back to article Ohm-em-gee: US nuke plant project goes dark after money meltdown

Energy companies in the US have cancelled plans to build a pair of nuclear power plants – after Toshiba's Westinghouse Electric Company collapsed. SCE&G and Santee Cooper in South Carolina said they will walk away from erecting two new reactors at the VC Summer Nuclear Station near the town of Jenkinsville. Announced in 2008 …

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Unhappy

Let's be real. This has been a long time coming.

Westinghouse owned the PWR business because the USN picked up the bill for developing them for submarines.

A clean slate design to build reactors that didn't power submarines and didn't need enriched Uranium (and all the issues around bomb making that go with it) would be a very different beast.

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Re: Let's be real. This has been a long time coming.

Heard a talk from Freeman Dyson basically saying that the nuclear power industry in the world would look much different if the USN wasn't the main driving party to nuclear reactor development after WW2. Something along the lines of USN obviously needs a compact solution but this is the opposite of whats best from a civilian safety standpoint (think he was pushing for idea of giant pools where energy is more diffuse but bit foggy at moment remembering). Edit: Oh yeah he helped developed TRIGA so makes perfect sense that is what he was for.

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Re: Let's be real. This has been a long time coming.

"A clean slate design to build reactors that didn't power submarines and didn't need enriched Uranium (and all the issues around bomb making that go with it) would be a very different beast."

And such a beast has existed since the 1960s, funded by the USAF.

Lookup the Oak Ridge Experiment.

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Unhappy

"And such a beast has existed since the 1960s, funded by the USAF."

"Lookup the Oak Ridge Experiment."

I'm aware of it, along with their design plan for a full size MSR reactor in the GW range, and it's industrial support.

Sadly when the USG decided to look at alternatives they went all in with the Sodium cooled fast breeder concept.

Which has worked out so well for all concerned.

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Anonymous Coward

Make it jet plane proof they said.

Agreed that's a bit more work.

Make it tornado and earthquake proof they said.

WTF, why didn't you do that from the start?

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First we have to define what "X proof" really means.

Jet proof? Okay... What size? What speed?

For tornado and earthquake proof, what magnitude on their respective scales is the design supposed to withstand?

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> First we have to define what "X proof" really means.

In the context of designing a nuclear power station, that is not particularly difficult in the grand scheme of things.

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Mushroom

@JK63 ... Tornado / Earthquake proof not that hard.

Building a nuclear plant that can withstand a Tornado or Hurricane (This is S.C ) isn't that hard.

The designs are fairly well known and thick re-enforced walls will stop debris.

Flooding too can be managed and earthquakes... while rare can also be mitigated.

Protecting against an aircraft hit?

That's going to be a weird one that will take a bit of testing/modeling.

I mean a 787 with full tanks of fuel... You'd have to consider the speed and angle of attack.

Of course if you build the bulk of the plant underground, you could do it...

Although in Low Country... you may have an issue with flooding.

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"For tornado and earthquake proof, what magnitude on their respective scales is the design supposed to withstand?"

The problem with PWR designs is that they're a _giant_ pressure vessel, filled with _tonnes_ of water at 400C and 20-40 atmospheres and the nooclear stuff is in the middle.

That makes them akin to a balloon waiting for a pin.

Steam explosions are bad enough but when there's the added complication of loose radionucleides getting into the biosphere AND the fact that the natural temperature of fission reactions is around 11-1200C AND that water is corrosive when it's extremely hot and under pressure (not to menion the fact that nuclear plants add boric acid), you have a problem when the water gets out.

That's why the buildings are so big (containing the steam) and there are so many backup systems to make sure the reactor never runs out of water.

Other designs would use coolants which don't need to be pressurised around the hot stuff (which changes the entire protection design requirement), wouldn't boil below the natural temperature of the reaction (so don't need pressurisation) and wouldn't let water get in contact with radionucleides.

Thats the premise of using gas, lead, sodium or molten salt cooling, but let's be honest - using a metal that burns furiously in contact with air isn't the brightest idea (but the USA, UK, Japan and Russia have all done it and all found out why it's a bad idea - lookup "monju") and lead cooled fuel rods are a problem if they get cold as the russians found out the hard way on a couple of submarines.

Gas cooled systems work well, but the gas can still leak out (and has on occasion - UK AGRs).

Molten salt systems freeze at 300-400C so any leaks don't go far, the fuel is dissolved n the salt so you can chemically reprocess on the fly using flow reactions (not critical chemistry, you only need to clean it enough to keep the reactor running) and will happily sit there at 1400C without doing anything nasty.

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vir
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Re: @JK63 ... Tornado / Earthquake proof not that hard.

"Flooding", or "emergency natural reactor fill". Plus gators.

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"Molten salt systems freeze at 300-400C so any leaks don't go far, the fuel is dissolved n the salt so you can chemically reprocess on the fly using flow reactions (not critical chemistry, you only need to clean it enough to keep the reactor running) and will happily sit there at 1400C without doing anything nasty."

The elephant in the room with molten salt reactors has always been corrosion. It may or may not happen, and some proponents will swear blind that this is the case. Of course molten sodium was supposed to be non corrosive of steal tanks, and look how that turned out.

There are a couple of proposed solutions thought. Thorcon Power proposes to replace the entire factory (shipyard) built reactor core every seven year. Plucky upstart Brit company Moltex Energy proposes to keep the fuel salt in fairly standard tubes which are replaced every 5 years, and to cool these tubes with a different molten salt without any fuel and hence fission products in it.

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This post has been deleted by its author

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Unhappy

"Plucky upstart Brit company Moltex Energy proposes to keep the fuel salt in fairly standard tubes "

Moltex have either moved, or are in the process of moving, to Canada.

Dr Ian Scott of the company said they could not get access to the UK nuclear regulator in the UK.

Basically they've applied high TRL elements to the idea of an MSR to deliver something which is stable by physics, not by having a very reliable control system, while bleeding off the main neutron poisons (like other MSR designs) but locking up the main human poisons, Iodine and Cesium.

IOW it's an MSR designed by adults.

Most amazing factoid? PWR steam turbines are 6-10x the cost of those used in all combustion driven systems (which run at c520 c, rather than the PWR standard of about 312c). The UK AGR designers were right. Targeting the design to match SOP for coal, oil and gas plants was the way to go.

Moltex's goal. Make coal obsolete as a fuel.

I think they might succeed. But not in the UK.

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"Thats the premise of using gas, lead, sodium or molten salt cooling, but let's be honest "

Gas, like PWR also runs in the 100s of atm. Sodium was tried on a USN sub. Surprise, it reacts badly with seawater.

BTW U02 is a very poor conductor of heat (much worse than UC or UN) but relatively unreactive with sea water, which is why it was used.

MSR's are good but they lack the development history. They can have fission products stripped out of the flow (but that's never been tested on a live reactor) they can "incinerate" trans uranics but in principle any reactor can with a suitable loading. They can breed, but in fact a lot of PWRs do, cooking U238 to Pu.

NB Moltex is a non-Thorium (although I presume it could use it) molten salt fast reactor that uses fuel rods, so leverages a huge amount of experience with that design in a way that the "salt pool" designs do not. It allows the fission poisons to bleed off (like the ORNL MSR design does) but immobilizes the main dangerous nasties (Cs and I) in the salt mixture.

In terms of high TRL and low pressure and relatively inert coolant and in principle low enrichment the lead reactor is a pretty good choice. My instinct is as an alloy with Bismuth to lower the Mp and develop ways to purge the Polonium from the coolant.

Incidentally I notice the Alvin Weinberg Foundation has shut down.

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Boffin

"Moltex Energy..keep the fuel salt in fairly standard tubes which are replaced every 5 years,"

That's not what cuts out the corrosion in their design.

The reactor parts are galvanized so the galvanizing is preferentially attacked, rather than the metallic structural components like the fuel rods or the core.

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Re: "Moltex Energy..keep the fuel salt in fairly standard tubes which are replaced every 5 years,"

"That's not what cuts out the corrosion in their design.

The reactor parts are galvanized so the galvanizing is preferentially attacked, rather than the metallic structural components like the fuel rods or the core."

So I see the fuel tubes are to keep the radioactive salt separate from the coolant salt, simplifying things if the tank/pool of coolant salt leaks. I saw a comment on a youtube video purporting to be from Ian Scott (it could be a troll) saying that if the fuel salt on a standard MSR leaked it would be a nightmare:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMID8SsyMV8

"Your pre-edit question seemed to add "or small leaks" to the question. That is an important point. Dump tanks would have to be designed with large passive heat removal capacity - challenging but not impossible. Small leaks are a different challenge, and in many ways worse. The sustained ~kW/litre decay heat will raise the temperature of even a small leak to very high levels. I calculated that a 1mm layer on thick concrete would reach molten salt boiling point within hours. On a steel surface it will happen quicker since there is less heat capacity than a meter of concrete. In fact, I expect that some major heat producing fission products, especially cesium, would evaporate before that point and then deposit on every surface around. That would spread the heat load but create a monstrous decontamination problem.

Answering the nuclear regulators question of what happens when a pumped system springs a leak is going to be one of the hardest challenges to be faced. I am not sure that saying the unit would be shut down and replaced will be acceptable, the damaged unit would have to be demonstrated to be a safe waste disposal form and that is very difficult when major isotopes are in a water soluble form."

Do you have any thoughts on this John? I asked Kirk Sorenson on the energyfromthorium facebook page and got a very angry response (I think he has run out of patience due to all the Greenpeace trolls).

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Anonymous Coward

Easy out

"It also follows months of SCE&G and Santee Cooper each comprehensively evaluating our options to determine the most prudent path forward for the jointly owned project."

In other words, THANK YOU TOSHIBA, for imploding and taking Westinghouse (and our contract obligation) with you.

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FAIL

"THANK YOU TOSHIBA, for imploding and taking Westinghouse with you."

How dreadful. Those fiendish orientals, eh?

Except you have the situation backwards.

It started when Westinghouse bought what they thought was a construction company to build reactor buildings that turned out not to be fit for purpose. What to do? Simple gt bought by a foreign company and have them bail us out.

Now Westinghouse is f**ked and they took Toshiba with them.

Nice work, Westinghouse management. First you failed to do due diligence, then shafted a better company to save your collective skins.

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Re: "THANK YOU TOSHIBA, for imploding and taking Westinghouse with you."

Ah the Léo Apotheker business model except he forgot nobody was bigger that would want his company. That said fault Toshiba also for shitty due diligence. They have been around long enough to know the crap flows downhill.

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Just get the chinese in

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Or the North Korean's.

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Anonymous Coward

GOB wrote, "Or the North Korean's."

The North Korean's what?

Or have you used an inappropriate apostrophe?

I once read, "When somebody uses an apostrophe to make a plural, somewhere a puppy dies."

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Happy

Just too grumpy to remember to click the Joke Alert icon.

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Crap construction from the beginning

There are articles out there about how all of this started in the first place. The company Westinghouse bought didn't have the expertise to build reactors in the first place. It was a big bait and switch game. So Westinghouse and then Toshiba bought in, and the house of cards has tumbled down.

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Re: Crap construction from the beginning

Did this happen when Westinghouse was part of BNFL? I'm trying to work out if the government's decision to sell BNFL Westinghouse might actually have been a good decision so that we're not on the hook for what appears to be a massive cock up.

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Facepalm

A bad day for energy diversity and security

I pretty much ended my own affiliation with the electric power industry two decades ago. Back then the non-safety/storage knock on nuclear power was that it's was the only generation source that had ever bankrupted a U.S. utility. This isn't going to help.

(By the way, Regenistas will appreciate that the bankrupted utility was Washington Public Power System, which went by the acronym WPPS, which was in turn pronounced "whoops")

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Fukushima not a big enough warning ?

Uranium fission reactors were forced by military interests to have ratepayers subsidize weapons programs. Fission byproducts include explosive Hydrogen, which releases some radiation when vented. Generating plants have a fifty year life, and a 100,000 year radiation signature. In a recent LA Times article on deactivated San Onofre reactor it was mentioned that the US has 79,000 tons of spent fuel rods with no storage plans. There is NO greenhouse gas, so that excuse for nuclear power is mute.

"The B-61, the More Usable Nuke" at VeteransToday has great bibliography on Nuclear Education.

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WOW

FSS actually says something that happens to be true. (The bit about the military). The rest unfortunately. . .

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Pint

Re: Fukushima not a big enough warning ?

'Faux Science...' offered, "...Fission byproducts include explosive Hydrogen..."

Not quite. Zirconium (used to clad fuel rods), when overheated due to cooling failure, draws oxygen from any water or steam, thus emitting hydrogen.

No different than iron really. Circa 1780s, Lavoisier produced hydrogen by passing water (steam) through an iron tube heated to incandescent in a fire.

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Re: Fukushima not a big enough warning ?

'NO greenhouse gas'

Excluding the masses of it emitted by all the concrete required to build the buildings.

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Re: Fukushima not a big enough warning ?

'NO greenhouse gas'

Excluding the masses of it emitted by all the concrete required to build the buildings.

If you want to play by that standard, electric cars are terrible for the environment.

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Re: Fukushima not a big enough warning ?

"In a recent LA Times article on deactivated San Onofre reactor it was mentioned that the US has 79,000 tons of spent fuel rods with no storage plans."

Keep them in the pools at the plants for 2 centuries (the nuclear waste from a 800-1000MWe reactor over its lifespan is about enough to fill an olympic pool), then they're safe enough to handle (radiation levels are only slightly higher than a new rod at that point).

If Thorium-fuelled molten salt reactors become viable, they can eat the "waste" as supplementary fuel, along with the preprocessing waste (85-95% of mined uranium is tossed out during the enrichment process as "useless" U238 depleted uranium - which is ideal for making h-bomb casings, but works well as supplementary LFTR fuel). A LFTR with continuous inline chemical reprocessing would produce 1% of the waste of uranium reactors, most of which is actually useful material such as helium or other gases that can be onsold after sitting around for 5-20 years to allow remaining fissiles to bake out.

The dangers of radiation exposure are vastly overblown, usually by the same people who think nothing of jumping in a jet and flying off on holiday somewhere (Youtube: the 20 most radioactive places on earth - the final place is a kicker )

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Go

Western Digital may find that their unreasonableness soon costs them dearly!

The Japanese nominated bankruptcy management, for a bankrupt Toshiba, may get a ruling saying that there US "arbitration" has no jurisdiction in Japan, so get stuffed!

Anyway, why the frack aren't much safer Thorium Reactors being built already? I thought that the main driver behind Uranium Reactors was US military need for Plutonium via processed "spent" fuel, and that should not be necessary for new reactors!

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Unhappy

"Why aren't much safer Thorium Reactors being built already?"

Ever hear of the term " Technology Readiness Level "?

MSR's are (potentially) better but they have 2 issues, one technological and one economic.

PWR's are TRL9 because the USN picked up the development tab 7 decades ago. Then the USG pinned all its remaining money on the Sodium cooled fast breeder reactor (which demonstrates what happens when Physicists with no engineering understanding design stuff :-( ).

Leaving MSR's with a TRL of about 3, if they were funded.

Issue 2. Economically this is the "Gillette" business model. Reactor builders basically make their money selling the operators their fuel rods, which are a little bit incompatible with every other mfgs designs. So a design that can (loosely) be refueled by a person tipping bags of the relevant salts through a door is not going to be popular with any of the current reactor companies.

However if you can form a company to design such a reactor (or help fund one if any exist), then get a test reactor built (because getting someone to buy one "off the plan" is going to be pretty difficult) then you're home and dry.

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Re: "Why aren't much safer Thorium Reactors being built already?"

"However if you can form a company to design such a reactor (or help fund one if any exist), then get a test reactor built (because getting someone to buy one "off the plan" is going to be pretty difficult) then you're home and dry."

Discounting the test system that WAS built 50 years ago (Oak Ridge Experiment) and killed before it went into the breeding test phase.

Fortunately, "someone" is working on a new test reactor (actually a pair) - the chinese government.

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Unhappy

"Discounting the test system that WAS built 50 years ago "

Yes, because that's an experiment, not a full size (or even near full size) power plant.

Also it pre-dates their finding a way to do breeding with only a single salt mix, not needing 2 different ones and the development of the "sparging" process to filter reactions products from the the salt pool while the reactor is running.

The Chinese projects (and wasn't there an Indian one in the works as well?) should be much closer to a fully operational system.

Yes it would be good if the country that invented this concept did pursue it more aggressively but that does not seem to be happening.

I will note that with both the Three Mile Island PWR (turning a $1Bn asset into a $2Bn liability) and Fukishima BWR the major current reactor types have demonstrated they can be unsafe, but that does not necessarily show MSR is necessarily more safe.

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good news for the mug taxpayer. to be hoped UK ones go the same way.

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Unhappy

" good news for the mug taxpayer. to be hoped UK ones go the same way."

I take it you don't live in the UK then?

Roughly 20% of all UK electricity comes from nuclear. Cut 18.8GW from the available UK power budget and people will notice.

And a wind turbine that only runs 3% of the time (and the UK has allowed some to be built that do only operate that often) won't cut it for the UK consumer.

Might I suggest "sustainable energy without the hot air" PDF here ?

Hard to believe the only country in Europe that's surrounded by sea has spent effectively FA on tide (predictable) or wave (vast energy) systems.

But they have.

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Devil

Re: " good news for the mug taxpayer. to be hoped UK ones go the same way."

Considering tides are basically caused by the Moon, we totally should start calling the output of tide generators "Moon Powah". The only downside I can see is that we'll get a picketing crowd with "hands OFF the moon you bastards!" signs roughly sixty seconds later...

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Re: " good news for the mug taxpayer. to be hoped UK ones go the same way."

"Hard to believe the only country in Europe that's surrounded by sea has spent effectively FA on tide (predictable) or wave (vast energy) systems."

Quite!

Bring back the Salter Duck!

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XQwcxTIERmUC&pg=PA308&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

A promising wave technology killed in the 1980s when the government decided that North Sea gas was the future, and when UKAEA (who oversaw energy research) estimated its costs at more than double the actual costs.

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We do things. We might not know exactly how we should do them yet, and we might have a few failures and even accidents on the way, but we try things out and that's how we make progress.

We had a failure. In the Grand Scheme Of Things, a bankrupt Westinghouse is no more important than an Enron or a BHS. A few billion on a failed construction project is very small beer compared to the sub-prime mortgage scam. And nobody even knows if it was thirty or fifty trillion in Credit Default Swaps ten years ago fercryinoutloud.

There's no point whining about it, let's just put the toys back in the pram and get on with stuff.

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The problem with many of these projects is the immense amount of bureaucracy that comes into play and demands like "As low as reasonably achievable" where reasonable doesn't take cost as an allowable factor. Meaning tiny changes keep having to be made to achieve just a slightly better margin or slightly better shielding, even if it means adding millions to the budget and months to years to the timeline. It's basically impossible to build any engineering feat on basis of ALARA principles, yet it is the demand for nuclear power.

Nuclear is dead. And it has been killed by radiophobic bureaucrats coming up with impossible guidelines without any regard for reality.

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"Nuclear is dead. And it has been killed by radiophobic bureaucrats"

As long as your nuclear systems involve water and radioactives mixing with each other, you have a problem. Add pressure and high temperatures and it's compounded.

Similar problems with graphite/gas systems - gasses leak

Similar problem with metal cooled ones (sodium burns, lead's problematic)

Having designs you can PROVE are intrinsically safe would go a long way towards solving the objections - and things haven't been helped by the lack of designed-in control safety, etc.

The nuclear tea kettle was fine as a proof of concept and to power submarines (low power requirements) but it should never have been allowed to be scaled up to dangerous sizes.

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>The nuclear tea kettle was fine as a proof of concept and to power submarines

Does pretty good up to aircraft carrier sizes as well. Think I heard something along the lines of they basically put enough fuel in at the beginning to power it for pretty much the life of the ship now or something like that.

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Anonymous Coward

> Does pretty good up to aircraft carrier sizes as well.

There are some sunken Russian ones apparently close to leaking Some Day Soon though. :(

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FAIL

Tell me, who is going to . . .

pay to clean up the construction site?

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