Ozy: These Scientists May Have Found a Way to Stop Nuclear Meltdowns
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The technology still needs to be proven, of course, but multilateral collaboration is taking off. Oak Ridge, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is still at the heart of research efforts and is helping China, which has 700 nuclear experts working full time at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics on the targeted delivery of a functioning MSR pilot plant by 2020. This will be followed with a demonstration plant by 2025, and a commercial one five years later. But there are also two other proposed designs Oak Ridge is helping get off the ground — one from Canadian startup Terrestrial Energy and another from Alabama-based Southern Company in partnership with the Bill Gates–backed nuclear developer TerraPower, based in Washington state.
“MSRs will be up and running by 2030,” O’Sullivan says. And while Tindale agrees they’re coming soon and will be cheaper than conventional reactors, he warns that it’s still unclear when MSR will be less costly than coal. Much of the uncertainty about MSR can be blamed on regulatory holdups. Getting any nuclear effort off the ground requires government support and guaranteed long-term returns for private investment.