In recent years, nuclear power plants in the United States generated less energy as aging reactors are pulled out of operation. Indeed, it would be easy to say that nuclear power may not play a significant role in today’s push towards energy generated via non-fossil fuel-powered means. But the American nuclear sector begs to differ as newer, more compact, and more efficient reactors may change the game.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, member utilities could add up to 90 gigawatts of nuclear-generated energy into the national power grid by 2050. This, of course, depends on how soon new-generation reactor technology can be made available throughout the industry and whether or not federal regulators approve of their placement.
The Current Scenario
At present, only 92 nuclear reactors remain operational in the United States compared to the 104 that were working when the country’s nuclear generation capacity peaked in 2012. Back then, the maximum collective output was pegged at 102 gigawatts; now, the industry capacity is down to 95.
Last year, total nuclear power output peaked at 778 million megawatt-hours, making up 19% of the energy released into the national grid and enough to power over 70 million homes. However, this figure is still 1.5% lower than the output seen in 2020.
A Potential Solution
NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick believes that replacing reactors that have reached the end of operability with small modular reactors may provide a plausible solution to this.
At the recently concluded Nuclear Energy Assembly, Korsnick remarked that installing around 300 new-generation reactors would make a considerable difference and double current output levels.
Admittedly, the nuclear sector will face numerous challenges, including resistance to implementing nuclear solutions in the context of carbon-neutral power generation, as well as the long-drawn process of getting regulatory approval.
Nevertheless, Korsnick strongly believes that, regardless of what naysayers may claim, nuclear power can be generated and distributed safely and it is a much cleaner way of generating power than most processes in use today.
What the US Government is Doing
In April of this year, the Biden Administration launched a $6 billion initiative to rehabilitate failing nuclear power plants in a bid to present nuclear energy as a safe and reliable alternative to fossil fuel-powered methods.
Likewise, the Department of Energy also requested an additional $1.7 billion for its 2023 budget to be specifically allocated to the Office of Nuclear Energy. According to the request, the bulk of the amount will be invested in new-generation reactor technology.