Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Step Closer to Mr. Fusion?

The New York Times' Green Inc. blog today featured nuclear energy research at the Idaho National laboratory  that could help increase the position of nuclear power on the national green energy radar. In an article titled "A New Reactor Concept Inches Forward," the blog writes about development of a high-temperature reactor that uses graphite-encased uranium to heat steam to 1,500 degrees, a temperature needed to finish refining many chemicals at the nation's chemical processing plants. The reactors, if built, could replace gas- and oil-fed burners used at the plants for chemical refining, thus helping manufacturers cut downo on their carbon emissions.

The graphite-encased uranium has the added bonus of being provided in a vessel that virtually contains all of the waste proudcts from the fission process.

Matthew Wald writes:
Actual construction of such a reactor would depend, in part, on the future cost of the fuels that would be replaced and of the carbon dioxide emissions that would be avoided. The idea of new research and development on small, advanced reactors has considerable support in Congress.

The research is part of the nuclear industry’s efforts to recast the technology as a tool to combat global warming.
Sure, that still leaves us several steps away from having our own Mr. Fusion home energy reactors, but the concept of mini-reactors explicityly being used to provide power in a way that cuts carbon emissions is a leap forward for the industry. I'm excited that research like this is ongoing, because it does say to those worrying about our overreliance on foreign energy sources that we do have home-grown possibilities that can provide the power we need and reduce carbon emissions to boot.

I have to admit that I'm baffled that we here in eastern Idaho don't have nuclear power as an option. Baffled even more that the INL hasn't generated its own nuclear-sourced electricity for decades. That seems a shame at the lab chosen as a nucleus of nuclear research. We ought to be doing more here to bring to pass that atomic-era dream of having electricity "too cheap to meter." I find it hard to believe there wouldn't be enough support here for a nuclear power station. With Areva planning to build a $3 billion uranium processing plant in the area, having a power plant to use some of that fuel seems a natural fit. Maybe with Areva in the area, such a dream can come to pass.

But it's all baby steps, I suppose. We could try explaining the atom in two minutes.

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