December 27th, 2007
Here is a technical correction to my previous newsletter: The "cute" little radioactive gizmos from Toshiba are cooled with liquid sodium, not lithium, as previously described. To shut the reaction down, reservoirs of lithium-6 are emptied into the coolant loop. In the copy of my previous essay shown below, the paragraph that starts "The Toshiba baby-nukes will rely..." has been modified to reflect this correction. My apologies.
Of course, this correction assumes Toshiba's newest nuke is a scaled-down version of their 4S prototype "mini-nuke." The 4S, in turn, is basically a scaled down version of an older 50 megawatt breeder reactor which was deemed not viable for large-scale situations decades ago.
Small-scale nuclear power appears viable because its proponents pretend the nuclear waste problem has been solved, and the spent reactor cores can be safely trucked away to a place that doesn't exist, except in politician's (and pro-nukers) dreams.
Small-scale nuclear power appears viable because the government has learned how to write earthquake and tsunami and other specifications which do not reflect the real world. Manufacturers then claim to meet these "standards," and say their reactors are "earthquake-proof" and "tsunami-proof" when they are nothing of the kind.
Small-scale nuclear power appears viable because Toshiba (and others) pretend that all the metallurgical issues are well understood. Just look at how many large parts of older nuclear reactors are falling apart, such as their steam generators, which were supposed to last the entire extended life of the plant. Or look at Davis-Besse, which in 2002 had a nearly catastrophic "hole in its head."
Small-scale nuclear power also appears viable because people pretend that terrorism doesn't happen.
Toshiba's mini-nukes are being advertised by the manufacturer as "zero maintenance" but that applies ONLY to the reactor core itself: Not to all the pumps, pipes, valves, and vessels of the steam generator / turbine energy conversion system.
The commentary below describes some of the difficult work that is entailed in operating a steam generator, and below that is the corrected version of my previous newsletter.
Steam Generator maintenance is no piece of cake:
(From a reader): "Atomic Insights newsletter, points out something very practical -- the designers and marketers spend all their time describing the nuclear reactor side of things, and no time on the power plant steam generation side of things. The author makes good points."
"The 4S is a very nice reactor system, but my reading of all available materials indicate that only passing attention has been paid to the secondary (steam) side of the plant. As is common among plant design documents produced by nuclear engineers, there are dozens to hundreds of pages of details about the reactor system and a few paragraphs about the "balance of plant" (BoP). Though steam is an old and well understood technology, it is not particularly simple or cheap. There is a reason why there are few steam plants being produced today, the plants tend to be labor intensive, heavy, and relatively expensive compared to alternatives like diesel engines or gas turbines.
I spent a lot of time early in my career supervising the operation and maintenance of a steam plant that was almost exactly the same capacity as the one proposed for Galena. I will admit that it was a rather venerable and well worn system by the time I arrived, but I am pretty sure that many of the maintenance issues that made for some long days have not disappeared. Steel steam piping still rusts, packing around valves still wears out, condensers still need periodic cleaning and inspection, steam leaks are still potentially deadly for operators, steam generators still require careful chemistry control and monitoring, water purification systems are still a must, and turbine bearing lubrication oil systems still require careful attention."
Boycott Toshiba (resend with corrected paragraph):
December 27th, 2007 (Corrected version of December 25th, 2007 newsletter, to the paragraph that begins "The Toshiba baby-nukes will rely..." reflecting the use of sodium as the coolant and )
Toshiba, famous for electronics products around the world, plans to build "small" (room-sized) fully-automated nuclear reactors.
These new reactors are just 1/5000th the size of today's old, massive, deteriorating (and did I mention unsafe?) boiling water reactors (BWRs) and pressurized water reactors (PWRs). But, each new reactor will still contain enough lethal poison to wipe out a city.
Today's reactors are operated by about eight hundred to a thousand people each, and produce an average of about one megawatt of electricity per employee.
Toshiba's proposed new reactors are completely automatic -- NOBODY operates them. Nobody guards them. Nobody even watches them.
An apartment complex for the rich can guarantee itself steady power "for up to 40 years" according to the (optimistic) manufacturer. The cost is rumored to be about $3.5 million. After the 40 years are up, not only will the fuel need to be stored for millions of years, but the entire reactor will have to be isolated from humanity on a finite planet with limited resources. WHO will pay for THAT? Whose land will Toshiba take to store the waste?
Even after 60 years, tens of billions of dollars, and thousands of the world's best scientists working on it, NOBODY knows what to do with radioactive waste BECAUSE IT DESTROYS ANY CONTAINER YOU PUT IT IN.
Toshiba hasn't solved THAT problem because they can't perform miracles. The nuclear waste problem is unsolvable at the atomic level -- but the nuclear industry continues to create more waste, on the fallacy (and false promise) that a solution is just around the corner. It isn't. (Yucca Mountain isn't a safe and proper solution, and nothing else is even being considered.)
Toshiba plans to bring the first of the new reactors online in 2008 in Japan, and in Europe and America in 2009. They are that close to production of these awful things.
So boycott Toshiba. Let them know that pocket nukes are a bad idea.
The energy source used in the new Toshiba reactors is the same uranium-based fuel used by just about every other nuclear power plant, which, of course, should also all be closed down in favor of alternative energy sources. Renewable energy solutions are available, affordable, and effective today, but they don't make millions of dollars for large utilities. They make it for the average citizen who invests in solar panels, wind turbines, and such.
So I say: Break up the utilities! It should be illegal to make electricity AND be in control of the distribution grid. It should be illegal for utilities to refuse to purchase renewable energy at fair prices.
A properly-thought-out renewable energy system would have thousands of small sources, and could therefore be very reliable even if some of those sources shut off for parts of every day.
The Toshiba baby-nukes will rely on a closed-loop sodium primary coolant system, instead of water. Reservoirs of Lithium-6 are designed to serve as a moderator to stop the reactor if necessary, the manufacturer claims.
Firefighters will have to treat a Toshiba pocket-reactor fire completely differently from what they are equipped for, trained for, or capable of handling.
Worse, the Toshiba reactors can be blown up by a bomb, which means: Osama will love them. He would love Toshiba to sell thousands of these "dirty bombs" throughout America.
But even worse is the terrorist lurking in the structural quality of the materials used in these petite power generators, which contain enough radioactive uranium and various fission products and transuranics to cause cancer to tens of thousands of people, even millions, if the radioactive material were to be released for any reason: Earthquake, tornado, tsunami, terrorist, poor workmanship, poor materials, poor design, etc.
In addition to these "baby nukes," Toshiba also wants to introduce a line of midsize nukes, called the 4S series ("Super, Safe, Small, Simple" they say), with fuel enriched to 19.9 percent U-235. (Highly Enriched Uranium, by convention, is enriched to 20.0% or more U-235.) The new 200-kilowatt nukes are said to be small versions of the 4S design -- just what Osama is looking for!
Techno-nerd's reactions to the new reactors on the Internet would make you think these were puppy-dog-friendly, never-could-harm-a-flea energy sources. But the articles are being written by geeks who know nothing about nuclear waste issues, or terrorism, or economics. They just love the idea of "unlimited" cheap power. Well, they should all look under the hood a little harder before they endorse these things.
Toshiba is also involved (with General Electric) in large BWRs. And in October 2006 Toshiba purchased what used to be called Westinghouse from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) for about 5.4 billion dollars, adding PWR manufacturing and support to their portfolio. Toshiba's purchase of Westinghouse, of which only the nuclear division existed anymore, possibly prevented a perfectly appropriate bankruptcy of BNFL, who had bought the ailing Westinghouse in 1999 for about 1.1 billion dollars.
Mainly through its new Westinghouse subsidiary, Toshiba now has half a dozen different reactor designs they are certifying with nuclear agencies around the world -- with almost ZERO public scrutiny!
The purchase of Westinghouse seems to have invigorated Toshiba to be completely arrogant about nuclear energy at all levels. Nuclear reactors and equipment for those reactors (and for other reactors) accounts for about 25% of Toshiba's business.
Completing the cycle of greed, Toshiba's nuclear ambitions will ultimately mean more business for Toshiba's Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance (MR) machines, which they sell to hospitals and which are used to diagnose (NOT cure!) the very diseases Toshiba's new nuclear reactors will cause.
So boycott Toshiba. Boycott Toshiba laptops. Boycott Toshiba camcorders. Boycott Toshiba hard drives. Boycott Toshiba telephone systems. Boycott Toshiba DVD players.
Boycott Toshiba. Return Toshiba gifts you received for Christmas. Remove Toshiba stock from your portfolio. Bankrupt them, if necessary -- anything to stop their ability to support nuclear power.
The author, an award-winning educational software developer, has investigated nuclear power for more than three decades, and has interviewed hundreds of nuclear physicists, scientists, medical experts and whistleblowers. Hoffman writes frequently about the numerous hidden hazards of nuclear energy, and the potential benefits to humanity of a switch to renewable technologies in combination with a global energy grid. He can be reached at: email@example.com
His web site: www.animatedsoftware.com
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Carlsbad, CA 92018