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CNDI - Nuclear Energy Aff

CNDI - Nuclear Energy Aff

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Published by: AffNeg.Com on Jan 08, 2009
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Nuclear reactors are not safe as they sacrifice safety features for a cheaper price.

Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at NIRS and a report author, Nuclear Information
and Resource Service, March 2001, http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/pbmrfactsheet.htm, “THE PEBBLE


Unlike light water reactors that use water and steam, the PBMR design would use pressurized helium heated in the
reactor core to drive a series of turbine compressors that attach to an electrical generator. The helium is cycled to a
recuperator to be cooled down and returned to cool the reactor while the waste heat is discharged to the
environment. Designers claim there are no accident scenarios that would result in significant fuel damage and
catastrophic release of radioactivity.

These industry safety claims rely on the heat resistant quality and integrity of the tennis ball-sized graphite fuel
assemblies or "pebbles," 400,000 of which are continuously fed from a fuel silo through the reactor "little by little"
to keep the reactor core only marginally critical. Each spherical fuel element has an inner graphite core embedded
with thousands of smaller fuel particles of enriched uranium (up to 10 %) encapsulated in multi-layers of non-porous
hardened carbon. The slow circulation of fuel through the reactor provides for a small core size that minimizes
excess core reactivity and lowers power density, all of which is credited to safety.

However, so much credit is given to the integrity and quality control of the coated fuel pebbles to retain the
radioactivity that no containment building is planned for the PBMR design. While the elimination of the
containment building provides a significant cost savings for the utility—perhaps making the design economically
feasible—the trade-off is public health and safety.

The protective containment building also is nixed because it would hinder the design’s passive cooling feature of the
reactor core through natural convection (air cooling). Exelon also proposes a dramatic reduction in additional reactor
safety systems and procedures (i.e. no emergency core cooling system and a reduced one-half mile emergency
planning zone as compared to a 10-mile emergency planning zone for light water reactors) to provide for further
reducing PBMR construction and operation costs.

To date, however, Exelon has not submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission descriptions of challenges that
could lead to a radiological accident such as a fire that ignites the combustible graphite loaded into the core. Fire and
smoke then become the transport vehicle for radioactivity released to the environment from damaged fuel.

In addition, the lack of containment would require 100%-perfect quality control in the manufacture of the fuel
pellets—an impossible goal. Imperfections in fuel pellet manufacture could lead to higher radiation releases during
normal operation than is the case with conventional reactors.


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