UK Considers Moving ICE Ban Forward To 2030, May Encourage Small Nuclear Reactors

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The Guardian reports the UK government has a proposal under consideration to bring the existing ban on vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel powered vehicles forward to 2030 — 10 years earlier than previously planned. Such a move is absolutely necessary, of course, if the world is to have any chance of avoiding life threatening alterations in the environment due to global heating. But that doesn’t mean doing so will be easy.

The proposal is part of Britain’s post-pandemic planning, which includes a number of clean energy policies designed to promote an economic recovery founded on “green” policies and initiatives. The final announcement is expected to be made later this year after the latest surge in corona virus infections has abated.

The government had hoped to set out its plans as early as this week, according to sources in the energy and transport industries, but the announcement will be delayed until later this year as it focuses on tackling the rising number of coronavirus cases. Several European nations have similar bans on the books. Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and France have established 2040 as the year when an ICE ban will go into effect, while Norway, which has taken the most aggressive stance of all nations on electric vehicles, has specified 2025 as the cutoff date.

Backed by the government’s official advisers at the Committee on Climate Change, the ICE ban will most likely be included in a host of other policies intended to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050 is likely to emerge alongside the national plans to become a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Green hydrogen is also expected to find favor in the package of proposals to help cut carbon emissions from homes and heavy industry. It may also include support for small, modular nuclear reactors, which are favored by Dominic Cummings, chief aide to prime minister Boris Johnson.

Matthew Pennycook, the shadow climate change minister, repeated Labour’s pre-election call for a 2030 ban on sales of gasoline powered cars last week, saying it was “an ambitious but achievable date” which would “give a new lease of life to the UK car industry, whilst combating climate breakdown and cleaning up the air that dangerously pollutes so many of our towns and cities.”

Graeme Cooper, the director in charge of National Grid’s electric vehicle project, tells the Guardian that fears over the UK electricity grid’s ability to cope with a boom in electric vehicle charging were unfounded. He said the grid operator was “confident that a faster transition is possible” and that it is “suitably robust” to cope with a rise in electricity demand. He estimates electrifying all road transport, aside from heavy goods vehicles, would require less than a third more energy than Great Britain’s current demand of around 300 terawatt hours “which the grid could easily cope with. However, some targeted investment will be needed to ensure there are appropriate places where drivers can access sufficient high power charging away from home.”

Are Small Nuclear Reactors A Thing?

The idea of small, modular nuclear reactors is gaining traction in countries around the world. The latest designs are said to be far safer and less expensive than traditional reactors, which can cost up to $9 billion apiece. By contrast, the modular installations could cost a relatively modest $3 billion. Unlike current nukes with their massive concrete containment buildings, a modular system would look like a six pack of 25 foot high steel containers, according to PV Magazine.

NuScale small nuclear power plant
Credit: NuScale

The latest designs are said to be safer than conventional nuclear reactors, in part because they have fewer moving parts that can break down and in part because they are surrounded by water and buried in the ground with only their tops showing.

NuScale, a small nuke startup in Corvallis, Oregon claims its mini-nukes, which are similar in concept to the systems that power nuclear submarines, are meltdown proof. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given preliminary approval to its design and says, “The reactor vessel containment module is submerged in water in the reactor building safety related pool, which is also the ultimate heat sink for the reactor. The pool portion of the reactor building is located below grade.”

NuScale expects its compact nukes to generate between 50 and 60 megawatts of power — enough to power a small city on its own or larger communities if several modules are installed together.

Small scale nuclear has already been tried by Russia, which has one already up and running in the Arctic (let’s hope it doesn’t sink as the permafrost melts) and China has plans for a floating version (which seems at first blush like a monumentally stupid idea, given what happens to bodies of water in storms.) The UK and Canada are also considering small scale nukes of their own.

The Chinese facility began construction in 2019 and is not expected to come online until 2025. NuScale expects its first installation to being operating in 2026. The idea may be less expensive than traditional nuclear power plants but the world needs clean energy now not half a decade from now. Solar power plants and wind farms can often be brought online in under two years.

Popular Mechanics says, “In a way, NuScale is emblematic of next-generation nuclear thinking. The technology inside is mostly made of established parts that are put together in an innovative way.” It compares it to the difference between hiring a carpenter to build a bookcase as opposed to going to IKEA to buy a ready made bookcase and assemble it yourself. Not sure how comforting that analogy is when discussing nuclear power and it should be noted that nowhere in the reports about small scale nuclear is there any mention of what to do with the spent fuel rods when they reach the end of their service life.

But we digress. The UK is at least considering using some of the money it intends to spend to address the economic issues created by the pandemic on plans and programs that will decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the skies over the British Isles. Other countries like the United States, which used to be great at one time, expect to send cubic dollars to fossil fuel companies under the misguided notion that it must be the largest oil and gas producer on the planet as a matter of national security. Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, someone once said more than two centuries ago. It was true then and it is equally true today.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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