The world population is increasing, and as a result, there is an increasing need for energy. Among all generation resources, nuclear power represents the most interesting case. Nuclear energy is reliable, efficient and emission-free, yet public opinion about this source is usually sharply polarized. The development of nuclear resources has been defined not as much by power industry requirements, but mostly by government agendas. High security risks, the storage and disposal of dangerous radioactive waste, the possibility of proliferation, and the possibility of terrorist attacks—all these factors support an expansive governmental interference. In addition, every nuclear reactor accident, whether it happens in the Ukraine, the US or Japan, adds more fuel to the public fire opposing nuclear power.

Nuclear technologies are complex and involve substantial efforts of data gathering and processing. At the same time, a particular course of government action on nuclear power sources, whether it results in contraction or expansion of nuclear energy production, can and does bring a shift in data generation and analysis.

The safe and economical operation of nuclear facilities requires refined and reliable calculations and studies. The ability to simulate different scenarios of nuclear operations is dependent on the accuracy of input data. Detailed data is required to design a modern nuclear reactor for electricity production. Data is also required to make decisions regarding the operation of the fuel cycle, an operation that has to conform to strict safety regulations. Applications of growing economic significance that require substantial data input are:

  • Fission reactor technology
  • Accelerator shield design
  • Fusion device design and plasma processing technologies
  • Personnel dosimetry and radiation safety
  • Production of radioisotopes for medical and industrial applications
  • Cancer radiotherapy
  • Radiation damage studies
  • Environmental monitoring and clean-up
  • Chemical analysis by activation methods
  • Detection of concealed explosives and illegal drugs
  • Exploration for oil and other minerals

Considerable atomic and nuclear data is obtained by direct measurement using particle accelerators and radiation detectors. These nuclear data points are measured and compiled.

The multitude of data points are then assembled in standardized computer databases. Data compilation is an enormous task and is performed through networks of nuclear data centers around the world.

It is unlikely that the scope of nuclear and atomic data applications and the need for data storage space will diminish; however, nuclear power generation policies can and do affect other types of data sources.

No to Nuclear Power

Abandoning nuclear power for the sake of renewable technologies is burdened not only by issues of energy balancing, energy storage advancement and later battery disposal, but also by the introduction of new types of ancillary services, intra-hour power scheduling, and more sophisticated and precise weather prediction. All this leads to more data points and more involved analysis required to sustain a portfolio of energy sources.

Yes to Nuclear Power

On the other hand, because major, complex technologies require more than a half century to evolve into global industries,  nuclear power and natural gas have a high chance to dominate power generation over the next hundred years. Those nations that decide to retain nuclear power in their generation portfolios are likely to face other challenges. One of them is making tough choices in regard to nuclear waste disposal. Nuclear waste can last for thousands, or even millions of years, before becoming safe. Different technologies of radioactive waste disposal entail different monitoring approaches. Thus, from the point of view of data management, nuclear waste disposal within Earth formations would probably require more elaborate and involved monitoring procedures and data processing.

Another challenge associated with the increase in nuclear power generation is water consumption. Nuclear power plants need more cooling water than fossil-fired power stations, and use large quantities of water. They usually are located close to large and reliable water sources like rivers, lakes, or seas. Existing nuclear power stations use and consume significantly more water per MWh than electricity generation powered by fossil fuels: nuclear once-through systems consume about 33% and closed systems 50% more than fossil fuel power stations. This creates a significant concern for the environment. Warmed up processed water, when released to the natural bodies of water, disturbs local eco-systems. The growing number of nuclear plants will demand installing monitors to control water levels and properties in the areas adjacent to the large nuclear plants and associated growth in data points compilation, processing and analyzing.

To learn more on the subject read our December 2011 issues of DataWatch.