Is Nuclear Generation Dying or Retooling?

Nuclear power has been an antagonistic topic around the world. Nuclear reactors generate huge amounts of electricity with zero carbon

Nuclear power has been an antagonistic topic around the world. Nuclear reactors generate huge amounts of electricity with zero carbon emissions and thus are held up as a solution to global energy woes. However, nuclear energy also brings several risks. These risks include weapons of mass destruction, reactor meltdowns and the disposal of hazardous waste products. If nuclear power is going to succeed in the future there will need to be planned reform in controlling costs and enhancing safety.


Most risks associated with nuclear energy all pertain to the nuclear fission of uranium or plutonium isotopes. An alternative form of nuclear fission using thorium carries a much lower risk, compared with conventional nuclear energy. China has announced that its researchers will produce a fully functional thorium reactor within the next 10 years. Researchers in India are planning to have a prototype thorium reactor operational early next year.

Another technology, known as the small modular reactor, has garnered attention of many regulators, lawmakers, utilities and manufacturers. The Obama administration is pushing for further development of these “small reactors” stating that they would be an essential step to making major cuts in carbon emissions and that small nuclear reactors are a key piece of the United States’ energy policy.

The reactors are less than 300 megawatts in capacity and usually manufactured away from the place they’re operated. There are a few organizations that are designing these type of reactors however none are operational as of yet. These reactors are less than a third the size of a reactor at a standard power plant and could provide similar benefits of traditional nuclear power only with a lower cost.


Firms funded by billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen are among dozens of companies collectively betting more than $1.3 billion that a new wave of nuclear power can be a force to fight climate change. Gates is the money behind TerraPower whose goal is to build a reactor fueled by liquid metal and Allen is funding TriAlpha which is an organization that is attempting to make a nuclear fusion plant.

The nuclear industry has been staggered by the political backlash that comes on the heels of the radioactive leak at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011. The U.S. natural gas boom has also dramatically reduced the cost of that fuel which in turn has made it harder for nuclear power to remain competitive.

Despite these challenges nuclear energy options are not going away. The USA is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. The 72 reactors under construction globally at the start of last year were the most in 25 years.

With the world currently focused on its desire to get away from its dependence on fossil fuels coupled with the technology breakthroughs that purport to make nuclear energy cheaper, more efficient and safer…all things point to nuclear sticking around for quite some time.


Matt Helland
Sr VP of Client Relations 



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