Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Game-Changer for Nuclear Safety

By Tony Irwin

Nuclear energy modules are getting smaller and safer, making them viable options for remote communities.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Many people equate nuclear energy with the Fukushima disaster, and therefore consider it too dangerous to consider. But perhaps we should ask some questions before we dismiss what is an important source of low emissions electricity generation for many countries.

While modern nuclear reactors are much safer than the 1960s-designed reactors that were damaged at Fukushima, a recent advance in nuclear reactors is set to become a game-changer for safety.

In the case of an accident, old reactors like the ones at Fukushima were kept safe by pumping water supplies into the reactor to keep it cool. This required external electrical and water supplies. If these become damaged, as at Fukushima, cooling is lost and the nuclear fuel gets hot and eventually melts.

Modern reactors have a fundamentally different approach to safety. The water to keep the reactor cool is provided by gravity, natural circulation and pressurised water tanks. These systems rely on natural phenomena and do not require any external electrical supplies. All the safety systems are located within the reactor containment so that they are not affected by external events. They are referred to as “passive” safety systems.

Modern large reactors like the Westinghouse AP-1000 use these natural safety systems. The electrical output of an AP-1000 is 1200 MW – enough for 1.4 million homes....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.