Doubts Surface On Nuclear Energy’s Role In Combating Climate Change


The Stagnation of Nuclear Energy

While solar and wind energy take the spotlight in discussions about clean energy, nuclear power often finds itself in the mix. As a carbon-free energy source, it has contributed to a third of U.S. electricity generation, with nuclear power accounting for 19% of that. However, the growth of nuclear power has stagnated over the past two decades, prompting the industry to seek solutions to its challenges.

Key Takeaway

Nuclear power’s continued significance in the energy mix is hindered by its high costs and construction delays. While investments in new fission power startups offer potential solutions to longstanding issues, the fundamental challenge lies in nuclear power’s economic feasibility in comparison to other clean energy sources.

Investing in Nuclear Innovation

In an effort to overcome issues such as cost overruns, waste, and safety concerns, investors have shown interest in funding a new generation of fission power startups. Last year alone, these startups received a staggering $5 billion in investments. The aim is to address the flaws that plagued previous reactor designs, reinvigorating and transforming the nuclear industry.

The Steep Cost of Nuclear Power

One significant challenge facing nuclear power is its high cost. The Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors in Georgia, which are currently under construction, are projected to have a total cost of $30 billion. Unfortunately, the project faces significant delays, with Vogtle 3 already connected to the grid seven years behind schedule. Furthermore, it has exceeded the budget by over $16 billion.

According to the leveled cost of energy (LCOE), a standard method for comparing different energy generation technologies, the estimated cost of power produced by the Vogtle reactors is between $141 to $221 per megawatt-hour. These figures are comparable to the operational costs of natural gas-fueled peaker plants, which are only activated during periods of high demand.

Nuclear Energy’s Climatic Impact

However, despite the efforts to innovate, nuclear energy faces significant hurdles that extend beyond technical challenges. Even with advanced reactor designs, it is unlikely to have a substantial impact on addressing climate change. The high costs associated with nuclear power production make it an unattractive option when considering the urgency of climate action.

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