NU-CLEAR VISION: Future Favors Nuclear Technology

In a recent report, the US House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis made clear its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the USA by the year 2050. A key part of their plan involves the continued operation of existing nuclear plants and calls for congressional support to advance nuclear technology innovation. An additional resolution directed a bipartisan select committee to develop recommendations on science-based policies and strategies. Ultimately, the movement seeks to create a congressional framework to manifest an aggressive reduction in carbon pollution by both making communities resilient to climate change and building a durable clean energy economy.

The report goes on to say that nuclear power makes up more than 50% of the U.S.’ clean sources of electricity, and puts forth detailed recommendations to ensure existing nuclear resources are maintained safely and that significant and worthwhile investment is in place for future nuclear energy technologies. Also recommended is that a federal clean energy standard be established that allows nuclear generated electricity to qualify for credits. This means an increase in inspections at older plants and maintaining a tough oversight process as well as conducting a rigorous assessment of license renewals and vulnerabilities to potential climate impacts. 

Advanced nuclear technologies hold much promise as a source of zero-carbon energy, but there are still safety risks and costs. Support for early next-generation technologies like small modular reactors (SMRs) could help toward alleviating those risks as would directing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to maintain stringent safety and emergency requirements for all new nuclear technologies. Cited was the ongoing issue of safe, long-term disposal of spent nuclear fuel and accumulating waste stored all across the country. If solutions could be found, the resulting reduction in air pollution could save over 60,000 lives in the U.S. every year until 2050, and up to 8 trillion dollars in terms of associated health and climate costs.

Nuclear energy could also play an important role in other recoveries such as providing a large number of jobs that have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an economic recovery plan could provide ideal circumstances for creating great jobs while catalyzing the transition to net-zero carbon emission goals. Beyond the primary jobs created, there are also the auxiliary employment opportunities to be created in local and regional economies. Many believe planning for post-pandemic realities must begin immediately, and with rising unemployment numbers caused by the coronavirus, plans to address them while promoting decarbonization should be paramount in every explored solution.

What we know is that the development of an adequate zero-carbon infrastructure takes time, which is why investing in nuclear energy is vitally important. While it isn’t going to produce a long-term solution in a short-term time frame, its efficacy toward a zero-carbon economy over a number of years makes it a very realistic proposition. Additionally, the jobs created over the course of the construction of a nuclear power plant can last up to 6 years, with higher-skilled employment enjoying a nearly 80-year life span. 

For a real-world example, at such a site in Finland there are employed approximately 20,000 workers and specialists during the construction of the plant. At peak construction it is expected that 4000 workers will be on site and that over the next 60 years the plant will boost the Finnish national economy by the equivalent of 60 billion dollars. And while that new-construction case study is hugely promising, there are also other projects in place to extend the operation of existing reactors. An Ontario nuclear power generation company is planning to to refurbish one of its plants which is expected to create 14,000 jobs and boost the regional economy by 90 billion.

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