New Study Tells Us Where To Hide When The Nukes Are Coming

Geopolitics is a funny thing. Decades can go by with little concern, only for old grudges to suddenly boil to the surface and get the sabers a-rattlin’. When those sabers happen to be nuclear weapons, it can be enough to have you mulling the value of a bomb shelter in your own backyard.

Yes, every time the world takes a turn for the worse, we start contemplating what we’d do in the event of a nuclear attack. It’s already common knowledge that stout reinforced concrete buildings offer more protection than other flimsier structures. However, a new study has used computer modelling to highlight the best places to hide within such a building to maximise your chances of survival.

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Honey, We Shrunk The Nuclear Reactor

[Power Engineering] took a trip to the Westinghouse facility that provides maintenance for nuclear reactors. The research division there has a new microreactor called eVinci and — according to the company — it is a disruptor. Technically, the device is a heat pipe-based passive cooling design that can generate 5 MW of electricity or 13 MW of heat from a 15 MW heater core. You can see a video about the device below.

The company says its initial targets are remote areas like mines that usually depend on diesel generators. Hundreds of passive heat pipes inside a graphite core which contains TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel pellets. The heat pipes allow efficient transfer of thermal energy with no pumps.

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Overhead satellite view of a coal-fired power plant next to a heat map showing the suitability of terrain in the region for siting a nuclear power plant

Coal To Nuclear Transition To Decarbonize The Grid

We love big projects here at Hackaday, and one of the biggest underway is the decarbonization of the electric grid. The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently published a report (PDF) on how placing nuclear reactors on coal plant sites in the US could help us get closer to the zero carbon grid of our dreams.

After evaluating both operating and recently retired coal-fired plants in the US, the researchers determined that around 80% of medium and large coal plants would be good candidates for coal to nuclear (C2N). Up to 263 GWe could be installed at over 315 different sites around the country which would be more than the 145 GWe expected to go offline as the remaining coal plants in the country shut down. Siting nuclear reactors at these existing sites could reduce installation costs 15-35% while also providing jobs for workers in the area who might otherwise be displaced when the coal plants shut down. Local greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) could drop up to 86% along with a significant drop in other air pollutants which would be another win for the fenceline communities living and working around these coal plants.

Nuclear power is certainly not without its drawbacks, but new reactor designs like TerraPower’s Natrium promise lower costs than current light water reactor designs while also being able to reuse the spent fuel from our current nuclear fleet. TerraPower is developing the first C2N project in the US at the Naughton Power Plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

We’ve recently covered Cogeneration and District Heating which would get a boost from more nuclear power, but, if that’s too grounded for you, might we suggest Space-Based Solar Power?

Building A Glowing Demon Core Lamp

The so-called Demon Core was a cursed object, a 6.2 kilogram mass of plutonium intended to be installed in a nuclear weapon. Instead, slapdash experimental techniques saw it feature in several tragic nuclear accidents and cause multiple fatalities. Now, you can build yourself a lamp themed after this evil dense sphere.

A later recreation of the infamous “Slotin Accident” that occurred with the Demon Core. Credit: Public Domain, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Creator [skelly] has designed the lamp to replicate the Slotin incident, where the spherical Demon Core was placed inside two half-spheres of beryllium which acted as neutron reflectors to allow it to approach criticality. Thus, the core is printed as a small sphere which is thin enough to let light escape, mimicking the release of radiation that doomed Louis Slotin. The outer spheres are then printed in silvery PLA to replicate the beryllium half-spheres. It’s all assembled atop a stand mimicking those used in the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s.

To mimic the Core’s deadly blue glow, the build uses cheap LED modules sourced from Dollar Tree lights. With the addition of a current limiting resistor, they can easily be run off USB power in a safe manner.

The Demon Core has become a meme in recent times, perhaps as a new generation believes themselves smart enough not to tinker with 6.2 kilograms of plutonium and a screwdriver. That’s not to say there aren’t still dangerous nuclear experiments going on, even the DIY kind. Be careful out there!

Russian Doomsday Radios Go Missing

Normally we like hearing about old military gear going on the surplus market. But if you encounter some late-model Russian radio and crypto equipment for sale you might want to make sure it isn’t hot (English translation). If you prefer not picking through the machine translation to English, the BBC also has a good write-up.

The Russians maintain four large planes set up as flying command and control bunkers in case of nuclear war — so-called “doomsday planes.” Like the U.S. ABNBC (better known as Looking Glass) fleet, the planes can provide the President or other senior leaders a complete command capability while in flight. As you might expect, the radios and gear on the plane are highly classified.

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NASA Claims Cold Fusion Without Naming It

Do you remember in 1989 when two chemists announced they’d created a setup that created nuclear fusion at room temperature? Everyone was excited, but it eventually turned out to be very suspect. It wasn’t clear how they detected that fusion occurred and only a few of the many people who tried to replicate the experiment claimed success and they later retracted their reports. Since then, mentioning cold fusion is right up there with perpetual motion. Work does continue though, and NASA recently published several papers on lattice confinement fusion which is definitely not called cold fusion, although it sounds like it to us.

The idea of trapping atoms inside a metallic crystal lattice isn’t new, dating back to the 1920s. It sounds as though the NASA method uses erbium packed with deuterium. Photons cause some of the deuterium to fuse. Unlike earlier attempts, this method produces detectable neutron emissions characteristic of fusion.

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Alternative Uses For Nuclear Waste

Nuclear power is great if you want to generate a lot of electricity without releasing lots of CO2 and other harmful pollutants. However, the major bugbear of the technology has always been the problem of waste. Many of the byproducts from the operation of nuclear plants are radioactive, and remain so for thousands of years. Storing this waste in a safe and economical fashion continues to be a problem.

Alternative methods to deal with this waste stream continue to be an active area of research. So what are some of the ways this waste can be diverted or reused?

Fast Breeders Want To Close The Fuel Cycle

The Superphénix reactor in France is one of a handful of operational fast-neutron reactor designs.

One of the primary forms of waste from a typical nuclear light water reactor (LWR) is the spent fuel from the fission reaction. These consist of roughly 3% waste isotopes, 1% plutonium isotopes, and 96% uranium isotopes. This waste is high in transuranic elements, which have half-lives measured in many thousands of years. These pose the biggest problems for storage, as they must be securely kept in a safe location for lengths of time far exceeding the life of any one human society.

The proposed solution to this problem is to instead use fast-neutron reactors, which “breed” non-fissile uranium-238 into plutonium-239 and plutonium-240, which can then be used as fresh fuel. Advanced designs also have the ability to process out other actinides, also using them as fuel in the fission process. These reactors have the benefit of being able to use almost all the energy content in uranium fuel, reducing fuel use by 60 to 100 times compared to conventional methods.

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