Category Archives: Issues

Global Warming

What is Global Warming?

Global warming is a phenomenon related to increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide gas.  Carbon-dioxide is a chemical product of burning carbon-containing materials such as coal, oil, gas, wood and paper.

Carbon dioxide has a special property whereby it can absorb light energy which has bounced off the surface of the earth and re-distribute it back into the atmosphere, rather than allowing it to pass back into space, hence an overall trapping of energy and the term ‘greenhouse gas’ attributed to carbon dioxide. This is fine as long as the balance is right.

Before the invention of the steam engine, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was just under 280 parts per million (ppm); it has since risen to 419 ppm, which is a 50% increase over pre-industrial revolution levels.

We have proof that this imbalance is heating the planet, droughts are becoming more widespread and for longer and contributing to war and famine, ice is melting in the polar regions and mountainous areas, migratory patterns and therefore biodiversity is affected, and many habitats of fellow creatures are dying.

In addition we are seeing changes in the way of ocean acidification, which has already caused changes in colour to parts of the great barrier reef, and is expected to affect shellfish populations. The ability of these fragile systems to continue to thrive is looking increasingly unlikely as most countries’ leaders continue to make superficial and trivial changes. Although the rate of ocean heating is equivalent to about 5 nuclear bombs per second, energy policies worldwide continue to incentivise fossil fuels over nuclear energy.

Unfortunately, many academics, encouraged by radio-phobic organisations such as Campaign against Nuclear Disarmament, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, have plenty of public support in issuing ill-informed arguments on how to manage our predicament.   To think that  de-carbonisation is possible without nuclear energy goes against the IPPC reports and basic mathematical reason.

As heating and transportation are most energy intensive, it makes sense to replace gas, coal and oil with nuclear powered electricity, including combined heat and power systems, and electric public transport sourced from a nuclear powered electric grid.

   

Small Modular Reactors

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are part of a new generation of nuclear power plant design being developed in several countries to supply small communities.

Other than residential electricity capacity – which could theoretically support a small city in the UK residential capacity and not much else, their design is also suggested for use in high-power industrial units.

The idea behind SMRs is that they will be pre-manufactured at a plant and brought to site fully constructed, which is optimal in remote areas. While the smaller power output of an SMR means that electricity will cost more per MW than it would from a larger reactor, the initial cost of building the plant is much less than that of constructing a more complex, large nuclear plant, making the SMR a smaller-risk venture for power companies than other nuclear power plants.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been a catalyst for renewed interest in the possibility of using smaller, simpler units for generating electricity from nuclear power. This interest is also driven both by a desire to reduce overall cost and to provide an alternative source of power to large grid systems.

Of the designs available to us here in the UK, the integrated pressurised water reactors are most technologically ready, such as those already used in submarines. There are estimated to be in the region of over 45 SMR designs under development in the US, Europe, China and elsewhere for various purposes [SOURCE: IAEA Advances in Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments].

The UK’s Penultimate Power and the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency  are working on a High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor (HTGR),a nuclear reactor that uses graphite with a once-through uranium fuel cycle.  It is a design already operating in Japan, and is to be ‘walk away safe’.  It uniquely provides carbon-free heat up to 950oC for industrial processes, including green hydrogen at point of use via the sulphur-iodine process [2].

Moltex are an UK-Canadian venture who have developed a stable salt modular reactor ready for implementation. The liquid salt fuel mixture is contained within solid fuel assemblies. The fuel assemblies are then submerged in a pool of pure liquid salt coolant.

Others include the simple boiling water reactor design: BWRX-300, by Hitachi, the high temperature reactor design by Cavendish Nuclear or the larger units proposed by Rolls-Royce.