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Without nuclear power, the world’s climate challenge will get a whole lot harder

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The Covid-19 crisis not only delivered an unprecedented shock to the world economy. It also underscored the scale of the climate challenge we face: Even in the current deep recession, global carbon emissions remain unsustainable.



a sunset in the background: White steam billows from the Cattenom nuclear power plant, at sunset in Cattenom, eastern France, on June 2, 2020. - Cattenom is the ninth largest nuclear power station in the world. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BERDA / AFP) (Photo by SEBASTIEN BERDA/AFP via Getty Images)


© Sebastien Berda/AFP/Getty Images
White steam billows from the Cattenom nuclear power plant, at sunset in Cattenom, eastern France, on June 2, 2020. – Cattenom is the ninth largest nuclear power station in the world. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BERDA / AFP) (Photo by SEBASTIEN BERDA/AFP via Getty Images)

If the world is to meet energy security and climate goals, clean energy must be at the core of post-Covid-19 economic recovery efforts. Strong growth in wind and solar energy and in the use of electric cars gives us grounds for hope, as does the promise of emerging technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture. But the scale of the challenge means we cannot afford to exclude any available technologies, including nuclear power — the world’s second-largest source of low-carbon electricity after hydropower.

The power sector is the key to the clean energy transition. It is the single largest source of global emissions because most electricity is generated from fossil fuels. By significantly expanding the amount of electricity produced from low-carbon sources, we can help to reduce emissions not only from power generation, but also from sectors like transport, where low-carbon electricity can now fuel cars, trucks and buses.

This is a major undertaking. Low-carbon electricity generation will need to triple by 2040 to put the world on track to reach energy and climate goals. That is the equivalent of adding Japan’s entire power system to the global grid every year. It is very difficult to see how this can be done without a considerable contribution from nuclear power.

Nuclear power generated a near-record amount of electricity

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DARPA Awards $14 Million To Develop A Nuclear Rocket Engine

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Gryphon Technologies $14 million to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion system for the U.S. military. Part of DARPA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, the High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) system will be used to enable the military to carry out missions in cislunar space, meaning the area between the Earth and the orbit of the moon.

“A successfully demonstrated NTP system will provide a leap ahead in space-propulsion capability, allowing agile and rapid transit over vast distances as compared to present propulsion approaches,” Tabitha Dodson, Gryphon’s chief engineer on the support team and a national expert in NTP systems, said in a statement.

The militarization of space, this time largely involving the United States and China, has been in the news in recent years in a way that it hasn’t since the decades-old Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviets. The idea of using Nuclear Thermal Propulsion to power spacecraft is that a nuclear reactor utilized to heat a propellant like hydrogen to extreme temperatures, prior to expelling it via a nozzle in order to create thrust, could be significantly more efficient than current chemical rockets. It would also have a thrust-to-weight ratio that is reportedly 10,000 times greater than electric propulsion.

The concept of using nuclear reactors in space is not new, but this effort from DARPA shows just how seriously it is now being taken here in 2020.

“Gryphon is committed to providing high-end technical solutions to our nation’s most critical national security challenges,” said P.J. Braden, CEO of Gryphon, in a statement. “We are proud to support DRACO and the development and demonstration of NTP, a significant technological advancement in efforts to achieve cislunar space awareness.”

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