Way back in the year 2005 (which is eight years ago if you can believe that) Congress passed a bill known as the US Energy Policy Act of 2005. It is the closest thing we have in the US to any kind of official guidance as regards the future of the energy sector; including solar, wind, coal, oil, and of course nuclear electricity production. It’s not a great Bill. It’s long and tedious (although not as long and tedious as the transportation act which was passed around the same time), and meandering and makes a lot of promises about various things, and was essentially a shotgun approach to solving the coming electricity generation crisis we come closer to every time a new electric car is plugged into the grid.
However, some good things that came out of that Bill are actually coming to pass. The two new nuclear plants under construction at Vogtle are as a result of loan guarantees coming out of that Bill. So were the many many wind turbines installed in west Texas. And now here’s another good thing.
Yesterday the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) Industry Alliance up to $1 million in cost sharing for research involving the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactors (HTGR (Don’t ask me what happened to the C, I don’t know), to be done at the Idaho National Laboratories. But just what is a HTGR? It’s one of the six futuristic designs picked to be researched to act as the next generation of nuclear reactor. The designs are currently being researched around the world by various different government and industry groups. Currently operating nuclear reactors use water as their coolant and boil that water (or secondary water in the case of PWRs) to make steam which is pushed through a turbine that spins a generator and allows you to turn your lights on. The HTGR’s claim to fame is it’s potential dual use ability, in that the gas used to cool the reactor could be used for things besides turning a turbine to make electricity. For instance the heated gas could be used as process heat in a variety of chemical processes, such as hydrogen production.
What makes that interesting is that the HTGR would be poised to react to two of the potential directions car fuel could take, which would be electricity or hydrogen. Meaning that building one of these babies would provide more chances for an investor to make up the money they’d need to spend building one. Currently Entergy, which provides power to a good chunk of the southeast and operates 11 nuclear reactors both there an in the northeast, has assumed the role of applicant for a pre-application and license activities. Areva’s SC-HTGR design was selected as the optimum design for research and development.