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Japan's Big Bet on Nuclear-Produced Green Hydrogen

In a recent development, the Japanese government has unveiled its plans to conduct field testing for clean hydrogen production using nuclear power. The move comes after the successful safety test of a next-generation reactor, the High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor (HTTR), conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) in Ibaraki prefecture on March 28.

The safety test of the HTTR was conducted in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and proved to be a significant milestone towards practical use. Even at 100% power output, the HTTR was able to cool down naturally and shutdown without the need for control rods, demonstrating its high level of safety even during accidents.

The HTTR is a type of high-temperature gas-cooled reactor that generates less power than a typical reactor but is considered safer. The Japanese government plans to leverage the heat produced by the HTTR to manufacture hydrogen. Initially, the government will lead the efforts until the technology is established, and then the private sector will take over for wider use.

The adoption of nuclear power for hydrogen production is seen as a solution to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen is considered essential for reducing industrial emissions in various sectors, including power, aviation, marine shipping, and steel. Since nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gases, the hydrogen production process using a reactor can be executed with nearly zero emissions.

The JAEA aims to petition Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority to begin screenings for connecting hydrogen production equipment to a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor as early as this year. If the screenings go well, a field test for nuclear hydrogen production is expected to launch in 2028.

The Japanese government has set a goal of expanding the annual supply of hydrogen sixfold to approximately 12 million tonnes by 2040. The HTTR, with a thermal output of 30 megawatts, has the potential to produce enough green hydrogen to power 200,000 fuel cell vehicles for a year if the scale is expanded to 250 MW.

While there is still skepticism towards nuclear power in Japan following the Fukushima disaster, the successful field testing of advanced nuclear technology in the past has shown promise. The future of nuclear hydrogen production will depend on whether the private sector sees it as a viable investment target.

Overall, Japan's plans for clean hydrogen production using nuclear power represent a significant step towards achieving a sustainable and low-carbon future.

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