Jul
27
2016

Private Investment Could Be Key to Nuclear’s Future

Over the past years, PACE has written about the need for a revitalization of the U.S. commercial nuclear sector. With new environmental rules that limit the emission of carbon dioxide and a continuing need for reliable power, nuclear has an important role to play in America’s energy future. Earlier this month, we wrote about the “two steps forward, one step back” atmosphere that seems to define the state of the nuclear industry in the U.S., noting that progress is being made despite continued shutdowns of nuclear units.

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While much of the discussion about nuclear’s future hinges on government policy, there has been much less focus on the private side of the nuclear equation. A recent report from James Stafford of OilPrice.com, however, offers glimmers of hope that interest from the private sector might be the shot in the arm that nuclear needs to restart in the U.S.

In contrast to the U.S. experience, the world at large shows no signs of stopping when it comes to the use of nuclear power for electricity. China is in the process of building twenty new reactors. Japan is hitting the reset button on many of its units after the disaster at Fukushima. South Korea is building four reactors. Even Sweden, best known for its renewable investments, remains dedicated to the health of its nuclear fleet.

“Reality is finally trumping negative sentiment,” says Paul D. Gray, CEO of uranium and lithium miner Zadar Ventures Ltd. “And the reality is that we can’t wean ourselves off fossil fuels without nuclear power.”

Governments have responded to this reality. The UK has committed £250 million to research and development in the nuclear sector. Stateside, the U.S. government has pledged $82 million to study and construct the next generation of nuclear reactors.

Private investors are stepping up to the plate, as well. Stafford notes that “private investors such as Bill Gates, D. E. Shaw, and Chinese billionaire Li Kashing have been pouring money in such research – and uranium mining – for years now.” For example, Gates’s TerraPower has developed an innovative traveling wave reactor that utilizes nuclear waste. Similarly, MIT researchers are designing a reactor that uses waste, combined with molten salt, to generate electricity.

“When you have fission, you have a million times more energy than when you burn hydrocarbons,” Gates noted in 2012. “That’s a nice advantage to have.”

The idea of private investment working together with government resources offers strong potential for nuclear power in the U.S., but the focus of our nation’s leaders remains in question. A recent piece by The Daily Caller notes that the terms “nuclear power” and “nuclear energy” appear nowhere in the 2016 Democratic draft platform. For an energy source that contributes about a fifth of America’s electricity, emitting zero carbon, that would seem to be a significant oversight. Nuclear obviously has much to offer when it comes to building an energy future that works for customers.