It is already well-proven that it’s possible to operate village and small town sized electrical grids using nuclear power plants designed for responsiveness, reliability, ease of operation and maintainability. The navies of the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China have been doing this with nuclear powered submarines and ships since as early as January 17, 1955 when the USS Nautilus first reported that it was underway on nuclear power.
Those ships contain grids that would be classified as “micro” or “mini” if they were on land. They serve not only 100-5000 residents and a wide variety of electronic or mechanical loads that need reliable, smooth power as many seconds of the day as possible but also provide the vast quantities of power required to push large vessels through the water at high rates of speed.
Shipboard power systems are able able to distill pure water from seawater and to use rejected heat for a number of useful applications like air conditioning, space heating and cooking.
Mostly because of limited production rates, excessive security requirements, and engineering choices required for maritime applications, the 100% nuclear electrical power systems used on ships so far would not be economically competitive with large scale fossil fuel plants connected to an existing grid. However, they are demonstrations that proven technology exists to supply large quantities of reliable power to remote villages, industrial sites, or small cities without needing to burn fossil fuels or construct lengthy transmission lines.
There were two major surprises when researching the global, historic costs of nuclear energy. First was that every country experienced lowering costs in the early years of nuclear plant construction. Second was that South Korea continues to experience reducing costs, even now. She attributes South Korea’s continued cost reduction in part to the focus on standardized (in fact, duplicate) nuclear plants being built at various locations.
Kazakhstan’s Kazatomprom reported their uranium production increased 4.3 percent in 2015, to 23,800 tonnes uranium (52.5 million pounds). This was an increase of over 970 tonnes (2.1 million pounds) from the 22,829 tonnes that Kazakhstan produced in 2014.
Idling Japan’s reactors for a few years caused Japanese utilities to accumulate about 120 million pounds of uranium since they still had to honor their existing supply contracts. This is enough to fuel its restarting fleet for the next decade.
The price of uranium has little effect on the price of nuclear power since the fuel is such a small part of the total cost and the cost of fuel itself is dominated by the fabrication costs, not the cost of uranium. Decisions to build nuclear power plants do not hinge on uranium supplies. And there are sufficient uranium deposits in the world to provide nuclear energy at any level for many thousands of years.
Eighty-nine percent of the fuel requirements of the current fleet of nuclear reactors worldwide, totaling some 377 million pounds U3O8 (yellowcake), will be met in 2016 by Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan.
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.
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