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Towards Safer and More Sustainable Ways for Exploiting Nuclear Power

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Document pages: 25 pages

Abstract: Future electricity systems are challenged by deep decarbonization and concurrently increasing demand and there are growing concerns that renewables cannot shoulder this alone. Starting from the proven principle of diversity, we argue for keeping the nuclear option open or even for expanding its use. However, the perspectives are dim for the current technology as safety concerns and social aversion remain as fundamental problems. While looking for future revolutionary safe and more sustainable nuclear concepts we first review the main characteristics of civil nuclear energy, as well as its safety records and technical progress. We then list the key requirements for innovative nuclear systems designs which are less dependent on active safety systems and human performance as well as social stability. This allows us to provide a concept by concept comparison and assessment of existing and novel technologies and designs including different coolants and neutron spectra. The results indicate a high potential for far-reaching improvements compared to most advanced LWRs, although none of the candidate concepts meets all requirements convincingly, yet, helium cooled, small modular reactors (HTR-PM) come closest. We end by stressing the need for future research and development, and keeping human capital and know-how in nuclear energy; we call for an urgent increase in government and international RD&D funding by the order of a few hundreds of billions of USD per year, which will likely lead to breakthroughs that will restart productivity growth in severely affected stagnating modern economies.

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