Nuclear energy as the best bet against climate change

Is there anything more dangerous for the humanity than coronavirus, we have recently experienced? According to the Microsoft founder Bill Gates it is climate change. He also added that the only way to save the planet from global warming is if nuclear power can take on this role. “We need 25% of the generation to be available regardless of the weather. Nuclear fusion is really the only thing that can work on that scale,” Mr. Gates said.

Safe ingredient to the energy mix

Of course, renewable energy sources (RES) based on solar, wind and water power are also important. And it should definitely be a part of the country’s energy mix. But the dependence of RES on weather conditions makes the energy system vulnerable if the share of wind or solar plants begins to dominate in the energy mix. And this has already been felt by consumers in the U.S. and Europe, which have faced energy shortages and rolling blackouts during periods of abrupt weather fluctuations.

How can we balance the reliability of energy supply for people and industry on the one hand, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which negatively affect the climate, on the other?

There is a way out – it is necessary to use the fourth component of the “green square” – nuclear power.

Nuclear power generation does not depend on weather conditions. At the same time, unlike energy based on gas, coal or oil, nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts have come to the following conclusion: to ensure climate stability the capacity of the global nuclear power plant fleet should be increased up to 930 GW by 2050. Currently it is 393 GW (which is approximately 10% of world electricity production).

The backbone of the world’s nuclear power today is water-water reactors owing to their safety and reliability features. Water-water reactors developed in Russia are known under the abbreviation VVER, in other countries this type of reactors is known under the common name of PWR (pressurized water reactor).

Historically, the first plant with such a reactor at the Shippingport nuclear power plant was launched in the United States in 1957. And the first PWR power reactor of the first generation was put into operation in 1964 at Unit 1 of Novovoronezh NPP in Russia. Since then, subsequent generations of reactors have been developed and serially built all over the world. NPPs with VVER reactors operate today in China, India, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and other countries. As of today, the scientific and technological solutions are at the level of Generation 3+. The VVER-1200 reactor belongs to the latter generation, it is the flagship among Russian reactors and has been recognized by the world nuclear community as the most reliable and safe.

The VVER-1200 generation 3+ power unit incorporates all IAEA safety recommendations and also takes into account global experience in operating nuclear power plants.

Its main feature is a combination of active and passive safety systems, making the nuclear power plant resistant to external and internal influences. In other words, the safety system includes solutions that can operate in a situation of complete power failure and without the involvement of operators. Moreover, even in the event of a major earthquake and power outage, the safety systems will prevent radioactivity from escaping beyond the reactor unit.

The passive system also includes a melt trap, a new development of Russian scientists created to localize the melted core of a nuclear reactor.

It is also worth mentioning the double reinforced concrete shell installed over the reactor unit in the form of a dome. In the event of an emergency in the reactor building, all radioactivity will remain trapped inside this containment. In the event of external threats, this containment can withstand heavy loads (such as a plane crash, hurricane, explosion, etc.). Thus, the dome of the power unit is always ready to take a blow from the outside as well as from the inside.

According to the IAEA, 443 nuclear power reactors are currently in operation around the world, and 50 more are under construction. As for the period of operation, the reactor lifetime is 60 years with the possibility of prolongation up to 80 years.

The very first-generation 3+ VVER-1200 power unit in the world is the first unit at Novovoronezh NPP-2. This very unit was taken as a reference technology for Uzbekistan. Today there are four power units based on VVER-1200 reactors operating in Russia: at Novovoronezh NPP-2 and Leningrad NPP-2. The first power unit with VVER-1200 reactor at the Belorussian NPP has been put into operation, the second unit is under construction. VVER-1200 projects are also being implemented in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Hungary.

Construction of a nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan with two VVER-1200 reactors of a total capacity of 2,400 MW, according to the concept of the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan, will provide about 15% of the country’s electricity needs by 2030.

What’s in it for Africa?

Presently, South Africa is the only country with commercial nuclear power; however, there is increasing government interest throughout the continent in developing commercial programs.  In addition, there are currently twelve operational research reactors in eight countries across Africa, which were all built by foreign countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, Argentina, and the United States.

Though these reactors are strictly used for environmental and medical research—the development of research reactors has symbolled a first move towards commercial nuclear power projects for various other countries due to their ability to train students in maintenance and management.  For example, series of lectures held by top Russian universities were held in Tanzania.

The representatives of these universities also mentioned the master’s program students can attend in order to become specialists in the field and scholarships available for African students to pursue nuclear engineering degrees.

The problem of energy supply in Tanzania is aggravated every year, but effective and sustainable solutions have not yet been proposed. The need to combat climate change is an incentive for the development of nuclear energy. Afterall, of all the varieties of clean energy, nuclear power appears to be the top priority option for African countries.

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