Nuclear power should be a powerful ally in the fight against climate change but cost and safety issues hold it back. Could a new generation be safer and cheaper? Tom Heap meets the team behind the molten salt reactor that can use nuclear waste as fuel and is claimed to be significantly cheaper and safer than current reactors.
Ian Scott was a senior scientist at Unilever, pioneering research into skin-ageing, but when he retired from the field of biological sciences he became fascinated by the costs of nuclear power. Why had nuclear electricity- which we'd once been promised would be 'too cheap to meter'- become one of the most expensive forms of energy generation. The answer lay with the safety mechanisms that have to be built-in to reduce the risk of another Chernobyl or Fukushima. If he could develop a system that would be much safer then it would, almost certainly, be much cheaper.
Scott's central idea- to use molten salt as a coolant rather than water- caught the eye of energy authorities in Canada and Ian's company, Moltex, has plans to build its first reactor in New Brunswick. Significant safety concerns remain, with some in Canada concerned about Moltex plans to use spent fuel from conventional reactors and others raising fundamental issues about the corrosive qualities of molten salt and the generation of radioactive tritium
Tom visits the Moltex laboratories and climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards, gauges the potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Producer: Alasdair Cross
Researcher: Sarah Goodman
Produced in association with the Royal Geographical Society. Special thanks for this episode to Professor Ian Farnan and Dr Eugene Shwageraus from the University of Cambridge.