Nuclear energy is the youngest of energy sources with the least amount of time under technological development and so deserves our patience and understanding. “But Dark Horse,” you might say, “Nuclear power is so 1950s, aren’t wind and solar the up and comers?” Good question you poor, uninformed, product of Ohio’s educational system (which is excellent by the way). Wind and solar for the production of electricity are 19th century technologies, and conceptually the harnessing of wind and sunlight for human purposes is as old as recorded history. No, nuclear power is young and has much room to grow.
Any use of wind, solar, hydro-electric, or geothermal that can be done within reason is going to bump up against natural limits. There’s only so much sunlight the Earth receives in a day, the wind only blows so hard, there are only so many waterways and so many appropriate locations for geothermal energy to be harnessed. And these are not dense sources of energy, these are not unobtrusive sources of energy, they take considerable land and disrupt waterways.
Nuclear energy is the only energy that will be capable of meeting humanity’s long-term needs. First fission and then fusion. By late century, nuclear fission is almost certain to make up the majority of energy production on Earth. Ohio needs to invest in the development and deployment of next generation nuclear energy technologies. Ohio will benefit from the cheap, abundant, and reliable energy that industry craves; but more importantly, Ohio can be home to the companies that commercialize and export the technology to an energy hungry world.
Ohio will aim for 25% of its electricity to be generated by nuclear by 2035. 50% by 2050. This is a reasonable, achievable goal.
Retain existing nuclear power plants
No one is happy about the billion dollar bailout for Ohio’s two nuclear power plants or the coal plant in Indiana which we’re paying for for whatever reason, least of all
the API me. The product of a massive bribery scandal, it is a symbol of the rampant and blatant corruption that inevitably rises from unchallenged, single party (Republican) domination. But, and this is in no way reflects enthusiasm for the subsidy structure itself, I need those nuclear power plants to keep functioning.
They represent a big chunk of Ohio’s electricity supply which would be hard to replace and impossible to replace with anything but more natural gas which, at the moment, is looking to be in high demand and short supply as America’s natural gas suppliers scramble to ramp up after settling into to a modest investment/actual profit strategy for what seemed like a cheap energy economy. Shutter those plants and costs go up, pollution goes up, and our nuclear engineering skills degrade. Not having it. Plus, decommissioning nuclear power plants is no cakewalk.
The structure of that continued operation isn’t so important but I guarantee we can get a better deal than HB6. Frankly, with the price of natural gas rising, those two plants which were never definitively proven to be losing money to begin with, are probably self-sustaining financially without subsidy. Maybe Ohio should seize the plants as compensation for the theft through bribery. Don’t care, keep’em running by whatever means but on good terms for the people of Ohio.
Expand Nuclear Engineering Programs at Public Universities
Without a steady supply of educated nuclear engineers and physicists, how can we hope to attract and develop top nuclear startup companies? Great question. We cannot. And that’s why we must expand nuclear engineering degree and research programs at Ohio’s public universities. For reasons not adequately explained here, new nuclear education programs should be rolled out at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Toledo. Nuclear programs at Ohio State University should be greatly expanded. This will be accompanied with considerable grants for new research programs at these universities dolled out from our proposed Pure Research fund.
Advanced and Alternative Nuclear Reactors
Additional funding will be provided through research grants and angel capital investment for the development and early commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor technologies right here in Ohio. These would be those Generation IV reactors that utilize safer designs, a closed fuel cycle, may operate at higher temperatures, and use new coolants like molten salt or helium.
Thorium fueled nuclear reactors are worth returning to from a research perspective even if commercialization may not appear as likely. Thorium is more abundant than uranium, it’s safer, and potentially could prove cheaper if we get the processing down and build efficient reactor designs around it. It’s also far less weaponizable which is a positive or a negative depending on your perspective. But optimism for thorium reactors should be tempered as many obstacles remain. More traditional fuel sources with newer designs are likely to prove more appealing.
Small Modular Reactors
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are frequently highlighted as an idea that could make nuclear energy financially competitive again. The advantage of SMRs is that they are small and modular (they are also reactors). Making them modular means we can mass produce the parts and ship them to wherever the reactor will be used. The reactors are simpler to assemble and we reduce the time and cost of building them while, hopefully, benefiting from economies of scale in production.
That they are small allows us to move them easily, operate them in a wider range of environments, and operate efficiently at a smaller scale which meets a wider range of energy needs. Where we want to achieve the energy output levels comparable to older, larger reactors we simply string a series of SMRs together. We can easily add and remove capacity in this way. This greatly reduces the initial capital costs of nuclear which in the past have been prohibitive and led many ventures to fold before they were completed. Small modular reactors will make nuclear energy expansion price competitive with other sources of energy.
SMRs are smaller and safer but initially will not be a huge divergence from previous generations of reactor; the fuel will likely still be uranium, the coolant will likely still be water. There remains risks like the possibility gains from economies of manufacturing scale will not overcome an increased cost of wattage from lower capacity compared to full sized reactors.
Do not be deterred. That other, lesser states like Texas, Wyoming, or California could outmaneuver us on SMRs should be alarming to Ohioans. God help us if we have to compete with a renuclearized California. Ohio can and should compete as a researcher, developer, and customer of SMRs and other nuclear technologies. We must no longer be afraid to lead. Reclaim Ohio’s grandeur. We are the original frontier. Let’s go nuclear.