As more Americans returned and utilities commissioned more coal-fired power plants, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States increased by more than 6% per year. last year, according to a new analysis by the Rhodium Group.
To mitigate climate change, however, the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time. More or less everyone agrees that there is a need to dramatically improve battery storage and replace fossil fuels with renewable and carbon-free energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy.
But there is another important zero-carbon technology that its proponents say should be part of the climate preservation mix: nuclear.
We probably won’t be building many new large nuclear power plants, given the expense, the safety concerns and the delays they have suffered. But small nuclear power plants are under development and could be deployed later in this decade.
NuScale Power, a company based near Portland, Oregon, promotes “small modular nuclear reactors.” The company plans to get full approval from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build and start up its first nuclear power plant at a site in Idaho by the end of this decade.
“NuScale’s scalable design – one power plant can house up to 12 individual power modules – delivers the benefits of carbon-free power and reduces financial liabilities associated with gigawatt-sized nuclear facilities.” said a voice over during a video tour of its facilities.
The company is one of many small modular nuclear power plants in development. It’s somewhat ahead of the pack, having received NRC design approval for one of its models, which uses industry-standard light water as a coolant.
A factory can be located on just 35 acres near a city or a manufacturing facility, according to Chris Colbert, chief strategy officer for NuScale.
“By eliminating about two-thirds of the systems and components necessary for safety in a typical large reactor,” he said.
The plant would be compact, built in a factory and shipped – ready to safely generate electricity, according to Colbert.
“In the event of a power outage at the station, like the one experienced in Fukushima [Japan, site of a nuclear disaster in 2011], we can safely shut down our plant and modules without any operator intervention, AC or DC power, and additional water, ”he said.
Nuclear waste would be stored in dry drums on-site, just like in existing nuclear power plants, Colbert said. It would also be protected against release, theft or sabotage.
NuScale still faces major hurdles going forward, according to Alexandra Klass at the University of Minnesota Law School.
“It’s important to get the design approved. But there is still a long way to go in the authorization process. There will be appeals, there could be litigation, ”she said.
Always, Jonathan lesser at the Manhattan Institute said new forms of nuclear generation are needed and should be accelerated by regulators to eliminate carbon emissions.
“People who think this can be achieved only with wind and solar power and battery backup are frankly deluding themselves,” he said. “It’s physically impossible.”
Renewable energy advocates who oppose nuclear power are debating this proposal. So far, investors concerned about climate change have not adopted the nuclear option either.
“You don’t find a lot of clean energy clues or people following the clean energy industry that currently includes nuclear. You don’t see much of it, ”said Ron Pernick, co-founder of Clean Edge, which develops clean energy stock indices. “How much would we consider next-generation nuclear technology to be a clean energy solution? Can they tackle the problems of nuclear proliferation and nuclear waste? Can they address security? And this is still an open question.
When this question was posed to Chris Colbert of NuScale, “My answer is, quite frankly, that nuclear power is carbon-free. Complete stop. “
Now, NuScale is closer to commercial deployment than rival developers who use more innovative technology than light water – like liquid metal, salts, or pressurized gas – to cool their small reactors.
But much remains unknown about the performance of NuScale’s reactors in the field, said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“The design itself has new features, much of which has not been tested. So I think there are technical uncertainties, and there are also financial uncertainties, which raise questions about when this reactor will actually be deployed, ”said Lyman.
NuScale recently announced plans to sell shares to the public this year and hopes to raise several hundred million dollars to support this final step towards commercial exploitation.