I awoke on December 13th to news about what could be the most significant scientific breakthrough since the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first Covid vaccine for emergency use two years ago. This time, however, the achievement had nothing to do with that ongoing public health crisis. Instead, as the New York Times and CNN alerted me that morning, at stake was a new technology that could potentially solve the worst dilemma humanity faces: climate change and the desperate overheating of our planet. Net-energy-gain fusion, a long-sought-after panacea for all that’s wrong with traditional nuclear-fission energy (read: accidents, radioactive waste), had finally been achieved at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
“This is such a wonderful example of a possibility realized, a scientific milestone achieved, and a road ahead to the possibilities for clean energy,” exclaimed White House science adviser Arati Prabhakar.
The New York Times was quick to follow Prabhakar’s lead, boasting that fusion is an “energy source devoid of the pollution and greenhouse gasses caused by the burning of fossil
France’s nuclear power regulator has extended temporary waivers allowing five power stations to continue discharging hot water into rivers as the country contends with a fourth heatwave of the summer and an energy crisis. High river temperatures have in recent weeks threatened to reduce France’s already low nuclear output at a time when nearly half its reactors are offline because of corrosion problems and maintenance. The ASN watchdog said on Monday it had approved a government request for the waivers introduced in mid July to be prolonged at the Bugey, Saint Alban, Tricastin, Blayais and Golfech power plants. Regulations typically require nuclear production be limited during times of high heat to prevent the hot discharge waters re-entering the rivers from endangering wildlife. EDF late on Sunday said it was lifting output restriction warnings at the Saint Alban and Bugey nuclear plants on the Rhone river. River temperatures at both are expected to peak on Aug. 14.
The Hoggar massif is located in the west of the Algerian Sahara. Prehistoric men have left stunning rock carvings there. The men of the 20th century left nuclear waste.
Between 1960 and 1996, France carried out 17 nuclear tests in Algeria and 193 in French Polynesia. In Algeria, atmospheric and underground tests were carried out at the Reggane and In Ekker sites, in an atmosphere of secrecy and conflict between an Algerian nation under construction and a colonial power seeking strategic autonomy. A majority of the tests – 11 – were carried out after the Evian agreements (18 March 1962), which established Algeria’s independence.
It was not until the 1990s that the first independent studies relating to some of the dark events of that period finally became available. Disclosure about accidents that happened during some of the tests, about the risk that populations and soldiers were exposed to, in Algeria and in Polynesia alike, led to the implementation of the law “on 5 January 2010, granting recognition and compensation for the victims of French nuclear testings“. But this law does not take into account any environmental consequences.
In French Polynesia, the strong mobilization of many associations has enabled the environmental consequences to be taken into account and the first remediation steps to be put in
Lindsay Krall decided to study nuclear waste out of a love for the arcane. Figuring how to bury radioactive atoms isn’t exactly simple — it takes a blend of particle physics, careful geology, and engineering, and a high tolerance for reams of regulations. But the trickiest ingredient of all is time. Nuclear waste from today’s reactors will take thousands of years to become something safer to handle. So any solution can’t require too much stewardship. It’s gotta just work, and keep working for generations. By then, the utility that split those atoms won’t exist, nor will the company that designed the reactor. Who knows? Maybe the United States won’t exist either.
Right now, the United States doesn’t have such a plan. That’s been the case since 2011, when regulators facing stiff local opposition pulled the plug on a decades-long effort to store waste underneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, stranding $44 billion in federal funds meant for the job. Since then, the nuclear industry has done a good job of storing its waste on a temporary basis, which is part of the reason Congress has shown little interest in working out a solution for future generations. Long-term thinking isn’t their strong suit. “It’s been a complete institutional failure in the US,” Krall says.
But there’s a new type of nuclear on the block: the small modular reactor or SMR. For a long time, the U.S. nuclear industry has been stagnating, in large part because of the
The Tennessee Valley Authority could likely rightfully claim a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, but it’s not an achievement for which the federally-owned electric utility corporation would welcome notoriety.
After taking a whopping 42 years to build and finally bring on line its Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear power reactor in Tennessee, TVA just broke its own record for longest nuclear plant construction time. However, this time, the company failed to deliver a completed nuclear plant.
Watts Bar 2 achieved criticality in May 2016, then promptly came off line due to a transformer fire three months later. It finally achieved full operational status on October 19, 2016, making it the first United States reactor to enter commercial operation since 1996.