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« Westinghouse Files for Bankruptcy, in Blow to Nuclear Power | Main | In defense of nuclear power and Diablo Canyon »
Tuesday
Mar282017

Nuclear power is dying. Can radical innovation save it?

 

Among experts who study energy policy, there’s remarkably widespread agreement that tackling climate change would be much, much easier if we could quickly and cheaply build lots of new nuclear power plants. It’s not always a popular argument, but it’s a compelling one on its face.

This paper from Jesse Jenkins and Samuel Thernstrom offers a great overview of the relevant research. Yes, it's absolutely possible to imagine a carbon-free grid powered 100 percent by renewables like wind, solar, and hydropower. But it's also undeniably hard to juggle intermittent sources of electricity. Mixing in nuclear plants (or fossil plants that bury their CO2) that can run at all hours alongside renewables could greatly lower the cost of deep decarbonization — at least in theory.

The practical flaw in any pro-nuclear argument, however, is that very few countries are actually building new reactors anymore — and many are downsizing their existing fleets. In Germany and Japan, public opinion has turned sharply against nuclear. In the US and Britain, nuclear programs have been plagued by construction overruns, high upfront costs, and regulatory roadblocks. While China and South Korea are still going strong, the world on net is no longer building enough new reactors to offset coming retirements:

read more....

 

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