A Nuclear Option for Climate Change: Historical lessons for the future of advanced fission energy in the United States
AbstractAs the largest source of emissions-free electricity in the United States, nuclear energy plays a pivotal role in efforts to combat climate change by decarbonizing our energy system. However, as the climate-energy challenge intensifies over the next half-century, the entire U.S. nuclear fleet will likely retire due to a combination of age and economic pressures — and as of now, there are no new reactors capable of taking their place. At the moment, the future of nuclear energy in the United States appears rather grim.
A new generation of advanced nuclear reactors is poised to take up the mantle of clean baseload generation, with technology that hopes to be cheaper, cleaner, safer, and more secure. However, they remain in the early stages of the research, development, demonstration, and deployment (R&D(DD)) process. Given nuclear energy’s expected importance in deep decarbonization, the thirty-four advanced reactor development projects currently underway across the United States merit substantial support, even in the face of relatively immature technology and the adverse economic conditions.
This thesis seeks to identify a set of broad principles that could prove useful in enabling and accelerating the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors on a climate-relevant timescale. To do so, we consider five historical examples of U.S. federal government efforts to take immature technologies from the drawing board to deployment, driven not merely by economics, but by a broader definition of American national interests. Drawing lessons from these examples, we consider their applications to the current state of advanced nuclear energy in the U.S.
We find that a more active federal role in shaping advanced nuclear energy research is warranted, in order to streamline the R&D(DD) process, keep promising ideas alive, support long-lead development, and ensure the viability of a nuclear option for climate change.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:38811532
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