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Geopolitics, decarbonization driving ascendant nuclear power industry: NEI CEO

Anticipated load growth from data centers, AI and new manufacturing hubs is the latest tailwind for conventional and advanced nuclear, NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick said Tuesday.

  • Conventional and advanced nuclear technologies stand to benefit from a global push to reduce power sector emissions and achieve energy independence amid growth in electricity demand, Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Maria Korsnick said Tuesday.
  • Korsnick’s annual State of the Nuclear Energy Industry address hailed the completion of Georgia Power’s Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors, the expected start of construction on TerraPower’s first Natrium reactor in Wyoming next month and growing international interest in U.S.-developed advanced nuclear technology.
  • This is “just the beginning [of a] much larger, much longer trendline,” Korsnick said. “The race to realize [nuclear power’s] potential is officially underway.”

Citing Grid Strategies’ December 2023 prediction that U.S. peak electricity demand would grow by 38 GW over the next five years, Korsnick’s address framed nuclear power as an indispensable component of a lower-emissions global energy mix.

Policymakers, energy regulators and consumers are now asking “how [we] meet that demand while continuing to decarbonize and achieve greater energy independence,” she said.

The conventional reactor fleet in the U.S. will remain the backbone of the industry here for some time, Korsnick said, pausing as the audience applauded the completion of Vogtle 3 and 4.

The existing U.S. reactor fleet is the backbone of its international nuclear leadership as well, Korsnick said. “[We] recognize the outstanding operation of our fleet,” she said. When the U.S. exports nuclear technology, “we export American standards.”

The vast majority of NEI members expect to operate existing reactors for more than 80 years, meaning over 30% of the country’s fleet will submit license extension applications within five years, Korsnick said. Existing reactor operators are expected to add 2.5 GW in cumulative capacity through power uprates, and at least one large reactor — Holtec’s Palisades facility in southwest Michigan — may soon restart, she added.

“[And] don’t be surprised to see large reactors show up” in U.S. utility integrated resource plans soon, she predicted.

Korsnick’s address also highlighted progress on advanced nuclear power. The start of non-reactor construction by TerraPower next month at the site of a retired coal plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming, highlights the potentially significant community benefits of coal-to-nuclear transitions across the United States, Korsnick said.

NEI expects “two or more” additional advanced nuclear sites to see construction begin and “three or more” advanced nuclear designs to come before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the next 12 months, she added.

TerraPower’s Natrium reactor and several other advanced reactor designs run on high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel, which contains more of the reactive U-235 isotope than conventional low-enriched uranium. Korsnick noted concrete steps toward the development of a domestic HALEU supply chain, including delivery of the first U.S.-produced HALEU in more than 70 years and enactment of a federal ban on Russian nuclear fuel imports this month that unlocked $2.7 billion in funding for domestic uranium.

Robust federal funding for domestic HALEU production helps send a “clear demand signal” for both producers and advanced nuclear companies that need it, said Nuclear Innovation Alliance Research Director Patrick White.

With that demand signal, technology developers “might be more likely to invest in HALEU [designs],” which may have passive safety systems and can be “more deployable” than conventional reactors, White said.

U.S. and allied producers are expanding low-enriched uranium production as well, Korsnick said, pointing to Urenco’s planned 15% capacity expansion at its New Mexico facility and Orano’s 30% addition at the Georges Besse 2 plant in southern France.

Producers feel confident in part due to recently enacted pro-nuclear state policies, large industrial power consumers’ increasingly ambitious clean energy goals, the oil and gas sector’s growing interest in microreactors and an uptick in international commitments to nuclear power, Korsnick said. International milestones included India’s solicitation of $26 billion in nuclear energy investments, the signing of a U.S.-Philippine civilian nuclear cooperation agreement and the inaugural U.S.-Africa Nuclear Energy Summit last year.

“Decarbonization is a global non-negotiable,” Korsnick said.

Source: Utility Dive