By Rafael Soto, Deputy Project Director, Next Generation Nuclear Plant
Four primary energy challenges facing U.S. families and manufacturers exist in a global economy: the rising costs of premium fuels such as oil and natural gas, dependence on foreign sources for these premium fuels, concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and the continued inefficient use of fossil fuels for hydrogen production.
Production of liquid fuels, such as gasoline for transportation, requires a large amount of process heat. The heat to refine the fuel is produced by burning a portion of that premium fossil fuel, a less than efficient use. Applying nuclear energy to produce process heat for these applications will reduce dependence on diminishing fossil fuel resources. Further, by using nuclear-generated process heat, carbon dioxide emissions are also substantially reduced, benefitting the environment and providing potential energy cost savings for both industry and consumers.
The Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project engages manufacturing operations, hydrogen and electricity producers with a progressive approach to energy production. NGNP is striving to create an integrated relationship between major commercial energy consumers and the production lines that support those industries.
The NGNP project is developing a high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor and associated energy distribution technologies to produce energy that can simultaneously run both a primary and a secondary industrial application. For example, the heat generated by the high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor can be used to run more efficient turbines, to produce electricity for homes and to use the residual heat from that process to manufacture plastic components from raw materials or generate ammonia for fertilizer. Numerous industrial applications and energy distribution methods may be integrated with NGNP.
The NGNP, using gas-cooled reactor technology, will be the blueprint for commercial deployment of advanced nuclear plants for manufacturing operations and production of hydrogen and electricity.
The high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor can provide heat for industrial process at temperatures from 700 C to 950 C. This reactor has opened the door for a wider range of commercial applications than possible with the current light water reactor technology that operates near 300 C.
NGNP makes improvements beyond the already demonstrated safety of commercial light water reactors. The high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor will meet or exceed current nuclear standards in reliability, proliferation resistance, waste management and security capabilities.
TRISO fuel used for the fission reaction is one of the unique features of the high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor. All high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors use small (approximately 1/2 mm diameter) fuel particles to drive the nuclear reaction. These small fuel particles have a kernel of enriched uranium in the form of an oxide or oxycarbide, which is subsequently coated for strength with a porous carbon layer, a dense pyrolytic carbon layer, a silicon carbide layer and finally another pyrolytic carbon layer (see Figure 2 on page 22). The coatings surrounding the kernel of TRISO particles produce a very robust fuel form by acting as the boundary for the radioactive material.
The team behind the development of the NGNP understands its responsibility to ensure natural resources are properly managed. Stewardship requires everyone’s participation in the careful and responsible management of air, land and water to ensure these resources are preserved for present and future generations. The reactor, when integrated into industrial processes, can also greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thus, represents an important additional element in the energy portfolio for the nation’s energy future.