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Power Science

Russia Set To Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors Past Engineered Life Span 215

Posted by Soulskill
from the tempting-fate dept.
Harperdog writes "Yikes! Russia is extending the lifetime of nuclear power reactors beyond their engineered life span of 30 years, including the nation's oldest reactors: first-generation VVERs and RBMKs, the Chernobyl-type reactors. This goes against existing Russian law, because the projects have not undergone environmental assessments. 'Many of the country's experts and non-governmental organizations maintain that this decision is economically unjustifiable and environmentally dangerous — to say nothing of illegal. The Russian nuclear industry, however, argues that lifetime extensions are justified because the original estimate of a 30-year life span was conservative; the plants have been significantly upgraded; and extensions cost significantly less than constructing new reactors.'"
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Russia Set To Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors Past Engineered Life Span

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  • Summons Scotty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Machtyn (759119) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:24PM (#38360280) Homepage Journal

    "A good Engineer is always a wee bit conservative, at least on paper." - Scotty, to La Forge, regarding IRC Tank Pressure Variances Regulation 42/15

    This story brings this quote to mind.

  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:24PM (#38360300)
    . . . we've been doing that for years.

    Just sayin'.

  • Re:Big deal... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 (525388) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:28PM (#38360364) Homepage Journal

    The Russian nuclear industry, however, argues that lifetime extensions are justified because the original estimate of a 30-year life span was conservative; the plants have been significantly upgraded; and extensions cost significantly less than constructing new reactors.'"

    1. Conservative estimates are appropriate for things that can melt down. Bigger impacts from "catastrophic failure" justify wider safety margins.
    2. The original estimates already factored in maintenance and upgrades over their lifespan. Trying to factor them in again is just plain wrong.
    3. Meltdowns are more expensive than construction. See also: Fukushima [wikipedia.org]

    Most all power plants are life-extended past their first thirty years. Why should nuclear be different?

    4. Nuclear is a comparatively new technology, and there have been a lot of fundamental changes and advances in reactor design in the last 30 years. A coal plant may change out a turbine for a more energy-efficient model during its term, but you can't just pull a reactor core (along with all its infrastructure) and swap in a totally different design as part of an upgrade. Changes like that generally call for outright replacement anyway.

  • Re:Well, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:46PM (#38360674)

    No technical limit. Eventually you get to replace the reactor vessel, which for all practical purposes involves disassembling nearly the entire plant, and reassembling it, so you may as well be honest with yourself and call it a brand new plant on the same site. Kind of like the old joke, which is true in my case, that I own my great grandfather-in-laws wood cutting axe, of course its had like 4 new handles and two new heads so there's not much of it older than 50 years or so...

    Standard /. car analogy is that eventually a $5 bearing goes out deep in the car innards, and the labor costs to get in there, replace it, and get out, exceed the costs of a new car, or at least exceed the cost of an unbroken car of similar age and quality car.

    Much like "reusable" spacecraft have kind of fizzled out because it turns out the recertification process is more expensive than making a new one.

    Much like people can spend $75K on a model T restoration, where most people would just buy a much better kia, you could spend the cost of three new nukes trying to rebuild one old nuke, if you really want.

  • by malraid (592373) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:56PM (#38360870)
    Yep, never have we spread radiation across half or Europe, only our east coast [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Big deal... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:06PM (#38361068)

    Most all power plants are life-extended past their first thirty years. Why should nuclear be different?

    There are several things here.

    • a) nuclear plants suffer from neutron damage. Almost any material can be degraded by long term neutron bombardment through neutron capture [wikipedia.org]; this means that over the long term parts of nuclear reactors have failure modes that may not be present in any other power plant
    • b) nuclear reactor cores are highly radioactive to the level that can even destroy electronic equipment, certainly causes contamination and makes human inspection impossible. This makes it extremely difficult to be sure that equipment degradation has not become serious (compare with aeroplane inspection which uses detailed visual inspection at close range combined with large devices wheeled right up to the plane)
    • c) the parts which are likely to fail (those close to the reactor core) are precisely the ones which really matter and can have worse consequences than the typical failures in a conventional power plant
    • d) reactor physicists (the same ones that guaranteed us that Fukashima was safe) tell us that the new generations of reactors are much safer than the old ones; hydro power, for example, hasn't really had a massive safety change in the last fifty (or even hundred) years
    • e) nuclear reactors are incredibly complex, difficult and precise mechanisms. They have a huge setup and teardown cost which means that the capital investment is huge, even compared to other large power plants. The more often this is done the more likely that it will go wrong.
    • f) nuclear reactors leave large amounts of radioactive waste during decommissioning; one part of this is the fuel, but probably more important is all of the other parts which become radioactive during the lifetime of the reactor (remember neutron capture). The fewer plants that are decommissioned the lower the volume of this waste.

    Obviously a), b) and c) push in the opposite direction from d), e) and f). What this means is that basically we should have a smaller number of safer nuclear reactors run for longer by people who we can trust to ensure that a) and b) don't become a problem. Unfortunately people who support nuclear power tend to be in denial about the potential risks and so aren't the right people. I guess it's like politicians. Anybody who wants to be a politician should probably be ruled out from the job / anybody who wants to run a reactor should probably be banned from doing so :-)

  • by malraid (592373) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:10PM (#38361168)
    Sure, I'm just saying that because Three Mile Island was very mild to Chernobyl, it doesn't mean that the US is invulnerable to a nuclear disaster. It has happened, and we were lucky. The Russians were not lucky. The Japanese were not lucky. It can happen again. But then I'm sure Chernobyl caused less deaths than coal mining causes every year. It's just a risk that we have to manage and live with.
  • Rigorous (Score:1, Insightful)

    by stooo (2202012) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @06:24PM (#38362622)

    There is no such thing as "rigorous oversight" in the nuke industry.

  • Re:Summons Scotty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tacvek (948259) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:58PM (#38364428) Journal

    I'm pretty sure that was the same exchange. Quoted in full:

    Scotty: Shunt the deuterium from the main cryo-pump to the auxiliary tank.
    La Forge: Er, the tank can't withstand that kind of pressure.
    Scotty: [laughs] Where'd you... where'd you get that idea?
    La Forge: What do you mean, where did I get that idea? It's in the impulse engine specifications.
    Scotty: Regulation 42/15 - Pressure Variances on the IRC Tank Storage?
    La Forge: Yeah.
    Scotty: Forget it. I wrote it. A good engineer is always a wee bit conservative, at least on paper. Just bypass the secondary cut-off valve and boost the flow. It'll work.

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