August 12, 2010

Generating the Option of a Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance

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Scientists, from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, suggest a two-stage plan in their review paper that could see countries with existing nuclear infrastructure replacing or extending the life of nuclear power stations, followed by a second phase of global expansion in the industry by the year 2030. The team say their roadmap could fill an energy gap as old nuclear, gas and coal fired plants around the world are decommissioned, while helping to reduce the planet's dependency on fossil fuels.

A possible two-stage nuclear renaissance in the United Kingdom. The first wave is being developed, allowing the United Kingdom to "replace nuclear with nuclear." The second wave would allow nuclear energy to play a major role in electricity decarbonization.

They outline a 20-year master plan for the global renaissance of nuclear energy (link is to draft copy) that could see nuclear reactors with replaceable parts, portable mini-reactors, and ship-borne reactors supplying countries with clean energy

* develop new 'fast reactors' could be developed that could use uranium approximately 15 times more efficiently
* develop reactors with replaceable parts so that they can last in excess of 70 years instead of 40-50 years
* Flexible nuclear technologies could be an option for countries that do not have an established nuclear industry, suggest the scientists. One idea involves ship-borne civil power plants that could be moored offshore, generating electricity for nearby towns and cities. This could reduce the need for countries to build large electricity grid infrastructures, making it more cost effective for governments to introduce a nuclear industry from scratch.
* build small, modular reactors that never require refuelling. These could be delivered to countries as sealed units, generating power for approximately 40 years. At the end of its life, the reactor would be returned to the manufacturer for decommissioning and disposal.
* Thorium is mentioned as having potential to become an important nuclear fuel.
* Accelerator-Driven Sub-critical Reactors are mentioned as an option
* Nuclear fusion is mentioned. Fusion-fission hybrids and fusion-driven fission fuel breeders are a route to early commercialization of fusion energy.

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