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⚡ "How to Make Nuclear Energy Safe"

Azeem Azhar's Exponential View

Photo by Boudewijn Huysmans / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Azeem Azhar
Guest: Troels Schönfeldt | CEO | Seaborg Technologies
Category: ⚡ Energy | Nuclear Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:10] AA: “In 60 years of operating and nearly 19 millennia of cumulative reactor years, there have only been two serious incidents, […] Chernobyl and […] Fukushima. The former can be ascribed to the very poor construction, managerial and safety standards so common across the Soviet Union. The latter resulted in just one death from radiation exposure, but likely many more fatalities from the stresses and traumas of the sudden evacuation. So nuclear power has largely proven its safety credentials. It's also proved to be strategically useful. Countries like France, where nuclear power has historically driven 70% of electricity production, are less in hock to petro states. And of course, nuclear power does not add to the carbon in our atmosphere, helping us in the fight against climate change. But the promise of electricity that is too cheap to meter has not been met. Rather, nuclear power has become too expensive to build. In the decade to 2019, the cost of electricity from solar photovoltaic installations has dropped by a factor of five or more. The cost of electricity from nuclear energy has increased 60% in price.“

[8:21] TS: “We're designing a fundamentally different type of nuclear reactor. The powerful bullet point is that it cannot meltdown or explode, cannot release gasses, cannot be used for nuclear weapons. [It] could even burn nuclear waste, so we can get rid of some of the old waste stockpile.”

[8:49] TS: “The first molten salt reactor was operated already in 54. […] The second one was tested in the US from 65 to 69. There was a third one operating as the very first reactor in China ever, in 71. But the thing is that they used graphite at the time and graphite turns out that it doesn't behave very favorably under radiation. There's also some other issues with graphite, such as the flammability. […] So it's not easy to get that commercialized. […] Our approach is actually doing something other than graphite, which is sodium hydroxide or drain cleaner instead.

[10:26] TS: “[Our power plant] is on a barge, […] basically just a ship with no engine. […] It'll be in the industrial harbor. […] A 200 megawatt facility is around 100 meters long and 30 meters wide. […] You order it, it shows up in your harbor, 24 years later, a truckload arrives and takes it away to a facility where they're specialized in dismantling these things.”

[16:58] TS: “All the advanced reactors that different startups are looking at have inherent safety features. So all of them will be way more safe than existing reactors. And existing reactors are already really safe. They're just very expensive to make safe. But a molten salt reactor takes it a step further. It becomes fundamentally safe. […] Say somebody […] [bombs] your reactor. [..] The liquid [fluoride] salt hits the water, there's a steam explosion and nonradioactive steam comes out. Then it sinks to the bottom of the harbor as a rock. When it hits the fields, it's liquid there for a few seconds, and then it solidifies. And it's there as rock pebbles, basically. And then it stays. There's no radioactive gas released, meaning that even […] that safety case is so dramatically different than existing nuclear reactors.”

[23:33] TS: “When you talk solar, it's your production methods and the chemistry behind it […] where your savings are. When you're talking nuclear, you're talking steel. […] So you wouldn't expect this factor ten to just appear out of nowhere. However, there are some places where we can optimize for. For the first reactors, we're leaning on existing supply chains [for] turbines […] and nuclear fuel. […] We can easily burn nuclear waste in these reactors, we're just not allowed to. But that's a place where you could save a lot of money, because in a nuclear reactor today, the cost driver is the Capex cost of the facility, then secondary is waste and fuel. But in our reactors, the facility is so much cheaper, that the cost driver becomes the fuel and the waste. That means that if we can recycle that waste, which we can technically do, then that's a massive cost saving. So there are some chunks we can cut off, but it's not going to be significantly cheaper suddenly.”

[29:13] TS: “We were planning [the rollout] in 2026. Of course, that requires a lot of things to work out. One of the things that was required was the fuel supply chain, and that would have to come from Russia to reach that timeline. So currently, I would say it's a little bit up in the air. And my guess is 2028 will be the first commercial power production. If you were to put the money on the table to build a coal fire station or wind turbine farm today, you wouldn't have it by 2028. So that's still a very short time in the energy market.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 38 min | 🗓️ 03/30/2022
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