What to say about contemporary situation in the European nuclear energy system? It is a previous generation system. We highly appreciate efforts of scientists and engineers who created it, especially the French scientists. It was a wonderful thing at that time. However, now it is a problem of transition to the next generation system. It is an agonizing process due to the inertial structure of nuclear energy system. It is hard for it to be reorganized because technological and economic expenditures are tremendous. However, this transition is an acute necessity.
Nature has left us with only one option for a global energy system, i.e. one based on fission of heavy nucleus: uranium, plutonium and thorium. Fission of one nucleus releases about 200 million electron-volts of energy. This is more than sufficient to clean and reprocess all the waste and to have huge amount of energy left for consumption.
At the same time burning one molecule of fossil fuel gives only 5-6 electron-volts. Considering the necessity to clean its waste the energy balance is negative, i.e. after cleaning there will be nothing left for consumption. Other types of power production, like hydroelectric, solar, wind, bio-energy, tide power, etc., have negative energy balance as well.
It is important that uranium and thorium resources will last for millions of years, given the current rate of energy consumption.
Nuclear energy unlike fossil fuel can be produced in a tightly enclosed environment with elements that are not involved in the Earth’s natural biological cycles.
However, today’s nuclear power technologies fall short of satisfying the criteria of an energy system based on holistic principles. They were developed at the time of superpower’s confrontation, when the order of the day was to produce weapon-grade materials rather than to generate power.
Today’s nuclear power’s major drawback is insufficient safety and large amount of radioactive waste.
High pressure in the modern reactor core and chemical volatility of coolant pose a fundamental threat to the environment, particularly in critical situations.
Safety of a next-generation reactors is provided not by control systems but by inherent properties of the reactors. Any internal causes of serious accidents are excluded by negative reactivity feedback inside the core, the low-pressure in a cooling system, a chemically inert coolant. As a result reactor becomes a self-protected system. Today, a reactor cooled by lead alloys is inherently safe and, unlike all other existing reactors, satisfies the safety requirements.
The physical properties of the coolant and the reactor design rule out any contamination of the environment under any external impact, including fire, explosion, airplane crash, flooding, earthquake, human error, etc. In any emergency situation the chain reaction stops and the reactor protects itself from destruction by turning into an impenetrable lead monolith.
The fuel used in these reactors can not be used for military purposes. They can be easily transported and widely distributed. They can form a net of connected units that work autonomously without fuel reloading for about 10 years. When their life cycle ends, they are returned to a reprocessing facility to be replaced by fresh ones, just like commonly used electric cells.
Fuel production, generation and distribution of power, utilization and recycling of waste should not cause the accumulation of radioactive waste. For that it is necessary to have a closed fuel cycle. It means that used fuel should be repeatedly returned into the energy cycle for reuse until it is completely utilized. For this purpose, the power system envisages a specialized reprocessing facility where various technologies capable of dealing with radioactive waste are concentrated.
While operation of these Cells is a simple procedure, the management of nuclear materials in the reprocessing facility requires high quality professionals with exceptional human characteristics and skills.
Some European countries (France, Russia, Czech Republic, etc.) have acquired considerable hands-on experience in handling nuclear fuel and radioactive waste at specialized facilities. However, it is obvious that today no country has the ability by itself to utilize nuclear waste according to the requirements of the closed fuel cycle. The only solution is to unite experiences, technical capacities, resources, people, etc. in a joint European program and to free individual countries from carrying this unbearable for them task on their own.
One facility for reprocessing and transmutation will be sufficient to utilize radioactive waste from all Europe. It should be located in a restricted remote area (e.g., on an island Novaya Zemlya in Russia) which would have a recognized international status and be placed under strict control of an international organization. Such organization will be able to guarantee safety and non-proliferation. It will be transparent for monitoring by any state, international environmental organizations, etc.
In 1996 we organized an international conference discussing strategy for developing world energy system. Experts from different countries came to an undeniable conclusion that there are all necessary scientific and technological achievements for creating safe and waste-free world wide energy system. However, neither the world nor Europe is capable to realize this task due to the egotism of national, professional, etc. interests. Its already obvious and the coming events will demonstrate it once again that it is necessary to create United Europe from Atlantic Ocean to the Ural mountains as integrated system where the issue of energy can be resolved along with many other questions.
This is a map of European Nuclear Power Plants. The red rectangles represent the NPPs, with areas, proportional to the total MWe power of each one. The green rectangles represent the major European towns.