After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Germany began to shutter its nuclear reactors. It was an odd decision, as the nuclear phaseout was part of the country’s broader Energiewende, a transition touted as a sweeping move to a greener energy mix. Since then, German coal consumption has skyrocketed, proving a point echoed in the New York Times recently: nuclear is a critical tool in the green toolbox.
[M]any experts, as well as investors, say that for the world to meet rising demand for electricity and simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, nuclear power will have to be part of the mix.
Research is underway on a number of new reactors, each of which have large advantages over today’s reactors. The NYT highlights molten salt reactors as a particularly appealing option:
One focus of the research is to use sodium, not water, to carry away the heat of the reactor so it can be converted into electricity. If reactors switched to sodium, the nuclear reaction itself would change, and they would burn up some of the material that now becomes the most troublesome parts of waste, materials that endure for eons.In current reactors, water is held under pressure of thousands of pounds per square inch, to keep it from boiling. But sodium, a metal with a low melting temperature, does not have to be kept under pressure, vastly simplifying construction.
We’ve highlighted a number of these technologies in the past not just because they sound cool (they do), but also because nuclear energy may be humanity’s best bet at avoiding the calamitous effects of climate change greens are so busy convincing us are right around the corner. Nuclear energy doesn’t rely on the vagaries of weather, and as such can provide power more consistently than solar and wind. But like those renewables, nuclear energy is effectively zero emissions, and therefore is a necessary of any kind of strategy that attempts to move us away from fossil fuels.These new nuclear technologies are at least as deserving of government support as solar or wind—perhaps more so when you factor in to the decision the fact that nuclear lacks that intermittency problem. For their part, greens need to get over their emotional biases against the energy source, as it could do more for their cause than any wind or solar farm ever could.