Floating nuclear plants could herald a new era of cheap, safe energy | Artificial intelligence

The price of renewables is at rock bottom, making power look pointlessly expensive. But new atomic plants could be – and safer too

power plants

The power plants at Tihange will close as Belgium phases out nuclear energy

Industry And Travel/Alamy Stock Phot

QUEEN Elizabeth II climbed the five metal steps to the platform and spoke a few words into a microphone. She pulled a lever and the deed was done. A giant dial on a nearby building began to spin, as electricity sparked into life. She had just opened the UK’s first atomic power station, Calder Hall.

The crowd clapped and cheered on that sunny day in 1956. But a gloom has since descended on nuclear power. There’s the radioactive waste, the decommissioning and the accidents, from Chernobyl to Fukushima. As concern about climate change increased, nuclear’s one saving grace became that it is carbon free. But now, the cost of much renewable energy has fallen below that of nuclear. These days we produce little more power from nuclear than we did 20 years ago.

So just as we need as much clean energy as we can get, it seems we are spurning our best developed source of it. Is it really time to call time on nuclear?

The cheers around Calder Hall in 1956 had nothing on the spirit of optimism that surrounded the birth of nuclear power a decade earlier. Scientists had worked out that splitting heavy atoms released huge amounts of energy that could be used for more than just bombs. There was talk of everything from nuclear-powered moon shuttles to plutonium-heated swimming pools. Over the following two decades, nuclear reactors big enough to match a coal power station’s power output came online in more than 30 countries. …

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