January 7, 2019
Nuclear Energy Could Be Competitive, But It Requires Pricing Carbon
Though several nascent nuclear technologies promise to reduce costs, nuclear power is struggling to compete. Carbon pricing is needed for nuclear to survive long-term, writes EPIC Director Michael Greenstone for Axios' Expert Voices series.
By Michael Greenstonevia Axios
Six U.S. nuclear plants have closed in the past five years and nearly 35% of the remaining fleet are now at risk of early closure or slated to retire.
The big picture: Many tout carbon-free nuclear energy as a climate solution, but today’s nuclear plants are having a difficult time competing with cheap natural gas and renewables in today’s wholesale electricity markets. New advanced nuclear technologies may reduce costs, but even in the most optimistic scenarios they will not be competitive without a price on carbon.
Though they remain largely untested, advanced technologies could prove cheaper and safer than current reactors:
- Small modular reactors (SMRs) are compact and require less on-site construction.
- Generation IV reactors don’t require elaborate external cooling systems like the ones that failed at Fukushima.
- Liquid-sodium cooled reactors can use spent uranium and plutonium, allowing them to produce power for extended periods without costly refueling.