi in 2007.
The ESBWR is a “Gen III” reactor, designed to reduce costs and achieve greater safety by simplifying the design and using natural convection in cooling. The approval puts GE Hitachi one step ahead of Westinghouse, which is still awaiting approval of its Gen III design, the AP1000
Read more about it at Business Wire
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
March 9, 2011
From the Editors
The early days of nuclear power were filled with wild promises of the coming age – nuclear powered rocket ships, nuclear powered colonies on the moon and – most memorably – “electricity too cheap to meter.” Many of these predictions did more harm than good and are now thrown back in the face of people who have more practical ambitions.
Now that nuclear power is making a comeback, the same syndrome may be taking shape again. Witness the story on Zigwheels this week about “Nuclear powered cars.”
“Scientists have discovered a new form of uranium that could lead to a nuclear power plant small enough to fit in your car and eventually even power it,” the story begins breathlessly. “Scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a long-sought molecule known as uranium nitride. Besides offering cheaper and safer nuclear fuel, the new molecule could extract more energy from fossil fuels, making cars more fuel-efficient, and could also lead to cheaper drugs.”
Whoa, wait a minute. What are we talking about here? Uranium nitride is a compound of uranium and nitrogen that has several advantages over uranium dioxide, which is the common way in which uranium is held in fuel rods. The thermal conductivity if uranium nitride is four-to-eight times as high as uranium oxide, which means fuel rods can operate at higher temperatures and last longer.
But a nuclear reactor in your car? Well it turns out what the scientists are telling reporter Anshika Ajmera is that uranium nitride can also be used as a catalyst in auto engines. “Uranium nitride rips the hydrogen atoms off a carbon atom which is a similar process that happens every day in car engines. Unfortunately a lot of energy in those bonds is lost as heat. But for uranium nitride to become commercially viable, it would have to knock one hydrogen atom after another and not destroy itself in the process. The scientists would, in other words, have to turn uranium nitride into a catalyst.
Sounds good. But having a uranium catalyst in your automobile engine is not the same as having a nuclear reactor. It might be possible to mount a small reactor in an automobile, but it would be to run a “steam car” of the kind that flourished around 1900. Coal-powered steam cars faded because they took 45 minutes to warm up. A pocked-sized reactor – which could run all the time – would overcome that problem. Still, such a devise is not likely.
The Nuclear Renaissance will probably do much better this time around if the press can learn a little physics and not exaggerate
Read more about it at Zigwheels
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
March 2, 2011
Research at the Department of Energy and several institutions has indicated that there could be advantages in utilizing silicon carbide instead of the traditional zircaloy as the cladding for nuclear fuel rods.
â€¨â€¨“The advantage to using the new material is that silicon carbide has several characteristics that make it well suited to the reactor core environment,” reports EnergyBiz. “It has excellent strength at high temperatures, works well with water, has very low neutron absorption and resists radiation damage, according to researchers at MIT.”â€¨
â€¨The advantages from using the stronger material would be: 1) longer life for fuel rods, and 2) better safety under extreme circumstances. “[I]nvestigations of the Three Mile Island accident found that a stronger cladding material might have averted some of the problems that arose during the reactor’s shutdown,” says EnergyBiz.
â€¨MIT, EPRI, the Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Westinghouse, Constellation and other groups have all participated in the research.
â€¨â€¨Zircaloy has been used for cladding since the inception of commercial nuclear power in the 1950s and has not caused any significant problems. As capacity factor has pushed up beyond 90 percent reactor lifetimes extend beyond 60 years, however, researchers have begun to look for new materials that are less susceptible to long-term wear. The researchers said that fuel rods are now often removed from a reactor because the zircaloy cladding has begun to wear and not because the fuel is exhausted. Substituting a stronger material could extend run time and create even greater efficiencies.â€¨
â€¨At the present time there are no estimates as to the cost of producing commercial quantities of the silicon carbide material or of using fuel rods with the new cladding. However, EnergyBiz notes: “Evaluation of silicon carbide-cladded fuel rods in commercial reactors could begin as early as 2015.”
Read more about it at EnergyBiz
Friday, February 25th, 2011
February 25, 2011
In October 1945, less than three months after Hiroshima had introduced the world to nuclear energy, Scribbs-Howard science reporter David Dietz wrote a breathless account of the coming wonders:â€¨
â€¨“A nonstop flight around the earth’s equator in 24 hours . . . A 240,000-mile rocket trip to the moon . . . These are but two of the miracles just ahead of mankind in the coming Era of Atomic Energy.”â€¨
We made it into orbit and to the moon without much help from nuclear energy.
But a much more pedestrian dream may soon be realizes as the Russians have announced the first attempt to power a railroad train with a nuclear engine.
â€¨Barents Observer reports that Rosatom and Russian Railways are developing a nuclear-powered locomotive. The engine will be a small fast breeder reactor. In its first trial runs, the train also will be a scientific exhibition to inform the public of the wonders of nuclear power.
â€¨â€¨“I looked at the design of the train, I liked it and I support the idea originally presented by Rosatom since it is a innovative way of develop nuclear energy,” Valentin Gapanovich, vice-president of Russian Railways, told Interfax.
â€¨â€¨Russian scientists first proposed a nuclear-powered locomotive in 1956 that would operate in remote regions of Siberia, where refueling is difficult. Those plans have now essentially been revived, according to an article in the Russian version of Popular Mechanics.”
By hooking two engines in tandem, the Russians could also leave one locomotive in Siberia to power remote industrial installations. Rosatom officials say the engine will easily convert to a power plant. Already underway is a plan to barge a small reactor from St. Petersburg to the Chukotka region on Siberia’s arctic coast in 2012. The locomotive technology would allow reactors to be delivered to inland villages and industrial sites as well.
â€¨Although David Dietz may not have imagined it in 1945, Siberia may end up being the new nuclear frontier.
Read more about it at Barents Observer
Monday, February 7th, 2011
February 7, 2011
IBC Advanced Alloys, a Vancouver rare-metals company, claims a discovery that adding beryllium oxide to uranium oxide fuel elements will improve the thermal conductivity of nuclear fuel rods, making them operate more efficiently.
“The uranium dioxide (UO2) used in conventional nuclear fuels has poor thermal conductivity,” IBC reported in a paper published last week. “Beryllium oxide (BeO), on the other hand, has very high thermal conductivity and what is more, remains unreactive with UO2 up to temperatures of 21,000 degrees Celsius.” The company said the technology could lead to longer lasting, more efficient and safer than conventional nuclear fuels.
IBC’s research into beryllium began in 2008 in conjunction with Purdue University and Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), a member institution of the Texas A&M University System. Initial testing included nuclear engineering simulations and thermal modeling. The next phase will include further work on processing methods, along with an expanded research mandate to further validate the technology and complement the work to date.
"This most recent phase of the work confirms our belief that beryllium oxide enhanced fuel will advance global nuclear fuels technology,” said Anthony Dutton, president and CEO of IBC. He added the new technology could “considerably increase demand for beryllium as a rare metal commodity." Beryllium is not produced in stars and is therefore relatively rare on earth. It is only found in conjunction with other elements, often in gemstones such as aquamarine. It has one of the highest melting points of any light metal.
Read more about it at Your Nuclear News
Friday, February 4th, 2011
February 4, 2011
In Florida, you can now refill your electric car battery while filling your stomach with buffalo wings.â€¨
â€¨The Sunshine Restaurant Corp., owner of the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants and sports bars, has teamed with Progress Energy of Florida to set up a series of recharging stations in the chain’s parking lots.
â€¨â€¨“While electric vehicles are great for environmental reasons, we believe there is a strong business case for providing charging stations for our customers,” Andrew L. Gross, president/CEO of Sunshine Restaurant Corp. tells Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway company. “As the number of electric vehicles grows over the coming years, we know customers will choose Buffalo Wild Wings over our competitors because of the ability to charge their vehicle for free while enjoying their favorite sporting event.”
â€¨Recharging the battery has always been a sore point for electric vehicles, since the complete process can take up to seven hours. Doing it overnight in the garage makes sense but since the best EVs still have a range of only about 100 miles, there have to be roadside facilities as well. The gas station model doesn’t work well because they would be few and far between, but wiring up common stopping pointes such as company parking lots and shopping center makes sense. As Amory Lovins notes, “Most vehicles are parked 90 percent of the time.” (Unfortunately, Lovins thought he was going to power the entire grid off those parked cars instead of just settling for an occasional recharging.)
â€¨Buffalo Wild Wings’ recharging stations could be a great marketing tool that brings in a lot of new customers. The only questions are: 1) will there be enough electric cars to make a difference? and 2) who’s going to pay for all that electricity if it really catches on? That’s what Sunshine and Progress probably have to work out.
Read more about it at Business Wire
Friday, February 4th, 2011
February 4, 2011
The results to date have been so good at the Europe Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)’s Large Hadron Collider that scientists are planning on running it for another year at half its theoretical capacity before revving up to full power.
“If nature is kind to us and the lightest supersymmetric particle – or the Higgs boson – is within reach of the LHC’s current energy,” CERN’s Research Director, Sergio Bertolucci tells Scientific Computing, “the data we expect to collect by the end of 2012 will put them within our grasp.” If nature is not kind, however, the LHC may still be able to uncover evidence of the elusive “God Particle” when the Collider throttles up to full power in 2014.
The LHC is a large circular tunnel, 17 miles in circumference and 500 feet below ground on the Swiss-French border. It is designed to collide two proton beams at 7 tera-electron-volts or two lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV. The debris is photographed for evidence of subatomic particles. The device closed down over nine days after its debut in September 2008 when an electrical fault caused a rupture and a leak of six tons of liquid helium. It was restarted in November 2009 and the first collision at 3.5 TeV took place in March 2010. Since then it has performed above expectations. “If LHC continues to improve in 2011 as it did in 2010, we’ve got a very exciting year ahead of us,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers.
Original plans were for the LHC to run through the end of 2011 and then go into a long shutdown in preparation for raising its performance to the full 7 TeV. However, data has piled up so fast that the scientists have elected to keep running at 3.5 TeV to see what turns up. “With the LHC running so well in 2010, . . there’s a real chance that exciting new physics may be within our sights by the end of the year,” said CERN’s Research Director, Sergio Bertolucci.
Discovering evidence of the “God Particle” would be final confirmation of the Standard Model, which divides nature into three “Generations” of matter (“Fermions”), six quarks, six leptons, which are all particles, and four bosons, which embody forces. The Higgs boson, which is hypothesized to generate the mass of quarks and electrons, is the only basic particle that has never been observed.
Read more about it at Scientific Computing
Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
February 3, 2011
“Top Gear” is a TV show well known to British audiences for its madcap but knowledgeable reviews of new cars. Unfortunately for the Obama Administration’s plans to put a million electrical vehicles on the road, “Top Gear” is giving the electric car a pounding.â€¨
“Electric is obviously better [than the internal combustion engine],” writes Top Gear regular James May in The Telegraph of London. “Never mind the tedious debate about zero emissions and whether or not our electricity is really clean, it’s more convenient, which is what we really care about. Or at least it would be if only the sodding [translation: “bloody”] batteries weren’t so useless.”
â€¨May opines that the only thing he’s ever known about batteries is that they run out. “The battery is running out on this computer even as I write, the batteries of rechargeable power tools are running out all over the world, and the great digital advances made in the past decade are all at the mercy of battery life and enslaved to hideous plug-in chargers,” says May. “I could have told you, aged six, as the Pifco front light of my bicycle died for the third time that week, that batteries were a bit pants [translation: “worthless”]. They still are.”â€¨
May sees little hope for a vehicle where all the electricity must be stored on board. “Electric trains don’t run on batteries, and neither did trolley buses when we had them.” But he sees one redeeming possibility – bumper cars. “Never has a revolutionary transport solution been so hamstrung by the assumption that it was somehow for the purposes of mere entertainment. The dodgem [translation: “bumper car”], if we free it of the constraint of its poxy [translation: “pathetic”] little arena, is an electric car with an infinitely long flex. . . . Once on the motorway, the big antenna connects with the overhead power supply and the car runs off the mains [translation: “central power plants].”â€¨â€¨
May isn’t done. For powering the “mains,” he suggests mining the moon for tritium to produce fusion power here on earth. “One space shuttle-load of tritium could, I’m told, satisfy the entire energy demand of America for a year.”â€¨
Read more at the Daily Telegraph
Friday, November 26th, 2010
November 26, 2010
Does GM’s IPO mean it is finally standing on its own instead of being propped up by the government? Not according to Bloomberg News.
A report this week says that almost one quarter of all electric hybrids sold in the past two years have been bought by the federal government. The buying has become particularly intense since President Obama took office.
Ford has benefited as well. According to data obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. General Services Administration bought 14,500 hybrids in the last two years, about 10 percent of all the agency’s purchases.“The government purchased about 64 percent of GM’s Chevy Malibu hybrid models and 29 percent of all Ford Fusion hybrids manufactured since Obama took office in 2009, the data show,” reports Bloomberg.
“GM stopped making the Malibu hybrid in 2009 after lack of consumer demand. GSA also bought about 14 percent of Ford Escape hybrids.” The government purchased virtually no Toyota Priuses or Honda Civics.
The drive to prop up hybrid sales comes at a time when consumer demand for the technology seems to be fading. Hybrids are experiencing their third straight year of decline and have peaked at around 2 percent of passenger car sales. “Without a huge gas-price increase or further government demand, the natural demand just doesn’t seem to be there,” Jeff Schuster, director of forecasting at J.D. Power & Associates told Bloomberg.
Now, under government guidance, GM is trying to expand the market by introducing an all-electric model.Anybody want to buy a Volt?
Read more at Bloomberg News
Monday, November 15th, 2010
November 15, 2010
Hyperion Power, the New Mexico designer of a 65-megawatt small modular reactor, has signed an agreement with Lloyd’s Register of Ships and Greek-owned Enterprises Shipping and Trade to try to develop a nuclear-powered, ocean-going commercial vessel.
“We are enthusiastic about participating in the historic opportunity," said John R. ‘Grizz’ Deal, the CEO of Hyperion. “This is a truly groundbreaking effort.”
"This a very exciting project," echoed Richard Sadler, CEO of Lloyd’s Register. "As society recognizes the limited choices that are available in a low carbon, oil-scarce economy we will see nuclear ships sooner than many currently anticipate."
The agreement was signed this morning in the Athens offices of Enterprise Shipping and Trading. “We are extremely honored and proud to be part of this consortium at this historic event,” said Victor Restis, CEO of the Restis Group, which owns Enterprise. “We strongly believe that alternative power generation is the answer for the shipping transportation.”
Nuclear engines have powered submarines for 50 years and aircraft carriers for the last 25. On the other hand, makers of commercial reactors have concentrated on large power plants. In the past decade, however, almost a dozen small companies around the world have started development of small modular reactors in the 25-to-150-megawatt range.
Because of the tremendous success of ocean-going military vessels, it seemed logical that someone would eventually propose using nuclear engines in commercial vessels as well. "Nuclear propulsion offers the opportunity for an emissions-free alternative to fossil fuel, while delivering ancillary benefits and security to the maritime industry," said Dr Phil Thompson, Sector Director for Transport of the BMT Group, a British company that is the fourth member of the consortium. "We look forward to providing a framework for the introduction of safe and reliable SMRs into the civilian maritime environment.”
Hyperion, founded in 2005, is based on the work of Dr. Otis Peterson, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists who invented a small, 65-MW reactor in the lab. The Hyperion SMR is still the intellectual property of Los Alamos but Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. has a license to develop it commercially.
Grizz Deal, who was entrepreneur-in-residence at Los Alamos, has served as CEO since the founding. Hyperion has proposed using its 65-MW reactor as “building blocks” for flexibly built commercial power plants and for a variety of novel uses, such as purification of water, sewage treatment and powering remote mining and industrial facilities. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently met with Hyperion to discuss a licensing schedule.
Lloyd’s Shipping Register is not to be confused with Lloyd’s of London, the insurance giant, but draws its name from the same 18th century London coffeehouse where both were founded. Lloyd’s Register, in business for 250 years, is a maritime classification society and risk management organization that provides risk assessment, mitigation services and management systems certification. In the late 20th century, Lloyd’s Register diversified out of its tradition shipping interests and expanded into oil and gas and the nuclear and rail industries.
Enterprise Shipping and Trading is one of Greece’s leading shipping firms, with 50 vessels, including reefers, container vessels, bulk carriers and tankers, in its fleet. The company is also involved in technical ship management services and new-building consultancy.
BMT Nigel Gee, the other British participant, is a Southampton-based maritime architectural firm that has created designs for everything from yachts to naval craft to commercial vessels.
The agreement provided ample evidence that American companies may still be able to participate in the breakout of nuclear development that is currently penetrating the globe. Although American companies have significant competition in baseload power plant technology, many people – including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu – believe that American enterprise and research ability may be able to create a market niche in smaller reactors.
“In addition to fitting the basic requirements for commercial naval propulsion,” said Grizz Deal, CEO of Hyperion, “the Hyperion Power Module may be able to set new standards for the use of nuclear power in maritime shipping.