Nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation—and 60 percent of all carbon-free power generated in America. It is also the only form of carbon-free baseload power available in the United States or globally at scale. Given these advantages, many look to nuclear as a key component of any strategy to tackle climate change. Yet, in spite of its promise, nuclear energy currently faces numerous headwinds. To discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for nuclear energy, on September 27th EPIC hosted esteemed energy expert John Deutch, a distinguished fellow at EPIC and former director of the CIA and undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Deutch led a recent U.S. Department of Energy Advisory Board report on the future of nuclear energy. He described the seven obstacles to having a comprehensive nuclear program in the United States: High capital cost; projected low natural gas costs; regulations that favor other technologies; program structure for government assistance and schedule for development, demonstration, deployment, financing, management; safety and licensing; fuel cycle and waste management, and international linkages such as proliferation.
“There is a lot of international security aspects here. When you think about the important contribution of the United States in slowing the move of commercial nuclear power to illicit means, we are losing and have lost a lot of our influence for doing that,” said Deutch.
Deutch said there wasn’t going to be any new nuclear reactors built in the United States for the next 10 years, and the same is true for Europe. Instead, reactors are being built in China, Russia, India and South Korea, with new entrants being the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Vietnam and Turkey.
“[The nuclear industry] is just in very bad shape,” Deutch concluded.
The talk was part of a series the University of Chicago is hosting to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The Nuclear Reactions—1942: A Historic Breakthrough, an Uncertain Future event series will use the 1942 experiment and its historical context as a basis for insights into the future of energy, national security, and efforts to bring about a more peaceful world. Learn more here.