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Can we rely on nuclear as a source of clean, reliable power?

SMRs: a new horizon in nuclear power

This week on The Interchange: Recharged, David is joined by Ted Nordhaus, Executive Director at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research centre in Berkley, California. They focus on finding technological solutions to environmental problems. 

Achieving a net-zero emission grid by 2050, they claim, with a significant nuclear component would not only be feasible but also cost-effective compared to over-reliance on variable renewable energy sources. This approach requires substantial investment, estimated between US$150 to US$220 billion by 2035, escalating to over a trillion dollars by 2050. Together Ted and David discuss the likelihood that the private sector will drive this investment, provided that nuclear technologies are economically viable and regulatory uncertainties are addressed. They look at the Build Nuclear Now campaign, which aims to rally public support for nuclear energy and drive towards grassroots pro-nuclear advocacy. Is this a sign that public sentiment is changing?

The main challenges hindering the adoption of nuclear energy include regulatory hurdles, financial barriers and ongoing concerns surrounding nuclear safety. Ted explains that regulatory reform and public sector commitment could overcome these obstacles. The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act are examples of a policy aimed at modernising the regulatory environment, to facilitate the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors.

So, are SMRs the solution to everything nuclear? They’re designed to produce between 50 to 300 MW of electricity per module, which is about one-third of the generation capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors. NuScale's design (listen back to our episode from April last year for more on this) for instance, is for a 77 MW module, with plans to deploy modules in groups that can generate up to 924 MW. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been actively supporting SMR development, investing over US$600 million in the past decade to assist in the design, licensing and siting of new SMR technologies in the U.S. The technology seems to be there, as does the baseline investment.

What’s next for the nuclear industry? Listen to find out.

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