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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 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.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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