Whitman Strategy Group

The Reactors That Will Revolutionize Nuclear Energy

by Christine Todd Whitman, The Wall Street Journal on 04-29-2015

 

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: We’re at a turning point in energy. The U.S. should be a leader in mitigating climate change and meeting a nearly 30% increase in U.S. demand for electricity projected by 2040.
Success in this double-barrel challenge will require energy and environmental policy that recognizes the rapidly evolving variables in both disciplines, as well as technology advances that will be a key driver in our success. One example: Renewable energy has grown dramatically and is a big part of the solution, but because of its intermittent production and lack of energy storage, cannot meet a significant growth in 24/7 electricity demand.
Nonetheless, renewable-energy technologies will continue to advance, as will other carbon-free power sources like nuclear energy. The nuclear industry is developing new technology that will be up and running inside of 10 years—a smaller reactor option built at much lower capital costs.
Now in the testing process, the first small modular reactors (SMRs) could be powering American homes beginning around 2025. SMRs produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity–enough to power 238,000 homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. SMRs, like today’s nuclear energy facilities, produce electricity without producing carbon emissions or other pollutants. Unlike today’s facilities, SMRs will be built in factories and shipped to sites for installation. Plus, they can be built in modules to more closely follow increases in the demand for electricity.
One of the biggest advantages of SMRs is the safety benefits. Because their energy production results from natural forces such as gravity, convection and conduction, human error is removed from the equation. Moreover, if natural disasters were to strike an SMR site, no operator action will be needed to shut down the reactor because neither outside electric nor external water supplies is needed for cooling. Even more importantly, SMRs remove all possibility of heat building up in the reactor, which can cause fuel damage, and ultimately, a meltdown.
The next 30 years offers an immense opportunity to bring online SMRs in the global marketplace—creating thousands of American jobs while extending U.S. influence in safe nuclear facility operation around the globe. In that time, expect countries such as Poland, Russia, China, France, Korea and emerging economies to make SMRs a significant part of their electricity mix. This technology will make it possible to generate electricity while significantly cutting carbon emissions and allowing economies to grow, businesses to thrive, and customers to experience reliable and affordable electricity service.
Christine Todd Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003. She is currently president of Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies find solutions to environmental challenges.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: We’re at a turning point in energy. The U.S. should be a leader in mitigating climate change and meeting a nearly 30% increase in U.S. demand for electricity projected by 2040.

Success in this double-barrel challenge will require energy and environmental policy that recognizes the rapidly evolving variables in both disciplines, as well as technology advances that will be a key driver in our success. One example: Renewable energy has grown dramatically and is a big part of the solution, but because of its intermittent production and lack of energy storage, cannot meet a significant growth in 24/7 electricity demand.

Nonetheless, renewable-energy technologies will continue to advance, as will other carbon-free power sources like nuclear energy. The nuclear industry is developing new technology that will be up and running inside of 10 years—a smaller reactor option built at much lower capital costs.

Now in the testing process, the first small modular reactors (SMRs) could be powering American homes beginning around 2025. SMRs produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity–enough to power 238,000 homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. SMRs, like today’s nuclear energy facilities, produce electricity without producing carbon emissions or other pollutants. Unlike today’s facilities, SMRs will be built in factories and shipped to sites for installation. Plus, they can be built in modules to more closely follow increases in the demand for electricity.

One of the biggest advantages of SMRs is the safety benefits. Because their energy production results from natural forces such as gravity, convection and conduction, human error is removed from the equation. Moreover, if natural disasters were to strike an SMR site, no operator action will be needed to shut down the reactor because neither outside electric nor external water supplies is needed for cooling. Even more importantly, SMRs remove all possibility of heat building up in the reactor, which can cause fuel damage, and ultimately, a meltdown.

The next 30 years offers an immense opportunity to bring online SMRs in the global marketplace—creating thousands of American jobs while extending U.S. influence in safe nuclear facility operation around the globe. In that time, expect countries such as Poland, Russia, China, France, Korea and emerging economies to make SMRs a significant part of their electricity mix. This technology will make it possible to generate electricity while significantly cutting carbon emissions and allowing economies to grow, businesses to thrive, and customers to experience reliable and affordable electricity service.

Christine Todd Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003. She is currently president of Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies find solutions to environmental challenges.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: With oil prices low, it would be easy to perceive that we as a nation have our energy issues under control. But despite the current benefits derived from oil prices that haven’t been this low in six years, we still need an overarching energy policy for the U.S.
In 1977, President Carter outlined a national energy plan based on 10 principles, the first of which was that “we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge…” Those words are just as true today as they were four decades ago. Congress hasn’t had a comprehensive energy bill since 2007, well before the widespread use of fracking and other current practices.
Industry analysts predict that we will need 29% more electricity by 2040, which may seem like the distant future, but is actually on the horizon for utilities given the size of the investments they need to make. Additionally, much of our aging energy infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. If we don’t build a new nuclear plant or some other form of clean-energy generation now, we are going to spend vastly more money when the situation grows desperate.
Currently, much of the focus is on the benefits of natural gas. This has happened before–when natural-gas prices are low it seems like the silver bullet. But prices will increase again just as they have in the past. We should take advantage of the current low prices, but not ignore the rest of the system as we plan for the future.
What is crucial to remember is that we have been here before; when prices are low, the energy arena feels under control. But if we don’t recognize that we are going to need the full panoply of energy sources available to us, we will soon find ourselves in a very bad place.
Christine Todd Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003. She is currently president of Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies find solutions to environmental challenges.

 

 

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