Getting to net zero requires more nuclear power

To bring global emissions goals within reach, nuclear output will need to roughly double by 2050. Unfortunately, the world is moving backward in key respects



December 30, 2022 - 12:08 PM

Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant outside of Burlington. FLICKR

Rather quietly, a new age of atomic energy may be approaching. Splitting atoms may not be as exciting as fusing them, or as modish as wind and solar projects. Yet old-fashioned fission is poised to make a comeback thanks to innovative new reactor designs. The world will be better for this revolution — if policymakers allow it.

As the fight against climate change gears up, new-energy progress is everywhere apparent. Variable renewables — wind and solar — are becoming more abundant as technology improves and funding flows. They’re also getting cheaper: From 2009 to 2021, the unsubsidized cost of wind declined by 72% and that of utility-scale solar fell by 90%. Energy storage is likewise getting more affordable.

Yet on current trends, none of this is enough. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Such intermittency requires either implausibly large storage capacities or more reliable sources of power to fill the gaps. At the moment, that’s mostly coal and natural gas — which is why fossil fuels still make up about 80% of the world’s primary energy supply.

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