MIT Energy Initiative study reports on the future of nuclear energy

MIT Energy Initiative study reports on the future of nuclear energy
Earth in space with atom and twinkling stars. Credit: Christine Daniloff / MIT

How can the world achieve the deep carbon emissions reductions that are necessary to slow or reverse the impacts of climate change? The authors of a new MIT study say that unless nuclear energy is meaningfully incorporated into the global mix of low-carbon energy technologies, the challenge of climate change will be much more difficult and costly to solve. For nuclear energy to take its place as a major low-carbon energy source, however, issues of cost and policy need to be addressed.

In "The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World," released by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) on Sept. 3, the authors analyze the reasons for the current global stall of capacity—which currently accounts for only 5 percent of global primary production—and discuss measures that could be taken to arrest and reverse that trend.

The study group, led by MIT researchers in collaboration with colleagues from Idaho National Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is presenting its findings and recommendations at events in London, Paris, and Brussels this week, followed by events on Sept. 25 in Washington, and on Oct. 9 in Tokyo.

MIT graduate and undergraduate students and postdocs, as well as faculty from Harvard University and members of various think tanks, also contributed to the study as members of the research team.

"Our analysis demonstrates that realizing nuclear energy's potential is essential to achieving a deeply decarbonized energy future in many regions of the world," says study co-chair Jacopo Buongiorno, the TEPCO Professor and associate department head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. He adds, "Incorporating new policy and business models, as well as innovations in construction that may make deployment of cost-effective more affordable, could enable nuclear energy to help meet the growing global demand for energy generation while decreasing emissions to address ."

The study team notes that the electricity sector in particular is a prime candidate for deep decarbonization. Global electricity consumption is on track to grow 45 percent by 2040, and the team's analysis shows that the exclusion of nuclear from low-carbon scenarios could cause the average cost of electricity to escalate dramatically.

"Understanding the opportunities and challenges facing the nuclear energy industry requires a comprehensive analysis of technical, commercial, and policy dimensions," says Robert Armstrong, director of MITEI and the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering. "Over the past two years, this team has examined each issue, and the resulting report contains guidance policymakers and industry leaders may find valuable as they evaluate options for the future."

MIT Energy Initiative study reports on the future of nuclear energy
Jacopo Buongiorno, the TEPCO Professor and associate department head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, presents the report's findings at an event in London on September 3. Credit: Nuclear Industry Association

The report discusses recommendations for nuclear plant construction, current and future reactor technologies, business models and policies, and reactor safety regulation and licensing. The researchers find that changes in reactor construction are needed to usher in an era of safer, more cost-effective reactors, including proven construction management practices that can keep nuclear projects on time and on budget.

"A shift towards serial manufacturing of standardized plants, including more aggressive use of fabrication in factories and shipyards, can be a viable cost-reduction strategy in countries where the productivity of the traditional construction sector is low," says MIT visiting research scientist David Petti, study executive director and Laboratory Fellow at the Idaho National Laboratory. "Future projects should also incorporate reactor designs with inherent and passive safety features."

These safety features could include core materials with high chemical and physical stability and engineered safety systems that require limited or no emergency AC power and minimal external intervention. Features like these can reduce the probability of severe accidents occurring and mitigate offsite consequences in the event of an incident. Such designs can also ease the licensing of new plants and accelerate their global deployment.

"The role of government will be critical if we are to take advantage of the economic opportunity and low-carbon potential that nuclear has to offer," says John Parsons, study co-chair and senior lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management. "If this future is to be realized, government officials must create new decarbonization policies that put all low-carbon energy technologies (i.e. renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture) on an equal footing, while also exploring options that spur private investment in nuclear advancement."

The study lays out detailed options for government support of nuclear. For example, the authors recommend that policymakers should avoid premature closures of existing plants, which undermine efforts to reduce emissions and increase the cost of achieving emission reduction targets. One way to avoid these closures is the implementation of zero-emissions credits—payments made to electricity producers where electricity is generated without greenhouse gas emissions—which the researchers note are currently in place in New York, Illinois, and New Jersey.

Another suggestion from the study is that the government support development and demonstration of new nuclear technologies through the use of four "levers": funding to share regulatory licensing costs; funding to share research and development costs; funding for the achievement of specific technical milestones; and funding for production credits to reward successful demonstration of new designs.

The study includes an examination of the current nuclear regulatory climate, both in the United States and internationally. While the authors note that significant social, political, and cultural differences may exist among many of the countries in the nuclear energy community, they say that the fundamental basis for assessing the safety of nuclear reactor programs is fairly uniform, and should be reflected in a series of basic aligned regulatory principles. They recommend regulatory requirements for advanced reactors be coordinated and aligned internationally to enable international deployment of commercial reactor designs, and to standardize and ensure a high level of safety worldwide.

The study concludes with an emphasis on the urgent need for both cost-cutting advancements and forward-thinking policymaking to make the future of nuclear energy a reality.

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Sep 05, 2018
Carbon-free nuclear power is the only that can help the world achieve the deep carbon emissions reductions that are necessary to slow or reverse the impacts of Climate Change, because hydro/geothermal are site-specific(geographically limited), biomass is worse than coal in terms of greenhouse effect and competes with agriculture, and wind and solar(bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers) have failed miserably at reducing emissions even with 1000GW of installed-capacity at cost of trillions of dollars and huge ecological impacts, simply natural gas(methane: worse than CO2) has reduced CO2 emissions while intermittent renewables took the credits providing "greenwashing" for the gas/fracking industry.
Biomass, wind and solar, should be excluded from the tools against Climate Change, they are useless placebos in terms of reducing emissions and are causing the electricity prices to skyrocket. Mother nature(natural landscapes, birds, bats and other endangered species) will thank us.

@Willie: mother nature and future generations will not thank us for the legacy of radioactivity. And I am not even mentioning the risk of nuclear catastrophes (keep also in mind the chance of hits by meteors and warfare etc, as extra triggers). The sheer size of insane current overpopulation is indeed already forcing us to exploit additional energy sources beyond wind and solar. You are wrong when saying that geothermal would be location-dependent. It is just the primitive form of geothermal energy exploitation that demands it. Once we transition to deep drilling (combined with closed circuit) the location does no longer matter.

Sep 09, 2018
future generations will not thank us for the legacy of radioactivity
"Why do the sort of people who exclude nuclear energy for its radiation embrace geothermal?"

Per power installed, radiation exposure form wind and solar is far higher.
"It's now also recognised by UNSCEAR that wind and solar energy are resulting in significant radiation exposure."
"The solar and wind fuel cycles emit considerably more radiation (mainly from mining rare earth metals) than the nuclear fuel cycle"

Sep 09, 2018
...mother nature and future generations will not thank us for the legacy of radioactivity...
"Exposure to solar radiation kills as many as 18,000 Americans per year."
"There are no examples of members of the general public in the west who have died due to exposure to radiation from civilian nuclear power in the last 50 years".

Why do you cite radiation studies that are not applicable for the closed-circuit approach combined with deep drilling?
And what is your argument regarding nuclear disasters? Chernobyl, Fukushima and others still to happen?

Sep 09, 2018
Even including Chernobyl and Fukushima, carbon-free nuclear power is the safest per unit of energy produced, fewer fatalities and less ecological impacts than renewables.
...deep drilling...
"Geothermal power facility induces earthquakes, study finds"
"Fluids drawn from the deep earth carry a mixture of gases, notably carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3) and radon (Rn). These pollutants contribute to global warming, acid rain, radiation..."
"In addition to dissolved gases, hot water from geothermal sources may hold in solution trace amounts of toxic chemicals, such as mercury, arsenic, boron, antimony, and salt. These chemicals come out of solution as the water cools, and can cause environmental damage..."

If the plants are so safe, how comes that you can't find an insurance company that wants to cover the entire risk of operation? Do you realize the contradiction?

Again, you are citing nonapplicable studies. The earthquakes occur because of ongoing injections of fluid the way fracking does it, which is needless when pursuing deep drilling close to magma heat. And it should not be too difficult to understand: if in a closed circuit there is no transport of liquid/gas to the surface there is no pollution from these substances. You understand what closed circuit means, right? Think of your nuclear plants, there you have a mechanism for shielding highly contaminated hot liquids running in a closed circuit strictly separated from a cooling circuit with water going in and out of a nearby river/sea.

Sep 09, 2018
This "study" is by nuclear engineers and managers, whose jobs depend on nuking the future.
Meanwhile, my power comes from PV for house and two cars.
No danger, no radiation, no nuclear waste.

Sep 10, 2018
Meanwhile, my power comes from PV for house and two cars.
For those who believe gskam is supplying (entirely off-the-grid) his house and his two electric cars only with sunshine&breeze unicorn energy, i.e. without any drop of fossil fuels,
I have a bridge in NY, also the Eiffel tower, to sell you.

Sep 10, 2018
including proven construction management practices that can keep nuclear projects on time and on budget.

That'd be a first.

Big projects are a big draw for any kind of corruption. From exchange of materials with sub-par replacements to political graft.

Putting our horses on a technology with unsolved issues (waste management) is also just plain stupid. The "future generations will figure it out"-attitude is what got us into this mess in the first place. Let's not perpetuate it.

Standardization is also wishful thinking. there are a handful of companies that can build nuclear powerplants in the world - each of which belongs to a different power block.

Other renewables are also just more 'bang for the buck'. It makes little sense to invest in the most expensive of all technologies. Particularly when wind and solar can be installed in a jiffy, while the construction of even one plant can easily take a decade.

Sep 10, 2018
"For those who believe gskam is supplying (entirely off-the-grid) his house and his two electric cars"

Gosh, Willie, I am grid-connected for both the utility and us. I guess you do not know how the system all works, so I can forgive you.

Sep 10, 2018
Putting our horses on a technology with unsolved issues (waste management) is also just plain stupid.
"Experts forecast hundreds of thousands of tons of old wind turbine blades, batteries, and solar modules will need to be disposed of or recycled in the next decade—and millions of tons by 2050."
"While nuclear waste is contained in heavy drums and regularly monitored, solar waste outside of Europe today ends up in the larger global stream of electronic waste."
"Solar panels contain toxic metals like lead, which can damage the nervous system, as well as chromium and cadmium, known carcinogens. All three are known to leach out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies."
"It's now also recognised by UNSCEAR that wind and solar energy are resulting in significant radiation exposure" from mining activities.

Sep 10, 2018
I went to one of Willie's references and found it is a green site, featuring this as well:

"Fusion start-ups hope to revolutionize energy in the coming decades
Radioactive waste stranded as U.S. shifts from nuclear energy
Perovskite progress pushes tandem solar cells closer to market
Organic solar cell smashes performance record
Catalyst frees hydrogen from seawater"

Willie wants us to forget how nuclear steel cannot be recycled without killing people.

Sep 11, 2018
Fusion could be a great addition to our energy mix. However fusion isn't ready to generate commercial power today. Fission is going nowhere right now. Utilities cannot forecast and make investments on projects that typically see significant changes in the regulatory landscape, often tripling or more schedule & price.
Residential demand is in a lot of flux, mainly reducing, and decentralized generation is growing quickly. Building storage capacity will significantly reduce dependence on Coal fueled generation. Of course these observations or based on US tends - things may be different elsewhere. However in Europe peaking plants are already finding themselves in the position of not being able to sell off peak power, as decentralized generation capacity grows there. Baseload nukes don't help those situations, although they could perhaps replace existing coal fired generation.

Sep 11, 2018
Meanwhile, at home I am buying a Tesla car and some batteries, and have a contract for 100% wind generated power supply.

I don't have the same concerns with nuclear generation that some people have, but I can't see them playing a large part going forward, especially new generation.

Sep 11, 2018
Zzzzz, my resistance to nuclear power comes from a technical education and some professional experience.

Sep 12, 2018 resistance to nuclear power comes from a technical education and some professional experience.
Your resistance to carbon-free nuclear power comes from the fact you are a psychopath pathological liar. Psychopaths love to hate someone/something, usually something good and useful, and love to love parasitic things because psychopaths are inherently parasites and identify themselves with parasites, it's why some of them love some much wind and solar because intermittent renewables are inherently parasites that cannot survive without subsidies/tax credits and a host, in this case, fossil fuels which keep lights on when sun isn't shining or wind isn't blowing.

"The more you know about renewables, the less you like them. The more you know about nuclear, the more you like it. The only thing holding us back is ignorance, superstition and fear of the unknown."

Sep 12, 2018
"comes from the fact you are a psychopath"

I get it now, Willie and otto are the same diseased person!

@Willie: you certainly don't have problems with lacking self-confidence. Amazing how you remotely identify psychopathy. Do you apply this checklist of 70 traits?

Sep 12, 2018
I have no axe to grind against nuclear and I am sure it can be made to be safe enough.
But this report is obviously just a load of political pro-nuclear propaganda crap as opposed to being any part of any real science because it ignores the fact that, right now, nuclear power is one of the most costly and least cost effective alternative to fossil fuels and thus if we building even more of those expensive nuclear power plants then it will make going carbon-neutral even more costly and harder to achieve.
And it simply LIES where it explicitly claims the contrary to that.
This report shouldn't be presented as if it is 'science' news, because it isn't.

Sep 13, 2018
Carbon-free nuclear power is one of the most cost-effective tools against Climate Change, surely the only because hydro/geothermal are site-specific, and wind and solar are already undoubtedly a trillion-dollar fiasco together with biomass.

How much cost to abate CO₂ with 'renewables' and nuclear. The benefit of very high capacity factors of nuclear is obvious at one glance.
Nuclear is continuously cheap.
Wind and solar are exponentially expensive.

"nuclear is cheapest electricity source after coal in China."
Japan: nuclear 10.1 ¥/kwh, wind 21.9 ¥/kwh, wolar 24.3 ¥/kwh

"US nuclear plants are some of the lowest cost generators available. In 2016.."

Sep 13, 2018
"Japan: nuclear 10.1 ¥/kwh, wind 21.9 ¥/kwh, wolar 24.3 ¥/kwh"

Does that include the costs of Fukushima? How many thousand dollars per kWh?

how bout wolar?

Sep 14, 2018
Even including the costs of Fukushima (inflated by antinuclear fearmongers(fossil-fuel lobbyists)): Japan, China, and other countries, have concluded that carbon-free nuclear power is much more affordable than the "cheap-but-batteries-not-included" intermittent renewables(bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers) backed up by coal/oil/gas-fired plants.
"Nuclear is only expensive in the US and Western Europe due to unstable regulatory policy, poor business/management practices, and lack of experience. In Russia, China, Japan, Korea, and Canada it's cheaper than renewables."
"Nuclear Energy Is the Fastest and Lowest-Cost Clean Energy Solution" - Nov 2017;h=414

Nuclear plants are so great, we should all live next to one:

Sep 14, 2018
Nuclear plants are so great, we should all live next to one...
It's safer to stay next a nuclear power plant than next a wind/solar farm during a hurricane, solar panels and wind blades can break apart and injury people, the oil for lubrication can catch fire and also kill people.
No one has died from radiation exposure at Fukushima, the Tsunami is that was the real killer together with fearmongers and sensationalist mass media that induced more deaths(anxieties/heart-attacks, suicides, abortions) favoring the fossil fuels(backup for intermittent renewables) which air pollution respects no border and kills millions of people every year.

Sep 15, 2018
Bad news for nukers:

"Development of Units 3 and 4 was initially expected to cost $7.3 billion but over the years that price tag has ballooned to more than $27 billion. "

Years ago, the projected price of Vogtle power would have been 15 cents/kWh, but must be higher now. Wind plus storage, 24-hour power, is being contracted for 4 cents/kWh. And no danger from nuclear radiation, and no waste.

Sep 15, 2018
Those super-high rates for Vogtle power are only good if it runs without trouble for 50 years!!

Who volunteers to pay four to five times the cost of power for 50 years so they can get it from Vogtle?

Willie, is that you?

Sep 17, 2018
As general rule, carbon-free nuclear has made the electricity prices to remain affordable and decarbonized the grids; while wind and solar have caused the prices to skyrocket and failed miserably at reducing emissions.

"The findings of the recent MIT study bear repeating: to achieve a carbon-free grid, exclusion of nuclear would make the effort much, much more expensive." - Sep 16, 2018;h=588;h=329;h=562

Sep 17, 2018
Vogtle, we are talking about the 15 Cents/kWh wholesale price of power from that nuke, IF it runs successfully for 50 years!! Who wants to buy power at three times the price for 50 years from a dangerous source which will carry the nasty legacy of radioactive waste forever?

Wind plus storage is four cents. Which do YOU want to buy?

Sep 17, 2018
Wind plus storage is four cents.
Where? In the land-of-make-believe, lalaland?
If it were true, then Greenpeace and other faux-green organizations and Eco-hypocritical celebrities would already using it to power their headquarters and electric vehicles going entirely off-the-grid.

Carbon-free nuclear is worth the price as the only scalable way to stop Climate Change.
Wind and solar are a joke, a fraud, they produce more ecological impacts than energy.

Sep 17, 2018
"Xcel Attracts 'Unprecedented' Low Prices for Solar and Wind Paired With Storage

Bid attracts median PV-plus-battery price of $36 per megawatt-hour. Median wind-plus-storage bids came in even lower, at $21 per megawatt-hour."

That is 3.6 cents/kWh, Willie, and 2.1 cents /kWh. Vogtle will be over 15 cents/kWh.

And that is CLEAN POWER, Willie, no waste, no danger.



Sep 17, 2018
Vogtle will be abandoned. It is already too expensive to operate. If there are any sun or wind in Georgia, nobody will be able to afford nuclear power and its dangers.

Meanwhile, because we have electric cars, our payback for the PV system went from fifteen years to three years. Now our power and car fuel are free.

Ah . . power with no noise, no smoke, no fuel costs, no waste problems, . . .

Sep 17, 2018
2¢/kWh was already announced several times by the RE zealots/charlatans but in the end it's nothing but another among several solar/wind scams,
like wind/solar replacing coal and gas in Germany.
"Germany is razing a 12,000-year-old forest to make way for a coal mine" - Sep 2018

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