Bax Lindhardt

What’s going on with nuclear power?

Friday 04 Jun 21


Bent Lauritzen
Head of Section
DTU Physics
+45 46 77 49 06

Risø reactors

  • Denmark has had three experimental reactors on the Risø peninsula (DTU Risø Campus) at Roskilde Fjord.
  • They were put into service in 1957, 1958, and 1960, respectively.
  • The reactors were used for research and training in reactor physics and technology to produce isotopes and for the last several years for materials research.
  • The first reactor was closed as early as 1975 and the last two closed in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
  • Since then, Danish Decommissioning has been responsible for handling and dismantling the reactors.


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The press is full of articles about nuclear power. Several European countries are planning new nuclear power plants. Has nuclear power become trendy? And will it come to Denmark one day? Head of Section Bent Lauritzen from DTU Physics answers these questions. He has been researching nuclear power for decades.

What developments are we seeing in the world?

In general, the tendency is for those countries with nuclear power to continue and perhaps expand their programmes. But we’re also seeing countries that have never had nuclear power embracing the technology—e.g. the United Arab Emirates—which last year opened its first nuclear power plant. In Europe, we are seeing increased polarization with some countries such as Germany, Belgium, and Spain wanting to phase out nuclear power—while other countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Finland, and several Eastern European countries—including Poland and Romania—are either already building or will be building new nuclear power stations. 

Has there been a change of attitude?

Yes, in some places. In Finland, their environmental party used to be staunch opponents of nuclear power, whereas now they are proponents, and there’s broad support for nuclear power in Finland. My feeling is that there is generally a renewed interest in nuclear power. Personally, I receive far more requests from the press, but also from young people who have to write assignments and choose nuclear power as their subject. I didn’t get this kind of request at all 10 years ago.

What is driving the interest?

The climate agenda in particular is leading the way—the desire to phase out fossil fuels in electricity production in order to reduce CO2 emissions.  Several countries will replace coal and gas-fired plants with nuclear power plants because they don’t emit CO2. Other countries, e.g. Eastern Europe, are also driven by motives such as security of supply and independence from energy imports from Russia.

Can’t we make do with CO2-free solutions like wind and solar power?

The challenge with renewable energy (EV) sources such as wind and solar is that they fluctuate, so we’re not guaranteed a stable production of electricity. Denmark has a lot of EV, but our energy supply and security of supply is supported by importing part of our electricity from our neighbouring countries—electricity, which in principle can be produced by a nuclear power plant. For many countries, it will be difficult to phase out coal- and gas-fired plants without replacing them with another solution that ensures electricity generation that is both affordable and stable, and which covers a large and increasing demand for power. Many countries need nuclear power to remove dependency on fossil fuels.


Will nuclear power be a solution for Denmark?

That’s a political decision. Denmark decided in 1985 that nuclear power was not to form part of energy planning. However, I believe that a new and open debate should be taken on nuclear power as climate-friendly energy technology which can guarantee relatively inexpensive electricity and make us independent of electricity imports. In addition, the next generation of reactors will be able to supply more than just electricity. They will all run at higher temperatures and therefore also have the potential to supply process heat to industry and be included in P2X solutions such as the production of synthetic fuels. Small modular reactors are also being developed—i.e. it will be possible to scale the nuclear power plant in size and opt for a greater number of smaller plants instead of a few very large ones. I believe that nuclear power has a role to play in the green transition in Denmark as well, but it requires an open-minded look at the technology.

Has there been a development in terms of safety?

Yes. Nuclear power has become safer—as witnessed, among other things, by the frequency of incidents and unplanned downtimes which have decreased significantly. New nuclear power plants have a greater degree of passive safety—i.e. systems that control the plant even if there is no one to intervene or the electricity supply is interrupted. If we measure safety in terms of loss of life, fewer people die as a result of nuclear power than from other technologies for electricity generation. A group of experts from the European Commission came to this conclusion again in a report they published in the spring. With fourth-generation reactors we will see a further increase in safety, as this is one of the international objectives for their development. Efforts are being made to make them so safe that there will be no need for an evacuation zone outside the facility itself.

Where do you see the technology in 20 years?

We will still have large nuclear power stations simply because the plants currently being built will be in operation some 60 years from now. I also believe that the large nuclear power stations will be supplemented by the smaller modular reactors that are being developed. The next generation of reactors will be able to make better use of the fuel—perhaps up to 100 times better. That means 100 times fewer mines and 100 times less waste. So my guess is that 20 years from now we will have a mix of third- and fourth-generation reactors around the world.

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