In a world of huge problems with electricity. Go back to the nuclear reactors?
Back in 2009, Simon Irish investment manager from New York, discovered a way by which, in his opinion, it was possible to change the world. Irish saw that all countries in the world are in need of a colossal amount in clean energy projects to replace its infrastructure on fossil fuels, as well as to provide enough energy to meet the demand from China, India and other fast-growing countries. He realized that he alone renewable sources, which rely on a breath of wind, and the glow of the sun, do not shake. And he also knew that nuclear energy is the only existing form of clean energy that can fill in the gaps, was too expensive to compete with oil and gas.
But then, at a conference in 2011, he met an engineer with an innovative design of a nuclear reactor cooled by molten salt. If this works, I think Irish, it will not only solve the problem of the aging of nuclear energy, but will also provide a realistic path to the abandonment of fossil fuels.
And then he asked himself: "Is it possible to design reactors are better than those that were 60 years ago?". The answer was: "Absolutely."
Can you build a home nuclear reactor?
Irish was so convinced that this new reactor will be an excellent occasion for investments that has devoted his entire career. Almost ten years later, Irish became CEO of Terrestrial Energy, based in New York. A company that expects to create a reactor based on molten salt until 2030. Terrestrial not alone doing this. Dozens of nuclear startups appear here and there, and they all focused on solving known problems with nuclear power - radioactive waste, emissions, the proliferation of weapons and high costs.
Reactors that burn nuclear waste. Reactors designed to destroy isotopes that can be used in weapons. Small reactors that would be inexpensive to build factories. So many ideas.
Former Minister of Energy Ernest Moniz, Terrestrial adviser, believes that there is something new. "I've never seen such innovations in this segment," he says. "It's really exciting."
Other reactors, such as reactor Terrestrial designed with brine cooling, is automatically cooled, if becoming too hot. Water flows through the usual reactors, protecting them from overheating, but if something stops this flow - for example, the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima - the water is gone, leaving nothing to stop the meltdown.
Unlike water, salt does not boil, so even if the operators will disable the security system and leave salt will continue to cool the system, says Irish. The salt is heated and expands, pushing uranium atoms and slowing the reaction (the further atoms of damage, the lower the probability that a neutron flying divide them by running the following sequence of reactions).
"It's like a pot on the stove, in which the cooked pasta," says Irish. No matter how hot your stove, pasta will never be hot 100 degrees Celsius, unless water has evaporated. While it is present, the water circulates and dissipates heat. However, if the liquid to replace the water with salt, will heat all to 1000 degrees Celsius, before your refrigerant will evaporate. All this may seem like science fiction, but it is reality. Russia produces electricity from advanced reactor that burns radioactive waste in 2016. China has built reactor "pebbles" that blocks the radioactive elements within graphite spheres.
In 2015, to keep track of start-ups and public-sector projects, trying to produce a low-carbon energy by means of safe, cheap and clean nuclear process, analytical center Third Way started to map all of the advanced nuclear projects across the United States. The map was then 48 points, and is now 75, and they spread like locusts.
"In terms of number of projects, the number of people working on them, and the volume of private financing, there is nothing, what can be compared, not back in the 1960s," said Ryan Fitzpatrick, working on clean energy in the Third Way.
In those days, when Walt Disney released the film "Our Friend the Atom", promotes the development of nuclear power as a futuristic concept of electricity, which is "too cheap to be measured," it seemed plausible, electrical planning to build hundreds of reactors across the United Territory States.
Why is all this happening now? After all, scientists are working on alternative types of reactors since the beginning of the Cold War, but never deployed in full force. The history of advanced reactors dotted with the corpses of failed attempts. The reactor is cooled with salt for the first time successfully launched in 1954, but the United States decided to specialize in water-cooled reactors and eliminate other designs. But something fundamental has changed: in the past there was no reason to beg at nuclear company billions of dollars in new construction as part of the federal regulatory process as conventional nuclear reactors were profitable. Now it is not.
"For the first time in half a century of the nuclear players are suffering financial distress," says Irish.
The last time the United States rely on conventional water-cooled reactors, and she plays not the best way. In 2012, South Carolina Electric & Gas received approval for the construction of two large conventional reactors for the production of 2200 MW of electricity, enough to power 1, 8 million homes, and promised that they will be launched in 2018. Paying electricity bills, the people saw that they were up 18%, which, of course, led to delays in the construction of reactors. Draining into the project $ 9 billion, the utility surrendered.
Such stories happen and abroad. In Finland, the construction of a new reactor at the Olkiluoto power plant for eight years behind schedule and at 6, $ 5 billion - from the budget.
In response to these nuclear startups develop their businesses to avoid the horrific cost overruns. Many of them are planning to build a standardized particle reactor at the plant, and then put them together as the LEGO, at the construction site. "If you can move the construction of the plant, you can significantly reduce costs," says Parsons.
New reactors could also reduce the costs, if they were safe. Conventional reactors have a huge risk of destruction due to melting, mainly because they are designed for submarines. Water to cool the reactor when it is on the submarine is quite easy, but when the reactor is on land, it is necessary to pump water into it to cool. "And this pumping system never, should never break down, otherwise you will get Fukushima. We need a security system for security, redundancy on top of redundancy. " Oklo, a startup in Silicon Valley and founded its draft reactor prototype, is not subject to destruction. "When engineers cut off all cooling system, cool down, and then he began to back up, then worked just fine," says Caroline Cochran, co-founder Oklo. If these safer reactors will not need all these redundant cooling systems and domes made of concrete, the company will be able to build a power plant is much cheaper.
Often the technology for a long time, fail, succeed before 45 years have passed since the first light bulb to the patent Thomas Edison on incandescent light bulb. Engineers can take decades to translate the idea into shape. Some people think that all the ideas advanced nuclear technologies have been tried in the past. "But science has advanced," the scientists say. "You have much better material than a few decades ago. There are chances that all will turn out. "
A recent study by the non-profit project Energy Innovation Reform estimates that the last batch of nuclear startups can deliver electricity at a price of 36-90 dollars per megawatt-hour. Any power stations operating on natural gas sell electricity at the price of 42-78 dollars per megawatt-hour.
In the best case, the nuclear station will become even cheaper. there are forecasts
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard, says that if nuclear energy will play a role in combating climate change, advanced nuclear startups waiting for the inevitable and rapid growth. "To ensure that a tenth of clean energy that we need in 2050, we will have to add to the network of 30 gigawatts per year," he says. This means that the world will need to build 10 times more nuclear energy than it was before the Fukushima disaster in 2011. It is generally realistic?
"I think we should try - although I am not an optimist," said Bunn, noting that the pace at which we will need to build solar and wind energy production technology, to eliminate the use of fossil fuels as well as complex. "
On the way to the nuclear renaissance remains large barriers. It will take years to test prototypes and obtain government approval in any country.
"In the end, on the planet with 10 billion people, any number of affordable and secure energy - whether it be from the nuclear fusion or fission - will find favor."