Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
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The nuclear tag on this blog gains another post, this time digging into the debated topic - is Nuclear Energy coming back any time soon? Lets jump into some topics regarding Nuclear and catch up on our knowledge.

Renewable

Renewable energy is no joke in the funding department, where we can see nearly 2.3 trillion dollars over the past 10 years has spent (excluding hydro). This is nearly triple the amount of funding since the last decade. We can see the breakdown from the UN 2019 report below:

  • Solar - 1.3 trillion
  • Wind - 1 trillion
  • Biomass - 115 billion

So why isn't Hydro on this list? I don't really fully understand the claim, but hydro is debated on being renewable due to the environmental concerns it causes. The power may be renewable from flowing water, but it comes at the price of building damns onto rivers which can completely change the area for both the wildlife and land left behind.

So can you classify Nuclear as renewable? Depends on how you look at it, the burn may be clean, but it requires a finite source of uranium and produces waste which harms the environment.


Price

There is no way to shake it, initial build out of a nuclear facility is beyond expensive in comparison to other energy production. Nuclear plants look to take 14-18 years to go profitable, but once that happens - they often out profit other energy sources.

Page 3 - The Economics of Nuclear Power

Another interesting thing to note is about the shutdown procedure of a nuclear plant. You can't just close the doors like a brick and mortar store and sell the land. We are talking a long process to safely dismantle or entomb (which I've blogged about before). It costs so much money to shutdown a nuclear plant that the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) requires you to set aside money as plant earns profit for the eventual shutdown (or renewal).


Safety

You can't talk about nuclear energy coming back without discussing the pure safety hazard that exists with a plant. Our last global accident was August of 2019, so nuclear accidents still happen.

You can peek Wikipedia and thankfully the amount of accidents every decade is less than the year before. Perhaps that is the technological advance of our societies leading to enhanced safety mechanisms or more sadly a correlation with the less and less nuclear facilities in the world.


Technology Advance

It has been nearly 30-40 years since the United States built a new nuclear plant, so could that long of new science even invent a nuclear reactor type?

There is a lot of research and science following new and improved designs being denoted as Generation 4 Reactors:

  • Sodium-Cooled Factor Reactor (SFR)
  • Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR)
  • Molten Salt Reactor (MSR)

China is currently the first nation to begin construction of a Generation 4 reactor, building a VHTR, which started construction in 2016 and the last news announcement was installing main helium fans, which should be completed in 2020.


Conclusion

The era of energy is a huge political topic, but it will be fun to watch what will happen as this generation will have to see either the decommissioning or renewal of hundreds of nuclear plants.

For me in Florida, some of our nuclear reactors at Turkey Point are the first reactors in the history of United States where a reactor has been licensed beyond 60 years.