Category Archives: Nuclear Power Energy

Germany pledges to end all nuclear power by 2022

Germany's ruling coalition says it has agreed a date of 2022 for the shutdown of all of its nuclear power plants.

Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen made the announcement after a meeting of the ruling coalition that lasted into the early hours of Monday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had set up an ethics panel to look into nuclear power following the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan.

Germany saw mass anti-nuclear protests in the wake of the disaster.

Mr Rottgen said the seven oldest reactors, which were already subject to a moratorium, and the Kruemmel nuclear power plant, would not resume.

Six others would go offline by 2021 at the latest and the three newest by 2022, he said.

Mr Rottgen said: "It's definite. The latest end for the last three nuclear power plants is 2022. There will be no clause for revision."

Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats had met with its junior partners on Sunday after the ethics panel had delivered its conclusions.

Before the meeting she said: "I think we're on a good path but very, very many questions have to be considered.

"If you want to exit something, you also have to prove how the change will work and how we can enter into a durable and sustainable energy provision."

The Fukushima plant was crippled by the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan, causing radioactive leaks that spurred anti-nuclear protests in Germany.

Mr Rottgen said a tax on spent fuel rods, expected to raise 2.3bn euros ($3.28bn) a year from this year, would remain despite the shutdown.

Germany's nuclear industry has argued that an early shutdown would be hugely damaging to the country's industrial base.

Before March's moratorium on the older power plants, Germany relied on nuclear power for 23% of its energy.

The anti-nuclear drive boosted Germany's Green party, which took control of the Christian Democrat stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in late March.

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Miniature Nuclear Reactor to Power Mars and Moon Colonies

Humans might not be living on Mars or the moon anytime soon, but scientists might have just overcome one major hurdle on the route to interstellar habitation: electricity.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory have designed a suitcase-sized nuclear plant that can power up to eight normal-sized homes. Thanks to its size and durability, the plant can provide fission power not only on Earth, but on the moon, on Mars, or any other place NASA requires a power generator.

While most nuclear plants generate hundreds or thousands of megawatts of electricity, this portable generator would create only 40 kilowatts. This smaller size is ideal for the type of conditions seen in space, said James Werner, lead researcher on the project.

"Just taking it down to that size has a lot of significant differences," Werner told InnovationNewsDaily.

The generator is more flexible and can be placed in craters or caves on uninhabited planets, for example. It is also exponentially less heavy than standard nuclear power plants, which Werner said is essential for a generator to work properly in space.

NASA has envisioned several potential applications for the new power plants. They could power oxygen or hydrogen generators. They could also serve as charging devices for either manned or unmanned electric scouting vehicles.

The team plans to build a physical demonstration unit for the plant and test out its capabilities next year.

Astronauts currently use solar cells — which convert light into energy — to power their crafts and devices. However, light sources might not be consistent or reliable in outer space. This nuclear power plant could generate a larger, and far more dependable, supply of electricity.

Nuclear power has been a bit of a controversial issue here on Earth thanks to several overheating accidents that have led to catastrophic disasters, such as the infamous Chernobyl meltdown. However, those incidents wouldn't pose a threat to astronauts using this portable reactor, Werner said.

"There would be no danger of meltdown," Werner said. "Because of the low power level, it's very safe. If we did have a situation where the power failed, the reactor itself would just shut down."

Though NASA has ended its space shuttle program, Werner isn't worried about the shutdown affecting this program, pointing out that the power plant would use an entirely different launch vehicle. He's optimistic that once the plant is complete, NASA would allow the team to send it out into space and see what happens.

"I hope that someday we get a chance to actually put into hardware on a flight," Werner said. "That'd be a big day for everybody."

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The Nuclear Powered Car Coming Soon

In the 1950s, perhaps the height of the so-called Atomic Age, Ford developed a concept car called the Ford Nucleon. This nuclear-powered automobile was designed, according to Ford, based on the assumption that future nuclear reactors would be smaller, safer, lighter and more portable. The design called for a power capsule located in the rear of the car, charging stations replacing gas stations and 5,000 miles of driving before recharging or replacing the fuel. As is the case with many concept cars, Ford never built the Nucleon — only a model car half the size of a normal car.

It may seem like an impossible quest, or something from a science fiction movie, but nuclear-powered cars are worth considering, especially with the ongoing energy and climate crises. Given these challenges, some experts think that the use of nuclear power, in various forms, will make a comeback in the near future. When done properly, nuclear power is relatively safe, clean and affordable. So why not use it for cars?

To get an idea, think of how countries have employed nuclear reactors for uses beyond traditional nuclear power plants, submarines and aircraft carriers. Some uses of specialized reactors include providing heating in extremely cold climates and trying to convert coal into clean-burning gas. Both the former U.S.S.R. and the United States used small reactors to power satellites, though the practice became controversial because of satellites' propensity to fall back to Earth and break apart. These are examples of research reactors, and they may provide scientists with some ideas of how to adapt nuclear reactors for use in other vehicles.

One such possibility is nuclear-fueled hydrogen — using nuclear energy to create clean, safe, affordable hydrogen fuel. Nuclear reactors could also power stations where motorists charge highly efficient batteries. Finally, scientists could create a miniature nuclear power plant and stick it in a car.

On the next page, we'll take a closer look at the benefits and explore some of the problems with a potential nuclear-powered car.

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The nuclear battery like a coin, but can use five thousand years

It sound dangerous, but nuclear batteries have been safely powering devices such as pace-makers, satellites and underwater systems for years. They have an extremely long life and high energy density compared to chemical batteries. However, they are costly and also very large and heavy. Now researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) are developing a nuclear battery that is smaller, lighter and more efficient.

Jae Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU, who has been working on building a small nuclear battery, admits that people get the wrong idea when they hear the term "nuclear battery" and think of something hazardous. Although nuclear batteries generate electricity from atomic energy like nuclear reactors, they don't use a chain reaction, instead using the emissions from a radioactive isotope to generate electricity. So there's no risk of the battery in a pace-maker suffering a meltdown.

The battery being developed by Kwon and his research team is currently the size and thickness of a penny, and is intended to power various micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (M/NEMS). The team's innovation is not only in the battery's size, but also in its semiconductor, which is liquid rather than solid.

"The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor," Kwon said. "By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem."

Kwon has been collaborating with J. David Robertson, chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor, and is working to build and test the battery at the facility. In the future, they hope to increase the battery's power, shrink its size and try various other materials. Kwon said that the battery could be thinner than the thickness of human hair.

Kwon's research appears in the Journal of Applied Physics Letters and Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry.

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