Looking for Carbon-Free Energy Resources? Don’t Forget Nuclear Power

As leaders around the world take steps to decarbonize energy supplies, many people have focused their attention specifically on wind and solar power. What they may fail to recognize is that nuclear power provides more electricity in the U.S. than all other carbon-free sources combined. This is true in some other countries, such as France, Sweden, and Ukraine, as well.

“I think it’s a really exciting time to be in [the nuclear power] industry, not only because of all the technology that is starting to really be leveraged and come all together into a system to deploy a new reactor concept, for example, but the fact that our product has always been a clean energy source,” Dr. Rita Baranwal, former head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear Energy, who now serves as vice president of Nuclear Energy and Chief Nuclear Officer with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), said as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

“It can be a solution to decarbonization, not only for states and countries, but the world as a whole. And so, to me, it’s a very exciting time and a great time to be in the business,” she said.

EPRI is an independent nonprofit organization that conducts research, development, and demonstration projects in collaboration with the electricity sector and its stakeholders. It focuses mainly on electricity generation, delivery, and use, with a goal of benefiting the public, and the organization’s U.S. and international members. EPRI has many programs designed to support the nuclear industry including in the areas of materials management, fuels and chemistry, plant performance, and strategic initiatives.

“Some of the things that we’re working on are deployment of small modular reactors—SMRs—and other advanced technology. We at EPRI have partnerships in this area with Kairos, NuScale, and LucidCatalyst. That’s one area. The other is around workforce opportunities and development. EPRI does a lot of work in developing training and delivering that kind of training,” Baranwal said.

While most of the world’s existing reactors are large units with capacities as high as 1,000 MW and greater, advanced designs, such as the SMRs Baranwal mentioned, may open up opportunities to use nuclear power in new applications. For example, microreactors with capacities under 10 MW may be suitable for use in very remote areas or on islands. They could also be important for Department of Defense installations.

“Let’s talk about Alaska,” said Baranwal. “Right now, they rely on extensive diesel to be driven in to help generate electricity for them. If you can envision a microreactor instead, you are reducing the reliance on that fossil fuel and also creating small communities that can have a microgrid and a microreactor, and be very self-sustained.” She suggested a similar arrangement could be used in places like Puerto Rico.

Baranwal said what keeps her enamored with the nuclear industry is its clean-energy attributes. “I want to leave our environment as good or better than what we are experiencing today, and I know that nuclear—it being a clean energy source—will absolutely have a vital role to play in the decarbonization efforts that we’re all experiencing and trying to accomplish,” she said.

To hear the full interview, which includes more about Baranwal’s inspiration for getting into the nuclear industry, her time with the DOE, and how she envisions EPRI helping to advance nuclear power, listen to The POWER Podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to reach the show page of your favorite podcast platform:

For more power podcasts, visit The POWER Podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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