Nuclear Energy: The ultimate Achilles’ Heel in our energy basket
With a race to create sustainable and renewable energy sources not reliant on fossil fuels, nuclear energy is often cited as a solution. Only today’s nuclear reactors are ridiculously fragile as demonstrated in the March 2011 Fukushima, Japan nuclear accident. The facility, commissioned in 1971, was operated safely for years, but nuclear power really does pose an existential threat to humankind.
Fukushima was the second-worst nuclear accident, following Chernobyl, Russia in April 1986.
When the Fukushima plant was damaged in a 9.0 earthquake and following the tsunami, the release of radioactivity forced the permanent evacuation of a surrounding 19-mile zone.
While the March 2011 meltdown of Fukushima was the result of nature, should an enemy target a reactor militarily, it will make Chernobyl look small. For reference, scientists estimate the zone around the Chernobyl plant, again a 19-mile radius, will be inhabitable for up to 20,000 years.
In reactors, the activity in the core decays according to a 7-10 rule.
During every 7 units of time, the activity decays ten-fold. In the case of the Fukushima reactors, the material release was delayed 49 hours. This leaving the core activity at 1% of its operating level. Imagine hundred-fold levels of activity blanketing a city in the first hour after a bombing.
When these reactors were licensed, it was known that they could cause catastrophic harm to people and the environment. Yet they were specifically exempted from the safety concerns posed by war, or asteroids, or super earthquakes.
Nuclear reactors should never have been allowed to be built in the manner they were.
It has always been known that reactors could be built in a way that would not pose an existential threat to the population, even in the event of war. In fact, several molten salt reactors were built and tested in the 1960s. Yet, curiously, using molten fluoride salts and low pressures as coolants were never commercialized. Despite its ability to cool the reactors at higher heat. (The 500MW molten salt nuclear reactor: Safe, half the price of light water, and shipped to order)
If anyone has ever questioned if there is a person behind the curtain, an examination of the nuclear industry should make it crystal clear.
It can be proven in minutes that an ideal, perfect, reactor is as simple as a tank of lead salted with nuclear metal powder. It is nearly as simple as the Sun. Proponents of molten salt reactors claim that a few thousand-gallon tanks could power a city of 10 million for ten times less than current costs. China is the leader in developing molten salt reactors for nuclear power.
China is exploring the TMSR-SF (thorium-breeding molten-salt reactor) to be an energy solution for the northwest half of the country.
This is an area with a lower population density and limited access to water. Therefore, there is a need for the application of water-free cooling in arid climates like the Middle East, Africa, and other desert or remote regions.
The China Academy of Sciences hopes to obtain full intellectual property rights on the technology that will have worldwide implications.
What makes this or some variant, fuel/coolant/mixture design perfect is that it can never cause catastrophic harm to the public. If it is bombed, the lead will be dispersed within a short perimeter and congeal to encapsulate both the fuel and the trivial levels of residual waste, as the design can remove the waste on a continuous basis.
Whereas conventional reactors cost $5B-$10B per gigawatt to build and half that to operate for 30 years, a tank of the lead reactor might cost 10% to build and effectively nothing to operate. The important point to note here is that somehow, the most dangerous reactor design possible has been commercialized with full knowledge of a fundamentally safe design that is superior, based on every single engineering metric.
Much lamentation resulted from the 9-11 act of terrorism.
With more than 100 nuclear reactors across the country, an assault on them would be catastrophic. Americans need to educate themselves on the transitioning of molten-salt reactors, to safe Lead-based reactors for nearly incidental amounts of time and cost. Furthermore, such reactors can produce power 20-30 times less than the cost of wind or solar. And far safer than the technology presently being used, as evidenced by Chernobyl and Fukushima.
But first, there is the issue of trying to understand how it was even possible that such a misdirection of the nuclear industry toward water-cooled reactors was achieved.
Read about molten salt cooling nuclear plants at World-Nuclear.org