Stories

Study: Nuclear revival necessary for cutting global carbon emissions

Nuclear power plant
A nuclear power plant in Gundremmingen, Germany. Photo: Stefan Puchner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Steeply cutting global carbon emissions will be tougher without expanding nuclear power, but its future is dim absent project cost reductions and supportive policies, a new MIT study concludes.

Why it matters: Nuclear energy faces very limited long-term prospects in the U.S. and a number of other countries, thanks in part to huge upfront costs to build new plants.

  • But some analysts argue nuclear is among the technologies needed to help achieve steep mid-century emissions cuts that are consistent with limiting long-term temperature rise.

The big picture: The report notes that today nuclear power represents a "meager" 5% of total global energy production and 11% of worldwide electricity.

  • The International Energy Agency's "sustainable development scenario" — a hypothetical future consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris agreement — envisions a substantial increase in nuclear generation by 2040.

What's next: It recommends a suite of steps to rein in project costs for new reactors, such completing more detailed design work before construction starts.

  • In addition, "deployment of multiple, standardized units, especially at a single site, affords considerable learning from the construction of each unit."

Another big takeaway is pricing carbon emissions would "equitably recognize the value to all climate-friendly energy technologies" — and nuclear would benefit.

The bottom line: "Other generation technologies have become cheaper in recent decades, while new nuclear plants have only become costlier," the report states.

  • "This disturbing trend undermines nuclear energy’s potential contribution and increases the cost of achieving deep decarbonization."

Go deeper: MIT Technology Review breaks down the report here. And I recently wrote about a Carnegie Mellon University study that draws pessimistic conclusions about nuclear's future.

More stories loading.