Public and private commitment needed for US advanced nuclear deployment

04 June 2024

Factors including project cost uncertainties and the long and expensive development process for nuclear energy projects have meant that financial commitments to US advanced nuclear power projects have been slow in coming - but the private and public sector can work together to overcome this, according to a new report from a US think-tank.

(Image: Nuclear Innovation Alliance)

Several advanced nuclear energy projects are currently under development in the USA with the support of Department of Energy (DOE) funding programmes such as the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), but to date there have been no commitments to construct commercial advanced nuclear energy projects, and little funding committed to developing advanced nuclear energy projects beyond those that have been co-funded by DOE, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance report, Catalyzing Commitments to Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects, notes.

The report summarises the findings from a series of workshops conducted under Chatham House rules in 2023 and early 2024 to identify the factors inhibiting commitments to advanced nuclear energy projects and potential steps to accelerate such commitments. (Chatham House rules mean comments are not for attribution.)

Uncertainty in the ultimate cost of projects, resulting from a variety of factors including the lack of experience in developing advanced nuclear energy projects and the immature supply chain supporting them, and a long, expensive development process for nuclear energy projects, including industry-specific permitting and licensing requirements - that may be more significant than for other sources of energy production - were identified as key factors holding back commitments.

Both the public and private sector can take action to address this, the report says. The most impactful private-sector action would be for offtakers to make capital commitments to provide a "backstop" for project completion cost and improve access to financing, it finds. The most impactful public sector actions would be legislation to share completion-cost risk for early-mover advanced nuclear energy projects combined with cost-sharing and incentives to keep costs down, and potentially providing funding for advanced nuclear energy projects in addition to those covered by the ARDP, until there is more experience building such projects and the
supply chain is more mature.

“Advanced nuclear energy has the potential to be a key source of firm clean energy to support the transition to a decarbonised energy system. But potential project developers and investors have been hesitant to announce specific early mover projects or to make significant funding commitments to them," said Judi Greenwald, executive director of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance.

"We hope these conclusions will be useful to the broad range of organisations and entities considering deployment of advanced nuclear energy technologies," she added. "We have no time to waste in deploying advanced nuclear energy if we are to ensure we meet mid-century climate commitments."

The workshops focused on the deployment of small modular reactors, but the conclusions may also be relevant to larger and smaller reactors, the report notes. "As with most energy innovation in the United States, the most likely successful path to successful early mover projects will be a combination of public and private partnerships and actions," it says.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News