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Nuclear for Climate Impact

Exploring the potential of nuclear energy

The Potential of Nuclear Energy

Mid-century decarbonization to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change looks less and less likely given current emissions trajectories. Nuclear energy is one dispatchable low-carbon option that past experience shows can be expanded quickly to accomplish decarbonization. For example, France rapidly expanded its use of nuclear energy in the 1970s and 1980s which largely decarbonized its power sector. China now has a similarly large expansion of its reactor program underway in order to meet its 2060 net zero target. Globally, the International Energy Agency projects nuclear energy to about double by 2050 as part of its Net Zero study.

Headwinds in the United States

Despite its potentially critical role in meeting energy needs and addressing climate change, the U.S. nuclear industry is facing substantial headwinds. The industry’s progress has been stymied by concerns over cost overruns, lack of progress on nuclear waste management, reactor safety, proliferation risks, and other issues – all contributing to lowering public support. That lower public support manifests itself in lower public policy support – nuclear energy is not assisted by the equivalent of the state and federal tax credits or state portfolio standards that have driven renewable energy deployment in recent decades. There are also laws in some states banning new reactors. New reactors – both fission-based and fusion-based – also face uncertain regulatory treatment from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Addressing the Challenges

In response to these headwinds, a new Nuclear Energy for Climate Research and Impact Initiative at the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) will focus on five major thrusts to address the challenges facing nuclear energy: Communications and education, NRC regulation, reactors, fuel cycle, and international engagement. For each research publication, CGEP will build a communications strategy, including formal launch events, social media campaigns, video explainers, and targeted outreach activities to maximize impact.

This targeted outreach will include decision-makers in Congress (including congressional staff in both personal and committee offices), the NRC, the Department of Energy, the State Department, and the Commerce Department. All activities would include full support from the Center on Global Energy Policy’s communications, outreach, publications, and events teams.

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