To effectively mitigate the climate threat, the world needs more nuclear power. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, UN Sustainable Solutions Network and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate have all argued for a doubling or even trebling of nuclear energy to address climate change.
Progress towards that expansion in many places has been sluggish; with big, old reactors meaning that neither the necessary quantity, nor the best possible quality of reactors is being developed.
However, Russia has just announced an ambitious target that will, if delivered, represent a significant step towards the necessary nuclear development. On the 9th of August, a Russian government decree has indicated country plans to build eleven new reactors by 2030. This does not include the seven reactors that Russia currently has under construction. In fact, Russia plans to have one new, large reactor come online every year until 2025.
As well as increasing quantity, Russia is endeavoring to improve the quality of the reactors. Among the 11 planned reactors are two sodium-cooled fast neutron (SFR) reactors.
The SFR is the most developed in the fast neutron spectrum, with successful projects and constructions across eight countries. Low-pressure liquid sodium is used to cool the core, and a very wide variety of fuel can be used, including waste from other nuclear reactors. The SFR uses a closed fuel cycle, where all the waste products are converted into more useful fuel or inert products, which eliminates the problem of nuclear waste.
As advanced, 4th generation designs, these reactors could be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer. Russia already has an advanced reactor operating, the BN-600 fast breeder reactor at Beloyarsk has been supplying electricity to the grid since 1981 and has the best operating and production record of all Russia’s nuclear power units. An updated BN-800 fast reactor at Beloyarsk was connected to the grid in December last year and is expected to be increased to full capacity in the coming days.
This commitment to not only an increasing, but also an increasingly advanced nuclear fleet should be a model for the rest of the world. To mitigate climate change, it is essential that others follow.
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg3/, Presentation, slides 32-33; International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2014, p. 396; UN Sustainable Solutions Network, “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” (July 2014), at page 33; Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, “Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report” (September 2014), Figure 5 at page 26.