By Mike Drury
“New nuclear” has enjoyed a good start to 2022.
Breakthrough legislation on the financing of new nuclear projects has been followed by warm rhetoric from the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, who talked about the need for the UK to “double down on new nuclear power” as “the more clean, affordable power we generate in the UK, the less dependent we’ll be on imports.”
For Government, “Nuclear = energy security.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nuclear remains the only credible route for the UK to ensure secure, low-carbon, and affordable energy alongside a system based on renewables.
Without nuclear as a large slice of the energy mix, Net Zero looks impossible.
Interest in new technology and what it brings in terms of security of supply, jobs, growth, investment, and IP for UK Plc is therefore high.
Yet not all new nuclear technology is the same.
A missing piece of the Net Zero puzzle
The UK is in danger of missing several pieces of the Net Zero puzzle if it overlooks the immense potential of technologies like Generation IV molten salt reactors with their vast near-term potential to decarbonise industry.
With the cost of energy at record highs for British households, business, and industry we simply cannot rely on a single nuclear technology.
Molten salt has the potential to fill the gaps and support all energy vectors.
Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) offers flexible, low carbon technology that can deliver high-quality thermal power and electricity both at low cost.
A single IMSR unit provides 195MW of on-demand, low-carbon electricity that can be ramped up from 50% to 100% in under ten minutes.
The high-quality heat produced by the IMSR can be distributed over three miles to industry and the residual heat to households as well. Plus, unlike other nuclear technologies IMSR has the potential to produce industrial thermal power at 600°C, which is the ‘high-quality’ heat need for many industrial applications both old and new.
As the UK pivots towards hydrogen for industry, transport and heat, molten salt technology can create green, economic hydrogen using high temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE), and its close cousin, green ammonia.
Molten salt reactors with green hydrogen have the potential to decarbonise “hard to abate” industries such as steel, ceramics or glass and ammonia production at competitive economical values, delivering unique benefits to the economy by the early 2030s.
Jobs, growth, investment, and export potential
With a government agenda focused on “levelling up” and securing a Green Industrial Revolution to reach Net Zero, molten salt technology offers the UK an opportunity to build a new supply chain that can be scaled up creating jobs and investment, as well as benefit from existing infrastructure and expertise in fuels.
Furthermore, molten salt technology presents a unique opportunity for the UK to create IP and export it globally. Terrestrial Energy alone has five separate patent families and 65 patents creating clear opportunities for international collaboration across the globe.
Plans are underway for the first UK power plants to operate within 10-15 years. If we get moving with UK-backed molten salt reactors, the positive payback will start this decade as the supply chain and academia work together to develop new opportunities and applications for industry.
With some of the highest industrial energy costs in Europe, the UK economy is in desperate need of affordable, scalable, secure, thermal power and electricity available at source and developed by a British-based workforce.
New technologies like molten salt can enable an efficient path to Net Zero in the UK.
Michael Drury is Managing Director of Terrestrial Energy in the UK