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Nuclear Technological Advances

A lot of the anti-nuclear supporters deny there is any further advances in nuclear technology and insist the only worthwhile investment is renewables.  However,  there can be great advances in nuclear technology that will ensure it is 100% safe with 0% greenhouse gas emissions, less waste and provide cheaper electricity than seen before.  I am not myself denying that renewables can't advance, but it will be with far less potency and less impact on every aspect of energy generation and the environment.

The Westinghouse AP1000 Generation III plus reactor was approved by the US
Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December 2011.  If this reactor were to lose electrical power for its cooling system it would use gravity and convection. They have a huge reservoir above the reactor to hold water for cooling and if there is a loss of power valves open allowing water to fall onto the reactor. As it then turns to steam, it rises, cools beneath the roof and rains down again.  Westinghouse estimates the cost of four power plants, each containing two AP1000 reactors and generating more than 2 gigawatts each to be about US$8 billion.

The Generation IV reactors are even more advanced but smaller and use elements such as helium or sodium for cooling, rather than water. To produce less waste they are also designed to consume more of their fuel.

Both the Westinghouse AP1000 and the Aveva's European Pressurized Reactor make up the majority of reactors available worldwide. 

                                      Small Module Reactors (SMR)

Small Module Reactors (SMR's) are compact stand-alone units, and can be built when the need arises.  If you have a small town with a population of 100,000 people,  then when it rises to 150,000 people you simply add another SMR to meet rising demand. A 25-megawatt SMR could supply electricity for 20,000 homes.  SMR's can be located underground for security and they would produce significantly less waste.
These could be the future of nuclear power and there are 3 companies in the US providing SMR's; Westinghouse,  NuScale and  Babcock & Wilcox / Bechtel.  Westinghouse just teamed up with Ameren Missouri in April 2012 to fund and construct a 225 MWe Westinghouse SMR at Ameren Missouri's Callaway site. NuScale has plans to install SMR's in South Carolina and Babcock & Wilcox / Bechtel in Tennessee. 
 

                                               Traveling Wave Reactor

A traveling wave reactor is an ingenius idea that would use depleted uranium as fuel.  It is designed by a firm called TerraPower, in Seattle and has the financial backing from Bill Gates of Microsoft.  

Scientists have a design for a reactor that needs only a small amount of enriched fuel.  The core in a traveling-wave reactor converts nonfissile material into the fuel it needs. These reactors could possibly run for 200 years without refueling and will run on nuclear waste.





 
                              Thorium Reactors (Molten Salt Reactor)

Thorium was researched alongside uranium as a nuclear fuel back in the 1940's and 1950's.   However,  uranium reactors made it to the completion stage first and further research into thorium was stopped.  It was decided the standard fuel for nuclear power plants would be derived from uranium even though prominent scientists disagreed and demanded thorium was the better alternative.  One of the reported reasons for using uranium was because it produced a byproduct called plutonium which is necessary for nuclear weapons which in the 1950's was a big selling point with the cold war.

Nuclear reactors using thorium as a fuel cannot melt down or blow up, will produce far less waste while also not producing plutonium to supply the nuclear weapons cycle.  They emit no green house gases and the fuel is cheap and abundant with the reactors being cheaper and quicker to construct.
 
The thorium reactor will be safe from an earthquake, tsunami, volcano, flood, acts of terrorism or operator error. The scenarios at Fukushima, Chernobyl or Three Mile Island would not make a thorium reactor dangerous. 
If you turn the power supply off to a thorium reactor then the reaction stops unlike standard reactors. The key difference between thorium and other nuclear fuels is that it cannot sustain a chain reaction on its own. If you stop firing neutrons the reaction stops, no meltdown possible.  If there is an emergency, a plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. The reactor saves itself.

They have a passive molten salt cooling system that cools naturally if the reactor shuts down.
A molten salt reactor’s power quickly drops if its temperature rises above the operating point, which is an important and necessary safety feature.  There is no steam pressure, so the reactor cannot explode like Chernobyl did or vent radioactivity like Fukushima. The salts are not soluble and are easily contained, away from the public and environment. As Professor Robert Cywinksi said from Huddersfield University, who anchor's the UK's thorium research network ThorEA, "There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam,"

China has commenced a project with the National Academy of Sciences with a start-up budget of $350m.  They have recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. They will have 750 staff by 2015.  India has also announced in November 2011 that it is building a thorium reactor that should be running by 2020. India has the most thorium in the world followed by Australia. China has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for "20,000 years", as does the world.