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Sunday 12 May 2024

The Ultra Safe Nuclear reactor

 Nuclear energy has re-emerged as an essential component of any Net Zero future. While many, mainly Green, groups continue to argue it is not 'essential', the IPCC has accepted this as the case.

The association with Nuclear weapons and the known longevity of nuclear waste products have remained the first visceral objection by those who oppose the technology. They typically bundle these as 'nuclear is just not safe'.

This is despite the exceptional safety record of nuclear power generation over 7 decades, comparable to Hydro and Solar power.  Added to this is the issue of cost. Nuclear technology has required custom design and construction which together with the need to meet onerous environmental constraints, has made each new build expensive and time-consuming. There is a wide range of construction times and costs.

Nevertheless, the drive towards Net Zero has seen a major rethink in addressing these issues. The construction time and cost problems are being solved by the introduction of Small Modular Reactors. Reactors that have lower power from 25-300 MW and mostly constructed using modules built largely off site in a repetitive manufacturing process. These can make significant reductions in construction times, down from a typical 8 years to 3-4 years and with cost per KW generated being halved.

At the same time safety is being addressed with the emergence of novel designs with built-in passive safety. I recently came across the Ultra Safe design, as exemplified in the following short video. Well worth a view.

With Nuclear it is not if but when. And countries that stick to the old prejudices will suffer energy poverty if they try to fulfil their Net Zero dream with solar and wind.

Unfortunately, too many countries, including Australia, are wearing blinkers.

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