Time To Think About Nukes Again?

Even if you are a sensible person and think climate change is a lot of trumped-up Gore (heh—chew on that mixed metaphor for a while; green heads might explode), the idea of a revival of nuclear power still seems like a good idea in the abstract. But the nuclear revival hasn’t been going well. Toshiba is in bankruptcy from the cost overruns of the one big new nuclear plant we’re building in Georgia, and a big new nuke in Finland in running behind schedule and way over cost projections (though it will still produce more power for less cost than Germany’s panzer-windmills when it is finally up and running). Is there hope for the next generation of nuclear?

Now, my cliche of the day is that I’m old enough to remember when I was young enough to remember. I never thought I’d live long enough to see lefty environmentalists embrace nuclear power, but that’s what many of them have done. Like my pals at the Breakthrough Institute, who have been looking hard at how to make nuclear great again for several years now. See, for example, How To Make Nuclear Cheap. Or see Samuel Brinton’s report for Third Way (a “centrist” group), The Advanced Nuclear Industry. (But no recent review of thoughtful looks at nuclear would be complete without noting Jeremy Carl’s Keeping the Lights on at America’s Nuclear Plants. More from Jeremy in due course, but only if he doesn’t kill me for listing him in the same paragraph with a bunch of lefties. Jeremy don’t like lefties.)

These are all excellent reports, but are a bit on the general side. One problem is that a lot of private investment into new nuclear technology these days, including some serious money from Bill Gates among others, is proprietary, so we don’t know very many hard details about what realistic tech might be coming along at what cost. Today my friends at the Energy Innovation Reform Project (I’m a board member) have released a report in which eight  nuclear development projects (mostly private, but one is GE) agreed to share their cost and tech specs in detail so that a serious cost evaluation can be done.

The report, What Will Advanced Nuclear Power Plants Cost?, is somewhat forbidding unless you are familiar with the tricky concept of “levelized cost of electricity,” but it is only a little more than 40 pages long and has the virtue of being written in plain English. Without getting into the weeds of competing nuclear ideas (thorium, etc), here’s a key takeaway:

In the United States, these technologies could be the definitive solution for the economic woes of nuclear energy in merchant markets. At these costs, nuclear would be effectively competitive with any other option for power generation. At the same time, this could enable a significant expansion of the nuclear footprint to the parts of the world that need clean energy the most—and can least afford to pay high price premiums for it.

Kudos to EIRP’s Sam Thernstrom for getting the cooperation of these efforts in the interest of transparency and progress.

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