Article Advanced Reactors

  • Challenges face Gen IV development

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    3.5-minute read

  • Innovative advanced nuclear technology is moving forward slowly and carefully, reflecting the atmosphere of caution surrounding the industry.

     

     

     

    While the new designs of so-called Generation IV (Gen IV) reactors hold the promise of great improvements in operational safety, efficiency of output and waste toxicity, significant challenges remain before these designs progress beyond demonstrator units.

     

    Cost is a major factor, compounded by “a near-perfect storm of societal risk aversion to nuclear causing ultra-restrictive regulatory requirements, construction complexity, and lack of nuclear construction experience by the industry,” as one Bloomberg source put it.

     

    Guiding research and development (R&D) is the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), a global initiative set up in 2001 to coordinate R&D on new nuclear energy systems, with a view to commercialisation between 2020 and 2030.

     

    Extra safety features

     

    Most reactors in commercial operation today are Gen II systems; well-publicised delays have hampered the introduction of Gen III systems, while concerns after the Fukushima accident in 2011 led to development of Gen III+ systems incorporating extra safety features. Several are under construction in Asia, Europe and the US.

     

    Even as Gen III and Gen III+ projects struggle, six promising Gen IV designs are being developed under the auspices of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which was set up in 2001 to coordinate R&D on new nuclear energy systems, with a view to commercialisation between 2020 and 2030.

     

    Industry commentators say the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) design is the best-funded and furthest along in development. Scientific American said an advantage of this design is its ability to run on spent uranium and plutonium. It quotes GIF’s Christophe Behar as saying the SFR “could produce power for several thousands of years with [current waste] without getting new natural uranium." Sodium’s volatility in air and water are disadvantages.

     

    Attracting new interest

     

    The molten-salt reactor (MSR), though a relatively old technology, is attracting new interest around the world. ZME Science reports that one Canadian and three American companies plan to build MSRs, and it’s one of five technologies that China is focusing on. Safety is the main reason behind its popularity: MSR is considered the safest of the six GIF-backed designs.

     

    The two high temperature reactor designs – the very high temperature reactor (VHTR) and supercritical water-cooled reactor (SCWR) – are considered the most efficient models. The other two designs are the gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR) and lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR).

     

    Reports from China suggest a breakthrough at Shidaowan, Shandong province, where the world’s first Gen IV reactor – described as a high-pressure reactor, pebble-bed module (HTR-PM) type based on a German design, is on track to start generating electricity by 2019. 

     

    MIT Technology Review, quoting Chinese sources, said this technology could be on the world market within the next five years, says MIT Technology Review. Saudi Arabia is believed to have already signed an agreement to build one.

     

    Theoretical science

     

    Beyond Gen IV is the territory of theoretical scientists considering concepts such as liquid and gas core reactors which, though said to be within the capabilities of current or near-term technology, are considered too costly, impractical or unsafe to pursue.

     

    Meanwhile, the international ITER project, the world’s largest fusion experiment based in Cadarache, France, highlights what may be possible in decades to come.

     

    The promises, the challenges, and the deployment schedule of these technologies will be in the center of an exiting debate between their world renewed executives at WNE on June, 28th 2018.

    What are the breakthroughs and advantages of these new designs, what challenges do they bring to the supply chain and how are they financed? What is the economic equation of these projects and what is the maturity of the current designs? Many questions that will be asked by our nuclear specialists to challenge the international speakers from CEA, Iter, Moltex Energy, Terrestrial Energy and X Energy that will stand together on stage.

     

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