Rising popularity could be undone by accident

21 July 2022, Bavaria, Essenbach: Water vapor rises behind the sunflowers from the cooling system of the Isar 2 nuclear power plant (NPP).

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Nuclear power is at a turning point. The initial exuberance about its potential was undermined by a series of devastating and dangerous accidents: Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979; Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986; and Fukushima Daiichi in Japan in 2011.

But now, thanks to new technology and the increasingly urgent need to combat climate change, nuclear power has a second chance to become an important part of the global energy grid. This is because nuclear power generation does not create any of the dangerous greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

In a panel discussion at the United Nations on Tuesday, a collection of nuclear power leaders from around the world came together to discuss the extent of that renaissance and why it’s so critical that the industry work together to ensure that nuclear power is adopted. Standard security measures everywhere.

A nuclear accident anywhere has the potential to disrupt the most important momentum the nuclear industry has had in decades.

$1 trillion in global demand expected

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said nuclear power accounts for 20% of US baseload power and 50% of its zero-carbon power. “And that’s just from the fleet that we have today without the other additions that we hope to see.”

Nuclear plants and reactors of the future will almost certainly use different technology than today’s standard, as US labs and private companies alike are funding research into more efficient reactors that are cheaper to build and generate less waste. . Granholm mentioned, as an example, the advanced nuclear reactor that TerraPower, Bill Gates’ nuclear innovation company, is installing in an old coal town in Wyoming.

Demand for advanced nuclear reactors will be worth around $1 trillion globally, Granholm said, according to an estimate from the Department of Energy. That includes the jobs to build those reactors and all the associated supply chains that will need to ramp up to support the industry, Granholm said.

“The bottom line is that the spread of advanced nuclear power is a priority for us,” Granholm said. “Of course, all of these technologies have to start and end with nuclear safety.”

The change in sentiment around nuclear power has happened fairly quickly, said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

A photo shows dogs passing a Ferris wheel in the background of the ghost town of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, on May 29, 2022, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | fake images

“Until a few years ago, nuclear power would not be present, and perhaps not even welcome” at the annual conferences of the COP, which stands for Conference of the Parties and provides an opportunity for world leaders to discuss climate change. “The IAEA has gone quite quickly from almost an outsider to a very welcome participant in this dialogue where nuclear power has a place.”

The next COP conference will be in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November, followed by one in Dubai Expo City in the United Arab Emirates. The IAEA plans to be part of both conferences.

“The mere fact that we are talking about nuclear-powered POPs in Egypt and in the Gulf, in itself says a lot about what is happening and how we are changing and the possibilities that we have and that could have been almost unpredictable just a few years ago. Grossi said.

Security First

But if nuclear power is to continue to be a part of these climate change conferences and talks, supporters stress that the entire international community must work together to adhere to strict safety and non-proliferation standards.

“No one is going to buy a car today if it has an accident every day. Therefore, safety and security … are the basis for the successful deployment of nuclear power,” Hamad Al Kaabi, a representative of the United Arab Emirates before the IAEA. .

“The question of how the nuclear industry works and how it is perceived globally, any accident anywhere is an accident everywhere,” Al Kaabi said.

The United Arab Emirates has three nuclear reactors in operation and a fourth reactor in the final stages of commissioning, Al Kaabi said. But building nuclear power plants takes time, and the process in the United Arab Emirates began about 13 years ago.

Vietnam has been considering nuclear power for decades, according to the World Nuclear Association, an international trade group. The country announced a plan to build a nuclear power plant in 2006, but put those plans on hold in 2016, in part because of the expense. Then, in March, Vietnam published an official draft energy proposal that includes small modular nuclear reactors.

The United States and the IAEA have helped guide Vietnam in its efforts to include nuclear power in its national energy plan, Ha Kim Ngoc, deputy foreign minister, said at Tuesday’s event. Reactors are an attractive option for the relatively small country, Ngoc said.

South Africa has two reactors, according to the World Nuclear Association, and now other countries in Africa are interested in deploying nuclear power.

“Most of the African countries I come from have very small networks,” said Executive Director Collins Juma of the Kenya Nuclear Power and Energy Agency. Advanced nuclear reactor designs, especially small modular reactors, are intriguing, but Juma hinted that paying for such reactors could be difficult. “I am not sure of the cost, but we will discuss it in other forums.”

As Africa works to decarbonize, nuclear power is a critical baseload corollary to wind, solar and geothermal power on the continent. But bringing nuclear power to Africa will require strong, independent regulation to convince people it’s safe.

“Nuclear power is a very emotional subject,” Juma said. And it’s one where “everyone is an expert” and thinks he knows it’s dangerous. “We have to be very careful when we’re developing a nuclear power plan. And the public, especially the public, has to have confidence” that the nuclear power plant is safe, he said.

Juma said he was asking the major nuclear powers and organizations for guidance. “When you copy, you only copy the best, not the worst,” he said.

For countries that are interested in building nuclear power reactors, the IAEA has written a real guide, “Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power.” That’s a good place for countries to start, Grossi said.

“The moment is serious and we know that it is a red alert for Planet Earth,” Grossi said. “We have been saying this, but nuclear power is not for the few, nuclear power can be for the many.”

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