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Today, nuclear power provides roughly 20 percent of our nation’s electricity and 70 percent of low-emissions energy supply. Image courtesy Creative Commons.

University of Minnesota expert helps design the next-generation nuclear power plant

February 2, 2011

This legislative session, lawmakers are considering the repeal of Minnesota’s moratorium on building new nuclear power plants. With no new nuclear power plants having been allowed in the United States since 1979, what might the nuclear power plant of the future look like?

A University of Minnesota expert who is helping develop the nation’s next-generation nuclear power plant is:

Bojan Guzina, Shimizu Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, U of M College of Science and Engineering

Today, nuclear power provides roughly 20 percent of our nation’s electricity and 70 percent of low-emissions energy supply. In 2005, the U.S. Congress approved the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) program under the stewardship of the federal Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The goal of the program is to design and complete the so-called Generation IV nuclear reactor by 2021.

Guzina says among a number of competing Generation IV designs, one of the most promising is the so-called Very High Temperature Reactor or VHTR. This type of nuclear reactor uses graphite (as opposed to water) as a neutron moderator, and helium as a coolant. The key feature of the VHTR is that it will be capable of heating the helium to temperatures between 750 and 950 degrees Celsius, which would make it a first-rate source of industrial process heat. Such high output temperature, not achievable by current Gen II or Gen III reactors, is in particular critical for the envisioned production of hydrogen. Also of note is that the helium is not only chemically inert (does not interact under any circumstances), but also it does not become radioactive when exposed to neutron radiation.

The key goals of the NGNP project are to improve the nuclear safety and proliferation resistance, minimize waste and utilization of natural resources, improve efficiency, reduce the cost to build and provide nuclear process heat. In this way, the nuclear power plants will provide, in addition to electricity, a low-greenhouse-gas-emission source of heat for various industrial applications including desalination, unconventional oil production, oil refining, ethanol production and hydrogen production.

The NGNP is carried out in collaboration with DOE national laboratories, related industries and U.S. universities, including the University of Minnesota.

To interview Guzina, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or

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