Chemical engineers are helping to shape a promising future for nuclear power, a “nuclear renaissance” that will be crucial in the drive for carbon neutrality. Nuclear power represents the most mature means of generating carbon-free baseload electricity. It is reliable, performs effectively at all times of day, and is little affected by weather. As process electrification becomes an appealing goal in the process industries, nuclear-generated power will become increasingly important.
The biggest challenge to nuclear power’s widespread deployment has been the public’s concern about the safety of nuclear reactors. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident was a watershed moment in the U.S. that pushed nuclear power into disfavor, arresting the construction of new reactors. Other countries pushed ahead, but subsequent disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi drove countries like Germany and Japan away from building new nuclear power plants. Nuclear power’s future has been further clouded by the issues of nuclear weapons proliferation and radioactive-waste management.
The U.S. nuclear power industry, overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has implemented increasingly rigorous safety controls. Furthermore, advanced nuclear reactors and fuels are expected to alleviate hazards by their design. Advancements include simpler, standardized designs...
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