As the United States transitions to renewable energy, experts say costs could increase exponentially.
It found that the effective cost of covering demand using only solar power would be between $216.4 per megawatt-hour (MWh) and $274 per MWh. Wind generation-only costs would range from $87.8 per MWh to $106.4 per MWh.
However, the report states that using small modular nuclear reactors decreased energy costs to between $71.57 per MWh and $79.73 per MWh.
The higher costs are to cover generating for the winter peak.
Nuclear BenefitsAccording to the NEI, there are 93 nuclear reactors around the United States, and almost 55 percent of the nation's total carbon-free electricity comes from these reactors.
That's despite nuclear power only generating 19 percent of the nation's total electricity.
Nuclear's ability to provide so much energy—despite not equaling a more significant percentage of the grid—is because of uranium's energy density.
One uranium fuel pellet provides as much energy as one ton of coal, 149 gallons of oil, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
In 2020, U.S. nuclear power plants had an average capacity factor of almost 93 percent. The capacity factor measures reliability and tells how often a plant can run at maximum power. If a plant is running at 100 percent capacity factor, it's producing power all the time.
Finally, concerning emissions, nuclear generation produces approximately 12 g CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) per kilowatt hour throughout its lifecycle.
Pointedly, once you add storing energy in utility-scale lithium-ion batteries—an essential component of transitioning to wind and solar—emissions increase between 70 g CO2-eq per kWh and 300 g CO2-eq per kWh greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
Simply put, nuclear energy is responsible for more than half of U.S. carbon-free electricity despite not being widely used, and it's energy dense. It's also the most reliable form of energy available and produces fewer emissions over its lifecycle than wind or solar.
But, despite these advantages, the United States hasn't funded advanced nuclear prototypes to the extent that it has wind and solar, according to MIT.
Public Support Influenced by FearAccording to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January, 69 percent of adults support the United States becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Americans don't agree on how to accomplish this, however.
About a third of U.S. adults think the federal government should encourage nuclear power.
Two-thirds believe the government should either discourage it or feel the government should remain neutral on nuclear power development and focus on supporting wind and solar.
Precisely 72 percent of people favor wind and solar, and Pew reports that the public is likely to report favoring oil and gas drilling over nuclear.
The survey found party affiliation impacts a person's likeliness to support nuclear power.
Specifically, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely to favor the federal government encouraging nuclear, while Democrats and those more likely to lean Democrat want the government to oppose it (42 percent to 32 percent).
Conservative Republicans are the most likely to favor encouraging nuclear (45 percent), and liberal Democrats are the most likely to favor discouraging nuclear (31 percent).
Misplaced Alarm?In March, the U.N. Scientific Committee found that, aside from 5,000 thyroid cancers (15 of which resulted in death), "there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the [Chernobyl] accident.”
"By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of unconstrained natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than expansion of nuclear power.”