A defence of the nuclear option
To the Expositor:
The May 26, 2021 edition of this paper included a letter submitted by Gary Lewis. In a clear and concise manner, he pointed out a number of issues supporting the use of nuclear energy and questioned the feasibility of wind/solar generation feeding the power grid. I would like to offer a few additional bits of information.
First, some numbers regarding the use of wind/solar (WS). The Energy Performance Measurement Institute issued a report by Michael MacDonald that looked at the cost effect of adding WS energy to the grid in the European Union (EU). For each one percent increase in WS, expect price increases of 0.48 cents/kWh. Germany and Denmark have the highest percentage of installed WS in the EU and also the highest cost per kWh at about 30 cents. The rate in France is half of that where nuclear generation is predominant.
Now to the battery issue. How much storage would be needed to support a WS system and what would it cost? In 2018, Roger Andrews made such an estimate for the state of California and published it at a website called Energy Matters. He looked at daily and seasonal surpluses and deficits to determine how much battery capacity the State would need to support the grid during an average year. He determined that about 25K GWH of stored energy would be required assuming 40 GW of peak usage. The cost? About $5 trillion! If anyone is interested in doing their own calculations, utility scale battery storage currently running about $1.5 million per MWh.
I have quoted David MacKay on this issue in previous letters but it warrants repeating, “To think that solar and wind can power a modern grid is an appalling delusion.” I would add that believing that batteries can solve the unreliable nature of this type of generation is beyond absurd given the costs associated with such an idea.
And what about nuclear generation? Sarah Baron would know that the grid here in Ontario is powered principally by nuclear and has been for some time and has done so cost effectively and in a safe and reliable manner.
As to the future of nuclear generation, as Garry Lewis has pointed out, Canadian private industry is in the process of developing Generation IV reactors that are expected to come on-line this decade. Of the companies involved, I would particularly like to mention Terrestrial Energy based in Mississauga. The company is developing an Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). The reactor is a sealed unit that can be constructed in modular fashion. It is passive and “walk away” safe. Current models range from 80 MW to 600 MW. The IMSR 600 will be cost competitive with coal and natural gas plants. It is also interesting to note that it is technically feasible for these types of reactors to burn nuclear waste with the possibility of no waste associated with power generation in the future. Oh, and these units can load follow as well!
Dr. David Leblanc is the chief technology officer of Terrestrial Energy and several of his presentations on the features of IMSR’s are available online. The company is determined to get the IMSR design to market and commercially operating this decade. I wish them the best. Success will result in nothing less than a technology offering clean, reliable and cheap electrical energy to grids around the world.