Nuclear Energy: A New Beginning

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The MIT Future of Nuclear Energy in a CarbonConstrained World study is the eighth in the MIT Energy Initiative’s “Future of” series, which aims to shed light on a range of complex and important issues involving energy and the environment. A central theme is understanding the role of technologies that might contribute at scale in meeting rapidly growing global energy demand in a carbon-constrained world. Nuclear power could certainly play an important role, and it was the subject of the first of these interdisciplinary studies at MIT—the 2003 Future of Nuclear Power report. More recent studies have looked at the roles of CO2 sequestration, natural gas, the electric grid, and solar power. Following a 2009 update to the original nuclear study, now is an appropriate time to take a fresh look at nuclear, given advances in inherently safer technologies, a sharpened focus on the need to reduce CO2 emissions in the energy sector, and challenges of cost and public perceptions of safety. The study is designed to serve as a balanced, fact-based, and analysis-driven guide for stakeholders involved in nuclear energy. Policy makers, utilities, existing and startup energy companies, regulators, investors, and other power-sector stakeholders can use this study to understand better the challenges and opportunities currently facing nuclear energy in the U.S. and around the world.

The report distills results and findings from more than two years of primary research, a review of the state of the art, and quantitative modeling and analysis. The MIT Future of Nuclear Energy in a CarbonConstrained World study was supported by a number of sponsors and was complemented by a distinguished Advisory Committee and Review Team. We gratefully acknowledge the support of our major sponsor, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and important contributions from Shell, Électricité de France (EDF), The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, General Atomics, the Anthropocene Institute, MIT’s International Policy Laboratory, Mr. Zach Pate, Mr. Neil Rasmussen, and Dr. James Del Favero. We also thank the Idaho National Laboratory, Dominion Engineering Inc., Blumont Engineering Solutions (Paul Meier and his JuiceBox work for Chapter 1), Professor Giorgio Locatelli from the University of Leeds (for his work on Megaprojects in Chapter 2), the Breakthrough Institute, and Lucid Strategy for their generous in-kind contributions. We also wish to acknowledge Professor Jessika Trancik and Dr. James McNerny from the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT for their valuable input to the analysis of the cost breakdown of nuclear power plants. Our Advisory Committee members dedicated a significant amount of their time to participate in meetings and to comment on our preliminary analysis, findings, and recommendations. We would especially like to acknowledge the efficient conduct of Advisory Committee meetings under the able and experienced direction of Chairman Philip R. Sharp. Our review team, under the leadership of Professor Andrew Klein provided valuable insight on our analysis, findings, and recommendations.

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Jacopo Buongiorno