Next-generation reactors power a safe nuclear future

Interesting article in Popular Science here …(I’ve extracted just a few key snippets) …

As nations around the world rush to reconsider their nuclear plans, nuclear experts look toward a future of smaller, safer reactors designed to greatly reduce the likelihood of a Fukushima-sized catastrophe

the next generation of nuclear reactors are designed to prevent exactly what went wrong at the 40-year-old Fukushima Daiichi plant. Which is good, because according to the experts, a future weaned from fossil fuels will include nuclear power whether we like it or not.

most of what’s gone wrong with Fukushima Daiichi’s 1970s-era reactors has already been learned and accounted for in the latest nuclear power plant technology

Truly safe, secure nuclear power requires plants that simply cannot melt down, and that means going smaller rather than bigger. Podowski thinks one potential future relies on many smaller, distributed nuclear plants–so-called small modular reactors–that would contain a small amount of nuclear material, power a small area of the grid, and be protected by a smattering of passive mechanisms.

Because these reactors don’t concentrate too much heat in one place, no active cooling systems would be necessary to cool them–excess heat would be dispersed in the ambient air. By definition, Podowski says, these small reactors will be safer.

“The small reactors are inherently safe because nothing can happen at the small reactors,” Podowski says. “If something goes wrong they will be shut down automatically, the heat will be dispersed, and it will bring itself basically to a neutral state where there will be nothing coming in or out.”

a professor of nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is waiting to see whether the Japanese crisis will have the same effect on young people that previous nuclear accidents had on prior generations.

“It’s interesting to see how young people will react to this, the ones who don’t remember Chernobyl or Three-Mile island,” Danon says. “Will they say we shouldn’t build or will they try to design better reactors?”

You can read the full article here.

OK, so why am I blogging about this? The key here is that this is where we have to go, we have no choice, we cannot continue to burn fossil fuels for two very obvious reasons. One is the long-term impact upon the climate and the other is that we will soon, very soon, reach the peak of the available supply. Thereafter demand will proceed for far outstrip the available supply.

There are of course various alternatives that some pin our future hopes upon such as Nuclear Fusion, but that appears to remain perpetually several decades away, so right now the only viable option is the Nuclear one, we cannot avoid it. Yes I know that solar is getting more efficient and that we can also go for wind and tide, but if you put them all together its not enough.

Will what happened in Japan put our future on hold? That remains to be seen, but why should it …

“When someone dies in a car accident we don’t stop using cars. We work to make them safer.”

1 thought on “Next-generation reactors power a safe nuclear future”

  1. One nuclear option that the PopSci article didn’t mention was the Integral Fast Reactor, the first of the Generation IV designs, developed at Argonne National Laboratory starting in 1965. The EBR-II and the IFR ran for a total of 30 years, providing heat and electricity for the laboratory complex. Funding for the program was cut in 1994.


    Interview with Charles Till, IFR co-developer:

    “Prescription for a Planet” Chapter 4:

    Steve Kirsch Article on IFR:

    Science Council for Global Initiatives:


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