Westinghouse and others are pursuing the development of a true next-generation nuclear technology referred to as the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR) for the past few years. Without too much technical detail, HTGRs are helium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors with robust ceramic-coated fuel that operate at temperatures at or above 750 Degrees Celsius (1400 Fahrenheit) where conventional light water reactors operate at temperatures less than half that. In short:
* The design is intrinsically safe. It requires neither active or passive systems nor operator interventions to remain safe, thereby allowing co-location near major industrial facilities.
* High temperature output that allow direct substitution for fossil fuel use in industrial process heat applications.
* Much higher efficiency leading to lower energy cost, making it competitive with natural gas in many places of the world today without any price for carbon.
There are current HTGR operational demonstrations in Japan and China
The market for High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors
Capturing merely 25% of the key markets would require over 700 reactor modules in North America alone. Potential uses include:
* Petrochemical, refinery, fertilizer/ammonia plants and others (125 HTGRs);
* Oil Sands/Oil Shale (30 HTGRs);
* Hydrogen merchant market (60 HTGRs);
* Synthetic fuels and feedstocks (415 HTGRs); and
* Electric power (180 HTGRs).
Because much of the heavy industrial usage is concentrated, hundreds of separate reactor sites are not required; a few dozen will be enough.
Relying on nuclear energy for electric power is like relying on caviar to fight world hunger. Heavy industry and other energy intensive energy users need an “energy caviar.” Energy that is high temperature, concentrated, highly reliable and price stable. Today natural gas, coal, and oil have been the source of that caviar.
At what price? Detailed studies by industry and the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory show that energy from HTGRs will be equivalent to $6 – $8 per thousand cubic feet – equal or less than the price of natural gas in parts of the US and in much of the rest of the world. And, unlike the future price of natural gas, the price of energy from HTGRs will be stable and predictable.
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