The nuclear energy industry has a bad rap. Accidents at Fukushima Japan and Chernobyl Russia, using 1950’s technology, scared citizens and politicians into thinking that nuclear energy is both dangerous and dead.
Even with these massive events, the fact is that nuclear was always RELATIVELY safe. We say relatively because all systems have flaws and failures but nuclear is far superior to coal or even natural gas and wind power.
However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s much research was done to advance nuclear energy technology. Unfortunately that was about the time that political parties really started to dig in on the ‘just say no to what the other guy wants’ strategy. In the US that meant that at all costs, Democrats would oppose the Republican position of supporting nuclear power technology. Over the next decade nuclear fell out of fashion as Republicans gave in on the issue treating it a bargaining chip for other issues.
Political discourse, however, does not change science. Scientists had already developed both the design and small test reactors that were simply incapable of a dreaded meltdown.
Most of the the research went into hibernation until the early 2000’s when environmentalists starting doing calculations that showed it was virtually impossible (in the real world) to produce enough electricity to meet demand without either nuclear power.
Molten Salt, Pebble Bed and Travelling Wave nuclear reactors have been re-developed in recent years relying largely on the advances made in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Take a look at this short 6 minute version of Bill Gates 2010 explanation of the Travelling Wave Reactor:
TerraPower was a very small nuclear reactor research company in Bellevue, Washington that thought Travelling Wave reactors were the way to go and in the recent Netflix short series “Inside Bill’s Brain” Bill Gates explains how he came to believe they had the best solution to ‘the nuclear problem’:
“…Gates hopes to ensure a safe way to address climate change issues. Specifically, he’s seemingly found a way to store nuclear waste (uranium) in the ground for up to 125 years, allowing for a “Traveling-Wave Reactor” to generate nuclear electricity – an inherently safe nuclear power design. As Gates notes, “Energy is this miracle, and that’s core to the modern lifestyle.” SOURCE
The problem now, is where to host a full scale reactor. In Canada, the US, the UK and many other countries the political environment will simply not permit construction of a new reactor no matter how safe and no matter who’s name is behind it. However, China is building nuclear reactors and that is where Gates and TerraPower plan to demonstrate their amazing reactor at scale. At least that was the plan until US President Donald Trump broke the deal:
Gates believed that his nuclear concepts would be moving forward after meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but the logistics of his plan were affected by Donald Trump’s trade war with China. Cohen recalls the Gates simply said “oh, shit” when learning about new developments that would derail any technological advancements in China. SOURCE
Today there are thousands of highly respected environmentalists that agree ‘modern’ nuclear is the only way to save the planet.
There are many other new energy technologies, like Proton Technologies super cheap and ultra clean hydrogen that will provide new energy sources in the coming decades. Some will happen sooner than others but they will happen and they will happen faster if we keep an open mind and listen to the science.
Will we have safe, cheap nuclear power in your lifetime? I would bet on it.