Duke Energy Corp. is working with some of the biggest names in new nuclear technology as it considers future investments in small-scale reactors to help advance its clean-energy push.
“We are spending time with small modular reactors and with advanced nuclear with storage capability,” Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We think it would be quite complementary, not only to the skills that Duke has, but to our aspirations around climate.”
Duke is considering smaller nuclear plants as energy companies face investor and public pressure to lower emissions in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Duke, one of the biggest U.S. power companies, is targeting net-zero emissions by 2050, though it faces criticism from climate advocates for not moving faster to decarbonize. U.S. President Joe Biden has set a goal of an emissions-free grid by 2035.
For the Charlotte, North Carolina-based energy company to reach such targets, it would need to start licensing, permitting and building new nuclear technology today. Yet, the existing technologies need more work to reach demonstration and commercial scale, Good said, adding that the first demonstration project isn’t expected until later in this decade.
The CEO said she didn’t foresee building large nuclear power plants. The modular plants being considered are much smaller than the widely used conventional reactors that typically have about 1 gigawatt of capacity. The average big nuclear plant generates enough electricity for about 760,000 homes, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Some designs Duke is looking at are closer to 350 megawatts, and would likely be built in components at factories and assembled on site — a strategy aimed at reducing costs and making plants easier and faster to build.
Duke previously said it wants to run its fleet of 11 nuclear reactors until they’re 80 years old and filed applications with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew their licenses. Building new large nuclear plants in the U.S. is extremely difficult and expensive. The only company currently attempting to do so, Southern Co., has seen its project’s cost double while suffering a long string of delays.
“A 10-year journey to build a large-scale nuclear reactor is just a tough assignment for any company and for our investors,” Good said. “And so we are looking at smaller scale, we’re looking at smaller scale with more flexibility in the form of the advanced reactors.”