VIDEO: Could Nuclear Energy Still Replace Fossil Fuels?
James Anderton posted on March 08, 2016 |

With the renewed global push to control greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2, not a day goes by without an announcement about some new solar or wind-power technology.

There’s one CO2-free generation technology, however, that has fallen off the radar: nuclear fission.

Why?

While Fukushima and the hangover effect from decades of concerted anti-nuclear activism may have driven nuclear power underground, the technology hasn’t stagnated.

Global engineering heavyweight Bechtel and reactor specialist BWX Technology have announced an agreement to accelerate development of what will be the world’s first “Generation III ++” small nuclear reactor.

Put simply, Generation III reactors will address the major issues hampering the nuclear industry today: safety and operating cost.

Known as Generation mPower, the project is centered on the BWXT mPower reactor—a 195-megawatt-electric power plant that’s modular and factory built, then can be shipped by rail to the powerplant site, rather than being built in place like earlier rector designs.

This results in quicker build times and reduced operating costs, as well as the ability to relocate, remove or replace modules in the future…although this is unlikely once the plant is up and running.

The mPower reactor also burns fuel more efficiently when compared to earlier generation reactors. It also has passive safety features; unlike the older Fukushima-type designs, Generation III reactors don’t require operator intervention for up to 72 hours after a shutdown.

These are good features, but it’s the possibilities that factory mass production will allow that interest me.

Volume production of a standardized design could drastically reduce costs, and with rail transportability, it should be possible to retrofit old, large oil or coal-fired power plants directly.

The relatively small output of the mPower unit also suggests other possibilities, such as base load operation in areas served by solar and wind projects. Another possibility that few observers consider is process heat.

Shale oil and tar sands, for example, use large amounts of petroleum to generate the huge amounts of heat needed to free tight oil reserves. A modular, rail-transportable heat source could revolutionize oil extraction in the same way fracking did for natural gas, stabilizing supply once the current glut subsides and keeping oil pricing moderate for the foreseeable future.

All these CO2-free solutions are possible IF the environmental movement will stop blocking nuclear as an energy alternative and embrace this new technology.

These groups mean well, but the anti-nuclear protest community is directly responsible for millions of tons of atmospheric CO2 from fossil-fuel power plants; energy that could have been generated by fission from modern, safe reactor designs.

“Make it safer” is a reasonable demand, but “no nukes” is a throwback to the ‘60s when reactor technology was in its infancy.

I suspect that the new, safer, cheaper designs won’t stop the protests. However, I hope I’m wrong, because I’d much rather accept the statistically insignificant risk of a reactor failure than the obvious and dangerous effects of greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.

And I know that most of you agree.

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