Putting nuclear at the heart of low-carbon power generation
- Dec 8, 2021 3:40 pm GMT
(Image: Reactor-unit-.jpg )
Amidst a drive to decarbonise the electricity sector, nuclear power is more relevant than ever, and small modular reactors can make construction of nuclear power plants more affordable, Professor
Nuclear power has been a part of the global electricity generation for over 60 years.
Countries that invested heavily in nuclear power programmes have benefited greatly from low-carbon electricity generation, displacing fossil fuels long before renewable energy generation technologies reached their current levels of maturity, and providing a stable low-carbon base-load capability that mitigates the intermittent nature of solar and wind generation.
With the current emphasis on removing all reliance on fossil fuels, nuclear power has seen a resurgence of interest around the world. One of the main barriers to widespread uptake of nuclear power has been the high capital cost of building a nuclear power plant.
With a projected lifetime of 60 years, the upfront cost is more than offset by the electricity produced.
The costs are so high because a nuclear power plant is a highly complex piece of engineering.
The plant requires a stable base – the ‘nuclear island’ – of reinforced concrete. The pressure vessel that forms the core of the plant is a very large steel cylinder that will maintain its properties for the decades of operation.
There is a complex system of piping and heat exchangers to extract the heat from the core and deliver steam to power the turbines that produce the electricity.
The current interest in small modular reactors (SMRs) is driven by a desire to make individual nuclear power plants more affordable, so that less money is needed to be spent before electricity is delivered to the grid.
Because the plant is smaller, construction is faster, and the area occupied by the plant is less too: the equivalent of a couple of football pitches.
Rolls-Royce is hopeful that the first plant can begin operating by 2031, once the design has obtained regulatory approval.
Building more smaller plants has the additional advantage of developing a robust supply chain in the construction industry to support a continuing programme of new nuclear builds. Rolls-Royce envisages a production-line-style approach for the reactor vessels that will help in reducing costs as more plants are ordered.
SMRs are gaining interest around the world.
With the current drive to completely decarbonise electricity generation, nuclear power is more relevant than ever.
Alongside the ongoing developments in renewable energy generation, energy storage technologies, and the future promise of nuclear fusion, the attractive combination of lower cost and reliable, low-carbon generation means than SMRs are expected to be a major part of our energy supply for the next 50 years.
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