‘Conventional nuclear has had its day, but fusion could yet be a silver bullet’, Nuclear reactors release a staggering amount of energy. In practical terms, one kilogram of uranium can release as much energy as 1,500 tonnes of coal. Existing nuclear plants are also cheap to run and they are CO2-free with the added benefits of no air pollutants. However, the real issue with nuclear is that new-build costs have gone up as the years have gone by, as have the costs of decommissioning existing plants. In addition, public support has waned for nuclear following a series of accidents — the most recent of which being Fukushima — as well as the inability of the nuclear industry to build new plants on time or on budget. The one light at the end of the tunnel may be so-called Small Modular Reactors, which are basically scaled down versions of normal reactors and can be mass-produced, so the theory goes, and are thus cheaper to produce. The new designs are safer to use with lower amounts of radioactive waste. However, there are multiple designs out there, with none at scale, which makes it debatable if — rather than when — this technology will come to market. What this means is that the future of nuclear is not so rosy. We will see small incremental additions to the global nuclear fleet but we will see no nuclear renaissance. Does this mean we should give up on nuclear? Without a doubt, no. If we are able to crack nuclear fusion, the energy source used by the Sun, then we may have safe, plentiful and carbon-free electricity. To achieve that goal, we need to keep investing and doing research and development around nuclear, as it could be a silver bullet for climate change.
Recharge 18th June 2021 read more »