The low cost and abundance of natural gas is rapidly causing utility companies to replace coal plants and aging nuclear power plants with gas-fired power plants. The widespread transition to natural gas highlights a need for the nuclear industry to focus on innovation as a means of regaining its competitiveness. Yet innovation requires long-term investment, and the nuclear sector faces structural difficulties in procuring the necessary funds to develop promising technologies.
Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress, draw a strong distinction between basic research, which they generally accept as a federal responsibility, and applied research, which they believe lies strictly in the province of industry. Absent a change in congressional control, the prospect for significant federal support of any long-term applied research, including nuclear technologies is poor.
At the same time, changes in the tax code and securities trading costs and rules over the years have had a significant impact on the ability of the private sector to fund long-term research, applied or basic. In 1960, before one could find out how to buy cryptocurrency in UK or even the existence of it, the average holding time for a share of stock was eight years. Now, it is only four months. Today, Wall Street’s demands for next-quarter earnings, coupled with executive compensation based on stock performance, have all but eliminated long-term investment in industrial research. For the nuclear industry, an outdated regulatory framework only exacerbates the problem, lengthening time to market and requiring even more patience from investors than is true in other industries. Applied research central to the development of small modular and thorium reactors, for example, require patient capital that is simply hard to find today.
Innovations that will enable nuclear energy to compete with natural gas in the short term and deliver on the promise of carbon-free electricity generation in the long term will require changes in: (1) private sector behavior (on Wall Street or in corporate board rooms); or (2) in acceptance of public financing of long-term applied research; or (3) both.
Below is a column I wrote about why there should be a nuclear investment vacuum. There is no nuclear power future. We have far better options that are faster, cleaner,… Read more »
One answer to the question would be that private investment will not be a source of US National Nuclear Energy Enterprise renewal even at the capital level of plant procurement,… Read more »
Carbon free electricity is available now. Gas is no longer a ‘bridge fuel’ but a complementary one in some areas. We just need to commit to decarbonize. MIT’s new report… Read more »
Carl, You have fired quite an anti nuke broadside! I no longer have the ability to research all of your points, even though I disagree with most of them. But… Read more »
Jack: Thanks for your comment and the chance to respond. I think you are missing the point. There is a vacuum for a reason. It is a good thing. We… Read more »
Carl, Of course there is a reason for the vacuum, several of them, actually. We could debate the validity of the reasons endlessly, but to what purpose? The “Vacuum” is… Read more »
Actually there is a great deal of evidence that we can run the electrical system with very high penetrations of renewables without having to rely on storage breakthroughs. A flexibly… Read more »
Carl, This discussion is quite interesting, but I am running out of time for it. I would however, like to call your attention to the premise that our present grid… Read more »
I wanted to add that the last points in your response are truly salient and I agree wholeheartedly. “We have to recognize the dramatic innovative advances achieved by the gas… Read more »
Carl, When we were building these plants back in the good old days, we did not see the need to consider extended life. We did know that the technology was… Read more »
A Modest Proposal It is interesting that Jack Shortt admits fission plants are now impractical as he has been a skeptic in the various renewable proposals. Following my own preference… Read more »
Elliot, I agree that we do not have the financial and will soon lose the human resources required to build more nukes. I have never doubted the technology. It is… Read more »
Agree on Navy – why I suggested nuclear powered ships. In addition to having no risk of an oil spill, if for some reason they got stuck in the ice,… Read more »
There is no doubt that nuclear can add greatly to the reduction of Co2 especially if some of the new Thorium reactors can do as they promise, reducing nuclear waste.… Read more »
Variability is not the intractable problem you imply. It is an eminently manageable challenge. All generation is somewhat variable when you consider unforced outages, maintenance and the like. Most renewable… Read more »
Carl your points are taken but the grids controls are existing but that does not make them any less an expense that has the possibility to be eliminated with methods… Read more »
Thanks Bruce. I strongly agree with these points. At WECC I have been a strong advocate for studying the benefits of strategically locating storage on the transmission grid, and do… Read more »
To evaluate the value of investment in energy technologies, including nuclear, it is vital to understand the performance of an industry under various types of ‘investment’: in terms of basic… Read more »
Jack: I never said the transition would be easy, just that it is, as almost all studies and operating experience show (MISO, PJM, CAISO, NWPP), that it is a manageable… Read more »
Response re reliability and the new grid: There are some very interesting changes happening that are designed to increase the reliability of energy supply when a new Sandy arrives. They… Read more »
The capital cost of a nuclear plant jumped up in the mid-2000’s. The causes of that jump seem obscure, but must be identified and means must be found to reduce… Read more »
Prof. Berry, Thank you for an interesting posting. The cost escalation for new nukes is not really a mystery if you have actually tried to build one. To summarize, it… Read more »