Jon Golob concludes his six-part investigation into nuclear power with a call for more research into next-generation reactors:
Where are these plants? The ideas here aren’t new ones. A pilot project, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) was to build a liquid sodium metal cooled, plutonium and U-235 fueled fast neutron reactor with an on-site waste processing center. The project’s budget was cut in 1994 by President Clinton’s energy secretary and thus languished before the project could be completed. The ideas from this project have been rejuvenated, with plans for a liquid sodium, liquid lead and gas cooled reactor variants based around the same general principles, called generation IV reactors, to be ready for commercial operation in 2030.
The designs are, individually, brilliant. The lead-cooled variant is designed to be modular. The reactor is small, easily installed and removed and works for about fifteen to twenty years without having to be opened or refueled. Perfect for countries or remote areas with no interest in or infrastructure for refining nuclear fuels. The gas-cooled variant can operate safely at huge temperatures and is incredibly efficient at minimizing waste products in a relatively simple manner. The sodium-cooled design is the dreamiest to me. Such a reactor complex could not only operate at tremendous efficiencies, but also eat up the waste of the older pressurized water reactors. Keen!
2030 is too far away. If we were smart, we would throw resources at these fourth generation technologies, pushing to have the pilot reactors and designs finalized within ten years. None of these are perfect. No source of power is without risk or environmental injury. None. Our planet hosts nearly seven billion people. Fossil fuel reserves are dwindling. The atmosphere and oceans are buckling under the carbon strain. Nuclear power, particularly responsibly applied with standardized plant designs and a real plan for dealing with the waste, remains are best hope. The physics and technology is available. We just need to do it. Now.
I agree. Wind, geothermal and solar are great, but not available quickly enough in sufficient quantities. Coal is killing thousands of Americans every year, and hydro power is basically maxed out.