Sunday, June 23, 2013

Crazy Nuclear Safety

Critics of nuclear power often denounce it as unsafe, yet they very seldom focus on answers to the question: "What can be done to make nuclear power safer."  As it turns out, it is possible to make nuclear power so safe that there would never be a human casualty from a nuclear accident during the entire period of human life on earth.  Even at this level of safety, it might be possible to make nuclear power even safer.  This might sound crazy, but there may be plausible reasons for adopting such safety standards.

During the months leading up to my heart attacks in 2011, I focused attention on Uri Gat's work on Molten Salt Reactor safety.   My health was too poor to draw out the follow up implications from Gat's work.  Now 18 months later, I can do so.  Gat advocated the removal of volatile fission waste products from MSR fuel salts.  This could mean that the volatile fission products could be removed from the reactor core and thus would not be a mischief maker in any accident involving reactor coolant or the reactor core.   The volatile fission products are the trouble makers in any nuclear meltdown or other major accident.  In the MSR, the volatile fission products are already present dissolved in the fuel salts.  In a MSR accident some of the volatile fission products may escape the core fluid salts, but this can be largely avoided if the salts are regularly cleaned.

If the core salts are regularly cleaned, then there is little to worry about in the event of a nuclear accident.  Thus while it is possible to target an unprotected MSR for a terrorist attack, doing so might destroy the reactor but would have little effect outside the reactor exclusion area.  Thus from a safety viewpoint, a metal shed might satisfy the housing requirements of Uri Gat's ultimately safe MSR.  Even though further safety expectations might seem crazy to a human safety expert's rational view point, the public will probably feel ill at ease about a reactor in a hut. In addition security concerns might require added safety features.  One solution would be to locate the reactor underground.  Some underground facilities, for example salt mines, would offer high potential for safe and secure operations.

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