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Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy

Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com

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Future Of Nuclear Industry Takes Yet Another Hit

Future Of Nuclear Industry Takes Yet Another Hit

Despite the rough patch that the nuclear industry has experienced in recent years, its future remains bright, the industry insists. That is because the next generation of nuclear reactors will provide significant safety and economic benefits over current reactors.

But what if the new designs are actually not all that much better than the current fleet?

That is the provocative conclusion that France’s nuclear watchdog came to in a new report. Published on April 27, the IRSN said that the so-called “generation IV” reactors of the future may not be able to offer major upgrades in safety (most of the reactors running today are generation II – built in the 1960’s and 1970’s – and the newer designs that are currently under construction today are considered to be generation III). Related: Tesla Could Be Changing The Dynamics Of Global Energy

The IRSN report reviewed six of the most promising generation IV reactor designs: sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFR); very high-temperature reactors (VHTR); gas-cooled fast reactors (GFR); lead-cooled fast reactors (LFR); molten salt reactors (MSR); and SuperCritical water reactors (SCWR).

Out of all of those, ISRN found that only the sodium-cooled fast reactor is close enough to maturity. SFRs have been trumpeted as an exciting concept – they can burn nuclear waste, reducing the need to build long-term spent fuel storage. Related: Health Risks From Fukushima Disaster Greatly Exaggerated

But after looking into the technology ISRN says it’s hard to say whether or not SFRs would be better. “While it seems possible for SFR technology to guarantee a safety level at least equivalent” to generation III reactors, “IRSN is unable to determine whether it could significantly exceed this level,” the report concluded. That is because liquid sodium can explode if exposed to water. IRSN also questioned the extent to which SFRs could actually burn through dangerous nuclear waste. Related: Russia To Power Arctic Drilling With Floating Nuclear Reactors

The report amounts to a big rebuke for generation IV reactors, the first significant criticism of a nuclear dream that has been hailed as the key to solving energy and climate change challenges.

However, ISRN also ultimately said that the devil will be in the details. The reactor designs could solve some of their drawbacks as the specifics are fleshed out. But unless generation IV designs can prove to be much safer than generation III designs, the nuclear renaissance may not be as bright as many had hoped.

By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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  • BV on April 29 2015 said:
    "However, ISRN also ultimately said that the devil will be in the details. The reactor designs could solve some of their drawbacks as the specifics are fleshed out. But unless generation IV designs can prove to be much safer than generation III designs, the nuclear renaissance may not be as bright as many had hoped."

    I wonder how the author draws this conclusion about Gen IV reactors based on a potential safety issue of one species of Gen IV reactors.

    We'll note the author identified six species of Gen IV reactors: sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFR); very high-temperature reactors (VHTR); gas-cooled fast reactors (GFR); lead-cooled fast reactors (LFR); molten salt reactors (MSR); and SuperCritical water reactors (SCWR).

    The author then stated that SFR would have a problem when the liquid sodium is exposed to water, which is correct.

    But a MSR wouldn't have that problem. It's a different species of Gen IV reactor than SFR, and it has different design details and uses an entirely different fluid coolant.

    But, then again, this is a website designed for discussing oil-based energy sources. Wouldn't want to lose market share with the introduction of safer, cleaner, better forms of energy technology, now would we?
  • Paxus on April 29 2015 said:
    Well isn't this a sweet little pickle. Here is some of what we do know about liquid metal "Fast" reactors. The US, UK, France, Germany, India, japan and Russia have all built liquid sodium reactors. Only Russia, where is a military funded project continues to run a sodium cooled reactor. Tens of billions have been wasted on this technology which the biggest nuclear countries in the world have been unable to make work.

    Sure another few billion would keeps some scientists and high end construction workers employed. But we can stop pretending that this failed technology is any type of solution to our pressing low carbon energy needs.

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