Conference Report

Technically high standard

28 July 2005

Seoul's modern business district was the venue for ICAPP '05, which proved to be a vast and lively meeting high on technical content. By Jeremy Gordon

Delegates arriving for the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants (ICAPP) on 15-19 May 2005 were met by the best of Korean weather and hospitality. The conference venue, the Grand Inter-Continental hotel in Seoul’s Gangnam district was situated not only above a brand-new futuristic shopping arcade but also very close to one of Seoul’s oldest temples, which happened to be in the middle of celebrating Buddha’s birthday. From a personal perspective it was probably one of the best times to visit such a vibrant place – conference or not.

In terms of the conference, things were no less vibrant. About ten tracks were run across three floors of the hotel meeting rooms – with each of the 460 papers timed to the minute. I found surprisingly few overruns in my fact-finding runs from stream to stream.

The loud sound of a gong summoned participants to the plenary sessions, although I was a little disappointed to find it was recorded. Anyway, the opening plenary featured an extended ceremony in which deputy prime minister Yun-Churl Jeon presented gold and silver order of merit awards to a number of Korean nuclear workers who had excelled themselves over the last year. Cash prizes of 3 million and 1.5 million won (about $3000 and $1500) were also presented to a lucky – but deserving – few.

Distinguished South Koreans spoke at the opening plenary such as Hee-Beom Lee, minister of commerce industry and energy, Joon-Ho Han, president and CEO of Kepco, president of the Korean Atomic Industrial Forum and general chair of the conference. Han spoke with pride about South Korea’s status as one of the top-generating nuclear countries – sixth in the world. A position it has reached from a standing start in a short amount of time. 40% of the country’s power now comes from nuclear and there’s even enough to export to power-starved North Korea.

Han also had a few words on the country’s waste disposal problems, and said that the problems over siting a repository were down to “group selfishness.” Last year an attempt by government to site a repository on Wido island ended in acrimony and a new selection process was started.

Won-Gul Lee, deputy minister for energy and resources policy said that there was deep distrust between government and the ecological groups that demand dialogue on the future of nuclear power and waste. He said that an intermediate-level waste store would be established first and then there would be further discussion and local votes before a second repository programme for the storage of spent nuclear fuel would begin. Timescales for these developments remained vague.

Mujid Kazimi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Centre for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems told the plenary that his department is researching a number of new concepts that may one day be used to dramatically uprate current reactor systems: the use of annular fuel might enable PWRs to gain power without a corresponding temperature increase; ceramic fuel cladding offers similar performance benefits, as does the use of nanofluid coolants. Kazimi said that each of the above technologies may one day offer 20-40% power density increases in LWRs and a combination of one or more could allow future engineers to double power density in existing systems without replacing major reactor parts.

There’s still a long way to go, however, with these ideas, explained Jacopo Buongiorno during his presentation of work on nanofluid coolants. (A nanofluid is any fluid to which particles of between 1 and 100nm in diameter have been added.) His experiments at MIT have shown that even at concentrations of less than 1%, nanofluids exhibit increased thermal conductivity compared to the base fluid. Critical heat flux also increases dramatically. Although there is little effect on reactivity, viscosity of the fluid does increase – and at a faster rate than thermal conductivity.

This is a new field and Buongiorno said that the research is in its early stages and explanations for these effects remain to be found. However, his group has identified a number of leading nanoparticle materials: carbon, silicon dioxide, zirconium dioxide and aluminium oxide. He also reported that these fluids are inexpensive to buy and easy to store.

That presentation could be taken as indicative of ICAPP ’05’s high technical content, which came with a fair share of the exotic. There were very interesting, highly technical sessions on fuel design and a lot of very popular content on the issue of hydrogen production.

A popular presentation topic was the APR1400 design. Ki-In Han, vice-president of nuclear projects at Korea Power Engineering said he expects Shin-Kori APR1400 units 3 and 4 to be built for $991/kWe and compared that figure to the costs of KSNP+ units 2 and 3 ($1137/kWe) and for Yonggwang KSNP units 5 and 6 ($1309/kWe).

ICAPP ’06 will be held in Reno, in Nevada, USA, between 4 and 8 June and promises three new additions: near-term issues; reactor physics and analysis; and space power and propulsion.

Korean lantern Korean lantern

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