Geologic Nuclear Waste Storage

by Zoe Dilles

Nuclear energy has enormous potential to alleviate the energy demands of the future, but poses a challenge in its production of nuclear waste. More than 10% of the world’s electricity is generated in nuclear power reactors creating some 10,000 metric tons of radioactive heavy metal waste annually. A sought-after, safe approach to storage is within deep geological repositories but the evolution of these systems over time mechanically, thermally, and hydraulically must be carefully considered. These myriad factors make it quite the engineering feat to accommodate high-level nuclear waste. Not only must the waste be placed in a body of relatively inert rock at depth, particular consideration must be made towards the process of excavation itself. The bore-holes that function as the access points to deep strata with reservoir potential subject the surrounding rock to increased stress which can result in mechanical failure in the form of microcracks, called the excavation damage zone (EDZ). This fracturing can be pinpointed using acoustic emissions that are transmitted through the adjacent intact rock. Continue reading

First German Nuclear Fusion Experiment is Successful

by Dion Boyd

An interesting article written by Nathaniel Scharping in Discover Magazine on February 3, 2016 examines the completion of an early phase of German scientists’ nuclear fusion experiment. The purpose of the experiment is to test processes of a reaction that will one-day produce nuclear fusion for use as energy. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Particle Physics in Greifswald, Germany conducted the experiment using a machine called the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, a donut-shaped device that uses magnetic fields to suspend hydrogen gas while zapping it with powerful microwaves. During the reaction, researchers heated up a hydrogen sample to 180 million degrees Fahrenheit and succeeded in creating a sweltering hot plasma that lasted for a quarter of a second. The Wendelstein stellarator experiment has been developing for over twenty years now, costing nearly €1.06bn with Germany being the primary funder and the US, Poland, and the European Union following closely behind. Although the W7-X isn’t designed to be a major energy producer itself, the experiments it runs will show that plasma can be contained for a period of time when heated to such extremes. [http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2016/02/03/germanys-nuclear-fusion-experiment-marks-initial-success/#.VrU7_ZMrIdU]     Continue reading

High Costs for Achieving Emission Reductions Targets without Nuclear and C.C.S.

by Cameron Bernhardt

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation is one of the primary means by which humans can mitigate global climate change. Employing nuclear power generation and carbon capture and storage (C.C.S.) are two methods for decarbonizing electricity generation processes, but the merit of these technologies is often debated. While these technologies are typically effective in lowering the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, they pose other environmental and economic threats that frequently limit their popularity and use. These realities have created some uncertainty regarding the future deployment of C.C.S. and nuclear power generation. Akashi et al. (2014) use a multi-scenario analysis to investigate the feasibility of the international emissions reduction target (holding the increase in the global average temperature below 2oC) in a future without nuclear or C.C.S. technology. The authors considered four different scenarios: baseline, standard 50 percent reduction, 50 percent reduction with no C.C.S. or new nuclear power plants being built, and a variant of the third scenario but with improved material efficiency. Continue reading

Public Participation and Trust in Chinese Nuclear Power Development

by Sam Peterson

Following the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear incident on Friday, March 11, 2011, Chinese citizens in the rural Shandong peninsula began stockpiling salt and consuming cydiodide tablets as precaution against radiation. Their government had provided little to no information regarding the immediate fallout of the Japanese nuclear event, and would continue to withhold information regarding the incident until several weeks later. Continue reading