Nuclear Industry Looking to New Reactors to Expand Output

Nuclear Industry Looking to New Reactors to Expand Output
FILE - Test engineer Jacob Wilcox pulls his arm out of a glove box used for processing sodium at TerraPower, a company developing and building small nuclear reactors on Jan. 13, 2022, in Everett, Wash. The U.S. nuclear industry has provided a steady 20% of the nation's power for years, but now plant operators are hoping to nearly double their output over the next three decades, according to the industry's trade association. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Naveen Athrappully

The U.S. nuclear industry is now looking to almost double its output over the next 30 years as older reactors retire, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry’s trade association.

Utility members of the institute estimate that they could add 90 gigawatts of nuclear power to the U.S. grid. The bulk of this power is set to come online by 2050. Such power capacity translates to around 300 new small modular reactors, Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive officer of the institute, told The Associated Press.

“We have the innovation, we have the capability, we have the American ingenuity,” she said. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to bring these products to market.”

Korsnick is expected to address NEI’s Nuclear Energy Assembly conference on Tuesday in Washington, highlighting the potential for doubling American nuclear output to policymakers and industry leaders. This is not wishful thinking, Korsnick said.

First, there is a massive demand for nuclear power as energy companies strive to meet carbon reduction goals and customer expectations. Secondly, there is a significant interest at the state and federal levels. Thirdly, unlike traditional reactors, smaller reactors can mostly be manufactured in a factory setting, she said.

However, there are challenges to the plan. This includes the development of supply chains, more financial incentives from the government like what Washington has provided to renewable projects in the past decade, and the speedy issue of licenses to reactors, Korsnick stated. Despite these challenges, the NEI chief said that she remains bullish about nuclear power’s future opportunities.

U.S. nuclear electricity generation capacity peaked in 2012 when there were 104 nuclear reactors with a capacity to output 102 gigawatts, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

By the end of 2021, the nation had 93 operating nuclear reactors with an output capacity of around 95 gigawatts. Their total output came in at 778 million megawatt-hours last year, which accounted for 19 percent of America’s electricity, enough to power around 70 million homes.

Meanwhile, America’s thorium reserves are also under the crosshairs of the U.S. government, with the Department of Energy committing almost $1 billion to its “Defense Environmental Cleanup” program that aims to destroy the supply of thorium it has on hand. Thorium can break down nuclear waste and provide clean energy.

In an interview with Newsweek, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) called on the American government to stop the destruction of its thorium (U-233) reserves. Tuberville’s new bill, the “Thorium Energy Security Act,” seeks to save America’s thorium reserves and use them to develop new nuclear reactors.

“We want to be greener, but we want to be efficient,” Tuberville said. “We want to keep energy costs down, and this could be a huge advantage for everybody across the globe to be able to do this now.”