Study: Advanced reactors could play major role in U.S. clean energy future

July 6, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News

With the proper investment and policy support, advanced nuclear energy has the potential to become a key component of a future U.S. clean energy system, a new report from Berkeley, Calif.’s, Breakthrough Institute finds.

Released this morning, the 155-page Advancing Nuclear Energy: Evaluating Deployment, Investment, and Impact in America’s Clean Energy employs “a high-resolution nationwide model of the United States electricity sector to demonstrate how advanced nuclear reactors might play a major role in a least-cost plan to transition the power grid entirely to clean energy sources by 2050, assuming that the first advanced reactors are available for deployment by 2030,” according to the executive summary.

“This modeling study,” the summary continues, “shows that a U.S. clean energy transition incorporating advanced nuclear energy could require cumulative capital investment for advanced nuclear power plant construction on the order of $150 [billion] to $220 billion by 2035, growing to a total of $830 billion to $1.1 trillion by 2050. Early capital investment and learning-by-doing lead to substantial reductions in project costs and levelized electricity costs for advanced nuclear technologies, resulting in the large-scale nationwide deployment of new reactors.”

By 2050, that deployment could potentially supply from 20 to 48 percent of domestic clean electricity generation, which translates to 1,400 to 3,600 TWh per year, the report notes, adding that total domestic deployed advanced nuclear capacity could be in the range of 19 to 48 GWe by 2035, 54 to 150 GWe by 2040, and 190 to 470 GWe by 2050.

Report takeaways: Potential economic and climate benefits of advanced nuclear deployment include the following:

  • A U.S. clean energy transition pathway that incorporates advanced nuclear power can help reduce the costs of a future national clean energy system.
  • Low-emissions heat and steam from advanced nuclear plants can supply reliable, clean energy for hard-to-decarbonize sectors, such as heavy industry and chemicals.
  • Clean advanced nuclear reactors can repower fossil-fuel plants using readily available infrastructure, increasing economic investment and promoting a just transition for local communities.
  • A successful future nuclear sector will produce new job opportunities in the manufacturing, construction, operation, and maintenance of nuclear plants, creating between 74,000 and 223,000 permanent jobs in operations and maintenance by 2050 alone.
  • Successful demonstration and commercialization of advanced nuclear power will competitively position the United States as a clean technology leader at a critical moment in the global clean energy transition.

Barriers to advanced nuclear deployment can be overcome through the following:

  • Immediate capital investment can enhance the potential for cost reductions and the total domestic market opportunity.
  • Avoiding cost overruns on early projects and making cost improvements over time will increase the speed and magnitude of advanced nuclear deployment.
  • Developing supply chains for fuel and component manufacturing is essential for the broad deployment of advanced nuclear reactors.
  • New federal regulatory frameworks currently being formulated, as well as streamlining of existing rules, will be key to ensuring timely licensing and construction of new advanced nuclear projects.
  • Lifting state-level moratoria and restrictions on nuclear projects will expand market opportunities and attract new capital investment to states that reform existing legislation.

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