Many currently operating nuclear plants are in danger of being permanently shut down due to temporary conditions including low, but volatile natural gas prices, improperly designed markets that fail to recognize the value of reliable generating capacity, quotas and mandates that result in certain types of electrical generators receiving direct monetary payments in addition to wholesale market prices, and insufficient recognition of nuclear energy as a near zero emission power source.
The US has been here once before; during the 1990s natural gas prices went through a lengthy period of sustained low prices and several nuclear plants were closed only part way through their useful life. During the period from 2004-2009 the remaining nuclear plants minted cash as natural gas prices inexorably rose from the 1990s price of $2 per MMBTU to remain above $5 per MMBTU for five straight years with a peak monthly price for electrical power generators in excess of $12 per MMBTU in June 2008.
Per Peterson has a modular molten salt reactor design in the US and is working with China’s molten salt nuclear program.
At Next Big Future describes how Per Peterson and his co-authors believe that the way forward for the US nuclear industry is to use new nuclear reactor designs with passive safety and modular construction. This will make nuclear power both cheaper and safer.
Per Peterson has a design for a molten salt-cooled reactor that couples to a conventional General Electric (GE) gas turbine. The Mk1 reactor design can generate 100 megawatts (MWe) of baseload nuclear power, but can also be co-fired with gas to rapidly adjust power output between 100 MWe and 240 MWe. The ability to rapidly adjust power output helps balance variability in the grid and is thus attractive to grid operators. And because the turbine remains “hot and spinning,” efficiency losses to provide peaking and spinning reserve services are low. The thermal efficiency of this design in converting peaking fuel into electricity is 66 percent, compared to about 60 percent for today’s best combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plants.