Survey of Radioactive No-Go Zones

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Atomic Deserts: A Survey of the World’s Radioactive No-Go Zones

Atomic Deserts: A Survey of the World’s Radioactive No-Go Zones

By Michail Hengstenberg, Gesche Sager and Philine Gebhardt

Everyone knows about Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, now, Fukushima. But what about Semipalatinsk, Palomares and Kyshtym? The world is full of nuclear disaster zones — showing just how dangerous the technology really is.

The Soviet nuclear testing site in present-day Kazakhstan is just one of many places in the world that remain dangerously radioactive to this day.

The Soviet nuclear testing site in present-day Kazakhstan is just one of many places in the world that remain dangerously radioactive to this day.

Wednesday, Mar. 28, 1979. In the Three Mile Island nuclear power station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the nightmare scenario of nuclear physicists was about to unfold. At four in the morning, employees in the control room noticed the failure of a pump in the reactor’s water cooling loop. When a bypass valve failed to trip, water stopped flowing to steam generators, resulting in an emergency reactor shutdown. But the reactor continued to generate so-called decay heat. A relief valve opened automatically but then failed to close, allowing coolant to flow out at a rate of one ton per minute. The control panel erroneously indicated that the cooling system was functioning normally, meaning technicians initially failed to recognize the problem.

ANZEIGE

By 6 a.m., the top of the reactor core was no longer covered in cooling water — and the fuel rods began to melt. At the last moment, a technician noticed the problem and closed the relief valve. A full-scale meltdown was only barely averted.

Still, the series of events had a devastating effect: Not only was radioactivity released into the atmosphere, but contaminated coolant escaped into the nearby river. Cancer rates in the local population later rose dramatically. In addition, large parts of the reactor and the power plant site were contaminated. The clean-up operation in Harrisburg took 14 years and cost more than $1 billion. And the reactor ruins are radioactive to this day.

The case is instructive. It was the result of tiny construction errors and a small dose of human error. And now, as the world watches on in horror as the catastrophe in Fukushima continues to unfold, the debate on the safety of nuclear power has been reignited. The area around Fukushima will likely remain contaminated for decades, if not centuries. And many are once again wondering if the returns from nuclear technology justifies the risks. How can anything be considered under control which can so quickly mutate into an apocalypse?

Sadly, though, disasters like Three Mile Island and Fukushima are not as rare as one would hope. There have been plenty of atomic accidents resulting in significant radioactive leaks, spills and explosions. And the Chernobly Exclusion Zone, for all the attention it gets, is far from the only nuclear no-go area on the planet. A look at some of the worst incidents is enough to demonstrate just how high the price of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons truly is.

American Teen Designs Compact Reactor

 

CIVIL NUCLEAR

US teen designs compact nuclear reactor by Staff Writers Long Beach, California (AFP) Feb 28, 2013


 

 

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Wilson has designed a compact nuclear reactor that could one day burn waste from old atomic weapons to power anything from homes and factories to space colonies.

The American teen, who gained fame four years ago after designing a fusion reactor he planned to build in the garage of his family’s home, shared his latest endeavor at a TED Conference in southern California on Thursday.

“It’s about bringing something old, fission, into the 21st Century,” Wilson said. “I think this has huge potential to change the world.”

He has designed a small reactor capable of generating 50-100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power as many as 100,000 homes.

The reactor can be made assembly-line style and powered by molten radioactive material from nuclear weapons, Wilson said. The relatively small, modular reactor can be shipped sealed with enough fuel to last for 30 years.

“You can plop them down anywhere in the world and they work, buried under the ground for security reasons,” he said, while detailing his design at TED.

“In the Cold War we built up this huge arsenal of nuclear weapons and we don’t need them anymore,” Wilson said. “It would be great if we could eat them up, and this reactor loves this stuff.”

His reactors are designed to spin turbines using gas instead of steam, meaning they operate at temperatures lower than those of typical nuclear reactors and don’t spew anything if there is a breach.

The fuel is in the form of molten salt, and the reactors don’t need to be pressurized, according to the teenager.

“In the event of an accident, you can just drain the core into a tank under the reactor with neutron absorbers and the reaction stops,” Wilson said.

“There is no inclination for the fission products to leave this reactor,” he said. “In an accident, the reactor may be toast, which is sorry for the power company, but there is no problem.”

Wilson, who graduated grade school in May, said he is putting off university to focus on a company he created to make Modular Fission Reactors.

He sees his competition as nations, particularly China, and the roadblocks ahead as political instead of technical.

Wilson planned to have a prototype ready in two years and a product to market in five years.

“Not only does it combat climate change, it can bring power to the developing world,” Wilson said with teenage optimism.

“Imagine having a compact reactor in a rocket designed by those planning to habitat other planets. Not only would you have power for propulsion, but power once you get there.”