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"Nothing like this will be built again" - A Nuclear Reactor Tour (antipope.org)
60 points by jseliger on Apr 19, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

I went on a similar tour of one of Canada's CANDU Uranium/Deuterium plants in high school (The one in Pickering, Ontario http://www.cbc.ca/toronto/features/pickering/index.html?data...)

Especially freaky was the containment pool, glowing blue with cerenkov radiation, with nothing but a lead window between you and and an ugly death.

They were many checkpoints to go through with detectors that check your shoes and hands for radioactive dust and I inadvertently set one off. I had not placed my hands on the sensors exactly right and the machine went off, scaring the sh*t out of me and everyone else.

The most interesting thing about CANDU reactors is the vacuum building that can suck all the air out of the reactor buildings in the event of a deuteurium steam leak. Dampening rods are also held up by electromagnets that will drop and kill the reaction in the event of an electrical failure.

Some research reactors have nothing but water between you and the fuel rods in the core. It's pretty good shielding, but it's still freaky to see a working reactor core right before your eyes.

Interesting. I used to be a Navy submarine officer, and qualified and ran our boats reactor. Not nearly the size of the plant he's talking about, but lets say that we needed to be able to handle bigger... transients. :)

I'm glad he brought out one of the big points in US/UK nuke plants; the professionalism. It's hard to understand until you've experienced it.

They are at least as likely to build a descendent of this reactor as a BWR or PWR, because High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactors are inherently safer than either of the water cooled types. The Pressurized Water Reactors became the dominant type because they were directly descended from Naval sub and ship reactors, not because they were actually better than other types. They were used on ships because they were more compact than other types, which is not a particular necessity on land.

"I can report that, standing on top of an operational 600 MW nuclear reactor weighing several thousand tons, all you can feel is a slight rumbling vibration like distant traffic felt through a road surface -- there's no indication that metres below your feet, hundreds of tons of gas compressed to conditions more normally associated with the surface of Venus are being blasted through the guts of a radioactive inferno."

I've never quite had such a clear visual picture of a nuclear reactor in operation.

A stack of these tubes, bolted together and held under tension by internet rods...

Internet rods hold the tubes together? Typo, presumably? Or a joke I'm currently too hungover to appreciate?

some embedded controllers in racks in the auxilliary deisel generator control rooms have EPROMs which have been known to be erased by camera flashes in the past

Am I the only one terrified of the fact that any part of a nuclear reactor can be tampered with by a flash of light?

It's a known problem, but not a cause for concern:


The worst that will happen is that an emergency/safety system will be tripped accidentally. The workaround is to mask the EPROM windows (with tape, I assume) after programming them.

EPROMS usually have a paper sticker glued onto them. As the sticker had details printed on them. The glue on most printer-compatable stickers gets old with age and thus they fall off.

Due to pricing quirks, the EPROMs with windows were far cheaper than the same chips that didn't have quartz windows on them. They weren't ROMS, they were the same IC, but with an opaque lid.

Funny, I remember windowed ceramic parts as being quite a bit more expensive than epoxy plastic with no window, which would be a OTP (one time programmable) EPROM. Use the high dollar windowed devices during development or for unstable projects, then switch to plastic OTP once the code settles down for better production margins.

The good stickers we used were metallized polyster, I think. They were a bit more opaque than paper, as measured by the time it took to UV erase a device.

I'm sure things have changed, but the last time I made stuff with EPROMs was back in the 80s. When cleaning out a garage back in the late 90s, I threw out several old arcade video games (She Who Must Be Obeyed had commanded it), and the stickers had fallen off all the EPROMs.

I'm sure that if there were a safety issue with the windowed versions cost wouldn't have been an issue.

I doubt that "auxilliary deisel generator control rooms" have still much to do with the reactor.

A great tour of an operational nuclear power plant by Charlie Stross, one of my favorite science fiction authors. Charlie is one of us, a unix/web guru before he became a full time author and, I believe an HN regular. Take a look at Accelerando or The Atrocity Archives.

I don't think I've seen him post here, though he's probably aware of the pg/yc scene, at least peripherally.

"nearly a million horsepower"

that's only around the same as 59 Wally yachts...


> "nothing like this will be built again"

Oh, but trust me, it will be: when fossil fuels become truly scarce and the antinuclear Luddites are shot, as they ought to have been decades ago.

Read the article. The reason why nothing like these huge gas reactors will be built again is because the enormous capital costs of building one outweigh the better thermal efficiency. It's more economical to build other types of nuclear reactors.

That said, I was a bit disappointed by the proposed shutdown date of "thirty to forty years" mentioned in the article... that they would go through all the trouble and resources of making an ultra-efficient plant, then run it for less than a century.

I love nuclear reactors. I went on a tour of the GCR at Oldbury, in the UK, once.

Even got to see them changing one of the rods (Though of course, from a considerable and safe distance).

It was pretty sweet.

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