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Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Joshua S Hill

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Could Hybrid Nuclear Plants Help Stem Global Warming?

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November 8th, 2013 by
 
MIT’s Charles Forsberg has come up with an idea that might work to combine nuclear energy generation with renewable energies in an effort to halt the need for fossil fuels. The idea proposes combining a nuclear power plant with another renewable energy system, which Forsberg argues “could add up to much more than the sum of its parts.”

Earlier this week four leading climate scientists published an open letter asking “those influencing environmental policy” to step down from indiscriminately opposing nuclear power options. The letter outlined the current need for nuclear power as a feasible option if we are to ever divest ourselves of our need for fossil fuels, and halt the rising global warming.

“As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems,” the authors of the letter wrote, adding that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.”

In a fortuitously timed release, MIT announced that Charles Forsberg, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, has published a paper in the November issue of the journal Energy Policy advocating the coupling of nuclear power with alternative energy sources to create hybrid power plants.

The time for new approaches is obviously upon us, and Forsberg believes that thinking outside the box is going to be necessary to fight global warming. “As long as you had inexpensive fossil fuels available for electricity demand, there was no reason to think about it,” he said, but now that we need to address climate change, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and secure energy independence away from fossil fuels and the economies that control those vast reserves, new options are necessary.

Nuclear power and renewable energies like wind and solar both have their pros and cons. Both are comparatively inexpensive and are near-infinitely more beneficial for the environment and atmosphere than fossil fuel-based energy systems.

However the reliability of both suffers somewhat due to their specific intricacies: Nuclear power cannot rapidly be ramped up or down to meet needs or reduce production, and renewable energies are reliant upon stable weather conditions to create constant power, and similarly cannot be ramped up or down according to specific needs.

One solution, according to Forsberg, is to create a way that excess power from a nuclear power plant ca be diverted, making it a ‘dispatchable’ power source — “one that can be easily ramped up or down to balance the disparities between production and demand.”

How? By pairing a nuclear power plant with either an artificial geothermal storage system, a hydrogen production plant, or a shale-oil recovery system. The steam generated from a nuclear power plant could be diverted to affect either of these alternative energy solutions, creating a hybrid system which has the stability and reaction-time of more traditional fossil fuel power stations.

“Many times the most formative game-changing approaches are not single new technologies, but rather novel ways of combining technologies,” said Steven Aumeier, director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies at the Idaho National Laboratory. “Hybrid energy systems could be a game-changing approach in enabling the cost-effective, secure, and high penetration of low-carbon energy into the economy.”

Aumeier adds that such systems would “afford a practical and regionally scalable means of using an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy security.”

Dr. Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. James Hansen, a renowned climate scientist at the Columbia University Earth Institute, and Dr. Tom Wigley, a climate scientist from the University of Adelaide and the National Center for Atmospheric Research were the authors of the open letter, published earlier this week, and amongst their recommendations was the need “to embrace the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems as one among several technologies that will be essential to any credible effort to develop an energy system that does not rely on using the atmosphere as a waste dump.”

In the long run, and especially in light of nuclear ‘incidents’ such as the looming spectre of the Ukrainian Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the more recent 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, nuclear energy is not well-liked in the public eye. There are those who believe it is the solution to all ills, but there are a greater majority who believe that nuclear energy is a less attractive option than fossil fuels. Implementing any sort of nuclear energy as a long-term solution is going to be a tricky proposition for any authority who attempt it, but it’s benefits could far outweigh its negatives.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.



  • Others

    Actually Solar Thermal power can also provide both Power and Heat using the Hot Water. In summers, the heated water can be user for power generation while in winter, the heated water can be used for space heating.

  • Others

    Lot of energy from nuclear plants is wasted as heat and that can be used for district heating just like the co-generation plants in New York City.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Yep, people are so eager to snuggle up to nuclear plants in order to warm their tootsies.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “By pairing a nuclear power plant with either an artificial geothermal storage system, a hydrogen production plant, or a shale-oil recovery system.”

    Great idea Charles. Use nuclear reactors to generate expensive electricity and then store some steam to be used later to generate even more expensive electricity. Wowzer!

    Or use some of the steam to extract even more climate killing oil. Hot Diggity Dog!

    BTW, Charles, how are you planning on getting that steam from nuclear plants to shale oil sites? Going to be building nuclear reactors at Canadian tar oil sites, are you?

    This is about as big a fail as the guy who was going to put a wind turbine on the top of his car and power the electric motor with the wind created by the moving car.

    The nuclear fanboys are getting desperate.

  • Dan Pangburn

    Carbon dioxide change
    has never had a significant influence on climate and never will. Find out what
    actually has driven average global temperature at http://danpangburn.blogspot.com/

  • Börje Widerberg

    Nuclear Power today is not cheap, it´s extremely expensive and used as a back-up Power source will be even more expensive. The best short term solution for back-up Power to renewables is probably gas which is easily dismatled when the back-up facility is no longer needed.
    Börje Widerberg

    • globi

      Besides that there is already enough hydro storage capacity for back-up power (longer than any night and dead calm period combined anyway): http://www.claverton-energy.com/european-hydro-capacity-compared-to-the-demand-for-electricity.html
      (And you don’t need to build more dam to increase power on existing dams.)
      Since the heating and hot water sector needs to be electrified in order to get rid of fossil fuels anyway, you automatically obtain plenty of flexible loads (or cheap storage if you will), you don’t need much back-up power.

      Also, it’s cheaper to curtail Wind and PV up to a certain extend than to store it.

  • ThomasGerke

    Reminds me of the ideas that were floated around in Germany back in 2009-2010, when the pro-nuclear government pushed for a decade long lifetime extension for nuclear power plants.

    Nothing more than old theorethical ideas that never materialized and are brewed up again and again.

    The only real world application is that these theorethical possibilies are used by those who want to slow down investments into renewable energy sources.

    We want more solar & wind, BUT we…
    () we need the storage first…
    () we have to make our nuclear fleet more flexible first…
    () we have to expand the grid first…
    () Bla BLa BLa

    • agelbert

      Exactly right! It’s an old propaganda trick that has been discussed right here in detail. Here’s a snippet from the article and my comment on it:

      “Typical phases of resistance to renewable energy, as described by Dr. Herman Scheer are as follows:

      Phase 1 – Belittle & Deny the Renewable Energy Option

      Phase 2 – Denounce & Mobilize Against the Renewable Energy Option

      Phase 3 – Spread Doubt & Misrepresent the Challenges in the Disguise of General Support

      (Note: reaching Phase 3 doesn’t mean that Phase 1 & 2 will disappear.) width=40 height=40]http://www.createaforum.com/gallery/renewablerevolution/3-051113192052.png

      Do any of these nuclear nuts ever price in the cost of baby sitting used fuel rods for a few centuries!!!?

      Who paid to dig those deep caverns in Finland or Norway to store this poison per secula seculorum?

       

      Do any of these idiots understand cost accounting? Sure they do. They just lie a lot!

      It’s no wonder Hansen, a normally clear headed scientist, is back to pushing nuclear power again. It seems these boyz get together and plan a new campaign whenever winter is coming (that is, when they aren’t busy pretending deformities and deaths from Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Iraq!, Navajo Uranium miners, etc.are “old news”.

      They prevaricators for nuclear poison are at their duplicity again. Last year they were pushing some madness about, the horror called liquid sodium as a “solution” to avoiding long term waste storage.  

      Yet another “bright” idea. They want to use Liquid Soium (of the fast breeder accidents infamy, by the way) to accelerate radioactive decay of fuel assemblies so they will be A-Okay in ONLY a hundred years or so instead of 100,000 years! Aren’t they so thoughtful and kind?

       

      One more thing. These pro nuke liars never mention the cost of paying nuclear scientists and technicians versus PV panel and Wind technicians and maintenance personnel.

       

      Why? Because the word “nuclear” is code for $$$$$$ and they just don’t want to let go of their poisonous cash cow. To hell with them!

      http://renewablerevolution.createaforum.com/nuke-puke/nuclear-poisoning-of-the-pacific/

  • globi

    Since renewables are faster, cheaper and can power the world several times over by themselves, there’s no reason to keep on wasting more money on nuclear power.

    http://www.rmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Library/E09-01_NuclearPowerClimateFixOrFolly

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