Nuclear energy is making a comeback—at home in America and worldwide. The 118th Congress presents new opportunities to make sure America leads the world on this crucial clean energy technology. The drumbeat for urgent climate action on the global stage is as loud as ever, but we’re also in the midst of a global energy crisis. Both themes exemplify the importance and necessity of new nuclear power on the grid.
Adding Advanced Nuclear Technology to the U.S. Power System
In the U.S., nuclear utilities are calling for 90 GW of new nuclear power by 2050, nearly doubling our nuclear energy capacity in the next 30 years—and American entrepreneurs are up to the challenge. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) anticipates at least 13 applications for advanced reactors by 2027, which puts a dent in the big goal.
The projects in the pipeline today employ thousands of Americans, and they are just the tip of the spear. If Republicans and Democrats in the new Congress are ready to double down on the immense nuclear support in the big energy bills enacted in the past four years—the Energy Act of 2020, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, and the recent tax package—a new generation of American advanced reactors will make immense contributions to global security, U.S. economic growth, and climate action.
The momentum so far has been awe-inspiring. Last year, Southern Nuclear loaded fuel in the first Westinghouse AP1000 reactor at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Georgia. When all units are operational, the entire Vogtle Plant will be the largest producer of clean energy in the U.S., powering more than one million homes and businesses, and employing more than 800 highly paid professionals.
GE Hitachi (GEH), meanwhile, is preparing to build its BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) in Clinch River, Tennessee, with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). GEH is hiring 400 employees in Wilmington, North Carolina, to support that project, a fuel facility in partnership with TerraPower, and the construction of its SMR at the Darlington site in Canada, which is on track to operate by 2028.
TerraPower, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s flagship Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), is evaluating up to five additional TerraPower reactors by 2035 with its utility partner PacifiCorp. These projects would build off TerraPower’s project in Kemmerer, Wyoming, which is progressing toward late 2020s operation. TerraPower also closed an $830 million equity raise, one of the largest advanced fission fundraisers to date.
X-energy broke ground on its advanced reactor fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this past October. X-energy’s reactor demonstration, also supported by the ARDP, is slated for the late 2020s. The company recently inked a deal with U.S. industrial giant Dow Chemical to decarbonize a facility in Louisiana using its high-temperature gas reactor.
Real Progress Being Made
The global marketplace is noticing, and demand has never been higher. Increased market opportunities will bring down costs and drive commercial viability for more American companies.
For example, not more than two weeks after the fuel load milestone for Southern Nuclear, Poland’s Prime Minister selected Westinghouse as the country’s prime partner for nuclear development. The same design being built in Georgia is expected to provide from 6 GW to 9 GW of nuclear capacity to Eastern Europe. Several other U.S. designs are nearing deployment domestically and internally.
NuScale Power, a major American SMR developer, announced a deal with Romania’s RoPower Nuclear S.A. to build a six-module, 462-MW facility, as well as partnerships with Poland and Estonia. At the beginning of January, NuScale submitted a standard design application (SDA) for its newest SMR design.
Policymakers must stay on offense in the 118th Congress. Rounding the edges on these policies will enable Team USA to out-compete Chinese and Russian enterprises with American innovation. The World Nuclear Association states that, at the end of October, China was operating 53 commercial power reactors, making it third in the world after France, which has 56 reactors. The U.S., leading with 92 operating reactors, but only has two units under construction, while China has 23 reactors under construction. The U.S. must deploy and export innovative American nuclear technologies to retain its global nuclear influence.
With geopolitical threats and the climate challenge both looming, we cannot cede ground to Russia and China. That’s why the new Congress must urgently continue moving public policy that accelerates our domestic nuclear energy industry to build gigawatts of projects both here and abroad.
—Jeremy Harrell is the Chief Strategy Officer at ClearPath and serves as the chair of the board for the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council.