The need for deep decarbonization has never been more urgent, as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise and reach a new high.
Governments across the world have committed to decarbonization goals—from India to China to Germany. In April, President Joe Biden announced ambitious new targets for the United States to achieve a 50-52 percent reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas levels by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
Reaching our climate goals will require utilizing all of the carbon-free energy tools we have.
“Nuclear power is the only carbon-free energy source we have that can deliver power day and night throughout any season, almost anywhere on earth. And it’s been proven to work at a large scale,” said Bill Gates, founder and chairman of TerraPower and noted philanthropist, during his remarks at this year’s Nuclear Energy Assembly (NEA).
In a clean energy system, wind and solar will play important roles as renewable resources, but they will need support from reliable, carbon-free electricity. Nuclear energy, which accounts for over half of our carbon-free energy, is poised to be a critical part of decarbonization efforts.
“It’s hard to imagine a future where we can decarbonize our power grid affordably without using more nuclear power,” Gates said.
Solving these challenges requires innovation. Public-private partnerships and research efforts, such as the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, are essential to expanding the potential for advanced nuclear in our energy transition.
Recently TerraPower, in partnership with PacifiCorp and the Department of Energy, announced it will be advancing its Natrium nuclear demonstration project at the site of a coal plant scheduled for retirement in Wyoming.
These partnerships go hand in hand with policy signals from the administration. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm emphasized the Biden administration’s commitment to investing in nuclear energy when she spoke at NEA.
President Biden’s 2022 budget request for the DOE is the largest proposed investment ever, asking for 1.8 billion dollars in funding for America’s nuclear energy program–more than a 20 percent increase from last year’s enacted appropriations. This investment demonstrates the DOE’s commitment to working with the industry to modernize assets, reduce operating costs, improve performance and increase revenue opportunities.
“Between DOE’s historic budget request and the massive investments in the American Jobs Plan, this administration is going to be able to launch more nuclear energy projects across the country,” said Granholm.
“It’s going to be able to bring the benefits of clean sources of electricity and the high-quality jobs they’ll create to more communities. It will move mountains in our pursuit of President Biden’s bold climate and clean energy jobs agenda.”
Gates and Granholm’s remarks make it clear that we, as an industry and as a country, are at a moment of opportunity that requires twofold action.
Preserving the existing fleet of nuclear reactors is essential to supporting America’s carbon-free energy infrastructure, as these reactors currently generate over 20 percent of our overall electricity and over half of our carbon-free electricity.
Nuclear reactors across the country are slated to be prematurely shut down this year, which would increase our reliance on fossil fuels.
“If we’re serious about solving climate change, and quite frankly, we have to be, the first thing we should do is keep safe reactors operating,” said Gates.
Simultaneously, we need to invest in technologies that support the next generation of reactors. Many innovative companies are bringing new nuclear technologies to the market, and it is essential to the industry’s growth to recognize the need for these new technologies to solve climate change.
“These next few years offer a can’t-miss opportunity to harness nuclear’s full potential,” said Granholm.
Policymakers recognize the need to expand and innovate, as it becomes clear that we need more nuclear power to fight climate change. And in turn, new nuclear sites and projects expand opportunities for steady, high-paying jobs for skilled workers.
With over 20 companies developing advanced reactors and President Biden’s historic budget request, the industry is poised to accelerate nuclear energy efforts to champion our carbon-free climate goals.