In a world of huge problems with the electricity. Back to nuclear reactors?

Back in 2009, Simon Irish, the investment Manager out of new York, have discovered a method by which, in his opinion, it was possible to change the world. Irish saw that the entire world is in need of enormous number of projects in the field of environmentally friendly energy sources to replace its infrastructure on fossil fuels, and provide enough energy to meet demand from China, India and other growing countries. He realized that only one renewable that rely on the wind and the glow of the sun, no escape. And he also knew that nuclear energy, the only existing form of pure energy that can fill the gaps was too expensive to compete with oil and gas.

But then, at the conference in 2011, he met the engineer with an innovative project of a nuclear reactor, cooled by molten salt. If it works, I thought of Irish, it will not only solve the problem of aging of nuclear energy, but will provide a realistic path to abandoning fossil fuels.

And then he asked himself the question: “is it Possible to design the reactors are better than those that were 60 years ago?”. The answer was: “Absolutely true.”

Is it possible to build a homemade nuclear reactor?

Irish was so convinced that this new reactor will be a great occasion for the investments that he has dedicated his entire career. Almost ten years later, Irish became the CEO of Terrestrial Energy, located in new York. The company, which expects to create reactor based on the molten salt until 2030.

Terrestrial not the only one doing this. Dozens of nuclear start-UPS appear here and there, and all of them devoted to solving the known problems with nuclear energy — radioactive waste, emissions, proliferation and high costs.

Reactors that burn nuclear waste. The reactors are designed to destroy isotopes that can be used in weapons. Small reactors that could be cheap to build in factories. So many ideas.

Former Minister of energy Ernest Moniz, counselor Terrestrial, believes that there is something new. “I’ve never seen such innovations in this segment,” he says. “It’s really interesting.”

Other reactors, designed like Terrestrial reactors with salt cooling, automatically cooled, if you become too hot. The water flows through conventional reactors, protecting them from overheating, but if anything will stop this thread — for example, the earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima — the water is gone, leaving nothing to stop the meltdown.

Unlike water, the salt doesn’t boil, so even if the operators shut off safety systems and gone, the salt will continue to cool the system, says Irish. The salt heats and expands, pushing the atoms of uranium and slowing the reaction (the farther the atoms of damage, the less the probability that a passing neutron will separate them by running the following chain reactions).

“It’s like a pot on the stove, which cooked the pasta,” says Irish. No matter how hot your plate, pasta will never be hotter than 100 degrees Celsius, if the water evaporates. While it is present, the water circulates and dissipates the heat. However, if you replace water with liquid salt would have to heat all this up to 1000 degrees Celsius, before your refrigerant will begin to evaporate.

All this may seem fantastic, but it is reality. Russia produces electricity from an advanced reactor that burns nuclear waste from 2016. China built the reactor “pebbles” which blocks radioactive elements inside of graphite spheres.

In 2015, to keep track of startups and projects in the public sector, trying to produce low carbon energy with the help of safe, cheap and clean nuclear process, a think tank Third Way has started to map all the advanced nuclear projects throughout the United States. The map was 48 points then, and now 75, and they’re spreading like locusts.

“From the point of view of number of projects, the number of people working on them, and the amount of private funding, nothing could compare, not back in 1960-e years,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick, working on clean energy at Third Way.

In those days, when Walt Disney released the film “Our friend the Atom”, promoting nuclear energy development when the futuristic concept of electricity that was “too cheap to measure”, it seemed the most likely, electrical engineering planned to build hundreds of reactors throughout the United States.

Why is all this happening now? In the end, scientists are working on alternative reactor types from the beginning of the cold war, but was not developed in full force. History of advanced reactors is littered with the corpses of failed attempts. The reactor with salt cooling for the first time successfully launched in 1954, but the United States decided to specialize in water-cooled reactors and to eliminate other designs.

But something fundamental has changed: previously, there was no reason for the nuclear company to beg for billions of dollars in new construction through the Federal regulatory process, as conventional nuclear reactors have been profitable. Now it is not.

“For the first time in half a century of operating nuclear players suffer financial distress,” says Irish.

In recent years the United States rely on conventional water-cooled reactors and it plays not the best way. In 2012, South Carolina Electric & Gas received permission for the construction of two large conventional reactors for the production of 2200 MW of energy, enough to power 1.8 million homes, and promised that they will be launched in 2018. Paying bills for electricity, people saw what they were up 18%, which, of course, led to delays in the construction of the reactors. Plums in the project is $ 9 billion, the utility gave up.

These stories take place abroad. In Finland, the construction of a new reactor at the Olkiluoto power plant was eight years behind schedule and $ 6.5 billion from the budget.

In response to these nuclear startups develop their business to avoid the horrible cost overruns. Many of them are planning to build a standardized particle reactor at the plant, and then assemble them together like LEGO on a building site. “If you can move the construction of the plant, you will be able to significantly reduce costs,” says Parsons.

New reactors could also reduce costs, if it was safe. Conventional reactors have a huge risk of destruction due to melting, mainly because they are designed for submarines. The reactor was cooled with water when it is on a submarine, is quite simple, but when the reactor is on land, it is necessary to pump water into it to chill. “This pump system never, ever needs to break, otherwise you will get a Fukushima. Need a security system for security, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a startup from Silicon valley, founded the project of the reactor prototype, not subject to destruction. “When engineers disabled all of the cooling system, he cooled himself and then started the backup then worked fine,” said Caroline Cochran, co-founder of Oklo. If these safer reactors will not need all these backup systems, cooling and domes of concrete, the company will be able to build power plants much cheaper.

Often technology for a long time fail, before succeeding: 45 years have passed since the appearance of the first light bulb patent to Thomas Edison for the incandescent lamp. Engineers can take decades to translate the idea into form. Some people think that all the ideas advanced nuclear technologies have been tested in the past. “But science has moved forward,” say the researchers. “You have much better materials than several decades ago. There are chances that it can work.”

A recent study by the nonprofit Energy Innovation Reform project estimates that the last batch of startups nuclear can supply electricity at a price 36-90 dollars per megawatt-hour. Any power plant running on natural gas sell electricity at a price 42-78 dollars per megawatt-hour.

In the best case, a nuclear power station could become even cheaper. There are predictions

Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert from Harvard, said that if nuclear energy will play a role in the fight against climate change, advanced nuclear startups waiting for the inevitable and rapid growth. “To provide one-tenth of pure energy that we will need by 2050, we will have to add to the network to 30 gigawatts per year,” he says.

This means that the world will need to build 10 times more nuclear power than it was before the disaster of Fukushima in 2011. Is this for real?

“I think we should try — though I’m not an optimist,” says Bunn, noting that the pace at which we will need to build solar and wind technology to generate power to refuse the use of fossil fuels, as well difficult”.

On the way to a nuclear Renaissance, there remain large barriers. It will take years to test prototypes and get the approval of the government in any country.

“Ultimately, on a planet with 10 billion people, any amount of affordable and safe energy — whether it is from nuclear fusion or fission — find a use”.

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