Study: New nuclear reactors will not be ready for the market for decades

Study: New nuclear reactors will not be ready for the market for decades

Nuclear energy is increasingly being used again around the world. There are also calls for a renaissance in Germany. Many hopes rest on new technologies, but science has doubts about them.

Contrary to what many nuclear power advocates claim, from a scientific point of view, new fourth-generation reactors cannot be used in the coming decades. “All technologies need at least two to three decades before they can be introduced,” said physicist Christoph Pistner from the Öko-Institut when presenting a study to investigate new types of reactors.

Co-author Christian von Hirschhausen from the Technical University of Berlin does not expect market maturity and competitiveness in the next “five to six decades”. The 652-page study was prepared on behalf of the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE). The funding amounted to 274,000 euros.

Alternative reactor concepts come too late

“The alternative reactor concepts come too late to achieve the Paris climate goals,” said BASE President Christian Kühn. Despite intensive advertising from manufacturers, his authority sees no development that would make the construction of alternative reactor types likely on a large scale in the coming years. “On the contrary: we must expect that, from a safety perspective, the possible advantages of these reactor concepts will be outweighed by disadvantages and the still unanswered questions.” The reactor concepts also neither solved the need to find a final storage facility for the radioactive waste nor urgent questions about climate protection.

With a view to the first international nuclear summit in Brussels, Kühn emphasized that it is of course a national decision as to how energy production takes place. In general, however, the national and international discourse on the future of nuclear power shows that economic and safety issues are “underexposed”.

Seven new types of reactors

The study examined seven reactor types, some of which differ greatly from the most common light water reactors worldwide. These include lead- and gas-cooled reactors, molten salt reactors and accelerator-driven systems. According to their developers, the reactors should have advantages over current power plants – for example in terms of safety and reliability, economic efficiency and fuel utilization. There should also be less high-level radioactive waste generated here.

The scientific work of the Öko-Institut, the TU Berlin and the Bremen Physics Office comes to the conclusion that no type of reactor represents a real alternative to the current light water reactors, said von Hirschhausen. In addition, the expansion of renewable energies is already significantly cheaper than the current nuclear reactors. These, in turn, are significantly cheaper than the new concepts. Even in countries where nuclear power is being developed rapidly, there is no prospect of a breakthrough in the new technologies for the foreseeable future.

While the last three nuclear power plants in Germany went offline in April 2023, countries such as the USA, France, China and Poland are taking a different path and are driving a renaissance in nuclear energy. In Germany, calls for a re-entry are also becoming louder – for example from the Union, FDP and AfD.

Source: Stern

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