On Friday 24th January at KTH, Stockholm, a panel discussion called New-Clear Transition took place. The discussion dealt with the current challenges that nuclear power faces, regarding the high demand and increase of renewable technologies as well as the measures to cut CO2 emissions all over the world. The panel had the chance to discuss some of the main topics that concern the general public with Magdalena Åkesson, Vice President Business Unit Fuel in Vattenfall, Carl Berglöf, Senior Advisor Nuclear Power at Energiföretagen Sverige - Swedenergy, Merja Pukari, director of the Swedish Center of Nuclear technology (SKC) and Ignas Mickus, PhD researcher in advanced computational methods in nuclear engineering.
What does the future of nuclear power look like?
Carl claimed that nowadays there is enough evidence of climate change. Therefore, countries should conduct their own studies to define the best energy mix without CO2 emissions. For example, Sweden can dispense with part of its nuclear fleet since it has a large reserve of hydroelectric power (40% of its electricity) with possibility of expansion, along with renewables. Nevertheless, Swedenergy’s studies showed that these economic measures would lead to an increase in the price of electricity. Merja added that, while Sweden is a “privileged” country that can choose its future energy sources, other countries do not have that option available.
What energy source would you choose if it were up to you?
Magdalena expressed that “a country needs specific requirements to sustain the development of nuclear power. It is quite dependent on the goals that a government sets for its country”. Carl agreed with it adding that “nuclear is only possible when there is political stability”. Merja, on the other hand, demanded more active mobilization from those who are prone to nuclear (who usually remain silent) as the anti-nuclear movement makes a lot of noise. The pro-nuclear activism, nevertheless, should be at a slow scale rather than radically.
What are the arguments against nuclear power?
Most of the panelists agreed that, without any doubt, the arguments against nuclear energy are mostly nuclear waste, which mostly comes from decommissioning. However, they defended particular cases like Sweden, where the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (Svensk Kärnbränslehantering Aktiebolag, abbreviated SKB) has come up with a solution to handle the complete management of nuclear waste with a final repository for spent nuclear fuel at Forsmark. This waste management model, which has demonstrated to be quite efficient, can also serve as a solution for the rest of the world. Furthermore, Ignas explained that: “When it comes to nuclear waste, it is not economically viable, in the present, to reuse it. In principle, nothing prevents us from reusing it: 95% of the high-level waste has a high potential to be reprocessed as a fuel in future advanced nuclear reactors”.
The other principal reason was expressed by Carl: “The fear of an accident is in my opinion one of the most important reasons. Nuclear energy has indeed learned from past experiences and changed the safety systems. In Sweden for example, since the Forsmark incident, nuclear power plants have implemented an additional cooling system independent from the main one to prevent any risk of meltdown”. Along a similar line, Magdalena defended the current situation saying that: “Nuclear plants are based on safety principles, with many additional redundant systems. The nuclear industry has a large experience in global terms. Nowadays, information is exchanged at a global scale. All these connections allow to quickly update any system and therefore prevent any risk”.
Visit to the KTH fusion facility
After a round of questions from the public, the event continued with a visit to the fusion research center at KTH main campus. Professor Lorenzo Frassinetti gave a didactic presentation about fusion energy requirements and theory. Then the public was guided by professor Per Brunsell to the fusion plasma device EXTRAP T2R, which produces a high density ionized gas utilizing the method of plasma confinement. Its main objective is the study on plasma behavior and its instabilities.
Fission and fusion energy must still deal with many challenges. That is why it is important to draw attention and get people interested in the nuclear energy debate to study its problems for further improvement.
There is no doubt that the visitors enjoyed the panel and the visit while learning a bit more about the nuclear universe!