Seminar Recording: https://youtu.be/8JDHuY0HMCM
Abstract: The motivation to develop nuclear energy waned in the latter part of the twentieth century. Technologies such as very-high-temperature gas-cooled reactors and fast-neutron liquid-metal reactors had been pursued for the purpose of recycling used nuclear fuel from water-cooled reactors, or for the purpose of supplying high-temperature process heat to the chemical industry or for hydrogen production. While both worthwhile causes, one could argue that the important missing element of all of these advanced nuclear reactor technologies was a business case: how were nuclear power plants to be profitable? With the more widely recognized need for decarbonizing energy production, the new driver for developing nuclear energy became cost. Can nuclear power be economically competitive with natural gas and coal, in order to provide an economic driver for the displacement of fossil fuel? This became the new motivation for nuclear energy development in the twenty-first century, and over the last decade the unthinkable happened: a growing and striving ecosystem of nuclear energy start-up companies. Many of these start-up companies pursue the development of liquid-fuel molten salt reactors, fueled by thorium or uranium fuel. Other start-up companies develop solid-fuel reactors cooled by salt, or even fusion reactors cooled by salt. The common feature of nuclear reactors that utilize molten salt is the operation at high-temperature and atmospheric pressure. The high temperature leads to doubled power efficiencies, compared to conventional water-cooled reactors. The atmospheric pressure leads to a safety case that is arguably easier to demonstrate, and hence that would enable a faster commercialization time. On the other hand, there remain many technical risks and time-line uncertainties for the development of salt nuclear technologies. There remain also questions of policy, licensing, and compatibility with local industry and local culture, necessary elements for the global development of such nuclear reactors. This talk will explore some of the challenges faced by the global deployment of molten-salt and salt-cooled reactors, and some of the challenges faced by nuclear start-up companies in order to change the innovation cycle for nuclear energy technology from thirty years to a much shorter time frame.