U.S. state and city leaders increasingly recognize the looming threat of climate change. In response, they’ve set clean energy targets and implemented strategies to achieve those goals. According to a report published in November by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, one in three Americans live in a city or state that has committed to or achieved a 100% clean energy goal, including more than 200 cities and counties, 11 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
States’ and cities’ nuclear-inclusive clean energy standards, combined with utilities’ integrated resource plans, are necessary to achieve rapid decarbonization. Advanced nuclear technologies have an important role to play to limit global temperatures to a 1.5-degree Celsius rise. A 2019 study from the International Energy Agency warned that the world faces billions of tons in additional CO2 emissions unless governments and industry step in to extend the operating life of retiring nuclear power plants and build new nuclear projects.
As more renewable-generated electricity comes onto the power grid, there is growing recognition that we cannot decarbonize the economy affordably and quickly enough without dispatchable, carbon-free, baseload electricity like nuclear. A 2018 study by the MIT Energy Initiative concluded that a government-supported nuclear energy revival is needed to stabilize the world’s warming climate at the lowest cost possible. Decision-makers are realizing the myriad of solutions nuclear energy can offer. For example, TerraPower’s designs can provide thermal storage and direct industrial heating. The company’s innovations support other energy-intensive processes, such as transportation and chemical processing, without emitting carbon. As a result, advanced nuclear offers new market opportunities for utilities seeking to expand their customer base.
Demonstrating Advanced Reactor Technologies
Commercial deployment of advanced nuclear technologies requires a reliable regulatory framework based on demonstrated results. Cost-sharing partnerships such as the fast-neutron Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) align industry and government to provide world-class facilities where users can test components and materials. The VTR will provide the data that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to license these designs. Additionally, results will allow reactor developers to attain insights and optimize designs.
Advanced reactor demonstrations complement the construction of the VTR user facility by engaging companies to expand American experience and technical know-how with new reactor types like micro-reactors; small, modular designs; and non-light water technologies.
Moving Beyond Demonstration
The fight against climate change has aligned venture capital, private equity, and public and institutional investment to usher the next generation of nuclear energy online. Research and development (R&D) funding from both Congress and private industry should continue at the highest levels possible. Utilities can continue to do their part by participating in public-private R&D partnerships and by buying carbon-free capacity from advanced nuclear projects through long-term power purchase agreements.
Not only do advanced reactors offer to help utilities meet state-mandated clean energy targets, but they can also meet their customers’ diverse energy needs. TerraPower’s partnerships with companies like Southern Company, Ramaco Carbon and Energy Northwest provide insights into the creative ways nuclear energy can transform industries beyond electricity production. Whatever opportunities or challenges await us, advanced nuclear will be critical in meeting the planet’s growing demand for clean energy.