James Conca, Geochemist: New reactor designs are pretty advanced and ready to be rolled out. Whether they’re variations on the traditional light-water reactor (NuScale), new molten salt designs (IMSR), air-cooled, liquid metal, or advanced fast-reactors that burn everything from spent fuel from old reactors to Iraqi tank armor (TerraPower; General Atomics), SMRs like the Xe-100 build on the successful experience of previous designs and the redundant safety systems developed over the last 60 years.
James Conca, Geochemist: We used to think about Peak Oil like this – the reserves are finite, we know where they are and how long they will last, and we will start running out soon. But with recent technological innovations, we keep finding new oil deposits that are now recoverable and a peak won’t happen for a century or more.
James Conca, Geochemist: Today’s energy markets are characterized by low natural gas prices, heavily subsidized renewable generation and low growth in electricity demand. American vendors also compete in the international markets for the deployment of Small Modular Reactors, SMRs, and other advanced nuclear reactor designs. Unfortunately, most countries like Russia and China directly subsidize their nation’s nuclear technologies in order to penetrate global markets.
James Conca, Geochemist: Yucca Mountain has always been political, from its initial choice to its recent death. The problem this time is that most of our high-level nuclear waste is no longer high-level. And most scientists agree we shouldn’t dispose of spent nuclear fuel until we reuse it in our new reactors that are designed to burn it. Besides, the highly-fractured, variably saturated, dual-porosity volcanic tuff at Yucca Mountain with highly oxidizing groundwater, was the wrong rock to begin with, causing the cost to skyrocket and the technical hurdles to keep mounting. Anti-nuclear activists have used Yucca Mt. to oppose the new generation of nuclear power plants by saying we have no place to put the waste. Unfortunately, everyone has focused on the political and legal aspects without understanding the science. And we know what happens when Human Law runs into Natural Law – Natural Law wins every time.