Posted by: Claudio Carbone | 29 March 2011

De rerum nuclearis

Fear has risen everywhere after the last Japanese earthquake.
Governments are scrambling to check their installed reactors.
While a 13+ million population city goes to to sleep every night with dread looming on their head.

I’ve just read this article from The Guardian which, in a much neutral tone, reports the words by dr. Lahey a former Nuclear scientist and researcher:
“If you take a fuel rod bundle out of a reactor and put it in a pool, you have to leave it for five years before you can take it out. They don’t produce a lot of heat, but it is unrelenting.”

I can’t understand the easy and selfconfident approach of so many people when dealing with Nuclear power.
In our lives not even marriage is ethernal anymore, we aren’t able to make it last half a lifetime, let alone centuries.
But we eagerly jump the gun when it comes to exploiting something we can’t control and that will be with us for MILLENNIA.

Wikileaks exposed the heavy chatting of USA,France and Italy with the release of many diplomatic cables, some of which gave birth to a series of articles on the italian magazine L’Espresso (see here for an example): a deep relation between the USA embassy and the italian establishment has been uncovered, where the lobbying of the USA diplomats and high ranking representatives, was necessary to counteract the even heavier lobbying of the French industry and government, trying to shift the balance from one much favoring France and its Areva, to one that left doors open to american industries (GE and Westinghouse).
For those of you interested in the nitpicks, the actual situation is a big unknown because of two main reasons: Japan, and the fact that the americans could open some doors thanks to ex minister Scajola and his personal interests in Ansaldo (link), but Scajola has since been forced to leave his position so the americans have now lost their leverage.

Nowhere could I find mention of the Canadian CANDU technology (Canadian Nuclear Faq, Candu Homepage, Wikipedia).
If you take the time to read the very simply written Nuclear Faq, you can quickly grasp a few points of interest:

  • reaction NEEDS (heavy) water, thus absence of water is an inherent safety measure
  • this technology uses natural uranium which is cheaper, less radioactive and can’t lead to meltdown
  • stemming from the above, these reactors can RECYCLE exausted rods from PWR and BWR reactors
  • they can modulate power from 50% to 100%, other technologies can’t modulate more then 95-100%
  • they can refuel during operation (a BWR or PWR plant needs MONTHS to be refueled)

Still the only countries employing these CANDU reactors are the inventors (Canada 7 of 7 stations, 22 reactors), China (1 of 7 stations, 2 reactors), Romania (1 of 1 stations, 2 reactors), South Korea (1 of 7 stations, 4 reactors), Argentina (1 of 2 stations, 1 reactor). Out of a total of 237 stations. Total civilian reactors operating in the world are 442 as published by the European Nuclear Society.

By taking these numbers (admittedly not source-proof) it is clear that 31 out of 442 reactors, meaning 7%, are of the more secure type. A staggering 93%  is prone to incidents of every kind.

Politicians and scientists have a great time describing their supposed advancements in safety protocols, procedures and technologies. Fact is all of the so called Generation 3 improvements are unproven: no working reactor exists, and the first unit was slated to start operating back in 2009 for a cost of 3.7€ Billions. Operation is now scheduled to start in 2013, cost overruns amount to 2.7€ Billions. And it’s the Finnish we’re talking about, not the Italians!

This new technology Areva is trying to sell is unproven, and beyond that is a technology that requires ACTIVE SYSTEMS to guarantee safety: after you power down a reactor, you still face MONTHS of active cooling before fuel rods can be taken out, and after that these rods still have to stay FIVE YEARS in cooling pools before being stored somewhere for next few thousand years.
Active cooling means everything we are seeing in Japan: cut the power and the reactors overheat, even if they are shutdown. Even if (by chance) they were shutdown two months ago!
This is what Areva (but Westinghouse, General Electric, and all the others too) are selling us.
This is what we are all buying.

The only different technology is the Canadian one: in case of accident you empty the reactor chamber, and it stops itself! Or you could even drop just a few tons of normal water: it would still stop itself!
But nobody talks about CANDU. Why?

And why Canadian lobbying is so far unheard of?

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