Monday, July 23, 2007

Generation IV Nuclear--Toward an Environmentally Friendlier Nuclear Fission Reactor

Nuclear energy is a likely alternative to the increased use of coal, as oil supplies begin to plateau over the next few decades. Next generation nuclear fission reactors will not have the massive need for coolant water, and will thus be environmentally friendlier. Their safer designs--when compared to contemporary reactors--should reduce some public concerns about moving toward more nuclear power plants.

The US government energy labs are actively soliciting new reactor designs, in the knowledge that there are few alternatives to nuclear energy over the next half century, if humans are to significantly move away from fossil fuels.
The Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory is conducting the program that seeks to use cutting-edge technology in building a high temperature reactor capable of producing hydrogen, electricity and/or process heat. Officials said such a nuclear power plant would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enabling nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels in the petrochemical and transportation industries.

"Proceeding with conceptual design for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant brings the Department of Energy another step closer to developing this advanced new technology," Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said. "Through this effort, (the department) will foster a public-private partnership to complete this development and spur the commercial scale deployment of advanced clean and safe nuclear energy as quickly as possible."

Read more about next generation fission here, here, and here.

The last link, Energy from Thorium, is particularly thought provoking, because it introduces a reactor concept that will not add to the concern over the propagation and breeding of weapons grade fissionable materials. Thorium does not breed Plutonium.

High temperature reactors that do not use water as the primary coolant should allow the use of nuclear energy in more arid climates, where cooling water is scarce. These designs should also be more useful in mining both oil sands and shale oils in situ.

China has already begun the planning and development process for a rapid expansion of
Chinese nuclear energy capacity. And although recent Japanese earthquakes are causing the Japanese to re-think their commitment to nuclear, for less earthquake-prone areas in the developed world, nuclear is a natural.

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