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Nuclear Power

This report was last updated in November 2022. This is a non-partisan analysis (study or research) and is provided for educational purposes.


As part of our 2022 investigation into nuclear power, we developed a longlist of 50 organizations, shortlisted seven organizations, conducted five shallow dives, and ultimately added one organization to our list of recommendations. Our decision to recommend just one nuclear organization was difficult to make because we believe there are several divergent high-potential strategies to support nuclear power, and several organizations doing important work to implement these strategies. Please see below for more information.



Table of contents

  1. Executive Summary

  2. What is nuclear power?

  3. How could nuclear power reduce greenhouse gases?

  4. Nuclear power can provide electricity at all times.

  5. Diversified power systems are more feasible and less costly than relying entirely on renewables.

  6. How do we increase nuclear power?

  7. Overview

  8. Keeping traditional nuclear reactors open

  9. Scaling up traditional reactors

  10. Innovating and supporting advanced reactors

  11. Theory of change for advanced reactor deployment in the US

  12. Examining the assumptions behind nuclear power’s theory of change

  13. What is nuclear power’s cost-effectiveness?

  14. Is there room for more funding?

  15. Are there major co-benefits or adverse effects?

  16. Key uncertainties and open questions

  17. Bottom line / next steps

  18. Appendix A: Giving Green’s process for selecting effective nonprofits working on nuclear power advocacy


Executive Summary


  • What is nuclear power? Nuclear power uses nuclear reactions (i.e., fission, fusion, and decay) to generate electricity. Nuclear power provides around 10 percent of the global electricity supply. Some countries are phasing out nuclear power due to public opposition. There has recently been increased focus on advanced nuclear reactors that are safer and cheaper than traditional reactors.

  • How could nuclear power reduce greenhouse gases? Nuclear power can reduce levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere if they replace or avoid dirtier energy sources. We think the most promising and large-scale GHG reduction opportunity comes from nuclear power’s ability to complement renewable energy sources by providing a steady source of electricity regardless of seasonal or environmental factors. Additionally, some types of advanced reactors can be used to decarbonize heavy industry.

  • Theory of change: Nonprofits have supported advanced reactor research, development, and deployment through US policy advocacy, community engagement, licensing reform, and technical assistance. These inputs can help establish a more predictable path for licensing, increase federal funding and support, and decrease community opposition to nuclear projects. These factors influence whether companies can profitably scale advanced reactors. A successful deployment model in the US and reduced costs could have international spillover effects, such as through exports and leasing. 

  • What is nuclear power’s cost-effectiveness? We developed a highly subjective rough guess cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) to estimate the costs and effects of nonprofits’ efforts on increasing advanced reactor deployment. We believe this CEA may underestimate the impact of advanced reactors on emissions because it only focuses on US deployment and does not account for international spillover effects. We have low confidence in this CEA but generally view it as a positive input to our overall assessment of nuclear power.

  • Is there room for more funding? Advocacy for advanced reactor research, development, and deployment in the US is relatively neglected and probably has room for more funding.

  • Are there major co-benefits or adverse effects? Nuclear power is less land-intensive than other sources of energy. Also, per unit of electricity generated, it is safer than fossil fuels and about as safe as wind and solar. Adverse effects include nuclear waste disposal, environmental and procedural justice concerns, and potential safety and nuclear proliferation risks.

  • Key uncertainties and open questions: The cost-competitiveness of advanced reactors is uncertain, and nuclear power may not be a large part of a future carbon-free energy mix. There are also some open questions about where to best direct philanthropic funds to support advanced reactors (e.g., innovation in the US versus other countries).

  • Bottom line / next steps: We believe support for US advanced reactor research, development, and deployment could be cost-effective in driving down emissions. As part of our 2022 investigation into nuclear power, we developed a longlist of 50 organizations, shortlisted seven organizations, conducted five shallow dives, and ultimately added one organization to our list of recommendations: Good Energy Collective. Our decision to recommend just one nuclear organization was challenging because we believe the shortlisted organizations’ theories of change may be valid, and we believe they are generally effective at executing their theories of change. (Please see our deep dive report on Good Energy Collective and our nuclear power organizational shallow dives report (forthcoming).) In 2023, we will continue assessing our uncertainties and update our research and recommendations as we learn more about the nuclear policy landscape and the nonprofits operating within it.


What is nuclear power?


Nuclear power uses nuclear reactions to produce electricity. We focus on nuclear fission because most electricity from nuclear power is due to fission instead of fusion or decay. Nuclear fission generates continuous electricity by splitting atoms in a reactor to heat water into steam, which turns a turbine.[1]


Nuclear power accounts for around 20% of electricity generation in high-income countries and 10% globally.[2] Some countries have been phasing it out due to public opposition and safety concerns.[3] Traditional large-scale nuclear power plants require intensive regulatory approval and have had high up-front costs (often with cost overruns) and long construction periods.[4] More recently, governments and companies have increased their focus on advanced nuclear reactors, which can be smaller, safer, cheaper, and easier to deploy than traditional reactors.[5]


How could nuclear power reduce greenhouse gases?


Traditional and advanced reactors could reduce levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere if they replace or avoid dirtier energy sources (e.g., coal-fired or natural gas power plants).[6] We think the most promising and large-scale GHG reduction opportunity comes from nuclear power’s ability to complement renewables because, unlike wind and solar, nuclear power can produce steady electricity regardless of seasonal or environmental factors.[7] Some advanced reactors’ high-temperature steam can also yield hydrogen gas, which people can use as an energy source.[8] Also, industrial processes that require fossil fuels to create high heat can use certain types of advanced reactors instead.[9]


Nuclear power can provide electricity at all times.


Nuclear power is not a silver bullet for low-carbon electricity, but it can help lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Namely, nuclear reactors can operate for a long duration and meet electricity demand at scale across all seasons. Also, as a dispatchable source of electricity, reactors can be turned on and off and meet changing electricity demands. Wind and solar cannot provide these same benefits because they are constrained by weather, while batteries and smart charging are constrained by duration. Geothermal and hydropower share some of the same benefits as nuclear power, but our understanding is that they face greater geographical constraints than nuclear power. Indeed, people sometimes replace retired nuclear reactors with fossil fuels instead of renewables. For example, natural gas-fired and coal generation increased in Florida after the Crystal River Nuclear Plant shut down in 2009.[10] Likewise, Germany, which began phasing out nuclear power in 2011, addressed its energy crisis in 2022 by reopening coal plants and boosting renewables.[11]


Diversified power systems are more feasible and less costly than relying entirely on renewables.


While we believe global decarbonization is theoretically possible without nuclear power, we think this approach is more costly and challenging to implement.[12] Importantly, nuclear power uses the least amount of land per unit of electricity compared to other energy sources (Figure 1)[13]. Because wind and solar power systems have a large footprint, they require a greater total installed capacity than more diversified power systems.[14] The large footprint of renewables likely becomes more of a concern as their deployment scales. For example, US communities have disagreed on whether developers should use land to expand wind and solar power. We suspect this will continue to be the case as the country transitions its grid to cleaner energy sources.[15] Our take is that a diversified clean energy portfolio hedges against the risk of any specific technology failing.


Chart comparing the land use of energy sources peru nit of electricity. Hydropower is at the top with the highest land use, and nuclear is at the bottom. Image from Our World In Data.
Figure 1: Land use of energy sources per unit of electricity.

Also, because wind and solar are intermittent, they need backup energy and/or long-duration seasonal energy storage.[16] Furthermore, wind and solar require a major expansion of long-distance transmission grids so that people who live in areas less suited for renewables can use electricity generated from far away.[17] These combined factors increase the cost of a 100 percent renewable portfolio compared to one that includes nuclear power.[18] For example, Frew et al. (2016) found that a 100 percent renewable portfolio standard would be twice the cost of one that was 80 percent based on renewables.[19] It is our impression that working on nuclear power alongside renewables diversifies our low-carbon electricity generation options and reduces the risk of failing to transition away from fossil fuels.


How do we increase nuclear power?


Overview


Interventions for increasing nuclear power include keeping traditional reactors open, scaling up traditional reactors, and supporting advanced reactors. Of the three, we believe supporting advanced reactors to be the most promising in terms of importance, neglectedness, and tractability.


Keeping traditional nuclear reactors open


The number of traditional nuclear power plants has decreased in the US since the 1990s, dropping from 112 in 1990 to 93 in 2021.[20] Nonprofits have sought to keep nuclear reactors open in the US through insider and outsider policy advocacy tactics. For example, Third Way Institute has advocated for nuclear production tax credits, and organizations such as Moms for Nuclear, Generation Atomic, and Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal have conducted grassroots outreach.[21]


As of November 2022, our take is that keeping nuclear reactors open in the US is important, but we have not prioritized it because it may be well-covered under recently passed bills. For example, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes the Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNC), a $6B investment that can support continued operations. Nuclear plants at risk of closing also benefit from production tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and can apply for future funding rounds from the CNC.[22]


There are likely opportunities to keep reactors open in other countries. For example, some countries–such as Belgium, Germany, and South Korea–that had committed to phasing out nuclear power have chosen to delay closures to address energy crises or reduce emissions.[23] We have yet to investigate nuclear reactor closures in depth for non-US countries, partly due to possible restrictions related to our 501(c)(3) status and our comparative advantage on US-based issues. We may visit this in the future.


Scaling up traditional reactors


Traditional reactors in the US


Traditional reactor construction in the US has faced significant cost run-ups and delays. For example, costs associated with the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant are expected to exceed $30B, when its original cost estimate was $14B. Additionally, the plant was intended to become operational in 2016, but it will not generate electricity until at least 2023.[24] Cost overruns and delays in the US have been associated with increased regulations after nuclear disasters. For example, after the Three Mile Island accident, nuclear reactors’ overnight construction cost and construction time escalated to meet new safety procedures and requirements.[25] Additional factors that have impacted cost and scale-up include utility deregulation, which made large plants less favorable; construction management issues; and opposition to nuclear power.[26]


We are not optimistic about philanthropic opportunities for scaling traditional reactors in the US primarily because we are concerned about their high cost. Also, to the best of our knowledge, the Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal is the only nonprofit that has prioritized scaling traditional reactors in the US.[27] We have deprioritized this intervention primarily due to tractability concerns.


Traditional reactors outside the US


It is not a foregone conclusion that nuclear power has to be expensive. One study found that while nuclear construction costs increased in the US after the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, prices were fairly stable in France, Japan, and Canada. At the same time, nuclear costs went down in South Korea.[28] Costs in France may have been stable over time because of construction efficiencies (e.g., using the same few nuclear reactor designs repeatedly) and a less adversarial regulatory process than in the US.[29] South Korea had similar efficiencies, benefited from importing other countries’ designs, and had a single utility to oversee construction.[30]


We believe constructing traditional reactors in other countries could be promising. For example, coal-reliant countries like Poland may want to transition to clean domestic energy sources before advanced reactors come online.[31] In addition, China and India—both of which have a growing annual share of global CO2 emissions—have increased their nuclear power capacity over time.[32] We have yet to investigate opportunities for scaling traditional reactors outside the US, largely because we are unfamiliar with nonprofits working on this. We may look into this in the future.


Innovating and supporting advanced reactors


What are advanced reactors?


Engineers have designed advanced reactors to be safer, cheaper, more flexible, more efficient, and easier to deploy than traditional reactors. Their capacity ranges from 15MWe to 1,500MWe; in comparison, the smallest operating traditional nuclear plant in the US has a maximum capacity of about 580 MWe.[33] Small advanced reactors can be standardized and constructed in factories, which could enable “learning by doing” and drive down costs.[34] Many advanced reactors also include passive safety measures, which can help prevent accidents.[35] Some advanced reactors are designed to be more efficient than traditional reactors, requiring less fuel to produce electricity and generating less waste.[36] Advanced reactors are still under development and have not been widely deployed. They face economic challenges such as high development and construction costs for first-of-a-kind reactors, and high operating costs.[37]


Giving Green’s take on supporting advanced reactor innovation and deployment in the US


Our take is that supporting research, development, and deployment (RD&D) of advanced reactors in the US could lower costs and financial risks for companies. If companies reach a tipping point where they can profitably scale advanced nuclear, this would most likely increase production and deployment. Importantly, RD&D could have global implications. Namely, people could apply a proven model for advanced reactor deployment in the US elsewhere. Additionally, cost reductions from accelerated progress could have international spillover effects by exporting and leasing technologies. We focus on the US because it is a major innovation site, and other countries could adopt its technological advances and deployment model. For example, we understand that licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is viewed as an international gold standard, so progress in licensing advanced reactors in the US could help other countries. Indeed, all of the experts we spoke to claimed that focusing philanthropic efforts on the US makes sense even with global deployment in mind. Additionally, Giving Green has a comparative advantage in understanding US policies as a US-based team. Given our limited research capacity, it made the most sense to target our efforts toward areas where we have an advantage.


Of the different methods for increasing nuclear power, we find advocacy for advanced reactors to be the most promising in terms of importance, tractability, and neglectedness. However, this technology is still in the early stages of development. Therefore, our impression is that its success is not guaranteed and relies on technological progress, a supportive political environment, and community buy-in to operate.


Nonprofits’ pathways for supporting advanced reactors


After interviewing representatives from various nonprofits, speaking with funders and nuclear power experts, reviewing organizations’ websites, and reading papers, we identified several broader strategies that NGOs supporting advanced reactors seem to generally employ. Below, we describe these strategies that nonprofit organizations have employed to support advanced reactors, as well as provide a non-comprehensive list of organizations that have used this strategy:


  • Legislative advocacy

  • Policy research and education

  • Example activities: Conducting research on advanced reactor development and deployment, writing policy recommendations, acting as thought leaders on emerging areas

  • Example organizations: The Breakthrough Institute (BTI), GEC, NIA, TerraPraxis, Third Way Institute

  • Community engagement

  • Example activities: Engaging with communities and community leaders to address concerns and increase demand

  • Example organizations: GEC

  • Licensing reform

  • Example activities: Engaging with congressional oversight committees, providing technical and regulatory analysis, convening stakeholders, supporting other groups working on licensing reform

  • Example organizations: BTI, NIA, GEC, Third Way Institute

  • Technical assistance

  • Example activities: Identifying high-potential coal plants for conversion to nuclear power and developing digital tools and a kit to help coal plant owners reuse parts and infrastructure

  • Example organizations: TerraPraxis


In 2022, we did not recommend a nonprofit focused on modernizing licensing because, based on our current understanding of licensing, we are not confident about its neglectedness and tractability relative to other funding opportunities. For example, we heard from climate stakeholders that many groups are already working on this, particularly from the industry side, and therefore do not think it is especially neglected.[38] Furthermore, one industry representative told us that nonprofits may need more influence to move the needle on licensing reform and that internal conversations between companies and NRC are more impactful.[39] Therefore, we believe nonprofits’ efforts to modernize licensing may be less tractable than other strategies for supporting advanced reactors. Though we think (1) licensing reform could be highly important in terms of reducing risks for companies and bringing advanced reactors to market sooner and (2) that nonprofits offer perspectives different from industry, we believe the marginal impact of donating to licensing reform efforts may be lower than other efforts supporting nuclear innovation.


Theory of change for advanced reactor deployment in the US


Overview


Our impression is that successful advanced reactor deployment in the US requires an acceptable policy environment, commercial viability, an acceptable regulatory environment, and feasible implementation (e.g., community acceptance) (Figure 2). US policy advocacy, community engagement, and technical assistance can improve these interrelated conditions.[40] For example, increased federal funding for RD&D in the US can lead to cost reductions and increased adoption in the US. Community engagement could also increase companies’ likelihood of profitably scaling advanced nuclear power. A US-based model could also have global implications through technological diffusion. We note that this theory of change is not stepwise, and the perceived future success of “downstream” nodes might influence upstream nodes. For example, commercial viability is most likely impacted by community buy-in.



Flowchart explaining theory of change for advanced reactor deployment in the US impacting climate change. Three yellow boxes at the top are labeled "Inputs": Advocacy for US policies supporting advanced reactor RD&D, Community engagement, and Technical assistance. The next rows are Outputs: The regulatory environment for advanced reactors is supportive; US political support for advanced reactors increases and US policies are passed; and Community oppoisition to nuclear projects decreases. The next row are also Outputs that follow from the previous row: A clearer and more predictable path for licensing is established (with arrows indicating that this would be due to regulatory environment and policies); Federal support for an advanced reactor supply chain and workforce is established, Federal support for RD&D increases, and Tax credits for advanced reactors are established (all due to US policies are passed); Demand for advanced reactors increases (due to opposition decreasing and the Input of technical assistance). The next row of Outputs: Advanced reactors have a sufficient supply chain and workforce, Costs of advanced nuclear reactors decrease, and Companies can profitably scale advanced reactors; there are arrows indicating relationships from the previous row of outputs. The next row of outputs: Cost reductions and US deployment model enable international spillover effects and More advanced reactors are produced and deployed. The latter leads to Advanced reactors substitute for fossil fuels, which leads to the final box, GHG emissions decrease, labeled the Outcome.
Figure 2: Theory of change for the influence of RD&D policy advocacy on emissions reductions.

We explain why our approach may be less impactful in our open questions and key uncertainties section.


Examining the assumptions behind nuclear power’s theory of change 


Below, we discuss and evaluate the assumptions related to the theory of change for advanced nuclear technologies. We rank whether we have low, medium, or high certainty about each assumption.[41] Importantly, a number of the stages of the theory of change are not amenable to easy measurement or quantification, or are expected to occur in the future but have yet to happen. We assess whether the best evidence, primary or secondary, for each assumption suggests whether it will plausibly hold.


1. There is an acceptable policy environment for advanced reactors in the US (high certainty).


Our impression is that there is an acceptable policy environment for advanced reactors in the US. For example, legislators have demonstrated bipartisan support for nuclear technologies in the US with passed measures such as the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (2018), the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) (2019), and the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.[42] In addition, IIJA and IRA included tax credits for nuclear technologies.[43] Also, more than half of the US states have nuclear power in their plans to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation.[44] Further signs of support include the recently lifted ban on nuclear power in West Virginia, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s extended life, and NRC’s intent to certify NuScale’s small modular reactor design.[45] Despite an overall friendly policy environment, our understanding is that progress on regulation has been slow.[46]


2. Advanced reactors can become commercially viable (medium certainty).


Driving down advanced reactors’ costs

Our take is that advanced reactors’ high costs may be overcome through increased production and deployment, as has been the case for solar and wind power.[47] In particular, standardized and factory-fabricated advanced reactors can take advantage of efficiency gains from “learning by doing” and economies of scale. We could be wrong if advanced reactors do not analogize to solar and wind power and are instead more similar to traditional reactors, which have, on average, increased in cost over time.[48] We do not believe this to be true because advanced reactors can be mass-produced, unlike traditional reactors.


Cost-competitiveness with other energy sources

Advanced reactors must be cost-competitive with other energy sources to be commercially viable. Currently, building new advanced nuclear plants is more expensive than other dispatchable substitutes, such as combined cycle plants (natural gas).[49] According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the lifetime cost of building and deploying a combined cycle plant by 2027 costs about $40 per MWh.[50] The EIA estimates that building an advanced reactor would cost around $82 per MWh under those conditions.[51] A separate techno-economic assessment of GE-Hitachi’s small modular reactor (SMR, a type of advanced nuclear reactor with a power capacity of less than 300 MWe) estimates that it would operate in the range of $44 to $51 per MWh. NuScale SMRs would cost $51 to $54 per MWh.[52] Despite its higher cost, (1) nuclear power is the only low-emissions energy source that can provide uninterruptible electricity and be deployed widely, and (2) there are issues with scaling geothermal, solar, and wind power. We are cautiously optimistic about advanced reactors’ ability to compete with other energy sources, and acknowledge the uncertainty on how quickly advanced reactors can reduce costs, given its dependence on technological progress and political conditions.[53]


Additional challenges that advanced reactors face include having a sufficient supply chain and workforce and a predictable licensing pathway. Our impression is that provisions in the IIJA and IRA (e.g., investments in a domestic supply chain for enriched fuels) address some supply chain concerns.[54] We explain uncertainties related to licensing in the following section.


3. An acceptable regulatory environment exists for advanced reactors (medium certainty).


Licensing impacts how long it takes for reactors to reach the market. According to nuclear advocates, if the licensing procedure for advanced nuclear technologies is too long, this can threaten their long-term deployment and reduce customer interest.[55]


NEIMA directed NRC to create a new licensing framework for advanced nuclear reactors that is more efficient than the existing framework designed for traditional reactors.[56] According to experts we have spoken to, ambiguities in the licensing framework need to be clarified, and the window of opportunity for modifying the framework is closing because rulemaking is set to be finalized by 2024.[57] Companies can still license their projects with existing procedures instead of going through this drafted framework, but there may still be major pitfalls and uncertainty over regulation. Overall, we think an acceptable regulatory environment can exist for advanced reactors because, while NRC can improve its licensing process, there are still pathways to getting licensed.


4. Implementing advanced reactors at scale in the US is feasible (medium certainty).


Our take is that implementing advanced reactors at scale in the US is feasible but not guaranteed. For example, coordinated efforts against nuclear projects could delay construction and increase costs. Additionally, advanced reactors need sufficient long-term, guaranteed demand to enable mass production and economies of scale. We understand that not investing resources in building trust with communities and negotiating with stakeholders poses a risk to scaling nuclear technologies in the US.


5. Advanced reactors scaled in the US will increase the likelihood of global adoption (high certainty).


We think US outputs in advanced reactor RD&D could increase adoption elsewhere by reducing costs, establishing regulatory standards, and having signaling effects. However, the impact of US outputs on nuclear adoption will not be globally uniform. For example, a study found that important historical factors that have influenced whether a country adopted nuclear power include:


  • Electricity demand

  • Domestic capacity for constructing nuclear power plants

  • Dependence on imported oils

  • Income level

  • Economy size

  • Proximity to early adopters[58]


We believe some subset of these factors will also likely apply to advanced reactors.


In addition, we are uncertain about the rate of technological diffusion and whether, at the margin, the US is the best site for investing in nuclear innovation. For example, we are uncertain about the extent to which the US can export advanced reactors globally due to its geopolitical nature. Namely, Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act requires agreements between the US and other countries on peaceful nuclear cooperation before any significant nuclear material or equipment transfer from the US.[59]


What is nuclear power’s cost-effectiveness?


As a rough plausibility check, we developed a cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) to estimate the costs and impacts of US policy efforts, community engagement, and technical assistance on deploying advanced reactors. We assumed these activities change the probability of whether advanced reactors are on a high- or low-innovation track. This CEA may underestimate the impact of advanced reactors on emissions because this model uses high-cost scenarios and only focuses on US deployment. We think efforts focused on US deployment would likely have international spillover effects, such as through exports and leasing (see “Theory of change for advanced reactor deployment in the US”).


This CEA includes highly subjective guess parameters and should not be taken literally. In particular, we estimated the change in likelihood that advanced reactors would move from a low- to a high-innovation scenario due to advocacy efforts, the change in that probability that could be attributed to nonprofits, and the number of years that advocacy moves a high-innovation scenario forward compared to the counterfactual. We have low confidence in the ability of our CEA to estimate the cost-effectiveness of NGOs’ US policy advocacy, community engagement, and technical assistance but view it as a slight positive input into our overall assessment of supporting advanced reactors.[60] See below for a high-level explanation and the model for additional notes and citations.


  • Costs: We estimated how much the six leading nonprofits advocating for US-focused advanced reactor policies, community engagement, and technical assistance spend each year on these activities. We assumed their work between 2022 and 2026 would influence whether advanced reactors are in a high- or low-innovation scenario. Therefore, we multiplied the total annual budget by the time spent on advocacy and arrived at a total cost of about $85M.

  • Avoided GHG: Using the Breakthrough Institute’s “Advancing Nuclear” report, we estimated advanced reactors’ installed capacity from 2025 to 2050 under high- and low-innovation scenarios with different learning rates (e.g., how much the technology’s cost decreases with increased output). We calculated the difference in output between the two scenarios to estimate the additional electricity generated by nuclear power under the high-innovation case. We assumed that a percentage of this extra electricity would have been generated by natural gas instead of nuclear power under the counterfactual. We estimated avoided emissions by multiplying that percentage by the difference in output and natural gas’s emission factor.

  • Effectiveness: We assumed that policy advocacy, community engagement, and technical assistance increase the likelihood of being in a high-innovation scenario by some small percentage (10 to 30 percent) and that a fraction of this work can be attributed to nonprofits. We further assumed that these activities advance progress that would have also eventually been achieved in the absence of these nonprofits (by 1 to 10 years). We estimated effectiveness by multiplying the change in probability by the percent change attributable to nonprofit advocacy, the number of years advanced, and the amount of avoided GHGs.

  • Results: Our best guess is that US policy efforts avoid one tCO2e for around $6.17 (range: $2.06 to $61.68). We also developed a Guesstimate version of this CEA, allowing us to assign ranges of values and probability distributions for each input, and found similar results. Our model does not include benefits that would likely come from international spillover, which would increase overall cost-effectiveness.


Is there room for more funding?


Although nuclear power has received increased federal funding in recent years, our impression is that it is relatively neglected because many mainstream environmental organizations do not work on nuclear power. For example, there has been resistance to nuclear technologies from major environmental organizations—such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth—and some environmental justice groups, including the Climate Justice Alliance.[61] Nonprofit organizations that advocate for advanced reactors include the Breakthrough Institute, Clean Air Task Force, ClearPath, the Good Energy Collective, Nuclear Innovation Alliance, TerraPraxis, and Third Way.


Are there major co-benefits or adverse effects?


Nuclear power’s major co-benefits include its lower land use compared to other energy systems and its improved safety over fossil fuels. Adverse effects include the need to safely dispose of hazardous waste and materials, effects on local ecology, environmental and procedural justice concerns, safety risks, and potential increased risks of nuclear proliferation. We detail these co-benefits and adverse effects below.


Co-benefits

  • Less land-intensive than other energy systems – Nuclear power is less land-intensive than other energy systems and therefore poses fewer risks related to increased land use, such as trade-offs for food production, urban development, and conservation.

  • Improved safety over fossil fuels – Compared to fossil fuel production, nuclear has led to fewer deaths per unit of electricity and is about as safe as wind and solar.[62]


Adverse effects

  • Nuclear waste and hazardous materials Nuclear reactors produce radioactive waste that must be safely recycled or stored.[63] Some advanced reactors also use coolants that pose safety concerns related to reactivity, toxicity, or corrosiveness.[64]

  • Effects on local ecology – Traditional nuclear power plants require 30 to 80 percent more cooling water than other power plants with similar outputs.[65] They can generate thermal pollution if they discharge heated water into the environment, such as lakes and oceans. Changes in water temperature impact dissolved oxygen concentrations and local ecology. It seems likely that advanced reactors that use cooling water will also cause thermal pollution, but we are uncertain about its extent.

  • Environmental and procedural justice concerns – According to the Good Energy Collective, the employment, climate, and safety benefits of historical nuclear power plants in the US have disproportionately gone to whiter and wealthier communities. In contrast, adverse effects, such as occupational risks and community contamination related to mining, have most impacted marginalized communities.[66] We are uncertain of the extent to which these inequities will impact future nuclear projects, but Good Energy Collective suggests this is a future risk that should be acknowledged and proactively addressed.

  • Safety risks – We think it is likely that, compared to the counterfactual, increasing the number of nuclear reactors in the world would increase the risk of meltdowns by increasing opportunities for errors.[67] However, advanced reactors often incorporate passive safety features (e.g., cooling the core when there is a loss of electricity) and inherent safety features (e.g., higher boiling points for coolants) that could reduce that risk.[68] According to the Congressional Research Service, safety risks are generally low for existing traditional reactors in the US.[69]

  • Potential increased risk of nuclear proliferation – Nuclear proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear materials and weapons by countries not recognized as Nuclear Weapon States (e.g., the US is a Nuclear Weapon State).[70] Whether advanced reactors increase or decrease that small risk depends on technical and policy choices and how people implement them.[71] For example, advanced reactors are often designed to make fuel and waste less accessible, but some produce concentrated wastes that could make it easier to create weapons-grade nuclear material.[72] We think it is likely that making nuclear power cheaper could increase proliferation risks by making nuclear materials more commonplace, which could increase opportunities for bad actors (e.g., theft along the supply chain, targets for sabotage). However, the increase in likelihood of proliferation is highly dependent on (a) where nuclear expands, (b) technological development, and (c) the efficacy of nonproliferation oversight. We will continue to monitor this, but we think that advanced nuclear is in an early enough stage that it would be preemptive and overly cautious to not support further development at this point because of future uncertain effects on proliferation.


Key uncertainties and open questions


  • The viability of advanced reactors – Advanced reactors’ future depends on technological progress and political conditions. High capital costs, risk premiums for first-of-a-kind generators, potentially high operating costs, and local resistance to nuclear projects are barriers to advanced reactor development and deployment.[73] Nuclear power may not be a large part of a future carbon-free energy mix.

  • Cost of expanding renewables and battery storage versus nuclear power in the future – We think nuclear is a good bet because relying entirely on renewables is more expensive and challenging to implement than a diversified energy portfolio. However, the costs of renewables and battery storage have decreased over time.[74] We are especially likely to be wrong if there is a massive build-out of transmission in the US and batteries become cheap enough to store significant amounts of renewable energy for long periods.

  • Uncertainty around focusing on the US – We are unsure whether focusing on advanced nuclear reactors solely in the US is the best use of philanthropic funds if we are most interested in expanding this technology globally. Other high-innovation countries working on advanced reactors include Canada, China, France, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and South Korea.[75] Experts we spoke with have unanimously agreed that the most likely path to global deployment of advanced reactors goes through the US due to its innovation experience and gold-standard licensing process. However, most of these experts focus primarily on US advanced nuclear efforts.

  • Rate of technological diffusion – It is unclear how quickly advanced nuclear technologies will diffuse from the US to other countries. Diffusion will likely depend on export agreements and country-specific factors, such as energy dependency.

  • Likelihood of increased proliferation – Our impression is that expanded nuclear power could slightly increase the possibility of nuclear proliferation because it increases the availability of nuclear fuel, which, under some circumstances, could be refined into weapons-grade material by bad actors. Still, the magnitude of this increase is highly conditional on uncertain circumstances and could be close to zero. Our take is that this risk is low overall, so we still recommend nuclear power to reduce emissions.


Bottom line / next steps


We believe support for advanced reactor research, development, and deployment could be cost-effective in reducing GHG emissions. As part of our 2022 investigation into nuclear power, we developed a longlist of 50 organizations, shortlisted seven organizations, conducted five shallow dives, and ultimately added one organization to our list of recommendations: Good Energy Collective. Our decision to recommend just one nuclear organization was challenging because there are several divergent high-potential strategies to support nuclear power, and several organizations are doing important work to implement these strategies. For more information, please see our deep dive report on Good Energy Collective and our shallow dives reports (forthcoming) on the organizations we investigated. We also describe our decision-making process in Appendix A. In 2023, we plan to continue assessing our uncertainties and update our research and recommendations as we learn more about the nuclear policy landscape and the nonprofits operating within it.


Appendix A: Giving Green’s process for selecting effective nonprofits working on nuclear power advocacy


Developing our short list of nonprofits working on nuclear power advocacy


When we began researching nuclear power advocacy, we created an initial longlist of about 50 nonprofit organizations. We whittled this list to seven groups after selecting for ones that advocate for advanced reactors. We had selected this particular strategy based on our assessment of its importance, tractability, and neglectedness (see “How do we increase nuclear power?). In alphabetical order, our shortlisted organizations were:


  • The Breakthrough Institute (BTI)

  • Clean Air Task Force (CATF)

  • ClearPath

  • Good Energy Collective (GEC)

  • Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA)

  • TerraPraxis

  • Third Way Institute


We paused further research into ClearPath because we believe it may have limited room for more funding. Therefore, an additional dollar donated to ClearPath might not be as impactful as a donation elsewhere.[76] We paused further research into CATF’s advanced reactor advocacy because we are under the impression that advanced reactors are currently a small, but growing, fraction of its overall portfolio.[77]


Conducting shallow dive investigations

We conducted "shallow dive" investigations (forthcoming) into the remaining five organizations. Our process included reviewing publicly available information (e.g., 990 tax forms, annual reports, media coverage), corresponding with representatives from each organization, and speaking with experts with diverging views on the future of advanced reactors. From our research, we learned about several divergent and high-potential strategies nonprofits have taken to address barriers to deploying advanced reactors at scale. Such strategies include: legislative advocacy, policy research and education, community engagement, licensing reform, applying pressure on policymakers, and technical assistance. For more information on each organization, please see our shallow dives (forthcoming).


It was challenging to assess these organizations because we believe their theories of change may be valid, and we believe they are generally effective at executing their theories of change. We describe our prioritization process below:


  • We paused our investigations into BTI and NIA because we were unsure about the effectiveness of further work on licensing reform by the nonprofit sector.

  • We paused our investigation into TerraPraxis primarily because we were unsure about the effectiveness of its core approach (technical assistance) relative to other tactics that could increase deployment. There was also uncertainty in its room for more funding given its success in fundraising thus far and its recently expanded fundraising capacity.

  • We paused our investigation into Third Way Institute’s work on advanced reactors largely because of uncertainty related to its room for more funding and the risk of crowding out funding that would have otherwise come from other sources. Namely, we were concerned that if someone donated to Third Way Institute’s nuclear work, this might shift funding that otherwise would have gone to nuclear power to a different workstream. To account for this risk, we plan to learn more about Third Way’s funding decision making, as well as examine its Climate and Energy program through a wider lens instead of focusing our analysis on advanced reactors.

  • We prioritized GEC for a deep dive investigation because we believe its community engagement and policy efforts fill a neglected niche in increasing advanced reactor deployment, and that it can currently absorb additional funding. We ultimately classified GEC as one of our top recommendations in 2022.

  • In our shallow dive reports (forthcoming), we note that donors specifically interested in donating to a portfolio of organizations focused on advanced reactors may want to consider donating to BTI, NIA, TerraPraxis, and/or Third Way. This suggestion is in addition to our GEC recommendation.


Key uncertainties / open questions


We acknowledge a few places where we are uncertain and could have been wrong in our decision making:


  • Uncertainty on licensing reform – If licensing reform is highly important and NGOs can fill a unique and neglected niche in moving it forward, we may be underestimating the marginal impacts of donating to BTI or NIA.

  • Supporting groups as a coalition – Many of the organizations on our shortlist work closely with one another and complement each other’s efforts. For example, Third Way Institute, ClearPath, and GEC are on different parts of the political spectrum and have working relationships with different members of Congress. Our impression is that by working in coalitions, organizations can reinforce the strength of their joint recommendations and maintain influence despite swings in political power. Therefore, our investigation may have focused too narrowly on individual wins and overlooked the value of across-the-aisle collaboration.

  • Uncertainty on our US focus – Although several experts we spoke to have a global focus, we primarily spoke to nuclear policy experts based in the US, which may have biased us towards supporting US innovation.

  • Additional nuclear organizations – During our research, we learned of additional organizations working on nuclear policy advocacy (e.g., Atlantic Council). We may investigate these organizations in the future.


Next steps


In 2023, we will stay up to date on our shortlisted organizations. For example, we will keep an eye out for changes in licensing reform attributable to nonprofits and broaden our understanding of Third Way Institute’s work across its entire Climate and Energy Program. We will also continue assessing GEC’s room for more funding, which is a key uncertainty in our recommendation.


Endnotes

[1] “Nuclear energy comes from splitting atoms in a reactor to heat water into steam, turn a turbine and generate electricity.” "NEI - What is Nuclear Energy?" n.d. 

[2] “Nuclear power accounts for about 10% of electricity generation globally, rising to almost 20% in advanced economies.” "IEA - Nuclear" 2022. 

[3] “Some countries are phasing out nuclear plants due to public opposition and concerns over safety” "IEA - Nuclear" 2022.

[4] “With large up-front costs and long lead times for projects” "IEA - Nuclear" 2022. Regulatory costs may be more difficult to quantify. We haven’t identified an objective source for this, but anecdotally note that the “center-right” American Action Forum estimates the average US nuclear power plant spends ~$8.6M/year on regulatory compliance: “The average nuclear power plant must comply with a regulatory burden of at least $8.6 million annually.” “American Action Forum - The Costs and Benefits of Nuclear Regulation” 2016.

[5] For example: “The next generation of nuclear power plants, also called innovative advanced reactors, will generate much less nuclear waste than today’s reactors.” "IAEA - What is Nuclear Energy? The Science of Nuclear Power" 2022; Clean Air Task Force: Advanced Nuclear

[6] Nuclear produces 3 tCO2e per GWh of electricity, compared to 820 for coal and 490 for natural gas. "Our World in Data - The safest energy sources are also the cleanest" 2022. 

[7] “Nuclear power plants contribute to electricity security in multiple ways. Nuclear plants help to keep power grids stable. To a certain extent, they can adjust their operations to follow demand and supply shifts. As the share of variable renewables like wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) rises, the need for such services will increase. Nuclear plants can help to limit the impacts from seasonal fluctuations in output from renewables and bolster energy security by reducing dependence on imported fuels.” Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System – Analysis - IEA 2019.

[8] “And the reactors’ high-temperature steam could also yield significant amounts of hydrogen, a carbon-free alternative fuel to natural gas.” "Nuclear Power Gets New Push in U.S., Winning Converts" 2022

[9] “Some advanced nuclear reactors produce high temperatures that can be used for industrial processes. Many industrial processes currently rely on fossil fuels to produce necessary heat levels, and advanced reactors could substitute for fossil fuels in processes that would be difficult to electrify. In this way, advanced reactors have the potential to help decarbonize industries that are currently heavily reliant on fossil fuels.” "Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101" 2021.

[10] “As plant owners make the decision to retire nuclear plants, utilities must replace lost nuclear capacity with generation from other sources or import more electricity from neighboring states or countries. After the retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station outside Los Angeles, California, natural gas-fired generation increased to offset lost nuclear generation and, at the time, relatively low hydroelectric generation. Natural gas made up most of the new generation in Florida as well, with a slight increase in coal generation after the shutdown of Crystal River. In Wisconsin, the bulk of Kewaunee’s generation was replaced by coal-fired generation. In Vermont, Vermont Yankee’s generation was replaced by increased electricity imports from Canada and surrounding states.” "EIA - Fort Calhoun becomes fifth U.S. nuclear plant to retire in past five years" 2016.

[11] Nuclear phase-out: “Angela Merkel has committed to shutting down all of the country's nuclear reactors by 2022, a task said by one minister to be as mammoth as the project to reunite East and West Germany in 1990.” "Germany to shut all nuclear reactors" 2011. Coal and renewables: “Last week, the country’s parliament, with the backing of members of the Green Party in the coalition government, passed emergency legislation to reopen coal-powered plants, as well as further measures to boost the production of renewable energy. There would be no effort to restart closed nuclear power plants, or even reconsider the timeline for closing the last active reactors.” "A needed nuclear option for climate change" 2022.

[12] “While it is theoretically possible to rely primarily (or even entirely) on variable renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, it would be significantly more challenging and costly than pathways that employ a diverse portfolio of resources. In particular, including dispatchable low-carbon resources in the portfolio, such as nuclear energy or fossil energy with carbon capture and storage (CCS), would significantly reduce the cost and technical challenges of deep decarbonization.” “Deep Decarbonization Of The Electric Power Sector Insights From Recent Literature” 2017.

[13] Image from "How does the land use of different electricity sources compare?" 2022.

[14] “Decarbonized power systems dominated by variable renewables such as wind and solar energy are physically larger, requiring much greater total installed capacity.” “Deep Decarbonization Of The Electric Power Sector Insights From Recent Literature” 2017.

[15] “To meet these targets and increase overall renewable energy generation, states have been trying to streamline renewable energy facility siting regulations and permit processes as exemplified by New York's article 6 section 94C. Yet, local opposition to renewable energy development, particularly wind, solar and geothermal energy, across the US presents a significant obstacle to meeting [Renewable Portfolio Standards] goals.” Susskind et al 2022.

[16] “Wind and solar-heavy power systems require substantial dispatchable power capacity to ensure demand can be met at all times. This amounts to a “shadow” system of conventional generation to back up intermittent renewables… Without a fleet of reliable, dispatchable resources able to step in when wind and solar output fade, scenarios with very high renewable energy shares must rely on long-duration seasonal energy storage.” “Deep Decarbonization Of The Electric Power Sector Insights From Recent Literature” 2017.

[17] “High renewable energy scenarios also envision a significant expansion of long-distance transmission grids.” “Deep Decarbonization Of The Electric Power Sector Insights From Recent Literature” 2017.

[18] “High renewables scenarios are more costly than other options, due to the factors outlined above.” “Deep Decarbonization Of The Electric Power Sector Insights From Recent Literature” 2017.

[19] “Two scenarios with RPS [renewable portfolio standard] targets from 20% to 100% for the US (peak load ∼729 GW) and California (peak load ∼62 GW) find each RPS target feasible from a planning perspective, but with 2× the cost and 3× the overgeneration at a 100% versus 80% RPS target.” Frew et al 2016

[20] “Number of nuclear power reactors in the United States from 1957 to 2021. 1990: 112, 2021: 93.” "Number of nuclear power reactors in the United States (U.S.) for selected years between 1957 and 2021" 2022.

[21] Third Way: “The recently announced Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal includes a civil nuclear credit program to support at-risk units. However, it is recommended that we continue to pursue a nuclear production tax credit (PTC), as proposed by Sen. Cardin and Rep. Pascrell, in the tax section of a reconciliation package.” "Importance of Preserving Existing Nuclear" 2021. Moms for Nuclear: “To promote those goals Zaitz and Hoff talk to community groups and professional societies, they promote nuclear power on social media and generate conversations walking around their hometowns wearing t-shirts that say, "Why nuclear? Ask me." “Why even environmentalists are supporting nuclear power today” 2022. Generation Atomic: “Our mission is to energize and empower today’s generations to advocate for a nuclear future. Our team is working to change the culture and build a movement to support nuclear energy.” "About - Generation Atomic" n.d. Campaign for a Green New Deal: “The Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal is a nationwide advocacy effort to articulate a new vision for nuclear growth as a way to regain American industrial capabilities and create dignified jobs in clean energy and manufacturing. By organizing and campaigning at the state level while building support nationally, we will change hearts and minds.” “GND Campaign - Mission” n.d.

[22] “As Diablo Canyon highlights the limits and difficulty of navigating the Civil Nuclear Credit, the industry has praised the production tax credit included in the Inflation Reduction Act. The credit offers $3 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced and sold, which can increase to $15 per MWh if certain wage standards are met, according to the bill… Some nuclear plants in limited situations—such as those struggling to operate in high-cost, high-price regions—may not see a benefit from the tax credit and choose to apply for future rounds of the CNC program.” "Nuclear’s $6 Billion Bailout Likely to Help Only Diablo Canyon" 2022.

[23] Belgium: “The Belgian federal government postponed a planned phaseout of nuclear power Friday, citing "a chaotic geopolitical environment" as the war in Ukraine disrupts energy markets across the European Union.” “Belgium delays nuclear phaseout amid war worries” 2022. Germany: “Germany is to temporarily halt the phasing-out of two nuclear power plants in an effort to shore up energy security after Russia cut supplies of gas to Europe’s largest economy.” “Germany to delay phase-out of nuclear plants to shore up energy security” 2022. South Korea: “President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has vowed to reverse former President Moon Jae-in's policy of phasing out nuclear power, a policy which was brought in after he assumed office in 2017, and followed the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.” “New energy policy reverses Korea's nuclear phase-out” 2022.

[24] New cost: “A nuclear power plant being built in Georgia is now projected to cost its owners more than $30 billion.” Original costs and delays: “When approved in 2012, the third and fourth reactors were estimated to cost $14 billion, with the first electricity being generated in 2016. Now the third reactor is set to begin operation in March 2023, and the fourth reactor is set to begin operation in December 2023.” “Georgia nuclear plant’s cost now forecast to top $30 billion” 2022.

[25] “When the full cost experience of US nuclear power is shown with construction duration experience, we observe distinctive trends that change after the Three Mile Island accident. As shown in Fig. 3 in blue, reactors that received their operating licenses before the TMI accident experience mild cost escalation. But for reactors that were under construction during Three Mile Island and eventually completed afterwards, shown in red, median costs are 2.8 times higher than pre-TMI costs and median durations are 2.2 times higher than pre-TMI durations. Post-TMI, overnight costs rise with construction duration, even though OCC excludes the costs of interest during construction. This suggests that other duration-related issues such as licensing, regulatory delays, or back-fit requirements are a significant contributor to the rising OCC trend.” Lovering, Yip, and Nordhaus 2016

[26] Utility deregulation: “The wave of utility deregulation started in the 1970s disfavored large, expensive plants.” “Why America abandoned nuclear power (and what we can learn from South Korea)” 2016. Project management: “The recent experience of nuclear construction projects in the United States and Europe has demonstrated repeated failures of construction management practices in terms of their ability to deliver products on time and within budget.” “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World” 2018. Opposition to nuclear power: It seems likely that advocacy against nuclear power (e.g., lawsuits, demonstrations) has played a role in delays and increased costs.

[27] The Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal lists its first policy principle as “Commit to a buildout,” which includes constructing more AP1000 reactors: “A commitment to building out a fleet of standardized AP1000 reactors starting with the cancelled project in South Carolina would reduce costs and build times in order to successfully electrify the economy and cut carbon emissions.” “Mission - GND Campaign” n.d.

[28] “Nuclear construction costs in the US did spiral out of control, especially after the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. But this wasn't universal. Countries like France, Japan, and Canada kept costs fairly stable during this period. And South Korea actually drove nuclear costs down, at a rate similar to what you see for solar.” “Why America abandoned nuclear power (and what we can learn from South Korea)” 2016.

[29] “How did France pull this off? It helped that the country had only one utility (EDF) and one builder (Areva) working closely together. They settled on a few standard reactor designs and built them over and over again, often putting multiple reactors on a single site. That allowed them to standardize their processes and get better at finding efficiencies… France's regulatory process was also less adversarial than America's — and, for better or worse, doesn't allow legal intervention by outside groups once construction gets underway. After the Soviet Union's Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the government tweaked safety rules, leading to some delays. But costs didn't skyrocket like they did in the US after Three Mile Island.” “Why America abandoned nuclear power (and what we can learn from South Korea)” 2016. 

[30] “South Korea had an advantage in that it didn't start entirely from scratch. The country imported proven US, French, and Canadian designs in the 1970s and learned from other countries' experiences before developing its own domestic reactors in 1989. It developed stable regulations, had a single utility overseeing construction, and built reactors in pairs at single sites.” “Why America abandoned nuclear power (and what we can learn from South Korea)” 2016.

[31] “Poland is betting nuclear power and offshore wind will help cut its dependence on coal, which it now uses for 70% of power production. The plan is to almost completely stop using coal by 2050, with nuclear energy and gas-fired units providing most of the stable supplies by then.” “Poland May Look Beyond US for Nuclear Power Plant Partnership” 2022.

[32] Growing annual share of global CO2 emissions: China’s share of emissions was about 31% in 2020, while India’s is about 7 percent. Both appear to be on an upward trajectory. “Our World in Data - Annual CO2 emissions” 2020. China: “Nuclear Power in China 2022. India: “Nuclear Power in India” 2022.

[33] Advanced nuclear reactors: “Advanced reactor designs come in a wide range of sizes, from less than 15 MWe to 1,500 MWe or more.” “Advanced Nuclear Reactors: Technology Overview and Current Issues” 2019. Smallest traditional nuclear plant in US: “The R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in New York is the smallest nuclear power plant in the United States, and it has one reactor with a net summer electricity generating capacity of about 582 megawatts (MW).” “EIA - Frequently Asked Questions” 2022.

[34] “While traditional reactors are constructed on site, many small advanced nuclear reactors can be constructed in a factory setting and transported to a site for quick installation. For some reactor types, factory construction would allow for large numbers of reactors to be manufactured and deployed much more quickly than traditional reactors, which may be essential to reaching low-carbon generation targets.” “Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101” 2021.

[35] “In many cases, they can also take advantage of passive safety measures, such as pressure relief valves, rather than relying on active safety features that require a backup power supply or human intervention to work. These passive safety measures allow reactors to withstand a broader set of accident conditions without causing damage.” “Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101” 2021.

[36] “Some advanced reactors use fuel much more efficiently than traditional reactors, converting up to 95 percent of the energy in the fuel to usable electricity (traditional reactors convert less than 5 percent). Therefore, they have the potential to provide energy using much less fuel… The increased energy efficiency of many advanced reactors also results in a smaller amount of nuclear waste.” “Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101” 2021.

[37] “Generally, the greatest inhibitors are substantial costs associated with the development and construction of first-of-a-kind reactors. These costs are inflated by risk premiums - uncertainty due to lack of mature deployment makes first-of-a-kind generators financially risky investments. Although some projections suggest that capital costs will be lower for mature advanced reactors than for traditional ones, it is also possible that there will be substantial capital costs associated with long and complex initial construction phases, creating a significant hurdle for adoption. Finally, even once advanced reactors are built again, they may still be relatively expensive to operate.” “Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101” 2021.

[38] Anonymized call notes on 2022-10-18a, 2022-10-18b, 2022-10-20, 2022-10-24.

[39] Anonymized call notes on 2022-10-24.

[40] We group legislative advocacy, policy research and education, and licensing reform under US policy advocacy.

[41] We describe our certainty as low/medium/high to increase readability and avoid false precision. Since these terms can be interpreted differently, we use rough heuristics to define them as percentage likelihoods the assumption is, on average, correct. Low = 0-70%, medium = 70-90%, high = 90-100%.

[42] Inclusion in National Defense Authorization Act: “U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today thanked her colleagues for supporting the inclusion of S. 903, her Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), in S. 4049, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021. The Senate today passed the NDAA bill, with NELA incorporated by amendment, by a vote of 86 to 14.” “Senate Passes Nuclear Energy Leadership Act In Defense Authorization Bill” 2020.

[43] Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: “The newly enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNC), allowing owners or operators of commercial U.S. reactors to apply for certification and competitively bid on credits to help support their continued operations.” 

[44] “More than half of all states include nuclear power in their plans to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation, according to an Associated Press survey.” “Nuclear power is gaining support after years of decline. But old hurdles remain” 2022.

[45] West Virginia: “West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday signed a bill eliminating the state's ban on nuclear power plants but cautioned against jumping in to diversify the coal-dependent state's energy offerings.” “Coal-dependent West Virginia eliminates ban on nuclear power” 2022.

[46] Anonymized call notes, 2022-10-17.

[47] “The learning curve relationship that we saw for the price of solar modules also holds for the price of electricity. The learning rate is actually even faster: At each doubling of installed solar capacity the price of solar electricity declined by 36% – compared to 20% for solar modules. Wind power – shown in blue – also follows a learning curve. The onshore wind industry achieved a learning rate of 23%. Every doubling of capacity was associated with a price decline of almost a quarter.” "Our World in Data - Why did renewables become so cheap so fast?" 2020.

[48] From 2010 to 2019, the global weighted-average of the levelized cost of energy increased from $96 to $155 per MWh of electricity. Prices and construction times differed across countries. "Our World in Data - Why did renewables become so cheap so fast?" 2020.

[49] We do not see the price difference between advanced nuclear reactors and renewables to be a major problem because we view nuclear as a complement to renewables instead of a substitute.

[50] Table 1b. Estimated unweighted levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and levelized cost of storage (LCOS) for new resources entering service in 2027 (2021 dollars per megawatt hour). “EIA - Levelized Costs of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2022” 2022.

[51] Table 1b. Estimated unweighted levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and levelized cost of storage (LCOS) for new resources entering service in 2027 (2021 dollars per megawatt hour). “EIA - Levelized Costs of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2022” 2022.

[52] “An LCOE for an nth-of-a-kind (NOAK) SMR in the range of $51/MWh–$54/MWh was calculated for the NuScale design using NuScale’s design estimates. An LCOE in the range of $44–$51/MWh was calculated for the BWRX-300 using GE-Hitachi’s (GEH’s) design-to-cost and target pricing input.” “Techno-economic Assessment for Generation III+ Small Modular Reactor Deployments in the Pacific Northwest” 2021.

[53] We have not closely compared advanced nuclear reactors to early-stage renewables that can provide uninterruptible electricity, such as advanced geothermal.

[54] “Finally, IRA invests $700 million to support the development of a domestic supply chain for high-assay low-enriched uranium, commonly referred to as HALEU. This higher enriched fuel is urgently needed to support the deployment of advanced reactors, including DOE’s two demonstration projects with TerraPower and X-energy. Establishing a U.S. HALEU supply can also play a role in eliminating our current dependence on Russia for 20% of the enrichment and conversion services needed for our nuclear fuel supply.” “Inflation Reduction Act Keeps Momentum Building for Nuclear Power” 2022.

[55] “Unnecessarily long licensing reviews can raise significant barriers to investment, reduce customer interest in advanced reactors, and threaten their successful long-term deployment.” “Promoting Efficient NRC Advanced Reactor Licensing Reviews to Enable Rapid Decarbonization” 2021.

[56] “This bill revises the budget and fee structure of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and requires the NRC to develop new processes for licensing nuclear reactors, including staged licensing of advanced nuclear reactors.” “S.512 - Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act” 2019.

[57] “On November 2, 2020, the staff provided a response to SRM-SECY-20-0032 outlining a schedule for preparing a rulemaking package that conforms to the Commission’s direction to achieve publication of the final rule by October 2024 and to inform the Commission of key uncertainties impacting publication of the final rule by that date.” “Part 53 – Risk Informed, Technology-Inclusive Regulatory Framework for Advanced Reactors” 2022.

[58] “We show that the introduction of nuclear power can largely be explained by contextual variables such as the proximity of a country to a major technology supplier (‘ease of diffusion’), the size of the economy, electricity demand growth, and energy import dependence (‘market attractiveness’). The lack of nuclear newcomers in the early 1990s can be explained by the lack of countries with high growth in electricity demand and sufficient capacities to build their first nuclear power plant, either on their own or with international help.” Brutschin, Cherp, Jewell 2021.

[59] “Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act generally requires the conclusion of a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement for significant transfers of nuclear material or equipment from the United States.” “123 Agreements for Peaceful Cooperation” 2022.

[60] We describe our confidence as low/medium/high to increase readability and avoid false precision. Since these terms can be interpreted differently, we use rough heuristics to define them as percentage likelihoods our takeaway (i.e., [not] plausibly within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider recommending) is correct. Low = 0-70%, medium = 70-90%, high = 90-100%.

[61] Sierra Club: “The Sierra Club remains unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.” “Sierra Club - Nuclear Free Future” n.d. Greenpeace: “Greenpeace got its start protesting nuclear weapons testing back in 1971. We’ve been fighting against nuclear weapons and nuclear power ever since.” “Greenpeace - Nuclear Energy” n.d. Friends of the Earth: “For 40 years, Friends of the Earth has been a leading voice in the U.S. opposing nuclear reactors.””Friends of the Earth - Nuclear” n.d. Climate Justice Alliance: “This flawed bill is deeply tainted by the inclusion of proposals that are not only unacceptable to the Environmental Justice (EJ) community, but dangerous to the climate and the planet. Of particular concern is the focus on and investment in nuclear energy, as well as the promotion of risky, unproven carbon removal schemes.” Climate Justice Alliance Deeply Disappointed With Passage of House Democrats Dirty Energy Bill" 2020.

[62] “Nuclear energy, for example, results in 99.9% fewer deaths than brown coal; 99.8% fewer than coal; 99.7% fewer than oil; and 97.6% fewer than gas. Wind and solar are just as safe.” “Our World in Data - Nuclear Energy” 2022.

[63] Once the uranium is enriched, it can be used effectively as nuclear fuel in power plants for three to five years, after which it is still radioactive and has to be disposed of….The operation of nuclear power plants produces waste with varying levels of radioactivity.” “IAEA - What is Nuclear Energy? The Science of Nuclear Power” 2022.

[64] “While some advanced reactor coolants and moderators may have the advantages described above, some also have chemical properties that pose safety concerns. Examples include reactivity, toxicity, or corrosiveness of the primary coolant in the case of sodium, lead, and molten salts, respectively.” “Advanced Nuclear Reactors: Technology Overview and Current Issues” 2019.

[65] “The cooling water discharge from nuclear power plants (NPPs) is among the greatest local sources of thermal pollution due to the high levels of energy produced per plant. In addition, nuclear power plants require 30–100% more cooling water than other types of plant with a comparable power output.” Kirillin, Shatwell, and Kasprzak 2013

[66] Distribution of risk: “Advanced nuclear advocates often tout the benefits of nuclear projects to local communities: zero-emissions electricity with plenty of high-paying jobs and tax revenue. But our analysis finds an inequitable spread in the benefits and risks of historical nuclear power projects in the United States. The benefits from hosting a nuclear power plant tend to go to whiter and wealthier communities, whereas the riskier activities like uranium mining and milling have been concentrated in poorer communities, less educated communities and communities of color.” “Host Communities and Nuclear Energy: Benefits for Some, Risks for Others” 2022. Risks of uranium mining: “Despite evidence in Europe, from as early as 1932, that uranium mining posed occupational risks, health and safety protections for U.S. uranium miners were minimal until 1962, after U.S. Public Health Service studies concluded a correlation between radon levels in uranium mines and rates of cancer… Community contamination from legacy uranium mines exacerbates existing inequities in under-resourced communities that lack access to reliable income, food, and medical care.” “State of Play: The Legacy of Uranium Mining on U.S. Tribal Lands” 2022.

[67] For this to be true, the likelihood of a nuclear meltdown per nuclear plant would have to decrease at a rate slower than an increase in nuclear power plants. We haven’t investigated this, but think this is a plausible scenario.

[68] “Advanced nuclear reactors tend to incorporate passive and inherent safety systems as opposed to active systems. Passive systems refer primarily to two types of safety features: (1) the ability of these reactors to self-regulate the rate at which fission occurs through negative feedback mechanisms that naturally reduce power output when certain system parameters (such as temperature) are exceeded, and (2) the ability to provide sufficient cooling of the core in the event of a loss of electricity or other active safety systems… The chemical properties of various advanced coolants, fuels, and moderators may also contribute inherent safety advantages. Examples include higher boiling points for coolants, higher heat capacities for fuels and moderators, and higher retention of radioactive fission products for some coolants.” “Advanced Nuclear Reactors: Technology Overview and Current Issues” 2019.

[69] “For existing nuclear power plants in the United States, security and proliferation risks are generally considered to be low, given the current fuel cycle and safeguards regimes in place.” “Advanced Nuclear Reactors: Technology Overview and Current Issues” 2019.

[70] “Nuclear proliferation is not a risk in the United States simply because it already possesses nuclear weapons and is designated as a nuclear-weapon state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” ““Advanced” Isn’t Always Better Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors” 2021.

[71] “The variety of advanced nuclear power plant designs have the potential to further reduce this relatively low risk, or to increase the risks, depending on the technical and policy choices and how they are implemented.” “Advanced Nuclear Reactors: Technology Overview and Current Issues” 2019.

[72] “The effect of reactor advancements on the risk of proliferation is ambiguous. Some sources state that advanced reactors produce less waste than what could traditionally be used to make nuclear weapons. In addition, advanced reactors are often designed to make fuel and waste less accessible than in traditional reactors. However, advanced reactors also often produce concentrated plutonium waste that may pose a higher proliferation risk than traditional reactors. As proliferation risks are generally perceived to be low for traditional reactors, slight differences due to advancements may not pose significant benefits or drawbacks.” “Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101” 2021.

[73] “Generally, the greatest inhibitors are substantial costs associated with the development and construction of first-of-a-kind reactors. These costs are inflated by risk premiums - uncertainty due to lack of mature deployment makes first-of-a-kind generators financially risky investments. Although some projections suggest that capital costs will be lower for mature advanced reactors than for traditional ones, it is also possible that there will be substantial capital costs associated with long and complex initial construction phases, creating a significant hurdle for adoption. Finally, even once advanced reactors are built again, they may still be relatively expensive to operate.” “Resources for the Future - Advanced Nuclear Reactors 101” 2021.

[74] Solar and wind: The cost of solar photovoltaics decreased from $378 per MWh in 2010 to $68 per MWh in 2019. Offshore wind decreased from $162 to $115 per MWh over the same time period. “Our World in Data - Why did renewables become so cheap so fast?” 2020. Batteries: “Since 1991, prices have fallen by around 97%. Prices fall by an average of 19% for every doubling of capacity. Even more promising is that this rate of reduction does not yet appear to be slowing down.” “Our World in Data - The price of batteries has declined by 97% in the last three decades” 2021.

[75] High-innovation countries: We defined high-innovation countries as ones that have high research research output, as measured by Nature Index. “Country/territory research output table” 2022. Global advanced nuclear projects: We used Third Way’s map of advanced nuclear projects to determine which countries are working on advanced nuclear technologies. “2022 Advanced Nuclear Map: Charting a Breakout Year” 2022. 

[76] Funding: Anonymized call notes, 2022-10-19.

[77] CATF’s place in current nuclear policy: Anonymized call notes, 2022-10-24.


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