Could sustainable nuclear energy be the solution to water scarcity?
In his presentation of France’s “water plan”, French President Emmanuel Macron aptly emphasized three fundamental points: water is a vital resource, in particular for agriculture, and having a sufficient supply is a matter of food sovereignty for France; new climate conditions call for this shared resource to be used sparingly, while improving the reuse of waste water; and besides the agri-food sector, the national economy is impacted through a small number of essential sectors: industry, tourism, leisure and energy. However, the latter is not merely a sector, but also the key to each of the others. Water is essential to life, energy and comfort. It is water that enabled humankind to progress from draught animal power to digital superpower. Without it, we would not have heat, electricity, industrialization or services. We all need water, of course, for our daily personal needs and for industrial uses. Energy, however, is an equally ever-present part of life. Every machine, tool, product and service requires a certain quantity: this “energy footprint” is the energy it takes to produce, package, transport, consume and dispose of them – depending on where and when they are used. Harnessing the planet’s abundant water resources to provide the world’s population with access to quality drinking water would involve an electric energy expenditure beyond our current capabilities. Likewise, more and more energy will be required to meet the needs of a growing world population, support industrial development and remedy damage caused to the environment. What’s more, this energy will need to contribute to restoring ecological balance. Suffice it to say, the challenge is immense. Mission impossible? I don’t think so. Everyone knows that current nuclear energy does not emit CO2, but does produce radioactive waste. However, a sustainable form of nuclear energy now exists, one able to use this waste as fuel and convert it into heat and electricity. This is a true revolution, thanks to molten salt and fast neutrons: the revolution of fourth-generation nuclear power. It’s all the more revolutionary thanks to the possibility to build mass-produced “mini” power stations, i.e. microreactors each occupying a surface area of around fifty square metres. These microreactors can be connected to electric power transmission grids or operated off-grid, which means that they can be installed close to any industrial complex, wherever it may be located, as well as in remote areas anywhere in the world. Today, it is now possible to rely on a carbon-free, affordable energy source that is available to all, non-intermittent, clean – and safe. No pollution, no water required, no risk, no waste. This opens a new pathway to industrial sovereignty: proximity of the energy source, availability of fuel on national soil in large quantities, independence with respect to oil and gas, the capacity to produce abundant heat and electricity, guaranteed resilience and very low costs. For France and its people, it represents nothing less than a new source of prosperity for decades to come.