Home Business Why Advanced Nuclear Reactors Benefit Coal-Dependent Industry and States

Why Advanced Nuclear Reactors Benefit Coal-Dependent Industry and States

by SuperiorInvest

Chemical manufacturer Dow
will develop a small nuclear reactor for industrial applications, potentially replacing natural gas, which is now burned at extremely high temperatures and changes chemical compounds. However, advanced nuclear technologies achieve the same result without releasing carbon emissions.

High-temperature reactors, the so-called IV. generations are mainly known for the production of electricity. But industry can also use them. Because they operate at 800 degrees Celsius, they can process chemicals, desalinate ocean water and produce clean hydrogen for electricity and transportation. Even better: reactors can locate where shuttered coal plants once stood, restoring the economic health of devastated areas of the country.

“Electricity is low-hanging fruit,” says Patrick White, the company’s project manager Alliance for Nuclear Innovation, in an interview with this writer. “We have not yet integrated nuclear power with large chemical facilities. There may be some hiccups and things that need to be ironed out. However, we will not see the first reactors for industrial applications until the end of the decade. After the construction of the fourth and fifth reactors, companies apply in droves. The goal is decarbonization.”

specifically Dow works with X-energy to develop a small modular reactor at one of Dow’s sites along the Gulf Coast that could be operational in 2030. Dow also holds a minority ownership position in X-energy. Each modular reactor can generate 80 megawatts. However, they can be stacked together to produce 320 MW, providing clean, reliable and safe base load power to support electrical systems or industrial applications.

Existing US nuclear reactors are second generation, although the Southern Company is building third generation reactors developed by Westinghouse. Small modular reactors are the fourth generation, producing more electricity at lower costs. The third and fourth generation automatically shut down in case of emergency.

“Advanced small modular nuclear technology will be a critical tool for Dow’s journey to zero carbon emissions and our ability to drive growth by providing low-carbon products to our customers,” he says Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow. “X-energy technology is among the most advanced and once deployed will provide safe, reliable, low-carbon power and steam.”

Difficult sector decarbonisation

Currently, 99% of the world’s hydrogen production comes from fossil fuels. This is called gray hydrogen. The goal is to get to green hydrogen, where solar panels or wind turbines generate electricity using an electrolyzer. But the heat and electricity from nuclear power can also split a water molecule into hydrogen, which is used to refine oil, make steel or make chemicals.

Such a process is emission-free and very necessary. According to US Environmental Protection Agencyelectricity accounted for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while industrial operations accounted for 24%. Transport accounted for 27% in 2020.

Nuclear power can also desalinate seawater. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 40 million cubic meters of potable water supplies are produced daily – mainly in the Middle East and North Africa, using fossil fuels to extract steam or electricity to facilitate the process. But he points out that nuclear power and desalination plants are coming together in Japan and Kazakhstan, where commercial facilities have been operating since the 1970s.

“If we’re interested in clean energy, think about all the fuel sources we have,” White tells the alliance. “Electricity production accounts for about 25% of our emissions. Nuclear power can appeal to industries that are difficult to decarbonize. Nuclear plants must also run at full capacity. Their use for desalination and hydrogen production – while producing reliable electricity – is a good synergy and cost effective.

Sure, there are many hurdles to overcome. Nuclear fuels are often characterized based on their concentration of a specific isotope of uranium, U-235. Reactors operating in the United States today require a fuel enrichment level of 3%-5% U-235, known as low-enriched uranium fuel. Many advanced reactors under development will require higher levels of fuel enrichment, some with up to 20% U-235. This highly enriched uranium fuel is called high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU).

A major problem for advanced reactors that require HALEU fuel is that the material is not commercially available in the United States. The only supplier is the Russian state company TENEX — undesirable in today’s circumstances. But federal incentives could catalyze domestic production of the fuel and create a permanent value chain. Otherwise, it is also provided by Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan.

Can nuclear power replace coal?

At the same time, it is difficult to quantify the costs of building those advanced nuclear reactors. More certainty will come after developers begin designing plants and modeling costs. Further, as society makes carbon more expensive, nuclear power will become more attractive. Consider that GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy is working with Ontario Power Generation to build a small reactor to start up in 2024: they are trying to get others to implement the same technology to reduce costs.

Of course, nuclear power was met with opposition after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979. But decarbonisation efforts could change that – especially those aimed at helping coal-dependent regions. The West Virginia Legislature enacted a policy allowing small modular reactors to replace decommissioned coal-fired power plants. Indiana, Illinois, Montana and Wyoming are considering similar moves.

Yours truly, Simon Irish, CEO of the company Earth energy, writes that fourth-generation nuclear power plants can replace coal-fired facilities and revitalize the communities that hosted them. Since these advanced reactors can operate at the same temperatures as a coal-fired boiler, this is a practical idea. In addition, the replacement unit is emission-free.

Jigar Shah, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Loan Programs, agrees with that reasoning, saying the move is a logical start because the infrastructure and grid connections are already in place. His agency is providing $11 billion to help develop small modular reactors.

“If the nuclear industry continues to do what it has for decades, people will be hesitant,” says White of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance. “It didn’t treat the public well. We now have the opportunity to give nuclear power another chance through decarbonisation. But we need to build trust with communities and explain the technologies. We have to make sure they are comfortable with it. We need to get a social license for nuclear power – so that people want it in their backyards.”

Finally, there may be a renaissance of nuclear energy. The impetus is decarbonisation. But Inflation Reduction Act it adds tax benefits that will attract investor and lender interest, benefiting vulnerable communities and the wider economy. Dow sees an opportunity – a potential precursor to other manufacturers.

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