EPRI: Industry Has Marked Significant Progress on its Advanced Nuclear Reactor Roadmap 

A year after EPRI and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) unveiled the first phase of their Advanced Reactor Roadmap, the nuclear industry and its stakeholders have rallied to make significant strides in aligning around the roadmap’s strategic priorities.  

Over the past year, efforts have been particularly focused on increasing engagement, promoting regulatory efficiency, and ensuring that the roadmap becomes a guiding document across the industry to meet the ambitious decarbonization targets set for 2050, according to Craig Stover, EPRI senior program manager of Advanced Nuclear Technology.  

An Integral Living Document   

EPRI and NEI envision the roadmap as a dynamic “living document” that articulates essential strategies and supportive actions crucial for laying the foundation for the large-scale deployment of advanced reactors. The approach highlights seven “enabling” external conditions for success:  first-mover success, “fast followers,” regulatory efficiency, siting availability and permitting, indigenous and public engagement, a supply chain ramp-up, and workforce development. The roadmap also integrates 46 actions the industry plans to take to deliver value in the deployment of advanced reactors. These fall under three pillars: regulatory efficiency, technology readiness, and project execution.  

EPRI and NEI’s Advanced Reactor Roadmap lays out 46 actions to deliver value in the deployment of advanced reactors. Each is prioritized to identify actions that make the greatest contribution to delivering value to the market (shaded in orange) and other actions that could help further improve success (shaded in red). Courtesy: EPRI 

Stover told POWER in a recent interview the roadmap’s purpose has grown more critical, given the growing consensus, including from at least 22 countries, that deep decarbonization required to combat climate change will be much harder without an increased role for nuclear. However, he emphasized the task ahead appears daunting.  

A core challenge remains deploying new nuclear “at an unprecedented scale in an unprecedented timeline,” he explained. If the energy industry assumed a 300-MW plant, it would need “to build 1,800 plants around the world to meet [its] carbon goals in the next 20 years.” The “good news,” he noted, is “we have kind of done this before as an industry.”  

Stover noted that EPRI’s Advanced Nuclear Technology (ANT) program is already working to strategically mitigate uncertainties related to the deployment of new nuclear plants. The program hones in on every stage of the nuclear lifecycle, including siting, licensing, construction, startup, and initial operations.  “We’re trying to find ways to make it faster and cheaper building nuclear plants,” Stover said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”  

During a detailed presentation at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Conference Conference for Advanced Reactor Deployment (CARD) late in March, Stover announced EPRI has also developed five technology user groups focused on five major advanced reactor genres to allow potential users to have “focused conversations” about the technologies.  

A 2022 study by Vibrant Clean Energy shows the cumulative scale of potential advanced reactor electricity generation deployments—on the order of about 300 GWe by 2050. Source: EPRI Advanced Reactor Roadmap/“Role of Advanced Nuclear Technologies in Decarbonizing the U.S. Energy System.” NEI Board of Directors presentation, Washington, D.C., May 2022.

Effecting a Cultural Shift 

EPRI, meanwhile, in addition convened and leads the Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation (GFNI), an international effort to accelerate the deployment of nuclear energy innovation, alongside the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the National Nuclear Laboratory, the OECD-Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), and utility Florida Power & Light Company, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy. A notable key priority for GNFI in 2024 will be to “help provide the tools that bridge the gap between ambition and action.” In a recent report, notably, the group suggested that the biggest barrier to innovation—even more than technology or regulatory barriers—is human behavior.

A key finding it highlighted is that “An approach encompassing cultural shifts, adaptive mindsets, leadership alignment, and behavioral frameworks will help overcome challenges faced by the industry and cultivate an environment conducive to sustained innovation, giving the nuclear industry an established position in the ever-evolving energy landscape.” 

As Stover suggested, these and other efforts strive to effect a cultural shift within the industry, bolstering a mindset that provides continuous forward momentum. “I use this hashtag, #ReinventNuclear, because [the industry has] got to really think differently. It’s not going to build these plants the same, it’s not going to operate them the same—it’s going to be fundamentally different, and [it’s] got to be willing to challenge the norms in order to get there. And in [EPRI’s] role, what we’re trying to do is develop a technical basis that enables that future fleet,” he said.  

The 2023–issued Advanced Reactor Roadmap highlights key stakeholders in all parts of the value chain. These “enablers,” with associated key opportunities, “provide a valuable framework for focusing the solutions and actions that will enable large-scale deployment success,” the roadmap says. Source: Advanced Reactor Roadmap 2023

But the efforts also target a broader approach. “Fundamentally, this is about increasing stakeholder confidence.” The roadmap’s intended audience, for example, spans a vast array, including potential customers (owners and energy off-takers), policymakers, regulators, financial institutions, public stakeholders, and industry stakeholders, he noted.  

“I’ve talked to a lot of utility executives who say, ‘I’d like to build a new plant. But the historical precedent says you don’t usually build these plants on time and on budget. Why should I have confidence that you’re going to do something different this time?’ So the Advanced Reactor Roadmap is about saying, ‘Hey, we’ve come together as an industry, we know what our issues are—this is them, and this is our plan to overcome them,” he said.  

More progress is on the horizon. Over the next few months, EPRI and industry stakeholders intend to conduct steering committee meetings to go through its 46 actions. “We’ve got representatives from all over the industry—utilities, industrial customers, other industry stakeholders, developers,” Stover said. “We’re going to verify owners for these actions, and as an industry, we’re going to use this as a tool to hold each other accountable and make sure we’re actually getting to the finish line.”  

The POWER Interview: A Distinct Role for Advanced Nuclear 

In the following interview (which has been edited for clarity and brevity), Stover provides more insight into the past year’s progress in implementing the roadmap alongside EPRI’s initiatives. 

POWER: The Advanced Reactor Roadmap is a great example of industry collaboration that crafts an ambitious but achievable path to facilitate advanced reactor commercialization. What kind of progress would you highlight since its release a year ago?  

EPRI’s Craig Stover: So, one of the really big first parts of the effort was kind of getting everybody to support the effort. EPRI has spent a lot of time in the last year meeting with stakeholders and collaborators. If you look at the actions, one of the things we want to do is that we want all of the industry to be working on these things. So we’ve spent a lot of time, whether it be at conferences or in smaller meetings, just trying to get people aligned. They’re getting alignment and trying to make the roadmap a household name. You know, the roadmap only works if everybody supports it. 

POWER: There were many discussions at the ASME CARD conference about the challenges facing the industry in the near term. What are you watching intently as they relate to the priority actions highlighted in the roadmap?  

Stover: What we [heard] at the conference … aligns with what we hear at all conferences—fundamentally, the need for first movers.  [The industry needs] people to sign contracts and take the first step. Bigger than that, though, the ones that jumped out at me are things like workforce, which I talked about [at the conference]. The supply chain is another important piece, and that, you know, we all have to work together to put together.  

POWER: What would you say are the primary drivers for the adoption of advanced nuclear reactors in today’s energy landscape—especially considering their expanded potential applications beyond traditional electricity generation? 

Stover: I think what we see for sure is an unprecedented amount of demand for clean energy. Most users of energy have committed to clean energy and have committed to be carbon-free by some date—2050 being a popular choice, some earlier.  Now, that’s true in the electric industry, that’s true in manufacturing, and other industrial industries. So everybody’s on a quest to find clean energy in huge quantities of clean energy. And so the question is, how do you get there? How do you make sure it’s reliable, cost-effective, and all those kinds of things?  

While all generation technologies are very much on the table in order to meet that goal, nuclear emerges as one of the great options to help meet that goal. What we have now is this isn’t being driven by economics. It’s being driven by the need to have carbon-free energy. As [EPRI] meets with utilities, as we meet with data center companies and industrial manufacturers, they’re kind of asking the same question: ‘Hey, we’ve committed, you know, we need x GW of clean energy by 2050. How are we going to get there? And what role can nuclear play?’  

The important part here is there has to be a clear business case, depending on where you are, depending on what state you’re in, and what country you’re in. And so if you have to be clean, you’d have to pick from one of the options. So, I think that business case really is making itself pretty evident now. Whether that be large gigawatt-scale plants or even small microreactors, there’s a kind of reactor technology for everyone now. If you need baseload generation, you might go with a large plant, but at the same time, we look at these industrial applications. Maybe they need a really small reactor, but they’re all carbon-free. 

POWER: An interesting “disruptive innovation” outlined by the roadmap focuses on enabling “new-to-nuclear” owners. It also seeks to reduce hurdles to ownership of an advanced reactor facility, and it calls for creating opportunities for nuclear energy as a service. Why would you consider this a feasible transition?  

Stover: I think for traditional utilities, if they’re looking at building their own reactor, there’s a lot of financial risk associated with taking that project. But if you look at the opportunity that happens when you have, let’s just say, a data center company in your service territory, and you decided, ‘well, I want to build a nuclear plant behind the meter to power my data center,’ I think that presents opportunities. Instead of trying to build the cheapest generation asset, you may actually get paid for taking on that risk. And so, I think these models have been opportunities. Look at the industrial users—I think in a lot of cases, they’re willing to incentivize someone to come and take on the operation of their nuclear plants.  

In general, I see it as a good thing because I think you’re going to see a lot of traditional nuclear utilities being very willing to operate these plants for other folks. You still get that expertise. It also creates a business opportunity for them to do that. 

POWER: One of the priority actions outlined in the roadmap seeks to identify gaps in the timelines for advanced reactor codes and standards. Historically, nuclear plants were designed using deterministic methods focused on individual components. It seems there’s now a growing belief that a risk-informed, performance-based approach would lead to a more optimized plant design for construction and operation. But that presents some complexity. How can the industry effectively and urgently get these changes accomplished?  

Stover: So there’s a near-term and a long-term solution. In the near term, you’re not required to have codes and standards in order to get a plant licensed. It’s certainly preferred to have these codes and standards developed to get a plant license, but it’s not required. So for folks that are moving very, very quickly, maybe moving ahead of codes and standards, they can still provide the justification that what they’ve done is adequate and get a license and build a plant, and then follow up on the back end to get the codes and standards developed for the next one. So I don’t really see it slowing anything down.  

That being said, codes and standards are very important. And [the industry wants] them. Consensus on codes and standards provides a lot of certainty in the design and operation of your plant. The role EPRI plays in that, actually, is if you want to develop a new code, somebody has to develop the technical basis around why it says what it says.  

POWER: Another priority in the roadmap—and one that has gotten much attention given our rapidly changing power profile—relates to guidance for site selection and evaluation that might enable reactors to be sited on former coal-fired power plants. If we’re looking at a feasible coal-to-nuclear shift, when do you think that might be?  

Stover: I think it’s already starting to happen. It’s bubbling up now from the communities themselves. In so many of these communities, the lifeblood of the community is that coal station, and so if the coal station closes, they lose their community.  

The really interesting thing to see happening now is they’re actually saying, ‘well, we want you to build a nuclear plant here, which is a really different thing for us to see in our industry.’ You see them pushing their local governments and state governments to really try to get support around building a nuclear plant there. [The industry is] seeing that bubble up all over the country as we speak.  

[EPRI has] participated in several workshops on that topic, for example, when people are trying to figure out how we get this thing moving. So I actually think you’re really seeing that start to happen. EPRI recently published a practical guide for developing nuclear in coal communities. One of the things that it says is that you shouldn’t wait for your coal plant to close before you start building your nuclear plant. If your coal plant closes, then all those jobs are gone. You’ve got to have overlap.  

And so what you really are saying now is they are putting a plan in place, [seeking out how to go ahead and get a nuclear project started while taking advantage of the transmission and other infrastructure.] And I think that message has really gotten out there in the last six months or so. It’s really starting to resonate with people, kind of creating that urgency that stresses you don’t really have time to wait. 

POWER: Thank you for all your insight, Craig, and for making the time to carefully explain the issues. A final question: What is the ultimate message you’d want to ensure the Advanced Reactor Roadmap conveys?  

I think the one really key takeaway for us, the message, if anything, that EPRI is trying to get out there, is this roadmap effort. Because you can go to all these conferences, everybody talks about all this stuff. What we’re really trying to do is say this roadmap effort, it’s not about what it says in the roadmap—even though we are very proud of it. We’re working to make it the tool that brings us all together.  

We’ve created this tool, we’ve created this forum, we’ve created a roadmap implementation board with all these executives, with a way of saying we’re going to be the tool that is going to actually make sure all of this stuff happens. And so we’re really trying hard to get that message out there. We don’t want you to be distracted by the next strategy document that comes out. All of those are great documents, but the way [the industry is] going to be successful is by all rallying around the same thing. 

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine). 

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