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Empowering the future

Themes: Energy and environment

Empowering the future: a two-stage nuclear renaissance – ensuring nuclear power generation remains a carbon-neutral option

Careful long-term planning can ensure nuclear power generation remains a carbon-neutral energy option say Dr William Nuttall,  University Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School and Professor Robin Grimes, Professor of Materials Physics at Imperial College London in a new paper published in Science this month.

The joint paper is entitled ‘Generating the Option of a Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance’.

Dr Nuttall say it’s important to plan for a nuclear future 20 years from now even if other renewable energies come to the fore and are successful. Nuclear is a carbon-nuclear energy source that can meet our needs in the future.

Dr Nuttall says in the podcast: “We believe new technologies and new fuel cycles are going to be required and one of the points of our paper is to remind the world that we need to prepare now in order to have multiple options 20 to 30 years from now.

“Robin Grimes and I don’t feel that mid-Century a global expansion of nuclear energy will be required, we merely posit that it’s a distinct possibility. We note the possibility that renewable energies become more economically viable, some of the problematic issues of intermittency are resolved, and that renewable energy maybe the route to widespread decarbonisation. Another option is that the long promised technology of nuclear fusion maybe commercialised on these timescales, but even so we do see the possibility that a major expansion of nuclear power will be required.”

Dr Nuttall and Professor Grimes suggest various underpinning investment should be made in technology development now in order to maintain the option of a nuclear energy future.

Dr Nuttall continued: “If the world were to seek to decarbonise not only the electricity system, but also heating and transport, with a much greater use of nuclear power, then we do see the possibility that uranium prices would start to rise and this would motivate consideration of new forms of nuclear energy and new ways of sourcing nuclear fuel and new technologies from generating electricity from nuclear fuel. These are the technologies and fuel cycles of this second stage of the nuclear renaissance and these are the technologies and fuel cycles that we think should b e developed over the next 20 years.”

Dr Nuttall says the second phase of the ‘Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance’ may not necessarily be needed but that it was still important to plan for it now.

“Policy makers are doing things now, but there needs to be a stronger recognition that we need to prepare ourselves so that we have a broader range of options for the development of nuclear energy 20 or 30 years from now. If one is averse to the idea of deploying expensive technology that is not a reason to refuse modest funding for research and development.”