Worldwide adoption of a ‘hydrogen economy’ was urged at the annual symposium of the World Nuclear Association on September 4-6 in London, UK. It is seen as an ideal partner for nuclear power, adding a ‘green’ justification while deriving the energy necessary for cracking water without worsening the CO2 arithmetic.

The Association’s director general, John Ritch, compared transition to a hydrogen-nuclear economy with the electricity revolution, declaring that distributing energy by means of hydrogen offered ‘an entirely clean-energy global economy…with nuclear power supplyjng not only electricity and clean water, but also energising transport of all kinds’. Most important was the possible contribution to preventing catastrophic global climatic change. Transition to a complete hydrogen-nuclear economy could take three or more decades, according Leon Walters of Argonne National Laboratory in the USA who believes that hydrogen is unquestionably the transportation fuel of the future, ideally in fuel cells, and that nuclear fission is the only primary energy source with which enough of hydrogen could be supplied without evolving carbon dioxide.

One of the world’s leading fuel cell developers, Geoffrey Ballard , foretold that the general hydrogen economy would emerge via the transportation sector and that nuclear power would have to play a permanent part in the evolution. Excess electricity at any moment could be converted into hydrogen which could replace gasoline as the focus of land transportation. He calculated that if four per cent of California’s automobiles were fuel cell vehicles their generating capacity would exceed that of the whole of the state’s stationary plant. Going beyond such beginnings, a nation could shift its entire energy system from dependence on oil, gradually and without massive economic disruption, a view shared by Vernon Kiss of Cameco Corp who suggested that the wide commercial use of automotive fuel cells would probably be preceded by the gradual introduction of stationary fuel cells for backup and quality power applications. Nuclear plants could generate base-load power, and at night produce hydrogen by dissociating it electrolytically or thermochemically from oxygen in water. Hydrogen produced this way can already compete with gasoline in terms of cost per mile.