Nuclear microreactors are a solution for Alaska, not a joke

January 6, 2023 5:00 pm
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, at a May 24 ceremony held at the Alaska Sustatinable Energy Conference, holds up a bill he just signed to encourage development of nuclear microreactors. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, at a May 24 ceremony held at the Alaska Sustatinable Energy Conference, holds up a bill he just signed to encourage development of nuclear microreactors. Former Colorado Gov, Bill Ritter is seated next to Dunleavy. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

In response to Lawrence D. Weiss’ commentary published by the Alaska Beacon on Nov. 30 I will first say, “What a waste of energy and print space.”  I’m sure all his friends found humor in his musing. Equating nuclear reactors to nuclear bombs is not a reasonable consideration under any circumstance.  Right now we have some problems to solve.  We have a population screaming for electrical energy to be produced without emitting carbon dioxide.  Microreactors are an excellent solution to this.  The headline language “First, let’s poke our eyes out” is not cute, it is not funny and it does nothing to solve energy problems or environmental problems.

Engineering has this, so a public health professor does not need to concern himself with the problem.  Engineers from around Alaska have been investigating the microreactor as a possible solution for energy sources in remote parts of the state for a few years.   “Is it safe?” is one of the first questions each of the engineers has asked and answers have been received that provide sufficient confidence in the technology.  If we were to find out tomorrow that carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas is not the serious earth-altering problem it has been determined to be, the microreactor would still be a good choice for power stations in remote locations.

The microreactor is not only a base power generator it is also a long-term energy storage unit as well, with a life of eight to 10 years before refueling.  I have been advocating for years that for renewable or alternative energy sources to be practical, long-term energy storage is required to accommodate the times when the non-continuous sources are not producing power.  While the microreactor is a continuous source of power, if it is supplemented by wind and solar power its energy storage use can be extended from the eight-to-10 years to something over 40 years.  Now that is getting very practical.  As opportunities arise information about the safety and reliability of the microreactors will be provided to the public to provide assurance that they are truly an acceptable solution.

Microreactors are a hope of light and heat for the cold and dark of an Alaskan winter with additional opportunity for business and industry in the remote outposts that have struggled just to survive.  So let’s not poke our eyes out, so we can see what the powered future will bring.  The U.S. Navy has had many nuclear-powered ships since the 1950s and that has been a successful program.

As I have stated in other commentaries, I look forward to this year’s Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference to see what Gov. Mike Dunleavy supports and makes available to Alaska: new ideas, enthusiasm, new businesses and new hope.    Until then we all need to be working together to return Alaska and America to less restrictive oil and gas production policies so that we actually have the means to develop the clean energy technologies of the future.  

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Robert Seitz
Robert Seitz

Robert Seitz has been a registered professional electrical engineer in Alaska for almost 45 years. He has been an avid supporter of renewable energy resources, with a goal of ensuring good and proper engineering principles are applied in all installations. He has been a resident of Alaska for eight decades and currently lives in Chugiak.