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Toshiba Pushes Safe, Small Nuclear Reactor Design 965

Posted by michael
from the mr.-fusion dept.
core plexus writes "This article describes a proposal from a Japanese corporation that wants to thrust the Interior Alaska community of Galena into international limelight by donating a new, unconventional electricity-generating plant that would light and heat the Yukon River village pollution-free for 30 years. There's a catch, of course. It's a nuclear reactor. Not a huge, Three Mile Island-type power plant but a new generation of small nuclear reactor about the size of a big spruce tree. Designers say the technology is safe, simple and cheap enough to replace diesel-fired generators as the primary energy source for villages across rural Alaska."
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Toshiba Pushes Safe, Small Nuclear Reactor Design

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  • Hell, I want one for my house!
  • I don't have much faith in them. I had a toshiba laptop once, I kept it on for a week and it melted. :(
  • New term (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dark Paladin (116525) * <jhummel@@@johnhummel...net> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:09PM (#7272968) Homepage
    Gives new meaning to the term "Northern Lights".
  • And what, exactly, am I to do with my radioactive waste?

    I already have issues just trying to dispose of radioactive cat litter ( what you get when treating a cat for cancer )

    • Re:waste? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rick the Red (307103)
      You don't get it. This is Japan's way of getting rid of their radioactive waste. Notice they didn't offer to build this test plant in rural, remote Japan [amie.or.jp].
      • Re:waste? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Sgt York (591446) <jvolm@@@earthlink...net> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:23PM (#7273145)
        Hmmmmm....Sounds like a good movie plot...

        A major Japaneese corporation donates a high tech, ultraclean nuclear reactor to remote Alaskan village. The plant goes online, and everyone is happy until....

        One day, all contact with the village is lost. A crack team of physicist/commandos are sent in, headed by Jean-Claude Van Damme or Vin Dielel (the Governator's too busy). What they find will SHOCK and HORRIFY the world, horribly disfigured villagers, mutant killer walruses (they came inland, they're mutants!) and a conspiracy going further than they could have imagined.

  • Last time I checked, physics still applied to this universe, and Nuclear Power plants still produced nuclear waste.

    I wonder why they some small "village" in Alaska - perhaps this technology isn't as safe as they might like us to think? ;)
    • by FatSean (18753) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:12PM (#7273017) Homepage Journal
      They live in harsh conditions and don't romanticize about it. Something like this would make life easier...wonder how many gallons of fuel oil a village goes through a year.
    • Re:Pollution Free? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ajensen (155948) <ajensen.linuxguy@org> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:20PM (#7273119) Homepage Journal
      I wonder why they some small "village" in Alaska - perhaps this technology isn't as safe as they might like us to think? ;)

      There's actually some sound reasoning behind this. By putting such a nuclear reactor in a small village, they will be able to provide power to the entire surrounding area instead of just a fraction. If this was placed in a large city, you would have to somehow partition the power grid into small pieces. Not impossible, but not as easy as simply replacing the diesel generators at this small village.

      They may also be trying to market this specifically as a solution for those small, remote sites. Imagine how much diesel fuel would be burned over the course of thirty years -- then realize that a small amount of nuclear fuel could do the same job. Yes, yes, I know that nuclear waste will last much longer than thirty years. The advantage, however, is that nuclear waste is much more manageable and, if taken care of properly, is not as damaging to the environment.

      Cheers,

      -a

  • by heironymouscoward (683461) <heironymouscoward@yahoo. c o m> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:10PM (#7272980) Journal
    Alaskan homes need a lot of heating.

    And if something goes badly wrong, is anyone really going to trek through the snow and ice to check things out? Just kidding.

    While the Japanese nuclear "industry" is one of the worst in the world in terms of safety, it's impressive that reactors are this small, and maybe this will eventually come to be the standard for electricity generation in places where the other fossil-friendly alternative - namely hydroelectric power - is not an option.
  • Considering what I've seen my town waste $20 millon on, this thing seems like it could be downright affordable. How's a power hungry (I mean that in many ways) local governement to decide? More control over the local power grid (they love control) or nuclear material in town (there probably already is some, but ignorance is bliss). Such a dilema.
  • Reactors such as these, if they are indeed safe for residential use, would go a long way towards preventing another regional blackout (like the one we enjoyed several months ago in the US). Decentralizing the power grid has always been a challenge, and this could make it simple - if it is indeed safe.
  • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:11PM (#7272999) Homepage Journal
    Pitr bought out Toshiba, and started up his plutonium-powered UPS device again?
  • Ignorance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrtroy (640746) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:11PM (#7273001)
    "The word 'nuclear' makes me nervous," said Randy Virgin of the Alaska Center for the Environment. "But we've long seen the problems with diesel, and I'm pretty excited about the prospect of a clean source of energy," he said. "It sounds very promising, but I'd approach it with extreme skepticism."

    There is soooo much less polution from nuclear reactors given the probability of worst case scenarios versus the diesel they are currently using. Why are we still burning fossel fuels!@!#@#!@!#

    They arent in a location very suitable for wind/solar either, so nuclear seems like the best non-renewable solution.

    Such a backwards society we live in, when technology is available and safe, and we delay in implementation.

    • Re:Ignorance (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JonMartin (123209) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:21PM (#7273126) Homepage
      Such a backwards society we live in, when technology is available and safe, and we delay in implementation.

      Clearly a name change is needed. Just like MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) used to be called NRIs (nuclear ...). Maybe something like "elemental decay engines" would be less scary for the illiterate masses?

      I can hear them now: "It has the word 'decay' in it. Is it like composting?"

    • by sporkboy (22212) <maddog&jerky,net> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:25PM (#7273180) Homepage
      Randy Virgin sounds like a villian in an Austin Powers film
    • Re:Ignorance (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rudedog (7339) <dave@[ ]edog.org ['rud' in gap]> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:34PM (#7273285) Homepage
      We're still burning fossil fuels because they're cheaper. Without regulations that force companies to pay for the pollution they generate, fossil fuels will always be cheaper than other forms of energy.

      Nuclear energy is barely cost competitive now, and the only reason they are even close to competive is because of the heavy government subsidies that the industry gets. Without subsidies, nuclear energy wouldn't be cost effective at all, and the industry in every country is heavily subsidized. One of the biggest subsidies is governments acting as an insurer of last resort since regular insurance companies are not willing to offer policies against nuclear accidents.

      I would rather see companies be penalized (via taxation) for the pollution they generate, which they can pass on to me in the form of higher prices, or they can switch to cleaner energy sources and offer me cheaper prices. At the same time, governments can stop subsidizing other forms of energy, which can be passed on to me in the form of lower taxes. As the markets rationalize, I suspect that I will see a net gain, while government tax income will be revenue neutral.

      Sadly, this won't happen in America, since Republicans are mostly beholden to big oil, and Democrats are mostly beholden to the greens, neither of whom have my interests at heart.
      • Re:Ignorance (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rich0 (548339) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @04:05PM (#7274415) Homepage
        Without regulations that force companies to pay for the pollution they generate, fossil fuels will always be cheaper than other forms of energy.

        Those expenses are hard to enumerate. I'd go ahead and try to estimate them and apply a tax to gas accordingly, but there is another cost which is easy to enumerate. How about the cost of interventions in the Middle East? The only reason we launch cruise missles like they were practice rounds on the target range is because of the oil under the ground. If the cost of Middle East wars were tacked onto gas, you can bet that alternative energy would look more attractive.

        It's a win-win too. Anti-war protesters can't complain about the wars over there if they buy gas for their car. If they want to set an example and use other sources of power, then they can rest assured they aren't spending their tax dollars on bullets. If the true cost of oil is high enough people will stop buying it, and we won't end up invading the middle east every 5-10 years. Without the huge flow of cash and the US state department pushing the status quo you can bet that democracy is a lot more likely to fluorish over there as well.

        Plus, this would all be sustainable in the long run.

        Let people buy oil, nuclear, or whatever. Leave it up to each individual to decide what makes the most sense. Just make sure each option is priced with all its associated costs factored in. If it costs less to clean up after one source of power, then make sure it is taxed correspondingly less.
  • The old dilemma (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mh_tang (307188)
    • Safe.
    • Small.
    • Nuclear Reactor.
    Pick two.
    • Re:The old dilemma (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hentai (165906)
      Wrong dichotomy. It's actually
      • Safe
      • Cheap
      • Small


      • Pick two.

        'Nuclear' doesn't actually enter into it; it's just one locus of possibilities within the 'Safe/Cheap/Small' domain.
  • Already been done (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dreamland (212064) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:13PM (#7273027)
    This was already done in remote parts of Soviet Russia. The problem is that the devices went without supervision and were subsequently plundered by scrap metal thieves. See http://archives.tcm.ie/breakingnews/2001/05/24/sto ry13735.asp for an article about the problem.
    • Re:Already been done (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stoolpigeon (454276)
      The showed footage of a clean up of one of these on a documentary on terrorism - done by Frontline maybe? (definitely PBS whatever it was) They found the fuel after some woodsman came down with radiation sickness.

      It took a large team of men, working in short shifts most of a day to get it in a container. It did not look like something I would want to do, even if the pay was good, though I doubt it was.

      They say the Russians built quite a few of these little self-powered navigation towers.
  • Are we supposed to take this article seriously? Randy Virgin? Either his parents didn't like him, or this is some kinda spoof!
  • i'm all for nuclear reactors -- and when the juice is used up we can burn it for fossil fuel
  • Anyone remember that movie with David Soul (Hutch) where the Soviets invade via Alaska? Cool concept at the time. This sort of idea reminds me of the whole "Alaska is very big. Like, I mean, VERY big." concept. Even on a map, Alaska looks very big, even when taking into consideration the fact that the map is just a very small representation of something else that is much larger. Know what I mean?

    Seems that our rogue, zealot enemies (no, not linux zealots) could try to do some damage/steal stuff in a remote
    • by Cheeko (165493) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:30PM (#7273246) Homepage Journal
      Except that its in a hardened, sealed concrete enclosure, meaning there would be no way to access the material short of digging it up, and then using a jackhammer and doing some welding to get inside the facility. On top of this you'd have to shut the reactor down, so you'd have an entire village that knows something is up. Add to that that this is NON-WEAPONS grade Uranium, and there is much less motivation. If a bad guy wanted just plane radioactive material there are far far far easier ways to get a hold of it, than these reactors.
  • Maybe the Greenies in nantucket would prefer a few of these inplace of the windmills being proposed.

    they are only 70 feet tall!!
    they could be installed on-island and generate all the electricity they need.
  • The article says nothing about the nuclear waste or any other byproducts, toxic or not.
  • Reactors evolution (Score:5, Informative)

    by SeanTobin (138474) * <byrdhuntr@ h o t mail.com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:17PM (#7273085)
    I have to say after reading the article, the reactor design does sound very safe. Here is a quick rundown of reactor advancement...

    -Big hunk of uranium in a pool of water*. Water heats but is under pressure so it can't boil. The water (contaminated and radioactive) is then piped through fresh water (in sealed pipes) from a lake or river transferring heat so the fresh water will boil and turn turbines. Neutron absorbing control rods are raised or lowered into the big hunk of uranium to control the reaction. Problems can occour with pipes corroding and releasing contaminated water*, control rods can jam, leaks in the coolant water* can cause a loss of coolant leading to an overheated reactor.

    -Little pellets of uranium in a pool of water*. Same principle as above, only there are no control rods. As the pellets heat up, the expand, increasing the distance between the pelets. This is much safer because there are no control rods to jam. Loss of coolant can still be a problem, but easily solved by simply moving the pellets further apart.

    -And now, this reactor.. a Big Rod of Uranium is immersed in a pool of water*. The rod of uranium is sub-critical so it can't sustain a (large) heat producing reaction on its own. A sleve made of neutron reflecting material (google for nuclear bomb neutron reflector) slowly makes its way along the BRoU over the reactors 30-year lifespan. Only the uranium surrounded by the sleve can react. If the sleve moves too fast, then the reactors lifespan is simply shorted - it will never produce more heat than can be made via the reflector. If it moves too slow, the reactor simply produces less heat. Overall a very good design. If I were to have a reactor in my backyard, I definately would choose this style.

    I've gotta hand it to the toshiba people.. I wouldn't have thought of this... pretty cool.

    *Note: Water may not be water. Water is often used because of its high specific heat, but many other liquids have been used as coolant. In the toshiba reactor, liquid sodium is spec'd because its non-corrosive. A big plus in a maintenance-free environment.
    • Um... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:29PM (#7273225) Homepage Journal
      I googled for "bomb neutron deflector"... should I just ignore the black helecopters that just landed outside my house?
    • by Dr. Zowie (109983) * <slashdot@defor e s t . o rg> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @03:42PM (#7274167)
      (I used to operate a nuclear reactor, so I have some idea what I'm talking about here).

      I'm a bit skeptical about the reflector mechanism: certainly, it makes sense to use a neutron reflector to modulate reactor output. But the business about "if the sleeve moves too fast, then the reactor's lifespan is simply shorted" doesn't make any sense to me.

      The lifetime of most reactors is determined by the buildup of "poisons" (neutron-absorbing waste products) in the fuel, which is why reprocessing plants work so well: unlike a coal plant, a nuclear plant generally doesn't get more than a small fraction of the available energy out of its fuel, so you can chemically repair the fuel and use it again.

      But the buildup of poisons in the fuel is dependent on the total amount of energy released so far. So moving the reflector too fast should either (A) produce more heat or (B) not affect the lifetime of the core very much. Toshiba seems to be claiming (not-A) and (not-B), which doesn't jive (prima facie) with reactor physics.
  • Seems like you could scale the tech down even more and provide one of these bad boys for every home. So now instead of a plumber, you call some overpriced nuclear engineer (named "Buddy") and have him expose his butt crack while he works on your reactor. Of course he'll never have the "right" part with him and he'll have to fly back to Japan to pick up that spare "reflector thingy" and schedule another service call. In the mean time, the husband will come home and rig something up with cardboard and alum
  • by Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:19PM (#7273112) Homepage
    Remember the 'Foundation' series? This sounds like it came straight out of there. Minature Atomic Reactors. Of course Asimov assumed that 'Atomic' was the brave new future and was envisaging reactors the size of a walnut.
  • Now you can do hours and hours of 3D rendering on your laptop without needing to recharge!

  • radioactive (Score:4, Funny)

    by jwachter (319790) * <wachter.gmail@com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:24PM (#7273157) Homepage
    thrust the Interior Alaska community of Galena into international limelight

    So is this one of those situations where limelight = green glow?

  • This is the best idea ever. And once we have cheap, safe affordable Spacelift - that is, the ability to get into space with stuff - then all our spent fuel can easily be disposed of.

    Once in orbit, you simply sypersync it toward the sun... or even better, use space elevators to directly fling the stuff to the sun. It doesn't travel thruought the cosmos to wreck someone else's problems, and there is no need to bury it in anyone's backyard. You can even use nuclear powered spacecraft to do it if you dont h
  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:29PM (#7273232)
    Is that they get what, about 80% of their power from Nuclear reactors? While nuclear reactors pose a risk, the overall safety of these plants has been pretty good. How many are there arcoss the world and only two major incidents?

    Yes, what to do with the spent fuel is a problem, but is the cost of storing the degrading material higher than what we pump into the air each year? Let's face it Solar and wind are not there yet. (Although if your looking to make a worth while investment in your home, consider adding solar cells if you live anywhere outside of the pacific northwest, my father did and uses it to heat water and some applices and its paid for itself in 3 years. Me I still rent, so someday)

    I wish people would get over their nuclear phobias and NIMBY additudes because something needs to be done, and adding more gas turbines and coal plants are not the best solution.

    • by HeghmoH (13204) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:52PM (#7273500) Homepage Journal
      What's the other major accident? Everyone knows about Chernobyl, of course. And everyone talks about TMI, but the fact is that there is not a single death traceable to TMI, and there was basically no release of anything harmful.

      The actual proportion in France is 75% of electric power generation from nuclear. Another 15% is other "clean" power, such as hydro. The remaining 10% is evil dirty "burning stuff" electricity. I live pretty close to about five reactors here, and I feel pretty safe. It's preferable to having a bunch of coal plants dumping crap (including a fair amount of uranium!) into the air.

      Nuclear really is the way to go. The only major accident, Chernobyl, was only possible due to the collusion of a horribly unsafe plant design, and moronic operators who decided to run an experiment (i.e. try something out that was way beyond the design specs) and turn off all of the safety systems while they were doing it. So, surprise surprise, the thing made a big KABOOM.

      If coal plants had to live under the same radiation emission guidelines as nuclear power, they would never be able to operate. So I agree completely, get rid of nuclear phobias (in other countries, there doesn't seem to be a lot of it here!) and get rid of heavy pollution in electrical generation.
  • by nuke-alwin (606789) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:39PM (#7273353) Homepage
    TMI is a great advert for nuclear power! Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and the operators made mistakes. The core melted, but no-one was killed or injured. The same can not be said about coal mining disasters, Bhopal (a chemical plant in India which exploded) or oil rig accidents. If you have a social conscience you will support nuclear power. Other energy industries regularly kill its employees and members of the public. Alaska suffered terrible environmental damage when Exxon Valdez crashed. To prevent that happening again we need to embrace clean new clear power!
  • Not a bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iabervon (1971) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:40PM (#7273365) Homepage Journal
    It's got a design where it needs mechanical energy to stay critical, so it can't break down and stay critical, and over-production won't increase the production rate. It doesn't irradiate the parts that could need to be serviced or any liquids. It contains the fuel needed for 30 years, which isn't that much in terms of a big plant (121 days supply for a normal-sized plant). Won't need to be changed for 30 years, and it'll be pretty obvious if someone tries to steal the core.

    The only problem I can see with it (aside from public perception) is that it involves a shaft dug into permafrost. I'd be somewhat worried that a wet fall followed by a sudden cold spell could lead to the shaft getting crushed.

    Of course, it will be hard to sell people on, despite the fact that this is probably a much safer thing to have in your back yard than a gas main. I'd like one in my back yard, except for the fact that it's not cost-effective to run, unless you're in the middle of nowhere in a place without sunlight.
  • by macemoneta (154740) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:41PM (#7273375) Homepage
    The typical response with most nuclear devices is "not in my backyard". However, the technology used in modern reactors is exactly the type I DO want. And yes, they can put it in my backyard (heck, they can put it on my property for free, in exchange for free hydrogen, electricty, and heat). I hadn't considered Alaska as a retirement location, but where do I sign up?
  • by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:44PM (#7273409) Homepage
    This is swell and all.....but does it run Linux?

    Oh wait, wait........imagine a beowulf cluster....oh fuck it.

  • About Time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by way0utwest (451944) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:49PM (#7273452)
    I used to work at a US reactor in IT. At the time I was both amazed and stunned by the 1960's erz technology in use in the plant.

    Because it had to be "certified" and documented, the cost was outrageous. Each section of pipe had to come from a certified company built by a certified company and using materials (ore, etc) from a certified place, all documented of course. Makes you feel better about the construction, but costs a lot and requires lots of maintenance.

    At the time I saw some specs for a new, simple design to be used in Asia and submitted to the NRC. It used less people, more gravity fed pumps and flows, and should have lowered the cost of plants from billions to hundreds or even tens of millions.

    Nothing came of it and it was a larger scale than this, but it was a good idea. Nuclear has a place when built well and conservatively, which it seems this design is.
  • by e40 (448424) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @02:50PM (#7273462) Journal
    Frontline [pbs.org], a great PBS documentary series, had a show on this, called Nuclear Reaction [pbs.org]. Highly recommended.
  • how long really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rabtech (223758) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @03:16PM (#7273858) Homepage
    If you think nuclear waste will need to be kept around for hundreds of thousands of years, check into actinide burners.

    It looks like we may be able to break down the seriously radioactive stuff from nuclear fuel and turn it into the stuff that is only slightly radioactive (think dangerous for about 100 years.)

    So we reprocess the spent fuel, which we aren't doing now. That's 90% of your mass right there that you extract and put back into the reaction.

    Now take that 10% and extract the 2% plutonium that is in it and use that in one of the nuclear plant designs that can run on plutonium/uranium mix.

    Now with the 8% that is left, process it in an actinide burner and you have a small amount of material that needs only to be kept for 100 years before it isn't really very radiactive. In practice, the closer you get to the 100 year mark the less dangerous it becomes.
  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @03:50PM (#7274244) Homepage
    MIT has been working on an even safer method for years: Pebble Bed reactors. The idea is: seal the uranium in bocci-ball sized graphite balls (uranium reaction won't get hot enough to melt the graphite balls). to stop the reaction roll the balls away from each other. when the fuel is spent, the U is sealed in graphite.

    http://web.mit.edu/pebble-bed/ [mit.edu]

    Also, whenever people invoke Three MIle Island, I'm always obliged to point out that ZERO nuclear waste was released during the accident. It was all completely contained. Most people think it was like Chernobyl, but the fact is: the safety standards worked for 3-mile.

  • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @03:55PM (#7274292) Journal
    Disclaimer: IANANP.

    For each element, there is a small list of stable isotopes. If a nucleus becomes unstable for whatever reason, it attempts to return to a stable configuration. There are several ways this can happen, including radioactive decay and fission.

    The nucleus of any atom is held together by binding energy, and tries to fly apart due to electric repulsion between the protons. The binding energy per nucleon has a broad maximum around 8 MeV and nuclear mass between 50 - 75. Unstable, heavier nuclei may undergo fission into smaller nuclei with higher binding energy. The difference is released as heat, which we use to generate power.

    The electric repulsion increases as the square of the number of protons in a nucleus, so more neutrons per proton are needed for heavier elements to maintain stability; however, there is a limit, and elements beyond Bismuth (83) are naturally unstable. These nuclei undergo radioactive decay, which occurs in two types: alpha and beta.

    Unstable, heavy nuclei emit alpha particles, which are identical to Helium nuclei -- two protons, two neutrons. This radiation reduces the atomic mass by roughly four, eventually bringing the element to a stable nucleon count. Unstable nuclei also can undergo beta decay, converting a neutron into a proton and a high-energy electron, which is emitted. The amount of time needed for half of a sample of material to radioactively decay is called the half-life.

    For fission, there are only three isotopes with a long-enough radioactive half-life to be stored and transported, and which are fissionable by neutrons of all energies: Uranium-233, Uranium-235, and Plutonium-239. U-233 isn't natural, and is created by inducing Thorium-232 to undergo beta decay by adding a neutron. U-235 occurs in small but extractable quantities in natural Uranium ore. Pu-239 is created by U-238 neutron capture and beta decay.

    Alpha- and beta decay cause ionization in matter with which they come in contact by knocking off outer-shell electrons. Alpha radiation for Pu-239, the most energetic alpha decayer in a reactor at 5.1 MeV, has a range of only 3.6 cm in air, after which it is low-enough energy to absorb two electrons from the air and become a Helium atom which can't ionize. Uranium reactors, like the Toshiba model, have even smaller alpha ranges. Nuclear reactors are not at risk for leaking alpha radiation.

    Beta radiation consists of electrons, which are much more likely to scatter when they ionize, so there isn't a specific ionization range for beta radiation. On the other hand, the highest energy beta radiation from fission reactions is on the order of 3 MeV, and can be stopped by half a centimeter of concrete. There is no possibility of beta radiation escaping nuclear reactors.

    Gamma radiation, produced by neutron capture reactions, drops off exponentially as it is absorbed, so it can be reduced to background levels by a manageable thickness of iron or lead shielding. Normally, this occurs immediately surrounding the reactor vessel itself. If the vessel develops a leak or the shielding fails, nuclear plants have additional concrete shielding and containment procedures. In the unlikely event that everything fails, exposure to reactor gamma radiation is comparable to going to a doctor for X-rays -- not something you'd want for prolonged periods, but not going to injure you before you evacuate. In the case of the Toshiba reactor, which is 60 feet underground, there is no possibility of gamma leakage because the ground acts as shielding.

  • General thoughts, in no specific order...

    A) the "dirty bomb" (a current favorite among hte fear mongering media) made out of radioactive materials is generally NOTHING like the multiple-megaton weapons that make the big fancy mushroom clouda. These are bombs that expode conventionally, and through said explosion, scatter radioactive materials around an area, creating a hot zone that will possibly kill, probably sicken, some people right near the area, but mainly just go to scare the millions of people into knee-jerk reactions though non-understanding.

    B) Making a cheap and nasty little dirty bomb can be easily done by stealing the Cesium 137 out of a few hospitals (canisters of it are used in x-ray machines - i think its an xray machine). The added benefit of this is that the material is a very fine powder that can get spread widely by the wind.

    One of these canisters got loose in Brazil once. [pbs.org] Resulted in killing four and made a few people sick. THe cleanup was a tad nasty. People heard about it, and thousands of them showed up at hospitals to get checked out for possible contamination. This was after local officials told them "Look, you were in the immediate area, youre going to be fine." People still stood on line at hospitals, choking hospital resources and generally fucking up their ability to take care of those that were really hurt.

    [If you get a chance, find that Dirty Bomb special NOVA did a while back. [pbs.org] This is the ref for that cesium info above]

    Stealing a fat hunk of reactor core would involve about a million times work, and unless they wannt rub the thing against a cheese grater for a while, they're left with one solid hunk of radioactive material, which is fairly easy to handle, contain, and bury somewhere.

    [again, go read that NOVA site.]

    C) Your average goober (read: 98% of the population) is completely unaware of that fact that we're constantly being bombarded with "background radiation" every second of every day. They're also unaware that our skin does a pretty good job of fending that low-level shit off.

    D) Imagine if mass media existed at today's level in Edison's time. Getting people to accept the fact that electricity was not going to jump out of an unused outlet (or a wire) and kill you [in everyday non-dubmass use] would be next to impossible, and /. would have to be implemented using little peices of paper, fine point pens, and hundreds of thousands of really, really tired carrier pigeons.

    E) People Die. Its something we all do, and ya can't avoid it, so stop fucking scaring yourselves into non-action. You can only hope its not going to be horrible. Generally, not being a stupidass - and keeping yourself aware of (AWARE, not SCARED) the other stupidasses around you - will go a long way in accomplishing this.

  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @05:05PM (#7275143) Homepage Journal

    Because of its design and small size, the Toshiba reactor can't overheat or melt down, he said, unlike what happened in the 1986 accident at Chernobyl that killed 30 people and spewed radiation across northern Europe.


    While the new type of reactor might be perfectly safe, why do they spread "disinformation" then? Of course, the "blow up" of Chernobyl only costed about 30 lives. The cleaning up recruits of the USSR army had about 1000 falacities later. Seems they don't count.

    Anyway, besides the credibility of the press release the question of how to take care about burned out units remains.

    angel'o'sphere
  • Permafrost? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theonetruekeebler (60888) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @05:57PM (#7275691) Homepage Journal
    How do you go about sinking something into the ground, that gets up to 500+ degrees C, without melting the permafrost? The Alaska pipeline has chilled pylons on it because the part above ground might get as warm as 75 degrees, thereby warming the part below ground enough to melt the permafrost.

    I'll have to ask my uncle. He helped Bechtel build an oil refinery in northern Alberta...

  • by Hartree (191324) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:03PM (#7276273)
    The town is only about 700 odd people. One possibility is that if this gets near fielding, there will be a call by the anti-nuke groups for people to move there and basicly take over the town in order to stop it. There will also, of course, be lawsuit after lawsuit to delay it.

    It's a must win for the antinuclear movement.

    They'll view with alarm the small size, and especially the very low installation cost which makes it hard for long delays to bankrupt by increasing the cost of working capital.

    That no plant has been ordered in the US for decades is a huge political point for them, and they'd see this as the camel getting a nose into the tent. I expect a bitter fight by them.
  • Impossible! (Score:3, Funny)

    by oren (78897) on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @02:23AM (#7278820)
    "Sure they say it's impossible to spill (radioactive material) for it to get out. But nothing in this world is impossible," he said.

    Except, of course, for the public to rationally consider anything at all with "nuclear" in its name. That is really impossible.

    What is it with people and "nuclear"? This reactor is suggested by the Japanese of all people. They were nuked. Twice. If anyone should automatically shut down his brain and cringe at the sound "nuclear", it should be them. Yet they seem to be thinking rationally about it. In the meanwhile, it is the Americans who nuked them who black out when hearing the word. What is this, some sort of guilt trip?

    Wait, I got it. These Japanese are also scared of nuclear power. But they hell-bent on revenge! They'll install these miniature nuclear plants all over the USA, and at a predetermined time will cause them all to explode, killing everyone in the continent! Notice they don't suggest it be used in Japan? Launch a pre-emptive strike now!

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