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China Will Do It – So Why Is the World So Against Pebble Bed Nuclear Reactors?

March 27, 2011

Photo compliments of The New York Times

My posting “Can Pebble Nuclear Reactor Technology Break the Barrier for a Safer and Cheaper Nuclear Power?” was received with a less than positive reaction by the readership.

Negative comments included:
• Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (“PBMR”)   does not exist, the first plant was never built and the South-African government has announced after decades of research to stop funding it. As far as U.S. nuclear involvement, Westinghouse had some interest but faded away as they pulled out of the consortium.
• Hands up from those, who want an installation like this in their neighborhood, please!
• The “pot of gold” is going to explode! The idea of unattended hydrogen plants powered by unattended nuclear reactors is insane!
• There are many arguments against the PBMR, particularly based on bas experience with the 2 PBRs operated in Germany: It is an undisputable fact that the German PBR AVR is the most heavily contaminated nuclear facility worldwide and thus cannot be dismantled for the next 60 to 70 years. Because the contamination is also in the soil, the whole reactor vessel was filled with concrete and will be transported in 2012 by airlifters to an intermediate storage (in order to clean the soil under the reactor from Strontium).
• As an investor the question becomes your evaluation of acceptable risk capacity. Today, the US political risk is as high as any banana republic.
• Earthquake can rip open the pipes letting out helium much quicker than pinhole leaks enabling the graphite coated balls to catch fire like the graphite rods in the Chernobyl plant.
• Cold air hitting carbide wrapped balls will cause them to crack and enable graphite fires.
• Terrorists can steal the balls, crack them open and make dirty bombs and low yield atomic bombs.
• The people who design plants like that and promote them despite the danger should be psychoanalyzed. Are they sociopathically malignant and so evil they don’t care how many people are killed, like greedy traitors who don’t care even if they are in the same country or region

The few positive comments were:
• if this technology has been pushing the Nuclear Subs for as long as it has then it should be safe enough to generate on a Demand side mini-nuke arena… more R&D and it will….
• It is far from new 1 has been in operation over 15 years in Texas and there are quite a few in China. Pebble bed reactors are great they can be scaled and are able to consume the spent fuel of our 2nd generation reactors. Pretty simple grind up the spent fuel and encapsulate the grains in graphite. Allow the fuel to react at full temperature. The resulting waste is hot for centuries instead of millennia.

Nevertheless, a March 24, 2011 article from the New York Times, “A Radical Kind of Reactor,” by Keith Bradsher, states China is building two pebble bed nuclear reactors that are meant to decrease the chances of a meltdown. (

“The Chinese has a determination to build, to show the technology to work, and a commitment to get it done,” said Andrew Kadak, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology nuclear engineer specializing in pebble-bed reactors. “In the U.S. we didn’t have, and still don’t have, the commitment.”

The article points out:
“….. a radically different type of reactor that some experts say offers a safer nuclear alternative.”
“….. the Chinese reactors will use hundreds of thousands of billiard-ball-size fuel elements, each cloaked in its own protective layer of graphite.”
“….. coating moderates the pace of nuclear reactions and is meant to ensure that if the plant had to be shut down in an emergency, the reaction would slowly stop on its own and not lead to a meltdown.”
“….. the Chinese reactors are designed to gradually dissipate heat on their own, even if coolant is lost.”
“….. the Natural Resources Defense Council, an American group, said that such reactors would probably be less dangerous than current nuclear plants, and might be better for the environment than coal-fired plants.”
“….. Greenpeace, the international environmentalist group, opposes pebble-bed nuclear reactors, questioning whether any nuclear technology can be truly safe. Wrapping the uranium fuel in graphite greatly increases the volume of radioactive waste eventually requiring disposal,”
“….. the waste is far less radioactive per ton than spent uranium fuel rods — one of the big sources of trouble at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.”
“….. the environmental cost-benefit analysis contains at least one potential positive: More nukes would let China reduce the heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels that now make it the world’s biggest emitter of global-warming gases.”
“….. Nuclear is an essential alternative” to coal, he said. “It’s the only one that can provide the same quality of electricity at a similar scale in the medium and long term.”
“….. Germany led the initial research into pebble-bed nuclear reactors and built its own research version in the 1960s. That reactor closed after an accident, caused by a jammed fuel pebble that released traces of radiation”
“….. South Africa tried hard until last summer to build a pebble-bed reactor but ran into serious cost overruns.”

Again, China takes a leadership position with a potentially  useful technology that a large portion of the world has turned its back on.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2011 9:37 AM

    The Chinese don’t have to worry about the China Syndrome, now do they; and they aren’t worried about the America Syndrome since it has already happened. uuuggghhh

  2. September 13, 2012 1:35 PM

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