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Analysis: Nuclear Power Gaining Popularity

'When we go back to using nuclear power we are creating something that nature tried to destroy to make life possible' : Admiral Hyman Rickover, 'father' of the US nuclear navy.
Washington (UPI) Aug 25, 2004
Nuclear power has become increasingly popular worldwide, particularly in the developing world, as a source of energy consumption, yet accidents involving radiation leaks continue in some of the world's safest nuclear plants. Amid rising oil prices, developing countries have little alternative but to depend on nuclear power.

Developing countries are increasing their nuclear power usage. Armenia has one working reactor; Bulgaria has two; Ukraine three, and Romania one. One nuclear power plant is under construction in Iran and three more are planned. A total of 27 nuclear power plants are under construction in developing countries.

Within the next several decades, energy consumption will at least double or triple in developing countries with growing populations and economies, according to Turkey's Hurriyet.

Building nuclear power plants is expensive, but their operational costs are relatively low. It is not difficult to obtain nuclear fuels such as uranium or thorium. Nuclear power plants also produce virtually no carbon emissions.

These power plants currently generate 16 percent of the electricity the world consumes, and currently account for 78 percent of electricity generation in France, about half of Belgium and Sweden's electricity, 28 percent of Germany's electricity, 20 percent in the United States, and 17 percent in Russia.

But even as nuclear power becomes increasingly popular worldwide, some developed countries are considering shutting down their plants amid plant malfunctions. Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden have decided to gradually phase out their nuclear power plants.

The oldest operating powerplant in Spain, the Jose Cabrera power station in Almonacid de Zorita, will be shut down on April 30, 2006. In 1994, more than 170 cracks were detected in the cover of the reactor vessel; the cracks were only repaired in 1997. Dismantling the station is expected to start in 2008 and completed in 2014 at a projected cost of $165 million, according to Spain's National Radioactive Waste Company.

Sweden's Nuclear Power Inspectorate intends to impose stricter safety measures on the country's nuclear power plants, which generate about half of the country's electricity, to bring the country into line with IAEA and UN standards, according to the Svenska Dagbladet. Renovation work will total $809 million. Citizens voted in 1980 to phase out nuclear power by 2010, but the deadline was scrapped in 1997 because the country had not worked out how to replace lost generating capacity.

Nuclear power plants have seen massive leaks throughout the decades in some of the world's safest plants as well as the world's worst, and increased safety measures by the IAEA and the UN nuclear watch dog have not helped prevent such leaks. The third-safest power plant in Russia, the Volgodonsk facility in the Rostov region, had to be stopped twice within the past nine months due to emergencies in November 2003 and January 2004.

Even Japan's Mihama plutonium-thermal plant, considered the world's safest power plant, saw four workers killed when steam leaked from a turbine reactor on August 9.

Japan's Asahi Shimbun reported the accident as the worst ever in Japan's nuclear powerplants: Trust was lost and the accident will have a great impact on future nuclear power development. And as nuclear powerplants get older and older, problems like pipe corrosion and equipment malfunction may increase.

Following the Mihama accident, Greenpeace Russia has expressed concerns over conditions at Russian nuclear plants. Japan's nuclear power plants are among the best in the world, Greenpeace said in a press release on Aug. 10. But in 2003, Japan failed to disclose the critical state of several of its reactors, which led to an immediate halt in operations at several nuclear plants.

Greenpeace reported that major disasters in Russia's nuclear plants were similar to the accident in Japan. There will be accidents as long as the nuclear power industry exists, and there could be a new Chernobyl at any moment, Russian Greenpeace head Ivan Blokov told Interfax on Aug. 8.

Russia has a history of accidents. Three people were killed in an accident at the Leningrad nuclear powerplant on February 6, 1974. The facility was the venue for another disaster in autumn 1975, which involved a radiation leak that continued for more than a month. Fourteen people were killed in an accident at the Balakovo nuclear plant on June 27, 1985.

A radiation leak also happened on U.S. soil when the 1979 Three Mile Island reactor leaked radioactive material.

Despite such malfunctions, developing countries continue to construct nuclear plants. A newly-built reactor in Ukraine, launched at the Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plant, went offline due to massive overheating on August 13. Ukraine has had several radiation leaks throughout the decade, according to Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative reports.

Equipment problems have also developed in two China-based power plants which Russia helped China build. Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Head Alexander Rumyantsev said that glitches arose in one reactor's equipment but hopes to eliminate those glitches within the next two months. Regarding another reactor close to Beijing, Rumyantsev told Interfax on Aug. 12, Some parts of the equipment, however, have started to malfunction, but we know how to fix them.

Slovenia's only nuclear power plant shut down automatically on August 10 as a safety precaution after a mistake occurred in the system that regulates the amount of nuclear reaction taking place in the reactor. According to a statement from the Nuclear Power Plant Krsko, the control rods that regulate the amount of fission lost power after their power source broke down on the evening of Aug. 9.

Another issue to consider is that nuclear technology can be used to make weapons as well as electricity. China and Pakistan signed a contract to supply a reactor pressure vessel for the second phase of the Chashma Nuclear Power Station in Pakistan. China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation Deputy General Manager Huang Guojun said Pakistan had pledged that technology would be used solely for peaceful purposes with no transferal to a third parties. It is difficult to ignore the fact that nuclear technology has benefits in addition to its primary function of electricity generation.

With no oil or gas of its own, Turkey has been debating the issue of construction of nuclear power plants in the country. But even if Turkey decides not to construct nuclear plants of its own, the country will be affected by any accidents that may occur in nearby countries -- just as in the case of the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

Earthquake-prone countries such as Armenia may see disastrous radiation leaks to one of its units if an earthquake occurs. One of Armenia's power plant units has been shut down for repairs and nuclear fuel loading in late July, according to plant General Director Garik Markosian.

Proper disposal of nuclear waste, meanwhile, is a growing problem in developing and developed countries. In short, nuclear power plants may be environmentally friendly and cheaper to operate generating a cheaper source of energy consumption - but with the risks the plants pose, no one wants to live near one.

Until about 2 billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on Earth. That is, there was so much radiation on Earth you couldn't have any life - fish or anything. Gradually, about 2 billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin. It started in the seas, I understand from what I've read. And that amount of radiation has been gradually decreasing because all radiation has a half-life, which means ultimately there will be no radiation. Now, when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something that nature tried to destroy to make life possible, said Admiral Hyman Rickover, known as the father of the U.S. nuclear navy.

All rights reserved. � 2004 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

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Sun Solaris Compute Grid Powers NextGen Nuclear Reactor Design From The DoE
Idaho Falls ID (SPX) Aug 13, 2004
The Department of Energy and Sun Microsystems Thursday announced the development of a high performance computer cluster at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

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