March 5, 2010, NPR’s (National Public Radio) Science Friday had a segment on what’s next for the technology of nuclear power ? It was the second segment in the second hour of the show.
From small-scale nuclear power plants to advanced reactor designs, what’s next for the technology of nuclear power? We’ll talk about some of the technology changes involved in proposed new reactor designs under consideration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We’ll also look at the idea of small-scale nuclear — building a power plant to support a community, rather than an entire state. Will downsizing make the nuclear any more appealing?
John R. ‘Grizz’ Deal, CEO, Hyperion Power
Author, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilizatio
Professor and Head, Dept of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT
Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Listened to part of it on the Radio. There is online podcast and MP3. A summary is that John R. ‘Grizz’ Deal made his case for Hyperion’s new 25 MWe reactor and how small factory mass produced reactors would be revolutionary.
Scott Burnell of the NRC tried to put Hyperion into the overall context of the nuclear industry and that there are seven ‘advanced reactors’ under pre-certification review by the NRC. The NRC has not approved any new reactor designs.
Advanced Reactors Under Pre-certification Review
1. International Reactor Innovative and Secure (IRIS) Westinghouse Electric Company
2. NuScale NuScale Power, Inc.
3. Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) PBMR (Pty.), Ltd.
4. Super-Safe, Small and Simple (4S) Toshiba Corporation
5. Hyperion Hyperion Power Generation, Inc.
6. Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
7. mPower Babcock and Wilcox Company
The NRC opened in 1975 and there were already a few dozen nuclear reactors and nuclear reactor designs in commercial operation in the United States. Before the NRC there was the Atomic Energy Commission.
In 35 years, the NRC has not certified any new reactor types.
Currently there are four certified reactor designs that can be referenced in an application for a combined license (COL) to build and operate a nuclear power plant. They are:
1.Advanced Boiling Water Reactor design by GE Nuclear Energy (May 1997);
2. System 80+ design by Westinghouse (formerly ABB-Combustion Engineering) (May 1997);
3. AP600 design by Westinghouse (December 1999); and
4. AP1000 design by Westinghouse (January 2006).
Mondo energy Videos on Nuclear Energy
Annual U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions currently average about 5.5 tons of carbon per person. Achieving Mr. Obama’s goal would mean reducing this to 0.63 tons per person by midcentury, taking expected population growth of just under 1% per year into account. If the rest of the world were to do likewise, global carbon dioxide emissions would be 25% lower than today.
There are two main routes to achieving the president’s goal. First, the U.S. must reduce the share of fossil fuels—currently 85%—in the energy supply system, which includes everything from electricity generation and transportation to industrial uses. And second, Americans must use energy more efficiently.
Ultimately what’s required will depend on America’s future economic growth.
A look at the underlying numbers helps explain.
Assume for now an annual economic growth target of 2% per capita for the next four decades. This would be higher than the disappointing 1.4% of the past decade, but roughly what the U.S. economy has achieved overall since 1970. With this target, the implications of the president’s emission reduction goal become clearer.
First start with the key measure of energy efficiency: energy use per unit of economic output. Recently this has been falling by about 2% each year. Suppose that, through more aggressive policies like rewriting building codes to ensure greater energy efficiency, it was accelerated to 3%. In effect, this would mean bringing the rate of progress in every state in the country up to the level of the best state performer. It is not at all clear how this would be possible, but even if it is, meeting the 83% goal would still require extraordinary decarbonization measures on the supply side.
Here is a recipe that would work: Add 30,000 megawatts of new wind turbines every year between now and 2050 (this is nearly four times what was added in 2008, a record year). Add another 35,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity annually (more than 100 times what was added last year—a record year for solar, too).
That’s just the beginning. Now multiply the nuclear reactor fleet fivefold by midcentury. Retrofit all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. And build twice as many new plants, also with carbon capture. Natural gas could substitute for coal, but only with carbon capture too. By 2050, the electric power system would be four times bigger than today. Two-thirds of the car and truck fleet would be powered by electricity, and the rest would run on advanced biofuels.
All of this would indeed reduce carbon emissions by 83%. It would also practically eliminate America’s dependence on oil imports. But could it be done?
Perhaps, though not without enormous effort. Operating a power grid reliably and economically with intermittent solar and wind resources generating 40% of the electricity cannot be done today. Carbon capture and storage has yet to be demonstrated on a large scale. Meanwhile, a still vocal group of environmentalists remains adamantly opposed to nuclear energy—even though it is the only low-carbon energy source that is both scaleable and already generating large amounts of electricity.
Yet falling short on any of these decarbonization measures would require even more of the others, or even greater energy efficiency gains
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.