IRVINE, CALIF. -
Regular readers will have seen this from me before: Alternative
nuclear reactors that safely operate at much higher temperatures than
today's models could provide heat to drive intense industrial
processes such as steel and cement making and the production
of oil, petrochemicals and even hydrogen.
typically small in size and often referred to as “advanced nuclear
reactors” or “fourth generation,” could thus replace the
polluting and CO2-emitting fossil fuel furnaces that today blast
those red hot operations.They would be emissions free,
as nuclear is in general. The reactor types include "molten salt," "pebble bed," and others.
Now, another voice
has strongly endorsed the notion of nuclear heat: U.S. Energy secretary Ernest Moniz.
He backed the idea while speaking via video link to a high level
nuclear power and medicine conference which I attended here earlier this month.
modular reactors, especially high temperature ones, may have a
particular role there essentially as heat sources,” Moniz told
delegates at the Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies
gathering organized by the National Academy of Sciences and the Keck
Futures Initiative. He outlined a number of possible applications,
including “process heat, water desalination, hydrogen production,
petroleum production and refining.” (Water desalination has attracted attention by potential users in parched areas like the Middle East).
I noted when I first reported on Moniz's remarks on my Weinberg blog
, the U.S. lags behind China and possibly other countries in
developing these reactors, which are designed to operate at between
600 degrees C and 900 degrees C, considerably higher than the reactor
types that have defined the nuclear landscape for half a century.
also leave less nuclear waste, make it more difficult to fashion
weapons from the waste, and offer superior safety features including
operating at normal pressure rather than in potentially explosive
higher temperatures, the reactors generate electricity –
nuclear power's traditional role – much more efficiently than do conventional reactors.
so many advantages to offer, I asked Moniz what the Department of
Energy might do to ratchet up the U.S. commitment and match countries
can’t say too much specifically,” he replied. “But let’s just
say we are trying to marshall some resources to increase our focus in
I pressed for more information, Moniz repeated himself, noting,
tongue-in-cheek, “We are trying to marshall some resources.”
a proponent of these alternative reactors, I look forward to meeting
Cover thumbnail photo by Lynn Freeny, U.S. Government, via Flickr
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