Tag Archives: nuclear power plant

Nuclear fission power plants – a viable power source for outposts on the Moon or Mars

As space agencies around the world, predominantly NASA, are considering building outposts outside Earth for the most likely far distant future, various difficulties need to be cared for. One of the most bugging and precarious one is the matter of energy generation. Without energy, you don’t have electricity to power labs, green houses, you can’t have oxygen – there’s no way to maintain life. It’s a no-brainer, I know, but it’s a point that needs to be taken very seriously, and scientists have been hard at work devising power generation solutions for some time now.

Everything seems to be pointing to a sole solution, with almost no viable alternative next to it – nuclear fission plants. Yes, tomorrow’s Moon or Mars bases will be most likely powered by nuclear energy. It’s incredibly efficient, it’s safe and, equally important, it’s cheap.

RELATED: Japan plans a Moon base by 2020, built by the robots, for the robots

“The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use,” says James E. Werner of the Idaho National Laboratory

A nuclear power plant in your briefcase

Outer space fission nuclear technology will be a lot different from your conventional behemoth nuclear power plants you still today on Earth, though. Conventional nuclear power plants span across hectares of land and need huge cooling tanks. Nuclear fission power reactors designed with cutting-edge technology can be sized to as little 1 1/2 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet high, not bigger than a carry-on suitcase and can provide a humangous power compared to its size, making them ideal for extraterrestrial outposts.

Works on such reactors is already in place, as Werner and his colleagues from the DOE Idaho National Laboratory are painstakingly designing and modeling the reactor, develop fueling solutions, as well as a small electrical pump for the liquid metal cooled system. A working demonstration is scheduled for 2012, part of a project jointly made possible by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Dept of Energy.

Nuclear fission is attained when the nucleus of an atom is split into smaller parts by introducing a neutron. In the case of uranium, the most common radioactive material used, these are binary. The nuclear reaction obtained leads to a tremendous burst of energy which is then converted into mechanical energy, before finally being stored as electrical energy.

Some of you might ask why not use solar energy? It can’t get cheaper than that. Well, solar power, while used today to  power every commercial satellite hovering Earth, as well as the International Space Station, isn’t that efficient and has a highly limited power generation capability, at least with present solar cells.

“The biggest difference between solar and nuclear reactors is that nuclear reactors can produce power in any environment,” Werner explained. “Fission power technology doesn’t rely on sunlight, making it able to produce large, steady amounts of power at night or in harsh environments like those found on the Moon or Mars. A fission power system on the Moon could generate 40 kilowatts or more of electric power, approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth.”

With fission technology to power an outpost, you could build one even in a crater. While the physics behind nuclear fission is the same for the huge power plants on Earth and the high-tech reactors planed for lunar outposts, there are a number of important discrepancies between them, size being the most evident.

“While the physics are the same, the low power levels, control of the reactor and the material used for neutron reflection back into the core are completely different,” Werner said. “Weight is also a significant factor that must be minimized in a space reactor that is not considered in a commercial reactor.”

If the technology can be successfully tested, it will definitely provide the forefront for future space exploration programs, used to propel man made objects or man himself much farther into space than ever before.



South Africa electric plan for 2020: nuclear, wind and solar for 70% total power

South Africa's only nuclear power station in Koeberg, close to the Atlantic Ocean. (c) Bjorn Rudner

You might think that this isn’t quite the best time in the world to announce a nation wide nuclear plan, with the Japan double tsunami/earthquake incident which lead to the consequent Fukushima nuclear crisis and all, but South African officials don’t seem to let nature intimate them. As such, South Africa’s cabinet ratified a controversial 20-year Integrated Resource Plan that calls for nuclear power to fuel nearly a quarter of the country’s new electricity production in the future.

“We were quite bold to do that,” Dr. Rob Adam, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, said of the government’s decision to proceed. “The European countries panicked. I don’t think public opinion has changed.”

Besides, this bold act, what’s maybe even most remarkable in South Africa’s energy plan, dubbed IRP-2, is their intention to raise renewable energy sources like the sun and the wind output to account for 42 percent of new electricity generation. This attempt would practically turn South Africa almost 180 degrees around from its current energy situation, as the nation’s electricity grid is based 84% on coal. To meet the new mandate, half a dozen new plants will probably be built along South Africa’s coastline, the industry say.

Back to South Africa’s nuclear plan, critics are slamming the government for its decision of expanding nuclear power. Of course, the Japanese example is being thrown in at every pace protesters make, as local eco-activists strive to convince the government that non-nuclear waste producing alternatives should be looked for. Curiously enough, South Africa can be considered a fairly natural disaster free area, with little to no earthquakes. Currently, South Africa has only one nuclear power plant, located in Koeberg and functional since it’s inauguration in 1984.

Critics of nuclear power note that fault lines a few miles from the Koeberg nuclear plant gave rise to an earthquake 200 years ago that is estimated to have had roughly the same magnitude as the recent quake in Christchurch, New Zealand: 6.3. Luckily for South Africans, in any event, the Koeberg nuclear plant was built to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7, at least according to Hilary Joffe, a spokeswoman for Eskom, the national electric company.

Environmentalists express skepticism. “Show me one that’s withstood a 7.0,” said Muna Lakhani, branch coordinator of Earthlife Africa’s Cape Town office. “I don’t think you can engineer for mother nature.”

>>RELATED: Nuclear Energy – 4.000 times safer than coal plants

Reports state that South Africa needs to double its current electrical grid capacity, at pace current consumer demand is increasing. This is due most probably because of  the countries large number of unelectrified homes which just now or soon will finally get plugged to the network. Its estimated at least 20% of the South Africa’s population doesn’t have electricity. Yeah, the real ecoactivists…

Whether or not critics will still be over it after the Japan situation slowly fades down it remains to be seen, but a nuclear power plant takes a bit to build, the first new power plant being slated for around 2020.




Japan engineers concede they might have to bury nuclear plant

As the nuclear situation at the Fukushima power plant continues to deteriorate, engineers start to ponder drastic options more and more seriously; it seems that the method which seems to have te best chances to work is the same one that was user in Chernobyl in 1986.

It is the first time operation leaders are admitting that burying the 40 year old complex is a serious option, as pumping water and droping it from helicopters seems to not work so well. However, even in this situation they still have to find a way to cool them down, which is more than complicated at the moment.

“It is not impossible to encase the reactors in concrete. But our priority right now is to try and cool them down first,” an official from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, told a news

As Japan entered the second week after the 9.0 earthquake that generated tsunamis of over 10 meters, it’s worst crisis since WWII is far from being over. Already, 6.500 have officially been declared dead, with another 10.000 reported missing, and hopes are dropping with each passing day. Almost 400.000 people are homeless and battling near freezing temperatures, and the government also didn’t respond at its maximum capacity.

“An unprecedented huge earthquake and huge tsunami hit Japan. As a result, things that had not been anticipated in terms of the general disaster response took place,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.

Japan also raised the nuclear crisis rating from 4 to 5 out of a maximum of 7, but most experts claim the situation is even more dangerous.