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Nuclear Energy Solutions September 1, 2006

Posted by federalist in Energy.

Large-scale custom nuclear power plants are so passe.  We should push technology to standardize and miniaturize nuclear energy.  Here’s an essay advocating one fascinating design called the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.

The fuel comes in the form of baseball-size graphite balls, each containing sugar-grain-size particles of uranium encapsulated in high-temperature graphite and ceramic. This makes them easier and safer to handle than conventional fuel rods, says Pretoria-based nuclear physicist Kelvin Kemm.

Not only are these reactors immune to meltdown risks, but they also are more fuel-efficient: 

Conventional fuel rod assemblies are removed long before complete burn-up, to avoid damage to their housings, but PBMR fuel balls are burned to depletion.

With this design we eliminate a whole host of concerns regarding transportation, fuel security, reactor safety, and waste recycling.  If we standardized nuclear fuel production on encapsulated uranium balls we could put these non-polluting PBMR reactors anywhere we need large doses of power.

Process heat from PBMR reactors can also be used directly to desalinate seawater, produce hydrogen from water, turn coal, oil shale and tar sands into liquid petroleum, and power refineries, chemical plants and tertiary recovery operations at mature oil fields.



1. Dr. David Meador - May 12, 2007

I saw this technology in German years ago and it works. The truth is the only solution to CO2 rising in the atmosphere is nuclear power. This technology is so safe new regulation should be made to make it easier to get permits and to put it in my back yard.

2. federalist - August 1, 2007

Fortune magazine has a interesting review of the state of the art in nuclear power.

Dale Klein, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said he’s expecting license applications for 27 new nuclear reactors in the next two years. The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry trade group, says it could be as many as 31.

Biggest concern seems to be cost and waste, not safety, which current technology seems to all but guarantee. And as I mentioned previously, the waste “problem” is of our own making.

3. federalist - June 24, 2009
4. federalist - December 6, 2009

James Hylko in last month’s Power Magazine notes:

Operating U.S. nuclear plants are already competitive producers of electricity compared with coal-fired plants. They also have the advantage that fuel accounts for about 25% of production costs for nuclear power, while the remaining 75% is for fixed costs of operation and maintenance. Therefore, nuclear power production is much less sensitive to changes in fuel costs than fossil-fueled plants, where fuel can account for 7% or more of the production costs.

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