Nuclear Energy

Analysis of Strategic Issues

 

American Nuclear Energy at the Crossroads

 

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American nuclear energy stands at the crossroads between declining production and a robust future.

A dearth of new reactor construction and the pending retirement of aging reactors suggest that we will have little or no nuclear power before long. Is that a bad thing? Should we simply let prevailing economic forces determine our future energy technology mix?

Do national security concerns justify preferential consideration of nuclear energy? A declining nuclear power industry portends a loss of the nuclear expertise needed for U.S. leadership internationally of both nonproliferation efforts and safety initiatives.

Do climate change concerns strengthen the case? Nuclear power may be needed as a carbon-free energy option.

The rising demand for nuclear power globally will be driven by increasing demand for electricity and concerns about the environmental consequences of fossil fuel use.

Most global economic and climate models show electricity production growing by factors of three to six, regardless of emission constraints. Under such constraints, nuclear generation would increase its share to about 17%. As growing concern for the climate drives even natural gas out of the electricity portfolio, nuclear will be a critical partner to renewable energy and to carbon capture and sequestration as a carbon-free source of electricity. None of these is likely to supply, on its own, sufficient electricity to meet any reasonable level of global electricity demand. 

These are the questions that motivated this study.

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