Just recently the topic of nuclear power has been in the news again – Watts Bar Nuclear started up and is producing Carbon Free Energy after nearly 45 years of construction.
A victim of declining energy needs in the 80’s the plant’s construction was only recently restarted. Couple Watts Bar with other US and foreign nuclear construction that is underway and one can see that a nuclear renaissance is underway!
Still on first glance and dependent on your point of view you may be cringing – but I’d offer you shouldn’t and many others don’t today.
With more and more of the emphasis being placed on Carbon Free Energy sources the realization that base load sources that are carbon free are essential to the global goals being met. Solar and Wind are carbon free yet the challenge of day night cycles or times of low wind are not yet addressed with today’s limited storage technologies. So past deniers of nuclear are coming around to recognize the contribution of nuclear to a stable baseload source of electricity in the grid. As well nuclear power is the one source that has the unique characteristic of being highly compact and engineered for long life times.
One significant drawback to the nuclear industry has been the concern for fuel storage. Most of the fuel from reactors is stored on site in wet or dry cask storage and will remain that way until the US resolves the science and politics surrounding long term storage. The back story to that issue has to do with the decision not to reprocess fuel in the way that most of the world does and has for over 40 years. The fuel from a reactor is consumed over a period of several fuel cycles. These cycles are generally 1-2 years each and in the lifetime of a given fuel bundle it moves around in the core through 4-5 cycles to maximize its output and contribution to the physics of the overall core. When it finally is removed from the core it has transformed it’s very makeup into a host of different elements many of which are valuable to produce additional energy.
It has always struck me as strange as to why our national strategy has been to park this elsewhere valued resource in a wet or dry cask storage. It seems that concerns of security or proliferation of materials can be addressed here in similar ways as France and Japan have. We stockpile our fuel on site and in essence we are increasing the exposure to redirection of materials –
So the next time you see a familiar cooling tower – don’t think of the challenges of nuclear power, think of the Carbon Free Energy that nuclear power offers to the world and how you can influence change in the conversation.
Best Regards Until Next Time rds