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Understand Nuclear Power:

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There is a lot of negative hype about nuclear power, when in fact the only real danger with nuclear power is the extremely minor danger of shipping low level nuclear wastes from power plants. This could have been avoided if the government had required the reactors to be built on sites where the waste was to be permanently stored.

Nuclear power reactors cannot explode as a nuclear bomb, because in order to have a nuclear bomb, you must have at least a minimum amount of uranium or plutonium.

Nuclear reactors are designed to contain far less than this amount of uranium or plutonium., and in fact the nuclear fuel rods are made of such a low percentage of uranium or plutonium that all the fuel rods from 10 reactors still do not have the required amount.

In the United States, the light water nuclear reactor design is used. These are not the inexpensive pieces of junk used in Russia, like Chernobyl. Chernobyl was a graphite core reactor, and the Soviets knew full well before it was even built that that type of reactor tended to be unreliable, and prone to overheating that could lead to fire and explosion of the reactor core. Nearly all small research reactors are graphite core reactors, and the data showing the danger was produced and available back in the early 1950's.

The Soviets wanted a lot of power generation as quickly and inexpensively as possible, and so they built large numbers of these dangerous reactors. I guess they felt their 'general welfare' outweighed individual safety.

Not a single commercial reactor in the United States uses this flawed design.. Every reactor in the United states, with the exception of the Clinch River liquid metal fast breeder reactor, uses the fail-safe light water reactor design. The breeder reactor is another fail-safe reactor design, and has basically the same characteristics as the light water reactor.

Let's examine the three worst possible reactor accidents possible with a light water reactor. The Three Mile Island reactor accident is the third worst type of accident. We will examine the two worst cases first.

The worst case would be a terrorist attack, that exploded the reactor core and all four levels of containment. In this case, it is likely that a 20 mile radius around the plant would have to be evacuated.

The only deaths that would occur would occur within the blast radius of the terrorist device. When Chernobyl blew up, it spewed radiation all over the Soviet population. This is because the reactor core and nuclear fuel itself burned, and the smoke from the burning fuel was extremely radioactive, landing on the Russian population as a form of fallout.

However, with the light water reactor, the core is not made of combustible materials, and therefore cannot burn. Pieces of broken nuclear fuel rods might be thrown all over the effective blast radius area of the terrorist's bomb, but these would not burn. They would be radioactive, but the danger from these fragments would be limited to a radius of less than a quarter of a mile.

A 20 mile radius would be evacuated, but realistically, anyone beyond a quarter mile radius would be exposed to no more radiation in a 24 hour period immediately following the blast than they would by living in a granite building for three weeks or taking a flight from New York to Los Angeles and back.

The Army Corps of Engineers would send in robotic equipment to collect the individual fragments, and within a week everyone could return to within 2 miles of the area and resume their lives, with no radiation danger at all. Inside this radius, no one would be able to reside, and animals would not be permitted to drink or graze, because of minor water table poisoning, due to some of the cooling system water being contaminated to a low level by direct contact with fuel rod fragments. The quarantine would have to be enforced for five years.

This is the worst possible accident, because everyone at the nuclear plant dies, and those inside a quarter mile radius may be exposed to enough radiation to cause radiation sickness and long term effects. This possibility can be avoided by simply not having anyone live this close to the plant.

Compare this to some of the petroleum or chemical industry disasters. Large numbers of liquefied natural gas and gasoline tanker trucks traverse the United States daily, each capable of inflicting a far greater number of deaths and injuries than a terrorist bombing a U.S. nuclear plant.

The second worst accident possible in a light water nuclear is a total core meltdown. In this case, the reactor core is deprived of cooling water, and overheats to the point where the fuel rods completely melt. The molten low grade uranium or plutonium melts its way out the bottom of the reactor core, and keeps going down through the earth until it dissipates. The molten fuel may penetrate to a depth of a much as a half mile under the right conditions, but normally the depth would be less than this.

At any rate, the core is destroyed in the process and becomes highly radioactive, although it remains contained and there is no release of radioactivity to the atmosphere.

The water table becomes highly contaminated, and a 15 mile radius around the plant must be enforced for 10 to 20 years. Plants grown in this area cannot be eaten, and the water cannot be used for any purpose.

Realistically, there would be not much more danger if the quarantine was limited to a 5 mile radius for 5 years, but the government would not want the slightest most remotely measurable amount of radioactive materials present in the water table.

The reason these quarantines need be imposed only for a few years is that when the radioactive material enters the water table, there is a brief period of dissipation throughout an area, and then a period where the uranium or plutonium, being extremely heavy, sink down to a depth where they will not be disturbed by the passing of water through the water table. These two processes are completed in a short period of time. This is also enough time for short lived contamination such as radioactive iodine to become non-radioactive.

So long as plant personnel brought their own water supplies with them, the core could be rebuilt and become operational again within three years or even sooner, and there would be no significant danger to plant employees.

The third worst type of accident is a partial core meltdown, as we had with Three mile Island.

The results of this accident? The plant operators applied for and received from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission permission to release a tiny amount of radioactivity into the atmosphere. The permission was granted because the amount was so negligible, and allowed operators to make sure they had prevented further damage to the core.

As a result, everyone downwind in a 20 mile radius was subjected to an amount of radioactive exposure equal to that received in living in a granite building for two weeks, or flying from New York to Chicago and back. People are exposed to the same amount of radiation from the sun in a month than this amount.

In this type of accident, the core is deprived of coolant, and overheats to where the fuel rods are partially melted, and part of the core itself melts. In this case, robotic equipment disassembles the damaged core and then either repairs it or replaces it, and the plant is put back into operation, as the damaged reactor at Three Mile Island has been.

The technique of glass vitrification is a proven method for storing nuclear wastes.

The radioactive waste is melted and mixed with molten glass, and formed into spheres. When these cool, they are coated with pure molten glass.

These spheres stand up to acids, alkalis, caustic solutions, and remain completely undamaged. The French, who get 95 percent of their electricity from nuclear, have been using this technique successfully for years. The type of glass used is not brittle, and stands up well to applied forces and shocks without breakage. If kept in an unpopulated area, these spheres pose no risk whatsoever.

The only real danger is transporting unencased nuclear waste. Even so, this danger is less dangerous in terms of potential injuries than gasoline tanker trucks, and less dangerous in terms of deaths than lightning strikes.

A nuclear waste accident could, however, cause inconvenience, by causing a five mile radius of the area to be immediately evacuated and then quarantined for five years.

Even with shipping the truly high level and dangerous nuclear wastes from the nuclear weapons program, waste ten to a hundred thousand times as dangerous as those wastes from power generation, this is still true, although and the quarantine period and radius in this case would be 10 to 15 instead of five.

I recommend the book 'The War Against the Atom' for some truly detailed and wise reading material, guaranteed to make even the anti-nuclear pro-nuclear. This book should be accorded the same circulation and availability as the Bible, and accorded at least as much respect.

It is interesting that while one hears the in the news about the Chernobyl catastrophe, the details that our reactors are different and completely safe were never reported.

The fact is, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's plant licensing requirements and standards are so stringent that any proposed reactor design must be shown to be able to withstand a 747 crashing upon it during a severe earthquake, without any radiation whatsoever being released. This is the actual worst-case scenario used.

This is accomplished by having the actual reactor core materials strengthened beyond most commercially available means, and having a similarly fortified building that houses the core, and another similarly strengthened building which houses the first, and another outside that. You have a building inside a building inside a building, and inside that is the core, and so you have 4 separate levels of containment. These buildings are protected against shock and are required to have flexible connections and fittings even in areas that are not earthquake prone.

Nuclear power is the cheap, clean, safe source of energy it was originally promoted as being, and we should have far more nuclear plants. But maybe it would crash the stock market and cause too much economic damage at the present time, and the government actually knows what it is doing by not aggressively promoting its use.

Nuclear power is not a vehicle for nuclear proliferation.

To convert nuclear waste, or new, let alone used nuclear fuel rods to weapons grade uranium takes equipment so expensive that only the richest countries have access to the technology. Nuclear fuel rods contain only about 1 percent uranium, while weapons grade uranium must be more than 99 percent pure.

The robotics, and special handling alloys and materials, and other means and devices to safeguard against deadly effects of working at close range with uranium which is only 20 percent pure would cost more dollars than a small fleet of Boeing 747s.

The hard economic fact is that chemical and genetic weapons technologies are far less expensive and much easier to keep secret than nuclear, and are potentially far more deadly.

Government satellites can always find radiation sources, even if well shielded, but no device exists to find a chemical research laboratory.

Read the above mentioned book, which does a far better job of showing the anti-nuclear view for the ignorant viewpoint that it is than either I or Don Rickles could do here.

The best answer to the system's power requirements is nuclear power.

I used a preliminary estimate of an initial system using 1.2 billion camera banks, each drawing a continuous 8 watts each, and then added an extra 2 watts each to simplify the power requirements for the multiplexor and holographic memory stations.

This assumes that on the average, each multiplexor / fiber optic uplink station will receive and process the outputs from 100 camera banks (200 NTSC video signals), and draw a continuous 250 watts, and each holographic memory station will process the output of 100 multiplexer uplinks, and draw a continuous 15 kilowatts.

The actual power draw from the camera banks is likely to be more towards 6 watts, but an estimate of 8 watts leaves a little leeway for error. The estimates for the other equipment is likely to be closer to accuracy.

The cameras will be microminiature for this reason, to be able to use the newer low power semiconductor technologies.

It is likely the total power draw for three of these cameras per camera bank will be around 2 watts, which leaves 4 watts for signal transmit power, more than enough for short range dedicated copper cable connection to the nearby multiplexer.

You may notice that this estimate would only require twelve 1000 megawatt reactors, but a reactor does not always run at 100 percent of its rated capacity. From time to time it must be taken offline for maintenance, refueling, or inspection. Also, since the power will be generated at remote locations, there may be significant line losses due to the resistance of the power lines. So, arbitrarily, an additional four reactors were added.

The long distance power line losses could possibly be near 1000 megawatts in and of themselves. However, given the comparatively low cost of the fuel rods given the breeder reactor (or comparatively, even without a breeder), these are acceptable losses, since at most it would only cost a maximum of around $150,000 per year for replacement rods if the breeder produces the rods. Even if commercial fuel rods had to be purchased, this would still be no more than a few million a year, a trifle compared to the economic value of the system to the economy and it's value to society.

It would be best to build 13 light water reactors and 1 combination light water / liquid metal fast breeder reactor, and operate the breeder as a breeder just long enough to produce enough fuel for 14 light water reactors, operating it as a light water reactor afterwards.

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Copyright 1997, 1998, Robert J. Nelson.

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