Amidst Retirements, DOE Strategizes Future of Nuclear Reactors in the U.S.

While some nuclear plant operators are making plans to shutter their plants, the Department of Energy (DOE) is strategizing ways that nuclear energy could be used to play a role in achieving clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals.  In its draft Vision and Strategy for the Development and Deployment of Advanced Reactors released at the end of May, DOE states that in the wake of expected nuclear plant retirements, the development and deployment of a new generation of advanced reactors will be necessary in order to ensure a substantial nuclear presence in the U.S. power mix beyond 2050.  To accomplish this, DOE’s vision is that by 2030, at least two non-light water advanced reactor concepts will reach technical maturity, demonstrate safety and economic benefits, complete licensing reviews by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and be ready to move into the construction phase. In order to attain this goal, DOE has identified six strategic objectives to speed development and deployment of advanced reactors:

  • Enhancing the “innovation infrastructure” – DOE intends to expand its advanced reactor testing capabilities and improve modeling and simulation tools for advanced reactors.  Additionally, DOE is working to improve private-sector access to DOE expertise and capabilities through its Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative.
  • Demonstrating performance of advanced reactors – DOE plans to reduce technical risk and improve the economics of advanced reactor technologies by engaging in targeted research and development at its labs and through partnerships with industry.
  • Developing fuel cycle pathways for advanced reactors – DOE proposes to engage in research and development to explore new nuclear fuel options, including the identification and evaluation of safe and secure means of storing, transporting, and permanently disposing of radioactive wastes.
  • Regulatory improvements – DOE and NRC are working in partnership to develop an appropriate and efficient regulatory framework for advanced reactors.
  • Maximizing investments and exploring incentivesDOE intends to engage public-private partnerships, technology-specific working groups, and policy and financial incentives to accelerate advanced reactor deployment.
  • Human capital and workforce development – DOE indicates that it intends to continue investing in human capital and skill development in the nuclear field by continuing to fund nuclear-related research projects, scholarships, and fellowships.  DOE aims to contribute to and promote advanced reactor technology training opportunities through workshops, curriculum development, and joint laboratory, university, and industry projects.

While DOE’s strategy addresses how to speed deployment of these new nuclear technologies, it leaves open how to address issues faced by nuclear resources participating in the wholesale electric markets.

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