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Russia develops fuel for nuclear power generation that produces no radioactive waste

Russia’s ‘Breakthrough’ energy project enables closed a nuclear fuel cycle and a future without radioactive waste. The first batch of MOX nuclear fuel has been manufactured for the world’s only NPP industrially power generating breeder reactors.

The first ten kilograms of the mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) – a mixture of plutonium and uranium dioxides (UO2 and PuO2), have been industrially produced by Russia’s nuclear monopoly, Rosatom, at the Mining & Chemical Combine (GKhK) in the Krasnoyarsk region.

A world first, tablets of the fuel of the future have been put on serial production and are destined for Russia’s next generation BN-800 breeder reactor (880 megawatts), currently undergoing tests at the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant.

The production line, now undergoing start-up and adjustment, was assembled in a mine 200 meters underground and will become fully operational by the end of 2014.

Fast fission reactors solve the problem of depleted uranium nuclear fuel on the planet. They can ‘burn’ not only ‘classic’ uranium-235, (scarce and already coming to an end), but also uranium-238, which is abundant, and expands the world’s nuclear fuel capacity by an estimated 50 times.

Fuel for breeder reactors could even be made from nuclear waste, which from an ecological point of view is a priceless advantage.

The GKhK facility will be equipped with a unique dissolvent reactor that will break down nuclear waste containing plutonium and extract plutonium dioxide to be used in MOX-fuel production.

Also, while producing electric energy, breeder reactors actually generate more fissile material, and that one also can be used as nuclear fuel.

The GKhK plant is Russia’s leading full nuclear fuel cycle complex, processing nuclear waste from power generating nuclear reactors to establish future nuclear fuel ring closure.

MOX-fuel for previous versions of fast breeder reactors in the USSR and Russia had limited production at Russia’s oldest Mayak nuclear processing facility.

Starting from 2016, industrial-level MOX-fuel production in Russia will run at full capacity.

“Produced MOX-fuel tablets fully conform to the technical specifications,” Rosatom’s statement said, adding that the fuel will now be thoroughly tested.

Humankind has already produced so much nuclear waste that it would take decades, if not hundreds of years to process and recycle it. As of now, the only light at the end of the tunnel is fast-neutron reactor technology.

The fast-neutron nuclear – or breeder – reactors use technology that enables the use of a wider range of radioactive elements as fuel, thus considerably enlarging the potential stock of nuclear fuel for electric power generation.

Russia is the only country that operates fast neutron reactors industrially.

After decades of research, practically all breeder reactor projects around the world, including in the US, France, Japan and several other countries possessing nuclear energy technologies, were closed down. The only country that currently has operating breeder reactor power generation is Russia.

Over the last 50 years the USSR, then Russia, introduced a number of industrial and research fast neutron reactors. One of them, the BN-600 (600 megawatt), running at the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant since 1980, is the only fast neutron reactor in the world that generates electricity on an industrial scale. The BN-600 is also the most powerful operable fast neutron reactor in the world.

The Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant is in Zarechny, some 45 kilometers from the regional center of Yekaterinburg, in the Urals region.

This year a new BN-800 breeder reactor will become operable at the Beloyarskaya plant.

The service life of the BN-800 breeder reactor is expected to be 45 years. Every month it will produce 475 million kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to ensure constant supply to 3.15 million families (the average monthly consumption of a family of three is 150 kilowatt hours).

The BN-800 uses liquid metal sodium (Na) as a coolant heat transfer agent. Commercial operation of the new reactor is planned to start in early 2015.

Russian physicists have already elaborated the next step for the revolutionary technology: a BN-1200 breeder reactor that is set to be assembled at the same Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant by 2020.

Overall, eight BN-1200 breeder reactors are expected to be constructed by 2030, which means that Russia is the only nation that is entering a new era of nuclear energy power generation – the closed nuclear fuel cycle, in other words truly clean and practically unlimited nuclear power generation.

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Science & Technology

NTP nuclear rocket engine will take humans to Mars in just three months

Although the romance of the peaceful atom has subsided since the mid-1960s, the idea of ​​using nuclear reactors for “civilian” purposes is still regularly returned. The new nuclear rocket engine (NRM) will deliver a man to Mars much faster than is possible now.

The danger of cosmic radiation is much more serious than the risk of infection from an accident with such an engine. The most dangerous of all the constraining vectors for projects of sending people to other bodies in the solar system is cosmic radiation. Radiation from our star and galactic rays can seriously damage the health of the mission crew. Therefore, when planning flights to Mars, engineers and scientists try to reduce travel time as much as possible.

One promising way to get to the Red Planet in just three months could be a new NTP engine. Its concept was developed and submitted to NASA by Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies ( USNC-Tech ) from Seattle, USA. The name of the unit is simply deciphered – Nuclear Thermal Propulsion ( NTP ), that is, “thermal nuclear power plant”. The novelty differs from its previously created or invented counterparts in the most secure design.

A key component of USNC’s development is mid – grade uranium fuel “pellets”. They contain 5% to 20% of the highly reactive isotope U- 235 coated with zirconium carbide ceramics. This degree of enrichment lies roughly halfway between the “civilian” nuclear power plants and the military. The proprietary ceramic coating technology makes the tablets incredibly resistant to mechanical damage and extreme temperatures.

Schematic diagram of a thermal nuclear rocket engine / © Wikipedia |  Tokono
Schematic diagram of a thermal nuclear rocket engine / © Wikipedia | Tokono

The company promises that their fuel elements are significantly superior in these parameters to those currently used at nuclear power plants. As a result, the engine will have a higher specific impulse with a lower degree of uranium enrichment than in earlier versions of NRE. In addition to the flight to Mars, among the goals of the ambitious project are other missions within the solar system. The perspectives of the concept will soon be considered by specialists from NASA and the US Department of Defense ( DoD ). Perhaps departments will even allow its commercial use by private companies.

Theoretically, NRE based on modern technologies can have a specific impulse (SR) seven times higher than that of chemical jet engines. And this is one of the key performance parameters. At the same time, unlike electric and plasma ones, the ID of a nuclear rocket engine is combined with high thrust. One of the limiting factors in the use of NRE, in addition to safety issues, are extremely high temperatures in the reactor core.

The higher the temperature of the gases flowing out of the engine, the more energy they have. And accordingly, they create traction. However, mankind has not yet come up with relatively inexpensive and safe materials that can withstand more than three thousand degrees Celsius without destruction. The solution created by USNC will operate at the limit of modern materials science (3000 ° C) and have a specific impulse twice that of the best liquid-propellant engines.

Tests of the first nuclear jet engine in 1967 / © NASA
Tests of the first nuclear jet engine in 1967 / © NASA

The official press release does not specify which working body will be used in NTP . Usually, in all NRE projects, the reactor core heats hydrogen, less often ammonia. But, since we are talking about a long-term mission, the creators could have chosen some other gas. Keeping liquid hydrogen on board for three months is no easy task. But you still need to invent something for the way back.

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Scientist Peter Scott-Morgan is set to become “the world’s first complete cyborg”

Scientist and roboticist Peter Scott Morgan, who is using an advanced version of Stephen Hawking's communication system, built by Intel. INTEL

Two years ago scientist Peter Scott-Morgan was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and today he is still fighting for a new life, not just for survival.

This October, Dr. Scott-Morgan is on track to become the world’s first full-fledged cyborg, potentially giving him more years of life.

The world’s first complete cyborg

It was in 2017 that Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan (a brilliant robotics writer, scientific writer, and talented speaker) was diagnosed with degenerative motor neuron disease that ultimately paralyzed his entire body except his eyes.

The diagnosis is understandably grim, especially considering that he has only two years to live, but he has not given up the fight.

Teaming up with world-class organizations with expertise in artificial intelligence, Dr. Scott-Morgan is transforming himself into what he calls “the world’s first fully fledged cyborg.”

“And when I say ‘Cyborg’, I mean not just that some kind of payment will be implanted in me, I mean that I will become the most advanced human cybernetic organism ever created on Earth for 13.8 billion years. My body and brain will be irreversibly changed, ”says Dr. Scott-Morgan.

What does it mean to be human

According to Dr. Scott-Morgan, he will become part robot and part living organism. Moreover, the change will not be one-time, but with subsequent updates.

“I have more updates in the process than Microsoft ,” says Dr. Scott-Morgan.

AI-powered creative expression

The cyborg artist is a great example of the power of human-AI collaboration. AI uses the data that make up Peter’s digital portrait ( articles, videos, images, and social media ) and is trained to recognize key ideas, experiences, and images.

Peter will introduce a theme, AI will suggest composition, and Peter will apply images to suggest style and mood. Peter will direct the AI ​​to render a new digital image that none of them could create alone.

A unique blend of AI and human, reflects Peter’s creative and emotional self – a critical aspect of what it means to be human.

Peter 2.0

This October, Dr. Scott-Morgan will undergo what he calls the latest procedure that will transform him into “Complete Cyborg”.

October 9 he tweeted a photo of himself, writing the following:

“This is my last post as Peter 1.0. Tomorrow I will trade my vote for potentially decades of life as we complete the last medical procedure for my transition to Full Cyborg, in the month that I was told statistically I would be dead. I am not dying, I am transforming. ! Oh, how I LOVE science !!! “.

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Science & Technology

Japan has developed an inflatable scooter that weighs practically nothing

The University of Tokyo engineers have developed the Poimo inflatable electric scooter, which is created individually for each owner. It is enough to send your photo to the manufacturers – and a personal optimized model will be assembled for you.

The scooter is designed with a special program for the body size of a particular user and his specific fit. Moreover, each owner is free to make any changes to this model. If he makes any changes to the drawing, the program will automatically redesign the electric bike to maintain its strength, stability and controllability. When the model is finished and approved, it is handed over to the manufacturer.

Scooter Poimo

The scooter consists of seven separate inflatable sections that are constructed from durable fabric and sewn with straight stitch. It remains to add electronic components – in particular, a brushless motor and a lithium-ion battery. 

The finished electric scooter weighs about 9 kg and can travel at speeds up to 6 km / h (that is, slightly faster than a pedestrian). It can work for an hour on one charge.

This is how the current version of Poimo looks like in action:

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