• Nuclear safetyNewly Proposed Barrier Could Have Limited Radiation Release at Chernobyl, Fukushima

    Following the most serious nuclear accidents in the history — at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011), in which release of radiation occurred as a result of core meltdown — many countries around the world have committed to phase out nuclear power. Afuture powered by nuclear energy, however, may be neither a lost cause nor a game of “Russian roulette,” according to researchers.

  • Perspective: Hacking nukesLessons from the Cyberattack on India’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant

    In early September, a cyberattack occurred at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in India. The Indian nuclear monitoring agency finally admitted that the nuclear plant was hacked, and on 30 October Indian government officials acknowledged the intrusion. “As the digitalization of nuclear reactor instrumentation and control systems increases, so does the potential for malicious and accidental cyber incidents alike to cause harm,” Alexander Campbell and Vickram Singh write.

  • Nuclear powerOperations in French Nuclear Power Plant Suspended after Monday Tremor

    Following a strong earthquake Monday in the Drôme and Ardèche regions in south-east France, EDF (Électricité de France) has ordered the suspension of power production at the Cruas-Meysse power station. The magnitude 5.4 earthquake shook the area at 11:52 a.m. Monday. Of France’s nineteen active nuclear power plants, five plants are located in seismically active zones.

  • Nuclear powerNew Reactor Designs Will Degrade Waste More Rapidly

    Renewed interest in nuclear power as a viable option for generating electricity has been accompanied by steady progress in reactor design. Advanced reactors offer the promise of greater fuel efficiency and less radioactive waste generation compared with the water-cooled models that have dominated the nuclear power landscape for decades. Newer designs, however, will operate at higher temperatures and use highly corrosive coolants — like liquid metal, molten salt, or high-temperature gas — all of which would rapidly degrade many of the materials used in conventional nuclear reactors.

  • Nuclear accidentsContaining a Nuclear Accident with Ground-up Minerals

    Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing a promising new way to prevent the spread of radioactive contamination and contain the hot molten mass that develops within a nuclear reactor during a catastrophic accident. A team of scientists discovered and patented a process for injecting sand-like minerals into the core of a nuclear reactor during an accident to contain and slow down the progression of a meltdown.

  • Perspective: Nuclear terrorismA Meltdown in Nuclear Security

    A commando raid on a nuclear power plant seems the stuff of Hollywood. So why are nuclear security experts so worried? It ranks among the worst-case scenarios for a nuclear power plant: an all-out assault or stealth infiltration by well-trained, heavily armed attackers bent on triggering a nuclear blast, sparking a nuclear meltdown or stealing radioactive material. Under pressure from a cash-strapped nuclear energy industry increasingly eager to slash costs, the commission in a little-noticed vote in October 2018 halved the number of force-on-force exercises conducted at each plant every cycle. Four months later, it announced it would overhaul how the exercises are evaluated to ensure that no plant would ever receive more than the mildest rebuke from regulators – even when the commandos set off a simulated nuclear disaster that, if real, would render vast swaths of the U.S. uninhabitable. Nuclear security experts, consultants, law enforcement veterans and former NRC commissioners are nothing short of alarmed. “You can’t afford to be wrong once,” says one expert.

  • Nuclear powerCan Going Nuclear Combat Climate Change?

    To mitigate climate change, the proportion of low-carbon electricity generation must increase from today’s 36 percent to 85 percent by 2040, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. IEA and other advocates argue that nuclear power could help fill this gap. However, barriers to a nuclear energy renaissance include safety concerns, aging reactors and high costs for new ones.

  • Nuclear accidentsKey Takeaways from the Fukushima Disaster

    In March and April of 2011 the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster resulted in what was the largest ever accidental release of radioactive material into the ocean. “Even though the levels of radiation in the area and in the marine organisms were elevated, they were actually not a threat to the ecosystem or to human consumers in most cases,” says an expert.

  • Perspective: Nuclear powerCan Nuclear Power Be Saved?

    Whither nuclear power? That question has become more important as energy policies evolve to emphasize emissions-free “green” energy and an increased electrification of the U.S. economy. Some environmentalists consider nuclear power to be crucial to reducing carbon emissions; others continue to vehemently oppose nuclear power and believe that our energy must come solely from renewable sources.  The public, encouraged into hysteria by dramatizations of nuclear-plant accidents such as the film The China Syndrome and HBO’s Chernobyl, is split. Meanwhile, the nuclear-power industry itself is in a parlous state for a variety of tangled reasons.

  • Energy securityExploring Options for Microreactors in Alaska

    For cities in the most isolated regions of Alaska, keeping the lights on is often challenging and almost always expensive. There’s no good way to string power lines over the vast expanses of wilderness that separate individual towns, so instead of one consolidated grid spanning the entire state, Alaskans get their power from a disconnected mishmash of more than 200 microgrids. This is why experts have been exploring whether microreactors might help alleviate some of Alaska’s energy challenges.

  • Nuclear powerNuclear Power Offers an Abundant Supply of Low-Carbon Energy. But What to Do With the Deadly Radioactive Waste?

    By John Vidal

    The dilemma of how to manage nuclear waste — radioactive materials routinely produced in large quantities at every stage of nuclear power production, from uranium mining and enrichment to reactor operation and the reprocessing of spent fuel — has taxed the industry, academics and governments for decades. Along with accidents, it has been a major reason for continuing public opposition to the industry’s further expansion despite substantial interest in nuclear power’s status as a low-carbon power source that can help mitigate climate change. The race is on to develop new strategies for permanently storing some of the most dangerous materials on the planet.

  • Nuclear detectionImproving Security of Nuclear Materials Transportation

    Nuclear power plants can withstand most inclement weather and do not emit harmful greenhouse gases. However, trafficking of the nuclear materials to furnish them with fuel remains a serious issue as security technology continues to be developed. Physicists conducted research to enhance global nuclear security by improving radiation detectors. According to them, improving radiation detectors requires the identification of better sensor materials and the development of smarter algorithms to process detector signals.

  • Perspective: Nuclear wasteTruth and Fearmongering: Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

    Is it a good idea to store 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste in a repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain? Many Nevada politicians say it is a bad idea, but scientists argue that the facts do not support the fears these politicians stoke. These scientists say that Colorado, whose surface rock contains about a billion tons of uranium, should have much more to worry about than Nevada. One scientist says: “If the Yucca Mountain facility were at full capacity and all the waste leaked out of its glass containment immediately and managed to reach groundwater, the danger would still be 20 times less than that currently posed by natural uranium leaching into the Colorado River.”

  • PerspectiveRectifying a wrong nuclear fuel decision

    In the old days, new members of Congress knew they had much to learn. They would defer to veteran lawmakers before sponsoring legislation. But in the Twitter era, the newly elected are instant experts. That is how Washington on 12 June witnessed the remarkable phenomenon of freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk), successfully spearheading an amendment that may help Islamist radicals get nuclear weapons. The issue is whether the U.S. Navy should explore modifying the reactor fuel in its nuclear-powered vessels — as France already has done — to reduce the risk of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists such as al-Qaida or rogue states such as Iran. Luria says no. Alan J. Kuperman writes in the Pilot Online that more seasoned legislators have started to rectify the situation by passing a spending bill on 19 June that includes the funding for naval fuel research. They will have the chance to fully reverse Luria in July on the House floor by restoring the authorization. Doing so would not only promote U.S. national security but teach an important lesson that enthusiasm is no substitute for experience.

  • PerspectiveNuclear energy regulators need to bring on more cyber experts, watchdog says

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is facing a mass exodus of cybersecurity experts in the years ahead, which could limit its ability to ensure the nation’s nuclear power plants are safe from digital attacks, an internal watchdog found. Jack Corrigan writes in Defense One that Nearly one-third of NRC’s cybersecurity inspectors will be eligible for retirement by the end of fiscal 2020, and agency officials worry they aren’t training enough people to take their place, according to the NRC Inspector General. With nuclear power stations becoming increasingly popular targets for online adversaries, the shortage of cyber expertise could leave the agency struggling to do its job, auditors said.