Jul 17, 2019

Inside the next generation of nuclear energy

A top executive of NuScale, the first company to work with federal regulators on a new generation of nuclear power, recently talked with Axios about the technology's future.

Driving the news: Oregon-based NuScale is expecting a key technical review to be complete by year’s end and final design approval from the government by the second half of next year. If all goes as planned, it aims to be operating by 2026 a new kind of reactor that’s far smaller than today’s technology.

Read highlights of an interview with Thomas Mundy, NuScale’s chief commercial officer:

Axios: What’s the biggest challenge your company faces?

“Right now it’s going head to head internationally against state-supported technology companies, basically Russia and China. We’re a small commercial enterprise, we’re not a state-owned entity. We don’t have financial backing like what those companies have and going head to head and being able to offer competitive financing package presents a challenge for us.”

Axios: NuScale’s first customer for its electricity is set to be the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, which is part of the Utah state government that provides energy to the Intermountain West. Are you worried the group may opt for natural gas, which is plentiful and often cheaper?

"That’s always a possibility. … We have been able to demonstrate we can be competitive with natural gas generation and therefore they [the Utah municipal power systems] are moving down that path, siting examination, preparing their license applications, doing all the things and moving toward construction.”

Axios: NuScale, which adapts current reactor technology to a smaller and more advanced degree, has received around $300 million in funding from the federal government. How important is government support to your technology?

"It’s very significant. Not just for our program, but all [advanced reactor] technology. It’s the infusion of financial support through those [government] awards that enables us to get to the market a whole lot sooner had we not received that financial support.”

Go deeper: Bill Gates faces ‘daunting’ nuclear energy future

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Growing opposition to natural gas pipelines hasn't hurt federal approvals

Environmental opposition to natural gas pipelines has grown significantly over the last decade, but the impact on actual federal approvals of such projects is limited.

Driving the news: The chart above, via the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, shows annual approvals of natural gas pipeline capacity over the past couple of decades. These approvals ebb and flow with fuel prices and other cyclical parts of the energy business.

Go deeperArrowJul 23, 2019

Rise of the digital neighborhood watch

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Residents of major American cities are constantly watched by ubiquitous cameras, mushrooming license plate readers and a battery of new smart city sensors.

But, but, but: It's not just the government keeping tabs. An explosion of private surveillance — set up by businesses, landlords and neighbors — is being driven by increasingly cheap but powerful technology. And what these observers see could make its way back to law enforcement.

Go deeperArrowJul 24, 2019

Energy regulators divided over natural gas and climate change

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Regulatory decisions about America’s bounty of natural gas are in the hands of an obscure and understaffed federal agency with a limited mandate to think about climate change.

Why it matters: With America’s production of oil and natural gas soaring and Congress not acting on climate change, the once-sleepy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is finding itself at the center of protests and lawsuits. Interviews with all 4 FERC members illustrate their division over how to handle greenhouse gas emissions.

Go deeperArrowJul 22, 2019