K. Mennem 8:48 a.m., May 20
Proponents of nuclear power have come up with a new potential auxiliary use for the power plants: generating hydrogen fuel from the steam generated by the cooling process for nuclear reactors.
Ibrahim Khamis, Ph.D., of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, explained how the idea could work with existing plants and how those built in the future could be designed to take advantage of the proposed technology, as well as its potential benefits.
“Hydrogen production using nuclear energy could reduce dependence on oil for fueling motor vehicles and the use of coal for generating electricity. In doing so, hydrogen could have a beneficial impact on global warming, since burning hydrogen releases only water vapor and no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. There is a dramatic reduction in pollution,” said Khamis.
At present, most hydrogen production is generated using natural gas or coal, which released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the American Chemical Society says. An alternative method of production known as electrolysis, involves heating water to generate steam, then using an electric charge to separate hydrogen from oxygen.
Because steam is already generated in the water cooling system for nuclear reactors, and electricity is produced on site, hydrogen could be produced at nuclear sites with minimal waste. Khamis suggests using power generated during hours of low demand by the world’s 435 active nuclear generating facilities, potentially including San Diego’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, to produce hydrogen fuel.
“Nuclear hydrogen from electrolysis of water or steam is a reality now, yet the economics need to be improved,” says Khamis. He says the International Atomic Energy Agency is currently working through its Hydrogen Economic Evaluation Programme to assess the technical and economic feasibility of converting nuclear plants for such use.