Nuclear production of hydrogen
Hydrogen Tanks Image: Shutterstock, petrmalinak

Why hydrogen production?

As growing demand for energy has prompted an ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, the resulting issues of energy security and climate change have led to renewed interest in the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. Hydrogen has the potential to play an important role as a sustainable and environmentally-acceptable source of energy in the 21st century.

Since the natural sources of pure hydrogen are extremely limited, it is necessary to develop technologies to produce large quantities of hydrogen economically. The present dominant technology to produce hydrogen is based on the reforming of fossil fuels, with the subsequent release of greenhouse gases. Hydrogen could be produced by water cracking, using heat and surplus electricity from nuclear power plants.

The need for a sustainable supply of clean energy is one of the main problems facing the world. Among the various energy technologies which may be considered (including hydro, wind, solar, geo-thermal, wave and tidal), only nuclear – through the use of fast-neutron fission reactors – is capable of delivering the copious quantities of sustainable energy that is required.

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The Nuclear Science Committee (NSC) had organised a series of information exchange meetings to discuss scientific issues pertaining to hydrogen production using the energy produced by nuclear reactors. The last meeting was held in 2009, where scientific and technical issues related to hydrogen generation using nuclear energy were presented and reviewed. The meeting participants strongly endorsed further international cooperation on issues related to the nuclear production of hydrogen. Extensive collaboration already existed in some research areas, such as the sulphur-iodine thermo-electrochemical cycle. Additional areas of co-operation included:

  • alternative thermo-electrochemical cycles and high-temperature electrolysis
  • standardisation of thermodynamic efficiency assessments
  • safety
  • materials and chemical property measurement and verification
  • materials development, including structural materials, membranes and catalyst
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