Tom Blees is the author of Prescription for the Planet - The Painless Remedy for Our Energy & Environmental Crises. Tom is also the president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives. Many of the goals of SCGI, and the methods to achieve them, are elucidated in the pages of Blees's book. He is a member of the selection committee for the Global Energy Prize, considered Russia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize for energy research. His work has generated considerable interest among scientists and political figures around the world. Tom has been a consultant and advisor on energy technologies on the local, state, national, and international levels.

tom portraitSince 2009, the Science Council for Global Initiatives has promoted advanced nuclear power systems as the key to uplifting living standards in developing countries while ameliorating the impacts of climate change globally. All three topics, international development, global warming, and nuclear power, have been increasingly prominent in the daily news during the past year. We are optimistic about the future of nuclear power.

Last month, James Hansen, who’s been an advisor to SCGI since its inception, spoke in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate about the necessity of prioritizing nuclear energy. He challenged Germany to abandon its plans to close down nuclear power plants instead of fossil fuel power plants in its energy transition. He criticized their efforts to have nuclear energy classified as less clean and less sustainable than fossil fuels.

Dr. Hansen’s bold speech was indicative of a long-awaited shift in attitudes toward nuclear power. Although the Cold War generation continues to lead many of the world’s environmental NGOs, the conflation of nuclear war and nuclear power that so long animated them is far less cogent to young people who are now confronting the reality of climate change. COP26 witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of youth organizations promoting nuclear energy.

The anticipated nuclear Renaissance that seemed to be snuffed out by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, is returning. During the past year, numerous new reactor designs have been promoted in the media. They all claim that they will be “walk away safe”, fast to build, and low priced. They have been designed to be less expensive than fossil fuels. Estimates range from $0.80 to $3.60 per watt. A few of the many designs currently being promoted are briefly described below. It is interesting to note two of them are based on the Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) which inspired my book, Prescription for the Planet, (free to download here), and the founding of SCGI:

  • Oklo Power plans to have a number of its 1.5 MWe micro-reactors operating by the mid-2020s, but no locations have been announced. These compact fast reactors are based on the EBR-II design and use its electro-refining method to recycle used fuel.
  • NuScale plans to build a 12-module plant at Idaho National Laboratory in 2022. The 60 MWe modules are fueled by low enriched uranium (LEU) and cooled by the natural circulation of water. NRC has stated that backup power is not required for safely shutting down.
  • ThorCon Power estimates that its molten salt reactor will be operational in Indonesia in 2025. The 250 MWe modules use a mixture of fuel (thorium + U233) and molten salt coolant. This provides both passive safety and containment of radioactive fission products. The modules are designed for shipyard construction and deployment as fully-integrated floating 500 MWe nuclear power plants. Details are available in an article on the SCGI website.
  • Kairos Power plans to have its prototype high temperature, ambient pressure, modular reactor operational at Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 2026. The 140 MWe modules are cooled by fluoride salt and fueled by TRISO pebbles. This combination eliminates the risk of coolant boiling away and fuel melting down.
  • E-energy & Doosan plan to build their 80 MWe high temperature, gas-cooled, TRISO-X pebble fueled reactor at the site of Energy Northwest’s Columbia NPP in Washington State by 2027. This combination also eliminates the risk of coolant boiling away and fuel melting down.
  • General Electric & BWXT Canada plan to build BWRX-300 in Ontario, Canada in 2028. The 300 MWe modules are fueled by LEU and cooled by the natural circulation of water at low pressure. Backup power is not required for safely shutting down. The design is based on GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor approved by the NRC in 2017.
  • Terrapower & GE-Hitachi plan to build their Natrium reactor in Wyoming by 2030. The 345 MWe modules are high temperature, ambient pressure, fast reactors that are fueled by high assay, low enriched uranium (HALEU), and cooled by liquid sodium via natural air circulation. The design includes many ideas developed for GE’s PRISM design which in turn reflected major accomplishments of EBR-II. The full plant design includes molten salt heat storage that can provide an additional 155 MWe on demand.

Granting that unforeseen design and construction problems may add to the cost and delayed deployment of some of these new designs, the sheer number of them gives us hope that some will succeed in their goals. Since its founding, SCGI has been interacting with various companies and governments to accelerate the actual building of such reactors and there is a growing awareness that nuclear power has become more popular.

Whether such innovative and disruptive technologies are first demonstrated in the USA or elsewhere, it seems inevitable that before this decade is out the energy landscape of the world will be changed for the better. Numerous countries are interested in building these advanced systems including South Korea, Russia, China, Canada, Spain, and Indonesia. The design review and approval policies of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission are undergoing a much-needed self-examination in the face of the rapidly evolving global situation.

We will continue to be deeply involved in the efforts to bring such revolutionary and beneficial technologies to fruition. The financial needs of SCGI are modest, but we do rely on contributions from people who share a vision of abundant energy and resources for all nations. It is our honor to share this voyage with you all. We wish you a joyous holiday season and look forward to great progress in the new year.

All the best to you and yours,

Tom Blees
President, SCGI

scgi logoThe Science Council for Global Initiatives is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. All contributions are tax-deductible.
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