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A rendering of the AP1000 reactor by Westinghouse  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Prospective workers train in China to become operators at the world's first AP1000 reactor, an advanced Generation III+ reactor design by Westinghouse. The U.S. has several applications for the new reactor type pending, but with construction already started on the Chinese plant, China will almost certainly beat the U.S. to become the first to build the new reactor.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
While adoption in the U.S. still languishes, China's nuclear power is flourishing

One of the biggest controversies in the environmental community is the topic of nuclear power.  Some see it as the best short-term hope for clean, affordable alternative energy.  Others are fearful of the waste that is associated with older reactor designs.  Despite modern reactor designs recycling much of the spent fuel and being built with safer designs, these fears remain. 

The net result is that despite a couple pending applications, the U.S. is stuck with aging nuclear reactions, which indeed play to critics worst fears -- lacking much of the safety and waste recycling of modern designs.

Elsewhere, though, times are kind to the nuclear industry.  China, in particular is looking to join France and Japan in providing a large portion of its power from nuclear energy.  The nation, which currently relies heavily on coal power, is including nuclear development in a diverse program which also includes massive solar and wind power growth.

Concrete was just poured at the site of a new reactor in Sanmen, China, built by the Westinghouse Electric Company, The Shaw Group Inc., China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation, and the Sanmen Nuclear Power Company of China National Nuclear Corporation.  The reactor will be the first of four 1,100 MWe reactors built.

The new reactor, the Westinghouse AP1000, is an extremely advanced design which focuses on modularity and automation, as well as safety and optimum fuel use.  It is classed as a Generation III+ reactor and is the only such reactor to receive Design Certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

In total, the four reactor project will cost the nation approximately $8B USD.  However, it will put them in a position of nuclear leadership, with no other nation currently employing this reactor design, the latest from Westinghouse.  Westinghouse President and CEO Aris Candris states, "Completion of concrete pour is a major milestone that visibly moves the Sanmen project from the design and discussion stage to the construction stage.  More importantly, by getting this project underway on schedule, we are further helping to ensure that baseload electricity generation will begin at this plant as intended in 2013."

Some Chinese feel less than comfortable about the new reactor, though, stating that their country's people are being used as test rats for unproven designs (source in Chinese).  Regardless, construction appears geared to continue as planned.

The U.S., despite strong opposition, in coming years may roll out an even more advanced reactor design, with Georgia Power Company reaching an agreement late last year to construct two Revision 16 reactors in Vogtle, Georgia.  There are, in total, twelve such pending Combined Construction and Operating Licenses (COLs) filed for, though the go ahead from government regulators still remains.  The proposed plans may have to survive heavy legal pressure from anti-nuclear groups if they hope to advance.  Thus the status of the U.S.'s nuclear future remains significantly more questionable of that of China.



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U.S. Still Stuck
By invidious on 4/20/2009 4:08:17 PM , Rating: -1
Well they think they are smarter than us and that they cant have a meltdown. Of course thats the same thing we thought about the USSR's meltdown.




RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By bobsmith1492 on 4/20/2009 4:14:47 PM , Rating: 3
Of course Chernobyl was an idiotic design inherently capable of thermal runaway unlike any design ever used by the West... google "negative void coefficient" and "RBMK reactor" to learn more.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By JasonMick (blog) on 4/20/2009 4:20:25 PM , Rating: 5
Apples and oranges -- the Chernobyl reactors were Generation II reactors built in the 1970s (like most U.S. reactors). These designs had serious security concerns and lacked modern automation making them prone to failure in the case of mismanagement, which was the source of the disaster.

The new Chinese reactors are advanced Generation IIIe designs. They are extremely safe and efficient, and highly automated, making human error much less of a problem. You can't really draw a comparison between the two.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By nafhan on 4/20/2009 4:32:53 PM , Rating: 3
The Chernobyl reactor was designed and built with little regard for safety compared to Western reactors, and it was run by people with inadequate training and knowledge.

There are many generation II reactors still running safely in the US. Including one less than an hours drive from where I live.

Most gen II reactors (at least in the west) are just fine. Not as safe or efficient as gen III reactors, but nowhere near as unsafe as Chernobyl.

Compare:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Ef...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_acc...


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By JasonMick (blog) on 4/20/2009 4:40:49 PM , Rating: 1
True, the main thing I was speaking to was that Chernobyl was an outdated design, and very poorly managed. Its true the design itself was far more dangerous than Western designs (it was designed without a hard containment vessel -- idiotic).

Regardless comparisons between the RMFK (Chernobyl) Gen II reactors and a Gen III+ highly automated reactor are specious at best.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By blppt on 4/20/2009 11:21:53 PM , Rating: 3
There are debates on whether or not a PWR type containment would have withstood the massive steam explosion and subsequent 'toss' of the pile cap if RBMKs were even equipped with such shells. Most people think the containment would have still been penetrated anyways.

However, this is all of course, irrelevent as this specific accident could not have happened here (no U.S. reactors are graphite moderated/light water cooled and a Positive Void Coefficient).

Still, we DID have Three Mile Island (a PWR), which some people think was mere minutes from being an absolute disaster...there was a piece of molten core that broke free from the collapsed melted mass and fell into the bottom of the pressure vessel, into a pool of cool water. It was apparently just chance that saved us all from a massive steam explosion that would have certainly destroyed the containment vessel and likely the containment as well.

Heres some frightening links to read:

http://technidigm.org/c5001/RBMK.htm

http://technidigm.org/c5001/nucl_haz.htm

Scary stuff.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By rex251 on 4/21/2009 3:47:06 PM , Rating: 2
I doubt that Chernobyl plant was inadequately maintained, or been run by uneducated personnel. Thing is as I remember that Soviets were conducting some sort of experiment back then, and they manually bypassed most important security systems, which led to process they couldn`t control. The reasons to do so are still part of many debates.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By blppt on 4/21/2009 7:27:13 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, it has been said quite a few times that the heads of the Chernobyl plant, and those in charge at the time of the accident had very little training in nuclear physics... I think that article I linked mentioned that the head of the plant had run a coal plant before hand, and had no additional training after taking over Chernobyl.

And even the people who DID know a decent amount about reactors (the powerless underlings) did not know about the power spike the control rods created when they very first entered the core, which ultimately caused the final power surge and subsequent steam explosion.

The test was done very reluctantly by those who knew about reactors, simply because their bosses (who knew little, apparently) wanted the test done. The test *had* to be run during a scheduled reactor shutdown, and the next time this would happen would not be for a year. When the reactor accidentally fell to extreme low power, and fell into the "iodine poisoning well", the safe thing to do would have been to shut down the core, and thus stop the test. The knowledgeable underlings knew how dangerous trying to pull an RBMK out of this iodine well was, but they were overruled by the higher ups, who really had no in depth knowledge of nuclear reactors.

You can imagine how the Soviet bureaucracy would feel about "groundless concerns of lowly engineers" scrubbing a prestigious test for a year. So, the underlings very reluctantly went ahead with the test, and the rest is history.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By rninneman on 4/20/2009 4:35:13 PM , Rating: 2
I believe the RBMK reactor design used at Chernobyl is classified as a Gen I reactor. It was one of the first Soviet designs that was originally developed in the early 1950s.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By jconan on 4/21/2009 10:56:14 AM , Rating: 2
whatever happened to fusion why are countries still doing fission... fusion reactors don't put out great amounts of radioactive waste unlike fission reactors.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By monomer on 4/21/2009 5:11:02 PM , Rating: 2
Because all of our fusion reactors are being used to power our warp drives.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By AmazighQ on 4/20/2009 4:22:07 PM , Rating: 1
nothing smarter
like for example mobile phones and networks where invented(developed)in US
but they rolled out in the rest of the world first
and the electrical grind first in the US
but first fully utilized in the rest of the world

China need power a lot of electricity production (1.3~1.4 billion people)
US already had sufficient electricity production
in China they have to in US its if they want to


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By Bateluer on 4/20/2009 5:47:24 PM , Rating: 2
The US does not have sufficient electrical production right now, and demand continues to increase. Some areas already suffer brownouts and rolling black outs during peak months because they cannot handle the load. California, for example.

For the present, nuclear power is the only method of power generation capable of providing the gigawatts of electricity we need, at a environmental impact that is nearly negligible.


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By Doormat on 4/20/2009 9:44:41 PM , Rating: 2
When was the last time California had a brownout?

If there is enough room in the energy grid to convert 73% of cars and light trucks on the road to PHEVs, there is plenty of room in the grid.

http://www.ferc.gov/about/com-mem/wellinghoff/5-24...


RE: U.S. Still Stuck
By kyleb2112 on 4/21/2009 3:35:14 AM , Rating: 2
There is "plenty of room in the grid" at night --which is when everyone's assuming those cars will be charged. Peak hours are still white knuckle ordeal every summer here. Whole industries are forced to awkwardly schedule AROUND the power restrictions--forced to Flex Your Power! as SDG&E so cutely puts it.

This is what you get when anti-capitalistic Luddites run your state.


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