Skip to main content

Updating the Licensing Pathway to Enable Nuclear Innovation

June 6, 2017

Recent headlines have brought the issue of global warming back into sharp focus. Scientists are predicting that melting ice sheets in Antarctica and elsewhere could raise sea levels by as much as six feet by the end of this century. That’s enough to threaten coastal cities around the world.

The one bright spot? Researchers say the process is not irreversible. There is still time to get emissions of greenhouse gases under control and prevent a catastrophe in our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes. Unfortunately, industrialized nations are having trouble agreeing on steps to substantially limit their own emissions. At the same time, demand for energy – especially electricity – in the developing world is skyrocketing. World energy demand could double or even triple in just the next three decades.

Solutions are available. Nuclear energy, in particular, could generate vastly more of the electricity the world needs without emitting greenhouse gases. The technology exists. And even better, inventors are developing new nuclear power technologies that will be cheaper to build and will make the nuclear industry more resilient. But they’re running into political roadblocks and regulation in urgent need of updating.

In the United States and around the world, dozens of innovative start-up companies are pioneering new, advanced nuclear power generation designs. But obstacles to their deployment range from inaction on nuclear waste management to restrictions on international cooperation to clean air policies that fail to recognize the benefits of nuclear power. A significant hurdle to applying American nuclear know-how to the problems of climate change and ballooning electricity demand, however, is the need to update the existing regulatory process.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission must certify and license new advanced reactor designs before they can be built, but there are doubts that an advanced nuclear plant can be licensed in a timely way – making it difficult for the private sector to make the large upfront investment necessary to get new technology off the ground. Furthermore, current regulation is built around traditional light water nuclear power technologies and does not address the unique features of advanced reactors that use different fuels, cooling systems, and safety and operating strategies.

Until these obstacles are addressed, the world will not be able to benefit from these advanced nuclear technologies. And it will be almost impossible to reconcile the dual challenges of climate change and the developing world’s need for more electricity without them.

The Obama administration has been vocal about the need to address climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will help cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels. However, making real long-term progress – both here at home and especially around the world – will require a new generation of lower-cost, more efficient and versatile, proliferation-resistant and safe nuclear power plants. The private sector is eager to develop and to build them. To rise to this challenge, we need a forward-looking regulatory mindset that is equally stringent and rigorous, but addresses the features of today’s and tomorrow’s innovative advanced reactor technology.

Originally posted by The Energy Collective,

Related Posts

Stay in the know

Sign up today to receive the latest content, news, and developments from CATF experts.

"*" indicates required fields