By Susan Labandibar, Owner of Tech Networks of Boston
I know many good and well-intentioned people who do not work on climate change issues because the situation seems hopeless. Climate change seems inevitable. But it is not. Solutions are at hand, and one of them is the next generation of nuclear technologies.
On June 24th, I went to the Nuclear Going Forward conference produced by Bloomberg BNA and underwritten by Nuclear Matters. I went to the conference because I had heard that there were molten salt nuclear technologies that could generate enough power for the next two hundred years by safely processing existing nuclear waste.
Although this conference was open to the public, it turned out to be an in-crowd event attended by veterans of the decades-long battle between the nuclear industry and environmental activists. I may have been the only nuclear newbie at the conference. Although I should have known this already, at the conference I learned that nuclear power produces 60% of the low carbon electricity in the US. However, the current economics of nuclear power compared to natural gas are such that many nuclear power plants are at risk of being shut down even before their license expires.
The outlook for new nuclear technologies, such as molten salt nuclear reactors, is even less certain. Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energies, described the challenges faced by those working to develop alternatives to traditional light water reactors. His company is developing a nuclear reactor that could be cheaper than coal, generate very little waste, operate at normal pressures and employ passive safety systems that would make it “walk away safe.”
Yet Terrestrial Energies is constrained to develop this technology as a function of the amount of investment capital that investors are willing to risk. It’s true that Terrestrial Energies has recently partnered with the US Department of Energy in order create engineering blueprints within two years, but what would happen if the DoE and others invested much more in molten salt nuclear technologies? What if they invested a large percentage of the annual “clean trillion” that CERES says we will need to spend annually in order to transition to a clean energy economy? What would happen if the US government and others launched an all-out crash program to transition the world to safe, low-waste nuclear energy?
This is the question that I asked at the conference. The panelists demurred, saying that the situation was complex. But the fact is that we will never know what would happen unless we come together to invest in a low-carbon future that works for us all.