The twin challenges of energy security and climate change have only increased the need for us to find responsible ways to combine renewable energy and carbon-free baseload power sources. We will continue to see fossil fuel plant retirements, the ongoing integration of renewables and continuing efforts to electrify the transportation and industrial sectors. Advanced nuclear technologies can fill this critical gap in the energy mix and must be deployed between now and 2050 to achieve our climate goals.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that the optimum way to round out a carbon-free grid is to incorporate a mix of 20-30% nuclear energy. To do so, the U.S. and others will need a steady commissioning rate of new nuclear plants going into the 2030s. TerraPower is leading efforts to demonstrate advanced nuclear designs this decade that will build confidence in nuclear’s ability to meet these goals.
Growing Support for Advanced Nuclear
There is increasing bipartisan public support for nuclear energy in the United States. A recent survey conducted by Bisconti Research found that 77% of the population is strongly in favor of growing the country’s nuclear fleet for electricity production. About 84% of survey participants agreed that the U.S. should prepare now to produce advanced nuclear plants, with 72% responding that advanced nuclear should “definitely” be constructed to meet our immediate energy needs, which is up from 69% in 2021.
With this growing support for nuclear, it is important that we move swiftly and intentionally, build political will at the federal and state level, and engage with communities to get their support in siting and operating new plants. We must also assemble the workforce of tomorrow and ensure our regulatory system is prepared to review and permit the next generation of nuclear.
Moving Ahead with Natrium™ Technology
Public-private partnerships are essential for keeping this momentum going and helping companies overcome the challenges faced when preparing to commercialize new technologies. The Department of Energy and TerraPower’s partnership through the Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program (ARDP) is critical to bringing the first Natrium plant online and proving out the carbon-free baseload solutions the world needs.
The Natrium technology, co-developed by TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear, offers the best way to deploy advanced nuclear power and meet the demands of the clean energy transition. The sodium fast reactor and integrated energy storage system are designed to provide firm generation for electrical grids with high penetrations of renewables. As part of the ARDP process, TerraPower and its utility partner, PacifiCorp, are bringing the first Natrium plant demonstration to Kemmerer, Wyoming, within this decade. The plant is being sited near one of PacifiCorp’s retiring coal facilities.
Bringing advanced nuclear to coal communities offers a unique synergy between the energy grid of today and future needs. Advanced reactors realize economic and infrastructure benefits by siting near retiring coal facilities and utilizing existing cooling water and grid interconnections. This can lead to reduced electricity costs, lower construction costs and minimized environmental impact during the build-out phase.
Nuclear energy also offers future employment opportunities for highly skilled power plant workers. Coal plants and nuclear plants both make steam that spins a turbine and produces electricity; this similarity in operations means many of the skills that professionals need to operate coal-fired plants will be transferable to operate Natrium plants. Because of these aspects, Natrium partners can re-train coal plant operating personnel and provide employment opportunities for decades to come.
Clean Energy to Meet Our Goals
Advanced nuclear is uniquely positioned to solve the energy challenges we face and now is the time for development and deployment in the United States. With support increasing across the board and the urgent need for carbon-free baseload power, we must build on this momentum and support the next generation of nuclear plants.