Pathways to Commercial Liftoff

The pathway to:
Advanced Nuclear
Commercial LiftOff

U.S. domestic nuclear capacity has the potential to scale from ~100 GW in 2023 to ~300 GW by 2050—driven by deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.

Power system decarbonization modeling, regardless of level of renewables deployment, suggests that the U.S. will need ~550–770 GW of additional clean, firm capacity to reach net-zero; nuclear power is one of the few proven options that could deliver this at scale, while creating high-paying jobs with concentrated economic benefits for communities most impacted by the energy transition.

Advanced nuclear power provides a differentiated value proposition for a decarbonized grid. Nuclear energy generates carbon-free electricity, provides firm power that complements renewables, has low land-use requirements, and has lower transmission requirements than distributed or site-constrained generation sources. It also offers significant regional economic benefits, can aid in an equitable transition to a net-zero grid, and has a wide variety of use cases that enable grid flexibility and decarbonization beyond the grid.

Six features contribute to advanced nuclear power’s differentiated value proposition for a decarbonized grid

Select elements of nuclear’s value proposition as compared to other power sources

However, the nuclear industry today is at a commercial stalemate between potential customers and investments in the nuclear industrial base needed for deployment—putting decarbonization goals at risk. Utilities and other potential customers recognize the need for nuclear power, but perceived risks of uncontrolled cost overrun and project abandonment have limited committed orders for new reactors. Waiting until the mid-2030s to deploy at scale could lead to missing decarbonization targets and/or significant supply chain overbuild.

New nuclear build-out scenarios and implications for industrial base capacity requirements

Added to the economy by 2030
~ 75 B
Indirect job-years created from construction and operation activities
~ 25 k
Direct job-years by 2030
~ 100 k
Average income of job-years created
~ 90 k
Jobs created from new nuclear power plant construction by 2030

Industry, investors, government, and the broader stakeholder ecosystem each have a role to play in ensuring the advanced nuclear industry accelerates towards commercial liftoff and rises to meet the challenge.

The path to commercial scale for U.S. advanced nuclear requires three parallel stages to realize the industry’s potential to support the energy transition: (1) committed orderbook generation, (2) project delivery, and (3) industrialization.

Path to the scale-up of the advanced nuclear industry to meet 2050 decarbonization targets

A committed orderbook of 5–10 deployments of at least one reactor design is required to catalyze commercial liftoff in the U.S. Given expressed U.S. utility risk tolerances, it is likely that the first design to reach a critical mass of orders may be a Gen III+ SMR, which could be followed in parallel or sequence by Gen IV reactors.

    • Developing a committed orderbook could be facilitated by pooling demand (e.g., with a consortium of utilities). Participation in such a model could be accelerated with some form of financial support (either public or private) to help de-risk the first 5-10 projects, and could take advantage of opportunities to transition retiring fossil assets with new nuclear assets. Cost overrun insurance, financial assistance, the government acting as an owner, and the government acting as off-taker are four possible approaches to accelerating orders.

Once the orderbook for the first deployments is established, delivering the first projects reasonably on-time and on-budget (i.e., ± 20%) will be essential for generating sustained demand and commercial momentum.

    • Delivery of projects on-time and on-budget (± 20%) could be enabled by incorporating lessons learned from Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle around investment in upfront planning and scheduling. It could also be supported by the development of an institutionalized project management and development entity. Commitments to some of these principles could be included as contingencies for receiving the financial support for the orderbook.

Once the industry has gained momentum and new projects are being delivered with significantly reduced government support, the industrial base, including workforce, supply chain, and licensing, will need to be scaled up with sufficient lead time.

To overcome the above challenges, cross-cutting solutions are required.

The U.S. would need ~375,000 additional trained workers with technical and non-technical skillsets to construct and operate 200 GW of advanced nuclear.

The U.S. would need an additional ~5,000 metric tons per year of additional fuel fabrication capacity. To fabricate this much fuel, the U.S. would also need to mill an additional ~50,000 metric tons per year of U3O8, to produce ~65,000 metric tons per year of UF6 through conversion, and have an additional ~30M separative work units (SWU) per year of enrichment capacity, including HALEU enrichment capacity, which currently does not exist in the U.S.

The U.S. would need to substantially grow the component supply chain to support 200 GW of advanced nuclear. The largest gap is in large forgings, manufacturing capacity the U.S. currently lacks.

The NRC would need to scale its license-application capacity from ~0.5 GW per year to 13-GW-per-year to meet projected demand.

The U.S. should continue efforts to identify sites for consolidated interim storage and permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

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The U.S. Department of Energy, in partnership with other federal, state, and local agencies, has tools to address challenges to commercial liftoff and is committed to working with communities and the private sector to build the nation’s clean energy infrastructure in a way that meets the country’s climate, economic, and environmental justice imperatives.

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