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New nuclear plants may have withstood the Japan earthquake – Christian Science Monitor

March 15, 2011

There is a strange desire among the anti-nuclear crowd to use the disaster in Japan to completely stifle any future production of nuclear energy.  That crowd will not be happy with this article from today’s Christian Science Monitor.

Update 3/19/11
Here is a relevant update from UC Santa Barabara’s Ben Monreal in pdf or various video formats.

Kevin Bullis writing in the Technology Review says…

The latest nuclear reactor designs could help avoid the overheating and explosions that have occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following the powerful earthquake and tsunami that struck on Friday. Newer reactor designs propose the use of passive cooling systems that would not fail after a power outage, as happened in Japan, as well as other novel approaches to managing reactor heat.

The reactors at the nuclear plant, built in the early 1970s, rely on active cooling systems that require electricity. Newer plant designs would lessen or eliminate the need for active cooling, making use of natural convection or a “gravity feed” system to cool reactors in the event of an emergency.

In one design, for example, the relatively new Westinghouse AP1000, water is suspended over the reactor housing. If pressure within the system drops, this allows the water to fall into the reactor area, submerging it in enough water to keep it cool.

Bullis refers to Andrew Kadak, a research affiliate at MIT, and says…

He’s devoted much of his career to another advanced alternative, the “pebble bed reactor,” which is designed to make it impossible for the fuel to get hot enough for a meltdown. The tradeoff is that the reactors, which are the same size as conventional ones, produce only about 1/10th as much power.

Kadak says that overall, even today’s reactor designs are generally safe. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the enormity of the earthquake and flood,” he says. “Nuclear power plants are designed for earthquakes and hurricanes, and in some places tsunamis. But these were unbelievably large.”

Please read Bullis’ article at the Christian Science Monitor for full context.

View a technical video about the Pebble-Bed Advanced High Temperature Reactor by clicking on the image below.

Click on this image to see a UC Berkeley video of the technical aspects of the Pebble-Bed Advanced High Temperature Reactor.

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