SONE Newsletter 289 – August 2023

Posted by Wade Allison on 20 August 2023 in Newsletters

Tagged with: AGM, Batteries, Essay competition, Greg Clark, Harwell, House of Lords, Hyman Rickover, Jubilee, Plutonium, Reform Club, Regulation, Renewables.

This month

Prize Giving and AGM 16 October

All members of SONE are invited to the AGM at the Reform Club at 2pm. Papers will be sent out or emailed beforehand. This year it will be an important occasion at which the winners of the Jubilee Competition will be announced and presented with their prizes. [Entries close on 31 August.]

We also plan a discussion “What we may expect from Nuclear Energy in the next 50 years” with input from the essays and, hopefully, their authors. As usual we will report what SONE has done in the past year, its financial position and will elect its officers and committee for next year. For this, input from members is essential - interest from younger members interested in joining for our quarterly Zoom meetings would be especially welcome.

House of Lords Celebration 27th October at 18.30

All members of SONE should have received a note from John Assheton,, offering application for an official invitation to the 25th Anniversary Celebrations at the House of Lords on 27th October at 18.30. Numbers are limited and immediate application to John is suggested – “when they are gone, they are gone”. We are also inviting members of UK Young Generation Network of the Nuclear Institute, and others actively involved in promoting nuclear energy in the UK – and even some who might be!

Announcement of a Major Change in US Nuclear Regulations, 14 Aug

The following amounts to a vital shift that, when carried through for specific small reactor designs, will open the door to the legal acceptance of the coming nuclear age.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: 23-048 August 14, 2023 CONTACT: Scott Burnell, 301-415-8200

NRC to Issue Final Rule for Emergency Preparedness For Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has directed the staff to issue a final rule and associated regulatory guide that applies risk-informed, performance-based emergency preparedness requirements to small modular reactors and other new technologies. These technologies include non-light-water reactors, research and test reactors and medical radioisotope facilities.

The rule, to be published in the Federal Register later this year, builds on the NRC’s existing emergency preparedness program for large, light-water cooled nuclear power reactors. The rule and related guidance, when published, will address how state-of-the-art facility designs and safety research apply to future operation of small modular reactors and other new technologies.

The rule’s emergency preparedness framework adopts a technology-inclusive and consequence-oriented approach. The requirements include a scalable method to determine the size of the offsite emergency planning zone around a facility. Applicants and licensees for SMRs and other new technologies can use the rule in developing a performance-based emergency preparedness program as an alternative to the current offsite radiological emergency planning requirements.

This rule excludes: large light-water reactors (those licensed to produce greater than 1,000 megawatts thermal power); fuel cycle facilities; and currently operating research and test reactors. These classes of facilities remain under the current requirements.

The Breakthrough Institute commented “On Monday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) did the right thing. The commissioners voted to approve a modernized emergency planning rule for advanced reactors, simplifying one of the many steps needed to bring a new generation of new reactors online.”

Admiral Rickover’s view of the future from 1957

This has been posted as an article on the SONE website:

Shock-horror! It should never have been allowed!

While daily authoritative factual reporting of nuclear news can be found here, the SONE Newsletter continues to offer reports that you might not see elsewhere.

Here is a story that would send today’s media rushing to the nearest bomb shelter in disbelief!

  • “Young Queen handed a lump of Plutonium, the world’s most dangerous element!”
  • But did it happen? Was she alright? Was it a Soviet conspiracy? Let’s check the numbers!

Yes, it happened in 1957 on a visit to Harwell. The Pu-239 was in a plastic bag and Queen Elizabeth was invited to feel its warmth, we are told. This includes a picture taken at the time of her visit.

Anyway, here is a simple calculation to support the story. Just how warm would it feel?

Pu-239 was in a simple plastic bag. Not enough mass for a critical chain reaction – that is to say, any neutron in the plutonium would be more likely escape than create further neutrons. The only significant nuclear activity is its decay with a half-life of 24200 years:

Pu-239 → U-235 + α + 5.245 MeV energy.

This alpha decay energy would be insufficient to penetrate the bag (or her gloves or her skin) and harm the Queen. But how much warmth would this 5.245 MeV energy create. For comparison, the resting metabolic rate of the human body is about one watt per kg of weight.

In one second how many decays occur in 1 kg of Pu-239?
The half life corresponds to a mean life of 24.2 103 × 31 106 / 0.693 seconds = 1.082 1012 seconds.
Number of atoms in 1 kg of Pu-239 is 6.022 1026 / 239 atoms.
So the number of decays per second per kg is 6.022 1026 / (239 × 1.082 1012) = 2.33 1012 Bq/kg.

Each decay has energy 5.245 MeV, which is 5.245 106 × 1.602 10-19 joules = 0.84 10-12 joules

Multiplying these two together, the power per kg produced is 2.33 × 0.84 = 1.96 watts/kg.
This is very close to the normal metabolic rate, so Queen Elizabeth must have felt it to be pleasantly warm. So, the story is very reasonable.

Moral: people should learn to calculate the numbers and reach their own conclusions.

On the other hand, if it had been Jane Fonda instead of Queen Elizabeth, the media script writers would have made up a more exciting story, and the public would have queued round the block to see the film! Like at Fukushima where nobody was affected by the radiation, but the story of a “disaster” sold so well that it continues to be told years after! Evidently, the media are right to think everybody is stupid. However, the public should ask questions when offered shock-horror stories about radiation.

Select Committee on Science and Technology

Greg Clark was formerly UK secretary of state for BEIS and now chairs the Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee. On 31 July he wrote an article in the FT, “Ambition alone will not build UK nuclear power”, saying that the absence of policy continuity has undermined strategy. Fine words, but no action. Is the problem ignorance and intransigence in the Civil Service?

Renewables in trouble – batteries, wind and grid connections too

Renewables have been having a rough time:
Robert Bryce explains some of the many failures. Expectations built on promises and a poor appreciation of the need to deliver energy at the right time and place are coming unstuck.

Batteries are seen to be less safe than assumed:

And another:

Meanwhile the wind industry is having second thoughts about some of their “farms”:
and Siemens have problems with their turbines:

Grid connections are subject to long delays. But if power were supplied by a loose grid of SMRs, sited locally near industrial users and where people live, there would be no need for an expensive grid carrying energy from the north of Scotland or North Africa. Extensive networks of interconnectors are expensive and vulnerable, if not to our enemies then to exceptional weather events.

Copenhagen Atomics

A Danish company has a new design of nuclear reactor that they want to develop in the UK. It is a Thorium fueled molten salt reactor. But why in UK rather than in Denmark? They say they need access to a nuclear regulator, which they do not have, they have an eye on our Plutonium store, and we have a bigger and possibly more receptive market at this stage. They have set up a subsidiary company, UK Atomics. They write:

“A YouTube Video from Copenhagen Atomics gives insight in our production and explains very well what we do and what we could do for the UK. Copenhagen Atomics could supply 30 GW of energy capacity to the UK using the 140 Tons of separated plutonium that’s sits in the UK and should be taken care off. The impact on the UK economy would be enormous. With the solution we have we could produce electricity but also Hydrogen or Ammonia at competitive costs as well in the UK. We are talking to the authorities in the UK, but politics are difficult not only in the UK. We have founded UK atomics to see what we can do in the UK which has a pretty good infrastructure for nuclear. Building our test reactor in 2025 , getting a regulatory approval and then building a commercial reactor in the UK would be fantastic.”*

Long life in evacuation zones

It comes as no surprise to read that those who stay behind when others are evacuated from “disaster” zones, live longer. Chapter and verse are given in Radiobiology and Radiation Hormesis by Charles L. Sanders, published by Springer International Publishing AG, 2017

“Ivan Shamyanok is a 90-year-old villager who refused to leave after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion in 1986. Ivan lives in the Belarusian village of Tulgovichi, which is nestled on the very edge of the exclusion zone created in 1986 to protect humans from fallout. Ivan has lived here without serious health ramifications for 30 years. He drinks a glass of vodka before every meal to boost his appetite. But for the others who left, Tulgovichi said: “they have not fared so well. My sister lived here with her husband. They decided to leave and soon enough they were in the ground.” [21] Anecdotal evidence of elderly people who refused to leave the Chernobyl exclusion zone shows a consistent testimony of relief from arthritic pain and feeling much healthier than before. [22] Holly Morris did a TEDMED video presentation entitled: Chernobyl: Flourishing lives in the dead zone. She had visited Chernobyl and found about 100 now elderly women who refused to leave their homes in 1986. They are thriving with a longevity that is 10 years longer than women who had moved in 1986 [23]. Naoto Matsumura returned to live in the abandoned restricted zone around the Fukushima reactor accident to feed a wide range of animals. [24] Domestic and wild animals in high-radiation zones around Chernobyl and Fukushima thrive with no harmful effects from radiation [17, 23, 24]”*

A new podcast “Radiation and Reason”

Here is a full length podcast and discussion

Wade Allison, Hon Sec
Aug 2023