Pebble bed reactor safety demonstration test – ABC video from 2007

I spent about 15 years trying (unsuccessfully) to get a small modular reactor company off the ground. Our concept was based on an adaptation of the successful German pebble bed demonstration reactor called the AVR.

In 2003, Tsinghua University in China completed the construction of the HTR-10, which was essentially a direct copy of the AVR with some updated display and control systems. In 2007, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) produced a Catalyst show about the HTR-10. I watched that show several years ago, and have wanted to share highlights of it with Atomic Insights readers, but I could not obtain permission from the producers to do that.

Recent world events have reminded me about how intrigued I remain about the technology. This morning, I discovered that ABC had produced a tightly clipped version of the show as part of its educational video library. You can download a copy of that show and use it for educational purposes. I encourage you to go and watch the video and read the synopsis of the show on the ABC video collection site. (While you are there, you might want to see what else the site has to offer. Long running news programs have often built valuable libraries of stories.)

I thought that it might be a conversation starter, if I shared a 44 second clip from the original production that did not make it into the educational clip.

From my point of view, the concept introduced is timely and important. Is it better for a nation to “just get money” than to do the hard work of building infrastructure, learning difficult-to-master technology and building a cohort of skilled workers?

What do you think? Should Australia (or the US) follow the advice of the smiling scientist and just wait until we can buy our reactors from China after letting them do all of the hard work?

About Rod Adams

21 Responses to “Pebble bed reactor safety demonstration test – ABC video from 2007”

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  1. Alvaro Bermudez says:

    I´m still laughing about the chineese advise. My position is that every country must develop their potentialities and Australia is not at all the exception. My country Uruguay is a small one but the energy problem is severe and the possibility of having our own energy supply is out of discussion. We do not have oil or gas and we are developing renewables energies but it is not sufficient to cope the demand, so nuclear energy is the answer. The knowledge and expertise is the challenge not the problem.

  2. DV82XL says:

    The great dream of the nuclear power concerns in all countries with an indigenous industry is to export their technology to recoup development costs. That is what is going on here.

    The other problem is that it touches on the issue of foreign control of the energy sector, or at the very least undue foreign influence. I am sure the Chinese, or Koreans would feel much more comfortable having their fuel suppler beholding to them for reactor technology.

  3. James Greenidge says:

    I think most of us got a clue what happens when you shackle your energy needs to an outside party in the late ’70s. New York Life’s (insurance) majority of operations are in Ireland; what they have here in NYC amounts to storefront mail-drops. What good is that to NYC’s economy and employment issues? Homegrown is most always better than eating from someone else’s bowl. I dunno, but maybe the crux of the answer is we need some joint venture of maverick companies or/and entrepreneurs to buy off nuclear plants or sites and foster the construction of such to form an actual true blue stand-alone nuclear company untied to other energy firms. It’d seem to me that running a nuclear plant under such a dedicated corporate umbrella would actually be slightly cheaper to run than the present set-up because then plants could freely share equipment and training and personnel, plus it’d actively advertise and promote and lobby itself in sheer self-interest unlike the current situation. Bill Gates would heartily contribute to the till by his pro-nuke stand and I’m sure there are other closet billionaires of the same mindset. I’d sure like to know if this concept’s been bandied around some.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. James Greenidge says:

    Correction; That’s “New YORK Life”, not “New Years Life.” (No way to post-edit your posts here!)

    James Greenidge

  5. Daniel says:

    Blees argues that Australia should indeed wake up and sell its Uranium before IFR become mainstream. Then they’ll ne stuck with it forever. These silly bans are hurting Australia’s economic potential.

  6. Cal Abel says:

    Australia has some of the largest energy reserves on the planet. It seems like China wants to keep them fat and dumb and dependent on Chinese technology. It seems they are playing Go and attempting to goad their adversary into inaction.

    • Brian Mays says:

      Yeah. If I were a country that is hoping to sell reactors internationally, the last thing that I would want would be other countries starting their own indigenous nuclear industries. Ideally, I wouldn’t even want them to develop the capability of servicing and maintaining the technology, much less building the reactors themselves.

  7. katana0182 says:

    A nation that provides a regulatory and policy environment scaled to the inherent (lack of) risk of advanced reactor concepts like the HTGR and the MSR/LFTR along with a nuclear industrial base is the nation that will develop those reactors even if that nation is a closed society, with substantial political risk, with no respect for academic freedom, with little respect for patents and trade secrets, and with a questionable rule of law.

    The converse is also true. An open, democratic, wealthy, highly capitalistic society with the highest general level of technology in the world, a high level of education, and the largest nuclear R&D complex in the world (even if ill-maintained, underfunded, and occasionally used as a political football) will not develop advanced reactor technologies unless policy and regulation is appropriately scaled to the (lack of) risk they pose.

    Instead, the rich, technologically advanced nation will produce and export paper reactors for others to build elsewhere, as in the AP1000 and HTGR (pebble bed included), and likely in the case of the LFTR.

  8. Jagdish says:

    If the present policies of the US and Australia continue, what the Chinese scientist says will in any case come true.
    While the Australians are mulling over whether to start nuclear power and if they should sell uranium to India, the Chinese will develop breeder reactors and be independent of uranium imports.
    As far as the US is concerned, the IFR and FS-MOS will join the AP-1000.

  9. Barry Sheridan says:

    Rod, as you well know Pebble Bed Technology is just one of two or three nuclear techniques to produce power that are inherently safer than PWR’s. This well known fact will make little difference because the real issue here is the pathetic, and I mean pathetic, attitudes that currently dominate western political, economic and social culture. The drive and interest that once propelled us to create the best standard of living for the most people has reached its peak and now is heading south.

    The technical challenge to build our own versions could be met, but not at the moment because there is no enthusiasm amongst the general populace or its so called leadership for anything remotely connected with risk. Instead they much prefer collectively to wallow in ignorance while fearing their own shadow.

  10. cyril r says:

    Interesting Luddite argument, “you need a lot of infrastructure so don’t even begin with it”.

    I guess the Chinese are not investing in any sort of infrastructure, right?

    If we all followed this advice, we’d still be cavemen.

    It’s all so shallow what’s going on here, as discussed above, the Chinese want to export their tech.

    Much more sadly is that the Australians are likely to follow the advice.

    Personally I don’t care all that much about whether my reactor is Chinese, Korean, French, American or indigenous. As long as we can shut down disgusting coal plants I’m willing to buy from anyone. The Chinese and Koreans copied Western designs, it’s mostly the same technologically. I only hope the instruction manual is not written in Mandarin, that’d be a bugger.

  11. Joris van Dorp says:

    Great comments here, thanks. It’s a shame you never got to build you pebble bed reactor company Rod!

    Some even say that discarding nuclear is the right thing to do *because* it will increase the cost of energy and worsen CO2 emissions. Because it will increase the political and economic pressure to build renewables faster.

    That looks backward. What about the risks of such a ‘shock treatment approach to energy policy and development. Causing energy price rise by artificially reducing supply? And what’s wrong with doing it through taxation instead?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Joris – think critically. Who benefits the most when energy supply is constrained and energy prices rise? Follow the money to understand that the pressure you are noticing just MIGHT not be coming from anti development, small population idealists. Instead, the pressure might be coming from petroleum pushers. (I am already convinced.)

      • Joris van Dorp says:

        It’s a conclusion I would fear to reach. Any light on the horizon at all?

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Joris – why are you afraid to draw what I believe is the logical conclusion? There is light on the horizon – if people recognize that the battle against nuclear energy is not a moral struggle of well meaning people on one side and greedy businesses on the other. Instead, I believe that the battle is a relatively conventional commercial struggle by the currently prosperous purveyors of an inferior product against the market introduction of a superior product that just might put them out of business.

          Rather than adapt to the reality that fission beats fire on many measures of effectiveness and enables a huge benefit to society, I believe that the hydrocarbon hucksters have determined that they will make more money in the short term by fighting for their existing market share.

          The rest of us, the greater than 90% of the human beings on the planet who are energy consumers, not energy producers, have a right to understand the technical details of fission power, to recognize where and why it is superior, and to pressure our government to give it permission to flourish. The hydrocarbon industry has a right to keep promoting its products and to improve them as rapidly as physically possible, but if they lose to fission because it is simply a better energy source, that is the way it goes when people figure out how to improve on existing technology. Some win, some lose, but society as a whole is enriched.

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          Sure, I can see that. I have seen first hand the lengths to which representatives of oil and gas companies have gone to dismiss growing concern about the sustainability of (especially) oil prices. A few years before the peak in conventional oil production, I was at a small conference in which said peak was considered wildly unlikely for at least another 30 years by the then president of RDS. When someone from the public noted the evidence pointing to a near term peak in conventional oil production, the president simply laughed this away as nonsense.

          But to go as far as to say that the demonisation of nuclear power has not come from idealist organisations such as Greenpeace, WNF, etc, but rather from the fossil industries is pretty extreme. It seems to qualify as some sort of conspiracy.

          Without getting to drawn out on this tangent: the reason I used the word ‘fear’ is because I have understood that the civilian nuclear capacbility is a capability that is in actual danger of being lost in western nations. Within a few years perhaps, the west could lose its capability, perhaps permanently. Already, the cost of nuclear has risen significantly (in the west), for a large part due to loss of skilled personnel and manufacturing capability. If that process continues, then by the time rate-payers in the west finally come to understand that energyprices have become unbearable and nuclear must be revived, it will be too late. It seems to me there might be a point of no-return here somewhere, in effect.

          Sure, we could always buy back from the Chinese. But with what money? It seems the western world could face at least 10 years or more of unprecedented economic and financial headwinds to sy the least. The shocking process of destruction of the nuclear industry in the west (or at least in my part of the woods: germany and the netherlands) is a dangerous, lamentable process. If this process is not just the result of ignorance or idealist propaganda, but is in fact actively sponsored by fossil fueled interests. Then what is going to end it, before it is ‘too late’.

          This make any sense to you?

          Thanks.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Joris – I am not delving into conspiracy theory by pointing out that competitors often “go negative” in an effort to capture or protect market share. Have you ever watched the Mac vs PC commercials closely or paid any attention to what the aluminum industry says about plastic bottles?

            Can’t you see what the natural gas industry is doing by producing enough gas to drive down the price and by promoting those low prices as being something that will last long into the future? Do you really believe that message is NOT directed against new nuclear plant projects? Have you calculated just how much money is at stake in keeping US natural gas sales at 24 TCF/year instead of the 16 or so that they would be if nuclear pushed gas out of the electricity production market?

        • Joris van Dorp says:

          I can see that. To be clear, I think you’re right: it is fossil fueled interests behind the anti nuclear propaganda.

          I did not mean to imply that you implied there was a conspiracy, sorry about that. Dutch bluntness.

          BTW, in the Netherlands, there is no negative advertising. I think there’s a law against it. What we do have is a public media that sometimes has dificulty in maintaining objectivity regarding nuclear power. Questions put to pro-nuclear politicians are usually closed, begging the question or assuming false dilemma’s etc. But at least they’re still putting pro-nukes on TV, which is something.

          Of course: any failings of Dutch news broadcasting are nothing compared to the insanity of US ‘news’ broadcasting! No?

  12. Joel Riddle says:

    It may be too late after this post was published for anyone to see this, but I would almost have to guess that Australia’s strong resistance to nuclear energy could be related to their place as the world’s largest exporter of coal as mentioned in last Friday’s EIA posting linked below.

    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4050