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June Nuclear News Roundup


Welcome to our monthly Nuclear News Roundup, where we bring you the latest and most impactful developments in the world of nuclear energy. This month, we highlight significant breakthroughs and trends that promise to shape the future of power generation and public opinion on nuclear energy.

US Company Claims Nuclear Battery Breakthrough

California-based Infinity Power has announced a significant advancement in nuclear battery technology, supported by the US Department of Defense. Their new nuclear battery, using electrochemical energy conversion, achieves over 60% efficiency, a substantial increase from the less than 10% efficiency of traditional radioisotope energy converters.

The battery is designed in a metal-encased coin-cell package to ensure safety with no leakage and can provide tens of milliwatts of power for over 100 years, making it highly durable and efficient. Infinity Power's technology is scalable, capable of generating power from nanowatts to kilowatts. This higher efficiency means it requires less radioisotope material to produce the same amount of power as other methods and allows for a broader selection of radioisotope materials.

This breakthrough has significant implications for various specialized applications, including medical implants, deep-sea and space power systems, remote area power systems, and microgrids. Infinity Power aims to guide this discovery towards a successful commercial launch, marking a new chapter in nuclear energy storage solutions.

In related news, Chinese firm Beijing Betavolt New Energy Technology Company Ltd announced in January that they have developed a miniature nuclear battery capable of generating electricity autonomously for 50 years without charging or maintenance, which is currently in the pilot stage and will soon enter mass production.

Surveys Reveal Growing Public Support for Nuclear Energy in the US

Two new surveys highlight encouraging trends in American public opinion regarding nuclear energy. The 2024 National Nuclear Energy Public Opinion Survey by Bisconti Research and a University of Michigan analysis of social media posts reveal strong support for nuclear power across the United States.

Bisconti Research Survey:

Conducted from April 30 to May 2, 2024, with 1,000 adults.

  • Found 77% of Americans support nuclear energy, marking the fourth consecutive year of over 75% support.

  • Public support for nuclear power plant license renewal rose to 88%, and support for building new plants increased to 71%.

  • Knowledge about nuclear energy correlates with support: 88% of respondents with high knowledge favor its use, compared to 54% with low knowledge.

  • Gender differences: 86% of men and 70% of women support nuclear energy.

  • Age differences: Baby Boomers and Millennials show the highest strong support at 36% and 35%, respectively.

  • Educational background: 82% of college graduates favor nuclear energy, versus 74% of non-graduates.

  • Political affiliation: 85% of Republicans, 78% of Democrats, and 71% of independents support nuclear energy.

  • Regional support: Highest in the Northeast (79%) and South (78%).

University of Michigan Social Media Analysis:

Analyzed 300,000 geotagged posts from the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) between 2008 and 2023.

  • Found 54% of posts had positive sentiments towards nuclear energy, with neutral sentiments being the most common at 50%, and negative sentiments at 23%.

  • Positive attitudes towards nuclear energy were prevalent in 48 states, with Rhode Island (69%) showing the highest support.

  • Negative attitudes were predominant in Delaware (46%) and Alaska (47%).

  • Positive themes included innovations for safety, reliability, and economic viability, as well as job creation and clean energy transition.

  • Negative posts focused on concerns about radioactive waste, high costs, and safety hazards.

Overall, the surveys indicate a significant shift in public perception, with a growing number of Americans favoring nuclear energy and acknowledging its potential benefits while still considering its challenges.

Bill Gates' TerraPower Begins Construction on Advanced Nuclear Plant in Wyoming

Bill Gates and his energy company, TerraPower, have started construction on a next-generation nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. This project, which Gates believes will revolutionize power generation, involves an advanced nuclear reactor that uses sodium for cooling instead of water. TerraPower applied for a construction permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in March, and if approved, the reactor will operate as a commercial nuclear power plant.

Project Details:

  • Location: Adjacent to PacifiCorp’s Naughton Power Plant, which will cease burning coal in 2026 and natural gas by 2036.

  • Technology: TerraPower's Natrium reactor design includes a sodium-cooled fast reactor and a molten salt energy storage system.

  • Power Output: The 345-megawatt reactor can generate up to 500 megawatts, enough to power up to 400,000 homes.

  • Cost: The project is estimated at up to $4 billion, with half funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Significance and Goals:

  • Clean Energy Transition: The project aims to provide safe, abundant, zero-carbon energy, supporting President Biden’s climate goals.

  • Innovation: TerraPower seeks to innovate with advanced nuclear technology, moving beyond the traditional water-cooled reactors.

  • Future Potential: The reactor is expected to supply electricity initially, with future applications in industrial processes requiring high heat, such as hydrogen and ammonia production.

Challenges and Considerations:

  • Fuel Supply: The reactor relies on high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), currently only commercially supplied by Russia. TerraPower has delayed the launch to 2030 while working on alternative supplies with the U.S. Energy Department.

  • Security Concerns: Some experts, like Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, raise concerns about HALEU's potential use in nuclear weapons. The NRC assures that current regulations will maintain security and public safety.

Industry Impact:

  • Momentum for Nuclear Energy: Gates' involvement and investment in advanced nuclear power highlight its role in addressing the climate crisis. The project is seen as a significant step towards wider acceptance and development of new nuclear technologies in the U.S.

  • Broader Applications: Future reactors may be built near industrial plants to supply high heat, reducing reliance on fossil fuels for industrial processes.

TerraPower, founded by Gates in 2008, aims to propel advanced nuclear energy forward, offering a promising solution for clean and reliable energy in the future.

As we look ahead, it's clear that nuclear energy is poised to play a critical role in our transition to a carbon-free future. These developments underscore the innovative strides being made in nuclear technology and the growing public support that will help drive these advancements. Stay tuned for more updates and insights in next month's roundup.

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