To some, Nuclear power is the solution to world climate problems, to others means destruction of humans

Could nuclear power be the answer to providing carbon-free power? Picture: Shutterstock.

Could nuclear power be the answer to providing carbon-free power? Picture: Shutterstock.

Here are the two most divisive words I know. Nuclear power.

To some, the solution to world climate problems and to others the destruction of the human population.

I am going to throw some fuel on the fire today and discuss the concept of nuclear batteries.

First, we should look at how we generate power. Despite all the research and scientific advances, we still rely on two basic scientific facts to produce our electricity.

Firstly, water expands in volume approximately 1600 times when it changes state from a liquid to a gas. Secondly, Michael Faraday discovered in 1831 that moving a conductor through a magnetic field would produce electricity.

More lifestyle:

In 1882 the Edison Electric Light Station was built. It burned coal to heat water in a boiler to run a steam engine and turn a generator to produce electricity.

Fast forward 139 years and the basis for the world's 2449 coal-fired power stations to produce 40 per cent of our power is to burn coal to heat boilers to turn water in to high-pressure steam, which is used to spin turbines.

In 1954 the world's first nuclear power station started operation. The process is incredibly similar to a coal-fired power station. We need heat. Instead of burning coal, we produce heat by nuclear fission. The heat is used to heat water to spin turbines.

We have 443 nuclear reactors across the world producing 10 per cent of our power.

Why nuclear has some people convinced that it is the panacea to our power problems comes down to that best known but least understood physics equation. E=mc 2. Nuclear fission using an element such as uranium creates an incredible amount of heat for not a lot of raw material.

Assume for the moment that an average household uses 5000kWh of electricity annually. To produce that much electricity, a coal-fired power station needs to burn two tonnes of coal.

To produce the same amount of power in a nuclear reactor would require just 22 grams of uranium. Well that sounds fantastic!

There are two negatives for nuclear: Radioactive waste and Fukushima. Fukushima was the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. The accident was triggered by a tsunami and led to three nuclear meltdowns resulting in an evacuation zone of 20 kilometres and the evacuation of 154,000 residents.

When it comes to nuclear, this disaster definitely generates a NIMBY response.

With only 10 years since Fukushima, some brave scientists have developed a nuclear battery. Not quite the size to plug in to your drone - more like container size.

The nuclear battery is built within a factory and fits in to a container. That is it - an entire power plant on the back of a truck. They are capable of producing around 10 megawatts. Enough to power a neighbourhood of around 3000 homes. You may have a factory that is power hungry.

Forget the grid - drop in a container for all of your power requirements. It is delivered within weeks and a few days after being dropped (carefully) on site, you are generating power.

Being so small the cooling requirements are low and a tsunami is not going to break the container in two and spill out its radioactive innards.

After 10 years of operation it is shipped back to the factory for refurbishment and it is deployed again.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.
This story Nuclear power: the climate solution or total destruction first appeared on The Canberra Times.