Plans for next generation nuclear

21 September 2009

Design and planning work worth up to up to $40 million is being offered towards the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), which aims to use an advanced reactor to produce heat for industry.


The money is for the initial planning phase of the project, which aims to result in a high-temperature reactor producing electricity and heat for an industrial purpose like producing hydrogen. A decision to build will be made on the results of first-phase studies.


  "Support for new 
  developments in nuclear
  technologies will be
  critical to meeting our
  energy, climate and
  security goals for
  years to come."
   Steven Chu 
   US Energy Secretary

The new funding, of "up to $40 million", will go on the development of a cost-shared conceptual design, cost and schedule estimates and a business plan for integrating detailed design, licensing and construction activities.


The US Department of Energy (DoE) is to make two awards in February next year to support these studies on two different reactor concepts. It is hoped that the plant could be built by 2021, although the original schedule was 2010 when NGNP was first announced in 2000.


Reactor designs already linked with the project include the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) from South Africa, General Atomics' GT-MHR and the similar Antares unit from Areva.


Process heat applications are a potentially huge new area for nuclear power beyond today's electricity production. With an outlet temperature of at least 750 ºC and safety so advanced that off-site emergency planning would not be required, NGNP-type advanced reactors could be employed in a range of industries as heat sources.


Potential applications range from hydrogen production and the refining of petroleum and biofuels to seawater desalination, fertilizer production, shale-oil recovery and combined heat and power. The DoE noted that "NGNP will extend the application of nuclear energy into the broader industrial and transportation sectors, reducing fuel use and pollution."


Energy secretary Steven Chu said "Support for new developments in nuclear technologies will be critical to meeting our energy, climate and security goals for years to come."


"Next Generation Nuclear Plants hold the promise of safe, cost-effective, zero-emissions energy for major US industries that are some of the largest energy consumers in the country," said Chu while the DoE added that about 40% of the USA's greenhouse gas emissions come from industrial processes in high-consuming sectors.


"By integrating multiple industrial processes, this next generation technology will offset imported fossil fuels, reduce pollution and create tens of thousands of quality jobs in industries across America," Chu concluded.