The role of U.S. research and development policy in nuclear power


The U.S. civil nuclear sector faces a number of challenges that threaten grid reliability and climate mitigation goals. Though current U.S. reactor designs improve confidence in the predictability of construction schedules and costs, the United States is unlikely to see a substantial expansion of its nuclear fleet in the near future. The biggest current obstacles are cheap shale gas and continued mandates and subsidies for other forms of generation, particularly renewables. State and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, should treat nuclear power like any other non-emitting source. Furthermore, the federal government should refocus its nuclear research and development programs. Of particular value to improving the competitiveness of nuclear power would be advances that reduce operation and maintenance costs for the existing fleet and that improve the thermal efficiency and fuel burn-up of future reactors, thus reducing waste streams and significantly increasing revenue streams for owners and operators. A new fast test reactor that allows testing of advanced concepts should be built as soon as possible, to achieve these strategically important objectives.