By Michael Sharpe
The new Forever Partnership between the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia – AUKUS – builds on generations of trust and now delivers the ability to exclusively share world leading expertise and technology.
Nuclear energy is a prime example. Nuclear provides carbon-free power which will become increasingly important as taxes will be placed on exports to Europe and other places from countries with high emissions. From 2026, emissions created through the production of any goods exported to the EU will be slapped with a tax equivalent to the EU carbon price – approximately $90 per tonne.
At the Nuclear Skills Forum, Australian manufacturers and researchers have been collaborating and talking with Rolls Royce in the UK and NuScale Power in the USA regarding their technologies for Small Modular Reactors (SMR).
As an advocate for nuclear power, I have been doing my own research and following the latest developments from around the world. The word nuclear provokes different responses from all the people I talk with. “What about the waste?” people will say, and “nuclear power needs a lot of water, it won’t work for inland Australia. We don’t have the water.”
The Nuclear Skills Forum has brought together some great minds and eager manufacturers to address these questions. We all know that technology evolves, and we all aim to be part of recent advances, and hopefully develop some Australian innovations along the way.
New technologies are going to completely change the way we think about nuclear reactors.
More than 70 projects are underway in the United States with new designs including at NuScale which now has US regulatory approval.
There is also a new fuel being developed called TRISO which stands for TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel.
According to the US Office of Nuclear Energy, “Each TRISO particle is made up of a uranium, carbon and oxygen fuel kernel. The kernel is encapsulated by three layers of carbon- and ceramic-based materials that prevent the release of radioactive fission products.
The particles are incredibly small (about the size of a poppy seed) and very robust.
They can be fabricated into cylindrical pellets or billiard ball-sized spheres called “pebbles” for use in either high temperature gas or molten salt-cooled reactors.
TRISO fuels are structurally more resistant to neutron irradiation, corrosion, oxidation, and high temperatures (the factors that most impact fuel performance) than traditional reactor fuels. Simply put, TRISO particles cannot melt in a reactor and can withstand extreme temperatures that are well beyond the threshold of current nuclear fuels.”
With regards to water, a cluster of small modular reactors that will be supplied by NuScale Power, will be the first grid-scale reactor project to use dry cooling. Usually, nuclear plants, like most power-generating stations, consume water. Water is converted to steam to spin a turbine which turns a generator to produce electricity. Then the steam is cooled back down which typically requires a separate water supply to feed cooling towers, or a large river or other body of water.
This new TRISO technology will equip the plant with big electrically-driven fans, instead of cooling towers. Water use will be cut by more than 90 per cent. The system resembles a car radiator, with a fan to move air across the pipes that hold the water. According to Doug Hunter, CEO of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems – “Water is an incredibly precious resource, especially in the west, so dry cooling is the best option for the Carbon Free Power Project.”
“For a nuclear plant, this is a revolutionary feature. The project will be friendly to air quality and climate, with no carbon emissions; friendly to the land, with its very small footprint; and now, friendly to water resources and local water interests. It will be the most environmentally-friendly nuclear plant in the world.” he said.
The new ability to share technology advancements through AUKUS and building relationships through the Nuclear Skills Forum is already providing opportunities for Australian manufacturers to engage deeper into the global nuclear industry and the potential to enter global supply chains.
As a nation, we have some of the world’s largest reserves of uranium and we export it for others to benefit. We could process and develop new fuels here. As carbon handbrakes take effect around the world, Australia has growing opportunities to leap ahead with technology.
Carbon-free nuclear technologies could be part of the mix.
Picture: Rolls Royce
Michael Sharpe is National Director Industry at the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre and Founder, Nuclear Skills Forum.
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