Nuclear rebounds | FT power source
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After decades of decline, nuclear power is back in the limelight in the United States and around the world as governments seek to boost emissions-free power generation. Over the years, accidents at various power plants have fueled fear and mistrust about the safety of nuclear energy. But even though it faces perception problems, another factor has proven to be a constant problem for the cost of nuclear. Recent construction projects in the US, UK and France have gone over time and over budget, scaring off investors.
The operation and maintenance of the reactors are also expensive. In the US, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, 13 reactors have been shut down since 2013. As it stands, analysts estimate that more than half of existing US reactors could be out of service by the end of the decade.
The reason for this is that plants whose operating costs were once considered revolutionary have struggled to compete on price with more efficient and modern gas and renewable energy generation. But the race to decarbonise and meet emissions targets has added new value to older reactors which, unlike wind and solar, can operate in all weathers. Indeed, despite the boom in renewables, nuclear power still provides around half of the country’s carbon-free electricity.
In a blow to President Biden’s fight against climate change, a landmark recent Supreme Court ruling limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants , but Biden has said he won’t give up using his powers to tackle the climate crisis. . To help achieve his vision of a carbon-free grid by 2035, Biden has injected $6 billion to extend the life of existing reactors, but maintaining the existing fleet will not be enough, advocates say.
The industry hopes that a new generation of cheaper, safer, mass-produced reactors will take off in the coming years. Microsoft’s Bill Gates has become a key industry cheerleader. He argues that nuclear is ideal for fighting climate change as the only carbon-free and scalable source of energy available around the clock. He has injected millions of dollars into a start-up that plans to build a new type reactor, in an abandoned coal plant in Wyoming, and to launch a nuclear renaissance.
But there is still a long way to go. As policymakers and investors scramble to find the best solution to create carbon-free energy, nuclear finds itself competing with promising technological solutions ranging from carbon capture to hydrogen. Competition will be fierce as nuclear seeks to cement its position as a reliable energy source for the future.