By Simon Irish
Despite their grand efforts, world leaders, policymakers and activists convening at the 27th Conference of the Parties, or COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, are making scant progress finding ways to meet growing global energy needs while slowing climate change. We invite those attending COP27 to reflect on this track record and on the solutions being offered by transformative innovations in the nuclear industry today.
Nuclear energy can play a major part in solving the climate change problem and energy poverty. What is lacking is the nuclear technology that connects that potential of nuclear energy with today’s industrial energy needs. Conventional nuclear technology (water-cooled-water-moderated) cannot achieve that potential – we have tried and tried for 65 years. It is fundamentally limited to inefficient, low-temperature operation, and that is not good enough. It was not originally developed for civilian use; it was designed to power a Cold War submarine.
The great missing piece to addressing climate change is zero-carbon, high-temperature thermal energy supply. This is the energy that makes all the products of our model world – we get that energy exclusively today from fossil fuel combustion. This high-temperature thermal energy also generates electricity with high efficiency, important for the cost and sustainability of our power plants. They cannot gobble up our mineral resources nor turn our wild lands into gigantic energy parks.
After 75-plus years, we know a lot about nuclear fission. We have demonstrated many different fission technologies over the last 60 years at great cost to the taxpayer in R&D. There are many nuclear technologies, many ways of harnessing nuclear energy. Conventional nuclear technology (water-cooled-water-moderated), used for civilian commercial use since 1956, can be improved incrementally – this time by making conventional nuclear power plants smaller and modular.
However, the great missing piece requires a nuclear technology with transformative, not incremental, potential. That requires looking with fresh eyes at old problems, and that is what Terrestrial Energy has done.
We are using Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) fission technology, based closely on a demonstrated molten salt nuclear technology. Why? Because it generates high-temperature heat, operating safely at low pressure and low cost, and it builds on decades of past work. The IMSR is the heart of our small, modular cogeneration plant, capable of being the missing piece – the clean energy alternative to fossil fuel combustion for industry. The IMSR plant produces carbon-free, high-temperature heat (585 degrees C) for industrial production and generating with high-efficiency electrical power for low cost.
Our new animation shows how. It depicts how the IMSR cogeneration plant provides cost-competitive clean heat and power for industry, and electricity for grid use. With this capability, it offers game-changing capability to meet Net-Zero emissions goals by decarbonizing the most difficult-to-abate sector – industry – that represents 30 percent of global emissions.
Our animation illustrates the IMSR supporting the production of building blocks of the modern world – concrete, fertilizers for food, plastics, and steel. It does this at lower cost and without emissions. The IMSR’s high-temperature heat supply enables many industries seeking to eliminate large emissions footprints with a high-impact solution that can come online starting in the early 2030s. This is because IMSR cogeneration can support the production of hydrogen, ammonia, and other essential materials with zero emissions. And beyond all this, the high-temperature heat from an IMSR generates electricity with high efficiency for low-cost, with much reduced nuclear waste, and on a tiny land footprint.
The development, construction, and operation of IMSR cogeneration plants will stimulate jobs, investment, and economic growth. They address head-on the very challenges leaders are grappling with at COP27. These challenges demand transformative energy innovations to bring Net-Zero goals within reach. Incremental thinking will not get us there. The IMSR is such a transformational solution with the clear potential to deliver.
Watch the IMSR animation here.