After playing at a series of prestigious film festivals, the movie New Fire about the development of innovative nuclear reactor technologies by multiple independent teams is slated for general release online next month. ( Trailer )
Online venues will include iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Prime. Details to be released Oct 18th.
Nuclear power has been vilified in popular culture and among much of the environmental community. Yet the next-generation reactors currently in development may actually be key to avoiding global catastrophe.
The young entrepreneurs heading this energy revolution realize they’re up against more than the climate clock. They need to find funding and customers for their technologies.
In THE NEW FIRE, Emmy-winning director David Schumacher takes us inside two nuclear startup companies: Transatomic and Oklo.
For Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie of Transatomic their goal is to design an advanced reactor that is safer, cleaner and cheaper than today’s reactors. They explain in the film they are developing an advanced molten salt reactor that generates clean, safe, proliferation-resistant, low-cost nuclear power. On their website the developers explain the science behind the design.
Mark Massie (left) and Leslie Dewan (right) founded Transatomic while students at MITE
In Silicon Valley, Caroline Cochran and Jacob DeWitte, founders of Oklo, are developing a micro reactor. They refer to it as a micro-reactor that is designed to bring distributed, clean, affordable, and reliable nuclear power in small packages to the market. These reactors fit into a containerized system that can power a wide variety of markets both domestically and internationally, which do not have access to affordable and reliable power, and in some cases, do not have access to power at all.
Oklo founders Caroline Cochran (left) and Jacob DeWitte (right) are developing a micro reactor for off-grid and other special applications where, today, diesel is the only option.E
These teams are being supported by nuclear advocates all over the globe. THE NEW FIRE movie follows activist Eric Meyer, Generation Atomic, at the COP 21 Paris Climate Conference as he uses his own special talents to educate Parisians.
Also in Paris, renowned climate scientist James Hansen makes the case for nuclear with a team of his colleagues. Hansen travels on to China, where he’s organized an unprecedented and controversial meeting between U.S. and Chinese climate and nuclear experts.
Back in the US, Bill Gates is putting his entrepreneurial and philanthropic muscle behind TerraPower, a company he helped create to bring affordable clean energy to developing countries. A key aspect of the development effort is its partnership with China.
Filmed across four continents over the course of twenty two months, Schumacher’s film focuses on how the generation facing the most severe impact of climate change is fighting back with ingenuity and hope. THE NEW FIRE tells a positive story about a planet in crisis and the young developers of new nuclear reactor designs who are trying to save it.
Why the Film was Made
In a statement about why he made the movie, Director David Schumacher said the next-generation reactors currently in development may actually be key to avoiding global catastrophe.
“The young entrepreneurs heading this energy revolution realize they’re up against more than the climate clock – they need to convince all of us that the new nuclear is safe and achievable.”
He emphasizes that this isn’t a film about politics This is a film about a path forward, to show audiences that there is a technological solution [to climate change] – one that may surprise them.
“I understand that nuclear has had its problems over the years and that there are risks. But I’m more afraid of the risks of unchecked climate change than I am of a hypothetical nuclear accident.”
“The United States was on a path to developing ground breaking nuclear technology in the ‘60s but then it stalled. Why haven’t we gone back to these promising discoveries to address the most pressing problem that humanity has ever faced?”
Schumacher says he is really impressed by idealistic young people who are determined to prove that nuclear energy’s best days lie ahead.
“This was the beginning of my obsession with the subject of nuclear power. But it wasn’t until I met the people at Transatomic Power and Oklo that I knew I had to make this movie. These brilliant young people – some of the most gifted engineers of their generation, who in all likelihood could have cashed in for a fortune by doing something else – believe deeply that nuclear power could play a key role in saving the planet.”
He added, “They are the new face of nuclear power, and to me, the newest and most unlikely climate heroes.”
He closed by saying he wants audiences to come away from THE NEW FIRE with a new perspective about a technology they may have dismissed until now. And new sense of mission to try and save the planet before it’s too late.
A Who’s Who List for the film
Of course lots of other people are also engaged in this type of work. Here’s a list of people, some of whom you may already know about through their work, who appear in the film.
Tom Blees, Ken Caldeira, Caroline Cochran, Armond Cohen, Rob Corbin, Leslie Dewan, Jacob DeWitte, Kerry Emanuel, Ousmane Faye, Ashley Finan, Bill Gates, James Hansen, Janne Korhonen, Jessica Lovering, Bill Magwood, Mark Massie, Lee McIntire, Eric Meyer, Vijay Modi, Scott Nolan, Ted Nordhaus, Rauli Partanen, Mark Peters, Per Peterson, Peter Planchon, Jeffrey Sachs, John Sackett, Gordon Shaw, Michael Short, Nick Touran, Tom Wigley.
Check the New Fire website for details on release dates and how to see the firm including a schedule for screenings at various locations around the country
Other Nuclear News
Congress Passes Legislation to Accelerate
Advanced Nuclear Reactor Innovation
The US House of Representatives has passed legislation aimed at accelerating the development of advanced nuclear reactors. It follows passage of similar legislation in the Senate.
Bipartisan legislation led by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) cleared the House of Representatives and will now go to President Trump for his signature.
The measure, S.97, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), would authorize partnerships between private-sector innovators in nuclear energy and government researchers to create the next generation of clean, advanced nuclear power. The measure led by Crapo, Risch and Whitehouse has been the result of years of bipartisan collaboration and work to develop technologies that allow for the greater, more efficient use of nuclear energy.
The legislation will establish a grant program between industry and the federal government to share the cost of licensing of advanced nuclear technology and accelerate the deployment of small modular reactors and advanced reactor designs.
Another provision requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to award grants to cover a portion of the fees the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) charges for pre-application and application review activities for advanced nuclear reactor designs.
Actual funding will be set by the usual congressional appropriations process. DOE’s budget request for FY 2019 has already been submitted to OMB. Real money to get these programs moving might not show up until 2020.
The legislation also directs DOE’s Office of Science to establish a high-performance computer modeling and simulation program to advance the development of new reactor technologies. The Office of Science would partner with national laboratories, universities and the private sector to create software and other tools to accelerate research into advanced fission reactors, fusion systems and reactors used for space exploration.
This is a boundary spanning provision which would link the science labs like Argonne and Oak Ridge with the Idaho Lab. Oak Ridge has enormous super computing capabilities that could be put to good use.
Other key elements of the bill include;
- Direct the U.S. government (DOD facilities) to enter into long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with nuclear reactors.
- Promote the development of advanced reactors and fuel by strategically aligning U.S. government and industry interests, which is intended to enable U.S. developers to compete with their state-sponsored competitors from Russia and China.
- Develop a source of high-assay low-enriched uranium, which is the intended fuel for many advanced reactor designs, from U.S. government stockpiles. Again, both China and Russia have these capabilities domestically, but the U.S. does not.
- To help accelerate the development of advanced technology reactors, the legislation directs DOE to develop a reactor-based fast neutron source to test advanced reactor fuels and materials. With the only commercially-available fast neutron testing facility currently located in Russia, a U.S.-based facility would help restore this important capability.
The bill also provides for the sharing of technical information and expertise between DOE and the NRC, which could accelerate NRC licensing of advanced reactor designs. Developers of advanced reactors have gone overseas (Terrapower) to avoid getting bogged down in NRC’s learning curve and having to pay for it on top of everything else.
The measure would direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to to give priority to partnerships with private innovators to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts. NEICA authorizes the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center that brings together the technical expertise of the National Labs and DOE to enable the construction of experimental reactors.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would partner with DOE in this effort, which would enable the NRC to contribute its expertise on safety issues while also learning about the new technologies developed through the Center. This measure strengthens the ability of national laboratories to partner with private industry to prove the principles behind their ideas.
Under the law, the US Department of Energy will award grants to cover a portion of the fees the Nuclear Regulatory Commission charges for pre-application and application review activities for advanced nuclear reactor designs. Relieving entrepreneurial startups of the expense of paying for the NRC’s reviews would go a long way towards getting the designs through the licensing process.
EDF Must Prove Nuclear Reactors Viable, French minister says
(Reuters) France’s state-controlled EDF power utility needs to show a new generation nuclear reactors work well and can be built in a cost effective manner, France’s new environment minister Francois de Rugy said in pointed remarks last week. It’s unclear what his position is on nuclear energy coming from the Green Party but it may be borderline anti-nuclear based on his comments.
He does have a point about costs. Construction of the first EPR plant in France in Flamanville has run billions of euros over budget and is years behind schedule. It follows in the footsteps of a similar project, a first-of-a-kind EPR, in Finland, which has also seen significant schedule delays and cost increases. The EPR is a very large reactor which when operating will be able to produce 1650 MW of electrical power.
The French government is expected to outline in late October a plan to cut the share of nuclear energy in its electricity production to 50 percent from the current 75 percent, the highest level in the world.
Last month the previous environment minister Nicolas Hulot, who was widely viewed as an impediment to the nuclear industry’s drive to remain as France’s main power supplier, resigned abruptly citing a lack of progress in dealing with climate change.
De Rugy, a former Green lawmaker, told Le Monde in the interview his “gut feeling” was that nuclear power was not an energy source for the future, but added that there should be no “war of religions” on the issue. He added that economic issues would be his primary focus.
“The important thing is to know the economic data for both nuclear and renewable energies,” he said.
Nota bene: It will be interesting to see what he says once he realizes the stability of the grid, and the future of intermittent power sources like wind and solar, depends on the current fleet of reactors.
UK Announces Feasibility Studies
For Small Modular Reactor Development
(NucNet) The UK government has announced that eight organizations have been awarded contracts to produce feasibility studies as part of the first phase of an advanced small modular reactor feasibility and development project for which £44m of funding is available.
The eight organizations are Advanced Reactor Concepts, DBD Ltd, Blykalla Reaktorer Stockholm AB (LeadCold), Moltex Energy Ltd, Tokamak Energy Ltd, U-Battery Developments Ltd, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation and Westinghouse Electric Company UK.
The government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is to invest the £44m in advanced reactor units that can generate low-cost electricity, increase flexibility in delivering electricity to the grid and offer increased functionality such as providing process heat for domestic or industrial purposes and the production of hydrogen.
The project has two phases. Phase 1 offers funding of up to £4m per organization for a series of feasibility studies for reactor designs.
Phase 2 would see successful companies from Phase 1 offered a share of up to £40 million for further development.
Proponents of LWR type designs for SMRs criticized the plan as ignoring their closer time to market and the need for a funding a transition from stick built units to factory production of SMRs.
NRC Continues Reviews of Plans
for Interim Storage Site for Spent Nuclear Fuel
(wire services) A decision regarding Holtec’s plan for an interim storage site for spent nuclear fuel in Hobbs, NM, could occur by July 2020, according news media interviews given by Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 Office. Holtec, which is based in Camden, NJ, is seeking to build and operate Phase 1 of the interim repository on approximately 1,040-acres of land, according to its application.
Holtec is currently requesting authorization to possess and store 500 canisters of spent nuclear fuel containing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which includes spent uranium-based fuel from commercial nuclear reactors, as well as a small quantity of spent mixed-oxide fuel.
If the NRC issues the requested license, Holtec expects to subsequently ask for additional amendments to the initial license to expand the storage capacity of the facility, according to Sheehan.
Under its proposal, the company proposes expanding the facility in 19 subsequent phases, each for an additional 500 canisters, to be completed over the course of 20 years, Sheehan said.
“Ultimately, Holtec anticipates that approximately 10,000 canisters would be stored at the facility upon completion of 20 phases,” he said, noting that each phase would require NRC review and approval.
- Waste Control Specialists restarts NRC Review
With regard to the Andrews, TX facility, proposed by Waste Control Specialists, the NRC has resumed reviewing the application after it received a request to do so from the firm which is a joint venture between Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and Orano CIS LLC. The application review was temporarily suspended in April 2017 while the firm sought additional funding.
In April 2016, the NRC received a letter from WCS proposing to build a consolidated interim storage facility on approximately 14,900 acres on a site in western Andrews County, TX. The company operates facilities on the site that process and store low-level waste and mixed water. The facility also disposes of both hazardous waste and toxic waste, according to the federal registry notice published by the NRC.
Nuclear Industry Faces Wake-up Call, says IAEA’s Chudakov
(WNN) The future of nuclear energy depends on the industry’s readiness to address the seven factors influencing its prospects, the deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told delegates at the World Nuclear Association Symposium 2018 held in London last week. (Full text)
Mikhail Chudakov, who is also head of the Vienna-based organization’s nuclear energy department, said the industry needs to change public acceptance of nuclear power to public demand for this safe, reliable, sustainable and low-carbon source of electricity.
In his presentation titled Nuclear Energy: Where are we headed? Chudakov summarized the need for action.
“We know the challenges: World energy consumption is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of about 1%, but electricity consumption will grow at a higher rate of about 2.5% per year up to 2030 and around 2% thereafter,” he said. “With virtually no greenhouse gas emissions during operation, nuclear power can have an important role to play in achieving [the United Nation’s] Sustainable Development Goals, meeting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement.”
But limiting temperature increases to the 2 Degree Scenario is not easy, he said, because today 70% of the world’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. But by 2050, around 80% of electricity will need to be low carbon, he added. This scenario already includes “significant scaling” of all clean, low-carbon technologies.
“If nuclear power deployment doesn’t grow in line with this scenario, the other technologies will not make up the gap. And we will not meet our climate targets that are critical to life on this planet,” he said.
Chudakov outlined the seven influences he sees on the future of nuclear power: safety; funding and financing; electricity markets and nuclear policies; innovation (advanced reactors and fuel cycles); waste management; capacity building; and public acceptance.
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