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Submission + - Fukashima fission still continues (japantimes.co.jp)

ColdWetDog writes: Evidence of continued low level fission has been found in the Fukashima #2 reactor. Reported both in the Japan Times and the New York Times (registration required). Continued fission is considered the most likely reason for recent measurements of Xenon 135 (half life eight hours). However it is possible that the measurements are simply erroneous. Both articles reported that TEPCO has started to inject Boron into the reactor to stop the chain reaction, indicating that they feel concerned enough to act on the data. Intermittent fission reactions were assumed to be occurring immediately after the reactor failure but according to the NYT article,

But even in their most dire assessments, some experts had not expected even bursts of re-criticality to occur, because it was unlikely that the fuel would melt in just the right way — and that another ingredient, water, would be present in just the right amounts — to allow for any nuclear reaction. If episodes of fission at Fukushima were confirmed, Mr. Koide said, “our entire understanding of nuclear safety would be turned on its head.”

This view does not seem to be supported by some experts. A report in Nature News Blog notes that

... experts say that small amounts of fission in the reactor core would not be that surprising, and there seems no danger of either a self-sustaining critical chain reaction or significant release of fission products into the environment.

and further

"This does not look like a major release of radiation from the plant, but it is worth noting that even if the fuel is cooled, there is still a small amount of residual natural fission of the large amount of uranium fuel in the core," said Paddy Regan, a nuclear expert at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, adding that the amounts released would be far less than were the fuel to go critical. The detected xenon, he said, "does not appear to show any new radiological hazard from the disaster.”

Any one else want to chime in?


Submission + - To Boldly Go Nowhere (theatlantic.com)

ColdWetDog writes: A brief note in the Atlantic notes that Congress has failed to supply funds to continue Plutonium-238 production, needed for radioisotope generators for NASA's interplanetary probe programs. No PU-238 means no more missions like Cassini-Huygens and pretty much anywhere that the sun doesn't shine enough to power the satellite via solar cells.

The article notes that the only other source of PU-238 is Russia — either through the government or through trolling through Siberia and the Russian coastline looking for old Soviet Era lighthouses and power stations.


Submission + - Size Matters - The Rise of Small Nuclear Plants (theoildrum.com)

ColdWetDog writes: The Oil Drum (one of the best sites to discuss the technical details of the Macondo Blowout) is typically focused on ramifications of petroleum use and in particular, the Peak Oil theory. They run short guest articles from time to time on various aspects of energy use and policies and today they have an interesting article on small nuclear reactors with a refreshing amount of technical details concerning their construction, use and fueling. The author's major thesis:

Pick up almost any book about nuclear energy and you will find that the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive. This assumption is widely accepted, but, if its roots are understood, it can be effectively challenged.

Recently, however, a growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing. The resulting systems are a welcome addition to the nuclear power plant menu, which has previously been limited to one size — extra large.

Neutrinos have bad breadth.