Renewables and “green” nuclear power together. For research, two worlds that can integrate

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BRUECK, GERMANY – JUNE 08: In this aerial view wind turbines spin on June 8, 2016 near Brueck, Germany. Germany is investing heavily in renewable energy sources, including wind farms and solar fields, in an effort to cut climate warming emissions and replace nuclear power. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Nuclear of the future and renewable sources such as wind or solar energy, together. Two systems of energy production often told in opposition in the public debate but which in reality, in a few years, could instead “collaborate” in the constant effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and in contrasting climate warming. There is a part of the world of scientific research that is going in this direction. This and many other topics were discussed on the second day of the webinar “Research and international dialogue in nuclear technology” (here the link), organized by the Permanent Representation of Italy to international organizations in Paris together with Enea, the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, and Nea, the Nuclear Energy Agency of ‘OECD.

The debate, opened by the Director of the Fusion and Technologies for Nuclear Safety Department of Enea Alessandro Dodaro, obviously did not address the issue of whether or not to adopt technologies for the production of nuclear energy in Italy in the short term, but rather did tried to make a point on the vast world of research and international collaborations in which Italy participates with a strong presence in the study and design of an ever cleaner and safer nuclear power plant. Starting from the various projects on the use of small reactors but also in the progress made in the study and development of passive safety systems. As for the latter, these are systems that do not require human intervention but which would be activated thanks to gravitational forces: “The fact that external energy sources are not used increases the intrinsic safety of the reactor, removing the heat and injecting the coolant. only through gravitational forces. This is fundamental in accident scenarios in the complete absence of electricity or in cases of structural collapse such as an earthquake ”, explained Enea researcher Fulvio Mascari.

“These systems can work thanks to gravitational forces alone”, added Gustavo Cattadori, technical consultant of the Siet of Piacenza, leader in tests for the research and development of innovative components and systems. “Thus it is possible to provide for the cooling of the reactor in accidental conditions without using electricity from the outside, for example with the use of pumps”.

“Enea and Siet have highlighted during the projects carried out at European level the needs of the deepening of some important phenomenologies in the behavior of passive safety systems that intervene independently of the presence of an external energy source and without the intervention of man ”, explained researcher Enea Calogero Lombardo. “Experiments are planned to cover those areas in which at the moment we do not have large experimental data for the validation of computational codes on the basis of the functioning of passive systems”.

Passive safety systems can adapt well in new generation reactors such as Small Modular Reactors (SMR), i.e. small reactors, and therefore more flexible, safe, although still subject to research and analysis for use on an ever-increasing scale. in energy production. Above all, SMRs could, in the future and in tandem with advances in safety research, integrate with renewable energy sources. “There are already proposals, there is a project carried out for example by the US company NuScale Power to combine this type of reactor with a wind power plant”, explained Cattadori. “As everyone knows, the great disadvantage of a wind power plant is that it cannot guarantee continuity in the supply of electricity because it depends on atmospheric conditions. These modular ballasts are much more flexible than traditional ones, made to run at 100% power without ever stopping. While the modular ones, working in parallel with a wind power plant, could cover the power holes on the days when the wind has a lower speed. In this case it is easier to switch one or more modules of this system on or off ”.

The research on the safety of these reactors is constantly updated: “There are many experts who think that the safety demonstration of these reactors has yet to go on. There are some activities that are starting, of which Enea is also part, where we need to see and identify new strategies and identify the knowledge gaps to be filled for this type of reactor “, explained Martina Adorno, engineer and researcher specializing in safety. nuclear power at Nea, the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency.

Among the many points addressed, issues of close relevance were also discussed, such as the possibility, currently being examined by the European Commission, to include nuclear energy in the green taxonomy. The topic naturally covered by the webinar from the point of view of the research world: “Research activities as they are conducted today would not be negatively impacted by the exclusion of nuclear power from the taxonomy, while I could easily expect a positive impact in the extension and strengthening of international actions when nuclear power should be included ”, explained Giacomo Grasso, Enea researcher, head of the core design laboratory. “At that point, several projects running in parallel and potentially with new technologies would inevitably give impetus to the entire authorization, verification and safety part, which is essential before having a plant in operation”.

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