An upsurge of interest in nuclear power as an energy source in the era of global climate change is fostering development of a new generation of supermaterials to ensure the safety and reliable performance of tomorrow’s nuclear power stations. That’s the topic of the cover story of the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.
C&EN senior editor Mitch Jacoby notes that the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, combined with economic factors, led the electric utility industry to stop submitting new applications for nuclear power plants. The U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) got nary a single application in the 30 years after Three Mile Island. Now NRC’s construction permit inbox is filling up again, thanks in part to a growing interest in energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
In just the past two years, NRC has received applications for 28 new nuclear power plants, the article notes. These will incorporate new designs that improve safety and performance, and require advanced materials that can withstand higher temperatures and more intense radiation, according to the article. Scientists are developing a variety of promising candidates, including novel types of steels and alloys as well as metals and ceramic composites made with nanoparticles.