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Nuclear power has demonstrated excellent technical and economic performance in many countries but, like any advancing technology, it continues to chase improvements. The industry's accumulated experience is now being used to develop advanced nuclear power plant designs.
With the majority of Generation I reactors developed in the 1950s and '60s now decommissioned, Generation II reactors represent the bulk of fleets in operation globally today. Generation III (and 3+) are advanced reactors under construction in several countries but have yet to enter operation, while Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not become operational before 2030 at the earliest.
Enhanced safety and improved economic competitiveness are common goals for these advanced designs. The lessons learned from the nuclear accidents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (US) have been applied since the first stages of Generation III plant design, with the major safety objective of reducing the likelihood of accidents, as well as mitigating their consequences in the event that they occur.
In the past, basic design and licensing requirements were developed on a country-specific basis and, even within the same country; different utilities defined their own requirements. Starting in the 1980s and following the energy market liberalisation that opened national borders to different utilities, a tendency towards overall standardisation has developed among both vendors and utilities so that designs will be suitable for deployment in different countries.
In this context the Utility Requirements Document (URD), developed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in the US and the European Utility Requirements (EUR) document developed by the major European utilities provide a common framework and guidance for development of next-generation nuclear power plants. They enable standardised plant designs that can be offered in different countries without any major design changes.
Renewed focus on safety
For the first time, the requirements have directly addressed not only the design basis accidents, but also the severe accidents -- i.e. certain unlikely event sequences beyond design basis accidents and involving significant core damage. Design features both to improve prevention of severe accidents involving core damage and to mitigate their consequences are being incorporated in the design of advanced plants. Examples of such preventative measures are:
Larger water inventories (large pressurizers, large steam generators), lower power densities, negative reactivity coefficients to increase margins and reaction periods for operators, thereby reducing system challenges.
Redundant and diverse safety systems with proven high reliability and improved physical separation between systems. Each of the main safety systems is subdivided into identical sub-systems (four in the EPR plant), with each one capable of carrying out the entire safety function on its own and housed in its own building with electrical supply and support systems. This seeks to overcome the risk of simultaneous failure of all the safety systems because of internal (flooding, fire, etc.) or external (earthquake) events.
Passive cooling and condensing systems. Passive systems rely only on natural forces (gravity, natural circulation, evaporation) to achieve their safety function without the use of active machinery (pumps, heat exchanger, etc.). Such systems automatically establish and maintain safe shutdown conditions in the plant without operator action following design-basis events, including an extended loss of both on-site and off-site AC power sources. This minimises the potential contribution of a station blackout to core melt sequences.
Improved man-machine interface to reduce the operator burden during an accident.
Addressing severe accidents phenomena
Mitigation of severe accidents phenomena is also considered in new plant designs:
High-pressure melt ejection and direct containment heating. Early containment failure from high-pressure melt ejection is prevented by incorporating the means to reliably depressurise the primary system prior to vessel melt-through. Direct containment heating is minimised by arrangements to collect and confine the molten core debris.
Hydrogen combustion. Large containment volume to minimise hydrogen concentration and the installation of igniters and/or autocatalytic recombiners to reduce the likelihood of hydrogen explosion.
Core-concrete interactions. There are different strategies to assure corium cool ability and prevent core-concrete interaction. One concept provides a core catcher to collect the molten core outside the reactor pressure vessel and provide cooling of the molten material. Another is based on an in-vessel retention concept (retaining the molten core debris in the reactor vessel via water cooling of the external surface of the reactor vessel) to avoid core-concrete interaction.
The containment is the last barrier to the prevention of large releases of radioactive material into the environment. This means that the outer containment must remain intact and leak tight in case of a severe meltdown accident. Acceptable technologies for the primary containment are metallic, reinforced concrete with a liner, or pre-stressed concrete with or without a liner. Containment system design enhancements include higher design pressure and low-leakage factors, as well as measures to protect the containment, which include a reactor cavity flooding system, hydrogen control systems and the means to spread and cool a molten core.
Containment systems for Generation III plants are characterised by a secondary containment that collects possible leakage from primary containment. In addition, the primary containment is protected from external events (including gas cloud explosion, aircraft crash, etc.) by a shield building.
Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, it will be necessary to critically reappraise the causes and the weak points identified by the sequence of events leading to the accident in order to properly check that the safety features implemented in the Generation III plants are adequate and sufficient to prevent similar accidents and their consequences in future plants.
Italian Nuclear Industry is ready to compete
Italy was a pioneer of civil nuclear power and by the mid-1960s had the third most advanced nuclear power generation programme in the world behind the US and the UK. After the Chernobyl accident in 1986 however, the Italian people voted in favour of a referendum, which initially called for the restriction and suspension of the nuclear programme but ultimately stopped all activity in the nuclear sector. However, even in the absence of a domestic market, the Italian Nuclear industry has kept its design and manufacturing capabilities, and since the 1990s the core of the Italian nuclear industry has been involved in projects outside Italy.
After the recent events in Fukushima and the decisions taken by the Italian government -- namely the recent law dealing with the licensing of nuclear plants in Italy being repealed -- the future of nuclear power in Italy is once again under discussion.
As the Italian nuclear industry has retained its manufacturing and design capabilities, it is ready to compete in today's nuclear energy market, which for the next few years will be found, once more, beyond Italy's national borders. In China, Ansaldo Nucleare -- in a joint venture with Mangiarotti Nuclear -- is charged with design activities related to the steel containment vessel (CV) for the Sanmen 1 plant and also to support manufacturing at the Haiyang SNPEMC workshop and construction at Sanmen site. Moreover, the Joint Venture has designed and manufactured the Passive Residual Heat Removal Heat Exchanger, installed in the first AP1000 plant.
Meanwhile, in the US, excavation work has already commenced at two sites, V Summer in South Carolina and Vogtle in Georgia, where procurement activities for both have involved Italian companies. In particular, IBF has been awarded the supply of RCL piping, while Mangiarotti has been awarded the supply of accumulators, the core make-up tank, the passive residual heat removal heat exchanger and the pressurizer.
Today, more than 30 Italian companies are currently involved in the construction of Generation III plants, three of which are detailed in the following:
The Westinghouse AP1000 is a 2-loop PWR with a net electrical power of 1117 MWe. It has evolved from the smaller AP600, and was the first Generation III+ reactor design certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), in 2005. Simplification was a major design objective in order to enhance the construction, operation, maintenance and safety of the plant. The AP1000 plant uses passive safety systems to further enhance plant safety and to satisfy utilities requirements
Areva NP (formerly Framatome ANP) has developed a large (4590 MWt -- typically 1750 MWe gross and 1630 MWe net) European Pressurised Water Reactor, which was confirmed in the middle of 1995 as the new standard design for France and received French design approval in 2004. It is a 4-loop design derived from the German Konvoi design with features from the French N4. The main safety systems are organized into four sub-systems or `trains'. Each is capable of providing 100 per cent safety functions alone. Each train is installed in one of the four emergency buildings, separated by the reactor building. Simultaneous failure of the trains is thereby avoided.
GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy's ESBWR (Economic Simplified BWR) is a Generation III+ technology that utilises passive safety features and natural circulation principles and is essentially an evolution of a previous design, the 670 MWe SBWR. The emergency core cooling system has eliminated the need for pumps by using passive and stored energy. One of the ESBWR passive safety systems, the isolation condenser, was designed by Ansaldo, which also manufactured the first prototype.
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Italy definitely needs to increase domestic production of electric power. However, given the present economic climate, expanded Italian nuclear power may be many years into the future. There are prospects for nuclear power from Israel to find its way into Italy, courtesy of the undersea power cable that connects Southern Italy to Greece and the proposed cable that will connect Greece to Israel, via Cyprus.
An undersea power cable already connects Spain and Morocco and perhaps within a few years, new undersea power cables will connect Italy to Algeria and Tunisia. Italy may likely import electric power for several years before Italy is able to develop new domestic nuclear power.
Ferdinand E. Banks 6.2.12
Thank you for this article. I gave a talk at the University of Siena a few years ago in which I suggested that Italy had much to gain and nothing to lose with nuclear energy, but my reasoning was correctly rejected because the Italian people do not want nuclear. They believe, which is probably true at present and in the near future, that they can manage with imported gas from North Africa, and perhaps electricity from France and elsewhere. Note the expression "at present and in the near future".
The thing of particular interest to me is that the very smart Italian economists etc that I met did not give a song and dance on renewables and alternatives, because they know - as I know - that nuclear cannot be rejected.
In the long run the Italians will have as much nuclear as e.g. Germany, where the nuclear retreat was set in motion in order to obtain a few votes for Ms Merkel and her foot soldiers. I know Germany and I know Japan, and those countries will NEVER give up nuclear, because it will always be possible to explain to Germans and Japanese what nuclear means for their standard of living. They may think that they will and should give it up, but that mistake will be revealed to them in due course.
In reality, there is no reason to hurry where nuclear is concerned. The new Gen 3 reactors need to be launched in a few countries, and 'tuned up' so that their superior economics and reliability can be perceived by decision makers everywhere, just as the voters need to have the truth about nuclear explained to them by people who understand this medium, and know how to deliver the message. That will take some time though, because as far as I am concerned the Chinese have made the nuclear future clear..
As for renewables and alternatives, there is no country in the world where there as been as much talk about them as here in Sweden. but at the same time less has been done. The reason for this is that Swedish managers and engineers have no intention whatsoever to play the fool for badly-educated members of the anti-nuclear booster clubs.
Ferdinand E. Banks 6.4.12
Not many comments yet, well, I just finished a very long paper and I will make sure to refer to your article. This is a valuable article.
Len Gould 6.4.12
Italy is a puzzle for me. Italians take second place to no-one as far as technical capabilities go, the country has few if any local energy resources, and is relatively very isolated from other countries which have good low-cost fuel resources, yet the country has done little if anything to develop a nuclear energy industry. It seems more logical for Italy than say Germany, which at least has indigenous coal. Perhaps the people simply can't trust their governments enough?
bill payne 6.5.12
What are the Janpanse up to?
Last year's tsunami crisis left Japan's nuclear future in doubt and its reactors idled, rendering its huge stockpile of plutonium useless for now. So, the nuclear industry's plan to produce even more this year has raised a red flag.
Nuclear industry officials say they hope to start producing a half-ton of plutonium within months, in addition to the more than 35 tons Japan already has stored around the world. That's even though all the reactors that might use it are either inoperable or offline while the country rethinks its nuclear policy after the tsunami-generated Fukushima crisis. ...
Japanese officials argue that, once those plans are in place, the reactors will draw down the stockpile and use up most of it by 2030.
"There is no excess plutonium in this country," said Koichi Imafuku, an official at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. "It's not just lying around without purpose."
bill payne 6.5.12
Google 'Not Easy Being Green, But It Sure Has Proven Expensive' By Jonah Goldberg / Syndicated Columnist on Mon, Jun 4, 2012
It was interesting while it lasted. But it looks like the “green revolution” has entered the long slide into “What was all that about?”
Malcolm Rawlingson 6.5.12
Bill, Not sure what you are on about. All Japanese nuclear reactors use Uranium not plutonium as their fuel and there is no large "stockpile" of plutonium. The only use for plutonium is nuclear weapons and fast breeder reactors although it can be blended with uranium but Japan has not done this and it has only been done experimentally in the US and Russia. The reason Japanese reactors are not operating is due to the odd regulatory regime in that country where the local prefectures decide whether they should operate - not the central regulatory agency. Local politics rule the day there. Many reactors are undergoing extensive analysis to determine whether they can withstand a Magnitude 9 earthquake as well as upgrades to ensure they can withstand Tsunamis of the size that hit Fukushima.
Once the Japanese public gets tired of the imposed rolling blackouts all the reactors will be back operating again. It is just a matter of time and the realization that no-one actually got hurt by Fukushima and the radiation exposures most people received were no worse than members of the public receive from natural radiation from the ground in some parts of the world.
In other words more media hype not supported by facts.
Malcolm Rawlingson 6.5.12
Monica - a fine well written article. I am sure that Italian engineers whom I regard as some of the finest in the world will play an important role in developing the Italian nuclear program. I had the opportunity to visit Cirene many years ago and was impressed by the quality and ingenuity of the engineers there. After all this is the country that builds my favorite car - The Maserati Quattroporte convertible which is the most beautiful car in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the engineering capabilities of Italy and your company - Ansaldo - will be key to getting Italy out of the economic doldrums now that you have purged the country of idiot politicians like Burlusconi.
I am sure that you will be successful and that Italy will soon have a robust nuclear program.
dennis baker 6.6.12
why would Italia buy yesterdays technology , instead of investing in tomorrows reactor , and then exporting the technology at a proffit?
The primary source of GHG is fossil fuel burning electrical generating facilities. http://dingo.care2.com/pictures/causes/uploads/2012/01/GHG-emitters-2010.jpg 7 Billion humans generate vast quantities of excrement. I believe this excrement is capable of providing all human electrical demands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiolysis Right now hydrogen is perceived as a negative by product, of Nuclear Energy, when it should be the product, as the Pentagon has considered. reference info Request for Information (RFI) on Deployable Reactor Technologies ... DARPA-SNfirstname.lastname@example.org https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=d0792af88a6a4484b3aa9d0dfeaaf553&... Large scale conversions sites are intended to replace fossil fuel powered electrical facilities the Primary Source of Carbon Emissions. http://www.populist.com/99.12.krebs.blob.html In what officials now say was a mistaken strategy to reduce the waste's volume, organic chemicals were added years ago which were being bombarded by radiation fields, resulting in unwanted hydrogen. The hydrogen was then emitted in huge releases that official studies call burps, causing "waste-bergs," chunks of waste floating on the surface, to roll over.
Dennis Baker 106-998 Creston Avenue Penticton BC V2A1P9 cell phone 250-462-3796 Phone / Fax 778-476-2633 email@example.com @dennisearlbaker
Ferdinand E. Banks 6.6.12
Hmm. The Japanese have had a sort of breeder program going for a long time, and ostensibly with little success. Hmm again, because they are not in a hurry. They were also expanding their plutonium 'stash' when I looked into the matter about 20 years ago.
And Malcolm, what you call media hype I call media hype based on ignorance. The Swedish Energy Minister is completely ignorant about energy issues, but she means well, and her favorite media people have told her that renewables can replace nuclear. She makes no secret of the fact that she believes them in her heart and soul.
I too am certain that Italy will someday have a robust nuclear program, but not soon.
Malcolm Rawlingson 6.7.12
Agree Fred. No Italian reactors in the immediate future - but I am sure that they are capable of building successful nuclear reactors any time they have the desire.
Yes unfortunately there is much ignorance about what it takes to produce the electricity we take for granted. The system is so reliable that no-one even thinks about what goes into making it....except when it goes off which is very infrequently. Unfortunately for you dear Minister of Energy her energy delusion is about to hit her square in the face when the realization that renewables don't work to the extent that she believes in her heart and soul. Unfortunately believing in the wind does not make it blow more often or any stronger. I feel sorry for you guys over there. Malcolm
Ferdinand E. Banks 6.10.12
As I've said many times Malcolm. The managers and engineers in this country arn't fooled for a fraction of a second by people like that ignorant woman and the moronic men prowling around the building in which she works. Of course, as I've also said, those managers and engineers keep their disbelief to themselves.