The Future in Nuclear Energy

On September 4th, MIT News writer Francesca McCaffrey published a timely response to the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) report titled “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World.” This report came as one of a collection, each exploring a different technology meant to meet the escalating need for energy solutions with diminishing effect on the global climate, examining the full-scale effects of developing such technologies. As McCaffrey recaps, “Over the past two years, this team has examined each issue, and the resulting report contains guidance policymakers and industry leaders may find valuable as they evaluate options for the future.” Comprehensiveness being the end goal for the multidisciplinary research team, evidence for claims were even substantiated by an external advisory committee.

The planning for Nuclear Energy initiatives covers everything from business models to safety procedures for plants. The lengths that researchers at MIT took to explore all avenues of future practice and response shows the overwhelming desire for these plans to be accepted and pursued.The report illuminates initial policy-making for implementation of such plans and necessary safety regulations and construction concepts.

The report claims, “public policies to advance low-carbon generation should treat all technologies comparably. There should be no discrimination against nuclear energy. Given the notorious past events involving nuclear energy, and with regards to the future, safety is a major concern and could also make nuclear plants easier and more cost efficient to construct. McCaffrey sums up that when it comes to the production of new plants, “The researchers find that changes in reactor construction are needed to usher in an era of safer, more cost-effective reactors, including proven construction management practices that can keep nuclear projects on time and on budget.”

With practice of safer construction and protocol than has been in place, the main deterrent to realizing the cost-efficiency of nuclear energy as a provider of low-carbon electricity is recognized to be the expense of building new nuclear plants. The report finds that new nuclear plant builds are “not a profitable investment.” However, the report addresses this concern as well by uncovering that, “in most cases, existing nuclear is a cost-efficient provider of low-carbon electricity,” and adds that “premature closures of existing plants undermine efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and other power sector emissions and increase the cost of achieving emission reduction targets.”

If there is to be any shift from the current trend in carbon levels due to energy consumption, if there is a change to be made in how our use of energy affects the climate, there is a strong case that the answer lies in nuclear energy. The hurdles that remain include safety, and continuing to improve the foundation which has already been established in the nuclear field.

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