Mapping what it would take for a renaissance for nuclear energy

Photo of Mapping what it would take for a renaissance for nuclear energy

Enlarge / April 2018, Germany, Gundremmingen: No steam is ascending from the cooling towers of the nuclear power station. After block B was turned off at the end of 2017 in the course of phasing out nuclear energy, now block C has gone off the grid for the regular annual overhaul. Germany's most efficient nuclear power station at one time is going to be turned off around mid of May. Photo: Stefan Puchner/dpa (Photo by Stefan Puchner/picture alliance via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

Nuclear energy has been struggling. Aging reactors are being shut down, a process accelerated after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and new reactors aren't being built. Even the exceptions bend more toward the rule in the US, where recent reactor construction was abruptly halted following the 2017 bankruptcy of reactor maker Westinghouse.

But many believe that total decarbonization of the energy sector can't fully happen without nuclear power. And decarbonization must occur in the near future if we want to have a shot at mitigating the effects of climate change. Nuclear power's advantages are that it suffers none of the variability of wind and solar power, and the energy it produces is essentially carbon-free, (although, of course, uranium fuel is generally mined and processed in ways that emit carbon dioxide). Nuclear power plants are also capable of supplying huge amounts of power to the grid, which is a boon as the global population keeps growing.

At the juncture of nuclear's sad present predicament and its apparent necessity in the future, a new, 270-page report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) details what it would take for nuclear energy to see a renaissance.

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