A rendering of Generation 4 nuclear reactors that are safe, reliable, clean and low-cost, making them today’s alternative to fossil fuel combustion. Like all nuclear technology, this small modular reactor is emission-free.
There is no reason to have nightmares about climate change. You will not hear this from the alarmist reports on the evening news, let alone from doom-saying activists, but there is a proven, low-carbon source of safe and abundant energy.Generation 4 nuclear reactors — including molten salt reactors now being developed by the Canadian firm Terrestrial Energy — are being designed to reduce energy poverty and push billions of the world’s poorest people towards prosperity.Proponents says Gen 4 reactors will be built to be immune to meltdowns. They will have far lower carbon emissions than even wind and solar, along with vastly greater reliability and energy production capabilities. Best of all, they can be built on a massive scale in the next few decades, fast enough to meet our collective challenge of lowering carbon emissions.“Nuclear is capable of moving very quickly and making a great deal of difference in a short period of time,” says Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy.Irish sees wide application for Gen 4 reactors, as do many green groups such as Energy for Humanity, Clear Path, Third Way and Mothers for Nuclear. “This a technology that can play a role centrally, right at the heart of the problem,” Irish said. “It’s an energy technology that is capable of massive energy decarbonization. Nuclear has done that before. It massively decarbonized France and Sweden in the 1970s.”Ontario-based Terrestrial is now working its way through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s regulatory process.Fortunately, Canada is at the forefront of nuclear research and regulation, pushing ahead with a plan for small modular reactors that could power oilsands extraction operations in northern Alberta.The Trudeau Liberals have developed a roadmap to develop small modular reactors (SMRs), said Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi. “We see the potential of them in the manufacturing and industrial setting.”Decades ago the Canadian nuclear industry built a handful of Ontario reactors that still produce 16 per cent of the nation’s electricity, but around the world such conventional, technologically-complex reactors are now seen as too costly to construct, Irish said.The linked issues of climate change and energy poverty drew Irish, an experienced London and New York investment banker, into the Gen 4 business.The world needs five times as much energy as fossil fuels now produce to spread prosperity to its poorest people, Irish said.Due to pollution concerns, we can’t raise up all of these people from poverty by burning five times more coal, oil and natural gas. Solar and wind are too costly, land-intensive and unreliable, so much so that countries like Germany that have made monumental efforts to switch to solar and wind have been unsuccessful in reducing carbon emissions and have seen energy price spikes.Only a few energy sources have worked to slash carbon emissions, namely hydro and nuclear in countries like France and Sweden, noted U.S. environmentalist Michael Shellenberger has argued.Terrestrial’s molten salt reactor is designed to produce energy with one-quarter the carbon footprint of solar and wind power, Irish said. It should also cost much less to build than a conventional nuclear plant. In essence, it’s a simpler reactor design than the conventional model, burning fuel more efficiently at a higher temperature, but not needing high pressure and water coolant. The efficiency and simplicity should drive the increased safety, reduced nuclear waste and reduced cost of molten salt reactors.American multi-billionaire Bill Gates has invested in Gen 4 reactors. Gates recently singled out Terrestrial’s work in the MIT Technological Review as being one of the Top 10 technological breakthroughs of 2019.“This is a competitive race and involves many companies and many nations who are committing ever more aggressively to their projects,” Irish said. “We are the only Canadian technology company in that race. And by some measure we’re in the lead.”In the United States, there’s strong bipartisan support for Gen 4 reactors. In Canada, political support has been more muted, with the Green Party, sadly stuck in old ways of thinking about nuclear power and climate change, actually pushing against Canada’s program.Of course, there are still questions around Gen 4 reactors. There’s work to be done to prove their promise.But Canadians want and need abundant energy. We want the prosperity we know to spread.At the same time, many folks are keen to stop feeling frightened, helpless and ineffective in the face of global warming. We are open to solutions that will work.I strongly suspect the first major political party that gets behind Gen 4 reactors will earn favour with a great many voters.