What’s the Future of Nuclear Power in the United States?

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According to an EPRI modeling study, a combination of reduced capital costs, additional revenue streams, and stringent climate policies could enable significant deployment of advanced nuclear power technologiesadvanced nuclear power technologies.

Low natural gas prices have challenged the profitability of nuclear power in the United States, stalling new deployment. Yet many power industry stakeholders see an important future role for nuclear plants with zero-carbon emissions, given their long operating life and reliable production during weather extremes.

Using EPRI’s U.S. Regional Economy, Greenhouse Gas, and Energy (US-REGEN) model, researchers investigated how natural gas prices, various policies, technology innovation, and other variables could affect nuclear power’s competitiveness. Key insights:

  • Deploying new reactors in the United States likely would require lower cost technology options; carbon pricing or other climate policies that support zero-carbon generation; or supplemental revenue from sales of process heat, hydrogen production, or other services.
  • Given continuing low natural gas prices and no new climate policies, significant innovation would be needed in nuclear reactor technologies and business models for extensive deployment.
  • Nuclear generation could face additional competition as a result of innovation in other dispatchable low-carbon energy technologies, such as solar, wind, and fossil generation with carbon capture and storage.
  • Nuclear power’s competitiveness varies considerably with regional characteristics, such as natural gas pipelines, state policies, generation portfolios, and transmission.

The results are relevant to other advanced nuclear technologies (such as fusion) with similar anticipated benefits (low-carbon, dispatchable generation with high energy density) and challenges (high capital costs). EPRI is considering similar analyses for non-U.S. markets.

Key EPRI Technical Experts:

John Bistline, Andrew Sowder
For more information, contact techexpert@eprijournal.com.

Artwork by James Provost