Social Governance

Nuclear Power Plants : is Faster Better?

Published on: 31 May 2022 02:00 PM
by KnowESG

The European Union has taken on projects to be less dependent on fossil fuels from Russia due to the war. Indirectly, the event affecting countries all over the world has opened the door to more green and zero-carbon initiatives. Smaller advanced reactors are one of them: the conventional reactors building process takes time and is expensive, which means a smaller alternative could be the solution to go green, faster.

Accelerating nuclear energy could take the world one step forward towards carbon-free energy and cover up the flaws of renewable energy. Oklo Inc. is the startup that could make the one-year power plant construction plan a reality. According to the CEO Jacob Dewitte, the only issue slowing down the process is the U.S regulatory process, more precisely a license from the Regulatory Commission. Again, the problem is that the fuel that the reactors need should come from Russia.

Oklo Inc. reactor is able to power about 10.000 homes with clean energy with a 15 megawatt system, while traditional reactors have 1 gigawatt of capacity. It would cost $50 million and fit in a small warehouse. Every 3 to 6 months, there could be new units of that reactor thanks to the modular design employed by the company. 

"All this stuff, we could do it in months," said DeWitte. "It takes time, but it's not years."

This innovation could help free the US from its dependence on fuel resources. The reactors could later be assembled overseas and offer the same advantages to other countries.

However, the skepticism of institutions like the NRC could be explained by the fast pace at which this company is working. The risk of a catastrophe is not to be overlooked, and rushing the process incurs potential risks, according to Chris Gadomski, head nuclear analyst for BloombergNEF, a clean energy research group. It is possible that bugs could emerge when moving from blueprints to a factory.

"It’s a big thing, going from being a PowerPoint reactor to being an actual reactor that’s in service," Gadomski said. "When you license a nuclear reactor, if something goes wrong, everyone starts pointing fingers." 

TerraPower LLC founded by Bill Gates has been working for years now on a 345-megawatt plant in Wyoming supposedly ready to operate only by 2028. Jeff Navin, TerraPower’s director of external affairs insists that even with full government support, a similar project should take four to five years, and then approximately three years for the other plants. Each one of them should cost about $1 billion.

Along with the concept of a smaller reactor itself, the innovation lies in the fact that when TerraPower’s reactors use liquid sodium as a cooler instead of water, for Oklo’s product, the substance used is liquid metal.

What adds another layer of difficulty to the challenge, is that the fuel called high assay low-enriched uranium is only available in short supply from Russia and cannot be supplied directly from the U.S. Centrus Energy Corp. is a company that is willing to fill that gap, but there are more than 40 months to go and great amounts of investment to be able to produce HALEU.

There are a significant number of obstacles, and safety counts among the most important ones, but these promising efforts need to be acclaimed since they offer opportunities and advancements for the near future.

Source : Bloomberg