Technology Climate change is fueling a second chance for nuclear power

09:36  12 january  2017
09:36  12 january  2017 Source:   PRI

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Climate change is fueling a second chance for nuclear power . PRI's The World. In the quest for a carbon-free future, scientists and entrepreneurs are developing a new generation of nuclear reactors.

But amidst the talk of a second chance for nuclear en-ergy, there is some recognition that a nuclear future may be dark. The new argument being advanced for nuclear energy is that it offers a solution to climate change , or at least to lessen the scale of global warming by reducing future greenhouse gas emissions. But nuclear power would primarily con-tribute to electricity production and, therefore, would be unable to mitigate about two thirds of global CO2 emis-sions, which are due to the fuels -used-directly (FUDs) in industry, transporta-tion, and the residential/commercial sectors.15 The bulk of

  Climate change is fueling a second chance for nuclear power © Courtesy of WGBH

Science journalist Miles O’Brien recently returned to Fukushima, Japan, for the sixth time since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown there nearly six years ago.

O’Brien thought he would be reporting on the massive clean-up effort at the shuttered nuclear power plant, a decommissioning effort that requires 4,000 workers to suit up in Tyvek suits, three layers of socks, gloves and respirators every day.

Instead, O’Brien found himself chasing a very different story about nuclear power.

“If the Japanese had either closed or improved those plants in significant ways, we would not have had the meltdown,” O’Brien says. “So the important question is: Is nuclear the villain here, or is it inattention to iterating and improving the technology?”  

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  Obama presses Trump not to back away from clean energy <p>President Barack Obama cast the adoption of clean energy in the U.S. as "irreversible," putting pressure Monday on President-elect Donald Trump not to back away from a core strategy to fight climate change.</p>Obama, penning an opinion article in the journal Science, sought to frame the argument in a way that might appeal to the president-elect: in economic terms. He said the fact that the cost and polluting power of energy have dropped at the same time proves that fighting climate change and spurring economic growth aren't mutually exclusive.

" That is going to entail premature retirements of fossil fuel power plants, and also additional renewable, nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration power plants," Iyer said. "[It] will have a real and tangible benefits in terms of improving the odds of a better climate outcome, reducing the chance of extreme outcomes, improving our changes of limiting the warming to the lowest levels we can," he said. Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500.

The historic and presentcontribution of nuclear powerto reducing carbon emissions. The future role of nuclear powerin a 2 °C scenario. Can nuclear power be expandedrapidly enough to make a fullcontribution to combating climatechange ? Nuclear energy and adaptationto climate change . tricity sector is nevertOhielless the focus of much attention, mainly because it is tChoealone sector where measures to. cut GHG emissions have the greatest chance to succeed, at least in the short to medium term.

O’Brien reports in his NOVA documentary “The Nuclear Option,” which airs tonight on PBS stations, that 18,000 people died in the wake of the 2011 tsunami and quake in Japan, but no one has been killed by the radiation from the Fukushima meltdowns.  

Meanwhile pollution released by burning coal and other fossil fuel power sources sickens millions each year.

As fears over global warming continue to simmer, nuclear power is experiencing something of a renaissance even as the Fukushima clean-up continues.    

Solar and wind power hold promise, but storage problems mean neither can replace coal in the short term.

Solutions to those problems will emerge, O’Brien says, but “in the meantime we’ve got a problem that is immediate and we have some technology that could be available sooner.”

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Dry cask storage units of nuclear fuel are pictured at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vermont, June 9, 2009. Photo: AP/Toby Talbot. PRO: Nuclear energy can cut our carbon emissions to zero. Despite competition from natural gas and wind and solar energy, nuclear power has no equal. In December of last year, representatives of most of the world's nations met in Paris, France, to discuss ways to combat climate change . The agreement they signed set an ambitious global goal: bringing net carbon emissions down to zero by the second half of this century.

have, however, altered in recent years owing to concerns about climate change , fossil fuel prices and energy security. This report summarizes nuclear power ’s potential role in mitigating global climate change and its contribution to addressing other development and environment issues. They also promote gender equity by allowing women to use their time for more productive activities than collecting firewood, and social equity by giving the less well off the chance to study, thus providing a possible escape from poverty. Energy is therefore vital to alleviating poverty, improving human welfare and

Reviving an old technology

Today, the nuclear fuel sources in most reactors are cooled by water. If the reactors lose power, as they did at Fukushima, those coolant pumps shut down, the water boils away and a nuclear meltdown ensues.

Reactors that can withstand a loss of power for longer are already being built in the search for better nuclear energy.  

But a new, potentially safer, generation of reactors is also being developed by engineers and energy startups around the country.  

According to O’Brien’s NOVA special, a DC-based think tank called Third Way found in 2015 that more than 40 startups across the US were developing advanced nuclear power designs.

These atomic business plans, they say, have garnered more than a billion dollars in investment.  

Some designs rely on liquid metal sodium as a coolant instead of water. The liquid metal is better at absorbing heat, less risky when cut off from power and doesn’t require building massive pressure chambers around the nuclear fuel, O’Brien says.

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Dry cask storage units of nuclear fuel are pictured at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon The world is starting to come together to fight climate change . Nuclear power can help. Nuclear plants also may not be as safe as they seem. There is always the chance that something will go wrong.

But there’s been one major advance in the 20 years separating their openings: widespread acceptance of fossil fuels ’ role in climate change , and the urgent need to wean the economy from it. Nuclear power may be clean, but people still question whether it is, or ever will be, safe enough. Those fears may be moot. Safety concerns didn’t delay construction on Watts Bar Unit 2 for so many years. Economics did. For all that fear, nuclear power still has the safest track record of any power source.

A liquid sodium reactor operated without incident for nearly 30 years at an Argonne National Laboratory testing site in Idaho. But nuclear power lost political support in the US after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, and the Argonne reactor was eventually moth-balled by President Bill Clinton.

Chuck Till: Nuclear physicist Chuck Till at a control panel at what is now the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho. © Credit: Courtesy of WGBH Nuclear physicist Chuck Till at a control panel at what is now the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho.

“We got scared in the '70s and we walked away from this technology,” O’Brien says.

Now, the idea of cooling a reactor with liquid sodium is being revived by a generation of nuclear scientists and entrepreneurs who see climate change as a bigger threat than nuclear power.

The highest-profile liquid sodium project is being developed by TerraPower, backed by Bill Gates and his former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold.

“From a technical perspective, we’ve solved every technical problem that’s occurred,” Myhrvold says. “But I can’t tell you, 'Oh yes, we’ve already been successful.' It’s going to be many more years of hard work before we are successful.”

“So we made a crazy bet," he says, "and we’re going to keep making that crazy bet."

Next-generation nuclear reactors have their risks too, of course. O’Brien says that liquid metal can be volatile when it comes in contact with water. And sodium-cooled reactors generate plutonium as a waste material.

“There are issues to work through here, but there’s no free lunch,” O’Brien says. “If you want the lights to go on 24/7/365, you kind of have to pick your poison. Maybe this is one way to do it, if we look at adopting the proper safety measures.”  

White House climate change webpage disappears after Trump's inauguration .
The removal of the page from the White House’s website came around the same time the site and other Executive Branch digital platforms were overhauled to reflect the new administration. The Obama Administration's climate change page still exists, but was migrated to a National Archives website.Trump has long denied, or at least questioned, the nearly unanimous agreement among scientists that human activity is causing rapid shifts in the Earth's climate. At one point, the president called the phenomenon a "hoax" propagated by China to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive.

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