Last week at Heritage, representatives from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Thorium Reactors, Hyperion and General Atomics discussed the potential of new nuclear technologies for America. The full event is available and accessible by going to Heritage’s event site.
The INL’s Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project, which is a private-public partnership that focuses on high temperature gas-cooled reactors, broadly expands the applications of nuclear energy beyond electricity production (by the way, the U.S. currently gets 20 percent of its electricity from 104 reactors). The heat produced from high temperature reactors can not only be used to run the turbines that produce electricity more efficiently, but the residual steam from that process can be used for many industrial processes, such as to manufacture plastic and throughout the petrochemical industry.
For example, INL notes that to melt raw materials and mold them into plastic parts, companies need heat between 300 and 700 degrees Celsius. A high temperature reactor has the ability to cleanly provide the heat and energy needed for this process. You can learn much more at their site, Next Generation Nuclear Plants.
Oh, and by the way, there is a whole bunch of oil trapped in tar sands and oil shale throughout North America, especially in the Green River Formation located in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. According to the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management, a moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. This reactor would be perfect for sending heat into the Earth to release that oil.
Thorium power, although not commercially available in the U.S., has unique advantages that address two of the primary concerns for those skeptical of nuclear power.
- The first is that it relies on a proliferation-resistant fuel cycle — no production of nuclear weapons-usable materials in spent fuel.
- The second is the significantly reduced volume, weight and long-term radio-toxicity of spent fuel. Hasn’t Barack Obama said that he supports nuclear so long as the proliferation and waste problems are solved? Barack, Thorium. Thorium, Barack.
Thorium isn’t quite new; in fact, it has been researched and developed for 30 years in six countries and been tested in several reactors. Two of India’s commercial reactors use a combination of thorium and uranium but use six times more thorium than uranium. While the technology is not fully developed, the future of thorium reactors looks promising.
Hyperion Power Generation, Inc. is looking to commercialize small, nuclear reactors for remote locations as soon as 2013. The reactors, developed at the Las Alamos National Laboratory, are the size of a hot tub and buried under ground. According to Hyperion. it is impossible for them to melt down or be broken down into weapons. Furthermore, the amount of nuclear waste one of these reactors produces after about 5 years is about the size of a softball and could be reprocessed for more energy.
And how much electricity do these “hot tubs” pump out? Enough to power 20,000 average-sized homes.
Interestingly, Hyperion is concentrating on foreign markets because of the onerous nature of America’s nuclear regulatory regime.
These examples provide sound logic for why we can’t move forward with centrally planned energy policy, let alone a centrally planned nuclear policy. Innovation and the market will develop unforeseen means to meet energy demands that would most likely be restricted by the tunnel vision of a central planner. That is why we need a regulatory regime, waste management strategy, and federal programs that invite competition and that are nuclear technology neutral.
Next week we’ll be hosting William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey. Details of the event can be found here and it is open to the public.