” Elon Musk: ‘Extremely Safe’ Nuclear Plants Possible” Interesting Engineering

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“Musk insisted that he was talking about nuclear fission and not fusion, and even seems to disregard idea of nuclear fusion, claiming it’s not needed. 

Nuclear fusion is the process atoms of smaller elements like hydrogen being fused to release energy. The Sun generates energy in this manner. While companies and countries are trying to replicate the process, most of the energy generated is used up for sustaining the reaction, making the technology commercially unviable.  

Conversely, the nuclear fission process involves the breaking apart of heavy atoms like uranium which releases high amounts of energy as well as more neutrons that set up a chain reaction to generate more energy.

The process is commercially viable at large scales and has been used on a global scale to generate power. However, radiation leaks at nuclear power plants along with the waste generated during the fission process have led to opposition to generating power using this method. 

“I think modern nuclear power plants are safe, contrary to what people may think,” Musk said. “I really think it’s possible to make very, extremely safe nuclear [power].” However, he did not specify how this could be done.  

There are also other innovators in this space. Oklo, a startup company, plans to build microreactors that will use the nuclear waste from bigger power plants and carry out further fission reactions to extract more energy from them while reducing their radioactivity. 

Similarly, the Bill Gates-backed Terra Power is innovating ways of generating nuclear power in reactors that could run for a hundred years. 

Gates also believes in the potential of energy produced from nuclear fission. Completing the triad is Jeff Bezos

Comment: I have long thought that fission power is the real answer to the need for clean green energy. pl

https://interestingengineering.com/elon-musk-extremely-safe-nuclear-plants-possible

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16 Responses to ” Elon Musk: ‘Extremely Safe’ Nuclear Plants Possible” Interesting Engineering

  1. TheUnready says:

    Apparently, there are types of reactors that need constant energy/particle input in order to run. No chance of a runaway, uncontrollable reaction.

    Thorium reactors??

    I have also heard of a new Russian system that can recycle the spent fuel, practically indefinitely.

  2. walrus says:

    Small fail safe fission reactors are the way to go right now along with solar and wind if necessary to decarbonise all our economies. We have huge reserves of uranium. My favourite vacation place sits on top of at least 30% of known reserves and according to local geologists, we haven’t even found the edges of the deposits yet. The area is full of it, there are even radioactive hot springs.

    We also developed a quick cheap and compact enrichment process – silex.

    https://www.silex.com.au/silex-technology/silex-uranium-enrichment-technology/

    Mined in an environmentally clean and simple way through leaching in place. General atomic s owns this one.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beverley_Uranium_Mine

    We have the option of treating and burying waste thousands of feet underground in waterless geologically stable areas.

    • Babeltuap says:

      If nuclear is good enough to power Paris for the Paris Agreement on climate change, seems like it should be a condition for countries that sign on. Over 70% of France is nuclear. I agree with France; clean efficient nuclear power for the planet. The technology is now remarkably safe. It’s time to invest in more innovation with fission and stop the cronyism of solar and wind. These are not viable solutions. Both require an enormous amount of maintenance, square footage and will absolutely fail when you need it most during a natural disaster like a hurricane or snow storm.

      • Deep says:

        Does France really dump all their nuclear waste on their fully French island department of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean?

    • TTG says:

      An example of the small, safe fission reactors is the NuScale factory built modular reactors. The entire reactor is built in their Oregon facility and it travels by barge, rail or truck to the site. It can safely shut down without power or water. The design has gotten all US federal approvals and it’s first operational site in Idaho is being prepared and tested. The required testing must be onerous since it is still not expected to be online until 2029. As far as I know, most other similar small reactor technologies are still in the development phase.

      https://www.nuscalepower.com

      This is a vast improvement over conventional built-on-site reactors which can take 30 or more years to get approvals, complete construction and get on line. Compare this to solar. Our Spotsylvania solar farm was proposed in 2018, overcame two years of local opposition and was approved for construction in April 2019. It is now half complete and producing electricity. The rest is scheduled to be in place by the end of the year. A real advantage of solar and small nuclear power stations is the size. Rather than massive single points of failure in conventional power stations, small nuclear and solar installations provide a distributed redundancy to the grid or even provide stand alone capacity for communities.

      https://fredericksburg.com/news/local/massive-spotsylvania-solar-plant-is-online/article_9d7118ea-2de0-5895-b5ce-cefd4e380727.html

      Still solar has it’s limits. There are plenty of places and situations where these small nuclear plants are the answer or part of the answer. There are proponents of the GND who are at least neutral on nuclear. AOC doesn’t have a problem with them. This is why Tulsi Gabbard withdrew her support for the GND. She is a staunch no nukes advocate.

      • Fred says:

        TTG,

        That is a great idea but it is only a 77MW plant with zero in commercial operation. The “30 years” you mention about conventional nuclear plant builds is almost all regulatory delays driven almost entirely from the left. The same groups will oppose these new designs for the same reasons they opposed the old ones.

        • TTG says:

          It’s a 77MW module. The one in Idaho plans to use 12 modules. NuScale also plans 4 and 6 module power plants. The Idaho plant went from a 2016 idea to a planned 2033 fully operational 924MW plant. It’s not exclusively the left opposed to nuc power. I’d be surprised if the NRC is a lefty hotbed. Nobody wants one in their neighborhood. It’s the same with coal, natural gas, solar and wind.

          • Fred says:

            TTG,

            I wish them luck but missing off their website is cost, and the latest political necesity, diversity. BTW having worked in the industry and very briefly on the regulation therein I can tell you the NRC isn’t the only regulatory body that can stop a power plant from being built. Just look at what Cuomo did to Indian Point.

  3. Barbara Ann says:

    You are in good company Colonel. James Lovelock, now 102 and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis (so named on the suggestion of his friend, William Golding btw) has always argued that fission power can provide all the energy we need. He wrote that he’d be happy to have nuclear waste buried under his house in order to heat it for free.

    Lovelock blames the Green movement for being largely responsible for the irrational public perception of radioactive decay as somehow unnatural and uniquely dangerous. I guess Marvel Comics ought to share a good portion of the blame though. The irony is that many of the tree huggers embraced Gaia for its spiritual echoes of an Earth goddess. He has panned other forms of “green” energy like wind generation as having no realistic chance of meeting our ever increasing demand for energy.

  4. Deap says:

    This younger triumverate has the power, money and media clout to change the dialogue on nuclear power. The Endless Energy Generation is the next Revolution.

    Plus fewer and fewer today have active memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  5. Porkupine says:

    Agree.

    It is bitterly hilarious to see “environmentalists” (not really)
    promoting a technology (windmills) which, every single one, takes out thousands of all kinds of birds per year. That’s each windmill.

    Heartening to hear about the latest fission developments.

  6. Jose says:

    Porkupine, solar is frying thousands to birds, mammals , and reptiles too.

    There are new technologies of coal that might a be a great alternative to nuclear but, remember all the big D Donors want nuclear.

    BTW, got my six lobsters early this morning about twenty tens miles from a nuclear plant). (Florida Lobster mini-season today and tomorrow)

  7. Rod says:

    ” Elon Musk: ‘Extremely Safe’ Nuclear Plants Possible”

    Of course they are possible, but then there is Murphy’s law to muck it up.

  8. Joe100 says:

    I have been actively working as an advocate in this “space” for well over a decade. While the “GEN IV” startups get most of the favorable nuclear visibility, two other critical areas are moving forward quietly, primarily by experienced innovators outside of the nuclear industry “silo”.

    One area is applying quality shipyard fabrication and floating delivery to dramatically reduce costs, greatly accelerate fabrication times and floating the resulting power plants to deployment sites. The better shipyards have much better quality control than conventional “stick built” nuclear plants and this energy system ecosytem also has excellent “regulatory”oversight by Lloyds register as nothing can “float” without their insurance approval. For example large offshore platforms or floating LNG factories require review of all equipment design, review of equipment delivered and physical review of the equipment to ensure it was built to specifications.

    Thorcon is the leading GEN IV developer here and have been working closely with Korea’s DSME shipyard on a ship design that would package two – four of their reactors for delivery to a floating location. Thorcon’s design is the only GEN IV reactor with full costs and DSME has a fixed price offering to build Thorcon’s reactor.

    It should not be surprising that Thorcon’s developers are very experienced naval architects who designed and oversaw the construction of the two largest VLCC’s at DSME’s shipyard.

    A second important initiative is a (highly experienced) work group designing a very sophisticated modular nuclear power buildings system that could dramatically reduce costs and greatly reduce construction time of “inland” nuclear power projects. A key element is application of a seismic isolation “foundation” that eliminates the current need to engineer key (safety-related) new nuclear power plant internal equipment to a site’s local seismic risk levels. This system also goes well beyond current large scale construction best practices – which are far ahead of current nuclear industry construction best practices..

    And I am also tracking a very innovative approach to nuclear energy production system that should be far safer (based on extensive engagement for several years with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and much lower cost than any GEN IV concepts/designs. What is most interesting to me about this technology is that it is not a “new concept”, but rather comes from many decades of R&D beginning in the 1950’s in Russia and added to by NASA for space applications in the 60’s and early seventies. It has become clear that current nuclear physicists (including those running prestigious university nuclear physics departments) have simply never ben exposed to this body of R&D in their careers..

    If all goes well we may have a working demonstration of this system within the next 3 – 5 years. Even without the modular approach above, building these power plants would be very similar to today’s widespread natural gas power plants (NGCCs) that deployed very rapidly over the past several decades.

  9. Deep says:

    My own energy epiphany came yet again as a mere tourist visiting the klongs of Bangkok over a 10 year interval. First visit was as rustic as time immemorial – stilt houses, brushing teeth in the river, and all daily life conducted outdoors over the web of interlacing waterways. (Mid 1080’s)

    10 years later, people were inside with an A/C unit blasting their breezy stick houses while they were on the floor watching television in the middle of the day. That is when I thought to myself – “energy”, endless energy is the difference between primitive lives and entry into the “modern world” (Mid 1990’s).

    When I came home, I invested in energy index funds, which at that time never went anywhere so I dumped them. It was not the next sure thing I had assumed it would be at that time. I wonder where those energy index funds are now today. (Invesco Energy, I think)

    I also asked where did Thailand this new energy supply to all the sudden supply both A/C and TV’s even out in the longs – hydroelectric was the answer for this country did have mountains and rivers. Has hydroelectric stay apace now that Thailand is well into the electronic revolution today as well. Or are they now as hungry for more and more “energy” as I suspected they would be back in the 1990’s?

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