New nuclear power could help US climate fight but faces hurdles, report says

Source: By Timothy Gardner, Reuters • Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2023

People protest as Germany shuts down its last three nuclear power plants in Berlin
People take part in a protest against the shut down of the last three German nuclear power plants, in Berlin, Germany, April 15, 2023. REUTERS/Nadja Wohlleben/File Photo

WASHINGTON, April 27 (Reuters) – A next generation of smaller nuclear power plants could help the U.S. reach long term climate change goals but face technical, regulatory and economic hurdles, a report by nonprofit scientific institutions said on Thursday.

Backers of so-called advanced nuclear reactors such as NuScale Power Corp (SMR.N) say the smaller plants can be built in factories eventually at less cost than today’s large light water reactors. Some of the reactors including NuScale’s would use fuel and coolants used in conventional reactors while others plan to use liquid metal, molten salt or high-temperature gas as coolants.

Widespread deployment of the reactors could take several decades said the report, “Laying the Foundation for New and Advanced Nuclear Reactors in the United States,” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The nonprofit institutions provide analysis to inform public policy decisions.

“If we want the ability to pursue this option, the U.S. should address these barriers now,” said Richard Meserve, a former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The report said regulations governing existing reactors are not suitable for the next generation of plants and called on Congress to provide the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission with more resources to boost its ability to deal with the differences.

Some of the plants are designed to be deployed remotely which presents new security challenges, the report said. For instance, some would use a fuel called high assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, which is enriched up to 20% compared to about 5% for today’s reactors. But HALEU is more attractive for diversion or theft by militants who could use it as a feedstock for producing high-enriched uranium potentially for use in weapons, and may require additional security measures, it said.

The report recommends that the Department of Energy develops a program to improving performance of fuels and materials used to build or operate the reactors. It also said incentives that have nurtured solar and wind power technologies should be provided to speed commercial development of the reactors.

It also called for the DOE and other government agencies to work with labor groups, regulatory agencies and others to identify gaps in skills and to fund training programs.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Josie Kao

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