Quantcast

New Generation Nuclear Reactors Unlikely to Deliver on Design

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

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Micromobility is the future of transportation in cities, but cities and investors need to plan ahead to avoid challenges. Jonny Kennaugh / Unsplash

By Carlo Ratti, Ida Auken

On the window of a bike shop in Copenhagen, a sign reads: Your next car is a bike.

Read More Show Less
An American flag waves in the wind at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, California on May 17 where a trial against Monsanto took place. Alva and Alberta Pilliod, were awarded more than $2 billion in damages in their lawsuit against Monsanto, though the judge in the case lowered the damage award to $87 million. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

For the last five years, Chris Stevick has helped his wife Elaine in her battle against a vicious type of cancer that the couple believes was caused by Elaine's repeated use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide around a California property the couple owned. Now the roles are reversed as Elaine must help Chris face his own cancer.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Butterfly habitats have fallen 77 percent in the last 50 years. Pixabay / Pexels

The last 50 years have been brutal for wildlife. Animals have lost their habitats and seen their numbers plummet. Now a new report from a British conservation group warns that habitat destruction and increased pesticide use has on a trajectory for an "insect apocalypse," which will have dire consequences for humans and all life on Earth, as The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less
Six of the nineteen wind turbines which were installed on Frodsham Marsh, near the coal-powered Fiddler's Ferry power station, in Helsby, England on Feb. 7, 2017.

Sales of electric cars are surging and the world is generating more and more power from renewable sources, but it is not enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to stop the global climate crisis, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Read More Show Less
"Globally, we're starting to see examples of retailers moving away from plastics and throwaway packaging, but not at the urgency and scale needed to address this crisis." Greenpeace

By Jake Johnson

A Greenpeace report released Tuesday uses a hypothetical "Smart Supermarket" that has done away with environmentally damaging single-use plastics to outline a possible future in which the world's oceans and communities are free of bags, bottles, packaging and other harmful plastic pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

Read More Show Less
Private homes surround a 20 inch gas liquids pipeline which is part of the Mariner East II project on Oct. 5, 2017 in Marchwood, Penn. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The FBI is looking into how the state of Pennsylvania granted permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline as part of a corruption investigation, the AP reports.

Read More Show Less
Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles. Carolina Wild Ones / Facebook

Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less