Studies in Nuclear Energy: Low Risk and Low Carbon
The amount of greenhouse gas emissions mitigation required to prevent the most dramatic climate change scenarios postulated in the 2014 IPCC Synthesis Report is substantial. Prior analyses have examined the potential for nuclear energy to play a role in decarbonizing the energy sector, one of the largest contributors to emissions worldwide. However, advanced, non-light water reactors, while often touted as a viable alternative for development, have languished. Large light water development projects have a repeated history of extended construction timelines, re-work delays, and significant capital risk. With few exceptions, large-scale nuclear projects have demonstrated neither affordability nor economic competitiveness, and are not well suited to nations with smaller energy grids, or to replace fossil generation in the industrial process heat sector. If nuclear power is to play a role in decarbonization, new policy and technical solutions will be needed. In this manuscript, we examine key aspects of past performance across the nuclear enterprise and explore the future potential of nuclear energy worldwide, focusing on policy and technical solutions that may be needed to move nuclear power forward as a part of a low-carbon energy future. We do so first at a high level, examining the history of nuclear power research and development in the United States, the nation that historically has led the way in the development of this generating technology. A significant portion of our analysis is focused on new developments in this technology – advanced non-light water reactors and small modular reactors. We find that while there are promising technical solutions available, improved funding and focus in research and new models of deployment may be needed if nuclear is to play a continuing or future role. We also find that in examining potential new markets for the technology, a continuing focus on institutional readiness is critical.