Nuclear Heat and Other Applications


The development of nuclear power has been primarily concerned with electricity generation. However, there is increasing interest in utilising nuclear power for other purposes. Some of these have already been described in the two preceding Chapters 12 and 13, including systems for the destruction of plutonium, the conversion of minor actinides in waste and for the production of hydrogen. This chapter covers more generally, further applications of nuclear plant for other than electricity generation, e. g. reactor systems for district heating, desalination and other process plant.

Nuclear energy can provide an alternative to carbon fuels as a useful heat source. This was realised early in the history of nuclear power development. Nuclear reactors have already been utilised in many of the nuclear operating countries for supplying energy for district heating, seawater desalination and other industrial processes. Much of this energy has been produced from power reactors operating in co-generation mode with electricity production together with one of the heat applications above.

IAEA (IAEA-TECDOC-1056, 1998) is acting as a forum to facilitate interest in nuclear heat applications. It has co-ordinated reviews of progress in the technology, including operating experience, technological developments and experience in the above applications. There are now over 60 reactors supplying heat in district heating, desalination and other industrial processes together with over 500 reactor-years of operational experience. The technical or safety-related issues in regard to nuclear heat applications have been considered in the international community. There are few additional issues compared with electricity generation applications.

Of the overall world energy consumption, about one third is used for electricity generation. Of the remainder, heat utilised by residential and industrial consumers represents a major share, the majority of this heat produced by burning fossil fuels, coal, gas, oil and wood. The next significant energy consumer is transport. Nuclear energy supplies about 6% of the world energy requirement and about 17% of the electrical supply. Although only about 1% of the heat produced by nuclear reactors is used for heat applications there are some signs of growing interest (Csik and Kupitz, 1997). Significant experience in co-generation of electricity and heat has been gained in Russia, Europe, North America and Japan, dedicated heat producing plants are now also receiving attention, e. g. Russia and China (IAEA-TECDOC-1056, 1998).

Historically, there has been more interest in district and process heat applications than in desalination. However, with the obvious requirements for freshwater in the developing

countries, there is increasing interest in desalination applications in the IAEA Member States (IAEA, 1998). There is likely to be an increasing need for freshwater in much of the developing world over the next few decades (Wangnick, 1995).

High-temperature applications are again mentioned briefly in this chapter to complete the survey. There are some additional applications (other than hydrogen production) under consideration in some countries.

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