Most of Britain’s ageing reactors will be phased out over the next decade, leaving a gaping hole in electricity supply. By historic irony the country has drifted into a position where it now depends on an ailing state-owned French company to build its two reactors at Hinkley Point, with help from the Chinese Communist Party. The capital cost of new nuclear plants in Europe and the US has risen from $1,000 per kilowatt in the 1970s to around $5,500 today in real terms. Hinkley will be nearer $8,000. Hence the lapidary term ‘negative learning’ coined by Yale scientist Arnulf Grubler. The Washington think tank Third Way has identified fifty advanced reactor projects in North America, including eight based on molten salt fuel, ten on liquid-metal, and some based on fusion designs.The US Energy Department has thrown its huge research power behind this push for a “meltdown-free” reactor cheap enough for mass production. It even explored micro modular variants for large jet aircraft at a forum in March, and Boeing has filed a patent to do exactly that with a laser-powered fusion-fission engine. One of the US-backed projects is a “waste annihilating molten salt reactor”, which uses up spent nuclear fuel and lethal plutonium residue. As it happens, Britain’s start-up company Moltex Energy is working on similar lines, and this country needs the technology even more urgently than the US. “We have the largest plutonium stockpile in the world and we don’t know what to do with it,” said Stephen Tindale from the Alvin Weinberg Foundation. Moltex founder Ian Scott estimates that his molten salt design can cut costs to almost a quarter of the Hinkley tariff. “We think we can come in at a levelized £29 per megawatt hour,” he said. A gamble on the untested technology of advanced reactors might prove a costly flop but it is hard to see how it could be worse than a blank cheque for an obsolete nuclear model that will bleed us into the 2060s. At least we can take back our energy destiny.
Telegraph 18th August 2016 read more »