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Is Hydrogen the Future of Nuclear Energy?

Charles W. Forsberg

Nuclear Technology / Volume 166 / Number 1 / April 2009 / Pages 3-10

Technical Paper / Special Issue on Nuclear Hydrogen Production, Control, and Management /

The traditionally held belief is that the future of nuclear energy is electricity production. However, another possible future exists: nuclear energy used primarily for the production of hydrogen. The hydrogen, in turn, would be used to meet our demands for transport fuels (including liquid fuels), materials such as steel and fertilizer, and peak-load electricity production. Hydrogen would become the replacement for fossil fuels in these applications that consume more than half the world's energy. Such a future would follow from several factors: (a) concerns about climatic change that limit the use of fossil fuels, (b) the fundamental technological differences between hydrogen and electricity that may preferentially couple different primary energy sources with either hydrogen or electricity, and (c) the potential for other technologies to competitively produce electricity but not hydrogen.

Electricity (movement of electrons) is not fundamentally a large-scale centralized technology that requires centralized methods of production, distribution, or use. In contrast, hydrogen (movement of atoms) is intrinsically a large-scale centralized technology. The large-scale centralized characteristics of nuclear energy as a primary energy source, hydrogen production systems, and hydrogen storage systems naturally couple these technologies. This connection suggests that serious consideration be given to hydrogen as the ultimate product of nuclear energy and that nuclear systems be designed explicitly for hydrogen production.

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