Nuclear, the atomic energy sector makes a comeback
That’s one way of solving one of nuclear’s two main downsides: catastrophic accidents and nuclear waste disposal. But an energy crisis in Europe and tax credits made available to nuclear from the recent climate bill — are helping nuclear re-enter the clean energy conversation.
Simpsons hasn’t given nuclear the best rep
Today, nuclear powers 10% of the world’s electricity — down from 18% in the mid-1990s. But despite its negative connotations, nuclear has several benefits:
- Nuclear energy doesn’t directly emit carbon — one of the main causes of climate change. Instead, greenhouse gases are released during nuclear plant construction and maintenance.
- Higher capacity factor: Unlike solar or wind, nuclear operates nearly all year long.
But safety is a big concern with trauma from past major accidents — Pennsylvania (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011).
With an average age of 36 and 38 years, North American and European reactor plants are reaching their intended lifetime of 40 years. They can be extended with large investments — a decision many are considering…
Giving nuclear another chance
A spike in natural gas prices has led to a 1,000%+ surge in European electricity prices. Fearing an energy shortage for the winter, global leaders are turning back to nuclear — despite previous plans to abandon the energy:
- Germany is considering delaying plans to shut down its remaining nuclear plants by the end of the year.
- Even Japan is considering building new plants — reversing a policy from the Fukushima accident.
The U.K., India and several others are also ramping up their nuclear plans. But nuclear might not be the immediate solution to our climate problem. Plants can take up to a decade to build. Instead, many argue the focus should be on wind and solar.
Investors: Innovating nuclear
Small modular reactors (SMRs), a newer nuclear tech is coming to the scene. They’re significantly smaller, cheaper and safer to operate and last longer.
- The tech is early, and many nuclear giants expect their first SMRs to operate by the end of the decade.
- Last month, the U.S. greenlit the use of the first SMR design by energy company Nuscale Power (NYSE:SMR).
Governments are trying to kickstart the industry with hundreds of millions in subsidies, but SMRs still aren’t as cost-competitive as other renewable sources — which are getting even cheaper by the day.