Nuclear Notes—Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022
Big Steel Buys into Nuclear
ArcelorMittal, which describes itself as the world’s leading steel company, has invested $25 million in TerraPower, the nuclear energy company founded by Bill Gates. TerraPower is a partner in the Natrium project, an effort to build advanced reactors that integrate a heat battery, with GE-Hitachi.
The connection between ArcelorMittal and the nuclear industry could run in two directions. Over the years, the company acquired mills that produced steel for the existing fleet of nuclear reactors, and it could make steel for new ones. ArcelorMittal is particularly interested in “green steel,” steel with a smaller carbon footprint. Turning iron into steel requires removing excess oxygen, done now by burning coal to make hydrogen and carbon monoxide. (The hydrogen grabs oxygen and makes water. The carbon monoxide grabs a hydrogen atom and becomes carbon dioxide.) A promising market for nuclear reactors is using their energy to make hydrogen without emitting any carbon dioxide.
The investment follows a trend among heavy manufacturing companies to put money into nuclear start-ups. Prominent among these companies is NuScale Power, which has a design licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a cluster of small modular reactors. NuScale reportedly has investments from a variety of companies that could also be suppliers, including Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction, Sargent & Lundy (an architect-engineering firm), and NuCor Corporation (a steel company)
Hola Energía Nuclear
An agreement that allows export of U.S. nuclear technology and materials has come into force with Mexico, following the Mexican Senate’s ratification of the agreement earlier this year.
Mexico opened two GE boiling water reactors in the 1990s, in Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. It has not announced plans for more, but it expects steady growth in demand, and it has water needs that could be met with small modular reactors used for desalination. It also has a booming electricity market, and most of that demand is now met by burning fossil fuels.
An “Energy Iron Curtain”
Prospects for new reactors have improved markedly in the last few years because of the threat of global warming, writes observer Dan Yurman in his Neutron Bytes blog. But there is now a second driver, he explains—the imperative to get off Russian fossil gas. To varying degrees, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania ae all moving ahead with nuclear energy plans as a way to reduce Russian influence in their countries. What has descended now across Europe, Yurman observes, is an energy iron curtain—although this time east of the line that Churchill described in his 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech.
“But what about the waste?”
TV to counter The Simpsons
Television isn’t always kind to nuclear. But NuScale Power, which is now marketing its small modular reactor plant, has a new suite of commercials coming to televisions near you.
These won’t fill the gap created by the end of political ads leading up to the mid-terms, or rival those from drug companies with happy-looking patients, but they may move the needle a bit on the popular conception of nuclear energy.
Recycling More of an Old Coal Plant
Nuclear engineers often talk about recycling old coal plant sites, and making use of the land, the grid access, the cooling water, and maybe even the switchyards. A small modular reactor’s output may be roughly equal to mid-century coal plants now ripe for retirement.
But TerraPraxis, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “climate solution incubator,” has an idea that is smaller and also more ambitious; just replace the boiler. Keep the turbine that converts steam to rotary energy, and the generator that uses that energy to make electricity, and the condenser that turns the steam back into water for re-heating in the boiler.
TerraPraxis, which has offices in London and in Cambridge, Mass., has signed an agreement with Terrestrial Energy to explore using that company’s Integrated Molten Salt Reactor technology. Terrestrial has a patented reactor core, with fuel dissolved in molten salt, with a graphite moderator. It is designed to run for seven years, and then be replaced, which minimizes concern over wear and tear on reactor parts. The reactor runs at higher temperatures and lower pressures than conventional water-based designs.
Terrestrial Energy, based in Oakville, Ontario, points out that because of the high temperature, its reactor can also supply process heat for a variety of industries.
The company was also the subject of a first-of-a-kind joint effort by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to conduct a joint technical review of the technology, which was was completed earlier this year.
TerraPraxis, for its part, has developed an application for coal plant owners to use in determining whether they can convert to nuclear. It was just unveiled at COP27, in Egypt.