Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nuclear Energy Resurgence

In a recent speech on clean energy in Lanham, Maryland President Obama announced that his administration has approved an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to build the first nuclear power plant in the U.S. in three decades. His 2010 budget calls for $54 billion to be set aside for nuclear loan guarantees, so other announcements are sure to come. President Obama noted that "Japan and France have long invested heavily in this industry. Meanwhile, there are 56 nuclear reactors under construction around the world: 21 in China alone, 6 in South Korea, 5 in India."

The $8.3 million was awarded to Southern Co. to build twin nuclear reactors in Georgia. These reactors will be Westinhouse Electric Company's Ap1000 reactor design - the first to receive final design approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Westinghouse has a nice graphical depiction of how the AP1000 works here. A Forbes article on the announcement notes that "the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said last year that the AP1000 nuclear units needed to be redesigned because the commission feared the structure wouldn't stand up to strong winds."

Forbes also reports on GE's nuclear waste plans - where spent nuclear fuel would be used as raw material for a new type of nuclear reactor. GE's joint venture with Hitachi, called GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy could be a recipient for some of the remaining $54 billion in loan guarantees.

Last week at TED2010 Bill Gates talked about the nuclear reactor project at TerraPower, an incubated company from Intellectual Ventures which was founded by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold. TerraPower uses a "traveling wave reactor design' - earth2tech explains that it uses a "small amount of enriched uranium at the beginning of the process, but then the nuclear reactor runs on the waste product and can make and consume its own fuel." A video explanation of the traveling-wave reactor and how it works can be found on the Intellectual Ventures Lab web site. earth2tech also has a post on 6 nuclear power startups to watch.

I haven't mentioned the data center angle yet - but with each site turning out Gigawatts instead of Megawatss - it's implied.

If the whole nuclear thing doesn't work out, then I say we start to power the data center (and the grid) by bike -- electricity generating gyms. :)