CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) –When you flick your light switch at home, have you ever thought about where that energy comes from? Coal? Gas? Wind? Solar? Nuclear? More and more of those flicks in the future are going to be powered by Nuclear Energy.
Nuclear Energy has been around for decades; it was first discovered during the Manhattan Project in 1942. Nuclear Power Plants really took off in the US starting in the 1970s and 1980s, with nearly all of the current reactors in use being built. But just as soon as Nuclear Power really started taking off, the very high upfront construction costs and a growing desire for cheap coal put the clamps down on continued growth.
But thanks to innovation as well as a need for more carbon-free energy, Nuclear Power is seeing renewed interest. Nuclear Energy already accounts for over 50% of our energy here in the Carolinas, but the utility Duke Energy sees that growing to over 60% by 2050. Nuclear is expected to help complement the exploding growth of renewables with reliable baseload power.
Companies like NuScale Power are also driving innovation in the sector with new Small Modular Reactors, or SMRs that are much smaller in size and energy output and help reduce the enormous upfront construction costs for legacy reactors. Another advantage of SMRs is that much of the reactor construction occurs at the factory as opposed to onsite, which also helps to speed up construction and deployment times from the current roughly 15 years from initial planning to operation. One benefit from NuScale’s design would be the elimination of the ten-mile Emergency Planning Zones that we see in current reactors thanks to the improved safety systems.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t potential problems, the first and foremost being the high construction costs and long build times compared to other sources of energy. These two issues together have some environmental groups skeptical that significant investment in Nuclear Power is the way to best get to a reliable zero-carbon energy grid.
Nonetheless, the Department of Energy expects there to be up to 200 gigawatts of new Nuclear Energy deployed by 2050, combined with more deployment of wind and solar to help decarbonize the grid. In the Carolinas, we will see our first new Nuclear reactor since 1987 by the middle of the next decade at Belews Creek, with 600 megawatts of power from two 300-megawatt SMRs. This means more of those light switches in the future will be powered by Nuclear Energy.