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‘Yes to Nuclear’ for heavy decarbonization

The New Nuclear Watch Institute’s (NNWI) ‘Yes to Nuclear’ Perspectives initiative has released its monthly publication for May, focusing on the crucial role of nuclear energy in achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. In the run-up to COP 26, the NNWI and its partners are showcasing the wide-ranging applications that nuclear energy production has to offer across industries, as decarbonisation dominates the global political agenda.

This month’s instalment enlightens readers as to how nuclear energy can hasten climate action and accelerate the decarbonisation of heavy industry. 

The proliferation of new technologies, such as cryptocurrency mining, and industrialisation in developing countries are reducing the time available to curb global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  

Heavy industry 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), heavy industry accounts for 22% of global carbon emissions. The production of steel, cement, oil refining and chemical industries relies on massive amounts of energy with roughly half dedicated to producing high-temperature heat, largely produced by burning fossil fuels

Heavy industry and the transport sector combined could emit more than 500 Gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 between now and 2050. This would exceed by 100 Gt the maximum level required to keep global surface temperature rises below 1.5C over the next thirty years. 

While renewables such as solar and wind generation already have the support of politicians and the public, they alone cannot meet growing energy demands. Clean energy technologies currently available do not operate at high enough temperatures to power many industrial processes and cannot be relied on to decarbonise the sector on their own. 

The World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI), a contributor to the initiative, urges world leaders to ‘embrace nuclear technology’ if they hope to ‘sustain increasing levels of industrialisation and ensure that the global targets for GHG reduction are reached.’

Advanced nuclear technology

International efforts to decarbonise heavy industry are at risk of falling short without the contributions of new nuclear technologies. The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) supports the broad application of advanced reactor concepts to generate carbon-free electricity. It advocates the benefits of nuclear energy in providing process heat for district heating, desalinisation, hydrogen production, and energy-intensive manufacturing and refining processes

The water-cooled small modular reactor, the NuScale Power Module (NPM), is a good example of high energy, but decarbonized, output. The NPM generates a gross yearly output of 77 MWe and supplies energy directly to centres of industrial activity. NuScale Power states NPMs can be sited in areas of high demand, including on retired coal power plant footprints, so supporting the regeneration of towns and cities which have been hit by falling fossil fuel production. 

Another good example of a small nuclear power solution is the Rosatom-designed SMR-based floating NPP Akademik Lomonosov, which is already operating in Russia’s Far North. Next in the technology line are RITM-200 reactors, which can be installed both offshore and onshore and are expected to be deployed near mining centres and facilities in Russia.

TerraPower, a nuclear innovation company founded by Bill Gates, has invested heavily in developing advanced reactor technologies such as the NatriumTM technology and Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) design. The Natrium reactor is a sodium-cooled fast reactor, while the MCFR design is a type of molten salt reactor. Both technologies operate at the high temperatures needed to support the decarbonisation of industrial activity. 

In October 2020, TerraPower received $80 million in funding from the US’ Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to demonstrate the carbon-saving benefits of Natrium technology. 

The ARDP stimulates the research, design and testing behind advanced reactor technologies that will support the decarbonization of electricity generation and energy-intensive industrial processes. 

The DOE has also selected the Molten Chloride Reactor experiment proposal, in collaboration with a US-based renewable energy firm Southern Company, to receive funding as part of the ARDP’s risk-reduction pathway. 

Conclusion

Nuclear-21, a partner to the ‘Yes to Nuclear’ Perspectives initiative and an independent expert body supporting the development of nuclear-based technology, writes that “the large scale adoption of new nuclear techonologies in industrial processes is essential to mitigating the carbon footprint of heavy industry.”

Efforts to decarbonise the global economy require policymakers to seriously consider investing in nuclear energy alongside renewable energy sources.

The ‘Yes to Nuclear’ initiative stresses the need for clear recognition from the global community that nuclear energy is a safe, efficient and flexible source of energy and should become the international standard for the future.

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