Nuclear must be a part of a greener future but America is losing its nuclear edge says Robert Bryce, author of the recent report “Reactors unplugged: can the decline of america’s nuclear sector be stopped?”. The decline of reactors in the States has accelerated this year with Entergy Corp announcing they would close their 838-megawatt Oswego Plant by early 2017 and their 688-megawatt Plymouth plant by 2019 with a total decline of about 10% of the entire nuclear fleet expected over the next few years. There are a variety of reasons for this including ageing plants (average reactor is 34 years), costly post-Fukushima safety upgrades and pressure from the low price of gas generation.
But the decline of existing nuclear is juxta posed with huge innovation in the next-generation nuclear sector in the US. Unfortunately the companies of this advanced nuclear sector are in desperate need of turning theory into reality and need some support and an ability to test their designs. Here the government could help by allowing the use of their national laboratories (including Oak Ridge where Weinberg himself worked) for testing and advancing the next-generation of reactors.
Some progress has been made towards supporting these companies. In May, the House passed a bill that directs the Department of Energy to assess its ability to help test and develop next-generation reactors. This week, supporters are hoping for one step further as the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act will be introduced directing the Department of Energy to actively partner with private companies to test and even build prototype reactors at the national labs. Hopefully these Acts will be the first step in the state of the American nuclear industry turning from withering, to thriving.