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27 July 2022

Nuclear Hydrogen is being backed by a new 40+ member coalition

Purposefully shying away from using the well-known colour scheme used when describing how hydrogen is produced, the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative (NHI) has started to promote nuclear hydrogen and only refers to it as “clean.”

We’re not sure the bar was set high for joining – Nikola the hydrogen powered US truck maker is on the list, but we wouldn’t expect it had to pay for the privilege. A single university – Ontario Tech,  a bunch of SMR designers – Core power, General Fusion, X-energy and some others, a list of safety and EPC consultants who get money from this sector – you’d expect nothing else – two government labs, some electrolysis makers – NEL, Bloom Energy, Cummins, Siemens and all the usual suspects in the Atomic energy agencies.

All in all this is a feeble mustering of those already married to nuclear or who have little to lose by say “Why the hell not?”

The plan is to develop pink hydrogen as a weapon in the decarbonization battles ahead and there was little discussion about the LCOE of new nuclear power. Rethink Energy has said a number of time, the idea is not precisely absurd, because often nuclear energy has to remain flat and there are no users in the small hours of the early morning, so cheap energy can be found from nuclear – but this is not a growing community, and all SMR reactors, unlike existing reactors, CAN be turned down and night – so would rather switch off then supply energy for next to nothing.

The quest of the alliance is simple. Find an efficient way of driving clean, reliable hydrogen generated from nuclear power plants, at scale, 24-7, 365 days a year. Its plan is to pull together policymakers, businesses, investors and stakeholders to raise awareness of the potential that pink hydrogen has in securing a carbon free future and to develop the necessary technologies to facilitate this. NHI will provide advice on policy, technology, marketing and finance.

This is all great on paper, but what exactly is the future of nuclear energy? Worldwide, there are about 440 nuclear reactors which collectively generated only 10% of global electricity today. If we take into consideration the expected surge in hydrogen demand over the next 25 years from industries like aviation, car manufacturing and perhaps more importantly crude steel production, exactly how many nuclear stations will be required? More to the point, other technologies associated with cheaper electricity will certainly be required, and these will run up against nuclear and beat it hands down on electricity price.

It is true that politicians love a nuclear power plant – we have the UK planning to introduce another with a pre-funding model, paid for by consumers, and we have a new Japanese government, which si planning to go back to the halcyon nuclear days off pre-2011 before the Fukushima disaster.  But this is because politicians are basically simple, and have only just understood the idea of baseload and centralised generating facilities.

As a result they are in vogue right now. Germany in the eye of the natural gas supply disaster with Russia, has gone from being on track to completely pull the plug on nuclear reactors by year end, to using them to keep the lights on for another 5 or 10 years. The US is heading down the same path and China, India and Russia have never turned away from planning nuclear reactors.

The wants a NHI global shift in perspective on pink hydrogen and wants it to play a major role. The global trends are not playing in favour of the alliance which seems to be pushing against the current. We see the objective as little more than a marketing initiative.