Quantcast
Popular
A decommissioned small reactor at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Darmon via Wikimedia Commons

New Generation Nuclear Reactors Unlikely to Deliver on Design

By Paul Brown

New generation nuclear reactors, promised for the last 18 years by the U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) as a way to provide cheap and plentiful supplies of electricity, are unlikely to be fulfilled any time in the next 30 years.

That is the conclusion of university researchers who have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the program's budget history to find out what designs the government has spent $2 billion of public money on supporting.


Researchers from the University of California San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University described the research program as "incoherent" and said the government was "unlikely" to deliver on its mission to develop and demonstrate an advanced nuclear reactor by mid-century.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said much of the money that was supposed to be spent on civilian reactors was spent instead on supporting infrastructure, where the main focus was defense programs and not commercial opportunities.

Promising technology

The report's authors are not against nuclear energy. In fact, they are concerned that the government's failure to conduct a proper research program will lead to other nations taking the lead with the technology.

In theory, they said, the new breed of advanced reactor the U.S. is trying to develop are a promising carbon-free technology. They could operate for decades without refueling, and would generate smaller volumes of waste.

However, "No such design is remotely ready for deployment today," said lead researcher Dr. Ahmed Abdulla from the University of California.

"One example of this lack of vision is the gap that exists between the advanced reactor and advanced fuel programs. Investing in advanced fuels research is critical to developing a new nuclear reactor technology.

"However, NE has mostly invested in one fuel type while exploring multiple reactor designs, most of which do not use that fuel. This disjunction between the two programs is naturally problematic."

Overall, the technology's prospects appear grim, with implications that go beyond energy.

"Without a sense of urgency among NE and its political leaders," Abdulla warned, "the likelihood of advanced reactors playing a substantial role in the transition to a low-carbon U.S. energy portfolio is exceedingly low.

"From a broader perspective, this failure means that the U.S. will cede its leadership on nuclear matters to other nations, limiting its ability to exert influence in key areas such as safety and non-proliferation as well."

These reported failings in the U.S. research program come at a difficult time for the industry when across the world the current "new" generation of large nuclear reactors is proving difficult to build on time and on budget, and some projects are being abandoned mid-way through construction.

Defense links

Yet governments still pour money into research and development of nuclear projects. The U.S., China and the UK are all backing a new breed of small reactor, similar to the ones that power nuclear submarines, in the hope that they can be built in factories and assembled on site. This is supposed to streamline production and cut delays and costs.

Europe, the U.S. and China are also spending astronomical sums on nuclear fusion, which is an attempt to replicate the way the sun produces energy. The theory is that once achieved it will be an unlimited source of power, but decades of trying have so far still left success always just over the horizon.

While the fusion project has nothing to do with the military, all other nuclear projects have had defense links. The original nuclear reactors were developed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and as a result almost all future designs could always be used to produce weapons-grade materials as well as electricity.

Most of the money now being spent on research into new generations of nuclear power stations is being provided by nuclear weapon states. Most countries that have never had nuclear weapons but have invested in nuclear power stations are now phasing them out and putting their development money into cheaper renewables.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

How Big Is Your Environmental Footprint?

If you want to make a positive change this Earth Day but don't know where to start, one of best things you can do is take an honest look at your environmental footprint. For instance, how much water are you wasting? How much plastic are you throwing out? How much planet-warming carbon are you producing?

Luckily, there are many online calculators that crunch through your consumption habits. While the final tally might be daunting, it's the first step in living more sustainably.

Keep reading... Show less
Shopping at farmers markets can help minimize your waste.

6 Simple Tips to Reduce Waste So Every Day Is Earth Day

Earth Day 2018 is focused on the all-important theme of reducing plastic litter and pollution. Of course, we shouldn't just reduce our plastic footprint, we should try to reduce waste in all shapes, sizes and forms. It's said that the average American generates a staggering 4 pounds of trash every day—but you don't have to be part of that statistic.

Here are six entirely manageable tips and tricks to help you cut waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don't just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Lorraine Chow, reporter

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner's Castile soap

It's Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn't recommend that).

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Will Rose / Greenpeace

7 Things You Can Do to Create a Plastic-Free Future

By Jen Fela

We're celebrating a huge moment in the global movement for a plastic-free future: More than one million people around the world have called on big corporations to do their part to end single-use plastics.

Now we're taking the next big step. We're setting an ambitious new goal: A Million Acts of Blue.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

5 Environmental Victories to Inspire You This Earth Day

Planet Earth is at a crisis point. Researchers say we have to begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 if we want to meet the temperature goals outlined in the Paris agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change.

The work to be done can seem overwhelming. A survey published this week found that only 6 percent of Americans think we will succeed in reducing global warming.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A fin whale surfacing in Greenland. Aqqa Rosing-Asvid / CC BY 2.0

Iceland to Resume Killing Endangered Fin Whales

By Kitty Block

Iceland seems to be the most confused of nations when it comes to whales. On the one hand it attracts international tourists from all over the world to go out and see whales as part of their encounters with Iceland's many natural wonders. On the other hand it kills whales for profit, with some portion of the kill even being fed to some of the same tourists in restaurants and cafes.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
A.millepora in the Great Barrier Reef. Petra Lundgren, Juan C Vera, Lesa Peplow, Stephanie Manel and Madeleine JH van Oppen

Hope for Great Barrier Reef? New Study Shows Genetic Diversity of Coral Could Extend Our Chance to Save It

A study published Wednesday had some frightening news for the Great Barrier Reef—the iconic marine ecosystem is at "unprecedented" risk of collapse due to climate change after a 2016 heat wave led to the largest mass coral bleaching event in the reef's history.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Lyft

Lyft Announces Carbon Neutrality Drive

Lyft will make all of its rides carbon neutral starting immediately by investing millions of dollars in projects that offset its emissions, the company announced Thursday.

The ridesharing service, which is part of the We Are Still coalition, provides more than 10 million rides worldwide each week. "We feel immense responsibility for the profound impact that Lyft will have on our planet," founders John Zimmer and Logan Green wrote in a Medium post.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!