Nuclear Energy and the Future

From Scott Carlberg

Nuclear power should be part of our carbon-free energy future. Construction problems and delays should not define nuclear energy’s science or its potential to meet important climate challenges.

Existing nuclear plants are a low-cost source of carbon energy. There are new nuclear technologies that are being developed. The technology ought to have a thoughtful resurgence coordinated with other carbon-free generation sources.

Recently POWER magazine asked one energy expert: “Nuclear power faces several challenges in the U.S. What needs to happen to keep nuclear power viable in this country? What is needed to spur construction of more nuclear plants? Is that even a possibility?” The interviewee was Dave Kropaczek, director for the U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub – Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL).

“I think the cost competitiveness is a big deal,” he said. “It’s the capital costs [of large nuclear plants] that are going to get you.” The Carolinas know that firsthand. He suggests tapping small modular reactors (SMRs). These are established technologies – think about the way they have been used on military vessels, for instance – that are being re-invented for possible use on land. “So take a smaller modular design, that can be added to the grid [at less cost], and you bring those capital costs down.”

Climate benefits are obvious. “France is clearly meeting all their targets because they’re predominantly nuclear. We keep hearing, we’ve got 12 years to meet our carbon targets. Sensible policy would say nuclear has got to be part of that mix going forward. You’ve got to have a mix [that includes nuclear]. You’ve got one really good carbon-free source, that’s really high energy density, that can put out electrons to the grid.”

Micro-reactors, not just small reactors, too. Kropaczek suggests using existing nuclear sites as some places for this, even underground. “Microreactors that can be delivered on a rail. Put it up, start it up. These are a lot lower megawatt range.”

Small successes add up to big results. Lots of wind turbines, lots of solar panels, lots of hydro and lots of small nuclear units can build a smart and no-carbon energy future.

The Carolinas can advance that kind of future if people work together and take bold steps.