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Advanced Nuclear Reactors

October 01, 2018
Modern economies, and their dependent societies, have become incredibly dependent on the production of large-scale and reliable power. Large-scale and reliable power sources contribute to a resilient grid, which is necessary to stave off both natural and human-caused incidents that could restrict availability of electricity to a nation and threaten national security.[1] Due to the demand placed on energy grids, power sources must be economically viable, safe, and approved by the public. Because of the threat posed by global warming, however, power sources must also be clean. To date, no power source meets all these criteria. Coal is economically viable and can produce large-scale, reliable power but is neither clean nor safe  and is not favored by the public.[2][3][4] Natural gas is economically viable and can produce large-scale power, but it is not reliable, favored by the public, nor clean, and is only safe relative to coal.[5][6][7][8]

Renewables are safe, clean, approved by the public, and becoming more economically viable by the day, however they are not able to produce the large-scale, reliable power needed to support the developed world.[9] Finally, we have nuclear power, which is able to produce clean, large-scale, reliable, and safe power but is economically troubled and lacks the trust of the public.

Image: Amount of Nuclear Power Needed to Meet Energy Targets, Source: http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdfImage: Amount of Nuclear Power Needed to Meet Energy Targets, Source: http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

Though many activists will tout the for-now heavily-subsidized expansion of renewable capabilities as the solution to climate change, much more is needed if we are to meet our climate goals.[10][11][12] Unlike renewables, which are inherently limited within the context of modern electricity grids, nuclear power can produce enough carbon-free electricity to realistically impede climate change.[13][14] Although the nuclear power industry has been crippled by the exorbitant overnight costs of building outdated reactors and has further been damaged by the absence of trust following the Chernobyl and Fukushima meltdowns, there is still some optimism.[15][16] The next generation of nuclear technology will bring reactors that are significantly less expensive and virtually impossible to meltdown.[17][18] These advanced reactors aren’t some far-fetched or distant technology, like fusion reactors that are “always thirty years away,” but are demonstrated technologies that have the potential to remedy the shortcomings of nuclear power.[19] It is expected that they will be deployed between 2020 and 2030.[20]

There are multiple types of advanced reactors, but six have been identified as more viable than others: Very-High Temperature Reactors, Molten-Salt Reactors, Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactors, Gas-Cooled Fast Reactors, Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactors, and Lead-Cooled Fast Reactors.[21] All six of these “Generation IV” designs will further improve safety and make nuclear power more sustainable, economically competitive, reliable, and resistant to proliferation.[22] The question of what is needed to ensure these technologies have a pathway to implementation, and what their effect on the energy industry will be, remains.

The United States has recently begun to focus on nuclear innovation once again. Within the past year, Congress has taken up two pieces of legislation focused on advanced nuclear technologies: the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which enables private sector companies to collaborate with federal laboratories to develop advanced reactors, and the Advanced Nuclear Energy Technologies Act, which sets the goal of developing four demonstration projects by 2028.[23] Additionally, the Department of Energy has recently been directed to take immediate action to prevent the regression of nuclear power in the United States.[24] Even further, there has been a push to end the subsidization of renewable energy and to replace it with a carbon tax that would benefit all forms of clean energy, including nuclear.[25] Despite all of the focus on advancing nuclear energy, however, these measures are still not enough, by themselves, for advanced reactors to have a fair shot.[26]

Currently-operating reactors are heavily regulated, and for good reason, but these specific regulations are wholly incompatible with advanced reactors.[27] Advanced reactors operate in entirely different ways from the reactors in operation today, rendering a significant portion of the regulatory framework obsolete. More targeted regulations for each advanced technology will be required for innovation to occur; to do anything else would be comparable to requiring solar panels to include carbon-mitigation technologies like those found in coal plants. Because of this, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the body that oversees all nuclear power regulations, has developed plans to better regulate advanced reactors by 2025. Industry groups, however, claim that more needs to be done and that nearly no progress has been made in improving the regulatory climate.[28]

Assuming these regulatory hurdles can be overcome, the future of nuclear power looks bright. Advanced reactors could represent anywhere from a 14% - 65% reductions in cost per megawatt-hour of electricity from nuclear power. On average, it is expected that the reduction in cost will be 43%.[29] To put this into context, a megawatt-hour of electricity from a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine, commonly referred to as natural gas, is 61% less expensive than current costs per megawatt-hour of electricity from nuclear power.[30] Making nuclear power economically competitive with natural gas would revolutionize the energy industry in the United States and allow us to feasibly meet climate goals, bolster national security, and reduce premature deaths.[31]

Image: Levelized cost of electricity in every U.S. county when nuclear power is at its current price (top) and when at average advanced estimate (bottom), Source: http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdfImage: Levelized cost of electricity in every U.S. county when nuclear power is at its current price (top) and when at average advanced estimate (bottom), Source: http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

Taking the average expected reduction in cost from advanced nuclear reactors, we could expect to see the levelized cost of electricity in the United States drop 10%, from $88.35 to $79.55 per megawatt-hour. The cost of carbon dioxide emission levels collapsing to the levels required to meet our climate goals would be negative. If we were to concurrently introduce a carbon tax comparable to what is being proposed a carbon tax comparable to what is being proposed and implement these advanced reactors, our emission levels would become even lower, and the levelized cost of electricity would still fall 6%.

There are readily apparent economic, environmental, and national security reasons to support a policy of nuclear innovation and regulatory reform. The injection of advanced nuclear reactors into the energy landscape will increase competition and technological diversity while lowering prices for the average consumer. The availability of large-scale, reliable, economically-viable, and safe clean-energy will allow the United States, and the rest of the world, to meet the emission targets required to impede climate change. Increasing fuel-source diversity will reduce dependence on specific fuels and expanding our base-load power capacity will increase national security. Supporting nuclear innovation is smart policy, but more importantly, it is good policy.

 

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

References

  [1]https://www.energy.gov/articles/secretary-perry-urges-ferc-take-swift-action-address-threats-grid-resiliency; http://scipol.duke.edu/content/first-look-white-house-statement-grid-resilience-and-national-security

  [2]https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/08/f36/Staff%20Report%20on%20Electricity%20Markets%20and%20Reliability_0.pdf

  [3]https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/#70a6504b709b; https://www.pennlive.com/life/2018/07/coal_mine_accidents_in_pa_have.html

  [4]https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-impacts#.W00-e9JKiUk; https://www.ft.com/content/5cd07544-7960-11e8-af48-190d103e32a4; https://www.economist.com/united-states/2017/12/14/subsidising-coal-production-is-a-really-bad-idea

  [5]https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/08/f36/Staff%20Report%20on%20Electricity%20Markets%20and%20Reliability_0.pdf

  [6]https://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2017/02/23/fracking-is-dangerous-to-your-health-heres-why/#6c8e65df5945; https://futurism.com/fracking-among-most-harmful-forms-energy-production-study-finds/; https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g161/top-10-myths-about-natural-gas-drilling-6386593/

  [7]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/climate/methane-leaks.html

  [8]https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/#70a6504b709b

  [9]https://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/what-it-would-really-take-to-reverse-climate-change

  [10]https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/making-renewable-energies-competitive/

  [11]https://www.iea.org/topics/renewables/; https://www.ft.com/content/44ed7e90-3960-11e7-ac89-b01cc67cfeec; https://www.nrdc.org/experts/noah-long/renewable-energy-key-fighting-climate-change; https://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-cohen/the-answer-to-climate-cha_b_4337435.html

  [12]https://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/what-it-would-really-take-to-reverse-climate-change

  [13]https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy15osti/62607.pdf

  [14]http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf; http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

  [15]http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

  [16]https://investorintel.com/sectors/uranium-energy/uranium-energy-intel/quiet-nuclear-renaissance-unfolding-usa/

  [17]http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

  [18]https://www.technologyreview.com/s/540991/meltdown-proof-nuclear-reactors-get-a-safety-check-in-europe/

  [19]https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-fusion-energy-in-our-future/

  [20]http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/generation-iv-nuclear-reactors.aspx

  [21]https://www.gen-4.org/gif/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-03/gif_overview_presentation_v9_final3_web.pdf

  [22]http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/generation-iv-nuclear-reactors.asp

  [23]https://www.technologyreview.com/the-download/610452/advanced-nuclear-technology-just-got-a-big-green-light-from-congress/

  [24]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-01/trump-orders-perry-to-stem-coal-nuclear-power-plant-closures-jhw8smiv

  [25]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/19/climate/carbon-tax-climate-change.html

  [26]https://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/us-urged-fast-track-step-step-reactor-licensing-control-costs

  [27]http://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/380532-updated-regulations-critical-to-making-the-nuclear-industry-safer; https://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/us-urged-fast-track-step-step-reactor-licensing-control-costs; https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060029189; https://www.thirdway.org/report/unleashing-innovation-a-comparison-of-regulatory-approval-processes

  [28]https://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/us-urged-fast-track-step-step-reactor-licensing-control-costs

  [29]http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

  [30]http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Advanced_Nuclear_Energy.pdf

  [31]https://www.nei.org/CorporateSite/media/filefolder/resources/letters-filings-comments/nei-comments-ferc-grid-reliability-resiliency-pricing-20180509.pdf

PENN WHARTON PPI
RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>