Small is beautiful and affordable in nuclear power-stations

Most of you will have domestic carbon footprints that are similar to mine, i.e. dominated by energy consumption, probably mainly your car and climate control in your home, and you will struggle to reduce your footprint [see my post entitled ‘New Year Resolution’ on December 31st, 2014]. We live in a fossil fuel economy and so even if you make your home entirely powered by electricity and buy a plug-in car then your utility provider is still very likely to use fossil fuel to generate the electricity supplied to you and your carbon emissions will have been simply moved elsewhere. If you are lucky enough to live in a suitable location then installing geothermal, solar or wind power for your home might be viable; but otherwise the majority of us are dependent on power-stations for our electricity.

I discussed the impossibility, with today’s technology, of providing all of our electrical power needs using renewable sources in my post entitled ‘Energy Blending‘ on May 22nd, 2013. The alternatives are either to reduce our power consumption dramatically, which seems unlikely to happen given that everyone would like to enjoy the lifestyle of typical readers of blogs, or to build a very large number of nuclear power stations.  The scale of the problem facing China was the topic of my post entitled ‘Mass-produced nuclear power plants‘ on November 12th, 2014 and it is many times large on a global scale.

A major obstacle to building nuclear power-stations is their exorbitant capital cost, e.g. £24 billion for the planned Hinckley Point C reactor in the UK. This level of investment is beyond the reach of most companies and the construction of a fleet of such power-stations to provide national needs is beyond the budget of most national governments. Small modular reactors (SMR), whose components could be mass-produced and assembled on-site, have been proposed and both their small size and the manufacturing approach would lead to considerable reductions in unit costs. Although many designs for SMRs are under development, with mature designs in China and India, progress towards implementation and mass-production is slow so that the situation is ripe for a disruptive technology from another industrial sector to transform the nuclear power landscape. One possible candidate is the fusion reactor being developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk works [see my post entitled ‘Mass-produced nuclear power plants‘ on November 12th, 2014] or the Travelling Wave Reactor being developed by the spin-out company TerraPower.

We need to think big about small affordable solutions instead of thinking and spending big money on massive projects that tend towards a big unaffordable solution.

Also see Bill Gates on Energy-Miracles



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