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*Yawn* What is taking generation 4 reactors so long to fruition?

  1. May 16, 2013 #1
    Self explanatory title
  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2013 #2


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  4. May 16, 2013 #3
    There are a number of reasons I can think off off the top of my head:

    1) Lack of money for research and lack of a serious commitment to build novel designs. A good deal of the research for power reactors of today was funded by military money for naval and weapons purposes. This doesn't really exist anymore.

    2) Depending on the design they use completely different materials and geometry than current reactors. This means that the tools to design them need to be made. This means they need to be validated - which requires expensive experiments using experimental reactors and prototypes. Existing research reactors are also mostly old and no longer allowed to perform some of their old functions.

    3) Strict and uncertain regulatory framework. Previous reactors could go from concept to built in a few years. Now approval can take decades of legal battles. Since these are currently being designed governments don't have the expertise and personnel required to determine if they are safe

    4) Lack of social and political will because of fear of radiation. Plus there is still a highly active anti-nuclear group while most other people are less vocal or neutron on the issue. Look at the number of lawsuits that results every time someone tries to build a reactor or even ship radioactive material. Virtually all reactors were built with government help but now political climate demands private development (which is risk adverse).

    5) Lack of support from environmentalist because many believe that wind/solar/conservation/biofuels/Santa/'rewriting laws of physics' will save the day instead.

    6) Lack of support from the right wing since nuclear is not cheaper than coal or natural gas right now. In addition, uncertain future electricity demand due to economic uncertainty. Plus lack of acceptance of anthropogenic global warming and the need to reduce global emissions of green house gases.

    I'm sure other can come up with many other reasons too.
  5. May 16, 2013 #4
    Governments do not want to make a new step in nuclear power technology. It's mainly due to the fact that the older ones have been running for a good period now allowing great understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these reactors and operators know a lot now about how to deal with them. Making a new step toward a new generation of reactors could lead to increase of probabilities of weaknesses appearing. Governments now want to calm the public down to change their thoughts and opinions about nuclear power, this might not be a good time to start a new technology which could make another disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima. If that happen, the government's position in front of the public would be the worst.

    That's a technical point of view, there are definitely other strong points too such as the ones mentioned earlier by Hologram0110
  6. May 16, 2013 #5
  7. May 16, 2013 #6


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    Can't say that I've ever seen a single "right-wing" person against nuclear power. Maybe libertarian types against government subsidies of nuclear power, but that's different. Generally, the conservatives are far more enthusiastic and supportive about nuclear power for the prospect of reducing our dependency on foreign energy sources. Remember, it was Carter, Clinton, and now Obama whom have been staunchly against nuclear power while Nixon was quite pro-nuclear and Reagan and Bush were supportive but not advocates.
  8. May 16, 2013 #7
    from whom? general public?
  9. May 17, 2013 #8

    Actually (most) governments do not want to do anything with nuclear power because for political reasons they deliberately chose wind and solar to be the winners and nuclear to be the loser.

    Exhibit A is Germany, who tried to ditch nuclear and go with their green dreams......which resulted in skyrocketing prices and in them planning to build dozens of fossil fuel (mostly coal) power plants to make up for the technology's fundamental flaws.

    Exhibit B is the state of Oregon, who even though it does have a startup at OSU that is designing small modular reactors, you won't find any mention of utilizing this home produced energy source in our long term energy plan. Nope, instead the plan is for solar and wind galore, no matter the cost. As far as I know they don't provide any tax credits to it either, but continues to shovel tax money at companies like Solopower that have either failed or are in the process of massively downsizing staff in the state.

    Exhibit C is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that for years and years was run by an opponent of nuclear power. Now that he was finally removed, he went on record as saying as much just last month.

    But it's worse than that. The hype is everywhere, in TV commercials and even shows it isn't too out of the ordinary to see solar panels or wind turbines as though they were representatives of progress. And it's also in our education system. Last summer I took a couple of accounting courses at the community college and they required me to take Introduction to Business as part of the program. What shocked me was the extent to which the textbook for that class was pushing this stuff. It had a whole chapter just for "sustainability" and was packed with sidebars about green this and green that. Solar and wind were mentioned on several occasions like they are some sort of savior, nuclear of course wasn't mentioned once. The purpose of it was obviously to indoctrinate students into a radical environmentalist agenda.

    Personally I think the hype will die down eventually, as most radical reactionary movements often do. When that does we'll see a golden age of abundant energy, probably in large part powered by generation 3 and 4 reactors.
  10. May 17, 2013 #9


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    As long as we have more natural gas than we know what to do with, a stagnate economy, and minimal growth in electric demand, nuclear is a somewhat uneconomical alternative for the time being. Unless we start mass exporting our natural gas, the price may remain too low for new nuclear to compete with. Even coal power plants are shutting down left and right due to economic and regulatory factors.

    I believe nuclear will make a comeback but it will not be for 10-20 years. At least in the US... China is moving full steam ahead on new nuclear construction anyways. Maybe I should start learning Chinese :eek:
  11. May 17, 2013 #10

    If that were the case then how come we're still throwing tax money at renewables, even though they are substantially less economical than nuclear? Practically every "cleantech" device is directly subsidized anywhere from 20-60% with tax money to offset purcahase costs. I can't think of anything outside of weapons development that is this dependent on government life support. So will the "N" word ever see this kind of support?
  12. May 17, 2013 #11
    Speaking of renewables, does anyone else feel like more R&D should be put into solar instead of trying to mass produce these relatively weak cells? I think efficiencies are like what ~25% these days and only things like quantum dots are improving this? Not well versed in solar tbh but it seems pre mature to me
  13. May 17, 2013 #12


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    Allow me to reply with a short article by one of my favorite economists, Walter E. Williams:

  14. May 17, 2013 #13


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    I'm not against funding research. What I am against is government interference in the energy market, giving direct subsidies to renewable production and even going as far as to enact laws requiring power companies to give priority to renewable, leading to in some cases negative electricity prices.
  15. May 17, 2013 #14
    I see. Does someone know what the atmosphere around developing solar technology is? I.e. the efficiency increasing towards some limit is quantum efficiency really doing anything, where is it in development/maturity etc?
  16. May 17, 2013 #15
  17. May 17, 2013 #16
    I like to turn my lights on at night.

    Sorry, I don't know the answer to your question.
  18. May 17, 2013 #17

    The negative price article is a bit misleading. Wind is extremely variable and the few times when it does reach its installed capacity there's not enough demand, forcing the grid operator to dump it at firesale prices. One thing Denmark has proven is that wind cannot be a substitute for reliable power sources, hence Denmark's ongoing dependence on coal and natural gas.

    The fundamental problem with solar isn't efficiency, it's power density. The best you can get is 1 kw per square meter, and that assumes 100% panel efficiency on a sunny day. The environment for solar development has actually started to deteriorate in recent years. As a result of austerity measures many European countries are either severely reducing their subsidies to it or eliminating them all together. Eventually the same thing will happen in the US, though it isn't clear when. Then the true economic costs become too high to ignore.
  19. May 18, 2013 #18


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    The slow pace of development is a mix of politics (primarily through government funding) and technical challenges. The NRC has little to do with the matter at this stage of development, except to provide the regulatory requirements for safety.

    There are individual efforts, e.g., Terrapower and Gen4 Energy (formerly Hyperion) in the US.

    For solar power (PV), see - http://www.nrel.gov/pv/

    SMRs are tepidly promoted. SMRs are basically derivatives of Gen3/3+ PWRs with lower power densities, more compact and more passive safety features.

    China, Korea and Russia each want to be in the top 3 global suppliers of nuclear technology. China has an aggressive nuclear energy program, and Korea has been successful in obtaining a project in UAE. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi and AREVA have signed an agreement with Turkey for a nuclear plant. Turkey had previously arranged a plant with Russia.
  20. May 18, 2013 #19
    Yes I agree with that, I am a fan of nuclear power (that's why I'm in this forum) and having the same hopes as you are having. Governments are fans of nuclear power too, they use political techniques to drive the public toward nuclear power in steps.

    I find those who believe solar, wind will cover the long need for energy in the future to be dreaming.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 3, 2013
  21. Jun 3, 2013 #20


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    I think the problem with the 4G reactors is that they require civil engineering competence that no longer exists. Finland is generally considered to be among the leaders in educational achievement and in overall technical competence, yet the AREVA 4G reactor being built at Olkiluoto is about 5 years behind schedule and about 70% over budget. The cause afaik is largely lack of quality control in the construction. If that happens in Finland, it will happen everywhere else as well. So I think these designs are no longer executable with the workforce we now have.
    Unfortunately, the nuclear industry is still blindly pursuing the elusive 'efficiency', rather than going for cost effectiveness. These is no plant in the US any more that can make the large reactor vessels needed for a 'modern' reactor, nor is there any experience with building such a beast. So the industry needs to lower its sights, build small idiot proof designs that can be knocked together by the work force we have. That is still heresy to the industry. Indeed, the most recent US reactor licenses are for another two huge all new reactors. I have confidence that this hubris will in time be appropriately recognized.
  22. Jun 3, 2013 #21
    Why do you think they are taking so long?

    Remember that gen 2 reactors reigned supreme for ~30 years (1965-1995).
    Assuming a similar time frame, we shouldn't expect gen 4 reactors until ~2025.

    Most Gen iV reactors use exotic coolants (helium, molten salt, super critical water, sodium, lead, etc). In some designs the fuel is actually dissolved in the coolant. Each of the coolants have unique chemical, neutronic, and thermal-hydraulic properties. Keep in mind that the coolant is at high pressure and high temperature. At these conditions the properties of these materials are currently unknown. Ultimately, there is a significant technology jump going form Gen III to Gen IV reactors. Designing a economic, safe, and reliable Gen IV reactor is going to take a lot of time and effort, and it is simply unrealistic to expect otherwise.

    IMO the technology jump from Gen III to Gen IV reactors is much greater than the jump from Gen II to Gen III, and the thirty year time frame I implied earlier is extremely ambitious.
  23. Jun 4, 2013 #22


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    In the Economist March 8 2012 editorial leader and special report give explanations of why the nuclear industry is likely to stay slow-moving, as far as I know not controversial.

    In liberalised energy markets, building nuclear power plants is no longer a commercially feasible option: they are simply too expensive. Existing reactors can be run very profitably; their capacity can be upgraded and their lives extended. But forecast reductions in the capital costs of new reactors in America and Europe have failed to materialise and construction periods have lengthened. Nobody will now build one without some form of subsidy to finance it or a promise of a favourable deal for selling the electricity. And at the same time as the cost of new nuclear plants has become prohibitive in much of the world, worries about the dark side of nuclear power are resurgent, thanks to what is happening in Iran.

    It is not the essential nature of a technology that matters but its capacity to fit into the social, political and economic conditions of the day. If a technology fits into the human world in a way that gives it ever more scope for growth it can succeed beyond the dreams of its pioneers. ...(examples)... There has been no such expansive setting for nuclear technologies.


    Some relevant history.
  24. Jun 4, 2013 #23
    The most efficient cells are above 40% now, but those are expensive.

    Even 10% efficient cells are good enough for mass electricity generation if we will start to cover deserts with photovoltaics. We have far more deserts (about 50 times more) than our total power demand.

    The challenge is not so much to raise cell efficiency but to raise "watts generated per dollar spent on PV module production" metric.
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