June 12th, 2021

Lethbridge-based nuclear engineer hopeful province will consider nuclear energy production

By Tim Kalinowski on May 5, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Lethbridge-based retired nuclear engineer Cosmos Voutsinos says Albertans should be excited about the potential of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), and he is hopeful the provincial government will seriously consider this form of nuclear energy production in its longer term investment strategy going forward.
Voutsinos says SMR technology not only provides an abundant source of clean energy, it also makes the use of nuclear energy much safer.
“The three (well-known) accidents at Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have contributed quite a few positive things to the nuclear industry,” he explains. “The negative is the fear and lack of public acceptance of nuclear power. The positive thing is the industry of this relatively new technology was forced to come up with designs that address all the public concerns.
“We now can jump ahead through several natural stages of the evolution of the technology into the SMRs (Small Modular Reactors). The SMRs are generation four, now we call them. But the extent of the improvements could easily be called generation 10.”
Voutsinos says SMRs address all the major concerns the public might have about nuclear technology. He ticks them off one at a time in relation to the previously mentioned high-profile nuclear accidents which took place at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, which all suffered what is known as meltdowns when problems with the cooling system produced so much steam it, in his words, “blew the roof off.”
“The loss of cooling accident happens only in water-cooled large reactors,” he explains. “The steam is too much and it blows off the roof. The SMRs are either cooled by liquid metal or liquid salt. Both those coolants are in atmospheric pressure– they are not pressurized so they cannot be exploded. So you cannot blow the roof. You cannot have a Chernobyl.
“The fuel is already in liquid form,” he adds, “so it cannot meltdown. The SMRs are also built with passive controls. What I mean by that is the materials have been selected so the temperature of the materials, the thermal expansion of the materials, triggers the controls. That way it does not need an operator (to manually control it).”
The SMRs also use only small fuel loads, says Voutsinos, eliminating most of the associated waste, and the reactors come pre-loaded with enough fuel sealed inside them for 20 years. After which, he says, the manufacturer can simply come in, load the spent reactor core on a truck, swap it out with a new reactor core, and take the old one away for repurposing.
The fuel needed for one of these 5 MW SMRs, Voutsinos would propose for Alberta, would actually be supplied by the spent fuel used in other contemporary reactors, helping to solve another large problem of the nuclear industry at the same time.
“The spent fuel is all taken care of by design,” Voutsinos explains. “That way you don’t have the problem with spent fuel storage. After the (repurpose) procedure what is left is a much lower volume of contaminants with much lower amounts of radiation, and it lives a lot less time.”
Since no water is used in the reactor, he says, that also eliminates the need to deal with heavy water.
Voutsinos concedes Alberta already has an abundance of energy production, when asked why such an investment, (a 5 MW SMR would cost about $17 million), makes sense for Alberta at this time.
However, he states, most energy in Alberta is supplied by oil which needs a lot of natural gas to process.
The SMRs could be used to produce cleaner burning hydrogen gas in abundance to replace the dependence on natural gas, which is a finite resource, Voutsinos says.
By producing more nuclear energy, considered a renewable form of energy, would also help eliminate Alberta’s dependence on hydro-carbons over time, and by using thorium fuel, he says, it would be a much cleaner form of energy than anything else we have today.
Voutsinos says the first pilot SMRs should be ready for testing in 2026, and be commercially available by 2028.
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Dennis Bremner

Totally agree! If Notley and the NDP want Alternative Energy and demand the destruction of “Oil in Fast time” then they should get on the SMR bandwagon and create a SMR facility in Alberta. Producing SMRs for Canada would be a great repurposing of some of the OilSands already exploited properties.
Its time we all realized that Stable Power or Primary Power can only be replaced with something that is of equal or better reliability. Waiting for massive battery storage farms and the problems associated with that does not make any sense whether logical or financial!
Why did I say NDP? Quite easy to see the present fiasco of government is a one trick pony with no tricks left, whereas the NDP in waiting will expend their trick as quickly. So lets hope the trick is SMRs before they too become a fiasco, ………….again!

Last edited 1 month ago by Dennis Bremner
John P Nightingale

Agreed. Nuclear should be part of a “greener” future.

Seth Anthony

All reputable energy experts say just that. Actually, they typically say it “has” to be part of a greener future.

Now it’s a matter quelling the irrational public fear which has been garnered by fossil fuel industry propaganda. Further to that, is the certain outspoken public that knows nothing about energy production, yet has the tenacity to argue for and against particular types of energy production. These are the ignorant people yelling in the streets, “No nuclear!’.

To not pursue the clean and infinite power of the atom, is outright idiocy.

Last edited 1 month ago by Seth Anthony

with all honesty: is there any radioactive material that cannot be rendered harmless with 4th gen (“burying” such stuff does not seem wise)? how long would the process take?

Dennis Bremner

Present Nukes consider a rod expended at 5%ish (Not a nuclear scientist). 4th Gen can take the 5% and operate and deplete the 5% rod to something like 1% or slightly less. That 1% rod is then much more easily stored.
The interesting thing about SMRs I find is the concept of the Salt Moderated Reactor. These reactors have been experimented with since the 1950s but it has just been in the last few years that they have perfected the Moderation.
My rudimentary understanding passes along the concept, so don’t build a reactor based on my info:) . How these things work is quite amazing, at least for me they are! As the nuclear reaction takes place by using Pebbles of Uranium or Thorium, the pebbles are physically separated from touching each other with a coating of both Natural and synthetic graphite. So its like dipping a donut in sugar. The Pebble (about the size of a tennis ball) is coated with a graphite cover. These Pebbles are stuck in a hopper like a grain hopper. The voids are filled with salt.
When the reaction starts it heats and melts the salt which is also the medium used to pass the heat to the receiving coil. The unique part of this is that as the reactor attempts to runaway, and creates excess heat, the salt then starts to release “atoms” (not a nuclear scientist) and these atoms then interrupt the collisions creating the nuclear reaction. Reducing the collisions reduces the reactions, reducing the reactions, then reduces the heat and the salt slowly stops releasing the atoms. This allows the reactor to “self moderate”.
Thats the “gist” of this. So the idea is literally a 40 foot container that could be moved from place to place with little human intervention and a Big ON/OFF switch on the outside and a plug that you “plug in your neighborhood”.
The Pebbles at the bottom of the hopper have been in the Reactor the longest and are released at the depot and new Pebbles added to the top of the Reactor.
The Pebbles are then stored in 45 gallon drums and because of their “less than 1% all you have to do is stay X feet away from the containers. No Heavy water storage etc.
So the 4th Gen creates no new demand for U308 or Thorium and it depletes the disaster the early version made which a storage in Heavy water pools depleting the Pools into non existence.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dennis Bremner

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