The Future of Nuclear Power: 3 Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

As America continues to seek sustainable energy solutions, here are three challenges and opportunities facing the future of nuclear power.

Air Date: July 15, 2021

Moderator: Martin Durbin, Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Christopher Guith, Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dan Byers, Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber Global Energy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Yaron Schwartz, Senior Manager, Private Sector Partnerships, The Tent Partnership for Refugees

In today’s world, nuclear power has an opportunity to be the cornerstone of a cleaner energy future. Our existing nuclear energy fleet is more important than ever, and the United States is developing cutting-edge reactors and nuclear policies to facilitate greater investment in the deployment of emissions-free nuclear energy.

In an EnergyInnovates panel discussion hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, energy experts shared three insights about the challenges and opportunities facing the future of nuclear power.

Nuclear Energy Will Be an Essential Solution to Climate Change

Last year, the Energy Act of 2020 was signed into law, modernizing the United States’ energy policies and prioritizing clean energy. President Biden has said he is committed to getting the country powered by clean energy with goals of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by the end of the decade, 100% clean energy by 2035, and a net-zero economy by 2050.

Part of the Energy Act was the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA). The goal of NELA is to reestablish the United States as a nuclear energy leader, as well as use nuclear power to provide clean and affordable energy.

Dr. Kathryn Huff, acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy for the Department of Energy, believes the two goals can be achieved together.

“The preservation of the existing fleet in the United States is essential to our current climate goals,” said Dr. Huff. “The deployment of new advanced-reactor types will underpin our continued leadership in nuclear technology and our needed direction in the context of climate action.”

“It's only possible if [the Department of Energy] makes progress in the context of an environmentally and energy, just consent-based siting process for interim, and eventually permanent, spent nuclear fuel storage,” Dr. Huff added. “Our innovative technologies are not only needed in the U.S. but also globally.”

Shutting Down Nuclear Power Plants Has Energy Implications

In recent years, the United States has fallen behind in its nuclear energy output. Nuclear reactors are under threat across the country to be closed. These shutdowns not only impact our energy grid reliability but also our emissions reduction goals for clean energy.

“If you think about one nuclear plant shut down [and] how that sets the state backward on their carbon aspirations, that will take decades and billions of dollars to make up, just to get them back to where they are today,” said Bryan Hanson, EVP and chief generation officer of Exelon Generation.

“It's recognized both by environmentalists and scientists and industry analysts,” Hanson continued. “All agree that preservation is mandatory … we can't meet both our state aspirations, nor can we meet our administration's aspirations around decarbonizing the electric sector if we can’t preserve these nuclear plants.”

Nuclear Energy Is Also a National Security Issue

The United States has been surpassed by its competitors, China and Russia, which export nuclear technologies around the world. For America, it's not only important to leverage nuclear power to meet our clean energy goals, but it’s a necessity to retain the status of being a world power.

“China is using [nuclear outputs] as a tool in advancing these energy projects [and] tools in other countries,” said Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia. “They’re creating huge amounts of debt that these other countries would not be able to essentially ever fulfill, creating political and economic influence in those areas.”

In short, the United States must keep up with China and Russia in terms of providing nuclear technology to other countries. If we don’t, our nation could fall behind in both energy development and global leadership.