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Advanced nuclear power sees growth

The number of projects developing advanced nuclear technologies across North America has grown more than 50%, from 48 to 75, over just the past three years, according to a new analysis and interactive map being released today by the centrist think tank Third Way.

Data: Third Way; Chart: Chris Canipe

Why it matters: The trend provides a counterweight to the dismal outlook for America’s existing nuclear industry, which features different technologies and is struggling to remain competitive with cheap natural gas and renewable power.

Quoted: “That growth reflects a combination of interesting technological and business approaches to advanced nuclear, a belief that there’s demand for this technology, and continued efforts by the U.S. Government to support innovation,” said Josh Freed, vice president for clean energy at Third Way.

One level deeper: The Trump administration backs nuclear power, and the technology is also important in addressing climate change because it doesn’t emit any carbon. America’s current fleet of nuclear plants provide roughly 60% of the country’s carbon-free electricity. The projects mapped are at various stages of development, with at least five companies working with federal regulators on the safety licensing process.

Yes, but: The obstacles facing a potential rush of new advanced nuclear reactors are aplenty:

  1. The Energy Department’s budget proposal cuts spending to its nuclear office.
  2. There’s no price on carbon emissions that would monetize nuclear's carbon-free profile.
  3. America’s stagnant electricity growth doesn't provide a lot of room for new power sources.
  4. The aforementioned competition from natural gas and renewables is a challenge for any new electricity source.