Updates on Nuclear Energy

Who has it and who wants it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The End has Come

Hey everyone. So tomorrow is the last day of class and so this blog must come to an end. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. This blog has not only enabled me to learn about a ton of things I had never heard of but it also educated me on how others view nuclear energy.

Although this blog is ending, the story of nuclear energy will never end. And, you the public should remember to always arm yourselves with facts about any and everything so when the time comes...you know what's going on. There are many more sites out there that can help you in your quest for nuclear knowledge:

NEI Nuclear Notes
This Week in Nuclear
and as always Google News

I never thought this blog would become so popular with audience coming from so many different places in the world. Makes me sad to end it...but all good things must come to an end. As for me, I was recently accepted into the Nuclear Engineering Graduate Program at CSM and so nuclear energy is definitely in my future and I hope it will also be in everyone else's.

Thanks guys.

"Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal, and yet if a melody has not reached its end, it has not reached its goal. A parable." Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tiny Science...Big Potential

Just a quick post on something I found really cool. I recently had to give a presentation in my Extraction of Rare Earth Metals class about the rare earth promethium. One of the few applications of promethium is for the use in nuclear batteries. So this got me wondering about just that...nuclear batteries.

Credit: University of Missouri

So I went into researching them and came across a really neat story from CNET. The story is about scientists at the University of Missouri who are developing a nuclear battery...or as they call it "radioisotope battery", that is about the size of a dime but holds over a million times the charge as a normal battery. The developer Jae Kwon even states that with the right materials it may be possible to make the battery the thickness of a human hair.

Just so everyone knows...the basic concept behind a nuclear battery is that energy from released particles due to radioactive decay is transformed into a current and thus power can be produced. Nuclear batteries are already used to power many things from pacemakers to space satellites. Who knows where else these awesome little buggers could be used!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Answer is with ITER

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the problem with fusion reactors (and therefore the reason they are not commercially used) is that you must put more energy into the fusion process than there is energy that you get out. Until this critical problem is solved, all nuclear plants will remain fission reactors.

Many of you have probably heard of ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. ITER was designed to end fusion's "less energy out" problem. Idealized in 1985, at the Geneva Summit, ITER was a project aimed at using fusion energy for peaceful purposes. By the end 2005, the USA, Russia, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and India had all signed up (today also includes China). Site preparation for ITER began in 2007 in Cadarache, France.

So what exactly is ITER? Once completed, ITER will be the world's largest tokamak (Russian word for the "doughnut" shape) nuclear fusion reactor. Tokamak refers to the shape of the actual reactor which can be seen below. The tokamak shape is necessary for aiding the shape of the magnetic fields needed in the reactor.
JET, located in the UK notice "doughnut" shape.

The reactor hopes to achieve an output of about 500 MW with an input of only 50 MW. Therefore solving the fusion problem. One of the most difficult requirements of a fusion reactor is the high temperature, up to 150 million degrees Celsius. ITER uses several engineering feats in order to achieve such a temperature however, due to its complexity the details of ITER's design will not be discussed, but do not fret HERE is a cool link that will let you explore all of the different parts of the reactor. The ITER's tokamak hopes to be completed by 2018.

ITER is important in many ways. If ITER could prove successful... and we could finally be productive in the fusion process...the Earth's energy problems would be forever solved (oh wow big statement). No more radioactive by-products as with fission reactors!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making a Star

"Fuel" used at NIF, the tiny capsule is filled with deuterium-tritium.

The last few weeks in my Nuclear Energy class, we have been discussing the possibilities of fusion energy. Fusion energy is a lot different than the current fission reactors the world uses today because no radioactive by-products are formed. However, as of right now there is no method for producing energy from fusion that generates more money than is put in to the reaction. This is because fusion occurs at extremely high temperatures.

So this morning, my professor who has dedicated his life to the research of fusion energy was discussing some of the places he had previously worked. He showed us this slide show of which some of it pertained to NIF, the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California. And then he talked about what goes on in this place...wow. As mentioned earlier, one of the problems with fusion energy is actually getting the reaction to reach temperatures higher than that of the interior of our sun. So the goal of NIF was to work on just that..."igniting" the reaction.

Although, this is somewhat "old" news...I myself  (not coming from a physics background) did not know much about it. I don't want to spoil what goes on at NIF because I know that this video will explain it much better than I can. Short and simple: A lot of big lasers shoot at a tiny, tiny sphere of fuel...thus concentrating their energy on one spot and igniting the fuel. Please check out the video (look past the corny 3rd grade science class feel)...it's really amazing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Come on Nevada...be more like Osthammar

Storage of spent nuclear fuel in facility at Oskarshamn, Sweden

I read the most interesting article today containing information that I never thought I would ever read. A town in Sweden, a country that receives over 50% of its electricity from nuclear energy, claims that it will gladly take the nuclear waste from Sweden's reactors. What?!?! Is this for real?

Osthammar, residents were recently polled and the results were amazing. Over 88% of the residents said that they were in favor of allowing thousands of tons of nuclear waste to be stored under their town.

So now the plan is to bury some 12,000 tons of nuclear waste in copper containers 500 meters underground for over 100,000 years. Osthammar, was chosen for this task because the town sits a top billion year old bedrock. Apparently, the locals are in favor of such an act because they grew up next to the nuclear plant in Forsmark. Their family and friends work there and they have become accustomed to nuclear.

Currently, Sweden has 5,000 tons of nuclear waste stored at a facility in Oskarshamn. It's stored in an eight meter deep water tank approximately forty meters underground. However, even with all the safety precautions (water shielding and underground) the plant is still monitored 24-7-365. Sweden wants to find another way, and with more nuclear waste being made all the time something more efficient has to be done.

Makes you wonder if we could ever see something like this happening in the USA...

"Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beryllium + Uranium = Awesome

"This seven gram sample is $70,000..." What? Yes that's right. Last Wednesday in my Processing of Rare Earth Metals class we had a guest speaker from a beryllium processing company. The lecture blew me away! Beryllium is such an amazing element with many uses in the modern world ranging from nuclear reactors to satellites.

After that class got me so interested in the many uses of beryllium (and also talks from my nuclear energy class on beryllium for fusion reactors) I began to do a little research on the element. My research led me to an article from World Nuclear News about an ongoing research project between Canadian company IBC Advanced Alloys, Purdue University, and Texas Engineering Experiment Station. The project is a study of the possibility of using beryllium oxide fuels for both current and future nuclear reactors.

I'd like to discuss some of the findings from their research, but remember this is research and not commercially applied technology. According to IBC, the use of beryllium oxides with uranium oxide as fuel for nuclear reactors improves the longevity, efficiency, and how safe the actual process is. These benefits are most likely due to the increase in thermal conductivity of the fuel by the addition of the beryllium oxide (uranium dioxide has a very low thermal conductivity). Turns out beryllium oxide does not react with uranium dioxide until temperatures of about 21,000 degrees Celsius.

So they have made a great discovery, but their challenge now lies in coming up with an economically viable method for combining the two oxides to produce fuel. They are currently working on a co-sintering method that would result in a granules of uranium dioxide completely surround by beryllium oxide, which would result in production of the fuel by means of small pellets.

If this proves to be as good as it sounds it could be great news for the nuclear industry. If we could come up with a way to make the same fuel we already use last a little longer...that would mean less radioactive waste. And less radioactive waste is what everyone has been asking for.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chernobyl's Future

On April 29th, 1986 the worst nuclear power accident ever witnessed occurred in the Ukraine. Today, Chernobyl sits alone in what some refer to as the "Zone of Alienation". It is a 30 kilometer zone surrounding the once nuclear reactor site which was initiated in order to prevent people from entering the heavily radiated zone. All types of activities  in the "zone" not related to the scientific study of nuclear reactor safety or pertaining to work at the nuclear site are illegal.

So what is going on there today. Well...first some history...less than a year after the accident, the nuclear plant was encased in a concrete "sarcophagus" in order to shield the still radiating nuclear fuel. However, because the concrete wall has begun to crack...safety precautions must be taken and a new encasing must be constructed. Ukraine has been trying to come up with the money to build a 20,000 metric ton steel arch that would replace the current concrete "box". The steel shell is said to prevent any radiation leakage from the plant for over 100 years. So after years of persuasive talks from the Ukraine, governments all over the world have pledged money to the construction of the steel arch. And now ten days away from the 25th anniversary of the accident, it seems that they have met their financial goal.

Below I've provided a short video that describes all of the details...check it out...it displays some great engineering!