Realities: Nuclear Power

A theme of the posts at this site is that we are awash in good ideas, but many of these good ideas cannot be scaled up quickly enough to have a meaningful impact on the climate crisis. This post — Realities: Nuclear Power — illustrates this conundrum. Nuclear power is an established energy source. It has its detractors, but it is established and known to work. However, if nuclear is to provide say 50% of our power needs in just the United States, a new facility would have to be installed once every two weeks, every year starting in 2030.
There are no signs that we, as a society, are making a commitment on that scale.

The audio that goes with the post is here.

We frequently hear that we need to install more nuclear power plants in order to ameliorate the climate crisis. After all nuclear technology is proven, it provides a steady 24/7 baseload of power, and it has no greenhouse gas emissions. It is claimed, therefore, that we should be able to obtain sufficient clean energy simply by building more nuclear power plants. However, an evaluation of the nuclear power industry as it exists reveals serious difficulties with this proposal, as the following brief analysis shows.

  1. The United States is a world leader in nuclear power. The number of operating reactors is about 101. (That number is declining as older facilities are retired.)
  2. In the U.S. nuclear power currently provides for about 9% of the nation’s energy needs. Therefore, if nuclear were to provide say 50% of the nation’s needs about 400 new reactors would be needed. 
  3. Given that it takes at least 10 years to design, install and commission a nuclear facility this means that about 20 new reactors would have to be installed every year from 2030 to 2050. That translates to one facility every two weeks or so.
  4. This is a massive commitment of resources that requires immediate and urgent attention if it is to have any chance of succeeding. A project on this scale would be formidable.
  5. Needless to say, there are no signs that the United States, or any other nation for that matter, is even thinking about making such a commitment.