Nuclear Energy Seeing a Resurgence Unlike Any Other

Nuclear energy is surging back in a big way. Case in point: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s comments last week on plans to restart the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan. To bolster the effort, she announced a $1.5 billion conditional loan guarantee to cover work required to restart the plant after a two-year shutdown. And this is just the latest example of the nuclear energy industry’s re-emergence as policymakers and energy industry leaders again recognize its value in supplying reliable, scalable carbon-free energy.


Only a few years ago, well-run nuclear plants were shutting down across the U.S. Now, plants like Diablo Canyon in California that were headed toward shutdown have gotten a reprieve, and Palisades has been granted a chance for new life.

Meanwhile, the first new American nuclear plant in decades, Vogtle 3, came online last year, and Vogtle 4 is being finalized to come online this year. Apart from that, a plethora of advanced small reactor designs are in the offing, promising new ways to site plants and provide clean energy to power everything from server farms to steel plants.

Nuclear energy’s comeback is the result of several factors. There is rising demand for reliable clean energy and a desire to move away from fossil fuels. Nuclear energy checks all the boxes—nuclear power plants are carbon-free, they operate 24/7, and they form the backbone of a reliable electricity grid.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused spikes in natural gas prices and prompted countries, especially in Europe, to stop relying on imported fossil fuels, especially Russian gas. Countries looked again at their energy policies, recognizing nuclear power’s value to overall energy security. Suddenly, France’s reliance on nuclear looked prescient, compared to Germany’s shunning nuclear in favor of coal and gas.

All of this has led to greater support for nuclear energy worldwide. The most recent UN climate conference, COP28, held in December in Dubai, has become known as the “Nuclear COP.” While nuclear has traditionally gotten the cold shoulder at international events such as COP, today, nuclear has gone mainstream as a generally accepted way to address climate change.

The U.S. government has been more supportive offering incentives to nuclear energy in the Inflation Reduction Act, Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, and other recent legislation. Amid political polarization, there is bipartisan support in the U.S., perhaps the only topic gaining strong support among both Democrats and Republicans.

Over its more than 60-year commercial history, nuclear energy has seen its fortunes rise and fall, but what is different this time is the wave of innovative ideas aimed at overcoming some of nuclear energy’s most vexing challenges. Small modular reactors are designed to be built faster and easier to finance. New nuclear plant designs may be used to meet applications beyond power generation, such as industrial heat for producing chemicals, hydrogen, and steel, helping to decarbonize new sectors.

New advanced fuels are being developed to improve the economics of existing as well as new reactors, introducing major innovation to gain greater efficiencies. Companies are also developing new approaches for effectively managing waste.

The nuclear energy sector has always focused on constant improvement. This focus led the U.S. fleet from capacity factors in the 50% to 60% range in the 1970s and early 1980s to above 90% today. Improved operations have made existing reactors more economical with vast efficiency improvements, with plants routinely safely exceeding their original design capacity.

There are examples of improving costs and timelines for building new plants when multiple units are built in a series. Now, with innovative new designs, approaches, and technologies, together with government support, we will begin to see improvements in the U.S.

The U.S. has long provided world leadership in nuclear energy technology, and now it is positioning itself to reassert that legacy. And next-generation nuclear technologies are in a good position to capitalize on the growth in demand we are seeing worldwide. Nuclear energy’s proven track record together with fresh thinking and rapidly growing demand has cleared the way for an era of unprecedented growth.

Seth Grae chairs the International Council of the American Nuclear Society, serves on the board of directors of the Nuclear Energy Institute, and is CEO of Lightbridge Corp., a company focused on developing advanced nuclear fuel technology.

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