The vanishing nuclear industry

July 2, 2018, Carnegie Mellon University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Could nuclear power make a significant contribution to decarbonizing the U.S. energy system over the next three or four decades? That is the question asked by four current and former researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP). Their answer: probably not.

In a paper, "U.S. nuclear : The vanishing low-carbon wedge," just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), the team examined the current U.S. nuclear fleet, which is made up of large light water nuclear reactors (LWRs). While for three decades, approximately 20% of U.S. power generation has come from these LWRs, these plants are ageing, and the cost of maintaining and updating them along with competition from low cost natural gas, makes them less and less competitive in today's power markets.

In place of these LWRs, the team asked whether advanced designs might play a significant role in U.S. energy markets in the next few decades. They concluded that they probably would not. Then, the team examined the viability of developing and deploying a fleet of factory manufactured smaller light water reactors, known as small modular reactors (SMRs). The team examined several ways in which a large enough market might be developed to support such an SMR industry, including using them to back up wind and solar and desalinate water, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases. Again, given the current and policy environments, they concluded that the prospects for this occurrence do not look good.

In the article's conclusion, the team writes, "It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and , over the next few decades."

Explore further: Nuclear power shutdowns won't spike power prices

More information: M. Granger Morgan el al., "US nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge," PNAS (2018).

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3.3 / 5 (4) Jul 02, 2018
Another question:
Could wind/solar power make a significant contribution to decarbonizing the U.S. energy system over the next three or four decades?
The answer is: surely not. Intermittent renewables, even with hundreds/thousands of gigawatts of installed-capacity at cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and huge ecological impacts, have failed miserably at reducing emissions. They are just an expensive form of providing "greenwashing" (decorative facade) for the coal/oil/gas industries in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy, which is a crime in the face of Climate Change.

Unlike intermittent renewables, carbon-free nuclear power has already made a significant contribution to decarbonizing the energy system around the world; it is the only scalable way to stop Climate Change as hydro/geothermal are site-specific, biomass is worse than coal in terms of greenhouse effect and competes with agriculture, and wind/solar are a grotesque fiasco everywhere.
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2018
WillieWard's message includes "[Unreliable renewables] are just an expensive form of providing "greenwashing" (decorative facade) for the coal/oil/gas industries in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy ..."

That's incorrect. It should say "interests", not "industries", because much of the money that goes into already jingly pockets when $30 million worth of uranium is replaced by a billion dollars' worth of natural gas goes there as part of a government stipend. The royalties and/or severance taxes included in the gas gigabuck are a lot more than $30 million.

Also, coal doesn't have much to do with it any more. Government favour for gas-plus-wind is damaging for nuclear power, which has environmentalist friends, and absolutely devastating for coal, which has no friends.

Only from a gas tax fancier's point of view is coal-and-nuclear a sensible category. It is the category of reliable steam-raisers that don't pay much tax compared to gas.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2018
If we want humanity to live underseas, to find enough materials to build interesting things, if you want heat to clean up toxins or serve manufacturing cheaply, if you want us to occupy outer space beyond the moon AND solve global warming, we need new, safer, cheaper, nuclear power. It can certainly be done, but needs Gov $s to get us out of the bad local minimum we are in.

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