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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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RE: Its time for us to move on...
By Fenixgoon on 4/20/2009 5:40:38 PM , Rating: 4
research in renewable energy is worthwhile, i think.

however, for the immediate future, as well as large-scale, highly reliable power generation, the advantages of nuclear power are basically irrefutable, particularly with new reactor designs.

NIMBYism is the only thing standing in the way :(

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By TomZ on 4/20/2009 5:49:44 PM , Rating: 4
I agree - research is fine, but let's not waste valuable resources deploying the crappy "alternative energy" technology that we have today that doesn't measure up.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By Samus on 4/21/09, Rating: -1
RE: Its time for us to move on...
By CommodoreVic20 on 4/21/09, Rating: -1
RE: Its time for us to move on...
By spwrozek on 4/21/2009 8:26:36 AM , Rating: 5
Or we just build new coal plants and phase out old ones/keep them as peakers. We have an abundance of coal and we should damn well use it.

In Michigan our Governor will not give Consumers a freaking permit to build a new 800 MW coal plant (she put a freeze on all permits). Which will be very efficient and would allow them to phase out about 400 MW of plants that were built in the 50's and have high emissions.

We also need to go with nuclear power though. It is the best clean alternative. Now, though we have the coal so we should use it.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By MrBungle123 on 4/21/2009 10:42:31 AM , Rating: 4
How about this:

1. We build modern nuclear power plants.

2. Get rid of that stupid ban on reprocessing nuclear waste back into new fuel rods instated by Carter.

3. Begin implementing Coal to Liquids technology to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By Starcub on 4/22/2009 6:56:29 PM , Rating: 2
Liquified coal is even worse than coal in terms of environmental impact and cost:

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By Starcub on 4/22/2009 6:10:17 PM , Rating: 2
Coal is even worse than nuclear in terms of environmental impact. Emmissions from coal plants are also radioactive. Carbon sequestration is need. The problem is that nobody wants to do it because it's too expensive.

By Mojo the Monkey on 4/21/2009 5:29:00 PM , Rating: 3
Actually we have plenty of uranium left in Wyoming, if we should so choose to go get it. Many of the mines were shut down for lack of demand, not for depletion.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By Tamale on 4/21/2009 7:17:38 PM , Rating: 1
Are you talking about geothermal heat pump technology or geothermal electricity generation technology?

geothermal heat pumps are pretty popular and growing in the U.S.. and they definitely should be more widely used.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By quiksilvr on 4/20/09, Rating: -1
RE: Its time for us to move on...
By Clairvoyance on 4/20/2009 8:04:44 PM , Rating: 5
France has a much smaller problem with waste because they don't have the same BS political restrictions on reprocessing as we do.
Get rid of waste + get more fuel back. Win-win; what's not to like? What exactly the hell do opponents think is going to happen - terrorists are suddenly going to break into heavily defended nuclear sites and steal weapons grade plutonium, just because we started reprocessing again?

In any case, both nuclear power and comprehensive efficiency improvements are steps we should be simultaneously taking right now, in addition to others like increased solar research, and electrical infrastructure upgrades.

There is no one solution to the energy or environmental crises; simply building a bunch of nuclear plants willy nilly and nothing else, or mandating everybody switch to driving hybrid cars, or spamming the landscape with windmills isn't going to accomplish anything.

There is no reason to delay nuclear adoption while you're fixing the multitudes of relatively simple widespread inefficiency fixes.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By randomly on 4/20/2009 9:37:57 PM , Rating: 5
France has the same problems with waste as the US. The US hase 2.5x more reactors so we generate considerably more waste than they do.

The basic proble of nuclear waste is the once through fuel cycle using Low Enriched Uranium. Only a few percent of the fuel is consumed and it generates a lot of high level spent fuel waste. France does reprocess their fuel, but only once. This does not significantly reduce their high level waste. The US does not reprocess commercial fuel at all.
Originally France was planning to reprocess their waste and burn it in a Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor design (the Super Phoenix). But technical problems and anti-nuke political pressure eventually killed the plan and the Super Phoenix was shut down. France is now storing their spent fuel just as the US is.
The waste problem can be solved by reprocessing the fuel and putting it back into the reactors. This requires different reactor designs however like the Super Phoenix, CANDU, or Molten Salt Reactors and it's also more expensive than using new freshly mined uranium fuel.
Another option is using Thorium as a fuel in a Molten Salt Reactor. With inline fuel reprocessing this results in very small amounts of waste and it's also a waste that decays away to very low levels in a relatively short period of time compared to spent fuel from the current Light Water Reactors. Molten Salt Reactors can also burn the spent fuel waste that has been accumulating from the current Light Water Reactors.
However these options require development to be ready for commercial deployment and that's 15-20 years away.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By TA152H on 4/20/2009 10:59:07 PM , Rating: 1
Why don't we dump it somewhere in China for "reprocessing". They always send us toxic stuff under the guise it's something we want. We could return the favor.

There's always New Jersey too. Today New Jersey stands for something. All you anti-nuke freaks don't seem to care that without toxic wastes, New Jersey would lose its identity. It would become another South Dakota, which may or may not actually exist. I'm still pretty sure we fabricated this state to fool the Soviets into wasting missiles on area that doesn't exist. Think of it rationally, do we really need two Dakotas? Do we even need one?

In short, let's keep Jersey toxic. It might not be the best identity, but it keeps them relevant, and that's something in itself.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By FITCamaro on 4/20/2009 11:35:40 PM , Rating: 2
That is exactly what some prey on. But in reality there are far easier ways to get nuclear material than stealing it from the US.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By cheetah2k on 4/21/2009 12:34:52 AM , Rating: 2
This is certainly a good news story for Australians.

While the mineral ore prices have been battling the Global meltdown, at least this will bolster our hopes for the future.

Australia holds over 40% of the worlds known uranium (not weapons grade) deposits.

Back in 2006 China signed an agreement with Australia to export 20,000 tonnes of uranium starting from 2010.

This is definately good news for Australia, and our Economy.

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By TA152H on 4/21/09, Rating: 0
RE: Its time for us to move on...
By phxfreddy on 4/20/2009 10:02:41 PM , Rating: 3
Not healthy to seal up your house. Indoor polution is by far worse than any outdoor pollution you have ever seen even in Los Angelos. Ask the experts they will tell you this....

,...and you have certainly heard of deadly radon gas right? You are currently living over a nuclear reactor. The decay radiactive elements in your soil put out radon gas which does virtually no harm as long as your house is not sealed up tight as a drum.......

RE: Its time for us to move on...
By bpurkapi on 4/20/2009 11:32:11 PM , Rating: 2
Well China doesn't have to worry about Nimby. We do, thats the price we pay to live in a republic.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller

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