Kjernekraftverk: Norway’s Research Into Nuclear Power in 2023

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Norway is best-known for its hydropower energy system, yet has also conducted extensive nuclear energy research over many years. Norway also possesses vast deposits of thorium.

Fermi Energia and UK-based Moltex have entered into an agreement to undertake a feasibility study on small modular reactors (SMRs). This project will assess how far SMR technology has developed as well as potential costs and licensing requirements.

Nuclear power plants generate electricity by splitting atoms in a reactor, using their fission energy to heat water to make steam, which in turn spins turbines that activate generators to generate power. These plants use heavy elements, like uranium, to generate nuclear fission chain reactions that generate heat that flows through pipes into a steam generator and produces electricity.

Nuclear Power in 2023

Fission for Beginners

Nuclear fission chain reactions that power reactors produce massive amounts of heat energy that is transferred through water pipes into the reactor, with some released as electromagnetic radiation (primarily as gamma rays) which is converted to electricity via systems which accelerate, slow or shut off its release of radiation – such as control rods made of substances like boron which absorb neutrons to reduce or stop fission processes altogether.

Power plants can be likened to massive water boilers. Uranium fuel, stored in an enclosed vessel known as a reactor vessel, is heated through fission chain reaction in order to produce steam that powers turbines to create electricity; any cooling water that collects in this cycle then returns back into the reactor allowing its cycle to continue.

Nuclear energy differs from coal- and oil-powered plants by not emitting greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change and do not pollute the surrounding air or soil. This energy source does not create pollution near its source of production.

Power plants must monitor both operational safety and natural hazards like earthquakes and hurricanes that might impede their operations, like earthquakes and hurricanes, which may occur.

Since the 1950s there have been three major accidents at nuclear plants – Chernobyl in Ukraine was particularly catastrophic, releasing dangerous levels of radiation into the environment which still pollutes an off-limit area today.

However, generally speaking these incidents don’t occur and most power plants operate safely – especially as more nations seek ways to reduce carbon emissions with nuclear energy being an indispensable partner in providing reliable, low carbon energy for future needs.

Research Reactors

Research reactors play an essential role in providing other industries and applications with materials and components they need, including oil and gas exploration and fusion energy applications. Research reactors help advance medical and environmental. You can learn more by clicking here.

One such reactor being the fusion-based BRUKER experimental reactor which has provided valuable new insight into fuel behavior and material properties, but multiple experiments have also taken place at Petten in Netherlands.

Four of Norway’s nine operational reactors currently comprise pool-type designs (47 units). These feature a central stack containing aluminum-clad fuel elements placed in a water-filled pool for both moderated and cooled operation of the reactor, controlled rods housed within steel casing, reflector and cladding made from graphite or beryllium often being utilized.

Often, nuclear waste from these reactors is being stored at Kjeller before eventually moving on to Himdalen in Viken as part of Norway’s national radioactive waste repository system.

Norway is well known for its commitment to international cooperation; most nuclear reactors built within its borders have received the ICERR status from IAEA, enabling these facilities to produce isotopes for international research projects and share results among IAEA member states.

Norway stands out among countries when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Yet fossil fuels will still play a part of economies across developed and developing nations for some time, making innovation vital in creating low-carbon solutions which replace fossil fuels within global energy systems.

To facilitate this goal, new business models; more flexible regulatory, licensing and export rules; and an updated global nonproliferation regime will be necessary. Atomic power’s potential lies within this space: light-water reactor technology has historically dominated this space; yet with some innovation it could play an important role in electricity supply systems for technologically advanced economies.

Reactors in Operation

Norway currently does not operate power plants, yet began researching their technology very early. Norway established a national nuclear program back in 1948. Although Norway currently prioritizes renewables and hydropower as fuels, thorium could become a component.

Himdalen in Viken (https://dsa.no/en/nuclear-safety-and-nuclear-power/nuclear-waste) approximately 20 km north of Oslo, serves as a national radioactive waste repository. It stores low and medium level waste generated at Kjeller and Halden nuclear installations and from industries, defense forces and medicine sources such as industry. This repository is managed by Institute for Energy Technology (IFE).

KAY=rstA, a gas-fired combined cycle plant built in Rogaland in 2005 by a consortium led by Naturkraft with the Norwegian power company StatoilHydro and oil company StatoilMidstream as partners, uses a BWR (boiling water reactor) design.

Water is heated in a nuclear reactor to produce steam that feeds a turbine for electricity generation. A BWR design features only one coolant loop. As this water comes in contact with nuclear fuel rods and turbine blades, its management must be closely controlled to avoid compromising either.

Not only is the plant energy-efficient and climate friendly, it stands out as being highly flexible as well. Production can be easily ramped up or down depending on demand levels to reduce risks during peak demand periods – an asset when electricity prices are high.

Although its flexibility makes the power system resilient in most circumstances, there can be instances when reservoir levels drop or events outside Norway threaten its supply of electricity. To address such scenarios, the Nordic power system has strong integrations with other systems and markets and an advanced grid enables producers to compensate for variations in production.

Fermi Energia, founded by scientists and energy professionals in Estonia in February 2019, was created with the purpose of exploring whether an SMR facility could be established there. They signed an agreement with Moltex for conducting a feasibility study that includes cost, licensing and other issues; other potential SMR manufacturers in Estonia include NuScale, Terrel Energy and GE Hitachi.

Radioactive Waste Repository

Himdalen Radioactive Waste Repository is another component of Norway’s nuclear energy development. Established to store low and medium level waste from nuclear facilities at Kjeller, Halden and elsewhere across Norway; as well as waste from industry, defense, medicine use of radioactive materials; this national facility is managed by Institute for Energy Technology (IFE).

Following Chernobyl’s nuclear accident, some critics demanded a full withdrawal of nuclear energy. Yet developing new kjernekraftverk remains integral to meeting Norway’s ambitious climate targets. Nuclear power’s long-term sustainability provides a cleaner, sustainable solution than fossil-fuel generated power.

Himdalen, where approximately 11,000 containers of low and medium level nuclear waste are stored, discovered a radioactive leak in May of this year that contains tritium that may pose health risks and authorities cannot as yet ascertain its scope; all disposal work at Himdalen was immediately suspended until further assessment can be conducted, reports Norwegian newspaper Teknisk Ukeblad.

Himdalen is not alone in producing nuclear waste; most nuclear facilities generate such substances. Yet the leak does undermine Himdalen’s image as a facility.

To improve storage conditions, IFE and NND awarded a contract to Galson Sciences’ consortium led by Galson Science for waste management planning. This includes developing deep borehole disposal concepts as an environmentally sound alternative for spent nuclear fuel storage; studies have proven this approach as superior compared with building large nuclear waste sites like those seen in some European nations.

Thorium Research

Thorium was first identified in 1828 when Hans M.T. Esmrak found a black mineral on Love Island and sent it to Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius who named it after Norse god Thor. 

Thorium can be found naturally as oxides (thorianite and thorite), silicates, phosphates and carbonates, most frequently the rare-earth phosphate monazite; its primary deposits exist across Australia, India, Mongolia and China.

Though thorium is less fissile than uranium, it can still be converted to reactor-grade plutonium by reacting with uranium-238 in a nuclear reactor. This process produces more energy than using traditional spent nuclear fuel (uranium 236) while not creating weapons-grade plutonium or waste, making thorium an attractive option as an alternative nuclear fuel source.

Klara Skjoldby of the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology in Halden has spent years exploring thorium fuel. To do so, she loaded six MOX rods containing thorium-uranium mixed oxide into a research reactor and will collect data for five years; her goal is to build a model of commercial thorium fuel as well as test how well it performs during radiation.

MOX fuel, also known as Mixed Oxide Reactor Fuel, is an advanced version of conventional light water reactor fuel that combines both uranium and thorium elements for use in existing LWRs. Although more costly than its uranium-only counterpart, MOX has longer half-lives without producing weapons-grade plutonium production.

Thorium as an alternative to uranium has its critics, however. It is more difficult to extract from the ground, has higher melting point and lower density than uranium, produces less plutonium, and requires special waste storage facilities than its uranium-based counterpart.

Norway may boast vast thorium resources, yet has no plans to develop a nuclear power plant using these resources. Oil and Energy Minister Aaslaug Haga emphasizes that his report was meant to increase understanding about thorium rather than open debate about whether Norway should adopt nuclear energy; many Norwegians remain resistant to nuclear power while a thorium-based nuclear plant would require entirely different technology.

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