“Everywhere we look, we’re seeing demand surging,” Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said. “When we talk about demand for nuclear, we’re talking about the future of our planet, the future that our children will inherit.”
Korsnick spoke those lines on May 15 as part of her “State of the Nuclear Industry Address” to open the Nuclear Energy Assembly, an event hosted by NEI in Washington, D.C. NEI is a policy organization of the nuclear technologies industry based in the nation’s capital.
“I think our biggest challenge is: can we build it fast enough for this thirst, if you will, that’s out there? And it’s, I guess, a good problem for us to have,” said Korsnick.
Korsnick suggested it’s not difficult to get people to back nuclear power. “Nuclear kind of sells itself as far as I’m concerned. I mean, if you look across the board, and you say, ‘Okay, are you interested in really good, well-paying jobs? Okay. Are you interested in high reliability? Are you interested in carbon-free generation? Are you interested in 7/24/365? Are you interested in an asset that’s going to be there during bad weather and severe storms, and really helps supply that grid resiliency that you need? Are you interested in energy security? Are you interested in national security?’ And if I haven’t mentioned something you’re interested in yet, I need to know what you’re interested in, because nuclear does all of that,” she said.
Korsnick noted that the U.S. government is one of nuclear power’s biggest backers. “The support that we’re seeing in Washington is unprecedented,” she said. “Over the last year, the United States has enacted historic climate and energy legislation. These laws will preserve our existing generation, which is nearly half of our carbon-free generation and accelerate future deployment.”
States are also getting behind nuclear. Korsnick said NEI is following more than 200 nuclear-related bills under consideration this year. “In years past, we would have been lucky if we would have even seen a dozen,” she said.
There are many other reasons for nuclear proponents to feel optimistic. Among items Korsnick cited in her speech were:
- A new energy funding plan in Virginia that is expected to bolster the nuclear workforce and encourage competitive site selection for future projects.
- Bills to study advanced nuclear in non-nuclear states such as North and South Dakota.
- A Department of Defense plan to deploy microreactors in Alaska to help meet its resilience and reliability needs for national security missions.
- A $200 million program announced by the Tennessee Valley Authority in pursuit of GE Hitachi’s small modular reactor (SMR) design.
- Universities in both Pennsylvania and Illinois that are exploring microreactor technology to help decarbonize their electric usage.
- Vogtle Unit 3 producing electricity for the first time and synchronizing to the power grid in Georgia.
“With all of the policy signals, demands, and milestones, it’s really no surprise that capital is flocking to nuclear power,” said Korsnick. “All together, we estimate that private investors have poured more than $5 billion into advanced nuclear companies last year,” she said.
“When you look at the long term, nuclear is one of the best bets that there is, because we’re not just talking about one or two projects, we’re talking about demand for hundreds of reactors,” said Korsnick. “NEI recently polled our chief nuclear officers and our member utilities, and together they are expecting to add more than 100 gigawatts of nuclear power to the grid—the bulk of that coming online by 2050. That demand adds up to hundreds of new reactors over the coming years, which would double U.S. nuclear output.”
Korsnick noted that the Department of Energy predicts even greater demand for new nuclear units. “According to their recent Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report, U.S. nuclear capacity has the potential to triple to around 300 gigawatts by 2050,” she said.
The prospects for nuclear deployment may be even greater outside of the U.S. Korsnick said Canada has implemented pro-nuclear incentives, leading to demand for both large and small nuclear units. Poland, and some African countries including Ghana and Kenya, are considering new nuclear plants, while public opinion around nuclear has seen big upticks in other countries including Sweden, Finland, Japan, and the UK.
“The world is really talking about nuclear, because energy security is national security, and countries cannot have one without the other. Our global allies know that by making nuclear the centerpiece of their energy systems, they can decarbonize their electric grid and strengthen their energy independence,” said Korsnick.
Yet, the nuclear industry must act if it intends to capitalize on the opportunities. “We need a strengthened supply chain. We need a modern, streamlined regulatory process that maintains that gold standard of safety while paving the way for new builds at scale. We need to develop a workforce that can build, operate, and maintain the emerging fleet of advanced nuclear reactors,” said Korsnick.
“The challenges to large-scale deployment can be overcome, but it will take ingenuity, it will take action,” said Korsnick. “Together, we can optimize the solutions. This is the biggest moment for nuclear energy since the dawn of the Atomic Age,” she said.
—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).