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(BBC)   Problem: Your nuclear reactor's graphite bricks have decayed over time and are almost breaching the safety limit. Solution: Raise the limit   ( bbc.co.uk) divider line
    More: Scary, plant operator, nuclear plant, nuclear reactors, safety  
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6015 clicks; posted to Main » on 04 Jun 2014 at 10:57 AM (3 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2014-06-04 08:31:27 AM  
Didn't Chernobyl teach us that graphite is a bad mediator?   It was a graphite explosion, not a nuclear explosion.
 
2014-06-04 10:17:35 AM  
We CANDU it better.
 
2014-06-04 10:44:56 AM  
meh
 
2014-06-04 10:58:46 AM  
Anti-nuke liberals are to blame. They should have clapped harder.
 
2014-06-04 10:59:24 AM  
A better solution is to dismantle the plant into refurb/fab liquidity and spread the energy.
 
2014-06-04 11:03:01 AM  
It's cute that so many people are still pretending that the new reactor is ever going to get built.   Every day it becomes more obviously unprofitable and a bad idea.  By 2023 it will be stupidly expensive compared to other sources of power.
 
2014-06-04 11:04:12 AM  
Godd*mn people are stupid.
 
2014-06-04 11:04:14 AM  

EvilEgg: Didn't Chernobyl teach us that graphite is a bad mediator?   It was a graphite explosion, not a nuclear explosion.


No, they work excellent.

What Chernobyl taught us was that you don't want them to be lowered by a slow electric motor.

The US designs, I know because I actually controlled one on a field trip here in Denmark, use gravity and electro magnets for them. If the power cuts, the electro magnets obviously lets go, and the control rods drops into the reactor by the force of gravity.
 
2014-06-04 11:05:58 AM  
This sounds like a job for a heroic inanimate carbon rod.

/in rod we trust
 
2014-06-04 11:08:07 AM  
Dungeness B nuclear plant operator wants safety limit raised


ohh you environmentalists are such crabs!
 
2014-06-04 11:08:30 AM  
The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.
 
2014-06-04 11:08:56 AM  
They'll pencil in a solution.
 
2014-06-04 11:15:03 AM  
I think Chernobyl has some graphite they aren't using any more.
 
2014-06-04 11:15:19 AM  
that's got to be making the locals a little crabby.
 
2014-06-04 11:15:21 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


Nuclear grade graphite is expensive.
 
2014-06-04 11:16:04 AM  
Problem: Establishing a safety limit on an early-production item with little or no historical reliability data.
Solution: Guess at a vastly over-conservative limit.  Revise when historical data accumulates.
 
2014-06-04 11:16:55 AM  

EvilEgg: Didn't Chernobyl teach us that graphite is a bad mediator?   It was a graphite explosion, not a nuclear explosion.


Kind of late for a reactor built in 1965.

moel: If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


Because money, more likely.
 
2014-06-04 11:17:18 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


I bet someone lost the specs on how to manufacture them, or the facilities to manufacture them are long gone.

That said, is 8% loss still safe? Was the old measure on the edge or a more conservative estimate of a safe level of degradation?  I wouldn't automatically distrust information from the company running it and declare it invalid right out the gate, but I would view it with a very skeptical eye and seek to verify they were not trying to blow smoke so they could make a few more bucks and not have to shutdown the reactor.
 
2014-06-04 11:17:19 AM  
Because profits.
 
2014-06-04 11:17:37 AM  

stonicus: moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.

Nuclear grade graphite is expensive.


If the graphite has impurities in it, those impurities can become very radioactive.  Different elements have different susceptibility to activation in a high neutron flux environment like a reactor core.
 
2014-06-04 11:17:47 AM  
Just change the universal constant and *poof* problem solved.
 
2014-06-04 11:19:54 AM  

stonelotus: that's got to be making the locals a little crabby.



pbs.twimg.com
 
2014-06-04 11:23:17 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.



They can't be taken out of the reactor without dismantling a lot of things and using remote manipulation because they are extremely radioactive.  They are inspected inside the core using remote cameras and when the reactor was built they were bricks of such a size that allowed for a certain percentage of the brick mass to decay and still function properly.  I'm not certain about how they decay: I'm assuming it is like small bits of dust that break off the surface and fall to the bottom of the reactor to either sit there and not interfere with anything, or be cleaned up during shutdowns and disposed of.
 
2014-06-04 11:24:24 AM  

Incontinent_dog_and_monkey_rodeo: It's cute that so many people are still pretending that the new reactor is ever going to get built. Every day it becomes more obviously unprofitable and a bad idea. By 2023 it will be stupidly expensive compared to other sources of power.


Without the stupidity nukes are cheap sources of power.

spawn73: No, they work excellent.

What Chernobyl taught us was that you don't want them to be lowered by a slow electric motor.

The US designs, I know because I actually controlled one on a field trip here in Denmark, use gravity and electro magnets for them. If the power cuts, the electro magnets obviously lets go, and the control rods drops into the reactor by the force of gravity.


No, graphite is a bad moderator because in a loss of coolant accident a coolant-moderated reactor inherently shuts down.  A graphite-moderated one does not.

And what was being lowered in Chernobyl was the control rods which are most certainly not made of graphite.  Control rods are made of materials that screw up the reactor, not materials that aid the reactor.  It's true the control rods are what blew Chernobyl but they were the last straw--and that because they had graphite tips to protect them.  The rods went down, the graphite tips entered the reactor chamber and the reactor was pushed over the edge and went prompt critical.  It ceased to be a reactor and instead became a very poor atomic bomb.

jshine: Problem: Establishing a safety limit on an early-production item with little or no historical reliability data.
Solution: Guess at a vastly over-conservative limit. Revise when historical data accumulates.


Which very well might be what's going on.  Or it might be bureaucrats more interested in money than safety--the sort that launched the Challenger.
 
2014-06-04 11:27:11 AM  
Regardless Chernobyl disaster would happen eventually. The reactor design from beginning had serious flaws.
 
2014-06-04 11:27:59 AM  

EvilEgg: Didn't Chernobyl teach us that graphite is a bad mediator?   It was a graphite explosion, not a nuclear explosion.


Steam explosion, and then the graphite caught fire from the heat combined with the inrush of oxygen after the top of the reactor blew off.

The point of Chernobyl was that those reactors were known to be dangerous from the start and shouldn't have been operated as they were in that particular experiment.
 
2014-06-04 11:29:50 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


That would reduce profit margins by 0.000001% percent and we can't have that. If something goes wrong the owners are rich and reside in France so it's not their problem.
 
2014-06-04 11:30:32 AM  

Incontinent_dog_and_monkey_rodeo: It's cute that so many people are still pretending that the new reactor is ever going to get built.   Every day it becomes more obviously unprofitable and a bad idea.  By 2023 it will be stupidly expensive compared to other sources of power.


Well, Obama seems to be doing the nuclear industry a favor recently by pushing the cost curve of coal power upwards.  It makes a nuclear power expansion more likely if we start factoring the cost of carbon emissions into the balance sheets.
 
2014-06-04 11:34:00 AM  
I can see this power station from my house.

Honestly, it's 13 miles away at the bottom of Romney Marsh and I'm on the South Kent Downs. If it goes I'll bring the popcorn and sunglasses
 
2014-06-04 11:34:07 AM  
Unfortunately I didn't see any recommendations for actually improving the shielding, of which there are many newer and better ways. I'm sure it's all about the $$$. Why spend $10-30m to patch a reactor to run for another 5-10 years?
 
2014-06-04 11:35:19 AM  

spawn73: EvilEgg: Didn't Chernobyl teach us that graphite is a bad mediator?   It was a graphite explosion, not a nuclear explosion.

No, they work excellent.

What Chernobyl taught us was that you don't want them to be lowered by a slow electric motor.

The US designs, I know because I actually controlled one on a field trip here in Denmark, use gravity and electro magnets for them. If the power cuts, the electro magnets obviously lets go, and the control rods drops into the reactor by the force of gravity.


Ehhhh not quite,

What Chernobyl taught us was that it's very important not to use a design with no secondary containment, high positive void coefficient, and an inadequate quantity of secondary absorbers, and has a big gap between the permanent short-rods at the bottom of the reactor vessel and the manually inserted rods from the top which tends to create massive voids during a SCRAM event. Also, you need a higher fuel enrichment to prevent instability at low power output.

THAT is what Chernobyl taught us. The SCRAM time had very little to do with the actual accident as the rods, even when completely inserted, were insufficient to prevent the continued chain reaction due to the buildup of steam voids within the core due to inadequate coolant/absorption medium circulation due to the fact that they did not extend to the bottom of the reactor core and actually left a gap between the permanent short rods at the bottom and the rods coming down from the top during SCRAM.

And of course, had there been a reinforced concrete containment vessel around the reactor itself, the consequences would have been mitigated greatly.

But yes, graphite moderation is fine so long as you don't have inherent flaws in the reactor design.

BTW, the RBMK was originally created not for power generation, but for plutonium production for weapons, it was adopted for civilian nuclear power by the soviet gov't because the graphite moderator block, light water, and minimal use of enrichment made it cheap enough for them to mass produce for all of their satellite countries.
 
2014-06-04 11:36:12 AM  

Stantz: I can see this power station from my house.

Honestly, it's 13 miles away at the bottom of Romney Marsh and I'm on the South Kent Downs. If it goes I'll bring the popcorn and sunglasses


And lead shielding, I hope.
 
2014-06-04 11:36:32 AM  

EvilEgg: Didn't Chernobyl teach us that graphite is a bad mediator?   It was a graphite explosion, not a nuclear explosion.


No, though graphite did play a central role in the accident. If anything, Chernobyl shows us that graphite is an excellent moderator. Part of the problem might be confusion over the fact that the moderator is used to make the reaction easier to sustain, not used to decrease the power of the reaction as the name "moderator" might suggest.

Anyway, at Chernobyl, there were actually two explosions; the cause of the second is not well-known, but the first was a steam explosion. Most of the fallout was indeed from the burning graphite, but this was only because the damage to the reactor from the explosions exposed the (highly radioactive) graphite in the reactor core to the air, which caused it to catch fire. However, the primary cause of the explosion was the control rods, which were extremely poorly designed, in addition to being very slow (as pointed out above).

The purpose of graphite in a reactor is to act as a moderator, that is, to slow down the neutrons to the point where they can more easily interact with the uranium atoms and sustain a chain reaction. The coolant and the control rods act as neutron absorbers, taking neutrons out of the chain reaction and decreasing its power.

The problem with Chernobyl's control rods is that they were graphite-tipped. This meant that, as they were lowered, they displaced neutron-absorbing coolant with the graphite moderator before the neutron-absorbing boron was introduced. This resulted in an increase in reactivity and output as the rods were lowered; with the reactor already in a highly unstable state, the power spike that resulted from SCRAMming the reactor fractured the control rods and prevented them from lowering fully, with the graphite moderating tips now jammed in the worst possible place: squarely in the middle of the reactor. I'm sure you can see the catastrophic feedback cycle: reactor output goes up, neutron-absorbing coolant boils off, fewer neutrons are absorbed, reactor output goes up.
 
2014-06-04 11:36:48 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


The biggest problem I can think of is that you'd have to shut down and remove the fuel from the reactor in order to do it.  They don't take them out for inspection, they use remote cameras and such.

Do you want to turn off your reactor for the ~6 months that would take?

This mod should allow them another 5-10 years of operation.
 
2014-06-04 11:43:34 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


I'm not sure they can remove them from the reactor, or at least not easily. If my understanding of these types of reactors is correct, the graphite blocks are an integral component of the reactor's core. To take them out, you'd basically have to decommission the entire reactor, replace the bricks, and re-start it, which is a lengthy and expensive process and largely what they're seeking to avoid. I got the sense from the article that it's a "if we shut down the reactor, we're shutting it down permanently" thing and the new generation of reactors isn't due to come on-line until early 2020s, so they want to keep the current generation of reactors running as long as possible.
 
2014-06-04 11:45:03 AM  

moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.


They don't take them out of the reactor to inspect them.

They look at them in place.  The weight loss is an estimate - not a "we hauled this thing over to a scale and compared it's weight from 20 years ago" measure. IIRC there are small pieces of graphite that can be removed and those are measured to estimate the condition of the pieces that can't be removed.  But those small pieces aren't critical to the actual operation - they're there just to get a measure of the health of the pile.

Essentially if you tried to replace one of the "important" as in actual functioning pieces the entire pile would essentially powder.  You'd have no reactor afterwards.  So the options they have are:

1) Shut down the reactor when original "safety" limit is hit.  Cause utility company to loose lots of money - have to jack up rates to eventually recover.
2) Increase "safety" threshold.  This lets utility run the reactor longer, they recover more of the cost via actual electricity production.  As it sounds from the article they still won't get to the point they'd like even with this change in operating parameters.

Please note that what we're talking about here is the Graphite neutron moderators.  As they deteriorate, the number of fast neutrons that come out of the fission process of U-235 that get slowed goes down, so the rate of reaction goes down.  At some point the moderators can't slow enough neutrons down to sustain a chain reaction, even with all the control rods pulled and the reactor... stops.  The U-235 fuel returns to a natural decay rate and the power output of the reactor goes to zero, as it can't produce steam anymore, since it stops producing heat.  The pile then sits there - it's done.

In an AGR design the CO2 used to do the thermal transfer from the fuel to the steam heat exchanger comes from the graphite pile.  Essentially they are slowly boiling off the graphite pile.

Under no condition does graphite deterioration result in meltdown.  Only shutdown.  You have to do lots of stupid things to get an AGR to melt down - shut off the heat exchanger, yank all the control rods and then hope the containment vessel also fails.  Ie. you have to explicitly sabotage it to make it melt down.  EDF isn't asking to do what what done at Chernobyl, which essentially was officially approved sabotage.
 
2014-06-04 11:46:40 AM  

generallyso: That would reduce profit margins by 0.000001% percent and we can't have that. If something goes wrong the owners are rich and reside in France so it's not their problem.


This is why nuke plants are bad news.
 
2014-06-04 11:49:01 AM  

generallyso: moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.

That would reduce profit margins by 0.000001% percent and we can't have that. If something goes wrong the owners are rich and reside in France so it's not their problem.


Ha! France has more nukes per capita than anywhere else.
 
2014-06-04 11:59:32 AM  
I've got a bad feeling about this.
 
2014-06-04 11:59:50 AM  

Loren: Incontinent_dog_and_monkey_rodeo: It's cute that so many people are still pretending that the new reactor is ever going to get built. Every day it becomes more obviously unprofitable and a bad idea. By 2023 it will be stupidly expensive compared to other sources of power.

Without the stupidity nukes are cheap sources of power.

Not according to the US Department of Energy - but what do they know?

Power sources that are cheaper than nuclear: nat gas, hydro, wind, and the cheapest form of power? Geo-thermal; nearly 1/2 the cost of nuclear.

Even commercial solar PV is within 30% the cost of nuclear these days. New nukes are dead, and the remaining industry is now in the death throws as old plants shut down and plans for new plants are being scrapped left and right.
 
2014-06-04 12:19:54 PM  

jshine: stonicus: moel: The bit that confuses me is why can't the graphite bricks be replaced?

If they can take them out of the reactor to inspect them...why can't they replace them? I'm sure theres a 'because science' coming...but i'm genuinely curious.

Nuclear grade graphite is expensive.

If the graphite has impurities in it, those impurities can become very radioactive.  Different elements have different susceptibility to activation in a high neutron flux environment like a reactor core.


Great Scott! The high neutron flu environment is going to overload the impurities in the graphite dampeners! We'll all be sent back to the 1880s and will fall in love with our voluptuous great grandmothers! Marty, you have to do something!
 
2014-06-04 12:19:58 PM  
TFA video shows one round graphite block. Several are stacked, with the fuel rod assembly (a cylinder several inches in diameter) is lowered down the middle of the graphite block. I think the graphite blocks are fastened in place, because they don't want them to jiggle and jam the fuel rod assemblies. Maybe those could have been designed to be remotely disassembled, but it's not easy due to anything in a reactor getting damaged at the atomic level, so any fancy stainless steel fasteners which one might ordinarily think of using might not be suitable.

As for how much fun it will be when they do finally disassemble the core:

farm5.staticflickr.com
 
2014-06-04 12:44:25 PM  
You're not going to see graphite in American reactors. There's a ban on it now. Maybe we don't like flammable carcinogens in our high heat environments.

spawn73: The US designs, I know because I actually controlled one on a field trip here in Denmark, use gravity and electro magnets for them. If the power cuts, the electro magnets obviously lets go, and the control rods drops into the reactor by the force of gravity.


This is not necessarily true.

First of all, there ARE motors that put the control rods in from the top. They're called control rod drive motors/mechanisms (depends on the planet) because you need a lot more than gravity to shove something in against two thousand pounds of pressure.. and any reactor that can use gravity to feed in the first place is top load control rods, so it's a pressurized water reactor, so yeah, about two thousand pounds.

A BWR is bottom load control rods, and they use hydraulic drives to insert them.

/CRDMs are a pain in everyone's ass
//generally two an outage are changed
///recently a local plant changed them all out
 
2014-06-04 12:48:15 PM  
Windscale paging Dr. Wigner, we have an urgent question. Windscale paging Dr. Wigner...
 
2014-06-04 12:49:42 PM  

Evil Mackerel: Just change the universal constant and *poof* problem solved.


magnify the suns energy impact and compensate for tectonic ridge dynamics. It will attract a faster rate of nuclear decay without throwing the volcanism into too much disarray hopefully. That or raise the radiation and hope for time travel through zombie satellites.
 
2014-06-04 12:51:12 PM  
I mean to keep it at a high atmospheric location with lower pressure, to prevent total leakage. Sparklers and streaks if cloudy enough.
 
2014-06-04 12:58:30 PM  
MrSteve007 is correct.

We have 104 Nuclear power plants in the US, creating 20% of the power today.
There are 4 under construction, and due to the natural gas, hydro and wind prices, they essentially have been stopped and started over the past 15 years.
Originally slated to be constructed for 75 Billion (all four total), cost estimates and insurance requests called all the way up to 122 Billion, but have been now corrected to 100 Billion as the latest estimate.

If we were to try to completely use Nuclear as the power source for the US, as is, we would need 400 plants, at a cost of 25 Billion each, or an investment of 10 Trillion dollars, and would take 50-60 years to complete that construction.

We also spend 7.5 Billion a year in upkeep and maintanence costs for the 104 plants we have today, so with the additional 400 plants we would spend a total of 37.5 Billion a year.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Economic-Aspects/Economics-of-Nucl ea r-Power/
http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/P1526_Web.pdf
http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear-power-and-our-energy-cho ic es/nuclear-power-costs/
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB121055252677483933

With the 44.7% efficient solar cells expected to be coming to the marketplace in 2016-17, even if it was $1 Billion per square mile, we'd only need $150 Billion to produce the 150 square miles needed to produce the hourly electrical needs of the US every hour of the day for 16 hours each and every day.

Finally with the STEPCO Carbon Capture which could be available for commercial use as early as 2019 - 2020, we could "skymine" carbon out of the atmosphere at temperatures below 900 degrees farenheit. If we could upscale this to sufficient levels we could have a renewable coal resource for the use in coal fired powerplants for the 8 hours a day that the solar installations would be negated by night, and the burning would be without the other sulphur, lead, mercury and other heavy metals that are associated with underground deposits of coal.

http://technologies.research.gwu.edu/technologies/09-000x-licht_sola r- thermal-electrochemical-photo-step-carbon-capture-process
http://www.google.com/patents/US20130001072

Essentially our electrical production for the US, could be fulfilled with these two solutions, safely and cleanly without underground resources

If we were to install 15,000 miles of Amperium Wire as a storage/distribution network, we could further cut the need for electrical generation by 22% during normal conditions and up to 40% on days of 85 degrees Farenheit or greater, due to heat efficiency through the superconductive transmission available through Amperium Wire.
South Korea will finish installing 3000 KM of the wire in early 2015, and will replace 30,000 KM of copper wire equivalent due to this transition, and Amperium Wire's 10 to 1 transmission and capacity efficiency.

http://ir.amsc.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=642667
http://insurance-technology.tmcnet.com/news/2011/09/28/5811315.htm
 
2014-06-04 01:08:25 PM  

Acravius: There are 4 under construction, and due to the natural gas, hydro and wind prices, they essentially have been stopped and started over the past 15 years.


Vogtle units 3 and 4 started construction in 2009, Westinghouse says concrete pour to breakers shut is under six years. They have their site licenses and they are pushing ahead. They expect to start coming online around 2016.

www.southerncompany.com

www.southerncompany.com

VC Summer Units 2 and 3 went into construction in 2013.

nuclearstreet.com
nuclearstreet.com

So, we have FOUR new reactors pushing ahead in the states that happened in the last FIVE years.

That being said, this isn't adding onto the national fleet, just replacing units that will be shut down. We've lost SONGS, Crystal River, and we're about to lose Vermont Yankee.
 
2014-06-04 01:10:22 PM  

MrSteve007: . New nukes are dead, and the remaining industry is now in the death throws as old plants shut down and plans for new plants are being scrapped left and right.


Yeah, dead... you know, except for the fact that the NRC just approved several new reactor licenses in the past few years.

The reason you see plans scrapped btw, isn't to do with people not wanting to build new reactors, but rather that the plans were old ones waiting for approval but have since become old technology. You don't need as many reactors with new designs to output the same wattage. Of course, there's also the NIMBY issue, but that's probably not going away anytime soon. There are constantly new, small footprint reactor designs being created. I wouldn't be surprised to see small regional nuke plants become the new norm in a few decade's time, helping to relieve the stress that larger, more centralized production is placing on the grid at this time.

Now, new nuke plants ARE expensive, almost prohibitively so, but even those costs are lower than they were 40+ years ago. Once the plant is paid for, the cost of production drops drastically, far below that of virtually any other generating source we have, and given that new technologies can run even longer than we ever thought they could, it won't be much longer before the 40-year life expectancy of a plant goes to the positive side of 100 years.
 
2014-06-04 01:12:57 PM  
I may be wrong, but I'm guessing that none of us know enough about nuclear power generation to know whether the request to increase the loss limit to 8% is reasonable or not.
 
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